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.