Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Feminist Poetry Bonanza

Dear Feminist Googlers,

Don't think we don't see all of your searching for "feminist poems." We know what you want. And today, on this last day of poetry month, we're ready to give it to you. Yeah - a feminist poetry bonanza. Hold on to your hats, we're gonna take you places.

Perhaps my all-time favorite feminist poet is Neko Case. You read it right, the singer. She's also the song-writer who wrote the haunting lyrics of the song "Pretty Girls." Seriously beautiful poetry, that. Here is just a pair of verses, to give you an idea:
But there's millions to count you and keep you
And lovers that don't understand
Don't let them tell you you're nothing
'Cause you'll change the world, pretty girls.

Come chain yourself from my ankle
You'll see the world like a bird
Diving down low, flying up high
Through all of these saccharine gutters we'll ride and I

Won't say that I told you so...
Also brilliant is Alfonsina Storni's Hombre pequeñito. Not afraid to admit that women have fleeting desires too, she ends the poem with the line "...te amé media hora/ no me pidas más" - "I loved you for half an hour/ don't ask more of me."

The best, however, we've saved for last. Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Woman is an ode to empowerment and unabashed sexuality like no other. It will leave you breathless, its that good. I can't resist posting the last stanza:
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
Go read it all - it will make you feel little tingles all over.

What, still wanting more? Here is a long list of feminist poets. Then there is some more feminist poetry that we've posted here, here, and here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley Cyrus on Vanity Fair

Definitely what Blue Milk said!

The Little Acts of Protest

Once a year, I enjoy shaking things up for my students by teaching Alfonsina Storni's “Tú me quieres blanca." Basically, it is a poem that rails against the hypocrisy of the sexual double standard that faces women even to this day. I'm not absolutely sure I've converted any young people to feminism, but it does get them thinking, which is always nice to see.

Tobes over at Hear Me Roar also enjoys pulling off the occasional feminist coup, and managed to do a little something to subvert the patriarchy last week when she was asked by her boss to retype 100 pages of text from old management pamphlets into a Word document:
If you can't imagine it being any worse.. jut wait. There were entire sections on, "What a partner's golf swing says about his business style." *head desk* It gets even better. All the references to secretaries-- female pronouns and all the mangers and sales people-- you guessed it-- male pronouns. Naturally I had to do SOMETHING.

So I switched all these references so now the women are out golfing and making business deals and the men are working the front desk -- it's my mini-revolution.
If you've pulled off any similar mini-revolutions recently, we want to hear about them. If not, here are some ideas of things to do this week.

Monday, April 28, 2008

South Dakota v. Roe

Like deja vu all over again, here comes another South Dakota initiative to ban abortion. Come fall, South Dakota voters will once again be asked to vote in favor of a bill that would make abortion illegal in their state. This new ban will be slightly different from the old proposed ban that barely failed two years ago:
This time the ban includes some exceptions for rape, incest, or the life and health of the mother. Some South Dakotans said the absence of such exceptions led them to vote against the 2006 proposal, which lost by 56 percent to 44 percent.
As Bean at Lawyers, Guns and Money notes, its elections season, so "Let the paternalism begin."

UPDATE: Cara of Curvature points out that this bill has lost the support of some anti-abortion activists due to these exceptions, referring to the Wall Street Journal's report that the "...modifications have cost... support from South Dakota Right to Life, which has said it can't support the initiative because it doesn't ban abortions in all cases." The WSJ article also provides us with this disturbing chart:

Quick Hit: A Warning to Feminist Bloggers on Wordpress

Since many of my favorite feminist blogs are hosted by Wordpress, I thought I'd help spread the word about a new "feature" that automatically links all new articles to "possibly related posts" without the author's knowledge. As you might could guess, the computerized matching system is absolutely disastrous and essentially serves as a troll dating service, matching up trolls with their ideal targets.

Hoyden About Town explains the problem in detail, and how to fix it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is Life Expectancy Dropping for Many U.S. Women?

Most of us assume that, with advances in medicine and increasing awareness of the heath risks associated with poor diet and smoking, each generation of Americans will enjoy a longer life expectancy than the the generations that came before. Indeed, this has been the case throughout the 20th century. Yet, as the New York Times reports: research shows that those reassuring nationwide gains mask a darker and more complex reality. A pair of reports out this month affirm that the rising tide of American health is not lifting all boats, and that there are widening gaps in life expectancy based on the interwoven variables of income, race, sex, education and geography.
The most startling evidence came last week in a government-sponsored study by Harvard researchers who found that life expectancy actually declined in a substantial number of counties from 1983 to 1999, particularly for women. Most of the counties with declines are in the Deep South, along the Mississippi River, and in Appalachia, as well as in the southern Plains and Texas.
The researchers found statistically significant declines for women in 180 of the 3,141 counties in the United States and in 11 counties for men. In an additional 783 counties for women and 48 for men, there were declines that did not reach the threshold of statistical significance.
You can read more at PLoS Medicine, in two papers entitled The Reversal of Fortunes: Trends in Country Mortality and Cross-Country Mortality Disparities in the United States and Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States.

UPDATE: Since I posted the above, this news has been picked up by Women's Bioethics Blog. Sue Trinidad rightly notes that, since this decline in life expectancy mainly affects poor women, this is not just a health concern, but a social justice issue as well.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Seal Press, Amanda Marcotte Apologize

The horrid images accompanying Amanda Marcotte's new book It's a Jungle Out There have sparked discussions about race and feminism on many of my favorite blogs. Now Seal Press, the book's publisher, and Amanda Marcotte herself have written apologies.

In recent comments here at The Feminist Underground, Outcrazyophelia of Feminocracy wrote "Not being on the ball all the time doesn't make you a bad person, but refusing to open your eyes to the choices you make in adapting your focus is pretty inexcusable." What I'd like to hear from readers is whether or not you feel like these apologies reflect that 'opening of eyes' and 'adapting of focus' or not.

From Seal Press:
To Our Readers, Our Friends, Our Critics,

We are taking action immediately to remove the offensive images from It's A Jungle Out There. We are currently reprinting, and we will make these changes now. We apologize for any pain or concern these images have caused.

We do not believe it is appropriate for a book about feminism, albeit a book of humor, to have any images or illustrations that are offensive to anyone.

Some have asked the valid question, "What were you thinking?"

Please know that neither the cover, nor the interior images, were meant to make any serious statement. We were hoping for a campy, retro package to complement the author's humor. That is all. We were not thinking.

As an organization, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings offered here in the Bay Area. We want to incorporate race analysis into our work.

In the meantime, please know that all involved in the publishing of It's A Jungle Out There, from editorial to production were not trying to send a message to anyone about our feelings regarding race. If taken seriously as a representation of our intentions, these images are also not very feminist. By putting the big blonde in the skimpy bathing suit with the big breasts, the tiny waist, and the weapon on our cover, we are also not asserting that she is any kind of standard that anyone should aspire to. This 1950s Marvel comic is not an accurate reflection of our beauty standards, our beliefs regarding one's right to bear arms, nor our perspectives on race relations, foreign policy, or environmental policy.

We also extend this apology to the author, Amanda Marcotte, who did not select these images for her book. Writing humor is very difficult. While our intention was to complement your words, we see that these images have had the opposite effect, and for that, we are sorry.

Sincerely and humbly,

Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner
Amanda's is somewhat simpler:
I’m sorry. Plain and simple. I didn’t pick the offensive imagery in my book, but I should have caught it sooner than now. I didn’t and there’s no excuse. It was my first book, I was excited and happy, but I needed to have a more critical eye. I would do anything to remove racist images from the first printing of the book if I could, and I am relieved and happy to say that they will be removed from future printings. Seal Press has their note of apology up too, and they accept full responsibility for these mistakes. I really recommend reading it.

I can understand why anyone would choose to boycott a book with these images, and I respect that choice. Hopefully, once they are removed, people will reconsider supporting the book if they like the content. I, for one, will be ripping the pages out of my copy but keeping them as a reminder to be alert. Thank you to everyone who’s engaged in a conversation that’s been tough for me but productive nonetheless.

This is pretty much what I’ve got to say. I welcome your feedback below. I imagine things might get pretty intense, so I may not choose to say much more than this, but know that I’m reading and listening and respect your thoughts very much. Once again, I apologize for the images, my overlooking them, and any hurt this may have caused.

So - what do you think?

UPDATE: In the wake of this fiasco, Angry Black Woman is proposing a Carnival of Allies:
Where self-identified allies write to other people like themselves about why this or that oppression and prejudice is wrong...And when I say allies, I’m talking about any and every type. PoC can be (and should be) allies to other PoC, or to LGBTQ people if they are straight, or any number of other combinations. If you feel like you’re an ally and have something to say about that, you should submit to this carnival.
Go get your submissions in, I know tons of people have insights that the rest of us would benefit from hearing.

Sunday Feminist Funnies

Yeah, I'm a day early. So sue me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Baby Wants Someone Else in the Pope's Red Shoes

Star light, star bright...
Sometimes I run across a sentence that I wish I had written myself. My current favorite comes from the article by Katha Pollitt, Men of the Cloth. She concludes her piece with the following:
FLDS men have many wives and the Pope has none, which goes to show there's more than one way to keep women pregnant and in their place.
Three cheers, Katha, for pointing out the irony of the massive media coverage that YFZ (Yearning for Zion? Seriously? If that doesn't have the ring of a cult I don't know what does!) has received while very little outrage, beyond the priest scandal, has been leveled at the Roman Catholic Church during the Pope's recent visit. Instead, we got to see a baseball stadium filled with people waiting to kiss the ring of a man in red shoes who is perfectly content to keep women barefoot and pregnant.

Pollitt points to a few examples of the Pope's master plan to maintain women in subservience. One such success is the recent defeat of Chile's plan for contraception access in public clinics. Kudos to those in Chile planning to renounce the Roman Catholic Church over this. What other way is there to enact change in the Church? The sad thing is, there are hundreds more who blindly follow the "faith" regardless of the consequences.

Maus will commence to sad head shaking now.

Still (Feminist) Poetry Month

The Poetry Archive writes of Vicki Feaver:
A central concern of her work is female creativity and its repression, how, beneath her learnt veneer of niceness, a woman can be seething with passionate hatred or love. The poems negotiate brilliantly between the two realities in a manner Matthew Sweeney has described as "domestic gothic".
I like her poem Marigolds, which you can read and hear here.

Feminism, Liberalism, and Racism

Here is one of the images from Seal Press' latest book, It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments by Amanda Marcotte:

In a riff off the title, feminists are represented in images throughout the book by a powerful white woman -slim and busty - who defends a white man against indigenous brown 'savages.' As Holly from Feministe explains:
In a reversal of classic damsel-in-distress, she’s rescuing a white man from the title’s “inhospitable environment.” But what ends up being part of the analogy here for the politically inhospitable? ...Spearchuckers. Literally. ... In the history of this country, there has always been one broad and well-lit path for oppressed classes of people to “better themselves” — side with the oppressors against someone else. That is exactly what these images are depicting: women gaining power through helping men against savage, violent brown people. Again, I can’t believe that the author or publisher would intend this, but how did these images end up in this book?
Race has always been an issue that intersects with feminism, for the challenges facing women of different ethnicities have always been different in nature or in degree. Take the pay gap that faces us today, for example. Women in general face a challenge. That challenge is far, far greater for women of color.

This is why feminists must also be liberals. Liberalism asks privileged people to acknowledge the advantages we've had, to realize that the deck has been unfairly stacked in our favor. It isn't a comfortable realization. Liberalism asks us to work to erase those advantages, to work to ensure that others have the opportunities we've long enjoyed taking for granted. That's why liberalism is often hated. Finally, liberalism demands that we listen to the voices of people unlike ourselves, and to invest our energy in working to improve life - not just for ourselves, and not just for people like ourselves, but for all people. As it turns out, that isn't always an easy task.

After recognizing the advantages we hold, the first question many white feminists ask is "what can we do?" In the comments made on her blog, Feminocracy, Outcrazyphelia provides an elegant answer:
Too many are too comfortable in their own privilege, the privilege that allows them not to see the eclipse of non-whites in the feminist movement. Too many are silent about these things and that’s what makes it the most frustrating. They don’t trust women of color to understand their own lived experience, they tell us that we’re overreacting or that we have the wrong tone to be listened to, they band together in solidarity to shut down our voices. All they have to do to end this bull is to listen to our voices, and speak out against this privileged nonsense that keeps popping up in the women. We can be united under feminism without having to be the same people. Differences in lived experience did not create this split, its the valuing of the white, able bodied, heterosexual experience over others that brought us to this point.
Being united under feminism without being the same people is possible only if we listen to one another and accept criticism when we do fall short of the liberal values we've espoused. It is only possible if we honestly confront our failings. That's the challenge that faces Seal Press today, and all of us.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fair Pay Act Blocked by Senate Republicans

Just in from the NYT, some really bad news:
Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure intended to overturn a Supreme Court decision limiting pay discrimination suits ...

By a vote of 56 to 42, the Senate fell four votes short of the 60 required to begin consideration of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named for an Alabama woman who lost a case against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company when the court found she not did file her complaint in time. Ms. Ledbetter had been paid as much as 40 percent less than her male counterparts doing the same job, according to her allies.

Note that Ms. Ledbetter also did not know of the discrimination against her "in time." This ruling effectively makes it impossible for women to sue companies for discriminatory pay unless, of course, the company decides to inform them of the crime in a timely manner.

While Senators Clinton and Obama both flew-in from campaigning to vote in favor of the Fair Pay Restoration Act, McCain "skipped the vote but told reporters he would have opposed the bill since it could contribute to frivolous lawsuits harmful to businesses."

Other Republicans cited similar reasons for their opposition. As CNN notes:

The bill that stalled Wednesday would have reset the clock with every paycheck, with supporters arguing that each paycheck was a discriminatory act. But Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, said the bill would allow retirees drawing pensions to sue their old companies over allegations of discrimination that happened decades ago.

Get that? They are worried that a flood of little old ladies will attack the helpless companies that robbed them so long ago that it should just be water under the bridge at this point. And if the company doesn't decide to tell female employees that they are getting screwed out of the pay they deserve within the six month time frame, well... what can we do? We don't want to inconvenience the bigots - those women should have known. Perhaps all women could just hire private investigators to make sure they aren't victims of discrimination - that would be so much more practical. Or we could just accept that our government has declared that our time simply isn't worth as much as a man's.

For more outrage, visit the Female Impersonators. For more notes on what this means for women, click here.

UPDATE: One of the best posts I've read about this horrendous vote can be found on Black Women Vote!. Go read all of it, but here is a little taste:

Payroll executives know the real truth. I could see exactly what everybody earned: from the CEO's million dollar bonus check all the way down to the front desk receptionist's 3 cent raise.

But the real shocker for me was the differential in wages for people who had the same job. At the tender age of 24, I learned that women were getting seriously financially stiffed ACROSS THE BOARD. It didn't matter if the women were attorneys or if they were customer service representatives. Women, FLAT OUT, made much less money than men did, even when their job titles were the same...

And this old fool [McCain] doesn't think that women should have the ability to demand that the government enforce the law -- by saying that 'there would be too many lawsuits', he basically says that wholesale financial abuse of women is just fine and dandy with him.

Yeah, that's what I heard too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shakira Knows What Words to Use...

Shakira has won and lost my heart a couple of times over the past few years (Platinum blond? Really? Why?), but she definitely won it again with this:
Colombian pop star Shakira was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday... to lobby Congress to endorse bipartisan legislation that would help pay for education for the 72 million children worldwide who are too poor to go to school...

Shakira is the chairwoman of Education Action Week, which is organized by the Global Campaign for Education. But her work on behalf of the poor is not a new passion. Thirteen years ago, she started the Barefoot Foundation, which aims to help impoverished Colombian children and those who have been displaced by violence.
When reporter Robert Siegel asked her why this issue has been so important to her for so long, she replied:
I grew up in a country where unfortunately education is sometimes seen as a luxury, as a privilege, and not as a human right... This always bothered me. So this is personal to me. In the developing world, people who are born poor will die poor, and that is because of the lack of opportunities, opportunities that come from education. Education can actually save lives.
If you still can't forgive her for her current English-language radio plays, listen to her whole interview with Siegel, in which she also brags on herself for being a big nerd.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oh, yeah!

Happy Earth Day!

What did you do to celebrate?

Pick Three: PA Voters Choose Delegates Based on Sex

I was surprised and a bit confused by this account, from a Feminist Law Professor, of how Pennsylvania voters chose their delegates this morning, delegates that will likely be deciding who our candidate will be at the Democratic Convention:

When I voted this morning, after choosing who I wanted for the Democratic Presidential nominee, I also had to vote for individual delegates for my district to send to the convention. I had to vote for 7 out of a group of 12.

What was interesting about voting for the individual delegates was that we were required to vote for 4 men and 3 women. If I had wanted to vote for a 4th woman or a 5th man, I wasn’t allowed to because of this sex-based voting requirement... I don’t know if this is a local rule or if this is true for all individual delegate voting (in PA or across the country), but it struck me as quite odd, although interesting legally. [Emphasis mine]

Yeah, locking voters into choosing 4 men and 3 women no matter who the delegates have decided to support, should it come to a second round of votes, is pretty odd. Can anyone explain?

UPDATE: Caitlin E. Borgmann of Reproductive Rights Prof Blog has done the research to answer the above question, and explains:

According to the PA Democratic Party website (click on Selection Plan Summary), it seems that the system is designed to ensure a (virtually) even split among male and female delegates (although I should note that there is an uneven total number, with 52 slots reserved for male delegates and 51 for female). So, depending on which district a voter is in, she may be required to vote for more female or more male delegates.

You can read the whole post here. Yet, I'm still left with one question - why did the odd spot go to a guy, huh?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Equality and Equal Pay

What? You made it all the way through Friday, Blog for Fair Pay Day, without sending a letter to your senator demanding that she or he vote to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act? Yeah, so did I. What can I say, I was seduced by Creature Comforts. But, I'll do it now, and so should you.

Click right here to urge Congress to ensure that women get fairly compensated for the work we do, and that we can sue the pants off sexist employers when we are paid less because of our gender.

Just to remind you of why this is important to all of us, consider these statistics:
-Women working full-time, year-round earn only about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men...

-Minority women fare significantly worse... [A]n African American woman earned just 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic man, while a Hispanic woman earned only 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart...

-An earnings gap exists between women and men across a wide spectrum of occupations. In 2006, for example, the median weekly wages earned by women physicians were just 72% of the median weekly wages of male physicians. Women in sales and sales-related occupations earned only about 64% of the median weekly wages of men in equivalent positions...

-The earnings gap between women and men also persists across all educational levels. While education lifts all boats, it lifts men’s boats much higher than women’s. For example, in 2006 among workers 25 years of age and older with some high school education, women’s median annual earnings were $15,162, compared to $24,092 for men. Graduation from high school boosted women’s median earnings to $21,609, yet the same high school degree yielded $33,074 for men. Even a two-year associate’s degree gives men a much bigger bang for their buck ($42,462 in median annual earnings) than it does for women ($29,091). And while earning a bachelor’s degree yielded a median annual of income of $38,221 for women, it produced a whopping $55,425 for men...

-If women in the workforce earned the same amounts as men who work the same number of hours, have the same education, age, and union status and live in the same region of the country, their annual family income would rise by about $4,000 and their poverty rates would be cut by half or more. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has calculated that a typical woman who graduated college from 1984 and who was in her mid-40s in 2004 has lost more than $440,000 during that period due to the wage gap.
Lilly Ledbetter has brought this type of discrimination to the nation's attention and is tremendously important to all women living in the United States today. She worked for nearly two decades at a Goodyear plant in Alabama, where she was a supervisor. After being told by her boss that, in his opinion, women had no business working in a Goodyear plant, she suspected that she was being paid less than her male counterparts with similar experience and responsibilities. Yet, she had no proof, since Goodyear has a strict non-disclosure policy regarding pay. Not surprisingly, she was right:
Ms. Ledbetter had no proof until she received an anonymous note revealing the salaries of three of the male managers. After she filed a complaint with the EEOC, her case went to trial, and the jury awarded her back-pay and approximately $3.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages for the extreme nature of the pay discrimination to which she had been subject.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the jury verdict, holding that her case was filed too late – even though Ms. Ledbetter continued to receive discriminatory pay – becausethe company’s original decision on her pay had been made years earlier. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court upheld the Eleventh Circuit decision and ruled that employees cannot challenge ongoing pay discrimination if the employer’s original discriminatory pay decision occurred outside of the statute of limitations period, even when the employee continues to receive paychecks that have been discriminatorily reduced.
In other words, she is punished because she could not know that she was being paid less than the men. The company, however, is under no obligation to inform her of their decision to discriminate against her. It will take the passage this the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to remedy her situation, and ours.

If you need more reminders of why this bill is important, go to Feministing, Female Impersonator, Feminist Law Professors, Real Women, Real Voices, or Viva La Feminista for more information. Also good for reading is Ruth Ginsburg's dissenting opinion. Remember too that, while you might see fewer posts about equal pay after Equal Pay Day (April 24) has passed, this problem won't get solved unless we keep the pressure on year-round.

(images via smallbiztechnology and The Washington Post)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Elegant Worms and Feminist Poetry

Well, April is half over and it took posts by PalMD and GrrlScientist over at Science Blogs to remind me that we're in the middle of National Poetry Month (I am so ashamed). So, in honor of those cultured scientists, the first poem I will be posting for Poetry Month will feature C. elegans.

The poem below was penned by Doctor Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, the current poet laureate of Virgina and one of my personal heroes. Throughout her life, Doc has been not only an inspired poet and artist, but also a tremendous inspiration for young women searching for the confidence to explore their artistic voices and the world that surrounds them. Her most recent collection, River Country, includes this simultaneous poem:

Elegant Worms
Thousands of C. elegans aboard the shuttle Columbia as part of a science experiment survived the crash on February 1, 2003. These pinhead-size roundworms share many biological traits with humans.

The sky’s an estuary blue
Are we not like you?
when suddenly air sucks

thousands of you

through a bloom of particles.

You spiral downward

sometimes slithery,
in a manmade coffin

that catches flashes of fire,

we feed on
glints, metal bits

rot and decay,
tumbling toward chaos.

on earth.
All of you give birth

We illuminate,
before dying, something

to leave behind

come spring when we open

your silver-lined canister:

more of us:
each of you under a microscope

smooth-skinned, cylindrical,

tapered, elegant

among rotting plants.

Hear distant bells?
You thrive, granting us

wisdom in laboratories,

roots of lilies
crusty black pearls

call us
clinging to your shoulders

to loosen
while you tug and pull

red-bellied clay
at bruised vegetation.

in the hollow dark.
How did you manage

the fall from grace?

we saved ourselves,
Did you curl into yourselves,

and in a freefall

micron by micron
imagine a snake’s charm

from the wheeling fall,
and twirl? Did you clip

pieces of shiny clouds to shape

shutting down
into parachutes?

into stasis,
Here in a Petri dish

that fills and empties

like death.
with suppositions,

We survived.
you—tiny miracles—

We—C. elegans—
carry pieces of roots

on your backs which bear

like strong rope your plunge.

remained motionless
Undeterred, you stir from sleep

to stay alive.
and go on with your lives.

From: River Country (San Francisco Bay Press, 2008)
Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

Even though I've gotten a late start, I would like to continue to post good feminist poetry, or poetry by women, thorough out the rest of April. Anyone have any best-loved poems that they'd like to see posted?

Friday, April 18, 2008

What Do You Think About Your Looks?

Here is a telling Creature Comforts clip [8:51], and it is fun to watch. Now, if we wanted to do something really nice for our daughters, we would help them to feel as at-ease about their looks as many of the boys seem to be.

(via Living the Scientific Life)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Punished With A Baby: How We Hurt Pregnant Teens

For two years, I taught Spanish language and literature in a poor public school in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Aside from a 'virginity pledge' that all ninth graders were encouraged to sign (pledges in which 14 and 15-year-olds promise to abstain from all sexual activity until marriage), there was not much in the way of sexual education for the students. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that teen pregnancy was a big issue in our little school. During my second year of teaching, four of my students became pregnant and stopped attending classes. As a foreign language teacher, I only taught students who were working towards the advanced diploma, so these young women were among the brightest and most motivated students. It was tragic to see them disappear, but the school encouraged pregnant girls to stop attending once their situation became obvious. There were tutors, the administration argued, that could help them continue their studies at home (although not for the advanced degree). When I challenged the effectiveness of twice weekly home tutoring that lasted mere hours each week, my principal explained that the girls would be more comfortable at home. She then added that we did not want to send a message to the other students that our school condoned teenage pregnancy. The administration's position seemed to rest on the assumption that other girls would see their pregnant peers and long for morning sickness and stretchy-waisted pants. Few girls returned to classes after giving birth. Pregnancy effectively meant the end of their high school education.

I was not the only person on the staff to see the injustice of the situation. Two weeks after she was hired, a young counselor offered to run a group for pregnant teens. She planned to talk to the girls about options for continuing their educations after giving birth, and about practical matters like managing finances and baby nutrition. This counselor offered to lead the group in the evenings, after the other students had left for the day. Her idea was rejected and she was told that she was not allowed to use school facilities for a teen pregnancy support group, even if she did it on her own time.

This is why I completely understood what Sen. Barack Obama meant when he said that, while he planned to teach his daughters about morality and responsibility, he did not want them 'punished with a baby' for any mistake they might make. Yet, this discussion of how conservatives and liberals frame family-planning and sex-education issues made me consider my own use of this "lefty jargon." Apparently, Obama's comments have led to accusations that he doesn't value babies - that he sees them as a punishment. Anyone who has thought deeply about why we have such high rates of teen pregnancy in this country, or about how we treat young pregnant women, immediately understood what he was trying to express. Yet, perhaps he was using a short-hand that distracted from his real point.

So, let's be clear. Having a child is not a punishment. Being forced to have a child is. Having your educational opportunities destroyed is a punishment. Having valuable information withheld, information that could help a young mother care for herself and her child, is a punishment. Being told that you are no longer worthy of the community's support is perhaps the most serious punishment that could be imposed on a young person. These are the punishments that Obama hopes that his daughters, and all our daughters, will be able to avoid.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Feminist Quiz

Can you spot what's wrong with this image, swiped from Post Secret? (Hint: It has something to do with mean-spirited lies that are often repeated about feminism.)

Pssst... if you need more clues, visit the Female Impersonators.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Not Just in Our Back Yard

Mere days after the BBC article noting the female majority in Spain's new cabinet, a fabulously depressing article appears in The Guardian. Yes, folks, it appears that the United States does not corner the market on disappearing feminism. Nor do we alone smother our little girls in pink. The European Union is failing women and girls just as much as the United States is.

As Polly Toynbee writes in her article, "Girlification is destroying all the hope we felt in 1968"
The pink disease is far worse than it was 20 years ago. "Princess on board", read the yukky signs in family cars. It's almost impossible to buy toys now that are not putridly pink branded or aggressively superhero male. Bikes, sleeping bags, lunch boxes, nothing is neutral now, everything Barbie and Bratz. Princess tiaras, fairy and ballerina dressing up, pink, pink everywhere - and it damages girls' brains. That's before you start on thongs for seven-year-olds and sexy slogans on three-year-olds' T-shirts."
It is a must read article all the way through. I find myself waivering between being thrilled that there are other countries struggling to respect women as well (who wants to be a loner after all?) and mortified that there are countries anywhere still struggling to respect women.

P.S. I jest about the being thrilled that there are other countries struggling to respect women. It is mortifying all around.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Carme Chacón: A Glass Ceiling Broken

When I ran across this photograph in the BBC's Day in Pictures, I had to smile. It depicts "Spain's new Defense Minister Carme Chacón - the first woman in the post - [as she] reviews troops in Madrid. She is seven months' pregnant." According to Chacón, the role of the military is to defend "la paz y la legalidad en el mundo" - peace and the rule of law throughout the world.

In a separate article, the BBC notes that Spain's new cabinet includes more women than men. Viva España, indeed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

An Either / Or Decision: Keeping Women Out of Competitive Careers

I had been a graduate student for just under two weeks when a professor told a group of students assembled for an afternoon symposium, "I hate accepting women into the graduate program. They just eventually leave to have babies." I was appalled, and spent much of my time over the next few weeks thinking over what I, or any of the other graduate students, should have said. The irony, of course, is that I was studying in the Spanish Department - mainly reading novels by authors who have been dead for over a hundred years. If any of us choose to leave the field for awhile, we will simply have to read a couple of papers in order to be all caught up. Nothing revolutionary will have happened in our absence. Cervantes, Unamuno, and Borges will all still be dead.

Similar comments are frequently made by figures of authority in all academic settings. PalMD has a post up at Denialism discussing this attitude in the medical field, where he reports regularly hearing senior physicians comment that "...sending women to medical school is a bit of a waste." The compliant - women take time off to have families. Terra Sig discusses the impact that this sort of attitude has had on Dr. Nancy Andrews, the first female medical school dean at Duke University (appointed in 2007!) and subsequently the "...only woman to lead one of the nation's top 10 medical schools." In Dr. Andrew's own words, it is:
...important not to make assumptions about what women will and will not do. After my appointment at Duke was announced, many people told me that they'd assumed I would not be willing to move out of Boston -- that I would not leave Harvard, that I would not move my children before they finished high school, that I would not uproot my husband. Obviously, all those assumptions were incorrect.
For many women, the assumption that we will take time away from our careers to raise children is incorrect. Yet, it can't be denied that many others will. It is disheartening that we still live in a society that so little values the contributions of women that we are unwilling to work to ensure that mothers and fathers alike can balance the responsibilities of raising a family with those of their careers.

So what can we do? First we must learn to adamantly oppose such statements, which devalue the potential contributions of parents, whenever we hear them. We must also push for real family values in government- legislation that would ensure paid maternity and paternity leave, legislation which would remove our current ignoble distinction of being the only country in the Americas which does not ensure paid maternity leave (we are one of the few countries in the world that does not, and most European nations offer paternity leave as well.) It is time to change the shameful policies and attitudes that push to keep women out of the workforce by seeking to make family incompatible with career.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shouldn't Results Matter?: How the Right Goes Wrong

How the Christian Right Goes Wrong is a must-read for anyone who has ever struggled to explain to a conservative why abstinence-only education and limiting family planning options are bad ideas. This article by pro-choice author Cristina Page is dense with information about how such policies, which the anti-choice movement has aggressively pursued in the name of decreasing the number of abortions, are counterproductive. Here's a taste:
New research reveals that female students in programs that promote abstinence exclusively are more likely to get pregnant than those in programs that teach about the full range of contraceptives as well as abstinence. The news, published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, is just the latest proof that the $1.5 billion dollar “just say no to sex” experiment on our teens has failed...Earlier findings by researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities revealed that teens taking part in virginity pledge programs (they pledge to stay virgins until marriage) are more likely than their non-pledging peers to engage in risky unprotected sex.
Page goes on to discuss how different states' "mandatory delay policies" have substantially increased the number of second trimester abortions. She also notes that the countries with the lowest abortion rates are those with the strongest pro-choice policies.

There is only one statement in Page's article with which I do not fully agree:
These statistics infuriate the abstinence-until-marriage proponents. Their hope is that, by keeping teens in the dark about protection, ignorance will somehow lead to temperance.
From what I saw while working in a public school system which refused to provide students with any discussion of sexuality except for mandatory "virginity pledges," the hope is not that the lack of information will lead to temperance, but rather that it will ensure punishment for those young people women who do have sex.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The More Things Change...

As far as guidance for young women is concerned, it seems as if not much has changed during the last 200 years. In the early 1700's, Dr. John Gregory wrote a conduct book entitled A Father's Legacy to His Daughters in which he advised women:
Be even cautious in displaying your good sense. It will be thought you assume superiority over the rest of the company. But if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who will generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts, and a cultivated understanding.
Soon Dr. Laura Schlessinger will be getting her own regular spot on Fox's Hannity's America, where she will bring a similar brand of sexist advice for women to a broad T.V. audience.

You might remember Schlessinger's more notorious counsel, including her assertion that it is a wife's responsibility to ensure that her husband won't cheat:

When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings — sexually, personally — to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman. […]

The cheating was his decision to repair what’s damaged and to feed himself where he’s starving. But yes, I hold women accountable for tossing out perfectly good men by not treating them with the love and kindness and respect and attention they need.

Or her lamenting that a woman's virginity is no longer her most valuable asset:

Now it is difficult to find the male who values virginity, purity and innocence when females dress like babes and perform oral sex and intercourse without even having to be fed dinner... Who cares about vows - after all, why buy the cow when the milk is free?

Or her assertion that an appreciation of women's history and multiculturalism is degrading our universities:

Hallowed halls of higher education subvert the very meaning of education to give forums to perverts, racists and gender hostilities (which is the definition of a black/Hispanic/women’s/whatever studies curriculum) and biased, leftist, anti-Western Civilization courses … and nothing happens.

So - careers are still being made off of advise to women that they live only to pamper (straight, white) male egos. We've traded in the male Dr. Gregory for the female Dr. Laura, but is that progress? It has been 234 years since A Father's Legacy to His Daughters was first published. How is it that, centuries later, this tripe still sells?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What Sells Wii's to Women? Spa Days!

I like Wii. Wii games are the first video games I've ever really found addictive. I like that I can design my own characters and that the female characters I design don't have to look like they were doodled in some 13-year-old boy's math binder for, umm... later use. I really like Wii Sports, and apparently so does the queen of England.

(UPDATE: If you are looking for more good games whose animation won't weird you out, Shameless has a list of some of the best. I can personally attest to the awesomeness of Lego Star Wars and Katamari Damacy.)

Yet, if anyone can bring back that old sexist feeling that has effectively kept many women from truly loving gaming, Best Buy is determined to do it. Yup, according to Feminist Gamers:
Best Buy stores held a “Wii for Women” store event last Sunday in a handful of their outlets nationwide, encouraging women to “Relax, play games and register for a chance to win a Wii console.”

First prize for the drawing was a Nintendo Wii, which is a good!

…Except, that appears to be the only “game-related” thing that was up for grabs. Second prize was a Garmin GPS system (ok, it’s a techy-toy), but after that, you were more likely to receive a certificate to a spa.

It gets worse. As Destroctoid Wii Blog reports:
...everything about this promotion screamed "bad first date"...First of all, Best Buy employees were giving out roses, chocolates, and fake electric candles to all the ladies in attendance. FAKE... ELECTRIC... CANDLES. Secondly, there were signs and cards everywhere telling me that playing the Wii was all about helping me "relax". It was creepy.
Really, I want to like gaming. It's so ... hipster. Yet, sometimes it really does seem as though there were a concerted effort to make me not like gaming. What's up?

(The Guild Wars cover art comes from Pixiepalace, where there is a great post about the portrayal of women in games.)

Justice Department Reweighs No-Show Policy

What? The Justice Department has indicated that it will send an official to testify before Congress about what, if anything, is being done to investigate alleged sex crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan? This is quite a reversal of their previous policy of snubbing the House Judiciary Committee hearings on these matters.

And here we thought that blindfolded woman with the scales had been thrown out of the Justice Department for having her hair too short.

UPDATE/EDIT: Feministing reports that, in addition to the Jamie Leigh Jones case, KBR stands accused of covering-up another brutal rape of a woman working in Iraq, as a paramedic. These two women, and all women assaulted while working for defense contractors abroad, are facing strange barriers as they seek to have their cases investigated. As The Nation explains:
The first is the battle to have the perpetrators prosecuted in criminal court--which, because of Order 17, may be nearly impossible. According to the order, imposed by Paul Bremer, US defense contractors in Iraq cannot be prosecuted in the Iraqi criminal justice system.
Even more appalling, the Justice Department, which can and should prosecute most of these cases, has declined to do so. "There is no rational explanation for this," says Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School who specializes in the law of armed conflict. Prosecutorial jurisdiction for crimes like the alleged rape of Jones is easily established under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Patriot Act's special maritime and territorial jurisdiction provisions. But somebody has to want to prosecute the cases.
To further complicate matters, many women working as contractors with Halliburton had to sign a document as part of their contract agreeing to settle disagreements with the company through a company dispute-resolution program:
Since Jones alleged she was gang raped in 2005, while KBR was still a Halliburton subsidiary, her case is covered by an extralegal Halliburton dispute-resolution program implemented under then-CEO Dick Cheney in 1997. The program has all the hallmarks of the Cheney White House's penchant for secrecy. While Halliburton declared the program's aim was to reduce costly and lengthy litigation (and limit possible damage awards in the process), in practice it meant that employees like Jones signed away their constitutional right to a jury trial--and agreed to have any disputes heard in a private arbitration hearing without hope of appeal. (While two lower courts declared the tactic illegal, in 2001, the Texas Supreme Court overturned those rulings.)
While not investigating the KBR rape cover-ups is certainly the most egregious example, this Justice Department policy of not prosecuting companies regardless of the evidence against them seems to be an across-the-board policy. It seems like the Justice Department has a decision to make -should its duty be to defend the freedoms and protections we enjoy as people, or the freedom of private companies to enjoy executive protection while committing whatever crimes they want?

(image via)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dude, It's Your Pregnancy Too

As my college roommate, who is now pregnant, explains: "We are pregnant when my husband wants to brag to relatives or park in the reserved parking spaces. But it is just me who's pregnant when it comes to diet or lifestyle - he can eat sushi in front of me all day long and then turn around and talk about our pregnancy." This hypocrisy seems consistent throughout all stages of pregnancy and birth - a woman wishing to become pregnant is advised to follow strict dietary rules while trying to conceive, and the should's and shouldn'ts just keep coming throughout the baby's first years. For expectant fathers, on the other hand, traditional wisdom seems to say 'anything goes.'

Yet, according to a recent article published in Science News, "...growing evidence suggests that a father's age and his exposure to chemicals can leave a medical legacy that lasts generations." For example:

Babies of firefighters, painters, woodworkers, janitors, and men exposed to solvents and other chemicals in the workplace are more likely to be miscarried, stillborn, or to develop cancer later in life, according to a review in the February Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology.

Fathers who smoke or are exposed at work to chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons put their children at risk of developing brain tumors.

That's right, it seems as if the chemicals to which men are exposed impact the health of their children even if the exposure happens before conception. The link between paternal exposure to drugs, for example, and the health of offspring has been clearly shown in animal models:

Male mice exposed to cocaine, for example, pass memory problems on to their pups, a 2006 study in Neurotoxicology and Teratology shows. The male mice inhaled cocaine in long daily sessions akin to crack binges. When they mated with females never given coke, they had pups that had trouble learning and remembering where to find food in simple mazes. The problem was especially severe for female offspring. The researchers couldn't find any obvious DNA damage in coke-smoking males' sperm, but did find altered levels of two enzymes involved in the methylation of DNA in sperm-producing tissue in the father mice. The result suggests that epigenetic changes may be responsible for the offspring's behavior problems.

Of course, it wouldn't be quite ethical do run a similar experiments in humans, but the link between a father's age and the chance of his children developing genetic diseases has been clearly documented.

Basically, what this research shows is that the widely held belief that it is the mother, and only the mother, who's lifestyle and dietary decisions impact the health and well-being of future children is sexist bunk. For the health of the kiddies, both partners have to play a part.

(via Women's Bioethics Blog)

Don't Lose Your Virginity, Discard It

I have the biggest fan-crush on Jessica Zalia, author of The Hymenization of Virginity: Examination of Sociolinguistics, Historical Roots and Consequences. It was this trio of well-aimed paragraphs that smote my feminist heart:
Pairing the two word "losing" with "virginity" accomplishes two goals. First, we only lose what we consider valuable (e.g. "I lost the race," "I lost my notebook," or "I am lost."). We also lose things we presume we ought to have kept (e.g. "I lost my temper," or "I lost your phone number.") Coupling "losing" with "virginity" implies that virginity is something of value that we ought to have kept.

Second, pairing "losing" with "virginity" is problematic, since losing is never something we do purposely in any other given situation.[i] After all, we cannot deliberately lose our keys. That is precisely why they are "lost." And even if you intentionally lose a game of chess to your younger sister, you have not truly lost it. Rather, you have forfeited, and this move is an active one. Therefore, to lose anything is passive.

How, then, has this passive verb found its way into our (hopefully) active sexual experiences?
Le sigh. Oh, and another sigh to Feministing for pointing me to Zalia's article in the first place.

UPDATE: Hey, and tip of the hat to Judgesnineteen at Girly Thoughts for cutting through the BS and telling us just what we can do with the whole concept of virginity, writing "How about we discard the entire notion of virginity?" Yeah - we do act as if "there’s a clear line between virginity and whoredom lost virginity" rather than considering sexuality as a spectrum of experiences. So, virginity - let's chuck the whole concept.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why Feminism Is, Unfortunately, Still Relevant

A U.N. commissioned report shows that women face discrimination worldwide. According to the BBC, the report indicates that:
...70% of the world's poor are women and they own just 1% of the world's titled land ...rape within marriage has still not been made a crime in 53 nations ... [and] other laws discriminating women included statutes on divorce, maternity benefits and pensions.

The U.N. report also notes that "...failure to create genuine legal parity between men and women is having 'a detrimental effect on women in many countries – sometimes to a devastating degree.' As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour lamented after the publishing of these findings:
... One of the most dangerous examples of this involves the recognition of sexual abuse as a crime under a country's laws and enforcing related legislation. “Rape is recognized as a crime in most legal systems,” said Ms. Arbour. “But, even when it is, inadequate legislation or local traditions often mean laws are not properly enforced.
Yet, with all these problems still to be faced, our media still loves to paint feminism as a petty pursuit.

(image via)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Vodka in a Skirt

Anyone who knows me well knows that there are certain commercials or print ads that just rub me the wrong way. Same holds true for Agincourt. Put us together and at times we are brutal towards the world of advertising. For example, I honestly refuse to set foot into a Hardee's thanks to blatantly sexist TV commercials. Or just once, I want there to be a feminie hygine product sponsor during a male athletic event (NASCAR would be the best and obvious choice) just to even things up.

Still, there are the fleeting occasions where I see a commercial that is clearly marketed to women that actually makes me smile. Of all things, the print ad for a brand of vodka in Russia is rather sexy. If I liked vodka straight up, I might even consider this brand next time I swing through Moscow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dismissed on Suspicion of Lesbianism

There is no reason that Leslie Hagen should have been dismissed from her position at the Justice Department, where she worked as a " between the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys' committee on Native American issues." By all reports, Hagen did her job well. She did an outstanding job, according to the last performance review she received:
Her final job evaluation lists five categories for supervisors to rank her performance. For each category, a neat X fills the box marked, "Outstanding." And at the bottom of the page, under "overall rating level," she also got the top mark: Outstanding.
Hagen's contract was not renewed, despite there being no one to fill the position after she left. Yet, Monica Goodling, who was intimately involved in ridding the Justice Department of those attorneys deemed not loyal enough to the Bush agenda, had a particular interest in Hagen that seemed to have little to do with Hagen's performance reviews:

The Justice Department's inspector general is looking into whether Hagen was dismissed after a rumor reached Goodling that Hagen is a lesbian.

As one Republican source put it, "To some people, that's even worse than being a Democrat."

...Someone who worked in Hagen's office says that in a 2006 meeting, senior officials were told that Hagen's contract would not be renewed because someone on the attorney general's staff had a problem with Hagen. The problem, it was suggested during the conversation, was sexual orientation — or what was rumored to be Hagen's sexual orientation.

One person at the meeting asked, "Is that really an issue?" But the decision had been made.

When George W. Bush goes away, do we get America back? Or will things like this keep happening?