Sometimes labels are a drag, like when it allows someone to reduce you to a single characteristic, and sometimes they are useful, like when a single word can convey your world view.

I am a Feminist. Its a regular tag on this blog. I have been, and always will be, adamant and unashamed of using the word feminist to describe myself. You get reactions of course. The most prosaic being that I must be a lesbian, and the most ludicrous being the women who respond by saying “Oh I’m not a feminist.”

I can almost understand and forgive this if the woman is under 21. Usually at that age you still think the world is fair and that your own hard work and merit levels the playing field. Maybe they don’t know women’s history (its a non-starter in our school system no matter how much I agitate), or maybe they haven’t experienced any gender based discrimination, I mean we are all equal now right? Most likely they just don’t know what it means.

Synonyms, which they are likely to be familiar with, include: Bitch, Feminazi, Ballbuster, Man-Hater, Lesbian, Dyke. Accompanying adjectives like ugly, shrill and humorless increase the need to for the average woman to distance herself from the label At All Costs.

But we still haven’t talked about the definition. Being a Feminist, in its simplest form that an 8-year old could understand, means that you believe that women are entitled to equal political, social and economic rights. Fair should not be dictated by sex organs. 

I propose an experiment: Try telling a group of third grade girls they only gets 3/4 of the candy that the boys get because they are girls and see what happens. I predict girls will shout NO FAIR! and the boys will be split between those thinking “Cool!” and those asking “Why?” 

Because gender based behaviors start at birth, we can ignore the results as they play out around us. We can pretend that inequality is not gender based until we are adults. Once you are an adult, it is harder to ignore. I continue to wonder why anyone says they are not a Feminist. Answer these questions:

  • Do you think women should have the same political rights as men? 
    • Should women be allowed to vote and hold public office? 
    • Should women be allowed to sit on juries and serve as judges? 
    • Should women be allowed to make laws?
  • Do you think women should not have the same economic rights as men? 
    • Should women be paid the same amount for doing the same job as a man? 
    • Should women be allowed to apply for jobs if they are qualified?  
    • Should women be allowed to own and inherit property?
  • Do you think women should have the same social rights as men? 
    • Should women be allowed to attend colleges and universities and study what they wish?
    • Should a woman be allowed to file for divorce from her husband? 
    • Should a woman be allowed to prosecute her abusive husband? 
    • Should women be allowed to have custody of their children? 
    • Should a woman be allowed to make decisions about her reproductive health (using birth control, when to have children, having an abortion, being sterilized)?  

If you answered yes to any of the above, congratulations, you are a Feminist. Don’t be afraid to use the label. I would bet 8 out of 10 people would end up being feminists if you ask them the yes/no questions above without using the label.

I have been avoiding writing about politics this week because the “stay-at-home Mom versus working Mom” stuff makes me tired and we still have 7 months to go. The trumped up and fake debate about women’s so called choice to work or stay home with their kids gets trotted out every election cycle as a wedge to drive voters into slots. Talk about Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – why didn’t they run the old clips from the Hillary Clinton “cookie” flap from 1992?

Let me be very clear [picture Obama’s non-pointing emphasis hand gesture]  – there is no Working Mother Wars, just like there is no War on Christmas, no War on Guns and no War on Religion. The real war is the War on Truth, also known as Willful Ignorance.

The willful ignorance of potential voters is the one we should really put some money into correcting. Truth panels and issues only debates! Three month campaign season limit! Reform the electoral college! Mandatory paid holiday for voting!…and other fantasies.

I heard a woman on NPR this morning say she was voting for Romney because “He’s not a communist like Obama”. Seriously folks, my blood pressure can’t take seven more months of make believe. Truth is an optional requirement for any stated opinion about politics anymore. Politicians & talking heads lie purposely all the time because they know you can never unmix the Kool-Aid. Once you hear a false statement, even if they apologize for it later, it is out in the world and repeated. And re-tweeted.

Josh Mandel, as opportunistic a politician as you could hope to meet, lies about Senator Brown, who he is trying to unseat, and the lies get repeated. And published. Mandel is a well-funded irritant that needs watching and countering.

In all this Hilary Rosen v. Ann Romney coverage I would love to see more focus on what it means to be able to choose to stay home with your kids rather than work for wages, rather than Rosen’s words and Romney’s gloating.

There is a very deep layer of classism and racism buried in the word “choice” when used by people like the Romney’s of the world. Pick up a little women’s history once in a while folks! The idea that women can stay at home and raise their kids if they “choose” to live on one paycheck is a white middle class assumption stemming from the industrial revolution and codified by post-WWII American prosperity. Some people dream of being able to make that choice.

As soon as we let ourselves get distracted by the us-against-them we no longer have to examine the assumptions and biases we perpetrate in our culture. On the backs of all women… I am sliding into a  feminist studies lecture so I will stop.

Lecture notes will be posted at the end of the semester.

There is currently legislation pending in Ohio that would prohibit employers from advertising that “only the employed need apply”.

The HR rationale for this language is that people without jobs are desperate and have lost skills so they already shouldn’t make the first cut. While those employed are demonstrating that they must have significant value if they were not let go.

The really interesting thing about this that the chamber of commerce folks are lobbying by saying that legislation is unnecessary and will lead to frivolous lawsuits. They proclaim that the industry has already “shamed” those businesses who used this language into stopping.

Couple things wrong with this argument:

  1. The practice has been going on since 2009 and has not stopped except in those states that have this legislation in place, which I believe at this point is only New Jersey.
  2. As self-policing goes I hesitate to trust the folks who thought up a bad idea in the first place to make sure that they don’t continue to use the bad idea.
  3. Civil rights protections generally do require federal, state and local government oversight and legislation to become reality.
  4. And finally, “shaming”, while apparently useful for Jehovah Witnesses, Scientologists and the Amish, has never proven to be an effective method for societal change. ‘Do the right thing’ may be lurking deep in all of our hearts, but its no match for institutional discrimination and cultural bias.

Shame is an interesting concept. Has shame caused folks to close the wage gap for women?

Let’s see, “shame” at paying women one rate and men another for the same work + the Equal Pay Act which prohibited advertising jobs segregated by sex, has moved women’s wages from 61 cents per dollar (1963) to 77 cents per dollar today (2012). That’s 16 cents. Over 49 years.

So if we don’t have legislation prohibiting companies from advertising “only the employed need apply”, we will trust them that its not hiring discrimination, its just the prerogative of a “buyers market”. And of course they will stop on their own if they get called on it (and continue to quietly sift candidates the same way).

And meanwhile, all this “pretend” class warfare supposedly manufactured by elitist democrats and the Occupy Wall Street folks will sort itself out if we can only get a business friendly Republican in the White House.

Then we will truly be a country run on Shame.