Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let's talk about what's really important: curtains!

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The NYT Home and Garden section has done it again. Finally, something for the ladies who are tired of all that headachy politics business. I don't know how many times I've opened the paper to see boring, downer news. We're in a recession? What? We're bailing out the domestic car industry? I don't want to hear about that! I want to see pictures of Michelle Obama choosing upholstery.

Luckily, an article from the December 18th New York Times delivers all that, and more. It deals with the ever-so-crucial issue of presidential decor, one which is (obviously) the sole responsibility of the president's wife. Her task is to preside, much like her husband, over a team of top-notch professionals who will be there to guide her at every turn. And really, what says more about a presidential agenda than the carpeting on the White House stairs? Forget changing early education when we can make the Blue Room - gasp - green! Now that's real power, and it affects real people.

So ok, I'm being just a little sarcastic. But really, don't we have better things to worry about than what Michelle Obama's going to do with the White House china? And isn't it a little insulting to relegate this incredibly successful woman to choosing decor - or, really, to do so with any of the first ladies? The NYT deals with the issue mostly with humor, but sometimes takes it devastatingly seriously:

"Decorating the White House is the first lady’s job; she presides over the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a board of appointees that includes her decorator and the White House curator, as well as art historians, furniture and decorative art experts and other advisers on historic preservation."

Is this really what we're teaching our daughters? Go to Princeton, get a law degree from Harvard, help the first black president ascend to office, and then pick the lamps for the Oval Office, and smile really nice for the cameras while you do it? Please explain to me why I don't feel empowered.

"Sandwiches are for boys!"

In Infomania's year-end "retrospectacular," Sarah Haskins delivers again. I can't wait for more Target Women gold in 2009.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 5 feminist posers

From the fabulous Courtney Martin at Feministing, the Top 5 Feminist Posers:

5. The Spice Girls-will someone please explain how this could have possibly been misinterpreted as empowerment?

4. Tyra Banks-look, I know she does some awesome stuff, but she also humiliates young women pretty consistently on her show and refrains from any real interventions on ANTM when it comes to mental health issues...oh and there was that dead girl photo shoot

3. Diamond companies who advertise the "me ring"-Wow. So not only do the majority of you have heinous labor practices that affect women and children in mostly third world countries, but now you're trying to sell me the products of that labor through a bullshit idea that a diamond ring on my right hand somehow symbolizes empowerment? Wow.

2. Sex and the City-I know I'm going to get some shit for this, but I have to ask how we can consider something truly feminist that has NO CLASS or RACE ANALYSIS. I enjoy it. I'm down to watch it. But do we have to call it feminist?

1. Sarah Palin-I don't think I need to explain. But if I do, just read here.

Don't let jewellery cartels, record companies or TV networks tell you what empowerment looks like, especially if they're telling you that it looks exactly like their product. Don't buy into the notion that feminism can be bought. Instead, live it, breathe it, embody it and be an example for other women and men. To quote Mastercard, that's priceless.

"Right of Conscience" law now official

by Chloe Angyal

The Bush administration's "Right of Conscience" rule was officially issued Thursday, and it's implications are bad news bears. The WSJ reports:

"Critics of the rule say the protections are so broad that they limit a patient's right to get care and accurate information. For example, they fear the rule could make it possible for a pharmacy clerk to refuse to sell birth control pills and face no ramifications from an employer."

If I want to take birth control, guess who's business that is? I'll give you a hint: the list includes me, my partner, my doctor, my parents (maybe), my god and spiritual adviser (if I so choose). You know who the list doesn't include? The clerk at Walgreens whose job is now legally protected if she chooses not to ring up my Pill purchase. As in she can't be fired, even if she not only refuses to do her job, but also imposes her moral code on me.

Perhaps this rule won't have real practical implications. Perhaps in the counties where abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilization, blood transfusions and other procedures that some people consider morally objectionable are difficult to come by, tight restrictions on access won't be made any tighter. In this best-case scenario, access will continue to be just as limited as it is now, with these new laws failing to make those procedures any harder to come by - after all, if all the doctors in a county refuse to perform abortions, it doesn't make any difference if that county's receptionists, janitors and surgical interns also refuse to "participate."

But in the worst-case scenario, access to perfectly legal medical procedures will be even further restricted, with poor and rural women hit the hardest. Healthcare services that are hard to come by will become even less readily available, and the health of women and children will suffer as a result. Necessary procedures will go unperformed. Necessary prescription will go unfilled. And all those decisions will be placed not in the hands of the women who need them, but in the hands of complete strangers, like that clerk at Walgreens who - according to the Bush administration- knows what's right for my uterus.
In an even-worse-case scenario, Planned Parenthood and similarly pro-choice organizations would be inundated with job applications from anti-abortion and anti-contraception candidates, who, once hired, could refuse to carry out Planned Parenthood's mission and who would be shielded from being fired by this new law. That's the worst of the worst-case scenarios, and it's not hugely likely. It's improbable, but under this new law, it's also not impossible.

Maybe, the practical implications of the Right of Conscience rule aren't earth-shattering. Maybe, this new law won't worsen an already bad situation. Perhaps in practice, this law won't make any real difference. But in principle, that is so not a risk I'm willing to take.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Women's health: lung cancer

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that lung cancer will soon overtake breast cancer as the most common cause of death in Australian women. Women, it seems, are less likely to be affected by anti-smoking campaigns, and while the number of lung cancer diagnoses in men are falling, in the female population they're rising.
It's interesting to track the differences in lung cancer rates between the sexes over time, because while men have been puffing away for centuries, it wasn't until the 1960s and '70s and social taboos against women smoking were loosened. Cut to a few decades later and those women who, once liberated, were free to start lighting up, are paying the price. And no, the lesson here isn't that feminism kills. The lesson is that ignorance kills. Luckily, we now know exactly what causes lung cancer and luckily, feminism doesn't really have any other deadly side effects.
But wouldn't it be great if there were some deadly consequence for misogyny?

File under: creepy, not sexy

These little prepubescent, threesome-ready digital creations, which chat program IMVU calls "the world's sexist avatars" are really creepy looking. Graduate from 2D, and while you're at it, perhaps have your over-sexualized avatars look like they graduated from middle school.

Rick Warren and Aretha Franklin Means Change?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The leaders of the gay community are outraged, and rightly so, by Barack Obama's choice to lead the invocation at his inauguration on January 21st. Rick Warren, an evangelical minister who has, among other charming statements, compared abortion to the Holocaust. Sarah Posner summed it up nicely in her article in The Nation yesterday: "Warren represents the absolute worst of the Democrats' religious outreach, a right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder anointed as the arbiter of what it means to be faithful."

Warren, who loudly opposes gay marriage and believes that the assassination of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sanctioned by the Bible, will be sitting alongside Aretha Franklin and Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when Obama delivers his inaugural address. If this is bipartisanship, then we are falling onto the other side of the political aisle, not standing in the middle. I admire Obama's efforts to put right-wing and evangelical Americans who may not have voted for him at their ease. But if it comes at the expense of people who formed the core of his base, and who trust him to seek the basic human rights that they have been denied, then he's dangerously compromising his own morals, and creating new divisions.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Linear algebra and the ladies

by Julia Kearney

I was reading a December issue of Time at the gym this morning when I had to stop and do a little dance (no, seriously). The article featured new advances in the state of American health but one in particular meant to most to me. Girls have closed the gender gap in most middle and high school subjects including the humanities and the natural sciences. However, for years math has been a traditionally male domain.
This year, new studies confirm that the sexes are now performing equally well in math from 2nd to 11th grade. Most importantly girls are taking higher-level math classes rather than opting out of them as soon as they get the chance. While this might not translate into more women mathematicians in the near future, it’s a huge and important step. This research counters the sexist opinion of former Harvard President Lawrence Summers who stated that the dearth of high school girls taking math courses suggests that that women lack an innate ability in the math and science.
So much for your “scientific theory” Larry!

Bodies, brains and bikinis

by Chloe Angyal

I went to the beach today.

Let me be more specific. I went to a crowded beach today. And there, for a whole hour, I lay in the hot, bright midday sunlight the intensity and tinge of which is unique to a Sydney summer. I lay on the sand, did some required reading, and enjoyed the ample people-watching opportunities the beach provides. But most importantly, and most unusually, I did all of this in a bikini.

This might not sound like a hugely momentous event. I mean, everyone goes to the beach, right? Social conservatives would have us believe that everyone wears bikinis and that it’s because of such skimpy clothing that the world is going to hell in a hand basket (well, bikinis and socialism). But it’s important to understand that, even though everyone goes to the beach, and even though this particular beach is only a few blocks from my house, it has taken me an awfully long time to get there.

As a child growing up in a coastal city with a subtropical climate, I spent most of my weekends and good stretches of my summer vacations at the beach. I took swimming lessons in a Speedo and spent endless hours doing gymnastics in a leotard, which is essentially a Speedo with sequins on it. I had no qualms about being seen in a state of near undress at the beach, by the pool or on the balance beam in front of hundreds of competitors and spectators.

And then, inevitably, puberty hit. Everything changed. My body was suddenly alien and out of control. There were no more sequined leotards and no more swimming lessons. Dance classes, unlike gymnastics, offered me the chance to wear long pants, and I gratefully covered up. And of course, overnight, the beach stopped being fun and became stressful. It was no longer a place to relax, but a place to suck in my stomach and push out my chest. I wanted to be skinny, I wanted to be leggy, I wanted to be tanned and sexy and all those things that women are supposed to be but that so few can achieve. And as I was none of those things (or so I thought), I spent my time at the beach trying to sit, stand and walk in ways that would flatter the body which, in my eyes, was endlessly flawed.

I longed to fill out the triangles of my triangle bikini, and I longed for my bottom to stop filling out my bikini bottoms. Soon, when the height of puberty made it clear that my mother had bequeathed to me a considerable endowment, triangle bikinis became laughably unrealistic. My swimsuits, on the rare occasions that I bought them, were feats of structural engineering.

I envied the girls whose bodies didn’t wobble or jiggle, the ones with taut, muscular stomachs and hip bones that protruded when they lay on their backs. I sought refuge in sarongs and t-shirts and any other garment that would conceal my “problem areas.” Every summer I would swear that this year, things would be different. I would wear a bikini. I would be insecure no longer. I would show my thighs and stomach and butt, and show them with pride, and to hell with what anyone else thought. And every summer, I found excuses to avoid the beach, and to wear board shorts over my bikini bottoms. I wore jeans in the steamy Sydney summer. From year to year, nothing changed.

But this summer, things are different. This summer (or on this summer day, at least), I was insecure no longer. I showed my thighs and stomach and butt and I showed them with pride. I wore a bikini, and I wasn’t envious of anyone.

I wish I could say that the journey from one state of mind to the other was quick and easy, but that would be a lie. It took years, and it took a lot of hard work. I wish that I could give women (and men, of course) a step-by-step guide on how to get there. But that would be dishonest too, because I don’t exactly know how I got here myself. I know that I joined my campus eating disorders awareness group and invested hours of time and energy trying to ensure that other people didn’t fall into the same body image traps that I did. I wrote and spoke endlessly about feminism, trying to encourage women to value their minds and hearts over their bodies, encouraging them to reject images of conventional beauty and to love themselves exactly as they are.

There were moments when, even though I knew what I was saying or writing was true, I couldn’t practice what I was preaching, no matter how hard I tried. But somewhere along the way, the truth got to me. Somewhere along the way, I began to do that which sometimes seems almost impossible: I followed my own advice. Lying on the beach today, I looked up from my book and realized that I had been absorbed in it for almost an hour, too focused on using my brain to think about what my body looked like.

My body isn’t taut, and my hipbones don’t protrude, and, like most human females, there are bits of me that wobble and jiggle when I move. But I’m healthy, and my brain works rather well, and for one day, I was totally happy and comfortable with that once-mortal enemy, the swimsuit.

Who knows if this state of bikini-clad bliss will last beyond today? I guess I’ll have to go back to the beach again tomorrow to find out. Life’s tough like that.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Be true to yourself... with emergency birth control?!

by Peale IglehartI was listening to Pandora when this ad accosted me from the margins. I am all for young women being educated about contraception, but making it trendy is a different story. By attaching the “Plan B pill” to cool tunes, this company is suggesting something pretty perverse. Is emergency contraception just another hip accessory now, like your boots or your hot pink iPod headphones? I can appreciate “Be in the Know”—girls and young women should be aware of the contraceptive options available to them (obviously this is a hotly contested issue, but that’s my stance on it). But doesn’t “Be Calm” cheapen the catastrophe that an unwanted pregnancy can present? Is this ad suggesting “Don’t worry, it’s not that big a deal, just pop a pill and forget you/your partner/your birth control ever slipped up?" (and while you’re at it, jam out to some Latin beats!) But “Be Yourself” shocked me the most.
How is taking emergency contraception "being yourself?" Does this ad reduce us to the sex we have and what we do about the aftermath?