Sunday, December 30, 2007


Not my nephew.

I do not encounter many children in my day-to-day life in Chicago. I cannot believe how much I have taken that for granted. It is easy to forget why I do not want children of my own when I never see them.

As I may have mentioned, I am in Green Bay with family indefinitely and unfortunately that means lots and lots of time with my 16 month old nephew. Now don't get me wrong, I love him very much and nothing makes me happier these days than seeing his chubby smiling little face. However, OMG he is so annoying!!!

Every morning I am rudely awakened at about seven by his screaming if he is unhappy or his squealing if he is happy. Then constantly for the rest of the day it is one or the other of those two. I have been popping ibuprofen like vitamins. AND if he is not making noise he constantly needs to be watched because he can get into anything. Because he requires their undivided attention, I have not had a decent conversation with my parents since I got here.

I don't want this to just be a laundry list of complaints about the child. Again, I am his aunty and I love him but it was really great to get this reminder of why I am so dedicated to childlessness in my own life. I just do not have the patience or temperament for it. Of course, I might reconsider this decision if I could have a wife....

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Green Bay Blogging

Still in Green Bay so I figured I'd do some local blogging.

The big controversy here is over a nativity scene located at the entrance of city hall. A Madison based group, the "Freedom from Religion Foundation," called the city on its blatant violation of the ideal of seperation of church and state.

Many folks around here, including my parents, think that the Madison group is making a big deal out of nothing because "no one around here cares!"
I am very glad that someone is finally calling the city on its violation. The nativity scene is a blatantly Christian symbol. Placing it outside of the courthouse suggests a religious bias toward Christianity which is not fair to the many other faiths that make up the population of Brown County.

To make ammends for this decision the city said that if any Jewish group wanted they could put up a menorah. Of course, Hanukkah has been over for a while now..... And that still does not help the myriad other religions that are not represented at this taxpayer funded city building.

Frankly, I too am more than a little shocked that this is such a big deal. It should be obvious that religious symbols have no place in front of a city building.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Back in Green Bay with my family on a hiatus from blogging.... and life in general.

Things are not too great for me right now so I decided to seek professional help. I don't know if it is just because I did that in Green Bay or if this is a trend but my new therapist actually looked me straight in the eye and said "what the heck is women's studies?"

Maybe I should have run right out the door as soon as the words left her mouth but my tremendous anxiety and constant nausea won out and I stayed. I will be seeing her regularly until I decide I can return to Chicago without having a total mental and emotional breakdown.

On the plus side anti-anxiety meds are pretty neat.

Hopefully I will feel up to blogging and/or reading other feminist blogs soon. Those activities used to make me very happy. When I return you can expect at least one more post about "The Office" and of course, Britney's Spears' little sister. I have things to say and hopefully will soon have the energy and presence of mind to say them.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I finally saw Waitress.

It has been a week since I last posted so I figured I should get back to it. Considering how I feel this shall be quite the undertaking. Please bear with me, my posts may not be the greatest for a while. So on that note:

I finally saw Waitress. (Spoilers ahead!!) I have wanted to see it since I heard about it long ago, especially since I had been a waitress all through high school. Anyway, Waitress was a tough film for me to stomach. I just got angrier and angrier throughout the film and kept hoping that it would redeem itself. As is crept toward the birth, I thought there would be no redemption but, alas, there was..... kind of.

The film is about a young woman who is married to a terribly emotionally and physically abusive man. While I understood the necessity of making him so horrible, his character was so awful it was actually quite unbelievable almost like a caricature of every abusive husband one could think of.

Jenna, our protagonist, finds herself pregnant after being drugged and raped by her husband. She is less than thrilled about her pregnancy but in some non-existent scene she decides to carry the pregnancy to term. Similar to Knocked-Up, abortion is never mentioned in this film, not even in the ridiculous joking manner attempted in Knocked-Up. It is just as odd in Waitress because Jenna had long been planning to leave her husband which the pregnancy naturally complicated.

So for the entire movie we watch as abusive husband gets more and more abusive as he discovers her pregnancy and her stash of running away money. At one point he even makes her promise not to love the baby more than him! I nearly vomited through a few scenes.

During all of this Jenna begins an odd affair with her married Ob-Gyn. The affair was also totally unbelievable. She just jumped on him out of the blue in front of his office. As the story progressed I became very concerned that the film was going to end with Jenna being "saved" by the kindly (if piggish) Ob-Gyn or that she was going to be trapped with baby and husband. The film did not leave me hopeful for any other outcome.

In the last fifteen minutes, Jenna gives birth to her daughter, tells abusive husband that she never wants to see him again, tells Ob-Gyn that she is not interested in ruining his marriage and causing any unnecessary pain, and falls madly in love with her daughter.

This ending was unexpected and quite relieving. However, I am concerned that the pro-forced pregnancy movement could see this as a great feminist reason to not have an abortion. "See! The baby actually saved her life!" Which, while it was relieving, it was also totally unbelievable. This is just another instance in which Hollywood gives us a taste of feminism, of empowerment, only to snatch it away. Yes she left abusive husband, yes she didn't end up with a man at the end (amazing!), yes she started her own business and lived happily ever after.


Her new found freedom came from the elderly patriarch who owned the restaurant in which she worked. Upon his death, he left Jenna with a small fortune.

So there it is. Even a somewhat empowering movie still ends with a big old backlashy slap in the face.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dismembered Female Bodies Are NOT Funny!

Feministing frequently posts about objects that are made to look like dismembered female body parts. (Sadly that sentence could have been MUCH longer.)

I found one to add to the collection today during a random google search. The Butt Buoy floats in the water above one's anchor looking like either a murdered or seriously mangled female body. (You really need to see the site to get the full effect.) It is appallingly acceptable to symbolically annihilate female bodies for a JOKE!!! How is that funny?

Taken in the context of domestic violence, date rape, and the every day objectification that women live with this is so not funny.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

"Which Animal is Most Like Having Sex With a Woman?"

My nephew's mother alerted me to the show Manswers on the oh-so-problematic Spike TV. Because I do not have cable I have not had the privilege of actually watching this horrendous show but I have been able to watch some of the clips on their website.

Spike TV is television designed especially for young men. To which I say a resounding HA!! As if ALL television were not designed by and for men. It reminds me of the argument that if there is a BET there should be a WET. Spike TV and its Manswers are just another of many anti-feminist, woman-hating, backlashy shows meant to help hetero white guys get it up.

A few of the clips that I had the pleasure of viewing include: "Are women with fake boobs hornier?" "How to make your pick up a hot lady tub," "Hooker or cop," "Which animal is most like having sex with a woman?" and the oh-so-flattering "Make a stripper your lady?"

A few gems from the show:

"Any time a girl is around another girl there's always a little bit of competition."
"If she gets bigger knockers you get more sex because chicks with fake boobs are hornier."

Shows like this are the reason that we still desperately need feminism. Enough said.

Friday, November 30, 2007

When Will Women Be Considered Whole Human Beings?

Image Via.

The other day I came across this image while doing a google search. Now I am all about eliminating and/or preventing breast cancer. However, I do not like the tendency toward dismembering female bodies in the name of awareness. This shirt makes it seem as if ending breast cancer is for male (or female, I suppose) sexual gratification rather than stopping the unnecessary loss of female lives. Breast cancer sucks. Women suffer horribly and sometimes die from it. It is not sweet and pink! But most of all, it is NOT about men or what gets them off!

This shirt is just one of many like it that I have come across. I Blame the Patriarchy has a fabulous disection of this trend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Holidays: A Time for Antiquated Gender Roles

Image Via

The holidays are always a good time to take pause and think about family. I have been thinking a lot about my family because I understand that in order to enact radical change one often has to start with one's self. My family is no feminist haven, in fact, I take the most flak about my beliefs from members of my own family.

A typical Thanksgiving in my family involves my aunt(s), mother, grandmother and myself in the kitchen preparing our feast while my father, brother and uncle sit in the living room watching football. I am told that this is not at all uncommon in other families. As the women served up the dinner that they had spent the entire morning, nay WEEK, preparing for, my uncle and father could not even pry themselves away from the television for long enough to eat with the family. No, instead we all had to watch the game while we ate and tried to converse with on another over the clamor of glorified male violence.

After dinner, the men retired back to the living room to continue the game-watching. At this point I abandoned my post in the kitchen and went out to talk to my uncle. My uncle fancies himself a liberal minded yuppy, but still has a very difficult time understanding my disdain for marriage (he says this to me as he is reclining with a beer watching football being served desert by his wife). He tells me that he has an egalitarian marriage (his wife is the primary caretaker of their twin three year olds despite the fact that she too works full time) and cannot understand why I don't think I could have the same.

Well for starters even women who are determined to step out of their prescribed gender roles seem to fall right back into them after marriage. (At least that appears to be the case of my aunt). The words 'egalitarian' and 'marriage' seem mutually exclusive to me. How can women ever be equal or even safe in an institution that was designed to enslave them? Anyway, my point is that his own enormous level of privilege is completely invisible to my uncle and I find that devastating.

I am saddened by the knowledge that I cannot change even my own family. How on earth do I expect to change the world? If I suggested that the men and women switch roles for a holiday, I am sure I'd be cast right out of my family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Because Making Fun of Childbirth is Hilarious

Just found this on AOL. Sheesh. I guess it is just really easy for some men to make fun of anything that is equated with femininity.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Feminists and the Men who Love Them

I don't know if men can be feminists but I sure do know that they can support feminist ideas and goals. A friend and classmate sent me this link to her partner's blog. I read about this study on feministing and it makes me very happy. But it makes me even happier to hear men proudly proclaim that they love feminists (or one in particular) without fear or shame.

Upon reading the post at faithfully liberal I decided to investigate my own relationship and discovered that some men do indeed love dating feminist women. Here is what my partner said when I linked him to the study:

"I believe it. And I tell my friends that too. No mind games. You tell me what you want."


It is more than a little bit pathetic that we need a study to tell us that feminism makes for happier relationships. It should be obvious. But since it isn't, I am glad for this study and even more glad for men like Aaron who love feminists.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"The Gendercator" and Transphobia

Image Via

Tonight I went to a screening of the independent film The Gendercator at the Center on Halsted. This film has been causing quite a stir amongst transpeople across the country and in the queer blogosphere. The film has actually been banned from a few LGBT(qai...) film festivals for supposedly being anti-trans.

I will say that I do not think that this film was anti-trans. I do not think it had anything to do with transgender issues AT ALL. Before I go into an analysis I will give you a brief synopsis. A young non-gender normative lesbian woman falls asleep at a party in the 1970s after smoking much marijuana (or what appeared to be marijuana). She wakes up 75 years later to find that the religious right has taken over. A person can only be a man or a woman and MUST fit into rigid gender categories, brave-new-world-style.

One can have surgery to fit the gender that they prefer but once they are in their new body they MUST comply with the rigid gender roles. This young woman is forced by medical professionals to be surgically transformed into a man. This petrifies her because while she likes women she also likes her androgynous body. In something of a cop-out (on the director's part) the sequence ends up being a dream and she wakes up again to find the 'real' world. Fin.

Anyway, the controversy has arisen because many people see this film as being transphobic. I do not see that. I think the film is a dystopian fantasy in which we see what would happen if the religious right had their way and choice was taken away. This film is very much about force and removal of choice. The surgery in this film was not a result of some deeply felt yearning or life long struggle with one's body image not matching her/his gender identity. This surgery was about a woman being forced to become a man because of her clothing and her sexual object choice. That is something very different indeed.

After screening the film there was a panel discussion with the director, Catharine Crouch, and five other activists/theorists in the gender queer field. The discussion was fascinating. Judith Halberstam was on the panel! She had the most insightful comments, I wish I could have heard more from her. I have long been a fan of her work.

The director defended her film saying that it was meant as a resistance to medicalization of bodies and that straight women are socialized to believe that if they do not look like Barbie they are value-less and that plastic surgery is a way to fit into that norm is scary. She also said that transmen are forced into FTM surgery in order to fit into a gendered norm. Because their bodies are not stereotypically masculine they are not valued as males in our culture. Her argument seemed to be that people should be content with their bodies and not seek surgery as a way of copping out of dealing with non-normative gender.

This is where she got herself into a bit of hot water. NONE of the above things were in her film. These are statements that she has made while on her national tour with this film. The other panelists were rightly upset at the notion that transmen are somehow depoliticized just by virtue of their maleness. Choosing a male body is not a way of avoiding feminism! It is not a way of gaining privilege. It might be a side-effect sometimes, but I seriously doubt that that is the reason many transpeople transition.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most was the reappropriating of the directors notion of medicalization as a tool of the patriarchy. While I agree that it has been used that way (especially in the case of intersexed peoples) it seems to deny transpeople the agency that they deserve. Halberstam argued that medicalization is just a much a tool for trans liberation as it is a tool of the patriarchy.

Image Via

Halberstam was clearly annoyed with Crouch. Crouch seemed to be rather ignorant on trans issues and this is what is getting her into trouble. She is going around the country in the name of starting a dialogue and than openly admitting that she has no idea what trans identity is! She certainly should not be a spokesperson for this community by any means. The film was not anti-trans but the director might well be. As Halberstam suggested, she would do well to read much, much more queer theory before taking on such an ambitious tour.

Finally, I want to say that I think this film is mis-named a satire. There is nothing satirical about it, it is a dystopian fantasy about an extraordinarily conservative regime. Possible? Maybe. Likely? Probably not. All I know after listening to this panel is that Crouch ought not claim to have made a movie about transpeople when it clearly is not. And she probably would do well to pick up some queer theory.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I am so appalled I am nearly speachless.

I just saw what is perhaps the most upsetting thing I have ever seen on TV. Ever.

Dr. Phil had a special episode in which he discussed race and… birth control. Not really sure what the connection there is. I had to fast forward through the race discussion because it was so unbearable. (A giant white man lecturing Master P on his racism!!!)

They moved on to a discussion about the merits of dispensing birth control to middle and high schoolers. So who would you think Dr. Phil would get to help him with this discussion? Perhaps a gynecologist, a Planned Parenthood outreach coordinator, or even a women’s studies professor? Nope. Bishop T.D. Jakes. Another middle aged man. Of course! Because he is qualified to lecture viewers about female sexuality (without any mention of male sexuality other than Dr.Phil's 'joke' that those boys should be kicked in the rear end). Ridiculous.

Let me just say, I do not necessarily disagree with what they were saying. Yes I think parents should be more involved in their children’s lives. Yes I think that many teenagers have sex before they are ready. Yes I believe that our society creates a horrible sense of confusion for young people with messages of sexual liberation along with abstinence only sex ed. (this, of course, they did not discuss). Yes I think that birth control should not be distributed in schools without a very serious and lengthy discussion about the consequences of sexual behavior. However, I am appalled by the overt sexism of having two middle-aged men not only lecture but shame young women into behaving in accordance with some antiquated notion of sexual propriety.

I am so shocked and appalled that I cannot even think of anything else to say about this. This is classic backlash.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pushing Daisies and Anti-Feminist Backlash

Image Via

Since I started this blog I figured I really ought to start watching more prime time TV shows. As it is way too late for me to get into Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives, I figured I'd pick a new show. All of the billboards on CTA intrigued me to watch Pushing Daisies. A detective with the ability to reawaken the dead seemed like a unique concept to me. And it is. It is like a much jollier version of Law and Order. Well, maybe not. But I like detective dramas so it was worth a shot. Aside from the somewhat cheesy relationship between Ned the pie maker and Charlotte "Chuck," the show is thoroughly enjoyable. However, after watching all five available episodes I noticed something a little upsetting.

Now I know that feminists are often accused of taking things too seriously or seeing sexism where there supposedly is none. And I can already sense that coming here, but I see it and I cannot be the only one so bear with me.

"Chuck" was viciously murdered in the first episode. Ned, being in the business of crime solving, went to revive her just long enough to find out who done it. Upon realizing that she was his long lost childhood sweetheart, he could not bring himself to touch her again and thereby end her life forever. (This is one of many catches to his magical ability. One can only be revived by his touch once, a second touch and dead forever.)

He lets her live and she becomes his new crime solving partner (along with a large, cynical, wise cracking black man...eesh). They go on to seemingly fall in love despite the fact that if Ned ever touches "Chuck" she will be dead forever. Because everyone thinks that "Chuck" is dead she cannot have contact with anyone from her old life lest she reveal Ned's power and ruin his crime solving business.

To avoid that (and to make a good show) "Chuck" moves into Ned's apartment and begins working at his pie shop. She basically plops comfortably (how?) into his life and gives up everything she cared about before. Though it pains her terribly, she cuts off contact with her two beloved eccentric aunts. I am not sure why this is necessary because Ned obviously entrusts several people with his secret and I am not sure why the aunts (who would seemingly be happy to have their niece back at whatever cost) cannot be privy to this.

My conclusion is that this keeps "Chuck" trapped in Ned's life. I am reminded of I Dream of Jeanie. She lives in a bottle to be of use when her "master" needs her. Again I cannot help but sense backlash. Major backlash. Jeanie was a backlashy show. It came out right during the heyday of the 1970's feminist movement in an effort to placate men who were dissatisfied with the rights that women had attained. Put a sexy, subservient woman (and don't even get me started on the orientalization!) in a bottle who can only come out when he needs her to do his bidding. Pushing Daisies, though much more subtle, is not much different. "Chuck" is always at Ned's mercy. She had to give up her entire world for him (and yes I get that she would be dead were it not for him) and now she has to live in a world where a single touch from him would kill her! That is a male fantasy if I ever saw one. He has total control and power AND he has a gorgeous women madly in love with him, tucked safely away in his life.

Image Via

Anyway, I like this show. It is well written and clever. I know that as feminists sometimes we have to take what is available to us or live pretty unhappy lives. I like TV and I like this show. But I recognize some pretty serious problems with the premise that cannot go ignored. This is a classic backlash show. I think a major question for this blog is how does one navigate the world of popular culture while still maintaining a feminist lens?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Parenting and Masculinity on Cable TV

Tonight I had the pleasure of catching an episode of Showbiz Tonight on CNN. I had no idea what to expect of an entertainment news show on cable. The ones I get to see on broadcast TV at home are just wicked and I supposed I shouldn't have expected much more of CNN.

Anyway, one of their feature stories was about the actors in the new film American Gangster which I have not heard much about but I am sure it is another pornographic display of romanticized male violence (perhaps I will write more on that film later). Showbiz Tonight interviewed Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Well, mostly it was Denzel lecturing Russell (and anyone else watching) on how to be a father.

Now I should warn readers that I recently finished reading bell hooks' The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love and it has influenced me. A lot.

Denzel Washington talked about a few key things in child-rearing. He said that " the best thing I did." Suggesting that engaging in hyperviolent organized and professional sports is the best thing for children upsets me. Violence is a disease and institutions like professional sports (and I am talking about the football, hockey type sports here) are huge perpetuators of violent behavior.

hooks talks a lot about how men are damaged by patriarchy. She suggests that boys and men are told to turn off their emotions and turn inward at a very young age. Masculinizing institutions like professional sports encourage and reward that type of behavior.

This is only the beginning of Washington's terrifying, patriarchal advice. He also said that he put his son on an inner-city football team and his son hated it. He got a call from the coach saying "Your son is crying." To which Washington said "Be ten times harder on him, if I hear about another tear another whimper I’ll be back down there and put a foot in his behind in front of the team.”

Because when a male child has the audacity to show emotion, to express himself, to dislike absorbing physical violence without a wince, the best thing to do is to kick his ass. I was horrified. That child now knows that men are violent and that he is not a man unless he is violent and if he strays from that hegemonic masculine ideal that he will be harshly punished. I cannot think of worse advice. That is not tough love as Showbiz Tonight so graciously called it, that is abuse.

hooks mission is to teach men and women that their sons need and want love and that when they don't get it they learn a very painful type of masculinity. And it is this blogger's opinion that masculinity is destroying men.

See the video here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On the marriage of racism and sexism at Halloween

Image Via

I have always had a hard time digesting the hypersexualized costumes that so many women don for Halloween. Could all of these women really be sitting around in their everyday clothing just dying to take it all off at first opportunity? What kind of sick male fantasy is that? And why are women so eagerly complicit in this?

These are questions that I have had for a long time but the bloggers over at racialicious brought a whole new level of analysis to this discussion that was very much needed. I strongly encourage you all to read it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Ron Paul's Scary Cross-Over Appeal

I am increasingly concerned about the relative popularity of republican candidate Ron Paul amongst progressive and liberal people. This Saturday I went to a peace rally and marched down the streets of downtown Chicago. Of course, such a rally was bound to be rife with people pushing presidential candidates. The ones that I saw the most of were Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. Hell, Ron Paul's people even had an aerial banner! The general feeling that I got from these pacifists, hippies, liberals, and general anti-war types was support for this anti-war constitutionalist. Dr. Paul is a dangerous candidate precisely because of his growing cross-over support. Here is a some of the scary stuff I found over at his campaign website:

I am also the prime sponsor of HR 300, which would negate the effect of Roe v Wade by removing the ability of federal courts to interfere with state legislation to protect life. This is a practical, direct approach to ending federal court tyranny which threatens our constitutional republic and has caused the deaths of 45 million of the unborn.

Many talk about being pro-life. I have taken direct action to restore protection for the unborn.

I have already discussed my concern with his popularity amongst liberal television personalities. But I should also say that I am concerned with the depoliticization of reproductive rights issues. I did a little bit of research and had a hard time coming up with a position on women's issues and LGBT issues on the part of ALL of the candidates. Why are liberal folks turning their back on Roe v. Wade? I know it is a messy political area but we need protection now more than ever and I have to say, none of these candidates are really sounding very good to me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Victim-Blaming on The Dr. Phil Show

Image Via

I have already mentioned that I love to watch the Dr. Phil Show. I love it precisely because he so completely embodies the enemy that I am dedicating my life to eradicating.

Anyway, last week I caught an episode about O.J. Simpson’s new book If I Did It. Now, I was only ten years old when most of the murder trial and media storm took place. So, naturally, I didn’t have much of an opinion on the situation when it occurred. However, as a grown-up feminist, I can see, quite plainly that this man was violent and abusive and because of his hyper-masculine, hyper-violent personality, he decided to teach his wife a lesson in male dominance.

And as if beating her throughout their marriage, murdering her and her friend, and facing no consequences were not bad enough, he has now decided to publish a hypothetical book about what he would have done if he had committed the murders. To which I, and probably anyone who witnessed that trial, say a loud and resounding “Ha!”

Of course he did it. That is really a moot point now because he cannot be tried again. However, the ghostwriter of the book, Pablo Fenjves, had some very interesting things to say to Dr. Phil. Fenjves maintains his belief that Simpson is guilty because of the attitude that he displayed when discussing Nicole Brown.

Fenjves told Dr. Phil that O.J.’s attitude was “If I did it, she had it coming.”

To this Dr. Phil said, O.J. is obviously guilty because he was trying to justify murdering Nicole. He then said what a tragedy it was that an innocent man had to die.

Because she was not innocent? Her friend was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she was a bad wife so she deserved it? That was the attitude of Dr. Phil throughout the show. Now I am not sure if he was just pandering to the family of the deceased man (the one’s who actually had the book published) or if this is actually what he believes. Because of his record on women’s issues in the past, I am inclined to believe the latter.

Almost 15 years after her death and she is still being blamed. Sheesh.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Body Poltics of Britney Spears

Image Via

For the longest time I have avoided this topic mostly out of disinterest but also because I was not sure exactly how I felt. Well the tides have turned and I MUST say something.

A few days ago one of my very close feminist friends informed me that Britney Spears had lost custody of her children and what a good thing that is. It was more than a bit disconcerting to hear someone for whom I have a great deal of respect so openly revel in the pain and suffering of a woman who lost her children.

I'll be completely honest, I have not kept up with this story so feel free to inform me if I am misstating something. But I wonder why Americans are so delighted by Britney Spears' very public destruction.

Here's what I know about Britney:
-she became a star in her early teenage years but had been in the spotlight for some time prior to that
-she [her image, likeness, etc.] is owned by a music production company
-after she became famous, this production company turned her into a sex symbol and cashed in
-she got married had two children and was in the spotlight then for her changing (i.e. not teen-aged) body
-having been in the spotlight for the entirety of her adult life she had a bit of a breakdown (very likely postpartum depression) and chopped off her hair (symbol of her feminine beauty) and became a pariah for people who expect very different behavior from their pop stars
-this and other odd (i.e. non-feminine, non-maternal) behaviors cause her parenting skills to be called into question
-her most recent stage performance was a bit of a disaster and questions about her weight began to circulate [i.e. people calling her "fat" (seriously?? her?)]
-her now ex-husband gains full custody of her two children

This is what I know.

The first thing that pops into my mind is: why do we delight so much in witnessing this young woman's destruction?

The same country that made her a star, the same people who turned her into a sex object and loved watching the sweet, blonde virgin take it all off, the same people who keep buying the magazines, watching the gossip shows and utterly invading her privacy are now stunned and simultaneously pleasured by her destruction.

Now I have never been a fan of Spears' music and I think that her body politic is extraordinarily problematic especially since she is simultaneously marketed to young girls as an idol and to men as a masturbatory fantasy. But note how I write that "she is marketed" as if she is no longer an independent entity but a piece of public property. Not long ago one of my friends and I got into a debate about whether Spears' chose this life path. My friend argued that she deserves what is happening to her because she chose to become a part of the public domain. But remember, she was but a child when she made that choice and she hardly could have anticipated the hyper-sexualization and invasion that would come along with that "choice." Further, does anyone really deserve that kind of dehumanization?

Spears most certainly is owned by a production company who is making a nice tidy profit off of all of this "self-" destruction. One has to wonder if the motives behind her sexy rise to fame and her shocking downfall are not just another part of the scheme to make spectacle-driven Hollywood producers filthy rich at her expense. I for one am skeptical as to whether or not Spears even exists. She would not need to for all of this hubbub to be going on. Just the idea of her is enough.

So I ask that you all challenge the pleasure you receive from watching Spears' destruction and ask why seeing a woman publicly lose her marriage and her children and quite likely suffer from a mental illness is so delightful? It is sickening and, frankly, quite telling.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Chronicles of Jan (Part II)

Image via.

As you already know, I love NBC’s The Office. I love it! So you can imagine how eagerly I awaited the season four premiere last Thursday. The episode did not disappoint. We finally got to see Pam and Jim together! Michael resumed his position as Regional Manager of the Scranton branch and Dwight resumed his positions as Assistant to the Regional Manager.

Perhaps one of the largest changes in the show was that Ryan ‘the temp’ Howard took Jan’s place as Michael’s boss. I mentioned in my last post how upset I was about the drastic and frankly quite unrealistic turn Jan’s character took at the end of the third season. And I was very disappointed to see that the opening of the fourth season offered little hope for Jan.

Before I get into that I should also mention that I listened to the cast commentary on the DVD of the last episode of the third season. I was interested in their interpretation of Jan’s ‘breakdown.’ Melora Hardin is the first one to say how much she loves the way that Jan’s character is ‘developing.’ Most of the cast agrees that they would not have foreseen this in the future for Jan based upon her earlier character. However, no one on the cast challenges why Jan’s character was written this way. In fact, they praise the writers for making her such an interesting and complex character.

Again, I ask: Why do we delight so much in seeing that bitch taken down a notch?

The so-called ‘self-destruction’ of Jan’s character is little more than a culturally condoned backlash against a very strong woman who is no less loveable than say, Donald Trump and we think of him as an icon, a self made man, someone to aspire to.

The absolute woman hatred that is embedded in the writing of Jan’s character goes unchallenged by nearly everyone involved in the show and, indeed, many viewers of the show. We need to ask ourselves why the writers of such a wildly popular show felt the need to destroy the most powerful (if a bit over the top) female voice on the show. The season four opener saw Jan passed out in Michael’s condo (they conveniently omitted the scene where we see that all of the furniture in the condo is Jan’s). She didn’t make another appearance until the “Michael Scott's Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run For The Cure.” In that scene Jan bitchily and jealously accuses Pam of trying to steal her man. “He’s mine, okay. So HANDS OFF!”

At this point I feel the need to remind viewers of Jan just a few months earlier. She had a very lucrative career, was freshly divorced, was totally in charge in her relationship with Michael whom she openly detests. Why would a woman with so much culturally valued ‘power’ and capital give it all up for a man as loathsome as Michael?

The answer is that she wouldn’t. But backlash climates allow for all sorts of stretches of reality in order to show women where their real priorities should be: wearing stretch pants, living in the boyfriend’s condo, with fresh breast implants, and plenty of jealous rage toward other women.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Can men be feminists?

I feel the need to discuss something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. It is not directly related to popular culture but it is certainly related to feminism. In my sociology of masculinities course last night we discussed the role of men in feminist movements. This is something that I am personally very conflicted about. I concede that we (feminists) need to unite with men in order to produce radical change. Separatism will solve nothing and will most likely alienate a whole lot of people, women and men alike.

That being said, hearing a man call himself a feminist makes me cringe like nothing else. Allowing men into feminism is dangerous territory because we risk losing hard won power. In class someone suggested that we wouldn't want to have white folks at the forefront of anti-racist movements. Theory written by the oppressor is just further imperialism. Yet wealthy, white and male folks who traditionally have had all of the power have a very hard time forfeiting that power to those they have traditionally subordinated.

My point is, how do we know that letting men call themselves feminists will not result in them taking the reins and writing the canon? How do we know that they will not further silence women's voices?

These are things for which I have no answer. I do like to hear men call themselves pro-feminist or feminist advocates. In fact, in class last night I mentioned how I have never met a man who actively called himself a feminist. After class a young man approached me and said "Hi. My name is Randy. I am a feminist." I laughed at him and had a very difficult time believing that he was not patronizing me. After several minutes of conversation it became clear: this young man was sincere. Or as sincere as a member of the privileged class can be.

I guess I will let Randy show me his feminism before I castigate him too severely...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why is choice not an important issue for 'liberal' TV show hosts?

I have been watching "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show" online rather than doing my homework. In so doing, I have noticed something very disconcerting. There is a certain amount of admiration for republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. Yes, Ron Paul voted against the Patriot Act, yes he opposes the war, yes he opposes government intervention into people's private lives, and yes he says he is a constitutionalist and will fight to maintain the integrity of the American constitution. Liberal guys like Jon Stewart seem to be just eating up Ron Paul's rhetoric.
What they continually fail to mention is that Dr. Paul is strongly anti-choice. He claims that he wants to uphold the constitution and that he wants to keep the government out of private affairs but yet he stops short of considering women to be people. Women do not deserve bodily integrity or bodily privacy. This MAJOR discrepancy continually goes un-noticed. And that is not a first for Colbert and Stewart who love to stir the political stew but don't want to bring gender issues onto the table.

I love both of these shows and am very disappointed by this trend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Chronicles of Jan

Image of Melora Hardin via.

NBC's version of "The Office" is undoubtedly one of my favorite television shows. It is hilarious and engaging. That is why it is very difficult for me to be critical of it. But there are a few things about this amazing show that make my stomach turn.

Early in the second season there is an entire episode about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment happens on "The Office" a lot but most of it is very satirical. I can dig satire especially since it is somewhat subversive. The harassment is depicted very ludicrously.

I anxiously awaited the third season finale. This episode revealed who got the job at 'corporate' and Pam and Jim finally appear to be hooking up. Yay!

But early in the episode we discover that the corporate job is available because Jan (Michael's boss in NYC) got fired. The level of glee that people felt over seeing that bitch get knocked down a peg is really quite telling. From the very beginning I was impressed that the person with the most power in this show was a woman. She is the boss of the boss. But she has consistently been depicted as an angry, castrating bitch. Only women who reject any shred of stereotypical femininity can make it in the corporate world. Or at least that is the image that we are inundated with.

Jan gets divorced early in the second season and while on the rebound she has a relationship with Michael. In this relationship Jan is domineering to the point of cruelty. We get the sense that she is totally in control. As this show got more popular, and Jan got more powerful, the writers and producers of "The Office" appeared to be stripping Jan of her power. The last episode is the epitome of this.

Devastated that Michael broke up with her, Jan gets breast implants and begs him to take her back. This is when she loses her job and basically has a total emotional break down.

This reminds me of the episode of "30 Rock" that I watched in which Tina Fey's character (a very powerful television producer) has a total emotional break down and needs to be literally carried off by her co-worker.

I immediately dubbed that an example of backlash but have been much more reluctant to do the same about a show that is so dear to me. The season three finale of "The Office" demonstrates anti-feminist backlash. The powerful women is fired because she is too emotional (which was NEVER demonstrated prior to this episode).

Also notable, when Jim and Karen witnessed Jan's breakdown Karen was delighted because Jan is "crazy" and self-destructive. I am not sure that any of this exemplifies self-destruction as much as the logical conclusion of male domination. Jan was destined to fail from the very beginning because she was a woman in 'a man's world.'

The very best part of all of this (and this completely proves my point that this was intentional misogyny not just good story writing) is that Ryan, the young temp. worker, gets Jan's job at the end of the episode.

Even in a show with egalitarian writers and characters, even in a show that I adore, misogyny is rampant. Still, I eagerly await the season premier. I will most likely address this issue again at that point.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


I watch a lot of TV shows that I hate, like Dr. Phil. And I actually really enjoy watching them. I think the enjoyment comes from the level of rage that they incite in me. It is actually the reason that I started this blog; I needed an outlet (other than my personal blog) for my anger.

Last night I watched two episodes of Law and Order: SVU. I do not know why I enjoy this program but I can say that it never ceases to upset me. The entire premise of SVU is sexual assault in its many forms. It is an excellent platform for politicizing institutionalized abuse of women but is used instead as a cheap ploy to attract and retain viewers. The show is far from challenging or even remotely political.

Many, if not most, of the episodes of this show that I have seen paint women as lairs who manufacture stories about rape for their own selfish benefit. The episode I watched last night, entitled "Design," was about a young women who date-raped men to 'steal' and sell their sperm and then told police that she was raped. The audience sympathy for the rape victim shifts to the poor male victims in an instant.

If you are reading this blog, I do not need to tell you about the absurdity of the premise. Rape is a very real crime that disproportionately affects women. According to RAINN, nine out of ten victims of rape are women. This reality is not reflected on Law and Order: SVU. I do not have exact percentages but I have watched the show enough to tell you that many of their cases end up painting women (particularly adult women) as bitches who set the poor guy up. Another common theme is child sexual predation. This is certainly a problem but I wonder what the ratio of child predation is to instances of sexual violence against women. I imagine sexual violence against women and girls is MUCH more common. Ignoring these realities must make viewers (and therefore, advertisers) feel more comfortable or it would not be so prevalent.

As for depoliticization, shows with neat clean happy endings, that do not challenge prescribed notions of gender, sell more products by making consumers feel safe and comfortable. Who wants to buy an iPod after discovering that rapist are very unlikely to be brought to justice and that vicitms are not always cute little white girls?

The rapists and other assorted criminals are almost always brought to justice on Law and Order: SVU. I have already argued that this does not represent reality at all. But it is also problematic in that it does not challenge institutionalized patriarchy. We all go to bed easily after seeing the evil child molester brought to justice. But how often to we ask why child molesters exist, or why rape is such a prevalent and socially acceptable (treatment of rapists and victims in this country reflects this truth) crime?

Law and Order: SVU would not be a show if we did not live in a patriarchy, yet the show never acknowledges the prevalence of patriarchal ideology. In fact, I would argue that it contributes to patriarchal hegemony by presenting rape victims and rapists very narrowly.

And finally, the popularity of this show certainly raises the question: why are we so fascinated by sex crimes? The delight that viewers get from watching child rapists and deserving bitches get theirs is very telling.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sexism on the CTA (part 1 of 1,000,000,000)

Image via Flickr. Ignore the random dude.

These advertisements are all over Chicago. Specifically, all over the CTA. I am posting it here because I think that it is the perfect marriage (excuse the pun) of patriarchy, heterosexism and capitalism. This ad plays off of insecure masculinity. How do you make wedding rings macho? Why, you equate them with testicles of course.

This ad campaign assumes that all women want engagement rings, that only men can (should?) purchase engagement rings, and that only real men get engaged.

The CTA is FULL of sexist advertisements. The first one I saw was for the movie Captivity. There have been several more since then but I couldn't find them online. I am sure there will be more to come.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Inequalities on Labor Day

Via Feministing.

I read an article this leisurely Labor Day morning and felt compelled to comment. The Financial Times website recently discussed a study which concluded that 2 million professionals leave their jobs every year because of covert racism, sexism or homophobia. Of course, the Financial Times is concerned mostly with the economic cost of these departures more so than the social implications. They focus largely on racism, homophobia and ethnocentrism making only a small mention about sexism at the very end.

The authors of this article reveal their own misogyny:

Compared with heterosexual white men, who account for the majority of US managers, non-white people were three times more likely to claim they had left after being unfairly treated, while homosexuals were twice as likely.

What about female managers? The only mention of sexism was at the end when a woman left her job because she was too harshly criticized for her attire and her "large breasts." Yes, women, you had better not have large breasts lest you fail to comply with office dress code.

In order to survive in the patriarchal, white, business world one must assimilate. Message to minorities and women: you do not belong here.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Another Reason to Abolish Marriage

After my long hiatus I have returned to my blog. I just needed a short break before graduate school starts.

I believe that feministing covered this article (or one similar to it) but my partner sent it to me and I feel the need to comment.

Researchers at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. and North Carolina State University in Raleigh discovered that married men do less housework that live-in boyfriends. This could suggest either one of two things. Either gender roles really are not innate but are rather socially constructed in cultural institutions like marriage. OR couples who do not buy into oppressive social institutions also do no buy into stereotypical gender roles.

I am sure that it is actually a combination of these two factors but it has brightened my day either way. Marriage is a heterosexist, patriarchal, misogynist institution and studies like this one only provide further evidence that marriage is a mindset and women pay the price (as we have for thousands of years).

I'm with Jessica Valenti. I will never wed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To Short Skirt or not to Short Skirt

I was on 'vacation' from Chicago sitting in the living room in my parent’s Green Bay home when my father said “You would think that a feminist would wear a shirt that covered her cleavage. You should wear t-shirts and sweatshirts not tank tops like that.” I could not believe my ears, my father is usually fairly liberal guy and I have never heard him criticize me like this before. This elicited quite a debate between both of my parents and I.

My parents seem to believe that when women dress a certain way they make themselves targets for abuse. This is classic victim blame. As if changing the way that women dress would change the entire institution that allows for their systematic abuse to begin with. I have argued, time and again, that all of the pepper spray and self-defense classes in the world are not going to ‘protect’ women. Women will not be safe in this world until we are considered autonomous human beings with full bodily sovereignty as men are.

I am a feminist. I also like to wear low cut shirts, high heels (occasionally), mascara and skirts. I do, of course, understand that these are tools of the patriarchy. I know that painful shoes force women to walk slower and limit their movement. I know that cosmetics are a huge industry that survives by making women feel ugly unless they are made up. I know that low cut shirts might catch male attention and cause some people to take me less seriously. I also know that men are not restricted in these same ways. These are all reasons that some feminists do choose not to adorn themselves that way. But is that really the answer?

This is one of the many gross double standards that plague women every day. Are my parents right, should I not wear revealing clothing because it puts me at risk? Or should I not allow the terror tactics of the proverbial man to keep me down? It seems to me that most women are not consciously aware of the subtle ways that they alter their lives to protect themselves from male violence. Yet we still live by a strictly prescribed ‘rape schedule.’ As much as I fought my parents on this issue, I know that when I am at home in Chicago I will not wear my mini-skirt out at night. I know that I will not wear low cut tops when I have to walk alone. I know that I will carry my pepper spray in one hand and my cell phone in the other every time I hop on the L after dark.

Whether we like it or not, fear of male violence infiltrates almost every aspect of women’s lives. Even seasoned feminists have to maintain a delicate balance between fighting the patriarchy and protecting ourselves from it. Until the day that women are considered to be autonomous human beings capable of giving and denying consent, until we live in a world that is free of male sexualized violence against women, until women are no longer the sex class, we will never be able to wear our mini-skirts and cleavage bearing tops without even a shred of fear.

I wonder how other women deal with this double bind....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Racism and misogyny reunited again.

A professor of mine just e-mailed me the above cartoon. Apparently, it caused quite a stir in Jacksonville, Florida.

I understand that editorial cartoons are often sarcastic and call attention to problems by over-dramatizing them but this seems a bit over the top even for the editorial pages.

Having done a good deal of research on hip-hop culture and on its general misogyny, I can say that the word "ho" is far from uncommon, I can even understand how this cartoonist meant to sarcastically draw attention to it. Where he loses me is in his ignorance of location politics.

A critique as blatant as this needs more sensitivity and more attention to the voice of the cartoonist. In a piece like this his race, class, gender, ethnicity, and more are relevant. I wonder how often little girls are called 'hos' in hip hop culture. I suppose it is not a huge stretch, but does this cartoonist really have the authority to say that?

The cartoonist was critiquing a so-called "no-snitching" culture. Hip-hop certainly plays a role in perpetuating a mistrust of authority but one also has to ask are authorities always deserving of trust? In a community where police abuse is rampant mistrust seems natural. Perhaps a cartoon about police brutality would make more of a statement about the "no-snitching" mentality.

I also wonder why the use of the word "ho" was even necessary here. The cartoonist might be calling attention to the fact that young people are increasingly influenced by the imagery of hip-hop and that they are perpetuating mistrust after hearing their favorite rappers talk about it. But, again, what does calling a little girl a "ho" have to do with any of that?

The use of language in this cartoon is just plain racist. The word "ho" was unnecessary and probably misused, a mistake an ignorant white guy might easily make. I think that Isaiah Rumlin was right on when he said that if this paper has more African American staff making these big decisions, this cartoon never would have been published. It is something to consider.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yay for being ahead of the news!

I was just a few hours ahead of the news apparently. They covered the Guardian Angels story today. As is unfortunately true of many news sources, they add very little to the discussion.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guardian Angels in Chicago

On Saturday, August 11th another woman was raped in my neighborhood. This one occurred at 11:30 in the evening on Fullerton, a very populated street, about a block from the DePaul campus. The Chicago police have released a sketch of the offender. His description matches the rapist in four of the other cases that happened this summer.

This attack has Lakeview residents even more on edge, and rightfully so. I am terrified, this one happened on a street that I walk down regularly! Every attack makes leaving my home seem scarier and scarier. All of the pepper spray in the world does not make it any easier.

Of course with any tragedy there are opportunists waiting to benefit. Today my room mate encountered a group called "The Guardian Angels." They are a group of militant men who escort women around the city to 'protect' them. I cannot find a website for them other than this from Hawaii. Basically they are a group of guerilla misogynists.

As far as Sarah and I could discern, the service is free. Still, I maintain that they are opportunists. They instill fear in women by telling them that they are not safe unless they are escorted by a man. If this is what America is coming to I wonder how different we really are from Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan where women are not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative in tow. Already we are told not to walk alone, not to walk too late, not to dress provocatively, to carry pepper spray. How much more terror must we be subjected to?

I wonder why the solution to sexual assault is always changing the behaviors and attire of women. These changes suggest that we are somehow responsible for our own rape if we fail to comply. Why does the discussion NEVER focus on why MEN rape and how to stop it? Why are women expected to live in terror and to live by a rape schedule that limits their movement? Men do not have to do this. In all of my life I have never heard a man talk about the consequences of wearing an article of clothing or going to a bar alone.

Rape and other sexualized violence against women is terrorism. Rapists are terrorists and need to be regarded as such. Until women can wear whatever the hell we want to wear, until we can walk home alone, until we can leave the pepper spray in our purses, until we do not have to have a 'cell phone' buddy and a rape schedule we will never be empowered as full human beings. This is one of those things that so many men just DO NOT get and the Guardian Angels prove it (I am sure that they are well-intentioned in their own phallocentric way). Living in terror changes a person. What would women be like if we did not live our entire lives in terror?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Terrorism for Women is Different (adapted from an assigned project)

When I moved to Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood nearly two weeks ago, I had no idea what I was getting in to. My roommate and I are paying an astronomical amount of rent to live in this ‘upscale’ neighborhood with trendy stores, well-lit streets and comparatively low crime rates. We were ill prepared to discover that there is a rapist lurking in our cozy neighborhood. In the past three weeks three women have been accosted. Two others were raped earlier in the summer. Chicago police currently do not have enough evidence to believe that the incidents are related. However, the victims’ descriptions of their attackers are eerily similar. Between 2 and 2:30 a.m. on July 23rd a young woman was thrown to the ground and nearly raped by a man she described as Hispanic, 25-30 years old with short hair. At 4:30 a.m. on July 29th a young woman was attacked as she was entering her apartment building. The attacker struck her in the back of the head, took her into her apartment and raped her. She described him as being 25-30 years old and Hispanic. The most recent attack occurred on August 3rd at 2:30 in the afternoon! On a busy street, this man offered to help a young woman with her grocery bags. When she declined, he followed her up to her apartment and attempted to assault her. She described him as being about 175 lbs., between 28 and 32 years old, and white.

In the past few years “terrorism” has become quite a buzzword. It is in the news on an almost daily basis from local ‘terror-alerts’ to terrorist activity abroad. When many of us imagine terrorism we think of September 11, 2001. We think of foreign men attacking us, we think of religious extremism, we think of war. But how often do we think about the terror that we live with every single day? I am talking about the terror that all women live with; the fear of assault and attack that shapes our daily lives and our entire experience of this world. I ask you, why is sexual assault not considered to be terrorism? Why are rapists not considered to be terrorists? And why is punishment of sexual assault so lenient?

Only in a society that eroticizes hierarchy and power can crimes like this continue to be so pervasive. One need only watch television for a few hours or flip through a Maxim magazine to see that women’s bodies are the erotic toys of men. This is the ideology that nearly every member of American society is inundated with. It is not surprising then that we have so many attacks on women’s bodies and on their bodily sovereignty. This is a culture that does not believe that women’s bodies are their own. Our bodies are tools of the patriarchy: tools for reproduction, tools for male sexual pleasure, tools to make the lives of men easier at whatever cost. Our bodies are tools but they are not our own. That is the message that we get over and over again. Is it really so surprising then that men use our bodies that way?

FOX news reported on March 15th that a forty-two year old man convicted of raping a young women, a man who plead guilty, mind you, is being released after only spending six months in prison. Why, you ask? Because he apologized. He said he was sorry, he was an alcoholic at the time and is now in AA. Could you even imagine that happening in a murder case? I can sense the chiding ‘rape is not the same as murder’ response. Women who are victims of sexual assault never get their lives back. Do you think a woman who was raped can sleep at night knowing her rapist is free, enjoying his life? According to Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), rape survivors are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs, four times more likely to contemplate suicide and many suffer from sexual dysfunctions for the rest of their lives. It hardly seems fair that all he got was six months.

The BBC reported back in June that an English man got a two-year sentence for raping a ten-year-old girl. What was the rationale behind this sentencing? The man said that she was ‘dressed provocatively.’ And we are back to victim blame. This time the victim was a child. It seems too barbaric to be true, but in phallocentric society, little girls' lives have significantly less value than adult men’s.

On March 3rd, in San Jose, California, a seventeen-year-old girl was gang raped. There were plenty of eyewitnesses and even airtight DNA evidence. The San Jose District Attorney wouldn’t even try the young men in this case. Why? Insufficient evidence.

Do you need more proof that rape is not taken seriously in much of this country?
How about this doll. Or this 'joke.' Or this fashion advertisement.

Not long ago, I discussed this case in which a young woman who was raped by her boyfriend's brother. She gave 'consent' to having sex with the man she thought was her boyfriend not to the man who tricked her. Again, the man was not prosecuted because women who say that they are raped are not taken seriously. RAINN reports that of "the 39% of attacks that are reported to police, there is only a 16.3% chance the rapist will end up in prison." Message to rape victims: do not bother reporting your assault.

Women who hear these news reports night after night, women who live in Lakeview who see signs with drawings of rapists all over their community, women who have survived rape only to have their attackers walk free live in terror every single day. This can be evidenced by the existence of rape schedules. Many women do not know what a rape schedule is, but they all have one. Ask any woman you know what she does to make herself less vulnerable to sexual assault (because we are taught that that is our responsibility. It is not a man's responsibility not to rape, in fact sating his sexual appetites is encouraged). You will get a lot of responses like these:
-carry pepper spray
-don’t walk alone at night
-carry keys in hands
-don’t wear low cut clothing
-have a cell phone buddy for walking
-cross the street when a strange man is approaching
-don’t stop, don’t answer questions, don’t make eye contact
-lock doors immediately
These are things that women do every single day without even questioning. These are things that years of living in terror has taught us to do without a second thought. These are things that restrict our movement in ways that (heterosexual) men never have to.

The Chicago Tribune and local news channels are covering this topic on an almost daily basis. Because Lakeview is Chicago’s “upscale” neighborhood, a rapist on the loose is huge news. Until this man (or men) is caught this issue is going to be on the minds of women living in this community. Because the rapist(s) has not yet been apprehended, residents, especially women, in Lakeview are still on high alert. There are flyers all over the streets, in coffee shops, grocery stores, and college campuses, there are concerned groups handing out pepper spray and instructing self-defense courses. The underlying theme of this discussion is male violence against women. These rape cases are just another example of it. Because Lakeview is a wealthy (white) neighborhood, these attacks are incredibly newsworthy. But we cannot forget that sexualized violence is an ever-present threat whether it be in Lakeview or Back of the Yards.

I suspect there will be some disagreement as to whether sexual assault is an act of terrorism. Terrorism is an act of violence committed for political or ideological gain. I would argue that keeping women in a state of constant terror serves the patriarchy by keeping women in prescribed roles. Our very lives are in danger if we challenge the status quo or if we step out of line. The “she was dressed like she wanted it” line of defense has worked in enough cases to tell women that we are deserving of sexual violence if we step out of line. This is a form of psychological terror, enforced by physical terror.

Thousands of women (approximately 50,000) live in Lakeview and all of them are on guard following these attacks. We can never forget our position as second-class citizens. We can never forget that men are more powerful in this society. Rape is a crime that proves it. There is no male equivalent. At least, men are not terrorized in the same way that women are by this gender specific crime. Nothing forces women back into their homes, into invisibility, into less revealing clothing, into earlier bedtimes, into hiding quite like the threat of sexualized violence. Rape reminds women of their place. By keeping us scared, they are keeping us weak.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Father Knows Best

This might be the most fucked up thing I have ever heard. Gross.

Murder Chic: Misogyny is High Fashion

Dismembered bodies, blood, murder, starvation, mental illness, battery, sexual assault and… death. Sound sexy? According to Vogue magazine and America’s Next Top Model high fashion and brutalized women go hand in hand. I have written at length before about this America’s Next Top Model spread. All of these women were made up to look as though they were brutally murdered and then were praised for their ability to look sexy. At the time I held out hope that it was just a passing fad but then Italian Vogue released these photos (to glowing praise no less).

When did murder, rape and misery become high fashion? I cannot look at these images without wondering ‘how did these women end up beaten, abused, and murdered?’ Actually, I know how. According to Jean Kilbourne in her text Can’t Buy My Love, more than one-third of women slain in this country die at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. Though the photographers may not intend for them to be, these images are very political. They are representative of a greater cultural illness.

I can sense the “Relax, it’s just a picture” response that I am sure to get. The problem is that these images do not exist in a vacuum, they exist in a cultural climate of intense anxiety and backlash. Backlash against women’s movement into the workforce, backlash against women’s sexual agency, and backlash against women’s bodily sovereignty. These images exist within the context of white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy and that means that they are saturated with meaning.

I know that even when I am not conscious of it, I am always thinking about my safety. I know that there are some places that I cannot walk alone and I know that there are some articles of clothing that make me a target for male violence. The women over at feministing call it a rape schedule. We know where to walk, what to wear, and when to have our keys in our hands. We know to lock the doors behind ourselves and we know that elevators, parking garages, and stairwells are places to avoid. We are constantly aware of the threat of male violence and images like those in Vogue or America’s Next Top Model contribute to that anxiety. They keep fresh in women’s minds the logical result of male violence. This type of emotional and psychological terrorism serves the very specific purpose of keeping women in their place through the constant threat of violence, specifically sexualized violence.

Further, these images contribute to the normalization and fetishization of violence against women. When we are inundated with images of annihilated, abused and murdered women we become desensitized to it in media and in real life. These texts contribute to the dehumanization of women. They are insane! They enjoy being beaten! They are not real people! The America’s Next Top Model shoot presents women being murdered in a variety of ways. One woman is pushed off of a rooftop, one is poisoned, one is stabbed, one is drowned and wrapped in plastic, one is pushed down a flight of stairs, one is strangled, electrocuted, shot in the head, decapitated, and perhaps most horrifying one has her organs stolen. Her individual parts are literally more valuable than her person as a whole.

As I was researching images for this piece, the sheer volume of images that I saw overwhelmed me. The advertisement posters for the new movie Captivity are an even more brazen example of this normalization of violence toward woman. Can you imagine driving your mini-van filled with children past this image every day? What would you tell your daughters? I wonder how people can continue to tell me that these things have no effect. How do we look at images like these and feel nothing? The trend of abuse toward women as fashion is terrifying and yet not really surprising. It is a slightly more obvious version of the dismembered female bodies that we see in mainstream advertisements every single day.

After all of that how can we even pretend to be surprised when a story like this crops up? These boys live in a society that devalues women to such an extent that gazing at their corpses is high fashion! There is no other conclusion for young men to draw than that women’s bodies are (a) their property and (b) ultimately valueless. These young men are perfect products of their society and, sadly, as Kilbourne’s statistic proves, they are not alone.

Why I Do Not Go to Movies

I recently wrote a review of the movie Knocked Up. You can read the review here. What I was unable to say in the review was that the movie itself was not nearly as upsetting as the trailers that preceded it. I really think that they deserve as much, if not more, analysis than the film.

Apparently there is a new Die Hard movie with Bruce Willis. The trailer for this film was an orgy of male violence and of course, the token helpless female who must be saved by the machine-like homicidal manic/hero. Score 1 for the patriarchy.

The next trailer was for some movie about a dude who has the magical ability to help women find their soul mates... by fucking them. So women just throw themselves at him in the hopes that their true loves will propose. Does that not just reek of male fantasy? Desperate, hot women seeking one night stands with some douche-bag so that they can become the sexual maidservants of some other man for the rest of their lives. Score 2 for the patriarchy.

The next trailer was for Ben Stiller's new gem The Heartbreak Kid. This fella is a commitment-phobe who finally takes the plunge with a hot blonde environmentalist, only to find his true love, a hot brunette, on their honeymoon. Beyond the totally ridiculous plot this film just adds to the miasma of male cultural domination.

All of the films advertised were presented from the male perspective, with women as the incidental characters they happen to act upon. The women in all of these films are creations of male fantasy. They are either totally helpless and virginal (ala Bruce Willis's daughter) or they are desperate whores who are willing to do anything for a good fuck so long as they end up being Mrs. maidservants for the rest of their lives. Hollywood is really one of America's most sexist institutions. Broadcast television has made leaps and bounds toward better gender representation compared to the patriarchal wasteland that is Hollywood.

Twisty Faster in her infinite wisdom refers to Hollywood as the patriarchy's communications department. One night at the movies proves it.

Empowerment Vs. Acquiescence (That Never Ending Debate)

Today I feel like discussing a topic that has been much on my mind lately. With summer nearly in full swing, clothing is getting skimpier and skimpier (mine included). Some of this is of course a product of necessity and some of it is just for fun. On Friday morning I wore my cute little shorts and a very revealing tube top to see my therapist. While I was walking around downtown (Milwaukee) I felt so good getting all sorts of attention. I cannot remember a time when I felt more physically confident. Anyway, this got me to thinking about why we wear what we wear. My tube top was certainly not inappropriate for the 80 degree weather, but it was perhaps more revealing than it had to be for my comfort. Still I felt amazing because I was getting (male) attention. Sometimes I feel the very opposite. Often when men look at me in that very sexualized, objectifying way it makes me want to lash out. It makes me wish that they could feel just how extremely uncomfortable I feel because I just do not believe that there is a male equivalent. So I feel very conflicted. While on the one hand I love the attention, on the other hand it is creepy and scares the hell out of me. This is just another of the many double binds that women must navigate on a daily basis.

So, why do I like male attention?

Because it is emotionally and economically beneficial. Stereotypically attractive (SA) women are much more likely to land jobs than non-stereotypically attractive women with the same qualifications.
SA women are more likely to land rich husbands or gain access to other money-making ventures. I work with a young women who is slightly over weight and a bit frumpy. All of the other waitresses I work with are tiny and thin and quite SA. Interestingly, the less SA young woman makes significantly less in tips even when she works the best sections. The point here being that being SA = a better, more financially stable life.

Why do I hate male attention?

Probably for all of the reasons above. And because I know that male attention can also be dangerous. Because "she was asking for it" is still used as justification for rape. Because short skirts and skimpy tube tops "cause" erections and erections are all powerful and almighty in the phallocentric society. The erection can and does have whatever it wants regardless of the personal integrity or bodily sovereignity of the actual person in the short skirt and skimpy tube top. This is a danger that I write about a lot because I feel it all the time! Mostly I fear wearing a short skirt or a reavealing top because that action has very serious consequences.

Why do I still wear the tube tops when I dislike the male gaze that they invite?

This is a question that my partner actually brought up and it is one that I feel very unable to reconcile. I love my tank tops, my cleavage revealing shirts, and my tube tops. I anxiously wait for summer just so I can have the opportunity to wear them. And I know that I am not the only one. Clothing is such an immediate and obvious indicator of the self. It is very personal and individual. In a society where we are inundated with choices, the clothing that we adorn ourselves with is very revealing of our personalities. Even when we do not think that much effort is put into a particular 'outfit' it is still a reflection of our selves. The point is that with so much effort placed upon clothing choice we must certainly want (at least in some ways) to be looked at. I think that this transcends gender, though, of course, women are much more aware of it and are more often targeted because of it. If we (specifically women) do want to be looked at, then why do we get so upset when men do look? I think that it is because the male gaze denies women agency relegating them to the status of objects. Objectification is demeaning and dehumanizing. And men do not experience this the way that women do.

I guess I have not really made any revelations or breakthroughs on this topic but it is one that has been on my mind. Perhaps others have pearls of wisdom to cast my way....

Why Do I Watch the News?

This story about increased narcissism in today's youth (aka 'generation me') was prominently featured on NBCs Nightly News program (quite awhile ago now). Not surprisingly NBC willingly blames permissive parenting (read: mothering) that gained momentum in the 1980s (backlash period) for this trend toward narcissism in young people. They blatantly ignore the most obvious reason for this so-called trend: capitalism! Obsession with appearance and insecurity is necessary to encourage consumers to buy more products for self-improvement. Not to mention the fact that self obsession distracts citizens from greater socio-political problems. Blaming narcissism on parenting sounds a little too convenient to me.

This Might Be Why I Do Not Go to Bars Very Often

This happened at the end of last semester. It was the first time I have 'gone out' in weeks. I felt I deserved to have a little celebration after I turned in my last final. So I went to one of my friends' house where everyone was gathering to 'pre-drink,' as they call it, before going to the bars. My friend and fellow feminist scholar, Erika, and I immediately began discussing the origins of the marriage ceremony and how marriage is one of the earliest patriarchal institutions. We actually got everyone around us into the discussion, which is rare. It seems that whenever Erika or I bring up anything even remotely intellectual or political we are shushed by our party-going, good-time, undergraduate friends. The discussion was very stimulating until this guy decided to pipe in and say that statistically he was more likely to rape any one of us than a stranger. His point was taken, but some dude joking about rape (and raping me no less!!) does not make me feel like biting my tongue.

This discussion really set the tone of the evening for me. I was not in the mood to get drunk and stupid, I wanted to debate. So when we were walking to North Ave. (Milwaukee), these frat guy/college types asked how us 'girls' were doing, I said "I am not a girl and have not been for over five years." I cannot remember exactly how he responded but I am sure that it ended with me telling him that this 'girl' could and would kick his frat boy ass.

By the time we actually got to the bar I was feeling quite feisty. I was hopped up on booze, Dworkin, and and I was ready to kick some ass. Joke-about-rape-guy decided that he was not done with me yet so I brought up this case, which created a much more heated debate than I had anticipated. It seemed pretty damn straight forward to me, this woman was raped and the courts threw it out because she didn't technically ever say 'no.' It is about the most disgusting thing I have ever heard and my high school friend, Jessica, joke-about-rape-guy, and Erkia all seemed to think that the case was in some sort of gray-area. I don't think that there is anything gray about it. This guy is a straight up rapist who took advantage of a woman who was uninformed and thus unable to consent. He knew exactly what he was doing and she had no idea. That is RAPE!

Jessica made the point that I do tend to assume that women are all victims and that does not allow them a proper level of agency. They all thought that it was possible that the woman simply regretted her actions and thus cried 'rape.' Nothing pisses me off more than that line of reasoning, and that is where I get to where Twisty proposed that we all assume non-consent until consent it clearly given. This may not seem like a radical notion, but as it stands right now, consent is assumed until someone (*some woman) claims otherwise. This has far-reaching consequences. What if we assume that every woman who says no really means no? How very radical. Anyway, I do not mean to suggest that women have no agency, but I very strongly believe that women cannot give true consent in a society that was structured around keeping them submissive. Anytime we think we have a choice, we need to remember that we live in a white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy. This influences every single thing that we do and thus, every choice that we make. There is no such thing as 'free-will.'

This was a rather difficult argument to make to these very drunk people, especially to joke-about-rape-guy who, get this, claimed to be a feminist while simultaneously saying that he thinks that class is more influential than anything else in determining a person's status. Erika and I tend to believe that race, class, and gender cannot be separated and analyzed individually because they work in conjunction: the holy-trinity of feminist theory.

This discussion got very heated and I was not about ready to just say, 'fine, you are trying so I won't be a bitch and call you on your total ignorance.' I am so sick of that 'nice-guy' schtick. He doesn't get it and I cannot explain it to him. Just because he calls himself a feminist does not mean he even remotely gets it. And I am not going to concede or give him credit for anything because he JOKED about raping me!

Erika quickly decided that she needed to get home and I did not want to be left in a bar with these people. I waited for a bus with Erika on North Ave. Now maybe I am an idiot for expecting not to be accosted by strangers on a busy intersection at 1:30 on a Saturday morning. Erika and I were still deep in conversation about the same things we were talking about in a bar when a very drunk dude decided to join us. He just stood there for several moments and finally had the presence of mind to ask us what we were talking about. When we said 'feminism' he said 'oh man, i think that women should stay in the kitchen and pregnant. i am not even joking!' This is just the kind of abuse that I am sick of. That is not a joke to me any more. Every time I say anything even remotely feminist to a guy like that I get that same response. I have probably heard that 'joke' 500 times since I was 16 and it has NEVER been funny. Being hopped up on radical feminist thought, I was not feeling shy. I told this guy what an asshole he was being and how he does not have a clue. Naturally, he put me in my place by calling me an angry bitch. I delicately reminded him that he was the one who had the audacity to join a total stranger's conversation, insult her, and then expect her to laugh it off. Typical. Too many men (and probably women too) think that very same thing and that is exactly why I cannot laugh it off as drunken buffoonery.

What really takes the cake is that very-drunk-dude was with his girlfriend this whole time. Girlfriend kept apologizing for him. Over and over. It is precisely because women like her exist that men like him will never change. This woman was telling me that she 'gets women's rights and all' because (no joke) 'not to be racist at all but black guys always harass me when I am downtown.' As she was saying this, I looked at Erika because I knew what was coming. Whenever anyone says "not to be racist, but..." you know that whatever follows will be the most racist shit you have ever heard. I could just see Erika shut down when this happened. Thank goodness the bus came at that precise moment.

As I was walking home that evening, it occurred to me that I might be in danger. When women are assertive, vocal, unapologetic, and not smiling, they are 'bitches' and they are 'asking for it.' Walking home alone late at night while 'asking for it' was pretty scary so I was happy when Erika called from the bus to tell me that very-drunk-dude sat next to her on the bus to tell her that she was ok but her friend sure was an angry bitch. The funny thing is that I really didn't do anything other than tell this guy to step off when he made the worst, most typical, sexist joke ever. Is that so bad? Does that mean I am deserving of assault? According to a recent study, it does. I just read this on feministing and frankly, it seems pretty damn accurate. I did nothing more than any man would have been expected to do (stand up for himself, not allow himself to be accosted, not smile and take an offensive joke), and I felt that I was in real danger of being physically attacked. I was already verbally assaulted.

That evening really reminded me of why I do what I do. But it also made me feel more isolated than ever because in the real world (i.e. not the women's studies classroom) these ideas are worthy of all sorts of abuse. Sometimes I forget how 'radical' the notion that women are people (not deserving of rape, assault, or verbal abuse) really is in this patriarchal world.