Sunday, August 30, 2009

From Emily: Cheryl Glenn's Response

Cheryl Glenn is now one of my favorite scholars since she responded to my email so promptly. There's nothing that it would be bad to post, so here you have it:

What a great insight!
Thanks so much for writing to me about this issue.

I know I consciously use "women" when talking to graduate students, but I don't know why I use "guys." Maybe because I have a tendency to use "guys" when referring to both men and women? Maybe because guys don't need any reminders of their manhood?

What terms do YOU think I should use in situations like last Thursday's?


Here's my response:

That's a good question. I don't have an opinion on what terms you should use with grad students, but I think my personal preference would be to try to consistently use terms that go together. "Guys" feels similar to "girls," and "women" feels similar to "men." However, I think the risk that would come from calling female students "girls" and male students "guys" is that "guy" usually refers to young men, rather than children. "Girl," on the other hand, can also refer to children. So perhaps calling women "girls" would automatically cause problems, even if there were no middle aged female grad students. I guess there are no perfectly paired terms for gender.

Bottom line, though, I'm glad you use "women" when you're talking to grad students. It feels much more empowering to be a "woman" than to be a "girl."

Thanks for your response,


Sometimes I'm jealous of the precise language more experienced writers use. I didn't say more than she did, but it took me twice as many words.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

From Emily: Gendered Labels

I'm absolutely swamped at the moment, so this will be brief, but today I attended a training session conducted mostly by Cheryl Glenn, a professor from Penn State. Dr. Glenn is best known for her work with education and rhetoric, which is what she discussed today (The training session was for graduate students who are teaching college-level writing at Brigham Young University). But Dr. Glenn also has a background in Women's Studies. This background didn't come up in today's lecture (which was amazing, by the way), but I noticed right away that she referred to the female grad students in the room as "women." I don't always notice whether BYU professors call female students women, sisters, ladies, or girls, but I know from the times that I have paid attention that BYU professors are much more likely to refer to male students as "men" than female students as "women." I'm sure there are many factors feeding into this linguistic practice, but the point is - Cheryl Glenn did the exact opposite. She never once used the word "girl" or "gal" to refer to a female grad student; she always said "woman." But she also never used the word "man" or "gentleman" to refer to a male student - she referred to each of them as a "guy."

I wanted to know why she was doing that more than anything else, but I was too afraid to ask. She did encourage us to email her though, so I might just have to do that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From Erica: "corrective rape"

The trial for the three men who raped and murdered Eudy Simelane- a lesbian soccer player in South Africa, where both aren't considered appropriate roles for women- began today. Here's the article discussing the case and its connection to a broader phenomenon, "corrective rape," which the article defines as "the rape of a lesbian by a man either to punish her or cure and correct her sexual orientation." The article's worth reading, and Not Another Wave will keep updating on this story, but I have one question:

Using rape as a corrective tool makes no sense to me. This isn't just because I find the whole idea revolting and enraging; even if you can possibly take the utter wrongness out of the act, think of it this way. How can rape- an experience that its victims generally hate- "fix" lesbianism? If someone doesn't like penis-in-vagina sex to begin with, how does forcing the issue make it any more desirable?

The obvious answer, of course, is that it's not about "fixing" anything by making it desirable; "corrective rape" attempts to "fix" lesbianism by exerting enough power and pain to scare its victims away from engaging in anything lesbian ever again. But I still find it as senseless in the practical sense as the moral sense.

From Erica: Fay Weldon's foot has entered her mouth

I don't mean to keep doing these news posts, but they just keep coming at me! This one's going to be special, though, because it focuses on one. This article comes from the Daily Mail, a UK paper that runs a daily paper section devoted to "women's interests" such as fashion, celebrity gossip, and weight loss- which is frustrating enough. The journalistic credentials of the paper notwithstanding, however, this piece on Fay Weldon's recent comments has left me more than slightly breathless. Weldon's history, Wikipedia-style, is that she's had a long career as a novelist and TV/radio writer, and the politics that her works manifest have a distinctly second-wave feminism bent. Whether or not she's a feminist thinker and writer- and here I'm holding Audre Lorde, belle hooks, and Betty Friedan as examples of what that might include- is marginal compared to what she had to say, at least according to the Daily Mail.

As quoted in the article, Weldon thinks that "women should not expect men to be their best friend - and should appreciate their need for sex. 'The thing is, you need to find a man who is cleverer than you, or at least not let him know that you are cleverer than him,' she said. 'Women want their boyfriends to be like their girlfriends, fun to go to the pictures with, but men are not like that. They want sex and they grunt. If you really want a man to be nice to you, never give him a hard time, never talk about emotions and never ask him how he is feeling.'" She also believes (although the lack of context for her statement is unhelpful) that "'we should have more teenage pregnancies'" so that women can have children before they start their careers and thus aren't too tired for sex with their husbands (who will otherwise philander, she claims).


First, let's just take down the heterosexist and traditional Western family bias, shall we? Weldon's comments presume that a woman comes in a package, much like a kid's play kitchen set, with a house, husband, and kids (or at least the desire to have them). Batteries not included. Way to break down the stereotype, Weldon. Women aren't boxed sets- they aren't even easily categorized into a unified group! But, of course, since men only "want sex" and "grunt," women only "talk about emotions" and want a clean loo and to have the socks picked up. Oh, and want to keep their man by playing dumb. Right?

The problem, from Weldon's point of view, seems to boil down to male infidelity as a result of the second-wave feminist movement that swept North America and Western Europe in the 60s and 70s. In apparent response to the questions raised by Daily Mail about her attitude change, she claims that feminism got nasty when women began treating men like they're nothing, and that's no longer valid: "'But men nowadays aren't s***. They're actually much nicer. They just don't want to commit to you, and why would they when you are a busy working woman who can look after yourself and probably goes to bed easily with them?'" Oh, I see. So the problem isn't that second-wave feminism tapped into a reasonable frustration and anger coming from approximately 50% of the population and that, coupled with negative media attention, turned feminism into a dirty word that sends many people fleeing today. The problem is that women are self-supporting and sexually active. Gee, thanks. I'll keep that in mind- any day now, thanks to the fact that I'm smart and capable, and enjoy an active sex life, my partner's going to head for the hills in search of the next easy lay.


Weldon, think about it. You claim that second-wave feminism got nasty towards men- I don't disagree with you. There was a lot of justifiable anger, but also some stupidity. I mean, "boys are stupid- throw rocks at them" is a pretty stupid slogan. But by claiming that men want to be flattered and fawned over and looked after by clever women playing dumb, or that all they do is grunt and want sex, doesn't exactly make you stand out from that crowd. In plain language, your comments were hypocritical. In further plain language, my statement was the understatement of the century.

Here's the thing. Men and women- people as a whole- aren't homogeneous. You can't classify "men" and "women" into singular categories of looks, appearance, or behaviour like they're Legos. Even your definition of the only type of man a woman "needs"- to put it your way, 'sort of semi-good looking, able-bodied, [and] intelligent'- presupposes an enormous amount of cultural bias, ableism, and personal preference...not to mention a certain amount of heterosexuality. Attitudes like yours not only contribute enormously to a culture that continues to treat (straight, White, able-bodied) men preferentially, but also to certain stereotypes and assumptions that get people seriously hurt. Men always want sex? Tell that to the man calling the sexual assault hotline because he's just been raped. Men grunt? Tell that to President Obama, Ronald Reagan, and Kennedy- all well-known orators. Women would be happier cleaning the house themselves and playing dumb for their husbands? Tell that to Betty Friedan and to all the women she interviewed for "The Feminine Mystique."

Even more than that though, think about it from this perspective: by forcing people into boxes, you will always make them unhappy. Are there women who enjoy being the primary housekeeper in their families, who enjoy being married to men far smarter than they, and whose sexuality is timed to meet their husbands' needs by choice? Yes. Do I want that? Absolutely not. But those women wouldn't be any happier in my lifestyle than I would be in theirs. Same goes for the women who'd be happiest if they never held a baby, for the people with penises who want to get pregnant, for the people who dance on all points of the gender spectrum, and for everyone else. Constraining people to your narrow definitions of men and women, with their complete lack of reality check, is far more hurtful to the women you pretend to speak to than the dirty loo you fuss about.

What we really need right now isn't some sociological shift to encourage procreation at earlier ages and childless couples during their working years (simply for purposes of monogamy, as Weldon puts it). Pregnancy and childbirth- both things that Weldon has experienced herself- aren't simply matters of incubation. They have profound effects on the body and, of course, the resulting child comes with some serious responsibility. Social prejudiced against teenagers aside, many adolescents are going through their own growth and development and identity-seeking. Being a teenage parent comes with challenges and problems that many adults don't have to worry about. And, as my mother demonstrates on a routine basis, parenting doesn't end when the child reaches the age of majority. Better support for adolescent parents would be a good thing. I don't disagree with that. But having your kids while you're a teenager doesn't necessarily mean you'll "have energy for sex" with the husband that you magically receive by age 30, as Weldon suggests, and doesn't mean that your life will magically improve.

Other ways to cope with the problems Weldon perceives: better support for parents of any age, to include accessible, quality childcare; wider dialogue about sex expectations and gender roles; and, on a broader scale, the breaking down of compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory maternity, compulsory monogamy, and the socioeconomic expectation that we in the Western world work ourselves to the bone before we can go home. I have to wonder if she even considered that there were alternatives to the bi-gender, man-dominant system that she moulds her "social reform" to.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

From Erica: one more news item

This image didn't make it onto my radar earlier today, but my partner pointed it out to me and I couldn't resist posting it here. There's no background story for it yet- whether it was photoshopped in one direction or the other- but what appears to have happened is that the original ad for the US was altered for the ad to be used in Poland. I'm not sure what to say, except that it's embarrassing beyond all reason that this happened in any capacity.

Edit one day later: the original link is broken, as the company apparently changed its mind about the image. My partner saved it before it went down, though, so I've changed the link to be to the saved version. Trust me, that's what the original looked like.

From Erica: in the news

To make up for the past couple of weeks of being gone on the vacation, here are some of the news articles that have been catching my eye since I returned 24 hours ago.

First, an article from the New York Times on the CIA interrogations investigation (if the link doesn't work, go to the Times website, click on the Politics link, and look for the article entitled "CIA Abuse Cases Detailed in Report on Detainees"). The article lists the types of interrogation techniques uncovered in the investigation, including setting up fake execution scenes, scrubbing with grout brushes, threatening to kill a detainee's children, waterboarding, and threatening to sexually assault the detainee's female relatives. While the article also mentions that some of these techniques yielded information on terrorist activities in spite of their questionable legality, it's horrifying to know that "information at any cost" includes psychological brutality that probably equates to the physical brutality of the Spanish Inquisition. Whether or not that's an exaggeration, it's worth it to ask what it means that threatening sexual abuse of non-suspects is 1) potentially effective and 2) potentially legal. Also worth it is asking what happens if the detainee is "uncooperative." Does the threat get carried out? What's the point of a threat that one doesn't intend to pursue?

Also (back) in the news is Chris Brown's assault on his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, as he was sentenced about half an hour ago. There was a lot of media hoopla when he assaulted her earlier this year, but most of it asked questions about "was she provoking him?" and "but he only did it once; can't she go back to him?" While his sentence is reasonable- a five-year restraining order, five years' probation, and mandatory domestic abuse classes- our society desperately needs to reexamine its approach to domestic abuse. First, mandatory classes on abuse are rarely effective. No one wants to be there, and no one thinks they did anything wrong. Second, this assault happened in February; the delay in the sentencing is concerning beyond reason (although, to be honest, not unexpected). Third, assaults that result in the kinds of wounds Rihanna is described as having, including bite marks, usually result in jail time- something that Brown will be avoiding. Fourth, we need to start talking about how seriously we take victims and survivors of abuse. But that's a post for another day.

Finally, since I've been awake since 4 AM and am already fading, I bring you this article on the difficulties Afghanistan has been facing lately in getting women to the polls. Aside from the cultural bias of the article, which refers to the status of Afghan women as "advanced" since the US invasion in 2001, I find it hard to choke down the medicine from the US media about concerns that a low female turnout will lead to "token" female representations in the Afghan government (instead of the two running for President and the 333 running for provincial council positions). I'm not saying that it's bad or wrong to be concerned about Afghan women and their ability to mobilize themselves for their own rights; rather, I'm saying it's more than hypocritical that Afghanistan is being criticized by the US on this matter. Hillary Clinton made history in 2008 by running for President in the US, and found herself faced an unbelieveably gender-biased media and society telling her, effectively (and sometimes literally), to get back in the kitchen and stop being a bitch. Countries that the US considers to be backwards, primitive, and other negative terms have had female leaders and heads of state and have succeeded in taking steps to reduce their sex- and gender-based inequalities. Until we can say we've done the same, I think we need to quit preaching.

That's all for now, folks. I've got a bar of chocolate waiting for me and then a bed to sleep in.

From Erica: on cruising

This is going to be a bit of a long post, and with very little in the way of conclusions. Maybe it'd be better to call it a post of questions...

As of yesterday afternoon, my partner and I returned from a 12-day cruise in the Baltic Sea. This is the second time in my life that I've taken a cruise, the first being a 7-day voyage in the Alaska area last year, and the experience has left me with a lot of conflicted opinions.

To start, I'll list the bonuses of cruising. Since I was little, my family's always taken its trips in a self-guided manner; we've rented our cars, chosen our own sightseeing, muddled our way through local customs, languages, and transportation systems to do so. Mostly we've been successful. However, it also means a lot of logistics and expenses; in Alaska, for example, many of the places we traveled to are only connected to each other via airplane. On a cruise, this hassle is taken care of. You go to bed one night, and wake up the next morning in a new place. The company has put together some tour packages if you're interested, and they always give you information about local languages, customs (especially manners!), and tips on how to get around. Cruises, at least the ones I've been on, also hold lectures and films that educate their passengers about the areas they're visiting. Also, the food is phenomenal.

The conflicts come in readily, however, and from a lot of different fronts. Environmentally, cruising is horrific. While companies have been making attempts to rectify this in recent years, the fact remains that ships burn ridiculous quantities of fuel to travel and to house their guests in the lap of luxury. Food, too, is a concern, since ships tend to carry and serve excessive amounts of it. Moral concerns about tourism's exploitative potential are raised too, depending on where the ship is docking and what the guests are expecting of the ports of call.

The biggest concern I've had on these cruises, however, is the confusing, potentially exploitative, relationships between cruise companies and their employees, both on an individual and an international level. See, on the ships I've been on, there have been two classes of employees- staff and officers- and a shockingly blatant racial division between the two. Most, if not all, of the officers on our ships were White; most, if not all, of the staff crew (waitstaff, cooks, wine stewards, stateroom cleaners) were either Filipino or Indonesian. To top it off, especially on the Alaska cruise, most of the passengers were White. For me, these were the questions I found most problematic: why are so many of the people doing the lower-paid "grunge" work from economically and racially disadvantaged areas? What are the working conditions that are shared among crew members that can be troublesome? And finally, what to make of this?

So...why are so many of the people doing the staff jobs from countries that are subjected to significant amounts of racism and economic deprivation from the broader international community? The first answer I heard from a crew member was that cruise companies pay significantly better wages than jobs in their local communities; economically, it makes sense to take a job cruising the world and getting paid comparatively well for it. The second answer I got made even better sense, and explained the discrepancies with greater detail. The particular company my family sailed with has schools set up in Indonesia and the Philippines, and these schools train their students to do specific jobs on cruise ships. As a result, not only does the entirety of the ship's crew come directly from these schools, but particular countries have higher representation in particular areas of staffing; the Indonesian school, for example, turns out more bartenders than the Filipino school (if I knew more about it, I'm sure there'd be something to say about hierarchies of countries- is bartending a "better" job than cooking, for example- but here my privileged ignorance slows me down). Similarly, many of the White officers that I talked to- who were from all over Europe and Australia- were school-picked as well, although not from the company's own programs. Instead, they tended to be students in hotel management or hospitality programs, or graduates of the same. This makes me ask a few questions yet again- are there no hospitality/hotel management programs in Indonesia or the Philippines? Does the cruise company not offer the same schools in Europe that it offers in the Pacific? What are the costs associated with the schools, especially the company-owned ones, and does that affect a person's contracts with the company?

This leads into the second question, which turns on what working conditions are like. Most of the crew- definitely the dining and stateroom staff- worked very long days, every day of the cruise. I got a lot of information about it from our server at dinner, Pras, who we would see sometimes when heading out to our ports of call. According to Pras, staff (I don't know about officers) sign contracts for a given period of time. They work for eleven months and then get four months off. When in ports of call, sometimes they get breaks- often, we would see him as he headed out to grab a moment of scenery before taking a nap- but this isn't guaranteed by the day, and is usually only three hours. Most workdays go from 5 AM to anywhere from 10 PM to midnight, depending on the events that the company's scheduled for the evening. From my observations, many of the officers work slightly fewer, and some of the other staff- White staff who ran things like the gym or the children's centre- would work their primary jobs and then have other duties to take care of too. Since a cruise ship is basically a large, floating hotel with a limited staff pool, I'm not surprised that everyone's days are longer and vacation days are limited. By the same token, however, I have to wonder if there are discrepancies- and what those discrepancies are- between the working hours of the officers and the working hours of the staff. Every night, for example, most events would be over by around 11 PM, meaning that many staff (and the officers) could go to bed. Every night, however, a midnight snack was served for those who wanted it- meaning that the cooking staff had to stay up extra-late to prepare the food (and yes, it was food that required preparation). Then again, since I sailed as a passenger and wasn't a crew member, I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. It's entirely possible that more staff were rotated around for midnight snack duty than I realized (although the same man who gave me ice cream at midnight would ask if I wanted eggs for breakfast the next morning, every time I went), or that less preparation was required than I realized.

The final set of questions, not to be answered by me, comes out of all of this. What do we do with it? If I worked as a staff member on a ship, my knowledge would be more complete. I'd know more about the schools and about the company, and have a much better knowledge of how the ship's staff are organized for work days. Is there pay that compensates for the excessively long hours? Do crew members get phenomenal benefits? Our wine steward told us that he has two young sons, who he only gets to see on his vacations every 11 months. When my entire family expressed shock and dismay, he waved our concerns away by saying that, in families, everyone must make sacrifices. He misses seeing his sons grow up in exchange for the ability to support them. Culturally, that's not an unfamiliar mindset- sacrifice and providing for one's family are strong beliefs in the United States- but I have to wonder what American dads would say if faced with the same situation. How much of our steward's choice was influenced by a lack of other options? Or did he have other options that would have provided well enough, but he wanted this one more? Were the full range of crew positions open to him- were the training programs for them available- or was he limited by the school that the company made available to his area? Or, more troublesome still, are there country-of-origin requirements for the higher-paid crew positions? More likely, I'd imagine, the selection of where to put the company's schools and their specializations become the de facto country-of-origin requirements for the crew.

The further questions that I'm struggling to articulate reach in a much broader direction, and have no good answers. One of them, I suppose, is even if it's ethical to take a cruise, given the racial politics that the company has created (ignoring for a moment all the other problems a cruise raises). On one hand, given the above concerns about exploitation and racism, it seems like the answer is no; on the other hand, given the opportunities staffing a cruise can raise for many of the crew, it might not be perceived as exploitative at all. And while the cruise company has come up with a mediocre solution to a troublesome problem- global economic disparities- by offering citizens of disadvantaged countries the opportunity to earn decent wages and see the world, there must be other solutions as well (starting with the establishment of a new world economic order, but that's a post for a different day) that don't rely on the potential for (and/or the existence of) exploitation of the crew.

At the same time, again, I want to know how much my arguments are needed or wanted. Are my questions and concerns a form of "speaking for" the crew? Am I seeing racial divisions and automatically assuming that exploitation must be occurring? Or, more likely, if there are differences in treatment or unfair situations being set up, is my voice helpful? Am I simply being a patronizing passenger who attempts to alleviate her guilt at taking a cruise by looking for some way to be socially conscious regardless? In my mind, it's important not to assume that racial differences in hiring patterns are coincidental or non-problematic; even if nothing wrong is happening, it's better to be safe and check. But I've also learned the hard way that guilt can be a powerful motivator, even if you don't realize it, and the truth is that taking a cruise was both enjoyable and ethically uncomfortable. I believe I'd rather double-check than second-guess myself and remain silent. But it's all so bothersome.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Emily: Sci Fi Ethnocentrism

I recently saw the Star Trek movie. Growing up I was a bit of a Trekkie - my family watched Next Generation reruns as far back as I can remember, and new episodes of both Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager when they were on the air. When I was younger I enjoyed the shows without thinking too much about their social depictions of various races and genders, but lately I've felt frustrated with how ethnocentric the series is.

I'm not just talking about the fact that a universal translator allows everyone to speak in standard American English, and yet it allows people from some nationalities to maintain their accents, or about the womanizing ways of Captain Kirk. I'm not even talking about the low representation of black, Asian, and Hispanic characters, though I think that's a serious issue. For me, the strongest indication of the racist nature of Star Trek's vision is the representation of Vulcans and other non-human species.

I guess I've got to be a nerd if I'm complaining about something like that, but really, think about it - Spock is older, more experienced, and more disciplined than Kirk. When Spock becomes acting captain of the ship in this new movie, it only makes sense. And yet, everyone from Kike to a future version of Spock wants Kirk to take his place. Kirk's valor hasn't even been tested - all he's ever done is cause trouble and fight Star Fleet protocols, but this human is the one who "must" be in command? Even in an alternate reality, where the destruction of Vulcan and the death of Kirk's father has changed everything, Kirk still gravitates toward being in command, as if the Universe is determined to place a bold and rash human in authority.

I've never really understood why so few Star Fleet Captains and Admirals are anything other than human. After all, Vulcans live longer and are more intelligent. And what about other species? Vulcans look very similar to humans, so at least they show up in positions of high command, but nobody who is blue or greeen, or who has tentacles, or who in short looks different from the average white man or woman makes it into positions of authority. Not to mention the lack of homosexual and bisexual characters. What's more, few of those white authorities are women. When women are in positions of authority, they're often despised admirals, or members of alien species that are apparently more accepting of gender differences.

Star Trek Voyager handled multi-cultural issues better than many of the earlier shows, but even Tuvoc (a Vulcan who is also the only prominent black character on Voyager) never becomes a captain or even a first officer. When Janeway's white, human, male first officer dies, she replaces him with Chekotay. While Chekotay's presence is a reminder of the variation among human cultures, he is nevertheless a rebel who is propelled into a position of authority largely because of Janeway's instincts. It's only fair to note that these instincts go against her close friendship with Tuvoc, but nevertheless her gut guides her to place someone who is similar to her in a position of authority.

I could go on about this for awhile, but I have a feeling anyone who isn't familiar with Star Trek Voyager is already lost. Just suffice it to say that being human-like often appears to be the driving force behind who is put into positions of power in Star Trek's Star Fleet organization. This concerns me because, if we can't handle the idea of fictional people who are unlike us being in charge of a group that includes humans, then we probably have issues with others who don't look like us being in authority over us. I'll leave it to you to decide how true this is in politics, business, religion, etc.

Monday, August 3, 2009

From Erica: more musical questions

So Emily's post about gender and music got me thinking along those lines again- not unusual, given my academic background in women's studies and cultural studies- but this time, my interest was piqued by something a little different. While we often talk about violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia in music, something that the broader political/activist community tends to forget is ableism in the very idea of music itself; that is, we tend to forget that musical appreciation is, to an extent, limited by one's ability to hear the music. Speaking as a Hearing person, my perspective on the Deaf community is necessarily limited. However, I think it worth mentioning that music videos and most songs are written with the intent of being broadcast to those who can hear the lyrics and the tones clearly. So when I came across this video on YouTube, I was surprised and intrigued. I admit: I know very little about who B-Storm is, and I have next to no knowledge about the way members of the Deaf community feel and talk about Hearing music and access to it. However, the idea of interpreting Hearing music for members of the Deaf community is interesting, and provokes some questions and curiosity in me. As a Hearing person who wishes to know how to interpret and speak ASL, I'd love to know more about the Deaf community in the US in general, and know how a video like this one fits in. At the very least, the interpreter's introduction to the video is fantastic. Go check it out- it's really interesting!

Just as a heads up: if you're a blog reader who would prefer to avoid swearing in their media, the link might not be for you. However, if you go to YouTube, there are other examples of sign interpretation of Hearing music that you might be more comfortable with.