I don't know how many of you watched the debate this week, but at one point, one of the questions brought up something near and dear to my heart: a woman asked what each of the candidates would do in the next four years about the fact that women (still) earn about $.73 to the dollar compared to men (for doing the same jobs with the same qualifications, she didn't say, but I will). There are a couple of things to talk about, vis-a-vis the answers.
Thing the first is the one that's been all over the interwebs ever since: Mitt Romney's answer and his (now-infamous, and probably never-to-be-lived-down) binders full of women. As soon as he said that, I thought - this one's sticking, and as a linguist, of course, I find it interesting to think about why that is. What is it about that part of his answer that is so utterly meme-able? There were so many other things about his answer that I found noticeable that didn't take to the airwaves in the same way. For example, when he said that he received no female candidates for posts in his cabinet, the question I think he should have been asking right away is not, how do I get binders full of women to ask to apply, but instead, why aren't women applying to work in my cabinet? What message am I failing to get across that makes women feel that they don't want to apply? What broader social forces are at play that make women not apply to positions of power more generally? What is going on here? But OK, he didn't. The next issue with that answer was the fact that his protestations that he knows qualified women sounded all too much like a recognized trope when a person with prejudice is confronted with that prejudice, and they respond: "But I have lots of friends who are X". That phrase usually doesn't mean what it sounds like it means.
The binders full of women, though, that's what struck a nerve (judging by the amount of space devoted to it on social networks). Interestingly, it's the way that it's been used to mock another powerful man altogether that I think gets to the heart of the problem with it. I'm not sure if any of you have seen the Bill Clinton "I heard there's a binder full of women!" pictures going around (I've seen at least three iterations, and heard about several more), but it seems to me that those point to the issue here: it's about objectification. It's about the idea that women are interchangeable, available, tokens. Because the binders full of women don't get at the real problem - why women didn't apply, why women are still paid less than 75% of what men are paid, why there wasn't a woman standing on that stage answering those questions - and because those binders don't get at answers to those questions, they seem far too much like a pat on the head, a brushing-aside or covering-over of a very large problem.
Because let's be honest - neither candidate answered the question worth a damn. Both of them talked about access, about the idea that women should have access to jobs. They're right, women should. But if we end up doing the jobs that men do for 25% less, then do we really have access to the "same" jobs, with the same benefits? Does that really address the question of why women are considered to be 25% less valuable in the workplace? Or of why that number has been going down again in recent years, rather than up? Does it address the fact that most single-parent homes with children in them are headed by women, who then must support those families on 3/4 of the income their male counterparts would get for working as hard as they do? Does it address the fact that when women do, finally, begin to get access to a particular career, that career loses prestige and, concomitantly, pay? (If you think I'm wrong, look at the difference in pay in medical careers like family practice as opposed to surgery - still male-dominated; or look at what's happened to professorial pay since women gained more, although still not equal, access to the halls of academia; look at the differences in pay between the areas of academia that have more women in them relative to those that are still male-dominated.)
Speaking only as an N of 1, I have seen this same thing happen to me. A year after I was hired in my current job, my department hired a male professor who had not yet completed his Ph.D. He earned more than I did, even though I had both the degree and more years of experience in the classroom. More recently, my department hired another male professor who is, as yet, untenured (note: I have held my job for nearly eleven years, have had tenure for five years, and I am currently the chair of my department); he is paid almost exactly what I am paid. Both men are valuable colleagues, worth their pay. But why are my experience and skill (and my degree), not worth more? I have published as much, earned as many awards, taken as little time on leave, etc etc. But I am not worth as much. And for anyone who would say that money isn't everything - that is true in a philosophical and existential sense, but in a capitalist society (which, for our sins, we are), money is one of the most central ways by which we judge, and reward, our perceived sense of what a person is worth in a particular role. More practically, money is how we feed ourselves and our families, clothe our children, give them opportunities, help others in society. It might be nice to think it doesn't matter, but it does.
So, what I want to know is, why did neither of those presidential candidates talk about (here it is, brace yourselves) feminism? About the idea that there should be a social movement that advocates for women, and that continues to do so until women are treated as equal citizens, and that people of both sexes should proudly sign on to such a movement? Why did neither of them mention the Equal Rights Amendment - you know, the one that would acknowledge, under the law, that women are the equal of men? Why do people insist that there is no point in such a thing, that women are already equal to men under the law? If that were true, why is it that women still do not have the opportunities that men have? Why are we treated differently? I have two daughters, and I hate like hell the thought that when they grow up, they will still be part of a world that values them less, that tells them that their roles as mothers are critical to our society but then says that their roles as mothers makes them less-valuable people (and it is still true that mothers are paid even less than their single counterparts, while fathers are paid more than their single counterparts - in other words, parenthood makes men good risks, but women bad risks in the workplace).
Dudes. I am a feminist. That doesn't mean that I hate men. It doesn't mean that I think all women should burn their bras, neglect their children, go into the workforce, be the same as one another, create a society in which women dominate men and abuse power. It does mean that I think that women should have access to a full range of options for personhood, that they should be paid equally to men when the option that they choose is to enter the workforce. I also think that women who stay at home to raise their children should have access to social security earned during the years they are at home with dependent children, in their own names (rather than having to depend on their husbands' - or, worse yet, trying to access some portion of their ex-husbands'), and, maybe, even access to affordable healthcare? Call me a socialist, but if we tell people that one important path a person could choose to take is to be home with their children for part of their childrens' growing up, then we should put our money where our mouths are. (Note: I think stay-at-home dads should have the same benefits.)
I don't think that's going to happen until a couple of other important things happen first. One of those is for women to stop back-biting when their compatriots choose a different path than their own. I work outside the home, and have since my girls were little. That does not make me a bad mother. It doesn't make my husband a hen-pecked man whose masculinity I have taken away by refusing to allow him to provide for his family alone (I have been told both things more than once). A woman who stays home with her children is not an anti-feminist by definition. Breast-feeding neither makes a woman a great mother, nor a bad feminist. Not breast-feeding neither makes a woman a bad mother, nor a great feminist. When did we get so judgmental of one another? When did we decide there was only one path to successful womanhood?
The second thing is that men need to get in on this game. Until fathers are willing to demand paternity leave in equal amounts to women's maternity leave, until they are willing to say, "I need flexible hours so that I can get home with a sick kid if I have to, so I can leave at 5 and get the kids to soccer, so I can leave earlier two days a week since the kids' #$%*!! schools insist on having early-release days, as if 2:30 weren't already a ludicrously early hour to get out of school", until that happens, workplaces will still think of mothers as drains on company resources. Until women are paid equally to men, families will be stuck in a cycle of protecting a father's job more than a mother's, because he brings more back to the family. Men have to stop buying into the (empirically untrue - go ahead and do the research, I have) story that men aren't nurturers, they aren't good at raising children, they don't "bond" with their children the way mothers do, so they don't "like" being with their kids the way mothers do; they have to stop allowing society to cut them off from the pleasures of living a balanced life.
I realize that my rant here has focused on families, on women who have chosen the path of motherhood, and that the choice not to have children at all is yet another one of those equally-legitimate but all-to-often-criticized options that women should have access to. I also haven't talked about the issue of double jeopardy, women who face both sexism and racism in trying to access their right to the options that should be available to everyone. I am not ignoring these things because they're not important, but because I was mostly focusing on my personal experience here - I'd love to get comments from folks who are dealing with those things as well, to bring voices of experience to the table here - middle-class white working motherhood isn't the only story (it isn't even the majority story), it's just the one that I know best.
Basically, it's time to be talking about this (again). It's always been time, but maybe the total non-answers to that question suggest that we need to get a little louder. Maybe we even need to think about doing what Iceland did a few elections ago - to say that men have had their chance, kick them all out of government, and elect women instead. Radical, I know - kind of fun to imagine, though, maybe?
So yes, I am a feminist. AND I knit (not BUT I knit, please note). And I am knitting, in fact. I knitted all the way through that debate on Tuesday, and I ended up with these (started fairly recently, out of a need for some quick success):
Plain Jhaynes, a pattern of Anne's that I somehow have missed all these years, made specially for using up a little bit of special yarn. As soon as I saw them, I realized that they were the perfect pattern for the mitts I've been wanting to make to go with my babushka scarves, which, much as I love them, use a skein and a bit of some very nice yarn, leaving quite a bit to be used up in other ways. This yarn is Jade Sapphire silk/cashmere 2-ply, and I love it. The two babushkas I've knitted (this one and a blue one) are probably my most-worn bits of knitting, and I'm really glad now to have mitts to go with one of them. So, to recap, these mitts are Plain Jhaynes (Anne Hanson), knitted on size one (Signature - how I do love my Signatures) dpns, out of Jade Sapphire silk/cashmere 2-ply, in a size medium. They are meant to fit fairly snugly, to add just that perfect bit of warmth without getting in the way of, say, typing, and I think they're going to do the job perfectly.
The other thing I've been working on this week is my new version of the Wine Dark Sea sweater. You may remember from the old version (here, on Rav) that I knitted years ago, that I aimed for a sweat-shirty loose fit. Well, I got it. In looking at my old pattern notes and measurements, and comparing them to the measurements I tend to use now for sweaters, I realize that I built in about eight inches of positive ease (!!) when I designed and knitted the first one. I ended up with quite a bit of yarn left over after I knitted it (my very favorite, can't-get-enough-of-it yarn, Briar Rose Sea Pearl), and after weighing and doing some math, I decided I had enough left to knit another, more fitted (less than 1 inch of positive ease) version. So I put together some notes for myself, and did some math based on my gauge swatch.
There are also a few acquisitions of yarn and fiber, plus a cookbook that I'm totally psyched about, but I think I'll save those for the next post. In the meantime, peace out.