***my photos of the march***

28 January
whb: life and motherhood
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Alison, who will be a mom soon, is asking what motherhood means in the context of one's life. Her question and associated commentary

What are the expectations of a mother? What version is correct - is life beginning or is individuality ending? As a feminist, what do you feel should be the role of the mother in society - wearer of more than one hat, or mother first, person second?

Can you be anything first and a person second? I don't know.

Even a woman who assumes her life should be all about sacrifice after having a kid is still showing the influence of her own personality in making those sacrifices. It's an approach. It's like the Julia Stiles [who is now a Total Evil Twerp in my book after declaring that the movie wasn't "feminazi or anything" on The Daily Show] character from "Mona Lisa Smile"; one can choose to define oneself by any role, but there is still an essence of self in that role.

The role of a mother, as the role of a father, should be to choose to parent as best s/he sees fit. Some mothers will choose to be home with their kids, others will define themselves primarily as workers. If you see family and the next generation as The Purpose of your life, then your perspective on what else you're willing to change and/or drop is a lot different than someone like me - I think children might be something else I could invest in.

A (male) friend of mine sees family as his ultimate purpose. Work, everything else, will in his mind ultimately be all about being the best parent and provider he can be. I think he would be very much of the "life begins after childbirth" mind, despite not having kids and being in his early thirties (therefore presumably having lived quite a bit before his life begins). I should ask him these questions. I wonder how much he believes his other roles will be changed by parenting, and if he wonders whether to stay home or not.

I would guess not. And I think he should. The role of both parents (assuming there are two and not one or three or twelve) should be to assess what aspects of their pre-child lives they'll change to accomodate a child. If a woman's whole career is on the table, a man's should be, too.

But that's not the way The How Things Are works. We do think, as a culture, that a mother will be more bonded with, more supportive of, more contributing to a child than a father will be. Generally speaking. There are some exceptions to this culture, notably the differences between whitepeople and blackpeople parenting expectations - Lenee treats this better that I think I could, so you should read her stuff - but those exceptions still come down to mom and momfigures playing more of a role than dads.

That bothers me, because it seems to lead to things like women changing their whole lives around a new baby, while men don't change so much. What's worse, hetero couples often see their whole relationship changing to revolve around offspring - no doubt partly because of increased responsibility, but also because they think they've now grown out of themness and into familyness.

I don't believe people need to change their lives as much as they think they do to accomodate children. There are advantages to integrating a kid into your life as much as you can, but I think many parents, particularly SAHMs (some - not all of them!), make the mistake of integrating their lives into the kid instead of the other way around. Maybe part of that is the result of a general dissatisfaction or purposelessness around life or career, so a baby, being so compelling, becomes this thing you wrap your life around.

Living your life plus kid instead of life around kid isn't selfish (which is the common criticism of career moms) - actually, it seems like it's better for the kid to have a parent with a purpose and life outside the kid. That is, more or less, the way my parents dealt with me. I remember my mom taking me to her flexible job and to school, and my dad studying with me (they both did college stuff after they had me, as they're very young) and recognizing that as a cool aspect of this outside grownup world. I mean, think about it: what are your best memories of your family from childhood? I'd bet many of them involve your parents' grownup lives touching you in some way.

The benefits of raising a child in a way that allows him or her to be part of your adult life (be that a life at home or away from it), as far as I know personally and have read, are that you end up with a more independent kid who will eventually be a better grownup. So, ultimately, the "selfish" thing is also the most giving to a child.

 

22 January
the political process & me
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I haven't talked much about my views on the Democratic candidates and the presidential election in general. It's not so much that I'm apathetic, but I'm torn. Roni asks on WHB: How are we preparing ourselves?

How, as a feminist, are you preparing yourself to decide who to vote for in the 2004 primary? If you're not a Democrat, you may have a senate race to watch out for as well, so feel free to address this question from a Presidential stand-point or the Senate or even the House of Representatives. Which issues are deal breakers? Which you can bend on? If a candidate says one thing, but you know they vote another way, which do you tend to believe? Where do you get your information?

Kerri's response had me going "right! me too!" and is rather exhaustive; good reading.

I was looking forward to voting for Carol Moseley Braun in our primary. Both she and Kucinich were really written off by the media, despite fervent support from their fans. Sure, they didn't get the Dean celebrity endorsements & didn't really engage either the machine of the usual donors or the new grassroots buzz, but various media helped to feed that.

Braun agrees with me on most things, and her femaleness and blackness are a plus. But she's out of the race now, and I can't vote in the primary, so I'm not really doing anything to prepare. If I passionately supported one of the other candidates, I'd write letters to New Hampshire voters.

[Sidebar: I'm annoyed that you have to apply for an absentee ballot so far in advance in my state. I didn't realize until last week that I'd be out of state on primary day (I never travel for work, but I am that week), and now I can't vote. I know the VA primary doesn't mean a lot, but it means something.]

What issues are the deal breakers?
Choice, healthcare, living wage & welfare reform, responsible foreign policy, social equality, civil liberties (namely, the Patriot Act must go).

What can I bend on?
Gun control, education, the death penalty, the military. I'm also willing to bend on anything but the items above in favor of electability. Two nights ago, my Bush-voting Navy dad told me he'd vote for Clark - that is, to me, a pretty compelling note in favor of Clark. He's a social liberal with a fiscally moderate agenda (not unlike Dean, who seems to differ from Clark mainly on Iraq), which means many of my biggest issues would be addressed in a Clark administration. Ultimately, I will give on many points in order to be de-Bushed.

Where do I get my info?
Everywhere. News junkie here. NPR. Project Vote Smart.

Talk vs. walk?
A candidate's recent voting history tells me what they really think. But I'm willing to grant someone the opportunity for a change of opinion. Kucinich's stand on abortion, for instance, has clearly changed. Their responsibility is to go with what the majority of Americans believe, so it is absolutely reasonable to change to suit public opinion - as long as that new opinion is backed up with future votes.

but wait! there's more »


 

12 January
suffering fools
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This week's WHB question is a long one. You should read the whole thing, cause I'm only going to snip from it.

Why do some men in feminists’ lives (both female and male feminists) find it necessary to be overtly chauvinistic around said feminists? I am talking about men who aren't usually misogynistic, or not even usually chauvinistic, and how they become super women hating evil monsters when in the presence of a known feminist.

I think some of the other commenters have pointed out that this also happens with women. That is, women can become, in the presence of feminism, pretty piggish themselves. I'd like to talk about women and men together here, because I believe the negative response to feminism may be coming from the same place for both genders.

And what exactly is that place? It's complicated, but I think it boils down to the fact that we're schooled in adherence to norms, which depends on the norms not being questioned. This has two sides: first, there's a need to identify with normative behaviors (gender being among them), and second, there's the desire to comply - that is, not to rock the proverbial boat. Everything non-feminists hear and say about feminism is colored by the fact of activism or non-compliance.

Think of it this way: how do ten year olds treat non-conformists among them? Badly, right? This mentality doesn't fade with adulthood - for many people, it's actually amplified. People who attempt change are obviously failing to conform, and that means they're not like us and probably dangerous. Thus the success of commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken, who make a living not through espousing new ideas, but through critiquing others' different ideas. Rush is a particularly relevant example because he's so closely associated with things like the "feminazi" concept - a notion that feminists want to police your thoughts and control you [Well, personally, I do, but that's another thing...]. A lot of people believe the bad press of feminism without question, because they believe a lot of what they hear without question. Honey, if you act like that, you are already being controlled. You're just being controlled by groupthink, not by political correctness.

There are practical reasons to believe stupid things about feminism, too. There are only so many hours in the day, and a person can only care about and research but so many things. I think most people respond well to information, but not to righteous anger. Righteous anger is not only non-compliant; informed passion makes other people feel like they need to act more informed and more passionate themselves. Thus, defensiveness. Thus, stupid jokes. Thus, your [my] desire to pop their tiny heads off their bodies.

And. That's probably more true the better someone knows you.

There's another, related, component to anti-feminist responses: the gender stereotype. Some people really like them. They're familiar, they make people more predictable (at least in theory). A woman who knows you're a feminist may assume that you believe in the natural superiority of women or that you don't value "feminine" characteristics (lipstick, shaved legs). And so, companionable jokes about male ineptitude, the declaration of "not a feminist", things that establish her as part of normal - that is, someone who behaves correctly according to stereotypical gender roles. Men do the same thing, but in reverse. The intention in both cases is to establish comfortable normality, and you the feminist pose a challenge to that comfort.

So, assuming these theories are accurate, how does a feminist deal with sudden attacks of misogyny/misandry from otherwise fabulous people?

One thing is to always try to work the information angle, instead of responding with righteous fire. Try not to scare them. Counter the stupid shit they've heard from other people. Point out that they're being defensive and joke back at them. It works sometimes, sometimes changes minds.

But there comes a point when you want to hold people accountable for themselves, and carefully working around their defenses is just a big pain in the ass. Particularly with people you know well (for them, it's much too easy to separate their respect from you from their complete lack of same for other feminists) and see a lot of, the whole feminism-is-a-big-fucking-joke thing wears down patience pretty quickly. And it's okay to spew fire at people who deserve it. It might not work, if your goal is to change their views, but it might. It might shame them into some righteous anger of their own.

The one thing that never, ever, works is silence. It achieves nothing. It perpetuates their ignorance, reduces and demoralizes you, and isn't even clinically proven to reduce mean-ass teasing by semi-anti-feminists. Silence is for shit. So, my advice to feminists who suffer counter-misogyny and mistaken misandry is not to suffer it. Be firm, be gentle, be funny or serious - just say something.

Don't ever suffer fools, even the ones you love.

 

06 January
gender and reality television
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This week on WHB, Brigitte is talking about reality television.

Are these shows exploitative? All of them, or just some? Are the female cast members exploited more than the male, or is there some gender equality on these shows?

Brigitte references a season of The Real World, which is a show I haven't watched in years. My impression is that it became much more a show about trying to get people drunk enough to have sex or make asses of themselves than what it started out as (basically, a show with a handful of somewhat manufactured normal roommate issues among some pretty freaky people). So, I'm not surprised if the show turns into a multi-week drinking party. But I also don't know enough about The Real World - or even other shows like it - to effectively analyze it.

I have watched a handful of episodes from some other "reality" television: a couple of those godawful dating shows where people live in houses together, and just about anything on TLC or the Style network that involves redecorating or party planning. I'm particularly fond of Clean House (you through things out, have a yard sale & get cash to redecorate in exchange) and You're Invited (really cute girl comes to help you plan a surprise party). And makeover shows in general - Fashion Emergency, Movie & a Makeover, blah blah blah. I might be an expert on those.

What surprises me about the makeover shows is that they are not as gender-divided as one might expect. Most of them maintain about a 2:1 ratio of women:men subjects, and some are almost 50/50. And, not surprisingly, no one seems to feature genderqueers in makeover shows - though I think it'd be fun. In fact, the men and women in the Extreme Makeovers show (which is the truly bad, depressing one where people think they need plastic surgery in order to live normally) differ primarily in which features they believe make them unworthy of happiness without plastic surgery (the men seem to fear age, the women fat).

Not that the makeover shows aren't gendered. There's a sharp division between the way women are taught to "dress for your shape" (read: hide that which is imperfect and accent that which is closer to ideal) while men are taught simply to dress stylishly and in ways that suit their personality. If you watch enough of this, the message is clear: everyone needs to change to look better, but a man's asset is his personality, and a woman's is only her imperfect body.

The dating shows are worse, more painful to watch, but sometimes less gender-biased when you compare the content show-for-show. The Batchelor (muscley guy picks airbrushed girl) is no more exploitative than Average Joe (airbrushed girl picks normal looking guy), for instance. Both the suitor and the sought have their emotions manipulated throughout the shows, and everyone comes out looking desperate and pathetic.

All of these shows play on major gender stereotypes. You have your catty and competitive women going after slimy-ass men because they think the guys have money. Doe-eyed regular guys jockeying for position whilst mooning after empty-headed hot chicks. Average Joe was interesting, because it sometimes slipped something moving past those stereotypes, only to continue reinforcing them. And Boy Meets Boy was exceptional - it was characterized by very little cattiness or oneupmanship, and all the cute boys seemed to get along well. It was a whitewashed view of gay life, but it was also endearing that the conflict of the show was really about the manufactured situation, and not the inherent bitchiness of people the belief in which the other dating shows constantly reinforce for our television viewers. Boy Meets Boy is the one dating show I've watched more than two episodes of.

The most gender-neutral shows are the household ones. Their designers, builders & redecoratees aren't cut from one single mode (Trading Spaces, the most watched of these shows, for instance, has male and female designers, presumably both gay and straight, and carpenters of both genders). It seems you're as likely to catch women as men doing fine with hammers and power tools in these shows, and they rarely play on stereotypes of how inept men are at designing things. The exception to that is, not too surprisingly, Queer Eye, where the untidyness and decorating disasters of shared homes are invariably attributed to the man. The boys always mock the poor guy severely for his house, yet praise and dote on his wife/partner - but then, that's a key part of the show, playing up the "incompetent but well-meaning straight guy" stereotype.

I suspect that the most exploitative and annoying reality television shows are the ones where a bunch of skeezy lunatics inhabit a house together. But I don't watch those.

 

02 January
new year's resolutions
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I wonder if Vic had any idea of the stream of invectives I'd like to unleash upon the topic of Resolutions.

Probably not.

So I'll keep it short. Suffice to say that, as some of the other respondents have already said, I'm not a resolutions person.

One. I think that intentional change is fine, that making lists is fine, but if you really wanted to do something - if the change really mattered - you'd be working on it already. Why limit change to one time of the year? Just do it now.

Two. New Year's resolutions (NYRs) seem like a cultural obligation, an assumption that you can't be right just as you are. All mainstream people are expected to have them, so much so that you see diet and gym commercials skyrocket in frequency during the month of January every year. How many people vow to lose the same 10 pounds (or the same 10 plus 5 each year) every year? And how many fail, or succeed only to gain more? No mistaking it - the traditional "lose weight" NYR is a product of the diet industry, which makes money off your failure. Also, NYRs tend to include the implicit assumption (again thanks to the diet industry) that thin is healthier, which is complete bollocks.

Three. People fail at their NYRs. We tend to assume fast, unimpeded progress towards whatever goals we set. And shockingly, everything takes work. When we don't get results before February 1 (or sometimes, January 2), we give up. It feeds this notion that you should be able to make instant change, when change is never instant.

But on to Vic's question. She asks what we're going to do to change the world and ourselves this year. And that I can answer. I haven't resolved to do these things; they're continuances of things I've already started.

For the world: First, the obvious. I'm going to the March in April. I'm going to continue doing everything I can financially and politically to protect abortion rights and oust Bush from office. I'm going to maintain my online network of politically savvy friends and work to get my less political offline friends more involved. I'll keep supporting my current political causes and charities, and I hope expand somewhat given that I have more money to donate.

And the little things. I'm finding a politically savvy calendar to put up in my cube at work where everyone can see it. I'm going to put my superwhite fat ass in a bathing suit and have a wildly good time in Hawaii when we go, which I hope will give some other fat person the courage to take off their shorts and t-shirt. I'll go to church with my parents sometimes, even though I'm an atheist, because it matters that they chose an open-minded church and it's good for open-minded churches to have their numbers increased, if only by one. And the usual others - the way I talk to other people, the ways we create community.

For myself: I'm learning more dance, including taking proper classes and applying Gypsy, Tahitian & Hula to what I'm already working on. I'm eating next to nothing produced by chickens and very little produced by cows - not for moral reasons, but because I'd like to holistically approach my allergies (er, speaking of which, the occasional smoking is perhaps not so good an idea, but we'll get to that later). I'm eating much less crap in general. I'm exercising every day, never at a gym and always in a way I find fun and that builds some skill other than calorie counting. I'm working towards my project management certification, which I'll need if we ever decide to move. I'm playing with toys and getting outside more. I'm angry with myself that I still think about weight loss, but I've found an even more effective motivator for maintaining this lifestyle - I don't ever want to be a collapsey old person. And I'm taking up photography and scrapbooking, just for fun.

 

22 December
drug-doing moms and abortion rights
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Is doing drugs during your pregnancy murder? I quite adamantly don't think so.

Morgaine brought this question up in this week's WHB question. A woman in South Carolina has been convicted of murder after she may or may not have done cocaine while pregnant, which may or may not have led to stillbirth.

That patently sucks.

The logic behind this decision follows the same premise as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, namely that it's sometimes convenient for us to think of a fetus/kid/whatever as a legal person. In fact, the South Carolina precedent (SC v. Whitner) for extending the concept of child abuse to any "viable" fetus, while the only one of its kind in any state, sounds in some ways narrower than the UVV attempt (which doesn't place any limits on viability, doesn't require any knowledge that the pregnant victim is pregnant, let alone intention to injure the fetus/baby/whatever you choose to call it).

That said, I think both both approaches are absurd. Any notion of "viability" is extremely vague, as is brought up again and again whenever the term is used legally. It's not a cut-and-dry legal or medical term, this "viable" thing. I'm not just biased by my own opinion (namely that, as long as it's physically attached to you, it's still a part of your body, and sadly yours to abuse as you like), though I am certainly confused by the extensibility of these fetal child abuse concept - will you eventually be prosecutable for failing to take your folic acid for giving your kids fat genes?

So, aside from the vagueness with which the Nation article surrounds Regina McKnight's conviction, it is very difficult for me to see a pregnant woman's behavior toward her own body as a criminal act against her baby/fetus/whatever you choose to call it. Kerri made a good point that a woman who can't provide for a kid/fetus/whatever ought to make the smart choice and have an abortion, just as she ought to have made the decision not to do drugs in the first place, but again - both my self-righteous and my practical sides say that holding a woman criminally accountable for treatment of a non-born kid/fetus/whatever is pointless. Like many drug offenses, I doubt that prosecution will stop the problem. Does it make women think more about their behavior during pregnancy? Does it help the kid/fetus/whatever? Does it erode abortion rights? No, probably not, and quite likely yes.

One of the things I saw raised in some other articles about McKnight was concerns over the violation of her privacy implied by testing for drugs. I don't have so much of a problem with that. I say, in the event you are not in a position to make informed, rational decisions about your care and the care of your child and these things are being provided for by the public, the public should have some ability to direct you towards better, cheaper (in the long term) care, i.e. rehab to prevent you from having a crack baby. If you want to have and pay for your own crack baby, that makes you a shitty person, but not one over whom the public has control - unless, that is, you fail to provide for your kid once it's born.

 

11 December
populism and unconventional politics
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Have you found feminist or women’s health issues being addressed in real life in places similar to this? I will say right here that I think it is necessary to get beyond academia and traditionally elitist and/or primarily white middle-upper class mediums as the main source of information and connection. How do you think this can be carried out? In what other places would this hybrid of a salon/health center work?

This is Kerri's question on WHB this week; you should read her whole post as well.

My own hair salon is very much of this casual "everyone talks to everyone about everything" vibe. We read offensive bits of women's magazines aloud and dish them. We talk loudly about gay marriage and perms and aging and fat activism and Buffy. It's a relatively white, middle class place, but it's still an opportunity to educate each other on our various backgrounds.

I agree that we have to go beyond the "traditional" milieu of feminism in academia and upper middle class life. I think, honestly, that feminism is already outside of that milieu, and it is only those of us who don't step outside who can't see it. Could there be more? Hell, yeah!

That said, I think there is a very fine line between making feminism accessible and talking down to one's audience. It is entirely too easy for white, educated, American women to take on the patronizing attitude of deciding what feminism's "message to the masses" should be without, say, bringing the masses in and involving them. Any message will be massively more relevant and powerful if comes from a source the audience can trust.

So, one vehicle for this is television. One is music. One is celebrities. Popular media are incredibly influential for many people. I don't mean public television, or Ani DiFranco, or celebrity political endorsements. What I'm thinking about is analogous to what a friend talked about as the human element of a political story - the way some media can be implicitly, not explicitly, socially conscious. The sort of "woman power" implied in shows like UPN's "The Parkers", for instance, subtly transmits politics but is really about a story (UPN, by the way, does this "featured link" thing on their website that connects people to health and human services sites - a cool thing I discovered when I went looking for a link to the show), much the way Wyclef Jean is about rhythm and celebration but also about pointing out some of the problems poor black people face.

The hair salon, church, barber shop and community center (in urban areas) also all tap into another vibe, the safe comfortable place vibe, for a lot of people. It seems to me that those have always been places where you could get information about health and other big issues (at least, when your hair salon isn't one of those sterile white-and-chrome places), so it would feel natural to expand that. It would be weird for an outsider to come in and start up a new program, but I think one way privileged feminists could reach out would be to learn to talk to salon owners and ministers and owners of community centers, laundromats, and other places people gather - those are people who might be most effective at reaching out directly to their communities.

 

04 December
feministifying the holidays
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I mentioned in this weeks' WHB post this Bitch article (I mean, I think it was Bitch. It might have been, as someone said, Butch.) that made me all cranky about christmas.

The ironic thing is, I read this article so long ago that when it came time to post the question it had inspired, I could only remember the ideas it sparked for me, not any of the content of the article per se. I drift. But then Kerri reminded me of one of the things about the article that irked me: casually dismissing holiday traditions as "really not all that traditional". Namely the lighting of stuff (trees, candles, buildings, the entirety of most downtown city blocks). Well, sure, electric light is kinda new. But Channukah, all kinds of light (festival of light, in fact)- thousands of years old. Saturnalia, Yule, both candlerific - not celebrated so much these days, but hey, big huge fires; you don't get your own log and not be about fire and light. Anyhow, Christmas is basically a combination of Channukah, Saturnalia and Yule, and that makes it a holiday heir to thousands and thousands of years of excessive fire and light. I say pfft. And also thanks to Kerri for reminding me of that little factoid. It's okay to dismiss or change a tradition, but do it in an informed fashion.

Now that my irritated sidebar is out of the way, I can talk more about this wacky intersection of feminism, religious history and crass commercialism known as my personal take on christmas.

Not to refer to Kerri excessively, but she pointed out something so obvious I probably wouldn't have thought much about it - how much of holiday celebration is the responsibility of women? How little of it is the responsibility of men? Respectively quite a lot, and not that much, in most houses. Well, gee, that's weird. Isn't it?

I think a lot of that has to do with this notion that women are allowed to be more expressive, so we're permitted to have more enthusiasm about the whole holiday thing as we grow up. Also, holiday celebrating is very much centered on the home, and, as I've mentioned before, the home is the province of women. We've tried to make that less true at our house, but I still find that I drive most of our holiday choices (gift-giving, decorating, etc.), ostensibly because I care more. My partner contributes opinions and labor.

Have you heard of the "honey-do list"? I hadn't until fairly recently. The premise is that in heterosexual houses women give their partners these lists of household chores for them to do - typically things involving tools, presumably just because they're men. I assume it's a "honey-do" list because these requests are usually preceded with a cajoling "Honey...?"

It's a sexist concept. Why assume that a man will want to do what a woman won't, or that a woman can't do what a man could? Even if that division of labor makes sense for your household, when the woman is basically management and the man labor, it effectively locks the man out of participating in his own home life.

And the holidays seem to bring that out in people. Sometimes even at my house, where I try to avoid that kind of arbitrary labor division. A holiday without a omnipotent cookie-baking ruler is more fun.

I should point out here that, while what I celebrate is basically christmas, I'm really celebrating the "mas" (big party) and not the "christ" (Jesus stuff). I grew up around a lot of kids of various religions and spent some time researching all this stuff (thus the irkedness above), so while my parents' celebration is marginally denominational (light-up nativity, church on xmas eve), my own is highly secularized. We have some religious figures on our wacky modern-fusion tree, because you have to respect religions that produce such gorgeous miniature arts and crafts, and we do a few sortof pagan things (Yule/12th night party, for instance), but we mostly light lots of things and give gifts to the people we really like. Some years I do generic winter holiday cards, some years I don't. This year I'm thinking about making them by hand again (which I haven't done in ages). Or we might do CD's. Anyone want a handmade holiday card or CD? Just email me your address. I send them around New Year.

Perhaps because I'm relatively estranged from most of my extended family, I don't feel a big push to do a huge shopping extravaganza for the family. I don't think it's just the lack of family, though - my product-of-feminism-if-not-feminist family was very much about the thought or answered desire behind gifts, and I think a good combination of rebellious dorkiness and solid feminist politics help anyone defend themselves against the cultural push to make decision X or decision Y. There is very little that I do just because other people are doing it, or want me to do the same.

When it comes to gifts, I do spend a fair amount (probably still a bit less than the national average of $500), but I try to shop for gifts from positive places - about as much I usually do when shopping. Some people on my list are getting presents from Novica and 10,000 Villages (both of which do fairly traded handicrafts). Some things are coming from The Body Shop - which, while in the mall, is still a good company. Others are coming from local places or cool people who make things and sell them over the internet (see the list of links I made a few days ago, or Kerri's original). And, yes, some of them were ordered from places like LL Bean, Sears, Old Navy and such. Not so good, but what people wanted. Getting people things that please them is satisfying.

And I have to say - I like the mall. I especially like it the last 10 days before christmas, when people are sort of spastic and friendly. It's part of that whole feasting thing I talked about around Thanksgiving. Still, I know this is trite, but the thing about holiday gifts should be the thought - a gift is a reminder of a relationship, a celebration.

 

29 November
warrior womyn
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As I started to think about this week's WHB topic (that is, what am I going to post - I think it's going to be a feminist response to a feminist response to pop culture, that is, a reflection on something I read in Bitch.), I realized that I'd never actually completed - scratch that, never even saved - my response to Alison's Warrior Womyn post from last week. Um, oops.

She asks, of the Discovery Channel (Canada) "Warrior Women" week:

Is this television special one you will watch?
How do you feel about such a focus on Warrior Womyn?
Do you feel that we should have this specific and individual focus, or should they be included in general historical views of warriors?
Should we focus on the past, or should we be educating on our modern warriors?
And, lastly, who would you include if you were making the schedule?

First, I recall watching the Joan of Arc one when it aired in the states. At least, I watched something about Joan of Arc that involved Xena in some way. It was alright. I mean, it was very "Discovery Channel", meaning that it was frequently reductive and probably contained factual holes that any serious Jeanne D'Arc scholar would have found laughable (this being my experience when Discovery does shows on anything I'm particularly knowledgeable about).

What it did do well was in actually focusing on the military accomplishments rather than the whole "crazy girl hears voice of God" thing. And I recall it being somewhat hedgey about some of the conventional wisdom about Joan of Arc, which is commendable - it very much worked the "everyone thinks this, but honestly we don't know" angle, and I can appreciate that.

Second. The focus on warrior women. As much as I believe that a woman warrior is well, a warrior (don't see any specials on "man warriors", do you?), I think there is some value in calling out what is still an exception to convention. Until it is assumed that women and men have equal fighting potential, pointing out these exceptions shows the possibility. Including them in the general "warrior" population presumes more equality in this area than actually exists.

Is it ideal? Hell, no. I see these kinds of things as a temporary function. Of course, they can backfire. I suppose it's possible that I'll say "Women still are assumed to be weaker and less qualified fighting forces" and someone else will say "But no! Joan of Arc! Feminism died in the middle ages!" (or they could always use a more current example of an exception to prove me wrong, I suppose). Generally, though, a good temporary measure - it adds Joan, Mulan, warrior women in all forms, heck - even Xena, to the role models girls and women have access to.

Third. The modernity angle. While there is certainly also value in focusing on contemporary (or at least, less distantly historical) figures, that is frequently not what the Discovery Channel is about. There has been some interesting coverage of women in the US armed forces baked into the WWII and Vietnam weeks on the History Channel (which I'm pretty sure is related to Discovery), though. Something interesting about that - the coverage of women in each successive US war seems less distinct from the coverage of men - so, where we have "Oh look at the brave and pretty nurses" in WWII, we have "Oh, and some of these army folk were women" in the Gulf War. I take that as a positive sign that the slow, quiet integration of the military is slowly and quietly being incorporated into the culture at large.

And honestly, I'm not sure who I'd include. I'll have to contemplate that.

 

19 November
faerie tales
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Roni's back on WHB with this week's question. Yay, Roni!

Are Disney movies harmful? Is giving a lil girl a copy of Grimm Fairy Tales going to plunge her into a self-doubting abyss? Is Shrek really the feminist tale we'd like it to be? Also, fess up, what's your favorite fairy tale?

I think there are some problems with faerie tales, because of the way we use them. We think they're just great stories, but they have so many implications.

The study article Roni referenced points to a statistic I find interesting:

The five tales that have been reproduced more than 101 times are "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Briar Rose" (also known as "Sleeping Beauty"), "Little Red Cap" (also known as "Little Red Riding Hood") and "Hansel and Gretel."

So, we have four tales about girls who mostly are pretty and get rescued, despite some show of ingenuity, and one where the girl is plucky enough to get herself in and out of trouble (that'd be Gretel; she's got moxie).

Is that a problem? Well, yes.

It's a problem that ties into a lot of the things we unintentionally teach kids about gender. Of course, it's hard to say whether it's parents or kids who drive the popularity of these stories, but I think they're emblematic of the subtle ways we influence kids into gender stereotypes - girls are purty and sensitive, boys are (sometimes facelessly and generically) strong and plucky. The faerie tale is part of a whole culture of gender roles.

But. There are faerie tales and more modern stories in which girls are plucky and boys are sensitive, and I think any examination of the influence of kids' stories needs to look at the total - not just what traditional stories are most popular, but what is the sum total of the stories kids get. That, as others mentioned in response to this question, needs to include looking at the way parents share these stories with their kids. Do they point at pictures of heroines and say "isn't she pretty?", or do they ask kids questions that encourage broader gender roles?

Would handing a girl a book of all the faerie tales instantly make her a self-doubting little chica? Well, no. But if you only handed her books without asking her to question them, it might set her up to expect faerie tales out of life.

but wait! there's more »


 

10 November
girls on film, indeed
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This week on WHB, Ryan has us talking about the use of the female body as background visuals in film.

It seems like a couple of posters turned this back around to the porn debate, which I don't think is where Ryan was trying to take us. Whatever one may feel about pornography, it's intriguing that many non-pornographic movies make use have naked and half-naked women as a sort of wallpaper. The movies that come to mind for me are primarily action movies filled with guns and kicking (i.e. the entire Jackie Chan / Chris Rock oeuvre), so I've tended to assume that it's a cheap visual device for entertainment. Besides, everyone knows that (according to stock Hollywood filmic criteria) all gangsters, drug users, organized criminals and seedy informants hang out at strip clubs. Crime = naked women. It's been a truism of Hollywood film - and therefore American life - since the 1920s.

And hey, I like pretty ladies, too. I don't pay it much attention. It's surprising how few examples I can come up with to cite something I know I see weekly; that's how little attention I pay. I know, though, that there are un- and half-clothed women cavorting in the background of many of the brainlessly violent buddy and cop movies I've seen, and I don't notice.

Yet. Ryan, being perhaps less of a pop culture kid than myself, cites a couple of excellent movies with very little action that still use this device. And I find this interesting.

Amélie, I think, is a great film, that just happens to throw in a scene with the main male character talking to a stripping woman in the back room of the sex shop he works in. I realize the French, as well as many other societies European and otherwise, are more open to nudity and sexuality than Americans are, or purport to be, but I feel it still fits. Lost in Translation is one of the best films I’ve seen. At about the two-thirds mark, the two main characters are, inexplicably, in a strip club.

So, it's not just action movies.

And again, I barely even noticed this aspect of Amelie (Lost in Translation I have still not yet seen). I suspect part of the inexplicable universality of the strip club sex shop locale that so many movies use is environment creation for viewers like me. It goes back to that crime = naked girls assumption, but it becomes naked girls = soothingly wacky underground scene. If we see sexiness in the background in a non-"criminal" way, I suspect we automatically associate that scene or character with certain qualities: freedom, sexiness, subculture, perhaps?

I'm sure there's more. I bet movies test better if there are some scantily clad women in the background, and I bet a lot of people, like me, don't even register their presence. I don't know how much this impacts independent films like Ryan's examples, but I'm sure it's a factor in big US studio pictures.

Why might this be? Why might the sight of female bodies please us, make us think more highly of a film even, without us paying attention?

I think it's an extension of the use of the body in all sorts of advertising, and an extension of beauty culture. We've used "perfect" female images to convey happiness, health and desirability for so long that I suspect the female body has become a stand-in for those things. And I don't think this is specifically limited to the male gaze, though it likely originated with men as the intended audience. I think we've gotten to the point where the meaning of the nude female body is weighted with a lot of the same implications for viewers of any gender.

Does this necessarily need to be combatted? Well, yes. It's never a good plan to unconsciously consume. At the least, we should all be paying attention enough to recognize when we see nudity used as wallpaper and to notice how we respond to it.

I don't believe we can or should expect the way nudity is treated on film, this use of the body as object - at least, not until we as an audience have ceased to respond to it.

 

03 November
cult of beauty
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This week on WHB, Brigitte asks about beauty, specifically about body augmentation.

In the sixth century women bled themselves to have the coveted pale complexion. Today AlloDerm and Cymetra Dermalogen Facian, used for facial augmentation, contains refined fat from cadavers; the vast majority of the patients recieving injections being women. We've come a long way, baby. So what are your thoughts on the "cult of beauty"? Is it part of the patriarchy? Or is body augmentation empowering?

There is a possibility for body modification to be a politically empowering act, but I don't think that is what happens in most cases.

Nor do I think things like injecting oneself with toxins or having voluntary surgery to make any part of one's body "prettier" are indicative of an increased focus on meeting some rarified idea of "pretty". Rather, the rise in the number of people pursuing what I'd consider extreme routes to beautiful is proportional to the availability of those routes - technologically, financially, et cetera.

What I find frustrating and disturbing is the tendency of the beauty "ideal" to narrow - for both genders, but especially for women. We have what Paul calls "The Night You Became Fat" (when the BMI assessment of obesity changed overnight), we have, as Morgaine has pointed out, the introduction of cosmetic surgery for the labia and women dyeing their pubes on shows like Sex and the City, not to mention the oft-cited thinning of the supermodel body type.

I don't believe these things point to a conspiracy to keep women from thinking about serious issues. Rather. There are two factors I see at work (well, two among many). One is the market, and the other is our own fear.

The market - obviously, there are a number of industries that depend on notions of ideal beauty. Not just the obvious ones that sell beauty-oriented products, but pharmaceuticals, advertising, entertainment, many others are built in part upon this ideal. In the simplest terms, a tightening ideal sells more. A widening ideal requires all these industries to reconsider some aspect of their strategies. So where do you expect the ideal to go - tight or broad?

Fear - I become more and more convinced that fixation on anything that seems frivolous or absurd on the part of Americans particularly is likely a symptom of a sort of culture dysphoria. We think we are the generous great-uncle of global politics, but there are so many problems with our image, with our policy, with what we experience as individuals on a day-to-day basis. I believe we choose to fixate on the material, the things we think we can control, in order to absorb ourselves away from the scary things we think we can't control. This ties very much into what Michael Moore has called the "Horatio Alger myth": namely, that we believe we can make ourselves.

There is undoubtedly some inequity in terms of gender here. Those two factors can affect both men and women, but women are far more caught up in the notion of making oneself as related to makeup, clothing, or surgical modification (women continue to make up 85% of the cosmetic procedures done, for instance). A lot of discussion on this topic makes women sound more stupid and vulnerable to suggestion when it comes to beauty, as if we're victims of the media on this one. I infer from this that women are supposed to be more susceptible than men, but what is more likely true is that we've trained ourselves to be susceptible to different types of peer pressure. Thus, it seems to be easier for men to accept their bodies, and easier for women to accept varying degrees of financial success.

Still - while I don't deny that beauty culture (not to mention cultural assumptions, role proscriptions in general) is incidentally disempowering for women as a group, I think there's more at work here than just this role proscribed for women - namely "be beautiful".

Some aspects of beauty culture can be appropriated and used in a way that is empowering. For my generation of women, I think the riot grrrl movement is an example of this - a lot of riot grrrl culture is about inversion of beauty ideals (those not of my cohort may still remember Kathleen Hanna's lipsticked "slut" proclamations on her midriff, which was just one of many diverse expressions of angry femininity). That riot grrrl aesthetic has fed quite a bit of watered-down pop culture, but even that runny version can still empower young girls to embrace their Britney Spears tube tops as an ironic choice.

 

26 October
the marital name game
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I can hardly believe we've never talked about the topic Vic posted today: would you [or did you] change your last name if you got married?

If you are married, did you take your husband's last name? Or, if you're unmarried, do you plan to take your husband's last name? Why or why not?

How about Mrs.? Are you, will you ever, be "Mrs." anyone, or is "Ms." the only title you will will ever take?

In general how do you think this naming thing should be handled? Last names, children's names, etc.

I'm not married, and I don't know if I ever will be. I don't recall ever thinking about being named a "Mrs. So-and-so" as a little girl, though I certainly thought about being married, having kids and all that - maybe my mother trained me that way. The question of naming for me has always been how to deal around the name. Am I Ms. Johnson forever? Mrs. or Ms. Something-hyphen-Something? Something else entirely?

The name-changing thing is, of course, another symptom of the patrilineal, man-as-default syndrome. To do something other than exchanging a father's last name for a husband seems like an unnecessary rebellion against the How Things Are to a lot of people (most, even?), but it's not - it's a subtle way to shift us to thinking about women and men in a different way, to think about relationships in a different way.

There is, however, an aspect of the name change that I like, and this is why I think I'd choose to make some name change rather than to keep my name exactly as-is if I were to get married. Part of the traditional name change is a symbol of leaving one family to start another, becoming part of a husband's family.

Well, I don't believe in being assimilated by a man's (or woman's) family, but I do think there's value in a household choosing a single name. A big part of what marriage would mean to me is a fusion of families into something larger. So, I think a hyphenated name is the right choice for me. Yes, this could mean that children of hyphenated families have to deal with a very complicated name in the future, but you know - I think my children, if I ever have any, would be creative enough to come up with a solution to that problem. And hey, maybe their kids might have eight last names to choose from. Could be fun.

I've seen the hyphenated name convention work well for my married gay and lesbian families, too. It's egalitarian, but it also recognizes the decision to become a household, a family as well as two individuals - recognizes the decisions for both partners, no matter their gender (and it could just as easily work for polyamorous families, too - they might adopt a triple last name, even). I like the formality, the ceremony of that. It makes the family the same, except in cases like previous marriage or adoption - where kids might come into the picture with their own names (in which case, I think the kids ought to have a role in choosing how to align their name with the family).

As for "Mrs." - well, there I don't care as much for the ceremony of naming. A man has no married honorific to identify him as part of a family, and a woman does. This is unequal, period. I occasionally am called "Mrs. Johnson" (and my partner "Mr. Johnson", which obviously amuses him) today, and I just correct people to "Ms." (versus "I'm not married"). While the master and mistress connections of Mr. and Mrs. are fine, it just annoys me that there's a differentiation between women and men here. It's another sign that a woman is still in part defined by her marriage and family, and a man apparently isn't.

 

19 October
selective equality
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Eris poses her first question on WHB today, and it's a tough one (one of the things she does best): Is feminism really about equality, or is that equality selective? Of course, she also gets all German on us - it seems like every third word is capitalized, but I won't hold that against her. Ha.

One of the largest critiques of Feminism is that, despite its official mantra of being “about equality”, feminism as a whole tends to lack support for men and people of color. From this perspective, it would seem that Feminism is about “Selective Equality”.

Feminism, like any other movement or political group, is too often defined by people outside of it, by its critics. And it's time-consuming for feminists to spend much time defending against misapprehensions from outside the movement - particularly as some of these criticisms are so simplistic and off-target (the "feminazi" thing, the assumption that feminists are mostly lesbians or vice versa, and - of course - the contention that being for rights of women is to be anti rights of men).

As the simplistic definitions of critics will show pretty clearly, there is a strong tendency for people in general to assume an us-them duality. The more obvious effect of this is the "we're okay, they're confused" attitude that most political groups share. Less obvious but equally present is the tendency for group members to assume other group members share traits with them beyond what is essential for group membership. So, I might assume most feminists share an acceptance of the gay community and gay culture, but that isn't necessarily true, nor is it a requirement for being considered a feminist.

What I am saying in this circular fashion is that feminists, as much as but not more so than any group, do assume that others are like them. When the most vocal, most visible spokespeople of the movement are white, middle class, straight, etc., there will be a tendency for them to assume the rest of the movement resembles them and a tendency for them to speak from their own perspective as if it represents the movement. Additionally, even if they are aware and point out that they can't speak for everyone, they will still be assumed to do so.

I've recently experienced this as an "owner" and spokesperson of the WHB site. I had several email conversations with a guy who was convinced that I was selectively censoring him in favor of a "matriarchist" viewpoint that Morgaine had expressed pretty clearly as her personal opinion and with which I don't agree. Neither Morgaine nor I purported to speak for the other or to hold the same opinions, but because we are members of a group, we were presumed by someone outside to share not just some but all opinions on the subject of women.

Absurd? Yes, but also the way humans are socialized and a real factor of our daily and political life. When the voices of non-mainstream feminists, of women of color, men, transfolk, or any other group are not adequately represented in the feminist mainstream (say, Ms. magazine), it is not a conscious exclusion; it is a lack of conscientiousness from those who represent feminism (inside and outside the movement) in including other voices and perspectives.

That does not, of course, absolve feminists - or anyone - from recognizing that they can't represent the opinions of everyone and that the movement isn't homogenous. Quite the contrary - it's important that the space be made available for all those different viewpoints, which requires the mainstream to open its doors and the "fringe" to step up to the microphone.

If you have chosen to carry around the moniker of “Feminist”, explain how you tackle these two issues in your personal daily battles. For example: Do you take into consideration other culture’s histories before saying anything about how “all women….”? Do you stand up for a man’s right to equality in unjust situations?

If Feminism is about Equality, what do you do to emphasize that point? What could you do better?

Is it the business of feminism to specifically defend the rights of men? That is, where the interests of men and the interests of women don't intersect, does feminism need to stick up for men? In probably 90% of issues, men's and women's rights come down to the same thing - the same choices need to be available to people of all genders. But there are a very few instances where that might not be true - I'm thinking, for instance, of the question of a male partner's legal ability to influence the decision to have an abortion. In those few cases, I tend to side with the person whose life is most influenced by the issue - as perceived by me (which could certainly be considered inequitable).

Like anyone, I certainly make generalizations about various groups without accounting for the individuals who make up those groups. But as a feminist, I don't think I can do this about women and men in general, be there cultural differences or not - there are just so few things that are true for all women or all men, and even the woman/man division is getting blurrier. This just seems like common sense to me.

 

13 October
women's religion
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Quite possibly in response to my snit last week about goddess feminism, Morgaine raises the question this week on WHB about the same: Is there room for women's religion in the women's movement?

I have to get a few semantic issues out of the way - responses to the wording, not the meaning of the question. First off, my feminism is not just a women's movement. It's feminism, the belief in equality of gender/sex in all its variations. Men and transfolk are totally and completely invited to this party (I know from the rest of Morgaine's writing that she agrees with this, but I'm calling out a semantic clarification). And second, I think the question implies that paganism is more representative of women's spiritual leanings than other religions, which tends to discount the experiences of women who believe in other traditions.

Personally, I believe that my spiritual beliefs are the most feminist - as I'm a fervent atheist and therefore have no implications of gender whatsoever in my deity. I have no deity, la.

But I won't go so far as to argue (whatever I may actually believe) that this makes atheism the uber-equality-aligned religion. Marx already went there. Well, after a fashion.

Anyhow, I will go forth and answer Morgaine's question from the perspective that what she's really getting at is whether goddess-worshipping religion deserves the respect and acceptance of feminists.

Do all religious practices deserve acceptance from feminism? Hell, yeah. Every religious choice one makes is a choice, and feminism has to defend those choices. All religions practiced by women are women's religions, as Kerri so eloquently pointed out. Every religion has the capacity for gender equality within it. You do not need to reject Judeo-Christian tradition to embrace equitable spiritual and social values through your religion. HOWEVER. For many people, embracing old pagan traditions and creating new traditions (see the Unitarian Universalists as well as Wicca) provides effective answers without the struggle with what they've experienced as a confining church tradition. So be it.

Do all religions deserve respect? Inasmuch as respect, to me, equates to recognition of the validity of the sociopolitical beliefs implicit in your religion, I don't think so. No, I do not respect the sects of neopagans (mostly Wiccans) who elevate motherhood to divinity (I don't buy that belief from Catholics, either). A lot of Western culture is built on the concept of duality, of divine mothering, etc. - so it's not a surprise that Wicca and other religions would reinforce this. Nevertheless, it's polite and just generally good form to allow people to express their religious beliefs and argue their points.

Does sisterhood extend to our spirituality as well as our politics?

Ladies, ladies, ladies... Sisterhood does not extend to my politics. The truth is that women's experiences aren't always universal, that we don't share an agenda, and we don't always need to be open and supportive. Politically, we are not sisters.

That does not mean we are enemies, not at all. But sisterhood - as the sharing of experience and purpose and just general acceptance of each other - is a concept that makes more sense in contexts other than the political. There is sisterhood at my belly dance class, there can be sisterhood in your religion, your birthing experience, any number of places. In the political sphere, there must be room for other women to be wrong, for us to argue our points and focus on the things we agree on at the moment. Sisterhood is a social phenomenon, not an intellectual one. And I admit to a certain disdain for politics that emphasizes the social (i.e. likability, sentiment) over the intellectual (i.e. justice, economics).

I suspect that, for most women who participate in religious communities, a feeling of community - of which sisterhood is an element - is a big part of it, whatever their beliefs may be. Seems fine to me.

Are Goddess Feminists welcome in the Women's Movement, or are they a distraction? An embarrassment?

Too often, they're a distraction. Too many of the implications of even the most equitable neopagan religions come back to this notion of the goddess figure as various archetypes of femininity. Which would be okay if the archetypes could be accepted as a whole picture - masculinity, femininity, all various points on a continuum of gender. The problem is that too many neopagans, mostly Wiccans, focus either on exhaltation of the "feminine creative principle" as applied only to women (i.e. "girls rock! the goddess told me so!") or fixate on the application of maleness to men and femaleness to women (i.e. "i must be a mommy! the goddess told me so!").

I blame Karl Jung, quite honestly. Jung and the feminists who expanded his man-focused archetypal principles to make more sense to women gave us all these archetypes that, at their simplest level, reflect the virgin/mother/whore division we're all used to. A lot of neopagans draw on oversimplifications of Jung and anthropological study of pagan traditions (because oversimplifications are always the easiest to come by and the easiest to turn into elegant aphoristic statements); Wicca is the worst offendor - many Wiccans don't even seem to recognize the fact that their religion is, you know, 80 years old.

Wiccans, particularly, seem to focus more on rejecting the Judeo-Christian tradition than on adequately researching the next thing they adopt. So, they're choosing a community that feels warm and open, and they equate that feeling of community (aka sisterhood) and the notion of a goddess instead of/in addition to a god with feminism [These ideas aren't anti-feminist, they're just - well, not quite enough, are they?]. Given that, there are a number of Wiccan feminist witches whose ideas seem anything but feminist (at least, by my definitions) - they seem to advocate a lot of the same gender divisions as the chivalric tradition. Being a southern woman who's been working to inform people about issues with southern "gentility" (basically the same ideas) for years, this is desperately frustrating.

As with any movement, feminism has its share of less-informed (I call them stupid, but that's not necessarily true) proponents.

This is not to say paganism is a breeder of idiots. Quite the contrary! Just as the Christians get the Gnostics, neopagans have a number of representatives among them who look at a broader, more complex vision of faith - and because so many neopagans are serious seekers of truth, there are many individuals who bring a deeper sense of equity and psychological truth to paganism.

Does the fact that the Judeo-Christian faiths practiced by the majority of Americans subordinate women to varying degrees mean that we should avoid the subject altogether?

Many women who practice within the "standard" religious traditions don't find them at all subjugatory [Er, if that's a word.]. Just as two women may have vastly different experiences of neopaganism, so might they have the same experiences of Christianity.

Yes, the dogma of Christianity is paternalistic, and women are something of an idealized sidebar, but is that how most people experience their religious communities today? I would suggest not. Even the Catholic Church has made concessions to contemporary life, and many Christian sects have done quite a bit to equalize their practice based on gender and sexual preference - The Unitarian Universalists (who are mostly loosely Christian in the south), Episcopalian and Methodist churches are all among these.

I suspect that those churches changed because their members demanded it, or because their members started leaving. And some of those members were feminists, whether they call themselves by the name or not.

So, no, I don't think we take religion off the table as a feminist conversation topic, but we need to approach it not from the standpoint that any one religion is more or less feminist than another, but from the social standpoint of holding our institutions accountable to change to meet our needs - and keeping in mind that ultimately, it's the members of the church, its people, who will change religion to suit their own changing views. In many ways, if feminism works on a social level, religious change will follow automatically.

How do you feel about President Bush stating that it is not a religion?

Hey, Republicans breed idiots, too. Whatever I may think about various forms of neopaganism, there is no doubt in my mind that all spiritual practices should be granted the same protections. Religion is in the mind of the practitioner. Period.

 

29 September
intervention & transformation
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Over the past week or so, we've had some debate going on over the topic of rape trials, which resulted in a couple of our more aggressive debaters kind of discounting each others' experiences. While it's hard to tell if that's someone's intent over this medium, it certainly provoked some thoughts for several people. Kerri expands on a related topic in this week's question: (to summarize) How do we get past competition over our various experiences to focus on strategy?

Vic took this question one way and got all sorts of brilliant around it. I agree. We can't expect feminists to all be of one mind. That would be creepy.

We will never share identical priorities or identical experiences, nor should we. I think it's important that every feminist recognize there is no single feminist agenda. There is only your own agenda.

The purpose of aligning yourself with a group is that, at least in part, you believe that group shares your purpose. You believe it's worthwhile to accept that some people in the group will disagree with you, others will be outright stupid, and that the group can still be useful and productive.

I don't think Kerri is advocating feminine groupthink when she talks about power and sisterhood, though. What I get from her question is something more important - when do we stop having to share and get the hell on with the real work?

To take an example. Say, I was once falsely accused of shoplifting, and you're a small business person whose business is jeopardised by shoplifters. We both agree shoplifting is bad, right? Then there is really no need for us to debate the relative values of our experiences if what we're trying to do is stop shoplifting. Now, if we're discussing appropriate punishment for false accusations, there is some point to listening to each others' experiences - simply as input to assess how to look at those accusations in the context of two real victims, but there is no use in dredging up these experiences in details except to vent, to unload. And there's absolutely no reason those experiences need to be weighed against each other or need to prevent us from recognising our common desire.

That's a problem I think feminists and others in the political environment encounter too often. Maybe in part because of the whole consciousness-raising background, we tend to see personal experience as the best indicator of the value of a theory or opinion. Personally, I think that's foolish. I think it's foolish that politicians (and people in general) are more responsive to moving stories than to rational arguments.

It's almost as if your political perspective needs to have the weight of your moving personal experience behind it. None of my experience has been particularly tragic or moving (huzzah for that, I say), and I guess that makes my opinions less valid (actually, statistically it does - the fact that I write letters to congressfolk based on theory and research rather than my sob story makes my letters less likely to be read in any detail).

Foolishness.

But not a foolishness that is solely or inherently part of feminism.

So, right. How? How do we pass over that foolishness to collaboration?

I think Vic had an excellent point about celebrating all the things and people that represent feminist successes (be they "feminist" or not). And on a person to person level, it's alright to let people try to argue experience sometimes, if only to get it out so they can move on to the next step - the what do we do about it step. The challenge to anyone is that you must recognize this foolishness in yourself and stop it in order to really collaborate.

It's hard. We are all narrow-minded asses in some form or other, especially when sharing our valued and painful experiences.

 

18 August
not anti-male, but possibly small-minded
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Once more, fellow feminists have proven me wrong. I may never learn.

But then, it's not a failure to learn but a belief that the fight is still a good one, even if not everyone conforms to my ideal of a good and reasoned mind with the soul of a dogged activist. I laugh at it, but this sort of shit makes me want to weep.

Honestly.

Enough of this woe-is-me, though.

What I'm talking about is the first handful of responses to the question I posed this week on WHB about the possibility of anti-maleness. Says I.

But what about the idea that society is anti-man? It seems to me that a lot of righteously angry men see aspects of modern society that oppose them in some way as the result of feminism. While that's a vast oversimplification, I do think there are ways in which we culturally hamper and discourage men (particularly when you consider the contributing factors of race and economics). And it seems that feminists have a tendency to dismiss this idea out of hand.

What do you think of this concept - have we evolved into a society with anti-male government policies or cultural biases? Is feminism responsible?

One woman says essentially that men don't deserve sympathy until women get more. One calls the question itself absurd for feminists to even consider. [I have to give some credit to Meghan, the third respondent, for actually answering the question reasonably - and for bringing up the body image issue, which I surprisingly had not planned to include in the response that was building in my head.]

I would really, really like to shoot holes in the anti-question responses. I'm trying to restrain myself because that would be counter to the reasoned debate quality I try to foster on the site. But.

Another time, perhaps. It's funny how stirred up and pissed off I get about people not being reasonable. I am unreasonable about being reasonable. Anyhow, I'm sure that some of the other people who haven't responded yet are just thinking on it. Not silently agreeing.

So. What I actually think about the question I posed. It became something of a manifesto as I wrote it.

Well. It frustrates me that there is no vehicle I seem to be able to use to convince some of the anti-feminist folk linked on the WHB post that I am not out to get them. That we are, in fact, out for the same things. To a degree.

They tend to assume that there are these inherent differences between men and women, and subsequently to add value judgements to those differences. I think we need to work with the differences we see, while simultaneously analysing the cultural and other bases for difference with a long-range plan to burst open gender into a spectrum of possibilities rather than accepting a boundary of duality or no boundaries. No boundaries never being quite as fun as they sound.

How does society injure men? And how could feminism contribute to that injury, or to healing it?

I think we do our worst to boys and girls together. We educate a range of gendered behaviors and needs into them (and it starts even before they're born), and then we fail to school them appropriately to meet those needs and understand those behaviors. We think of boys as aggressors and men as powerful, increasing the chance that they'll respond as the former when they don't feel the latter. And we blame it on the same violent entertainment that helps many people deal with powerlessness and violence of the world around them. Feminists, some of us, have helped this happen.

We've enculturated the language of feelings into daily life, but assumed it was something men would fail at. We've created heterosexual women who believe themselves to be feelers and heterosexual men who believe themselves penis-ruled. And we blame the rate of divorce not on the cultural pressures to conform to these two alienated gender ideals, but on women working. Feminism didn't cause this, but I don't think it has helped a lot.

We continue to believe that mothers are the best caregivers and educators and fathers are the great providers (while economically making it more difficult for women to be providers - even adjusted to include only childless women, the statistics on earnings still show women making about 83 cents on men's dollar), which injures men and women who'd like to raise their kids differently. And injures divided families by continuing to place the burden of support on men and nurturance on women. Family courts favor moms, period. Feminism has tried on this one, but we're not done.

We have slowly extended the audience for increasingly narrow standards of beauty to men as well as women. A look around your workplace, if it's anything like mine, should confirm that men are just as vulnerable to claims that slimness and dieting are equivalent to health.

We have mocked a men's movement that attempts to look seriously (albeit sentimentally) at spiritual and emotional difference and given entirely too much press to men's organizations that claim oppression without grounding that oppression in fact. We have allowed entirely too many people not to ground themselves in fact, not surprising considering our taste for media and science that entertain and titillate. Feminists, some of us, might have contributed to that.

We have instituted social programs that are ostensibly about balance and then given them press as if they're about retribution. And we wonder why straight white men think they're being discriminated against (because one person can encounter discrimination, even though society favors his group as a whole, and because we don't talk about this in a balanced way).

And feminism is all about these things. Feminism is supposed to be about balance, about widening what counts as valid choices. And that can't just apply to women. It certainly applies more to women and queers and poor people and people of color and people of size and people of difference - but you know, those people are men, too.

I don't like to talk about The Patriarchy, because it doesn't resonate for me and I don't think that resonates for most people. Let's call it the How Things Are. And the How Things Are isn't great. It's not great for everyone, though it might be pretty darn good for quite a few of use. Still. It could use some changes.

That's how feminism, and equality in general, can help.

 

14 August
work and identity
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Some time ago, I posed a question about work to the WHB crew. Do you define yourself by your job? Visit WHB for the whole question and comments.

I am someone who defines herself by work, more than some - but hardly all - other aspects of my life. I think of myself as an artist, then as an activist, then as a manager of projects or a trainer or a person in IT (all various perspectives on what I do), and only after that in terms of the other people and things in my life.

Said I:

Do you feel that your gender has influenced your choice of work? Has it influenced your success at work? How has what you do for a living influenced your perspective on other things (be they feminism, work, life, etc.)?

I don't believe that my gender has had much influence on what I chose to do at an obvious level. My field isn't particularly gendered, nor my role. While IT was something of a guy's field even a few years ago, I came into IT when it was like drinking cheap beer at high school parties - everyone was doing it.

However. What I planned to do when I left college would have put me in a female-dominated industry (arts management) where I would have been paid very little to do quite a lot; that seems to be the tradition for women and "women's professions". And what turned me off that profession was the money (which is, presumably, very manly), but also the people I worked with. I came to doubt that people who worked in regional theatre really cared about art, and came to be quite sure that arts administration isn't where all the smart, interesting people were at.

In a way, thinking I could get by on little money was a traditionally feminine prerogative. Not only are women paid less, but middle class straight women can often afford to take low-paying, high satisfaction jobs because they have or will have financial support. And of course, there's the assumption that women are more likely to choose "giving" careers.

It turned out I wasn't personally very giving, and that the brilliance and creativity I valued so much were more likely found in the wild new crop of technology kids than in old crusty theatre folk. One could argue that choosing a career in part for the people was also "feminine". Maybe it was.

The first job I had when I left the theatre was also fairly low-paying and somewhat administrative. Intriguingly, none of the women I worked with or for ever acted as if I were anything but an equal in class and stature, but I recall men being surprised that I'd gone to college - and *gasp* even to a better college than many of them. So, there I believe being female and young hurt me somewhat, career-wise, at least in terms of the assumptions people made about me. Men in positions of power assumed I was secretarial when I was actually an analyst who occasionally ran meetings. I'm sure this was because I was a girl. Probably also because my professional demeanor is such that people always think I'm joking. Or cute. [It's true, but now everyone who knows me outside work is laughing their asses off.]

I have, however, also used the traditionally "feminine" skills of communication and bargaining and generally being pleasant to do well at work. I tend to work relationships, anticipate needs, and to facilitate rather than command. Are those traits a result of being female? I don't know. I suspect they're more a result of my behaviorist mother, if anything. But these are traits that lead me to be good at what I do. There aren't enough people-savvy people in technology.

And does it, in turn, influence me? Of course.

Working in the arts pushed me towards a do-it-yourself aesthetic, and an understanding of art apart from work. Working in the tech sector made me even more of a geek than I had been, which led me to grow my political beliefs online and (with that DIY thing) to form communities here in this space.

I think the biggest contribution of my fairly normal, fairly corporate work history to my other aspects is in giving me an appreciation for and understanding of normal. Normal was something I rather rejected as a kid, but grasping what normal is and could mean is key to being a successful activist (in my opinion at least). What I think rarely aligns with the average, suburban opinions of many of my colleagues (though I've also encountered others at work who make me look very, very moderate), and I appreciate the struggle to change their minds. It's a microcosm of the struggle to change society.

I won't say that my choice of career is ideal. I can think of a thousand other things I'd also like to do. But I will say that what I do at work and in other spheres is very much a part of who I am.

 

06 August
baby
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This week Roni has a baby and Kerri wonders what we wish we knew all along.

What is something you wish you had either known or been able to do since birth? How do you think your life would be different now if you had this knowledge or ability from the get-go?

There's a whole bit about how Bean (the main character, yo) remembers being an infant because he's semi-superhuman in Ender's Shadow. I'd like that.

I don't mean being semi-superhuman, but it seems like having memory and consciousness of self from origin would be. Well, cool. And have some practical value. If you realized the implications of all the preconceived notions around you before they became your preconceived notions, you might have a sense of yourself more distinct from culture. You might not have to create that sense, I mean.

And it would be cool.

On a more serious note - what people miss from day one is personhood. American social and legal structures don't really count children as people (certainly decision-makers in any way) until they're adults. Sure, a fetus is a person when it comes to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, but a twelve year old has no real say in how public schools work, or whether and where and how she goes to school at all. Maybe that's why kids are such vicious little creatures (socially speaking).

The only real power we grant kids is the power to seduce us with "cuteness". I think that sets up the notion of the people as powerless and the government as powerful - versus the truth: that the government is just our proxies.

Eighteen is too old to be told you might have some power after all.

So. My short answer to this question is: power. Not all the power in the world, but some power that you could see effecting the world around you as soon as you had a consciousness of it apart from yourself.

 

02 July
edumacation
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I'm surprised more people haven't already responded to Alison's WHB question this week.

She asks (see full question on WHB) what an ideal educational system would be like.

I'm treated to a lot of radical opinions on education on a daily basis, thanks to my partner's unique perspective on teaching. Actually, he ought to be guest blogging and answer to this one; his opinions have influenced me that much.

The first part of her question (there's a second, which I'll get to later):

What do you feel is important to learn to survive in the world and who would teach it? Do you cater to a specific group of students, or are you open to all? What teachers would you choose or what would you look for in a teacher? What would you like the students to leave with?

I would de-standardize curricula. Beyond a basic ability to use a calculator and read/speak the predominant language, integrative thinking is probably the most useful skill a kid of any age could get from school. People seem to reach that most effectively by tying what's going on in the world with what's going on in their lives and what has happened before (fictionally, figuratively, or historically). Some schools have attempted integrative curricula, but they seem to always miss the most important part - the student his or her world.

Schools generally don't have the library resources they need. I don't mean rooms of books - though, yes, those are useful. But classrooms that offer learning opportunities. Books, videos, internet sites, images, recipes, whatever might be vaguely related to the subject at hand. Everyone learns a little differently, is interested in different things. The more resources you have available, the more likely each student is to find something that intrigues him or her.

I think schooling today focuses much too much on proving that things have been remembered and less on allowing the student to evolve an interest. Yes, there are a lot of practical constraints (teaching staff, budget, political demands that schools show the value they add) that lead to our current school system in the US, but that doesn't mean we couldn't come closer to ideal within some of those constraints. Even just giving teachers a few more resources, or a little more freedom to build discussion into the class would help.

As for teachers. Well. It seems like many teachers think of students as a thing to be disciplined or vessels for the importation of knowledge, not collaborators in learning. Some of the shifts in corporate management philosophy (ie referring to employees as "associates", building more collaborative workspaces) would really benefit schools if applied there. We're talking about major, radical reform here, though. School is very much structured in a hierarchy, and the whole structure would have to change (students, teachers, administration, everything) for this to work.

What else do we need? More teachers who actually respect and like their students. I know some. I know some teachers who aren't like this. This wide variance may well be a result of the status of teachers - they're essentially pink collar workers, hardly paid what they're worth. And sending one's children to private school by no means improves their likelihood of encountering respectful, expert teachers - in fact, private school teachers are generally less well-paid and less likely to have expertise in the field they teach.

I could say so much more on this topic, and I probably will. But here's a response for now.

 

10 June
creative pragmatic activism
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Kerri asks today on WHB:

What are feminist actions you have taken? What are some ideas for taking action (as feminists, activists, whatever) that go beyond marching or signing petitions? Brainstorm. Be creative.

I answered this question in part back in January, thinking about some of the most basic ways to approach activism. Honestly, I'm at best a neophyte activist. And I'm not particularly radical - in behaviour, at least, though some of my views border on radicalism.

So. Creative things that not necessarily radical people can do to promote activism. Part two (part one is really much more comprehensive, but this is a small handful of things I didn't think to mention in January).

Reproduce your ideas.
Teach. Raise children. Play a role in the life of someone else's kid. Your views will automatically influence children who see you living them. And that generally applies to adults, too.

Leave signs you've been there.
I keep meaning to print some little business cards or something that I can drop in stores or bathrooms, whatever. Those or stickers or inserts in magazine or fliers could drop hints of a message without seriously disrupting the lives of the people who work wherever you leave them.

Don't do things like wheat pasting posters or huge stickers in commercial properties. You just screw the janitorial staff when you do that (yes, I appreciate the message of Guerilla Girls and such, but on a local level, it sucks); don't complicate the life of some one who isn't the source of your frustration. But do leave things that don't break the rules or serve as a form of vandalism.

Provoke questions.
This is a subtle way of educating people, and ties into what I said in January about wearing your opinion. Subtle outward signs like t-shirts and bumper stickers tend to prompt questions from people you vaguely know. It creates an opportunity to share opinions with someone who's already curious.

I've had a bumper sticker on my car for years. It says "Uppity Women Unite!" and is, as far as I'm concerned, an appropriately cheeky feminist slogan. I get questions and jokes about it even now.

Basically, if it's a little funny and the meaning isn't obvious, people will ask you about it.

Be an artist.
Art is like children. Your views, your you-ness, will by default color your art, whatever your art and whatever your views. It's often subtle, but this color also influences your audience and the artists with whom you work.

 

04 June
room of your own
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On WHB this week, Alison asks what’s in a room. She says (among other things):

But what is the female equal to a garage? The house is a shared family place, yet, in our culture, the garage is primarily a male bolt-hole. Where do females go when they need a place?

Why is it that this exists? Does this inequality in 'rooms of one's own' exist in your life? Or do you and each member of your family - past and present - have their own space as well as a common space for all to come together? How do you define this space? Do you feel that this is a necessary space for you? Do you feel that females are more willing to compromise their space to nurture a space for others? And, if you could have your ideal room - space - that was all yours, how would it look?

There is, undoubtedly, a tradition of the garage or shed, something outside the house proper, as a man’s space, and the rest of the house as a woman’s space. I don’t think this is about giving up one’s identity in a household for most women, though – I suspect that it ties back to the notion of a house as an expression of a woman, a wife.

When you were a kid, did anyone ever say to your dad: “Nice house!” or “Great color choice on that wallpaper!” Probably not. Most of us address comments about a house we visit to the more wifey occupant (even with single sex couples, I find myself doing that), because it’s easy to assume that person is the decorator and organizer. Easy to assume because that’s the cultural norm, still, for a “wife” to own the space everyone shares, and the “man” to own a less invaded, less integral, space.

Where do females go when they need a place? The bathroom!

My barometer of normal, the PAWs (People At Work), talk a lot about having separate mom/dad/kid bathrooms. A woman’s private bathroom can be the place where she works on being beautiful, but it’s also the place of “Calgon, take me away!” – where she does the work of processing the day, planning, indulging in herself. It might sound trivial, but that’s important work for a woman, something personal to follow the second shift.

And of course, the bathroom is also a mysterious, feminine shared space (speaking in cultural norms again). We go in together! We re-emerge prettier (er, or at least, with makeup re-applied). Men wonder what we do. Et cetera.
The whole bathroom as feminine space thing is a little odd, but it’s functional. Maybe it’s simply the natural outgrowth of garages and studies and smoking lounges reserved implicitly or explicitly for men?

I do not have an individual, all-mine, space at our house. And my partner is giving up his to make a guest room (or possibly to house a friend, should a certain other friend flake) in the near future. What we have is a variety of functional areas: bedroom, bathrooms, television-watching and eating living room, party and rehearsal space living room, kitchen, outdoor chat space, library & CD listening room, workout/training room (the last is primarily his space, but it’s rarely used now). With two of us in a two-floor apartment, it’s pretty easy to carve out temporary alone space in one of those functional areas, which just seems more practical.

It’s important for anyone, not just women, to have the ability to define a personal space for working or playing. Something you can draw boundaries around and call mine, even temporarily.

And I find it useful to be able to work or play independently with someone else there, in the room, doing something else. Basically, claiming your own mental space, without physical distance. We do that a lot, too. I imagine that’s a lot easier with a partner or a roommate than it would be with even one young kid, and it certainly requires a tendency towards semi-obsessive focus on the object of your interest (say, working on a website design, which I’ll find myself doing for hours while my partner reads, watches television, dances a violent polka, moves to Japan, etc.), but it’s something we cultivated when living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no room for a sofa, let alone clearly defined personal space boundaries.

Do I think women are likely to give up their space for others? Well, not exactly. I do think women are likely to think (as said previously) that the whole house is “theirs” and so to grant men or children personal rooms without thinking that women need rooms, too. The cultural norm seems to be that men are “granted” personal alcoves in houses where women dictate the flow of space, what goes where, how things look – and so women aren’t as likely to need space. [As an intriguing aside – I recall my mid-century great grandmother having her own sitting and sewing room, which seems to have been pretty typical for her time. Maybe women used to claim more space?]

Claiming space is equivalent to claiming time, too. And it’s clear that women of the middle class mainstream, particularly those with children, still feel obliged to do most of the house and child work; I think there’s definitely room to claim productive time and space for yourself, and it’s probably something women don’t, as a group, do well (or feel they’re allowed).

 

22 May
nature v. nurture
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I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the nature/nurture argument with regards to gender and sexuality (which, as Rev pointed out, are in many ways inseparable). So, this week I posed a long - and apparently overdense - question to the group on just that subject. [While the question is quoted in part below, you could also just read it directly on WHB.]

What role should biology play in our understanding of gender and sexuality, and how should we address this as a culture/society?
The inherent flaw of any argument about biological destiny vs. indoctrination vs. free choice is the versus. People are influenced by everything.

In the case of gender, I argue that most of the impact of sex (biological sex, that is) is a tendency to bias others in their behavior towards you. This is precisely why transgendered people have the experience of being one thing trapped in another. It's not, as far as I know, biologically possible to be a biological woman in a biological man's body (though, of course, there are the biological sex anomalies like Turner's Syndrome and such), for instance. But the simple fact of being in a man's body means that people will respond to you in certain ways, expect certain things.

Generally speaking, the body you're in and the cultural expectations for that body are dominant influences on your behavior. But - that doesn't mean those cultural influences automatically pigeonhole you into the "ideal" woman or man. Maybe you have more or less of certain hormones, are exposed to opposite gender types (not too difficult in a world where "ideal" gender behaviors are so contradictory), or simply see something over there in the other gender you like.

Gender types are not unlike any other cultural conception in that.

Of course, they're such a deeply engrained conception that we can't just stand on the roof with a bullhorn shouting "Gender is Dead! Long Live Gender!" and expect to make progress. I do think, though, that the world of queer and the small but vocal transgender community are slowly eroding what it means to be "man" or "woman", however consciously or unconsciously they do so.

Feminism, sadly, seems to simultaneously reject and reinforce our cultural notions of gender and the differences that implies. This, too, has had value - trumpeting the value of women, gaining us equal voting rights, improving health and childcare legislation in the US - but any feminism that implies women are all one way (whatever way that is) still falls back on that male/female dichotomy. Of course, the end of gender rather implies the end of feminism - so maybe it's self-preservation.

How much does your genetic makeup, your biological sex, etc. contribute to who you are as a person
I was a physically uncoordinated child. This might have something to do with biology, or it might be a nurtured trait. What I know is that I was verbal long before I was mobile (I think I was nearly 2 before walking), and that this was attributed to eye-body coordination issues and a disturbing natural flexibility that I haven't cultivated as much as I would like.

I also know that girl children are more likely to speak words earlier than boy children and boys are more likely to walk earlier. Is that a sex-dependent difference, or a gender-based one? I suspect, given the way we tend to treat babies - girls are cuddled and spoken to, boys are tossed and played with - that there's a strong "nurture" component to what is usually seen as a "nature"-based variance. Nevertheless, aside from my clearly genetic, though hardly sex-dependent, physical qualities, the order in which these two things happened was "normal" for my sex.

I've also always had a clear biological/genetic predilection towards fatness. I was a round child; I'm a round adult. Even when I was a tree-climbing, bike-riding kid who mostly hung with boys (and refused to wear non-dresses, ironically), I never acquired that lean child body.

And then, there's whatever combination of genes led to my wearing of soda-bottle glasses starting in second grade. I am so half-blind girl. It was a source of embarrassment and inconvenience for years before the invention of the disposable contact lens.

Those factors (predilection for fatness and failure to catch - or even see - moving objects) undoubtedly contributed to my leanings towards dance and other "soft" exercise modes, a loathing of games with balls, friendships based on conversation, and a general shyness and nerdiness I've never quite shaken. Because I was a girl, all these things were, to an extent, encouraged. I think those biological factors, then, ultimately played some role in the formation of my personal preferences.

My dad read to me all the time, mostly science fiction and horror. I was a bald baby who was always dressed in dresses or pink for my first 2 years, so people knew I was female (for my family's benefit, basically). I went to a sex-divided school for much of grade school. I had a mother who took me to college classes and did yoga and dance and that "we must, we must, we must increase our bust" exercise and a dad who read a lot (and also tried to throw balls at me, with limited success). The children's books with smart protagonists are frequently about girls (Harriet, Anne, Jo, Eilonwy, all those girls) who read and ultimately find some middle ground between intellectual pursuit and "feminine" behavior like getting along with others. I also remember being fixated on the year of my parents' birth (in the fifties), which ultimately resulted in me reading about a lot of fifties-era stereotypes. And my mother loves magazines.

That collection of factoids includes a blur of experiences that may have contributed to my "girly"ness, my feminism, my queerness. But I think the single most contributing factor is the experience of being exposed to all those things.

Is it worthwhile to think about biology as, to an extent, destiny? For instance, the queer movement has done a lot of work to assert that gay is predestined at birth. That has some political value, but is it true?
I'm really torn on this one. I recognize that saying sexual preference is fixed makes the argument for equal rights more obvious. I recognize that a lot of gay and straight people feel there's no possible way they could have another preference. I recognize that many other bisexual-acting people feel that, whatever their behavior, they are ultimately either gay or straight.

But this just doesn't ring true. So many people have experiences or feelings that they're willing to discount as not them because those experiences don't meet some definition of what they do or do not do sexually. I suppose there's a value in taboo, but I'd rather accept the entire realm of experience as possible.

And if that's so, you remove the dichotomy and the differentiation among who has and hasn't rights to be normal, to be a player in the political and social life of our culture. Well, at least as far as sex is concerned.

 

13 May
marianismo
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I cannot get that blasted Marian the Librarian song (you know, from Music Man?) song out of my head now.

Darn Kerri and this week's WHB question:

What is it in our global culture that has the majority of women convinced that sacrifice and selflessness signify a morally sound woman? What do you think of the assumption that females, if mentally stable, are all willing to not only play the role of mother, but give up their own lives to do so, while men are never questioned about why they did not put their careers on hold around age 30 to start a family? I am sure exceptions to the rule exist, but what is important here is that these assumptions and expectations are the rule.

What I am asking is a loaded question: What is wrong when in a society, instead of encouraging cooperative childrearing, competition is promoted among moms to see who can, in the spirit of Marianismo, sacrifice the most [April's note - I chose consciously not to answer the competition question, as I have next to no grounding in it.]? How do we change this narrowminded thinking?

Am I allowed to disagree with the question? I used to ask that in school a lot. Kerri admits to loading her question here, but I nevertheless have problems approaching a question with so many assumptions baked into it.

It's presumptive to assume that sacrifice for one's children is primarily around the career arena. It's presumptive to assume that only women, not men, feel pushed to give their children their lives. It's presumptive to say that women who do feel that way are also competitive about it.

It's also presumptive to assume that everyone wants children, or will make sacrifices to raise them.

Let's look at the ideals of the 1950's (themselves quite loaded) around the American family. Around marriage. A lot of our contemporary notions of family and gender roles are fixed on this time period.

While we think of women as sacrificing quite a bit in the 50's, the truth is that both parties in a postwar marriage were expected to subsume self in role. Women had a certain role to play, men had another role. If you don't fit your role, tough. Deal. You have a problem, probably some Freudian thing. This doesn't just apply to women, though - it's about men, too. So. One thing baked into Kerri's question (one thing that seems to have led quite a few WHB commenters down rather a different path) is the idea that sacrificing a career is a key aspect of the sacrifice made for partnership and children.

And yet - the ideals of the fifties, which are pretty much our ideals today, as family goes, hold that a man is expected to "provide for" a family financially, much as a woman was expected to do emotionally & physically. A man who dislikes his job, would rather be an artist, whatever, is still pushed to be the Provider today. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but the mainstream ideal of family still requires sacrifice by both parents, not just by one. The type of sacrifice expected simply differs by role.

I find, experientially, that the expectation that one is eager to have an raise a family isn't limited to women. Quite the contrary - men are expected to want to play daddy while having a career (though career is, of course, also supposed to provide deep personal satisfaction). Families who'd like to play by different rules (say, dad stays home with the tots and mom works, or couples get married and don't procreate, or any other alternative) face the barrier of fit. They face things like diaper changing stations in women's bathrooms only, groups of people - including former friends - with whom they eventually fail to fit, legislation that assumes certain things about families, et cetera.

The sad thing is - exceptions and counters to the role rule existed in the fifties, too. And yet these exceptions still aren't considered in the realm of normal.

One of many challenges for contemporary families is navigating today with a map from 1952 (with little scratches and hilighted routes from points along the way). Parents face a world where two incomes are practically necessary, but women are still likely to make less than their male counterparts, rendering a woman's fiscal contribution less signficant and more easily parted with, especially when you consider the lack of community child-rearing resources most people experience. And women of my generation, despite growing up with many models for working/non-working motherhood, have to balance family and personal needs in an environment where their careers might or might not be all that satisfying. Add to that the subtle signs that family care is women's work (the magazines, hints of daytime television, advice and parenting books, all gender-biased towards mothers), and I think a lot of mainstream families simply fall into the pattern their parents or parents' parents followed.

Is narrowmindedness at work in this pattern? Yes, and no. It is narrowminded not to value the many choices of family, career and life as equal. It's a mistake, though not necessarily a narrowminded one, for families not to thoughtfully approach their decisions about how to handle childrearing. But I think the pattern itself comes down to a lack of viable options (or a lack of information about existing options).

What would need to happen to create a wider range of family structure options?

Well, first, the economic changes - a minimum wage that approached living wage, so families could survive on less work. Parity in pay for men and women, so any couple could choose whose work to survive on. Restoration of the late nineties trend towards telecommuting and flexible work schedules for people on a variety of career paths, so families and others can achieve greater balance between home and work.

And finally, cultural shifts (which we can demand, as always, with what we buy, read, and believe) - blending the gendered roles in family care (which I personally believe would result from the economic changes). Recognition that work in the home is still real work, not one person's god-given role as a result of gender. More education about education. I don't believe we can eliminate the selfless ideal of mother in a generation, but I think we can at least take some steps - via economic parity - towards removing her from her pedestal and making her less gender-loaded.

 

04 May
smart women
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : in we have brains responses

Alison's WHB question this week is about self-doubt - specifically the doubt a woman might feel about her capability and her competence. This one touches somewhat on my personal experience.

A preface to all this: doubt isn't a condition of gender, but there are certainly aspects of self-doubt and its expression which may be gendered. All the men and women I know have episodes of self doubt; I think that's a key component of intelligence and self-awareness.

but wait! there's more »


 

28 April
feminine discourse
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in we have brains responses

The [first since we brought the site back up] question I raised to the WHB group this week is on the subject of "feminine" vs. "masculine" styles of debate and communication.

Do these differences in debate style even exist? Neither all men nor all women communicate according to certain patterns. Patterns may be detectable, but I wonder how useful that even is - does it matter if women are more likely to communicate a certain way, or is it most significant that people discuss things differently? The answer is that it matters because we've given it airplay. So, in beating ourselves over the heads with the idea that there are differences between men and women on the communication front, we could in effect create these differences.

Something to think about.

Kerri and a few others who've answered this question already have noted their English class experiences - being told, for instance, that couching an opinion in soft words ("I feel", "I think", "You may disagree, but...") is a weak mode of speech. My perspective is different. I never heard that lecture in school, and instead heard the dual lectures of "you don't have to tell me it's your opinion; this is a debate afterall" [debate, high school] and "people need to differentiate between fact and opinion" [business, college, life in general]. Kerri and I are both women, we're both annoyed by the idea of "soft, feminine" arguments - in completely different ways. [And we express that annoyance in different ways, too.]

I'm annoyed that a mode of stating opinion as opinion is equated with weak arguments at all. That's preposterous. I'm positively pissed that these weak arguments are then attributed to a feminine communication style.

It's no surprise that young feminists (as Vic alluded) would want to avoid thinking in terms of this sort of difference at all, if their experience teaches the "masculine" mode is the acceptable one, encouraged by academia and politics. And here I have to give credit to my business education for teaching a more practical mode of argument, where allowing for or glazing over disagreement is a strategy, not an accident of your gender.

Posing this question happens to coincide with my reading of Jordynn's blog essay, which discusses the communication modes of feminists in the context of feminist communities. Something she said about the invitational mode of the collab resonates with my feelings on this issue; essentially, that the non-confrontational approach to discussion, though seemingly lacking in passion, helps foster mild shifts in opinion. The collab wasn't intentionally formed along one line of feminist community building or another, but the heart of this is true. Mild shifts are my goal. I hold that mild shifts in opinion are the most useful - that's the rate at which social change happens.

And I like to think practically - so, if my purpose is to change someone's opinion, I tend to adopt a non-confrontational mode of argument, ask leading questions, and work towards consensus. There are times, of course, when I argue simply for the sheer joyous logic of it all, but those occur in a context in which I may not even argue my own perspective. And there are other times when the goal is simply distribution; this is my opinion, and you will hear it, with no concern over whether it sways you. I use myself as an example, but the point is that these modes of debate are not constrained by gender.

Yet men and women do, in the context of traditional gender roles, communicate differently. Robert Bly, for instance, talks constantly about the different speeds of men's and women's thinking mid-conversation. The Men/Mars/Women/Venus guy, the crazed ladies who wrote The Rules, and a host of other individuals of varying credibility has weighed in on the subject, almost always in the context of heterosexual relationships. Each book read individually seems to speak an aspect of truth. But. What I find most interesting about all of it is that you don't see one single message, one clear pattern of differences between men and women. In fact, if you read enough of these books, they manage to simultaneously conflict and blend together, ultimately approaching the message that the Women's Way of communicating (whatever that is) is the right one, the properly feeling one, for relationships. Convenient, considering women are more likely to buy those books. [I suppose this means everything balances out after a fashion; if women are better at relationship talk and men are better at debate, then it's all good. Or conversely, women are soft and feely and men are good at that important "serious" conversation stuff. Excuse me for breathing.]

The conclusion I draw from this is that men and women don't have to communicate in gendered ways at all, but we've managed to convince ourselves we do. It lends more mystery to the interaction between genders. It's also getting more out of date in a world where gender and sexuality are getting blurrier.

I think, as Vic said, the solution is in training people to communicate with other people - in a way that allows for interpretations of different styles and encourages us to see the value in different modes of discourse. There is no one way to argue or one way to discuss one's feelings; we all ought to know that by now.

 

18 March
feminist men, part two: bad boys
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : in gender & feminism

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
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in gender & feminism

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 »


 

11 March
learning about women's history
link : thoughts (3) : track it (0) : in gender & feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I think this means today?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is right?

We are.

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

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

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

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

 

27 February
motivation
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in gender & feminism

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
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in queerness

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 »


 

21 January
raising your voice
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in government

Kerri asked via comments the other day what I thought people could do to make their opinions heard.

Here are some of those ways.

Stay informed
Track your congressperson's voting record. It's readily available online for the US Congress and for most other democratically elected officers in the US and elsewhere.

Join citizens' action groups related to your primary political interests. I keep up to date on events via FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), Citizen Works (Green Party), NOW & Feminist.org (Feminist Majority Foundation), and Planned Parenthood. Most political groups have websites and mailing lists you can join without even joining the organization.

Get your news from at least two different sources in at least two different media. I use CNN, NPR, and the Guardian. And, of course, Lisa's We Have Brains news posts. Plus the Daily Show and The Onion (hey, news can be funny!).

Read books. Read lots and lots of books. Magazines, too. And blogs. Never stop researching and reconsidering.

Ask stupid [and not so stupid] questions.

Hold your government accountable
Vote. In every election. Your vote is your most obvious opinion.

Write letters. Email letters. Call people. Not only your congressperson, but any other elected official and any company whose products you consume. Tell them when they're doing well or poorly on a specific issue. Remember that you're their customer, and remind them of that fact.

Join a letter-writing collective like Progressive Secretary. Get friends to join. This amplifies the power of your voice by delivering the same message from several different people.

If you feel strongly about something, go to protests, conferences, and demonstrations. If you can't take the time, send money to the organizers so someone else can go in your place.

Become a dues-paying member of the organizations you most strongly agree with. That increases their clout as political action groups - the more people they count as members, the more power they possess.

Buy products from companies that support your political views. There's a host of information on the internet about companies' social and political contributions that you can use to feed your shopping habits.

Share your opinion locally
Start a blog. Start a zine. Start a book group. Join a group. Start something that you share with other people. It will promote discussion, allow you to develop your opinions, and potentially convert others to seeing things your way.

Don't hesitate. Yes, there are some situations in which expressing a political opinion is inappropriate (mid-meeting at work, for instance), but don't be afraid to tackle political subjects when the occasion arises with friends, family, even vague acquaintances.

Wear your opinion. T-shirts, bumperstickers, and buttons are obvious signs of your affiliations.

Honestly listen to people. Don't just wait to tell your opinion - hear what others have to say, too. It's surprising sometimes how much people actually agree when they think they're disagreeing.

Got other suggestions? Post them in the comments. That's a means of sharing your opinion, too.

 

19 January
women and the state
link : thoughts (2) : track it (1) : in we have brains responses

Kerri's question to the world at large this week: Do women benefit or suffer from the State?

I think a lot of the way this question can be answered depends on how one defines and views the concept of State. How do I define it?

  1. A nation with non-physical boundaries

  2. A collective government (cooperative or authoritarian) that defines rules and priorities for that nation

Given this [possibly oversimplified] definition, I tend to believe that people in general benefit from the existence of a state. Why? This may be cynical, but I think people tend towards territorialism and aggression in the absence of limits and structure. My vision of a world without nations is one in which civil war becomes the order of the day. Shifting that aggression to a national level, and placing the decisions of territory into (generally) the hands of more than one person is, in my belief, better for the daily survival and productivity of the individuals who make up a nation.

You might disagree. You might think that the idea of nation creates territoriality on its own, and that people are inherently peaceful. I just don't feel that either history or individual interaction bears out that theory.

Collective government sets up a "state" (in the sense of governors) apart from and accountable to the people. Even the most authoritarian states must ultimately have the approval of the governed in order to govern. This approval can be achieved with fear, but in most modern states, it's achieved by a combination of acculturation and exchange. We accept government because we're taught to, because it delivers tangible benefits, and perhaps simply because we need and want it.

Are women served by the tangible benefits of government? Yes. And no. Women benefit from welfare systems, public education and health provisions, and a range of other state-sponsored programs that vary from nation to nation. Women may also suffer when the collective voice of women is overwhelmed by other voices, making the state less accountable to us - for instance, when pharmaceutical companies use campaign funding and lobbying to speak louder to legislators than individual women do (thereby allowing potentially dangerous products to remain on the market longer).

I think the way to ensure the state remains accountable to everyone is to continue to demand accountability. In a republic, this is best achieved by making your voice louder by joining others - not by eschewing your voice as is common in America. The modern Western state requires active citizenship, and I think a lot of the failures of our state to support its people are due in large part to our own passivity.

 

women and the state
link : thoughts (2) : track it (1) : in we have brains responses

Kerri's question to the world at large this week: Do women benefit or suffer from the State?

I think a lot of the way this question can be answered depends on how one defines and views the concept of State. How do I define it?

  1. A nation with non-physical boundaries

  2. A collective government (cooperative or authoritarian) that defines rules and priorities for that nation

Given this [possibly oversimplified] definition, I tend to believe that people in general benefit from the existence of a state. Why? This may be cynical, but I think people tend towards territorialism and aggression in the absence of limits and structure. My vision of a world without nations is one in which civil war becomes the order of the day. Shifting that aggression to a national level, and placing the decisions of territory into (generally) the hands of more than one person is, in my belief, better for the daily survival and productivity of the individuals who make up a nation.

You might disagree. You might think that the idea of nation creates territoriality on its own, and that people are inherently peaceful. I just don't feel that either history or individual interaction bears out that theory.

Collective government sets up a "state" (in the sense of governors) apart from and accountable to the people. Even the most authoritarian states must ultimately have the approval of the governed in order to govern. This approval can be achieved with fear, but in most modern states, it's achieved by a combination of acculturation and exchange. We accept government because we're taught to, because it delivers tangible benefits, and perhaps simply because we need and want it.

Are women served by the tangible benefits of government? Yes. And no. Women benefit from welfare systems, public education and health provisions, and a range of other state-sponsored programs that vary from nation to nation. Women may also suffer when the collective voice of women is overwhelmed by other voices, making the state less accountable to us - for instance, when pharmaceutical companies use campaign funding and lobbying to speak louder to legislators than individual women do (thereby allowing potentially dangerous products to remain on the market longer).

I think the way to ensure the state remains accountable to everyone is to continue to demand accountability. In a republic, this is best achieved by making your voice louder by joining others - not by eschewing your voice as is common in America. The modern Western state requires active citizenship, and I think a lot of the failures of our state to support its people are due in large part to our own passivity.

 

13 January
the sex industry
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in sex

This week on We Have Brains, we finally sit down and talk about that oft-discussed feminist topic: the Sex Industry.

[It's so much fun to capitalize, isn't it? Makes it seem like That Horrible Industry That Might Devour Us Whole.]

I unloaded some of my random thoughts on pornography/erotica a few weeks ago. So as not to bore those of you playing the home game, I'd suggest you read them: here (if you're interested). Suffice to say - I see no reason why women shouldn't actively participate in porn. Creating and consuming, both. So, why aren't I doing more of either? Quite honestly, I'm one repressed chica. I hardly even talk big when it comes to things sexual. But I am working on it.

I'll also add to my previous comments, that I believe the only difference between "porn", "erotica" and "erotic art" is taste. Many people may disagree. Here, on this blog, they're all wrong, and I'm right. If it titillates you, call it whatever you want. It's all the same to me. Well, that's not entirely true - I've seen some sexy art that actually challenges the psyche enough to meet my definition of art - but it's rare as hell.

So. Given that. Pornographers are entertainers. In my book, that's equivalent to being Disney, or the guys who make Grand Theft Auto. Entertainment is a vehicle for release - of whatever in you needs releasing. Entertainment is okay. Television is okay! Porn is okay! All of these things can, at times, cross lines for different people, can turn offensive. Different people have different lines. Ergo, no one line can be drawn culturally (much as I'd like to draw my own and line people up on either side of it).

What I'm trying to say is - porn is no more dangerous to the psyche than any other form of entertainment. Any form of fun can turn dirty, but that does not justify keeping people away from it via legislation or cultural stigma.

Okay. Porn topic over. For now.

Let's talk about sex workers. I have yet to meet even one sex worker who feels degraded and exploited by her work. Whether they be phone sex operators, prostitutes, or strippers, every woman I've met who represents some aspect of the sex industry has chosen her career and largely enjoys it. Now, admittedly the sex workers I've met have all been American, and that makes a big difference.

But I will not sit by and allow other people to declare these women's voices null because they don't fit some sort of stereotype of the victimized woman forced into a life of degrading sex. We cannot ignore the viewpoints of the people who are actually doing the work we theorize about while we theorize about their work. [Dr. Seuss would be so pleased with that sentence.] That's just plain patronizing - and more importantly, it leaves out one of the most valuable perspectives on the discussion - it's like talking about the "Woman Problem" in 1910 without talking to a woman.

So, what have I heard from these sex workers? This. Sex is fucking empowering! Why do you think fat folk are so keen to prove their sexiness? Because they know that being sexual is a source of power and satisfaction. Sex can be deeply spiritual - and I don't just mean the high you get from sex with someone you rilly rilly luv - sex is one of the most basic human desires, and sex work in all its forms can tap into a certain primal male/female identity for some people. And hey, if you add the often very nice money you make while doing it - well, that's a pretty good case for sex work.

That's not to say that there are no sex workers who feel they've been exploited. Simply that it's not fair to assume they all are when that isn't their experience of their own situation. That robs people of self-determination. That is, in my book, anti-feminist. Just as it would be for me to assume that the handful of strippers I know represent all strippers ever.

When we talk about The Sex Industry without talking to the people who are the industry, we continue to marginalize that work. We fail to understand its appeal. We guess. And we gloss over critical issues like the need for healthcare and other benefits for sex workers. In short, we make ourselves stupid and narrow-minded.

 

12 January
football
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : in gender & feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

17 December
vaginas and their monologues
link : thoughts (4) : track it (1) : in sex

I did not like The Vagina Monologues. But, for the sake of We Have Brains, I'll talk about it a little.

but wait! there's more »


 

12 November
internet politics
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : in government

I've seen one depressing response to this week's collab topic already. Although I suppose it wasn't a formal response, as I just happened upon it. Ironically, only one person has actually posted a response to the question. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening.


So, here's the question:

How has your participation in the internet changed your participation in and your perspective on politics and activism? How could the internet be used to improve the global political environment?

but wait! there's more »


 

07 November
portrait of the witch as a feminist
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : in gender & feminism

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 »


 

16 September
we've got issues, yeah.
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Kerri's collab post for this week goes a little something like this:

What are your issues? It can be assumed that since you are posting on a feminist collab, that women's issues are important to you, but what in specific, or in addition?


I may actually have too many issues. That is - I care pretty passionately about a lot of different things. So go ahead and grab yourself some hot cocoa before you launch into this one...

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

22 July
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.

 

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.

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23 April
what are you going to do about it?
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In just a day, there have been a number of moving/inspiring responses to this week's We Have Brains topic.


I'm very, very pleased.


So far this week, I've incited other feminists to action, encouraged two people to embrace fat acceptance, continued my progressive web volunteerism, worked with an all-female group (even if their agenda isn't feminist), and let my crazy hips dance.


And here's what I'm going to do about it (feminism, that is) in the next year:

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19 March
diversity in feminism
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The question(s) I posed to the We Have Brains collab this week: Is feminism inclusive of different types of people, in your opinion? If not, who is responsible for changing it, and how should it change? What responsibility do women, as the majority of feminists, have to include and/or educate men? Whose responsibility is it to ensure groups are included in the debates over feminist issues?


I practice something I'll call "dude, what are you smoking?" evangelism. That means, roughly, that I feel a sort of obligation to respond to misinformation.

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