Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Buy, Buy: Confessions of a Consumerist

Image from www.ourbreathingplanet.com

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

It is the time of year. The weather's cooler.  Bright colored lights fill our windows and there's a certain energy in the air. It can only mean one thing. The Christmas shopping season is upon us.

Maybe it's because Black Friday and Cyber Monday have just passed, or maybe it's because I'm moving so the fact that I own way too much is very relevant to me right now. In either case, I've been reflecting upon my own issues with consumerism. I've written before about how I feel that our society pushes consumption, not only of food, but also all goods. The worst of this mentality is highlighted during the Christmas season. It is inescapable, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Messages affirming the importance of material goods are everywhere: You NEED this deal! Your love is displayed through the giving of items. Buy, buy, buy.

The results are pretty heinous, year after year. Because of mad rushes at store openings, people were injured and trampled. A woman out for a half price XBOX 360 turned a can of pepper spray on her fellow shoppers. It is downright disgusting and it's very easy to become an armchair sociologist in situations like this. I'm better than that. I could never act that way. Those people are "crazy." I'll admit, these very thoughts go through my mind every Black Friday when I hear that shoppers get up earlier and earlier or sit outside during Thanksgiving day. I muse to myself about how I have never wanted anything that bad.

It really is very simple to point to the Black Friday shoppers as the "problem" with our consumerist mentality. However, a much more productive act is to examine how each of us, ourselves, play a role in this system.

In this spirit, I've been considering lately how I personally have an unhealthy relationship with things, shopping, and appearances. This relationship, as many things from our lives, hearkens back to my childhood. My grandmother, the most important adult figure in my upbringing, and I bonded over many a shopping trip. She was very firm that I always  "look my best." She taught me how to apply makeup, do my hair, and pick outfits that matched. I have so many warm fuzzies associated with shopping and her. It was so frequently a respite from a less happy home life with my nuclear family.

But that wasn't all she was to me, so it's difficult to extract the many wonderful, empowering messages from the ones which are potentially negative and sexist. While she did think I should always be able to take care of myself and that I could be anything I wanted , she was also, at her core, a product of a time before the second wave. She fully believed that she couldn't leave with house without makeup (for example.)

The result on me has been that I engage in "retail therapy" out of both habit and a semi-subconscious effort to feel close to my grandmother again. I buy things I don't need and now own more shoes, clothes, nail polishes, and other frivolous items than any woman could possibly ever consume. The items themselves are not the problem. (I have been known to advocate for "girliness.") The issue is how very much of them I feel that I need. My disposable income is too often stretched thin in the name of the consumerist mentality.

For my own good, I must work on these behaviors. The solution for me is to find the same warm fuzzies from other sources and to be more mindful about the purchases I make. It sounds so simple, but just as systemic changes for our society, it is much easier said than done. However, if all of us who play a role in our consumerist culture take a moment to introspect and be more thoughtful about how and why we spend money, things will probably be a lot less violent on Black Friday. It would become extremely clear that when someone gets knocked down during a shopping rush, you don't walk over them. You help them up. And if it means that you miss out on a $90 TV, but a fellow human being gets to live another day, you've done the right thing.

Sex Scandals: Tread Carefully

Ok, I haven't been fully following the Herman Cain sex scandals. What I catch are tidbits here and there...mostly from Jezebel, which while one of my favorite online reads, isn't considered a bastion of hard news. However, it appears there is some new big development with a 13 year affair and everyone is talking about it.

Taking a step back from Herman Cain specifically, I'd like to issue a reminder when we are discussing sex scandals in general, which seem to come up so very frequently.

1) It is totally different for someone to carry on consensual adult affairs than for someone to be accused of rape, assault, pedophilia, sexual harassment, or any other non consensual act. It is illogical to ever try to draw comparisons between the two. Having an affair behind your wife's back makes you a shitty, untrustworthy partner, but not a criminal. Big difference.

2) A sex scandal is not worse ipso facto if it involves people of mixed races or same genders. Any assertion otherwise is typically rooted in racism and/or homophobia.

3) I agree with Jill at Feministe that it is different to judge someone's personal life and personal actions for fun vs. calling someone out for their hypocrisy. I'll admit, I do more harshly judge conservatives who tout family values for their personal indiscretions than I do social liberals. It seems fair...you can't try to hold everyone to values that you do not personally uphold.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Just a Reminder, Foolish Trolls...

I have a zero tolerance policy for hate/trolling around these parts. Disagree with me, fine, but do so logically and respectfully. Comments lacking any intellectual merit will be deleted. You can spend alllll the time you'd like talking shit, making up stats, and feeling very important, but it won't see the light of day.

Perhaps you should go spend your time on more important endeavors...or maybe your life really is so empty you have to spend your evening trying to rain on someone else's parade.

Sad, really.

No wonder Sady Doyle has been championing #MenCallMeThings. There's so much hate to go around for feminists that even small fries like me get my share.

It's remarkable how people react when you tear apart something they enjoy. Look just because you like something (like a TV show about zombies, for example) doesn't mean that other people can't analyze it and find it lacking. Aw, did I hurt your feelings? So write a rebuttal on YOUR blog. (Although I'm not entirely sure you possess the intellectual prowess to make that happen, but whatever.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

When Thanking Becomes a Problem

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

It is the season of thanks. Expressing gratitude is a wonderfully beautiful thing; not only to express to others in appreciation of their generosity, but also as an act for oneself. Taking time to reflect upon the important things in our lives and really being thankful about them puts things in perspective. However, having laid out that I do think expressing thanks is valuable, I'd like to take a moment to discuss how simply saying "thank you," like most things, can be a very gendered act.

First, let me back up.  As a nonprofit manager, my work depends on the generosity of others. This career path puts you in the position to operate from a place of continual gratitude. That's a given. Nevertheless, this past summer, I realized something about myself and my communication style. I took a look at the emails I was writing. Literally every single one ended with "Thanks!" so much so, that it was even a part of my chosen signature line. Often I would start emails with a statement of thanks and then end it with "thanks again." Frequently, I was thanking people who were simply doing their jobs. In fact, I would end emails this way even when I was actually doing a favor for someone else. I also apologized for things that were not my fault and generally assumed a submissive stance in my day to day interactions.

It became a bit emotionally exhausting. People weren't reciprocating this behavior and I sort of felt like crap on a regular basis. I decided something had to change. I've come to believe that people will respond to you in the manner that you present yourself to them. If you grovel, they'll believe that they are doing you a favor. If you apologize, they will believe you were in the wrong. Apologies imply that much. Conversely, if I wanted to be taken seriously, I decided I had to drop unnecessary thanks and apologies.

This small switch in how I conducted my email communications began to make me feel a lot better. Turns out, I'm not alone in this approach. I recently read a piece by Amy Reiter over at The Daily Beast, where she goes through a similar process. She writes,
Then one day I looked up from my under-challenging, midlevel job and noticed that my boss, who was generally regarded as kind of a jerk, but a smart and talented one, never, ever thanked people. He never apologized. And he didn’t appear to give a rip about what was going on in the lives of anyone around him. He never took responsibility when things went wrong, preferring instead to label someone else the culprit and chew them out.

...A recent study examining the relationship between agreeableness, income and gender, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the workplace does tend to reward disagreeable behavior. Disagreeable men tend to earn more than agreeable men, and disagreeable women, though they earn less than both nice and not-nice guys, earn more than agreeable women, researchers found.
These facts are interesting. The truth is that sugary sweet politeness doesn't pay off, literally, so why use it? As women we are continuously told to play nice and to be accommodating and to put others before ourselves. It's high time we reject this behavior and reclaim our right to communicate clearly, firmly, professionally, and without groveling. I guess what I'm really getting at is that thanking, like everything else in life, should not be a mindless, reflexive act and it certainly shouldn't come from a place of obligation. It means much more when you offer thanks only when it is motivated by actual gratitude.  Basically, don't pepper your language with unnecessary thank yous and apologies.

And unnecessary really is the operative word here. I'm certainly not advocating for jerkiness either. So please do take time this week to express genuine thanks as you feel it. Appreciate the happiness in your life and share it with friends, family, coworkers, and you community. And do apologize when you are wrong.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! But to quote a very appropriate Tweet by scatx, "Be thankful on Thanksgiving, hang with family and friends - but don't for a second celebrate false history about Native/European relations." In case your curious, you can learn more about what she means here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why, Donald Glover, Why?

And then there's the moment when I learn this about Troy--UH I mean Donald Glover and become really, really sad. Trigger warning on the link for rape jokes. Of all sorts.


Dear AMC's The Walking Dead...Stop It

Seriously--knock it off. Whatever it is you are trying to do with the gender situation in season two, cut it out. It's not working, and it's pretty offensive.

(Spoilers to follow)

The main crew
Let me back up. So, my friend Danee has been working on a piece about the feminism of AMC's The Walking Dead, mostly season 1. It was really fun watching it with her while considering this perspective, and getting to see the finished piece she came up with. Overall, it gave me a perspective about season one that was mixed.

Basically, the feeling I got was that the characters were struggling to figure out how gender would play out in their new world--one which is very different from our current culture, but is composed of people who were members of our society, and therefore bring with them all the notions of patriarchy that each of us carry on a daily basis. Tasks like defending the group from "walkers," hunting, and leading were left primarily to men, while women took on traditionally feminine roles like cooking, childcare, and foraging. However, as Danee detailed in her piece, there were challenges to the traditional gender structure. It was interesting, complex, and worth analysis.

(Side note: Danee, if you have an electronic version of your article any time soon, I'd like to link to it here.)

Then came Season 2. I honestly feel like the writers this season showed up to work the first day and said, "FUCK IT, let's make all the women somewhat foolish/childish/needy and the men strong leaders. DONE."

I will give you a few examples:

1) Andrea shoots Daryl-- You see, in the episode "Chupacabra," Daryl had ventured into the woods to look for a lost girl on his own. He is significantly injured and comes trudging back to the camp looking a bit like a walker. From a distance, Andrea spies him with her rifle scope and decides to take a shot. Protecting the group might sound like a smart, progressive thing for a female character to do and it would be IF: a) everyone hadn't already been taught a million times that gunshots are dangerous as they attract walkers. b) there wasn't a group of men already approaching Daryl with hand weapons who had CLEARLY stopped short staring at what was happening and figuring out it was him. Wouldn't she wonder why they weren't attacking? But no, she acts foolishly and impulsively and shoots Daryl. But don't worry guys! She's such a mess up that she doesn't even fully strike her target, she only grazes his head. Daryl will be just fine despite tha crazee womern! Now I know some people will argue that the character of Andrea is actually getting stronger simply because she's been wielding a gun more--but let me put it like this, you can put a gun a woman's hands and that does not make a strong character. The summation of her actions make or do not make a strong character. Besides, keep reading and tell me that the gender situation in this season isn't grim.
Andrea learning to shoot from Shane

2) Carol's incessant crying/helplessness--Carol is the mother of the missing girl, Sophia. Sophia's disappearance has been a major plot point this season (which, frankly, is getting old. She's been gone too long. Get over it, move on.) That aside, instead of doing anything about it and helping to look for her, Carol is just pretty much crying and wringing her hands constantly. And blaming Sophia's disappearance on Rick, the group's leader. I get that Carol is an abuse survivor which comes with a multitude of emotional scars. However, when they killed off her abusive husband, Ed, mid first season, it looked like they were creating a turning point for her. When the camp is attacked and Ed is bitten, the survivors have to smash the heads of the dead/bitten people so that they don't reawaken as walkers. Carol takes on the task of smashing Ed's brains out and strikes his corpse over and over again out of pain and anger. At that moment, I thought I might be able to expect something interesting. Carol would no longer be constrained by Ed. What would she have to say and what could she do without him watching her every move? The answer is apparently simple: not a whole lot. Sure, it would be horrifically traumatic to lose your daughter in the woods any time, let alone during a zombie apocalypse. But a strong female character would DO something about it. Not sit around lamenting and running up to the search team episode after episode saying things like, "Any sign?"

3) Maggie's mixed signals--Because so many of the original crew from season one has become zombie food or decided to blow themselves up at the CDC, the writers had to introduce a whole new group of characters, and they did so by having the main crew stumble upon a farm house, owned by Hershel. Hershel's farm and family provide the crew with many things they needed: medical supplies, food, water, clothing, horses, and most importantly, safety. The farm group also serve as an important plot device: potential new love stories. One such story emerges between Glenn, from the original crew, and Maggie, Hershel's daughter. Maggie was a beacon of hope for me for a moment. Could it be? A bad ass chick who rides in on a horse, chops walkers, and leads others to safety? But of course, Maggie's characterization couldn't keep up the hopes I had. In her relationship with Glenn she falls into the stereotype of the woman who sends mixed signals and doesn't know what she wants. I really don't expect any female character to be perfect. I can accept that Maggie is overly emotional in interactions with various characters and that she has to be rescued in one excursion into town with Glenn--but can't she at least stay clear headed and decisive about their relationship?

4) Men are in charge of everything significant--Everything around the camp that matters is in the hands of one of the male characters. Rick and Hershel are the leaders of their respective groups. When it becomes clear that Hershel doesn't want the farm group and the main crew to become too entwined with one another, he tells Rick to get "his people" in order. This interaction clears up any doubt for us at the audience: men are running the show. All real challenges to authority come from other men. Even when Maggie challenges authority, she doesn't do so on her own behalf. Rather, she questions why Glenn isn't more powerful amongst the core group. Plus, everything that needs to be learned comes from men. Need to learn to shoot? Shane's here for that! Need to learn to hunt or track? Daryl's your man. Learning mechanics? Talk to Dale. Need medical care? Hershel's here! Women are, again and again, positioned as assistants and learners while men are the gatekeepers of all "important" knowledge.

5) Lori's Plan B/Abortion Pill stuff--In the most recent episode, "Secrets" Lori didn't know the difference between Plan B and the abortion pill. This is what really was my inspiration to write this whole thing and the straw that broke the metaphorical camel's back. However, my issues with Lori runs much deeper than this. Lori, much like Carol but to a lesser degree, is constantly inactive. She is someone who had risen to become a female leader in her own right, but when push comes to shove she instantly defers to the judgement of various men like her husband Rick or her former lover, Shane. For example, when decisions must be made about her son Carl, she lets Rick make the final call.

However, the worst moment definitely was last night, when Lori was not only stupid, but delivered a dangerous message. You see, we've known Lori is pregnant for a few episodes, and had a positive pregnancy test, which means she's at least a few weeks along. So in a panic, she asks Glenn to bring her something from town. When Glenn and Maggie return, we finally learn what it was Lori needed as Maggie throws packages that are clearly marked with "the morning after pill" and says, "Here are your abortion pills!" Um, what? Ok, Maggie might not understand what they are, but it becomes pretty clear that at least a total of 4 characters on the show don't know the difference too--and Lori's the worst. Glenn asks her, "Will these even work?" to which she says, "I don't know." But later, in privacy, instead of reading the damn package to get the answer Lori ingests a HANDFUL of Plan B (but don't worry guys, she pukes it up later. Baby saved. Huzzah!)


Seriously? I mean, REALLY? This scene only serves to further misconceptions about EC, which for the last damn time, is NOT THE SAME AS THE ABORTION PILL. And make no mistake, this whole medicine mix up adds literally nothing to the story. They could have just as easily had Lori actually request abortions pills, be given abortion pills, take abortion pills, puke abortion pills, and it would have had the same affect on the story, but without furthering the myth that the morning after pill ends an existing pregnancy. Basically, the writers are either really lazy, want Lori to look like an utter moron, or are revealing their own pathetic ignorance about emergency contraception.


Look, I don't expect gender situations to be perfect, but they could at least be a little more nuanced than how season two is shaping up. In a show like The Walking Dead, they have a unique opportunity to reimagine the world, and to reimagine it in a way which is not actually less gender progressive than the world in which I currently operate. I mean, come on. I don't ask a lot. Anything would be better than this!

Disclaimer: My comments are limited solely to the AMC Walking Dead version, as I know nothing about the comics except that they're not much like the show.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

I've been wanting to read Mindy Kaling's new book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) for a while now. One of the websites I frequent, Jezebel, has been posting excerpts from it since May. I was really loving everything I saw, so I put it on my wish list. Then I got extremely busy around the time it came out and forgot about it for awhile. But then! Mr. Nerdy Feminist surprised me with it when I was sick this week.

So I jumped right in and decided to write a review of my thoughts. I'm going to start with the stuff I didn't like so that I can end on the things that were awesome.

Not So Great:

  • The whole book should probably have a trigger warning for body talk. Right in the first chapter, Kaling seems to be a bit self loathing about the fact that she's not a size zero. (One of the first chapters is called "Chubby for Life.") Later in the book she fills in a little body love/acceptance but it doesn't ever come across concretely. 
  • The tone/content--I'll get to what was nice about it later, but for now I'll say that while Kaling is 5 years my senior, it can feel a bit like I'm reading the musings of a 17 year old. I didn't really know she was as shopping/fashion focused as she is. That's fine, but it wasn't totally my cup of tea. Plus, some of the coolest and funniest stuff was already printed in the excerpts I read, so it was like when you watch a trailer for a movie that looks hilarious, and is hilarious, but you've already seen all the stuff by the time you're sitting in the theater.
  • There's a section where a rape joke turned out really well for her. Sigh.
The Great:
Ok, but like I said, there are lots of things I like about the book, so I'll get to those now.
  • The tone/content--When you can get past my complaints from above, it's a fun, quick read. The format is many short essays/lists which keep you generally entertained and laughing. It seems like Kaling didn't have an incredibly difficult time breaking into the biz, so she keeps it light and true to her experience. 
  • I love what she has to say about female friendships. If you'd like to read it, you can see the excerpt here, starting around page 80. It absolutely rang true for my experience with my best friend. When I first read this excerpt, I even emailed it to her. Uh yeah, that's us. 
  • She confirms that Amy Poehler is as kind and friendly in real life as you would expect her to be. (That's a big one for me--I make it no secret that I'm an Amy Poehler fan.)
  • I enjoy reading about her thoughts of her parents. She has a lot of admiration for them, not only for being her parents, but for also having a strong marriage. About them, she says, "My parents get along great because they are pals. They're not big on analyzing their relationship. What do I mean by pals? It mostly means they want to talk about the same stuff all the time." Being in a happy marriage founded on friendship, I totally get that. She adds, "Maybe the point is that any marriage is work, but you may as well pick work that you like." Truth.
  • Finally, without further ado, here it is...my absolute favorite part: 
Why didn't you talk about whether women are funny or not?
I just felt that by communicating that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn't. It should be the same as addressing the issue of "Should dogs and cats be able to care for children? They're in the house anyway." I try not to make it a habit to seriously discuss nonsensical hot-button issues. 

Get it, girl.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Defend Community!

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

I write about a lot of super deep topics around here. Rape. Homophobia. Eating disorders. Body shaming. Abortion. Street harassment...the list goes on. However, as it reads in my column intro, I write about both news AND pop culture. I'd like to take a moment to focus on and defend a beautiful peice of pop culture, NBC's Community.

Earlier this week, I heard that Community, one of my all time favorite TV shows, is in peril. It has been suspended indefinitely so the winter Thursday night line up doesn't include it. However, as Leah Rocketto wrote on TVology:
The show has not been cancelled. . . yet. According to New York Times television reporter Brian Stelter, the show is simply taking a break when 30 Rock returns on January 12. Stelter did his best to dispel the rumors on Twitter, also mentioning that Community has a slim chance of returning for a fourth season.
This has sparked tons of backlash from Community's small but loyal fan base. #sixseasonsandamovie as well as #savegreendale campaigns are all over Twitter at the moment. There are no shortage of voices explaining why Community rocks, just shortages of people watching it, apparently. Nevertheless, I'd like to add myself to the chorus making the case why we're not ready to let Community go.

When I first heard the news, part of me became deeply cynical. I see Community as an outlier of sorts--the cast is diverse both in terms of socioeconomics and race, so I got to thinking that of course a show of this nature gets cancelled. Meanwhile, 2 Broke Girls, Whitney, and Big Bang Theory are all still alive and kicking, but have virtually no brown characters and the ones they do have are tokens. Then yesterday Dodai Stewart over at Jezebel wrote a wonderful piece much more articulately detailing the importance of Community. She said:
But in terms of what it brings to the table, Community is a rare beast: Wry, witty, nuanced, hyper-kinetic, thoroughly current. And diverse. There are white guys, sure. But also women, black people, actors of Asian descent and a range of ages. On Community, along with Parks And RecreationThe Office, and, to some extent, 30 Rock, men, women, people of color work and white folks all work alongside each other, without a hint of tokenism or pandering. It's all about sharply drawn characters who bring the funny — a quality that knows no race or gender. In the 1970s, shows likeWhat's Happening!! and Good Times reflected an underrepresented group in society: Working poor black Americans. Community speaks of a different, more current America, one in which it's less about where you come from and more about where you're going. The very premise of the show — that a motley crew of individuals band together as a group in the name of education — touches on an aspect of the American dream. Community's strength lies in its utter unpredictability, wackiness and in-jokes; by being so inclusive, racially and gender-wise, it transcends color and sex and becomes about people. And how weird they are. And how we can be thrown together with folks we have absolutely nothing in common with, yet form (dare I say it?) a community.

The name Community isn't just about the fact that the characters are students at a community college. It's also a nod to the fact that they are an extremely random crew who have very little in common at first glance. However, throughout their various adventures together, they realize time and time again that they are family of sorts. They are the community. It's a joke on the show that the school's slogan is "you're already accepted" but it could be said that this is the very approach the students take to one another.

The show doesn't just represent a diverse cast. It has a lot of other really progressive things going on--women who have bodies we don't typically see in the media, students dealing with drug addiction recovery, religious tolerance, learning to ask for help when you need it, unplanned pregnancies, what it means to be a nontraditional student, as well as sexism, ageism, racism, and every other -ism. Their dealing with these topics is not always perfect. Just like real people, they are trying to figure it out as they go. But above all else, it's funny. I don't know how else to put it. It's just genuinely hilarious and so well written. The creator, Dan Harmon, didn't just think of a fun little TV idea and write a show. Conversely, he puts so much time, thought, and work into the show that it's really remarkable. If you are someone who loves geeky things or pop culture, you will be rewarded through references to spaghetti westerns, zombie flicks, animated Christmas specials, and much more.

I don't know how people who love stuff of this nature--like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Arrested Development, and Party Down--haven't learned yet that we have to tune in faithfully and get our friends to do so as well, or what we love will keep being canceled. At the end of the day, that's what TV is; a business intent on making money through advertising revenue. And if there are no viewers, there is no money.  So until executives learn more sophisticated measurements than Nielsen ratings, we're going to have to play the game or accept that what we love is going to be axed.

But HOLY CRAP do I ever hope Community isn't axed. Because when you write about really serious stuff, it's nice to be able to tune into something fun and lighthearted that can make you really laugh. If you aren't already, I implore you to tune into Community this week and check it out. Catch up on the series through Hulu or Netflicks and join the twitter campaigns. We have enough of the other stuff. Don't let Community slip away!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Annoying Facebook Nonsense

Seriously, why is it that every few days I must be subjected to some random sexist posting on my Facebook newsfeed? I swear, Facebook is where political correctness goes to die AND I'm someone who hides the most ignorant of my "friends" so I probably see less of this than most people. Today the annoyance is this:

Yes, I'm a female. I push doors that clearly say PULL. I laugh harder when I try to explain why I'm laughing. I walk into a room and forget why I was there. I count on my fingers. I hide the pain from my loved ones. I say it is a long story, when it really is not, just to get out of having to tell it. I cry a lot more than you think I do. I care about people who don't care about me. I am strong because I have to be, not because I want to be. I listen to you, even when you don't listen to me..... AND A HUG WILL ALWAYS HELP!!. Yes, I'm a girl!!!!! Re-post if you're a LADY and proud to be one ♥♥♥

HAHAHA! KEWL! Didn't you know that LADIES are stupid, silly, emotionally secretive and yet still emotional people who don't want to be strong, and just looooooooooove hugs. PLUS you can TOTALLY tell it's about girls because it ends in hearts! HEARTS, PEOPLE!

This stuff is cringe worthy and it's everywhere. This summer, I saw this over and over:

A real woman always keeps her house clean and organized, the laundry basket is always empty. She's always well dressed, hair done. She never swears, behaves gracefully in all situations and all circumstances. She has more than enough patience to take care of her family, always has a smile on her lips, and a kind word for everyone. Post this as your status if you, too, suspect that you might be a man.

OUCH! I think I just strained a muscle with an epic eye roll. While this gets bonus points for an attempt at tongue-in-cheekness, it's still an iteration of the same old shit. You see, just making at joke that you might be a man because you don't do all the "real women" stuff doesn't exactly change the gender narrative, does it?

Honestly, I feel kind of bad for the people who share this stuff. Not only are these "re-post ifs" pretty ignorant, but they're also absolutely unfunny and unoriginal. To be perfectly frank, if you share any "re-post if" (regardless of potential political incorrectness or not!) on my newsfeed, I'll probably hide you. It makes us all much happier.

Monday, November 14, 2011

We Live in a Rape Culture. And it Hurts Everyone.

Trigger warning for discussions of rape.

Having been wrapped up in a work situation that was ultra time consuming, I haven't had much time to keep up--both with consuming news and writing. It's made me feel a little disconnected. However, one story that hasn't slipped past me is the Penn State child rape story. Now that I've been able to catch up on some sleep, reading, and life in general, I'd like to talk about this for a bit.

I'm sure that anyone who has access to any form of media, like the internet for example, has heard of this story. So if you're reading this, I won't summarize the horrific details. I would, however, like to drive home the point others have made. This story highlights how we live in a rape culture. If you are unsure what this means, I suggest you check out Melissa McEwan's recent piece on the topic. In it, she not only lists many specific, concrete examples, she also quotes Transforming A Rape Culture:
In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes.
Much of McEwan's words center mostly on the gendered situation of sexual violence. But the Penn State story, much like the scandals which have rocked the Catholic Church, remind us that rape culture affects us all and is clearly evident here.

Rape culture is particularly evident through the fact that students protested the firing of head coach Paterno. As Jill at Feministe said,

Seriously, Penn State students who are rioting because the board of trustees fired a man who helped cover up serial child molestation? You all should be ashamed. And if the comments on your school’s facebook page are any indication of the level of intellectual discourse (and basic spelling and grammar skills) you’ve got going on over there, I would suggest you spend more time hitting the books and less time bleating about how Joe Paterno is a victim, too.
I know you all like football. I know a lot of people like football. I know it’s fun and culturally important and for some reason people identify incredibly strongly with Their Team, many to unhealthy levels. But it’s football. It is just football. Feeling personally devastated because someone you trusted made a really terrible decision is one thing; being personally devastated because your identity is so wrapped up in your team that the idea of any member of that team being punished for covering up child rape strikes you as fundamentally unfair is another thing. It is something that should make you seriously reconsider your identity and your values. Being really good at coaching football doesn’t absolve you from looking the other way when you hear about child rape; it doesn’t absolve you from encouraging others not to report child rape to the police.

I couldn't agree more. This reaction is disgusting. You see, rape culture not only creates an environment where people choose football over rape victims, but it also produced a group of men who thought it was better to deal with the allegations amongst themselves than to involve the law anyway. It produced a witness in this case who walked in on a man raping a 10 year old boy and not only didn't intervene, but also didn't immediately call the police. It made him actually confused about what to do when he saw a child being raped.

If we lived in a world where rape wasn't normalized through the many things McEwan listed in her explanation of rape culture, this could never happen. No one but rapists benefit from rape culture, so how about we all stop playing along? You can do your part to reject the rape culture in many ways. For example, you can accept that people who are complicit in rape crimes deserve punishment. You can put children above football. You can stop using rape analogies and jokes. You can refuse to engage in victim blaming and call others out.

Edit: Just also saw Eve Ensler's piece on rape culture. Check it out too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No, Mariah. Your Body was NOT Rancid

Trigger warning for weight stuffs.

Last night, as I was randomly cruising the web, I went over to Yahoo! to check the email inbox I use for junk purposes. And I happened upon this piece of news: Mariah Carey has lost 70 pounds since her pregnancy. I didn't really pay attention...I just skimmed past it. Another example of a celebrity losing weight and the crowds rejoice as if she's done something actually worthy of attention.

Eye roll.


Seriously? Why is this stuff news? Why should I ever care about anyone's weight?

Then, on Jezebel this morning, I saw the same story, but they highlighted some of the disturbing things that Mariah said about her pregnancy body. From the original People article:

At her peak pregnancy weight, Carey, 42, was so disgusted with her physique that she refused to let even husband Nick Cannon see her unless she covered up first, she said Tuesday.

"I had a towel on in the tub," Carey, who gave birth in April, says. "I’m not lying, I promise you! You think I would let Nick see me looking rancid like that?"

"I had, like, no bones for a while," she says, gesturing to her collarbone. "It's important to me to feel my bones!"
Say whaaaaaaat?

Ok, I understand that your body becoming something you are not used to (in this case, a home for two babies) can be scary and unpleasant. But the words that she has used here are SO horrible. How about giving yourself a little praise for bringing two children in to the world happy and healthy?

I think this woman needs a workshop on fat talk. Stat.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

There's Only One F Word that Bothers Me

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

Trigger warning for homophobic slurs.

If you asked me 30 minutes ago who Brett Ratner is, I would have fumbled around for a minute or two before admitting that the name sounds familiar but I can't place it. In fact, I think I might have even claimed he was affiliated with 80 hair bands, in some kind of twisted combination of Bret Michaels and Riki Rachtman. My mind can create really interesting things when pressed...

Anyway, as I'm told by Ronald who shared this news with me, Ratner is, in fact, a filmmaker. He's responsible for a myriad of mediocre films including Rush Hour, Red Dragon, and X-Men: The Last Stand. But I became acutely aware of him because Mr. Ratner recently decided to proclaim that "rehearsal is for fags."

Part of me just wants to stop here and let that ignorance hang in the air. But I can't let it go. I feel like I am continuously making this case, but I will assert this at least one more time:

Words matter.

I am someone who loves language. I love how word choice can add impact, gravity, and/or flavor to whatever message you are trying to convey. Words, to me, mean everything--and I truly believe that the words we use shape our reality. Language can create the most beautiful imagery. It can empower us to tell our own stories, transport us into whole new places, educate us about things beyond our own small worlds, and help us express deeply felt emotions.

But the power of words, when thrown around carelessly, can also hurt others and cause us shame and humiliation.  Too often people think that language is "no big deal." However, as I've argued before, all the little deals can really add up into things that make the big deals. When society is, in this case, making every possible effort to other and disparage homosexuals, is it any surprise that gay kids are sometimes bullied to death?

There is clearly a negative side to the power of language, which is often a tool of oppression. How many women are called bitches when they stand up for themselves? How often is a woman called a slut for doing the very same thing a man does (but he's a "player?") How much was/is the "n-word" used to spit venom at African Americans? How many times were Jews compared to animals during WWII in order to dehumanize them and justify mass murder?

When you really think about it, it becomes pretty clear. Words are amongst the few uniquely human things we have, and despite our childish notions about "sticks and stones" or "rubber and glue" words can and do hurt us.

Mr. Ratner is learning that words matter the hard way. He has since issued an apology and stepped down as the producer of the upcoming Oscars, but the impact of his initial words remains, nevertheless. His original four word statment has now required a lengthy apology, which he acknowledges is not enough.

That's the tricky thing about words. When you say them, they're out there. You can try to undo them all you want, and issue flowery apology after flowery apology, but nothing said can ever be unsaid. That's become a cliche, but things become cliches for a reason. I think it's appropriate to invoke one of my all time favorite lyrics, by Modest Mouse in "Blame it on the Tetons:"
Language in is the liquid that we're all dissolved in, Great for solving problems after it creates a problem
I just keep coming back to a very simple concept: respect. It's something that is taught to us from the time we are in preschool, but we still have a hard time grasping.  Eliminating hate speech is really quite simple when you demand it upon yourself to only choose words which offer respect and dignity to every person you are speaking to and about.  There really is no excuse for carelessness.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

YAY Mississippi!

There's something I never thought I'd say...

It's looking good! I'm sitting here, watching a real time election results and it's too early to call it as I'm writing this. BUT should this post see the light of day, it means that the personhood amendment was defeated in Mississippi. That means that a (small?) majority of people in Mississippi understand at least one of the following things:

  1. A fertilized egg is not a human being. It is a grouping of cells with the potential to become one. 
  2. A fertilized egg should not have the same rights as actually born citizens.
  3. Forcing a woman to carry a child robs her of 9 months of her life and produces yet another child into the world that the right wing wants born, but immediately ceases to care about once they are here. 
  4. A small government stays out of uteruses
  5. There are not many things more heinous than forcing a woman to carry her rapists' child. 
  6. This amendment is misogynist.
  7. There would be an EXTREMELY chilling affect of a law of this nature. Extremely.
  8. Choice is a deeply personal thing that should be up to individual women, discussed under sound medical advice, and not legislated by the government. 
And by the time I finished writing this not even exhaustive list of things wrong with the personhood amendment, the site I was watching officially called it! YAY indeed!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stress, Supergirls, and Writer's Block

Just for funsies, you should Google image search "stress." About 99% of the pictures are cartoon graphics (clip art-esque) or women doing a variation of this pose. I guess dudes don't get stressed?

Anyway, as you can tell, I'm alluding to the fact that I am super freaking stressed out right now. Coordinating an event for 1,200 people is no joke. Especially when you're not sure if you will even reach that goal...a goal you've been working on for a year.

It's no secret to those who know me that I don't handle stress and pressures suuuuper well. When Girls Inc. published their Supergirl Dilemma report in 2000, they were talking about and studying girls just like me who were teens at the time; young women who wanted to be good at everything. I'm one such girl grown up, and still trying to figure out how to be easier on myself.

My stress management isn't always bad. On one hand, I'm someone who operates at a higher resting stress level than your average person. This is the very reason that I am incapable of procrastinating. Seriously, I am. Like, I've never pulled an all nighter and got through both undergrad and master's programs without it. I never had to pull an all nighter because I am so stressed out by deadlines that I take them extremely seriously and structure my life such that I'm always done with a paper or project by the day before it's due and I'm just proof reading at that point. This side of my anxious nature is great. It's helped me always be on top of things and be personally motivated to get shit done. When I get shit done, then I don't feel as stressed out and everyone wins.

On the other hand comes the side where stress is a big problem in my life. I am a worrier of the worst kind--so when things are out of my control, unlike papers and projects, I freak out a bit. In the case of things I can control, I just get it to the point where my worries are managed because I got shit done. In the case of thing I can't control, well, it ain't pretty. For example right now my face is broken out, I have canker sores, my heart starts beating out of control every now and then, I'm not sleeping, my digestive system is a wreck, and yesterday my eye start twitching on and off.

It's not ok. I know this.

One of the things that has always helped me attempt to manage my stress is writing. The problem is that when I get to my current level of anxiety, I have ideas swirling in my head, but so many other things to do. So I become overwhelmed at the possibility of even pausing long enough to write anything out. For example, currently I've been postulating blogs on the following topics:

  1. Lisa Simpson as a feminist influence on me growing up.
  2. The sexism of Occupy Wallstreet.
  3. The horrific personhood initiative in Mississippi.
  4. The Herman Cain sexual harassment stuff.
It's weird, because this situation is my version of writer's block. I have tons of ideas and the inability to get them out until my stress is much more managed. I know that this is all temporary, but having set a personal goal for myself to keep my blog content fresh feels like yet another stressor, even though it is one totally self imposed and unnecessary. 

I know that in a week or so, I'm going to be feeling a lot better. I might get around to writing those things, I might go with something new that pops up, and I might just enjoy not feeling as stressed by work. Who knows? But either way, writing this out has actually helped and accomplished two things--getting some of this out of my head AND creating a little bit of content. See what I've done here? Clever, huh?

In my clear, logical mind I know that I've got to let the Supergirl stuff go. I've written before about how I can't please everyone and I do try to live this way now. But when it comes to my work and the goals I set for myself, I've still got a long way to go in understanding that sometimes goals won't be reached ...and that's ok. And I can't control everything...and that's ok too.

I'm going end on another Google image search recommendation: Supergirl. The results are, well, yeah. The results just are. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In Case You've Forgotten, Marie Claire Wants You To Know: You're Not Good Enough

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

This woman looks harmless and normal enough, doesn't she? But she's hiding a really sinister plan. She's the face of everything telling you you're not good enough.

Ok, ok! In reality, I have no idea who this woman is. And I kind of feel really, really bad for her because her image is being used in a shitty way, whether she agreed to it or not. Marie Claire has up a new "Virtrual Weight Loss Tool." I think it's appropriate here to invoke a HUGE trigger warning on that link for weight related issues as well as the rest of this post.

As the site says, "What would you look like if you lost 10 lbs? Give your body an instant makeover with this virtual weight loss tool."


Also, when you first arrive at the page, the biggest, boldest letters at the top loudly delcare: "YOU...but better."


Apparently Marie Claire's website hosts a whole section of "beauty and fitness tips" under the heading "YOU...but better." Some of the topics include:
  • Total body tune ups.
  • Dieting tips and recipes.
  • New beauty products that will change your life.
  • The latest fitness crazes.
I think it's time here for me to let out a huuuuuge SIGH because, I'm over this stuff, y'all! You see, Marie Claire is just another voice in the chorus telling women over and over: You, just as you are, is not good enough. You are not good enough. You need to change.

I've written before about the dangerous messages that girls and women are sent about their bodies, looks, and food. This toxic combination is not some abstract concept. It is a daily reality that almost all of us struggle with at some point. As I've mentioned before, I work in direct service with young women. Today I learned at a staff training that disordered eating is becoming extremely prevalent. (Note: I say disordered eating as opposed to eating disorders, because I mean that many more girls, who do not have diagnosable eating disorders, are exhibiting eating behaviors which are increasingly problematic.)

The psychologist who was training us explained that she feels that there is no way to deny that our media and culture are to blame for the increase she sees in her practice. She mentioned, specifically, the unrealistic ideal of beauty portrayed by magazines, movies, and television.  Over and over we are inundated with fakeness--created images which perpetuate the myth that some women are "perfect" and encourage girls to compare themselves to these "perfect" women, all in the name of selling products. Don't have clear skin like her? Buy our acne product! Don't have a butt like her? Buy our toning shoes. Don't have abs like her? Take this weight loss supplement.

It's no secret that girls face pressure to be perfect. All too often, the girls who feel these pressures most strongly end up engaging in variety of self destructive behaviors, one of which is disordered eating. Interestingly, the psychologist today shared that in her experience, many of the girls who she treats say they don't like other girls and they lack female friendships. I couldn't help but wonder if another result of the pressure to be perfect is alienation from other girls--young women who could have provided much needed empathy and support. It makes the quest for perfection all the more scary and lonely.

Let it be known, I am not against self-improvement. I think that there is power and beauty in continuous learning and self-reflection. However, the message that you can always be better when it comes to weight and looks has devastating effects on girls and women. Unfortunately, companies like Marie Claire are waiting to prey on female insecurities. It's up to those of us who have gained the ability to critically consume media to impart the lessons we've learned to young people. For example, if you don't like the messages sent by a magazine, don't buy it OR the products that sponsor the publication.

Maybe this is me just being idealistic (which I'm not known for!) but someday, we just might see a more diverse, realistic beauty ideal, which is representative of many more people. Or at least they can stop telling us we're not good enough.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Sanctity of Marriage, My Eye

GUH! I really wish all these celebrities would stop ruining marriage. Everyone's talking about Kim Kardashian, but I'm noticing this one, of course:
Mwa-ha-ha-ha...ERR--I mean, how sad!

That was evil. I know. But at least now a bunch of really hipster/indie dudes can pray that Zooey will become their own personal MPDG again. Bright side, see?

But seriously, y'all, there never has been and there never will be ANY validity to the claim that homosexual marriage would ruin the sanctity of marriage. Straights, as a group, take the institution for granted. It's like a little kid keeping his friends from playing with his Game Boy, because they'll "mess it up" and then dropping it in a pile of dog poop himself.

Besides, everyone smart already knows that no one outside your marriage can have an affect on it, unless you let them. I mean, a man could marry his pet rock and that doesn't change the relationship that exists between me and Mr. Nerdy Feminist. So really, people with strong marriages should be totally unphased by the status of anyone else's relationship, be it the break up of Kim and Kris or the marriage of Bill and Ted.

So yeah, get it together, gay haters. Did someone not hug you when you were growing up?