Monday, June 1, 2009

This Week I Was An Angry Feminist

This week I got mad about some stuff. You'd think being mad would be the perfect state of mind for blogging -- and I think, for some people it is -- but not for me. I get mad about stuff, I just want to go home, get under a blanket with a novel and a glass of wine, and sulk.

At first I was just a little mad. I went to see Star Trek, and while the movie is delightful, I got mad about the whole Bechdel-test-failure problem. Maybe you've heard about Allison Bechdel's famous comic strip, where one woman says to another that she only sees movies in which one woman talks to another woman about something other than a man? The punch line is that the last movie she was able to see was "Alien," because two women talk about the monster.

OK so that was a while ago, but how many movies have you seen lately that would pass the test? The Devil Wears Prada. Sunshine Cleaners. Um ...?

The thing with Star Trek is it's not like it's just in violation of the letter of the law; it's in violation of the spirit. The women in this movie are either 1) giving birth 2) symbolizing "motherhood" or 3) Lt. Uhura. Uhura starts off OK, but immedately becomes just a source of love, support, and sexual intrigue for Kirk and Spock. And did you notice how many women were on council of elders or whatever that was on Vulcan, or on the board that administers the hearing for Starfleet? Oh yeah, its ZERO. And of course, all women in the movie obey the cardinal rule of being an accomplished woman: it only counts if you can look super-cute while you're doing it. Why else are all the female cadets in mini skirts and boots?

But I got madder later in the week when I made the mistake of clicking on Ross Douthat's piece in the The New York Times, "Liberated and Unhappy." Douthat discusses the "paradox" of declining female happiness: women are more liberated and yet less happy. How can this be?

While some of Douthat's conclusions are reasonable (we need to think about work-parenthood balance issues), the title and frame of his ideas are enraging. Isn't it obvious that the point of liberation is not happiness, but freedom, autonomy, and self-directedness? It is offsensively patronizing to suggest of any group of people that they're "better off " when someone else looks after their interests and tells them what to do. People want rights not -- or not only -- because the happiness they might expect to enjoy, but because freedom and autonomy are good in themselves.

And anyway, lots of thing worth doing don't necessarily increase happiness. Research suggests parents are less happy than non-parents. Does this undermine the good of having children? Of course not. Likewise, it's not a "paradox of parenting" that people want to have kids and value parenting and yet are less happy than non-parents. It's just part of the obvious fact of life that some things worth doing are difficult.

So I was pretty mad about those things, and then Dr. George Tiller, provider of late-term abortions that saved women's lives and protected their health, was shot and killed at church on Sunday morning.

A good blogger would some interesting thoughts and news analysis, but me, I'm just mad.

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