Saturday, May 30, 2009

Relegating brilliant women to the Style section

I didn't write a post about my mother earlier this month (I thought Josh's should stand alone), but I am so happy that I get a chance to talk about how awesome she is today, because she had a kick-ass letter to the editor published in the WaPo this morning. A couple of days ago, a story was published about Brooksley Born, an attorney and co-founder of the National Women's Law Center, who foresaw the entire financial mess we're in right now with credit default swaps and over-the-counter derivatives. But this was all ten years ago, when the economy was in great shape (or so we thought), and she was laughed down by some men with pretty big names - men like our eternal favorite, Larry Summers, or, I don't know, Alan Greenspan. This woman was obviously important and amazing, not to mention the fact that she predicted our current economic disaster, but the Post decided that it wasn't necessary to treat this like real news - and here's the kicker: they talked about Born's penchant for carrying handbags.

Now, let me just say - do we think it's relevant to mention men's ties, or cufflinks, or briefcases in a profile in a major newspaper? Or describe them as "dainty"? My mother's letter to the editor took the WaPo to task for its blatant disrespect for this incredible woman, but sadly, this isn't an unusual phenomenon. Last fall in my intro to gender studies class, we read an article about female genital mutilation which the NYT for some bizarre and fucked-up reason decided belonged in the style section. This is something that we can't let newspapers get away with, and I'm so glad my mother didn't! She's an amazingly articulate woman, so I've posted her letter in full below.

"On May 26 The Post relegated to the Style section an important story about a courageous, brilliant woman who was far ahead of her time ["Credit Crisis Cassandra"]. Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote of Brooksley Born's fight in 1998 to regulate those disastrous investments known as derivatives when she chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Her efforts were beaten back by, among others, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan.

This principled, insightful woman foresaw one of the financial disasters that would bring down our economy. She broke through glass ceilings at Stanford University's law school, in private practice and in public service.

She spoke her own mind, facing down the political powers that be when she warned presciently of the dangers of unregulated derivatives.

And, yet, The Post consigned this story to the Style section, lumping it with the comics and advice columns.

The story also included passing references to her handbag, thereby reminding us that women are still to be judged by their clothes and their accessories.

The Post demeaned Born's legacy. Such stories should be placed in the news section, where they belong, whether they are about men or women."

- Vivian Thomson

Charlottesville, Va.

Sarah Haskins takes on "The Cougar"

I've been meaning to write something about this horrible show ever since I saw the ads for it in the New York subway, but Sarah just takes it apart so well, so clearly I don't need to! Enjoy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Women Girls Ladies at Princeton!

If you're going to be around for Reunions, you should definitely check this out - as John Schmid Jr. so charmingly reminded us a couple of weeks ago, conversations about feminism are still very relevant, especially as we celebrate Princeton's history, and Women Girls Ladies provides an amazing forum for an intergenerational conversation..

Saturday, May 30, 4 pm (after the P-rade)

On Feminism and the Economy – with Women Girls Ladies

McCosh 10

Four diverse feminist authors and activists represent generations from pre-baby-boomer to Generation Y. Don't miss this FRESH conversation among intergenerational feminists about all that matters: power, work, sex, motherhood, pop culture, the future, and everything in between.

This dynamic and interactive presentation is Free and open to the public.

Cosponsored with the Program in the Study of Women and Gender.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For all you single gals who love online quizzes...

The NYT seems to be totally obsessed with Helen Gurley Brown, former editor-in-chief of Cosmo (and the person who made the beloved glossy into our number-one source for man-pleasing tips) and the author of Sex and the Single Girl (the current hot debate: should she be included in the feminist pantheon?). But I have to say, I really enjoyed this "quiz" that Pat Ryan culled from the pages of Brown's book, about how to sexily pinch pennies. I especially enjoyed the dig about babysitting, which is how I will be financing my summer travel (but I will be fully aware that it's beneath me).

Tell us how you did - if you dare.

"What Ms. Brown got by pinching pennies on an income of $9,600:
A. A husband.
B. A mink coat by Balenciaga.
C. A Mercedes-Benz 190SL.

(Answer: C. “With $5,000 cash from savings.”)

What working girls should always do to make or save money:
A. Play the horses.
B. Go to lunch with anyone who asks you.
C. Sleep with the boss.

(Answer: B. “How bored can you be for one hour?”)

What you should not do for money:
A. Wash windows.
B. Baby-sit.
C. Work overtime.

(Answer: B. “That’s beneath your dignity.”)

Whom to take hot stock tips from:
A. Your boss or a wealthy beau.
B. Your mother.
C. Your doorman.

(Answer: A. “If the stock goes down, these two may be so ashamed of themselves they will personally make up your losses.”)

How you can economize on clothing (a working woman really can’t afford to burn bras):
A. Wear no clothes when in your apartment alone.
B. “Forget” some of your lingerie.
C. Wear a union suit with a drop seat.

(Answer: A. and B. Ms. Brown boasts of one under-endowed woman who “uses Band-Aids across her nipples under fabrics too sheer to wear bra-less.”)

How you can save money on washing your hair:
A. Wear a blonde wig.
B. Rinse once.
C. Use Woolite instead of shampoo.

(Answer: C. “Write fan letters to big companies. Sometimes they send samples. I wrote the president of Woolite (for woolens) to say I’d successfully washed my hair in it. ... He sent me a dozen cartons.”)

When you should read newspapers:
A. At breakfast.
B. In the office.
C. In your landlord’s apartment.

(Answer: B. and C. “Don’t subscribe.”)

What she thinks it’s sexy to own:
A. A small portfolio of stocks.
B. A Picasso.
C. A season ticket to the Met, or the Mets.

(Answer: A. “Suppose with all this austerity you have not only managed to afford mink on a mouse budget, you have managed to save a little money,” she writes. Well, “a small portfolio of stocks is very sexy.” Plus, “it’s fun to have a broker!”)

What literary character you should not imitate to achieve the life you really want:
A. Madame Bovary
B. Lorelei Lee
C. Elizabeth Bennet

(Answer: A. “Unlike Madame Bovary you don’t chase the glittering life, you lay a trap for it. You tunnel up from the bottom.”)

Who has enough money to do what he or she is doing:
A. Girls with high-society beaus.
B. Nobody.
C. John D. Rockefeller.

(Answer: B. “As a matter of fact, nobody ever has enough money to do what he is doing! Many seemingly wealthy families are hopelessly in hock.”)

When you can split the check with a date:
A. If you love him and he’s desperate.
B. If it’s a project you promoted that he hates, like the ballet.
C. If he can’t even pay his rent.

(Answer: All of the above, but: “Are you sure you want him?”*)

* “I have known girls making $100 a week who have bailed out their idiot boyfriends who had $25,000-a-year salaries.”"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quick hit: California Supreme Court upholds Prop 8

This is very upsetting news. The California Supreme Court upheld the ban on gay marriage made by voters last November, although it did not nullify the 18,000 gay marriages performed between last May, when the court ruled that same-sex marriages were constitutionally protected, and the passage of Proposition 8. This message seems weirdly mixed to me, especially because in the decision, Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote that same-sex couples could still enter into civil unions, in which they could "choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage." Marriage, apparently, is a "narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law."

I have my own thoughts on marriage, which I won't share now (I'll just say that it will take a lot to entice me into the holy bonds). But regardless of whether I think that marriage itself is something that should be considered a societal equalizer, this ruling is unjust and backwards. Thank goodness that we can take some comfort in the progressive actions of Maine, Vermont, and Iowa - this is an incredibly disappointing decision.

Sotomayor '76 nominated to the Supreme Court

by Laura Smith-Gary

This morning, President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor (Princeton undergrad!) to the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, she will be the court's first Hispanic Justice and only the third woman to serve on the court. As Tommy pointed out in a comment a while back, this would give Princeton a SCOTUS representative who is not Alito. Hurray! Well-educated and experienced, Sotomayor has known she wanted to be a judge since she was ten years old and growing up in Bronx public housing. The Washington Post interviewed her colleagues and associates, who called her a "legal purist" who is not "reflexively liberal" but who "understands the complexity of issues," a tough judge capable of going toe-to-toe with any conservative judge on the court who is also invested in being a mentor and friend to her colleagues and subordinates.

Her detractors, most notably Jeffrey Rosen of The New Republic and his anonymous sources, have said she is "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," controlling and nitpicking, overly dependent on her clerks to be her "family" (she is, gasp, divorced) and too assertive. he then mentions, at the end of his article, that he hasn't really read her opinions or talked to "enough" of her supporters or detractors. (Here, Glenn Greenwald of Salon explains why Rosen's article is a "hit job" rather than actual reporting. It's also fun to play "find the sexist stereotype!" in the Rosen article.)

Some of her remarks have also caused consternation -- consternation that, in my opinion, reflects how strongly we see the white male experience as "neutral." In a 2001 address at the U.C. Berkley Law School, Sotomayor said that gender and national origins of judges will affect their decisions (this is a good general article that outlines her positions, decisions, and history) and that a "wise Latina with the richness of her experience" will often come to a better conclusion on a case than a white man. While I am not entirely comfortable with this remark, I think it's telling that many who object to it totally deny the fact that white men's perspectives are also shaped by their experience: for them, white men are the objective standard and any deviation is "identity politics."

During the nomination hearings, the fun will begin in the media and in Congress -- the "white male as neutral and objective" perspective will be out in full force. Watch for buckets of sexism (she's divorced! she's childless! she has too many opinions! she won't be objective about reproductive rights!), a generous splash of racism ("Will she be able to be objective on issues like immigration and actually follow the law?" they'll ask) and of course enough "ACTIVIST JUDGE WHO LEGISLATES FROM THE BENCH AND HAS SO-CALLED EMPATHY" to sink an aircraft carrier. I don't feel unqualified support for Sotomayor -- for instance, I need her to describe her position on the separation of powers and explain why she once referred to judges as making policy. I'm also not pleased that she upheld the Mexico City Policy (Global Gag Rule) against abortion-rights groups, though I understand that she was basing her opinion on the Supreme Court's decision. I very much hope that her confirmation hearings will address these issues and not focus on the fact that she is a woman and second-generation Puerto Rican.

Thoughts on Sotomayor, the nomination process, the media treatment, or the value/irrelevance of gender/ethnicity/class/etc.?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why vegetarian feminists are upset with PETA

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The students behind the wonderful blog Students for Animal Rights asked me to write a post about feminist objections to PETA ads (oh, there are so many!), and I thought it might be of interest to our readers. You should also check out the blog - animal rights is a great cause, especially when its organizations aren't promoting their own issues at the expense of women (which many don't). And even though I'm quick to criticize PETA, I do think that intersectionality is crucial, and many of the justifications for the abuse of animals are scarily similar to the abuse of women.

Here's my post (linked from here):

You wouldn't think that feminism and animal rights activism would be mutually exclusive ventures, but even if they offered me a job (and in this frosty economy, no less), I would never work for PETA. This is not because I love fur, leather shoes, or pepperoni pizza - with the possible exception of my vintage cowboy boots, I could, and do, live happily without all three. In fact, I'm a lifelong vegetarian. I've never eaten beef or pork (except for the occasional hot dog when I was 5, before my father told me that they eat cat in Africa and I made the Lisa Simpson connection between lambs and lamb chops), and I stopped eating all meat when I was 10, so I think I have pretty good vegetarian street cred. I cried in the middle of a cafe earlier this year while reading a Michael Pollan article about cattle raised for beef (read it - it made me go vegan for three months before I got anemia from my college dining halls) - it's incredibly easy to get me worked up about animal rights issues, and if there were more than 24 hours in the day, I would be devoting time to animal rights activism.

But I'm also a lifelong feminist, and I have been increasingly shocked and horrified by PETA's casual exploitation of gender stereotypes and objectification of the female body in an effort to raise support for its activism. If you've seen any of PETA's ads, you know what I'm talking about. This commercial was banned from the Super Bowl, for obvious reasons (surely there are ways to convince people to go vegetarian without showing a scantily clad woman preparing to fuck a bunch of asparagus), but PETA has repeatedly launched advertisements which throw respect for women (or, for that matter, for men) out the window in the name of animal liberation. Just a few examples: Alicia Silverstone stripped naked for a PETA ad, with the tagline "I'm a vegetarian" above her obviously airbrushed body. The strippers of Rick's Cabaret posed nude for another ad campaign, which declared "We'd rather go topless than wear fur." In a demonstration last year, PETA used a pregnant woman in a cage as part of a demonstration against mistreated pigs. And just to prove that they could perpetuate damaging male stereotypes as well as sexualizing women, PETA produced an ad last year featuring Mickey Rourke, who inveighed upon viewers to "have the cojones to fix your dog." Sometimes they like to use a psuedo-feminist, "love your body" type of rhetoric to mask the fact that they're blatantly exploiting women's bodies (tagline: "Be comfortable in your own skin: don't wear fur"). But usually, PETA throws itself behind campaigns that unashamedly objectify women in the service of "justice."

This is similar to problems that I have with other methods used to encourage people - usually women - to go vegan. On Princeton's feminist and gender issues blog, Equal Writes (shameless plug: I'm a co-editor), I wrote a post about the "Skinny Bitch" book series, which plays on women's insecurities about their bodies to shame them into changing their diet. Another post on this blog points out the obvious problems in encouraging girls to stop eating meat because it will "make you fat" (another one from PETA - it boggles my mind that they're not called out more often for this shit). The really aggravating thing for me, though, is that vegetarianism is in many ways a healthier diet. So why tell women that veganism is the way for them to become a "skinny bitch" rather than a "healthy woman"? Because it's easier to play on women's existing negative self-image. Our culture has done a great job of laying the groundwork for anyone to shame women into eating proscriptively, and rather than helping women feel better about their bodies - and at the same time, work for animal rights - PETA and other activists take the low road.

The problem, at the most fundamental level, is that we're not acknowledging intersectionality. This is not something that's limited to animal rights activists - American Apparel is a great example of a company which uses women's bodies to sell clothes that were made under decent working conditions - apparently, we can't have happy workers and desexualized models (for a more in-depth rant, I've written two posts, linked here and here, about American Apparel on Equal Writes). Why can't we humanize animals in the attempt to make people care about the way that they're mistreated, rather than dehumanizing women?

Animals, women and workers are frequently denied full rights as living creatures. But using women to gain rights for animals is not really progress. And what does it say about the movement itself if the only way to convince people to treat animals with respect and dignity is to sex it up? Why not show images of slaughterhouses, rather than assuring us that greased-up naked women don't eat meat (and please, just because Playboy does it, doesn't make it ok - they're not trying to take some kind of moral high ground)? Why not tell people that it's actually healthier to eat less meat, rather than telling women that it's the only way they'll get skinny? It's desperate and tacky and offensive to promote justice for one cause at the expense of another. And it makes it impossible for me to respect an organization that logically I should love.

I'd also like to note that PETA's advertisements have recently strayed into the realm of racism (beyond the fact that the vast majority of their nekkid models are white). Last year, there were discussions of renting ad space on the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico, for billboards that equated a carnivorous diet with the border patrol. The billboards, in English and Spanish, would offer the caution: "If the Border Patrol Doesn't Get You, the Chicken and Burgers Will - Go Vegan." I'm not sure what the status is with these ads, but the very idea that this is an acceptable strategy is totally unbelievable. The images on the billboards are definitely racist, and content aside, what the hell is the idea behind giving the U.S. government money to support its fucked-up immigration policies?

I'd love to see the day when animal rights activists acknowledge the connections between abuse of animals and abuse of women. But I will never get behind any organization that so flippantly disregards health, self-esteem, and the female body. Thanks, PETA, for trying to promote your issues through misogyny and racism. And until it's willing to take the road of basic decency and stop using tired stereotypes and "sexy" advertising tropes, I'll keeping throwing up a little in my mouth at the mention of its name. I don't know how many converts PETA's gotten from these ad campaigns, but it's definitely lost my support.