Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Human Issue

By Elizabeth Winkler

Today – for the second time in my life – I heard a guy describe himself as a feminist. I’m not saying that I haven’t met men before who didn’t support gender equality (although they might not have put it in quite those terms), but it is undeniably rare to hear the word ‘feminist’ issue from the male mouth. As a feminist, I’ve learned to expect this, though I’ve never ceased to be disturbed by it. And so the question must be asked: what is it about feminism that has rendered it so taboo, for men as well as for a surprising number of women?

The inequality of men and women – in legal terms, the business world, popular culture, and the home – has been distorted as a problem that pertains only to those who stand in an obvious position at the receiving end of inequity. These inequities have thus been termed “girls’ problems” and “women’s issues." However, when women are abused at college parties, sexualized in the media, refused the right to control their own bodies, silenced, condescended to, or even sweetly praised for their ‘attempt at being taken seriously,’ what is ultimately at stake is their humanity. The unfair treatment of any individual or group of individuals has been seen in history – and must continue to be seen – as a violation of basic human rights and dignity.

I propose that feminism is not a “women’s issue” but a human issue. And, if I may be so bold, I propose that all of humanity, men very much included, have suffered the consequences of this violation. For over two thousand years half of the human race has been oppressed, though, over time, the oppression has managed to manifest itself in increasingly subtle and perverse, yet no less detrimental, ways. How can humanity possibly have benefited from such a total subjugation of half of itself? How can our world exist in any semblance of balance and harmony when one sex dominates at the expense of the other, and even of itself? It is time that anyone who cares about human life begins to care about the life of human women.

But calling the cry for gender equality a “women’s issue” does more than pervert its human relevance. By semantic association, it immediately robs it of legitimacy and importance. After all, something that chicks worry about can’t be that serious, right? I mean, women’s issues are tampons and make-up and shopping. Feminism? Just another women’s issue, dude. But this – the dilemma of dubbing equality a “women’s issue” – brings us right back to where we started: anything associated with “women” is negative, frivolous, insignificant, and even – God forbid – cute. It is that very association that feminism seeks to correct.

Unfortunately, the term ‘feminism’ has been radicalized, turned dirty, made to carry in its wake all sorts of unpleasant baggage. I would attribute this both to the distorting of the aims of feminism over the decades, as well as to the simple fact that a woman standing up for herself – no matter what that action is termed – often cannot help but be seen as a radical one. But feminism, at its heart, is not a radical idea. Unless, of course, you want to claim that equality and justice are radical ideas. But no one wants to claim that, do they?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Talking Trash, Yet Saying Nothing

By Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

We’re in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The presidential candidates don’t know what to do. They are both doing their very best to avoid every question that Jim Lehrer throws at them, and John McCain is outdoing himself every minute with goofy facial expressions.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, is being too polite. There were fears that there would be squabbles, particularly because of McCain’s infamous impetuosity, but the candidates are getting bogged down in numbers and protestations of “that’s not true!” Neither of them are answering the questions. So let me just articulate a few things that I wish Barack Obama was able to say to McCain:

The so-called “female vote” (because, of course, all women vote together, and for whichever candidate the PUMAs tell us to) is being disproportionately affected by the financial crisis, particularly the mortgage foreclosures. And because women are still paid an average of 77 cents for every man’s dollar, we will be continue to be disproportionately affected throughout this crisis. Women tend to be financial losers after divorce, and because it’s still difficult to get adequate amounts of paid maternity leave, the decision to have children can cripple a woman’s career.

John McCain is opposed to the Fair Pay Act, which is based on the radical idea that men and women should be paid equally. And McCain (along with most of the political establishment and including, sadly, Barack Obama) is all too happy to tout his war record, but refuses to acknowledge the fact that over 30 percent of female soldiers admit to having been raped by members of the U.S. army - and those are only the ones who have come forward.

So yes, I’d like to see Barack Obama go after McCain a little more. These issues are just scratching the surface of McCain's propaganda. But I did learn something tonight: apparently John McCain did not win Miss Congeniality in the Senate. So I’m relieved that his running mate is there to fill the obligatory White House beauty queen quota.

A feminist playlist

By Chloe Angyal

I finally got my hands on a copy of Mutya Buena’s song “Real Girl”, which I loved when I heard it in the Sex and the City movie. Yes, I saw the Sex and the City movie. But I saw it on a plane, so I didn’t really pay money for it. Except for that whole skyrocketing price of flights thing. Anyway.

I was listening to the lyrics,

I never pretend to be something I'm not
You get what you see when you see what I've got
We live in the real world, I'm just a real girl
I know exactly where I stand

And all I can do is be true to myself
I don't need permission from nobody else
'Cause this is the real world, I'm not a little girl
I know exactly who I am

And they were so refreshingly feminist. That got me thinking about my favourite feminist songs. The first one that came to mind was “U & Ur Hand” by Pink:

I'm not here for your entertainment
You don't really want to mess with me tonight
Just stop and take a second
I was fine before you walked into my life
Cause you know it's over
Before it began
Keep your drink just give me the money
It's just you and your hand tonight

And, of course, “Video” by India.Arie:

I'm not the average girl from your video
My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes
No matter what I'm wearing I will always be India Aria
When I look in the mirror the only one there is me
Every freckle on my face is where it's supposed to be
And I know our creator didn't make no mistakes on me
My feet, my thighs, my lips, my eyes; I'm lovin' what I see

I'm not the average girl from your video
And I ain't built like a supermodel
But, I learned to love myself unconditionally
Because I am a queen
I'm not the average girl from your video
My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes

I love these songs because unlike so many pop songs out there today, they’re not about men and they’re not about material wealth – they’re about women. They’re about being comfortable in your own skin and feeling beautiful without a man’s attention, that is, being sexy without being sexualized. Unfortunately, when I tried to put together a playlist of these kinds of songs, I found a grand total of...five. There aren't a lot of feminist pop songs out there. That said, what are your favourite feminist songs, and why?

The male privilege checklist

By Chloe Angyal

The Male Privilege Checklist is based on an idea by Wellesley College Professor Peggy McIntosh that the greatest privilege of all is to be unaware of one’s privilege.

This list is a short compilation of the many privileges enjoyed by men in America and most western cultures.
  1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favour. The more prestigious the job, the more the odds are skewed.
  2. I can be confident that my coworkers won’t think I got my job because of my sex – even though that might be true.
  3. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female coworkers are.
  4. If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.
  5. My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.
  6. If I am promiscuous, there is no chance that I will be seriously labelled a “slut”.
  7. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability or my gender conformity.
  8. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time.
  9. My ability to make important decisions and my ability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.
  10. If I fail in my job or career, I can fee sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.
  11. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.
  12. The decision to hire me will never be based on the assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.
  13. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.
  14. If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, chances are she’ll do most of the childrearing, and in particular the most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding parts of childrearing.
  15. Violence against me is called a “crime” and is a general social concern. Violence that happens to most women is usually called “domestic violence” or “date rape” and is seen as a special interest issue.
  16. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

This list is excerpted from an article by Barry Deutsch in Voice Male, the magazine of the Men’s Resource Center for Change.

Sexism and The Citadel

By Chloe Angyal

In a letter to the Daily Princetonian editor entitled “Next time, leave the clowns at home”, one outraged reader asked, “You have Princeton students humping each other on a football stadium ground in front of parents and girlfriends and you expect Citadel cadets to just to look away?”

I’m not exactly sure why sexually explicit jokes should be more offensive simply because they’re performed in front of parents (people who by definition have had sex at least once in their lives), or in front of girlfriends.

The suggestion that the Citadel cadets were justified in reacting with boos and threatened violence against the Princeton band because band members dared to pantomime sex on a football field 50 feet away from those cadets’ girlfriends is an offensive one to the girlfriends, and to women in general.

I thought the idea that the purity and innocence of womenfolk should be protected by the thuggery of men died years ago. Apparently I was wrong.

Perhaps Princeton should have left the clowns at home. But next time, I’d advise Citadel to leave the sexism at home.

What was your click moment?

By Chloe Angyal

Feministing, and specifically Courtney E. Martin, are calling for submissions on "click" moments, the moments in which we become feminists. She's writing a book about feminism, which she hopes will be "a historic document, a totally entertaining gift, a course adoption text, and, most of all, a collection that makes young women who already identify with the movement feel seen and heard, and welcomes all those just growing into the still unfolding story of feminism."

Martin defines "click" moments as,
"those split-second experiences that led them to join the women's movement. Today's young feminists come to the movement--which is looking less like a protest march and more like a blog--in myriad, often piecemeal, ways. It can be as simple as reading a book or attending an event or talking with one person or witnessing a horrendous act of sexism. "

Send your "click" story to, and post it here too!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jan, Kelly, Angela and Pam: Feminist Icons?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The premiere of the 5th (4th? 5th? Can it have been 5 years?) season of "The Office" is tonight, and at 9 pm sharp, I will be sitting in a TV lounge tonight, ready to wince and cringe over Michael Scott's latest antics. I loved the show from the beginning, partially because it was so willing to boldly (and hilariously) address some of the most outrageous and offensive aspects of office racism and sexism. Michael, for all of his good intentions, is incapable of seeing a woman (or a person of any minority, or anyone with a disability) as his equal, even though they are all far more competent. The constant gap between Michael's perceptions and his total incompetence and offensiveness are what makes the show so wonderful.

The tension between Michael and Jan, his boss, was one of the best parts of the first couple of seasons. Michael’s clumsy and constant attempts to hit on her, and then her attempts to hide their relationship in the face of massive obstacles (including a compromising photo which Michael forwards accidentally to most of the office) were a smart, incisive satire on the sexism that women must avoid every day. The other female characters respond with a mixture of shock and disgust to Michael’s antics, and his inability to characterize any woman as anything other than a matron, a sex interest, or an idiot. These woman are, obviously, far from any of these stereotypes and are among the closest to real people that we can see on television. And, more importantly, they are forced to put up with a more exaggerated version of the harassment and misogyny that almost all women must endure.

The show’s wrong turn came in the third and fourth seasons, mostly with the portrayal of Jan, who was fired and suddenly became psychopathic and hysterical. This reached its high point during an episode where she responds to the obvious frustrations of living with Michael (who broke a glass door by walking through it, and insists on hanging a neon beer sign in the living room) by breaking down. But we are now laughing at her, and her absurd reaction, rather than Michael.

The show is now more sitcom than satire, also plain in the growing relationship between Jim and Pam. Marriage? What? Things going well? The show was wonderful when it thrived on the absurdity of office politics, but once we became invested in inter-office romantic relationships, the characters reverted to gender stereotypes. Angela, once just frigid, becomes hypocritical when she is drawn into the office love triangle (such as it is) and Kelly, who was always a little too ridiculous for my comfort, goes over the top in the episode where Michael sees her running, squealing, into a Victoria’s Secret and kindly “wishes her a brain.”

So my hope for tonight: let’s see a little more of the old satire, and a little less of Jan and Michael, Jim and Pam. I can get soap opera on “Grey’s Anatomy”, and “The Office” just isn’t as funny anymore.

Rock on, Rachel

By Chloe Angyal

The NYT has a tepid review of "The Rachel Maddow Show", which new to MSNBC this month. As a huge fan of Ms. Maddow, I certainly agree with this:

"Her program adds a good-humored female face to a cable news channel whose prime time is dominated by unruly, often squabbling schoolboys; Ms. Maddow’s deep, modulated voice is reassuringly calm after so much shrill emotionalism and catfights among the channel’s aging, white male divas.

Her commentary is usually wry, sometimes righteously indignant and always unapologetically partisan. The approach seems to be working. Since she took over Dan Abrams’s slot on Sept. 8, Ms. Maddow has beaten her competition — "Larry King Live” on CNN and “Hannity & Colmes” on Fox — at least once. On some nights she has even drawn slightly ahead of Mr. Olbermann, whose program immediately precedes hers."

Smart, sassy and successful. Rock on, Rachel.

The Times' main criticism was that Maddow rarely interviews those who disagree with her, noting that she has "the character and political passion; what she doesn’t have is a worthy opponent." This is true, but as the review also noted:

"On the rare occasions when Ms. Maddow takes on an adversary — last Monday she sparred with the columnist Patrick Buchanan about conservatism and the Wall Street meltdown — she is smart and skillful; their brief exchange was bracing. Ms. Maddow has taken to showing viewers a list of McCain surrogates who have declined invitations, but she really seems intent on female headliners like Ms. Fiorina, now laying low on the campaign trail, or Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay."

It seems like Maddow does indeed lack worthy opponents, but not for want of trying. Rather, it would seem that people are afraid to get in the ring with her. And I can't say I blame them: she's sharp, she's scarily well-informed, she's got sparring skills to spare and she's a she. Intimidating? Sure. The way of the future? You bet your ass.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Birth control and abortion are NOT the same!

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Whatever you think about abortion and birth control, I think we can all agree that deliberately confusing women about their family planning options is not the way to go. In the midst of the fracas surrounding Sarah Palin, the "conscience clause" has gone through its comment period pretty much uncommented-upon, despite the fact that it allows health care officials to redefine abortion to include basic forms of birth control, and then refuse to provide it. The law is almost absurd in its scope (Bush seems to be intent on outdoing even McCain in the amount of anti-woman legislation that he can support) and the damage that it could do to women's health.

If you have a minute, send an email to the Bush administration and tell them that their outdated, misogynistic views on women's healthcare can't stand. This is not so much a question of ethics as of rights to basic information and medication. The comment period ends at midnight on September 25, and you can send an email through Planned Parenthood's action alerts, which I've linked below.

Teen moms and the media: what's fair game?

By Chloe Angyal

I've never said this before, and I hope I never have to say it again, but Lynne Spears has a point. The mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn gave an interview to Newsweek in which she points out the differences in how Jamie Lynn's pregnancy was treated by the press, and how Bristol Palin's was treated. At 17, Palin was only a year Jamie Lynn's senior when she got pregnant, and neither was married. Both cases were made very public indeed, but the media treatment of Palin and her mother has, for the most part, been supportive. So in some respects (and again, I hope I never have to type these words again), Lynne Spears is right: Jamie Lynn and her mother were dragged through the mud, while Bristol and Sarah Palin were treated far more respectfully. Furthermore, Sarah Palin's attempt to turn her daughter into a role model for young women has a lot of people very worried indeed.
Here's an excerpt from the interview:

"Newsweek: You and Jamie Lynn got some negative press when she got pregnant so young. But more recently, 17-year-old Bristol Palin, and her mother, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, found themselves in a similar situation. And the public reaction has been different.
Lynne Spears: It's a totally different reaction. It's as if [Sarah Palin] became celebrated. I mean, the mother, Palin, was celebrated for this. Every woman in the world has applauded her strength and her convictions and poor little old Jamie Lynn—you saw how she was crucified. Everybody did, firsthand ... I just feel like it's been a very hypocritical situation."

I guess the question is - should we be talking about celebrities and their teen pregnancy at all? Is the daughter of a VP candidate fair game? Are these girls role models for young women and therefore something to be discussed, or is it a private matter we have no right to discuss?

One reason I think talking about Bristol Palin's pregnancy is productive, and fair game, is because her mother's policies on sex education and reproductive rights come into play. Obviously, this is a family that lives their beliefs - to wit, their belief in the sanctity of all life and the decision to carry Palin's most recent pregnancy to term despite the baby's disability - and obviously, Palin's policies on sex education and reproductive rights have failed the family in this instance.
And with Palin running on a platform that includes abstinence-only sex education and curtailed reproductive rights, these kinds of events become very relevant indeed, and as such, I think they're fair game.

It's not sexist 'coz I'm saying it in a song

….that’s right, bitch, now take off your thong.

By Chloe Angyal

If you do nothing else today, please watch this video: John LaJoie wants you to show him your genitals.

Other favourite lines include: “Women are only good for three things: cooking, cleaning and vaginas” and “You’re talking to me about stuff. Why? I’d rather see your titties.”

This video had me doubled over laughing and waking up my neighbours, as did the sequel, E=MC Vagina. Thanks to Lizzie for the tip.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Having it all

In an interview she gave this week, Australia’s first woman Governor General* Quentin Bryce warned women to avoid the “superwoman complex”, the idea that you can and must have it all, and all at once.

"I've been saying to young women, you can have it all but not all at the same time, and how important it is to take very good care of yourself, of your mental and physical and spiritual wellbeing," Bryce said, which incidentally is the same advice my mother gave me a few years ago.

Ms Bryce went on to say that after several years of struggling to balance family and career, she found herself sick, exhausted and discouraged. After evaluating her priorities, she said she "got rid of that superwoman idea of doing everything perfectly - of being the perfect hostess, wife, community worker, etcetera.”

The full article is here.

Ms. Bryce is a very impressive woman, and I think she’s addressing a very important issue here, one that women of my generation will really struggle with. We watched our moms try to do it all; we saw them get exhausted, sick and discouraged and sometimes we simply saw very little of them. Now, many of us find ourselves wondering, “Do I want that for myself? Do I want that for my children?” and of course, the question which our mothers, exhilarated and inspired by Women’s Lib and the new opportunities it afforded, would have answered with a resounding, exhilarated “Yes!”:

Is it really possible to do it all, have it all, and most importantly, enjoy it all?

What do you think?

*The GG is the liaison between the Crown and Australia’s elected government and is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The GG technically has the power to fire the PM, though this has only happened once since Australia became a nation 107 years ago. Aw, aren't constitutional monarchies cute?

Male feminists get paid less. Great.

An article in this week's Time that reports the findings of a study out of the University of Florida: men with more "traditional" gender values have higher salaries than men with "egalitarian" views on gender. This isn't exactly encouraging for men who consider themselves feminists:

"Men with traditional attitudes not only earned more than other men with egalitarian attitudes, but their annual salary was $14,404 greater than women with traditional attitudes, and $13,352 greater than women with egalitarian attitudes."

The researchers theorize that the stratification into those four groups begins even as an employee is being hired:

"As for those money-making traditionally minded men, Judge theorizes that if they believe they are the family's primary breadwinner, they may show greater dedication to career and are perhaps more aggressive than other men in terms of salary negotiation. Compared with men with egalitarian attitudes, the primary breadwinner simply has more at stake. "Maybe the egalitarian guy thinks, 'Well, I don't have to go the extra mile because my wife and I share earning responsibilities equally,'" Judge says."

I appreciate a man with dedication to his career, and effective negotiation is obviously an important life skill. But at the end of the day, I'd still rather hang out with the egalitarian guy, no matter what he's paid. So stay strong, male feminists!

Another one bites the dust

For the second time in a few months, Wall Street has lost its top woman. In June it was Erin Callan of Lehman Brothers, before her it was Zoe Cruz of Morgan Stanley. Today, it's Sallie Krawcheck of Citi.

The NYT's Dealbook blog reports:

"While there are tens of thousands of layoffs on Wall Street, there is no data that indicates women are being let go in greater numbers than men. But legal and academic experts say sharp downturns are particularly pernicious: they ratchet up internal politics, reduce the pool of female candidates vying for top jobs, and eliminate potential female role models in leadership positions.
Lauren Rich Fine, who left her job as a research analyst at Merrill Lynch last year to teach at Kent State University, says she thinks that downturns on Wall Street are particularly harsh for women. 'Whoever is comfortable with each other survives,' she told The Times, 'so that women, who have only been in the top ranks for a short time are very vulnerable.'"
The loss of women at the top is a blow, for several reasons. The first is that because there are so few of them to begin with, the loss of just one thins their numbers considerably. The other reason is that women like Cruz, Callan and Krawcheck, who made it to the top in a traditionally and still largely male-dominated industry, served as role models and mentors for women in the pipeline who hope to one day do the same.
If you can't see anyone who looks like you in a corner office, it's hard to imagine being up there yourself. If you can't see people who look like you staying in the corner office, but instead see them being pushed out of it every few months, there's an even slighter chance that you'll want to try to get there yourself. And no matter how badly you want it, without mentors who have faced challenges similar to the ones you'll face to help guide on your way up, the climb looks nearly impossible.

Armstrong Williams: Revisiting Abortion

Armstrong Williams, in his Op-Ed in the Washington Times this week, argues vehemently against abortion. While there are valid and valuable elements to Armstrong's case, I strongly disagree with him on several things, particularly with his claim that "abortion has become little more than a routine medical procedure, undertaken little or no real consideration of its true consequences. "

While I (thankfully) have no personal experience with abortion, I find it very difficult to imagine that women who make the incredibly difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy do so without a heavy heart and a full sense of the significance of what they're doing. The experience can be an emotionally traumatic one, as pro-lifers are quick to remind us. To accuse those women of treating an abortion as a routine medical procedure is not only an insult; it's just plain wrong.

Armstrong continues: " our modern Western civilization, childbirth, especially among women of prime child-bearing age, is seen through the lens of constricted lifestyle and career choices. Women with children are seen as less valuable in the workplace and less likely to succeed in life. Children are viewed, not as our greatest resource leading to a better future for our civilization and the world at large, but as a burden on our individuality and lifestyle..."

This is true, and I won't try to deny it. But Armstrong's extension of this logic, to: "Somehow 'convenience' and 'comfort' became values more important than the right to life, where a woman can exterminate any chance at life on a whim..." frustrates and angers me.

Again, if anyone imagines that a woman considering abortion does lightly, or with a greater commitment to her own convenience or calendar than to the potential life that is in her hands, they are sorely mistaken.

Armstrong reduces women who have terminated pregnancies, and those of us who support their rights to do so, into unthinking, unfeeling and unprincipled monsters. To do so ignores the reality of a painful and distressing situation, and does Armstrong's position as an authority on the matter no favours at all.