Monday, April 19, 2010


I've been busy.

But I've also been busy reading. Listening. Thinking. Expect more posts, more conversation, at an uncertain time in the relatively near future.

Truly looking forward to it.

(Things you want to talk about? Comment below.)

Monday, March 1, 2010

the cutting edge

Over the weekend, I went to the sporting goods section of my local Walmart to buy a sturdy, sharp knife in order to carve a set of bamboo pens for my third graders to use. An employee was helping a young man (with an adorable baby wearing a bear-shaped hat) who was trying to return some sort of car GPS system, so I waited by the glass knife case, looking at the different options.

A manager was also behind the counter, and after a few moments he looked up at me and said "ok, do you need some keys made or something?"

When I explained what I was looking for, he was very friendly and helpful, but it is frustrating to me that the first question he asked to a customer wasn't "can I help you?" or even "I notice you have your hands on the knife case, were you interested in buying a knife?" but was "ok, do you need some keys made or something?"

I am curious to know what it is about me that makes it seem so improbable that I would be interested in buying or using tools.

Monday, December 14, 2009

prostitutes in the senate? (part 2)

Re-cap from last post:

The comparison of a United States Senator changing her mind on a procedural vote due to additional funds being made available for the benefit of her constituents to a woman selling sex for money is unbelievably sexist.

As my excellent friend Robb pointed out in reference to my last post, MSNBC news anchor and commentator Keith Olbermann recently called Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) a "senatorial prostitute."

(That statement can be found in the clip below at 5:04, but I recommend watching Mr. Olbermann's entire Special Comment.)

So, from a feminist perspective, or from a personal perspective, having just discussed how appalling I find the rhetoric of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh in regards to Sen. Mary Landrieu, how do I respond to Mr. Olbermann's remarks?

My specific concern and objection (outrage, actually) to Mr. Beck and Mr. Limbaugh calling Sen. Landrieu a prostitute is that I think it carries a deep(er) significance (than the obvious) when used to insult a woman. Insulting a woman by calling her a prostitute implies that she can't be more than about sex. It takes a woman away from a level playing field, and casts her in a role of servitude and submission. While both Webster's (and Wikipedia) says that prostitute may also mean "one who works towards an unworthy cause," it seems clear that using the word as an insult towards a female inherently devalues her and objectifies her - more so than when used as an insult towards a male.

I wish that Mr. Olbermann had chosen a different word to describe Sen. Lieberman, but I am not sure, not being male myself, that it carries the same weight of debasement when used to refer to a male.

Although I may disagree with Mr. Olbermann's word choice, but I do not disagree with his Special Comment in the least: Sen. Lieberman's conduct throughout the health care debate has been reprehensible, and yes, he has been working for an unworthy cause.

Conversation welcomed and encouraged!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

prostitutes in the senate?

If you've been following the health care situation, the U.S. Senate is currently debating on the (Senate version of the) proposed health-care reform legislation. I am going to resist the urge to comment on this itself (just so you know, this is very, very difficult for me!) and merely discuss a tangential issue that has arisen as a result.

Some fiscally conservative Democratic Senators have been resistant to the legislation, to the point of being reluctant to even vote on a procedural matter: allowing the bill to move to the floor for debate. (The Senate requires invoking cloture - a procedural vote to stop filibusters & unlimited debate, requiring 60 yes votes. During the Bush administration, Republican Senators criticized Democrats for not "allowing an up or down vote" on such matters as nominations; this current matter could be considered comparable, as Republicans are attempting to avoid the invocation of cloture.)

The Senators who are part of the Democratic Caucus - but were resistant to the cloture vote - were Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), and Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas).

Concessions were made in order to bring these members on board, and cloture was eventually successfully invoked on November 23, 2009. But certainly at a cost; according to this CNN article:
"To get Landrieu's vote, language was inserted in the bill that gives her state up to $300 million. Landrieu said she while she was pleased with the provision, 'that is not the reason I am moving to debate'."
Conservatives reacted quickly, as in these quote (from the aforementioned article) from RNC chairman Michael Steele:
"This is a process where people are saying one thing, leading up to the vote, they get their arms twisted -- or in the case of Mary Landrieu you are able to triple the amount of money that was being offered to you ... and then you vote for the bill."
This is acceptable and appropriate commentary. I myself dislike the idea that so much money would be moved around in order to gain votes - especially since I believe these particular senators ought to have been on board from the beginning.

However, other conservative figures reacted in a truly atrocious, offensive manner:
Beck on Landrieu: "We're with a high-class prostitute"
November 23, 2009 10:40 am ET

From the November 23 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:

Echoing Beck, Limbaugh claims Landrieu "may be the most expensive prostitute in the history of prostitution"
November 23, 2009 12:57 pm ET

From the November 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

Beck again calls Sen. Landrieu a prostitute: "So we know you're hookin', but you're just not cheap"
November 23, 2009 5:37 pm ET

From the November 23 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

The comparison of a United States Senator changing her mind on a procedural vote due to additional funds being made available for the benefit of her constituents to a woman selling sex for money is unbelievably sexist.

More on this later. For now: your thoughts?

Monday, November 30, 2009

do we have a fear of the female?

Over the break, I watched For the Bible Tells Me So, a documentary by Daniel Karslake that examines the ways in which the Bible is mis-used to suggest that Christians should not accept homosexuality. It is a fantastic film, which really examines the source of fear and hate, and I highly recommend to everyone.

In addition to recommending it for its intended subject and merit, I was really struck by one particular passage which directly ties to my blog.

In this excerpt, Gene Robinson, the Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the (U.S. Episcopal Church), posits that men fear (male) homosexuality because it makes them think about "a man allowing himself to be treated like a woman, and there's nothing worse..." Other people go on to further suggest that fear of homosexuality is fueled by a "hatred of women," noting that "when the coach wants to humiliate his team, he calls them 'a bunch of girls.' Why does that work? Because: the worst thing you can do to a man is call him a woman."

(The specific clip to which I am referring starts at 2:26.)

I'd really like to hear your responses:

What do you think - do we have a fear of the female? Do we hate women?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

image crisis

I want to discuss something that has been addressed in the media recently, which strongly ties to the social expectation of women as expressed through advertising.

It starts with this image:

If this picture looks strange to you, it's probably because the image of model Filippa Hamilton has been altered to the point of Bratz doll proportions.

So much to talk about. Let's begin with the fact that this is the way Filippa Hamilton looks without editing:

This woman is gorgeous. (Bonus: she's also able to support the weight of her top half without collapsing.) What does it say about our culture that her employers felt that this woman wasn't good enough as she exists to sell their patchwork jeans and ruffly plaid shirt? What does it say about our culture that companies usually use images of women in advertising that are edited past reality - but are rarely "called out" about it? What does it mean for females that the "ideal" image is so unattainable that even someone like Filippa Hamilton must be digitally altered to reach it?

Now let's talk a bit about accountability.

The Ralph Lauren ad was originally pointed out as ridiculous by the blog Photoshop Disasters, and Ralph Lauren responded by sending a DMCA takedown notice to Blogspot, who, as most ISPs would have, automatically removed the "offending" post. Photoshop Disasters has chronicled the experience here.

Boing Boing, a zine-turned-blog (hosted by a Canadian ISP that "[does not] automatically act on DMCA takedowns") that describes itself as "a directory of wonderful things," took up the cause here and later - after the DMCA request - here.

Days later, as reported by The Huffington Post, Ralph Lauren fessed up with this statement:
"For over 42 years, we have built a brand based on quality and integrity.

"After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body.

"We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately."

No mention was made of the attempts to silence the blogs in their comments on the original advertisement.

Additionally, Filippa Hamilton stated in an interview that she had recently been fired from Ralph Lauren for, essentially, being "too fat." She chose to speak up after the photoshopped image appeared in the media and she saw what the company had done with her image.

Advertisers need to be held accountable for their responsibility in the creating the crisis of female body image that exists in America.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

critical consciousness

In the second chapter of Contemporary Issues in Art Education, an essay entitled "Narratives Empowering Teachers and Students: Educational and Cultural Practice," Barakett and Saccá discuss the topics of oppression and silence. A variety of individual experiences are presented in the individuals' own words, quoted from research interviews.

Barakett and Saccá touch upon the idea of critical consciousness, which can be explained in this way:
"Coined by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in the 1960s, the term "critical consciousness" was at first applied mainly in the field of adult education. Translated from the Portuguese word conscientizadora, critical consciousness was defined by Dr. Freire as a state of in-depth understanding about the world and resulting freedom from oppression."
(This definition comes from this website. I also looked at this one.)
The essential conflict inherent in a situation of power imbalance was well-described in this essay as "the dilemma is between [the individual's] own well-being and the way our society functions." I found this to be an apt and elegant explanation of a complex problem. I think it connects both on a descriptive level as well as a restrictive level: a person may encounter difficulty because society does not function in a way that benefits their well-being (for example, when "Nathalie" states that "they see your colour before they see anything else"), but a person may also recognize what they could do to benefit their well-being and choose not to pursue it because they understand that it will place them in jeopardy with the way that society functions (when "Roxanne" talks about wanting to "fight" against injustice, but that it will get in the way of her success - that "people will start passing me and I'd still be fighting over this").

The quotes from each individual included in the essay mostly revolve around times that they felt marginalized, helpless, or powerless because of race or, in one instance, blindness. What stood out to me was the idea of combating these feelings of isolation and oppression through the use of storytelling.

This resonates strongly with me. I believe that we are people who thrive on stories, who share and understand the past through stories, who use stories to draw connections between the familiar and the unfamiliar. I really appreciated the essay's view that storytelling has the power to end silence and open minds as well as empower the storyteller to overcome obstacles. I feel that if you are unheard, if you feel your story is not shared by anyone, then you are forced to accept the story that is written for you.

All of this connects strongly to the central ideas of my blog: of working against gender stereotypes and exploring the social constructs of femininity. Women (and men) who feel marginalized or oppressed by social constructs of their gender identity I think often find relief in the arts - by telling their stories verbally or visually - and the availability of these stories for all to experience can only make our society stronger as a whole.