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.

Thoughts on taking up space

May 22, 2009 § 6 Comments

A family friend of mine is a professor at Barnard College, and was telling me about their fantastic graduation ceremony the other day. Hillary Clinton was the commencement speaker (jealousy!); a few students presented speeches as well.

Sarah Nager, the winner of a speaking competition, gave the “Academic Reflections” address, in which she drew parallels between the amount of space women are allowed to take up literally (on the subway) and figuratively (in leadership roles and in society at large). She praised Barnard as an institution that “does not limit the amount of space women take up.”

Nager’s speech directly addresses a double standard that I – and many other feminists – think about a lot. Quite simply, guys are encouraged to be there, to make their presence known. Male body ideals – tall, chiseled, formidable – teach men to value strength and self-reliance. They should stand up straight, look people in the eye, shake hands firmly. They should be able to defend themselves.

Women, on the other hand, always need a man to protect them. We fall back on the scientific “proof” that men are physically stronger than women (which is true. Men, on average, can bench press more weight – but then again, most women can grow a child using only their bodies. Interesting what society deems important, isn’t it?), but in actuality these roles are socially constructed and implemented. The activities that girls are most often encouraged to pursue, like dance and gymnastics, are of course physically demanding, but they are cloaked in an air of performance and superficiality. Girls should move their bodies not to become stronger or have fun, but because they’ll look pretty for an audience.

This idea goes farther than just physical activity. It extends to other spheres as well:

  • Body odor: Deodorant marketed to men often has a strong, “spicy” scent, while women’s deodorant is mild and meant to be concealed.
  • Body fluids: Semen is socially acknowledged and talked about casually. Vaginal fluids and menstrual blood, on the other hand, are supposed to be wiped up as fast as possible and kept hidden from the world.
  • Posture: In my experience, strikingly tall men carry themselves with pride and confidence, whereas similar women tend to slouch.

How can we show girls – and perhaps more importantly, show ourselves – that taking up space is not only okay, it is a vital part of maintaining our physical presence and autonomy? What do y’all do to assert your physical, and consequently intellectual, selves?

Women’s Work In The New Economy

March 31, 2009 § 5 Comments

Another guest post by Joel, cross-posted at Citizen Obie.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women work trends since I saw an earlier post here a while back about how feminists were reacting to the stimulus package, and what they thought it offered to support industries with greater representation of women (social work, education, health.) My concern was not so much with the sectors the stimulus emphasized, I believe that fomenting green manufacturing, construction, transportation, and agriculture is going to be fundamental to getting ourselves out of this economic mess we’re in and moving us towards an era of sustainable prosperity and equity. But where do women fit in this agenda? Green-collar jobs, the premier jobs of the new economy, are in construction and manufacturing (and I pray also urban agriculture,) sectors with little female representation. I’m going to assume that construction and manufacturing will remain important and vibrant for years to come, in which case my concern is how do we promote gender equity in those fields? How do we make sure that women share in the vision of the new economy, how do we de-stratify the sectors with the greatest potential for growth?

I thought about it even more when the news got out that the White House vegetable garden is Michelle Obama’s initiative. I love Michelle Obama, I love organic vegetable gardens, and I love children’s health and nutrition, but I was intrigued by the historic association between first ladies and health (specifically children’s health) advocacy. I wouldn’t call it anything as strong as a major concern, but what does it mean for powerful, fiercely intelligent women (in Michelle Obama’s case, a lawyer) to be relegated to work with overtones of domesticity? On the other hand, maybe I ought to rethink my own gendered assumptions about what it means to work with children and health. Maybe it is my own male bias and set of assumptions that I imply above that children and health issues might be ‘beneath’ a fiercely intelligent woman. In this case, how will we encourage (assuming we want to) the disassociation of particular fields with the different genders? And if such associations remain tenacious, what opportunities are available to women in the revolutionary restructuring of the educational and health care systems, as called for in Barack Obama’s agenda? Energy, education, and health are the major focuses of Obama’s agenda. Is it okay for energy to be a primarily masculine field, with education and (to a lesser degree) health to be primarily feminine?

Finally, here are a few articles on the immediate effects of the recession on women’s economic lives. The first is on the likely increase of domestic disputes as a result of male unemployment. It suggests that recessions, with major job loss for male-bodied individuals, breeds resentment as males fail to fulfill their ‘breadwinner’ roles, compounding the other stresses of over-worked women struggling to fulfill their roles as double-time workers and mothers. The second is on women losing their jobs and moving into the sex entertainment industry. And here’s one on the unfortunate likelihood that pregnant women and new mothers may be more likely to face unemployment, despite the illegality of discriminating against mothers. Overall, it looks as though the recession and the vast restructuring of the economy (I hope) will have major effects on perceptions of domesticity and women’s work roles. I hope some of you are as interested in these broad trends as I am. I think they definitely point to a very particular landscape in the contemporary feminist movement.

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?

In which I ramble about what it means to be real

March 9, 2009 § 9 Comments

This article about a “female athlete who was really a man” has me thinking about “real” identities.

Xiao Nan’s extraordinary athletic performances in schools and in provincial and national competitions, won her great honour and free access to university education.

Inside, she felt confused: “I felt I often had an impulse or desire for women instead of men. And my body is more like a man than a woman.”

I can understand why Xiao would be confused. The culture in which we live has a narrow definition of what it means to be a woman, and that definition has little tolerance for women who desire women and women with “masculine” bodies. It has little tolerance for any female body that’s not white, tall, thin, big-breasted, clear-skinned, and hairless – and even attempts to subvert that constricted definition, like the “real women have curves” mantra, can leave not-so-curvy women like myself in the dark.

So, just to throw this out there: you can be a real woman if you desire women. You can be a real woman if your body is considered by society to be more masculine than feminine, or if you have curves, or if you don’t have curves. You can be a real woman if you don’t like pink. You can be a real woman if you don’t wear skirts. You can be a real woman if you don’t shave your legs. You can be a real woman if you don’t have a vagina. You can be a real woman if you don’t have breasts. You can be a real woman if you have short hair. You can be a real woman if you don’t like to cook. You can be a real woman if you don’t want to get married. You can be a real woman if you want to be a housewife. You can be a real woman if you like to hunt. You can be a real woman if you don’t menstruate.

The only thing you need to do to be a real woman is to self-identify as a woman.

Silvia and I talked about this issue a few days ago, in a different vein. We were pretty excited about an upcoming opportunity to take a group photo of all the Women’s Glib writers to post on the site, and we joked that once readers saw her, they wouldn’t believe she’s Latina. But she is, and that has less to do with the fact that her parents were born in Cuba and more to do with the fact that she identifies as such.

She’s the one who gets to say whether or not she is Latina. It is no one’s place but yours to tell you what you are.

That’s one reason why I was intrigued by the title of the article: “female athlete was really a man.” I wondered, what do they mean by “really?” What is proof enough that you are “actually” a man, besides you saying that you are a man?

Xiao had a check-up at a local hospital and the result confirmed she had male chromosomes.

Ahhhh. This must be what they mean by “really” being a man. So despite Xiao living for years as a woman, and self-identifying as a woman, a simple medical test was all it took to erase that self-determined gender? Silly me. I thought that we got to decide our own identity fates.

Is this what gender has come to? That your identity is not defined by you, as a result of any combination of factors like chromosomes, hormones, physical characteristics, personality traits, socialization, and personal preferences – but by a doctor’s pronouncement? I’m disturbed that someone’s life experiences and their self-determined identity can be so easily erased in the eyes of this news source.

He is now living as a man and has begun a course of sex change surgery at Sichuan Xichan Plastic Surgery Hospital which will take nine months.

“The first thing I want to do after the surgery is to go swimming, wearing only boxer shorts,” Xiao told Chengdu Business Daily.

I want to make it clear that I support any action Xiao does or doesn’t take in a situation like this one. He’s chosen to live as a man and opted to get surgery, and I respect that completely – because I can only assume from this article that it is what makes him most comfortable, and it is his choice. His choice isn’t what bothers me about this article. What irks me is the implication, from the reporter’s and editor’s words, that the labels other people place onto our beings matter more than the identities we choose for ourselves – that the experiences we’ve accumulated and the convictions we’ve strengthened can be nullified by society so quickly and so thoughtlessly.

This sort of labeling has serious potential to invalidate the identities of many marginalized people in the eyes of society. Just a few examples of where this fucked up logic might lead (or has already led):

  • She says she’s a trans woman, but she hasn’t got a vagina so she’s not really a woman.
  • He says he’s bisexual, but he only wants to hook up with men, not date them “seriously,” so he’s not really bisexual.
  • She tells everyone she’s black, but she’s actually biracial. She’s lived with her white mom for her entire life, so she’s not really black.

Not okay.

I can’t wait for the time when our self-defined identities are taken as truth by others, without criticism or controversy. I’m glad that Xiao appears to have found identity harmony and lost his sense of inner confusion – but I’m pissed that the article defines him as a “real” man because of his chromosomes rather than because of his personal convictions.

The War on Women

March 5, 2009 § 3 Comments

Like Shira, I’m finally – finally – done with my junior thesis from last semester. In celebration, I’d like to post mine here. It’s about the epidemic of sexual violence within the U.S. military (that is, soldiers raping and assaulting other soldiers) and what the government isn’t doing about it.

As a Microsoft Word document, it’s just over eight pages. If you’re interested, click below the fold – and I welcome feedback in comments!

« Read the rest of this entry »

Womanly Sports?

March 4, 2009 § 3 Comments

Check out this article that ran in the New York Times today about women’s soccer in a distant country I hold dear: Turkey. 

Journalist Yigal Shleifer writes on the emerging prominence of women’s soccer teams in Turkey, and the challenges that the movement faces. 

Because soccer is viewed as a man’s sport, many Turkish parents are hesitant to let their daughters participate at any level. Turkish gym classes, which are usually split according to gender, often do not even include the sport in their girls’ curriculum. One worried parent of a 20-year-old female soccer player remarked:”In the beginning, we didn’t want our daughter to play…We were worried that it would affect her posture, her character, even her sexual orientation. We put her in volleyball, in track, but nothing could stop her.” Players sometimes face shouts to the effect of “go home to the kitchen” when they play, even as the sport picks up popularity and acceptance across the nation. 

Aside from the obviously sexist sentiments that emerge from the article, I noticed another important thing: the idea that sports have genders. 

So, what the hell is a woman’s sport? We already have track and volleyball….What else are us damsels fit to play? Is it stuff that won’t jiggle our wombs around too much? And what do you think defines and sustains this idea of feminine and masculine sports?

Feminism and Porn

March 4, 2009 § 1 Comment

At my school, every Friday there’s a Gender Studies Round table during lunch. Usually a guest speaker comes and students convene in a room (at a table) to discuss a topic, ranging from homosexuality to white privilege. I’ve only been to a few, but I definitely want to go to this week’s.

This week’s topic is porn. While I’ve never been a fan of porn myself, I don’t judge those who do enjoy it. I just think that it’s important for people who watch it to understand exactly how realistic the situations in porn are (as in, not realistic at all). I also think that the way in which women are portrayed in porn has the potential to be an extremely interesting topic and debate. (Perhaps for another post, once I’ve gone to the Round table.)

But what really made me want to attend was a quote posted on one of my school’s bulletin boards about this week’s topic. It was a quote by none other than the infamous Hugh Hefner. While I’m unable to find it right now, it stated that anti-sexual beliefs were deeply rooted in feminism.

Because we all know what an expert Hugh Hefner is on feminism. I thought feminism was about equality no matter your gender, which includes sexual empowerment. Since when have feminists shunned sex? And here I thought it was the crazy feminists’ faults for fueling the so-called “hook-up culture” with their damned insistence on equal rights! Silly  me.

Forgive me for the ramblings; just trying to organize my thoughts. There will be a follow-up Friday or Saturday after I go to the Round table. Opinions anyone?

Update: Did Hefner forget that feminist porn exists?

You’re such a woman!

March 2, 2009 § 2 Comments

I’m a feminist who is a vegetarian and loves to knit, bake, do yoga, and be around babies.

I have been told by numerous people (both male and female) upon mentioning any of these habits, “You’re such a woman!”

“You’re such a woman” is not an offensive statement. Far from it, I am proud of my womanhood. I, however, am offended by the tone that accompanies this statement. It is usually said as an accusation or as a fact that belittles my feminism.

When I ask the accusers why these parts of me make me such a woman, they have responded by saying:

“Because you’re so domestic,”

“That’s what housewives did in the ‘50’s,”

“You’re caring,” and, my personal favorite,

“It’s stuff you do for others.”

These are all sexist. Blatantly sexist. How?

  1. They take (mostly) positive attributes and apply them only to women, thereby implying that men are incapable of caring and doing for others.
  2. They make both women and men who practice vegetarianism, knitting, baking, doing yoga, and/or baby-loving feel guilty for pursuing their own happiness.
  3. They narrow the definition of what it means to be a woman/man in a society that has questionable values.
  4. They narrow the definition of what it means to be a feminist in today’s world.

My personal definition of feminism is the promotion of everyone’s right to choose, as long as an individual’s choice does not interfere with the prosperity of others. Only if that freedom of choice exists can we have equality. When I am told I am “such a woman” in a condescending, volatile tone, my choice to do these “domestic” activities is taken away. The difference, my accusers, between me and a reluctant “’50’s housewife” – besides the obvious – is that I choose to do these things because they make me happy.

I choose to be a vegetarian because I am much happier knowing exactly where my food comes from. I choose to knit because it takes my mind off of the day-to-day drama of my life. I choose to bake because I love the simplicity of following a recipe. I choose to practice yoga because it makes me strong and my body empowered. I choose to be around babies because it makes me happy seeing new lives blossom.

So you know what? I am such a woman (and proud of it), but not for the reasons you, my accusers, deem.

Doesn’t everyone deserve the choice to their own happiness without sexist connotations/criticism?

Why aren’t you smiling?

February 5, 2009 § 6 Comments

I experience street harassment practically on a daily basis. In the morning on the way to school, I often hear comments like ‘hey baby’ or ‘good morning, beautiful.’ Not to mention gems such as the one I heard recently, ‘I love the way you walk, but I’d bet I’d love you even more lying down.’ Mmm…I love my coffee with a side of harassment in the morning. However, the most obnoxious form of street harassment in my opinion is the kind that is not outwardly sexual, yet equally invasive and unacceptable. I’m talking about the comments I get when I don’t respond to the first come-on. For example, sometimes I just get a ‘hello’ or a ‘what’s your name?’ When I don’t respond, I get a comment like, ‘why you gotta be so mean?’ or ‘come on baby, I’m just trying to be nice.’ As if I’m supposed to respond to every sketchy man that approaches me on a sidewalk when I’ve clearly got more important things to do. Another extremely annoying comment is ‘why aren’t you smiling?’ I know a lot of young women get this one all the time.

The problem with these seemingly innocent comments is that they are a classic expression of the rape culture that we have created in our society. We make it acceptable for men to catcall women without fearing any punishment. Hell, I’ve been hit on by police officers! With comments like ‘why you gotta be so mean?’ or ‘come on baby, I’m just trying to be nice,’ these men expect us to not only passively receive their come-ons, but to thank them. Thanks sketchy man drinking beer at 8:30 a.m. for harassing a minor on her way to school!

I think that the blame can’t solely be placed upon the men that harass women on the street, in the subway or anywhere really. There has to be something wrong with a society that tells these men that the only way they can assert their masculinity is by catcalling women. That’s rape culture, folks! Men are expected to assert their masculinity in this damaging way, and women are expected to endure it. Fuck, we’re even blamed when we don’t endure it passively; ‘why you gotta be so mean?’ ‘why aren’t you smiling?’ Maybe it’s because I’m being hit on by a gross, much older man first thing in the morning and he expects me to be into it.

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