Monday, May 19, 2008

Virago Tales

Apropos of what I posted a couple of days ago... I was alerted to this article in the New York Times via BitchPhD. In it, Peggy Orenstein discusses the misogyny evident in reactions to Hilary Clinton's campaign. She eschews abstract debates in favor of a more personal approach, wondering what to think about such misogyny and how to teach her daughter about the real world. 

"Will the senator be my example of how far we've come as women or how far we have to go? Is she proof to my daughter that 'you can do anything' or the hell that will rain down on you if you try?"

She goes on to point out the inherent problem in books that are meant to espouse a 'can do' attitude for girls: namely, that there is anything that says they 'can't do' in the first place. Orenstein is hesitant to even mention this aspect of the problem to her daughter and I wonder if she hasn't struck on something quite important.

While we are not yet at a point where women can take opportunities for granted (see Orenstein's statistics on women in powerful positions) the consistent reminder of the barriers seems a double-edged sword. 

Because things are still so difficult for women entering traditionally male professions it would be disingenuous to teach our daughters that all those open doors come with no price. At the same time, it does seem to bolster those same misogynistic traditions by suggesting that women can break the rules but not change them, or that any women entering these professions are precious exceptions rather than a new rule. 

I'm not saying I dislike these stories where girls or women overcome male obstacles - but do they really show up how stupid these traditions are? Or do they simply put an extra sheen on a woman's achievement - that is, she could do these things all along but now she has been accepted by the men and so can be considered successful? 

And how often in these stories do we see what other women think? Do other women come in to support and speak up for the heroine? Is their approval enough?

I guess this all goes towards the fact that women entering this male-dominated and male-created institutions may become engulfed in those male fraternities. When a woman is accepted by the men is she accepted for being herself or does she have to change herself to fit that institution (in which case, is it much of a victory)?

** Quick addendum to this post. I just read this article by Arianna Huffington regarding the Hilary campaign and was touched by a personal approach similar to that in the Orenstein article. It gladdens my heart to see that which is so often lacking in politics and political commentary: respect.