An Object Lesson In Knowing Your Audience

Speaking at an international women’s justice summit on Monday, Turkey’s president violated a cardinal rule of public speaking, telling a room full of women’s rights activists that gender equality is unnatural:

Certain work, Erdogan said, goes against women’s “delicate nature,” and “their characters, habits, and physiques are different” from men’s. “Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women: motherhood,” he said. He then went on to blast feminists, accusing them of not understanding their role in society. “Some people can understand this, while others can’t,” he said. “You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”

Erdogan tried using the Quran to advance his point, saying, “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers,” which ended up just turning into an awkward reflection on the role of his mother in his own family. “I would kiss my mother’s feet because they smelled of paradise,” he said. “She would glance coyly and cry sometimes.”

Alev Scott puts her finger on why this speech was so frightening:

Erdoğan is neither a lone madman in a padded cell, nor a Victorian uncle caught in a time warp.

He’s the president of a country of 75 million people where only 28% of women are in legal employment, an estimated 40% of women suffer domestic violence at least once in their lives, and where millions of girls are forced into under-age marriage every year (incidentally, Erdoğan’s predecessor, Abdullah Gül, married his wife when she was 15). Exact figures on domestic abuse and rape are hard to come by because it is socially frowned upon to complain about husbands, and police often tell women and girls who have been threatened with murder by their partners to go home and “talk it over”.

During his speech this week, Erdoğan implied such widespread abuse is the work of the unhinged: “How could a believer – I’m not talking about perverts – how could someone who understands our religion commit violence against a woman? How could he kill her?”

Elahe Izadi notes that Erdogan doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to women’s issues:

In 2012, Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, called abortion murder and came out against birth by Caesarean section. He’s also called for women to have at least three children and pushed for laws that encourage people to marry young. In 2013, Erdogan’s government lifted a head-scarf ban for women working in government offices. Turkey ranked 120 out of 136 on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 gender gap index, which includes economic, political and educational measures. …

In a report in September, Human Rights Watch said that “perpetrators of violence against women, most commonly male partners, ex-partners, and family members, often enjoy impunity” in Turkey and that authorities have failed to implement a 2012 law to protect women from violence.

Feminism Meets Occupy Wall Street

Rachel Hills profiles feminist writer Laurie Penny, author of Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution:

[Penny] is skeptical of attempts to take the bite out of the gender equality movement. “I think the whole question [of rebranding feminism] is very indicative of how threatening a lot of people find feminism and gender liberation in general,” she says. “My first response to that is always that feminism is threatening to the status quo. It is a legitimately scary idea for people who are invested in things staying the way that they are. There’s only so far you can dress it up.”

But Penny seems unsettled by the increased acceptance of feminism by society at large:

Not for her is the “tepid and cowardly” mainstream feminism focused on getting more women into boardrooms, or stamping out sexy music videos. “Let others construct an unchallenging feminism that speaks only to the smallest common denominator,” she writes.

Tara Wanda Merrigan provides an overview of Penny’s arguments. A big one:

For her, Lean In and its “middle-class, aspirational” feminism isn’t enough, because “while a small number of extremely privileged women worry about the glass ceiling the cellar is filling up with water.” … [W]hile many mark feminist achievement based on how many female CEOs there are in the Fortune 500, those measures obscure the fact that women are still the majority of minimum-wage earners, which is unfortunate since economic success can be majorly empowering. Therefore, feminists ought to think about progress at the bottom rungs of the ladder as much as the top.

Kat Stoeffel interviews Penny, addressing the question of topics assigned to female writers:

[Q.] You write that women “are allowed to talk only about their gender” and men “are allowed to talk about absolutely anything except their gender.” As a woman writer, have you been nudged toward gender issues?

[A.] You would not believe the amount of times — still — various magazines ask me to write pubic hair. Do you shave or not? Should you shave or not? For a long time, my decision not to write about pubic hair was a feminist position in itself. It matters to me a bit. We can have an interesting conversation it. But this endless collapse of the political into the personal …

As somebody who cares about this issue but also cares about a lot of other things, too, it’s been a fight to carve out a position where gender and power are important and they stand in conversation with every other aspect of politics. My blog began as an attempt to position feminism in radical left politics. It’s an attempt to avoid feminism becoming an echo chamber, which I think some people would like it to become. I understand that pubes are a legitimate source of anxiety. But I don’t understand why I don’t get infinite requests to write about domestic work or the economic roots of sexual violence or the stuff that is not necessarily sexy in the same way but is still an intimate question about work and power.

Salon has an excerpt from Penny’s book. She certainly doesn’t pull punches:

The idea that there is any such thing as Everygirl, a ‘typical’ woman who can speak to and for every other person on the planet in possession of a vagina, is one of the major sexist fairy tales of our time. Patriarchy tends to see all women as alike; it would prefer that we were all interchangeable rich, pretty, white, baby-making straight girls whose problems revolve around how to give the best blow jobs and where to buy diet pills. No man would ever be expected to write a book speaking to and for all men everywhere just because he happens to have a cock. The original feminist statement that the personal is political has been undermined by the insistence, in every media industry still run and owned by powerful men, that all women’s politics be reduced to the purely personal.

The Short Shrift

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Alice Robb flags some research that says short men make better boyfriends and husbands:

[A] preliminary new study suggests that shorter men might actually make better partners: They do a greater share of housework, earn a greater proportion of household income, and are less likely than their taller peers to get divorced. In a working paper (it has not yet been peer reviewed), Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, and Abigail Weitzman, a Ph.D. candidate, used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamicsa University of Michigan project that’s been collecting demographic data on 5,000 families for almost 50 yearsto look at how a man’s height impacts different areas of his relationship after the initial dating period. …

Divorce rates for tall and average men were basically indistinguishable, but 32 percent lower for short men. Weitzman explains this by saying that women who are “resistant” to marrying short men are more likely to “opt out” before it gets to the point of marriage: “There’s something distinct about the women who marry short men.”

But… isn’t it anti-feminist to ask women to care less about male appearance? So argues Kat Stoeffel:

Yesterday, Daily Beast writer Emily Shire argued that Jezebel’s nude rendering of Disney princes “perpetuates the same pressure on men to exhibit a certain physique that [Jezebel] critiqued Disney of doing to women.” That may be. But Shire has missed what makes exerting that pressure so fun. “Not being objectified” is just one of the many advantages of being male. When we selectively revoke this freedom from body scrutiny, we don’t do anything to diminish the meaningful economic and reproductive advantages men enjoy.

Put another way: We will stop Dong Watch once there’s a female president, zero wage gap, and Swedish-level paid parental leave; once tampons, birth control, and abortions are all available free and on-demand.

And so I, too, contend. (My take is less colorful, less recent, and less inclusive of cartoon genitalia.) It’s bleak to think that women must choose between physical enjoyment of a partner they’re attracted to, and one who’s a decent person. Bleak, but also confusing – if it’s empowering to choose a partner in part on the basis of physical attraction, what does it say if the tradeoff of a more attractive partner is having to load the dishwasher every time? (It isn’t in all cases, but Science is not interested in individual anecdotes about strapping men who do their fair share.)

But I digress. What about short men?

The importance of male height in hetero dating strikes me as perplexing, because women aren’t imagined to care about looks in the first place. Women aren’t visual creatures, or so they say, they who have not observed women observing packs of shirtless joggers. Why would any aspect of male appearance matter to women?

Part of the double-standard in terms of who gets to select a partner they’re physically attracted to, without (excessive) shallowness stigma, is just sexism. Men feel entitled to being attracted to their partners, whereas women are, I don’t know, meant to thank their lucky stars if they have company of the non-cat persuasion. A man who falls for a beautiful woman, well that’s just natural! A woman, meanwhile, seems as if she’s regressed to the life stage when falling for a Jordan Catalano was age-appropriate behavior. Yet some of it may also relate to the way female looks-concern most obviously manifests itself, namely in an apparent fixation on this one, unalterable trait. A woman can, if she sees fit, take various measures to be more conventionally attractive. Height, however, basically is what it is.

But is the male-height thing even about looks in the sense of physical attraction? Or is just a status marker? Obviously this will vary from woman to woman – subjective preferences and cultural ideals do tend to overlap. But they don’t overlap entirely. Do women’s heads really not turn for shirtless joggers under 5’7″?

My official verdict on this is that if you truly only find yourself physically attracted to tall men, you shouldn’t somehow force yourself to be intimate with people you don’t want to be. If, however, you’re simply afraid of what your friends will think if you date a shorter guy, and are rejecting shorter men you are attracted to in order to date the people you think you should be dating – and I suspect that this is the case most of the time – then yes, you probably should reconsider. If that means more dates for short men, and more equitable division of household labor, fantastic.

Who Identifies As A Feminist?

Table feminism-01

Not many Americans, according to an Economist/YouGov survey:

Just one in four Americans – and one in three women – call themselves feminists today. But that’s before they read a dictionary definition of feminism. Even then, 40 percent of Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll – including half of all men – say they do not think of themselves as a feminist, defined as “someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of women.”

Women are more than twice as likely as men to say they are feminists at first, although only a third of women describe themselves that way. The gap remains about the same when people read the dictionary definition. Once that happens, identification increases dramatically: half of men and two-thirds of women say they are feminists.

Roxane Gay confronts her ambivalence about the term in an excerpt from her new book, Bad Feminist:

There are many ways in which I am doing feminism wrong, at least according to the way my perceptions of feminism have been warped by being a woman. I want to be independent, but I want to be taken care of and have someone to come home to. I have a job I’m pretty good at. I am in charge of things. I am on committees. People respect me and take my counsel. I want to be strong and professional, but I resent how hard I have to work to be taken seriously, to receive a fraction of the consideration I might otherwise receive. Sometimes I feel an overwhelming need to cry at work, so I close my office door and lose it. I want to be in charge, respected, in control, but I want to surrender, completely, in certain aspects of my life. Who wants to grow up? …

The more I write, the more I put myself out into the world as a bad feminist but, I hope, a good woman – I am being open about who I am and who I was and where I have faltered and who I would like to become. No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

Who Counts As Female?

Michelle Goldberg observes how radical feminists and transgender activists are quarreling over that question:

Trans women say that they are women because they feel female – that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a “female brain.” They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential. In the words of Lierre Keith, a speaker at Radfems Respond, femininity is “ritualized submission.”

In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position. Anyone born a man retains male privilege in society; even if he chooses to live as a woman – and accept a correspondingly subordinate social position – the fact that he has a choice means that he can never understand what being a woman is really like. By extension, when trans women demand to be accepted as women they are simply exercising another form of male entitlement. All this enrages trans women and their allies, who point to the discrimination that trans people endure; although radical feminism is far from achieving all its goals, women have won far more formal equality than trans people have.

Sonny Bunch criticizes trans activists’ harassment of “TERFs,” or “trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” at conferences and online:

As an interested observer with no real horse in the fight – I am neither a radfem nor a trans activist, believe it or not – I do wonder whether or not it’s self-defeating for the transfolk and their allies to behave in such a way. Bullying to gain acceptance, rather than persuading those who do not understand who you are or what you have gone through, is a tactic that could easily backfire on a community that comprises roughly one thousandth of one percent of the population. Then again, perhaps the transfolk have an understanding of how outré their cause appears to the rest of us and believe that persuasion is impossible.

But Mari Brighe slams Goldberg’s piece as “a disturbingly one-sided view of the situation that relies on heavily anecdotal evidence … and ignores the extended campaign of harassment and attack that the the trans community has endured at the hands of radical feminists”:

Let’s start with the numbers. In the piece, Goldberg mentions the names of 14 radical feminist activists (frequently providing physical descriptions), and provides quotes from nine of them — including two from books penned by radfems. In contrast, she mentions and quotes a total of four trans women (zero from books), and two of them are quoted to supporting the radical feminist position. The problem isn’t necessarily that Goldberg appears to side with the radical feminist viewpoint; that’s perfectly within her rights, and perfectly within The New Yorker’s right to print it. The real issue is that Ms Goldberg gives the impression that she’s covering the conflict between the trans rights movement and radical feminism – after all, the piece is subtitled “The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism”– but gives only passing lip service to the transgender community’s side of this situation.

The problem, as Brighe sees it:

Beyond their work to influence policy in a manner that harms the trans community, trans-exclusionary radical feminists have engaged (and still do) in numerous campaigns of personal harassment against trans women, particularly vocal trans activists. The previously mentioned Cathy Brennan is thought to be connected to some of the ugliest of the harassment, including revealing personal information about trans women (a practice often known as doxxing), as well as contacting doctors, employers, and parents of any individual who dares challenge her or disagree with her. The blog Gender Identity Watch, which Brennan is rumored to be connected with, engages in extensive harassment of trans woman, including posting their “dead-name” (pre-transition name) and pre-transition photos. They also engage in systematic harassment of trans women and trans allies on twitter, most by repeating their same tired rhetoric: “trans women are men” and “penis is male”. They also engaged in an extended harassment campaign targeting Against Me! singer and trans woman Laura Jane Grace. Earlier this year, Tina Vasquez penned a lengthy piece on for Bitch Magazine running down dozens of examples of harassment perpetrated by radical feminists against both trans activists and trans allies, including herself.

Julia Serano adds:

When Goldberg interviewed me for the piece, I talked extensively about TERF attacks on trans people: About the hateful speech I (and other trans women) regularly receive from TERFs on my Twitter feed, blog comments, etc., and how much of it is of a sexualizing nature. I talked at great length about Cathy Brennan, who is notorious for her personal attacks and outing of trans people, her various websites where she engages in smear campaigns against trans women (once again, usually of a sexualizing nature). I mentioned how, after my appearance at a SF Dyke March forum on age diversity and gender fluidity – which was designed to build bridges between trans-positive queer women and those (often of older generations) who are trans unaware, and which resulted in respectful and constructive dialogue on all sides – several TERFs crashed the Facebook page and spewed so much hateful speech that they had to shut the whole thread down.

None of this made it into the story, which will likely lead uninformed readers to presume that trans people are simply mean and out of control, rather than reacting to the transphobia/trans-misogyny/sexualizing comments we constantly face from TERFs.

Meanwhile, Mona Chalabi tries to nail down how many trans Americans there are in the first place:

[C]ounting the transgender population nationally remains a steep challenge. The US Census Bureau doesn’t ask who is transgender, nor do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But even if they did, the responses might not be reliable because some people are afraid to answer, while others disagree on what “transgender” even means. If you see someone cite a statistic about transgender people in the United States, you’re seeing a rough estimate at best.

Gary Gates is an LGBT demographer at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. He is responsible for one of the most frequently cited estimates of the transgender population – 700,000, about 0.3 percent of U.S. adults. That figure is based on data from two surveys. One, conducted in Massachusetts in 2007 and 2009, found that 0.5 percent of respondents ages 18 to 64 identified as transgender. The other, done in California in 2003 to look at trends in LGBT tobacco use, found that 0.1 percent of adults in California identified as transgender. Using the surveys to get to the 0.3 percent estimate “takes a lot of statistical gymnastics,” Gates said.

The Dish’s long thread on transgender identity is here.


Rebecca Traister revisits Susan Faludi’s 1991 Backlash and analyzes the impact of the Internet on the feminist movement:

Feminism online is now so populated with younger women, just out of school. And generations who are new to feminism don’t have a comparative context so they understandably feel furious about the variety of injustices and prejudices that we are facing right now, and furious at the way media deals with women and furious at the way it deals with race and sexuality. But every once in a while, as the older person who remembers this time really clearly, I just want to say, “No, no, no, you have no idea how much better it is right now than it was in the early ’90s, you don’t remember what it was like when there was no feminist internet.” I’m grateful for this book for so thoroughly cataloguing how bad that period of backlash was, how grim it felt then.

Sarah Miller shares Traister’s ambivalence about online feminism and goes further:

I have always called myself a feminist and have no plans to quit. But while I think that the world should certainly have respect for feminism, I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity. Right now we are in a loop of “This is good.” “This is bad.” “This person is sexist.” The internet and its outrage machine are to blame for some of this lashing out. So is the human desire to lay blame, shouting “It is you who did this! You who thinks adults shouldn’t read teen books! You who make movies where not-so-hot guys get hot girls! You who wrote an article about a bad person and didn’t say he was as bad as I think he is!”

I think back to the Facebook comment about the Santa Barbara shooting: “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you.” I suppose the thing that is wrong with me is that while I can’t escape the urge to categorize, I am aware of its potential to become pathological.