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Archive for January, 2009

Obama signs the Fair Pay Act:

obama-equal-payhttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/us/politics/30ledbetter-web.html?hp

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blank-slateIrene showed me this. Click here

It’s broken down into 4 videos, and adding them up results in 30 minutes of documentary about intersexuality.

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A discussion that arose with a conservative (male) friend earlier this week has left me with conflicting thoughts that I need to share. He accused me of being a cultural imperialist because I identify as a feminist. I defined feminism, in this discussion, as the belief in political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. But what about women, he asked, who don’t want equality? He flat-out stated that he doesn’t believe in equal rights for women on the grounds that defined gender roles are what make certain societies function the way that they do. At first it was easy for me to dismiss his view entirely as completely ridiculous. But I wanted to understand where he was coming from.

This friend of mine comes from a very traditional (aka patriarchal) society in the southwest tip of Africa.  When he gets married, he expects that his wife will behave in a certain way. He will expect her to fulfill a certain role within their (his?) household. And I will admit that this offends me and brings me to the question that I am struggling with: How can I respect a culture (and especially the women of that culture) and at the same time see the gender roles within that culture as completely unequal and therefore unjust? It’s easy to decide how we feel about an issue involving violence or hatred, like the issue Irene posted about Afghan girls who were splashed with acid just for going to school. But am I not so arrogant and overconfident in my own beliefs as to dismiss my friend’s entire culture of which I really know relatively little. Thoughts?

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This is from “Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice” by Clare Chambers. I think it’s a really intelligent clarification of the idea that “gender is a social construct”, a phrase oft-invoked but rarely explained:

In Masculine Domination, Bourdieu asks why gender inequality has persisted throughout history despite significant social change. In general, Bourdieu is concerned with the question of why it is that many forms of domination persist with relatively few challenges: left to themselves and in the normal course of things, individuals will not disrupt structures of domination, such as patriarchy, from which they suffer (or benefit). Even if they have read and agreed with key feminist texts, most women do not stop wearing makeup, taking on the lion’s share of the housework and childcare, wearing restrictive and uncomfortable clothes and shoes that emphasize sexual availability, or being attracted to men with characteristics of dominance such as a powerful physique or job. Even if we believe that our desires are indeed the product of the norms and expectations of a patriarchal society, still we do actually like makeup, high heels, and men whoa re tall, buffed, and wealthy.

A central reason for the success of patriarchy, Bourdieu argues, is its ability to naturalize its distinctions. At the heart of any system of hierarchy is the distinction made between those who occupy different hierarchical positions. The system of masculine domination owes its success at least in part to its provision of “natural,” biological explanations for hierarchy. This point was also made within the liberal tradition by John Stuart Mill in The Subjection of Women. In response to the claim that sexual inequality is natural, Mill asks, “Was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?…So true is it that unnatural generally means only uncustomary, and that everything which is usual appears natural.

The naturalization of gender hierarchy is reinforced in several ways. Women are, according to the patriarchal story, different from men in that they have different bodies and different biological functions. They must be different from each other so as to reproduce; the differences could not be wished away, for without sex differences we would have no means of perpetuating the species. Moreover, these differences justify different positions on a hierarchy in that they dictate different behaviors for men and women regarding matters such as childcare, breadwinning, and courtship, which affect the wider social positions of the sexes. Instead, Bourdieu argues that the categories of gender are constructed and not necessary. Gender differences start with the socially constructed and thus contingent division of people into two kinds according to their bodies, and specifically their genitals. To say that this is a contingent division is to say that everyone could in theory have the same genitals, or that there is no biological difference between men and women, but it is to say that differences between genitals need not be socially significant. Christine Helliwell describes a tribe in Indonesian Borneo, the Gerai, for whom differences in work, not differences in genitals, are the determinants of a system of classification comparable to gender. Although there are people with different genitals in the Gerai tribe, this fact is not seen as particularly significant, and certainly not as the determinant of gender. While there is a correlation between different genitals and different genders for the Gerai, this correlation is contingent and not necessary. In Western societies, for example it is overwhelmingly women and not men who provide the primary care for babies in their first weeks of life. However, genitals and not childcare are the determinant of gender: a person with a penis who is the prime caregiver for a newborn baby is still a man. For the Gerai, in contrast, it is the work that is determining–a person who performs certain tasks in rice cultivation is a man, even if that person has a vulva. Helliwell herself was categorized as a man for some time after her arrival in the tribe as a result of the work she was able to do, despite the fact that everyone in the tribe frequently observed her genitals when she urinated in the stream used for that purpose. Thus, “As someone said to me at a later point, ‘Yes, I saw that you had a vulva, but I thought that Western men might be different.'”

Genital difference, then, does not necessarily signify different roles or identities. But once the difference between genitals has been instituted as socially significant, it is justified by reference to the naturalness of the distinction. In other words, in answer to the question “Why are genital differences socially significant?” the answer given would be something like “because there are differences in genitals.” Moreover, this difference is further idolized by its naturalness. If we ask, “Why are there differences in genitals?” we will receive the answer “because that is how nature is,” which is something like saying “because it couldn’t be any other way.” This circular reasoning leads, Bourdieu argues, to symmetry between the subjective and objective elements of domination. Subjectively, people believe that there are significant differences based on genital differences. Objectively, there are genital difference. The circularity comes in as follows: people believe that there are significant differences based on genitals, and people are inclined to notice and reify such differences because they believe that they exist. In sum, one of the key reasons for success of the system of male domination is its ability to make itself appear as natural–not only in the sense that differences between genitals are natural, but also in the sense that social differences based on differences between genitals appear natural.

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towelhead I just watched “Towelhead: Nothing is Private” on surfthechannel.com and I can’t recommend it enough.  The film focuses on a 13-year-old, half Lebanese girl named Jazeera and contrary to the title, the movie dedicates much more time to gender issues and the complex relationship between gender and race, than to race issues alone.  The film, which is based on Alicia Erian’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, tackles  a range of feminist concerns (from virginity to homosexuality to the mixed messages women receive as they go through puberty to unwanted sexual advances from older men) and does so with striking honesty as well as a microscopic accuracy.  Recalling my pre-teen years as I followed Jazeera’s story, I often found myself thinking “wow…I thought I was alone in this…”  One scene that really stuck out was when Jazeera discovers masturbation.  That’s right!  Not only do women masturbate, we start pretty damn young!  Discreetly she rubs her thighs together while sitting at her school desk or the outdoor lunch table.  Flashback to when I was in 7th grade and the boy I had a crush on, caught me under these exact circumstances.

Jazeera’s relationship with a black boy in her grade (not ok with her father) was impressively nuanced and it showed how even this very well-intentioned, likable boy could, with his attitude of protectionism and entitlement, add to a troubled girl’s confusion instead of filling the typical, heroic role so often seen in blockbuster films about STRONG, INDEPENDENT women.  In one scene, the boy, who is angry about hearing how Jazeera really lost her virginity, says “that was my blood,” to which Jazeera responds “no it wasn’t.  it was my blood.”

While the film picks up on many feminist frustrations, Jazeera’s trials are not once over dramatized.  Furthermore, the film does not attempt to give a story of womanhood, domestic violence, and rape, a clean, lifetime ending.  The conclusion, while very hopeful, does not offer any feel-good delusions about the future of Jazeera’s relationship with her boyfriend, her traditional father, or her inappropriate neighbor (played by Aaron Eckhart).

While Jazeera remains very shy and mild-mannered throughout the movie, one can see her gradually learning (sometimes on her own, sometimes from others) how to respond to the racism and sexism she experiences.  Are her responses are the best?  I don’t know and I don’t think its very relevant.  But they do very realistically reflect how us conscious creatures begin to notice that something is just a little off.

You can watch the movie on surfthechannel.com.   Five stars.  brilliant.

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Getting Started

I decided I should start reading some feminist literature, but I’m not sure where to start.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  My first priority is the classics, but I won’t poo poo any good, modern stuff.

Much love!

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I 3 Deluth too, Maria

I ❤ Duluth too, Maria

Lucierohan brings up a good idea here. And something that bugs me to no end.

I’m so tired of the whole women aren’t funny thing. They are. Sometimes they’re on television. But more than likely the person on your television screen is male. But hey, that happens beyond just comedy. But then people tell me that the women on television “aren’t funny”. But of course what of the men on television? I’ve got to be honest most of them bore me to death or just drive me insane. People say they’re tired of women talking about periods to get a laugh, and guess what, I’m tired of men talking about angry feminists or how irrational their wife is.

But now for a more positive spin! My current favorite funny ladies: Maria Bamford, Sarah Haskins, and Amy Sedaris!

I love the Maria Bamford Show. And Sarah Haskins’ Target Women is kind of spectacular. And of course there’s never a dull moment for Amy Sedaris, everything she does is hilarious. I still want to buy her new book.

Who are your favorite funny ladies?

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