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!

Labels

July 13, 2009 § 6 Comments

I’m interested in language, as you might have noticed from my last post on pro-life/anti-choice semantics. You may remember that I have a little series called Language Matters, where I discuss the significance of language in culture, politics, and progress. (Keep in mind that the word “series” is used loosely here, since I’ve only written two posts.) Anyway, this here post can be filed under that category: I want to talk about womanism and feminism.

When I first discovered feminism and came out of the feminist closet, I was amazed and excited by what I naively thought was a perfect, completely inclusive movement. This is probably because I’m very privileged, as women go — cis, currently able, thin, middle-class, white — and my first introductions to contemporary feminism were authored by women within similar demographics. I thought, “Wow! A place where I can totally be myself, and be accepted and respected for my identity!” — and took for granted that all people would feel as comfortable as I did.

So yeah, I’m a bit older and wiser now, have read a bit (though not as much as I need to) about trans people and people with disabilities and people of color’s views on today’s feminism: that it is actually pretty darn exclusive a lot of the time.

I want your insight on how we can acknowledge the ways The Feminist Movement has and continues to fuck up, while still identifying with its goals. Specifically, I’m wondering how I, a white woman, can acknowledge the dire need for womanism without stepping on the toes of women activists of color.

From a Womanist Musings interview with Loryn of Black Girl Blogging:

What is your definition of womanism and do you feel that this applies to all across the board?

To me, womanism brings together the importance of men and family to the struggle for gender equality and the experience of women of color that cuts across class, race and gender lines. While I believe that womanism speaks particularly to the black female experience, it is important for men and women of all races to embrace the principles of womanism.

How would you say that womanism differs from feminism and why is it important to you to identify as a womanist rather than a feminist?

Womanism differs from feminism in that it takes account for the experience of women of color. Feminism has been painted as the movement of white middle class women and has excluded women of color and poor women for a long time. It is important to me to identify as a womanist because it means a greater devotion to causes that effect women of color like myself.

In my bio, I identify as a pro-womanist feminist, but I’m shaky on this. I think that it would be inappropriate, as a white woman, to call myself a womanist as one step towards acknowledging the experiences of WOC, and towards acknowledging feminism’s wrongdoings, as such identification infringes upon the right of WOC to have your own label (Melissa McEwan brings this up in the interview comment thread, followed by insight from Renee and Loryn — not sure how to link directly to the comment, but it’s about the fifth one down).

One question, for commenters of all demographics, with particular emphasis on WOC/self-identified womanists: is it fair to call myself a pro-womanist feminist, as a move towards accomplishing these goals? If not, how else can I humbly and respectfully identify myself?

(Sorry if this post is winding and seems to lack purpose. This is a tricky issue, one that’s been marinating in my mind for a while, but I really think dialogue is needed.)

Cross-posted at Feministe.

An email

July 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

Upon reading your article “Palin’s anti-choice legacy,” I wanted to bring a particular point to your attention.

Your use of the term “anti-choice” is very misleading, and shows a significant misunderstanding of the term.

The term anti-choice by definition means “one who opposes ALL choices”, no matter what the topic of choice be. The opposition to abortion does not stem from the opposition of choices in general (as the term anti-choice would lead one to believe). Those who oppose abortion are against feticide and embryocide, thus making them anti-feticide, anti-embryocide, or anti-abortion. Just as someone who opposes the choice of a man to hit his wife is not anti-choice, but anti-domestic-violence, the correct label for a person who opposes abortion would be anti-abortion (or anti-feticide, anti-embryocide, etc.)

I would invite you to visit the website www.notantichoice.com to review and read more information on this subject and on the use of the term anti-choice.

Thank you,

[name withheld]

Um, no.

I could probably just deal with this in a short response email, or even concede no response at all, but I prefer to direct public attention to a post I’ve written previously on this subject. My own words:

I am pro-life. I am completely in support of each person’s right to life – their right to go to school and grow up and decide what their favorite food is and ask questions and read magazines and get a job and dream about changing the world. That’s why I’m a pacifist. I want all of those things for every person on this earth, and I’m tired of being made to seem like I’m against life because I am pro-choice.

For me, being pro-life is being pro-women’s lives. It is one the most demeaning things in the world to feel that the government values the life of the fetus potentially living inside me more than my life. It will be a person. I am a person. It will have a life — a life that I’ll fight to protect — but I’ve already got one. It’s a goddamn group of cells. I’m a woman. I laugh at the idea of someone who believes in lives, who believes in autonomy and the right of every thing to exist, telling me how to live mine.

That’s why I much prefer the term anti-choice to pro-life, because that’s what this whole fuss is about: telling women what to do with their bodies, their futures, their lives, instead of letting us choose for ourselves. If anti-choicers were truly pro-life, they would give a shit once the fetus was born — which, you know, they don’t: anti-choicers are the ones who are cutting funds for child care and children’s hospitals. And if they really cared about reducing the number of abortions, they’d stop pouring millions of dollars into bullshit sex ed programs and limiting access to birth control. What they are actually interested in is limiting women’s choices — limiting women’s lives.

That sounds like just the opposite of pro-life to me.

Anything to add, commenters? Does someone with more time than I’ve got at the moment want to take on the troubling parallel this emailer draws between abortion and domestic violence? Do you prefer the label pro-life, instead of anti-choice? Have at it in the comments.

Cross-posted at Feministe.

Rhyming Revenge

May 1, 2009 § 2 Comments

By some very cool and strange coincidence, it seems to be spoken word weekend here at Women’s Glib. I just got back from the Urban Word NYC Poetry Slam at Cooper Union where I saw Zora from Bi-Racial Hair perform, as well as other dizzyingly talented artists.

I left the slam inspired by the last line of the second brawl: “Femininity does not equal negativity.” On the train home, I used that line as an opener to write my own thoughts into rhyme. Miranda and I must have been sharing a brain today because when I got home to finally post about my bad-ass inspiration, I found the spoken words illuminated on the surface of feminist action.

And so begins this weekend series, Rhyming Revenge. This is my first post, but every weekend, watch out for some feminist-configured words to combat the sexism we face daily. This first Rhyming Revenge is dedicated to anti-feminist lawmakers who believe women are not capable of making their own choices.

And so the rhymes begin…

Can we realize femininity does not equal negativity

when we grasp the power 

which is rightfully ours

from selected white men in black suits

who carry a void without truth

in soulless laws which embody the flaws

of patriarchal bile from which we defile

and run amock because we need not a cock

to know use of our tongues and heart of our minds

to claim our bodies for ourselves;

we find they heed possession of no one else

yet our beliefs are not felt 

without slaps on the wrist or a metaphorical fist?

We are put in our place and perpetually abased,

yet we have the same skin and are not considered equal kin

due to fragility of our hearts,

going unrecognized for other parts;

we have fists 

that can slap these laws on their wrists,

our choices no longer yonder:

hear our voices thunder!

Language Matters: Virginity

April 22, 2009 § 4 Comments

Courtney’s response to Jessica Valenti’s latest book, The Purity Myth, discusses society’s construction of virginity – because indeed, there is no scientific definition of the concept; it is purely (ha! purity puns!) social in origin. From her post:

But the trouble with [recognizing that virginity is scientifically mostly bogus] is what to do about it, right? I mean knowing race doesn’t technically exist doesn’t mean you can start acting like Stephen Colbert and pretending to be color blind. Likewise we can’t act like our societal value on purity isn’t affecting girls just cause it’s bullshit. So I came up with a few things we can personally do in reaction to the learning that virginity doesn’t exist:

1. Language matters. Stop talking about the first time you “lost your virginity” and start just referring to it as sex–especially when you’re interacting with younger women.
2. Tell people far and wide about the fact that there is no scientific definition of virginity.
3. Get involved in the movement to make sex ed comprehensive far and wide! Check out RH Reality Check, Shelby Knox’s work, and other great blogs for the best way to do that.

Great advice. She even uses this series’ moniker! I’m particularly struck by the importance of being conscious of how we talk about our own sexual experiences, both to combat internalized sexism and slut-shaming and to set an autonomy-positive example for those younger than us. I’ve been reminding myself to use the phrase “when I had sex for the first time” instead of “when I lost my virginity” or, in my opinion even worse, “when I gave it up.”

Commenter Caro13 adds,

A note on linguistics: I’ve recently been thinking about how many women will say that they “lost their virginity TO x-guy,” rather than saying “lost their virginity WITH x-guy.” Saying “with” at least implies that having sex for the first time was an experience that you shared equally with a partner (whether or not it was also their first time). Saying you lost it “to” someone seems to say that you’ve passively allowed someone to take something important away from you, and now they hold a piece of your identity because they “took” your virginity.

I agree. The linguistic implication that sex is a commodity that we give to other people, instead of a collaborative experience that we share with partners, inherently lends itself to inadvertently heavy statements about the “value,” “worth,” and “price” of said interaction.

Previously in Language Matters: Part One: “Hey Guys!”; Part Two: Choice and Life

Why is the masculine androgynous?

March 18, 2009 § 2 Comments

Warning: This post is a bit of a wordy stream-of-consciousness rant. Read at your own risk.

Pants are androgynous; they are worn by both women and men. Women, however, have the options of wearing pants, skirts, or dresses. According to a gendered society, men may wear only pants. Thus, pants are both masculine and androgynous. While a woman is socially permitted to wear pants in a setting that is inclusive of both genders, when she wears pants in a setting in which she is the only woman, she is ostracized, called “butch,” “revolutionary,” or even — goodness forbid — a feminist.

Hillary Clinton is famous for her pantsuits. A few years back, I saw the First Ladies exhibit at the New York Historical Society. There was a clear definitive statement made by juxtaposing Dolly Madison’s petticoats next to Hillary Clinton’s infamous pantsuit (the only one black fashion item featured in the exhibit, I might add). 

My mom works for a community center and she wears a pantsuit to work almost every day. I have not heard anyone comment on her clothing choice, let alone name her a member of “the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.”

I realize that my mom works in a coeducational facility, when Hillary Clinton, a US senator and former presidential nominee works in an old boy’s club. The pantsuits, a symbol of both masculinity and androgyny (i.e. social and political power). Pantsuits are androgynous; they can be worn by both men and women on a regular basis yet there is an exception when women enter “men’s clubs.” These include patriarchal institutions such as government, the military (America’s eyes have not gotten used to seeing women in uniform), and Wall Street. In these “men’s clubs,” the androgynous becomes masculine because there cannot be androgyny when only one gender is represented in these institutions.

Then, when a woman finally discovers the password to one of these men’s clubs, the masculinity that can be construed as androgyny is so deeply rooted that anyone (like Hillary Clinton) who invades that men’s club as an non-accepted member becomes a source of shock. This shock factor does not stem from the fact that she dresses like men; it happens when she dresses in a way that men happen to dress in as well.

Men do not have an exclusive claim on pants. They have no claim over this piece of clothing just as they have no claim over the institutionally sexist occupations they may inhabit. 

The patriarchy sets up a society so that what men do/wear/customize is the standard. For women, this standard is fooled into being androgynous, though it is in fact a patriarchal setup to make women feel included. However, whenever women include themselves in this standard, they are considered impostors, the only ones in costumes at a sexist Halloween party.

Michael Kimmel, in “Masculinity As Homophobia,” writes “We think of manhood as innate, residing in the particular biological composition of the human male, the result of androgens or the possession of the penis.” 

Androgens are the hormones that control the development of masculine characteristics. The common root of this hormone and the term “androgynous” is not a coincidence. Androgens literally contain everything that, without society’s interference, biologically differentiates male from female. Androgynous, the embodiment of both male and female characteristics, is in its social reality the comparison of female characteristics to the standard of male ones. 

Is this comparison fair? Must masculine be the standard for women to live up to and then be ostracized by? Can’t all people be accepted for who they are and with the choice to be who they want to be?

Language Matters!

March 4, 2009 § 6 Comments

I’ve written about the significance of language before, in my very first post on Women’s Glib. I’m fascinated by language and linguistics, particularly from a feminist viewpoint, because the way we talk about gender and sex has tremendous bearing on the way we think and act. Little things like welcoming a class full of students by saying “hey guys,” as I wrote about in the post, are representative of much larger social issues.

I’d like to continue what that post started by announcing a new series, Language Matters. Click below the fold for the second edition of the series. « Read the rest of this entry »

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