Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy Halloween!

By Franki Butler

Halloween is hands-down my favorite holiday. Spooky is chic, there are unlimited amounts of candy, and I get to dress up however I want. How could this be any less than awesome? Well, the pressure come out tarted up to the max certainly puts a bit of a damper on things.

Mean Girls got it right when Cady said that Halloween had become an excuse for girls to dress provocatively. That can be fun, sometimes – it’s always nice to have a reason to pull out the fishnets or that too short silver lamé dress without the entire Street wondering what the hell you were thinking. But when it becomes the driving force behind your evening, when “how can I show the maximum amount of skin?” takes the place of “how can I have fun?” we have a problem.

This is not meant to be a condemnation of those of you who will be running about nearly-naked this evening. I’m donning a corset and fishnets to be a saloon girl; I certainly have no room to judge. I’m doing it because I absolutely love the costume I came up with and because I’m genuinely excited about it. If your evening is also going to be more sexpot than spooky, take a moment to make sure that you’re doing it because you want to, and not because that’s just what Halloween’s become.

Be smart, be safe, and remember that this costume isn’t a good idea on anyone.

The Equal Writes clipping service

Here are a few good articles you might want to read:

Michelle Goldberg on the campaign, in The Guardian:
"...Republicans even stopped bashing the women's movement, trying instead to co-opt it. Hence all the recent crowing that Palin, presented as half Arctic Annie Oakley, half supermom, represents real, you-can-have-it-all feminism, the kind that might even appeal to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters.
But now, losing, frustrated and discombobulated, McCain has dropped the pretence. The surprise is not his contempt for feminism, but his willingness to express it so baldly."

"We've all heard the stereotypes and assumptions--"she's pregnant because she was too irresponsible to use birth control" or "she got HIV because she sleeps around." But emerging data is shining a light on a very different story: an astonishing number of young women, while dating or in relationships, are raped or coerced into sex, prevented from using protection, or forced into choices that are not their own."

Lindsey Horvath on the campaign, in The Huffington Post:
"The modern feminist movement cares not about an activist's biology but rather about her/his activism. A commitment to campus safety and pay equity and marriage equality and positive body image are far more demonstrative of feminism than body parts. One could argue that Palin is as deserving of having her biology revoked as [President on LA NOW]Mandell is of having her NOW membership revoked because they each have abused their respective "powers" in the name of feminism. I am saddened by their choices as women leaders. They do not represent me or my feminism."

Anindita Sengupta on feminism and victim-blaming abroad, in The Guardian:
"I'm not advocating that we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of bravado and women's lib but isn't it time to give the blame back where it belongs? Our cities are unsafe. And this is largely due to poor infrastructure (dingy alleys, badly-lit streets, poor public transport) and inadequate or unresponsive policing, as a recent planning commission report said. Funny thing. Because there are occasions when cops swarm the streets. When a political bigwig comes visiting, for example. During public festivals, processions, the rare gay pride march. Clearly, women's safety is not so high on the priority list."

Selling Reform, Sex, or Both?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

It’s finally getting cold outside. And having heard from my hipper friends about the wonders of American Apparel, I went to their website with the intention of snagging myself a pair of tights, or maybe a couple of pairs of tube socks, at an exorbitant but guilt-free price.

After all, American Apparel is not just fashionable. The company is famous for its struggle for immigrant rights. Its employees are paid $12 an hour, have access to English-language classes, and receive adequate health care - something virtually unheard of for people who may or may not be legal citizens, and make their living sewing t-shirts. Combined with the irresistible possibility of buying the same t-shirt in 35 colors, and still feeling fashionable, American Apparel is the dream of America’s semi-apathetic youth. We want to feel good about our purchases, but we don’t want to be inconvenienced. American Apparel delivers up a laudable message in the form of a comfy lamé leotard - we can be eccentric, but still conform, and virtuous, but not obnoxiously (read: visibly) so. What could be better?

Needless to say, I was excited for my purchase. But I am still in desperate need of leggings, because when I signed on, credit card in hand, I didn’t make it off American Apparel’s homepage. I was mesmerized by the parade of photos which slid past my eyes.

This is what I saw:
Close-ups of a purple shirt, pulled up to reveal the edges of the model’s breasts. Models leaning against the wall in leggings, legs spread, their arms crossed over their bare chests. Women contorted into strange positions, topless, wearing sheer stockings that did everything in their power to suggest nakedness. Women with their skirts pulled up to reveal elaborate garters. Models in a bathroom, draped over a towel rack and shot from below, wearing nothing but a pair of red panties.

And interspersed among these photos, as if they were completely normal, are pictures of American Apparel employees as babies, photos of signs from Los Angeles immigrant rights rallies, alarming border patrol trucks, cheerful American Apparel factory workers and, most puzzling of all, straight-on shots of the company’s founder and CEO, Dov Charney, looking beardy and unwashed. The few male models were also rather grimy looking, but fully clothed and surrounded by women in various states of undress. The women, I might add, were very clean.

This much was clear: American Apparel wasn’t selling clothes, it was selling sex. And it was using only women’s bodies to do so. But it was also trying to hide this blatant objectification within a cloying rhetoric of “immigrant rights” and “fair pay”.

The website likes to use words like “honesty” and “reform”, and sports pictures of similarly reform-minded L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s visit to the factory, smiling at the primarily Hispanic workers. The cause of immigration reform is, surely, just. But why must it be cloaked in the sexualization of women? To sell these admittedly expensive clothes, why do we need to revive the pin-up girl, and turn her borderline-pornographic? Why do women’s bodies have to be sacrificed to immigration reform?

A recent profile of Dov Charney on sheds a little light on the practices of this very eccentric CEO, and his hipster-beloved company. Charney has been the subject of repeated sexual harassment lawsuits (three so far), and is unabashed about his company’s platform of sexualization.

His most shocking quote:
“That’s what a beautiful, intelligent woman wants, to go to dinner in a pair of pants that makes her look good. She’s on top of the fucking world. That’s what it’s all about. The pants! The pants! That’s all a beautiful woman wants! A pair of pants that takes her into a restaurant. She looks beautiful. She looks intelligent! She’s got a pair of pants! She’s on top of the world—and it’s the pants, the pants!”

Charney claims that fashion is about sexuality. And he claims that the “sweatshop-free” environment which he provides his workers is more important than the way the models are portrayed. But should we really need to be tricked into buying clothes that were made under decent conditions, by workers who were paid enough? American Apparel is lauded for its “generous” salaries, but in Los Angeles, that’s only a living wage. Charney’s supposed virtue is really just basic decency, and reveals his essential superficiality and misogyny. All a beautiful woman wants is pants (they do make me feel smarter!)? And all a beautiful man wants is grime and kooky glasses? Because that's what American Apparel seems to be offering men.

The culture of American Apparel is to create what are really kind of boring clothes (they’re cotton, so what if the colors are a little unusual?) and convince the buyers that they are purchasing an edge, that they are purchasing sex. And as for the righteous feeling that American Apparel wants you to have when you buy their clothes - just remember that the workers are just getting the treatment that they deserve. And it’s women who are losing.

Don't take your guns to town

By Brandon McGinley
Originally published in The Daily Princetonian (that's right, we're "excellent.")

In perusing Princeton's excellent new feminist blog Equal Writes, I came across a post that linked to a fascinating video. It is a 30-second public service announcement from the government of Queensland, Australia, where, one of the blog's contributors writes, there is a significant underage binge-drinking problem. The commercial begins with the disturbing scene of a young woman being raped in a dark alley. The viewer then sees the preceding events in rewind while a background voice says, "67 percent of teenagers have been abused or assaulted while under the influence of alcohol."

Two men had taken her, helpless, to the alley. She had been drinking heavily at a party with friends. She had changed her clothes and makeup at a friend's house. Her dad had lovingly waved her goodbye. Her dad had given her a case of alcohol. The announcement concludes: "Don't kid yourself. Buy your children alcohol, and they could pay the price."

I was immediately impressed by the power and boldness of the video and hoped - and continue to hope - that such a message could hit the airwaves in this country. But to the contributors and commenter over at Equal Writes, this was "victim-blaming." And so, ipso facto, it was "ridiculous" and "flat-out disgusting." One writer dismissed with sarcasm the idea that "it's her duty to be ‘good.' "

Whatever happened to the idea of duty? And more to the point, what's wrong with responsibility? Sometime in the recent past the concept of responsibility slipped, or perhaps was pushed, out of vogue. From contraception to abortion on demand, we as a society have systematically tried to take the risk out of risky behavior, to establish a realm of personal, pleasurable freedom liberated from consequences. In this fantasyland, asking a young person to exercise responsibility, to fulfill a duty to be "good," can only be justified via sexism or paternalism; it is politically incorrect; it is illiberal.

Let me pause for a moment to assure the reader that nothing here should be construed to "blame" a victim of sexual assault. The blame in such horrific cases is certainly on the perpetrator. But it is both fundamentally unethical and counterproductive to reflexively toss aside talk of personal responsibility as simply "victim-blaming." Alcohol lowers both inhibitions and defenses, a potentially tragic cocktail, and to dismiss the undeniably true statement that the young woman's behavior was irresponsible and unsafe denies reality and increases the likelihood that this horror will befall another young person.

We do not live in the fantasy land where we can freely engage all of life's pleasures, where risky behavior is devoid of risk, where being "good" is merely a societal construct. For only in the presence of responsibility, to ourselves and to others, can we enjoy the full measure of freedom or, to use a word with more social and cultural baggage, of liberation.

Introducing alcohol into the highly sexually charged social atmosphere of college life is like introducing firearms in an old western town. Both are absolutely inevitable; both significantly increase the systemic danger of the situation; neither is necessarily evil, but they both require an enormous amount of responsibility on the part of the user.

This reminds me of an old Johnny Cash song, "Don't take your guns to town," which tells the story of young, innocent Billy Joe, who had something to prove. His mother implores him to "leave your guns at home, Bill," but he rides off to the cattle town reassuring her that "your Billy Joe's a man." In a bar he encounters "a dusty cowpoke" who mocks him. Billy responds how he thinks he is expected to, tries to draw his gun and is immediately shot and killed.

It is not Billy's fault that he was killed; the blame belongs to the "dusty cowpoke" who initiated the exchange and fired his gun. But the tragedy of Billy Joe is that his fate was avoidable. If he had not toted his guns into the bar, he would not have engaged his violent neighbor. If he had not felt pressured by the expectations of "manliness" to draw, he would have finished his drink and gone home.

Like the hundreds of Princetonians and millions of college students who go out on the weekends, drink excessively and embrace the hook-up culture, Billy Joe engaged in risky behavior. It does no good to cast aspersions on him, and he certainly did not "deserve" his fate. But it is equally unproductive, in fact it is far worse, to ignore what preceded his murder, to assert that his behavior was a completely acceptable personal choice about which no judgments can be made.

Consuming alcohol, having sex, carrying firearms. These are all activities which can be quite safe and productive, but they are fraught with physical and emotional risk. When we deny this latter crucial factor, when we push responsibility out of the process, we significantly decrease the likelihood of fulfilling experiences and court tragedy.

Brandon McGinley is a politics major from Pittsburgh, Pa. He can be reached at

Vintage Naomi Wolf

By Chloe Angyal

I went and saw Naomi Wolf speak tonight; she was in Princeton promoting her new book Give Me Liberty, which I have every intention of reading as soon as my vacation officially begins (Thursday, at 2:20pm… not that I’m keeping track).

Wolf was promoting her new book which isn't about women, but about the state of American democracy, and I was disappointed when, in answer to my question about how the two major women candidates in this election cycle have been treated in the media, and specifically how their bodies and appearances have been discussed and scrutinized, she replied that that was "the least of our problems." Then again, she does have a new book to promote.

But Wolf’s first book, 1991's The Beauty Myth, was basically the Feminine Mystique of the 1990s, and as so many other women said of that latter, seminal text, "it changed my life." For me, The Beauty Myth was the book that gave me my “click moment" moment, in which I became a feminist.
I went out and bought a new copy for her to sign tonight, and then I sat down and started reading it. Here’s a very telling paragraph from the preface of the second edition, where Wolf writes about the reception of the book in its first year:

“A related fallacy is that The Beauty Myth objects categorically to images of glamour and beauty in mass culture. Absolutely not. The harm of these images is not that they exist, but that they proliferate at the expense of moth other images and stories of female heroines, role models, villains, eccentrics, buffoons, visionaries, sex goddesses and pranksters. If the icon of the anorexic fashion model were one flat image out of a full spectrum in which young girls could find a thousand wild and tantalizing visions of possible futures, that icon would not have the power to hurt them; fashion and beauty scenarios would be yet another source of the infinite pleasures and intrigues of life in the female body.”

In other words: give us options. Give us more to choose from than skeletal thinness and enormous breasts. Give us as many models of beauty are there are women in the world - because, in the words of my favourite body image campaign, "there are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do."

Fey, Frenchmen and female sexuality

By Franki Butler
The other day at dinner, I found myself the only woman at a table full of men. This isn’t a particularly unusual experience for me, and I didn’t really notice until I made a comment that sent the whole lot into awkward silence.

One of the guys had voiced his opinion on the attractiveness of several well-known women, saying in a conversation about Tina Fey and Sarah Palin that he would “hit it and quit it” with both ladies. My doubts about anyone’s ability to “quit” the lovely Ms. Fey aside, I didn’t find the comment particularly unusual. Sexualizing two women in a way rarely dared with male comics and politicians of course, but par for the course in terms of the person with whom I was speaking and the environment I was in.

A few minutes later, the conversation turned to Diane Lane. “Hit it and quit it” boy expressed an attraction to Lane, while I expressed my attraction to her undercover lover in the film Unfaithful – I believe my exact comment was, “Hell, when I’m thirty-eight can I be that gorgeous and sleeping with a hot young Frenchman?”
The conversation ceased. Oh right, I’m a girl. I’m not allowed to say those things.
I am not defined wholly by my sexuality; it is not the largest factor in my personality by any means. That said, I am less than thrilled when the merest hint of my female sexuality ends a conversation, especially in a space where male desire is welcome and accepted.

Perhaps the gentlemen at the table were just nonplussed by my disruption of the heterosexual male viewpoint so predominant that evening. Perhaps these men weren’t used to thinking of women as desiring sex unless that desire could serve them. Perhaps they had not viewed me in particular as having a sex drive and were uncomfortable at my proving its existence. In any case, why should my comment derail a conversation previously full of similar comments by men?

Maybe I am looking at this from the wrong angle. It may simply be that I expressed desire for a man. To my knowledge, most if not all of my dining companions were heterosexual males. Perhaps they viewed acknowledging my desire as stating that a similar desire existed within themselves.
Or maybe they just don’t know what to do with female sexuality when it is controlled by an actual female, and not at their disposal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where are the dudes in distress?

By Peale Iglehart

I’m studying for midterms and listening to Pandora (, get hooked if you’re not already) when a song comes on that snags my attention. It’s this line that does it: “She swears that there’s no difference / Between the lies and compliments / It’s all the same if everybody leaves her.”

Hmm. This sounds like another riff on the “sad lost girl in need of strong, stable boy to save her” shtick. Think Shawn Mullins’ “Lullaby” – don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of that song since 6th grade, but the whole “damsel in distress” motif is nothing new. You can still sing all the words to Nine Days’ “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”, right? (Remember, she “cried a river and drowned the whole world”?) And Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved”? (“She had some trouble with herself”…but it was OK because “He was always there to help her”—except, sigh…“She always belonged to someone else”…)

Clearly this new sad-girl-song calls for some investigation (it's also an excuse to tear myself away from the course packet). I Google the lyrics and find…

Jon McLaughlin - “Beautiful Disaster”

She loves her mama's lemonade,
Hates the sound that goodbyes make.

She prays one day she'll find someone to need her.

She swears that there's no difference,

Between the lies and compliments.

It's all the same if everybody leaves her.

And every magazine tells her she's not good enough,

The pictures that she sees make her cry.

And she would change everything, everything just ask her.
Caught in the in between, a beautiful disaster,
And she just needs someone to take her home.
She's giving boys what they want, tries to act so nonchalant,
Afraid they'll see that she's lost her direction.

She never stays the same for long,
Assuming that she'll get it wrong.
Perfect only in her imperfections.
She's not a drama queen,
She doesn't want to feel this way, only seventeen but tired

She would change everything for happy ever after.
Caught in the in between, a beautiful disaster,
But she just needs someone to take her home.

'Cuz she's just the way she is, but no one’s told her that's OK.

And she would change everything, everything just ask her.
Caught in the in between of beautiful disaster,
And she would change everything for happy ever after.
Caught in the in between of beautiful disaster,
But she just needs someone to take her home
And she just needs someone to take her home.

I’m torn at first: isn’t it sweet that Jon McLaughlin wants to come to this girl’s rescue? Who among us hasn’t flipped through a magazine and felt shitty about herself on some level (even those of us, me included, who want to think we’re above caring how much weight Nicole Ritchie has lost)? Yeah, I think, maybe I should be applauding Jon for his concern! But, “she just needs someone to take her home”? Not sure this is the best approach to patching up this girl’s self-esteem. I mean, isn’t part of her problem that she’s “giving boys what they want,” while trying to act (unpredictable rhyme alert!) “nonchalant”? Of course this is a real problem: I’m not denying that there are girls out there who use sex to feel better about themselves or to try to fill a void—but, newsflash: guys do this too!

So where are the girls singing about the screwed-up, needy guys in their lives?! We all know girls and women who tell the boys and men in their lives that they’re “OK” the way they are - we might be those girls and women. But we never hear about those women. Why not?

The problem has not gone away

By Laura Pedersen

There are no marches upon Washington, no emblazoned Suffragette sashes or newsworthy arrests. No ringing speeches have captivated national attention. There is no single, unifying leader with a textbook-bound name.
The conflict, however, is very much alive.

This third wave of feminism – for change has indeed required multiple waves – has mobilized since the ‘80s to address the conflicts faced by female workers facing a 77.8-cent dollar, women struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, working mothers pulling a double-shift, and women living under a lingering, misogynistic yoke of social expectation. Not all of these are issues one would expect to see in a feminist leaflet. In fact, the third wave of feminism leaves the expectations of most spectators fairly crushed.

The third wave of feminism calls for a sensitivity to this new brand of conflicts. It challenges society to radically alter their definition of the problem entirely, to stop demanding that feminists frame their cause with male tools and terms, and to stop turning a blind eye to arguments and ideas written off as ‘emotional,’ ‘needy,’ or any word offered as a synonym for ‘female weakness.’ The long-standing expectation is that those experiencing injustice package their problems in a manner and with a vocabulary that is familiar to the reigning majority opinion. The third wave challenges its audience to expect more of itself.

The problem with expectations is that they have the troublesome habit of being reflected in one’s actions and causing anything from surprise to discord when they go unfulfilled. They set the parameters for human relationships of any nature, acting as a rubric for others’ actions. Working mothers feel the strain of society’s expectation that they should be both primary care giver, the expected gender role, and maintain a successful career, their self-expectations. Then, of course, there is the revealing moment of surprise I myself felt upon meeting a stay-at-home father. Our expectations, I was reminded, have very deep roots.

What social expectation causes more women than men to preface their statements made in a college classroom with qualifying phrases (“Well, I’m so sure, but…” or “I’m probably wrong, but…”)? What expectation persists that leaves a woman waiting for the man to propose? Why should a Ben Stiller movie be able to capitalize so effectively on the concept of a male nurse? Why is society surprised to see a male wearing makeup on an average day but expects as much of a woman?

To call oneself a feminist is to defy expectation. It is to assume that society has the capacity to embrace a third wave of change, a wave with issues that to some are not immediately visible. It is to make a study of the second-nature reactions and beliefs that surround our day, and to conclude that change is still necessary.

The First Feminist: Mother of the Living

by Elizabeth Winkler

Reposted from October 2

It’s fall in Princeton now, and as I walked to class this morning, munching my Red Delicious apple, I was reminded of that momentous first bite: Eve, reaching up towards that glowing crimson orb, suspended from the forbidden tree.

As a kid, I had always felt a strange, decidedly vague, and naturally unspoken admiration for Eve – so dynamic, so exciting, this woman who so changed the world by her simple act. And yet, remembering all the evil that haunted her name – foul temptress, mistress of death – I couldn’t admire her without falling under a heavy shadow of guilt. I began to consider her story more closely and wondered if the Genesis account – slice of cultural wisdom that it is – hadn’t perhaps been tampered with. Had I been told the right story? History is commonly understood to be written by the victorious: we must claw away at the artifice and invention to arrive at truth. How could we forget to do the same with myth?

Consider this: God ushers Woman into creation. Under Adam’s dutiful tutelage, she begins to explore the world around her. He presents her with a certain item – a peach, let’s say. Adam tells her that it is called ‘peach,’ and she soon learns to associate her experience of this food with the word itself.

Now this female creature, this Woman, is eager to understand not only the natural world, but existence itself: what does it mean to live? Is she alive? What is she? I mean, what is ‘herself’?

As life in Eden slips by, Woman begins to wonder: God created the heavens and the earth and commanded that Man and Woman ‘cultivate’ and ‘have dominion’ over that earth. But then – and here the light bulb goes off – why would He place us in a gated garden? And so begins her awareness of the Outside, the Other, the possibilities of existence which she can only contemplate in utter, blinding ignorance.

But there’s another thing too that she has been wondering about: that tree of knowledge of good and evil. How strange that God would place it there and subsequently forbid it! He’s omnipotent, after all, maker of Everything. Why create it in the first place? Naturally, she is curious about it, especially since it exists as the threshold of Death. But what is death? Can she really know? She has been told that her existence – living in the garden of Eden – is called Life. As the dual element of that binary, Death must mean the end of life in Eden, something else, something outside, something other.

But, alas, it is forbidden! The understanding she so desires hopelessly prohibited! She stands beneath the tree, serpent whispering in her ear as she contemplates her decision.

The Western metaphysic has located this moment as the first and the great ethical dilemma of humankind. But let’s step back and examine the decision that Woman realistically faced: she can either eat the fruit or not eat the fruit, but having knowledge neither of Good nor of Evil (since she hasn’t yet eaten it) how can she possibly make that decision? She doesn’t even know what ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’ mean: they exist as empty lingual functions, meaningless as ‘peach’ before she ever tasted the fruit in her mouth. The decision is overwhelmingly arbitrary. One might as well ask, “Apple or orange?” “Daffodil or tulip?” In her ignorant, inexperienced mind it would make no difference.

Except this: to obey in silent, ignorant submission the absurd decree of Authority, OR to reach beyond, to transcend, to question and search and yearn for More, for the possibilities that exist outside the garden wall, outside the Known that we call Status-Quo.

Woman sought the light of knowledge. In the quiet of her questioning mind was born the possibility of change, reform, and revolution that has characterized humanity’s unending progression towards tolerance, peace and freedom. By her act of transgression, she gave birth to human life outside the paradisiacal prison of Eden, and to the search for understanding that illuminates the human mind as well as the human soul.

Eden, after all, must be understood as a state of mind, a place whose unfathomable beauty and pleasure conceals a darkness within; a narrowed view of existence that not only rejects change, but refuses even to acknowledge the mind that seeks to rethink and redefine. Woman with her apple broke the chains of that tyranny and so, as Genesis tells us, came to be called Eve, “Mother of the Living.”

And let me just be clear: the Bible calls Woman “Eve” only after she has eaten the apple and been banished – with Adam – from the garden. Only then is humanity – the “living” – really born.

So forget the patriarchy’s bullshit about temptation and weakness, evil and the culpability of the female. The story is right there and none of that is in it. Instead, imagine yourself as this woman, longing to understand herself and her world. And then remember that we must continue – every human – to eat that apple because Eden always manages to creep back up on us and the act of looking outside, of remembering that other possibilities exist when the world closes down and refuses to answer our questions, is in fact the only thing that keeps us human.

Having It All

By Chloe Angyal

Reposted from September 23, 2008

In an interview she gave in September, 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?

The Office Hoes of Princeton

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Reposted from October 1, 2008

Women had the right to vote for fifty years before Princeton admitted them. It was just sixteen years ago that the eating clubs became fully coed. Men still comprise 75 percent of USG officers and the eating club leadership contains a disproportionate number of Y chromosomes. And then there are the “CEOs and Office Hoes” parties, which, well, I think you can imagine.

These are facts which my Princeton tour guide didn’t think to include. Just about a year ago, I was embarking on a journey to the Shenandoah Mountains with my Outdoor Action group. On the bus, I engaged in only slightly stilted conversation with my seatmate, filled with excitement for my new world.

The bus broke down in West Virginia, and the conversation ran thin. My seatmate began to comment upon the film which was playing above our heads.

That bitch,” my classmate said, distinguishing one “bitch” from the many, “never takes her shirt off. She’s supposed to work at Hooters! What is that?” He glanced over at me, apparently expecting a similar opinion on the cinematic masterpiece which is Big Daddy.

I was offended, but said nothing. I was afraid of being pegged as “militant” and “obnoxious”, words which have dogged feminists since the movement’s inception. But after spending several days in the woods with my group, I confronted him about it. He laughed at me. “Loosen up,” he said. “I didn’t know you were such a feminist.”

I suffered a shock which the women who lead the feminist movement experience on a daily basis. During my summer internship with the National Organization for Women, I received dozens of emails a day from concerned members of the movement, chronicling erosions in the right to abortion and birth control, fair pay and medically accurate sex education.

“I thought women knew better than to listen to these people,” one of the public policy experts said during a meeting, referring to the surprising power of the American Life League, an organization which promulgates the scientifically dubious theory that the birth control pill is, in fact, an abortion.

So did I.

But, to most women, feminism is dead. And even the most dedicated of young feminists are subject to the legacy of confusion and shame which accompanied the feminist backlash. Throughout my internship, I was alarmed to discover my desire to remain aloof from the traditional feminist movement. I met a woman at a conference who told me that third-wave feminists had split away from their older “sisters” (a phrase which, when applied to fellow feminists, made me cringe, and then wonder why).

My confusion and much of my shame boil down to the simple fact that many feminists have begun to fear that they are unfeminine, unattractive, castrating lesbians. I am a feminist, but for me, equality is not a question of throwing away my makeup. Some women possess this capability, but others struggle to decide whether they are trying to be attractive for their boyfriends or themselves, and find that the answer is tangled in shame from both sides.

As a feminist, I feel that I am a failure for conforming to a beauty industry which exploits my insecurities, and responding to male expectations which have for centuries kept women prisoner. But because the desire for attractiveness is natural, I also castigate myself for rejecting parts of my femininity. There is a difference between wanting to be Miss America, and wanting to wear a little eyeliner or shave your legs.

We all need to think harder about these issues, because regardless of what, as the former eBay CEO, (Princeton’s own) Meg Whitman means in terms of female progress, the fact remains that she was briefly up for consideration as the vice president for John McCain, a candidate whose reproductive policies were described by pro-life women as “unrealistic,” “out of touch” and “stuck in the past.”

It is hard for me to accept that a woman who has broken so many glass ceilings could be the willing confederate of a man who is staunchly opposed to laws which dictate equal pay, or that millions of women will vote for him, despite the fact that he wants to legislate away their reproductive freedom. But I am beginning to realize that the women’s movement is so strongly individualized that it will require more than an equal rights amendment to change the way that women think.

For now, I am trying to reconsider my anger, because I have realized that the battle is as much in my own mind as in Congress or a frat house. But that doesn’t mean that I will stop struggling to help women understand that dressing up as an “Office Hoe” is as blatantly conforming to patriarchal desires as if they were scrubbing their boyfriend’s floor.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Confessions of a tomboy

By Molly Borowitz

When I was in tenth grade, my best friend at the time told me that her mom thought I was a lesbian.

We were at Kelly's house, gathered around the hot tub. My hair was wet, and I was wearing my purple-plaid flannel pajama pants embroidered with the Minnesota Vikings' logo. They were men's pants (I had another pair of Vikings pajama pants in purple satin, but they weren't warm enough for the chilly November evening), and I wore them very low on my hips, my hands plunged deep in the pockets and my shoulders hunched a little forward. That was my habitual stance, generally accompanied by a ponytail and chapstick. At fifteen, I had yet to own mascara, I hated wearing heels, and I watched ESPN instead of MTV. But given that Kelly – and her mom, who was often privy to our kitchen-table gossip sessions – had seen me through three or four different crushes on and a few brief relationships with boys in the past six months…well, I was slightly surprised.

"She thinks what?"

Just to clarify: the present company was all-female – just me and Kelly and Erica, another of our best friends from the JV volleyball team. We spent almost all of our time together during the winter of tenth grade, in very typical high-school-clique fashion. I wasn't embarrassed by Kelly's mom's assumption; I didn't blush, I didn't curse, and I didn't argue. And if I were lesbian, it would have been the perfect opportunity to tell my two best friends. But I wasn't, and as a high-school sophomore I was very afraid of labels. It had been hard enough to fit in after being labeled "the smart girl," and this new epithet seemed even more difficult to overcome.

"Well…you don't wear makeup and you kind of talk like a boy –" (this comment was relatively valid, since I spent the remainder of my time with computer nerds who talked in 1337 5p33k and cursed at their consoles when someone killed them in Counterstrike) "– and she says you carry yourself like a boy, and you stand like it, and stuff."

I took my hands out of my pockets and shifted my weight to one hip.

"Um…I mean, okay, I guess those things are kinda true. But how does that make me a lesbian?"

No response. Because both Kelly and Erica, bright and savvy young women that they were (and are), knew perfectly well that the two have very little to do with one another. They absolutely knew that my behavior and and my sexuality were not necessarily aligned, and they also knew that they were the first people to whom I would have come out. Yet despite their knowledge of these things, my personality and taste were still somehow subject to a larger, looming force; if my TV-show preferences or my lexicon didn't conform so neatly to the pre-packaged "feminine" gender role, the reason obviously had to be my sexuality.

Now, I understand the appeal of attributing someone's personality largely to her sexual preference; God knows it's easier to associate certain traits, characteristics, and preferences with sexuality than to actually get to know people. We like labels, we like categories, and we like having the power over others that they both afford us.

But what I'd really like to know is: whatever happened to the concept of being a tomboy? Remember that adorable little freckle-faced girl with braids and a baseball cap, the one who always shows up in movies like The Sandlot or The Little Rascals? Whatever happened to the girl who's interested in things other than Barbies, shoes, gossip, and boys? Now, I don't mean to belittle these interests – in fact, I share them – but I also think it's okay not to espouse those predetermined behaviors that Western society oh-so-subtly terms "ladylike." I burp, I fart, and I really like watching televised sports. Sue me.

As a self-defined tomboy, what confuses me more than anything is that it's not men who find us threatening. In fact, I got along much better with boys in high school because we had so much more in common. To guys, I was always that cool girl who knew stuff about sports, who wasn't disgusted by video games (although I have to confess that to this day I still totally suck at Halo), and who would rather play roller hockey in the parking lot than go to the mall. No, it was girls – or their mothers – who took issue with those traits, who lectured me because I didn't always sit with my legs crossed, wore a baseball cap backwards, or swore like the boys did.

But why should girls be more concerned than boys about maintaining the strict performativity of the feminine gender role? Whether I was lesbian or not, what sucks about this story is that, first, my friends tried to determine my sexuality by something as superficial as my habits; and second, they felt such an overwhelming need to label me. We (myself absolutely included) pass this judgment on other people all the time, practically without thinking, but it's worthwhile to remember that you can't determine someone's sexuality (a huge and significant part of her political, social, and cultural identity) on such an arbitrary basis, nor should you have to.

Look, ladies – if you consider yourselves (and I hope you do) equal to all the boys around you, then you have to learn to let it go. Being a tomboy – or a lesbian – does not prevent you in any way from being a woman.

The pronoun "he": is it ever really generic?

By Eva Marie Wash
Many people may scoff at the idea of a mere pronoun as sexist, but a good deal of psychological research suggests that the oft-used generic "he" in professional, academic, and everyday language fails to impart a non-gender bias. Of course, this argument is nothing new, but I am shocked that there is not more emphasis drawn to it in academic writing at universities. The following passage from my psychology textbook helps to illuminate the issue:

But many studies have found that when hearing the generic he (as in ‘the artist and his work’) people are more likely to picture a male (Henley, 1989; Ng, 1990). Consider, too, that people use generic pronouns selectively, as in ‘the doctor…he’ or ‘the secretary…she’ (MacKay, 1983). If he and his were truly gender free, we shouldn’t skip a beat when hearing that ‘man, like other mammals, nurses his young’ (Psychology David G. Myers, 419).

Based upon evidence that pronouns cannot only express, but perpetuate, gender bias, how can students affect change in our own writing? Of the few available options for avoiding the generic he, many of them seem grammatically and stylistically awkward: for example, the singular “they” or the paired “he/she,” “s/he.” In a research study by Laura Madson and Robert M. Hessling (1999, Iowa State University), researchers presented another method—that of alternating between masculine and feminine pronouns—and compared readers’ perceptions of this strategy to the paired “he/she.” Although readers were more likely to perceive an essay that had alternating pronouns as having a female bias and also were more likely to give it a lower quality rating, overall these tendencies were not that significant. In fact perceptions of sex-bias was more evenly distributed, with about 1/3 who said it had a male bias, 1/3 a female bias, and 1/3 who thought it had no bias.

The use of feminine pronouns in this manner is obviously more noticeable and surprising to a reader, since our society is so accustomed to the generic he. However, such usage is important for changing the way that our society thinks about gender even at the minute level of the pronoun. If you really want to avoid any suggestion of gender, then you can often rephrase a sentence in order to avoid any generic form; it just takes a little bit more time and awareness.

Naomi Wolf speaking at Labyrinth Books

This week, feminist icon Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth (the book that gave me my "click" moment), is speaking at Labyrinth Books: Wednesday at 5:30pm.
Get excited. See you there.

Pro-feminist and pro-life

By Kelly Roache

As this year’s Respect Life Week – an event designed to foster dialogue on abortion, euthanasia, etc. – drew to a close, I started questioning the notion that being a pro-life feminist is a contradiction in terms. In fact, in the course of writing this I’ve wondered more and more if true feminism doesn’t require openness to pro-life arguments.
I’ll say right upfront that I personally hold strongly pro-life convictions. The spirit of Equal Writes, however, brings women of diverse political persuasions together to discuss universal concerns, and there’s plenty we can agree on and work towards together. The fact that I’m not focusing on legislative, judicial, or moral arguments doesn’t mean these aren’t of grave importance to me and to all of us, but can be found in any comprehensive discourse about abortion. Rather, what’s gotten under my skin the past seven days is the question of what the prevalence and acceptance of abortion in American culture means specifically to us as feminists.

The “pro-choice” argument affirms a woman’s right to decide the fate of her pregnancy, but often she feels very little choice in the decision to have an abortion. An overwhelming majority of such procedures are performed on economically disadvantaged, adolescent, or single women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an authority on sexual and reproductive health research, while unintended pregnancy levels have remained static for ten years, the 29% increase among poor women stands in stark contrast to the 20% decrease among the rich, with a corresponding abortion trend. Adolescents, unable to care for children being children themselves, are responsible for one in five abortions, while unmarried women faced with the immense responsibility of raising a child alone account for two-thirds. In light of these statistics, one wonders how many of the 1 million plus women in the US who have abortions each year (not to mention 40 times that worldwide) do so out of perceived need rather than want. How many feel as if it is their only option to survive given their humble circumstances?

In this way, is abortion, rather than a liberating choice, an oppressive reality forced upon the weakest among us? Early feminists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the first female Presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull argued that it belittles and demeans women. Abortion damages the feminist cause, and is even responsible for the evils of sex-selection: according to the BBC, one in seven fetuses aborted in India is female, with similar trends in China and South Korea. This cycle perpetuates the inequality of women in these cultures by attacking their most fundamental right, that to life itself.
Moreover, our entire feminist argument is based on the premise of inherent equality, yet it is those groups most often denied representation that suffer most at the hands of abortion. The New York Times reported the rate of abortions among mentally retarded fetuses at 90%, while the Guttmacher Institute places that of African American and Hispanic fetuses at 43% and 25%, respectively. How can we demand equality if we are willing to sacrifice that of our children? As Stanton wrote, "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." While the merits of pro-life legislation will continue to be debated, pro-life activism by women for women is undeniably advantageous to our cause.

So what can we as feminists do?
In a culture where abortion has become the norm instead of the exception, we can increase the resources available to women facing unplanned pregnancies, especially to the young, single, and economically disadvantaged, so that keeping a pregnancy becomes a realistic option. The group Feminists for Life seeks to do exactly this by stamping out the root causes of abortion because, as their slogan proclaims, “women deserve better.” Feminists for Life has targeted the three-quarters of abortions caused by women’s concerns that a child would disrupt schooling or work. In particular, they strive to help women continue their education despite pregnancy, through campus advocacy and support centers. Simultaneously, we should empower all women by reaffirming our right to choice beforehand in decisions leading up to unwanted pregnancies, as much as they fall within our control.

Feminism is different for every woman, and we are all called to the cause in beautifully unique ways. Maybe we don’t agree with all these propositions, or don’t find them practical, but something must be done. As feminists, it is up to us to make the choice of life viable, especially for those in crisis.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why vote values when you can choose "the hot chick?"

By Chloe Angyal

The New York Times ran an article today on Sarah Palin's male fans. I think the bit that made me cringe the most was this:

"...Ms. Palin’s stoutest defenders are often the Joe Sixpacks in her crowds, who shrug off her critics, ridiculers and perceived adversaries in the news media. They say they appreciate Ms. Palin for, above all else, how “real” and “like us” she is...Rob McLain, an insurance agent from Avon, Ind., [who] attended a packed Palin rally at an amphitheatre in Indiana on Friday night. Mr. McLain wore a “Proud to be voting for a hot chick” button..."

Yep, Palin is absolutely average, and she's hot. She definitely sounds like the best woman for the job.

Nothing says "maverick" like eight people getting together to do exactly the same thing.
Thanks to Chris and Osei for the tip!

Inspiring images at Sculpture by the Sea

Check this awesome sculpture from Sculpture by the Sea, an annual event held on Bondi Beach in Sydney, my hometown.
Thanks to my Dad for the photo!