Saturday, December 12, 2009

Status update.

Photo: A black cat with a white nape yawns and looks away. Perpendicularly cuddling with him is a white cat with brown markings squinting at the camera. They are sitting on a mottled beige couch with a black steamer trunk in the background.

UPDATE: Planned return date: undetermined.

I'll be back, at some point. But not right now. No cause for alarm, just not writing publicly at the moment.

In the meantime, enjoy the kitties and the scenery.

Photo: Orange bushes and dead leaves frame a view of a mountain. The sky is blue with white clouds.

Photo: Trees - some bare, some with green leaves, some with orange. The sky is blue. In the background is a mountain.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eleventh Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is the eleventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. A staggering number of trans women and men are killed every year, often after horrific and extended violent attacks and torture. Reading the list of men and women killed through violence this year, the same causes seem to pop up again and again: stabbed, stabbed, head wound, tortured, beaten, raped. Again and again, this is the cost of being trans, the cost of being a woman.

This is not the only day to recognize and fight transmisogyny and cissexism. If you are cis, you need to consider the privilege that you have just by existing. Think about the danger cis women are constantly in just because we are women. Trans women face exactly that danger, but their trans status makes them many times more vulnerable.

I urge you to read the list of the 160 dead this year, and these authors:

What Does Transgender Day of Remembrance Mean to You? by Monica at Transgriot

International Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009 by kaninchenzero at FWD/Forward

International Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20th November 2009 by Helen G at bird of paradox

the drowned and the saved by Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia

TDOR 2009 by Chally at Zero at the Bone

I Will Not Forget Them – TDOR by Recursive Paradox at Genderbitch

International Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009
by Lucypaw

(first five links via the Curvature)

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Need an amputee to complete my Halloween costume."

We're all used to seeing sexist, racist, or sizist Halloween costumes. They're a matter of fact, an example of how callous we are with others' identities and bodies - and that includes disabled bodies:

Image description: a screencap of a New York craigslist posting. The posting is listed under Brooklyn, in the section "activity partners".

The title is "Need an amputee to complete my Halloween costume."

The post reads: "So this might seem strange and really offensive to some but hopefully someone will reply. I have always loved the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Chewbacca has to carry around a half reconstructed C3PO in a backpack because he hasn't reattached his lower body yet. For Halloween I would love to dress up like this. I am big enough and strong enough to both pull off the Chewbacca look and carry around a lot of weight for the night. So basically I am looking for a double amputee (someone missing both legs - preferably at the hip) to accompany me as C3PO for the evening. We should meet ahead of time so we can work out the backpack/harness system. There are a few parties I want to hit and I think we will be the hit of any event we attend. Anyone up for this?"

Beneath the post are pictures of Chewbacca and C3PO from the Star Wars trilogy.

Yeah. Someone wanted a person to be their accessory so they could have a neat costume. The devaluation of another person down to the level of the OP's Chewbacca mask is an essential part of this plan. If it were just an example of their devotion to the specific scene, of just wanting a clever costume, they did not need to subjugate another human for it. C3PO costumes are not hard to find, and it would be plenty simple to just stuff a costume and put it in the backpack.

This is not a "sense of humor!" thing. This is a "someone is using a disabled person for their disability alone" thing. This is a "toting actual people around to impress our friends with how clever we are" thing.

This is an ableism thing.

Image comes from this post - shared by Lisa

Friday, November 6, 2009

On captions and asexuality [Foul-Up Friday]

1. Reader Alice pointed this out on my Monday morning post regarding Marie NDiaye:
On a more adminny note, I wanted to say that it feels somewhat strange to see captions for images that don't specify who the person is, when their identity is relevant. I know that you did it for the Mad Men post a few days back, but I'll admit that it caught my attention more with this post. (I'm thinking it's because she's a woman of color and a real person, as opposed to fictional characters who are white - dehumanizing characters is less weird than dehumanizing someone real.)
This is an excellent point. Inspired by FWD, I've been captioning photos and illustrations in order to be more accessible to visually impaired readers. When I began this effort, I didn't name characters and actors, though Ouyang Dan's post that specifically spurred me to do it did indeed identify the actor and character. I also forgot to caption my Wednesday cat picture post. The latter post has been rectified, and I will begin identifying people in captions and keep a closer eye on how I describe persons of color. I apologize for these oversights.

2. In my post on not claiming the term ally yesterday, I said this:
When I was in a mostly-lesbian social circle in college, I claimed the label of ally to support my friends.* The term ally was fashionable - enough to be honored in the already-problematic acronym LBGTQ in most of our GSA’s publications.
In the comments, Lottie responded:
This is completely tangential, probably, but I always thought the A was for asexual. It's definitely problematic that allies are included in the acronym, I would say.
And Faye said:
Hi Willow - I agree with everything you've said, but I thought I'd let you know re: I cannot stand it when the A is tagged onto LGBT (or however you choose to expand the acronym) that the "A" is usually meant to include those who identify as asexual, not allies.

Not that I haven't seen it applied that way (often when GSA/LGBTQ organizations on high school and college campuses are trying to emphasize that they would welcome het members ;D), but in my experience that's not the way it's usually used.
Of course, the folks in the comments are right. The "A" in that problematic acronym rainbow usually refers to "asexual". I should have clarified or noted that, and I apologize.

However, talking to some school friends did support part of my memory on said point: "ally" was indeed a part of the acronym used by the organization I reference at that point. Which is and was problematic, for all those reasons I wrote about. Are you a feminist? Or a feminine-ist? [Oh, come on!]

So, a writer for Oprah's magazine has this article suggesting that feminine-ism replace the term feminism. The premise is offensive, but arguing for femininity is not. I'm into femininity. Femininity is frequently devalued while masculinity is valorized in men and women. It's seen as frivolous - as not something that's worthy of being sought, and as something that weighs women down.

To quote Julia Serano:
Traditional sexism functions to make femaleness and femininity appear subordinate to maleness and masculinity... [F]emale and feminine attributes are regularly assigned negative connotations and meanings in our society. An example of this is the way that being in touch with and expressing one's emotions is regularly derided in our society...

[T]raditional sexism also creates the impression that certain aspects of feminity exist for the pleasure or benefit of men ... After all, feminine self-presentation tends to highly correlate with a more general desire to surround oneself with beautiful or aesthetically pleasing objects and materials - whether in decorating one's home or adorning one's body. (Whipping Girl, 326-328)
Sometimes, the article hits on those points:
As a card-carrying "feminine-ist," I am here to tell you that feeling sexy is what helps me to be my most powerful and successful self, and being powerful and successful also helps me feel damn sexy! As "feminine-ists," we definitely don't need to make the choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We should and must try to embrace both choices simultaneously.
But then it shames women who aren't feminine:
I see too many women these days rushing around trying to do it all, but meanwhile they're not being it all! They're not being their fullest, best feminine selves. Instead, they're being tougher than they'd like to be as well as more exhausted, strident and irritable, thereby feeling unattractive inside and out. All while suffering from guilt over the stuff they did not manage to squeeze into their over-booked schedules.
And tries to center the women's movement around men:
With the word "feminism," it might have been embarrassing for a man to say he was a supporter because it might sound like he was admitting to supporting of a group of controlling, bitchy women. But with new pro-sexiness, pro-sweetness, pro-balance words like "feminine-ist" and "feminine-ism," what's not for a man to love?
So, to re-cap: feminine is "best". Feminism is about "controlling, bitchy women" who are not sexy, sweet, or balanced. Advocacy for women's rights is only significant when it reinforces norms and caters to men.

Let's see.... what are we missing? Can't forget some good old transmisogyny:
True story: My friend David got mugged at a bank machine by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman.
"Actually, it might have been a transvestite," David corrected himself.

"It's okay if you were mugged by a woman," I told him, smiling.

Now embarrassed, David said, "The more I think about it, the more I'm sure he was a transvestite."

I laughed but was also intrigued by why David would be so embarrassed to be mugged by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman, but not a man.
So, the writer devalues and dismisses and others folks on the trans feminine spectrum, and implicitly essentializes femininity as the sole domain of cis women. Oh, and some ungendering thrown in there for kicks. Awesome.

"Feminism" has a great deal of baggage and issues in too many areas to mention, and femininity is devalued. But, let's not center it around traditional femininity in an effort to shore up oppositional sexism and cissexism. Thanks, though.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lima Beans [Tasty Thursday]

Photo: Green lima beans.

Everybody hates lima beans. I mention them to my mom, she says ew. I mention them to my friends, they say ew.

"Ew" was pretty much my default response to vegetables in general before I moved into my own place last year. I decided that a radical shift in my living style that would necessitate a radical change in my diet, and to begin cooking for myself. Actually eating fruits and vegetables was the biggest shift I made from my previous diet of Mom and College foods, so I tried everything, and was surprised by what I did and did not like when I sampled them as side dishes. Okra? Sounds cool, but definite ew. Mushrooms? Rad texture.

Lima beans? Mind-blowing. I really don't get limaphobia. I have lima beans two to three nights a week. I thank lima beans for a solid digestive system.

Preparation suggestions: I only eat the frozen lima beans. These take 20-25 minutes to boil. In the last five minutes, I slowly melt some butter in another pan, and add a moderate amount of basil and garlic powder. I also add lemon pepper, but very sparingly. Add the lima beans, and cook at low (1 or 2) for ten minutes or more. I add more of the flavors above to taste.

Why the term "ally" is not mine to apply

A stripey grey cat puts its face in its paws while a solid grey cat looks on. They sit on a wood ledge. Below, the text reads: "Tell me. Maybe Iz help."

When I was in a mostly-lesbian social circle in college, I claimed the label of ally to support my friends.* The term ally was fashionable - enough to be honored in the already-problematic acronym LBGTQ in most of our GSA’s publications. But one day, I began to wonder why the experiences of a heterosexual cis woman with a heterosexual cis boyfriend should be included in that acronym. Why should this conversation be about me, too?

My privilege socially elevates me above my peers, and the term ally centers and dismisses that privilege. If I claim the term, I’m saying that my privilege is no big deal, I’m in it to win it too! But I’m not in it to win it the way my trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer friends are. I’ve already won it. In the context of a conversation that should center oppressed folks, the very privilege that oppresses my friends is not just neutralized but beneficed with a special title.

While I’m not going to claim the term ally, I’m also not going to reject it. If an individual without cis or het privilege wants to apply that term to me, then that makes me happy. If they want to call me a bad ally to imply that I mean well but fuck up regularly, I’m not going to police their language with regard to harm on my part. My whole point is that it’s not my language to decide. The language that folks without privilege use in discussing their lack of privilege and others’ use of privilege is theirs to determine.

Are there cases where I see it as appropriate? Sure. My standards with regard to language are not universal, and I'm not saying you can't call yourself an ally. After all, it's not my word to apply or not apply to anyone. It can still be provocative in some contexts, and everyone has their own comfort level with regard to language. And I definitely think that people of privilege who are intimately impacted by lack of privilege – cis people in het relationships with trans partners, het cis children of non-het or non-cis parents – have enough of a stake to claim a special term. They are doing the daily, IRL work that I am not. I write or think about it on a daily basis – but I don’t have to.

Ally is not my word to apply – I can’t say that I am a good ally because I don’t feel the effects of my own actions. If I fuck up and don’t realize it and keep on calling myself a good ally, it’s another assertion of privilege. It’s saying that I am the one who gets to pat myself on the back, I am the arbitrator of effective support. And I’m not.

However, not claiming the word is also a bit of a privileged move on my part. It’s washing myself of the hurt and the harm of other well-meaning people of privilege. “Ally” carries weight that I need to recognize and remember – that I’m constantly able to fuck up and weaponize my privilege.

Working to support folks who are oppressed is not something that I see as enough to earn a trip to the cookie jar. I don’t get a special title – this isn’t feudal England, I’m not “The Goode Ally RMJ”. I’m just a cis, heterosexual, white woman who’s trying to be a good person, who’s not trying to fuck up – but who still has privilege that can’t be neutralized.

*Ally is used in other contexts, but since my experience with the term has mainly been in discussion about cis/het privilege, that’s how I’m framing this discussion.

A new direction for Tasty Thursday

A black cat with a white nape sits with an attentive expression on a wooden chair, in front of a white plate with food on it on a wooden table. The plate of food includes red onions and green spinach with yellow olive oil. In the background is a white stove and refrigerator.

I've gotten some great reactions to Tasty Thursdays in the past, and I generally really enjoy writing them. Food is the stuff of life, and though it's as problematic as anything else, I think that it's something that we can coalesce around and bond over. Talking about eating, foods, meals is a common experience that can usually avoid drama and join us in a celebration of the key parts of life.

This is not universal (nothing is). Meat can ignite a firestorm. Prescriptive feminism (thanks to meloukhia for the terminology) with regard to food can also involve a lot of classism, regionalism, ableism, and sizeism. Telling people what they should and shouldn't eat when you have no idea if their stomach will take it, if they can afford it, and what they need nutritionally will never end well.

Recipes are too narrow and prescriptive for my cooking and my feminism (though unlike feminism I don't think that recipes are problematic in being prescriptive). I will look at a recipe for guidance, but I generally go by instinct with regard to seasoning and proportions of most dishes I cook.

So, I'm taking Tasty Thursday installments out of focus a little bit. Instead of offering recipes, I'll write more generally about different aspects of food. Maybe one day it'll be about a specific spice, or a vegetable. Maybe it'll be a method of preparing food. Maybe it'll be about drinking. Maybe it'll be about bodily processes with regard to food. Sometimes it'll offer tips for cooking, but it's not going to offer prep time, proportional ingredients, etc. I don't measure those things unless I'm baking, and everyone has a different palate, after all.

Any thoughts? What food/drink related topics would you like to see addressed in this space?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Have a happy Wednesday. A slightly re-tooled Tasty Thursday returns tomorrow with....lima beans.

ETA: Photo is of a black cat with a white nape looking at the camera and a white cat with brown spots looking at him. They are in a green chair. There is a bookshelf against the white walls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To be safely thus: my efforts to create a safe space

Picture: A reproduction of John Singer Sargent's "Miss Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth." A white woman with long brown-red hair in green robes hoists a golden crown above her head.

Trigger warning for depiction of ableist/cissexist/abusive language.
"To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus."
-Macbeth, 3.1.48-49
Right now, I'm reading Macbeth. Though it's bloody and not particularly feminist, the quote above struck me as quite relevant to progressive conversation - particularly the idea of "safe spaces".

I don't guarantee a safe space on this blog - everyone's needs for a safe space are different, my privilege obscures my linguistic messups, and I don't promise things I can't deliver. But making Deeply Problematic a safe space is a goal I'm constantly working towards.

If someone points out a word that seems innocuous and that I use - I change it. Yesterday on Twitter, I saw Arwyn's note that "brat" is hate speech against children. This doesn't fully connect for me, but I don't have to use the word brat. There are so many words in the English language; if one hurts people, I take that as an opportunity to be a better, more specific writer. Even if I like it.

If there's something in my post that's the least bit disturbing, I tag it with trigger warning. Even if I'm writing about myself, and it doesn't trigger me, if I'm writing about any kind of violence/compulsion, I put on a trigger warning.

If I have an image, I describe it below so that visually impaired persons are not barred from experiencing the content that I put up (a measure I need to work on doing better).

If someone critiques me and I don't find it to be fair, I let it through the mod queue and try to hold my tongue and let the critique stand so I don't silence another's good faith point of view. If someone echoes that complaint, I work to unblock my privilege so I can apologize and not do it again. If someone critiques me in a way that I find fair, I acknowledge it publicly so that I and my readers can avoid future hurt.

If I feel like some word - dumb, lame, retarded, stupid, crazy - that I know is offensive is the best word to really describes what I'm trying to express, I don't use it. I use another word, and it usually makes my writing clearer.

If someone writes an abusive comment, I stop it in the queue.

If I'm writing about an oppressed community I'm not a part of, I center the experiences of the oppressed community and try to remove the first person. If I'm writing about me and myself, I use the first person so that I don't speak for or silence others.

If I'm writing a post, and there's specific terminology that makes me think, "I might be called on that," I change it. Maybe there's something that I miss. That happens. But if there's anything I can identify as a possible sticking point - I change it. In a draft a few months ago, I referred to a trans woman's "biological sex". But on re-write, that seemed off in a way I couldn't pin down. So I did some research and found a more appropriate term - "assigned sex". Took about five minutes. I am not on deadline, no one is relying on me to bring them all the news, I am not getting paid. I can take the time, and do it as right as I can, rather than seeing something and thinking "no one's gonna catch that".

Do I always do it right? No. I fuck up a lot, and badly, and hurtfully. It's part of speaking, of living.

And some of it is about taking care of myself. If I'm too tired, I don't post. If I don't have anything interesting to say, I don't post. If I feel triggered, I don't make myself write about it. If my circumstances change, I take a break. If I see flaws with a piece that I like, I don't beat myself up about it.

But I don't dismiss ways to be more sensitive, and I don't dismiss critique, and I don't tolerate abuse. To write as a feminist is nothing, except to write so others may feel safe.

Bloggers: What do you do to create a safe space?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trans man sues for custody of son; former lover misgenders him in defense

Trigger warning for misgendering language

A trans man and a cis woman ("Sam and Melanie") who had been married since the mid-1990s (legally in New York before a late-90s annulment due to cissexist and heterosexist marriage laws) broke up in 2007. During their marriage, they had a child, "Sam Jr.", together. At first, they shared custody, but now Melanie is seeking custody, and taking the high road to get there:
"When the judge gave him standing to sue for custody, I thought, 'What's happening? She voided the marriage, she knows he is a woman.' It's ludicrous," the boy's mother told the Daily News...
Melanie says she is straight and didn't even know Sam was a woman until the relationship got serious.
Citing the "strong emotional and psychological bond" between Sam and Sam Jr., Morgenstern noted that Sam "is the only father that the child has known."

Marie NDiaye wins top French prize [Success Sunday on Monday]

French writer Marie NDiaye has won the Goncourt Prize, France's top literary prize:
Her latest novel, "Trois femmes puissantes," is the story of characters Norah, Fanta and Khadi's fight to "preserve their dignity in the face of humiliations that life has inflicted," according to her publisher Gallimard.
Norah is a French lawyer with roots in West Africa; Fanta is a Senegalese woman living in France; and Khadi is a young Senegalese woman who tries to immigrate illegally to Europe.
"They are in very difficult situations," NDiaye said in an interview with Mediapart news Web site. "(But) they have a hard inner core that is absolutely unbreakable."
I've heard of NDiaye before, though not by name. She wrote a 200-page novel made up of a single sentence, Comédie Classique, and I'm pretty sure it was bandied about as an example of successful experimental writing in writer's workshops I was in back in the day.

I thought that this would be of interest to my readership since I regularly cover women writers and writers of color. However, I haven't read her presumably fascinating work. Anyone a fan of NDiaye?

Source, via Jezebel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On wheelchair use and victim-blaming [Foul-Up Fridays]


A link from some Fox News commentator's blog brought me a TON of traffic 'n' trolls. I've only dealt with less than a half-dozen trolls before, so this was an... experience. Many denied the existence of ableism, many told me to get a sense of humor, and the worst were bordering on threatening. It seems to have slowed to a drip now, and I'm thankful for the useful lesson in moderation, I suppose.

In any case, a couple of new visitors had useful critique. From J, on last week's post about 30 Rock:

My wife has MS and is in a wheelchair full time...You seem to think that my wife should be offended that Jenna danced for the Prince in the wheelchair, that is how I dance with my wife! If there is a better, more non-offensive way please tell me.

I don't think J's wife should be necessarily offended by anything I am. This is my point of view - no one is obligated to share my same exact reactions.

For the most part, I stand by my analysis. I think that particularly the scene that follows constitutes ableism (in which the wheelchair user literally kills himself after a woman with able privilege says untruthfully that she loves him). But let's look at the comment J refers to:
Since wheelchair users clearly cannot enjoy their own body, he live vicariously through Jenna. Jenna’s dancing, while physically funny, is at the cost of the prince’s bodily agency.
J makes a good point: people in partnerships with wheelchair users have a number of different ways of being physical with their partners. My analysis of that scene constituted policing said relationships, and I apologize.


Renee and Daisy both emphasized Joan's status as the rape victim of the man she assaults in my Television Tuesday post. Fair point- she does deserve revenge, and the incident at hand in that post is disproportionate to what she went through. My central point is not to shame Joan for being a domestic abuser - Renee called it a pre-emptive strike, and I think that's fair and hope it's followed by Joan getting out of the situation and Greg meeting justice.

I stand by my argument, for the most part: the central point I meant to communicate (and the onus is on me to effectively get this across, ) is that Mad Men has erased the experiences of victims of domestic abuse during the silent epidemic of the 1960s in which many women were brutalized. Mad Men, a show that positions itself as concerned with portraying issues of importance to women, has only deigned to address the issue of violence in the home once directly. And in that case, a man who way deserved it was the recipient of violence in the home, and it was a scene that was intended to give viewers a sense of retribution, trivializing the suffering of the silenced women abused by their husbands in the era. And it's not for lack of opportunity - I don't believe that none of the men at Sterling Cooper were violent with their wives. I think that domestic violence towards women in the 1960s in particular needs serious consideration on the show's part, and this scene served to highlight that lack.

Having said that! I was too hard and focused too much on a rape victim's reaction to a terrible situation in which she looks to have little power, and not enough on the context. I also scolded other writers who had a valid reaction to the scene. This constitutes victim-blaming, and I apologize.

Mad Men and the trivialization and erasure of domestic violence [Television Tuesday]

Trigger warning.

I cheered, when I saw this. It was almost an involuntary reaction, and I doubt I was alone - her husband sucks, and he's hurting one of the best characters on Mad Men, the hypercompetent, beautiful, confident, Joan.

But I shouldn't have. As awesome as Joan is, and as crappy as Greg (her husband) is, this is not okay.

This is domestic violence.

What else is it? How is it anything else? In the scene, Greg is complaining about his professional woes. It's not okay to respond to that by breaking ceramics over his head. That's abuse. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and that's domestic violence.

Furthermore, this is the show's only depiction of domestic violence, after almost three full seasons. Mad Men specializes in pointing out that which was silenced in that era (and today) - sexism, rape, racism, ableism, ageism. But Weiner & Co. have, with the exception of a couple of references to Don's refusal to use corporal punishment, completely ignored that silent epidemic until this unsatisfying scene.

This scene is not an acceptable context for introducing domestic violence. It's likely a one-off incident, unlike most abusive situations. The abused is one of the most irredeemable characters on a show of irredeemable characters - he explicitly raped fan favorite Joan (I'm using explicit to distinguish that incident from Pete's rape, which, while rape, was more ambiguously framed) and has since been the cause of her absence from the show. No one likes Dr. Rapist. Everyone loves Joan. She deserves this revenge. Her history as the victim of abuse at his hands means that this is not easy to read as valid domestic violence:
When Joan hits Greg on the head, not only is she pissed: She is trying to knock some sense into him, and rejecting his notion that she doesn't know what it's like to work towards something all your life. from Jezebel
Double X has a similar "you go girl" take:
Sure, her swing had about all the staying power of Jai Alai (she was back to being the dutiful wife by the next scene), but at least it came out, if only for a moment.
The Feministing crew also gave it an okay, even calling it "awesome" and Joan "badass". Seriously, domestic violence is not cool, or awesome, or badass - and particularly not in the feminist contexts of these shows. "Knock[ing] some sense" into another human is not doing them a favor. Nor is it an effective way to assert yourself in a relationship. It's enacting violence against them, and it's domestic abuse.

Joan has been a victim of this man's violence, and that complicates this act. What Joan did to Greg was nowhere near the same; Greg's act of violence and entitlement was one of the most horrific scenes of the entire series, barely approached by any other acts of violence or cruelty on the show. I can understand that urge to applaud her for kicking his ass - it's delayed justice. But she actually hasn't gotten justice from one awesome scene, and Joan being kickass doesn't mean that it's okay for her to be physically violent to Greg (outside of of self-defense, of course). And this is particularly striking and unsettling because of Mad Men's habit of ignoring this serious, contemporary (in the sense of 1960s and today) issue.

Women are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence, and the situation was much worse in 1963. Why is the only portrayal of the silenced population of domestic abuse victims in this era a man? Why is he unsympathetic? Why is the scene almost comic? Why is the viewer meant to root for the abuser in the context of the situation and this show?

Domestic violence is not a physical comedy gag, or a vehicle for vicarious acting out against an unpopular character. Mad Men has a good history of exposing violence against women within this very relationship. But thus far in the series, they have erased the history of domestic violence and abuse against women and children, and trivialized male victims. A series that seeks to penetrate and puncture the glossy nostalgia surrounding the sixties has a responsibility to carefully consider its treatment of domestic violence. Mad Men needs to cease marginalizing and directly confront the still-present demons of DV with the same critical point of view it applies to so many other social ills.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Bad" black notes, "sophisticated" white notes [Music Monday]

I came across the above over at kiss my black ads. It's an example of how even figure that are naturally abstract can be harmfully racialized through color and coding.

The note on the left is a longer note, musically speaking, than the one on the right - a half note next to the eighth note on the right. Said note looks like a 50s beatnik, or laid-back college professor - someone "hip" and culture savvy with presumably stellar taste in music; it's described below as "sophisticated". This note is white.

On the right is the distinctly menacing eighth note. Notice the furrowed brown, the tightly gripped knife with the sliver of blood. It's "bad" music, and it kills. This note is black.

"Kills" may be used in a positive sense - a killer song, as in exciting - but the connotations, especially in contrast with the "sophisticated" note, cannot be read as coincidental. Perhaps this wasn't designed with intentions to portray one race or another, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't reinforce violent, classist, racist stereotypes - the burden is on the privileged to ensure that oppression is not furthered.

On a side note, I highly recommend kiss my black ads. Craig Brimm posts arresting images - sometimes beautiful, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes offensive - on a daily basis. Can anyone recommend some progressive/political/feminist art sites?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Daily Mail reminder of misogyny

Today I was on the Daily Mail, getting my daily dose of the thoroughly constructed expectations of women demanded by the kyriarchy (via Jezebel!). Halfway through the page, I came to this gem:

Picture: Bulleted list of news headlines

Just a reminder: fat women are only valid when they lose weight. Only thin bodies are attractive. And "a man" is the end goal of any life plan.

This isn't shocking. It's not exceptional. Look at the two above it and below it: the upper reinforces the normative ideals of youth as necessarily active and valid in contrast with age, and the lower suggests that being happy with a bigger body having experienced thinness is extraordinary. And there are probably more offensive hooks elsewhere on the page. That's why the "gettin' a man" story caught my attention: compared with the rest of the waste on the page, this patently, traditionally sexist snippet seems normal and commonplace.

Of course, that's what the kyriarchy does; it places high-contrast, oppositional expectations on complex, nuanced and relative structures. In weight, gender, sexuality, appearance, age, presentation, language - every action and plan and idea that we as humans undertake is shaped or at least flavored by the injustice of the world we exist in. The Daily Mail is just a heightened expression of what those specific expectations are for women.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bad language: "dumb" and "bimbo" [Foul-up Friday]

For my initial Foul-Up Friday, I’m reaching back to my Britney piece from a couple weeks ago:

I’ve gone from conceptualizing her as a dumb bimbo colluder profiting solely from her body and oppressing less beautiful women to liking her music and finding great sympathy for her.

“Dumb”? Is not okay language. Dumb is a word often applied to the vocally impaired that’s been conflated with a lack of smarts, or, in Britney’s case, a pneumatic public persona. This is a double foul-up, since “intelligence” is an ableist concept in many ways. I intended it to refer to my previous views, but that’s not an excuse, especially in a post that discusses ableism.

"Bimbo" is also not cool language; it's traditionally misogynistic that's degrading.

I apologize.

Announcing: Foul-Up Fridays

Like everyone else, I fuck up – in real life, and in this forum – on a fairly regular basis. I’m afraid to fuck up, and it’s hard to face your fears – but it’s the only way to get over it. So I’m thinking about starting a regular feature in which I examine transgressions of privilege and my own behavior.

My central purpose is to answer privilege checks that come up in the course of blogging. I’ve recently decided that I will probably not engage in the comment section. This isn’t because I feel that my work is indefensible – just that I’ve said what I’ve had to say, oppressive or brilliant. If I didn’t say it the first time, and there are questions about it, that probably means a) it’s a flaw in my thinking that I need to consider or b) that I don’t have a clear opinion on it.

This is a way for me to take some time to think about and process privilege checks without evading responsibility. By taking a couple days, I am able to avoid furthering messy mistakes by getting defensive. I don’t want to be bad, and when I am, it can take a sec to own up to it in a manner that’s not superficial. I'm seeking to avoid privilege hand-wringing. This series will inevitably inspire separate posts, but I intend on keeping actual entries short and to the point - identifying the issue, explaining what happened, and apologizing. Reflecting on it in a concise but meaningful way allows me to take a serious look at how I’ve fucked up, and avoid it in the future.

Additionally, it will provide a model of what it’s like to fuck up to those who are new to feminist discourse. One of the central ways that I learn what to say and what not to say is by looking at firestorms and trying to figure out what went wrong and how I can avoid that. The forum is an organized way to introduce people to common mistakes.
Additionally, this will be a place for readers to call me out on overall trends in my writing. I think that the common derailing tactic of “Hey, why don’t/didn’t you address this particular story/oppression?” has some legitimate use. It’s valid critique, but not appropriate in individual posts that are focused on another form of privilege.

At meloukhia’s suggestion, I’m calling this feature “Foul-Up Fridays”, and the first edition will run later this afternoon.

Further reading: How to Fuck Up, on Shakesville.

Privilege hand-wringing

Criticism of one’s privileged actions is an essential part of feminism. It’s an act of recognizing and owning up to privilege, which is essential to fighting privilege. Critiquing how one has transgressed against their stated intention of fighting privilege is similarly essential to understanding the nefarious, surreptitious ways in which it has wriggled its way into all of our brains. Such self-critique can be especially useful as a model for others overcoming privilege – it has certainly helped me to see the mistakes I can make, and largely avoid them.

However, it has a less selfless purpose. Self-reflection can pass into self-congratulation. Privilege hand-wringing is in service of cookies instead of trying to get better. Reflection on one’s trespasses against others could become overly self-indulgent, and center discussions of privilege around the privileged, while still silencing those that they’ve trespassed against. Posts that own up to something have the danger of only admitting those flaws that they see, while ignoring the feelings of the hurt party. It can be a cry for attention, rather than a humble apology.

Of course, this is not intentional. As I note below, most of us mean well. But privilege obscures how we mess up, and entitlement stemming from privilege leads us
Feminists who decided to devote posts to their fuckups confront the danger of sounding like televangelists who cheat on their wives or steal from the kitty, or politicians who’ve done much the same. It’s an opportunity to sneak in a “backdoor brag” (to steal a phrase from 30 Rock) to use a failing to highlight their accomplishments rather than fess up to their failings. They glorify the good things they’ve done by comparison, and almost act like their mistake itself is actually a virtue.

Privilege handwringing from feminists and other progressives reminds me somewhat of John McCain during the 2008 election directly after the economy crashed in late September (the moment I knew, incidentally, that the campaign was pretty much over). When that happened, he wrung his hands and said “we need to stop campaigning!”, changing course as he did so many times that year. He was pretending to be concerned about the little people, and I’m sure in a way he was. But the main objective was the presidency.

This is not a call-out or privilege check directed at any one feminist/progressive writer in particular. We all do this politicking – messing up, and trying to spin it and center it around us and not use it in search of the larger issues at hand. Sometimes it’s ceding to pressure, sometimes its guilt, sometimes it’s a lack of understanding of just what we did wrong. Usually it’s a little bit of all three, plus a dollop of privilege, on top of our ever-present desire to do good and effect change and be socially responsible.

Mistakes can be learning moments. In terms of feminists, these can be great moments for the realization of the depth of their own privilege– but it shouldn’t be focused on learning about how great the mistake-maker usually is. It should not be an excuse, and it should not be qualified. If a qualifications needs to be added to an apology, that is a sign that the apology is not true – it’s to you, maybe, the people watching whose opinions of the apologetic have been hurt, but perhaps not to the target of the original hurt. While a healing component can be helpful, fessing up to feminist fuckups should primarily seek to apologize humbly, recognize or point out their mistakes, and identify a flaw that needs to be fixed.

There’s no excusing mistakes. For teaching moments about how not to fuck up, readers/viewers should consider the original mistake more seriously than the apology – but an apology, and a sincere one, is necessary, as much to the transgressor as to those who might learn from it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Race-baiting in Virginia's first post-racial election

Virginia is electing a new slate of state officials in a couple weeks. I haven't been following it too closely, even though Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate, is from my neck of Virginia and he's trailing badly; I've always focused more on national politics (particularly presidential politics). But this showed up in my Google Alerts:

The final debate of the campaign for attorney general took on racial overtones today.

Democrat Steve Shannon said Republican Ken Cuccinelli favors states' rights, likening it to the agenda that resulted in Virginia's fight for segregated schools. Cuccinelli accused Shannon of "race-baiting."

Shannon, a delegate from Fairfax County, said after the hourlong debate that he does not think Cuccinelli is a racist. But he said Cuccinelli, a state senator from Fairfax, is "an ideological crusader" whose agenda reflects some of the worst aspects of Virginia's past.

Cuccinelli described Shannon as "a backbencher" who is disinclined to pick fights.

The two lawyers debated before a luncheon meeting of the Richmond Bar Association at the Richmond Omni Hotel. It was their fourth debate. [Emphasis mine]

Shannon was making a valid comparison between present and past political strategies - something that people do all the time. Folks are constantly looking to past happenings to explain our political future - politics and the country are changing all the time, and the past is something stable we can look to. Comparing Cuccinelli to Civil War-era supremacist is a strong comparison, but that's the language of politics. Calling Shannon a race-baiter is hurling a special, racialized rebuke for doing exactly what a politician is supposed to do in a campaign: raising issues.

After making said strong comparison, why is Shannon obligated to absolve Cuccinelli of any personal responsibility by saying that he's "not a racist"? Whether or not one white man labels another white man a racist is not relevant. Focusing on the label of racism makes fighting racism a pantomime - it makes actions and contributions superficial, solely focused on titles applied externally. That is what politics is, though, isn't it?

It's not about whether someone is "a racist" or not (though if they've got race privilege, they probably are - myself included) - it's about whether they're anti-racist. In fighting racism, actions and not intentions are what matters. Politicians like Cuccinelli who make noise about race-baiting when a hint of race enters the discussion are concentrating on evading the responsibility of our country's history of racism. This evasion creates an opportunity for them to avoid any discussions of racism, and thus save themselves the trouble of doing anti-racist work while they rest on their privileged laurels.

Our conception of our society as post-racial discourages discussion of race rather than encouraging learning and growth. Post-racial discourse pretends that we don't have issues with race now, and we never did. Because our president is black, see? So obviously none of us have an issue with it now, and there's no use talking about what our ancestors did since they're all dead. Right? Totally!

There's no use talking about slavery - no one has slaves, silly, and no one has for years! There's no purpose to bringing it up. It just stirs up bad memories that no one wants to think about anymore. It's so long ago - it couldn't impact our interactions and society today.

Except that it does exist, and it didn't happen, past tense - it's happening, present tense, an we need to talk about it, today. When a junior high football coach encourages his team to use racial slurs, racism is real and happening. When elected officials brag about belonging to the KKK, racism is real and happening. That's just a fraction, and that's just today.

Anti-racist work is silenced by calls of race-baiting, of insisting that we absolve those who ignore racism of responsibility. As a politician trying to win a race, Shannon couldn't do a lot more. But at least he is raising issues that Cuccinelli insists on pretending aren't an issue. Racism isn't going to stop by ignoring it - such actions only breed ignorance and amplify the issues that plague our laws, our government, and our country.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ableism in 30 Rock [Television Tuesday on Wednesday]

Photo: Marceline Hugot as Kathy Geiss, a white woman with a bowl haircut in a green blazer and pink shirt eating at a broad oak desk. A portrait of a white man in a suit and lamps are behind her.

A lot of feminists love 30 Rock. As they should: it’s a funny show, and a rarity for television – a women-fueled enterprise with a two main female characters, written and conceived of by a woman. That is Cool, full stop. And 30 Rock has many deft explorations of the many facets of being a white, middle-class, straight, woman with able privilege. But persons with disabilities don’t fare quite as well.

30 Rock trades on ableism on an almost episodic basis. The show’s disrespect towards folks with disabilites, particularly those with visible disabilities, is constant and unrelenting from side gags to b-plots to regular characters. 30 Rock constantly places bodies with able privilege in a position of supremacy above bodies with visible disabilities through humiliation and devaluation. Its abuse of persons with disabilities in the name of comedy goes beyond the casual ableist language like “lame” or “retarded”. Such language is unfortunately ubiquitous to even shows that have been critical of ableism (eg, The Office has critiqued ableism through Michael Scott’s typical obliviousness on a couple of occasions, but, as in life, "lame" and occasionally “retarded” is still a consistent presence) but 30 Rock's ableism is constant, humiliating, and dehumanizing.

The most consistent use of a person with visible disabilities for the purposes of comedy and comedy alone is Kathy Geiss. Kathy Geiss is the mentally disabled daughter of NBC head Don Geiss, Jack Doneghy’s hero and boss. She makes her entry into the series when she is wooed by Will Arnett’s character, who is gay. Later on, she becomes the titular head of NBC when her father goes into a coma, with Arnett as the power behind the throne. She also sexually harrasses Jack. [Hulu doesn't have second-season clips - which is what I get for writing about television two years after it airs - but you can watch a recap below for some evidence.]

Kathy Geiss’ appearance in the series dehumanizes, unsexes, and generally robs persons with mental/learning disabilities of any agency or life. She is first presented as a preposterous romantic figure, only valued for her father by a man who is not interested in women and a man who also only wants her ill-deserved power. This adult woman, with grey hair and a unisex wardrobe, is essentially viewed as a child – she plays with toys and cannot dictate her romantic life beyond serving a purpose for a man with no romantic interest in women. Furthermore, she is framed as incompetent and unable to do anything effectively; she has no professional identity, but only serves as a puppet for a man with able privileges. The idea of a woman with visible mental disabilities is so beyond the realm of 30 Rock’s conception of what a woman or person is that they frame her as absolutely nothing but a joke, someone inconsequential who only serves as juxtaposition for the traditionally smart, sexy, competent main characters.

The visibility of her disability is heightened at every turn, though her desexed dress to her blank and uncomprehending expression to the toys that are sometimes in her mouth. Kathy is literally silenced - she says one word in her entire multi-episode arc ("kiss"). Having served her purpose as a punchline, she subsequently disappears from the series and is never mention again, effectively erasing any chance she could have had to be a redeeming character (as Jordan has). On 30 Rock, disabilities are tolerable as long as you can’t immediately tell.

In a first-season episode, a character with physical but not mental disabilities is similarly used to set in contrast another character’s sexual power while his life is understood to be valueless. Liz, Jack, and Jenna attend a birthday party for a foreign prince (othering much?) who is confined to a wheelchair due to inbreeding (hilarious, right?). The prince is attracted to the narcissistic and insecure Jenna and makes her his companion for the evening. Since wheelchair users clearly cannot enjoy their own body, he live vicariously through Jenna. Jenna’s dancing, while physically funny, is at the cost of the prince’s bodily agency. Later on, he literally kills himself after exchanging affections with Jenna. [Again, no clips on Hulu/YouTube. Sorry.)

It’s understood that the lives of those in wheelchairs are valueless and unworthy of living; once they achieve some minor romantic or social success, they’ve clearly hit all the highs that someone like them can hit, and it’s no use carrying on.

30 Rock confronts mental disabilities in every single episode with the character of Tracy Jordan. Tracy is defined as “mentally ill” from the pilot episode, but that does not interfere with his ability to be a fully functioning human being. His disability is never specifically defined, but it’s a part of his character and is usually portrayed as value-neutral (sometimes negative, sometimes positive - as when he challenges the value of normal in a third season episode). Like other major characters, his narcissism, ego, and drinking problem are as likely to provide a crux for an episode as any other character traits. His disability is a variation, not a handicap. Tracy is not unintelligent, or lazy, or incapable – he’s just who he is, and who he is is valuable and funny and moving.

This is not to say that the framing of Tracy’s disability on the show is universally positive or respectful – there are many problematic episodes that problematically portray his disability. And of course, I'm looking at Tracy from a currently able privileged point of view, and could be totally wrong. But it remains that the only disabled characters shown regularly and treated as consequential are those with invisible disabilities. 30 Rock viciously positions characters with able privilege above persons with disabilities in its language, ongoing plotlines, and minor jokes.*

30 Rock is a feminist show. But like feminism, it is soaking in ableism. Able privilege and discrimination against persons with disabilities Tina Fey’s show negates the experiences of agent and vibrant people with visible disabilities, turning them into sexless, lifeless, inconsequential punchlines.

*The examples detailed above don’t even begin to cover it. There's also the episode in which Kenneth and Tracy deceive a blind girl for a Cyrano de Bergerac type story. In another episode, Jack forces a deaf woman into his office under false pretenses and forces her to lip-read for him. In another, Jenna portrays Janis Joplin, whom she believes walked with crutches.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Corporate sponsored terrorism and stalking from Toyota

Trigger warning.

So, last year in the UK, Toyota and ad firm Saatch & Saatchi started this really clever ad campaign … of terror! Here’s the campaign kicking it off:

Before we even get to the real and horrific impact of this incredibly ill-considered campaign, let’s take a look at how the maniacs are sexualized and racialized.

The “maniacs” (nice ableism!) are mostly white and male. This means that the agents of terror in this situation are the ones with societal power to flex and scare their victims. Many of the corporate stalkers are able to claim the right to terrorize potential customers because of their skin and maleness.

However, while most of the terrorists (I like that better!) have socially normative bodies, some are othered, through their dress or age or race. An old man and a long-haired goth are two of the prospective white male stalkers, and both are subtly coded as ridiculous in their menace. The goth has markings on his face, and the old man is made to look foolish by brandishing nun chucks. An Asian woman in a colorful outfit that I believe is supposed to look like Harajuku is also shown, caricatured by a heavy accent and a crazy dance. There’s also an elegantly dressed black man - apparently dressing nice and being black (or old) is enough to make you an object of ridicule, right alongside a man in a bear suit.

These operations of inequity and othering serve as markers that this should be read as fun. I guess that gives the ad company an out to claim that this is just a wacky, ad campaign – because ridiculous Asian women/old men/dapper black men/Goths? They could never be seen as a realistic threat or symbol of aggression.

So, let’s move on to the actual human cost of this:
Last year, Amber Duick received a series of nine e-mails from a fictitious character dreamed up by the campaign (complete with a MySpace page). The character told Amber he was coming to stay at her house to avoid the cops, and even sent her a motel bill for $78.92. According to AdAge, Duick was so frightened that she slept with a machete and mace near her bed.

The last email Duick received included a video that notified her how she had been fooled, and explained that this was an effort to market the Matrix. The campaign, which targeted thousands of consumers, invited people to nominate their friends to be victims of the prank, which is how consumers' personal information was acquired.
As an anxious woman, this isn’t funny. My partner leaves town sometimes, and I often go to bed terrified on even the safest of nights. Were I the subject of this? I would call the cops and take my butt and my cats to someone else’s house. I would FLIP. I would also sue.

My theory is that Toyota saw the impact of “viral marketing” and wanted to do something similar, except extreme and violent. Its creating anticipation about a product in a personal, one-on-one way. Except instead of asking schmucks to buy you a Grey Goose vodka or posting about Worms Armageddon on a videogame forum, they’re…threatening your personal safety.


Clearly, this isn’t an ad campaign – this is stalking and terrorism with corporate funding. And I seriously doubt Saatchi made any effort to check out whether their victims were perhaps being stalked by the “friend” who suggested them.
What would make Toyota, or anyone else, think this would appeal more to actual friends than to people who want to harass the targets of the campaign? Toyota essentially offered to be the middle-man for stalkers, bullies, and other assorted assholes. There's no reason to believe that no one took them up on such a generous offer. (from Shakesville)
The site for this seems to show more men than women being targeted. But looking at it comprehensively, I just bet that women were disproportionately the target of these attacks.

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks: a review by Charles Dickey [50BPT]

Today's entry is a cross-post from Fiercely Independent. Charles Dickey was born near Columbus, Ohio in 1976. He has lived in Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington State, and has worked as a bookseller, crisis phone worker, and environmental restoration technician. He is currently living and working in Virginia, where he reads, writes, sells books, and needs a jobby-job to provide steady income. He previously contributed to 50BPT with a review of Ceremony, by Leslie Silko.
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks

Twenty-five years ago, bell hooks offered this book to the public, her insights plain on the page and capable of blazing a trail through the minds of those with a capacity for critical consciousness. Perhaps it’s natural that a book like this molders in the public sphere, buried under the millions of volumes of books of every genre and academic discipline and popular trend that our society, bloated on information and entertainment, produces. Or perhaps that’s not what happened to this book at all; a quick search on shows that the 2nd edition of this book, published in 2000, is currently ranked “#21,539 in Books”, which is actually quite good, considering amazon’s cataloged rankings reach down to 6 or 7 million. Why then have the critical and incredibly insightful passages of this book not manifested in our shared public life? Where is the “Revolutionary Parenting” called for in chapter 10? How come we have still not rethought the nature of work as a society (chapter 7)? Why do we still think largely of revolutions as critical moments in time or in terms of violence, when in her conclusive chapter 12 hooks has voiced what we all should know to be true:
Revolutions can be and usually are initiated by violent overthrow of an existing political structure. In the United States, women and men committed to feminist struggle know that we are far outpowered by our opponents, that they not only have access to every type of weaponry known to humankind, but they have both the learned consciousness to do and accept violence as well as the skill to perpetuate it. Therefore, this cannot be the basis for feminist revolution in this society. Our emphasis must be on cultural transformation: destroying dualism, eradicating systems of domination. Our struggle will be gradual and protracted. Any effort to make feminist revolution here can be aided by the example of liberation struggles led by oppressed people globally who resist formidable powers.
Our society is as fragmented, competitive, and unable to meet human needs as ever. When we look around us in 2009, we see a variation on the same post-WW II, post-Vietnam theme that plagued us when hooks first published this book in 1984. An overwhelming crunch of information, entertainment, and compulsive consumerism perpetuates the atomization of the individual and works to keep us alienated and isolated from any meaningful sense of community; moreover, it holds us as slaves of a kind to an unjust economic order. hooks wrote the book on countering our alienation, beginning to struggle against that atomization, and working together towards an emancipation of ourselves along with all people–and this is that book. Reading it is not enough. We must act to bring about social change, and before we can act intelligently and strategically, we must communicate meaningfully with each other. To do that, we could take our cues from early feminist consciousness-raising groups.
Yet even in 2009, after all of the gains of the 1970s and the solidification of those gains in our culture, feminist movement remains at the margin of society. The type of feminist movement that hooks advocates in this volume is revolutionary in the sense of that protracted struggle mentioned in the quote above. It is revolutionary in its character of never arriving, but always recognizing that there is more work to do to create a joyful, creative, and just society. In the following passage, hooks offers a perspective on parenting that I think generalizes out to our culture of authority and domination, which whether it includes women in its hierarchies of exploitation and force or not, remains the same:
Many parents teach children that violence is the easiest way (if not the most acceptable way) to end a conflict and assert power. By saying things like “I’m only doing this because I love you” while they are using physical abuse to control children, parents are not only equating violence with love, they are also offering a notion of love synonymous with passive acceptance, the absence of explanation, and discussions. In many homes small children and teenagers find their desire to discuss issues with parents sometimes viewed as a challenge to parental authority or power, as an act of “unlove.” Force is used by the parent to meet the perceived challenge or threat. Again, it needs to be emphasized that the idea that is is correct to use abuse to maintain authority is taught to individuals by church, school, and other institutions.”
The expectation of “passive acceptance, the absence of explanation, and discussions” is on full display in the corporate capitalist culture of America, and it is even further displayed outward through the imposition of that model across the globe as international corporations continue to “develop” the world, profiting as they do so. But I digress.
The point hooks makes with this collection of essays is that, while the gains of feminism may be clear and visible to white, middle- or upper-class professional women who desire to participate in an economics rooted in corporate capitalism, the failures of feminist movement are clear and visible to women of color and lower-class women, and possibly to men of color and lower-class, or otherwise marginalized men. Feminism, as hooks perceived it back in 1984, had largely become a movement whereby privileged white women declared their independence from men in order to self-actualize as individuals striving within a competitive culture–and this remains true today. Feminism, in short, has been stalled; feminism became stunted and has been easily incorporated into the existing economic structures of hierarchy, which it began its career rebelling against.
hooks suggests that feminist movement needs to be rethought and re-engaged, and encourages us to build an inclusive movement in which “revolutionary impulses must freely inform our theory and practice” so that we can come to come together as women and men, and as human beings opposed to classism, racism, sexism, and all forms of violence, “to transform our present reality.”

Sixth Carnival of Feminists

Welcome to the sixth Carnival of Feminists! I'm RMJ, and I'll be your host here at Deeply Problematic.

I've come across a lot of amazing writing while preparing this post - both submitted and sought. Thanks to everyone who submitted to this go-round!

Let's go ahead and get started!


Eva shares a story of Bitch from Bitch and Animal talking to her respectfully, at The Deal with Disability.

Laura self-examines her use of ableist language at Adventures of a Young Feminist.

If you haven't read meloukhia's letter to Feministing, it's necessary.

I am also loving the 101-esque series on ableist language at new blog FWD/Forward.

Trans women and cissexism

C.L. Minou takes apart the cissexist assumptions that the phrase "think like a man" implies at Below the Belt.

Recursive Paradox explains why you are not automatically trustworthy at Genderbitch.

Alexmac posts on how trans women are sexualized in an ongoing series at Shakesville.

Rape and violence (featuring Roman Polanski)

Mad Kane names some pro-rape Republicans - in limerick form.

[Trigger warning - thanks lhiannanshee for the tip.] Amanda Hess takes on the casual use of the verb "rape" at The Sexist.

Cruella turns the tables on Polanski defenders by asking what kind of violence her difficult personal history and artistic accomplishments win her.

Daisy analyzes Polanski's Repulsion as evidence of his violence towards women at Dead Air.

Lauren discusses how to move forward from Polanski at Feministe.

Phaedra Starling explains Shroedinger's Rapist.

Holly presents her dissection of Dollhouse over at Self-Portrait As.

Women's health

amandaw lays bare the immorality of pre-existing conditions at FWD.

Also in pre-existing conditions: the bloggers at Shapely Prose had a roundtable about the fat baby denied health insurance.

Apu exposes the biased state of kidney donation in India.

Race and racism
Lisa wonders what race mixing has to do with communism at Sociological Images.

Lesley calls out colonialism at Fatshionista.

Community and dialogue

Ashley discusses exclusionary language and comprehensive feminism at Small Strokes.

Deborah summarizes and reacts to an anti-essentialist philosophical argument at In A Strange Land.

meloukhia reflects on the difficulty of speaking up and the importance of co-signing at this ain't livin.

Chally presents her reasons for blogging at Zero at the Bone.


Sungold responds to David Letterman and workplace harrassment at KittyWampus.

Amanda critiques The Muppet Movie's depiction of street harrassment over at The Undomestic Goddess.

Fillyjonk asks readers how frequently they've been persistently bothered at Shapely Prose.


Mór Rígan dissects an article problematizing working mothers at Morrígan Reborn.

Geek Anachronism expounds on her feelings about breastfeeding.


The Celluloid Geek alerts us to a scary new law in California that seeks to define a fetus as a person.

Amanda Hess wonders why some fetuses are aborted and others are just reduced at the Sexist.


October is Sex-Ed Month of Action. Candace Webb has a strong argument against abstinence-only education at Womenstake.

Danine Spencer breaks down the Nobel laureates by gender.

Thanks, all, for submitting and reading! The next carnival is at Shut Up, Sit Down. Please submit here!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


from here, via Lisa




Monday, October 12, 2009

On Britney [Music Monday]

Hi. I'm RMJ, and I’m a reluctant Britney Spears fan.

It took some time to come to terms with this, but it's undeniable. I listen to her songs constantly, and went to see her in concert last month . Said concert was awesome, and problematic (her circus may not engage in animal abuse, but it had many other issues – particularly with ableism). Even this qualified endorsement is a 180 from my hatred of her in my feminist youth. I’ve gone from conceptualizing her as a dumb bimbo colluder profiting solely from her body and oppressing less beautiful women to liking her music and finding great sympathy for her. How’d I get here?

In a way, Britney was a formative part of my critical voice on pop culture. Though I was already a 13-year-old feminist when she became popular, I hadn’t learned to view all pop culture through a critical lens. As puberty began, the dastardly expectations and pressures of being a young woman became a present and confusing part of my daily life. Britney was not too much older than me, and she was the expression of everything that society wanted in young women – sexual, innocent, beautiful, slim, shallow.

At 13, 14, 15, I was none of these things, and I knew it. I didn’t even want to try – instead, I made the ugly, boundary-breaking, lawless Janis Joplin my idol. Britney’s expertise in playing this role played a great contrast to that which I was not, and the rewards she reaped were painful to watch as I sat in the detention of self-hatred that those same standards provoked.

When I came to college, I was able to re-make myself and faked confidence until I was actually and truly confident in myself. And shortly after – I believe in the second semester of my first year – I began to embrace Britney, whose poppy, fun, catchy music had held a secret appeal to me since Toxic came out in high school. Now that I liked my body, now that I was traditionally feminine, now that I too was reaping rather than rejecting the rewards of socially normative beauty, she wasn’t a threat – she was a friend. I understood why she colluded because I had discovered the joys of fitting in and the privilege of beauty.

But while my social standing was rising with my comfort in my body, hers fell with age and life changes, giving me more reason to be sympathetic to her. Though she’d weathered attacks before, in most cases, the behaviors that were critiqued (e.g. her breasts) were the same qualities that brought massive rewards. When she dared to marry a man below her social station and fame, she was no longer It – she was just white trash. Marrying someone other than Justin Timberlake was seen as a rejection of the station she’d “been given” and brought out the latent classism that comes with a Southern accent.

Her hard work and privileges (wealth, beauty, cis, het, white) failed to save a shift in her public persona from teen queen to classless opportunist, further ingrained by policing of her parenting and mental disability. She is, after all, a woman – the inherent social vulnerability of her body finally betrayed her when class and age and mental disability and motherhood intersected.

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, by Lillian Faderman [50BPT]

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers:A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, by Lillian Faderman

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers was an illuminating and compelling history. Thoroughly researched through interviews and media, Faderman does an excellent job of constructing the white cis lesbian experience. Up until about 1980, she constructs a history of the circumstances and attitudes surrounding lesbianism from the perspective of insiders and outsiders - from pre-WWI "romantic friendships" to lesbian-feminists in the 1970.

Faderman tries very hard to go beyond the experiences of white feminists, and has some sensitive constructions of the experiences of lesbian women of color - particularly the chapter on 1920s Harlem and gentrification. But the chapters on the 1940s through the 1960s barely mention their experiences.

Faderman does a far worse job of any kind of trans perspective. There are only 2 mentions of transsexuals found in the index; both are dismissive and cissexist in context. I don't object to Faderman focusing on the experiences of cis lesbians. The history of trans lesbians is different from that of cis lesbians, and deserves its own narrative beyond side notes in the experiences of cis women. But it goes beyond making the dominant narrative about cis experiences into erasing trans experiences and positioning cis lesbianism as the only kind of lesbianism.

That having been said, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers was an engaging, accessible, and interesting look at a history I don't have a lot of knowledge about. I'd recommend it to fans of histories and those interested in more thoroughly understanding the history of discrimination against cis (and usually, white) lesbians.
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