Sally Ride passed away two weeks ago. In 1983, as part of the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, she became the first American woman in space. I had never heard of the woman until she died, and I had never given any thought to women in space. It turns out the first woman in space was a Russian named Valentina Tereshkova, and her voyage to space took place twenty years before Sally Ride’s. As it happens Tereshkova’s story is the more interesting one, in my humble opinion.
The Soviets liked to elevate ordinary working class people to the status of heroes; miner Alexey Stakhanov, for example, was renowned throughout the USSR because of how his feats were publicised by the Soviet propaganda machine. Similarly, in 1962, when they chose the first female cosmonaut they chose someone from a modest, proletarian background. Valentina Tereshkova’s mother was a textile worker and her father was a tractor driver. In contrast to Dr. Ride, Tereshkova had only eight years of state schooling prior to joining the Soviet space program. Not only did she continue to educate herself after leaving school at the age of sixteen, she also developed an interest in skydiving. Both of these, along with her membership of the Communist party, would stand to her when she went up against four hundred plus candidates, and was chosen to be a cosmonaut.
Tereshkova, along with four other women, underwent intensive training, including isolation tests, weightless flights, spacecraft engineering and pilot training. On 16 June 1963 Valentina Tereshkova was successfully launched into space aboard Vostok 6. Her call sign on the voyage was Chayka – Russian for ‘seagull’. Tereshkova became the first women and also the first civilian in space. She orbited the Earth forty eight times, while recording data, taking photographs, and manually orienting the spacecraft. There is a commemorative statue located at the site where Tereshkova landed, after safely parachuting from the capsule. Following her spaceflight Tereshkova went on to earn a doctorate in Engineering. She was honoured as a hero in the USSR because of her achievements; she was awarded the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ medal, and was made a member of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.
In 1982 Svetlana Savitskaya became the second woman in space, as part of the crew of Soyuz T-7. She also became the first woman to perform a space walk. Then a year later, in June of 1983 Sally Ride became the third woman in space, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. In February of 1995 Eileen Collins (a first generation Irish American, whose parents came from Co. Cork) became the first woman to pilot a Space Shuttle. To date fifty five women have been to space. Naturally each voyage into space is a tremendous achievement for each person, male or female, that is involved. It is definitely worth celebrating the achievements of the pioneering women of space exploration. Traditionally mathematics, engineering and aviation have been male dominated fields, which make the achievements of Valentina Tereshkova and the women that followed her all the more remarkable.
Today, while watching TV and nursing a hangover, an advert for the warehouse of baffling ordeals that is Argos came on. “We’ve got toys for boys, like Lego and Meccano (cue shot of lots of cool, interesting toys), and toys for girls like Hello Kitty (sea of pink glittering barf).” After incoherently ranting ‘Whadefurgh’ at the television I composed myself.
Now, silly me had assumed that Lego was a fairly gender-neutral toy. Apparently that’s not the case. I used to be a little girl (as far as I remember) and Barbie and other fuzzy-wuzzy pinky fluffs bored me to tears. I mean, they didn’t do anything. Luckily, my parents didn’t insist on giving me exclusively “girls’ toys”. Sure I got dolls as presents, but I also got Lego, and K’nex, and Spirograph. Never in a million years would it have occurred to me that these were “boys’ toys”, yet according to most major toy shops that’s exactly what they are.
Now, I’m not having a go at the little girls who happen to love the pink glittery lame gear that is marketed to them and to their parents. After all, there is obviously a market there for the obligatory sparkly pink supermarket aisle to exist at all. But why is anything that’s not sparkling and pink by default a boy’s toy? Why are trying to force this sickly tack on all of our little girls, whether they like it or not? When the hell did coloured blocks become just for boys?
Apparently Lego agrees that their standard blocks are indeed a boy’s product. Earlier this year, they introduced a new “Girls’ Lego” range. You’ll be relieved to know that this type of Lego is less technical and challenging, and includes handbags, lipsticks, puppies and kittens. Oh, and it doesn’t even fit with the regular Lego, to avoid any embarrassing gender role confusion that might occur in little kids.
Sigh. I’ll just leave this here.
Last week I hadn’t heard of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. The book has become a phenomenal commercial success, selling twenty million copies worldwide. It’s a BDSM novel about a young woman’s relationship with a self-made billionaire; it goes into graphic detail about their sexual practices. Funnily enough, the text of the novel was originally a work of fan fiction based on the Twilight series. Like Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey is massively popular, but reviled my many. I’m afraid I haven’t read the book, only excerpts from it. They were very, very funny (unintentionally so), but that’s neither here nor there.
I take issue with much of the criticism levelled at the book from feminists. Marina DelVecchio, for example, criticises the book for embodying anti-feminist ideals here. I think Ms. DelVecchio does a reasonably good job making the case that Fifty Shades of Grey is anti-feminist. The problem is that she’s answering a question that need not have been asked. Art should never be expected to serve an ideology, whether it be socialist, objectivist (Mr. Grey would not be at all out of place in one of Ayn Rand’s novels) or indeed feminist. We could debate whether or not this book is anti-feminist, but I think that question is just as irrelevant as whether or not the society that Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey inhabit has an equitable system of wealth redistribution.
My own background is working class, so I have empathy for ordinary women who live unglamorous lives. If a person’s life is filled with responsibilities and they’re faced with tedium and frustration on a daily basis I can’t criticise them for escaping into a fantasy world every once in a while. After all, people don’t take moral guidance from Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey; that’s not the purpose of fantasy or BDSM fiction.
People are certainly entitled to analyse and criticise literature from a feminist perspective, but my point is that works of art, like people, may not be a comfortable fit with a particular ideology, but this doesn’t mean that they’re a malignant influence. This book has dismissed in some quarters as anti-feminist, nevertheless it has provided for many women an escape from everyday life, some moments of joy, and perhaps a safe way of exploring their own sexuality beyond the bounds of what is ‘vanilla’. Maybe it’s not such a terrible thing.
1. A.C. Slater
4. Dongle / Dork
6. Frederick the Great
7. Green Giant
12. Love Pump
13. Massage Column
16. Prince Rogers Nelson
17.The Quare Fellah
22. Van Dyke
24. Xerxes the Great
25. Yellow Submarine
Us Feminerds posed some questions on a chat forum about men’s perceptions of feminism and a discussion ensued. The majority of the guys contributing would not describe themselves as feminists and these were their reasons:
- Feminists claim to seek equality but if they were truly seeking equality, they would also advocate for the rights of men such as in the area of Family law and paternal rights in particular. Feminists are only in it for themselves rather than for true gender equality. This hypocrisy discredits the movement.
- Feminists are selfish because they do not fight for causes other than their own
- “They have no problem with feminists as long as they are honest about their seeking ‘advantage’ rather than ‘equality'” – this was a quote from one individual and not representative of the majority.
- The example of sexist advertising was raised repeatedly: why do feminists object to ads which are offensive to women but not to men? Feminists have double standards.
- Irish women have equality and there is thus no real need for feminism in Ireland. The oppression of women in certain other countries is totally unjust and unacceptable.
- They resent ‘selective feminism’ and witness it regularly.
- Extremist or misandrist feminists do little to help their perceptions of feminism; they blame all the world’s ills on men and that men are told ‘they have it easy’ when in reality, they have problems too.
- Gender quotas are unhelpful.
- Gender issues affect both sexes; you can’t agitate for change for one sex without affecting the other.
When we asked why men don’t appear to advocate on their own behalf, here is a rough summary of the reasons they gave:
- Lack of awareness and a sense of resignation.
- Women’s rights movements often receive financial and moral support from politicians but men’s rights would not receive political support.
- Men who raise issues or complain about inequality or discrimination or speak openly about domestic abuse are met with:
a) Get over it/grow a pair.
c) Sure aren’t you bigger than her
d) You must hate women
- issues of inequality are unaligned with sex/gender;
- women trying to fit them into this mould are often introducing division where none should exist and potentially damaging the cause of equality in these areas;
- they are issues for all of society to address, not as lobby groups along gender battle lines
When it comes to gender roles in Western society, men have had to adjust to a great deal of change in the past century. Women can now vote, work outside of the home, drive motor vehicles and, perhaps most troubling of all, women can use the internet. As a result the internet has become something of a mine field, and there are certain phrases and statements that us men should avoid using when conversing with females on the internet.
1. Get Back in the Kitchen
The problem with this statement should be obvious, but I’ll go into a little bit of detail as to why you should avoid using it. We live in twenty-first century, and in this modern world of wi-fi, tablets and smart phones, we can never be certain of exactly where someone is accessing the internet. The woman that you’re telling to ‘get back in the kitchen’ might well be in the kitchen at that very moment. Also, be aware that unlike men, who are excellent at doing one thing at a time, women like to multi-task. The liberated feminist, with whom you’re engaging in a spirited exchange of ideas, might actually be sitting at her kitchen table, gazing at her laptop, while simultaneously sharpening her expensive kitchen knives.
2. Make me a Sandwich
This one is troublesome for practical reasons. Say you’re perusing a thread on your favourite forum, when you happen to notice a woman making a comment which may or may not be contentious. For many men their first reaction to this is to humorously interject that this woman should ‘make me a sandwich’. Unfortunately, as has been noted many times, it is difficult to convey tone over the internet. She might assume you’re being serious. If you are, in fact, being serious that raises some questions: What kind of sandwich should she make? How will she transport the sandwich to you? Will it be fresh and safe to consume by the time it reaches you? Are there not simpler ways to acquire sustenance.
3. Tits or GTFO
This is a phrase that most women aren’t fond of. This is because many women find the notion that they have to provide pictures of their breasts, to be allowed to participate in an online discussion, offensive. If it is your ambition to one day get a peek at a woman’s breasts in real life using that particular phrase is actually counter-productive. It’s a bit like if a woman on a forum demanded of you: ‘nads or GTFO’. You’d probably find your self-esteem dented by this request. You’d probably feel demeaned and objectified, and you probably wouldn’t feel like posting a picture of your testicles on the internet.
My advice is to avoid these phrases whenever possible, unless you’d like to be thought of as a latter-day Jim Davidson. The next time you want a sandwich go to your kitchen and make one for yourself, and if you really are interested in seeing tits, treating a woman with respect is quite a good way to start.