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Inequality is not a novel issue within our society. It would be naïve to assume that everyone within a society is treated equal, as each individual is different. In this course, we have been exposed to the diverse hardships women of different classes, races, ethnicities, as well as women with different sexual preferences face everyday. I feel as though understanding and learning about women’s oppression in society is integral in order to help facilitate change.
Understanding the meaning of the feminist movement is a key aspect of this course, as well as grasping intersectionality and how it pertains to our learning.
In the book, Feminism is for Everybody, by bell hooks, these two goals of our class are addressed and explained by the author. Hooks states,” Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”(hooks 1). This statement is how hooks starts off her book, and actually clarifies the feminist movement as a political position that is fighting for women’s equality.
She explains that the movement is not “anti-male”, like so many had believed, and that it is just seeking justice for women across all races, classes, and ethnicities. She explains that early feminists did not want to change our system so that women would have more rights; they wanted to transform the system and end sexism forever.
In the chapter “Women at Work”, Hooks explains how undervalued women’s labor truly undervalued when she says that women on average are paid 73 cents for every dollar a man makes.
She sheds light on the fact that many of the upper-class women did not understand the plight of the lower-class women working in order to make ends meet. “The emphasis on work as the key to women’s liberation led many white feminist activists to suggest women who worked were already liberated”, (hooks 48). This statement makes it clear that not all feminists understood the broader issues women faced. This dilemma was mainly because the upper class white women could not connect with the problems of the racially diverse lower class. At the time, the elite white women focused on gender equality and could not see how race, class, and gender together created hardship for the other working class women in society.
The second reading I have chosen to discuss is “Black Barbie and the Deep Play of Difference”, by Ann DuCille. To begin, I feel as though DuCille’s piece allows the reader to gain better understanding of how pop culture influences the beliefs of today’s youth. “Not entirely immune to criticism of its identity politics, Mattel sought advice from black parents and specialists in early childhood development in making and marketing a new assortment of black Barbie dolls” (DuCille 341). Barbie is an iconic toy young girls play with as they grow up. The effects these toys have on the growth of young girls are enormous and they help shape the adolescent. Although making Black Barbie have different features may help youngsters understand that being different is just a part of life, it is unclear if this is the true goal of Mattel or if it is just a marketing ploy. For example, making a Black Barbie with wide hips and bigger lips may help youngsters cherish the differences of every individual, however it may just be a way for Mattel to sell more product. Another goal this article helps clarify is the symbolic dimension of oppression. It is clear that Mattel in making “Ethnic Barbie” is stereotyping the Barbie to define diverse races. By making Barbie have different features based on what culture Mattel is trying to replicate, they are in effect pigeonholing these groups. Thus they are exuding symbolic racism towards these groups of people by giving them generalized features of the specific group.
The final reading I have chosen is “Compulsory Heterosexuality”, by Adrienne Rich. This piece helps one understand the true meaning of the institutional dimension of oppression by examining marriage. Marriage itself is an institution in which a man and women come together to start a family (also an institution of heterosexuality). These institutions create an issue for homosexual men and women because they will never be a part of them. Thus they are discriminated against and seen as outcasts because of their sexual preference. This fact can even make women enter these institutions against their own will. “Yet each one I have listed adds to the cluster of forces within which women have been convinced that marriage and sexual orientation toward men are inevitable—even if unsatisfying or oppressive-components of their lives” (Rich 20). This statement clearly identifies the fact that marriage as an institution deprives people of happiness as well as discriminating against homosexuals.
The Lesbian Continuum is another facet, which Rich describes quite well. “I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range through each woman’s life and throughout history—of women-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman” (Rich 27).
This statement explains that the Lesbian Continuum encompasses all interactions between women, not just sexual ones. These could be between teacher and student, mother and daughter, or even friend to a friend. The relationships between these women help create a support system that can help guide these women throughout life. Although I will never be able to be a part of this, I feel as though it is essential for women to have other women to go to when they are in need of support. Rich allows the reader to recognize that these relationships are not morally wrong and create a “shoulder to lean on” for women.
Being a male student taking a women’s studies course, I felt as though the course as a whole was a challenge. I looked at every aspect from both a male and female perspective, which I believe enhanced my understanding of the course as a whole. Our discussions about immigrant women workers and the film Maids in America, both challenged my thoughts on this issue. It never occurred to me how difficult it was for these women to come to the US and take low-level jobs US citizens would not take. They often left families behind in order to someday create a better future for them as well as to provide the necessities needed. These women are given no opportunities for advancement and are often treated poorly. This completely changed my thought process about these women, and created a new found respect for them that I will never forget.
Another part of this class, which challenged my thinking, was our discussions on working mothers. I truly never realized how many obligations working women faced. In addition to having to spend many hours working, these women also had to take care of a household as well as their children. It made me realize why my mother was always stressed after a long day of work. This idea challenges the normal assumption that the male breadwinner has the most responsibility. Workingwomen have to juggle so many different everyday tasks that I truly never understood or realized. This course made me recognize the many tasks these women have to complete each and everyday.
The coursework assigned to the class I feel sufficiently allowed the students to achieve the course objectives. When further breaking it down, I believe that our discussions on working women helped us recognize the productive and reproductive labors of women. We were exposed to many of the hardships and responsibilities that these women face daily, and how they cope with them. I feel as though individuals who have not taken a course such as this do not understand the “behind the scenes” aspect of what these women undertake. That being said, I also think that learning about different institutions of oppression helped us as students better understand the issues of society. Whether it is jail, education, or marriage, we really examined the institutions and the effects they have. In doing so, we can now think of many ideas and ways to dismantle the oppression these institutions put forth on individuals within our society.
This course has been one of the more significant and influential courses that I have taken at Maryland. Before this course, it was safe to say that I did not know or understand many of the plights women have faced throughout history. I was unaware of the issues and in being a male student, I believe I was less exposed to them. This course has opened my eyes and made me re evaluate many of the ways in which I view American society. As you know, I am a first generation American and I am from a culture, which is much less progressive on women’s rights.
It has been a pleasure for me to learn more about the history of women and how women’s rights have transformed over time. When mulling over what I would have liked to have seen done differently in regards to this course, I can not come up with much. I would have liked to watch more documentaries in class solely because I feel as though I learn better visually. Another aspect that I believe could be altered was the class scheduling. I felt that this class would be better served as a 3 day a week, 50-minute class. Other than these two small things, I feel as thought the class was taught perfectly and I would not change anything. I have certainly learned a lot from this course and will take this knowledge with me wherever life takes me.
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