March 12, 2009

Wa-Po blogger Cillizza implies Obama’s Council on Women and Girls is not for addressing gender issues

Posted in gender, male feminists, mass media, news, politics, sexual politics, U.S. politics at 4:30 pm by LB

In an odd phrasing, Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza seems to imply that Obama’s call for a Council on Women and Girls, is not primarily a result of his recognition that we need policies and solutions to social problems that adequately address how they impact women and families (for whom women are still overwhelmingly responsible for the care of).  In other words, Obama is forming this council out of the recognition that appropriate solutions to social problems must take both men’s and women’s experiences into consideration.

Cillizza seems to imply otherwise:

Obama has both personal — his wife and two daughters — and political reasons to make this sort of high profile move to ensure that women’s needs are being addressed by his administration.

In 2008, 53 percent of the electorate was female and Obama carried that group 56 percent to 44 percent over Arizona Sen. John McCain.

So Obama’s “personal” reasons for putting the council into place are that he has a wife and daughters.  Yawn.  How insulting to think that men are only concerned about women’s issues and the male-centric models of citizenship and public policy because they have daughters.   I would hope that there might too be fathers of boys who are concerned about gender issues so their sons could have the  socially-supported ability  to be at-home dads if they choose, without their masculinity  being denigrated and without threat to family finances because their female partner’s career is being stymied by gender discrimination (by pay or “mommy tracking”) or sexual harassment in the workplace.

And the “political” reasons Obama is putting this into place is…to keep the allegiance of his female voters (?).  So Obama is doing this to keep women happy, not because it’s good policy?

Reading between the lines, much?

Oh and let us not forget, this council is in no way (expected to be) substantial: “Expect then more symbolic moves like the establishment of the Council to demonstrate Obama’s commitment to women and women’s issues.”  Because all women voters expect are empty gestures without results.  Because women usually applaud style over substance.  Because women don’t want to be taken seriously, just acknowledged.  Because women are above all, fans of [political] superficiality.

(I think you have us confused with lad-mag apologists.)

And I think you underestimate women as political actors who demand accountability, as well as our new President, who has demonstrated at least an understanding that there are structural barriers to success that equal rights legislation did not address.

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February 1, 2009

An almost great article about resisting normative families in the NYT

Posted in economics, family, gender, heteronormative, New York Times, reproduction at 6:44 pm by LB

This article in today’s Times is great…well, almost.  The article discusses the interesting and creative ways that middle class single mothers are successfully forming their own families of choice, made of up other families like them, who provide each other with emotional support and companionship, outside of the heteronormative nuclear family.

Some single mothers like Fran forgo romantic and sexual relationships for extended stretches, turning to one another for the help and companionship that spouses normally provide — filling up one another’s cellphone directories, thinking through whether to get speech therapy for a child who is talking late, snapping and sharing summer photos. They are friends, and also more than friends. The trips to the Outer Banks that Fran’s group takes represent a step toward an all-female, platonic, chosen extended family.

Cool, right?  Until this gem:

For a woman of means to have a baby without a husband seemed to threaten the institution of marriage and, with it, family stability.  Today’s single mothers by choice often do their utmost to prove that they’re not a threat to anyone’s social order, as Rosanna Hertz, a Wellesley College sociologist, points out in her study of 65 such women, “Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice.” After the award ceremony, Fran didn’t talk back to her pastor. For her, being a single mom isn’t a form of rebellion. She wants to share in middle-class norms, not challenge them. To spend time with Fran and her friend Nancy is to appreciate them as a couple of anti-bohemians: two middle-aged women in high-waisted jeans and tennis shoes, sitting and talking on folding chairs while soft rock and a mix of sweat and Lysol fills the air during their daughters’ Saturday-morning gymnastics class. Read the rest of this entry »

December 9, 2008

Subtle sexism: analyzing The Witcher

Posted in entertainment, entitlement, gaming, gender, heteronormative, objectification, phallocentrism, representation, sexism, sexual politics at 8:00 pm by LB

This post is about the PC game The Witcher, which someone I know has just started playing. But this post is less about the game and more about cultural representations and assumptions about gender and sexuality. He and I had a conversation around it today, which got me thinking a lot about female sexuality, male entitlement, and homophobia in our culture. So please bear through my discussion of the game to get the “big picture” analysis.

In browsing around the internets and reading people’s discussions around gender and sexuality in the game, I very often read these reasons for why the game isn’t “that bad” vis-a-vis women and (women’s) sexuality: the sex scenes are well done (they are in fact pretty tasteful) and the women aren’t represented as all dumb bimbos (as if commodifying women’s sexuality is only sexist if the women are represented as idiots.) My friend mentioned that in reading reviews, many women said the sex in the game wasn’t “that bad.” But in the game, it’s not really the sex that’s the problem.

At first, I thought that gender and sexuality in the game wasn’t so bad, but the more I was told the more troubled I became. Originally, I thought the sex in the game was just optional, with no reward attached, and the sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or very objectifying. Point one for the game?

Well, that’s not exactly it. Read the rest of this entry »

November 25, 2008

Commercial Critique: Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted in advertising, body politics, Commercial Critique, double standards, gaming, gender, objectification, representation, sexism, television at 10:00 am by LB

I was originally pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform “boundary maintenance” (see “Fraternal Bonding”, which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the “cool guys” are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn’t have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Plelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone’s living room a la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical actor/singer Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they’re not really a la Risky Business.

In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn’t think anything of it because it’s a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn’t want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt–no white shorts.

Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women’s bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men’s bodies are (generally) off limits? What’s especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one–it’s not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men’s commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn’t bother me that they deviated; it’s that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.

But wait–it gets better. Because they actually did make the women’s one more sexual. The version of Klum’s commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH “performance”, she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back–all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:

Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.

It is indeed a very sexualized commercial, Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:

Before anyone points out that “it’s not that bad”, the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the “family-friendly” Klum ad. And until now, I haven’t even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).

Let me point out, that there have been more “successful” replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don’t go through and dance–the fantasy is cut short–and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt some Cruise-like much skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn’t follow suit.

But maybe our only women’s-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men’s-bodies-makes-you-gay society can’t handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe’s athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn’t aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.

(For other posts in this series, click here)

November 21, 2008

Two standards of “sexy”

Posted in beauty culture, Celebritocracy, double standards, gender, hot lists, objectification, representation, sexual politics, sexy at 9:10 pm by LB

From the world of “top lists”:

via Yahoo!’s OMG! department, that gives me pop culture news when I’m trying to access my e-mail via the Yahoo! homepage that I’d really rather not know about, comes 2 male “hot lists” that I find rather interesting.  First, People magazine name Hugh Jackman the sexiest man alive.  Nothing new here: People’s “sexiest man” regularly is permitted to be and look much older than “sexiest women” are (the last 3 were Damon @ 37, Clooney @ 45, and McConaughey @ 36; Maxim’s ’08 “Hot 100” #1 is 30, and the last 3 were 21, 31, and 30).  

No, what I found interesting was the accompanying pictorial on the sexiest fathers in Hollywood.  

  1. The photos used were shots of the fathers in action, playing with their kids.  So lovely and sweet, but not quite the MILF-esque treatment given to editorials about “sexy moms.”  Sidenote: I do think that “sexy parent” editorials are horrible:  I’d rather read about good parents period, sexy or not.  To me, that makes as much logical sense as having a pictorial about the best brunette parents–hair color has about as much to do with being a parent as being sexy does.  But if they’re going to have the them at all, they should focus both kinds of editorials on their parenting creds (since all it takes is a personal trainer, a stylist, and a decent photographer to be sexy in Hollywood).  But even still, if they’re going to take the MILF angle (ugh, I shudder each time I even type that), can we at least evaluate the dads and the moms in the same sexified manner?  FILFs, anyone?  
  2. It seems that what counts as being a sexy mother is having the expendable time, money, and energy to put the work into getting your body back to a pre-pregnancy state, tasks that become so much easier with hired help–nannies, personal trainers, stylists, makeup artists, post-pregnancy photo shoots with favorable lighting, etc.  But what counts for being a sexy dad is in spending time with your kids, which I suppose is either an expected given for mothers or is irrelevant to their sexiness.  Hmmm…women judged on how they look, men judged on what they do…where have I heard that before??

 So the second thing I saw was again from OMG! breaking news about the 25 Hottest Hunks in Hollywood.  Again, we see the age discrepancy here, with is nothing new to celebrity men’s and women’s hot and sexy status.  Looking at the photos, I just want to know: why do they have so much clothes on?  How can we call them “hot” when men’s clothing gives us little indication of what’s underneath?  There seems to not be enough information to evaluate these men by…. yes, I’m joking but also not.  I’d say, if we saw a Hot list of women with so much clothing on, I think there’d be rioting in the streets.

November 17, 2008

Contemplating the significance of Playgirl’s end

Posted in double standards, entertainment, gender, phallocentrism, pornography, power hierarchy, representation, sex work, sexism at 10:00 am by LB

There was an article today in the New York Times about the recent end to Playgirl magazine.  Recently it’s publisher cancelled the magazine’s distribution.  I pulled out a few things from the article that I felt were very telling:*

 
So [in trying to rebrand Playgirl after the emphasis on gay imagery by previous ownership and editors] she and her fellow editors, all women in their 20s and all relative neophytes to the world of magazines — and pornography — resolved to fill Playgirl with something different. They aspired to bring Playgirl back to its roots, back to a time when the magazine covered issues like abortion and equal rights, interspersing sexy shots of men with work from writers like Raymond Carverand Joyce Carol Oates.

All the while, the editors juggled the demands of the publisher, Blue Horizon Media, which they said pushed to fill Playgirl with even more nudes and fewer words.

[…]

“I’m not a publishing expert, but it seems to me like it would be impossible to sustain a magazine on the quantity of ads Playgirl sold,” Ms. Collins said.

Although the Playgirl Web site is still running, the graphic content is geared more toward gay men. None of the magazine’s editors are involved.

Ms. Caldwell [one of only 3 editors] said Playgirl magazine suffered from the twin malaises of rising costs and declining sales.

[…]

Playgirl was started 35 years ago as a feminist response to Playboy and Penthouse. (Playboy sued Playgirl in 1973 for trademark infringement; the suit was settled amicably.) Over the years, the magazine changed ownership, began catering more to gay men, and whittled its operations down. Still, the magazine drew an avid readership, Ms. Caldwell said, selling 600,000 copies per issue in more than three dozen countries.

[…]

“For better or worse, this was a real blow for feminism. We were the only magazine that offered naked men to women.”

In the end, Playgirl was run by a skeleton crew of these three editors, along with what Ms. Caldwell described as “a whole horde of eager unpaid interns.”

[…]

The magazine had no marketing or public relations budget, so its editors sought to revive the Playgirl brand themselves, throwing parties at a Lower East Side bar. After Blue Horizon denied a request to finance a blog, Ms. Collins built one herself, starting it on WordPress, a free platform.

Their efforts, the women said, got virtually no support; indeed, their higher-ups, all of them men, usually resisted their push to give the magazine editorial heft.

Early in 2008, warning signs surfaced. While newsstands sales were up, Ms. Caldwell said, so were production costs. 

[…]

The magazine’s editors said they were never told why the magazine was shut down. But, they said, they were always struck by the paucity of ads.

 

I quote these segments, because I can see the writing on the wall: Read the rest of this entry »

September 22, 2008

Headlines that make you go…huh?

Posted in gender, gender stereotypes, sexism, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

“Scary, Isn’t She?”

That’s the September 11, 2008 headline of an article about Jaime Nared, the 12 year-old basketball phenom who, back in May, was curiously kicked off of a previously mixed-gender basketball team (the league citing old rules barring coed teams) after she clearly demonstrated she was “too good” to be on the team–she makes the boys look “bad.”

Scary? The article is about how good she is, what potentiaal she has, and how she struggles to find appropriate peers to play with and against. How about describe her as “amazing”? “Phenomenal”? “Incredible” Why “scary”?

Scary she’s so good…because she’s female? Scary that her talent and physical blessings (she’s 6’1″) threaten a male-dominated sport, that women are rapidly becoming more visible in? How about scary that she seems expected to apologize for her talent, her drive, her interest, her skill, her motivation…

Scary that “female” and “exceptional athleticism” still are assumed to be contradictory terms.

September 16, 2008

Desperately seeking female superheroes

Posted in film, gender, gender stereotypes at 12:00 pm by LB

Check out this great article over at The American Prospect:

“Progress is slow and often nonexistent,” [Joss, of Buffy fame] Whedon said. “There’s plenty of cool comics with female characters. … But all it takes is one Catwoman to set the cause back a decade.”

He was bemoaning failed superheroine movies that slathered on high camp and special effects while dumbing down their characters. Both 2004’s Catwoman (starring Halle Berry) and 2005’s Elektra (starring Jennifer Garner) were critical and commercial flops because they didn’t embrace the fact that their characters are complicated anti-heroes; neither movie dares to make its heroine really bad or really good and neither movie ends up being very interesting.

Movie studios put out female-led superhero films with poor character writing (and in bad calendar timing, as the article goes on to say), then says there’s no market.

Reminds me of the crappy games put out for women that don’t have much playership, or noting that women don’t want to buy the sexist action games, then saying there’s no female market.

Someone needs to read the Halthor Legacy.

Related previous post: Entertainment and ‘Choice’

I want a female superheroine.  I just hope she’s wearing clothes and cool, sensible shoes.

September 13, 2008

Questionable conclusions

Posted in bunk science, ethnocentrism, gender, gender roles, gender stereotypes, New York Times at 11:50 pm by LB

The recent article from the New York Times, “As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen
discusses a scientific study that I find highly questionable. Apparently, the same-old gendered personalities keep resurfacing in personality tests. Psychologists disagree on the origin of the differences: evolutionary vs. socialization. The article asserts that the latter believes that

personality differences will shrink as women spend less time nurturing children and more time in jobs outside the home.

So the effect of “traditional gender roles” will be eradicated when women are in the workforce more and do child care less? That seems overly optimistic at best, naieve and ignorant about the pervasiveness of gender socialization at worst. But that’s not my real critique.

Several research groups have been studying personality tests sorted by gender on a global basis, and have found that the gender gap in personality tests is smaller in countries that have “more traditional” cultures. What I think they mean by poorly-worded and undefined “traditional” is less industrialized and perhaps more institutionally religious. Because the U.S. sure has a kind of “traditional culture” too–of capitalism and consumerism. What their designation really refers to, in my view, is cultures that are more obviously and directly patriarchal, since the article says,

A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France.

But again, not my main point.

Since this seems counterintuitive to researchers–surely, our more “advanced” societies, full of legal equality and post-post-industrial economies and wealth coming out of our asses should have less gender disparity in individual personalities. So after another study, looking at 40,000 people, on researcher has concluded that

as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.

(I think he meant to say “less external legal barriers.”)

The very next statement in the Times article completely contradicts the researcher’s own conclusion, if you actually think about it:

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

Gee, assertiveness, competitive, lack of concern….surely the presence of these qualities has nothing to do with, for one, western constructions of masculinity?! And what is the implication then, that non-western, less industrialized male populations are too “feminine”? I thought the anti-feminist work of Kathleen Parker already told us that feminism has emasculated American men?! The study itself says the following:

masculinity–femininity describes the extent of emphasis on work goals (earnings, advancement, and assertiveness) as opposed to interpersonal goals (friendly atmosphere, getting along with the boss) and nurturance (higher masculinity–femininity scores reflect masculinity)

Interestingly, but not unsurprisingly, a very Western definition of gender. No wonder “traditional” cultures, that may not make the gendered public/private divide the same way it has been made in industrial and post-industrial American culture, seem to have less gendered personalities. The researchers used a cultural definition of gender as a neutral “fact” of “sex” and then applied them to other nations and cultures whose notions of gender are likely different, and not because they are “less than.” (see p. 172 of the study for more equally problematic indicators of gender equality). I’ll come back to this ethnocentrism. Read the rest of this entry »

September 4, 2008

Because sometimes “fake news” coverage is better than the actual news

Posted in double standards, gender, humor, mass media, news, politics, U.S. politics at 6:49 pm by LB

Everything I want to say about the hypocrisy around the rhetoric about Palin, and especially the Republicans’ vomit-inducing use of gender rhetoric can be summed up by this brilliant analysis by the “fake news” reporter, Jon Stewart, on the September 3, 2008 The Daily Show:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Sarah Palin Gender Card | The Daily S…“, posted with vodpod

In Canada, watch it on clip 2 here.

And in more The Daily Show-induced commentary….typically, I take the position that families and spouses/ partners are “off-limits” with regards to politics. But Stewart, in his interview with Newt Gingrich, makes an excellent point, which I think can help us forge a distinction between personal attacks on Palin’s daughter (i.e. “what an irresponsible slut!”) and dissonances between individual actions and beliefs and political positions. “The personal is political.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Newt Gingrich | The Daily Show | Come…“, posted with vodpod

(Here in Canada)

Isn’t it sad when politicians and pundits seem to get called on their bullshit more often by “fake news” shows than the “real” ones?

August 21, 2008

Olympic bodies

Posted in body politics, double standards, gender, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 12:00 pm by LB

As I’ve been watching the Olympics, I have had two feelings about bodies:

  • How irritating it is that regardless of basically everything, women are perpetually sexualized, and often sexualized first and foremost.
  • How unused to seeing exposed young, fit, male bodies (particularly in snug attire) on a regular and public basis I am.  This is something hetero men are exposed to multiple times every day, and hetero women are only every four years!

I have also made these observations:

  • I regularly overhear female Olympic athletes sex appeal at least in equal proportion (if not more) to their athletic skill (though it’s usually in spite of their athletic skill).   Hetero men seem to be unable to comment on female athletes skill without also commenting on their physical appearance, both body and beauty.  Women do comment on the attractiveness of the female athletes sometimes as well (like women are more open to doing about other women anyway, whether peers or celebrities, and regardless of sexual attraction).
  • I hear much fewer comments about the appearance of the male athletes, and never from hetero men (cuz that would be gay, ya know).

August 14, 2008

Suicide-bombing headlines specify females, never males

Posted in gender, language politics, New York Times, news at 5:26 pm by LB

UPDATED 8/15

I had this same criticism a month or so back, the last time I saw a newspaper headline about female bombers, but I didn’t write about it then. Today, in reading the New York Times, I read: “Female Suicide Bomber Kills 2 in Iraqi Province.”

Now, it’s not that I don’t understand the significance of female suicide-bombers in particular. While this story doesn’t address it, past articles with similar headlines have at least mentioned,

Fifteen other women have carried out suicide bomb attacks in Diyala Province, according to General Rubaie. Islamic rules prevent men, including security officers conducting searches, from touching women. Compounding the predicament is a scarcity of female Iraqi police and soldiers who might otherwise fill the gap.

While I am somewhat annoyed when stories, such as today’s, mention a female bomber in the headline, but don’t discuss why that’s significant in the story, I take issue more with the persistent selective gender-naming. Male suicide bombers are reported in headlines as “suicide bombers”; female suicide bombers are “named” as such. I have blogged on this in the past in discussing ex-nomination, and Ashley guest blogging over at Feministe interestingly argues that women’s gender is specified when they perpetrate acts of violence to detract from the reality that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violent acts. The repetition of women’s gender in such reports works to mask violence as a gender-neutral activity. My issue is at a more basic linguistic level. Previously I wrote:

In conversation (your own and others’), watch how people are described. Typically, we use “identity” descriptors only with reference to women, gay men, lesbians, people of color, non-Western ethnicities, (and also non-Christian religions)…in other words, the default category for a “person” is a white, hetero, male. A person is only someone “other” than that when specified.

This is what’s referred to as “ex-nomination” (coined by the semiotician Roland Bathes)-being ‘unnamed’. What is unnamed is what is seen as a ‘natural’ commonsensical category. Those of us who are not white heterosexual men become those with “marked bodies”-bodies who must be named to be identified. In other words, people who are women, or black are designated as such (as if identifying them according to said label adds particular meaning to who they are as a person), while white hetero men are simply “people,” and are thus permitted to establish meaningful identities in ways not shaped by said societal identity labels.

These headlines bother me for that reason: that it perpetuates the assumption that an individual is a (white, hetero) male unless specified otherwise.

It’s true that we also specify male for characteristics that are deemed “female” (a.k.a. “male nurse”), which could in part account for its usage in headlines–because we assume suicide bombers to be male. But Western assumptions are no excuse for the persistent usage of gendered terms by journalists. Would it really be so hard to say “suicide bomber” in the headline and then to discuss the gender and its implications, if necessary, in the body of the story? Or since gender is in fact an issue, use male and female descriptors in the headlines? Otherwise, we reinforce the notion of male as default.

UPDATE 8/15: Funny that this is a trend I have been seeing, and as soon as I write about it, the NYT changes its pattern: see today’s “Bomber Kills 18 on Shiite Pilgrimage in Iraq.” The “bomber” is actually a female! Now that’s a first!  I think I have some sort of “special powers” regarding the NYT, because I also recently wrote about how they consistently place stories about women in Fashion and Style (I also sent the editor a displeased e-mail), a few weeks later I see a story that is actually in the appropriate section!  Hmmm…are they reading my blog?!

I’m taking notice, NYT, but no cookies for you

Posted in gender, New York Times at 4:36 pm by LB

Ha! Today the New York Times has an article about women in the section that is actually belongs (unlike their history).

Not that they deserve a congratulations for doing their freaking jobs right, but I’m taking notice.

July 29, 2008

Transgressing sex and gender

Posted in body politics, gender, heteronormative, identity, phallocentrism, queer, sexual politics at 2:00 pm by LB

This is an provocative post at Jezebel about Buck Angel, a popular adult film actor who is a transman who hasn’t had, and doesn’t want, genital surgery. Author Megan argues that he is a feminist hero, and I find her discussion compelling.

But this comment was the best:

I want to understand. Really, I do. Brain is just not computing “man who doesn’t want a penis”.

The idea of a person who feels they’re a man but does not feel that a male identity depends on having a penis is extremely transgressive and threatening. Our society conceives of sexuality and attraction/desire in terms of genitals. Thus desiring men=desiring penises. In terms the cultural construction of male sexual activity, penises are absolutely crucial. Many feel that technically, no “sex” takes place without penile penetration

I’ve never really outlined this on my blog, but my personal ideas about sexuality and desire are along the lines of sexuality as fluid (not a permanent identity), that there are “a thousand tiny sexes” (not just binary male/female and gay/straight/bi), that sex acts are not definitive of sexuality, and that homophobia is a big part of heteronormative masculinity…and more.

Sure, I think sexual parts are important. To a degree. But I have also had discussion with people who say they are more attracted to x people (personalities) but to y bodies. Yet in mainstream notions about sexuality (same-sex or hetero), these ought to align. But why should they? And why can’t personality or physical attraction play different roles or emphases in our intimate relationships? I would argue that they already do…but not across gender lines.

For all we talk about transgression, seeing the response to Buck Angel made me realize that perhaps only transgression within certain boundaries can really be tolerated, by hetero and LGBT communities alike. If that’s the case, how transgressive are those actions really?

So I’m really intrigued about the impossibility of comprehending why a (“real”) man wouldn’t want a penis…in our culture, what does that make him? And what does this anxiety say about our own phobias about sexuality?

July 28, 2008

NYT: women bloggers are sooo fashionable!

Posted in activism, double standards, gender, New York Times, news at 2:00 pm by LB

Yea for The New York Times reporting on BlogHer’s annual conference.

Boo for printing it in the Fashion and Style section, as woman-related stories routinely are.

It’s pretty pathetic that I should be so thrilled that the recent news about gender-parity in math scores was actually reported by the Times in the U.S./Education section. Yes, it’s awfully nice that the Times was actually able to put a story about females in its proper place in their paper. But actually doing their job doesn’t get them any cookies.

So, dear readers, I write letters:

Dear New York Times Editors:

Overall, I appreciate the quality of your paper and it is one of my primary sources for obtaining news. However, your history of inappropriately filing news items that involve women is obscene and, quite frankly, is unacceptable, especially for a new source of your report.

The most recent example is the coverage of the 2008 BlogHer conference, printed July 27, 2008 in the Fashion and Style section. Other articles about bloggers and blogging are printed in more substantial sections like the Technology or U.S. Politics sections. I understand that your placement often relates blogging to another topic (i.e. business, the election) but the “default” category for blogging (or any topic) women is not Fashion and Style. And since the article specifically addressed women blogging as a political act, it does not belong in the Fashion and Style section.

On July 13, 2008, you also ran the joint review of books by feminist author and blogger Jessia Valenti and journalist Kathleen Parker, which adressed contemporary gender-based political issues. It belongs in the Books section, not the Fashion and Style section.

Other female bloggers have written about your story misplacement when it comes to stories about women. May 13, 2008’s story about the lack of gender diversity in the sciences (obviously) belongs in the Science section, not the Fashion and Style section. And the list goes on.

It’s great that you’re writing about gender issues, exciting studies debunking harmful gender myths, feminist writers, and women’s activism. But putting these stories in Fashion and Style, rather than where they’d be put if they were about men, is nothing short of insulting and condescending, as if issues facing and addressed by women are somehow frivolous and irrelevent to society as a whole.

Issues and news related to women do not by default belong in the Fashion and Style section of your paper. Fashion and Style is not inherently a “female” topic and gender analyses are not periperal, light, fluffy, innocent, and inconsequential. Do not insult us and degrade us by treating women who are active in politics, do science, are participating in technology, and the like, as mere “style.”

Sincerely,

LindaBeth

author, don’t ya wish your girlfriend was smart like me?

And I encourage you all to do the same. No copyrights on my letter, either: steal away!

executive-editor@nytimes.com

managing-editor@nytimes.com

July 24, 2008

Quick Hit: Check out Halthor Legacy!

Posted in feminism, film, gender, mass media, recommended reading, representation at 10:15 am by LB

I recently found this blog through another blog, I can’t event remember which, but it’s really great!

Hathor isn’t a review site. Nor is it a fan site. It was started in 2005 by Betacandy to demonstrate that there are people who don’t like how women and gender roles are presented in movies and TV because she was sick of hearing from film execs that the audience only wants white men in lead roles.

Very cool! And check out these posts especially:

Why discriminate if it doesn’t profit?

The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.

Some answers provided: ego and laziness.

Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test

To pass it your movie must have the following:

1) there are at least two named female characters, who

2) talk to each other about

3) something other than a man.

So simple, and yet as you go through all your favorite movies (and most of your favorite TV shows, though there’s a little more variety in TV), you find very few movies pass this test.

July 23, 2008

Guest post: A feminist gamer looks at gender issues in the gaming industry

Posted in entertainment, gaming, gender, gender stereotypes, guest posts, objectification at 12:00 pm by LB

I have asked Cassandra from No Little Lolita to do some occasional guest blogging about gender and gaming. It is an area I’m very interested in, but not being a gamer myself, can’t give it the treatment it deserves. So I’ve asked Cassandra to fill in that gap here at Don’t you wish your girlfriend was smart like me? Please engage her ideas in the comments with respect.

-lindabeth

Hi, my name is Cassandra – I post on No Little Lolita, a blog about popular culture, teenage years and feminism, gaming, and the pursuits and hobbies of a young Canadian feminist. I’m guestblogging to talk a little about the huge problems in the gaming industry, and why they affect women – even those who aren’t gamers.

We’ve recently entered a ‘new generation’ of gaming, and it’s only show how persuasive the siren song of gaming is. The Nintendo Wii broke records when it was launched – it was the first console that appealed to people beyond gamers, and the inventive remote with add-ons seemed more welcoming and approachable than the controllers of their competitors – the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. In contrast, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 seem to be in a market of their own – both of them are powerhouses that appeal to the ‘hardcore’ gamer and boast libraries of games that’ll last you tens upon tens of hours full of deep storylines and complex gameplay.

With this new interactive art form taking center stage, it would be great if we could shed the tired tropes and disgusting stereotypes that show up constantly in movies and on TV. Gaming is a medium that boasts large amounts of interactivity and choice – wouldn’t it be great if the writing was excellent without leaning on racist or sexist stereotypes, the action was tight without being pandering or offensive, and the characters were engrossing and sympathetic and yet realistic and enjoyable to play?

Unfortunately, it seems that most studios either don’t have the capacity or the willpower to create games that fulfill these expectations. Most games have either a shallow story, with the main objective being ‘blow this up’, or rely on stereotypes and tropes when they bother to develop the characters or the storyline at all. Female characters are reduced to simpering, slender sexpots relying on the main character while being just feisty enough to rile him up more often than not – that is, when they even exist. Even when a female is the main character of a game, she is usually designed to be attractive, available and open to possible advances – she’s tough, but not so tough that your average gamer would be threatened! The main character of a game is more often than not white, male, and straight. Often he’s taking down terrorists or criminals or some unsavory group while some female sighs over his hunkiness, and his POC sidekick serves as comic relief. The art form, so far, is heteronormative, overwhelmingly white, and sexist.

The gaming market has produced some feminist-friendly games for sure – the Mario games are a safe bet, the Metal Gear Solid games have a large cast with both genders, and even though the games are set around the American – Russian – Chinese conflict, the third game had a black support member who helped the protagonist on his solo mission talk about his experiences facing racism from the private corporations in America in the 60s; not something you would hear discussed in most media forms of any sort. But for the large part, games are like a gigantic soggy sandwich: you watch the preparation as you starve and drool, you rationalize “It’s still good! It’s still good!” even after the waitress dumps a glass of water over it, but you give up after having a few bites and mourn over what could have been.

There has to be reasons for this: it’s not like a game is somehow functionally incapable of being feminist. Let’s examine some of the prominent reasons as to why we have these complaints: Read the rest of this entry »

July 22, 2008

I write more imaginary letters

Posted in beauty culture, gender, hot lists, letters, representation, sexy at 12:00 pm by LB

Dear Maxim, Playboy, FHM, Stuff, any other female-objectifying, list-making website or mag, that either masquerades as “entertainment news” or [hetero, natch] “men’s interest”:

This is what a “hot 100” [sic] list looks like. As a ‘women we love’ list. And ‘in no particular order.’ And in relevant and humanizing apparel.

This is what it looks like to appreciate smart, talented, beautiful, and sexy women for real.

Sincerely,

Women

July 17, 2008

The Bush administration is its own expert on reproduction, economy

Posted in gender, reproductive rights, sexual politics, U.S. politics, WTF at 12:00 pm by LB

I don’t write much (really, at all) on policy issues…there are so many blogs and organizations that do it much better than I ever could.  But I wrote this piece for The Reaction, where I co-blog (see my sidebar), so I thought I’d post it here too even though it’s not relevant to the “theme” of my blog.  Also, be sure to check out The Reaction, for smart commentary on U.S. politics and current events, with a smattering of global issues as well, and of course, I cross-post many of my feminist cultural studies pieces there too.

According to its report released Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to change the definition of “abortion” used to determine which services can be provided or referred at a facility receiving federal funds. As RH Reality Check reports, there are two commonly used understandings of when a pregnancy begins: conception (fertilization of the egg by the sperm) and implantation (of the fertilized egg into the uterine lining).

The report states:

A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception […] Both definitions of pregnancy inform medical practice. Some medical authorities, like the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, have defined the term “established pregnancy” as occurring after implantation. Other medical authorities present different definitions. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, for example, defines pregnancy as “[t]he state of a female after conception and until the termination of the gestation.”

The HHS report is suggesting that the definition of pregnancy be changed from the definition established by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to one defined by…I’m not quite sure. RH Reality Check suggests that this change is being determined by polling data, but unless some of the sample said they didn’t know, or they have some creative ideas about when pregnancy begins, 49% is not a majority. In any case, HHS is proposing that we change the definition of pregnancy from what has been established by medical bodies of experts to another definition established by…the Bush administration.

This new definition is highly problematic. Pregnancy would now be defined as occurring upon fertilization, and with no test for fertilization, women who utilize federally-funded health facilities can be turned away for contraceptive services on a whim. And as feministingnotes, the women who will be the most affected are low-income and uninsured women. Not to mention that claims that certain contraceptives prevent implantation after fertilization are scientifically unproven. From RH Reality Check:

There is no scientific evidence that hormonal methods of birth control can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. This argument is the basis upon which the religious right hopes to include the 40% of the birth control methods Americans use, such as the pill, the patch, the shot, the ring, the IUD, and emergency contraception, under the classification “abortion.”

What happens then is that the decision of whether or not something counts as an abortifacient is up to the individual…doctor or nurse (of courseit’s not up to the individual woman!). And since the proposal also includes mandating that doctors and nurses who are “conscientious objectors” not be “discriminated” against in hiring practices by facilities receiving federal funds, we have a recipe for disaster for women’s reproductive rights.

So we have an HHS report that refutes the definition of pregnancy made by medical experts, uses unscientifically proven claims about how contraception functions vis-a-visfertilization and implantation in order to redefine the contraceptive methods that 40% of women use as abortifacients, and enables federally-funded medical facilities to deny the most economically vulnerable women basic contraceptive services. And this from the “family values” administration who seems to loathe single women receiving social welfare, considering their perspective on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Familiesprogram.

This also comes from our President who chastises reporters for using the term “recession” in discussing the state of our economy, since reporters aren’t economic “experts.” As we see here, what the experts say doesn’t mean all that much to Bush when it comes to reproductive rights and pandering to the religious right’s agenda.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

July 15, 2008

My thesis is finished

Posted in feminism, gender, heteronormative, marriage, personal, queer at 7:38 pm by LB

Well, I finally finished.  Today I submitted my Master’s Thesis.  It is now in the hands of FedEx via the US Postal Service.  I have done several posts that in one way or another relate to my project, so I thought I’d share with you the title, abstract, and Table of Contents to get an idea of what I’ve been working on:

“Engendering Heteronormativity:

A Critical Analysis of Marriage in the United States as a Discursive Site of
Cross-Institutional Practices”

Abstract

This thesis is a critique of the United States’ adherence to marriage as the primary organizing feature of both social life and civic status, which in turn perpetuates gender inequality and heteronormative structures. This thesis demonstrates how ideal American citizenship requires participating in marriage, which further maintains the gendered public/private divide. The analysis concludes that since marriage is not one institution, but rather is comprised of cross-institutional practices, it persists in producing gender hierarchy in spite of the equalization of marriage laws and economic practices in the latter half of the twentieth century. Further, the cross-institutional nature of marriage means that legalizing same-sex marriage is unlikely to fundamentally change the discursive meaning of marriage and that same-sex marriage will be subject to the same normalizing and marginalizing effect of marriage practice.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: What the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Tells Us About Normative Marriage…1

i.    Same-Sex Marriage Advocacy: “We” are Just Like “You…3
ii.    Marriage is Not a “Path to Liberation”…11
iii.    Queer Theory: Same-Sex Marriage as a Site of Regulation…17

Chapter 2: Citizenship, Marriage, and Gender in the United States…25

i.    American Political Philosophy, Citizenship, and Marriage…27
ii.    Citizenship and Marriage in Public Policy: The Cases of Native Americans and Polygamists…31
iii.    Slavery: Property Cannot Make Contracts…34
iv.    The Importance of Sexual Citizenship…37

Chapter 3: Shaping Normative Families Through Taxation and Social Welfare…45

i.    The Depression and the New Deal: Marriage Norms Through Economic Policy…46

ii.    1990s Social Welfare Reform: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program…52

Chapter 4: ‘Home Economics’ as a Means of Producing Gender…62

Conclusion: De-centering Heterosexuality and Normative Gender…82

Next page