Am I a Feminist? Depends on Your Definition

burka-sexy-girl

Credit: flickr / Chesi - Fotos CC

There are certain things I am, but don’t necessarily talk about that much. I’m atheist, but I don’t feel the need to argue about it anymore. I’m a feminist, but I’m not screaming it from the rooftops.

In the circles in which I move, I tend to assume the programmers are atheist or at least agnostic. Most of them are, as one friend pointed out, “you can’t debug code all day and fail to notice flaws in that logic”. I assume women are feminist (by which I mean, believe in equality between the sexes) and that men are at least not misogynistic.

However I don’t really talk about what I mean by feminist because 1) it doesn’t come up and 2) it’s not really something I think about a lot. When it does, what often seems to come up is the unfairness of women being penalized for motherhood, and as someone who doesn’t want to have children, I’m not always sure I agree. If a woman chooses to take a year off work and I don’t, it seems fair that I should be a year ahead in my career. If I’m willing to travel, and relocate for my job, and have fewer other aspects of my life to prioritize, it’s clearly easier for me to advance.

Obviously, some people don’t see it as a choice. My ex certainly didn’t see the logic of my suggestion that if should he want a child he could get it from China like everything else. But to me this seems like a biological unfairness rather than a societal one. So until we can grow babies in test-tubes and raise them on farms I’m pretty cynical about this situation. I look at the unpleasantness of contraception and the degradation of childbirth itself and I think – “that’s a sign that men have too much power”. I mean, we have viagra but no male contraceptive – oh hai, priorities.

Then there’s the whole issue of the burka. The best I have is, as a feminist, I respect a woman’s right to wear whatever they choose. Equally though, as someone who is grateful for the work (and suffering) of the suffragettes, and continually grateful for the work of other people that make it possible for me to succeed (and thrive) in a male dominated profession, I find it offensive when a woman voluntarily subjugates herself. I also dislike the implication that all men are sex-crazed fiends.

So I definitely see myself as a feminist, even if I don’t always agree with what other feminists are saying. However today a friend told me that pole dancing classes (for fitness) enable the stripping profession. I was pretty shocked by this, because going to an (all women) class with a (female) instructor and having fun spinning around in exercise clothes didn’t seem like a complete betrayal of my sex at the time. It no more made me a sex object than my kickboxing skills make me Uma Thurman!

In response I said, “no more than sex enables prostitution”, and then proceeded to be bothered by the comment for the rest of the day. I’m not completely sure why I was so annoyed. Probably the passing of judgement on something I do for fun, when I spend so much time and energy trying to help women in CompSci and Science and Engineering.

And really, I don’t know what feminism is, but I’m don’t think it’s about passing judgement – on fitness classes, short skirts, burkas or otherwise. For me, it’s about what am I doing to positively impact women. And so I’ll keep making loans on Kiva, keep working on CompSci Woman, wear whatever the hell I want, and damnit if my goal is to spin around a pole upside down… I’m gonna make that happen.

7 Thoughts

  1. Anonymous says:

    Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too. Feminism is the incredible notion that free will and personal choice are not up to referendums from the general population. Feminism is the idea that choosing to spin on a pole is vastly different thing from being forced into sex work due to lack of economic alternatives. Feminism is the idea that sex work by choice is a vastly different thing from sex slavery (evidence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Babcock) and that if anything, pole dancing for fun reinforces female empowerment, because it’s fun, not degrading and it’s an informed decision, not a last ditch attempt to keep food on the table. Feminism it exactly what you were doing anyway. Keep doing your thing!

    My $0.02

  2. Agree with aydaring on you not being a “bad” feminist. :)

    On the babies thing, from someone who does want kids… in terms of academia the idea of stopping the tenure clock is a good one. It means that while I will be a year behind when I get back from leave, I will be able to pick up from where I left off. I think that’s really more the point than the notion that taking time off shouldn’t leave you any further behind in any way. However, I don’t think this is really the way it works – it seems that taking a year off (in industry, too, from what I can tell) puts you much more than a year behind in your career. That’s not really fair, whether you are male or female and want to take time off for kids.

    • Anonymous says:

      In academia that seems fair, I finally get why people are so annoyed by universities now :-)

      I do think though, that if you take a year off it will take time to ramp up again and get back into your job, and priorities will be different. It’s hard to control for all the variables. I do get what you’re saying, and it’s not that I disagree, I just think the only way to fix it is to fix the biology.

  3. “When it does, what often seems to come up is the unfairness of women being penalized for motherhood, and as someone who doesn’t want to have children, I’m not always sure I agree. If a woman chooses to take a year off work and I don’t, it seems fair that I should be a year ahead in my career.”

    I don’t agree. First, women, as men, are not equal in front of their careers: some are very talented and will go faster than you, what ever you do, even by working part-time all their life! So it’s not about to be ahead or not in one’s career, as people are not the sames, but to be happy with it and well in one’s life ;-). Second, career is not a competition, as their are many aspects in one’s life: personal life, family, leisure, work, … Particularly with motherhood, women can prefer to favor the personal and family aspects, instead of their work and career – and that’s their choice (some can also prefer to let aside family stuffs to favor work aspects and that’s also a respectable choice, if the children are not suffering from that). What is particularly unfair, is that women who take a break in their career, because there is no other worthing option, then can’t usually come back with good conditions in the job world (and with WISE, you maybe have noticed it): companies, at least in Eastern Europe, tend to not like motherhood (I don’t know too much for Canada and US). The point is that the Society and the job environment shouldn’t favor one of the options: that’s people personal choices. In the case of careers; I think company should adapt to cope with people’s life – and that’s not so difficult – because they would this way favor their employees’ wellness in their job and keep then more productive, and also more loyal. That makes companies more attractive. So, briefly, I think that women, whether they have children or not, if they want to have a career, should be able to have one, at their own rate, and not in competition one with the others.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree you can’t compare one career to another, or one career path to another. IBM is good for this because they have this thing called “work life integration” so people can have more flexible hours and work from wherever.

      That said, it’s different for small companies. Maternity leave can be cripplingly expensive to them.

      • I agree that maternity represents a risk in project management or for small companies, but it’s also part of one’s life and it can be integrated in the project/company structure (multi-competencies project managers/teams). Moreover, even women who do not want children can get pregnant and, for some reasons, can choose to not abort when that happens (family pressure, faith, a personal situation that implies this choice (boyfriend, life, …), etc…)…

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