Sunday, April 29, 2012

LGBTQ and LDS - A Guest Post from the Archives

This is a guest post by David. We originally posted it last year, but with recent movies like the "It Gets Better at BYU" video, it seemed like a good time to review David's perspective.

President Uchtdorf's CES Fireside entitled "The Reflection in the Water" focused on how we often feel that we don't fit in. And that "too many go about their lives thinking they are of little worth when, in reality, they are elegant and eternal creatures of infinite value with potential beyond imagination." He used the story of the Ugly Duckling to express that "There will always be voices telling you that you are foolish to believe that you are swans, insisting you are but ugly ducklings and that you can’t expect to become anything else. But you know better. ... You are glorious and eternal. ... It is my prayer and blessing that when you look at your reflection, you will be able to see beyond imperfections and self-doubts and recognize who you truly are: glorious sons and daughters of the Almighty God. 

I draw strength from this talk because as an active, temple recommend holding member who is unashamedly and openly gay I all too often look around at church feel very much unlike the swans around me. like the ugly duckling, I don't fit, but unlike the story of the ugly duckling I am given a chance of acceptance if I make severe changes to who I am. The current advice of the Brethren is for LGBT members to be celibate. (see "God Loveth His Children"). Please take a moment to suspend your current views on homosexuality and ask yourself, doesn't this seem counter to everything we were taught growing up?

First off, this life is preparatory for the next, it is here that we learn the basics of relationships, of being parents, of raising a family, etc. David O. McKay famously stated that "No other success can compensate for failure in the home" so what earthly successes can compensate for the failure of even having a home? How is remaining celibate a success at all when, by nature it is destroying any earthly possibility for having a home? Second, how many times have the words of Lincoln been repeated in our youth? "Whatever you are, be a good one." Or the story of the ugly duckling telling us to realize our full potential and then reach for it? In my family it was Emerson's "Hitch your wagon to the stars" that provided the inspiration to reach beyond our mortal potential.

If God made me gay who am I to change his design? If he doesn't desire me to be gay then He will, in his infinite atonement change me to be straight per his original design. Are we not instructed to look at our weaknesses, humble ourselves and let God turn them into strengths? Asking LGBT members to change themselves is just as ridiculous as asking the deaf to spend time trying again and again to hear. Like the deaf who find ways to live brilliant non-hearing lives, shouldn't we encourage LGBT members to do the same?

There are LGBT members of the Church who are border-line suicidal because each week, each day, each hour, they hear that they are an abomination either from others or they repeat the words inside their heads. I know I once tried to take my own life. As such I have seen how staggering the death-toll is, but even for those who survive, our actions are leaving these LGBT members handicapped just as if they were left-handed and we forced them to write only with their right-hand. To put this into sharper relief, Da Vinci was left-handed. Imagine how much we would have lost if he had been forced to go against his natural tendency to use his left hand. Would we have the art and science that fueled the renaissance? Without the renaissance we would likely be 200 years behind in the pursuit of religious freedom and the fulness of the gospel would most likely still be withheld.

Do we doubt God's power to perform miracles? Is our faith insufficient that we feel the need to do it all ourselves? I would hope not, and yet we persist in trying to force a singular view of sexuality onto all people when, if it be God's will He will change it. In the meantime wouldn't my life be a waste to wander in the cold alone like the Ugly Duckling barely surviving instead? Should I not embrace my sexuality as a healthy part of who I am looking at myself and acting well my part?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Politics, Politics, Politics

I can't believe we still need this image.
Dia ar sábháil! Since my article a few weeks back about vaginal protests and politicians attempting to legislate idiocy, very few things have changed. We have some victories- such as the narrow defeat of Arizona's "show me your prescription" bill- but we also have continued pressure from numerous lawmakers to curtail the rights and personhood of (cis) women across the United States. Foetal personhood amendments, parental consent laws, and name-calling continue to shape the country's political landscape. I recently gave up frothing at the mouth in favour of banging my head against the wall as a result.

Here's the thing. I grew up surrounded by rhetoric that claimed that America is the greatest country in the world. We have the most freedoms. We have the best history. We have the biggest trucks, too, in case anyone was measuring. Even as a small child I was pretty skeptical of this rhetoric, mostly because my family didn't own a truck and was the product of fairly recent immigrants with their own cool histories. I was, however, raised with a healthy respect for the fact that the United States has the capacity to evolve and change as circumstances require. It's certainly not a speedy or easy process- there was a solid 100 years between the end of the Civil War and the (legal) end of Jim Crow, for example- but it's a process that's certainly possible. In other words, in spite of overwhelming evidence that my home country is a slow-moving behemoth when it comes to social change, I was taught to remain optimistic.

What I forgot to remember is that social change isn't unidirectional, and all the equalities Americans have fought to achieve can be stripped away by an equally determined regressive force. Many of the recent attacks on women's rights have been from the anti-abortion camp, but that's just one piece of a broader movement that apparently seeks to keep women down. Senator Scott Brown, attempting to pander to Massachusetts women recently, praised the "strong women" in his life for teaching him to cook. Apparently, while men knowing how to cook, clean, and sew is a good thing, it takes a strong woman to ensure that that knowledge is adequately imparted. Never mind the terrifying thought that a man might live on his own at some point, or be raised by dad(s), or that women- people- are strong for things beyond throwing a couple of ingredients into a pot. Never mind that his remarks indicate that a woman's strength is in the kitchen.

::insert sound of head hitting wall here::

What drives me crazy is that this is all happening in spite of the aforementioned self-aggrandizing rhetoric. Anyone with a pulse who spends time outside the United States ought to be able to admit that America is a pretty good country but that other countries and cultures have amazing things going on too. Many of us, myself included, might even look at those other countries and sigh wistfully, believing that they could improve a few things about our social systems (coughcough only two parties?! coughcough). But many of us fall prey to the belief that we can- and should- teach Others how to do things. "We might not be perfect on health care," we say, "but at least we're not cutting our children's labia and clitori off! Let's teach Them alternatives!" Off we march to Do Good In the World, forgetting all about our home troubles in the process. I challenge back: "We might not be perfect on genital care, but at least we don't punish the victim of a crime for the rest of their life!" (This is a work in progress as various countries change their post-rape marital and childbirth laws, but you get the picture.)

Note that I'm not trying to make light of genital cutting, which I believe is a pretty serious health risk and a systemic failure to provide alternative cultural and medical options for a specific 50% of the population. I would suggest that there's some hypocrisy, however, when Americans (and other Westerners too, I suppose) decry Female Genital Cutting but circumcise male babies as a matter of course. Believe me, I know that the amounts of flesh removed aren't comparable- but we're still okay with cutting an infant's genitals when the evidence in favour of the practice is rather controversial. To make a long story short, Americans spend an awful lot of time criticizing other countries and cultures for their practices while we've got our own cultural challenges to face.

The term "War on Women" that's been floating around the Internet has me a bit kerfluffled, to be honest. On the one hand, while the coordinated attacks on women's health, well-being, and personhood are certainly reminiscent of a political-military strategy, it also feels like a minimization of the sorts of war experiences that Americans haven't had in the homeland for about 100 years. No one's firing guns (I think) and town after town isn't falling to a literal invasion of policymakers. Yet the rhetoric we're seeing here vilifies women on a regular basis: we're studding bulldogs, we're baby-killers, we're drama queens who (according to Brown, anyway) should save our strength for the kitchen. It's just rhetoric, right? But that's where it begins. Discourse and belief feed each other like crazy, and before you know it, the way we talk about women is the way we perceive women. We might not be involved in a literal war quite yet, but this is a great way to lay the groundwork for one.

Let's nip it in the bud. On Saturday the 28th, all 50 states in America will be hosting marches and rallies to protest the nasty-talk. Check out Unite Women for details specific to your state if you're in the U.S., and if you're reading from elsewhere, please send us your support in one way or another. Goodness knows we can't trust our internal politicians to treat us like humans.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Domestic Violence and Mormonism: New Column

Today my first article went up for Peculiar People, a new column I'm contributing to on Peculiar People is a bi-weekly (sometimes tri-weekly) column that examines the relationship between Mormonism and today's relevant issues: The world through Mormonism and Mormonism through the world. What can I say, we Mormons love our Chiasmus.

I'll be publishing an article every other month, with maybe an occasional "wild card" post thrown in here and there. While I won't be able to cross-post those articles, I'll be sure to toss out a link. Today's article is my perspective (at least, an overview of my perspective) on domestic violence among Mormons.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Howl's Moving Castle and Male Adaptations of Female Work (From the Archives)

I originally published this post last year.

The first time I saw Howl's Moving Castle, five or six years ago, I was delighted. I'd seen Spirited Away, but other than that I'd never seen any Miyazaki films, and as far as Miyazaki films go, HMC is a tad more accessible to Western audiences. Plus, they dubbed the animation so well that a friend convinced me the film was not, in fact, a translation, but that it had originally been done in English.

Well, that wasn't true. It's definitely a dubbed film. But I was surprised, a month ago, when my older sister handed me a copy of the book Howl's Moving Castle and recommended I read it. She said it was a little like The Princess Bride, in that the book was different from the movie but still delightful. And delightful it was - but I was surprised by the ways the story and characters changed when it was transferred from a Welsh novel written by a woman, to a Japanese film directed by a man. Miyazaki did a fantastic job with the film, and I still love it, but his adaptation places more focus on male characters and all but strips Sophie of her power. On the flip side, the film complicates age and evil witches in a really interesting way.

I want to make it clear up front that I don't know enough about Japanese culture and Welsh culture to comment on how culture has impacted this transition. In fact, I haven't even seen the movie undubbed. Accordingly, this review will compare a book that was published in English, to a version of the film that was released in English though Disney, and which was marketed to an American audience.

This romantic imagining of Howl says it all
(source: Dreamhuntress on flickr)
First of all, in the movie, Howl is the main event. He's dashing and pretty, and he swoops into Sophie's boring life to save her from the soldiers who are flirting with her. Yes, Sophie doesn't really need saving from those men, and Howl in fact puts her into more danger when the Witch of the Waste sees him with her and decides to put a curse on her, but there's still something heroic in the gesture. These heroics don't show up so soon in the book - instead of scaring off unwanted suitors, Howl is the unwanted suitor. Sophie gets nervous when he tries to buy her a drink, so he chuckles, offers to escort her wherever she's going, and backs off when she doesn't want him to. And the Witch of the Waste doesn't curse her because she's seen with Howl - she curses her because of a misunderstanding and a mistaken identity. I can see why Miyazaki simplified the witch's motivations here, mind you.

The Witch of the Waste is a complicated character in the book, in ways I won't fully describe here, since I hope you'll all read the book for yourselves. But I will say this: while the film complicates the idea of witches by turning the Witch of the Waste into a victim you can sympathize with, who is ultimately an ally, the book complicates the idea of witches in other ways by making Howl's struggle into one where he's trying to avoid becoming like the witch. She isn't evil by virtue of being a powerful woman, (and every powerful woman in the movie is, in fact, evil - even the witch only turns good after losing her powers). She has turned evil over time because she made the same choice Howl made, and his only hope is to undo that choice before it hurts him like it hurt her.

And gaining power in the book doesn't corrupt all female characters. While the movie carries a warning to all magical beings - all the other wizards and witches in the land are losing their humanity to war - the only witches we meet (Madam Suliman and The Witch of the Waste) use their power for evil, while the wizards we meet (Howl and his apprentice) use their magic to help people/ to hide. In the book, however, we meet several witches who are good, including Howl's teacher, a woman who teaches magic to Sophie's sister, and Sophie herself. Yeah, that's right, Sophie herself has magical powers in the book. In fact, in the book Sophie is able to save Howl because of her magical powers, not because they're in love - although they are.

And that last point transitions nicely into my last critique of the movie - the movie is more a love story, where the book is more a coming of age story. Accordingly, it follows traditional patterns of love stories in ways that downplay how powerful women are and play up how powerful men are, while also reinforcing the Beauty and the Beast myth that a virtuous woman can save a dark, brooding man from his animalistic nature. In the book, Sophie plays a huge role in defeating the evil force they fight toward the end. In the movie, it's mostly Howl, and Sophie's role pertains mostly to Howl's heart, which, remember, she is moving through their emotional connection and not through her own power. To reiterate: in the movie, her power and influence are defined in relation to Howl, but in the book she has her own power. 

Still, there's a silver lining to all this: the movie and the book are both about a young woman who only finds herself after losing her youth. How feminawesome is that?? Also, the characters are interesting and fleshed out in both mediums, and the movie's approach to war is interesting. And the animation and music - just incredible. So if you love the movie, I hope you keep on loving it. But take the time to read the book too so you can appreciate the powerful side to Sophie's nature. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Feminist Question of the Week: Semantics

My question this week is a simple one, but one that I do think is important. People are always getting fired up at the term, "feminism;" some people hate the connotations associated with it, some love that it has such a rich history. Some people think it's too narrow and should rather be, "humanism," and others think it shouldn't exist at all because everyone should already be pro-women's rights, so we should only have the word sexist (much like the term "racist").

So, what do you think? What does the word, "feminism" mean to you? Is it time for a new moniker for what we do? Or is this word sufficient?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Battleship and Contact: Two Movies You Didn’t Think I’d Review, But I Did.

Battleship and Contact


You’re probably wondering what in the hell a movie like Battleship is doing on a feminist review, “Did she not watch the trailer?!” you shout in exasperation at your computer screen. Yes. Yes I did see the trailer and I noticed one overwhelming piece of information: Alexander Skarsgard was in it. I’m sorry for the piece of objectification I’m going to do right now, but that man could be on infomercials selling blenders and I would buy the season DVD. So you see, when I saw the trailer, my eyes completely skipped over the absurd reliance on a board game for a plot, the obvious cliché’s in the bad-boy-turned-leader, and the melodramatic dialogue—I was going to see Alexander Skarsgard in a Navy uniform.

Now, I clearly entered this movie with absolutely NO expectations other than watching the world’s sexiest man parade around on a screen larger than a house, hence I found myself pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of three underrepresented groups of people, to whit….

One, Rhianna as the tough-girl, token female in a military movie. For the most part, Rhianna’s role is exactly what you expect it will be, short hair, attitude, loves guns, always threatening to beat up someone else and so on. What I did find interesting about the character however, was that not once did anyone ever say anything about her being girl. The fact that she was female was never addressed, discussed or even vaguely mentioned, she was just a soldier and she was good at what she did.

I thought it was nice that her gender was never an issue, all that was an issue was the aliens attacking earth (as it should be in that situation). So despite not being mind-blowing, it was, at least, an original handling of fairly over-played stereotype that brings up a good point, gender differences shouldn’t have to be pointed out all the time, sometimes, people just do their jobs well. (Incidentally, while it’s very nice that we got our token one-woman per military drama, now that the formula has been done for a while, could we maybe up it to two women per military drama?)

Two, the unexpected inclusion of an injured and recovering soldier. In most military movies, the men are big, strong, virile, and have four functioning limbs; when a character is injured, they are quickly shunted off in a helicopter to accompanying sad music and everyone is sad for a little while, but then it’s business as usual. The very real story of what happens to these men after a serious injury is rarely addressed.

In Battleship however, we meet a big Army man in a rehabilitation center, learning to walk again with the use of prosthetics after he’s lost both of his legs. In addition to the obvious physical challenges he faces, the movie touches on his feelings of worthlessness, loss of purpose, and hopelessness; however, he becomes an unlikely action hero himself when he leads his own missions to save the world. While we only get one such character in the film, that’s still one nod to those often excluded.

Third, geriatric action heroes: they do exist. The third group of unlikely characters in this film is several elderly veterans who are brought out of retirement to literally man a battleship. Again, action heroes are usually big, strong, virile, and young. Now don’t get all technical on me and start spouting off about Bruce Willis and Liam Neesen being all bad-ass in their middle age, cause you’re right, they’re still kicking ass and taking names and all that; however, those guys are middle-aged, not elderly. These guys were elderly.

Cool, no? They swore, pulled triggers and lobbed bombs, all without taking their shirts off as most other action heroes must do at some point in the movie.

So despite it’s cliché’s, over-dramatic dialogue and ear-splitting explosions, the movie was better than I expected, in that it did try to operate, at least minimally, outside of the general Hollywood formula. That and it did have a great soundtrack (I love AC/DC).

However, perhaps I should warn you, I really did basically tell you all the good parts of the film, so if you decided not to see it, you’d probably still be ok….and that’d leave more Alexander for me.


You’ve probably seen this movie on TNT at two in the morning at some point in your life, or watched it with your families 16 years ago when it first came out, but have you seen it since? I had seen it, but again, 16 years ago, so I rented it online (sort of) and rediscovered why I think this movie has a lot to offer, and not just to feminists (though you should all be feminists by now, you know).

In case you don’t remember the plot, here’s a little review for you: Jodie Foster is a young, brilliant astronomer who listens for Extra-terrestrial life and of course, discovers it one day. This unleashes a storm of media, government, fear, distrust, and plans for a transportation device sent over by the aliens. She wants nothing more than to be the person strapped into that transportation thing, but has to battle bureaucracy and sexism to get there. Despite how it sounds, one of the things that I love about this movie is that aliens actually play a very small role in the film; mostly this film is about humanity in times of crisis.

One of the reasons that I think this movie is great for feminists is that Jodie Foster is intelligent and driven. The focus of the movie is not on how she looks, ninety percent of the movie has her in jeans and a t-shirt with a messy ponytail. While there is a side-plot of a relationship with Matthew McConaughey, it’s never the core of the film; the crux of the movie is the point where she encounters and believes in something greater than herself.

The film also passes the feminist test, in that two women, with names, talk about something other than a man for more than thirty seconds. While the majority of the characters are still male, (which is understandable in some facets since most of politics and science are still dominated by men) the main staffer at the White House is a woman, and she too plays a strong role in the development of the plot.

For me, the greatest point of this movie is how it shows a female protagonist dedicated to scientific discovery and the fulfillment of her dreams. Often when women are portrayed as ambitious and career-oriented, they are simultaneously shown as cold, evil, and downright heartless (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), in Contact however, Foster is genuine and polite to the people around her (much like successful women really are).

The movie also offers a discussion of science versus religion and whether the two can coexist, or maybe even have quite a bit in common; I think it’s a great addition to the film, in that it is a constant ongoing discussion in our society, and would surely be discussed in the event of aliens.

So there you have it, two unexpected movies to think about today.

What are some movies you would recommend for this week?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Misogyny on The Daily Show: Did This Sketch Cross the Line?

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Women's Vote
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

When I first viewed the above Daily Show sketch, I had mixed feelings: like the women in the interview, I recognize the point Jason Jones was trying to prove, and I get that it was funny to see such an exaggerated version of the womanless-conversations-about-women we've been seeing in politics lately. But like those women in the interview, I also wonder if he went too far by never really giving them a chance to speak. Especially in light of The Daily Show's history of under-representing women, maybe it was in poor taste.

What do you think? Was it a genuinely funny sketch that proved a political point, or did it reinforce what it claimed to critique?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Facebook Hell, or Facebook Haven?

Back in November, Rachel vented about her personal Facebook Hell, a land rampant with "overly-sentimental, sexist mottos and memes," where she couldn't escape stories romanticizing chauvinistic behavior and infantalizing women. At the time I felt surprised, because I'm not experiencing Rachel's frustration. It was only recently, however, that I realized just how awesome my friends are. To prove it, I gathered the following links in one day, on just one view of my facebook home page:

1. An article about legislation in Wisconsin that now no longer requires equal pay for equal work.

2. Another article intriguingly-titled "Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her Puffy Appearance."

3. A rather delayed reaction to Adrienne Rich's death (I too am sad. So sad).

4. An article about the decline in teen births in the US.

5. A rather wonderful meme about what it means to be a feminist:

And these last two links showed up yesterday:

1. An article about the importance of being educated about birth so that you make good decisions for you and your child, rather than simply doing whatever the doctor says.

2. From a few friends, a comparison between Mitt Romney and Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus  Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The comparison makes the provocative argument that today's LDS population would disturb early Mormons with materialism and disregard for the poor.

So yes, I have awesome facebook friends.

EDIT: At the last second, a friend shared this link, "Virginia Passes Bill to Ban LGBT Parents from Adopting."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Once Upon A Time: Can We Escape the Male Gaze?

I am an avid follower of the abc series, Once Upon a Time. There are certainly some drawbacks to the show, and I wouldn't exactly call it the greatest thing on television, but I'm fascinated by fairytales, so I'm always on the lookout for a new retelling - lately, I've even been watching The Secret Circle, just because of its (subtle) connections to Irish mythology. And Once Upon a Time is an interesting retelling, particularly with complex characters like Rumpelstiltskin. So I'm not bashful about my interest in Once. 

But recently I discovered an interview with the cast and creators of the show, and I was surprised when they asked the show's writers to stand up - they were all men. Later, I heard them mention a female writer, but all the creators on the stage were men, and the majority of the writers appear to be men too. Yet the majority of the show's viewers are women.

When you imagine the reverse - a show produced and written by women, with a majority male viewership, it sounds worse than unlikely. It sounds laughable even. Yet women generally have no problem watching a show produced and written by men - so tell me, what do you think? In this kind of market, where men and women gobble up stories by men more readily than stories by women, is there a way to escape the male gaze? Should we?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Independence in the Land of Conservatism

"Sometimes I'm glad I became a social worker. Other times I wish I had simply become a ninja."
When my cousin gave me this bag, I nearly peed myself because it's so true.
I've written previously about my brushes with values conflicts in Colorado, so I'll try not to repeat myself. The simple summary is that I'm a radical, queer-rights-loving, abortion-rights-supporting, sex-positive person who has landed smack-dab in the middle of the conservative capitol of America (example: our district overwhelmingly went to Santorum in the Colorado Republican primary). It's led to many a headache and tear of frustration, to be sure, and has given me cause to reexamine my preconceptions about how social change occurs.

For many activists, and I suppose those who study them, the grand understanding that true change begins with small steps is taken for granted. Consider Margaret Meade's quote about small groups of thoughtful and concerned citizens, Betty Reese's quip on mosquitoes as bedmates, meditations on first steps, and similar sentiments that reassure us that all of us tiny people, working together, can and will change the world. As a social worker, trying to make change through individual acts of direct service, I often feel like the Starfish Story is a direct metaphor for my job. There's something heartening about knowing we can make a difference in one person's life, but something equally disheartening in knowing that individual acts of good can't compete with an overwhelming tide of need.

Living and working in Colorado Springs has meant too that my individual work- domestic and sexual violence intervention- is done against the cultural backdrop of an extension of the Bible Belt, mixed with an enormous military population. So many of my clients are stay-at-home moms, or came here for their husband's career, or hold so tightly to what the pundits have told them about their religion (overwhelmingly Christian) that they have no room for alternate interpretations of scripture. They face the same obstacles that any other victim or survivor faces when leaving, only theirs are compounded by a city (and a state) that believes more in bootstraps than in social assistance. "Go get a job!" they hear every day, only they're facing an incredibly stagnant economy that's already overflowing with people who need work; even the minimum-wage jobs, like the stereotypical McDonald's burger-flipping position, are filled. Add to that the constant message they receive from their communities that they're doing something wrong for leaving their husbands, for not staying at home with their children, for being pregnant out of wedlock, for wanting an abortion when their husbands threatened to kill them...And this doesn't even begin to touch the crap my clients get when they're in same-sex relationships, or God forbid men being abused by women. My agency lost a good chunk of its state funding when it opened its safehouse doors to anyone who identified as a woman, cisgendered or not. That's a lot of money- salaries, maintenance, supplies- to have to sacrifice in the name of doing what's right.

I think what challenges me the most about activism here is that so many facets of my life actually meet the expectations of the local, socially-conservative culture. My partner and I are both cisgendered, we're married, and we came here for his career. He's the breadwinner (by a long shot; I don't think I could support us both on my nonprofit salary). Though my values conflict with local ones on a routine basis, I'm technically a Christian. We're both White and Anglophone. In short, there's nothing that stands out about us as being anything other than your run-of-the-mill, socially (and possibly financially) conservative Colorado Springs residents. For me, it's pretty depressing.

What it has meant, though, is that the whole "little things add up to make a big difference" philosophy has become a necessity for survival. When my husband and I shop or eat out together, for example, I pay. It doesn't matter in terms of finance- it's a shared account- but it does matter in terms of challenging the tacit assumptions on the part of every single cashier and server out here that a heterosexual-looking married couple should always pay their cheque via the man. I kid you not; I find myself having to reach for the bill rather frequently. I've become no stranger to correcting financial and social institutions that assume that Nick and I share a last name, although I'll admit I get a good laugh when they assume that my name is his. I have to be very conscious about my use of the term "partner" because, the second I use the word "husband," a palpable transition occurs and suddenly I feel like the secondary representative of my Husband-Headed Household (this was a particular problem when doing our taxes). These may seem like little things, but the overwhelming message I get is that I exist via my husband- and I'm reasonably sure we left 1950 behind a long time ago.

It's exhausting to feel the constant pressure to represent ourselves a certain way in public, and to be completely fair, we have met some wonderful people out here who don't fit the mould any better than we do. They ask for our names, they put the cheque in the middle of the table, and they treat both of us like human beings. How novel! More often than not, however, I feel the same overwhelming sense of despair when I realize that each time I pay the cheque, it's just one tiny gesture against a very deeply-rooted values system. What I want to do is go to the Capitol and petition/yell/pontificate until my point is made and things change; unfortunately, not all social change can be accomplished through a policy avenue. Individual minds can't be legislated to think new things, and so much of what I feel I'm fighting is a belief structure. Such independence is gained, it appears, through day-to-day struggle.

What I think this means for all of us is that "the good fight" doesn't just happen during massive street protests or the collective crafting of genitalia. It's the little things we do with our actions, whether we're facing a majority culture of conservatism or living the dream in an equality-based city, that shape the way people think. Assumptions are the stuff of social training; what we can do, through our tiny behaviours, is reprogram those instincts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why Religious Feminists Should Support Contraceptive Rights - Part 2

For my thoughts on why contraceptive rights support the religious liberty of individuals, see part 1 of this discussion.

Laws that require insurance companies to cover medical requirements, without regard to religious objections, are not the fundamental shift in policy that some political pundits have suggested them to be.

I realize that some readers will say health care is an area of the workplace that is optional, or that the government shouldn’t be meddling in health insurance provided through or in affiliation with an institution. But consider government regulations on other health-related aspects of the workplace. There are requirements in place in regard to lunch breaks, air quality, working space – almost any physical aspect of a workplace you can think of, there’s some sort of government regulation in place. Why these regulations? Why not just let the free market decide? Because, as history has shown, the free market favors those in power. If it’s cheaper to replace a worker than to protect that worker’s life, employers have historically been known to take the financial root over the moral one. And I don’t think very many people are going to argue with me on the point that we need at least some regulation on safety in the workplace (such as not keeping a child in front of a dangerous machine for 12 hours in a row). So it’s not a new thing for the government to regulate workplace health conditions.

Should employers cover women's health? Photo from
But health insurance is complicated – I will give you that. We’re talking about a service provided through the employer (or university), but provided by a third party organization. For many Americans, health insurance companies seem like any other company in the US – and as such something that should be left to the supply-and-demand of the market. But most Americans with that view seem to have secure access to health insurance through an employer. Let me tell you how things changed for me when I lost my health insurance coverage a few months ago (insurance I only kept that long thanks to Obama’s health care bill, which allowed me to keep my mother’s insurance until I turned 26).

When I began looking for health insurance, I discovered that as a private health care seeker, I had no bargaining rights. I couldn’t bargain for a low price by dangling the promise of thousands of customers. I only had myself. And what did the insurance companies want from me? A sure – or nearly sure – gamble. They wanted to do everything they could to discourage me from ever using their money. So, I faced dim prospects. Every plan I viewed included a deductible (ranging from 1k to 10k), and even the plans that provided the most coverage would only help me after I first spent a few thousand dollars on my own – then, and only then, the insurance plans would cover a portion of my additional medical costs. Yes, that would happen quickly if I became deathly ill.

But for someone who just wants preventative care, it would do nothing. A rather silly gamble, if you ask me, since preventative care can save long-term costs for insurance companies. But my point is this – health insurance is so integrally tied to employers, that it’s not even feasible for private buyers to get it on their own, or to cover medical expenses out of pocket. The current system relies on a form of collective bargaining that individuals simply don’t have. So it’s not acceptable to tell women who actually have insurance that they’ll simply have to look elsewhere for any medicine their employer doesn’t condone.

Which brings us to the problem of who’s footing the bill. As you’ll recall, the bill still doesn’t require churches to cover contraceptives through their insurance – there’s already an exemption built in for the religious organization itself. It’s the affiliated organizations (such as hospitals and universities) that really set off the debate. In an attempt to compromise, Obama shifted the responsibility of covering the expense over to the insurance company.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you were probably a tad troubled by the thought of the government requiring the insurance company to pay for contraceptives on their own, instead of building the price into the premium. But here’s why I’m okay with that requirement: the insurance companies will save money because contraceptives provide preventative care for a number of medical conditions. In fact, I think that requirement provides insurance companies with more freedom. Without that mandate, insurance companies would have to agree not to cover contraceptives in order to win the bid for business through the religiously-affiliated employer. Even if they wanted to cover it, there’d be no other way to get business from that institution. As long as insurance companies have the option of dropping medically necessary care on an employer’s moral grounds, they must capitulate in order to win that employer.

Add in the fact that some institutions don’t even subsidize the health insurance they want moral control over, and the question of who’s footing the bill becomes even more relevant – as Sandra Fluke argues (see video above), shouldn’t women who are paying for unsubsidized healthcare have a say in what the insurance company covers? When their doctor prescribes medically necessary care, shouldn’t that take precedence over an affiliated institution’s differing belief system? Shouldn’t these women and their doctors have more say than the associated organization that isn’t even paying a dime toward that insurance?

Monday, April 9, 2012

It Gets Better at Brigham Young University

This perspective needs to be heard.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We're Awesome

So it sort of feels like the world has exploded into an “I hate women” kind of atmosphere and it’s been dragging me down a bit lately. I mean, every time I do my morning Internet sweep I get a bit angry and depressed about the possibilities for my future as some sort of sexual-temptation machine (how dare I have a body that has curves and the ability to bear children).

Anyway, it felt like it was time for a bit of positive thinking.

It’s incredibly important for feminists to continue moving forward, to remember that we can make changes, that there are amazing women out there, and that women are influencing and helping to create a better world everyday.

So today, in light of that message, I’d like to give a little shout out to some of the female role models that are out there today and to some of the good things that have emerged from the feminist movement.

Cool lady number one is of course, Burmese politician, Aung San Suu Kyi. This incredible woman has proven her steadfast commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy again and again, even going so far as to endure house arrest for years just for speaking out against her government.

In case you’re not completely familiar with the facts of her life, Aung San Suu Kyi was born to a powerful politician and was lucky and smart enough to receive an incredible world-class education, even obtaining a Ph.D in Oriental and African Studies. She returned to Burma and began to lead the pro-democracy movement, an action that led to her house arrest and her separation from her children and ailing husband.

Now, the Burmese government offered her the choice of leaving Burma or staying, but only under house arrest. Concerned that if she left she would never be allowed to return, this formidable woman chose to stay in her country despite the fact that she spent fifteen of the next twenty-one years under house arrest and even served jail time.

Throughout this whole debacle, Aung San Suu Kyi was an outposken campaigner for the ideals of democracy, believing in non-violent protest and speaking out against the fight for power that mars the face of political elections.

So internet, where’s the tumblr meme website for this incredible woman?

The Hollywood voice: So usually we all hate on Hollywood. A lot of the things produced by that institution/plastic-surgery-fueled-town are sexist and well, annoying (yeah, I’m looking at you, Michael Bay), however there are still good things and cool people working their magic over there.

For one, the unexpectedly cool Fran Drescher; Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “The Nanny?” Really?
Really. Despite the high-pitched voice Ms. Drescher is what I would consider a strong, independent woman, who’s been able to not only make it in a male-dominated industry, but also participate in female-centered activitism. She’s a respected comedian, well-known producer, director and writer (even doing a stint on Saturday Night Live back in the day).

But what really makes her a person of interest for me is her support of LGBT issues (especially after her husband came out to her after almost twenty years of marriage; the two divorced, but have remained close friends and business partners) and her campaigns for women’s healthcare. She survived uterine cancer and has created non-profit organizations and charities to help spread awareness and relief for uterine cancer. In 2008 she even became a U.S. diplomat for Women’s Health issues and currently travels around the world to work with women’s health organizations. Don’t believe me? Feel free to check out the numerous awards that she’s received internationally in behalf of her thoughtful work towards women.

However, that’s not the only reason that I believe Ms. Drescher is someone to be admired, in 1985 two men broke into her home, assaulted her husband and then raped both her and another friend staying with them. Despite this horrific event, she was able to overcome the assault and is now actively campaigning for the safety and well-being of other women.

Rock-on sister.

The last little bit of good news I want to share with you today before I head off in search of vegetable-based food is to showcase the ideological changes finally starting to happen in our society.
For years we’ve told our young men that they’re not really romantic; instead, we’ve told them that the only thing they love is sex. It’s a flawed gender lie that we’ve been spreading for years and it did true harm to our young men. Society told them that they were weak and overly emotional if they fell in love; it told them that as a man they were purely physical creatures, driven by lust and testosterone. Was it any wonder then that the young men of America decided that they should behave that way?

Well finally, we’re starting to see things differently. The ages for a young man’s first sexual experience have risen by 3-4 years on average over the past twenty years; instead of “losing their virginity” at the age of 15, more young men are waiting until they leave high school and find someone that they truly love to share the experience.

I love this. Love is not only for women, teenage boys can feel it too and I think it’s fabulous that it’s becoming more and more acceptable for a boy to acknowledge his feelings of love and respect for the girls he’s intimate with.

So you see world, we are making progress; your bigoted attempts to return us to antiquated ideologies about gender just aren’t going to fly anymore. That’s right world, we have your number and we’re going to continue to feed our social angst until we reach that ultimate goal: equality.

What are some of the good people and things to emerge from the feminist movement that fill you with hope for our future?

Friday, April 6, 2012

In the News

This week's "In the News" segment is going to be blissfully brief, as it's Good Friday and a lot of my energy is going towards celebrating the culmination of the Lenten season. When I say "brief," I mean it: I have a grand total of three (!) links for you all today. It's not that there isn't more to go on- every time I open up the Daily Mail's homepage and see their "Femail" column I throw up a little inside- but I don't want to make today a froth-at-the-mouth day.

The first link today is a BBC feature on an Afghan practice known as Bacha Posh, wherein parents disguise their daughter as a son when she's in public so she can work and have access to education. It's apparently not uncommon, and as with all adaptations to inequality, some of the daughters find it empowering and others feel robbed of their identities. I feel that the human rights aspect of the piece is a bit skewed- it's gender, not access- but it does highlight the fact that sex-based inequality continues to be a significant problem in Afghanistan. The whole cultural acceptance of the practice is even more fascinating to me in that light.

The second link today, also from the BBC, is a feature on a woman whose daughter was kidnapped and trafficked into sex work ten years ago in Argentina. Susana Trimarco, the mother, has been fighting human trafficking- often at risk to her own life- ever since. She is credited with finding the information needed to prosecute dozens of traffickers and rescue 129 trafficking victims, and she has started a foundation to respond to trafficking throughout Argentina. Wow. A round of applause, folks.

Our final link comes in light of the controversy over Sandra Fluke's Congressional testimony on contraceptive costs, and it's a link to individual cis women's testimonies about their experiences with hormonal contraceptive costs. I think it's a particularly good thing to think about in light of the tone of public debate over contraceptive coverage, and I also recommend looking at Emily's post from Friday.

That's all, folks!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Post: Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" Surprisingly Feminist

This guest post, written by Megan "The Opinioness" Kearns, comes to us from Bitch Flicks and was posted on the site on 27 March 2012. The article appears here with permission from the author.
Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette

Many chastised Sofia Coppola’s re-imagining of Marie Antoinette. Some critics complained about the addition of modern music while others thought it looked too slick, like an MTV music video (remember those??). But I think most people missed the point. Beyond the confectionary colors, gorgeous shots of lavish costumes and a teen queen munching on decadent treats and sipping champagne is a compelling and heartbreaking film that transcends eye candy. Underneath the exquisite atmosphere exists a very powerful and feminist commentary on gender and women.

Marie Antoinette chronicles the life of Austrian-born Maria Antonia Josephina Joanna (Kirsten Dunst) as she becomes the Dauphine and then Queen of France leading up to the French Revolution. Writer and director Sofia Coppola loosely based the film on Antonia Fraser’s sympathetic biography of the French queen. Coppola injected the dialogue with actual quotes from the queen’s life. Dunst skillfully exhibits the queen’s naïveté, loneliness and charisma. In an outstanding and underrated performance, she adeptly captures the jubilance of a young woman who desperately desires freedom as well as a woman burdened with the knowledge that her only value lies in her ability to bear children.

In the beginning of the film, we see Marie Antoinette travel from her homeland of Austria to France as her mother has arranged for her to be married to the Dauphin, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) in order to unite the two antagonistic kingdoms of Austria and France. In a heartbreaking scene, Judy Dench tells Marie Antoinette she must leave everything she knows behind to make room for her new French identity, including abandoning her adorbs dog Mops. No, not her dog! That scene seriously broke my heart reducing me to tears. Marie Antoinette is upset yet she swallows her pain and obeys. She enters a tent placed on the two countries’ borders, entering on Austrian soil and exiting on French land. In the tent, she must strip off all of her clothes in order to don her new French garb – a symbol of her having to strip away her identity.

Once Marie Antoinette marries Louis XVI, we see Versailles' ridiculous and over the top traditions again and again. Every morning, an entourage of servants and royalty awakens Marie Antoinette, dressing her in garments with outlandish pomp and ceremony.

As she navigates royal society's mores, we witness Marie Antoinette’s close friendships with the free spirited Duchesse de Polignac (Rose Byrne) and the reserved Princesse de Lamballe (Mary Nighy). When she is told she should choose more appropriate friends, particularly ditching Duchesse de Polignac, Marie Antoinette defends her friend saying she enjoys her fun spirit. Yes, there are moments when Marie Antoinette indulges in vapid, decadent luxuries. But people forget she’s a teenager. Um, that’s what they do! To take her mind off the constant societal pressure, she distracts herself by gambling, singing in plays and shopping. She’s so confined by societal expectations; she’s exploring her identity and experimenting as much as she can.

Marie Antoinette’s mother, the Austrian duchess Maria Theresa warns her, “All eyes will be on you.” After their wedding night, it’s clear that Louis XVI has no sexual interest in his bride. Through her constant letters, Maria Theresa perpetually reminds her daughter that “nothing is certain” about her place until she gives birth to a son. Even after Louis XVI is crowned king and Marie Antoinette becomes queen, her place is still not entirely secure until she has a son. After her sister-in-law gives birth to a son, Marie-Antoinette feels even more pressure to have a child. Her mother condemns her for not being charming enough or patient enough to entice her husband. As Marie Antoinette reads her mother's letter, the stinging words wound her, we see and feel her solitary pain.

Women were reduced to their vaginas, only valued if they got pregnant so they could produce an heir. No one bothers Louis XVI about this, even though he’s the one who doesn’t want to have sex. Nope, just the woman; of course she’s to blame. Eventually after 7 years with no children, Marie Antoinette's brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, talks to him. But Marie Antoinette is repeatedly blamed for not becoming pregnant. Clearly her body and reproduction are her only salient attributes in the eyes of society.

Throughout the film, we’re reminded that women aren’t desirable, lesser than men. When her first child a daughter is born, Marie Antoinette says to her:

“Oh, you were not what was desired, but that makes you no less dear to me. A boy would have been the Son of France, but you, Marie Thérèse, shall be mine.”

In a world where nothing, not even her own body truly belongs to her, it's touching to see Marie Antoinette, a devoted mother, take such joy in her relationship with her daughter.

Throughout history, people erroneously vilified Marie Antoinette, attributing her with more political influence than she actually possessed. And of course she was demonized after she supposedly told starving peasants, "Let them eat cake.” As civil unrest grows inching ever closer to revolution, the film's Marie Antoinette says she would never say such a thing. Because of her Austrian heritage and I would also argue her gender, Marie Antoinette was repeatedly used as a scapegoat for France’s financial woes and the public’s strife.

The film divided audiences. At the Cannes Film Festival, critics notoriously booed yet it also received a standing ovation. Some critics dismissed it, saying it was nothing more than a pop video or that “all we learn about Marie Antoinette is her love for Laduree macaroons and Manolo Blahnik shoes.” Sofia Coppola, who consciously chose to omit politics from the film, fully acknowledged Marie Antoinette was not a typical historical biopic:

“It is not a lesson of history, it’s an interpretation carried by my desire for covering the subject differently.

Would people still complain and moan if a dude was at the center of the film or a dude had directed this?? Nope, I think not. Does anyone else remember that Mozart acts like an immature douchebag in the critically acclaimed Amadeus??

But some delved deeper, understanding its rare beauty. Critic Roger Ebert praised Marie Antoinette astutely pointing out:

“This is Sofia Coppola's third film centering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you.”

Told almost entirely from the Queen’s perspective, we see the world through Marie Antoinette's eyes. Her loneliness and the pressure she faces to be everything to everyone is palpable.

With its commentaries on gender, women’s agency, reproduction and female friendships, Marie Antoinette is surprisingly deeper and more feminist than many realize. Sofia Coppola created a lush and sumptuous indulgence for the eyes. More importantly, by humanizing the doomed queen and adding modern touches, Coppola reminds us of the gender constraints women throughout history and today continually endure.