Monday, January 30, 2012

Question of the Week: Who Inspired You to Be Educated?

Last week I attended a lecture that discussed some of the major factors that determine whether young women in Utah attend and complete college. The study focuses on young women in Utah due to a recent trend which places graduation rates for Utah women below the national average. Many of the most significant factors came down to the people who are in a young woman's life, and what they say about her potential for education.

And it got me thinking about the various people who influenced my decision to continue with higher education. When I was growing up, my mother always told me that it wasn't enough to get a Bachelor's degree (which is what she had at the time), but that as part of a younger generation I'd need to get a Master's degree too. So I always intended to go to college and grad school - and I don't think any of my teachers ever questioned whether I intended to go to college and at least get a BA. And even when I dated a very conservative boy who was distraught by my determination to go to grad school, I had no problem standing my ground, even when my educational goals factored into our break up. But it wasn't until a college professor rather forcefully encouraged me to pursue a PhD that I really considered that path.

So, I suppose other people have factored into my educational goals quite a bit.

How about you? Who influenced your educational goals, either for good or for bad?

I'd also find it interesting if commenters wouldn't mind sharing their gender, as gender may very well factor into your answers.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Links of note

Right- so I've fallen behind in news posts because being "funemployed" means that I spend way too much time on Lamebook and not enough time engaging in important issues. Gotta love it! So here's my attempt to put on my grown-up pants and get back into the swing of things.

First, I've got a heartbreaking piece from Janell Burley Hoffman about fat-shaming and her seven-year-old daughter, which is a quick peek into the challenges parents face when raising their kids in a culture that makes it okay to shame bodies. As a non-parent, I don't have to respond to my young daughter's desire to have a flat stomach, but this piece raises questions for me about my language and what I am and am not modeling for young women in my life. How can all of us be more conscious of our words and gestures so that young girls- young people- don't grow up with the same prejudices and self-loathing that so many of us did?

Along the same lines, Heather Cromarty has a few choice words for the Marilyn memes out there. While I can see how easy it is to reduce Marilyn Monroe to her appearance- that's what we do with famous women, right? Especially the ones who were typecast as sex symbols- it's important to take the time to break down what exactly we're saying when we make the claims we make (especially the ones in these memes).

Next up, an informal study by Becky Chambers raises some interesting points about sex and gender representations and choices in online roleplaying games. My partner was actually the first one to send me this link, and the subject is something we've discussed repeatedly over the course of our relationship (we're both nerds). Basically, it can be summarized as "lots of cis guys like to play female characters in games." What makes this article so cool is that the author gets some feedback as to why, and it's more than just "if I'm going to look at a character on a screen for six hours, I want it to be a hot female." No really, it is. It's a long article, but worth reading as it breaks down not only the responses of the players but also the gendexing of the game developers.

Finally, this piece about Cynthia Nixon's recent remarks on her sexuality left me speechless with awe. The "choice vs. born this way" argument about sexuality has always left me a bit uncomfortable because each side has its openings for bigotry and persecution (nouveau eugenics, anyone?) and it seemed like a waste of energy. Who cares why anyone is or isn't gay? Nixon does a beautiful job of articulating this sentiment and illustrating it with her own experience, so I highly recommend that you check it out. If you're too lazy to click the link, I leave you with this quote:
I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate.
That is all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Red Tails: Historic, Entertaining, Altogether Lacking Women...and Why that Is Okay

Today's guest post, written by Amber Leab, is a cross-post of a recent film review on Bitch Flicks.
Red Tails (2012)

I don’t see movies in the theatre very often. I know, for someone who co-founded and writes for a film site to say that is tantamount to treason. But, it’s true: there has to be a good reason for me to plunk down ten bucks (I’m a starving writer, friends!) to sit in a movie theatre and put up with texting & talking teens and coughing & sneezing strangers, when I’d usually rather be in the comfort of my own living room.

Here are some examples of what brings me to the theatre:

  • A movie is nominated for some serious awardage.
  • A movie tells a story about women (other than ladies getting hitched), or is told by women.
  • A movie’s cinematography demands the big-screen, public experience.
  • My movie dollars are political speech.

It’s for the last two reasons that I saw Red Tails last weekend in the theatre. First, a whiz-bang action movie involving fighter pilots in WWII is definitely more fun in the theatre than on my couch. It’s the kind of movie in which you want the crowd’s gasps and applause at moments of high tension and release. You want the visceral experience of flight and fear, loss and victory. Second, since Red Tails is the first big-budget Hollywood action movie featuring an all-Black cast—and is both written and directed by Black men—I wanted to help send movie executives a message. See, as I pointed out last week in a preview post, producer George Lucas couldn’t get any company to distribute it—they feared the film would have no foreign market (which is where Hollywood currently makes a huge portion of its revenues). It took Lucas decades to bring the film from idea to reality.

So, the story behind the film means a lot to me. In case I’m not perfectly clear, it’s a damn shame that in 2012 Hollywood is too fearful, too conservative, too—frankly—racist to embrace a film about bona fide World War II heroes who happen to be Black. And don't give me that argument that movies about the Tuskegee Airmen have already been made.

But on to the actual movie, and to a pleasant surprise.

Although “action” isn’t my favorite genre, I can say without reservation that I really enjoyed Red Tails. Even though there are no women in the movie, aside from an Italian love interest and a brief appearance by her mother (the two speak to each other in untranslated Italian, but it’s safe to assume they talk about a man, so the movie fails the Bechdel Test)—more on that later. The movie is exciting, entertaining, funny at moments, deeply sad at others, and altogether engaging. Plus, as it’s based on the real experience of the Tuskegee Airmen, you might learn something while being entertained (although U.S. moviegoers are often portrayed as only wanting the latter, I suspect most of us actually want both).

Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Major Emanuelle Stance, sans pipe
The style of the movie is an homage to ‘40s and ‘50s hokey action flicks, so you get some corny lines (and some hilarious white-dude dialogue--imagine in a robotic voice: “I sure hope we meet up with those Red Tails again.”), stock characters, clear lines between good and evil, and affected performances—especially from Cuba Gooding, Jr. and His Pipe. Even if you’re not familiar with the movies being imitated, nothing stands out as particularly peculiar and, compared with the majority of Hollywood action flicks, the movie—even though it’s about war and defeating the German military—is rather innocent. Innocent in the way that you kind of hope young men the world over will watch it, and pass on some others.

Now, let me say more about why I’m okay with this movie—and with writing about it on a site that focuses on women in media and almost daily reports on how woefully underrepresented women are—leaving out women. It’s true that some movies are about men—particularly films about men in historic wars who are in combat positions. That’s not to say that war doesn’t strongly impact women, but for the majority of the 20th century,combat was done by men. Do we already have a plethora of films about men in combat? Yes, of course. But there are still untold stories, and although anyone familiar with the history of Black men in the U.S. should know about the Tuskegee Airmen, the sad fact remains that it’s not an often-told story in the nation’s history. Further, including women in this movie (again, there is a female love interest who appears in a rather common and predictable storyline) would detract—and distract—from the central story. If a sequel is, in fact, made—and it takes place when the men return home and are treated as second-class citizens in the country they fought for—it should include women.

Further, if you compare this action movie with basically any other action movie in recent memory, one important element is missing: rampant misogyny. Perhaps the film would’ve been betraying its style if it included the kind of talk and images about women that are so common today, but in this regard it was completely refreshing. My feminist ire wasn’t raised a single time (though the romantic subplot might've drawn an eye roll). Perhaps that reveals more about me than the actual film, but the basic respect for women, even when they were almost completely absent, was a relief.

As happy as I am that Red Tails was made and did well its opening weekend (landing at the number 2 box office spot), it does bother me a bit that the historic element of the making of the film—with its Black writers, director, and stars—was all in the name of war propaganda. That’s not to belittle or reduce the accomplishments of the real-life Tuskegee Airmen. But the politics of it all reminds me a bit of The Hurt Locker. More specifically, director Katherine Bigelow was the first woman to win a Best Director Academy Award (and only the fourth woman ever nominated), but she had to make a very masculine and male-centered war film to achieve that level of respect and acclaim. Would a movie about another subject receive the same amount of attention and box-office success as Red Tails?

cast of Red Tails
Red Tails is far from the first film to feature a Black cast, but as someone on Twitter asked us, is it the first all-Black film that white people care about? In other words, we as a culture are very good at making period pieces and then looking at them, with self-righteousness, shaking our heads at how foolish and awful people were back then, and simultaneously congratulating ourselves for being so much better. But, more often than not, “back then” looks more like “present day” than most of us want to admit. (One recent outrageous example: in Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina primary victory speech last weekend, one crowd member reportedly shouts “String him up!” in reference to our current U.S. President.)

We should absolutely honor the heroes of our past, like the Tuskegee Airmen, but let’s not forget heroes like them exist today and have to face different but still very real demons when they come home. I, for one, would like to see more of those movies.

Rotten Tomatoes ranks Red Tails as Rotten, with a 33% rating (although the audience rating is a positive 73%). What did you think of the movie?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Question of the Week: Feminist Links

What interesting links on the topic of gender/sex/race/class have you encountered recently?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Newt Gingrich and South Carolina: Misogyny, Religious Intolerance, and Family Values?

To be completely honest, when the Republican Primary began - not the actual voting, but the campaigning - I was unsure about whom I'd vote for in the 2012 presidential election. As far as Obama's presidency goes, I've been displeased with some of his decisions (extremely displeased in a couple cases), but I've also been pleased with some, and I'm still not convinced that McCain would have done anything better. As far as I see, it's a broken system, and it's not Obama's fault that congress is given to throwing temper tantrums, though it's probably his fault that he's so willing to kowtow to big business. Then again, could he stay in office without giving in? Like I said, I think it's a broken system.

So I've been disillusioned for awhile, and I was willing to consider voting for a republican alternative, though I was by no means decided on that count. So I've followed the primary elections with some interest, even though I'm currently a resident of Utah who hasn't had much say in any of this. No say, rather. I haven't even bothered saying much about it, aside from an occasional conversation with roommates, which has mostly amounted to "Hey, did you hear that so-and-so won in such-and-such state?"

But what's going on in South Carolina really galls me, and it galls me on so many levels I don't know where to start. Newt Gingrich is a scumbag, and yet his scumbagery only seems to have boosted his support.

As a Mormon I'm biased where Romney and Gingrich are concerned, and I recognize that, but I think that my Mormon bias is tempered by my distrust of Mitt Romney and by the fact that I probably wouldn't vote for him against Obama. I don't support Romney, in any way, shape, or form. But Newt Gingrich is a scumbag to such an extreme level that I can't understand why he is still in the race, especially when republican voters usually take pride in how much they care about integrity and family values in their candidates. But time after time, when evangelical republicans are faced with a choice of a Mormon who has a history of marital monogamy and another republican who has a history of serial divorce and infidelity (nonconsensual), they'll choose the non-Mormon, with no regard to the candidate's marriage history. In 2008, Huckabee played a big role in Romney's utter defeat, by slandering Romney for his beliefs, only to back down in a moment of, "Oops, I shouldn't have said that." A clever move, since the stigma still remained.

So I'm not surprised that South Carolina didn't vote for Romney. I'm not surprised at all. But Newt Gingrich? A man who is known to have cheated on multiple wives, who had shady dealings with Freddie Mac, who is now purported to have asked his second wife to change the terms of their monogamous relationship and enter into an open marriage - when she learned he was already cheating on her. A man whose integrity was questioned while he was in congress. With all that against him, why would people who claim to care about traditional family values vote for him?

And this, my dear readers, is why we at NAW do not always trust what people say on the surface, but rather delve into the implications of their language and actions. A vote for Newt Gingrich may be a vote for a traditional system of marriage, but only in the sense that it was once "understood" that men had needs and that they'd be unfaithful to their monogamous wives, just because was considered male nature.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vegetarian Among the Carnivores

Image source

When I came across an article on feministe about being a vegetarian, as well as their link to a similar article in the New York Times, it got me thinking about my own experience as a vegetarian (albeit a somewhat loose use of the term), in an environment that isn't always vegetarian-friendly. And while the connection between vegetarianism and our discussions here at NAW probably isn't automatically apparent, I think it connects in many ways - it connects in discussions of how and to whom food sources are allocated, it connects in discussions of cultural differences and community foodways, it connects in perceptions of some foods as masculine, others as feminine.

But I don't want to get all philosophical about the implications of vegetarianism - at least, not at the moment. I'm just thinking about how difficult it can be to explain vegetarianism in a culture of meat-lovers. And, as understanding as most people were back when I lived on the New Hampshire Seacoast, Utah is definitely a land of meat enthusiasts.

It doesn't help that my reasons for becoming a vegetarian are unusual, or that I'm one of the rare variety that hates eggs, eats poultry, and won't touch fish or seafood. Most people either assume I'm a full-fledged vegetarian or roll their eyes when I say I can't eat soup made with beef stock, or vegetables sauteed in bacon.  To them, not eating meat is a mere matter of preference, and when there's so little meat that they can't really taste it, they can't see how I still can't eat it (and they don't realize that to someone who hasn't consumed red meat or pork in 12 years, it's easy to taste a drop of bacon fat).

When anyone asks why I became a vegetarian, I find that my answer is complicated. I didn't go from eating lots of meat to eating none, but I also didn't love vegetables as a kid. Instead, I grew up as a very picky eater and became a vegetarian in order to broaden my food options. As backwards as that may sound,  I realized when I was fourteen that most foods I didn't like had meat in them. So, I simply stopped eating them. I considered cutting out all meat, but my mother had always been so concerned by how much I liked carbs and how little protein I ate, that I didn't think she'd respond very well if I gave up meat entirely. So, although I didn't even like chicken, I continued to eat it. From there, things got simpler. I found that a good number of foods I'd never liked were perfectly fine if I just tried them without meat.

When I think back on it, I can see how ordinary my timing was - many of my friends became vegetarians shortly after I did, and I think Erica may have become one first. But even on the relatively liberal New Hampshire seacoast, being a vegetarian was difficult. Eating out wasn't an issue - I could always find something with chicken on the menu, and I didn't eat out very often anyhow. But eating food at social functions could be tough. Plus, when my middle-aged step-grandmother passed away as a result of her long term eating habits, some family assumed I was heading in the same direction. After all, she liked carbs and peanut butter, and so did I. She had been a vegetarian, and so was I. At her wake, one of my uncles cornered me for a firm lecture on eating.

Somehow, nobody in my family saw that unlike my grandmother, I ate chicken, I ate vegetables, and I ate fruit. To them, any form of vegetarianism would lead down this slippery slope. 

So, okay, maybe my initial comment about how understanding the New Hampshire Seacoast was glossed over the truth. But the pressure to eat meat only came from my family. Friends and acquaintances saw no problem with it and often assumed I just wanted a healthy lifestyle - in fact, given how many of my vegetarian friends didn't even eat chicken, I sometimes seemed like a carnivore.

But being a vegetarian in Utah is still a difficult affair that often leaves me with nothing to eat but coleslaw and two slices of white bread, or (as happened at an all-day event during the Summer), nothing but a piece of lettuce wrapped around a tomato slice. Eating isn't much of a problem at potlucks, as I can always eat some of whatever I bring, and there are always enough sides to tide me over till I can go home and cook for myself.  Restaurants usually aren't a problem either - unless I eat out with a group that wants to go "family style" and share entrees.

But catered events and large church functions can be tricky. Of course, with catered events you can just call ahead of time and request a vegetarian option, but occasionally even that plan goes awry. For instance, at one event last year, I explained that the only meat I could eat was chicken, and I was assured that would be okay, as that was the main course. But the chicken dish included ham. And once at a restaurant, I ordered a chicken dish and asked them to leave off the bacon. When the waiter forgot and I asked to send it back, he said, "Ok, I'll just scrape it off." It took a friend lying and pretending that I was allergic to bacon before I got a new plate.

The real problem, more than anything else, seems to be that in the perspective of most people, vegetarianism is just a matter of taste, and therefore something to be discarded when politeness dictates. For instance, one time I went to a party with a friend, and some people at the party were making empanadas. When I noticed that they were only putting vegetables and cheese in the empanadas, I excitedly grabbed one, only to realize, a bite in, that it had ground beef too. I looked up at my friend, and she said, "I know, there's meat in it." When I continued to stare at the empanada, unsure how to toss it out without being rude, she said, "Either you can suck it up and eat it, or I'll eat it for you." She didn't even seem to realize that she'd said anything rude.

So, there's always that lingering belief that I could eat meat if I just "sucked it up." In fact, when I told one boyfriend that I didn't eat any red meat, he said, "Don't worry, we'll fix that." So there's also that view of vegetarianism as a phase or a flaw that a person can work out over time. That same boyfriend later confessed to his fear that if we married I wouldn't be willing to cook meat for our children. To him, not giving meat to kids was tantamount to neglect and malnourishment.

And then there are others who have good intentions but who don't understand that a vegetarian diet doesn't consist of taking a meat-heavy diet, and just removing the meat. I eat a lot of vegetables and legumes to fill that gap. Which is why, when I ask what will be served at a social function and receive the answer, "Don't worry - we'll have potato salad too," I know I'll have to bring my own food or go hungry.

I'm not suggesting that everything should change in communities where meat-eating is more common than vegetarianism - non-vegetarians shouldn't have to rearrange everything for vegetarians like me. But even in a conservative place like Utah, there are a lot of vegetarians, and it would be nice if those who plan large social functions could be more aware of those needs. A simple, "contact so-and-so with dietary needs" could make a huge difference. Or, at the very least, listening when someone says that potato salad is not a meal and that they can't just "suck it up" and eat meat.

And then, if nothing else, there's this: whether I eat meat is my decision. If you accidentally serve me meat, I won't be mad - but I also won't eat it. And no, I don't owe you any explanation for why I'm a vegetarian, anymore than you owe me a lengthy explanation for why you eat meat.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Racialicious is commemorating this day by posting one of MLK's speeches, as well as accompanying photos.

Also, Jill at Feministe has a fantastic post about the persisting impact of racism - she links and highlights quotes from a couple interesting articles.

Question of the Week: How Does Faith Inform Your Feminism?

I'd hate for this post to exclude atheist readers, so I'm hoping we can all interpret the term "faith" very loosely - it could mean a faith where you worship, your faith in a divine being, or even just your faith in tomorrow. But the overlap between faith and feminism is something that's of key importance to all of us here at NAW - and the backlash that religious feminists face both within religious communities and within feminist communities was the impetus for us even creating this blog. Sadly, too many people see faith and feminism as inherently opposed concepts.

But I was thinking back to a women's studies class I took as an undergrad. One of the first things that our teacher had us do was sit down and make a list of the things we believe that informed our research. For those of us who were LDS, it was an amazing thing to admit that our belief that men and women have divine potential impacted all of our research - it was a driving force in our efforts to elevate both men and women, but also a bias to be aware of as we analyzed information.

For me, my beliefs drive my feminism, even if there are moments where my feminism and my religion intersect in ways that confuse me. Because the ideals that drive my beliefs and my feminism are inseparable, I will always believe those discrepencies to be worth working out.

So, what about all of you? How does your faith inform your feminism, and vice versa? If you don't consider yourself a feminist (yet), how does your faith inform your beliefs about gender?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Archive Sunday: The Racist Body - by Erica

This post was originally published by Erica on January 7, 2011. You can read the original comments here.

This image comes from and no copyright infringement is intended.

I've talked in the past about my experiences with diet and body image, and included in there a little bit about how my cultural and racial identities shape it. But I don't think we at Not Another Wave have contributed much to conversations about how body image- particularly how it's marketed, and to whom- shape and influence a general culture in the US that perpetuates racist body norms and expectations.

In western Europe and its subsequent colonies, it's been a long-standing tradition to compare the bodies of African and Indian slaves and indigens with the bodies of the culturally declared norm, the White European. This happened (and continues to happen, but we'll get there in a moment) to both cis men and cis women, in efforts by the imperialists to prove European superiority over the Other. Where European men were classified as intellight, African men were childlike. Where European men were tall, Indian men were short. Where European men could be gentlemen and restrain themselves around European women, African men were hyper-sexual. As an article in The Western Journal of Black Studies put it,
Colonial invasive powers bring with them their own myths, beliefs, and forms of colonial ordering which create a bifurcated form of hierarchy that is designed to distinguish between the natives and the colonizers, a form of hierarchy where the colonizer (white, good, intelligent, ethical, beautiful, civilized) is superior in all things, while the native (dark, exotic, sexually uncontrollable, bad, stupid, ugly, savage, backward) is inferior.

The discourse of opposites, of lauding the "Us" and demeaning (and even criminalizing) the "Other," was justification for invasion, dominance, and control. Rudyard Kipling went so far as to refer to it as "the white man's burden," explaining that it was a "moral imperative" that Europeans colonize the Other, for the sake of the Other.

The discourse of Us vs. Them that the European colonists applied to their subjects was also, of course, applied to female bodies and the identities of women. Similarly to the discourses used to subjugate African and Indian men, European discourses painted African and Indian women alike as childlike, subservient by nature, and hyper-sexual. African and Indian women, in the colonist eye, represented the constant threat of temptation into every sin the Christian European imagination could come up with. To support this discourse, European soldiers actually kidnapped a woman from South Africa, nicknamed her the "Hottentot Venus," and paraded her around as a sideshow attraction in Great Britain and then in France. Of particular interest to spectators were her butt and her labia, which were both described as "abnormally large." Think about it: in the day when a person's cranial shape was supposed to determine intelligence and personality, an "abnormally large" pubic and posterior signalled a lot about supposed sexual appetite when compared to the "normal" physique of European women and their "normal" sexuality.

I go through all this because I think it has bearing on current discussions about bodies and their shape here in the US. There's a lot of publicity given to the "majority" culture pressure that is put on White women to be thin, which has a whole field of feminist research devoted to it. As one bloggerrightly puts it, "This is about power. It's about wanting women to be small in the world, to take up less space, literally and metaphorically." It also relates to sexuality. Twiggy became popular among White women during a period of time when White women's sexual options were expanding drastically, thanks to advances in hormonal birth control and the emergence of the second wave feminist movement. While everyone's figure is different, the overall effect of weight loss is a body that's contained, restrained, and thus- depending on your build- significantly de-sexualized. The use of clothing to highlight curves only goes so far to refute this argument; accentuating one's breasts, hips, or butt is acceptable and often encouraged, but if a woman's breasts are "too" big, or her hips "too" full, she's "too" sexual. As another blogger put it, "It is...crucial to mention the mental anxiety caused by constant badgering by the chauvinists of the world, and the sexual harassment that seems to find large breasted women because of the stigma that goes with large breasts; and that is that those women must be 'easy'." Essentially, the loss of weight to maintain a minimally curvy body feeds directly into an ages-old series of assumptions about White women- particularly that they shouldn't be "overly" sexy.

What I'm trying to get at is that the whole "thin is in" movement really is a very White-centric movement. While pictures of women laughing alone with salad- one of the trademarks of the weight loss movement- occasionally include a woman who's presumably of African descent, the vast majority are White. And those who are Black have been, for lack of a better term, "whitenized," with light skin, controlled hair, and Romanesque features. Essentially, they are the Other as the European colonists wanted them to be: under control, "saved" from themselves, and "just like Us."

This brings me to the topic of another, less marketed-by-health-companies body standard: the standard of Thick (or Bootylicious). We've all heard it mentioned, either by rappers (especially in Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back"), activists, our friends and families, or our partners. Instead of pushing the ideology of thin, the Thick movement promotes curves and planes that would make fashion designers fall over. It's the idealization of a body that's slender (but still curvy) through the breasts and waist, and flares into a round, perky set of hips and bum connected to a pair of muscular, curvy legs. Is it a hard ideal to live up to? You bet, and don't ask me how hard I worked before I discovered that my butt wasn't built to be perky. But I digress- the point is that the ideology of Thick has become a high-held standard for many women, particularly Black women, instead of the skinny White body. And while I'm thrilled that women of any race could reasonably look to that shape as an example of how many body types are sexy, I'm also concerned about the cultural influences, both from Black and White sources, that have given shape to the Thick ideal.

Latoya Peterson on Racialicious gives a great breakdown of the idea of Thick and the meanings and validation it can carry for the women who identify with it. The valorization of a large butt, for those whose basic body shape involves one, is hugely liberating in a world that's dominated by images of bodies with flat or hardly existent butts. At the same time, however, I find it hard to forget the features that Sarah Haartman was famous for- particularly her posterior- and I have to wonder how much influence the earlier European readings of Black female bodies has had on the current uplifting of Thick. If large breasts on a White woman still read as a measure of her sexual appetite and ability to consent, does the size of a Black woman's butt get interpreted that way too? If so, is the valorization of a Thick body type simply a marketing scheme designed to re-sell the image of the Other? One of the authors of Colonize This!, Serina Riley, addresses the same problem:
"As much as we get praised for loving our full bodies, many young white women would rather be dead than wear a size 14. They nod their heads and say how great it is that we black women can embrace our curves, but they don’t want to look like us. They don’t adopt our presumably more generous beauty ideals. White women have even told me how lucky black women are that our men love and accept our bodies the way they are. I’ve never heard a white woman say she’s going to take a cue from black women and gain a few pounds, however. In a way it is patronizing, because they’re basically saying, 'It’s OK for you to be fat, but not me. You’re black. You’re different.'"
For me, the fact that Thick is so strongly associated with Black women and Black identities is the part that's concerning: while I understand the desire to have ideals and cultures separate from those of the White hegemony, I also have a hard time believing that the Thick ideal in particular is really all that liberating.

The counterargument, of course, is that many cultures in the US find great pride and power in reclaiming images, ideals, and vocabulary from their discriminatory pasts. Words like cunt, nigger, queer, and bitch have all been reappropriated by cultural movements to confront the bigotry that used to dominate them, and there's merit to the argument that the current chart-toppers of hip-hop, who valorize overindulgence in sex, drugs, and violence, are manipulating stereotypes about Black men to gain power over the White imaginations that created them. Sex workers forming unions and declaring pride in their trade are refuting the myth that they're the victims of pimps and johns. In theory, if the stereotype is being used and evolving in the hands of the people it's supposed to harm, its creators- the ones doing the harming in the first place- lose their weapons. In theory. Whether or not it actually works that way is a debate that merits its own article.

Regardless, the point remains that the "ideal body" that's promoted in magazines, billboards, newspapers, TV, and movies that are marketed towards the hegemonic (predominately White) culture is really only intended to be ideal for a specific group. The current popular ideals for White women and Black women, I think, retain a lot of the racist and sexist assumptions that were prolific during Europe's imperialist years, and contribute to a culture that still believes Black women have uncontrollable sexual appetites as compared to White women. Furthermore, the notion of separate ideal bodies is offensive in its own right- that anyone from any culture should be expected to live up to a standard based on a small percentage of the population. Even if it were unproblematic to assume that Black and White women should have completely separate body goals, the fact remains that not all Black women are built to be Thick any more than all White women are built to be skinny. Instead of idealizing bodies based on stereotypes and minorities, we should be idealizing the people who are happy and comfortable in their natural shape. Instead of buying into a diet industry that's upholding racist ideals about bodies and appetites, we should be investing our time and energy in other ways to improve ourselves, such as challenging the idea that self-fulfillment comes in wearing a particular dress size. Let's do away with the Madonna vs. Hottentot Venus dichotomy once and for all.

Erica's Note: this article has been notably Black-and-White focused, while leaving out ethnicities and identities that also have stereotypes associated with female bodies (i.e. the "skinny Asian" stereotype). I'd love to hear from you what your perceptions of these are, as well as how you think they fit into a global history of domination and subordination.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Posts I Keep Meaning to Write

Lately, I keep thinking of interesting topics to post about, but when the time comes, I don't.

So I decided to instead share a list of everything I've been thinking of posting.

1 - New Years Resolutions and Health - How Do We Maintain a Healthy Attitude in the Face of Pressure to Drop Weight for the New Year?

2 - Wearing Men's Shoes - My recent discovery that for more than two years I wore sneakers that were men's 9 1/2 instead of women's 9 1/2. How did I not notice the different size, and what are the implications of switching to clothing designed for another gender?

3 - Primary Surprises - On the one hand, Romney's recent success is a promising sign of religious tolerance, given the US's history of oppression against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the other hand, it's triumph of riches. Plus, as little as I supported Bachman and Cain, it's disheartening to see yet another rich white boys' club election.

4 - A fun post full of interesting links that don't make me feel upset with the state of the world.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Feminist Question of the Week: A Lady in the Streets....

So, I got into another debate the other day. This time, the topic was the old, and in my opinion moronic adage, "Men want a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets."

A friend of mine argued that the saying came from the biological urge of a man needing to know that the young he was protecting and raising, were actually his own. Apparently, by knowing your companion is a lady precludes the fact that she is monogamous with you and assures that the children your female companion has born are yours. The freak in the sheets part caters to the needs of men for pleasure.

You can tell where I stand on this issue. I argued that it wasn't biologically determined, that instead it was part of a societal construct to keep one gender (obviously the female one) under control. By controlling the sexuality of one gender, you thereby maintain control over the way that specific gender interacts with and views the sexually dominant gender.

We went round and round about it. So what do you think guys, is it biology or society that determines this little piece of pearly wisdom?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Really Depressing Post and A Plea for Help

My post today takes on an issue that I haven’t written about much: class. In many ways, this post is a very personal one as it reflects on some of the issues that I’ve been thinking about a lot going into 2012.

As many of you know, I currently live in South Korea, a country whose population is swiftly moving into one of the fastest growing economies. At first I thought Koreans were incredibly class obsessed, but the longer I'm here, and the longer I engage with the world and different cultures, the more I rethink my snap judgements. The ideas of hierarchy, wealth, success, stable job, and designer clothing influence every aspect of the Korean lifestyle, perhaps even more so than in the United States, (at least on the surface). Here, the goal for every young Korean is to work themselves to the bone during their high school education, get into a good university and find a high-paying, incredibly respectable job (such as teaching English), marry a similarly respectable young person, have two children and dress them in Ralph Lauren (literally—I see two year olds wearing Ralph Lauren beanies and two hundred dollar Ugg boots). Maintaining an upper-middle class lifestyle is key.

Where am I going with this, well in the United States we’ve started to see a bit of a shift recently. While we still value monetary success, my recently graduated from college generation seems to be more focused on making enough to get by and doing what they love.

This is great, don’t you think? Many of us take a few years to travel the world. We cheaply backpack around Europe, staying in small, bohemian hostels before we trek off to sight-see and “get off the beaten road.”

But isn’t this still a function of our class? We trek with our iPods and Canon Rebel cameras; we blog about our train rides and purchase “unique” souvenirs from flea markets and bazaars. We partake in and purchase the world's exoticism. Is it not still our upper-middle class, college educated background that has allowed us to do so?

I would say yes.

Now I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. Traveling and seeing the world is NEVER a bad thing in my eyes, but for me, personally, I’ve realized that it’s done something to me.

I’m currently on my fourth, living abroad experience. I’ve loved them all. Despite the amount of student loan debt I racked up to have three of those four experiences, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

However, since these experiences, especially this last one in Korea I realize I don’t want the things I always thought I wanted. Moving into suburbia and staying in one house for the rest of my life literally gives me a panic attack. Literally. Doing the same thing everyday, seeing the same roads, doing the same activities, it feels incredibly confining.

It’s become a ridiculous catch 22 because I realize that I’d like nothing more than to spend my life hopping around from one state to the next, from one country to the next. The more I see of the world, the more I realize that I haven’t seen that much of it.

And then I see the poverty. And it makes me sad that I have so much. And then I read an article about child prostitution in Thailand in the New York Times on my MacBook Pro, with my oh-so-enlightened, English literary eyes and I feel grateful that I was lucky enough to be born in the country I was born in, with the incredible parents I call my own. And then I feel guilty that I have so much and that some beautiful young woman out there doesn't. In my mind, this young girl, she'll never get to go to college because she was forced to marry a man twice her age and she already has three kids. Or perhaps she was sold into sex slavery by her starving parents at the age of eight and so now she'll live out her very short life as a toy for the lust of a sick man and the greed of her owner.

And then I think I should just suck it up and stop whining about wanting to travel the world.

And then I feel sad because I just want to sit on an exotic beach somewhere and read a book and write about the beach and chill with my friends and siblings.

And I realize how silly my fears of the "cage" of suburban life are. That panic attack I'm having right now, just thinking about it, is selfish. Somewhere the innocent young girl in my mind would love to have the choice I was given. How entitled am I, that I should scoff at the background that allowed me to do the things that I have? But then I think about the rampant consumerism that is a tenet of my cultural background in the United States and I'm ashamed all over again.

This is a really depressing post, I know. Sorry.

But how do you do it friends? How do you reconcile all of these things? How do you not have panic attacks about silly things like this? How do you help those that need our help?

No sarcasm here, just a sincere question.

Help. I don't know what to do with any of this.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


 This post is from Erica, and it was originally published on Go Girl Magazine.

Ah, 2012: a new year filled with hope for new prosperity, new opportunities, new peace, and, in the US, a new me/you/us. The tradition of establishing  for the next twelve months goes back for an eternity- at least as far as popular culture is concerned- and, over the years, has managed to develop an exciting pantheon of products designed to “facilitate” your success. While some of the most popular make a certain amount of sense- including “spend more time with family and friends” and “learn something new”- I’m concerned by the #1 goal: the enduring “lose weight.” A quick Google search for  and New Year’s resolutions turns up 55 million results. 55 million.

Photo courtesy of
My beef with this is twofold. First, the American/Western obsession with weight loss is antifeminist in dozens of ways and propped up by a multitude of statistics that don’t adequately capture the intersection between weight and overall health.
What does this mean?
First, the pressure to be thin- especially put on cis women- means that “ideal” women (as modeled by magazines and films, at least) are literally half the size of their cis male counterparts. The message eventually becomes that the most successful women, or at least the ones who get the guy and the fancy clothes and possibly the killer job, are the ones who are the least physically intimidating. They are too small and/or starved to compete with said guy, and therefore are permitted by patriarchal imagery to enjoy the success they do. If push comes to shove, they’ll just fall over. Right? On the flip side, the chubby or fat women don’t enjoy this same success. They’re called names, treated as less-than, told they “can’t wear” something, and are even denied basic social benefits (such as jobs) due to perceptions about their weight.
Second, the current measures we have for bodies and health fall woefully short of giving us an accurate picture of an individual’s actual health. The Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a ratio of height to weight that was originally developed to measure the general health of a large population. In current times, however, its use has been broadened to categorize individuals as “underweight,” “normal,” “overweight,” and “obese.” As Jeremy Singer-Vine notes in a Slate article, however,
[The creator] had never intended for the BMI to be used in this way. His original paper warned against using the body mass index for individual diagnoses, since the equation ignores variables like a patient’s gender or age, which affect how BMI relates to health.
So when we make grandiose claims about American , we may or may not be using the BMI correctly (as a non-medical professional, I can’t tell you for sure). But when we talk about individuals and use their BMI (perceived or actual) to analyze them- i.e. “I don’t think fat people are ugly, but they do need to be healthy”- we’re really being clueless. Is your BMI high because you eat Cheetos and sit on the couch? Is your BMI high because you were born this way?
My answer: is it anyone else’s damn business? No.
There’s this massive movement telling fat people to lose weight because they’ll live longer/better/healthier that way, but  is it really someone else’s concern how well I live? Let’s say your my doctor and you tell me to lose weight. Without knowing my cholesterol, blood sugars, heart rate, exercise habits, and satisfaction with my day-to-day existence, are you really doing me any good? There’s something to be said for self-satisfaction.
Third, if you’re really all that worked up about obesity trends in the United States (or your own country), take the time to do some research. Who has access to grocery stores? Who has access to the income and time needed to purchase and prepare nutritious meals for themselves and/or their family? Who has the knowledge to cook and store ingredients properly? As an example, I worked in a neighbourhood in Philadelphia where, over a 3.5 square mile area, there was one grocery store. This store was arranged around a few dusty shelves populated by boxes of Cheez-Its and a freezer full of cheap beer, and the few vegetables and fruits it sold were on their way into the realm of rotten. Some neighbourhoods didn’t even have this much; their residents fed themselves at McDonald’s and the local Chinese food restaurant. In mine, most residents worked two jobs and couldn’t afford cars; walking an hour or more round-trip to get low-quality food that you don’t have the energy to cook doesn’t sound like a reasonable expectation, now does it? A feminist response to “the obesity problem” needs to consider not only discrimination and the right to govern one’s own life choices, but also issues of income and access. The American obsession with weight loss and skinniness needs to be reconsidered from all of these perspectives.
So as you contemplate your New Year’s resolutions, Americans, please reconsider that “lose weight” option that might’ve cropped up on your list. Maybe your reasons are valid for you- I know I’ve made the choice to lose weight before- but maybe you’re doing it because you feel like you “should.” Maybe you’re hoping that a better diet and more exercise will make it easier to do the things you want to do, but then again…maybe you’re dieting (again) instead of focusing on the other things you’d rather do. I don’t know, obviously, because I’m not you. But instead of letting a series of social restrictions guide your  thinking, maybe it’s time to turn your energies to something that’s important to you. Travel more. Watch more TV. Change someone’s life for the better. Learn to rein in your judgment of others. Be nothing but your wonderful, unadulterated self. After all, it’s a new year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Fascinating Take on That Vampire Romance

This article takes a look at the most recent movie version of that vampire romance novel. You can also look over  feministe's discussion here. The basic gist is that the movie is disturbing because of its sexist overtones but that it's fascinating if you consider a) the protagonist's will as the most powerful force and b) the disconnect between action and consequence as a fantasy of a world where Patriarchy exists without its natural backlash.

And yes, I still refuse to name that series. I promise you, it's better this way.