An Open Letter about Feminism to My Brothers

Dear Brother,

My Dad encouraged me to speak out.  He was a feminist!

My Dad encouraged me to speak out. He was a feminist!

I write to you today because I realize how uncomfortable you have been of lately. The Third Wave of Feminism (as it is being dubbed) is blooming (and praise be for it), and you are hearing women speak out about rape cultures, feminism, wage inequality, and the fact that the glass ceiling has not, no matter what PR spinners wish to say, broken. And because of social media, this third wave of feminism is loud, louder then even the first or second wave of feminism.  Women have a large medium to play with and they are using it.  But,  I see your discomfort on Facebook, on Twitter, and other social media outlets.  Many of you are feeling attacked and I am deeply sorry for this.

Please do not feel we are attacking you! We are NOT! We are attacking a system.  Many of our brothers stand with us and also reject a system that objectifies women, promoting the idea of the female as a means to an end. Many of our brothers object to a rape culture.  But what we have to say may make you uncomfortable.  When I talk about my rape, I am NOT blaming you, unless you were the one who did it and trust me, I would not be FB friends with you if that was the case!

Rather, it is important to understand something my dear brother: for decades we were asked to be silent about sexual abuse, assault and gender inequality.  And if we weren’t silent, we were threatened or attacked. Every woman in my immediate family, and yes we have all been sexually assaulted and raped, were threatened for speaking out one way or another: threatened by our attacker and by society at large. You see, this is something you don’t talk about in good company.

Nicolas Mollet, Rape, Events.

It’s like politics or religion, keep your mouth shut. That was the standard. If you did speak out, even your family could punish you for your transgression. Police force, school officials, and other authorities in our culture told us to be quiet.  And if we weren’t quiet we were more often than not, blamed for our attacks. Just like we are often blamed for encouraging an environment in which cat calls are generated: “you asked for it because you dressed like a slut.”

1920s competition

But the idea of dressing like a slut has been so subjective throughout time, and yet it still haunts us women: we exposed our ankles, we were sluts. We exposed a bit of shoulder, we were sluts. We allowed our breasts to be held up in a bra, we were sluts. We took our bra off, we were sluts. We exposed our legs in hot weather, we were sluts. We wear yoga pants, covering our bare legs, we are sluts. You see, this attitude, over time, has bubbled in the cauldron.  And the Cauldron is about ready to explode.

But should you feel threatened by this? No, my dear brother. Not unless you are contributing to the culture, you should not feel threatened by it.  But sadly many of you do. I know because I’ve had conversations with you over Facebook, on twitter, and face-to-face. I have been told that we need to get rid of the word “feminism” because it means that we hate men and are actively into male bashing. What we hate, dear brother, is a disgusting cultural norm that must be revised, but we don’t hate you. Why should we hate our counterpart?

Mabel Capper and Suffragettes with Petition

Feminism was never defined by feminists as male bashing; a matter of fact, feminism defined as a way for women to bash her fellow male counterpart was created by people, men and women alike, who wanted the status quo of gender relationships to be maintained. Why?  One reason was economics.  Consider the recession of the 1970s, and the fact that women coming into the employment market threatened men who were losing their jobs. You see, not unlike today, a corporation could hire part-time female workers for a lot less money than they were charging their male counterparts. Hell, they could hire a woman full time and still pay her less for doing the exact same job as her male counterpart. As men were laid-off from their jobs, a new market niche open, one for women, and many families were desperate for those women to go in and take those part-time jobs. But this should not be understood as male bashing feminism. It was survival.

I don’t want to give you a history lesson, but I do want to encourage you to go out and get a history lesson about feminism, my dear brother. The thing is this, people were feeling threatened, and a PR campaign was created in proclaimed that only lesbians, and male haters, were said to be feminist. The good woman, rejected feminism. This is the same bullshit that we are seeing today with the #IDon’tNeedFeminism and #WomenAgainstFeminism movement that is occurring in reaction to the third wave of feminism. Yes, history is repeating itself. And the sad thing is, most of these men and women who are part of this movement, don’t understand what feminism is. They also don’t understand that they are acting against their own self interest by rejecting feminism.

Gender Equality

So what does feminism mean? It means simply this: that men and women enjoy equal rights. These equal rights are to be understood as being enjoyed in the political realm, the economic round, the social realm, in short – in life. Equality. We ask for no more. We don’t want to rise above man, we don’t want to smash man, we don’t want to be better than men. We want equality and we want justice. Equality does not exist between the sexes presently, and it cannot exist if we continue to encourage and and nurture a culture norm that sees women as objects. That’s the truth.

My dear brothers, please do not feel threatened by the stories that you are hearing women share about their rapes and sexual assaults, about the economic inequality that they are suffering, or the fact that they feel ignored in this world. They are not blaming “you;” that is, unless you have done something to be blamed for. Rather, they are blaming a cultural norm that has gone wrong, and they are asking you, dear brother, to stand with them. I am asking you to stand with me!  I need you!  I need your voice and your conviction.  I need you to be willing to question your assumptions about gender relationships. I need you to speak out when you have been treated badly as well. But above all, I need you to stand with me. I am not asking you to sit in the sidelines. Fight with us and help us make a better world.

Mahalo,
R

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Mrs. Joyfully

Mrs. and Mrs.

Mrs. and Mrs.

My Sister

I am proud to be called Mrs.

Me

What? Oh Goodness no.  Do you understand what that implies?

My sister

I know Ma would turn over in her grave if she had one, but I am so happy.  I’m a Mrs.!

It has taken me a while to wrap my head around this and a few other declarations my sister and her wife have made since they got married. They are celebrating so many aspects of marriage that I, a heterosexual woman, find offensive and worrisome: taking on the name Mrs., and changing their last name to display what, I thought initially, …. ownership?  These changes are embraced with such pride and joy, while I, Ms. feminist heterosexual woman (no, make that Dr. feminist heterosexual woman … thank you very much; – see “**” note below), sit bemused and baffled as to how I should react to all of of this.

I got married reluctantly.  I loved, still love the man I married, but I was aware of the patriarchal bagage this marriage contract came with … was … is … loaded with. But as aware of the patriarchal arrangement I was entering into, I was not prepared. Not by a long shot. Indeed, the process of getting married and the first year of marriage was hell because of the patriarchal social expectations that went along with marriage. Getting married, become a Mrs. has baggage that was truly unexpected and undesired.  After we got married, both my husband and I were loaded down with expectations as to who we should now be, how our priorities should change, and how we should act in our little world. For example, I could not be among people without being asked when I planned on getting pregnant, when I planned on leaving work, and I was now introduced by others as my husband’s wife Rebecca (rarely the other way around – people introduced George as simply “George” not “Rebecca’s husband George”).*

Being the good feminist, I refused to take my husband’s last name because it simply seemed silly to me; why should I be asked to shun my heritage because I was joining with another family? That family wasn’t taking on my last name, were they? Further, I had established an artistic reputation with the last name McCarthy, why start over again? I was confident in this decision, and the support I had from my families about this decision, until one night while having dinner with my in-laws. My mother-in-law and my sister-in-law talked at the table, tearing apart women who did not take on the last name of their men. This conversation occurred several years after I had been married, and they had forgotten… yes, simply forgot that I was one of those women.  Then Mom caught the look on my face and stopped the conversation. My husband was silent (what can one say caught between their wife and their Mother?) I wanted to be silent too; I felt I broke some great law, some important tradition that angered all human gods. I made an apologetic and cursory statement, reminding them that I was my own woman outside of my husband, and this fact did not make my love for him any less.

Mom

We know dear.  We weren’t talking about you.

Sister-In-Law

No, of course not!

Mom

Absolutely not.  We didn’t mean ….

Me

Oh, no worries.  Please. It’s ok, really. … Err … can I have some more of that gravy please?

I would have hyphened my last name with my husband’s IF he would have done the same.  But in the old patriarchal understanding of marriage, the contract I entered into, the expectation was for the woman to adjust, not the man.  This is not the same today.

photo (2)

My Mom’s OED – Ouch that Text!

I was once told that “Mrs.” meant “property of.” I was also told that Miss and Mrs. signified not only your status to the world (not married, married), but also who you belong to (your father, your husband).  Now curious because of my sister’s new Mrs. title, I went to the great Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for clarification. For our collective education, here are the main entries for “Mrs.” (I have omitted those entries that seem redundant):

a. A title of courtesy prefixed to the surname of a married woman having no higher or professional title,** often with her first name, or that of her husband, interposed (also formerly prefixed to the first name of her husband with omission of the surname).

Though used to distinguish gentlewomen in former times the title is now applied without discrimination. In British use, the insertion of a woman’s first name after Mrs (as ‘Mrs Mary Smith’) used to occur chiefly in legal documents, cheques, etc., and was otherwise rare, the normal practice being to insert the husband’s name (as ‘Mrs John Smith’) when distinction was needed. Both styles are now commonly used. In England Mrs is sometimes used before a title of office; lady High Court Judges, for example, are styled ‘Mrs Justice ——’ Cf.

b. A title prefixed to the name of an unmarried lady or girl; = miss n.2 2a. Now rare except as a title of courtesy applied, with or without inclusion of the first name, to elderly unmarried ladies (this use seems to have arisen in the late 18th cent.).

c. colloq. In substitution for the name of a married woman (esp. when mentioned in conjunction or comparison with her own husband); a wife.

d. Prefixed to the military or professional title of the woman’s husband (with or without his surname following).

e. colloq. the Mrs: a wife; esp. one’s own wife. Cf.

These definitions cover the use of the title Mrs. from the 1400s to present day, and although a type of ownership might be implied (especially in definition “e”), it is not explicitly stated. I have to admit, I was rather surprised by this discovery. However, this does not render the title guiltless. On the contrary, when we look at the most common titles for men and women, one is struck by the fact that men have a single title, Mr., while women have two main titles, Miss. and Mrs. Men get to be Misters whether they are married or not, young or old. This title is a general title used to declare gender and, originally  standing in society rather than social marriage status.  Women, on the other hand, must be designated by their marriage status. Are you married? Then you must be a Mrs. and you must take your husband’s last name. If you are not married, then you must be a Miss., and you have your father’s last name (traditionally – unless you were born out of wedlock and then you have your mother’s last name and society call you a bastard … nice, such empathy …. meh).

It was not until the turn of the eighteenth century that Ms. was introduced as “a title of courtesy prefixed to the surname of a woman, sometimes with her first name interposed. Ms has been adopted esp. in formal and business contexts as an alternative to Mrs and Miss principally as a means to avoid having to specify a woman’s marital status (regarded as irrelevant, intrusive, or potentially discriminatory)” (OED).  The first listed reference for this term, according to the OED, appears on 10 November 1901, in the Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican:

“The abbreviation ‘Ms.’ is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as ‘Mizz’, which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike” (idid).

So the question comes down to why we must signify, generally, that a woman is married but we do not necessarily need to signify the same for a man? This is, of course, why titles such as Ms. came about. Sometimes it’s impossible to know if someone is married, and if you are married, why should you be signified or represented by that marriage. You are, after all, still the same person you were before entering into the marriage. Ms. seems well-suited to deal with this problem.

Enter in gay marriage.

What I find fascinating and inspirational as a heterosexual married feminist, is how gay marriage will change all of this – throw all this social mess with linked expectations on it proverbial defined head, tossing it all about and changing not only defined ideas, but expectations and “how we do things around here” mentalities. By marrying another woman, my sister didn’t quite have those patriarchal expectations on her shoulders when she proudly defined herself as a Mrs. Rather, the ability to define herself as a Mrs. throws most of those normal patriarchal expectations out the window. When you have two women, married to each other, the only definition of “Mrs.” that can exist is that of signifying a legally married relationship.  This however does not diminish the reality that women are still known by their marriage status, where as men are know as, well, being men. That baggage still remains, to be certain. Maybe the term Mrs. should not be associated with gender but simply marriage status, used by all, men and women.  Now that’s change baby!  Such a move would signify legal marriage unions, which is also demonstrative by my sister’s choice of a new last name.

Today, my sister is happy to take on her wife’s last name and vise versa. They are “hyphenating” to match their son’s last name, which is hyphened as well.  But they are actively reinventing what marriage means in this small act. Indeed, because they both have the freedom (social, legal and otherwise) to take each other’s last name without legal expectations that they are doing something wrong, changing their last name is an act of joy.  It is also a political act, a rearrangement of how things can be understood in the world of marriage, property, ownership and social hierarchies  Talking to another female couple who was also planning on getting married after Ref 74 was pass, I was delighted to learn that these two women were thinking about taking on an entirely alien last name – reinventing their union by adopting a last name not formally associated with either one of them. This I found truly inspirational. It was an act of fundamental redefinition of what a union between two people meant. But I couldn’t help but wonder… would some then identify them as sisters rather than married women?  Only time will tell, but time will also help evolve today’s limited understanding and definition of marriage.

For feminists and all of us in general, at least in my opinion, gay marriage can only help in our effort to spread equality. When we work to redefine equality for any group in our society, we work to redefine equality for everyone. It must be an inclusive act, one that challenges the structure of discrimination not only at a social level, but also at its conceptual level – what does Mrs. mean and how does that term reflect common social practices and prejudices?  I am personally excited and anticipating the day when the Oxford English Dictionary includes under its examples for the use of the word Mrs. the following: a title signifying legal commitment between two people, regardless of gender. 2012 The Seattle Times: “Mrs. Lynn Bailey and Mrs. Joanna Bailey were married on December 9, 2012, in Washington State, at the home of Mrs. John Smith and Mrs. Rob Smith.”

_______

* I should admit to occasions when my husband is introduced as “Rebecca’s husband,” but this is honesty rare, and always surprising.  Still there are those time, those beautiful moments where the breasts come first and not simply because they stick out.

** It is interesting to note how this definition argues that the title, which goes with an earned higher degree should supersede the title of Mrs. If a married woman is also a doctor or a PhD, she should be addressed as Dr. rather than Mrs. Yet I witness, often, where fellow married female PhD’s are introduced as Mrs. and their husbands, whose who have a doctorate, are alway introduced as Dr.

Roller Derby and Feminism

Toxic 253 in Tacoma, WA

Toxic 253 in Tacoma, WA

“If Roller Derby is really about how awesome the girls are at their sport, then it should REALLY be about that. It should really be about how empowering it is to see women being competitive and athletic and downright bad ass regardless of what they’re wearing. Why does ’embracing your femininity’ in this context turn into wearing sexy clothing? Are there no other ways for women to assert their femininity? And if not, maybe we should reconsider what’s so great about femininity in the first place. And if it’s primarily about playing with sexual norms and doing some kind of Suicide Girls type performance with a little bit of violence added in for spice, well then I think we should stop pretending it’s feminist and empowering.” via Because Sometimes Feminists Aren’t Nice: A Rant Against Roller Derby.

I wanted to write about feminism and Roller Derby and so I did a search for others who had written on the topic already. One of my favoriate posts came from Vicky Vengenance at http://meanfeminism.blogspot.com/ (it is too bad this blog now seems abandoned).  Written in 2006, this post came before my time in Derby, but it deals with a lot of the same issues many people deal with when talking about derby and feminism.

Often, in feminist circles, there is this fear about being sexy and promoting a sexy self.  This fear is a reasonable one, and it goes something like this: if we present ourselves as sexy, we are submitting to a culture that objectifies women for their sexual importance rather than their importance as human beings.  The irony is that our culture, at least Western culture, promotes a healthy feeling of self through a form of sexual presentation. If you dress like a wall mouse, then there must be something wrong with you.  And so it is, to feel that you are powerful and important, also means that you feel sexually desired and in control of your sexual presentation.

For feminists, this can be a problem when strong women dress sexy, and the same issue exists for Roller Derby Players: If I promote a sexual self in Derby style, wearing short hotpants, hot stockings, and other alternative wears offering an air of my “sexy self,” then all of a sudden I am not a badass roller derby skater, but a woman submitting to a cultural hegemony, which objectifies me as a sex object. It’s ironic and it’s difficult.

Me Sporting Purple hair and a tatoo

Me Sporting Purple hair and a  tattoo

But for me, with or without the alternative fashion style of roller derby, derby itself is a feminist space because the values promoted by many roller derby players, fans, and organizations mesh with the values of feminism.  Feminism is about promoting equality and helping to empower women as equal partners in our world, and Roller Derby promotes those same values, while empowering both men and women.  I am empowered as an athlete, as a committee member, as a competitor, as a voter, and, it must be said, in the fashion choices I make on and off the track. But honestly, nobody cares if I wear hot pants, or not. Nobody cares if I wear fishnet stockings or, rather, a thick pair of leggings. No one cares if I have purple hair or blond hair. No one cares if I paint my face or not. What they care about, my fellow roller derby teammates, supporters, coaches, and the refs, is my attitude, my effort on the track, my dedication to training and educating those who come after me (stay low, cross over, where’s the jammer???).  So, although there’s a certain fashion sense in roller Derby, an alternative presentation of sexy, there is no edict, no expectation that I become that fashion.  The edict is to become the best me I possibly can.

The other thing about roller derby and feminism, at least from my point of view, is that there is transmission of information from woman-to-woman (jammer-to-whip-bitch …. is that an anti-feminist thing to say?) about many things in the realm of women’s experiences on and off the track.  I have had the opportunity to speak freely and frequently about important and not so important issues with this group of women. Advice is given from how to offer strong hip checks, to what you should do when your period isn’t showing up on time. We talk menopause and dating, pizza and hitting, bearings and wheel hardness, news and politics and, of course, socks – Lot’s of talk about socks. We come to the track feeling happy or down, frustrated or angry, but we leave uplifted by sport and community.  What a great feminist environment.  We muse about how to make a fantastic dinner, how to take a woman down on the track, and what happened to us when we were sexually abused. We relate.  We Talk. We talk about our kids and our husbands, our wives and our derby wives. There are few taboo topics with one’s teammates – especially when one’s teammates become a community.  This is empowering, refreshing, and upholding of feminist values.

One World Roller Derby Travel Team to USARS Regional Championships  - Image by TJ Gerber

One World Roller Derby Travel Team to USARS Regional Championships

Returning to the post that inspired this one, being feminine is not simply about fashion, and it’s not simply about one’s sexuality. Being feminine is about being – no matter what your fashion sensibilities  Roller derby women are feminine regardless of their fashion choices, since being athletic is very feminine and feminist way of being.

Growing Vaginas and Shrinking Penises?

Regarding the shrinking of penises, Rush Limbaugh has some “scientific” proof that feminazis are to blame!  The below quote was spoken on his show, September 20th, in response to a news story on CBS News Philadelphia.  Although this little snippet might’ve been spoken in jest, I have often wondered why Rush Limbaugh was so scared of feminists and vaginas. Maybe it’s because his mail parts are indeed shrinking:

I have a story, it’s from Philadelphia, CBS News, CBS Eyeball News.  “If size matters, male private parts are shrinking, according to a new Italian study on sexuality.” The kids are back in school now.  It’s okay, it’s September 20th.  It’s just adults out there now.  “The study’s leaders claim to have bona fide research that says the average size of a penis is roughly 10 percent smaller than it was 50 years ago.”  And the researchers say air pollution is why.  Air pollution, global warming, has been shown to negatively impact penis size, say Italian researchers.  I don’t buy this.  I think it’s feminism.  If it’s tied to the last 50 years, the average size of a member is 10% smaller in 50 years, it has to be the feminazis. I mean, the chickification, everything else.  Give ’em time and they’ll blame Bush.  Give ’em time.  But air pollution versus feminazis?  Ha.

You can view the video of Rush’s pronouncement by clicking here.

 

Pussy Riot

If you are a feminist or political activist, you could not have missed the Pussy Riot fallout.  Pussy Riot, a collectivist performance punk group, was sentence to prison for presenting a “punk prayer” in political protest in Russia. Pussy Riot does indeed give hope and energy to the feminist movement.

Here is a great article from Jennifer Hough from the Toronto Star: “How Pussy Riot has Given Feminism a Good Shot in the Arm.”

Read more about this group at Free Pussy Riot!

Listen to one of their songs on YouTube.

I would love to have a conversation about this group!

  • What do you think about Pussy Riot?
  • Do or will they give a shot in the arm to feminism?
  • Do these ladies inspire you at all?

Note: Image by Игорь Мухин at ru.wikipedia