Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ladies die well

by Chris Moses

For some it would be clichés or wisdom or admonition, but for my mother it was a keen way of stating the obvious: people come in all shapes and sizes. She’s angry because she wants what she can’t have. Clean up one mess before you start another.

I think a good part of this aphoristic talent came from her father whose Depression-era rearing mingled with a Yankee sensibility that missed all the declarative pretension of a self-made Franklin. Always clean your tools. (Yet never so precious as to forget—they’re tools, and if they don’t hold up then let them break and be done with it.) He had gotten by because he worked hard, but more because he had suffered, kept his eyes open, and taken every damn piece of good luck he could find. And he knew it well. Any sense of pride would have been too risky, too easily taken away. The one piece of voiced accomplishment he held onto had been built before his eyes and with his hands and paid for over three long decades. My house, free and clear. No one can take that away.

I worry that amidst my own fondness for clear comment I have attributed more to my mother than I should. Or that as I’ve grown older and seen the less attractive, conflicted and unpleasant makings of adulthood, I’ve made extra additions so the balance sheet always tilts slightly in my favor. The good stuff must stand out or otherwise my own receipt might skew negative and I have always had an aversion to meanness so that would never do.

As Alzheimer’s slowly eroded her mind and clarity metamorphosed into confusion which ultimately became stark, worrisome incomprehension, I realized how passively adamant care-givers and friends were to compensate for this lack of self with papier-mâché personality—carefully wrapped whole, kind, caring, loving Susan. Some reminders and stories made her smile and brought a sense of ease, whether actual events or play-time make-believe that proved soothingly real. More sinister and more loving strategies attempted to pacify concern or temper resistance as with a child—now a good girl wouldn’t do that—or to excuse the understandable anger and frustration a demented person creates for a fully sentient one—I told you that already. Now just sit down. How could you do this?

I tried to listen. Often it didn’t make sense, sometimes she wanted help filling in pieces or was left with an undesired blank spot, but mostly she just cruised through inconsistencies and switched names around and had a pretty good time of explaining things.

Fun moments together didn’t abate the tedium and frustration and feeling of being in a hurry that can arise no matter how mellow my day if I’d heard the same story and answered the same question and responded to the same compliment an uncountable number of times still in a measure of minutes all too easily tracked on fingers and toes. Such listening is excruciating. Particularly when it’s done explicitly as a way not to correct, to add, to steer. Infuriating, even. Like Dante’s ninth circle—abandon all hope—for to enter is not to be changed but to loose the very possibility of change itself.

Change did happen though—for me this was more frightful than any forgetting. Against all characterizations of her disease my mother absorbed things like a sponge. Not memories like you or me, but emotions, fears, prejudices, bitterness, spite—base defenses most easily taken against uncertainty. Some of these renounceable and puerile insecurities distilled borrowings lent from her second husband. But they were taken up, home-grown and nourished through roots perennially strong. Obvious became nasty: she’s ugly. Fat. Gay. Bad. Dirty. Stupid. The sort of mangled grammar, illogical rage, mumbled screeching of a third-rate supremacist that convinces beyond all doubt how serious, real, frightful they are. This from my mother. Who couldn’t even remember her own name.

As much as I cringed, as much as I started to absolve and reclaim the right-thinking woman who had given me such an eager, curious and open-minded sense of difference, I had to stop and recognize this person so pronounced against the outward-going tide of more pleasant reminiscence.

Partly I wanted the pain, to do the penance, to suffer my own doubt. Partly I wanted to let her find whatever comfort she could, however awful it sounded. Most of all I realized how much effort had gone into making her a lady, casting her into a feminine milieu of deference that veiled criticism and made sweet the most acid, excoriating judgments—I saw how much creative energy was being poured into making her happy and content and at peace. The surly men met with disapproval, scolding. Yet they had the pride of being stuck in their old ways. The world had made a woman and couldn’t help but remaking, remaking, remaking—chintzy outfits, soft colors, polite good wishes—easy cover.

My mother might have countered: covering up a problem doesn’t make it go away. My house, free and clear. No one can take that away.

So instead I tried to listen.

My thoughts on the Anscombe Valentine's Day campaign

by Josh Franklin

This Valentine's Day, the Anscombe Society produced a poster campaign that perfectly symbolized my relationship with the Anscombe message. Attached to lampposts all over campus were double-sided posters: on one side there was a positive message like, "This Valentine's Day, share a journey," and on the other, a negative message like, "This Valentine's Day, don't share misinformation." David Pederson expressed the purpose of this campaign in his column in the Daily Princetonian:

"That is why, instead of hooking up this Valentine’s Day, students and their significant others should go out on a date. Watch a movie, see a play, have a romantic dinner, enjoy deep conversation — the list is endless. Dating or courtship is not a time for sexual experimentation but rather for sharing time together and coming to know the other person as a person — as an end, not a means. If one night’s mistakes can lead to a lifetime of regrets, one night done right can lead to a lifetime of bliss in a loving and faithful relationship. The possibility of that bliss is the best thing to share this Valentine’s Day."

Understanding that it's unpopular to hold this opinion among certain circles, I was a little conflicted about this message. While I dislike the pretentious language of academic ethics and Pederson's shameless definition of dating for everybody everywhere, I found something really positive in this message. Seeing the photograph of two young lovers sharing their "journey" peacefully in a sunlit field was moving for me. I appreciate the idea that creating meaningful relationships is valuable and even beautiful.

What I don't like is the closed-minded condemnation of certain behaviors. This isn't the place to discuss the accuracy of the Anscombe ideas, but I will say that I don't think it's any better to scare people about the risks involved in sex without cause than it is to intentionally conceal them. For some, premarital sex constitutes a part of what is valuable to them in life. To combat what could be percieved as an overwhelming "hookup culture" (assuming it exists) by creating a new standard of normativity and exclusion is merely to perpetuate the anxiety and suffering that we experience when our sexual identities are not respected.

Since there have been numerous critiques of the Anscombe position, I don't want to approach that territory here. Rather, I want to address Anscombe's critics (among whom I count myself). It's my belief that the unfortunate antagonism we have to experience every Valentine's Day (and every day, for that matter) ends not when we dismantle every ridiculous claim about oxytocin, but rather when we challenge our slavery to sexual normativity itself. Progress, I think, consists in creating possibility. It is necessary to recognize the idea of a chaste lifestyle as legitimate--not at the expense of other lifestyles--in order to allow both to exist as possibilities rather than exclusions. I hope that when we challenge Anscombe's dissemination of misinformation, we don't merely create a new vision of what kind of behavior is acceptable, but rather assert that one ought to explore the profound world of sexuality in freedom.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Overheard on Gmail

Chloe Angyal, to Molly Borowitz (re: drafting the Feministing weekly newsletter*)
"Republicans in Georgia have announced a new campaign to ban 'racy' classes like queer theory which they don't consider to be 'real' higher education. But those of us who have actually taken queer theory (or anything else outside of Georgia Republicans' rigid definition of higher education, which only includes business, math and science), are equipped with the ability to think critically about their claims. Also, those of us who have taken queer theory know there's absolutely nothing 'racy' about staying up past three in the morning to finish your Irigaray reading."

I wrote that for you, Mols :)

Molly replies:
This development saddens me on so many levels -- as a more ardent gay rights supporter than I even am a feminist, it breaks my heart to be reminded that we live in a society where people want to perpetuate single-sided debates. American universities, many of which rank among the most respected institutions of higher learning in the world, have a responsibility to their students to provide access to as many ways to understand the world as possible.

For me, queer theory is exactly that; a way to "read" the world through queer eyes, with which -- unfortunately -- not all of us were born. It also marks another step in the direction of treating queer folk as second-class citizens; banning courses like queer theory re-emphasize the message that queer reading, thought, political activity, family structure, cultural construction, and personal experience are less valuable than the straight versions of all those things.

Do these adults feel justified in making such decisions on behalf of young Americans simply because some of us might grow up to be gay rights advocates and activists? Fuck you guys. We are passionate, we are intelligent, we are self-aware, and we can choose our own classes, thank you. Queer theory isn't a required course...yet.


*to subscribe, scroll down the right-hand side of Feministing.

Did you watch this week's Target Women?

You should have.

"I didn't know I had body aging, but it turns out I've had it for almost thirty years!"

Jessica Valenti on "the hook-up culture"

by Chloe Angyal

Feministing editor Jessica Valenti spoke at Emory and Henry college this week on "the hook-up culture," and no doubt ruffled some feathers. Valenti, whose book The Purity Myth will be out in the next few months, tackles media hype, the moral debate over young women having sex, and even Anscombe Society favourite Miriam Grossman. I can't speak for Amelia or for any other Equal Writers, but personally, I could not agree more with Valenti's argument, and I've highlighted the bits that spoke loudest to me.

"I have to admit that when I found out I would be speaking on "hook up culture" today, I was somewhat at a loss. Because the truth is, I actually don't believe that hook culture exists.

Do I think young people in college have sex and hook up? Of course.

But I don't think that this means that there's some nefarious culture of wanton sexuality rampant across college campuses - at least, not any more than there ever was - and I don't think that the fact that young people have sex or are otherwise physically intimate with each other is necessarily a cause for concern.

What I do think is cause for worry is the way that conservative and anti-women organizations, writers, and media makers are using this myth of a hook up culture to promote regressive values surrounding gender and to roll back women's rights.

So just to get some context - let's talk a little bit about what "hook up" culture actually is as its imagined by the media and conservative organizations.

In 2007 alone, nearly 1,000 news and magazine articles referred to the "girls gone wild" or "raunch culture" phenomenon. The topics of these articles ranged from general finger wagging about girls' supposed promiscuity and spring break, to op-eds about college women's slutty Halloween costumes. I found headlines like "Spring Break, Broken Girls," "Dying to Date" and "Girls Gone Bad."

One article for Newsweek even wondered whether America was raising a generation of "prostitots." (That would be slutty toddlers.) Another piece from The Washington Post - and this one is actually my favorite - said that young women hooking up was tantamount to "a mental health crisis on American campuses."

There should be two things that are immediately evident to you - even from just these small sampling of articles. 1) The concerns about young people hooking up and having sex aren't about young people at all - they're about young women. And 2) The attitude is definitely that young women having sex is a bad, bad thing. There's a whole lot of shaming and scare tactics going on."

It's quite long, but you can read the rest here. Also, if you'd like Equal Writes to bring Valenti to campus to speak more about feminism and gender issues, let us know in the comments section.

Bought and Sold: The Faces of Modern Slavery

If you have a chance (or a class in Robertson), make sure you check out Bought and Sold: The Faces of Modern Slavery, a photography exhibition in the Bernstein Gallery. The photos, by Kay Chernush, are really wrenching, but very important.

Images includes exploited women in brothels, bonded child laborers in textile and brick factories, enslaved children on fishing vessels, as well as images of parents in search of their stolen children from Europe, Africa and India. Other images depict abused women who have begun to rebuild their lives with the help of non-governmental organizations, and victimized children attending special schools where they receive counseling and education.

In particular, take a moment to look at the photo of a Nepalese mother holding up a snapshot of her daughter. To paraphrase the horrifying caption, "A mother searches for her daughter who was abducted at 15 and taken to work in a Mumbai brothel. Five years later, the girl has not been heard from." Despite the intensely human face that Chernush gives to sex slavery, this woman's story is not an unusual one: this happens every day, to women all over the world. To find out more about how to stop it, visit Soroptimist.

Feminism, shmeminism! Let's go shopping!

by Elizabeth Winkler

I don’t think I’m being too absurdly dramatic when I say that the recent release of the film Confessions of a Shopaholic set the feminist movement back a delightful few notches. Impressive, to say the least, for a 2-hour, mindless movie about a pretty little girl bopping around NYC in search of the latest trendy buys. Chloe’s recent post on the exhausting nature of being a feminist rings all too true: I can’t help but be disheartened, and quite honestly, I can't help but wonder whether feminism has really accomplished as much as we would like to think. Because let’s be honest: my 9-year-old sister’s current idol is not Hillary Clinton or Dara Torres or even Hermione Granger. It’s the “Shopaholic” and her ilk. Is her childhood exposure to feminist ways-of-thinking really much more improved than my own?

The movie is centers around the escapades of a frivolous (but warm-hearted!), Prada-addicted college grad whose very raison d’etre is rooted in the anticipation of her next visit to one of 5th Avenue’s designer boutiques. She describes her girlhood discovery of the shopping world with an almost religious reverence, repeatedly citing its ‘magical’ nature, and the wonders of the women who inhabit it: “They were beautiful; they were happy…” she declares wistfully. Indeed, when the ‘shopaholic’ enters into a nasty cat-fight over a pair of shoes, it starts to seem that she has projected the very depths of herself and her happiness onto those must-have, red stilettos.

So not only does the film reinforce a sickeningly stereotypical portrayal of what all girls love to do – shop, duh! – but it paints shopping as the very essence of her being (girls can’t really be interested in anything more meaningful, after all), equating consumerism with life fulfillment in a rather disturbing fashion. The message is clear: to be happy, you must be beautiful; to be beautiful, you must spend lots and lots of money and worry perpetually about your appearance.

The emphasis on consumerist culture seems particularly problematic when one considers its implications for understanding contemporary female identity. The perpetual trying-on of clothes, debates over the message conveyed by purple versus blue eyeshadow, admiring one’s “new self” in that cute, new outfit, etc. suggests that a woman’s identity is not stable; she has no real sense of self, but is constantly re-inventing herself through the ‘message’ of her appearance. Think about advertisements that encourage you to “Express yourself!” or “Find the new you!” (Or the ‘edgy’ you, or ‘flirty’ you or whatever it may be.) I’ve always wondered what I’m really “expressing” when I put on a certain shirt. It seems that the depth of a woman’s identity only extends as far as her appearance, and even that must be constantly altered (transformed, revolutionized!) in order for her to seem ‘interesting.’

In today’s image-obsessed culture, who is modern woman, really?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Killjoy, buzzkill, feminazi and other labels

by Chloe Angyal

Today at lunch, I was wearing my feminist hat. I don't really take it off anymore. It's become so much a part of who I am, and so much a part of how the people who know me think about me, that even if I wanted to take it off, I couldn't I get away with it.

During today's lunch conversation a whole host of issues came up, most notably the idea that women want to seem "dainty," and that, accordingly, they want to be with men who are stronger than them and who make them feel safe and small. Not surprisingly, I wasn't a huge fan of the idea. I was on Team Cultural Construction, arguing that in this day and age, when women run nations and Fortune 500 countries, when girls are consistently outperforming boys in school, the desire to be "dainty" or "small" is an outdated aspiration for women. And I was arguing that encouraging women to be small and dainty isn't really about physical size at all: women are encouraged by the media, and, once they've internalized the idea, by each other, to be delicate and small for a very political reason. It's about making sure that women don't get any, well, big ideas, and ensuring that they still feel like they can't be safe without men around to protect them.

Not surprisingly, I was arguing this against Team 'It's Just an Evolution Thing' ("women have always needed protection, just because we're naturally smaller and weaker"). And not surprisingly, it was four-on-one. That's a format I've become accustomed to, but afterward, one of the girls who was listening in on the conversation said to me, "I don't think I could keep that up for more than ten minutes. It must be really tiring." She was right; fighting a constant battle is exhausting. And, as Courtney Martin pointed out at Feministing today, sometimes we don't fight it as well as we should. Given today's lunchtime conversation, the last item on this list really struck a chord with me:

Here are five ways in which I'm still struggling to square up my ideas and my daily practice:

1. I apologize and say excuse me far too often in public situations when I am just taking up a normal amount of space.

2. I get intimidated when math comes up in daily life situations--whether it's splitting a bill among friends or trying to focus on the specific allocations in the stimulus package when I'm reading an article.

3. I feel like I have to wear makeup in certain situations even when I don't want to. At first I chalked this up to an age thing...I'm young so I have to wear make up in certain circles to be taken seriously. I'm starting to feel like it's just an excuse. (Unless I feel like wearing it, which happens sometimes, and that's cool.)

4. I still say no to friends or loved ones with a lot of trepidation, even if I know that they are asking me to do something I'm not interested in or don't have the energy for, etc. You might argue this isn't gendered, but in my family, it certainly was.

5. I sometimes listen to my guy friends objectify women and say nothing. It feels exhausting and killjoy-ish. Part of me feels like I should give myself permission to not be the feminist police all the time. Another part wonders if I just have a hard time doing the hard confrontation shit with my own buddies.

It is exhausting, and it does feel killjoy-ish. I don't particularly like being called a "feminazi" or being accused of calling men "thought criminals," as I have been this week. I don't particularly enjoy the four-on-one format. I'm tired of having to call my peers out when they say sexist things. But as tired as I am, I'm not going to stop, because I know that it's my responsibility. As long as there's sexism out there, we need to speak out about it, even when we know we're going to be perceived as killjoys. We need people who aren't afraid to speak up, even when it's exhausting to do it so often. We need more people who are willing to confront their own buddies., to argue with them four-on-one and to be, to use Martin's (perhaps ill-chosen) phrase, the feminist police. Perhaps if there were more of us, we could take it in shifts, so that some of us tired "feminazis" could take a quick breather.

Just for giggles. Sad, Feminine Mystique-esque giggles.

From Roflrazzi.
Thanks to Richard for the tip!

If you can't read it, it says, "For dinner we're having repressed emotions. And quiet desperation for dessert."

Different sins for the ladies?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

This is really amusing. The Vatican just released a study that claims that there is "no sexual equality" when it comes to sin. The downfall of men is (surprise!) lust, while women are likely to be toppled by the sin of pride. But what if I am proud of my lust? No cigar! Monsignor Wojciech Giertych, personal theologian to Pope Benedict XVI and the papal household, told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano: "Men and women sin in different ways. When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create you find that men experiment in a different way from women."

My puzzlement continued as I read that the survey is based on "confessional data" (can someone please explain to me what that means? Because my assumption is that now the confession booth has been turned into pseudo-science). Apparently, in the same survey, the Vatican was informed that 30 per cent of Catholics no longer considered confession to a priest necessary, and 10 per cent even said that it "impeded their personal dialogue with God." If it's going to go into a sexist, fake-scientific study, damn straight it's going to impede my personal dialogue with God! But seriously - why do sins have to be gendered now? If I want to live in the sin city of my choosing, then surely the fact that I'm a woman shouldn't stop me. But then again, to quote Sarah Haskins, I am just a lady, with a simple lady mind - which is apparently eaten up with the sin of pride.

Feminism at Yale

Yale has a feminist blog! A column in the Yale Daily News explained yesterday why Graphic Feminism, a new project by Yale feminist Jessica Svendson, is important:

"...we must recognize that gender colors the way we interact with the world.

Instead, we need to talk about gender, and acknowledge it, and make ourselves more aware of it. Most men at Yale can probably count on one hand the number of times they’ve thought about whether they’ll choose a career or a family. My guess is that it’s not the same story for women.

All Yale’s feminists are doing is pointing this out. We’ve made progress, but the work isn’t over. Feminism isn’t dead, even at Yale. You may disagree with their tactics, but their objective is unassailable, and their presence on campus is sorely needed."

Rock on, Jessica! Also, if you like reading about feminism on Ivy League campuses, (and you must like doing that, because you're reading Equal Writes), try Yale's Broad Recognition. Do you know of any other campus feminist and gender issues blogs we should be reading? Tell us about them in the comments.

Sexual violence in video games: where do we draw the line?

by Jordan Kisner

*trigger warning*

Amazon.com recently banned a Japanese first-person-player game called “Rapelay,” which has raised some questions in the blogosphere about the conflict between profits and ethics when it comes to products that effectively sell violence and abuse. Rapelay involves a simulation of stalking and violent rape, where the player must first rape a mother and her two daughters before having his pick of victim. The game reportedly shows tears in the daughters’ eyes, but, if the player reaches a certain level, he gains the ability to convince the victim that she likes being raped. Other features include “gangbanging” and forcing the victims to have abortions when they get pregnant. On the whole, pretty horrifying.

The existence – not to mention the relative commercial success — of this game raises a lot of questions. Does this game increase the likelihood of violent sexual crimes among its consumers? Why is there a market for a game that is so aggressively anti-women? Most interesting, I think, is the question of whether or not this game should be legal. I find the outcry that led Amazon to remove Rapelay from its website encouraging, but I wonder whether leaving the question of whether this kind of product be sold up to the discretion of vendors is the most responsible, appropriate course of action. It is my opinion that these kinds of games (those that engender and capitalize on impulses toward sexual violence) should be made illegal. I understand the argument that there are lots of violent video games out there that enact fantasies that players will never fulfill in real life, but there are a few important distinctions to be made:

1) Rapelay, unlike most violent video games which mete out violence indiscriminately, dehumanizes and promotes violence against a specific group of people. This targeted violence, whether it is directed as it is here against women, or against minorities or people of varying sexualities, must never be condoned, much less entertained and simulated.

2) Any indication that the game leads to real-world rape is reason enough to make it illegal, and this is not only likely but far more likely than it is that run-of-the-mill violent video games lead to violence. While most violent video games are difficult to actualize in real life (it is thankfully unlikely that a disturbed teenager could lay his/her hands on a machine gun in order to live out a Halo-esque fantasy), rape is, by comparison, an extremely available crime. It requires little more than genitalia (thank you, Mother Nature) and aggression (thank you, Rapelay). The fantasy that Rapelay encourages is much more easily realized, making the likelihood of its leading to that realization ever higher.

Unfortunately, a quick post is not the forum to draw out all the complex issues at play here, and I’ve run out of space, but I’d like to hear what other people think. I know censorship is a touchy subject, but I think that in this case outlawing the game is appropriate. Thoughts? Concerns? Kvetches?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on fetal personhood

by Chloe Angyal

Here's what Planned Parenthood had to say about the personhood bill that passed in North Dakota today:

"The bill was specifically crafted as a challenge to the Roe v Wade decision. HB 1572 could also outlaw contraception as well as medical procedures used to treat tubal pregnancies and infertility.

HB 1572 is dangerous, far reaching and allows the government, not women and families, to make critical decisions about health care. Women and families, not politicians, should decide what’s best for their unique circumstances. Whether the issue is abortion, birth control, or in vitro fertilization, women, in consultation with doctors should make these personal medical decisions."

I couldn't agree more. Where life begins is an issue on which we're never going to agree, but that's no reason to take the decision of whether or not to have a child out of women's hands. Even more than taking the decision away from women, personhood rhetoric takes the woman totally out of the equation, as though the fetus gestates in some magical place that has nothing to do with the woman carrying the pregnancy. But pregnancy is about women, as well as about the fetus.

Some of us see the fetus as a fully human life, with the same rights to life and happiness as the woman carrying it. Some of us don't, and worry more about the life that's already fully actualized and that might be seriously damaged by bringing an unwanted child into the world. And we're never going to agree, for a whole host of reasons. But taking away the option of abortion is not the answer. Taking away the option of abortion leaves women powerless and desperate, which fosters an even less compassionate attitude towards the fetus than exists already. Forcing pregnancy on women, millions of whom don't share the view that the fetus is person, leaves those women with no choices and no say in their own future. And for those of us who care deeply about women's health and women's lives, leaving women with no say in their own future is simply not acceptable.

If you don't believe in abortion, no one's going to force you to have one. No one's going to tell you what's right for you; no one should have that right, least of all the state congressmen of North Dakota. In the same way, no one should have the right to tell a pregnant woman who isn't prepared for motherhood what's right for her. Your beliefs that the fetus is a person or that abortion is a sin shouldn't be forced on women who don't share those beliefs. Just as you've been given the choice to have a child, perhaps the best decision you've ever made, so should another woman be given the choice not to have a child; that might be the best decision she'll ever make.

This world is cruel, and for children who aren't wanted, who aren't properly cared for, it is crueller still. We owe it to future generations to ensure that every single child who comes into this world comes into is wanted, loved and cared for. When we force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, we guarantee that that won't be the case. And children deserve better than that.

By now, pro-life readers will be livid with me, just pro-choice readers were livid when they saw the results of today's session in the North Dakota House. But there's good news for both sides: There is a solution that will allow us to bring down the number of abortions in this country. That solution is a combination of contraception, accurate sex education and better support for mothers and children. If you really want to stop abortion, fight for those things, not for legislation that slaps a "person" label on the fetus. That label is a cure. But contraception, sex ed and support for mothers and children, that's prevention. Without those things we cannot hope to even begin eliminating unwanted pregnancies. Without those things, abortion will remain inevitable, and far more frequent than any of us would like.

"Hot girls?" How about "strong, talented, three-time national champion women?"

by Laura Pedersen

Last week some interesting posters popped up around campus. They were recruiting spectators to come watch Princeton's women's squash team play this weekend (the team won its third consecutive national title!) Huge congrats to women's squash team, but no congrats to whoever designed the posters, which tried to entice spectators like this:

"HOT GIRLS: May or may not be clothed. But they'll be cheering on Princeton at Saturday's Squash match."

Like I said, rock on, squash girls. But I've got no love at all for the brilliant person who thought up the totally original idea of using naked women to sell something. In light of the promotional angle used for this past Saturday’s match, I thought it appropriate to offer my own suggestions in response to what were, quite frankly, some offensive sales pitches.

1. “BEER. Will not be served by buxom beer maids.”
2. “HOT GIRLS. Will be willing to talk with you about their aspirations or latest research project. Will be fully clothed.”
3. “SEX. Will only happen if mutually consented.”
4. “BALLS. Get your head out of the gutter!”
5. “SQUASH. Actually the reason you’ll be attending this Saturday.”

To quote the Women's Media Center, sexism sells, but we're not buying it.

Ed: We've just heard from a member of the women's squash team, who said that the women played at Harvard last weekend; the posters were in reference to a men's regular season game that took place at Princeton last weekend.

North Dakota House of Reps passes "fetal personhood" bill

by Emily Sullivan

Note to self: don’t have sex in North Dakota. HB 1572 is a bill that just passed through the North Dakota House of Representatives. Here is some of the text of it:

*BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF NORTH DAKOTA:*
*SECTION 1. Equality and rights guaranteed to all human beings.*

1. For purposes of this Act:

a. "Born", "birth", "partially born", "born alive", and any derivation thereof, apply to any child located inside a uterus, which is pulled out of the mother; or who has ever had any part of its body, including the head, pulled out of the uterus, such as during natural birth, artificial birth, or abortion.

b. "Human being" means any organism, including the single-cell human embryo, irrespective of the method of reproduction, who possesses a genome specific for and consistent with an individual member of the human species.

c. "Human embryo" means all human beings from the beginning of the embryonic period of their biological development through eight weeks,irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction, whether in vivo or in vitro.

d. "Human fetus" means all human beings from the beginning of the fetal period of their biological development, which begins at nine weeks gestation through birth, irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction, whether in vivo or in vitro.

The bill is technically a victory for pro-choicers—they are on their way to getting “the fetus is a human” on the books, given that it passes through both the Senate and the Governor (both Republican). I say "technically" because there is little to no chance this law will ever live past its first appeal. That laws like this are even written or passed by a House is a bummer, but look at it this way: even sodomy laws are on the books in many states. Clearly those are enforced. A law, even if it’s in the books, still has to go through court.

Who says we can't?

by Emily Sullivan

My dad hitchhiked across the country—from Boston to multiple places in California and back—several times when he was my age. Now, with full understanding that that was the sixties, and that times are much different now, I am entirely sick of hearing that I can’t hitch because I’m a woman. This is my attempt to debunk this myth.

The fact is, women have great success hitchhiking because we are seen as less threatening. Women get picked up quicker, and are much more likely to be picked up by families and other women than are men. And the danger factor? Just use your brain! There are several strategies and precautions women can take to make hitching as safe and fun as it should be.

One strategy is to ask for rides at truck stops or gas stations, instead of on the road. This allows you to check out your driver before hopping in. Always memorize the license plate number, and send it via cell phone to a friend.

If you are on the road, ask the driver where he/she is headed before you answer. This way, you have a pretense for declining a ride if you’re not feeling right about it.

Don’t hitch at night, and don’t wear skimpy clothes. You don’t want to give the wrong impression. Also, don’t hitch when you’re tired, and don’t sleep on the ride. Be aware of where you are, and where you are heading.

Have some conversation starters in mind. Asking about spouses and family is a good way to send a hands-off message.

Pepper spray is a good thing to carry. Knives and guns are a no-go, because they tend to create more trouble than they prevent. Also, be mindful of the handbrake—you can always use this if something’s not right.

Most of all, have confidence! Hitchhiking is an amazing adventure. Why should guys have all the fun? The more women on the road—the more hitchers in general—the easier it will become for everyone. Happy travels!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Scientifically" proving objectification?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The Daily Princetonian contacted me last night and asked me to comment on the new Princeton study which was the subject of today's article "Men view half-naked women as objects, study finds." Jordan Bubin has already discussed the article in his post today, but I just want to add my voice to the chorus saying, alternately, "thanks for that, Captain Obvious!" and "this is a scientific study?" The summary of the study (conducted by Princeton psychology professor Susan Fiske, Mina Cikara GS and Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt) which was sent to me last night was even vaguer than the Prince article, which revealed that this study was conducted on just 21 Princeton undergraduates who identified as heterosexual.

I am not a psychologist. But I think I was taught in second grade that when conducting a scientific experiment, you need a representative sample of the population. And the last time I checked, even the randomest sample of Princeton males is not going to come close to representing the world's male population. And really, if we already know that these men are sexist (and I'd like to take this sexism questionnaire that they gave the subjects - how, exactly, does one test for sexism?), why are we even bothering to test to see which parts of their brain light up? I am very suspicious of any study which seeks to make broad generalizations about either of the genders - it's exactly on these grounds that I oppose the near-constant references to women and oxytocin in the discussions of the hook-up culture that have stormed campus in the past week. It doesn't just give people a free pass to make the same generalizations about women (and I found it hilarious that the researchers admitted that the same was probably true for women's objectification of men - they just didn't bother to test for it), but dangerously encourages our propensity to differentiate between the sexes, rather than within them. Objectification of women is a problem, yes, but we don't need science to tell us that. And really, if we establish that this is an inescapable "scientific" phenomenon (which I don't think it is), then we allow people to start making the arguments that "men can't help it" when they "happen" to objectify women, or that they have a "natural" propensity to rape or sexually abuse them.

I watched a short film called "The Pornography of the Everyday Life" for my gender and politics class today, and the images that it showed - mainstream advertising which depicted women as bound, half-dead, sexual objects - were incredibly disturbing. There is absolutely no denying that the researchers had good intentions, because objectification of women is a serious problem, and it's incredibly pervasive. But this study trivializes the problem, and could be seriously damaging to real efforts to stop objectification. Last night, I told the Prince that I didn't have enough information about the study to say anything concrete. But now - unless there is more information that they somehow left out - I think it's silly, and ultimately hurts the cause.

Last chance to apply!

Do you have an opinion? (If you're reading Equal Writes, you must). Want to learn how to express it more clearly in print?

Currently, women do not publish opinion and editorial pieces in major print and online outlets with anywhere near the frequency that men do. This Saturday, the Women's Center is hosting a full-day seminar by The Op-Ed Project; the seminar will teach participants to make bold, fair, persuasive arguments for the ideas and causes that they care about.
The ultimate goal is to equip students to bring about a change in our national conversation and thought leadership, which is currently overwhelmingly dominated (85%) by men. The session will be led by acclaimed writer and Feministing blogger Courtney E. Martin (yes, the Courtney E. Martin).


Enrollment is limited, with priority given to undergraduates. RSVP to the Women’s Center assistant Jody Whitehead at jwhitehe@. Please include your name, college or major, class year, and a brief description of your interest in the workshop. Spaces are limited, so don't miss out!

Saturday, February 21, 9 am – 4 pm in the Women’s Center, Frist 243.

Thank you, Captain Obvious

by Jordan Bubin

In the last few days, we've heard about two rather amusing studies in the fields of psychology and gender studies. First, British doctors discovered that pregnant women aren’t stupid, and second, a Princeton researcher discovered that—gasp!—men view half-naked women as sexual objects, according to MRI scans of their brain. The first study is trumpeted by the journalist as one that blows away the myth that pregnant women are baby-crazy idiots, and the second presumes to perhaps offer some empirical evidence that men are pigs.

All I can think is, who cares? A quick poll of the friends I’m sitting with at this table reveals that none of us have ever heard of the joke that pregnant women are dumb. I’m sure between us, we could make a nice, epic list of sexist jokes - many of which include pregnancy—but not that one. The journalist, Cath Elliott, complains that so much of the advice aimed at pregnant mothers assumes they’re brain-dead, but I don’t really see that as being different from advice offered to people who are in need of loans, writing in to “Dear Abby” columns, or, well, any advice given through mass media ever. The entire section of the magazine industry responsible for publications like Cosmo and Men’s Health, after all, is essentially based on the idea that people haven’t figured out that kissing, touching nipples, oral sex, and changing speeds during sex might make intercourse more interesting.

The Princeton study seems still sillier. The study seems even less groundbreaking than the sub-field of sociology dedicated to rediscovering, every other month, that women do more housework than men (no shit, Sherlock). To me, the impetus for such a study is beyond comprehension. If you prove that men objectify half-naked women, have you shown that there is a problem, or shown that it’s in fact biological, and perhaps harder(or even impossible to rectify, as Chloe points out? It seems to me that the study has proved very little, since part of being human is having the capacity to overcome things we may naturally be inclined to do, such as peeing anywhere we feel like or physically attacking people who threaten us.

As far as scientific studies go (and it should be pointed out that I am not a scientist by any means, but a humble political theorist), I’m under the impression that studies ought to compare different groups in order to be worthwhile. The study managed to question men on how “sexist” they were, but it would have been more interesting if it had managed to look at whether a number of other questions: do gay men objectify half-naked men? Do bisexual men objectify half-naked women more than they objectify half-naked men? Do women objectify half-naked men? And do lesbians objectify half-naked women? The authors ponder whether men or women may be more attracted to status or resources, as opposed to physicality, all of which seems interesting, but beyond any point their own study could have (pitifully) hoped to address.

It seems most likely to me that people of any gender, if they see someone attractive, are going to have parts of their brain light up, and those parts may be the parts that “are associated with objects or things you manipulate with your hands," rather than parts that are associated with “thinking about people’s minds and thoughts.” Well, duh. If you see someone attractive, your first thought is presumably not “I wonder what they think about the realist critique of diplomacy,” but something along the lines of “yum.” And that seems to me to be utterly fine. It seems part and parcel with having a sex drive. It reminds me of one of my favorite comedians explaining that it’s not pornography that causes sexual thoughts—it’s “having a dick! Or, you know, for ladies, a vagina.”

The problem isn’t that people fantasize about other half-naked people as objects—it’s when that is the sum total, or majority, of your thoughts about the opposite sex (or the same sex, or whatever). It seems to me that if you’re trying to figure out how to bring about a more feminist world, you should pick your battles—and professors would do well to contemplate the utility of their actions before busting out their MRI machines.

Bristol Palin admits that abstinence-only education is "unrealistic"

This just made my day. I do feel bad for her, because I'm pretty sure that she wasn't really given a choice about her impending marriage to the unemployed Levi Johnston, who has yet to graduate from high school or, according to Gawker, seek any kind of employment. And let's not even talk about whether the word "condom" entered her vocabulary before she started having sexual relations with said hockey player, but amen, she's telling the truth. Say it with me, folks: abstinence-only sex education doesn't work! Take that, John Boehner, John McCain, and everyone in Congress who voted against funding for honest, accurate sex education and for contraception.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Dollhouse" disappointing

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The NYT had a review a couple of days ago of Joss Whedon's new series, "Dollhouse." For those of you who haven't heard of it, it's the story of a young woman (played by Eliza Dushku) who is convinced to donate her body to what the NYT calls "fringe science" (and what I would call "high-tech prostitution"). She is given a new personality, and after every assignment, the scientists wipe her mind clean. I enjoyed the reviewer's metaphor of a "permanent, untraceable roofie."

I missed the premiere, but I'm looking forward to seeing reviews of this show - it seems like it has the potential to raise some interesting quesions, or go horribly, horribly wrong. The main character, Echo (so named because she can only repeat what her creators tell her - the perfect woman!), naturally starts to become self-aware. I think that this could raise some questions about the infinite perfectability of the human body, or perhaps call attention to offenses like sex trafficking (the women are pretty much geishas - what else are you going to do with a beautiful, docile woman whose memory you can erase?). But the NYT's review was fairly lukewarm, and I'm afraid that "Dollhouse" will just turn into yet another Pygmalion or Stepford story. And of course we need another TV show telling us that women are the most attractive when they're psychologically roofied.

Has anyone seen the show? Is it as disappointing as the NYT would have us believe?

Jessie Spano was "not a feminist, but..."

by Chloe Angyal

Yesterday, Jezebel contemplated the "Jessie Spano effect." For those of you who didn't grow up watching Saved by the Bell, this will not mean a whole lot (also, if you didn't grow up watching Saved by the Bell, I am so sorry. This developmental flaw can be easily fixed).

Jessie Spano, Jezebel concludes, was a role model for all those "I'm not a feminist but..." types, women who want equality and who agree with everything that feminism stands for, but who have internalized the idea that feminists are shrill, shrewish and unattractive, so aren't willing to describe themselves as feminists. (Note: if you're someone who thinks that women deserve equality, the people who perpetuate the idea those kinds of negative stereotypes about feminism are not the kind of people you want to be taking advice from. Stop listening to them.)

Jessie Spano is the girl that everyone should be, but nobody wants to be. In her quest to be someone great, she of course sabotages herself: a legendary caffeine addiction derails her from taking on both a singing career and an academic career (can't have both, ladies!) and she deals with her rejection from top schools by bingeing on junk food.
Jessie Spano is never happy. She's tired, competitive, judgmental, angry, and painfully self-aware. Where her peers drift in and out of difficult situations (Kelly's poor, Lisa's intelligence is questioned), Jessie seems to carry this ridiculous burden of being trapped between speaking her mind and making her pink tank top wearing macho boyfriend happy.

Did Jessie Spano hurt feminism? (Apparently I'm not the only one who is wondering.) It's hard to say, really. Though her impact on the young girls who grew up watching her, myself included, may account for the "oh, I wouldn't call myself a feminist" bullshit that seems to be running rampant amongst women in their 20's.

It's easy to understand why those women, women our age, wouldn't want to self-identify as feminists, if they learned from watching Jessie that being a feminist meant being eternally unhappy, tired, competitive, angry, and all those other very unfeminine things. But then again, while Saved by the Bell was an authority on many things (perms, getting out of detention), it shouldn't have been taken as the gospel on feminism. But it is an interesting snapshot, a cultural artefact that demonstates what writers and producers thought of feminism at a particular moment in time. And it should encourage us to take a good, hard look at current pop culture, at what the next generation of women is growing up watching, so that "I'm not a feminist but" is a phrase we'll never have to hear come out of the mouths of our daughters.


For more on "I'm not a feminist but"-ism in young Americans, check out this recent series by the Tufts Daily.

Thanks to Lizzie for the tip!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beyond The Vagina Monologues: getting men involved

by Chloe Angyal

Well, The Vagina Monologues 2009 are over. But the violence against women continues, and, as such, so will the work of the V-Day campaign and of countless other organizations around the world. Monologues author Eve Ensler has started V-Men, an organization for men who want to contribute to ending violence against women. V-Man Mark Matousek writes:

It became clear to me (as it already was to Eve) that violence against women was not merely a female issue; it was a human dilemma twisting the lives and consciences of men as well; men whose voices needed to be heard in order for the dialogue that began ten years ago with the founding of V-Day to be complete.


With V-Day celebrating its ten year anniversary, and the war on female violence nowhere near won, we can no longer afford to keep men's voices out the conversation. Writing "Rescue" was life changing for me. I learned that you don't have to be a woman to suffer from misogyny. So, if you're a man with a story to tell, please send them our way. This column is your place at the table. We welcome your testimonies here. It's far too late in the day for male guilt by association. There's only one team in the human race.


I'm really glad Eve has done this. Many of my male friends who were in the audience this weekend found the play far too anti-men, and felt that they were being personally blamed for the violence inflicted on women by other individual men. Of course, culture is omnipresent and we're all a part of it, even if we don't agree with it; we are all members of a culture that condones and facilitates violence against women, even if as individuals we've never hurt a fly. My hope is that the V-Men initiative will bring into the movement those men who were disturbed by the violence they heard described on stage this weekend, but who were still more disturbed by the implied accusation that they are partly to blame for it. By joining this movement, those men, those individuals who have never hurt women and who abhor a culture that does, can help us to make change.

Movie review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

by Lauren Rother

There's a lot to be said about marketing, and how entire companies come into being solely to market themselves to a single demographic. In film, that company is Focus Features, the "art house films" division of Universal Pictures. Focus is responsible for such films as Being John Malkovich, Lost In Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and specifically targets "indie culture" using soundtrack artists such as My Bloody Valentine, Beck and The Polyphonic Spree. Given the popularity of many of Focus's films and the amount of money they've made, other studios are jumping on board. Cue Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, by Columbia Pictures. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is about New York City, filmed in New York City, and uses New York area (indie) bands for the soundtrack. And it's awesome.

I got the same feeling watching Nick and Norah that I got watching Little Miss Sunshine, namely, this is awesome and this is being sold to me. If you can get beyond the obviousness of Nick and Norah and embrace the commercialization of subculture, the movie manages to encompass some tennents of indie rock subculture on the East Coast without falling into all of the romantic comedy pitfalls or negating the existence or knowledge of women within the subculture.

Nick and Norah cover the antics of two teenagers (whom, I must say, are entirely unbelievable as teenagers) and their friends running around New York City all night trying to acheive two goals: keeping track of a drunk friend and finding the venue of an elusive band. As you may have guessed, Nick and Norah are in the process of attraction as the movie progresses. And while you might expect that Norah gets less character development outside that of "Nick's love interest" as the movie goes on, Norah actually maintains independence and intelligence throughout the movie. Granted, when you look at her character from a distance, there is something oddly Jane Austen-esque about her. She's overly modest in dress and manner, and highly nuturing. However, it is easier to believe that those qualities are simply part of her character given that she maintains wit and opinions. And, her relationship with her friend isn't a jealous rivalry like so many female relationships are portrayed, but a mutually respectful and admiring one.

All in all, Nick and Norah manages to be funny without being funny at the expense of everyone else, and is only totally obnoxious during one part (achieved orgasm in 5 seconds?! I think not). Granted, teenagers running around clubs and bars all night is somewhat unbelievable, but Nick and Norah makes you want to suspend that belief.

On the 10 to -10 scale, I give Nick and Norah a 7, and it does pass the Bechdel Wallace test.

On the orgasm gap

by Molly Borowitz

Following on the heels of all the innuendos, the jokes, the email crush-finders, the lingerie shopping, and—of course—the Anscombe Society's Valentine's Day poster campaign, I think it's worth wondering why, after all that, we vilify people (and particularly women) with strong sex drives. In my usual fashion, I do want to clarify that dudes experience this phenomenon, too. We are a predominantly monogamous society, and on this campus pursuing many and multiple partners—regardless of sex, gender, or orientation—usually meets with general disapproval. Hence terms like "skank," "slut," and "man-whore," which we throw around a lot more callously than I think we realize.

But Valentine's Day, now a commercial holiday designed exclusively for couples, provides good reason to think about sexual dynamics within monogamous relationships. After all, it's a cold hard fact that not all sex drives are created equal.

I think our society is actually quite aware of that particular fact, but in a rather unilateral way. Think about all the jokes we have about how women are sexually complicated and temperamental, while male sexuality is essentially a binary (remember that cartoon with the captions "Her" under an elaborate switchboard and "Him" under a light switch?). And of course there's the "Not tonight, honey—I'm too tired" motif, which comes up on sitcoms and in movies all the time; the exhausted wife refusing kindly, oblivious to her poor horny husband's dismay. (It should be noted that in those scenarios, the man—while clearly disgruntled—always accepts his partner's refusal with relative good nature and never pushes the issue in an inappropriate way. Yay for pop culture on that front.)

Mainstream culture, then, would seem to imply that in monogamous relationships, it's always the man who has the stronger sex drive, while the woman's is more easily affected by stress, emotional turmoil, physical exhaustion, and so forth. And really, who's surprised? It's no secret that our androcentric culture has been frightened of the potent powers of the female sexuality for centuries now. Women with strong sex drives are intimidating because they're assertive and demanding, which can lead men to question their virility or masculinity. As porn theorists would have it, a significant portion of the American male populace nurses a persistent worry about failing to satisfy their female partners—perhaps because much of our societal construct of "the masculine" revolves around sexual ability, and therefore sexual dominance (which doesn't mean that the dude is always on top, nor that his desires take prevalence during sexual encounters, but rather that he is expected to be more sexually experienced and to "lead" the session).

Well, gentlemen, I have bad news for you. If you worry that you might not be satisfying your ladyfriend, it might be because you aren't. Hannah Seligson's recent post on the Daily Beast (found originally at Feministing.com) reviews a new study showing that women in relationships only orgasm 80% as frequently as their male partners. Part of the reason? Men receive oral sex far more often than they give it—sometimes, even in relationships, up to four times as often. According to the study, this imbalance is a big contributor to the uneven orgasm rates: "In 1976, the Hite Report on Female Sexuality empirically established a fact that's been confirmed by subsequent studies in the years since: Many women need oral sex, along with intercourse, to reach orgasm." Just sayin'.

My point here is not to lecture the naughty boysies for not giving their girls enough head, but rather to emphasize that WE NEED IT TOO. Don't assume that just because we come less frequently than you, we must not need to come as often. And while girls do like getting roses and balloons and teddy bears and chocolates and lingerie on Valentine's Day, maybe this year you should give her a promise instead of a present: orgasms in a one-to-one ratio. At least until you break up.