Friday, February 27, 2009

Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin

Is it just me, or does Bobby Jindal seem like Sarah Palin all over again?

When McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, it seemed to me like a deeply insulting move motivated by the belief that voters who had supported Hilary Clinton would support any ol' woman. And predictably, Palin parroted the traditional party line, while spicing it up with folksy stories and mannerisms. Now the Republican Party is scrambling to regroup, so they ask themselves "what is it that has given the Democrats such overwhelming success in this election cycle?" Rather than examining their own practices and ideology, which have wreaked such havoc on the economy, education, foreign policy, etc this is what they come up with: "The Democrats nominated a young colored man, and look how it worked for them! We need a young colored man." Nevermind that he clings to the old conservative ideology that has failed so spectacularly. Nevermind that he’s not thoughtful and genuine and intelligent and open to bipartisan cooperation like Obama is. Nope, we just need the right face to parrot the same ol’ ideas and concepts we’ve always clung to, and his appearance alone will certainly sway public opinion. Look how well it worked with Sarah Palin!

Video of the Day

  1. this song kicks ass;
  2. the Dresden Dolls kick ass;
  3. and some days I really, really miss Seattle.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

...and...Happy Fat Tuesday

Enough with the crazy talk already

Now that the birth of Nadya Suleman’s octuplets has become old news, I’ve been thinking about the lessons feminists can learn from the news coverage and blog posts and comments concerning it. Most people come down strongly on one side or the other – either Suleman is irresponsible and self-serving, or we should all just back off and shut up already about what a private citizen chooses to do with her uterus. But to me the polarizing effect that this story had was not its most interesting, or disturbing, feature. What really disturbed me was the plethora of mental health speak surrounding the story. An average of 78% (8 of 11, 7 of 8, and 5 of 7) of the Google news hits on the Suleman story on three different days speculated about Suleman’s mental health, used terms like "crazy," "unstable," and "obsessed" to describe her, and consulted "psychiatric professionals" who conjectured freely about her mental health without ever meeting with Suleman or reviewing her health record. In fact, even in the comment threads on several feminist blogs, commenters referred to Suleman as "crazy" and "obsessed." This is an issue that should be of deep concern to feminists.

The linking of poor mental health with reproductive attitudes that do not align with current societal norms is an old tool in the patriarchal arsenal of controlling and containing women’s reproductive behavior. In Homeric epics, women who didn’t want to reproduce, even during times of war or social unrest leading to scarcity and deprivation, were generally characterized as "unnatural." During the Victorian era, when (white, middle- and upper-class) women had attitudes toward reproduction that were deemed "unwomanly" they were disciplined through the use of extensive and stifling bedrest, having access to all their hobbies or intellectual interests cut off, and losing access to the children they already had, who were whisked away to be raised by nurses and governesses. In the 1950s, women who resisted motherhood were frequently diagnosed as schizophrenic and subsequently drugged and/or institutionalized until they became more compliant. Similarly, pregnant women who wanted abortions were frequently given electric shock therapy based on the doctrine that any woman who did not want a child must be experiencing a mental illness or serious emotional disturbance.

I'm sure there are many other examples of this phenomenon, which I don't have time to research right now. Suffice it to say that basing assessments of women’s mental health on their attitude toward reproduction alone has a long and rich history, but it’s a history that feminists should fight against, not contribute to. Enough with the crazy talk already!

Monday, February 23, 2009

This Calls for a Second Quote of the Day

" a patriarchy one’s intent has little bearing on how one’s fast and loose metaphrasery may be experienced by a member of an oppressed class; the onus is on the privileged to cut it the fuck out, not on the aggrieved to toughen the fuck up."

Quote of the Day

"When we talk about equal pay for equal work, women in the workplace are beginning to catch up. If we keep going at this current rate, we will achieve full equality in about 475 years. I don't know about you, but I can't wait that long."
-Lya Sorano

Friday, February 20, 2009

Notes from the "Inclusiveness Committee"

There’s been a lot of talk on campus lately about inclusiveness and diversity. This concern ranges from diversity and inclusiveness in curriculum, to an attempt to make student activities and organizations more welcoming to minority students, to altering systemic obstacles that can impede the academic and professional progress of minority students and faculty members. As I sit in committee meetings and brown bag lunches on the topic, it occurs to me that at times, this effort to remove the systemic obstacles that minority students and faculty face can itself be an obstacle to them. I know it sounds strange, but keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.

An effort to bring about institutional change on college campuses would be pretty inauthentic if it was primarily white males sitting around discussing the changes that were needed. Obviously, to truly bring about change, you need to incorporate the voices of those who are traditionally marginalized. However, these marginalized groups generally have a smaller representation among faculty and students, so their service in committees, student groups, brainstorming sessions, etc. will be disproportionately required. For example, a black female faculty member will be pressed into service more often than her white male peers, because her perspective is underrepresented on campus as a whole. On the surface, this seems unproblematic. However, from a professional perspective this disadvantages her greatly, because all the time she spends on the (barely recognized from a tenure-perspective) committee work is time taken away from her research, writing, and other professional development. This may serve to exacerbate the fact that she is less likely to achieve tenure on the same timeline as her white male peers. Similarly, students who participate in student groups that seek institutional change are taking on a burden that their white peers don’t have to carry. On the other hand, serving in administrative bodies that seek to bring about change within an institution can be a vital means of taking ownership and being seen as an integral part of that institution. So this becomes a catch 22 for both administrators seeking to bring about change and for the individuals from underrepresented groups themselves. In this case, working to bring about the changes that will make their institution more accessible and inclusive can actually decrease their own chances of success.

So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time these past couple of weeks diagnosing this problem, but no solutions occur to my caffeine-addled brain. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stop Apologizing!

I often think about how women (as opposed to men) navigate their physical space, but the way we navigate conversational space seems like a parallel to the use of physical space.

To begin with, there are the drastically different ways that women and men are socialized to use eye contact and body language in conversation. Without even realizing it, we communicate all kinds of messages about dominance and submission as we speak with each other. But lately I’ve been thinking about female vs. male use of apologies, and what this says about our relative social standing.

It seems to me that my female friends and colleagues apologize a lot, and for things that aren’t even their fault. At work a few weeks ago, several people were late to a meeting because of a fire drill in an adjacent building. When a group of women who came from that side of campus arrived, they referenced the fire drill and apologized for being late. A few minutes later, three men from that same building came in and made no apology or explanation. Nobody seemed to notice. Several of the women prefaced their remarks in that meeting with “I’m sorry if this is something we should have covered last week…” or “Maybe I should already know this, but…” None of the men apologized, even when their questions or remarks made us backtrack on the agenda. And this is not an isolated experience.

According to Deborah Tannen and other researchers who study gendered use of language, this communication pattern is typical, and it makes a lot of sense. In many cultures apologies are generally made from those of lower social standing to those of a higher position, and rarely vice versa. Apologies are taken as a sign of weakness. Along with not initiating eye contact or breaking it first, stepping aside or altering your path to avoid a collision, and deferring to someone who talks over you or interrupts you, apologizing is a marker for those in a lower social position. It subconsciously sustains the hierarchy among a mixed-gender group.

So I think it should be an objective of all feminists to stop issuing all these unnecessary apologies. If you truly did something wrong or insensitive, by all mean apologize in a sincere manner. But when things happen that aren’t your fault, or if you’re unsure of the validity of your question or remark, or if the conversation just seems kind of awkward, resist the urge to apologize to smooth the situation over. Take responsibility for your own faults, but no one else’s. Social equality dwells in the big picture and in the details, and the way we interact with others on a daily basis is a significant, but practically invisible, detail.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Ugly Duckling

Home with a sick baby today, and no time to write a post. Instead, from one of my favorite webcomics, pictures for sad children:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Privilege is a Handicap

Many of the responses from male commenters on this post on Feministing got me thinking about privilege in a new way. Generally we talk about being aware of your privilege because it will help you be a better listener and ally, it will make you more sensitive to the life conditions of those who were born into a different demographic than you were, and it will help you fight the inequities that are built into our social institutions. Generally we think of privilege as an unearned advantage, and when people won’t acknowledge their privilege and adjust their worldview and behavior accordingly, it becomes a character flaw that causes us to question their commitment to social justice.

However, now it occurs to me that privilege can work as a handicap in some situations. For instance, many of the male commenters on feminist blogs seem to have good intentions. Many of them seem to be legitimately interested in the topic at hand and curious about the feminist perspective. But often the discussion will hit the roadblock of their privilege, in that their ability to engage in constructive dialogue is severely restricted by the way they’ve been socialized. Constructive dialogue requires that the participants carefully and thoughtfully listen to each other before responding. In my experience, this is something that men in a patriarchal culture have generally not been socialized to do, especially if the other speaker comes from a marginalized group. Because male (white, heterosexual) voices are so often privileged in our culture, most men have acquired very poor habits that prevent them from truly participating in fruitful discourse without undergoing some profound changes in their attitude and approach to dialogue. It’s like they need “participatory discourse rehabilitation” or something (maybe I’ll patent the term and build up a giant marketing machine around PDR). The question is, how do you point this out to a well-meaning man without making him feel like he’s under attack? After all, the fact that he was socialized this way really isn’t his fault. But the way he chooses to conduct himself now is his responsibility.

This also offers an answer to the perennial question of feminist mothers with little boys: how do we raise our boys to be feminists in such a patriarchal cultural context? One answer is “teach them how to really listen.” It's a place to start, anyway.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First Post

OK, so I've finally done it. Several friends have suggested in the past that I start my own blog, but I was too commitment-phobic to do it. Although I can generally find time to write a community post on Feministing once or twice a week, for some reason the obligation of maintaining my own blog seemed overwhelming. But today I've decided to just power though the whole commitment-phobia thing and get on with it. Here goes.

So I'll start with a Quote of the Day to account for my blog title. It's a classic from the esteemed Pat Robertson:
"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
Still makes me giggle, after all these years. Thanks, Pat!