by: Jennifer R. Keup
This blog has been a haven for important discussions about personal, political, and professional issues related to women, leadership, and feminism. I am incredibly proud to be a small voice in the chorus here and love the passionate posts and lively comments that follow. So, I am going to ask everyone’s indulgence as I take a different direction with this post as more of a “rant” on the daily irritants that I experience as a feminist. Because, truth be told, we are all faced every day with the regular small (and not-so-small) reminders of how gendered our world is and how far we still have to go to achieve equity among all genders. So, without further ado, here are five of my “feminist pet peeves.”
Room/team mothers: This is one of those super annoying hangovers of expected maternalism in every sector when it comes to children’s activities. I cannot even count the number of times I have received printed, official, sanctioned material from public schools, city parks, and nationwide sports organizations with the specific language that they are looking for a “room mother” or “team mom” to help manage logistics and provide some degree of administrative (or “secretarial”) support to the teacher or coaching staff. And, let’s not just set aside the fact that there are plenty of families run by single fathers or 2 dads for whom the “room/team mother” language is entirely exclusive and, in this modern era of blended and elective families, that even “team/room parent” wouldn’t even be inclusive enough. But, let’s focus on the fact that these opportunities are almost always targeted toward the maternal figures in the family, a fact that remains consistent whether the student or athlete is male or female. Last I checked, fathers and other male family members or guardians were perfectly capable of sending emails, organizing snack calendars, distributing information about fundraising activities, and collecting donations for coaches/teacher gifts. The notion that women–whether it be the workplace, schools, athletics, or in the home–are the primary parties responsible for these secretarial, support, and administrative “housework” activities is an ongoing challenge to gaining acceptance for women in positions of true advocacy and authority. These belief structures seem to perpetuate the notion that women are the ones who should be reporting on or providing administrative support for the decisions and strategic directions of the team, classroom, family, or workplace rather than making them.
“He/him” as the default pronoun: I realize that using “hir” or “s/he” is a bit unwieldy (not to mention will make your spell-check go bananas) but it totally irks me that we still use male pronouns as our communicative default, especially when women outnumber men in general and particularly in higher education where women undergraduates nation-wide outnumber men. Although technically grammatically incorrect, “they” has become more acceptable as a singular as well as plural gender neutral pronoun and I tend to “mix it up” when using gender based pronouns (e.g., alternate with “she” and “he”). I realize that this is a small thing but I also know that I got teary with pride when my son (with no prompting from me) started an essay he was assigned to write as an account about a novice astronaut with the phrase, “I am sure that she would be nervous about her first flight into space…” Raising feminist sons is rad!
“Sexy” Halloween costumes: The first time I truly noticed the gendered nature of the Halloween holiday was when my oldest son was in kindergarten. Just the year before in his preschool classroom, there was a wide range of costumes for boys and girls, including doctors, firefighters, animals (e.g., cows, dogs, cats), and monsters. However, within the span of just one year, nearly every boy was dressed as a kindergarten superhero and absolutely every girl was a 5-year-old version of a Disney princess. The comparison was stark and the gendered pathways discouragingly clear. Now my observations about Halloween have more to do with the fact that we seem to have turned every female costume into some sort of sexualized version of itself. Anyone who knows me knows that I love fashion and I will admit that I have, on occasion and in the right setting, tried to dress in a way that would be perceived as “sexy.” However, Halloween is getting a little out of hand in this regard. Take the naughty nurse, slutty kitten, and even a sexy nun costume (no joke) as cases in point. The recent attention that the sexy PhD costume on Amazon.com garnered among academics was both sad and humorous (in a “laugh or you’ll cry” way). Outside of the fact that that these costumes contribute to the objectification of women, it is becoming darn difficult to find an outfit suitable to wear as the adult female chaperone to my 10-year-old’s Catholic school Halloween party! My attempts this year to Google a costume for Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz yielded a blue and white gingham checked lingerie set with red bows. Seriously!?!?! Besides, it is also a matter of equity since my search didn’t yield any “Sexy Scarecrow” or “Luscious Lion” costumes for men that included hot pants and body glitter.
Being overly impressed by men who provide support in the home and family. My husband and I have taken turns as much as possible with respect to prioritizing our career paths with the most recent move and family transition being initiated by a professional opportunity for me. Similarly, we have attempted to divide household tasks and childrearing responsibilities logically but equally. Along those lines, my husband does most of the cooking on a daily basis, we both ignore housework, and we try to take turns staying home with sick kids. You know what this makes him? An equal member of a partnership that we have established for ourselves. You know what it doesn’t make him? Eligible for a Nobel Prize, especially when these types of activities are often expected of women in a couple and typically go unnoticed. Women are the “default parent” as this article in the Huffington Post just recently discussed. Conversely, the fact that I work full-time outside the home, travel regularly for my job, and share many of the household and family duties with my partner does not immediately make me a prime candidate for a public stoning in the town square. And yet the overly favorable judgment of my husband and undue harsh criticism of me for our normalized take on an egalitarian partnership are often palpable if not directly expressed. Yes, I am fortunate to have a partner like my spouse, but not because he is willing to do the dishes on occasion. And conversely, I would argue that he too is lucky to have a partner, like me, who is passionately engaged in a career as well as deeply dedicated to our family. Oh, and along these lines, stop calling it “babysitting” when dads watch the kids. He isn’t some 16-year-old you pay $10/hour; he is a parent and it is called parenting.
Shaming of female sexuality: This is a difficult topic to get into without treading into very personal and individualized moral and emotional territory. So, all I will say is that acts of sexual intimacy between any individuals (regardless of gender) should, as a mere baseline, represent safe, consensual, emotionally and physically healthy acts among adults. However, what I mean by this entry in the list is more about our perceptions of female sexuality as opposed to the perceptions that we maintain for men. In my mind, this issue is best summed up in a bit of dialogue between the fictitious Will Hayes (played by Ryan Reynolds) and his pre-teen daughter Maya Hayes (played by Abigail Breslin) in the movie “Definitely, Maybe.” Maya asks, “What’s the boy word for ‘slut’?” Will responds, “They still haven’t come up with one yet. But I’m sure they’re working on it.” ‘Nuff said.
So, thanks for listening/reading my rant. Now it is your turn: What are your feminist pet peeves?