"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Friday, June 29, 2007

Feminism Friday: The Origins of "Ms."

Not just the magazine, but the title itself. It's something we tend to take for granted these days, but Eve Kay's new article in The Guardian gets us thinking again about what it means to call yourself "Ms.," how the idea came about, and what an important accomplishment it was for women when the title gained acceptance.
"Miss and Mrs are marks of the old world, reminders of women's second-class status as wives-to-be (Miss) or simply wives (Mrs). If you are a woman who doesn't use Ms - particularly a woman under 30 who has never even thought of it - then ponder this: how do you want to present yourself to the world? Are you an appendage or an appendage-in-waiting? Don't be branded and marked by old-world convention."
I've always liked the idea of Ms. There's just no good reason for women to have to be defined by their marital status while men are not. And both "Miss" and "Mrs." are too full of hidden meanings and connotations for my taste. Ever since I was a little girl, I turned up my nose at the idea of being defined as Mrs. so and so, ESPECIALLY when the title even deprives the female in the relationship of her FIRST name as well (e.g. Mrs. John Smith). Gross. "Miss" didn't bother me quite as much, but then again I was a CHILD. Something about that title now (even though I am not married) just seems so... infantilizing. I'll stick with the Ms., thank you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gretchen Voss: "Why I Chose Abortion"

One of yesterday's feature articles on msn.com totally made me cry. The article (reprinted from an issue of Marie Claire) was "Why I Chose Abortion" by Gretchen Voss, and in it she tells her painful story, speaking on behalf of parents who have made the agonizing decision to terminate their pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities.

"I asked over and over, Are we doing the right thing? Our family -- even my Catholic father and Republican father-in-law, neither of whom were ever pro-choice -- assured us that we were. Politics suddenly became personal -- their daughter's heartbreak, their son's pain, their grandchild's suffering -- and that changed everything."

"Seven months later, in November 2003, 14 weeks into my second pregnancy, I gently rubbed my rounded belly, tears rolling down my cheeks as I watched George W. Bush sign the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act on CNN. It would be at least two more weeks before I could learn via ultrasound if this baby squirming around inside my womb was healthy or not. Taking in the scene, I understood that if this baby were plagued with the same genetic defects as my last, any choices I had were being taken away from me."

I can't even possibly imagine how anyone could not support reproductive rights for women after reading this heartwrenching story.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Feminism Friday: Marriagefest 2007

RhianWren has a great roundup of recent posts about marriage over at Cheerful Megalomaniac. As she notes, June seems to have been the month for feminist bloggers to reflect on matrimony.

To add to her list, there was also Twisty's The Post on Marriage, followed by The Post on the Post on Marriage, and tigtog's "I will...NOT" at Hoyden About Town.

So I thought I would contribute by recommending three great feminist books on the topic:

The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century by Anne Kingston - ALL about the insanity of the Wedding Industrial Complex and a little bit of depressing info about the history and origins of marriage.

I Do, But I Don’t: Walking Down the Aisle Without Losing Your Mind
by Kamy Wicoff - a sort-of-memoir by a young feminist who is struggling to understand and reconcile the entire process of her wedding, from courtship to engagement to wedding planning to the actual big day. I have to warn you that it comes of as slightly classist at times, since the author obviously comes from a family with means (she ends up going for the Vera Wang gown, after all), but her tone is genuine and her struggle makes for a really good read.

The Bitch in the House: 26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood, and marriage ed. Cathi Hanauer - a collection of essays that seem to echo the exact same sentiment of the commenters at Twisty's. Lots of feminist women who married their partners with visions of completely egalitarian marriages and were then in for rather rude awakenings. But I love personal stories, and I loved the book.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I Heart Underdog Stories

"If she were to win the $1 million, Williams says she would spend much of it paying for her daughters' education. The older of her two girls, Jenni, is studying nursing at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and has at least three more years to go until graduation. Sarah, 13, starts high school in the fall and hopes to someday work with animals, Williams says."

I hope she wins.

"The Grammar of Male Violence"

I hate that I haven't been able to find the time to post lately. Especially since there's never any shortage of stuff to write about. For now, though, in lieu of a real post, what I can do is point you to a really great article by Jennie Ruby called The Grammar of Male Violence, all about how the general discourse about "violence against women" tends to highlight the woman's victim status while rendering her male perpetrator(s) invisible.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Don't trust this man!

I'm creeped out right now, because I just realized who Republican presidential candidate Fred Thomson reminds me of:

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It's the evil Lord Vigo from Ghostbusters II!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Battle of the Constitutional Amendments

Today, the New York Times is reporting on vast changes in the U.S. Justice Department's agenda on Civil Rights. It's not especially surprising, considering who the president is, but they've beeen moving further and further away from dealing with cases of racial discrimination and dealing more and more with cases that deal with religious issues.
"We live in a society that is becoming more religiously diverse, even by the hour, said Kevin Seamus Hasson, who founded the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty 12 years ago. So its entirely appropriate and slightly overdue that the Justice Department is paying more attention to the various frictions that increasing religious diversity is causing in the society.

Combating racism remains an important mission, Mr. Hasson said, but one that has changed over the years. "We can now deal with the problems of racism more effectively on a more local level", he argued. 'We dont always need the federal government to come riding over the hill."

Um, right.

So, according to the Justie Department, cases that are more important than fighting racism include "allowing religious organizations like the Child Evangelism Fellowship to have the same access to public school students as nonreligious groups" and pursuing a "pending case from San Diego, [in which] the government defended the city's campground lease to the Boy Scouts, which had been challenged because of the group's religious tenets." (Or maybe it was the Boy Scouts' rampant homophobia the city really had a problem with.)

The article mentions a few cases of combating discrimination against Muslim women who wear hijab or helping people who want to build a mosque or temple in their neighborhoods, but these issues seem like the coverup plan for their real agenda of furthering aims of the Christian Right. And even if I could believe for a second that the intentions are completely noble, I'm still outraged that they're pursuing this agenda at the expense of fighting racism.
"[Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales has increasingly cited his agency's record on behalf of religious causes as among his most important accomplishments, often noting the successful intervention in cases on behalf of people who had suffered discrimination for wearing Muslim head coverings. In speeches, he routinely says that religious freedom is the nation's 'first freedom because our founders saw fit to place it first in the Bill of Rights."

Reading this quote, I was immediately reminded of the amazing book The Language War by Robin Tolmach Lakoff. There's a chapter about polical correctness and hate speech in which Lakoff discusses how conservatives like to lay claim to the first amendment's protection of free speech and then pit it against the equal protection under the law guaranteed by the 14th amendment. And she notes that - disgusting as it is - they think they should come out on top because the first amendment was thought of first.

So what I'm learning here is that only those first ten amendments from the Bill of Rights - the ones that were written by men who saw no problem whatsoever with human slavery and who thought white men should be the only people with any rights - are the only ones we should really care about. Good to know.

Supreme Court Denies Rights for Home-Care Workers

Not only is this a HUGE feminist issue, but a recent Supreme Court ruling has hit me pretty close to home:

Justices say home healthcare aides not entitled to minimum wage, overtime

If I may share a little about myself, I currently work a full-time evening job and go to school part-time in the mornings and afternoons, taking classes in preparation for graduate study. I also squeeze in two five-hour shifts a week for my part-time job, which is in home health care.

I have worked as a home health aide for nearly five years. I should mention that in that time, I have only worked part-time and only with one client, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who do this work to earn their living in the U.S. 90% of them are women; half of them are minorities.

We do not work independently, but as employees of companies to assist disabled and elderly women and men in their own homes with mobility, personal care, household care, special diets, physical therapy regimens, and more. We monitor our clients for health issues and symptoms and report them to their nurses and doctors. Sometimes we are helping folks transition from hospital stays to regaining their independence, and sometimes we know their need for care will continue indefinitely. The demands vary, and the possibilities of what we might encounter or be expected to do are endless. We work closely with clients' family members to make sure health and rehabilitation goals are being met. We undergo drug tests and health screenings to make sure we are fit to work with patients. We are required to maintain advanced CPR and other training credentials, pass regular compliance tests, and submit detailed paperwork about our activities. At my company, we drive to, from, and between our assigned clients' homes (which can be many miles apart) and drive from all over to the central office once a week to turn in our time-sheets and paperwork, all with no reimbursement for mileage or gas. We wear scrubs we purchase ourselves, and we must only work the number of hours the clients are permitted to receive from their health care providers (always a lower number than what they seem to really need).

I have nothing but respect for those who do this work full-time and with many clients. It's a demanding, draining, complicated, and sometimes heartwrenching job, and the care they provide is indispensible.

And the Supreme Court has just upheld a federal labor law that keeps the status of these workers so low that they have no more rights than part-time babysitters. Their decision confirms that home care workers (or "personal attendants," as they call them) have no right to minimum wage or to overtime pay, claiming that paying higher wages and overtime for what they call "companionship services" will put too much of a burden on employers. According to the article, a handful of states have their own laws to protect home care workers, but under federal law, there is no requirement that they do so.

I understand that health care at all levels is expensive, and I get that many companies struggle to provide care under the restraints of for-profit insurance companies. The whole system is so flawed and desperately needs to undergo a complete change. But in the meantime, how can the court justify a decision that perpetuates the suffering of over a million low-wage workers?

Women's Health Update

Cancer researchers have identified that there are, in fact, some symptoms that can alert women to early stages of ovarian cancer. Read about it here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hollywood Politics

Right after posting about this little slice of misogyny from the new movie Knocked Up, I see that Our Bodies, Our Blog has linked to an excellent New York Times article about how Hollywood deals (or rather, doesn't deal) with the issue of abortion.

"Though conservatives regularly accuse Hollywood of being overly liberal on social issues, abortion rarely comes up in film. Real-life women struggling with unwanted pregnancies might consider an abortion, have intense discussions with partners and friends about it and, in most cases, go through with it. But historically and to this day in television and film historians, writers and those in the movie industry say a character in such straits usually conveniently miscarries or decides to keep the baby."
Funny.  My conclusion about a sexist joke in the film was that "art reflects life," but apparently that's not the case when it comes to reproductive choices for women.  When the issue is abortion, art more often reflects conservative "morality."
The article also discusses how abortion has been addressed on television, and it cites the controversial 2004 episodes of the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation that were not aired in the U.S. due to the their treatment of the issue.  The NY Times article about this controversy had this to say:
"The episodes are significant for U.S. television because not only does the 14-year-old Degrassi character choose to have an abortion, she feels no guilt or regret over her decision afterwards. "
I saw the two episodes on YouTube back in the days when you could still find full episodes of things on YouTube, and I can see how they would have had conservatives up in arms.  When Manny discovers she is pregnant, she seeks the counsel of a trusted adult who supportively tells her that no matter what anyone else says, what to do about her pregnancy is ultimately HER decision to make.  Not her parents', not her boyfriend's - but HERS.   And while the young character struggles with her decision and is met with opposition about abortion by one of her best friends, she goes through with the procedure and expresses relief instead of remorse when it is over. 
So even though a reaction of relief is overwhelmingly common among women who obtain this LEGAL procedure in the case of TWO THIRDS of unwanted pregnancies, it was considered too controversial to show on U.S. television.  Even for a show that is known for dealing with tough issues for teens.  Ridiculous.  (I can't get enough of Degrassi, by the way. It so goes there.) 
And one more thing about the movie Knocked Up.  I want to make note of the wisdom of an insightful commenter from my earlier post:
"Personally, I took the title alone as reason enough to steer clear of
this movie--"knocked up" is just about the most insulting term for
pregnancy I can imagine. Such disgustingly violent connotations.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person who thinks this way..."
Somehow, I never fully thought about this one (you know, with sexism being so entrenched in everything and all), but now that it's mentioned, I totallty agree.  I don't think this term was really one that I ever used, but I'll definitely make more of a conscious effort from now on to avoid it.  Thanks, commenter.

Night and Day

The latest post at Biting Giants calls attention to the issue of the ridiculously outdated "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the U.S. military, and it reminded me of how the issue was dealt with at the most recent presidential debates. In case you missed it, or if you want to have a second look to compare the Democrats and Republicans side by side, here you go:

Democratic debate, 6/3/07:

Republican debate, 6/5/07:

Sticks and Stones

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So, I saw Knocked Up last night. It was bursting at the seams with feminist issues, but there's just one joke in the movie I want to call out. There's a part in the movie where a wife interrupts her husband while he's with a group of his male friends and demands to speak with him alone. As he is leaving the room to go speak with her, one of his buddies yells out:

"Don't let the door hit you in the vagina on the way out."

Oh, I get it! It's funny, because having a vagina means being a woman. And being called a woman is an intolerable insult. Nobody wants to be a woman! Especially a husband -- a man who should be "wearing the pants" in the family. He should be telling her what to do! Not the other way around! Ha! *knee-slap*

If only I had a nickel for every time I've heard a male insult another male by calling him female. In a culture where women are socialized to be and to be seen as weaker, saying he's doing something "like a girl" or simply calling him a "pussy" is the best way to cut a man down to size. I was disappointed with the joke, but I can't say it surprised me. Art reflects life. And I suppose art cannot be free of misogyny as long as life is downright full of it.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

It's not about sex. It's about strategy.

If you've been reading this blog for any extended period of time, you will find that when I address issues that are divisive among feminists, my writing often attempts to seek out some sort of common ground. I think that critique and debate among feminists is crucial, but not at the expense of abandoning the goals we have in common. At the end of the day, it's important that we can still be united with each other against sexism, patriarchy, and ALL forms of oppression. So, in keeping with that theme, I thought I would post an excerpt from a much longer essay I just wrote on about the sex work industry:
A topic that cannot go unaddressed in any discussion about sex work is the extreme divide among feminists on the topic. Although their debate is complex, one of the biggest obstacles faced by feminists on opposite sides of the issue can be boiled down to a disagreement between the liberal and the radical. While those who are fighting for the rights of sex-workers might be viewed as radical in the sense that subversive sexual acts are considered more extreme, what feminists who champion sex-work are really fighting for is the right to work within and gain benefits from an oppressive, patriarchal system -- and working within the current system for empowerment (both economic and otherwise) is actually a liberal feminist strategy for helping women survive in a patriarchal society. It is unavoidable that this ideology will conflict with the goals of radical feminists who are more concerned with overthrowing patriarchy altogether than with trying to merely navigate through the oppressive system. Feminists who are most concerned with prostitutes’ rights advocate for the removal of a stigma on behaviors that radical feminists feel are detrimental to all women. While the more liberal-minded “sex-positives” argue that the fact that it is commonplace for women to use sex as currency is a justification that we should eliminate the stigma against the most deliberate practice of this exchange, radical feminists would rather live in a world where no woman would ever be in a position to have to use sex as currency at all. They would argue that using sex as currency is not something we should work to normalize, but that it is one of the things most wrong with the system.

Because sex can be such an intensely personal issue in our society, the divisiveness among feminists on this topic is extremely complex and deeply emotional. Conflicts could be avoided, however, if more feminists took a step back to realize that the struggle is not as much about sex as it is about strategy. The members of each ideological camp seem to have the same end in mind – a world in which women are free from patriarchal oppression -- but they happen to disagree about the means through which this can be achieved.

The problems faced by women in sex work mirror the problems all women face as an oppressed class. Like all women, their collective lack of access to power within patriarchy and capitalism prevent them from uniting in a solid movement to fight for their rights, and the vast differences among them in terms of class, race, sexuality, and the circumstances of their work keep them isolated from each other and unable to mobilize. However, to portray them merely as victims would deny their agency and their potential to organize do great things under the right conditions.

Well, that's a relief. Thanks, Blogthings.

You Are 100% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).
You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Reframing Sex Ed

Well, I took a few days off from the computer,and Blog for Sex Education Day slipped right by me. Instead of writing about it late, though, I'm just going to link to BlackAmazon's post, in which she brilliantly explains what school would be like "IF Sex Ed was taught like any other subject or If Any other subject was taught like Sex Ed."

I love it.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Feminism Friday: Because Date Rape is a Laugh Riot

Keeping with the trend of completely awful videos, I just found out via a Live Journal feminist forum about this one, which was apparently recently featured on the MySpace homepage. It doesn't seem so bad at first, but if you are able to tolerate it all the way to the end, it's pretty appalling. But not as appalling as the hundreds of comments that basically say, "OMG hilarious!" Gross.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ugh. Just ugh.

Can I just say that I hate the Fox News 1/2 Hour News Hour?

Because according to them, pregnancy discrimination is non-issue. Because their message is apparently that pregnant women should know better than to think they're capable of doing their jobs or that they should be entitled to their state-mandated worker's rights before, during, and after their pregnancies. That pregnant women don't need to make a living. They should just shut up and smile and bask in the glow of the little miracle growing inside their bodies whether or not they are able to financially support it. And that those who actually speak up and demand their rights are loud, strident, baby-hating bitches. This garbage is on national television. Thanks a lot, Fox. You've sunk to a new low.