Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Feminism is Having a Choice

One of the most prominent issues of Second Wave feminism was acquiring the right for women to have access to safe, legal abortions. People who believe that women have the right to choose whether or not they have abortions are called, as most everyone, knows, pro-choice. Although in the media today this term almost always pertains to abortion, in my opinion the goal of feminism as a whole is to give women the right to make their own decisions. This applies to so many facets of the modern woman’s life today.

Women should have the right to choose how they raise their children. First and foremost, lesbian women have just as much of a right to bear or adopt children as any other women. (Obviously, gay men equally possess that right.) The stigmas that many women are stuck with, though, often pertain especially to heterosexual relationships. Regardless, when it comes to working women have a right to go back to work after they birth their children, while their partners stay home and raise their children. Or, both partners can go to work and the child can be cared for at a daycare or by a relative during the day. But women should in no way be persecuted for electing to stay home and raise their children and not return to work, or maybe not return for years after the birth of a child. If they have the financial means and desire to do so, women should have the right to choose whether to go to work or remain at home after raising a child.

Women should have the right to choose how they dress. Some Third Wavers, like Jessica Valenti, believe that as long as women understand why society wants them to be thin, dress in a sexualized manner, and wear makeup, they have the right to do so. Others, like Ariel Levy, believe that by doing this, some women objectify themselves. The beauty and body ideals of society have fluctuated radically over the last century. One hundred years ago, wearing pants was controversial for most women. Since then, women have been told to dress puritanically and sexily; with every inch of skin covered and not very much at all; in skintight clothes and clothes that didn’t touch their bodies whatsoever. If women are forced to follow any of these fashions, though, they are not liberated. A woman has just as much of a right to dress in a way that could be perceived as conservative as she does in a way that could be perceived as sluttish- as long as it is her decision.

Women should have the right to choose their sexual activity. They have the right to elect when they lose their virginity. Today, more sexually liberated Third Wavers strongly advocate for the right of young women to have sex, including access to information and contraception. These feminists are very vocal in their belief that teens should have the right to be as sexually active as they want. It is awesome that this belief is becoming more prevalent, but young women’s decisions to have sex later in life, even after marriage, has to be an option too. If young women now have the right and means to choose to have sex in high school, they should also have the right to abstain for as long as they see fit.

This relates to countless other feminist issues being debated today. As long as all women are generalized into one group and not given the right to have opinions as individuals, they are oppressed. Feminism will have succeeded when the every woman can express her opinion and has the free will to act upon it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Defense of Comprehensive Sex Education

A very hot-button issue that has brought feminists to the forefront is comprehensive sex education. It is something that Jessica Valenti defends vehemently in the notable Full Frontal Feminism, and that many teens have written passionately of on Julie Zeilinger’s The F-Bomb. As someone who believes that ignorance should be avoided at all times and that the current state of education is condescending to high school students, I was always on the defensive side on this issue as well.

In the past month, I have experienced sex ed at my public high school, and my defense of comprehensive sex education has become infinitely more fervid. The majority of my friends, including the three that I spend my health class with, are virginal. Out of the four of us, none of us are in relationships and have not been in relationships in which we felt a desire to lose our virginity. Two of us are fully supportive of premarital sex; the other two are more divided, as their parents oppose the action. None of us were planning to have sex in high school, although we were not opposed to the idea and would not judge any of our peers by the action. It seemed like a perfectly okay thing to do, if you were confident that you wanted to have sex with your person and you used protection and whatnot. Right?

Any casual, sexual desires we had developed previous to health were almost quashed by the lessons we learned. Our teacher educated us on prevalent STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) in their transmission and (grotesque) symptoms. The three girls I was with and myself all have A or A+ averages in school, are fairly eloquent, and informed on basic current events. None of us, though, knew a thing about syphilis or oral herpes before this lesson.

The best part about this, though, was that our health teacher spoke to us in a way that she made it sound like it was not a sin to not be a virgin at this time. She was not condescending. It was awesome. I’d always imagined it to be like that scene in Mean Girls where the gym teacher expresses: “Do not have sex, or you will get pregnant and die!”

I can now say with confidence that comprehensive sex education is far more effective than abstinence-only. I have read dozens of accounts and excerpts of abstinence-only sex ed lessons, and they are, in my limited experience, far less realistic. Telling kids they shouldn’t have sex “just because” doesn’t get anything done; most teens inherently want to rebel against what they’re supposed to. Besides, expressing the unpleasantness of genital warts and painful urination are far more effective than just saying that something is “bad.”

The bottom line, applicable to this just as much as any other (as in, every) issue that effects teens: if they are treated like mature adults, with rights and opinions, they are far more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Being Pretty

This is a piece I wrote that pertains to my belief that society inhibits women from feeling good about their bodies, but that that can change. ;) Please comment! Thank you!

"On Being Pretty"

I am not pretty.

Now, the typical response to this is, "Yes, you are!" Even if the people in question have never even met in person. Because maybe this person seems pretty, in the sound of her voice or the style of her writing. Maybe this consoler is one of those people who truly believes that everyone is beautiful. That is a lovely, wonderful ideology that I too subscribe too. Every person is beautiful. But not every person is pretty.

I certainly am not.

Pretty can be hard to define; or, at least harder to define than those words considered its synonyms. And its only companion that carries nearly as much weight is "thin." I have many friends who do not believe that they are pretty, as well as many who do not think that they are thin. It is much easier to confirm that someone is thin. Thin is objective. Thin can be proven by muscular abdomens and hard, flat stomachs. It can be verified by pristine, tight legs and sharp, defined collarbones. Thin is good, right, aesthetically pleasant.

I'm not thin either.


The fact that I am not thin used to hurt. It was a tangible ache, like a lovesick spinster pining for a suitor who had long forgotten her. By the time I was thirteen, I felt it was too late. I wanted to be thin; I had to be thin. So much of my life revolved around this desire, these acrid mantras constantly interrupting my thoughts. I didn't even realize how much this wanting affecting me it was replaced with more pressing matters.

When I was younger, I loved throwing coins into fountains for good luck. The one at the mall and the Chinese restaurant were my favorites. This was a favored activity of mine, though, well beyond early childhood. Every wish I can remember having, from the age of eleven and beyond, was to be thin. Sometimes it was specific, a number to achieve or a particular day to yearn for. Often it was just general: "I wish I was thin." Every so often, I'd also add a wish to be happy.

In books, and movies too, the not-so-pretty girl always gets to have this marvelous transformation. Sometimes, she just whips off her glasses and flips her hair. Her peers all love her. Everything works out. Sometimes it takes effort, plucking and sit-ups and new jeans and mascara. It's hard work, for certain, but she may even gain some new friends with this process. Then, there's the girl who was just ho-humming along, and she goes away for the summer or visits her grandparents or takes a long nap and, suddenly, she's gorgeous. This is the plot of countless forms of entertainment, yet it never ceases to infuriate me.

I've hated this girl for such a long time. And I hate that I still, and probably always will, envy her.


I now possess the confidence to firmly state that I am not pretty.

I'm not thin enough, either.

But by what criteria? Who creates these standards that I am judging myself by, like a rubric for an assignment?

Well, my peers, I suppose. My peers, the majority of who dully absorb whatever they're told without a second thought. Less than two decades into their lives, so many are already lackluster, with a piteous dearth of emotion and creativity. So, they obviously didn't make this up themselves. But where did they get this all from, these expectations that affect the lives of so many?

The media.

These standards were created by society. They are not organic. And I have always been all about screwing the media. I have always wanted to subvert the patriarchy, reject antiquated racism, and slap prejudice in the face. I knew it was ridiculous that, as a woman, I had to be submissive. And even more preposterous that, as a young woman, I was expected to depend on others. There was no reason for me to follow these orders. Why? Because they're bullshit.

So, why isn't this body ideal bullshit too?

Huh. It was quite the epiphany for me. Still is, mind you. And once I confirmed its truth, I was so very scared, because, for the first time,

I was free.


I am not pretty.

I'm not thin enough, either.

Knowing what one is defined as and caring, though, are two blissfully different things.

I do not care anymore, but I don't shout this from the mountaintops. I don't wear it on a badge with pride. For me, losing possession of self-loathing is a private triumph to be quietly celebrated. It is a truth I am patiently caressing until I am ready to share its magic.