Two stories about gender and children caught my eye, over the last couple days. They are not at all connected to each other, but the more I thought about them, the more I realized that they illustrate very different responses to gender inequality, and that those different responses say a lot, potentially, about the structure and culture of gender in two different societies: Canada and India.
The first story was making the rounds a few days ago on Yahoo! News. It tells the story of the Witterick-Stocker family, of Toronto, who have decided not to share the sex of their 4 month old baby Storm with anyone other than immediate family and the midwives who assisted with the delivery.
The second is a story I read in the New York Times yesterday morning, and it tells of increased rates of sex-selective abortions among well-off, well-educated women in India. Specifically, it reports on a study recently published in The Lancet, documenting the spread of sex-selective abortion practices across India over the past 20 years. The study placed particular focus on the decisions made about second children when the first child was a girl.
What a world apart, both literally and figuratively.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with my male friends about them being called “safe,” or in one case, a “safety blanket.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? Celebrate.
This is the phenomenon in which a (generally young) woman dismisses her behavior around a guy as “Oh, that’s just so-and-so. He’s safe.” It always sounds like it’s meant to be a compliment, but there’s very little like it to bring out the bitter in a guy even decades after the fact. It took explaining the concept of “safe” to the wife of one of these friends for me to really figure out why.
Safe is better than not safe, right?
Well, of course none of my guy friends want to threaten any women, so being very not safe is right out of the question. However, being this sort of safe is far beyond not being a rapist in potentia, far more than just what’s left when that worry is removed. This safe means out of the running for any kind of sexual consideration whatsoever. This is gay-best-friend safe without the gay or necessarily the best friend. There are more options to be found in the real world than just this kind of safe and not safe.
With permission of Jill Filipovic of Feministe! I am reposting her piece, A Story In Pictures. I stared at it for a long time trying to imagine how I could post about it and ultimately decided that it says everything it needs to say all on its own and I just wanted to share it with readers here.
Two of the most important women’s-rights-related bill-signings in the past few years.
The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003:
And the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009:
I think the pictures say more than I can. Thanks Jill!
We won't find out by trying to separate biology from culture.
The cover asks "What is Female Desire?" and the story title, "What do Women Want?" seems to promise that scientists are getting closer to figuring out one of life's great mysteries. Daniel Bergner, in fact, does not attempt to answer those two questions (and the small subtitles make it clear that he isn't going to try) but rather he profiles the work of several scientists who are researching women's sexual response, their subjective sense of arousal, and the ways those do or don't line up.
It is a well-written article and a very interesting read. It takes on complex questions and, within its scope, attempts to address them without oversimplifying or sensationalizing (except for the first sentence of the article, in extra large and colorful print that reads "Meredith Chivers is a creator of bonobo pornography."). I would encourage anybody to take a look. But prepare to be frustrated as well as intrigued. Some readers will be frustrated, as was Meredith Chivers (a psychology professor at Queens University, and one of the scientists whose work is the focus of the article) because the answers are not clear and meticulous research takes so long and is so difficult to do, and because, as she is quoted as saying early in the piece, "The horrible reality of psychological research is that you can't pull apart the cultural from the biological."
Click here for my frustration.
"You run like a girl." It was an insult aimed at boys. Being "like a girl" was clearly a bad thing for a boy to be if he wanted to be an athlete. Not being enough "like a girl" on the other hand, is devastating for women.
It was not so long ago that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) used to require all women athletes to be tested to discover whether they were 'truly women' or not. [Bracket, please, for a moment the question of what a 'true woman' might be. We'll come back to it. I promise.] Now such tests are only performed, according to the story in today's New York Times, when a woman athlete's sex is questioned. [Bracket for a moment why this never, apparently, comes up in men's sports.] What would cause her sex to be questioned? The Times does not present a list of specific suspicious indicators, but does say that it has come up in the context of doping tests. What is so striking about this is that it represents an insistence that women be held to a biological standard of womanhood. Consider the variations among women. What does it mean to set aside some group of women and say they are too powerful to be 'real women'? Consider how this makes even less sense when we are talking about women who represent the strongest, fastest, most agile, most physically powerful women in the world.
In Separate Or Not , a teacher discusses the "completely contrary to feminist thought" concept of same-sex education (or, if you prefer, separation of genders in classrooms).
Her personal experiences lead her to conclude:
As for someone who fought for gender equality I am willing to be politically incorrect in firmly stating my belief that based on the reasons above, students should be separated in classrooms to facilitate their learning. Is it time for the “fad” for separation of students to return? I think so.
Matters of gender identity aside (for that's too complicated a matter for me to contemplate at this wee hour), I am inclined to agree. Somewhat.
As a graduate of an all-women's college, I certainly benefited from the women-only atmosphere. We were free from (perceived or real) the attacks on our way of processeing and thinking.
These two pictures accompany an article in this morning's Times on the presidential candidates' use of their opposition to NCLB (which stands for No Child Left Behind, not No Cheerleader left behind") as a way of rallying supporters.
Maybe it's just that my brain is still a bit addled from the end of the semester, and I'm only through my first cup of coffee this morning, but it seemed like an odd selection of images to me. Take a look. Then feel free to discuss in the comments whether or not these images matter at all.
This one is captioned "Students at Central High School in Davenport, Iowa, listening to former president Bill Clinton."
HRC is announcing that tomorrow, Wednesday November 7, the House is scheduled to vote on ENDA.
Please call Tammy Baldwin and urge her to offer her amendment and not to withdraw it. Then call your representative and urge that person to support her amendment.
If representatives are given the chance to avoid going on record about gender identity they'll take it. I, for one, don't want them to have that chance.
Click here to find contact information for your congressperson or use the Speak Out!! section on the left.
Oh, and happy election day.
UPDATE 10:00pm NOV 6: This is not such good news as it first appeared. This is the notation from GovTrack.us about the schedule debate and vote:
Nov 5, 2007: Rules Committee Resolution H. Res. 793 Reported to House. Rule provides for consideration of H.R. 3685 with 1 hour of general debate. Previous question shall be considered as ordered without intervening motions except motion to recommit with or without instructions. Measure will be considered read. Specified amendments are in order. All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived except those arising under clause 9 or 10 of rule XXI.
So, maybe one of you can help decipher this but I read this to mean that the "previous question" (a yes or no vote on the bill as presented) will be considered without any other motions (e.g., amendments) except motions to send it back to committee.
This makes it sound like Tammy Baldwin's amendment will not be offered.
Tune in tomorrow to see what the debate sounds like.
Meanwhile, expect an ENDA without gender identity included. In other words, expect a largely ineffective ENDA that reflects the needs of elite gays, lesbians and bisexuals but does not meet the needs of most of us.