Thursday, 21 January 2016

35. The not-so fragmented female experience

There are many streams within feminism, each of them dealing with different aspects of the female experience, which sometimes enter in discussions with each other.

The sometimes called "Earth mothers" support non medical intervention in births and are exploring the depths of breastfeeding, both as part of the vast territory of female sexuality. Many of them stop working to live motherhood fully, resting in the privilege of a chosen economic dependency -a sort of conservative feminism- (probably because it is less limiting for them than for most of women), or want to break the barriers of work and home, and make children more natural in work spaces.
Some voices in this stream, knowingly or not, exclude women who can't breastfeed, and are fighting against internal and external guilt.
In the most hard core versions, they may exclude (and are excluded by) the women that won't breastfeed because they belong to a stream of feminism that feel that their emancipation is about decoupling motherhood and womanhood and for whom economic independence (current and future) is crucial. They may call each other "disconnected" (disconnected mother or disconnected woman), and tend to clash.
And here come too the women who have no children (up to 18% of women in their 40s in the US). Sometimes discussing if they are "child-free" or "childless" or wondering why they should be defined at all by this absent hypothetical child from whom they are free and also having to reassert their worth as women.

The same happens with those women who fight to break the glass ceiling to reach higher levels of power, who tend to forget about the women who are actually working a lot caring for others but this work is not being paid, or forget about the ones who fight for women's rights  at the other end of the ladder, in the "precariat". This tension was very well exemplified by Marissa Mayer's decision to take only two weeks of materinity leave being Yahoo's CEO.

In the Anglosaxon world, women fight against cultural mandates that have imposed specific beauty standards onto them and want to redefine beauty. On the eastern side of Europe, women want to regain the right to express their femininity in a way that communism had frown upon when treating them as equal (here equal meant men and women were "male/ish"). Both -somehow- are exploring what it means to be a woman and how this can be expressed.

Malala and many women in the middle east fight for access to education and freedom of expression (among other things). In Central Africa (and everywhere where this practice has travelled to, like Indonesia), women fight against female genital mutilation. In China, women suffer -mostly in silence- the over-control the state has imposed over their uterus, rendering girls as the least desirable outcome of a pregnancy and sometimes forcing sterilisations or abortions, while in many other countries women fight for the right to access safe abortion procedures, etc. etc (there are more themes, of course).

Finally, those who campaign against violence against women are often accused of being too aggressive, which is always an interesting example of two principles: how anger is forbidden for women and how the male gaze works. The male gaze means that when seeing a situation where men and women are involved, what's being seen and judged is the women: the public consciousness imagines itself in the position of the man at the receiving end of this quite deserved anger. The discussions to break this male gaze tend to be very heated. 

These struggles may seem to have little in common or be even contradictory. But they are all the fields where women are reclaiming rights, with the common goal of defending women's right to dictate our own lives. We would be worse off if any of these battles is not fought, even if some of them are not ours in this particular moment in time. They might be ours later, or they might be our sister's fight, or our daughter's.

Even if we enter in these debates, and we accuse each other of things and the media exploit it to wedge groups apart, from sufficient distance they are all very coherent. Engaging into "mummy wars" and fragmenting female experience are in fact a way of avoiding diverse women to get together and exchange findings. Feminism is plurality and because of this, disagreements are an integral part of it. 

In the entry "The Revolution is in the hand of women" I wondered: 
Women cannot feed others with love and attention if they don't feed themselves with love and attention. And how women feed themselves is a mystery, some sort of divine source of food. (Some assume) They don't need to be paid fairly, or recognised, or given a job at the level of their capacity, or given assistance while they search for their own food. 

A response somehow came in the following video, through the mouth of these two women speaking about female friendship. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin talk about their personal experience and even comment on the latest research done by the Harvard Medical school, pointing out at the health benefits of having close female friends, and how oxytocin is increased in their presence.

Jane Fonda even claims "I have my (female) friends, therefore I am". Pointing out that these friendships are -in fact- the main source of recognition she received. Recognition of the self, the soul, the fact that there is a person in front who tells you "I see you". 
I don't mean to say that we should not claim recognition anywhere else, but as Kristen Schaal points out that we'll have flying cars before women will be paid equally... while we work for it (and wait for it) it feels like an good tip.


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