07 December
raucous women
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : about feminism

Look at this! Wouldn't it be great to see more pictures of women having unembarassed fun?

Never mind the size thing, even - how often do you see women of any size willing to be wild in front of a camera (barring, you know, "Girls Gone Wild" video series)? Personally, I take it as an inspiration to go be raucous.

The picture is from a Groot Gat Godin (roughly Big Bottomed Goddess) beauty contest that Paul posted on earlier this week. Now, it is a little odd that everyone's so white, but it doesn't take away from the pleasure of watching them have a good time.


25 November
the wage gap and work pattern
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : about feminism

A study from the GAO reported by Reuters last week finds that the wage gap continues, and is attributable to the mommy track. Women are still making 80% of what men make in the US, adjusting for education, marriage, job, etc.

The wage gap was attributed partly to differing work patterns between the sexes, with women being penalized for their frequent dual roles as wage earners while caring for home and family.

While the Reuters summary doesn't tell us anything explicit about the makeup of the group studied, it does point out some findings about men with children (they earn 2% more than men without kids) and women with children (they earn 2.5% less than their childless counterparts) that I thought were interesting.

It's common for various post- and anti-feminists to assert that a wage gap attributed primarily to women's role in the family wasn't a wage gap at all.

It's a paradox. If women are consistently faced with making less than their male partners, who is likely to do more of the child care? If women are assumed to make less and assumed to do more of the child care, are they likely to suddenly start making more? I don't think so.

Back to the post- and anti-feminists. They seem to have two arguments that "prove" the existence of a wage gap is women's "fault".

  1. That women are wired to care for children. Men, coincidentally, are wired to be more aggressive and ambitious. Thus, women are more satisfied by family and will choose family over work, while men are driven to be successful and see their family role as primarily economic.

    This argument is loaded with such obvious sexism on both sides, such notions of biological determinism and the ineffability of gender, that I expect it to be followed with some statement about the sanctity of marriage and why gays shouldn't be allowed to have any. Seriously, though, biological determinism is problematic for people of both sexes - when you assume biology forces certain behaviours, you eliminate choice. It's an overly reductive view of the family that prevents people from making the choices that might really satisfy them.

  2. That feminism made it possible for women to choose family, career, or a mix of both. Since feminism is over an all its goals accomplished, women who make less must do so because they already have the ability to choose. Thus, women make less than men because we choose to.

    Dizzying, but it's the sort of geometric proof logic that post-feminists have argued to me. And inevitably, this argument must revolve back to #1 (biological determinism) or assume that men don't have reasonable choice in their lives, because, barring any innate preference, men and women would equally choose family or career. If that were so, there'd be no wage gap.

It's more complicated than that. A family role-driven wage gap probably indicates a lack of malice or intentional discrimination on the part of employers, but it's still indicative of a lack of equality in general. And given that studies only seem to partially attribute the gap to any one factor, the ability to prove the existence of the wage gap again and again is probably a sign of many different types of economic inequalities.

The wage gap has been and continues to be emblematic of some core inequalities between the sexes. These are real concerns for women and men, because the assumptions we make about breadwinning limit choices for both genders.


27 October
grrr. with the matriarchy.
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : about feminism

Kerri stole my fire.

See, we've been having this conversation on WHB about the notion of matriarchy (or, if we choose to stick with the accepted definition of that term, egalitarian/matrist societies). I've been thinking for like a week that I needed to put down in words what I think of anthropologists who still fixate on the evidence Marija Gimbutas uncovered about "woman-dominated" societies as indicative of some inherent biological wisdom and peacefulness on the part of women.

And Kerri just goes and beats me to it. With, I might add, more thunder than I was likely to have mustered.


Anyhow. So, I went through a period of reading a lot of women spiritualists, goddess-worshippers, feminine-centered anthropologists. Nice, smart people. But people with really, really marked agenda. Like all people with agenda, they (and I as their reader) could and did overlook common sense at times in order to see the facts of their agenda in whatever evidence presented itself. In this case, the agenda is that women need more power because women are different from men. Sure, it's more complex than that, but it ultimately comes down to celebrating the peaceful feminine as a better course for society, and the woman as manifestation of peaceful feminine. So, any society that was perceived based on archaeological evidence as peaceful and egalitarian is termed "matrist" or "matriarchal", because they must be ruled by women if they manifest this feminine principle (roughly: peace, love and understanding).

I think it was probably this book (Pollack's Body of the Goddess) which finally highlighted for me clearly what the problem is with this agenda. Problem being: a) the logic is circular (women manifest the feminine, so the feminine manifest is woman-dominated), b) following on that, it strikes me as absurd to name as "matriarchy" what may well have been an egalitarian society where, all things being equal, they may or may not have decided to take the simple route and trace birth lines matrilineally, and c) ultimately, it assumes that peaceful is better, that women are inherently peaceful and men inherently not, and that creates its own brand of sexism. [Pollack, by the way, doesn't attack the agenda in question; she just presents kind of a tour of European early civilization through cultural relationships to the earth - what I found striking was that she did not assume female-rulership in culture, which a number of the other things I had been reading that year did do. Basically, what I learned from her book and a couple of others was to balance my ingestion of the post-Gimbutas school with things like Karl Kerenyi (archaeologist whose work inspired Jung), and to infer my own meanings from what we could know or guess from the past.]

I'm down with the feminine principle, yo. I am down with egalitarianism. What I am not going to accept is this notion that the feminine principle is necessarily connected with one gender/sex (as Kerri points out, women can be power-hungry and men can yearn for peace), or with any agenda that places a greater value on either the feminine or masculine (roughly: power, strength and progress) principle. See, these words don't have good-bad value attached to them, not anywhere except in your head.

In addition, it is not acting as a tool of the patriarchy (a word I come to loathe more and more) to question the assertion that the feminine is inherently better for us than the masculine, to question the assertion that any one thing unbalanced by another is better for us than another. It is acting out of common sense.

Also, Kerri totally ganked "so 1985" from me. I think it needs to be adopted as an academic concept. It would simplify a lot of arguments over "have you read...? what about...?" - people who start those arguments are really just saying your logic is so 1985.


23 October
i'm angry. and depressed.
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : about feminism

Things are making me angry today.

Some of the response to Tish's average-sized privilege list is very frustrating. Notably the conversation at Ampersand. It reminds me of something that happened on the DTMWSIB list awhile back. One of the members was upset that Queen Latifah's new Wal-Mart plus size undies line was donating a portion of proceeds to a fund to help black kids pay for college (I think; I don't recall what it was exactly). The rationale being - if you make something for fat people, the proceeds should go to a charitable organization that supports fat people. I disagree completely; if you have money to spend, you always have the option of not buying something if your money will go places you don't want it. And if you sell something, it's pretty much up to you what you do with the proceeds.

[Well, in theory. If your budget or town is such that Wal-Mart is really your only shopping option, and Queen Latifah's undies are the only ones that will fit you, then I guess your choice is to support her charity or go without panties - but it's still a choice.]

Anyhow - it's amazing how quickly this group of fat folk (who are well acquainted with the ways in which discrimination can happen) became rather divided over the question of whether black people were really discriminated against or not, since sometimes individual black people get advantages over individual white people. It is a privilege to be ignorant of the way you are privileged. It is a privilege to be able to think of yourself as an individual and not as part of the groups, to carry the weight of the normative prejudices against that group. And yet even people who recognize prejudice against themselves on one front can't see how that happens to someone else. This is so often the reaction of fairly liberal people to the assertion that fat people face prejudice and that's wrong. How can this be?

Everyone gets defensive when confronted with the idea that they might be receiving some privilege. I can understand that; being confronted by privilege makes it feel like you haven't earned what you have. But a reasonable person doesn't react to it by saying "see, look at those really fat people - they ARE unhealthy and they could be better" or "see, black men really do commit more crimes, and they could just stop living like that"; a reasonable person doesn't try to blow smoke around the real issue by bringing up some special case where, okay, maybe the things said about a particular group might be true.

And then the "partial birth" abortion ban gets passed. I don't even know what to say; I'm just so depressed by this.

It frustrates me, too, that groups like NARAL choose to talk about the procedure (which, let's face it, sounds more painful and generally icky than most abortions) in terms of rights, like it's an abstract. It reinforces this image of wild abortionists with no connection to reality and a need to hid our nasty procedures when you can't find a good explanation of what a D&E or D&X abortion even is on Planned Parenthood's website; only the NRLC will tell you in any detail, and they'll load their description with such bile you'll start wondering if you can dilate and evacuate their damned website.

See. It doesn't matter if the D&X reminds you of a baby being born. What matters is that that "baby" doesn't have a life unless the woman continues to bear it. And it is unconstitutional, has been found unconstitutional again and again, to deny a woman the right to a medical procedure that could protect her life (medically or otherwise).

We need to be angry about this.

Little George W. has now virtually guaranteed my vote, and the votes of all my formerly slacker non-voting friends (who mobilized so charmingly for Nader four years ago), for ANY democrat who makes it through the primaries. Screw the Greens! My vote is for anyone who could take Bush out of office! I hope we can count on the Court, but I want a president who reflects the true liberalism of America that Michael Moore keeps telling me about.

[Edited to add after the fact to point out Ampersand's explanation of the abortion issue over several posts. Because you can't expect me to cite a lot of research or facts, but you can trust Ampersand to do so.]


07 October
cranky bit about who is and isn't a feminist
link : thoughts (3) : track it (0) : about feminism

The WHB audience has been irritating me somewhat lately. No, scratch that. Actually, a couple of those people have me wanting to slap them silly.

I mean. I try to maintain a certain "yeah, I hear ya" vibe on the site that a couple of folks really aren't playing along with.

And yes, one of them is a guy - but this isn't a "man enters women's studies class and takes over with his stupidity" issue. The guy's ideas aren't stupid, they're just off-topic. And he isn't the only one whose personal agenda is overwhelming the ability to discuss actual - gasp - questions of feminism. Another of the contributors, something of a "goddess feminist", is very much pushing a "bah, men" agenda lately.

I'm worried that I've made a mistake by inviting the latter person to join our staff. But I've allowed her in partly because I hate goddess feminists, almost on principle, which strikes me as odd. And she is, in fact, a reasonable, thinking person.

Still. I don't believe that paganism and feminism are really on the same page. And a lot of pagans disagree.

So many pagans have this idealized notion of woman as peaceful and nurturing, and I think that's complete crap. A matriarchal society where women's ideas and "feminine" behavior were more valued would be no better than where we are today. Actually, I'd hazard a guess that a woman-dominated society would reverse some of the behaviors associated with masculinity and femininity (but anyone who watched the original Star Trek series might also conclude that - how many women-powered planets did they encounter where the women were the aggressors and men the nurturers?).

I believe certain types of feminists aren't really feminists at all, but I don't feel it's my position to decide who is and isn't allowed to claim the label (pockets of stupidity, pockets of stupidity). That doesn't, however, mean I have any obligation to like other sorts of feminists (not only for their contrary beliefs, but for their style), and the people on the WHB site who currently fit these categories aren't helping much with their behavior.


01 October
that's right, you are.
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : about feminism

Tomato Nation made me a birthday present (well, not knowing it was my birthday or anything, but still): Not a feminist? Yes you are.

Good reading.


19 September
movement conflict
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I read something in Genderqueer that highlights for me the sorts of frustrating challenges posed by a multi-movement radicalism.

Woman will always be gender queer... woman an inherently fragile project... Feminist and lesbian communities have been deeply unreceptive to [a host of transfolk and their concerns] who seem to threaten the very foundation of woman. p. 58, Riki Wilchins

So. I'm pretty sure that Riki must know and speak to some feminists. And I wonder that this is what gets heard from feminists' mouths to the trans community. What I hear is that - apart from the female separatist environments of a variety of Womyn's festivals - feminists are either not aware of or seriously challenged to deal with trans issues.

I think we're working on not aware of on many fronts; this applies to fat politics, race politics, queer politics, class, etc. as much as to trans politics. Where feminists are white, hetero (or lesbian, honestly), middle class women in the US, we are likely as any group to assume that our personal issues are the issues everyone in our activism must also have. Eh, not true. But I think an intrinsic facet of every human being's politics.

It angers me that the trans community as represented by Wilchins could be so off base on this one. The challenge transgendered folk pose to feminists is not a challenge to the nature of woman - but rather a frequent lack of challenge to woman. If you're not a fairly radical feminist, chances are the only transfolk you know of are ones who claim to identify as a gender other than their biological sex and wish to change the biology or at least the outward appearance to match their insides.

I realize that is only one segment of the trans population, but it's the segment who show up in the mainstream and semi-mainstream media. And that segment is characterized by notions of "internal" gender that conflict dramatically with feminists on either side of the biological determinism fence.

As someone who doesn't have much truck with biological determinism, it's pretty core to my personal beliefs that gender roles aren't based on biology, and that any range of "gendered" behaviors should be acceptable. If you need to change your physical being to match some gendered behaviors you display or would like to display, that sounds a lot like stereotyping and pretty much fucks with my feminist ideology. And on the reverse side, if I were someone who thought motherhood was the biological and spiritual pinnacle of womanhood, and that men and women were inherently different, you'd still be fucking with my head. In that case, yes, maybe your gender-shifting (especially inasmuch as transpeople supercede gender) would challenge my idea of woman. But more feminists seem to fall on my side of the fence than the other.

It's not an easy question to answer. The standard definitions of "woman" and "man", "feminine" and "masculine - which are, in my opinion, 95% cultural - are at the heart of many transpeople's concepts of self (indeed, of many people's concept of self). And that does pit these two movements - both ostensibly about choice and gender - against each other.

It's akin to the question of "sexy" as considered by the fat and feminist communities disparately. Fat people fight to be allowed sexiness. Feminists fight to be allowed non-sexiness. As a fat person, sometimes I'd just like the boundaries of what is objectifiable and beautiful to be expanded; as a feminist, that's not enough for me. I need a complex world of sex and not-sex, a freedom to choose to be either.

The problem here is that the trans movement and the feminist movement seem too willing to just step away from the question of "woman", too willing to ignore the complex realm of gender that we could explore together. It's clear from the most exciting transfeminists that these two movements are more brilliant for being informed one by the other.


22 August
link : thoughts (7) : track it (0) : about fat

I love love love love love what Tish says in her Big Fat Blog introduction.

A radical fat liberation movement does not accept. We assert. We assert the right to make our own choices about how to experience our bodies. Some of us like being fat. Some of us celebrate our bodies. And some of us still struggle but we know that our bodies are not inherently wrong.


And yet there's more. I want more.

I'm looking for a revolution that covers all bodies. It isn't enough to have a revolution of fat bodies queer bodies women's bodies trans bodies. It isn't the revolution we need.

Because the revolution we need is about liberation from the duality of bodies entirely. We think that to have beautiful must also mean to have non-beautiful, just as to have woman is to have man, fat thin black white queer straight rich poor.

We like pairs, don't we?

I'm coming around a corner on the intersection of all the movements I belong in. This is the intersection, the body. The lines drawn upon it to mark acceptable and not. To differentiate.

The pairs assume the existence of A and B where key parts of the definition of each is the opposite. To be A is to be A, but most importantly, to be A is to be not-B. It makes sense psychologically, that there's this desire to define oneself as something and not something else, but I think there's also a cultural component to that psychology.

It's like survey methodologies. People respond to the choices put before them. If I'm two and I'm wondering what I am [Is that when you're two, or later? I'm not sure.], it makes sense to define myself as girl, as not-boy, because no other alternative is present.

I must be A or not-A. I cannot be AB, or BA or ABBA. Why not?

Perhaps it would lead to too many options. There are so many possible combinations already that it would be virtually impossible to define people as anything but themselves if every individual had some uniquely AB sexual preference, some uniquely BA gender, color, size, perspective. The usefulness of definition is that it creates a certain predictability, through the implications of the behaviors associated with each binary body. Simply, a woman is and looks certain ways, does certain things.

An element of predictability seems essential to societal interaction. But what if it weren't?

I've read two books lately that have given me the push more and more to the fringe, farther from binary. Genderqueer (which Ms. 9 generously leant me). And The End of Gay. While one is playing very much in the transgender space and the other very much in the queer one, they're both playing with me in the space where definitions are and should be blurring.

We are. I believe. About to be - if we aren't already - in the midst of the great fucking radical body liberation.

The great fucking radical body liberation will widen the definitions of A and B so much that ultimately, they'll just be one big bubble of difference. In the meantime, though, I'm glad of the fat and queer and gender and race activists who keep their individual revolutions growing and growing and growing. Until, eventually, they jut right up against each other.

And pop.


13 August
hang on to that man
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It seems pretty common for people to say "hang on to him" or "hang on to her" when they hear about acts of good romantic partnership. In exemplia: citing the fact that my partner cleans our house results in comments like "hang on to that one" and "he's a keeper!".

While yes, technically, I do agree that my partner is a valuable addition to my life (AKA a "keeper"), this is bothersome. [On an unrelated note, I think of the "keeper" as a little cup-shaped device some women stick up their cunts to bleed in, and I don't feel quite right calling anyone that. It implies to me you are a useful holder of goopy blood. Not entirely complimentary. And I'm going to use the word over and over and over for the rest of this commentary.]

What bothers me is twofold: first, the assumption of needing to "hang on to" a partner seems a little creepy; second, this type of conversation is invariably connected to a level of implied sexism. A man who cleans is a keeper. A woman with gymnastic sexual abilities is a keeper. Essentially, in the heterosexual context, a person should be kept for things that are stereotypically desired by one gender and stereotypically not performed by the other. Clearly, every straight woman is not a fanatic for clean socks, no more than every straight man desires a large-breasted gymnast.

Aside from that sexism, there's the implication of what makes a good straight relationship. People are to be hung onto as a result of attributes that really don't effect relationship quality. They're relationship hygiene factors (things like pay, or workplace structure in the work world), if anything.

And, of course, the notion that a partner is preferable to no partner. It's not true for everyone, and certainly not true for all possible matches of people, no matter their gymnastic or laundry capabilities. When you tie into that the frequency with which women will tell each other to hang on to a man versus the opposite, it evokes this notion of "catching" a man that really ought to be dead by now.

Why not just say - "hey, that sounds like an okay guy" - or even - nothing?


05 August
the mirror
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : about feminism

I got this article in my inbox from the DTMWSIMB list today about mirrors in gyms and health clubs (link to the original study & this article weren't to be had, not even for ready money).

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, focused on young women who exercised less than 15 minutes a week...

..."The mirrors make women more self-aware, they think of their shortcomings. Things like: 'I look fat, I should be more active'," said Kathleen Martin Ginis, lead author of the study...

...And whether the participant felt comfortable about her body or not, the outcome was the same -- women who did not have to watch themselves exercise felt calmer, more positive and more revitalized at the end of their session.

I alternately exercise in front and out of sight of this mirror from my adolescent baroque period (when everything in my room was white, jewel-toned, and flowered). The mirror itself is somehow quintessentially girly, but my response to it isn't.

I don't know that exercising in front of or away from the mirror effects me much. I do find I last longer when I can't see what I'm doing. I know a lot more about my relationship to mirrors in general. It's not much different from the idea of female to mirror tension.

A woman's expected response to a mirror is a sort of magnetism. We're expected not to avoid the mirror, but not because it's a source of pleasure. Rather, it's a source of self-examination and unkind criticism. This is acceptable. This is ugly. This is too round, too small, too... Perhaps an unexamined life is not worth living, but I could do without some of the implications of an examined face.

We think of the mirror as a blunt, occasionally cruel, reflection of our true selves. As if a true self can appear in two dimensions. And reversed.

So. I'm not surprised that anyone might find exercising in front of a mirror less refreshing. Particularly considering the American approach to exercise as a tragic necessity in the fight against fat and aging (oh, and health - but only if you look thin and young). Exercise, particularly something as uninvolving as the average stationary bike, presents another opportunity for unkindness to oneself. The mirror-gym combination might have a tormenting appeal. I can see the unpleasantness.

Yet I look at the stereotypical gay male relationship with the mirror, and I see the same self-examination - but with a sort of joy and freedom in it. Perhaps it's a co-opting of an unallowed gender behavior? I wonder how a group of variously feminine-performing gay men would feel after a bike ride into the mirror? Stressed? Anxious? Refreshed?

I'd like to look in a mirror and feel nothing. Just - oh, look, there I go... Why does that seem like primarily the province of [straight] men?


17 June
call a spade a spade
link : thoughts (6) : track it (0) : about feminism

Roni's WHB question this week is about names.

Are you a feminist if you don't call yourself by the name?

...is it fair to label someone a feminist if they don't claim it? Is it important to label others as feminists, even if they won't march with you at the Feminist Pride Parade? How do you feel when the woman next to you on the bus, in class, at work states, "Oh, I believe I should be paid as much as Dan, but I'm not a feminist!"

I don't think you can legitimately claim for someone an identity they wouldn't claim for themselves. So, no, it's not fair to call someone who'd rather be a "womanist" or a "humanist" * or nothing a "feminist". No more than it's acceptable to decide someone else is gay.

That said, I don't think there's any requirement for feminist "membership" beyond belief in equality where gender is concerned. I would prefer feminists argue for equality in general, and most do, but even that isn't mandatory.

And why not claim a feminist identity? Well, despite what those of us in the liberal feminist mainstream would like to believe, there have been and continue to by pockets of misandry masquerading as feminism (and much more of a reputation for same). There are feminists who think the movement shouldn't allow men to participate. There are feminists who still believe women are inherently docile and peaceful. There are feminists who don't consider women of color, or poor women when they think about feminist issues.


There are pockets of stupidity in any group, quite honestly, and there are people who refuse to identify with groups for just that reason. They have a good point. But I say, change the stupidity (and the reputation) from the inside. Withdrawal in disgust is about as effective as apathy, despite their ethical differences.

I do not mean to say here that feminism is worthy of disgust, by the way. I'm just saying yes, there are some valid reasons not to identify as a feminist. Just because I don't think they're big enough reasons to diss the movement doesn't mean other people won't disagree. [Pockets of stupidity, what can I say? Ha!]

Yes, of course, I'm frustrated by the I'm not a feminist, but argument. And every time I hear it, I say the same thing.

I say. You sound like a feminist. You think like a feminist. It's okay to be a feminist. I'm one, too. We're all in good company. And I hope that feminist-thinking mind is changed.

But I wouldn't take away that person's ability to choose the label.

* To be a Humanist, by the way, still means to place humanity over divinity, or to participate in a revival of classic humanistic culture. It's not another word for "egalitiarian". Not that I'm one to insist that language is a dead, inflexible creature - but most self-styled "humanists" don't have a clue about the word's traditional meaning. At least be aware that you're fucking with a word that is currently in use with another, completely different, meaning.


30 May
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : about media

There was this brilliant rant I wrote, but then I clicked on some link and stupidly lost what I typed in the MT window. Will I ever learn to type elsewhere first?

So. Tish linked one of the very cute postcards from Fatcities.com earlier this week and was rebuffed for her relatively balanced treatment of the site. I’m glad she posted what essentially served as a disclaimer, because otherwise the site would have been too disappointing.

One of the site’s main functions seems to be hooking up the “undateable” with each other. I’m fine with that. So, the pictures and such get a little slutty, but I’m not as averse to random porn as others are. I would like a little warning that material might be “adult”, but I’d deal if the rest of the site were compelling.

It’s clear that Fatcities’s goal is to be a “mainstream” sales- and advertising-oriented site, much like Yahoo or its ilk. And okay, I accept that. What I don’t accept is its definition of mainstream fat acceptance as non-existent (that is, the mainstream interpretation of fat acceptance, if you follow the subtext, is that fat people are kinda sad victims who need to be helped out of their fatness).

Here are some of the news items cited as “Fat Issues & Fat Acceptance” on the site:

Could you be thinner if you moved to another city?
Too Heavy, Too Young -what parents can do for fat children (it’s all about how to make them un-fat)
Fattest US Cities 2003
Are your height & weight proportionate? Find out here! (BMI calculator)

When you say you want to balance “mainstream” with fat-friendly and you proceed to fixate on dieting and talk about the reasons for obesity, you don’t challenge anyone’s perception. Any of those articles in the right context could be a call to arms, but instead they just spread the message that fat people aren’t okay. Aren’t, to be blunt, mainstream.

I get a little squirrelly about taking women stuff and fat stuff and movement stuff and placing it in an environment that’s about selling stuff. Take the message, water it down a little, add some sugar – and you have messageade! Now with 10% real message!

And you have to wonder: is 10% message worth it? If 80% of the people get 10% of the message, is that progress? In theory, I believe it is. I believe little girls in twenty-dollar t-shirts (now in size XXXL) that read “gurls rawk!” in pink glitter glue are advancing appreciation of feminism. It might not be real political action, but it is, at least, taking that action to the mall – to the mainstream.

It’s just. When I actually see this in practice, it’s a little creepy.

Dru is talking a bit about the mainstream today, and pointed out Pink Prickly Pear’s brilliant rant on the same.

I don’t, as many liberals seem to, think that mainstream American/Western culture is completely banal. There is depth everywhere, and in everyone. So there’s a place for messageade – the place where you introduce the concept in a safe, no-one’s-skin’s-in-this way, the place where the real message trickles down through what we buy because yo, that’s what capitalism is all about.

But. That’s the mainstream co-opting a small part of radicalism. That’s people selling things using what they hear the kids are buying these days.

I think the right way changes when the seller belongs, or at least claims to belong, to the radicalized group.

When you’re part of something that isn’t considered mainstream, you risk not making any progress when you try to package your thing as Yahoo, or as Barbie. You risk “fat acceptance” meaning “feel bad for fat people but don’t hurt them”, you risk “gurls rawk” t-shirts becoming yet another thing girls must have to be pretty, popular, normal.

Do you risk more by not doing anything? Probably. I guess I just want more.


08 May
the crisis of maleness
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : about feminism


So, when I commented the other day about the cancer & weight study, I didn't expect to see this follow so quickly: being male is now a health crisis.

It's funny. But not completely insane, either. The solutions presented to this supposed crisis (improved education, for one) aren't completely spurious. Of course, no one proposes that we reassign everyone a female gender. And this is where it differs from the solution to the "obesity crisis" - few studies look at employment rates, doctor visits or stress levels for fat people and how to improve these; instead, we talk about eliminating fatness.

Does anyone get this? That would be exactly like suggesting we eliminate the crisis of maleness. Exactly. Yes, fatness can be stopped via radical, occasionally surgical measures. But hey, so can maleness!

The article I linked, surprisingly enough, touches on some of the ways men are injured by "the patriarchy", particularly by the cultural system of defining masculinity and femininity.

The study also links the disparity to cultural definitions of what it means to be masculine, hindering men from projecting any sense of vulnerability — including seeking health-protective behaviors. Men are less likely see a doctor or follow medical advice.

It sounds innocuous, but if part of the proscribed course of acceptable "manly" attitudes is not seeking help when you need it (even if, as most fat people know, doctors' advice sometimes amount to little more than speculation), that could be a pretty big problem. It's not the only way we're culturally unfair to men (that same role division tends to keep men more distant from family and defines violent responses to stressors as "manly", for instance).

One of the things feminists are frequently accused of is hating men by opposing a patriarchal system. But gender role divisions are a key part of that system, and feminism's fight there isn't just for women. It's for men, trannies, whoever. None of us benefit from an environment that eliminates choice.


13 April
who is a feminist?
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I struggle sometimes with the notion of what makes someone a feminist. It's complicated. And then, not.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that one needs to be free to choose whatever personal or political definition one desires. This idea actually originated for me in the college queer scene - where defining oneself as this word or that word became very important. We'd have these discussions around bisexuality, particularly, that would leave your mind and tongue numb. The usual debates: if you're 51% something, are you that, or are you in the middle of that and not-that?

It can be absurd, the definitions. So I finally decided that what made sense was just naming yourself whatever. When it comes to queerness, this works most of the time - after all, queer or not queer is about action, but also about intention; so, in most cases (excepting what VA Spider calls the "Girls Gone Wild Bi's", perhaps) you are at liberty to name your own intention. And who could question you?

And then I try applying this to feminism. It doesn't always fly so well. There are too many "feminists" claiming the term in service of what I don't consider a feminist (meaning belief that equality between people of various sexes is necessary and needs defending) set of politics - or worse, using the term primarily to garner publicity or simply create the image of themselves as belonging to a certain sect of the academic or political world. This issue applies, of course, to the obvious candidates like Christina Hoff Sommers - who claim that equality exists already, but also to scores of women who advertise themselves as feminists while actually promoting an idealized version of women as superior. I actually have less trouble with Hoff Sommers claiming feminism than I do with the latter types, but they're both problematic.

The challenge with claiming a feminist identity [This also applies to a queer identity from an activist perspective, I suppose.] is that you're not just dealing with an intention; you're dealing with a political movement - or movements, rather. So, to take on the name while holding a view completely counter to the political movement (i.e. that equality has been obtained already) is an issue. To take on the name while holding a perspective wholly different from the spirit of the movement (i.e. that equality isn't necessary) is absurd.

It's still difficult for me to assert that someone is not a feminist, though - because I've seen too many people be told they're not feminists for reasons like their gender or their attitude towards a specific issue (most commonly sex work or class). It's just that sort of thing that divides us into many feminisms, excluding entirely too many people from the conversation.


11 April
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : about feminism

I've been meaning to post something on the Augusta / PGA issue for awhile and not gotten around to it. Well, Roni's posted a nice summation of the issue: Do you need balls to play?. She's said most of what I meant to say. So what are you doing? Read it already!


07 April
mistaken etymology
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People tend to place judgements on words and assign their own etymologies to words based on sound and spelling. I have no idea why we do this, but it bothers me.

Specifically - and I know I've talked about this in other fora before, but not all consolidated like this - feminists in the 1970's who were otherwise logical, passionate, and many other things approaching brilliance nevertheless came up with a whole new view on language that twisted etymology in frightening ways.

I do realize that the overall premise of rethinking pronouns and suffixes and the like was good. I like s/he, his or her, actor in liew of actress and such. The assumption of male gender in pronouns does, after all, exclude 50% of the English-speaking population, and it really is silly for genderless English to have invented the suffix "-ette". Complete agreement here, even with the now ubiquitous "everyone get their jacket" that we were told over and over was wrongbadgrammaticallyincorrect.

What I have never really grasped can be summed up in two words: wimmin (or womyn) and herstory. All the writing I've seen on these two words either ignores etymology or misrepresents it.

A "woman" is not a man with a wo, but a wo-person (well, actually a "wif-person"; a man was once a "waf or wap-person"). I can see making an argument for calling men something non-neutered, but keeping the pronunciation of woman and spelling it to avoid the word man strikes me as totally unnecessary.

And "herstory" - well, I'll accept this when used to refer specifically to women's history. It's rather cute, I admit. But using it because you don't like the word his in your history is just annoying. It's Latin, people. A language with gender, yes, but a language that doesn't include any gender-based pronoun sounding or spelled remotely like "he".

What I'd like to see is something more radical around our gendered nouns.

For instance. What if everyone became a person? It would eliminate any need for gender hedging by anyone in a sexual preference closet; you'd refer to the "person I'm seeing" or your "companion" no matter what their gender and your preference. Can you imagine a world where it actually didn't matter?

I'm serious here, people. Substitute "person", and you eliminate the duality of gender (which is at least partially cultural, and just doesn't fit some people). Because the feminists who came up with the "womyn" concept did have something right: the way you use language influences the way you think about other people. If you didn't hear constant, casual references to gender in your daily conversation, how would it change the way you think?


18 March
feminist men, part two: bad boys
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This is a continuation of my response to the collab topic for this week. Sometimes I just don't have the patience to write everything I'm thinking.

One should not assume that the entirety of the South is populated by well-mannered men with an unhealthy fixation on chivalry.

It's not.

I may have known a lot of good boys, but I've also known some fabulously bad ones. Not boys who are evil exactly, just with the capacity to break rules. To question, even undermine, authority.

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17 March
feminist men, part one: good boys
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On We Have Brains this week, Roni's getting everyone to talk about the men and boys they know.

I don't think I know a man whom I don't consider, to some extent, a feminist. Unless you want to include the guy who was trolling around the collab a week or two ago talking about the men we bring down and child support and how he's very, very angry. Because feminists are bad and women are increasingly in prison. [I don't think this stuff up, I just report it.]

A feminist is someone who believes men and women should be equal in the sense of legal, social and economic choices. I would say equal in every way, but not everyone agrees with me on that. There are plenty of people (feminist and not) who include an element of biological determinism in their idea of sex/gender. I don't agree with those people, but that doesn't exclude them from feminism. It doesn't even exclude them from going to the movies with me on a Friday night.

I'm choosing to address this in two parts, equating to the two traditions of boyishness I've known.

but wait! there's more »


16 March
participating in a research project
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I started writing out my response to Jordynn's research questions (posed to the WHB contributors), but then I figured... why not post them here? [I'll finish this post as I have time to answer the remaining questions.]

Online Identity & Community
What attracted you to WHB?
When I started the site (in 2002), I was really looking for a way to share opinions and to have an opportunity to challenge my own feminist leanings with others'.

As a feminist in a relatively conservative town, I found myself serving as a representative for all feminists. My typical feminist debate focused on me trying to educate others or convince them that feminism is still valid. They might have learned, but I didn't. That's not to say that interaction wasn't valuable - I still feel that nearly anyone who actually thinks about what feminism means will recognize him/herself as a feminist - but it's also important to refine your own opinions by learning from others who differ in some respects, but know where you're coming from.

I tried starting a webzine (in late 2000), but it felt like a solo effort most of the time. Zine submissions from others don't foster conversation the way that blogs can - because they're so immediate.

What kinds of people do you think are attracted to WHB?
The one commonality that WHB participants seem to share is that they already identify as feminists. They're also primarily women, though the site was never intended to exclude men. Initially, the lack of male participants bothered me - but then I realized, the accidental femaleness of the site also creates a sense of sisterhood for me, and probably for others. It's not all bad. Not to say men wouldn't still be very much welcomed. ;)

Do you feel like you assume a different identity, or shape your identity in different ways when you write online? (i.e. do you feel like you can be more assertive, or more outgoing? Can you share parts of yourself that you might not reveal in ìRLî?)
When I first ventured into online journalling a few years ago, I did assume another identity. I was a little more aggressive and political than in my daily life. It helped me discover my inner soapbox. I'd always been inclined towards dispassionate debate, but I discovered a streak of self-righteousness that I've become fond of.

I found over time that I incorporated those things into my daily life as a result of "putting them on" online. That, combined with a shift in employment (now I work for a company that wouldn't care about my online presence), led me to drop the facade, for the most part. I don't feel there's much I couldn't just express as myself. [I should add, though, that I speak mostly in opinions; very few of the daily events of my life are posted to my site.]

Has blogging or WHB changed how you think about yourself?
I mentioned above the shift from dispassionate observer to quasi-demagogue. That was definitely a big shift as a result of blogging. A large part of that was others' reactions to me.

In addition to the learning opportunities presented by people who agree with you, the blog community creates the potential to find others who will see your opinions and say "Hell yes!". Take that, plus the sense of respect for each other that builds between people of like minds and different voices, and you begin to have a sense of your opinions as more valid. I think that's why so many people have started blogging - the potential for recognition by kindred spirits.

What kinds of relationships have you been able to form online in the blogsphere?
For the most part, I've formed transient friendships. When I first started journalling, everyone I met online seemed brilliant, fabulous, like the best friend I might wish for. You can form attachments based on very limited information very quickly. But. People stop journalling temporarily, or their sites go in a different direction, and you don't have as much in common.

Most of the longer relationships I've made online have been intellectual - formed based on respect for someone's opinions, writing style, what little they share about their life. In that context, you know you're only getting this disembodied voice, but that voice can still be very important.

I have, however, met one on my netfriends in person (and attempted to meet one other), and I have a handful of others who know more specifics about what's actually going on in my life.

Do you find it easier to ìspeak outî when you write online? Have you encountered any barriers to speaking out, forming relationships or communicating in the ìblogosphereî?
There's a lot of talk about sexism in the blogosphere recently (a lot of it from women bloggers who wouldn't call themselves feminists), but when I started blogging, I ended up in a community filled with supportive people who seem to really respect each others' opinions - so my experience is different from some of the women who've participated in the "boys' club" environment of techbloggers (bloggers who focus on technology topics).

An interesting side note to this: I've noticed a tendency in myself to assume other bloggers are like me, more or less. This means, primarily, that I assume a female sex if not told otherwise. I thought many of those "blogelite" guys' sites were published by women for quite awhile.

Blogging tends to skip over the basic pleasantries that allow you to get to know someone closely. That's both an advantage (you get straight to the discussion) and a disadvantage (you don't form close friendships based on those discussions). And of course, there's the communication factor - without the nuance of voice and body language, you can misunderstand others pretty easily. I've had several episodes of that - and probably alienated some people who might have been friends as a result.

One of the other common complaints about blogging is the tendency for like bloggers to gather. The theory being: if only like bloggers interact, they're not actually sharing opinions beyond saying "of course" and "hell yeah" to each other. I disagree - you are generally more likely to understand and respond to a slightly (or even wildly) different opinion that comes from someone you share some background with than with someone whose experiences are foreign. No blogging community is completely homogenous.

What have you learned from being involved in WHB? How has it affected your life?
I think I've refined a lot of my opinions based on what the other participants' share. For instance, while I haven't necessarily changed my opinions on these topics, I now at least understand where anti-porn feminists are coming from, or why one might think men couldn't be feminists.

I also feel more like a part of the greater feminist community because I have the give and take of the collab. If you're in an area where you don't have an active feminist organization, or if you just don't have time to participate, it's nice to know that there are other similar-thinking people out there.

Writing, Technology & Collaboration
How do you write for the collab or for your blog? (i.e. do you write a draft first, go back and revise, etc.?) How has blogging changed how you think about writing?
I've never been a draft-writing person. I type my collab entries straight into my blog tool. I do, however, add postscripts occasionally (say, if the comments I receive spark a new idea or highlight a need for clarification).

Journalling - which is different, more personal than simply blogging, in my mind - shifted my perspective on writing somewhat. I've discovered that I care much more about style than clarity when reading someone else's journal, and that the writing I'm most proud of is the most abstracted, imagistic side of my journal. Blogging, though - well, the act of blogging is just a means; it's not about the writing so much as the opinions that get written. I have a set of blogs I read for their opinions, their clarity of thought; I also have a set of journals I read simply for the experience of reading. The two sets appeal to completely different aspects of me, the reader. I'm not certain if this split-personality reading style is something I would have thought about before I started blogging/journalling online.

Is there something about blogging thatís different from other forms of writing or communication? Does it change how you communicate?
The differentiation between blogging and journalling is interesting here. I journal as if I have no audience, and even find it irritating sometimes when my audience doesn't "get it". The webjournal is one of the internet's great ironies.

I find, conversely, that I'm likely to directly address my audience in the context of my blog: you know, "What do you think?" - because blogging is, to me, all about debate and exchange.

I find myself unconsciously slipping into rhetorical form in blogging opinions: posing a question (implicitly seeking a response), following it up with background information, and drawing a conclusion. I never used to write, or debate, this way. But there's something about the exchange of blogging that makes me want to draw the audience along, allow them to draw their own conclusions: it wouldn't be any fun if we weren't all trying to figure things out together.

How do collaborative blogs like WHB connect personal and political action? Do they enable feminist action in ways that might not be available otherwise?
To an extent, yes. The value of blogging, to me, is its power to create a community out of empty space. People end up building relationships out of common causes, and digging deeper into political issues as a result of friendships they make. Of course, this happens in the day-to-day world away from the internet - but the internet enables this to happen quickly and over great distances.


11 March
learning about women's history
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : about feminism

I posted this week's We Have Brains topic after musing quite a bit. Ironically, I left off a key part of my topic that actually kicked off the idea - one borrowed from a suggestion eris made a while ago.

I meant to talk about not just history, but things you might wish you'd been given, gifts or information. But the topic morphed as I wrote. Well, I'll save the rest for later.

What was the most important thing you've learned about women's history?
What do you wish you'd been taught that you had to find out for yourself?
And finally, how does that apply to where you/we are today?

Rev already said what I wanted to say on the first one: that it existed.

More specifically, that there was a history of women not serving merely as helpmeets and icons of grace and loveliness. A lot of American history textbooks are aimed at teaching children to be some state politician's idea of Good Americans. Unfortunately, that doesn't just mean we leave things out of textbooks: we revise history entirely. Of course, I've talked about that already, and James Loewen does a better job of grounding this assertion than I could do in a single blog post. Read his book, Lies My Teacher Told Me for more.

Part of what your history textbook insinuated, for girls, was what made a good female American. Thus, you get Helen Keller, blind wild child transformed into docile activist for teaching blind people to read, and not, say - Helen Keller, feminist, communist, and so-called enemy of the people. Textbook-brand history glorifies the woman as support figure, homemaker, first lady, sewer of flags. [That's "person who sews flags", not "place where flags go when flushed down the toilet", mind you.]

This is not, by the way, a slight on the good people like Cinnamon who help write those textbooks. It is an unabashed dig at the bureaucratic process by which curricula and textbooks are selected in each state.

And this "good girl" quality doesn't just appear in textbooks. It was in all those little biographies, with series titles like "Young Patriots" and "Young Americans". The ones with the photos of faces superimposed on illustrations, remember those? I happened upon a handful of these at a thrift store when I was in college; it's surprising how pronounced the gender stereotypes were.

I read a lot as a child. I consumed a lot of these sorts of things. Things I wish no one had taught me.

I've also read the Standards of Learning in my state. I worry that those things are still being taught. Or rather, insinuated.

The most important thing I learned about women's history is that it existed. And I learned that on my own.

I had a series of excellent history teachers, too. One who put ancient history and all the civilizations into context, helped us to see how threads of each are visible today. One who laid Vietnam, school desegregation and the big bang theory side-by-side as a total picture of American adolescence. One who laid out for us the history of blacks in America from slavery through Malcolm X and tied it into McCarthyism.

Not one of those excellent teachers pointed out that ancient Crete may have been matriarchal, that the nascent women's movement was a sister to - and in some ways a splinter group of - abolitionism, that there was a whole branch of feminism associated with 1960's peace movements or that lesbian separatists and the Black Panthers might have had some things in common (or even that lesbian separatists existed).

What do I think this means today?

One of the advantages of not being taught things you should have been taught is that you begin to suspect education. To question what you are told. This is true, at least, if you find things out later.

There are ways beyond teaching to learn this trait and to learn the things no one taught you. Most of us probably get it from college, but the beauty of modern media is that you can now also learn about women's history, black history, Indian history - from the media. Even, a little, from pop culture.

I think, despite anything schools may teach about being American, that learning to critique what you're told is a key part of citizenship. It would be grand to teach that in schools, because not every kid responds to "girl power" by seeking more to learn, not every kid goes to college, not every kid reads Loewen, but every kid grows up into someone who ought to vote.


05 March
sexism where it don't belong
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : about feminism

Kerri's talking on href="http://www.wehavebrains.com/archives/000143.html">We Have Brains this week about internalized sexism. I think, given Kerri's own interpretation of the subject (very insightful and a little incendiary, go read), that she's talking about two things: sexism in the groups we fight alongside, and sexism in ourselves.

Many feminists are also politically liberal. Many would argue that a feminist political agenda is inherently a liberal one. To an extent, I agree - I mean, I don't feel you can really be defending choice for women if you don't defend choice for all women - and that means you have to think about welfare, sex, a lot of social issues, from a liberal angle. But. I don't think a fiscally conservative or libertarian viewpoint are inherently counter to feminism. Nor do I think liberalism need equal feminism.

So, when we talk about "enlightened" people and assume that to be liberal/progressive/activist, it limits the definition of enlightenment. Politically speaking. Is it inherently less enlightened to be hawkish? To not claim a feminist identity? I'm not sure.

Blah blah blah - enlightenment is in the eye of the beholder, essentially.

Most people - I believe this strongly - would actually understand and accept feminism if they were served it properly. That doesn't mean there aren't barriers to their understanding - not at all. People come with a thousand biases they pick up along the way. People are, often, stupid. That is - they don't fully consider or research their opinions and what they believe to be their knowledge. We all do this.

People are also entitled to opinions. Even the ones I don't like.

But. I still find aspects of various movements frustrating. Like the issue I mentioned awhile ago about the Green Party - I failed to add that the party was also dominated (locally) by twenty-four-year-old white men from liberal, economically safe worlds. I haven't seen a lot of concern for women and, more importantly, various ethnic and educational backgrounds - the key to a solid grassroots movement. There is a certain elitism to radical organizations and activism - the very ability to be radical is seen as something of a privilege in modern political action. This bothers me more than sexist implications.

The anti-war movement currently buzzing around has also been guilty of a fair share of sexism. I've mentioned, and will continue to be irked by, the perception [by any group] that women would rule more justly, more peacefully, simply better. I do not believe that men and women are different enough for this to be true. Claiming women are more peaceful, more concerned for others, more diplomatic - while touching and sweet - also defines limits on acceptable, womanly behavior: to be hawkish is to fail at womanliness, if you listen to some of the mailing lists who started sending me stuff a few months ago.

It's not uncommon, even today, for such trivializing attitudes towards women's "betterness" to be loudly touted in feminist, fat activist, environmentalist, and peace-making groups. Again, being any of those things (except feminist, one would suppose) doesn't necessarily mean you're hip to the latest feminist discourse.

And yes, women or men who speak up against this can face accusations of being naysayers, of clouding the more important issues with details - we may, in fact, be doing just that - but that doesn't mean we don't need people to step up on these things. I'd argue the opposite. It's important for anyone who sees an injustice to speak to it, to take action against it as much as possible.

We have to speak out until we're the majority.

Personal sexism is more challenging. Because what one person defines as sexism is what another defines as empowerment.

Take, for instance, the idea of pornography. I think the issue of pornography about allowing sexual choice. Others think it's about reclaiming the way we think about sex to make women no longer the primary sex object, a commodity. My perspective is doubtless interpreted as sexism by anti-porn feminists, and I've been heard to call them anti-sex and anti-woman.

I feel much the same way about the traditionally feminine trappings of makeup and girly clothes. They're a choice you can make, in full [or partial] understanding of the cultural implications and irony of wearing an apron and pearls. But there are radical perspectives that would argue a need to eliminate those things, since they have all these cultural implications that we can't get past. Choice may be radical or conciliatory.

Who is right?

We are.

There's the problem. Whose opinion is ultimately the result of years of cultural pressure? Who has grown beyond the limits of cultural stereotypes? The truth is - both.

Of course, there's also less subtle internal sexism. There's I can't do that, I'm a girl and I have to do that, I'm a girl.

Hey, I've said it before: People are stupid. Or maybe [we hope] uninformed. Feminism may seem obvious to us, but that doesn't mean it's obvious, or even available, to everyone.

As for unsubtle sexism - the way through that is persistance. Persistance in an aggressive sense when others try to take away our right to lead, to speak, to act. Persistence to more softly support, to bear up the women around us when we see them hesitate to do those things.


27 February
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I posed a question about maintaining motivation to the We Have Brains crew last weekend.

[Excuse me. I have to interrupt myself here to say - Look! WHB has its own domain! Hey, I'm excited. I think it's prettier and more functional-looking, too - but then, I designed it. Of course I think it's pretty and functional.]

It's clearly one of life's great ironies that a question about motivation sparked little discussion. I can only assume that others are too busy being motivated to talk about. But I. I am not.

but wait! there's more »


18 January
the beauty issue
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I read in some book (I think in "Unbearable Weight", but this is the disadvantage to reading three books at a time) that the idea of beauty and fashion as self-inflicted feminine torment or delight originated in the seventeenth century. The root of the idea is that women are slight of mind and corporeal and therefore vulnerable to such trivial concerns - it's part of the whole "weaker sex" concept.

Considered in that light, fashion, even modern fashion, doesn't seem quite so innocuous. It sounds as if we, as women, are still blamed for the excess of time and money spent in pursuit of fashion. I don't mean only the pursuit of a "perfect" body - but rather, the amount we spend on the products and processes that constitute a merely acceptable, presentable female appearance.

This is some of the time and money I spend each year so that I may go to work in the corporate world:
1. Daily shower and hair wash: 62 hours
2. Daily hair grooming, just enough to look "smart": 41 hours
3. Hair products to facilitate 1 and 2: $300
4. Skin care & make up application, just enough to look "smart": 25 hours
5. Skin and make up products to protect face from office air while looking clean and flawless: $500
8. Hair cuts and sandal-season pedicures: $750
7. Enough clothing to ensure no obvious repetitions in two weeks, all seasons: $900-1200

These are all activities in addition to the standard grooming activities expected of a man (shaving, showering, teeth and hair brushing), and includes none of the purely frivolous beauty expenses in which I occasionally indulge. And I'm not even particularly "high-maintenance" (though women will note from the dollar amounts that I spend more than absolutely necessary on some products).

Thing is. If I did not spend this time and most of this money, I would be seen as less capable, less concerned about my work (and myself), less promotable and less employable. I would make less money. That's the nature of the corporate, mainstream, work world. The arena in which men and women are generally able to make the most secure money, and the arena in which men's earnings are still 25% higher than women's.

In other words. The beauty issue, often dismissed as only appearance-focused, is damned well an economic issue, too. And it's not something women inflict on ourselves. Reduced to a simple form, it's a cultural and economic demand placed upon women (and certain men) by society at large (which is, of course, made up of both men and women).

[I should add, by the way, that this is far from my most well-thought-out argument - even when edited, it's quite reductive, partially because it's primarily a response to a couple of books. Given my empirical knowledge of women who dislike the perceived requirement that a woman follow certain grooming routines in order to do something basic like go to work, I do disagree with the idea that feminine grooming is biological and not social.

In any case, upon re-reading, I realize that this post failed to convey its point, namely: while "serious" feminists have a tendency to reject the idea of beauty and fashion as frivolous, the elements that go into a "professional" feminine appearance do result in significant economic ramifications for many women.

Now, stop talking about this one. I'll say something more articulate on this subject later.]


12 January
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : about feminism

My perspective on football is, at best, shallow. I watch football occasionally because I feel like I have to be aware of things like the Super Bowl commercials - so I can go into work that Monday and follow conversations.

Of course, I don't have to watch football. But I do occasionally, for other people. Family, mainly. I read while they watch, glance up now and then for a snide remark (even more fun this year, as my company sponsored a bowl game and I got to be all patriotic about that).

But, Roni's post on We Have Brains last week reminded me of one of the things that bother me, as a feminist, about sports. More specifically - about gym class. I wonder if the reason I don't care that much about many sports is that I've never really played them. Even basketball and volleyball. My sex-segregated gym classes (last experienced many years ago in middle school) gave us different rules than the boys learned, different rules than we might see played on television.

Only baseball, which I actually experienced for myself by playing and by going to live games, seems like lots of fun to me.

I suppose that helps to keep sports a primarily male arena - it's a "male bonding" thing, right? That'd be perfectly fine. But I don't know - few of the men I know choose to bond over sports of any form, and I mostly saw my dad enjoying the games on his own or with me.

So I guess my answer to this question is - as a feminist, but mostly as a person who doesn't dig the sporting events - I think of sports-watching as a community-building event. It's something I do for family or friends, not for myself. But it's not something I think is inherently anti-woman.


23 November
media chicken, media egg
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I saw a slightly retro commercial this morning. It frustrated me. Here's why: it's a re-use of a jingle from when I was a kid. Something to the effect of "Momma" having the magic of detergent - Clorox, I'm pretty sure.

There are, I'm sure you know, a large volume of American commercials that assume all things household and child are handled by women. There are also a large number (quite likely the majority) of American households in which that is true.

But I remember being promised, back when that jingle was first sung, that I could have anything and structure my life however I wished. I'm fairly certain that at least some of the households where the Clorox jingle rings true today are headed by women and men who heard those same promises.

It's not a new question, but it bears somewhat constant evaluation: how much do media shape our perspective, and how much do we dictate what media show? [That sentence sounds awkward, doesn't it? I'm trying to avoid the boring collective "The Media" and its disturbing singularity, but the plural seems almost archaic.]

It's not a new question, but it's still a troubling question. Does public opinion have to be completely reversed in order for media to reflect it? Seems that way. You can, of course, also argue that the Corporations who control The Media have an interest in maintaining the status quo - but it wouldn't be entirely true. Those Corporations (aka The Man), even when considered in such stock terminology, still have an interest in producing whatever it is that we desire. You know, so we'll buy it.

The Clorox thing (part two) bothers me on another level - is it implying that the eighties are an idyllic time for which we should pine? Or are the jingle-writers just on strike? In any case, I think I can speak for the rest of the class when I say: Put the eighties back in that can, already. Thank you.


07 November
portrait of the witch as a feminist
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This is my long-overdue response to an older We Have Brains question about witches. Very Halloween appropriate (and as we all know, I missed Halloween).

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14 August
are you your size?
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I read in some fat-acceptance book that women tended to define themselves as their sizes. Meaning. Men will say "I take" or "I wear" a whatever size, but women will often say "I am" a whatever size.

I thought okay, sure, fine. But I've been reading a lot of profiles on different people's sites, and you do see a number of women's profiles featuring their height, weight, or dress size. Men may tell you their hair and eye color and occasionally if they're big, but rarely much else.


Of course, men's site seem significantly less likely to include a "profile" or "about the author" page at all. So it may not be that women are defined by size and men by something else, but that women are more inclined to have collected a set of things that define them, while men don't put their definitions into words - or at least, don't share them with site visitors.


05 August
holding your tongue
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Roni's question for We Have Brains this week was this: How much of your feminism flies in the face of your family? Do you find yourself at Thanksgiving dinner muffling your voice in favor of a 'nice' gathering?

Even defining family for the purpose of this question was a minor challenge: my family is essentially myself and my parents. Since we agree most of the time, I thought a little more about who my family includes - as there are certainly people with whom I disagree who are still close to me in some way or other.

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30 July
working women / working class
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My first thought on reading Trinity's We Have Brains question this week [which is, by the way To be better feminists, must we be better consumers?] was that I'd already answered it recently. And that, of course, better consumption was key.

But that's just one take on "good consumers" - that good consumerism equals responsible buying. Voting with your dollar, so to speak.

The other question, the one she was actually asking, is whether buying power equals power. And how important participation in the working world is to feminism. I don't think it's important at all - meaning, I don't think a woman's career choices or the amount of money she earns should have any impact on her acceptance as a feminist. You don't have to be successful at anything to be a feminist - be it mothering, sex, work. It shouldn't matter.

That said. Because feminism is still frequently a middle-class movement, because there is still a gap between the "working woman" (implying successful career) and the "working class" (implying, essentially, working poor), because what a woman does for money still isn't one hundred percent her choice - because of all these things, I think career choices are still very much an issue for feminism.

The "better consumer" [the woman with more buying power] is only one of these choices. But economic freedom [ultimately, buying power] is one thing that enables making choices, particularly for women with children. A "working class" job, or mothering as a primary job, can mean dependence on a man. Fine, if you decide to go that route deliberately. But there are also women for whom educational and economic limitations dictate dependence; the reason working as a grocery store clerk seems boring and demeaning to some women is that it's not a job that seems like a choice, just as working outside the home wasn't a matter of feminist empowerment for many early factory-working women (it was a matter of feeding a family, particularly for immigrants who owned no land).

[I'm sick, and not feeling particularly plucky, so I'll ask you all to imagine a very inspiring rant about the need to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, and to at least revert the welfare system back to the education rules from a year ago.]

There's another issue that Trinity touched on in her post (which was such a rich question): the two incomes required to support families. Not just the working poor ones (who often need three, even four minimum wage jobs for two people to support themselves and children), but the middle class. The people who could have the option to spend less money and more time. Many people have talked about rampant consumerism as a societal sickness.

I'm not so sure about that. Yes, we buy more than we need. More importantly, we think we need more than we need. But I think the drive to work in middle class America is never as simple as that.

Work is important. Work can be very satisfying. Even work that seems detached from a real product or meaning still uses your mind and/or body. Money, and the things that come with it, are a tangible representation of the value of your work and your time. Consumerism can be relevant to feminism in this way, too. Work doesn't just give you buying power, it also provides one component of your self.

Yes, there is also a puritanical spirit (in America) that tells us we're supposed to think of work as a chore, but the truth is that working can be incredibly self-indulgent. And working for a paycheck that provides you everything you really need, as well as some of the things you think you need - well, yes, that can feel very powerful.

[This entry has been brought to you by We Have Brains and my white-collar job that I like ninety percent of the time. I have a biased perspective on work.]


22 July
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Woo-hoo, it's Kerri's first We Have Brains question. [Forgive the "woo-hoo", I'm just excited. I imagine sharing your site is a little like watching a baby learn to walk.]

While growing up, what messages did you receive about how to protect yourself?

Self-protection has always been a second-nature sort of thing with me. I recall getting very explicit messages from school and parents about it in very grades, and consequently even being a bit paranoid about it. I've always been a bit paranoid compared to a lot of my (suburban-dwelling) friends. I think it's also partly a city girl thing.

The pointers given to children tend to be extremely unrealistic, focusing on worst-case scenarios: how to survive a fire when you're trapped alone in your room, never talk to strangers, floss twice a day. I was in kindergarten when the whole Adam Walsh thing happened. [For you younger people - you know the "America's Most Wanted" guy? Yeah, his kid was one of the 5 kids taken and murdered by strangers every 10 years, and he turned it into a national crisis. John Walsh is an amazing PR machine.] As a result, I was bombarded with over-explicit warnings about what might happen to me walking home from school or lost in a department store. Terrifying. Unproductive. I wonder how much that has influenced my generation.

I can think of a few positive messages I learned about self-protection. Most of these were learned from homeless people outside my high school for the arts. We went to school in a fairly low-rent section of town, and got out late at night. The homeless guys would watch out for you, follow you to your car, warn you away from creeps. They also modeled a wide variety of proactive self-defense techniques, from cowering to acting crazy/tough. Sharing a few blocks with those guys kinda taught me how to watch out for myself more productively, not to be paranoid.

And then there's always the "you need a man (boy) to walk with you" message. That same school was filled with scrawny little art boys who always insisted on walking girls to their cars. Nothing wrong with travelling in groups, but half the time that meant scrawny art boys walking back from the car alone, no less unsafe than if the girls had gone alone. Stupid boys. I would have people walk me to my car, then drive them back to the theatre. I think the lesson learned there was: watch out for everyone, not just girls. And that sometimes girls know better than boys how to look out for danger.

How have your own ideas about self-protection remained the same and changed over the years?

Obviously, I went from slightly paranoid to pretty street-savvy in high school. I really was a kid who saw the potential for danger in everything, and I managed to turn that into a good reality check.

Prior to college, I was a little worried that I needed to take a martial art or self-defense class. Having participated in some of those workshops and been close to rape recovery programs, I'm worried about self-defense classes. They often have little practical application and have the potential to create even more guilt for attack survivors. The best defense is awareness, and listening to your own fear. [I think every woman and man needs to read The Gift of Fear. Seriously. It costs seven dollars. Buy it for every friend and family member. It's that important.]

Speaking of men, I'm surprised how little some of my male friends are able to recognise possible threats. It's like their fear receptors got turned off by some sort of "I'm a big strong guy" syndrome. This is a perspective that has never changed for me. You are not safer because you are male. You are not safer because you are stronger. Men are safer because they are less likely to know someone who feels their bodies are objects for violation, but that doesn't impact your safety on the street (admittedly, most violent crime doesn't happen randomly on the street, but I've been mostly talking about it that way). Nor does it impact your need to watch out for the sort of people who might try to push your boundaries.

Have you ever had to put any to use, and what was the outcome?

I put my primary self-defense tactic (awareness) to use all the time. I've been approached threateningly a few times, but managed to get out of those situations unscathed, using my secondary defense tactic (getting the hell out of there).

Self-defense is also defending and protecting others. I've (with others) followed people down the street before, just to make sure they'd be safe. I watch for people crossing streets and driving cars and would never leave a friend alone at a party or bar. I don't know how much of a part I've played in this, but no one I know has ever been hurt while I was around.


19 July
i am a militant, pro-sex feminist, dammit.
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So, I took this silly Are you a militant feminist? quiz. And the quiz is [did I mention?] silly and filled with misconceptions about what feminists are and do. But it's funny. And ironic.

In all of that silliness, what stuck out most is that all of the porn-related answers are either "I'm in it" (and presumably exploited) or some variation of "I hate it". As if there were no middle ground for women and porn. At least, not in ironic militant feminist land.

So, I thought, someone must have something to say on the subject of militant pro-sex feminist. Surely! But no! My search returned no results. Gasp.

Well, that's going to change. Soon I will appear in any search for "militant pro-sex feminist". I think you should, too.

[Update] You know, "militant sex-positive feminist" doesn't net you anything, either, but removing the quotes from either search gives you some amusingly contradictory results.

And, for the record, any post I make which includes the word "dammit" should be interpreted as humorous. When cursing in earnest, I always make a concerted effort at correct spelling.


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Cinnamon's blog, "Did You Know?" featured an excellent bit on common law marriage and the why/why not of marriage in general last week. Read it.

One of the comments turned the discussion to relationships as revolution and revelation. Purely accidentally [maybe we're not that poetic]. And it's true. Relationships are the one area in which women get both not enough and entirely too much guidance. There are thousands of signs for the assumed roads you'll take, but barely even a hand-drawn map if you'd like to step off those metaphorical highways.

Why is marriage an assumption? And why have so many [straight] women of my generation chosen otherwise?

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16 July
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The question I posed to the We Have Brains crew was really several questions. Basically, it was about sisterhood, and about obligation.

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09 February
feminist and duplicate
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so, i run this feminist zine (which is [hint] looking for more writers, by the way). and it has its own blog. and i end up double posting things all the time. in the interest of not doing that, i've added a link to that blog above.

okay. business aside. i have to say again how i love mariam's zine. glitter! homemade mirror! subverting the system! xerox! i'm so in awe of all of you zine producers.

and then, i've been trawling for images of suffrage, rosie the riveter, etc. basically, early feminist propaganda (really, it's so good). and i found a great suffrage history site and another great photo / history album. not enough of us are informed about what preceeded us.


05 February
tangled silvery web
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i followed a faery tale to find an amazing little zine and an intriguing writer. and then i landed on this inspiration and its source.

so, these are my top ten feminist inspirations, in no particular order:

Bitch Magazine in general and Lisa Jervis in specific. For being confrontational without losing a sense of irony.

Every other womangirl who says she's a feminist. For doing something about it. And especially all my girlfriends, for being so damned smart and fun.

Internet communities and the people in them. For making space to discuss and being worth it.

Buying books. For passing around knowledge and questions. Extra inspiration from Amazon, for being a corporate giant without being bloodsucking and for making it easier to find my books.

Inga Muscio. For being a smart-mouthed cunt.

My boyfriend, James Hillman, Robert Bly and Robert Moore for making me think about masculinity. And Marion Woodman, Kathie Carlson and Clarissa Pinkola Estes for making it make sense.

People who think of me as an inspiration, for making me continue even when I think no one's listening and it doesn't matter.

Kick Ass Radical Feminists (including all those who aren't linked) for making sure there still is a feminist movement that is interesting and challenging.

Lesbian folk rock for being anthemic and singable in cars. And other harder-edged chick music, for the same reason.

The french women who invented the word feminisme, and early feminists in general, for wearing pants, thinking, and kicking ass.

I suspect my influences change almost daily, but those are they. For today, at least. What are yours?


13 January
rebellion is not a disease
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The difference between revolution and rebellion is subtle sometimes. I've been thinking about the "anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease" thing. And I've come to this conclusion. Which is that anorexia is a disorder. It's a word with little relation to its origin (Greek - "an" is a prefix meaning "without" and "orektos" is a verbal adjective meaning "desirous") that was coined specifically to describe a disorder. In this case, perhaps the disorder is actually an attempt to create order out of chaos. But then, you can make the same argument for schizophrenia and a host of other things. My point being: from a purely semantic perspective, anorexia is inherently a "disease". If it's to be a "lifestyle", another word is probably in order.

Word aside, I have to take some other issues. And you need to go here if you came to my diary on a search for "pro-anorexia" sites. Trust me. You need to go there.

I can understand the usefulness of seizing control of the body when the world seems uncontrollable. I can also understand why one might feel a need to hold to a body type that isn't loaded with others' expectations - for instance, if you grow up in a community that demands women be breeders. As I've said before, I'm well aware that my body makes it easier for other women to accept a feminist message from me. I'm neither conventionally attractive nor stereotypically ugly, and this makes things easier. Still, I have to wonder whether this thinness thing is revolution or simply rebellion. When you react against an image forced on you by going in the opposite direction, doesn't that image still control you? What does rebellion accomplish, other than validating the influence of the thing against which we rebel?

My other, smaller issue, is what I perceive as hypocrisy among some of the "pro-anorexia" websites and zines. In order for this "movement" to be considered as the independent and empowered choice it purports to be, I see girls (they're almost all girls - largely female, rarely over 25) claiming that fashion magazines and other images of super-thin beauty aren't their motivation. That these images play no role. And yet, on the same pages, I see multitudes of these very images. They're not presented as ironic. They're presented as a goal. The rhetoric is in apparent direct conflict with its presentation.

I can't buy the rhetoric. It sounds like excuses. Like the things some smokers and drug addicts and overeaters and diet pill poppers say to justify their habit or addiction as "not really that bad". I say, fuck that. However unhealthy your choice may be; if it hurts only you, it's your choice. Stand by that rhetoric, and I'll support you, whatever the cause.


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