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25 August
please carrie this website away...
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Oh, good god. As an attempt to bring into the political fold all those single young women don't, like omigod, ever vote, we now have cheesy takeoffs on Sex & the City all over the place - the latest? Carrie the Vote. A site purporting to seriously encourage women to vote via an excess of cuteness. But at least it links to the National Women's History Project. I guess the intent is good. It's hardly a new strategy - NARAL used Sex and the City to caution people about restrictions on abortion rights just a few months ago.

But at least NARAL's thing wasn't pink. I can't go on without mentioning the eeeevil of the design of this website - seriously, it's hard to even start in on the problems. Things that don't line up! An excess of fonts and colors! A dearth of anti-aliasing in the main navigation images! All that is wrong with "design for girls". Aieee. Now I can move on...

I accept that the website is sarcastic and humorous in intent, playing to a stereotype of single women as shoe-obsessed and basically stupid for jokes (yeah, cause that works). But why only address how "hard" it is for single women to vote? Why are women the problem if we don't vote? Are we all Barbie over here, complaining that "voting is hard" in tinny little recorded voices?

Nope. Don't think so. The issue that keeps single women from voting is the same one that keeps people in general from voting - a fundamental lack of belief in the political process. Several years of withdrawal in disgust and frustration have turned into, yes, apathy. Apathy is a great defense mechanism when things are just too bad to think about.

I suspect, actually, that quite a bit more young women will be voting this year, because of W's stance on the political issue that most of us can closely connect with - you got it - abortion. That is a reason we ought to get out and vote.

But most of the rest of political discourse is, I think intentionally on the part of politicians, family-centered. Not centered on all families, of course, but on the comfortably middle class two-wage family, the slightly less comfortable multi-child union household. Younger and older people's issues are barely even mentioned in many elections (though we do seem to be doing a bit better on the upper end, as more and more people get old). Why, then, is there any surprise that younger people don't vote? It's not exciting; it's not even about you if you're under 30.

There are organizations (i.e. Punk Voter"> and Emilys List) that are fighting against this, aiming to take back the platforms (as if we ever really had them) by mobilizing more people towards a voting revolution. It's a start. People don't avoid voting because it's hard; they avoid it because it seems pointless.

[Link from Utopian Hell, who did an excellent job of pillorying the ridiculous language of the CTV website, thus sparing me the trouble.]

 

18 August
retro-gender sports?
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Men's gymnastics have become much cooler than women's gymnastics. I don't know when this happened. I clearly remember the women's version being very elegant and dancelike to watch when I was a kid; the men's, by contrast, being rather repetitive and boring.

Now, the compulsory "dance" moves on floor and beam look silly and graceless. They were designed for women with the bodies of dancers and rhythmic gymnasts, for movement all about curved lines. Today's women gymnasts are serious athletes; they have the broad shoulders and substantial muscles need to do the insane tumbling and leaping that has come to dominate the sport. Those leaps and such are amazing; they require so much strength, but there are still these weird little leftovers - goofy music and poses that make the athletes look like dancing donkeys.

This was true in women's skating during the winter Olympics, too (and of men's skating, to a lesser degree). It's like the sport isn't aware of its own changes, despite the increasing difficulty of the "technical" (read: truly awe-inspiring) side. It's not about feminine beauty - at least not in the same sense - anymore. Move on! Please don't play another patriotic, upbeat floor routine song with the pretense that the tumbling is somehow related.

Men's gymnastics, by contrast, was never about pretty. And has become more compelling to watch because of it - the level of rigor and athleticism is more clearly a test of strength and agility and is just plan cool. Without the barriers of complete dorkiness that the women face, the men's sport started rocking.

On a vaguely related note, I can't resist commenting on the kerfuffle around the beach volleyball dancers. Because beach volleyball wasn't silly enough to match table tennis, the Greeks added dancing women in teeny bikinis between matches/sets/whatever volleyball terminology is. The dancing is incredibly goofy; one really expects Frankie and Annette to pop up.

What's at issue isn't the mockery of turning the sport into a beach blanket movie, but the objectification of women implied by having women in bikinis dancing to entertain you in between episodes of... women in bikinis whacking a ball. Presumably the latter are dressed for comfort and ease, while the former are, like any cheerleaders, dressed to titillate. And I can see the players' point - if there aren't any guys in bright orange speedos dancing about, it makes every woman more an object of sexiness instead of an object of, say, sport.

There's the question of why women playing beach volleyball wear little sporty bikinis while the men wear basically basketball attire [see pictures on athens2004.com], too, which I've heard people talking about the "appropriateness" of. It seems to have less to do with appropriateness or gender than it does with trying to imitate people frolicking on the beach - I mean, they wear hats and sunglasses. At night. So they can... so they can see (in the fake daylight). It's another case of a sport with a seemingly demented need to stay connected to its roots.

Which I don't get. But then I only even watch sports maybe 5 times in the average year (though the other 4 times, I almost never see such weird gender divisions among athletes).

 

17 August
it's just sex.
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I'm late to the game of musing over Jessica Cutler aka "The Washintonienne" (on the embarassing guilty pleasure that is Wonkette, at least). Because, honestly, who cares? [For those of you in my bubble of not caring to the point of not being aware of it, she netted a few moments of blog infamy and is oddly becoming a cultural icon because she blogged for a few weeks about sleeping with Washingtonians who had more money and governmental power than her. Feministe, also of the "so, who cares?" opinion, blogged it yesterday.]

Many people have read volumes of cultural symbolism into the whole thing in really absurd ways, but I have to say the Post article from last week is fabulous. It's like a chick-lit book with commentary from all your favorite pundits. Can you imagine a copy of Bridget Jones's Diary with footnotes?

Ironically, the girl-gets-famous-by-blogging thing is now such a cliche that it in fact does appear in chick lit not infrequently now. The blogger is always an object of disdain for our heroines. So it should come as no surprise, I suppose, that various commentary on the Post article includes people calling her a slut, a whore, every trite stand-in for the belief that a woman who uses sexual power is a Very Bad Thing.

Another reason we still need feminists, I guess.

But back to the Post article, which was entertaining enough to move me to comment. It has Naomi Wolf commenting on the internet's responsibility for the dissolution of sexual mores (which is a shame, as her salient points about the porn culture just sound frumpy when the word "mores" enters the picture). And commentators in some bar or something talking about Cutler's misguided use of sex to gain power. What?

While I have issues with the predominance of sex as currency, this isn't about women and power in my mind (maybe it was in Cutler's, but only she knows that). It's just sex, people. And I don't think the degradation of social morality to the point where things can be just sex is a problem. If anything, it's one of the few positive contributions of porn culture in conjunction with second wave feminism - women are no longer the keepers of sexual morality. And guess what? Left to their own devices, young women can think of a sex as just an urge, a way to have some fun - not a treasure to be guarded and carefully dispersed in exchange for power borrowed from some guy. Not even something circumscribed by partnership, even?

If people behave in ways that seem immoral or in poor taste, maybe it's the taste and morals that are behind the curve.

It's something to think about.

 

09 August
wearing your choice
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There was a big discussion about this shirt (it just says "I had an abortion" in blue letters on a brown shirt if you don't care to follow the link) on the LJ feminist community maybe two weeks ago.

This week, Alison brings the same question to the WHB crew. I have to love these folks for not saying some of the things the LJ feminists said (many were of the "EGADS! That's shameful! Hide your abortion, you slut!" persuasion, sadly). Read the WHB comments - those who wouldn't wear the shirt cite safety and privacy concerns, which I think are completely valid. Having an abortion shouldn't be any more shameful than having your tubes tied or a kidney removed, in my opinion, but it also shouldn't have to be any more public.

Do you see anyone wearing a "I had a hysterectomy" t-shirt? No. But then, no one's afraid that vicious pro-lifers will start hurling words like "slut" and "whore" at them as the pro-life contingent did at the March if they admit to having such a procedure done. It's not politicized the way abortion is, yet it's still something people might not want to publicize about themselves.

While I respect that many women would choose not to wear this shirt in any context, I think there are times when making the fact that so many of the women's lives around you are made possible by their ability to legally choose abortion. I think these shirts are useful in letting other women know they're not alone, that abortion is normal and shame-free. As with any political message worn on your person, you need to be aware of how it could be received and be ready to have that conversation (I have a t-shirt that just says "eat", for instance, that sometimes gets me into conversations where I have to explain the whole history and position of size acceptance); when the subject is as contentious as abortion - and the opponents are as given to radicalism and evangelism - you need to know that you can handle the debate that will come your way.

That said, I don't believe I should choose my clothing based on fear (this is way too close to the idea that women who aren't "modest" invite sexual assualt - WRONG). And the idea that wearing one's abortion on one's sleeve should subject a woman to attack by anti-abortion folk just makes me want to go out and buy the shirt [Or make one that applies more directly - maybe "I would have an abortion."]. Political discourse should be more polite than that. Political discourse shouldn't be fucking dangerous.

I'd be curious to hear if women who've worn these shirts have been subjected to attacks outside of an expected confrontation (i.e. to a feminist meeting or the mall vs. during clinic defense or at a protest). I wonder if we're reacting to real encounters in our fear of confrontation, or if we're underestimating our opponents.

Ultimately, I hope the shirt is a positive step towards more open discussion of abortion, and helps people to see that abortion is not solely the province of women who are "bad" by some standard (though all of those standards are, in my mind, ridiculous). I hope it's useful.

 

03 August
whb: nature v. suture
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I owe a number of "back responses" to WHB questions. Here's one from a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Morgaine, cleverly titled "Nature v. Suture".

Buckle your seatbelts, kids - it's a long one. Feel free to play "I Spy" in the backseat while I type.

I. Reproductive options: a) Birth control – what if it might kill you? Make you sterile? b) Abortion- I know a girl who refused to use birth control and had 6 abortions. Any problem with that? (She knew better, she just didn’t care) c) Planned Cesareans – having surgery so you can plan your birth around your schedule. Any conflicts? Is it better for the mother to have a safe surgery or a risky natural birth? Would cutting a pregnancy short hurt the mother? The baby? Would it matter to you if there were increased risk to the baby? Is vaginal birth passé?

I am generally averse to medical intervention. I've encountered a lot of uninformed doctors, and I hesitate to make any decision that will make me more dependent on them.

Birth control's a fairly personal decision, particularly because the effects of current medical birth control options are so individual. I consider it wildly unfair that there are so few comparable choices available to men - the end result being that it's almost always up to the woman in any straight couple to decide how to avoid pregnancy.

Abortion is an acceptable means of birth control in my book. Have I used it that way? Well, no. It's expensive and even the medical (vs. surgical) option is still not a skip through the park, and prevention seems easier to me. But that's me. It's legal, it's up to you, and you shouldn't have to apologize, whether you 'know better' or not.

If I were to have a kid, I have no idea how I'd prefer to do it. There are advantages to a planned, controlled, surgical birth, I suppose. But there are also risks with any surgery (and, from the mamas I know, I understand those risks to be greater and the rewards sometimes less than having a kid the usual way). It seems to me that the least unpleasant and most empowering way to give birth is at home with a trusted midwife and/or doula. But then - I hate doctors, and it would be next to impossible for me to be comfortable through a medically assisted pregnancy.

I think instances of people planning C-sections just for convenience are fairly rare, and even if it's the next big trend, I have a hard time passing judgement on any woman for her approach to bearing kids. I'll wait and snark about how she raises them later. [It's a joke. Really, I'm kidding. I swear.]

II. Breasts – Are any or all of these purely a matter of choice? A necessity? An abomination? Vanity? Any issues of patriarchy, or oppression here?

a)Breast reconstruction- done after breast removal due to cancer, paid by insurance.
b)Breast reduction to alleviate back pain, paid by insurance.
c)Breast enlargement as an elective? What if the only implant available can be deadly? What if the Army is paying the bill? What if she's doing it to make more money or get a raise? Or because her boyfriend wants her to?

Can you guess how much it pisses me off that the military will pay for your breasts (well, sorta), but won't even LET you get a freaking abortion on your own dollar while you're active duty? That's demented, and totally in line with what I was saying on LJ earlier this week about giving the government more money to spend - making sure Army doctors have "practice" at plastic surgery is not a good use of the $.25 that probably cost each of us this year.

Back pain due to breast size can be treated with exercise as well as surgery, to an extent. To a degree, you could grow your breasts with exercise instead of surgery, too. Surgical alteration of breasts, no matter how much it may seem like an individual choice, is actually a series of "individual choices" that add up to support for a very narrow definition of "normal". Women are supposed to have two breasts of a certain size, shape, and quality in order to be attractive - this is an issue of tremendous concern for the women who get various breast surgeries, and it is cultural, not personal.

It may be your individual choice, but particularly when the intent is cosmetic it contributes to the porn culture and narrows other womens' choices each time one woman goes the surgery route.

III. Beauty hurts

Women in China used to be subjected to foot binding, which was a cruel and painful practice that crippled women permanently.

Right now, on the East Coast, women are paying doctors to have bones removed from their feet so they can fit into expensive designer shoes. Any problem with that? Do you ever buy shoes that don't fit because they're pretty ? Or on sale?

That is positively whacked. I have never met a pair of shoes that cute. Seriously, though, I think this is a class issue. As plastic surgery and personal trainers have become more the purvey of middle class folk, it seems like a subset of the wealthiest Americans looks for other more creative/expensive ways to make appearance a class indicator. It's a sort of consumption I find offensive and just - whoa, so utterly out of touch with the world.

Shoes should be both pretty and comfortable at least for their purpose. Most high-fashion designer shoes are neither. But yes, I've at least bought shoes that weren't tremendously comfortable based on my belief that they'd break in comfortably. They're like itty bitty sculptures, shoes are.

Which is, by the way, exactly the appeal of the broken "lotus blossom" feet of Chinese aristocrats during the brief time that was in fashion. Binding gave the foot a distorted sculptural form that was considered very beautiful. Our attitude about shoes, the use of heels to make "shapely" calves - not as extreme, but of the same color as Morgaine's examples.

There are some positives here, at least - no doubt in part because women have been working and "practical" for some time, there's more of a sense that your shoes - practical vs. silly - are something you're free to choose. In daily situations, it's as normal for a woman to wear comfy flats as teeter in heels. It's progress.

IV. Genital surgery. Little girls in Africa and the Middle East are systematically mutilated. Our government does not see this as a human rights issue. Women in America pay doctors to 1) create a false hymen 2) modify their labia for aesthetic reasons and 3) tighten their vagina to make sex more pleasurable for their (male) partner. Women are also known to have genital piercings done. Bikini wax, anyone?

I struggle with the implication in Morgaine's post that one government should intervene in what is considered accepted practice in another's society. I agree that the practice of "female circumcision" is barbarous, but violating another's sovereignty is also a human rights issue. One society's definition of barbarism is not the same as another, and there are, whatever you may think of them, rules about interference. It's a complex issue that could be seen as a colonialist intrusion on one hand or as a failure to intervene on civil war against women on another. And, as Karl pointed out, we still think of it as normal and ordinary to circumcise infant boys, a painful process even parents rarely have little choice in (not to mention the kid). What if we were a less powerful nation and the rest of the world decided abortion was barbaric and wrong?

From what I understand, genital surgery isn't always for a partner's pleasure - it can make sex more pleasurable for the woman getting the surgery, too. Seems like a huge amount of risk, but if the reward was going from painful to delightful sex...

On the other hand, I think all aesthetic surgeries fall under the "maintaining a narrow standard of normal" thing I mentioned above. Waxing to an extent does the same. Piercing is something I don't think even belongs in a group with the rest of these - yes, it's about aesthetics, but it's not about "normal". That gives it a very different context - taking it from defining what all women should be to what certain women are (whatever that is).

 

02 August
whb: guys gone wild
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Brigitte's question on WHB: does objectifying men bring us closer to equality?

I was watching "Best Week Ever" on VH1 a few nights ago and they were discussing the recent release of a male equivalent to the "Girls Gone Wild" series. If equality really is about evening things between men and women, is it a "good" thing that men are being sexually exploited and objectified more and more in the media? Or, as the suffragists suggested, is the ideal equality men achieving a level or morality comparable to that expected from women. In other words, are men supposed to be as "good" as women, or are men supposed to be as debased as women for things to be equal?

Ah, Best Week Ever. Fun show.

I think the treatment of men as sexual objects is a logical result of gains made by feminism combined with our porn culture (that is, predominance of the use of sex to sell things & the sale of sex). Women are more sexually assertive than they had been in the past. Sexual "attractiveness" continues to used to sell everything, and women are increasingly the larger consumers (in the US and most western countries, at least). So the male object becomes more of a product. This trend is much more complicated than just the result of two intersecting forces (the rise of gay subculture is certainly also a contributor, as is the growth of the fitness/diet industry), but I don't have enough knowledge about those other factors to do them justice.

Is this a good thing? In that this is a sign that women are considered more powerful in the world of consumerism and are seen to have independent sexual initiative, I actually do think that objectification of men is a positive sign. I also hold out hope that with most of the population subject to absurd "beauty"/health/diet standards (which is very related to the objectification question), frustration with and resistance to these things will increase. So yes, it's a good thing; it's development in one aspect of our culture that needed a change.

Is this where we want to be? Well, no. Evaluating everyone on a standard of appearance and sexuality is a bad plan. It's a sign that our culture's a bit out of balance - and particularly combined with our weird moralism around actual sex and our bodies, is strangely schizoid.

I assume because it's out of balance, that there will eventually be a swing in a different direction - not, I hope, towards the "new modesty" extreme that a few small subcultures promote, but maybe towards a balance between the desirable sex object and other values. And maybe the people held up as physically "ideal" will actually be remotely attractive.

As a side note, there was often an undercurrent of "Women are the supercoolest because they're so sweet and good and pure" in certain suffragist arguments for equality - alluded to in the original question. Idealizing only the "good, feminine" qualities of people, regardless of gender, is also not equality and is not realistic. I'd be fine never hearing that take on "equal" ever again.

 

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