Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Exposing one of the right's most powerful and sinister srategies for politicizing the abortion issue, Kevin says:
"Amazingly enough, also, the cartoon manages to show the inside of a woman’s body without ever implying that there’s actually a woman present."
For an excellent and detailed critique of this particular propaganda method, I recommend Scott F. Gilbert's article "Images of Embryos Used by Anti-Abortion Activists". Here's an excerpt:
There is no such thing as an uninterpreted human embryo. Very few of us have had the privilege to see a real human embryo or fetus before it is born. Therefore, our views of the human embryo rely on photographs and drawings. Most of what we envision as a human fetus is constructed of images we have seen on the web, books, and magazines. This is the "public fetus". These images are extremely powerful tools in the debate on personhood. In 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld an Indiana statute mandating that all women seeking abortions have a one-on-one counseling session during which time they would be shown pictures of embryos and fetuses. The abortion lobbyists called this a great victory, since, they claim, such photographs will show the women what they are intending to destroy and convince them not to have the abortion. Such pictures can show autonomy or dependence, humanity or animality, depending on the context in which it is presented. It is important for biologists to realize that the scientific pictures in books, magazines, and websites are not often neutral, but have social relevance far beyond the science.
*(Also note her use of the term "forced-birthers" instead of "pro-lifers". I love it.)
Friday, May 25, 2007
The audience booed the joke, which I hoped was a negative reaction to the sad reality of the Wage Gap in general and not an assumption that Jay (or rather, his team of writers) was being sexist for mentioning it. The wisecrack at least acknowledged the issue and gave it some attention, which is generally preferable to silence. Leno's response to the audience's reaction: "You tell the truth, and they boo you."
Now, about the new show. I don't have much frame of reference since I know very little about the original Bionic Woman from the 70s, but I'm still excited about an upcoming series in which the central character is a butt-kicking, super-hero female. I suppose we'll have to wait and see if she'll end up being portrayed as dynamic and multidimensional, and if the show will meet the standards put forth by Karen Healey. If you click on the link above, you can watch a preview and make your own predictions about how well it will stand up to feminist critique.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Wow. This cartoon is, like, totally effective. If I ever become a victim of an unwanted pregnancy and find myself tempted to exercise my right to terminate it, I will be forced to imagine that the zygote that has implanted in my uterus is actually a pudgy intellectual cartoon toddler who can sing and dance and talk on a little uterine cell phone to his unborn friends who reside in other wombs. (I'm not even joking. He really does this. And naturally, the female fetus has a bow on her head.) What a relief to know the truth. Thanks, pro-lifers!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
"...who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body?"
When I read it in high school, I found Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway so tedious that I assumed I would never be a fan of her writing.* Sadly, the mere memory of the drudgery of wading through that stream of consciousness novel has all these years kept me from picking up her 1929 feminist masterpiece, A Room of One's Own. That is, until now. I really didn't know what I was missing. I was especially struck by this:
"Life for both sexes -- and I looked at them [through a restaurant window while waiting for my lunch to be served], shouldering their way along the pavement -- is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority -- it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney -- for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination * over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power... Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size."
(*I realize I should give this book another chance now that I'm older and hopefully wiser. Considering that I was actually able to enjoy Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness the second time around, there's certainly hope for Mrs. Dalloway.)
Saturday, May 19, 2007
BF: Wow, this shirt is small.
Me: I guess it's got a more fitted cut since it's made for women.
BF: But it's just a zip-up hoodie. It shouldn't be made that different. (Examining the tightness in the torso, the shallowness of the pockets, and the overall shorter length.) It's really uncomfortable.
Me: (starting to second-guess what I thought of as one of my roomier, more comfortable sweatshirts) You know what else?
Me: That's an Extra Large.
BF: A child's Extra Large, right?
Me: Nope. A women's Extra Large.
BF: (dumbfounded look)
Me: Yeah. And that's why I hate shopping for clothes.
Friday, May 18, 2007
I recommend reading the whole article, but to summarize, it's about a teacher at a Catholic School in Wisconsin who was fired after becoming pregnant with twins via in vitro fertilization.
"School administrators told Romenesko she violated a 'morals clause' in her contract to 'teach and act in accordance with Catholic doctrine and Catholic moral and social teachings.' According to a November 2004 written decision of the school system's board of trustees, 'the medical procedure followed by Kelly Romenesko is in violation of church doctrine' and constituted a breach of the morals clause."
The article continues to highlight other such cases, including a teacher who was fired for having once been an escort for Planned Parenthood, and the President of the National Association of Catholic Teachers admits that when its union members ask questions about health coverage for reproductive procedures, she advises them to use their husband's medical plan in order to keep their decisions more private. This, of course, assumes that these teachers are heterosexual, married to men, and that their partners have adequate health insurance.
Now, I understand that these are parochial schools and therefore in many ways exempt from the same Equal Protection laws that public schools that are fully government (taxpayer) funded are required to follow. And I get that based on U.S. interest in protecting the free practice of religion, we often jump to the defense of religious institutions, but I can't help but get frustrated with a case like this. Because it's not just a religious issue. It's an employment issue. The article points out that there are 150,502 teachers in the Catholic school system who are not Catholic, and based on national statistics of teachers in general, one can naturally assume that majority of them are women. Women who are disproportionately effected by these policies that enforce "morality" as a condition of employment.
Not only do women have the burden of their reproductive biology making their "moral transgressions" more obvious than men's, but because of those nasty double standards, a woman's morality is always held to a higher standard, and a greater stigma is attached to her behavior if it is deemed questionable. The history of American education is riffe with stories of women who have been discriminated against for what goes on in their private lives, whether it's for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, not being allowed to work after marriage, or merely for "questionable" behavior that bothers parents or administrators. And it really gets under my skin that this is still going on. Not only that, but it's protected by our laws.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Now what if I told you that this single picture carries the burden of representing the entire human race?
A little bit of 1970s history, courtesy of the Wikipedia entry on the Pioneer plaques:
"The Pioneer plaques are a pair of aluminum plaques which were placed on board the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft, featuring a pictorial message from humanity, in case either the Pioneer 10 or 11 are intercepted by extraterrestrial beings. The plaques show the nude figures of a human male and female along with several symbols that are designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft. They are meant to serve as a kind of interstellar 'message in a bottle."
So, in other words, Carl Sagan and a handful of other white guys from NASA got together and decided they were qualified to assume the responsibility of pictorially depicting humanity to extraterrestrial life via a sketch by Carl's then wife Linda. They then attached this depiction to the first ever human-built objects to leave our solar system.
And judging by the picture, all of humanity is Western, white, and lacking body hair. The way they are standing and the respective direction of their gazes is evidence that human males are confident and communicative whereas females are tentative and deferential. In addition, human females lack defined genitals, instead possessing a Barbie-doll-like smoothness.
The Wikipedia entry's attempt to respond to some of these glaring flaws goes something like this:
"Originally Sagan drew the humans holding hands, but soon realized that an extraterrestrial might perceive the figure as a single creature rather than two people. The figures appear to be Caucasian and Occidental, but Linda's generic depiction of mankind was intended to be as racially free as possible.
One can see that the woman's genitals are not really depicted; only the mons veneris is shown. It has been claimed that Sagan, having little time to complete the plaque, suspected that NASA would have rejected a more intricate drawing and therefore made a compromise just to be safe. However, according to Mark Wolverton's more detailed account, the original design included a "short line indicating the woman's vulva." It was erased as condition for approval by John Naugle, former head of NASA's Office of Space Science and the agency's former chief scientist.
But Sagan himself wrote that "The decision to omit a very short line in this diagram was made partly because conventional representation in Greek statuary omits it. But there was another reason: Our desire to see the message successfully launched on Pioneer 10. In retrospect, we may have judged NASA's scientific-political hierarchy as more puritanical than it is. In the many discussions that I held with such officials up to the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the President's Science Adviser, not one Victorian demurrer was ever voiced; and a great deal of helpful encouragement was given."
So this is it, folks. If any intelligent lifeforms out there ever stumble upon the Pioneer spacecraft, they will view our "racially free" likenesses and internalize the same gender stereotypes that we here on Earth are led to believe. Without ever meeting us, they will get to perceive men as the dominant half of our species and share in the cultural shroud of mystery that surrounds our vaginas.
Reassuring, isn't it?
Friday, May 11, 2007
In it, Rachael Ray showed a video of women who are so addicted to their makeup, they feel completely naked without it. Paralyzed. Unable to go about their daily lives. One woman said that her now-husband didn't see her once without makeup before they were married, and when he saw her for the first time without it, he barely recognized her. Another said that her best girlfriend has only seen her without makeup once, and that's when she was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. Yet another woman said that when she goes to the hospital for surgery, she ignores the request that the patient wear no makeup, because she is so self-conscious at the thought of the doctor looking down on her face without it. They spoke about how their makeup makes them feel better about themselves. More powerful, more confident, more self-assured. While these stories were not the least bit surprising to me, they were still unsettling. As unsettling as that old expression women use for applying makeup: "putting my face on".
It ended up that the whole point of the segment was to have a makeup artist and designer share tips on how women can use less makeup and still look pretty, rather than an intervention to help them to kick the habit altogether, but it was fascinating all the same. A few of the women from the video came on the show without wearing makeup in order to be "made over", and Rachael tried to reassure them by telling them that they all looked lovely without their usual paint jobs, and how brave they were to appear on television in a state that made them so uncomfortable. Each woman on the show seemed to have the attitude that everyone else looked fine without makeup, but that for her, it was necessary.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not trying to argue that no women should ever wear makeup. I realize that a big part of navigating our way through a patriarchal world involves choosing our battles. It's not the makeup itself I have a problem with. There's nothing inherently oppressive about cosmetics. It's the fact that makeup (along with thinness, hairless bodies, smooth skin, styled hair, fitted clothing, shorter clothing, low-cut clothing, accessories, purses, uncomfortable shoes, etc.) are considered a requirement for women. These are all components of an entrenched system of compulsory femininity for those members of our society who are born without penises.
I also realize that, as women, most of us never frame our choice to wear makeup or to shave our body hair or to wear feminine clothing (or to do more than our fair share of housework or to be the one to stay home with the children or to put our partner's career before our own) as "choosing our battles" or as complying with the system. Instead, we hold firmly that we do these things becuase we derive enjoyment from them. Or, at most, we may regard these choices as necessary evils -- especially when we acknowledge how much valuable time, money, and effort we exhaust in maintaining our feminine look -- but it is rare to hear someone actually question why any of this is necessary in the first place. (And I suppose the whole world would come crashing down if anyone in the mainstream media ever admitted its connection to patriarchy.)
The point of this post is not to criticize women for their choices. But without actual alternatives, "choice" doesn't even exist. It is dangerous for us to vehemently defend our most compliant and normative behaviors as arbitrary "choices" without truly examining our reasons. Doing this perpetuates the false notion that making the opposite choice would be just as easy, and it furthers the "othering" of those who fall outside the norm. If expressing femininity was truly a free choice, how many women do you think would actually do it?
Just yesterday, upon discovering that I am finally doing something with my passion for feminism by pursuing a Masters degree in Women's Studies, my boss replies, "Ugh. Just don't become another Hillary Clinton."
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Now, I may have just been living in the dark, since a Google search revealed that this product even has a Wikipedia entry, but the existence of such a thing is new to me. I just don't know what to think about this. I'm sure it was developed with good intentions, but it totally creeps me out somehow. I absolutely love the idea of an attacker being disabled immediately in his attempt to rape, and protecting would-be victims from sexually transmitted infections is of course a positive thing. But would wearing such a device empower one with a feeling of security or contribute to an already intense victim mentality? And just how is a woman supposed to know or choose when to wear this thing? If she is attacked during a time when she is not wearing one, will it be another way to guilt and shame her for not "doing her part" to protect herself?
I suppose it depends on one's point of view and level of risk. Who am I to be skeptical of such a product when there are countless women who are vulnerable to extreme danger of attack every day, like the women in South Africa for whom the product was developed, or the women in Ciudad Juárez who are kidnapped, raped, and killed in terrifying numbers on their way to and from work?
But since we live in a world where one in three women will be assaulted or abused at some point during their lives, is anyone really in a position to believe they are safer than anyone else? The thing that bothers me really isn't so much the product itself, but the need for such a product in the first place. It makes me cringe, because it is yet another thing reminding us of our perpetual vulnerability to attack and penetration by men. It makes us admit and concede to this vulnerability, and I automatically want to resist anything that requires that of us. It's a visceral reaction rather than a practical one, but it's one that I can't help wanting to own and embrace. Somehow I find that resistance more empowering than conceding to vulnerability. Any thoughts?
“Female fear of an open season of rape, and not a natural inclination toward monogamy, motherhood, or love, was probably the single causative factor in the original subjugation of women by man, the most important key to her historic dependence, her domestication by protective mating.” –Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will
"In place of equal respect, the nation offered women the Miss America pageant, established in 1920 - the same year women won the vote." -Susan Faludi, Backlash
“The ceiling isn’t glass. It’s a very dense layer of men.” – Anne Jardim, quoted in Inga Musico's Cunt
“So long as clothing was made at home, the dimensions of the garment could be adjusted to the particular body intended to wear it. But with store-bought clothes, the body had to fit instantaneously into standard sizes that were constructed from a pattern representing a norm. When clothing failed to fit their bodies, particularly a part as intimate as the breasts, young women were apt to perceive that there was something wrong with their bodies. In this way, mass-produced bras in standard cup sizes probably increased, rather than diminished, adolescent self-consciousness about the breasts.” -Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project
“Meanwhile, little boys are taught to accept emotional support without learning how to give this kind of nurturing and loving in return. Therefore, when a young woman finally achieves the social reward of marriage, she finds that it rarely provides either the nurture she still needs, or an opportunity for independence and self-development. To be a woman is to live with the tension of giving and not getting.” -Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue
“…a dad who knows the name of his kids’ pediatrician and reads them stories at night is still regarded as a saint; a mother who doesn’t as a sinner.” -Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels, The Mommy Myth
On the serpent tempting Eve…
“He did not try to tempt her from the path of duty by brilliant jewels, rich dresses, worldly luxuries or pleasures, but with the promise of knowledge, with the wisdom of the Gods. Like Socrates or Plato, his powers of conversation and asking puzzling questions were no doubt marvelous, and he roused in the woman that intense thirst for knowledge, that the simple pleasures of picking flowers and talking with Adam did not satisfy.” -Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman's Bible
“All too often, the anti-feminist perspective is the only voice that masses of black people have the opportunity to hear. It is the voice that most intimately addresses black folks across class. Progressive black women and men often end up speaking the most to mainstream white culture.” -bell hooks, Killing Rage
“Being a bride is like being sent back to the seventh grade, and not just because you are supposed to keep a scrapbook and try on eighteen shades of lipstick. Seventh grade is the first time girls run headfirst onto a set of cultural expectations for them as girls that often clash directly with who they’ve begun to be as people.” -Kamy Wicoff, I Do, But I Don't
“I contend that all girls growing up in this culture are sexually abused – abused by the pornographic images of female sexuality that surround them from birth, abused by all the violence against women and girls, and abused by the constant harassment and threat of violence.” -Jean Kilbourne, Can't Buy My Love
“Feminism’ is the only f-word as scary or scarier than the word ‘fat.” -Wendy Shanker, The Fat Girl's Guide to Life
“I’m outing myself as one of those women who hold PhDs in nuclear physics (actually, mine’s in literature, but you get my meaning) who turn into adoring little girls in the presence of men we so long to be loved by. This is me, knock-kneed, walking the tightrope between a feminist rhetoric of equality and a feminine appeal for male benevolence.” –Merri Lisa Johnson, Jane Sexes it Up
“It is a chokingly bitter irony that feminism accomplishes most within the superpower that grinds the life out of the world’s women, makes war on them and starves their children. The identification of feminism with the United Sates has diminished it around the world.” -Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman
“Whether virginity is revered or denigrated, judging girls and women solely on the basis of our sexual behavior limits who we are.” -Boston Women's Health Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves
“Today, with the defeat of the ERA, the tightening economy, and increased conservatism, it is easier once again for white women to believe the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people, and marry the right man, then you will be allowed to co-exist with the patriarchy in relative peace, at least until a man needs your job or the neighborhood rapist happens along.” -Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
“Of course, the housewife also served economic purpose by staying in the home. As the person in charge of goods and services consumed by the family, she was capitalism’s secret agent. Accordingly, advertisers and manufacturers targeted wives as the ‘chief purchasing agents’ for their families, a development that would establish the premise that women are ‘born to shop.” - Ann Kingston, The Meaning of Wife
“Gradually, men gave up trying to dissuade women from sports altogether. Instead they scurried to redefine female athleticism as sexy or romantic, intended not for women’s health, enjoyment, or empowerment, but for men’s pleasure.” -Mariah Burton Nelson, The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football
Thursday, May 3, 2007
However, a more recent work by Susan J. Douglas doesn't sit quite so well with me. I'm referring to her April 26th article Why Women Hate Hillary published in In These Times magazine. In just a few paragrpahs, this short editorial about Hillary Clinton generalizes the point of view of American women (both feminist and nonfeminist), misleads readers about Clinton's stance and focus on numerous issues, and makes completely contradictory statements about feminism. She resorts to the usual "bash Hillary" criticisms that we've heard over and over again - the ones that are contstantly applied to any hardworking, powerful, successful women - that she is too loud, too ambitious, and too much "like a man". But what is most scathing and damaging about this particular article is that it comes from a self-identified "progressive feminist" and not your typical ignorant misogynist who thinks women should be held to a certain standard of femininity. Douglas notes that women of the baby boom generation fought (and still fight) for women's liberation "wearing lipstick, skirts, and a smile", and she criticizes Hillary for making "few concessions to the demands of femininty" and for "exempting herself from compromises women have to make every day". Doesn't it seem completely contradictory that a feminist would attack a woman for not being "feminine" enough? By doing this, Douglas is appropriating an offensive strategy commonly used against women by anti-feminists, and it seems that she's doing it out of bitterness (and maybe a little jealousy) that Hillary Clinton has gotten as far as she has without playing into "the masquerade of femininity we are compelled to don".
But this doesn't add up. Even if this were a valid attack against Clinton, and even if it actually mattered what she wore or how often she smiled, it's not even true. Hillary Clinton DOES wear lipstick and skirts. She smiles when it is appropriate to smile. Is Douglas really under the impression that Hillary Clinton has somehow been exempt from the pressures to conform to femininity in her public career? Has she already forgotton how much intense criticism Clinton received for not being a "traditional" enough first lady? From her hairstyles to her choice of clothing to her decision to use her maiden name? How she was advised by her handlers to participate in a ridiculous cookie bake-off to soften her image and show the world that she can be a "real woman"? And how about now, when most of the complaints about her seem to have something to do with her personality rather than her politics? If her gender were reversed, would anyone have the same complaints? (Yet another incarnation of the phenomenon I brought up in this post.) Douglas opens her editorial with the statistic that "nearly half of adults say they dislike her personality and her politics", but isn't this to be expected when half of the country opposes the platform of the democratic party? As for her personality, we can't rule out the likliness that in many cases, this is merely a visceral reaction to a strong, successful, powerful woman. From my experience, whenever Hillary Clinton comes up in conversations, the reaction to her is almost always completely splanchnic. I'll give you wo recent examples from my own experience: the crinkled face and statement from my mother: "Oh, I can't stand that woman," and the adamant claim from one of my coworkers: "If that bitch gets elected president, I'm moving to Canada."
I just don't get what this "feminist" writer thinks she is accomplishing by accusing Hillary Clinton of being too masculine. It seems that her only "evidence" for such an outrageous assertion is to claim that the candidate supports the war in Iraq. I have two problems with this argument: 1) It implies that one's stance on war or national defense is based on one's degree of "masculinity" or "femininity", which is completely stereotypical and anything BUT progressive, and 2) It's completely untrue! It is well-known that although Clinton fights for protective measures for the troops who are already in Iraq (such as funding for body armor), she is for ending the war as quickly as possible and bringing the troops home. (Read her response to the President's veto of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill)
Douglas expands her argument that Hillary is "patriarchy in sheep's clothing" by implying that she neglects to address issues that are important to feminists. She says:
"And for many of us feminism did not mean trying to be more like men. It meant challenging patriarchy: trying to bring equity to family life, humanizing the workplace, prioritizing womens issues in politics, and confronting the dangers of militarism and imperialism. "
There may be many things for which Hillary Clinton can be open to scrutiny, but failing to prioritize women's issues in politics is certainly NOT one of them. Throughout her entire public life, she has fought for women all over the world to have more opportunities and protections. She is a strong advocate for reproductive rights (NARAL Pro-Choice America gives her a grade of 100% for her support of reproductive freedom), eliminating the wage gap, reducing violence against women, increasing employment opportunities and implementing microcredit programs for women to start their own businesses, and more and better access to education, healthcare, and childcare for all. She is the only presidential candidate I have ever seen devote so much energy to improving the lives of women and girls all over the world, and she even includes women's issues as a complete category on her Senate website. (http://clinton.senate.gov/issues/) Also check out these clips of Clinton in action as a chair of the Senate hearings on the issues of Equal Pay and Domestic Violence:
This post is not necessarily an endorsement for Hillary Clinton for president (I'll probably have plenty more to say about that later), but after reading this scathing article, I feel like Hillary deserves some defending. If Susan J. Douglas wants to serve feminism, she is certainly not doing so by tearing down the only female in American history with a real shot at breaking the ultimate glass ceiling. Or by insulting and attacking a woman who has prioritized women's issues for her entire public career.