Friday, February 25, 2011

The Hotty Mystique

Colbert's most recent guest, Stephanie Coontz, discusses the hotty mystique and how families have changed since the sixties.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

In the Blogosphere

First up, a nod to our friends at Go Girl Travel, especially Allie, who wrote a particularly insightful article on the way Korean women face pressure to look white.

And then there's a really infuriating Huffpo article that Womanist Musings has brought to our attention. In the original article, Tracy McMillan, a writer for Mad Men and a woman who gives people with hair like mine an unfortunately bad name, explains to single women in the US why they aren't married. The gist? Everything is wrong with you. Except, unlike a really delightful book my roommates and I are hooked on, McMillan is serious. She explains that most single women are shallow, mean, arrogant, picky, and/or teenage girls. The message is clear: if a woman isn't interested in a man, something's wrong with her. If he isn't interested in her, however - oh, that's right. Something must be wrong with her. As you could probably predict, and as the comments reveal, most of the people tweeting and praising the article are bitter men.

On a more upbeat note, Joe at Joe.My.God points out that facebook now offers more inclusive (and specific) relationship descriptions.  I knew something was up when friends started listing that they're in domestic partnerships. Whether you're entirely happy about someone's life choices or not, I think it's a nice gesture to at least acknowledge the relationships they're in.

And then there's an article titled, scandalously enough, "About a Boob or the Heremeutics of a Woman's Body," which tells the story of an author who decided to feature full frontal nudity on the cover of her book - and the controversy that she subsequently entered.

You'll find more links pertinent to feminism, posted on Racialicious. And then, if you like to laugh, here's a video from Jon Stewart that puts a humourous twist on legislative efforts to redefine rape in order to restrict abortion options:

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Followup: South Dakota

According to the New York Times, HB 1171 has been shelved indefinitely. The article's authors state that the decision was the result of public outcry about the vagueness of the bill's language. For the most part, it sounds as though objections were raised by people in both pro- and anti-abortion camps, which (I think) is a good thing. As one person quoted in the article put it, "It’s a very clear shift in the conversation. We have never had a public conversation about whether it’s right to kill a doctor."

At the same time, however, we still have a few fringe groups who thought that the measure was a good deterrent against abortion:
Dave Leach, an Iowa anti-abortion activist, praised the bill, saying it could end abortions in South Dakota by scaring away doctors or by establishing grounds for someone to kill those who stay.

“There may be something I’m overlooking, but from all appearances, this bill would certainly justify an individual taking the life of an abortionist in order to save human lives,” he said.
Maybe it's because I don't agree with the idea of taking lives to save them, but I have a hard time understanding how Mr. Leach's notion of "taking [a] save human lives" makes any sense.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In the news: South Dakota

Back in 2006, South Dakota made the news when its governor signed a bill into law that effectively banned abortions unless the mother's life were in clear danger (note: the linked website isn't accurate in all of its articles, but does give a good overview of South Dakota's HB 1215). The news turned into headlines when the President of the Oglala Sioux declared that, if the law continued to exist, she would open an abortion clinic on Pine Ridge Reservation (read: out of the jurisdiction of South Dakota) to offer women options who otherwise wouldn't have them. The South Dakota law is currently described as being "dead in the water."

Now, unfortunately, South Dakota is back at it- this time with a proposed law that would permit homicide against doctors performing abortions...on the grounds of defense. You read that right. The text of the bill, HB 1171, states that
Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.
Again, you read that correctly. Someone who murders a doctor performing an abortion, under this law, could legitimately claim "defense of the unborn" in the same way one could claim self-defense in other circumstances.

I'll repeat here what I've said before in this blog: I'm wholeheartedly in favour of abortion rights. I also understand that not everyone is. The utter wrongness of South Dakota's proposed law, however, isn't whether or not it favours abortion rights. It's that it favours- no, scratch that- legalizes the murder of a person who is performing an important and, in many ways life-saving, procedure. Theoretically, someone could extend the law to protect themselves if they murder the person who is pregnant and requests the abortion- after all, they're technically attempting "to harm the unborn child" by seeking the procedure. Could such a loophole, if the law passes, lead to the acceptance of vigilantes who believe it's acceptable to murder a person to punish them for an attempted abortion?

Regardless if the law would be extended to cover such instances...we need to act to discourage its passage.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Training the Toddlers

Recently, a colleague and I were talking about her almost-four-year-old son and the challenges he's been facing at daycare. As is fairly normal for toddlers in the States, he's been having physical aggression problems with a slightly younger girl in his play group, and particularly has been pulling her hair, taking her toys, and chasing her around the room. When my colleague described this to me and to several other coworkers in the room, all of us- yes, ALL of us- had the same reaction: "it sounds like he LIKES her!" I wouldn't be surprised if current readers are nodding their heads in agreement with our assessment.

As soon as I'd said it, though, I realized that this was a really strange reaction for us to be having. It's a collective reaction, too, not confined to my office. My parents used to tell me this when the boys in my elementary school would chase me around the playground or tease me to tears. Parents in TV shows and movies often offer the same "sage" advice: ignore him, and he'll go away. He's just looking for a reaction because he likes you. He'll grow out of it eventually.

It always sounded a little stupid to me, but it worked. Eventually, the boys stopped showing their affections in obnoxiously physical ways, and started showing their affections wait. They still get obnoxiously physical, but instead of pulling our hair and taking our toys, they're surrounding us on the dance floor or presuming that it's okay to touch us without asking permission first.

Here's the thing. In a heterocentric and cis-oriented society, we're socializing young girls to believe that aggressive behaviours from boys is a sign of attraction- and that more attraction is a good thing. Many parents, like my colleague, attempt to correct the boys' behaviour when they find out about it because aggression is, in theory, socially unacceptable. But it doesn't change the initial reaction of the teachers or caregivers or the parents of little girls all over the country who immediately tell the girls, "He LIKES you!" That knee-jerk reaction that so many of us have sets an example for the kids who hear it: while we might outwardly condemn this behaviour, we'll inwardly accept it as a natural expression of amorous feelings. Aggressive behaviours, we tell the girls, are the bedrock of male heterosexual desire. Later on down the road, we wonder why so many women return to male partners who emotionally, sexually, and physically abuse them. "He really does love me," they say, "he just has anger/jealousy/PTSD/alcohol/drug issues." Outsiders to the relationship shake their heads and wonder at how deluded these women are, and never make the connection to the fact that these women- like the rest of us- have been taught from early ages to accept a certain amount of aggression as normal from romantic partners. Strangulation- literal and metaphorical- becomes the adult equivalent of pigtail-pulling. The victim then says "He must really love me, because he gets so possessive when I go out with anyone, including my girl friends" because this is the logical extension of "He pulls your pigtails? He LIKES you!"

Increasingly, we're becoming aware of abuse dynamics that fall outside the standard narrative of male abuser/female victim. Statistically speaking, abuse occurs in same-sex relationships at the same rate as it does in heterosexual relationships, and genderqueer and trans folk are reporting more abuse as well. Male victims and survivors are coming forward with greater frequency too, indicating that we still have a lot to learn about how broader social narratives- including gender narratives- impact relationship behaviours and expectations. Increased rates of bullying by cis girls indicate that narratives of aggression are also undergoing a change (whether in reporting or in enacting remains to be seen). But it's important to ask ourselves how we, in the tiny things we say, contribute to a culture of socialization that normalizes aggression in sexuality as a positive thing.

*Image used from

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Venus and Her Business

Recently, Venus Williams participated in the 2011 Australian Open. She was winning, until a severe injury forced her to retire from the event (her first game retire since 1994). However, instead of hearing about William’s matches, I kept hearing about what she was wearing. Seriously, for the entire week articles kept popping up on my yahoo news site deriding what the famed tennis player was wearing. Not a single one discussed how she was playing.

In case you’re not completely familiar with Venus Williams, let me describe her career a bit. She began playing tennis professionally in 1994, at the tender age of 14. Since then, she and her sister Serena have dominated the world of female tennis. Venus also has an associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and has been an advocate for women’s rights on the tennis field, lobbying for fair pay for female athletes (apparently male tennis players make more per game than women tennis players).

However, this isn’t what we hear about. Instead, we hear people talking about how short her tennis dress is, how inappropriate her nude-colored shorts were and how controversial her brightly patterned dress is. So what? So what if she likes to wear short tennis dresses? So what if her latest design features a cross-hatching ribbon on her midriff (the inspiration for which came from Alice in Wonderland)? So what if one of her dresses had lace on it? Was she playing naked? No. Then why should her unique choice of clothing freak everyone out?

Seriously, pull up another tab on your web browser and do a search on “Venus William” or “Venus Williams.” Over half of these articles that pull up will be about what she wears. Now, similarly, do a search on Dennis Rodman. A man who has bright blue and green hair, multiple piercings and who once wore a wedding dress to promote his own autobiography. Not one of the articles on that first page of search results will have anything to do with what he looks like; instead they will all talk about how he is one of the best rebounding forwards in NBA history. This is in no way meant to be a slight on Dennis Rodman. Personally, I think his multi-colored hair is actually kind of cool. But my point is clear, no? Because Venus is a woman, suddenly everybody gets to have a hand in her wardrobe choices. Because Dennis is a man, nobody gives a crap.

The woman has a degree in fashion design. She plays A LOT of tennis. It makes sense to me that if you spent the majority of your time in athletic gear, you might want to wear something different and original every once in a while.

The biggest thing that gets me though, is how many people think that they have a right to judge what she’s wearing. I have news for you; as long as the judges of the match say it’s within league guidelines, she can wear whatever she wants. And you can’t do a thing about it. Since when did it become appropriate for everyone and their dog to degrade women because of what they wear? Personally I thought that we fought that battle back in the 60’s.

Now, I get that some people might argue that by wearing the dress at an international match in the first place, she made the dress part of the public forum. Or they could say that maybe, Venus wanted the attention. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. Either way, you have no right to see her as any less talented because of it.

It seems that, for women, we can only be seen as what we wear. We are seen as slutty, frigid, classy, tacky, ridiculous, conservative, appropriate or inappropriate by the mere length of our skirts. Has Venus Williams ever once flipped off an opponent? Has she cussed out a judge? Not to my knowledge. So, you know what? I think that short tennis dress is beautiful. And I think she’s a great role model for other girls. And, most importantly, I think that what she wears is none of your damn business.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Peta and Porn

In light of this month's theme, I thought it worthwhile to link the most recent Womanist Musings critique of Peta: Peta is airing material that mimics porn, in order to promote veganism. I'll leave it to you to decide what you think of the ad campaign, but you can guess my stance. I'm a partial vegetarian myself, but Peta sometimes crosses a line I can't condone, and this is one such case.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Theme of the Month: Sexuality

Sex is everywhere in the U.S., whether it's being used to sell products on billboards or being discussed as the sacred gift we give our spouses. Somehow, no matter how much we want to control or liberate it, it's everywhere. With just under seven billion people on this planet, there are just under seven billion sexualities being experienced and expressed by all of us. We're exploring partners, exploring acts, and exploring possibilities.

Sexuality is more than just acts or behaviour, however. It's everything about sex, from what we expect, to what we think about it, what we fantasize about, what we want to try, and what we want to remain in our heads. It's the acts we love and the acts we abhor. It's the constraints we set for ourselves. It's the who, what, when, where, why, and how. It's also what we're taught, either deliberately or inadvertently, by the people and institutions and cultures we live with every day.

So for this month, we're going to explore sexuality in its good and bad entirety (or, at least, as much as is possible to do). We invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, and questions on this fascinating and diverse topic.