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25 March
girl pop feminists?
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I think it's pretty easy to see feminist influences almost anywhere. Not all of them are for good. Roni asks us to think about Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera this week. Think of it as feminist comparative literature.

If it weren't obvious from my inserted comments when I posted Roni's question for the week, I don't think being skanky or freaky or anything other than specifically anti-woman disqualifies a person as a feminist. So I reject the notion that Christina might simply be too trashy to stand up for women's rights. Hee.

Are either of them feminists?

It's pretty much impossible to judge what their personal politics may be through the layers of hype and editing that surround them. The nature of celebrity is that celebrities are inherently more icon than person in our experience of them. They're ideas. Given that, sure, there are aspects of Britney and Christina's images that are at least pro-woman if not feminist. They are positive role models for little girls, basically, if in nothing else in that they're female and successful. It doesn't sound like a lot, but recognition of girls as a powerful market is also a recognition of girls' power, given the whole capitalism thing. The challenge is for girls to use that market power.

Beyond the economic test, though, how do these two celebrities stack up as feminists? Well, neither of them seems to substantially wield her celebrity to champion women's rights. Yes, they're both all about girls rocking. But, as Ms. 9 pointed out, what have they done for the right to choose? Or healthcare? Or the ERA? Or any feminist or pro-woman legislation, for that matter? Not much that I know of.

The pop princesses could be raising awareness of feminist issues in general (for instance, domestic violence, sex education, other things that might impact the demographic of their listeners directly). But they're not doing that, either, as far as I know. [Again, it's entirely possible that Britney and Christina as people are heavy contributors to feminist causes; that's just not a part of the media image of them, not part of their icons.] As politics go, these two are not feminist icons. They have pretty much zero political implications.

But there is more to feminism than laws and issues. There's the geologic pace of social change to deal with, for instance. As much as the concept of "girl power" is maligned as inactive and apolitical, I think its impact on people's beliefs is much greater than any legislation could provide. That does not mean we don't need to work both angles (the law and the minds of people). Just that there is also a place for the diluted "girls kick ass" message of pop music, Buffy, and others.

There are scads of examples of pop's dilute but positive influence, and I think Christina Aguilera is undoubtedly one of them. Take the lyrics to her song with Lil'Kim - "Can't Hold Us Down". It's supportive of young women's voices and sexuality. Is it practical? Political? Challenging? No, but it does have an unapologetic feminist slant to it, as does a lot of Aguilera's music. That kind of voice in the popular culture is useful to young women; it's bolstering.

At the same token, neither of the pop princesses really step outside of the prevailing beauty ideals. They're both super thin and busty, and generally fit all the definitions of "sexy". They may sing songs about how they're powerful women and everyone is beautiful in every single way, but they still maintain a certain image marketability. Eventually, though, they part company. Not only are Christina's lyrics more obviously girl-power-inducing, but she seems to publicly claim more of her own power.

Examples:
1. Britney appears on stage with a snake, or her pants falling off. Her explanation -basically, we didn't realize it would be so provocative... I didn't know. Whatever.
2. Christina makes the "Dirrty" video, which let's get real, is one of the closest things you can find to porn on the teevee before 10pm. Her explanation - basically, so what?
3. They both make out with Madonna. Christina - yeah, I kissed Madonna. Britney - oh, no, it was MADONNA's idea.. I mean, I didn't even know... blah blah.

Basically, they've engineered their images so that Britney is the sweet girl next door whose albums every parent would let their 10 year old have (cause she's so unchallenging) while Christina is the new Madonna, queen of sexual agency and dance beats. In that respect, Christina really does seem like an icon of girl power, while Britney's image is at most a curt nod to powerful femininity.

That's not to say I'd kick either of them out of the strange bed of politics. Just as Bust's cover of Kelly Osbourne touted independence with a picture of a girl whose life is entirely a result of her daddy (but whose potty mouth and attitude have empowered itty neopunk girls the world over), I think there might be positives to selling feminism - the real, solid, political variant - with the trappings of girl power. If Wonder Woman and Madonna were entrees into feminism for my cohort, why couldn't the pop princesses do the same for young girls today?

 

on the other hand...
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After some hours of increasing boredom and frustration last night, I came up with my new favorite metaphor for testing something one has newly installed.

Smacking the baby. That is, just as a newly born baby is cruelly smacked into crying so we can be reassured it's okay (I don't even know if that still happens, but fact is irrelevant here), anything that you've just installed must be vigorously interacted with before you can know it's working. Thus, all my test comments amounted to "smack!" and "waaaaaah".

Eh, maybe you had to be there. I thought it was damn funny.

Also, I think phpbb is the answer.

 

ACK! ACK! ACK!
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Generally, the level of frustration I express tends towards the "grr, argh" variety. But as of last night I have been beaten by Moveable Type. No. I've been crushed.

This is very, very sad. I can more or less figure out Slashcode, which requires a whole load of extra installation. And I can't successfully patch Moveable Type and get a plug-in working. This stuff isn't that hard. I spent enough time on it that I've actually given up, which I generally don't do.

If you know anything about this stuff and feel like helping, read on for more info. If not, just send general feelings of hope in my direction.

but wait! there's more


 

19 March
why (or not) homeschooling?
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The comments on one of my friend's LJ posts got me thinking about how we choose to educate our kids (among other things). Her post is actually about gender assumptions and childrearing, but she brought up a question a lot of you parents (and potential parents) could help me answer.

What is the best way to educate children if you don't want them indoctrinated to think things like "girls are pretty", "boys are strong" and "everybody good is thin and white and has exactly one mommy and daddy"? I'm not talking about - despite what some people may immediately think - using your child as a political tool; rather, I'm thinking about protecting our kids so the choices they make aren't based on the "norm" but on what they want.

I tend to think that homeschooling is the answer (for a variety of reasons), but I don't have kids or even plans for them. So, I'm curious. For those of you who've given this more thought, what do you think are the best schooling options for your [real or hypothetical kids]? And why?

[This was originally posted to my livejournal. But hey, it's relevant.]

 

16 March
another dangerous precedent
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Body & Soul digs into the Utah woman's story and finds a bit more there than the AP told us.

It's disturbing how much the press has made this story iconic - turning her into someone who chooses a sort of last-minute abortion rather than deal with a c-section scar. Yet clearly this actual story, like most actual stories is much more complex. It's a lot easier to have an impassioned debate over whether a pregnant woman who opts out of a c-section is a murderer when you reduce her motives to whimsical vanity. When you look at the details of this case, this life, it sucks so royally it's hard to see any need for debate.

My initial response when I first heard the reductive news reports was still - vanity or not, one of the key aspects of a free society is the ability to refuse someone else who tries to impose their will on your body. A doctor's advice is only that, advice. And I think pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. Everyone I know who has kids talks about feeling alien, worried, and just generally fragile. Given the variance in advice from doctors, how terrifying is it that one could be prosecuted for not following Dr. X's advice? It's not hard to imagine this precedent being stretched to apply to women who choose midwives over standard hospital births, for instance. That scares me.

When the right celebrates these sorts of things as victories and pursues issues like the UVVA, it serves to polarize people and oversimplify the abortion debate.

The right tends to assert that a fetus is a person, and the pro-choice camp tends to argue along with them on the when a person is a person and when a person is a bit of tissue question. I do not always have a problem with seeing an unborn child as a person. I have a problem with seeing that child as more of a person than its mother, which is what we get into here, with UVVA, and with the laws against late-term abortion.

Someone cited an excellent hypothetical example in the comments on B&S:

A young man's in a terrible accident which destroys both his kidneys and makes dialysis impossible. His only chance of survival is a kidney transplant, and the only available donor is his father. The doctors contact the father who refuses to cooperate becuase the timing of the surgery conflicts with his golf game, so the son dies. Unsympathetic though he may be, there's no way this man could be charged with murder.

If the Rowland case is taken as a precedent, though, that insensitive father could well be charged with murder, too. Even if he refused the surgery because, say, he himself was mentally ill. Rowland's motive doesn't matter here. What matters is that we're setting a dangerous precedent of holding one person accountable for another's life in a way that trumps the person's own life.

And that should scare you.

 

12 March
join the bfb virtual book club
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I've been reading Glenn Gaesser's Big Fat Lies (see link and picture on right), which is kinda pissing me off. But it has a lot of very important information in it that I think any of you who aren't already part of the size acceptance movement need to read.

Yeah. So, read it.

When you're done, pop over to the Big Fat Blog bookclub discussion on it and talk about what you learned. Or didn't learn. Or, as in my case, what made you angry.

 

11 March
balancing acts
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Is living together a balancing act for most cohabiting couples? Or do they accept a certain imbalance by default?

Brigitte posted a WHB question on the subject last weekend, which I am just now getting to respond to.

It seems like my personal experience in this is atypical. Why, I wonder? So many feminists I talk to have this feeling of "ack, I do so much" in their home lives - that they bear more of the housework, more of the nuturing, and they're discouraged by this.

Ordinarily, if I saw my life being different from others', I'd assume it was because I tend not to make a lot of assumptions about how one "should" live (well, I do, but only in my head, not in the choices I actually make). But I have to assume that other feminists examine their choice of partner and living arrangements just as I do. So, it's not assumption on their part that women are supposed to be the caregives that drives this imbalance in their lives.

Is it the culture? I think it might be. Namely, there is still a cultural perception of women as secondary that can result in either more or less freedom for any given woman. There is the freedom to truly choose any profession, including staying at home, for instance. And there is also the double-edged assumption that women will need and ask for time off to balance family concerns - which means women are penalized less than men might be for the same action. But there is also the tendency for women to make less, in part because of this assumption, which then reinforces the assumption that women are the most likely to do more at home (because they have time to, because we expect them to). I think a lot of families make their decisions on household duty split based in part on whose job is most rewarding (economically or otherwise) or time-consuming. In a dual professional home, there's a good chance the man gets the rewarding but time-consuming and inflexible job. And the woman gets shafted.

But I don't believe this is universally true. And I do think it's as much about the choices that are(n't) available to men as those availabe to women.

So. A lot of our culture enforces a certain household stupidity on men, which is really silly. Boys ought to be taught to do their laundry and be encouraged to babysit and all that Suzy Homemakery stuff. It's about self-sufficiency. And girls ought to be taught that home stuff is supposed to be shared, not that it's a sign of how much mommy loves you.

That seems to have worked on us. My partner had an independent, divorced dad who taught him all those household things (cooking, laundry, all that). I had two parents who split cleaning and kid duties and made me join them. I'm sure my parents had to negotiate, but they did a pretty good job of modelling that there's not a lot daddies only do (except perhaps cars and science) or mommies only do (except, um, social studies?). Of course, it helps that both of us are the sort of people who only deal with the unpleasant household stuff when it seems too out of control/messy/whatever. The rest of the time, either it's part of someone's routine or no one does it. We're cool with that.

But just because it comes easily to us doesn't mean it couldn't come with more effort to others - say, as it did out of the necessity of my mother's career in my parents' house. Rather than focusing on the vows of marriage and relationships, I think it might behoove us to pay more attention to domesticity. People should discuss this stuff in advance, make an agreement and revisit it. It requires attention and maintenance, just like any aspect of a relationship. And no, no one ever attains 100% perfect balance all the time. You pick what you care about most, and focus on balancing that.

There was more to the question, about gay couples and (my inferrence) other beyond-hetero families. I can't really answer that. Honestly, it's not something I talk to my gay and otherwise friends about, nor something I research. I have a suspicion that poly families, as much as they seem to be deliberate and considered around other issues, might be particularly good at negotiating this one. But it's only a suspicion.

 

04 March
am i fat?
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This is why I don't feel fat: fat people cannot love themselves, so we are told; fat people cannot love their bodies. But I do.
(Genius Toiling In Obscurity on her image of her body)

Someone told me that this is supposed to be healthy for fat people, to see themselves in their minds as less fat than they are. Because fat is so evil? It is, we seem to think. Fat is all these other things, this judgement on a person. I don't even mean just the weight the word carries - the very act of carrying so-called extra fat on your body is evil, whether you call it fat, curvy, of size, whatever. You can't euphemize away the existence of fat and the badness it implies.

So, yeah. I can see why, knowing that you're not all the baaaaaaad things that fat is supposed to be, it would make sense to think you were physically smaller. It would, really, be a quite sane thing to do on the way from fat-hate to self-love.

When I think about it that way, it disturbs me less that I have this several-years-old idea of the size of my body. See, despite eating more and more healthily (though exercising inconsistently), over the past five? eight? years, I've just gotten steadily larger. My picture of myself in my mind hasn't grown at the same rate, so I'm surprised by photos and mirrors sometimes. Frequently. For a long time, years ago when I first started getting fat, I bought clothes I thought fit but were really too small. That, fortunately, stopped. Everyone should have clothes that fit them. [Could this shallow belief be the cornerstone of my politics? I mean, if you add up gender politics, fat politics, defense of workers and such, ultimately you could be talking about everyone having cute clothes that fit. Hee hee.]

Until recently, I still found my image surprising (and yes, sometimes unattractive, I'm sad to say). In photos more than mirrors. I think photos are more relatable to the bidimensional figures we see in various media.

I tend to think of it as unhealthy and dysmorphic, a sign that I didn't really own my body or something, but maybe it's not entirely. Maybe it's also the healthy view to take in a world suffering from a sort of mass body dysmorphia. I know I had more moments of thinking I was hot when I had less of a grasp on my size.

Since I launched the effort to change the way I eat and move (eating a bit less of better food, and making exercise a truly regular habit), I've come to have a different picture of my body. I'm a lot fatter than I thought. Now my mental picture and the mirror/photo are more in line. Well, huh.

Which makes me wonder - while I don't think I place any more or less negative judgement on my fatness than I did before, does everyone who shifts to a healthier lifestyle or (ick) goes on a diet start to see themselves as fatter than before? Or does exercise and treating yourself a bit better just resolve your mental picture to the one others see? If the former were true, it's no wonder people treat exercise as punishment and talk about themselves in terms of goodness and badness; the whole process of exercising might be bad for your self image, even if you approached it healthily & not from a "must lose 20 pounds" standpoint.

In any case, the trouble I find with seeing a fatter me is that sometimes I also feel "fatter" - that is, more of all the things we associate negatively with fat. While I feel better in every other way from the changes I've made (and I did make choices oriented around health, not weightloss), it's as if the improved health has opened up a little vein of self-directed fat-hate in me. Which in turn makes me feel and act a bit self-absorbed at times.

It's unsettling. I'm not even positive this causal relationship exists between the positive attention I've been giving my body and the negative attention that followed it, but I'm bothered by it.

 

03 March
good comments on the politics of dieting
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Livejournal is like this whole other world.

And, given that, I thought I'd point out a discussion that I spent really an embarrassing amount of time on today: feminism, fat acceptance & weight loss. You should read the comments on both the post on the feminist-rage community and my own post.

The comments say a lot about the politics of personal choices, a lot about the supposed conflict between healthy and fat and why fat is still a feminist issue.

I just find that I like to read what other people have to say on the subject, others who are at least enlightened enough to support either size acceptance or feminism, if not both.

 

02 March
hbo's "iron jawed angels" actually worth watching
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See this entry's title. It's true. And not just because Frances O'Connor is hot, even as a redhead (although, trust me, she is) with a goofy haircut.

Most of what I know about suffrage, ironically, is the Stanton/Anthony era stuff, post-Civil War. So I'm not clear how accurate the movie is aside from the basics - like, who Alice Paul was and the various factions of the early American women's liberation movement. I wasn't even sure, for instance, if the prissy Congressdude's wife character had some basis in history (she doesn't, at least not exactly - I think her inclusion was nice, though, and gave the story more tie to average Janeness, at least the sort of white upperclass average she represents).

HBO's website does a pretty nice job of contextualizing the movie, too, with summaries and resources and pictures and such. And it's prettily designed (a good example, by the way, of a corporate media site retaining the corporate brand and feel while allowing the content and feel of the individual show/movie/whatever to dominate the user's experience).

So, the movie's worth a look just for the history. It's also very watchable. The general quality of the production is similar to a lot of historical romances; alternately sweeping and intimate. Despite the wedged-in love interest (Patrick Dempsey, whose presence worried me at first), though, the romance of the film is - fortunately - all about the women and the cause. It uses this kinda cliched style to drive home a big old "suffragists rock" message. Er, actually, the "suffragists rock" thing is strangely conveyed in the music, too - it's characterized by a Knight's Tale-esque rock vibe, which more or less works, anachronistic as it is.

 

01 March
river economy
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Ever wondered why the south side of any town seems to be synonymous with lower incomes, higher crime rates, and a plethora of pawn shops?

I'm sure you could probably figure this out on your own (if you didn't know already), but most towns are built along rivers. Many of those rivers flow north to south. So the north side of town became the more coveted real estate because the water was better, since the sewage also flowed north to south.

This is true even in Richmond (Virginia) (link opens map in new window), where the James River flows more northwest to southeast than north to south. Which explains why the southeast area, particularly the area just southeast of the city proper, and downstream of the old tobacco plants along the river, is historically the most depressed section of town (see the area around Williamsburg Rd, map level 4).

There's actually an area to the west of Richmond along the south bank of the river which is very posh and Old Richmond, aka South of the Rivah (on map level 4, move the map to the west - it's around the Chippenham Parkway). But for the most part, you see lower and lower incomes, more and more industrial area and less and less new/restored living area the further east (and further south) you go along the south side of the river.

The same is also true to some extent as you go east on the north side toward Mechanicsville (look at the map at level 5), though I suspect that has a lot less to do with the river and more to do with the gradual overtaking of the surrounding rural area by the city and its airport. I'm pretty sure plopping an airport somewhere makes it great industrial real estate and bad for home owners.

There's a less clear-cut example of this south-north phenomenon in Norfolk (also VA), where the James hits the Chesapeake Bay and flows out to the Atlantic. Norfolk was ultimately on the receiving end of all the schlock from the James River, and the Elizabeth river (which runs north to south primarily) also gathered quite a bit of its own stank from the merchant and military ports that rim Norfolk's bays and rivers. Portsmouth has been much worse off environmentally and real-estate-wise than most of the southern parts of Richmond. Intriguingly, though, Chesapeake, a rural area for centuries, has ended up developing as a reasonably nice (if expressionless) suburban area in the past 20 years - despite being further south along the Elizabeth than Portsmouth. I suspect that has something to do with the historical usage of the Western Branch of the Elizabeth, which is still swimmable and used for recreation - maybe it never became part of the industrial shipping routes?

[This lesson is brought to you courtesy of the revolving restaurant in downtown Dallas and my partner's helpful civil engineer father. I highly recommend tracking this sort of geographical history of the towns you know; big fun. This one could also be expanded on by, say, a reader with an intimate familiarity with southeastern Virginia estuaries.]

 

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