Friday, December 17, 2010

I Quit

Maybe this comment was just the straw that broke the camel's back but I think that this rant has been a long time coming. A friend made a comment on my facebook wall as a response to this post about rape and dog fighting. I am seething with rage over the comment and it isn’t even remotely close to the worst thing a friend has said to me or that I’ve read in my cyber life. But I am pissed and I need to get some things off of my chest.

Women’s Studies, academia and feminism have taught me very well to be critical of the world around me. So well, in fact, that I see the violent, diminishing, smothering hatred of women everywhere I look. This is not because I look for things to be mad about or because I want to see it so I do, this is because that shit really is everywhere. I am made to feel stupid constantly by people in my life who think I am too sensitive or that I am just an angry feminist who shouldn’t be taken seriously. And on my really down days, I start to believe them.

I am angry because around every corner I see evidence that men hate women and am told that I am crazy because I see it. And for once I am not going to qualify that statement and say “some men” or “institutional systems of oppression.” I am just going to say that men hate women because that is sure as hell what it looks like a lot of the time.

If I were to list examples to prove my point I’d be here until I die and that isn’t even an exaggeration. I’ll just give you an example from this week. One of my good friends and fellow bloggers sent me an e-mail with at least 20 tweets she had received in just a few days from a man who felt the need to terrorize her for no other reason than that she had the audacity to be female and to have a voice.

Here are some highlights from that diatribe:

“The better question is what good is a woman without a bruise and a mop.”

“You don’t need a psychic to tell you that you’re a cunt… you’re a cunt.”

“Fair-trade gifts…hmmm. My cock in your mouth in exchange for your femmy silence… fair enough?”

“Your writing is so boring your family would skim your suicide note and kick your bled out corpse for wasting their time…cunt. ; )”

And here is a recent comment I deleted from my own blog (this isn't even a contender for the worst I've gotten either):

“The quote is not ‘Get away from me or I’m going to carve a fuck hole in your torso.’
It is ‘Get away from me or I’m going to carve ANOTHER fuck hole in your torso.’
Also, you left out my personal favorite from this movie: ‘You may be able to vote and drive, but you will never be equal.’
Although this one also deserves an honorable mention: ‘...Women belong chained to a stove with just enough slack to reach the bedroom because those are the only places that your rib-stealing gender is worth a damn.’
I will leave you with these parting words. It is, and will always be, a man's world. Get used to it. Oh, and make me a fucking sandwich, bitch.”

That is just from this week. I can only ignore that shit for so long before it really does start to do something to me. I am angry and I am tired of being angry. But how can I not be angry when male violence against and hatred of women is a constant symphony playing in the background of my life? And that is just the little comments, the hilarious jokes and the shit my friends say on my facebook wall that I supposedly take too seriously.

I can’t even get into the news or popular culture because that would be another chore that would last a lifetime. I hope this isn’t news to anyone but I am sure it is and that is why I have to even write this post: when it happens to other women in other places, it happens to me because it is just the luck of circumstance that it wasn’t me that time. When Michael Moore diminishes the claims of a rape victim, it is just luck of circumstance that he isn’t talking about me. When Larry Smith says that dogfighting is worse than raping a woman he is talking about me. He is saying that my bodily autonomy is not taken seriously in this culture and that it is just a matter of time before it is me. I live everyday of my life aware of that fact and so do most women whether they fully realize it or not. And the saddest damn thing of it all is that one need only look at rape prosecution statistics to see that he is right.

So, do I think young women should study feminist theory? I don’t even know anymore. Maybe if I didn’t know I’d be happier and, frankly, life is just too damn short to be this angry all the time. Maybe other women have better outlets for the frustration and the feeling of being on the defensive all the time.

I am really tired and angry and tired of being really angry. That is why I don’t have the energy to blog anymore. I really do feel like I am trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon and for now, I give up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today I Wear Purple

Today I am wearing purple.

I am proud to tell my colleagues, friends and strangers on the bus that I stand in solidarity with my queer brothers and sisters.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the cultural narrative of "coming out." Events like Coming Out Day and the great meaning that is placed upon that moment of announcing one's sexuality to friends and family come to mind immediately. I am sure I am not saying anything that queer folks or feminist scholars haven't already heard, but I think that the epistemology of the closet is deeply problematic. (Of course, I pay homage to the amazing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in the use of my language here).

Our cultural understanding of queerness and of homosexuality is based on the notion that they are inherently dishonest unless they are announced fully and openly. In order for one to "come out," one first must be "in." This narrative constructs "the closet." There is a distinct dichotomy set up in this process, wherein one must be either gay or straight. Our cultural understanding of sexuality is either/or. Gay or straight. Boy or girl. In or out. That is it. And of course that is troubling as it leaves no room for anything else, anything in between, anything queer.

Can one be understood to be both in and out, boy and girl, gay and straight? These combinations are deeply confusing to Americans because, even in the language itself, they are contradictory and nearly impossible to reconcile. Still, people do live in those grey areas and sometimes in those combinations. To ask someone to come out is to assume that they are in and that being out is better.

What I hope to say here is that I understand Coming Out Day and I understand the It Gets Better campaign, but I don't know how helpful they really are.

I wish I could tell all of the queer youth in the world that life gets better and people become more tolerant, but that is not always the truth. I know some amazing gay men and women who have overcome seemingly impossible odds to become happy, healthy, successful people. But I also know people for whom it has not gotten easier: people who stay "in" out of real fear for their lives, people who have lost their jobs and their families, who faced public ridicule. And the people who don't easily fit into any of the available categories have no meaningful way to "come out."

These are complicated issues which deserve deeper investment and understanding. I don't know if it will get better, but I fight with every fiber of my being for the day that I can say that it is safe to be gay or straight or anything in between or completely outside.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hey Baby

I've finally come across something about which I feel compelled to write: a video game that offers "feminist commentary." As illustrated in the great Grand Theft Auto debates of 2008 (which remains the most viewed, commented on and spammed of all my posts), I am no great fan of video games. But this I had to see.
Finally, there is relief for women plagued by catcalls hollered from speeding car windows, unsolicited innuendos offered by complete strangers, and proverbial one-liners greasy enough to make you gag.
Most women experience street harassment at one point or another. I can imagine feeling some pleasure at virtually kicking some ass, especially since it doesn't have the same consequences of hollering back in real life. However, a game like this does little to address systemic issues like gender based oppression, violence against women, commodification of feminine bodies or race and class issues that inform street harassment.

As you may know, I am the moderator of the Chicago Hollaback site so I do have some authority to say that street harassment is no laughing matter. A game like this exists for a reason. As Karen Garcia says in the above mentioned article, this is something that we should be talking about seriously.
As much as Hey Baby is ostensibly a shoot ’em up gorefest, there’s way more to it than that. It’s art, activism, and social commentary operating under the novel guise of a recreational pastime, and despite its in-your-face presentation, its underlying message is meant to be discussed seriouslyand it should be.
I hope that this game does create a dialogue, that would be a magnificent result. I fear it is just going to lead to more misrepresentation of feminism as some sort of violent man-hating cult. I also do not like the idea of combating violence with more violence, even if it is virtual violence. I want to have a public dialogue about how catcalling a woman can make her feel terrified, objectified and/or violated. We should talk about how men who harass seem to pleasure in the sense of powerlessness that catcalling can instill in a woman, if only for a moment. And we really need to talk about how power is distributed in society as a whole to understand why certain people are harassers while others are harassed. It is no coincidence that women (or feminine people of all genders) are usually the victims of this harassment. This is all about power.

I have not played this video game, but I have a feeling power is not discussed in that particular way. It leaves a lot of things ambiguous. What is the gender of the shooter? Does it matter? Why is the harassment sexual? What are the implications of class and racial identity when it comes to street harassment? And, perhaps most important, why do some men publicly harass women on the street at all?

I sincerely hope that this game does create a public discussion about these topics. If it does not, than it is just another violent video game.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Real Meaning of Marriage

I keep this blog pretty much to work out the things that stick in my craw and sometimes I feel like I shouldn't post certain things because I know I am going to be accused of looking for stuff or nitpicking.

But, damn, sometimes I just have to say something! Right now I am annoyed because of the comments on this post at A Cup of Jo. I like that blog; it is light, it is cute, it is fun. But it is sorely lacking in any sort of feminist critique. The post in question is about bridal veils. Maybe I spend too much time on feminist blogs but I went to the comments section fully expecting someone to say that veils represent women's subordination and commodification; that they romanticize rigid gender roles.

I got none of that of course, but what I did get was a whole lot of women (I believe) talking about how lovely and romantic veils are. I especially love this gem:

"The veil is so beautiful and wearing it over the face is just so romantic!"

Also, apparently, when talking weddings "old fashioned" is a good thing.

"That is quite romantic and old-fashioned. It seems like veils covering the face at weddings have slowely (sic) been phased out - I still adore the sentiment!"
This one is my favorite:
"This is so moving and beautiful. It really does remind us of the real meaning of marriage. Stunning."
These comments had me thinking about how some women romanticize the wedding ceremony. I am not going to go into all of the different traditions and what they mean because I just don't have the energy. But I am led to wonder how so many commenter's on A Cup of Jo can, without a trace of self-examination or critical consciousness, say that a bridal veil is romantic.

Old fashioned, yes. Traditional, yes. But let us look at that tradition that these commenter's wish to romanticize. On a website for bridal veils, they describe the tradition as such:

"In medieval times...the veil was used to protect [the bride] from 'the evil eye' and was a symbol of purity, chastity, and modesty.

Others say the the origin of the bridal veil was due to the circumstances of an arranged marriage. In days past, men bargained with an eligible young lady's father for their hand in marriage. AFTER the ceremony, the veil was lifted to reveal the brides features. This was to keep a groom from backing out of the deal if he didn't like what he saw.

Some say that the veil was used in days past as a symbol of a bride's submission and willingness to obey her husband."

Remember, this is a site that sells veils! That these traditions actually do represent the "real meaning of marriage" is perhaps the best argument I can think of against marriage.

It really bums me out that women don't think more about the meaning of the traditions that they are upholding in their weddings. And if they do think about it and then uphold them anyway, well that is just terrifying.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mutilated Women as Entertainment or Why I am Over True Blood

First things first, I apologize that some comments got stuck in the queue for a really long time. I usually just publish them directly from my Gmail account but I must have missed some and I saw them on the blogger homepage waiting to be read today. So if your comment got stuck, it wasn't because I don't like you!

Speaking of comments, I have gotten some really awful ones lately. I haven't posted in so long I really don't know how these people are finding me and feeling the need to attack me using viciously misogynistic rhetoric but they are and, I admit, it really got me down for a few weeks.

Unfortunately, the world does not stop being a woman-hating sort of place just because I don't feel up to blogging.

Which brings me to today's topic. I am deeply disappointed and, frankly, disgusted with True Blood. I watched and enjoyed the first season. I found the portrayal of the innocent, blonde virgin waiting to be taken by the scary dark vampire to be problematic but I was willing to wait it out because the writing was pretty good and I got sucked in (no pun intended).

The second season dragged a little but it was not necessarily anti-feminist. In fact, I really liked the Maryann character because she kicked so much ass. She was, by far, the most powerful character on the show at that point and she was unapologetic about it. Sadly, she was killed off. I held out hope upon realization that the leader of all vampires was a queen. I also, really like that two of the main characters are women. And of course Lafayette is endlessly amusing.

There is a lot to like about the show. It is complex and unafraid to delve into social issues.

Lately, though, there has also been a lot to dislike. I went in to the third season very hopeful because the second had culminated so dramatically. All of the season's loose ends were tied up and a few new cliff hangers were introduced. The introduction of werewolves this season has brought with it an astonishing amount of sexual violence. Perhaps the increased ratings, the increased need to titillate, to top the previous over-the-top seasons, has caused writers and producers to find sexual violence to be a vital plot device but it is finally getting to be too much for this feminist.

The second episode of the third season ended with a brutal rape scene between Bill and his maker Lorena. The opening if the third episode leads viewers to believe that Lorena actually quite enjoyed the brutal rape, which included Bill twisting her head all the way around. (You can see it here if you are so inclined but please do not take my serious trigger warning lightly.) If she were human he would surely have broken her neck. I get the feeling that if they were human in the show, this would never have been allowed to air. Bill would have raped the woman to death and I can only hope that we are still in a place were that isn't considered great television. Since they are vampires and she supposedly likes it, it not only airs, but is critically acclaimed!

I stopped watching after that episode but I was goaded by friends to give it another chance, I was assured that it got better. So finally last night I endeavored to watch more of the third season. I was rewarded with another scene of brutal sexual assault and more violence than I personally care to see. The werewolf bar scene featured a young woman having her clothing ripped off and then her flesh torn open (I looked away at that point so I am not quite sure what happened next, but it was bloody). Again, this is called sexy by many viewers and television critics.

Another great example of how sexy = sexual violence on True Blood is the fact that the redheaded baby vampire, Jessica, is a perpetual virgin and experiences pain and injury every single time she has sex.

Sex with vampires on this show is always a mix of pain and pleasure, as if pain is essential to pleasure. The person in pain is usually a woman and there is NOTHING revolutionary or edgy about that. I don't know how often I have to say it.

I think my friend David says it pretty well:

"I've been saying this since I was halfway through season 1....everybody hates me for it. By the finale of season 2, I've come to this conclusion: men are murdered because they're threats...women because they're expendable.... I refuse to watch season 3."

And in case you are thinking that sexual violence isn't intended to be taken as a joke, remember that producer Alan Ball calls all of this "fun." He wanted to do something light after Six Feet Under. I wish he hadn't. I enjoyed Six Feet Under a lot, this is just blatant violence against women as entertainment wrapped in a 'sexy' vampire shell.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Two Cents

Well readers, it is my birthday and what better way to spend the day than discussing the insidious marriage of racism and sexism?

I expect by now all of you have heard about the incident in Seattle in which a young woman was punched in the face by a police officer and some bystander caught the whole sordid event on videotape. Here is said video:

And here is the first article I read about it from Komo News. Don't read the comments there, seriously. It is not a productive endeavor.

There is not much I can say that hasn't been said about about this already. Melissa at Shakesville wrote a good piece about it and the comments section there is also a must read. They did a great job of weeding out trolls and racists and I think the discussion was really interesting. Today I also read a great piece by Latoya at Racialicious. She noted something that I mentioned in an argument with a friend about this as well.

As a teacher in a Chicago Public School, I often faced students who were angry with me or in general, I often saw students behave in ways that were out of control and there were even times when I feared for my own safety. I once had a student get in my face and scream at me that she hated me. But it never, ever crossed my mind to hit this child. Even though she was as tall as me and probably stronger and even though she looked like she might hit me, I never touched her. Teachers cannot hit their students. It is not permitted. Even when a student might well hurt you or did touch you, you cannot hit a student.

As Latoya said, this is because of the power dynamic that is at play in a school, especially one where all of the students are black and many of the teachers are white. This makes it even more vitally important that teachers never hurt their students. How is a student to learn, to feel safe and supported, in an environment where their physical safety is threatened by the very people put there to protect them? The answer is that they don't and that is why teachers must not use violence in their classrooms.

This same sort of logic is somehow absent when it comes to police protection. The people that I have argued so fiercely with about this incident believe that the officer had some sort of right to protect himself but they fail to recognize that he had all of the power in this situation, he could have done many things to deescalate this situation and he chose not to. He chose not to call for back up when he was surrounded by people who were seemingly hostile. He chose not to just let it go because he wasn't equipped to handle it alone. A friend argued that if he let it go others would think it is okay to jaywalk, to which I say, fine. He was not equipped to do much else and the girls (and yes, they were girls, 19 and 17) did not pose a danger to anyone. They had committed a minor traffic violation and did not possess any weapons.

I understand this girl's immediate apprehension about being stopped by an officer in the first place and her desire to flee, that is what Latoya discussed so well in her piece.
"Police are all over the city, but are reluctant to respond to crime calls in certain precincts…it’s a recipe for mistrust. In order for the police to do the best work in our communities, the relationships cannot be adversarial. Harassing people over non-violent offenses (like the jaywalking charge that led to the punching situation) is a bad use of that discretion, and one that erodes community trust."
We are in bad shape when the people who are hired by the community to protect said community are inflicting harm like this onto certain citizens at their "discretion" in the name of protection. Who was this officer protecting?

Alas, all of this has been said in the links I provided. What I really wanted to talk about here is the sexual undertone of this exchange. I brought it up in the comments section at Shakesville and I wasn't sure if it was just me, maybe I am too sensitive, maybe I look for things, etc. But others noticed it too.

That he punched her in the face is bad enough, it is obviously violent and totally uncalled for. Police have much better ways of restraining people. What bothered me just as much is the way he threw the other girl back onto the cop car and pressed himself on her, she managed to wriggle herself free and he held her arms back and groped her body to the point of actually pulling her shirt up and exposing her bra. And as bad is when he threw her down on the police car with his crotch pressed firmly against her bottom and held her down as she struggled. You could see the fear and terror on her face as this escalated and she could not get him to stop touching her. It did not look to me like she was trying to hurt him, only that she was trying to get out of his grip.

Her pleas to get him to stop touching her fell on deaf ears. The overall effect was eerily similar to sexual assault. I am sure plenty of people will say that was not his intention, I believe he might even say he was not attempting to be sexual with her, but the video does not lie and I know what I saw. I think that video would be incredibly triggering to victims of sexual assault and I can very clearly see why.

Black bodies have a long history of exploitation at the hands of white bodies. I am left to wonder would this police officer have felt it appropriate to touch, manhandle even, the bodies of two white women in broad daylight with camera-wielding witnesses? I know that if he had touched me the way he touched her I would have reacted the exact same way. I cringe at the thought of being touched that way. I am so deeply sad for that girl because I can imagine all too well what that is like.

And as this was happening how many other women and men were standing there, not in any way posing a treat to this officer, idly watching as this woman was, in my estimation, being sexually harassed and physically assaulted at the hands of someone who is supposed to be protecting her. I would like to point out again, because it hasn't been done enough, that this is a child in the eyes of the law. She is 17 years old, she cannot vote, she cannot buy cigarettes, she cannot do a whole lot of things without her parents' permission and yet this officer didn't see fit to adjust his behavior or perhaps try a more age appropriated tactic (not that what he did is appropriate at any age).

I am reminded of a story a co-worker once told me. She was hanging around outside with some friends when she was a teenager. A police officer approached them to tell them to stop loitering. Being teenagers, they were less than acquiescent, so the officer grabbed her, pushed her against the police car and threatened to arrest her. She immediately started sobbing because she was afraid and she had done nothing wrong. The officer felt badly about it and let her go. That story was just one of many I have heard from friends, co-workers and classmates that just remind me constantly that the police represent something very different to black people than they do to white people; this video is just further evidence.

I think that anyone who wants to be a police officer should have to take the Implicit Association Test first.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Can You Spot What's Missing?

I was just looking for some statistics on the RAINN website and I noticed that something was missing. They provide a lot of useful information including a breakdown of victims of sexual assault by gender and age, a list of effects of sexual assault on victims and society, the frequency with which assaults happen and with which they are reported and then the provide information about rapists.

Here is what they provide:

Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.
73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.
38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
28% are an intimate.
7% are a relative.

He's not Hiding in the Bushes

More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occured within 1 mile of their home or at their home.

  • 4 in 10 take place at the victim's home.
  • 2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
  • 1 in 12 take place in a parking garage.

43% of rapes occur between 6:00pm and midnight.

  • 24% occur between midnight and 6:00am.
  • The other 33% take place between 6:00am and 6:00pm.

The Criminal

  • The average age of a rapist is 31 years old.
  • 52% are white.
  • 22% of imprisoned rapists report that they are married.
  • Juveniles accounted for 16% of forcible rape arrestees in 1995 and 17% of those arrested for other sex offenses.
  • In 1 in 3 sexual assaults, the perpetrator was intoxicated — 30% with alcohol, 4% with drugs.
  • In 2001, 11% of rapes involved the use of a weapon — 3% used a gun, 6% used a knife, and 2 % used another form of weapon.
  • 84% of victims reported the use of physical force only.
Rapists are more likely to be a serial criminal than a serial rapist.

46% of rapists who were released from prison were re-arrested within 3 years of their release for another crime.

  • 18.6% for a violent offense.
  • 14.8% for a property offense.
  • 11.2% for a drug offense.
  • 20.5% for a public-order offense.

They do say "he is not hiding in the bushes" but that is the ONLY reference they make to gender. They were very interested in gender when it came to victims but that information is strikingly absent when it came time to discuss perpetrators. They mention the age of perpetrators, the race and even the marital status but not the gender!

I came to the site looking for information on how how often women commit rape to compare to how often men commit rape. That information cannot be found. If someone else has that information (or can find it elsewhere on this site) please do let me know.

I do not wish to castigate RAINN, I think they do amazing, necessary work. I just wonder why they left that rather important, even crucial, detail out? I believe that they assume that we will assume that the perpetrator is a man. It is such a commonly understood fact that men rape and women are raped that it goes without saying on one of the best resources for victims and researchers alike. So entrenched are we in rape culture that we do not even need to be told that men are the most likely offenders even on a website dedicated to providing statistics about those very crimes. But beyond that, it misses an important opportunity to highlight assaults committed by non-typical offenders like women against women and women against men and in so doing, erases the experiences of those victims.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

All too often, seemingly well intentioned people create anti-sexual assault or anti-harassment ad campaigns that just don't get it. Like this one. And in case you don't get why that campaign is ineffectual and has the potential to cause more harm, read this post.

That being said, I really like this new ad campaign airing in Wales. It is right on because it depicts the damage that repeated harassment causes. One comment, one grope, one stare, one catcall; they all seem like no big deal. But as I have said repeatedly, women live in a state of constant terror because we deal with those seemingly little things constantly throughout our ENTIRE LIVES. And beyond that, they contribute to a culture that does not respect women as full human beings who have a right to not be assaulted.

An Open Letter to Kristen Stewart

Dear Kristen Stewart,

You know what is like rape? RAPE. That is the only thing that is "like" rape. Being on the red carpet having your photo taken incessantly may be unpleasant for you, it may even be something you wish to never do again, but fortunately you have that option. Please remember this on future occasions. Thank you,


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Boy Toys/Girl Toys

About two weeks ago I wrote about the highest and lowest paying college degrees and noted that the degrees with the greatest financial value are in fields dominated by men. Today I found this amusing comic that offers an, albeit oversimplified, explanation. Gender socialization plays such a massive role in the stratification of our society it is hard to imagine why anyone would argue that nature is responsible for these differences. Here is a series of very clear examples of nurture clearly overpowering nature.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Apple's iPad Commercials are Sexist

Are Apple's iPad commercials sexist? Yes.
Not really sure why the title had to be posed as a question. And I would strongly disagree that "it may seem kind of a small thing to freak out over." This is just another of hundreds of thousands of ways in which gender stereotypes are reinforced to the point that they seem to be just the natural order of things.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Continued Ghettoization of Women's Labor

This list of the worst paying college degrees from the Huffington Post is making its way around the web. I enjoyed reading the list of highest paying college degrees a few weeks ago as well.

I suppose nothing is terribly surprising on those lists but it is sad to see that the value of work generally done by women has not changed at all. We can intellectualize about how raising future generations of engineers is just as important as engineering itself but we passively accept that teachers and social workers make significantly less money than almost any other profession (for which they were formally educated). Seriously, look at both of those lists and it will be clear that men's work is more valued than women's work. And it is clear that the Huffington Post realizes that low paying jobs are women's work and high paying jobs are men's work based on the images they chose to accompany the text. In the article about the highest paying degrees only one out of fourteen of the people pictured appeared to be women. In the article about the lowest paying degrees six out of the eleven people pictured appeared to be women. This is no accident.

What I wonder about these articles is whether they will deter the next generation of college students from choosing social service related majors. If we are to discourage young people from going into social service professions, who is going to do that work (will it even matter with all of the social service cuts)? Moreover, who can afford to do that work? Who can afford to take out over $80,000 in student loans (seriously I know this person) to get an MSW only to find the best paying jobs in that field are in the $40,000s and that is if you can find work at all.

I don't have to be an accountant to know that that investment will never pay off.
And that is depressing because I am in that same situation only my major wasn't directly on that list.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The Lollapalooza lineup was recently released and I have to say, pursuant to one of my recent posts, that it isn't nearly as much of a sausage-fest this year. Wonderful!

The lineup is far from balanced in terms of gender but considering last year's pretty much all male show, I am happy to see some women taking the stage.

First of all, we got Lady Gaga!!! I couldn't be more excited. I tried to see her when she was in Chicago this winter but the show was sold out so soon I didn't even have a chance. Hopefully it will work out this time.

I am really excited about The XX, it used to be two women and two men but it seems that they lost their female guitarist. I hope that if they replace her it is with another kick ass female guitarist!

I think I mentioned Metric in the last post, I am excited to see them. Arcade Fire should be good. It isn't necessarily my favorite music but I can dig it especially since they tout two female members, including one of the band's founders.

Finally, Erykah Badu. Enough said. : D
I didn't look up any of the bands I don't know so I am sure I am missing a few gems. Please let me know in the comments. I am very excited, hope I can actually afford to go!

I will leave you with a video of my favorite XX song. Enjoy!

Monday, March 29, 2010

On "Booty"

A few weeks ago I read this post on Shakesville. With all of my education in sexuality and gender studies, I can honestly say I had no idea that “punk” had such a long and complex history. When I was teaching high school I would hear my students referring to each other (or their step father, in one case) as punks and I thought it was amusing because I pictured this:

which is especially amusing when you consider that both high schools I have worked at were predominantly African American. Now I realize that that is not what they were saying at all and I am sorry I missed the opportunity to talk with them about it and use it as a teaching moment especially as we spent several weeks talking about sex and gender.

This week on the bus I have been re-reading Gloria AnzaldĂșa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. As I was reading, I noticed that AnzaldĂșa refers to colonized women as “booty” for the victorious nation during times of war and imperialism. Of course, I know what booty means and have heard it many times before, but since reading that Shakesville post I started to think about the ways in which “booty” has been used in our current vernacular. I wonder how “booty” came to mean buttocks: specifically female buttocks. When one considers its original meaning, the correlation starts to seem too insidious to be a coincidence. “Booty,” a term for the possessions gained through violently overtaking a group of people and co-opting their culture, is used today as a description of the female buttocks, suggesting that women themselves are possessions to be won through whatever means necessary. This implies that women are owned by the men of their own culture and can be stolen by men of another culture. It is especially disconcerting if we consider that "booty" is generally used to describe the backsides of black women whose bodies have a long history of being literally objectified and owned by white culture. If we look at the popular culture use of the term this does not seem like a far fetched or radical hypothesis.

There is, evidently, such a thing as booty hip hop.

Booty is sometimes what we call sex.

It is a movie.

It is a song.

Or two.

Beyond that, Rachael and Ross sang Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” to their newborn on Friends and I once heard my baby cousin referred to his mother’s bottom as ‘booty’ when he was under one year old! The term "booty" is deeply entrenched in our language to the point that it is completely normal for anyone to say, much like "punk."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Women in Alternative Music

As you could probably guess from perusing this blog, I am a great lover of music. I wrote my master’s thesis about Kurt Cobain which really forced me to dig deep into what music I love and why. The first music I can remember loving was Dolly Parton and that was when I was a very small child. In middle school I developed a fondness for Stevie Nicks (I even managed to convince my aunt to take me to one of her concerts in Chicago when I was barely a tween). Later in middle school I started to break free from what my parents listened to and I loved the Spice Girls. It was around that time that I started a little CD collection of my own. I can vividly remember a day when my father sat down in my bedroom and looked through my CDs. I should note that music led to some of the greatest wars between my parents and myself starting in middle school and ignited battles well into my adult years. At any rate, that day my father said to me “all you have are female musicians here. Don’t you like any men?” I don’t think he meant it in an accusatory way but the vast majority of his large music collection is comprised of male artists. It wasn’t long after that that I began high school. In high school I learned through observation what music was cool and how music and style went hand in hand.

One of the first things that happened when I transitioned from grade school to high school was I grew very rebellious and did not want to be associated with the popular kids. I became friends with a large group of boys who liked alternative music and I made it my music. It was around that time that I started to dress like Kurt Cobain and listened to Nirvana on my discman and in my car all the time.

My CD collection made a dramatic shift from entirely female artists to mostly male artists within the course of just two years. I loved grunge and I can recall listening to Hole in middle school but then when I got to high school and saw the reaction I got when I said I liked Courtney Love, I started to believe that she was a villain murderer and stopped listening to Hole altogether.

In my thesis last summer I examined the cultural reactions to Courtney Love and the narratives around her life with Kurt Cobain. One of the most compelling findings of my thesis was that women are either completely invisible in alternative music or they are demonized as vixens who bring down talented men (think Yoko Ono).

The first thing I noticed in the narrative about Cobain’s life was that Bikini Kill is often completely erased as an influence. Kurt dated Tobi Vail and was good friends with Kathleen Hanna for years. They even moved him to feminist activism. How that part of the story gets erased is nothing short of remarkable. It takes intentional and deliberate storytelling on the part of biographers and music critics. The sheer insidiousness of that erasure stuns me. And it is not only Bikini Kill it is the whole Riot Grrrl movement that is not part of the story.

Of course there are many layers and ways in which fame was deployed as a tool by Cobain who claimed to eschew all of the trappings of his celebrity while at the same time being the biggest advocate for his own success. Part of the “coolness” of grunge was that the artists did not wish to be cool… supposedly. Considering that, it is especially interesting that Cobain used his celebrity as a platform to put forth ideas about queerness, gender, sexuality and feminism. That was part of who he was and that part is completely erased in the biographies, reviews and stories told about him in mainstream culture.

At any rate, all of these things are swirling through my head lately and I get passionately angry when I listen to alternative radio these days. You could go days and I mean DAYS without hearing a single female voice on the alternative radio stations here in Chicago. What I want to know is what the hell is alternative about alternative music? They seem to propound the same old patriarchal stories or worse, the ‘poor me’ stories so popular amongst young white men. They sing about women and heartache all the while real women are invisible. What really set me off what when I realized last summer that Lollapalooza was almost entirely comprised of white male artists. (Kings of Leon, Depeche Mode, Tool, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Decemberists, Jane’s Addiction, The Killers, Lou Reed, Silversun Pickups, and Snoop Dogg.) I cannot think of one excuse good enough for not including any female headliners. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were added last minute or there wouldn’t have been a female presence at all (save for a female band member in the Decemberists and Silversun Pickups). How do we justify that in 2009? It isn’t like these women don’t exist. And what makes it even more insideous is that many of the male artists slated to preform are deeply misogynistic and that ideology has no female voice to balance it out.

Then just yesterday my partner told me that he wants to go to Q101’s Jamboree and he asked if I’d be interested in going. I said if even one of the headliners was a band comprised of at least half women I’d go. Guess who’s not going? This blogger! Three Days Grace, Seether, Hollywood Undead, Papa Roach, Puddle of Mudd, Saliva, Janus, Story of the Year, Flobots, Crash Kings and AM Taxi. I think I might have seen one female face WAY in the back of one of their band pictures but that was all. I am not surprised but I am deeply saddened by it the more I think about it.

Let me assure you that there are many women in alternative music. I like The Gossip and Metric lately. Why are they invisible on these radio stations, at these events and in these publications? The only answer I have is outright and unapologetic misogyny. Alternative music is deeply afraid of women as anything other than muse, groupie or sexual conquest.

Please feel free to suggest any awesome female alternative artists in the comments!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Guess This is What it Takes for me to Come Out of Hibernation

Via Gizmodo, another image of a woman's body being used as an object. They don't even offer her the courtesy of giving her a head in this disembodied image. Of course, this tee shirt implies that the cord from the controller is connected to her head which further implies that the controller/breasts can be used to control the woman wearing it. I suppose, given the misogynist nature of gaming culture, this would be a logical conclusion.

Because I adore her and I am sure her concern is one shared by other readers I am going to share a comment from one of my friends and my response to that comment:

"Ok, ok, maybe that's true, but lets see the humor in this, To me it looks like she's allowing this to happen. Her arms are back, prepared for what she knows is taking place. She doesn't want her head shown because she wouldn't want anyone to identify her."

I have no doubt that this particular model consented to this particular action. But we must always remember that images do not exist in a vacuum, taken within the context of gaming culture and the larger patriarchal culture in which it has been given room to flourish, images like this have tremendous meaning. It means that women, like game controllers, are objects, in this case, for male consumption and pleasure. Objectifying a person is the first step in the process of dehumanization and ALL of the abuses that we feel justified in inflicting upon objects. Game controllers can be thrown away, replaced with better, upgraded controllers, they can be smashed if they don't work properly and overall, they are objects. They are interchangeable, they don't have feelings. What this image conveys is that women are objects like game controllers and, like objects, it is okay to use them, hurt them, and toss them aside. Again, it has little to do with the actual people in the image and more to do with the greater cultural context in which it was born.