Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fun with the anti-feminist mail bag!

In the grand tradition of Feministing's Anti-Feminist Mail Bag, I present my own bit of anti-feminist hate mail, which I received while I was trying to find women to interview for my senior thesis. I've received a fair bit of this over the past year, and now I've learned to laugh at it. Especially when it's this ridiculous:

"God i hate dumb feminists........ i'm not doing trading, but is for MEN .... every1 here hates dumb feminist bitches....they are ugly, like a 2 or a 3 (and I am like 7 so i am better looking) and they have hairy armpits. there are lots of feminists in my country too and EVERYBODY hates them. OH NO PLEAZE DONT COME AFTER ME WITH YOUR SUPER FEMNISITM POWERS!!"

Sometimes, ignorance is just blissfully amusing.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Conflicting feminisms

by Elizabeth Winkler
Justify Full
It’s always interesting to notice the ways feminist sentiments – in their various forms – trickle into and are absorbed by pop culture. Vaguely feminist, or at least girl-empowering motives have been distantly linked to a motley array of popular cultural icons: from the Pussy Cat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” to Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sex and the City, and Lipstick Jungle, it begins to seem that the varied and distorted array of ‘feminist’ ideals our society projects are only a reflection of the confused and incoherent understandings of (and attitudes toward) feminism that are, in many respects, the root of its troubles.

What struck me as particularly startling, and symptomatic of the larger cultural inconsistencies, was the existence of these conflicting ideals within the work of a single artist: Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies” seem, at least to me, to stand in irresolvable contradiction. The lyrics of the former are powerful, conveying the painful disparity between male and female experiences of life and relationships, and the music video shows a relatively plain, un-made-up, un-sexualized Beyonce. It treats gender difference and privilege, and that chasm of misunderstanding that dialogue attempts to bridge (“but you’re just a boy / you don’t understand…”) with subtlety and nuance.

By contrast, the video for “Single Ladies” portrays three highly-sexualized women (legless, low-cut black leotards of some sort, oiled legs, etc.) dancing extremely provocatively, shaking that booty and dropping it to the floor like they’re doing a fast-paced lap dance. And while some might claim that the lyrics attempt to emphasize the importance of commitment and monogamy in a relationship, the chorus, “if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it,” seems to elicit a grossly commodicized portrayal of femininity: the woman is not even referred to as ‘her’ but rather ‘it,’ and the idea of ‘putting a ring on it’ suggests not a mutual commitment but some sort of possessive ownership (or even ‘calling dibs’) on the part of the guy.

How does one reconcile these conflicting portrayals of liberated womanhood? What does it mean that powerful female figures in popular culture illustrate ‘feminism’ this way, and what are the implications of being conflicted about what a free and equal woman looks like in modern society? Do these conflicts have to be resolved in order to ‘push forward’ in the movement? Can we even say, conclusively, that a movement exists when a universal standard seems so impossible to come by?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chris Matthews: "a crepe of misogyny"

by Chloe Angyal

Elizabeth McEwan at RH Reality Check has a great piece up today about Chris Matthews and misogyny in the media. Matthews isn't the only offender, of course, but he's a top-notch sexist and McEwan does a good job presenting the many reasons why, if we're taking on sexism in the media, this guy should be the first to be kicked off the air. She describes him, with depressing accuracy, as "a crêpe of misogyny, double the deliciousness, with a flaky pancake of ignorance wrapped around a gooey inside of unapologetic enmity."

McEwan is particularly concerned with the parallel Matthews drew a few days ago between the money in President Obama's new stimulus package that was set aside for family planning and China's one-child policy. To me, it's mind boggling that that Matthews doesn't seen any connection between family planning and helping people to feed and clothe their accidental families, but as McEwan points out, it's also highly offensive to compare family planning, which is often an act of compassion, to "state-mandated reproductive limitation which has resulted in the mass murder and abandonment of female infants" (and seriously, if you need an explanation of how family planning can help the government save on healthcare and welfare down the road, drop me a line and I'll explain it for you very slowly, using simple words).

I'm an MSNBC fan, really I am. I love Rachel and Keith and the whole gang, but when it comes to Chris Matthews, I'd much rather watch the SNL version.

More on DABA

Our own Laura Smith-Gary wrote about the nauseating shallowness of the Dating a Banker Anonymous ladies yesterday, and today Courtney Martin at Feministing also has some choice words for the Bergdorf's loving, bottle service-deprived socialites:

Commiserating about the new lack of bottle service in your life is not going to make you feel any better. It's going to perpetuate your psychology of deprivation (an ironic state for a group of women who can still afford to sip cocktails). What will actually make you feel better, I promise, is to get sober about who is most deeply affected by economic downturn in this country and start seeking justice more sustainable than getting rich dudes to take you out to dinner at fancy restaurants. Here are a few stats to start you off:

Women make up 30% of borrowers for mortgages, but are 32% more likely than men to receive sub-prime mortgages, despite slightly higher credit scores (682 versus 675).
-The National Council for Research on Women

The gender wage gap is now 22.2 percent.
-Institute for Women's Policy Research

Annual earnings for young men who are employed full-time year round are about 10% higher
than for young women who are employed full-time year round -- $30,786 compared to $28,008. Annual earnings for all other young men with earnings, which include part-time and/or part-year earners, are about 32% higher than for all other young women with earnings, $15,033 compared to $11,393.
-Legal Momentum

Hear, hear.
So, what have we learned from this? First of all, if you want to be free from the scrutiny of feminists, don't advertise your blog as a place where you can be free from the scrutiny of feminists. You're practically begging us to take a swing at you. Also, if you're trying to be free from the scrutiny of feminists, it suggests that you know you're doing something that wouldn't stand up to that scrutiny, like whining about how your former-master of the universe, married-to-someone-else boyfriend is no longer capable of treating you like a "costly investment," and being so incredibly vapid that most civilized people hope and pray that this is all a spoof.
We've also learned that no matter how much the DABA girls (their word, not mine) whine, they're not even close to suffering. There are people out there with real problems. Not that a complete ignorance of your own privilege isn't a real problem. It's just not nearly as crushing a burden as, say, having to cook your own dinner.
And finally, in the words of Ms. Smith-Gary, "recession= adultery killer." Because if the DABA girls are giving an accurate account, cheating on your wife is awfully expensive.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Same old sh*t from PETA

Ethical, my fully clothed ass.

I fully support an animal's right to go through life without ending up on a pizza. But more than that, I fully support a woman's right to go through life without being constantly exposed to commercials that capitalize on a total misrepresentation of her sexuality, and in the name of "doing good," no less.
I think that PETA's cause is a worthy one, and I applaud them for being able to follow a really basic rule like "sex sells." But it's really not acceptable to further one cause while setting another one back; it's really not acceptable to promote vegetarianism by objectifying women and reducing their sexuality to... seriously, is that woman about to have sex with broccoli?
PETA says that these women are "unable to resist the powers of veggie love." Just like I'm unable to resist the urge to throw up a little in my mouth.

Dating a Banker Anonymous

by Laura Smith-Gary

Dating a Banker Anonymous. Oh, how I wish I'd made that title up. No such luck.

Today The New York Times reported on a group of women who meet regularly to support each other through the recession. Their particular need for emotional support is a dire one: their banker boyfriends and (occasionally) husbands don't have as much money anymore! Noooooooo!

Obviously, these women are easy to take cheap shots at. I think it's important to note that relational/marital problems often accompany economic downturns. The unemployment of one or both partners can strain even the most loving, non-mercenary relationship, and tension and fear at work can easily translate into an array of negative emotions and behaviors at home. In an economic climate that can lead to frustration, depression, anger, helplessness and feelings of inadequacy, I am highly in favor of support groups and therapy, both for those who are directly affected and for their partners and families. Considering that the atmospheres in most banks must be toxic, I understand the need for emotional support.

But why oh why would you start a blog and declare it "free from the scrutiny of feminists"? That's just begging for us to go prying around in it! Especially if you follow your feminist-free statement with a declaration that the blog is for you "if your monthly Bergdorf's allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life." Frankly, I thought at first that this blog was tongue-in-cheek, or created to hoax the Times. It could be trolling feminists, or a not-very-skillful attempt at satire -- read, and see what you think. I'm still open to that possibility, but if the Times was right in saying the group meets a couple of times a week, the probablity of it being a joke or staged seems diminished.

Now, your relationship is your own business. If you want to sleep with bankers for high-quality champagne and the thrill of seeing other rich men hobnob with him at parties, you go right ahead. If you are a banker and you're sleeping with someone who's with you for the Bergdorf's allowance, and you're aware of that and okay with that, then you go right ahead. There are many moral issues that could be discussed, especially when we factor in the fact that according to DABA members many of these banker boyfriends are married, but I'm not that concerned about the sexual ethics now.

What I'm concerned about is this -- why are they framing themselves as anti-feminist? Why are they defining themselves not only as shallow and mercenary, but strictly in terms of their boyfriends? Obviously, they believe there's some kind of status associated with dating a banker, and that dating an unemployed man or not-quite-as-rich banker is a downgrade. Apparently there's also the perception that admitting your relationship is motivated by greed and social climbing, even bragging about it, is most conducive to maintaining your social status during the dissolution of your coveted "Dating a Banker" status. Why is that? Is there a societal belief that a woman who gets men to spend money on her is desirable and attractive, and that her appeal is increased by a lack of attachment to these men? Is it a way to signal availability to other, richer men? Are these women struggling to express the idea that they are attracted not just to the lifestyle, but to an ambitious, aggressive type of man and are having trouble seeing him humbled or vulnerable in any way -- that is, are they emphasizing the lack of caviar because (despite their support group) it's too painful to admit that they see their lover as "emasculated"?

Would the blog Dating a (Female) Banker Anonymous look even remotely similar?

My grandma, way cooler than I am

by Chloe Angyal

This morning I was helping my grandmother do some filing, having managed to put aside the fact that she flogged me at Scrabble last night (just like she does every time we play). She can't do the filing alone because the cabinets are heavy and her back isn't up to stooping to the bottom one, so I helped her file away the L-Z papers and we got the job done twice as fast. When we were done, I stood up and said, "Teamwork!" and offered her my palm for a high-five. Instead of giving me her palm, however, she made a fist and said, "Let's do like Michelle."
Yep, my grandma is way cooler than I am.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Melodramatic much?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

In my Google alert for "feminism" tonight this headline stuck out:

"How the faceless and amoral world of cyberspace has created a deeply disturbing... generation SEX"

I particularly enjoyed the (somewhat incorrect) use of the ellipsis and capital letters. Because the author, Olivia Liechtenstein of Britain's Daily Mail, had a lot to say on the subject, I confess that I did not read the entire article. But I was intrigued by the part that brought the article to my attention in the first place: the section entitled "Do these girls even know what feminism is?" Liechtenstein certainly has a way with her analogies; after lamenting the shady and irresponsible exploits of celebrities, she tells us solemnly, "These images are like puppies. They're not just for Christmas; they're for life."

Liechtenstein is right when she says that "feminist terms like 'liberation' and 'empowerment' have been perverted." But articles like this are hysterical, and inevitably don't address the real issues. There was an interesting article in the New York Times today that serves as a good counterpoint. It talks about the myth of teenage promiscuity; teenagers today, the article says, are for the most part more conservative about sex than past generations. "Today," writes author Tara Parker-Pope, "fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991." She admits that with regard to teenage pregnancy rates we do have cause for concern, but she also points out that this isn't because more teenagers are having sex, it's because they're not using birth control.

Clearly, we have a problem. Certainly, Liechtenstein is right - the media could be doing a better job to teach responsibility. But locking our children away from TVs and blaming parents for giving their children Internet access is not the solution, and we're definitely not going to get very far by using hyperbolic language that distorts the fact that many teenagers are actually approaching sex in a responsible way. Instead, we need to be teaching better sex education and emphasizing the positive aspects of human sexuality, in addition to its risks. I recently watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (don't ask) - in it, one of the characters has sex for the first time and (of course) the condom breaks. But instead of buying the morning after pill and going on with her life, she proceeds to break up with her boyfriend and fall into a panicked frenzy about whether she is pregnant. Yes, this is a case where the media could be doing a better job. But we also don't need to blame what Liechtenstein calls the "freedom and lack of values" given to teenagers by the mass media - because that simply isn't true.

A Short Diversion into the Sex Life of Animals

by Elizabeth Winkler

Last weekend, I visited the small but highly amusing and intriguing “Museum of Sex” in New York City, which declares itself “dedicated to the exploration of the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality.” In providing a larger and more complete context for understanding human sexuality, the museum maintains an extensive exhibit on animal sexuality, which I actually found more interesting and relevant to understanding humans than the exhibits on porn, Hollywood sex symbols, sex machines and the like.

Animal sexuality seems extremely pertinent first and foremost because of animal associations with nature and the frequent invocation of what is ‘natural’ when talking about sexual identity, orientation, practices etc. Many arguments against homosexuality, transsexual or transgender identities, masturbation and even generally non-procreative sex have hinged on the insistence that it is not ‘natural’ and therefore not normal, not right, not good, not acceptable…

Pictures, videos and information clips about animal sexuality, however, revealed that all of these frequently rejected forms of sexuality not only exist among animals, but are shockingly prevalent. In the animal kingdom, it seems that all conceivable sex acts and sexual partnerships exist: animals engage in foreplay behaviors such as kissing, hugging, mutual and self-stimulation, oral sex and every kind of penetrative intercourse imaginable (literally!).

Here are a few examples that struck me: the male bonobo (the type of chimpanzee said to be most closely related to humans) has been known to solicit sex in exchange for sugar cane…ostensibly a form of prostitution. Affectionate male penguins sometimes steal an egg from a male-female couple and care for it themselves, bringing up the baby penguin as their own. Female bonobos have maintained power and a matriarchal structure in their clans by engaging in what can only be termed lesbian sex. As video footage showed, it clearly upset the male bonobos, who seemed to want to intervene in the girl-on-girl action, and according to scientists, has allowed for a powerful sisterhood of sorts to develop within the clan because of the intimacy it creates between the females. Similarly, male anal sex in a variety of animals (zebras, elephants, lions, horses) is said to be integral to the development of bonds and alliances within the pride, herd, what-have-you.

What is ‘natural’ takes on a whole new meaning in light of an informed understanding of what actually takes place within the sexual world of animals. It becomes nothing short of ludicrous for anyone to claim that heterosexual relationships and procreative sex are the only viable forms of human sexuality.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pro-life feminism?

by Christina diGasbarro

“Real feminists are pro-life!”

That was what I read on a sign this past Thursday while I was at the March for Life, held in protest every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. I recognize that a lot of people would take issue with that sign. I don’t claim to know the full intent of the person carrying it, but it made me stop and think again about the compatibility between feminism and the pro-life movement, and about what feminism means to me.

I think that when you look at feminism and at the pro-life movement, they are, at the most fundamental level, the same. To me, feminism is, like all other civil rights movements, an expression of the equal dignity and worth of all human beings. Feminism of course focuses on gender discrimination and securing rights for women, but really the idea is that all people deserve equal treatment under the law, that all people deserve the same human rights, and that all people deserve the same basic respect, courtesy, and consideration.

There are two main reasons that I see this idea as the root and most basic tenet of feminism.

The first is that feminism does not seek to elevate women above men: feminism seeks to ensure women’s equality with men. The second, and more important, is that I don’t think feminism could exist without this belief. Without appealing to the fact that all of us, men and women, are in fact equally human, I think feminists would have a harder time making their case for equality. Some people would point to observed differences between men and women as justification for unequal treatment, disparities in rights, etc. But really, the only way to completely deny feminism is to deny that women are human beings, and that position is patently absurd. It is our common humanity that demands equality for all; it is simply by virtue of being human that anyone can claim equal treatment under law, equal rights, equal respect and consideration, and equal worth and value in society.

The pro-life movement is just as invested in this notion. I freely admit that part of my (and many others’) pro-life conviction stems from religious beliefs, but I am not going to present those here. But what unites pro-lifers from every religious background is the belief in the equal humanity of all people, including the unborn. A fertilized egg, as the product of a human egg and a human sperm, is clearly human; and the fertilized egg has a life of its own, from the moment of conception. Thus, from the moment of conception, there is a new human life. The fertilized egg, while one cell, is not the same as a single human cell from, for instance, the skin, or the muscles, or the stomach. Each of these somatic cells, while being alive and being human cells, do not represent a completely different human life, nor do they represent the entirety of a human being. However, the unicellular fertilized egg does represent a completely different life and the entirety of a human being; given the opportunity, that fertilized egg will develop until birth, and then will seamlessly continue to develop through childhood, adulthood, and old age until death comes.

Seeing that an unborn child is the entirety of a human being, at whatever stage of development, pro-lifers recognize the unborn as possessing equal humanity with those who have already left the womb. Humanity cannot be assigned based on the number of cells in the body, or else a three-year-old would be somehow less human than a thirty-year-old, or someone 5’0” and 100 pounds would be somehow less human than someone 6’2” and 250 pounds. Humanity cannot be assigned based on intelligence or knowledge, or on the ability to provide for oneself, or on the ability to speak or walk. Humanity must be assigned based simply on the fact that a being is a living human, and since all people are equally alive and equally human, that assignment of humanity must be equal.

Since the unborn have equal humanity, they ought to have the same basic human rights as anyone else, and the most important human right is the right to life. Without the right to go on living, the rest of our rights and our very equality would not be worth as much, because only once life is secured can anything else develop; negating the right to life of any group endangers other rights which could not meaningfully exist otherwise. It’s not that pro-lifers think all women should be forced to have children; it’s just that, once there is an unborn child, that child’s right to life supersedes the woman’s right to determine her reproductive functions free from outside interference.

So, as I see it, being pro-life means believing in the equal humanity of all human life; and being a feminist means believing in the equal humanity of all human life. Since the two movements are based in the same core belief, they are fully compatible with each other, and, if one truly believes in the equal humanity of all human life, it makes sense to believe in both; otherwise, one must deny the humanity and the aliveness of some group of human beings.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Women: a complex cocktail of oxytocin and narcissism

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I was amused by the title of this week's New York Times Magazine lead story, "What Do Women Want - Discovering What Ignites Female Desire" before I sat down to read the lengthy and rather technical article, because I had just been flipping through an issue of Cosmopolitan that a friend stole from the gym. Looking at the cover of Cosmo, it seems that women are just as confused about what men want; there were articles in October about how long men want sex to last (because all men are the same), scents that will "seduce any man" (because, again, all men are the same), and outrageous things that "chicks" can do in bed to make sex "crazy-hot" (have I mentioned before that all men are the same?). The NYT article, while far more thoughtful, scientific, and exponententially less sexist than Cosmo, mostly falls victim to the same assumption: that there are more differences between the sexes than within them, and that women's desire is a complex equation which, when solved, will result in simultaneous clitoral orgasm worldwide.

This is not to say that the article isn't interesting, and that it isn't frustrating. The author, Daniel Bergner, whose book about sexual fetishism will be published next month (review here), documents the studies of several sexual researchers who quest to unlock the hidden treasure (pardon my mixed metaphors) of female desire. One scientist pointed out one of the problems with this research, which seems to follow an inexorable modern trend toward biological determinism. “Masters and Johnson saw men and women as extremely similar,” said Julia Heiman, the current director of the Kinsey Institute. “Now it’s research on differences that gets funded, that gets published, that the public is interested in.” And many of the researchers acknowledge the power of cultural conditioning, although this is admittedly harder to measure. But they still struggle to explain the differences between male and female arousal, why women seem to respond to a much wider range of stimuli, and they assume that desire is gender-determined, and somewhat invariable.

And they question the sources of female desire, whether they are physical or mental. One of the most interesting parts of the article dealt with the search for a female form of Viagra, which apparently has plagued scientists for years. But other scientists question whether, for women, a drug is the answer. Viagra simply allows men to act on the desire that always seems to be there - while for women, it would be more difficult to chemically manufacture wanting. And each of the scientists returns, again and again, to the female mind, something which, looking at the cover of my Cosmo, doesn't seem to be the focus of female puzzlement over male desire. The suggestions in Cosmo are all fairly tangible - smell this way, and he'll want you, do it in a chair instead of in bed and he'll go crazy - rather than the musings of the scientists in the NYT, who speculate that female desire could be about narcissism, about the actual sensation of being desire, about focus on the person rather than the gender, about the neurotransmitter of the year, oxytocin.

This seems to me to signal a basic problem with the way we're looking at desire, whether it's female or male. We first make the assumption that we're not on a continuum, that attraction is variable in both of the sexes, that there are men and women who have varying levels of sexual desire, varying desires for certain kinds of relationships. We look for the differences between the sexes, because it allows us to generalize, when really we should be examining the varying forms that desire can take. I was talking with my same friend about the value of sex-positive education, which she has recently become interested in. Sex-positive culture embraces the infinite variance of sexual preference and desire, and the idea that you figure out what your sexual identity is through education and experimentation, and above all by conquering our society's crippling fear of sex. And we need to accept that the way that we talk about sex is inherently sexist - we assume that we have no idea (and may never know) what women want, and that men are simply cavemen, their desires triggered and ignited by a perfume or a new sexual position.

The end of Bergner's article, which questions the use of scientific investigation, was interesting and essentially on the right path. He talks about our long history of fear of female sexuality, how that may have buried female desire deeper than science can delve. I would argue, though that male sexuality is buried deep as well - and oversimplified to the point where we can't accept either male or female sexuality as complex, as dynamic, as specific to an individual. We need to stop asking what women want - and teach both men and women to ask themselves what they want.