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Books, Notebooks and the Latest Carnival Fun

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Today I'm offering you a trio of links.

First, a link to a really cool story sent to me by my friend Spike about a program in Argetina designed to promote literacy among young children AND provide a meaningful activity for "educated women over 50,who are excluded from the labour market by fierce competition." Called "Storytelling Grandmothers," the program has been very effective and claims its "secret formula" of "affection, plus high-quality literature, equals children who read."

Second, an entry I came across at woman in comfy shoes about a notebook kept by her grandmother, and filled with old clippings of "quaint" shoes and hats. T. Comfyshoes explains that

Living where she did in the 1930s, Grandma and her friends and sisters didn't have a lot of access to shopping, so if they wanted anything nice they had to order it from a catalogue. To make sure they got everything they ordered, and nothing that they didn't, Grandma would cut out the pictures from the catalogue and glue them into a notebook. She kept notes of what they paid and what they bought them for.

As T. Comfyshoes examines the notebook, she finds stories emerging. It's a really charming, interesting entry, and it supports my argument that journals should be kept, not burned.

Finally, a link to the Ninth Carnival of Feminists, which is up at Mind the Gap! I always enjoy seeing what is included in the feminist Carnival, and this one is really good. It's particularly easy to follow. As I'm scheduled to host the 15th Carnival in May, I will be remembering how well the feminists at Mind the Gap! presented the posts they chose to highlight.

Enjoy!

The "Sorry I Date-Raped You" Card

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I just checked the stats for my blog, and discovered that someone ended up at my site while doing a search for a "'sorry I date-raped you' card."

Huh.

I know how they ended up here: I posted an entry where I mention that a guy I was dating once apologized for date-raping me. (Yes, the apology was warranted. Yes, I was young enough and stupid enough that I didn't break up with him, either after the non-consensual sex or the apology. Yes, the entire experience continues to affect my views on men, courtship, and issues of consent in sex.)

What I don't know is what the card means. It is a joke? Is it serious? Could such a card be used as an admission of guilt--and therefore evidence--against someone who had committed a date-rape?

My guess is, it's a joke--about like those awful t-shirts discussed on Shakespeare's Sister. But that raises the question: WHY is this a topic our culture finds funny?

I just got done teaching Night by Elie Wiesel in one of my courses. Of course everyone found it horrifying and upsetting. Everyone sympathized with the suffering of the narrator, and condemned the holocaust, and thought it completely fitting that Wiesel bear personal witness of what the Nazis did to the Jews.

This week we are reading Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison, in which she discusses being raped by her step-father when she was five years old. One guy said, "When I got to the part where she says, 'My step-father raped me when I was five years old,' I thought, 'Shit! Why is the professor making us read this crap?'" Another guy said, "Why do people need to talk about this? Why should we be expected to read about this?"

Um, maybe because in your life as a college-educated white American male, you're more likely to know someone who is the victim of sexual assault than someone who carries out or survives or dies because of genocide, not only because college-educated white Americans tend to be sheltered and protected from genocide, but because there are more victims of sexual violence in the world than there are victims of genocide? (Rape, after all, is a tool of genocide.) Maybe so you'll know how to react when your friend or sister gets a "Sorry I Date-Raped You" card? I assume, of course, that you'll never need to send one yourself.

Women Who Won't Blame the Patriarchy or Anybody Else

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Here are a couple of basic spiritual truths I've learned in my life:

1. You gotta leave the garden. You can't truly learn and grow while you stay within the confines of a system designed to protect you and keep you innocent.

2. She who will save her life shall lose it, and she who is willing to lose her life, will save it. If you stay inside the garden because you're afraid you'll perish in the lone and dreary world, well, here's some news! You're going to perish anyway, but you'll never know the potential, growth and possibility you could have experienced in the outside world. But if you venture out, you just might discover the means of not merely surviving, but thriving.

3. The Mormon church is one of the most pernicious "gardens" out there: yeah, there's plenty of produce, but it's thoroughly tainted with pesticides, fungicides and fertilizer. You can eat it, but it will give you cancer of the soul. You're better off applying the lesson of the fall and expelling yourself from the garden.

Because I am still technically a Mormon woman (they haven't excommunicated me yet, and I promised my mother I wouldn't ask the big boys to do it for me), and because I became a feminist partly because I was once a Mormon woman, and because I am occasionally an idiot, I sometimes find myself drawn into conversations with devout Mormon women about feminism.

I should know better. Because no woman will ever truly espouse the cause of feminism while she's still a devout Mormon. No human being will ever truly espouse the cause of justice while she's still a devout Mormon. No human being will ever truly espouse freedom of mind or plain good sense while she's still a devout Mormon. She'll do the best she can, and that's all the rest of us can ask. But devout Mormon women are still, fundamentally, stunted, because they insist on a diet of that horrible tainted fruit--and then spend all this time saying, "Oh there's nothing wrong with this fruit! There's nothing wrong with the garden! There's nothing wrong with anything--except maybe a few of the other gardeners, but that's not really important! Let's all just be nice and good, and then everything will work out--because God says so!"

To which I say, Yada yada fucking la-di-da. Grow the hell up.

And if I ever again start participating in forums for Mormon feminists who still support the patriarchy, will someone who's not in that benighted category remind me of this post?

Is Feminism a Woman-Only Movement?

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John at Mind on Fire has posted the following set of questions on his blog:

In practical terms, is feminism a woman-only movement? Are feminist forums essentially female forums? Is it possible to discuss feminism as a female and male issue, as a joint concern of both men and women? Is there a place for men in feminism?

I posted a response to John's questions on his blog, and I'm going to include my response here as well. Here goes:

First, I believe that men should identify themselves as feminists, and work to improve the lives of women, advance the cause of women's rights, and fight sexism; that white people must fight racism and work to improve the lives of people of color; that straight people need to fight homophobia and support gay rights; that rich people need to care about poor people; that human beings need to work for the humane treatment of animals, and so on. Everyone needs to be on the side of justice. No righteous cause (and I use that term advisedly) ever truly succeeds until even those who benefit from an unjust system begin to work to overthrow it. Slavery would still exist were it not for the efforts of those who were NOT slaves.

Patriarchy Really Is to Blame

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It seems there is more than one person in Texas who has figured out that PATRIARCHY IS TO BLAME.

Here's a story from Women's e News about a new program to rehabilitate batterers. Unlike many other programs designed to treat batterers, which "have typically looked at how batterers use violence to control their victims--or counseled them on how to manage 'out of control' anger--staffers at Travis [County Sheriff Department in Austin, Texas] say this program assumes that violence arises from a decision based on deeply-held beliefs of male dominance, not a flash of 'uncontrollable' emotion."

Instead, batterers are shown that they have choices. In group meetings, batterers "are led step by step to recall and re-enact what they felt, thought and did as domestic conflicts escalated and turned violent. Often, [George Jurand, coordinator of the San Francisco sheriff's department's Resolve to Stop the Violence Project] said, the offenders can be expected to voice the idea that, as men, they should be dominant. This 'male-role belief system' is then linked to its destructive consequences: arrest, imprisonment or loss of family."

An important feature of the program is having offenders listen to the stories of survivors of violence, who describe the terror and pain such violence inflicts on women and their children.

Classes are also taught and workshops led by men who once were batterers themselves, and focus making batterers accountable for their decisions to use violence. The program shows significant results: data reported in 2002 showed that "compared with offenders who did not participate, [program] participants showed an 80-percent steeper decline in repeat violence after 16 weeks. Those spending 12 weeks in the program showed a 51-percent steeper decline and those in the program for four weeks had a 42-percent steeper decline in repeat violence."

Well, imagine that: teaching men who commit violence against women that IT'S WRONG, THAT THE MEN ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE VIOLENCE AND THEY CAN STOP IT, actually works.

Prudent Matches

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I've been reading all over the blogosphere about the January 3, 2006 NY Times editorial by John Tierney, discussing how smart, educated straight women are likely to end up alone because they won't date dumb men with bad jobs: these women actually do something so calculated and unromantic as consider a man's earning potential in deciding whether or not to marry him.

I admit I haven't read the editorial--I don't subscribe to the paper version of the Times, so if I want to read its columnists on line, I have to pay for the privilege, and I wouldn't fork over my last dingy centime or any other piece of no-longer-current European currency to read a single word by that shithead Tierney. Thus, my response is based only on a few excerpts and synopses provided by others. And my reaction to the synopses and excerpts I have read is pretty much this:

Duh. So what.

I mean, OF COURSE INTELLIGENT, EDUCATED STRAIGHT WOMEN TEND TO THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY A GUY IS LIKELY TO EARN IN DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO MARRY HIM. AN ABILITY TO GRASP THE IMPORTANCE OF THINGS LIKE FINANCES IS PART OF WHAT MAKES THEM SMART AND PART OF WHAT HELPED THEM BECOME EDUCATED.

Before I pursue that premise any further, let me make one thing clear: I'm a big believer in love. I love a lot of people. I've been in love and it has changed my life in ways I'm still grateful for. I think falling in love is one of the best things that can happen to someone. I believe in the redemptive power and possibilities of love.

And I used to think that the fact that you really, truly loved somebody sort of meant you HAD to get married, because if you love someone as much as I loved a couple of people, your feelings for them OBLIGATED you to vow to spend the rest of your life with them.

Funny how things work out.

In Praise of the C Word

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In the January 1, 2006 Sunday NY Times Magazine, there is a piece by Daphne Merkin as part of "The Way We Live Now" column that begins, "These are cruel times for vaginas." The piece goes on to describe various procedures that can be done to "improve" the appearance of external female genitalia, ranging from the "so-called Brazilian waxes" to labiaplasty, which "fixes" labia that are too big or too small or otherwise "defective."

I rather like the tone of the article: Merkin makes it clear that she finds the whole business hogwash, though I think the best section is devoted to the silliness of "hymen-reattachment surgery,"

once a desperate stratagem undertaken by young women from Muslim, Asian and Latin American cultures that demonized the loss of virginity before marriage, [which] is now being hawked as a way to enjoy a second honeymoon. If it's unclear whom this procedure is meant for--aging women hoping to catch a flagging penis with the semblance of undeflowered innocence?--it's even more ontologically ungraspable how stitching a hymen back together vitiates the psychological experience of having already lost your virginity.

Nonetheless, I was bothered by the fact that in her opening sentence, Merkin uses the term "vagina" when she should have used the term "vulva" or "pudendum."

Don't believe me? Consider these definitions:

vulva: The external genital organs of the female, including the labia majora, labia minora, and vestibule of the vagina. [Latin, womb, covering.]

pudendum: the human external genital organs, especially of a woman. Often used in the plural. [Latin, neuter gerundive of pudere, to make or be ashamed.] (The fact that the term is literally rooted in shame is the main reason I will avoid using it.)

vagina: The passage leading from the opening of the vulva to the cervix of the uterus in female mammals. [Latin, vagina, sheath.]

I know, I know: some of you are pointing out that we've covered this territory before: there's a section on it in Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues: Ensler includes a letter from Jane Hirschman, honorary chair of the Vulva Club, membership in which cannot be extended to Ensler (much to the dismay of those already in the club), because membership is "predicated on the understanding and correct usage of the word vulva and being able to communicate that to as many people as possible, especially women." Ensler includes the letter without responding directly to it, and although she names the next monologue "The Vulva Club," once that piece is done, she goes right back to using the word vagina to mean both vagina and vulva.

I think it's good that we can talk openly about the vagina, but I wish we could talk openly about the vulva too. I think how awkward it would be if, when we wanted to talk about an arm, we never used that word--even though it was available to us--opting instead to use the word hand, which was supposed to mean both that thing at the end of your arm with fingers on it, and the arm itself, in contexts that didn't always make it clear which body part you were actually referring to.

Sadly, in pop culture, the generally accepted and acceptable term meant to invoke all of female genitalia is vagina. Vulva, apparently, is too fastidious and precise; cunt and pussy are too crude. (More about those terms later.) But that raises the question: WHY is vagina the more familiar, accepted term?

Rape in Bosnia, a Decade Later

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This article from the Independent UK about broke my heart. It details the suffering still occurring as a result of the systemtic rapes of Bosnian women during the war in the 1990s. A few points worth underscoring:

In 1998 the International War Crimes Tribunal condemned rape as a crime against humanity, yet there is still no formal international or state response to sexual violence, the related trauma caused by rape or to what happens to the children born of it. In July this year, Unicef in Bosnia commissioned a report on the children born as a result of war rape. It is the first time any organisation has focused on these children. The report, however, remains unpublished.

and

the situation is made worse by the Bosnian government's reluctance to recognise women as civilian victims of war. In October it agreed to pay compensation, but this has led to further problems as many within the government claim that women are falsifying claims of rape to receive money.

Women Lousy at Designing Clothes for Women?

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Ugh.

I've been taking a break from dealing with certain issues because well, because I need a break. I've been trying to work on a couple of posts, one on the whole nasty debate about a "man's right to choose" sparked by Dalton Conley's December 1st NY Times editorial on the topic, and another on the sexsomnia defense a guy in Canada used to beat a rape charge, but I don't get very far before I get too upset to continue.

Here's something I would dismiss as silly if it weren't for the fact that I really dig textiles and clothing. But the clothes I own are typically things I made myself or bought on sale, and I am of the opinion that haute couture is overpriced, wasteful and misogynist. This article made me think about WHY high fashion might be something the average woman doesn't want, need or have the money for. It's from the NY Times, about why women don't succeed as fashion designers. Among the arguments for why men, either straight or gay, are better than women at designing clothes for women, are these:

In some quarters, the perception exists that fashion's main consumers, women, are more comfortable taking advice about how they should look from a man. "Men are often better designers for women than other women," said Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, who more than anyone in the past decade built a brand on his own persona, that of a man whose sensual appeal is to both men and women. Whereas Bill Blass, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta founded their empires on the strength of a nonthreatening, nonsexual charisma, Mr. Ford aggressively promoted his sexually charged designs. "Of course there are many more gay male designers," Mr. Ford said. "I think we are more objective. We don't come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies."

Some designers embrace an extreme version of this position. Michael Vollbracht, the current designer of Bill Blass, said he believes that gay men are demonstrably superior at design, their aesthetic formed by a perception of a woman as an idealized fantasy. "I come from a time when gay men dressed women," Mr. Vollbracht said. "We didn't bed them. Or at least I didn't. I am someone who is really pro-homosexual. I am an elitist. I am better than straight people. Women are confused about who they want to be. I believe that male designers have the fantasy level that women do not."

When women design for other women, Mr. Ford said, they proceed from a standpoint of practicality - not fantasy. "Sometimes women are trapped by their own views of themselves, but some have built careers around that," he said. "Donna Karan was obsessed with her hips and used her own idiosyncrasies to define her brand."

The Times' article purports to be an expose on the topic, but it doesn't include many women's voices on the matter. It does, however, let a designer named Dana Buchman respond to these arguments. Ms. Buchman "sees little value in such arguments. If men are more objective, she countered, then women are empathetic, which can be useful in understanding the consumer. 'I wear my own clothes,' she said. 'I have lived the life of my customer.'" Yeah, but that's precisely the problem, as Tom Ford kindly points out: she's too caught up in the practical issues of how clothes fit the real bodies and real lives of real women! And since she never wants to f*ck herself the way a straight man would and never sees clearly the aesthetic ideal women should strive to embody the way a certain type of elitist gay man would, she will never know as well as either class of man how to dress herself, or other women.

Phone Chips and Salsa

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Several weeks ago, Wayne and I had phone chips and salsa, which is a lot like phone sex except with chips and salsa in place of the sex. (That's probably pretty self-evident, but I wanted to make sure everyone understood.)

That is only one of the many activities we have shared over the phone. We have also scrubbed our bathtubs together. We have gone for walks. We have plotted and taken fiendish but heartily deserved revenge against Adam, my evilest of exes. We have washed dishes. We have done laundry. We have googled our celebrity crushes and directed each other to websites featuring photos of obscure foreign actors without their shirts.

In fact, I got a cell phone a mere 14 months ago largely to facilitate talking to Wayne. He was very upset about a $400.00 phone bill he got, especially since most of the charges involved phone calls to or from me. So I got the same carrier he had and we both signed up for free mobile-to-mobile minutes, with the upshot that I began spending 25 to 30 hours a month talking to Wayne on the phone, and about two and a half hours put together talking to everyone else I knew.

That kept up for a good long while until we had a falling out over religion. I may discuss our six-month estrangement and reconciliation at some point in a future post, but let me say now that within days of reestablishing contact all the animosity disappeared and it was like we'd never quarreled, except that it took us a while to work back up to talking on the phone for so long that we'd grow peckish and have to rummage through our various cupboards for snacks.

After we both closed up the bag of chips and put the salsa back in the fridge on that Saturday several weeks back, we decided we needed some internet action, so we blog surfed by hitting the "next blog" button on blogger. We came across a site run by some guy in Vienna dedicated to enormous breasts. He provided plenty of photos of breasts, including a substantial pair on a naked blonde woman who sits on a fireplace mantle, drinking a beer and looking bored while some guy eats her out. I found that in rather bad taste, but what upset Wayne was a photo further down the page of Christian Bale from American Psycho, accompanied by a lavish and loving paean to the character CB portrays: the guy went on and on about how that was his favorite movie and how he really identified with that character--the one who tortures, rapes and murders women.

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