Friday, May 30, 2008

Mexico Expresses Concern after Girl Dies in CA Fields

María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez was 17 years old when she died. She was also pregnant. Until just a few days ago, she worked on farms and vineyards around Lodi, CA, near the city of Sacramento. It was while she was working in the vineyards that she fell ill and passed away. The cause of her death - severe dehydration. She would have lived, if she'd had access to timely medical attention. She did not.

Yesterday, in the wake of María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez's death, the Mexican government expressed deep concern about the working conditions of Mexican laborers in the United States. In a written statement, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Policy explained that initial reports indicate possible criminal neglect on the part of Vásquez Jiménez's employers, who failed to provide her with the timely medical care she needed. Mexican officials have ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death, and the Secretary of Foreign Policy is calling on the U.S. government to guarantee safe and ethical working conditions for Mexican workers. "Toda vez que esta lamentable muerte pudo haberse evitado si los empleadores hubieran acatado las leyes aplicables," the Secretary insists - this tragic death could have been avoided had the employers acted within the applicable laws.

It is truly chilling to realize that the problems that faced María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez are anything but rare. We have created a society that takes advantage of the people who come to our nation to work. We offer immigrants job opportunities while simultaneously threatening them not only with neglect and deportation, but also with incarceration. We give them reasons to fear seeking medical help. We even threaten their children in schools. If we fail to act to remedy the situation, if we fail to enact and enforce laws that accept the realities of immigration and protect the rights of immigrants, more tragedies will follow.

You can read more about María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez and Mexico's response in Spanish in this El País article. Meanwhile, I will continue to look for news agencies covering the story in English.

UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee has picked up the story, and confirms most of the facts mentioned in the El País article. What the Sacramento Bee adds are some details of the conditions in which María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez was working:

During eight hours of work beginning at 6 a.m. in heat that topped 95 degrees, Bautista [her fiancé] said that workers were given only one water break, at 10:30 a.m. And the water was a 10-minute walk away – too far, he said, to keep up with the crew and avoid being scolded.

Vasquez Jimenez collapsed at 3:30 p.m., Bautista said, and for at least five minutes, the foreman did nothing but stare at the couple while Bautista cradled her.

Bautista said the foreman told him to place the teenager in the back seat of a van, which was hot inside, and put a wet cloth on her.

Later, Bautista said, the foreman told a driver to take the pair to a store to buy rubbing alcohol and apply it to see if it would revive Vasquez Jimenez. When that failed, the driver took the couple to a clinic in Lodi, Bautista said, where her body temperature had reached more than 108 degrees.

UPDATE II: I would like to join TomP of Daily Kos in encouraging readers to honor María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez by giving to the United Farm Workers, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of those who labor in our country with so few protections. If you find you cannot give money, please consider spreading the word about this tragedy, and about the horrible conditions faced by so many good people who come to this country so full of hope.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

NY Seeks to Back Same-Sex Unions, And Faces Opposition

Yesterday, New York Gov. David Paterson "directed all state agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada." Huzzah!

Yet, it naturally follows that in the wake of any good news for lesbians and gays, there is a negative reaction. So, today Republican State Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno is weighing the merit of mounting an opposition to the new directive. Bruno is being encouraged by groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, a organization opposed to same-sex marriage, to fight the measure under the guise of defending democracy. "It’s an issue of public policy that should be decided by the voters,” the A.D.F. argues, and Bruno has begun parroting their position, claiming "[t]here’s a constitutional question here."

Mr. Bruno, before you decide to make a stink about something that would make many people happy based on the objections of people wholly unaffected by the measure, please watch this clip from the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Really, trust me:

Does recognizing these women's love for each other really pose a threat to anyone? Should people really have to continuously vote on whether or not we're going to treat all members of our society fairly, on whether or not we're a society that stands for social justice and civil rights for everyone? Should certain members of our community be allowed to be regulated to a second-class status, just because those in the majority feel like that's okay? Really?

(Image via the BBC)

UPDATE: If you live in New York, you can call the governor's office today and let them know that you support this initiative. The number is: 1-518-474-8390. (via The Curvature)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Good News, More Good News, and Homework

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted two civil rights laws in a manner that will protect workers from retaliation by a company should they complain about discrimination in the workplace. As the New York Times explains:

Congress has provided explicit protection against retaliation in two major federal statutes. One is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. The other is the provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act that applies in the private sector.

But there is no such explicit protection in the portion of the age discrimination law that applies to federal government workers. Nor is there explicit language in a post-Civil War era statute that gives “all persons” the same right “as is enjoyed by white citizens” when it comes to making and enforcing contracts, such as contracts of employment. Those were the two statutes that the court interpreted on Tuesday.

In the first case, Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, the Court ruled in favor of Ms. Myrna Gómez-Pérez, who became a target for retaliation by her employer, the U.S. Postal Service, after she complained that she had been denied a transfer based on her age. The decision protects federal workers from harassment should they complain that they've been the victim of discriminatory practices. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.

The second case was brought by Hedrick G. Humphries, a black manager of a Cracker Barrel restaurant who lost his job after complaining that a black employee had been dismissed based on race. The Court's ruling in Humphries favor in CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries helps ensure that employees cannot be punished for speaking up in defense of one another in the face of racial discrimination. Justices Thomas and Scalia again joined in a dissenting opinion.

So, very good news out of the Supreme Court this week, indicating a return to logic and a commitment to protecting workers' rights after the Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire debacle.

Now for your homework - if you have not already done so, go fill out the Ask a Working Woman Survey sponsored by the AFL-CIO and Working America. We need to make it clear that women are paying attention, and will vote only for those politicians fighting to ensure that the pay gap is closed, that affordable childcare is offered, that maternity leave is paid, and that women are truly protected against wage discrimination.

(h/t: Feminist Law Professors)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Derbies

Derby 1: I attended my first Roller Derby tournament around this time last year - and adored everything about it. I loved the speed and athleticism. I loved the crowd's enthusiasm. I loved what Wikipedia defines as Roller Derby's "satirical feminist punk aesthetic." I was a true fan in the making - I went as often as I could and recommended Derby to friends. Sure, I thought I was listening when Maus expressed some concerns that Derby wasn't as feminist as I'd made it out to be:
(1) Why do women (some...I do not pretend to make this a blanket statement commentary on the state of women in sports) still feel they need to don an alternate identity in order to express strength? (2) Why is it necessary for women to provide entertainment of a somewhat sexist nature in order to gain attention as an athlete?

PBo and I have discussed this on any number of occasions. Often the discussion starts anew upon viewing women playing either softball or basketball in full make-up. Is that necessary in order to (1) get men to watch or (2) establish one's self as a heterosexual athlete?
Yet, I remained convinced that the Tim Burton-inspired makeup was subversive, and cheered derby player KillBox's assertion that "I do not think that we as skaters/feminist/flying purple monkeys need to justify the way we dress." What a great sport for feminists, I thought.

Derby 2: Atlanta' Roller Derby League has moved in-town, and now takes place at the Midtown Shriner lodge. I'll admit, I was anxious to see inside the new venue, which struck me as bizarre. Yet, as I walked up to take a seat by the track, I felt disoriented. Where were all the lesbian couples who felt free to, well, act like couples? Where were all the hipsters? I sat down and asked the guy next to me who was winning the first bout. If he meant to give an answer, I'll never know, because just then the drunken polo-shirt wearing 40-something guys in front of us started yelling "Whoah! Little girl took a big hit! Suck it up, baby! You gotta just take it, darlin'! It was gross. They continued with their catcalls, "Bend over lower, you'll go faster" being their favorite, throughout the bout. Yes, I mocked these sexist pigs within their hearing, but to tell the truth - they seemed to be in the majority. Roller Derby was their space now, a space to ogle, not my space to appreciate some serious skating.

The crowd wasn't the only thing that had changed. Instead of highly individualized outfits that ranged from the purely athletic to goth-chic, all the Atlanta players had team uniforms - uniforms that somewhat resembled 'sexy nurse' outfits. The promotional materials had changed too, and not for the better. The constant announcements and handouts explaining the rules were gone, so my newcomer friend had little understanding of how the sport actually worked. To my eyes, it seemed like Roller Derby in Atlanta had given up any aspiration to be taken seriously, and had embraced a roll of side-show spectacle. Not the athletes, mind you - they seem as dedicated as ever - the promoters and the organizers. The people, in short, in charge of ticket sales.

So, this brings up new questions for me about women in sports, and women in general. I am well aware that we can't always control how we are perceived by others. The best we can do is try to present a version of ourselves that we like and hope it is accepted and interpreted in the way we intended. Yet, the second derby made me ask - how responsible are we for trying to manage our images? Should we ever modify our dress or style if we realize that the look we've chosen is being misinterpreted, or are other people's misconceptions their own problems?

UPDATE: Oddly enough, we just got a comment on Maus's Roller Derby post from a player named Bitches Bruze which addresses some of these questions. Here is a bit of what Bitches Bruze says:
As is often the case, the problem with most of these questions is they make false assumptions...

I wear makeup in derby like war paint. I sure as heck do not wear it to "get men to watch". Blech. Why would I care the gender of who watched? I don't care your gender or age - so long as you buy a ticket and fill a seat. AND, know what, I'd play derby if the seats were empty. Maybe this set of questions suffers from the assumption that derby skaters look the way they do for the audience. Please keep feeling that way if you'll keep buying our tickets. Orientation has NOTHING to do with athletics....

...what roller derby does that confounds people is it refuses to fit in a box. It feeds on mixing serious with fun - sexy with hard work - muscles with fishnets - music with sport. Why is the rest of the world so set on segregating these things? The assumption that we do it for any other reason than it feels good, fun, and right is silly.

Have you seen a Super Bowl lately? Does anyone ever question whether football is "entertainment" or "sport"? I'd argue that's more aligned with entertainment than derby is - but we live in a world that "buys" THAT as sport and roller derby as spectacle. Yet you yourself realized by the second whistle derby is some serious shit - with a lot less padding and a lot more speed than American football. We aren't running on our feet - we're ON SKATES!!
The rest of what Bitches Bruze has to say is just as though-provoking, and can be read here - comment 18.

(first picture via pba online, last via Atlanta Roller Girls)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Weekend Plans, Weekend Reads

Happy Memorial Day weekend! I'll be spending some time at the Decatur Arts Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and perhaps even the birthday party of The Great Speckled Bird. I will also be dedicating a few lazy hours to reading and net surfing, of course.

If you have a few minutes to catch-up on your internet reading this weekend, I seriously recommend the following posts:

1. The (Lack of) Medical Treatment Received by ICE Detainees, from The Curvature: Cara's post discusses "the terrifying, unethical and downright inhumane medical treatment of immigrants imprisoned by ICE, generally while fighting or awaiting deportation," as uncovered in this series of Washington Post articles. Cara couldn't have know when she wrote this post that it would, tragically, be made all the more timely by news that an Iowa court has sentenced 270 'illegal immigrants' to "to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents" before their deportation. Memorial Day weekend is a great time to ask ourselves 'is this the sort of nation we really want to be?'

2. A non-apology of the first kind, from Language Log: Our lovable grammarian friends study Hillary Clinton's remarks about her creepy allusions to the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy made during a discussion of why she does not intend to drop out of the race against Barak Obama. Let me spoil the ending for you - she might say 'I regret it,' but not in any way that actually constitutes an apology.

3. If Not for the Women, Do it for the Puppies, from Pandagon: I know, Amanda Marcotte is still in the dog-house herself, but she has a really good idea about how to deal with PETA - for every sexist ad or publicity stunt they pull, donate instead to a shelter for victims of domestic abuse - and their pets:
Abusers use any leverage they can to terrorize their victims and break their will, and will happily resort to abusing and killing pets for that end. There’s also the added incentive of using the pet as leverage to keep your victim from escaping, because she knows that fleeing without or even with the pet might result in the abuser retaliating by killing her pet. In order to make pet safety less of a barrier to women fleeing abusive homes, the Humane Society has put together a list of 170 safe haven programs, where both the victim and her pets are cared for by the shelters, using various methods.
Amanda also recommends that feminists for the ethical treatment of animals give to the Humane Society, PAWS, the ASPCA, and the Humane Association.

4. (A Sunday UPDATE): There are two articles on the front page of the New York Times right now - one about race car driver Danica Patrick, the other about soccer player Hope Solo. Both articles focus on the social issues that surround these athletes, rather than on their achievements, and I found it odd that the piece on Patrick made no mention of her ground-breaking IndyCar win last month. Still, it was refreshing to see so many female faces prominently featured in the sports section. Happy reading!

What are other people doing and reading this holiday weekend?

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Lone Feminist at Girls' Night: How Should We Talk to Non-Feminist Women?

Feminism's bad rap and the efforts to combat misconceptions about feminists are topics that have recently sparked a plethora of interesting discussions in different forums. Yet, conversations with the strange 'not a feminist, but...' women have nevertheless left me baffled in recent days. I am still wondering what to do when I find myself wanting to scream about something that strikes me as blatantly sexist, while the women around me smile pleasantly. How do I persuasively defend my feminist opinions in a society that labels all opinionated women 'bitches'? Perhaps non-feminist women have always been around, but it also seems like the leaders of the misogynistic backlash against Hillary Clinton's campaign have done an amazing job of overnight anti-feminist indoctrination, for the number of sexist sentiments expressed by the beneficiaries of feminism seems to be on the rise.

Clearly, we need to develop a strategy. We need guidelines for what to do when we find ourselves surprised by attitudes hostile to feminism. To begin, here are just a few examples taken from my own recent experiences that I'd like to discuss.

Scenario 1: "Women are bad at X because I am bad at X"
This is the toughest one I've had to face. "All women aren't stupid, just you," doesn't seem like the right thing to say. The misconception that any one woman's characteristics or weaknesses can be used as proof of the nature of the entire sex is so common that it has frequently been lampooned. But what do you do with this sentiment when it comes from a woman?The only thing I've found to be successful so far is to suggest that perhaps the speaker's deficiencies come not from some hard-wiring, but from something about her upbringing that encouraged her to focus her energies elsewhere. With a scientist friend, I said that if she couldn't find a biological mechanism for her 'women don't remember historical facts as well as men' theory, it was suspect. I then suggested that her lack of interest in history might be just a personal preference, or it might come from the type of books that are marketed as 'boys' books' vs. 'girls' books.' I was then stunned to hear her accept that the differences might be cultural rather than biological, only to claim five minutes later that women are bad a puns, because her boyfriend is better at them than she is. Argh. Does anyone else have other ideas?

Scenario 2: "Feminists devalue motherhood"
To this I pointed out that feminism is working to make motherhood easier for women because feminist do value motherhood. We value it enough to fight for affordable childcare, fair pay, health care, and paid maternity and paternity leave. This statement was immediately followed by:

Scenario 3: "All women must have paid maternity leave, because I had paid maternity leave"
A. Having to use all the sick leave and personal days you've accumulated over the years is not the same thing as paid maternity leave.
B. Maybe you've found a great company. But the U.S.A. has no law that mandates paid maternity leave, so many companies don't offer it. We're trying to fix that for all the women stuck in work environments that aren't as happy as yours.

Scenario 4: "But, I like feeling pretty!"
My gut instinct is to say something along the lines of, "yeah, being attractive sure is a lot of fun when your livelihood doesn't depend on your pretty face and girlish figure." Perhaps that's too combative. The truth is, though, that feminism has given women nothing but options, and the assurance that they cannot legally be pushed out of a job for being deemed unattractive by someone else. Turning that legal assurance into a practical one is a battle we're still fighting.

I want to be better prepared in the future, so I'm here to ask for help. What anti-feminist arguments have you faced, and how did you respond? Should we avoid snark, or embrace it? Has anyone already written a post on how to talk to non-feminist women that might serve as a good reference?

"Ironic Intent" Doesn't Make Racism OK

Earlier this week, Daily Kos posted an image of Michelle Obama being branded by the KKK. The image accompanied a post that was ostensibly about how shameful it is that the media has been going after Michelle Obama. It was supposedly meant to highlight the racism of the attacks. Unfortunately, Kos diarist ONECITIZEN didn't see that using a racist image for 'ironic' purposes does not make it OK.

As SheCodes of Black Women Vote explains:
What makes some white people think that 'humorous' lynching references are acceptable? Would they applaud imagery of Joe Leiberman's wife being tortured and cooked alive in a Nazi oven in response to a slip of the tongue she may have made? Would they accept a picture of Laura Bush hanging from a gallows?...

To certain people, this picture is cute, 'edgy', and 'ironic'. They are 'defending' the middle class by 'pointing out' racism. Underneath it all, as usual, the black woman's degradation is simply a tool to be exploited to further their own agendas.
I might add that presenting a woman's torture in a sexual way is nausea-inducing as well. Kos has taken the image down, which is good and hopefully shows he's listening to criticism. But, wow, guys - you really need to be better than that.

SheCodes goes on to call for the formation of an Anti-Defamation League and Political Action Committee for and by African American women. If you are an African American female, go check it out. For those of us outside that community, this is yet another in a tragically long line wake-up calls. We need to be better allies, and check ourselves to make sure that we aren't hurting people with backgrounds different from ours.

UPDATE: The original screen capture can be seen here, but it strikes me as odd that Kos himself hasn't addressed this. I can't decide if I've been punked and the whole thing was created as a smear campaign in the first place, or if this is an uncharacteristic refusal to take responsibility. Does anyone know any more about this story?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Interview with Obama, and an Appeal for Solidarity

BlogHer has gone and landed an interview with Barack Obama. Take a look:

I already knew that he and I agree on most of the issues. (Hear that, Senator? If you do an interview with us, you'll get treated right!) I'm also charmed that he took some time to talk with feminist bloggers. When my mom watches, though, she'll want to tell him not to slouch.

Also, as the returns from today's primaries roll in, and both Democratic candidates find separate groups of liberal supporters, David Cohen of Feminist Law Professors points out what is most important - Justice Stevens:

At 88, Justice Stevens is the oldest member of the Supreme Court. I wouldn’t put much money on the chances of him making it as a member of the Court to 2012, the next presidential election. So, in all likelihood, he will need to be replaced during the next President’s term. If McCain is the President, he has given every indication, through his votes and his speeches, that he would appoint another Justice in the Alito/Roberts conservative mold. With that Justice replacing Stevens, the McCain-appointed conservative would be the fifth vote for a young, solid conservative majority on the Court. Roe, Lawrence, Romer, Gratz, VMI, and many other progressive decisions would be at serious risk.

But, if Clinton or Obama is President, whatever you think of their general merit compared to one another, Justice Stevens’ replacement would undoubtedly not be a young conservative. With a likely more solidified Democratic majority in the Senate, President Clinton or President Obama would protect the progressive Supreme Court that has become central to our modern constitutional order.

Justice Stevens is doing so much good for our country - let's not let him be replaced by someone who will work to undo that good.

How are other people feeling about politics and the elections?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Power, Powerlessness, and Your Brain

Anyone with a few spare minutes should read this interesting article from Not Exactly Rocket Science, which discusses some new research suggesting that feelings of powerlessness negatively impact an individual's mental performance:
In a series of experiments, Pamela Smith from Radboud University Nijmegen has shown that the powerless actually take a measurable hit to important mental abilities. Even if people are subconsciously primed with the concept of being powerless, they perform more poorly at tasks designed to assess their ability to plan, focus on goals and ignore distractions.
The NERS post describes Dr. Smith's methods, and its implications:
These results suggest that poor performance of those that lack power does not provide sufficient evidence that power has been allocated fairly. An alternative explanation is that assigning someone a certain position can alter their mental skills in a way that confirms their standing.
Considering that having power actually allows people to more easily realize their full potential and be more productive, it seems like any rational society (or classroom, or workplace) would strive to empower all of its members. So, what's the hold-up?

The original research can be found here.
(via Feminist Law Professors)

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Poem for Trolls

Trolls, This is Just to Say

I have enabled
the comment moderation
that comes
as part of Blogger

and which
you were probably
being off

Forgive me
I was lazy
and tired
of having stupid conversations.

As for all you serious-minded readers, I hope a short wait between pressing 'publish' and seeing your comment appear won't deter you from adding your thoughts. I anticipate being able to turn off moderation again as soon as the siege on some of my favorite feminist sites has subsided, and the nasty commenters quit following us home. I will try to find time tonight or tomorrow to write a commenting policy that explains that, while we appreciate informed debate, we are not going to be a haven for bigotry. I know I'm hardly the first feminist blogger to explain this distinction. So, if you have a favorite commenting policy from the feminist blogosphere, one that eloquently explains why we won't let our site be overrun by mean-spirited idiots... leave a link in the comments! I'll be sure to give credit to those fearless troll warriors that came before whenever I incorporate their ideas.

(art via Life Under the Log)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Does Feminism Have a Marketing Problem?

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as:
1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

By this commonly accepted definition, it is hard to imagine why any woman would not be a feminist. Yet, I'm continually surprised (and disheartened) by the number of women who distance themselves from the word 'feminist.' Women I respect consistently give tons of excuses for why they don't consider themselves to be feminists, often immediately after learning that I write for a feminist blog. The reasons they give always baffle me.

Here are five popular reasons people give for 'not being feminists':
1. I'm married
2. I have/ want kids
3. I wish I could be able to spend more time with my children
4. I'm not voting for Hillary Clinton in the primaries
5. I like to wear make-up/ shave my legs/ wear dresses

All of the women who mentioned the above as reasons to renounce feminism were women who have benefited tremendously from the feminist movement. They are well-educated. Most have careers they genuinely enjoy. All would like to see certain things change about our society to help women more easily balance the demands of career and family. All want fair pay for the work they do, all expect their opinions to be valued in the work place, and all have enjoyed the freedom to choose whom they love and spend their lives with. They include scientists and lawyers, teachers and business women. They are all, by my definition, the epitome of feminist women.

The reasons they give for not being feminists also seem, to me, to be reasons why feminism is still important. The feminists I admire seek to ensure rights and choices for women. They fight for any woman's right to choose who she will marry. They seek to ensure that women will be able to make their own choices about having children; and that women be given the fair pay, affordable childcare, and health care for families that make motherhood a joy rather than a hardship. Feminists have earned women the right to vote, and continue to push for policies and candidates that have women's best interests at heart- so that we have someone worth voting for. Feminists also fight the too common notion that victims of sexual assault might somehow be responsible for their attacker's actions by looking too feminine or attractive, and feminists actively work to protect women from violence.

So, what is the disconnect? Do we somehow have a marketing problem - is it that people simply don't understand what feminism is?

If you consider yourself to be a feminist, I am curious to know if you've run across these same attitudes, and what you do about them. If you don't consider yourself to be a feminist, I'd like to know what keeps you from embracing the term.

UPDATE: There is a really informative post about this same issue at Oh, You're a FEMINIST!? Besides providing readers with a feminist quiz that neatly lays out many of the issues most central to feminism, feministgal also discusses the research of Alyssa N. Zucker, which explores the relationship between the feminist label, and the attitudes and actions of women.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cranks, Crazies, and Dinosaurs

Here is a fun disturbing Friday game: try to spot all the denialist tactics used by these creationist cranks as they guide a group of children around a science museum:

Think this has nothing to do with feminism? Well, you're partially right - the tour guides don't openly promote the oppression of women. Yet, it is this sort of brain-washing that has convinced generations upon generations of supposedly 'good' people that women are not as intelligent as men, despite constant evidence to the contrary, and that they therefore do not deserve any rights - not even over their own bodies. This type of 'its in the Bible' non-logic also promotes the idea that gays are 'unnatural' - so, no rights for them either! So, being opposed to confusing children about the difference between fact and faith seems pretty feminist to me. The rearranging of reality to fit a preexisting world view certainly hasn't been good for women in the past and continues to hurt women today.

Besides, this sort of stupidity is just so... embarrassing.

(h/t: Coffee Shop Philosophy)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ask a Working Woman Survey 2008

In national elections, it can be frustrating to watch women being taken seriously only as a demographic while the issues that impact them are almost entirely ignored. Who "soccer moms" might support is discussed ad nauseam, but no time is spent discussing the policies that actually impact working mothers in this country - things like maternity leave, the challenge of finding an employer who will provide a flexible work schedule, fair pay, and health benefits for families. This is a challenge we are facing once again, as commentators and politicians alike discuss who women will support without mentioning the ways in which different candidates or parties will support - or fail to support - us. Our votes, it seems, are important. Our voices are not.

This is why the AFL-CIO and Working America have joined up to produce the Ask a Working Woman Survey 2008. As one reader, who wrote last night to encourage me to post on this survey, points out:
The survey is an opportunity for working women in America to tell decision-makers what it's like to be a working woman in America in election years....

Opinions will be collected through June 20, 2008. The findings will be announced to decision makers and released in nationwide media in order to highlight and help improve the status of the working mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and nieces in all of our American families...

In 2006, more than 22,000 working American women took the survey. The majority of those women said they were concerned most about fundamental economic issues like paying for health care, not having retirement security, and pay not keeping up with the cost of living--or with the pay of their male counterparts.

In this year of economic and political uncertainty, it is more important than ever to ensure that working women have a voice in the debate for the future of the American economy. We want to hear what working women need – health care, pension benefits, flex time – to make the juggling act that is working womanhood a little bit easier.

You can learn more about this survey and its sponsors at the AFL-CIO News Blog, or jot me a line and I'll send your questions along to our inside connections (yes, we are very important), and we'll post the responses here.

Happy survey taking!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Women in the Wake of Disaster

A woman in Burma. Photo: Will Baxter / WPN

Ann at Feministing has posted two important articles this week that are true must-reads. One discusses how the pro-woman spin used by the Bush administration to justify the U.S. presence in Iraq hides a sad truth about how Iraqi women's lives have actually changed since the start of the occupation. The other looks at the dangers that women face in the wake of a natural disaster, like the earthquake in China and the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma).

Ann also recommends two ways that we can help the victims of the cyclone:

MADRE: "MADRE is working with the Women's Human Rights Defenders Network and Burmese women's organizations. We learned from our work with women's organizations in the aftermath of the tsunami that, in order to best identify and meet the communities' needs, we must rely on the local women's organizations." Donate here.

American Red Cross International Response Fund: Every day people around the world are suffering from countless crises, like the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China. Your gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund helps provide them immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support. Donate here or call 1-800-HELP NOW.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Baaabies! A Whole Pen Full of Babies!

Can you spot all 10 disturbing things about this Mother's Day cover of The New Yorker?

(This week's game of "Spot the Icky Stereotypes" via Women's Bioethics Blog, where you can also find some great clues!)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man Review - Spoilers, Spoilers, Spoilers

Iron Man is a film that dares to ask questions - questions like 'which is worse - an unabashedly sexist and racist movie, or one that is sexist and racist while pretending not to be?' You might have read reviews (from usually credible sources, no less) that say this movie is decent, that it is an action flick made for a thinking audience. Don't believe it. Here is the real deal, with tons of spoilers.

Tony Stark's condescending attitude towards women and outright sexism is portrayed as central to his charm. A female soldier giggles coquettishly when he throws some low-grade harassment her way, because what soldier wouldn't love to hear words like 'Now that I know you're a woman, I can't take my eyes off you. Does that make you feel uncomfortable?' drifting her way over the romantic rumbling of the humvee she's driving? A socially conscious journalist is charmed into Stark's bed by his snarky remarks about her liberal education and the accusation that she is naive to the point of stupidity. Flight attendants bat their lashes at Stark when he ogles them, and then perform a little mid-flight pole dance, because in the world that the film creates there are no female professionals who wouldn't happily dispense with decorum for a rich man's entertainment. I'm sure the script writers would claim that the intent is to establish Stark as a self-centered ass, giving him room to grow throughout the film(s). And as we know, there is no better way to illustrate a character's immaturity than to repeatedly show him treating women as soulless objects. Yet, while the first fifteen minutes of the film were intended, I am sure, to establish Stark as an 'unlikely hero,' one that is so self-centered as to not recognize the hurt that his misogynistic attitudes cause, these scenes actually reveal this clueless sexism in the film's makers. Had the intent truly been to show Stark to be an ass, and not to use his mistreatment of women as proof of his success and charm, then some of the women would have registered disgust or discomfort in his company. By portraying women as being universally susceptible to the 'seductiveness' of Stark's misogyny, the film implies that all women either like being belittled, don't have the dignity to stand up for themselves, or are too empty-headed to notice a pig when he stares them in the face chest.

Pepper Potts, Stark's personal assistant, does little to combat the sexist portrayal of women in Iron Man. Sure, she wears a suit in most of her scenes - Hollywood short-hand for 'smart.' She also carries a clip board and scolds our hero when he misses meetings, which clearly indicates competence, right? Yet, she still goes gaga for the boss who manipulates her. Ms. Potts tries to kiss Stark immediately after expressing her discomfort at his forcing her to dance with him despite her attempts to turn him down. 'But she saves his life!' the writers might yell. 'What could be more feminist than that?' Indeed, it is true that in one of the most contrived scenes in the film, Pepper Potts does reach deep into a hole in Stark's chest with her 'little hands' and pull out a wire that we are to believe would have been dangerous if left in his chest cavity. Yet, the scene is a little creepy - showing Stark as willing to contrive a life-or-death situation so that Ms. Potts can be coerced into an intimate situation with him - one to which she might not have consented otherwise. Stark does not ask, 'hey, will you pull this wire out when I take out my glowing-heart-machine, or should I have a doctor or the robot do it?' Nope, that would show that he respects her and would allow her to make her own decisions regarding her relationship with him. Instead, he convinces her that if she does not overcome her clear discomfort and perform this highly intimate act, it will cause him harm. 'But she turns down his offer to be his girlfriend at the end of the film!' the writers might insist. Yet, she doesn't say 'no,' but merely points to the fact that he left her waiting for a promised drink the last time he tried to woo her - essentially telling him that she's available if he just tries a little harder to convince her that he's serious this time. He doesn't, because he's not.

Iron Man is also racist. While we are supposed to believe that Tony Stark sees the error of his weapon-making ways (the character is supposed to be the brain behind the U.S.A.'s most important weapons development company), the violence in the film relies on an American audience being comfortable - even amused - by the sight of people being killed -as long as they're brown. "Funny" scenes include a bullet bouncing off the super fighting suit and hitting an attacker in the head - killing him instantly. 'But he was a terrorist!' Sure, but when an attacking fighter pilot's plane is accidentally hit by the suit and the white pilot is in danger - well, that's a scary moment in the film. Help, white guy is in danger! (Don't worry, even though he was trying to kill our hero, the pilot lives - this is a family film, after all!) This disparity in the depiction of violence shown towards people of color vs. white westerners is also evident as the Afghan bad guys are shown dropping to the ground or being engulfed in flames to a rock-and-roll score; but when the white villain (played by Jeff Bridges) bites the dust, well, the audience is not shown the result of the fall that finishes him.

'But the Doctor Yinsen, who is captive with Stark, is a good-guy, and he's middle eastern too!' Yeah, and Stark depends on Yinsen's help to escape, yet is happy to let him face the danger with no real protection so that Stark can escape in the super suit. Even as Stark begs his 'friend' not to die, Yisen seems to know that Stark (and the film makers) see him as expendable, saying "This was always the plan, Stark." You bet it was the plan, if Stark had cared at all about the doctor who saved his life, he'd have made two suits! Or at least some spare body armor to share.

As for the Hathor Legacy Mo' Movie Measure (a feminism meter by which a movie is judged on whether or not two female characters talk to each other about something other than a man during the whole course of a film), a brief exchange between Pepper Potts and the journalist is the only time two female characters exchange words. It is quickly ruined when the two start sparing about which of them has been used by our hero in a more embarrassing manner. Mo' Movie Measure: fail.

UPDATE: For a completely different take on Pepper Potts from a source I respect, read Patrick's post at the Hathor Legacy.

UPDATE II: And for even more examples of how Iron Man fails to be either anti-racist or feminist, visit WOC PhD.

UPDATE III: Another great feminist take on Iron Man - from RH Reality Check (oh, and thanks for linking here, guys!)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Elderly Women in the USA are Disproportionately Poor

Part of appreciating our mothers and grandmothers on Mother's Day is recognizing the challenges that face them, and making sure that they don't have to face those challenges alone. So after the flowers have been sent and the cake has been eaten (you did get your mom cake, didn't you?), here are some facts to consider, brought to us by RetirementRevisited:
The largest segment of Americans living in poverty is elderly women...

More than 25 percent of all African-American women live in poverty, and 28 percent of older Hispanic women are poor. And single women over 65 (all races) experience a 19 percent poverty rate.
That's right, nearly twenty percent of women in the United States live the final years of their lives struggling to make ends meet below the the poverty line, surviving on less than $9,669 a year. The percentage of women over the age of 65 living in near poverty, with incomes up to $14,504, is even higher.

There are several reasons for why women face so many more financial challenges in their 'golden years' than men do:
First, women earn about a third less than men make during their working lives; that means they generate smaller contributions to Social Security, pensions and 401(k) accounts....

Perhaps most important, women live longer than men. At age 65, a woman can expect to live an average of 19 more years-three years longer than men. That means whatever she’s saved for retirement must last longer.

The result is a yawning retirement security gap. Here’s how it looks by the numbers.

What to do about this yawning 'security gap' is not quite as clear as its causes. Early planning is, of course, very important. So get your moms to start budgeting for retirement before they stop working, and make sure they are keeping some money for themselves rather than funneling it all into care of others. And do the same for yourself. A tip given by WISER Executive Director Cindy Hounsell is to look at what your Social Security will be and compare it to what you live on now. If there's a gap, and there probably will be, it needs to be addressed before retirement.

We also need to be ensuring that this pay gap between the sexes is not allowed to persist. For if it does, it will haunt us for years to come. Of course, making sure that you're making a fair wage isn't exactly easy in many environments, so we have to keep pushing to get the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed. It is the least we can do, for our moms and ourselves.

Thanks to Feminist Law Professors for pointing this inequity out.

Friday, May 9, 2008

5 Mother's Day Present Ideas

One: Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.
Why it's good: Persepolis Satrapi's autobiography, telling the story of her childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution. Beautify portrayed are the relationships between Marjane, her mother, and her grandmother. The book is intelligently written, so your mom won't be bored, and since the story is told through a combination of pictures and words, comic-book style, it might be one of the more memorable books she'll have ever received.
Moms who will like this gift are: intellectual

Two: Membership in Indie Fixx Shop's Print of the Month Club, which will send her different prints by contemporary female artists throughout the year.
Why it's good: It supports female artists and gives your mom something beautiful that she might not find on her own. Also, Indie Fixx art comes recommended by the Stroller Derby crew, and that lot usually has good taste.
Moms who will like this gift are: artistic and adventurous

Three: A Harry and David snack.
Why it's good: Like flowers, yummy snacks can easily be delivered - quickly (yes, by tomorrow). Unlike flowers, yummy snacks can be eaten. Also, unlike the pretty knick-knacks you usually get her, she won't feel like she has to find space in the house display your gift for years to come - just to show she liked it.
Moms who will like this gift are: hungry - and not too prissy to eat

Four: Pretty jewelry from greenKarat.
Why it's good: Some of my readers are rich (yeah, you know who you are). If you do have the means buy fine jewelry for your mom on Mother's Day, go buy it from greenKarat. Its good because she'll be happy to know that what you give her is ecologically and socially responsible, and relieved that your financial success hasn't completely spoiled you rotten. Really, she wants some sign that all those silver spoons you sucked on as a baby didn't turn you into a complete brat.
Moms who will like this gift are: eco-conscious activists, pampered

Five: Acknowledgment of how her feminism has made you a happier person.
Why it's good: She made life easier for you, and she should know that.
Moms who will like this gift are: awesome
I'm going to try and let my mom know that she always made me feel smart, and gave me the confidence to speak-up. Also that I'm proud of the work she did before I was born to fight for civil rights, and the work she does now as a counselor in a public school where she continues to fight to make things better for little kids with big problems. I admire how she's never stopped learning and doing new things, and how open she is to seeing the beauty in others. I'm going to try to show her that she's the sort of person I want to be. Happy Mother's Day, Mom! (Don't worry, you'll also get the yummy snacks).

Lawsuit Against NYPD for Ignoring Crimes Against Black Women

Romona Moore might have been saved had a missing persons report been taken seriously, and the report might have been taken more seriously had the missing girl been white.

Instead her worried mother was told, "Lady, why are you calling here? Your daughter is 21. These officers should not have taken the report in the first place."

The family has now filed a lawsuit against the NYPD, alleging that their daughter and other Black victims have been denied equal protection under the law. What About Our Daughters covers the whole tragic story in detail.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Clinton's Love of Racist Voters, and Other National Embarrassments

This has not been a great week for us here in the United States of America. I don't mean that anything bad has happened to us, I just mean that it has been the type of week where we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, groan, and wonder just who we are.

Here is what Hillary Clinton told USA Today about why she should be the nominee:

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," ... As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." [Emphasis mine]

"There's a pattern emerging here," she said.

Sen. Clinton, if you don't understand that you shouldn't appeal to people's racism in order to win - even if it is the only way to win, then you don't deserve to be our nation's leader. If you are unclear about just why those statements were reprehensible, this post a Racialious should make it clear. Or this discussion at The Angry Black Woman. Or, if you only care about the opinions of white people these days, Melissa McEwan at Shakesville also explains some of what's wrong with the above.

Yeah, that little episode was embarrassing for all of us who would like to be proud of Sen. Clinton's candidacy.

I doubt though, that most of McCain's supporters will be embarrassed by his laughing dismissal of an "attractive young woman's" concerns that he isn't sufficiently dedicated to gender equality. It embarrasses the rest of us, though, to have a presidential candidate condescending to us while laughing-off our worries that he doesn't care if companies pay us less based on our sex, for example - don't let it trouble your pretty little head, darling.

Then there was Michigan's Supreme Court ruling that "Local governments and state universities in Michigan can't offer health insurance to the partners of gay workers." That's right, Michigan's state employers are now legally bound to discriminate against same-sex couples. Kristin at Delightfully Dawgmatic is embarrassed as a Michiganite, I'm embarrassed as an American.

This clearly hasn't been our week to shine.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What's in a Name?

I first read of Michael Bijon's struggle to take his wife's surname on Blue Milk, but Feministing has since picked up the story and noted that dumb laws getting in the way of people's ability to make their own decisions about what they will be called is far from rare. For Mr. Bijon (the former Mr. Buday), changing his name upon marrying would have been easy, had he been female:
But it took two years, a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination and a change in California law before he picked up his new drivers licence in the name of Michael Bijon on Monday.
Yup, while it is free for women to take their spouse's surname, the Bijon family was told "it would take a $US350 (A374) fee, court appearances, a public announcement and mounds of paperwork to make a change on his driving license." So he and his wife Diana went to the ACLU, and now it won't be so hard for men to take their spouse's name in the future. Thanks, guys!

All this talk of name changing has me thinking about my own situation, though. I've been married for nearly a year now, and I haven't taken any steps to legally change my name. I get one of two reactions when people who know me find out that I haven't filed any paperwork yet:
1) They assume I never meant to change it in the first place, due to my feminist philosophies
2) They assume I got cold feet, brought on by my feminist philosophies
Who knows, maybe they're right. Certainly I've always identified with my last name. Since my first name, Lisa, is so common here in the States, I was called by my surname throughout high school and college. For the first 21 years of my life I was rarely called Lisa - I went by my surname or Lis, the constant abbreviation. So it does feel a little weird to cast my old name off completely.

Yet, I don't think my reluctance is prompted by a deep philosophical objection. Certainly I would tell you that feminism is about opening up doors for women, not creating new rules. Yet...

So I'm curious to hear what other self-identified feminists (male or female!) have done with the Partner's Name Game. If you are married, did you change your name? If engaged, will you? If fate or discriminatory laws are keeping you from such decisions, do you think you could?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hebden Bridge: The Promise of Normalcy

I enjoyed this NPR piece today about Hebden Bridge, a small town in England where lesbians make up nearly 20% of the population. When interviewed, women from the former mill town in rural Yorkshire said that the attraction of Hebden Bridge was an environment where same-sex couples could simply exist without attracting too much attention. One woman commented that she enjoyed living in a community where her daughter would not have to constantly explain the concept of having two mommies to classmates - where there would actually be other kids with a family like hers.

The piece did illicit one sad laugh from me, though. Reporter Viki Barker began a question, "Why do you think these gay women..."
Yet, before Barker could add the expected second clause - perhaps something along the lines of "find this community so appealing," the local woman being interviewed interrupted with an answer to the question she assumed she was being asked, responding "'Cause they can't find the right fella.'"

(image via the BBC)

UPDATE: For more on how homophobia get in the way of lesbian couples' ability to 'just be,' read this amazing discussion of PDA and straight privilege posted over at Shakesville by PortlyDyke.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Anything I Haven't Personally Experienced Isn't Real

There are moments when you suddenly become aware of a reality that has always surrounded you, but that you usually have the privilege of not seeing.

1. A male friend of mine stopped mid-sentence when we were walking across campus and asked, "Does it ever make you feel uncomfortable?"
"Every guy we pass looks right at you - stares. Nobody ever looks that directly at me when I'm walking around. Does it ever bother you?"
"Yeah, all the time."
"I guess I just never noticed what girls have to deal with before."

2. I was dating a guy from Trinidad - he is black, I am white. I was hurt that he never wanted to hold my hand in public. "Don't you see the way people stare at us when we are walking together? Holding hands makes it even worse. You mean you haven't noticed?" No, I had not. But I did after that.

3. I said to a friend who is a lesbian, "Well, but, we live in such a nice, liberal town."
"Sure, but I can't kiss my girlfriend in public, I can't hold her hand without getting the stink-eye, and we can't even go to the grocery store together without people gaping at us. I don't want to believe that this town is as good as we'll ever find." Unfortunately, it might be.

4. My neighbor said to me yesterday, "because I'm big, people feel like they have the right to treat me like crap. I've been told at my job that I'll never get ahead because I'm 'fat.' People have come up to me in the store and told me that I shouldn't be buying any junk food because I need to lose weight. They act like they have the right to judge me just because they see that I'm heavy."

5. "I didn't even know that antisemitism existed in the States" I said to my roommate.
"In high school, swastikas were constantly being scratched onto my locker. Every time the school would paint one off, another would appear. I got a couple of notes in my locker from people threatening to beat-up me and my brother."
"Wow, I didn't know," I said.
"I wouldn't expect you to."

Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

A Great Woman Remembered

I read just now on Feminist Law Professors that Mildred Loving has died. Mildred Loving made the world a better place when she challenged a Virginia law which baned interracial marriages, a challenge that would lead to the Supreme Court's ruling that all such bans were unconstitutional:
… Loving and her white husband, Richard, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The ruling struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least 17 states.

They had married in Washington in 1958, when she was 18. Returning to their Virginia hometown, they were arrested within weeks and convicted on charges of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” according to their indictments.

The couple avoided a year in jail by agreeing to a sentence mandating that they immediately leave Virginia. They moved to Washington and launched a legal challenge a few years later.

By having the courage to challenge the injustices that faced her, Mildred Loving made a real difference in the world. From all of us, thanks.

UPDATE: You can read and hear more about Loving and about the Supreme Court decision at NPR. To find out how today's Supreme Court might have decided Loving, visit Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Glimpse Into the Chaos: Learning About the Consequences of the War

Here in the States, we have the dubious luxury of being able to forget that our country is at war. We are reminded when we turn on the news or by the occasional question during the presidential debates. Discussions about what we should or shouldn't have done, and about what we should or shouldn't do now are largely being carried out on bumper stickers and comedy shows. A common excuse for having sent troops into Iraq even points to this luxury of forgetfulness, the refrain "I'd rather fight the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them here" seems to tell us that the decision to go to war was not ours - that we merely chose the location of the front.

Not surprisingly, Iraq citizens see the war a bit differently. They do not have the luxury of being able to forget about the violence for long hours each day, they live in it. They also do not see the war as having been an inevitability. Our luxury of forgetting must seem like apathy to them, and our ignorance about what the impact of the war has been on their lives likely looks like evidence of the callousness of the American people.

Yet, with the propaganda machine so well-oiled and so little information reaching us about what Iraq really looks like after five years of war, how can we become more informed?

Reporters from The New York Times living in Baghdad are trying to give us a way, attempting to show us what the war has meant for those actually living in view of the battles, and their Baghdad Bureau Blog should be mandatory reading for those of us who are sheltered from the direct consequences of war. Go read, yet be warned that not all the stories posted there have happy endings.

Of course, in posting this I know that I will receive some complaint, either online or off, that the war in Iraq is "not a feminist issue." This is my preemptive response:
1) This war is not just affecting Iraqi women whose sons and husbands are injured or killed. Fighting is taking place in the city streets, troops are entering their homes, and they run as many risks as men, yet they usually face all threats unarmed.
2) Women speaking out about world issues is an inherently feminist act, for it asserts that we too can be part of the solution - or part of the problem. By staying informed and speaking out, women claim for themselves a role in society to which they were long denied.
3) For those still wanting a more overt feminist angle, Baghdad Bureau Blog is looking to ask and answer questions about how women have been affected by the war. You can submit questions that reporters will ask here.

(Photo: Nabil al-Jurani/Associated Press)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Boxer or Babe? You Be the Judge!

I am always searching for news about women in sports. It is my mission and my assignment. Alas, my research for the evening led me to this Women of Sports website.

Now, the disclaimer on this site is as follows:
The intention is not to demean the value of the female athlete but to admire them and appreciate both their talent and their attributes and so we have done our best to not only include the sexy pictures, but also those that show the women at their best.
Right then. Sounds all well and good, but if you look at some of the links on the site you get to choose from (1) Vote on Women (2) Who's Hotter (3) Athlete Listing (4) Top Tens.

As I look through the athlete listing I am forced to give props to the fact that the site at least lists athletes from many a sport. It's not often you see the women of boxing or water polo get much attention. However, that said, I am having difficulty seeing how this site is even remotely trying to appreciate a woman's talent in her respective sport. For instance, the links to Mia StJohn or Jackie Frank do little to nothing beyond show a woman as a sex symbol. If the site was not so kind as to tell me what sport each of these women participates in I would never in a million years be able to come up with it on my own. Okay, perhaps with the boxing gloves on Mia I could hazard a guess, but it doesn't make her look like an active boxer, that is for sure.

In fact, click on any of the women and you are quite hard pressed to see them actually being represented as an athlete. Seriously, am I missing the tribute to the athlete in these women? If so, please someone clarify this for me as I am at a loss.