Monthly Archives: May 2008

Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye (2)

Cross posted on The Hand Mirror

… the male door opening ritual. This ritual, which is remarkably widespread across classes and races, puzzles many people, some of whom do and some of who do not find it offensive. Look at the scene of two people approaching a door. The male steps slightly ahead and opens the door. The male holds the door open while the female glides through. Then the male goes through. The door closes after them. “Now how’, one innocently asks, “can those crazy womenslibbers say that is oppressive? The guy removed a barrier to the lady’s smooth and unruffled progress” But each repetition of this ritual has a place in a pattern, in fact in several patterns. One has to shift the level of one’s perception to see the whole picture.

The door-opening pretends to be a helpful service, but the helpfulness is false. This can be seen by nothing [as much as] that it will be done whether or not it makes any practical sense. Infirm men and men burdened with packages will open doors for able-bodied women who are free of physical burdens. Men will impose themselves awkwardly and jostle everyone in order to get to the door first. The act is not determined by convenience or grace. Furthermore, these very numerous acts of unneeded of even noisome “help” occur in counterpoint to a pattern of men not being helpful in many practical ways in which women might welcome help. What women experience is a world in which gallant princes charming commonly make a fuss about being helpful and providing small services when help and services are of little or no use, but in which there are rarely ingenious and adroit princes at hand when substantial assistance is really wanted in either mundane affairs or in situations of threat, assault or terror. There is no help with the (his) laundry; not help with typing a report at 4.00am,; no help in mediating disputes among relatives or children. There is nothing but advice that women should stay indoors after dark, be chaperoned by a man, or when it comes down to it, “lie back and enjoy it.”

The gallant gestures have no practical meaning. Their meaning is symbolic. The door-opening and similar services provided are services which really are needed by people who are for one reason or another incapacitated – unwell, burdened with parcels, etc. So the message is that women are incapable. The detachment of the acts from the concrete realities of what women need and do not need is a vehicle for the message that women’s actual needs and interests are unimportant or irrelevant. Finally, these gestures imitate the behaviour of servants towards masters and thus mock women, who are in most respects the servants and caretakers of men. The message of the false helpfulness of male gallantry is female dependence, the invisibility or insignificance of women, and contempt for women.

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality, 1983

What happened to the 40-hour week?

I guess public servants just don’t count as workers. Kevin Rudd has declared that he expects public servants to continue their long working hours.

Funny. I thought Rudd was a Labor leader, someone with a commitment to niceties like the 40-hour work week. Just not when it comes to public servants, it seems.

Let’s make the first one a real beauty

The inaugural Down Under Feminists Carnival is coming up soon, and you have until the end of the month to get your submissions in. The criteria are casual and relaxed – the way we like it around here, perhaps. Carnival founder, and opening night host Lauredhel, of Hoyden fame, says that:

Anything feminist posted in May from an Australian or New Zealander blogger is fair game.

So have a look though your posts, and send a submission, using the blog carnival form that Lauredhel has set up.

Now is good! Submissions close on 31 May, and the carnival will appear sometime in early June.

The carnival home page is here, and the submission form is here. Be patient with the submission form; I have found that once I have filled in the first box, and clicked on the next, it has a little think, then fills in most of the rest of the form all by itself.

Other things you can do to support the carnival:
– Put the sidebar button on your own blog, and link it to the carnival homepage.
– Contact the awesome carnival founder, Lauredhel, and offer to host the carnival. Lauredhel uses gmail, and her user name there is lauredhelhoyden

Places to be

I was fascinated by this post on Helen’s blog, Show your workings. Helen writes a craft blog, but along the way she talks about mothering and politics and feminism, and all that. As a new mother, she found her way to The Nappy Network, and there she found:

Hidden in this apparently domestic women’s forum is a hot bed of political debate, some of the liveliest threads were about climate change, peak oil, sustainability, religion, reproductive rights and women’s health.

As for herself, she sees craft as a political statement.

It places value on “women’s work”, it promotes sustainability, it’s used to help women and children in need and to raise awareness of important issues. It’s often dismissed as a time waster for white middle-class women and, at it’s worst, I guess it can be. At its best it’s much more than that.

And her daily life is political. It’s a round of cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, childcare, running a cottage business, all sustainably, both for the environment, and for her and her family.

In other words I’m trying to live my politics on a daily basis and it seems to me that there are many more women like me doing the same thing. It’s not that we aren’t thinking about politics or interested, we are just busy living it!

And then Lyn of Notes from the Grery Lynn Singles Club fame wrote a series of posts about women’s experience on-line. She started with What’s in a name, remarking that she felt that people dealt with her more politely, in direct exchanges, when she used a female name. (I was surprised by that; it’s not been my experience, but well, read on to see what happened next.) Lyn went on to say that when she used a male name, people were more inclined to deal with her arguments.

I felt as though what I had to say was the most important part of any comment or interaction I had online, and no quarter was given for the fact of my being female. It was like I’d sneaked into the secret boys’ club where arguing is allowed. I loved it. It gave me a taste of a world where I was finally part of the male in-crowd. However temporarily.

But a few days later, she wrote about being female in on-line gaming contexts. The default assumption is that you are male, if you use a male or a non-gender specific on-line name, and that can bring some quite extraordinary benefits.

As a woman with a male handle or character you can shout and burp and fight and not care about people’s feelings and not be looked at. It’s an oddly comfortable place to be. The way that women get treated may always going to be a motivation for us to assume male identities if we can pull it off. Does the net actually offer us a way to get beyond the vicissitudes of gender? Could it be possible to escape misogyny forever by becoming metaphorically male in droves?

Sadly I think not. It’s discovery that causes the problems. One slip about how attractive Johnny Depp is, or that you’re appalled by the sexism in a blog post and it’s all over.

So she urges women to stake a claim in the on-line environment, making it women’s space as well as men’s space, just as women have made it into legislatures, business, universities, all sort of spaces that used to be reserved for men.

A few days later again, she wrote an ‘Update on What’s in a Name?’.

After posting my musings on the gendered ways people (probably men) treat (probably) women in comments threads on political blogs I’ve had the happy experience of getting into a couple of (minor) stoushes with (probably) blokes over at the standard. I guess I spoke too soon.

She had some stories to tell of her experiences at what is supposedly a progressive blog in New Zealand. Go read them on her post. She concluded:

I do continue to think however, that there are online spaces in which women don’t always feel comfortable to contribute. Recent second-hand reportage from bloggers I know off-line has suggested that there are women who’ve been forced out of their OWN internet spaces or silenced in others through intimidation from people who, if they aren’t men, certainly purport to be and also seem to act that way (if anyone can be said to “act” when all they’re able to do is write text).

Then in response to a comment made at The Hand Mirror by one of the more prolific writers on the supposedly progressive blog, Lyn wrote about the importance of exemplars.

Getting back to my opening point, if the standard wants more women to comment then they should probably have more women writing. At the moment Steve is posting about 60% or more of all the pieces being run, and there are no writers who can be obviously identified as female. I assumed that all the posters were male, which is apparently not the case, but I bet I’m not the only one. Choice of topic might be an issue, and the stoushing style of interaction, coupled with some really brain-dead and/or sexist comments are not usually something that women indulge in when in more female dominated spaces. However – I’d be interested to see what would happen at the standard if there were more writers identifying themselves as women. Given all available evidence I’d be inclined to expect that the number of comments by women would increase and that this would quickly snowball, and that the change to commenting style would make it a space women would be more interested in occupying.

I been thinking about all this, about Helen’s identification of places where women are free to be women and to be political, and Lyn’s experience of being female in on-line political forums.

Lyn’s experience gels with mine, both seeing and experiencing what goes on in some progressive blogs when feminism is raised. It’s as though claiming that something is sexist or misogynist is disallowed, no matter what. Whoever you are arguing with sees it as a foul play, something that’s going to derail the argument, or not something to be taken seriously at all. Introducing a gender analysis, or claiming to be feminist, invites derision. To be fair, it’s not the blog writers who are seemingly deaf to feminist arguments and analysis. But the commentariat seems to forget that being feminist is not a optional extra when it comes to being socially progressive; feminism is an integral part of progressivism. (Check the Feminism 101 blog on Feminism and Humanism / Equalism for more on this and other basic feminist ideas, and Melissa’s list of Feminism 101 points at Shakesville.)

It’s no wonder that women aren’t always vocal in on-line environments, or that they are vocal in places that are gender demarcated as women’s spaces, like mothering blogs and sites, and craft blogs. And it leaves me wondering about where I want to be. I get tired of being shouted at for daring to raise a claim of misogyny, and I’m sure other women do too. I’m loving blogging at The Hand Mirror, being part of a community of women blogging together on topics that really matter to us, as women. But it’s a shame if the only places where I feel I can be me are demarcated as women’s space, and that if I enter another part of the blogosphere, I must leave being female, and feminist, behind.

Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye

Cross posted on The Hand Mirror

Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality, 1983

One helluva hollaback

Cross posted on The Hand Mirror

I’m not sure what to say about this. A woman in New Zealand was so fed-up with wolf whistles that when she was faced with yet another barrage of them while she was waiting to use an ATM, she stripped naked, completed her bank transaction, put her clothes back on and calmly walked off.

It’s an amazing hollaback, but I really would like to know a little more about what happened. I would love to know how the workmen reacted when their bluff was called. It’s such an assertion of power on the part of wolf whistlers, claiming the right to comment on a woman’s appearance, and viewing her only as an object available for their ‘appreciation’. So it’s great to see a woman responding in such a strong fashion – “It’s my body and I’ll do what I damn well want with it and my body is NOT available to you!”

The police spoke to her. She’s a tourist, and apparently they explained to her that her behaviour was not acceptable in New Zealand.

Did they speak to the workmen too?

Update: See Poneke’s comment.

Half-way fluffery

Half way through the essays, so here is some fluffery to celebrate.

We moved to this strange land so that my husband could take the next big step up in his career. He’s in a senior role, and it’s the sort of senior role which means that he needs to look after staff and visitors t his organisation. So, I get to be, from time to time, Mrs Husband’s-Job-Title.


Or at least, maybe it should. It doesn’t really, because as it turns out, I like preparing meals, and feeding people, and welcoming them to my home and making them feel comfortable and that they matter to us. And we have always, always, always operated in partnership mode. At this time, this is what our partnership is doing.

Nevertheless, a good friend of mine gave me a rather nice pack of paper napkins to use the first time we have a big work party at our place.

Take a look over the break. (Apologies in advance for the poor photo quality. But you will get the point.)

Continue reading