Saturday, November 28, 2009

Good Moves, GMA...

So GMA cancels a performance by a guy for kissing another guy and replaces him with a guy who beats his girl friend? That makes me really sad.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I have a guest post up on Female Impersonated on the topic of my tattoos, religion, and politics.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Halloween Costumes

I'm sure this is a blogging faux pas but i'd really like to resurrect a Halloween post i had up last year. If for no other reason than to give parents, and women, ideas for empowering costumes rather than resorting to the same old (sexist, sexualized, and objectified) standard options.

Halloween, if nothing else, allows children to play dress-up and use their imagination to be anything they want to be. Or in the case of the mainstream costume industry, gives kids the chance to further perpetuate gender roles, reinforce stereotypes, and dress little girls in hyper-sexualized outfits.

I was at a party store last weekend and spotted a wall of "featured costumes." I managed to snap a couple photos with my phone before the salesperson asked me what i was doing. "I am documenting the lack of options for little girls when it comes to Halloween costumes" I responded, "so that i can blog about how this parallels girls' and young women's lack of options in the real world." ("DUH!" i thought sarcastically...) I apologize for the quality of the photos, it was the best i could do with a phone on the fly :)

Of course there ARE options... for example, take page 1 from an online search for girls' Halloween costumes, letters A through H: Aurora, Barbie Anneliese, Barbie Cheerleader, Barbie Rapunzel, Blissful Bride, Bratz Jade, Bratz Sasha, Bratz Staurday Night Style, Cinderella, Devilicious Child, Fanciful Fairy.

Is all the pink making you a bit pukey? Sorry about that...

The store where i snapped the photos of those three costumes had several more options. For example, there were Power Ranger costumes, doctor costumes, and handyman costumes for the boys. For the girls? More of the same. I thought the whole girl = nurse/boy = doctor thing was so last decade?? Guess not. Not to say there is anything wrong with being a nurse, because there isn't. But to lead girls to believe that they don't have the option to be a doctor and boys to believe that they cannot be a nurse is outdated and damaging. The Tycoon costume cracked D and me up the most. I guess the female equivalent to "Tycoon" in Halloween costume talk was the MegaStar?? Because clearly all that girls have to offer is their looks and bodies. The model in the photo on the costume can't possibly be older than 10. No 10 year old should be wearing that much (or LITTLE) pleather... And i doubt many 10 year olds are that developed... So, moral of the story for your 10 year old girl who wants to be "successful" when she grows up? Boys use their brains to make money by becoming Tycoons. Girls use their appearance to make money by wearing very little clothes or by attracting Tycoonish boys.

Obviously it only gets worse as the target audience gets older. Check out the changes in costumes from toddler to girl to tween to teen to adult. The only thing that changes is the amount of fabric that goes in to making the costume. For example, even seemingly empowering costumes, like superwoman (which they call "supergirl") or warrior princes (who then becomes a "Geisha"), become hypersexualized as the target consumer gets a bit (read: no more than a couple of years) older. These attempts at options fall even shorter as girls grow up.

I get it. Some people (read: freshmen college girls who are experiencing their first taste of sexual freedom) see Halloween as an excuse to make any outfit into a sexy costume. Want to be a pirate? Ok! Sexy Pirate it is! Sexy Cat Woman, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Witch, Sexy Bunny, Sexy Schoolgirl, Sexy Anna Rexia (get it? sexy anorexia... riiiiight) and my all time favorite, the Sexy Detective (my freshman year 1st college Halloween party costume...) P.S. You should absolutely click through those links to the photos of those costumes but they are definitely not appropriate for work so careful.

Because i couldn't possibly write about Baby High Heels in any other post than the Halloween ridiculous costumes post, i wanted to include a bit about the new "infant trend..." If the topic of girls' Halloween costumes doesn't bother you enough check out baby high heels (designed for babies 0-6 months)!!!! I can't wait for a friend or family member to have a baby girl so that i can buy these for her!


So that we don't end on a negative note, what are some empowering costumes your kids (or kids you know) will be wearing this Halloween?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Call for a New "Masculinism"...

Who are these assholes and why do they want us to be more manly? And heterosexual, and anti-porn, and anti-choice, and really really Christian...

Apparently a bunch of ultra-conservative religious politicians got together this past week at a conference in DC. Here is there (literal) agenda. Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee were there (no surprise...)

One talk on "The New Masculinity" states that, "feminism has wreaked havoc on marriage, women, children and men. It is time to redress the disorder it has wrought and that must start with getting the principles and ideals for a new "masculinism" right. Such a "masculinism" will have its dovetailing counterpart in a new "feminism" for they mutually define each other and, in nature, are meant to be complementary."

Other talks included:

Here is a highlight from the conference:

SCHWARTZ: ...Pornography is a blight. It is a disaster. It is, it is one of those silent diseases in our society that we haven’t been able to overcome very well. Now, I may be getting politically incorrect here. But one — It’s been a few years, not that many, since I was closely associated with pre-adolescent boys, boys who are like 10 to 12 years of age. But it is my observation that boys at that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct. After all, homosexuality, we know, studies have been done by the National Institute of Health to try to prove that its genetic and all those studies have proved its not genetic. Homosexuality is inflicted on people.

I had a very good friend who was in the homosexual lifestyle for a long time and then he had a religious conversion in the eighties. And he bought a old motel and turned it into a hospice for some of his former associates who were dying of AIDS. He helped, he helped almost 300 men die. This man was a real hero. But he knew that he wasn’t as healed as he thought he was. He was able to resist temptation. He was able to resist sin. But he wasn’t healed enough to take on the responsibilities of marriage. And he was a brilliant man in the sense that he knew himself. And he knew his limits. And he and I had good conversations about, about the malady that he suffered. And one of the things that he said to me, that I think is an astonishingly insightful remark. He said, “all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants.” You know, that’s a, that’s a good comment. It’s a good point and it’s a good thing to teach young people.

I haven't been blogging lately because I recently started a graduate program in clinical/community psychology. Right now i'm taking the predominantly core/basic classes necessary for a clinical psych phd, like assessment and research statistics. We've spent the past few weeks focusing on what makes legitimate science and what's empirically valid. With this fresh perspective, all i can say about the above "talk" is that it's such a load of pseudoscience! I really can't stand people who present themselves as authorities on a subject by citing faulty (or in this case untrue/nonexistent research) to gain support: "After all, homosexuality, we know, studies have been done by the National Institute of Health to try to prove that its genetic and all those studies have proved its not genetic. Homosexuality is inflicted on people." This specifically made me so fucking angry. But on an even larger scale, i'm a bit confused. I don't quite understand this guy's "logic." Even if i try really hard to look at his "argument" from his perspective (which is difficult enough), i still don't understand HOW looking at pornography in general can "turn" someone gay?? Where's the supposed relationship between pornography and homosexuality?

My friend Heather sent me the Think Progress article on this conference, and in her email she also wrote, "first they claim that feminism has destroyed family and marriage, then they promote "masculinism" via homophobia!! i really just don't even understand..."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Disgusting Guinness Commercial

A facebook friend posted this video on his wall. He wrote "best. video. ever" next to the link. I strongly disagreed.

This ad is actually incredibly offensive. I'm all for sexy advertising but there's nothing sexy or appealing about a women being portrayed as a silent beer coasters while three men(?) drink off of her. I think what bothered me most, though was the text: "Share one with a friend"... seriously? That's such blatant objectification. It portrays women as no better than beer, serving the mere purpose of entertaining men as they bond while they fuck us. Eww. The supposed sex here bothers me, too. It's clearly not good sex (based on the woman's only slight movements) and portrays the woman as nothing more than a body for three others to fuck, which is disgusting and not sexually empowering whatsoever.

Sexism is alive and well in this ad. If nothing else we have to admit that advertisements serve to sell more than the product they are promoting. If that wasn't the case, why would they use hot, half naked women to get products noticed? Advertisements also sell concepts of normalcy, and in this case, create a culture where it's not only ok but sexy to objectify women, use them solely for the purpose of male bonding and beer drinking, and "share them" with their friends. Women (people in general) deserve better than this.

I objected to the link. I posted an explanation underneath it to which many people replied that i was being overly liberal, overly sensitive, and unable to take a joke. Then someone compared this commercial to this Calvin Kline ad of David Becham modeling underwear. The guy was clearly misunderstanding the definition of "objectification." The term is used to signify when a person is seen purely to serve a purpose and their attributes and appearance are separated from the rest of their worth to reduce that person to an instrument (or object) solely for the pleasure or use of another person. When men are photographed half naked (as in that ad) men aren't objectified in the same way women are everyday due to the social context. We live in a country where women are second class citizens and commercials like the Guinness one only serve to perpetuate and glamorize that status.

Research just this year found that men are more likely to think of women as objects if they viewed pictures of stereotypically sexy women beforehand. "Researchers used brain scans to show that when straight men looked at pictures of women in bikinis, areas of the brain that normally light up in anticipation of using tools, like spanners and screwdrivers, were activated. Scans of some of the men found that a part of the brain associated with empathy for other peoples' emotions and wishes shut down after looking at the pictures. Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, said the changes in brain activity suggest sexy images can shift the way men perceive women, turning them from people to interact with, to objects to act upon."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Must Reads

Two news articles that you should check out:

Governor Schwarzenegger cuts 100% of the domestic violence budget in California.


The issue of school and education for girls under Taliban rule.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vulgar Email

I was waiting for an important email this morning, so when my computer beeped to indicate I had a new message, I naturally got excited. This wasn't the email I was hoping for, however. I opened the message, titled, "your friend recommended this article" (because it isn't abnormal for friends to send me articles to read and write about here). But that's not what it was...

The message read:

Enter her twat like a bull
Smart men prefer this solution for giving girls true satisfaction!

There is so so much wrong with that. And I get it, spam emails aren't intended to be works of Jane Austen. But for some reason what bothered me most about this particular message was that "smart men prefer this solution for giving girls true satisfaction." Men really shouldn't be entering girls' "twats" like bulls (or in any other way, either...). Ew.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Platonic Friendship

Can men and women be (just) friends?

I first began thinking about this question years ago after watching the quirky and timeless classic, When Harry Met Sally. The movie revolves around the idea that men and women can never be just friends because "the sex part always gets in the way." They try to navigate through the conversation by setting obscure rules like they can only be friends if both are in committed relationships because then "the pressure of possible involvement is lifted."

Aside from being a heteronormative question, assuming that all men are attracted to women, it is also a question engrossed in strict gender roles and stereotypes. For these two reasons I hoped this would cease to be debated in 2009, when apparently we live in a post feminist society where men and women are equal and free thinking... (that was snark if you couldn't tell).

Fast forward to today as I engaged in my sleepy morning let's-get-the-day-started routine, pouring coffee and turning on the often trite Good Morning America. In the segment I linked they too discuss this "timeless question" of an impossible platonic friendship between men and women. The segment was an obvious scheme to promote Steve Harvey's new book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (which i won't link because of the strict gender roles and stereotypes that even the title doesn't fail to perpetuate). For 'empirical evidence' GMA referenced a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that found that an opposite sex friendship can end in an affair 15% of the time. (emphasis mine.) What about the other 85% of the time? That sure doesn't seem like enough statistical evidence to back up the claim to me...

The whole "timeless question" leaves me more than prickly. It assumes that men can't think with their appropriate brain and that they are sexually attracted to every woman they meet. It also ascertains that women are 1) naive and 2) not sexually driven. This sort of thinking is damaging for men because it sets men up to be the ultimate perpetrators. They are always on the prowl and are singly sex minded. It promotes the idea that it's always a man's responsibility to get into a woman's pants and it's solely a woman's role to guard her virginity, pureness, sex, whatever.

For women it's a double whammy. Not only are women once again regarded as naive, helpless, and meek, doing whatever they can to protect their one and only precious commodity, but they are determined to not have the same sex drive that their male counterparts posses.

Continuing to think in the heteronormative way in which this question is presented, I think that mature and responsible men and women can absolutely have platonic relationships that don't deteriorate into a let's rip each other's clothes off and make passionate love in the bedroom situation. I think the dynamic between opposite sex friends has to be different, and that your partners have to be involved in the friendship (for example, it shouldn't be a secret friendship because that sets up a sketchy relationship from the beginning). But all in all, i think it is entirely possible for heterosexual men and women to have close friends of the opposite sex.

Readers, what do you think?

(cross-posted at feministing community where there is some discussion going on in the comments sections)

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Latest for Afghan Women

Afghanistan passes 'barbaric' law diminishing women's rights: "Rehashed legislation allows husbands to deny wives food if they fail to obey sexual demands."

A new law was recently passed in Afghanistan that allows Shia men to deny their wives food if their wives refuse their husbands' sexual demands. Another element of this new legislation grants full guardianship of children to their father exclusively.

Human Rights Watch noted that these laws contradict Afghanistan's constitution and called on leaders to repeal the new legislation.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Worried about being a sweaty bride??

I was taking a hiatus from blogging, but then i got this in an email from TheKnot and couldn't resist writing about it:

Subject: Worried about sweating excessively on your wedding day?

"BOTOX® is approved by the FDA as a treatment for excessive underarm sweating when antiperspirants fail. There are enough things to worry about on your wedding day! Sweat stains on your wedding dress should not be one of them!"

REALLY!? So TheKnot recommends brides to inject a toxin into their bodies so that they do not sweat on their wedding day? God forbid...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Racially Charged Police Brutality?

An ambulance being driven by a black EMT "failed to yield" to two white police officers. Why does the skin color of the men involved matter? Because after you watch this video, you might agree that this "confrontation" (as the news gingerly calls it) may have been racially motivated.

The cop grabbed the EMT driver by the throat... how is that appropriate? The EMT driver calmly discusses that he is transporting a patient to the hospital... the trooper doesn't seem to care much about anything but punishing the EMT driver.

Here is the clip i saw this morning on the news:

In light of all the racially motivated police brutality recently, this one shouldn't go unmentioned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15th is "National Man Day"

Apparently today is "National Man Day" according to two Indiana brothers. The Longanecker boys declared June 15th to be a day for men to "stand up and do manly things" and reclaim their masculinity. The brothers are spreading their message using facebook that encourages men to participate in "manly things" today. What are these "many things" you may ask? Well according to these boys manly activities include:
  • being left alone by your woman (no chores, no telling you to be home by dinner time, no helping with the kids, and no "honey do" lists!)
  • sitting in your favorite chair and scratching yourself
  • shooting stuff or blowing something up
  • eating steak
  • shooting animals
  • punching someone in the face

From their facebook group:

On June 15th, men across the nation will unite in one cause and one voice saying, 'I am man!'On that day, men across the nation will blow things up, they'll shoot big guns, they'll punch each other for no reason, they'll pump some iron, or they'll watch every Rambo movie from beginning to end. Straight through. And when asked why we do these things, we'll say 'Because I'm a MAN!' Since when has there been a time when that answer to a question has was unacceptable? Since when has being a man been lame? Since men have let down their guard and become sissies. It's time to take back the crown of masculinity.

It's time for men to be men.What should you do on this day? Be the man God made you to be. Be a good father, drop kick your best friend when he least expects it, dump a whole tank of gasoline on a pile of sticks and ignite it by shooting another can of gas! Be responsible for your actions, go out there invite every man you know, eat an 18 oz steak, get your wife some flowers, punch another guy in the jugular and be a MAN!

Hey at least "be a good father" made the list??

As laughable as all this may seem, there is a serious and growing problem with what young boys are taught about masculinity. Patriarchy, sexism, and "machismo" culture are just as damaging for men and boys as they are for women. For example, boys learn the type of masculinity that the Longanecker brothers are advocating at a young age are are rewarded for being tough, macho, and strong in the physical sense. This also teaches them that being a “real man” is associated with violence, power, and control. The consequences of this are not only great for women (due to increased instances of rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and physical abuse) but also for men who are often violent against other men. Men commit the majority of violent acts in this country, towards both women AND men because they are taught early on that they are being "manly" by doing so.

There are many wonderful groups forming that teach the type of masculinity that empowers young men in ways other than through violence. These groups embrace inward evaluation, compassion, bounding, and positive contribution to the community.

Check out these sites for more info and please leave others in comments if you know of more: V-Men, Homeboy Industries, and MAVAW

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


A new over-the-counter product called IntelliGender can possibly predict the sex of an unborn fetus as early as 10 weeks old.

It claims that within 10 minutes of taking the urine test, a woman will be able
to tell her baby's gender. The specimen will turn green if it's a boy, and
orange if it's a girl.

A product like this has serious implications in countries (and families) where one sex is preferred over another. 10 weeks is early enough to terminate the pregnancy, and the thought that this product may aid in abortions based on the sex of a child is more than troublesome. For example, China's preference for male babies is ingrained in both culture and politics. At one point the Chinese government set into place a one-child-only policy as an attempt to target overpopulation which significantly increased the number of female infanticides. The Communist Party took power in 1949 and outlawed this practice. However, in the 1980's the Chinese government census continued to show hundreds of thousands of missing baby girls each year. The practice of female infanticide in China is most prevalent in rural areas where boys are valued for their ability to help with the land and take care of their parents later on in life. Girls, however, traditionally move in with their in-laws and cannot further help their birth family. Baby girls are often "abandoned, suffocated, or drowned soon after birth." Aside from being an inhuman, unethical, and sexist practice, female infanticide effects the Chinese culture in many ways, "in 1997 the London Telegraph quoted ...a Chinese journal... which warned the male-to-female ratio in China has become so unbalanced that there will soon be an 'army of bachelors' in China - an estimated 90 million Chinese men in search of a spouse." Female infanticide is an old practice dating back to 200 B.C. in Greece. It still exists today mostly cited in China and India.

The makers of IntelliGender state they will not be distributing to China and India. Still, products like these terrify me. It makes me feel like we are one step closer to being able to generate our "ideal" child.

At least it turns orange and green rather than pink and blue? Oh for small victories...

Thanks, Joanne, for sending this over and pointing out the "i need it right now" instant world we currently live in.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Feel Good: New Hampshire Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Now New Hampshire can really proclaim the right to "live free or die!"

Friday Feel Good: Gay Penguin Couple Adopt & Hatch Egg

Via BBC News and Edge:

A pair of male penguins in a German zoo have taken in an egg that was rejected by its biological parents, hatched the egg, and now are rearing the chick, according to a June 3 article carried at BBC News.

Such behavior is not unknown. In many animal species, from fruit flies to birds to primates, same-gender sexual contact and social bonding (including long term pair bonding) have been observed.

In the case of Z and Vielpunkt, two penguins at the zoo in Bremerhaven, the pair had been observed attempting to hatch a stone. When a male-female pair of penguins at the zoo rejected their own egg, keepers gave it to Z and Vielpunkt, who tended and hatched the egg and now, a month after its hatching, continue to care for the chick.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"I was going to ask you what's new, but I think I know"

Anyone watch American Idol? This is extremely disturbing to me on so, so many levels...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Actually, Yes. That WAS Racist...

I was eating lunch last week with some of the counselors at the clinic. The Chinese food arrived and they were passing it around to everyone who had ordered. As they passed it to one woman, she exclaimed, "if I eat any more Chinese food this week my eyes are gonna slant!"

I turned to her, astonished, and said, "wow, I haven't heard a racial slur like that in a long time."

"That wasn't racist!" she demanded.

"Actually, Yes. it was. When you mock an already marginalized group of people based on their appearance, that's racist. You stereotyped a population based on physical attributes..." I retorted. She snarled at me and proceeded to eat her egg roll.

This happened last Friday. I came in to work early this week and found a Chinese food menu strategically placed on my office door. Is it a coincidence that someone wanted to share a Chinese food menu with me this week? Maybe. Am i being harassed? Possibly. Would they do this to me if I was noticeably Asian? Probably not.

I don't really understand why it's still acceptable in American culture to mock Asian Americans? Do people not realize the racism here because Asian Americans are the "model minority?" They supposedly have assimilated into American culture better than any other minority group and thus discrimination does not affect them? Or is it because the American stereotype of Asian Americans as "docile" is so prevalent that people think it is acceptable to discriminate a group of people that are "too well mannered" to speak up?

For reference, some truths about Chinese food, Americans, and discrimination all brought to you through a TED talk...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Horse Herstory

Filly Rachel Alexandra, the first female horse to be entered in the Preakness Stakes, is making history (and a lot of controversy).

Regardless of how you feel about horse races, at least the girls are getting a chance in the sport, and kicking some boy horse butt! ;)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Feminist Label

Where is there room for me, a white woman who stands firmly for equality and acknowledges the discrimination within feminism, and is committed to pointing out and relinquishing (white, cis, able, hetero, and class) privilege? I want to identify with a feminism willing to embrace all people and challenge preconceived notions of what and who "is" and "isn't" feminist, one focused on celebrating diversity and learning for everyone's experiences. Where do i fit? Because i'm a bit confused these days.

Please read these two posts by Renee prior to responding...
Womanist Musings: I am not a Feminist
Womanist Musings: Can a White Woman be a Womanist?

I agree with commenter "juju" who said "ultimately, the work that you do is much more important than the label you wear, and you should just call yourself whatever works for you and continue doing the work." I understand and agree with focusing on activism but often identity fuels a social movement and propels it forward with greater force. I would hate our progress and activism to slow because we're too busy focusing on what our identity should be.

I wrote about this a bit in my "I'm not a feminist, but" post: George Washington University’s Dr. Zucker (2004) published a study addressing this. Dr. Zucker’s research explored women disavowing social identities and found that in the 272 women surveyed, self-identifying as feminists was a predictor of feminist activism. Herein lies my concern. On one hand, I don’t care if you identity as a feminist or not, as long as you retain feminist beliefs. On the other hand, if self-identifying as a feminist is going to make you more of an activist, then it matters.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quick Hit: Women Bullying Women at Work

As a possible bit of a follow up to my post on female bullying, my wonderful sister in law sent me this article that i will pass on to all of you. However, i will disclaimer it with the fact that i didn't get a chance to read it carefully yet or do an analysis. Feel free to leave your feedback to the piece in comments.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tyra Takes on Same Sex Marriage

I have a hard time talking with people who believe sexual orientation is a choice. Literally, i shut down and am unable to further "debate" with them about rights because i recognize that they see gays and lesbians as "lesser than," "other," and nothing i say will ever change their mind. I am all for tolerating opinions different from my own but this isn't a topic i can tolerate a range of values on because for me, it's so basic and so essential. Denying someone human rights because you think their sexuality is something they should "control" or something they can "change" is absurd. Did you wake up one morning and "decide" to be straight? Seriously, is this something you thought about and made a conscious decision on? No.

Tyra Banks did an episode yesterday that i want to post here, because i thought a lot of it was really good. But more than that, it presents a very real display of bigotry, intolerance, and people who claim to be "Christians" when in fact they are just using the bible as an excuse to hate, which is very very not Christian of them. They are the same people who think homosexuality is a choice and a sin. For example, in one of the segments the woman says, "I see emotional and mental instability" as one of the audience members emotionally shares the discrimination and violence he has faced in his life for his sexual orientation. She does not show empathy, she does not show love or support. She laughs, on stage, and tells the world he's emotionally and mentally instable. Shame on you, lady.

Tyra had Sandy Rios on (who IS this woman?!) who had lots of quotable gems, such as:

"You can stop being gay, you cannot stop being black"

"As a fully heterosexual female i can tell you how difficult it is not to have sex, too. So i can understand that dilemma" She was asked, "is celebacy the answer?" Her reply: "yes, as apposed to acting out homosexuality or adultry or pedophelia, yes.

"When you talk about discrimination and the misery of being a lesbian, gay upfront is the wrong name for that. It's broken hearts, it's disease, it's unnatural." (just for the record, the woman she was talking to never said being a lesbian made her miserable...)

If you have time, and can tolerate Tyra, watch the show, "Gay is the New Black." If nothing else I want you to see the "arguments" that same sex marriage opponents make. I want you to hear the intolerance, bigotry, and hatred that they spew and I want you to see exactly why i have such an unbelievable difficult time "debating" with people like this in my own life. Primarily because there is nothing i can say that will ever make them hate less, love more, and celebrate diversity.

I posted it here from youtube which had it split up into four video. I only included the last part of the show because that's the one that had a lot of what i discussed above:

Just don't read the comments on youtube, or else you're get lots like this one:

Ginne86 (12 minutes ago)
"Being gay IS a choice, just like fat people can choose to eat fast food or you can choose to eat healthy. even though healthy food dont tastes as good as fast foods."

Friday Feel Good: Obama's New Budget ELIMINATES Abstinence-Only Funding!

Quick hit via Amplify Your Voice:

Barack Obama just released the numbers for his new 2010 budget, and while everything in it isn’t peachy, I have some great news for you:

Abstinence-only funding has been ELIMINATED.

Community Based Abstinence Education funding is GONE.

Title V abstinence-only funding is GONE.

Not only are all of the abstinence-only funds eliminated, but $173 million dollars will now be going to teen pregnancy prevention programs around the country that don’t have to adhere to the ridiculous standards that were there before.

More info on the good and the bad at Amplify Your Voice, Female Impersonator, and Feministe

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wesleyan Feminist Shot & Killed Yesterday

I received an email yesterday at work entitled, "Shooting on Broad Street- Read this message NOW." I didn't think much of it, because i work off-site in New Haven and not in Middletown where my company's building is located. The email read:

Important Notice

There was a shooting at the Red and Black Café today, located at the corner of Broad & Williams Streets. Midfield received incorrect information from the authorities. The shooter WAS NOT apprehended. The Corporate Center is now in "lock down". No one may enter the building but employees may leave the building.

A Wesleyan student was fatally shot at Red and Black Café this afternoon. . A gun was recovered at the scene of the shooting, however the suspect is still at large.

Today I learned that the victim was Johanna Justin-Jinich, a Wesleyan student who volunteered for Planned Parenthood and was an activist for women's issues and public health. "She was supposed to work in DC this summer for a women’s rights organization." The police are unsure whether the suspect, Stephen Morgan, targeted Johanna because she was Jewish or if it was personal. They had attended a program together at NYU and towards the end of it Johanna filed a harassment complaint with the Public Safety Department, saying she had been receiving harassing e-mails and phone calls from Stephen. She later decided not to pursue the case. Yesterday morning Stephen walked into the cafe where Johanna worked and shot her. She will be greatly missed. This is really a devastating loss. My heart goes out to her friends and family.

EDIT: Dave tells me they haven't yet caught the suspect :/ Anyone else know more about this??

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Women's Martial Arts, an Interview

Below is an interview with a female martial artist, Marianna, who has been studying martial arts for almost 15 years. She is now getting into MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), where there are not currently a lot of women. You will see in the interview below that Marianna was supported to persue her interests in martial arts early on with the support of her dad who enrolled her in classes when she was nine years old. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that Marianna is my cousin and i am incredibly proud of her for all her accomplishments and goals. She does not only demonstrate physical strength but also strength of character, as martial arts have taught her to over the last 15 years.

Some of the gender questions that came to mind as i watched Marianna's fight included: What kind of messages do the women holding up signs in the middle of the fight (and the photo op with the same women at the end) send? They are almost naked and we as feminists quickly notice this sort of blatant objectification. Shouldn't a female fight, with an empowerment and strength focus, send a different message and leave out this sexist tradition from the ring? Another question that arose for me was whether there are certain double standards for women in the sport.
Do they expect the women to be feminine and conventionally attractive while maintaining a "tough guy" attitude? Which female fighters get more attention (in terms of fans and sponsorship) the conventionally pretty women or the women who look tough, ready to kick ass, and are unmotivated by maintaining a conventionally feminine appearance?

If you have questions for Marianna about martial arts and MMA, feel free to leave them in the comment section, maybe i can get her to swing by and answer some :)

1. What made you want to learn and start practicing martial arts?
I've been doing martial arts since i was 9 years old. My brother was taking Tae Kwon Do and I was always intrigued by it so my dad let me start taking classes. Then after i got my black belt my dad encouraged me to look around at other schools and that's when i started taking kung fu with Vincent Lyn. I trained with him for 6 years before moving to Miami for college. I took some time off from the martial arts at that point. A year ago I decided I wanted to get back into it. I looked for serious schools before finding out that one of the best MMA camps in the world was just around the corner from my house. I joined American Top Team and couldn't be happier with the training. I am pushed every day and find the sport to be so challenging. (MMA is the combination of wrestling, jiu jitsu, boxing and kickboxing).

2. Did knowing how to fight throughout your life make you feel more safe in situations where women are "supposed to" be afraid, like walking alone at night or meeting men for the first time?
Actually, I've never been in a real fight. I do feel safe knowing that i have experience in combat but now-a -days people don't really fight with just i think i've just been fortunate not having to prove myself on the street.

3. What types of double standards have you experienced or seen in the world of MMA in terms of gender?
I've always been more of a tom boy than a girly girl growing up. Sports were always part of my life and I've had to deal with criticism from family and a few friends about how girls shouldn't be playing sports and instead being girly. But thankfully i've never been the type of person to take things personally. I enjoy being challenged physically and this is what this sport does. Fighting is just as mental as it is physical so i feel that it sort of mirrors life. You have to be strong physically, mentally and spiritually to make it through daily struggles and the same goes for MMA.

I like to prove people wrong. I think girl fighters can definitely be sexy. Why not be the total package? Yea i'm a girl, yes i can fight and yes i'm sexy. I don't think those aspects have to contradict themselves. Actually a lot of guys think that girl fighters are hot. After my fight I got a lot of feedback from some spectators. They all showed me a lot of love and respect and these were people who didn't even know me. They just came up to me and told me what they thought.

As far as body image... the sport is very demanding (that's why you see so many hot guys with amazing bodies fighting). I'm noticing my body change and a lot of people don't realize the sacrifice on your body. Fighters are constantly loosing and gaining depending on timing of fights. So it definitely keeps you in shape and I love that about it!

4. Do you think it's harder for women fighters to get noticed than male fighters? Is it more difficult for female fighters to get sponsorship?
I think it's easier. People always talk about the girl fights! I think being an attractive girl opens doors because sex sells. Just look at Gina Carano. She's an awesome fighter and shes hot. she's the most popular female fighter in the world (but not because she's hands down the best in the world). What sets her apart is her looks. I am a huge fan of hers...she's got a lot of sponsors, she keeps it real and she's not afraid to be sexy.

5. What is some advice you'd give to girls and women starting out in martial arts?
Martial arts are great because it's a great workout, you get to meet a lot of nice people, you will challenge yourself mentally and physically and it's fun to learn. I am totally for strong women and I think women that do martial arts gain confidence in more than just protecting themselves. But as far as women's MMA, it's gaining popularity by the minute. like I said...people love to watch women fight. So i doubt the sport is going anywhere.

6. Why does the ref keep fixing your bra during the fight? I thought that was a bit strange...
Ok so i was planning on wearing my t-shirt the whole fight. When i got into the ring they told me it wasn't tight enough and my opponent's feet could get caught in it so they made me take it off. The problem with that was that I had plastic boob protectors in my sports bra (which is required to well as its required to take a pregnancy test before fights). So during the fight the boob protectors kept shifting and at some points sticking out of the sports bra. So the ref kept fixing and adjusting it for me. LOL. quite embarrassing but at least they didn't fall out!!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What She Learned from Marching Band

Today i am proud to have been a marching band girl for 11 years:

QUARTZ HILL, Calif. (AP) — Don't mess with the marching band.

That's what California authorities are saying after a 17-year-old girl used her marching band baton to beat back two would-be muggers.

Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Michael Rust says the Quartz Hill girl was walking to school April 24 when two men approached her from behind, tried to grab her coat and demanded money.

Instead, one got a punch in the nose and the other a kick to the groin. Rust says the girl then beat both of them with her band baton before she ran away.

The men had not been caught. But Rust says there's a clear message to take from the encounter:
"The moral to this story is don't mess with the marching band girls, or you just might get what you deserve. Final score: marching band 2, thugs 0."

The Lost Generation

Thanks, Jackie, for sending this. Very moving message and clever video:

Obama's "Swagga"

Um, excuse me, but WHAT?!

Check out the commentary even before they start the interview, too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

UCLA Study On Friendship Among Women

A friend and coworker sent me this article last week in an email forward. We both work in research and have always valued empirical evidence. But this friend is also very holistic. She's been a nurse for over 40 years and is a certified acupuncturist. She likes to remind us that though science and "proof" is important, especially in our line of work (substance abuse treatment), it's just as vital to follow instincts, connect with one another, and be present in the moment. She forwarded this article along that contains research to support just that...

©2002 Gale Berkowitz
"A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are. By the way, they may do even more.

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. It's a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research---most of it on men---upside down. Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible, explains Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University and one of the study's authors. It's an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight; In fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone---which men produce in high levels when they're under stress---seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic "aha" moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the "tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. There's no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

And that's not all. When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate. Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That's a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998). The following paragraph is, in my opinion, very, very true and something all women should be aware of and NOT put our female friends on the back burners.

Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push the m right to the back burner. That's really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

First Male-less Species of Ant

Seriously, please don't read into this and write in comments exclaiming, "ah ha! you think men are useless!" I am just putting this up as a new scientific finding that my brother sent along to me ;)

Asexual Ants Give up on Males

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

April 15, 2009 -- "Men, who needs them?" is a question sometimes uttered by frustrated women, but a widespread species of tropical ant has taken that position to the extreme by becoming asexual and only producing females, according to a new study.

The insect, Mycocepurus smithii, represents the first documented male-less species of ant, the scientists believe. What's more, all of its female ant colonies are thriving on clonal fungi, and appear to have stopped producing males a long time ago, puzzling experts who believe asexuality is evolutionarily disadvantageous.

Lead author Anna Himler explained that a life without sex might not be so bad after all.

"Sexual reproduction is costly in several ways and asexual reproduction -- the lack of sex -- can be advantageous," she said, offering four reasons.

First, "asexuality avoids the energetic cost of producing males, and thus doubles the number of reproductive females produced each generation from 50 percent to 100 percent of offspring," said Himler, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Center for Insect Science.

She added there is no need to expend energy trying to find a partner, genes are not broken up, and "the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or parasites" goes out the window.

The two main advantages for sexual reproduction, she said, are more effective elimination of deleterious gene mutations and "faster evolution via mixing genes with those of a mate."

For the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Himler and her colleagues conducted field surveys at hundreds of nests for the ant in Panama, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. The scientists failed to find any males.

They then collected colonies from five Panama populations of the ant and put them through a barrage of tests. DNA extracted from offspring showed that they were all clones of their mothers. Dissections of colony queens revealed they not only hadn't mated, but their mating apparatus had degenerated, indicating the species has probably been reproducing asexually for a long time.

Since certain bacteria can curb sexual activity in insects, the scientists tested for the presence of those, and even administered antibiotics to see if they could "cure" the ants of their no-sex state. Nothing happened.

Finally, they conducted "a fungal-switch experiment," whereby the ant's normal fungus garden -- which also happens to be asexual -- was replaced with a different fungus. The queen ants produced workers first but, again, all females.

Aside from having a sexless existence, the lack of males doesn't appear to change the ants' lives much since, as Himler explained, "in most ant species, males have little to no role in the daily activities of the ant colony...[so] the absence of males does not generate extra work for the female worker ants."

Jacobus Boomsma, director of the Center for Social Evolution and a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Copenhagen, told Discovery News, "Time will tell whether this ant is an ancient 'asexual scandal' that flies in the face of commonly accepted theory or whether there is a good explanation, albeit perhaps an unusual one."

His "hunch is that the answer lies in this ant being extremely Catholic in its association with a wide array of fungal partners."

Humans are, of course, a sexual species, but "in theory, genetic engineering could in the distant future enable male-less reproduction," Himler said. "A female could then reproduce without any male mate, whereas a male would still need a female mate to reproduce because males don't have the reproductive machinery to make babies."

She added, "How such theoretical societies would look is difficult to predict."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Tax Day!

In case you aren't clear on terms and because I find Urban Dictionary ridiculously hilarious: tea-bagging

Way To Go, ScarJo!

This post may shock those of you who know me, because I am the absolute last person to keep up with pop culture and celebrities. However, I have a special place in my heart for stars like Scarlett Johansson who speak out against the media and for positive body image.

Johansson is preparing for a role in Iron Man 2, for which the tabloids claim, she is starving and over exercising herself to lose 14 pounds. ScarJo spoke out in an article featured in The Huffington Post on Monday about body image, irresponsible journalism, and making healthy choices:

"Eating healthy and getting fit is about commitment, determination, consistency and the dedication to self-preservation," She wrote. "People come in all shapes and sizes and everyone has the capability to meet their maximum potential. Once filming is completed, I'll no longer need to rehash the 50 ways to lift a dumbbell, but I'll commit to working out at least 30 minutes a day and eating a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and lean proteins."

My favorite part of her article is when she calls out the "media" and their "utterly lunatic" claims that she is losing so much weight and being heavily influenced by co-stars. ScarJo is super snarky in her response, and hopefully this will help set some "journalists" straight - we see celebrities' appearance up for discussion way too often (wasn't Jessica Simpson criticized for putting on some weight not too long ago?).

"Since dedicating myself to getting into 'superhero shape,' several articles regarding my weight have been brought to my attention. Claims have been made that I've been on a strict workout routine regulated by co-stars, whipped into shape by trainers I've never met, eating sprouted grains I can't pronounce and ultimately losing 14 pounds off my 5'3" frame. Losing 14 pounds out of necessity in order to live a healthier life is a huge victory. I'm a petite person to begin with, so the idea of my losing this amount of weight is utter lunacy. If I were to lose 14 pounds, I'd have to part with both arms. And a foot. I'm frustrated with the irresponsibility of tabloid media who sell the public ideas about what we should look like and how we should get there."

"I believe it's reckless and dangerous for these publications to sell the story that these are acceptable ways to looking like a 'movie star'... The press should be held accountable for the false ideals they sell to their readers regarding body image — that's the real weight of the issue."

"The concept of 'Stars Are Just Like Us!" makes us feel connected to lifestyles that can sometime seem out of this world. Yes, celebrities are just like us. They struggle with demons and overcome obstacles and have annoying habits and battle vices. That said, I would be absolutely mortified to discover that some 15-year-old girl in Kansas City read one of these "articles" and decided she wasn't going to eat for a couple of weeks so she too could "crash diet" and look like Scarlett Johansson."

Way to go Scarlett Johansson, really well said. Except wait, "celebrities are just like us"?? You ARE a celebrity: own it and do good by it, just like you did in this article.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about bullying lately, specifically bullying among girls and women. The more research i did on the topic, the more i found relating to bullying's effects on the victims, how girls bully, and the difficulty of breaking free of bullying. What i didn't find much of is WHY girls bully and how this bullying translates to adult female relationships.

Bullying among girls has been on the rise since the early 1990's. Also, the bullying isn't stereotypical physical violence you think of when "bully" comes to mind (though it can be). Bullying among girls usually takes on more subtle and calculated characteristics. The NCPC defines a female bully as a girl who "is popular, well-liked by adults, does well in school, and can even be friends with the girls she bullies. She doesn't get into fist fights, although some girls who bully do. Instead, she spreads rumors, gossips, excludes others, shares secrets, and teases girls about their hair, weight, intelligence, and athletic ability. She usually bullies in a group and others join in or pressure her to bully."

No wonder I came to the conclusion of "hating girls" in middle and high school. Obviously i didn't, because i am female myself, but it was the best way my 12 year old self knew to cope and to separate myself from the stereotypically female characteristics that were supposedly bad. You know, girls being portrayed as catty, oversensitive, and manipulative. Grown up me recognizes that not all women (and girls) are those things (though some sure can be...) but 12 year old me, who needed external validation, knew she'd get it most by identifying as little with stereotypically female traits as possible. I've heard women, again and again, note that "women (or girls) are so difficult to be friends with" or all their close friends are male because "men are easier to deal with." When i started to really think about this i realized we were being socialized to hate ourselves.

I think one of the biggest problems is girls aren't being taught the qualities they should be valuing. Qualities like cooperation, strength, diversity, warmth, respect, communication, responsibility, empathy, and many others. Instead, they're being judged based on their appearance, clothes, weight, and popularity (which fluctuates daily based on who's in their "circle" that day) and their actions to become popular based on those terms are only reinforced by movies, television, music, and toys.

Kimmi and Courtney talked about core self-esteem back in December. They discussed how it's created and nurtured and the dangers of being unaware of ones self-esteem or having false (merely outward) self-esteem as many "tough girls" do. Courtney has been working with the Dove Self Esteem Fund to raise self-esteem in girls and train dedicated adults to do the same. She mentioned a Dove nationwide study that found 7 out of 10 girls felt they didn't measure up in some way. Out of the girls that felt they didn't measure up, half engaged in negative behaviors like smoking, drinking, bullying, and disordered eating. Kimmi and Courtney also talked about the importance of responding honestly to our own feelings and being able to recognize them as apposed to rationalizing and pretending they are something else. This is a tough thing to do, especially for young girls. At that age, girls are often looking for external validation and not inward, at their actions, reactions, and emotions. But looking inward, and focusing on the positive values i mentioned earlier is what fosters self-esteem. However, if we're never taught to love our sisters, and we are taught that we don't quite measure up, how can we develop a strong sense of self, positive self-esteem, and close relationships with each other? Also, how can we begin to understand the damaging effects of bullying, especially in the way that girls bully, if we don't understand our own value?

So how does all this translate into adult female relationships? Well i think very similarly. I think core self-esteem and self acceptance has a lot to do with it, followed by having respect for others. Also, not knowing how to connect with people in a meaningful way and thus using "relationships" for manipulation and even punishment. I think a lot of times bullies get caught in a web of their actions and don't know how to connect with other women in genuine ways. They end up pushing others out and only having their negative thoughts and behaviors to focus on. This isn't necessarily their fault, like i said, girls aren't taught to develop honest relationships with each other from a young level.

Rachel Simmons wrote a great book on bullying, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, that is now referenced in most developmental psych classes. One of the terms Simmons uses is "relational aggression" which is described as any behavior intended to harm someone else through manipulation in relationships. As an adult, there are several adult women i know who utilize this. Some relational aggression tactics that are discussed in the book for adolescents and teenage girls, but i have witnessed adult women use, include: exclusion, ignoring, malicious gossip, intimidation, manipulation, alliance building, and cyberbullying. And though Rachel Simmons finally gave a much needed voice to young female bullying victims in her book, she doesn't address female bullying in adult relationships. To assume this behavior ends in adulthood, is naive.

Why do seemingly adult women engage in bullying? I think most of it is for the same reasons girls do - such as power, control, popularity, to become closer with someone else, manipulation, etc. But as adults, there is also often a competitive nature that goes along with bullying, as well as a sense of "keeping someone in their place." Both of these elements can somewhat be explained through socialization. We are constantly bombarded with messages of women competing with one another for men, jobs, fashion, appearance... We see a lot of this type of bullying at work or among "friends" during or after college.

Are you or your kids being emotionally bullied?? If so, below are some tips for parents and helpful links for resources. Also, feel free to share any stories you are comfortable sharing in the comments section.

Some Tips for Parents:

  • Involve girls in activities outside of school so they are exposed to different types of people
  • Encourage relationships with adults and other children who appreciate them for what they are
  • Be available to listen and don’t downplay the importance of an incident
  • Teach kindness and model that behavior
  • Talk about both sides of an issue. Girls may tell you about being a victim but not talk about being the aggressor
  • If your daughter is caught in the middle, encourage her to take the high road and support the victim, or at least not take part in the aggression
  • If necessary, see professional counseling.
  • Become computer savvy.
  • Do not allow your child to have a computer in their room or other isolated area. If they have laptops, set guidelines for where they can use it and the length of time they can use it.
  • Be aware of the online activities of your child
  • Research filtering and parental control programs for your computer
Some possibly helpful websites:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This Year at Passover

Last year I wrote about feminist Passover Seder alternatives, such as an orange representing the inclusion of all genders and sexualities at the table:

Susannah Heschel, a leading feminist scholar, is the woman responsible for popularizing the custom of an orange on the Seder plate. The story goes that during one of Susannah Heschel's lectures at a synagogue in Miami, an elderly rabbi stood up and said, "A woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on the Seder plate." "To show support for the changing role of women in American Jewish society, the tradition of placing an orange on the Seder plate began, and Heschel became a household name at many Passover celebrations around the globe."But don't be fooled... this isn't the actual story of the orange. In the early 80's a feminist Haggadah instructed that Jews place a crust of bread on the Seder plate to represent marginalized Jews, particularly Jewish lesbians and gay men, in the Jewish community. Although Heschel liked the notion of reintroducing oppressed groups into Passover, she did not agree that the symbol should be bread. Heschel felt that by putting bread on the Seder plate we would be indicating that gay men and women are violating Judaism like leavened foods (the bread) violate Passover. Heschel instead chose an orange to symbolize the inclusion of gays and lesbians (as well as others who are marginalized and oppressed within Jewish law and tradition). Heschel chose an orange for two reasons: 1. to symbolize the "fruitfulness of all Jews" (aka it's better when EVERYONE gets a chance to participate, and everyone benefits when all are included) and 2. the seeds, as they are spit out, act as a symbol of the homophobia and discrimination we are protesting.

Additionally, Heschel was more than a bit (rightfully) peeved when the story about the elderly male rabbi began to circulate because (she writes) "somehow the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred: My idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men were transformed. Now the story circulates that a man said to me that a woman belongs on the bimah as an orange on the seder plate. A woman's words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"

Don't forget to bring an orange to your first seder tonight. And definitely pass along the story of why it's there.

This year at Passover i find myself feeling differently about Judaism and Israel, especially during a holiday that celebrates "freedom" and the story of the Jews' Exodus from Egypt to our "promised land." So much of the story this year is entangled with increased conflict in the Middle East and the basic human rights of the people living there, the Palestinians and Israelis alike. Rights like safety, shelter, food, education...

This year at Passover i am forced to consider the real meaning of the holiday, a time to remember and re-tell the story of my people. At my house though, we've never kept to the haggadah word for word, and even more rarely have we waited to eat until the final blessing. You see, the first night of Passover (tonight) is celebrated by the first seder, a time for families to come together and retell the story of the Exodus and think about how it affects each of us uniquely and the Jews as a whole. To do this we use a haggadah, a short book or pamphlet from which we read prayers, stories, and instruction. My family always tries (and fails) to read through the haggadah in it's entirety and instead we dive into the amazing spread that my mom miraculously creates. Matzah ball soup, chicken (free range chicken the past few years because she's good to me like that), kugel, charoset, apple pie, and lots lots more, all without flour. No one realizes that she spends days, if not weeks, preparing for this event.

My cousin, Mia, sent me an updated haggadah today that her dad found that incorporates feminism and even vegetarianism into the holiday's traditions. This version of the haggadah even includes a poem by Adrienne Rich:

Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark—
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

It also includes an interesting look at the Exodus:

"Passover celebrates freedom, exemplified in the story of our Exodus from Egypt. That story leads our entry into Israel—not exactly a simple redemption tale. Especially not now, as Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight for their mutual Promised Land, and to shed blood in pursuit of its ownership. In light of that situation, some of us may have complicated feelings about identifying with Israel. But “Israel” doesn’t refer only to the Land. “Israel” is the name which was given to Jacob after he spent the night wrestling with an angel of God. Therefore “the people Israel” can be interpreted as “Godwrestling people”—“people who take on the holy obligation of engaging with the divine.”

I've often felt the traditional haggadah was dated and often irrelevant, referencing the importance of sons (not "children" to include daughters) and fearful of the plagues that include lice, frogs, hail, and boils. These don't pose the same threat for us today as they did our ancestors. This updated haggadah urges us to consider the plagues of our time, such as:

Apathy in the face of evil
Brutal torture of the helpless
Cruel mockery of the old and the weak
Despair of human goodness
Envy of the joy of others
Falsehood and deception corroding our faith
Greedy theft of earth’s resources
Hatred of learning and culture
Instigation of war and aggression
Justice delayed, justice denied, justice mocked...

This haggadah also explains the tradition of the orange, "representing the radical feminist notion that there is—there must be—a place at the table for all of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. As Jews we constantly re-create ourselves; our symbol is a fruit that carries within the seeds of its own rebirth" and also the importance of an olive, which i had never heard before:

"The final item on our seder plate is an olive. After the Flood, Noah’s dove brought back an olive branch as a sign that the earth was again habitable. Today ancient olive groves are destroyed by violence, making a powerful symbol of peace into a casualty of war. We keep an olive on our seder plate as an embodied prayer for peace, in the Middle East and every place where war destroys lives, hopes, and the freedoms we celebrate tonight."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Taking Up Space

I've always been really interested in the idea of space in relation to gender. What i mean by that is how much space men utilize daily versus how much space women use and how that plays a role in sexism and weight issues. A lot of this intersects with standards of beauty and our culture's drive for women's thinness but i have always been a bit paranoid that it goes beyond just that. When i started studying body image and eating disorders i thought i had uncovered the greatest conspiracy of our time: the more women are pushed to be preoccupied with their weight and appearance, the less they'll have time, energy, and money to succeed in anything else.

I strongly believe that women's preoccupation with weight goes far beyond fulfilling an impossible standard of beauty. Our obsession with thinness is largely intertwined with the amount of space women are expected and "allowed" to take up in society, both physically and mentally. I came back to this thought today as I waited for a client in the lobby the substance abuse clinic where i work. I sat on the end of the bench in the waiting area as three men walked into the clinic. They continued talking to each other and two sat on the bench next to me while one remained standing. I moved as far to the side of the bench as i could and sat with my legs crossed and arms to my sides. The man next to me sat down and stretched his arms up and placed them on the top of the bench, making himself as wide as possible. There were other dynamics at play here such as status for example, because i am staff and they are clients, but i felt uncomfortable because this man almost had his arm around me... so i moved. As i stood by the wall i thought about space and just how much of it women are expected to take up, and give up, based on the circumstance.

None of us are new to the idea that advertising sells more than the products illustrated. Advertising and media also sell values and ideals that we're expected to buy into. For women, there is no greater concept sold with products than thinness. The video below is a short segment from Jean Kilbourne's lecture series about advertising and the obsession with weight and dieting. What struck me most about it was her discussion of a Virginia Slims ad that reads: "if i ran the world calories wouldn't count." But of course she doesn't run the world, and calories "do" count so she should grab a cigarette instead of eating. This ad blatantly instructs women to SMOKE instead of EAT. Women shouldn't eat, they should diet, they should take up as little space as possible, the thinner the better... but what does "the thinner the better really mean?"

The message of "the thinner the better" is an extremely pervasive attempt for women to become as thin and small as possible and thus take up as little space in the world as they can. And this message isn't just taught to us by mainstream media. It's taught in etiquette classes across the country. Women are instructed to sit gracefully with their legs crossed while men are usually found sprawled out, taking up as much space as they can on the chair. Men even reach their arms out when sitting, and make their frame as large as they can to take up as much space as possible. Women keep their arms at their sides, or crossed on their lap. Again, women are supposed to take up as little space in the world as they possibly can, be it with actions or their physical appearance.

I have seen a trend recently in advertisements depicting women with muscle and strength. It's about time women are shown kicking ass, lifting weights, and using their bodies in ways we haven't seen in mainstream media in the past. The obsession with thinness goes beyond weight and extends to women's place in the world and women's right to use 50% of the space in our environment.

What do you do to take up space? To make sure you are a known force in the world? Is this something you've ever considered or acted on?

My example may not be life changing but it's one i'll share with you: I love fall for many reasons, but one of the biggest is because i get the chance to feel like i exist in the universe while i walk outside. When i was younger (ok who am i kidding, i do it now, too) i deliberately step on the dry leaves on the ground and celebrate internally as each one goes "CRUNCH." I feel like my presence was known in the world with each leaf i squash. The noiser the better. I love that CRUNCH feel and love putting a sound to my walking through the world.

UPDATE: I posted this in the Feministing Community section, where there is currently a lot of discussion, feel free to add to it there, or here in comments :)