Monday, March 29, 2010

Dear Reasonable American Republicans

I recently wrote an entry about the new trend of your party for yelling things out in Congress. After writing it, I began to think about all of the many other things about your party that literally sicken me. (This is not a poetic exaggeration, I literally get stomach issues when I think about it too long; it stresses and frustrates me that much.)

I decided then that when I got a moment I would write you a letter and try to express my concerns with what is going on. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am not a Republican. I have never been a Republican; in fact I’m really, really liberal. However, while I was raised in a nuclear family composed of Democrat voters, there is a lot of conservativism in my family. I was raised going to church, respecting protestant values, and taught to be fiscally conservative. So I didn’t blindly choose to be liberal, I came to it by becoming a thinking, informed adult and I realized what was best for me. There it is. That’s my bias, out on the table.HoHh

So while I do not agree with conservative values, I generally respect people who disagree with me. However, the following issues I have with your party go beyond what I can respectfully stand. As such, I’m calling you out.

  1. Disrespect for the American political system AKA yelling shit out in congress. (Sorry to be so blunt.) I dealt with this in more detail here, as mentioned above. In summary, I cannot think of a more childish, discourteous way for America’s political decision makers to behave. Unacceptable.
  2. Refusal to work together and compromise. You have blocked literally everything that the president and Democrat majority congress have tried to do. It doesn’t matter what it is, you vote against it. How will you get being the party who stands for nothing except being against Democrats? The biggest example is the health care bill, but to better illustrate what I actually mean, I will use the example I talked about here. Basically, Al Franken sponsored an amendment on a bill. That amendment that would end government contacts with companies that keep raped American contact workers from prosecute their rapists and suing the contract companies. What should have been a very uniting vote...a no brainer, still garnished several "NAY" votes. And they were from (male) Republicans (only.) Disgusting.
  3. This leads nicely into my third gripe, the Republican commentator tendency to equate liberalism to the "raping" of America. If I need to explain why this is a problem, then we are simply not on the same plane of thought, and I am not capable of discussing much of anything with you. But just in case, I'll let Amanda and Jill pick this apart. It makes me SICK.
  4. And of course, if you clicked those links, then you can see why I would say that I also take issue with the Republican tendency to embrace racism. As if it isn't bad enough that you have hardly any POC representation in your party, you are out rightly racist in your rhetoric. You can call them cartoons, I will call it what it is: racism. And it's not just limited to Obama, your racism has been aimed at others like Sonia Sotomayor and John Lewis. In fact, some might even say that points #1 and #5 are inextricably linked to your racism. When you say you want to "take our country back" what else are we supposed to believe? Who is the "our?" And who are we taking it back from?
  5. Of course the racism and rape analogies lead right into my next point: The link between Republicans and the utilization of violence. From threats on Obama to the murder of Dr. Tiller to threats of violence against representatives who voted for the health care bill, all of it is extremely disturbing, chilling, and totally inexcusable. How is violence ever a rational solution in public discourse? It's not. As I realize that violence is not the response of reasonable individuals, I do not hold all or even most Republicans responsible for the violence, I am simply acknowledging a scary link. However, what I will hold the party responsible for is...
  6. Unabashedly embracing right wing fringe groups. I really can't explain this any better than Jill has. As she said about the fringe's use of violence, racism, and homophobia, "We’re talking about a major political party that does nothing to deter that kind of behavior, and instead quietly encourages it." This point for me goes hand in hand with the vilification of the word liberal. Republicans have worked SO VERY HARD to make liberal a dirty word that no one uses or self identifies with in major political elections. Heaven forbid a Democrat be linked to liberal fringe groups. Barack Obama was said to be such a liberal crazy, to be feared...and yet "smart, conservative leadership" is thrown around every where. It seems to me that I should be a lot more afraid of the word conservative, at least by how it is being portrayed to by the current Republican Party.
  7. And while we're talking about homophobia, Republicans are the anti-gay marriage party...the party of anti-gay everything. This is something I just really don't get. Like I've said 100 times...if you don't want a gay marriage don't. have. one. Why oppress a group of people for shits and giggles? However, Republican's anti-gay stance highlights something that kills me the most about the right: Hypocrisy. It's not surprising that the top 10 anti-gay politicians caught being gay are Republicans. And it's not surprising that the RNC, a party of "family values" is spending money on strippers. (Keeping in mind that I intend not to make a judgment call about sex work, but rather highlight the hypocrisy of holding everyone to rigid sexual standards and then using party money on sex workers.) And threatening violence against the guy YOU called a "baby killer?" Really?
  8. Lastly, the Republican Party accuses Barack Obama of being all talk, yet, like I mentioned in #2, they themselves are chiefly the reason he can get nothing done. The real problem is that everything that Democrats try to do or say is ignored, belittled, or twisted. If you do not come to the table with some level of respect for your adversary, intelligent discourse is utterly impossible. For example, watching meet the press yesterday, Democrat Bob Schrum made a point about how losing Ted Kennedy's Democrat Senate seat mobilized the Democrat Party, and all Republican commentator Mike Murphy had to say about it was that it was a bunch of "disingenuous sound bites" that he couldn't address. If you continually ignore, belittle, or twist what your opponent is saying, then nothing will ever get done. EVER. It's an evasive discussion technique. It's in the same vein as saying that someone's tone is "too angry" for you hear what they are saying; as a way of ignoring their message, of course.

Well guess what, I am angry. But I've tried to keep my tone respectful and actually address what I feel is soon to be the death of the American political system. Seriously, if contempt, non-action, hypocrisy, violence, racism, careless rape analogies, and belittling within mainstream American politics isn’t to be the death of our system, what is? When the fringe becomes the typical, how is civil discourse possible? When everyone is Rush Limbaugh, how will we ever hear each other?

We’re not there yet, but the Republican party is bringing us scarily close. And that’s why I addressed this to you, reasonable American Republicans. You are the ones who are not participating in violence or racism, and yet you are being represented by those who are. How does that make you feel? Are you going to do something about it?

Discuss issues with me. Disagree with me. Vehemently defend your viewpoint. But don’t use violence or a rape analogy. Don’t belittle, threaten, or ignore me.

Sincerely,

Ami Kane

Liberal.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Good Effort: How to Train Your Dragon

So I recently wrote about how Disney has had some feminist scores in the genre of children's films with Alice in Wonderland and The Princess and the Frog. I would now like to add Dreamwork's How to Train Your Dragon to the steadily developing short list of feminist-ish children's movies I would be happy to show my hypothetical future children.

*Mild spoilers to follow*

How to Train Your Dragon is essentially a retelling of the age old story about a boy and his dog, only replace dog with dragon. As such, it isn't perfect as far as feminist movies goes, but it is definitely a step up from other films which feature a woman being saved by a man. My chief compliant with it is that it doesn't pass the Brechdel Test which stipulates that there be at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The main reason it cannot pass this test is that the main character, Hiccup, is in nearly every scene leaving no opportunity for the female characters to talk to each other. And I'm not certain that if they did talk to each other it wouldn't be about Hiccup.

I'm also not happy that there aren't really very many female characters in general. There is the main girl/love interest, Astrid, and another female in Hiccup's dragon training class who is even less important. Adult women are present in the Viking society portrayed, but they are not critical to the story line. Also, Hiccup's family consists of him and his father, as his mother apparently passed away at some point in Hiccup's life.

Now, aside from the failure to pass the Brechdel Test and the low number of female characters, the rest of the movie is pretty damn feminist:

1) The society the Vikings live in is one of constant battle with the various dragon types that plague their livestock. The sole measure of valor for them is slaying dragons. This is a task equally undertaken by the men and women in their world with an apparent blind eye to any expectation of appropriate gender roles.

2) The most respected elder and decision maker in their society is a woman.

3) Astrid is a kick ass chick. She is at the head of the dragon training class (until Hiccup befriends his dragon, Toothless, and gains insider knowledge the rest of the townspeople never had about dragons.) Astrid is shown as the only person in the class with a natural inclination for practice dragon slaying and does so with cunning and physical strength. She embodies what it means to be a Viking in their world.

4) Astrid and Hiccup are definite gender role reversals. Hiccup is the thinking, feeling creature and Astrid is more the active, physical one. AND the lesson at the end isn't that they must overcome these natural inclinations and conform to gender roles, but rather that it takes a little of both to be successful.

5) Hiccup's father is a hypermasculinized character (as we think of masculinity, but in their society it's more just being a Viking: both men and women are like this) who must learn the values of listening, thinking, and feeling in order to be a better father and person in general.

6) Hiccup (or any other male character) do not rescue or save any female character. Rather the climax is reached and the main adversary is overcome by working together toward a common goal.

7) The resolution of the story line is basically a metaphor for thinking, discussion, understanding, compromise, and united effort over violence and brute force. (Although I don't think the anti-violence message is as clear as it could be.) And the lesson is learned through the actions of a male challenging what he is "supposed to be." I think that in this case, it was better that Hiccup was male and not female, because it sends a message of how masculinity can be and not how it must be due to rigid gender roles.

Basically, I would have liked a heavier involvement of female characters, but this is a wonderful children's film that has layers that which run much deeper than the cuteness of a boy and his dragon. (And trust me, that dragon is DAMN CUTE. Toothless is one of my all time favorite animated characters now.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

BABY KILLERS!

So there's a lot for a feminist to blog about right now. Namely, the passage of the health care bill that Democrats have been working on. I'm not going to lie; I know very little about what it actually contains. However, I do know, because of my reading of Feministing.com that the affect it will have on access to abortion is problematic. And I agree that, "You don't get rewarded for demonstrating a lack of political power, you get further marginalized."

All that being said, I don't really have a lot to add to the discussion. I'm torn. On one hand, I know how important radically changing the health care system in the United States is...all that really takes is watching Sicko once, never mind living without insurance, (which I've only had to do for a total of 4 months in my life--a very scary four months, indeed) or having a mother whose insurance company is trying to fight to not cover breast cancer treatments (radiation, chemo, and a second surgery.)

But on the other hand, and there is always another hand...I'm concerned about passing this legislation which is said will end the ability to purchase a private plan which will cover abortions. (In other words, you won't be able to use your own money to get your abortion through insurance.) You know, until we begin to view abortions as the medical procedure they are, we will continue to have these problems. I have always been hesitantly pro-choice, but I've recently become more convinced that no matter how you personally feel about abortion or the personhood of a fetus, there is very little reason to believe that outlawing abortion would do anyone any good. (Like they say, if you oppose gay marriage, don't have one...If you are anti-choice, don't have an abortion.)

While we're on the subject, I'd just like to point out how incredibly, INCREDIBLY foolish it was for Randy Neugebauer to shout "Baby killer" at BART STUPAK. It never ceases to amaze me how comfortable radical republicans are with letting their ignorance and unprofessionalism be shown. Things that are wrong with Neugebauer's statement:

1) Bart Stupak is vehemently anti-choice.
2) No federal money will be used to fund abortions.
3) In fact, the wording of the health care bill, as I mentioned above, is over broad and essentially ends insurance coverage for abortions, leaving us further away from Roe v. Wade than we were at this time yesterday. Wouldn't a crazy like Neugebauer be happy?
4) (And most importantly...) YOU DON'T SHOUT OUT HATE SPEECH IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. Let me make this crystal clear: Have a little respect for your country, your political system, your colleagues, your job, YOURSELF. You, sir, are not a child incapable of self control. In fact, you are in one of the most prestigious and important fields in the United States. (Lord knows how you got there--Thanks, Texas.) Get your act together and behave like an intelligent, capable adult.

Unless you are neither of those things...which I suspect is the case.

But really, republicans, what's up with this shit? Yelling stuff out on more than one occasion? If democrats had done this during the Bush administration, they would have been labeled anti-American crazies.

Well guess what, republicans...you all are becoming anti-American crazies. A political party cannot define itself by what it WON'T do to help the American people and shouting like little children.

SHAME.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Transform Me

So there's been a lot of feminist speculation about VH1's new show Transform Me. The premise of the show is that three transwomen makeover cisgendered women. So far the feminist speculation has been that the show will essentially exploit the transwomen. However, as it is just now airing, all of the speculation thus far as been just that: speculation.

I'm watching the premiere right now. There are a few things that I like about the show. The main make over-er, Laverne, eloquently articulated her experience as a transwoman (in the few seconds they devoted to this...) Also, the show wasn't set up so that the make over-ers don't have a big reveal at the end like "SURPIRSE! You were made over by a transwoman!" Unfortunately, there is a reveal of sorts, but it's at the very beginning and it's brief and not the point of the show, at least. They also throw one of those "for more information about what it means to be transgendered" messages, so maybe this will raise awareness?

There is a lot more, however, that is problematic about the show, as expected...for one, it highlights the "transformation" aspect of the trans experience over the actual personhood of the individuals involved. I've read quite a bit about how transpeople are seen as forever in transition instead of being accepted for who they are. I feel like this is present here.

Also, some of the language (even used by the transwomen themselves) is problematic. At one point Jamie makes some comment about how she knows about making big changes because she "changed her gender." I feel like this wording could be taken to confirm the misinformation that transwomen really are men, but they just make an arbitrary change to become women.

The show also definitely displays the stereotype of the hyper femninity of transwomen and plays with that whole idea of "if we can go from MEN to being this fabulous, then you too can be hot and sexy!"

And of course, it plays into the stereotypical depiction of women in general where appearance is everything and empowerment comes through focusing on your looks. It's the same old tired message that if you get a haircut and put on some eyeshadow and generally glamorize yourself, you'll automatically feel better about everything...When the truth is more likely that you probably feel like shit because you've been focusing too much on fruitlessly comparing yourself to the unrealistic media ideal.

HOWEVER, having said all this, I will note that like many of the linked commenters and the blog writer Jill, I am still in favor of the imperfect depiction of transpeople in the media rather than their complete exclusion and invisibility. I would love to get to a place where transpeople are represented in the media in honest and nonstereotypical ways. We are not there yet...and Transform Me is certainly not a realistic depiction, but I'm still happy to see three transwomen on television. I can't remember seeing any on television 10 years ago, except perhaps on shows like Maury with the title "I'm Hiding Something" where they were totally the object of scorn and disgust.

To wrap up my thoughts on it all, I'll leave it to a commentor on the linked blog above, Aliem:
As much as I’d like to say that this is awful and exploitative (which it is) and
probably going to create a lot of BS stereotypes about transwomen (which it
will), I’m still a fan of the idea of this show for one huge reason: being
thought of as a fashion maven (which I’m not) beats the hell out of being
either pitied or fear-mongered about (which I am!)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What is a "Feminist Ally?"

So twice in the past week I've come across the term "feminist ally." The first was on a feminist blog calling another blogger this term. It didn't stick out to me initially. Then I saw it used in the comments section of a different feminist blog in the context of "feminists and allies must fight against XXX."

This got me thinking...What exactly is a feminist ally? I'm familiar with gay allies. Like GLAAD says, "A straight ally can merely be someone who is supportive and accepts the LGBT person, or a straight ally can be someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment."

This makes sense to me, and I actually identify as a gay ally (on both parts). One can support the freedom of non-heterosexuality and believe in rights for homosexuals, but not actually particpate in homosexuality. Feminism is not the same. Let's take a look at a similar definition of feminist ally like, for example, "A feminist ally can merely be someone who is supportive and accepts the feminist, or a feminist ally can be someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment of women."

This doesn't make sense. If you personally advocate for equal rights and fair treatment of women, then you ARE a feminist (like the term or not!). You are not a feminist ally. And if you are supportive and accepting of a feminist, but do NOT advocate for equal rights and fair treatment, then you are merely someone who lets others believe what they want, but you are not actually an ally to the feminist at all.

Basically, "feminist ally," to me sounds like another way to try to make people who are afraid of the word feminist more comfortable with it as a concept, and to perpetuate the FALSE assumption that only women are feminists. A simple Google search of "feminist ally" confirms that there is an immediate connection made between the term feminist ally and males.

Guess what? Men can be and are feminists. These soft and fuzzy cutesy terms, (like feminist ally) used to reinforce false assumptions about feminism and feminists, get us nowhere. It does the movement a whole lot more good if the people who really are feminists embrace the term and denounce the negative spin that has been put on it.

UPDATE, July 2013: I understand that there is a very real and important sect of feminism that feels that identifying as a male feminist is problematic and uses the term "ally" for these people. I, personally, don’t take issue with male identified feminists, because I’ve seen it done right several times. But that is rare. Some men take on the feminist label and appropriate it with the intention to mansplain and talk over women. I’ve often heard that instead of making feminism for men, men should make their spaces (ie the rest of the world) more feminist. I like that.

Ultimately, whatever term you use, it’s much more important to live the values of feminism than to "be a feminist." The first step for participating in ANY movement where you carry a privilege is to STOP TALKING AND LISTEN. Seriously—read, listen, and learn all you can.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good News & Me in Wonderland

I'm so happy for Washington DC about this. We are getting closer and closer to achieving marriage rights for ALL people in the United States. (As a side note regarding the last section of that article about putting gay marriage up for a popular vote: Since WHEN were the rights of other people to be determined by popular vote? That's illogical and goes against the foundation of this country. Not everything should be up for popular vote because the majority of the people can be wrong and thereby infringe on their kinspeople's rights. Google "Tyranny of the Majority" if you don't believe me.)

Secondly, I want to speak a bit about Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland...I had the privilege of seeing this in a sneak preview earlier this week. I hadn't been too excited by the idea of seeing it. For some reason, the film just sort of went under the radar for me. I didn't even realize it was coming out this Friday already. I just knew that Ronald got us sneak peek passes, and I'm not one to pass up a free film. So I wasn't UNexcited to see it, but not overly excited either. In retrospect I find this odd because when I was little, the Disney animated Alice in Wonderland was the movie I watched the most after Wizard of Oz. (Ah, fond memories of VHS.) This came back to me as I watched the new 3D live action version and found it all so happily familiar.

If you want a detailed review of the film, I suggest you check out Ronald's here. What I want to mention is how nice it was to sit back and enjoy a story with a strong female lead who makes decisions for herself.

*Spoilers to follow*

Specifically, here's what I love about this "sequel" to the Disney animated movie:
1) Alice is outspoken and determined, not at all like the 1951 animated version who was unsure of herself and a bit silly. (However, according to the mythology cartoon Alice is 6 and live action Alice is almost 20, so I hope she'd mature within that time.)
2) The two most powerful rules in Wonderland are queens.
3) The people who do the rescuing are females (Alice and the dormouse).
4) Alice refuses to marry a man in the "real world" that she doesn't love, but she doesn't do so in order to find her one true love. She, instead, goes into her father's former business. There is no implication that she's interested in a man at all.

Disney is on the right track! I saw The Princess and the Frog and was mildly enthused by it. Tiana, the main character, is an extremely hard worker who makes her own way in life and isn't really saved. However, I felt like the message was that men can get by being be foolish and silly and still have a great life, while women must work extremely hard and be model citizens. And their prize for this behavior? A man.

Other feminists viewed The Princess and the Frog much more favorably. But I think that Alice steps up where The Princess and the Frog failed: it does not reinforce the age old stereotype that the most important thing a woman can do is get a man. Once I realized that this was where Alice was ultimately going, I found myself turning to Ronald and mouthing, "This movie is awesome."

By all accounts, the movie wasn't a total masterpiece. But it was highly enjoyable and I am so happy that this is a movie that little girls will be seeing in the upcoming days, months, and years. If Disney continues on this trend, I might be forced to reconsider my position on them. Of course, it helps the screenplay was written by a woman. All the more reason for better female representation in film careers.