Monday, August 31, 2009

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich: a review by Laura [50BPT]

Today's entry comes from Laura of the recently re-launched Adventures of a Young Feminist! Laura Sundstrom is a 22-year-old recent grad from Beloit College with a degree in Women's and Gender Studies. She spends her spare time blogging about feminism and pop culture at Adventures of a Young Feminist. Check out her previous entry in this series!

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

This book is very well-known, but for good reason. The book follows Ehrenreich as she went "under cover" as a low income worker to try to make ends meet in minimum wage jobs. Even though I am very well aware of the economic situation and uphill battle of America's low-income people and families, this book really added a face to those struggles and made the experience more personal. Through the book I was able to better understand what people have to go through on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis. And Ehrenreich is such an amazing woman, working to improve the status of low-income people, especially women. I've heard her speak recently, and she is just a down-right inspirational person. So I couldn't not include her most well-known book.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Roundup

Hope you're all well and have had a lovely weekend. My brain fog is beginning to lift, so I hope to bring you much writing this week.

First up: Laura of Adventures of a Young Feminist has debuted a whole new site! I wholly recommend your checking it out.

Two awesome posts from Dr. Martin, Medicine Woman this week: one on the anniversary of Katrina, and the other on rape when it's constructed as sex (see here also on that topic).

nixwilliams has a one-sentence soliloquy on community that's worth reading.

The Jaded Hippy takes fat-phobia in clothing to task.

kissmypineapple has an important message about supporting one of George Sodini's health insurance-less victims.

The Booze Tube has a great breakdown of different instances of rape in television.

This UK article on parenting trans children has some positive perspectives but much in the way of cissexist language.

meloukhia led me to this great post on how no one is under any obligation to be healthy (and isn't health subjective?) And speaking of this ain't livin, check out her expose-esque post on PETA.

On non-neurotypical pride.

Alas takes on the idea of the "great white hope".

What We Deserve [Success Sunday]

Ariel sent this video to me when I asked for things that made people happy on Twitter. It's not exactly warm-and-fuzzy, but it's inspiring.

What We Deserve

From Sonya Renee

ETA: If you're not aware, "Women deserve better" is one of the mottos of the anti-sex ed, anti-birth control "Feminists For Life". For more on the speaker Sonya responds to, see Lauren in the comments.

Too Late to Die Young, by Harriet McBryde Johnson: a review by Daisy [50BPT]

Today's entry was originally published as an obituary for Ms. McBryde Johnson at Daisy's Dead Air. It's reposted here with permission. Thanks, Daisy!

Too Late to Die Young, by Harriet McBryde Johnson

Photo by Katy Grannan for the New York Times Magazine.


Harriet on the photo: The New York Times Magazine cover has been described as beautifully disturbing, and most nondisabled people seem to see it that way. I'd prefer to call it disturbingly beautiful, but I'll take the other way around if I must. The disturbing part happens inside people's heads; this unconventional body, draped and lit and posed like a fashion model, apparently floating in space in a power chair, disturbs preconceived notions, makes people question what they think they know. The beautiful part? Well, that's me. Objectively seen by Katy Grannan.

I'm three or four years old. I'm sitting on the living room floor, playing with dolls. I look up at the TV and see a little boy. He's sitting on the floor, playing with toy soldiers. Then he's in Little League; he stumbles on his way to first base. He visits a doctor. His parents are sad. He's in a wheelchair. Then a bed. Then I see the toy soldiers. No boy. An unseen narrator says, "Little Billy's toy soldiers have lost their general." It's a commercial for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. As the narrator makes the pitch, a realization comes to me: I will die.

Is it really one of my earliest memories? Or was it manufactured by my imagination? I don't suppose it matters. Either way, it was the truth. It was my truth.

I'm a little girl who knows she will die, but I don't say anything; I don't want to distress my parents. Somehow, though, my mother realizes. "That boy," she tells me more than once, "has a different kind of muscular dystrophy. Girls don't get it." Maybe, I think, but he looks a lot like me. And pretty soon I see little girls on the telethon and hear that girls, too, have "killer diseases."

I don't know the word, but I figure my mother is in denial.

By the time I am five, I think of myself as a dying child. I've been sick a lot. There is some discussion before they decide to send me to kindergarten. I am glad they do.

When I die, I think, I might as well be a kindergartner.
--both quotes above from Too Late to Die Young, by Harriet McBryde Johnson.

45 years after she entered kindergarten, expecting to die, Harriet McBryde Johnson has died. She illustrates the danger of sentencing people to death: just maybe, they won't die. And then what happens?

What happened is that Harriet became a first-class hell-raiser, using her background as a genteel, educated southerner to work for the rights of other people. She was the lady who gave Jerry Lewis hell every year. She was the lady who debated Peter Singer. She was an uncompromising disability-rights lawyer who influenced the younger generation with her kick-ass ways.

She was, in short, something else. We have lost a powerhouse-activist, and if I may say so, a southern treasure.


She was beautiful, as Katy Grannan clearly saw. I saw her that way too. In fact, I can well remember the first time I saw Harriet McBryde Johnson on an NBC-news show criticizing telethons, well over a decade ago.

As my regular readers know, my mother was disabled, and consequently, I was raised right. I don't stare at people, ever. But... well... Harriet was quite different--you didn't stare out of abject rudeness, you simply wondered where her body was... her elbows were right on her wheelchair-seat, making her torso seemingly disappear. You involuntarily did a double take. (One got the impression she was quite used to double, triple, quadruple takes.) At first, I thought she was like Johnny Eck, Boy with Half-a-Torso, and then I saw her tiny legs and feet, wearing the same hippie Chinese Maryjanes I do.

I have never forgetten her meticulous, careful, lawyerly phrasing: "I have problems with telethons as an institution," she explained, very simply and with tremendous poise and dignity. INSTITUTION! That was the word I needed to hear. Her protest against the Jerry Lewis telethon wasn't about him personally (even if he is a dick), and it wasn't about the droves of caring moms staffing phone banks, collecting money at PTA meetings and taking donations. This was about an INSTITUTION--and when she said that, it all clicked for me. This is a racket! I thought. Donate a few bucks, assume you are doing the right thing for the kids and... then forget all about it. No lasting changes in the health care system take place, no kids learn to co-exist with disabled children as equals. It's about pity = money. And where does the money actually go? Not to actual disabled children, who need wheelchair ramps and other similar useful stuff, but to scientists who are promising to prevent more disabled people from being born in the first place.

Meanwhile, there are people who could use that money in the here and now, for housing-modifications, payment for medical bills, special-needs education, etc. "In reality," Harriet said, "many of the people contributing would likely be surprised to know where their money goes. They often believe they are helping pay for the children's medical bills, for instance. Just ask them."

And yes--I always believed that, too--before Harriet said otherwise on TV.

Partly because of her striking beauty and southern poise, and partly because she represented a political breakthrough to me, I never forgot her. And when I went to parties where clueless able-bodied people said, "Do you believe they are demonstrating against JERRY LEWIS now?!? Political correctness has gone too far!" I would repeat everything she had said, starting several pretty good discussions in the process.

She made the case, so politely, so southern. Who could argue?


Peter Singer is one person who might argue.

I am not able to discuss him rationally, for a variety of reasons, but Harriet took him on in two debates. Then she wrote about the events for the New York Times Magazine, turning herself into something of a star. The article was titled Unspeakable Conversations, and she shows her southern barbed wit throughout. For instance, she is well aware of the reactions to her appearance:
It's not that I'm ugly. It's more that most people don't know how to look at me. The sight of me is routinely discombobulating. The power wheelchair is enough to inspire gawking, but that's the least of it. Much more impressive is the impact on my body of more than four decades of a muscle-wasting disease. At this stage of my life, I'm Karen Carpenter thin, flesh mostly vanished, a jumble of bones in a floppy bag of skin. When, in childhood, my muscles got too weak to hold up my spine, I tried a brace for a while, but fortunately a skittish anesthesiologist said no to fusion, plates and pins -- all the apparatus that might have kept me straight. At 15, I threw away the back brace and let my spine reshape itself into a deep twisty S-curve. Now my right side is two deep canyons. To keep myself upright, I lean forward, rest my rib cage on my lap, plant my elbows beside my knees. Since my backbone found its own natural shape, I've been entirely comfortable in my skin.

I am in the first generation to survive to such decrepitude. Because antibiotics were available, we didn't die from the childhood pneumonias that often come with weakened respiratory systems. I guess it is natural enough that most people don't know what to make of us.
She describes her first debate with Singer, philosopher and professor of bioethics at Princeton University, who has a number of supposedly utilitarian, pragmatic views on disability (which basically come down to: euthanize them like stray kittens when they are infants):
He responds to each point with clear and lucid counterarguments. He proceeds with the assumption that I am one of the people who might rightly have been killed at birth. He sticks to his guns, conceding just enough to show himself open-minded and flexible. We go back and forth for 10 long minutes. Even as I am horrified by what he says, and by the fact that I have been sucked into a civil discussion of whether I ought to exist, I can't help being dazzled by his verbal facility. He is so respectful, so free of condescension, so focused on the argument, that by the time the show is over, I'm not exactly angry with him. Yes, I am shaking, furious, enraged -- but it's for the big room, 200 of my fellow Charlestonians who have listened with polite interest, when in decency they should have run him out of town on a rail.
And then, she is shocked (as I often have been, too) when she scratches the surface and finds Peter Singer holds a view of disability right out of a Hallmark greeting card, while he nonetheless claims scientific/philosophic objectivity:
To Singer, it's pretty simple: disability makes a person "worse off."

Are we "worse off"? I don't think so. Not in any meaningful sense. There are too many variables. For those of us with congenital conditions, disability shapes all we are. Those disabled later in life adapt. We take constraints that no one would choose and build rich and satisfying lives within them. We enjoy pleasures other people enjoy, and pleasures peculiarly our own. We have something the world needs.

Pressing me to admit a negative correlation between disability and happiness, Singer presents a situation: imagine a disabled child on the beach, watching the other children play.

It's right out of the telethon. I expected something more sophisticated from a professional thinker. I respond: ''As a little girl playing on the beach, I was already aware that some people felt sorry for me, that I wasn't frolicking with the same level of frenzy as other children. This annoyed me, and still does.'' I take the time to write a detailed description of how I, in fact, had fun playing on the beach, without the need of standing, walking or running. But, really, I've had enough.
She is speaking colloquially, of course; Harriet never "had enough" of arguing disability rights. And she ended up debating him at Princeton, too.

Harriet's obituary in the Charleston Post and Courier also reminds us of her lifetime of activism in the Democratic Party:
She was chairwoman of the Charleston County Democratic Party executive committee (1988-2001); city party chair (1995-2000); secretary of city party (1989-95); national convention delegate (1996); president, Charleston County Democratic Women (1989-91); County Council candidate (1994); and a certified poll manager.
Harriet, we will miss you. I know you at least wanted to outlive that sanctimonious ass Jerry Lewis! I am aware that you were a proud atheist, but my belief is that people like you get to heaven for doing good works.

And I hope you will look down and bless us as we continue the work you started.
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, by Andrea Smith: a review by Allison McCarthy [50BPT]

Today's entry comes from Allison McCarthy. Allison McCarthy is currently a graduate student in the Master of Professional Writing program at Chatham University and a freelance writer covering topics on social justice, anti-racism, and feminism(s). Her short fiction and journalism have been featured in magazines such as Girlistic, Global Comment, ColorsNW, The Baltimore Review, The Write Side-Up, Scribble, JMWW and Dark Sky. Along with bloggers Monica Roberts and Renee Martin, Allison is a co-host for the BlogTalkRadio podcast Womanist Musings. She has recently contributed guest posts to the blogs The F-Word UK, Girl with Pen and Womanist Musings and an author interview for the LGBT group blog The Bilerico Project.

Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide
, by Andrea Smith, with a foreword by Winona LaDuke

In Conquest, professor and activist Andrea Smith documents the connections between state-sanctioned violence, social violence, and the lives of Native women. Among the topics which Smith brings a sharp critical eye of analysis toward, she includes: forced attendance by Native children at government-ordered boarding schools, racial profiling and the high rates of incarceration for Natives, illegal and unauthorized population control methods, the misappropriation of Native traditions by white supremacist capitalist culture, toxic environmental testing on Native lands, and so much more. Although much of her research reflects the direct experiences of Native women in North America, Smith also chronicles the environmental injustices which impact Native communities across the globe. By refusing to separate culture, race, and gender into simplified categories of oppression, Smith successfully integrates intersectional perspectives with suggestions for readers on how to better understand and fight against social injustices within Native communities today. Her suggestions for structural and social change "meet the challenge to develop programs which address sexual violence from an anticolonial, antiracist framework, so that we don't attempt to eradicate acts of personal violence while strenthening the apparatus of state violence. Nothing less than a holistic approach toward eradicating sexual violence can be successful" (169). For more of Andrea Smith's groundbreaking work, you can also read some of her amazing essays in anthologies published by INCITE!, including The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (2007) and The Color of Violence (2006).
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thursday/Friday Roundup

Here's what I learned from around the blogosphere today and yesterday:

Tyli'a "NaNa Boo" Mack and another unidentified woman were stabbed in a vicious trans misogynistic hate crime only two blocks from DC Transgender Health Empowerment. Mack may have been targeted for refusing to be silenced in the face of oppression. To compound the tragedy, these women were hatefully degendered or had their gender erased by identifying the victims as "transgender males" in initial coverage of the attacks by Fox and NBC (both stories, which I will not link, have been changed without any kind of note of the correction).* There is a vigil tomorrow for the loss of these brave women. Coverage from Jos at Feministing, in which she is kind enough to link my post on Janey Kay, is here.

August 28 is a memorable day in civil rights history for many reasons. Allison McCarthy connects the death of Emmet Till, the "I Have A Dream" speech, and Obama's nomination last year on Global Comment.

Great conversation over at Laura's space on whether or not a man can be a feminist.

Renee covers scooter accessibility at Womanist Musings.

You all have probably heard about how Ted Kennedy was an "LBGT" advocate. Via TransGriot comes this piece explaining why the "T" part of that isn't valid.

I'm in a LTR, and this piece comparing the baby and wedding industry articulated a lot of my fears about my future with my partner.

Chally talks about her mother's struggle to have folks recognize it when she changed her name back. I'm very proud to have the McCarthy part of my name come from my mother following Lucy Stone's example, and we often had to hang up the phone on folks who called looking for Mrs. James.

Want some lemonade? 25 cents if you're a skinny able-bodied white cis straight man! $5 if you're a fat trans disabled woman of color!

meloukhia ponders the merits of photographed graffiti.

Cara covers another disgusting example of how rape victims are further victimized.

Ann at Feministing reviews a book on tallness. I'm 5'10.5 myself, and I loved it.

Monica covers the story of model Tenika Watson and how she was out-ed as a trans woman.

Blackkittenroar responds to commands to comb her hair.

Ruth Moss admits her fantasy of being thin.

*I apologize for participating in this degendering by referring to Mack and the other woman as "trans men" on Twitter. No matter my intentions, disrespecting and disregarding these women's identity is unacceptable. I should have been more skeptical of news media in reporting it to my Twitter followers. Thanks to Lucy and voz for setting me straight. For some instruction from voz on how to react to coverage of trans violence in the media, please see my retweets (hers are protected) here, here, and here.

Welcome new readers!

. [Photo credit Carmen]

Hi folks! Huge upswing in visits the past few days thanks to kind links to my post on the framing of Janey Kay's attack from voz (whose help in writing that piece was instructive and invaluable) and Feministing. So, welcome! If you're new here, I've pulled together some older posts for your perusal. Most of them are not time sensitive, and many of them may have oppressive language - I'm constantly learning and growing and making mistakes, so if you see an issue or an example of me inflicting privilege, I welcome your calling it out.
I highly recommend checking out my current series, 50 Books for Problematic Times, which profiles authors with non-normative bodies for the publishing industry (meaning, not white straight cis men.) If you have a suggestion, I am still taking submissions at the call for entries.

To my regular readers: I'm sorry about the unpredictable schedule lately. Life has been getting in the way on a regular basis. I am most productive when I'm busy, and I'm back to work next week, so you can expect more out of me then. If you missed my Tasty Thursday today, hit it up for some sweet potato goodness.

50BPT continues throughout the weekend and into next week - look for reviews from amazing women like Allison McCarthy and Daisy this weekend. I believe I promised a review of Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir She's Not There, but I want to fully cover its virtues and flaws and I'm a bit too weary to do that competently right now.

Links in a moment. Thank you so much for reading.

Sweet Potato Fries [Tasty Thursday]

Sweet potatoes are nutritious and delicious. I've only recently discovered them, but I'm presently addicted.

2 sweet potatoes
1 cup butter/margerine
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon sugar

1. Wash and place potatoes in large pot of boiling water for about 15 minutes, or until soft.

2. Preheat oven to 400.

3. Chop potatoes into thin slices and quarters.

4. Mix the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon sugar.

5. Mix the butter mixture and potatoes in a large bowl until potatoes are coated.

6. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer.

7. Cook until the edges begin to crisp or blacken (about 30-45 minutes).

8. Enjoy!

Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, by Patricia Hill Collins [50BPT]

Today's entry comes from Cheryl. Thanks Cheryl!

Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins

This book comes to mind for me every time I talk to a white feminist who's just discovered this Great New Thing! called "intersectionality." Collins was talking about it nearly two decades ago, and the sources she cites and the struggles she describes make it clear that women of color have been navigating this space for a long, long time.
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Normalization of maleness and whiteness in beer packaging [Tasty Thursday]

I love beer. I also love wine and liquor, but beer’s what I come back to. Beer is plain ol’ delicious: every brand has a distinct flavor and it goes well with food or alone. It’s just intoxicating enough: if I don’t feel like getting wasted, one or two will do me, but steady drinking will get the job done fine if I’m in a partying mood.

My fella and I get tired of the same old, same old beer selection at our local Kroger, so when we travel out of state, we often pick up a lot of regional beers – up to 12 six packs when we have the cash! The beer boxes are my second favorite part of buying the beer after drinking it. Beer packaging is colorful and diverse, and often beautiful*:

The boxes serve as a runner around our walls. They’re a fascinating and unique decorative element of which I’m quite proud and which get a lot of comments from our friends. It’s a good record of our travels and our life together. They are not meant and usually are not read as endorsements of every beer we drink, but are in the context of over a hundred other examples of packaging. Pedestrian PBR is next to regional Yuengling, and obscure Backfin is next to a sampler pack. Every box that we (or occasionally a friend who works at a beer store) consume goes up on our wall, regardless of aesthetic or political merit: they are meant to provoke critique and examination of the relative merits and values in different packages of different beer.

This is why I continue to hang even packaging that is distasteful to me politically: with dozens of other examples of beautiful and ugly beer packaging to compare with, the viewer should examine what appeals to them and why. Decoration is not necessarily without critique; I also hang a Britney Spears posters, maps of Kansas and Virginia, and memorabilia from my alma mater, but it's not an unqualified recommendation of any of those institution. What's on my walls reflects my history: where I went to school, the concerts I went to, where I was born and where I live, what I drank. I lead a life that's not above questioning and which is not averse to critique. Taking down objectionable ads would be erasing my own questionable consumption.

Since I’m surrounded by the boxes all day, I begin to pick up on elements of their design. Namely, that males and whiteness are constantly normalized within the design of the boxes**:

Excepting the daguerreotype-esque Southern Ale, all of the men above are shown enjoying the beer, usually while engaging in their daily duties or in making the beer. The cottonwood man is not actively engaged, but he is holding the wheat that will make the beer, thus conferring involvement in the beer on him. The Highlands man is somewhat othered by the bagpipes, and I’m not sure how the man in the Rogue ale is constructed, but both are drinking and enjoying the beer they’re intended to represent. They are active and involved – not passive, not just drinking the beer, not just there. They are constructed as dynamic and effectual as they drink the beer. And they are all white: men of color are erased in beer packaging as far as I've seen.

Now, let’s look at the women that show up on the wall:

Women love to drink. Women love beer. But you would never know it from their scarce representation in beer packaging.

In the beer packages I’ve got up, women are not engaged in the act of drinking the beer that they represent. In fact, they’re not engaged in anything. Except opening their mouths, or, um, being on fire. They’re…objects. More specifically, sexual objects that have in most cases been disembodied. They’re floating heads, with their mouths open.

It gets worse when you look at how, specifically, the women of color are constructed. Look at the "Bad Penny" packaging above, and this one that I recently saw at a music festival:

The black women are constructed as reductive, exotic others, black women whose sexuality exists for the inebriated male gaze. It is not a coincidence that both have afros. Natural hair beautiful and laudatory, but there is only one kind of natural hair here: the style that is often problematized as dangerous and exotic, as another element that makes them an exotic experience for the male drinker.

Their sexuality is especially lacking in agency: the naked woman in the sexual chocolate ads is literally presented as an offering to the male gaze. She’s not engaged with the viewer by drinking, or by making eye contact. She is passive, and coded as naked: she is wearing a tube top, but it’s obscured by lettering of the same color as the top. A cartoon figure, she is not active; she is just there, waiting to be debased.

The “Bad Penny” character is making eye contact, but her eyes are heavily lidded, unlike the white women above. I took the “bad” in the name of the beer to be capitalization on blaxploitation by an alcohol company that aligns itself with kyriarchical forces: it’s the “Big Boss”. If the producer of this beer is the boss, where does that leave the women who hawk it?

Speaking of othering, let’s look at another one I found online:

Note again the heavily lidded eyes, the more explicit nudity. Though she is at least shown to be holding liquid, she’s not drinking it or enjoying it; she’s pandering to the male gaze with an oh-so-subtle finger in her mouth.

This is supposed to construct Aztec culture (which I am not well-versed in discussing). Please note the feathers, the background, and the jewelry as elements of othering and exoticization that I can’t fully articulate. Also not that this is not in a stein, as with most males shown with beer, but in some kind of “primitive”-looking stone goblet.

Women in the marketing of beer is a grim, grim field. Beer is a man’s drink, and women are excluded from independent enjoyment of it. They are not the drinkers of beer; they’re the sex that sells the beer, the static objects of intoxicated lust.

To end on a less grim note, I did come across one ad that struck me as positive:

This woman is not being objectified, or reduced to an othered sexual object. She is normalized by her whiteness, but also by her active enjoyment of beer. She’s drinking, which is what women do with beer.

ETA: meloukhia pointed out this label, which I'd seen before:

While the legs are somewhat sexual, and her eyes are closed, this woman is engaged and active - she is enjoying the beer, and life. Check out the comments for more beer packaging and discussion.

*It should be noted that while I appreciate the aesthetics of this example of packaging, this is an example of how voodoo is problematized and othered – especially when paired with a loaded word like “Dixie”.
**Many, though not all, of these packages repeat the imagery shown here in packaging of other varieties of beer.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa: a review by frau sally benz [50BPT]

Today's entry comes from the awesome frau sally benz! frau sally benz is a twenty-something blogger from New York City who blogs at Jump off the Bridge. She is a certified bookworm.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

"What began as a reaction to the racism of white feminists soon became a positive affirmation of the commitment of women of color to our own feminism. [...] This Bridge Called My Back intends to reflect an uncompromised definition of feminism by women of color in the U.S." (xxiii)

This book was written almost 30 years ago but it's as important now as it was when it was written, perhaps even more so.

The book is made up of poems, letters, essays, etc. and broken up into six sections meant to cover the range of experiences had by women of color involved in the feminist movement. As a Latina who wears the Feminist label for the world to see, it means a lot to read the words of others who struggle with what it means to live and breathe in this movement.

I truly believe, however, that this book is not just for women of color in the feminist movement. This book is for anybody who has ever felt discriminated against for any reason. This book is also for anybody who has ever discriminated against another person for any reason.

In these times, this book is a reminder to check ourselves. Come face to face with your oppressions. Come face to face with your privileges. Take a look at what's around you and figure out where things went wrong. Speak your truth but listen carefully to what others say. Every step you take thereafter will be a step towards something better.

Whether you read only a handful of pieces or sit through the entire thing, you will surely get something out of it.
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday Roundup

Hey all! Hope you've had a lovely day. I'm going to get right to it - I'm about to go back to work, so I'm trying to get things in order and am pretty busy....

First off, the late Ted Kennedy. Kennedy accomplished a lot, and advocated for women and reproductive health in particular on a number of occasions. However, I'm not one to glorify people even immediately after they pass, so beyond the post above, I'm not going to link to any posts that seek to do just that here - you can find them easy enough on your own. So, here are some posts that take a much more critical look at his life and legacy - including the woman he killed, the rapist he protected, and his cis supremacy:

Shakesville: Teddy

Recursive Paradox: Bros before Hos: A Post Ted Kennedy Story

Daisy's Dead Air: Mary Jo Kopechne 1940-1969, More on Ted Kennedy

Renegade Evolution has some thoughts on porn, and her ownership of it issues.

Shark-Fu gets right to it: By request, my thoughts on Glenn Beck’s show’s emaciated advertising…

Chris MacDean takes white privilege within the Queerty community to task.

Cara at Feministe: Six Women Murdered, Three Still Missing, and Nobody Seems to Notice

ETA: Laurie was kind enough to send me this link in regards to serial killer story on Feministe above - there are apparently two more victims.

Women's Equality Day, and the inequal valuation of women.

Today is Women's Equality Day.

Unlike most holidays, celebrating that which has already happened, it commemorates one past milestone while celebrating a goal that has yet to be achieved.

Betty Friedan

Women of all kinds are making inroads in politics - but they continue to face hatred and fear. The pay gap is slowly narrowing - but it's not gone, and our jobs are not secure. The personal safety of women is better guaranteed - but rape and violence are still daily presences. Women's voices are valued - but also belittled. We speak - but we qualify our words.

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman-Hughes

We're making progress, slowly, inch by inch. There are so many things we have done.

Shirley Chisholm

Women can vote, and speak against what they see as wrong. Women can work in whatever field they please. Woman have specific and protected rights over their bodies. Women have a right to property. Women are able to leave violent homes and find shelter. Women can and do hold elected and appointed office. The voices of women are valued in a wide variety of contexts. Women can retain their identities. Women can raise children alone. Women can play sports. Women can demand change.

Kate Bornstein

Are these gains unqualified? No. The rights above are not available to every women - it's always dependent on privilege.

Not all women are devalued equally. All women face sexism, but many women face additional hurdles that intensify threats to the volume of their voices, the safety of their bodies, and the security of their finances.

Julia Serano

Black women face challenges that white women do not. Trans women are subject to threats that cis women never fear. Differently abled women face barriers that women with able privilege skip past. Lesbian women's lifelong partnerships go unrecognized while het women's are encouraged. Intersex women are freaks and sexual women are praised. Too-fat and too-thin women are constructed as disgusting while women with size privilege are normalized and constructed as attractive. Bisexual women have their sexualities fetishized and invalidated while het women's sexualities are normalized. Old women are belittled while young women are seen as the next font of knowledge. Poor women struggle to make a living while rich women theorize.

Gloria Anzaldua

I am speaking from the perspective of my own privileges here, and that doesn't even begin to cover all of them.

Harriet McBryde

And these threats, these challenges, these deprivations, often come from other women.

Germaine Greer

The feminist movement and the fight for women's equality reflects the flaws of the kyriarchy - we, too, are transmisogynistic, we, too, are ableist, we, too, are racist. Feminists participate in erasure, and silencing, and violence.
Alice Walker

Some voices are valued, quoted, and listened to so much more than others'.

Andrea Dworkin

Even when we try not to, even when we specifically work to avoid it, we participate, and reify, and wield our privilege.

bell hooks

We use other women for speed bumps on the road to understanding.

But still - we have done much, and we will do more. We will get better. We will fix our movement, and the world. Not for us, probably, but for our daughters, our granddaughters, our great-granddaughters.

Wild, by Jay Griffiths

Today's post comes from an old school pal, Jessica Reidy! Thanks Jessica!

Wild, by Jay Griffiths

Griffiths lives with indigenous communities all over the world and talks to them about their environments, histories, beliefs, troubles, and their concepts of "wild." It is an extraordinarily important feminist, historical, and anthropological work! Indigenous people have been abused, murdered, and wiped out by missionaries and colonialists alike, erased by white interference and theft. It's a sad book, but an important book, and enormously well-written.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Roundup

via Female Impersonator

Hey y'all! (Is it bad that whenever I say that, my mind completes with "I'm goin' out with my boots on"? I listen to too much country.)

Stuff I liked:

Daisy loves flowers.

The Abortioneers want to see less abortion and more birth control.

Racialicious has a great piece up on characters of color in novels by white writers and writers of color. Good 101 material.

Melissa at Shakesville has a creepy story to tell.

Monica reminds us that women come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors, and genitalia.

"GLBT" newspaper's transmisogynistic framing of assault erases Janey Kay's gender

Spot the issues here:

How is Janey Kay identified in the headline of this piece?

Though this attack has tones of cissexism, transmisogyny, and straight-up misogyny (a strange man attacking a woman in a dark public space), Ms. Key is not a woman in this article. She's barely even a person. She's just ... a transgender. And Ray Young's manhood is unmarked: he is a gay man, not cis, just, you know, regular.

Headlines are important to defining the key elements the writer or newspaper wants to highlight in the story that follows. And in this headline, the article or headline writer chooses to identify the perpetrator's gender, and clarify his position with two adjectives - drunk and gay.

Ms. Kay, however, is nothing. She is reduced to the adjective, without any mention that she's a woman on the recieving end of violence from a man. She's just a transgender. Practically an "it".

And no, it's not just because it's shorter to say transgender. Trans woman takes no longer to write.

This article from Metro Weekly spends as much time defending the attacker as it does covering the attack. He was drunk, he supports local gay areas, and after all - Ms. Kay attacked him! After all, he's one of the family! (What is "the family"? Is being cis necessary for inclusion?) This is particularly disappointing from a newspaper that claims to cater to the trans community by tacking on the "T" to the GLB.

Violence against women is unacceptable, and I'm pleased the perpetrator in this incident is being held responsible. But in coverage of such violence, it's crucial to remember that this is, indeed, violence against women. Ms. Kay is not "a transgender"; she's a woman, a trans woman, attacked by a man, a cis man, for not fitting into his gendered, sexist, cissexist expectations, for not being "part of the family". Reducing someone to an adjective is dehumanizing and degendering. Referring to her by simply her transition status is sexist, cissexist, and transmisogynistic.

Otalia: Yes It's Patriarchal. So What? [Television Tuesday]

Today's Television Tuesday post is a guest post from Kate. Kate Monteiro has been watching and thinking about television since before she can remember. She sometimes posts and often Tweets under the name ZenobiaDTC. Thanks Kate!

I keep finding myself in some very long Twitter conversations. You know the ones -- where you try to make important points about soap operas, misogyny, homophobia, pleasure -- all in 140 character bursts with something akin to intelligible abbreviated spelling. That doesn't really work well. But basically the discussion boils down to this. "I feel empowered" versus "I've been betrayed." Smart, media savvy women all, and we're getting down right Twitter-pated about a soap. There must be something special going on.

Soap opera is a patriarchal form. I know critics call it a 'women's genre' and I completely agree. But being a women's genre is not the same as being a feminist genre. In this and almost all cases, the phrase 'women's genre' means the form prioritizes emotion over reason, interpersonal connections and connectedness over hierarchical structures, private over public, family over power. But as long as soap operas are produced within the commercial, corporate media of a sexist society, they will always be bounded by the expectations and norms of the genre as we know it. Our task - and our pleasure - as feminist audience (and creators) is to find the fissures, cracks and opportunities within the dominant paradigm -- to write our stories against the grain and in subversion of the dominance. We are -- for lack of a better word -- the resistance.

In late 2007, four strong, smart, modern and by all indications feminist women -- executive producer Ellen Wheeler, head writer Jill Lorie Hurst and actresses Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia, set out to create a story within a very specific context -- Guiding Light, the iconic 72 year old US daytime serial drama. Given the necessity for approval from CBS, a fifth woman, SVP of Daytime Barbara Bloom, could arguable be added to that list. The story became the 20 month arc affectionately known to fans as Otalia, the burgeoning friendship and romance of Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera. Nearly a year into this slowly developing same sex romance, by spring 2009 Otalia had become the "buzz" of the soap industry attracting both long time soap fans, and thousands of non-soap watchers. Big Purple Dreams, the primary fansite devoted to the storyline, amassed nearly 6000 registered users - nearly twice the users of the show's official site.

Question is did these smart, modern, feminist women produce a story which is free of misogyny? No. One free of homophobia? No. But is it fair to expect that of any text? Even considering texts written and produced by out queer feminist women within this culture -- How many perfect texts can you name?

Okay, so Otalia isn't perfect. But, you say, it was doing great and then they threw in that baby! (Yes, as a result of a little gay panic/she doesn't love me/mercyfuck, Natalia's 6 months pregnant)

Hold on to your hats folks. Otalia -- and I say this with deep love and a fierce belief in its revolutionary character -- has ALWAYS been bound up in patriarchy and homophobia. Yes, you read that right. Always. Inextricably. Completely.

Textual examples? Otalia began as a fight over a man. And not just a competition over sexual conquest of - or even the right to be sexually conquered by -- a man. Otalia started as a fight about a HUSBAND. (Start at 2:00)

There's Natalia and the sleazy sexually predatory lawyer who never gets punished. Olivia can 'save Natalia' from the sacrifice, but only so far. (Start at 2:22)

Then by eminent domain -talk about patriarchal power- widow Natalia's house gets taken and that small patrimony is swindled by the financier and Olivia ends up losing a job to claw the money back. He doesn't suffer any either.

Then there's the question of closeted lesbian Mayor Doris Wolfe using homophobia to further her career. (Start at 3:11)

Viewers have come to love and forgive Doris, but the text never punished her for her actions. Then there's the affectionately named "fornication of denial" when Natalia slept with Frank Cooper and the ensuing proposal of doom, the heteronormativity of the engagement party, and all the symbolism of the eventually disrupted wedding.

Overtly heterocentric (and sometimes outright homophobic) and patriarchal forces circle this text weaving in and out and around. Olivia and Natalia never vanquish them. At best, they carve out small spaces, both narrative and psychological, in which their own desires and selfhoods hold sway. For months careful viewers would get angry when characters (all male) repeatedly barged into the women's farmhouse home without knocking and being invited in. It was a literal manifestation of the precariousness of the boundaries and defenses of the self defined woman and the self defined female couple in this text and in this society.

Frank Cooper was never 'inserted' into this story (loaded imagery aside). He does not put brakes on a free and self realized powerful homocentric relationship. He was there - in one form or another - from the very beginning. The story of Otalia has always been -- and given its context could only ever have been -- about overcoming the forces of patriarchy and homophobia that weigh on us, channel us into conformity, and punish us when we don't surrender to them. Otalia is a story of resistance.

If it ends, as I suspect it will, with resistance rewarded, then it will have done its particular job in the grand scope of things. Because anytime the resistance fighters win, the patriarchy is left just a tiny bit weaker.

Read more about Otalia on Wikipedia and in the New York Times.

In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, by Alice Walker: a review by Cole [50BPT]

Today's entry comes from a friend from school, Cole. Thanks Cole!

Cole will graduate this year from Kenyon College with a degree in English/Creative Writing and Women's and Gender Studies. She focuses her energy towards issues of gender and race in rural and agricultural areas, especially in the American South.

In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, by Alice Walker

This book may be over-cited by white women trying to prove that they are culturally sensitive, but that doesn’t detract from the innate value of this text, which deserves a high place on a list of relevant books for problematic times. We live in a time when most people (and almost all people with cultural or political influence) believe that feminism is irrelevant and outdated, and have likely never even heard of womanism. My personal belief is that our generation thinks feminism is irrelevant partly because we have grasped (at least indirectly) the complexities of living in a multi-media, multi-cultural world, and feminism’s evolution for the past two decades has taken place mostly in the academy, not on the street. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens does not feel outdated or irrelevent, as many 1st- or 2nd- wave feminist texts might seem to mainstream readers. Walker’s writing is blunt and sensitive all at once; she wanders between her personal history and our collective cultural history, honoring Zora Neale Hurston and both praising and critiquing Flannery O’Connor. White readers may be a few decades late in approaching Our Mothers' Gardens, but this book is in need of a wider reputation today because it functions as a gateway for modern readers into a more sophisticated theory of culture, gender, and justice.
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!

Monday Roundup

Nothing to do with feminism, just what's on my mind...

Hello all!

I am having a rough week, getting a little cabin fever after three months working solely from home. My fella is also in a changing space, and it's starting to get to us (and our cats!). After a month of quite abundant inspiration, I'm feeling the lack thereof, so posting may be more news-based and less analytical. If you've got any suggestions (or guest-posts!) please, direct my way.

Tomorrow! Watch for a Television Tuesday guest-post on Otalia from Kate M.

Some good readin' today:

For Blue Eyes: Pecola Breedlove Lives - Renee posts on hueism, hair, and internalized hatred.

Defense Attorneys Want Victim to Act Out Alleged Rape in Court - It's about as ridiculous and awful as it sounds.

Owning My Thin Privilege - Proud to be mentioned in the first line of this stellar post from Laura.

Every Week, Something New And Awful (updated) - Recursive Paradox is brave enough to speak up about her experience of sexual harrassment via phone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Douchebag DESchatz uses Guinness to construct women as shared surface for beer

Edit: Apollo was kind enough to inform me that this is NOT an actual Guinness ad. The asshole who did create it defends himself thusly:
It really isn't real. I shot the ad with no intention of sending it to Guiness because of the content. IT was meant to either make people laugh or get really disgusted. I rather people felt the former because that's why it was made. Just for fun.
Oh and it only cost $320 for the ad. My equipment, 300 for the actress, and the rest for food and a six pack of Guiness [sic]
So, Guinness is not the asshole here, this douchebag DESchatz who thinks dehumanization is "just for fun" is. Sick. And he's bragging about it and how "cheap" it was.

I love Guinness, so I was sincerely disappointed to see this pop up in my reader courtesy of Citizen Ojo:

In this commercial, a beer is placed in the small of a woman's back. Her body is moving rhythmically to music at what sounds like a house party, though the viewer cannot see how or why it is moving. Other than the horizontal jiggling of her back, she does not move - her hair stays stationary, and the angles of her body do not change, indicating that she is holding her position. What looks to be three male hands come out and take the beer and replace it, one after another - one comes from the direction of her feet, one from her head, and one from below. The text at the end reads "Share one with a friend. Or two."

The woman in this commercial is constructed not as human, or as worthy of respect. This woman is constructed as furniture - without limbs, or a head, or digits. She's not a body - she's a disembodied, decontextualized, less than fully human body part. The woman in this commercial is just a groove in which to place one's beer. She does not enjoy the beer herself, or take part in any of the revelry. She is dehumanized to the point where she is just a surface.

This disembowelment of any kind of identity on the woman's part is completed by the end text. The woman in the commercial is not one of the friends being shared with. There are three men in the commercial, and they are the friends. At best, this woman is what they gather around; at worst, she's the one being shared.

Furthermore, the sexual overtones in this commercial make me really uncomfortable. Why is this woman's body moving the way it is? What is the relation of these men to this woman? Why is there a man in back, in front, and below her? She's clearly not agent in whatever sexual activities are going on - her body is not moving, but rather being moved. She's a passive recipient of actions - a surface to place beer upon, someone who is receiving action from behind, from her front, from below.

This reads as rape to me. She's not agent in anything - she's a body part that's being moved and being acted upon. She's being shared. She is not sharing her body - men are sharing her, without any visible respect for her wishes or bodily integrity.

I've been reading a lot about agency on the part of women who are constructed as sexual in pornography and other sexual imagery, but this is not a case where feminism is doing the dehumanization. This woman has nothing at all beyond the small of her back and her hair - she does not have a face, or legs, or arms. She has nothing beyond that small space, used exclusively by men. It's another entry in the long and sorry history of degraded women in beer advertisements.

Roxanne Shante [Music Monday]

Yesterday, I wrote about Dr. Roxanne Shante, who was one of the first female hip-hop stars. Her music often confronts sexual stereotypes, double standards, and undue sexual pressure from men. I'm not very fluent in hip-hop, but Shante's voice is smooth and even, particularly for her age.

The song that made her famous, Roxanne's Revenge:

And the uncensored version (done in one take at the age of 14):

I love her stage presence here:

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell: a review by meloukhia [50BPT]

Today's entry comes from meloukhia! meloukhia writes on this ain't livin'

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

The science fiction section is often banished to a dark and dusty corner of the bookstore, and it is there that you will find The Sparrow, probably wedged between two mass paperbacks with lurid covers and improbable titles. The Sparrow is most certainly science fiction, but don't let that put you off: it is one of the most complex, thought-provoking, and influential books I've ever read.

Ostensibly about a culture class between the inhabitants of two planets, The Sparrow is also a somber commentary on society and the direction our society is heading it. It touches upon issues like religion, the need to care for the environment, sexuality, and structural inequality, all in a very well-crafted and gripping story. It is a book which can be read again and again for more depth and detail.

A bit triggery for reasons I won't go into for fear of spoiling the story, The Sparrow belongs on any thinking person's bookshelf.
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

First Queen of Hip-Hop Roxanne Shante earns PhD. despite attempted trickery from Warner Brothers [Success Sunday]

Roxanne Shante was a trailblazer for women in rap and black women artists in the 1980s, predating and creating spaces for artists like Queen Latifah and Lil Kim. She hit it big at the age of fourteen with "Roxanne's Revenge", a response to rap group UTFO's misogynistic hit "Roxanne, Roxanne". The song was noticed for its sharp wit and coarse language, and was a national and local hit. Dr. Shante used the success of the Roxanne Wars to launch a career as an MC with exceptional freestyling ability.

Dr. Shante was also in a problematized body: a young black woman without class privilege and with a child. Record company executives used her lack of privilege to cheat her out of her royalty checks and dump one of the founding members of the Juice Crew after two albums. At 25, the first queen of hip-hop quit the industry. "Everybody was cheating with the contracts, stealing and telling lies," Shante, born Lolita Gooden, said. "And to find out that I was just a commodity was heartbreaking."

But instead of giving up, Dr. Shante used her past experience to take her career in a different direction. Her contract with Warner Brothers included a clause which guaranteed that the label would pay for her education for life.

Of course, Warner Brothers thought that they could continue to take advantage of Dr. Shante, and refused to pay for years. But through Dr. Shante's determination and self-advocacy, she eventually succeeded:
She eventually cashed in, earning a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell to the tune of $217,000 - all covered by the label. But getting Warner Music to cough up the dough was a battle.

"They kept stumbling over their words, and they didn't have an exact reason why they were telling me no," Shante said.

She figured Warner considered the clause a throwaway, never believing a teen mom in public housing would attend college. The company declined to comment for this story.

Shante found an arm-twisting ally in Marguerita Grecco, the dean at Marymount Manhattan College. Shante showed her the contract, and the dean let her attend classes for free while pursuing the money.

"I told Dean Grecco that either I'm going to go here or go to the streets, so I need your help," Shante recalls. "She said, 'We're going to make them pay for this.'"

Grecco submitted and resubmitted the bills to the label, which finally agreed to honor the contract when Shante threatened to go public with the story.
Since earning her PhD., Dr. Shante has continued to be a role model and inspiration for women everywhere. Besides funding annual scholarships for female rappers, Dr. Shante focuses her efforts today not on capitalizing on the washed-up celebrity vogue over at Vh1, but instead focusing on how she can help her community. She currently runs a therapy practice targeted at urban women of color. Dr. Shante often uses hip-hop in her sessions to create a comfortable and safe environment for the women she sees.

Dr. Shante's efforts are especially important because urban WOC rarely receive mental health care. (The source article frames it as their being resistant to therapy, but I would guess that the reasons for this are more systematic - as in, therapy is outrageously expensive and probably does not cater to this demographic, and is stigmatized in any culture.) "People put such a taboo on therapy, they feel it means they're going crazy," she explained. "No, it doesn't. It just means you need someone else to talk to. They can't really let loose and enjoy life. So I just let them unlock those doors."

"I call it a warning service, so their dreams don't turn into nightmares."


Interested in hearing her work? Watch this space tomorrow, when I'll share some of Dr. Shante's music for Music Monday.
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