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Category Archives: Timely Thoughts

Small Feminist Acts: My Letter to Entertainment Weekly

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In my feminist theories class, we talk about how to do everyday acts of feminism in order to make greater change. We can’t change the world individually, but if we all step up and take action when we can, real change happens. So with that in mind (and remembering Lisa’s act to write to Barnes and Noble last year), here’s what I emailed to Entertainment Weekly this morning:

“As a longtime reader of Entertainment Weekly, I often applaud your writers’ choices to question sexism in all areas of popular culture. Given this, I am so often dismayed and angered by the Bullseye’s continual use of sexism and transphobia in its reporting. Almost every week has an example of a person on the far outside of the bullseye being mocked for his or her refusal to adhere to a sexist performance of traditional gender. You can be creative about how you call out people like Justin Bieber for their performances of fame without gender shaming them. As for transmen like Chas Bono and gay men like Johnny Weir, either put them further into the Bullseye and praise their efforts to be their authentic selves, or leave them off altogether. Entertainment Weekly is better than this.”

Whether the letter is published or not remains to be seen, but either way this issue has been bothering me for some time and I wanted to take action. What small feminist actions have you taken lately?
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Congress and the Patriarchal Tension over “Saving Face”

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This will be a quick post, but I wanted to write something to let our readers know that we are still here, we have a lot of great posts in mind, and they are coming soon.

Today the New York Times announced that the government shutdown may be solved by the efforts of three female Republican Congress members. It’s so important to read this, as it gives me hope that our political parties are not completely dominated by intractable “face savers.” It’s a moment to turn to feminist theory, particularly Care-Focused feminism, which focuses on compromise and care-taking as qualities that our patriarchal society considers feminine,  weak, and unworthy for those in powerful positions. Senators Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), are leading the conversation that needs to happen, and it’s because they are eschewing the typical patriarchal methods.

It’s an important moment because it demonstrates not only the rising importance of female leadership, but also the need for leadership that doesn’t function solely under the patriarchal umbrella of dominance, refusal to compromise, and war analogies. It gives me hope on a dreary day that Care-Focused feminism is demonstrating another way to lead – through true democracy.

Pictures and a terrific video of Senator Collins are available on the New York Times site: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/us/senate-women-lead-in-effort-to-find-accord.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

Breaking Pointe

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Anyone who knows me at all knows that I really love dance-based reality TV. And dance movies. Even bad ones. This is a sincere, earnest love – nothing ironic, nothing cool. I just really love dance, and I love to see the process of dance being made. I don’t mind the manufactured drama, either, and I particularly enjoy a good dance-off.

I just starting watching the ballet drama Breaking Pointe on the CW. It follows several dancers from Ballet West, the professional company in Salt Lake City (near where I live). I had watched several episodes with unquestioning delight when a strange realization came over me….why are all the featured male dancers straight? I know very well that there are lots of dancers, ballet and otherwise, who are straight. But it seemed odd to me that all but one of the dancers featured on the show were straight and featured in heterosexual story lines.

We have the guy who’s married to one of the female dancers and is featured bonding at the gym with other male dancers, gruffly exchanging tips on how best to lift free weights. There’s the terrifyingly awkward scene when the male dancers gather at a bar to drool over go-go dancers. I’m not saying ballet dancers don’t lift weights, or that they can’t be shown in a masculine light. But I do think it’s strange that an interesting world like ballet has been so forcefully jammed into the Real World Vegas model (bikinis*, hot tubs, hookups, strip clubs). This is especially confounding when they’ve dealt so thoughtfully with race. There are transparent conversations about how white ballet is, and how white Utah is. The single black dancer in the company is featured on the show, with discussion of the tensions that come with being a minority in the art form. When that dancer is not given a bigger part in the upcoming show, the artistic director openly discusses not wanting to cast the only dancer of color in the role of a Jester: “I don’t want to make our only African American dancer into a joke.” I hope at some point they choose to address sexuality as well, beyond featuring one gay dancer, who incidentally is edited to be absolutely a villain.

I’m interested to hear about what you think about the “straight-washing” of this show…thoughts?

Here's Ronnie, the biggest bro-dude of the cast.

Here’s Ronnie, the biggest bro-dude of the cast.

 

* The female dancers rent a cabin in the mountains and run out to the hot tub to relax, wearing tiny bikinis. It’s an image straight out of the reality TV titillation handbook. Interestingly, although the female dancers are very thin, the set-up exposes the functionality and athleticism of their bodies – thin, yes, but not really conforming to standard ideals of sexualized beauty. Although I cringe when they glossed over issues of body pressure and eating disorders (“we’re just all killing ourselves to be thin” uttered with a laugh), I did find a satisfaction in seeing the hot-tub trope made more complex by the visibility of their painfully thin, muscular, ballet-shaped bodies.

 

 

The Ember of Rage

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After my daughter was born last July, something changed. What Henry Rollins calls the “ember of rage” that had been simmering deep down inside of me pushed upwards to the surface. It has been painful and transformational and I sit here today wondering it will lead.

Yesterday I read the suicide note from an Iraq-war veteran named Daniel Somers. I won’t do the man and his family the injustice of quoting from it, but instead, I urge you to read the note in its entirety here.

This issue hits really close to home for me, as I would include it with the many feminist issues that Lisa and I want to discuss with all of you. Perhaps this entire blog was born out of finding that my ember of rage needed more than just my own thoughts to stoke it.

It is uncomfortable to deal with rage, and frustration, and heartbreak over much of what is happening in our world. We do a great job, thanks to capitalist patriarchy, of masking and avoiding those feelings – things like obsessing over our bodies and physical appearance, abusing a variety of substances, or accruing more money and possessions. But our relationships to others and our knowledge of the pain that other people have keeps reminding us that masking is only a temporary fix.

It doesn’t matter what your ember of rage comes from or if you think you don’t have one. As Henry Rollins discusses in his story about visiting disabled veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, we all have one. Yours may have to do with children, women, LGBTQ rights, mental health, the elderly, racism, war, wealth distribution, animals, the environment. Rollins gives a stirring call to action in his show, by saying that we all have to decide that “this” isn’t going to get passed on to our children. And it’s up to all of us to, as he says, decide that this (whatever that ember of rage is for you) isn’t going to happen on our watch.

The Ember of Rage. Let’s see where it leads us.

Miss.Utah Messes Up, the World Rejoices?

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In the recent Miss. USA pagent, Miss. Utah received a question about income inequality between the genders. It was a great question, and her answer was thoroughly nonsensical. Take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TlgqWeuhJj4

It’s truly cringe-inducing, and there has been a swift public excoriation of Miss. Utah, pageants, and everything in between. A very smart woman I know responded to it in a different way. She notes that we may be calling a woman “stupid” who was in truth panicked. She goes on: “Perpetuating ‘stupid’ as a label for women (for anyone) who are trying to at least do something with their lives (even Miss. America) is a little harsh.”

I think my friend brings up a great point. It’s as if by participating in a beauty pageant, we think these women are fair game for pure hatred and ridicule, and that one admittedly terrible answer is a reflection on their general intelligence and worth. As my friend said, that’s a little harsh.

Read the rest of this entry

A Call for More Visible Parenting

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Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire hedge funder, spoke on a panel of investors at the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce in April; although the attendees were asked not to record the proceedings, the Washington Post retrieved a copy of the event from the university, who taped it as part of their official records. In the recording, Jones is heard telling the audience that women cannot succeed in the macro trading industry once they become parents. In talking about a woman who started at E.F. Hutton with him in the 1970s, he said:

“[…] as soon as that baby’s lips touched that girls bosom, forget it, [audience laughter] every single investment idea, every desire to understand, every desire to understand what’s going to go up, what’s going to go down, is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience which a man will never understand but the emotion between that mother and that baby. And I’ve just seen it happen over and over again.” (qtd. in Dries para. 7)  Read the rest of this entry

Let’s not create another Ariel Castro.

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As we watch with relief as the three women escaped from their Ohio kidnapper after a decade of captivity, abuse, and rape, I am overwhelmed with incredulity. It is at least the third or fourth story of a kidnap victim reemerging that I’ve heard in recent years, although it is dwarfed by the number of kidnap victims found murdered.
What I am incredulous about is this: the stories are reported, the successes celebrated, and the losses mourned. And yet no one seems to be questioning the very premise of these atrocities:  why are men kidnapping, raping, and killing women?  Why are we reporting on just the events, and not the underlying structures? What are we teaching boys on the grander scale that is producing these outliers – men capable of treating women as less than objects? It infuriates me, it really does.

I firmly believe that the small lessons that occur in everyday life accumulate and create the extreme cases. For example, when we allow little comments and actions about the right of boys to dominate or oppress girls, we create a culture,  a sometimes-invisible wash of bias that lets outright hatred grow. In other words, the little things make a difference.

What am I really trying to say here? Well, I think I’m just trying to say that the little instances of power imbalance and gender bias are not received as “little” by the sick individuals who become predators. And that by allowing a culture of bias we create a rich environment for men like Ariel Castro to justify their horrific actions. I’m so thankful that Amanda, Gina, Michelle, and Amanda’s daughter are now out of his hands, but we cannot simply celebrate their freedom. Let’s be furious that in the past few decades, we’ve heard so many stories of men on the fringes stealing and destroying the lives of women: raping, beating, and degrading them. Let’s be furious that Castro has blamed Amanda, Gina and Michelle for their fate by saying they shouldn’t have gotten in his car. Let’s keep being furious until there are less men capable of this kind of crime.