Name: Anne G. Sabo
Occupation: Writer and Educator
Location: Northfield, Minnesota, a small college town just south of the Twin Cities
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: I grew up in Norway, recognized for its level of gender equality and support for sex education. I moved to the United States in 1995 to study for a year in Seattle, and ended up staying.
How do you define feminism?
I define feminism as the understanding that women and men are worthy of equal rights, opportunities, choices, respect, and recognition for who they are and what they do, with the added understanding that there is still work to be done in order to achieve all of this, specifically on behalf of women.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
Growing up in Norway, a Scandinavian country well known for the work done there to ensure women’s rights on a broad scale — from the right to abortion and comprehensive parental leave, to the right to equal job opportunities and pay — I took feminism for granted.
During my second year of elementary school, Gro Harlem Brundtland became Norway’s first female prime minister. She served three terms between 1981 and 1996 before taking on other prestigious positions for the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Trained a medical doctor, she also raised four children.
Girls my generation thought we, like our prime minister, could do and have it all. I grew up in gender neutral clothes, with a gender neutral haircut and gender neutral LEGOs. Eventually, we learned about the lack of women’s rights and gender equality in faraway places, like the third world and even closer by in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe. Then I moved in with my first serious boyfriend and I realized there was still plenty to be done in Norway too. While to a lesser extent than in the US, traditional gender roles still affect how young women and men navigate their relationships and divide domestic responsibilities. Upon realizing this, I became a feminist. I was 18 or 19 years old at that time.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
I would say that my definition of feminism has changed over time to be concerned not only with the lingering discrimination and archaic expectations of the female sex, but also of the male sex. Now feminism is to me a cause to free women as well as men from stereotypical ideas about what it means to be male or female in terms of our responsibilities, opportunities, and expressions, be it in terms of work, relationship, parenting, or sexuality. Narrow, claustrophobic gender categories bother me; unfortunately, they are still all too rampant. In my book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters (forthcoming fall 2012), I look at new feminist porn by women whose films shine the light on how we can all — women and men — break free from traditional gender roles and shatter erotic conventions.
And speaking of porn, I never thought of it as feminist — on the contrary — until I came across feminist porn by women who’ve seized the means of representation to explore and define sexuality on their terms.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Abovementioned boyfriend and many of his friends reacted with disbelief and mockery against my feminist advocacy, which only served to solidify my feminist beliefs. In their opinion, feminism was something of the past. Clearly, it was not.
Surrounded by progressive friends, the topic was more or less moot during my years in graduate school at the University of Washington, Seattle.
I began experiencing resistance to feminism again while teaching college students in the Midwest for ten years. Several of my students were unwilling to accept the need for feminism. Some would even deny that we still had to fight for equal pay for equal work, and the right not to be sexually harassed and discriminated against sexually. I faced resistance in particular from conservative male students, but also from what I would label traditionalist female students, for lack of a better term. These were female students who were not opposed to attending college to attain the MRS degree, or worry less about their post-graduation careers than getting married and having children. This was very unsettling to me, but I never stopped advocating feminism; if anything, I became more concerned with the importance of teaching issues that pertain to gender and sexuality. Also sensing the need and desire among students for more comprehensive sexuality information, and having myself grown up in a country where substantial human sexuality education has been promoted for decades (Norway was a world pioneer in introducing human sexuality education in the public school system in the 1930s, and in the 1950s became the first country to mandate human sexuality education), I took on the unofficial role as sex educator for students who had all sorts of questions and insecurities when it came to human sexuality and intimacy. “Love, Sex, and Family in Nordic Film Today” was a course I developed and taught for a number of years with this in mind, using the popular medium of film to address cultural differences in attitudes toward sexuality.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
At least here in the US, I see working for more comprehensive, paid parental leave as one of the most pressing items on the agenda for feminism. With only 6 to 12 weeks of maternity leave, many new moms opt to sacrifice their careers to stay home with their children, and for good reasons too, breastfeeding being one of them. This pattern will continue to reinforce traditional gender roles to the detriment of women and men. Cut to Norway, where political groups are now lobbing for an even more equal division of the one-year parental leave between the parents, lest the women lag behind in the workforce in terms of promotion and retirement plans.
But the future of feminism holds more than an empowered motherhood and gender equal parenting as a viable option, and includes working for equal rights, respect, and opportunities for all groups of our population, regardless of gender- and sexual orientation, age or race.
Anne G. Sabo, Ph.D., also known as Quizzical mama, is a former academic turned public educator, author, speaker, freelance writer, and mama- and sex blogger. As a college professor for ten years, she taught courses on literature, film- and women’s studies. Since leaving a tenured & promoted academic position, she has founded Love, Sex, and Family, a resource site devoted to progressive human sexuality information. In her New porn by women blog she writes about sexual politics and re-visioned feminist porn. Her Quizzical mama blog is an educated and personal approach to the politics and philosophies of parenting, often addressing controversial issues and reflecting on different cultural values and practices in the US and her native Norway. Her book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters is forthcoming this fall. She is also finishing a book on sleep parenting based on interviews with parents (The Sleep Question). You can follow her on Twitter @quizzicalmama. (Photo: Matt Spevack)
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