Review: Enlightened Sexism

April 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done by Susan J. Douglas

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In her latest work, the razor-sharp Susan Douglas argues that the deluge of powerful fictional women in our media — think of all those surgeons, lawyers, businesswomen, and politicians on TV — has slowly and steadily convinced us that real women enjoy the same relatively easy professional success.

Women watch these shows because they are inspirational; but when the TV goes dark, it’s not patriarchy that’s blamed for keeping real women subservient — it’s women ourselves. These shows convince us that true equality is not only possible, but actual — and if we’re not faring well in our relationships or jobs, it’s our own fault for not measuring up.

What I like best about the work is that it does not shy away from complexity and ambiguity; indeed, its thesis lies in the precarious balance between oppression and liberation, autonomy and blind consumerism. Furthermore, Douglas is hilarious, and her call for older feminists — “Vintage females,” in her words — like herself to work together with their millenial counterparts is a refreshing antidote to generational squabble. I would have appreciated more attention and analysis paid to representations of American women beyond the white / black racial dichotomy, but overall, this is a very successful book.

Support Feminist Review

February 22, 2010 § 1 Comment

Do you know about Feminist Review? It’s pretty great: A collective of twenty editors and 200 writers that review everything from films to fashion, tunes to text.

Valentine’s Day marked the start of their month-long fundraising campaign, I ♥ FR. The goal is to raise $5,000 –- the entire year’s expenses –- in order to keep the blog running.

From an email:

Founded in 2006 by longtime activist and media professional Mandy Van Deven, Feminist Review is an entirely volunteer-run forum where readers discuss books, music, film, and other products from feminist perspectives. “Like many independent media projects, the loss of ad revenue has caused us to dip heavily into our savings. Now, despite the fact that the number of visitors to our site has doubled in the past year, we’re teetering toward going into the red,” informs Van Deven. “The I ♥ FR campaign is reaching out to those new readers to ask them to help us survive this recession. If just 50 people commit to making a monthly donation of $10 for the remainder of the year, we will meet our goal.”

The campaign has already raised $530.

Please consider donating to keep Feminist Review — a publication that “prides itself in being a non-traditional, woman-centered, inclusionary resource for readers around the globe” — alive. For more information and to donate, check out the campaign information here.

Intersectionality Snowday: A Feminist Teacher Revolution!

February 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Two years ago when Miranda and I started a feminism club at our liberal high school in Chelsea, we had chosen a faculty advisor, our global history teacher who openly incorporated feminism into the curriculum. Then, we walked into our English class and our teacher came up and asked us if she could be our advisor too! We celebrated the beauty of two awesome feminists, one who teaches of a patriarchal world with a critical eye and the other who teaches loquacious poetry written by unheard women. It is true that both teachers were in the humanities and it would be awesome to find some feminist science teachers to round out our school, but the point is that we had educators vying to teach feminism and we know that’s a rarity.

Too often, academic feminism is restricted to the college classroom. In Girldrive, Nona Willis Aronowitz articulates her well-deserved skepticism,

We realize its power, but we’ve also noticed how academic feminism alienates young women from concepts they would otherwise be down with…. All we want is conversation and if academic feminism really has become so removed from personal experience that it’s caused emotional paralysis, then we are determined to change that.

Here’s the thing: academic feminism can get so wrapped up in theories and generalizations that it gets disconnected from reality. That reality is that women and men experience sexism conditionally, based on all the intersections of their lives – their personal lives. The academic must be personal in order get young women and young men down with concepts they can relate to. And for the academic to be personal, intersectionality must be acknowledged, celebrated, and taught in the mainstream. And that’s especially hard when there’s such a clear socioeconomic gap between women’s studies curricula at various universities.

Next year, I plan to attend super-liberal and well-to-do Wesleyan University. Currently, Wesleyan offers 19 women’s studies courses and offers a major in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And they better offer this many courses, seeing as Wesleyan costs $54,000 a year. I was also considering SUNY Geneseo, a public small liberal arts college with roughly the same number of students as Wesleyan, though it costs $48,000 less. SUNY Geneseo currently offers only three women’s studies courses. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between the escalating tuition of higher education and the number of women’s studies classes offered.

This is a problem. A dramatic disparity between the number of women’s studies courses offered at private versus public institutions means that only a certain part of the population is being educated on feminism. And let’s face it – those who go Wesleyan are already pretty knowledgeable on feminism whereas those who attend public universities come from a much wider range of backgrounds and need this education the most. Sure, it’s easy to celebrate intersectionality at a university that is known for being politically correct, but what about in a university that actually has a ton of students from backgrounds that provide the means for intersectional discussions? Shouldn’t that university offer courses devoted to such conversation?

I propose a solution. Academic feminism, as confined to the campus bubble, is nice and safe. It’s hard to pinpoint patriarchy as it affects us on a personal level when we sit in a classroom with around twenty women and one man in a college that is made up of mostly women in a town so crummy that quads have become the most immediate society we interact with. Of course Nona’s critique of the removal of academic feminism from personal experience occurs. There is little personal experience to draw from in such a setting. That is why feminism must be taught before the university bubble is blown, way before it is to be popped a few years down the road, academic feminism potentially leaving its students defenseless in the real world of personal experience.

Feminism must be taught in K-12 classrooms. And not just in yuppie high schools in Chelsea. Feminism must be taught in inner-city schools where students have personal experiences with domestic violence and rape. Feminism must be taught in Catholic schools where girls are taught to be chaste and purity rings are celebrated. Feminism must be taught in Jewish Day Schools where the religious classes are taught almost exclusively in a male lexicon. Feminism must be taught in all schools where, to quote the blog Equality 101, “history courses continue to obliterate women who have made marks on society and culture.”

To teach feminism in the classroom not only gets more students to identify as feminists, but it broadens the spectrum of whom a feminist is. When a feminist can be a kindergarten student who is genuinely pissed off that her arithmetic talents aren’t being as valued as that of her male peers, we are making progress. In the K-12 classroom, the academic is inherently personal. Us high school students deal with sexism daily – at home, work, school, extra-curriculars, the books we read, with friends…just fill in the blank. We need a feminist teacher revolution to incorporate equality into the curriculum. Why is this basic concept, one that promotes inclusion of personal experience, so revolutionary when it comes to the classroom, the youth that represent our future?

Intersectionality Saturdays: Choice in a Cultural Context

January 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s been a really long while since I’ve posted on here, but I’m back for a weekly cross-post between Women’s Glib and my new blog on Jewish feminism, from the rib?. This column will focus on intersectionality – the connection of oppressions and liberation movements – and how it affects my life. Here’s edition #1:

Yesterday, I was talking to a girl in my Biology class who just returned from a semester abroad in Israel. She asked me the broadest yet incredibly popular question: “What do you think of Israel?” After living in various parts of Israel for five weeks this summer, I left more confused than when I arrived. When I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, I was ignorant. I left realizing just how many diverse and seemingly unrelated topics there are to be ignorant about. Because of that ignorance, I like to gently lead people away from pre-supposed political answers and into topics I feel comfortable forming opinions about. These usually concern sexism and feminism.

Academically and socially, I feel authorized to speak on sexism and feminism. At times, I feel like I live and breathe books, blogs, and performances of feminist work. I am also a woman and recognize the exploitation of my own gender in the media, as well as what “society” (the largest abstraction of all) expects of me. Culturally, however, I feel like a feminist without a cause. Growing up as a white member of the middle class in liberal New York City with a mother whose income is greater than my father’s, the education of my choosing, and occasionally attending egalitarian synagogues, I am privileged and, on a superficial level, I have nothing in my own life to fight for.

So back to the conversation that got all these thoughts whirling. I redirected it to the treatment of women in ultra-Orthodox Israeli societies. While I was supposed to be researching viral causes of cancer cells, I spoke of the horrible treatment of women in education, in synagogue, and in the home. The girl in my Biology class responded that she does not see suffering amongst women in the ultra-Orthodox communities she has visited. Their roles are what they have been brought up with and it is what they want to continue with because they have never known anything else. It is their lifestyle.

My immediate response was that it is because they have not been shown an alternative. These women do not know they are oppressed because they have never experienced having equal opportunities. And then my Bio buddy threw at me one of the most provocative questions I could be asked: “How do you know your way is better?”

How do I know my way is better? I believe I know what equality is. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be a feminist and fight not only for my rights but for the rights of us all that are so interconnected. My way is what I have grown up with and has stemmed from the privilege I was raised with and the beliefs I have had the freedom to foster. I believe in choice and I believe that all women should be able to choose their own way in life, be it sexist or feminist through a traveler’s eyes. If a woman is happy and fulfilled singing lightly in the background of a synagogue or receiving an education different from her husband’s or forgoing occupational opportunities and chooses to do so, that is not sexist. She has chosen it for herself.

What does choice mean in a cultural context? Where is the line drawn between advocacy and – I’m going to make up a word here because we are speaking in a feminine lexicon at the moment – maternalism? How can we enforce a right to choose in communities where women do not know what choice is? And who on earth am I to say they do not know what choice is?

Shira’s New Blog

January 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m a little late on this, but our own Shira has launched a new blog devoted to Jewish feminism: from the rib? (Is that a great blog name or what? Context here.)

From the blog’s About page:

WHAT? A blog written by a Jewish feminist and it is for everyone to explore what it means for two identities to collide and progress. Topics will range from exploring biblical inequalities/women’s untold stories to the current injustices Jewish women face to the successes Jewish women have had in obtaining equal opportunities across denominations to the complexities and ambiguity surrounding gender roles in Judaism. I know – it’s a lot, but it’s because we have a lot to change.

WHERE? from the rib? resides here on WordPress, but should also inspire dialogue on the streets, in synagogue, during seders, at the Shabbat table, in school, at work, and wherever opinions can be transformed into action on behalf of Jewish women (which translates to bettering Judaism as a whole).

WHEN? I will explore the lives of Jewish women past and present, biblical and historical.

Head over there and show her some love.

I just came from the masturbation workshop!

November 19, 2009 § 1 Comment

This week we celebrated “Love Your Body Week” at Grinnell, hosted by the Feminist Action Coalition. Yay! There were (and still are) a ton of great events including a film screening and discussion, a fat activism workshop, open mic night, Grinnell Monologues (comparable to the Vagina Monologues), queer sex-ed, and my personal favorite, two masturbation workshops! It really was very comforting to see how well-attended these events actually were. I think the week did a lot to dispel the myths of apathetic college students across the country.

I think one of the best things about the week (and, coincidentally, about this blog) is that most of the events weren’t strictly serious, stuffy, or overzealous. Who says learning about your vagina has to be uncomfortable or boring? Basically, congratulations to all the humorous feminists on campus, and all of those who got over their fear of humorous feminists. Let’s keep on dispelling more myths (and yes, I probably will use this term several times. Sorry).

Finally, I really appreciated the atmosphere of communal learning that was pretty apparent in all the workshops I attended. Obviously, most people came from different backgrounds. Some were really familiar with all of the ideas being bandied about, but some, particularly at the very well attended masturbation workshop, had received very little education on such taboo topics. The fact that students who knew more were completely willing to help out those who didn’t was super refreshing. What was more refreshing was the fact that women (who attended the female identified masturbation workshop, I have no idea what went on at the male identified one) were not helping each other out of obligatory sisterhood, but out of actual desire.

I do have one question though. It seems as if I am encountering a barrage of social justice-y causes, open dialogue, and fun terms like “doing gender,” “dispel the myth,” and “social construct” just in the nick of time- before I enter the real world. Why does it have to be that way? What If we taught these terms, habits, and ideals before having them hurriedly shoved in our faces? This has been bothering me a lot lately. Obviously this isn’t going to happen any time soon given the other pressing problems in our educational system, but what is so wrong about introducing the concept of loving your body to grade school students? What if these so-crazy-they-just-might-work ideas had a place in every elementary school curriculum? We would probably live in a much more understanding environment, where no one would need to ask in a college class what “the gender binary system” is.

dyyyyyspeeeellllll mmmmmmyyyyythhhhhhsssssssssss.
I am so sorry for the above display of crazy.

Saying No

October 28, 2009 § 3 Comments

You may have noticed that blog updates have been infrequent of late. I can’t speak for other contributors, but for me this lack of writing has much to do with my stress level. I’m applying to college, and I’m taking a lot of interesting and damn challenging classes.

There’s a lot I’ve had to be proud of recently: I’m finished with a couple applications; my modern dance classes have made my body feel awesome, limber and strong; I’m happy with my grades thus far; I’ve amped up my work with NARAL Pro-Choice NY; this week is my one-year anniversary of dating my boyfriend.

But I’ve noticed that it’s hard for me to take a break. There’s so much I want to do — not only do, but do perfectly — that it’s hard to carve myself any time for just nothing. It’s hard to keep my mental and emotional health strong.

Stress is just as much a feminist issue as its partner-in-crime, choice. As Courtney Martin suggests in her book, women feeling like we have to do everything may be an unintended consequence of the feminist movement, which has taught us that we can do anything. For (privileged) women, the array of opportunities we’re presented with — much broader than even a few decades ago — can be a double-edged sword.

Other bloggers deal with this, too. I have deep respect for Melissa’s and RMJ’s decisions to take some time off, decisions that, unfortunately, may have induced feelings of guilt. And I admired Kate’s post about refusing to feel guilty for being a busy person with many passions.

Sometimes I think of my feminism as two intertwined struggles: feminism for women, which I fight for through my pro-choice volunteering, blog writing and reading, and club-running, among other acts; and feminism for me, which may need some prioritizing. This kind of feminism is me encouraging myself to take a break, to relax with my family and friends, to cook for myself, to nap, to read, to say NO when I’m overwhelmed, to stop doing everything, to stop trying to be perfect by setting more compassionate and realistic goals.

Just some things to think about.

Review: Girldrive

October 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

girldriveGirldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism by Nona Willis Aronowitz & Emma Bee Bernstein, with a foreword by Jennifer Baumgardner

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Girldrive is a chronicle of Aronowitz and Bernstein’s whirlwind trip around the country, interviewing mostly young women about their lives and feminisms. The magazine-like volume is a hodgepodge of compressed interviews, dynamic photographs, and diary entries ranging from Aronowitz’s reflections on her late mother’s feminist parenting to descriptions of acid-induced relaxation.

Calling on the classic motif of the open road, Girldrive‘s creators succeed in framing their adventure around a feminism that’s truly American. The book’s subjects are diverse in almost every way — race, class, level of education, sexuality, connection to the feminist label. The one thing they share is a nearly tangible sense of passion: if not for “the feminist movement,” then for making women’s lives better.

The book revels in the complexities of contemporary intersectional feminism. As the title suggests, Nona and Emma seek not to define feminism for the ambivalent, but to broaden our conceptions of activism and celebrate the awesome stuff young women in this country are doing every damn day.

Also check out the Girldrive blog.

Sexism and Psychopathology

September 25, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hey there.

In this first semester, I am taking a class entitled Abnormal Psychology, which is all about the philosophy, diagnoses, and treatments that surround the field of mental health. It’s been really baller so far, and my love for the class only increased when my professor lectured this week on the psychopathological effects of sexism on both men and women!!!

Overall, the sexist gender norms that men and women are expected to emulate have been correlated with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder across both genders. All us feminists know that sexism hurts everybody, but I just think it’s so interesting and enlightening to see that stupid stereotypes actually have the power to make us psychopathological. That means that some of us are altered on literally a biological level by all the oppressive bullshit out there.

My professor (who happens to be a man, makes this even cooler) also lectured on the five stages of feminism as a means by which individuals can avoid and overcome sexism-linked psychopathology. Seriously cool. Here they are:

1. Passive acceptance of gender roles.

2. Questioning of gender roles — anger at self and others for allowing sexism and inequality.

3. Reaching out to a network for connectedness — “sisterhood.”

4. Synthesis stage — own sense of identity is solidified and and the individual can make decisions about sexism by themselves on a case to case basis.

5. Activism.

Those stuck in stage two are most likely to suffer from phobias, a feeling of alienation, depression, and anxiety.

Those who make it to stages four and five are least likely to suffer from those ailments, and are at lower risk for developing an eating disorder.

You think feminists are crazy? Think again.

Win!!!!!

Sociological Mindfulness and Why We Should ALL Be Feminists

September 5, 2009 § 2 Comments

I came across this passage in my sociology reading, and think that it sums up PERFECTLY why no one should be afraid to call themselves feminists. It also provides a great justification (not that I need one) for contributing to this blog.

I am a feminist through and through, but sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough to show it. As a new college student (I swear to god I will stop telling you all this in like, a month) I am definitely going to get more involved in some social action groups, but if that fails for some reason, I will always have this quote:

Sociological mindfulness also reminds us that we can change a small part of the social word single-handedly. If we treat others with more respect and compassion, if we refuse to participate in re-creating inequalities even in little ways, if we raise questions about official representations of reality, if we refuse to work in destructive industries, then we are making change. We do not have to join a group or organize a protest to make these kinds of changes. We can make them on our own, by deciding to live differently.

Perhaps our modest efforts will reverberate with others and inspire them to live differently. Or perhaps no one will notice, or they will notice but think we are strange. And so you might think, “If no one is going to notice that I am a superior moral being, then what is the point? Why bother to be different and risk ridicule?” That is one way to look at it. Being sociologically mindful, however, suggests a different thought: “I cannot be sure that anything I do will change things for the bettter, yet I can be sure that if I do not at least try, then I will fail to do what I think is right and will be contributing to keeping things the same. Therefore I will opt to do what is right, whether much or little comes of it.”

In the end, sociological mindfulness must be about more than studying how the social world works. It must also do more than inspire curiosity, care, and hope — although these we cannot do without. If it is to be worth practicing, sociological mindfulness must help us change ourselves and our ways of doing things together so that we can live more peacefully and productively with others, without exploitation, disrespect, and inequality. Sociological mindfulness is a way to see where we are and what needs to be done. It is a path to heartful membership in a conversation that ought to have no end.

– Michael Schwalbe, Finding Out How the Social World Works

Um… does anyone else think that is SO beautiful? I obviously do, enough to take the time to type the whole damn thing!

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