Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I am my uterus: blogging against sexism

Personally, in the last couple of months, my life has been largely sexism free. I have not directly experienced anything sexist. That's not to say I haven't experienced it in the past.

I have been trying to write this post for 24 hours now. I've written stuff. I've erased it. Honestly, I'm not sure where I am with sexism. It's not overt anymore--at least not in the place I am now. I've struggled with sexism all my life. It began early, when I was shifted to certain disciplines because I was a girl. FSM bless Mr. Chandler for telling me I could be a genetic engineer. Then there was college in the south where girls were put on a pedestal and yet, kept from positions of power. And there were the boyfriends who said I was beautiful, but my mind was empty. There was the sexual harassment and near date rape by a friend. I joined with other women who were harassed or raped by him to prosecute him and we were told not to hope for much. And we would have to pay our legal fees for what would be long and drawn out and fruitless because who would believe a bunch of girls against one guy.

My senior year in college, when I had broken away from the boyfriends and lived off-campus, I had on my answering machine a line from the Laurie Anderson song, "Beautiful Red Dress,":
OK! OK! Hold it! I just want to say something. You know, for every dollar a man makes a woman makes 63 cents. Now, fifty years ago that was 62 cents. So, with that kind of luck, it'll be the year 3,888 before we make a buck.
In my graduate school applications, I aimed to move north or west, somewhere away from the patrician culture of the south. A faculty member from a southern university came to recruit me and I told him I had to get out of the south. And he said, why? And I said, Because I want to go somewhere where people think I'm strong enough to open my own door.

And things were good for a while. I moved to the Midwest. I made friends with many strong women. I took a corporate job where I had a female boss who believed in me, who taught me how to be confident and to continually strive to be better. And to not take any shit. And then I became a mother. My strong women friends stayed strong and still considered me strong. But others. Well, some others blamed me for returning to work. And my mother told me I was letting my child control me. And suddenly, I was defined as I had been in the south, as only a uterus. What was most important was my reproductive status. Or potential reproductive status. And this continued as we moved back south and even to the northeast. I was defined by my husband and my children, not for what I was capable of on my own.

And this, I think is the biggest sexist issue we face--the invisibility of women. Mr. Geeky pointed out this video to me today. Mr. Geeky sees it as way to win the abortion battle by forcing these people to think about the consequences on the women who have illegal abortions. And I can see his point, but when I watched it, all I could think, was, "Wow, they don't even care about the women. They haven't even really thought about them. It's all about the babies." And it's not like I didn't know that before, but the video really brings it home.

And, I'm reading Perfect Madness, and I feel the same thing. There's a movement to push women back into the home, back where they become invisible. The angel in the house. I should make it clear that it's perfectly okay with me if parents want to stay home. (Heck, if you're a long time reader, you know I ponder it myself.) The problem is, the way it's set up right now, there's no recognition for that work. It is unpaid. Invisible. But I think part of why some of the women depicted in Warner's book move out of the workforce and into the home is that they were feeling invisible there. Their voices weren't being heard. And at least at home, someone's paying attention. They can feel powerful again. Which is great. If only people outside the house recognized the work they do.

There are few women in public life. So often we see only men on the Sunday morning talk shows. There are few female columnists. There are so few women in congress. We have yet to have a female president. Women are *still* not being heard the way they should be.

And while I, personally, am not feeling the burden of sexism in my tiny realm, I worry for my children. Will my daughter have access to the care she needs if she wants to prevent or terminate a pregnancy? Will my son see fewer and fewer women in his workforce and be susceptible to thinking that women don't belong there? Will we end up in some kind of draconian society, like A Handmaid's Tale? I shudder to think. We need to keep raising our voices, to keep asking for what we want: equal pay, salaries for stay at home parents, access to quality childcare, access to good health care, legal abortions, access to birth control. Whatever will make lives for women better, equal to men's. Whatever it takes.