Monday, April 7, 2014

On pink princesses, and missing the point

Over at Slate, Allison Benedikt is piling on to the latest trend of admonishing parents of little girls who take issue with the non-stop pinkifying and princessifying of everything having anything to do with little girls. We all need to stop expressing our contempt for the pink and the princessy and just chill out already.

Advising parents to just chill out already is a popular meme these days, but if you take the central claims of this particular chill out argument, what you find is a complete failure to deal with the actual underlying issues. It's a fabulous exercise in missing the point. So let's take a look:

1. Benedikt writes that disgust for the pink and princessy "has always struck me as some weird sort of female self-loathing." The writers she quotes also assume that underneath the rejection of the pink glitter there's a profound dislike for and devaluation of femininity.

Little blond girl in pink princess costume
The thing is, nobody here stops to ask where this version of femininity came from, why it's so astonishingly dominant in every item that will ever be marketed to or for girls (from diapers to prom dresses to school supplies to power tools to assault rifles for the love of god), or what other, more serious, gender messages might accompany it. The sheer ubiquity of the pink princess crap in itself should give one pause. The monolithic vision of what femininity amounts to (and how it's valued, and how flexible it is, and how it fosters - or not - a sense of autonomy and an open range of viable choices for girls...) in this view should give one pause. The very act of equating the massive princess marketing machine with "female culture" is absurd. And damaging.

2.  Benedikt et al scoff at the idea that girls who play at being princesses will grow up to be princesses. As if this is what we're worried about. As if it's just as simple and straight forward as that.

Adult blond woman in sexy pink princess costume
But you can grow up to be a princess.
Here's a little more subtle look at the dynamic here. Girls (and boys) who are taught to mindlessly embody the prefab identities and scripts that are provided for them by the princess marketing machine are internalizing a whole range of gendered attitudes about themselves that will become much more damaging as they grow up. As parents, modeling a mindless engagement with and internalization of these identities and scripts sets the stage. As the pink princesses grow up and begin to navigate their developing sexuality, explore their career and life options, etc. this habit of mindless engagement will not serve them well. Which leads us to the third (implied) claim here.

3. Parents of little girls can either roll their eyes in disgust, or embrace the pink princess phenomenon. Make your choice.

This right here is the biggest issue. The pink princess dynamic in our culture needs to be addressed. Girls need to understand that they will be presented with problematic versions of femininity their whole lives, and the best thing they can do is learn to habitually engage with these hypotheses on what it means to be a girl/woman in a rational way. By the same token, boys will be presented with problematic versions of masculinity their whole lives, and the best thing they can do is learn to habitually engage with these hypotheses on what it means to be a boy/man in a rational way. Seeing yourself as having options, trying out different activities and roles, embracing the things that work for you and letting the rest fall by the way... these are all a part of growing up to be a functional, thriving adult. For a girl or a boy.

Mother and daughter, talking
Talking with kids - a parent's superpower
As we all know, there are more options for parents than mindlessly rejecting or embracing the prefab roles. Parents can actually (are you ready for it?) talk to their kids about these things. They can talk about how fun it is to play dress up, but how hard it is to really be a princess (or a superhero, or a ninja, or whatever) full time. After all, princesses and superheroes and ninjas don't get to play soccer, go camping or biking, do messy crafts like finger painting, engage in rough-housing with their siblings and friends, have sleepovers, bake cookies, etc.  They might get their dress/cape/ninja costume dirty. And lord knows a princess would never get her dress dirty, or break a nail, or try to run in her absurd little plastic high-heeled shoes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Women of the Bible: Jephthah's daughter

Judges 11
In which Jephthah agrees to lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. He promises God that in exchange for victory against the Ammonites he will offer as a sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his door when he returns home. He defeats the Ammonites, returns home, is greeted by his daughter, and therefore has to offer her as a burnt offering. A promise (no matter how boneheaded) is a promise, after all.*

1Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. 2And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman. 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him. 4 And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel. 5 And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: 6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. 7 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress? 8 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. 9 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head? 10 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.

...  **

30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. 32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. 33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. 34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

*Although perhaps Jephthah could be excused for believing that maybe if it was his own kid who came out the door, an angel of the lord would stop him mere seconds before he did the deed and offer a ram instead, as he did when Abraham undertook a similar project. There was a precedent, after all.
**The portion of the chapter that I left out here isn't relevant to the story of Jephthah's daughter, but it is interesting in that it contains a long exchange between Jephthah and the Ammonites on the question of whether or not the Israelites stole the Ammonites' homeland.

ETA: I got an email pointing me to these fantastical illustrations of the story, so I had to share them with you. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things that are awesome

Homemade lotion bars:
lotion bars

I can't use most commercial lotions because of the alcohol and perfumes in them. Hence the homemade lotion bars. They're super easy to make, feel fantastic on your skin, last way longer than lotion, and are actually good for you. You can pronounce all the ingredients and explain where they came from (not a laboratory). As an added bonus, when you're melting the ingredients together on the stove it makes your house smell delicious.

I use a very basic recipe like the one found here:

I'm sort of approximate with the measurements; I do include the vitamin E (just poke a hole in a couple vitamin E capsules and squeeze the contents in at the end); and I use a large glass measuring cup over a saucepan as a double boiler because that makes it easy to pour the melted ingredients into silicone molds. A double batch makes enough to last us about 6 months, except for how I always end up giving them away to friends. I don't add any essential oils because I like the subtle coconut scent you get as the bar melts onto your skin and soaks in, but you can add whatever other scents you prefer. As an added bonus, you can make them in whatever fun shapes you want by using different molds. I usually use a basic rectangular one, but we made some snow-person shaped bars to give as gifts at Christmas.


Friday, March 21, 2014

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Birth control is irresponsible.

According to a republican white guy in Alaska, anyway. You see, his current thing is to try to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome by putting free pregnancy tests in bars. Apparently the logic is that if women know they're pregnant they won't drink. (And then there's also something about plexiglass bowls in bar restrooms that have something to do with the pregnancy tests and I didn't get that part at all and felt a little skeeved out by it.) Anyway, when asked if he would also put free birth control in bar restrooms, this republican white guy replied:
No. Because the thinking is a little opposite. This assumes that if you know (you are pregnant) you’ll act responsibly. Birth control is for people who don’t necessarily want to act responsibly.
I’m not going to tell them what to do. Or help them do it. That’s their business. But if we have a pregnancy because someone just doesn’t know, that’s probably a way we can help.

Read more here:
Did you get that? Birth control is for people who don’t want to act responsibly. And here I've been thinking that using birth control is a mature, responsible choice. But it's not. It's irresponsible.

Slutty, I expect. But irresponsible - it's hard to make sense of that. What exactly is irresponsible here? Is it the having sex part or the not getting pregnant part? Because if it's the latter, then all the sturm und drang in our culture surrounding teen pregnancy doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. We wring our hands about teen pregnancy because teens aren't financially and emotionally prepared to raise kids, right? So then isn't avoiding pregnancy when you're not in a good position to parent a child a responsible course of action? I suspect this republican white guy is wanting to say that the having sex part is the irresponsible part. Leaving aside the fact that he doesn't know whether these possibly pregnant bar patrons are married or single...

No, it seems to me lately that every time a republican white guy opens his mouth about women and reproduction, what's really behind it is a firm but implicit belief that women ought not be having sex unless they're married and wanting to get pregnant.* Which makes me think maybe these republican white guys have failed to think the thought whole, as Kierkegaard would say. Because if straight women aren't having fun sexy times then it would seem that straight men won't be having fun sexy times either. If straight gals all resort to clutching an aspirin between their knees (as Foster Friess, who appears to have been named after an ice cream dessert, suggests we should do), then who will the straight men be fucking? It's something to think about, republican white guys. This might not just be a "women's issue." Maybe it's a men's issue too.

*Which still doesn't make much sense of the "irresponsible" label. I'm hip to the fact that conservative white guys think the ladies should stop with all the fucking already, but I always thought this was an issue of morality. It's a matter of female virtue. Purity. Chastity. Pure milky white skin on the back of her neck over which a single Victorian curl dangles as she tends to her needlework in front of the fire and all that. But irresponsibility - that doesn't quite fit here.

A bargain at any price

Monday, February 24, 2014

Uncle Sugar

I'm way-the-hell out of touch these days, being too busy, tired, and apathetic to keep tabs on any kind of news besides the 20 minutes of whatever's on NPR every morning. So apparently I totally missed out on some strange comment Mike Huckabee made about how I (since I'm an American lady) want these dudes to pay for my birth control since I can't be expected to control my libido. Curiouser and curiouser...

I'm baffled about what they have to do with my birth control or my libido, but I kinda like their music.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I'm militantly agnostic, but thanks for asking

Recently a student in one of my classes asked me if I was an atheist. I usually try to avoid answering questions like this, but he was pretty persistent, so I said I don't really feel like I own any of those titles (Christian, atheist, etc.). After all, what does it mean to claim one of these titles for yourself? Is being a Christian or a Buddhist or an atheist the same for me as it is for you? Is it something you can put on and take off like an item of clothing, or does it have to be deeply embedded in your psyche and your worldview to be true of you?

But I have a tendency to make everything overly complicated, I'm told, so in this case I picked one: I guess I'm agnostic, if I have to be something. My student replied with this "to be agnostic is just to lack the balls to admit that there is no god. Agnostics are atheists without balls." I didn't laugh at this, although I wanted to. This kid is very sincere and invested and has fire in his belly, and you shouldn't laugh when someone says something, however misguided, from that place. Also, I'm sure he was quoting someone that he admires. So I said "whatever your views are on having balls and on being  atheist versus agnostic, I think if you're viewing this from the perspective of proof and rational bases for our beliefs, there's a problem with that statement, but I'd be willing to discuss it more with you outside of class" because we had other material to cover, and because these kinds of conversations just make me tired on most days, and because I wasn't really in the mood to have the discussion about the appropriateness of the "having balls" analogy.

The thing is, it seems like a strange thing to me to make a claim in either direction ("I affirm that there is a god," "I affirm that there is no god," "I affirm that there are many gods") when you have no basis for this kind of statement. Don't get me wrong; I think it's fine to say "I feel like there is no god," or "I feel like there is a loving God who watches over us, etc."  But to make assertions about the existence of something for which you cannot possibly have proof seems irrational and foolhardy to me. And what possible difference could it make in my day-to-day life? The existence of a being (which I admit seems highly highly improbable to me) with whom I have no interaction just seems sort of ... irrelevant to me. Tangential to my daily experience, maybe. I mean, I'm also open to the possibility that some day we might discover that unicorns do exist in some remote corner of the universe. Which will impact my life how, exactly?

Baby unicorn is adding rainbows to my coffee

But... I have atheist friends who argue that it's neither irrelevant nor tangential to your daily life, because whether or not you believe in the existence of a deity determines your view of yourself and others, and dictates how you live your life (isn't it interesting that my fundamentalist evangelical family would argue the exact same thing?). Further, one of these friends (a habitual mansplainer, coincidentally) tells me that to refuse to take a stance one way or another is immature. I usually just laugh this off, but this student's question got me thinking about it.

It seems to me that needing to have a set belief about some supernatural beings in order to know who we are and how we ought to treat each other is maybe less mature than thinking that the existence of supernatural beings is probably irrelevant to these questions. And doesn't it seem a tad bit narcissistic to assume that if there is/are/were supernatural beings, that they would be interested in how we live our lives and in whether or not we believe in their existence? If you're omnipotent, or just even really really big and powerful and remote, why exactly would you give a flying fuck about what a bunch of tiny, flawed, finite being were running around doing on some little speck of a dying planet? This I do not understand, and I know the Bible intimately, as well as the ins and outs of various theological positions and histories, having grown up in a church that firmly believes in textual submersion and endless discussion of contrasting interpretations and theological stances.* But what does any of it have to do with me? This is the question that remains to be answered.

And when it comes to whether or not agnostics have balls, well, #1 I'm totally OK with not having balls (whatever that might have to do with this discussion) and #2 I think in many situations it takes more courage to admit you don't or can't know something than to get all blustery about some assertion that you can't possibly have enough evidence to reliably defend. I think we generally tend to believe that Socrates had balls, and he was endlessly on about admitting to the things we don't know, right?

So... the question is, which is more mature? Are my religious and atheist acquaintances equally right in their insistence that one must take a stance, and that this is what maturity demands? Or am I right that it's equally (or maybe more) mature to reach a point in your life where you believe you should be the person who your values and convictions lead you to be regardless of your beliefs about the existence of supernatural beings?

Also, have a good weekend everyone. I hope baby unicorn adds rainbows to your coffee too.

*My friends find it endlessly amusing how I can effortlessly quote long chunks of scripture and launch into detailed but ironic hermeneutic discussions of various theological positions and claims while drunk at the bar or out on some road trip or backpacking in the woods.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Justice for Trayvon

Tell Attorney General Eric Holder to bring civil rights charges against George Zimmerman.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Feminist, feminist, what do you see?

Here's a little delayed reflection on Erick Erickson's hand-wringing over female breadwinners a couple weeks ago.

I used to be really irritated by the smug Erickson type. Their comments used to cause this little adrenalin surge that made me feel like fighting and arguing and citing sources that proved them wrong. I still think that their statements* need to be fact-checked, rebutted, and put into context. Of course this is an important part of bringing about change in the national dialogue. However, these days I just can't bring myself to get even slightly upset over these things that socially conservative pundits feel so compelled to say. I can't see them as threatening anymore. When I look at people like Erickson, I don't really see an adversary.

Instead I see a deeply insecure man whose self-worth and identity has been built on a once-dominant hierarchical worldview that gave him value, that validated his existence, that made him secure in the belief that he was superior and worthy of being dominant. And now that this worldview is losing its cultural hold, the resulting insecurity experienced by Erickson and his peers has got to be hard to deal with.  It's one of the prices of privilege. When you're the privileged one, you don't need to establish an identity and a sense of self-worth on your own - you inherit it from the system. But once that system begins to shift and change, your entire identity is threatened. Your value as a person was based solely on a paradigm that is disappearing in front of your eyes. And what do you have left? You put all your eggs in one basket, and that basket is beginning to crumble.

I know this sounds a bit snarky, but I sincerely feel sympathetic in a way. I would imagine that it sucks to have to reinvent yourself and find new ways of valuing yourself when that foundation you've relied on your whole life is cut out from under your feet.

As I watched the video of Erickson, Dobbs, and Williams discussing female breadwinners and the "science" surrounding the issue, I found myself almost cringing in sympathetic embarrassment for the sheer nakedness of his insecurity and desperation to cling to the old order of things. That kind of naked insecurity and vulnerability being displayed in such a public forum can't engender anything but compassion. And once you see it for what it is, it's hard to see that person as an adversary anymore.  Compassion replaces hostility.

Feminist, feminist, what do you see? I see a scared, insecure man looking at me.

*If they're making these claims as statements of fact. Of course, they are free to make any statement of opinion, religious belief, or personal preference that they want. They just need to differentiate the two, and not try to make their personal feelings and beliefs into statements of fact.