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05 January
utopia part four
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This is about sex. Specifically, it's about to be parti quatre of the utopia series I started and abandoned a couple of months ago.

I haven't talked about sex and the media yet. And I think they're linked, in a very Venn diagrammy way where they overlap just a tad but influence each other in many ways. This is not, however, a preamble to moaning about how the media is forcing young people to have sex at an early age and corrupting our culture, because that would be a very silly argument for me to try to make.

So. In my happy little utopian view, children would be listened to, communities would be the core concept of governing, and we would all be blissfully divorced from our tendency to see things like gender and sexuality and identity in general as purely dualistic. Would those things resolve the problems I've referred to in the past re: the porn culture [that is, a culture with an emphasis on sex as a commodity and using sexual imagery to promote, well, everything]?

Well, yes - if they were applied to a whole new culture, a group of people completely uninfluenced by events up till now. Not so much so if applied to us as we stand today; Americans particularly have a long, strange history of puritanical mores and sensationalist tastes. It seems like the worst effect of the porn culture thing might also be the easiest one to solve, though - rape and sexual violence could be stopped if we built "don't rape" into the culture (along with the complexities like communication and gender equality in sexual interaction). We're just apparently unwilling to do it now (it's so much easier to argue legal issues like whether what someone's wearing contributes to violence against them, I suppose).

So, in happy little utopia, there would be no notion of violence that looked sexual on the outside. Would there still be sex that looked violent on the outside? That is, would there be bondage, or dominance play, or pain play? I don't know. It's so hard to tell whether that's something people would still want if divorced from the power imbalance of heterosex - which is also, for the most part, the model for all sex.

But I would expect that the lack of duality thing would lead to a much wider range of preferences of any sort, including sexual, being acceptable. I just have no idea what those preferences might be and how much power exchange might be part of them. Or whether sex would even retain its current function if our concept of family were different. Hrm.

Which is also the deal with media. Ideally non-internet media would be about as diverse as the internet, as that's what people would want. It makes sense, really, given the lowered cost of producing many things (movies, tv, even books) digitally or semi-digitally; it could be less costly to produce a wider variety of things. Ultimately, though, I suspect that the whole media-ownership thing would have to change dramatically to see real diversity. Basically, this is the one area where I'm a full-on socialist. As long as the distribution of the more widely consumed media like radio and tv are controlled by companies who answer to shareholders, I'm not sure real change would be possible. I think independent media are the answer, but there's usefulness in having some form of interconnected global medium (the internet being an example of this) so that everyone can communicate.

I'm about to start reading a book that may give me more ideas on this one, though. So stay tuned.

 

utopia part four
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This is about sex. Specifically, it's about to be parti quatre of the utopia series I started and abandoned a couple of months ago.

I haven't talked about sex and the media yet. And I think they're linked, in a very Venn diagrammy way where they overlap just a tad but influence each other in many ways. This is not, however, a preamble to moaning about how the media is forcing young people to have sex at an early age and corrupting our culture, because that would be a very silly argument for me to try to make.

So. In my happy little utopian view, children would be listened to, communities would be the core concept of governing, and we would all be blissfully divorced from our tendency to see things like gender and sexuality and identity in general as purely dualistic. Would those things resolve the problems I've referred to in the past re: the porn culture [that is, a culture with an emphasis on sex as a commodity and using sexual imagery to promote, well, everything]?

Well, yes - if they were applied to a whole new culture, a group of people completely uninfluenced by events up till now. Not so much so if applied to us as we stand today; Americans particularly have a long, strange history of puritanical mores and sensationalist tastes. It seems like the worst effect of the porn culture thing might also be the easiest one to solve, though - rape and sexual violence could be stopped if we built "don't rape" into the culture (along with the complexities like communication and gender equality in sexual interaction). We're just apparently unwilling to do it now (it's so much easier to argue legal issues like whether what someone's wearing contributes to violence against them, I suppose).

So, in happy little utopia, there would be no notion of violence that looked sexual on the outside. Would there still be sex that looked violent on the outside? That is, would there be bondage, or dominance play, or pain play? I don't know. It's so hard to tell whether that's something people would still want if divorced from the power imbalance of heterosex - which is also, for the most part, the model for all sex.

But I would expect that the lack of duality thing would lead to a much wider range of preferences of any sort, including sexual, being acceptable. I just have no idea what those preferences might be and how much power exchange might be part of them. Or whether sex would even retain its current function if our concept of family were different. Hrm.

Which is also the deal with media. Ideally non-internet media would be about as diverse as the internet, as that's what people would want. It makes sense, really, given the lowered cost of producing many things (movies, tv, even books) digitally or semi-digitally; it could be less costly to produce a wider variety of things. Ultimately, though, I suspect that the whole media-ownership thing would have to change dramatically to see real diversity. Basically, this is the one area where I'm a full-on socialist. As long as the distribution of the more widely consumed media like radio and tv are controlled by companies who answer to shareholders, I'm not sure real change would be possible. I think independent media are the answer, but there's usefulness in having some form of interconnected global medium (the internet being an example of this) so that everyone can communicate.

I'm about to start reading a book that may give me more ideas on this one, though. So stay tuned.

 

22 October
utopia part three
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This morning, I caught a bunch of what I believe to be really stupid misinformation about children and teenagers on the news. One piece casually dismissed kids on skateboards as a menace to society while it seriously considered whether old people on scooters and motorized wheelchairs ought be able to drive 5mph down a local street. Kids are bad! Old people, who may have more experience but impaired senses, aren't.

And then (or before, whatever) there was a bit about how sexual predators are coming into your home (via the internet), thereby making your home about as safe as the mall. Which is, in essence, true - kids have about a 1:1,000,000 chance of being kidnapped or assaulted by a stranger in the mall, which isn't much higher than the chance of it happening in your house. Of course, if you factor in the possibility of a kid getting sexually abused, they're much more in danger from the people their parents bring home (and the parents themselves) than from strangers. The suggestion touted in this ridiculously badly researched piece was that you try to invade your kids' privacy as much as possible.

GAH!

So, I'm continuing my continuence of the utopia piece, with the bit about education and children (#1 from my original list). The essential tenet of dealing with children is that they must be granted every human right granted adults and granted individuality. As the t-shirt my partner covets said, children must be seen, heard and believed. (narf) But they also deserve what every adult deserves - the basics of life, of course, but also trust and assumption of their competence.

My views on education and rights for kids are based upon (or at least reflected in) those espoused by John Holt and the like, and those theorists have written many books on the subject that I trust you can read if you're interested. Their main idea, and mine, is that the most important thing we can do is educate kids to become better thinkers.

Humans have a strong impulse to learn, and our current system of education and parenting squashes that more than it values it. Education in my ideal world would allow for a lot of different types of schooling, for more freedom for families and communities to interact with children (and for kids to participate in the adult world they want so badly to join), and for a notion of learning that isn't classroom- or youth-bound but rather all about experience. It would not include rote learning, forced adherence to curricula or standards of proficiency in subjects - or, for that matter, subjects themselves.

There'd still be a need for schools for kids to meet at and for teachers who could offer guidance, answer questions & provide approaches for people to select from when they, for instance, wanted to learn to read. I think the single greatest use of teachers and schooling would be in asking questions - not "what's 2 + 2" so much as "why do you think that?". But everyone around you would serve as a sort of teacher in this way.

Kids in happy feministy heaven would also be spared gender bias and all the many million little subtle and not so subtle hints adults send them about the importance of being "normal" or "what girls do" vs. "what boys do" or skin color or any of that other shite. Partially because adults wouldn't have these issues themselves (and so wouldn't, say, treat a baby in blue differently than a baby in pink) and partially because adults would teach with listening and giving real - that is NOT black and white - answers to questions.

Childcare, by the way, would also have little bias of any form, because every child would have a community of chosen family members (all of whom are presumably bias-free, at least in my community) to care for it - those people would generally be of somewhat varied thinking and background. Men and women and those other and in between would all consider themselves equally responsible for childrearing, and this would be facilitated by economic factors as well as the political nature of the community.

 

20 October
utopia part two
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This post is (obviously from the title, I suppose) a continuation of the utopia series. This segment is primarily concerned with the community/family (#3) and governing (#6) questions I brought up last time.

There are few ways in which my utopian vision of feministy delight coincides with a sort of "greatest generation" reverence for the 1950s. But there is one:
I really do think the family is the base unit of government and socialization and all that.

I'm not talking about your nuclear family, but about the people you choose to draw around you, the ones you will count on to take care of you and vice versa. In an ideal world, the resources and flexibility would exist for individuals to be geographically close to their family and to live within like-minded communities (of course your biological family isn't always going to be full of like-minded people, but you'd still have your community, your chosen family). It's analogous to the self-governing "hive" idea that Greens and others have talked about over time.

So, recognizing the importance of chosen family, I'd do away with the institution of marriage as we know it (that is, one with a single set of rules applied to all people and limited to two people of opposite gender) and we'd have the ability to define relationships based on a range of commitment levels, presence of kids in a family, number of people involved, etc. If you could prove you were co-resident or co-responsible for a family, your family - however you defined it - would be recognized by the government.

This guarantees people a support network, and also provides a sort of official understanding for a wide range of families - ideally, each family's contract would also include the process to follow if it were disolved, much like a no-fault divorce. Different communities (i.e. those organized around certain religious beliefs) could certainly emphasize marriage and family in the way these exist today, but over time I'd expect the need for that to decline.

Communities, since they'd be based on mutual agreements over - well, whatever - would automatically choose different rules and levels of rules and would obviously live in quite different ways. There's room in my utopia for a degree of relativism, and respect for the possibility that, say - community A doesn't want any men involved, and community B thinks abortion is murder, as long as neither of those communities infringes on the other or violates agreed upon basic rules. But given our new greater appreciation for subtlety and grey areas (see #2, Dualism/Diversity in the original post), most everyone is willing to accept the possibility that the person they're disagreeing with is, in fact, correct. [Also, pineapple is always in season.]

A problem this introduces, of course, is movement between communities and governing at a higher level. I don't think globalization is contrary to a perfect worldish view, but a world focused on the extended family and community could get myopic. It doesn't need to be, though - we may be us-centered in the US today, for instance, but we're moving through the media towards a bigger picture understanding of the individual as both member of a community and a global citizen. I think that's a good thing.

It also introduces a need for a form of representative government, with members of many communities contributing to a baseline agreement of the rules. To tie it to representative government as we know it, communities would replace cities and states/provinces, coalitions might replace countries, and a global sort of super-duper actually powerful UN would be the forum for creating the overarching rules - which I think of as principles of human rights, methods for commerce between communities, and dispute resolution (including, if absolutely and rarely needed, use of military force).

As for the logistics of this - I actually favor compulsory short-term civil service in concept, and I think that's the most effective way to keep a large representative government fueled with non-bureaucrats. Not to mention giving every citizen of age a certain stake in the political process.

 

19 October
utopia part one
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The question I posted this week (the best question [from me] ever] on WHB was this:

Your assignment for this week (or however long it takes you - this could be a very complex question): tell the rest of us about your feminist utopia. You don't need to worry about what's realistic or how to get there (although if you have ideas, by all means share). Just think about it. [Read the question & comments]

I intend to spend some more time considering this topic, but in the meantime, here are some general thoughts. I'll expand upon each of these subtopics in subsequent blog posts and link them back here.

1. Children and their rearing and education. This is either first or last logically, because the way we teach children in many ways dictates how society will go, but it's also a result of the world around them. I also have some base ideals of how we should treat children - granting them some real autonomy but also giving them support - that would have to be the foundation of a utopian education system. [Covered in PART THREE]

2. Dualism/Diversity. In my ideal little world, we'd shift away from a that/not that view of people and their differences. This applies to gender, race, sexuality, etc. - pretty much any circumstance in which people might create an us/them division. I've talked about this quite a bit before and so am referencing another post. [Covered in LIBERATION! (August 2003)]

3. Community & Family. Namely, that every family would be able to dictate for itself what "family" is (this also goes for "marriage", though I'd actually do away with that term) and that families in general would be supported by the larger community. Loads to think about here. Also, do I deal with federalism here? Or do I assume a certain homogeneity from community to community? Do I want everyone to agree with me, or is it better to have a wider variety of opinions? Wait and see. [Covered in PART TWO]

4. Sex. The changes cascaded from 1. and particularly 2. would play a big role here. But there's a lot to be considered, things I haven't yet made decisions on - like the role of commodification here, of sexual media and such. [covered in PART FOUR]

5. Media. Maybe it's just because I'm pretty plugged in, but I see more global media like the internet as having the potential to play a positive role in crossing the boundaries of communities and making us a more matrixed world. That, and more independent ownership and production of media would be a good thing. [covered in PART FOUR]

6. Governing. More and more I come to see this as an outgrowth of the social factors I've already mentioned. Ultimately, I don't think hives completely work - they create another that/not that division. But a wide-ranging, semi-global governing structure kinda wants to be representative. This one's a challenge. [Covered in PART TWO]

7. Economics. I'll actually cover this one largely as a subcomponent of each of the other topics, too, but this is the condition on which everything else is based in my mind. Without balancing economic opportunities, equality on any other level is nearly impossible.

 

14 October
bah, labels.
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I have friends, online and of the flesh and blood variety, who hesitate - or simply refuse - to call themselves "feminist" despite their clear and obvious fitting into the simple textbook definition of the word.

This bothers me, sometimes, because they tend to accompany this self definition with a lower level of direct involvement with the politics of gender issues. And frankly because a lot of lesser mortals do claim the appellation and do get involved and are sometimes a giant pain in my ass.

But.

Why do you have to choose a label to be involved? Really, who decided that? The label may make it easier to belong, but it doesn't affect your individual ability to act. Well, it does - but it doesn't have to. We could just accept other's actions and avoid trying to categorize them.

All of this is by way of introduction. Over the past couple of days, an issue that has been simmering in the various LiveJournal feminist communities exploded not unlike the polenta I cooked last night did (damned electric stove). There were injuries (psychic only, unlike the polenta), but it really came down to the same thing we'd been angry at each other about for awhile.

And it's summed up in labels.

but wait! there's more »


 

04 October
what exactly is body image, anyhow?
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Periodically, an issue pops up and is suddenly everywhere all at once. Over the past week, it's all about beauty and body image. We got into beauty and diet stuff on one of the LJ communities, my colleagues were talking about it, my friends were talking about it, my internet circle were blogging it.

I don't know why this happens. It's possibly just an effect of my own viewing of topics - I see them a couple of times, then they filter everything I see. Or maybe it's the cascade of a topic from one person or group to another.

In any case, it makes complete sense that Alison should be asking about it on WHB.

She'd like to know:

How is your body image?
What do you do to maintain your body image?
How do you cope with medias fixation on what your body image should be?
What do you think of diet plans where exercise (and in fact healthy eating!!) are a side factor of losing weight?
How about the current round of makeover and plastic surgery shows?
And, if you have a negative body image, how does that impact your feminism?[Read the discussion.]

I'll add a question to the list: how much attention should we feminists be spending on body image and events like NOW's Love Your Body Day (which is October 20, by the way)?

I have an idea of my body built more on function and feeling than on appearance. My appearance in mirrors other than the ones in my house tends to freak me out; I frequently don't look like I feel. I feel better than I look in photographs, for instance. It's a positive sort of dysmorphia that a lot of fat people seem to build for themselves. I've been told it's a reaction, conscious or unconscious, against the "bad" things that fat represents, but I also think that it comes - for people of any size - from becoming more kinestheticly at home.

That kinesthetic sense, for me, is more resilient than answers I might give to the "how do I look" question.

When I was a kid, I would weigh myself twice a day, each time sucking in my middle bits and studying the side and front views in the mirror. Same thing every day. I stopped doing that some years ago, after destroying the bathroom scale and dropping it out a window (into a dumpster). That was one of many things I did to get out of the dieting cycle and get rid of the abusive "fat & ugly" language I'd been using about myself since - oh, since I started weighing myself, come to think of it! I should write at some point a list of the steps I took to stop hating on myself; it's a long list, and not everything actually worked, but it might still be a reference for someone looking to do the same thing.

I'm still not possessed of a constant positive attitude towards the appearance of myself, though I'm feeling good enough that I don't want to spend a lot of time on this one aspect of self. Having fun movement in my life helps, as does eating tastily and healthily and drinking loads of water. None of these things, by the way, have made me remotely thinner. I think I weighed between 220 and 230 lbs a bit over a year ago when I started daily exercise, and I weighed 224 at the doctor's office a couple of days ago. That, by the way, was great proof to me that weight is a crap measure of health and that weightloss just doesn't happen for some people. I feel great; I'm still fat. Whatever.

I find it interesting that media involvement with our bodies has actually gotten to a point where there's more than just a message of how you should look - there's also an undercurrent of how you should feel about how you look. Like feminist involvement in the beauty myth has been turned into products telling you to feel good about yourself whatever you look like, made by the same companies who sell you the idea of what you should look like. Argh. There's a positive effect of this, though - I think more and more, people are going to get frustrated and turn to picking out only the personally useful aspects of these products a la the self-styled Atkins dieter who buys no products and is simply no longer eating white bread. That's the only practical personal approach to any media attempts at involvement in your relationship to your own appearance - ignore it. There's also the political approach, which is to counter it, expose lies, etc.

Losing weight is a lousy goal. Most people who take on this goal fail (or they succeed, but success is temporary, as the body is designed to rebound from starvation). Weightloss itself, divorced from the positive effects of eating or exercising healthily, has little usefulness. Why bother? I think all weightloss oriented diet programs are lying to you. People don't change size without changing the way they eat and expend energy on a long-term basis, and even then, it might not mean weightloss.

Makeover and plastic surgery shows make me cry. They are, as much of the body image discussion is, too, about making your physical self an obstacle to your actual life.

Which brings me to the role feminism plays in all this. I am of two minds on this. Feminism has encouraged women particularly (but all people, really) to think of themselves as beautiful and worthy. And yes, one strategy for coping with a culture that emphasizes beauty as representative of worth is to redefine beautiful to include yourself. That makes the observer-dependency of beauty more obvious.

A disadvantage to this, though, is that you end up with people spending just as much time as they might have on dieting or clothing or surgery, but now turning that effort to "why can't I lurve my body?". It can turn, as I alluded earlier, into another demand placed on you. I know some folks who've rejected this and choose to define themselves as ugly or simply not put effort into this; it makes a lot of sense and sure seems to take a lot less time.

Right. So, what feminists need to be doing where body image is concerned is two-fold - first, broadening the norms of beauty to include damn near everyone (understanding that individual people have preferences, but those don't need to suit a cultural norm) and second, questioning the valuation of people as beautiful/not beautiful in the first place. I think we do okay on the former, but the latter really only comes into play in theory and academics.

 

14 September
escapism
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Over my end-of-summer vacation (which now seems to be aaaages ago), I finally got round to reading Michael Chabon's Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It is, as many promised me, the sort of book that seeps into your life as you read it. I found myself referencing it as if the characters were real, the way my high school friends analogised the people in our lives with the characters in Mists of Avalon a gajillion years ago.

So it should be no surprise that I started seeing my own relationship to my own media of choice in light of the ideas in the book - thinking about my own escapism, say (escapism, for the 2 of you who haven't already read this book, is pretty tightly wrapped around the plot, the themes, the people - it is, after all, a book about a comic book about a character based on Houdini and Jewish emigrants of 30s Europe). It is interesting to find yourself splitting a day between watching FoxNews covering the RNC and terrorism and reading Hothead Paisan in bed.

I don't think I got Hothead until this year. Hothead is about little girls. What I mean is. If you're fortunate enough to be able to pop open any random media outlet and see yourself, then there's absolutely no way this comic could make sense to you. But if you've been something like a little girl seeing a million representations of what you should be and few of what you are, or something like a little girl learning what rape is, it makes sense. Like all forms of escapism, Hothead speaks to your capacity for childish fantasy but also to the horror of childhood, the amplification of the great scariness of things. You remember being seven and thinking the world would end, right?

[Brief dance break while I explain the premise of Hothead to those of you who don't know the comic. Others forge on ahead. Hothead is a homicidal lesbian terrorist. She drinks coffee, watches tv, and freaks out, ends up doing things like pulling rapists spines out their asses (and other similar grossouts) and evincing a general loathing of men. Her acorn is some combination of an internal demon and television portrayals of women, her alterego is more or less herself sans gun, and her superhero powers seem to be rage and a talent for evading law enforcement.]

Comics and videogames and all the things we know best as "escapist" media are products of their time. They answer needs for fantasy - whether to dodge reality completely or imagine beating that which attempts to beat you. Grabbing a little bit of that fantasy is, I think, good for you. I've said that before. And the Hothead comics are very much a product of early nineties recognition of homophobia and sexism. They're angry, they're media-focused. They still make sense.

No, I don't mean that it makes sense to go butchering people to establish equality and justice for all (superheroes never make sense like that). But they're still a useful escape, where all the shit we're still protesting (to borrow a phrase from a friend) gets taken out with all the violence and anger you might feel.

It's something - not the only thing, hardly, but something - we need sometimes.

 

13 September
women drivers
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How come Helen Keller couldn't drive? Because she was female.
From Kerri's WHB post last week. Why do we have a persistent stereotype of women as crap drivers, particularly considering that men are statistically (at least by insurance companies) expected to be higher risks?

Vic posed an entertaining answer, advocating reverse sexism (sorta). I think she does have a point, that the joke is left over from a time period when women did less driving (whether that's universally true or just a stereotype of its own). It makes sense that this joke might be generational.

A sexist joke of this caliber never killed anyone, but I'm with Kerri - these annoy the hell outta me. They're not only offensive, they're not funny (even worse). I prefer humor of a drier, more sarcastic tone, things based on truth. The "women can't drive" joke is no more true than the "men can't handle household stuff" joke (which gets forwarded around madly as a "share this with all the women in your lives" chain letter waaaaaay too often). Maybe I'm humorless, because I don't find any of that class of jokes very funny; my usual response is "but that's not true!". Cause it's not.

So why do jokes like this stick around? Don't know. It's possible that they're partially results of resentment, or that they're simply representative of what some people think is true. It could just be, as Vic suggested, that stupid old jokes die hard.

 

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).

 

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.

 

08 July
whb: working it out
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This week's
WHB
topic is sexism at work - how institutions perpetrate acts of sexism, based on an article about gender disparities in Boston police accomodations.

Basically, there is no comfy lounge for the female sergeants (4 of 27 seargents), and it's a problem. It is a problem for any similar institution (i.e. the military) - how do you provide equal accomodations for the women on the forefront of gender integration? It's awkward, apparently - women's quarters on ships, for instance, always seem to be either horrid or palatial when compared to similarly ranked men's accomodations.

The simple, obvious solution to me is for us to get over our heterosexual prudishness and expect men and women to act like grownups and shower in close proximity if they have to. No special treatment for women. No half-assed "eh, I guess we HAVE to deal with you" treatment, either. But I guess world peace is as likely to successfully happen tomorrow as we are as a culture to be able to step away from our "naked women = sex. must! have! sex! also, sex = evil." mindset.

So, it's unfortunate and expensive, but I think the best recourse in this situation is for these police folk to complain (and, egads, sue) until they have a comparable place to plop their butts.

In a series of related questions, House9 asks us to consider our own experience of institutional sexism:

Have you experienced gender discrimination on the job?
How do you perceive the current status of women in the workplace?
Do you think lawsuits are the way to go to improve things, or would you recommend other strategies for counteracting sexism, institutional* and otherwise, at work?
Do you know of any movements in your area to fight workplace sexism?

I really haven't experienced equivalent sexism in the workplace. There are a few things - I've been on HMO plans that cover drugs like Viagra, but not birth control (not anymore), I've worked for companies that provided maternity leave only for a short time with no unpaid leave (somewhat biased against women) and no equivalent leave for new dads (very biased against men). It's hard to say if there's much pay inequity at my current company, because it's not like I know what other people make. We're all presumably paid within a certain scale given our tenure and experience, but I don't have proof of that.

I have worked for a small company where the women were universally paid less than the guys - mostly because we were all hired into much more junior positions (a form of sexism itself, as many of the guys with the "better" jobs were hired straight out of college). But again, it was never really clear who made what. That's a problem for employees - they don't know how fairly or unfairly they're being paid (and honestly, as long as you're making an amount you're okay with, you don't care much what others make), so I suspect wage discrimination isn't discovered until the employer breaches trust in some other way.

It seems like the variety of lawsuits around this kind of stuff have helped somewhat - they made inequality something that could cost you as an employer, essentially raising the stakes economically, which CEO's can relate to.

Unionizing in certain contexts probably helps, too. As does anything that educates people about various forms of workplace sexism - companies seem to do better on sexual harrassment education than anything else, though.

As for local movements, I really don't know of any. Hmm. Have to look into that one.

 

feminine design, continued
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What is feminine [web] design?

Others' thoughts on this question (following on my earlier gender post) have made me wonder whether I was looking in the wrong place for this definition.

That is, maybe there aren't specific elements that make a design "feminine", but there's a difference in expressiveness (see Absent Student for some thoughts on that). To put everything in Weimar-era German terms (because we can):

Masculine design is Bauhaus, emphasizing form and function. Except, if you believe your personal economist, the function is the website itself, not its content.

Feminine design is Dada, emphasizing expression and the destruction of form. Eh, maybe not. Maybe it's flat-out expressionism. Or worse yet, romanticism. Ugh. I don't really want to be Schiller or Goethe.

Or we could skip the thin-stretched comparisons to any form of modern art at all and talk about the thing itself instead of things that are like it. If you insist.

Put in web terms, a well-chosen feminine site design will be built around the site's content - possibly even the site's author or persona - and a similarly well-chosen masculine design would focus on the functionality of the site (and possibly the technical emphasis of the author).

Your gender does not necessarily play a role in which design style suits you best. I like to think that my preference for expressive but functional visuals has more to do with my identity as an artist than my identity as a woman.

However.

Our beliefs about what is "feminine" versus "masculine" affect our personal expressions of gender. Both women and men are socialized (or, if you'd like to erroneously wink wink believe, born with an innate preference for) to different types of expression. There is both a tendency to encourage certain types of emotion and to enforce certain types of expression. Put simply, boys aren't supposed to cry, and girls aren't supposed to be mad or ugly.

Kids, this is why we still need feminism. Well, this among other reasons that ought to be glaringly obvious.

Not only are boys not supposed to cry, but our culture leans towards men expressing energy and ideas and women expressing emotion or themselves. That's not to say "all boys" or "all girls" express only certain feelings only certain ways. No person of my acquaintance has ever diligently followed these gendered behavior rules; anyone who did would be somewhat freakish and hard to talk to.

Gender roles, though, do unconsciously limit our behavior and understanding of others. They also color our preference for expression and its medium, to an extent. That's why, as Absent Student says, women and girls frequently seem to dominate journalling communities while men seem to dominate in the techblogger communities. We're just expressing the things we're "supposed to".

Still. There's no rule that you can't take a functional, technical approach to describing your life on a journal, or get really emotional and passionate about issues or objects on your blog. Actually, a number of the LJ feminists I read have largely built their online personas on the latter; I do quite a bit of the same.

If there is a subset of the blogging community that disdains journalling sites and the design style associated with them, there is an at least equally large community of journallers who aren't interested in the Who's Who of blogging - if they're even aware of it enough to be actively uninterested. Right? And if the Who's Who are mostly men, and the journallers are mostly women, what difference does it make?

Well, there is the issue that diversity in any community can help it thrive, shake it up a little intellectually. And a group that lacks representation from women or any other subgroup limits itself in this way.

To me, though, the big difference is that the Official Media Representation of the Blogging World is drawn mostly from that Who's Who. The depiction of the internet is therefore focused on this alternate source of news, the blog, and forgets the feminine (not necessarily female) side: the gorgeous, self-involved poetry of journallers. It seems a devaluing of yet another "women's" medium - not so important in and of itself, but damned depressing in a long historical line of dismissals of women's media.

Besides. In forgetting/marginalizing the online journalling medium, we also negate the beauty of design that emphasizes equally poetic (even florid sometimes) visuals. Spare and functional isn't the only visual elegance on the web, and news and technology aren't the only topics being discussed.

 

06 July
design, gender and equity
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I'm starting to feel really silly categorizing my blog entries. It's as if, each time I select from the list, I'm randomly selecting one of the items when every possibility is somewhat valid.

Which is to say. This is in part my musings on our response to design, and in part a theory on inequity in design and our response to it. It isn't just about geekery (as it's design in all forms) or just about media (though it's sort of essentially about the medium and means of conveying a message) or just about gender (though I'm thinking a lot about the difference between "masculine" and "feminine" versus "male" and "female" and our failure to separate these things from each other).

Yeah. Let's rethink my entire category system later.

Now, let's talk about the fractal explosion of ideas about gender and design that came from my reading of this comment from Eris's blog: overtly feminine style signals diminished credibility to many.

There are, of course, many perspectives one could take on this. There's the possibility that "feminine" stylings don't equate in people's minds to a less credible product; there's the possibility that they do. Speaking of which, for the rest of this discussion, let's assume your product is information, and the "femininity" is in your visual presentation only - there are other "gendered" cues in language and organization.

So, what is a "feminine" design element?

The problem with "feminine" as a word is that, divorced from your perception of what women as a group are and/or want, it doesn't have a lot of consistent meaning. We have ideas about what it means to be "feminine" (soft, nurturing, enduring, devouring) that contradict each other.

But. I think we do mean something specific when we talk about design being feminine. I'm simply not sure what it is.
It could be a pale color palette and swishy fonts (web design)
It could be floral patterning (gift wrap)
It could be smaller, more curved, and available in a wider range of colors than its "rugged" counterparts (backpacks)
It could be hot pink and scripty and Venus-symbolic (feminist t-shirt)
It could be what a variety of people are touting online as "feminine web design" (example 1 : example 2 : example 3)
It could be the sort of brand identification of products like tampons or Oprah or "women's television".

From those examples, we could say that "feminine" design is strongly visual but also non-confrontational. It's frequently ornamented, not necessarily floral (though there are many extreme examples of that), and is rarely spare and minimal. It favors the figural and human over the abstract. Pastels are definitely a theme, but dramatic or extensive use of any colors might be construed as feminine.

Okay, fine. Given those criteria, I'd say this site is a good example of "feminine" design. It's not ragingly floral and scripty, but its palette is colorful and its main graphic element is figural (and pink/red in and of themselves are instand "feminine" cues).

Let's assume we're agreed on this definition of "feminine" as far as design is concerned.

There are aspects of "feminine" design, then, that diminish usability on the web. Our eyes read certain fonts better, for instance, and scripty fonts are not among them. Color, used in excess, can become a distraction for the eyes (not to mention issues of colorblindness and contrast for various folk). The same is true of graphics.

Yes, shockingly, feminine design, misapplied, is as hard to deal with as any other form of bad design. Perhaps more so. But why would that in and of itself result in dismissal of content presented in (good or bad) a feminine visual style?

I'd theorize that it's because "feminine" styles in general are considered less reasoned, less rational, and less intelligent. Western society values rationalism. While we can now, for the most part, accept that women aren't inferiorly soft, emotional, and instinctual, we still seem to think that emotion and instinct are negative. It comes into play with debate style as well as design on the web. And - because we frequently confuse the feminine with the female, the masculine with the male - it often results in women being dismissed and excluded.

Which brings me to the next idea: are women at a disadvantage on the internet?

Well. It depends. Every internet community is its own bubble. There are certain bubbles that are considered representative of the entire blogging world by other media, and those bubbles consist of more recognized male voices than female or genderqueer voices (they also consist of more straight than queer, more white than other colors, more middle class than poor, etc.). The figures known for pioneering web design and development are predominantly male. You have to look to find the women.

That is not equity. It's analogous to the wage gap between women and men. You can argue that the inequity is by choice, not design of the system, you can be happy or unhappy with it, but there it is, still - inequity.

But, step outside those certain bubbles, and you're in a community of, say, exclusively female Pinoy bloggers between the ages of 20 and 25. There is a bubble for nearly every subset of internet-connected person.

I'm coming from a rather odd place on this one, because I consciously and intentionally don't exist in an online environment that dismisses "feminine" styling, as it is overwhelmingly female (though not particularly feminine). The people I hang with out here are talking about gender and sexuality as a continuum and debating radical versus liberal politics and calling each other on our privilege and are generally on a page about the fuckupitude of the How Things Are (though given to disagreement about the degree and nature of that fuckupitude). So, when I run into bits of sexism elsewhere in the blogosphere, it's always a bit of a surprise that we're still so simpleminded. Oh, I say to myself, are those people still talking about how women are versus men?

Apparently, they are.

In reading the comments and links the spun off Eris's blog entries on gender disparity in the web design bubble [also, see the follow up on Eris's site, if you're interested], I saw people going back to the "women and men have brains that function differently" argument, for instance. It's an argument that I don't have a ready refutation of anymore, because I see it so rarely in my bubble. [Note to self - revisit books filled with studies proving this brain function thing dubious at best.] I saw a few guys arguing that inequity didn't exist, because they didn't believe it existed or because reverse inequity existed in some other way in some totally unrelated context. Dude, that is such an emotional, feminine way to argue your point. Tee hee.

It seems such a basic tenet of polite living that, if the majority of people belonging to a group you don't belong to attest to feeling their group is excluded or dismissed, then you ought to listen to them. I don't believe most discrimination, sexism included, is intentional. I'm not even sure equity is always desirable, but I do think we need to develop an awareness of these gaps.

So, it bothers me that a person can say "yeah, if my site design looks too female, no one will believe my words" amid a discussion of gender inequity and no one will even acknowledge that. Is it tacit agreement? Disregard because she's female? I don't know.

I don't believe women are underrepresented in the blogosphere overall (certainly not if the predominantly female bubbles I come across are to be taken as a cross-section), but I do suspect we're underrecognized in the concept of blogging, just as we're underrepresented in the tech world in general (although, again, not so much in my own tech career).

Is this a problem? I think so. You may think otherwise. It's not an easy problem to solve, though - affirmative-action-style promotion of a few women by the "cool kids" bubble is only a symbolic nod, and confronts the symptom (underrepresentation) but not the systemic issue (association of the feminine with inferiority and females with the feminine). And systemic issues are usually solved one person at a time.

Fortunately, there are an awful lot of smart women and men having this conversation about sexism on the web. They'll get there eventually.

In the meantime, I suppose I ought to step out of my bubble more often.

 

02 June
lost women
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A woman who has dropped out isn’t even a slacker or a loser or a beat poet or a romantic or a drifter. She is hardly worthy of mention at all... (from lilyrepublic)

I've been meaning to respond for awhile to this, and the entry behind it. It sparked a lot of thinking for me.

It seems that the path of legend for women is blank. Not blank, but relatively so. Lily talks about failure as her specific example, but there are missing legends for women's success, too. There isn't a female Jack Kerouac, but there isn't a female Horatio Alger, either. There just aren't that many legendary ideas of women.

There are, of course, iconic literary figures. But most of them seem defined in cohesion or counterpoint to men, to marriage, to being a "proper" woman. And entirely too many of them are Jane Austen characters (literally or in essential similarity). The companion of the drop-out, the failure, the artist who just needs to discover himself, the savantish baseball league inventor, the rogue, is I just just the loose woman. Or the reformed loose woman. Some woman defined by her sexuality or lack thereof.

Yeah. That's weird.

There are sources other than popular legend for better icons. There are some good religious/mythological archetypes for women to look to. There's a whole subset of Jungian feminists focused on just that sort of thing. There are wandering women in myth; you could think of Demeter as a sort of righteously angry beat poet, par example.

What the television tells us, though, is another thing.

The popular sitcom format is a formula. It's a formula for holding your attention well enough to sell you things while creating a feeling of entertainment. It's designed not to provoke thought (there is television designed for that, it's just not sitcoms) but to be consistent. You get relaxation out of it. Advertisers get a semi-captive audience.

So, in order to be consistent, this type of tv has to present the simplest image possible. Men are stupid at household stuff and don't remember their kids' names. Women entertain notions of elaborate projects and end up dependent on men. Kids, most of the time, are the least stupid people on your tv. It makes you feel better about yourself, not just with the Schadenfreude, but (as I mentioned in reference to chick lit some time ago) because people being stupid and surviving and continuing to be loved means that you can survive and stay lovable. [I should really get a job professionally reading things into things. I'm very good at it.]

So, sitcoms are the worst and silliest we are (assuming, of course, that the sitcom even remotely represents your social and economic situation). But advertising is aspirational. In between scenes of people failing at everything and making the worst choices possible, you watch ads that target what you'd like to be. Ads geared at women tend to show them perfectly thin and perfectly balancing every aspect of their lives cause we're kinda obsessed with that as a culture - women as jugglers, the body as a project. And probably women in focus groups knowingly chuckle at these ads... don't I wish? they might think.

Advertising is odd. It enforces these ideas of what we're supposed to be by showing us what people in focus groups say they want or wish they could be. It makes sense. Products associated with our "best" selves seem more desirable.

Who is the "best" woman from a pop culture perspective? Is it a beautiful one? One attached to someone successful? If so, maybe the romantically failed and redeemed woman is found in the Cinderella story. Maybe she's the girl who takes off her glasses over the summer to become a cheerleader in the fall. Maybe she's defined in relation to someone else. It seems sad to think of women as defined not as successful or failing but as with someone failed or successful.

Definitely weird.

 

01 May
disappearing information on women
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Earlier this week, Salon published an article about a report that the US government was slowly and stealthily removing information about women's health and status from various government websites.

You can find the report itself online at National Council for Research on Women's website (report is available as as PDF).

My initial reaction was "OH GOD, NOT BUSH AGAIN", but reading the report made me a bit skeptical. The report itself is couched in such political terms that it loses credibility in my eyes. It sounds as much like a diatribe as like a research document. Couldn't they keep the alarmism in the abstract and make the rest of it more factual? I mean, it reads like someone's blog posts, and someone only slightly more fact-oriented than I (have you ever seen me quote a statistic?). I like to write this way, but if I'm reading research, I would rather see a list of instances of specific information removed or altered and how they might impact people than a list of impacts with some vague references to some things that happened. Parts of the report do that, parts are just spastic.

[Edited after the fact to add... Also of note is that, while every feminist group or mailing list I belong to was Up In Arms about it when the news first broke, I haven't heard word one from anyone on this since. Isn't that odd? It's almost as if we colluded on this one.]

 

26 April
march photos!
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Are here. I'm such a dork, I actually designed a little photolog to organize them into a story. ;)

I wish I'd had a camera Saturday night at 9:30 Club. Did anyone else get pictures of that crowd? It was BEAUTIFUL.

 

post-coverage from the march
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I had intended to post Saturday night, but it just got so chaotic over here. And then I had intended to post last night, but I fell asleep.

I took like 70 photos, all pretty mediocre, but I'm in the process of creating a March photo log [edited to add pictures and Sunday's story/photolog] from the ones that came out okay. Sadly, the best picture I took, a photo of tirani flipping off a sign exhorting us "wicked jezebels" to "repent or go to hell" was interrupted by some NARAL signs - the end result looks like she's really really angry at the Washington Monument. Oops. I'll post it anyhow.

It was amazing to get a glimpse of a mosh pit composed almost entirely of teen women on Saturday night. I mean, ASS KICKING. Also, some seriously hot women in that crowd. That we managed to get there after what turned out to be a four-hour road trip (twice what it should have taken) and to hook up with as many people as we did also astounds me; snidegrrl, belladonnalin, zorah - you all rock. AND we managed to meet up (briefly) with Roni and Cinnamon on the way in.

It was amazing to see the seas of people all around the Mall yesterday. And that we managed to keep our little posse; including snidegrrl, tirani, kitty_pitchfork, bizarrojack, Ms. Nine and unlinkable others (all of whom seemed really confounded by the blog/Livejournal concept) together throughout the day - much thanks to Ms. Snidegrrl's kitty umbrella. And the folks in suits and ties standing around the edge of the March path cheering us on and making thumbs-up gestures. So many different people and messages, speakers and marchers both. It was astounding, really.

The whole weekend had the feeling of a long, chaotic & exhausting party. And also, that what we were doing was so important, that we were so strong we couldn't help but move forward.

It's amazing this morning to wake up to everyone talking about their March weekends. That's one thing about this March, it felt so technologically connected... despite the cell network overload that meant you'd call someone whose phone was on, and get their voicemail. How many blog posts are there about this weekend, I wonder?

This can hardly even describe the intense experience of the March. I don't think the pictures will even do it, when you see them. I'm just so glad I was there.

Rarely do so many words come up so short.

 

07 April
why curves is creepy, or not.
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There is a Curves gym on one of the alternate routes between work and home.

When I first saw this, and the advertisements for it, I was intrigued. The gym sounded like a great way to avoid some of the irritating side effects (emphasis on appearance, crowds, general lack of helpful attendants) of most gym environments while getting the same basic experience. The initial advertising locally spread a pretty simple message, that it was a place where average and fat women could work out together and encourage each other. That sounds cool, right?

So I did a little research, looked around internet boards and sites related to Curves, where I found a decided focus on weightloss. I also found that Curves isn't just a gym. It's a very regimented, repetitive (as in, you do the same things every time) workout.

It's also only one workout, not aligned to your individual body or objectives - be they health, strength, or weightloss. That, to me, seems like something that would take the fun out of going to a gym. A workout also ought to be aligned to your particular goals. One trains for something, after all, and the training needs to reflect the something you strive for. Even if your goal is just baseline "get me off the sofa" fitness, you'll likely be more successful if you strive for something.

But that something could just be fun, right? So, if Curves couches a simple workout in an environment that makes it fun and accessible, that's a good thing. If your life isn't active, at least you'd be doing something to get moving, and having fun makes you likely to stick with it. In that, I've always thought a gym like Curves could be a fun, random addition to my overall exercise scheme. Something different to do whilst meeting people.

But that breaks down with the whole weightloss message of this particular gym. When you say "amaze yourself" with the implication of "...by losing weight and keeping it off!" and you aim that message specifically at women you're doing two things that make me very, very angry.

You limit the power women are granted by refocusing us on our appearance. I still think there's an aspect of the woman-only gym that is empowering, that is recognizing that the world of gyms and strength training is male-dominated and seems difficult for a woman to enter on her own. There's a value in single-sex spaces where people can encourage each other (though there's an added complexity of fitting transfolk into this) and engage in things that are "unwomanly" or "unmanly" without reproach. But Curves focuses that encouragement on weightloss, putting what could be this hugely empowering swell of women working out without regard to things like appearance and sweat and being "good" into an envelope of "how many pounds did you lose this week". Why are most women's gyms about weightloss and appearance? Because women are about these things?

Of course we're not, but when we buy these products, we send the message that we are. Even if your individual franchise didn't push that message, you're still buying it at a corporate level.

The argument against this is that Curves is actually pushing health, not weightloss. Sorry, honey, but if you're measuring my outside, you ain't measuring my health. Weight and size aren't inversely related to health. I know various media sources have told you that, but it isn't true. [Read Dean Edell's Eat Drink & Be Merry, Glen Gaesser's Big Fat Lies or stop by show me the data, for instance, if you aren't already familiar with the data on this one.] If you sell weightloss as "health", you're lying.

There's a recent final chapter to this that I came upon in this month's Bitch - which is that the guy who started Curves uses his profits to push abstinence-only sex education and anti-abortion clinics. I admire people who put their money where there mouths are, but I don't want my money ultimately going where his mouth is. Particularly when his mouth was already making out with the weightloss industry.

I do think it would be useful to have more fitness services available to beginners, whether that be new fat-friendly gyms or just adding certain "beginner only" areas or times to existing workout spaces. Gender segregation might be nice sometimes, too - especially considering how self-conscious we seem to get about exercising or sweating and hanging out all over the place. And lacking the ideal, I guess Curves seems like a well-publicised second (or fifth) place alternative. But I've finally decided that I just can't deal with Curves' approach.

Edited at various points to add relevant links on the pro-life/pro-choice thing. Which, by the way, was NOT the original intent of the post. I still believe there are more anti-feminist things about Curves than just being anti-abortion. Like the attitude towards women and beauty. Like the misunderstanding of what "health" is.

Seriously, people. I don't care how liberal the franchise may be, you're still buying a brand that chooses to associate itself with weightloss as health, and by accident of its owner, has also associated itself with denying reproductive rights. Is your workout worth that? It's up to you. In my mind, the Curves brand is anti-feminist, and was well before the pro-life contribution thing came out. But it's a complex issue - for many of you the experience is feministy even if the brand isn't, and I won't tell you what to do.

Poundy's April 2004 posts - well-written and peppered with links to articles and detail around the pro-life thing.
The Snopes piece - full of news references and stuff.
Curvers for Choice - if the pro-life thing is the only issue that bugs you about Curves, this may make you feel better.
Feministe on the subject (actually, it's Cinnamon, not Lauren) - one of the most reasonable, non-reactionary blog posts on the subject, posing a viable solution for you Curvers.

 

02 April
drag!
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I've heard arguments that drag performance is analogous to blackface or other ethnic imitation before. Morgaine brought it up on WHB last week: la.

I think it's too simple to say men in drag demean women. I think it's way too simple to say gay men in drag demean women. And what about women in drag? What about drag as performance art?

I'll grant this article one point. There is an implication of gender inequity in the idea of straight men dressing comically as female stereotypes. To borrow a cliched image that I've never seen played outside a sitcome, there's the Powder Puff football cheerleader (Powder Puff football, if you haven't watched as much TV as I have, is when the high school cheerleaders and football team trade places, to much ensuing hijinks). A large man dressed as a cheerleader is funny precisely because he's clearly not a woman. And there is certainly inequity in the range of female stereotypes that we're all familiar with - namely, that it's pretty easy to pick up on "slut", "virginal bimbo", etc., but male stereotypes can be a little less obvious (and generally are based on media icons more than "types"). But the Powder Puff cheerleader also has a counterpart - the girl acting out the role of big jock boy. Are they 100% equal? No. It's pretty clear from the cultural result of feminism (women acting more "masculine" but men not acting loads more "feminine") that we think being a boy is better. So they can't be equal.

But I think our response to both is very similar.

The second before you begin to laugh, your body tenses much like it does the second before you decide to run away. Not to get all sociobiology on you, but to make the point that we laugh about things that are strange or challenging. I think we laugh at "normal, straight" people in drag because they convey simultaneously the image of what we think they are and what we think they're not. And on some level we realize the boundaries between are and are-not are artificial.

Drag as art and drag as an element of queer identity are a whole other story. I think a lot of queer identity is caught up in appropriating supposedly other-gendered behaviors, and drag can be a magnification and exaggeration of that. It's not even so much imitative of women as taking on an opposite, non-man, identity. To be queer and in drag is to declare I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK. As a part of identity, or as part of a performance, that can be very powerful. It can also be silly and excessive, but it's a part of queer culture I'm personally quite fond of. Drag seems to say "Call us sissys? Fags? Well, fuck you, we ARE sissys and fags, and we're so fabulous we don't give a damn if you're sorry." It creates a problem for a straight community that is uncomfortable with sliding gender, and a problem for a gay community that wants to be seen as part of normal.

Why isn't drag part of normal? Why isn't over the top gender behavior normal? Not easy questions.

It's odd to me that the article Morgaine referenced cites Judith Butler but doesn't bring up the question of women in drag. Butler's "Female Masculinities" (which I've read only about a chapter of) talks quite a bit on that subject, and on the long history of women dressing in men's clothes - or otherwise "masculinely" - as a similar phenomenon to men-in-drag-as-queerness. That is, women in drag are also claiming an identity as "other", not appropriating man-ness, but appropriating ideas of what is masculine. The drag king thang seems a lot like it's queeny counterpart - kinda complicated, kinda challenging.

And that does not demean me.

 

01 April
if i had a magazine deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee
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You can so tell that Alison is a teacher sometimes. In a good way. This week on WHB, she asks how we'd run a feminist magazine, if we ran one.

Like Brigitte, I think of running a feminist media outlet (although I've always thought television, not print) as something I'd love to do with my future millions. It's not something I'd take on now, when I'd have to solicit investors and advertisors in order to get by, but if I had enough money on my own...

The principles I'd apply to my television network could also be applied to a magazine. It's primary goal would be to make people feel in touch with a network of others, and to motivate them to act (politically, primarily).


  1. Represent "regular" folk. Get political contributions from people whose political experience is mostly voting and getting involved, not politicians and theorists. Let people tell their own interesting stories. Kim mentioned this, too. Don't go crazy touching up or dressing up people for photo shoots - show them as they are, and as they're comfortable. I think we'd all feel more beautiful, more intelligent, more informed and more connected if we were exposed to the array of other people out there.
  2. Give readers a wide range of perspectives. While I have a very particular political slant, I don't think I'd want the magazine to have that. What I'd like it to do is show many sides of issues that are being discussed more flatly in other media, and also draw attention to issues that other media might be ignoring. Basically, I'd like to point out things we ought to care about and help people understand how global issues affect them, but without creating the sense that there's only one side to any question. To do that, we'd probably spend each issue dealing with only a handful of topics, so we deal in detail with our subject matter. This is a damned complicated world; I'd like to have a magazine that gave people more tools to think for themselves.
  3. Provide a lot of resources for readers to take action. When we profiled an issue, I'd want to include information about what you could do to get more information, or to get involved on either side of the issue. You know those 10-page "Where to Buy" sections in the back of women's glossies? I'd do something like that, but with a network of sources and ideas.
  4. Be gender-neutral. Also. Be queer-neutral, sex-neutral, size-neutral, race-neutral. While I see this magazine as aimed at people of more or less my generation, I'd like it to be accessible to a lot of different people. It should feel more like a thinking person's magazine than a women's magazine. Ideally, it would appeal to people like me, 12-year-old girls, and men in their sixties, but I think I'd let that come later as the audience grew.
  5. Design the magazine in a way that promoted all of the above. It would be a pretty substantial departure from the format of feature articles vs. columns vs. blurbs that most magazines follow. Whatever topic we focused on, I'd want to give equal weight to each aspect of it, and each contributor - with the exception of the resource list and advertising, I'd imagine the design of each issue flowing almost like a chaptered narrative, with each question a chapter, then with two opinions on question X presented visually near each other, contrasting slightly.
  6. Seriously limit advertising. I think I'd be willing to have small businesses and DIY folk advertise in the magazine, but I'd want to keep advertising more of a service to those people than a revenue-generator that the magazine depended on (we'd obviously be basically non-profit, relying on my investment, actual sales & possibly donations). I'd like advertising to function only as a way to call readers' attention to products or ideas they wouldn't otherwise hear about.

That's pretty much it. I'm not diametrically opposed to celebrities being involved - I mean, ultimately, they're another breed of regular folk. But I wouldn't let their publicists dictate how they appeared in the magazine - they'd be as straightforward and unairbrushed as anyone else, and their opinions would be given no more weight that anyone else's.

 

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

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

Are either of them feminists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

16 February
nannies & class
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I picked up a copy of The Atlantic Monthly at an airport last week out of curiosity over the cover article, "How Serfdom Saved the Feminist Movement". You'll have to leaf through a copy yourself to read the whole thing, but there's an interview with its author on the Atlantic's website, which serves almost as an abstract for the article proper.

The article itself is actually a massive book review, with a narrative that circles around several semi-recent works on the topic of the nanny as feminist icon/problem/whatever (of these, Domestica looks to be the strongest example). In any case, the article does a decent job of presenting multiple perspectives on the shaky practice of wealthy professional women hiring nannies to maintain their careers and the class issues this brings up. While it's clearly targeted at the Atlantic's wealthy professional demographic (and written by someone who is part of same), it takes to task some of the "oh, poor me" schlock written for that demographic recently, which I have to admire.

One thing that I found unsettling, though, is the presentation of the nanny-as-member-of-household concept as preferable to the modern disenfranchised nanny. Flannagan implies throughout the article that it's better to be secure in one's old age than to negotiate for oneself in the present, thus a Reconstruction-era nanny/mammie had things better than your immigrant nanny might. It's a very white, privileged view to take, particularly as most of the books reviewed/cited don't consult the domestic workers who are their subjects as to their personal preferences.

I'm curious, for those of you who have kids or have cared for kids (or have thought about either) - how much does class enter into the picture in your own childcaring interactions?

 

19 January
all people are sexy, just not like you think
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I was sent a link this weekend from a mysterious lurker who essentially challenged me to explain the automatic annoyance he felt upon reading this essay/book/whatever.

And lo, I felt the same annoyance. Or rather, I felt some annoyance, same or not. The reasons?

One. The author is not up to the historical task he takes on. He views, as is entirely typical of those who write unresearched treatises, history through the lens of his already decided conclusion: women have a historical need to hide sexuality, and have for thousands of years. Well, not so true. Women were thought the uncontrolled, sexy gender for many hundreds of years of recorded Western history. Before that, what? We don't know. But he misses what is very clear from solid readings on women's sexuality, gender, marriage and power through history: the notion of woman as asexual and passive is Victorian, and as Kerri pointed out, only the "correct" social norm, not necessarily the prevailing attitude. This is the most glaring inconsistency when one compares his "book" with other readings on the same subject, and I think it's symptomatic of a misreading of history on his part.

Two. He fixates on the female as other, like yet another theory of biological determinism. He may believe differently than other determinists, but he's clearly approaching things from a Mars v. Venus perspective. As a result, he generalizes his experience to all men and women and consequently does a disservice to both women and men. I consider that a very thin premise upon which to build a book, but it has worked for a lot of people. His commenters certainly seem willing to go along with the idea of men and women as wildly different; though they disagree on exactly how and by what means, no one seems to question the validity of the difference. But how can you write a book that purports to but a historical context around sexual interaction and not question that?

Three. There are a number of supposedly "feminist" aspects of his opinions that I'm supposed to accept just because he calls them feminist. Well, I don't. He reads, for example, the icon of "Victoria's Secret women" as sexually liberated, while most feminist readings see those touched-up, passive figures as an example of fixation on the female as eagerly receptive and unrealistically squooshed into male fantasy form, not liberated and not active in her sexuality. He borrows feminist words, but I don't think he gets it.

This applies to men, too. He assumes certain "typical male" expectations and desires from his presumably male audience; honestly, some of the things he attributes to his audience are insulting to them. And I fear that his advice will come from this same place - not asking men and women to both consider where they get short shrift in the How Things Are, but assuming that women bear the burden, while also assuming that the inside of a woman is in line with some sort of universal male fantasy.

Fourth. It's a style thing. The didactic "advice-book" style he takes is irritating when the content it wraps around is social/cultural history. It might be fine for the advice part of his book, but it makes me want to smack him down when he uses it to discuss (sometimes erroneously) history.

Furthermore, his entire essay is based upon the idea of a male-defined notion of feminine "sexiness", which he embraces as fact, not as cultural norm. It would be more interesting to see him question this norm, or at least attempt to explain its origin, but he never goes there.

I remember my own introduction to this dichotomy. I was working with employees of a health care institution who spent most of the day dressed in sexless hospital clothes resembling pajamas. Then one year I attended their Christmas party. The same women appeared in little black dresses cut mid thigh and held up with spagetti straps. Gold bangles clanked on smooth, well-tanned arms and breasts strained against push-up bras and underwired camisoles... a glimpse of the hidden world women usually keep under lock and key, even from themselves.

The little black dress, the heels and jewelry are all part of a cultural norm. But a person may feel sexy in a tee and jeans, in "sexless" baggy clothes, in a wide range of stylistic choices. Quite a number of women feel awkward in those little black dresses, just as many men feel awkward in tuxedos. I think he mistakes one style of "provocative" dress or behavior for the definition of sexy, and he's shortsighted in this.

[Edited to add - Oh, now I see. I suspect Chapter 11 of the book explains it all. If the same thing happens to you repeatedly, you might assume a commonality between the other parties involved (other than the obvious - yourself). You might concoct somewhat elaborate theories about it. Just as I mentioned in the comments about sociobiologists, what you saw in the world might be influenced by what you already believed.]

 

14 January
when feminists attack II
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This is in a way a reply to Karl's post on the "angry grrrl club" by way of my own blog. I can't comment on his blog, and anyway, I suspect I have more than a comment box in me today, and things to say that aren't just about Karl's post or even just about the others who commented on the source of his frustration, this week's question about men turning misogynist in the presence of feminists.

It's interesting to me how much responses to the question brought up this undercurrent of "men don't like us". Part of it was, I think, simply semantics. When you respond to a question about how some men act, you end up using words like "men" to refer to the subset of men you were asked about, not all of them - but it sure sounds like all of them to a listener.

If I were an outside observer on the site for this one question, I might think that feminists believed men to be to a one ready and willing to attack others to prove, preserve, protect and uphold their sacred masculinity. Because a lot of the responses came from the assumption that men (or at least many of them) believe that feminism is an attack on men, an attempt to steal their marbles. When we assume people are threatened by our views or just us in general, though, I think we create that threat for ourselves. If the first time someone made a stupid, sexist remark that bothered you, you then decided they were a schmuck, they'd continue to act like a schmuck out of hurt that you thought they were one to begin with. So, when feminist women deal with not feminist men, we may well approach each other with a certain quantity of preconceptions that make us act like asses, especially if we're family or friends.

In other words, I see where Karl was coming from in taking people to task for busting on the men/boys in their lives while simultaneously wondering why we face hostility from these guys. Maybe we face hostility because, when we wonder where they're coming from, we're already belittling them in our heads. Of course, if they started out belittling us, it's hard not to respond defensively, but defensiveness breeds. Mitosis.

Maybe some men really do hate feminists. Maybe some women do, too (and many of those women also call themselves "feminists", but that's a whole other story). And maybe some people who express chauvinism and anti-feminism at times are acting stupid because they're confused or embarassed and don't want to admit it, or just because they know it will piss me off.

What I'm trying to get at is that sometimes we all argue really stupidly, and it would be real swell if we'd stop.

 

05 January
the western feminist icon quiz
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I like the language of this quiz. It's like it started out reductive, as most of these quizzes are, and then the author started thinking better of things. It feels edited in an interesting way.

Oh, and I'm either bell hooks or Gloria Steinem, depending on which not-really-me answer I give on the sexuality question. Which kind of makes sense - I don't think Steinem's a sell-out and I'm a big fan of taking feminism to the street. What's a movement without legs?

 

16 December
top ten feminist influence, redux
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Ooh! I feel like a part of meme history.

In February of last year, I happened upon someone else's top ten list of feminist influences. As far as I know, she was the first one to post this list. And then I posted my own list which Zaedryn then picked up on and posed as a question for F-word. Since then, I see it pop up in new places occasionally, sometimes apparently random and others attributed to F-word. So imagine the excitement when Feministe brings up the meme again, with a twist - identifying how your influences have changed.

I mentioned the first time that the list probably changed daily, and I don't think I was wrong. Today's list, in no particular order:

1. Fat activists. Marilyn, who made fat a clear feminist issue for me. Tish, who made it personal, and Paul, who armed it.

2. Dirty hippies. Specifically, the people I hung out with in college, who gave me a safe environment for the sexual experimentation that would help make me a decisive, sex-embracing grownup.

3. Men. Still my partner, who is an unflagging reminder to just go and do the things you need to do, and all my male friends, who remind me on a daily basis how sexism sucks for men, too.

4. Gay artists. Tony Kushner, my best friend from high school, and Bill & Mary professor Tom Heacox, all of whose specific contributions to my activist root I've been reminded of lately.

5. Independent media. Websites. Zines. Ms. Bitch. Michael Moore. It's good to know that there are some media sources who recognize their audience's desires for truth, balance, and a little bit of fun.

6. Speaking of fun - the humorous side of the media, like The Onion (you remember The Onion, don't you?) and the Daily Show. Their whole liberal humor thing cracks me up all the time, and that gives me more energy to fight stupidity.

7. Bloggers. Everyone I read offers some version of inspiration, be it personal or political. It's good to know there are so many people like us spread over the world.

8. The subset of bloggers who also participate on the WHB site in whatever way. They're particularly exciting when they challenge each other, not so much when they come to verbal blows as when they ask questions.

9. The casts of our last few plays, who remind me to use my reserves of energy and drive, and who bring a nice wacky semi-political edge to discussions at parties.

10. The March for Choice, which impresses me with its mobilizing influence on so many other feminists - and others who don't consider themselves feminists but support choice.

How about you? What are your influences and how have they changed?

 

07 December
raucous women
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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
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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.
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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.

Damn.

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.
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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
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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.
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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
liberation!
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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.

Beautiful.

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
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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
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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.

Well.

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
mainstream?
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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
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Eheu.

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
augusta
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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.

but wait! there's more »


 

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
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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
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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
motivation
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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 »


 

29 January
identity | politics
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I'm struggling with the idea of this week's We Have Brains question: What does it mean to be queer and a feminist?.

I tend to ask questions when I'm not certain how to answer them, rather than because I have something specific to say. So. I've been contemplating this germ for a few days. This is what I think.

I think it's about identity.

That's the intersection.

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
football
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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.

 

17 December
cleavage
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Caught half of the A&E special documentary Cleavage on the television last weekend. Oh, my. I don't know what it says about me that I'd rather be angry than turn off the television.

Wait. I do know what it says. It says I like to get angry. And amused. And annoyed. These are all things I was as a result of this show.

First, it was not a documentary. It was a silliness. You can't have a real documentary if Joan Rivers appears within as an expert. It's simply impossible. And I'd be fine with it, if only the darn show weren't so clearly presented as representative of history.

Hello! Joan Rivers! Enough said.

And then it suffered from every "girlist" misapprehension one might imagine. Breasts are power. Breasts are debilitating. Women with large breasts are stupid cows. Wait, no, they're just very sexual and blah blah blah...

But, as a girl of large breasts, what irked me was the same problem of fat acceptance discussions in the mainstream media - that is, the explanation of what it means to be or have x. Thin people guessing at what it means to be fat. Small-breasted women guessing at what it means to have large breasts.

I started to wonder if I'd missed anything, then realized that this was the case. I mean, I've always had exceptionally large breasts for my age/weight/size, and I've never experienced either the benefits or detractions attributed to breastiness by that show. Because those things are all about conventional wisdom and stereotype; so, what the show was actually documenting was our preconceptions about breasts (and not cleavage, by the way), not their history as a fashion element.

And that gets us back to my first annoyance. I hate entertainment masquerading as education [Entertainment as education is quite something else.], and that's exactly what I was watching - fluff, disguised as something weightier.

 

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).

but wait! there's more »


 

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.


Interesting.


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.

but wait! there's more »


 

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
protection
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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.

 

revolt/reveal
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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?

but wait! there's more »


 

16 July
sisterhood!
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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.

but wait! there's more »


 

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.

 

30 December
the important question
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Are you a feminist?


This subject keeps coming up. Everywhere I go. Often in a strangely negative way. You know, with that leering emphasis on "feminist". You've heard it. Is "feminism" a bad word? I suppose you can all imagine what I think (um, hello, this is the chick who's working to turn "cunt" into a positive word).


This is what John Webster's descendents think feminism is:

1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

So doesn't everyone agree on Number One? Is there anyone out there who would honestly say "No, I don't think the sexes should be politically, economically, or socially equal"? If so, I'd like to kick this person. On the second count, well, I'm not always organized, but I'd say even talking or writing in this diary counts as "activity on behalf of women's rights and interests". Expressing an opinion is an action. Sometimes the most powerful action you can take. Laws are wonderful things, but majority opinion, when expressed, well - that's power.


Back in 1895, the Suffragettes coined the word "feminist" to express themselves and their new movement. To unite their push for the vote with their desire for overall equality between the sexes. Like any political banner, stupid and wrong acts have been committed in its name. You could say the same for "democracy" and "republic", two words Americans are extra fond of.


This is a word our spiritual great-grandmothers gave us. This is their present. Words are confusing. Words are full of a thousand associations and connotations; that's just their nature. This word is a special gift, and every woman (heck, every person) should cherish it. Every person who thinks that women and men are equally deserving of things like "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (or whatever they call them in whatever country you choose to inhabit) needs to accept this title. To the question: Can men be feminists? I say yes, absolutely. See above.


Yes. I'm a feminist. The important question is. Why aren't you?

 

29 December
mirrors in the funhouse
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Shock and surprise, we all have self doubt. I'm totally in love with my new find, Malkavia. Even (maybe especially?) her condemnation of others for failing to listen to her and love themselves. Yes, we all suck. I fail myself a hundred times every day, by fearing to be outspoken, by taking back my anger, by being less than perfect. As much as I talk about the body's politics, it is more the politics than the body that frustrates me.

More than once in the past few days I've told someone online that I'm a (basically, self doubt means I have to make it conditional) happy fat chick. The result seems more often than not to be that the tellee assumes my source of doubt and frustration is worry that I'm ugly and unloveable. Truth is - and this is a new discovery for me - what upsets me is how different my perception of my body is from the way the world perceives it. Sometimes I mouth the media's words, but the truth is that I feel great. I don't understand why stores don't like to make clothes for me (did I mention I'm a SHORT fat girl?). This is frustrating, considering that I'm average size for an American woman. Except that I'm short, that is. And I try to explain why this mall inequity exists. The only explanation must be that I am fat and ugly, right? Nope.

I used to have a friend with the opposite problem. She wore a size 0, and was shorter than I. Do you know how hard it is to find clothes that size? Nearly impossible. She had to wear bright-colored versions of normal clothes as found in the kids' department. And shoes were even more impossible! Maybe people like her are rare, I don't know the statistics on how many American women are tiny. Shopping with The Girl made me realise how much everything in American culture tends towards the middle. Things are marketed towards the biggest mass, which any bell curve will tell you is the middle. Funny thing about clothing is that it's marketed towards the perceived middle, which roughly a size 8 for women and a 34 waist for men, not the real average sizes of people.

This is fascinating. We're like a whole country of perpetual dieters. We're my loopy aunt, who has a closet full of clothes she outgrew 10 years ago. Because we're really that smaller size. This weight gain is just temporary. If you believe it well enough, it will come true. Right?


Hey, go read my cuntzilla entry, too. And this chick is fabulous. Futurebird also has a lovely entry up today.

 

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