Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things to do instead of blogging, part 2

...make a bunch of ugly dolls (and a mad dog) for nieces and nephews.

The content of your character

I've been thinking about how totally misapplied and co-opted the "all that matters is the content of your character" theme is. I was recently in a conversation where an acquaintance mansplained this idea and then concluded "if you're an asshole you're an asshole, whether you're male or female, gay or straight, white or black, trans or cis." To which I say "yes and no."

On a personal level, assholish behavior ain't pleasant, no matter who it's coming from. I don't deny that. But that doesn't even come close to making these other political aspects of identity irrelevant the way my obnoxious acquaintance thinks it does. Because being an asshole as a person with social power is a heckuva lot worse than being an asshole when you're at the bottom of the heap. And a person who's been at the bottom of the heap all hir life may have some damn good reasons for being an asshole, or for coming off as one. Having to defend yourself every day in countless ways can do that to a person.

And anyway, this is all beside the point. Every time that phrase is used this way, which it frequently is, it's taken out of context. You might remember that this was part of the dream speech. This was a vision for a future in which people aren't on the bottom or top of the heap because of who they are. So I'll agree. It's true that if we lived in a perfectly egalitarian culture all that would matter would be the content of your character. But look around. An asshole is not an asshole, regardless of their identity. A powerful asshole is a dangerous asshole. A powerless asshole is just an unpleasant person, who probably has good reasons for being unpleasant. Big difference.

pound cake

An excerpt from This Life, by Rita Dove

My grandmother told me there'd be good days
to counter the dark ones, with blue skies in the heart
as far as the soul could see. She said
you could measure a life in as many ways
as there were to bake a pound cake,
but you still need real butter and eggs
for a good one — pound cake, that is,
but I knew what she meant. She was always
talking around corners like that;
she knew words carried their treasures
like a grape clusters around its own juice.

Read the whole thing here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Things to do instead of blogging

...make a bunch of pocket gnomes...

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Human Rights Day

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rally the Team

So, today is Blog for Girls' Sports day. I don't have much time to write a post, but needless to say there's a lot that could be said about the impact of athletic involvement in girls' lives. I was involved in organized sports (basketball, volleyball, track, crew rowing) from middle school through college, and the benefits are hard to count. I think the most important thing I got out of sports was physical confidence that spread to other areas of my life and caused me to see my body as functional and capable, rather than merely ornamental. When I compare my self-confidence and body image to that of my friends who weren't athletic, being active in sports was a clear advantage in these ways. So here's one more reason we should be vocal in our support of team sports for girls. In a world full of negative messages about women's bodies, an experience in team sports can provide a powerful positive message to a developing girl.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Food for Thought

From the excellent book:

An excerpt:
In all kinds of societies-foraging bands, horticultural tribes, peasant villages, and industrial cities-women have always had primary responsibility for preparing food and giving it to others (D' Andrade 1974, 18). Particularly in preindustrial societies, women contribute heavily to producing, processing, and distributing food as well. The predominant role of women in feeding is a cultural universal, a major component of female identity, and an important source of female connections to and influence over others. Hence, although there are other components of female identity and other sources of their authority, the power of women has often derived from the power of food.

I am concerned here with two kinds of power. The first, coercion, is attained through control of might and essential resources that can be denied to others. This is the power of provincial Italian prefects who can raise the price of bread and of the U.S. government that sent food to the Nicaraguan Contras but denied it to Chileans after Allende's election (Burbach and Flynn 1980, 70). The second form of power is influence. It accrues not through force and the ability to deny but through giving, through the obligations created by giving, and through the influence wielded in the act of giving. This is the power Mauss described in his masterpiece The Gift (1967). It is the power of the tribal big man who distributes enormous piles of yams at feasts and "leads because the people wish to be led;" it is also the power of women who feed, who satisfy hunger, who are viscerally needed, and who influence others through manipulation of the symbolic language of food.

True coercion is typical of class societies where resources are concentrated in the hands of the few, who are usually male. The power of the gift, on the other hand, predominates in egalitarian societies where women's relatively high status comes from their full participation in the giving that creates obligations and from their control of a particularly powerful channel, food (see Brown 1975). Interestingly, although control of food can be the strongest weapon of coercion, for women it is not. In no culture is it acceptable for women to deny food to their families, whereas it is acceptable for politicians - mostly male - to deny food to entire populations for political ends (Lappe and Collins 1978). Like women in stratified societies, individuals and groups in tribal societies do not permit groups to starve others as a path to power; rather they achieve power by shaming other groups with their magnanimity (Young 1971). Food is a special substance that follows exceptionally strong rules of sharing and generosity (Sahlins 1972,215-19). It would be unthinkable for Italian women to starve husbands and children to force them to do certain things. Rather, individuals in tribal societies and women in stratified societies have the culturally sanctioned ability to manipulate the giving of food and thus to attain influence through means other than coercion. Women in stratified, market-oriented, agro-industrial societies like Italy and the United States are often defined as subordinate to men because, although they control feeding, as a group they lack the coercive ability to withhold grain shipments or control corn futures. Gender equality involves, then, an effort by women to gain public political and economic power, and with it the ability not just to influence, but to coerce as well.
Carole M. Counihan, Routledge, 1999.

Video of the Day

Here we have a classic example of an excellent question (asked by Colbert at about 2:57), along with a complete and total non-answer (at about 3:27). Apparently the Dept of Ag still views the issue of food subsidies as an all-or-nothing proposition. Either we continue subsidizing the unhealthy foods while haranguing people about the bad choices they make, or we end food subsidies altogether. How about a little more nuanced thinking on a topic that's so, so important? How about a little standing up to the industry goons and changing things on behalf of the people for whom you work instead of making non-arguments in favor of the status quo?

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