July Celebrates Women’s Motorcycle Month

In May, Harley Davidson celebrated Women Riders Month and now during the month of July, Nationwide Insurance has teamed with the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum to celebrate Women’s Motorcycle Month. The month is to celebrate women motorcyclists, both present female riders and women riders of the past who paved the way.

While this sport has been male-dominated in the past, women are taking to the open road on a motorcycle now more than ever.  In fact, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, there are nearly four and a half million women motorcycle riders on the road today.  Actually, one out of every 10 motorcycle owners is a woman, and that number continues to be on the rise.  These ‘motorcycle women’ continue to break down barriers and stereotypes.  For example, women motorcyclists tend to be much more affluent, mature, and highly educated women. In addition to being well rounded women, they are also safety-conscious and are very knowledgeable about their motorcycles.  About one-third of women motorcycle riders complete a Motorcycle Safety Course (MSC), which is an intensive training that teach both women and men about motorcycles and how to ride safely.  According to MSC, more women than men complete the training.

Motorcycling is another great example that women can do anything men can do and that prevailing gender stereotypes don’t have to continue.

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Our Role as Feminists

Image from WordPress

I was having a talk with one of the work-studies at the Women’s Center about “feminists” and how people oftentimes associate this term with “man-hating, angry, loud, dominating, non-shaving” women who are always complaining about the inequalities between men and women.  As we chuckled at this horrible depiction, we did agree that there are still a lot of inequalities between the genders.  Given this truth, why are feminists looked at in such a negative manner?

Believe it not, all feminists are not like the man-hating stereotype.  In fact, I think the objective of most of the feminists “complaining” about gender inequality is to bring the issue to the forefront.  By bringing attention to these issues and being relentless in our fight, conversations begin to happen and policies get changed hat bridge the gender gap and level the playing field between men and women. 

For example, many of the issues that feminists support pertain to women’s legal rights, such as voting rights and property rights.  Where would women be today if our first wave feminists hadn’t fought for these rights?  Feminists have also been effective at challenging the media’s influence on negative body image and promoting healthy, self-awareness and self-esteem for women and girls.  Additionally, many feminists have championed causes to create policies to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.  And finally, feminists have led the fight to bring equity to the workplace including equal pay and ending sex discrimination. 

 So you see not all feminists come together to hate men or to burn their bras or whatever other false accusations that are being spread.  We are here to be a voice for women’s issues and concerns and to achieve equality with our male counterparts.  Don’t misunderstand me, I clearly see the need for men in our society, but I want society to recognize that, although we need men, we also need women.  Both sexes are equally valuable to society.  Until society completely accepts that, feminists will continue to speak up for women for as long as it takes.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say…

Image from Psychology Today

I am sure we all remember being told at some point during childhood that if you didn’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all. Apparently that particular lesson didn’t stick very well. More and more I am noticing people’s casual use of demeaning words like “slut”, “whore”, and “ho”. Not just men but women. What’s most disturbing about this trend is that women get angry when men call them names or degrade them but they seem just fine to do it to each other.

I just read an article on the Choices Campus Blog, about women’s use, and especially our generation’s use of derogatory terms and how they have become so common in our society. In her article, Jacqui Logan, talks about how the continuation of using these slurs is creating problems like reinforcing the idea that gendered insults are okay. Logan raises some really good points and after reading her article, I kept thinking about how much my generation uses terms like “slut” and “bitch” and some other creative terms that wouldn’t be appropriate for this blog.

In some ways I feel as if it has become so normal to call each other “bitch” (in a mean way or casually) or to label someone a “slut” or a “whore” because of what they were wearing or how they were acting that we don’t really think about what it means. I can’t tell you how many times while talking to a girlfriend they would say that some girl was a “slut” because she was wearing a skimpy outfit or they would refer to their own behavior as being “slutty” because they made out with a random guy while at a party. Why do we do this to each other and ourselves?

In terms of how some woman dresses, aren’t we trying to get across the message that no outfit condones derogatory behavior or sexual assault but then we continue to call each other “sluts” for the exact same thing? Or how about some girl hooking up with a guy? Why do people call her a “slut”? If you think about it there isn’t a male version of that insult. Part of fighting for equality includes fighting for the abolishment of double standards especially when it comes to sexuality. With society perpetually pressuring women to be virtuous and to not engage in sex as freely as men having been doing for centuries or at least not to openly talk about it, you would think that instead of buying into the “slut”/“whore” labeling we would stand up for each other and embrace our own and our friends sexuality.

No woman should be made to feel ashamed of herself, demeaned, or be called any type of derogatory slurs, but it happens. But perhaps instead of doing it to each other and giving a bad example for society, we should choose our words more carefully. Call me crazy but I believe that we as women face enough challenges without creating division and competition between ourselves and hurting each other.

Rethinking What Feminism Means

Has feminism become a dirty word? And if it has, why? Feminism is defined by dictionary.com as: “The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men.” This is a very accurate definition of the word Feminism. Yet, if you ask people you might be surprised to find that not many would identify as a “feminist” even though some do believe in equality of the sexes, the foundation of Feminism.

Where did the negative connotation come from? Somewhere along the way “feminism” has gotten a bad rap. For instance, on UrbanDictionary.com there are many entries under Feminism, and most of them are not favorable.  Scroll through the first couple of pages and you will begin to see a pattern of misunderstanding as to what “Feminism” means and what it stands for. Perhaps the best example of this is the number two definition under Feminism: “Feminism is a federally funded, politically correct, special interest hate group.”

It’s sad that people think this way. And yet it seems to be a trend. I know even in my life I have seen the attitudes of people or ideas that are identified as “feminist” as a negative thing. But if you ask those same people who think Feminism is bad, if they believe in equality of wages and not discriminating against someone because of their gender, a lot of them will say they agree. In fact, a lot of people hold ideals and values that are apart of Feminism but they still won’t use the word for fear of the negativity associated with it.

Why are people scared to be called a “feminist”? I proudly say that I am a feminist. To me, that does not mean that I hate men, rather it is just another way of saying that I believe in gender equality. I wish we could reverse the negativity towards the Feminist movement. It doesn’t mean you have to burn your bras or that feminism means that being a stay-at-home mom is bad. Actually it’s the opposite. Feminism is about choice and standing up for everyone’s right to decide what they want to do and the right to equal opportunities and for the respect of their choices. If women want to stay home and take care of their kids, then they should be able to do that without judgment. If a woman wants to be a CEO then she should get that shot and expect the same respect and pay as her male counterpart.

It seems that this animosity towards the idea of Feminism has gotten significantly worse in my generation, those of us in our 20s.  In the blog, “The F Word” , Emma Cosh discusses how women in their 20s have become fearful of calling themselves “feminists”. The blog talks about how even if they believe in gender equality and all that feminism stands for, they don’t want to be labeled a “feminist” because somehow that idea has become linked with being different and the possibility of being outcast in certain areas of our lives. The blog ends with a dead on observation:

“The most significant barrier to gender equality is not the actions of others, but our own. The reason that many of us are afraid to call ourselves feminists is that doing so would separate us from the crowd. We are afraid that the friendships and networks which we value could not withstand the strain; secretly we’re afraid that neither we, nor our friends are up to the challenge.”

Are we up to the challenge? I think so; but in order to achieve and sustain the gender equality that should be in place, we have to be okay with being labeled a “feminist.” Not only can we decide to proudly wear the Feminism badge but we can also help redefine the idea of Feminism. Somewhere along the way we lost what Feminism really means.

Feminism doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Standing up for the belief in equality of the sexes isn’t a bad thing, in fact it is a great thing. So, if I chose to classify myself as a feminist, I shouldn’t be worried that someone will judge me based on that. Maybe its time we took back the word and made Feminism positive once more.

What do you think?  Join the discussion on Tuesday, February 23 at 8pm in room 147 of the UMKC University Center at The “F-word” and Women’s Leadership.  The conversation will be led by Dr. Brenda Bethman, Women’s Center Director and UMKC Women’s & Gender Studies Acting Director, and explore what the “f-word” is and how it relates to women’s leadership.

Mary Daly: Radical or just sexist?

Over the past few weeks, due to her recent passing, Dr. Mary Daly has made headlines once again. Across the web and on the airwaves, reactions about the controversial feminist have been as mixed as ever. The Women’s Center recently co-sponsored an event featuring “fumerist” Kate Clinton, whose tribute to Daly has also been posted in a Women’s Center blog, and as Clinton intimates, “the world truly is a better place having received Dr. Daly’s insights and teachings.”

 We need people like Dr. Daly to come into our lives and stand our most ingrained (and often backwards) beliefs on their heads. However, I feel that her position was perhaps not ultimately to gain equality between the sexes, but rather to reverse the patriarchal power structure, falling short of creating a landscape of equality by arguing for a matriarchal power structure. Through the years, I’ve also found her blanket comments and assumptions about men to be rather sexist as reported in a recent article.  While I do feel that she has legitimate concerns regarding the repression of females in the classroom when males are present, I fail to see what Dr. Daly thought she would ultimately achieve by excluding men from her teachings. Was she operating under the assumption that men are incapable of change, while women are capable of great change? Given that cognitive faculties between the sexes are equal, I doubt this was the case. Coming from her own mouth (refer to the article), it seems, at times, as if it was almost more out of spite.

I have only mentioned one of the controversies surrounding Dr. Daly. Some of the other accusations are even more extreme, and I won’t go into them here. Of course, before drawing too many conclusions about Dr. Daly, as I try to make sense of this complicated figure within the women’s movement, I always keep reminding myself that Dr. Daly was the product of a much different era, and within the historical context of her life, it’s difficult for me to pass any real judgment. I also can’t ignore the fact that, despite the many levels of disagreement – because she pushed limits (and buttons) – the women’s movement is in a much different place than it might have otherwise been. With that said, I think it’s important that we learn from Dr. Daly’s tactical errors as we push for gender equality.

Women's Rights & Trivialities

So, as I think everyone knows by now, Hillary Clinton got a little peeved in the Congo recently and there’s been some debate about whether she was “diplomatic” enough in her response. So far, that seems fair enough (although as plenty of feminists out in the blogosphere have pointed out, she really was in the classic “between a rock and a hard place” position in that situation). This debate is not my point, however.

What is my point is how quickly this conversation went to the lowest possible level by focusing on Clinton’s appearance. Both Andrea Mitchell and Tina Brown attribute Clinton’s response to a “bad hair day” and then Tina Brown claimed that Clinton needs to “go back to the gym.” As Judith Warner points out in the New York Times, what is so depressing about the way this incident has been treated is that it obscures the real, groundbreaking work Clinton is trying to accomplish with her “pledge . . . to make women’s issues ‘central’ to U.S. foreign policy, not ‘adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser.’ “
And indeed, while there has been endless speculation in the media about what might have caused Clinton’s “bad temper,” there has been almost no dicussion about the reason for her trip to the Congo, namely, the mass rapes that have been happening there for over a decade. Once again, discussion of a woman’s appearance is overshadowing the real issue at hand, violence against women. And that really is a shame.
Finally, if you want to learn more about what is happening in Congo and what you can do to help, visit V-Day’s site devoted to the Congo. The Women’s Center is also available to present a teach-in to your group. Just contact us to request a teach-in.

Women's Liberation = Unhappiness?

First, apologies for our lack of posting over the last month. The end of the semester was crazier than usual and the blog got lost in the shuffle, but we’re back. We will likely have a lighter posting scheduled over the summer, but promise to try not to disappear for almost a month again.

The New York Times one of the frequent targets of my ire as regular readers of this blog know) published an op-ed piece today titled “Liberated and Unhappy,” in which NYT columinist Russ Douthat argues that the “achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness.” While he does avoid drawing conclusions, ultimately he seems to agree that if women are unhappier now than they were in the 1950s, it is indeed due to feminism.

Personally, I think that is the wrong conclusion and would argue that IF women are indeed unhappier now than they were before (and that’s a big if as self-reporting is always suspect and it’s very possible that women in the 1950s studies said they were happy because they felt they were expected to be), that it’s due to too little feminism rather than too much — while things have changed in regard to women’s workforce participation, things at home still far too often to women. It’s hard to be happy when your liberation is only halfway completed. What do you all think?

The End of the Women's Movement?

My friend (and UMKC Women’s Center fave) Courtney has great piece over at The American Prospect on the “end” of the women’s movement.

To me, where she gets it dead right is in this paragraph:

In today’s climate of shaky economics, smaller and smaller subcultures, and lightning-speed information, a feminism based on picket lines and in-person consciousness-raising groups is next to impossible. I wish that we could all come to terms with that. Instead of pining over days far gone or talking about how we might resurrect them, we could put our energy into supporting the good work on the ground going on right now . . . We could revise our expectations — not a few giant fireworks but so many little sparks; not worldwide protests but effective public-awareness campaigns and advocacy and service provision; not a unified body but a courageous and creative culture.I think Courtney’s dead-on with this and it’s what I think we do here at the Women’s Center through our own events and by connecting folks with all the other amazing organizations doing fabulous work in Kansas City to improve the lives of women and girls.

So, go read the whole piece and then come back here and tell us what you’re doing as a feminist and whether you think the women’s movement is indeed over (at least in the sense Courtney implies).