Feminism & Gender in 2008: The Good, the Bad, and the Election

9 years ago

I'm not entirely sure where 2008 went, but it seems like it is time for my annual year end review of feminism & gender. Let's start by saying that once again, it is a pleasure to write about feminism & gender at BlogHer. The BlogHer community is fantastic, and the blog posts, comments on others' posts, and writing in general that you do are what makes it so great for me to be involved in this. (And this is why I hope that you will leave comments about what mattered to you in 2008 when it comes to feminism and/or write a post on your blog and link to it with my friend Mr. Linky.) This year was no different than any other, except that much of the world watched with bated breath as two very different women battled at various points in the election season to occupy the top two tiers of the White House, and more women than ever were elected to Congress. So here's which BlogHer stories stuck out for me in 2008:

Politics and Feminism

PunditMom kicked off her first post as a contributing editor at BlogHer with her post on what I like to call the teary eyes debated around the world - yes, I mean Hillary Clinton's watery eyes before the New Hampshire primaries. From there, we discussed whether she was likable enough and, as Jill Miller Zimon asked, whether her husband was too involved in her campaign. (My answers: yes.)

The shit really hit the fan, though, when New York State NOW said that Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama over Clinton was "the ultimate betrayal" of women. This is when my naive brown eyes really took a good, hard look at how "mainstream" feminism fails a significant portion of the population. Megan Smith of Megan's Minute felt that "the tensions that arose between the women of color who've never felt part of the feminist movement, and white feminists who assumed women of color should pick Hillary over Obama" is an essential issue. (In fact, it almost led me to disavow feminism, but I hope that opportunities in 2009 to create a new feminist movement, like the Fem2.0 conference, will continue to push the envelope in confronting white privilege within feminism.)

At the same time, Hillary Clinton was at times unfairly and brutally attacked by various media outlets in ways that male candidates were not. (Chris Mattews is high on my shit list. How about you?) Of course, Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to rock American politics, Maria Niles reminded us.

Whether or not the media caused Clinton to lose her bid as the Democratic candidate for president (and I don't think they/it ultimately did, although they/it certainly did not help), Sarah Palin came along and pushed the feminist debate in a new direction. If women of color were expected to support Clinton because she was a woman, did feminism also require progressive, liberal feminists to support Palin because she was a woman? I say, Hell, no! However, as much as liberal feminists disliked Palin's stances on many issues, we did learn from the Clinton experience and vocally opposed the attacks on her based on her sex. As Meghan Smith pointed out:

Sarah Palin threw a wrench in the feminism works. After Hillary was out of the race, here comes Sarah Palin and feminists found themselves having to hold their collective noses and defend her, even though she didn't stand for any of the issues traditional feminists do. And then there are all the conservative women out there who were thrilled at Palin's pick. Now they don't call themselves feminists. What are they?

And, although she herself is not running for office, how does Michelle Obama fit into the picture? The media attacks on her have been vicious, including misguided attempts to highlight how unfair the attacks where that relied on racist imagery.

No matter how one feels about Clinton or Palin, it is important to remember that this election saw more women get elected to Congress than ever. If we want to see a female president, we need to continue to build a pipeline of experience, qualified candidates. We are making progress.

Sex and Relationships and Feminism

Imagine girls around the nation saying, "Here, Daddy - I pledge you my virginity until my husband takes it from me." If that sentence creeps you out as much as it does me, Rita Arens coverage of the general ickiness of purity dances and virginity balls is right up your alley, so to speak. And speaking of balls, Rita rightly wondered why, if staying out of the sack until marriage is so morally important, there aren't mother-son purity rituals. On that note, the casting of stones continued, with Caitlin Flanagan suggesting that we return to Victorian times to prevent teen pregnancy rather than use effective, proven methods like comprehensive sex education. Given the nasty view many socities have of women's sexuality, Susan Mernit praised women who blog honestly about sex. (She also notes that this year, "Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson's relationship did more to explain bisexuality by example than anything..a major stride forward for bisexuals and for same sex relationships moving into the mainstream.")

The print edition of Playgirl folds, and the website is focusing on offering sexual material for gay men, not women.

Violence Against Women is an Activity Enjoyed Around the World

Snigda Sen mentioned that a mob of men attacked two women for daring to walk around Mumbai in the wee hours of the first day of the New Year - even though they were accompanied by men - and how the incident highlights a much larger problem of women's safety in India. Mexico City decided that the only way to keep women away from groping hands on city buses were to institute segregated ones, a solution that isn't really one, but easier and faster to implement than reminding men that they do not have an inherent right to grab women, although our bodies have been made public domain.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month reminds us that "one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. In addition, one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape, and 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime," but the picture is even starker for poor women and across ethnic lines. Because one-third of all women in the world experience violence against them, UNIFEM collects one million signatures on petition to the UN, saying no to violence against women. Her Bad Mother vividly describes Dec. 6, 1989, as the day someone came to kill all women at a university in Montreal, which is why Dec. 6 is "is now designated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada."

April 3 was the Sexual Assault Awarness Month day of action, according to Denise Tanton. As illustrated by a YouTube video depicting several girls luring another girl into an abandoned house so they can beat her, the culture of violence against women is so pervaisive that even women adopt the attitudes.

The "Media" and Feminism

While Sen. Clinton was often trashed by the media, why were many of the years best op-eds about misogyny written by men? (And thank you to both Bob Herbert and Nicholas D. Kristof for their ongoing reporting on women's rights.)

It's not just news and political coverage that takes on a misogynistic bent, though. Sports are just as bad, Sarah reported.

At a time when we need good journalists more than ever, Nancy Hicks Maynard dies at the age of 61.

Beauty and Body Image

BlogHer launched the Letter to My Body campaign, leading to excellent posts from women on beauty image and the pressures that we face as women to live up to unrealistic body and beauty standards. On the flip side, the Pink Patch and other pro-anorexia web groups proliferate.

Mir Kamin notes the trend in which girls as young as 8 years old are taken to salons for bikini waxes. My head promptly explodes. Conversely, head hair loss is a common issue faced by many women.

Women's Health

SJ reminded us that women can "earn" free breast implants, and a few days later Catherine Morgan reported that a petition was being circulated in order to stop insurance companies from quickly forcing women out of the hospital after bresat cancer surgery, a practice derided as "drive-thru mastectomies". The New York Times reports that 25% of teen girls have an STD.

While others wrote extensively on the alarmingly high rate of preventable maternal deaths in the developing world, Amy Gates explored the issue of maternal deaths in the US. In general, the life expectancy of poor women in the US decreases.

Forget the right to safe, legal abortion or even accessing contraception to prevent pregnancy in the first place, thus reducing the need for abortion. In one of the many creative ways the Bush administration shut down women's rights to self-autonomy, librarians discovered that a "U.S. government-funded medical information site that bills itself as the world's largest database on reproductive health" suddenly and without notice or explanation to users, blocked searches on the word "abortion." June 7th was The Pill Kills Day, in which zealots mobilized to deny women in the US access to birth control pills. Then my buddies in the Bush administration decided to make matters worse, redefining what an abortion is to include IUDs and some birth control pills. (On the flip side, a lawmaker and a judge suggest that low income women should be sterilized, or at least criminalize having more kids.) Plus, family planning clinics can't not hire people who apply for jobs just because they refuse to dispense birth control and thus cannot actually perform their jobs. That would be discrimination. (But don't forget that it is OK to pay women who can't perform their jobs less than men who perform equally poorly as long as it is kept secret for over six months - see Lilly Ledbetter, below.)

It is revealed that women pay significantly higher premiums than men for the exact same health insurance policies.

Women and Work

The Supreme Court said it is cool for employers to discriminate against women when they ruled that discrimination law suits must be brought forth to 6 months after the first incident, thus giving a high five to employers who are really good at hiding information and keeping things secret in the workplace. Asshats in Congress reject the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which would remedy this grievous injustice. (It's not too late, though, to take action!)

Before Wall Street had a complete meltdown, people buzzed over whether Zoe Cruz was hired from Morgan Stanley because she was a woman. (Oh, how innocent we were back in May.)

Virginia DeBolt bemoans the fact that tech stories revolving around women are relegated to the style and fashion pages of the New York Times. This topic will come up again and again.

Nearly 40% of people taking care of elderly parents are now men. This enormous role reversal needs more attention, I think. Since women traditionally work in caretaking fields, does the economic stimulus plan leave ladies in the cold to some extent by focusing on construction, or is it an opportunity for non-traditional career development?

You Don't Say?

Incidentally, economists discovered a direct link between the wealth of a nation and women's equality and freedom. Meaning: countries in which women suffer from less discrimination are wealthier than those in which women have very little standing. Hmmmm...

Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, came out in the summer of 2008 and is about unusual things to see and do in NYC.

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