Monday, December 20, 2010

Hating sexism, loving English literature

My sixteen-year-old brother is a big fan of the website mylifeisbro.com. You guessed it--it's all about lax, Halo, drinking Natty, aaannnd jokes about how women need to stay in the kitchen. ("Last night this sorostitute gave me a necklace with a key on it and said she gave me the 'key to her heart.' I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with it, since I'm a fucking bro. But you better believe she'll be making me a sandwich to get it back. MLIB.")

Now, in many ways, I can appreciate this website. It's funny. Most of the things posted are satirical (or so I like to think); they're making fun of our backwards-hat-and-lax-pinnie-wearing brethren. But sometimes it makes me upset because I recognize that even those things we consider Funny Jokes can be really harmful. Over Thanksgiving break, I ended up getting really mad at my brother for making kitchen jokes, I stormed off, and made plots to start a counter-website called "My Life is Feminist" (with the unfortunate acronym MLIF, far too close to MILF) in which me and my sexism-hating fellows could post such things as "Today I couldn't enjoy pop culture. MLIF."

This story is getting really long and tangential.

The point I'm trying to make is that sometimes it can be difficult to reconcile one's feminism with one's desire to live in the world and be a person and enjoy movies and TV and other people's company. Inevitably, something that someone says is going to make your inner feminist uncomfortable. I go to a liberal arts college and I hang out with generally like-minded progressive people AND STILL not a day goes by where I don't hear something that makes my inner feminist pace angrily around the inside of my head yelling, "But that is sexist/classist/sizeist/homophobic/etc."

This is hardly a new observation. And it's not at all a bad thing that this happens. In many ways, feminism IS my manner of living in the world and being a human being. It is my politics and my critical lens. Of course it's going to conflict with a whole lot of stuff, but it's being AWARE of that conflict that is so important.

Thus, I was so delighted to read this post about loving problematic books on Tiger Beatdown. I am an English major, and being a student of literature is all about looking at things critically. But sometimes--and this is when I feel sad about my English major--we get lost in the criticism. I felt that way last year when I took a class on American Fear; it felt that every day we walked in and picked up a text and said, "This is scary because WASP America doesn't like: black people, Native Americans, poor people, women, sex, atheism, or old-world religion." Everything was racial or post-colonial or what-have-you.

I'm in no way opposed to looking at a text through those lenses; of course the books we read had a lot to do with fear of race/sex/religion/class/etc. But sometimes you feel, in all that critical musical chairs, that you're losing sight of the book itself. I wondered in my frustration if being a lover of books and words was really not related at all to being an English major. I reread my favorite books and felt that they were no longer quite as magical once I started reading between the lines not just for meaning but for racist/sexist/classist/blah overtones. My desire to pick up a book and say YES this is about all of the Important Things in Life and it is so important was suddenly, rudely quashed by the awakening of my inner educated critic who promptly ripped out the binding, threw the book against the wall, and said, "BUT THE OPPRESSION. Enjoyment terminated."

And then--this semester--I took a class with a professor who is basically the opposite of the first one. Reading books for his class was utterly different; I found myself reveling in his ability to read and love a book as a whole, to not get caught up in critical details, to see the big picture, to love words for words. Sure, this professor was a bit of a misogynist (and the authors he chose to read even more so), and I'm surprised at how easily I say, "So he was a misogynist BUT"...but I loved that he got excited about a book because of something wonderful and lovely that it said, instead of focusing on this one use of the word "black" that OH MY GOD SO RACIST RUN AWAY.

After a while, though, I realized that I wanted something in between the two extremes embodied by my professors. I wanted to know how to reconcile my love of books with my need to point out some things that they said--how to make my inner feminist critic and my inner book-lover talk to each other. Sometimes it is very frustrating to make the critic be quiet for a little bit, to constantly remind her to sit down and pay attention, but I think the truth I came to is that even people who write about things in hateful or ignorant ways can still cough out a lot of truth. That's a hard conclusion to come to, to realize that even the writers who believe that women are worthless and that white men are capable of pondering the Big Problems in life (I'm looking right at you, John Updike, right at you) are still quite good at writing about people and their Big Problems.

In many ways I think this can apply to pop culture as well. Obviously some songs or TV shows or movies truly are so awful and offensive we cannot really deal with them, but sometimes, even though you loathe the message of her music, you really just want to rock out to Taylor Swift, or you want to belt "Don't Trust a Ho" at the top of your voice because it's fun and you do not want so much to be serious all the time.

And I think you can do that without betraying all that you fight for, as long as you are enjoying your book/song/show/movie without ignoring the messages and instead being conscious of them. And so sometimes I still laugh at posts on My Life is Bro, and I learn from books that hate on the Other, and I like to watch cheesy romance movies, because I think that reconciliation is not only possible, but quite lovely...if we threw out everything that avoided hatefulness, we would not have much to read, or look at, or listen to.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity

I love that Jon Stewart is parlaying his celebrity into political action. I think a rally to counter Beck's and Palin's is long overdue and I think Stewart, from what I know, is as good of a leader as any.

I'm less thrilled about the name.

You could even say I'm angry.

The implicit message behind the "Rally to Restore Sanity" is that individuals influencing America's current political climate are "insane." Crazy. Wacko. It's Stewart pointing at a picture of Beck and circling an index finger around his ear. And it pisses me off.

No one in Stewart's entire machine thought twice about invoking the experiences of an entire group of people who are already oppressed and using them for their own purposes. This kind of language only serves to reinforce the existing and damaging stigma against mental illness. It both pathologizes the lack of critical thought characteristic of Glenn Beck's particular brand of bigoted conservatism, in some ways removing personal responsibility from individuals who choose to adhere to that political ideology, and fails to actually address the flaws behind it. At the same time, it reinforces that crazy is universally a bad thing. Crazy needs to be eliminated to fix America.

And what about the 26.2% of Americans who experience a diagnosable mental illness in a given year, Mr. Stewart? You're telling one out of every four people: your experiences and opinions are not valuable. Your experiences are worth less than mine. That's a terribly progressive message to be sending.

How difficult would it have been to title the event differently? "Rally to Restore Reason"? "Rally to Restore Common Sense"? Probably not terribly taxing.

(Why am I posting about this here? Because if 26.2% of Americans experience mental illness in a given year, probably half or so of those are women. I can't fight for women's rights unless I fight for all women's rights. For more on how mental illness and disability in general are a feminist issue, I recommend this post at The Curvature, this post at The Gimp Parade, and the archives at FWD/Forward.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

feminism, beauty standards, and compromise

Hey, people. I originally posted this to my tumblr (where I often blog or reblog about issues related to feminism--it's great for collecting links or relevant posts) but felt it was relevant to repost here, especially given Kenyon's particular fashion scene and the effort that often goes into even getting ready for class.

--

Today in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class we had the beginnings of a really interesting conversation about the performance of femininity and cultural beauty standards and rituals (before we were cut short by time constraints). It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve become more involved with both feminism and fatshion online.

I tend to justify the amount of energy I put into beauty/fashion by arguing that as a fat woman, it’s subversive of me to do so. It’s transgressive for me to be well-dressed and happy in public, because the vast majority of society believes that fat women don’t deserve to dress well or aren’t worthy of being held to the same beauty standards as other women.

But I’m well aware that it would be equally or more transgressive to stop performing femininity and continue to be happy. I continue to perform femininity in large part because it is the easier choice for me. It is easier for me to be considered conventionally attractive and conventionally well-dressed than to wear whatever I feel like wearing regardless of the consequences.

I can push the envelope in small ways: I can wear leggings with tunics, and clothing that is similarly both trendy and revealing of my fat body; I can stop shaving my legs, and go bare-legged in short skirts with my legs all hairy; I can wear my curly hair down around my shoulders even though it takes up a lot more space than advertising and current fashion suggests it should.

But I’m not going to shave my head or get a buzz-cut, even though I want to, because in six or so months I’ll be interviewing for my first real, grown-up jobs, and I need to look like society’s image of someone mature, and responsible, and conventional, and that means having an actual hairstyle, not just a few months of stubble. And when I go to those interviews, I’m going to put on tinted moisturizer and pressed powder and blush and eyeshadow and mascara and eyeliner.

Hell, tomorrow, I will put on mascara and eyeliner, and put goop in my frizzy, thick, curly hair to “tame” it and feel like a horrible feminist while simultaneously feeling horribly self-conscious of my hairy legs. As women, as feminists, we are constantly presented with impossible choices. I don’t think there are any right answers here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Favorite Blogs

Hey everyone!

A few people at the meeting on Sunday asked for blog recommendations. I have a few that I read regularly and will list here, but if you have favorites, please post them in the comments!

Feministing: Young Feminists Blogging, Organizing, Kicking Ass
http://www.feministing.com
Oh, Feministing! Feministing is a great blog to start reading when you're interested in activism and want a broad variety of news from a feminist perspective. Jessica Valenti and Courtney Martin (speakers at Kenyon last year) are both editors, as is Jaclyn Friedman (coming September 24th).

Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.
http://www.jezebel.com
Jezebel is my "I should be doing reading for class but I'd rather look at pictures of puppies and read feminist critique of popular culture" fix.

Yes Means YES!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape
http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/
This blog lists many contributors but the most frequent is
Thomas Macaulay Millar, a pseudonymous writer who tackles the same issues as the book Yes Means YES! with an awesome feminist perspective.

Racialicious
http://www.racialicious.com/
Racialicious focuses on the intersection of popular culture and race.

Emily Nagoski, Sex Nerd
http://enagoski.wordpress.com/
Emily's blog is particularly interesting because she is a health and sexuality educator and comes from a scientific perspective on many sexual issues.

Vagina Pagina: Vulva la revolucion!
http://www.vaginapagina.com/
Vagina Pagina is not a blog but rather an online community (started on Livejournal) "that offers a supportive, progressive, body- and sex-positive environment in which to discuss issues related to female sexual and reproductive health and wellness." Vagina Pagina has innumerable informative resources on these topics and is an awesome place to go for questions about health and sexual wellbeing.


My current favorite blog is not explicitly feminist or gender-focused at all but just for fun: The Non-Consumer Advocate (http://www.thenonconsumeradvocate.com) is a fantastic blog about one woman's experiences with consumption and her attempts to consume less and more consciously.

I'm interested in seeing what blogs you all read and what you think of the ones I listed here, so let me know in the comments!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dispatch from the Front

Just moved in to home sweet Crozier. Unfortunately it smells musty, kind of like dead cat lady. Hopefully we will be able to remedy that before everyone joins us!

I'm excited to see you all in the 'bier. Have a wonderful rest of the summer.

Alicia

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Girls Will Be Boys: Projecting Societal Conceptions of Gender onto Children

On my way to work the other morning, I overheard a really unsettling conversation on a radio talk show. The hosts were in the midst of a discussion about Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt's 4-year-old daughter, Shiloh. Normally, I don't get involved in celebrity gossip, but this caught my attention for several reasons. First, who the heck talks about a 4-year-old on national, local, or any kind of radio? Secondly, don't we all have better things to do and bigger problems to worry about? Above all, though, I was particularly intrigued and disturbed by their discussion of Shiloh's gender presentation.Apparently, it is a huge-freaking-deal that Shiloh Jolie-Pitt dresses in tracksuits and wants her hair cut short. The radio commentators suggested that Shiloh, who was recently spotted in a pair of boy's swimming trunks, is becoming "a little dyke." This issue is, in fact, so pressing that not only have DJs devoted minutes of their shows to the Shiloh J.P. lesbian conspiracy, but trusted news sources (Life & Style, US Weekly, People) have followed suit. Life & Style brought to the forefront the question that has clearly been on all of our minds: through allowing Shiloh to wear clothes marketed for boys and not exposing her to enough "girlie things," are Brad and Angelina ruining their child's life? Why would they do this to her? Stop being totally unfit parents and put the girl in a dress already!

My limited knowledge of and level of concern for the Pitt-Jolie family not withstanding, let me tell you that I absolutely do not care what Shiloh chooses to wear, say, or do. As a matter of fact, I have very few limitations to what I find acceptable in the realm of childhood self-expression. I was a wild woman, as my parents allowed me to dress myself, and I came up with all sorts of ensembles featuring wacky hats, mixed patterns, and gratuitous accessories. But through this experimentation, especially at an age when I was still mostly unaware of all that is trendy or socially acceptable, I became completely confident in any way I chose to present myself to the world. Therefore, it blows my mind that full-grown adults utilize the choices of one little girl, who is unknowingly and unintentionally in the public eye, to launch discussions of what is and isn't acceptable for girls and boys.

This whole "is she or isn't she a girl?" controversy makes it remarkably evident that gender policing begins at an incredibly young age. From the moment we are wrapped in a pink or blue blanket and welcomed into the world to the time when we are able to make our own informed decisions and analyses, we are under the careful guidance of the adults in our lives. They are the ones who will teach us how we should and shouldn't interact with the rest of the world, and will help us shape our future beliefs and senses. And to make this impact, we can't just worry about what our kids are wearing. We have to worry about what they're playing with:


















(Above: one of the bestselling boy's toys and of the bestselling girl's toys on target.com)

We have to worry about what they're reading:



















We even have to worry about what they're watching, thinking, eating... we have to worry a lot. If we are not extra vigilant, our children will become the next feature on the KISS FM morning show.

We give little girls purses and credit cards so they can practice going into debt after one too many shopping sprees & applying their lipstick while weaving through morning traffic. We give little boys miniature axes and tools to they can practice putting their lives in danger while pursuing heroic professions. We give little girls books such as the Twilight series so they can daydream about becoming a two-dimensional character who waits for a mysterious man to sweep her off of her feet, teaching them lessons that will no doubt trickle into their day to day lives. We give little boys books such as The Day My Butt Went Psycho (which is, mind you, based on a true story) so that they can not only laugh about the unsurpassed humor which is the runaway buttocks, but so that they can find pleasure in reading as an escape from what is real. Granted, these are all exaggerations and generalizations, but what we can draw from them is that we treat girls and boys much differently (duh...), and therefore, expect different things from them.

By putting these examples in place, we are telling children that girls and boys will want to do, say, wear, and be different things. By not having prevalent examples of possible transgressions for these norms, we are saying to kids that some things are just for boys and some are just for girls. And this is how children learn to police gender. If a girl, like Shiloh, wants to wear pants, it is apparently okay to call her out for being out of the ordinary. If a boy wanted to read Twilight, he might be singled out as odd or even queer. It makes me sad that children learn these labels from adults, and that they become experts at identifying gender at a very young age.

We project our notions of what is right and wrong for different genders onto our children because we don't want them to stand out for not cooperating with these unwritten rules. But through doing this, aren't we just limiting the creativity and expressive ability of future generations? Is there a way we can avoid this, or are gender norms such a built-in component in society that it is impossible not to acknowledge it? Do you think it's possible to raise gender-neutral children? Even though I am less than optimistic after hearing the offensive commentary on the radio the other day, I would like to hear your thoughts. How can we make a move toward gender acceptance or neutrality, especially in terms of children?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Defending Photoshop

Observe Lindsay's magical moving bellybutton!
Yesterday I read this article on Gizmodo: UK's Girl Scouts Cry for New Photoshopped-Images Law for Airbrushed Celebrities. We've heard it before--not only do skinny models perpetuate unrealistic expectations for media-vulnerable girls (and boys), but Photoshop helps make them even skinnier and more flawless.

I'm not a huge fan of these arguments to begin with because blaming thin models for a world of self-image and body issues seems rather narrow-minded. Saying that Barbies and Kate Moss are the sole causes of things like eating disorders overlooks the complexities of body issues, ignores the fact that society perpetuates ideas about desirable physical characteristics in other ways, and doesn't give girls enough credit (are all of us really so easily brainwashed?). I also dislike the way that some advertisements have now begun using the term "real women" when portraying models and actresses who are "curvy." First of all because they still only use women who fit a specific beauty standard, and second because...GUYS, ALL WOMEN ARE REAL. Are we supposed to believe that the thin ones are just holograms?

But back to the point, which is that "Photoshop" has become synonymous with all-out photo manipulation--it's a magic genie that puts embarrassing things in your friends' hands, pops absent family members into group pictures, and, of course, tucks in that model's tummy and erases wrinkles.


I'm not denying that Photoshop is used to make a lot of things totally unrealistic, but I think that some vehement, anti-Photoshop consumers forget that Photoshop, like any superpower, can be used for good or for evil. Let's talk 'shop:

Photographs are not perfect representations of the world as it is. Yes, they can be very accurate, and they can help us understand things that were very difficult or impossible to see pre-photography. But there will always be something that changes when you compress a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional one. The human eye is incredibly sophisticated, and while cameras can do a lot of things that eyes can't, a camera will never perfectly mimic the way the eye and brain perceive the world.

We all know that a photograph of a beautiful landscape, however lovely the photograph may be, is never quite as good as observing the landscape for yourself. Yes, part of that is the experience of being there--the smells, the sounds, all interacting with and enhancing your sight--but part of that is the simple fact that your eye notices far different things about the landscape and edits it for your brain in different ways than the photograph will. Same with people--when you're interacting with or even merely observing a person, you see that person as a three-dimensional object, and your eye often glosses over certain things without your notice.

During the summer, I work as a self-employed photographer. Most of the pictures I take are senior portraits for kids I know from high school. Recently I shot with a friend-of-a-friend, a girl I met the day of the shoot. Most clients do expect that I'll edit their pictures, because studios do airbrush the hell out of seniors, and I have to compete. And hey, it's your senior portrait, the one that'll be printed in the yearbook, the one people will remember you by. You want to look good.

But I also edit in Photoshop because there are things that show up in photographs that simply aren't noticeable in real life. When I started to flip through the pictures of my new client, I noticed some pimples on her forehead and some tiny hairs below her lip. I wasn't even zoomed in--it's just the way the light highlighted those features. I'd shot with this girl and talked to her for hours. Not once did I observe any of the flaws now glaring at me from the images. In real life, she had great skin and glossy black hair. In many of the photos, her pimples stood out, flyaway hairs (basically invisible to the eye in real life) distracted immensely, and the evening light gave her shiny hair a blue tint.

So yeah, I Photoshopped her pictures. I lightened shadows that fell across her face, I smoothed over the pimples and the facial hair, and took the blue out of her hair. I didn't do it to make her look unlike herself, I did it to make her look more like herself.

(People also ignore the fact that photographers manipulated photographs long before Photoshop. Heck, tools like Dodge and Burn are named for the darkroom processes that preceded them.)


There is, of course, a slippery slope. How do you even look at an image and decide if the camera has put too much or too little emphasis on a feature? If you can airbrush a distracting zit, is it okay to airbrush cellulite or wrinkles because they also wouldn't be as noticeable in person?

I maintain, though, that you can't give Photoshop itself a bad name. A "Photoshopped photo" isn't necessarily one that's been given excessive treatment with the liquify tool. Instead of banning photo manipulation or requiring a disclaimer, can't we educate people, especially children, about the ways that advertisers can change the appearance of an image--and why they do it?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Changing the Face of Feminism

I have spent the majority of my college years in fairly feminist-friendly environments. I've surrounded myself with optimistic, activist-oriented, awesome friends, and I've had pretty open-minded and liberal coworkers/bosses. Words like "slut" and expressions like "that's so gay" hardly ever enter the vernacular, and no one blinks an eye if I don't shave my legs for days, weeks, months on end (though, I should add, showering is a different story.) While at Kenyon we may complain about the attitude of the student body toward feminism, I've gotta say that all in all, things have only improved since my first year. I'd even go so far as to say (dare I?) that Kenyon is becoming an increasingly feminist campus in a lot of ways, mostly because of the perseverance and dedication of the student body to change the way things work in the 'Bier.

So imagine my surprise (saturated with sarcasm) when I attempt to re-enter the "real world" and am bombarded with the consumer-ready image of the angry feminist. Let's take a look at some of the gems I've been privy to during this summer break:

1) Women's Studies: The Horrors of Feminism Exposed
videoFor those of you who haven't seen this preview until now, I am sorry. I just had to share this because it has it all: lesbianism, man-hating, yoga poses in the forest, faux-philosophical conversation about the sexes, and axe murder. If there is a cliché I left out, it is probably because I couldn't keep track of them all past the first 20 seconds of the trailer. To be honest, I cannot remember a time in which I sat in Crozier in a position other than the lotus pose, and I must not like anyone other than women if I spend that much time in the Women's Center. Go figure.

2) MTV's Disaster Date: Pop Culture Portrays the Feminist

For starters, let's not talk about the fact that I actually suffered through an episode of Disaster Date. To my credit, I was home sick and craving mindless television, but nonetheless I must admit that I was intrigued. The premise of Disaster Date, and pretty much any other hidden-camera reality show, is that someone has secretly put their friend in a potentially humiliating and uncomfortable situation. Contestants are set up on blind dates with actors who exhibit every characteristic and behavior that completely irks them. Take for example Antoine, the man who cannot stand "girls who don't shave their legs," "girls who boss him around," and, most of all, "feminists." That's my kind of man right there.

Long story short (you can check out the episode for yourself if you're so inclined: http://www.mtv.com/videos/disaster-date-seas-3-ep-9/1643951/playlist.jhtml), the actor goes to extremes to be exactly the type of "womyn" that Antoine cannot stand. She yells at a man who refers to the waitress by pet names, she displays her hairy legs during the meal thereby causing Antoine to gag, and she shows off her new ink: "WOMYN" in large block letters. Thank goodness this is only a prank, and Antoine walks away about $50 richer for suffering through his not-even-an-hour alone with the feminist wacko.

3) The Good Ol' General Public
While this is something I'd better get used to dealing with on a pretty regular basis, I still experience a lot of frustration in terms of my day to day dealings with people. Whether it's the oh-so-witty responses when I reveal that I am a Women's and Gender Studies Major (i.e.: "What are you gonna do with that? Be a lesbian?" Ha! What an EXCELLENT retort!) or the benevolent sexism of people asking me to take care of others or fetch them coffee because I am the only woman in the room, I have had to devote a great deal of effort to internalizing my feelings. Don't get me wrong, I speak up with I need to, but there are times when I have learned that things are best left unsaid.

The worst part of this, though, is that people make jokes about rape or domestic abuse or something else terrible, and they'll do it simply to get a rise out of me. The words "Don't mess with her, she's a feminist" get tossed around from time to time, and people make a big deal out of my beliefs even when I don't say anything about them. I feel like I'm on constant surveillance, that how I react and behave is continuously being monitored. If I slip up, it's a big deal, and if I don't react at all, it's an even bigger deal.


This is nothing earth-shattering or shocking in the least, but it's the sad truth that some people just expect feminists to adhere to the stereotype. It's sad to me that even in 2010, people think that simply the fact that they might "like cars and beer" (thank you, Lady Gaga quotation from long ago) or might shave their legs instantly means that they have been disqualified from participating in feminism. When will there be a day when feminism really is perceived as being for everybody? What will it take for society to depict feminists of all genders, ethnicites, sexes, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and ages? Why is our go-to image still a loud, angry college or middle-aged white woman with hairy legs?

We've tried the "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" campaign. We've been open about our views with people who know us for more than just our political agendas. We've hosted and planned events and programs targeted at wider populations with the hope that someday, we might capture the attention of someone who would have never attended something branded with the label of "feminism." But how can we start to change the image that has been ascribed to us? It's easy to cling to the label "feminist" because if offers a sense of solidarity and strength, but how can we step away from it for long enough to reclaim it and change its meaning? What is the most effective way to show people that we are more than what the word deems us to be?

The rest of the world is not necessarily like our cozy little haven of Crozier or Kenyon. While not always hostile or intentionally negative toward the cause, people beyond the movement do not necessarily want to hear what it's all about. Keeping that in mind, I think that the reclamation should begin in a place of comfort and solidarity, and that we should work together to create a new vision for today's modern feminist.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Today in What On Earth?: Jury Decides Consent is Not Required for Girls Gone Wild

Pretty much the only thing I can do in response to reading this is spew expletives.
They said she gave implicit consent by being at the bar, and by participating in the filming - though she never signed a consent form, and she can be heard on camera saying "no, no" when asked to show her breasts.

[cut]

So let this be a lesson to us all. "Consent" is a flexible thing - at least in the eyes of the St. Louis courts. No means yes, and assault means it's okay to roll the cameras. If there were ever a time to get righteously angry, it's now.

In what world does this make any sense? What can we do about this? We can have conversations about victim-blaming, and sexual assault, and what it means to give consent, and what it means to live in a rape culture. But that really doesn't seem like enough--not to me, not in this case. What do we do with our righteous anger?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Romantic Gestures," Stalking and Dating Violence

A piece in Jezebel today raises a crucial point: Relentless Stalking is Not Romantic. Author Anna North outlines a critical reading of a Nerve interview in which Juliet Linderman tells the story of how her parents met: her mother, Paula, spurned the increasingly desperate advances of her father, Bob, who continued to pursue her under the guise of friendship until, eventually, she just gave in.

What turned out to be love for Bob and Paula could just as easily be stalking for another couple, and it's disturbing how often stories of romance — especially in the movies, but in this case also in real life — involve inexorable pursuit against the woman's wishes. Bob's concluding words are particularly telling: Partly this is because "we met, we both really liked each other, we got married" doesn't make a very good story, but partly it's because love's supposed to mean more if dudes have to forcibly wrest it from women. Like him right away? You're easy. Have the gall to actually pursue him yourself? You're desperate. Is it any wonder that men stalk women, or fail to take no for an answer, when we're constantly told that love is a decision a dude makes and a woman eventually, reluctantly agrees to?
And is it any wonder that, steeped in these particular cultural narratives, women being stalked can fail to recognize that it's wrong? The story we're told is that women don't know what they really want, that "no, I'm not interested in you" means "but keep trying, even when I'm ignoring your calls and refusing to speak to you except to plead with you to go the hell away."

I had a friend in high school who was the target of several men engaged in this kind of behavior, and there were days when she would come to school and say, "Joe came to my house at three in the morning yesterday and when I wouldn't come outside, he just sat there in his car," or "I had a horrible nightmare about Billy and woke up screaming." I felt so angry and powerless--I can only imagine how she felt. I had suggested restraining orders, but there wasn't concrete proof of danger to her, and we didn't actually know what was required. There was nowhere for her to go to make this stop.

In other words, this kind of narrative--stalking as love--sets women up to be victims of dating violence, to experience very real distress even if their bodies are never physically threatened. It degrades women's sense of self-worth when our right to live the way we want to live is devalued compared to your right to harass us.

Bottom line: it shouldn't be normal for our wants and needs to be ignored.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quick Hit: Take a Break for Activist Stretching

Let's face it: we're all aspiring activists. I don't know when it hit you, but I had my first "aha!" moment (of which I'd have many, many more) when I staged a "boycott" against McDonald's at 5 years old. Whether or not my reasons for doing so were noble (and believe me, they weren't), I stuck to the ban and made sure to give friends & family a piece of my mind about the corporation.

While the issues have changed from fast food to feminism, this activist streak has only become more prominent in my life and is reflected in the things I care about. Like many of you, I have devoted a pretty huge piece of myself to these values- I'm sure you know how this goes. You attend numerous meetings about organizations and projects tailored to your specific "special interests." You read books and blogs and magazines and newspapers and anything you can get your hands on, just to stay up-to-date or to have new fodder for discussion and debate. You're the one who can't have a conversation about art or music or movies or sports without bringing up issues such as the oppressive nature of masculinity or the objectification of women's bodies. You eat, breathe, sleep, live your passions to the point where you can't see how anyone else could possibly not value them as much. I get it because I've been there. Heck, I get it because I am there. And being "there" is sometimes tiring.

I'm always inspired to keep on keepin' on by the amazing activists I come across, one of whom is the amazing, gorgeous hellraiser Bevin Branlandingham. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Branlandingham, check out her website, queerfatfemme.com. Bevin is an activist for women of all sexual orientations and of all body types, and her performances are moving and mind-blowing. One little snippet I came across through her blog is this demo of what she calls "activist stretching." While it's a little cheesy, I have to say that I found it incredibly refreshing. All of the moves remind you of exactly what you're trying to do all of the crazy activist things you do, and sometimes all you need is a little reminder.

So take a deep breath and remind yourself that we're all in this together! We're working toward the same goals, and there's something really refreshing and invigorating about that thought. I'm thinking we should start every Crozier meeting off with this stretch next year. Yeah? Yeah.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Article on Don't Ask, Don't policy

You may have been keeping up with news on the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military. Fellow Kenyon student, Linda Mullin, has written a really great, heart-felt article about what she thinks for the facebook group for balancednation.org, a political website with which I'm affiliated. I thought some of you might be interested in reading the article and discussing it since you all have such great debate skills! It also would help me out a lot to get more people joining. Thanks everyone!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gaga for feminism

Last week a Facebook friend posted a link to a New York Times Opinionator post that claims, "It’s easy to construe [Lady] Gaga as suggesting that frank self-objectification is a form of real power." The author, Nancy Bauer, discusses Lady Gaga not as a feminist heroine but questions if her bizarre performances are "an expression of Lady Gaga’s strength as a woman or an exercise in self-objectification." The discussion takes a couple different forms--first, Bauer relates Gaga's highly sexual antics to worries that women of our age have been hearing over and over since the age of ten: young girls in modern society face pressure from the evil media to be skinny, pretty, submissive, etc.
Visit an American college campus on a Monday morning and you’ll find any number of amazingly ambitious and talented young women wielding their brain power, determined not to let anything — including a relationship with some needy, dependent man — get in their way.  Come back on a party night, and you’ll find many of these same girls (they stopped calling themselves “women” years ago) wielding their sexual power, dressed as provocatively as they dare, matching the guys drink for drink — and then hook-up for hook-up.
Lady Gaga idealizes this way of being in the world.  But real young women, who, as has been well documented, are pressured to make themselves into boy toys at younger and younger ages, feel torn.  They tell themselves a Gaga-esque story about what they’re doing.  When they’re on their knees in front of a worked-up guy they just met at a party, they genuinely do feel powerful — sadistic, even.  After all, though they don’t stand up and walk away, they in principle could.  But the morning after, students routinely tell me, they are vulnerable to what I’ve come to call the “hook-up hangover.”  They’ll see the guy in the quad and cringe.  Or they’ll find themselves wishing in vain for more — if not for a prince (or a vampire, maybe) to sweep them off their feet, at least for the guy actually to have programmed their number into his cell phone the night before.  When the text doesn’t come, it’s off to the next party.
Then Bauer takes a philosophical turn, discussing self-objectification in the context of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
When it comes to her incredibly detailed descriptions of women’s lives, Beauvoir repeatedly stresses that our chances for happiness often turn on our capacity for canny self-objectification.  Women are — still — heavily rewarded for pleasing men.  When we make ourselves into what men want, we are more likely to get what we want, or at least thought we wanted.  Unlike Sartre, Beauvoir believed in the possibility of human beings’ encountering each other simultaneously as subjects and as objects.  In fact, she thought that truly successful erotic encounters positively demand that we be “in-itself-for-itself” with one another, mutually recognizing ourselves and our partners as both subjects and objects.  The problem is that we are inclined to deal with the discomfort of our metaphysical ambiguity by splitting the difference:  men, we imagine, will relentlessly play the role of subjects; women, of objects.  Thus our age-old investment in norms of femininity and masculinity.
I think my main beef with this article is that Bauer bases her "self-objectification" judgment of Gaga on 1) Gaga's unclear personal view of feminism and, most annoyingly, 2) Gaga's (and Beyonce's) skimpy outfits in the "Telephone" video.
Gaga plays a model-skinny and often skimpily dressed inmate of a highly sexualized women’s prison who, a few minutes into the film, is bailed out by Beyoncé.
...
The man who drools at women’s body parts is punished, but then again so is everyone else in the place.  And if this man can be said to drool, then we need a new word for what the camera is doing to Gaga’s and Beyoncé’s bodies for upwards of 10 minutes.
Bauer does acknowledge that "Gaga is explicit in her insistence that, since feminine sexuality is a social construct, anyone, even a man who’s willing to buck gender norms, can wield it," but she seems to view provocative dress as a big no-no for young ladies like ourselves and Gaga.

(Her assumptions the first paragraph I quoted are particularly annoying to me. I am a young lady in college with a reasonable amount of talent and ambition, wielding my brain power and all that. I haven't replaced "woman" with "girl" and though I like boys (or men) I've never desired or felt pressured to become a "toy" for one of them. And I'm not matching all the boys hook-up for hook-up, even if I choose to wear a low-cut top and drink. Also, like Gaga, I am thin and well-proportioned. That doesn't mean either of us has become a prisoner of an evil oppressive beauty standard. So butt out and stop assuming things about my life/worldview/self-esteem. That brain power I'm wielding? It enables me to do things I call Not Being Stupid and Identifying The Difference Between Lady Gaga And Real Life. Who is telling journalists these lies about us?)

I think the "Telephone" video makes it awfully clear that Gaga and Beyonce aren't doing what Bauer discusses using Sartre and Beauvoir, that women are "engaging in [sex], especially when it’s unidirectional, as a form of power." In fact, they're doing the opposite. They may be in a "highly sexualized" environment but they're not doing a damn thing to please any men. They happen to be kinda busy. (K-kinda busy, k-kinda busy.)
Usually when we walk about pop songs objectifying women we mean rap and hip-hop lyrics that talk about women's body parts, compare women to cars and other material items, encourage them to perform sexual favors, blah blah blah. It seems clear to me that Gaga's lyrics, costumes, and videos aren't presenting her as another ass to slap; she's all about kicking ass.
Thoughts?
 
Bonus link, one of my faves: Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists, and Weirdos.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Seventeen Magazine Project

A girl blogs about her personal, month-long experiment of following the "gospel of Seventeen Magazine." Check it out!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quick Hit: South African doctor invents female condoms with 'teeth' to fight rape

So, a link to this news story just popped up in my Facebook news feed with the headline "South African doctor invents female condoms with 'teeth' to fight rape." The condom was invented by Dr. Sonnet Ehlers in South Africa in consultation with engineers, gynecologists, and psychologists:

The woman inserts the latex condom like a tampon. Jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line its inside and attach on a man's penis during penetration, Ehlers said.

Once it lodges, only a doctor can remove it -- a procedure Ehlers hopes will be done with authorities on standby to make an arrest.

While I want to view this as good news--a way to empower women, a story of women empowering women (it's far too rare to see a news story about a woman inventing a nifty gadget, in my opinion)--I have very strong reservations. The Rape-aXe (yes, that is its actual name) reinforces the damaging view that rape is a "women's issue" rather than a societal problem and seems likely to focus attention on individual incidents rather than the underlying social structures that lead to violence against women. Furthermore, I can see far too easily how it can be used in victim-blaming: "If she really didn't want to be raped, she should have worn a Rape-aXe. To protect herself." And let's not forget that 77% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows--and isn't necessarily likely to view as a potential rapist, meaning women may not be wearing these when they could be most helpful.

So overall, I guess I'm glad this product should available sometime in the near future, especially since it prevents fluid exchange, providing women with protection from the more physical aspects of rape--pregnancy and STIs--but it's a tragic statement about the world we live in that it's going to find a market.

Update: There's also a really interesting and vibrant discussion happening at one of my favorite blogs, Shakesville.

Summer Reading

I've been the token feminist among my friends at home since I got into a fight about feminism at the lunch table at the mature and wise age of 15. It usually means nothing more than comments about leg hair, but this summer some of my friends are starting to think I might be onto something. I've gotten a few requests from both men and women for some reading recommendations. I sent my friend Andrew off to Colorado with Feminism is for Everybody and a few articles. My friend Olivia is getting started on Yes Means Yes! which is less of a feminist intro and more of a generally awesome book.

The books, articles, and zines I've focused on most recently have been pretty theoretical and specific; in other words, they wouldn't make great introductions.
But I'd like to know what you all would recommend. This could also spill over into additions to the Crozier book collection, which we're hoping to make better use of next year.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Women, Society and the Sciences: Smarts or Socialization?

Generally, there’s a fair amount of hand-wringing over the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, especially now that the myth that “women can’t do science” has been dispelled—or has it? In the Science section of last week’s New York Times, John Tierney wrote about a recent finding that high-achieving boys outnumber girls substantially in the top 5% of math and science scores on the SAT and ACT, and that they have done so in a relatively stable way for the past twenty years.

In light of a piece of legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives which would “require the White House science adviser to oversee regular ‘workshops to enhance gender equity,’” Tierney asked,

1) Would it be safe during the “interactive discussions” for someone to mention the new evidence supporting [former Harvard University president Dr. Lawrence H. Summers’] controversial hypothesis about differences in the sexes’ aptitude for math and science?

2) How could these workshops reconcile the “existence of gender bias” with careful studies that show that female scientists fare as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts in receiving academic promotions and research grants?

In his exploration of the first of these questions, however, Tierney employs a relatively narrow definition of bias. He fails to demonstrate understanding of the subtler implications of experiencing a biased environment as a minority. Although that’s not exactly surprising, it is troubling, because the message I heard growing up wasn’t that women can’t do science—it’s just that they don’t. Bill Nye the Science Guy is just that, after all: a guy.

A girl who never had a female science teacher or pediatrician might never picture herself in that role. And a girl who knows from the age of twelve that she wants to be a second-grade teacher isn’t going to be motivated to try as hard to do well in her science class, because it’s never going to serve her, and it doesn’t hold her interest. In that way, the gender disparity in STEM fields has a tendency to be self-reinforcing.

The bottom line is that if Tierney looks for bias against women in STEM fields, I don’t think he’s going to find very much of it. The problem isn’t keeping women who enter STEM fields from leaving; it’s getting them to enter in the first place.

Getting women to enter STEM fields in the first place circles back to the natural-aptitude argument. Certainly there are different kinds of intelligences, and it may be that different innate aptitudes are distributed differentially between the genders. As a society, we treat boys and girls radically differently literally from the day they are born, and there is no way to predict how that may influence what happens in the classroom later on.

To me, it seems far more likely that the way we socialize male and female children encourages one kind of thinking in boys, one that may be more suited to STEM fields, and another kind of thinking in girls. I don’t think it’s valid to even consider the question of natural aptitude in a society where the vast majority of toys and children’s books are gendered, because there’s no telling what kind of effect that has on the brain. We don’t have anything to compare it to.

At the very least, we ought to hold off on drawing biologically-based conclusions until the gender gap in math and science scores is eliminated. Even if the theory that greater variability leads to more male super-achievers in math and science holds water, the gender gap in mean scores speaks to me of the tremendous and well-documented influence of socialization on achievement.

This week’s follow-up piece supports the conclusions I drew from last week’s column, and features this gem in the closing paragraphs: If more women prefer to study psychology and medicine than physics and engineering, why is that a problem for Washington to fix? I’d love to see more girls pursuing careers in science (and more women reading science columns), but I wish we’d encourage their individual aspirations instead of obsessing about group disparities. While I don’t necessarily think that mandatory workshops are going to fix the problem—because, really, mandatory workshops?—this reads like he intentionally missed the point.


In other words, Mr. Tierney, your privilege is showing. Until we can demonstrate unequivocally that various forms of systemic bias in our education and employment structures have have zero effect on the apparent finding that "more women prefer to study psychology and medicine," this is systemic discrimination, which makes it absolutely Washington's problem.


(Further reading: Dr. Isis takes on Tierney here.)


Sadly, Men Still Dominate

Great article! I have to say I do still think this is all a little ridiculous. Women are dominating very few fields. As the article says, "Near the top of the jobs pyramid, of course, the upward march of women stalls. Prominent female CEOs, past and present, are so rare that they count as minor celebrities." Even in professions men are supposedly not "suited for," they always seem to hold the highest positions.

Here's an example: females make up a very small percentage of restaurant chefs. You can even see this reflected on the food network. The female chefs that come to mind include Rachel Ray (30 Minute Meals) and Sandra Lee (Semi-Homemade Cooking). Obviously, they are not portraying females as highly-skilled chefs. Check out the list of chefs and programs: http://www.foodnetwork.com/chefs/index.html. The number of shows hosted by women with "easy" or something about home in the title is mind-blowing. Other examples include teaching (women are elementary school teachers while men are college professors) and the medical field (women are nurses, men are doctors). Of course, these are generalizations, but I really don't think women are climbing the ranks and reversing roles so quickly as "The End of Men" claims.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The End of Men?

Meg, thanks for posting that! But I'm wondering--what about this article has you enraged? That "women’s rising power is perceived as a threat"? The suggestion that the present upset of the "traditional" system is sinister--that we new, strong, educated women are going to cause the downfall of modern society by crushing men's intelligence/libidos/dominance? The question, "But what if equality isn’t the end point?" That--had the author been someone other than Hanna Rosin--a reader might perceive the article's tone as pat-on-the-head-aren't-you-cute condescending? That our own Jennifer Delahunty presents some controversial issues in the world of college admissions? Do you believe that the article inflates the American woman's actual progress? (Not to mention that the key word there is "American"--these claims hardly apply worldwide.)

I don't think that women are quite as close to dominant-sex status as Rosin suggests. (If we're such hotshots, where are our women presidents?) But the realization that women are earning a majority of college degrees and becoming the majority of the workforce isn't 1) new or 2) terribly upsetting. I saw Rosin discuss this article on The Colbert Report and she made some good points--that these are mostly observations, and we should consider them as signs that we should consider certain changes in the workplace, such as better access to childcare. Here's the clip, complete with Stephen microwaving his boxers:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Testoster-Ruin - Hanna Rosin
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

The suggestion that women are better suited to a post-industrial economy seems defensible, but what precisely women are "suited for" has been up for debate for a while. We used to be "suited for" staying at home to cook, clean, and raise the kids.

I think that what's closer to the truth is that humans are on the whole pretty darn good at adapting, and we can generally find ourselves to be suited for whatever economy we find ourselves in; our culture (and our perceptions of gender) evolve with it. Maybe right now, in 2010, women are better prepared by the culture of the new millennium to take on a post-industrial society. That doesn't mean the next century is going to see us taking over in some kind of all-castrating Lady Revolution.

But Rosin also said--prompted by Colbert--that we might start seeing affirmative action favoring men. Obviously it's already happening in college admissions offices. Is that what the fight for equality is going to become? Some kind of seesaw between the privileged and those in need of a leg up?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

THE END OF MEN!

My Dad gets The Atlantic and the cover had this article. I was enraged! See what you all think.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Legacy of the Guiche

Welcome to the blog of the Crozier Center for Women at Kenyon College!

This is a test- actual posts to come.

Yours,
Crozier