Friday, November 30, 2007

When Will Women Be Considered Whole Human Beings?

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The other day I came across this image while doing a google search. Now I am all about eliminating and/or preventing breast cancer. However, I do not like the tendency toward dismembering female bodies in the name of awareness. This shirt makes it seem as if ending breast cancer is for male (or female, I suppose) sexual gratification rather than stopping the unnecessary loss of female lives. Breast cancer sucks. Women suffer horribly and sometimes die from it. It is not sweet and pink! But most of all, it is NOT about men or what gets them off!

This shirt is just one of many like it that I have come across. I Blame the Patriarchy has a fabulous disection of this trend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Holidays: A Time for Antiquated Gender Roles

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The holidays are always a good time to take pause and think about family. I have been thinking a lot about my family because I understand that in order to enact radical change one often has to start with one's self. My family is no feminist haven, in fact, I take the most flak about my beliefs from members of my own family.

A typical Thanksgiving in my family involves my aunt(s), mother, grandmother and myself in the kitchen preparing our feast while my father, brother and uncle sit in the living room watching football. I am told that this is not at all uncommon in other families. As the women served up the dinner that they had spent the entire morning, nay WEEK, preparing for, my uncle and father could not even pry themselves away from the television for long enough to eat with the family. No, instead we all had to watch the game while we ate and tried to converse with on another over the clamor of glorified male violence.

After dinner, the men retired back to the living room to continue the game-watching. At this point I abandoned my post in the kitchen and went out to talk to my uncle. My uncle fancies himself a liberal minded yuppy, but still has a very difficult time understanding my disdain for marriage (he says this to me as he is reclining with a beer watching football being served desert by his wife). He tells me that he has an egalitarian marriage (his wife is the primary caretaker of their twin three year olds despite the fact that she too works full time) and cannot understand why I don't think I could have the same.

Well for starters even women who are determined to step out of their prescribed gender roles seem to fall right back into them after marriage. (At least that appears to be the case of my aunt). The words 'egalitarian' and 'marriage' seem mutually exclusive to me. How can women ever be equal or even safe in an institution that was designed to enslave them? Anyway, my point is that his own enormous level of privilege is completely invisible to my uncle and I find that devastating.

I am saddened by the knowledge that I cannot change even my own family. How on earth do I expect to change the world? If I suggested that the men and women switch roles for a holiday, I am sure I'd be cast right out of my family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Because Making Fun of Childbirth is Hilarious

Just found this on AOL. Sheesh. I guess it is just really easy for some men to make fun of anything that is equated with femininity.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Feminists and the Men who Love Them

I don't know if men can be feminists but I sure do know that they can support feminist ideas and goals. A friend and classmate sent me this link to her partner's blog. I read about this study on feministing and it makes me very happy. But it makes me even happier to hear men proudly proclaim that they love feminists (or one in particular) without fear or shame.

Upon reading the post at faithfully liberal I decided to investigate my own relationship and discovered that some men do indeed love dating feminist women. Here is what my partner said when I linked him to the study:

"I believe it. And I tell my friends that too. No mind games. You tell me what you want."


It is more than a little bit pathetic that we need a study to tell us that feminism makes for happier relationships. It should be obvious. But since it isn't, I am glad for this study and even more glad for men like Aaron who love feminists.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"The Gendercator" and Transphobia

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Tonight I went to a screening of the independent film The Gendercator at the Center on Halsted. This film has been causing quite a stir amongst transpeople across the country and in the queer blogosphere. The film has actually been banned from a few LGBT(qai...) film festivals for supposedly being anti-trans.

I will say that I do not think that this film was anti-trans. I do not think it had anything to do with transgender issues AT ALL. Before I go into an analysis I will give you a brief synopsis. A young non-gender normative lesbian woman falls asleep at a party in the 1970s after smoking much marijuana (or what appeared to be marijuana). She wakes up 75 years later to find that the religious right has taken over. A person can only be a man or a woman and MUST fit into rigid gender categories, brave-new-world-style.

One can have surgery to fit the gender that they prefer but once they are in their new body they MUST comply with the rigid gender roles. This young woman is forced by medical professionals to be surgically transformed into a man. This petrifies her because while she likes women she also likes her androgynous body. In something of a cop-out (on the director's part) the sequence ends up being a dream and she wakes up again to find the 'real' world. Fin.

Anyway, the controversy has arisen because many people see this film as being transphobic. I do not see that. I think the film is a dystopian fantasy in which we see what would happen if the religious right had their way and choice was taken away. This film is very much about force and removal of choice. The surgery in this film was not a result of some deeply felt yearning or life long struggle with one's body image not matching her/his gender identity. This surgery was about a woman being forced to become a man because of her clothing and her sexual object choice. That is something very different indeed.

After screening the film there was a panel discussion with the director, Catharine Crouch, and five other activists/theorists in the gender queer field. The discussion was fascinating. Judith Halberstam was on the panel! She had the most insightful comments, I wish I could have heard more from her. I have long been a fan of her work.

The director defended her film saying that it was meant as a resistance to medicalization of bodies and that straight women are socialized to believe that if they do not look like Barbie they are value-less and that plastic surgery is a way to fit into that norm is scary. She also said that transmen are forced into FTM surgery in order to fit into a gendered norm. Because their bodies are not stereotypically masculine they are not valued as males in our culture. Her argument seemed to be that people should be content with their bodies and not seek surgery as a way of copping out of dealing with non-normative gender.

This is where she got herself into a bit of hot water. NONE of the above things were in her film. These are statements that she has made while on her national tour with this film. The other panelists were rightly upset at the notion that transmen are somehow depoliticized just by virtue of their maleness. Choosing a male body is not a way of avoiding feminism! It is not a way of gaining privilege. It might be a side-effect sometimes, but I seriously doubt that that is the reason many transpeople transition.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most was the reappropriating of the directors notion of medicalization as a tool of the patriarchy. While I agree that it has been used that way (especially in the case of intersexed peoples) it seems to deny transpeople the agency that they deserve. Halberstam argued that medicalization is just a much a tool for trans liberation as it is a tool of the patriarchy.

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Halberstam was clearly annoyed with Crouch. Crouch seemed to be rather ignorant on trans issues and this is what is getting her into trouble. She is going around the country in the name of starting a dialogue and than openly admitting that she has no idea what trans identity is! She certainly should not be a spokesperson for this community by any means. The film was not anti-trans but the director might well be. As Halberstam suggested, she would do well to read much, much more queer theory before taking on such an ambitious tour.

Finally, I want to say that I think this film is mis-named a satire. There is nothing satirical about it, it is a dystopian fantasy about an extraordinarily conservative regime. Possible? Maybe. Likely? Probably not. All I know after listening to this panel is that Crouch ought not claim to have made a movie about transpeople when it clearly is not. And she probably would do well to pick up some queer theory.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I am so appalled I am nearly speachless.

I just saw what is perhaps the most upsetting thing I have ever seen on TV. Ever.

Dr. Phil had a special episode in which he discussed race and… birth control. Not really sure what the connection there is. I had to fast forward through the race discussion because it was so unbearable. (A giant white man lecturing Master P on his racism!!!)

They moved on to a discussion about the merits of dispensing birth control to middle and high schoolers. So who would you think Dr. Phil would get to help him with this discussion? Perhaps a gynecologist, a Planned Parenthood outreach coordinator, or even a women’s studies professor? Nope. Bishop T.D. Jakes. Another middle aged man. Of course! Because he is qualified to lecture viewers about female sexuality (without any mention of male sexuality other than Dr.Phil's 'joke' that those boys should be kicked in the rear end). Ridiculous.

Let me just say, I do not necessarily disagree with what they were saying. Yes I think parents should be more involved in their children’s lives. Yes I think that many teenagers have sex before they are ready. Yes I believe that our society creates a horrible sense of confusion for young people with messages of sexual liberation along with abstinence only sex ed. (this, of course, they did not discuss). Yes I think that birth control should not be distributed in schools without a very serious and lengthy discussion about the consequences of sexual behavior. However, I am appalled by the overt sexism of having two middle-aged men not only lecture but shame young women into behaving in accordance with some antiquated notion of sexual propriety.

I am so shocked and appalled that I cannot even think of anything else to say about this. This is classic backlash.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pushing Daisies and Anti-Feminist Backlash

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Since I started this blog I figured I really ought to start watching more prime time TV shows. As it is way too late for me to get into Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives, I figured I'd pick a new show. All of the billboards on CTA intrigued me to watch Pushing Daisies. A detective with the ability to reawaken the dead seemed like a unique concept to me. And it is. It is like a much jollier version of Law and Order. Well, maybe not. But I like detective dramas so it was worth a shot. Aside from the somewhat cheesy relationship between Ned the pie maker and Charlotte "Chuck," the show is thoroughly enjoyable. However, after watching all five available episodes I noticed something a little upsetting.

Now I know that feminists are often accused of taking things too seriously or seeing sexism where there supposedly is none. And I can already sense that coming here, but I see it and I cannot be the only one so bear with me.

"Chuck" was viciously murdered in the first episode. Ned, being in the business of crime solving, went to revive her just long enough to find out who done it. Upon realizing that she was his long lost childhood sweetheart, he could not bring himself to touch her again and thereby end her life forever. (This is one of many catches to his magical ability. One can only be revived by his touch once, a second touch and dead forever.)

He lets her live and she becomes his new crime solving partner (along with a large, cynical, wise cracking black man...eesh). They go on to seemingly fall in love despite the fact that if Ned ever touches "Chuck" she will be dead forever. Because everyone thinks that "Chuck" is dead she cannot have contact with anyone from her old life lest she reveal Ned's power and ruin his crime solving business.

To avoid that (and to make a good show) "Chuck" moves into Ned's apartment and begins working at his pie shop. She basically plops comfortably (how?) into his life and gives up everything she cared about before. Though it pains her terribly, she cuts off contact with her two beloved eccentric aunts. I am not sure why this is necessary because Ned obviously entrusts several people with his secret and I am not sure why the aunts (who would seemingly be happy to have their niece back at whatever cost) cannot be privy to this.

My conclusion is that this keeps "Chuck" trapped in Ned's life. I am reminded of I Dream of Jeanie. She lives in a bottle to be of use when her "master" needs her. Again I cannot help but sense backlash. Major backlash. Jeanie was a backlashy show. It came out right during the heyday of the 1970's feminist movement in an effort to placate men who were dissatisfied with the rights that women had attained. Put a sexy, subservient woman (and don't even get me started on the orientalization!) in a bottle who can only come out when he needs her to do his bidding. Pushing Daisies, though much more subtle, is not much different. "Chuck" is always at Ned's mercy. She had to give up her entire world for him (and yes I get that she would be dead were it not for him) and now she has to live in a world where a single touch from him would kill her! That is a male fantasy if I ever saw one. He has total control and power AND he has a gorgeous women madly in love with him, tucked safely away in his life.

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Anyway, I like this show. It is well written and clever. I know that as feminists sometimes we have to take what is available to us or live pretty unhappy lives. I like TV and I like this show. But I recognize some pretty serious problems with the premise that cannot go ignored. This is a classic backlash show. I think a major question for this blog is how does one navigate the world of popular culture while still maintaining a feminist lens?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Parenting and Masculinity on Cable TV

Tonight I had the pleasure of catching an episode of Showbiz Tonight on CNN. I had no idea what to expect of an entertainment news show on cable. The ones I get to see on broadcast TV at home are just wicked and I supposed I shouldn't have expected much more of CNN.

Anyway, one of their feature stories was about the actors in the new film American Gangster which I have not heard much about but I am sure it is another pornographic display of romanticized male violence (perhaps I will write more on that film later). Showbiz Tonight interviewed Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Well, mostly it was Denzel lecturing Russell (and anyone else watching) on how to be a father.

Now I should warn readers that I recently finished reading bell hooks' The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love and it has influenced me. A lot.

Denzel Washington talked about a few key things in child-rearing. He said that " the best thing I did." Suggesting that engaging in hyperviolent organized and professional sports is the best thing for children upsets me. Violence is a disease and institutions like professional sports (and I am talking about the football, hockey type sports here) are huge perpetuators of violent behavior.

hooks talks a lot about how men are damaged by patriarchy. She suggests that boys and men are told to turn off their emotions and turn inward at a very young age. Masculinizing institutions like professional sports encourage and reward that type of behavior.

This is only the beginning of Washington's terrifying, patriarchal advice. He also said that he put his son on an inner-city football team and his son hated it. He got a call from the coach saying "Your son is crying." To which Washington said "Be ten times harder on him, if I hear about another tear another whimper I’ll be back down there and put a foot in his behind in front of the team.”

Because when a male child has the audacity to show emotion, to express himself, to dislike absorbing physical violence without a wince, the best thing to do is to kick his ass. I was horrified. That child now knows that men are violent and that he is not a man unless he is violent and if he strays from that hegemonic masculine ideal that he will be harshly punished. I cannot think of worse advice. That is not tough love as Showbiz Tonight so graciously called it, that is abuse.

hooks mission is to teach men and women that their sons need and want love and that when they don't get it they learn a very painful type of masculinity. And it is this blogger's opinion that masculinity is destroying men.

See the video here.