When Did Being Female Become a “lifestyle choice”?

1926 US advertisement. "Birth Control"

1926 US advertisement. “Birth Control” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was passively enduring talk radio on the drive back from Dee’s soccer game this evening and caught the FOX shoutfest that is Hannity. They were yelling over each other about small government, which no American under 55 can seriously claim to have ever lived under or even have the slightest idea of what small government means in terms of daily life, but nevermind. Small government diatribes these days almost inevitably detour through the vaginas of America’s women, who are the true root of the horror that is big government.

“If they want birth control (I love it when “they” refer to us as “they”, don’t you?) then they can pay for it themselves,” Hannity opined like a Catholic bishop from the pulpit. “I don’t need to pay for their lifestyle choice.”

Lifestyle choice?

Let’s see. I have breasts, a vagina, uterus and two XX’s. And that’s a choice I made?

Being female is not a “lifestyle”.

Why is it that everything small government conservative types are opposed to is slapped with the “choice” sticker?

First it was choosing to be gay and now, apparently, one can choose to be female too. Like anyone would, knowing the world as the female non-friendly place that it is. Who wouldn’t choose to the male? And straight and white while one was at it. Why not? If life were a simulated reality video game, as was recently pointed out, smart money is on picking the easiest setting – straight, white male. A penis is like finding a gold ticket in a Wonka Bar.

But here is the real beauty behind the “lifestyle choice” strawman argument, it allows “them” to define “us” as sluts. Only a slut would use birth control. My mother certainly never used birth control. Except if she is a baby boomer, she most certainly probably did. Just as your sister probably did. And your girlfriend because the god of your straight white maleness forbid that you deny yourself anything by stuffing your burgeoning manhood in a condom as opposed to a sassy wet slutty cunt.

But your daughter, and likely many of her friends, use birth control. Your nieces. Your cousins. The women you work with.  The one who checks your groceries at the store and the one who cleans your teeth, make your lattés and tells you to “have a nice” day when you are strolling out of Walmart, all have a better than even by a long shot chance of having used birth control at some point in their lives.

Damn slutty female lifestyle choice. Can’t escape them. They are everywhere, tainting the landscape with their tending to their femaleness and thinking you don’t know it. They should be ashamed of their lifestyle choice.

I know I am.

If only I had chosen to be my brother, who’s had two children out-of-wedlock to my NONE.

But no, I chose the female lifestyle. With its monthly bloody shedding of uterine lining and sole burden of child incubating and birthing and breastfeeding and putting nearly all my own wants, wishes and desires on hold for ten or twenty years, so it can grow, learn and hopefully leave home before I am too old to get back to focusing on me for more than snatched minutes here and there.

Being female is a perk-filled lifestyle. I can’t imagine why more men aren’t choosing it.

When we are not bleeding, pregnant or lactating, we are being paid less for the same work and bruising ourselves against glass ceilings, doors, and walls. We cart home the bacon after having shopped for it only to cook it, be criticized for getting fat if we eat more than a bite of it and then clear it from the table and wash the plates from which it was eaten.

If we show cleavage, we are whores, but if we try to disguise our breasts, we are anal prudes with no sense of humor who should, “Just smile, Sweetie, because you are so much prettier when you smile. Don’t look so serious all the time.”

We get to have a special “place” and straight white god in heaven forbid that we shouldn’t recognize it and plant the asses we should not let get too fat right there where they belong.

What kind of bullshit is this lifestyle choice crap?

No woman on the planet would choose to be female. Why? Because as lifestyles go, it sucks. Lifestyles should be rich, famous, and packed with privileges. Being female is none of those things.

When the small government folk go on and on about “lifestyle choices”, they are attempting – and in the US with great success – to redefine what being female, or gay, really is. It’s not a choice. It’s a condition of being. Part of being female is managing the plumbing, and no one gets to stick his nose up my plumbing unless he’s my husband or has an M.D. behind her surname.

I am female by random chance, and I have lived a female’s life of which I am not ashamed of. Nice try, Hannity.

The Sexual Revolution Hasn’t Made Women Happier

Youth Culture - Hippies 1960s

Hippies (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Aside from the obvious questions, “happier than what?” or “happier than when?”, or even begging the question, “how do we know that women have ever been happy overall in the first place?” because I don’t know how we can compare the educationally, socially and career limiting eras of our mothers and grandmothers with the veritable garden of options that women have today.  It’s not an apples to apples thing.

The idea that happiness is the end goal of our life’s pursuit is an oddly American one anyway. Ever since Jefferson lumped the pursuit of it with the rather more important issues of life and liberty, people have seemed to grasp more for the third rail and worry about the other two only after the fact.

A recent debate courtesy of the Wall Street Journal pitted Hanna Rosin against Mary Eberstadt on the subject of whether women are better off, which has nothing to do with happiness.  In life, really, happiness is often beside the point as our stoic grandparents and their parents before them could have told us, but since the Boomers, each subsequent generation has found itself more and more unhappy and puzzled as to why, so naturally the fault must lie outside themselves. It wouldn’t do at all to expect the more probable truth that happiness is a choice and many of us choose to be dissatisfied. Not because we want to be unhappy but more because we have no idea how to disentangle the idea of happiness from status, wealth, material things and other people’s approval.

Eberstadt argues that because women today aren’t happy with their lives then the sexual revolution has failed. Rosin argues, correctly, that happiness is beside the point. Women are better off economically, socially and from a human rights standpoint. She muddies the water a bit with the tired assumption that because women can have “risk free” intimate relationships without fear of jeopardizing educational or career plans then the revolution is a success. The “sex” part of the revolution was not the great gain for women however.

Entanglement free sex is a fantasy and always has been, and it’s a male and female delusion. The idea that another person’s body is recreation probably isn’t the worst thing human beings have done to each other over the course of our history, but it is one of our more persistent fantasies because it is the very rare person who plays that game and doesn’t get slapped at some point and it’s the pretense of “risk free” that is at the root of such chastisement.

But that’s a secondary road, a tangent that isn’t the point any more than happiness is.

Women are better off for the advances in law, reproductive health and societal changes than they were fifty years ago. Whether or not they are “happy” has more to do with who they are as people and what they believe the point of their existence is.

Young people especially, but every generation is guilty to some extent, of believing that our individual “happiness” is the point of being alive at all. If we are not happy, there is a reason and someone/place is to blame. Someone other than ourselves.

The sexual revolution has nothing to do with “happiness” anymore than being an American versus being a European is the recipe for “happy”. Religion or no. Wealthy or not. Powerful or average joe. There are happy and unhappy people populating any niche one would care to label.

Happiness is a choice. A housewife in the 1960’s chose to be happy or discontent in the same way and by the same numbers as a SAHM or career woman chooses to do the same today. Then as now, the ability to maneuver and achieve within the allowed parameters is largely up to the person.

My personal opinion is that the sexual revolution vastly underestimated most people’s ability to separate personal expectations and emotions from the incredibly intimate act of copulation. Most of us just don’t arrive at our sexual awakening with the maturity, wisdom or knowledge base to avoid making huge emotional missteps which results in hurts that can leave long-lasting scars on ourselves and others.

Perhaps if we weren’t so human, and so woefully determined to ignore our vulnerable natures, it might have worked out better. As it is in America, we still don’t do the “free love” thing very well and we spend much of our lives stumbling and wondering why it’s so hard and why our relationships don’t work out the way the media tells us they should. And that too is a side road for another day.

That doesn’t mean that the revolution was a bad thing or an unnecessary one.  Poor planning and execution coupled with a continued denial of human nature doesn’t negate it. The hypocrisy that governed sexual relations before certainly wasn’t working all that well either and a wide swing in the opposite direction was inevitable and has led to an increased acceptance of perfectly normal relationships that were once considered wrong like interracial and same-sex couples. And it decoupled marriage from sex, which was occurring long before anyway, and we are better off for simply acknowledging that as perfectly normal too. We are not all meant to be in long term relationships, and even though monogamy in some form works for more of us than not, doesn’t make it the default setting because human beings tend to change with age. What fifty year old will tell you that he/she is in need of the exact same thing emotionally now as they were at 18 or even 38?

To paraphrase Shakespeare poorly, maybe when god makes men and women of some other metal than earth, we will get this all right?

Regardless, those who would have us believe that happiness is the point are missing the point. And are probably unhappy to boot.

Women Have No Right to Self-Determination …

… even when it comes to such trivial matters as wanting to play middle school sports in a pair of shorts that aren’t so short and tight that a girl has to spend half her time pulling them out of her various crevices.

War-women Deutsch: Kriegsfrauen - Öl über Temp...

War-women Deutsch: Kriegsfrauen - Öl über Tempera auf Leinwand - 124x247 cm - Museum Schloß Bruck, Lienz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that’s yesterday’s news already.

It’s not been a good year for women. In the United States, Republican lawmakers, with the aid of religious zealots, have re-launched vicious attacks on our right to birth control and to not be forced to submit to all manner of vaginal indignity when we seek to exercise our presumed right to decide all matters related to our health for ourselves.

In Afghanistan, women are jailed for running away from physically abusive husbands and in New York City, cops can now legally rape women at gunpoint and expect to go free if there is a man on the jury bloody minded enough to force his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

Sigh.  We are decades and decades into this fight for equality and, essentially, unless you are white and live in an industrial nation with a solid hold on what passes for a democratic government, we gained inches worth of ground – if that.

Men in my neck of the planet will argue that this simply isn’t true, but deep down, they know it is. They argue because it’s in the interests of their penis-granted privilege to appear to be in favor of the advance of gender equality while at the same time they know that as long as they don’t admit to the lack of progress, this grants them even more time in the driver’s seat.

How did this happen? Arriving in a new century and still battling sexism? Male dominion over nearly every aspect of our existence?

Erica Jong, in a recent defense of feminism to Hannan Rosin, brings up a very valid – though somewhat taboo – point about the collaborators of our gender. From the famous like Phyllis Schlafly to the Facebook friend of a friend who upbraided me for expressing my doubt about the necessity of skin-tight short shorts that my Facebook friend’s pre-teen daughter is expected to wear if she wants to participate in a sport she loves, women themselves are the greatest ally that male domination has needed in order to perpetuate over the span of human history. We are quite willing to rather meekly submit to all manner of controls, or make sure that others of our gender do, and the reality of this has stranded me in a crossroad without any clear idea of where I should go next.

Canada is hardly an equity utopia.  Ism’s of all sorts abide north of the lower 48 and a few are even more unsettling than those I left in the land of my birth. However, the manual labouring sector aside, women make strides here in all manner of this and that, and our basic right to physical autonomy appears – among the born and bred Canadian if not so much the immigrant classes – to be on sounder footing. The Neanderthal set may be ubiquitous the world over, but they aren’t suffered here to the extent they are in the United States.  I could simply mind the greenery on my side of the fence.  Settle in the pasture, so to speak.

But it nags at me that the gains that seemed to grow up along side of me over the past not quite fifty years are being swept away by male and female alike down there, and the social media feminist excepted, no one is all that upset by it, if they notice it at all.

Speaking up is running the risk of ridicule. Shame baiting stuff intended to call up emotions from days of yore when a woman was still literally a girl and more easily controlled by externals because she hadn’t lived enough life to know them for the shackles that they are.

I might yet live long enough to see women in the United States covering themselves like Hutterite women and be grateful for an eighth grade education. Too many these days would call that progress.

Little White Shorts Are Not Empowering

The Cal women's volleyball team during a match...

The Cal women's volleyball team during a match against USC in Berkeley. The Golden Bears won 3 sets to 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in junior high, I spent my grade seven year stubbornly resisting all recruiting efforts to entice me to play school team sports. My interest and ability was not a secret. Until grade six, recess was my favorite class solely because of sports. I played whatever ball was going. Baseball. Basketball. Kickball. And like every other girl, I played with the boys. Co-ed teams were the norm from grade two on. It’s how we played in the neighborhoods. We thought little enough of it.

But the parish pastor spent an unhealthy amount of time brooding on it and the year I was in sixth grade, he informed the school’s principal, Sr. Walmar, that once students entered Unit 3 (grades five and six), we were to play athletic games with our respective genders only.

And being a good little nun, Sr. Walmar complied.

First, it was basketball. Not only were we girls not to play with the boys, but when we tried to play on our own, we were informed we must play it “girl’s rules” now. Six on six basketball is an abomination of the highest order in my eyes. I thought so then and I continue to view it that way. Though many in my home state of Iowa lament its inevitable demise, I still say – good riddance.

The day that one of the math teachers came out to teach us the rules sticks vividly in my memory. After going along with her instructions for about ten minutes, I announced that I was going to find something else to do for the rest of the recess period, and I walked away with several of my friends in tow. Not to be thwarted, Sr. Marlu made the learning of six on six part of our PE curriculum, and I went along but I never played the game unless my grade was at stake.

Eventually, baseball and kickball were not only downgraded from co-ed status but in an effort to get we girls to take up the nice feminine sport of volleyball, we were forbidden to play kickball on the volleyball courts (even though there wasn’t a single girl between grades five and eight who would play the game, which was partly because we’d recently been banned from wearing shorts under our school skirts and partly b/c the courts were located on the asphalt parking lot).

Grade seven rolled around and I snubbed everything. Not volleyball. Nor basketball. No softball and forget about track. I was not about to knuckle under. I would play as I pleased or not at all.

But when grade eight came, a few of my friends who had joined the school teams the year before brought a bit of peer pressure to bear. I was a good athlete. They’d spent the last year mostly losing. What kind of friend was I anyway?

Our parish was not well off. Our school reflected this in a myriad of ways. The boys teams had uniforms but the girls had team t-shirts only, not real uniforms like the other Catholic schools girls’ teams did. That changed at the beginning of our basketball season. Somehow, the pastor had been prevailed upon to outfit us. It was actually a bit exciting when our coach, a young guy who was student teaching in our building, handed them out to us one night after practice. We trooped into the locker room of the elementary school gym that we used, because our school didn’t have a gym, to try them on. They were polyester and very tight. The shirts were unattractive but serviceable. The pants, however, would have been better suited to a Hooters, if such a thing had existed back then.

Tight and very short, any movement sent what little leg covering there was inching up into every crevice imaginable. A great deal of time that season was devoted to pulling the shorts down. And if this wasn’t insult enough, they were white and so thin that great care in underwear selection was a must on game days.

Even the prettiest, slenderest girls were horrified by those hot pants pretending to be basketball shorts, and keep in mind that this was the late 70’s when short gym shorts were the norm.

We all quickly changed out of the shorts and went out to tell our coach that the shorts were too small.

His response?

Go back in there and try them on and let me decide if they are too small.

We were seventh and eighth graders. It was 1977. We put the shorts back on and paraded around while this 22-year-old education major assessed our assessment. He tried to keep his expression neutral, but he was pretty new to the whole “teaching” thing and he was clearly embarrassed.  He told us he would fix it. He was too young to really know how the education hierarchy worked and too indoctrinated in our shared religion to understand that he had no hope of fixing anything.

He went to the pastor and explained but was told that the shorts couldn’t be returned, and we would wear them or not play.

I was all in favor of not playing. In grade eight I was nearly as tall as I am now and weighed only slightly less than I do now. I was never a little girl and at the time, the phrase “all arms and legs” was me to a tee. I offered to get a pair of regular white gym shorts and wear them but was told again that I would wear the uniform or not play. If I hadn’t committed to my friends to stick that wretched season out before it even began, I’d have walked with no problems. But I’d promised, so I sandwiched up and wore the damned hot pants even though I knew exactly what I looked like in them and just what the boys who saw us were going to do and say. I may have only been 13 but I’d been female long enough at that point to know what one did and didn’t wear, when and why.

Our school developed quite the reputation that season. Word of our “panties” spread. It wasn’t unusual for a lot of boys from the opposing school to hang around for the girls basketball games when we were the visiting team.

Yes, there was catcalling. All with leering  and plenty of wishing the wooden gym floors would open up in a suitably biblical fashion and swallow us whole (but not before lightning bolts smote every leering grin in the room).

But only once did our coach experience any of t it for himself.

It was after the game at Nativity, and we trekked dejectedly (we’d lost again aside from me and a few of my friends, no one on our team could play to save their lives) and the Nativity boys lined the stairwell leading down to the locker rooms – leering and full of themselves with witty commentary on our scanty panties.

They didn’t see Coach and when they did, they scattered.

At the next practice he said, “I’ve talked to Father and for the rest of the season, you can wear your own shorts, so long as they are white.”

And that was that.

In the end, it was not our feelings that swayed either our Coach or the parish pastor, but the opinions of other men, albeit rather young ones. Which is the point of the story. Men decide and women abide.

Just as an aside to the story, my father attended the Nativity game. It was the only one he’d been able to get to all season, so he’d never seen the shorts. After, he’d been grim-faced enough that had Coach not gone to talk with the pastor, I am pretty sure my dad would have because even though the coach had been too young and too much of a butt-kisser to act, what my Dad saw that night was what everyone had seen all season, and what my male peers knew without being told. We were dressed like street-walkers. Those tiny shorts did not highlight our athletic limbs as much as they showcased our budding sexuality. And every male who saw us, regardless of age, knew it.

Not long ago, Dee asked for a sweater that would sit off her shoulder. Eventually all fashion is new again and apparently the Flashdance look of the 80’s has rolled back around. She wanted the sweater to wear over a thin strapped t-shirt. She is nine. I thought little of it. She is very tiny and often mistaken for a younger child still. No big deal.

“She’ll look like a tart,” her father told me when I mentioned it to him.

Did I mention that she is nine? But yet that’s what her own father thinks of her in that outfit.

Men see us differently than we choose to pretend we look to the world.

The mothers at the last dance studio Dee attended would vehemently defend the risque jazz outfits that frankly wouldn’t have looked out of place in a skin joint. They saw “art”, but my guess is that more than one father and grandfather at those performances saw “stripper” in the making.

A mother I know recently wrote about the too tight, too short pants that her pre-teen daughter is supposed to wear to play volleyball. Not wanting to be “that mom”, she’s chosen the path of deep breathing and hoping that she is just overreacting a bit. After all, females from 10 to the Olympics wear those skin tight butt huggers to play the game – never mind that not a single other female sport from basketball to soccer is similarly clad or that boys/men who play volleyball are allowed to wear long shorts. Her daughter loves volleyball, and it’s a “no short shorts/no play” thing. And maybe in the long run, it’s no big deal.

If I could relive grade eight, I would have never donned those white shorts. I’d have quit on the spot and walked home that cold dark November evening. It’s been 35 years and I still remember what it felt like to walk in front of a gym full of people and know what was being whispered about us in those shorts.


Sexist Tropes in A Song of Fire and Ice

Lord Snow

Arya Stark and her "dancing" teacher, Syrio

Currently, I am hunting down the first two novellas of the Dunk and Egg series which are “prequels” in a sense to George R.R. Martin‘s hugely popular series, A Song of Fire and Ice, better known to non-readers as The Game of Thrones. Once they are read, I will known all there  is  to be known (because Martin is a Scrooge about back story) about the fictional fantasy world of Westeros and the characters who inhabit it. And while I am enjoying this brief foray back into my fantasy reading roots of yore, I can’t help but notice that Martin, like many a male author, can’t write from the female point of view without veering slightly to insultingly into stereotype that is sometimes amusing but more often maddening.

My husband, Rob, who is also reading the series, has noted this too.

“What is the matter with Cersei,” he asked after reading her first POV (point of view) chapter in the fourth book, The Feast of Crows. “She’s stupid, arrogant and vain.”

I sighed.

“That’s how men often write female power characters,” I said. “Women who hunger for power have to be more shallow than a man and far less clever while thinking they are players of renown. Martin writes Cersei with all the ham-fisted finesses that most male authors employ when they think they can think like women better than women do.”

Here is the problem with Cersei. The novel is fantasy, so the author is free to invent as he pleases but it’s set in a medieval type of world that borrows heavily from our actual medieval history where women were essentially chattel. They lived brutally repressed and often very short lives at the whimsy of the males who fathered before being bartered away to live equally suppressed lives with the men who their fathers sold them to in marriage. With this sort of foundation, a writer’s already limited his female characters by a long mile.

Cersei’s character has the added burden of being born into a wealthy and noble family. She’s educated, after a fashion, and been exposed to the machinations of her powerful father, whose use of her hasn’t gone unnoticed by her. Being a bolder by half than her two rather emo younger brothers, she resents that her femaleness is all that stands in the way of her being a powerful figure like her dad.

Penis envy. Can a male writer create a strong female character who isn’t a Freudian text-book case?

And this brings to mind two things. First, Freud’s penis envy theory has been long debunked, so two, why then do male writers persist in its use as a character device where strong female characters who seek a foothold in a man’s world are concerned?

Arya and Brienne follow along the Cersei path in this need to reject the penis-less female existence. Both aspire to be warriors. In order to be a warrior, according to the author, a girl must don male clothing, cut their hair and disavow any female emotional trappings  or aspirations. It’s not possible to have a relationship or children and be a warrior (this in spite of the fact that Martin creates a very minor set of characters – the Mormonts – whose women are both female and warriors.)

Indeed, it goes so far with Martin to set apart females who wish to compete in the male arena that he basically strips them sense and sometimes rationality. Cersei and Arya are borderline sociopathic. Brienne, who is a freaking knighted warrior no less, is about as worldly as an 11-year-old girl who’s been raised in a nunnery.

And she’s ugly.

I hate that more than anything where strong female characters are concerned. Even more than when they are supernaturally beautiful and use sex as a means to gain control, wealth and power (as Cersei and Danerys Targaryen do). The able capable woman who is as good or better than any male character she is put up against is often – as in the case of Brienne – ugly. Butt ugly. Masculine of build. Always tall. Why tall? What is it about “tall” and “female” that equates with the anti-feminine?

“His writing reminds me of that line ‘How do you write women so well?’,” Rob remarked.

I think of a man and then I take away reason and accountability.

That’s the bulk of the main female characters in A Song of Fire and Ice. Accept for the accountability part. Women are held accountable all over the place via rape, physical and emotional abuse and brutal suppression.

Oh and maiming.

Granted, Martin has a fetish for maiming or disfigurement in some way. The more fond he is of a character, the more physically hideous you can expect them to become over the course of the story. He makes use of emotional upheaval and tragedy in a similar manner. But nearly all the main females are subject to some sort of outward appearance downgrade in some respect.

Brienne starts off in the hole with freakish height, a face like a horse, muscles, breasts the size of half-dollars and no curves. She’s blessed later in the series with facial disfigurement when half of her cheek is bitten off in a melee.

Catelyn Stark is emotionally beat down on with a crippled son, a beheaded husband, a murdered son(s), and dead father before Martin has her rent her own face and has her throat cut. And as if these aren’t lessons enough for learning her place, she is then raised from the dead to live a half-mad existence as a somewhat ripe-ish pseudo-zombie.

Arya begins as the stereotypical tomboy. Favored by her father and brothers and despaired of by her mother, sister and septa (governess), she is soon enough clad only in boy’s clothing, which leads to her be repeatedly mistaken for a girl (despite the fact that in the HBO version of the series, she clearly has breasts) and eventually ends up shorn of hair and training to be an assassin who must frequently disguise herself as anything but who she is. Herself is beside the point and it is only by rejecting herself that she finds a place in life. By the end of the fifth book, she is clearly unhinged and can disassociate at will, spending her days learning to murder and her nights embodying her wolf and leading its pack on a killing spree.

Cersei, who I began this observation with, is the most insulting to women of all. She is presented as an example of what happens to talented girls who aren’t trained properly. Smart, ambitious and thwarted, when she finally gets an opportunity to play a man’s game of power – she fucks it up with mistakes that no one with half a brain would have made. Even her brother, Tyrion, whom no one has bothered to train in the “art of the game” plays it better than his sister, who’s spent most of her life living in the thick of a political hub. She commits every rank amateur mistake that Martin can think for her to make and then he throws in a little gratuitous lesbianism because – of course – in order to play at being a man, a woman has to take a female to bed and “use” her.*

While I can accept the idea that when one uses medieval Europe and Asia as a setting for a fantasy piece there are certain realities about women that needs be  respected, I am at a loss as to why – when one has the opportunity to create a world from the ground up – one doesn’t take the opportunity to banish things like rape and sexist stereotyping.

*He actually does the same thing with Danerys, who works off her widowed sex deprivation with a servant girl. Pseudo-lesbianism is an annoying male fetish. In the HBO series, the writers make up scene that has Littlefinger ranting about the cruel way the world has mistreated him while two of the prostitutes in the brothel he owns have sex for him. It’s not a scene you will find in the book, but apparently, it was necessary for the television version because of all the characters in Game of Thrones, only Tyrion seems to have sex on a regular basis and HBO has a reputation to maintain.

Why Is It Still Okay to Call a Woman a Slut?

Call a gay person a faggot and it’s hateful. Sling the n-word at a black person and you are a racist. But call a woman a slut? Follow it up with slander about her sexual appetites and put in a request for YouTube videos of her “banging it five times a day”. That’s just …? What exactly is that in America? Business as usual? Lately it seems so. But whatever you call it, no one is likely to call if sexism – though clearly it is. Few will see it as hate speech though if you ask a woman how it feels to be called a slut for using birth control, she is likely to feel degraded and vilified for the “crime” of exercising her right to self-determination or merely just taking legally prescribed medication for a physical ailment.

Rush Limbaugh‘s recent slut problem is hardly the first time the shock jock has taken gratuitous pot shots at the female gender for the sake of pandering for a living. He’s a misogynist. A lot of men his age are. I would even go so far as to say that it would be difficult for men of a certain age to not take their preferred gender status for granted and have incorporated the tenets of sexism to such an extent that they truly don’t really most of the time that they really have no respect for women. That’s not to excuse them. Racists of the pre-Civil Rights era were blind to their racism to some extent as well, but it doesn’t make their participation in it innocent.

Thanks to the recent Komen backlash and the even more recent birth control versus the Catholic Church and Rick Santorum uproar, women of social media means near instantly ignited the public’s fury, which has resulted in Limbaugh’s rather predictable non-apology and the less predictable disavowal of him by his advertising sponsors, who are dumping him in droves. It’s heartening to see women uniting and demanding that sexist rhetoric have consequences in the same way that anti-gay rhetoric provokes outrage or racist diatribe earns the rebuke it deserves.

But I fear, that gender slurs where females are concerned is still not seen as too big of a deal. It’s 2012 after all. Did women win their freedom back in the 1960’s? They got the pill and burned bras, right? Or maybe it was when the government deigned to allow us the vote barely 80 years ago and only after they bad publicity of beating suffragettes and force feeding women on hunger strikes made Uncle Sam look too evil to do anything else.

No, wait. It was in the 1970’s. There was Title IX, which allowed little girls to play school sports and the Equal Right’s Amendment. Didn’t Helen Reddy sing something about roaring women to celebrate that victory?

Except there was no victory. Female collaborators like Phyllis Schlafly barnstormed the country with stories about housewives turning lesbian and little baby fetuses piling up in the gutters and people like my Dad voted against ERA and the Constitution remained blissfully male oriented.

But man means “woman” too.

Except when it doesn’t and that’s most of the time.

When I graduated from college in 1987, North America was firmly entrenched in paying lip service to the notion that “women could have it all” but only the most foolish of my gender went out into the world and didn’t soon discover that to be completely untrue. And twenty-five years later, it’s just as untrue. Our so-called equality is as shallow as an episode of The Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Sure, we can have it all as long as we stay thin, don’t appear to age past 40, bring home our share of the household income and do more than our share of the housework and childcare. Be sexually attractive but never appear to enjoy sex or discuss it or anything else to do with our “naughty bits”. Don’t ask and don’t tell and if anything “down there” needs looking after, be prepared to cover the expense ourselves. At that includes pregnancy and wellness checks and contraception. Don’t ask and don’t tell. If you ask, we’ll know you are not a “good girl” and if you tell, we’ll know for sure you are a slut.

You can’t call a gay person a faggot or a black person the n-word. But you can call a woman a slut or a whore or cunt or a bitch. You can sing it even while barely clothed young women grind poles (or each other) in the background on a YouTube video. You can expect a woman to make a video of herself for your “entertainment”. You can do this because of men like Rush Limbaught and Rick Santorum. It’s possible because of collaborators like Pamela Gellar and Angela Morabito. You can do this because the Catholic Bishops have a long history of female suppression (almost as long as their support of priests who like little boys). You can do this because everywhere in the world, women are universally seated in the back of the metaphorically bus and we’ve accepted it or been brutally suppressed when we didn’t.

Rush is taking his lumps for being caught with his old school pants down, and it may or may not cost him his job – I’m going to say “not” – but the essence of the problem has not changed. Women stopped fighting for their rights much too soon. We settled for crumbs and we are paying the price of it.

Why is it still okay to call a woman a slut? Because we’ve allowed it to be.

Whitney Houston

Didn't We Almost Have It All

Image via Wikipedia

She turned up dead on my Facebook feed Saturday night, and I can’t say I was surprised or even sad in a nostalgic kind of way. In one of those prescient ways that irony sometimes presents to us, I had just been thinking about her earlier in the day.

XM Radio is hosting another of its freebie weeks in hopes of luring back costumers who feel them once they realize how limited their playlists are, and as I was taking Dee and her little friend to soccer practice, one of Houston’s earlier hits warbled at me. It was a song I was fond of back in its day but it has aged poorly. The lyrics were thin to begin with and I always felt that the song ended a bit off-balance in poetic terms. It occurred to me – again –  that despite her obvious talent, Houston had no ear for lyrics – what made them memorable and enduring. In fact, aside from her cover of the Dolly Parton tune, I Will Always Love You, which she performed for the film, The BodyGuard, I’d be hard put to name any song of hers that really doesn’t date itself.

Most of her hits came in the 80’s, a piss poor decade for music overall. Stack up enduring melodies from that decade against any of the others, and I’d bet the list is short by comparison. It launched, after all, the “me” generation and the consuming something-for-nothing, life’s-a -party attitudes that have landed us where we are now really.

Not that Houston is to blame for any of that. She was as much a victim of coming of age in the early 80’s as any of the rest of us. The pastels, Reganomics, Gordon Gekko, MTV superficiality tainted us all to one degree or another. Her shallow contributions doesn’t damn her anymore than it does the rest of us.

If anything about her death has touched me at all, it is the fact that we are the same age, born in the same year. Forty-eight is awfully young to drop dead though by all accounts she drowned in her tub after falling asleep. Xanax, liquor and a nice hot tub are probably not the best  combination. That she takes Xanax at all makes her one of my peers. You can’t swing a cat without hitting the Xanax dependent among women in the United States anymore. It’s more of a go-to than anti-depressants it seems. That it’s an oversold, horribly addictive drug goes without saying. Most of the mood altering concoctions peddled by the family physcians in the States are dispensed without proper physcological assessments but that’s the way Big Pharma likes it.

Big Pharma, another thing the 80’s gave us that it wisely doesn’t brag about.

A Facebook writer friend noted on her status update that she’d spent the evening listening to Houston’s songs and crying and didn’t know why. She wasn’t that big of a fan. But I pointed out that Houston is a cultural marker. Her music, more than she herself, is part of the soundtrack of a time when many of us were growing up or trying to pretend that now we were grown up. Her death is a stark reminder that those days are long gone and though we fool ourselves most of the time into believing that we are not older but better, the truth is that we are truly grown and more than a bit adult now. Not in danger of somewhat carelessly drowning ourselves in our tubs, but certainly not impervious to time.

Time ravaged Whitney. Mostly with her assistance. But time is no friend to women in America. Look no farther than poor and to be pitied Demi Moore, who recently checked her anorexic, drug addled (wanna bet she’s got a bit of a Xanax problem herself?) self into rehab after she recently collapsed from being overly artifically stimulated. Or Heather Locklear? Remember her from Dynasty or her short skirt/long jacket days on Melrose Place? She tired to commit suidcide not long ago.

What do these women have in common? Growing old while female in the United States, a country that doesn’t like women much anyway and certainly has no use for those pretty ones who can’t retain some of their youth.

Look at Madonna. She’s 54. Can you imagine the pressure? Only if you are a women. Fifty-four and having to be twenty-five forever. If I didn’t know she was a devout yogi, I’d suspect Xanax use here too.

It’s hard to be surprised about Whitney Houston, however. A cocaine addict turned prescription drug abusing alcoholic isn’t the American dream but it’s probably not far off a lot of people of a certain age’s truths anymore. And that’s sad.