Monday, October 12, 2009

What Am I?

A futile question I ask myself all the time. But today I'm asking it for a different reason: It's a disguise for talking about what feminism doesn't much talk about.

This quest began with Phila's post below, about how we can scientifically prove that human mate-selection is done by women (nope, you are wrong about all those historically arranged marriages and the custom of punishing women who have babies outside marriage and the more recent custom of men proposing to women and so on) and that women pick their baby daddies on the day when they ovulate (late applicants will be turned away at the door).

Also, the selection takes place in a laboratory where undergraduate women look at facial images of men on computers. Well, at least that's what the studies consist of, the ones which we are told explain mate selection preferences. Then the researchers decide that the faces some number of women pick when ovulating are CLEARLY the faces of dominant males who engage in male-on-male competition! Something to do with large jaws, I guess.

And then all this is written into a story about how women on the pill are wrecking human evolution because they are less likely to pick men with the faces the researchers think demonstrate male dominance.

It's a lot of fun to read these stories and earnest investigations into the mysterious female bodies. Or it would be if the resulting interpretations weren't ultimately aimed at keeping me and others like me from ever able to answer that "what am I?" question, or even ever getting to formulate the question.

Yet to ask the "what am I?" question is to me a fundamental human right and one we still allow men far more often than women. (That is a deep statement, by the way, and you might want to think about it in terms of popular culture, fairy tales, songs, movies, books, religions and laws and societal norms.)

What a long introduction that is! If I had an editor it wouldn't be there much longer. But I am going to keep it because it tells you how intense my feelings are, how strongly I believe in the importance of following the pseudo-scientific discussions and how bitter I am when I bump into those very same arguments at parties in six months' time.

All this matters for the girls born today, you know. It is they who will grow up within a culture which lets stuff like this find its place into the small-talk departments of cocktail parties, church picnics, kitchen tables and bars.

So I go to other feminist sites to see what they say about any of the myriad pseudo-scientific gender studies that I fret over. And I find next to nothing*, on most days. This worries me. As I have mentioned before, religion, pseudo-science and the legal system are the three traditional legs of the stool on which misogyny sits, and seeing so little written about one of those legs is disconcerting.

Then again I start questioning myself: Perhaps the warnings I write are not needed? Perhaps everyone is one move ahead in the game? And, after all, there are smart writers responding to this stuff; only not so often on blogs.

At the same time, I think that the relative lack of feminist response to topics such as the one Phila took on reflects a problem with the current feminist emphasis on one end of the oppression scale (for lack of better terms): the oppressed. The more we focus on those who suffer from oppressions of all kinds the less we see the new oppressive tools being developed. Because that development takes place elsewhere and because any new tools appear relatively harmless to begin with. Something to ridicule, say.

My apologies for the muddled thinking above. I'm trying out some ideas in this post and welcome your views.
*For one of the few exceptions, Clarissa wrote about this topic.