Monday, June 30, 2008

Feminism 101: A Life-Long Lesson

[Note to readers: Today, as part of our continuing series 'feminists on feminism,' we are honored to have Feminist Gal from Oh, You're a FEMINIST?! as a guest blogger. These are her words...]

Question #1. What is your definition of feminism:
I wrote a post back when I started blogging where I tried to define MY feminism along with some of the feminist identities out there. Here is what I came up with for MY feminism:

I identify with feminism because of its commitment to social, political and economic equality for all people. Regarding women specifically, my feminism allows me to: be independent, while depending on those I love; be flirty and "girly" whenever I want, without it compromising how people view my intelligence or sexual freedom; exercise, for me, for my body, for my health and strength, not to fit a status quo of beauty; stand firm for what I believe in, and not be called too masculine or a bitch. My feminism does not discount the differences between men and women, but strongly believes that these differences are either a product of, or exaggerated by, socialization. My feminism values men because it values equality. My feminism is anti "isms." It seeks to end the discrimination of people on the basis of sex, age, race, social class, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Oh, and my feminism is always changing, because like the waves of change flow through society and politics, feminism needs to be fluid to reflect the needs of the world.

I also quoted Rebecca West who is just as remarkably relevant now as she was in 1913, "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute..."

Question #2: my "click" moment with feminism:
I definitely came to my feminist identity through academia. Recognizing and admitting to my own privilege (even getting the opportunity to go to college) was a huge part of that. When I get my ph.d. i'll be the first doctor in my family, and that's really something, ya know? My parents gave up a lot when they immigrated our family to America and I value that and realize the privilege that goes along with that. My feminism grew with my understanding of women's studies, feminist theory, and psychology.

As I developed my own ideas, away from those of my family, I came to understand the necessity of equality, of social justice, and of change. I also started realizing that "tolerance" wasn't enough. We need to celebrate diversity and learn from each other, not just "tolerate" one another. I quickly understood that there is no way to achieve equal rights until the basis for those rights is a mutual respect and value for each other. So my feminism developed from there. And it was fostered by amazing professors and mentors along the way who I love and thank for all they've done. Some of whom include Marita McComiskey, Dawn Goode, JoAnne Lewis and Mary Crawford. I don't think they know the extent of the impression they've made on me and on my life. I'm glad for this space in which to thank them, even though I doubt they'll ever read it :)

I had no "ah ha!" or "click" moment with feminism. It was a combination of experiences, opportunities, and lessons I learned in and outside the classroom in college. However, it was definitely my first WS class, taught by Dawn, who was then a grad student, that opened my eyes to the world of feminism. That class was the start of something that continues to change my life now and allows me to change others' lives.

The answer to question #3 will have to be a cliff hanger because Professor What If and I are working on an activism in/after college post together so stay tuned for that on our blogs :)

UPDATE FROM HABLADORA: The 'activism after college' posts that Feminist Gal references can (and should) be read here and here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Definitions of Feminism, Penned by Feminists

Feminism is power - the power to be the best me I am capable of being. It is the power to try anything my skill set will allow me to try without anyone's telling me, based on my sex, what that is. It is the power to be a full member of the human race.

DJ Dual Core of DJ Dual Core's Old Mixed Tapes: the core of feminism we find the idea that women, as a group, are treated unjustly relative to men and that this should change... You either believe that or you don't. If you do, you are are a feminist. If not, you are not. (more here)

Valerie Connors, President of Circle K International, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee:
...feminism is about women having the freedom to make the same choices as men. It's about lifting that oppressively low ceiling that so many women bump their heads on way too often. It's about women being able to feel safe in and out of their homes. And finally, it's about men and women truly respecting and loving each other. (more here and here)

Earlgreyrooibos of This is What a Feminist Blogs Like:
Feminism means recognizing that the way society is set up is not equal, and that the reasons for those inequalities can run deep, stretching across class, gender, and individual beliefs. In addition, feminism is about extended critical thinking beyond one’s own personal experience. Feminism is not an individualist, everyone-for-themselves movement... Feminism requires that we try to understand everyone’s perspectives. (more here)

Veronica of Viva La Feminista:
My definition is that feminism is a political movement where women and men seek equality and equity in society between women and men. Equal pay for equal work. Equal opportunities.

Feminist Gal of Oh, You're a FEMINIST?!:
I absolutely agree with Jessica Valenti on this one and say that my feminism is the social, political, and economic equality for women (more here)

Newscat, quoting Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon:
Feminism is " idea, not a movement... It’s really a very simple idea, the idea that men and women are equals and should be treated as equals. How you interpret that is always going to be dependent on your other beliefs, interests, and ideas."

Dr. W. of Professor, What If?:
Charlotte Bunch’s argument that feminism is “an entire worldview or gestalt, not just a laundry list of ‘women’s issues’ is another favorite of mine. As Bunch argues, “Feminist theory provides basis for understanding every area of our lives, and a feminist perspective can affect the world politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually.” Yes, it certainly can. And once you re-place your feminist lenses stolen from you by the culture/society/history/institutional white supremacist heteronormative imperialist patriarchal matrix that defines ‘reality,’ you will never look at the world in the same way again. (more here)


Feminism is the effort to save both genders from the sexual stereotypes that have traditionally limited them.

Mächtige Maus:
Feminism is challenging the antiquated notion of patriarchy.

We'd love to have more definitions, so if you don't see one that fits, leave it in the comments!

UPDATE: Here are a couple of definitions from late-comers that are not-to-be-missed:

In my view, I see the objective of feminism to allow women complete self-determination, and that there is nothing anti-male about that. If a man wants to interact with a woman, he has to be willing to do it on her terms without lying and without coercion or threats of coercion implicit or explicit. The same is true for men, complete self-determination. If a woman wants to interact with a man, she has to do it on his terms too, but those terms can't include coercion.

bell hooks got it right. Feminism, the political movement to end sexism.

I spell it out in three parts:
1) Acknowledging the history of and current effects of sexism (ex. pay gap, sexual violence, work-family balance, motherhood penalties,...).
2) Acknowledging that sexism is morally and politically harmful.
3) A commitment to some sort of action to fight sexism.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Child Rape Does Not = Death

Finally I get to revisit the verdict on the case I outlined in a previous post here.

On Wednesday, in a split 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for the crime of child rape. For those with a little free time, here is the decision in its entirety.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that there is a "distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons, even including child rape".

I know for a fact that there are several people whom I work with who will disagree vehemently with this decision. I cannot hold that against them. We see some of the worst of what human beings can do to one another. Of course it creates a jaded perspective. I, however, support the Supreme Court decision. My thoughts on the death penalty for violent homicides still remain conflicted. As a result, I find it easier than my colleagues to draw a line when it comes to child rape.

In pondering this decision, I came across this piece concerning Barrack Obama's support for the death penalty in cases of child rape where he stated:
I think that the rape of a small child, six or eight years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.
His opinion saddened me and I cannot quite put my finger on why. If forced to take a guess, I would say it is because it seems to me that by supporting the death penalty in cases such as these where the victim did not lose a life (no...I am not suggesting that the victim's life has not been irrevocably altered, but that there is still a life to be led) it makes us an equally violent society.

Violence against women and children exists each and every day. Putting someone to death for it does not deter any number of other men who choose to wield their power in heinous ways. Perhaps more of a focus on equality and respect would serve us better.


Since LaPH challenged me to scrounge up some statistics on the death penalty, I managed to track down some very intriguing numbers. For anyone wanting a starting point to research the death penalty, I highly recommend the Death Penalty Information Center, which was where I began my search. The amount of time that could be spent tracking down valid statistics supporting the abolishment of the death penalty is mind-boggling, so you have to forgive me for taking a highly condensed approach.

(1) Statistics comparing crime rates in countries with/without the death penalty.

First let me point to the statistics between death penalty states and non-death penalty states here in the USA. The overall picture can be seen by following this link.

The summarized version of the statistics indicate that states without the death penalty have a consistently lower homicide rate:
When comparisons are made between states with the death penalty and states without, the majority of death penalty states show murder rates higher than non-death penalty states. The average of murder rates per 100,000 population in 1999 among death penalty states was 5.5, whereas the average of murder rates among non-death penalty states was only 3.6. A look at neighboring death penalty and non-death penalty states show similar trends. Death penalty states usually have a higher murder rate than their neighboring non-death penalty states.
That trend is mimicked in countries without the death penalty sentence as well. In fact, when one looks at countries with the death penalty, the USA is in some sketchy company. According to Amnesty International, "In 2006 91 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and the USA."

By following the same Amnesty link above, one can find the following:
Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the death penalty and crime rates, the study conducted for the United Nations cited above stated: "The fact that all the evidence continues to point in the same direction is persuasive a priori evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty".

Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has declined further. In 2003, 27 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.73 per 100,000 population, 44 per cent lower than in 1975 and the lowest rate in three decades. Although this increased to 2.0 in 2005, it remains over one-third lower than when the death penalty was abolished.
(2) The death penalty as a means of deterrence.

From the Death Penalty Information Center:
A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association showed that the overwhelming majority did not believe that the death penalty is a proven deterrent to homicide. Over 80% believe the existing research fails to support a deterrence justification for the death penalty. Similarly, over 75% of those polled do not believe that increasing the number of executions, or decreasing the time spent on death row before execution, would produce a general deterrent effect.
And again from Amnesty International:
Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: "... it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."
Now, of course the research cited above comes from sources that clearly are against the death penalty. However, I am not one so cynical to think that the numbers have been doctored to support the cause. Nothing I have ever seen seems to suggest that, as it is applied now at the very least, the death penalty is a remotely successful method of punishment or deterrence. At minimum, it provides society with a moment of emotional release...a means of dealing with extreme violence. I do not find that to be a sufficient reason.

Defining Feminism

[Note to readers: As part of our series 'Feminists on Feminism,' we are honored to present this post by Earlgreyrooibos from This is What a Feminist Blogs Like. These are her words...]

Feminism is a movement that has always existed. Even though it was often rendered invisible, it existed. Even though people (women and men both) have often attempted to squelch feminism, it carries on. Whether a large-scale reproductive rights protest or an individual spending money at a feminist bookstore, feminism happens. It can be in-your-face, or it can be a secret, silent act of rebellion, the effects of which might not be felt until much later. Women have struggled against gendered workforces, organized religion, and sexist attitudes of family and acquaintances. This struggle has been happening for centuries, even when it did not have the name of “feminism.” The conflicts may not ever be resolved, but that does not mean that women will give up; after all, we’ve been at it for this long. We’re not going to stop now.

Feminism isn’t about giving birth at home with a female midwife any more than it is giving birth in the hospital with a male gynecologist. Feminism is about women having access to research they need to make an informed decision about their bodies. Feminism is about being able to have important discussions about your birthing choices with medical professionals, trusted friends/family, and your partner in a supportive environment. Feminism is about women being able to consider all of their options so they can choose what’s best for them.

It’s the same with breastfeeding. Feminism is not about breastfeeding an infant any more than it’s about bottle-feeding because using formula is the ideal way for you to balance out the rest of your life. Feminism, once again, is having access to the resources and suppor that will enable a woman to make the best decision about how to feed her baby based on her body and her non-parenting activities.

Feminism isn’t about women being able to wear pants to work. Feminism is about breaking down gendered ideas about clothing to the point where women can wear pants and men can wear skirts. I know that goal might not ever be achieved in my lifetime, but I think it’s important to consider something seemingly benign, like pants and skirts, and consider the gender assumptions behind them.

Feminism means recognizing that the way society is set up is not equal, and that the reasons for those inequalities can run deep, stretching across class, gender, and individual beliefs. In addition, feminism is about extended critical thinking beyond one’s own personal experience. Feminism is not an individualist, everyone-for-themselves movement. Feminism means looking beyond your front door to see the ways in which inequality affects women all over the world. Feminism means taking a stance on both international and local issues. But it also requires using one’s critical thinking skill to prevent oneself from being patronizing, and to force your cultural values on another. Feminism requires that we try to understand everyone’s perspectives.

But while it’s not an individualistic cause, feminism is about protection. Knowing how to and being able to protect yourself from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Knowing how to protect yourself from battery and rape. Knowing how to protect yourself from an unhealthy lifestyle. Knowing how to protect yourself from people who don’t support you, and only seek to cut you down.

Feminism is a philosophy that you have to practice every day. You’re not just a feminist when you’re protesting. You’re not just a feminist when you’re reading Gloria Steinem or Inga Muscio or Virginia Woolf or bell hooks or Audre Lorde or Susan Faludi or Alice Walker or Sappho. You’re not just a feminist when you’re blogging, or when you’re wearing your “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt. You are a feminist every moment of your life, and your interpretation of feminism should inform even practices that seem non-feminist. That might mean supporting food co-ops rather than grocery stores. That might mean seeking out only pro-woman/feminist sex shops. That might mean not watching certain television programs or reading certain websites. It’s not just what you say or think or study; it’s how those ideas inform the practice of living. You’re a feminist 24/7/365.

Finally, feminism is not an end goal in and of itself. Ursula K. LeGuin said that: “It’s good to have a goal of our journey, but it is the journey itself which influences the goal.” Feminism’s end goal means equality for all genders: male, female, transgender. It means equal rights for all people, regardless of race or sexual preference. But those are huge goals, and we don’t know when they will be accomplished. So instead, we need to focus on the feminist journey. We need to take larger definitions of feminism and figure out how they apply to our lives and goals. We need to love exploring feminist thought, and love every battle we fight. We have to be content knowing that each action brings us closer to that goal, even though we don’t know how far we still have to go. We need to enjoy our journey and allow those journeys to change us. Because feminism is not static. The feminism of today is not the feminism of 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago. We need to change with feminism, and help feminism change, even though the basic goal of equality remains the same.

[Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like - please leave comments and questions there]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What if one is not born, but rather becomes, a non-feminist?

[Note to readers: As our series 'Feminists on Feminism' continues, we are very lucky to be able to include this post by Dr. W. of Professor, What If...? These are her words...]

As Simone De Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, notes, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” But, in the case of feminists, I think they are actually born and then ‘unmade.’ I doubt girls are born feeling they are ‘naturally defective’ as Aristotle argues they are. Likewise, I doubt boys are born feeling they are the superior sex. Rather, one is ‘made’ into a woman (and distanced from being a feminist) via a constant onslaught of messages that define one as the Other. One is ‘made’ into a man via living and breathing in a society that perpetuates male privileges. (for more on male privilege see here and here) Thus, this making into ‘woman’ and ‘man’ is societally constructed and maintained.

Bodies do not come in only two varieties although we like to act as if they do. Nor do they come in only feminine-women and masculine-men versions. If we did not learn before we even left the womb that woman are the secondary sex, perhaps we would not have to talk about ‘click moment’s’ with feminism because we would all still be feminists!

Although I am a card-carrying social constructionist, I think being a feminist may be one of the most natural identities - perhaps that is why they try to beat it out of us so hard! Is it such a stretch to think that humans might be born feeling they are not better or worse than any other human but equally deserving?

I have long joked that I was born a feminist as I can’t recall any one click moment, but a series of battles, arguments, and feelings of “what the f is wrong with this world” as I grew up. From questioning the unfairness of class inequality and the exploitation of migrant workers during elementary school (I lived in a migrant farming town divided along class/color lines) to wondering why I wasn’t supposed to play with ‘those Mexican kids,’ I was already flaunting my feminism cred in grade school. I refused to have a different curfew than my brother in high school - didn’t seem to me just because you had a penis you should get to stay out later. To the dropped jaws of my college professors, I wrote feminist essays in every single class, asking why anthropology acted as if the world was made of men only, why literature focused on DWMs (dead white males), and why psychology acted as if the female brain was substandardly different. To the chagrin of my family, I balked at the suggestion that mothering was more important than an academic career and refused to buy into the ‘women are meant to nurture’ crapola that culture hawks at us all the time.

Today, I frustrate my children’s teachers (and my students) by asking them to stop saying ‘you guys’. I hunt down principals and tell them they need to put a stop to the use of homophobic language on the playground. I annoy gym instructors by asking them to change their music selections (call me crazy, but I don’t like to work out to songs glorifying gang rape.) I call out people for their sexism, racism, able-ism, body-hating, xenophobia — and guess what? They don’t like it. I am ‘too opinionated.’ I need to ‘mellow out.’ “Do you always have to talk about feminism” they whine. Well, yeah. It’s like a religion. I live and breathe it every day. It is like nourishment - I would starve without feminism.

There are so many definitions of feminism that I love, it is hard to pick just one. Many of my favorites comes from The Feminist Dictionary by Paula Treichler and Cheris Kramarae.

I agree with Nawal el Saadawi’s claim that “as a radical feminist…you should oppose imperialism, Zionism, feudalism, and inequality between nations, sexes, and classes.” Feminism is not just about sex/gender but about all forms of social inequality and oppression/privilege.

I also like Peggy Kornegger’s description of feminism as “A many-headed monster which cannot be destroyed by singular decapitation.” Guess what crazy feminist hating trolls? You can’t kill feminism! It’s a hydra - as soon as you cut of one head, another will grow back. This ‘multiplicty of feminisms’ is another thing I love about feminism. There are so many varieties feminism puts 31 flavors to shame. From anarcha-feminism to eco-feminism to womanism to third wave feminism to radical feminism, each flavor has something yummy. Try them all, pick one, or rotate! Hell, get a quadruple cone of feminism and delight your feminist taste buds!

The Combahee River Collective’s argument that feminism must be “actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” and seek to develop “integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that major systems of oppression are interlocking” is another classic. The intersectional approach to feminism is one flavor I cannot live without - it’s my mainstay.

Charlotte Bunch’s argument that feminism is “an entire worldview or gestalt, not just a laundry list of ‘women’s issues’ is another favorite of mine.” As Bunch argues, “Feminst theory provides basis for understanding every area of our lives, and a feminist perspective can affect the world politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually.” Yes, it certainly can. And once you re-place your feminist lenses stolen from you by the culture/society/history/institutional white supremacist heteronormative imperialist patriarchal matrix that defines ‘reality,’ you will never look at the world in the same way again.

See, you were born a feminist, we all were, and if haven’t already done so, please find your way back.

[Crossposted at Professor, What If...? - please leave comments or questions there.]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Might Be a Feminist Too...

[Note to readers: This week we are running a series of posts that discuss what it means to be a feminist. Today, we are honored to have Sally of Jump Off a Bridge as a guest writer. These are her words...]

For as long as I can remember, I've been a feminist. Before I even knew there was a word to describe what I was and what I believed. So when I found out there was a word, I practically tattooed it on my forehead (hmm… that's not a bad idea).

I've just always thought that men and women should have equal rights. It doesn't matter that there are biological differences. It doesn't matter that history tells us otherwise. We need equal rights and opportunities. Plain and simple.

Because I'm loud and obnoxious about my feminism, I've had quite a number of debates with people who look at me like I'm dirty or dangerous when they hear I'm a feminist. I'll offer my favorite story.

My guy's aunt could barely say the word "feminist" without getting a look on her face like she just swallowed sour milk. I started asking her questions:
Do you have a job?
Do you believe you should keep the money you make instead of giving it to your father or husband or brother?
Of course
So you consider yourself pretty independent?
Then, I hate to break it to you, but you're probably a feminist.
No I'm not, just because I keep my own money?
Well, there was a time way back when, when women weren't allowed to keep any money or property. Women had to fight to earn that right.
Really? I never knew that.
Just like they had to fight for the right to get divorced from abusive men, keep their own children, make their way to the top at their jobs.
Well, I knew that, but not everybody wants that.
You're right, but feminism gives you a choice. We didn't have that choice before and now we do. That's why I'm a feminist. I want to keep fighting for all the choices we should have that we don't.

Somewhere around here, my guy came into the convo and said he's a feminist too. This seemed to boggle her mind. We explained that feminism is about men AND women. Sure, we're different. Some differences are biological, some social, some a mixture of the two. But that doesn't mean that gender stereotypes don't hurt us all.

At the end of our little chat, she said "Well… I guess I'm a little bit of a feminist." *sigh* It wasn't a full "conversion," but I think I'd call that a success.

I think being a "good" feminist—or at least the feminist I aspire to be—means actively working towards equality, fighting other social inequalities (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), analyzing situations and people with a critical but also open-minded and fair eye, and constantly pushing myself to grow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Want to Be Just Like Her: Inspiration, Death, and Rebirth

[Note to readers: This week we are running a series of posts that discuss what feminism means and how it has impacted our lives. Yet, as Dee of Power of Attorney reminds us, how we see the world and what we choose to do during our lives is much more influenced by our loves and our losses than by the particular wording of any philosophy we embrace. If feminism is the belief that women should be allowed to choose for themselves what type of life they will lead, then each woman will practice a feminism as unique as she is, and as unique as the women who have helped form her ideas of what women can be. Today, we are deeply honored to have Dee as a guest writer. These are her words...]

One thing all Jamaicans know is that Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the world. All of us have been touched by crime. While we don't exactly live in fear, we are alert, being aware of the fact that it can happen to anyone at anytime, at any place.


Like many lawyers I have met, I have always wanted to be a lawyer. Not knowing much about the job, I loved to talk, argue, debate - and of course I was right there on Paper Chase and Perry Mason; moreover my mother's best friend was a lawyer. Her children and I went to school together. She was divorced, attractive, independent, sole provider for her two girls and, in my young mind, strong. I loved to see her in her robes and read about her achievements. I thought I wanted to be just like her, and I set out to do it. From day one, I planned to do all the subjects that would get me accepted to the Faculty of Law. I even avoided a year in France just so that I could head-off to study law. To be honest, while a student I wondered whether it was for me, but hey, you can't let nagging doubts get you down - plus it cost a lot.


Eleven years after I was called to the bar - years during which I discovered that practicing law could be a brutal experience, where yes the money could be good but the hours and the colleagues mean and harsh, where lawyers were not necessarily ministers of justice - my mother's best friend was murdered. She was 60 years old. By that time, jaded and disheartened, my husband and I had set up our law practice together, hoping to find the experience more tolerable. This did not make it any easier.

You see, she was killed in her office. She was having lunch and some men who had visited earlier returned and killed her. Her throat was slashed. It was a brutish, brazen and horrid act. I realized later that while she was taking her last breath, I was on a plane to visit my mother. When my aunt called with the news, she couldn't get it out - she was crying and yelling and she hung up the phone. It took some time for me to get what had happened. This remained the situation for quite a while. There were many rumors, including that her death had some connection to politics.


I didn't go to court once. I read about it in the papers. One of her daughters went everyday. One day, while doing a consultancy, I saw a lady at the door. She said I looked familiar, I replied that she did too and she mentioned my mother's friend's name and stated that she used to work for her. She was there on that fatal day. For the next two hours, she outlined to me what had happened; how she observed the men when they made the first visit, how she inquired of them their business, how she herself ran in another office and the murders tried to beat down the door, how she called the police, how the secretary wouldn't let the screaming staff members leave the lunch room, how the secretary watched, how her boss tried valiantly to rush to the medical centre next door while holding her slashed neck in vain, hos the secretary had stolen from her boss, how the secretary held her by the collar and yelled, YOU YOU YOU when the police arrived, how she gave evidence for the prosecution, how one of the accused lunged at her in court.

Everybody has a right to legal representation, but for a few days these brutes who were innocent until proven guilty had a problem. No lawyer wanted to defend them.


Guilty! The taxi driver who took them to and from the office, one of the men who entered her office, and the secretary were all found guilty. The other man who had entered her office had escaped!!! He was subsequently killed while at his girlfriend's home. His killer was a lone gunman, the weapon, a single bullet from a gun. The secretary has since appealed to the Privy Council.


Life went on. In the ensuing months and year, she was often in our minds, We made sure to keep the office doors locked, we vetted our clients, we kept staff to the bare minimum, we called no threat empty. One of her old clients came to me and, after going through the file, I still managed to learn something new. She knew her stuff and was teaching me though she had gone. I remember how she stood up for me deadly calm, as she represented my mother in a suit against my father for child support, I remember her devotion to her daughters, her love of beautiful things, her beautiful home, her stylish dress, her calm disposition, her thrill as she purchased an old country home which she renovated. I remember the parties she held there. I remember the last time, watching her peel an orange for me and thinking that the knife looked so sharp. I remember that she was killed by hands holding a knife. I remember how she never seemed to shout, get angry, or sweat the small stuff' she always seemed so cool. When I remember how she loved life and how she had the courage to shape her world and live the life of her dreams, I still think that I want to be just like her.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Feminism: Theory and Practice

[Note to readers: Last week we asked for some feminist definitions of feminism, and for readers' personal stories about how feminism has played a part in their lives. Today, we are honored to have Amelia of Female Impersonator as a guest writer. These are her words...]

As far as my definition of feminism goes, it's been really hard to come up with. When I first began calling myself a feminist during my first term at college (Fall 2007), my boyfriend had a really hard time understanding. We had several difficult discussions in which he asked me to explain what feminism was so he could better understand where I was coming from. I finally got through to him by explaining that feminism, for me, was a general understanding that women suffer many inequalities that do not exist for men because of the society that we live in which has been structured in many ways to favor men. I then explained that the way in which I practice feminism is by recognizing those instances in which people, the government, the media, etc. treat women unjustly and I call them out for it because no change will come if people are so used to sexism that they don't even notice it. I feel as if true equality cannot come about if our society does not first recognize that their are inequalities and decide how to address them. That is all feminism is about - equality. And true equality certainly isn't going to come about if we merely put a band-aid on the problem of sexism and pretend its all better. As a feminist, I try to dig out the problems in our society and bring them to the surface so they can be properly addressed.

Some of the ways I practice feminism in my life:

This post is a little illustration of how I practice feminism in my daily life by recognizing misogyny in everyday media, like the music that I constantly listen to. I realized, while writing this post, that although some of the songs by this band (Nickelback) clearly were offensive and sexist, others were less so. I had a difficult time critiquing them because I like their music, which hurts me as a feminist because I know it's not always respectful.

I also try to fight misogyny in the media by refusing to purchase "women's" magazines which I feel are damaging to women's self-esteem and confidence. My action project for my first gender and women's studies class involved this idea.

I also call out other media, like television shows or websites, that are sexist (here and here). When I do that, I get a lot of negative responses, like people think I am acting superior to them because they like those shows. Even when I try to explain why I won't watch certain shows, people often choose to ignore me out of spite for my supposed superiority complex. That has led to a lot of conflict in myself - Can a feminist like some misogynist media and really call him/herself a feminist? I have decided that that is indeed possible, as long as one does not passively accept the misogyny and is able to identify and recognize it.

I also practice feminism on a slightly less-than-daily basis when I am in school by doing a feminist radio hour during which my co-host (Kate, from the Female Impersonator blog) and I talk about feminism and try to get casual radio listeners involved in discussing the sexism that exists around us everyday. This has been a really empowering experience for me so far because I have had numerous fellow students tell me that they listened to our radio show and they were enlightened about many of the problems that still exist in our society when it comes to gender equality. The same can be said about blogging, which is a big way in which I practice feminism in my life.

[Cross-posted at Female Impersonator]

Friday, June 20, 2008

Rape is a Weapon

As the BBC reports, "[t]he UN Security Council has voted unanimously in favour of a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war."

Filmmaker Lisa Jackson is largely to thank for this action on behalf of women in war torn countries, for it was her documentary that inspired Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to push for this vote.

As Jackson explains, the women she interviewed while filming The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo repeatedly asked her to please make their stories known, so that people in positions of power might be motivated to take action to help them. In an effort to ensure that their voices were heard, Jackson screened the film in the US Senate, in the British House of Commons, and in the Belgian Parliament. When American Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad saw the film, the hopes of the Congolese women Jackson had interviewed were realized, for he immediately decided to bring a resolution before the UN Security Council that would afford greater protections to women in countries where rape is systematically being used as a weapon of war.

In the past, the UN has not considered rape as a security issue, but as a health or women's issue. Jackson hopes that, by elevating the attention given to rape to that afforded other security issues, this vote will lead to more being done to prevent rape by providing security to women in areas where war and hate make them vulnerable. She also hopes that this resolution will lead to the creation of greater protections against attacks by UN Peacekeepers, who are currently sent back to their host countries if accused of rape, where generally the incident is not investigated.

This resolution brings hope.

(This piece has been updated since it was first posted at noon, the last two paragraphs and final line were added at 1:30 pm EST. Oh, and a special Tip of the Hat to Coffee Shop Philosophy for writing about the travesty of ignoring -or accepting as normal - the high number of rapes in war torn communities.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Last Call: Feminism Definitions

Last Sunday, in response to some mean-spirited definitions of feminism over at Urban Dictionary, we asked readers to send us any of the following:

1. Your definition of feminism
2. A post on how you came to call yourself a feminist, or your 'click moment' with feminism
3. A discussion of how you practice feminism in your daily life, and how others respond
4. Links to posts you've already written about any of the above

I'm really excited by what we've gotten so far, and it looks like we'll be able to run a series of fascinating posts by guest bloggers next week, along with a list of feminism definitions. There is still time to add your thoughts, though! Send your definition or your post to pobrehabladora [at] gmail [dot] com by this evening to be included in next week's series of feminists on feminism.

This is last call!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Can Rising Oil Prices Help Women?

As economist Susan Feiner recently noted:

45 years ago American feminist Betty Friedan saw how suburban isolation undermined women’s health and restricted women’s choices. In a now classic essay, “The Problem That Has No Name” Friedan successfully linked the repressive domesticity of the 1950s to suburbanization.

Friedan’s analysis was pooh-poohed as a “women’s” issue.

Coming soon to a station near you: $5.00/gallon gas. VOILLA!

That's right, high gas prices are un-gendering the problem of suburban isolation. As a result, the negative impacts of suburbanization have suddenly become a serious issue for Americans (aka one that impacts men). With gas prices at an all-time high, companies and cities are being forced to re-think old models, and some of their solutions might just make balancing career and family life easier - a goal very dear to the hearts of many professional women.

Improved Public Transportation: One way that cities are having to respond to the rising costs of gas is by putting more money into failing public transportation systems. Long ignored in many cities as being unimportant (because they were only used by 'poor people' without cars), sidewalks, buses, and commuter train lines are now seeing more traffic from people of all socio-economic classes, and money is being allocated for their upkeep. Lights are being installed down formerly dark footpaths, broken sidewalks are being repaired, and additional security personnel can be found patrolling commuter rails. While this will benefit all citizens, women in particular stand to gain a lot from the improvements. With additional lights, many women will feel safer running and traveling after dark. Improved sidewalks will be beneficial for mothers with strollers.

Flexible Hours and Work-from-Home Opportunities: Although they stand to loose little, many companies have been obstinately reluctant to offer flexible work schedules and work-from-home opportunities to parents. Since our society still expects that women will be responsible for most child care, this has been a problem that has disproportionately impacted working mothers. The logic has consistently been that if women really want to be competitive in any field, they should abstain from having families altogether. Yet, as NPR reported today on Morning Edition, more and more companies are offering all employees options like working out of home offices or the choice of working 10-hour days four days a week rather than 8-hour daily five day weeks. For mothers who wish for more flexibility to work around day-care schedules and child rearing necessities like sick-days and doctor appointments, the work from home option has always been coveted - despite the occasional complaint from bosses that it makes women seem 'less serious' about their careers. As one male employee puts it in the Morning Edition piece, as long as the work gets done, who cares if it happens on the traditional schedule? For mothers seeking for more time with their children and one free day when they know appointments can be made, trading a couple of Monday-Thursday hours for a completely free Friday might seem like a bargain.

Of course, these improvements are dearly bought. The price of food is going up and fewer people can afford extravagant vacations. Yet, some changes for the better might still come out of this crisis - changes that rarely come when nearly fifty percent of the population is so content with the status quo.

(h/t Economic Woman, images via here and here)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Miroslava Enciso Limón: Superhero

When she was 17 years old, Miroslava Enciso Limón visited the city dump in Tijuana, Mexico as part of a school project. She was disturbed by the sight of entire families living among the garbage, digging through it in hopes of finding clothes, food, and any items that could be sold. When she asked a child what his dream for the future was, he answered, "To shower, to feel what its like to have hot water fall on me." Although she'd always claimed that she wanted to be a firefighter, she decided then to instead dedicate her life to bettering the situation of the people living among the piles of refuse.

Now, at 27 years old, Miroslava Enciso Limón is implementing a recycling system that will alleviate both the social and environmental suffering long associated with the Tijuana dump. A machine she designed during her final year of studies at Tijuana's Institute of Technology, where she earned a degree in Industrial Engineering, rips open bags and empties garbage onto conveyor belts, where the trash is sorted by workers into recyclable and biodegradable categories. Enciso Limón admits that she could have automated the sorting system, but she wanted to employ those who used to be scavengers. Perhaps their job is similar to what it has always been, but those who sort the trash now have latex gloves and face masks to protect them from contact with the filth, a cool building in which to work, a regular salary, and health benefits.

Who says one woman can't make a difference?

UPDATE: According to an article in the Spanish-language newspaper ZETA, Enciso Limón is also having to fight governmental corruption as she turns her recycling facility into a reality. Tecate's City Hall Municipal Treasure, Marco Antonio Lizárraga Navarro, has reportedly pocketed some of the recycling center's funds by brokering fraudulent deals concerning some city-owned junk cars. Lizárraga Navarro has been charged with abuse of power, bribery, embezzlement and illicit negotiations. So, Ericka Miroslava Enciso Limón is defending the impoverished and the environment while battling corrupt government officials. Someone buy this woman a cape and a mask, already, because it doesn't get more superhero than that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cheers to California!

I might be coming a bit late to the party, but I'd like to join in congratulating California!

Congratulations in particular to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who have been partners more than 50 years, and who this evening became "the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the state," and to friends of the blog Leanne Waldal and Moya Watson. Woooooooooohooooooooo!!!

If you are looking for other ways to celebrate this happy day, Current TV is asking people to share their own coming out stories. In the words of the Current "Outreach Associate" who wrote today to urge me to encourage readers to send them videos so they can put you all on TV, "Finding liberation in coming out should be celebrated and admired. We hope that by sharing your stories, you and your readers will inspire others with the courage to do the same." Oh, and please remember us when you become stars (preferably by hitting that donate button)!

(The photo of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon was, like so many beautiful things, snagged from Feministe)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Call for Submissions: Feminism Definitions

It's awkward to admit now, but definitions of feminism penned by anti-feminists used to make me shy away from the word. My ideas were clearly feminist ideas, but I worried that the term was so widely misunderstood as to make it useless. Conversations about my (feminist!) ideals often went something like this:

Dude: "So, what are you - like, a feminist or something?"
Me: "I believe in liberating both sexes from the gender stereotypes that limit them, and I think that a lot more needs to be done to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women."

Of course, those lines pretty much define my feminism, and it only took two days of working at my university's Women's Center before I learned to openly embrace the word. I have since come to believe that attempts to discredit the term feminism are generally used to silence those who notice sexism in our societies and those who work to make things more equitable.

Perhaps memories of my past reluctance to claim the appropriate term for my philosophies added to the sting I felt when reading the definitions of feminism over at Urban Dictionary last week, but the vitriol I saw there really threw me into a funk. Based on the UD rants and recent media uses of the word, it seems like attacks on feminism and its values have gained force in recent years. I worry that younger generations of women will face even more resistance to both the word and the values it implies if we continue to allow feminist to be used as a synonym for words like harpy and misandrist.

So, I'd like to come up with some more useful definitions of feminism than the ones over at UD, and I'd like your help. I'm hoping to gather some feminist readings of feminism, and some feminist perspectives on what it means to be a feminist. If you're interested in adding your thoughts, please send any of the following to me at pobrehabladora [at] gmail [dot] com by next Thursday evening:

1. Your definition of feminism
2. A post on how you came to call yourself a feminist, or your 'click moment' with feminism
3. How you practice feminism in your daily life, and how others respond
4. Links to posts you've already written about any of the above

Depending on what type of responses we get, I'll either do a single post listing definitions or a series of guest posts. Of course, you'll get credit for your words - so please send a byline telling a bit about yourself or a link to your profile or blog. Naturally, feel free to leave your thoughts on any of the above in comments as well.

Remember - send your definitions or posts by the evening of Thursday, June 19th!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Let My Partner Stay

The above video from Current TV emphasizes the real-life problems caused by our refusal to grant same-sex couples equal rights, a refusal that intimately impacts even people's most basic decisions about where to live and work. I'll admit, watching this couple's goodbyes made me cry a little tear.

Hopefully, laws in states like Massachusetts and (starting Monday) California will eventually make life a little easier for the some 35,000 couples that find themselves in the same situation as Brittany and Joanna, who are unable to remain in the United States due to our discriminatory laws against same-sex couples. Of course, the rights of lesbians and gays are actively being opposed nation-wide. In California, some worry that a November ballot initiative that "...would amend the state Constitution to prohibit same-sex unions" could pass, and same-sex couples would again be robbed of their status as equal citizens. Californians, don't let that happen.

UPDATE: Friends of The Feminist Underground Leanne and Moya were recently interviewed by Melissa Block for an NPR piece on California's circuitous path to legalizing gay marriage. The piece will air today (June 13th) on All Things Considered, but anyone can go to the NPR website and listen after 1:00 pm EST!

(thanks, once again, to Ada of Current directing us to this story)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

March Towards Equality Shuffle: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

Happy news item number 1: Massachusetts's State Maternity Act will now apply to fathers too! According to Feminist Law Professors:
This change means that employers in Massachusetts must now offer both mothers and fathers 8 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. It appears that much of the decision was prompted by the state having same-sex marriage and the Commission determining how to rectify the problem that a lesbian couple would have, under the statute, two parents eligible for leave but a gay male couple would have no parents eligible. Interpreting the law as sex-neutral solves this problem.
This news is naturally good for gay parents in Massachusetts, yet it will help straight couples just as much. The weeks following the birth or adoption of a child, while often very joyful, can naturally be a very stressful period as well. When mothers are the only ones given leave from work during this time, they must bear most of the initial burdens of parenthood alone. The women-only parental leave system also"perpetuate[s] sex- and gender-based hierarchy within marriage," since it establishes that care of children will fall mainly to the mother - regardless of whether or not she works. So, yeah Massachusetts for making parenting more equal for everyone! This will improve the lives of lesbians and gays, and, more generally, of women and men. This is a great example of how interconnected we all are, and why feminism should be concerned with LGBT issues.

Happy news 2: As you might have heard, California's State Supreme Court has ruled to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, and "[t]he ruling takes effect, and the weddings begin, on June 16 at 5 p.m." That's just four days away, guys! I think lots of congratulations are going to be in order!

Sad news: Of course, you had to know that some people who stand to loose ... well, nothing from allowing other love-birds to tie the knot are again making a stink:

County officials in at least two California counties say they'll stop performing all wedding ceremonies by next week, arguing that they don't have enough resources to marry both gay and straight couples.

Officials in Kern and Butte counties cited budget and staffing constraints as the rationale for halting the ceremonies. But clerks in other counties say that claim is specious. Some activists went further, arguing that the decision to stop the ceremonies amounts to poorly disguised discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

County clerks are required by law to issue marriage licenses, but the offices do not have to perform wedding ceremonies. The recent state Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriages takes effect after the business day on Monday.

In Kern County, Clerk Ann Barnett announced her decision only after county lawyers told her she could not refuse to marry gay couples.

Really, guys, it isn't that the good people of Kern and Butte are bigots! They just don't have the resources to marry both straight and gay couples... I mean, with all that stamping of official documents, and ... well, that's about it. But it's hard. Come to think of it, the county clerks really should be allowed to choose who gets to wed, since they have to do all the filing and stamping... it's only fair!

(photo via The Guardian)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Privilege and Feminism: Do Allies Exist?

My faith in the ability of privileged people to act as allies has been a bit shaken today. My usual confidence in the triumph of compassion over mistrust and blind self-interest faltered after reading the following:

1. A teacher wore a "Got Privilege?" tee-shirt into the fairly liberal Boston-area school in which he works, and was confronted by a co-worker, who insisted that a Puerto Rican man wearing such a shirt is 'offensive to white people.' His story prompted Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liza Talusan to ask:
Privilege. Is it really an ugly word? Why is it so difficult for people to realize and accept that they have privilege? Does having privilege mean people are bad? Selfish? Close-minded?
2. Linda Hirshman writes in The Washington Post that feminism has lost it's focus by concentrating too much on intersectionality. According to Hirshman, we have been placing so much importance on the often divisive issues of race and class, that we've failed to unify around what's best for women. I applaud Jill's response at Feministe: main concern comes at the way the issues are split [by Hirshman] into authentic “feminist” issues and those “other” issues that those “other” women are trying to integrate into feminism. It’s a question of who feminism belongs to, and who is entitled to set out its goals and concerns... I don’t see why middle-class white women’s issues are more purely feminist that the issues raised by poor women or Black women or Hispanic women, or any other group of women. The issues that disproportionately effect middle-class white women are also issues colored by race and class — but because they’re the dominant race and the dominant class, that gets glossed over.
That someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of the disempowered can so easily shrug-off the challenges faced by others, so long as they are challenges that she won't have to face herself - it saddens me. That people get angry when their privilege is pointed out - angry at people who have traditionally be denied those privileges - confuses me.

All of us enjoy some type of privilege. We are able-bodied, or white, or male, or upper-class, or straight. And for all of us, the types of privilege that we enjoy will sometimes blind us to the challenges that face others. Our differences in privilege will lead us to misunderstand one another, and to mistrust and judge one another. Those of us who are white won't understand that it is a privilege to see numerous and diverse representations of people like us in the media, and won't understand how damaging and morale-beating continual disrespect can be. Those of us who are straight won't understand what a privilege it is to be able to unthinkingly treat our partners with affection no matter where we are, and to not have to worry that our family structure will be misunderstood or used as an excuse to torment our children. Those who are male will most likely not understand how common street harassment and sexual harassment can be, nor how frightening and bewildering.

With so many obstacles to understanding one another, can we ever really be allies?

(h/t to Blue Milk for leading me to the phenomenal Lesbian Dad post on explaining 'two mommies' to other parents, and to Alas, a blog for pointing to Anti-racist Parent.)

UPDATE: The back of the "Got Privilege?" tee shirt reads "If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen to side with the oppressor." I realized after posting that the text in the photo might be a bit small to be easily read.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Quick Hits: The 45th Anniversary of the Fair Pay Act and More!

Lindsay of Female Impersonators takes some time on the 45th anniversary of the Fair Pay Act to remind us just how much work still needs to be done to ensure fair pay for all who work in the U.S.A.:
...white women are still payed 77 cents to every white man's dollar, African-American women are payed 66 cents to a white man's dollar and Latina women earn 53 cents to a white man's dollar. Across the board through all different kinds of fields and education levels, unequal pay according to gender persists in the American economy and workforce as institutionalized sexism...

Here's what you can do:

Support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which says that people can sue for pay discrimination within 180 days of their last paycheck, not 180 since their first paycheck. That means that if you've been working at the same company for five years and you've recently discovered that you're the victim of pay discrimination since hiring, you can sue your company for the past five years of pay discrimination...

Here's info on the Fair Pay campaign, a fact sheet produced by the National Women's Law Center, and most important, a letter to your senator supporting the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. If you live in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, or Virginia, one or both of your senators voted against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first time around. You need to write them and tell him/her to get their ass in gear and support the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
In case you were wondering, we've also written about fair pay and Lily Ledbetter - here, here, and here, for example. Remember, McCain has said that he does not support this legislation.

In 'other things I'm itching to discuss this evening':
1. The New York Times says straight couples have a lot to learn from lesbian and gay couples.
2. The Wall Street Journal discusses the marked differences in McCain and Obama's energy policies
3. The Washington Post wonders if doctors should or could pray with patients
4. The Chicago Tribune further discusses how the abortion issue will be used during the election, and what might be at stake
5. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life tells of moral dilemmas facing French doctors who are asked to perform operations to "reattach the hymens of women who want to appear as virgins." (UPDATE: for more on this story, visit Womanist Musings.)


Monday, June 9, 2008

Abortion and the General Election: Rhetoric and Stratagems

Now that Barack Obama is unquestionably the Democratic nominee and thoughts have turned to the general election, many have begun to ask 'what now'? Both Obama and McCain will be looking to bolster support from their party's traditional bases. McCain will be searching to rally the Huckabee-voting fundamentalist Christians behind him, and -if the pundits are to be believed- Obama will have to work to win over Clinton's most ardent supporters. In short, both men are seeking to woo their own party's 'true believers.'

So what does this mean? Probably that we'll be hearing a whole lot more about abortion in the coming weeks. According to one recent article by Ed Stoddard, both Obama and McCain need the abortion issue to be front and center during the general election, precisely so that they can stir up the type of high-emotions that will prompt party loyalists to come out to vote in November:
"Religious conservatives may not be wildly enthusiastic about McCain but they can point to his pro-life stance as reason to stay on board," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

...Allen Hertzke, director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said [Obama's pro-choice stance] could help Obama secure support from some of the white women who voted in droves in the Democratic nominating contests for Sen. Hillary Clinton...
Stoddard also notes, as we have, that many voters also predict that the next president of the United States will be responsible for nominating a new Supreme Court justice:
McCain has reiterated that he would appoint [anti-choice] justices; for the Democratic base it is seen as vital that the tide of conservative appointees on the bench be rolled back.
However, focusing exclusively on preserving Roe might not be Obama's best tactic, writes
Yes, it's true that replacing John Paul Stevens and/or Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a Republican appointee will be bad for abortion rights, although this is likely to occur by further draining content from Casey rather than overturning Roe outright.
But even when it comes to women's rights, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The enforcement of civil rights protections for women is likely to be much less in a Republican administration, for example. The global gag order will remain firmly in place. And in general, four more years of a tax-cut-supporting, massive-defense-spending GOP president will not only make any kind of serious progressive reform (much of which disproportionately benefits women even if not specifically targeted to do so) virtually impossible for four more years but will also make it more difficult in the future.
So, I ask - how will you be talking to your politically conservative and undecided friends and family in the days to come? If you know any former Clinton supporters who are considering not casting a vote for Obama come November (I've never met one, but they are widely rumored to exist), what arguments will you be using to convince them?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Reason Not to Try? Indeed!

Due to the resurgence of the roller derby posts, I’d like to submit a wee little post about the excellent things some women are doing. I wish I could proudly say “the excellent things some people are doing”. Still when it’s a woman doing it, it becomes news. And isn’t that the case? And isn’t that what we are striving to reverse here?

My favorite quote from the article is:

You can keep a girl off the wrestling team and you can keep her off the boxing team and you can keep her from playing professional football, as a general rule, but you can't keep a woman from climbing K-2.

Here is to the day when the "The higher you go, the less women you see," is no longer a reality.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The LGBT Equality Caucus and the Silent T

This week, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced the formation of the House of Representatives’ LGBT Equality Caucus. The only two openly gay members of Congress, co-chairs Baldwin and Frank have before acted as advocates for the LGBT community. The formation of the bi-partisan caucus, comprised of 52 members of the House of Representatives, marks a very hopeful step towards ensuring equal rights for all U.S. citizens, regardless of orientation or gender identity. This show of support comes at a crucial time, and the newly formed caucus already has a full agenda:
“Our work this session on legislation combating hate crimes and employment non-discrimination highlighted the need and the desire people had for more information,” Baldwin said, referring to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The House passed ENDA, but the Senate has yet to take it up this session. The hate crimes measure was attached to the Defense authorization bill, but later yanked.
Clearly, much work needs to be done to ensure that these two important pieces of legislation are passed, and it is reassuring to see so many members of Congress pledge to support equal rights. However, any joy over the formation of the LGBT Equality Caucus must be undercut by the realization of just what a difficult battle even basic protections against violence and discrimination face. For example, although ENDA narrowly passed the House vote, it only protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation - all protections for transgenders were stripped from the bill out of fear that it would not pass if gender identity were included.

Perhaps what needs to be done is to humanize the issue, which should not be treated as a question of politics, but one of basic compassion. This piece from Current TV does just that:

(Many thanks to reader Ada for pointing us to this video!)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sure, Tricking Babies is Fun, But is it Right?

From Women's Bioethics Blog, here is a little motherhood moral dilemma for your Friday morning:
A New York Times article ( “Experts Question Placebo Pill for Children” --May 27, 2008) raises the question of whether giving children placebo pills for minor childhood illnesses is an ethical practice. Based on the premise that pharmacologically inert compounds can actually produce improvements in some medical conditions, Jennifer Buettner, a mother of 3 small children, developed a cherry-flavored chewable dextrose tablet, the first branded, pharmaceutical grade placebo. The therapeutic effect is based on the power of suggestion. If parents use the placebo to “trick” their children into thinking that they are taking real medicine, the children will consequently feel better.
Notice that the brand name, Obecalp, is simply placebo spelled backwards. Mommies and daddies are tricky, no?

Of course, there might be a catch to this 'magic feather' catch-all cure for minor childhood complaints, as the New York Times points out. First of all, clinical studies that use placebos are usually double blinded - neither the patient nor the person giving the placebo knows its a fake, making it easier to fool the patient. So Obecalp might not work if the moms and dads handing it out know its a sham. Yet, your parents probably knew there was no Santa, and they still managed to fool you for years (man, were you gullible), so I'm not buying the kids-will-see-through-this argument.

A graver concern is that fake medicines could condition kids into thinking that popping pills is the solution to every problem:

“Kids could grow up thinking that the only way to get better is by taking a pill,” Dr. Brody said. If they do that, he added, they will not learn that a minor complaint like a scraped knee or a cold can improve on its own.

Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist who studies placebos at the Stanford School of Medicine, said conditioning children to reach for relief in a pill could also make them easy targets for quacks and pharmaceutical pitches later. “They used to sell candied cigarettes to kids to get them used to the idea of playing with cigarettes,” he said.

Despite the controversy, Obecalp went on the market on June 1st - you can now buy it over-the-counter. So, we are left with the questions - is it ethical to give your kids a fake drug and tell them that it is medicine? What if you tell them it's just sugar, but it might help them feel better anyway? Will Obecalp create a psychological dependency on pills? Is this anything new, or have parents been taking advantage of the placebo effect since parenting began?

(Oh, and for the 'why is this a feminist issue' folks... 1. parenting continues to be a central concern for many women, and it unfortunately is a task that falls largely on mothers, whether they have a partner or not. 2. I'm a feminist, I want to talk about it, and this is my blog, gosh darn it!)

(Magic feather via)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Look, Mom! and What to Expect from Feminist Blogging

Part I: Blushes. A writer I admire likes me back! I know, not because I sent her a 'do you like me - yes, no, maybe' note, but because she gave me an award! It looks like this:

Yeah! I have so many people to thank... This also means that I'm to give 10 awards to other emerging writers I admire, so promote your latest projects in the comments!

Part II: The blogging life. It really is nice to get noticed by someone you read, because it can be a rough, rough world out here in the feminist blogosphere. In case you're thinking of starting your own, here are the steps in creating a feminist blog:

1. Sign up. This is not as easy as you'd think. First, you have to choose a user name. Your first name is taken. Your nickname is taken. Your last name... taken. You begin to realize that you aren't as individualistic as you thought. Try alternate spellings of your first, nick, and last names - but they're all taken. Try plays on words, foreign-language equivalents of you name, names of your favorite characters from films and novels - it turns out that all your interests are trite, and you aren't as witty as you'd like to think either. Finally, in desperation, look around the room and name yourself after whatever happens to be in view - bluechair or tatteredcarpet, perhaps. It is done, set in stone - you have a blog name. You immediately think... 'You know, I don't really like my name much...' This will be your online identity... forever. Unless, of course, you decide to change it. Now, choose a URL. Plan an hour for this, because your first 50 ideas... taken.

2. Post. You will love it. You've formed words and put them into the world. In your eyes, your post is beautiful. You will wait for readers and comments. No one stops by to confirm your genius. Your beautiful post is one of billions of posts, floating unnoticed in the ether.

3. Repeat step 2, repeat step 2, repeat step 2...

4. When you begin to wonder if blogging might be a dumb hobby, go do something else for awhile, resolving to forget about the blog entirely. I recommend playing Wii. Do not delete your blog. After a couple of weeks, you'll want to write a feminist critique of Wii - for your blog.

5. Finally, someone you don't personally know will comment. You'll install Site Meter and realize that you have tens - that's right tens! - of regular readers, plus tons of people coming in through Google looking for... well, this is a PG site, folks, so I won't tell you what they're looking for... The realization that someone is reading will cause two conflicting desires- the drive to work harder and make your blog more insightful and eloquent, and the desire to sit in front of Site Meter all day, not posting, but simply watching what odd searches lead people to you, imagining their bizarre lives. (I get at least 10 hits a day from people looking for 'sexy turkey' - it took me awhile to realize that people wanted pictures of women (or men) from Turkey, not shots of poultry striking provocative poses).

6. Trolls will find you. Some will call you dumb for claiming that sexism exists. Others will use sexist language to abuse you, telling you that you must be stupid or icky because you're female. Most will do both, simultaneously. Do not be tricked into thinking you can save them from their meanness and stupidity with your rational arguments - the mark of a troll is that they don't respond to logic, they just show up to hurl vacuous insults. Every feminist blogger has to decide how to handle her own trolls, but there are a variety of tactics.

7. About this time, though, you'll realize that other, sane people are leaving really interesting comments on your posts, sending you insightful emails, and sometimes even referencing your words in their own posts. This will make you so happy. You've found a feminist community! You'll realize that blogging really is satisfying, even if it never gets you that book deal. (If anyone wants to offer me a book deal, though... I'm listening...) And maybe, just maybe, someone whose words inspire you will acknowledge you by giving you an award.

And then what will you do? Repeat step 2, repeat step 2, repeat step 2...

You'd didn't expect to now get an award every day, did you? Perhaps you should go play some Wii...

(Troll art via, hands via)