Feminist Click Moment: You’re Against Battered Women’s Shelters?!

Georgia Platts –BroadBlogs

“We’ve got to stop those feminists from setting up a battered women’s shelter!”

So proclaimed my piano teacher in numerous post-lesson conversations with my mom. When she wasn’t grumbling about shelters she was remarking on how lovely Phyllis Schlafly’s bouffant looked alongside those long-haired feminists.

I didn’t get it. “Why doesn’t she want shelters?” I asked my mom.

Mom didn’t get it either. “I suppose she’s concerned that they don’t have the right training to run one,” she speculated.

Actually, my piano teacher probably didn’t know why she was against shelters, either. Aligned with “the F-word,” they must be bad.

None of us knew. But as it turns out, the whole family-values agenda that my teacher so revered was intent on maintaining male power and female submission.

My piano teacher was a member of my church. Back then, in the ’70s, Mormonism was in major backlash against the feminist movement. And that gave rise to a series of little “clicks,” leading up to a major feminist “click” moment for me.

In my church’s backlash, women were suddenly forbidden from leading prayer during worship services. Worse yet (to me), girls had to wear dresses to “Activity Night,” and lessons on the importance of marriage overtook other activities.

Priesthood, forbidden to women, is bestowed upon all males at age 12. If gender inequality were not bad enough, watching my late-maturing boy-peers take on that mantel seemed ludicrous. I was especially not happy when my little brother received the priesthood. Worse, my divorced mother then declared him “head of home,” presiding over my grandmother, mother and me. I wasn’t having any of it, so that befuddled notion never became reality.

The final click? The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back? Although Mormonism gave up polygamy (“Mormon Fundamentalists” keep the tradition), from the time I was little I was taught that polygamy was the way of Heaven because, ironically, women were sweeter in spirit so there would be more of us up there. I suddenly realized that if I were the best person I could be, my eternal reward would be second-class status as a woman and marriage to a polygamous man. Heaven? Sounded more like Hell to me.

Interestingly, I attended my old congregation a while back while visiting my mother, and heard an announcement that her congregation was raising money for a battered women’s shelter! I also heard concern that “unequal spousal relationships” were a primary cause of family disintegration. Maybe that’s hopeful. I know many young feminist women who today live in peace with Mormonism. Some have even started a blog: Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Oddly, in some ways my whole trauma has an upside. I don’t know if I would have found my life calling–teaching women’s studies, and writing for the Ms. Blog and creating my own BroadBlogs–if it weren’t for my church’s formidable effort to turn me against feminism. So, in a strange way, I’m tempted to say “thank you.” Too bad the cost is so high.

Men Are Naturally Attracted To Unnatural Women

Ask a guy why he looks at porn and he’s likely to say that men are just naturally attracted to women. But the women in porn don’t look too natural.

Actually, women in fashion magazines and billboards don’t look too natural, either.

Women and men both learn to admire a feminine ideal that ends up frustrating both men and women.

Most women have to starve themselves to be ideally skinny. Many models are so thin that they have stopped menstruating. Isn’t the natural instinct to stay alive and well?

And how about fake breasts? If men are naturally drawn to breasts, why do so many women go under the knife and mutilate themselves so that men – and society – will find them attractive?

Then there’s the preference for blondes. Few women past puberty are true blondes. But unnaturally bleached hair is the top color of choice, both for men and for women who want to look beautiful. Well, at least peroxide doesn’t require enormous amounts of money or risk much bodily harm.

So models go through all their pain and suffering, but it’s not quite enough. Next, the malnourished, plastic-chested, bleached out images go to be photoshopped and airbrushed to look even more fake than they already are. 

So women try in vain to match ridiculous notions of beauty. Then get depressed because nothing they do seems to work.

But the models don’t look like “themselves,” either!

At the same time, male students have told me that all this hurts them, too. “What’s wrong with me?” they wonder. “Why can’t I get women who look like THAT?”

Well, those “picture perfect” women don’t actually exist.

So women can never achieve the ideal. And men can never have the ideal woman.

Meanwhile, men are left feeling “naturally” attracted to something that isn’t natural.

Georgia Platts

“Whore”: The W-word?

Do women see the word “whore” the same as African Americans see the “N-word”?

At Wednesday’s California gubernatorial debate, Tom Brokaw suggested the two were equivalent, asking Gov. Jerry Brown why he had not expressed outrage at his aide’s suggestion they brand Meg Whitman with the term for catering to law enforcement in exchange for an endorsement. 

Brown retorted, “I don’t agree with that comparison,” and added a weak apology. 

He went on to ask why Whitman wasn’t outraged that her campaign chair had once called Congress “whores” for similar dealings with public employee unions. Whitman strangely called that “a completely different thing.” 

Now Salon columnist, Joan Walsh, has asked: Is “whore” the N-word for women?  

The fact that no one says “the W-word” to avoid saying “whore” suggests that people don’t find it quite so offensive.

But then, our society is more offended by racism than sexism: People are more upset by racist than sexist jokes.  And few complain about calling women ho’s in rap music because they don’t want to sound racist. But sexist is fine.

Maybe it’s not as offensive. But maybe it should be.

Georgia Platts

Gays and Women with Boyfriends Shouldn’t Teach (It Limits Freedom!): The Gospel of Jim DeMint

South Carolina Senator, Jim DeMint, was quoted in the Spartanberg newspaper saying that no one who is openly gay should be teaching in the classroom. And neither should unmarried women who are sleeping with their boyfriends.

Apparently hetero men can sleep with whomever they wish and keep their jobs. Good thing, or a lot of his Congressional colleagues would be out of work.

Then he continued, “(When I said that) no one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”

Huh?

How does denying jobs to gays and women with boyfriends increase their freedom and limit government intrusion in their lives? How does this increase their freedom of religion?

So whose freedom is he talking about?

DeMint actually wants to limit the freedoms of the less powerful members of society — women and gays — in order to increase the freedom of more powerful members of southern society: conservative Christians who don’t want the burden of interacting with anyone who doesn’t share some of their views.

But these good Christians seem to have forgotten the golden rule. To paraphrase Jesus: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. And what about the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor?

Georgia Platts

October is Gay and Lesbian History Month

 

Why Are Men Surprised by Breakups?

Over the years I’ve dated men who’ve ogled other women. Actually, only four men behaved that way, most weren’t so rude. When I told them their behavior bothered me, it had no effect. One responded, “Someday you’ll have a breakthrough and get over it.”

Instead of breakthroughs, I broke up with each of them. They all were shocked.

Sometimes the surprise happens differently, as when men “hear” me say that I like what I don’t.

When I was in college at BYU some of the students believed that although Mormons no longer practice polygamy (only “Mormon Fundamentalists” do) polygamy was the way of Heaven. (A religious instructor told me this was folklore and not theology. I haven’t been to church in years and don’t know what the common view is now.)

Still, I heard men say they couldn’t wait to have many wives up in Heaven. Put off, I asked men how they felt about polygamy. I told one man that it pissed me off. But projecting his own interest onto me, he was certain that I was as intrigued by the idea of heavenly threesomes as he was. I was mystified. He was surprised when I broke off our relationship.

Breakups can be harder on men than on women. Partly because men are more likely to be surprised.

Why are they so often surprised?

The male role seems to be in play. Men are less relationship-oriented, so they are less likely to monitor their relationships. Men learn that they’re not supposed to listen to women. Not helpful! Taught to constrain their emotions, men are less able to read the emotions of others.

Women are commonly objectified, too. When men see women as objects, sex toys that exist for their pleasure, men don’t experience women as having feelings. They lack empathy and can’t feel women’s pain.

Additionally, men often have more power in society and in relationships. How could this hurt them?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported studies showing that power decreases empathy.

People moving up the ladder of success are typically considerate, outgoing, agreeable and extroverted. Nice “guys” do finish first.

But once in power, things change.

One researcher compared the effect to brain damage, saying that people who hold a lot of authority can behave like neurological patients with damaged orbitofrontal lobes, an area of the brain that’s crucial for empathy.

I’m not saying all men behave this way, but it’s an interesting observation.

Still, the scales of power are tipped in men’s favor, often because it feels natural and normal to many men and women. So it’s interesting that even limited experiments, like asking people to describe a time when they felt powerful, could make them more egocentric.

Power keeps people from hearing points of view that differ from their own. So when a woman says she’s unhappy, and her partner feels she shouldn’t be, he may not sense her suffering even as she tells him about it.

Power diminishes empathy. Lacking empathy, some misread their partner’s feelings.

Then its surprise! Bye, bye baby.

Women, if you’re having issues, perhaps this will help you to understand what’s going on. Maybe you can have a conversation (if he’ll make an effort to talk to you.)

Men, if you want to keep your relationships strong, recognize women as full partners. Be attuned and listen to them. And be empathetic and alert to your partner’s emotions.

Georgia Platts

Sources:

Elizabeth Rider. Our Voices. Wadsworth. 2000

Jonah Lehrer. The Power Trip.” Wall Street Journal. August 14-15, 2010

Ever Wanted To Be A Woman? What Men Say

Every quarter I ask my women students if any of them had been tomboys when they were little. Many hands enthusiastically shoot into the air. The women often have fond memories of their time climbing trees and digging in the dirt.

Then I ask men students if any of them had been sissies. The class bursts out laughing. One hand might sheepishly creep up.

One man claimed the question was unfair since the word “sissy” is stigmatized but “tomboy” is not.

Actually, there isn’t a non-stigmatizing word for a boy who acts like a girl. And there’s a reason for that. Any boy who acts like a girl takes himself down to a lower status. He becomes demeaned.

A girl who acts like a boy, on the other hand, doesn’t harm her social standing. At least not until she gets older and the behavior takes on lesbian overtones.

Another student thought I was exaggerating the problem. For his term paper he asked men and women on campus whether they had been tomboys or sissies, and whether they had ever thought about being the opposite sex.

When he asked women if they had ever wanted to be a man, or wondered what it would be like, many said they had. When he asked about being tomboys when they were little, they often reminisced on that happy time.

But when he asked men whether they had ever wanted to be a woman, or been curious about what it might be like, stunned reactions were the rule: “What!? Are you serious?” When he asked if they had been sissies when they were young, men turned an angry eye and asked, “Are you looking for trouble?”

He’s lucky to have finished his research and still be alive and in one piece.

This is just one of many examples of how we “gender rank” men above women in our society.

What difference does it make?

Ranking men above women affects many areas of life. It affects what men and women think they deserve – with men thinking they deserve more, and women feeling they deserve less. This isn’t necessarily conscious, but we can see the results: Women tend to give men more power in relationships and men tend to expect greater power; women are less likely to ask for a raise; men take up more space; the list goes on. It’s all about empowerment and disempowerment.

As we shall see, gender ranking also affects sexuality in various problematic ways, ranging from slut-shaming to sexual abuse.

Stay tuned.

Georgia Platts

DO Women Like Sex Less Than Men?

Responses to my post asking why women like sex less than men included:

  • Says who?
  • I think it’s the opposite – I think women like it more
  • I don’t think anyone can know who likes sex better

Or as one reader put it, “The overwhelming majority of men and women get their attitudes and desires for sex primarily through the natural, healthy desire to have sex… Women are equal to men and thus capable of every form of behavior that men engage in.”

To which I respond: no and yes (in that order).

Women are certainly capable of enjoying sex immensely. In some societies women are highly orgasmic and inclined to engage in sex with great frequency, as with Tahitians and American Indians before contact with Europeans.

But highly orgasmic women in America? Not so much – at least not by comparison.

Of course women are capable of having great sex. But the extent to which they actually do depends on factors other than just what nature brings them. Repression plays a role, and so do sexual objectification and male dominance (all will be explored later).

Do women like sex less? Consider this research on sexuality in America:

On the orgasm front three-quarters of men say they “always” have an orgasm, but just 30% of women do. One quarter of women don’t usually have orgasms. In the casual sex of hook-ups the rate is lower, especially for women. Sociologist Michael Kimmel (Guyland) surveyed college students on their most recent hookup. Only 44% of the men reported having an orgasm, and only 19% of the women did.

The more orgasmic a person is, the more they report enjoying sex. Not surprisingly, women report liking sex less than men do. A Chicago University study found that men have more interest in sex at all ages. And an ABC News Primetime Live survey found that 83% of men “enjoy sex a great deal,” while only 59% of women do. That same study found that while 70% of men think about sex every day, only 34% of women do.  

Women also experience more sexual dysfunction than men. A report from the Archives of Internal Medicine showed more than one quarter of young women feeling weak sexual desire. While research at the University of Chicago found that 32% of women (but only 15 -17% of men) have low libidos. Not surprisingly, 40% of men say they would like to have more sex than they do now, but only 28% of women feel the same way.

For more evidence of gender difference in sexual interest, see my post: Sex Research: It Doesn’t Fit Me, It Must Be Wrong

I wonder if men ever sit around confiding to friends that sex ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve listened to these kinds of conversations with many groups of women, yet it’s hard to imagine men doing the same thing.

The difference in the male and female experience is due mostly to cultural forces. The difference in the female experience between modern Americans and ancient Tahitians is entirely due to culture.

Yet many people think our society has no negative effects on women’s sexuality.

Maybe that’s why we don’t do anything to create change.

Georgia Platts

Sources of Power in Relationships

 There are many sources of power in relationships, but a few stand out:

1. Higher education, income, and occupational status, especially in marriage relationships when men make more money. Both partners tend to feel that a man should have more say since he contributes greater resources to the family.

When wives are economically dependent and fear they can’t support themselves, husbands can become especially powerful. Some abusive men get their wives pregnant (by destroying birth control devises) to increase their wives’ dependency – and their control over their partners.

Women are less likely to become more powerful when they make more money because they generally don’t want to diminish their partners.

 2. Relationship options. Perhaps a woman is economically dependent, but she is beautiful and she knows it. She knows that if she leaves the relationship, she can quickly find someone else. This gives her a lot of clout.

3. Traditional gender roles. People who hold traditional notions about gender are more likely to accept male authority. While our society has achieved greater equality, men still typically have a bit more power in relationships.

Interestingly, young men today more often say they prefer equal partnerships.

4. Strong personalities. Even among the traditional-minded, some women just have stronger personalities. The couple will often deem the man, “head of home” when really, the woman is in charge.

 5. Whoever cares least about the relationship has more power because the partner who cares more is more likely to cave in.  

There are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand it may simply be a sad, but true, fact of life.

Yet there may be some poetic justice. If one person is poorly treated, he or she will be more likely to leave. And this can create an incentive to change. If the relationship moves back into a better balance of happiness, equality can be regained.

Why Don’t Women Like Sex As Much As Men?

What’s the difference between a slut and a bitch? If you are an American university student you probably know the punch line:

“A bitch has sex with everyone but me.”

How do men view women’s sexuality? And how does this affect their relationships with women?

Many men get their sex education from two primary sources: friends and porn. And their friends learn a lot from porn, too. These are the men who seem to see women as bitches or sluts.

So how are women portrayed on the pornography front?

Women meet strangers and become immediately aroused, sexual activity quickly ensues, and they come swiftly to orgasm. And by the way, women love threesomes and orgies. Really, the more the merrier!

In porn women’s sexuality looks more like men’s than women’s.

Pornography leads single men to believe that other men are getting an awful lot of sex. And they wonder why they aren’t. “Why do babes (aka sluts) have sex with everyone but me? Those bitches!”

In the U.S. women’s sexuality is far different from how it is portrayed in porn. Typically, women are much more interested in romance and relationship than in casual intercourse. And while some women love sex (sometimes more than their partners) surveys show that they typically enjoy sex less than men do, and want far fewer partners.

Biology does not seem to be the main reason for the difference. While the male brain does seem to be designed for greater interest in sex, women and men have matched up far more evenly in other times and places.

I will be posting an ongoing series (interspersed with other topics) to discuss these questions, among others:

  • How do men and women experience sex differently?
  • What affects sexual experience and why do American women typically enjoy sex less than men?
  • How do differences and misunderstandings affect relationships between women and men?
  • What are the benefits and costs of the so-called male and female ways of sexuality?
  • What can women learn from men and what can men learn from women?

To understand all this, we’ll need to explore things you might not expect, like how objectification can dampen a woman’s sexual experience, even as it heightens a man’s. Or, we still rank men above women in our society, and this ends up diminishing women’s sexual interest in ways that are not immediately obvious – though they should be.

Meanwhile, men, if you’re not getting a lot of sex, don’t take it personally. And don’t take it out on women.

Georgia Platts

Sources:

Michael Kimmel. Guyland. Harper. 2008

Pamela Paul. Pornified. Holt. 2005

Popular posts on BroadBlogs:

Readers Discuss: Are Women Polygamous?

http://broadblogs.com/2010/08/23/are-women-polygamous-or-monogamous-a-discussion/

Did Slut-Shaming Kill Phoebe Prince?

http://broadblogs.com/2010/07/22/did-slut-shaming-kill-phoebe-prince/

The Burqa and Individual Rights: It’s Complicated

“Burqa bans” are arising throughout Europe, with France voting their approval this past Tuesday. But many are concerned that the prohibitions limit the individual rights of Muslims.

It’s complicated.

First, the garment itself limits individual rights – women’s. Second, to what extent is the burqa wearer exercising actual choice? Finally, is a ban the best way to go?

Let’s start with the question of women’s choice.

When a society’s way of seeing becomes our own – even when it harms us – the belief is “internalized.” My interest in this phenomenon was sparked by my upbringing. In the early years of the feminist movement women from my church were bused to various conventions to vote down things like equal pay for equal work. I spent afternoons listening to women in my church talk about keeping battered women’s shelters from opening. They were against women receiving priesthood authority, and they were for male leadership in the home.

I didn’t understand why they worked so hard to disempower themselves, their daughters, and other women. But people don’t tend to question the taken-for-granted notions of their culture. It’s simply what you do.  So choice disappears.

The same phenomenon arises in other settings. Saudi women say they don’t want to vote or drive. Many 19th Century American women didn’t want the vote, either. In North Africa women defend the genital mutilations that kill and cripple them.

Burqas limit women’s autonomy and power. Yet some women voluntarily don them, keeping with their culture.

Burqas – or niqabs (face coverings) – prevent wearers from gaining driver’s licenses when they are strictly worn, since identity can’t be confirmed via picture ID. When a city or village lacks public transportation it is hard to get around without a car. That makes it tough to get a job.

Even with transportation it’s not easy finding work in a facemask. The mask seems dehumanizing and eerie, as does the subjugation it represents.

But ethnocentrism is thought weightier than sexism. “Isms” that affect men seem more important than those that affect women – even when women are harmed, as when a female German judge denied a Muslim woman’s appeal for divorce, claiming that being beaten was part of her culture. 

Did women have equal power to create the cultures that harm them?

Some women do resist, but feel pressured, as one of my Muslim students told me when we discussed the matter of covering.

But bans may not be the best way to deal with burqas or niqabs. Bans can backfire since people cling more tightly to their groups when they feel persecuted. As restrictions go into effect more women might actually embrace the burqas that limit them.

A better way may lie in creating conversation so that different cultures can consider a variety of perspectives. I am sure that Westerners and Muslims can learn from each other and our different ways of seeing.

Georgia Platts