Real Concerns for Women

April 28th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

As you may already have noticed, I’m not a big fan of feminism. I don’t believe that the feminist worldview is a source of much good, nor is it very helpful for boys and men who want to become integrated men who contribute meaningfully to society.

However, I also don’t believe that feminism is serving women. The focus on woman-as-victim and woman-as-oppressed, simply induces bitterness in women who would otherwise be perfectly capable of shaping their own life.

This is not to say that feminism has never served women or that it currently isn’t serving women in some ways. The main positive impact of feminism is that it has described in some detail the constrictions and traumas of the female gender role, which has helped women to evolve as well as given women a whole range of new choices.

Does this mean that I believe that there no longer are any real problems or concerns facing women? Has the feminist dominance of the gender field eradicated the need for any more reforms for women? Since I mostly write about male issues and the missing perspectives on the male gender role, this is definitely a valid question.

The answer is that I do believe that there are real concerns facing women today, but distilling those real concerns from the confused set of ideas that is feminism, is no easy task. It’s all too easy to get caught up in feminist thinking, since it is so prevalent these day.

I’ve done the best I can though, and here is a list of what I believe are the most pressing issues facing women (in modern countries):

  1. Rape and sexual assault. Women still need to worry about being raped, and that is something they simply shouldn’t have to worry about in a civilized society. However, since rape is still very much part of life, women need to be taught how to stay as safe as possible. 
  2. Being a homemaker is often isolating. Not all women want to work full-time or part-time, instead opting to dedicate themselves to raising children. While this is a legitimate choice (especially when raising small children), it can lead to being isolated during the day, and a lack of contact with other adults.
  3. Enormous pressure to look good. Taking care of yourself and looking your best is one thing, but having an impossible standard to live up to is inhuman.
  4. Too many bad role models. In the TV series Sex and the City for example, shallow and promiscuous women are portrayed as warm and caring (while promiscuous men are portrayed as cold and unreliable).
  5. Feminist myths that cause damage. Telling women to focus on their careers and encouraging women to have children late in life can lead to infertility. Teaching women to feel oppressed, leads to bitterness and believing that it’s impossible to succeed as a woman. Applauding assertiveness in women is fine, but when it leads to labeling softness in women as something bad – then we’ve got a problem.
  6. Immigrant girls and women who are not allowed to make their own choices in life, the way we expect all citizens to be free in modern democracies, is perhaps the most pressing female issue – and something that feminists should focus on far more if they truly care about women.

What other real issues do women have to face today?

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32 Responses to “Real Concerns for Women”

  1. unomi Says:

    How about:

    7. Crappier jobs. Women risk being turned down for jobs they are qualified for because the employer thinks they might get pregnant and stay at home for an extended period of time.

    8. Guilt tripping. Right wing nut jobs are trying to ban abortion/tell women that they are evil for having an abortion, etc. More importantly, in many countries around the world including Ireland, abortion is illegal.

    In the TV series Sex and the City for example, shallow and promiscuous women are portrayed as warm and caring

    I didn’t know “shallow and promiscuous” and “warm and caring” were mutually exclusive?!

    when it leads to labeling softness in women as something bad – then we’ve got a problem

    What is “softness” and who has said it’s bad?

  2. Jim Says:

    “7. Crappier jobs. Women risk being turned down for jobs they are qualified for because the employer thinks they might get pregnant and stay at home for an extended period of time.”

    This is a good point. The problem could so easily be remedied with a clause in the labor contract in which the woman promises to icompensate the company if she gets pregnant and decides not to abort or put the child up for adoption. Quite simple, really.

    “8. Guilt tripping. Right wing nut jobs are trying to ban abortion/tell women that they are evil for having an abortion, etc.”

    This one is silly though. What forces anyone to listen to right-wing nut jobs and accept their judgments? It’s like blaming (those) feminists (who) for labelling all men potential rapists. Consider the source……….

    “What is “softness” and who has said it’s bad?”

    He may be referring to criticisms of gender roles. Certainly there has been plenty of feminist ink on the beauty of nurturing and lots of lyricla impressionistic vaginocentric stuff, so this criticism can’t apply to anything like all feminists.

  3. Pelle Billing Says:

    7. Crappier jobs. Women risk being turned down for jobs they are qualified for because the employer thinks they might get pregnant and stay at home for an extended period of time.

    This is a whole topic on its own to discuss. Companies need to be rational when hiring, which means that they may stay away from young women. I’m not sure what the solution is, but the solution is *not* to punish companies.

    There’s a study that showed that the most successful career women in the US are the ones who had children early, and then focus on their careers without interruption and without scaring their employer that they may need time off for pregnancy. That knowledge is something every young woman is entitled to!

    What’s also important to note is that women don’t seem to be interested in sharing parental leave equally with their husbands – even in the most progressive of countries (A Swedish survey showed this). Since employers know that women in general are more likely to focus less on their career and more on their children, they may be reluctant to invest in a woman.

    Personally I advocate judging the individual. When you interview an applicant for a job, why not ask all these questions about pregnancy and staying at home? Some countries have made it illegal to ask these questions, which I feel is insane.

    8. Guilt tripping. Right wing nut jobs are trying to ban abortion/tell women that they are evil for having an abortion, etc. More importantly, in many countries around the world including Ireland, abortion is illegal.

    In how many modern countries around the world are abortions illegal?
    This blog post is not about pre-modern countries, since the issues facing men and women in those countries are somewhat different.

    I didn’t know “shallow and promiscuous” and “warm and caring” were mutually exclusive?!

    They’re not.

    What is “softness” and who has said it’s bad?

    Look it up in a dictionary.

    Many feminists have encouraged women to be less feminine and more masculine (as in having assertiveness training, feminist self defense training, despising women who stay at home, devaluing the traditional female value sphere while valuing the male value sphere etc etc).

  4. unomi Says:

    They’re not.

    So why are the Carrie Bradshaw wannabes of this world one of the six biggest issues facing today’s woman?

  5. unomi Says:

    @Jim

    The problem could so easily be remedied with a clause in the labor contract in which the woman promises to icompensate the company if she gets pregnant and decides not to abort or put the child up for adoption. Quite simple, really.

    Genius. And while we’re at it, let’s add a clause that says people can’t move in with a same sex partner either. Because I’ve met a whole lot of clients who would feel very uncomfortable working with one of them queers = company loses revenue. To quote another poster, the solution is *not* to punish companies!

    On a more serious note, said company wouldn’t be paying for the cost incurred by society if birth rates begin to fall, or fall even further than they are doing right now in some countries.

  6. Pelle Billing Says:

    Unomi,

    I don’t have the final answer on how to best regulate employment and hiring processes.

    I do know that the choices you make as an individual, should have an impact on what kind of job you can get.

    If you are set on having two children (man or woman), and staying home for 1+ year with each child, then you simply cannot expect to be treated the same way as another individual (man or woman) who is willing to work without any interruptions in the foreseeable future.

    Nobody should be punished for their choices, but nobody can escape the consequences of their choices either.

    Companies can and should contribute to birth rates not falling, by paying taxes that are used to finance paid parental leave.

  7. Danny Says:

    If you are set on having two children (man or woman), and staying home for 1+ year with each child, then you simply cannot expect to be treated the same way as another individual (man or woman) who is willing to work without any interruptions in the foreseeable future.
    True. When someone goes on paternity/maternity leave the remaining coworkers have to pick up the slack while they are gone (especially if the company in question can’t afford to pay the person on leave and hire a temp).

    Its like they are telling employers to accept their possible future decision to have a child but get mad when employers tell them they literally can’t afford to accept their possible future decision to have a child.

  8. Jim Says:

    “Genius. And while we’re at it, let’s add a clause that says people can’t move in with a same sex partner either. ”

    Idiocy. As if there’s anything even remortely analogous about the two. How on earth does the clause you propose have anything to do with a contract between a workers and an employer over the work conditions and responsibilities? Are you really trying to argue in good faith?

    I mean, what does this:

    “Because I’ve met a whole lot of clients who would feel very uncomfortable working with one of them queers = company loses revenue.”

    have anything to do with someones’ off-duty living arrangements?

    It’s not that complicated. It’s very easy to draft laws or even constitutions that protect purely private matters, such as religion or sexuality. It’s also fairly easy to draft laws to protect both parties of contracts – labor contracts for instance. Maybe it’s just hard for some people to se the difference.

    “Companies can and should contribute to birth rates not falling, by paying taxes that are used to finance paid parental leave.”

    Pelle, what on earth is wrong with birthrates falling? 6.7 billion of us and still breeding – how is encouraging a high birth rate in any way responsible?

  9. Pelle Billing Says:

    Jim,

    I was meaning to write:
    “Companies do contribute to birth rates not falling, by paying taxes…”

    I was tired and fell into the rhetoric of Unomi.

    However, I do believe it’s reasonable that companies pay taxes, and I do believe that we should have paid parental leave. Not necessarily to boost the world population, but since it’s important to invest money in the coming generation.

  10. Jim Says:

    I definitely agree that companies should pay taxes and that they should provide parental leave, and that labor laws should prevent such long workdays that people can’t get home to take care of their kids.

  11. Just a metalhead Says:

    “Pelle, what on earth is wrong with birthrates falling? 6.7 billion of us and still breeding – how is encouraging a high birth rate in any way responsible?”

    The global birth rate should fall, that much I agree with you, but the birth rates of the western world are already below replacement level for the most part. We will have to increase it one day to stop diminishing populations. It’s more in the Third World that efforts should be made to lower the birth rate. High birth rates in countries whose population live in poverty and who struggle to feed their people only aggravates the situation, puts more strain on the environment and leads to more death and misery.

    As to whether companies should be free to discriminate against people who have kids, I am ambivalent. I don’t think it would be fair nor good for society to have companies punishing people for wanting kids or wanting to take care of kids. However, it is also unfair to ask that the people who take time off for pregnancy or parental leave get treated the same way as their co-workers who spend all their time at the job, they sacrifice much to further their careers, that should be recognized. I guess the only fair thing is to legally mandate that their career is put “on hold” during parental leave, so that they are not judged for it but at the same time do not get experience out of it.

  12. Jim Says:

    “The global birth rate should fall, that much I agree with you, but the birth rates of the western world are already below replacement level for the most part. We will have to increase it one day to stop diminishing populations. ”

    Western world – Europe is overpopulated. Replacemernt ot maintian current polutation levels is silly. In all the years I lived in Germany, it was nearly impossible to go anywhere and not see humans or a human habitation somehwere, if only on the horizon, and it was impossible to go anywhere that was truly in a natural state. The forests are one extreme example; they look as thoujgh every tree was planted by hand. Germany is an extreme example in Europe, but not really anomalous.

    The Third world needs to work on this, and they are. We knw what makes birth rates fall – education and oppritunites for women and wealth in families. You can speculate on the reasons for that, but the correlation is pretty solid. And people in China and India at least are making a lot of headway in those areas. The “One Child Policy” has not really worked as well, and the damage on the personal level has been horrible.

  13. Just a metalhead Says:

    Education and opportunities for women do help to reduce birth rates, but I think the major way to reduce the birth rate is a strong social net. In places where the government is weak and there is little to no social program, the only safety people have for when they grow old is their children, so they tend to make sure to have many who will be able to take care of them. In that way, I think the Welfare State can save mankind. It would also explain the low birth rates in the former communist countries, no matter if they were relatively rich or relatively poor.

    One of the big problems of a diminishing population is how to support an aging population and how to prevent economic collapse, as the present economic system isn’t big on reducing anything.

  14. Pelle Billing Says:

    Education and opportunities for women do help to reduce birth rates, but I think the major way to reduce the birth rate is a strong social net.

    I agree that this is an important factor.

    But I think the major factor is for a country to become industrialized and lift the majority of the population out of poverty. It’s in industrialized nations that birth rates drop, and it’s in industrialized nations that the funds needed to have a strong social net exist.

  15. Lavazza Says:

    I think that we are at or close to the end of cheap and abundant natural resources and that the population will adapt to that slowly, if we are lucky and or/wise, or brutally.

    When it comes to parental leave my experience is that some companies are meant to be populated only with employees for whom outside interests or obligations always take a backseat and never intervene in their 60 work hours a week schedule. People take these jobs fresh out of university and change to being selfemployed or to work for the government/municipalities during the child rearing years, if they do not have a partner who is willing to take a much bigger part of the work at home and the couple is prepared to live on one income.

    A lot of countries want to keep the birth rates up, but I do not know if high flying professional couples should get help from the government or the co-workers to be able to have the same opportunity to have children as people working in less demanding, and less paid, jobs and having a less costly (rural) life style or couples willing to live on one income.

    Is it more important that this group reproduces than other groups? Since people in that group do not seem to want to make any sacrifices themselves, other people have to do it.

  16. Pelle Billing Says:

    Lavazza:
    and change to being selfemployed or to work for the government/municipalities during the child rearing years, if they do not have a partner who is willing to take a much bigger part of the work at home and the couple is prepared to live on one income.

    Yes, these are the kind of hard choices that families face. And it’s important to acknowledge these choices. If you want a flexible job, you may get paid less. Maybe some day we can have it all, meaning immense flexibility and also very good pay, but for the moment most people are faced with choosing either or.

    These choices are hard for both sexes, not only for women.

  17. Lavazza Says:

    Well, that is what most of my friends from university have done. First grinding out to establish yourself in your field and maybe even getting into something interesting. Then looking for plusher jobs for both parents or doing a traditional specialization, the latter often by moving abroad where you get a lot of ex pat benefits when you are the sole provider for the family. Another solution is getting divorced and taking turns taking care of the kids one week and working hard the next week. ;-)

    Women who are married to high fliers often want their male collegues, who often are sole providers, to take up the slack when they are away from work, instead of making their husband change to a plusher, less paying job.

  18. Lavazza Says:

    By “plush” I mean “less demanding”. I am not sure if I am using the word correctly.

  19. Pelle Billing Says:

    First grinding out to establish yourself in your field and maybe even getting into something interesting. Then looking for plusher jobs for both parents or doing a traditional specialization, the latter often by moving abroad where you get a lot of ex pat benefits when you are the sole provider for the family. Another solution is getting divorced and taking turns taking care of the kids one week and working hard the next week. ;-)

    Yes, those are a few different ways to handle the situation.

    What surprises me is that so few women (at least in Sweden) seem to be interested in having kids early in life, and then be able to have an uninterrupted career later in life. The same goes for men of course, if they are interested in staying home with their children.

  20. Lavazza Says:

    Well, a lot of people still become parents young. I guess that not many people like to live a life that is completely opposite to the lifestyle of everybody else in their group or subgroup.

    I guess that few people are that interested in a career once they have had kids.

  21. Deva Ariza Says:

    I haven’t read all the responses, but I’d just like to add a few things.

    First, we are overpopulated and distinctions between the developed and developing world obscure the real problem which is that we live on a finite planet and the environmental impact (I) on that planet is a function of population (p), consumption (c), and the current technology (t), or, I = p*c*t. SO long as a child in the developed world uses several times the resources of a child in the developing world, the impact is the same. Given the physical realities of our time, the laws of physics, and common sense, it would appear that the best use of much of our energies (female or male) is not making more babies.

    More on point however, as a woman I would like to add several issues which are almost never talked about by anyone, feminist, anti-feminist, or otherwise. They are:

    1. Lack of any accepted concept of female Divinity. Not seeing ourselves as Divine, but rather seeing ourselves as the reason there is evil in the world, is tremendously damaging.

    2. Female bodies being more identified with sexuality* than male bodies and sex being seen as something inherently dirty, dangerous, and/or evil.
    * I do recognize that male sexuality is more often portrayed as animal, predatory, and dangerous, and that men are still seen as the more lustful gender. What I refer to here is the identification of greater areas of the female body with sexuality, specifically almost everything. A man in shorts would not be obscene or particularly symbolic of sex. A woman in only shorts… well, “Whooo Hooo! Honk, Honk!!!” You get the point.

    3. The sexual double standard. Men are studs, pimps, whatever… Women are sluts, whores, etc… All humans have powerful sexual impulses and the repression of those impulses due to shame is unhealthy for everyone. Women are shamed more than men.

    4. The notion that traditionally feminine endeavors are less valuable than traditionally male values. This notion has been, admittedly, made worse by the second wave of the feminist movement, but feminists did not invent the notion to begin with. Statements abound that equate mothering with “staying home and doing nothing” or “leaching off some man” etc.

    5. Women do a larger portion of the work involved in carrying, birthing, and raising children, but names are still generally passed down through the father. This leads to invisibility of the work that women do. It also reinforces the idea that males are worth more than females because only males can continue your family name. Women also lose contact with old friends when they change their names upon marriage, losing identity and continuity of social support. It isolates and erases women. It’s also why so many girl babies were murdered in China. Everyone wants a son. Girls end up feeling inherently worthless and unwanted.

    6. Sex work remains largely illegal worldwide causing women who are poor to work in fear of law enforcement, often for violent criminals adding danger, shame, and exploitation to work which is already extremely difficult, emotionally and physically.

    7. A lack of willingness for many people (male and female) to acknowledge the psychological trauma that results from past and present devaluing of the feminine archetype and of female humans. Yes, some of the worst manifestations of patriarchy have ended in some countries. To deny that patriarchy ever existed, or to argue that women have no grounds for feeling abused by the societies to which they contribute, is intellectually dishonest to say the least.

    I state none of these things to minimize, in any way, the very real challenges that males have faced and do face under patriarchal systems, which are inherently hierarchical, and serve elite males far more than the masses of males. Nor do I imply that patriarchy has been perpetrated solely by males and that females have no culpability. The system has limited all of our options and is self perpetuating. I seek to see through the illusion and find a better, more authentic way. Thank you all for engaging in one of the most civil discussions around these issues which I have ever seen. My compliments to Pelle for setting such a tone.

  22. Deva Ariza Says:

    Hi Pelle,

    Have you managed to find an internally consistent response to the comment I posted above. I realize this is an older post, but you have kindly responded to all of my other comments. I think that what I refer to above is at the core of patriarchy and does a great deal to explain the suffering of women. Should men seek to recognize and admit the inherent problem with these patterns, it would go a long way toward creating healing. Can you begin that process?

  23. Pelle Billing Says:

    Deva,

    I wouldn’t phrase it the way you do, but I have no trouble acknowledging that female sexuality has gone through a lot of hardships through the ages, and that women’s work in the home hasn’t always been properly acknowledged.

    The price women paid for being safe (compared to men) was that they were stuck in the home, and didn’t have access to the outside world in the same way.

    None of this arose with the intention to oppress women, just like the male struggles didn’t arise in order to oppress men.

    To start the healing I believe we simply need to acknowledge the trauma of each gender role deeply, and separately, without comparing or fighting about who got the worst deal. What happened, happened. We cannot change it. All we can do is acknowledge it and say to ourselves that now that we know better we can do better.

    I don’t really have time to comment any more than that.

  24. Chris Marshall Says:

    >Should men seek to recognize and admit the inherent problem with these patterns, it would go a long way toward creating healing

    So you think all the power worth talking about rests with men, and that addressing the suffering of women is largely a question of getting men to change their thinking?

  25. Kristina Says:

    Its at good list, I think you cover most problems, from a Swedish perspective. Well done!
    A couple of additions maby:
    Not good enough role models: I´d like better examples to this point. In movies the leading female is often portraied as only “the girl” not showing differnt interests or life choises, a rather pale portrait. In this respect Sex and the City is actually a litle better, only because it shows four very different women. But I would not see these women as role models.

    The economic risk of being a homemaker, (you have adressed this before).

    A point similar to one Deva brought forward: Femal sexuality is still shamefull. Rape victims still feel shame. Young girls spend years trying to undestand what they personally have done wrong when sexually herased (why me?). In yonger years this is still a fact: men are studs, women are sluts. Women (and men) should have the right not to feel this shame.

    Again, well done Pelle.

  26. Danny Says:

    You know Kristina speaking of “the girl” one thing just hit me. Why are they called “Bond Girls” instead of “Bond Women”?

  27. Jim Says:

    Deva,

    “More on point however, as a woman I would like to add several issues which are almost never talked about by anyone, feminist, anti-feminist, or otherwise. They are:”

    …..since these have been discussed at length and in greta detail for more than 40 years now – Goddess feminism, the “Mommy wars”, etc.

    “1. Lack of any accepted concept of female Divinity. Not seeing ourselves as Divine, but rather seeing ourselves as the reason there is evil in the world, is tremendously damaging. ”

    That is completely dependent on your religion. In Roman Catholicism the Vrigin Mary is emotioanlly dominant – this is especially obvious in Mexico, but it’s true in Italy as well – to the point where even some depiction of Jesus, such as the Sacred Heart, are effeminate. So go find a new religion if you don’t like the one you were raised in.

    Deva, what is your cultural background? I ask because many of your observations don’t apply to Anglo culture in particular or European cultures – I am thinking here specifically of Scandinavian and German cultures – in general. This for instance:

    “It also reinforces the idea that males are worth more than females because only males can continue your family name. Women also lose contact with old friends when they change their names upon marriage, losing identity and continuity of social support. ”

    ….is completely untrue in America, for instance. America has basically a matrilocal family structure. There is even a proverb “A daughter’s a dughter for all of her life; a son’. However the observation is completely true in China, in India and in Arab countries.

    and this:

    “A lack of willingness for many people (male and female) to acknowledge the psychological trauma that results from past and present devaluing of the feminine archetype and of female humans. ”

    …is untrue of Anglo cultures in general. Female life is valued over male life in these cultures, female norms of behavior are considered the cultural standard and so on.

    Oh, and this is a litle surprising to me:

    Nevertheless, if your point is there is still a lot of revision that eneds to happens in these cultures, we agree.

  28. Jim Says:

    “You know Kristina speaking of “the girl” one thing just hit me. Why are they called “Bond Girls” instead of “Bond Women”?

    Misogyny, Danny. Calling a grown woman”girl” is degrading. Women do it all the time too. That doesn’t make it right.

  29. Danny Says:

    Misogyny, Danny. Calling a grown woman”girl” is degrading. Women do it all the time too. That doesn’t make it right.
    Oh yes I agree Jim I’m just saying that reading Kristina’s comment above just caused the lightbuld to come on.

    And if you look at what those women in those roles over the years have done you see that a lot of them, even the ones that are supposed to be badass like Michelle Yeoh’s character in “Tomorrow Never Dies” seem to be dependent on Bond himself.

  30. Chris Marshall Says:

    I think the word girl sometimes contrasts with ‘boy’ (meaning a female child, and would thus be insulting when applied to a grown woman) and sometimes contrasts with ‘guy’ (and therefore refers to a grown woman in an informal context, and would not be insulting: She met a ‘guy’ at the party; he met a ‘girl’ at the party).

    I’m not saying this to take away from Kristina’s original point about pale portraits of women (‘the girl’), although I have a hard time accepting ‘Sex in the City’ as a step forward in portrayals of women ;-)

    I just enjoy analyzing language, I guess.

  31. Jim Says:

    “I just enjoy analyzing language, I guess.”

    It’s not an idle pursuit. langugae is often the best ource of empirical data about the mentlaity of a culture. it is very apposite in a discussion like this.

    “sometimes contrasts with ‘guy’ (and therefore refers to a grown woman in an informal context, and would not be insulting:”

    Not overtly insulting in the speaker’s mind, but the eqaution of “girl” with boy and also with “man’ menas that the culture using those words distinguishes between men and boys but equates women and gorls. And this is genrally treu – women are very often treated in the justice system as if they do not have free will or to power to give consent. This is nfantilization.

    When anyone, including women’s advocates, insists that a drunk woman cannot consent to sex while drunk but somehow thinks that a drunk man not only can consent but can held accountable for intiating sex, that is this mentality in action.

  32. Chris Marshall Says:

    Jim:

    And this is genrally treu – women are very often treated in the justice system as if they do not have free will or to power to give consent. This is nfantilization.

    Excellent point.

    When anyone, including women’s advocates, insists that a drunk woman cannot consent to sex while drunk but somehow thinks that a drunk man not only can consent but can held accountable for intiating sex, that is this mentality in action.

    I wonder if the prevalence of this very mentality, that women are child-like and can’t help themselves, may be why men and women both refuse to vote very many women into high office.

    Connecting that sort of glass ceiling on the one hand with the anti-male bias in interpreting consent in certain types of rape cases (who is responsible for drunk sex?) is fascinating.

    Somehow I don’t think too many feminists would buy that connection, and that I would get beat up for so much as hinting at it.


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