Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fantasy Feminist

I promised Emily I'd write a holiday-themed post this year, but clearly that didn't happen. Instead of dedicating my mind to the intersections of feminism and Western holiday culture, I delved back into one of my favourite fantasy series: Harry Potter. And now, to make up for my sloth, I bring you some of the stray feminist thoughts that wandered through my brain.

First, I'm well aware that the Harry Potter series isn't the perfect feminist story. Its primary hero is male, most of the characters are White, cis, and able-bodied-and-minded, the only confirmed LGBQ character was outed after the series ended, many of our current stereotypes continue to exist in the book's alternate goes on and on. When I re-read that list, I feel like I should probably dislike the series a lot more than I actually do! So here are some of the highlights of the series and author that have kept me going.

Bitch Magazine recently had an article out about the strengths of JK Rowling's "non chosen ones"- her female characters, especially Hermione, Luna, and Ginny. While the article was a little superficial, especially about Ginny (her strong point is that she dates a lot of boys?), it did highlight the ways in which the female characters tend to make the series. Rowling once stated that "I find that all the time in the book, if you need to tell your readers something just put it in [Hermione]," which is telling when one considers that the character whose wisdom is most often recognized is Dumbledore. Add to that the strong social justice components to the books, from artificial distinctions between magical folk to the role of house-elves, and Hermione in particular shines as a strong role model for all readers- especially female ones. Another interesting tidbit I didn't know- apparently very few people were afraid that Rowling would kill off Hermione during the last few books, mostly because they "see her as someone who is not vulnerable." So while the other female characters on the list (and in the books) are definitely worthwhile, Hermione's character will always stand out.

Let me backtrack, though, to the social justice stuff. The Potterverse (yeah, I just used that word, so what?!) deals primarily with the whole Pureblood/Muggle-born concept- a thinly-veiled allegory for pretty much every blood-based "science" we've embraced in Western history, from racial distinctions to developmental distinctions- but gives many others the limelight, house elf rights probably being the most notorious of these. One of the least mentioned by critics, though, is how Rowling's characters generally refuse to be black-and-white in their thoughts and behaviours. Think about Dumbledore, and how manipulative and power-hungry he turned out to be. Or think about Snape, who was equally power-hungry but prepared to do the right thing anyway. Or even consider Sirius:

"Sirius is very good at spouting bits of excellent personal philosophy, but he does not always live up to them. For instance, he says in "Goblet of Fire" that if you want to know what a man is really like, 'look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.' But Sirius loathes Kreacher, the house-elf he has inherited, and treats him with nothing but contempt. Similarly, Sirius claims that nobody is wholly good or wholly evil, and yet the way he acts towards Snape suggests that he cannot conceive of any latent good qualities there." (from Rowling's website)

With the exception of Hermione and Voldemort (and even then I'm sure I just need to think harder), none of the major characters exhibit flawlessly aligned thoughts and actions. Even characters that we've been conditioned to hate- the Malfoy family or the Dursleys- behave ambiguously when push comes to shove. They make make "good" choices for selfish reasons, such as when Narcissa Malfoy saves Harry's life out of fear for her own son, but the point is that her negative ideology doesn't always prevail in her decisionmaking. Personally, the moral ambiguity of everyone made me love the series a lot more- if only because it's far more realistic to imagine finding global justice in spite of everyone's shortcomings than to imagine finding it when everyone's already perfectly good or evil.

Finally, as the Bitch article mentions, Rowling has sought to promote the fight for social justice in her post-Potter career. Her Single Mother's Manifesto, a scathing review of Tory campagin promises this past spring, ends on a particularly stirring tone when she discusses her sense of responsibility to repay the system that helped her out when she was financially strapped. In addition, she's spent a lot of energy drawing attention to the impact that poverty has on children, using her Potter fame to generate funding for organizations in the U.K., and uses her website as a way of reaching out to girls (presumably cis) about bodies and brains. I think a lot of people have been impressed by Rowling's "rags to riches" pre-Potter history, but I'm continually more impressed by what she's made of herself in the aftermath. And I'm looking forward to seeing what else she contributes to a more feminist-friendly future pop culture.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

One Spunky Bloggess + 400 donors + 600 recipients = Christmas Miracle

Earlier today, one of my friends posted a link to this article about an unexpected Christmas miracle. Basically, Jenny (a bloggess), earned $600 on Christmas cards of her boar head. Rather than spend that money on herself, she decided to donate it to others by offering a $30 gift card to each of the first 20 people to let her know that they didn't have Christmas presents for their kids.

When more than 20 people commented, someone left a comment offering a gift card to person #21, and then more people began jumping in and offering to help. When others began reading the article I linked above, more and more people jumped in and offered to help, inspiring this follow-up post from Jenny, in which she linked this interview that put her on TV in Canada.

If you still want to help, there is still time. The recipients may not receive their gifts by Christmas, but won't their kids be way more excited to find out that Santa is still on his way with some gifts he's finishing, than they would be if their parents had to tell them they won't have any presents at all?

I'll admit, I was cynical enough to worry that people might be lying, but a - I'd rather give $30 to someone who doesn't need it than take the risk of not giving $30 to someone who does. And b - when I looked up the lady I wanted to help out, I found a Myspace account (from 3 years ago, based on the ages she listed when she mentioned her kids) that matched her story and left me feeling a lot more urgent about helping out her and her five kids. 

Girl power. It's pretty much just plain awesome.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No, Women are not Angels. And No, Your Sex Drive Is Not an Excuse for Objectifying Them.

I just came across a delightful post on Feminist Mormon Housewives, which discusses two prominent and damaging myths about women: that women are naturally innocent and divine (in the LDS church, we say the same thing about trees and rocks), and that women are just bodies. You probably already know how damaging those myths are, but this article adds interesting nuance to the discussion.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tangled: A Feminist Film Review

A Guest Post by Whitney

Last Friday, I saw Disney's "Tangled" with my husband.  I thought it was a pretty good feminist-y movie, especially considering that it was a Disney princess-type movie. Because I am lazy, I have written my review in bullet-point form:
  • Rapunzel's father (the king) cries on Rapunzel's birthday as he remembers his kidnapped daughter.  It seems like usually in these kind of movies, you see the mom crying and the dad consoling her; but here, it's the other way around.  Win!  Men can express emotion, too!
  • Rapunzel sews and bakes, but she also reads, does astronomy, and paints like no other.
  • She is so awesome with her hair!  She ties the male protagonist up, lets herself down from the tower, and climbs everywhere.  Seriously, it's very impressive.  She can do just about anything with that hair--it's not just for show.  
  • Rapunzel ends up with short hair!  Okay, that's just a little thing, but have you ever seen a Disney princess with a pixie cut before?  Even Mulan had longer hair!
  • So yeah, the mom is the bad guy because she's vain/wants to be young forever, blah blah blah.  But I don't know how they could have had a male villain or some other way for the mom to be the villain without straying too far from the original.  But at least she gets some jokes.
  • The frying pan proves to be a superior weapon compared to the sword!  This might be getting a little too psychoanalytic, but I saw the frying pan as symbolizing a kind of feminine/transgressive power, while the sword represents traditional masculine power.  I just thought it was neat.  You don't have to be a swashbuckling dude to kick butt.
  • Her story and her adventure starts not because the guy "whisks her away" or something; but rather, she plans and schemes: she catches him breaking into her tower, and strategically decides to use him to reach her goal of seeing the flying lanterns on her birthday.
  • Spoiler alert: in the end, she's not 'saved' because of her compassion, but in spite of it--her compassion might actually have been her downfall.  Unlike other movies/fairy tales where a woman's only redeeming quality is self-sacrifice, this ending suggests that self-sacrifice isn't always such a good thing--or at least that it's not solely the domain of women.  Men can be self-sacrificing too!  (Didn't want to reveal too much here.  Go see the movie if you want to figure out what on earth I'm talking about.)
  • I liked the ambivalent nature of how it shows her mom's and her relationship when Rapunzel leaves the tower for the first time.  She feels guilty, but MAN is she happy and excited and brave!
  • She doesn't get married at age 18!!!!
  • In my opinion, the relationship was not even really a central feature of the story, but rather a sub-plot.  The main plot was getting away from her mother, figuring out her actual identity, getting to the flying lanterns she wanted to see.
  • I felt like it was good and feminist because it was a major improvement from how Disney usually is.  Also, overt sexism did NOT distract me from what was otherwise a visually appealing, witty movie (as it usually does).  And that is really saying something.
  • Even the rich, hypermasculine stereotype is challenged--the male protagonist reveals his true name/identity, as an orphan, and she says she likes him better than the fictional (hypermasculine) character that he aspires to be like.  
  • In the end, i think it makes a good case for women's 'proper place' NOT being just in the home, but out in the world/public sphere!  I'm not sure how you could get any other moral out of it.  Even in Mulan, after she saves China, she ends up returning home, and (we suspect) marrying the army captain guy, instead of taking a job with the emperor.  In "Tangled," the movie's premise is centered around the idea that it's wrong and horrible to expect a woman to spend her whole life at home.
  • When the male protagonist breaks into her tower, she kicks his butt; she stands up for herself in the bar; and she stands up to her mother in the end (about having been kidnapped).
  • At the end of the movie, SHE dips HIM and kisses him.  (I always hated it when guys would dip me.  If I want to kiss you, I am going to kiss you, so just let me stay on my own two feet.)
  • Body image stuff:   Okay, so Disney's not breaking down any boundaries here.  Also, infantilization much?  Rapunzel's face is that of a two-year-old.  
  • So, I'm not very good at remembering specifics, but I DO remember not getting angry at seeing her needing rescuing again and again and again.  It seemed like mostly she was able to save herself, and the guy didn't save her a whole lot.
  • In the bar, Rapunzel and the guy (Flynn) meet a whole bunch of rough guys.  They sing a song about how everyone's got a dream: the one tough guy says to Flynn, "Your dream stinks," referring to his dream of getting rich.  The other tough guys have dreams of becoming mimes, finding love, being a pianist, becoming a baker--and one made little tiny unicorns.  Even tough guys have nuance and feminine qualities!
  • Rapunzel's animal companion is Pascal the chameleon.  Pascal is super cute, and is possibly named after Blaise Pascal the mathematician (suggesting that Rapunzel is a math nerd like me, though that could just be me reading too much into it).  Pascal can't talk, and I felt like that was a good thing (feminist-wise), so he couldn't show her up and become the hero (remember Mushu the dragon in Mulan?) 
My points are random and some are not very significant. But still, small wins!  And when it comes to Disney princess movies, any hint at feminist ideology is a HUGE win. And if nothing else, it at least passes the Bechdel Test:

Whitney is a graduate student studying sociology.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Violated by the TSA

I have about 10 minutes (okay, 5) before my flight supposedly starts boarding, so I'm gonna have to be quick.

Long story short, I just had my first experience with the TSA naked-picture machines. Frankly, I couldn't care less if someone has a picture of the contours of my body. It's not a real naked photo, and even if it were - well, I don't care. I mean, I wouldn't deliberately put something like this out there, but if it happens, meh.

As long as I don't have to be felt up.

So when the TSA agents told me to step into the big scanner thing-a-ma-jig and stand with my feet on the yellow footprints, I went along with it. When my legs were spread ridiculously wide, I began to feel a little uncomfortable - I mean, just how detailed are these photos going to be? Then they told me to hold my arms in the position of the drawing in front of me, which turned out to be - Oh, of course, the position a person stands in while being arrested. Of course. I committed a very suspicious act by once again purchasing a ticket to go home for the holidays.

Then part of the machine swooshed in front of me, and I was asked to stand on one of the mats waiting outside the machine, until a TSA agent said, "A female. Copy," into a radio, and then,  "Have a good flight," to me.

And I walked away, thinking:

a - Was that necessary?

b - I hope I don't get cancer from this.

And my flight is about to board.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Feminism and a Happy New Year

I don't know if this post is necessarily "holiday themed" however, the holidays are supposed to be filled with good cheer and well-wishes for those around us, so I'm going to attempt to bring some of that love into this post.

Yesterday I was doing my daily stroll through the internet (is it indicative of a serious issue if I call my addiction to media a "stroll"?) checking what new and ridiculous things people on the internet were saying. Now, while I am sure that somewhere on the internet, multiple people were posting absolutely absurd things, yesterday I was unable to find any of those things. Instead I stumbled upon a website dedicated to Mormon Feminism, possibly some of you have heard of it before; It's called The Exponent and its a very polite, discussion friendly place. While I didn't completely agree with everything that everyone says on The Exponent I was pleasantly surprised by the unique blend of men and women, mostly husband and wife teams, who posted together about feminism. Oddly enough, several of the men confessed that they struggled with their wife's feminism, not because they wanted to repress her, but mainly because they wondered whether it was something that they, as a man, should care about.

I absolutely believe it was something that they should care about and I'll be honest, I definitely didn't agree with a lot of what those men said, however the cool thing to me was that they had taken the time to write up posts, contribute to discussions and accepted criticism for their posts. These men were genuinely interested in understanding and supporting their wives. And in turn, many of the women contributed to the discussion, attempting to place themselves in their husbands shoes and achieve a balance between the sexes. This makes me really excited (I worry a lot about marrying someone who doesn't support my feminism). Men and women with different opinions can discuss and work out issues that one spouse member deems important.

Yet, this is again not the focus of my post. The thing that this shows to me is that a feminist discussion is happening. Yes, there are lots of places where repression and a blatant disregard for women and their ideas are happening, however, change is possible! There are viable discussions taking place between real people, so whether I agree isn't the point (at least not right now, we can talk about that later) the point is instead, that a dialogue about sensitive issues is blossoming on the internet.

And that's not all. The Rumpus recently created a funny women column dedicated exclusively to the comedic brilliance that many women posses (check out the interview with Amy Sedaris for the funniest 10 minutes of your life). Patheos, a forum based website has developed a very intellectual and intelligent place for the Mormon Feminist discussion as well. Magazines such as Bust and Bitch provide meaningful and interesting articles about the current state of feminism in the US. Bitch magazine especially published a very well-written article on the rising state of the patriarchy movement within the US (recommended to me by our own dear Emily), and even though the article dealt with some heavy material the article was objective and well-researched.

So today I just want to spread a little Christmas cheer towards feminism and all those who talk about and support it; so enjoy this while it lasts, because next month, I'll probably be mouthing off again about something I perceive as anti-feminist. But for right now, rock on Feminist World, I salute you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Burlesque: A Feminist Review

Honestly, this movie was bad enough that it doesn't merit much discussion.

As you could probably predict from the previews, the music was the highlight of the movie. The only highlight of the movie. The basic premise is this: Ally (Christina Aguilera), an overworked waitress and lonely orphan, quits her job in a run-down diner and takes off for the city, hoping for a bright future. Then she goes out looking for a job and stumbles upon Burlesque, a club whose gimmick is a group of highly skilled dancers who all dance in sheer/skimpy/nonexistant clothing, while also lip-syncing to the classics. Only Tess (Cher), the owner, actually sings. Ally wants a job on that stage, but all she can get is a job as a waitress in the club.

The other premise is that Tess and her ex husband are pretty close to losing the club because they can't pay back their loans. Her ex husband is desperate for her to sell, but she refuses. From here on out, the movie's pretty predictable. But stop here if you really want to avoid any spoilers.

Good choice. I promise, there aren't really any spoilers with such a predictable movie. My assessment of the movie is this: it presents itself as feminist-friendly, but it's driven and defined by male sexuality and the male gaze. The film is about women who willingly, deliberately, and happily choose to dance for a mostly-male audience, in what can only be described as a high class strip club. Yes, the characters say it's not a strip club, but the scene where Aguilera removes the beads she was wearing like a bikini and then dances with feathered fans in front of her breasts and vagina beg to differ.

Seriously. That's one of the scenes. And the costumes that are sheer except for the nipples and the bikini area? It's pretty easy to guess that this film feeds into the objectification of the female body. And it really doesn't help that Ally's main romantic competition is a shrill woman who neglects her man by going out of state while she focuses on her own career. Or that Ally always talks to him (and everyone else) in a breathy voice so unlike the deep, beautiful, and empowering voice she uses while she sings. Or that most of the numbers she performs are about men.

And in terms of how race is portrayed in this movie, it does the typical Hollywood "Look! There's a black character! But s/he doesn't actually factor into the plot much or get more than a couple lines. But still! Look! We're Progressive, right?" Seriously - the characters mentioned Coco all the time, but how much did she actually get to talk?

And, while Stanley Tucci was arguably as much of a highlight as the music, it was pretty ridiculous that the one gay character in the movie was notorious for preferring one night stands over commitment, a challenge he only begins to overcome toward the end of the movie.

Feminist Film Review Grade: D-

A low D-

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Problem With Leaving Anonymous Comments

We at NAW welcome everyone to comment. In fact, we love it when you leave comments. But when three different comments show up as anonymous, it gets in the way of an interesting dialogue.So, please feel free to make up a nickname if you'd like to remain anonymous.

Feminist TV Review: Apparently Glee Hates Big Women and Men in Wheelchairs

Through some strange but delightful twist in fate, Erica and I are both mad at Fox's once great but now ridiculous show, Glee - but we're each mad for different reasons. Or rather, we're particularly angry about different components. It's pretty hard to choose just one issue when glee increasingly marginalizes minorities of all sorts, while also promoting sexist attitudes and objectified views of women.

I shouldn't be surprised anymore - not with all the jokes about "Asian salads," and "Asian couples therapy," or the fact that so many actors returned for the second season noticeably thinner (Lea Michelle, in particular). And I really shouldn't be shocked after they spent an entire episode on a tribute to Britney Spears. Or after they kicked the one black glee guy off the show, only to replace him with a pretty white boy. Sure, the black football player who's a huge jerk is still pretty prominent, but this season even he is overshadowed by the white football bully who's in love with Kurt. And I really shouldn't be surprised after their continued dedication to stereotypes about gay men and bisexual women (disclaimer: Kurt is one of my favorite characters. It's just ridiculous that the show doesn't also include straight guys who love show tunes and fashion or gay guys who don't. Maybe the football bully fits into that category, but will we ever find out?).

So, I shouldn't be shocked. But this week's episode reached a record low - all while pretending to rise above discrimination and marginalization. Let me recap: as The New Directions prepare for their Sectionals competition, Emma urges Will to go with a new direction (no pun intended), by putting Quinn in for the main opening solo, rather than Rachel, who would usually get a solo. Will then announces that Quinn and Sam will be the main event, followed by another number that will showcase a few less-seen cast members.

Sounds reasonable, but wait - who doesn't get a solo? Britney and Mike Chang get recognized for their dancing prowess. Considering how phenomenally talented both actors are in that arena, I approve that move quite a bit. Then, of course, Quinn and Sam get solos. If they had amazing voices or somewhat shorter solos, I'd approve. But Quinn's voice is undeniably whiny, and neither she nor Sam really nailed "Time of My Life." In fact, they've ruined both the song and Dirty Dancing for me. Then they move into Amy Whinehouse's "Valerie," where the main solo goes to Santana. Considering how often Santana's voice was overlooked during the first season, I again approve.

But wait - what about Mercedes and Tina? When Will first announces that Rachel won't have a solo, Mercedes says, "Great! What am I singing?" as if the club has such a history of handing solos off to her that she has become a mini-Rachel who simply expects leads. But how justifiable is that? If you've been following the show as long as I have, you'll remember that when Rachel temporarily left the group in Season 1, Will subbed in Quinn for all of her parts, even though she was too exhausted from Cheerios and her pregnancy and didn't want the solos. That's right - when they took out one of the few white girls in the group, they automatically subbed in the only other one who can sing (no offense to Britney, but that's clearly not her forte). And nobody even questions why Mercedes and Tina aren't getting the female leads now.

So why, oh why, are they getting ignored again? I couldn't understand it, and then - as I watched all the actors and actresses dancing around the stage, I noticed something about each woman who wasn't getting a solo: with the exception of Rachel, who had been pulled back from the spotlight because she's always in it, they all had one big thing in common. They weren't skinny. Mercedes is a character who's big and proud of it, and Tina certainly isn't big - in fact, she's downright petite - but next to Santana, Britney, and Quinn, (and now, unfortunately, Rachel) she looks almost pudgy. Even the silent last-minute wrestling champion sub was a big woman.

And while the show tries to make it up to them by giving them a duet in the end, it doesn't change the fact that Will, the adult character who is supposed to guide the younger characters as they make responsible choices, has deliberately cut them out of even minor solos in one of the incredibly rare competitions that takes place on this show. And nobody even mentions the fact that Arty, who has an amazing voice, also gets overlooked. When Puck is a bit overlooked, it's a little understandable - he has at least had solos in competitions. But Arty is consistently overlooked, in favor of the actors who can dance without breaking into a dream sequence.

Glee is already under fire from critics who find it insulting and patronizing for an able-bodied actor to play a character in a wheelchair, so why intensify that negative situation by ignoring someone with an amazing voice? The camera tried to make up for it by zooming in on Arty as he danced with his arms, but he was still missing or marginalized in most shots, particularly since his voice wasn't heard in even a small solo.

 If Will or another character were to at some point recognize that a grave injustice has been done to minority actors and actresses throughout both seasons or that those injustices are only increasing with Season 2, maybe the show could rectify the situation. As things stand, Glee is at great risk of losing my viewership.

Its current Feminist Friendliness Grade is a resounding D. Let's hope it doesn't go any lower.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

World AIDS Day

In case the title of the post didn't tip you off...December 1 is World AIDS Day. What does that mean? According to, as of 2009:

-There are approximately 33.3 million people worldwide who are living with HIV or AIDS. Approximately half of these people are women.
-About 16.6 million children (ages 0-17) have been orphaned by HIV and AIDS.
-Another 2.5 million children are living with HIV and/or AIDS.
-About 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV or AIDS.
-This number may be inaccurate because approximately 20% of HIV-positive individuals have not been diagnosed or have not had their condition reported.*
-The fastest-growing demographic of individuals with HIV is females between the ages of 18 and 24.

These statistics aren't being given to scare you, or make you feel uncomfortable, but to wake us up to the fact that HIV and AIDS are global problems that we all need to address. They are also intended to remind us that 1) not all people living with HIV and AIDS are "socially deviant" in some capacity and 2) social deviance, of any sort, is not an excuse to ignore the very human rights of people to have access to information, medication, and ethical treatment by others.

So today is a day to get educated! Want to know more about the difference between HIV and AIDS? Want to know more about the new one-pill-once-a-day treatment option for HIV? Want to know how long people can live with HIV? Take the time to learn something about it. You may surprise yourself.

If you want to do more, start advocating! Several websites and organizations offer great ideas for how to advocate for better medical access and destigmatization for people with HIV and AIDS. Some suggestions are, AVAC, and NATAP. Remember: one of the most important thing we can do as feminists and as people is fight for the human rights that every single one of us deserves.

*This estimate comes from an assessment of infection rates and the information presented by individuals who do test and report their status.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This show is getting Gleeking offensive

I'll start this post by admitting that I watch Glee. I enjoy it. I find it fun. Mostly, I love the music. But lately, something about it has been bothering me: namely, the way the show has been handling (heterosexual) teen dating.

Take, for example, the conversation that occurs between two of the show's male characters, Puck and Arty, during a recent episode entitled "Never Been Kissed." When Arty expresses disbelief in Puck's plan to help him get a girlfriend by ignoring her, Puck explains, “The thing about chicks is that you only have to be a fraction as nice to them as you were mean to them to get them to like you again.” To prove his point, he then invites Brittany and Santana out to dinner via the following conversation:

Puck: You two show up at Breadsticks tomorrow night around 7 and if we don't find hotter chicks to date, we might show up.
Santana: You are so cool.

When they're not using sleight-of-hand insults to ask out the female cast members, the males do a lot of one-liners and voiceover monologues about chicks, boobies, and how hot someone is or isn't (their vocabulary). In fact, one of the driving storylines in "Never Been Kissed" is the guys' use of the female football coach to "cool their jets," so to speak, while making out with their girlfriends. Of course, the guys frame this as the girlfriends' faults because "they won't put out." Never mind, of course, that one of them did in the first season and had to deal with pregnancy in a very isolating way.

I'm getting sick of this ridiculous downplaying of the female characters. Aside from one half-hearted attempt to address the issue by having the male characters whine about singing "I Am Woman" in the first season, the show doesn't seem to care that its portrayal of male-female interactions has gone from amusingly parodic to simply sexist. When Finn is told to find his groove in the episode "Hell-O," his music video of him singing "Hello I Love You" while the school's female students fall all over themselves to touch him is applauded. When Rachel tries something similar in "Bad Reputation" with "Run Joey Run," the entire Glee club comes down on her for being manipulative and self-centred.

So often in the early parts of the first season, the parody humour that was used to highlight problematic thinking became fodder for challenging that thinking later in the episodes. But those moments of lessons learned or thinking challenged are increasingly being passed by in favour of shinier costumes, more objectifying dancing, or expanding the unchallenged humour to hurt even more characters and images(did anyone else notice that the entire "Grilled Chesus" episode involved Finn being unbelievably self-centred and never realizing he should be thinking of Kurt's dad?).

I know that this show takes place during high school, when for many people hormones rule the day and reputations are more important than doing the right thing. I've been there- high school can be a really hellish environment for adolescents, because one of the side effects of puberty is being obsessed with the way peers perceive you- but really, why is the show's primary voice of authority- Will Schuster- willing to let so much slide? His character sees and hears a lot of the things I'm talking about during the course of Glee rehearsals. As Kurt points out him during "Never Been Kissed," Will isn't particularly good at reining in the club's homophobia. I'd argue that Will isn't particularly good at reining in any of the discrimination that happens right in front of him.

So what are we supposed to do? The show is receiving a lot of acclaim for (imperfectly) addressing things that really need to be addressed in the public sphere, such as bullying in schools, but at the same time it's doing very little to de-normalize the kinds of sexism that have held everyone back for a very long time. The people who watch Puck and Artie's conversation and don't entirely disagree with its message, for example, wind up teaching their friends, children, and others that this is an acceptable way to interact. And what kinds of relationships do they have with each other? How is this going to affect the dynamics of demanding sexual equality, particularly when the onus for everything- from the success of relationships to the success of the football team- is put on the willingness of girls and women to have sex unquestioningly and accept abusive behaviour from the men in their lives?

The show hasn't been the pinnacle of socially responsible TV, but it used to try a lot harder. And its lack of effort is making me madder and madder.

Links of Note, Only Some of Which Are About Sex

I decided to go with that post title after the initial title, "Sex," shocked the unsuspecting undergrad sitting next to me in a computer lab on campus. Oops?

But on the topic of sex, or rather - sexuality, Feminist Mormon Housewives had a great post about how LDS teenage women are taught about sexuality. This post outlines some of the problems in the way these women are currently taught about sexuality and suggests ways to improve their education. The author goes to great lengths to avoid suggesting any changes that would mess with doctrine. While I don't agree with all her suggestions, there is something brilliant (and heart-breaking) in her plea that young women leaders no longer compare women who have had sex to damaged objects. Flowers with their petals torn off? Chewed gum? A board filled with nails? Pretty disgusting. It should go without saying that those object lessons are bad ideas.

One point really stood out to me in that post: it's not only emotionally scarring to a young girl to be told that rape survivors have lost their virtue - it's also doctrinally inaccurate in the LDS church and all of Christianity. But reading that post reminded me of a couple delightful posts from I Blame the Patriarchy, where we learned that insects who don't mate must be female, and  that starving female preying mantises until they killed their mates was once considered good science.

On another note (and the true reason I changed the title from "Sex" to something more inclusive), Womanist Musings has a great post up about Tyler Perry and the way black women are portrayed in television and film. The post doesn't exactly love Perry, but it points out ways in which what he's doing is incredibly progressive compared to BET and the white-infused world that is every other TV channel.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Car troubles

Before I begin this post, it needs to be stated for the record that I have a lot of pride. I've always been the person who couldn't stand to ask for help because that would somehow imply weakness on my part. Case in point: as a toddler, I threw a huge temper tantrum once because I couldn't pick up a pumpkin that had taken both my parents to lift. My mother offered help, and in response, I shouted, "NO! I DO IT MYSELF!" Unfortunately, the "do it myself" attitude has persisted relatively intact into adulthood with me, and it's important that I mention this now as I begin a horrible story.

On November 11, approximately eleven days ago, I purchased my first used car. I wanted to play it safe- while I'm not a complete car idiot, I'm definitely no mechanic or car connoisseuse- and so I selected a 1999 Honda Accord. The price was right, the car was fine in the test drive, and all my online research about the ups and downs of this year, make, and model were fairly positive, so I thought I'd made a good choice.

Eleven days later, I'm not so sure. It's spent seven of those eleven days at the mechanic, having a myriad of leaks in its emissions system repaired. Every time I drive it, it seems, that obnoxious check engine light turns on and the saga grows ever longer. At this point, if I weren't sure that I've spent more on the car than I'd get from a trade-in, I'd bring it in to a nearby Honda dealership and explain that the hassle was theirs from this point forward. But for the first few days, the most striking thing about this car problem of mine was not least, not really mechanical.

For the first several days after this whole mess began, I felt like a little girl that people had taken advantage of (and pardon that dangling participle). I felt like I'd gone to the independent dealership vulnerable, and that they hadn't cared a whit about my needs- they'd simply seen a female with a debit card and had cackled with glee. Similarly, after the first round of repairs on the car didn't last, I felt like the mechanics were taking me for a metaphoric ride. When the car issues began happening, I immediately blamed myself for being such a good target. "Of COURSE you got fleeced by the dealers," I said to myself, "you don't even know your way around under the hood!" Then, when the first round of repairs cost $1,200.00, I told myself, "This would've been a lot cheaper if you knew how to check these things yourself." In short, this has left me feeling like I've got something to prove- not just because I'm like that as a person, but because I feel like I need to prove that not all women are dumb about cars.

This is where the "I've got a huge independent streak" opener comes in. I want to be sure to emphasize that my feelings on this matter are definitely compounded by my own personal tendencies to be hell-bent on the "do it myself" method. I tend to feel horribly incompetent even when I fail at doing typically female-gendexed things by myself, like cooking or managing to keep my apartment clean, so this isn't 100% gender-related. But there is a distinction to be made- a strong one- between feeling personally incompetent and feeling gender-ally incompetent. This car situation left me feeling the latter. It isn't just a personal shortcoming that I didn't know much about cars; it's the feeling that if been male, or a man, and gone to buy that car I might have been told more about its potential pitfalls, under the assumption that I'd know what the dealer meant. It's also the feeling that the mechanic would've been more up-front with me about the state of the emissions system in my engine. Let's be honest: four (or more) leaks in eleven days doesn't sound particularly stable to me. And maybe I could've been spared a lot of frustration if, "man to man," the mechanic had told me at the beginning that there were extensive repairs needed.

The flip side to the coin is that gendered expectations go both ways. If I were a cis man, the mechanic and the dealer might both have assumed a certain amount of mechanical prowess on my part. The dealer might have tried to sell me a flashy muscle car, presuming that I (and it?) ran on testosterone alone. The mechanic might still have downplayed the extent of the car's problems, but for different reasons. And, as we ought to know, penises don't come with basic mechanical skills rolled up inside. Having different plumbing and/or a different gender identity wouldn't change my auto skills. But it's hard to wind up in such an awful situation, knowing that my sex and gender identities probably haven't helped me in the slightest in my attempts to get a functional car for my money.

I suppose the bottom line is that, in addition to changing systemic attitudes about sex, gender, and cars, we need to empower ourselves to avoid being the victims of dealerships and mechanics looking to make a few extra dollars. Everyone should know their way around under the hood- and, thanks to a (female) former mechanic friend of mine, I now do. Everyone should also be able to read the assessment tests that mechanics perform when that awful check engine light comes on, and at least be able to Google the solutions that can be applied. And finally, everyone should know the "lemon laws" in their state, so if they wind up with a car as terrible as mine...they can get their money back.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Naked Skin: Why I Love My Face Without Makeup

You've probably seen the real version of this ad - a normal and healthy woman sits in front of a camera, and then a bunch of makeup artists and hair stylists change her appearance, before the photo of her is then changed to make her look gaunt and like any other model. I think I prefer the reversed version. Because when it ends on the image of her before the makeup, you can see how beautiful she is, even without any so-called "enhancements."

It's not that I think makeup is wrong or bad. I still take pride in the fact that I wore no makeup to either of my high school proms, but I understood why all my female friends chose to wear makeup for those nights. And it's also not as if I was ever sheltered from makeup. While many of my friends weren't allowed to wear makeup till they were fifteen or sixteen, my mother never stopped any of us from using makeup. When I made my face powder-white to cover my freckles as a ten-year-old, my mother didn't get mad when she found out: she laughed. At the same time, she consistently put on makeup each morning before leaving for work. It was like part of her face. In the same way I won't teach in sneakers, she didn't teach without eyeshadow and mascara (and she certainly didn't teach in sneakers).

I was fourteen before I tried makeup again, but only because I wasn't very interested in it. It was there, waiting for me, anytime I wanted it. So why hurry? But I can vividly remember what happened when I wore makeup again. I was fourteen, and I had brought some makeup to school with me. Although my mother had no rule against it at home, I felt self-conscious putting it on in front of my family. So I went into the girl's bathroom during my study period and applied makeup. It wasn't much, just the basics. And I put on so little that I doubt anyone else noticed. But I knew the difference, and I felt incredibly pretty.

It was only later, when I was washing the makeup from my face, that I realized how damaging makeup could be. I looked in the mirror before removing the makeup, and then after. And - I felt sad. I felt sad because what I saw in the mirror without that makeup there wasn't as attractive as what I saw with it. And I decided in that moment that I would not wear it again. I never wanted to hit the point that so many older women had hit where they could not leave the house without makeup, not even to go to the grocery store. I wanted to be happy with my naked skin. Now that I'm older, I do occasionally wear mascara. But for the most part I've kept to that standard I set for myself ten years ago.

New Hampshire isn't exactly the cosmetics capital of the US, so no one thought it all that strange that I didn't wear makeup, especially in high school. Some were surprised that I refused to wear it even for formal events, but when I explained my reasoning they accepted my reasons without batting an eye. Nobody told me I'd never be professional without makeup or that I couldn't think highly of myself if I didn't start wearing it. And, let's be honest - it's not like they worn a ton of makeup either. In fact, one of my high school friends often complained that her mother was ostracized by the intellectual women in the community for dying her hair and wearing makeup. According to my friend, the local women saw this look as artificial and unnatural.

And as much as it embarrasses me to admit it today, in high school I thought that only women with low self esteems wore makeup on a daily base. The girls who wore noticeable amounts of makeup on a daily basis were often known (or believed) to be having sex with sleazy boys, and they never seemed very happy. As a well-meaning but naive feminist, I pitied these women.

That naive pity transferred to the female undergrads at BYU when I came to college here. It didn't help that my first roommates were always complaining about their bodies. Through either luck or blindness, I'd never encountered such body-hatred in high school. In high school, my friend Beth would pass around magazines with famous feminist quotes (the best ones were from Miss Piggy) to counteract the images in the magazines. Of course we had body issues, but we kept it largely private. So imagine my surprise when I learned that there was such a thing as fat knees! I had no idea what fat knees would look like or how to determine if I had them.

Then I had a roommate who was bulimic, and as she explained the signs of her illness, I saw the signs of dehydration all around me. One day I overheard a girl throwing up in a restroom next to one of the dining halls. I could tell it was forced, by the way she gagged a little before throwing up, and by the fact that she waited till it sounded like I'd left (I think I opened the door to leave and then realized I'd forgotten something). I knocked on the stall door and asked, "are you okay?" There was a long pause, and then a "Yeah."

So I looked around me and saw all these women who were obsessed with their body image. One roommate - a woman I still think is strikingly beautiful - would frequently say things like, "I know I should go tanning. Pale skin is unattractive. But I don't think it would be healthy for my skin." Another time she said,  "I feel bad that I'm not more attractive. Whatever man I marry will deserve a pretty wife, and I wish I could be that pretty for him." So when she told me that makeup was a matter of hygiene, and then I looked around and saw all these women slathering on makeup every day, I assumed (falsely) that they all had low self esteems.

But I've had to repent of that false assumption, as I've found myself on the other side of the false assumptions. For instance, Carl the OMC once told me it was too bad someone as pretty as me didn't have enough faith in herself to make herself beautiful with makeup. He was flummoxed when I said how much I love my body, and he explained that he'd always assumed I didn't wear makeup because I just didn't think even makeup could make me look pretty.

I thought that was just Carl being an OMC, but since then many others have made similar comments. The other night, for example, I attended a church workshop on makeup. When I volunteered for a makeover (what morbidly curious feminist wouldn't?), the lady leaned down and said kindly, "I'll make it really soft. I promise." Since I was one of the very few women in the room wearing absolutely no makeup, she must have assumed I was terrified of the stuff. But her philosophy was this: you have to wear at least a little makeup each day, because wearing a little makeup will make you confident. Little did she know, on the rare occasion that I do wear makeup, I actually favor dark colors.

I was skeptical at first about makeup as a self-esteem boost, but as I looked around me, I watched how some of the other women in the room truly glowed with pride when they saw their faces after the makeovers. She held a little mirror up and pushed a button on it. The mirror said, "You are so beautiful." As a rule, each woman had to say, "Yes, I am," before leaving the makeover chair. For some of the women, this statement was difficult. They weren't used to thinking of themselves as beautiful. For me, it was difficult for a different reason: I hated how the makeup marred my beautiful skin.

My skin isn't particularly attractive. In fact, as far as my natural advantages go, my skin ranks pretty low. It takes more than one prescription to keep it looking like skin and not like a slice of pizza. But it's mine. And I think it's far more beautiful as it is, than with paint or powder obscuring it. So when I looked in the mirror and saw a garrish painting (by my standards only, I realize) staring back, I stumbled. "Yes... I am..." I muttered.

As I walked back to my chair, the lady who had so kindly given me a makeover laughed over how hard it had been for me to say. And it was only then that I realized how thoroughly she believed that a woman who refused to wear makeup didn't really believe she was beautiful.

This entry is already quite long, and so far I've only discussed cultural differences and how my unique experience with makeup keeps me away from it. But that's not really the point to this post. That's really just the background to my main point. The real point is that when I went home, I washed my face. And when I saw my own skin again, I smiled and said, "Yes. That's much better."

In some places and in some times, it's both a fight and a statement of feminism for a woman to wear makeup. In fact, one of the main reasons female missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to wear makeup is so that people can see how modern and unoppressed they are. But for me, not wearing makeup is my own personal statement of liberty, self-love, and feminism. It's my way of saying that I'm beautiful the way I am. That I'm a woman the way I am, and that I don't need to prove it by painting my skin. It's also a way of saying that I respect God's work so much that I'm not going to mess with it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Review of "Worthless Women" and the authors who create them

I recently ran across a popular blog posting called “Worthless women and the men who make them” written by Single Dad Laughing, a well-traveled blog about a single father (who incidentally has been divorced twice before the age of thirty) and his son. In noticing the title I decided I had to read the article, anything that started out with “worthless women” was bound to be interesting.

Allow me to sum up this badly written and absurdly long blog post written by a man who obviously knows quite a bit about women (sorry for the sarcasm). Single dad laughing makes the claim that women only think of themselves as worthless; he proposes that the reason for this is that men too readily enjoy the “fake” women that grace our media. His solution to this problem of errant looking? Men should stop looking. Now all of this appears palatable doesn’t it? That’s when we encounter the underlying message that tears down his argument, he believes that it is ONLY once men stop behaving this way that women can change the way they view themselves. As he states in regards to the ability of women to change this view of their self-wroth by themselves, “I don't know how it is possible so long as we, as men, stop and look. So long as I stop and look. In fact, I'm certain that it is not. A woman can tell herself that those images are fake until the sun goes down, but at the end of the day, her self-talk will barely matter….If men never stopped. If men never looked. Do you honestly think women would have this problem? Think about that. Would these magazines even exist if men weren't interested in the fakeness splashed across their covers? Women would not care. They would feel no need to live up to a digital standard of beauty because there would be no reason to do so. Not if it was something we didn't want” (Single Dad Laughing Paragraph 47 and 67).

One, I think his tone here of “I am God’s gift to women because I’m the only man across the United States who has realized this” is offensive and self-righteous. Second, and my biggest issue with this post, he completely negates the ability of a woman to change for herself! It is only through a man changing his viewpoint of a woman that she is able to change the way that she sees herself. Does anyone else see a problem with this ideology? I believe that people are individuals and that it is only through the self that change is possible; pushing women back onto the pedestal of helplessness is no example of progressivism and isn’t doing women any favors.

Now, I see that his intentions here are probably good, he means I think to change the negative media that demands women be tall, leggy blonds with a 26” waist and D-cup bra. I agree, however, my ability to see myself as worthwhile isn’t dependent on a man’s ability to do so and I think telling women that you are only beautiful when a man tells you that you are, is just a destructive and backwards and damaging as telling them they have to achieve your standards of beauty. It pushes women once again into the spot of the dependent, and worse yet, as the mental dependent of a man.

The fact of the matter is this man operates within the same faulty logic as do the people he is decrying. Later on his post, despite his claims that this negative view of women’s bodies is mostly the fault of men, he still throws the blame back to women and says, “And what do you say, women? Throw us a freaking bone? Give us something we can believe in? Give us the women we so desperately want to cherish? "Real" women with "real" love for themselves? All you have to do is stop. And look. Look at reality. Look at what you want. Look at what needs to be changed. Look at the problems you're making worse instead of better. And, never, not even once, let those self-loathing statements listed above enter your thoughts. Certainly never let them escape your lips “(Par 78).

First off, don’t tell me what to do, don’t ever tell me what I can and cannot think. Secondly, you demand that I give you a real woman? So if a woman does struggle with her self-image suddenly she is no longer a “real” woman? She no longer has any self-worth in your eyes? Weird, I thought that you were arguing against that idea.

Next in his post he demands that men “need” women to be this way. “We need you to be beautiful. Because beautiful you are (Par 70).” So first he asserts that men must change women, however in order for men to make this positive change, they “need” women to be “real” and “beautiful”. I think that here he does men a disservice as well. He seems to believe that men are also incapable of viewing women differently by themselves, men too cannot change without first women changing themselves. His solution is therefore not really a solution, merely a catch 22 where neither gender can ever change the way they think about women. If the world were to follow this model nothing positive would ever be achieved because before people can think better of the other, the other must think better of themselves and before they can do that, the first people must first think better of the other.

Now to add the cherry on top of his logical fallacies he once again demands that despite his previous claims, it really is the fault of women if men think badly of them. He says, “I can't believe I am going to say what I am about to say. I can't believe I actually do want what I am about to ask. But I do. Desperately. So, I'm going to throw it out there. I think we need women to wear clothing that shows a little less instead of a little more. We need women to wear pants that are a little looser instead of a little tighter. We need women to put their boobs back inside of their shirts. I feel crazy even saying it (I'm a single guy for crying out loud), but maybe if women gave everybody a little less to compare, this whole thing would be a little easier for us all, no matter what our chromosomal make-up” (Par 72). Apparently if I would like Mr. Single Dad Laughing to change the way I view MYSELF I must first change everything about MYSELF. I need to stop wearing clothing that might be a little tight, because that would make everything easier for HIM.

I have a question though Single Dad Laughing, if I don’t wear clothing that meets YOUR explicit instructions, does that mean I’m worthless?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I'm a Woman, and I'm not High-pitched

I'm probably going to make a few enemies with this post, but there are some myths out there that are just too offensive to go ignored. And tonight I once again encountered one of those myths - at a church dating workshop.

Now, I suspected the workshop wouldn't be my cup of tea, even before I went. Based on the way many people in my community speak about gender, I had a feeling this workshop would cast men and women in the traditional roles of bold male hunter and flirtatious damsel in distress. But what can I say - I'm morbidly fascinated by these stereotype-informed, pseudo-scientific presentations. I knew that if nothing else the presentation would amuse me. Well, it did. But the audience's reaction to our dating sage's advice did not amuse me.

Who is this guru who has me irritated and bold enough to publicly complain? Well, the dating coach is a woman named Alisa Goodwin Snell. She's published such gems as Dating Secrets for Marrying a Good Man and Want to Marry a Good Man? Here's How.You can read more about her on her website.  While I admire Snell's drive and her dedication to helping people develop safe and healthy relationships, her tips rely on stereotypes that leave unconventional men and women out in the cold.

While she provided some rather good tips on how to effectively communicate interest to a potential romantic interest, particularly in terms of body language (taking a step forward, for instance), she undid much of the understanding she tried to build between genders by stubbornly representing men and women in stereotypes. According to her, men care more about being trusted and respected in a relationship than anything else, while women care more about feeling safe and secure. Yet, when she asked each gender to say what they valued most in a relationship... not even a majority of the group gave her the answers she was expecting. But that didn't stop her from pretending they had agreed with her.

Personally, I value a man showing me respect more than anything else. How could I even begin to feel safe and secure anyway if a man didn't respect me? But Alisa Snell didn't even build potential exceptions into her dialogue. She provided a handout that listed the 17 secrets to understanding the male and female psychology, and each item on the list built upon that main stereotype. What did this handout teach us? That women want immediate relationships, men love to feel like heroes, women like receiving gifts, and men like talking about things and activities rather than ideas and people. Again, her narrative did not leave room for exceptions or acknowledge that these traits may vary depending on class, socioeconomics, race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, biology, education, etc.

Then she gave us advice on how to initiate romance with the opposite gender. (Since her audience is comprised of LDS young single adults, she only talked about heterosexual dating. Given who her audience was, I think that's fitting, though I know some members of the gay rights movement would disagree with me on this point). Her advice to men seemed well-received by the entire audience. She gave them tips on how to come across as confident, and most of the tips related to body language and wording. She kept warning men that they couldn't come across as "too nice," a point that I found disturbing, but mainly because she never defined what she meant by "too nice" and thus may have unintentionally given a few men license to act like jerks. All in all, though, her advice to men seemed empowering. She was teaching them how to be confident in order to appeal to women.

And then she gave the women advice. Because men "like femininity" (as her handout on the male psychology explained), her advice to women focused on how to act more feminine. It hardly needs saying that there's a real problem in a dichotomy that instructs men to act confident and women to act feminine. Not only is femininity impossible to define - I'm pretty sure that as a woman I am by definition already feminine - but she helped us hear what a feminine voice sounds like by taking her voice back and forth between what she called "business-like" on one end of the spectrum, and "feminine" on the other end. There was no similar spectrum to show men the difference between a business-like voice and a masculine (or confident, since that's what she was telling them to be) voice.

When some of the women in the room bristled at her recommendation to talk in a high-pitched "feminine" voice, she told us that she hears two main complaints about this piece of advice and then offered her rebuttals:

1. She said that women say, "I'm not that kind of person. I don't talk like that," but that all women talk that way to babies and that they should also talk that way to the men they're interested in. When I later told some other girls in the audience that I don't talk to babies in a high-pitched voice, they said, "Yes you do." Even though they've never seen me around babies. Somehow, the fact that most men also talk to babies in high-pitched voices never came up. But I can see why she wouldn't mention that - after all, you can't let facts get in the way of a marketable stereotype.

2. A few women in the audience said that they don't want to sound ditzy or superficial. Alisa explained that women who talk in high-pitched voices only sound superficial or ditzy when they're trying to get everyone in the room to pay attention to them, but that if a woman directs that voice at a particular man, that voice will make him feel good about himself and not draw attention to her. No, I'm not making this up. She actually said this stuff.

Alisa then proceeded to act out how a woman could get a man to ask for her number and how a man could continue to persist even after a woman had given him a clear 'no.' When a woman in the audience asked for Alisa's perspective on asking a man out, Alisa explained how to do so. Here's the gist of it:

"I feel a little embarrassed, because this is really hard, but there's this Christmas party coming up at my work. And when I was thinking over all the guys I know, you seemed like someone who would make it really fun. Do you think you could help me out and go as my date?"

And then, "I never know how to do this when the girl asks - would you mind picking me up? Should I call you, or would you like to call me? Calling must be so scary! I don't know how you guys do it, I'd get so nervous!"

Remember, all of this was said in a high-pitched, breathy voice.

Now, am I saying that her advice is bad for everyone? Absolutely not. I actually found some really excellent tidbits in her presentation, and a lot of the other people in the room seemed to find her advice even more helpful. She offered great advice on how to use precise wording for the best effect, helpful ideas about using body language to help others feel comfortable, and excellent ideas on how to keep up a positive attitude in the face of dating failures.

But the bulk of her advice came back to the idea that men should present themselves as heroes and that women should present themselves as damsels in distress in order to make it easier for men to feel like heroes. And you know what? The men in the room quite vocally agreed. If that dating model works for most of the people who were there tonight, then hey - I'm sure that's great for them.

As for me and my voice, we will not be affecting a high-pitched, damsel-in-distress routine anytime soon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Silent Male Survivors and the Stigma of Victimhood

I certainly didn't expect to stumble upon this topic when I started researching trauma theory for my Women's Lit class. Like any other grad student, I started my research at EBSCO, typing in some pretty generic terms, such as trauma, to see where it would lead me. And one of the first studies that showed up was from Journal of Loss and Trauma, a study by Ramona Alaggia, titled " Disclosing the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse: A Gender Analysis." Since one of my favorite ways to apply a feminist theoretical lens to literature is to look at it through the lens of the social sciences, I figured this study would be helpful.

But the study was also surprising - it raised some surprising issues about how gender can impact a survivor or victim as he or she decides whether or not to disclose the traumatic experience. While the study used a relatively small sample (30 adult survivors of childhood abuse, 19 of whom were female and 11 of whom were male) and shouldn't be generalized to describe the experience of all survivors of child sexual abuse, their findings merit further discussion, particularly what they found about which factors prevent male survivors from disclosing their experiences and which factors prevent female survivors from disclosing.

While there were a lot of consistent factors, such as how close the survivor was to the perpetrator and to other adults who may have been able to help, Alaggia found a few key differences. The three main factors that prevented men from disclosing were a fear of being viewed as weak and effeminate, a fear of being seen as homosexual (since many of the male victims were abused by men), and a fear of becoming (or being viewed as) an abuser.  For women, the main factors preventing them from disclosing were a fear of not being believed and/or being blamed, and a conflicted sense of who was responsible for the abuse. 

While each of these factors is a serious issue, worth full discussion in its own post, let's hone in on the male fear of being seen as weak or effeminate. Sometimes people tell me that I shouldn't be a feminist, because I should be concerned about the problems that face men, and not just the problems that face women. But I cannot express enough just how much men are hurt by the policies and beliefs that hurt women. Female infanticide? It deprives men of daughters, sisters, brides, and friends. Unequal wages? It hurts male dependents of female bread winners. Devaluing women? That stigmatizes every male who aspires to a vocation or personal trait that has been labelled feminine. 

So we can't devalue women and femininity without hurting men in the process. If being seen as a victim makes a person seem weak, then boy, do we ever have some sorting out to do. An abuser is the one who's weak. The person who survives abuse is typically left with some damaging scars, but he or she is scarred because of the Hell that is abuse, not because he or she is inherently weak. Nobody, no matter how strong, survives abuse without some deep scars.

One question I have after reading this study is whether victimhood is stigamatized by femininity, or femininity is stigmatized by victimhood. That is, between the two characteristics, which is the most stigmatized?
Chances are it's a combination of both factors, but I think it's pretty easy to start thinking more highly of the conquering or privileged group, simply because they appear to be strong, smart, and successful - why wouldn't they, when they've had the luxury of defining intelligence, strength, and success? And we even see this rhetoric echoed in pop culture

But the hammer-and-nail dichotomy Simon and Garfunkel provide in this song is a false one - as they may very well have intended when they wrote these lyrics. Not being on top doesn't mean you're on the bottom, and even if you are on the bottom of the social hierarchy, that fact in no way makes you less worthy than the people at the very top of the social hierarchy. 

So please, for the sake of men and women alike, don't think of victimhood and survivorhood as a "weak" or "feminine" thing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Easy A: Feminist Film Review

I was skeptical about a movie that had the word "Easy" in the title, but the protagonist's wit won me over, since it set her up as an interesting individual, rather than one of the stock Barbie Doll characters you find in most chick flicks (When in Rome, anyone?). So, here is my review of the movie.

In case you didn't watch the above trailer, let me tell you the premise: Olive (Emma Stone), a good but quiet and unnoticed girl, accidentally establishes a reputation as someone who sleeps around. At first she enjoys the attention, but pretty quickly she discovers that the men she's pretending to sleep with are the only ones profiting from this arrangement. While they become popular and get more dates, she only gets more solicitations for fake dates (and worse). This whole scenario is complicated by Marianne (Amanda Bynes), a Christian girl who makes it her goal in life to either save Olive or send her to Hell trying.

While the film loses a few feminist points by portraying religious people as zealots - the only religious people we see are Marianne and her equally judgmental father - it nevertheless produces an overall feminist-friendly feel. It accomplishes this end mostly through portraying the sexual double standard that hurts so many women, and it it earns extra points for providing examples of cruel behavior in men and women alike. After all, Olive's best friend is the one who gets the rumors started in the first place, and it doesn't take long for the friend to turn on her.

I'd also call this a pro-family film, in the sense that Olive has a good relationship with her parents. They trust her, and they're willing to stand up for her, but when they start worrying that something is going wrong they let her know that they're worried. Also, while it's a love interest who initially offers to help Olive out of the mess she's found herself in, Olive follows his offer by choosing to turn to her mother for advice. So there's no damsel-in-distress ending. Also, I want to point out that men aren't demonized in this film - there are several examples of very good men, along with examples of men who aren't trying to hurt people but nevertheless do.

Also, instead of portraying people who actually sleep around as the real culprits - which easily could have happened in a movie about a protagonist who is wrongly accused of doing something she didn't really do - the movie makes people who do sleep around seem sympathetic. For one, Olive's mother admits that before  meeting Olive's father she slept with a lot of people, which brings women who actually sleep around into the fold of people who are kind to Olive. Also, Olive comes to look and act like women who sleep around, and when the viewer sees how people mistreat her as a result of that reputation, it would be pretty difficult for the viewer not to feel sympathetic for anyone who is mistreated in those ways.

Now, one downside of the film is that it's set in a predominantly white, upper middle class location. It certainly doesn't address any racial or class issues. And that's a real drawback - the cast is mostly white. Almost surprisingly mostly white. And that drawback, along with the negative portrayal of religious people, hold it back quite a bit in terms of global feminist concerns.

However, as a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, this movie really hits the nail on the head. So, I'm gonna give it a B+ in terms of Feminist Friendly values.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The "Normal" Religion

Since I've been quiet on the blog lately, let me give you all a quick heads-up about what's happening: I currently live in Germany, and I'm doing domestic abuse victim/survivor advocacy, outreach, and education for the U.S. Army. Go figure.

Our theme for the month being religion, I thought it'd be worthwhile to raise religions other than Islam. Not that there aren't a lot of fascinating and troubling things going on with power dynamics, oppression, and sex and gender within Islam and within the non-Muslim American media and public eye- but I think we tend to forget that our quest to fix all Others (religious and otherwise) usually eclipses some of the glaring problems within the systems and structures that are considered Us.

Some of you may know that the US military permits service members to specify a wide variety of religious preferences on their dog tags and paperwork, so they can get the service they'd prefer in the event of an untimely death. Everyone from Wiccans to Atheists to Catholics to Buddhists can, in theory, receive this treatment. But what about during life?

At work, we were cleaning out our storage warehouse last week. My program is part of Army Community Services (ACS), which offers everything from volunteer opportunities to community programming. In the piles of broken and wasted stuff that people had bothered to store, we found a whole pile of Christmas supplies- fake trees, ornaments, Santa decorations, etc. My colleagues were excited, especially since the Christmas supplies were right next to the Mardi Gras beads and noisemakers, and a few boxes over we found some cheap Easter bunnies and a bag of Halloween masks. It was a full year's worth of holidays! All that was missing were the turkeys for Thanksgiving, which someone explained had been thrown away the year before, and the 4th of July decorations, which were still in our offices. We had even thrown away an old box of Valentine's Day hearts. Great! Right?

Where, I wanted to know, were the Hannukah supplies? The Kwaanza candles? Why, in this supply warehouse of junk, didn't we find a single item to represent a non-Christian winter holiday?

I understand that there's a backlash to what's been dubbed the "Holiday PC Police" and that many people, the vast majority of whom are either Christian or celebrate Christmas, are annoyed that Hannukah and Kwaanza are gaining visibility in the Christmas shuffle. The flip side is that there are plenty of people who celebrate these holidays who want them left a-bloody-lone by the corporate sharks looking to exploit holidays for a quick buck. I understand all this.

But what shocked me is how completely blind ACS was to the diversity in its own community. ACS is ostensibly proud to serve every member of the garrison, not just the ones who have wounded family members or who need emergency financial relief or who are about to relocate. These are events that are supposed to draw the community together. I'm not sure that I'm suggesting that ACS start offering events for all religious holidays; rather, I'm highlighting my concern that non-Christian holidays weren't even a blip on my colleagues' radars. It's not as though the Army refuses enlistment to anyone with a religious preference outside of Christianity. So where's the support for the Jewish military family during Rosh Hashanah, for example, or Yom Kippur? What kinds of community events are set up to support Muslim military families as they fast during Ramadan?

It's not just ACS, I've been noticing, but it's the military culture in general. Bases have chapels- non-denominational religious spaces that are intended to be used for a variety of religious services. What they usually offer, however, is three or four different Christian services per week. Sometimes, there will be a chapel that's structured to be appropriate for a temple service. But I have yet to hear about services being offered for Muslim service members or their families, for polytheistic belief systems, or for the Wiccan service members who had to argue even to have their beliefs recognized by the military. In short, Christianity- and Christian-based lifestyles- are the unspoken metric of what's "normal" in a military community, and everyone else is asking for exceptional treatment.

The military is a culture unto itself, and that's important to recognize. Living this close to, or in, the military is most assuredly not the same as living in any other community in the States. But in many ways it's a useful litmus test for how the government views the culture(s) of the governed, and how it ranks them. Overseas, the government is concerned with providing service members and their families with as many of the amenities of home as possible- but how successful is it if many of those service members have to go off-base to find one of the most basic amenities, a religious community?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Respectful Gems from Several Faiths

 A Guest Post by Jonathon

"Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; and whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; and whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen."
                –Doctrine & Covenants 91 (A book of sacred text, a holy text particular to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
"Many years ago in the Orient, there lived a man who owned a ring of inestimable worth, which had been given to him by a cherished hand. The stone was an opal in which a hundred colors sparkled and which had the mysterious quality of rendering pleasing to both God and man the bearer who was confident of its power. Small wonder, then, that this man in the Orient never removed it from his finger and arranged to keep it in his family forever in the following manner.

"He bequeathed the ring to the most beloved of his sons and specified that that son in turn bequeath it to the son dearest to him and that always the most cherished son, regardless of his birth rank, would be the head, the master of the house, thanks alone to the power of the ring.

"Thus this ring was passed from son to son and eventually to a father of three sons, all equal in their obedience to him, whom he, therefore, could not but love equally. Only from time to time, it seemed to him that the first, then the second, and finally the third son seemed most deserving of the ring-whenever one or the other found himself alone with the father and the other two did not share the outpouring of his heart; and he even had, in moments of benevolent weakness, promised the ring to each of them. This continued as long as it was possible.

"When the time came for him to die, the good father found himself in difficulties. It hurt him to offend two of his sons who trusted his word. What was he to do? He secretly sent for an artist, whom he ordered to make the two most precise replicas possible of the ring, without regard to labor or cost.

"That artist was successful. Upon receiving the rings, even the father could not discern the true ring. With relief and joy, be called each son individually, gave his blessing to each, bequeathed his ring, and died.
"No sooner had the father died, than each son came with his ring, wanting to be master of the house. There were interrogations, quarrels, complaints, all for naught. The identity of the true ring was not to be proven, in just the same way as the identity of the true faith is concealed from us."
“Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”
– Gordon B. Hinkley (Former religious leader and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
"Islamic life revolves around five basic principles that are outlined in general terms in the Qur’an and expounded in the teachings and customs (Arabic, sunna) of Muhammad. These five pillars are the witness of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Some examples of Muhammad’s teachings on charitable giving and fasting will illustrate his manner of teaching and his central role in Muslim life.
The principle of almsgiving is designed to care for the poor and to foster empathy in the community of believers. The Qur’an states that charity and compassion, not mechanical observance of rituals, define one’s worthiness in God’s sight (2:177). Muhammad’s sayings clearly teach the practice of charity:

'None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.'

'Each person’s every joint must perform a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step you take to prayers is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is charity.'

'Charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.'

'Smiling to another person is an act of charity.'

'He who sleeps with a full stomach knowing that his neighbor is hungry [is not a believer].'

"Muslims view fasting as having a dual purpose: to bring about a state of humility and surrender of one’s soul to God, and to foster compassion and care for the poor in the community. Thus, fasting and almsgiving go hand in hand: denying of oneself cannot be complete without giving of oneself.

"I was reminded of this principle among Muslims, and the profound influence of Muhammad’s example in their lives, while living in Cairo, Egypt, during the holy month of fasting, Ramadan. 21 My family and I were invited by a Muslim friend, Nabil, to participate in his family’s evening meal in which they broke their fast. As we entered their modest apartment in one of the most impoverished quarters of Cairo, I noticed that one of the rooms was occupied by numerous peasant women (distinguishable by their black clothing) and their children. They were all sitting on the floor with food spread out before them on a cloth, quietly waiting for the call to prayer that marks the end of fasting each day. When I asked if they were his relatives, he replied: 'No, I don’t know any of them. It is our habit to invite strangers off the street who cannot afford good food to share our Ramadan meal. We do this because it was one of the customs of our prophet, Muhammad.'

"I was deeply moved by my Muslim friend’s unselfishness and compassion for the poor, and humbled by his good example in practicing a principle that I had learned from the Bible years before but had rarely observed: 'When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; … but when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee'"
- J.A. Toronto 
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
               - Mother Teresa
There is very little that I can say that would add to the words of these wise and dear women and men. As I was discussing religious intolerance with a friend, I suddenly became aware of how blessed I was to have grown up in a family environment that cherished truth and taught the truth. It was not so important where that truth came from, although my parents were well aware of the knowledge the gospel of Christ provided, rather it was simply important that the truth encouraged myself and my siblings to love one another and to serve one another. While I was on my mission, I came in contact with Jehovah Witness material and I realized that my mom taught us and read to us from some of those books. She also read to us from illustrated bibles that were written by other christian faiths. The best book I remember as a child was a book about virtues as taught by religious and uplifting stories throughout history. When I was old enough to learn about Buddhism and other eastern customs, my mom took time to answer my questions with a very simple response that encouraged me to seek for truth and trust in the Spirit of Christ to guide me.

Because of that teaching, my life has been blessed with many wonderful experiences that I would not have had if I had been biased. Even during the September 11 attacks, both my parents were quick to follow the council of our late Prophet Gordon B. Hinkley and draw a clear line between the religion of Islam and the extremist groups that were responsible for the attacks. That teaching blessed my mind and heart while I was on my LDS Mission to Germany. I was blessed to meet with many Muslims and learn from them the truths that we shared. I was encouraged by their pious and humble attitude towards prayer to again humble myself and attempt to strip my pride away–still an ongoing battle for me. I don't understand why we can look at others and see their good and bad without seeing in them a mirror of our own strengths and weaknesses and realize that we are kinsmen on this journey towards perfection. We are truly brothers and sisters. How can I love my brothers and sisters while I make a mockery of their journey? How can I see them as my beloveds without understanding that regardless of religions or beliefs or values we are all on the same journey. We are walking the same path and as the Pilgrim's Promise teaches, we are all at different stages along that path. We should not envy those ahead nor despise those behind but look to our God and be saved.

Jonathan is not a writer nor a outspoken leader of his community. He hasn't earned the distinction of changing the fabric of his citizenry or turning heads with his wild antics. Jonathan is self-serving and soft-spirited. He enjoys the fine things in life and is an advocate of right–that is as far as he has been able to define it himself. If you want to learn more about this gentle fellow and his self-proclaimed depthful thoughts visit one of his blogs. Depthful Thoughts or The Golf Instructor.