Final Reflection on Women’s Studies

I’ve been wanting to take WGS210 since I started at Ball State, but it just never quite fit into my schedule, but it was the perfect class to end my senior year. My mother always told me growing up that it was important to learn history so we didn’t repeat our mistakes. I think that perfectly sums up why it’s so important to teach women’s history and women’s studies. Society is too often seen through the eyes of men, but we can learn so much from studying women.

I’m a student in the public relations program and it’s predominantly women, so learning how women communicate and think is vital to my future profession. Having mostly male bosses and mostly women co-workers creates an environment that causes a lot of sexist tension. In journalism, the majority of upper management positions belong to men, but the PR programs at schools are filled with women. Some classes we take here at Ball State truly prepare us to be someone’s employee, never how to be the boss. A professor of mine, a woman who has worked in the PR world for 25 years, once told an entire class of young professional women that we can’t expect to be treated equally, we have to demand it. My professor was right.

Most of our studies in PR are about learning to obey the AP Style Book and learn how to write/speak without offending anyone. It’s common to hear a professor in PR say to us, “If you wouldn’t say it about a middle-aged, white, straight, guy, you shouldn’t say it about anyone else.” We actual promote equality in our writing, but can’t seem to find it in our workplace. That’s why it’s so important to learn about women’s studies and why I’m glad to have spent the last eight weeks becoming a more educated woman.

It’s important to remember that our genders don’t define us. I think that has been my biggest take-away from this class, the idea that we can’t conform to gender roles for the sake of it. Throughout this course we learned about all these different gender stereotypes, myths, and boxes that we are all forced into to create a more organized, and therefore more peaceful living. If only that were actually the case. These gender roles create a path for us that may not be one we’re comfortable with. Individuality is important. Self-value is also important.

My second take away from this course is that privilege is everywhere. Having to make a list of my own privileges was very eye-opening. Even though I feel the struggles of being a woman in our society, there are so many privileges that I’m privy to. It’s important to be aware of our own prejudices and privileges to better place ourselves in the larger picture. We have to remember that it’s not just us feeling the oppression, but that everyone feels prejudice in their own way.

Lastly, I am humbled learning about cultures where women suffer such greater pains than we do here in the United States. Education is the key to an open mind. So much oppression is born out of fear of the unknown. For example, learning about how women in Islam are viewed in their religion can helped me understand the difference between oppression and devotion. Learning about other cultures and how women are treated based on religions, traditions, and progression is important for any one of any gender. Women made up 51% of the Earth’s population so I think there’s plenty to learn about women all over the world.

This class has been about so much more than just women’s studies. I’ve learned about religion, respect, privilege, gender, identity, and so much more. That’s the best thing about discussing the history and communication of women, it encompasses all of those things. You don’t have to be a Birkenstock-wearing feminist like me to know that women are awesome and deserve to be a part of the larger conversation. This has been a really fun class, easily one of the best I’ve had here at Ball State and so I’m going to finish it off with a quote from the best woman role model in my life, Leslie Knope, “If I had to have a stripper’s name, it would be Equality.”

Two Essays about Egalia’s Daughters

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Beauty and Shame Within Egalia’s Daughters

In Gerd Brantenberg’s satire about sex and gender, Egalia’s Daughters, readers are brought into a society where men, called menwim, are the homemakers and the women, called wom, are the more aggressive sex, leading the world of politics and business. The story surrounds a young menwim named Petronius that struggles through growing up as a non-traditional beauty in the eyes of his peers. Like many young women in our society, growing up a menwim is especially difficult when, because of your gender, there are expectations for your health, beauty, and sexual identity that can leave you feeling dejected and embarrassed.

Early on in the novel we’re introduced to a “peho”, a jock like item young menwim are expected to wear to keep their genitals in place. Despite their discomfort, menwim wear the pehoes because it’s what society dictates. On page 12, Petronius complains about needing to wear a peho to school despite his peers not wearing them yet. Pehoes are incredibly difficult to maneuver, we learn. Pehoes are meant to act as a nod to modern women’s use of bras, something that’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, but needed to not make society uneasy about sex.

Along with pehoes, menwim are held expected to pay extra hygienic attention to their genitals. On page 13, the text says, “Petronius shuddered at the thought of the disasters that would befall him if he didn’t keep his tassle clean.” These fears are completely warranted for a menwim with a huge event approaching like the Maidmen’s Ball. Opportunities to meet the opposite sex are incredibly important to development and belonging at a young age, both in this universe and our own.

This passage leads directly into a family conversation about Petronius’s chest hair, picking on him to learn to shave in order to fit the standard of beauty. It’s teasing like this that can cause self-image issues in a young menwim. Petronius looks up to his father’s beauty, wishing he too was short, plump, and sweet looking. These feeling of self-loathing are very present in Petronius in a way that reminds me of my own childhood. Impressions about beauty at a very young age and often by those closest to you. A lack of family support, even seemingly, can do damage to child’s self-image.

The beginning of the novel leads up to the big Maidmen’s ball and on page 23, we get a look at the fashions of menwim and how they show gender. Petronius is wearing uncomfortable shoes and has his jacket stuffed with cotton to prevent sweating. The gentlewim, as they’re called, are supposed to carry a delicate, small purse with a gold chain. This is a way of claiming one’s gender. Petronius forget his and runs quickly to get it, this is an example of an item needed to pass as menwim, to show that he is in fact male. The most obvious way that menwim pass as male in this culture is with the peho.

Petronius dreams of being a diver, despite fatherhood being his given job. One of the ways he’s teased throughout the book about his ambitions is that there’s no such thing as a diving suit for menwim. Not to mention that a bite proof peho would be impossible. On page  43, Christopher suggests to Ruth Brahm the crazy idea that maybe a peho is unnecessary for menwim. This is received with laughter, and Ruth Brahm offers up the classic line, “That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it always will be.” This is a common thought process for those that want to continue to oppress the weaker sex. It’s the same thing said whenever progress is suggested to those who resist it.

As the novel continues, a revolution begins to take place against the oppression of menwim through pehoes. The book not so subtlety confirms the peho as the men’s version of a bra saying what if “they had to hoist up their breasts in some stupid sling?” The menwim discuss burning their pehoes, similar to bra burnings in the 60s. These menwim finally start to view pehoes as the tools of oppression that they are.

Menwim in this novel are supposed to represent the most feminine version of men in a society. What if the tables were turned? The image of the menwim is what is most important in this society. The beauty, health, and fashion of menwim are meant to attract wom for sex and children, and the peho is the physical tool for oppression. This society, like our own, suffers from severe double standards and inequality between the sexes.

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Childbirth in Egalia’s Daughters

The novel Egalia’s Daughters takes place in a kind of utopian feminist world where women, or wim, hold the power in society and traditional gender roles are flipped on their head. One of the most interesting aspects of this gender-bendered world is the role of wim’s bodies. A wim’s body is a vessel of power and is held in high esteem. Being the sex that gives birth to new life, wim’s bodies and the experience of childbirth is seen as a spiritual, important moment showing how this society reveres wim.

On page 126, Ruth Bram and her family make their way to The Great Palace of Birth, a kind of temple built specifically for wim to give birth in peacefully. The wim are the head of the family and adding a new child is a big deal. Petronius, Ba, and Christopher all come along to The Great Palace of Birth to witness the miracle of childbirth. Like our own society, giving birth takes place in a facility with family nearby, but very much unlike what we’re used to, the wim are treated like royalty at the Palace of Birth, “depending on what they were prepared to pay,” according to the book.

A wim’s body changes during pregnancy, but because they’re not the oppressed gender, no one cares if a wim becomes incredibly fat during pregnancy. It’s said by Ruth Bram herself on page 36 that “it would be ridiculous to have an ideal size for wim.” This is a clear commentary about how women in our society are pressured to be thin and attractive, pregnant or otherwise. It’s very common to see magazine covers criticizing or praising celebrities based on their post-baby weight. In a world where wim are in charge this kind of pressure isn’t placed on them.

The birth experience described in Egalia’s Daughters is more ceremony than medical. Ruth Bram is set up a very nice birthing room including microphones that will allow the public to listen to the miracle of birth. A wim’s body is so revered in this world that Bram sets herself up, naked and exposed, in front of many people that came to observe the birth. On page 129, the author uses a metaphor to describe the sensation of childbirth by saying, “If intercourse with a menwim was like drinking a glass of water, giving birth was like drinking a glass of wine.” It’s no overstatement that giving birth is incredibly painful.

Wim giving birth have assistants that are meant to help ease the pain. The book describes attendants that rub Bram’s hips and labia to aid the birth as well as the rubbing of exotic oils. Bram’s birth is an almost sensual experience. The public cheered when the child reached each stage of the “passage of life.” After the placenta was born, it was held up to the crowd. Bram’s placenta is literally gazed upon like a piece of art, admired for its beautiful colors.

In this society a wim’s giving birth is one of the most important moments of their lives. The book aligns a lot of the experiences of wim’s with that of women in our society, but overall, childbirth in our world will never be held in such high esteem as it is in Egalia’s Daughters. A woman’s body will be criticized for its appearance during and after pregnancy, while a wim doesn’t adhere to a societal standard for weight. A woman is rarely given the opportunity to go on a post-preganancy three week drinking bender like Bram. Women in our society are lucky to even get paid maternity leave to care for their child.

In an ideal world maybe our society would have more similarities with Egalia’s Daughters. Maybe in the future women’s bodies will hold as much power as the wim’s and thus will create a world where pregnancy is treated like the absolute miracle it is.

 

Gendered Law: 2 Essays

There’s a prejudice against disabled people in society, but when looking at the reproductive rights of women, is there discrimination in how our government treats women with disabilities? The author Mia Mingus would say absolutely.

According to the author, it all starts with the stigma of women with disabilities as unfit to be mothers. They’re often discouraged from having children. This sets a standard for women with disabilities to live alone, never marry, not have children. This is a serious contributing factor to the way women with disabilities are treated when it comes to reproductive rights. This includes a lack of access to health education, pelvic exams, birth control, or just fail to acknowledge the woman’s sexual history at all. If these aren’t services that’re given to women with disabilities, there’s little opportunity for the women to seek it on their own. These women have limited access to transpiration and are generally dependent on a caregiver. This all has an impact on how women with disabilities are seen in our society.

Mingus says, “the framework of reproductive justice provides an analysis grounded in human rights and collective justice.” The reason we view women with disabilities through the lends of justice is because it can provide a wider scope on the issues facing these women in society. The author outright says she thinks many of these women can’t expect the right to privacy so there’s just no point in discussing it. Arguing, “disabled women’s and girls’s bodies have long been invaded and seen as the property of the medical industry, doctors, the state, family members, and caregivers.” Women with disabilities are not treated equally by the law because they’re not seen in society as real women.

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Parental consent laws in the United States are seen by many, including pro-choice supporters, as a compromise for legal, safe abortions. The law of consent states places women under the age of 18 that are seeking an abortion at the will of an outside party like a parent or judge. The major case of Roe v. Wade from 1973 supports women having access to an abortion. So in a way, parental consent laws are kind of contradictory with Roe v. Wade, causing a scary grey area for young women.

While the law doesn’t require parental involvement, it allows it. It’s justified as a safe way to help young women ‘make the right decision’ about their future. However, it’s really just stripping a pregnant woman of her choice and right to an abortion. It’s supported by both pro-life and pro-choice politicians because it’s seen as a nice middle ground, a footnote on reproductive rights to ease the fear of young women becoming unfit mothers. It’s a safety net but in reality it’s so much more than that. Like many policies, parental consent laws aren’t always created to do what the public may think. These laws do target a specific group of women.

According to the article, two million girls don’t live with parents. That means that if they were to become pregnant, a judge could be deciding what to do with that woman and her child. Many young women are living in poverty and they are the ones most likely to get pregnant. Not to mention these pregnancies can be the result of sexual abuse, which is also more likely to happen to young women living in poverty.

Lastly the article discusses how an overwhelming majority of teen woman pregnancies involve men over 18. Therefore, parental consent laws are a way of blaming and placing the problems on the young women and have no consequence for the men involved. These men are not policed, but these laws do target young, and often poor women and deny them the choice that is a right in this country. The author says it best: “The young, like the poor, are targeted for oppressive restrictions because they can’t fight back.”