Is feminism over?

A short piece in USA Today suggests many young women today don’t want to be labeled as feminists:

The feminist has been portrayed as a woman who was “unhappy, angry, humorless and didn’t shave any part of her body,” says Terry O’Neill, national president of the National Organization for Women, which this weekend marks its founding 45 years ago with an event at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

The stereotype, she adds, “became very powerful.” And it’s hard to get past for many young women today…

Sociologist Michael Kimmel of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y., finds that reaction widespread. “Most of my women students have said ‘Feminism was your generation’s issue and we won. We can now do anything we want,'” he says…

Wendy Brandon, an associate professor of education and women’s studies at Rollins, says the women’s movement has evolved to focus more on what’s termed the “intersectionality” of gender, race, class and sexual orientation.

Quick thoughts:

1. We need more data on this. This article has completely anecdotal evidence.At the same time, I’ve heard similar responses from my students.

1a. I easily found a 2002 report from Gallup on the issue. As of 2001, 25% of women considered themselves feminists. This was down from 31% in 1991. This suggests that the term has been on a decline for a while. Or perhaps many women were never willing to call themselves feminists?

1b. However, the data also suggests that when asked about specific issues (pay, etc.), more people say work still needs to be done. So the label is more of the issue, not the issues raised.

2. If the label itself is a problem (similar to the connotations with the descriptor “liberal”?), why not look for a new term? Or run advertising campaigns to change the image of the term?

3. How much have arguments within the feminist itself hampered their efforts?

Award-winning sociological rapping about Marxism and feminism

Teachers are often looking for new ways to present material so that students will learn the material better. How about this technique: sociology teachers rapping about Marxism and feminism:

TWO teachers have won £60,000 for inventing rhymes to help pupils learn about weighty issues such as Marxism and feminism.

Claire Corrigan and Salim Rahman got students at Oldham Sixth Form College to rap alternative words to songs by stars including Dolly Parton and Shania Twain.

The sociology teachers landed the windfall in a national contest after producing an eight-minute video featuring their tunes…

One song explains Marx’s thoughts with the lines: “Capitalism is a system that keeps you subdued/ Using education as a tool that keeps you fooled/ Making you docile is the ultimate aim/Keeping you obedient for the employment game.”…

Claire added: “We used rap to talk about Marxism because it was associated with working class and the struggle against authority. For another idea, like functionalism, which is quite conservative and middle-class, we set it to the tune of The Snowman, which is quite formal.”

Does this make Marxism sound cooler than functionalism? It sounds like it was set up that way…

I would be interested to see if there was any formal assessment in these classes that showed that these raps improved student performance. When it came down to tests or projects, were these songs helpful for students?

This is a news story that simply requires a link to the original video.

The familial link between Kate Middleton and Harriet Martineau

As the press continues to look for news on Kate Middleton in advance of the royal wedding, a sociologist popped up in Middleton’s family tree. Through a common ancestor, Middleton is related to early woman sociologist Harriet Martineau. Here is a description of Martineau’s life:

Harriet Martineau, to whom Kate bears more than a passing resemblance, is today a largely forgotten figure, yet during the Victorian era she was a powerhouse, a towering intellect who braved male prejudice to carve out a unique career in the world of letters. She is generally acknowledged as the first woman sociologist.

Born the daughter of a Norwich textile manufacturer, she grew up in a household dominated by Unitarianism and underpinned by a progressive attitude towards the education of girls. By the time she was 21 she had published her first article: perhaps unsurprisingly, “On Female Education”.

She moved to London and soon came her first book, Devotional Exercises for the Use of Young Persons in 1826 – but this was merely a warm-up: her big plan was to write books on politics and economics for the ordinary reader. Illustrations of Political Economy, which followed, was an instant success and brought her financial independence at a stroke…

Her circle included Thomas Malthus, George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Brontë and Wordsworth. These people, the heralds of change, thought they could improve the world and, to a greater or lesser extent, did so. Buoyed up by their vision of the new, Harriet yearned to experience nascent cultures for herself, and at a time when few of her age or class undertook such solo trips, she sailed to the United States in 1835.

While The Telegraph may suggest that Martineau is unknown in the UK, she is certainly known to sociologists. There is (or was) a Harriet Martineau Sociological Society and there have books written about her (an example here).

While Martineau’s accomplishments are impressive for her era, it is amusing that the news story continually tries to link Middleton to Martineau. Here are some of the comparisons:

Miss Martineau was renowned for her zeal and her intellectual rigour while, on the surface at least, Miss Middleton is better-known for her saintly patience in waiting for her prince and her impossibly glossy hair.

Harriet counted among her friends the reformers and intellectuals John Stuart Mill, Sydney Smith, Florence Nightingale and Thomas Carlyle. Speak it not unkindly but Kate, though photographed often, has rarely been seen with a book as a companion…

Quite how much of that rebellious streak still resides in the sleek Miss Middleton’s DNA is hard to judge… But it does raise the question: is there a Harriet lurking inside Miss Middleton ready to burst forth?

This is silly: how much can someone of today really resemble an ancestor of over 100 years ago? However, we could ask if Middleton was to act like a feminist today or to undertake activities similar to Martineau, what would be the public’s response be to her joining the Royal family?

Cathy coming to an end

Cathy, the long-running comic strip, is coming to end in early October, as its creator, Cathy Guisewite wants to spend more time with her family. I’ll admit to often skipping this comic as I read the comic page in the Chicago Tribune – it often seemed too whiny and stereotypically feminine with a lot of talk about food, weight, and swimsuits.

But as I read the story about the close of the comic strip, I was reminded that Cathy is still a relative oddity on the comics page. There are still very few comics about female characters or strips drawn by females. While I would read these two strips, “For Better or For Worse” is retired and “Sally Forth” is not terribly popular (and not carried by the Tribune). Broom-Hilda doesn’t cut it (not really any content here) nor does Brenda Starr (a serialized strip that features an attractive star). ”

Cathy at least has a perspective about women that seems more real:

Critics have called “Cathy” anti-feminist, and while Guisewite didn’t reject that claim, she said certain stereotypes about women are the most fun to write about.

“The subjects like weight and style and look are these microcosms of all the extra expectations that are placed on women,” Guisewite said. “As women have become more powerful and stronger, it has become a lot more complicated for women to feel good about themselves. I like to think that ‘Cathy’ is the voice for women who can’t say, ‘I feel stupid about something silly, but it still really ruined my day.'”

Another commentator added:

Said John Glynn, 42, vice president of rights and acquisitions at Universal Uclick: “Cathy really broke a lot of ground in the ’70s. … She was talking about what a real woman goes through and the real-life concerns of women, and that I think was something very different for the comics section.”

So where are the comic strips by women or about women? A Zits-type strip about a teenage girl would have a lot of material to mine. Another comic strip about an adult woman, married or unmarried, could cover a lot of ground. Or are typical comic readers not interested in female leads?