Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

My best friend recently got married. She’s leaning towards not taking her husband’s last name, mainly because, as she puts it, “did you realize what a pain the ass it is to legally change your name?”

I’m not against women taking their husbands’ names — there are a lot of good reasons to do so. But there are also a lot of good reasons not to do so, especially with women getting married later in life and, consequently, having professional identities based on their own names. For branding purposes, a name is important — all the more so in these Google-rific times.

Anyway, come wedding time, my friend had not quite made her decision yet, and thought, whatever, there’d be plenty of time to think about that when she returned from her honeymoon. Her office-mates, however, thought differently:

I think by the end of the month I will decide. It’s a difficult choice, in my opinion, which is why I was pretty offended when I came back to work and my mail box had been adjusted to reflect my husband’s last name and I was told “…don’t worry, we put in to have your cubicle name plate changed as well.” I never talked to anyone at work about it. I had to think for a while to figure out how anyone even knew how to spell (my husband’s) last name. I guess it’s a nice gesture, but just assuming seems weird and kind of rude.

People talk a lot about the social pressure put on women to do things like, well, get married in the first place and, once married, adopt a number of traditions and behaviors and attitudes. I think this example is interesting, because it manifests itself in the most benign of ways. Of course the people at my friends’ office didn’t want to pressure her into changing her name. They were just trying to do something nice. And of course it’s not that big of a deal for her to tell her office-mates ‘No, I’m keeping my last name.’ A little awkward, maybe (I’m assuming there are probably follow-up questions to these sorts of things, like “Why?” and “What if you have children?” and yada yada yada). But it’s not that big of a deal at all. Of course, after a while, all those awkward moments have got to add up, don’t they?

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Ugh. In the grand scheme of intense angry blog fights that seem omnipresent in certain circles and make it damn hard to forget that it’s only about .000005 percent of the US population who has any indication that this is going on, — we’ve got quite a doozy on our hands.

Here is the summary, from what I can gather: A woman named Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, age 55, (who also goes by the name “Heart”) started a blog and forum called Women’s Space. Heart does seem a bit, uh, odd – she’s running for presidency on the “Free Soil” ticket, for one thing. And she’s that kind of old-school-hippie-feminist who kind of makes you cringe a bit because dear-god-no-wonder-people-get-such-misconceptions-about-feminism-when-you-have-people-like-her-running-around. Still, off-kilter or not, she seems intelligent, as well as harmless and well intentioned, and her Women’s Space community obviously fills a need for like-minded souls, and that’s fine. Great. Good for them.

Except ….

A woman named Biting Beaver – the kind of person that also makes me cringe because she refers to women as “womyn” and such — wrote a post on one of Heart’s forums about how she was very upset to find her teenage son looking at porn on the Internet, and sometimes she wishes she would have aborted him. What we can see here is a woman who is clearly (if not a parody) somewhat mentally and emotionally disturbed. A few commenters make some disturbing comments as well.

And that’s that, right?

Well … no. I don’t know where the attacks began, but somewhere in the dark nether-regions of those-people-who-give-Internet-geeks-a-bad-name, someone coordinated an “attack” on Heart’s Web site, presumably to teach her a lesson for having positions they don’t agree with and allowing other people to post in her forums with positions they don’t agree with (the horror!). They sent enough traffic to her site to shut it down, and they filled the comments section with frightening remarks such as this:

Heart, this is horrible. I’m sorry that this is happening to you. These people want nothing to do but to hurt you and your cause. I feel for you. In fact, I want to feel you now. I’d like to tie you down, take a knife, and slit your throat. I’d penetrate you over and over in all orifices, and create some of my own to stick myself in.

Begging the question of Um, really? Really? Who is more nuts in this situation????? One emotionally disturbed woman makes a post on a site run and frequented by a group of slightly kooky individuals, and they are met with a coordinated Internet attack and hundreds and hundreds of threats containing truly disturbing and graphic descriptions of violence? Who is more nuts, a woman who says she wishes she’d had an abortion or a person who says they’d like to slit someone’s throats and penetrate all their orifices?

Of course, people are chiming in now and trying to say that the words of Biting Beaver and a few of her supporters at that site constitute proof that ALL FEMINIST BLOGGERS ARE MURDEROUS MAN-HATING HARPIES. For instance, the comments at Riehl World View read mostly like this:

At any rate, the batshit behavior exhibited by Biting Beaver is considered nowadays to be normal and protected by the feminist groups who share similar conditions. Meanwhile, legions of young men held in the crossfire of these womyn’s rage and anger will grow to be mentally and emotionally dysfunctional creatures who will either self-terminate themselves or be removed from society after fulfilling the very prophecies embedded into them by the very womyn who raised them.

And God help us all if they stumble upon Islam as a way to reclaim the manhood stripped of them by these womyn. If there is ever a growing trend for disaffected males to turn to the Religion of Peace in lieu of a patriarchal figure, the feminists will be responsible for condemning their fellow womynfolk to a religion which views them in the same regard that the womyn viewed the “evil rapist” men. Just notice how Islamic cultures don’t have the “rabid feminist” problem. And there is a very good reason for that.

And again, I ask you, what is loonier? Some old-school-hippie-feminists still using the term “womyn” (which is something they harp on in a good majority of the comments there), or someone who believes that “rabid feminists” are going to lead to Islamic jihad committed by America’s own children?

[I love this, though. Riehl asks in the post’s title, “Are some radical feminists child abusers?” to which Jill replies “Uh, yeah, probably. Lots of different kinds of people are child abusers — being an asshole certainly crosses ideological lines.”]

A Web site called Encyclopedia Dramatica has a round-up of the whole thing, although I warn you, this place is like the dark unkempt labyrinth of hatred, hysteria and lameness. It seems to be an entire wiki documenting Internet memes and flame wars while simultaneously spewing insults at women, gays and liberals, with links upon links that take you to more and more weird wiki entries, like the 7th Circle of Wingnut Internet Hell.

Update: According to Shakespeare’s Sister, a lot of the original “quotes” from Biting Beaver that provoked such outrage and such weren’t even real quotes, but from a parody site. (Edit 2 — which, as someone in the comments points out, may or may not be true).

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The L.A. Times has an article today titled “Democrats shift approach on abortion.”  Here is how it opens. 

Sensing an opportunity to impress religious voters — and tip elections — Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement.

The rest of the article seems to be about different policy inititatives to help women who want to carry their pregnancy to term without affecting their ability to get an abortion if they want one. 

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the goals of anti-abortion movement.  Many Democrats and some Republicans are trying to address the issues that lead to more abortions without touching the right to have an abortion.  The anti-abortion movement has been doing the exact opposite. 

Here’s a part of the article which represents a more accurate summary of what the Democrats are up to and should have been the lead. 

“We are willing to talk about anything that helps women make good choices,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Pro-Choice Caucus. Preventing unplanned pregnancies, she said, “is not the whole story.”

The problem with this article is the framing.  It makes it sound like the anti-abortion movement is “winning over” Democrats and, even worse, Democrats are motivated solely by political gain.  Not actually addressing the needs of those who have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. 

But conservatives also accuse Democrats of using abortion rhetoric to sell the right on traditional liberal priorities, such as healthcare funding. Democrats have rejected other ideas that conservatives consider highly effective in reducing abortions, such as requiring women to view ultrasound images of the womb.

Right.  Because the issue is addressing the needs of these women.  Not shaming them.  The overriding goal of the anti-abortion movement is to make abortions illegal.  There may be some pro-lifers more willing to except the Clinton framing of making abortions “legal, safe, and rare” but the movement’s goal is getting rid of the choice altogether. 

So anything that does not affect or restrict a woman’s right to an abortion fits snugly within the pro-choice movement and is not a “shift.”  The pro-choice movement has never been just about terminating pregnancies.  It’s about making that choice a choice. 

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I’ll admit it.  I saw the headline of this column (“Pretty Formidable in Pink“) and I was so ready to pounce with my snark claws extended.  Here comes another vacuous article about the fact that Hillary is a woman and whether the country is ready and the other day we saw cleavage and did we mention she’s a woman? 

But then I read it.  And laughed.  And nodded my head.  And thought, amen. 

[Elizabeth] Edwards’s specific criticism of Clinton was misplaced, but her general point is important. Clinton has a three-decades-long record of working on issues related to women and families, and she’s seeking the presidency at a time when national security is paramount. If she’s talking more about Iraq than family and medical leave, that’s less about trying to overcompensate for the inconvenient fact of her gender than what issues are at the top of voters’ agendas.

But as a columnist who happens to be a woman — you may have noticed, there aren’t too many of us — I understand what Edwards means. In fact, I initially resisted writing about her comments, reluctant to be pigeonholed as a “woman columnist” and not taken seriously by the Big Boys.

Clinton faces that challenge on a grander and more complex scale. Any woman in the post-Sept. 11 world faces an extra hurdle in convincing some voters that she’s strong enough to be commander in chief. Clinton has the extra challenge of appearing simultaneously formidable and likable, commanding and not cold, smart and approachable.

Indeed, even as Clinton was getting slapped by Edwards for playing down her gender, she was being dissected by Post fashion critic Robin Givhan for showing cleavage: “It was startling to see that small acknowledgment of sexuality and femininity peeking out of the conservative — aesthetically speaking — environment of Congress.” Givhan contrasted Clinton’s decolletage with the more abundant display by Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, and her complaint seemed to be that Clinton was showing too little, too unassertively.

Might I suggest that sometimes a V-neck top is only a V-neck top? As a person of cleavage, I’d guess that Clinton’s low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement.

Breasts may be an advantage in certain settings; the Senate floor isn’t one of them. If you’re giving a speech on higher education, as Clinton was, you don’t want Ted Stevens thinking about — and you certainly don’t want to think about Ted Stevens thinking about — your cleavage.

The upside of all the attention Clinton gets as the most serious female presidential candidate ever is all the attention Clinton gets as the most serious female presidential candidate ever.

I do not know many people who consider Clinton to be their top choice but I do know many who are starting to respect her on a level they never did before. 

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Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon comments on the passive aggressive nature of Cary Tennis’s advice/response to this letter

Basically, a women writes in to complain about her catch of a boyfriend who has a habit of oogling other women when she’s around. 

Cary Tennis warns the letter-writer not to get too nagging by trying to discipline him or resentful by ignoring it.  The best course of action in his opinion is to join in the fun of checking out chicks. 

To be honest, as a man, I’m having a hard time understanding what the hell Cary is getting at here. 

However he responds, the fact is that you are attempting to cross over into his realm. He may want to deny you entrance. But he may also feel a tingle of excitement, as though you had suggested an activity you read about in the Kama Sutra.

And what the hell does this mean? 

Checking out chicks with your boyfriend is tricky, however. You may want to discuss it with your girlfriends to determine if it is allowed under the terms of your membership in the sisterhood. It may not be.

I just feel there’s a psychology here beyond my comprehension. 

And here’s my answer and advice to that letter-writer.  It’s about respect.  Your respect for you and his respect for you.  It means different things to different people and you don’t have to agree with everyone else on this issue.  But you and your boyfriend should be on the same page.  Talk to him.

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Keep reading — this post is not as self-indulgent as the title may lead you to believe, I swear!

One of my favorite libertarian button/bumper-sticker slogans is, “Libertarians: Pro-Choice on everything.” Libertarians, as a whole, like choice. Know who else likes choice? Feminists. In fact, “choice” forms the basis for a lot rhetoric for both groups. So, you know … why do so many people seem to feel that libertarian philosophy and feminist philosophy are completely incompatible?

On Friday night, I was told by a libertarian friend that feminism is, at best, too laden with misconceptions and connotations to be useful as a word/movement and, at worst, a bunch of stupid whiny women who think women are superior to men and want special rights because of it.

On Saturday, I was told (or read a blog comment , rather) that while feminist libertarians might very well exist, we should probably give up on the term “libertarian” because it is too laden with negative connotations.

Besides thinking that if one more person tries to tell me how I should or should not define myself I may punch them in the face (or at least write a very angry blog post about it!), my mind has also been reeling the past two days with the parallels between these two statements and the arguments surrounding them.

Tonie Nathan
Tonie Nathan, co-founder of the Association of Libertarian Feminists, is the first woman to have recieved an electoral vote in a U.S. presidential election.

In the argument Friday, one of my friends argued that, basically, feminism was a stupid word, in that nobody could identify with it anymore because it had been too tainted by 1960s feminists. I can at least stomach the argument that feminism, as a word/movement, cannot be reclaimed from all of the negative stereotypes associated with it, although I disagree with this sentiment. But I was also told, by my libertarian friend, that not only was the word feminism stupid, but the concept of feminism and people who call themselves feminists are stupid. Feminists hate stay-at-home moms, I was told. Feminists want all women to be 80s-style-shoulder-padded-career-women, I was told. Feminists all think that women are somehow inherently better people than men, and that women should now take their rightful place running things because girls rule and boys drool, or something like that. Feminists need to stop whining so much about pay equity, because all they really want is for the government to step in and fix everything for them. It was every straw-feminist myth, one right after another. Have you ever really read any modern feminist writers? I asked. No, my friend said. But she had “talked to some feminists,” and she knew what it was all about.

The libertarian argument at Pandagon started in response to a “libertarian bingo card” that Amanda Marcotte posted (that had originally been made/posted by sabotabby at punkassblog), with descriptions of common libertarian stereotypes on every square. The card itself I found amusing (especially “Take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz!”). But the comments thread really kind of annoyed me. Libertarians are all misogynist white males, people said. Libertarians are just all rich and selfish and don’t want to share their money, people said. Libertarians always vote for Bush and conservative Republicans. Libertarians reap the benefits of things like public roads and local policemen but don’t want to pay for them. Libertarians are all gun-toting nutjobs who can’t hold coherent or logical conversations. A lot of the commenters were frantically arguing against wildly inaccurate versions of libertarian political philosophy based on a conversation they’d had with some guy at the gun store or something they’d read some libertarian commenter say on a blog somewhere. I’m not talking about all the commenters (or Amanda or sabotabby), obviously, but it seemed most had never read any classical liberal writing or any modern libertarian writers. But it didn’t matter. They just knew what it was all about.

In both cases, people were vehemently arguing against things they really knew fuck about. And it kind of pissed me off.

As I was reading Jessica Valenti’s fabulous new book, Full Frontal Feminism, yesterday, this one passage in particular made me sort of have an aha! moment. Jessica was railing against several states’ efforts to ban the sale of vibrators and other sex toys. Did you click on the link I just used to explain these bans?. It’s from libertarian magazine Reason. You see, you see the intersection of interests here? Neither feminists nor libertarians want the government to ban vibrators! Now that’s some common ground, right? And it doesn’t stop there!

Okay, okay, what I’m about to launch into is mostly an exercise in pointing out the obvious, and it’s not as if I didn’t think about any of this stuff at all until yesterday, but the whole sex toy business made me start trying to compile all the places where libertarian convictions and feminist convictions intersect. So here goes … (please note that while I refer to “libertarians” and “feminists” as some sort of homogenous groups, I realize that within each groups, people have various opinions; however, I’m just trying to talk about the most common positions).

Keep your laws off my body: one of feminism’s major causes is reproductive rights, the right of women to determine whether and when to be bear children, which includes (but is of course not limited too) having legal abortions. Libertarians, in general, are also pro-choice, believing the government doesn’t have the right to intrude and tell anyone what they can and can’t do with their body. So, see, here is a major point of agreement right here. (Conversely, I don’t know that feminists in general have any sort of consensus on things like markets in human organs, which tends to be a libertarian issue, but using the feminist logic that women should be trusted to make decisions concerning their own bodies, it would seem reasonable that feminists should also support the idea that all people should be trusted to make decisions concerning their own kidneys, and therefore support organ markets and the like. So, see, there! Two birds with one stone!).

Keep your religion out of my government: One of feminist’s major complaints is about the sorry-state of sex education in this country. Instead of learning about condoms, contraception, and STDs, teenagers are taught abstinence-only curriculum that espouse sexist ideals about purity and are often wrapped up in religious values. Libertarians are also not big fans of faith-based and abstinence only education in public schools, believing that religion has no place in taxpayer-funded public curriculum. Libertarians also aren’t big fans of religion trying to replace science in public-school curriculums, and rail against “intelligent design” and the like. Realizing it’s the same anti-sex fundies pushing ID and abstinence-only sex ed, most feminists aren’t too fond of anti-science curriculum either. Religious fundamentalism = common enemy for feminists and libertarians.

Fight for the right to buy dildos: As I mentioned above, both feminists and libertarians are against ridiculous attempts by state anti-sex conservatives to legislate morality by banning private businesses from selling things such as sex toys. Plus, in Jessica’s book she insists that feminists are better in bed. And, uh, according to a facebook group I just saw today, libertarians make better lovers. So, you know ….

Prostitution should be safe, legal, and rare: Or at least safe and legal. Feminists recognize that strippers, prostitutes, porn workers, etc., are not somehow less human because they work in the “sex industry,” and shouldn’t be treated with any less dignity and rights. While feminists will argue whether these industries will always ultimately hurt women, believe they empower women, or just realize that sometimes they’re the best option women have under their particular circumstances, feminists want to make sure that women working in the “sex industry” are able to do so safely, and without unnecessary punishment or harassment. Again, libertarians are against the government trying to legislate morality, and intruding on private business, so tend to oppose government attempts to shut down strip clubs and the like. And libertarians believe that it is the black market that makes things such as prostitution so dangerous, but that if it were legal, it could be monitored and therefore safer for all parties involved.

Sexuality should not be a basis for denying rights: Feminists support gays’ right to marry just like any hetero couple. So do libertarians, for the most part. Some libertarians will argue that the government should stay out of marriage all together, that it should be up to religions. Which is fine. I don’t think anyone’s really arguing that the government should mandate that the Baptist church marry gays in a Baptist ceremony. But a justice of the peace, without any religion involved, can marry hetero couples and gays should enjoy the same civil right; I think most libertarians agree. Plus, both libertarians and feminists think Bill O’Reilley’s “Roving-Lesbian-Gang” theory is ridiculous.

So there … for starters, that should give feminists and libertarians enough common ground, right? I think the most important thing is that underlying both philosophies is the rhetoric of choice. Feminists believe in choice. Libertarians believe in choice. Both believe that people – men and women – should be trusted to make their own choices; that we do not need legislators to tell us what to do or buy or think, who to marry, when to have kids, etc. And, sure, there will always be things that most feminists and most libertarians will disagree on. Health care is the big one that comes to mind. A lot of feminists (although by far not all) believe in “universal” health care (and child care), which is anathema to most libertarians. So, yeah, that’s a point of contention. But health care is in no way CENTRAL to either belief, and in light of all the areas where libertarians and feminists agree, I don’t think this disagreement over health care should be the basis to claim that there is no common ground.

P.S. I’ve been talking as if you have to be one or the other, but just for the sake of hashing out group identities. There are plenty of people out there now, I know, who are down with both libertarianism and feminism already.

P.P.S. Apparently, there is an Association of Libertarian Feminists. Who desperately need a Web site not created in 1996. But still worth checking out.

P.P.P.S. I would probably be remiss to not point out that there is (and has for some time been) a fair amount of academic discussion of all this, some of which is synthesized here.

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Food & Feminism

Jennifer Jeffrey explores whether the “eat local” movement is anti-feminist in that it places undue expectations and burdens on women. Now I’m sure there are people who would immediately leap to point out that, duh, men cook too! Which, you know, obviously. But women — especially married women and women with children — are still disproportionately likely to be making their families’ meals (and shopping for those meals). Working mothers are already under a lot of stress (and societal expectation) to be able to work a full day and still prepare a home-cooked meal for their families, lest they be deemed a bad parent, contributing to the obesity “epidemic,” yada yada yada. The whole “eat local” and organic movement, with all its inherent class and moral connotations, provides another expectation for working women/mothers to feel stressed or guilty about not living up to. Jeffrey writes:

My flexible schedule is no small advantage when it comes to putting locally grown meals on the table (heck – even meals on the table at all), a fact that becomes crystal clear on weeks when I suddenly have more projects than I can handle, and What To Make For Dinner is the very last thing on my mind. If eating local is still a challenge for me, what about women who, voluntarily or not, log 8 to 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, in an office or hospital or courtroom? What about women who, in addition to working long hours and commuting back and forth, also have children at home who need love and affection and help with homework? What about women who, in addition to work and kids and a significant other, also think it might be nice to hit the gym two or three times a week? Or have a social life? Or read a book or take a judo class or become a better photographer? How do those women get it all done? How on earth do these same women have time to plan balanced meals, let alone meals composed of organic, in-season ingredients… grown locally?

I wonder. I wonder if the slow-organic-local food movement is truly sustainable for and friendly to the larger community of women.

Well, no, obviously not, which is why it gets labeled as classist. And it is. Erin might argue the nuances of this statment (and there are, of cousre, nuances), but I think you can’t get around the fact eating “sustainably” is a luxury. Doesn’t make it a bad thing, per se. To the extent that it carries over into more “working class” options — fresher produce at WalMart, for instance, or the awesome sushi you can get at Krogers — it benefits everybody, in that healthier options are more easily and widely available all around. I think this “pro” outweighs the “con” that it may place new stresses on working mothers, but that doesn’t mean that these stresses shouldn’t be considered, which is why Jennifer’s post is interesting. Jennifer asks:

Can we call ourselves feminists (simply defined here as people who desire the equality of all women, everywhere) and still suggest that an ideal dinner consists of handmade ravioli and slow-simmered marinara from vine-ripened, hand-picked tomatoes and a salad composed of vegetables that (let’s be honest) are Not Available at Safeway?

Sure you can, as long as you realize that’s YOUR ideal dinner, not everybody’s. Jennifer gets this, and notes that women career equality has been helped in no small part by convenience foods.

Virginia Woolf famously wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is going to write,” and I would further argue that a woman must have convenient food preparation options in order to be truly independent.  The relative convenience of our grocery system has been an invaluable partner in the quest for equality and choice.

(she offers more thoughts in a Part 2 post)

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