Friday, December 9, 2011

Feminism Failing

I highly suggest you watch this video. This is a trailer for Jessica Valenti's film The Purity Myth, which is adapted from her book on the subject. Valenti is described as a "feminist blogger" in the snippet accompanying this trailer.

I grew up in the Northshore School District, a place where--I am learning more and more--we had excellent sex education, education that was open and honest and informative and important. But the more that I talk to Kili (who went to private school), and Patrick (who grew up smack inside in the Bible Belt, and even friends of mine who went to public schools around the country, the more I realize that my experience was an exception, and nowhere even near the norm.

There is nothing wrong with choosing to wait to have sex until marriage. There is something wrong with equating women who do choose to have sex before marriage with the morally corrupt, with the impure. There is something wrong with refusing to educate individuals who are interested in safe, healthy sexual relationships. There is something wrong with ingraining so deeply in a woman that marriage is a sacred union, that sex is wrong outside of marriage, that she stays with an abusive and disloyal husband. There is something wrong with warping our understandings of sexuality so far that adults who do finally get married and have sex are unable to have healthy and pleasurable sexual relationships because they've been taught "sex is bad sex is bad sex is bad sex is bad sex is bad." This is scary. These are things that we--women, men, people, humans--need to know about, to be happy to know about, and to be happy with.

An issue that I think gets side-stepped in most discourse surrounding abstinence-only education and the virginity or purity myth/movement is the bad rap that's been given to feminism over the course of the past decade or two. This, too, is scary. Perhaps even more so. Because it undermines any authority or confidence that a girl who may want to educate herself about sex actually can have. If sex is bad, and feminism is bad, where does that leave young women? The following are some sound bytes from the Valenti trailer:
"Young men if you are dating a woman who boasts of being a feminist, who uses every four letter word in the Marine Corps manual, who wants no children, who wants to drag you around like a dog on the end of a rope, RUN!"

"Feminism is what I oppose, and feminism is what led women astray."

"Feminism is sexism."

"And the man needs to pursue the woman. You know, some people think, 'oh that's just sexist.'...Personally, I love gender stereotyping."

What's scary about this is that this is real. This is trickling down into the consciousness of our students, of our youth, of the people who are sexually active now, and of the people who will be the future of our culture. During my last semester at UNH, I had my students read an essay by someone who probably would define herself as a feminist. She was writing about gendered language in biology texts, and when I asked the students what they thought, they all--and I do mean all, including the females and the people I thought more intelligent than this--protested that the woman was just an annoying feminist, and that they didn't "believe" in feminism, and the issues she was addressing weren't real issues.

Wait. What?

I asked who in the class identified as feminist. No one raised their hands. I asked what they thought feminism meant, and most had a skewed understanding of bra-burning, man-hating crazies. I asked how many of them thought that women should get paid the same amount of money as men for the same work. All hands raised. I asked who thought women should have the right to choose who they have sex with, and prosecute those who rape or take advantage of them sexually. All hands raised. "You're feminists." They didn't understand. Feminism has become a bad word, a concept that no one wants to be associated with, and this is problematic. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. And planting the idea in young women's--and young men's--heads that there is something wrong with feminism, that feminism is sexist or goes against morality or represents all that is bad in America, that men shouldn't date feminist women is going to fuck with our culture so hard that we'll find ourselves back in the Victorian era so fast you won't have time to say goodbye to suffrage. Pardon my French; I realize it's not very ladylike.

So if you are reading this, and have children or will have children, you probably already are teaching them or have taught them about feminism, about sex, about being healthy and happy and about respect and equality--about how to be a human, and a good one. But unfortunately, this type of education cannot be merely on the individual level. Something needs to change globally, systemically, communally, in order for any sort of healthy understanding of feminism, of sexuality, and of the body to survive. If this means you have to do a little guerrilla parenting--sit your friends' kids and teach them what feminism really means--do it.

Because Valenti's point is that my moral compass doesn't lie anywhere between my legs, but rather in the fact that I want women, and men for that matter, to understand their worth, their bodies, and themselves.

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

Oh my god. What's going on with the girls in white draping things on a cross? Scary.