Monday, August 31, 2009


I'm about to take off on vacation for a week and probably won't be posting much. I did set up the feature that lets you post from your phone, but I'm going to be visiting relatives and wandering around at the beach with a (very active) toddler, so I probably won't have much time for blogging. In the meantime, here's a little fluff post and an open thread where you can go on about anything you'd like.

The fluff:

Here is my latest piercing (top right), which I got last Friday. As I sat in the chair waiting for my friend to organize all his gear and pierce it already, it occured to me that I use piercing as a coping mechanism. When I'm sort of discontented with things in my life but am not really in a position to change them, I get a piercing. There's a clearly visible pattern in my life along these lines. And it occured to me that most of us probably have little things like this that we do to restore some sense of control over our lives when things aren't going exactly the way we had planned. So I'm curious...what's your coping mechanism? Have you developed different coping mechanisms during different stages of your life? On a related note, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on piercings and tattoos and your experience(s) with them.

Scripts vs. Choices

A lot of feminist conversations about sex and porn and sex work hit some major turbulence when it comes to the issue of choice and autonomy. I've described the sort of extreme thinking that polarizes the conversation and makes constructive dialogue all but impossible before. And it's true that insisting on viewing people as either completely free and uninfluenced rational agents or mindless automatons that helplessly drift along on the current of cultural attitudes and values is counterproductive and makes true dialogue and progress unlikely. But some recent posts and the responses to them have gotten me thinking about another issue that's involved here.

Because these topics are often so personal, and intense feelings and experiences are involved, there seems to be a trend in which critiques of (patriarchal) cultural scripts are always and everywhere interpreted as a critique of the choices of the individual people involved. And this feels like a personal attack, so strong defensive reactions occur, and the dialogue is permanently derailed into sniping and flaming, making your opponents position into a strawman, and a complete inability to listen. In the end this has a sort of silencing effect, where most feminists are hesitant to talk about sex or porn or sex work, and giving a sort of limp-wristed blanket approval of whatever it is people "choose" to do becomes the norm. But I call bullshit on that. To be relevant and effective, feminism needs to be critical of all the cultural scripts that govern the relationships of women and men. And we need to be able to critique these scripts in an environment that is conducive to genuine dialogue.

So here's another line we need to draw in the sand. Critiquing the scripts that your culture has provided you with is not the same as critiquing your choices. It's just not. That's not to say that it never happens that people are harsh and judgmental concerning the choices of others. But generalizing from these cases to all conversations on the topic is not helpful, and equating the two rides on a profound misunderstanding. All of us make our choices within a specific social context, and we must choose from the scripts that are available to us. We cannot randomly decide, for instance, to be a medieval knight when the year is 2009 and we're living in suburban America. A more current example is the career choices that women were steered into when my mom was young. If I speak critically about the fact that women were basically given the choice of being a teacher, a secretary, or a nurse, this does not amount to me criticizing the choices of women who became teachers, secretaries, and nurses. I can critique the culture and even note that the individual women no doubt internalized the dominant worldview of the time to some extent or another without criticizing them as individuals or belittling their choices.

It's very hard to critique the scripts of the culture in which we are embedded. Achieving the necessary critical distance to do so requires a certain amount of self-reflectiveness and the luxury of time to think and ponder and expose ourselves to other ways of doing things and other worldviews. But claiming that life choices and desires and views of sexuality develop in a vacuum and are immune to the effects of culture is astonishingly naive. And dividing up into two groups which adopt the most extreme stance and then becoming very invested in that stance to the point of losing our listening and reasoning skills is the last thing we need to do on these central and significant issues.

One In Eight Million

I love this one: The Night Keeper

Friday, August 28, 2009

Perpetual War

Since the War on Drugs™ and the War on Terror™ have turned out to be so fun and effective, how 'bout a War on the Overweight? That'll learn 'em.

Actually, I'm kind of amazed that none of the government health and social services groups has announced a War on Fat™ yet. I suppose "yet" is the key word here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Celebrating Privilege, part II

A thought experiment:

Say I open up a lemonade stand. Only I don't charge a set amount per cup of lemonade. Instead I charge less if you're white, and male, and thin, and straight. And the more of these features you have, the less you pay. So Jack, who's a straight thin white male, hardly pays anything. Good for him, right? Yay! He gets almost-free lemonade, and that's a good thing. Or is it? What has to be happening in order for Jack to get his almost-free lemonade? Well, I have to pay my bills, so I can't be giving out all this almost-free lemonade to everyone. Someone has to cover my costs. So I hike up the prices that I charge others to compensate. That means that Jill, the fat lesbian WoC who also wants lemonade, is going to have to pay eight times as much as Jack did, if there even is any lemonade left over for her.

Now imagine that this isn't lemonade, which you can take or leave, but it's jobs and housing and education and health coverage and respect that I'm dispensing. And I've got the market cornered on jobs and housing and education and health coverage and respect, so you can't go elsewhere for them. Can Jack be considered a compassionate, ethical, progressive person if he celebrates the fact that he pays ⅛ of the cost that Jill pays? Can he be considered a compassionate, ethical, progressive person if he willfully ignores the fact that he pays ⅛ of the cost that Jill does? Can he be considered a compassionate, ethical, progressive person if he doesn't do something to try to change the fact that he pays ⅛ of the cost that Jill does?

What's Wrong with Barbie? Celebrating Privilege, part I

OK, NoseCandy (who has one of the awesomest usernames ever). Here we go.

I think I understand the angry, defensive, sarcastic place where the Barbie comment came from. But I also think it's the kind of comment one should apologize for and retract upon further consideration (and self-censor in the future). This is true for anyone, but especially for someone who hopes to be an effective advocate for improving body image. The comment in question, "I am a barbie and proud of it," carries a lot of cultural baggage, along with an endorsement of certain cultural values. And this is what I find problematic.

Central to the task of helping all different shapes and sizes of women achieve better body image is a need to question and reject the value our culture places on incredibly thin, tall, white, able-bodied women with Caucasian features and blond hair. So affirming that image by clearly aspiring to it and valuing it above other body types is counterproductive, to say the least. In fact, I think that advocating for better body image and cultural changes that allow us to value women of all shapes and sizes requires a flat-out rejection of the Barbie ideal. A consistent and vocal rejection of it, no less.

Beyond the Barbie image is the constellation of things Barbie (and similar icons) represents. Barbie is a symbol of privilege. In our culture, the more you look like Barbie, the more you're valued, and the more shit you're entitled to. And that might seem like a good thing. Being white and able-bodied and thin and cisgendered and tall and male and heterosexual are all traits that bring unearned advantages in our culture. So being lucky enough to have some of these traits may seem like something to celebrate.

But the flip side of privilege is oppression. If being white gets you all kinds of unearned benefits, that makes it that much harder to earn these things if you're not white. If being thin gets you all kinds of unearned benefits, that makes it that much harder to earn these things if you're not thin. And it seems fairly self-evident that being compassionate and progressive requires that, at the very least, we not celebrate good things that happen to us that ride on the oppression of others. In fact, I think it requires that we acknowledge the oppression and hardships of others that our good fortune rides on, and work to change the system that allocates goods and opportunities and respect in this unjust way.

I'm still trying to come up with a good example that will clarify this for those who are still struggling with the concept. But I've got work to finish and a toddler to pick up. More on this topic later...

Indexed Strikes Again

Have I already mentioned that I really, really love Indexed?

My niece and nephew's test for really loving something: "do you love it so much that if it was a person you would kiss him/her on the mouth?" Yes. Yes, I would.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prosecuting the Interrogators

In the last couple of days since the release of the CIA Interrogation Report, headlines like this have become fairly common: CIA Interrogation Report Could Lead to Prosecution of Interrogators. I have a huge issue with this, because there's not much indication that those who ordered the interrogations, or wrote legal opinions in support of them, or pressured staffers to produce supporting documentation, or lied to congress about the interrogations, will be held accountable.

While I'm all for accountability and being able to look other nations in the eye and advocate for fair treatment and civil liberties on an international scale, I think that punishing those who execute orders without punishing those who gave the orders is inexcusable. And it's another instance of class warfare. After all, it's difficult and controversial to go after the white-collar rich dudes who govern our nation. They have political allies and teams of savvy, high-paid lawyers. But the camouflage-collar folks who do their bidding? Not so much. And it's easy to portray them as power-hungry, sadistic rogues who just went overboard and used the war and their military service as an excuse to abuse prisoners. Because we value people based on where they fit in the system, and how they look, and how much money they make, and where they went to school, and who they're friends with.

...bullshit class warfare is what it is...

Quote of the Day

"The Constitution does not just protect those whose views we share; it also protects those with whose views we disagree."
Edward Kennedy (February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Other Princess Problem

I'm no fan of the princess culture that we engulf little girls in from birth, but my critiques tend to center around the self-image and social issues involved. But a friend linked me to an interesting opinion piece, The Princess Problem, by Laura Vanderkam in which she examines the economic effects of princess culture on women. Some excerpts:
Some moms worry that princesses make girls obsessed with beauty. But I think the problem is that the popular princesses lack what psychologists call an "internal locus of control." This is the belief that you are responsible for making your way in the world.
Best to marry a high-earning man, because your husband will determine the standard of living for you and your children. Indeed, if you do well, you won't deal with this at all. In the non-Disney, Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off their heels and toes to fit into the glass slipper because, as their mother points out, when you marry a prince, you don't have to walk (i.e. work). While the majority of married women these days expect to contribute, financially, to their families, the key word is "contribute." That is, provide extras that can be trimmed if we need work-life balance. Newly minted breadwinner moms feel stressed because suddenly it's not about vacations or violin lessons. Their children's standard of living is up to them.
Your thoughts?

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to Be Fauxgressive

There's so much fail in all the bullshit that has followed from a comment on the blog We Are the Real Deal that I just can't help but use it as a teachable moment. So, if you're interested in not being a willfully ignorant and hurtful person in the blogosphere, here are some handy tips:
  1. When a commenter (legitimately) notes the lack of diversity on your blog, which claims to address a wide range of issues that diverse people face, stop and carefully think it over a minute before firing off an angry reply.
  2. When you do reply, try not to invoke the very symbol of privilege which represents some of the most oppressive and hurtful elements of our culture in the area in which you claim to be an advocate (i.e. Barbie and her relationship to any woman who doesn't look like her). Don't flaunt your privilege in the face of the presumably less privileged commenter and openly gloat over the fact that you are more valued by our culture because you fit the mold. And please, for the love of dog, don't imply that she's only criticizing your blog because she's jealous of you.
  3. If you happen to have fucked up and engaged in the above noted behaviors, at least try to craft a sincere and thoughtful apology that shows that you've actually heard the things that many people are saying to you. Don't retreat into a "you mean people just don't get my style" routine. Don't pretend you were being sarcastic and claim to have actually been saying something that makes no sense whatsoever given the actual words that are still on the screen in front of all of our faces. And don't defend your indefensible celebration of your privilege at the expense of others. It's not only immature and unseemly, it's downright vulgar and hateful.
  4. If you have managed to bumble your way through steps 1-3 above, and a co-contributor posts a "let's clear the air" post in which she invites people to continue the discussion, since commenting has been closed on the previous post, listen carefully and thoughtfully to the things the commenters take time to write to you, and then respond. Like, to their direct comments and questions. To them. Take the issues they've raised, one at a time, and address them. Listen, and engage in the discussion. This is called "constructive dialogue," and it's one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against oppression and marginalization.
  5. If you're unable to truly listen and engage in constructive dialogue, then just say so up front. But don't keep saying, "I'm reading and thinking about all of this, and I'm going to address all of your concerns in an upcoming post" and then actually write that promised post without ever really addressing the issues that were raised in a meaningful way. Because that is the perfect example of hypocrisy and self-involved ego-stroking masquerading as advocacy and compassion and inclusiveness. In other words, this entire debacle is the paradigmatic giant, heaving, oozing, steaming mass of FAIL.
OK, I just squicked myself out with that last phrase, so I'm gonna go clear my palate with a little tequila.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Female autonomy in a patriarchal, anti-choice culture

Oftentimes debates over sex work and motherhood and marriage and career choice end up polarizing feminists where female choice and autonomy is concerned. For instance, pro-sex-work feminists will claim that feminism is about women's choices, and any choice a woman makes is feminist and should be supported. In this view, questioning the various individual motivations and cultural influences that led to the choice is an unfeminist act and portrays women as mindless little children who are incapable of making free choices. In contrast, their opponents will point to the fact that women's choices are systemically limited and we are all the products of a patriarchal culture that teaches women to value themselves according to how they are perceived and desired by men, and often financial necessity is a major factor in the decision to enter the field of sex work to begin with. In this view, if you're systemically oppressed and socialized to collude with your oppressor, your choices cannot be viewed as free, but are always dictated by the situation in which you find yourself.

These two positions are frequently portrayed as the only two options. If you express any concern that perhaps many prostitutes would have chosen a different career if they had had other financially viable options open to them, you're immediately placed in the second camp, and regardless of what you say, you're seen as believing that women are mindless little automatons who are incapable of independent thought. But if you advocate for sex workers rights at all, you're placed into the first camp, and thought to be ignorant and naive concerning the profoundly influential and constitutive nature of the culture in which we are all immersed. In this environment (which is fairly typical of the feminist blogosphere), people who take a moderate stance and believe both that women often choose sex work under coercive conditions and that it's the feminist thing to do to advocate for better treatment of sex workers, regardless of how they got there, are viewed as a walking contradiction, since they're trying to take two contradictory stances at the same time.

But of course, the two extreme stances are not the only positions you could take. In fact, thoughtfully navigating a path down the middle is the far more feminist approach, in my view. But for the purposes of this discussion, the relevant point is that you don't either have to believe that women are incapable of autonomous decision making because of their cultural environment or that every choice a woman makes is sacred and inviolable. Instead, you can view her as a competent rational being who is nonetheless under a great deal of pressure to follow the pre-set gender scripts set forth by her culture.

This issue concerning choice is exemplified by this version of the Kourtney Kardashian pregnancy story. Kardashian is careful to portray her decision to keep the baby as a completely autonomous choice:
Although Kardashian sought out the advice of others, she says it was her decision -- and hers alone -- that was the most important.
"I really wanted to think it through for myself, and not hear what my sisters were saying, or what Scott was saying. Even though I took it all in, I wanted it to be my decision," she says.
However, many of the other things she says reveal that the pre-existing scripts about abortion we have - especially those that come from an anti-choice angle - were very formative and influential on her thought process. For one thing, a friend advised her to consult her doctor about "the risks and stuff," but when Kardashian did consult her doctor, it doesn't sound like he was talking about the medical risks at all:
My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, 'You may regret not having the baby.'
I, for one, don't know why a medical doctor would be the person you would consult about regret. Medical risks and possible complications? Sure. But it seems like this consultation had much more to do with morals and worldviews than medical procedures.

Further, according to the article,
Scott Disick, the baby's 26-year-old father, was supportive either way.
But I'm not really sure I get what "supportive either way" means here. Elsewhere in the article we find this
He said, 'I really want you to keep it, but I will support you whatever you decide to do'
and then this
I got so excited, and when I told Scott he was so excited. But I think if I had said I'm not going to keep it, I really think he would have pushed me into keeping it.
which sounds more to me like "I'll support you either way but only if you make the choice I want you to make." It also sounds from the article like her sisters were in favor of her keeping the baby.

But beyond the immediate influence of the people in her life, the cultural scripts on abortion run through her description of her decision making process. These quotes:
"I do think every woman should have the right to do what they want, but I don't think it's talked through enough. I can't even tell you how many people just say, 'Oh, get an abortion.' Like it's not a big deal."
"I looked online, and I was sitting on bed hysterically crying, reading these stories of people who felt so guilty from having an abortion," she recalls. "I was reading these things of how many people are traumatized by it afterwards."
After scouring the Internet, Kardashian says she started to realize that an abortion wasn't an option for her. "I was just sitting there crying, thinking, 'I can't do that,' " she says. "And I felt in my body, this is meant to be. God does things for a reason, and I just felt like it was the right thing that was happening in my life."
Kardashian says she did some intense soul-searching. "For me, all the reasons why I wouldn't keep the baby were so selfish: It wasn't like I was raped, it's not like I'm 16. I'm 30 years old, I make my own money, I support myself, I can afford to have a baby. And I am with someone who I love, and have been with for a long time."
tell us a lot about the positioning of abortion in her worldview. Kardashian assumes that having an abortion is always "a big deal" (um, not for everyone), that there is always guilt and trauma associated with it (which there probably is if you've internalized anti-choice views), that to have an abortion is to interfere with God's plan in your life, that this is the kind of thing you can "feel in your body" but still portray as a carefully thought-out decision, that, if abortion is ever justified, it's only in cases of rape, or when the mother is very young, or poor, and that if these factors aren't in place and you get an abortion anyway, you're selfish.

Given these assumptions, how could she have chosen otherwise? A "choice" that carries harsh social or financial consequences, or forces you to view yourself in a profoundly unfavorable way, is not a free choice. Given Kardashian's description of the situation, it doesn't appear that she could have chosen not to keep this baby and still retained her self-respect. And this is due to the well-used and familiar scripts that her thoughts concerning abortion adhered to. So this is a case where we all seem very eager to portray her choice as a completely free and autonomous one, in spite of the piles of evidence to the contrary.

On the other hand, it could be that this was the option she was already inclined toward, and she simply tapped into the existing scripts on this particular side of the issue in order to articulate and make sense of her decision to herself and to us, but that if she had been inclined toward the other option, she would have tapped into the opposite script. Either way, the existing scripts and dominant cultural attitudes play a huge role in this decision-making process, and the image of the entirely dependent, autonomous rational agent making a completely free and uninfluenced choice doesn't work well here. Once again, personal "choice" turns out to be this complex thing that cannot be easily placed into one category or the other ("completely free" or "entirely coerced") but is instead a subtle interplay of cultural forces and personal desires. And we, as feminists, would be better served by dropping the oversimplified extreme views and working toward a more realistic and complex understanding of choice and autonomy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sentencing in the Lateisha Green case

From the Associated Press:

NY man gets 25 years for transgender hate killing
(AP) – 1 hour ago
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — An upstate New York man has been sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison for the hate crime killing of a transgender woman.
Dwight DeLee was found guilty of manslaughter last month for shooting Lateisha (lah-TEE'-shuh) Green because of anti-gay bias. The 20-year-old construction laborer is just the second person in the nation convicted of a hate crime for killing a transgender victim. He was sentenced Tuesday in Syracuse by Judge William Walsh.
The 22-year-old Green was born male, but lived mostly as a female after age 16. She was killed outside a house party in November.
DeLee was acquitted of murder. The manslaughter conviction means he intended to injure, not kill, someone when he fired into a car where Green was sitting with her brother and a friend.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Things That Don't Suck


and these:

and these:

Sustainably-produced, eco-friendly shoes at a reasonable price. That doesn't suck.

Things That Suck

This blog post. And pretty much everything from mamaV. Word of advice: if you're interested in promoting FA and awareness of thin privilege, and debunking our cultural myths about obesity and health and beauty and the relative value of persons, calling yourself Barbie and being hateful and snarky to an uppity fattie who will "never be the kind of goddess you are" is probably not the approach you should be taking. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the opposite of the approach you should be taking.

This op-ed. Where the fuck am I supposed to get the healthy and sustainably produced foods that are so hard to come by in my neck of the woods when people like John Mackey are running their mouths off and making it impossible for me to lend a penny of financial support to their companies based on their political views? Fuck. I don't have a lot of options here.


Princesses and Cowboys and Knights

Let's talk about socially constructed identities and the cultural context on which they depend for a minute.

A comment on my original cowboy post, along with a couple of comments on Renee's post on "feminist" weddings has gotten me thinking about the parallels between princesses and cowboys and knights. These are interesting because, in our world, they represent an identity that's been ripped out of context - the social contexts that made being a princess or a cowboy* or a knight possible are extinct. And our fascination with these identities has at least a little bit to do with nostalgia for the world they inhabited, and the privileges that came along with these identities. The problem is, it's an idealized world that we pine for, and when we engage in this kind of nostalgia, we tend to remember the privilege portion of the identity, while conveniently forgetting the unpleasant aspects of the life of a princess, or cowboy, or knight. And beyond this selective memory dynamic, what kind of a person idealizes a life that was characterized by privilege that rides on the oppression of others? Don't our fantasies reveal something about us when they involve this kind of idealization of oppression?

In the case of the princess identity, there's an even deeper issue involved, where feminism is concerned. In reality, princesses were political pawns used for strategic marriages and the production of heirs. They had no control over their lives or their relationships. In the modern version of the princess, they're self-centered, spoiled, materialistic people who lack empathy and an understanding of the real world. What person in their right mind takes either of these identities as something to aspire to?!?

Based on this view of princesses, it's endlessly puzzling to me when self-proclaimed feminists defend the marketing of princess culture to little girls, or the ideal of being "princess for a day" for their own wedding. It's as if they're living in this fictional world where you get to rip the identity out of context without also taking on the patriarchal baggage attached to it. Without a patriarchal social framework, there are no princesses. Did you get that? The existence of princesses is contingent on the existence of a patriarchal power structure. No patriarchy, no princesses. The ideal of the princess is inherently tied up with patriarchy, and with the use of women as objects to fulfill male objectives, and with a deeply problematic construction of femininity. And you can't have your little princess fantasy without at the same time affirming the patriarchal construct that gave birth to it. You just can't.

Similarly, you can't have your little traditional marriage and traditional wedding fantasy without also affirming the misogynistic cultural values inherent to the traditional wedding and marriage constructs. If your father is giving you away, then you are implicitly agreeing to be viewed as male property. If you're taking your husband's name, then you're implicitly agreeing that he is the head of the family. That's just how it works. And being feminists doesn't get us off the hook when it comes to the constraints of logic. You cannot affirm two contradictory statements at the same time while still being a rational person. Claiming to be committed to feminist and egalitarian values while also acting in a way that reveals a commitment to traditional, non-egalitarian values is contradictory and irrational, not to mention inauthentic. And feminists, of all people, should be careful to be consistent and rational in their words and actions, because the old "women are inherently irrational" meme is alive and well in our culture. By insisting on clinging to a contradictory set of worldviews and beliefs and values, we simply play into the hands of those who wish to depict us as silly and irrational. And that is nowhere to be found on my list of "things feminists should do."

*I'm referring here to the idealized image of the cowboy that's so prevalent in our culture, not to the actual people who still do ranch work or ride the rodeo circuit.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What T-Rex Said

Click on the image to see it full-sized.

From Dinosaur Comics.

Appropriation: Anarchist Edition

This morning the sidebar of Pandora radio is advertising some Criss Angel show on A&E. Apparently Criss Angel's icon is now the anarchist symbol. Maybe it's always been, and I've just never paid attention. But I find this mind-boggling and offensive. Criss Angel takes himself to be an anarchist? Really? What has he done to bring down the system? In what ways does he fight the man? In fact, by promoting his little dog and pony show in the mainstream media and getting rich off it, isn't he benefitting from and subsequently reinforcing the whole corrupt capitalist system? I'm sorry, but performing a few cute little illusions on TV and wearing black fingernail polish doesn't make you an anarchist. I have a number of friends who are anarchists, and while we don't always agree ideologically, they're politically passionate and intense in a way that would be utterly foreign to Criss Angel. They take actions and risks that he would never take. And for him to hijack their symbol for the purposes of his money-making machine just because it has some cultural cachet is the opposite of anarchy - it's cynical capitalist appropriation. It's conformity and weakness and inauthenticity in the extreme. Pathetic posing: now that's cool.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Video of the Day

Correlation and Causation Part II: Mr. Sodini and the Women

I've been thinking about the scripts that the media is faithfully and thoughtlessly following in reporting the story of George Sodini, who opened fire on women in an exercise class in Pennsylvania this week, killing 3. By now the story is well-known - sad lonely man who's been rejected by women all his life hatches a plan to get revenge, blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of sad and lonely people who are socially awkward and therefore viewed as disposable in our culture. And I'm not saying it's not a huge problem, something we should be ashamed of. But I wonder at the unquestioning way the media repeats, and most of us accept, that the causal link goes in this direction. I think the following is a parallel case.

Andrew Sullivan makes a case for same-sex marriage using a conservative framework: marriage is good for society in that it stabilizes people, and sort of calms them down. Men who are married commit less crimes and are less given to drinking and partying and mental illness and hooliganism, which is one of the coolest words ever. Since marriage has this great effect on people, social conservatives should want gay people to get married. At least the men, anyway. The conservative response to this can be summed up in the words of Pat Robertson:
Andrew, it’s not marriage that civilizes men, it’s women.
Whenever I've heard this argument, I've always wondered why we accept the fact that there's a causal link between marriage and more socially accepted behavior so readily. The statistics certainly show that there's a correlation. But who's to say that marriage is causing the difference in behavior? Couldn't it be the case that most women don't view men who are prone to hooliganism marriage material to begin with? Could it be that the men who are ending up in adult partnerships are the ones who are ready to grow up and leave off, or at least curtail, the partying and hooliganing? Assuming that there is a causal relationship here, why would we have to assume that it goes one way rather than the other?

So how does this relate to the Sodini case? The script being bandied about is that Sodini became bitter and misogynistic and murderous after years of being mistreated and ignored by women. Women created this monster. But it seems just as likely that he was a bitter and misogynistic person to begin with, so women either avoided him, or broke up with him once they learned what he was really like, thus further fueling the bitterness and misogyny. This version of the story is just as plausible as the currently popular one, but I haven't heard it suggested by the MSM. Perhaps this version of events just isn't sensational or victim-blaming enough for them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don't Touch Your Icky Bits

Last night I went to pick up my daughter from daycare. She was playing outside when I got there, and her diaper was wet, so I went inside to change it before we left, because we weren't going straight home. She has recently discovered her genitalia, and figured out how to remove her diaper (ah, the joys of toddlerhood), and is interested in touching herself. I have a strict policy of not making a big deal about this, as long as there's no pee or poop involved. So before I put the new diaper on she asked for powder, and after I put powder on her she rubbed it around a little bit. Just then one of the daycare workers, T, walked into the room from outside and loudly said "don't touch your icky bits, honey!" I ignored T, looked right at my daughter, and said "that's your vulva, but you don't have any icky parts."

This morning when I dropped her off, T made a huge deal about asking me, in an exaggeratedly sweet and condescending way, if we were allowing her to remove her diaper and "play with herself" since that's usually against their policy. I responded, in an equally sweet and condescending way, that no, we don't usually let her run around with no diaper on, for hygienic purposes, but that we don't want her to internalize any shame about her body, feel like it's not OK to explore it, or use silly and negative euphemisms for her body parts. T dismissively arched her brows at me but verbally agreed. I'm not sure if I won this one or not...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Correlation and Causation: Community Gardens and Crime

A recent article in Organic Gardening caught my eye and got me thinking. "Where Hope Grows," by Scott Meyer discusses the role of community gardens in neighborhood renewal projects and the increased emphasis on establishing community gardens by various administrative agencies. On the topic of neighborhood renewal, Meyer references this research:

Studies at the University of Washington and elsewhere have documented that neighborhoods with cared-for green spaces have lower crime rates and the people nearby suffer less domestic strife and endure less stress. In cities from New York to Detroit, Chicago to Atlanta, we've seen how community gardens turn abandoned lots that attract trash and trouble--into peaceful oases where anyone can relax in the fresh air and sunshine, and get a respite from urban life.
I've heard about these studies before and am curious about the correlation between lower crime rates and community gardens. But it's strange to me that everyone seems to conclude from this research that community gardens cause lower crime rates and less domestic strife. I guess it could be true. Gardening is a great stress reliever, creative outlet, escape from other problems in your life, and source of pride and a sense of ownership. But it seems just as likely that whatever factors are in place to make a community garden possible in that neighborhood are also causing changes in crime and domestic strife rates.

Starting and maintaining a community garden takes a lot of work and organizing. If you had never done something like that before, you would learn a lot about working with (or getting around) city officials, recruiting help and support from neighbors, being inclusive and considerate, etc. And some of these skills turn out to be exactly the kind of skills you would need to organize your neighbors to bring about other changes in your community. It would also get you talking to each other, and bring people out of their houses and into a common space. I suspect that having a few motivated individuals in your neighborhood who take the initiative start a project like this is probably the real cause of the other changes observed.

And it seems like it would snowball. Getting the garden going would require cooperation and organization on the part of some, and the beginnings of the project would attract more attention, and get more people involved and talking to each other, and the improvement in the space would become a source of pride and bestow a sense of accomplishment, which would draw in more people and produce more motivation, etc. And having a sense of place and an increased degree of control over your environment is empowerfulizing. And working in the garden is kind of therapeutic. So it seems to me that the more fruitful direction to take this is to examine the conditions that make it possible for communities to establish a community garden, and to try to generate those conditions and nurture the fledgling movements that emerge.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Feminist Icon: Naomi Sims

The story of the death of Naomi Sims has been all over the news today. One thing that really jumps out at me is the way it's covered, and the facts of her life that are deemed relevant.

Many news stories refer to her only as the first black supermodel, or to her role in the Black is Beautiful movement. As with most women in the news, the passive voice is frequently used to describe her ("by 1972, Hollywood took an interest in her as a potential actress..."), as if all the events in her life just sort of happened to her. But in fact, Sims was a savvy and intelligent woman who took charge of her life and subsequently flourished in a number of different roles. She was persistent and relentless in her effort to break into the modeling industry, which was work she was pursuing in order to finance her education. When Sims left modeling, she described her discontentment with the racial scripts and the lack of creative involvement allowed to models. She went on to launch two businesses and become one of the most successful African American businesswomen. Her life provides a model of a strong, intelligent, and confident WOC.

Cowboy Culture Redux

Last week this post sparked a bit of controversy, inspired several hatemails (seriously, boys, you can just say this stuff in the comments), and made me do some more thinking about cowboy culture. Here are some of my thoughts:
  1. I don't think that misogyny is intrinsic to cowboy culture. But I also don't think it's a coincidence that traditionally male characteristics and virtues and activities are preferenced by far over traditionally female traits and roles. And I think the nostaligia for a time when everyone knew their place and their role and didn't try to buck the system is often tinged with misogyny. For one thing, that time and place never really existed as we imagine it. And to the extent that it did exist, it was an era of prosperity-for-some built upon the exploitation-and-silencing-of-the-many.
  2. I don't think that taking a conservative political stance is intrinsic to cowboy culture. I could conceive of a liberal cowboy. It's logically possible.
  3. I think it's true that some women did carve out a special niche in the wild west, as one anonymous commenter mentioned. My own great-great-grandmother was a widowed homesteader who took on the work of running and expanding the farm while raising two children and earning the respect of the entire community. But I think that, generally speaking, these women only earned the respect and approval for their work because it was undertaken out of necessity. I also have a great-aunt who was a skillful manager of land, crops, animals, and children. She had the misfortune of marrying an under-motivated man who was a bit too fond of the drink, so she basically kept her family from financial ruin by running the ranch herself. But because she had a man and was not undertaking the management of the ranch out of tragic necessity, she was branded a nagging shrew and unwomanly, and the fact that she "wore the pants in the family" was widely held to be the cause of her husband's failings. To this day her kids are terribly bitter about the way their mother was portrayed and treated by the community when they witnessed the reality of the situation and are grateful for her strength and resourcefulness.
  4. I also think that when the women discussed in #3 were respected, it was only insofar as they approximated masculinity. But I admit that that may be a bit of an over generalization.
  5. I do think there's a strong link in our cultural mythology between the cowboy and the soldier, as it has been eloquently pointed out. I'm a bit out of touch with the country music scene, but it seems like there was a strong tendency to riff off of September 11 and advocate war and oversimplify the complex political landscape in favor of the picture of the brave patriot and the rugged cowboy-soldier defending freedom in the country music world. But this seems kind of strange to me, because I've known a lot of people in the military, and real life in the military doesn't seem to mesh with our mythology of the cowboy at all. The first thing they do in the military is purge you of your independence and your identity and whatever tendencies you may have to stand on your own two feet and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. So it seems to me like our idealized cowboy would be bitterly unhappy in the military. Similarly, I don't see why being willing to take a bullet for others is a mentality that would have to be limited to cowboys. No doubt some cowboys were so loyal to their friends and family that they would take a bullet for them. But there are also instances of many, many non-cowboys doing the same. So I don't think this connection withstands any scrutiny.
  6. I also thought this comment, from our previously mentioned anonymous commenter was very apt

    sometimes the individualism card is overplayed, when in reality government helped to build the west, especially in the case of the railroads
  7. The parallel between playing at being a cowboy and playing at being a princess that frank pointed out seems right to me.
  8. Beatriz's explanation of the roots of cowboy culture and Spanish imperialism was informative and really helped round out my understanding of cowboy culture.
  9. Similarly, Kelly's comment about the realities of the relationship between ranchers and the animals they care for, as well as their relationships with the financial institutions on which they rely, was valuable and informative.
Your thoughts?

Land of the Free...Unless You Have a Uterus

Forced hospitalization, bed rest, and c-section. Nice.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The International Violence Against Women Act

From the Women Thrive Worldwide website:

In addition to being an egregious human rights violation, violence against women is a major cause of poverty and a huge barrier to economic opportunity. Violence keeps women from getting an education, working, and earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty. And research shows that giving women in poor countries economic opportunity empowers them to escape abusive situations.

The good news is that violence against women is preventable and that there are proven solutions that work. The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), if passed, would for the first time comprehensively incorporate these solutions into all U.S. foreign assistance programs - solutions such as promoting women's economic opportunity, addressing violence against girls in school, and working to change public attitudes. Among other things, the IVAWA would make ending violence against women a diplomatic priority for the first time in U.S. history. It would require the U.S. government to respond to critical outbreaks of gender-based violence in armed conflict - such as the mass rapes now occuring in the Democratic Republic of Congo - within six months. And by investing in local women's organizations overseas that are succesfully working to reduce violence in their communities, the IVAWA would have a huge impact on reducing poverty - freeing millions of women in poor countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty.

The IVAWA was introduced in the U.S. Senate on October 31, 2007 by Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and in the House of Representatives by Congressman Howard Berman (D-California) on April 30, 2008. It was developed by Senator Biden and Lugar in conjunction with the Women Thrive Worldwide (formerly Women's Edge Coalition), Amnesty International USA
(AIUSA), the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), and the help of organizational partners. It is the result of extensive research on what works: it was drafted in consultation with more than 150 groups including U.S.-based NGOs, U.N. agencies and 40 women’s groups across the globe. Finally, it is the centerpiece of a nation-wide campaign led by Women Thrive, AIUSA, and FVPF to end violence against women worldwide.

To send a letter to your Congressional representatives, click here. Then pass it on.