USA! Title IX! USA! Title IX!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that people (American people) were pretty happy about last night’s USA’s 5-2 win over Japan in the Women’s World Cup Final. And rightly so. It had so many of the qualities of a really satisfying victory: it wasn’t a sure thing; it was redemptive; and it was a total smack down.

I’m bandwagon on all this. I played soccer. I like soccer. I like watching soccer. But I don’t – not until it’s World Cup time and until the US is playing. And, really, I should invest more time. These games have delivered some of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen live. Last night was no exception. Carli Lloyd’s succession of goals – that third coming at midfield – just about blew my mind.

 lloydgoal

Lloyd goal #2

But beyond the exceptional play, when all was said and done and I saw a team of American women celebrating together before a crowd of 50,000+ cheering fans and in front of however many millions watching at home, in bars, etc., I thought one thing: Thank you, Title IX.

soccer

Winners

Title IX, as part of the US Education Amendments of 1972, stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” There’s no direct reference to sports, but this is how Title IX is best and most widely known. When it comes to boys’ and girls’, men’s and women’s athletics, Title IX demands equal treatment, access, and funding. Has Title IX always been followed? No. And there have been many cases charging school districts and colleges and universities with noncompliance. And surely, there are more to come. But the beauty of this legislation (and all legislation of this kind) is that it gives people ground to stand on, it secures citizens’ access to rights and privileges, it lays groundwork for how institutions and administrators must operate.

From a world where girls in grammar school square danced as part of their physical education requirement while boys played basketball, where families moved to distant towns so daughters might attend a high school with a girls’ basketball team, where men received athletic scholarships to attend university but such funding for women was in limited supply, we now live in a world where the women of the United States Women’s National Team are national heroes. Without Title IX, without legislation mandating girls’ and women’s access to equal opportunities, the women of the USWNT, my age and younger (and older!) wouldn’t have had access to leagues and programs that fostered their athleticism, that built their confidence, that put them on the national stage in such grand form. There are numbers to consider here: in 1971, about 310,000 girls and women in America played high school and college sports; in 2012, there were more than 3,373,000 participants. Beyond the numbers and even beyond the actual opportunities guaranteed by Title IX, the possibilities generated by this legislation are remarkable. Sticking with the Women’s World Cup, seeing women compete at such a high level, with such tremendous physicality and athleticism, can bring viewers, young and old, to a variety of conclusions, chief among them: a) if women can succeed so masterfully in the world of sport, so long assumed to be the preserve of men, in what other “male” preserves might women excel?; b) maybe the idea of separate male spheres and female spheres is bullshit; c) the suggested limits associated with being part of the “weaker sex” are likewise bullshit. The world is brand new.

girls-gym-class-cartoon

Olden times views, ladies’ phys. ed., c. 1920s.

In addition to recognizing the impact of Title IX specifically, as I thought about outpouring of national pride for the USWNT, I thought about how great it would be if those loving this moment would pause and think about how it came to be. As a result of grassroots activism, part of 1960s and 1970s-era movements for social justice, the American Congress passed legislation extending rights across the American population. Thank you, active citizens. Thank you, active government. I believe mightily in the power of government to do good for its people. I believe mightily in the responsibility of government to secure and extend rights across the citizenry. I believe mightily this is good not only for the group to whom rights have been extended and protected but for the nation as a whole. Last night: case in point.

I also would like to point out that Title IX wasn’t just the product of my lefty forbearers’ antics. Yes, the Dems had majorities in both houses in 1972, but REPUBLICAN Dick Nixon was in the White House. The US Education Amendments of 1972 passed 88-6 in the Senate and 275-125 in the House, demonstrating that even members of the GOP got behind this thing. Bipartisan cooperation and a faith in the power of government produced powerful outcomes. I am all for dismantling the notion of the “good old days” mentality, but damn, that sounds nice.

To conclude: as I celebrated the US win last night, I immediately and simultaneously thought (#neveroffduty) how nice it would be if those so satisfied with the Women’s World Cup results thought about the history that led to that win, considered the kind of action that created the opportunities for women in sport (and elsewhere), and, as a consequence, committed themselves to the kind of politics that yielded such results.

For those who’ve “never really faced inequality”: How nice! But it’s not just about you.

Generally speaking, I live in a world where my Facebook feed is best described by the phrase “preaching to the choir.” The lefties of my life – from college, graduate school, and my current university – post on a fairly predictable host of issues and from fairly predictable perspectives. I’m fine with this. I often agree and sometimes share and am happy to have yet more fuel to add to my fire on any number of topics. I like my little like-minded world where I can pretend everyone cares about racial & gender equality, legal & economic justice, environmental protection, celebrity gossip, and the real and hopefully forever comeback of rompers and overalls. All of which is to say that when I come across the alternative perspective, I’m often taken aback. Wait, what? People don’t think like us?

Then I analyze. Then I stew. Then I rebut, sometimes publicly (keep reading, please).

My feed recently featured an article entitled “Big Bang Theory Star Just Said the Most Conservative Thing on the Internet,” from youngcons.com (Young Conservatives: http://www.youngcons.com/big-bang-theory-star-just-said-conservative-thing-internet/#2hLUbfp1E7QLxGAu.99). I clicked. Why, oh why, did I click? Because I just cannot resist.

This Young Conservative article declared that Kaley Cuoco’s recent Redbook feature interview would have “liberal feminists yanking out their underarm hair and screaming not-so-sweet sentiments into her virtual ear via social media.” Well. Let’s not even get started on what radical feminists might think.

When asked if she is a feminist, she responded, “Is it bad if I say no?”

It’s not. If people choose to reject the idea of social, economic, and political equality between the sexes, that’s their business.

The Young Conservative piece speculated that part of the interview that would really raise feminist ire against Cuoco was her statement “I like the idea of women taking care of their men. I’m so in control of my work that I like coming home and serving him.” She’s talking about making this man, her husband, dinner. Fine. Whatever. She claims that she likes feeling like a housewife. Also fine. And just speculating her, but she probably particularly enjoys feeling like a housewife because a) she’s not; b) cooking is approximately 1/100 of what being a housewife is about; and c) she can stop feeling like (or pretending to be) a housewife whenever she wants. Good thing feminists pushed for women to have choices of this kind.

I am a for real feminist. And I will tell you right now I don’t care that she likes cooking a meal for her husband. I have been known to cook a meal for my husband as well. Cat’s out of the bag.

I do, however, take issue with other parts of the interview. And the fact that the Young Conservatives piece didn’t recognize the problematic nature of the following statement, for me, reveals just how little those on the other side of the feminist debate really understand about feminism. The quote, re: feminism: “It’s not really something I think about,” she said. “Things are different now, and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around… I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that’s because I’ve never really faced inequality.”

Record scratch.

First, let’s take a minute to discuss The Big Bang Theory, of which Cuoco is a star. I feel fine about this show. It’s not uncommon that someone in my house is watching this show. But it is not a program that features particularly enlightened views of sex or gender (or race, but whatever). Cuoco’s character, Penny (no last name – unlike all other main characters), the failed actress, waitress, community college student turned stellar pharmaceutical rep is regularly the butt of jokes for her a) stupidity; b) sexual promiscuity; c) drinking. In the world of super-smart nerd scientists, she has street smarts, but they’re of the kind where she sends in a check for the less-than-required amount to pay her electric bill, along with a picture of herself in a bra, all in the hopes that she’ll get a bit of an extension. Cuoco, in landing this part, a dream job, I’m sure, may not have faced inequality, but she’s MAKING BANK on exploiting tired – and often sexist and unequal – views of gender and sexuality. I will not even engage with the episode in which she and the “girl scientists” go to Disneyland and do the whole dress-like-a-princess thing that apparently you can do at that place. (Sidenote: I don’t even *not like* TBBT, and I’m sure experts of the show could argue opposite points to those I’ve made, but my evidence is not wrong.)

princesses

Second, and much more importantly, I take issue with Cuoco’s “It’s not really something I think about” and “I’ve never really faced inequality.” How nice it must be not to worry about issues of inequity that half the population faces daily and without respite. How easy it must be to think only of yourself and not give consideration to other people and their experiences. How simple it must be to ignore your privileged position and thus ignore the realities of people’s lives as they struggle in a system that, at its core, privileges certain segments of the population over others.

Again, it’s okay not to be a feminist. I accept that. But I will not accept a political perspective – even one that’s as seemingly unintentionally political as Cuoco’s – based pretty clearly on willful ignorance and limited regard for any experience beyond one’s own.

So yes, as a feminist (albeit one with shaved pits), I have beef with Cuoco’s sentiments. But for reasons apparently unanticipated by the Young Cons.

To come back to my Facebook feed: another article caught my attention more recently and prompted me to put to paper the ideas floating in my head about Cuoco’s Redbook interview. California Magazine (Winter 2014) published an article that asked “What Stalled the Gender Revolution?” and answered “Child Care that Costs More Than College Tuition” (http://caa-web-prod-01.ist.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/winter-2014-gender-assumptions/what-stalled-gender-revolution-child-care-costs). Ummmm…YES. As author Tamara Straus reported, “A 2013 report from Child Care Aware noted that as of 2012, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, day care is more expensive than one year of public college tuition—and that was among a cohort of faculty, people with the highest levels of education.” RECORD SCRATCH AGAIN. I know this stuff, and my jaw still hit the floor.

1941 Conference on Day Care

A working mother drops her son at a federally-subsidized nursery school in 1943. Between 1943 and 1946, a half a million children received care in such centers. After World War II ended, they were closed. Please note: better support for working mothers in 1943 than in 2015.

Straus also states, “Feminism isn’t a prominent social movement in this country anymore. And one reason for this is blazingly clear: We don’t have an affordable, taxpayer-subsidized system of infant-to-12 child care that levels the playing field for all women, their partners, and their children. What we have is elite women (and men) blathering on about choice, and billionaire executives passing themselves off as role models for working women, while refusing to acknowledge, let alone celebrate the women who help raise their children and manage their homes.” Those who are unaffected by the inequity (ahem, Ms. Cuoco) ignore that inequity, or even worse, and this is the true crime, believe and willfully perpetuate the idea that it isn’t there.

The individualism that emerged at the end of the Second Wave, as the Second Wave weathered attack by increasingly conservative forces of the Reagan Revolution and the Religious Right, is precisely what contemporary feminists must combat. The personal is political, but it’s our collective personal that should be motivating our political activism. Shout out to Tamara Straus for writing so beautifully what we in my world – virtual and in-person – so often discuss: “My plea to the remaining feminists out there is this: Let’s find some class solidarity and make government-subsidized child care a campaign issue. Let’s identify and vote for candidates who see affordable child care as a legislative necessity. Such family-friendly demands would make sense to low- and middle-income women. They would bring more people back into the feminist fold, and they might even revitalize a movement.” And to that end, I’ll answer Cuoco’s question of “Is it bad if I say no?” in this way, the way a politically engaged interviewer might have: It would be better if you said yes.

In Defense of an Alleged Bridezilla

For the past several days, I’ve seen a number of articles related to an alleged Bridezilla how had the audacity to come out on Facebook and detail who she and her fiancé had not invited to their wedding and why.

Her post and the accompanying list:

We are sending out invites for the wedding this week. Going through the list of people to invite. We only have so much room at the church and reception. I’m going to try to make this as simple as possible so no one gets butt hurt. If you do not get an invite here is a list of potential reasons why.

1. If I have invited you every time we have a group function and you never show up.

2. If you are just a work acquaintance and I have never hung out with you outside of work.

3. If I show up to things you invite me to and you never show up to our invites or even respond.

4. If I have only hung out with you in a group setting and we’re not that close of friends.

5. If at any point you have ever talked s— about me you’re definitely not invited.

6. If you’re only going to show up for food and alcohol and really have no interest other than that.

7. If you got married and I thought we were friends and you didn’t invite me.

bridezilla

People are up in arms about this thing. I’m not. For my money, the real beef is this: she voiced a process that is supposed to be conducted in silence. The deciding of who’s in and who’s out can be the most gut-wrenching part of a wedding. But venues are venues and budgets are budgets. Cuts have to be made. Here, this woman is being deliberate in explaining how hers were decided.

When I was a kid in New Jersey (kid = 23 years old), someone told me that once you get engaged, you shouldn’t make any friends for the duration of your engagement. Why? The wedding. That list can’t be expected to expand. If you have a new friend, what will happen to that friendship if new friend (and date) are excluded? Play your cards close to your vest, immerse yourself in the wedding, and then once married, pursue all the new friendships your heart desires. I think I wasn’t hearing something totally out of the ordinary or particularly untoward. My sense is that this was a sort of rule of thumb.

And to that end, I suspect the social media component of this Bridezilla’s list is the real problem. Pre-Facebook, etc., if you didn’t invite to your wedding a work friend with whom you’d never hung out outside of work, you might endure some awkward workplace encounters wherein your wedding was the topic of conversation. And then everyone would move on. In the post-Facebook world, if you’re “friends” with this person, s/he will be reminded of your wedding over and over again: s/he will get a sense of who in the office was invited; s/he will see any and all wedding-related posts; s/he will endure endless wedding photos and congratulatory posts. And so on and so forth. Being forthright in explaining how the wedding guest list was created, to some extent, saves the non-invitee from the wondering of why s/he was excluded.

I’m not going to go crazy here and say alleged Bridezilla was kind in her post. But she was transparent. It’s the kind of thing one could post and then say in defense, “I’m just being honest!” I have a saying, and it goes like this: there’s a difference between being honest and being an asshole. But sometimes people can be both (see above). Bridezilla is not the right term here. What she’s saying isn’t unreasonable. But is she decisive and outspoken? Yes. And there, of course, is the slippery slope in which we monstracize any woman who shows these characteristics.

At the end of the day, those outraged by the post should take comfort: This poor woman apparently isn’t familiar with the universal truth that all weddings guests are basically only in it for “the food and alcohol.” Live and learn, sister. Live and learn.

Modern US Women’s History and the Teaching Of

At the end of every semester, I, like the students, am desperate to shake myself of the previous sixteen weeks. From the energized January beginning to the terrible no-man’s-land of mid-March to the final May mile of our collective marathon, the spring semester can drag. But even as I shout “SUMMER!” and wave my fists above my head in a gesture of celebration and release, I can’t ever let go entirely.

In this, the early portion of my summer, as I shift into a state of mind that is more focused on reading and research and writing, the teaching part of me won’t quit. How nice for me, then, that I’m lucky enough to teach what I also am lucky enough to read and research and write about.

This past semester, I oversaw a readings course on Modern US Women’s History. Over the course of our sixteen weeks, eight students and I read eight historical monographs. The structure of the course goes something like this: Each time we meet, one person prepares discussion questions, circulates them among his/her classmates, and then leads class discussion. Everyone writes about the book they’ve read. Everyone is expected to participate in discussion. I (try like hell – and regularly fail – to) keep my mouth shut for at least an hour of said discussion.

Ideally, the students learn content from the selected books, and even more ideally, they walk away with a sense of the historiography of the chosen topic (non-historians: historiography = historians’ way of describing themes, trends, discussions, debates among historians in the same/similar fields). Additionally, and maybe more importantly (definitely more importantly?), they learn to read books and write about books critically. They learn to compare texts and question how and why differences in interpretations of the past arise. They learn to analyze arguments and voice their analysis is a professional and measured way.

As always, I’d read the selected books in advance. I was prepared with the main ideas I wanted students to take away (the falsity of a singular “natural” version of womanhood versus the many varied embodiments of actual womanhood and an understanding that women’s history doesn’t follow a linear progressive narrative, FYI). But here’s what so wonderful about teaching and what’s really wonderful about teaching smart, engaged students: my themes and ideas were just the beginning. They identified and emphasized so many smart points that are fundamental to the study of women’s history, that I sense may be fundamental to my future teaching AND research, and that reflect significance beyond the world of history and relate directly to efforts towards contemporary sexual equality.

With all that prefacing out of the way, I give you some of Spring 2014’s greatest hits:

Point 1. There is a major difference between appreciation and value. YES. Throughout the course of our readings, ranging from the political world of the late 19th century to media representations of the 21st century, we came back to this idea over and over again. As we read Megan Winchell’s Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II, it became clear that the United States government, the USO, and the public at large appreciated the work women did in their voluntary service efforts to entertain American troops, but part of that appreciation stemmed from the fact that these women provided entertainment free of charge. Their service was celebrated as a cost-saving measure as much as it was an act of patriotic service. Similar appreciation revealed itself in discussions of women’s domestic duties. Housewives and mothers were celebrated as a cornerstone of the nation, but respect, admiration, and appreciation had to suffice as substitutes for financial compensation.

winchell

Point 2. Media and impossible-to-fulfill ideals just won’t quit. As we considered the influence of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, we noted how media played a fundamental role in shaping women’s views of what their lives should be (as Friedan emphasized). As we moved to consideration of the role of media in the 21st century, Susan Douglas’s Enlightened Feminism revealed how a new ideal, focused on sexual attractiveness, appropriate femininity, and a sense that feminism was no longer necessary, had become a model for young women and girls coming of age.

douglas

Point 3. Consumerism isn’t liberation. This point came through clearly in reading Kathy Peiss’s classic Cheap Amusements about women in turn-of-the 20th century New York, and, again, through Douglas’s Enlightened Sexism. Marketplace participation may have offered some measure of independence, but it also offered new sets of expectations that were difficult to fulfill, particularly for women who earned a fraction of what working men earned. As women endeavored to enjoy the new “cheap amusements,” while simultaneously paying room and board and dressing in the latest styles, they participated in an arrangement whereby men “treated” them to the dance hall or movies in exchange for sexual pleasures. Did this system provide a measure of autonomy? Sure. Did this system likewise contain an element of danger? Also yes. As for Douglas’s text, maybe one of the greatest moments of my teaching life occurred when a student picked up and extrapolated on Douglas’s critique of Oprah Winfrey for using her considerable power towards a consumerist end rather than toward an effort to establish and effect real political change.

Lunchtime, N>Y>, ca. 1910 Temple University Press  1986

Point 4. Focusing on the individual rather than the social structure in which the individual lives is A PROBLEM. Again: YES. When we place the onus on the individual woman to achieve the perfect career/life balance, or we suggest that she just face facts and realize that you get a career OR a personal life, sister, we’re using a rotten, rotten set of expectations and a deeply flawed logic. As Sara Evans’ notes, the shift toward individual fulfillment and the decline of collective activism – shaped not in small part by the Reagan administration’s systematic dismantling of feminist leadership and federal agencies – stalled the progress that was so widespread during the 1970s. I have given so much thought to the persisting structural inequality that continues to plague the United States, and the discussions with my students clarified something for me. As we concluded discussion of Evans’ Tidal Wave, which gives some consideration to Hilary Clinton, the conversation shifted to women in politics and the possibility of Clinton’s 2016 candidacy. A student asked, “Dr. Dunak, do you think a woman president will mean equality?” This question and my response crystallized for me how my views, re: American men and women, the world in which we live, and what would have to change for equality to be at all possible, have changed. “No,” I said. “A federally funded national maternity policy would be a more critical step toward sexual equality. Commitment to that kind of institutional change – across the population – would revolutionize families, the workplace, and, I think, the face of American politics.” Did I oversimplify things? Yes. Would this solve all our problems? No. Would it a start? Yes. And I think more of a start than a Madam POTUS. And maybe there are those who would tell me to keep my politics to myself, but a) they asked (sort of); b) consideration of the past, I maintain, should be a fundamental component of our efforts to create a better – and more equal – present and future; and c) this is a view that has emerged after careful investigation and analysis of widespread evidence, past and present.

evans

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ideas generated by and within our discussions. I have so many favorite lines that came out of this class, but I leave you with the moment I knew the class had been a success: A student admitted that she’d come to class not liking a book, but, still, had given the discussion a chance. At discussion’s end, she stated that she had to rethink her position about the text entirely. YES. And if that’s not the point, I don’t know what is.

And so: Huzzah for summer! But Huzzah!, too, for classes that linger even after the semester’s close.

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family.”

I’m late to post on the Cheney v. Cheney feud, re: marriage equality, but I want to bring attention to what I think is a fantastic article on the sisters’ personal battle made public: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/19/opinion/navarrette-cheney-family-split/.

Huzzah for Mary Cheney and Heather Poe, both of whom are taking Liz Cheney to task for her limited views of civic equality, especially in the face of alleged joy she expressed at their union. And good on Ruben Navarrette Jr. for recounting his own evolution, re: marriage equality. While support for full rights of citizenship may start with a personal relationship, ideally, citizens expand their viewpoints to reach beyond the individual. The achievement of marriage equality is about the broader sense of what the nation should stand for and who should be included among its citizenry as full and equal members of the body politic.