Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arizona Immigration (from Erica)

This is a quick post to direct your attention towards an eloquent op-ed piece written by Elizabeth Kapnick, a student at an Ohio high school that canceled its women's basketball team's field trip to Arizona in protest over Arizona's new immigration law. The decision has riled team members, students, and parents, and has drawn heavy fire from political figures across the country- especially leaders in conservative media.

Kapnick's piece illustrates some of the very real challenges presented by the presumed alternative- allowing the team to make its field trip in spite of the law- and does so in a way that drives home some of the more frightening aspects of Arizona's immigration law. I highly recommend taking a look at it, particularly since it's better-written and more thoughtful than most of the articles- news or opinion- than you're likely to find anywhere else.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In the Blogosphere (from Emily)

 First up, here's a post from the archives of Womanist Musings that discusses how McDonald's has produced a creepily sexualized female version of Ronald McDonald. Anyone else sick of women being equated with sexuality, and men being equated with libido?

Next, here's a more recent post from Womanist Musings that discusses the moral ramifications of Lawrence Taylor sleeping with an underage woman who had been coerced into prostitution. He's defending himself by saying, "well, I asked how old she was, and she said 19," a story that is backed by the victim. The problem? She supposedly looks a whole lot younger, and she had obviously been abused before showing up in his hotel room. Is it reasonable for Johns to excuse themselves for sleeping with underage prostitutes by saying "I didn't know," when that loophole is the very thing pimps depend upon when they forbid the underage prostitutes to tell their true ages? I like this post because it discusses how wrong it is for people to discuss prostitution in terms of the women involved in it, when most research reveals that the women involved in prostitution are usually victims who didn't really choose to enter this line of work. Johns and pimps are far more accountable for that institution than the prostitutes.

And last up, here's a post that Jon (if you're following the blog, you've probably read some of his comments) wrote about what it means to be a man. He gets into some interesting questions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Historical Woman Writers and Contemporary Comedy (from Emily)

Carl The Open-minded Chauvinist may have earned himself a new nickname by passing this link onto me. So, let's start over. My good friend Carl emailed me the link to this delightful video. If only all action figures were this cool.

And speaking of woman writers, here is a Colbert video where he talks about Jane Austen. You'll need to skip to about 1:45 and then watch till about 3:30 if you just want to watch the Jane Austen portion.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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And here is a delightful clip of my favorite contemporary writer, Margaret Atwood.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Call for Stories about Mothers (from Emily)

I meant to write this last night, but it's never too late to talk about mothers, now is it?

In honor of Mother's Day in the US, I'd like to invite everyone to share stories and insights about motherhood and the mothers they've encountered in their lives. I want to remind everyone too that not all people who mother actually raise their own biological children. 

The biological mothers in my lineage are very important to me, because I owe my spiritual heritage to them. The story goes that my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother each joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while my grandmother was still young. My grandmother went off to BYU (a church-sponsored university where I'm currently enrolled in grad school), but when she ran out of money for school she joined the Air Force in order to get funding for her education. When she met and married my grandfather, she stopped attending church and never finished college, but she never stopped believing the gospel was true. She still taught gospel principles to her children.

When my mother was in high school, she decided  she wanted to join the church. She contacted some missionaries and told them she wanted to join the church - which probably made their day, their week, their month, and their year. After awhile her sister joined the church too. Meanwhile my paternal grandmother joined the church long enough to introduce her son to my mother. While that part of the story didn't turn out so well, by joining the church even briefly my paternal grandmother did bring some of her grandchildren to a stabilizing and inspiring source that they would desperately need as her son descended into a debilitating illness.

But I didn't just have my mother and my biological grandmothers - I attended my aunt's daycare while I was little, and she helped shape my character from a young age. This aunt isn't related to me by blood, but she might as well be. Then there was my mother's sister, who lived just across the road from us. She's always stepped in and helped everyone in our extended family in any way she could. Not to mention all my other aunts. And I was lucky enough to know three of my great grandmothers, in addition to having an extra grandmother (my paternal grandfather's second wife).

Outside of my family, many other women guided and shaped me. I can't even begin to list the many teachers, both at church and at school, who influenced me, so I'm going to focus on two women who never had children but instead devoted themselves to young people in their communities. The first is a Math teacher from my high school. Let's call her Ms. Z. She introduced me to Flatland, a book that changed the way I look at the world, and she always came to class full of energy and prepared. She demanded a lot from her students, but we rose to her challenge and learned.  The other teacher I'd like to talk about is Madame S., a French teacher who sadly passed away last year. She was a brilliant lady who paid for college with national merit scholarships, and she loved her students even more than she loved French. When she wasn't teaching, she spent a lot of time working with the youth group at a local church. She inspired many students during her lifetime.

The other day I was talking with some friends about how strong women are. How, despite the stereotype that women are weak and men are strong, many women and mothers find that they've been abandoned by the men in their lives and left to hold things together on their own. Whether the abandonment is emotional, social, financial or physical, it hits many women. In some communities, grandmothers are essential in helping young mothers raise children without the children's father. And programs like micro financing are increasingly discovering that they can improve a family's economic prospects more by investing in mothers than by investing in fathers. Sorry gentleman, but that's just the way it is in general. So, here's to strong women. Strong women who step in and do what they need to do in order to hold families together. Strong women who have no traditional family but build families among friends and co-workers. Strong women who fight for social and economic changes where they see worthy causes. Strong women who know how to put the most important things first.

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all our readers, and to all those who aren't our readers but who are mothers anyway! We all know that the holiday has become yet another commercialized annual event intended to make corporations a lot of money, but it started from a desire to honour women whose sons were killed during the Civil War. Somewhere in between the two is a holiday that pays respect to all the (often unacknowledged) things that mothers- whether by birth, law, action, or love- do for those in their care.

So to that end, here's a huge shout-out from those of us at Not Another Wave to the women (trans, genderqueer, and cis) who have made a difference by dedicating their time, energy, resources, and love to raising children- those that they birthed or adopted, and those that they've taken under their wing. We'd like to give a special thanks to our own mothers, who have each struggled with their own choices and responsibilities while trying to give us the best opportunities possible. Thank you for all the positive things you've done for us.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Name Game, part two

Name-changing is a complicated subject for couples of any stripe. But when you throw present or future kids into the mix, things get even messier. As a follow-up to my previous post on last names and marital partnerships, here's further food for thought!

While the traditional route is that a woman marries a man, takes his last name, and then gives his last name to their children, it's a lot more complicated today- especially when the mother (because, for the purposes of this discussion, we're assuming a male-female couple) chooses not to change her last name. What implications does that have for her children's last names? And, more importantly, what implications does that have for her parental rights and responsibilities?

There are so many options available these days, you'd think that people would hardly blink at last names. Many parents with different last names hyphenate their children's names- in which case there's a whole new debate to be had about whose name comes first- but many others pick one parent's name or even combine their last names into a whole new name. I grew up in a family where my sister and I were given our dad's last name, while our mom kept her own. This was pretty common for my friends whose parents had made similar choices regarding their own names- when the mother kept her name, the kids usually got his. A couple of my friends growing up had hyphenated names, but for the most part, many of us had only one. And, if I remember correctly, all of us had our father's last name.

The politics behind such a choice are obviously individual, but do play into a collective trend. For some, the choice has to do with the fact that the last name acts as a surrogate bond between the children and father for the bond created between children and mother by the process of pregnancy and childbirth. "I carried you for 40 weeks and then laboured for you, so this was his contribution," the argument seems to go. Of course, surrogacy and adoption don't really fall into this argument with any sort of neatness, and again the politics of last names brings us to the historical Western tendency to view women and children as the property of male heads of the household.

There's also a problem when children become older and travel with one parent at a time- whether the parents remain together or are separated. When I was about 11, my mom took my sister and me up to Montreal for a brief trip. In order to do this, she had to carry our birth certificates and a notarized document stating that she had our dad's permission to take us abroad. The reason for this, according to the border officials, was that mom's last name wasn't the same as ours. As she ranted later, our aunt- who had taken my dad's family name when she'd married my uncle- would have been able to take us across the border without anyone batting an eye. Nowadays, with heightened awareness about the risks of parental kidnapping, this reasoning may have been different. At the time, however, it was a reflection of the belief that all members of a family ought to share a last name. Similarly, mom generally had to go through a more rigorous process of proving herself to be our parent when she wanted to accomplish anything within our school district, simply because our last names didn't match.

These aren't necessarily challenges that will go away anytime soon, either. When the reverse happens- when children have their mother's last name but not their father's- there's certainly a kerfluffle not only because of the tendency to view the father as somehow weak or wrong, but also because of the social phobia we have about men with children that aren't obviously theirs. This is something I expect my cousin will face as her daughter grows up- she and her husband chose to assign their children's last name on the basis of the first child's assigned sex, and since their first child was assigned female, their kid(s) will have her last name. While her husband is a wonderful person and parent, I would not be surprised if he faces suspicion from institutions when he picks her up, takes her on father-daughter trips, or does anything- however innocently- that involves just him and her in public.

I would also expect that, unless she looks a lot like him as she grows up, the public assumption will be that she's his stepdaughter because their last names don't match. And I'd be willing to bet that, if she shared his last name but not her mother's, no one would assume that she was my cousin's stepdaughter.

I'm not sure what else to write on this topic, since a lot of it mirrors what was said previously. The social tendency to view women and their children as the property of a male partner is pretty deeply ingrained in our general cultural norms, even if it's not our conscious philosophy, and is reflected in the way we create expectations for individuals and treat those who defy them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Name Game (from Erica)

In the process of moving from the US to Germany, my partner and I have retained the services of a company who will pack our belongings, do all our paperwork, and ship the boxes to our new apartment (yes, I can do my own work, but before you judge me, note that this has been taking place while I've been finishing two master's degrees, job hunting, and planning a wedding). Both Nick and I have been communicating with the company via email, so they have both our (full) names, but when the movers called me a couple of days ago to confirm some details, they asked for "Mrs. T" (name changed for privacy). Let me be clear: my name is Ms. L. While I wasn't hugely aggravated at the time, I did give myself a status update on Facebook on the topic...and got a whole world of feedback. Some, like Emily, agreed that the assumption of my marital status and last name was aggravating at best. Others, like my future brother-in-law and an old acquaintance of Nick's, told me they'd been thinking of me as Erica T since they'd met me and I should get used to it.

Here's the thing: I don't WANT to change my name. My name is a point of pride. It's tricky to spell and pronounce correctly on the first try, in spite of only having four letters, and when you spend your lifetime correcting people who mess it up, it's hard to let go of that piece of identity. I've built a professional reputation on this name. My name is a statement about where I'm from and who I'm from. The odds of me letting something like a wedding change that are pretty damn low.

But all this got me thinking about our maintenance of the cultural norm that women change their last names when they get married. Historically, even before last names existed, a woman who got married left her family behind and became a member of her husband's family. The status of women as people or property notwithstanding, this was a trend that continued long after last names became fashionable. A woman getting married became either her husband's property or a fixture of his family, but either way was expected to leave behind many aspects of her old life and connections in favour of being absorbed into his. The changing of the name was the outward signifier of this intricate practice.

Of course, today this is somewhat different. Most women in our society aren't expected to abandon their old lives entirely, just because they get married, and the acquisition of in-laws isn't expected to change one's ties to her parents. However, the name game goes on, albeit differently than it used to. Many women use their "maiden names" as their new middle name, or hyphenate their last name with their husband's. Plenty others, of course, continue to choose to change their last names and leave their old ones behind. And there are many reasons for this- dislike of the old name, like of the new name, personal philosophies about families uniting and becoming one- but the fact remains that it's still primarily women who are expected to make these changes, both by their partners and by broader culture.

When Nick and I first addressed this question, I had a pretty clear idea of what changes I would be comfortable with. It was out of the question for me to change my last name entirely, but I thought the idea of hyphenating was great- if we both did it. From my point of view, we were both entering into this marriage and both choosing to make a life together, and thus if our last names were going to reflect that, then they should include both. Nick was open to this idea, but put off by the enormous amounts of paperwork involved, and we wound up deciding to keep our own names. I found it interesting, unsurprising, and frustrating that when we started this conversation, it was clear that his opinion- "You can do whatever you want with your name"- was informed by the fact that he unconsciously viewed the situation as MY responsibility and not HIS (or, for that matter, OURS). Name-changing, he was unwittingly stating, is a woman's responsibility.

There are so many complex factors that play into this that it's worth acknowledging the limits of my situation. For many couples, particularly same-sex, name-changing on the part of one or both partners can be a really important statement of togetherness in a society that prefers to invalidate same-sex relationships. Religious traditions, or desires to share one name, can influence name-changing, and even though their roots are strongly misogynist, the individuals who adhere to them are engaging in the practice for reasons that have nothing to do with notions of women-as-property-of-men. And let's not forget that some people hate their last names, hate their birth families, or hate having to spell and pronounce their last name every time they try to make a reservation. These are all valid reasons for wanting to make a change.

What I object to is that the practice, which should be an individual choice, is assumed of all women. I wouldn't be as riled up about it if 1) no one were assuming anything about my name, 2) no one were asking me about my last name or 3) they were asking Nick if he were planning to change his name as often as they were asking me. But the fact of the matter is that they aren't. People- friends, family, the Wedding Industrial Complex, and even my movers- are presuming that my name is subject to change as soon as I've said "I do." I want to see this assumption stop, not just about me, but about all women. When individuals get married, it shouldn't be a one-way name change by default. The decision to change your name affects your career, your relationships, and your interaction with government systems like social security. Presuming that this responsibility should fall on women without giving real thought to what that means is inconsiderate at best, and at worst, it perpetuates the underlying beliefs about women and men that started the practice in the first place.

Soon, I'll be doing a post on how this choice affects decisions about children, with stories from my mother and my cousins. It's too intricate to miss!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Even Feminists Disagree (from Emily)

Ok, here it is! The promised, long-awaited, response to Erica's most recent post.

I think Erica made some really excellent points in that post, and she provided a broad overview of recent gender-related events. I agree with Erica's assessment of the article on how expensive the GOP is, in comparison to what they actually accomplish: the article would be stronger if it did the same work with the Democratic Party too.

I also really appreciated Tim Wise's article, Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black. I had never considered the politics of race from that vantage point before, and I think it is very important for everyone to consider how skin tone and ethnicity impact the way we perceive others' actions. And I'm not saying that in a "it's only racism if white people do it" kind of way. Frankly, I don't understand why anyone is offended by that article, since Wise doesn't even answer questions - he just raises them. You're free to determine your own answers to those questions. I, for one, was shocked to realize that I would personally feel more sympathetic to the Tea Party movement if it were comprised mainly of people of color. I would see their complaints as more justifiable. But I was also shocked (and horrified) to realize that the movement would frighten me more if it were comprised of individuals who didn't share my pasty skin tone. So yes, as the critics of this article point out, racism isn't only perpetuated by white people. But I've said it before, and I'll say it again - two wrongs don't make a right. This is why I get really mad when some of the people in the Womanist community say feminism doesn't matter because racism is a bigger problem than sexism, or that white people can't experience racism. And it's also why I get mad when white people dismiss reports of racism against people of color by saying "it happens to white people too." You know what my response is? Grow Up. "They started it!" hasn't worked since the first grade.

I do, however, disagree quite a bit with Erica about this sex ed campaign in the UK. I think this campaign is a horrible idea. Even if I look at it from a nonreligious viewpoint, there's no substantial scientific research to back up the theory that masturbation (or self-stimulation as the more puritanical side of me prefers to call it) will actually decrease intercourse, pregnancy, and STDs among teens. I may not know much more about sex than what they teach in high school health class, but this I know - sexual desires have  a way of building and growing. A teenager who begins stimulating those desires in him or herself is probably going to be all the more anxious to experience intercourse. I'm all for teenagers understanding their bodies and their sexual desires. Because understanding your desires allows you to bridle your passions (not destroy - just bridle them). The other reason this program really bothers me is that it didn't take parents' wishes into account. I have survived 24 years without any sort of sexual experience, whether self-stimulated or otherwise. That will obviously change when I get married, but in the meantime... it's not hurting me. It's not hampering my creativity, or preventing me from understanding myself. And some day, when I have kids, I intend to teach them to not masturbate, and not have sex out side of marriage. In my faith, sex outside the bonds of marriage is a big deal. A really big deal. And if when I have kids someone tried teaching them otherwise, I'd be very upset, because from my viewpoint, that person would be jeopardizing my children's eternal salvation. So, while I highly respect what the individuals behind this sex ed campaign are trying to do, I disagree. Entirely. In fact, the thought of that campaign makes me feel sick to my stomach, because I think it will create more problems than they can possibly imagine.

I have a more nuanced response to television networks deciding to pull the ad with a plus-sized model from family hour television. Having watched the ad, I don't think it belongs on during family hour TV. In fact, that's the kind of ad that leads to me picking up magazines in the grocery store, and rearranging them so that the more scandalous covers are not visible. But, like Erica, I'm concerned that they chose to remove this ad, when they leave up similar ads that have much thinner models in them. And at least this was an underwear ad - plenty of other commercials have no reason at all for portraying women in their underwear. So what I'm saying is that, while I personally am not comfortable with that ad showing on TV - it's still wrong that so many people would think that woman was overly sexual because she is a plus size model, when a normal (anorexic) model would have been ok by them. I'm starting to think that that old quote about beautiful women getting thinner and thinner, because someone wants them to disappear is true. As a thin woman, I know firsthand that thinness makes some people more comfortable with a woman. That it can make her seem less powerful and thus less threatening. I'm very concerned that that discomfort with powerful women is what's driven people to feel so uncomfortable with this plus size model wearing underwear on TV. And this is coming from a woman who uses cooking magazines to cover up magazines that have racy pictures women on them - at the grocery store.