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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Code-Switching

Tami from the blog What Tami Said analyzes the racist implications behind the expectation that prominent African Americans (like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey) drop their "blaccents" and just "speak regular":
Lately, I've heard several blacks in the public eye taken to task for what some in the mainstream view as nefarious use of a black accent, or the cynical unleashing of a "hidden" black accent when among other African Americans.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a black accent, except that in a society where white is right and all other is wrong, a black accent is judged as less desirable. Making a call without your "white" voice on could mean the loss of a job, an apartment, any number of opportunities. So, as a matter of survival, upwardly mobile blacks learn to effortlessly code switch, that is unconsciously modify speech to slip from one culture to another. We generally reserve speech with ethnic markers for conversations with other people of our ethnicity.
Go give it a read.  In her post, she also references the excellent book Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America, which I totally recommend.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why we can't "just get along". (And why we shouldn't.)

(I realize this post has a miserable lack of links when compared to all that has been said, but I honestly wouldn't even know where to begin. This post by Rebecca at Burning Words is the last one I read before writing this, though, and her links tells more of the story if you're in the dark.)

As a chronically non-confrontational person, I can understand the "Can't we all just get along?" feeling that a lot of white feminist bloggers/commenters are describing in response to all the recent controversy over racism within the feminist movement (which is really by no means a recent phenomenon, but you know what I mean). Amidst all the debate, there is the outcry from some that divisions like this are keeping feminists from fighting the "real enemies". Although I understand that argument, I find it difficult to agree with. "Feminist infighting" is NOT counterproductive when it comes to privilege and appropriation. It's necessary. It will probably always be necessary. In case you haven't noticed, racism within the feminist movement is not just a thing of the past — it's not something that only existed in the first two "waves", even though that's the impression we sometimes get from self-congratulatory white "third-wavers".

I know I've been quiet about the whole thing so far, but it's not because I don't think the issues are huge or that the conversations going on all over the blogosphere are incredibly important and needed. They are huge. They are important. And they are so needed. I've just been trying to read as much as I can and take it all in, and honestly, I've been completely dumbfounded and speechless ever since I read the ignorant, disgusting comments from the Seal Press representatives on BlackAmazon's blog. And no, their comments did not remind me of a clueless friend making a fool of herself at a club (a pretty dismissive and offensive analogy, if you ask me).

But going back to the whole, "Can't we all just get along?" sentiment. Can anyone honestly read about all that's going on and only take away from it a feeling that women of color have no right to be upset? Seriously? What an entirely unfair message to women of color -- to keep quiet rather than to call out racism when they see it. This silences them. Isolates them. By discouraging them from calling out the oppressive behavior of privileged white feminists, it relegates them to the margins of a movement that is supposed to be BASED on calling out and bringing an end to oppression. It keeps white feminists blind to our privilege, and it lets us off the hook for words and behavior that should be totally inexcusable.

If anyone should stop arguing right now, it's white feminists who should be standing in solidarity with women of color. I have hope that for every presumptuous, privilege-ignoring, weight-throwing white feminist who (loudly) puts her/his two cents in without "getting it", there are (at least) ten more of us who are listening, taking it all in, and learning how to be better allies. I don't even want to think about where feminism would be without the voices of women of color.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Skewed Perception

Via Rachel at The F-Word Blog, I found out about this editorial in The Edmonton Sun, in which the writer waxes nostalgic about the supermodels of the 1990s, who were "fuller figured" than the stick-thin beauty standard found in fashion mags of today.
There was one thing that the 1990s supermodels didn't inspire us to do - starve.


We were not super skinny, nor were we fat. We grew breasts and hips, thinking that this was what teenage girls were supposed to do and didn't obsess about weight.

How things have changed. Cindy Crawford was on a talk show a while ago talking about how she would never make it in today's world of fashion because she would be considered too fat.

Okay, so I agree that it's not good news that the "feminine ideal" has gotten impossibly thin, but I'm not so sure I agree with the sentiment in the article. Just because things have gotten worse doesn't necessarily mean we should look to the past with nostalgia. Rigid beauty standards were still in full force, even if we were allowed to weigh ten more pounds 10-15 years ago. It's all well and good that the writer claims that she and her friends could aspire to the 1990s beauty ideal while eating to their heart's content and not obsessing about their bodies, but some contradictory statements in the editorial lead me to think otherwise:
Cindy's muscular frame had us sweating to her killer workout video and hassling our mothers to buy us ankle weights so we could firm up our calves.

Claudia had us practicing our pouts and Christy, oh beautiful Christy, had us dreaming of the day when we would sit by an ocean with an impossibly good-looking guy and angelic children just like in those perfume ads.


We spent far too many hours putting on each other's makeup and some of us dyed our hair so often it began falling out in clumps. We hit up second-hand stores and wore ankle-twisting shoes and bellbottomed catsuits to school.

To this day, Cindy, Claudia and Christy remain my ultimate standards for beauty.

And lest we start to distort our memories and imagine that 90s models were full-figured advocates for fat acceptance, please remember that this is what they looked like:

Photobucket Photobucket

Not exactly the kinds of bodies women can achieve without a "healthy" mix of hard work and deprivation. And, really, not that much "fuller figured" than models of today.

In other news, maybe bony isn't as "in" today as we thought.

Environmentalism is Gendered

If you only read one Earth Day related thing today, make it this one:

Thoreau's Laundry, by Shaker Guest Blogger Rana:

Environmentalism may not seem to be gendered, but gender has been embedded in it from the very beginning. The outspoken advocates for Nature—Thoreau, Emerson, John Muir, Ed Abbey, David Brower—even the Lorax—are male. They argue for the need to defend wild environments from human development, to protect "Mother Earth" from "rape" by greedy corporations.

The female voices—Rachel Carson, Erin Brockovich, Sandra Steingraber, Terry Tempest Williams—speak of environmental problems as well, but they are problems that are less about endangered Nature, wildness, or wilderness, than they are ones about the interference of chemicals with human bodies, particularly female bodies, manifesting as breast cancer, stillbirths, tainted milk, and birth defects.

Those who speak of Mother Earth as being the victim of rape tend not to put themselves in the position of fellow victims, but as those who would protect or defend this vulnerable feminine planet from its despoilers. Even when articulated by women, the language of the defense of Nature is an essentially male one, and that defense is associated with stereotypically masculine action—blowing up bulldozers, aggressively challenging whalers, confronting loggers and seal pup hunters—actions that demonstrate commitment to a cause through physical, confrontational action.

The response to the issue of pollution, on the other hand, is articulated in stereotypically feminine ways—by pointing to personal experiences, emphasizing collaborative actions such as class action suits, invoking the sacred space of home and family as threatened by the predations of aggressive (masculine) corporations. If masculine activism emphasizes the need to protect wild spaces, where men like Thoreau retreat to escape the stresses and corruption of modern society, feminine activism calls attention to the way that the home and one's body—the original safe space—have been invaded by toxins and greed.

In other words, masculine environmentalism is, when reduced to its most basic, about defending a vulnerable earth from "rapists" in order to ensure that (male) human beings continue to have access to it. Feminine environmentalism, on the other hand, is about protecting one’s body, family, and home from outside attacks by (male) corporations.

This gendering of the movement shapes the way that we think about environmental issues, and the way that we address environmental problems, in ways that are subtle, but significant.

Go read the whole thing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Long Way to Go

If you identify as a feminist but haven't read or thought much about disability rights issues, you should READ THIS. If you identify as a feminist and have read and thought about disability rights issues, you should STILL read it. (If you don't identify as a feminist OR know much about disability rights issues, you should also read it, and make some time to go here as well.)

There's no getting around it. Feminists have a long way to go in wanting to make sure people with disabilities have the same rights they want for women. (Do we forget that some women are disabled and some people with disabilities are women?)

Case in point: I went to a college campus visit recently with some fellow prospective Women's Studies masters and PhD students from all over the U.S. where one of the classes they scheduled for us to attend was an undergraduate Women's Studies course dealing with disability issues. The class that day focused on media portrayals of people with disabilities -- both in news articles and films -- and while we all agreed that the class was incredibly enjoyable and interesting, I was amazed to hear so many of my fellow campus visitors go on and on about how much they had learned in that hour and thirty minutes. The general consensus was that the class dealt with issues to which they had never really been exposed before. These are people who have spent 4-6 or more years of their academic lives intensely studying a human-rights/social justice-related field, and that one short undergraduate class discussion completely revolutionized the way they thought about how our society views disability.

That, my friends, is the power of consciousness-raising, and why it is so important to make connections between the many different rights/social justice movements. If you feel like you already "get it" when it comes to feminism, anti-racism, gay rights, trans rights, disability rights, fat acceptance, etc, take some time to branch out and think about both the issues that are unique to each as well as to how they are all interconnected.

(H/T to both Ms. Crip Chick and to Cara at Feministe)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yeah, I don't know about this.

The movie news blog SlashFilm has just posted this leaked filmshot from the upcoming Indiana Jones movie, along with some rather odd commentary:


Worth a laugh. A new crop of grainy images have surfaced at IESB for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Their origin is unknown at this time. We’ve included the best one above. Memorable movie scenes where a guy punches out a lady on screen are few and far, with Christoper McQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun easily in the top 3. Here we have Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams readying a tiny fist for Cate Blanchett’s villainess Russian agent Irina Spalko while gunning it through the jungle. So, now you know.

Discuss: What do you think Shia’s character says right before he socks her? Best answer wins worldwide fame.

Um, wow. And you can imagine what the comments are like, since the blogger pretty much just declared it open season for misogyny.

Before you tell me to "lighten up", realize that my complaint is not with this random image -- a screenshot that may or may not end up in the forthcoming film -- it's with the irresponsibly sexist framing of this picture being "worth a laugh", and the invitation for readers to light-heartedly add their own caption to an image that depicts a man punching a woman in the face. I have a problem with the blogger regarding cinematic violence against women as a novelty to poke fun at and rank into a "top 3". And I don't know what movies he's been watching, but I sure wouldn't call film scenes with men assaulting women "few and far". Plenty such scenes are burned into my brain. Maybe they just somehow escape his notice?

And on the topic of violence against women, I have to point out this totally rad post by Melissa, in which she explains the sexist implications of men saying they want to punch Hillary Clinton in the face (emphasis is mine):

Ultimately, if you want to punch Hillary Clinton for being Hillary Clinton, or because of the sound of her voice, that's your prerogative, but you ought to at least have the integrity to own it wholly, which means owning the entire context: Irrespctive of whether it's specifically because she's a woman, the desire to punch a woman necessarily carries with it particular cultural baggage, including, for example, that women are disproportionately victimized by domestic violence and that women's voices and tones are routinely singled out as prohibitively unbearable. That's the context of womanhood.

It's something of which I must be conscious, too—I am reluctant to use violent imagery generally, but extremely averse to using it when discussing women I don't like. Despite the distinct unlikelihood that anyone would mistake misogyny as my motivation, even a (metaphorical) attack within a culture in which women—particularly strong, opinionated women—have historically been silenced with threatened or actual violence borrows and legitimizes misogynist strategies. I don't have to like Hillary Clinton's voice (although, for the record, I do), or her policies or her sense of humor or her decision to stay in the race, and neither does anyone else—but, regardless of intent, the public declaration of a desire to punch her in response summons an ugly history of physically silencing uppity women. And, no, a threat to punch a man doesn't work quite the same way—care of the double standard brought to you daily by the patriarchy.

(I feel pretty confident that I can safely say, on behalf of feminist women everywhere, we'll happily give up the disparity between threats to hit men and women in exchange for full equality. Just FYI, for any dudez who might be feeling the harrumph of unfairness.)

I'd say the SlashFilm blogger (and about 90% of his dudely commenters) needs some Feminism 101.

Mind the Gap

Blog for Fair Pay

Some stats I plucked from Feministing's Equal Pay Day post:

-Women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.
-African-American women are paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to white men.
-Latinas are paid 52 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

This is one reason I get so frustrated when MRAs drone on and on about how girls get better grades in school than boys and how women are outnumbering men in college — they loudly attribute these trends to a non-need for feminism without paying any attention to the fact that womens' success in school has NOT closed glaring gaps in employment, wages, and power. Not even close. For the vast majority of women, for a huge variety of patriarchy-rooted reasons, educational success has not translated into matierial wealth equaling that of men. It just hasn't.

And for all the other wage-gap naysayers who like to dismiss the issue by claiming that womens' lack of equal wages is all their fault, because there are no longer any legal barries to equal pay? You would be wrong.

Equal pay isn't just about contacting our senators to make sure they vote to keep our rights to legal action against injustice intact (although that's very important). It's about women's health being given the same consideration as men's health. It's about sex education and reproductive rights. It's about access to maternity leave and childcare. It's about shattering the Glass Ceiling and cleaning the goo off the Sticky Floor. It's about raising girls to know they can succeed in careers that are stereotypically reserved for men. It's about raising girls to be assertive enough to ask for the raises they deserve (see Feministing's post for more on this). It's about training supervisors to not be turned off by female assertiveness. It's about challenging unrealistic beauty standards for women. It's about having more female role models in positions of power -- especially women of color. It's about ending sexual harrassment in the workplace and elsewhere. It's about lightening women's out-of-work responsibilities so that they are balanced with those of men. It's about a LOT of things.

It's about dismantling the fucking patriarchy.

Happy One-Year Blogiversary!

...to two of my favorite blogs that started up on this very day last year:
Many thanks to Cara and Gina for a full year of amazing feminist/anti-racist/political/social justice reading material!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"The People Speak"

And I'm with the people.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Simpsons deemed unfit for Venezuelan television

But know what show is apparently A-OK?


That's right. Baywatch.

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has forced U.S. cartoon "The Simpsons" off its airwaves, calling the show a potentially bad influence on children, and filled its morning slot with reruns of the beach-and-bikini show "Baywatch."

Since when is a show known for its female characters running on the beach in skimpy swimsuits less offensive than a satire-filled comedy containing one of the few feminist characters on television?

Say Anything



Monday, April 7, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

"Forty Years Later"

News sources and blogs everywhere are paying tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. today, on the 40th anniversary of his assassination, but if you only get to read ONE thing about it today, make it this post, from Diary of an Anxious Black Woman, in which she offers insight into the type of civil rights work Dr. King would be doing if he were with us today:

Getting back to Dr. King, he is the kind of insightful man who would have awakened from his coma in our present day, slowly observe the "progress" of Black America AND would have been 100 times more outraged that so many black men and women are being imprisoned at a ridiculous rate and THEN put Viacom and all other Big Media on full blast for creating the kind of cultural atmosphere in which we can tolerate such a horrendous incarceration epidemic, thanks in part to the glamorization of thug/street culture, which has done nothing but justify why black men (with their scary-looking "gangsta style") and black women (with their out-of-control, booty-shaking, thunder-clapping bodies) need to be on lockdown.

Seriously. He would also take issue with the present "leadership" and would have immediately started some grassroots organizing on behalf of the incarcerated and the dispossessed in the post-Katrina gulf coast, he would extend his work to address immigration rights, especially in the wake of post-9/11. And if he had the patience to be educated, which I believe he did, he'd also find connections with the feminist and LGBT social movements and loudly criticize his daughter Bernice for her homophobia. He'd also put the black church on full blast for their horrendous move from the social gospel to neoconservative materialistic dreams (T.D. Jakes, I'm looking at you!).

In short, he'd be disturbed by hip-hop culture, but he would NEVER take it more seriously than all the above issues I mentioned. I do realize The Boondocks satire is meant for a black audience, since the directive was leveled against us, but you know, if we're going to try and imagine "what would Dr. King do today?" let's do the man justice, forty years later, by remembering that he was assassinated NOT because he was fighting Racism but BECAUSE he dared to make the link between racial oppression, imperialism overseas (Vietnam War), and class oppression (his work to address poverty in the never-materialized Poor People's March before he was gunned down). As a hip-hop generationer, I urge all of us to look beyond our own ghettos, suburbs, gentrified neighborhoods, etc. and start making similar connections.

If Dr. King's "dream" was about anything, it was about our learning to be accountable towards one another and to "fight injustice anywhere" precisely because it was a threat to "justice everywhere."