Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Friday, July 01, 2011 3:59 PM
When the Toronto Star (May 21, 2011) reported that a Canadian couple is keeping their baby’s gender private in the name of freedom and choice, the story went viral. People around the world read about four-month-old Storm Witterick, whose gender is unknown even to the baby’s grandparents. Only the midwives who birthed Storm are in the know, along with one family friend and brothers Jazz and Kio.
At first blush, it seems pretty wacky. Crazy. Attention-seeking. Progressive beyond the point of rationale. Potentially damaging to baby Storm. Who wants to be the kid whose nutty parents turned a simple fact—I’m female or I’m male—into a media-fueled social experiment?
Amid the cacophony of criticism aimed at Storm’s parents, Columbia professor Patricia J. Williams shares her thoughtful response in The Nation (June 20, 2011). Williams reminds us about the powerful gender stereotypes assigned to boys and girls—specifically, her own two-year-old son and his nursery school pal Jessie, who both loved to help out by carrying their playmates’ lunches to the fridge every morning. Their teacher unconsciously divided their identical behavior along gender lines: “Your son is such a sturdy little security guard! And Jessie, she’s our mini-hostess with the mostest!”
Boys are strong and protective; girls are sweet and nurturing. That’s the gender profile, anyway. Boys get camouflage pjs and puppy dogs, girls pink tutus and kitty-cats. With a gender-neutral household an unattainable dream for many parents, Storm’s parents came up with a creative way to circumvent it all.
The media outlash compelled Storm’s mother, Kathy Witterick, self-described as “shy and idealistic,” to respond in a heartfelt open letter in the Ottawa Citizen (May 28, 2011). It’s a hugely likeable letter. She writes about their five-year-old son Jazz, whose clothing choices—including pink dresses and long braids—don’t fit the world’s notion of boy’s clothes. Keeping Storm genderless was born out of a simple discussion of the impending onslaught of pink or blue clothing.
In her letter, Kathy doesn’t seem wacky. Or crazy. Certainly not attention-seeking. More progressive than the average mom, but with reasonable limits. Baby Storm will certainly grow up differently than other kids, but that’s not by definition a damaging thing. In fact, in some ways, Kathy seems downright brilliant:
The strong, lighting-fast, vitriolic response was a shock.... [T]o protect our children from the media frenzy that we did not anticipate, we have declined over 100 requests for interviews from all over the world, including offers to fly to New York all expenses paid and to appear on almost every American morning show. We have learning to do, parks to visit and butterflies to care for.
(free registration required), Ottawa Citizen
Image by sarahemcc,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 9:18 AM
Media technologist and consultant Deanna Zandt’s new book is called Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. In an essay adapted from it for In These Times, Zandt reminds us that “for all the horn-tootin’ over the disruptive and democratizing potential of the Internet, we’re still seeing the Big Important Conversations dominated by the same old, same old.” Behold:
Despite the fact that women, for example, make up more than half of the active users on most social networking sites, we still usually see men served up as the expert voices on social networks, on blogs and in mainstream media. Or, even though African Americans are more likely to use Twitter than white people, white people are given the role of experts, speaking at conferences, on top 10 lists and more.
The Internet is deceptively equal. We don’t know, or we’re not willing to recognize, that we have transposed to the Internet the same social structures we’ve been living with for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. We’re painting our understanding of the offline world—with all our prejudices, biases and hierarchies—onto the canvas of the Internet.
Source: In These Times
Image by kodomut, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 18, 2009 10:52 AM
To many non-hunters, hunting is a mysterious and macabre pastime, and the mere sight of a camouflage-clad individual carrying a gun brings to mind all sorts of unpleasant associations. But even among the urban-based, sustainable-eating, co-op-shopping crowd there’s an increasing awareness that hunting can be local, sustainable, and humane—certainly more so than eating a domesticated animal raised in a crowded barn, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and killed assembly-line style in a slaughterhouse. If you’re going to eat meat, the thinking goes, at least kill and butcher the animal yourself after it’s lived a natural life in the wild.
So I was intrigued to come across an interview in Sierra Sportsmen with a hunter who defies many hunter stereotypes and addresses these sorts of issues head-on. Holly Heyser is a Northern California-based writer who blogs as NorCal Cazadora and writes for some of the Utne Reader staff’s favorite foodie mags, including The Art of Eating, Gastronomica, and Meatpaper. (Coincidentally, she’s also an ex-editor at a newspaper where I once worked, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.) Her blog is a mixture of hunting stories, gear reviews, and intelligently opinionated commentary, and this excerpt from the Sierra Sportsmen interview offers a glimpse into the world of this self-described “huntress”:
What do you think women bring to the “traditional” world of hunting?
A lot. One of the most important things right now is credibility. Hunting’s biggest problem right now is that the non-hunting public doesn’t know much about hunting, and has terrible stereotypes of hunters—like we’re all drunken, lawless poachers who go on shooting rampages in the forest, cut off trophy heads and leave the rest behind to rot. Like all stereotypes, this one obviously has real-life examples, but it does not represent who we are. I live in a world of non-hunters—journalists and university professors—and when I tell people I hunt, their first question is almost always, “Do you eat what you kill?” Well, no shit, Sherlock. Do you think I’m going to spend eight hours shivering in a marsh to bring down a few ducks and not eat them? …
So why are women important? Here's why: It’s easy to stereotype a male hunter, because once he’s in his camo, you can’t tell if he’s an insurance executive or an unemployed alcoholic. But when you see a woman out there in the field, it’s immediately difficult to categorize her, because she doesn’t fit the mold. Women are nurturing. Can you imagine a woman going on a shooting rampage in the forest and leaving everything but the racks to rot? No way! In fact, research by Responsive Management in Virginia shows that meat is the No. 1 reason women hunt, and hunting for meat has the highest level of acceptance by the general public.
This stereotyping issue is obviously unfair to men, but it presents a great opportunity for women hunters to be positive ambassadors to the non-hunting world.
Another thing women bring to hunting is our style of relating to one another. When I hunt with men, they’ll always rib each other for missing shots. When I hunt with women, we really cheer on each other’s good shots, and we coo soothingly about the missed shots. “Oh, that was a tough one—I don’t think I could’ve gotten that.” …
What are some of the things you learned about yourself while hunting?
The first thing I learned is that all that play I did as a child had purpose. When I was a kid, we lived on five acres near an irrigation ditch in the San Joaquin Valley, and I would spend my free time prowling around the property, examining plants and animals, hiding, seeing how close animals would get to me if they couldn’t see me. The very first thing I thought when I started hunting was, “Wow, this is just like play!” Not that taking animals’ lives is a game, but that my play as a child had a purpose, just like it does with puppies and kittens. This is what I’m wired to do.
I’ve also become much more aware of the food chain, and my place in it. On that five-acre farm, my family raised animals for meat, so I was no stranger to slaughtering and butchering, but going out and doing it myself makes it much more real. I actually eat less meat now than I ever have, and I never, ever waste it. I have so much respect for it. And I also see animals much more as equals. Anti-hunters think we’re animal haters, but we’re really not.
Being an active participant in the food chain makes me understand we are all equal occupants of this earth. Before I started hunting, I never apologized to a hamburger, but I almost always apologize now to the animals I’ve shot, and I express gratitude for the sustenance they give me. Vegans have told me that this is a sign of my guilt and I should just stop eating meat, but I disagree with that because I accept that I’m an omnivore whose body needs meat. What it really is is a sign of my respect for the life around me, and a reflection of my understanding that killing should never be taken lightly.
Read the full interview here.
Sources: Sierra Sportsmen, NorCal Cazadora
Image courtesy of Holly Heyser, © Holly A. Heyser 2009.
Monday, December 14, 2009 2:36 PM
Even when masked by the anonymity of the internet, a male-sounding name can help turn people into successful bloggers. “Taking a man’s name opened up a new world,” according to a blogger who writes under the name James Chartrand. “It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.” Far from an activist parable, Chartrand writes that she would have been perfectly happy keeping her real identity and gender a secret. Eventually, however, someone talked. And though she feared for her business and her livelihood, Chartrand writes:
Truth be told, if just a name and perception of gender creates such different levels of respect and income for a person, it says a lot more about the world than it does about me.
George Eliot would be proud.
, licensed under
Friday, October 16, 2009 1:36 PM
"Thus far in American history, the fact that men have escaped an
onslaught of advertising for beauty products is a triumph of gender
ideology over capitalism," wrote Sociological Images blogger Lisa Wade in a 2008 post. "Companies, after all, could double their
market if they could convince men that they, too, were unsightly
without make-up." The post examined a few attempting to market make-up for men and left the matter alone until this week when she discovered a vintage ad by Mennen. Ah, the humiliation of "face shine."
Source: Sociological Images
Friday, July 17, 2009 11:30 AM
Writing for Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam makes the bold claim that the male created recession, or “he-cession,” will lead to the death of the “aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power.” People will realize, says Salam, that “the cult of macho” is “destructive and unsustainable in a globalized world.”
The combined effects of the gradual shift in power from men to women and the fact that men lost the majority of jobs lost since November has led to the end of male dominance. Men have two choices, points out Salam. One, they could simply accept the equal partnership of women, or two, they could resist.
You won’t be surprised to learn that when faced with economic hardship men have historically chosen option number two. After the Soviet collapse, for example, Russian men increasingly turned to alcohol, leaving women to do the work.
Salam’s claim that the “axis of global conflict”—one found in hearts and minds, not on battlefields—will be gender is certainly uplifting. The death of macho, after all, will undoubtedly lead to more equality. However, one has to wonder just how quickly macho will die.
Source: Foreign Policy
Image by Elsie esq., licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009 2:31 PM
On the vaunted social networking site Twitter, users—both male and female—are more likely to follow men than women, according to a study from Harvard Business Publishing. On average, men have 15 percent more followers than women, even though they follow roughly the same number of people.
According to the study:
We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman.
Twitter’s gender divide stands in stark contrast to most social networking sites, according to the study, where “most of the activity is focused around women.” The lack of photos and detailed biographies are offered as possible reasons for the discrepancy.
(Thanks, Marginal Revolution.)
Source: Harvard Business Publishing
Monday, April 28, 2008 12:50 PM
If you spend much time in office meetings or college classrooms, you’ve likely run into Gender Guy. He’s an alpha male and a liberal, and he likes to talk about gender issues—in the workplace, in society, in the book you’re reading, wherever. He pontificates and patronizes; he interrupts and shouts down. He makes the rest of the room endure his pissing matches with men less enlightened, or with those who share his general opinions but oblige his desire to quibble over details, loudly and at length.
Gender Guy’s assumed expertise might come from overly simplified connections he makes between gender and race, or class, or sexual identity, or religion. It might be based on the fact that, as an intelligent and well-spoken man, he’s by definition an expert on everything. Or perhaps he thinks he understands gender because the word—unlike, say, “women”—suggests a subject that deals not with one gender’s concrete realities so much as, more abstractly, with the relationship between two.
This last point in particular interests historian Alice Kessler-Harris. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kessler-Harris considers the consequences for her own discipline when, starting in the early 1990s, gender history began to take over the ground previously held by women’s history (subscription required). She allows that “gender is a tempting and powerful framework”:
Far more inclusive than the category of women, [gender] raises questions not so much about what women did or did not do, but about how the organization or relationships between men and women established priorities and motivates social and political action. While the history of women can be accused of lacking objectivity—of having a feminist purpose—that of gender suggests a more distanced stance… The idea of “gender” frees young scholars (male and female) to seek out the ways that historical change is related to the shape and deployment of male/female relations.
And yet, something is lost:
Gender obscures as much as it reveals… [I suspect] that in seeing the experiences of men and women as relational, we overlook the particular ways in which women—immigrants, African-Americans, Asians, Chicanas—engaged their worlds… We lose the power of the individual to shed a different light—sometimes a liminal light—on historical processes.
In short, Kessler-Harris worries that abstracting “women” into “gender” can have the effect of silencing the voices of actual women—a danger not limited to the rarefied world of historians. The tension between analyzing gender relations and highlighting female voices is an old one, and it’s as broadly relevant as ever. While Gender Guy’s opinions may be impeccably feminist, how helpful is this if the abstraction “gender” gives him cover to go on and on, preventing the women in the room from getting a word in?
Monday, April 14, 2008 11:06 AM
Saudi clerics deemed bicycles “The Horse of Satan” in the 1960s. Now with similar logic they refer to the popular Arab reality TV show Star Academy as Satan Academy. The common evil they see, asserts global communications scholar Marwan Kraidy, is the threat of women’s public presence.
The controversy in Saudi Arabia surrounding Star Academy has provided years of research material for Kraidy, a University of Pennsylvania professor who spoke last week at the University of Minnesota. The show, which Kraidy describes as a hybrid of Big Brother and American Idol, is produced in Lebanon, but it provokes the most heated controversy in Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s most important media market. Even though Star Academy allows no swearing, alcohol, or sex, the visibility of women on the show draws ire from conservative Saudis and clerics.
“It’s really about keeping women under control in public space,” Kraidy says. Portraying women as sexual objects is one thing, but Kraidy points out that Saudi media policy doesn’t stop at banning indecently dressed women. Women engaged in sports are also banned from the airwaves. “The concern here,” Kraidy says, “is about women being social agents.”
Such policies square with the ubiquitous American perception of oppressed Arab women. But the reality is more complex. Saudi women hold positions of power in business and medicine, Kraidy notes. And they're winning reality TV shows, even more often than in the West, Kraidy says. (An Iraqi woman, Shatha Hassoun, won the fourth season of Star Academy with the help of 8 million Iraqis who paid to vote for her victory. She's now a national symbol, says Kraidy, in the state's public service announcements.)
What's more, ordinary Saudis have fairly liberal views about women’s rights. A 2007 Gallup poll showed that a majority of Saudis support women having the right to drive, work, and lead in government. Reality TV shows might irk conservative Saudis, but they may reflect the reality of prevailing attitudes in the society.
Dismissing reality shows as mindless and inconsequential is an easy reflex. But Kraidy makes a convincing argument for reality TV’s ability to upset preconceptions about women in the Arab world, for Westerners and conservative Saudis alike.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008 5:35 PM
Briarpatch magazine sheds its Canadian cocoon to burst into borderless territory—“life beyond the sexual binary”—in its gender-themed March-April issue. Becky Ellis casts off home-schooling stereotypes in a discussion of feminist home-schooling, describing the progressive “community-based” learning style she’s adopted and exploring approaches favored by other progressive home-schoolers. Calvin Sandborn’s essay bombards the reader with a long list of harms traditional masculinity wreaks upon men, provocatively illustrated by Daryl Vocat’s series of found and manipulated Boy Scout drawings. And Chanelle Gallant, founder of the Feminist Porn Awards, sasses about feminism, anti-racism, and porn in a quick Q&A. “I can’t believe that feminism wasted a whole decade fighting about porn instead of fighting about things like child care and reproductive justice,” she says. “I mean, really?”
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