Tuesday, March 30, 2010

bell hooks comes to Utah (from Emily)

I kid you not - the bell hooks came to Utah yesterday. It was her first time speaking in this state, and as you can imagine,  she did not come to my own BYU, a campus that recently published an article bragging about how BYU students in the 70s were too responsible to protest things like wars that seemed unjust to them. Instead, she went to Utah Valley University.

But the entire hour and a half that she spoke was fantastic. My only regret was that I didn't bring anything with which to record notes. I don't think UVU understood quite how big she is because they had her speaking in a relatively small room, which led to many sitting downstairs in an overflow room where they were able to watch her on a screen.

I don't feel like I can do justice to any of what she covered, because there was so much of it. But she made a couple points that I thought were just plain excellent. First of all, she said that we have got to move away from blame, and instead move toward accountability. This shouldn't be new - contrary to what pop culture portrayals of feminism may say, feminism is not about blaming men and has in fact been pushing very hard toward accountability without blame for a very long time. According to bell, many studies have found that countries that blame other countries after disasters have a much more difficult time recovering because the sense of victimhood boxes them in. Instead, we should hold others accountable for their behavior - and of course we should hold ourselves accountable for our behavior and for doing whatever is necessary to rebuild after devastation.

Another pair of terms she worked with were "equality" and "mutuality." Although she may have misjudged her LDS-influenced audience when she said that Patriarchy used to be taught at churches but that now it had made its way into homes  and was being taught there and that it should be eradicated, I think she got at principles that most people could agree with who ascribe to belief systems where the term "patriarchy" is used. She said that equality is not possible to do - but that we can attain mutuality and benefit from it more. Her example was that she hates taking out the trash, so she agreed with a former partner that she would make up for not taking the trash out in other ways. While it's not necessarily "equal" for her to clean toilets instead of taking out trash, it made both of them happier since they were able to avoid the work they most detested. I was very happy that she discussed this topic since I hate it when people assume that feminism is all about equality and that therefore I should want women pulled down to the same level that men are at in some areas (such as by signing up for the draft) in order for it to be fair for me to want women elevated in other areas. Didn't we all learn as little kids that two wrongs don't make a right? Well, two oppressions don't make liberty.

And this leads into the crux of her comments - the philosophies that drive white male supremacy hurt us in subtle ways that we don't always recognize. These philosophies operate on an us-and-them binary the requires blame above all else. If there is someone we can blame, then we can motivate groups of people to act... and yet, according to bell hooks, blame movements do not sustain themselves over time. Plus, I'd add that they blind us to our own bad behavior. She said that too often we think people are all good or all bad, but that people can be doing one thing fantastically while doing another thing horribly.

And now I'm taking off, so I can't blog about this as much right now as I'd like to! Darn! But I'll definitely get back to you on more of what bell hooks talked about.  I'd love to hear our thoughts on what I've related so far.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

That Kind of a Girl (from Emily)

The other night, some friends accused me of something I found so insulting that I instantly cried, "I am NOT that kind of a girl!" What had they accused me of? Cooking dinner for a man.

They were both shocked by how defensive I was on the issue, and as I tried to explain why that was a sensitive topic for me, and why I am uncomfortable with cooking dinner for men, they became even more confused. In the end, they criticized me for what they saw as inconsistent behavior, and they insisted that if I was ok with my roommate's brother coming over and fixing our kitchen sink, I was a hypocrite for refusing to cook dinner for a man.

And I, for my part, am still confused by their confusion. It's not like I'm anti cooking with a man on a date, or cooking for family and friends. I just refuse to prepare a meal, by myself, for a man I am on a casual date with, and I'm cautious about doing so with a boyfriend too. And I get really upset when people think I have done that very thing. A few years ago, I invited a guy I'd been on several dates with over to my apartment. I had baked bread earlier in the day, and I offered him some fresh bread and homemade jam. He later bragged to a mutual friend that I had baked bread for him, and she immediately corrected him. "That's my friend you're talking about," she said. She explained that I bake bread all the time and had probably just offered him some of the bread I'd already baked. "She is not that kind of a girl," my friend continued, "and don't you ever say that again." He promised her that if he asked me to bake some bread for him I'd do it in a heart beat. Needless to say, I didn't respond well when he asked.

Why am I so loathe to cooking food specifically for a man on a casual date? Well, I can't really explain it rationally. For some reason I just shudder at the thought of doing so. I picture a man sitting expectantly at the table, waiting for me to bring the food to him, a smug, self-satisfied look on his face. It doesn't help that my father usually did that when I was young, even though my mother worked (and he did not), or that there are a lot of men in my extended family who take the attitude that cooking and cleaning is a woman's job, even if both he and his wife are working equal hours outside the home.

And contrary to what my friends from the other night insisted my aversion to cooking for men must mean, it's not that I'm against people who are in a relationship or who are going on dates doing nice things for each other. I appreciate it when a man opens a door for me, and I love sharing the food that I cook or bake with other people, romantic interests included. If I'm in a relationship and I bake bread, I'll specifically bring some to the guy I'm dating. I'll leave nice notes for him to find, and do other little, spontaneous things. I'll unlock his car door after he's unlocked the passenger door and opened it for me. I'll grab extra napkins for him while we're grabbing food. I'll wear my hair a way I know he likes it, and humor him by playing board games or watching movies I'm not terribly fond of. Honestly, roommates who've seen me in a relationship have always been shocked by how often I'll bake something to share with a boyfriend.

So, maybe the issue here isn't that I'm unusually prickly about cooking for a man. Maybe I'm just prickly about the phrase "cook for him." Maybe it brings up images and emotions that upset me so much that even when I talk with other women who are a lot less likely to cook food with the intention of offering some to a boyfriend I end up sounding more anti it? And I become much more comfortable with the idea of cooking for a man if he first cooks for me. I got very upset when one man interpreted my invitation to a group date where we would all prepare dinner together as me offering to cook dinner for him (your words, Carl, not mine!) But when he later cooked breakfast for me, I felt much more comfortable the next time he thought I was "cooking dinner for him."

But what's really crazy about that last example, is that his idea of me cooking dinner for him was me buying the ingredients, and then him making it along with me. Which brings us back to language - am I against going through the physical act of cooking dinner for a man, or am I against some sort of cultural association I have with that language?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The History of White People

Here is a clip from last night's episode of the Colbert Report. Colbert's guest, Nell Irvin Painter is the author of The History of White People. They don't get as deep into the issues surrounding our constructions of race as I would have liked, but the interview has me as intrigued as I am amused. So, enjoy:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Nell Irvin Painter
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care reform

PS - this is also for Erica, who will remember well our many arguments over whether or not my ancestors had oppressed her ancestors. And then we discovered that we both had Catholic ancestors, which changed everything.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dating Controversies (from Emily)

We've touched on this subject before, in various posts you can find in the archives. Carl's post is particularly interesting, though you might also check out my early post on dating communication. So why am I going back to dating again? Well, as a friend of mine once put it - everyone has a strong opinion on dating, even people who have strong opinions on nothing else. And as I talked with a female friend from my ward (congregation) this evening and listened to her dating frustrations, I decided we were well over due for another post about dating. Nothing in particular - just some general romance-related controversies and confusions that we can hopefully hash out a little bit.

1. Gender roles. Now, obviously you'll have an entirely different approach to this question than I do if you are not a cisgendered heterosexual (cisgendered just means you accept the biological sex you were assigned at birth). But I'm writing from a rather conservative, traditional environment. I can tell you that I, for one, am constantly left feeling like I'm in a catch-22 where if I'm interested in a guy who hasn't asked me out I don't feel like I can make a move without him thinking I'm way serious and therefore getting uncomfortable. And as much as I can tell myself "just be yourself and ask him out if you want to," I've experienced way too much awkwardness that way in the past to want to do that. But gender roles go beyond who asks whom out - it relates to flirtation, indirect and direct ways to take the initiative, who pays, what behavior each person displays on a date, etc. What happens when two people have radically different expectations in that department?

2. What makes someone a player? A friend of mine once said that all men are players. When I countered that I knew men who were not players at all, she amended it to "all attractive men have a little player in them." I don't think that's fair of her, but then again maybe she defines player differently than I do. Is a player someone who cheats, or just someone who goes on casual dates with many people at once? Should holding hands and kissing all be exclusive? I know some people who make a rule of only kissing or holding hands with one person at once, even if they're not exclusive in terms of dating. But others like me don't kiss, hold hands, or cuddle outside an exclusive relationship. So what happens when someone like me goes on dates with someone who's in an open kissingship? (For lack of a better word) "Date and let date" is a great policy, but it can get messy pretty fast if we aren't all communicating.

3. Nontraditional relationships. I'm thinking about homosexual relationships here, but also plural relationships or open relationships. I don't have any thoughts on them, but if any of you do I'd love to hear them. I'm also going add cross-culture relationships to this list since a surprising number of people have very strong opinions on them. A lot of people even go so far to assume race and culture are one and the same when they discuss this, but I would ask you to clarify which you are discussing in your responses.

4. Dating Etiquette. This is obviously an issue that overlaps with the other areas, but it's an area that's up for constant debate. For instance, last Summer I talked with a friend who was entirely against men ever using the word "date" when they asked a woman out. I, on the other hand, was completely in favor of people using this word, particularly if the two people are friends who could get confused and wonder whether they're hanging out or something more. (See "Mix Tape" from Avenue Q).

Another dating etiquette question I discussed with friends recently is how much notice is necessary when a person initiates a date. And are last-minute dates ok? I suppose we all differ in these areas, but my personal thought is that when a person schedules plans ahead of time they communicate a whole lot of respect because it shows they respect your time and want to spend time with you enough to make plans in advance. A player ex-boyfriend once defended his decision to continue dating me while he was pursuing someone else by saying, "You were more available, and it took more work to make plans with her." I guess he thought I'd get over it just because he'd never succeeded in his attempts to court her? Anyway, call my antipathy toward last-minute dating unfair and biased if you please, but I maintain that making plans communicates respect.

As you can see, I don't exactly have a lot of answers to offer on these topics. I'm more interested in getting a lively discussion/ debate going. Please feel free to bring in topics I haven't mentioned.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Week in the News (from Emily)

This week Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a law making it a felony for women to attempt illegal abortions. He only signed it after the clause making it a felony for a miscarriage to occur through a woman's "reckless" behavior was removed, but this law still raises questions about individuals' rights. From what I can tell, this law has nothing to do with protecting women from dangerous abortions, even though it is still legal for a Utah woman to seek an abortion from a medical doctor. Why do I not see this as a measure to protect her from dangerous abortions? Well, all the legislators discussing the situation discuss it solely in terms of the rights of the unborn child. Plus, they were upset that a judge was unable to prosecute the 17-year-old who paid a man to beat her up. My question is how you can be upset over not sending someone that unstable to jail. She obviously had some serious problems.

Let's get something straight: I do not agree with abortion in general. But if someone is desperate enough to get one illegally, they're either uneducated enough or desperate enough to risk life in prison for it. This bill will not stop illegal abortions, but it will stop a lot of women from going to a hospital if the illegal abortion goes wrong.

Also in the news, a Mississippi school has cancelled prom rather than allow a female student to bring a female date to the prom. The school board initially told her she could not wear a tux since that would be cross-dressing and that only heterosexual couples were allowed to attend. When they were informed that this policy was illegal, they chose to cancel the prom, attributing their decision to recent events distracting from educational goals. Whatever anyone may personally think about homosexuality or gay marriage, I think most of us can agree that it wouldn't have hurt anyone to let this girl wear a tux and bring a female date to prom. At the high school Erica and I attended, the school simply sold up to two tickets to each person who wanted to attend our senior prom and gave no discount for date tickets, specifically because they wanted to avoid questions of what constitutes a couple. (Admittedly, I was the one who started this tradition the year before because I thought it was unfair for singles to cover more of the cost by paying more per head than couples).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

More in the Blogosphere (from Emily)

From Joe.My.God, let's look at a response Sindead O'Connor wrote in response to the Catholic church asking parishioners to donate money toward the cost of some settlements paid for pedopheliac-priest cases. I'm including this post because it raises interesting questions about the role churches play in a world that is driven by economics. Churches are nonprofit organizations, supported by charitable donations. When someone sues a church (however justifiably), the money that goes toward that lawsuit all comes from parishioners. This system of money-flow suggests that parishioners are somehow responsible for the actions of the church. So... who is really responsible for the actions of such an organization?

I also want to draw your attention to a recent post about evolutionism and creationism, from Carl The Open Minded Chauvinist, on his blog, I Feel Like Schrodinger's Cat. What does this have to do with gender? Well, how we view the origins of humanity tends to impact how we view gender differences.

Also take the time to check out the Profile of a College Rapist at www.feministe.us/blog. According to this post, suprising numbers of men admit to forcing someone to have sex against their will, and yet often do not define what they have done as rape. I think this research bears looking into, since a lot of disturbing myths about rape spread doubt in the minds of those whom victims approach for help after being raped.