Boring Books & Fierce Femininity

June 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

This post right here is inspired by Tiger Beatdown‘s recent (spectacular and spectacularly titled) series What We Read When We Don’t Read The Internet.

What I want to talk about has little to do with who’s writing a particular book, and more to do with what they write about. Because I’ve noticed that regardless of an author’s gender, if their book makes the TRAGIC AND FATAL mistake of being at least partially centered around feminine topics, it’s a literary megafail. Texts focused on women-stuff — romance, friendship, children and parenthood, gradual life processes — tend to be dismissed as soft, as less meaningful than texts focused on men-stuff — violence, foreign lands, epic journeys, dramatic showdowns.

Often these books explore issues that are socially “feminine” by focusing on female characters. A great example is Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters (1998). I first discovered this book in seventh grade, when I borrowed it from Ruth after she raved about it at a sleepover. (Yeah, we’re cute.) I loved it, but in my mind it didn’t amount to real literature. It wasn’t a book that I could reference in my English class, or talk about with my parents. It just didn’t seem important or serious enough.

People: It wasn’t even someone else, some sexist ass, who told me Summer Sisters was trashy and unworthy of critical attention. It was me! My own self! (That’s how deep patriarchy is embedded in us.) I was willing to admit that I enjoyed it, but only as an escapist beach-read — not as the complex narrative of broken friendship, shifting family dynamics, sexual awakening, and class tension that it is. I’d say to my friends, “I just read this great book! It’s kind of trashy; you can borrow it if you want. It’s a little silly. So do you want it?” instead of “I just read this great book! By Judy Blume, a feminist literary goddess. It describes so beautifully the pain and loveliness of friendships, the pain and loveliness of family, the angst and hopelessness of growing up. I really recommend it! Do you want to borrow it?”

What a mistake! I regret that time before I realized how fucking awesome this book is.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Hot Blog Alert

May 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Check out The Seventeen Magazine Project, a chronicle of one Pennsylvania teenager’s month-long quest to follow the gospel of Seventeen. The writer, Jamie Keiles, promises that:

  1. I will read the entire June/July issue of Seventeen magazine from cover to cover.
  2. Every day I will utilize at least one “beauty tip” (hair/makeup/skincare/whathaveyou) and one fashion tip.
  3. I will follow all diet and exercise tips provided in the issue to a T.
  4. I will participate in every activity recommended by the magazine (i.e. host a fright night, score your hottest summer hookup ever, be confident in a bikini, etc.)
  5. I will apply for every single “freebie” offered by the magazine, every day.
  6. I will consume all media recommended by the magazine at least once. (books/movies/music)
  7. I will hang all provided pictures/posters of “hot guys” in my living environment.

So fascinating! Follow her experience here. Relatedly: female high school seniors who blog about cultural issues, represent!

Worried About Winning

March 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Via Shakes:

“I like it when girls can snowboard. But I don’t need some chick trying to shred better than me, take my job.” — Champion snowboarder Shaun White, in People magazine, on what he looks for in a woman.

I find this deeply upsetting, and also fascinating. Let me tell you a story about this.

I had the great privilege of traveling to Morocco last month on a volunteer trip. The wonderful program we went with has a “home-base” where you stay with up to 30 other volunteers. On our second day, I joined some of my new housemates in a round of the (highly addictive) game Bananagrams.

It was my first time playing the game, but after a couple of hands, I was doing pretty well. I used up all of my letter tiles before anyone else, winning the round — three or four times in a row. But I began to feel self-conscious about my success — I wanted very badly for these new acquaintances to like me, and I was worried that my repeated winning would exasperate them and ruin any chances for meaningful friendship. And so I censored myself; I waited just a few seconds longer before calling, “Bananagrams!” I allowed someone else to win the next round, though I was perfectly capable of winning it myself. I couldn’t help but think that a guy in the same situation would have made a joke of his success, upping the friendly competition and humorously challenging anyone to beat his streak. He would not have felt ashamed, because he would have been taught from birth to achieve at any cost.

This is what happens to women in patriarchy. We are taught to limit our success, to quell our achievements, because they are supposedly threatening to others, particularly men.

As I reflect on the incident, I am reminded of this lovely quote:

“Our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

Quoted: On Being Surrounded by Young Women

September 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

“I’ve had some really beautiful moments with some really amazing girls. We’re working on a presentation right now called “accepting yourself for who you are” and the girls are so insightful and mature and I can’t take it. Most of the time being a counselor just makes me feel like my best self. It’s great. I feel my most appreciated and confident and beautiful and talented and capable. I wish I felt like this all the time!”

– Lovely friend of the blog Lil, who spent her summer working as a sleepaway camp counselor for pre-teen girls.

Am I a Spanish Barbie?

September 3, 2009 § 4 Comments

Hola feministas (I have no idea if that’s a real world, but it seems fairly appropriate).

I’m sitting in the library doing my listening homework for my intro to Spanish class, all the while having little feminist daydreams. What’s currently on my mind are the ridiculous gender roles portrayed in language learning audio supplements. There is always a man and a woman having a charming conversation. The man has a deep, rich voice, while the woman’s is light and dainty. I’m kind of afraid that, in listening to these obnoxiously stereotypical gendered voices, I will adopt one myself, and inevitably become a Spanish Barbie doll.

I think the reason most tapes get away with this is because they typically have one person reading for each gender. Obviously, you aren’t going to get a whole lot of variety out of that. It just saddens me that there is one more part of my education that pushes traditional gender roles in a discreet (and therefore harder to call out) way. Luckily, women’s glib is the perfect forum for calling out seemingly insignificant shit.

Adios!

Packing Delirium

August 6, 2009 § 9 Comments

Right now I am undergoing the laborious (and ridiculously exciting!!!) task of packing up my belongings to take to my first year of college. I’ve noticed that, like many young women my age, I have a lot of fucking clothing. Not just clothing. I just have a lot of stuff. When comparing packing notes with my future classmate who happens to be a guy, I learned that he is packing way less stuff than me.

While this opening could go in many directions, I’ll probably choose the least rational, least evocative and least coherent one because I am that tired of packing. Here goes:

I’m sure many of you feminists are familiar with the theory about the implications of female and male standards of beauty- females are encouraged to be thin, to disappear, while males are encouraged to take up as much space as possible. This is how society wants us. In my packing, I cannot help but wonder- is the reverse true for material goods? Are women supposed to take up as much space as possible with our belongings? Are we making up for society’s pull for us to be nothing by having as much stuff as possible?

My packing delirium leads me to believe that a lot of the reason women tend to have more clothes, accessories, etc. is a tie to domesticity. Perhaps society wants us to take up a lot of room, not with our bodies, but with our stuff at home. Maybe we are bound with more strength to our homes because of all of these belongings. Do our clothes mark our territory? Do men often ‘travel light’ because, according to our culture, they should not be tied down to one town, and certainly not to one household?

Obviously it would be a stretch to draw very many conclusions like these without researching properly, and even then it probably wouldn’t make much sense. I just thought I’d let you in to see my packing-induced crazy talk.

Another movie I won’t be seeing

July 24, 2009 § 4 Comments

Get it? Because men don't have brains, and women don't like sex! It's all becoming clear.

Get it? Because men don't have brains, and women don't like sex! It's all becoming clear.

It’s summer, and though I’m busy working my tail patience off as a camp counselor, I also have quite a bit of downtime. I’ve seen a bunch of movies lately: some silly ones with my family (The Proposal and Year One) as well as films that I actually wanted to see (Away We Go and, last night, 500 Days of Summer — both excellent, the latter mostly because of my enormous crush on Zooey Deschanel). But one movie that I’m certain I won’t spend $12.50 on is The Ugly Truth, starring part-time feminist Katherine Heigl as a “romantically challenged morning show producer” and Gerard Butler as a professional douche. I’ve seen some previews that warned me of its knee-slappin’ “humor,” and then this morning I read the excellently scathing New York Times review by Manohla Dargis, fabulously titled Girl Meets Ape, and Complications Ensue.

When it comes to the old straight-boy-meets-straight-girl configuration with big-studio production values…the romantic comedy is nearly as dead as Meg Ryan’s career. In the best of these films, the women aren’t romantic foils, much less equals: they’re either (nice) sluts or (nicer) wives, and essentially as mysterious and unknowable as the dark side of the moon.

Which leads to “The Ugly Truth,” a cynical, clumsy, aptly titled attempt to cross the female-oriented romantic comedy with the male-oriented gross-out comedy that is interesting on several levels, none having to do with cinema. Katherine Heigl plays Abby, a producer for a ratings-challenged Sacramento morning television show, the kind that specializes in empty smiles, cooking tips and weather updates. She’s single and therefore, in the moral economy of modern Hollywood, unhappy. Her life goes into a tailspin when her boss hires a professional ape, Mike (Gerard Butler), who delivers loutish maxims on camera about the sexes that basically all boil down to this: Men have penises, and women should accommodate them any which way they can, preferably in push-up bras and remote-controlled vibrating panties.

…Ms. Heigl doesn’t do perky all that persuasively, but she does keep her smile and relative dignity even in scenes in which Abby is forced to play the fool, which is often, as when she’s hanging upside down from a tree in her skivvies. She even survives the scene that finds Abby writhing spasmodically during a dinner with her corporate masters, because, well, she’s wearing those pulsating panties, the boy at the next table has the remote, and there’s nothing funnier (or, really, scarier) than the spectacle of female pleasure.

I am SO. TIRED. of media that portrays women’s minds as murky, our bodies as property, and our desires as hilarious. A woman’s sexuality is not so damn difficult to understand — if you talk to and listen to her, which society is apparently loath to do.

And another thing: no one seems to get that these movies are as offensive to men as they are to women. Commenters on IMDB rave that it’s a “comedy for both sexes,” one you can “bring your boyfriend” to. Men should not be like Butler’s skeevy character; and what’s more, they aren’t. But movies like this convince the public that guys are practically children, and we shouldn’t expect to hold them accountable for atrocious sexist behavior.

“The Ugly Truth” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
The language is consistently crude and includes the apparently now requisite antigay slurs.

Yeah. Because straight = manly, manly = asshole, and asshole = sexy.

Students Speak: V*gina

June 6, 2009 § 3 Comments

V*gina – by Ilana, a high school junior.

2005-2006: I was on the young end of the spectrum as an eighth grader. I had turned thirteen in 2005 and would stay that way until high school. Even as the baby of the grade, I had 34 B breasts that seemed to pop up over night, literally. Along with the breasts came hips and a shape that was not meant for my age. As my body changed, so did the attitudes of the people around me — both of boys and girls — but I couldn’t figure out why. As my perspective of my body was impacted, I felt obligated to adjust how I dressed. I began to cover up my body, which had previously never caused me discomfort. In addition, once I became involved with boys, I was suddenly labeled a slut for reasons I did not understand. But wait, I can’t possibly be the only one who felt like this. There must be some rationale. Let’s look back at the perception of women in our society…

1999: A scantily-clad Britney Spears, age 17, is on the cover of Rolling Stone, almost naked. The picture of young Britney shows her in a school-girl’s outfit lying on a bed with her white shirt unbuttoned completely, exposing a black bra. The photo is suggestive, provocative, and potentially perceived as slutty. 17 may be one year away from adulthood but why is this young pop star exposing herself like this? Many considered this photo inappropriate and as setting a bad example for Britney’s younger fans. An association to sex quickly accompanied her fame. This caused an uproar by many who saw Britney as representing all that was wrong with women. She was exposing a part of her that was meant to be kept secret from all. Women are not supposed to be as explicit with their bodies because this leads many to believe they want sex and will engage in it readily. A woman who is free with her sexuality is one who does not respect herself, and thus is labeled a slut. Such comments have been made about other teen pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens. These two girls were seen as young and innocent. However, the moment both of them exposed their bodies, a Britney cycle ensued.

2009: I must ask, how can it be that society so rejects women’s display of their sexuality? Britney was sexy and not afraid to show it, nor ashamed of the associations that accompanied her Lolita-esque photo. If Britney was comfortable with the photo shoot, and Miley Cyrus is not concerned with how she looks why is everyone else? Why must we demean a woman’s choices of how she handles herself if she is comfortable? The same applies to a woman’s sexual experiences. Women are seen as sluts if they are “too loose.” Let’s look further back…

1973: Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying is published. This is a tale of a woman who recounts sexual experiences with an openness that had previously only been associated with men. Its release caused a huge uproar, which indicated that society was not ready to hear the truth about women’s sexual desires. Women had been, and continue to be, seen as having a more passive approach to sexual desire and action. In Fear of Flying, the untraditional character, Isadora, defies sexual conventions as she describes “the zipless fuck.” This is defined as an entirely sexual encounter that is based solely on desire and pleasure. Isadora states that it the “purest thing there is” and that she has never had one.

2009: But why has Isadora never been able to have a “zipless fuck?” Is it because she is afraid of the judgment she will receive? Has she internalized the notion that this feeling is unfeminine and forbidden? Or is she afraid of rejection because this approach too forward for a woman? Though for women today a “zipless fuck” is no longer “rarer than a unicorn,” the subject is still provocative. Women are not taught by society about their sexual essence and power, and struggle to learn through experience. Our sex drive is just as strong as men’s; however, we are expected to suppress it. This duplicity in society, praising men’s exploits while condemning women’s sexual freedom, presents women with an identity crisis. In addition to this, the way that a woman dresses or acts is a reflection of her sexuality. How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am being told it diminishes me as a person? How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am told that my comfort in my body and my desire to show it is wrong? Who will offer me much needed guidance, beyond fictional characters? Women are too easily intimidated by other’s judgments and thus become uncomfortable with themselves and their sexuality. A woman’s desires are just as valid as a man’s. Women should embrace their sexuality and not believe that their natural instincts and desires deplete their integrity.

Unfortunately, society will not change as fast as us. We will not wake up tomorrow to a world that promotes our sexuality as part of our femininity, or that allows us to dress as we please. However, we can assume the power ourselves. Every woman who can find strength in herself and her sexuality and can achieve happiness through it will lead a more complete life. I am not advocating rampant sex, or random nudity, I am simply saying the sex you chose to have and the clothing you chose to wear is yours. As long as you’re comfortable with the choices you have made, you are no slut.

Previously in Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes, by Luke; Spice Up YOUR Relationship, by Jennifer; Letters From Kartini, by Nia; Coming Out As A Feminist, by Shani; Inequality, by Sasha

Students Speak: Spice Up YOUR Relationship

May 26, 2009 § 5 Comments

Spice Up YOUR Relationship – by Jennifer, a high school junior.

I can’t count the number of articles I have seen titled “Spice Up Your Relationship” or “How to Recapture Your Boyfriend’s Attention.” The various times I have looked through men’s magazines such as GQ or Askmen (admittedly to scope out the pictures of Ryan Gosling promised on the front cover), I have seen nothing suggesting ways men can fix or better their relationships. Now I ask: why does this burden fall on women?

These articles are potent in every magazine that are geared toward women and put an obscene amount of pressure on those who read them. This mentality starts early in a woman’s magazine-reading career: in the latest issue of Seventeen there was an article titled “Fun Date Ideas to Try with Your Guy” not to mention the listing in CosmoGirl’s table of contents called “How to Win Him.” The pressure to maintain a healthy relationship is unfairly thrown on women at a young age through the media and the interactions we witness. Whether we are watching a television show where the girls are obsessing over what guys want from them or we are reading a young-adult book, we repeatedly see a male-dominated relationship carried out through the woman’s actions.

This pressure extends further and affects more than who plans date night and the work associated with maintaining a relationship. Studies have shown that the power dynamic and present pressures in a relationship affect how a woman chooses to handle her own reproductive health. In a clinic-based survey of 15-30 year old women, the likelihood of emergency contraception use was elevated if the woman felt pressured to please her partner and sustain her relationship. The unequal weight of relationship responsibility is already penetrating our decisions about our bodies, which is something men already have too much control over.

So what’s the point? Do not let the pressure get to you – tell your guy to make the reservations!

Previously in Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes, by Luke

Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers).  Enjoy!  -Miranda

Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.

Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.

The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I'm not talking about her guns.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.

But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.

One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.

Casilda.

Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.

But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.

However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.

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