Friday, March 30, 2012


Knit snatchel
The cutest vagina you'll ever see, knit in my own living room.

I have a long history of struggling with strong feelings for my country and trying to balance my loathing for its incredible capacity for stupidity with a deep appreciation for the autonomy I'm theoretically granted here. Over the last two weeks, this challenging see-saw has become extra-wobbly as a series of proposed bills and speeches by state and federal legislators has reduced my personhood to some combination of whore, cow/pig, and rights-less incubator. If you think I'm joking or exaggerating, please check out those links because, unfortunately, most of that is verbatim.

It's one thing, I think, to grow up female/woman in a country where you know your basic civil liberties are only a handful of decades old, while simultaneously being aware that other women around the world would do an awful lot to have those same opportunities. There's a lot of pushback against people like me who campaign for an end to social discrimination because "feminism isn't necessary anymore." Truthfully, a lot of disenfranchised Americans (female or otherwise) can identify with that basic sentiment; with voting, education, and employment available, many of us are a lot better off than our ancestors 100+ years ago. But that doesn't mean that feminism, or activism more broadly, is redundant. The personhood amendment up for grabs in Colorado, for example, would prevent someone from seeking an abortion even in cases of rape or incest. The long-and-short of it is that, while the amendment protects a foetus from being "killed for the crime of his or her father" (direct quote), it doesn't protect the mother from the same.

I've frothed at the mouth so many times this week that I've been rather dehydrated. Discourses about feminism and women's rights, particularly women's reproductive rights, are always entwined with other discourses around social inequality such as racism, classism, and level of physical or mental ability, but I'm sick of how many things seem able to be diluted to the spectra of sex and gender. In the 21st century, in a country that likes to tout itself as being The Most Advanced On the Planet, basic concepts (such as the fact that I am, in fact, a human and not livestock) seem to elude many of our most powerful. To add insult to injury, it often feels as though I'm a lone (or, if not lone, at least very tiny) voice screaming to an uncaring wilderness.

The balancing factor this week has been the discovery of the Government-Free VJJ movement. While the usual course of writing letters to lawmakers and ceaselessly calling their offices can exacerbate the lonely "I'm talking to a wall!" feeling, a cohesive movement to send a message feels somehow more productive. You can recycle a letter or turn off a phone, but it's difficult to ignore the cute and cuddly vagina that's landed on your desk.

That's right! The Government-Free VJJ movement is a craft-centred form of political protest that facetiously suggests that (primarily male) politicians would stay out of our vaginas and uteri if they had a set of their very own. Whether sewing, crocheting, or knitting, each one takes only about 30 minutes to complete and can be made with relatively cheap supplies. The goal is to send at least one to each politician who has been systematically degrading and violating women's personhoods through speech or proposal. The movement itself has already caught some media attention, which is promising; since I've already knit four, I've spent every stitch envisioning a storm of news coverage about how Washington and state capitols have all been inundated with hand-crafted lady-bits. Even better is trying to imagine the press releases coming from these lawmakers' offices in response to the influx: "Representative England is unavailable, as he is currently trying to figure out how livestock learned to knit."

There's something to be said for the medium of choice, for while a hand-held vagina is difficult to ignore, it also uses trades (sewing, knitting, etc.) that are part of the pantheon of "Things That Only (White?) Women Do Because Men Are Too Busy Running the World." In other words, is it subversive or complicitly patriarchal to use domestic activities to make a political point about women's rights? There's a discussion to be had there, I'm sure, but I have to admit that the excitement of giving lawmakers a bunch of vaginas to ponder has short-circuited my critical thinking skills.

If you're crafty, or wish to learn crafty skills in order to participate in the VJJ movement, check out their website. They have a list of patterns to follow, as well as a sample script to include in your cuddly cooter package. When you're ready to mail yours off, use this form to let the movement's organizers know which politicians you're sending them to. The goal, of course, is maximum distribution! Naturally, I highly encourage all of our readers to produce at least one. As a clarification, this isn't about being pro- or anti-abortion rights (although I'm sure you can guess my opinion). This is about drawing attention to the treatment women, as a very generalized group, are given in a male-dominated political landscape.

When you've made your vajayjay or uterus, take a picture and send it in to Go Girl! We'd love to make a gallery of how Go Folk everywhere envision their crafty political engagement in or with the U.S. After all, in how many countries can you use yarn genitals to make a point?

This post also appears today on Go Girl Magazine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Achive Tuesday: I'm a Woman, and I'm Not High-Pitched

I originally published this post in 2010, and I want to make it clear that I was describing the religious community where I was living at the time - I'm now in a different Latter-day Saint congregation. As much as I miss many of the people and leaders from my old congregation, the presentation I describe here was just one example of the kind of crap that was fed to women in the community I describe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feminist Question of the Week: Women Nurture, Men Protect

Gender Essentialism: Basically this ideology states that gender and sex go hand in hand, meaning that gender roles are the result of biology. Now granted, there is a little more to the idea than that, however that's the bit I'm focusing on for this week's question.

I was always taught that women are nurturers; women are maternal, loving and filled with an overwhelming desire to have children. The home is a woman's sphere. Men on the other hand, are meant to provide and protect; Men are supposed to take care of women.

The argument has kicked up it's heels again recently (what with all the great political, woman furor that has surrounded this election cycle) and I'm wondering how you feel about the issue.

Personally, I lean away from gender essentialism, however nothing is really that simple is it?

I'm curious, do you believe that there are defined gender roles for men and women? Do you believe biology affects gendered attributes? What about small things? There are dozens of studies that discuss the differences between men and women, "Men only worry about things that directly affect the physical safety of those they love, while women worry about the small things--which is why men seem lazy and women are nags" (Laura Brizendine).

Anyway, answer the question. What do you think?

Friday, March 23, 2012

In the News

The past couple of weeks have seen me frothing at the mouth over some of the stupidly offensive and horrifyingly threatening moves that (male) politicians have been making against women in the U.S. This means that you all get treated to a listing of some of these stories while you're reading this compilation of news links, so strap into your rage-machines and be prepared to be infuriated!

We'll start off easy with a piece from Jezebel that reports that the Arizona representative responsible for the atrocious proposal that women (yes, women specifically) should have to report their contraceptive use to their bosses has finally seen a glimmer of light and is rewriting the bill. I'm grateful that the negative feedback around the bill has caused Representative Debbie Lesko to reconsider the violations of HIPAA that she wished to codify, but I'm still mad that she's rewriting the damn thing. It's illegal and inappropriate! It's none of my boss's business if I take pills or use other prescription contraceptives!

Although if I'm no better than a pig or a cow, as some legislators would believe, then I suppose my anger is simply the lowing of a herd animal spooked by the passage of clouds across the sun (or some equally simplistic dismissal of my experiences). Y'know, because animals are forced to carry their foetuses as long as their bodies choose, and get pregnant whenever a stud shares their pen, and die of pneumonia because Nature doesn't make penicillin in hay and OH WAIT A MINUTE. I'm SO sorry that calves and piglets are sometimes stillborn, but if you had an ounce of common sense (or a veterinarian on the premises), you'd know that sometimes animal pregnancies are terminated too! ESPECIALLY when the foetus is already dead! Not to mention the fact that the argument that we should have the same natural restrictions as animals is going to put your car, your house, your woven clothes, and your expensive and advanced medical care in a whole world of "not allowed" anymore because it doesn't happen naturally. I'd include something in here about being a human, and therefore not a cow, pig, or chicken, you sexist little f***, but I don't think you're listening to me to begin with. In case someone IS listening, though, Soraya Chemaly at HuffPo wrote a far more eloquent retort to the War on Vaginas and Their Assorted Internal Counterparts. I suggest you read it.

A wonderful guerrilla campaign has started in response to this war, however, which has me thrilled and empowered all at once. What is it? Knitted and crocheted vaginas, uteruses, and ovaries, all inundating the offices of the members of Congress and state legislatures that are committing the most vicious legal attacks on women's rights. How great is it for a representative or senator to be confronted by a cute and cuddly version of the very thing he's trying to kill? It makes me feel so happy to envision that scene. What a great way to express to Congress et. al. that they're often so obsessed with trying to determine foetal rights that they entirely forget the rights of the living, breathing, functioning, undeniably human women who already exist.

Yashur on The Current Science wrote a wonderful editorial looking at why so many people- men in particular- are so ready to dismiss sexism as being a real problem, even when they're falling all over themselves to change racism, economic inequality, or any other form of discrimination or injustice. The easy answer, of course, is that sexism is both universal and a social order that benefits a lot of people (again, men in particular). It goes further, however, especially in light of the pile ofScheiß that has been heaped on women in the U.S. this week.

Let me take a quick breath to gather my thoughts and cool my temper a little...
In good news, more executives from Susan G. Komen are resigning after last month's funding debacle. It's good news not only because their decision was boneheaded and deserved a shamefaced exit, but also because it demonstrates that popular movements can still have an impact on the forces shaping our country (and, hopefully, the world). We might not be getting very far with Congress, but at least we can teach corporations a thing or two.

After a sixteen-year-old committed suicide in Morocco because she was forced to marry the man who raped her, the country is reconsidering its forced marriage laws. While rape victims aren't necessarily forced into marriage by law in Morocco, the law does permit a rapist to use marriage as a form of exoneration. Let's be real: who wouldn't take that option when facing up to 20 years in prison? I for one stand behind the activists in Morocco who are advocating for an update to penal law in cases of rape.

A free new app is out called the "Circle of Six," which allows people to enter six friends into the app with prewritten texts such as "I need a distraction." The beauty of it? It was designed for a contest to create apps that can help prevent sexual assault. How does this prevent assault, you might say? It gives potential victims the opportunity to request bystander intervention before anything goes wrong. That person might not feel safe asking the potential attacker to stop or leave, but pushing a button to get a friend to come in and provide an easy excuse to get away might be a hell of a lot easier to accomplish. It's not perfect, of course; bystander intervention should also come from the friends of the potential attacker (see the Green Dot Project for ideas). I give this concept major kudos, however, for making it that much easier to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation.

My final piece of news is an article from my home state, New Hampshire, where a push to repeal same-sex marriage was defeated this week. New Hampshire has been the site of some impressive political stupidity recently, I must admit, but this leaves me feeling optimistic that at least some human rights aren't being trampled out of existence entirely. An extra note for fun is that one of the men in the 2010 photo is someone both Emily and I knew in high school, and it's wonderful to know that he and his husband will get to continue to share the benefits and privileges that marriage confers.

That's it for this week, readers. I'm off to cool my heels and knit some vaginas for the lovely folks of Congress.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guest Post: Up on the Table

Since I can't seem to get my act together for cross-posts and guest posts, today I'm combining the two and cross-posting my recent Go Girl Magazine article as today's guest post. So there!

“Try angling it down,” the dark-haired woman suggested to her student. The student maneuvered a bit, then said, “Is that it?” Both women peered in close, their heads nearly touching the object of study. The instructor made a quick adjustment to the student’s work, and the student immediately gasped, “Oh! There it is!” She looked up at me. “It’s glorious!”

From my vantage point above them, I chuckled. Apparently, finding my cervix was as exciting as observing a desert sunrise and as difficult (at least initially) as bringing microscopic cells into focus under a lens.

It wasn’t difficult to understand how I’d wound up on a birthing table in the middle of a hospital teaching lab in Colorado. One of the local forensic nursing teams- the people who collect evidence off someone’s body after a or other crime- had won a Violence Against Women grant to train forensic examiners for rural and underserved communities across the United States, and the best way to teach evidence collection is live models. Ever eager to do something to help The Cause, I’d filled out my W9 without hesitation and prepared to join my first training session on International Women’s Day. What a great way to celebrate, I thought.

The ever-terrifying speculum, courtesy of

Forensic examiners play an incredibly important role in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Their examination is equal parts medical and crime scene, with the result that their findings- analyzed by a crime lab- play the role of DNA evidence if a case is taken to prosecution. Additionally, they are treating their patient as they go, dosing them with Rocephin and Zithromax for gonorrhea and chlamydia exposure and checking for injuries that might need more than a few hours to heal. Perhaps their most important role, however, is that of the supporter. Patients receiving a forensic exam- which involves bright lights, blue dye, photography, and a full - are put in charge each step of the way. Where the sexual assault has taken away the person’s choice and bodily integrity, the forensic exam seeks to restore that. Nothing is done without the patient’s explicit consent, and everything that is done is performed with incredible sensitivity to their current situation.

For example: have you ever had a gynecologist gently push your knees open at the start of a pelvic exam? It’s not a big deal when you’re just there for a PAP, but when you’ve just been assaulted, that innocuous and medically universal gesture is threatening. The medical professionals I was assisting were practicing holding their arms out wide: “Open your knees to my hands whenever you’re ready.” What a difference the wording change makes! From there, every step was talked through: “These are my hands-” as she moved her hands down my thighs- “and now you’ll feel my fingers on your labia. I’m checking for external injury. How are you feeling right now?” The constant check-ins, which minimize the triggering of a startle response during an actual exam, continue to give the patient control. The subtext of the “This is what I’m doing” speech is always, without fail, “Are you still okay with this?”

When I told friends what I was doing for the hospital, most of them looked some degree of horrified. It wasn’t the idea of being bare-arsed to the world that bothered them, but rather that the first day of the two-day live practice was entirely pelvic exams. For many cis women, and I’m sure some trans women too, pelvic exams are incredibly uncomfortable experiences best kept at one per year. The idea of novices repeatedly poking at us with speculums is certainly nerve-wracking. It was for me, although I tried not to show it. The students themselves were already so afraid of hurting me that some of them were examining me with shaking hands. And for the most part, they did fine; not spectacularly well, although they certainly improved by the end of the day, but I walked away without injury or any real pain.

What I did walk away with, however, was an incredible sense of empowerment. So many of us walk into those pelvic exams with only a minimal comprehension of what goes on: speculum goes in, brush goes in, everything hurts for a moment, and then speculum goes back out. Watching my instructor train the other students meant that every step of that exam was broken down as it was performed on me: speculum goes in at an angle to avoid crushing the urethra and is then angled down toward the cervix, speculum opens around the cervix and essentially “rests” on it for the exam, and in a forensic exam, it’s a swab instead of a brush which goes in and collects potential evidence from around- not on- the cervix. Then speculum opens and “scoops” the cervix back down, and speculum slowly closes as it’s pulled out at that same angle it entered with. By the end of the third exam, I could tell where the students needed to go to find my cervix- not because I was sore, but because I’d been shown how it should feel. I had the vocabulary to explain what went wrong when one student forgot to open the speculum before trying to take it out. All those biological structures that so readily remain mysterious were, over the course of that day, rendered familiar. If only all pelvic exam patients could leave the room feeling that good!

To me, forensic nurses do some incredibly important work in our communities. It is their efforts that tie perpetrators to their crimes and which give victims that first step back towards regaining control over their bodies. Many of them also take the time to educate the public (and certainly juries) to dispel some of the more pernicious myths around sexual assault- for example, that a victim will always be injured. They advocate for policy changes in their hospitals, states, and nations to give victims as many rights as possible. When training each other, too, they even educate their models. What I hope is that the twenty-odd students I worked with that day will walk away to fill that role in their communities. Based on what I saw from my vantage point on the table, they’re well on their way.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Archive Tuesday: Links of Note, Only Some of Which Are About Sex

 In place of our Archive Sunday column, this week we're doing an Archive Tuesday post. This post was originally published in 2010.

A flower stripped of its petals is not a healthy metaphor for sexual activity.

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Question of the Week: What Are You Listening To?

Folks, tomorrow I leave for a busy trip to an academic conference, including two campus visits at universities where I will potentially be in a PhD program next year. And as I hurry to prepare everything for my 8-day absence, and as I increasingly feel angry and shocked by the surreal legislation and government policies that are honest-to-goodness taking place in my country - well, in the midst of all that, I think it's time for some links and videos. So, what music are you listening to? Something that provides a pithy or insightful commentary on gender? Something that's merely fluffy and enjoyable? Either way, share some links!

I, for one, have recently fallen in love with Pink Martini, and this song is fitting for my frustration with the current state of US politics:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just When I Didn't Think This Contraceptive Debate Could Shock Me Anymore

Just when I thought I'd been shocked enough, I encountered this video, describing even more disturbing legislation.

If you'd like to know more, Feministe has a post that discusses some of the legislation Rachel Maddow mentioned. I'm referring to the bit where Maddow mentions a bill that's under consideration in Arizona - the bill proclaims to ensure that pregnant women have access to correct information, but it protects doctors from malpractice suits if they deliberately withhold information from pregnant women - provided the doctor withheld it in order to prevent the woman from seeking an abortion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quote of the Week: Stephen Colbert and Contraceptives

Image source.

"If you want to avoid getting pregnant, there's only one sure-fire way: be a man."

The Colbert Report, Monday March 12

You can view the video here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ask a Feminist: What Do You Think of Radical Feminist, Twisty Faster?

Image courtesy of LexnGer

This question is from male feminist and friend of NAW, Jeremy:

So I was reading Twisty's post today about the nude revolutionaries business and she argues that for western women to use their nude bodies for the purposes of subversion doesn't work because the nude female body is always re-inscribed into the male gaze. I wonder, then, if the female body must be hidden, how is this not simply placing the power over the female body back into patriarchal terms? She's right that a nude female body will be subject to the male gaze, but by hiding the body it is also responding to the shaping of the male gaze.

I couldn't remember if you had, so I was hoping you could point me to one of your blog posts that takes up this issue of female nudity, feminism, and the male gaze, or if you haven't written on it, I'd love to hear your thoughts. My initial reaction to articles on iblamethepatriarchy is usually one of resistance, but maybe because I think it's because I don't like that version of feminism because it feels to man-hating and second-wave-y to me. I'd love to learn otherwise, but from my infrequent reading, it sure seems that the spinster aunt doesn't like men, and doesn't like male feminists, so I end up being told that any response I might have is wrong or unwelcome right out the gate. Sure, that's what women have experienced for a very long time, but to try to shift the tables so men are then in the persecuted social position is the angry approach of second-wavers who seemed to often want to simply usurp the male authority rather than address the problematic social imaginary and logic that perpetuated the inequality and mistreatment.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your musings.

Now, ordinarily I'm wary of questions about man-hating feminists, since many people ask those questions out of ignorance. Their evidence for the existence of man-hating feminists tends to either come from pop culture representations of hot but angry women with short hair who say they refuse to shave their legs but who always have smooth legs on screen - or some people just get these questions from applying their pre-conceived notions of feminists in such a way that no matter what I say, they think anything other than "I want to obey a man" means "I want to dominate a man." I say, "You know, it's especially problematic that women are so often portrayed without faces in print advertising," and they say, "Sure, blame it all on the men!" Even though I never mentioned men. So, I'm normally cautious about those questions. 

But Jeremy's question struck a cord with me. Not only do I know Jeremy is himself a feminist who knows there are various camps in the movement and who does not buy into those stereotypes - I also know that Jeremy's asking about a specific blogger and about a recent post that left me with some similar questions. Plus, he's asking about a radical feminist that we at NAW kinda endorse by including a link in our blog roll. Awhile ago I posted about a conflict between Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy and a sex positive blogger (whom I linked once in my original post but am not linking again). See, Twisty uses a lot of anti-men rhetoric. This isn't to suggest that she hates all men - she has posted about male friends, for instance. But she is aggressively anti any form of patriarchy or femininity, as she sees patriarchy as the system at the root of all evil, and as she sees femininity as an unnatural system constructed to take power from women.

So recently Twisty blogged about nude feminists and explained why she saw a real reclamation of power in an Egyptian woman's decision to post nude photos in protest of restrictions placed on female attire in her home country, but why she saw a Canadian woman producing a pin-up calendar to simply play into patriarchal values. And that post is what inspired the first part of Jeremy's question - he wants to know my thoughts on this issue and whether I'd agree with Twisty. And, I am very much biased on this issue - we've discussed pornography at length on NAW since Erica sees it as (frequently) empowering, where I see it as (always) degrading to all participants, and usually degrading to women. Erica and I of course have our different biases - as someone who has never willingly watched anything that most people would call pornography, I feel outright traumatized if a pornographic image pops up on my computer. I feel violated - it is a violent experience for me. For Erica, the right kind of pornography can be quite liberating. So, we have different opinions. And there are a lot of different opinions out there. If I had my druthers, pornography would be illegal in the US, or at least more restricted. Yes, I'm that extreme. But I also recognize that quantifying and defining pornography is like trying to catch a shadow. While I see that vampire romance novel as pornographic, I know many people who disagree - and I don't have the right to make it illegal.

So I don't have a very good answer for this question of whether the pin-up calendar is liberating. If I had the stomach to click on Twisty's links to the calendar, I could tell you my opinion of that particular example of nudity-for-feminism. But I'm so opposed to pornography that I'm not about to click on something that touts itself as being in pin up girl style.

As for Jeremy's second question, about radical femininsts and man-hating, I have a few thoughts, but they're still conflicted. On the one hand, I don't share Jeremy's concern that Twisty wants to usurp male authority and set up a world where men are persecuted in the place of women. If anything, I get the impression Twisty just doesn't wants to live apart from men. Granted, she'll then go and post something about a male friend just to confuse me, and she says everything so tongue-in-cheek that I can never tell when she's serious. In fact, I've been chuckling over her posts for so long that it came as a shock to me when I read a recent post that is opposed to romantic relationships of any sort. When I saw the title indicating she was going to "give relationship advice to no one in particular," I expected something pithy about how damaging a certain type of relationship can be: instead, she advised all women to avoid relationship, even adding a note that homosexual relationships are just as damaging because they're based on heterosexual patterns.

And suddenly I sat back and thought, "Crap. She's serious." But even as I type this blog post, there's a part of me that thinks, "I don't know - she can't be against all relationships." But she says she is, and I think I'm guilty of putting up Twisty in my own image. So how do I feel about Twisty's message? I don't know!

But back to Jeremy's request for links to NAW posts dealing with issues of nudity, the male gaze, etc. 

First off, one of our earliest posts came from Erica in 2009, "My Body's Politik," where Erica discusses these issues in the context of her own body and her conflicted emotions about weight loss.

Then I've got a post from last year where I listed off various discussions involving feminism and the body, "Bodies and the Blogosphere." Incidentally, that post includes a brief discussion of Twisty's views on pornography.

If you want to see a full-on conversation about pornography, Erica and I had a conversation in a series of posts last year. First Erica responded to "Bodies and the Blogosphere" (above), in "Porn, Porn, Porn." I then did some research in order to provide an articulate answer and wrote, "The Problem with Porn: Part 1" and "The Problem with Porn: Part 2." Sadly, I never felt that I'd finished that discussion. The timing was just bad - it was the beginning of a particularly stressful period of my life, a period which never quite ended (I know, I know, Rich World Problems and all that). 

You might also appreciate Erica's discussion of "Self-centered Sex Differences" and how the concept of penis envy assumes a penis inherently brings power that breasts and a vagina don't. And then there's Michelle's post about the class virgin/whose (false) dichotomy, "Caught Between an Angel and a Prostitute."  And there's also my post from Fall 2010, "Naked Skin: Why I Love My Face Without Makeup."

And then you really should just look over the entire month of January 2011, as our theme was the body. I also kinda wish I could find an earlier post where Erica pointed to a plus model who was in a relatively tame commercial but who faced a strong retaliation from family-minded folks who interpreted her curves as pornographic. Which is, again, why I recognize that pornography is a tricky, tricky, tricky subject.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Question of the Week: Women in the Future

The past few months have seen an almost riotous exploration of women's rights in the United States. According to an article I read in the New York Times, recent polling shows that many moderate and moderate republican women are actually leaving the republican part.

It's an interesting shift as many women feel that the republican party has turned against them in a surreal resurfacing of 1950's ideologies about morality, sexuality and gender essentialism.

Considering that this years hot topic has been women's issues, where do you see it going from here? What will the next few years bring for women? What issues do you think we should be watching for? What can we do to ensure that the female future is a bright and successful one?

For myself, I see the war on women (is that too dramatic?) extending to cover more topics and more legislation. One thing that I have seen that I think is positive, and maybe this is just a side-effect from International Women's Day having been just a few days ago, but I feel like women are pulling together and speaking out more (for instance, just check out this video with the amazing Judi Dench doing a voiceover and Daniel Craig dressed in drag).

So what do you think? Where do we go from here?

The Final Wave

Two weeks ago I wrote a post for Not Another Wave about Downton Abbey when what I really wanted to write about is the contraception debate. I chose not to talk about it because I felt like everything had already been said, that I’d just be beating a dead horse into the soiled ground of American politics.

But everyday I check the news and it’s filled with a brand new horror, eating up space, demanding attention and pushing at all the tender cracks in my feminist armor.

The debate over contraception is important and timely, however, what concerns me more is the rhetoric, nay the ideologies, the commentary and the decidedly anti-woman action that it has spawned.

During the 1970’s the Civil Rights Movement thought it would finally break down the last barriers for women’s rights and cement the ideas of equality and respect for women as foundational for our country.

But those ideas died a little bit. You know it. I know it.

Feminism became a dirty word. A moniker for perceived entitlement, anger and “ugly bitches who need a good lay.” And there that label lay, for quite a while and thing got worse and worse. Perhaps you think that I’m being a little over-dramatic here, and maybe I am feeling all of this a little too sensitively, but the current political current in my country, makes me feel scared. And I don’t even LIVE there right now.

I feel it. I feel scared for the choices that politicians in Washington are making about my body. I feel scared about the fact that we are slipping into a false nostalgia for the “good old days” when women were women and a man was a man and every one knew their place. This is not a time to be hearkening back to! Those were not the good old days and I refuse to take part in a rhetoric that espouses that ideology.

I’m sick and tired of feeling like a second-class citizen in my own fucking country; that somehow it’s ok for a panel of old white men to say what is morally acceptable for my body. As a response to the blatant patronization that it doing a coast to coast sprint in the United States, the past few weeks have seen a surge in concern for women’s issues and I love it.

I saw this video today and I know that perhaps it seems a little silly, but it really stuck to me and the fact that the fight for women’s suffrage in the early 1900’s follows a similar rhetoric to political conversations of today, freaks me out.

These words are real, they are relevant and they do resonate with me.

“I’m a citizen of this nation…I want suffrage and independence!”

So I say that this should be it. No more first wave, second wave, or third wave feminism, but the final wave. This is the last time we stand up, because from here until the end, I’m not going to sit down.

“The rights of citizens shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.” ----19th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

Friday, March 9, 2012

In the 'News'

Aaaand we're back with another segment of "In the 'News,'" which I'm going to start putting in quotation marks because the links I post aren't always "news" in the traditional sense. More often than not, they resemble snack items for your analytical brains to munch upon. Let the noms commence!

First up, an organization in the UK which supports male survivors of sexual assault has started up a poster campaign to raise awareness that yes, in fact, males and men can be (and are) sexually victimized. It's controversial in the UK, of course, because Heaven forbid we a) talk about sexual assault, b) admit males can be victims and c) admit that any male can be a victim, not just "the gay ones" (sarcasm fully intended). It's about time we started expecting the public to deal with it, though, so I say carry on.

Next, another example of the power of social media (aka The Internet) comes from the Lakota nation, where several youth have put together a video campaign targeting negative stereotypes about Native Americans (and the Lakota community in particular). This is what I love about the Internet: it's so much easier for otherwise-marginalized groups (Lakota, adolescent, rural, etc.) to have an impact on the world.

Another thing I love about the Internet? How much easier it is to connect with people who are willing to show you a new-to-you perspective on the world. An example I bring you today is Christine Miserandino's Spoon Theory, which gives able-bodied people a great tool for building sensitivity (read: empathy) for the factors that have to go into decision-making when your body's resources may be limited. It's a great "a-ha" piece for those of us who can go through our days without having to worry if we'll have the energy to do the things that we often take for granted- like showering.

The downside of getting multiple Internet perspectives is that sometimes you find things that are sad, angering, or traumatizing. One such piece from this week details a doctor's experience with an emergency response to a back-alley abortion. I think this is a very important piece to read, however, because it brings back some truths that have become lost in contemporary abortion debates: abortions are medical procedures that should be done by trained professionals, not random people with card tables or even by doctors with no gynecology experience. We live in a world where not every pregnancy is wanted, let alone safe, and where people will continue to make the choice to terminate their pregnancies. We also live in a world where even the most would-be helpful pregnancy and childbirth support organizations aren't accessible to nearly enough people. I am a pro-abortion-rights feminist for these reasons. I know many readers of this blog are in total disagreement with me, which is fine, but I challenge you: actively help us find solutions for these problems. Don't just sit on your thumbs. Push for legislation that punishes those quacks who attempt abortions without proper training. Donate your time and energy to pregnancy support centers, mental health centers, food banks, childcare centers, and housing projects. Don't hate on someone who makes a different choice than you would or did. And above all, please educate yourself about how abortions work and why sometimes second-trimester terminations are important (hint: if your foetus doesn't develop a renal system, your uterus will literally crush it to death during the second trimester.).

Speaking of stupidity becoming entangled in political debates, Michelle Bachman has come up with yet another gem: instead of death panels for the elderly, Obama's health care laws will create birth panels for the fertile. Wait, what? Her hypothesis, which I suspect originated somewhere on the lunatic fringe, is that a government that makes contraception accessible for financial reasons is a government that's planning to force you to use it. I'm not making this crap up. Go over it with me again. She says that if birth control is free, the government will try to save money by forcing you not to have children. Not only is this a spectacular logical fallacy, but it's also a remarkable demonstration of her terrible grasp on U.S. jurisprudence. If you're too lazy to click the link, I'll summarize for you: the U.S. Supreme Court declared that fertility is, in essence, "a basic liberty."

Finally, a quickie from Polytical raises the issue that some of us face when we realize we're madly in love with someone. Okay, that's a bit simplistic. What it briefly addresses is the disjunction that can occur for the women who were raised on Disney and the subsequent message from our mentors that we didn't need a man to be happy, but who now find themselves in a relationship that's so (positively) powerful and influential that they have difficulty envisioning their lives without that partner. I'll admit- I find myself in that position with my partner today, although I'll save my philosophizing for another day. For now, I leave you with this question: how do you envision yourself (or find yourself) handling that difference in expectation and reality?

Domestic Violence Perpetrator Commits Suicide in Protest of "Unjust" Legal System

So, a man in my home state was apparently unhinged enough to commit suicide by dousing himself in gasoline and then lighting a match. According to this article, "he was dead within minutes." This suicide was a political protest staged in front of a New Hampshire courthouse.

What was he protesting? you ask. He was protesting the plight of middle class American men, according to the letter he mailed to the courthouse before committing suicide. You can read his letter, but let me warn you first that the article includes an image of a man burning to death, and also that the article overlooks the significance of Ball's domestic abuse. Now you're forewarned, you can read his letter here (just scroll to the bottom of the article).

I discovered this incident when a friend of mine provided a link to it on facebook, and one of her friends responded by providing the second, sympathetic-to-Ball's-plight link. As I found myself engaged in a debate with her friend, on her wall, I decided it would be better to discuss this issue more fully in this space.

So, here's the deal: this man, Thomas Ball, provides an account that is far more incriminating than he may realize. According to Ball, ten years ago he had a good family and nothing was wrong. However, as he was putting his four-year-old daughter to bed one night, she licked his hand. He hit her in the face hard and long enough to make her bleed. His wife then asked him to leave so that she could calm things down. When he returned home later, he learned that his wife had called the police. He was arrested - though he wasn't held long - and he was not allowed contact with his wife. She filed for divorce, and though he was eventually allowed unsupervised visits with his son, he was not allowed unsupervised visits with his daughters until he agreed to attend counseling. He refused to attend counseling, instead going ten years without unsupervised visitation rights.

According to Ball, his ex-wife later told him that she only called the police after calling one of their children's counselors, who threatened her with charges if she didn't. Ball's reasoning is that his ex-wife must therefore have called the police only because of that threat and not because he did anything wrong. So in his mind, the court mandate that he attend counseling was only adding insult to injury by requiring him to go to one of the counselors responsible for his unjust treatment at the hands of the system. So when he faced a court date for failure to pay child support - which he says resulted from him no longer holding a job - he decided the only reasonable option was to light himself on fire in front of the court and write a letter intended to rally all the men arrested for domestic violence - to rally them to fight back in the war he insists the federal government has been waging against them for 25 years. In his own words:

I could have made a phone call or two and borrowed the money. But I am done being bullied for being a man. I cannot believe these people in Washington are so stupid to think they can govern Americans with an iron fist. Twenty-five years ago, the federal government declared war on men. It is time now to see how committed they are to their cause. It is time, boys, to give them a taste of war.

It would be easy to dismiss Ball as an unhinged man, but many people are surprisingly eager to take his side on this issue. As a member of a Men's Rights group, Ball has become a rallying symbol for other men who feel as if US law has turned against them. For example, the comments section of's Newswatch is full of statements to the effect that Ball was victimized in a way that demonstrates how fathers everywhere are victimized. Given that this website's motto is "curing feminist indoctrination," their reaction isn't terribly surprising. But it is troubling. But even moderate takes on the incident overlook the evidence of abuse. For instance, an article on Hypervocal describes Ball as "slightly unbalanced, the kind of man who would set himself on fire rather than pay his wife the $3000 he owed her for child support" and ends by mourning what the court system did to Ball:

There is nothing more tragic than a person that is given the slight push they need to do something so drastic, so incredibly full of hate for themselves, their situation, and a government bureaucracy that was probably over-stepping in the name of doing their jobs.

Slightly unbalanced, you say? "The slight push they need," you say?

So even this more moderate take on the issue overlooks key facts. Let me break down why I think Ball's kids are better off today than they were ten years ago:

1 - Ball admits to child abuse, even if he doesn't call it by that name. He slapped a four-year-old in the face and made her bleed. That's not healthy behavior. Heck, that's even ordinary behavior. That's abuse. That's a clear sign of abuse. He didn't turn her over his knee and give her a spanking - we're not having that kind of debate. He hit her in the face. And she was four.

2 - His wife showed evidence of feeling unsafe. Yes, Ball's letter claims that she only called the police after someone bullied her into it, but not only is that Ball's assumption (I see no statement to that effect from her). No, there's also evidence in his statement that more was at play. Take the fact that she asked him to leave the house while she calmed things down. A woman doesn't ask a man to leave the house so she can calm things down, over him hitting a child, if that woman sees it as the equivalent of a minor spanking. Something was seriously wrong. Add in the fact that she chose to call a counselor and that she got a restraining order that required him to go six months without contacting her - not just the kids, but her, and it's pretty clear she felt unsafe.

3 - Ball had the opportunity to resume unsupervised visits with all his kids, but he chose to forego those visits for ten years, simply because he didn't want to go to counseling. Given all the evidence against him, the court was absolutely right to ask him to go to counseling - some of his sympathizers suggest he needed counseling, and the courts absolutely agreed. He needed counseling. Without it, there was ample evidence that he would endanger his daughters.

4 - Violent, pre-meditated suicide, in response to a three-thousand-dollar debt is not healthy behavior. In fact, that is a gross understatement - it's such unhealthy behavior I don't have adequate words to describe how unhealthy it is. If anything, I'm horrified that such an unhinged and violent person was allowed unsupervised visitation rights with his son.

5. Ball didn't just show aggression and violent tendencies toward himself and his family - he showed it toward the entire legal and court system, by calling other men to arms against the system.

So if you want me to lament over what the court did, you'll be disappointed. Especially given some of the crummy backward steps that New Hampshire's legal system has recently been taking where domestic violence is concerned, I'm impressed by how the courts intervened in this case. If they hadn't, maybe Ball would have taken his family with him.