Meat-Free Misogyny

July 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

by SARAH

In preparation for a delicious, animal-free dinner party I am to be throwing, I was leafing through the Babycakes cookbook (for those who don’t know, Babycakes is a rather excellent and slightly famous vegan bakery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), and noticed this little blurb right in the middle of the cupcakes chapter:

You know her, you love her (me, too)!, and she needs no introduction…Ladies and gentlemen, the pride of PETA, Ms. Pamela Anderson!

A little-known fact: Animals especially appreciate being rescued by friends in white, French-cut bikinis as opposed to those in modest onesies (I don’t know why, they just do). And, of course, I’m happy to oblige – I’ve long been committed to sticking up for defenseless animals and the worldwide proliferation of sexy water-wear. But to successfully rock a shockingly shocking suit requires less chubby desserts. Thank all that is holy for Babycakes NYC and my new favorite indulgence: The sultry Healthy Hostess (aka Healthy Ho). In the wrong hands, Vegan fare can be tasteless, boring, and unattractive, but these are the greatest things since the California sunshine. When I bring the Ho’s around my boys and their buddies, they hover like undernourished pigeons, and with pals on set or at a fund-raiser it’s the same thing. In the end, I’m happy to pimp my Ho’s around town if it means chickens and cows remain unharmed and that people are made to realize that making delicious recipes doesn’t require the use of any animal products.

I’ll assume there’s no real need to explain the innuendo, but I must really point out and loudly shit on the encouragement of veganism as a weight-loss diet, a disturbingly widespread advertising trend that infuriates me largely because of how many young people really do use veganism as an excuse to hide their eating disorders. Here, Anderson appears to have been painted more as a billboard than an activist or even a real spokesperson. Comically shiny, cutesy, sexy, and glossy. That’s the image this text conjures up even without any pictures. Babycakes is, obviously, desperately trying to offset the traditionally feminine vibe of the pastel colors, cursive script, and pictures of ladies with brown curly hair in aprons with some unabashed appeal to the male gaze. And the mainstream vegetarian/animal rights movement nabs a spot in my list of “well-intentioned liberal-tinted movements that I despise” precisely because of this constant objectification of women, display of non-empowering sexuality, and obvious disregard for the dignity of over half the human population.

I’m sure many of us remember this intriguingly misguided bit of bullshit from a few years ago:

Ah, yes, the veg*n and vagina’d among us are all about the asparagus dildos.

Do vegetarians really have better sex? I don’t know! I’m sure there’s some sort of cause-and-effect snafu in play there. That’s kind of cool and interesting though, and I would really appreciate it if we lived in a society where we could introduce that sort of message to people’s minds without having to degrade women and enforce traditional notions of masculine sexuality to make it tolerable to the public.

It is true, PETA does sometimes put naked dudes in their ads.

Not good enough, though. Compare:

Both ads have de-clothed conventionally attractive people on them, giving the camera fuck-me eyes, with stupid captions sporting supposedly sexy puns that really don’t even make any sense. But the dude is facing the camera straight-on, with a sure, bold, dignified stare, in a powerful arms crossed position. The girl’s position is a lot more overtly sexualized, as if it were showing her off as a product.

Although, on one level, it baffles me why a lifestyle so seemingly compatible with feminism should become a platform for raging misogyny, it also really makes sense. On the other side of the dietary (but same side of the lady-hating) spectrum, we have those Swanson Hungry Man ads that question the masculinity (and mock the supposed femininity) of men who don’t eat lots and lots of frozen fried chicken from cardboard boxes:

There’s also that bogus but shockingly respected myth that a meat-free diet can lead to infertility in men, those jokes about Paul Rudd eating salad in that Jason Segal bromantic comedy, and the constant cultural equation of barbecue and burgers with good ol’ Uhmerrican manliness. Vegetarianism is undoubtedly feminized by US American society.  I’m sure I could go off and write at least 80 more pages about why that is, but the point is that these infuriating kinds of animal rights people are so afraid of this feminization that they have to bolt the other way. Typically, traditionally “feminine” industries and/or products, such as anything related to fashion, cosmetics, etc, often feel the need to go out of their way to make their product appealing to men by making their ads real sexy and pouty. Whereas traditionally masculine things like beer, bacon, trucks, whatever, rarely ever feel the need to make their products appeal to whatever standard those advertising people mean when they say “women.” On top of the fact that these advertisers already operate within restrictive and constructed notions of gender, they add insult to injury by acting afraid of female attention, because if too many girls like it then it’s a girly thing and girls have cooties. The route of masculinization that organizations like PETA take is one that is so obvious, gross, over-the-top and upfront about its total disregard for women, the real benefits of an animal friendly diet seem like a secondary message. I don’t believe for a second that it is necessary to encourage sexism twice as much as vegetarianism to get people to listen.

I became a vegan because it’s a lifestyle about compassion, respect, and, to a certain degree, humility.  The transition was an exercise in sacrificing personal desires for the sake of something bigger and more important, particularly challenging because I could not really see the results of my actions. But I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. I finally feel settled comfortably into my relatively new-found animal-free lifestyle (vegetarian for coming on 1 ½ years, vegan for about 4 months), and honestly, it makes me feel really, really fucking great. There are so many wonderful and obvious reasons to go veg*n for those who can physically and financially afford it. I also feel like my veganism and my feminism work in tandem, informing an important part of my identity and faithfully representing my principles and how I look at the world. However, the mainstream manifestation of the animal rights movement, in all of its cynicism and feminiphobia, pits animal rights against women’s dignity, ignoring the roots of its principles, not just succumbing to patriarchal influence, but actively supporting and encouraging it.

And Babycakes, because you ruined my morning, I will be serving homemade chocolate chunk coconut banana “ice cream” instead of your lovely looking peach cobbler.

A Feminist Haircut

October 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

by SARAH

For a pretty good portion of my life, I had strawberry-blond,  can’t-get-it-in-a-bottle hair that went almost all the way down to my hips. It was thick and long, and I would get constantly complimented on its length and color. As a chubby, socially awkward, relatively insecure preteen, it was one part of myself that I was the most proud of.

Two years ago I cut it off up to my jaw. A week ago I dyed it dark brown. After both drastic changes, I felt different. Different in a really, really good way. Somehow renewed, as if I had taken a step in reclaiming and reshaping my identity.

One pervasive gender stereotype that’s used to differentiate girls from boys is hair length. Long hair is feminine, short hair is masculine. The butch lesbian stereotype includes a short, choppy haircut, while in this day and age, long, shiny, straight hair is equated with traditional feminine beauty.  Talking about hair as a way of self identification and external expression may seem slightly superficial, but considering the strongly gendered implications it has, hair can matter if one chooses to make it matter.

I like to think that my short hair distances me slightly from traditional femininity, while helping me create my own femininity. For me personally, the choices I’ve made with my hair – to cut it short, to get rid of its oft-complimented color, to shape it so it suits me more – have all been a part of constructing my own queer, femme identity. Being 18, I’m naturally in a different place than I was two years ago when I chopped off my locks, but I think the desire to make that drastic change was fueled by the same motives that caused me to dye it. Although two years ago I may not have been able to tell you what a “queer femme identity” was (I probably just barely could now), I think I had some recognition of gender’s fluidity, about both the power it can give you and the power it can take away from you. As someone who is femme, yet strives not to let the boundaries and limits of traditional gender roles define me, I found myself naturally drifting towards a physical expression that includes many traditionally feminine aspects, with a few kinks.  I wear makeup, my closet consists of mostly dresses, what my hair looks like matters to me. But I wear bright red lipstick and green eye shadow, much to the chagrin of any Cosmopolitan reader. I couldn’t care less what the current fashion trends are, and instead I get my clothes, most of which are pretty retro or vintage, at dusty thrift stores. And I care what my hair looks like because I want it to be different and to express my own personality, not because I want Giuliana Rancic to give me her gold seal of approval.

When I was proud of my long, red-blond hair, it wasn’t because it represented me. It was because I was young and a little awkward, and the attention people paid to it was a substitute for the lack of attention I paid myself – for my lack of identity. As I grew up, transitioning from a pre-teen, to a teenager, to where I am now at 18 years old, I became more self-assured. How I choose to express myself physically is no longer for anyone else’s benefit, but to truthfully express myself. My short hair actually makes me feel more feminine, simply because I feel it’s a physical manifestation of my personality – a personality which includes femininity. But it’s my own, reclaimed, personal version of femininity. A version that includes my feminism, my pansexuality, all my individual quirks, and short, dark hair.



Politics of Pleasure

August 27, 2010 § 11 Comments

by SARAH

“Women who report masturbating score higher on a self esteem index than women who do not report masturbating. Women who do masturbate have a more positive body image and less sexual anxiety.”

(Source, which you should actually look at because the whole chart is adorable and awesome.)

Ladies, raise your hand if you slightly jumped, internally cringed, or looked over your shoulder while reading that. It’s alright, really; I did while typing it.

Because, despite all of the talking and thinking and debating I like to do about sex and sexuality, I sometimes fall victim to the same fear of the “m” word that so many other people (particularly women) do. I can find myself having the most explicit conversation about sex with a good friend, and when it comes to that topic, I have trouble choking out the word “masturbate.” Several months ago, I was playing that (pretty stupid) party game Never Have I Ever with a large group of teenage girls -– we admitted all sorts of things without a hint of judgement in the room, yet when that question came up, less than half of us confessed to the deed. And I know that this intense shyness about it isn’t unique to me.

Funny that in a world where women are so sexualized, doin’ the Sally Draper is such a taboo.

But then again, it really isn’t that surprising.

Women are sexualized and objectified to appeal to others. Our culture tells us that our sexuality doesn’t belong to us, nor is it for us to enjoy -– it’s for The Male Gaze. Therefore, the act of a lady pleasing herself for her own purposes presents a little bit of a problem for The Patriarchy, which thinks that women are supposed to be sexy for other people, not for themselves. The Patriarchy also wants us to believe that women are passive about sex, that we are not sexual creatures. Masturbating proves that wrong.

Let’s return to that quote up there for a second as well:

“Higher self esteem…more positive body image…less sexual anxiety.”

When women feel these things, it’s harder to control them, to tell them what to do, to tell them how to change. Ultimately, masturbating is connected to self-respect, self-love, and sexual freedom, all things that challenge several mainstream notions of femininity.

Here’s the deal: Masturbating is fun, orgasms are good for you, and it makes misogynists uncomfortable. So get yourself a vibrator and start a revolution.

This is what a feminist (film) looks like

August 12, 2010 § 6 Comments

by SARAH

The film industry has a lady problem.

Genuinely challenging and original leading roles for women are scarce, roles get smaller as women grow older, and many, many serious films that get serious nominations do so because serious men are at the center, experiencing serious, manly situations. No matter how progressive and lefty Hollywood likes to think it is, it is still slave to the power and influence of strict gender roles.

But film is an art form, and no matter how commercialized and consumerist this particular art form may have become, there are still those films that will challenge gender roles, challenge assumptions, and challenge the audience. But what does a feminist film look like?

Is a film that deals explicitly with the struggles of women in a patriarchal society instantly feminist? The Piano, a movie by Jane Campion, is often hailed as a feminist filmmaking feat, and although it’s a picture that I adore, I hesitate to agree (spoiler/vast oversimplification of plot ahead!). A mute woman leaving one repressive relationship by leaping into the arms of a man who essentially forces her to pay for her beloved piano with her sexuality hardly registers as a feminist statement for me. Nor does having a woman behind the camera guarantee a feminist success. Hollywood gave itself a good pat on the back this past March for giving a best directing and a best picture Oscar to Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman ever to win either award. While such a feat is undeniably something to get excited about, her winning would have been much more of a true feminist victory if her film, The Hurt Locker, weren’t a prime example of one of the aforementioned serious manly man movies (a pretty overrated and unoriginal serious manly man movie at that).

In popular culture, women aren’t treated like people, but rather like women. Someone is a man until proven otherwise. Women, despite being pretty much half of the population, are viewed as the “other.” As a result, there are limited roles that they are allowed to occupy, and unjust stereotypes that they are expected to fulfill. Therefore, the films I consider to be truly feminist are the films that do treat women like people, that allow their female characters to take on roles filled with tension and anger and adventure and excitement that female characters are so often denied.

Take Wendy and Lucy, the beautiful 2008 film directed by Kelly Reichardt. The story follows a woman named Wendy (Michelle Williams) as she travels to Alaska in a run down car with no other company than her beloved dog, Lucy, who seems to be her only friend in the world. Wendy is down on her luck, with a cold demeanor and a butch presentation – not the type of character Hollywood usually likes for its delicate lady-flowers. She’s constantly faced with the brutality and indifference of those around her, and experiences incredible sadness and incredible courage as she teeters on the edge of despair. Wendy is a feminist character in that she’s allowed to be distraught. Ugly. Imperfect. Strong. Impatient. There is none of the naiveté that young women are automatically presumed to have, no distracting boyfriend story, nothing that shouts “THIS CHARACTER IS A WOMAN, IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW IT, AND WE WILL DO THIS AND THIS TO HER JUST SO YOU REMEMBER THAT SHE’S A LADY.” She’s a person, with as many flaws as merits, and is treated and examined as such.

In most action movies, women are hot and kind-of-smart-but-not-too-scary-smart babes who come second to the big macho male action star. Not so in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. The central character, The Bride (Uma Thurman), wakes from a coma, then embarks on a violent killing spree, mowing down those who so brutally betrayed her and put her there. The Bride is driven by unabashed, unrelenting ruthlessness – a quality that is hardly traditionally “feminine.” It’s not the bride’s violence and need for revenge that makes her feminist (violence is never, ever the key to true empowerment), but rather the fact that she’s allowed to be so filled to the brim with drama and tension and genuine rage. Women are told to be complacent and submissive, things that The Bride is absolutely not. The morality of her actions is questionable, to say the least, but she sure does rip apart many traditional and annoying notions of femininity during her bloody quest for vengeance.

Movies made for little girls are often about princesses, and tend to equate being rich and married with being beautiful and worthy (I’m lookin’ at you, Disney). Hiyao Miyazaki is, essentially, the anti-Disney – the protagonists of his anime films are little girls, but instead of falling in love or finding happiness through material possessions, they go on adventures. They explore. Satsuki and Chihiro, of the films My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, are curious and bold. They exemplify genuine compassion and bravery, but without submissiveness or naiveté. The word that you could best use to describe all of Miyazaki’s heroines is “independent” – a feminist word if I ever saw one (hell, he even manages to give the Little Mermaid story a feminist edge in Ponyo).

Women are conditioned and told to strive for “perfection,” to be beautiful, gentle, submissive, and not to cause trouble. But women are human beings, and human beings do cause trouble. When a character breaks the unfair rules of the patriarchy, when she allows the audience to see her during her ugly, human moments, when she can be “unlady-like” and still be a protagonist worthy of our compassion and our sympathy, she’s a badass, gender-role-fucking feminist.

Welcome, new contributors! (Part Two)

August 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Part One.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the works of Chad, Elena, and Katie E. as much as I have these past weeks. It’s time to introduce the other three new contributors. Here’s the second wave…

Sarah:

Hello! My name is Sarah Rosengarten, I was born and raised in New York City, and will be a freshman at Oberlin College in the fall. My personal heroes are Rachel Maddow, Kathleen Hanna, and Daria Morgendorffer. I love to knit, run, watch Ingmar Bergman movies, and defend The Communist Manifesto to the misinformed masses. I’m thrilled to join Women’s Glib and can’t wait to unleash my feminazi fury to the internet.

Kitti:

Hello! My name is Kitti Asztalos.

I am a 17-year-old, Hungarian student. I study at a bilingual (English-Hungarian) high school, I will be a 12th grader next semester (I am not a senior yet, I still have a 13th year. Long story short: the education system is different). I have been studying English since the tender age of 5, I have also started studying French 3 years ago because my form mistress made my class (it took me 2 years and 3 trips to France to help me get over my hatred of the language). My hobbies are (but not limited to) biking (on almost a religious level), playing and writing music, providing unrequited commentary on movies for my friends and pretty much anyone, creating ensembles that remind me of a movie character and socializing.

I am very interested in popular culture (especially American and European), Generation Y and obviously feminism. However, in Hungary feminism is not very wide-spread, in fact, most girls of my age do not know anything about it, nor are they interested in it.

If my opinions freak you out a bit, I apologize in advance but that’s sort of my intention. I would like you, dearest readers to consider different cultural factors. That’s what I’m bringing. Plus a little bit of sexy back.

Adi:

Hi, all!

My name’s Adi, and I’ve been interested in feminist blogging for the past few years. I became a self-identified feminist (as opposed to subscribing to the tenets but not calling myself one) a few years ago, and the feminist blogosphere provided the resources for me to learn and contribute.

Outside of being a feminist, I’m a huge nerd, and I like to read — I just graduated from college, where I procrastinated on all of my actual work in China Studies by taking classes in deconstructive critical theory and creative writing. I’ve always straddled a weird divide between two fairly gender-imbalanced fields: Literature and politics, where women do most of the legwork but get few of the awards, and technology, where no matter how many women there are, we’re still seen as an elusive endangered species. I thoroughly enjoy both, but feminism has let me put a name to a lot of the problems I’ve seen in them, and convinced me to try to make them better.

I’m hoping to write about feminist/female authors, theory, and the intersection between gender politics and technology policy (Why, for example, is network neutrality a feminist issue? What about Apple’s factory policies?) I’m always looking for open dialogue with people, so please let me know if you have a different perspective on something I’ve said.

Hooray! You can learn more about these fine, smart young people on our Current Contributors page.

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