Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Bunch of Dude Writers Congratulate Themselves on Their Inclusiveness

So, last night the National Book Awards were handed out, going to what appears to be a group of pretty white and pretty dudely dudes. Based on the NPR story I heard this morning, there was much back-slapping but also much hand-wringing over the state of publishing. Apparently, that thing called the Kindle freaks the crap out of the publishing folk.

Also interesting was the blatant self-congratulation on saving the voice of the other. Some quotes from Colum McCann, the Irish writer who won the Fiction prize:

"As fiction writers and people who believe in the word, we have to enter the anonymous corners of human experience to make that little corner right."


"As someone who's come from Ireland, I am extraordinarily honored. It seems to me that American literature is able to embrace the other."

Okay, so if McCann actually believes that American literature is completely fair, equal, and unbiased, maybe these comments are not so bad. But put into the context of a sexist and racist society, where white men are the privileged class, which sadly continues to be the case in literature as well... um, yeah, they seem pretty bad. It's almost like he's saying, as long as us menfolk are here to interpret the world and tell the untold stories, the rest of you needn't worry about it!

Then there was this from Dave Eggers, who won the Literarian Award:

"I think this is the most exciting and democratic time," he said. "There is a pluralism in publishing that is unprecedented."

Okay, guys, really? These statements are quite the head-scratchers. Could you just look around maybe, be a little self-aware, and notice who happens to NOT be standing on the platform next to you? If you're such geniuses at pluralism and noticing who's anonymous and embracing the other, then why the fuck aren't you noticing those who are invisible at your own awards ceremony?

You'd think this would have been especially apparent when
Claudette Colvin, an African American woman who as a teenager in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus (which sounds like a pretty kick-ass story and preceded the better-known Rosa Parks incident), accompanied writer Phillip Hoose on stage. However, the main focus here was on Hoose, who was accepting the award for Young People's Literature... which he won telling her story.

Sounds like a nice moment, and again, in a fair and balanced world, I would harbor no cynicism here. Absolutely none. Just wondering, though -- when women writers unearth these types of "unknown" stories, or write their own life stories, do they usually get this much attention? Just wondering...

Late author Flannery O'Connor did take honors for the Best of the National Book Awards prize (which for some reason the NYT article fails to even mention???), but according to GalleyCat's liveblogging of the event, nobody was that excited about it:

"The Complete Stories" by Flannery O'Connor wins Best of the National Book Awards award, nominated by 10,000 votes from the public. No one can come up to collect the award for the late, great author. Borowitz: "I have nothing to add."

Great. Thanks a million, National Book Awards!

This comes only a few weeks after Publisher Weekly's Best Books list completely SHUT OUT women writers from its top ten. Here's their confidence-building statement on that list, from PW director Louisa Ermelino:

"We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the 'big' books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male."

Uh, yeah. You think? Could it be that your sexism and racism was subconscious? Because that's maybe a little bit how things like sexism and racism work?

I'm sorry, but if publishing (i.e. the world of the literary elite) is really a sinking ship, as comedian and NBA host Andy Borowitz put it, then I'm gonna hazard a wild guess here. Purely WILD on my part. That perhaps these problems might have something to do with publishing's inherent gender/race bias, perspective imbalance, and all-round exclusivity? Um, maybe?

And you know, maybe it's not so much about the Kindle. But hey, keep blaming it on the Kindle if that works for ya. :P

Finally, in the name of righteous indignation, commiseration, and learning more about awesome women writers, I would highly recommend checking out the online community
She Writes, as well as the recently formed WILA (Women In Literary Arts).

Crossposted at
Library Cat.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stupak, Schmupak

To those 240 members of the House of Representatives that voted for the Stupak-Pitts amendment last night, including 64 Democrats, you can all kiss. my. ASS.

NARAL agrees:

"The Stupak-Pitts amendment makes it virtually impossible for private insurance companies that participate in the new system to offer abortion coverage to women. This would have the effect of denying women the right to use their own personal private funds to purchase an insurance plan with abortion coverage in the new health system — a radical departure from the status quo. Presently, more than 85 percent of private-insurance plans cover abortion services."

So. Is this what
health care reform looks like now? Actually taking rights away from half the population? Limiting our options? Getting between us and our doctors? Wtf?

And by the way, isn't that everything most of these politicians (of both parties) claim not to want?

Right, sure, whatever. Instead, women get thrown under the bus... and it's hailed as triumphant bipartisan compromise? Yeah, you're all collaborative geniuses. We get it.

Grrrrrr. Starting to feel a lot like Maine and California all over this country. However, the Stupak provision can still be removed, and the Senate is yet to have at it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ecofeminism... Some Thoughts

The topic of ecofeminism -- the theory that the subjugation of women and exploitation of the environment are directly connected -- interests me and intrigues me, but for some reason I have trouble finding useful stuff online for it. However, today I came across a decent article from the University of Western Ontario titled Ecofeminism: our last great hope?

The article emphasizes a point I have read elsewhere in environmental and ecofeminist literature, from theorists like
Thomas Berry and James Lovelock -- which is that ecofeminism needs to be, should be, and very well could be an integral and necessary belief system in a world coping with a damaged planet. Tied up in this idea is the hypothesis that we are heading towards a new era of environmental awareness that Berry called the Ecozoic.

The following quote really cuts to the heart of the matter, pointing out the current imbalance (both between humans themselves and also between humans and nature) that needs to be corrected:

"Since women were often associated and even conflated with earth/nature it was a simple logical step to both see women as objects and as passive, with men retaining a higher position in the symbolic order as active subjects. Aristotle did not mince words on this issue. He writes in De Generatione Animalium 'the female, as female, is passive and the male, as male, is active, and the principle of movement comes from him.'"

The male as active and the female as passive? Yep, seems like classic sexism to me... pun intended. Nature has also been traditionally painted as a passive body that receives the influence and admiration of men, rather than as a prime actor in its own right (which of course it is). Until a hurricane hits or a bear attacks, that is, and then nature becomes an evil/destructive presence that really must be conquered. And the cycle of domination proceeds as before.

Another valuable resource I recently discover is's (a great site, by the way) Ecofeminism bibliography.

That's all for now, but I'll probably have more to say on this topic in the future.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mad Men: "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency"

One thing I've learned about the AMC show Mad Men is if something doesn't make sense, then I probably wasn't paying attention. E.g., the lawn tractor scene in this week's episode -- it seemed to come out of nowhere, no? And oh, uh-huh, yeah. Touché. That was entirely the point.

So what does the tractor scene represent, exactly? What does it mean? Probably only
Matthew Weiner can say for sure, but I think it embodies multiple metaphors and foreshadows more than one volatile event of the 1960s.

Starting with:

  • The JFK assassination. Think about it. The lurching, slow-moving vehicle. The optimistic young leader, a hybrid of sorts, as victim. Joan's (aka Jackie's) bloody dress. That feeling of horrendous tragedy coming fast and out of nowhere to blow everything apart, despite the slow-motion sensation leading up to it. More on the JFK angle at Pandagon.

But also:

  • The Vietnam War. The violence of it, the blood that spattered everywhere. The mangled, lost limbs -- Guy's foot, but also Roger's reference to a severed arm. The talk about how getting drafted is no big deal. And, oh yeah, it was 4th of July weekend. British and American mingling together, in an uneasy balance of power where the British had control, yet were handed a defeat with the loss of their promising young leader. All of this recalls the violent history and original meaning of that particular day, the 4th of July. War. More on the Vietnam angle at Slate.

And we can't forget:

  • The Civil Rights Movement. Here we have the lawnmower as the symbol of suburbia, a suburbia that was rumbling with discontent in the early 60s, a suburbia formerly somewhat neutralized under an American version of the Pax Romana. The fact that it's a woman on the tractor emphasizes women's close connection to suburbia, although originally there is both a man and a woman on the tractor waving and smiling at the group, almost in a political fashion (back to Kennedy again). The man (Smitty?) is driving and yelling, "I'm going home!" The next time we see the tractor, the original smiling pair is gone, which perhaps represents a white, patriarchal, mechanized society setting a seemingly benign course that ultimately spins out of control. The solitary woman on the tractor could be a nod to the forthcoming feminist movement, which, along with the other Civil Rights movements, aspired to chop up the old order through activism and protests. Or, it could also be viewed as another example of women being scapegoated for the mistakes of others, usually men, i.e., Ken shouldn't have brought the tractor to work in the first place.

One last thing that strikes me about this scene is the deep ignorance of it. No one in the room, with the exception of Ken (who doesn't try very hard to stop it), recognizes the inherent danger of a machine on the loose, not even the drivers. And only Joan has the presence of mind to deal with the aftermath. So if the lawn tractor ultimately represents a juggernaut of radical change, it is one that explodes within a society mostly ignorant of its coming, a society on the very brink of awakening and consciousness-raising.

Watch the scene again. What's your take?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peggy Olson is Awesome, Part Deux

She asks Don for a raise, invoking equal pay for equal work. In freaking 1963.

He tells her it's not a good time.

She hits back with, "What if this is MY time?"


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Peggy Olson is Awesome, Let Me Count the Ways (in quotes)

"I am one of those girls."

"I'm sleeping with Don. It's really working out."

"Eugene, I'm in the persuasion business, and frankly, I'm disappointed by your presentation."

"Well, one day you're there and then all of a sudden there's less of you. And you wonder where that part went, if it's living somewhere outside of you, and you keep thinking maybe you'll get it back. And then you realize, it's just gone."

"I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana."

"You two can go. I'm in a very good place right now."

"I am so high."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spotting Feminist Themes on TV

One of my favorite topics is analyzing feminist themes on television, as well as gender portrayals of both male and female characters. Having just marathoned the entire Felicity series this summer, some of my thoughts about feminism, gender roles, and relationship equality within that particular show can be found here (with an expanded version here).

Also, a couple related links that caught my eye:

Are feminist TV characters a thing of the past? via After Ellen.

20 feminist TV characters at Jezebel.

Although everyone's list of this type would probably be different, I thought three notable absences from these were Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show (& probably Sondra too), Maggie O'Connell from Northern Exposure, and Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. Who would you add?

Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

And check out various blogger perspectives on "The Meaning of MJ" via Feministing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Women in Hollywood: Are There Any?

Here are some statistics that really piss me off concerning behind-the-scenes employment of women in Hollywood (i.e., directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, cinematographers). Pulled from Dr. Martha M. Lauzen's 2009 Celluloid Ceiling Report, these numbers are freaking appalling:
  • Women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films during 2008, representing a decline of 3 percentage points from 2001 and an increase of one percentage point from 2007.
  • Women accounted for 9% of directors in 2008, an increase of three percentage points from 2007. This figure represents no change from the percentage of women directing in 1998.
  • Twenty-two percent (22%) of the films released in 2008 employed no women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, or editors. No films failed to employ a man in at least one of these roles. (emphasis mine)

For further reading about the state of women and movies, go here and here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hell, Yes: Women’s History Relevant All Year

I came across this article today from The Centre Daily Times in Pennsylvania, written by Nalini Krishnankutty. Entitled Women's History Relevant All Year, it does a nice job of breaking down the basic issues involving the status of women in the United States. Her number one question goes something like this: "Doesn't it tell us something that women are a majority of the population but still a minority in government leadership?"

This is a bottom-line fact that feminists never forget -- when a majority of the population play a minority role in representative government, something is wrong. Equality has not been reached. Yet, some people in the men's movement tend to assume right off the bat that equality has been obtained, and not only that, men are now at a disadvantage. Riiight. What's scary is that many who say these things, truly believe them. Um yeah, maybe your male privilege is showing? And it's a privilege so powerful and blinding, by the way, that you might not even be aware of it?

Krishnankutty also reminds us that the theme of the 2009 Women's History Month was "Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet," and highlights the women scientists and ecofeminists who have consistently been at the forefront of the environmental movement, including Ellen Swallow Richards, Maria Sanford, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Rachel Carson, Grace Thorpe, and Vandana Shiva. All except Shiva, who Krishnankutty focuses on herself, were acknowledged by President Obama in his Women’s History Month proclamation. Check it out... it's a good read.

And check out Krishnankutty's article if you get the chance. It's a simple yet effective example of how mainstream and accessible feminism can be.

Here's also a blog post by Krishnankutty I found thought-provoking: Could Gender Diversity Have Lessened the Financial Crisis? Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Quotes of the Day

"In nature's economy the currency is not money, it is life." -- Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." -- Aldo Leopold

"The greatest support for the feminist, antipatriarchal movement can be found in the ecological movement." -- Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth

"The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured, it must not be destroyed." -- Hildegard of Bingen

Happy Earth Day!

Spinoza the squirrel says, "Too bad every day can't be Earth Day!"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Being Erica: A Feminist Review

I have a new TV addiction: Being Erica. If you haven't heard of it, it's an hour-long drama produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and airing on Canadian television since early January. Here in the States, I've been watching it on SoapNet, where it has quickly absorbed the Thursday night anticipation I usually reserve for Grey's Anatomy (a show that has steadily slipped in my must-see lineup the last couple years). Being Erica airs on SoapNet Thursdays at 10/9 Central.

The premise is this: Erica Strange, a 32-year-old single Jewish woman living in Toronto, periodically goes back in time to address the regrets of her life. In this endeavor she is assisted by her psychiatrist, Dr. Tom, who acts as a mentor-type character, showing up in various disguises and roles to offer her words of wisdom. He's been a janitor, bondage-style bouncer, dog-walker, and all-around lurker, in addition to his usual place behind a huge desk in a huge, dim, musty office where Erica sits opposite him during their sessions, entering and exiting abruptly due to her time-traveling (which he instigates).

Although I haven't even gotten into exactly what I like about the show yet, this is perhaps the one aspect I don't like about it. Although Dr. Tom has his enjoyable moments, overall the positioning of an older male as Erica's spiritual/psychiatric mentor creates a creepy paternalistic vibe that brings to mind the unhappy history of women being subjected to male psychiatrists who supposedly understand them better than they understand themselves. See Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, or the character of Betty Draper in the first season of the TV series Mad Men. And if Erica and Dr. Tom somehow end up together at the end of all this, that would probably ruin the entire show for me. I don't think that's going to happen, but still, yuck.

That said, there is a lot I love about this show. One of the blurbs SoapNet likes to flash around compares it to Sex and the City. I don't really agree with this, however, though it's not necessarily a bad thing. But Sex and the City was clearly a show focused on opposite-sex relationships and same-sex friendships, rather than the influences of family or life choices as a whole. Carrie was the main character, nudged slightly ahead of the other three friends, but it felt like you really only knew her through a certain scattered lens, and saw her from one particular angle that presented an incomplete picture of the character. (Did she have siblings? Did she go to college?) And of course, there was all that shoe shopping.

The character of Erica Strange feels more holistic to me... and less superficial. For one thing, Erica has a family. And that (often troubled) family takes center stage just as often, if not more so, than any of her romantic interests. We learn that Erica had an older brother Leo who died thirteen years ago; not long after that, for multiple reasons, her parents divorced. Erica also has a younger sister Sam, and the ups & downs of their sister relationship, as well as the mother-daughter/father-daughter angles, has been a major part of the family storylines. And because of the time travel flashbacks, we are able to get to know the brother Leo and see his relationship with Erica and the rest of the family. There's also a bit of a mystery angle here, since we don't have complete information at all times, and details of the past fill in gradually. As a result, the family element feels complex and layered.

The show also deals quite a bit with Erica's struggle to find a career path she can be happy with. One of the main issues examined here is how do you reconcile your true self with the compromises you often have to make in order to be successful? Erica regrets that she wasn't as cutthroat and ambitious in college as she could have been -- as a literature major, she was more into cultivating her interests, writing poetry, and finding herself, rather than lining up a solid job future. (As an English major myself, I can totally relate to this.) Yet, when she goes back in time to do just that, she finds she is unable to force herself to be someone she's not.

And then there's the romantic level -- yes, I won't lie, it's there. This is a fairly mainstream-type show, so of course the love plot is going to be hanging around. What I like, though, is how it hasn't overwhelmed the other plots, and also how Erica is neither desperate to get married nor wildly commitment phobic. The object of her affection is long-time college pal Ethan, who has either been dating someone else or married the entire time they have known each other. In the present time, he has separated from his wife and moved into Erica's apartment building, making it seem like an opportune moment for something to happen between them. So far, however, not much has. They've kissed, once; almost immediately after, Ethan's wife Claire shows up and those two sort of patch things up. Erica then starts dating another guy, Ryan, who likes her a lot -- a bit more, even, than she likes him. This all results in a fairly mild love triangle that smacks more of awkward real life than anything else.

All in all, this love plot seemed pretty heterosexist until the most recent episode, entitled Everything She Wants. In it, while in the midst of exploring her feelings for both Ethan and Ryan, Erica revisits her best friend from graduate school, Cassidy -- a relationship she describes as "one step short of a love affair." This made me sit up and take notice, as I thought for the first time the show might really surprise me in terms of where the love plot was going.

Cassidy is a lesbian who makes no secret of her feelings for Erica; in the process of going back in time and intending not to lead Cassidy on (as she did before, which led to them never speaking again), Erica realizes that her feelings for Cassidy were indeed real and intense, and that she did in fact reciprocate on a romantic level. And in spite of Erica insisting to everyone that she's straight, over and over, her feelings seem to lead her in the other direction, until she and Cassidy are stripped down to their bras in front of each other.

And while there did seem to be a small amount of male voyeurism going on, it was not at all the impetus of the storyline. Ethan walks in on them accidentally, but the incident is pretty much absent of any "whoa-ho!" girl-on-girl moments, as he's really more gently concerned about why his best friend never told him she was gay (which she still insists she's not); in general Ethan doesn't make a big deal out of it. And Dr. Tom is the one who sort of pushes Erica away from her stubborn declarations that she's straight -- "Labels are for cans, not people," he says -- though because of their unsettling shrink-patient dynamic, that advice doesn't come off as admirable or innocent as maybe it should. But in spite of these moments, overall I would say that the Erica-Cassidy attraction was presented in good faith, as being about those two people alone -- and their feelings for each other -- as well as the implied fluidity of sexual orientation. Which was pretty cool, I thought.

That said, I found that the Cassidy storyline broke down just when I thought it was getting promising. For instance, the word "bisexual" was never one uttered. There was always the sense that you were either gay or straight, even though Erica's actual experiences with Cassidy, contrasted with the two guys (all of whom she cared about, and cared about her), seemed to scream otherwise. Also, the general theme behind the episode was unrequited love, more so than really examining the fluidity of sexual experience. By the end, it was about "all or nothing" commitments, and not really about Erica being more open to partners of different genders. Going into the episode, I was hopeful it might change the direction of the love plot entirely, but by the conclusion, the Cassidy arc felt more like a one-time, one-shot occurrence that probably won't be revisited. Still, I'm glad they went there, and maybe in the long run I'll be surprised, after all.

Turning to pure entertainment value for a second, one thing I enjoy immensely about this show is the use of music and current events from the different time periods Erica revisits. This taps into a nostalgic angle that I can't help but be sucked into, being 30 years old myself (Erica is 32). So far, these past mileposts/events range from the late 1980's when she returns to her Dirty Dancing-themed Bat Mitzvah where her overweight gay uncle serenades her in a Patrick Swayze-style boogie, to the mid-2000s when she and her sister get stranded at a house party during the East Coast blackout of August 2003. These incidents range from thematically resonant to absurdly comic, the latter evident in choices such as highlighting the Y2K parties of 1999, a quip about Chumbawamba totally not being a one-hit wonder back in 1997, or Erica reciting a bit of a Britney Spears' song (pre-"Baby One More Time") rather than the poem she actually wrote, and the irony of how the pretentious, verbally abusive creative writing professor loves the plagiarized "Baby One More Time" more so than her actual work.

Overall, Being Erica has its flaws, but actress Erin Karpluk makes Erica shine -- I find her to be an extremely endearing, likable actress who, along with the writers, creates a character absent of most female stereotypes. She is neither virgin nor whore, angel nor bitch, tomboy nor fashionista. And in the context of mainstream television, where shows are still rarely centered around one female character, I find Being Erica thoughtful, funny, and refreshing in its willingness to examine the joys, heartaches, and regrets of a single, 30-something woman trying to navigate her way through life on her own terms and in her own way.

Are other people watching this show? If so, what do you think of it?

Crossposted at Library Cat.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Iowa Comes Through!

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage today -- unanimously. Iowa therefore becomes the third state to legalize gay marriage after Massachusetts and Connecticut (and of course briefly California, before the Prop 8 train wreck).

New Hampshire and Vermont are also closing in; Vermont's gay marriage bill passed both houses of the legislature, although it is now threatened by the governor's promised veto.

The fact that this occurred in Iowa of all places shocks some people (even in the Midwest, I would guess). But in terms of mainstreaming the marriage equality movement, the Iowa decision feels like a significant step forward in that it comes from the literal and metaphoric middle of the country, rather than one of the coasts. Are these really "activist" judges at work, as the anti-marriage folks claim? Really? Even in a unanimous ruling in Iowa? Maybe it's time the antis realize that equal protection under the law is a basic tenet of democracy, and not some radical, out-there idea.

And while I feel it is somewhat common for liberals to stereotype Midwesterners as ultra-conservative, bigoted, backwoods rednecks (which we all are NOT, btw... MN, WI, & IL especially tend to be BLUE states in presidential elections, with a long history of progressive politics), I've also noticed that some Midwesterners scoff at the lawmaking on the coasts as if it were happening in a foreign, dystopic land (whatever the issue). So I think a decision like this not only shows other parts of the country that the Midwest cares about civil liberties; it also shows many in the Midwest that they are indeed part of a larger American movement based on foundations of civil rights, human dignity, and social justice. Not just some "kooky" idea hatched in L.A. or N.Y.C.

Read the full opinion of the Iowa court here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Norma Gay" Protests Prop 8

Earlier this week, comedian Kathy Griffin protested Prop 8 a la Sally Field in the film Norma Rae, and quite frankly, it was awesome. She said her friends call her Norma Gay. Hilarious. Watch the full speech here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Something to Take the Edge Off

Ha ha ha ha!

Feminist Quotes of the Day: Gloria Steinem edition

"We’ve demonstrated that women can do what men do, but not yet that men can do what women do. That’s why most women have two jobs — one inside the home and one outside it — which is impossible. The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it."

"A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after."

"A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space."

"Women and girls no longer feel crazy, alone, or flying in the face of nature if they have the outrageous idea that they should be treated as full human beings. Knowing that the system is crazy, not you, is a huge leap forward."

Gloria Steinem, pioneering 2nd-wave feminist, turned 75 this week! Happy Birthday, Gloria! The above amazing quotes are all hers.

Read Courtney's reflections on the state of feminist leadership at Feministing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Posts of Interest

Some stuff I haven't had time to blog about:

Jessica's critique of the virginity movement's continued shaming of hook-up culture on college campuses. Via Feministing.

Both the
Vermont and New Hampshire legislatures are very close to legalizing gay marriage. Woot! However, the threat of gubernatorial vetoes loom.

An intense
personal story from a woman who has, at different times in her life, given a baby up for adoption and had an abortion. At Shakesville.

And my personal favorite: Dolly Parton as a feminist icon! Love that woman.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Pope, Argh: Mixed Messages Is My Specialty

Pope Benedict XVI was in Africa this week, thrilling some people by his very presence and infuriating others with a constant litany of theological convictions that seemed to not make much sense when taken as a whole.

First, he said:

"[AIDS] is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."

Wtf does that even mean? This baffling statement now must be debunked by groups/activists worldwide, including the
United Nation AIDS Agency, all of whom want to strangle someone.

But we're not done. Next comes:

"Particularly disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and exploitation which causes such humiliation and trauma."

Okay, so that part was pretty good. But then he follows it up by taking issue with the "irony of those who promote abortion as a form of 'maternal' health care."

And... he loses me again. First of all, it's so great when male leaders (or journalists) put words like women's health care in
scare quotes. And second, he's referring to a specific agreement signed by 45 countries in the African Union to allow abortion in cases of rape, incest... and to save the mother's life. Yeah, it's so "ironic" to want to save "women's lives" and call it "health care." What were all these women thinking, that their lives might actually be worth something. Thanks for the lesson in the patriarchy, Benedict, as if it's even possible I could have forgotten.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dora: Not an Explorer Anymore?

Toy makers Nickelodeon and Mattel have a new Dora doll on the horizon; this Dora is an older and, ahem, more mature? pre-teen version of the beloved character. Looking at the differences, it's probably not surprising there's been something of an outcry from parents.

First of all, is the new Dora even recognizable as Dora? Her eyes and hair (albeit highlighted?) are basically the same colors, sure... but is the face the same face? I know she has aged, whatever, but this is a cartoon character not the effects of digital aging technology. Shouldn't Dora at least be recognizable as herself? And where's her map? Her backpack? Her monkey?

It's hard not to gaze on the long flowing hair, pink lips, and newly emphasized nose, eyebrows, and eyelashes (that seemed to come out of nowhere), and not reach the conclusion that the creators of the new Dora were aiming for uber-femininity above all else.

And that's not even touching on the clothes. I mean, what decent explorer treks around the jungle in ballet slippers?

There are a number of things that bug the crap out of me about this, not least of which is the idea that Dora has been changed at all. Is it really necessary for her to grow up? Is this something that needs to happen to a cartoon character? Did Mickey Mouse grow up?

Part of the issue with critiquing the new Dora, however, is that at its core, I don't have anything against femininity. Many girls are feminine at this age (though just as many probably aren't). But some have accused this doll of being too sexy, which is definitely a valid complaint. I can certainly understand that charge, though I wouldn't say new Dora is as sexualized as the Bratz dolls or even Barbie. Looking at the image closely, however, I'm actually not sure it's "sexy" so much as feminine. Ultra feminine. Which in and of itself, I can't really criticize, especially if Dora keeps up her exploring and awesomely active ways (in this new incarnation, she apparently will be big into volunteering, planting trees, water conservation, etc.). In general, such feminine dolls/characters would probably trouble me less if paired with active, substantive pursuits such as Dora's (rather than housekeeping or shopping) -- because it's the sexist notion that femininity and worldly action are mutually exclusive that burns me up the most.

That said, I do have a problem with a group of toy executives sitting around and either #1, thinking this is what girls should look like, or #2, believing that a little girl who starts out like the original Dora will inevitably end up with long flowing hair and ballet slippers.

I can just hear the executives' annoying conversation in my head: "Well, the problem with the current Dora is she's too androgynous... that might sell to 6-year-olds, but it's not going to work in the pre-teen market."

Yes, Dora was androgynous! Wasn't that something that was so great and unique about her (in the context of the doll market especially)? Why wouldn't they want to keep their product different, instead of going with the same old sexist trends? Dora has quite a following, from both boys and girls. I bet there are plenty of boys out there who like the old Dora and can relate to her... but this new version? What are they supposed to do with that? Consider dating her? Just, yuck.

Of course, I can hear the executives on that point too: "Well, boys don't want dolls past the age of ____ , so it's not going to matter."

Just, barf. Boys also deserve female characters they can relate to (and NOT in a romantic, opposite sex type way).

On the receiving end, I hate the possibility of girls taking in the message that no matter how active and strong and energetic they are, they must inevitably turn into something "soft" and "pretty." This is the same old message girls have gotten since the beginning of time. Be thin and gorgeous, don't be strong and active. Because when it comes to consumer products, the big problem is that individual children don't have control over their hair color, skin color, body type, etc., in the same way marketers have control over a doll's appearance. We are varied and diverse! Yet the same old version of femininity is recycled over and over again, shoved in our faces until we're left believing it's real and attainable. True, some girls will end up more "feminine" than others, and that's fine, but our bodies change and evolve on their own, mostly based on genetics, no matter what we wear or buy.

And by taking one of the few female characters out there who is refreshingly NOT ultra feminine (or white & blonde for that matter) and then re-making her along the Bratz/Barbie model, suddenly the message is worse than ever! Even Dora becomes cute and skinny and ultra stylish. And that just freaks me out -- the thought that kids (& their parents) who, consciously or not, sought solace in the individuality and nonconformity of the original Dora, must now be faced with this status quo of an ultra feminine pre-teen Dora... and once again the same old message reasserts itself -- it's not okay to be yourself.

The ladies of The View discussed the new Dora this morning, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck said her daughter Grace's response was, "Well, I guess she's not an explorer anymore." Sob. Stories like that break my freaking heart.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Women on the Map

President Obama, announcing the new White House Council on Women & Girls:

Along these same lines, a new position in the State Department has been created under Hillary Clinton to address women's issues on a global scale. Purely awesome.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Feminist-Friendly Quote of the Day

The truth is, a great mind must be androgynous. -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Friday, February 27, 2009

Because You Have Hideous "Bat Wings"

Sometimes when I'm a little burned out on bloggin' it, I'll pull up to see what headlines they're prioritizing on any particular hour. Rather often, their choices are asinine. Today is no exception, as I found this on the front page within five seconds of arriving there:

How to get Michelle Obama's toned arms

Great, thanks. Because you know, she has nothing else in her life to be proud of but her arms? She has no other achievements worth mentioning?

We've already seen such appearance-based "news stories" ad nauseam, whether it be about Hillary Clinton's cleavage, Sarah Palin's dress size, or Michelle Obama's hair. Sometimes these write-ups are disparaging, other times complimentary. To me, it doesn't really matter which angle you take because it's freaking insulting to be talking about it AT ALL.

The CNN article uses the "getting healthy" spin to make this okay.

"The Obama effect has been that women of all ages have been inspired to take responsibility for their health and their body," said Duggan. "As the first lady of the United States, at 44 years old, and with two young children, Mrs. Obama has shown the world that you are never too busy to take care of yourself and look good doing it too," he said.

Okay, fine. I have no problem with women being inspired to become healthier all-around people. But then why couldn't the headline have read, Michelle Obama inspires women to get healthy? Because -- that's not really the point of the article, which is to make it perfectly clear that "bat wings," flabby 'ceps, or whatever you want to call it is NOT OKAY. Michelle Obama is apparently achieving the impossible by having it all... and so should you. Did I mention that this message is being sent without Michelle Obama herself saying one word within the article?

Not only that, according to this fitness "expert," women are just not that into being strong:

"Women are just really terrified of weights," Matthews said. "They're on cardio machines, elliptical for 60 minutes and wondering why they don't see definition and tone. The missing link is strength training."

After all this advocacy of strength training, however, there's this:

It's unclear what kind of exercises Obama does to maintain her buff arms, but it appears to be both back and arm workouts, said Michele Vourliotis, author of "Amazing Arms."

Yet, there's still hope for all of us:

It sounds complex, but Duggan is optimistic that women of any age, no matter how saggy her arms are, can improve. "You can have toned and sexy arms at any age regardless of your current fitness level or how bad your arms are sagging right now," he said.

Just, barf. Thanks a million, CNN.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The President Speaks

Senator Robert McCallister once said on the show Brothers & Sisters, "I am the most ambitious man you'll ever meet." Had he not been a fictional character, this would still not be true, as the most ambitious person anywhere has got to be President Obama. If I didn't know that before tonight, I surely know it now. Yet, Obama's ambition is not really about personal gain or achievements, which is what makes it so appealing to me. Listening to his speech tonight, I was amazed by how much he wants to accomplish in this country... by the end of the year even! Some would say it's too much, but I for one am all for optimism. I think that if you are realistic, it is realistic you will achieve realistic goals. Obama obviously craves the extraordinary, which means fostering a palpable belief in those goals among Americans... which is really the first step towards making anything possible. It's pretty apparent that not everyone believes yet, and some probably never will, but I think if this country can attain half of what he talked about tonight, we'll be doing okay.

Transcript of the speech here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

81st Oscars: General Impressions

If the theme of this year's Oscars was meant to something of a throwback to the 1930-40s variety shows of classic Hollywood, there were certain things I liked about this theme and others I would prefer to leave in the past.

What I loved: everything about Kate Winslet and Sean Penn's acceptance speeches, the gathering of Best Actresses (I hope they continue this part of the format next year -- it gave me chills), and Meryl Streep -- can she sit in the front row every year, whether she's nominated or not?... because I get a lot more joy out of seeing her there than I ever did Jack Nicholson.

What I liked: Hugh Jackman in general, the singing & dancing, sort of a loosening up of an often uptight event, which created a Tony-meets-the-Oscars feel (as a musical theater fan, this was enjoyable, I thought).

What should be left in the 1930s: any reference whatsoever to blackface, the bevies of pants-less beauties during the dance numbers, and the once-again male-dominated categories (almost every one except the actress and documentary categories, it seemed).

One thing that's often discussed in feminist circles during awards seasons is why in the world there are sex-divided categories for acting at all. On principle, I agree that this seems bizarre, since it's a much more artificial division of abilities than in sports (although I would probably argue those divisions are largely artificial too). But by dividing acting categories by sex, you're basically saying that female performances can't be compared to male performances even though they can be compared to each other, and vice versa. Which IS weird, especially when you see Sean Penn competing with Mickey Rourke and Brad Pitt in the same category, all with three wildly different styles and characters.

All of this I agree with. But when year after year it becomes so freaking obvious how male-dominated most of these categories are, I find myself clinging to the ones that are actually female-only. When Shirley MacLaine & Sophia Loren were up there with the other Best Actresses right before Kate won, I was loving it. Which makes me worry that if the acting categories were co-ed, women might be pushed out altogether, or reduced to token nominations.

[Sidenote... During the credits they showed snippets of upcoming films, and I caught a glimpse of Amelia starring Hilary Swank, which appears to be a biopic about Amelia Earhart. Not sure when it's coming out, but I'll be pretty excited for this one!]

Crossposted at
Library Cat.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Feminist Lovefest

Showing some love for my fellow feminists, here are a few links to posts I find especially relevant/interesting/insightful:

Courtney E. Martin's "
Why Love Is Our Most Powerful, Lasting Form of Activism" via AlterNet.

thoughts on gender roles in the context of the Vatican's new report that claims men and women sin differently. Via Feministe.

SarahMC's take on a cartoon that explores the use of the word "rape" as a verb when discussing non-rape situations. Via The Pursuit of Harpyness.

Melissa McEwan's philosophy of
feminist teaspoons via Shakesville.

Pelosi and the Pope meet... there's no picture, but it happened!

Nancy Pelosi met with the Pope on Wednesday and, out of line with usual papal procedure, no picture or video was released by the Vatican. Because pro-choice women leaders are oh, so scary. Back in 1985, Geraldine Ferraro was treated similarly. But since Pelosi is #3 within the U.S. government, something feels off (and predictable) about this particular snub.

Of course, Benedict unloaded his usual "dignity of human life" spheel, though there were no reports that Pelosi was there to talk about abortion at all.

Anyone who's pro-choice has a no-brainer reaction to the "human dignity" argument, as do I, and as I would guess Pelosi does as well: that is, what could be more dignified than having control over your own body and being granted respect for the decisions you make about that body? But that is not the kind of human dignity the rigid belief system of the Catholic Church hierarchy officially endorses.

Coincidentally, this visit happened on the same day a fetal personhood bill
passed the House of Representatives in North Dakota. Bills such as these not only threaten abortion rights but contraceptive rights as well. Which is damn scary.

Probably what's most irksome about Pelosi in the Vatican's eyes though, as well as in the minds of many U.S. bishops, is that she reportedly believes her pro-choice stance
does not conflict with her Catholic faith on a theological level. *gasp* Her church even allows her to continue to receive communion. *double gasp*

I think it's pretty bad-ass of Pelosi to say these things out loud, especially in terms of her particular parish being okay with her. She's not buying into the argument that religion and liberal politics can't mix, and apparently others in her circle don't either. But to some, this idea is unthinkable (& radical). You mean not all Catholics believe all the same things, exactly as the Vatican tells them to? Are you saying that Catholics might actually think for themselves?

As someone who grew up Catholic around a lot of people who did think for themselves, the answer is, hell yes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Blog is Born... er, Two

Back in the early 2000s, I finished up an English major and a library science master's degree and promptly lost all my creative juices. Or, more accurately, I spent six years building an academic mind that, while excellent at meeting deadlines and writing research papers, gradually crowded out whatever pure and basic need I had to express myself. I was drained... clean. Even though I had written for pleasure almost as long as I was able to write, I stopped writing. For five years. And I didn't miss it. I was glad and relieved to have exhausted myself; grateful to live instead of write. Or think, for that matter... it felt great to stop thinking.

But the thing about dried-up thoughts is that they're only temporary... the mind needs rest, a season of latency. And then the thoughts start coming back. And back and back and BACK, which is what happened to me, until I had no choice but to start expressing myself again.

At first, I did everything except write. I got married, planned a wedding, found a new job on the other side of the state, and moved myself and my hubby to a new town. This all happened within 3-4 months and not necessarily in that order. We bought a house the next year, which I proceeded to decorate on the inside and landscape on the outside. I set up a 36-gallon fish tank, planted it with live plants, and stocked it with fish, including two gold Angels. Through dumb luck, these Angels paired up and occasionally mate, the female laying eggs on the tallest, cleanest leaf she can find. After the male fertilizes them, they take turns fanning their translucent pectoral fins over the tiny white eggs, hovering there at eye level, waving their wings to increase water circulation. This prevents the eggs from becoming stagnant and corrupted by fungus.

For some reason though, the Angels weren't enough for me. I set up another fish tank. And another. Then I tore down the third one to compensate for the fourth I had acquired. This final step happened once more, but I've finally stopped at three functioning tanks, with two in storage. (Although... I have been dreaming of putting a fourth back up again, this time for a group of six female bettas.) And around the time of the aquarium explosion, I also started painting. And scrapbooking. And within this same time-span, I started writing a novel. Something inside would not SHUT UP.

Whatever the reasons or how I got here, this blog, along with its twin
Library Cat, exist because I have chatter in the brain. Bad. Chatter so bad that sometimes I can't sleep at night. Chatter that forces my husband and sister to listen to my in-depth analysis of topics they have only a moderate amount of interest in. These topics include soap operas, literature, and politics. No, I don't believe I have a mental illness... or if a mental illness can be caused by the repression of creativity, then perhaps I do have that. Does it have a name?

Either way, my floodgates are wide open now, with barely enough outlets. But you're writing a novel, you say, isn't that a massive outlet? And yes, it certainly is. But novels have rules, set by the novelist herself. Novels need a consistency of what goes in and what stays out... and even if those rules seem nonexistent to the reader, the writer knows what they are (most of the time). So, there's just too much junk in my head that really really really can't go in my novel. Yet, it has to get out. And if I'm going to spew a lot of random and unfiltered observations at the world, even if those observations are backed by a surprising energy, I'm not going to drown my novel in them.

So here I am. The Internet, with a capital "I." Sounds like a good place for a brain dump. Compared with
Library Cat, which specializes in a whimsical feminism of random topics, this blog will serve up a stronger feminist fare. Here I plan to fully plant myself atop a feminist soapbox; here I've given myself license to unleash on politics, pop culture, religion, social norms, and of course THE PATRIARCHY, as well as everything around and in between those topics. If
Library Cat is a carefree mosaic of various feminisms, then Radiant Likeness is more along the lines of fierce and focused feminism (which, by the way, doesn't mean that it can't also be fun!).

Again you ask, why two blogs? Can't you just post the hell out of Radiant Likeness?

It's true, I could. And we'll see how this goes... if I can unclog my brain a little then I may end up phasing one of them out at some point. But for now, there's just too much to say.

Crossposted sections at
Library Cat.