Thursday, March 31, 2011

By Request, Part 1: We Really Need to Boycott Abercrombie and Fitch

Lordy day Amelia. Abercrombie & Fitch apparently thinks it hasn't done enough to cement itself in my mind as ridiculous. It is now selling push-up bikinis to children. Our friend Sarah has made another request that we discuss this issue. I know Kyrie is about to write something about how this is fucked up from the angle of sexualizing girls and conflating women and children, so I want to say something about how we really, seriously need to boycott Abercrombie. It isn't funny anymore. Not that it ever was.

Here's why I think Abercrombie & Fitch should be boycotted, broken down into a handy-dandy list:

1. Abercrombie & Fitch is doing work here to push gender norms onto people. And who, exactly, is supposed to be appreciating the sight of seven year old girls in padded bikini tops? This isn't doing a thing for body-acceptance/self-love, I can tell you that. Wear whatever you want, ye autonomous adults, but I do have a problem with teaching first graders that their body should look a certain way ASAP, and here, we have something you can buy to look more socially acceptable. This is revolting. Kids that age, regardless of gender, are really impressionable. I was kind of screwed up when I was that age* thanks in part to these messages, and I think the culture of body-shaming is only getting worse. This is part of it, and it's truly harmful, both from the gender/heteronormativity perspective, and from the body acceptance perspective.

2. Abercrombie & Fitch is racist. Or, at least, it's fine with selling racist t-shirts. Is there a difference? Good for the people who freaked out on their asses and got this revolting t-shirt pulled from the shelves.

3. A&F also sells sexist t-shirts, according to Wikipedia, including one that said "L is for Loser" next to a picture of a male gymnast, and t-shirts that said "Who needs brains when you need these?," "Available for Parties," "I had a nightmare I was a brunette," "Female streaking encouraged," "Show the twins," and "Female students wanted for sexual research." The message that women exist for men's sexual pleasure comes through loud and clear. It's awfully hetero/cis-normative, too.

4. Abercrombie & Fitch is guilty of workplace discrimination based on race and gender. I'm not sure how "gender" is being defined here - well, it isn't, but I'm guessing they mean discrimination against cis women? This idea of gender discrimination being something that is presumed to mean discrimination against cis women is something that needs to be raised in a future blog post. Anyway. These aren't hiring practices we want to support with our dollars, right?

5. A&F also discriminates by ability. They made a woman with a prosthetic arm work in the store room because she didn't suit their "look policy"? Are you fucking KIDDING me? So even if they are forced to widen their hiring pool, that doesn't meant they're going to treat people better. The look policy says that staff need to have a "natural, classic American style." What the hell does that mean? What is "natural"? Do they mean women shouldn't shave? Because I kind of doubt it. What about "classic"? Petticoats are classic, is that what they want? Or do they mean monocles and top-hats? And, finally, "American" - I don't even know where to begin with that one, but I fear it means "white." Their web site as of today only features skinny white models, some of whom aren't wearing much clothing anyway. Nothing against skinny people, white people, models, or people who aren't wearing much clothing. It's just not exactly representing an array of "natural, classic American style." I guess that is something A&F defines narrowly. Fortunately, this woman won her wrongful dismissal case.

6. You know who else doesn't fit their "look policy"? Muslims! That's right: A&F has now, through its corporate policy, treated people unfairly on the basis of race, gender, ability, and religion. A Muslim teenager was fired for wearing her headscarf to work.

That article also contains this gem:

The youth-oriented retailer describes its brand as "rooted in east coast traditions and Ivy League heritage," and as "the essence of privilege."

I'm sorry, folks. I just cannot possibly condone this. "East coast traditions" very clearly means "rich white people" traditions. In using these kinds of words, they are not only aligning themselves with the most privileged possible customer base, they are less-than-implicitly excluding people who can't fit into it demographically - including the Muslim woman they fired. This east coast-dwelling white person will have nothing to do with this kind of narrow-mindedness.

7. As if all of that weren't enough, A&F is size-ist. Their sizes only run up to a large, and reports on the web say that the sizes run small. Judging by their size chart, I'd wear a medium, which means there is only one size up from what I'd wear. This sends yet another message about who they think should be buying their clothes, and it is a message I cannot possibly endorse.

8. A&F uses unfair labor practices. In fact, the International Labor Rights Forum inducted it into the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame.

A quote from their web site:

Most of the companies listed employ laborers who toil for long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages. When these workers attempt to form a union to voice their collective concerns, they face threats from management and risk being fired or even beaten. Many of this years’ inductees use suppliers that practice illegal tactics to suppress workers’ rights to organize. Some of the companies mentioned weave shame into their clothing by continuing to use cotton sourced from Uzbekistan where harvesting is accomplished through forced child labor.
This is what the PDF says about A&F specifically, for those who don't want to download:
Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) clothing is manufactured at Alta Mode factory in the Philippines. Employees of the factory sought to form a union to address concerns and on the day the Alta Mode Worker’s Union was to be certified, all of the more than 100 union members and officers were placed on forced leave, a clear case of employer interference in the exercise of the right to unionize and an unfair labor practice by law. Workers have struggled for a union as an antidote to a production quota set beyond human capacity.

It is essential for A&F to send a strong signal to the factory that freedom of association violations will not be tolerated. The A&F supplier has even filed criminal cases against the union members. This factory case is a clear example of the flagrant disregard for the law by garment factory owners in the Philippines.

Unfortunately A&F doesn’t even have a public code of conduct and utilizes factory inspectors that have missed glaring issues such as the ones highlighted in the Alta Mode factory. One major concern is that A&F shifts its production around from factory to factory which results in lack of stable orders at the factory. ILRF encourages A&F to build long term meaningful relationships with suppliers so that their standards around wages, overtime and freedom of association are clearly enforced.

Every single instance I listed above is unacceptable and reason alone to boycott A&F. You can rip holes in your own jeans, you know.

* It only got worse over time, too. Thanks, body-shaming culture! It took me til my mid-20s to be cool with myself. That's a lot of wasted time, folks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

That's Bullshit: Google and Gender

Dear Google:

It is bullshit that, when someone wants to create a profile, the only choices you give for gender are Male, Female, Other, or Prefer Not to Say. It shouldn't be a drop-down menu, it should be a text field. Go read some queer theory.

Jess and Kyrie

Menses, Menses, Menses!

Do you know what gets old? Having to spend a significant fraction of time listening to discussions of penises, urinals, saliva, bowel movements, and dead baby jokes, while knowing that nearly every one of my male acquaintances will recoil with horror from even the most oblique reference to menstruation. (I say "nearly every" not because I have male friends who I know do not react this way, but rather because I have not systematically tested every one and therefore it is possible that exceptions exist.)

We need to get over this. Menstruation is way less gross than most of the stuff listed above. It's just blood and mucus. And, given that most women (and some men) between the ages of 13 and 50 spend something like 18% of their lives menstruating, it's kind of an important component of the human experience.

Some limitations should apply, of course. I don't plan on wandering around the office telling everyone the current details of my cycle. That definitely falls into the category of TMI. But! If my male colleagues can spend half an hour poring over and discussing a cell-phone pic one of them snapped of a horse with an erection, I should be able to discuss how menstruation should play a more prominent role in vampire fiction without giving everyone the vapors. (I mean, really, why hasn't True Blood, at least, gone there?)

I'm done biting my tongue. If I have an interesting menstruation-related thought, I shall share it, and the rest of the world can just deal with it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jess's Favorite Podcasts

I love podcasts (though Kyrie doesn't) and I listen to tons of them. I don't include all of them here, because a) you don't care and b) they aren't all feminism-related. Some of the ones I choose here are only tangentially feminist, but I think they'd still be of interest for someone looking to feminist up their podcast feed.

Bitch Radio: This is the podcast from the writers of Bitch Magazine, my personal favorite magazine of all time. Bitch is a feminist critique of pop culture. It doesn't update all that regularly, and the sound quality isn't the greatest - but that's because this is a low-budget operation without a fancy studio. They have no corporate sponsors, and rely on readers/listeners to support them. Read the magazine, listen to the podcast.

Citizen Radio: This is a four-times-a-week political commentary podcast with comedian Jamie Kilstein and journalist Allison Kilkenny (who are married. To each other, even!). They're radical leftist/vegans/atheists, and they're funny. The podcast can sometimes be frustrating, and they do what they call a 20 minute "douchebag buffer" of weird randomness at the beginning. The buffer, and the podcast in general, is funnier some days than others, because Jamie and Allison are people and sometimes they have good days and sometimes they have less-good days. I think they have a lot of interesting takes on issues, and they both certainly identify as feminist. There is also a forum for listeners that has turned into quite the community.

Democracy Now!: I mean, come on. Listen to or watch Democracy Now. Just do it. News with no corporate sponsorship is really hard to come by these days. Amy Goodman is a national treasure.

Double X: I could have grouped this one with the other Slate podcasts below, because it's a Slate production, but this is the only one ABOUT feminism. Double X is also a blog on the Slate site, and has a wider array of voices there. This particular group of women (and it's pretty much always straight, cis, white women podcasting) are not the most radical feminists around, but they do have an eye on cultural moments, and they're smart. Give it a try, see if it's for you.

Extra Hot Great
: This podcast is hosted by Tara Ariano, her husband David T. Cole, and their friend Joe Reid, all of Television Without Pity fame (Tara started it with Sarah Bunting, but neither of them work for the site anymore). Not a feminist podcast, but feminist podcasters, and they talk a lot about LGBTQ representations in film and television. It's hilarious, upbeat, and informed.

Filmspotting: So, this is not a feminist podcast, and both the hosts are men. But they are very smart and entertaining, and they often critique movies from a feminist perspective (even though they don't say that explicitly). Of all the movie podcasts I listen to, and I listen to many, this is the most feminist one. If they get all white-male-privilegey, which is rare, they respond very well and open-mindedly to criticism, and that's awesome.

NPR's Culturetopia (Pop Culture Happy Hour editions, especially): Pop Culture Happy Hour is a once-weekly edition of the Culturetopia podcast. Culturetopia is fine, it's NPR-y, it sometimes examines feminist issues. But I freaking love Pop Culture Happy Hour. The usual podcasters are more diverse than some, in that they include gay voices, and the host is a woman (Linda Holmes, whom I have an enormous "girl crush"* on). They talk about a variety of cultural moments and issues in smart, funny ways, and I love it. Love love love. Makes me happy every week.

PostBourgie: Here's a good one for intersectionality. It describes itself as "a semi-orderly conversation about class and politics and media and gender and whatever else we can think of." What else do you want, really? They don't mention race in this description, but that's a lot of what they talk about. It doesn't come out as often as I wish, but it's so interesting. Definitely worth downloading back episodes.

Overthinking It: The tagline of Overthinking It is "subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve." I think the culture deserves it, and this podcast is worthy of a listen. They ramble LIKE YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE, so if you can't handle that, don't bother, but wow, are these folks smart. I am such an overthinker that I can totally relate to their stream-of-consciousness discussions. The regular hosts are men (all identify as straight, but they're not all white) but they bring women on as guests with more frequency than most of the other all-male podcasts I listen to do. They're also over-educated (like me! And Kyrie!) and are very prone to examining issues of privilege, including their own. Thumbs up.

Rationally Speaking: This is for the science-minded among you. Not that the others aren't, but you know. This is hosted by one man and one woman, and they are intimidatingly brilliant. It comes out every couple weeks, and the hosts explore more issues around rationality than would have ever occurred to me to consider. They're secular, and so is the show. They interrogate religious issues, but unlike so many podcasts about secularism, they aren't nasty, sarcastic, or rude. They're smart, and thoughtful, and professional.

Reality Cast: This is the podcast for RHRealityCheck, hosted by Amanda Marcotte, whom you may know from Pandagon. Every week, she looks at women's health issues in the news and culture. It's usually only about 30 minutes long, but packed full of goodness. Marcotte is insightful and sharp, and gets interviews with really interesting people. Top-notch.

Slate Culture/Political Gabfests: These shows have different foci, as you can imagine. They're all hosted by straight white people, but tend toward feminism. Nothing radical here, but interesting discussions of events in the culture and in the news. Listen with a critical ear, though, as they can sometimes be privilege-blind.

Smiley & West: This is hosted by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. They are two of the best people we have. Inclusive, diverse, aware, they interrogate privilege at every pass, do phenomenal interviews, and bring people on the show who "take them to task" for things they said. That is a level of intellectual honesty that is hard to come by. They also inspire me to try not to hate people so much.

The Smartest Man in the World: Greg Proops. I don't need to say anything else about this, right? Listen, dammit.

The Tobolowsky Files: Oookay, I'm offering this one with a great big asterisk. This is a story-telling show hosted by my buddy Dave Chen of /Film fame. Stephen Tobolowsky, from every movie you have ever seen, but most memorably Groundhog Day and Mississippi Burning, tells stories of his life. He is an extremely gifted story teller (you can get a whole movie with just him telling stories at a party). Tobolowsky needs to do some work examining his straight white male privilege, though. He's not particularly nice to atheists - I think he believes we don't really have anything to believe in, which I think is silly - or to bisexuals, whom he once said will "by definition sleep with anything that moves." I hit the roof when he said that and had to take some time off. But he's smart, and needs to be called out on that shit, so listen to him tell great stories and let him know when he's being a jerk. He can take it, it's good for him.

Two Whole Cakes: You guys. Lesley Kinzel and Marianne Kirby have a podcast. It is a treasure. Go. Listen. To. It.

So, these are a lot of great podcasts, but some things are missing, I think. I have yet to find a queer podcast I really love (though Bitch, especially, covers a lot of queer issues). There's also not a lot of great intersectionality in podcasting, apparently. If you have suggestions I should try, I would LOVE to hear them.

* Yes, I'm using the word "girl," but "girl crush" is a specific term for a non-sexual crush on a lady type, especially a straight woman, by another lady type. In fact, I think this is a term straight used primarily by straight women. But since I am married and Linda is, as far as I know, straight, "crush" seemed inaccurate and "non-sexual crush" makes it sound like I don't think she's a hottie, which I do. I am in no way attempting to diminish Linda or myself through the use of the term. I tried to come up with a better way to say it, and this rambling overthinky footnote is the best I could do. Kyrie? This okay?

Er, not sure I can think of better wording. "Quasi-platonic crush"? "Semi-hetero laydee crush"? All my solutions are super goofy, I'm afraid. -- Kyrie

Squirrel-crush? -- Jess

Monday, March 28, 2011

By Request: An Opinion on What Not to Wear

Technically, this request was directed at Jess. But I have stolen the topic for myself! (Cue evil laugh.)

Reader Anya has written an excellent post on the limitations of the TLC show, What Not to Wear. To very briefly summarize, the show steamrolls over guests' sartorial preferences in favor of one model of appropriate wear.

In fact, there are numerous problems with the show, starting with its setup. Guests apply to the show by ... being betrayed by their friends and family. It's clearly an upsetting process, given how many of them are driven to tears at some point during the show. Their possessions are manhandled and discarded, and they are harangued pretty much throughout the show. It's all very mean-spirited.

But the problem Anya has identified -- its dedication to the suppression of individuality -- is the most disturbing aspect of the show. The What Not to Wear style is so limited it can only be accurately described as a uniform. I find the name of the show misleading, really, because the set of allowable styles of clothing is far smaller than the set of disallowed clothing.

Unfortunately, their attitude is not at all uncommon. Seems like every time I log into Facebook, some friend or friend of a friend is engaged in a diatribe against what they deem to be bad fashion. I'm a contrarian, so I kind of enjoy seeing many of my own stylistic choices lambasted (you'll have to pry my sleeveless turtlenecks from my cold, dead body) but it makes me sad to think that some folk might be dissuaded from wearing a garment that they love.

And this attitude overlaps significantly with body-snarking. I would love to never again hear the phrase, "You have to look like X to wear Y." No, you don't. Wear whatever the hell you want. Bodies are varied, and that variation should be celebrated. You are not, by being born, contractually obligated to disguise your unique set of lumps and bumps under a set of sanctioned articles of clothing. Muffin-tops are fine. Leggings are fine. Uggs are fine. Sweater vests are fine. Cellulite is fine. Horizontal stripes are fine. Visible panty lines are fine. And I have seen every one of these look fabulous. (I remember reading an article about how Elizabeth Taylor totally rocked the VPL, and would love to share it with you, but can't find it since the internet became inundated with her obituaries.)

So I would recommend ditching the advice of the What Not to Wear hosts and their ilk in favor of something different. A few suggestions for the ladies (sorry, I'm not a great source for men's fashion):

Saturday, March 26, 2011

You Can't Tell Me How To Be Queer

Oh, man. Facebook, I'll tell you. Before I know what's hit me, I found I've been sucked down the rabbit hole of a conversation with a bigoted jerk and can't get out of it. But in this case, it works well for the blog, because I have something to say.

It all got started when my fantastic friend "Uncle Jesse" (this is the name he chose for himself. Don't ask) - who is a gay man - posted a status update about how he doesn't like the idea of the Pride Student Union at our university starting a blood drive to get "non-gays" to donate in the names of the gay men who are, by federal law, disallowed from donating blood. His status noted that there are other things Pride could do that aren't a blow to the community's ego, and said, "This is really offensive! It is almost comparable to when women had to vote through their husbands. Shouldn't we focus on a campaign to change the law and not be passive aggressive?"

This is a controversial statement, of course, and one on which I think people could have an informed, interesting debate. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

One of Uncle Jesse's "friends," whom we shall call Mr. Phelps* - who identifies as a cis straight white man - jumped right in and said that "the gays" should "turn the other cheek." He argued that this is exactly the kind of activism the gay community should be doing, because the "unbiased middle" will "respect it more."

Shall we start right here? The "unbiased middle"? What the fuck is that? I've never met such a person. We don't live in an unbiased world, and this is exactly the kind of privilege Kyrie and I are trying to bring to light so we can smash it to bits. There is an assumption that people who are the most mainstream/privileged in society (usually, straight middle-class cis white men) are neutral and therefore unbiased. But women/queers/people of color/transpeople/the poor are too blinded by their own outsider status and therefore are just not to be trusted. This is an unacceptable position, because straight white cis men have bias too, as individuals - we all do, all of us earthlings.

Second: Are we supposed to care deeply about what tactics this apocryphal "middle" will respect? And should we trust Phelps here as the arbiter of that group's sensibilities?

As E pointed out, straight people don't have to run around holding marches and demanding respect as straight people, because they already have it. But Phelps doesn't think we should try to be heard: We should "live [our] lives on [our] own without the in your face attitude" and then we will be more respected. He argued that we only still have racism in America because there are still black people arguing that our society is not equal.

I'm going to let that sink in a minute, because we still have a ways to go.

So, obviously, this is a really stupid thing to say. There is racism everywhere, and if he's not seeing it in his extensive world travels, that's because, as D pointed out, his white privilege allows him to not see it. Instead of arguing this point with any intelligence, our buddy just repeats himself over and over again: world traveler, never seen racism, probably because only in America are the brown people gettin' uppity. His attitude is horrifying and misinformed. It also, as I pointed out to him, sounds like things people who have an interest in continuing oppression would say: Don't make too many demands, just stay calm, no sudden moves, and if you don't freak out your patriarchal overlords too much, we'll give you a cookie.

Our hero, Uncle Jesse, came back to the conversation and said, "Being silent will not promote progress... planned coordination and civil protest and education will. Gandhi wasn't silent; he wasn't obnoxious. He just gave a voice to those who did not have one, and it made a difference." Others chimed in to point out that civil rights leaders have long worked for the benefit of people other than those in their demographic groups. To argue otherwise is to ignore history.

Phelps's reply is that we queers can go show that we're better than everyone else by supporting groups that oppose us. He also had some things to say about transpeople. I want to warn you that what he says is extremely ignorant and has violent connotations, but the entire point of this post is to point out his ignorance and deconstruct it. Ready? Let's go.

Phelps not only argues that we should all "shut the fuck up" and stop being so "in your face" about stuff, but that the gays should disassociate themselves from transpeople. He claims that his gay friends (of COURSE he has "gay friends." I really think we should fine people for saying "I'm not racist, my best friend is black," and other derivations thereof) agree with him. And, furthermore, that "there is no dif between a man that lops off his dick because he thinks he’s a woman, and a dude that cuts his hand off because he thinks the devil is inside of it."

This is, of course, where I totally lose my shit.

I wrote a really long response on Facebook that I'm not going to post here, in which I called out his transphobia as serious bigotry, told him he doesn't know anything about anything if he thinks America is the only place with racism, and insisted that you can't change the status quo by being quiet. It has NEVER worked that way.

Sometimes, I think, when you take people to task on something they say that comes across as really bigoted, they rethink it, or at least walk it back and then go home and contemplate. Instead, he dug in deeper, and insisted that he doesn't hate "homosexuals," he only hates my "type" because of the "attitude that goes with being accepted." [I... don't really know what he means by that.] He said that he likes Uncle Jesse just fine, but would tell him to "fuck off" if he "wore a dress and blew in a blowhorn demanding respect and organizing marches in high school and protesting at the bus stop" because that "woulda been overtly annoying." Phelps thought my inability to see things from his point of view was ignorance on my part, and cited, again, his many black friends. I mean gay friends. You know.

He also insisted that is within his rights to hate transpeople, that transpeople are insane, that they degrade "homosexuals." Sexual preference, he believes, is a legitimate source of discrimination because it's a choice, so complaining about one's lack of rights or respect from sexual preference is like smokers complaining about getting lung cancer. And in the very same post, he claimed to be the most pro-rights straight person we know. And that is why I'm bringing this up at all - there are people out there who claim to be on our side, to be pro-rights, to be anti-homophobia, and who still hate us - they hate and fear anyone who makes them uncomfortable. My conversation with this asshole went on for quite some time, but it mostly boils down to me telling him that he seems to think his right to not be made uncomfortable or feel annoyed is more important than other peoples' civil rights or rights to be treated with respect in society. He had no effective counter-argument, of course, because there isn't one.

There are two things I get from this. One, as I said to TrollPhelps, you don't get to decide who is being gay/queer/trans correctly, or enough, or too much. If you try to, you're being oppressive.

The second is something my friend D [a black, straight, cis woman] said. She has a way of putting things really beautifully, so I'm going to quote her here, and let her have the last word:

Dear Folks,
Whenever you are tempted to think that the work of freedom is done, reread this. So many folks feel this way. We've got a long way to go. The struggle continues.

* Not his real name - he just seems to have something in common with another Mr. Phelps we all know and hate who has a church in Kansas you may have heard of.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Queer Spaces

Hi, everyone! Happy Friday. I have some stuff to say. Ready?

Last night, I had the great honor of facilitating a discussion on queer Florida history at the Civic Media Center through the Free University (which has lots of cool programs you should check out if you live around here). It is one of the coolest things I have done in a long time, and the reason it was cool was because of the people who showed up to talk. If any of you are reading this: Hi! You're awesome. And I know you're awesome, because there was no one there who wasn't.

We talked about so many interesting things, and the conversation was inclusive, warm, and delightful. I have been having some gross experiences with stuff lately, and this helped restore my faith in humanity. My only regret is that it wasn't recorded in some way, because people said some amazing things that I wish I could write down.

Cornel West said, "Justice is what love looks like in public." It is perhaps my favorite thing said by another human being in the history of ever. I think last night was about that - a bunch of people with all kinds of identities and ideas and preferences gathering in a public place to talk about justice and history and all kinds of other ideas. This kind of community gathering, for people who are excluded from other communities, is doing the work of social justice.

So, what next? We have to continue the conversation. Several ideas have been raised, including a screening of Behind Closed Doors: The Dark Legacy of the Johns Committee. I also have a documentary on queer history called Out of the Past that I think could be a good conversation starter. There is also talk of organizing a campaign to get the name of the Reitz Student Union changed, as J. Wayne Reitz was a segregationist homophobic jerk.

What are your ideas? People are hungry for queer history, and we can make it happen. Movie screenings, reading groups, what? If I can do anything to make it happen, I will.

More Blogs We Read

We recently recommended a list of feminist blogs and started a handy dandy blog roll on this here page that includes their most recent posts. However, one of our readers has very politely pointed out that said blog roll is incredibly white. Obviously, this situation is no good and must be rectified.

To that effect, I include below a list of some more blogs Jess and I follow. These were excluded from the previous list because they are not primarily about feminism, but I think that was kind of a fail on my part. After all, these issues do intersect (a lot), and ignoring blogs that are about both race and feminism when discussing feminist blogs has the effect of filtering out most non-white writers.

  • The Black Snob: Writer Danielle Benton's personal blog about race issues, her personal life, and sometimes pop culture.

  • Ill Doctrine: Jay Smooth talks about mostly hip hop but also race issues. He is amazingly articulate. After his vlog on Roman Polanski I decided that this is my next husband. He doesn't know it yet.

  • PostBourgie: "A running, semi-orderly conversation about class and politics and media and gender and whatever else we can think of."

  • Racialicious: "A collaborative weblog discussing media coverage of the multiracial community."

I would also like to solicit suggestions from our readers. Reader Andrew has already provided us with a list of his favorites including Threadbared, TransGriot, What Tami Said, Muslimah Media Watch, The Angry Black Woman, and Restructure!

Also, there are people I think we should be aware of who don't necessarily blog, like Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, and Johann Hari. -- Jess

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Fucking Love Greg Proops, You Guys

If you don't listen to Greg Proops's* show, The Smartest Man in the World, you're truly robbing yourself of one of the most hilarious twice-monthly hours of comedy ever. Below, a rough transcript of part of his National Lady's Day show, Lines (yes, it's International Women's Day, but the US doesn't recognize it. Proops does, so there you have it, he can call it what he wants, I guess). Anyway, I have spent some time transcribing my favorite part of his most recent podcast. It sometimes takes me forever to get to things like podcasts, so it's a bit late, forgive me. Please enjoy, and go listen to the podcast, because I can transcribe the words but not the sneering, nasal, affected voice I love so much.

"I don't know if it's come to your attention, but the Senate is about to vote on all women's healthcare in this country by closing Planned Parenthood, and it brings me to this point: You really don't see women legislating against men's reproductive organs. For some reason, the pink and perfect caves of mystery that women possess are the most trepidatious threatening thing that could ever happen to an ugly, fat, icky man** that's never been inside them. Now, men go on and on and on and on about how mendacious and horrible women are, because women want to kill babies, or women want to look after themselves. It's always 'you can't have women blah blah blah women are evil.' You think, 'I know, it's a great argument, you've really made your point.' The whole issue of abortion is not controversial in any way, let me just clear that up for you, people who are listening, and people who have tweeted me because I'll tweet about, you know, Stop the Senate's attack on Planned Parenthood. And I'll get 'Women's health! Why don't you just call it what it is! Abortion! Haha!' And I think, you've really thought this out. Abortion's not controversial. It's biological. If men got pregnant instead of women, abortions would not only be free and on demand, there'd be a clinic on every corner, you'd be in and out in five minutes like fucking Jiffy Lube, okay? There'd be coupons in the phone book, there'd be all-night infomercials - 'Are you a boy in trouble?' Men can't stand any pain whatsoever and have no endurance to carry anything for nine months. We can't even watch a show we like on TV the whole way through without flipping around. So the idea in any way that abortion is controversial, AB-solutely biological. Men have the fucking ball, and men don't want to give the ball up, and men don't want to give anything to the people who aren't men. And that's how that fucking works. I wish that was funnier, but it kind of started to be, and then it kind of faded out at the end. Women have every right to do what the fuck ever they want with anything that's inside their body at any goddamn time, end of fucking story. And don't e-mail me and disagree, because I'm not entertaining dissent. I am the Smartest Man in the World, and I have adjudicated...

"To all the men out there, and even the women, who are opposed to Planned Parenthood because you have no idea what Planned Parenthood does, you have a mother, you have a sister, you have a daughter, you have a cousin, you have a niece, you have a girlfriend, you have a wife, you have a significant other. Think about that. I mean, it always comes back to personal politics, because everything in the world is personal... If you disagree with me and you think, 'Well, abortion is wrong and babies are killed and dodododo,' you have a mother, you have a sister, think about their health. Think about that, too."

* Yup, that's the guy from both the British and the American versions of Whose Line is it Anyway?
** For the record, I don't like his use of "fat" here, but he's The Smartest Man in the World, not the Most Perfect Man in the World.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speaking Up

An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are each given the task of enclosing a group of sheep in an enclosure as economically as possible. The engineer, knowing that straight lines are easiest to construct and that the area of a rectangle with a given perimeter is maximized when the sides are equal in length, calculates the area the sheep take up and produces a square enclosure. The physicist, on the other hand, recommends a circular pen, as circles have the highest area-to-perimeter ratio of any closed shape and so will use the least fencing. Finally, the mathematician takes a turn. She constructs a tiny circle, steps inside, and states, "I define myself to be on the outside."

Okay, I didn't come up with this joke myself; it's pretty famous. And relevant to this blog, I swear.

Sunday night Jess posted about an anti-gay app that's currently available through Apple's store. (We're opposed to it. You are encouraged to sign the petition.) We've gotten a couple of comments since then, through this blog and on our private Facebook accounts, telling us to ignore the bigots in the hopes that they'll go away.

The problem is, I don't think this approach is effective. Yes, if some mentally deranged person got an app through that demanded that we herd up the dentists in the country and throw them into a volcano, I would ignore it, because that is an extreme fringe opinion. Unfortunately, in a country where same-sex couples are mostly not allowed to marry and where de-gayifying your children is a successful business model, Exodus International's viewpoint is not really that fringe.

Most of our discriminated-against groups are minorities. Those who belong to these minority groups cannot ignore the discrimination and bigotry that they encounter in their daily lives and in the media.* It is simply not possible. And even if it were, what does it accomplish when bigotry is the norm? Ignoring the bigots would just isolate the non-bigot, much like the mathematician in the sheep pen.

* Not that the obligation to speak up rests solely with those in the discriminated-against minority. It is the responsibility of non-bigots to stand up for them and better the odds, of course.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

By Request: Why Are There So Few Male Teachers?

We've already considered the feminization of teaching a couple of times on the blog, but I'm also interested in other issues of teacher diversity. At Elizabeth's request, here are a few thoughts on why teachers tend not to be male.

Male teachers are especially rare at the elementary school level. According to a variety of sources, there are a few reasons for this:

1. Low status: Teaching tends to be considered a less-prestigious career than, say, medicine or law. It shouldn't be, in my view, but there you have it. Men have long had other job options, whereas teaching was the only profession open to women beginning in about the mid-19th century. Teaching has never shaken off this stigma. Before the common school movement, male teachers were much more common.

2. Low pay: Because teaching was the only option available to women in the early years of public schooling, they could be paid less. Again, this is review from my earlier posts on the matter. Teaching remains a very low-paying profession. In part because men are traditionally expected to be the breadwinners (a tradition for which I hold some contempt), they have been more likely to take higher-paying jobs.

3. Stereotypes that hold them to be less nurturing: Almost anything you read about men in teaching talks about how there is an assumption that women are more nurturing and therefore better suited to teaching. Horace Mann would be so proud.

4. Fear of being accused of inappropriate behavior: This is sad, but it remains a fact that there are those who are concerned that men go into teaching because of some predatory nature. Whether the parents of their students are worried about it or not, male teachers might be concerned that they are being judged or regarded with suspicion. This is clearly problematic, and I don't think it would be an issue if teaching were a higher-status job - if it were a job society saw as truly professional and well-paying, no one would be saying, "Why is he a teacher?"

5. There is an idea that elementary school is not academically rigorous, but that high school is. The older the kids, the more "acceptable" male teachers are. So men teaching high school isn't as big a deal, but male kindergarten teachers are the unicorns of K-12. Anyone who knows anything about education, though, realizes that every grade level produces intellectual challenges for its teachers. I have never taught elementary school, but I've tutored first graders in reading, and believe me: it is not easy.

Does it matter? It's hard to tell, from the data - it might be that kids learn just as well under male or female teachers, while others claim that having positive male role models is good for kids.

The economy might correct some of these issues: when job options are more limited, men are more likely to become teachers - just like women in the common school movement. This article talks about these issues, among others discussed here. Also, there is an entire nonprofit dedicated to getting more men in the classroom - I haven't vetted it, so I don't know if it's a good thing or not, but there it is.

What do you think?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our Favorite Blogs

It is high time we gave props to our blogging forebearers. If you enjoy Nth Wave Feminism, you may enjoy many of these blogs even more. And if this is the first/only feminist blog you've read, and your reaction to everything we write is knee-jerk disagreement, consider doing a little supplemental reading.

  • Feministing: This is a collaborative blog created to amplify the voices of young feminists. Many new posts appear every day and the focus is quite broad. It is a great first stop for those new to the feminist blogosphere.

  • Tiger Beatdown: Sady Doyle and collaborators write long, rambling, but funny posts on a variety of feminist topics and organize twitter protests against rape apologists.

  • Schooling Inequality: This is by an educator who writes a lot about race, LGBTQ issues, and feminism in schools. She is brilliant. If you care about education, read this blog.

  • Fugitivus: One woman's personal insights on feminism, rape, and rape culture.

  • Yes Means Yes: An extension of the book of the same name, this blog primarily features the work of Thomas Macaulay Millar, in which he focuses on rape culture.

  • Two Whole Cakes: Lesley Kinzel blogs on Fat Acceptance and related topics.

  • The Rotund: Marianne Kirby also blogs about Fat Acceptance. Two Whole Cakes and The Rotund have very similar tone and topic; their authors also do joint podcasts, if you prefer that sort of thing.

  • Kate Harding used to blog regularly at Shapely Prose on the topics of feminism and Fat Acceptance. She continues to write, albeit with reduced volume, at her current site.

There are also a few now-defunct blogs that are definitely worth checking out:

  • The Sexist: Amanda Hess wrote this one-woman blog about sexism (surprise!) at the Washington City Paper for years. She left in 2010 and has continued to write elsewhere, but the archives of this most excellent blog are still available for your enjoyment.

  • Broadsheet: This column featured a rotating group of writers and focused on women's issues with varying degrees of radicalism.

  • Target: Women: Sarah Haskins sends up commercials targeted towards a female audience. It is absolutely hilarious. If you click on no other link on this list, you should click on this one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh, You Have GOT to be Kidding Me

This is just crazy. Apple is providing Exodus International an iPhone app. Exodus International is a brainwashing organization that tries to turn gay people straight, as though getting rid of gay people is a societal good. I know two people who have gone through Exodus, and it's not a good thing. And no, I am not linking to the Exodus assholes, because that means I would have to look at their web site, and then I might hit something, and I don't like to hit.

Indeed, the app has been deemed "non-offensive" by iTunes and given a 4+ rating. As the folks say, this organization "tells gay kids that their sexual orientation is 'immoral,' 'satanic,' and in need of a cure - factors that contribute to teen suicide."

This is obviously very upsetting. I started writing this without really knowing what to say, and I still don't know what I want to say, because my rage is pushing me to incoherence. Exodus is a hategroup. They hate me, they hate my friends, they might even hate you. Their whole line about "Well, we only try to convert people who want it, it's for their own good" is not sufficient. It is not for anyone's own good, and kids would not want to convert if PEOPLE LIKE YOU ASSHOLES WEREN'T OUT THERE TELLING THEM THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THEM. FUCKING A.

Not to mention that I'm sure MANY kids who go there are being dragged or coerced by their parents. Those parents need to spend fifteen minutes in a room listening to me yell at them.

It IS NOT OKAY to tell LGBTQ kids or adults that we are not okay the way we are. In some cases, it leads to suicide. And do not even start with "Well I support gay rights but I still think being gay is a sin." You are part of the problem. Stop it. Stop it right now. That kind of message from you, from whatever religious organization you belong to, that is playing into the hands of these godawful bigots. These are the messages that contribute to teen suicide. If your church tells you there is something wrong with being gay, stand the fuck up to them.

Exodus, you fucking suck. Being gay isn't a choice, but being anti-gay bigoted asshole fucks IS.

Here is the petition you can sign to get Apple to get rid of this bigotry.

And here is Truth Wins Out. They do good work.

ETA: You know what's making me feel better today? Shangela! Halleloo.

Social Media: We Catch Up to 2007

We have a Twitter page now! Follow us, if you dare.

Oh, and you can now e-mail us at, should you be so moved.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Drag vs. Mockery

[ETA: I want to clarify that my entire point here is to say that I see a difference between dressing like a woman as a joke and dressing like a woman because you like it. You don't have to look "traditionally feminine" or be able to pass as a woman to be taking it seriously. As Kyrie says, it's about intention, not degree of passing. You know where to find me if you need further clarification on my views here. I don't explicitly address trans issues here - that's another post.]

A person only has to know me for about thirty seconds to learn that I love drag. It is, in fact, one of the many things Kyrie and I have in common. Neither of us are drag performers, but we both regularly go see drag shows in our town. I am in love with RuPaul's Drag Race on Logo. My favorite movie is Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I watch drag videos online when I need to be energized or cheered up. Aside from roller derby, it's pretty much my favorite thing.

[All links below are to drag videos. If your workplace considers that inappropriate, you have been duly warned.]

I think drag is empowering. I've heard queens talk about how it empowers them, and nothing could make me happier. But I also think it's empowering to women. Here are men, the people our culture holds up as the standard (male is considered neutral, whereas female is considered "other") choosing to find power in dressing like, and performing as, women. It's awesome, and many of them are so beautiful. I love the opportunities for creativity, too.

You know what I really hate, though? When guys throw on a skirt* and maybe a bra for Halloween or a frat prank or whatever and find it heeeeelarious. There's rarely a genuine attempt to look feminine: hairy legs, facial hair, cartoonish makeup or none at all. There is nothing wrong with hairiness, on men or women, of course. But when these guys put on skirts, it's like they're trying to show how their masculinity shines through even when wearing women's clothing. That is the opposite of what drag is about. It's mocking women (and feminine men), not embracing womanhood/femininity. It is, in that way, kind of like blackface.**

So, guys, find something else to do on a dare or wear for Halloween. It's immature and embarrassing - for you. And if you want to see how some real queens*** do it, join us at the gay bar in town some evening. I promise it will be worth your while.

* I am not talking about kilts, of course.
** I don't mean that it is exactly like blackface, or as damaging or historically loaded as blackface. It's just a comparison.

*** Yes, the picture and two of the videos are of Raja. A lady can have a favorite.

I'd like to add that men can also cross-dress while simultaneously letting their masculinity show through without being an ass. One golden, shining example is Eddie Izzard. He is clearly male-identified, yet wears traditionally female dress seriously. (The result? IMHO, hawtness. But I digress.) It's all about not mocking women. -- Kyrie

Thank you for pointing that out - I agree. I suppose it is the spirit in which it is done that makes a difference. It's not a party trick for Eddie Izzard (who is, I think, one of the best people alive). Interestingly, Izzard doesn't identify as just a straight man, necessarily. He's called himself a transvestite (saying, "If you can walk down the street in women's clothing, you can do anything" - swoon, right?), a lesbian trapped in a man's body, and as transgendered. So for multiple reasons, he falls outside the realm of straight guys dressing in women's clothes to be silly. He's not being silly - he says, according to those articles, that he dresses in women's clothes because he likes to. Rock on, sir. -- Jess

Thanks for the correction -- he has often described himself as male, and so I assumed he was not transgender. Cis privilege alert! -- Kyrie

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Update on my Neighbors

So, I had a chat with the mom of the family I posted about yesterday. After all, I sometimes have a hard time parsing rapid speech, so I figured I'd better go back with pen and paper and get the facts straight before I start raising hell on their behalf.

This mom (whose name I am reluctant to disclose, because the internet can be evil) shared a lot of info with me. I saw the eviction notice with my own eyes, and, yes it gave them only 7 days to vacate, dating from March 15. I am not a legal expert, but this seems far too short.

So, why are they being evicted? Here's what the notice said. Let us marvel at the triviality of their supposed crimes:

  1. Not cleaning up after their pets. (In fact, this family does not have pets – the mother occasionally pet sits for her sister and is perplexed by this charge. Additionally, she notified the management every time she engaged in pet-sitting, as she was requested to do.)

  2. One instance of grilling in front of their apartment.

  3. One instance of their children screaming.

Yeah. You read that right. They are being kicked out because their children yelled. What kind of total Scrooge do you have to be to kick a family with small children out of their home because their children sometimes make noise?

I work at home a lot, so I know what these kids sound like. And if I can do theoretical astrophysics (which, in my case, requires intense concentration) in my home while they are playing, I don’t know how these kids can be considered disruptive.

But this is really just the latest development in a long list of harassment this family has had to endure. Here's some of the history they've shared with me: they have had their possessions thrown away (by maintenance personnel, who subsequently admitted doing so), been yelled at (also by maintenance personnel), and have had their vents illegally blocked (by the management). One particular neighbor has engaged in additional harassing behavior, including trying to get their car towed because she wanted the spot it was in, yelling at them, telling them that this complex was “not the ghetto”, and telling them that she had videotaped them. They've even received a late night phone call in which they were called "niggers" (a word I hate even to type) and threatened with expulsion for the complex.

The whole thing is making me really angry. I'd like to get a reporter involved who could help me verify some of the records; the mom says there are police records for a lot of these incidents.

On the positive side, the family has hired a lawyer, and they seem confident that they have a great case. They're sharp people, and I hope they come out on top. But I would be remiss if I didn't do everything I could to help. Plus, they're exactly the type of people I want in my neighborhood.

Introduction to the Fat Acceptance Movement

Let me introduce you to the cutting edge of activist thought: the Fat Acceptance (or FA) movement. Helmed primarily by women writers who self-identify as fat, this movement arose in response to the discrimination experienced by individuals we have deemed to be "overweight."

And that discrimination is massive. Unless you've been living under a rock, you cannot possibly be unaware of the vitriol we heap upon the largest among us, often under the guise of fashion criticism or health concerns. It has passed far beyond a medical discussion of whether a certain amount of body fat can cause ill health and into a strange new food-based morality.

This fear of fat has pervaded the lives of people of all sizes. We spend a lot of time dieting, despite the fact that diets do not work. And let me head some of you off here; "lifestyle change" = "permanent diet".

In our zeal to justify this obsession, correlation is eagerly conflated with causation, and studies showing the benefits of fat are ignored. People purposely drive their bodies into ketosis. Others risk malnutrition. The benefits of exercise are derided in favor of weight loss. We consider "overweight" individuals to be not only unhealthy, but also lazy, ignorant, and fundamentally unattractive, no matter how much evidence to the contrary we may personally encounter.

In short, we have come to value thinness over health. This is an absurd position with only a few voices speaking out against it; we should listen to those voices:

Kate Harding, whose blog is now defunct, but there are over a thousand great posts in the archive.

Lesley Kinzel

Marianne Kirby

These are my three favorite FA bloggers, but there's many more out there. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Racism, Alive and Kicking in my Front Yard

There's a family living across the lawn from me in my apartment complex which has a bunch of kids. They're pretty little (toddler to elementary school age, looks like) and like to run around playing on the grass between buildings. They yell, laugh, and occasionally screech, as kids will do. But, you know, it's kid noise. Happens during the day, outside, and is far less disruptive than either the landscapers or even the damn Carolina wrens (those tiny birds can screech.)

I went outside to check the mail and the family was out there, kids and adults, hanging out with some other folks. As I passed by them, the mother stopped me to ask if her kids bothered me. When I told her no, I learned that another neighbor had filed a noise complaint against them and they received a 7-day eviction notice because of their kids' noise. I could not fucking believe it.

Anyway, I've written a letter on her behalf and signed her counter-petition, but I am just so mad. For one, people are far too intolerant when it comes to children. No-one wants them in restaurants, in stores, in movie theaters, and now, apparently, they're not allowed to play in their own yard.

The fact that this family is black has, I imagine, a great deal to do with the neighbor's intolerance. Besides the children playing, the adults like to stand outside and chat with their friends and neighbors, many of whom are also black. The result is that I have black people hanging around outside my apartment all the time. The horror.

Of course, the woman who instigated the complaint (and who, apparently, lives in my building, not theirs, so she can't hear anything I don't) told them that "this isn't the ghetto." Fabulous. Anyone think this society is post-racial?

Rick Scott: Enemy of the People's Education

Oh, Florida. Why can't you just let me love you?

I will wait right here while you get your "Florida is stupid" jokes out of the way so we can proceed.



... Okay. We good?

Cool. So, Florida recently elected this guy as governor. Aside from the fact that he is a candidate to star in the next Stephen King novel and reminds some of us of certain iconic cartoon characters, what does he have going for him?

First of all, he's a business guy, not a politician. In fact, he made his money in private health care and has faced allegations of corruption. He has promised to run Florida like a business and not a government. Sounds great, right? Because businesses are meant to do awesome things like look out for the poor and make sure that traditional minorities aren't being railroaded by capitalism! And also, I learned in school that governors are CEOs who don't have two other branches of government to provide checks on them! Remember that day in Mrs. Monahan's AP government class?


But he can't be universally reviled. At least the Republican leaders like him! What? No?

In fact, he is so disliked that there are calls for his impeachment (which are being taken very seriously) and multiple Facebook groups opposing him and supporting adding recall to the Florida state constitution so we can kick him to the curb.

I have lots of problems with ol' Rick - like his hatred for collective bargaining - but the biggest revolve around education (no surprise). Let's walk through them, shall we?

1. He wants to make big cuts to the state's education budget, which would be devastating to Florida students. When schools need help, cutting their funding is not a logical solution. Decreasing education spending while increasing spending for things like the military has always felt gendered, to me. It's like the "nanny state" idea - is education something we see as weak or effeminate (not that I correlate those two)? Is the military more "manly" while education is more "womanly"? I don't see it this way, but I think lots of people do, and I think it goes back, in part, to the idea that teaching is a woman's job.

2. He wants to increase charter schools to bring competition into the education. Right wingers seem to always want to privatize everything. Remember the Social Security debates? And if Blackwater (or Xe, as it is now known) isn't a stab at privatizing the military, I'm not sure what is. Furthermore, it can be problematic to let businessmen with no educational experience run schools - as Rothstein points out here, they're not always getting their facts right. And, apparently, we can afford to fund two wars of questionable legality and keep Goldman Sachs alive, but can't let our public schools survive. For an excellent look at how education is affected by what Naomi Klein calls The Shock Doctrine, look here. This might not explicitly link to feminism, but it's very troubling to me.

3. Scott wants to link teacher pay to performance. How, exactly, are we meant to evaluate teachers? Through standardized testing? Well that's neither fair nor accurate. In fact, standardized testing is just big business. Anyone have any other ideas? These people do! It starts with seeing teachers as professionals, because that is what is best for children. Seeing teachers as glorified babysitters is not in the students' best interest: why should we trust babysitters to prepare them to be good citizens? Teachers know this, and want to be held accountable. The idea going around that those opposed to linking performance to standardized test scores have no other ideas, don't care about children, or think that we should be prioritizing teacher jobs over student learning are either misguided or deliberately mischaracterizing our position.
3a. He also wants to get rid of tenure for teachers, which is a horrible idea that will result in instability in public education and mean that senior, experienced teachers will get fired because they have to be paid more. Again, I don't think we'd be having these conversations if teaching were a male-dominated profession.
3b. Where is the money going to come from?

4. Whether kids are in or out of schools, Scott clearly doesn't care about them - but he sure cares about having 91 more personal staffers. This isn't going to help kids in school at all.

It sure would be nice if Obama would say something about all this.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You Didn't Notice I Was Gone, Did You?

Gentle Reader, I have returned from a 9-day trip to France to visit my father. There was much cheese and much wine, and I saw The Death of Marat in person. Enough with the pleasantries, you say? This is a feminist blog? Very well!

There are feminist propaganda posters all over Paris. Some are very clear, focused on things like the pay gap between the sexes. Some are more passive, like this advertisement for a Simone de Beauvoir article.

This series, the theme of which seemed to be "women doing stuff", may have been up for International Women's Day, though France, like the US, does not recognize it.

Perhaps it was not terribly significant, just a combination of the fact that it's a big city and IWD. Still I like to imagine a hyper-organized feminist group in Paris pumping out propaganda :D

Monday, March 14, 2011

Political Bodies and Gyms

Don't you hate it when you just want to work out, but some asshat has to go and make it about body politics?

I'm a PhD candidate at a big university that happens to have a really nice gym.* I am also newly allowed to work out after having broken my ankle last fall. A few days ago, a friend and I decided to celebrate that with a nice, slow workout, only to find out that our gym was closed. So, being the resourceful laydeez we are, we called another gym in town to see if they'd let us come work out for a day. I thought we'd have to pay $10 or something, but instead, we had to listen to a Grade A body fascist ramble on about everything we're doing wrong in our lives. Trust me, I would rather have paid money. This isn't the first time I've encountered this kind of insanity from gym employees, so I have compiled a handy list based on my experiences. Please, gym employees, keep these things in mind and we will get along just fine:

1. This is the most important item. Do not assume that, because someone is entering a gym, she wants to lose weight. Here's a news flash: I could not be less interested in losing weight. I would not lose weight intentionally if you paid me.** So not only should you not be making these assumptions about me, but you should not be making them about anyone of any size or gender. And! Another thing! After I tell you that I'm not interested in learning how to burn fat, and you stare at me blankly, that makes me think you don't know what else to tell me, because that is all you've ever learned about exercise. Ask any girl on my derby team and she'll have more information about fitness than that.

2. Don't assume that because I'm a girl and I'm not shredded to pieces that I don't know what I'm doing. I do, in fact, know what works for me in the gym. Your "get to exhaustion on the first set!!!" routine doesn't fly with me. I have an injury. So get out of my face about it, mmmkay?

3. An atmosphere of judgment is very problematic, because it is
a) counterproductive - people do not want to lift weights if they think they are being judged, and you seem to be an evangelist for weight lifting;
b) mean - why are you looking for a reason to think negatively about people you don't know?;
c) a waste of your time - because I don't give a fuck what you think about me.

4. My workout is my workout. It is not your workout. What I do does not affect the size of your ass, okay? So get over yourself. I push myself really hard, as it happens, because I am competitive and I want to be in the best possible shape when I get back to skating. I am also recovering from a broken ankle. But if you look at me and decide on sight that you know what's best, you could [try to] talk me into doing something I shouldn't do. I say "try to," because: good luck to anyone who tries to get me to do something I don't want to do.

5. To reiterate: While our stupid culture of dieting tells us that we should all be trying to get into the next size down at Macy's, that isn't why many people go to the gym. I go because I like it. It relaxes me, and makes me feel more confident on my skates. I emphatically do not go to the gym because I want to look better. I think I look fine, even after not working out for four months because of this ankle injury. So don't make any assumptions about what I want or point out the areas of my body that "need work." That'll earn you a talk with your manager after I spend half an hour bitching about you and your hideous behavior.

* I know that gyms aren't for everyone. I don't really care how or whether anyone else is exercising. You do whatever makes you happy. This is not a rant designed to encourage anyone else to go to the gym, which I hope is clear, because I spend the entire time talking about the ways gyms can suck.

** I will admit to coming from a place of thin privilege here. I'm no stick figure, but I'm not fat either. I am not saying this to defend my "I don't want to lose weight" comment. I'm saying it to acknowledge that I might be treated differently based on my size. I consider myself a strong ally of the fat acceptance movement.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Denigration of Girls, Part Deux: Privilege Edition

Kyrie did a great job of writing about how teenage girls are too often seen as frivolous or silly. It got me to thinking, and I want to address another way girls - teenagers or otherwise - are denigrated in our culture.

A few months ago, I was involved in a Facebook conversation in which Some Dude posted something like "This baseball team losing to that baseball team is ridiculous, like getting beat up by a girl."

Deep breaths, right?

A couple of other feminist types got involved in the conversation as well. We weren't trying to be mean, but we had to point out that this is an insanely sexist thing to say. Instead of having a thoughtful response (because, probably, there isn't really one to the "like a girl" line of thinking) he basically told us all that we shouldn't criticize anything he says, ever. Because sometimes he just wants to say things that might offend someone else, and those people just need to deal with that. We'll come back to that idea in a minute.

First, I want to get into why the "like a girl" thing is so offensive. Kyrie and I both play roller derby. Derby is a full contact sport. People get hurt - I broke my ankle at derby practice in October. Clearly, we are not holding ourselves back because we think we, as women, are delicate flowers. And, have you seen Serena Williams? Or Mia Hamm? That's her at the top of the post. Want to tell me those women can't handle themselves? I'm not even talking about getting into fights, here. I'm not a violent person, I don't do the whole bar-fight thing. But I also don't think I am less able to defend myself because I have a uterus.

Furthermore, little girls are just little kids. They are vulnerable to the extent that male children are vulnerable. This idea that little girls scare more easily ("I screamed like a little girl") or are especially humiliating to lose to in a fight (I've never heard anyone say "it's like getting beaten up by a little kid," much less "by a little boy") is 100% socialized. Because societal norms hold that girls should not be taught to fight, they also hold that girls should be bad at fighting. Maybe we shouldn't teach boys to fight, but boys will be boys, amirite? They're going to fight no matter what, or so the patriarchy would have us believe. In reality - sing it with me if you know the words - there is as much variety within a given gender as there is between genders. Some girls like to punch people, some boys like to avoid conflict at all costs. The human experience is wide, and it bugs me that we try to put little people, children or not, into these boxes.

Point the Second: Words have meanings. Sometimes those meanings hurt people. If I tell you that your use of "[little] girl" is offensive, and you consider yourself someone who cares about social justice and equality, you need to think critically about that and not just dismiss it. I've had to go through this, too: I had to learn to not say "retarded." It's embarrassingly recently that I stopped saying "lame." If I can do it, you can, too. If you think the way Some Dude does, you need to check yourself for privilege. Everyone has to, sometimes. I'm white, cis, able-bodied, thin(ish), over-educated, and married. All of those things bring privilege. I can't make that privilege go away, but I can be aware of it, and be sure that I am not wielding it over another person and thereby perpetuating unfair social structures. So if you can think through why you don't believe using the "little girl" line of criticism is unfair or sexist, and you want to tell me what your thoughtful, reasoned, feminist reason for using it is, please do feel free. I'm interested in hearing it.

A (Nonexhaustive) List of Reasons a Woman Might Wear a Miniskirt to a Bar

  1. She's wearing it on a dare.

  2. She was inspired to wear it by her favorite fashion blogger.

  3. A black miniskirt makes her feel kind of badass.

  4. She's oddly proportioned and has a hard time finding jeans that fit right.

  5. It's laundry day.

  6. She actually didn't plan to come to a bar this evening, but some friends asked her to join them, and she happened to be wearing that skirt today.

  7. She started playing roller derby recently and can't resist showing off her new bulging thigh muscles.

  8. She just got out of roller derby practice, in fact, and that's what she wears for practice.

  9. It's part of an obscure character costume that you don't recognize.

  10. Knee boots are great for rainy days.

  11. It was a gift, and she's trying it out.

  12. She is, in fact, hoping to attract the attention of men.

  13. She is hoping to attract the attention of women.

  14. She is hoping to attract the attention of intersex individuals.

  15. She is hoping to attract the attention of model scouts.

Same goes for low-cut tops, tight jeans, high heels, and makeup. Don't assume a woman's sartorial choices somehow obligate her to humor your advances. She owes you nothing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Request: Parenting Under Pressure

We have a topic request! Sarah writes:

I've heard people say that breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and making your own baby food actually take women back a few steps and further tie us to the home and our babies. But others say that breastfeeding, especially, is an empowering experience for women. What are your thoughts on the issue? Does it all lie in the fact that we have the power to CHOOSE how we raise our children?

The short response is, yes, these choices are absolutely ones that should be made on an individual parent-by-parent basis. The DIY approach appeals to some more than others; I would rather take a hard punch to the nose than knit something, but to each their own.

This is complicated by the fact that parents are not able to make their child-rearing decisions in a vacuum. On the contrary, parents are subjected to incredible pressures by their families, friends, and even perfect strangers to raise their children in particular ways. Some of these choices vary by region, and some are nationwide.

The pressure to breastfeed seems to fall into the latter category. A number of organizations, including the Ohio Department of Health and PETA, fund billboards that push the breastfeeding option. "Breast is best" is heard over and over. It is yet another example of our society's collective efforts to control women's health care decisions. I imagine that it requires a not-tiny amount of personal courage for any woman to decide not to breastfeed in the face of such monolithic public opinion.

Furthermore, the attitude that only breast milk will do can cause undue emotional distress for women who would choose to breastfeed, but cannot. And this is despite the fact that a lack of breastmilk is hardly the fault of the mother, and that babies can certainly thrive on formula. (Just to be clear, though, I totally understand how one might look forward to the experience and be disappointed when it doesn't happen, a feeling which is separate and distinct from the artificially induced guilt I'm talking about.)

To summarize, I feel that the decision to breastfeed (or to use cloth diapers, or to sew your child's clothing, etc.) or not is a personal decision to be made by a child's parents. The rest of us have the responsibility to respect that decision, and enable parents to raise their children as best as they can. In the case of breastfeeding, I am simultaneously in favor of increased time off/facilities/resources for mothers to breastfeed and pump and also in favor of backing off on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

As this blog is written entirely by childless women, I would love to hear about the experiences of actual parents, especially mothers, in the comments section.

Victim-Blaming 101

The New York Times has outdone itself. It has been awhile since I've seen it as much beyond a corporate mouthpiece (an honor it shares with CNN, FOX, NBC, and The Washington Post. If it isn't Democracy Now, I'm skeptical). This time, though, it has gone too far.

James McKinley has this to say about an eleven year old gang rape victim in a small East Texas town:

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.

“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”

Because she had it coming, right? It's her fault, it's her mom's fault (but not her dad's!) - anyone but the group of older teenage boys who raped her. There are pictures and videos to prove it. But we see women as the gatekeepers of sexuality, so if she dressed in a way some other people think was inappropriate and her mom might not know where she was, she totally deserved it. They boys were powerless to not rape her! And as another person interviewed in the story says, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”


This just makes me want to vomit. 1) When I was 11, I'm pretty sure my mom didn't know where I was at every minute of every day. Neither did my dad. I have fantastic parents, but... I was 11, not six. I never did anything terrible, and I'm lucky I didn't get into trouble, but lordy day, people. Her mom is probably devastated. Compassion?

2) I don't think I need to say this, but I'm going to say it anyway: It does not matter how you dress. It does not matter how much you drink. It does not matter what alley you walk down alone or at what hour of the night. Rape victims are not to blame for their rape. Rapists rape. Rape victims are never asking for it, and they never have it coming. Never. No exceptions. If you try to raise an exception in the comments, your comment will be blocked.

3). Eleven. Years. Old.

I see this as part of the trend of misogyny that the right wing has been working really hard to perpetuate, but also part of a victim-blaming, showing-no-compassion trend that really bothers me. Why do we have to be so awful to other people? No one in this story shows any feeling for this little girl. It's all about how boys don't deserve to have to deal with this, the mother was wrong, these people are poor.

If you would like to join me in writing angry e-mails to the New York Times, you can use this e-mail address:

Edited: Thanks to Steve and Terror for posting these very good takes on this issue:
Amanda Marcotte
Lisa Falkenberg

The Feminization of Teaching, Part 2: Schoolmarms and the 21st Century

The Wisconsin teacher strikes have been on my mind a great deal lately, as they have for many people in this country. It's no secret that teachers are facing enormous disrespect. For starters, they are grossly underpaid, considering they are meant to do one of the most important jobs in America. They also continue to be held to certain "moral" standards by jerkface Republicans. Teachers are being deprofessionalized even as we speak, through [problematic] standardized testing, broken accountability measures, and an increasingly canned curriculum. It's also a fact that teachers tend to be women. There is, in my mind, a clear link between the semi-professional (at best) status of teachers and the fact that teaching is considered a feminine career.

In the last post, I wrote about the nineteenth century issues of teacher professionalization. Fast forward to 2011, when the relative professional status of teachers is at the top of many peoples' minds. No Child Left Behind requires states to apply a statewide standardized test - in Florida, where I live, this is the FCAT - upon which school performance and teacher performance will be graded. Teachers now have to be sure they prepare their students for the tests in order to prevent their schools from losing funding,* and have less and less flexibility to determine what is right for their students at any given time. Is this not what teachers are trained to do?

On top of this, the fact is that most teachers are women, still, especially in elementary schools.** And teachers still get paid considerably less than other professionals do. This is no mistake - as we can see, this was intended from the beginning of public education in the United States. But just because something has historical precedent doesn't make it right. I know lots of teachers, and none of them argue that they do a better job teaching now that they have less control over what they are doing. They are less able to serve their students, because they are so busy trying to serve the state. The fact that teachers tend to be women, and that the men involved in K-12 education are most likely to be administrators (or, to some extent, high school teachers) is not a coincidence. It was deliberately established this way based on several very sexist ideas, as we know. Not only do we need to diversify the teaching force, we also need to start treating teachers like the professionals they are. Not only is this fair and anti-sexist, but it's what is best for their students.

* Because it makes LOADS of sense to take money away from struggling schools and give it to the schools that are already doing well!
** I am well aware that teachers also tend to be white, middle-class, and monolingual. I don't think the whiteness of teachers is a coincidence, either. I'm planning to write about this in the future, but feel free to comment away on this issue should you be so moved.