08 July 2008

Damned Women or ... Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don't

There's an excellent editorial written by Susan Douglas which appears today on one of my favourite news sources. She writes about the fine line - more like a tripwire - which women are expected to walk. It's the tripwire between being 'feminine' and being a feminist.
The news media ... oscillates wildly between its commitment to equality and its continued, though unconscious institutional sexism and racism. Women are held up simultaneously to feminist and feminine standards, and must fulfill both, but with a bias (still) toward the feminine.

Sen. Clinton has been treated like most male candidates,... Yet the press has also persisted ... in emphasizing her physical appearance to an extent rarely done with male candidates.

The feminine-feminist schizophrenic playbook has also been closely followed for two women who couldn't be more different: Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama...

On Feb. 21, as reported in the New York Daily News, a "slender" Cindy McCain, "the striking blond" and "perky stay-at-home mom" "stood by her man" to defend her husband against charges printed in the New York Times that he had had an improper relationship with "an attractive female lobbyist." Or, as the Washington Post stated, she stood by "her husband's side, all jewel-toned clothing and icy blue eyes."

Yet in an April USA Today feature, we learned that this "elegant blonde in jewel-toned suits and a quadruple strand of pearls ... travels to poor countries on medical missions" and "chairs a huge beer distribution company."

...That same week, Michelle Obama appeared on the cover of Newsweek in a simple, sleeveless, pale blue satin sheath, a string of pearls, and a simple bouffant hair-do, immediately prompting analogies to Jacqueline Kennedy. The headline read "He Calls Her His 'Rock.' " Inside we learned she's "steely." In her account of her interview with Michelle, CNN's Soledad O'Brien emphasized her "perfect make-up" and "fabulous patent-leather boots." Yet Mrs. Obama faces continuing denunciations for saying, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." Right-wing pundits consistently cast her as negative, unpatriotic and as hating America. So, Mrs. Obama is a stylish Benedict Arnold.

It's a tension that women feel and have to navigate every day of their lives.

I remember as a little girl questioning the double standards.

My mother could never understand my objections, said this was just the way things are. And she was happy enough about it.

Among the advantages to keeping the status quo that my mother saw was society's (then) expectation that men financially support their wives - even when there was an 'ex' before that noun.

She did well by that too, and couldn't understood my astonishment at her feigned helplessness and my insistence that she should earn her own money. She was highly intelligent, able-bodied, and in excellent health. There was no good reason not to work. Yet to the end of his days, my stepfather paid for all her expenses.

That's wrong. Dead wrong.

As much as I feel anger toward men who belittle women, do nothing to change their attitudes or society's treatment of women, I'm more angered and frustrated by the women who continue to accept things just the way they are.

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