Monday, January 30, 2012

President Obama, a Genuine Thanks

Dear Mr. President,

All too often we forget to give thanks where thanks is due. But today, I'd like to give you a heartfelt thanks for the fact that preventative services are now covered under the Affordable Care Act. In the contentious political climate, the voices complaining about "Obamacare" are getting a lot of attention and I'd like to bring a little perspective to the situation.

I went to the doctor today for my annual exam. Because of the coverage of preventative care, I didn't have to pay a bill when I left.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Men Can Stop Rape: Awesome Awareness Campaign

I recently became aware of "The Strength Campaign" which is being promoted by Men Can Stop Rape. The campaign features a series of posters and billboards which all start with "My strength is not for hurting" and offer an example of how men men can support relationships with respect their partners' boundaries and advocating for enthusiastic consent. I'm a huge fan of the posters, which I feel play directly into the vision of healthy masculinity I advocate for. It's also an anti-rape awareness campaign which doesn't blame victims. It's so sad that this is a rare thing, but it is.

No Chivalry, Thanks!

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.

Those of us who openly identify as feminist must be prepared to encounter misconceptions and stereotypes. The "f-word" has been unfortunately dragged through the mud in an attempt to break the strength our message has. In this spirit, I'd like to take a moment to focus on a specific realm of anti-feminism: chivalry. The two biggest criticisms I see thrown at feminists regarding chivalry fall into two camps:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Review: The Purity Myth

As I mentioned before, I got a Kindle for Christmas which is helping me devour some good reads. One such book was Jessica Valenti's "The Purity Myth." As it came out in 2009, it's been on my radar for a while now and I'm so happy I finally got a chance to read it.

The premise of the book is simple: society places undue emphasis on the concepts of female purity and virginity (and these concepts don't even have a uniform understanding.) As Valenti's website says,

The United States is obsessed with virginity from the media to schools to government agencies. The Purity Myth is an important and timely critique of about why this is so, and why it’s problematic for girls and women. Analyzing cultural stereotypes and media messages, Jessica Valenti reveals the overt and hidden ways our society links a woman’s worth to her sexuality rather than to values like honesty, kindness, and altruism.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Buy Girl Scout Cookies, Support Girls. All Girls.

Trigger warning for transphobic language.

I'm speechless right now. I'm horrified at how ignorant some people are and how deep their hate runs. I'm talking about an opinion piece that ran in The Washington Times by Cathy Cleaver Ruse.

I kind of just want to link to the article and let you check it out and just say: Yeah, and leave it there. Instead of doing that however, I will throw in my two cents on this whole thing. (I always throw in those two pennies, don't I?)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Paula Deen, Shame, and Concern Trolling

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.

Hey y'all! Guess what! Paula Deen has diabetes.

In general, it makes me upset when this type of story makes the news. I'm not super concerned about people's personal health issues--I feel they are just that: personal. I think that an argument can be made that the timing of Deen's announcement is suspicious if her apparent partnership with a drug company proves to be true. And perhaps she is unethically marketing and branding her diabetes for profit. However, I'm not here to make those cases. In fact, I don't even want to delve into the particulars of Ms. Deen's disease. But I would like to use this as an opportunity to examine how we discuss when people in general, and fat women in specific, encounter a health issue.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Remembering Dr. King, Choosing Love over Hate

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is a deep truth in this. And anyone who has ever tried to offer love and compassion in the face of blind hatred knows just how deeply difficult this is. It's much easier to resort to the same ills as the hateful and violent.

I hope everyone takes some time to remember the lessons of Dr. King today. I can see many people are simply valuing this as a day off...a time to catch up on a TV show or some errands, which is a shame because there's a lot to be learned from Dr. King and a lot to be expanded upon and improved too. The work ain't done folks.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Media Loves a Cat Fight...

Hmm. Cat fight. How appropriate.

Anyhoo. I just happened to be home and watching 20/20 the other night when Madonna gave an interview to Cynthia McFadden in which she addressed a question many people have probably wondered...what does she think of Lady Gaga?

Cynthia McFadden and Madonna at the recent 20/20 interview.
CLEARLY they hate each other and must be in a big fight.
I mean, look how uncomfortable Cynthia is touching Madonna.  Hiss!
Madonna's answers were generally vague and safe. (In fact her answers to the whole interview read as fairly aloof.) However, she did say that she thinks that "Born This Way" is reductive. OMG! Let the media coverage begin! Cat fiiiiiiiiight! Am I right, guys? Meeee-ow!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Crazy Cat Ladies and Man's Best Friend

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.

My cats being generally standoffish to me.
So I have been long considering this topic, and I just decided to bite the bullet and pull together something about it. I think it's one of those gender discussions that everyone can see on a surface level, but I might lose some of you with just how much I've considered this point.

My central thesis is this: There are a plethora of sexist assumptions we make about pet ownership, specifically related to cats and dogs. And it's ridiculous.

Let me start with dogs. As I referenced in my title, one of the most popular phrases we associate with dogs is "man's best friend." Dogs are often associated with traits we ascribe to stereotypical masculinity: loyalty, bravery, rough-and-tumble play in the dirt, and an easy-going nature.

Cats on the other hand are frequently grouped with women, and sadly to a negative end. "Crazy cat lady" has become a trope. Cats are associated with stereotypical femininity: deceitfulness, cleanliness, moodiness, snobbery, and yes, even to an extent, sexiness. I think that perhaps no other figure better illustrates this point that Catwoman.

These ideas are so deep in our culture that much more frequently than not, cats are portrayed as girls and dogs are portrayed as boys. Think about Homeward Bound or The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. This message is so strong that many of us actually used to believe as children that all cats are girls and all dogs are boys.

It's kind of amazing that the human desire to categories things is so strong that we've actually projected our culturally created notions of gender onto whole other species. But just as stereotypes hurt real humans, stereotypes projected onto animals has had negative implications for them as well. I'll get back to that in a moment.
A stock Halloween photo of a witch.
Oh and look who's there with her!

First, some groundwork. When I visited Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago, I toured The Salem Witch Museum and found it absolutely fascinating, from a feminist perspective. I had no idea that the history of witches actually evolved from the "descendants of the Celtic midwife, looking to the earth mother for healing and for spirituality." Performing the important, although exclusively female task of child delivery, these midwives became so powerful in early civilizations that the patriarchal power structures began to fear them. The male leaders then decided to associate these midwives with evil, thereby laying the foundation for the fear of witches which culminated in 1692 and the stereotype of the witch we see represented in Halloween images.

There, I also learned that the cultural mix between felines, femininity, and fear had disastrous consequences for both women and cats. Cats have long been seen as mystical. They were labeled as "familiars" for witches (which are said to be helpers from the Devil.) According to "The Magic Paw:"
Out of all the possible familiars (cats, dogs, toads, bats, and even horses) cats got the worst publicity. Pope Gregory IX denounced black cats as Satanic in his 1233 Papal Bull 'Vox in Rama' and this launched the extermination of many cats, and subsequently thousands of cats were burned alive in the cause of searching out the devil. Tales of these witches' cats turning into mice, dogs, bats and all sorts of creatures flourished during the Middle Ages.
This same destruction occurred in the early foundations of the United States during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Not only were nineteen women put to death, but many cats were also killed due to the fear of them.*

In contemporary times, there is still a connection between femininity and cats with negative connotations. As I already mentioned above, we have the "crazy cat lady" trope. But as further example, discussions about whether or not "real" men own cats still comes up. It is also very popular to disparage cats in general, at least in my anecdotal experience as a cat owner. All too often, I hear people readily say, "I don't like cats" and frequently this claim comes with an explanation about them being "evil." I'm just not hearing the same kind of emotion surrounding dogs, even though many more people suffer severe injuries due to dogs than cats. Basically, even though our Puritanical roots are in many ways long behind us, these thoughts still linger.

At the end of the day, I think that the projection of our gender roles onto dogs and cats is entirely foolish. Sure, people have pet preferences, but why must those be connected to gender? Even though I am a cat owner, I also like dogs and I see no real reason that women should be more closely associated with cats and men with dogs. It's more just about what you personally like in a pet. And maybe consider dropping the cat trash talk. If they're not for you, that's fine.  Oh! And even though it defies the "dogs are for boys" stereotype, I'll never understand women carrying tiny pooches in their handbags. I mean, come on.


*It should be noted, five men were also put to death but the root of the trials was deeply related to women. As Yevette Lessard says of Puritan society in early America,
The place of the woman was traditional, but unique. Not only were they expected to work in the home, care for children, and be submissive, they were also seen as entirely inferior. Most importantly, they were seen as inherently sinful and morally inferior, easily suspected of wrongdoing and promiscuity. While women in the time period typically had little power or rights and were expected to be submissive, Puritan ideology dictated that women could not so much as be active in the church, as they were too sinful.

In addition, European gender roles shaped notions of witchcraft, which in turn shaped the setting for the witch hunts. The witch's tools were domestic: brooms, herbs, poppets (dolls), cauldrons and other things for cooking and cleaning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WTF, Texas?

Trigger warning.

So Texas is in the business of rape. I know that's a pretty bold claim, so let me clarify.

Recently, in a HUGE win, the FBI decided to acknowledge what we all already knew and updated their definition of rape. It is now:
The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.
(Emphasis mine.) THEN, I see this shit from Hay Ladies:
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court Of Appeals is totally down with forcing doctors to tell women needless and harmful lies about consequences of abortion that don’t exist and have not been scientifically proven. They’ve ruled that Texas can enforce its forced trans-vaginal sonogram bill while it’s being challenged in court.
So what does that really mean? Well according to MedlinePlus, here is exactly what a transvaginal ultrasound (sonogram) is:
You will lie down on a table with your knees bent and feet in holders called stirrups. The health care provider will place a probe, called a transducer, into the vagina. The probe is covered with a condom and a gel. The probe sends out sound waves, which reflect off body structures. A computer receives these waves and uses them to create a picture. The doctor can immediately see the picture on a nearby TV monitor.
In other words, as Jessica Valenti said, "[People] seeking abortions in Texas can be legally vaginally penetrated against their wills." Because how are you truly consenting if you are coerced into having this done in order to obtain an abortion? By the very definition now accepted by the FBI, people in Texas who want an abortion but not a transvaginal sonogram can be raped.

There are no words.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Problem with Princesses

It's pretty well tread feminist territory to hate on princess culture and Disney Princesses in specific.  It's not hard to figure out how Disney Princesses send little girls (and boys) the wrong messages. For years now, graphics like these two have been making their way around the internet:

I can admit, I was raised on Disney. And while I might not have intentionally thought about the messages it sent me, I can certainly agree that I wasn't exactly being empowered by them. And taking a look through the text on those images, it's a bit undeniable that princesses aren't exactly teaching our girls to be strong, independent women. 

I've been thinking about two other messages princess culture sends girls: stereotypical femininity is best and passivity. 

  • Stereotypical femininity: Now, I have no problem with general girliness, but I can't get behind a world which encourages only one kind of girlhood to our young woman. It's just too gender binary--what about the girls who want to play in the dirt and drive cars? Or who just don't like wearing dresses? And PLEASE don't give me the "Mulan" excuse...she didn't get to succeed as a strong female, she had to BE a man to be seen as legit. And when all was said and done, her ultimate prize was ending up back at home with a dude.
  • Secondly, it really, really bothers me how the overwhelming characteristic of the princesses is their passivity. Not only are they frequently lost to the whim of villains (who are often evil women, you can tell they're evil because they have dark hair, or they're fat or ugly) and men in the stories, but their very claim to fame/identity (their princessness) is something that they were granted at birth. Not something they fought/worked for or earned. 

And if you think that girls aren't affected by the princess stuff, I give you an anecdote. I was doing an economic literacy program with 6-8 year olds at the nonprofit I worked for in Indy a few years ago and we were discussing future career goals. One little girl asserted that she wanted to be a princess when she grew up. Sigh. My heart was a little bit broken in that minute and I couldn't help but feel that our society had done this little girl a REAL disservice. She quite literally believed that "princess" was a viable future career aspiration. I tried to work through the implausibility of that with her, but I'm not sure I made much headway. (Fortunately, the rest of the girls chose things a little more realistic.)

I know the inclination now is to say, "Aww, how cute. She just doesn't know what she said" and to chalk it up to her being so little. But the truth is I bet you'd be hard pressed to find a boy her same age who would choose something that illogical as his career goal. He might say something difficult to achieve (like astronaut) but not a career straight out of a fairy tale. Life just isn't teaching boys that their role is to be pretty and married. 

Anyway, the princessness of everything really grates on my nerves. I'm sure that this means that someday I am bound to have a daughter who eats and breathes pink, pretty, fluffy, butterfly-y things, much like what happened to strong, independent Julia with her daughter Sydney (in one of my favorite shows, Parenthood) last Halloween. However, much like Sydney, my hypothetical future daughter would have a home life which defied stereotypical gender roles and has outright discussions about gender, which is the environment I wish more kids encountered. In other words, I love this girl's parents: 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Week with Rape Culture: A Party, A Book, and a Movie

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.

As I frequently write, I believe rape culture is alive and well. Because of this fact, I could have just as easily titled this post "My Life with Rape Culture."  But I'm going to stick to some things I encountered this week specifically. Mostly because I just can't stop thinking about them and I'd like to get them out of my head.

Before I go further, I want to define what I mean by rape culture. I know that the concept does not necessarily have a common understanding or acceptance. For a good working definition, I always point toward Melissa McEwan's piece on the topic. In it, she not only lists many specific, concrete examples, she also quotes Transforming A Rape Culture which says:
In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes.
In other words, rape culture means that rape is normalized.

One run in with rape culture that keeps popping in my mind went down at a New Year's Eve party. I was talking about rape scenes in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (more on that later) with some other women. A guy I don't really know decided to interject in our conversation in a manner which I'm sure was intended to be funny in that "I'm so edgy that I break the rules of political correctness" kind of way (eye roll). It went down like this.
*General discussion of so much rape in the movie*

"Eh, I'm a fan of rape." Him

"What?!" Me

"Yeah, sometimes you just gotta be for it." Him

*I stare at him angrily for about 30 seconds at which point he awkwardly jumps over to another conversation with other people.*
Side note: I know, I know. I should have called him out. But unfortunately, it can be difficult to always speak up, especially in a social group that is out of my comfort zone. At least I didn't nervously giggle (and there by affirm this statement) which is something I could have done a few years ago.

The second run in was through reading Jeffery Eugenides' new book The Marriage Plot. I'm a big Eugenides fan. His book Middlesex is one of my all time favorites. In fact, he's one of the few male authors who I feel can authentically write in a female voice. However, in The Marriage Plot I was disappointed to read a few scenes where sexual situations went down in a way which made me wonder if consent was really present. In a specific case, one character (a female) sent a pretty strong "no" message, but she still had sex with her husband anyway, and it turns out she really wanted it. It was the classic "when women say no, they mean yes, actually."

Both of these examples signal the prevalence of rape culture although in difference ways. In the first case, with the guy at the party, the stupid "joke" he made was explicitly about rape. It made rape a topic which is so trivial that it is actually worth laughing about. (Or attempting to get a laugh about--he failed with his audience.) In the second case, the lack of consent was more implicit and covert. Most people reading these scenes in The Marriage Plot probably found them more titillating than problematic, which is kind of the point I'm making.

But in both examples, the normalization of rape is the result.

In thinking about these things, I started to more deeply consider The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I also saw this week. The film is a bit puzzling for me. You see, it famously contains the rape and rape revenge of the main female, Lizbeth Salander, as a pivotal plot point. So what I'm pondering is that if we know that rape culture sends the message that rape is just a fact of life, how do we deal with pieces of media which contain rape scenes? Because rape is very prevalent in our world, is it possible for a movie to depict it in a manner which is realistic but doesn't normalize sexual violence or, more generally, violence against women? Can a movie contain rape and not glorify it?

I suppose that this hypothetical movie is possible, but I haven't seen it.  As Lani at Feminist Fatale wrote (about the Swedish version of the film):
Lisbeth is a great, strong female character. We need more characters like her. We need them to inspire the ferocious, feral spirit that lives in all women. But, what we don’t need are more morally ambiguous, violent stories that are held on their axis by the portrayal of a form of violence against women that borders on sexualizing it.
Writer Pastabagle at Partial Objects comes out even more strongly saying:
The problem with Lisbeth Salander in the film is that she is too much like Lisbeth Salander in the books–completely and utterly unrealistic.

No sane woman would tolerate being brutally raped just so she could capture it on camera and hold it over her rapist. But that’s what Lisbeth does. The conclusion you should draw from this behavior is not that she is a strong take-charage woman, but that she is not sane. She is severely emotionally damaged. She is so emotionally detached from her own body that she puts herself through the worst torture just to throw it back in her attacker’s face. Over what? Money.
So how does all of this tie together? Well, when I first saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo earlier this week, I was disturbed by the rape content and it stuck in my mind, but I didn't see initially it as a part of rape culture, despite it's overt rape content. I kept asking myself the questions I listed above, most notably "Is it possible for a movie to depict rape in a manner which is realistic to our world but doesn't normalize it?"

The more I consider it, and I can't help but agree with Lani and Pastabagle. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is another case much like the dude at the party or Eugenides, which normalizes, and even glorifies, rape.

I'm so very tired of seemingly endless depictions of violence against women and the insensitive treatment of rape. It's only through media and societal examinations that we can begin to turn the tide and end rape culture. And really, it starts on the most basic ground level, in our day-t0-day interactions with others. That's why the biggest thing I'm taking away from this week is that I should have said something at the party. Something as simple as "That's not funny." I really wish I would have. So next time (and there will be a next time) I'm going to.

It's a New Year's Resolution I can get behind.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: Bossypants

Ok, I know that I'm totally that person who is showing up to the bar when everyone is really tired and already saying their goodbyes, but can we just stay out for one more hour and drink in the awesomeness that is Tina Fey's Bossypants?

Oh great, you decided to stay through my extended metaphor!

I got the book for Christmas (a good 7 months after everyone else had read it) and it was utterly my dream read. I think I finished it in about 3 hours of total reading time because 1) I couldn't put it down 2) it's a very smooth, engaging read 3) it's hilarious.

I had no doubt that it would be funny--Fey regularly cracks me up with her work on 30 Rock and, of course, her Sarah Palin impression. However, what did surprise me was the outright feminism of it all. Fey isn't exactly a favorite of feminists, as her Liz Lemon character is quite imperfect. (And not imperfect in an endearing Leslie Knope kind of way.) But at its core, the book is about Fey's triumph over a male dominated field, helping other women, and sexism. Take her chosen title, for example:

Why is this book called Bossypants? One, because the name Two and a Half Men was already taken. And two, because ever since I became an executive producer of 30 Rock, people have asked me, 'Is it hard for you, being the boss?' and 'Is it uncomfortable for you to be the person in charge?' You know, in that same way they say, 'Gosh, Mr. Trump, is it awkward for you to be the boss of all these people?'

Point well taken.

All in all, I highly recommend Bossypants. Not only with it get a genuine LOL out of you, but it will also give you a peek inside the greatness that is Ms. Fey's mind and the struggle women often face in breaking it to the top levels of TV.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

So here is 2012. I hope it was a happy and safe New Year for everybody!

I plan to start regular blogging again. I've got some things flowing through my mind...including the fact that I just saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, read Tina Fey's Bossypants and I'm making my way through Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth. And the fact that at a recent party, a guy told me that he was a "fan" of rape. GUH.

Anyway, in the meantime, I created a place where I will be blogging my not feminist stuffs, on Tumblr. Stop by if you'd like to take a look!