On #mooreandme, Rachel Maddow, and the curse of “Being Grateful”

December 21, 2010 § 4 Comments

by ELENA

Today, my Internet exploded.

It started with Keith Olbermann inexplicably responding to my tweets about the #mooreandme protest, and ended with Michael Moore’s appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show, which is being filmed live this week at the 92nd Street Y.

The interview can be found here, and I shall paraphrase it as such:

Maddow introduced Moore by discussing when leaked information is inaccurate, and then discussed the specifics of the charges against Julian Assange, which she referred to as “date rape.” She then introduced Michael Moore, who mentioned several interesting things:

1. That he founded a rape crisis center in Flint, Michigan.
2. That he believes that rape allegations should be taken seriously.
3. That he supports WikiLeaks because of how he was raised as a Christian.

No, really.

Now, I am not going to question Moore’s faith, but I wonder if he ever read John 8, in which Jesus saves a “sinning woman” from being stoned to death (the common punishment for any sex-related offense) by saying, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NRSV). Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann have encouraged people to throw (figurative) stones at Assange’s complainants by labeling their allegations as “a smear/hooey/a CIA conspiracy/etc.”

After briefly discussing sexual assault, Moore went on to talk about war crimes/Bradley Manning’s detention/etc. Neither Moore nor Maddow mentioned the #mooreandme movement on Twitter by name, and Michael Moore did not apologize for the comments he made on Countdown With Keith Olbermann. Rachel Maddow did not press Moore further on the comments he made, and Maddow has not mentioned the #mooreandme movement on her Twitter page (although it was mentioned on @Maddowblog).

I honestly hope Rachel Maddow didn’t think: “I don’t want to bring up this Moore and Me protest too specifically because I don’t want to piss off the live audience.” I honestly hope Michael Moore didn’t think: “Well, maybe if I say that I really, really, really don’t like rape, and I bring up that one time when I formed a rape crisis center, those feminists on Twitter will stop bothering me.”

There has been a lot of celebration on Twitter about the fact that a prominent filmmaker within the progressive movement did the truly shocking thing of briefly mentioning that sexual assault should be taken seriously. I am not “happy,” “excited,” or “grateful” that Moore said what he did on the Rachel Maddow show tonight. People who expect endless praise for the simple act of recognizing that rape allegations are not something to take lightly remind me of my 8-year-old self, who expected bottomless rewards for doing things like cleaning my room and loading the dishwasher.

I’m sure someone, somewhere out on the Internet (maybe Keith O. himself!) is thinking, “He said rape was bad! Isnt that what you wanted? Why can’t you [optional expletive] feminists be grateful about anything?”

Problem is, “Be Grateful” is a very dangerous phrase.

Workers are told “Why do you want to cause trouble by starting a union? You should be grateful that you even have a job.”

Women are still told “We gave you the vote — what more do you want? Why aren’t you grateful for everything we do for you?”

People whose race and ethnic background aren’t “Caucasian” are told “Look, racial equality comes slowly. You should be grateful for all of the achievements [insert minority racial/ethnic group here] have made already.”

Those who fight for rights of queer identified people are constantly told that progress on marriage equality/the implementation of the DADT appeal/adoption/rights and visibility for the transgender community are constantly told that “Progress comes slowly.”

When my mother was my age, her family were recipients of Christmas food, clothing, and toy drives. She couldn’t complain about eating dented cans of pimentos, or having to wear clothes that didn’t fit, or getting used or broken toys for Christmas because that would make her sound “ungrateful.” When she talks about those Christmases of cheap grace, she starts to cry.

“Be Grateful” frequently means “Don’t ask questions; it’s not your place to ask us why we discriminate against you, withold basic rights from you, or think you only deserve the dented cans of food to eat.” I frequently wonder if people say “Progress Comes Slowly” as a way for justify the harmful systems that do prevent positive change. If we think that progress happens slowly, then, more often than not, we will act slowly.

I will congratulate Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann when they simply apologize for their harmful and inaccurate comments, mention the many talented writers who powered #mooreandme, and pay more attention to how the rape culture harms everyone.

And Keith, if you want proof that feminists are fairly courteous, mature, and not a “reactionary” coven out to get you, I would be more than happy to appear on your show. All I ask in return is that my airfare and hotel costs are covered, and that you show up to your news desk with an open mind.

Really, W Magazine? Really?

September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

Once upon a time, I had a subscription to W. Magazine. As an artist, I love collaging, and W’s edgy, large-format fashion spreads provide great imagery for collage, and other mixed-media projects. But this article makes me really happy that I didn’t renew my subscription.

For starters, I have a problem with anyone describing different fashion styles in a “clique” mentality. “Clique” seems to imply a negative exclusivity, which a lot of people face in their lives, without reading W’s fluff fashion pieces. This also implies that women can only have one sartorial style code. I own dresses that flaunt my curves, flashy miniskirts, streamlined pieces, and flowy, bohemian dresses and scarves. According to W, I’d be considered to be a fashion schizophrenic.

But this piece went from “dumb” to “freaking inappropriate” in its way it described women’s body types. Jezebel pointed out W’s insensitivity to special dietary needs and eating disorders in the way that W called any woman who [ghasp!] isn’t a size two a “woman who eats her feelings”, and that is always talking about “gluten-free vegan cupcakes”. Here’s a nice little message for W: Women who may not fit within your acceptable skinniness range DOES NOT EQUAL a woman with a compulsive eating disorder. Also, Christina Hendricks, Beth Ditto, and Brigitte Bardot don’t have their amazing bodies (or, as W puts it, “full figured”) because they can’t stop eating. They have those bodies for a variety of reasons, mostly because they were born with bodies that were naturally curvy. Also, it would be nice if Christina could wear some Louis Vuitton or Prada to an event or awards show, but she has stated that designers won’t dress her because she’s bigger than a size two.

One of my friends from high school has food sensitivities that prevent her from eating many foods, including gluten and corn products. Another friend from Stephens is a vegan. Neither of them wear bohemian clothes, let alone Missoni or Edun. They wear jeans, t-shirts, and dancewear. Both of them have gotten frustrated about how their dietary limitations affect their everyday life. I understand that not everyone who follows a vegan/gluten-free/both diet is doing so for strictly medical reasons, but W needs to stop implying that a restrictive diet is just a great way to lose weight.

And finally, W Magazine, I’d like to think that someone thinks that I have depth because I, oh I dunno, actually have depth and speak with passion and knowledge about the things I care about. If I have to prove my supposed depth, intelligence, and “postfeminism” by wearing expensive designer clothes, then I don’t actually have any depth.

I like fashion. I like fashion magazines that produce creative photo shoots, creative and insightful articles, and that promote body diversity. I will be more than happy to put W out of business by spending money on a superior competitor.

Dear Stephens College: There are better ways to raise 1 million dollars.

August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment

by ELENA

Before I transferred to SCAD, I attended a small college in Missouri called Stephens College. A friend of mine (a student at the University of Missouri — the school next door to Stephens) sent me a link to a recent story, in which an anonymous alum has pledged to donate one million dollars, if school employees collectively lose 250 pounds or more.

I think that linking a charitable donation to an institute of learning with weight loss is a bad idea. Especially at a place like Stephens, which is a women’s college.

Why?

Because many women are bombarded with so many images in the media, telling us to do this/buy that in order to lose weight. There are many competition style shows, in which contestants try to win money by losing weight. Jillian Michaels has garnered a great deal of money and fame by being the head screamer on The Biggest Loser, and her own TV show whose name I cannot remember, but would be best titled Jillian Michaels Really Enjoys Screaming at Fat People.

During my time at Stephens (Fall ’07-Winter ’08), it seemed like many of my classmates were in a never-ending weight loss competition with each other. One girl complained that it was “unfair” that a girl who was larger than her was a better, more flexible dancer. Another girl tried out the “Master Cleanse” with her friends: They spent a weekend consuming only a drink made from lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. They did lose weight, but only because they spent their entire weekend in the bathroom, suffering from severe nausea/diarrhea. During my seven-week summer intensive, it seemed like I was the only person who wasnt freaking out about “getting fat” — we spent our mornings in an intense dance/aerobics class, followed by acting class, lunch, and time spent either in rehearsal or in the shop.

The most popular majors at Stephens (performing arts, dance, fashion) are majors that do place a great deal of value on traditional standards of beauty (thinness, conventional beauty, etc). Several professors in the performing arts department told some of my friends that they should lose weight, or otherwise alter their appearance (another was told that her muscles were too prominent). « Read the rest of this entry »

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!

Humorless Feminist?

February 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

After recent posts about Courtney Martin on the O’Reilly factor and Amy Sedaris’ racist comments I’ve been wondering about where we draw the line with sexist and any kind of -ist humor. It seems to me that the excuse that O’Reilly used for his sexist and ageist comments about Helen Thomas were that they were “humorous.” I didn’t find any of his comments funny, and I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. I didn’t find Amy Sedaris’ racist comments funny either. I thought Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin was pretty hilarious, but I also think that the way Palin was portrayed by the media was often sexist, as is the portrayal of female politicians in general. So where do we draw the line between funny and wrong?

Sometimes it is easy to tell when something is done in bad taste. But often, people seem to disagree on whether or not something is offensive. I think it is extremely important to be conscientious when it comes to what we see and hear on t.v., online, etc. I think we should all have the ability to discern for ourselves what we consider funny or offensive, but at the same time, we can’t let jokes that we feel are based on stereotypes and even malice go by unnoticed.

After watching Courtney Martin on the O’Reilly Factor, I was really impressed by her poise and eloquence in defending Helen Thomas and calling out O’Reilly on his sexist and ageist comments. O’Reilly’s responses to Courtney Martin’s points were all relying on his assertion that his comments were “humorous.” This relates to the notion of the humorless feminist–one of the biggest stereotypes and a damaging one. Portraying feminists, or anyone who dares to call someone out on the use of offensive “humor”, as humorless is a way of silencing them. Similar to portraying feminists as uncool and angry, portraying feminists as humorless makes us seem less relatable and unnecessary to listen to. Calling people out on jokes or comments that are offensive does not make you humorless. In fact, my feminist friends are some of the funniest people I know.

You are such an f-word!

February 11, 2009 § 7 Comments

I consider myself a feminist because I believe that women should be given equal opportunities, not because of how active of a feminist I am, or how much I do or don’t do for the feminist cause.  Although I do promote this, and think well of people who devote themselves to this, I don’t believe it is the only thing that grants someone the worthy title of a feminist. If I have never been to a pro-choice rally or written for a feminist magazine, can I still be a feminist?  OF COURSE YOU CAN.  The notion that you have to earn this title only creates conflict within the feminist movement.  Not only do people fear the f-word, they also fear that they are not doing enough to receive the (fantastic) label of a feminist.

I think that some people do use this as an excuse for not calling themselves what they are.  A feminist is someone who believes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who constantly acts on their beliefs.  If all the people who believe in feminism stood up and called themselves what they are, half the problems women face today would be solved instantly.  It is another excuse not to align themselves with the feminist cause, mostly out of fear.  But sometimes I fear that I do not deserve the title of feminist that so many great women before me have been given.  But then I realize that by simply being a strong person who is not willing to take any shit from anyone, I am already helping the cause.

 

I also think that there are a variety of ways to be involved in fighting the feminist cause.  Everyday women who fight stereotypes by pursuing science or engineering are being active feminists.  Busy parents who teach their sons and daughters to be respectful of women are feminists; teenagers who are willing to fight stereotypical depictions of women are feminists.  Anyone who believes in equality for women is a feminist, and there is no hierarchy to deciding who is granted this name.  This is an f-word that anyone and everyone can say, and I encourage everyone to use it.

To those hush-hush f-words out there

February 8, 2009 § 2 Comments

PERSON X: I’m just so sick of how women are excluded from math and science, make only 77 cents to ever man’s dollar, get whistled at by strangers for simply existing, and don’t have the right to their own bodies.

ME: I know. It sucks, but it’s so great that you’re a feminist because that means you can understand what’s wrong with society and use your knowledge to fight the patriarchy!

PERSON X: But I’m not a feminist! [cue wincing and squeamishness]

Now, if I had a dime for every similar interaction, I could afford a dual lifetime subscription to BITCH and Ms. Alas, I make no money from a tabooed word. I just get to be sad for all the people out there (boys and girls, men and women, and everyone inbetween) who miss out on the liberation and fun that is feminism.

The thing is, I can totally understand why all those ignorant PERSON X’s out there are afraid to label themselves as feminists because I was one of them. People-pleaser that I am, there was a time in middle school when I told a friend who played the ME in this scenario that “I believe in equality, but feminist just seems like a harsh term.”

I was young and naïve and afraid to express myself, but there’s no excuse. Trust me: I am trying to make up for that horrific slander now!

When feminists are portrayed as man-hating lesbians who like to burn their bras in public, it’s pretty conceivable that teenagers who just want to fit into a heteronormative patriarchy (i.e. high school) wouldn’t associate themselves with a widely believed stereotype. As with all persuasive discrimination, the most widely known definition for those labeling a group fighting for equality is created by the oppressor. Unfortunately for feminists, a lot of the people in control of what we think are the creators themselves of the taboo on feminism.

BUT, lucky for us, ignorance can be easily remedied with some helpful education. If the real definition for a feminist as anyone who believes in equality were perpetuated, it would be pretty damn hard to argue an alias.

Through my writing program and some pretty awesome blogs introducing me to the coolness of being a feminist, I claim my title profusely and proudly. I encourage PERSON X to do the same. I also encourage…well, demand…that all you fabulous and influential feminists out there help those afraid of screaming the f-word loud and proud to realize their potential to use their knowledge to fight the patriarchy and claim their feminist identities!

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