Friday, November 30, 2007

Republican Presidential Candidates Made Uncomfortable by Abortion Issue

Wow, YouTube debate questioners make anti-choice candidates answer the question "If abortion is made illegal, with what should a woman who receives an illegal abortion be charged and how much times should she do?" You can judge the candidates' responses for yourself (and watch Ron Paul and Fred Thompson do some hemimg and hawing):

As Feministing points out:
Pro-choice candidates have consistently been forced by anti-choice rhetoric into positions where they end up compromising on reproductive rights issues; this is no big news... In short, Journey's question last night is an opportunity to not only reframe the abortion debate, but to reclaim it altogether.
It's about time! Tip of the hat, Ms. Journey from Texas!

Atlanta Cops: Turning a Blind Eye to Sexual Abuse

From this morning's AJC, we learn that the Atlanta police department has known for seven years that one of its officers was making child pornography, yet did nothing to stop the sexual abuse of underage girls:

Atlanta police were told seven years ago that the husband of a sergeant on the force was paying young girls for sex — and saw photographs of the encounters — but the tip resulted in no investigation or charges, according to federal authorities.

Terrill Marion Crane was arrested Thursday on federal charges of producing child pornography and is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Friday on charges he paid the young girls as much as $100 and photographed their sex acts.

...A photo shop clerk, bothered by the pictures brought to him for processing, called police in 2000. He gave APD copies of pictures brought to the shop through 2002, according to federal authorities.

As it turns out, Crane's wife, also a police officer, knew of the abuse and decided to cover for him by destroying sexually explicit photographs and their negatives. While she has not been charged with a crime, she has been suspended without pay. U.S. Attorney David Nahmias is now searching for the victims, and has identified four. Nahmias is trying to assure victims that they will now be cared for, after so long being ignored:

"None of the girls are under investigation," Nahmias said. "There are girls out there who were victims. It's hard for these girls to come forward."

If they do come forward, Nahmias said, they would be treated "with the dignity and protection they deserve."

What does it mean when the very people charged with our protection turn a blind eye to crimes committed by one of their own? Is the refusal to act a symptom of a sense entitlement? Of cowardice?

(Via Of Council)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Things to Buy: Body Drama

A book for adolescent girls that frankly discusses the human body? Well, it sounds like both a great idea and a recipe for some disastrously embarrassing birthday parties (I still blush when I remember opening a gift of ... underpants(!) in front of all my friends at my 6th birthday party). Yet, despite Body Drama's potential for some initial awkwardness, it has already gotten the Broadstreet nod of approval:
Because, as Redd herself puts it in the book's introduction, "our educational system spends millions of dollars creating detailed health programs, but those programs skip over the basic ABCs of basic body smarts. We've been so focused (and understandably so) on sexual education that we've completely ignored body education ... How can we respect and protect our bodies if we don't know what real bodies look like? If we can hardly utter the word vagina, much less peek at it without feeling dirty, how can we own and love it and ourselves?
How indeed!? This looks like the sort of book that perhaps I should have stumbled upon as a lass. Heck, my body still has the power to surprise me occasionally. With so many of my family and friends experiencing pregnancy for the first time, it seems like I can't go a week without my managing to work "It does what? No way!" into some conversation about completely normal biological functions. So. Giving this book to the kids seems like a good idea. Just slip it to them discreetly, though, instead of assembling a large group of people to watch them unwrap it. The same goes for boxes full of undies.

Emory's Beyond Hollywood's Rwanda

This evening I attended "Beyond Hollywood's Rwanda: Truth and Justice, Security and Development," a panel discussion held at Emory University. As I sat in a little Emory church listening to several eye-witness accounts of genocide, one from a Tutsi survivor whose entire family was killed during the genocide, I could not help but feel shaken by the knowledge that such things can happen - have happened over and over again. Each of the panelists spoke passionately for the need for awareness and justice. Each mentioned the evil that comes from denying the horrors of the past. All spoke as though addressing one man, Paul Rusesabagina, who was not even present.

Rusesabagina, whose story was the basis for the movie Hotel Rwanda, "...used his influence and connections as temporary manager of the Mille Collines to shelter 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from being slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia" during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His bravery in the face of such atrocities is astounding. He saved many lives during that time of unspeakable depravity. Yet, as the panelists spoke, it was clear that they had Rusesabagina in their thoughts as they tried to define for the audience what form the denial of the Rwandan genocide has taken, for, as Deborah Lipstadt of Emory's Religious Studies Department explains, Rusesabagina has been advocating a form of denial lately. Lipstadt clarifies:
...deniers cannot, of course, deny that the killings took place but they try to depict them as the "normal" course of business in Rwanda.

The mantra of these deniers is: Tutsis have been killing Hutus for years. This was an example of the Hutus striking back.

Other than simply being incorrect, this mantra essentially blames the victims for their own brutal deaths.
Deborah Lipstadt spoke with great passion about how important it is not to deny the terrors of the past, for that denial allows for the continued dehumanization of the victimized group. She explained three tacts that denialists of any atrocity often take - putting blame on the victims, arguing that there is no morality in war, or arguing that the violence was a legitimate outburst of anger. She made it clear that a genocide is neither a war of two armed groups, nor is it the consequence of chaos, but rather an organized and systematic attempt to slaughter an entire race of people. When asked why people believe the arguments of the deniers, she pointed out that we would all rather believe that we live in a world where that sort of calculated evil simply does not exist. Lipstadt spoke with great insight and eloquence, and without fear of difficult truths. She definitely makes my list of most admired women.

I was also impressed by the presentation given by Egide Karuranga, a Tutsi who survived the genocide. Karuranga stayed in the Hotel des Milles Collines under the protection of Rusesabagina himself. Karuranga also spoke of denial as the evil at the core of the genocide - the denial of a group's humanity, the denial of the past, and the denial of justice. Rather than focusing on the pain of his past, Karuranga spoke of the awareness that is needed in order to prevent such atrocities in the future. The American media received much of his criticism. He insists that no help came to Rwanda because the public was ill-informed and distracted. While I see this distractability as the very mark of callousness, I agree whole-heartedly that the media has, and continues to fail us.

Yet, while Rusesabagina was at the center of Karuranga's personal story, and although Lipstadt names him as a denier of the genocide on her blog, none of the panelists evoked his name when discussing denialism. Nor did they presume to define how he or any other survivor should view their own history. While the very title of the discussion prompts some consideration of Rusesabagina (for he is at the center of the only Hollywood movie to discuss the genocide), and while it was clear that the panel felt that it was responding to ideas that he has promoted, the purpose was to inform and warn the general public. And I must admit that I was relieved that no one attempted to chastise a survivor of genocide for what he is saying in the aftermath. The point was clearly that all nations must understand that such things are possible, because if we deny the possibility of genocide, we open the door for it to happen again.

Monday, November 26, 2007

India's Pink Gang

When I was very young, I sometimes wondered why a slight difference in height and strength translated into a huge disparity in political and social power for men and women. After all, I reasoned, if there were as many (or more) women as men, couldn’t women just gang-up on any bad-acting men? As I grew up, though, I simply learned to accept that strength differences have accounted for the predominance of all forms of disempowerment for women across cultures, and I came to believe that any gains we make must necessarily be earned through the political process.

Some women in India, however, have not been so quick to abandon physical force as a means of effecting change and are, in fact, ganging up on bad actors. They call themselves the "gulabi gang" (pink gang), and according to the BBC:
Two years after they gave themselves a name and an attire, the pink women have thrashed men who have abandoned or beaten their wives and unearthed corruption in the distribution of food grains for the poor.

They have also stormed a police station and thrashed a policeman after they took in an untouchable man and refused to register a case.

"Nobody comes to our help in these parts. The officials and the police are corrupt and anti-poor. So sometimes we have to take the law in our hands. At other times, we prefer to shame the wrongdoers," says Sampat Pal Devi, between teaching a "gang" member on how to use a lathi (traditional Indian stick) in self defence.
While I would not usually come out in favor of vigilantism, I must admit that I was moved by the plight of these women, and by the courage they have shown in defending one another.

UPDATE: One line from the BBC article, "
The pink sorority is not exactly a group of male-bashing feminists," has irked Samhita from Feministing. "Why are women that work for the rights of other women labeled as potentially male bashing?" Yeah, that is a stupid take on feminism. Yet, the irony here, is that the while these women may not qualify as feminists in the eyes of the BBC, they are bashing men from time to time- with clubs.

How Much Should Poor Women and Students Have to Sacrifice for Contraception?

Since the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 went into effect in January, college students and many low-income women are suddenly having to shell-out much more money for prescription contraceptives. According to the New York Times:
..some students using popular birth control pills and other products are paying three and four times as much as they did several months ago. The higher prices have also affected about 400 community health centers nationwide used by poor women.

The change is due to a provision in a federal law that ended a practice by which drug manufacturers provided prescription contraception to the health centers at deeply discounted rates. The centers then passed along the savings to students and others.
As Cara from The Curvature points out, lawmakers claim that the price hike was an unintentional consequence of the Deficit Reduction Act, and it would be an easy fix since:
...going back to the old rules and lowering the price of contraception for college students wouldn’t cost tax payers a dime, though it would force the pharmaceutical industry to lose out on a tiny portion of their already-monstrous yearly profits.
Yet, lawmakers have been slow to act, causing some speculation that, intentional or not, the higher cost of contraception for poor women and students is widely seen by many politicians as a benefit of the legislation.

While the NYT piece helps to shed light on an issue that has been ignored by much of the press, The Curvature took issue with the article's framing (or invention) of a supposed controversy over whether or not college students should be allowed to purchase contraceptives at the lower rates. The Times article states:

Not everyone is troubled by the price increases. Some people said they wondered why college students, many of whom manage to afford daily doses of coffee from Starbucks and downloads from iTunes, should have been given such discounted birth control to begin with, and why drug companies should be granted such a captive audience of students. Others said low-priced, easy-to-attain contraception might encourage a false sense of security about sex.

“From our perspective, this does bring to light a public health concern, but for a different reason,” said Kimberly Martinez, the executive director of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, which advocates abstinence from sex until marriage. “These young women are relying on this contraception to protect them. But contraception isn’t 100 percent — for pregnancy or for disease.”

After reading the article, I was annoyed that the Times felt the need to go fishing for controversy, and by the deployment of the "latte drinking liberal" stereotype to belittle a problem that is impacting students (who might not be able to depend on their parents for a birth control allowance) and women dependent on community health centers alike. Cara, however, saw the logical fallacies inherent in Ms. Martinez's argument, and her response is too eloquent to merely summarize:

In short, unless you’re living on the street, you deserve to pay through the nose for basic health care... Of course, this is also the same crowd that argues that the rich deserve tax breaks because “they’ve earned their money.” Why the rich are entitled to keep their money to buy boats but the poor and middle class aren’t allowed to buy coffee without being called greedy, I’ve never quite understood...

But just when you think the fun is over, you realize that the second part is fun, too! You see, if a drug doesn’t work 100% of the time, not only should it not be available at an affordable price, but it’s incredibly dangerous to give to people at all.

And, I mean, it makes sense. Think about it: when people have heart conditions, do we give them medication to help regulate the problem? No! Then the heart patients will just think that they’re cured and start skydiving and eating donuts for every meal! We can’t have that. And do we give insulin to Type 1 diabetics? Of course not, they’d just stop paying attention to their blood sugar if we did. And don’t even get me started on anti-depressants. They don’t always work, and they work differently for different people, so it’s better to just not give the severely depressed any hope at all.

. . . Wait. What was that? That’s not how it works? How odd. In that light, it’s almost as though Ms. Martinez’s argument doesn’t make any sense. I think that I have to go lay down.

Or maybe she has a point after all. Maybe we can’t trust the people who we allow to live on their own, have credit cards, vote, join the military and die in Iraq, and operate motor vehicles (but strangely enough, not have a beer) to have TEH SEX. After all, TEH SEX can be dangerous.
Brilliant synopsis of why this sort of thinking is utterly absurd. Cara's whole post is worth reading, so go check it out.

As for me, I'm left simply feeling ashamed that our own government does not seem to understand what Brazil's does - that providing women with easily accessible, reliable contraception reduces unwanted pregnancies, and hence also reduces abortions.

UPDATE: The L.A. Times is running an excellent editorial that lays out how this problem could be fixed. The piece also asks "Has the federal government really been so hung up over a minor wording fix, or was there an underlying reluctance about making contraceptives affordable to young college women, many of whom are single?"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Muppet Ladies Stand Proud!

Here's a little Sunday hymn for you. Careful, though - it comes from the ever controversial Sesame Street crowd.

(via Shameless)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Let The Research Begin!

Somehow I have been tagged as the resident sports expert. I will dub Agincourt as my partner in crime with this endeavor. As such, for the duration of this project, kindly refer to us as Solo and Mia.

The book Playing With The Boys:Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports by Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano was called to my attention so I ran right out and bought it. My hope is to create a little blog mini-series as I read through this book. When a point strikes a cord, I want to dissect it and share with our ever growing group.

So far I have only finished the preface. It is the holiday season after all. However, take heart as I already have a few thoughts. The first few paragraphs address the now infamous Imus "nappy-headed ho" comment. Agincourt and I went off on that at the time. And now, here is a book echoing our initial sentiments. As the book said, "somewhere in the background, with a little less fervor, we heard about gender." How true!

It amazed us how gender was truly left out of the equation. Of course it was a racist comment. However, it was primarily denigrating to women. Oh, how we wished Hillary on her campaign trail or Condoleezza in her power suit or *someone* other than those girls who were lambasted for being excellent athletes, or C. Vivian Stringer who brings out not only the athlete but also the woman in these individuals had stepped up and pointed out the obvious gender outrage.

Who's with us? Who also felt the outrage?

Feminism Stole My Skirt!

Are feminists forcing you to wear trousers?
What's not sexy is feminism (not to be confused with femininity), which is directly responsible for the disappearance of our beloved dresses and the adoption of pants by the "new woman." Like all fashions, pants are symbolic of something - in this case masculinity - through their allowance of physical activity. Dresses, the antithesis of pants, symbolize femininity through grace and elegance.
See that? Masculinity is about unhindered movement and femininity is about the prohibition of physical activity - about passivity and the resulting venerability. Because nothing says elegance like the inability to move, and nothing is as graceful as a sitting duck.

What, still not crazy enough for you? Then try this one:
The androgynous masculinization of the modern woman, through the donning of pants, suits, uncovered shoulders and unveiled hair, has in a sense led to the slow whorification of ladyhood.
Because there is no distinction between showing your hair and selling sexual favors.

Alright, perhaps it is beneath me to take notice of the misogynistic ramblings of a Texan college junior. Yet, it is interesting that this University of Texas at Austin school publication is printing what sounds exactly like the Taliban's line of argumentation, all under the guise of American values - more proof that everyone's crazies resemble each other more than they do the majority of the group that they pretend to represent. Misogynist ideologies are international, and apparently intergenerational as well. If this child is our future, then I'm a little worried.

(via Shameless)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

To Grandmother's House We Go!

We're off to spend Thanksgiving with the family, and may not be able to sneak-off and post until Friday. No need to feel lonely, though! To keep you company during the holidays, I present you with the Tampon Turkey!

(Via Feministing, like so many beautiful things.)

And, if you want to feel like you're actually in the car with us as we drive to Nana's (and I know you do), here is a short list of things we will undoubtedly be discussing:

Why I heart Jill Scott
Oxytocin Myths
The Pope and Pharmacists

Have a happy (sexy) Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Progressives: Telling the People Who We Are

Like us, has been thinking about why terms like liberal, feminist, and progressive are often misunderstood or viewed with suspicion, even by people who should be natural supporters of the movements they describe. So, in an effort to help reintroduce the public to both the word progressive and to the values the word denotes, MoveOn has teamed up with the Center for American Progress and produced ads like these:

Go vote for the ad you like best to get it on the airwaves.

Now we just need some commercials defining feminism. Any ideas?

How Many Blonds Does it Take to Write a TimesOnline Science Review?

You might have noticed the media stir today about a study that reportedly proves that exposure to blond women makes men dumber. The alleged study, reported in the TimesOnline, concludes that men believe that they are dealing with an idiot when talking to a fair-haired female, and therefore mimic the perceived idiocy:

Researchers discovered what might be called the “bimbo delusion” by studying men’s ability to complete general knowledge tests after exposure to different women. The academics found that men’s scores fell after they were shown pictures of blondes.

Further analysis convinced the team that, rather than simply being distracted by the flaxen hair, those who performed poorly had been unconsciously driven by social stereotypes to “think blonde”.

“This proves that people confronted with stereotypes generally behave in line with them,” said Thierry Meyer, joint author of the study and professor of social psychology at the University of Paris X-Nanterre. “In this case blondes have the potential to make people act in a dumber way, because they mimic the unconscious stereotype of the dumb blonde.”

Of course, the TimesOnline provides no link to the original research, this month's Journal of Experimental Psychology (where the findings were reportedly published) mentions no such study, and a search for "Thierry Meyer" and "Journal of Experimental Psychology" produced nothing remotely similar to the research described.

But, for kicks, let's suppose that this study actually exists.

It's bunk. Experimenters merely had men view pictures of women and then gave them a test? How did researchers establish that men mimic the projected performance of the people seen in pictures? Did the men fail the test after being shown pictures of babies, because they know that babies are dumb? Would they have failed the test if taking it in the presence of, say, a guppy?

So, you can hold-off on affixing a warning label to those golden tresses, this is just more hype. Damaging hype for women, since we know that repeating a stereotype reinforces it. And as for this post's title question - it's a trick. The TimesOnline apparently doesn't cover science.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The B-word, the F-word, and the L-word

When John McCain laughed-off a reference to Hillary Clinton as "the bitch" during a debate last week, Andi Zeisler's phone started ringing off the hook. As co-founder and editorial director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Zeisler's is the number to call when the b-word's use by some prominent figure manages to make a media splash. The question she is perennially asked - Is bitch still a bad word? Here is how Zeisler answers the question for the Washington Post:
...let's not be disingenuous. Is it a bad word? Of course it is. As a culture, we've done everything possible to make sure of that, starting with a constantly perpetuated mindset that deems powerful women to be scary, angry and, of course, unfeminine -- and sees uncompromising speech by women as anathema to a tidy, well-run world...

When these people call Clinton (or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Sen. Dianne Feinstein or former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro) a bitch, or even the cutesier "rhymes-with-witch," it's an expression of pure sexism -- a hope that they can shut up not only one woman but every woman who dares to be assertive. Simply put: If you don't like Clinton's stance on, say, health care or Iraq, there are plenty of ways to say so without invoking her gender.

So, the word is bad because we make it so, because it is used to defame a female by implying that she is not sufficiently compliant. In order to "reclaim it for mouthy, smart women in much the way that "queer" had been repurposed by gay radicals," as Zeisler hopes to do, the word would have to be used to denote something positive as frequently as it is used with a malicious intent. And, considering how commonly the word bitch is used to defame and insult, it would take quite a group of dedicated advocates to give it a more positive spin.

Yet, with bitch, we are hoping to claim a word that has long been used in a derogatory manner; perhaps it would be easier to reclaim the more recently degraded f- and l-words: feminism and liberal. I am always disappointed when I see women reaping the advantages of feminism try to distance themselves from the f-word; or when I see open-minded, socially conscious citizens shy away from the l-word. When Sarah Michelle Gellar said she hates the word feminism, for example, she could not have had the Merriam-Webster definition in mind:
1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
: organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.
And when you consider that liberalism is defined as:
... a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties,
it is hard to imagine how the word evil got to be such a common modifier of liberal. So why are so many of us so willing to relinquish these terms? To distance ourselves from the words liberalism and feminism is to loosen our grip on the freedoms to which they refer.

And that is why we have to keep writing the word feminism when we mean it, instead of finding some circumlocutory way of expressing feminist ideals without using their proper name. Likewise, while I have no problem with the word progressive, I am not ready to relinquish the word liberal. Using the terms properly seems to be an easy enough way to support the ideals they express. With the first definition of bitch being "
the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals" and the second being "a lewd or immoral woman" though, it might take a bit longer to rescue the Big B.

I Need Another Dime for the Jukebox

Apparently some versions of women musicians have been just as appalling as the notion of women athletes. Well, all I have to say is: I Love Rock 'n Roll!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear CNN, Your Frivolousness is Hurting America.

If you read "Beyond Superficial Debate" in Racialious as I recommended, you might remember this line:

Mainstream media as a whole (there are certainly exceptions) no longer serves as public advocate. It is entertainment–candy everybody wants. On its own, it is not the ideal organ to discuss or solve our country’s racial problems, yet it is the place most people get their information on the topic.
Tami's eloquent criticism of the media's frivolous treatment of racial problems was edifying; and I could not help but be disheartened by the realization that if the word "racial" were deleted from the second sentence, the statement would still be true. Mainstream media is failing to discuss our country's problems - racial, political, environmental, and feminist issues are treated with a focus on entertainment that boarders on insolence, insulting not only the subject so the stories used to create a show, but also the intelligence of the electorate.

I was struck again by the severity of the problem as I browsed the New York Times political section this morning. You might remember that there was some resentment expressed after last week's Democratic debate in which Hillary Clinton was asked if she preferred diamond or pearls. Ann at Feministing summed up the general response, "What a stupid, gendered question." Well put. Yet, while some were annoyed with the woman who would waste valuable debate time to ask such an asinine question, it turns out that we have the higher-ups at CNN to blame. As the New York Times explains:

Last week, CNN had contacted Ms. Parra-Sandoval, a political science student at University of Las Vegas-Nevada, through a professor, and asked her to submit a question. She wrote one about health care for children. CNN rejected it, calling it too similar to another question that would be asked. (No such question was.) So she sent another, about Iraq. That was rejected too. On Wednesday, a CNN producer asked her for two final questions, one substantive and one light. Ms. Parra-Sandoval sent one about Yucca Mountain, the Nevada site under consideration as a storage facility for radioactive waste. With the deadline approaching, she stared at her computer screen. Noticing the pearl-pattern background on her MySpace page, she dashed off the jewelry one.

CNN asked her to come to the debate with both questions memorized. Two hours in, a producer whispered that she should ask the second one.

“Because I was on national TV, I felt hesitant, but then I felt like, ‘Oh my God, I’m on national TV, I’ll just ask it,’” Ms. Parra-Sandoval said.

So, when presented with three substantive questions, CNN insisted that Ms. Parra-Sandoval ask a fluffy question. The public was denied the opportunity to learn more about Clinton's views on education or Iraq, but the debate instead ended by portraying Clinton's femininity in stereotypical terms.

I end my post with the same question that is presented at the end of Tami's: how can we encourage the news corporation to discuss the serious issues that face us in a serious manner? We are all affected by their negligence.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I'm Feeling Touchy-Feely Today

I know we try to focus on cutting-edge topics and I think we do a fabulous job. I thought today I would get in touch with my feminine side. Apropos, no?

While I have no musical talent myself, I *love* music. It moves me. It makes me wish my mom had forced me to learn piano or guitar or even drums. Alas. However, I make up for this lack of talent with a relentless search for excellent musicians. I have a list of some of my favorite female artists. Today, I am giving a shout out to one of my favorite little known artists. If you are not familiar with Christine Kane, you must look her up.

Beyond her music, Christine Kane does her absolute best to lift up women. She hosts retreats designed to empower women and to encourage them to let out the inner creative beast in all of us. In addition, she has an excellent blog. Now, before you run right out and look her up, know that it is a touchy-feely blog, hence my blog title. Honestly, I don't care. I love what she is about. She goes beyond her celebrity. She goes to a humble place where she shares what she has learned. Maybe it is corny. I don't know. All I know is that when I read her blog I somehow feel as if I am failing. And that is not a bad feeling. It gives me some focus that I am sometimes lacking.

Do I have you all sufficiently intrigued? Perhaps I open myself up to ridicule here. I'm okay with that. I find my new blogging life as an experiment in progress. Regardless, I stand firm by this: Christine Kane is an amazing musician and she makes me take a step back and reassess.

P.S. If Christine Kane *ever* comes to your town, go see her show!

Pink Monopoly!!!

I'm completely speechless in the face of this new evidence of a campaign designed to ensure that little girls have no contact with anything not specifically designed to encourage early on-set vapidity. So I turn to Lilith Attack to explain:
We gals like to hit the malls and talk on cell phones while putting on lipstick in the car between our business deals! We'd rather buy a clothing shop than Park Place or Broadway; it's a better investment for us ladies.

"This is Monopoly like you have never seen it - dressed up in pink and all about things girls love! Buy boutiques and malls, go on a shopping spree, pay your cell phone bill, and get text and instant messages. You and your friends will adore the funky tokens, cool buildings, and cute illustrations. Best of all, the game is stored in a beautiful keepsake box which doubles as a jewelry box. Cool game features include: 8 collectible tokens just for girls, keepsake storage box with removable tray and mirrored insert, pink gameboard with fun properties, pink and purple translucent boutiques and malls instead of houses and hotels, Instant Message and Text Message cards instead of Chance and Community Chest, pink Title Deed cards, redesigned Monopoly money, flocked banker's tray, 2 pink dice, and instructions. Paint the town pink with Toys R Us Exclusive!"

For $29.99 all this sexism can be yours! Or for $10.99 you can play the original "boys" version. Price disparity unfair? Suck it up, Princess.

Now, I know some people out there are saying, 'so what's the big deal?' I once had a friend make a case for 'I love shopping / math is hard' Barbie as an fine toy for youngsters. So, let me try to explain... kids are in the process of forming their ideas about what it means to be a girl vs. a boy, and they want to gender identify appropriately. So it is a bad idea to teach any kid that being a girl is essentially about being a shopaholic pink fluff-brain. By promoting the idea that women care about nothing but shopping and gossiping and all things cute, we are selling sexism - this time with "pink and purple translucent boutiques and malls instead of houses and hotels"- to our children.

Just to clarify... this toy is bad bad bad when given to actual children. But... oh-so-funny if given to... (you'll just have to wait until Christmas to find out!)

Quick Hit: Race and the Media or A Carnival of Gawkerdom

Tami's post on Racialicious, "Beyond Superficial Debate: How Can We Change the Way the Media Frames Racial Issues," is a must-read. So, go read it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Amazing Female Characters Who Helped Me Grow to Be a Nerd:

Recent debate about what it takes to be a feminist role model has prompted me to reminisce about the female characters that I admired when I was young, and to consider what they might have had in common. These are some of the characters that made me feel like it was good to be intellectual and independent and outspoken:

Anne Edison from The Edison Twins:

As a third grader I was glued to the TV once a week, to watch The Edison Twins. I loved Anne, who, in the company of her twin brother, uses her wits and science savvy to solve mysteries and survive adventures. She is smart, pretty, and adventurous - and I planned to be just like her when I was a big high schooler. I still know all the words to the awesome theme song.

Meg Murry from Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

Meg is by far the most complicated of my childhood favorite characters - daring but insecure, bright but not always right. She isn't always sweet or even-tempered, nor is she always likable. Although she isn't described as being stereotypically attractive, she gets a love story, but one that adds depth to the story rather than dominating it or defining her.

Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings

Unlike my other heroines, Eowyn herself isn't a nerd. But she was my favorite character in a book admired by nerds world-wide. Also unlike my other childhood heroes, she was described as being beautiful. Yet, I think I loved her for her stubbornness. Oh, and for the fact that she kills the lord of the Nazgul. "No living man am I! You look upon a woman." Is it any wonder I grew up to be a feminist?

Katie from The Girl With the Silver Eyes

What's not to love? Katie is an daring outsider looking for people who she can respect and love. And she has super powers. As a kid, I looked just like the girl on the cover. And I probably had telekinetic powers too. I'm sure they'll show up someday... perhaps with just a bit more practice.

The main similarity in these characters' personalities seems to have been that they were willful. Perhaps every kid likes to imagine a certain independence for themselves. I'd be interested to know what other people's favorite character were - I am the aunt of a couple of book-worms, you know, and future nerds need encouragement.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Feminism is for Lovers, but Sexism Sells Papers

The Guardian tells all: a survey of college students and older adults, all in heterosexual relationships, men paired with feminist partners reported greater relationship stability and sexual satisfaction. In addition, there was consistent evidence that male feminist partners were healthier for women's relationships, while there was scant evidence that women's feminism created conflict in liaisons.

It is nice to see a study that acknowledges one of the practical benefits of feminism. Relationships where both partners feel empowered and valued make for more stable, and more fulfilling, partnerships. Seems simple enough, no?

Yet, the Guardian still manages to botch the story, falling into the trap of presenting feminism through the eyes of the men who fear it. Immediately after cheering the study's findings, columnist Libby Brooks writes "This will doubtless do little to dispel the popular myth that the majority of feminists are man-hating lesbians." Golly, Libby, why wouldn't more evidence to the contrary dispel myths about feminism? (Oh, and I must also jeer the juxtaposing of 'man-hating' and 'lesbians' - none of the lesbians I know hate men and the continual linking of the two terms is a subtle form of gay-bashing, as it seeks to merge the meanings of the two unrelated expressions). Well, presenting evidence that feminism is healthy and good for men as well as women won't help feminism's reputation if journalists insist on dedicating twice as much space to discussing (and sometimes promoting) the sexists myths as they do to presenting actual facts. But, you wouldn't do that to us - would you, Libby?

Oh, but she would, and does, writing "some of the truest of feminist believers have attested to a suspicion that there is something, well, unfeminist about the pursuit of romantic love," and "...not to say that men don't fret about their relationships too. But, from the highly unscientific sample of the men I've known as friends and lovers, they don't to the same degree."

Yup - a columnist has got to redefine 'true feminism' as being anti-love and use their own anecdotal evidence to paint women as being naturally more needy and men as naturally less so - even in a piece that started out as ostensibly pro-feminism. Why the bait and switch? See rules 2, 3 and 4 of the Journalistic Style Guide for Sexist Spin Doctoring.

Two Reasons I Don't Trust Opinions Espoused by Economists

1. Freakonomics
2. Lawrence H. Summers

Yet, if you do find experiments run by economist to be entertaining, you might want to read this study that considers discrimination in consumer markets by looking at the differences in service time for women vs. men in coffee shops. The study, run by economist Caitlin Knowles Myers, finds "...that female customers wait an average of 20 seconds longer for their orders than do male customers even when controlling for gender differences in orders." There is a possible case to be made that there is some sexist behavior going on in Boston coffee houses, since the difference disappeared when the baristas were female. Yet I'm unconvinced that this is a clear sign that women are discriminated against in consumer markets. My anecdotal evidence meter seems to say that, as a woman, everything is marketed to me since I'm assumed to be the shopper in my household. I'm sure that these sorts of studies will continue, though, since it is easy to find undergraduates who are willing to time their Starbucks waits for course credit. (If you don't want to read the whole study, you could just read the Slate recap.)

Also, Maureen Dowd, in her disastrously titled "Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant?", mentions a study on men and women's speed-dating preferences done by Ray Fisman of Colombia University in which he found that: did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks... By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women’s choices as men’s. It isn’t exactly that smarts were a complete turnoff for men: They preferred women whom they rated as smarter — but only up to a point ... It turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition — a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.

Dowd, of course, uses this as evidence to support her perpetual grip that women have to act like air-heads to be popular with the boys (I can only assume she is trying to date the high school football team). Yup - the behavior of a small group of speed daters, a fringe community if there ever was one, probably says tons about human nature. Yet, Dowd does not link to the original study, making it difficult to evaluate the evidence on which she bases her article. Typical. I say: no link, no credibility.

UPDATE: Pandagon found Dowd's piece annoying too, and then knocked it on its bum.

Who Wants to Be... A Science Host? (oh, pick me!)

Ever look at someone who has your dream job and wonder how they got there? For me, I usually sit around wondering about how Ira Glass got to be the host of This American Life - really, I can't think of any job that I want half as much as I want his. But, also on my list of 'ideal jobs that other people have' is that of science writer. And if not that, then science TV host - which looks even easier. Now, I am not a scientist myself... but, like most science writers, I sure do love to pretend - I even read the chatty bits of Nature and I have Reuters' science section on my blog lines (nice credentials, huh?). And, since Ira has yet to publish a how-to list that details how to become him, perhaps the science writer/host dream is the one that I should pursue now that Ziya Tong has posted a step-by-step guide to becoming her. And she does have a pretty sweet job, getting filmed as she talks about gadgets for a living. Quite frankly, she had do do a lot of fluff with ZeD before she got the cool job of getting paid to speak Geek on PBS's Wired Science, and some might argue that sawing TVs in half is still fluff. But since I'd love to get paid to geek-it-up on the tube, I'm willing to follow where she leads.

Yup, I'd be totally willing to make small talk with robot designers for a living, although I'd still rather work on This American Life. Anyone else have any lists of dream jobs, or step-by-step plans of how to get them?

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the only one to consider jumping fields, Aetiology mentions Tong's how-to list as well.

Thirsty Feminists Advise Georgia Governor

Alright, I suppose that the only thirsty feminist doing any advising right now is me, and if I’m really thirsty I could just go get a glass of milk. But, the drought situation is getting serious here in Georgia and I’m not the only one to have noticed that our governor has some pretty funny ideas about what to do about the situation. It is still largely up to the individual counties to decide what conservation measures to put into place, and, considering that some are already worried about their areas going completely dry, the conservation measures being taken are too small and the punishments for infractions are too lenient. So, I am shifting into letter-writing gear. Here is what I have to say to Governor Sonny Perdue:

Dear Governor Perdue,
As an elected official, I realized that you are trying to be an advocate for us, the citizens of Georgia, during this drought. In October you asked the President to declare a state of emergency for Georgia, so that we might share less water from Lake Lanier with our neighbors. Today you asked God to send us some rain. As far as asking the higher-ups for help on our behalf, you’ve done a top-notch job.

Yet, being a governor is a more difficult job than being an advocate, and in difficult times leaders must, well, lead their constituents. Sir, the citizens of Georgia want to avert disaster, but need to be told how. It is up to you to instruct the population on what needs to be done to better conserve. Chris Browning, assistant director of Fulton County Public Works, has been widely quoted as saying “It is really up to our customers to find ways to conserve.” Yet, with none of the north Georgia counties hitting their conservation targets, it is evident that people are unclear as to what needs to be done and need guidance. In case you too are short on ideas, I would like to make a few simple recommendations:

1. Restaurants should not be serving water unless a customer orders it. This does two things - it conserves the water that people who order soft drinks usually leave untouched on the tables, and it also keeps conservation forefront in the public’s mind as servers continuously say “Can I take your drink orders? I’m sorry I won’t be bringing water to the table unless you order it, since we are in a sever drought right now.”

2. Businesses and homes alike should be using hand sanitizing gels for hand washing instead of water.

3. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.

4. Restaurants and private citizens should be using paper plates and cups, instead of dishes that need washing. I know that you are probably loath, as I am, to add more solid waste to our land fills. Yet, Georgia has a healthy recycling system, and we are in an emergency. Perhaps recyclable paper plates, just for awhile, might be the lesser of two evils.

5. People should be showering every other day, unless they are stinky. Really though, most Americans spend their days in front of computer and TV screens, so we aren’t working up much of a sweat. A sponge bath might cut it on alternating days.

6. Teach the people this trick – you collect the run-off water from your shower and flush your toilet with it. Really – just quickly dump an entire bucket of water into the bowl of the toilet when you’re, well, finished and it triggers the flushing mechanism.

7. The golf courses might just have to go brown.

8. Perhaps people who still insist on watering their lawns, despite the crisis, don’t deserve the luxury of two warnings before their water gets shut off. Perhaps a fine for the first time is sufficient to get the message across that this is serious.

The citizens of Georgia are by and large very religious, and I am sure that they are following your advice that they pray. I hope that on your next address to the people, you will provide them with something else that has recently been in short supply – sound advice and guidance.

La Pobre Habladora

OK – I might try to smooth out the snarky spots before putting a stamp on it. Or perhaps not. Feel free to send this letter yourself, or let us know if you write (or have written) your own. And for daily updates on the southern drought situation, check out this site.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Of Pitch, Politics, and Phony Psychology

We've discussed before the sometimes maddening advice we receive on how women should modulate the pitch of our voices and our intonation if we want to be taken seriously. The message has been that, for a woman's ideas to be respected, she must voice her insights using the lower registers of her range while simultaneously using typically female patterns of intonation, like ending sentences on an 'up glide,' to avoid sounding aggressive. Of course, we are warned, overuse of the non-threatening up-glide can make us seem shallow or insecure - so women must strike a constant balance between sounding authoritative and sounding, well, sweet. Here in the States, this sort of hyper-attention given to vocal registers and intonation seems to be aimed mainly at women, particularly those running for political office.

For speakers of Japanese, however, both sexes seem to conform to strictly gendered linguistic modes. Ever since he expressed some skepticism that Japanese could be much more gendered than English, Mark Liberman of Language Log has been receiving lots of emails from Japanese students and speakers that report a marked distinction between men's and women's registers and intonation. So Liberman designed and conducted an experiment:
For a start, I took some recordings of telephone conversations made about a dozen years ago in the "CallHome" project, and published by the Linguistic Data Consortium in 1996 and 1997. There were 120 Japanese conversations of about half an hour each; I decided to focus on 18 conversations that involved one male and one female participant. (The rest of the conversations involved two males, two females, or -- more than one participant on each side of the conversation). For comparison, I took the 27 CallHome English conversations with the same characteristic -- just two participants, one male and one female.

I pitch-tracked all of the conversations using the get_f0 program from the ESPS software system. [This was originally written by Dave Talkin based on an algorithm by George Doddington -- this is the pitch tracker used in WaveSurfer from KTH in Stockholm, but I used a standalone version available as part of a free package here.]

This produces quite a bit of data -- around four and a half million pitch values, divided among the four categories of nationality and sex.

Liberman found that:

...sure enough, the Japanese speakers are more gender-polarized -- the male Japanese speakers are pitching their voices somewhat lower (overall) than the male Americans, while female Japanese speakers are overall somewhat higher-pitched than female Americans....Overall, the Japanese (in this sample) separate the sexes by one to three semitones more than the Americans do. Since each semitone corresponds to a pitch difference of about 5%, this is a difference with a certain amount of oomph.

Yet, unlike much of the sociological research we've discussed in the past, Liberman is not content to overstate his conclusions and call it a day. Instead, he reminds us that:

I picked the calls purely on the basis of nationality and sex, but my sample was not controlled for age, class, caller's relationship to callee, or for the interaction of those categories. So perhaps we've discovered that male Japanese students and their mothers tend to polarize their pitch ranges; or that American married couples tend to harmonize their pitch ranges; or something else entirely. I haven't looked into the ages and relationships of the participants in these conversations, so I don't mean to suggest that these explanations are likely ones -- I'm just spinning out some ideas about things that might be going on.

Having earned his right to be critical of research that bases ridiculously sweeping conclusions on differences found in tiny, homogeneous samples, Liberman goes on to lambaste "This is your brain on politics," recently published in the New York Times:

I've cited many cases where brain imaging studies involving a handful of subjects -- and often with marginal results on those -- have been interpreted as telling us something about men and women in general, or boys and girls in general, or members of other general categories. For example, here's a study of 9 boys and 10 girls used to argue that "Girls and boys behave differently because their brains are wired differently"; here's a study of 10 female and 10 male medical students at UCLA used to argue that "Women really do enjoy a good laugh as much as you do; they are just wired to focus on different aspects of humor."

A beautiful example of the same thing was published yesterday in the New York Times: Marco Iacoboni et al., "This is your brain on politics"...

Head on over to enjoy the rest of Liberman's insights on this study, and his snark. It's another good read, brought to you by the rock-star of grammarians.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Of Counsel, a Legal Journal with Soul

Of Counsel offers a unique perspective on our legal system - a human one. Maggie, a former public defender turned private attorney, writes about "legal issues in Georgia and other Southern States... court rulings, and issues surrounding criminal defense." While I am excited to find a site that will discuss local cases as well as national ones, as I read the blog for the first time it was this paragraph that moved me:
The thing that really struck me, though, was trying to see this all through a defendant’s eyes. Especially one that’s in for their first crime and has never been through the script before. I saw a man who had done pretty decently for himself who’d lost his job from a theft case and will probably lose any one he could get in the future now that he’s got a record. I thought how foreign this must be for this man, whereas for me, sitting through pleas made me feel at home as a lawyer. And then something happened that happens quite often with some judges. The Judge started telling stories, giving advice, going off on tangents. It started with semi-relevant information, but devolved into discussions of food and restaurants and such. I wondered if it made the man feel strange to have people recommending places for lunch and smiling at the Judge’s jokes while he was destroying his life.
Discussions of feminist issues are never far removed from discussions of laws, their implementation, and their ramifications. Yet, I find that it is easy to oversimplify the issues that face us when I forget that governance by the people involves, well, actual people -with all their failings and complexities - running our most sacred institutions. As I read the above description of the emotions displayed on one man's face as he realized that people were laughing and chatting while his hopes and securities were being stripped from him, I realized that I too often think of our legal system as being impersonal - a system of rules that, if they were only written properly, could be applied in a uniform and sterile manner. Of Counsel consistently gives insightful accounts of the human issues that complicate and impact cases. While I will certainly learn a lot about the legal issues that face my region and my country from reading Of Counsel, I hope it will also lend me a greater ability to see the humanity behind the sometimes complex issues that we discuss here. Go check it out, and send some love!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sexy Turkey!

I just don't know what to say. The site that brought you all those trashy kid's Halloween costumes is now promoting some new Turkey Day traditions. Here are some pictures with their real marketing slogans:

"Salem Witch Teen: Anything But Pure"

"Sexy Indian Girl Adult: Move Over Pocahontas"

"Tribal Tease: Barefoot Huntress"

Yup - if you were pining for Halloween, with all its offensive racial stereotypes and sexualization of America's youth, well, pine no more.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Profiles of Amazing Women: Minnie Lee Weakley

Minnie Lee Weakley has always been able to manage her own destiny - as well as the destinies of everyone who happened to be nearby. She was born on a small Georgia farm, one of 11 children. By all accounts, her Seminole father was a vain and difficult man who treated his sons rather badly and his daughters rather worse. Minnie Lee, like her brothers and sisters, worked the farm from the time she could walk, but when asked if she minded the hard work, she explains that the only part she remembers resenting as a child was de-worming the tobacco leaves. After the leaves were harvested, she and her sisters picked worms off the surfaces of the drying tobacco with arsenic-coated fingers. She tells me that the "...worms were five inches long and fatter than a man’s thumb. But they died when we threw them to the floor with our poisoned fingers." She explains that, to kill the worms, the children would coat their fingers in arsenic - killing the worms as they were pulled from the leaves. Of course, even as a child she realized that what was bad for the worms could not be good for the children, but it was not the arsenic that eventually prompted her to leave. It was the okra. “Okra is another cash crop,” she explains to me since I know nothing of either crops or cash. “And when I got older I had to help with the harvest. But those okra plants sting your skin wherever you touch them.” At age fifteen, Minnie Lee was fed up with stinging plants, arsenic fingers, and a father who ignored her insistence that the children see more benefits from their labor; she left the farm for good. She wasn’t a runaway, exactly, since she told her parents that she was leaving. When they asked where she would go, she says she responded “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out on the way.”

She eventually found her way to the city of Augusta, where she became a Rosie Riveter. The United States had recently entered World War II, and women were taking the factory jobs traditionally held by men, making tanks and ammunition. “Those were some of the best days of my life,” she laughs. “The other girls and I lived together in a big dorm, and we ran things the way we wanted.” She explains that there were, in fact, very strict rules about how the women living in the dorms should behave, but she and her friends enjoyed finding ways of breaking them all. “Oh, we loved pulling pranks on our bosses,” she laughs. “Lights-out was supposed to be at 9:00 each night, but we sneaked out as often as we liked. And we never sneaked back in without pulling a prank – and we never got caught!”

After the war, there was a massive media campaign to bring women back into the home and to convince women like Minnie Lee, young and newly married, that working to help support the family was unfeminine. Of course, Minnie Lee did not see staying at home as a viable option; she had the ability to earn money and money was what her family most needed. There have always been at least two feminisms – one for wealthy women and one for working women. Although Minnie Lee’s fair skin and dark hair might have made her look a bit like Mary Tylor Moore, women’s rights weren’t something for which she consciously campaigned; yet neither was she content to let her family suffer a decrease in income so that she could conform to the highly promoted image of the good (stay-at-home) wife and mother. Minnie Lee continued to work factory jobs, and she continued to demand respect from her now mainly male coworkers. She meant for her children to have good educational opportunities, and they did.

Minnie Lee does not see her life as having been anything extraordinary. She reminds me that many women of her generation left their childhood homes, came to the cities, worked in factories during the war, and stayed in the workplace afterward. When she talks of leaving her father’s farm to make a different life elsewhere, she simply says, “I was not a country girl, even though I was born there. I felt at home when I came to the city.” Yet, although she might not realize it herself, her decisions have consistently been brave ones by which she empowered herself, and, by extension, all of us.

Thanks, Nana!