Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ode to a Single Father

When I was just seven years old my mother lost her multiple year long battle with breast cancer. My father was left to raise my little sister and I by himself, in a country and culture that was not his own, with family members on the other side of the world unable to provide support. His subsequent path as a single father that was both supportive and involved not only allowed me to grow into a functioning adult but I believe also importantly shaped what I associate with gender and gender-roles in relationships. 

For example, during discussions in class and on the blog the class has talked about emotional labor. Looking at my own relationship with a cis-gendered heterosexual man I did not observe that one of us did more of the chores, planning, or worrying. Could this be because growing up I only saw my father worry about whether my permission slips were getting signed and that I was doing my homework? Or could it be because I did not grow up with a hetero-sexual couple that had been socialized in a culture that expects women to take on the brunt of the emotional labor?

I also observed the possible influence of having a single-father during the class discussion of cultural feminism. During class the students put adjectives under "feminine" and "masculine" that they believed were often associated with the two ideas. Almost all the adjectives under "feminine" were things that I associated with my father - he was creative, forward thinking, and not single minded. Many of the adjectives and stereotypes that were placed under the feminine column were descriptions associated with raising children and taking care of the home, which is probably symptomatic of the fact that women are seen as being responsible for the sphere of domesticity in our society. While my father may have exhibited these traits even if my mother was alive, his position of being a single-father may have also forced him to. 

To see whether my interpretation that growing up with a single-father impacted my view on gender roles was something shared by others, I took some time to research whether there was a link between single-fathers and feminism. My brief search turned up mostly information on how feminism has treated fathering in general, not single fathers specifically. In "Between Two F-Words: Fathering and Feminism", Andrea Dorcet explains how different strands of feminism have taken multiple approaches to fathering. On one end of the spectrum radical feminism sees women's interests as separate from men (thus may not include the interests of fathering), while some feminist strands view fathering as important to feminism, especially in the context of the work-family balance for couples. Single fathers do no apply to the context of helping work-family balance in a heterosexual couple in that by definition they do not have a relationship to bring that balance to. However, I believe single fathers can be part of feminism when they teach their daughters or sons that a man can do as much as a woman when it comes to taking care of the family and home, and thus should be expected to do so.

While the different strands of feminism may disagree about what role men and fathering play in the feminist movement I can say that having a single-father has personally had an influence on my own feminism and outlook on the world. So thank you dad, for showing me that fathers can braid hair, do the laundry, and cook a delicious dinner all in the same day. Thank you for showing me a man can have a job and run a household. And of course, thank you for always unabashedly buying me tampons at the supermarket when I was too embarrassed to buy them myself. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sexism; A Thing of Subtlety?

It has only recently come to my attention that, while painfully present in today’s society, sexism has become a very subtle thing. I look at advertising and the media and lack outrage. It was only when watching excerpts from ‘MissRepresentation’ in class this week that I realised, while I am fully aware of the inappropriate way in which women are portrayed by the media, I have a tendency to ignore it. I have become so used to the hyper-sexualisation of females that I now barely recognise the underlying current behind it. I was brought up watching women be exposed this way to a point that I subconsciously accept it. 

In the aftermath of Thursday’s class, I spent a lot of time considering just how affected by the media we really are. Essentially, it is everywhere. The average adult spends 20 hours a week online. What is even worse than this statistic is that the impressionable teenagers of our generation, are spending an average of 27 hours online every week. During this time, they are being exposed to images that are unrealistic portrayals of the female body. Websites such as Facebook and Instagram are forums for people to display themselves, to show the world the best physical version of themselves. Many take these as opportunities to distort themselves and their natural appearance with the intention of gaining “likes” and “followers”. The concern for people using these sites is rarely the substance of their post and, often, the popularity it will help them achieve.

Moreover, the media is also feeding women and girls a false notion that their highest priority is to look like the best version of themselves. Amy Schumer recently highlighted this issue on her Instagram page. She posted a photo in which a magazine aimed at women was placed next to a magazine aimed toward men. The cover of the male-oriented magazine contained the headline “Explore Your Future” while the female cover stories were much more superficial, for example, “Your Dream Hair”. This shocked and outraged me. How is such blatant sexism on display? After further consideration, I realised that I witness such things on a very regular basis and never find myself noticing or caring about them. Sexism has become a thing so normal to me that I am basically unaware of its existence in the media until someone else draws my attention to it. 

The thing that struck me most by the documentary, however, was not just the way in which women are scrutinised but the extent to which it occurs. Watching and learning about the comparisons and contrasts made between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin made me very concerned about the criticism we, as women, are bound to face. Regardless of their appearance and whether or not it was considered attractive, they were being scrutinised based on how they looked. Clinton, a dignified woman with plenty of experience and qualification, was being regarded as old and haggard. While Palin, on the other hand, a young mother who was considered to be very beautiful looking had, due to her good-looks, difficulty being taken seriously. It seems to me that, by this standard, women can never win. Either you are criticised for not looking the right way or you are criticised for looking the right way but that, in turn, meaning you couldn’t possibly be regarded in a sincere way.

It scares me that these comments are made so frequently. Everyday new stories emerge in the media and new photos are posted online, all accentuating the “perfect” way to look. In the lead up to summer everyone is so worried about getting that “perfect bikini body” and all the tabloids are trying to guarantee women the quickest and easiest route to getting there. But men don’t wear bikinis. Where is the pressure for men to get the “perfect swimming-trunks body”? We see these messages and allow them to influence us without ever really noticing that they do. I see coverage of the presidential election and accept the media’s perception of Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, without ever paying homage to the fact that a man in the same position would never be regarded from such an angle.  I worry that somewhere down the line we grew so accustomed to sexism that it is now almost acceptable. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"The funny thing about evolutionary psychology..."

Am I funny? For years, I thought so.  When I first learned to speak, I would memorize jokes. Without knowing the meaning or context, deliver them to crowds of family at holidays. I would always follow the punch line with my signature (surely copyright infringing) “wakka wakka wakka!” From adolescence through my teenage years, I fancied myself a real comedic savant. But what does this have to do with feminism?

My childhood friend Haley is funny. Much funnier than me. A couple of years ago she told me about a study on gender and humor. Laura Mickes of UC San Diego conducted the study, which attempted to quantify which gender was funnier.

Mickes and her team had participants fill out their own captions for New Yorker cartoons. The participants rated other participant cartoons, they rated their own performance, and they then revisited the cartoons and guessed the writer’s gender. In the original rating, cartoons by men were rated .11 points higher (on a 5-point scale) than those by women.  Two things stand out from this round of the study. First, though both genders found the men created funnier cartoons, the support was stronger among other men. Second, the men used more sexual humor and profanity in their captions, but this style wasn't utilized in the highest rated entries. Put another way, the lewd humor was not effective. 

The follow up experiments had the most damning results. Men rated themselves an average of 2.3 on the 5-point scale, and women rated themselves an average 1.5. And when reexamining the cartoons (and not being told the gender of the writer) both men and women falsely attributed the higher rated cartoons to men and the lower rated cartoons to women. So while the men were technically funnier in the study it was marginal. Further, the men were wildly inconsistent and received much more credit than they deserved.  

I have looked at other studies and comedic differences between the genders exist, because evolutionary psychology has a lot to say on these phenomena. Men overwhelmingly tell more jokes in social settings, and thus unsurprisingly fail more often. In an interview with The Atlantic evolutionary psychologist Gil Greengross put it simply: “it's worth it. If you fail and you're not funny, you lost maybe a few minutes. But if the person laughs, the benefit can be huge.”

Evolutionary psychology is a social and natural science approach that considers psychological issues through the lens of modern evolutionary perspectives. Essentially it is one attempt at answering the nature versus nurture debate. One of the primary vehicles for psychological adaptations is sexual selection. To an evolutionary psychologist, a lot of our social constructs can be explained as tools that facilitated mating for our ancestors.  Humor is associated with intelligence; in fact some studies show the two correlate. Intelligence being an important attribute in dating and mating, the comedic desperations of men appears as a natural outcome. Men are pressured to be as funny as possible as much as possible, because life itself depends on it. 

Evolutionary psychology and feminism can seem at odds. The latter is often misconstrued as biological determinism, which is a favored excuse for misogynistic behavior. However, I think the theoretical framework is useful and should be considered. I plan to examine the relationship of evolutionary psychology and feminism in a later blog post. 

As I researched evolutionary psychology for this post, I was reminded of our discussions of cultural feminism.  The theoretical framework of evolutionary psychology could bolster cultural feminism’s embrace of  gender differences. By attempting to understand gender differences, by finding the evolutionary benefits that may correlate with gender differences, our society can attach value to those differences. We can celebrate how the ethic of care has benefited us. Last, we can fight against unfounded assumptions such as that men are inherently funnier. Men are not innately the more humorous gender; we are just trying a bit too hard. When you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it is bound to stick.

Mickes' study and Greengross' related study respectively:

 ( (Link to Atlantic article quoting Gil Greengross)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shine bright like a diamond

My favorite episode of IT Crowd is "Italian for Beginners.”  It focuses on Jen, one of two women at a meeting of department heads at Reynholm Industries.  The other woman, Linda, is running in place as she gives a presentation on her suggestions for the company.  When asked about it, Laura informs the group that she is doing a virtual triathlon to benefit orphans. Mr. Reynholm then proclaims, "Linda, you're the best woman." 

The rest of the episode follows Jen as she pretends to speak Italian so that she can impress the board room and beat Linda for the title of Best Woman, alienating a valuable resource in the process.  In a world where most board rooms look just like the one in IT Crowd, it's all too common for women across industries to be competing with each other to not just be the "best woman," but to even get in the room.  But is that the best approach?

In her 2013 New York Magazine article "Shine Theory: How to Stop Female Competition" Ann Friedman suggests another way.  She encourages women to identify those women who inspire feelings of jealousy and competition, and befriend them.  "Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison." she says, "It makes you better."

Friedman points out that associating yourself with cool, accomplished women immediately makes you seem more interesting and accomplished in the eyes of people who know you.  Sure, my friend is obviously the most amazing person for having sold her first company in her senior year of college.  But how cool am I for being someone she wants to be friends with? Friedman also points out the career benefits of having successful friends--those are the women that will be recommending you in life.  Or conversely you may have an opportunity to recommend one of them for your company, and that's going to reflect well on you.  Shine Theory is all about believing and acting on the idea of "if you shine, I shine."

Perhaps pinning my hopes that board room demographics will shift on Shine Theory is a touch fanciful.  But, I do truly believe that choosing to act against the stereotype that women are constantly competing with other women is a huge step in that direction.  If Jen had embraced Shine Theory, she and Linda could have made a valuable contribution to Reynholm Industries.  Not only that, but they could have spent energy on things they actually care about, rather than fighting over title handed to them by a man.  

Monday, September 19, 2016

Hillary as mediator: why the job of POTUS might suit her more than you think . . .

For several months now, I’ve been wanting to love Hillary. She’s already my candidate because of the lesser-of-two-evils-condition of this election, but I’ve felt very conflicted. I don’t resonate with her as a person, but I get instantaneous tears in my eyes when I watch her enter a stage. That woman, right there, that person of my gender, could be our next president. I want this so badly I get a lump in my throat typing it.

. . . But I’m still not able to connect with Hillary. And I’m not alone. I decided to do some soul-searching (and more research) into what makes Hillary less accessible than other politicians, though she is a powerhouse of a lawmaker. Once you look into her approval ratings, what you see is that the nation approves of Hillary more when she’s working in a job than when she’s trying to garner their approval in a campaign. This is strange, but you start to see the pattern all over the place: she frequently delivers stilted, 'shrillspeeches, but when she was a Senator, she amended 67 bills in eight years and served on five senate committees. As Secretary of State, she brought Iran to the negotiating table, improved US-Cuba relations, increased exports to China, and more. These are no small feats, and people liked her while she was accomplishing them. So where is the disconnect between her success and her, well . . . popularity?

The thing that makes Hillary less accessible has a name. In his illuminating article Understanding Hillary: Why the Clinton America Sees Isn’t the Clinton Colleagues Know, Ezra Klein calls this “the Gap:”
There is the Hillary Clinton I watch on the nightly news and that I read described in the press. She is careful, calculated, cautious. Her speeches can sound like executive summaries from a committee report, the product of too many authors, too many voices, and too much fear of offense. . . And then there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will.
I now see exactly what Klein sees in Hillary. What’s more, I have come to see that the Gap is why I think she will make an incredible President.

As this is legal blog, I’d like to frame things from a lawyering prospective. Clinton is an attorney, as are over half of past presidents. It thus seems fitting to apply the profession to her demeanor. I feel there are really three types of lawyers. There are (1) the orating-suave-extroverted types, (2) the attention-to-detail-introverted-sharp-witted types, and (3) the mediating-community-organizing-consensus-building types. Most lawyer-politicians fit entirely into category (1), or are sometimes a mix between (1) and (2) (read: Bernie Sanders). The category (1) lawyers are the ones that have the most success with campaigning: they are affable, charming, and thrilled to hear themselves speak. However, Hillary is right between lawyers (2) and (3), she has nearly none of the natural orator in her. She, in contrast to nearly all of her peers, is a listener. Though she was a litigator in the past, I think that Hillary’s personality makes her more of a perfect mediator.

She embodies all the qualities of a great mediator (learned in my Mediation course with Steven Rosenberg, here at UC Davis). First, she’s an incredibly active listener embarking on “listening tours” to kick off her last two campaigns and is inclined to use what she hears (e.g. ‘card-table time’ wherein she re-reads all her notes from listening and develops policy). Second, her work-style is collaborative and consensus building. Though this is sometimes to her detriment, it gains her great loyalty and gives her a large network of people from whom she can ask favors and ideas. Third, she is flexible, and fourth she is creative in developing thoughtful initiatives like this one. Finally, Hillary is persistent. It doesn’t take much to see that she has been working toward higher political office -perhaps even toward this very race- since possibly the mid-eighties.

To my mind, these qualities make her a perfect fit for the presidential office. Indeed, Matthew Yglesias is in accord in his Vox article Hillary Clinton is bad at speeches for the exact reasons she'd be a good president:
The very qualities that tend to make Clinton bad at speechwriting — a penchant for the least-common-denominator and a passion for making sure no small thing is forgotten — are qualities that are extremely relevant to effective leadership in a political system that’s built to favor transactional relationships over big ideas.
I’m interested in a president who listens, who is consensus building, who is flexible and creative, and who remains persistent despite the great quantity of hate coming her way. I'm enthused by what I now know about Hillary's style of leadership. It is worth noting that all of these Mediator qualities are also seen as traditional female qualities (female leadership strengths tend to be undervalued, BTW; also see an unpacking of the complicated concept of female ‘traits’ in Judith Baer’s book Our Lives Before the Law: Constructing a Feminist Jurisprudence). However, great Mediator traits aren't solely ascribable to females, in fact there are more males in the Alternative Dispute Resolution professions in the US than there are females.

I am thus not persuaded that it’s simply Hillary’s femaleness that informs this mediation-type leadership style; women have been shown to take all kinds of approaches to accomplish mediated results. I think Hillary has simply discovered the method of governance that works for her. I am inspired by that method.

Now that I'm learning about mediation, I'm likely to favor it over the exorbitant cost of litigation. I’m similarly inclined, based on similar learning, to favor a mediating president over a fighter who may cost the country a lot in the long-run.

I am now overwhelmingly on board with scores of other women who support Hillary. I’ll sing that fight song with you every time, Ms. Clinton. There’s that darn lump in my throat again.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Frotteurism : a variation of street harassment 

Gender-based street harassment is very common nowadays, and I am fairly certain all of us have heard of it, witnessed it or experienced it by now. We can easily find testimonies about street harassment online (for instance, in this previous blog post).

Feminists have argued that street harassment is a manner for men to claim that the public space belongs to them and that women should remain in the private sphere. For example, Deborah M. Thompson stated in an article in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism : 
If [...] women are subject to violation of that zone of personal privacy when they enter public areas, that very invasion of privacy effectively drives women back into the private sphere, where they may avoid such violations. Thus, by turning women into objects of public attention when they are in public, harassers drive home the message that women belong only in the world of the private.
In New York, the Rob Bliss Creative Video Agency filmed a woman walking on the streets for 10 hours (youtube video). In Belgium, Sofie Peeters a documentary film student filmed the streets of Brussels in her documentary Femme de la Rue (Woman of the Street).

Critiques have been made about the underlying racism and classicism of these films because their focus is on a white young woman being harassed mostly by young black and Latino men. Since then, sources and movements are more cautious and have acknowledged that everyone can get harassed by pretty much everyone. Hollaback, an international non-profit and movement to end harassment in public spaces stated :
Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper holla back. Ditto to classism, homophobia, transphobia, and the usage of any other identity signifier. In our experiences, harassment comes from people in every facet of our cultures and every strata of society.
The same movement along with Cornell University conducted an illuminating international survey in 2014, with total of 16,607 respondents. The survey reveals for example that more than 81.5% of European women and 85% of US women experienced their first street harassment before the age of 17.

However, there is a variation of this phenomenon that gets less coverage in my opinion : frotteurism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as 
The paraphiliac practice of achieving sexual stimulation or orgasm by touching and rubbing against a person without the person's consent and usually in a public place—called also frottage.
Not surprisingly, it happens usually on public transportation where people (usually men, aged 15-25) act like the place is too crowded and get closer to other people (usually women). They get so close that they touch the victim and basically grope them or rub themselves against him/her. A bus or subway never gets that crowded. In fact, these acts can constitute sexual assault, depending on the country's law.
In taking advantage of the fact that they are stuck on public transport and in the crowd, the assailants count on the victim's impulse not to make a scene. They rely on the victim's embarrass and passiveness.

It would be truly interesting to have data on frotteurism and to identify countries/regions were it happens more frequently. I struggled to find such reliable information. However, it is common at least in France and Italy as I have witnessed firsthand. A special police force in Paris is actually dedicated to spotting frotteurs (to see them in action :

Frotteurism is considered to be a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
The symptoms must have been present for at least 6 months and the patient must experience significant distress or negative impact on functioning [...] Diagnosis of frotteuristic disorder is based on recurrent touching or rubbing of one or more nonconsenting individuals on at least three occasions, and clinically significant distress. [...] Treatment of frotteuristic disorder focuses on the reduction of sexual urges and behaviors through behavioral therapy, used to identify triggers and redirect behavior, and psychopharmaceutical intervention.
I find it hard to believe that this type of behavior is a disorder. I am fairly certain that in some places or cities this type of harassment does not occur. Thus, it seems too easy to justify this horrific behavior by merely saying it is not something that the perpetrators can control.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Birth of a Movement: Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Women's Rights in Rwanda and the United States

How does the birth of a feminist movement in a nation shape the later culture in the country? For insight on this question we can look to the United States and Rwanda, two countries which had two vastly different starting points for the push toward women's equality.

The women's movement in the United States saw its birth in the 1800's with the suffragettes. Encouraging citizens to take to the streets to march, the suffragettes worked for increased political power and representation with initiatives for women to have full citizenship and the right to vote. They also tackled issues surrounding the amount of agency a women had at home, working for women to have custody over their children as well as the right to divorce.

While men were involved in the early American women's rights movement, it was women like Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton who created the backbone of the suffragettes. While the messages they promoted were vital to the promotion of women's rights, the lives they lead were equally important for setting the stage for the American tradition of grassroots feminism. Susan B Anthony put work ahead of having children and challenged modern norms of how a woman should act by travelling on the road alone while Elizabeth Stanton showed her peers one could have a family while still being publicly bold and politically engaged. Together these two women set the stage for the generations of women after them to use their own voices and leadership to push for women's rights and equality from inside the home to the highest levels of government.

It is not always the case that women create the catalyst for change that changes the landscape for how much political power a woman can obtain. In 1994 Rwanda suffered a genocide that left much of the male population either dead or in jail, resulting in 70% of the population being women. This phenomenon led to the leader Kagame and the government to rewrite the Constitution instituting a requirement that 30% of Parliamentary positions were given to women, and women's education was launched as an important goal for the country. Overnight Rwandan women went from a world of traditional patriarchy where they had trouble owning land to one in which they would take a prominent role in governing the country.

In a recent story, the authors of the podcast Invisibilia looked at whether or not these recent changes in Rwanda also changed how society and culture treated women. In other words, did the Rwandan society change from "the outside in?" They found that although women had power in the public sphere, in the private they could not escape the expectations of being a traditional Rwandan women that did not have equal power in the home as their male counterparts. Also, since the change that gave the Rwandan women political power came from the top down, they were seen as ungrateful when they voiced the issues they were experiencing at home.

The comparison of the United States and Rwanda shows that while top down feminist movements may institute gender equality in political representation faster than a bottom up movement, but it often will not reflect the cultural reality most of the nation's women live in. While the United States may not have the same representation of women in political offices as Rwanda, the bottom up creation of the women's movement in the United started a tradition in which women can use their voices to push for such a change.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Breaking the Mold of Gender Stereotypes

A natural gender distinction exists in society. Children are taught from a young age that their clothes are labelled. Blue is for boys. Pink is for girls. The entertainment industry has taken this distinction to new extremes.

The totality of the popular Nintendo game ‘Super Mario Bros.’ depicts brave Mario on his dangerous quest to find and rescue Princess Peach, the misfortunate beauty who is being held hostage in evil Bowser’s castle. 

In the James Bond franchise, the secret agent with rippling pectoral muscles is famous for his one-night stands and chauvinistic attitude towards the women around him. A common thread weaves these, and most other popular phenomenon’s together- the woman is always the inferior character, the ‘damsel in distress’. 

While some progression has been made in the entertainment industry with heroines like Katniss Everdeen and Hermoine Granger, it is clear that we must see stronger growth before our children can experience a non-gender discriminatory society.

The upcoming US presidential election magnifies the above and depicts this discrimination on the real-life world stage. While I can appreciate that having a women candidate is remarkable, I find it upsetting that this gender classification has been the vocal point of the campaign.

In my home country of Ireland, woman have featured heavily in politics for many years. Two of the previous three presidents of Ireland have been women. While the Chief Justice of Ireland, Susan Denham, is the first female to hold this position, women are commonly seen in other judicial roles such as Supreme Court Justices (three in total) and High Court Justices (ten in total). 

The political leaders of any nation should be a fair depiction of all that nation represents. They should view their country as a cohesive whole, and give respect to their distinctive traditions, language and political beliefs.

Before a nation identifies under any of these categories, we can describe its citizens in the most basic of terms: ALL inhabitants of that particular state. Fundamental to this explanation is the equal composition of men and women. 

Of the 2010 USA Census population, 157.0 million were female (50.8 percent) while 151.8 million were male (49.2 percent). A female-led government should therefore not be painted as such a shock factor for this upcoming election. 

Perhaps I take for granted how lucky I am to have been raised in a country where gender-balanced leadership is not an elusive concept. I hope the citizens of America realise their duty to move towards change and to work towards discontinuing the permeation of the above pop-culture gender stereotypes in the real world.
If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be a lot freer  Emma Watson

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Women in Ireland

Ireland, the beautiful Emerald Isle, off the coast of mainland Europe is the wonderful place I happily call home. Though small in both size and population, this fine nation has provided the world with some of the greats; Oscar Wilde, U2, and Conor McGregor, to name but a few. We are a nation that prides ourselves on our patriotism as we know how hard those who came before us had to work for independence. And we are a nation that have the incredible ability to grow and reform with the times.  

In the past century Ireland has practically never failed to evolve and accept change. While I can appreciate that, at times, such evolution is difficult and requires a great deal of effort and sacrifice, it is rare that a minority feels unaccepted or undervalued in our society. We have, in a relatively short amount of time, become independent from British Rule, legalised homosexual marriage, and has made major improvements with respect to feminism and women’s rights.

As was the case in most countries, and perhaps still is in some, Ireland was not always a place in which women were regarded as first-class citizens. Women had to fight to receive recognition of their status as humans deserving of basic human rights, such as the right to vote and the right to work. During the 1916 Easter Rising, a time during which the citizens of Ireland rebelled against British Rule to gain independence, Constance Markievics was a woman who was heavily involved in the organisation and carrying out of the rebellion. Due to the rebels’ immediate failure the most prominent figures involved were sentenced to death. Constance Markievics, however, who, due to her sex, was not. Even though she participated almost equally to the sixteen other men who were executed, she was instead sentenced to life in prison. The blatant sexism outraged her, of course. 

In my opinion, the strong presence of the Catholic faith in Ireland contributed to a significant portion of the oppression of women. According to the 1946 Census of Ireland 94% of the country identified as Roman Catholic. Due to this society placed a burden on women to behave a certain way. It was largely uncommon for children to be had outside of wedlock, and often those young women who did fall pregnant were placed into labour-intensive facilities referred to as the Magdalene Laundries. There they would work during their pregnancy and, upon the birth of their baby, it would be adopted by strangers. Married women were viewed as being inferior to their husbands. Their place was in the home raising children. It was common for families to have many kids and, being granddaughter to a woman who came from a family of thirteen children, I speak from experience. The Marriage Bar prevented married women from working outside the home.

Change in Ireland came about slowly at first. The right to vote was granted to women in 1918 which was a massive step in the development of women’s rights. First-wave feminists such as Maude Gonne and Constance Markievics relinquished their titles to new and determined second-wave feminists including the likes of Nell McCafferty and Nuala O’Faolain, women working hard for equality of the sexes. The 1970s brought with them times of monumental change for Irish women with massive statutory reform in favour of equal treatment of women and men. These changes came about in many areas such as employment and property rights with the legalisation of contraception occurring in the 1980s in spite of the ever-present Roman Catholic faith.

As I am Irish, my knowledge of the development of American feminism and the movements towards women’s rights was significantly lacking. I had barely ever before heard the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony prior to my first Feminist Legal Theory Class. Therefore, the ability to watch their progress and the progress of so many others that followed their lead, such as Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro, was truly enlightening. Knowing the history and improvements that had occurred in my own country made it decidedly fascinating to observe those of America. Comparing, contrasting and evaluating the various similarities and distinctions was an interesting process. It allowed me to further understand the turmoil and effort that those who came before us put into achieving basic human rights.

The history of feminism, regardless of the country in which it took place, is always impressive and always inspiring. Being a more passive person than I would like to be, I have a tendency to allow things to take their own course without my own interference. However, when it comes to the topic of feminism I look at all the good that has been done. I am pleased with the progress that has been made for us but it also strikes me just how far we have yet to go. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Allies and defining the movement

Our first class period of the semester we answered two fundamental yet complex questions. “Do we consider ourselves feminists? And what does feminism mean to you?” There answers shared some commonalities, but each person’s beliefs and experiences influenced their responses. I ardently answered the first question in the affirmative. However, I avoided the second question altogether (whether intentionally or not I am not quite certain).

As a cis-male, my relationship with feminism is ever evolving; I try to be a constant learner, always open minded. Yet, I have been consistently reluctant to define feminism. I associate certain socio-economical and political tenetss to feminism: equal pay, reproductive choice, anti-body shaming. But I will not say Carly Fiorina is not a feminist, or not a good feminist. But is this reluctance correct? Is it evasive? I honestly do not know the answer.

I looked to bell hooks’ "Feminism is for Everyone" for some insight ( To hooks, creating male allies and generating feminist conscious-raising among men are pivotal to the success of the movement. This much seems intuitive; an exponential effect of more pro-feminism men checking the privilege of others, in turn creating more pro-feminism men.

hooks also articulates the importance of dismantling the false media narrative of anti-men feminism. hooks argues for educating men at a young age to effectively counter this. hooks identifies the benefits that feminism has for men. Patriarchy has clearly failed a majority of men, she argues, pointing at the male anxiety of the incoherent "men's rights" movement. It has left so many without a basis for identity based on anything except violent power.

Yet, hooks does not speak directly to my earlier quandary. I assume there are two reasons for this. First, it is a generally broad text, covering many topics; it contains historical background, critiques of past methods, and hopes for the future of feminism. Second, societal conscious-raising will achieve more for feminism than finely articulating male ally roles and responsibilities. But inferences can be made when considering the other preeminent goals hooks sets out in the text.

In the introduction to her book, hooks laments the breakdown of feminist politics within the feminist movement. Responsible, in hooks' mind, is the lack of clear definitions of what it means to be feminist. Without clear definitions, internalized sexism and patriarchal attitudes remain unchallenged. hooks considers addressing internalized sexism essential to the feminist movement.

After reading hooks, I consider my past silence evasive, and . If definitions are needed, and internalized sexism must be conquered, then allies cannot afford to be silent. This is not all to say that I, as a man, should be defining what feminism is. Rather, I must be actively seeking out the appropriate definitions so I can be confident in public discourse.

This semester, I plan to do just that, to become well versed, knowledgeable and confident. The next time I am asked those two fundamental questions, I will be able to answer both with equal vigor and confidence.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Are you a round or a pointy.

I was sent this article by a friend in a group text accompanied by "ARE YOU A POINTY OR A ROUND!"  Eager to be part of the labeling of our friends that immediately followed, I read the article.  I found myself learning more than was necessary about the author's family dogs.  Then the article asked if I understood the distinction the author was outlining with this comparison of canine personality traits.  I did not get it.

Eventually there was a list of celebrities with definitive classifications of "pointy" or "round."  Wanting to be a certain way is "pointy."  Not caring about types is "round." Again, I didn't get it.  I struggled to put my traits squarely in one of these two categories (pun intended).   It was almost as if my personality was more complicated than this strict dichotomy allowed. 

This is not the first time I've been asked to sort myself into one of two options.  I'm sure many readers relate.  There are quizzes online, in magazines, created by friends that constantly sort certain characteristics into groups A and B--including the ubiquitous Type A and Type B personality classifications.  Monica or Rachel , Feminist or not.   I saw the same either/or mentality in the Ken Burns documentary Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. 

Many of the commentators in the clips we watched in class discussed how Stanton and Anthony were opposites.  The painted the women as the two options for womanhood.  Stanton was married and just kept having children.  Anthony was devoted to the work.  It invited the question, Are you an Anthony or a Stanton? 

But what if I'm both? What if I am committed to working for a cause I believe in, but equally committed to whatever type of family I choose to surround myself with?  It seemed absurd to me to pull out these characteristics about these women and pit them against each other.  They were both obviously more complicated than a simple category can convey.  We are all more complicated than a strict dichotomy.  Let's stop stamping out that complexity with dumb categories.