Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sexual Harrassment is a Not-So-Fun Spot (to find yourself in)

For quite some time now, I felt that something was “off” with the company I have been working for. Family run, every owner, manager, and higher-up had known each other for years, and this created a sense of impenetrability, and infallibility. In other words, no matter what any of them did or said, I knew there would be no repercussions; after all, who could fire family? It wasn’t until a few months into my job, however, that I truly began to feel their faint misogynistic undertones creeping into the workplace.

The first time I ever took specific notice of this behavior was one of the first times I was called in to work on a Saturday. Alone in the office, the male manager on duty (MOD) and his male lead came in, sat down directly across from me, and exclaimed, “Man! Have you seen [co-worker’s] ass?! She is HOT.”

In short, I was stunned, and completely unsure how to respond. Was I expected to agree? Should I pretend to laugh along with them to get in their good graces, to be “one of the guys?” Should I be honest with how appalled I was?

Coming from a company in which the slightest *hint* of sexual harassment required a Disney Inquisition, I was shocked that these two men had no qualms discussing another co-worker’s body with me in such a sexual way, especially when I was the only female in the office. Their words made me upset, because they weren’t just about the comment itself; they ran much deeper than that. These two male superiors were valuing the woman for nothing more than her body. Not her work ethic, or her customer service abilities, or her mind, but rather “her hot ass.”

It made me wonder if that was how they viewed ME, and the other women at work. If they were talking to me about another co-worker, were they talking about all of us? Was that all we women were to these men? Separate, disconnected body parts?

I was extremely uncomfortable, but suppressed my feelings, thinking that I was overreacting, or acting like a “prude.” It wasn’t long, however, until things began to become even worse.

During one of our daily meetings, the same MOD was discussing an event we were going to be hosting at work. The local boy’s volleyball team was invited to a free day of go-karting, food, and fun, and the managers were discussing how we “might as well” invite the women’s team so that the men’s team would be able to “have some fun” (well if THAT shouldn’t have been the first sign …). In any case, the MOD, in front of the entire morning shift, began with “oh man, hot girl athletes in little shorts … can I work this event?” Chalk up another one on his scale of sexual sketchiness.

It was only a few weeks later when I heard from another co-worker some (for once) positive news – apparently, sexual harassment would be the topic of our morning meeting. I went into the meeting extremely excited. Finally, someone else had realized the inappropriateness of the MOD’s comments, and was going to warn us about that kind of behavior! As I walked into the meeting, however, I was confused to see that specific MOD leading the discussion. “Sexual harassment?” he laughed, “Pssh! Sexual harassment is the reason I work here!” I looked around for another face as appalled as I’m sure mine was, yet found only laughing faces. Our Human Resources director and General Manager were hysterical, loving every minute of his “goofy” jokes.

I was completely disheartened. It was at that moment that I realized there was no real action I could take; going to HR or the GM was obviously out of the question – they had known the MOD for over 10 years, and would obviously take his side any day over mine – especially since sexual harassment was such a non-issue for them.

That night, I called home in tears, feeling in my heart that something was very wrong with my work environment. Expecting to find support, I found only disbelief and skepticism. My mother couldn’t believe that “such nice people who I used to love working with” would ever engage in such behavior, and my father had the nerve to suggest that “just because I was offended by a joke didn’t mean that it was inappropriate, and that maybe I should just ‘lighten up’.”

Everything I had ever read in Women’s Studies was coming true right before my eyes. Because I am young, and because I am a woman, I was “obviously” exaggerating. I was acting like a “typical woman,” because I was emotional. I was terribly vain because I thought I was “hot” enough to be in a situation of sexual harassment.

The criticism I was faced with upset me almost as much as the sexually charged work environment, if not more. And yet the comments continued, until today at work, which was the final straw for me. I had put up with comments about other womens’ bodies. I heard women told they couldn’t work in specific areas because the men would be too distracted by them. I had listened in quiet disbelief as the MOD “joked” about how he didn’t want a dress code at our Christmas party so that he could see the girls in tight dresses. I had suffered through comments about the outfits I wore, the shoes I had on (“wow, come here and look at her drag queen shoes!), the homophobic comments I would receive if I wore a rainbow bracelet to work (I wish I was making this up). Nothing could compare to the owner’s comments at today’s morning meeting, however.

Moving to the front of the room, the owner revealed his plan to open up a new wing house restaurant near our new location. The name? T & A. Yeah. T & A. As in “Tits and Ass.” Oh, wait, I mean “tasty and affordable, although I’m sure the ‘double entendre’ will help with business, especially for the male audience ;)”

Wow. If I ever had ANY doubts about the male perception of my female co-workers, they were completely erased from my mind. Especially with his follow-up comment – “I mean, ha ha ha, god made ‘em, we may as well love ‘em.”

Oh, but wait. It gets worse. A hour or so later, the bosses old friend, let’s call him Chris, came in to visit with a woman. Having never met me before, Chris introduced himself, and then the woman, Ellen. Upon hearing this, the boss bellows “Ellen? What is this? Call her what she is – your wife!”

Gosh, what was Chris thinking? I mean, introducing his wife as a person with a name instead of as his property? What does he think this is? The 21st century? Hellooo.

Needless to say, I was furious, and had to write about my experiences. I realize this may read more like a personal journal than a public forum, but I truly do believe that is through the personal experiences of women, and the sharing of our stories that change can be made. Before today, I had only shared this story with my parents (and we all know their reaction), and my boyfriend, who was extremely supportive, and gave me some great ideas on how to handle the situation.

It makes me incredibly mad, however, that women have to deal with situations like this on a daily basis. The fact that we still live in a society where we are considered –by not all, but many – to be no more than objects of desire. To work for men, not for ourselves. That our bodies are celebrated more than our minds. And most of all, it makes me mad that we are put into situations like this where we are not believed. We are exaggerating. We are over-reacting. We are prude and humorless and bitter and vain. And we are ANGRY.

Tonight, especially, I am very angry with myself. After all of this, I still confessed to my boyfriend that I didn’t think I could quit my job. The money was great. The hours were flexible. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of applying elsewhere and going through interviews and figuring out a whole new system of work. It meant the world to me when he turned to me, and looked at ME with disbelief. “Isn’t this kind of behavior exactly what you stand against? Women having to deal with these awful situations because they don’t think they are good enough or strong enough to leave? You know that you are, and no one, NO ONE should have to deal with that kind of behavior.”

In that moment, my internalized feelings of inferiority were brought to life, and I realized how dead on he was. I was accepting what these men were doing to me. I was going to allow this behavior to continue on. I was going to lose my voice, my identity, my self worth, my pride, and most importantly, my self respect.

Women of the world, we cannot tolerate this! If we allow this type of behavior to continue, we will never break the endless cycle of oppression. We will be giving in to the idea that we are only there, like the women’s volleyball team, to be men’s playthings. To that, I say HELL NO. We, like that team, are so much more than misogynistic males’ perspectives of us. We are strong, brave, and tough, and we do NOT need to put up with this behavior. We need to talk to one another, to not be afraid to share our stories and our experiences, because with the support of each other, we can reach our full potentials as individuals. Let’s realize our full potential, and be proud of who we are J

Monday, December 3, 2007

Do Nothing, and You May as Well Lend a Hand

A while ago in my Women's Studies class, we watched several PSAs about domestic violence during one of my classmate's discussion leadings. One PSA from Australia was particularly haunting, and left our normally outgoing classroom completly speechless. I remember sitting in the darkened room, watching everyone's faces morph from concern to shock to utter dismay.

I finally found the PSA, and wanted to share it with you. I'll warn you - it can be very triggering, and is very difficult to watch, but it's something I feel everyone needs to see.

I think it's amazing that something so profound is being shown over in Australia, but my applause at the PSA quickly turned to absolute disgust when I began reading the comments posted undeneath.

For those of you who didn't watch the video, (warning) it depicts a man and woman sitting at their kitchen table, listening to their next-door neighbors through the thin walls. The neighbor man is yelling terrible things at the woman, and a situation involving domestic violence is strongly implied. After an uncomfortable amount of time, the first man stands up, picks up a baseball bat, and goes next door, presumably to be the hero and stop the neighbor from abusing his wife. However, the man instead hands his neighbor the bat and says "thought you could use this." The scene is then cut away from, and one can hear the abused wife begin to cry.

What an awful image, yet the final text is powerful - "do nothing, and you may as well lend a hand."

Yet, as I mentioned before, it wasn't necessarily this PSA that incited me to write, but rather the comments underneath:

"I hope he beats her good. Crazy woman with her back talk."
"pat that man on the back! He did a good deed by giving a bat to beat the bitch!"
"That was retarded!The guy with the bat should have went in there to help tame that crazy dame!"
and this was just the first page.

Are there are even words for this? I cried when I began to read these comments. I cried out of anger, out of absolute frustration, and out of absolute despair. I don't care if these people were trying to be funny. I don't care if they were trying to incite trouble, or were desperately seeking attention. It's absolutely, totally, 100% sickening, and it makes my blood boil that people could even BEGIN to laugh at this.

What is it in our culture that makes people think these kinds of "jokes" are ok, LET ALONE actually believe what they are saying (which I pray to God isn't the case, or I don't know what I what would do).

Fuck anyone who doesn't believe that we need a feminist movement. Who doesn't believe there isn't any work to be done. Who thinks that Women's Studies is a waste of time. Who makes jokes belittling women that gives others the right to make the same jokes and constantly keep women oppressed.

How could people be so heartless, and so misogynistic? It saddens me that women are thought of so little by these people. That we are considered lesser. That people think it is ok to make jokes about "our place" and violence against us like we are not human.

Read this article. Live, rage, and weep with these women. See the realities facing women all over the world. Get angry. Do something. Don't allow ANYONE to EVER make comments like this, even if they're only "joking."

By joking about something so serious, we allow it to become something to laugh at, to remove ourselves from. We allow women to become the "other." To become dehumanized.

I wonder how these commentators would feel if the PSA was reality for their mother. Their sister. Their niece. Their loved ones.

We cannot allow this violence to continue. It has to stop now. It has to stop with us.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Monday, November 26, 2007


I am so bad at keeping up with this blog, but I have been given some amazing ideas lately, and as soon as midterms are over, I can't wait to share some of the in-depth discussions I've been having with my classmates and friends lately. As for now, I just wanted to post two short essays I had written for my Women's Studies class, as well as the prompt. I hope you all enjoy them, and maybe learn something new :)

Sheila Jeffreys argues in Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West (Routledge 2005) that Western beauty practices fulfill the United Nation’s concept of “harmful traditional cultural practices.” According to Jeffreys, these practices are 1) damaging to the health of women and girls, 2) performed for men’s benefit, 3) responsible for the creation of stereotyped roles for the sexes, and 4) justified by tradition (Jeffreys 3).
Choose ONE culturally accepted Western beauty practice (i.e. dieting, wearing high-heeled shoes or make-up, etc.), and make a case for the ways it violates (or does not violate) a broad-based definition of women’s health. Make sure you use at least three of our readings to support your argument.

According to The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 8.7 million people in the United States underwent cosmetic surgery in 2003, 83% of whom were women. ( These extremely high numbers are especially terrifying when one begins to look at the ways in which plastic surgery is normalized and even encouraged on the macro, meso, and micro levels of society. By analyzing Sheila Jeffreys’ definition of “harmful traditional cultural practices” within each of these 3 levels, along with readings from Kirk and Okazawa-Rey, Jean Kilbourne, and Lani Ka’ahumanu, it can be seen that plastic surgery does, in fact, violate a broad-based definition of women’s health, and thus needs to become a focus of the feminist movement.

As defined by the United Nations World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 215). Therefore, when determining if plastic surgery violates this definition of health, a holistic approach needs to be taken. Unfortunately, on the macro level, plastic surgery focuses solely on women as objects who need to be visually appealing to a male audience. At this institutional level, women’s health is violated most often through the advertising industry. By classifying the ideal woman in advertising as someone who meets impossible beauty standards, young girls and older women alike are programmed to feel that if they do not compare, they will not be enough for their male counterparts. Jean Kilbourne writes, “the cumulative effect of these images and words urging girls to express themselves only through their bodies … is serious and harmful” (137). An obviously large effect of these dehumanizing images is the steep rise in plastic surgery, and more specifically, breast augmentation. Women are hospitalizing themselves, and allowing doctors to cut open their skin and insert foreign objects into their bodies in order to achieve the male standard of beauty . Not only is this a serious physical health risk and violation, but also stresses Jeffreys’ argument that a woman’s health is violated when she acts for the benefit of a man (Jeffreys 3). If the macro-level advertising industry is not continually questioned, challenged, and “girl”-cotted by the feminist movement, it will continue to remain a serious health violation to all women.

At the meso level, many factors remain in place which serve to violate women’s health in two ways described by Jeffreys – factors which are responsible for the creation of stereotyped roles for the sexes, and justified by tradition (Jeffreys 3). Many of these factors can be found in the workplace, where, unfortunately, conditions are constantly in violation of women’s health. For example, Kilbourne writes “there is…pressure on young women today to be thin, to shrink … not to take up too much space, literally or figuratively” (136). This workplace tradition of women as small, quiet, and almost invisible is justified by the lifelong tradition of the separation of work into “men’s work” and “women’s work.” While women have obviously made much gain since newspapers’ jobs sections were separated by gender, the strong meso-level reinforcement to stay “small” mentally carries over into the physical side as well. Combining the pressure to remain small with the macro-level advertising industry, it is no wonder that liposuction was the number 1 performed cosmetic surgery in 2005 ( When women feel as if they have to be both physically and mentally “small” in order to survive in the workplace, their health has obviously been violated.

Unfortunately, females are not often able to escape from the pressures of “beauty” at the micro level either. Although written as a poem, Lani Ka’ahumanu’s work describes the way many young females often feel - “I would avoid looking at myself, I mean really looking beyond the self-hate … I was constantly comparing myself with others” (154). Even in individual lives, the pressure to be perfect is overwhelming. This mental agony and worry can begin to take control, thus harming an individual’s health both mentally and spiritually. Low self-esteem can lead to drastic acts, such as spending thousands on plastic surgery, and a majority of people surveyed who underwent plastic surgery were those who spent an hour or more a day thinking about their appearance (

Although women’s health is often violated at the macro, meso, and micro levels, this news should not serve to dishearten women. It is a difficult journey, but by reclaiming actions for ourselves instead of for men, by challenging definitive gender stereotypes and discriminatory traditions, and focusing on health and holistic, positive living, a feminist-positive health system is absolutely obtainable.


Life on planet earth has ended and you are being beamed up to Planet X, where you will begin a new society with several other survivors. It’s a long trip to Planet X, and so you have time to plan. What absolutely vital feminist idea should serve as a foundation of life on Planet X? Define this feminist idea and provide at least three supporting reasons, from a feminist perspective, for its necessity on Planet X. Make sure you use at least three of our readings to support your argument.

In order to form a feminist foundation on Planet X, there are three vital factors that must be in place so that the main feminist idea of equality can be implemented. At all levels of life, there must be no gender roles enforced, a universal health care system designed around choice, and the acceptance of love based on individual desire and agency.

In a world without feminism, only two strictly defined gender roles exist, male and female. From the moment a baby’s sex is determined, immediate stereotypes are formed, and from the moment the child is born, all of those around him/her treat the child the way they believe the child “should” behave based on his/her gender. The trouble with this socialization, however, is that it takes away an individual’s agency and opportunities in life. As Leslie Feinberg writes, the ideals of a “real” man and woman that we are inundated with since birth “straightjacket the freedom of individual self-expression” (194), and hinder everything from the jobs we take to the clothes we wear, and the way we are socialized to behave. Not only are gender roles demeaning for those who identify as male or female; they are extremely harmful to those who don’t feel as if they fit into an either/or category, such as transgenders. As Feinberg writes, “for many of us [transgenders], the words woman or man … do not total up the sum of our identities” (195). Therefore, in the feminist society of Planet X, we will begin fresh with no pre-determined notions of how a gender “should” behave. Instead, free will and agency will be promoted, and individuals’ dreams and goals will be encouraged regardless of what biological sex they are born into.

Once the population begins to grow on Planet X, a universal health care system will need to be implemented. Because good health is the foundation of life, it must be preserved and protected, and most importantly, individualized. While the idea of individualizing a universal health system may seem contradictory, it boils down to the idea that while everyone must have equal access to the health care of professionals, the care must be in synch with the individual’s personal decisions. If, for instance, a woman believes that she is not yet ready to care for a child or does not desire to have one, the option to receive a safe abortion must be readily available to her. This idea of a health-care system based around choice will be centered on Judith Arcana’s belief in the importance of respecting and trusting the natural instincts of women. “All the Great Mothers were respected in their choices, decisions made for the good of the child, the mother, the clan, the tribe, the nation” (Arcana 227). Arcana also argues that we must discuss our personal choices “in open recognition of our joy or sadness, our regret or relief – in conscious acceptance of the responsibility of our choice” (227). Although Arcana is referring to abortion, her ideas speak to the entire medical field as well. Neither women nor men should ever be forced to feel shame about their bodies. Instead, on Planet X, open discussion and honesty will be encouraged, and by talking about our personal health concerns, much more will be gained and learned.

Finally, the most important factor which will be enacted on Planet X will be the idea of free love based on an individual’s agency. While “love in patriarchal culture was linked to notions of possession, to paradigms of domination and submission,” love on Planet X will be based around egalitarian relationships rooted in the feminist foundation of equality (bell hooks). As there will be no defined gender roles on the planet, there will also be no boundaries between males/females, and homosexual relationships will be just as valued as heterosexual ones. Love will be, as bell hooks so beautifully describes it, “the will to extend oneself to nurture ones’ own or another’s spiritual growth because it affirms that love is an action” (236).

On a Planet ruled by love of oneself and equal love and respect of others, there a world of hate and black/white gender stereotypes will not be possible. There will be no denial of a human’s right to choose and have control over his/her own body, and the health industry will be based around care and humanity, not monetary gain. With these three factors in place, Planet X will be a feminist society built on the foundation of equality.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Porn Myth - Girls Gone Wild!

Naomi Wolf is one of the first feminists whose work I read. Perhaps one of her most famous books, The Beauty Myth opened my eyes to the oppression and injustice women unfortunatly still face in this day and age, while offering advice on how to fight the negative stereotypes of beauty presented everywhere - the ad industry, the workplace, home, etc. I just stumbled across a short article of hers, and had to post it. I have some major, major issues with pornography, so I thought I'd share this article to see what you all think. It's an easy read, but a poignant one, and I think it rings very true to the porno-culture we are saturated with on a daily basis.

The Porn Myth

In the end, porn doesn’t whet men’s appetites—it turns them off the real thing.

At a benefit the other night, I saw Andrea Dworkin, the anti-porn activist most famous in the eighties for her conviction that opening the floodgates of pornography would lead men to see real women in sexually debased ways. If we did not limit pornography, she argued—before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility—most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.

The feminist warrior looked gentle and almost frail. The world she had, Cassandra-like, warned us about so passionately was truly here: Porn is, as David Amsden says, the “wallpaper” of our lives now. So was she right or wrong?

She was right about the warning, wrong about the outcome. As she foretold, pornography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training—and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?

For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.

For two decades, I have watched young women experience the continual “mission creep” of how pornography—and now Internet pornography—has lowered their sense of their own sexual value and their actual sexual value. When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up. Your boyfriend may have seen Playboy, but hey, you could move, you were warm, you were real. Thirty years ago, simple lovemaking was considered erotic in the pornography that entered mainstream consciousness: When Behind the Green Door first opened, clumsy, earnest, missionary-position intercourse was still considered to be a huge turn-on.

Well, I am 40, and mine is the last female generation to experience that sense of sexual confidence and security in what we had to offer. Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough. Now you have to offer—or flirtatiously suggest—the lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene. Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax—just like porn stars. (In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled.) Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up. By the new millennium, a vagina—which, by the way, used to have a pretty high “exchange value,” as Marxist economists would say—wasn’t enough; it barely registered on the thrill scale. All mainstream porn—and certainly the Internet—made routine use of all available female orifices.

The porn loop is de rigueur, no longer outside the pale; starlets in tabloids boast of learning to strip from professionals; the “cool girls” go with guys to the strip clubs, and even ask for lap dances; college girls are expected to tease guys at keg parties with lesbian kisses à la Britney and Madonna.

But does all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.

The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want; and that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy. The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn, and how it is not helpful to them in trying to figure out how to be with a real woman. Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.

So Dworkin was right that pornography is compulsive, but she was wrong in thinking it would make men more rapacious. A whole generation of men are less able to connect erotically to women—and ultimately less libidinous.

The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.

“For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”

After all, pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: It is Pavlovian. An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.

Other cultures know this. I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

And feminists have misunderstood many of these prohibitions.

I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend who had become an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. When I saw her again, she had abandoned her jeans and T-shirts for long skirts and a head scarf. I could not get over it. Ilana has waist-length, wild and curly golden-blonde hair. “Can’t I even see your hair?” I asked, trying to find my old friend in there. “No,” she demurred quietly. “Only my husband,” she said with a calm sexual confidence, “ever gets to see my hair.”

When she showed me her little house in a settlement on a hill, and I saw the bedroom, draped in Middle Eastern embroideries, that she shares only with her husband—the kids are not allowed—the sexual intensity in the air was archaic, overwhelming. It was private. It was a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West. And I thought: Our husbands see naked women all day—in Times Square if not on the Net. Her husband never even sees another woman’s hair.

She must feel, I thought, so hot.

Compare that steaminess with a conversation I had at Northwestern, after I had talked about the effect of porn on relationships. “Why have sex right away?” a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. “Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone,” he said. “I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it’s going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.”

“Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” I asked. “Doesn’t that also get rid of the mystery?”

“Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”


What a sad world we live in where sex is no longer a personal, mysterious, wonderful experience. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone. I am positive that there are those who are able to communicate their desires and fantasies, and engage in honest and open discussion about their experiences with each other. However, it'd be hard to convince me otherwise that a very serious sexual repression has taken root in this society.

Repression? How can this be when women are now "liberated" to show off their hot matching bra and pantie set to "friends" on their webcams? When frat houses are beginning to install stripper poles in their living rooms so women can revel in their supposed "sexuality?" So companies like "Girls Gone Wild" are making millions exploiting women who are too drunk to say no? (and don't you dare tell me women are "asking for it" by getting drunk. Why should a woman have to live in fear that her actions will lead to harassment, assault, and possible rape? - that, however, is an entirely different blog).

This, dear readers, isn't sexual liberation! This isn't reclaiming sexuality for ourselves, this is putting on a show like we are instructed to do by the most popular teacher of sex-ed --- the porn industry. This is saying to yourself, "in order for him to think I'm hot and sexually attractive, I need to look like the women he watches and wants."

The porn industry is no longer a "once-in-a-while," "occasional user" recreation. It has taken over almost every aspect of our lives. Although I don't personally read them, my boyfriend is a devout follower of sports blogs and forums, and almost daily points out frustrating components of these sites ... posts to rate the "hottest" girl of the month. Registered users identifying themselves with pictures of breasts, or signing off every post with a picture from Maxim or FHM. Likewise, music sites are lined with pictures of "hot, horny singles in your area!" --- hello? Does anyone else see a problem when you cannot go to virtually any site on the internet without advertising for sex workers - err, I mean, "friends" on the side? Our advertising industry - save companies like Geico (thank God someone has a sense of humor devoid of sexism!) - is completely inundated with porno images. AXE body spray, anyone? How can anyone escape these images without shutting themselves off from the rest of the world entirely?

But I digress. What is the effect of all of this on women? It is here I could not agree with Naomi Wolf more - porn causes deep feelings of inadequacy, and gives us false misrepresentations of what "sexuality" is. Instead of being presented and taught as something personal, individualized, and deeply passionate and erotic, sex is commodified into a simple package to be sold. The pornography industry has become so entrenched in our culture that we are no longer satisfied with "boring" sex. We are so desensitized that we need double penetration, foreign objects, more pain, more degradation ... the list goes on.

Now I realize that everyone has their own sexual desires, and that is what is so wonderful - we all have something we want! I am sure that there are those who would love these acts, and they should be applauded. However, as one becomes more and more immersed in watching pornography and continues to watch these acts change and develop, becoming increasingly more violent against women, the idea is planted that ALL women desire these things. Why of COURSE all women want to be gang-banged. Of COURSE a woman who dresses in low-cut shirts wants to be stopped at the side of the road to hop in your van and put out, and if your girlfriend doesn't want a dirty sanchez, well by golly, isn't she a prude!

Why are we encouraging these pornographic fantasies, and most importantly, why are women buying into them?! The pornography industry is not a glamorous one. Although it is hard to record actual statistics, there is an overwhelming majority of workers in the industry who have been, or are still, sexually abused. Their living conditions are poor, health is always an issue, and pornography is cited by many as a "last option" for women who have nowhere else to turn.

Is that really something we want to glamorize? Is this why girls spin around on stripper poles, to show how porny and "sexual" they are? To show they're "just like" the girls in the porn who are hot, wild, and up for anything?

Why, instead, aren't we encouraging sex-positive conversations? Why aren't we encouraging women to focus on their minds instead of their bodies? While we need to be proud and love our bodies, we need to make sure that whatever we do with them, we are doing for US, and not because we feel it is what a man wants.

Our sexuality should be allowed to blossom however we want it to. We should encourage it, and respect it, and not allow it to be dictated by a society that uses sex as a mere commodification of women as nothing more than objects used by men for sex. If we want to flaunt what we've got, then hell yes we should. But if we are doing it because we believe that it is what a man wants to see ... because it makes us "sexy" by society's definition instead of our own ... because we want attention however we can get it ... by flashing ourselves on a webcam, or spinning around in a frat house ... then we need to re-evaluate ourselves and our definitions of sexuality.

Let's break out of this porn myth once and for all, and begin our own sexual liberation!

"And the touching leads to talking,
and the talking leads to sex,
and then there is no mystery left."
- Rilo Kiley

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Love is All We Need

It's been forever since I've last written. I wish I had updated sooner, but my Women's Studies class has been throwing so much new information at me that I never have a free moment to record any of it. I'm learning faster than I ever have before, and there is still so much to discover! Finding countless, brilliant, insightful, and inspiring theories is opening a whole new world to me, and I'm constantly encouraged to stay active and not only talk about what I'm learning, but practice it as well.

This past weekend, for example, was the first time I have ever participated actively in a social cause, and I could not be more excited about it. Joe Saunders, one of the coolest person I've met this year, asked me to help recruit and organize volunteers to table for Equality Florida and the Fairness for All Families campaign at Orlando's Come Out With Pride 2007 Event! I was fortunate enough to recruit some AMAZING volunteers who stayed at the event the whole day to help spread the word about Florida's so-called "Marriage Protection Act." If this act was passed as an amendment into Florida's constitution, not only would there be a ban placed on same-sex marriage, but same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships as well. Therefore, we were at Pride to reach out to the community and encourage them to pledge to vote NO! to placing discrimination in our constitution.

I think that in the debate over gay marriage, there is one main issue that is often ignored - that every single person living in this state, in this country, is a HUMAN BEING who deserves the same equal rights. How can we, as a country, even suggest denying basic rights to citizens based on who they love? Once two people in this country are married, they are granted over 1,000 rights. These rights include everything from tax breaks to visitation rights in the hospital. Can you imagine that scenario? Your partner, whom you have been with for 20+ years, is suffering from a life-threatening car crash, or a serious disease, and because you are not "married" or "family," as defined by law, you are not granted visitations rights to visit them in their last few hours. Or, imagine you have been with your partner in a committed relationship, and yet your place of work denies you domestic partnership benefits for health or life insurance.

I cannot imagine how anyone can honestly look at themselves and say that an entire group of people, based solely on their sexual attractions, or personal definitions of love and gender and self-identity, should not receive the same basic human rights of those who prescribe to the heterosexual norm.

My Women's Studies professor offered some inspiring advice in my last class however -- according to her, in recent polls, the gay rights movement is considered by many to be THE movement for this generation. It is an issue we feel passionately and deeply about, and it is one that we can ultimately achieve!

The feeling of being involved in something so political and so relevant was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I hope that everyone will experience that feeling in their lifetime. For the first time, I felt the power that people can create while coming together to fight social oppression, and it was completely exhilarating. Hearing people thank us for working towards justice and equality was so humbling, and that day, connections were made that won't be forgotten. I truly believe that in any scenario where people have come together to work for a world of equality, harmony, and peace, there is a great life force present, and the possibility for change is endless.

Pride was a day of hope, love, and community, and I would encourage you all to attend one wherever you live, as a member of the GLBT community, or as a straight ally.

On a closing note, I'd like to leave you with this quote from the Pride parade:

"We are not asking for special rights - just human rights."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Viva la Vulva!

“I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them.”
– Eve Ensler

This blog begins with a short essay I wrote for my Women's Studies class, which asked us find the common thread among our assigned readings for the week (dealing with feminist theorizing about body image and beauty ideals), and to tie in a cultural artifact, as well as a feminist response to the articles. The following is my work, with additional commentary.

Viva la Vulva!

Eve Ensler’s quote from her fabulous work, the “Vagina Monologues,” rings true to my own worries about the vagina after reading Chapter 3 in “Women’s Lives: A Multicultural Perspective,” as well as the selected readings from the same text, and Chapter 5 in Megan Seely’s “Fight Like a Girl,” aptly titled “Good Enough.” Through every single text, one terrifying fact stands alone – that women are made to feel unhappy about who they are, not based on personal characteristics or personality traits, but on the basis of their bodies alone. Not only does this separate the body and mind, and make women feel less whole, but demeans every woman as nothing more than an sex object, or a disconnected system composed of separate body issues in need of extensive “repair” – legs that need to be smoothed, thighs that need to be thinned, hair that needs to be waxed, breasts that need to be lifted, faces that need to be airbrushed, arms that need to be toned and tanned. While all of these ridiculous beauty standards that women are expected to meet are outraging, it was a line on page 123 of WLP that infuriated me the most –

WomenseNews writer Sandy Kobrin (2003) also reported an increase in labiaplasty, ‘the surgical reshaping of female external genital structures. Doctors who perform this surgery say that most women who get it are ‘pressured by men who want them to conform to an idea of beauty most often seen in the porn industry’.”

I cannot even begin to fathom the idea of putting oneself through surgery, a dangerous procedure even for medical conditions that are the determination between life and death, to “improve” the look of one’s labia. According to the website, 793 women underwent “vaginal rejuvenation” in the United States alone. After visiting WomenseNews’ website, I found another another article Kobrin published in 2004 in which a woman writes,

“‘I looked in like, those magazines, and saw that inner labia shouldn't stick out like mine did,’ said Crystal, who requested her last name be withheld. ‘So I had a labiaplasty and now I love the way I look; nice and neat and new. My vagina looks perfect’.”

A plastic surgeon also commented on the harrowing rise of the surgery,

“‘Women want to be tight,’ said Matlock. ‘They don't want sagging or loose labia. I can't tell you how many pages and pages of pornographic material women have brought into me saying, ‘I want to look like this.’”

The most discomforting part of this rising surgery isn’t necessarily the surgery itself, but the fact that women feel as if they aren’t “good enough.” They are entering doctor’s offices bringing in armloads of pornographic images of women whose labia are “perfect” – images that are airbrushed to all look the same. Lifeless, non-descript, impossible images that only serve to further condemn women to feel shameful of their own bodies. When only one (or a few extremely similar images) are presented through the media – in the case of labia, and the vulva as a whole, usually only through the pornography industry – women have no way of knowing that there are millions of vulva shapes, sizes, designs, and beauty- a type for every woman! In this way, “the constant promotion of an ideal body image is a very effective way of oppressing women and girls, taking up time, money, and attention that could be devoted to other aspects of life, like education or self-development, or to wider issues such as the need for affordable health care, child care, elder care, and jobs with decent pay and benefits” (WLP 129).

Not only are women detracting from these issues by focusing their time on their physical attributes rather than their personal and spiritual growth, but the language they use against their bodies is degrading and demeaning. It is not until after surgery that women consider themselves “nice,” “neat,” and “perfect.” Until then, they feel “sagging,” which is considered undesirable by not only themselves, but their partners as well.

It is through female-positive websites such as the cultural artifact which can end these negative self perceptions women are socialized to hold against themselves. On the site, Doctor Betty Dodson has collected beautiful photographs of women’s vulvas of all varieties. These images are empowering and exhilarating, as they depict vulvas that are different from the pornographic norm. These images let women know that there is nothing “wrong,” or “imperfect” with the way they are, that everyone’s bodies are different, and that it is not important to worry about the external so much as the internal.

As a feminist, I responded to these articles with shock and dismay, yet with great praise for empowering websites such as Betty Dodson’s. Because women and young girls are inundated with a flood of over-sexualized, over-exposed, over-airbrushed images of what a “woman” is supposed to be in every facet of life, from advertisements in “Seventeen” magazine, to pornography pop-ups on every website, to the television shows we praise, it is a feminist’s responsibility to continue to share and create these female-positive websites. It is our responsibility to ensure women that who they are IS good enough. Instead of accepting “what is horribly wrong in our lives,” we need to “fight [for] what is beautiful and right” – images of women that are real, honest, and beautiful in their imperfections (The Body Politic 143).


As I mentioned in my essay, the statistics are astounding, and the language womyn use to describe themselves even worse - if they are saying after surgery that they are nice, neat, and perfect, then before the surgery they must have been bad, unclean, undesirable, and imperfect.
This idea is so ridiculous, that I am enraged womyn are made to feel this way, especially when the vulva is so beautiful, so strong, and so much a part of being a womyn. One of my favorite descriptions of female anatomy is found in "The Vagina Workshop," a favorite monologue of mine from Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues.

"My vagina is a shell, a round pink tender shell, opening and closing, closing and opening. My vagina is a flower, an eccentric tulip, the center acute and deep, the scent delicate, the petals gentle but sturdy ... my vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny. I am arriving as I am beginning to leave. My vagina, my vagina, me."

This description is so beautiful, and so powerful, and should be read by every womyn. THIS is the language we should use when speaking about our bodies, the words of our feminist mothers and role models. Words that come from within ourselves, not from the media. Words that are strong, and empowering. When we refer to ourselves in the way the media wants us to view ourselves - as fat, slobby, undesirable, sagging, ragged, imperfect - we can never become more than our bodies. We are doomed to concentrate all of our energy and money on an unreachable goal of "perfection," that not even our models can reach (remember, even they need to be airbrushed before they hit the magazines). Moreover, the

"tendency to view one's body from the outside in - regarding physical attractiveness, sex appeal, measurements, and weight as more central to one's physical identity than health, strength, energy level, coordination, or fitness - has many harmful effects, including diminished mental performance, increased feelings of shame and anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and the development of eating disorders" (WLP 134).

Womyn, we need to rise above this. We have to realize the life-threatening dangers of such physically-based thought processes. We need websites such as Dodson's and Men, we need your help as well. In a recent study, "male college students shown centerfolds from Playboy and Penthouse were more likely to find their own girlfriends less sexually attractive" (WLP 134). Men, you too need to educate yourselves on the power your words hold. When the majority of womyn is undergoing labiaplasties due to negative comments from their male counterparts, it is not only a womyn problem, but a male problem as well.

We all need to be educated, and informed about the wonders and beauty of the human body. Let's learn to love ourselves, and never forget - Viva la Vulva!

all images by the brilliant Georgia O'Keefe

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Closer to Getting Saved

Today I want to share something from the class that first inspired me to enter into the field of Women's Studies - Marriage and Family. I took this class in the Spring Semester of '06 with Dr. Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox, who is truly an amazing professor. I'm not sure if she's aware of this fact, but Dr. Cox was the first person who truly inspired me to continue with Women's Studies once I transferred schools. I had signed up for her Marriage and Family class after a particularly devastating Fall semester, in which I retreated from not only everyone around me, but from myself as well. I was the witness to some deep betrayal within my family, and as I watched my life I thought I knew collapse all around me, I had no clue how to even begin recollecting myself.

It was at this point that I happened to notice the Marriage and Family class listed in my University's catalogue. Feeling like it might be a course that I could relate to and truly learn from, I enrolled on a whim, and ended up discovering the best course I was enrolled in that semester. Marriage and Family was the first course to open my eyes to the concept of gender roles; societal-prescribed stereotypes of what is "male," and what is "female;" theories on modern day relationships and the cycles of love, etc etc. Needless to say, my mind was blown! I was totally immersed in the work, and began looking for any excuse to visit Dr. Cox and talk with her more about what we were discussing in class. Through these few meetings, we discussed different feminist literature; she pointed me towards current gender studies and journal articles; and, most importantly, when I confided in her that I was seriously considering transferring universities, she provided words of support when all I heard was negativity, and talked with me about the Women's Studies program at my new university.

It was during Dr. Cox's class that I wrote an in-depth paper applying what we had been studying in class to a film of our choosing that provided material relevant enough - and insightful enough - to thoroughly analyze and deconstruct. I knew that I wanted to write about the film Closer, which is an absolute favorite of mine, and after a suggestion from my boyfriend to write about Saved!, I began my work, which I am now presenting to you all.

As I'm sure you've all deciphered by now, I am by no means ever scarce on words. My essay is fairly long, but if you have time and would like to give it a read, I have uploaded it for you right here!

I'm sharing this with you now, because I believe that it is extremely important to look back every so often, and take a moment to appreciate the events, courses, people, moments, and writings that have brought you to the point in your life in which you are now living. Whether positive or negative, it is these experiences which intertwine to form our personal identities, and we need to be aware of these identities and take pride in them once we begin to enter into a society which, at meso and macro levels, often tries to tear us down and conform "you" into someone who is not you at all.

If you decide to give the essay a chance, let me know what you think. Your feedback is so important to me, and it lets me know into what direction I should head with my blog. Thank you all so much for your time, and if you know anyone who you feel would be interested in reading what I have to say, don't be afraid to pass my blog along!

When you're shipwrecked on your mattress,
I'll come in and show you how to hijack the past
and wind up in the right now

-Le Tigre, On the Verge

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Patriarchy of Uncle Pennybags

Sometimes I'm so overflowing with ideas, I don't even know where to begin! I have found so many interesting articles that make my mind explode with commentary, but it would take me forever to write them all down. (and, ya know, I'm writing a blog, not a dissertation, cough cough).

Therefore, I think for now I'll continue in the fashion of following along - for the most part - what I'm learning and discussing in my Women's Studies class - that is, attempting to answer one of the biggest questions I myself personally entered my class with - what exactly IS patriarchy?

I know that a good friend of mine posted a comment on my blog saying how glad she was that this wasn't just going to be a "male bashing" blog, and I'm so glad she brought that point up. Like I discussed in my last post, the idea that womyn/feminists "hate men" is one of the many false stereotypes that the media/society uses to turn womyn away from feminism.

So then, what is it exactly makes feminists so angry?

That, my friends, would be the patriarchal system in which you, I, and everyone single one of us born into this world currently resides in. Allan G. Johnson has written an incredible article entitled Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an US (1997). I urge you to all to find and devour this article as soon as you can, because it is the most eloquent, analytical description of patriarchy that I have read to date. I wish I could copy and paste it all in here, but since I can't, I'd like to highlight and comment on a few of his key points.

Johnson writes:

"At its core, patriarchy is based in part on a set of symbols and ideas that make up a culture embodied by everything from the content of everyday conversation to literature and film. Patriarchal culture includes idea about the nature of things... it's about how social life is supposed to be ... it's about standards of feminine beauty and masculine toughness, images of female vulnerability and masculine protectiveness ... it's about the valuing of masculinity and maleness, and the devaluing of femininity and femaleness. Above all, patriarchal culture is about the core value of control and domination in almost every area of human existence" (Johnson 34).

How dead-on is this description, especially when Johnson remarks on how the ideas and values of patriarchy embody every aspect of our modern day culture? First, there is the entire advertising industry, where the objectification of womyn by the male-dominated profession is, simply put, absolutely sickening. One of the best sources to depict this horror in detail is the fascinating website Media Watch. To be honest, before stumbling across this website, I probably never would have picked up on all of the underlying misogyny in the ad world (which is, without a doubt, another side effect of the patriarchal system - not even realizing how deep we are sunk into it). However, after browsing through the galleries on this site, I now look at every ad through a feminist lens, and am continually shocked by what I see. Another great resource is the "Offensive Ad' section on the pro-womyn site, Love Your Body.

An example of one of the ads - it's hard to believe this is actually an ad for a deodorant. First of all, what exactly does disrespecting a womyn have to do with keeping from sweating? Secondly, this is exactly the type of stereotype that Johnson is describing - one in which the male is the leader, the one who is in charge and can decide how and what to do to the womyn in his life, who, by nature, should be expected to "be compliant," and not be "aggressive" and speak up against this kind of behavior.

This one is definitely great. Can we be anymore obvious, Gucci? I mean, really. A womyn portrayed at a man's feet, in a position where she's about to kiss his feet, or, uh, something else. I love how easy this one is.

Here's yet another great ad - promoting your whiskey by insulting your girlfriend? Why is it that advertisers feel the need to insult womyn in order to sell their products? This is yet another example of the patriarchal patterns of male dominance in our culture. In all 3 ads, the male is in charge, while the womyn is either being belittled or highly disrespected while not in the picture, or portrayed in a lower status than the man. There are countless more examples located on both websites (most depicting completely clothed men and half-to-fully naked womyn), and I strongly urge you to check the sites out, and begin to view any ads you come across in the future through this feminist lens.

What is my point behind all of this? Am I being "too sensitive" about this material that is merely intended to sell a product? Should I just "relax" and not feel angered and outraged by the blatant oppression displayed in these ads? My answer is a resounding NO. This is exactly what Johnson is talking about when he describes the "paths of least resistance" that serve to keep patriarchy in check (Johnson 31). In simple terms, people, for the most part, live their lives according to the way they have been socialized. They do what it is comfortable in any given situation, and attempt to create the least bit of upset in an otherwise harmonious situation.

Johnson describes this by using the example of someone telling a sexist joke. Say that you are in a room with someone telling one of these jokes - you know, the typical a-womyn's-place-is-in-the-kitchen, marriage = death, men are pigs, my wife is uptight/prude/etc jokes that spread like wildfire. So the joke is told, and, obviously, the reaction is to laugh. Everyone else in the room is, it's just a "joke," what's the harm? The reality is, however, that these patterns of disrespect in a system begin to breed disrespect on an individual level, and the object of the sexist joke is automatically viewed as "less" than the jokester.

The same goes for coaches telling their male players that they "throw like a girl," or for males calling someone who is not as physically strong as them a "pussy" (and, likewise, for females to call someone a "dick," as my boyfriend pointed out - we all need to be respectful). I remember a group of male friends telling me about a mutual female friend who was insulted when the guys were yelling out terms like "Oh, you cunt!" or "Shitty tits," when they were losing in a game they were playing. These males couldn't believe that she was being so "uptight," and "sensitive," and tormented her so much that she was eventually quieted.

It's the path of least resistance to tell/laugh at these jokes, or throw around these insults, but if we continue with these patterns, nothing will ever change. The idea that if you are "less," you are "like a womyn," will continue to pervade both male and female thought, and equality will never see its day. It takes a person of true strength to stand up against these oppressive, patriarchal practices and say "Hey - this isn't right." It may take courage, and it may take time, but once one person begins to change the path, others will eventually follow, and the "path of least resistance" will change to one that leads the way out of patriarchy (Johnson 31).

It is at this point where we come to Johnson's great analogy - that patriarchy is like a great game of Monopoly.

I love this analogy more than I can even explain. Johnson's description is vivid and complex, so I'll attempt to simplify it.

Imagine that you and your friends are sitting down at the table to play a game of Monopoly. You have all played before, so you know the rules and the ins-and-outs of buying property, paying taxes, collecting from others, etc. etc. Therefore, when someone lands on your property and you ask them to pay up, you never question your personal motives and characteristics - you are not taking money from them because YOU are greedy, you are taking their money because that is what the rules tell you to do. Likewise, the patriarchal system is not about individuals, but about the rules of society, that most of us never even think to question -- how many people have ever stopped to ask WHY they can place their property on Park Ave., or whether or not they should really collect $200 when passing GO? As Johnson puts it, "We can describe [Monopoly] as a system without ever talking about the personal characteristics or motivations of the individual people who actually play it at any given moment" (Johnson 32).

Likewise, our country is centered so much around individualistic principles that we often find it difficult to view our society from a larger, collectivist viewpoint. As Johnson writes,

"From this kind of individualistic perspective, we might ask why a particular man raped, harassed, or beat a woman. We wouldn't ask, however, what kind of society would promote persistent patterns of such behavior in everyday life, from wife-beating jokes to the routine inclusion of sexual coercion and violence in mainstream movies ... what kind of society would give violent and degrading visions of women's bodies and human sexuality such a prominent and pervasive place in its culture to begin with" (Johnson 29).

Therefore, we CANNOT look at patriarchy as "bad" individuals, or "bad" men who are trying to keep the "good" women down. Patriarchy is not personal in the sense that there is no one man or group of men trying to keep males in power, but is instead a societal system that is held in place by paths of least resistance; beliefs of male domination cemented in every aspect of our culture, from ads to movies to sexist jokes; to gender-based insults, etc etc.

According to Johnson,

"Because patriarchy is, by definition, a system of inequality organized around gender categories, we can no more avoid being involved in it than we can avoid being female or male. All men and all women are therefore involved in this oppressive system, and none of us can control whether we participate, only how" (Johnson 37).

So what does this mean? That we are doomed to live in repetitious patterns of patriarchal domination? That there is no hope to change the system? Absolutely not! Although we cannot blame patriarchy on individuals, individuals have the power to change it. So stop and think before you tell that next sexist joke, or use female or male anatomy in a condescending way. Step off of the path of least resistance, and create your own. Most importantly, do not be afraid to be marked "too sensitive," or let anyone else silence your voice. Change is brought about through challenge, and I truly believe that we are ready to end the cycle.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Infamous "F" Word

I think that I'll begin this published journey into feminism the way I began myself - by learning what that big, scary, stereotyped-from-here-til-tomorrow "F" word really means -the word that makes people shudder in their shoes, call to mind images of unshaven womyn running around without their bras, bashing men, and wearing flannel - the word, of course, being feminism. I found it interesting when I began my feminist readings in class that both texts we used began by breaking down the stereotypes of a typical "feminist," and detailing the true origins of the word; most importantly, the books explain why "feminism" is powerful word that needs to be reclaimed as such during this modern age of third-wave feminism in which we live.

These texts, which I will reference from here on out, are:

Women's Lives: Multicultural Perspectives
Fourth Edition
by Gwyn Kirk and Margo Okazawa-Rey

which, for a text book, is a surprisingly refreshing and involving read, while still remaining intelligent and analytical;

and Megan Seely's Fight Like a Girl:
How to be a Fearless Feminist

which is another great read for beginning feminists. It provides a basic step-by-step guide that details not only the basic history of the feminist movement, but offers practical suggestions on how to become active in the movement at any level.

It was through these two introductory texts that I learned the importance of the "F" word, and the ways in which the patriarchal society and, to a great extent, the media, has attempted to overthrow this word and turn it against the womyn and men to whom it means so much.

Women's Perspectives talks of the influence of the media and our own socialization into a society where being a "feminist" is considered a term for womyn who are "victims," or "feminazis [who are] anti-sex, no fun, whining critics who are out to destroy men and the male establishment." (6). This stereotype, of course, must have come from somewhere, and one of the main perpetuators of this ridiculous notion is the media. WP states,

"In the past ten to fifteen years, virtually every major U.S. publication has published a 'feminism has gone too far' or a 'feminism is dead' piece... others equated feminism with a 'victim' mentality... An Esquire magazine article... claimed that there are a lot of 'homely girls,' in women's studies. According to Erica Jong (1998), Time magazine published 'no less than 119 articles' criticizing feminism during the last twenty-five years." (6)

It is no small wonder to me then that womyn are often cautious to declare themselves feminists in this day and age. When the media, which, let's be honest, dictates the way many, many people live their lives without question, states something as blatant as "feminism is dead," or "feminism is for homely, plain girls who can't get men," why would young womyn want to associate themselves with feminism? Especially in this day and age, when sex appeal and beauty is sold in every magazine article, every ad (from actual "beauty" products to Razr cell phones and beer), and on every website, why would a young womyn want to boldly state "YES. I AM a Feminist,"? Why would she want to be linked to a cause that criticizes her on a personal level (which is a low blow in itself - when feminists are focusing on changing an entire SYSTEM of beliefs, and they can only be attacked on an INDIVIDUAL level, who is the least mature?). Moreover, why would she want to risk these vast generalizations for a cause that is "dead?"

Yet this is exactly the problem we need to address. If we, womyn AND men, can realize that these falsities and unsubstantiated claims are just that - false and unsubstantiated, then we can reclaim the "F" word for what it is - a word of power, a word of empowerment and change that has revolutionized the womyn are viewed in society.

Megan Seely's book, FLaG, also spends the introduction to her text debunking the age old rumors of feminism. Seely writes,

"Many believe today that feminism is no longer necessary, that equality has been achieved, and that any hardship women encounter must be the result of their own actions ... the myths that surround feminism play into this feeling of failure and discourage women from aligning themselves with feminism. This makes it much more difficult to recognize that discrimination against women is real and that often gender serves as the source of the barrier, rather than personal 'failures.' Making feminism the enemy redirects our attention away from that which serves to hold us back." (7)

It is Seely's observant eye that pin-points the reason the media and the patriarchal society wants to keep womyn away from the feminist movement, and convince them that "feminism" is outdated and for angry, bitter womyn - it keeps womyn away from the many battles we still need to fight! Feminism is NOT DEAD, and there is not a false claim in this world that can prove otherwise. The ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) which was first proposed in 1923 , and attempts to secure rights on the basis of sex still has not been passed. Only 15% of the US Congress is comprised of womyn; in 2004, womyn still earned only 77% of what men - who are equally educated and experienced - made in the workplace; only 14.7% percent of all Fortune 500 companies board seats are held by womyn - the list could go on and on without exhaust (FLaG, 9).

When womyn, however, are being told their whole lives that "boys and girls are equal" and grow up singing "anything you can do, I do better," while reading everywhere that "feminism is dead," it is just as Seely observed - womyn blame their own inequalities on personal flaws, instead of asking questions about the society in which we live. Therefore, we are doomed to be stuck in an endless cycle of oppression, because our inabilities to advance are "our own fault," and not the result of a society attempting to preserve its patterns of male domination and control (a topic which needs to be addressed in a later blog)

Womyn have come so far in the fight for feminism, and it does make me angry that the work of our mothers and their mothers and so on and so forth is desecrated by the scared majority that (for now!) holds the power. When womyn make the claim “I’m not a feminist, but … I think we should all have equal pay, equal treatment at work, the right for control over own bodies, etc etc.,” they are denying the very word that gave them the ability to stand up and demand to be treated right!

One of the most impactful readings I came across was in Manifesta, which I mentioned in my last blog. Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards dedicate their entire prologue to the theme “A Day Without Feminism,” in which they list the ways the world would still be run if it weren’t for the feminist movement, and for the strong, powerful womyn and men who were proud to be considered feminists, and who made this world better for us. A few of the many, many examples of the ways in which the world was run before feminism are provided:

--- In elementary school, girls can’t play in Little League
--- Seventeen magazine doesn’t run feminist-influenced current columns like “Sex + Body,” and “Trauma Rama.” Instead the magazine encourages girls not to have sex; pleasure isn’t a part of its vocabulary
--- Girls have physical education class and play half-court basketball , but not soccer, track, or cross-country; nor do they have any varsity sports teams
--- Most girls don’t take calculus or physics; they plan the dances and decorate the gym
--- Even when girls get better grades than their male counterparts, they are half as likely to
qualify for a National Merit Scholarship because many of the test questions favor boys
--- If a girl “gets herself pregnant,” she could lose her membership in her local chapter of The National Honor Society
--- If a pregnancy happens, an enterprising gal can get a legal abortion only if she lives in New York or is rich enough to fly there, or to Cuba, London, or Scandinavia
--- It is unlikely that women or their male counterparts know much about the clitoris unless someone happens to fumble upon it. Instead, the myth that vaginal orgasms from penile penetration are the only “mature” (according to Freud) climaxes prevails
--- The Miss America Pageant is the biggest source of scholarship money for women
--- There are no Take Back the Night marches to protest women’s lack of safety after dark, but that’s okay because college girls aren’t allowed out much after dark anyway
--- Only 44% of women are employed outside the home
--- Women workers can be fired or demoted for getting pregnant, especially if they are teachers, since the kids they teach aren’t supposed to think that women have sex
--- A married women can’t obtain credit without her husband’s signature
--- If [a woman] gets a loan with her husband – and she has a job – she may have to sign a “baby letter” swearing that she won’t have one and have to leave her job
--- Without a male escort, [a woman] may be refused service in a restaurant or bar
--- A woman alone is hard-pressed to find a landlord who will rent her an apartment. After all, she’ll probably be leaving to get married soon, and, if she isn’t, the landlord doesn’t want to deal with a potential brothel
--- Women aren’t taught how to look at their cervixes, and their bodies are nothing to worry their pretty little heads about; however, they are supposed to worry about keeping their little heads pretty.

(Manifesta, 3-8)

Like I said, this is a SHORT list compared to the one detailed in Manifesta.

So what does this all mean? All one has to do is look at the list, and see what feminism has done for us – and these few items only scratch the surface. It is therefore very confusing to me as to why someone would want to deny themselves as a feminist - maybe they don’t feel like they have contributed to the movement yet, or maybe they never realized that, growing up in the modern day where kids were taught that we all deserved equal rights, there was a long, hard, but successful fight for those same rights (which probably has something to do with the fact that history is typically written by white males who taught us that it was “Columbus who ‘discovered’ America, and that in 1920, women were ‘given’ the right to vote,” Manifesta 6).

So what is the solution to all of this? Let’s get feminism back on track. Let’s come to the realization that if you believe you deserve to be treated equally and fairly no matter what gender you are, than you ARE a feminist. Let’s reclaim this word and deny the stereotypes that the media wants us to buy into. Let's look at how far we've come. Feminism is NOT dead, and now that this fact is made clear, we can do something to advance it even further.

"People, we are standing at ground zero of the feminist revolution. Yeah, it was an inside job, stoic and sly, one we're supposed to forget and downplay and deny. But I think the time is nothing, if not nigh, to let the truth out - coolest "F" word ever deserves a fucking shout!

I mean, why can't all decent men and women call themselves feminists? Out of respect for those who fought for this - I mean, look around - we have this."

- Ani DiFranco, Grand Canyon