Monday, March 30, 2009

That Damn Dirty F-Word

Here are some brilliant quotes by brilliant women about feminism. (That was sarcasm.)

The first three are taken from here.

Lady Gaga:
''I think it's great to be a sexy, beautiful woman who can f--- her man after she makes him dinner,'' she says. ''There's a stigma around feminism that's a little bit man-hating. And I don't promote hatred, ever. That's not to say that I don't appreciate women who feel that way. I've got a lot of gay women friends that are like, 'Put your clothes on.' People just have different views about it. I'm not wrong. I'm free. And if it's wrong to be free, then I don't want to be right. Things are changing. We've got a black president, people.''

"There's a really negative connotation with the word feminist. I have no penis envy. I love being a woman, I love women. I think we are special and spectacular in so many different ways, but the connotation behind feminism is generally that we hate men; you know, we don't shave our legs. But if the word feminist just means a female who is comfortable in her own skin and doesn't apologise for it, then yes. I don't apologise for being a woman or being who I am."

Hillary Duff:
"I'm not, like, a crazy feminist. I think women definitely need men. Like, I couldn't imagine having a girlfriend!"

Kelly Clarkson:
Would you call yourself a feminist?

"No, not at all. I mean, that was the first time in my life -- which maybe I'm naïve and I've not been put in any situations like that -- but that's the first time in my life I've ever even heard someone use that mentality. I'm like, "Hey, knock-knock, 2008." Most of the men in my life have been very highly supportive. I've never had to even think like a feminist because no one around me even thinks one [sex] is higher than the other."


It's really interesting how feminism is STILL getting such a bad wrap. And even though a majority of people understand gender bias exists, they can't imagine referring to themselves as feminists. I mean, feminists all burn bras, hate men, and don't shave their arm pits, right?

Needless to say, I don't burn bras (I LOVE BRAS!) I don't hate me (I LOVE MEN...well the ones in my life, at least) and I do shave my armpits (I LOVE 'EM SILKY SMOOTH). I can admit that shaving might just be a tool of oppression, but I digress.

There is an interesting phenomena in the world. And let's call it "I'm not a feminist but..." Basically, women are so afraid of being labeled a feminist, that they'll go to any length to distance themselves from the term, despite holding and espousing feminist values. Just so long as before saying feminist things, they can tack on the phrase "I'm not a feminist but..." they're in the clear. PHEW! That was a close one...someone almost thought you were a feminist. *Insert horror movie scream.*

It all comes down to the denigration of feminism in the popular area. I think the most clever thing that was done to feminists by oppressors was to associate feminism with hating men. It's so simple and seemingly logical. You're pro-woman? Well then you must be anti-men! (Although any reasonable person knows that the world is not so binary as that... there's a lot of "gray," my friends.) This made it less attractive to women and nearly impossible for men to associate themselves with feminism. Which further broke the movement, and let the oppression continue. Think about it...if feminism had been widely embraced, things probably would be much more equitable by now, right? (Of course to agree to that, you'd have to actually understand what feminism is about and not buy the hype.)

Similar things have happened to the black power movement and the gay rights movement. By stereotyping black power leaders as white-hating, militant, and dangerous...fear was created and the mainstream didn't trust them. By portraying gay right activists as people who want to "teach" homosexuality to your children, they were not trusted.

I don't want to get off on a crazy tangent about the man, but come on...can't we see what's happening? Any time a group rises to challenge the status quo, we're made to fear and hate them.

Same holds true for feminism.

I don't know what hopeful conclusions I can draw to end this on, except to say that for those of us who are feminists, we've got to let the people around us know that we are. Eventually they'll have to admit that we don't fit that stereotype.

A few random thoughts...

  1. I like the contributor style of this here blog. Now if only I had more feminist friends to contribute...We could have a regular feminist dialogue going on here! Myranda and I can only do so much.
  2. On the same note, I wish we had female readers... and more readers in general.
  3. Myranda and I are actually attempting to write a book together. At some point. Not a whole lot has been done on that front yet...
  4. Some shows/movies I've seen recently have had some strong gender/sexuality themes, but I'm not sure how to approach them in some form of a cohesive blog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What's in a Name?

So I've written a little bit before about my choice not to change my name and how I'm continuously questioned about this...and how it's one of those "little things" that helps keep sexism alive.

I started to think about this, because when Ronald and I came back into the U.S. from Mexico on Saturday, we had to declare our purchases through U.S. customs. At first, I read the form and it explained clearly that families could declare their purchases together, so long as they reside at the same address.

I didn't even think twice after reading that. It makes sense. They have a written record on the form of the address of the family traveling back into the U.S. and everything they brought. So I proceeded to fill out the form for Ronald and I and that was that...

Until I started watching the channel on the cruise ship where they tell you everything that you need to know about getting off the ship at port. And the guy there mentioned that in order to qualify as a "family" in the eyes of U.S. customs, you have to live at the same address AND have the same last name.

WOW. Really?

Not only is it stupid that to be considered a family by U.S. customs you have to have the same last name, but it's also *SO* "logical," that it's not even worth noting this fact on the form. You should just assume that if your last names are different, then you're not family.

Ok, I'm overreacting, I admit it. But this was annoying, since I had to fill out a whole other new form and Ronald did too...AND since they only give each cabin one form (if you're staying in the same cabin, you must be family, right?) Ronald had to go hunt more forms down.

This wasn't my only run in with name changes on the trip. At our "honeymooners lunch" the other couples started a conversation about what the wives' names used to be and what they are now. (Ronald and I just avoided that conversation...we actually avoided socializing much in general, but that's not the point.)

So I got to thinking about how annoying it is that name changes are so ingrained in our society. The pressure is small enough here and there to be a bother, but taken all together, it's no wonder that so many women, who otherwise might have kept their names, go ahead and make the change anyway. And then i got to thinking about how, as is often the case with inequalities, name changes don't only affect women and keep sexism alive: It's also one of those things that keeps heterosexism alive and well.

It goes hand in hand with the gay marriage problem: all the 1,008 legal benefits that are denied to homosexual couples. In fact, the sexism and heterosexism here are rampant. If a woman gets married and changes her name it costs a nominal fee and requires some annoyances like getting a new social security card and notifying your credit bureau. If a homosexual person, or any man in general (like a heterosexual one changing his name to his wife's) wants to share a family name with their partner, then they must pay a much higher fee and even announce their name change in the paper (an old law that was never changed) in addition to all the other annoyances.

So the message: If you want to fit the "norm" for our society, you better be heterosexual, and you better stick to traditional name changes. And hell, you'll be rewarded with lower fees and less annoyances.

In the case of the stupid U.S. customs form that assumes way too much about what constitutes a "family," I at least had the choice not to change my name when I got married. So yeah, I'm going to encounter some frustrating issues along the way since my name doesn't fit the partiarchial paradigm. But a homosexual couple didn't even have the option to get married and have a legally recognized "family."

I guess I'll count my blessings on this one for now, but I just don't see what U.S. customs stands to gain from their system.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Furious at "Sexting" Story

I saw the following story on WTHR today reported by Steve Jefferson:

If you read all of the comments, you saw what I had to say about the injustice taking place in the case at John Marshall. Two kids, one fifteen-year-old girl and one fourteen-year-old boy were taped (or taped themselves) having sex. The boy decided to show this tape off to his friends at school. They got caught. The phone was confiscated from the boy and the girl was "referred to mental health services" according to the statement put out by the IPS school district. The boy loses his phone and the girl has to go to therapy. Am I the only one who sees something wrong here? At first, I got mad at how this story was reported, because maybe IPS did say some action was being taken with/against the boy and Mr. Jefferson just left that out. No. This was the reply I received to my comment. First there was a very prompt (which I highly appreciate) e-mail in reply to my comment that said:

"I've put in a call to the reporter on this story to see if he has any information on what, if anything, will happen to the 14-year-old. If I get that information, it will be added to this story. Thanks for your comment."

Then I went to the story and saw that the WTHR administrator (same person? i dunno) replied to my comment with a comment saying:

"Myranda, I checked with Steve Jefferson, the reporter who covered this story today, and he says it appears there won't be any repercussions for the 14-year-old boy, at least in the Indianapolis case."

I replied to both replies with this:

"Thanks for getting back with me. I truly appreciate it. I saw the administrator comment that no repercussions are being taken against the 14-year-old boy. Do you have any information on who should be contacted to protest this decision? IPS? Also, can that be added to the story? A simple statement that no action is being taken against the boy involved. I find it so incredibly unfair, to say the least, that the girl is being referred "to mental health services" and the boy who was just as involved in the incident (even more so, if you consider the fact that he was the one showing off the video to his friends) is receiving no treatment or punishment.

Thanks again for taking the initiative to check this out and reply so quickly. That is highly admirable and appreciated."

And believe you me, there will be letters written and phone calls made to IPS administrators who have treated this girl like a head case, while the boy gets off scotch-free. I understand the girl, at first, claimed it was a forced act. The videotape, I'm assuming, refutes that statement. I'm not saying the girl is right in claiming a false rape. She's not. But for her to be framed as having "obvious issues" when the boy involved apparently has none? Because it is acceptable behavior for a fourteen-year-old boy to show off his sex tape to his friends. But it is not acceptable for a girl in her situation to lie about what happened. Both are unacceptable. And BOTH should be dealt with. That's all I'm saying.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Also from LJ: On Katy Perry...

Subtitle: Otherwise Known as the 4th Horsewoman of The Feminist Apocalypse

I've been composing this entry in my mind for a while now. I didn't know what it was about her, but something about Ms. Perry just rubbed me the wrong way from the start. So the more I looked at her, the more I came to realize that she is an embodiment of everything that is wrong with women in the media. Ok, maybe not everything...but certainly a lot of things.

Let's take a look at her first super-mega hit single "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It." I've had a few discussions with Myranda about this song, because as characteristic examples of feminism, we had different ways of viewing it. She saw it as an empowering song, along the lines of experimentation, finding who you truly are, and possibly coming out. She saw the song as making themes like these are more commonplace in society, and therefore an ultimately good thing for equality and the safety of homosexuals. (Did I get that right, I don't really remember the conversation in detail, Myranda.)

I can see the merits of this view, but I think it is making the song out to be something more than it is. I think it is anything but liberating. To put it simply, I think it reduces women to the bisexual play things of men. Let me reference some excerpts of her *artistically beautiful* lyrics.

I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
No I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter

I selected these verses to hit at a few points. First, to my claim that it's not about coming out or realizing something about herself...she still has a boyfriend, and indicates no intention of leaving him. She doesn't know the girl's name, and she says it's not love, so it's not as if we are meant to believe anything real will come of this. And lastly, it really is just about being flirty and slutty, and making "bad decisions" while drinking.

This, right here, is a prime example of the type of media messages that prompt a group of SIXTH GRADE GIRLS to tell me that boys want them to be bisexual (not just straight or gay) and to drink or smoke pot. That's a real story friends, that's what I heard when I asked them what "boxes" boys try to put them in. (FYI: When you are in 6th grade you're usually 12).

Now, as if this wasn't bad enough Ms. Perry has come out with a new mentally stimulating follow up song which opens with:

You change your mind
Like a girl changes clothes
Yeah you, PMS
Like a bitch
I would know

GREAT! I've got an idea, let's all play into stereotypes that women have been trying to fight for years. Sounds good, huh? Here's a little secret out there for all the sexists in the world: The best way to continue oppression is to get the oppressed to play a role in their subjugation. Now, I know I'm throwing around some pretty strong words for a silly little song like this, but it just makes me sick to see this kind of thing. How can we expect men to strop rapping about bitches and hos when we are calling ourselves the same thing? And don't give me the whole "in-group" argument this time! Nothing makes me sicker than imagining little girls...MY girls singing the opening lines of this song and it soaking into their brains that girls are just supposed t be obsessed with clothes and that any time we act "bitchy" (read: standing up for ourselves) we must be PMS'ing.


The problem is what Katy Perry represents. It goes beyond her, and she is certainly not the first nor will she be the last. The formula is the same, the face and name are different. You could probably name a hundred women right now who have gained some level of celebrity due CHIEFLY to their looks (and often their willingness to play the game--ie. wear a little as possible) as opposed to being recognize for any amount of talent they may have. (As talent is often lacking in them, while less attractive powerhouses of song, dance, acting, etc. are overlooked.)

The other problem with Katy Perry and the others like her is their prevalence. We often ask in our program "Redefining Beauty" for the girls to name as many famous female singers, actresses, and models as they can, which is simple. Then to name as many famous female doctors, scientists, and judges as they can, and this part is very difficult for them to do, if not impossible. I mean, think back to this summer/fall. How many times did you hear about a famous female mathematician? Then, how many times did you hear "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It"? You couldn't escape it! And let's be damn honest here, her songs are catchy! Despite her lack of vocal talent, they're toe-tappers. You can't deny it. But the point is that society rewards women like Katy Perry with media exposure and denies the same to women like Mary Edwards Walker. (Look her up.) And without a counter voice to challenge girls to think beyond the boxes that society tries to place them in (like the prototypical bitch vs. slut dichotomy) the world would be a very sad and scary place for us all. So while my subtitle was very ominous, I don't actually believe we are at the death of feminism...Rather far from it. Women like Katy Perry give women like me the drive to keep speaking out and writing ignorantly long posts.

From LJ

I've decided to put all of my feminist rants in one place from now on. LJ will be about my personal life, feminist rants here. Here's an entry I wrote on LJ not long ago.

So while I'm on the topic of feminism...I'm going to link to this blog I came across and have been reading, and getting infuriated about...

MANY of her entries are about the evils of Barack Obama...and this woman, who owns the domain name RECLUSIVE LEFTIST was encouraging her readership to vote against the Democratic candidate. She does so under the guise of the higher calling of voting for feminism. And vehemently repeats how Barack Obama is misogynist. I have a few thoughts about this, as I do everything.

For one, I am happy that someone is talking about how sexist Obama's campaign was against Hillary Clinton in the primary. Many people were eager to jump on how racist Clinton was (which is true) but unfortunately, they are both to blame for their respective -isms. This particular blogger is more than happy to ignore Clinton's -ism. Next, because this writer is so thoroughly convinced of Obama's sexism, and because Palin was on the other ticket, she implicitly* endorsed McCain/Palin. This is where she has TOTALLY lost me. It goes to the whole mindless side of feminist policitcs...aka "Let's vote for a woman, because a woman is inherently less sexist than a man." I mean, if she was going to endorse someone, through this route, shouldn't it at least be a third party candidate (like McKinney/Clemente, the Green Party...two women)? And aren't we forgetting a little someone, named John McCain. McCain is NOT (and I repeat) NOT a feminist. Additionally, as I have discussed at length, a vote for Palin is a vote *against* women. Why hasn't this blogger noticed this? She writes at length about reproductive rights, but endorsed Palin? She even writes that if Obama was a supreme court apointee, he'd be in the Scalia block! No mention of McCain again? What??

Now, I am all for not blindly voting along party lines. Just because she is liberal doesn't mean she has to vote for Obama, but with her every word, she just seems to negate any reason in my mind that she should have voted for McCain. She espouses "Democrats for principle before party." What's the principle? I don't get it.

The whole blog just reeks of an out dated form of feminism...the kind that's hyper-focused on the middle aged white female experience. So while, it takes all kinds of feminists to make the movement push forward, and I'm happy she's talking very frankly about feminism in an open's just not for me. Of course, she'd try to strip me of my feminist badge for voting for Obama, but I won't give it up that easy. NO ONE is perfect...not even Obama. The smartest people are the ones who realize that and who are going to keep asking the Obama administration the hard questions and compel him to be a better leader...and keep his sexism in check. Just like we'd have to do with Clinton's racism, had she been president.

*I have read several of her blogs, none of which openly endorsed McCain/Palin, so I'm going with "implictly" since I don't know for sure. She bashes McCain a little here and there...but because Palin is on the ticket seems to not mind him too much.

Popular Music and the White Horse Myth

So I don't think I've written about Rhianna and Chris Brown, because everyone else has talked it to death. I guess all I will say is that I was really upset when I first heard about it because my girls *IDOLIZE* him.

This post is really about Taylor Swift, however. I'll make the connection to Rhianna later...

Taylor Swift is a squeaky clean, upbeat, happy-go-lucky, young kind of musical "artist." For that, most people would applaud her. She hasn't fallen into any of the "bad girl" activities that many of her counterparts have. Thus far, she's avoided trashy photos, public intoxication, breast implants, or drug use...that we know of. So YAY, she's not a complete disaster.

Here's the thing: Taylor Swift's lyrics, in my opinion, are as damaging to young girls as seeing Britney Spears' personal life all over the media. Take a look at "Love Song." The message? You can be rescued by a Romeo. He'll ask your dad for your hand in'll get to wear a white dress, and all your troubles will melt away. sweet and misogynist!

Her next song, which I saw in a commercial the other day, is called "White Horse." Here's the chorus:

That I'm not a princess
This ain't a fairytale
I'm not the one you'll sweep off her feet
Lead her up the stairwell
This ain't Hollywood
This is a small town
I was a dreamer before you went and let me down
Now it's too late for you and your white horse
To come around

Maybe I was naive
Got lost in your eyes and never really had a chance
My mistake I didn't know to be in love
You had to fight to have the upper hand

I had so many dreams about you and me
Happy endings,
Now I know

Ok, so now she's figured out that knights in shining armor don't really exist. That's a little more realistic. But the problem here is that this sends the message that a savior on a white horse is what the guy should be. Additionally, she sings that basically she had been dreaming of happy endings but came to realize that she had believed in a fantasy, and that reality was very different.

So I'm thinking how about we NOT teach our girls to believe in fantasies? How about we NOT teach them to want to be princesses looking for a man in shining armor to save them? The fact of the matter is that NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU BUT YOURSELF. Until we teach girls that they are full and total people in and of themselves who do not require anyone to fix them, save them, help them, or complete them, girls will forever be living in a fantasy.

Try to stay with me on this one…if we tell girls that “Mr. Right” will come along and save them, then girls (and women) begin to make out every man they love to be this perfect savior. They create a fantasy world, as described in the lyrics, and believe in their “savior” men. Even when the men, as Ms. Swift puts it, let you down and have to fight to have the upper hand.

This is where beaten and battered young women like Rhianna come in. As we’ve heard in the latest news, she and Chris are back together and even potentially collaborating in the studio on a love song.

If we teach young women that they are full and complete people on their own, they wouldn’t stay with an abusive person, they would know that love should never hurt, and they wouldn’t think they can stay with their abuser and “change him.” They would be realistic about the faults of the men in their lives and know when to get out! (And by saying this, I am in NO WAY trying to blame the victim! I’m just saying that such young women would expect better for themselves, and get out.)

What we’ve got to teach our daughters is that they don’t need saving. They are strong. They can take care of themselves and they don’t need anyone to help them. So what’s this mean for love, romance, and being “swept off your feet*”? Nothing! True love comes from people choosing to be together, not from one person needing the other. Romance can be alive and well between two equally situated people in a relationship. In fact, I would argue that romance is BETTER when the individuals enjoy an equal balance of power…but I don’t have experience with it in an unequal relationship to compare against. I just have a hunch.

So in summary, don’t listen to Taylor Swift. And if you’re like me and you can’t avoid her on the radio, then at least don’t buy her music. Being squeaky clean isn’t good enough if the substance is unrealistic, superficial, and damaging.

*I just realized I don’t like the phrase “swept off your feet” because of its literal meaning of being picked up and carried off.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Subtle Sexism

So last week, I was invited to the Indiana Commission on Women's Torchbearer Awards. This annual event is where women from across the state who have made an impact on their communities are honored for their service. I was invited by Girls Inc.'s President and CEO, since she was an award winner, and I just happened to be the person who nominated her.

I had two major take home thoughts about the event.

1) I really want to win this award someday. All of the women's stories were so inspirational. If I could win this award someday waaaay in the future, it would mean that I had dedicated my life to a purpose, and that my work would be validated.
2) Sexism is alive and well.

Now, that second conclusion might be surprising, seeing as how I was attending an event that was so female friendly and empowering. And that's just the thing...even at this event to honor trailblazing women, the sexism was there, alive and well, in at least two places. First, one of the commission's presenters said some inspirational phrase...something to the extent of "When man's dreams are achieved..." Next, all the women were escorted to the stage by two Indiana Guardsmen.

If you're a feminist, you probably see what I'm getting at. If you're not, you're probably wondering, "What's the big deal?" And that's just the thing, these two little things aren't "big deals" in and of themselves, but it's all the "little deals" adding up that allow sexism to continue to thrive.

"Big deal" examples of sexism and misogyny are job and pay discrimination, forced homemaking, rape, domestic violence, and other oppressions. Because these topics aren't as bad as they used to be, many people claim that feminism is over and no longer needed.* However, sexism IS alive in the "little things" which is exactly why feminism is still relevant. Let me explain.

Walking a woman to the podium is, in and of itself, not a "big deal." But the messages underlying it are: Women are weak and need help, women are something to be protected, women are something to be treated specially, women are somehow different from men when it comes to walking to the stage. Saying "man" as a way to address everyone is, in and of itself, not a "big deal." But the messages behind this sexist language are: Men are the measure of personhood, women aren't full people, the only important people are men. And like it or not, while language might not seem that important, it is. Language shapes your reality!

I've been fighting another form of subtle sexism in my personal life lately. Since the marriage, and even before, I have been continuously forced to explain and justify why I haven't taken Ronald's name. Now, this is something I knew I would have to do, and I understand I will continue to have to explain and justify into the future. On its face, a name change is no "big deal." But for the record, here's the real deal: The idea of changing your name comes from the times when women were not considered people, but rather property. The change of name signified a woman's transfer from the ownership of one man (her father) to the ownership of another (her husband.) Does that seem like no "big deal?" Sure, it doesn't mean that anymore, but let's be real about our past! Why should I brand myself? My name is my identity. (Plus it takes more work to change your name that to not.)

These "little things" are all around us, and it is exactly because they are little, that they continue to exist. People should be and are outraged by blatant misogyny, but the subtle sexism around us is shrugged of as nothing to worry about. After all, isn't it more important to fight the big battles over the little ones?

At the end of the day, the answer is yes: It is more important to fight the big battles. But when we continue to allow subtle sexism to exist, we are continuing to implicitly affirm the bigger stereotypes that exist behind them.

Just some food for thought.

*My words here are in no way to claim that any of these evils do not still exist in our society. They are still around...But my intention is to point out some gender issues that a majority of people are vastly against and which have been somewhat improved over time.