Monday, January 27, 2014

Do Women Undermine Each Other?

I have been an ardent feminist since I first read Simone DeBeauvoir’s, “The Second Sex” around 1966. So, it took me many years of being a low-level lackey in the capitalist pecking order to come to the contradictory realization that male bosses tend to be easier to work under than female ones.

This makes sense only in the illogical world of exploitation. Yes, it is a hoop we have all grown accustomed to jumping through and by hoop I mean Heritage of Oppression. As Bob Marley sang: “they take the chains off your body and put the chains on your mind,”Clearly once our minds are conquered, the rulers no longer need actual chains.

Women as bosses are usually harder to work for, especially for other women. They tend feel less secure in positions of power to begin with, so, when they get there, they exert more of a need to prove themselves. Being hard-nosed and to-the-letter strict is a natural outgrowth of this attitude.

I have experienced this with women physicians who have been to say, modifying a prescription slightly to make it more affordable and cost effective, while the male doctors I have gone to don’t even blink at suggestions like this. Of course, men are subjected to a lot less personal scrutiny and are inclined to possess a indefatigable sense of entitlement.

As women we have survived by learning to read the small print of other people’s psychology. Because marriage was the goal for our gender for so many years, we learned, Darwin style, to master the art of passive-aggressive manipulation. While your average heterosexual man, may be a bit thick and a bit of a buffoon, there is a what you see is what you get quality to him that allows, for example, male lawyers to vehemently argue two opposing sides of a legal case in a courtroom and then go to the gym and play racket ball together as though it were the most natural thing in the world. For women with conflicting views, it is more likely that they would dismiss each other coolly when passing in the hall, than to even consider going out for a drink together.

The other huge problem is that everyone is raised to think less of women so both women and men prefer men. Just as every person is socialized to prefer straight folks, and all races conditioned to prefer white people, women consciously or unconsciously assign more status, more credibility to men even when they don’t particularly like them. Female bosses are inclined to be harder on women employees, often subjecting them to a different standard or infantilizing them with micromanagement pettiness that they are embarrassed to apply to males

Sometimes simply the potential friendship model just gets in the way. When I worked at the library, I had a boss who was a part of several communities of which I was also a member. We had been equals in the lesbian community but when she was appointed to head the Gay and Lesbian center at the library, all traces of our human connection vanished.

Of course my boss had to prove herself. And when it comes to love, war or livelihood, fear is firmly in place. Yes, we have to humanize the way we live and it must begin in the family and move to the workplace, an environment in which we spend so many hours of our lives. 

We are not all that far from the world of the 1950s in which I was raised. It was a place where women were sexualized and our opportunities for employment were severely circumscribed. The legacy of our history persists in spite of our best efforts to change it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Creative Work Versus Personal Life

Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris
If filmakers, writers, musicians or visual artists are jerks can we still respect their work? It’s a question that has come up recently on Facebook about Woody Allen’s history of sexual abuse, but it could apply to anyone.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that tomorrow your favorite lesbian writer commits a cold-blooded murder. Or your favorite straight male playwright molests his seven year old daughter. Should these folks face the consequences of their actions and go to jail? Of course they should. Do these actions make all their creative work null and void as though it never existed? My answer happens to be a resounding no!

I don’t need to like and admire the way a person conducts his or her personal life to appreciate their work. I condemn child molestation. I abhor murder but I can still respect a  creative end product that transcends an individual's personal failures, even criminal ones. It doesn't mean that I am fine with anti-social behavior. If Adam Lanza, the Newtown Connecticut mass murderer had written a beautiful poem before shooting 20 schoolchildren, would it still be a thing of beauty afterwards?

I used to idolize Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris as the ideal couple of heterosexual writers. I loved Erdrich’s “Tracks” and “The Beet Queen.” I found myself particularly moved by Dorris’ book, “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.” To me he did an amazing job of taking on the voice of a woman as well as incorporating the struggles of Native women into his narrative.

When Dorris was accused of molesting his three daughters (one adopted and two biological) I thought that was a horrific thing that crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

But I still will continue to admire his writing.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Are Lesbians Being Written Out of the LGBT Community?

I just finished reading an article in the "Huffington Post" about the 20 most compelling queers of 2013. 4 of them were born female. You heard right, 4 out of twenty! The remaining 16 were born male although some have transitioned to female and are living that way now. 

Lesbians who have been born and raised as women are NOT one fifth of the queer community's population! And it’s not just this one article. The huge photo on the cover of the New Year's edition of the Bay Times" shows men as men, men in drag and women with smiles and long hair (have you noticed the huge percentage of young females who wear their hair long now?) Not a single female butch among them. I am beginning to fear that little by little, step by step the male culture of the LGBT community is writing out those of us born with XX chromosomes.

And this is happening at a time when, more than ever, the needs of women worldwide deserve our attention and activism. Women are underrepresented in all spheres of life except for child birth and rearing in all countries of the world. We are treated as dependent children who need male guardians in some, made to cover our bodies, heads and often faces in others, denied literacy and education in many, killed for minor infractions or dowry issues in quite a few, surgically clitorectomized, infibulated and we have been subjected to a wide array of horrific procedures like foot-binding throughout the history of the world.

Here, in the Occidental world, we survive in what is usually referred to as “Western Civilization.” Cultures here have always been hostile to our gender. The percentage of women in government, science, technology, and all disciplines except for teaching, nursing, childcare, librarianship and social work is astoundingly small. And when men enter these “women’s fields” their ability to ascend to management is rapid and blindingly unjust.

Women are underrepresented in all aspects of society partly due to prejudice, but also because to be born a woman in any part of the globe takes a tremendous toll on self-esteem. We are not raised to believe ourselves capable of great things. From the minute you are strapped into those frilly pink what-evers, your chances of fulfilling any dreams other than marriage and children are significantly diminished. You will be sexualized, demeaned and degraded in a myriad of both blatant and subtle ways. And if your family is also oppressed by ethnicity or socio-economic class the struggle becomes that much more difficult.

Butch lesbians are no-frills feminist culture warriors who challenge the norm of "femininity" by simple virtue of existence. Against all odds we have unearthed some semblance of self-love and respect in spite of, or perhaps because of the fact that society has no productive use for our style, not to mention our values. 

If  a preponderence of butch-leaning lesbians transition to men it leaves the majority who remain women in a more vulnerable position. Yes, people have to be true to their biological gender but the fact remains that becoming a man does reduce the problem of anti-woman oppression in an individual's life. It can be used as an easy fix to a much deeper problem.

Lesbians have always had our power drained when we try to work in mixed-gender environments. The gender net of human females is diverse and wide. I am all for fighting for the rights of transgender people. But just not at the expense of fair lesbian representation. Life is not a zero sum game. If the LGBT community writes us out of the fold, we will just keep raising hell on our own, a strategy we have learned well.