Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Revolutionary Women: Get Your Brooms And Sweep! The Kitchen Floor, That Is.

Have you followed the Oregon protests by a group of anti-government activists?  The group, lead by Ammon Bundy, registers as right-wing and, at least to me, as pretty fundamentalist.  But revolution they want.

Today's rebellions have a right-wing and fundamentalist religious flavor.  They are also very, very, male-dominated.  The role of women in the Oregon group is described in one article:

SLIDESHOW: Much of the attention surrounding the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has focused on the self-styled militiamen. But there are women occupiers, too. In the shadow of the the cowboy hats at the press briefings and the patrolmen styled with camouflage and rifles, women cook pots of chili, do laundry, and lead Bible study.


Many of the initial crew of women began drifting away by the end of week three, leaving Bass, Cooper and another woman who goes by “Mama Bear” to cook for a crowd of male militants that seems to increase daily. Where there were at first fewer than 20 militants at the refuge, there now seems to be closer to 50. Cooper and Bass look increasingly fatigued.
For her part, Bass feels like the occupation could end if law enforcement and government officials negotiate successfully. She doesn’t want to soften on the occupiers’ demands about federal lands or their view on clemency for the Hammonds. Still, she wishes she could convince the men leaders to get together and talk, calmly.
“But I’m a nobody,” she said. She said she will stay at the refuge as a cook, “for as long as it takes. We women, we are helpers,” said Bass. “That’s how we are created, and that’s what we do here.”

Both bolds are mine.

Compare the views Bass expresses to the views of the Western women who have joined ISIS/Daesh in Syria*.  Indeed, compare the overall views about women's proper places in the two extremist conservative revolutionary movements.  Those proper places for women are kitchens. 

Strictly speaking women, as women,  get nothing good from joining those movements, and in the case of Daesh they get all their freedoms removed.

Yet that is an acceptable bargain for many.  We have fundamentalist religious interpretations and years of educational brain-washing to thank for that.
 * I'm asking you to compare the opinions of the female participants in these revolutionary movements, not the movements itself.  Daesh legally approves the use of  violence, rape, slavery and sadism, and I'm not trying to draw parallels between that and the fumbling efforts of the Oregon protesters.  Daesh also legally wants to eradicate all rights for women.  But the conservative view of what women are for (kitchen, bedroom, under male supervision) is shared by all conservative religious movements, all over this poor globe.

Is This Ageism?

I belong to several Internet groups on various issues.  Some of them allow job announcements and announcements about scholarships and prizes.  Many of those specify that the applicant must be young.

Now compare that common practice today to the 1960s custom of listing available jobs separately for men and women.

The differences are obvious, of course. 

There really aren't scholarships or jobs which require people to be older.  There are some which require educational qualifications or experience that would exclude, say, an eighteen-year-old, just because those qualifications take so long to acquire.  But in principle a qualified teenager could apply for those jobs.

That's not the case for a forty-year-old starting again (after, say, divorce and years of having been a stay-at-home parent) who would like to apply for one of those Jugend Arbeit posts.

Another difference is that the sex segregated job announcements of the 1960s reserved the best jobs for men and put a fence around those. 

The current age-segregated announcements offer one group of people (the young) jobs which we all assume the older applicants wouldn't want, because we tend to think that they are already far along a successful career path, earning much higher salaries than those the young are now offered.

But in reality many middle aged people have crashed careers, none or work in dead-end jobs.  Some have gone back to college and would now be qualified for jobs which define the desired applicant as someone at most three years from college graduation.  But they are not qualified for jobs which require one to be under twenty-five, say.

So is this practice ageist?  Interestingly, I haven't noticed progressive or feminists think so! 

I  think that we simply don't see anything odd in the fact that some jobs and awards are offered only to people in certain age categories, because the age categories that are selected appear obviously the ones where people still need help and support to get launched.  Still, requiring age as a qualification in this context rules out all applicants who are not young enough, but need a relaunch or the first launch of their careers or education.
Picture from my archives.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lightning Posts, 1/25/16: On the Politeness of an Armed Society, Zika Virus and Women, and Kansas Senate Dress Codes for Women

1.  From the "armed society is a polite society" files:  A good Samaritan was shot dead by an inebriated driver.  That horrible story points out some troubling aspects of the politeness that an armed society could create, such as simply avoiding all other people, just in case.  Including your own mother.

2.  The rapid spread of the Zika virus which can cause the child of a woman who was infected while pregnant to be born with microcephaly has led the government of El Salvador to recommend that Salvadorian women just not get pregnant until 2018.

Abortion is illegal in El Salvador, even in the case where the mother's life is at stake, and the linked NYT article argues that most pregnancies there are unplanned.  The Catholic Church is very strong and not especially fond of contraception.  But never mind!  At least the government cannot now be blamed when a wave of microcephalic babies are born.

The point, of course, is that it's the women to whom they are born who bear the brunt of both the blame and the burden of care and the suffering.  Gender politics link to other politics.

3.  We are still in Kansas, Dorothy (a silly reference to the Wizard of Oz):

A dress code imposed by a Kansas Senate committee chairman that prohibits women testifying on bills from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts is drawing bipartisan ridicule from female legislators.
Sen. Mitch Holmes' 11-point code of conduct does not include any restrictions on men, who he said needed no instruction on how to look professional, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
This is where I start salivating!  The whole wonderful topic of how to police women's dress, whether women should be covered or revealed, whether women who do the former are chaste and modest, while the women who do the latter are sluts and whores!  I so want to write a book about it but life is short. 

Historically, the dress of women has always been a burning political issue, and it still is a burning political and religious issue in Islam and among US fundamentalist Christians, and, it seems, among some Kansas Senators.

Historically, how women dress has always been used as an indicator of their sexual modesty and sexual availability or lack of it.  And historically, too (check the Bible), it has always been very important that women do not "cross-dress,"  because that makes the messages their clothes send much harder to interpret, beginning with the importance of being able to assign someone to a gender wherever men and women are treated differently.

But the last hundred years in the industrialized West have changed that policing.  The changes are still fluid and some final kind of assessment is impossible.  What I see are several different patterns emerging, including the pattern where men and women dress more alike and the pattern where women are allowed to dress more comfortably than in the past.

But I also see a very different pattern:  One, in which women are in some sense expected to dress in the very ways the conservative codes ban, to be viewed as desirable and admired, to be viewed as fashionable and "in."  All choices about our dress take place within cultures, and no choice is ultimately completely "free."  As I see it, the cultural signals about proper dress for women in the West are now many, often contradictory, and difficult to tease apart in their final impact*.

*Take the bit in the above quote about men knowing how to look professional.  That's partly, because men have a rigid uniform for political work, women do not, and that leaves the question of professional dress for women wide open.

From one angle the expected male uniform in places of power is discrimination against men.  Why can't men dress as they wish in the Kansas Senate hearings?

But what if dressing as you "wish" (see the above discussion about what might drive our ideas) means that people will then use your clothes to judge your sluttiness or the desirability of your body?  What if some people would like you to bare a bit more leg before they are willing to listen to you (Fox News)?  What if people will respond to your choice of more relaxed clothing like this:

"It's one of those things that's hard to define," Holmes said. "Put it out there and let people know we're really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself." 
That quote from the article about dress codes for women crystallizes the problem for me:  Holmes uses the traditional angle in which women's dress is seen as having sexual implications, whether it is meant to do that or not.  But the topic is more complicated than that, and that's why I wrote that it would take a book.