OTI Online
Spring 1997

Reader Feedback
Spring 1997

"You can be childless and recognize the need for child care; you can be single and help end discrimination in marriage and divorce."

M.L. Stevick, Wellsburg, WV (excerpt)

Stripped of Illusions

I recently picked up your fall '96 issue and was pleasantly surprised at my new find. However, I have to object on behalf of myself and my coworkers to Ms. Maio's film section ["Bad Girls Badly", fall '96.] I was anxious to read her critique of Striptease. I was offended to read back-handed comments about "real-life strippers." In less than a paragraph, she managed to trash an industry that supports single mothers, keeps women off welfare or helps them get off welfare, puts women through school and supports women-owned businesses.

By calling our audience "marks," Ms. Maio suggests that what we do is illegal and immoral. When she states that dancers deliver "the illusion of friendly, feminine, sexual availability" and that "gymnastic routines delivered with cold authority... would make lousy tips," Ms. Maio shows an unprecedented naivete about the industry. It has been my experience (and I have been doing this for four years) that dancers who can dance and are gymnastic make better tips.

I have always thought that feminism is about choice, but here I am reading that the choice I have made for myself is wrong -- and in as unlikely a place as a film critique. Haven't you learned yet that language is as powerful a weapon as it is a tool?

Jennifer Wisenbaker, New Haven, CT

A Sexist Thing?

I was disgusted with Charmaine Seitz' article: "Sexy Divas: It's a Control Thing", [fall '96]. Charmaine's attitude is counterprogressive; she seems to think that the way for women to gain self-respect is by showing off their bodies. I think it's wonderful that she feels so confident about her body, but shouldn't women be concentrating on their intelligence and gain respect with their knowledge and creativity, rather than focusing on their appearance? Flaunting your body only emphasizes men's view of women as sex objects. I'm 17 years old, and when I hear women like Charmaine boasting about their self-esteem, it makes me worried about the state of the feminist movement. I think a relationship should be based on mutual respect and equality; neither party should be in control of the other!

She states her admiration for Salt-N-Pepa and TLC for gaining power through objectifying themselves; how can she admire those fascist celebrities? They are reinforcing the stereotypical idea that the only way to "train" your man is by using your body as a center of seduction. We must grow as individuals, value our intelligence and individuality, and stop focusing on superficial consumerist preoccupations.

Erika Fisher, Montreal, Que

Freedom of Choice

I read Phyllis Chesler's story regarding child support, "Is Every Woman One Divorce Away From Financial Disaster" [winter '97], and I felt sorry for her. Her generation was brought up with the myth of everlasting romantic love, so it seemed as if every married couple was relatively happy. However, whenever a situation like that arises with anyone 35 years or younger, I don't feel as sorry for them. I think by now they should have a clue. The exceptional men are just that -- the exceptions.

I do not plan to get married. I think it's ludicrous to start out with something that involves freedom and personal choice and turn it into something legally binding. I have also decided to remain childless. If I were ever to change my mind, however, I would make the decision based on my income, how much leave I can expect from my job, and the chances of keeping my job. I wouldn't make plans based on the lip service of a man who is probably harboring romantic fantasies of fatherhood.

Although I don't plan to marry or have children, I am still very supportive of changing the law. I think you can be childless and still recognize the need for child care for working women, especially the working poor. I think you can be single and still help to end discrimination in marriage and in divorce. We all need to do our part, because we are all in this together. When one woman suffers, we all suffer. When one woman is helped, we are all helped.

M. L. Stevick, Wellsburg, WV

Popular Feminism Counts, Too

When I read Bonnie Dow and Lisa Maria Hogeland's "When Feminism Meets the Press, Our Real Politics Get Lost," [Talking Feminist, winter '97] I found myself vacillating between cheers and boos from one paragraph to the next. The article makes crucial points about the limitations of the ideological media darling, "power feminism," especially in its individual solutions and self-help approach to feminist politics. However, I find some of the implications of Dow and Hogeland's article more troubling,including the labeling (and denigrating) of these media events as a milquetoast kind of "feminist literacy."

Isn't feminist reform, however modest, worth something? I do not share the authors' woe about "feminist literacy," though I agree that it is "by no means an unmediated vision of feminism." I, for one, am among those feminists the authors suggest are naively "grateful" for feminist literacy, and I don't think this gratitude means one must embrace PR to the detriment of the feminisms outside the mass media.

The point for me, which I think constitutes "real politics," is that feminists might more often laud and appreciate those who fashion progressive political platforms into more popular (albeit simplistic) terms. I believe such mainstream feminisms can encourage women to change their lives and to seek out further feminist activity. I don't mean to suggest that "power feminism" is progressive enough -- a sort of "don't worry, be happy" approach to social justice. However, when feminists are unable or unwilling to celebrate and to capitalize on such media attention, as well as to engage in sustained political critique, perhaps we need to worry more about our own goals and motivations, as well as those of the "unfair" media.

Devoney Looser, Indiana State Univ., Bloomington, IN

No Laughing Matter

Paula J. Caplan, in her article "Try Diagnosing Men's Mind Games Instead of Pathologizing Women" [winter '97] refers to Gloria Steinem's article on Freud; perhaps Caplan attempted to follow Steinem's lead in using humor and satire to shed light on the misogyny embedded in some psychological research and diagnostic measures. However, Caplan's article lacks Steinem's tongue-in-cheek wit; she fails to illuminate the problems inherent in the classification of feminine behavior as mental illness.

Caplan complains that "the gatekeepers of the DSM" are mostly white, male psychiatrists. However, her resignation from a DSM committee is in part to blame for this situation. It is unfair for Caplan to criticize the DSM for excluding women when she had the opportunity to remedy the problem. But rather than serve on a DSM committee, Caplan has settled for writing a male-bashing piece which does not help feminists in meeting our goals.

I give Caplan credit for recognizing that many of the diagnoses found in the DSM are biased and detrimental to women. I wish that she would use her intelligence, determination and title in a more productive manner that would benefit women.

Liza Feldman, Albany, NY

In Defense of Equestrians

As a feminist and a lifelong equestrian and horse lover, I was delighted to find Norine Dworkin's "Equestrian Equality" [fall '96] in my first issue of your magazine. The following issue included Batya Bauman's patronizing and disparaging letter, to which I am responding.

So many people in this country believe that equestrian sports are all about "dominating the horse and bending it to the master's will." In reality, to be at all successful, riders must be in tune with their equine partner's body and mind. Brute force or intimidation, although used by ignorant trainers, never produces lasting positive results. This is, I believe, why women tend to do so well in the equine world. We are sometimes more apt to try to understand why a horse is behaving a certain way, whereas men can be more prone to simply demand obedience.

I ride horses not because I want power and control, nor because I think it is prestigious, but because the partnership and fusion that can occur when my horse friend and I concentrate intently on one another is a singular joy in my life.

Ms. Bauman states that she would feel a "whole lot better" about women who love horses if we were in the forefront of efforts to "end the many ways horses are exploited and abused in our culture." In my 16 years of experience with horses, it has been the professional trainers, instructors, veterinarians, blacksmiths, barn managers, etc. who have been the most active and the most effective in combating abuse and cruelty. They are the ones who educate the unknowing owner about caring for their pony, run the local 4-H clubs, buy washed-up race horses to retrain for a new life. I personally have called the local humane society several times about starving horses I'd seen, and know many friends who have done similar things. I mounted a large alumna letter-writing campaign to my college alma mater when I discovered that the person hired to run the school's equestrian program had allowed the horses to become thin due to underfeeding (that person subsequently resigned.) So, it is simply wrong for Ms. Bauman to imply that women who love horses aren't involved.

One more point: What is this obsession with women riders wearing tall leather boots with spurs, carrying crops, and so on? It occurred to me that images of S&M/bondage must be flitting through the minds of the uninitiated. Let me set the record straight: We wear tall boots because they are practical. I would have raw holes rubbed into my legs if I rode without some kind of protection. Tall boots are also traditional, originating not with the military, but with over-the-knee boots worn by English foxhunters.

Let me now explain why we use spurs and crops. When horses are interacting amongst themselves, they often bite and kick one another as a matter of course. These bites and kicks do not really hurt the horses, although if one of them were to bite or kick a human in the same way, it would severely injure us. The use of spurs (nowhere near as harsh as another horse nipping the side of the one being ridden) is to encourage the horse to move away from the pressure. Only experienced riders who have enough bodily control to use the spur selectively should wear them, if they are needed for a particular horse. The use of the crop imitates the same thing, only it can be used in different places such as the rump or shoulder. Again, a rider must be experienced to use a crop or whip. Whips and spurs, used properly, are training aids, not devices for punishment.

Allison L. Schraf, Pittsburgh, PA


NOW would like to correct information included in the article, "Will Paternal Paranoia Triumph?" [winter '97] by Trish Wilson. The National Organization for Women has not established a "Clearinghouse Against Fathers' Rights." NOW's National Board of Directors passed a resolution at its 1996 National Conference to establish a clearinghouse for information about so-called "fathers' rights" groups whose objectives are to restrict and limit custodial parents' rights and to decrease child support obligations of non-custodial parents. These groups and their political agendas can be especially harmful to battered and abused women and children. However, NOW's data collection on these groups, like-minded judges and sympathetic policymakers is in the preliminary stages, and the clearinghouse has not been activated or formally named.

Patricia Ireland, President National Organization for Women Washington, D.C.

Editor's note: Sorry we jumped the gun! On The Issues regrets the error.

See also:

FEEDBACK (published Winter 1997)

FEEDBACK (published Fall 1996)

FEEDBACK (published Summer 1996)

Letters to the Editor

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