Tag Archives: feminist

What Google Thinks About Feminisms

Disclaimer: The title of this post is NOT meant to indicate that Google as a company OR as a collection of employees thinks these things. By “Google” I mean to indicate collective internet consciousness, as these autofills reflect common searches done by people who use Google’s services.

This post was inspired by Steph Herold, who recently tweeted this picture:

arefeminists

Honestly, it was no surprise to see that public perceptions of feminist movements are often way off the mark. But when I started doing some Google research of my own, I found some more harmful ideas emerge. (Trigger warning: transphobia):

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Can we please stop “What about rape and incest” -ing?

This election season, the issue of abortion in the case of rape seems to be the only thing that both parties might be able to agree on. I say might because, of course, there are plenty of Republican politicians who believe that women who become pregnant from rape should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term. But from my own involvement in the abortion and contraception debates on the internet and in the real world, the majority of folks are able to admit that even if the idea of abortion makes them uncomfortable, there should be certain allowances for abortion in cases of rape.

This tiny sliver of common ground feels like progress to some– but to me, the “there should be exceptions for rape and incest” rhetoric is very destructive to the future of the abortion debates and to my position as an activist. This position suggests that legally and morally, only certain people are “allowed” to have abortions. It divides women with unintended pregnancies into categories of moral “good” and “bad”. Not to mention (and pay attention, MRAs) that if being raped is the only way that a woman would have access to safe and legal abortion, false rape accusations would skyrocket. 

Especially within the pro-choice movement, using “What about a woman who has been raped?” as your primary argument for abortion access is ineffective at best, because it does not get to the heart of the issue. We cannot decide who is more deserving of an abortion. We cannot judge whether a woman’s reason for having an abortion is legitimate or not. We need to trust women.

I am fiercely pro-choice and do not mind calling myself pro-abortion either (a post on that for another day) but even I would like to see later-term abortions (when a fetus is closer to medical viability) be as rare as possible. This does not mean we should make them illegal, or only accesible to women who fit certain frameworks set by the government. This means we should encourage comprehensive sex education, safe sex and contraceptive use; make all forms of contraception accesible and free; and make abortion within the 1st trimester easily accesible and free. That will reduce late-term abortions. Making exceptions only for rape will not.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say they are pro-choice, spit out a “what about rape and incest” to make their point, and then degrade women who have abortions for “convenience.” This line of thinking is so destructive. What is your definition of convenience? Is it convenience if you don’t want to be a parent, took every precaution not to become one, but became part of that 0.1% of people whose birth control fails? Is it convenience if you are a single mother of an infant who knows she won’t be able to afford food and childcare for two children under three? Is it convenience for a fifteen year old who has only known abstinence-only sex education and was told by her boyfriend that she couldn’t get pregnant the first time?

These weak arguments against abortion only show that the anti-abortion movement is more interested in controlling people’s bodies and sexuality than they are in ending abortion.

 

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Victoria’s Secret vs. Dove: Or, how companies appropriate body-positivity to sell you more stuff

The above image has been going around Facebook to the same devastating results as the “When did this…become hotter than this…?” meme. Both images were taken from advertising and marketing campaigns by two large companies, Dove and Victoria’s Secret, who have been appropriating body positivity to continue to profit off of people’s insecurities. While the sale of false body positivity is all I see in these images, Facebook responded positively to Dove’s ad campaign and negatively to Victoria’s Secret’s.

These reactions of “ew, gross, way too skinny” about the VS models are not at all body-positive, and the celebration of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign gives them far too much credit.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign showcases women whose bodies fall on the societally acceptable side of normal. While people love to tell a size 0 VS model to “eat a damn sandwich,” the same people appreciate Dove’s campaign, which only celebrates the size 6, size 8, size 10, maybe size 12 curves of a conventionally attractive woman. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign is just a marketing front for selling a line of “firming creams” to women with insecurities about “flab” and cellulite. Does Dove’s campaign ad show a few more women of color, a few more “curvy” women, and a little bit less retouching than Victoria’s Secret’s ads do? Yes. But is Dove really the savior of women everywhere whose self-esteem is continuously torn down by our culture and media? Not a chance.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign has been around for a few years now and the criticisms of it are widely documented. Now, Victoria’s Secret–the cultural gatekeeper of sexual perfection and unattainable bodies–has weakly used body-positive language to sell bras to women who may worry that their partners prefer watching the VS fashion show to looking at their imperfect bodies. Even though “I Love My Body” is very weakly tied to actual bodies– the bras they are selling as called “Body” bras, so really it’s just “I Love My Bra”– the use of a body-positive statement to sell products is offensive.

Dove, Victoria’s Secret, and those who celebrate these campaigns need to understand that loving your body, appreciating real beauty, and being body-positive is incompatible with buying products to make you do so. These pathetic marketing campaigns continue to profit off our insecurities when the truth is that self-esteem cannot be bought. The same fake endorsements of body-positivity can be seen in Julia Bluhm and Spark Summit’s recent “success” in getting Seventeen Magazine to stop airbrushing models. While Seventeen talks the talk with its diplomacy with Bluhm and its “Body Peace Treaty,” the magazine cannot celebrate real bodies because it makes its business by advertising to girls that they need certain products to be prettier, cooler, sexier, and more desirable.

What is the solution to this? We all need to buy soap or lotion or those special halter-back bras from Victoria’s Secret; companies make a business selling us things. So buy the things you need–but don’t let them convince you that you “need” something to make you sexier, prettier, more confident, or more desirable. Be critical of advertising and don’t fall for the celebration of “body-positive advertising” that is just another front for manipulative marketing. Criticize the sexism, the airbrushing, and the message that you are not good enough. And don’t tell the VS model to eat a sandwich.

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Don’t be Feminist Phil

 

 

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On Microaggression

 

One of the more common dismissals of feminism that I hear (apart from “women already have rights” and “what about the men?!”) is: “You’re just looking for something to be angry about“. The idea that those who engage in cultural criticism, feminist or otherwise, are nit-picky, obsessive, and need to “calm down” is just another way to silence opinions that society deems too radical.

Those who believe we live in a post-feminist world typically don’t have a good grasp on the meaning of the many facets of feminism (although we can’t blame them for that, as feminism is barely included in public school curriculums beyond the first wave to begin with.) Liberal feminism, most closely associated with the movement’s first wave, worked to level the playing field in terms of legal rights, education, and general access to opportunity. Liberal feminism assumes that once women have equal access and opportunity to all aspects of society that men do, liberation will naturally occur.

So, what happened? Women got the right to vote, the right to hold jobs without discrimination based on sex, and the ability to attend any school or university. That didn’t solve everything. Women still underperformed in STEM fields, were underrepresented in the political sphere, and underrepresented in the publishing world. Despite women’s successes, magazines still told them how to be sexy enough for the office, how to snag a husband, and how to lose weight fast (because their bodies were never good enough). Women and young girls were hypersexualized in the media, suffered from poor self-esteem and body image, and began to locate their worth in their appearances.

These issues may seem “smaller” than the right to vote, but they continue to be cultural roadblocks in our fight against sexism.  These issues of identity, misogyny, and body-negativity pervade every aspect of society until we can no longer see them. One of the jobs that I assign myself as a feminist is to be the eyes that see our microaggressions.

Here is a definition of racial microaggressions that can explain the definition of microaggression in a broader context, such as gender.¹ 

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.”

Microaggressions are most often discussed in terms of race, but they can involve any aspect of identity, from sexuality to gender to ethnicity. Microaggressions against feminists, against feminism, and against women in general seep through modern society, in television shows, in clothing, and in insults like “cunt,” “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore”. Rape jokes, “get back to the kitchen” jokes, and advertisements that seems to be stuck in the 1950s don’t help either.

Microaggressions work to silence discussion and prevent change in the way we talk about identity. This article from Shakesville explains how microaggressions are often used against feminism:

“… the idea that addressing “the little things,” like being told to smile or misogynistic t-shirts, somehow demeans feminism or distracts from “real” or “serious” sexism is utterly, completely, devilishly wrong.”

Now that you know what a microaggression is, call out the perpetrators. Politely let people know that while they may think something they said was harmless, humorous, or good-natured, you or someone else may find it offensive and harmful.

I also urge you to check out The Microaggresions Project, where people submit stories about the microaggressions they experience in their daily lives.

 

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WTF is a Kyriarchy?

If you are familiar with feminism or other movements for justice and equality, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about intersectionality. Intersectionality is an idea in feminist discourse that highlights how forms of oppression do not operate independently of each other. Structures of power and privilege relating to race, gender, sexuality, age, class, and ethnicity all interact in different ways. By being aware of intersectionality in feminist discourse, feminists attempt to create a more inclusive movement for equality.

A more obscure vocabulary word for feminist discourse is kyriarchy. Kyriarchy is a word that is very closely related to intersectionality because it highlights privilege and power relations beyond our traditional dichotomies of oppression, i.e: men over women, white people over people of color. Here is a great definition of kyriarchy in contrast with the traditional “patriarchy”:

Kyriarchy - a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression. 
 
Patriarchy - Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms.  The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves). 
 - Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books   New York  2001
Kyriarchy explains why historically oppressed people can also become oppressors in the shifting social contexts of our increasingly intersectional world. Our understanding of social relationships within the kyriarchy does not place the blame for all oppression on rich, white, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual males, but rather holds everyone accountable for contributing to systems of domination and oppression in society. Kyriarchy is complicated because it forces us to confront our own role in the Master/Slave dichotomies that we create and does not define a single innocent victim. It implicates everyone in systems of oppression rather than just blaming the patriarchy, which is why it is the tool that the feminist movement needs to use more often.
As more people are abandoning hope in feminism and creating movements like Men’s Rights, humanism, egalitariansm, and masculinism to stake claims for their own issues of oppression, feminism needs to embrace and promote understandings of oppression through a kyriarchal, rather than patriarchal, lens. The feminist movement has just begun to realize that it will sink very soon without intersectionality. It now needs to spread this knowledge of oppression through intersectionality and kyriarchy in order to work effectively with all victims and perpetrators of oppression.

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Feminspiration: Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party

Amy Poehler has created a feminist win with “Smart Girls at the Party,” the show that “celebrates extraordinary individuals who are changing the world by being themselves”. In each episode, Poehler (along with her BFF’s and co-hosts Meredith Walker and Amy Miles) interviews a young girl about her interests and passions. The show balances the silliness of being nine years old with real information about the girls’ passions: everything from yoga to writing to being a feminist.

Here is a great episode with young Ruby Karp, who also keeps a Tumblr and writes the Ruby’s Corner column for Hello Giggles.

Poehler’s show is an example of real feminist media. It celebrates what girls can do as opposed to how they look- even while featuring segments on girls’ fashion and style. I think of it as a pre-teen feminist Sesame Street the way it marries education with fun and silliness. I would love to see Smart Girls at the Party and other inspired media for girls debut on major television networks, where they could reach the young people who need to see that girls are more than their appearance.

You can follow Smart Girls at the Party on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and look out for new episodes on YouTube.

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Why Men Need Feminism (Part 1)

There is a disturbing trend growing in the movements for gender equality. Most likely a response to the gendered etymology of the word ” feminism,” many people are creating new movements that address issues of gender. From men’s rights activism to egalitarianism to humanism, these movements attempt to call attention to the fact that men today are often just as disadvantaged by our strict gender binaries as women are.

I am a very big supporter of most of the ideals that these movements espouse, however, there are many aspects of these new movements that rub me the wrong way.

MRAs (men’s rights activists) do not work towards achieving equality, but rather work against the gains of feminism because they believe that feminism has diminished their rights. MRAs would benefit from allying with feminism, but instead they create their movement in opposition to it. One of the largest issues that MRAs support is the gender bias that has become part of divorce and custody cases. There is a bias towards giving child custody to the mother in most cases, even when there is no evidence that the father would make a less competent custodial parent. This is one of the biggest issues discussed by MRAs and it is a feminist issue. The problem is not anti-men, pro-women bias in courts. The problem is outdated beliefs about gender roles in marriage and parenting in society as a whole. One of the biggest issues of modern feminism is contesting gender roles and media representation of both men and women.

Another misguided way that people for gender equality are rebranding the movement is by being against feminism but for “egalitarianism” or “humanism”. The concept of egalitarianism is a wonderful one because it addresses not only gender inequalities, but inequalities on the intersectional level. However, many who identify as “egalitarian” create that movement’s label in opposition to feminism. It assumes that feminism means that women want to be privileged over men and that feminist are only concerned with issues that affect women. The label of feminism includes the root word femin- because it was originally begun to make women more equal with men, who were clearly more privileged in society. Today, our levels of privilege are much more complicated. Many claim that since women can vote and attend college, we don’t need feminism. Though earlier waves of feminism have succeeded in earning women rights, less obvious issues of privilege, representation, and gendering still need to be dealt with. Feminism is a movement that has evolved over time, and its current evolution needs to be understood. Feminism is not just for women, not just by women, and not just concerned with issues that affect women. Modern feminism is inclusive to all people and fights against the gender binaries, sexual mores, strict gender roles, racism, sexism, ableism, and heteronormativity that affect men just as much as they affect women. And while there are plenty of issues that affect men and their rights (see Reddit’s MRA group), women, people of color, and LGBTQ people still suffer the most from the patriarchal system of society.

While feminism might benefit from a name change, I don’t think that is the best way to convince people that the movement is more than just a bunch of angry misandrists. Feminism needs to communicate to people outside the feminist movement that it is not just for women. The Good Men Project  is a great venue that attempts to challenge notions about masculinity and men’s rights without being hostile towards feminism. I would also recommend checking out Hugo Schwyzer’s How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong, and Amanda Marcotte’s The Solution to MRA Problems? More Feminism.

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Class, accessibility, and rebranding feminism

Captain Obvious has brought the news to us this weekend: abortion is not the cause of society’s ills and feminists are not all man-hating, childless, cold-hearted, career-minded bitches.

Today’s feminist movement has tackled so much, but one issue of supreme importance that is still being fought for is a more favorable view of feminism. Criticisms of feminism include the very important fact that it is led primarily by affluent, educated, white, cisgendered women. While movements to include men, women of color, and queer and trans persons have been gaining traction in modern feminism, I believe that one form of intersectionality- class – is too often ignored.

Feminism is stereotypically white and liberal, but it is also affluent. Feminism is lousy with privilege. Feminists are more likely to be college-educated, while the people who need feminism the most, those who are disadvantaged by working-class wages, high costs of childcare, and poor access to reproductive healthcare, are often misinformed about feminism. Breaking down the old stereotypes about bra-burning feminist is the first step in introducing feminism as a tool and an identity to the people who may be most affected by sexism, racism, heteronormativity, lack of representation, and abuses of power committed by our patriarchal systems of government and law enforcement.

This class divide within the feminist movement enforces a traditional binary within anthropology, where the educated, white, affluent person has more power, and therefore speaks on behalf of the disadvantaged person. This speaking on behalf of is a problem that contemporary anthropology tries to address by allowing the subaltern and the disenfranchised to speak for themselves. This is where modern feminism most often fails. The movement is dominated by white, educated, affluent, cisgendered women who are constantly speaking on behalf of the issues that most affect people of color, transwomen, and women in the “third world” or the global South.

One of the most important things that modern feminism can do is rebrand the movement. We need to make feminism not only acceptable, but cool, and cool from many different angles. Books like Jessica Valenti’s Full-Frontal Feminism and Julie Zeilinger’s A Little F’d Up address this issue for a very specific class and racial identity, but fail to reach out to people who may not be willing or even able to read. The ideals of feminism needs to be subliminally introduced earlier, on the Disney Channel, on reality television, in our schools, so that once young people hear what feminism is about, they won’t be automatically turned off by the image of a bra-burning, man-hating, lesbian feminist.

Important links:

Feminist class struggle by bell hooks

Enough middle-class feminism by Carrie Hamilton

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Pink Sequined Tutus: The Gendering of Dance

   This past weekend was the first time in fifteen years or so that I have been in the audience of a dance performance. I have been a dancer since I could walk, though I have always had a frayed relationship with the activity that demanded so much of my time and energy. Dance culture became something I couldn’t quite understand, especially as I began identifying as a feminist as a teenager. Though I loved the creative power that flowed through my body to music, dance often demanded too much attention to my body and how it was supposed to look.

Over the weekend, I watched my two younger sisters perform in a show that included girls (and few boys) ranging from age three to adult. The theme of this performance was “A Day At The Mall,” so many of the songs boasted very gendered and class-based messages, from “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” to Madonna’s “Material Girl” Continue reading

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