Saturday, January 17, 2009

Think globally, act locally

by Josh Franklin

I think that this discussion about the new Equal Writes celebrities "Guy 1" and "Guy 2" is emblematic of a lot of feminist dialogue. Guy 1 and Guy 2 had an encounter at the gym during which Guy 2 is reported to have said, in reference to some sort of stretching machine, "That is not a man's machine right there. Not a man's machine." In her post "An interview with the infamous 'Guy 1'," Kelly Roache wonders about the significance of that kind of statement. Kelly notes that the mildly offensive nature of this comment--a joke that seems to have hurt nobody--stands in contrast with the horrors of true gender violence. Kelly reminds us that "priorities are a central tool" in terms of the feminist program, and that it is necessary for us to "pick our battles".

First of all, I don't think that there is a question as to whether this is a sexist comment. I also don't think that Guy 2 is a horrible person, and I'm pretty sure he didn't mean any harm by what he said. The truth is, Guy 2 probably didn't feel like he was making a sexist remark. Saying that something is a man's machine to mean that it's a good machine is just the way people speak.

It's certainly tempting to ignore or discount this kind of culturally pervasive sexism in comparison with horrific institutions such as human trafficking. But I think that the horrors of gender violence are precisely the reason that a comment like that is worth concern at all. What does it mean to say that we're picking a tremendous issue such as child prostitution as our battle as feminists? What can we do here and now? I think the answer is that we have to recognize that our culture is constantly sexist in ways that are hidden from us. I think that in many ways, focusing on horrific acts in far away places discourages us from strategies and discussions that lead to real change. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to feel that we cannot make a real impact in terms of the great injustices done to women.

The answer is that we ought to speak out against all gender violence and sexism. I see no reason to trivialize great suffering or to ignore the real effects of a culture that consistently disrespects women. Guy 2 is not a criminal or a bad person, and he did nothing wrong. But there's no reason not to let him know (or let those around us know in general) that he's contributing to a culture of disrespect for women.

Friday, January 16, 2009

An interview with the infamous "Guy 1"

by Kelly Roache

A few days ago, fellow Equal Writer and beloved editor Chloe Angyal posted piece called “Overheard at the gym,” about what she deemed to be sexist comments made by two male students at a nearby machine in the fitness center. The interaction went like this:

Guy 1: (gets on the groin stretching machine, the one that winches your legs apart like some kind of medieval torture instrument)
Guy 2: That is not a man's machine right there. Not a man's machine.
Chloe: (prays that Guy 1 will show some spine and keep stretching, because Guy 2 is being ridiculous, and besides, stretching is important)
Guy 1: (gets off the machine)
Chloe: (dies a little inside)

It turns out that Guy 1 in this anecdote turned out to be a friend of a friend (let’s celebrate the fact that they know about the blog!) and felt like the situation was misinterpreted. While his interview was intended to give Guy 1 an opportunity to explain his side of things, it ultimately became an eye-opening experience for me as a feminist.

First, Guy 1 took issue with the perception that he succumbed to peer pressure based on a sexist stereotype:

“I had no intention to use [the machine] anyways. [The blog] made it out like I was bullied out of using it and should have ‘manned up’ and used it.”

First off, Guy 1’s use of phrase “man up” caught my attention. On the one hand, it shows how pervasive traditional gender roles are. Timidity in the place of bravado is “unmanly.” But by the same token, what Guy 1 has really said here is that it would have been masculine not to have shrunk from the perception of femininity caused by using this machine, but rather to have combated the stereotype and have used it regardless. That’s a pretty cool definition of masculinity, if you ask me. Similarly, he doesn’t think stretching is something reserved for women:

“We stretch…if we wanted to use the machine we would have used the machine but don’t think [I] would have been bothered” or dissuaded, by Guy 2’s comments."

The second issue at hand is the purportedly sexist expression itself of “That is not a man’s machine right there. Not a man’s machine.” While Guy 2 couldn’t be reached for comment, his counterpart attempted to elucidate the situation. “What [Guy 2] said wasn’t really appropriate.” I smiled. But in the next breath –

“I personally don’t think it’s offensive just because he was kind of just making a joke. What he meant is that it wasn’t anybody’s machine. I don’t think he intended it to be a gender-based thing. I see how [someone] could have been offended by it but I think he should be able to crack a joke like that."

Admittedly, this is a bit of a qualifier on his first statement, but here Guy 1 made a point that’s kept me thinking the past couple days. Three posts above “Overheard at the gym” is one entitled “A reminder that Dean’s Date isn’t all that bad.” The latter post asked readers to put things into perspective: a 15-page paper or an all-nighter don’t seem so bad compared to “honor killings” in the Middle East. Surely this isn’t as drastic a contrast, but it reminds us that in fighting the battle for gender equality, priorities are a central tool.

Are sexist jokes good? No. Should we continue to combat them through intellectual exchange? Absolutely. But with issues from abortion to pay disparity on the table – and an imminent regime change in Washington – it’s important to remember what our mothers told us when we bickered with our little brothers and sisters: pick your battles. Starting small is important, but let’s not get distracted from the big picture issues of our day.

Auctioning virginity: clever capitalism, or condoning female exploitation?

by Elizabeth Winkler

Earlier this week, a brief post was made about 22-year-old Natalie Dylan‘s decision to auction off her virginity to the highest bidder (right now the top bid is at at $3.8M) This is certainly a compelling and controversial story, and one that I think warrants a closer look in our feminist discussions. Questions of choice, autonomy, self-worth, and commoditization of the female body, among others, all play an interesting role in determining what exactly this decision means for contemporary female identity.

Because this stems from a personal, independent choice, is hers a ‘feminist’ decision? Or is the rhetoric around the idea of ‘choice’ simply being manipulated to conceal a decision that is in fact rooted in (and continues to fuel) antiquated, misogynistic ideas about female purity? Is she valuing/respecting herself and her body with such a decision? Or is she simply a clever girl playing into the ‘sex economy,’ providing a commodity that is already in demand anyway? Does the fact that she’s using the money for education in any way redeem her actions? Or does her aim to get a masters in ‘marriage and family therapy,’ of all things, just render her even more absurd?

While I cannot condone Dylan’s choice to sell herself, the fact remains that the system would exist – and would remain unchanged – even if refused to do so. In a way, one can say that she is taking a system that has traditionally exploited women and turned it on its head, manipulating it to her advantage. After all, this one-night-stand will render her completely financially independent. What was it Virginia Woolf said about 5,000-a-year and a room of one’s own?

Or can we charge Dylan with aggravating and promoting an inhumane and harmful system – one that might be turned to her personal advantage, but that remains an earthly inferno for other prostitutes, as well as for women across the world who want to be valued for something more than their bra size? In this light, hers becomes a selfish act. Auctioning her virginity rather explicitly condones prostitution: is she simultaneous condoning the enslavement and abuse of less fortunate women, or simply ignoring it?

After several recent posts about sex slavery, forced prostitution and the abuse and mutilation of young girls, it’s hard to digest this entirely separate ‘genre’ of prostitution. One wonders if this sort of trivialization of prostitution in fact somehow discredits or disregards the horrific experiences of girls who did not choose to sell their bodies. How can we group the blinded, mutilated and tortured 14-year-old of Nicholas Kristof’s articles this well-off, educated and independent woman under the same category? Both acts qualify as prostitution, and yet there is something so entirely disparate in their experience that we seem in want of more adequate terminology for understanding and distinguishing one from the other.

Miniature mean girls

by Laura Smith-Gary

Long before they reach
Mean Girls age, cruelty and power plays flow freely between female children. I was reminded of the power of little girls' particular ways of torturing each other during a recent diversity training at work (I know, it sounds like it could inspire eye-rolling, but it was run by Visions, an excellent group, and was about self-exploration and understanding multiculturalism, not preaching or guilt-tripping). In a conversation with some of my female co-workers, in which we were discussing our childhood recognition of being "us" or "them" in a group, almost every one of us came back to the same thing: little girls torturing each other. My co-workers and I are a variety of ages, we come from a wide spectrum of geographic locations and socioeconomic classes, and we represent several races and ethnicities...and every difference was, for us, painfully hammered in by witnessing, experiencing or being part of elementary school age girls hurting each other.

By the end of the conversation, several of us -- successful, educated, confident women all -- were in tears, remembering the still-raw slights, taunts, and shames at the hands of ten-year-old girls. This isn't a limited phenomenon: every woman seems to have a story. Look at Amazon's reader reviews of feminist author
Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, a beautiful and brutal novel that revolves around the agony and lasting scars of childhood girl-on-girl tormenting: almost all mention how painfully true-to-life the story is.

I must emphasize that I'm not in any way saying that young boys don't bully and torture each other and girls. Nor am I asserting that types of bullying clearly split along gender lines. However, boys and girls do tend to torture their peers in different ways, the kind of bullying that boys engage is tends to be more broadly recognized for what it is. Overt taunts and physical harassment -- the kind boys tend to use -- can be horrifying experiences, but they have long been mentally classified as bullying by almost everyone, so the first step, recognition, has taken place. The National Crime Prevention Council's article "Girls and Bullying" points out that "The typical girl who bullies is popular, well-liked by adults, does well in school, and can even be friends with the girls she bullies...she spreads rumors, gossips, excludes others, shares secrets, and teases girls about their hair, weight, intelligence, and athletic ability." The internet has given rise to the disgusting trend of "cyber-bullying," allowing bullies' power to extend into their victims' homes -- the consequences of which became clear a few years ago when a young girl killed herself after being tormented by her classmate and her classmate's mother. The "girl" kind of bullying is pernicious and pervasive. Furthermore, systematic cruelty (and I don't think that's too strong a statement) by girls to other girls is often dismissed or minimized in gender charged language: "Well, girls are catty," of the perpetrator and "She's so oversensitive," of the victim.

This might seem like a odd topic to discuss on a feminist blog: not only do I seem to be hinting that girls are intrinsically evil, but the issue does not seem to be directly relevant to the lives of those of us who aren't parents, teachers or under twelve.

First of all: am I saying young girls are evil? A little. It seems to me that all children are a little bit evil, in the sense that they engage in power plays to establish heirarchy that often involve deliberately inflicting pain on others. Am I saying that different forms of bullying indicate any kind of intrinsic differences between boys and girls? Absolutely not. In my opinion, in a society where girls are trained not to directly express aggression, and where their heirarchical jockeying becomes all the more urgent because they are often seen as as beginning in second place to boys, and where they are handed such delightfully vicious tools as obsession with looks, clothes, and weight, it would be astonishing if this form of bullying did not emerge. Children are smart and (if my first statement is right) a little bit evil: if you tell girls a thousand times to be sweet, they're not necessarily going to be sweet. They might just become sneaky.

Second of all, there are several reasons why I think it's worth discussing here:
1. As I began explaining above, I see "girl bullying" as another manifestation of a society that circumscribes girls' power and focuses their attention on a few key variables of "value": do boys like you, are you overweight, do you have the right kind of hair, and so on. It's enabled by the fact that as a culture we have already undermined many girls' confidence in themselves, then taught them it's wrong to be aggressive or rude, or to ask adults for protection. We've given girls every incentive to sweetly smile while twisting knives into each other, and given victims no tools with which to defend themselves or even articulate their pain.

2. Practically, many of us will be parents at some point, and some of us will be teachers. We need to figure out what to do about this (in addition to fighting those societal expectations, of course...). Given the profound failure of the War on Drugs, it seems likely that a War on Bullying would also fail. It has been pointed out that zero-tolerance policies don't work, and it has been suggested (sometimes in deeply annoying ways, sometimes more reasonably) that some aspects of "bullying" play important roles in social development and learning to navigate relationships. In The New York Times Magazine, Dacher Keltner (the "more reasonably" article I linked above) makes some good points about the playful, bonding, and even moral-code-enforcing elements of teasing. However, he draws a clear distinction between "teasing" and "bullying": "[B]ullying is...aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate...By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge..." While that may be true, this mindset can be used to play down what I'm calling "girl kinds" of bullying, the bullying that presents itself as teasing and blames the victim: "Can't you take a joke?"

It seems that zero-tolerance policies will have little effect, and other policy changes may also be ineffective (anyone have suggestions?) I've been thinking about solutions like uniforms, which could limit a bully's tools, or stronger internet regulations, which could limit their access. Even if these solutions had no problems, though (which is not the case) in the end if a group of girls is bent on establishing a social heirarchy through cruelty they're going to do it, one way or another. Truly effective solutions are probably going to have to take place on an individual parenting and teaching level: girls need to learn to stand up for themselves when they need to, to ask for help when they need it, and, sadly, to have the self-confidence and outside affirmation (from their parents, for instance) to be able effectively process a certain amount of abuse without becoming scarred. They also need to learn about the unacceptablity of bullying through the teaching and example of their adult role models. There are many resources for parents dealing with their children being bullied or bullying others (just google it), though few deal specifically with "girl bullying."

3. From my own experience, and that of others close to me -- and, of course, the wonderful Margaret Atwood's -- undergoing and perpetrating cruelty with other girls at a young age can have lasting impacts that can affect our perceptions of ourselves as female, our relationships with other women, and even our understanding of feminism. (Check out Cat's Eye. Really.) I hope to open a conversation about how women's views of gender and power are shaped by our earliest experiences with female peers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

PETA likes to offend men, too

We all know that PETA likes to use naked women to make its point. As Ann at Feministing says, they tend to "take what should be a message of empowerment, Love-Your-Body-style, ("Be comfortable in your own skin: don't wear fur") and turn it into yet another affirmation of the female ideal."

But did you know that they also love to appeal to tired macho stereotypes of masculinity as a way to promote "ethics" and "justice?"

Check out their new ad campaign, starring Mickey Rourke*, which encourages people (presumably men), to "Have the cojones to fix your dog." Classy, PETA. Real classy.

*to quote my friend Steph, "sorry, but I'm not taking life advice from Mickey Rourke." Touche.

Bells are ringing

by Franki Butler

I’m entering my final semester of college, and it’s about that time. What time? you ask. Time for heartfelt congratulations and stalking Facebook to see who’s picked a date. Time to watch my friends get engaged.

I’m from the South, where we tend to marry young. Though I’ve no intentions of marrying anytime soon (if ever), I have a number of friends and acquaintances around my age who are already hitched and going strong, and three more got engaged over Christmas break. When I relate this news to my friends here in Princeton, the response is always shock and dismay. “But we’re so young! How can anyone our age get married?” And I agree, to a point. After all, there’s a certain amount of twenty-something dumb-assed-yet-incredibly-fun behavior that one simply cannot get away with when one has a spouse to go home to. It’s the other part of the response that bothers me, when people imply that by marrying young, these girls are ruining their lives.

I know the statistics; I understand the difficulties inherent in starting a life with someone else when your own independent life has barely begun. And for Princeton students especially, I understand the horror at the idea of putting anything ahead of a lucrative career. But not all people value the six-figure income above all else. Marriage and starting a family are more important to some people, and that’s okay. We’re not all operating on exactly the same value system here. Besides, it is possible to be married and go to grad school and/or begin a career; it just puts one in a different situation than that of her peers. As feminists, we do a great deal of talking about the pressure placed on women to do it all, but I’m certainly not going to hate on the girls I know for trying. Traditionally, women who wanted both a career and a family have had to postpone one in favor of the other, so I tip my hats off to those who are attempting to start both. It’s not a position I envy, but it’s still a valid position.

We’ve been fighting for years to prove that women can be more than wives and mothers, but it’s important to remember that just because you wouldn’t do something doesn’t make it a life-ruining choice that plays into patriarchal oppression. Sometimes a ring is just a ring.

Three's a crowd

by Angie D.

I recently saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the 2008 film touted as Woody Allen’s Hollywood comeback. Cinematic merit aside, the film raised some valid and provocative questions about heteronormative relationship structures. One of its protagonists, Cristina (Scarlett Johannson), unexpectedly finds herself in a three-way relationship with a painter and his ex-wife – unexpectedly because she is dating the painter when his ex suddenly resurfaces after a failed attempt at suicide and the painter insists on taking her in.

The ensuing period is tumultuous, as Cristina learns of the artistic rivalry and intense passion between her boyfriend and his former lover – a prodigious artist herself. Cristina decides to “go with the flow” (her own words) and eventually the couple is a triple. Both the painter and his ex-wife claim that Cristina was the missing ingredient from their relationship. They nurture her art (photography) and assure her that she provides a balancing element that their relationship had always lacked.

This notion that a romantic relationship may consist of – or even require – more than two people is intriguing to me. The images I associate with polygamy (selling young girls into marriage, keeping women uneducated) have always had a misogynistic taint, so I’ve paid little heed to claims that such marital structures can be “freeing” for women. But perhaps there are non-dyadic relationship structures which lend themselves to more balanced, more supportive, more fulfilling relationships that never get realized in the heteronormative world of male-female pairings.

As for Cristina and her artistic boyfriend and girlfriend, the film ends somewhat disappointingly with the dissolution of the relationship – seeming to suggest that such a tripod of romantic and sexual love must be relegated to a realm of art, fantasy, and vacation (did I mention that Christina was on a two-month vacation in Barcelona?). Regardless, the question remains open: Is love enriched when shared with more people? And is it more stable when it has three – or more – legs to stand on?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Afghani acid attack victims go back to school

This is really incredible. The New York Times reported today that despite numerous acid attacks on students and teachers at the Mirwais School for Girls in Afghanistan, Mirwais students are back in the classroom and learning (and like us, this week they're taking exams). It's really incredible how far these girls and their parents are willing to go to ensure their education:

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.

“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.”

In the five years since the Mirwais School for Girls was built here by the Japanese government, it appears to have set off something of a social revolution. Even as the Taliban tighten their noose around Kandahar, the girls flock to the school each morning. Many of them walk more than two miles from their mud-brick houses up in the hills.

Quite apart from the fact that it's a basic human right, education for girls can have a serious impact on local economies, and can bring about the kind of social change that's so clearly needed in the kind of societies where girls expect to be killed for trying to learn how to read. Read more about what's called the Girl Effect here.

Mother's milk

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

There is a fascinating exploration of the history of breastfeeding in this week's New Yorker. The author, Jill Lepore, traces the various forces that have shaped our opinions about breast milk; it's always been controversial, odd because everyone seems to want to see women's breasts - until they're performing their actual function.
Breastfeeding has been romanticized (Rousseau, who was admittedly not a model father, wrote that “When mothers deign to nurse their own children, then morals will reform themselves”) and dismissed; women first used wet nurses and then formula to avoid having to nurse children themselves. Today, breast milk's health advantages are touted by doctors and hospitals, but breastfeeding averages are actually at a low. This is not so much because women don't want to breastfeed, but because it's difficult to do so outside of the home. Women who want to go back to work after having children (and the tiny maternity leaves in this country certainly don't help) are forced to pump milk at work, often with insufficient facilities. Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, says that “only one-third of mega-corporations provide a safe and private location for women to pump breast milk for their babies." And when they do, they are often sterile and somewhat unfriendly locations. It's also taboo for women to breastfeed publicly - but this is a complex issue, loudly illustrated when a Connecticut woman was arrested recently for breastfeeding in a bar.

This is all in addition to the fact that the equipment necessary to pump breast milk is shockingly expensive, making all of this as much of a class issue as when aristocratic women gave their babies to wet nurses in the nineteenth century. Lepore also brings up the issue of the increasing commodification and industrialization of breast milk. "Once milk banks replaced wet nurses," she writes, "human milk came to be treated, more and more, as a medicine, something to be prescribed and researched, tested and measured in flasks and beakers." The fact that breast milk was classified as "liquid medication" by the TSA after a woman cried in an airport when a security guard threw away two days' worth of breast milk (she later sued the airline) is significant. Women have also sold their breast milk on eBay. The question of whether "drinking and nursing" should be legal (i.e. breastfeeding with a certain BAC) is still up for discussion.

So what do you think? Breastfeeding is often a touchy subject, but Lepore seems to be pretty clear on the fact that pumping is not a good solution, at least not the way we're doing it now - the ideal situation would be a long maternity leave, but is that realistic? And what should mothers do now?

Virginity for sale

Ok, so maybe this isn't the ideal way to put yourself through college. But this also isn't the ideal way to be a news reporter. Real reporters ask pertinent questions, like, "Why is this woman resorting to prostitution in order to pay her tuition?" or "Is this a trend we should be worrying about?" Or how about, "What does this say about the value we place on 'purity' in young women?"

But if, like these guys, objectivity doesn't interest you and you want to be a judgmental jerk, I hear there's an opening on Hannity and Colmes.

Thanks to Ilya for the tip.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"For your feminine dental care"

Tee hee!

Check out Femident: it's like toothpaste, but it's made especially for women.
And a shout-out to all you Flight of the Conchords fans.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A reminder that Dean's Date isn't all that bad

Even for those of you facing an all-nighter, we need to remember that life at Princeton is really very privileged, and that women worldwide are facing violence that we can't even imagine. If you need an example, consider Naile Erdas, the Turkish 16-year-old who was shot by her brother after giving birth to a child conceived through rape. Her family was convicted on Monday of instigating her murder, and her mother, father, brother and two uncles were all given life sentences.

Erdas' death is an example of a horrifyingly common - and incredibly tragic - practice called "honor killings", prevalent among Turkey's Kurdish community and throughout the Middle East and Asia. Women who are perceived to have sullied the family honor, theoretically through adultery, are killed by an assigned member of the family. But if that wasn't terrifying enough, women are often killed for pregnancy caused by rape (like Erdas), or for talking to strange men, or even for requesting a song on the radio. The sentences for Erdas' family were much harsher than are usually handed down in honor killings cases in Turkey, and the only good news to come out of the situation is that the Turkish government seems willing to take a strong stand on this appalling practice.

So your 15-page paper doesn't seem so horrible now, right? Good luck on Dean's Date work, everyone!

Response to "How to properly slap a woman"

by Peale Iglehart

I just read Elizabeth Winkler’s recent post on “How to properly condone domestic violence”—and I read the one dismissive post in response to it. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous, but how is there only ONE comment about this video?? The “filmmakers” claim to hail from “Old Nassau”—why aren’t more of us pissed off about this?

In case you couldn’t tell, I agree with Elizabeth: this video is disturbing on many levels. To the lone commentator: how exactly do you think the “filmmakers” go about “showing just how awful this shit actually is”? I don’t see the irony or the humor. Where’s the indication that this clip isn’t just making the girl the butt of the “joke”? To me, the “actors” don’t seem subversive—they just seem smug.

Furthermore, even if this video was meant to be subversive, there’s something disturbing and infuriating about Ivy Leaguers (if these people are actually Princeton students) chuckling knowingly about a problem that presumably is so “below” them. The fact is, domestic violence isn’t necessarily about isolated instances of violent men and spineless women, the way these “actors” imply with such obvious self-satisfaction.

This is touchy territory, I know—but domestic violence is related to socioeconomic status and race, too. Before I get attacked for writing that, let me be totally clear that I am ABSOLUTELY NOT suggesting that upper-middle-class and/or white women don’t deal with domestic violence. (Men, of course, deal with it too—I’m talking here about women.) Research on this matter can be fuzzy, and of course no study is 100% conclusive, but a study on domestic violence in Illinois found that “White and Asian American persons are somewhat underrepresented relative to their representation in the population, whereas African American and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic American clients are somewhat overrepresented” (Grossman & Lundy, 2007, p. 1044). A 2003 Brown University study found that in Rhode Island, “Black and Hispanic women, especially black women in more affluent neighborhoods, are over-represented in police-reported domestic violence information.”

So yeah. Not so funny anymore, is it? It’s not just a question of “if that spineless airhead would just stand up for herself” or “if that guy wasn’t such a chauvinistic jackass.” Of course individuals are involved. But domestic violence occurs within a greater social system, bigger than just the argyle-bedecked boyfriend and his giggly arm candy. Factors like income and race and privilege and power play a role. This problem is complicated. And it’s not going to go away because a pretentious guy in an argyle sweater made a joke about it.

And P.S., to the lone commentator: Elizabeth’s not a “dude”…just saying.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It begins...this year's statuette season

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Tonight, I don't want to do my work. And when that happens, I go to the New York Times' homepage. Where I discovered that amidst my work and many (very important) duties, I completely missed the beginning of everyone's favorite time of the year: award season! The most expensive movies are idolized and movie stars get trotted out in designer clothes that would feed a small country for a week, and everyone enjoys the glitz and Hollywood glamour, and squirms through the five hours of commercials between "best costume design" and "best sound editing". Clearly, I am very sad that I briefly forgot about this phenomenon.

Snarkiness aside, I've never liked awards season, simply because it hides its sexism so goddamn well. It's obvious just from looking at the list of Golden Globe winners from earlier this evening - apart from the well-deserved statuette for Tina Fey's stellar performance in 30 Rock - the films that won the two big awards, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (comedy/musical) and Slumdog Millionaire (drama) were both enjoyable, well-made films, but were also demeaning or dismissive of women. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a little more blatant; I'm not sure what I expect from Woody Allen anymore, but I still remember the argument that I had with my father after leaving the film. I had objected to the portrayal of the three main female characters as, variously, mercurial, indecisive, insecure, and even a little bit crazy. Their juxtaposition with Javier Bardem's character, who was calm and brilliant and had gotten all three to sleep with him within the first hour of the movie, was quite offensive and certainly one-dimensional, but my father made the surprising (and kind of horrifying) claim that this was "kind of how these relationships worked". My dad is a feminist, but he didn't really see the absurdity and offensiveness of the movie's relationships between men and women - which worries me, especially when the film starts to win awards (and before you say it: yes, misogynistic films can be well-made, but Vicky Cristina Barcelona was, in that regard, nothing special).

Slumdog Millionaire was a little less explicit, but its entire storyline contains one woman, who is passed from man to man. She lacks any kind of agency, and really doesn't have a character; she is more a function of the plot than a complexly drawn person. I still think that this movie should have won because it's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, but it bothers me that the classical plot is always about the striving of some unfortunate man to gain the love of a beautiful woman, who is usually not very interesting.

The fact that the awards are divided into "male" and "female" has always bothered me, because it allows the film industry to hide the fact that the better roles usually go to men, and this year was really no exception. Kate Winslet won the "best actress" award for Revolutionary Road, a film which I saw recently and can't really recommend. Winslet's performance was good, but she played a suburban housewife driven to madness by her banal life, a part that we've seen played a thousand times before. Kate Winslet is a wonderful actress, but this is not her best performance, particularly placed against those of Kristin Scott Thomas and Meryl Streep in I've Loved You So Long and Doubt. Winslet won because this was an "edgy", well-funded movie - but she was merely playing the character of the trapped, powerless woman that we've seen so many times before. She should win awards, but not for this. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke won for The Wrestler, where he plays a professional wrestler from the 1980s, far past his prime and about to fight a 20th-anniversary rematch with an old foe. He dates a stripper and has a complex relationship with his daughter (read: he abandoned her, and now wants to end his estrangement). I haven't seen the film, and I'm sure it's well-made, but the contrast between these two is very interesting - Kate Winslet as the demented, trapped, angry housewife and Mickey Rourke as the ultimate virile man, still wrestling (and mistreating women) after twenty years.

So I'm sure none of you reading this want to come to my Oscars party this year. But despite all of my grinchiness, awards are fun, and don't let the fact that many movies are sexist stop you from enjoying this glamorous season. But think about which movies and actors are winning, and why. And let's all pause and thank the good lord for Tina Fey!

Overheard at the gym

by Chloe Angyal

It's amazing how powerful gender roles can be, and what a huge part peer pressure can play in enforcing them. Observe this scene, which unfolded while I was stretching at the gym tonight:

Guy 1: (gets on the groin stretching machine, the one that winches your legs apart like some kind of medieval torture instrument)
Guy 2: That is not a man's machine right there. Not a man's machine.
Chloe: (prays that the guy will show some spine and keep stretching, because Guy 2 is being ridiculous, and besides, stretching is important)
Guy 1: (gets off the machine)
Chloe: (dies a little inside)

I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry, I wanted to tell them that stretching is important (yes, even when it means spreading your legs a little. You know, like women do.) But mostly, I wanted to tell them that if they really cared about each other as friends and as workout buddies, they'd stop enforcing such restrictive and arbitrary definitions of masculinity. Otherwise, someone's going to pull a muscle. And everyone knows that injuries are for pussies, man.

Add this to your feminist playlist

How did I not know about this song already?
This is "Endangered Species," by Dianne Reeves. Swoon!

Seriously, this song makes me want to burn all my bras. Just kidding. Bras are excellent. Sexism, not so much.

Here are the lyrics, which are seriously empowering:
I am an endangered species
But I sing no victim song
I am a woman I am an artist
And I know where my voice belongs

I am a woman I exist
I shake my fist but not my hips
My skin is dark my body is strong
I sign of rebirth no victim song

They cut out my sex they bind my feet
Silence my reflex no tongue to speak
I work in the fields I work in the store
I type up the deals and I mop the floors

My body is fertile I bring life about
Drugs, famine, and war, take them back out
My husband can beat me his right they say
And rape isn't rape you say I like it that way

I am an endangered species
But I sing no victim song
I am a woman I am an artist
And I know where my voice belongs
I know where my soul belongs
I know where I belong

Amazing, right? That's going straight onto my feminist playlist.

Thanks to Jessalynn for the tip!

The "Target Women" we've all been waiting for...

... it's on diets.

As my friend Lizzie said yesterday, I really do want to be her best friend.

Happy Dean's Date crunch, everyone!

A different way to fight prostitution

Christina DiGasbarro

The BBC recently reported that Norway has enacted a new bit of legislation regarding prostitution. This particular law, however, does not punish the prostitutes, the ones who receive payment for sex: rather, it punishes their clients, the ones who are paying for sex. People who pay for sex in Norway (and even Norwegians who are at the time out of the country) face fines and even jail time if they are caught. At the same time, the law offers prostitutes the opportunity to get an education (for free) and to get into drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation so that they can turn their lives around and stop selling their bodies. This looks to be one of the few wonderful laws that actually addresses one of the root causes of a problem instead of merely trying to hide the symptoms.

I really hope this measure effectively decreases the presence and practice of prostitution in Norway, because, if it works, it seems like a great way to deal with the problem of prostitution (and could be used as a model for other countries). Because, while many women are forced into prostitution—through human trafficking or because there simply seems to be no other way to make a living—no one forces the clients to use prostitution. In most cases, the person who is more responsible for an act, the one who chooses freely, is the one who carries the greater liability; Norway’s law ensures just that, that the people who freely choose to buy sex are the ones who are held more reprehensible.

While prostitution is euphemistically called the oldest profession, the truth of the matter is that if there were no market for prostitution—i.e. if there were no clients willing to pay for sex—prostitution would not exist. Without a market for sex, there would be no human trafficking for sex purposes, and women, whether or not in desperate straits, would not spend their time trying to sell sex because there would be no one around to purchase it.

However, anyone fond of the saying “if you build it, they will come” recognizes that a market can be created where there was none before. But certain ideas or “values” are necessary for the creation of a market for prostitution: the society (or some significant portion of society) must have loose sexual ethics, must employ a double-standard for sexual expectations of men and women, or simply must not hold women in high regard. By drawing attention to the moral reprehensibility of the clients of prostitution, Norway’s new law draws attention to the unpalatable “values” that allow prostitution to flourish in the first place. And if people recognize, as a result of this law, that those “values” are not going to be tolerated any longer, a huge step forward will have been made in the attempt to end the degradation of those who sell their bodies.