Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Prime of Life

I recently started rereading Simone de Beauvoir's Prime of Life, one of her series of autobiographical works. It's thoroughally enjoyable, and though it mostly reads more like a travel biography, her existentialism and feminist philosophy are infused throughout. It's wonderful to hear her talk about Sartre travelling with her almost as an afterthought, because here was a woman who simply loved to travel the world because it was a big part of learning.

It's also a rewarding book for those of us who are approaching 40 and beyond, I think, because Beauvoir used her feminism and her existentialism in the way she saw what growing older is like--the ways in which feminism informs how our roles tend to change (as well as cement themselves) as we grow older and the way in which existentialism can help one appreciate life more as one approaches death. We always choose--that's sort of the existentialist motto, and we're constantly choosing our gender roles as well, even (and especially?) as we grow older.

Beauvoir is a huge influence on my feminist thinking, though strangely not so much directly for The Second Sex. Mostly I think her view of existentialism encourages feminist thought, and not only in the ways that The Second Sex proposes (For me, the Second Sex mainly points out that one is made, not born a woman (or man!).) Her view of existentialism, as somewhat opposed to Sartre's, is that our connectivity to others is fundamental. Whereas philosophers since Descartes have proposed "I think therefore I am," Beauvoir (I'm paraphrasing, of course, and oversimplifying) says something along the lines of "I think, therefore we are." We are fundamentally connected to others existentially; we have language, we are social. And we make choices constantly which inform the choices of others and are at the same time informed by the choices of others. Yes, existence and what it means is ours to choose--we can't avoid that, under her existentialism--but that doesn't mean that the choices are wholly ours to choose. We don't choose in a vacuum; rather, we choose in a social context, among others, influenced (but not caused!) by others, and all the while influencing others along the way.

It seems to me that lots of what feminism can be sprouts from this sort of thinking: the ethics of care, antifoundationalism, theories of social knowledge, and even (though Beauvoir would argue against this) some flavors of postmodernism.
Just some preliminary thoughts. Perhaps I'll have more on Beauvoir and her life (and how it informs my own feminism) later.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Domestic Bliss

A short little post about division of household labor during The Holidays:

This year I spent a lot of time during Xmas with some friends. It strikes me today, the day after, that it was quite a relief to be in a place where the division of labor along gender lines was practically (though not completely) invisible. Everybody did some cooking, everybody did some cleaning, everybody did some taking care of the little kid.

In the past, with Xmas with The Family, there is always an uncomfortable amount of men sitting around doing little while women (and me, usually) went around doing little cleaning up tasks (though I'll have to admit that my stepdad, who loves to cook, also is very good about cleaning as he goes), or doing the dishes at the end of the meal.

This isn't an intricate examination of division of labor along gender lines--rather, it's an expression of happy-stuff when I realize that I wasn't reminded of this division incessantly this holiday, which is a relief.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sexism (and Classism) related to - Male Violence

Violence in the United States (at least) includes commonly:

1.) Male vs. Male Violence - gang violence as well as much fighting among men that doesn't involve gangs,

2.) Suicide - particularly in high school age children involving both males and females

3.) Threatened killings of multiple individuals in high schools - such as the Columbine Tragedy

4.) Child Abuse which involves both men and women

5.) Rape and sexual abuse - most commonly Males against Females

6.) Domestic Violence - most commonly Males against Females

A. Male vs. Male violence often seems to get less attention than it otherwise might warrant. This seems to me to relate to the fact that Poorer Men are disproportionately affected by it. It is pretty rare for gang problems to relate to Middle-Class White Boys! Class issues seem most important here.

B. Suicide issues particularly in high schools are getting increasing attention because it seems to be a middle class issue which affects our children who are seemingly "normal". Class seems important here. I'd guess that more girls than boys are visibly affected, but it's not a Gender issue generally.

C. Threatened Killings in high schools is a scary and interesting issue. It is nearly always White Males directing violence at others. Often the others are more teenage Girls. The media do not focus on the "White Male" angle of things and rarely focus much on where Sexism is clearly predominant here. Sexism is clearly an issue here. Failing to look at the "White Male" part of this seems to relate to both Classism and Sexism.

D. Child Abuse issues involve both women and men. Women are the more common abusers however men probably commit more abuse in proportion to how much they do in the raising of children. This is a difficult issue to discuss in a few words.

E. Rape (Sexual Abuse) and Domestic violence are issues where Sexism seems very, very, very important. Classism seems much less important as an issue here. Wealthy women are victims of domestic violence and White Men with Power - are certainly common as abusers in a way that they'd be much less likely aggressors in Male on Male violence. Rape and Sexual abuse most commonly are acquaintances, not strangers who may be upper-middle class people.

I try to imagine such issues reversed - where Middle Class (and Working Class) Men were in need of shelters and other support services in huge numbers because of violence directed at them predominantly by Women.

Where Men - were the Victims - we'd most likely have an "epidemic" which needed an end to it. It would be "fought" and become a rare problem, because as a society we couldn't afford the losses it causes.

I think that we have a similar denial in the U.S. on the psychological effects of War - and the current War in particular - on our soldiers (both Male and Female). In the latter case we have political issues invading the picture complicating things. People might question war more if they knew the true costs it has on us. Perhaps in this case - we also have the flip side of Sexism - where the feelings of Men (there are more Male soldiers than Female soldiers) in particular are minimized.

To me Sexism and Sexism Only - allows domestic violence and rape and other sexual abuse to continue to terrorize and otherwise affect in deep ways the lives of so many (mostly) women year after year, decade after decade. We say that such violence is: "wrong", yet our actions to eradicate it do not make a dent in it in ways similar to how cigarette smoking has been dealt with as a "health epidemic".

Male on Male Sexual Violence particularly in prisons is also an important issue. Its effects are minimized perhaps in part because poorer and more marginalized men are disproportionately affected by it.

Such violence and the threat of it is an epidemic. It gets in the news and then disappears. The womens' lives go on being seriously hurt.

We may take about how Women are now earning more and more in relation to Men and similar. We are lagging in the areas of violence however.