Tag Archives: Claire McDaniel

“They’ve Got to Find Men to Marry!”

16 Jul

by Claire McDaniel

Boris Johnson, yes, the floppy haired Mayor of London who got himself stuck on a zip line during the Olympics, surprised no one this week by saying something sexist.  Representing the UK at the World Islamic Economic Forum, he supposedly joked that women go to university to find husbands. Reportedly, he was the only one at the forum to find it funny. As a woman, I just have one thing to say. Who the hell forgot to tell me?

If I had known that the $50,000 dollars a year in tuition wasn’t for education but was instead a modern day dowry for my husband, well then I would have spent a good deal less time in the library. What on Earth is the point of being pre-med if I’m only here to get hitched ASAP? Now I just feel silly.

Some say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I say I reserve it for the lowest of wits. If Boris truly thinks that women are only at university to be on the prowl for a husband, then he deserves more sarcasm than I think possible in a single blog post.

Leaving aside the rampant heteronormativity of the comment, let’s talk a little bit more about Boris. He is a politician, so gaffes are par for the course. But, he is no Todd Akin, who needs to brush up on his basic biology. No, Boris is a good old boy. He went to Eton then on to Cambridge, some of the best schools in the world. Ignorance, then, is probably not the basis of his sexism.

If you haven’t seen the blog Everyday Sexism, or if you don’t follow them on Twitter, you should. Founded in England as an attempt to shine a light on the rampant street harassment and daily sexism present in British society. Go ahead and take a break from reading this post to read some of the stories from Everyday Sexism. When you feel your skin beginning to crawl, or you simply can’t stand the banality of it all, come on back and let’s chat.

That is the culture in which Boris was raised, in which he lives, in which he serves as Mayor of its most populous city. Maybe it’s an Imperial thing, that a third culture kid like myself can’t understand, but the entrenched patriarchy is absurd. Yes, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister years before I was even born. But what about now? The Conservative Party, Thatcher’s own, has a Cabinet that has four women out of twenty-two people. Oh, and if you were looking for anyone that wasn’t white, wrong place. At least they’re consistent.

Boris Johnson is only one man. But, he is one of the most powerful men in the UK. That is no inconsequential thing, no matter how much the British Empire has shrunk since Victoria’s reign. It is terrifying to think that Boris can be so nonchalantly paternalistic towards women. How many of his actions, of his policies, then are influenced by this patriarchal paradigm?

Yes, that one time he saved a woman from being mugged by riding down the muggers with his bicycle was nice. But “The Knight on the Shining Bicycle” needs to get off his sexist high horse and get a reality check. He thinks women are flocking towards university because of this unconquerable need to find a husband? I’m struggling to think of something he could have said that would be more antiquated. We go to university because we make less than our male counterparts, so we need that degree to get an equal footing with the men around us. We go to university because we are passionate for what we are studying. We go to university because we crave the freedom of living away from our parents. If we do find a husband or a wife, because to hell with heteronormativity, it’s highly unlikely that we set off to university with that as our sole motivation.

It doesn’t matter if what Boris said was simply an off the cuff joke, in fact that might be worse. It shows that the Mayor of London gave no second thought to being sexist, to belittling women. Because it is belittling to say that women’s only motivation for going to university has to do with men. It makes it so that female students have less pure scholastic intentions than their male counterparts, reinforcing the belief of women’s duplicity. My name is not Eve, and I’m none too fond of snakes, so let’s leave that age-old ridiculousness behind.

There is a reason I wake up every morning to thirty new tweets from Everyday Sexism in my Twitter feed. There is a reason why I’ve experienced sexism myself, on several occasions. There is a reason why rape culture is alive and well. Consciously or not, maliciously or not, men, and sometimes women, promulgate this paradigm of female inferiority. And it’s about damn time that stopped, Mr. Mayor.

Quotidian Harassment

5 Jul

by Claire McDaniel 

I leaned against the advert for some phone company, eating my French fries and waiting for the train home. It’d been a good night out, just the usual suspects at the usual place with the usual indulgence in the happy hour with the half priced beer. The same thing we’d been doing since it was legal for us to drink at 16 (go Switzerland!), though now only it was on the holidays when we weren’t at university.

I’d made a quick stop at the late-night food stand outside the train station before heading to my platform, hence the French fries. I felt perfectly safe as I ambled around the station killing time before my midnight train. That is, until I turned the corner to take the stairs up to my platform.

A group of four or five men were lounging on the stairs, joking around in French and giggling drunkenly. As I passed by them, several of the men called out to me, saying I had a great ass and wouldn’t I like to get to know them a little better. One of them, an older guy about half a foot taller than me followed me up the stairs and kept trying to speak to me. Ignoring him, my face an impassive mask, I made a beeline for the advert, which just happened to have a transport police officer standing next to it. Police tend to be effective deterrents for men who harass you.

I’ve perfected that face, the one simultaneously of complete disdain and complete indifference. No catcall or attempt at conversation can even get me to turn my head. It’s a mask, and it’s something that I’ve developed over time.

The fact I have to have this specific face I put on just to safely walk alone in public is complete bullshit. I’m so over street harassment, and for the life of me I don’t understand how it continues to even be a factor in our society.

When I first started to go out, I didn’t know what to call it. I knew that past a certain time of night, or in certain places in town, if I were to walk alone or with my girlfriends I would be catcalled, I would be followed. Men would whistle, some of the cars zipping by would honk, and I’d have this uneasy feeling of malaise until I got home and locked the door behind me.

It took me the longest time to realize why these men felt it incumbent upon themselves to trail behind me on my way home, or describe why they wanted me, or to even try to touch me. They are threatened by the very presence of women, especially in places and roles long considered masculine, and lash out in an attempt to put us back into the neat, gender normative box into which they presuppose women belong.

Those who resort to harassing women on the street show their hand like a bad poker player, they’re showing their weakness, their frantic and desperate attempts to reclaim power they feel they have lost. Sadly enough for the misogynists, women are here to stay. We are an integral part of society, at all levels, in all industries and professions. We have more power than ever before, and that fact alone is enough to make certain men feel insecure.

Unfortunately, judging by the omnipresence of catcalling, whether it’s on the streets of a medieval Swiss town or on Georgetown’s campus, boy do they ever feel insecure.

Being harassed on the street makes my skin crawl. I’m used to standing up for what I believe in, and I do so with the impunity inherent in the naïve stubbornness of all twenty year-olds. The men that catcall, the ones that whistle, the ones that honk their car horns, they take that power away from me. These men, and far too frequently boys, make me feel like I have no control over the situation, over perceptions of myself, even over my physical self.

It was worse when I was in high school. I was a teenager, young and impressionable. More than that, I was battling anorexia, and the crass shouts of the disgusting men who harassed me only reinforced my distorted paradigm of perpetual judgment about my body. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable about my body in public, and while I certainly don’t entirely blame catcalling for that fact, the shouts and whistles absolutely did not help.

But whatever power I felt like they took away from me with a couple of crude things said about my figure, I realize now means nothing. The dominance over me that they were trying to assert is not a lasting one. It ends the moment we no longer accept that street harassment ‘just happens’ and that we should just allow it. That’s some patriarchal bullshit right there, and that’s quite enough of it.

Street harassment is no compliment, and it is certainly not benign. By allowing it to continue, as a society we are guaranteeing that women will feel unsafe and unwelcome. It is so unbearably quotidian, and it’s a permanent reminder that, unfortunately, rape culture is still very much alive and kicking.

Generation Gap: Proudly a Feminist

6 Jun

by Claire McDaniel

I’m not sure when I first described myself as a feminist.

In high school, my wonderful French teacher mentioned in passing that I was the class’ resident feminist thinker and I felt so very proud of myself. I read Chopin’s The Awakening, and I put it down on the table afterwards, nodded that Edna Pontellier had the right view of the world, and went off to get a calming glass of red wine. For my second theology course, I signed up for a feminist theology course in a heartbeat, even if it was egregiously early in the morning.

Sometime in there, I decided that I was a feminist. I liked being a woman, I especially reveled in being free to make whatever decisions I wanted, and I wanted all women to have the same freedom. It was that simple for me. Unfortunately, the simplicity of that definition doesn’t quite fit into the aging societal paradigm of what constitutes feminism.

I’m not sure what there is about the word ‘feminist’, but it is so utterly polarizing. People throw around the word “feminist” like it’s an insult. It’s on par with calling President Obama a “socialist”. It’s something to be sneered at, ridiculed, made into a farce. I’m positive I’ve heard Fox News use them both together. But, it’s no double-whammy. Our generation simply doesn’t care about an out-dated conception.

I have never lived a day of my life during the Cold War, and an epithet like socialist means nothing negative to me, it’s merely a system of government that I think is impractical. For my parents’ generation, who became adults in the Reagan years, the word means something a little more malevolent. For Joseph McCarthy, it meant the devil incarnate. But what held true for the baby boomers half a century ago isn’t the case today, and those who cling to old definitions are about to be left in the past.

We are no longer in an omnipresent global struggle against the communist Russians, and we are no longer in an era of scorn for feminists. It is time to realize that there is a generation of teens and college students who read Caitlin Moran and learned quite a few new curse words with a touch of feminism on the side. There is a new generation of American women who have never known a world where there wasn’t the choice of birth control, Plan B, condoms, or access to legal abortions if they so desire. There have been generations of women who are doctors, lawyers, groundbreaking researchers, and some of the most powerful people in the world. These are things that are now ingrained into the very fabric of our lives, and they’re here to stay.

At twenty years old, I see the world ahead of me and know that I can do anything I set my heart on. I know that as I enter the professional world, I deserve to work in an atmosphere free from strangling sexism. I know that as a woman, I deserve to live in a world where there exists true and constant condemnation for sexual assault from all quarters, across geographic borders and generational gaps. I know that as a young woman in college, I deserve to have access to contraceptives, abortions, and whatever reproductive medical care I might ever need. I know what I deserve, and it’s about damn time that what I—and all women—deserve is not denigrated as feminist folly but is respected as a permanent truth.

Feminism is a permanent fixture in the minds of a generation of young women. It imbues us with hope, and steels our nerves against obstacles thrown in our path. At once a unique perception and a supportive togetherness, being a feminist is no longer an epithet. It is something in which our generation should be proud.

I can’t be sure the exact time I knew I was a feminist, but I sure as hell am one now. And I’m proud of it.

Stay-at-Home Moms

17 May

by Claire McDaniel 

My mother is one of the smartest people I know. She’s strong, brave, and has so wicked of a fashion sense that I steal her clothes. She’s moved from continent to continent to hold our family together, she’s given up so much to even have a family, and she even laughs at my dad’s corny jokes. I wish I were as brave as she.

Her story is, minus some transcontinental moves, pretty typical. My mom worked her ass off and earned her J.D. from Indiana University, meeting my dad in the process. She gave up practicing law to become a law librarian when she was pregnant with me and, once we moved to Switzerland, gave up her profession all together.

It’s that last part that drives me to write this piece. All over the internet, the TV, even the front page of The New York Times, are people definitively stating that there is only one true way of being a mother and, thank the good Lord, we’ve finally found it! Well, until the next week, anyway.

I won’t claim to have the answer to the debate on whether a mother’s role is to stay at home or work, although I will say with certainty that the term ‘mother’s role’ is maddening. Frankly, I don’t think there is a good answer to the debate. Every role is reality for one family or another, and yet the world keeps on turning.

Young women in our generation look at the ongoing struggles over what it means to be a mother, and what it takes to be the perfect mother, and we walk away more confused than when we initially scrolled down to the comment thread on that one article. We’re told that to make the choice to stay home means we’re anti-women and anti-feminist. But God forbid we go back to work, because then we hate our kids. The whole thing is ridiculously stupid.

Let’s be real here, there are wrong ways to be a mom. Maternal neglect, abuse, and even worse haunt the headlines of the leading papers and cause nightmares. But I highly doubt that a mother who agonizes over the decision to work or stay home, no matter which she chooses, will be a bad mother. Anyone devoted enough to care that much will continue to care.

The only true answer is the one that every mother comes to individually. It takes courage, it takes having a strong sense of your own personal compass, and it takes a lot of thought. In the end, I don’t think it matters what mothers choose to do with their own lives. It’s that they choose that makes the difference.

I look at my mother and I know that she made a choice, a difficult one, and I respect her more for it. Her strength, resilience, and ability to deal with my annoying little brother make me wish I could be so tough. The best thing a mother can be is a role model, whether she stays at home or works full-time, or something in between.

Part of me, the same stubborn streak that made me refuse to eat broccoli, wants to complain that staying at home instead of working shows weakness. Being dependent on someone, even if it’s my goofball and loveable dad, seems to go against my near-innate sense of independence. But I look at my mom and everything that she’s done for our family, everything that she’s sacrificed, and I know that she’s not weak. She’s the strongest person I know, and seeing her bravery has made me who I am.

I walk in the same steps as my mother. I struggle to keep my eyes awake during a late night study session in the library. I balance my life as a student with my often-overwhelming extracurriculars, and even call home from time to time. I love my family. I don’t have one of my own, and I don’t know what choices I might face if I get around to it sometime in the very distant future. All I know is that I wish I, and all women, have the courage to follow their own moral compass once they do.

I look around me in the world, and I see real problems. Women are paid less, work less prestigious jobs, are discriminated against, and are sexually harassed—if not assaulted—every single day of the week.  These are incontrovertible facts. These are the issues that define the feminism of our day and age, not what a mother decides to do with her life. Really, it’s as simple as that.