Thursday, 7 March 2013

How Are We Doing (in 2013)?

As I read on in Wolf's book, I keep asking myself, So how are we doing? Last month, Stephanie Coontz explored the ways in which, in 2013, "our political and economic institutions lag way behind our personal ideals" in her New York Times article, "Why Gender Equality Stalled." She writes:
Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.
And while Coontz focuses on political and structural impediments, she acknowledges that we still have default positions, which are more abstract, psychological and emotional impediments. For example:
Eighty percent of the women and 70 percent of the men Ms. Gerson interviewed said they wanted an egalitarian relationship that allowed them to share breadwinning and family care. But when asked what they would do if this was not possible, they described a variety of “fallback” positions. While most of the women wanted to continue paid employment, the majority of men said that if they could not achieve their egalitarian ideal they expected their partner to assume primary responsibility for parenting so they could focus on work.
And that is how it usually works out. When family and work obligations collide, mothers remain much more likely than fathers to cut back or drop out of work.
When the new or better or fairer way isn't possible or doesn't present itself to us, women more often than men accept the other, less equitable way, while men continue to benefit from the long-standing status quo. Coontz proposes that "Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice." I whole-heartedly concur. 

NY Times: Why Gender Equity Stalled

I also want us to explore, discuss, consider, and acknowledge the many conflicting ideas and images all around us in a complex, global, digital age. Mainstream and extreme views alike are readily available at the click of a mouse. 

The conversation has exploded. The web contains billions of ideas and images, from ad hominem attacks, to constructive conversations. You can find support for any argument. The web cultivates extremism and constructive, pluralistic progress simultaneously. 

Every time I read Wolf's book, it strikes me that she is arguing for freedom more than anything else. This still feels both pressing and relevant. In the "Hunger" chapter, when she describes how "Everyone is telling [girls] to be careful" and how "the larger world never gives girls the message that their bodies are valuable simply because they are inside them," I measure our current climate against these ideas and sense the Iron Maiden as much as ever (217, 205). She talks about how a "natural" relationship to food includes "not always thinking about it," and we need to hear this still (200). Wolf links freedom from hunger to sexual freedom, connecting her arguments between the personal, political, and economic spheres--even bravely sharing her own story of starvation in adolescence when she suffered from an eating disorder. 

I'm glad we're talking about all of this. And Wolf enjoins us to be thoughtful in our surroundings, diligent in our observations and research, and brave in the expressions of our ideas and experiences. 

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