Tuesday, April 16, 2013 4:36 PM
When Katie Haegele finds a 1970s Ideabook at a yard sale, it unveils a world of meaning behind her own fashion choices and those of women in the past.
clothing is a Post-Modern genre, "a highly visible way of acknowledging that
its wearer’s identity has been shaped by decades of representational activity,
and that no cultural project can ever 'start from zero.'"—Kaja
Silverman, 'Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse'
One time at a
yard sale I found this weird book called Ideabook. A child of
the 1970s, I was drawn to this outrageous-looking thing like a moth to a lava
lamp. On the cover was a photo of a smiling woman in full seventies regalia:
long shining hair and big, round, yellow-tinted sunglasses, her head tilted
glamorously to one side. She’s raking that healthy hair back from her face with
one hand and smiling with all her teeth. In the background is her little brood,
a rugged lumberjack-poet dude with a kid on his shoulders. The family is
standing in a grassy field, but the photo’s color wash is so weirdly golden it
looks like the Serengeti. I find this scene hideous and appealing to almost
exactly the same degree, and if I could climb inside the book and inhabit it I
would. Since I couldn’t do that I bought it, as I have bought so many old
things that can no longer be used for their intended purpose.
purpose was as a catalog, from which you could order S&H Green Stamps items.
I didn’t know what Green Stamps were so I asked my mom. She told me that in the
seventies (and for forty years or so before that) you could get these stamps
when you bought certain foods at the grocery store. You then pasted the stamps
into a booklet, and when you’d collected enough of them you could redeem them
for household items and clothing. When she got married, my mom told me, her new
mother-in-law gave her a stamp book with some of the stamps already in it, to
put toward a vacuum cleaner.
My Ideabook, published in 1971, has tons of great-looking photos in it,
all of them full to the brim with goofy “vintage” charm. There’s a picture of a
few young guys playing guitars under a tree; you could order the guitars as
well as any of the clothes the guys were wearing. There are pictures of little
girls in knee socks, women lounging catlike on the floor to talk on phones, and
the family from the cover walking toward a picnic lunch on the Serengeti, which
was being served in clear Thermalene casserole dishes. You could order
space-age table lamps, shaggy rugs, stereos and refrigerators, all of them
pictured in super ugly rooms done in beige, orange, and avocado green. To my
mother, though, the things in Ideabook do not look
ugly or funny; she got a little misty, looking at them. To her I think they
still represent a lush lifestyle that she and my dad could not afford in 1971,
the year they got married.
So why do I love this stuff so much? And how about you, reader of a
blog post about old catalogs and ladies’ fashion from the seventies? What do
old things mean to you? I can tell you that I first learned to dress myself as
a young teenager at the Salvation Army, where the few bucks I had in my pocket
could buy me a whole outfit. It really opens up your imagination, looking at
clothing from so many different decades. The thrift store was where I first
learned to envision myself as one of many possible things: a tough girl in a
leather jacket, a summertime hippie in a long skirt, a party girl in party
dresses. Back then, in the nineties, my friends and I mostly came across
polyester tops and bell bottoms from the seventies, but we sometimes found
older things too, like the bead-encrusted cardigans from the fifties that had
held up beautifully, even if the yellowed lining under the buttons showed the
garment’s age. These were gorgeous, but they were funny too. We weren’t fifties
ladies! We listened to Hole and gave people the finger! Sometimes we even found
(and bought and wore) secondhand men’s clothes, like the gas station
attendants’ jackets you used to be able to find with the employee’s name
embroidered in cursive on the breast. Does anyone still wear those? Gosh they
Not too long ago I was reading an old
issue of WORN, an indie
fashion magazine from Toronto, Canada. WORN looks at
clothing from a feminist perspective, and in one especially insightful essay
author Emily Raine wonders if feminism can be practiced through fashion.
Sometimes, she writes, and quotes scholar Kaja Silverman, who has argued that
wearing vintage clothing is a positive feminist practice because wearing
clothing that another woman once wore “plays up commonalities between women of
That idea lit me up like a light bulb.
What a good way to think of it! Some of the smart feminists I know have called
out the nostalgists among us, reminding us that the good old days weren’t
always good, that imagining a simpler time is reductive and inaccurate, and
it’s unwise to romanticize the times when, for instance, Jim Crow laws were
still in place and abortions were illegal and dangerous. They are right about
that. But the clothing, oh, the clothing. There’s something electrifying about
channeling the past by dressing up like it; by mimicking the women I have
looked at in photos all my life, I get to be them for a minute. And why not? If
it weren’t for fate or luck or whatever, I would have had a life like theirs,
like anyone’s. The cat eye glasses of old family photos, a Donna Summer-looking
sequined top, the punky, printed heels that put me to mind of a musical and
cultural moment I dearly wish I’d lived through: filling my closet with
clothing from different eras has allowed me to piece myself together into some
version of today’s woman, which is a person who surely couldn’t exist without
the women who went before her and is in some sense a pastiche of them all. If I
thought I could pull off the Ideabook lady’s get-up
I would wear those fugly sunglasses in a minute.
once read a good zine with a funny name—I
Love Vintage (but I wouldn’t want to live there)—by a writer named Holli
Mintzer. In it Mintzer gives instructions on how to make a circle skirt from an
old bedsheet, and she does a fabulous little deconstruction of the social
meaning behind the clothing worn by a white female civil rights protestor in
the mugshot that was taken after she was arrested for participating in a
Mississippi Freedom Ride in 1961. But the things Mintzer wrote that had the
biggest impact on me had to do with how she reconciled her aesthetics with her
politics. On a checklist titled “Why Vintage?,” the bullet point “Because women
should dress to suit their shape, not change their shape to suit the dictates
of fashion” appears just before “Because I want to reclaim vintage styles
without their racist, sexist, homophobic, patriarchal bullshit baggage.” How do
you separate the old styles from their historical baggage? By mixing them up
and wearing them knowingly, with a little wink (or “quotations marks,” as
Silverman would have it) for whoever’s looking.
Finding the Ideabook made me feel closer to my mom,
for sure. It gave her a reason to tell me about Green Stamps, which as far as I
know she hadn’t thought about in years. I enjoy thinking about her setting up
house and home with my dad —they also had a tiny pet turtle named Ted, and an
injured blue jay they rescued and nursed back to health, called BJ— and even
though I’m not married with kids like she was at my age, I care about vacuuming
my place and keeping it nice, just like she did. She probably didn’t feel the
need to dress up in costume to do it, but she wasn’t postmodern like me.
Katie Haegele is the author of
White Elephants: On Yard Sales, Relationships, & Finding What Was Missing
. Read more of her
blog posts here
Image: "Parade Pattern Ad" from ionascloset, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012 9:26 AM
Editor’s Note: A reader's recent tip reminded us
about a collection of articles from the October/November 1986 issue of Utne
Halloween, contemporary witchcraft, and feminist spirituality. In celebration
of the holiday, we’ll be posting a few of our favorites online through the 31st.
When I left the Catholic Church at 20, I was certain of two
things. One was that God the Father, with his heaven and hell, was pretty
ridiculous. The other was that there were forces in the universe larger than
our lives. While there was plenty of support for the former belief in the left
of the 1960s, there was little for the latter. I didn’t know where to look for
a structure to accommodate my deep, but vague, spiritual beliefs.
Politically, I moved from the left into the women’s
movement. By this time I’d separated my spiritual beliefs from my political
ones, and there was nothing at first in the women’s movement to suggest I
should do otherwise. I took a class in parapsychology and read a bit about
Easter religions, but nothing seemed to offer any framework for my spiritual
hunger. Recently, however, I’ve discovered a spiritual tradition which, if it
hasn’t given me all the answers I’m looking for, has at least helped shape my
The feminist spirituality movement began to emerge in the
mid-1970s and has become one of the largest submovements within feminism. It’s
amorphous, blending radical feminism, pacifism, witchcraft, Eastern mysticism,
goddess worship, animism, psychic healing and a variety of practices normally
associated with the occult.
Witchcraft especially seems to appeal to feminists on a
spiritual quest. It is a women’s religion, a religion of the earth, vilified by
patriarchal Christianity and now, finally, reclaimed. Witches seem to embody
all that men fear and hate in women—strength and potentially destructive (to
men) forces. Feminist historians have added another more poignant dimension to
our understanding of witchcraft: Witch burnings have been revealed as a form of
genocide whose victims were old women, odd women, influential women, sexual
women and healers.
When I first discovered the feminist spirituality movement,
I was both intrigued and put off. Political activists I know expressed disdain
for women who, they felt, were substituting new versions of old religious mumbo
jumbo for useful actions. I couldn’t blame them. When Susan Saxe, a former
member of Weather Underground and a self-proclaimed feminist, was arrested and
sent to Boston
for trial, the feminist community there rallied to her support. Spiritual
feminists formed “energy circles”—sitting in a circle, holding hands,
projecting empowering thoughts her way.
“That’s all fine,” one of Saxe’s harried defense committee
members told me bitterly, “but why don’t they use their ‘energy’ to help raise
money for her defense?”
I sympathized with my friend on the committee, but I also
felt there was more to what these women were doing than we understood. So I set
out to explore feminist spirituality. I took a class from a Boston spiritualist, Diane Mariechild, and
learned how to meditate, to look for people’s auras, to discover my past lives
and to invoke the goddess.
The goddess, I learned, is central to feminist spirituality.
But few see her as the literal equivalent of the Judeo-Christian god. Starhawk,
currently one of the movement’s prime figures, describes the goddess in her
books The Spiral Dance (Harper &
Row) and Dreaming the Dark (Beacon
Press) as “immanence”: all living creatures—male and female, human, animal and
plant—have the goddess within them. Others see the goddess as being both within
living creatures and outside us. Karen Vogel, co-creator of the magnificent
Motherpeace tarot deck, told me recently, “I feel there’s something in us, but
some outside creator too—some force that’s inexplicable. We all come from
something and it starts out female, the Mother.”
Feminist scholars examining early history introduced the
images of goddesses we now use. Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman (Harcourt Brace Jobanovich) and similar works
have provided a historical and an anthropological basis for assuming that God
the Father was a relative newcomer to theology. The assumption that goddess
worship went hand in hand with matriarchal female-dominated societies has been
debated among feminist scholars, but feminist spirituality seems to accept it
as a given—at least metaphorically.
Feminist spirituality rejects the traditional Christian
notion of living this life in anticipation of the afterlife, but most of it
adherents talk in terms of cycles of life, death, and rebirth. “I always
believed in reincarnation,” says Starhawk, “long before I’d even heard of it.”
Years later, when she started studying witchcraft (“witchcraft has a far more
complex theology than most people know”), she was pleased to learn that witches
believe in reincarnation. “It’s a very different version of reincarnation than
Hindus believe in,” she says. “It’s not about working through till you can get
off the wheel [of life]. It’s about being reborn among those you know and loved
before; it’s about your connection with the planet. This world is the domain of the spirit; this world is paradise, or
at least its potential.”
A large part of feminist spirituality involves the use of
“tools” to reach the psychic/spiritual depths. Many of these are also used in
the occult arts; astrology, palmistry, Tarot cards and gems and crystals. Along
with the tools for psychic journey go rituals. Hallie Iglehart, author of Womanspirit: A Guide to Women’s Wisdom
(Harper & Row), says, “Human beings need ritual; we need practices that
stimulate our senses, help us move into that spiritual place. Ritual helps us
transcend our egos. For Starhawk, ritual provides “a very powerful means to
communicate, to come together to make changes and transformation. It’s not that
ritual is wonderful per se—it’s what you use it for.”
Perhaps the strongest criticism of feminist spirituality is
that it takes energy away from political work and puts it into forming energy
circles or praying to the goddess. It’s an accusation that draws equally strong
reactions in the spirituality movement. They acknowledge that religion can be
used as an opiate of the people but deny that it usually functions that way.
Starhawk notes that the notion of a spiritual/political
dichotomy is a middle-class Western notion. “If you look into the cultures of
people of color, you find that magic, spirituality, and politics aren’t
separate from each other.” She discovered on a recent trip to Nicaragua that
the Christianity of the workers was different from that of the church. “The
Christ they invoke is an immanent Christ. The Missa Campesino [Peasants’ Mass]
says, ‘Jesus is the truck driver changing his tire; Jesus is the man in the
park buying a snow cone and complaining that he didn’t get enough ice.’”
Other women point to Gandhi, to the black Christianity of
the U.S. civil rights
movement, to the Quakers in the suffrage and peace movements and to the
Maryknoll nuns killed in El
Salvador. Many feminists view spirituality
as the force that can make continued political struggle possible—a counter to
the growing problem of burnout. Iglehart describes the rituals she has
participated in at the end of violence-against-women conferences, when
participants were dealing with and the enormity of the task of fighting it.
“People who were drained would be energized and focused through the ritual,
with a very clear idea of what they were going to do.”
Reva Siebolt, who is active in feminist electoral politics,
says she needs spirituality to enable her to continue her work. “The energy of Washington is so brutal
I go numb. I’m learning to listen to my inner voice, to get ideas from deep
inside me, not just from some logical structure outside.” Iglehart warns: “If
there isn’t a back and forth between political activists and women in
spirituality, the political women are going to get burned out, and the
spiritual women are going to be out in spaceland.”
Other problems in feminist spirituality reflect those in the
larger feminist movement. Spirituality has been accused, with some validity, of
being a white woman’s concern, centering on white pagan traditions and
goddesses. But as more women of color have become involved, their traditions
have changed feminist spirituality.
Pat Camarena, a Mexican-American feminist involved in
witchcraft, sees that involvement as an extension of her heritage. “The
difference between Mexican and pagan witchcraft is that Mexican witchcraft
isn’t in opposition to Christianity—it takes the Virgin as its central figure.
When you do a spell, you invoke Mary.” She sees the Virgin as a manifestation
of the goddess, and feels a strong connection to the spells and rituals her
grandmother used when Pat was a child and those she herself now uses.
Women in feminist spirituality are often involved in
political work other than feminism, especially anti-nuclear and environmental
issues. They see this as an extension of feminism—men own Mother Earth as they
own women. This parallels a complex phenomenon in the women’s movement as a
whole: The feminist newspaper New Women’s Times suspended publication last
year, attributing its difficulties in part to the “large-scale movement of
women from feminist activism to peace and antinuclear work.” Whether this is a hopeful
or alarming phenomenon, it’s clearly not limited to feminist spirituality.
I’m not sure what place feminist spirituality has or will
have in my life. I’m not wholly comfortable with the goddess. The image has
power for me, but I don’t see it justified by any superior female goodness
operating in the world. Female nonviolence seems to me chiefly a function of
being deprived of the tools of violence, and I’m not sure the Mother would end
up being any less abusive than the Father has been. Whatever the creative force
is, it’s too large to be encompassed in human imagery.
Nonetheless, the existence of the movement is important in
my life—and I suspect it’s important to the survival of feminism itself. More
and more, I see in women and men around me, as I’ve seen for so long in myself,
a spiritual hunger. When political movements are new, or when they’re making
obvious or dramatic changes, that need can become submerged in the thrill of
discovery or accomplishment. When the struggle is long and old and riddled with
defeat, the strength to continue must come from deeper places. Feminist
spirituality offers one way of reaching for those places. Even for women who
may not choose it for their path, it offers the assurance that there are paths, and nonpatriarchal images to
bring to other existing spiritual modes.
Last spring, I went to a daylong workshop Hallie Iglehart
ran in Boston.
There were about 30 women, ranging from their early 20s to their early 50s and
from lesbian separatists to suburban homemakers. The rituals and meditations
were fairly familiar to me. But this day gave me a taste of transcendence. Why
that happened in this particular group I’m not sure. But some of it was the
extraordinary combination of women who seemed to know, at that moment at least,
that differences of lifestyle, needs, personality had nothing to do with who we
were or what we were creating there.
I know now that if I can’t accept the goddess as my image of
the creative spirit, I can at least accept her as a wise and valued friend—a useful
companion who has opened doors to places I might never have seen without her.
Excerpted from Ms. (Dec. 1985)
and reprinted in Utne Reader (Oct./Nov.
Image: Rigel, M-42 (Orion Nebula), Horsehead and Witch Head Nebulas by Darron Birgenheier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 30, 2012 4:49 PM
Lady bloggers just can’t catch a break. Whether they’re writing about politics, pop culture, or what they’re wearing, women must endure disparagement from a broad range of critics. It seems they have become a screen on which to project ideas of femininity, feminism, and a woman’s place in society today.
A recent essay in the literary magazine n+1 criticized “ladyblogs” for fussing over conventional concerns like hair and makeup. Not enough focus on “the harder to articulate, more insidious expectations about women’s behavior,” proclaimed author Molly Fischer. In short, female-interest sites like Jezebel, The Hairpin, xoJane and Rookie are not explicitly, politically feminist enough. Even using the term "lady," argued Fischer, is evidence of being uncomfortable with womanhood. If Fischer’s aim was to start a discussion, it worked.
Loyal readers of The Hairpin and Jezebel jumped to those sites’ defense in their own online essays. “Fischer isn’t wrong when she says the Hairpin publishes things about makeup and cats,” writes Emma Healey for Maisonneuve, “but to suggest that a site that featured “Ask an Abortion Provider” [...] or an essay on dealing with a stillbirth (just to name a few) doesn’t concern itself with the harder-to-articulateaspects of being a woman is disingenuous at best.” The value of these blogs, argues Healy, is that they do not separate being a feminist from being a woman or ‒ more simply ‒ a person.
Meanwhile, over at Thought Catalog, Joanna Rothkopf recaps the rise and near-fall of Jezebel, a bad girl site forced to clean up its impertinent tone after a semi-scandalous public interview with two of the writers. In Rothkop’s view, the repercussions (effectively silencing those writers) are evidence of a double-standard. “I am appalled by many of the things the writers said in this interview, but the fact that they were brave enough to speak as women without speaking for the whole gender is admirable and nearly impossible in a society that demands ideological consistency from women who self-identify as feminist or otherwise. […] Ultimately, women cannot break free from these imposed ideological constraints until we stop conforming to them.”
Put it all together and things don't add up. Female bloggers are reprimanded for being audacious and criticized for being virtuous ‒ both mostly by women. It seems that feminism itself may be having an identity crisis. Women raised with the notion that they can do anything, and given the added advantage of directly representing themselves online, cannot agree on what constitutes the contemporary woman, what we should say, and how to behave. The line between established notions of femininity and rebellion is no longer clear. We are left with more questions. What does it mean to be a feminist, a woman ‒ a person ‒ in an age of such mixed messages? How do we find the “ideological constraints” from which we are to break free? If nothing else, may the debate continue.
Image courtesy of Fotopedia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 12, 2012 5:41 PM
It’s out of vogue for girlfriends and wives to complain about their significant others’ porn use, and a bride who asks her groom to forgo bachelor party strippers is universally seen as insecure and controlling—or at the very least an unrealistic simpleton. Only someone hopelessly outdated and provincial would turn away from Dan Savage’s advice to accept that it’s normal and healthy for people to want a variety of visual stimulus in their sexual repertoire. And yet, there are a few of us throwbacks who believe looking at pornography and paying for sex work are detrimental to relationships. Who ask our partner not just to limit strip club outings or keep porn use under discreet cover but to abstain from them altogether.
See, I’m already sounding like I wear my hair in a 1950s housewife updo and agree to nothing but once-a-month lights-out missionary position. Which is why it was gratifying to read in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity (Oct-Dec 2011) that research doesn’t exactly hold with the sophisticate theory that porn is wholly harmless to relationships:
Men’s pornography viewing has been shown to be associated with unhealthy, less stable relationships.... For example, viewing pornography has been associated with (a) a decrease in relational sexual intimacy; (b) an increase in egocentric sexual practices aimed at personal pleasure and with little regard to the pleasure of the engaging partner.... Furthermore, men who frequently view pornography express a greater dissatisfaction with their partner’s physical appearance, sexual performance, and sexual curiosity.
I realize that most modern feminists wouldn’t touch an anti-porn stance with a 10-foot stripper pole. Which makes it even more valuable to put this research out there and see if it jives with anyone’s personal experience. Has a porn habit made your boyfriend less capable of attending to “the pleasure of the engaging partner”—i.e., you and your orgasm and your overall sexual experience? Has it made one-on-one real-life sex with a real-life partner less rewarding for both involved?
Some men “prefer smut to real sex because while they’re viewing porn, they’re in control,” explain therapists Barry McCarthy and Michele Weiner-Davis in Psychology Today. No one else’s feelings or desires need to be taken into consideration during solo sessions. As McCarthy says, “Couple sex is much more complicated.”
In this era of the sexy feminist, where the liberated suburban mom takes pole dancing lessons, balking at pornography and sex work will certainly come across as prudish. But what I’m hearing is that the more porn a man consumes, the less he and his partner will enjoy their real-life sex. And who wants that? The good news for couples, Psychology Today reports, is that “even a conflict over pornography, handled constructively, can improve a relationship.” Which makes for a happy ending—for all.
Sources: Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention (article not available online), Psychology Today
Image by quinn.anya, licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012 2:39 PM
When the women I know belly-up to a bar, they’re more likely to order a pint of beer than a glass of wine or a frilly cocktail. I’m a sucker for Surly’s CynicAle and Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine, both from the rollicking Minneapolis beer-brewing scene. Still, drinking and brewing beer continue to be viewed as primarily male territory.
As it turns out, this split of the sexes is all wrong, says Bitch magazine’s Celena Cipriaso: Women have brewed beer since Babylonian times and female brewers permeate world folklore. Historian Alan D. Eames reinforces the depths of women’s claims on beer, explaining, “From its very inception some 8,000 years ago, every ancient society’s beer-creation myth tells the same story: The drink was a gift from a female deity to the women of that community.”
Cipriaso laments the loss of women’s roles as brewers and beer lovers. “For many years, women have been relegated to the background of the industry,” she writes, “both as targeted consumers and in terms of their place in beer history.”
But now, beer mugs are getting back into the fists of women. Gallup polls indicate that women account for a quarter of national beer sales, and what Cipriaso calls “female beer advocacy” is growing: Regional craft-beer brewers now include women in their ranks, organizations like the Pink Boots Society promote women’s involvement in the industry, and beer-centric social groups like Girls’ Pint Out keep the culture fun.
A new documentary, The Love of Beer, celebrates the women who are breaking into the Pacific Northwest’s brewing arena. Watch a trailer here and check the website to find out if the film is screening in your city. Cheers!
Sources: Bitch(audio only), The Love of Beer
Image by Ryan Bieber, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 10:08 AM
Banksy commits a cardinal sin: defacing an 18th century bust of a priest to comment on the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal and subsequent cover-up.
This rare interview with science fiction rapscallion Philip K. Dick from 1979 recently surfaced on the Internet.
Take a seat: Abandoned couches take over the streets of San Francisco.
Longform.org picks the 10 best pieces of science writing from 2011.
Eerily beautiful: Orphaned amusement parks.
Have you heard of a little book called 1984? Here’s the original write-up from the New York Times Book Review.
What we talk about when we talk about a woman’s success as a woman.
Mother Jones peeks into the 1 percent’s headquarters: Highland Park, Texas.
As long as there have been political dictators, psychologists have been fascinated with them. The Psychology of Dictatorship: Kim Jong-Il.
An exhaustive piece chronicling how the GOP became the party of the rich.
Bibliophile porn: Photographs of the most beautiful college libraries from around the world.
The United States Artists has awarded its annual literature fellowships to 5 lucky poets and writers, each of whom will receive a grant of $50,000.
French lessons: Why letting kids drink at home isn’t tres bien.
Is feminism over the hill?
Love amid sippy cups: Excerpts from steamy romance novels for parents of young children.
A statistician picks apart Freakonomics for its number-crunching blunders.
Are bankers human? Watch this video to find out.
Friday, December 16, 2011 4:55 PM
Imagine that you are nine months pregnant and have to drive seven hours to reach the nearest hospital. You have never seen an obstetrician or midwife for prenatal care and emergency health services are miles out of reach. This is the situation in parts of Afghanistan, where the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world.
As of 2008, it was estimated that 1 in 11 Afghan women die in childbirth. (In Greece, the country with the lowest maternal mortality rate, the statistic is 1 in 31,800.) With a fertility rate of 6.62 children per mother, the life expectancy for women in Afghanistan—recently ranked “the most dangerous country for women” by the Thomson Reuters Foundation—is less than 48 years.
Now, a national midwifery program is one of several initiatives to drastically improve women’s maternal safety, report Isobel Coleman and Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in Ms. Magazine. Funded by organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the European Union, the program has trained more than 2,500 midwives. Coleman and Lemmon write:
For women in the country’s most remote provinces, who face the greatest challenge accessing health care in this overwhelmingly rural country, the midwives serve as a lifeline. Of the approximately 500 birth complications that occur daily in Afghanistan, 320 happen in those rural areas. Midwives are also active in cities, making home visits to women too poor or limited in mobility to seek help at clinics or hospitals.
The midwives can affect more than just the maternal mortality rate, they continue:
Along with saving mothers’ lives, the midwives serve as homegrown role models whose economic strength and earning power are changing their families’—and their communities’—views on women’s roles. Midwives can earn around $350 each month, a substantial salary in one of the world’s poorest countries and where per capita GDP is less than $500 per year. The money matters and is playing a role in shifting male attitudes toward women’s work outside the home…. When women begin contributing economically to the family, they also have a greater say in what happens to them and to their children.
“Most people have a lot of respect for midwives because they need health care,” says Fatima, [a] student in the program. “Midwives save mothers’ lives and women’s lives.”
Source: Ms. Magazine (excerpt only available online)
Image by isafmedia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 10, 2011 10:12 AM
When you start up an opinion blog, you voluntarily expose yourself to the world. If you also happen to be a woman, writes Helen Lewis-Hasteley at New Statesman (Nov. 3, 2011), you “open the front door to a chorus of commenters howling at you about your opinions, your name, your appearance, your sexuality.” To learn a little more about the state of internet misogyny and incivility, she asked several women bloggers to describe the comments they’ve received from online trolls. (For those of you fortunate enough to have escaped contact with a troll, it’s a person who posts intentionally inflammatory personal attacks in an attempt to get a rise out of their target.) Here are some enlightening highlights:
Dawn Foster, blogger at F For Philistine:
The worst instance of online abuse I’ve encountered happened when I blogged about the Julian Assange extradition case. As more people shared it on Twitter with positive comments, a growing trickle of abusive comments appeared. Rather than simply being negative, it was clear the commenters hadn’t read the post: just clocked the title, my gender and started punching the keyboard furiously.
The emails rarely mentioned the topic at hand: instead they focused on my age, used phrases like “little girl”, described rape fantasies involving me and called me “ugly” and “disgusting”. Initially it was shocking: in the space of a week, I received a rabid email that included my home address, phone number and workplace address, included as a kind of threat.
Eleanor O’Hagan, freelance blogger:
On the whole, I’ve managed to avoid the worst threats and misogyny that other women writers endure but I don’t think that’s luck or because my opinions are more well-argued. I think it’s because, very early on, I became conscious of how my opinions would be received and began watering them down, or not expressing them at all. I noticed that making feminist arguments led to more abuse and, as a result, I rarely wrote about feminism at all.
Natalie Dzerins, Forty Shades of Grey blogger:
Last night, I was informed that if all women looked like me, there would be no more rape in the world…. If there is one thing I have learned about being a woman with vocal opinions, it is that everything I ever do or say is wrong because of my physical appearance….
I do sometimes wish that I were a man though, so that if I were to get abuse, it would be for my ideas, not for having the gall to have them in the first place.
Source: New Statesman
Image by Anonymous Account, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 2:48 PM
Utne Reader’s mission is to bring our readers the best of the alternative press: independent, excellent magazines and journals and websites. You might not think that would include a site called The Frisky and billed as “Celebrity gossip, relationship advice, sex tips and more for real women everywhere!” But under the candy-pink veneer hides a true feminist heartbeat and genuine reporting about women’s issues.
You’ll certainly want to bookmark The Frisky’s feminism page, otherwise known as Today’s Lady News. It’s an assemblage of newsworthy items curated by Jessica Wakeman, who has a long list of outstanding credentials to her name (check out this interview with her at The Daily Femme). Written in an accessible and sassy voice, Today’s Lady News has become my go-to page for the most up-to-date news on abortion law, rape crimes, gay rights, and international women’s politics. Honestly. And if that starts to feel a little heavy, you can always toggle back and forth between The Frisky’s sexy Halloween costume tips or its list of bizarre sex injuries, if that’s your bag. Just don’t forget that amid all the sex quizzes and celebrity nods, some first-rate articles will pop up, like this great rant about birth control rights.
Love. Life. Stars. Style. Feminism!
Source: The Frisky, The Daily Femme
Image by TaniaSaiz,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 03, 2011 2:58 PM
How short does a woman’s skirt need to be to justify rape? It sounds like an idiotic question, but victims of sexual assault are regularly asked what they were wearing, what time of night they were walking home, and if they had been drinking. Now protest marches called SlutWalks are bringing attention to an epidemic of victim blaming.
The first SlutWalk took place in Toronto in April, in response to a police officer who told the audience at a safety talk, “I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this, [but] women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” The Toronto march drew 3,000 women and men, outraged at the culture of blame perpetuated by their local precinct. Since April, there have been more than 120 SlutWalks around the world—in Singapore, Mexico, India, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa, and more—with tens of thousands of participants.
Much of the media surrounding SlutWalk focuses on the fishnets and deliberately saucy outfits some participants wear and the divisiveness that using the term “slut” has caused within the feminist movement. But Heather Jarvis—cofounder, with Sonya JF Barnett, of the first SlutWalk—believes using the term highlights the importance of language in the fight against sexual violence. In an interview, she said:
One thing that I think has been missing from conversations about rape culture and victim blaming for a long time has been language. People wouldn’t be blamed and shamed as much as they are without the language people use against each other. We really need to look at that. Whether it’s “she asked for it,” or name calling, or degrading ideas about who deserves what and what you’re worth. So, we wanted to put language front and center and talk about it.
SlutWalk came to our hometown of Minneapolis on October 1, with the battle cry “No means no, yes means yes!” following marchers across the Mississippi River. To me, it wasn’t the provocative clothes that stood out, and the word “slut” wasn’t distracting. Most powerful were the signs carried by the survivors of sexual violence—some just kids when they were assaulted—and the fierce, unified support of their fellow walkers.
Images by Alan Wilfahrt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 02, 2011 5:04 PM
“The main thing would be films: riveting, fascinating, beautiful, controversial. For one afternoon a week, we would watch great movies, then talk about them. I’m hypnotized by movies, utterly rapt, even when they are bad. I would allow myself to project this far, to imagine that at least some of the students are like me, happy to escape for a few hours from their current situation.”
So goes Ann Snitow’s terrific essay in Dissent (Summer 2011), about her opportunity to teach 14 films to medium-security prisoners—men who have committed armed robbery or murder, but who were carefully selected by the college selection board from the penitentiary’s 900-some inmates as the most cooperative and promising:
The room is much too bright to show films. (“Can I darken the room?” “Of course not!” “Can I cluster the chairs close together around the monitor?” “Of course not!”)[…]
The twelve men filter in. As far as I can tell, the class is eleven African Americans and one Hispanic, ranging in age from thirty to fifty. They are friendly, a few elaborately polite and happy to help sort out the mess, set up chairs. They are used to this level of chaos, both patient and gracious.
Snitow, a longtime feminist activist, tailors the course around the themes of childhood, manhood, and womanhood. Crooklyn, The Hurt Locker, and Thelma & Louise make it into the final cut, along with other provocative films addressing everything from immigration and abortion to nostalgia and joy. The students ask and explore compelling questions: Is it OK to break the law to do the right thing? Is part of the dream of heroism making your own rules? Is violence human nature? Does heroism look different when women do it?
Snitow reveals the major missteps she makes—like when she calls out a student publicly for having plagiarized and then realizes she may be jeopardizing his upcoming parole—as well as her true victories. A Harvey Milk documentary leads to a heated discussion of the word faggot, after which one of the students—“the dignified and usually silent David”—stops by privately to comment on Snitow showing the film: “I’m gay and you can see what hell it is in here. Thank you.”
Ultimately, Snitow hopes that the films will chip away at the hard-edged visions her students have formed of what it is to be a man:
I know that all this [class discussion] is unlikely to make a dent in the essentialist views of manhood and womanhood that often seem to prevail in the room. But these are belief systems with big cracks in them. Elijah, Harry, David, and Phillip have been working on themselves for a long time, self-consciously cultivating inner calm and wisdom. A different idea about manhood might be a lifeline. Who knows? Since they are near the end of their terms, the question of how to be a free adult outside (and how to avoid returning here) is in the air every minute. In a long teaching life, I have rarely encountered students with such intense motivation.
Image by daniellekellogg,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 26, 2011 12:50 PM
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”—19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, signed August 26, 1920
My college women’s history course was taught by a brand-new instructor, eager and idealistic and ambitious, who piled us down with tons of intensive reading and writing and discussion (to the dismay of certain disinterested students who thought “women’s history” would be the light history-credit alternative to Origins of Asian Civilization). We studied, of course, first-wave feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for the right to vote and drafted a constitutional amendment in the 1870s. Neither woman lived to see the amendment signed into law on August 26, 1920, but you have to think they whooped it up in their graves.
In celebration of Women’s Equality Day and the 91st anniversary of our right to vote, Ms. Magazine announces that modern-day feminists have launched HERvotes, a campaign to preserve the top 10 historic advances for women that are at risk of being overturned or weakened by conservative policy-makers—key advances like Roe v. Wade, Title IX, and the Violence against Women Act. Even voting rights are threatened. And Erina Davidson in Bust Magazine (August 26, 2011) reminds us that true equality, at the ground level, means respect and inclusivity for all kinds of women:
While we’ve won quite a few battles and planted many flags over the years, the women of 2011 have a long list to tackle. Women still earn only 78 cents on the dollar compared to men more than 47 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Justice continues to go unserved for the victims of sexual assault. Sex workers face the struggle of being denied basic human and labor rights. Victim-blaming and slut-shaming are rampant in today’s dialogue. And women are criticizing other women for partaking in activities that were once deemed ‘unfeminist’ and ‘housewife-like’. (If she loves nothing more than making delicious pumpkin bread, then let her bake, for pete’s sake!)
Whether you’re a cupcake-baking porn lover, a Summer’s-Eve-hating urban farmer, a mom working a part-time job, or an avid activist waiting for the day that women can bring their girlfriends home without being shunned by family, we’re all fighting our own battles every day. And we’re fighting them for each other.
Source: Ms. Magazine, Bust Magazine
Image by ginnerobot
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:54 PM
My master’s degree is worth less than my husband’s bachelor’s degree, according to a survey report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Of course, I don’t need the survey to tell me, since I know it from our paychecks, wherein I earn 79 cents for every dollar he earns. Hey, I must be doing something right: That’s one generous penny more than the national average.
Yes, the most recent census reveals that women workers are still paid a scant 78 cents on the dollar earned by men. If I wanted to make as much money as my husband, the Georgetown report says, I would need to earn a PhD. “All told,” writes Kristina Chew on Care2, “over their lifetimes, women with the same educational achievements as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts.”
Naysayers argue that these statistics are skewed by women with advanced degrees who exit the workforce for years to be stay-at-home moms. But the survey accounts for the time-off disparity, and the report makes clear that its numbers are actually a conservative estimate of the gender wage gap, concluding, “The findings are stark: Women earn less at all degree levels, even when they work as much as men.”
Solutions, anyone? Mine is to move salaries out of the realm of used car haggling and into that of a modern and healthy transparent business model, wherein each employee’s wages are listed in the employee handbook for all to see and shared with new hires during the interview process. Just one dreamy step toward equal pay for equal work.
Image by j.o.h.n. walker
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 10:07 AM
If the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, as Edgar Allen Poe famously argued in 1846, then is the death of a beautiful woman’s child the second most poetical topic? So it would seem to filmmaker Terrence Malick, whose artful Tree of Life tries to gain emotional weight from actress Jessica Chastain’s soulful eyes and shapely ankles in the role of Mrs. O’Brien, a 1950s housewife whose son tragically dies.
It’s an image-driven film. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki finds transcendent beauty in everything upon which he turns the camera, from fluttering dresses to bursting sunspots. But even as Malick’s sparse script teases out complexities in Mrs. O’Brien’s husband (played by Brad Pitt)—by turns domineering and vulnerable and loving, a man tormented by lost dreams of becoming a classical pianist—it grants no such depth to Mrs. O’Brien. Despite being a central character, she has no back story before motherhood, no vices, no lost dreams, and almost no dialogue. Instead, the camera roves insistently over her lips, her clavicles, the nape of her neck, her calves, and her slim waist with a single message: Feminine beauty equals virtue.
The New York Times calls the storyline archetypal, familiar, recognizable. In his exploration of the family’s tragic loss, Malick certainly seems to be striving for the universal, even bringing the viewer back to the creation of the cosmos in a mid-film nature documentary tracing the origin of God’s inscrutability. Filmspotting critics Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson, who loved the film, wisely point out that “the connective tissue that runs throughout this film will impact so many people in so many disparate ways.” For me, the familiar impact was that of a woman being voiceless.
Source: New York Times, Filmspotting
Image by LollyKnit,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010 4:01 PM
Finally, there is relief for women plagued by catcalls hollered from speeding car windows, unsolicited innuendos offered by complete strangers, and proverbial one-liners greasy enough to make you gag. Well, virtual relief that is, courtesy of the folks at the video game production company LadyKillas Inc.
In the recently released first-person shooter game Hey Baby, a lone female wields a loaded AK-47 as she walks along city streets à la Grand Theft Auto, ready to “pulverize the leering scumbags” that verbally and physically threaten her safety and security. The New Statesman picked up on this bizarre addition to the gaming world, noting that “video games have long been an acceptable outlet for men’s fantasies and everyday frustrations, however unpleasant. Hey Baby is similarly about familiar frustration—in this case, the kind of frustration that women feel when strangers treat them as sexual objects in a public space.”
So as much as Hey Baby is ostensibly a shoot ’em up gorefest, there’s way more to it than that. It’s art, activism, and social commentary operating under the novel guise of a recreational pastime, and despite its in-your-face presentation, its underlying message is meant to be discussed seriously—and it should be.
Source: New Statesman
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 3:28 PM
Are Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann good news for women in politics? Writing for The New Republic, Michelle Cottle makes an awfully interesting argument:
When you think GOP rock star, who leaps to mind? Eric Cantor? Mitch McConnell? Mitt Romney? Michael Steele? Please. These guys aren’t exactly thrilling the masses . . . . Instead, it’s pugilistic lasses Palin, Bachmann, and increasingly, Liz Cheney who are channeling—and fueling—the passions of the base with their in-your-face conservatism.
On one level, I find this trend disturbing. On another, I cannot help but be impressed by—and even a bit grateful to—these conservative girls gone wild. Say what you will about their ideology; these angry female fringe-dwellers are arguably doing more than anyone to tear down some of the most tiresome stereotypes about women in politics.
You know what I’m talking about: Every few years someone writes a book, publishes a study, or simply drops a quote suggesting what a kinder, gentler, less competitive, more collaborative, less power-crazed, and fundamentally more ethical place Washington would be if only the gals were in charge. . . .
As gross generalizations go, this is, perhaps, more flattering than the one about women being too soft-hearted and weak-kneed to lead. But it’s still largely B.S.
Source: The New Republic (excerpt only available online)
Tuesday, May 04, 2010 2:38 PM
Over at the Bitch blogs, Jessica Yee has a short burst of analysis on the fight over Arizona immigration law. Here's the nugget that caught my attention:
What's been happening in Arizona is horrific on so many levels to so many people and communities – but it has really had me reflecting. When do certain issues get considered "feminist" and when do they not? And when do they require a real feminist response in action?
There have been several excellent female responses to the situation in Arizona by way of intersecting the impacts to women and children, sexuality, and even religion (read all of the amazing stuff the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is posting here), yet so much of the mainstream media we've been hearing is of course way too predictably patriarchal in nature; people making excuses for enacting racist legislation, utilizing fear-based tactics to legitimize white supremacy to "protect" the women and children, etc., etc.
So here I am responding to it and asking you frankly: Does an issue have to have an identified or presenting woman involved to truly be considered feminist? When abortion rights are threatened, we're out in the masses online and offline to protect them repeatedly, blog post after Facebook link, clinic defense after pro-choice club initiation, without question–and we certainly come together on it even if we disagree on tactics.
Image by Fibonacci Blue, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 5:43 PM
In the campaign against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, many of the leading organizers are women. There’s Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch, whom we named an Utne visionary last year (and who is pictured here with another Utne visionary, Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx ). There’s Maria Gunnoe of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who along with Bonds has won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts. And, reports make/shift, there are front-line activists like Zoe Beavers, who did grunt work on a ground support crew for tree-sitters at a West Virginia mine site last August. (She was rewarded with trespassing charges.) Make/shift puts the work of these women in historical perspective:
Today’s activists are part of a long tradition. In 1965, Ollie “Widow” Combs laid down in front of the bulldozer readying to strip-mine her Kentucky farm. In the courtroom where she was sentenced to 20 hours in jail, the 61-year-old expressed her desire simply: to go back to her hollow and live out the rest of her life in peace. Contemporary activists take this demand a step further: they don’t want coal-related industries devastating anyone’s home.
Source: make/shift (article not available online)
Image by James Chase, courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 11:21 AM
It’s ridiculous that the topic of menstruation still makes most folks squeamish. Women feel obligated to conceal this often-dramatic monthly occurrence—and it’s no small effort.
For those of us in the developed world, there are many options for concealing our shame. They range from conventional pads and tampons, to a vast array of more eco-friendly products, to what Jezebel cheekily dubs “the ‘period undies’ you didn’t know you needed.”
For women in the developing world, the consequences of menstruation can well exceed embarrassment and discomfort. As Elizabeth Scharpf and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff note in The Huffington Post, “Ten percent of school-age African girls miss school because of a lack of access to affordable sanitary products.” In Rwanda, “half the girls are missing school due to menstruation and the main reason given is that sanitary pads are too expensive. For women, 24% miss work—up to 45 days per year—for the same reason. This not only limits girls' educational and women's professional achievement, but leads to a significant economic loss for nations.”
There is an organization working to alleviate this burden. Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) helps women in developing countries manufacture and distribute sanitary products made from sustainable, locally available materials.
“Thirty years ago,” write Scharpf and Kauder Nalebuff, “Gloria Steinem published one of her most famous essays, If Men Could Menstruate. There would be no taboos. Men would brag about how long and how much. And sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. It's time we do a better job helping our sisters around the world.”
Sources: Jezebel, The Huffington Post
Image by Stephanie Glaros.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 9:56 AM
Radical feminist theologian Mary Daly has died. An appreciation in the independent Catholic paper National Catholic Reporter calls her "a mother of modern feminist theology." What does radical feminist theology sound like? National Catholic Reporter shares an excerpt from a piece Daly wrote for the New Yorker: "Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to win. The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,’ meaning ‘to be.’ When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be’ in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.’" That's classic Daly.
“I urge you to sin,” she once wrote. “But not against these itty-bitty religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism—or their secular derivatives, Marxism, Maoism, Freudianism and Jungianism—which are all derivatives of the big religion of patriarchy. Sin against the infrastructure itself!”
Source: National Catholic Reporter
Friday, November 06, 2009 12:16 PM
Even if you haven’t read the books or seen the movie (soon to be movies), it’s been impossible to ignore the cultural phenomenon of Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular Twilight series. A mind-blowing statistic cited in the new American Prospect caught my eye: “In the first quarter of 2009, Twilight novels composed 16 percent of all book sales,” writes Sady Doyle. “Four out of every 25 books sold were part of the series.”
(Think about that for a minute. A series of books that began publishing in 2005 and ended in August 2008 accounted for 16 percent of all book sales in the first three months of 2009.)
Doyle demonstrates that the Twilight books and films—and their fans, who are visibly, overwhelmingly teenage girls—have been “marginalized and mocked” by a wide range of media: MTV, Time magazine, The New York Times, and other outlets favor adjectives like “shrieking” and “squealing” to describe these enthusiastic droves of readers. “Yes,” Doyle writes, “Twi-Hards can be loud. But is it really necessary to describe them all by the pitch of their voices? It propagates the stereotype of teen girls as hysterical, empty-headed, and ridiculous.”
Feminists, too, have widely criticized the books, and for good reason. They offer a humorless, stalkerish, absurdly overprotective Prince Charming in the vampire-protagonist of Edward Cullen, for whom Bella, the angsty teen-girl narrator, is willing to do anything (including—spoiler alert!—becoming a vampire herself). I’ll admit that when I finished reading the four-book series, the first thing I did was call my Edward Cullen–obsessed teenage sister, who did not appreciate my ensuing lecture about why the characters’ 19th century–style relationship was not something to aspire to.
Doyle concedes that the books are “silly,” what with their unlikely chastity and the characters’ sappy, unconditional, and constantly verbalized mutual adoration, but, she argues, these fantasies do offer teen girls much-needed “shelter from the terrors of puberty.” On the other hand, “male escapist fantasies—which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking—tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.”
Even phenomena on the nerdier side of the pop-culture spectrum—Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, and Harry Potter—escape the severe criticism that's heaped upon the Twi-Hards. How are Twilight and its fandom so different from these films, or even Marvel comics? Doyle asks. “The answer is fairly obvious, and it’s not—as geeks and feminists might hope—the quality of the books or movies,” she writes. “It’s the number of boys in the fan base.”
That’s why, no matter how drippy and problematic feminists may perceive the series to be, they should care about the Twilight backlash, Doyle argues. I’d like to interpret that as, let’s keep discussing our Twilight qualms with teen-girl allies—but let’s also try to understand why it appeals to them, and consider what that tells us about teenage girl-hood today.
(And let's definitely watch, and encourage Twilight fans to watch, the hilarious, sexism-busting video "Buffy vs. Edward (Twilight Remixed).")
Source: The American Prospect (excerpt only available online)
Thursday, September 03, 2009 4:22 PM
What would Buffy do—if the beloved (and powerfully feminist) vampire slayer encountered the Twilight series’ Edward Cullen? Video remix artist Jonathan McIntosh has crafted an answer in a beautifully edited video mash-up: Buffy vs. Edward (Twilight Remixed).
Writing on the blog Rebellious Pixels, McIntosh explains that his video remix is more than “a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire.” His piece of transformative storytelling—protected under fair use doctrine—dishes out a “
pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior.”
“Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways,” he writes. The remix also functions as “a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21ist century.”
Watch for yourself:
Source: Buffy vs. Edward, Rebellious Pixels
Thursday, July 30, 2009 11:22 AM
Edward Abbey is a hero to many modern-day environmentalists: He’s a font of aphoristic wisdom, a forebear to lots of front-line activists, and a spiritual mentor to lovers of the desert West. But was he also a sexist and a racist? In the July-August issue of the radical environmental journal Earth First, a writer dubbed S@sh@ (EF writers often use pseudonyms) answers soundly in the affirmative:
One quick look at Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang exposes the racism and sexism that poisoned the movement throughout the 1980s. Its transparently patriarchal depictions of gender stereotypes show up throughout the book and are even more pervasive in Abbey’s disturbing diary, Confessions of a Barbarian.
Even if you aren’t as incensed as S@sh@ is by Abbey’s use of gender pronouns, and even if you don’t buy her outrageous claim that Abbey’s patriarchy basically killed him, it’s harder to argue with her case on his racism. She quotes piecemeal from an Abbey passage in Confessions, but in the interest of letting ol’ Ed speak for himself, here’s the whole eyebrow-raising section, which it must be noted was written in 1963, in the midst of the civil rights movement:
According to the morning newspaper, the population of America will reach 267 million by 2000 AD. An increase of forty million, or about one-sixth, in only seventeen years! And the racial composition of the population will also change considerably: the white birth rate is about sixty per thousand females, the Negro rate eighty-three per thousand, and the Hispanic rate ninety-six per thousand.
Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.
Garrett Hardin [the author of Tragedy of the Commons] compares our situation to an overcrowded lifeboat in a sea of drowning bodies. If we take more aboard, the boat will be swamped and we’ll all go under. Militarize our borders. The lifeboat is listing.
Well, there’s not much ambiguity here. Abbey’s views would fit right in among today’s vigilante border militias, white-power groups, and right-wing talk-radio haters.
Close readers of Abbey know that he had plenty of rough edges, most of which he took no pains to hide. But his flagrant racism is indeed a major strike against sainting the man as some sort of green prophet.
S@sh@ knows she’s messing with an icon and even grudgingly gives Abbey his due. But she also ultimately takes to heart his advice to “resist much, obey little”:
These quotations are difficult to inscribe within this journal—like the Earth First! Journal itself, Abbey’s writing has done much to inspire the environmental movement to direct action. We should recognize his contributions. To be sure, he was not alone in his oppressive beliefs; it was a different time, and they pervaded and hampered the whole EF! movement. … [But] Remember, the revolutionary presence that drove Abbey and his minions away created space for the philosophical introductions of eco-feminism, deep ecology, and bio-centrism. We should never return to the petulant and puerile egoism of certain old traditions.
Source: Earth First (article not available online)
Image by msn678, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 12, 2009 1:26 PM
“Can we please stop talking about feminism as if it is mothers and daughters fighting about clothes?” Katha Pollitt writes in The Nation. “Second wave: you’re going out in that? Third wave: just drink your herbal tea and leave me alone!”
The wave structure tossed around in the media “looks historical,” Pollitt writes, when in reality it’s anything but. Second wavers (like Adrienne Rich and Gloria Steinem) are in their golden years; third wavers (known for staking a renewed claim on “girl culture” and their passion for the intersection of race, class, and gender) are approaching 40.
Yet third wave “continues to be used to describe each latest crop of feminists—loosely defined as any female with more political awareness than a Bratz doll—and to portray them in terms of their rejection of second wavers, who are supposedly starchy and censorious. Like moms. Somebody’s mom, anyway,” Pollitt writes.
Aside from being inaccurate, this wave narrative reduces feminism into a tired battle between sexual freedom and repression. “Why not acknowledge that there will never be a bright line between pleasure and danger, personal choice and social responsibility, open-minded and judgment?” Pollitt writes. “The fine points of sexual freedom will all be there waiting for us—after we get childcare, equal pay, retirement security, universal access to birth control and abortion, healthcare for all and men who do their share at home, after we achieve equal representation in government, are safe from sexual violence, and raise a generation of girls who don’t hate their bodies.”
Source: The Nation
Thursday, December 11, 2008 10:15 AM
A lot of intelligent women find themselves torn between dismantling the superficiality of “women's interest” magazines and buying into it. Wendy Felton is one of those women, and she uses her three-year-old Glossed Over blog to rant, rave, and dissect fashion spreads and stories from publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
Felton doesn’t claim to be an expert (she’s a freelance writer and editor), but simply a fan of women’s magazines who is continually disappointed by their contradictory messages and incongruous advice. So why does she bother reading them? It’s a guilty pleasure “that lets me get juiced up on righteous outrage while simultaneously allowing me to ogle lip gloss and shoes.” The right mix of cynicism (one post is titled “Marie Claire editors were the girls I hated in high school”) and acknowledged shallowness makes her commentary, at once funny and incisive, relatable to a broad (if mostly female) audience.
Image courtesy of evans.photo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 8:45 AM
Hosted by Sarah Haskins with sardonic, faux-naïve enthusiasm, “Target: Women” is the standout segment of Current TV’s online news show infoMania.
In each episode, Haskins sets her sights on an especially ridiculous media trend targeting the young female demographic, satirizing the insipid pop-culture trends that nevertheless remain infuriatingly popular, such as reality shows about weddings (“They put the ‘we’ in ‘wedding’ and the ‘end’ in ‘feminism’”), birth control ads (“It’s Yaz, the pill that stops all those symptoms, so you can do the women things you love, like run, wear big earrings, hug friends, and have a cool, non-specific media job”), and chick flicks (“She’s in for a surprise, when: unlikely suitor / high-concept hijinks / unnecessary obstacle / true love / happy ending!”).
Haskins got an easy target when Sarah Palin became John McCain’s VP pick. In her Palin segment, Haskins slyly celebrates that mythical demographic of Hillary supporters who the McCain campaign cynically believes will vote for Palin simply because she’s a woman. Haskins calls them P.A.N.T.H.E.R.s—joining other jungle-cat demographics like PUMAs and Cougars—whose acronym stands for “Proud American Needing Token Hillary Estrogen Replacement.”
Like the Daily Show or the Onion, “Target: Women” is smart satire disguised as hilarious pop-culture commentary. I hope that Sarah Haskins keeps it up for as long as the media cynically exploits her demographic—which is to say, forever.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008 12:32 PM
The current issue of the Minnesota Women's Press improves upon one of Ms. magazine's popular sexism-shaming features. The Ms. version, "No Comment," simply reprints offensive ads alongside contact info for the companies they represent (here's an example, from the Spring 2005 issue). The Women's Press iteration may be a copycat, but its copy is better executed—it actually spells out what's offensive about the ad in question, a bit of directness from which the Ms. feature could benefit.
In this case, the Women’s Press takes on a BMW ad for pre-owned cars, which displays a come-hither-looking blonde woman with the caption “You know you're not the first.” “Isn't it common knowledge,” the Women’s Press snarks, “that a good used woman is just like a good used car? Or maybe the car is preferable because it doesn't talk back—or doesn't ask questions about a man's past ‘driving history.’”
Some people don’t get puns, and some of us don’t immediately spot sexism in the tiny reprinted versions of these ads—I’ve stared at more than one in Ms. without realizing what the problem is—and most of the time, a little context or analysis goes a long way.
Monday, July 28, 2008 9:48 AM
Over at Feministe, a post on pro-feminist TV shows for kids kicked up a lively discussion, with commenters writing in to suggest everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Cosby Show. A lot of sci-fi shows seem to pop up (I was pleased to see a few Battlestar Galactica mentions, since it’s a smart show with a host of strong female characters), as do a number of British programs, like The Sarah Jane Adventures and The Worst Witch.
Check out the extensive list the folks at Feministe came up with. Can you think of any other kid-friendly shows that espouse pro-feminist values? Chat in the Utne salons.
Image by Tc7, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 12:28 PM
Another feminist bookstore nearly disappeared this month: the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minneapolis. As it turns out, Amazon will no longer be a co-op, but the bookstore will stay open. “After surviving the invasion of chain bookstores, weathering the shift toward digital media, and body-slamming Amazon.com with a lawsuit, did you honestly expect anything else?” writes the Twin Cities alt-weekly City Pages. Well, yes, actually. Amazon owners and patrons expected the store to close by June 30, and several articles eulogized Amazon in the past few weeks.
The store’s savior is Minneapolis resident Ruta Skujins, reports Minneapolis Metroblogging. Skujins, according to MinnPost.com, is an editor at the lesbian publishing houses Regal Crest Enterprises and Intaglio. (Ironically, the first link for “Ruta Skujins” that popped up in a Google search was her Amazon.com profile. On the bright side, the page lets curious patrons peek at the new owner's taste in books.)
Skujins looks to have the necessary business sense to make Amazon thrive, and plans to transform it into a neighborhood spot in addition to being a home for the feminist and lesbian communities. (She hasn’t ruled out a name change for the store, either.) I stopped by Amazon last Friday, and the neighborhood was hopping—a family getting ice cream before strapping the toddler into a Burley, 20-somethings chatting over wine and appetizers at the corner café, hand-holding couples taking a walk around the block. If Amazon can become an inviting community space without losing its feminist personality, it could have a long life ahead of it.
Image by anonfx, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 07, 2008 1:42 PM
is a most welcome addition to our library: a feminist magazine that reaches beyond DIY crafting tips and media deconstructions. Feminist discussion is best when it’s fresh, feisty, and includes diverse voices, and make/shift goes into enough depth to bridge the gap between the predictable coverage of established magazines and the relentless pace and sometimes cursory coverage of the feminist blogosphere.
In its third issue, the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best new publication highlights feminist activism ranging from doulas working in a Washington state women’s prison to Men Can Stop Rape discussion groups in Washington, D.C. Of particular note is an elucidating interview with Mia Mingus (article not available online). As codirector of Georgians for Choice, Mingus speaks convincingly of the need to expand the discussion about reproductive choice beyond the divisive battle over abortion. For Mingus, reproductive justice is about “reproductive health, bringing sex education to the table, talking about prenatal care. Right now for us, adoption is really important.”
At first, Mingus’ concerns seem far flung. But it makes sense that Mingus—a queer, disabled, Korean transracial adoptee—thinks about reproductive justice in broad terms. She urges us to examine the global inequalities—“ableism, racism, capitalism, and a legacy of white supremacy”—that create the circumstances in which women feel obligated or compelled to give up children. Throughout the magazine, make/shift devotes much needed space to such complex and underrepresented feminist voices.
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?”
Monday, March 24, 2008 5:25 PM
Smart, feminist women want to look good too, but stereotypes uphold fashion and intelligence to be mutually exclusive. Fashion guides either display impractical pieces (such as $1,500 leggings) or advise women on how to disguise “flaws,” and in doing so fail to address the tastes and needs of feminist women, argues Jessa Crispin on the Smart Set.
Good fashion writing, says the Bookslut founder, provides advice for sensible women: “Women who have to wait for buses in the middle of winter. Women who like to dance at parties, and do not want to have to sit in the corner because their feet are bleeding.”
As an example of the above, Crispin extols Guardian fashion editor Hadley Freeman’s The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable, written for women who dress for self-expression and not solely to attract the male gaze. “If more fashion writing was done in the tone of smartypants Freeman, we could avoid the fear that caring about our appearance makes us a vain fool or a victim,” Crispin writes.
, licensed under
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 3:03 PM
Muslim mom and blogger who writes anonymously under the name Muslim Hedonist left behind her hijab and her polygamous husband, but not her faith. On her blog, she contemplates what it means to become a self-seeking Muslim:
To be sure, identity questions are probably best dealt with way before anyone has kids–say, in first year university, with a group of equally wide-eyed first-year students over pizza and beer.
But for those of who went straight from high school into conservative Islam, first year university didn’t offer us a chance to explore such questions.
Recently she mulled over a conversation with her pre-teen daughter about female genital mutilation, sparked by a Somali contestant on America’s Next Top Model. She wondered what to call the practice, how to explain its purpose, and how girls living in a sex-saturated world could still find the clitoris a mystery.
How do I explain this so that she can understand?
I’m not going to repeat any sanitized Muslim excuses–that it’s sunna (the practice of the Prophet), or that it’s supposedly cleaner, or that it’s just a cultural thing that some people happen to do, or that some people think that it will keep girls from having sex before they get married.
“They cut off the clitoris so that a woman won’t enjoy sex,” I answer.
“Eww,” my pre-teen daughter responds, and goes off to watch TV with her sister.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 3:29 PM
A vegan strip club opened this month in Portland—allegedly the world’s first, Willamette Week reports. At Casa Diablo Gentlemen’s Club, club owner Johnny Diablo tells KPTV, his customers can enjoy “meat on the pole, not on the plate.” Some feminists quickly took issue with this instance of exploiting women’s bodies in lieu of exploiting animals, a la PETA’s racy “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” ad campaign. Diablo maintains that his club provides “cruelty free pleasure.”
In addition to slinging healthy vegan fare, Casa Diablo is Portland’s only smoke-free strip club. It’s questionable whether clean air or a clean conscience for carnally indulging will be customers’ first reasons to visit.
Friday, February 08, 2008 8:24 AM
Two unlikely foes have been trading barbs of late: the feminist magazine Ms. and the American Jewish Congress. The AJCongress, whose mission is to “defend Jewish interests at home and abroad,” took the first public swing by harshly criticizing Ms. for its refusal to run an AJCongress ad (PDF) featuring photos of three women who occupy high-level positions in the Israeli government. In a statement on the AJCongress website, Richard Gordon, president of the AJCongress, accused the magazine’s publishers of being “hostile” to Israel; similar charges of anti-Israel bias soon popped up across the blogosphere. “For a publication that holds itself out to be in the forefront of the Women’s Movement,” Gordon said, “this is nothing short of disgusting and despicable.”
Ms. responded to the organization’s criticism with its own strongly worded statement, explaining that the ad was rejected for being “inconsistent” with the magazine’s ad policy, which accepts “only mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence.” She also points out that the Winter 2008 issue of Ms., which hit newsstands a few weeks ago, includes a profile (PDF) of Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, one of the women pictured in the AJCongress ad. And Clare Kinberg, the editor of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, defended Ms. in a letter to the Forward a few weeks ago, accusing the AJCongress of “playing on fears of antisemitism.”
On the other hand, it’s possible that Ms. is vetting its ads too cautiously. The magazine’s editors should expect that their readers can differentiate the viewpoint of the magazine from those presented in advertisements. Or Ms. should simply establish an “accept all” policy to avoid these types of traps, as Katha Pollitt suggests in a column for the Nation. Pollitt writes that by accepting all ads, as the Nation does, “You don’t have to explain why you rejected this ad last week when you accepted that one three years ago, you don’t get embroiled in ideological flash fires over words you didn’t write, and you don't get enmeshed in other people’s agendas.”
(Thanks, New York Sun.)
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