Eleanor Roosevelt Would Have Approved of Occupy Wall Street

From a blog written yesterday by Suzanne Kahn for the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, I learned new things about one of my icons, Eleanor Roosevelt.  In addition to writing a syndicated newspaper column, she wrote a monthly advice column, “My Day,” for women’s magazines from 1941 until 1962.  These columns provided a wide range of advice for the women readers.  For example, in one column, she told them that their husbands should help them with their dishes because, “I think anything connected with the home is as much the husband’s work as the wife’s.”

It’s easy to see that she would have approved of the Occupy protests going on today.  In 1961, writing about the frustration individuals felt about not being able to do more to prevent nuclear war, she said that the best an individual could do was “register…with our government a firm protest.”  In 1962, again writing about the prevention of nuclear war, she was asked if she saw any value in women’s groups marching in front of the White House.  She answered that

The average person has a sense of frustration because he can think of no way to express to his government or to the world at large his desires for peaceful solutions to the difficulties that confront us. The demonstrations you mention are important if only because they dramatize the lack of more useful ways for people to show their devotion to the cause of peace.

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“It’s not because [Palin and Bachmann] have breasts, it’s because they are boobs”

I always have a problem with Bill Maher.  I almost always agree with what he says.  And I thought his movie “Religulous” was hilarious.  But I don’t like his “style” as a comedian and he sometimes is unnecessarily “anti” particular individuals.  And his comments on women sometimes (often?) sound sexist.

But, on his HBO show this past Friday, he got it right about sexism.  His “New Rule” was that Republicans have to stop making up “intricate psychological reasons” for why liberals don’t like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.  His (correct) answer was that the reason is because they are “crazy people” and are “not that bright and are full of awful ideas.”  He summarized by saying that “”it’s not because they have breasts, it’s because they are boobs.”

It got better.  He (obviously correctly) stated that it’s not sexist to point out how terrible Palin and Bachmann are, but that it is sexist for the main stream media to plaster their papers and magazines with Palin and Bachmann while providing far less coverage of not so “pretty” people, such as Tim Pawlenty, who have at least some reasonable things to say (if you can ever say that any Republican has anything reasonable to say).  Maher showed six Newsweek covers of Palin and, then, in a great moment for atheists like me, said: “If you want to know where most of this nation’s sexism is really coming from, you don’t have to look any further than the one person who makes the cover of Newsweek more often than Sarah Palin”–and then showed Newsweek covers that have had Jesus on then.

He correctly pointed out that “in America, you’re allowed to justify almost any kind of bigotry, sexism or intolerance if you source it” to “God” or some kind of so-called “holy” book.  I couldn’t agree more.  And, as an example of that, the response by his audience when the Newsweek Jesus covers were shown shows the fear that Americans have of criticizing religion.  The audience, almost surely a vastly liberal audience, was almost silent when the Jesus covers were shown, save for a few nervous laughs.

When people like Palin and Bachmann are harmfully wrong, they deserve to be criticized–if not actually ignored.  The same should go for anyone hiding behind–and espousing– the ignorance of religion.

Here is the clip.

The All-Women “Last Supper”

Friends of mine were showing me their photos from a recent trip to Spain.  One of the photos was taken in the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda, Spain.  Remarkably, the photo is of a painting in the church that depicts the “Last Supper,” but with all women, including a female Christ.

I did some googling and was unable to find any details about the painting such as the artist and when it was done.  In fact, I only found a very few photos of it.  One of the photos has a comment that the painting was “smuggled” into the church, but that seems suspect since it has apparently been there for quite some time.  Another photo had the comment that “The bishop who commissioned the work was apparently losing his sight and didn’t notice.”  If anyone has any information about the painting, please let us know.  Here it is for your enjoyment.

Do Women Begin More Questions with “Sorry” than Do Men?

Periodically, I have written about language and feminist issues.  For instance, see this post about the terms to use for the opposing sides in the abortion issue, this about “Stereotyping by Pronouns,” and this about jumping to conclusions about whether a flight attendant is female or male.  It’s an interesting subject and one that contributes to gender inequality.

Today, I saw an article by Smaranda Draghia of McGill University on “The SOP” site.  She talks about how, on the first day of a feminist theory class, one woman asked the professor: “Sorry, but when are conferences going to start?”  The professor responded that:

“If you are asking a question in my class, please do not preface it with `sorry.` You should not be sorry to ask any question in this class, especially a good one like that, and especially if you`re a woman.” She then went on to say, “We`ll talk about this later in class, but many more women than men begin asking something by saying `sorry.`”

Draghia also wote that:

The professor mentioned that, with a feminist consciousness, it`s easy to look at this “sorry” as yet another one of the ways that women have had ingrained in them that they are less important (for lack of a better word) than men. As mentioned, many more women say “sorry” before beginning a question than men do. It`s as though we have been programmed to think “we are doing something wrong by asking, so we must first apologize,” while men have not.

Very interesting comments.  Beginning a sentence with “sorry” doesn’t add anything and has a vague connotation of weakness or being overly (to a fault) courteous.  (The related usage of saying “sorry” whenever you walk in front of someone or accidentally bump into someone has similar problems.  It would be interesting to find out if more women than men say “sorry” in those circumstances as well.)

I have no idea if more women than men say “sorry.”  But it certainly seems possible.  Draghia says that, at the end of the semester, she learned that one student had been keeping track at the number of times “sorry” began a question and the women in the class had said “sorry” more than twice as many times as the men.

If it is true, women should make an effort to only use “sorry” when it is really called for.  (Men, too, for that matter.)

(And, by the way, did everyone jump to the conclusion that the professor teaching the feminist theory class was a woman?  Why is that?  Is it really necessary to jump to that conclusion?)

Walden Two

I recently reread the 1948 book Walden Two by B.F. Skinner.  This was the (sort of) novel that posited an experimental utopian community based on Skinner’s behavioral psychologist beliefs.  I wanted to reread the book because I had a vague recollection that, when I first read the book many years ago, it had had a meaningful effect on me, especially on my socialist-principle tendencies.

The reread did not disappoint.  The fictitious Walden Two had many highly controversial changes from the “normal” American cultural and, if some of those changes could be carried out in real life, they would have a huge effect.  For instance, Skinner rejects democracy and capitalism.  His basic premise was that, with behavioral modifications using positive re-enforcement and academics, along with no class structure, the highly competitive capitalist culture could be replaced by a concentration on education and entertainment, thereby removing most all of the ills and stress suffered by conventional society.

Skinner prescribes happiness and working for the common good.  Because everyone is equal, the words “thank you” are never used.  The community’s citizens work only four hours each day, but productivity is increased because they are doing the work that they choose to do.  (The value of an hour’s work for a particular job is determined by the government according to the work–undesirable work is worth relatively more, for example, than more pleasant work.)  Married couples always live separately and basically give up their children at birth to be raised and educated by the community.  Skinner’s idea is that traditional education is wrong.  Instead, the children in the community are given a more practical education (i.e., they are taught how to learn) and are free to choose, whenever they like, the subjects they want to know more about.

Those are just some of the many very interesting changes that Skinner advocates.  One change, although the book does not devote much time to it, is gender equality.  In Skinner’s view, women and men are equal in Walden Two.  The version of the book that I just reread was published in 1976 and had a preface by Skinner talking about the original 1948 writing.  He said that:

The dissatisfactions which led me to write Walden Two were personal.  I had seen my wife and her friends struggling to save themselves from domesticity, wincing as they printed “housewife” in those blanks asking for occupation.

Skinner listed other reasons for writing the book, but I thought it was interesting that the first one he gave was about women being confined to being housewives.

As I was reading the book, I kept thinking that “this is really interesting but it will never work.”  There have been some attempts at having a real Walden Two, but there has been no huge success.  To be a real Walden Two means using behavioral science.  There is a community in Mexico called Los Horcones that started in the 1970’s and is still using behaviorism as its overriding principle.  Here is a video about it.  The most famous attempt in the United States was a community in Virginia named Twin Oaks.  It still exists today but only has about 100 residents and long ago gave up on behaviorism.

I think many of the changes in the Walden Two community make a lot of sense.  Making the changes based on behaviorism makes far less sense to me.  And, therefore, I would recommend reading (or rereading) Walden Two again to see the many things that could change to make the world a better place.  It’s definitely not outdated.  Just don’t think that a Walden Two will ever really exist.

The 28th Anniversary of the Expiration of the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

I’m a few days late on this, but June 30 marked the 28th anniversary of the demise of the attempt to have 38 states ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.  Here’s a quick summary.

The language for the ERA was drafted by Alice Paul in 1923.  It was introduced in every Congressional session between 1923 and 1970, but almost never reached the floor of either the Senate or the House for a vote because it was usually held up in committee.  In 1972, after additional considerable pressure put on by feminists, the ERA was finally passed.  It then went to the states, where three-fourths of the states were required to ratify it for it to become law.  The original seven-year deadline was extended until June 30, 1982.  By that time, the required 38 states had not ratified it and so it expired.

The concept and language are simple.  Here is the text:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Although it almost appears hopeless, the effort to get an ERA is not dead.  The amendment has been reintroduced every year since 1982. Senator Edward Kennedy championed it in the Senate during the 99th through the 110th Congress. Representative Carolyn  Maloney has sponsored it since the 105th Congress.

Don’t listen to the opponents’ arguments that there is no need for an ERA.  Think how much easier all the fighting about, for instance, equal pay would be if the ERA was in existence.  The fight for an ERA should continue.

Feminist Father’s Day

At a panel on Women In The Media that I attended a year ago, sports columnist Christine Brennan was asked who her favorite feminist hero was. “My father,” she responded. Brennan went on to explain that her father, a Republican who voted for Goldwater and Nixon, had been her greatest inspiration and largest factor in her success as a woman in a male-dominated career. He believed women could do everything men could, and pushed his daughter to play sports with boys, and to eventually pursue a career in sports reporting and journalism.

That conversation resonated with me, and caused me to consider my father in a way I hadn’t ever previously framed him– as a feminist.

My dad and I have always been close, but he generally does not share my political viewpoints. He identifies as a moderate, sometimes a conservative, though he tends to be liberal on social issues. Living in Texas brings out some of his more conservative qualities, and he occasionally forwards me emails of what I call “Republican propaganda,” as sort of a running joke between us.

One of the greatest things about my dad is that he’s never treated me, as a daughter, any differently than my brother. My dad pushed me to be smart, to be intellectually hungry and to think outside the box. He sat around doing math problems with me for a lot of my childhood; he taught me multiplication in the 1st grade (though I was at the time a reluctant student). He told me I had the ability to do anything I wanted to do. When I wanted to play soccer, he coached me in our yard, even though I was a terrible athlete– and rubbed my sneakers before games to give them “special powers.” When I was serious about playing the viola, he’d leave work early to drive me to orchestra rehearsal and came to all my concerts. He hung up every award I ever won, academic or musical.He pep-talked me through every breakup, not to waste another ounce of my potential on somebody else. He always told me I was smart and independent, not ‘pretty’ or ‘sweet.’ He reads my blog and occasionally sends me articles I should write about– not because he’s innately drawn to gender issues, but because he supports my endeavors & believes in my ability to make a difference.

As I think about what it means to be a feminist, and what it means to strive for equality between the sexes, I know that laboring for the feminist cause itself is crucial and admirable. But some of the most important work is done by those who simply raise their children to believe that all races, ethnicities & sexes are equal. Fathers who hold daughters to the same standards as sons, and who take an active interest in pushing them to succeed– not as women, but as people.

In the past, we have asked if men can be feminists. I believe wholeheartedly that they can, even those who do not readily seek to claim the label.

Last week, as I wandered through the card aisle in Duane Reade, I realized none of the stereotypes offered by Hallmark fit my dad. All the cards were focused on sports or beer, guys’ nights, reluctant parenting, or nagging wives. That’s not what my father means to me, so…here’s this blog post instead.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, (and to so many like you).