Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who's your daddy?

This week’s Globe & Mail offerings: coverage of a 32-year-old mother who died after liposuction, revelation that it’s predicted that women will eventually fill the wage gap (and subsequent comment that women shouldn’t be expected to make as much as men, since they choose to have children and shoulder the burden of child-care), and an opinion piece on why a woman should keep her own name (and subsequent comment by man with very Anglo-Saxon name that all of this whining and navel-gazing about “identity” is ridiculous).

And so I maintain that my statement made earlier this week, in discussion with the Ecclesiax Board on another issue, is true: the patriarchy is alive and well. I think that it is appropriate to use that term when referring to any traditionally male-dominated status quo that controls people’s lives, whether they are male or female – but I don’t even need to get into that definition, because all of these examples pertain to the narrower concept of patriarchy as oppressor of women.

Story #1 – obviously there is a whole issue of the safety of cosmetic surgery in this tragic story, which is beside what has struck me about it. From all accounts, this woman (who had opted for liposuction over a tummy tuck because she thought it was safer and less invasive) was not a big risk-taker in the name of beauty. However, she still felt strongly enough about the belly fat that had become a regular part of her post-pregnancy body that she was willing to undergo an invasive procedure. She was not overweight, from the look of her picture, but she apparently looked like she’d had a baby, and she felt that was bad – that she shouldn’t carry the marks of motherhood on her body. The fat that covered her previously rock-hard abs was sufficiently offensive and ugly to her that she was willing to undergo surgery to make it go away. And, of course, the choice is not an isolated one, only the tragic consequences are. I only hope that out of these consequences will come a dialogue that doesn’t just examine the safety of the procedure, but examines why women go through the procedure at all.

Story #2 – as is often the case, it’s the comments, more than the article, that I have found revealing. The article is about a study that predicts the gender gap will finally close on wages in the next decade or so. The responses were rife with comments about how women choose to have children and can’t expect companies to compensate them for taking off time when their kids are sick. A few lone voices suggested that maybe we should view child-rearing and pregnancy as valuable contributions to society, but were quickly blocked out by a man saying that, all things being equal, he would always pick a man over a woman in hiring, because the man was going to be more productive. There was very little discussion about the role that fathers could (and, increasingly, want to) play in parenting. And there was, also, the usual snide remark about how it was unfair that there would be no affirmative action for men when women passed them in earning power – no historical context considered.

Story #3 – basically, the author was advocating that the only reasonable choice for a woman to make when getting married was to keep her own name – largely because it makes things easier when the divorce rolls around. The comments were, I thought, largely pretty reasonable. I liked that someone pointed out that the author argued that keeping one’s name was about identity, without any acknowledgement that with personal identity comes personal choice (I know very intelligent women who chose to take their husband’s names, while fully aware of the historical significance – it just worked best for them). The other good comment was on the fact that the author felt the need to make it clear “I’m not a feminist,” while feminists had made such choice possible in the first place. However, the comment that best illustrates my thesis of today – that the patriarchy is alive and well – was by a man (with, as I mentioned in my intro, a very Anglo-Saxon sounding name) saying that all of this thought and discussion about personal identity is self-serving and ridiculous. I can’t believe that anyone who has ever experienced being a minority would dismiss the importance of identity so quickly. Some men seem to want their wives to take on their names, and take it as a personal affront if a wife objects, who would never consider changing their own name. Why should they? It’s their NAME, after all . . . passed on from father to son. A woman, though . . . well, it’s only the natural progression.

And so, in two days of flipping through the paper online, I see women who are willing to undergo the knife to erase any evidence of pregnancy from their bodies, and who carefully separate themselves from feminists, while claiming a choice that feminists fought for us to have. And I see men who don’t understand that a woman might want to have a job and a family, like men have had for centuries, but that her biological role in the whole family-production process makes it a bit harder, and who can’t even fathom why one would feel the need to assert one’s identity. And I have to conclude that the patriarchy is alive and well, and coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.

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