Tuesday, May 31, 2011

White Dude Panels: Another Example of White Privilege

Good Media brings us today's topic: white dude panels at conferences.

This story is in the context of I Want Media's upcoming conference. The "Future of Media" panel will feature only white men. In a conference like that one, the panelists are specifically invited. As the author of the piece notes, it's not as though they necessarily knew that they were going to be on the panel with only other white dudes. It shows a lack of awareness on the part of the coordinator, certainly. Should these guys give up their chance to speak on this panel in the name of making it more diverse?

Yes. Yes, they should. As author Cord Jefferson notes:
After watching this happen again and again, something occurred to me: Why don’t the white men who are asked to engage in this nonsense simply stop doing it? The boycott is a protest with a long history of success. If white, male elites started saying, “I will not participate in your panel, event, or article if it is all about white men,” chances are these panels and articles would quickly dry up—or become more diverse.

Exactly. White men have to realize that they have had enormous privilege given to them based on their white maleness, and this is one way in which they can start to counteract their white privilege. The panels would become more diverse, it's true - and, other white men would have a role model for disinvesting from the privilege of being white men. I think this is enormously important as part of an anti-racism agenda.

In the kinds of conferences I go to, panels are not usually put together this way. There are a few, maybe, in which speakers are invited. At the last two AERA conferences I went to, the program chairs for my division were invited to put together presidential panels. In both cases, the panels were diverse (Disclosure: I know both of the program chairs well, and they are both committed to diversity beyond tokenization). In fact, at this year's presidential session, the only white person was a woman.

Most of the time, though, panels and papers are submitted anonymously and accepted or rejected based on the quality of the research. We have to attempt to make sure the topics reflect an array of subjects and ideas, so that not all of the research is on, say, middle class straight white people. It is entirely possible to have panels consisting only of straight white men. In that case, I'm not sure what the immediate solution is, as the papers are selected without the committee's knowledge of the authors' identities. The long-term solution, as I will return to in a minute, is to increase access within the field so that the field itself becomes more diverse.

It is certainly good for a person's career to be asked or selected to participate in a panel for one's professional organization. Letting that go because of the demographics of the panel might sound not only silly, but overly harsh. I don't think it is, though. If we are people committed to diversity, I argue that we should live that commitment. I also know this is easy for me to say - as a queer woman, I will up a panel's diversity points twice. I could be the token that lets the white dudes breathe easy. But I'm not letting myself off a hook I'm willing to put other people on. If I see the conferences and panels I'm involved in getting too "white," I'll speak up.

This goes beyond who presents at panels, though. This is about who is getting the props in the field, to be sure, and it also speaks to who has access to whatever it takes to succeed in the field. If you, as a conference organizer, are trying to track down women and people of color to be part of a panel, and you can't find any... well, that certainly raises questions about what your field looks like as a whole. Something is going on to prevent non-white non-men from getting involved. We need to figure out what that is, if it's a problem we can all identify in our lines of work.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Music

I dunno about you, but my music collection has historically been very dude-centric. The ladies, they are not well-represented in music. Not as anything but singers. And they get flack even for that. I can't even count the times I've heard, "I just like men's voices better", "it's just harder to make a woman's voice sound good", etc.* And I know I'm not the only one who's heard that shit thanks to Silvana's post over at Tiger Beatdown.

Fortunately, this has been the Year of Ladyrock** for me, totally without any trying on my part. In no particular order, here's the music I'm listening to these days:

  • Robyn: Fembot.
  • Amanda Palmer: Astronaut. I don't know what is up with her eyebrows, but I like it.
  • Fever Ray: If I Had a Heart. Cannot stop listening to this and "When I Grow Up".
  • Janelle Monae: Tightrope.
  • Adele: Rolling in the Deep. I'm sure you've all heard this since it's number 1 right now, but still had to mention it.

Happy listening, y'all.

*In fact, I was not allowed to sing in my natural range as a kid. These days? I hit every note flat.

**Granted, most of these tracks didn't even come out this year. I'm not the most up-to-date music reviewer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

New Uniforms Are Not the Answer*

From The Washington Post today, we have a story about how a girls' track team performs better in clothing the young women feel more comfortable in.

This is one of those things that I feel really conflicted on. I want the girls to feel comfortable in their skin so that they can excel in their sports. I believe in the importance of athletic achievement for girls who are into sports, and if these skorts help, okay.

But... shouldn't we be working to change the environment they're in, instead of changing the clothes to suit the environment? The article notes that the girls are sometimes harassed by the boys. Instead of changing the clothing to decrease harassment - which smacks of victim-blaming - we should be educating the boys on how not to be sexist assholes. It sucks that girls are false-starting on purpose so that boys won't point and laugh. The problem here is not the girls, or the clothes. It's the boys. And, beyond that, it's the culture that thinks that the answer is to change the uniforms and not the attitudes.

* Shortest post ever? Well, it's Friday. And why use lots of words when I can get my point across in just a few?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yay, Let's Be Angry Together

The main reason I started blogging is that I needed an outlet for my feminist rants. Too often I found myself raving about cesarean sections and movie roles to a bunch of glassy-eyed friends. So I figured NWF would help alleviate the pressure, and roped Jess in to up the quality.

I thought that the result would be fewer booze-fueled feminist rants. Instead, something far more awesome has happened. My friends are starting these conversations instead.

In fact, I can barely keep up with you guys. To those of you who have pointed me to a news item or topic and I haven't been able to write about it yet, my apologies. We are only two women and are sometimes unable to keep up with demand. Also ... *cough* guest post *cough*

The common thread in all of this, the single motivation behind NWF's creation and our readers' requests, can best be summed up by a phrase coined by the estimable Ryan North: sympathy rage.

Yes, we often end our posts with questions.  Still though.

But. as I mentioned, I can't always keep up. So what can you do if we are not providing you with the sympathy rage you need?

Feministing is always a good first stop. They post many times a day and keep on top of current events. Whatever the topic is, odds are they've covered it. If not, check out one of the other many excellent blogs in our blog roll.

You can also post yourself; you should have the ability to post links and comments to our Facebook page. I'm hoping it can function as a sort of forum for the time being. And if you really have a lot to say, you can always submit a guest post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why We Can't Be Pro-Human Rights And Pro-Human Rights Campaign

From Queerty, we have the report of another trans woman who was beaten, this time in a 7-11 parking lot in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This is terrifying and horrific. And of course Virginia doesn't have protections for trans people. Just a total nightmare.

Here is my question: How often does this shit have to fucking happen before we realize that gay rights is not just, or even mostly, about marriage? I am not denying that marriage equality is a social justice issue. But I take strong exception to it being the center of the fight right now. And I have heard the statistics that say that states that have marriage equality have lower queer suicide rates. I don't know how that correlation works, and I'm glad it's the case, but that's trickle-down social justice at best, and I ain't having it.

We need to be on the ground, where the people are. It's not enough to say you support marriage equality and then feel like you're being a good liberal. Lives are on the line. This person was beaten with a broken-off metal broom handle. I mean, damn.

But the mainstream gay rights movement is not only still mostly excluding trans people, the Human Rights Campaign - the most mainstream of them all - was founded on trans-exclusion. I cannot abide a movement that excludes anyone's humanity. And that is what is happening with the HRC. They are asking other people to wait, just sit still while they get some things they want. As a friend of mine said, they are looking to expand human rights by exactly one notch, and no more. That is not exactly working in the spirit of true humanism, is it?

When someone tells you that your movement is hurting them, why wouldn't you listen? This is not neutral ground. There are not two sides to this story - the pro-HRC and the anti-HRC side. The HRC has all the power, all the money, all the privilege. They get to have dinner with Obama. They are in the power system. They are not trying to make life better for the people, they're trying to make life better for them. The trans people getting the shit beaten out of them will just have to fend for themselves. This is reinforcing the privilege in society overall: cis white men are at the top of the heap. I hate the heap. It has GOT to go. To support the Human Rights Campaign is to support the heap, with the cis white men at the top of it. It is to align yourself against trans inclusivity, and against the rights of people the HRC has deliberately distanced itself from since day one.

They don't want to include trans protections in the legislation they fight for, they don't want to acknowledge the crucial role of the "visible queers" in the gay liberation movement, they don't want to talk about issues that don't resonate with middle-class privilege. And so while trans people continue to bear the visible scars of the movement, since they have done since Sylvia Rivera at the latest, they will keep asking for the right to get married. I'm just... over it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Behind Every Great Man ...

Woman?  What woman?

You know the rest of this phrase, right? That there's a great woman? I fucking hate this quote. It's patronizing, heteronormative, and just plain wrong.

Case in point? Isaac Newton. Yeah, he of the apple, whose basic laws of mechanics we all learned in Physics 101. Dude never married. He was briefly engaged in his youth, but otherwise he appears to have been just too much of a workaholic to have a family. Somehow, though, he managed to leave a mark on history anyway.

Leonardo da Vinci's close companion for 30 years was not a woman at all, but a man named Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno. The sexuality of both da Vinci and fellow artist Michaelangelo is the subject of debate, but it seems clear that neither had a long-term close relationship with a woman. Still great, though. As are the more recent examples of Noël Coward and Alvin Ailey, who are known to be gay. A little googling yields tons more examples of famous men who never married. (Unless you're trying to find some who aren't white, in which case Google is spectacularly unhelpful.)

Even as a feminist sentiment it sucks. For a long time, women couldn't own property, have jobs, or participate in politics. And I'm sure that as a result, there were some brilliant women who attempted to channel their ambitions through their spouses or sons, and I'm sure that was sometimes quite helpful to those spouses and sons. But this lack of opportunity is something to lament, not celebrate.

It also promotes one narrow relationship model, in which both partners closely collaborate on all aspects of their lives. Folks, this is not the only way to live. You can also have meaningful relationships in which one or more partners prioritize their own career, or disagree on political issues, or hold different religious beliefs, or live separately. This is not necessarily better or worse, just different.

As for me, the guys I've had relationships with have done interesting things and accomplished stuff. None of which has anything to do with me. And vice versa.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Girls and Contact Sports: But Won't They Break?

Topics sometimes seem to come in clusters around here, so it's time for another roller derby post!

I'm behind on my podcasts, so I only recently got to the latest episode of Derby Deeds. (If you play/ref/enjoy watching roller derby and like podcasts, this is the show for you.) The fine folks who run this show discussed the fact that a high school in Texas has a roller derby program now. I think this is marvelous, for a number of reasons. I've heard so many people say that if they'd had roller derby when they were teenagers, their lives would have been much better. I've officiated in a junior derby bout, and it was one of the best things I've ever seen. These girls were not fucking around.

Anyway, the hosts of the podcast talked about why it is unlikely that roller derby will catch on in high schools around the country, and it's very simple: it is a full-contact sport for laydeez. We let boys run head-first into each other and increase their chances of having life-long health problems in football, so this isn't a kid thing, it's a girl thing.

We also let girls participate in cheerleading, which studies have shown is the most dangerous sport in the world - more dangerous than roller derby and football. So why is it okay for girls to cheerlead, but not play football or roller derby? I don't know about where you went to high school, but our women's basketball team didn't have cheerleaders, if I recall correctly. The mens' team did. So it's okay for women to risk their lives and health to boost the morale of men, but not to play a contact sport themselves? Is that what's going on here?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Breasts and Chests

The latest issue of Dossier -- an arts and culture journal I must admit I'd not heard of before this week -- features model Andrej Pejic styled in a manner that does not adhere to the gender binary. Pejic's curled hair and makeup have a classic feminine look, his shirt and trousers are more traditionally masculine, and his exposed chest ... well, here's where people get tripped up.

Pejic doesn't appear to have large breasts, bulging muscles, or chest hair; i.e., his chest does not display any of the sex-signifiers that we are accustomed to seeing. Apparently, that is too much for people. The Good Men Project's Adam Polaski reports that both Borders and Barnes & Noble have insisted on covering the magazine like they do Playboy. Polaski argues that this is due to our discomfort with what he terms androgyny*, and I think he's right.

Specifically, this photo makes us confront one of our most basic assumptions about sex and gender: that women have breasts and men have chests. If we can stare directly at a person's bare torso and be uncertain about which we see, then the line between the two really isn't all that sharp.

It is also telling that despite the model's apparent lack of breasts, the book chains have chosen to cover the journal because customers might mistake him for female. By this logic, a woman with a double mastectomy posing topless would be similarly censored. This would seem to indicate that we don't prohibit toplessness in women because women have breasts, but rather just because they are women. I can't decide if that's more fucked up, or just differently fucked up.

*A term which can be problematic.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Roller Derby and Gender

Happy Thursday, folks. I'm doing my best to stay on top of life, so this is going to be a quick blog post. All about roller derby!

I'm about a month behind on this, but the Women's Flat Track Derby Association has adopted a new gender policy. On the whole, I think this is more of a good thing than not. They are considering that gender is not so simple as "man or woman," something easily determined by one's genitalia. Trans inclusivity is something I believe in and promote. I'm delighted that WFTDA is on board with that project.

Of course, even the WFTDA version is a bit oversimplified, and in some ways problematic. When talking about queer issues, this will almost always be the case. As Judith Butler says about feminism, how can we really define "woman"? Once we try to define it, we're excluding someone, and if we take all comers, then who are feminists advocating for? Or, in this context, who gets to play women's flat track derby? Identity politics is awfully complicated. So WFTDA says that they are considering anyone who considers herself a woman, lives as a woman, and has hormones consistent with medical definitions of woman. That's... tough. What if a trans person calls herself "femme" or something else instead of "woman"? Further, what does "lives as a woman" mean? All the time - at work, at home, with family? That's not an easy thing for very many people to do. What are the requirements here?

Finally: I'm skeptical of the medicalization aspect of this. Getting doctors involved seems unnecessary to me. I don't believe in "real" genders - that someone is "really" a woman or "really" a man "underneath" some exterior presentation. It seems to me that women probably have a pretty wide range of hormone levels, as do men, and that some cis women might have more testosterone than some cis men. WFTDA makes clear that they are not asking for preemptive proof of anything here - the captains don't have to show the papers of the trans players before the game can happen. But I'm not sure I like this idea of testing the hormone levels of only some players. What do we learn from that, exactly? There is such a wide range of sizes, athletic ability, aggressiveness, whatever, within any given gender that it, in my mind, renders arbitrary the differences between genders in contexts like these.

Look, I get that this is a sport, and therefore we will be looking at bodies. And I do appreciate that WFTDA is having this conversation. But the minute we get into trying to determine how someone else identifies and what they "really" are, we are in a lot of hot water.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Have a Beef with Evolutionary Psychology

Comic by explosm.net

There's this perception of science as an unbiased, value-neutral discipline, and it's kind of bullshit. You could be a scrupulous gatherer of data and an excellent statistician, but the scientific method is all about testing hypotheses, and those hypotheses can arise in very biased ways.

Some fields will be better than others; astronomy, for instance, has at best a rather tenuous relationship to our day-to-day lives. An individual astronomer could be biased towards the core accretion model of planet formation over the gravitational instability model, but, if so, that's probably due to her own publication history and will not translate to the whole astronomical community.

On the extreme other end of the spectrum we have the field of evolutionary psychology, which seeks to explain current human behaviors as hard-wired phenomena and is enmeshed in bias, I would argue inextricably. For instance, imagine what it would be like to study human attraction. It would be easy to come up with a hundred hypothesis motivated by sexism, classism, and racism. And you're going to get about one "positive result" with a p-value of 0.01 out of a hundred bullshit hypotheses. That's just statistics.

Furthermore, someone who is generating and testing sexist hypotheses is not going to be terribly motivated to consider alternate explanations for a phenomenon. And so we end up with Psychology Today posting articles about how black women are fundamentally less attractive, rather than about how our culture is reluctant to see beauty in black women. (Here's the Crunk Feminist Collective's take.)

Just to be clear, I definitely think that sociology and psychology are worth studying. But I also know firsthand how difficult it can be to extract statistically significant results from only a few hundred data points, and I know how tentative results can be misrepresented by the media. The result is that I have a high level of skepticism for evo-psych research in general, and this skepticism is increased by [1.] a hypothesis which sexists and racists would love to have proven correct, [2.] non-public data, and [3.] no reproduction of the results by another group.

A further example is an evo-psych study pointed out to me by a friend, about the supposed anti-depressant properties of semen, the controversy over which is unappealingly referred to as "Semengate". Now, again, I don't have access to the data, so I can't comment on their statistical analysis. But the very premise is problematic for at least four reasons I can think of:
  1. "Women be crazy." Seriously, that's how the study starts off: "Females are more prone to develop depressive disorders than males." Maybe because they live in a patriarchy? Maybe it's not semen-deficiency?
  2. It then proposes that they need a man to fix them. Specifically, through the regular application of semen to their vaginal walls.
  3. The whole thing is incredibly heteronormative.
  4. Finally, it's commonly assumed that men want to have unprotected sex. This study justifies that supposed want.
Furthermore, the study was based on a survey of a few hundred college women; not humanity's most representative group. It was conducted nine years ago and has not, to my knowledge, been reproduced since. This is exactly the kind of study that needs to be taken with a shipping container of salt.

The salt-taking stands even if you think that a study applies to you. I would love to believe, for instance, that my thousands of moles make me some kind of Bruce-Willis-in-Unbreakable type person. But, you know, I'm going to wait for the follow-up studies before I start taking that seriously.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Anger Redux: Politeness is Overrated

So, I want to talk about anger again, but this time I'm more interested in talking about anger in communication than anger as an emotion.

As you may know, I am a graduate student in a college of education. This is a weird place for me, as a queer person and someone who gets that the education system we have is killing people - queer people, black and brown people - and is still preserving privilege for its traditional recipients. I'm an outsider, erased from the curriculum, but choosing to participate. I'm constantly negotiating whether this is the right thing for me or not.

Sometimes, in academia, conversations get really heated. This happened last week, and two of my friends and I got angry because we felt like the people we were talking to weren't understanding that what is going on is a life-and-death struggle. We are worried about people dying because of the screwed up society we're in that education reinforces. So when people are refusing to get that, to see their own white privilege, we get real pissed.

What happens then is that someone stops the argument because it's getting too hot and not-nice. Abagond calls this "the tone argument," and points out that it is a logical fallacy. It's refusing to acknowledge the truth of what is being said because they don't like how that truth is being spoken. If you stop yelling at me, in other words, maybe I will listen to what you are saying. It's a derailment tactic. I don't think people will listen even when those words are not spoken loudly.

D put it better, when I posted it on Facebook:
On this I am clear - it is not tone but Truth which alienates people. If you say it silently it alienates (Ghandi), if you say it softly it alienates (Rosa Parks), if you say it strong it alienates (MLK Jr.), if you say it loud it alienates (Malcolm X). I get to CHOOSE how I want to say it, but I know the message is the problem, not my choice of conveyance.

And those of you who are Facebook friends with me may find the rest of this familiar, but why rewrite it when I said what I meant the first time:

Here's what I'm struggling to understand: Why do we have to insist on hearing things the way we want to hear them before we can accept that they are true? It's a logical fallacy and a derailment tactic. I feel as though there is some straight white middle-class way of expressing things, that we have this hang-up about being "polite" or whatever, and if other people aren't bringing their words to the table in a way that fits with that politeness, it's over, the straight white middle class doesn't have to listen. They will be hearing uncomfortable truths about themselves, and if those truths can be written off, they will be. You don't have to feel alienated when someone else gets angry. Even if they are angry with you personally. Aren't we all trying to make the world better? Can't we try to understand that anger? Anger is powerful and important. Politeness can silence people. Why do I have to meet you at your politness? You can meet me at my anger. But politeness is privileged, because it is associated with the most privileged people.

Something happened at AERA that I think of when I think of this. In one of the queer SIG panels I went to, this dude got up and (after saying some mean things about trans people, which was enough to lose the crowd) put up transcript excerpts from his interviews that he did with queer college kids. He had changed all kinds of language in the transcripts to "tone them down." He got read for that like you would NOT BELIEVE. The chair of the session said it well, I thought: he talked about how you can't change OUR words, you can't heteronormatize us, or you are trying to change US to fit THEIR system. And the heterosexist/white supremacist system is killing people.

If you see people expressing their anger or using words you don't like as a problem, it feels a lot like saying that there is a deficit in the person whose speech you don't like. It makes it easier to avoid the deficits in the dominant society that are making that kind of speech feel urgent and necessary. People are dying. I don't understand why we're not all yelling all the time.

See also this set of examples for what this blogger calls the Wite-Magik Attax.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Matrilineage > Patrilineage

Before you read this post, it is strongly recommended that you also read my post on the distinction between feminist actions and feminist people, because I am about to criticize a practice which many of my readers likely engage in. This post is not a criticism of you. It is a criticism of it as a standard practice.

Married couples in this country overwhelmingly practice a form of patrilineage in which children are given the surname of their father only. If one assumes that children taking the name of their parents has some inherent value (which, as a hobby genealogist, I do) and acknowledges that they can't take both (or name length will grow exponentially), then it boils down to a simple question: which is better, matrilineage or patrilineage?

For a whole host of reasons, I think matrilineage is clearly better. Allow me to enumerate them:
  1. It is more accurate. Any realistic discussion of lineage needs to acknowledge that the identity of the biological father is not always known. Adultery and other forms of non-monogamy occur at pretty significant rates. It's difficult to determine what percentage of children have incorrectly identified fathers; this review cites estimates ranging from 0.8% to 30%, with a median of 3.7%.

    We can do an analysis in a similar manner to that of my birth control post. If paternal misidentification occurs at a rate of X%, then the likelihood that a particular one of your descendants who came along N generations after you is P%, plotted below:

    Using the median 3.7% rate, most people will have (genetically) inaccurate names after 30 generations. This would not be the case with matrilineage.
  2. Women are still raising the next generation. I would love for this to change, but currently women do 80% of in-home child care. It is reasonable to expect, then, that women play a larger role in shaping the personalities, manners, and values of the next generation; why not acknowledge that in our naming conventions?
  3. Women give birth. They deserve props for this. I feel like this is due some acknowledgment on its own. If I craft an entire extra person from my own body and extrude it through my pelvis, you can be damn sure I'm slapping my own name on that piece of work.
  4. Women carry and pass on more genetic material than men do. Mitochondrial DNA is wholly matrilineal. And the X-chromosome has 153 million base pairs to the Y-chromosome's measly 58. Sons in particular will have more DNA from Mom than from Dad.
  5. It would be one less way that women are omitted from history. It is more difficult to conduct genealogical research on one's female ancestors due to the loss of their birth names. Given the many other ways that women are lost to history, I'd like to see this particular method ended.

Any way I look at it matrilineage seems obviously the better choice, and I would love to see a shift towards it as both the most sensible option and as an acknowledgment of the work women do to raise the next generation.

I'd just like to end by apologizing for the cis-normativeness of this post. Men give birth, too, and I don't mean to erase this fact. However, I don't know a succinct way to designate "person who gives birth"; "mother" is gendered. So I have settled for this codicil instead; suggested solutions are welcome.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

NWF Book Club

A couple of readers have suggested that we organize a book club of sorts, and now that it's summer we'd like to try it. Each month we'll announce our chosen book on the blog; three weeks later we'll post our thoughts on it and then we can all continue the discussion in the comments section.

We plan to alternate feminist fiction and non-fiction, so there should be something that everyone can enjoy. We're going to start with non-fiction: Riki Anne Wilchins's Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender is this month's book.

Many of our picks may not be readily available in bookstores, so if you'd like to participate I'd recommend ordering a copy as soon as you can.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Which I Offend Everyone I Know

One of the most interesting things I noticed about this Washington Post Magazine story about ADHD in adult women is that their husbands or partners rarely came up in conversation.

In this story, the author looks into why the rate of diagnosis of ADHD in adult women has gone up so much. She seems to focus on straight, white, middle-class women here, which isn't really surprising, considering that that's who most of these kinds of stories seem to deal with. The point of the story seems to be that women are really stressed out and dealing with ADHD more than they used to be. Which is doubtless true, but I wonder how much role, if any, privilege plays here. Would we find the same thing if we were looking at working-class black women? The very wealthy? I have no idea. I want someone to write THAT article.

Anyway, back to my original point: It certainly seems that women are bearing a lot of the load for running the kids to soccer practice and keeping track of everyone's schedules. Where are the people they had these kids with? I'm sure they're nice people and all, but if your partner and the co-head of your household is losing it, maybe it's time to change things? I know it's not that simple, on an individual level. What I want to know is, is this whole family structure something that's working out, or something we should be rethinking, as a group? Or at least, should we not assume it will work for everyone? I know these women probably really love their children and their partners, but if women are getting diagnosed with ADHD at higher and higher rates, maybe it's time to ask some questions. Is all I'm saying.

It also bums me out that the women here seem mostly worried about the effect this will have on their children, and not on themselves. And they are often getting diagnosed when their children are. This is a childless person writing this, and I do realize that children are the future and whatnot. But why are women so often seeing themselves as reflected through their kids? I am so going to catch just ENDLESS shit for this, but it brings to mind the people who put up pictures of their children as their profile pictures on Facebook. Not the end of the world, or of feminism, but why is this something we do? I don't see men doing it nearly as often as women. This is an observation, a question, and not a judgment. I'm curious, and I'm not the only one.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Feminist Actions, Feminist People

There's something I need to lay down for future posts, and it's this: there are feminist actions, and feminist people, and the two do not always correspond.

A feminist action is one that contributes to equal rights, freedom, and respect for women. It can range in scale from organizing a rally to voting for pro-choice political candidates to just wearing something that pushes gender boundaries. A wide array of activities fit into this category, but not all.

I think it's a little harder to define a feminist, people being complicated and all, but we can use a similar definition as above: a person that contributes to equal rights, freedom, and respect for women. Of course, individual people can perform both feminist and anti-feminist acts, which muddies things a bit, but generally you can still label a person as feminist or not overall. Note that my definition is not dependent on self-identification; I think a person can be feminist without calling themselves so, and vice versa.

What will be most relevant for future posts is the concept that feminist people can perform non-feminist, or even anti-feminist, actions. I consider myself a feminist. I also make choices that are not feminist; for instance, I shave my legs. Not shaving might help normalize hairy legs for women, while shaving reinforces the standard. But, for various reasons, cultural influences included, I've chosen what I consider to be the anti-feminist route.

And that's fine; I'm not apologizing for my choice. It's my body and I will do with it as I see fit. A feminist does not always have to take the "most feminist" path. But it is important to acknowledge that not every thing I do is feminist, just because I consider myself to be a feminist person. Likewise, when I criticize certain actions or choices in this blog, it does not mean that I am necessarily accusing people who make that choice of being anti-feminist.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That's Bullshit: Internalized Misogyny 101

So I was tooling around the internets trying to figure out what I want to write about, exactly. That took two seconds, because I found this gem on CNN.

In it, a woman freaks out that her husband has decided to start cooking. Specifically, he's cooking lots of red meat. In her kitchen! The nerve of that guy.

This is my favorite part, when the lady is thumbing through the cookbook her husband just put in the kitchen:

I was studying the corned beef recipe, which called for boiling up your own brine and then submerging the meat in it for 12 days, when Bill came back in and made a complicated spousal throat-clearing noise. "Uh, that's for me," he said. "My cookbook."

I might have been more startled if Bill had said "My mascara," or "My pedicure kit," but I doubt it.

I remain unconvinced that cookbooks, mascara, or pedicure kits are the sole domains of women. This woman is seriously invested in the idea that women cook and men do things that require getting dirty. They can maybe barbecue, because that involves manly things like coal and fire. But in the end it's okay, because he made her something he knows she likes (although not quite up to her specifications), so... she won't chase him out of the kitchen with a butcher knife?

I'm not even sure what the point of this column is. Is she telling us we can all relax now because sometimes when men cook the world doesn't blow up? I've heard similar stories to this before, about women who were irritated with their husbands for cooking. It seems as though people think it's a violation of the domestic spheres we've agreed on since the mid-19th century. Here's what I think it is: Not a big deal at all. Something we need to get over. It is not a violation of your femininity if some dude cooks dinner, you know? Just like it's not violating a guy's masculinity if his wife changes the oil in the cars. We've invested way too much in the gendered division of labor - in gender as a concept - if fucking CNN has to run a story called "Husband quietly takes over the kitchen." What about men who don't have wives? Who, perhaps, are single, or have husbands, or non-female partners? Will they starve to death? And if there are two women in a relationship, HOW WILL WE EVER KNOW who is supposed to do the cooking? The mind boggles.

You will be delighted to know that you can find a link in that story to another one about a chocolate cake that will totally catch you a man.* Because that is what you need to be most concerned with, above all, if you are a lady type. There are only about sixteen different kinds of privilege blinders at work there, right?

* Unless he has celiac disease, diabetes, food allergies, is vegan, hates sweets, or doesn't get an insta-boner at the first sign that a woman is a domestic goddess because he's an actual human being and not some pre-formatted penis owner.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Literal and Metaphorical Erasure of Women

Three different people have now drawn my attention to this item, in which Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung has removed Hilary Clinton and another woman from a photo of the Situation Room. Supposedly, this is a tradition for Hasidic newspapers, though I can't say I'd heard of it before.

I have to admit that it doesn't seem very sporting of me as a goy to have at a Jewish newspaper. And, as an atheist, my understanding of religious matters is not particularly nuanced. So I'm going to take a different tack here.

You know what would make this practice of removing women from news photos totally absurd and impractical? If women held more political positions. If half of politicians were women, then there would be a 75% chance that any photo of a pair of them would contain at least one woman. The photoshoppers would certainly have their work cut out for them then.

This photographic exclusion merely reflects the actual exclusion of women from politics. It's easy to single out the problematic practices of a minority religious group, but I think we should be focusing on the hard problem; proportional representation.

A Review of Thor, with Many Footnotes

Friday night I went to see Thor. I joked that I would turn off the feminist part of my brain for it, but it seems this has become impossible. In all fairness, it's hard to ignore ancient god-like people goading each other into berserker rage by calling them "princess." I feel like less-dedicated feminists than myself would have issues with that.

So I spent the first forty minutes of the movie rolling my eyes at the Norse god-aliens shaking weapons at each other and hollering, and then a weird thing happened: the movie suddenly became awesome. The titular Thor crash-lands on Earth, minus any special powers, and stomps around providing some delightful fish-out-of-water humor.1

Also, as my friend Megan pointed out to me 2/3 of the way through the movie, this dude-created, dude-produced, mostly dude-written, and definitely dude-marketed movie makes the completely surprising decision to objectify men instead of women. And it wastes no time doing so: while Thor lies unconscious on the ground (because while being slammed into a vehicle at tornado wind speed isn't enough to kill him, of course, it is apparently enough to render him unconscious for a short period of time) the female characters crack wise about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He then spends the next chunk of movie either shirtless or wearing a rather tight t-shirt2, while the camera lingers lovingly on his pecs and the female characters (and audience, truth be told) gape. That, my friends, is objectification.

Meanwhile (and this is the part that really boggles my mind), the laydeez are not objectified at all. They wear plenty of clothes, even warrior goddess Sif3. And the human female characters all have various academic credentials; not only is Jane Foster5 an astrophysicist6, but the movie takes the time to establish that her seemingly useless assistant/comic relief buddy Darcy is a political science major. And, incidentally, said women speak directly to each other about the wisdom of chasing cosmic tornadoes and about having their gear stolen, passing the Bechdel test.

The last third of the movie, sadly, resembles the first third, but whatever. I was so delighted to run across a film that makes the exact opposite decision of every other action movie, ever, that I didn't care. Of course the immediate reaction of dudes who don't think too much about the patriarchy is to accuse me of having a double standard. Let me straighten said dudes the hell out.

We live in a patriarchy. This patriarchy spends a lot of time objectifying women. A movie that objectifies women while expecting you to identify with the men supports the status quo. A movie that objectifies men while expecting you to identify with the women challenges it. There's a double standard at play here, sure, but it's not of my making.

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that Hollywood is pretty much full of men, so it's usually men objectifying women. In Thor, straight men7 objectified straight men. So again, you'd be out of line to blame this on the ladies.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think the answer to all social injustice is to turn that injustice back upon the aggressors, and I don't recommend that more movies objectify men for the sake of evening things out. But I feel that it is legitimate to take joy in a work that challenges the patriarchy, and to call my enjoyment a double standard ignores a great deal of cultural context.

1I firmly believe this movie would have been best as a romantic comedy. Hemsworth seems to be mediocre at "intimidating" and awesome at "hilarious". I'm envisioning it as a "Kate & Leopold" type movie, but actually funny and with a lot more beefcake.

2When I searched for pictures of "Thor Hemsworth", Google suggested that I search for "Thor Hemsworth shirtless". And so I did. Who am I to argue with Google?

3What the fuck is up with this, by the way? I assume this was a (poor) choice on the part of the comic series, but Sif has got to be the least warrior-like Norse goddess. What the hell is wrong with, say, Skade? And while I'm on the topic, I felt there was a deplorable lack of Valkyries in this movie (personal bias notwithstanding4).

4Yes, this is a footnote for a footnote, and yes, "Kyrie" is short for "Valkyrie", believe it or not.

5Which is obviously a name for a fictional primatologist, not a fictional astrophysicist, BTW.

6Yes, this may have enhanced my enjoyment of the movie. Now shut up.

7Well, Branagh seems to be straight. I didn't check out all the writers, etc.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chat excerpt: BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR ART?!?!

So, the two of us decided that we needed to start this blog for a reason, and that's because we spend a lot of time talking about feminism and feminist issues. Occasionally, the conversation seems like something that COULD be turned into a post. Or, you know, we could just give it to you straight. Plus, it's Friday.

Sorry if this is a nonsequitur, but it reminds me strongly of people's reactions to Julian Assange/Roman Polanski being prosecuted for rape.

Jess: I went on a podcast to argue with this dude about how fucked up the "well Roman Polanksi's made great movies" defense was.

Kyrie: He can make art in prison.

Jess: Exactly. I loved Chinatown, too. Doesn't mean he didn't drug and rape a 13 year old girl. Jesus.

My podcaster friend was all "But if you thought your trial wasn't going well, you'd flee the country too!"

To which I responded, "... no. I wouldn't."

I mean, honestly, we do have an appeals process

Kyrie: And if I'd done something that horrible, I hope I'd be woman enough to face the consequences of my own crimes.


People have trouble with "I like what this guy made but hate what he did"

Same with Julian Assange

Kyrie: Yeah.

That whole thing just makes me sad.

Jess: Me too. It broke my heart when Naomi Wolf went to the dark side.

Kyrie: I know!

As far as I'm concerned, her feminist card has been revoked.

Jess: Made me want to burn my copy of The Beauty Myth. If I could find it.


Kyrie: Mine's digital.

Jess: Aw, sad, harder to burn

Kyrie: Well, you can burn it, just means something different.

Computer puns!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Impartiality: Another Privilege of Straight White Men

Because most people in the world are not straight white men, I have some bad news for the majority of you: you can't make an impartial decision. You'd probably best not go to law school or hope to become a judge, because you will certainly have opinions about things that do not have the permanence and gravity of the stone tablets the Ten Commandments were written on.

Where are those, by the way?

Apparently there are folks out there who think that Judge Walker, known now as the judge hearing the Proposition 8 cases in California, can't help but be influenced by his gayness in this decision process.

People always have opinions that are informed by their experiences, right? No matter what demographic groups you belong to. That's what the human experience is: learning from what we've gone through and using it to inform our thoughts. That's why Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment seemed perfectly innocuous to me, despite the bizarre outrage over it. Of COURSE her being Latina matters here - she has a different angle on oppression than the straight white dude over there. She comes from a different cultural background. If we lived in a society that was actually interested in ending oppression, and not preserving the spoils of wealth for the traditional elite, this would not be a problem. We would welcome such voices.

Beyond that, it appears that we're interested only in ratifying a certain type of citizenry, and all the others - the female, the queer, the brown - are considered deficits.

Should Walker have disclosed that he is gay and whether he intended to marry before hearings began? I don't think so. We wouldn't have asked a straight person the same questions, and the people looking to remove Walker wouldn't have wondered whether a straight person's homophobia was preventing his (of course, his) ability to think clearly about this case. There is no consideration that perhaps Walker doesn't want to get married, that perhaps he thinks marriage is not the battle we should be fighting here, that he thinks it's a screwed up institution. I know plenty of queer people who feel that way.

Of course Walker has an interest in the outcome of the case. We all do, even straight people. Because if this case gets decided properly - and I have no problem saying that a decision to overturn Prop 8 is correct and a decision to uphold it is incorrect - then we live in a less oppressive society.* And that's good for all of us. As the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee puts it, "There cannot be democracy for the few. If one is oppressed, all are oppressed."

* I maintain my position that marriage rights are not the most important issue facing the queer community right now. This post is less about marriage than it is about who gets to be seen as a responsible authority figure in the US today.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Let's Call a Truce on the bin Laden Death Reactions, Okay?

I'm having a really hard time with writing today - I'm completely exhausted on, like, an existential level. But you don't need to care about that, so here goes nothing. I'm just going to ramble for awhile, use Judy Blume's "Get words on the page" principle of dealing with writer's block, and see what happens.

So we all know that Osama bin Laden is dead. React to that however you want - not my business. I'm really over policing everyone's reactions to news like this. If you want to be glad, be glad. If you want to say that you can't celebrate the death of any individual person, that's fine with me. Do your thang.

It's curious, though, that this quote was falsely attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

I'm not sure how this has become such a viral thing. It's really strange, I think, but there are a couple reasons I'm willing to toss out there for y'all to shred. The first is that it's part of what I've begun calling the Piety Wars. We all want to show that we're good people, and rejoicing in the death of another person might make us look like bad people, so we show that the guy widely seen as Maybe The Best Person Ever (to the point that even the right wing - the folks historically and sometimes also currently on the side of segregation - have co-opted his memory) agrees with us. It's comforting. Also, it makes it impossible to disagree with and not immediately have to begin defending oneself as a good person. Dr. King said it, so it must be true. Listen: I think the man was brilliant. I agree with what he stood for. But he didn't say this, so why are we all posting it all over Facebook?*

Maybe a second part of what's going on here is that there's this expected patriotic response that Glenn Greenwald talked about - yay America, we got the bad guy, we were right about this all along.** That people are chanting "USA! USA!" outside the White House seems to indicate that this is a response people are having. And if you want to go against that grain, by saying that maybe it's not so great after all, you have to line up something to defend yourself with, and Dr. King is a good person to marshal in those moments.

"What does this have to do with feminism, Jess?" Yeah, I don't know. It does feel like there's some kind of expectation of masculinity in the "USA! USA!" response to bin Laden's death. The military is conceived of as a masculine institution - or there wouldn't be so many instances of gay panic - and now that the military has taken out Bad Guy #1 we're all supposed to celebrate that. Which is fine, if that's what you're feeling.

The reason it's considered unpatriotic to not celebrate all military "victories" is that it's not celebrating the strength of America, right? And strength is dudely, in our weird binary-invested culture. Any "But what about the victims?" talk is "feminine" and therefore unworthy. So if you - no matter your gender - want to talk about the consequences of this in terms of human loss and not military strategy, you're just unpatriotic, is all. (Please note that I don't feel this way - I'm tapping into what I see as the narrative, here.) So finding a man who agrees with you is helpful, especially if it's a man people have to at least claim to appreciate lest they be called racist.

Anyway. Go feel however you want about bin Laden, or don't feel anything, whatever. I'll be over here hunting down some caffeine so that I can try to make more sense in the future.

* There's the "we don't always do our research when we post stuff" thing that everyone is guilty of sometimes, myself certainly included. I'm not saying that anyone who attributed this to him is dumb. I understand what they're trying to say.

** What were we right about all along, exactly? Bin Laden wasn't killed because of our overwhelming military force or because we put Afghanis and Americans in harm's way. He wasn't caught because we tortured people. He was caught because of intelligence and patient groundwork.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why We Love Johnny Weir

Gender-bending has become A Thing that the news is all over. We've all heard about the little boy in the J. Crew ad whose mom painted his toenails pink, heralding the end of masculinity or humanity or whatever.

Now we have a story about a high school boy who wore high heels to school, until his principle talked him out of it.

There are several things wrong with this: That the principle thought he was doing the right thing by taking "the paternal role" and convincing the kid to cave to the demands of the bullies that he conform and not wear whatever shoes he wants. Paternal, indeed. The principal also said that you have to take whatever happens to you if you step outside the norm. What the hell kind of lesson is that to teach kids? Sounds victim-blaming to me, for one thing. But schools too often seem to have a vested interest in maintaining gender norms - in this way, they are a reflection of society.

As my friend Michael pointed out, this article also claims that the kid wasn't punished, but he was: the normalization IS the punishment. It's an assault on this kid's identity. The story here shouldn't be, "High school boy wears high heels to school." It should be, "Douchebag principal wastes a lot of time convincing kid not to wear heels instead of doing his job." Which, admittedly, might take up a lot of space on a page, but who reads print media anymore, anyway?

I feel the need to remind us all that there is a different way to be human beyond gay-straight-bisexual (all of which are also valid, of course). We can step outside of the boxes and move into an appreciation for queer genders, societally, if people stop planting their flags in the idea that gender is a public health risk.

You know who I think is just really amazing for his courage in gender-bending? Johnny Weir. A couple of caveats: Yes, he is a privileged person with access to resources most people (your humble blogger included) do not have. He has the freedom to push gender boundaries in a way many people do not, because of who he is. I don't think he would deny that. But he is, I think, making space for other people to engage in examination of gender identity. Here are some things that he's said:

I don't really like to have rules for anything, I find it's not very freeing when you abide by rules of any kind... I'm not a big believer in tiny handbags. The jig is up, you don't only carry lipstick, a credit card and a phone. I carry big bags - it's not even a murse or a man-bag, I carry a straight up purse every day.

I've always been comfortable with who I am... While I don't believe in masculinity and femininity, I don't believe in a purely gay person or a purely straight person. I have a very clear opinion of my own sexuality.

Fashion is very inspiring to me and I almost go drag queen where I wear the heels, make-up on or a big fur coat. Those things get noticed. But today, for example, I have jeans and cashmere hoodie on. I change it up. Nobody really cared when I looked like a boy.

"Nobody really cared when I looked like a boy." Right. Because I think, at the heart of it, people aren't as freaked out by people who are gay as by people who fuck with the binaries (which gay people do, for sure). Just ask the Human Rights Campaign, who are working very hard to distance themselves from gender-nonconformists so that they can further privilege the already-privileged by ignoring the problems faced by people who aren't them. They are trying to make it all about sexual orientation, leaving out gender identity, which is still not seen as a valid civil rights issue.

I'm glad Johnny Weir is able to wear whatever shoes or nail polish he wants without being reprimanded by some paternalist principal. I hope that his example provides hope for other people who are gender-nonconforming but not international superstar athletes.