Cougar Town – more on why I hate the word cougar

2 09 2009

I’ve shared my thoughts about the cougar label before, so I’ve been really annoyed at all the ads I keep seeing on the New York subways for Cougar Town, a new ABC sitcom set to premiere on September 23rd, featuring Courteney Cox.

cougar town

Cox plays 40 or 40-something year old Jules Cobb, a newly divorced woman in Florida with a 17 year old son. She decides to get back in the dating scene to add excitement into her life. There’s an older post on Jezebel about why Cougar Town looks awful, and the first reason that they list is the use of the word “cougar”.

There is nothing liberating or transgressive about the cougar label when it applies to women.  As Rebecca Traister writes in Salon:

Cougars. Pussies. Foxes. Faster pussycat! Kill! Kill! Active, aggressive female sexuality is always talked about as feral, often feline. When it’s older, apparently, it develops sharper claws and teeth. Unless, that is, it’s exhibited by a primmer and more contained MILF. That’s just a lady with kids who men want to fuck. It’s impossible to tell, until we get closer to the specimen, whether she has any interest in doing the fucking herself.

The enthusiasm for the “Wild Kingdom” analogy is a sign of how strange and hysterically funny the idea of energetic female sexual desire is — whether it’s in the form of 34-year-old Drew Barrymore, who has cheerily referred to herself as a “pre-cougar” or “puma” because she’s dated men a couple of years younger than her, or 50-year-old Madonna, who recently dated 20-year-old Jesus Luz. How sad and backward that we have to give it a nickname, animalize it as if it’s outside the boundaries of civilized human behavior, make it a trend, pretend that Demi Moore invented it. That’s not progress, and it’s not a step forward for women.

Yes, must we animalize female sexuality and try to cutely conflate older single, attractive women who have sex with younger men with (the Wikipedia definition of a cougar) “large, solitary cats [with] the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America.”

If you go on Urban Dictionary to look up what a cougar is, you will find degrading definitions:

An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or milf [Mother I'd like to fuck, made popular by American Pie]. Cougars are gaining in popularity — particularly the true hotties — as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together.

“An overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim”, “an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister” or “a real hottie or milf “? Are those really the only ways that we can think of older women in society? Is that the only vocabulary that we have to describe older women? Ageist much? Misogynist much? And isn’t it demeaning to call an older, more sexually experienced woman a “chick with her shit together”?

The third definition listed says:

An attractive woman in her 30’s or 40’s who is on the hunt once again. She may be found in the usual hunting grounds: nightclubs, bars, beaches, etc. She will not play the usual B.S. games that women in their early twenties participate in. End state, she will be going for the kill, just like you. Associated with milfs.

And the example they give of how to use cougar in context: I bagged a cougar last night at the club.

Sigh. I don’t even know what to make of this.





Women and feminists “detrimental” to the family says VA Gov. Candidate Robert McDonnell

1 09 2009

Virginia Attorney General and Republican Candidate for Governor, Robert McDonnell, wrote a 93 page master’s thesis in 1989, “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of The Decade”, for the evangelical school he attended in Virginia Beach, Regent University. In that thesis, he states that women and feminists are “detrimental” to the family. He describes feminism as one of the “real enemies of the traditional family.” He declares a 1972 Supreme Court decision in Eisenstadt v. Baird, which legalized contraception use by unmarried couples, illogical. At the end of his thesis, he maps out a 15-point plan that the Republican Party should implement in order to protect American families.

McDonnell spent 14 years in the General Assembly before going on to be Attorney General and his political track record exhibits blatant opposition to women’s rights. During his 14 years in the General Assembly, he pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he wrote of in his thesis, including restrictions to abortion, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor “the family”. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women. Then in 2004, he voted against allowing student health centers on college campuses to dispense emergency contraception, and has supported a lot of anti-choice legislation throughout his tenure, including a ban on late-term abortions, mandating that minors receive parental consent prior to having an abortion and requiring women seeking abortions to observe a 24-hour waiting period.

Now as he runs for Governor of Virginia, he tries to distance himself from his thesis, which clearly exhibits a lot of misogynist sentiment. However, actions speak louder than words and his track record is telling enough. According to Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal:

It would be one thing if this thesis was a satire, but it was a policy directive to the Republican Party. McDonnell went on to enact major planks of the policy agenda developed and described in the thesis. It also revealed that he has a well-developed belief against separation of church and state. One of his defenses on his views regarding working women is that his wife and two daughters work. However, we have seen with other advocates of the religious right that personal lives often have no relationship to public policy positions. We must evaluate McDonnell’s views by his actions as a public official, which have furthered an anti-women’s rights record.

I am sick of the religious right using rhetoric of “the American family” to promote and further homophobia and misogyny. It is frightening and disturbing having people like McDonnell as public officials.





Caster Semenya to undergo sex determination

29 08 2009

In case you haven’t heard, there has been some serious bullshit going on about Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old world champion runner from South Africa, whose privacy is being invaded beyond belief in a controversy over whether the runner has too many male characteristics to compete as a woman.  On Tuesday, Semenya won the 800-meters race at the track and field world championships, just hours after it was determined by track officials that she would need to undergo sex testing to determine her further eligibility to compete as a woman.  Many people globally are rightfully angered about the public invasion of the young woman’s privacy.

Lamine Diack, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, (the organization who ordered the investigation) has admitted that the confidentiality of the investigation was breached, called this “regrettable,” and asked for an inquiry.  However, these words are little comfort to those who are outraged by the implicit sexism, heteronormativity and racism in the investigation.  Controversy and finger-pointing has also arisen over who was the one to raise the question about Semenya’s sex to the I.A.A.F.  It has also been noted that white South Africans seem to be conspicuously absent as Semenya’s supporters.

Leonard Chuene, President of Athletics South Africa, said to The New York Times:   “We are not going to allow Europeans to define and describe our children…The only scientists I believe in are the parents of this child.”

According to a test three years ago, Semenya’s testosterone levels were in the normal range for women, and she was judged to be definitely female.  But regardless of the results, these investigations emphasize how global society continues to denigrate, mock, and intimidate those who do not conform to a rigid binary of gender stereotypes.

The New York Times notes that Semenya has been subjected to harassment about her sex before.  “Boys used to tease her all the time…Sometimes she’d have to beat them up,” said Semenya’s great aunt, Martina Mpati.  Semenya’s high school principal told South African newspaper “The Star” that at some track meets, the other team would demand proof of her sex identity, but after they returned from the toilets, “she would be cleared and the competition would resume.”

But as if physical exams and taunting weren’t enough, her sex has become an item of global attention and speculation, simply because of the way that she looks and speaks.  Semenya should not be subjected to this blatant gender discrimination.  But sadly, Semenya is forced to deal with this discrimination on both a private and public level, and she is being further taunted and humiliated globally because this most recent investigation was made public.

Dave Zirin calls out the “twisted, sexist, racist, and heteronormative” history of track and field in this MSNBC video on the subject.  Check it out.

Zirin also wrote an excellent piece on the subject in which he points out that:

fifty years ago, Olympic official Norman Cox proposed that in the case of black women, “the International Olympic Committee should create a special category of competition for them — the unfairly advantaged ‘hermaphrodites.'”

But it seems that we have remained relatively stagnant on this issue, and it still seems all too often that the athletic success of women (especially non-white women) causes their sex identity or honesty (or both) to be questioned.  The possibility of an endless spectrum of genders, even sexes, seems to be thought of as entirely impossible in a global athletics culture which values only a clear-cut gender binary in which male is the more athletically successful of the two categories.  We must resist this urge to define what is acceptable by these stereotypes of what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine.  Perhaps only with the erasure of these stereotypes and this rigid gender/sex binary will we be able to stop the further humiliation and degradation of innocent people like Semenya.





What’s scarier than a clown itself? A clown that teaches ab-only sex ed.

27 08 2009

Needless to say, abstinence-only sex ed is proven ineffective. Not only does ab-only sex ed eliminate a lot of (slash all) important truthful information about safe sex: using contraception (condoms, birth control, etc.), but it also is highly moralizing (who are you to tell me what choices I should make concerning my body and my sexuality?), slut-shaming and heterosexist by alienating the LGBTQ population. Ab-only sex ed relies on false facts (which are essentially lies), scare tactics, and the reinforcement of patriarchal gender roles. Furthermore, countless studies have proven that students of ab-only sex ed don’t have decreased rates of pregnancy, HIV and STIs. The research shows that after receiving ab-only sex ed, people are less likely to use contraceptives when having sex.

The latest in ab-only sex ed epic fails: clowns teaching sex ed. Elizabeth’s New Life Center in Ohio employs Derek the Abstinence Clown to go around to middle schools teaching them that having sex before marriage is “just like juggling machetes!” (yes, what an apt comparison) and “will destroy all your life’s dreams!” Seriously, this is what our tax dollars are funding?! Clowns using ridiculously absurd scare tactics to tell kids not to have sex until they’re married?! Sigh…just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

And then, over at Feministe I saw Operation Keepsake’s Are you a treasure or a target? quiz. Operation Keepsake is one of Ohio’s highest funded ab-only sex ed proponents and providers. And the quiz questions? Absolutely ridiculous, as expected. One of the questions is:

Your crush asks you out.  He seems really nice but you’re not sure he values waiting to have sex until marriage like you do.  You:
a. Ask him straight up.
b. Go with the flow-it will come up sooner or later.
c. Assume he’s a good guy. I mean, he’s cute and dresses well.

Who would ask someone right after they’ve asked you out, “Do you value waiting to have sex until marriage too?” Seriously, come on!! More evidence that ab-only sex ed is waaaaaaay out of touch with reality.

And then when you’re done answering all the questions and add up your score, you will see that if you are a treasure, then:

You know who you are, what you believe, and where you want to go in life.  When it comes to guys, you value yourself and your future too much for random hook-ups.  Besides, it takes time and some investigation to find out what someone is really all about.  And, while you appreciate looking good, you know that if a guy wants to be with you simply because you look hot, that could be trouble down the road.  Our advice: continue respecting yourself!  You’ll build healthier relationships if you do.

Such slut-shaming language. Only girls who don’t have sex until they get married “know who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go in life” (because having sex before marriage will ruin all your future career and life aspirations!) Meanwhile girls who have sex before marriage don’t respect themselves and don’t build healthier relationships. Ab-only sex ed doesn’t teach about healthy relationships, healthy sexuality, communication and mutual consent. It just reiterates over and over again, DON’T HAVE SEX! JUST DON’T DO IT!

But I digress…If  you’re a Danger Zone, then:

You value yourself, but when you’re in tough situations you have a difficult time speaking up for the things you value.  You get scared that your friends or your guy will think you’re stupid, so you don’t speak up.  It’s normal to feel scared, but if you want to be a leader instead of a follower you’ve got to practice speaking up and doing the right thing.  You may get laughed at for the moment, but in the long run you’ll be better off.

If you’re a target, then:

You make decisions based on what others think instead of what is best and healthiest for you.  It’s not a big deal when it comes to picking simple things like shoes, but when it comes to major decisions-like who you date-you could be in a lot of trouble.  If you want to be truly respected and valued for the real you, then you’ve got to know what makes you truly valuable.  Hint:  It’s more than your body, your looks, the friends you hang with, and the guys you date.  If you don’t know what really makes you valuable, then why would anyone else?

Aha. Of course. What makes you truly respectable and valuable is if you “save yourself” until marriage. Because you don’t want to just toss your “treasure” to just anyone; no it’s just too valuable and irreplaceable. Saying “…but when it comes to major decisions – like who you date – you could be in a lot of trouble” is fear-inducing, slut shaming, and victim blaming rhetoric.

Thank goodness President Obama is eliminating the federal funding for ab-only sex ed for the 2010 budget. But that doesn’t mean that this madness will just end, like it should. It will be up to the jurisdiction of state/local governments and whether or not the ab-only organizations can manage to stay afloat on their own.





A Closer Look at “The Women’s Crusade”

27 08 2009

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about “The Women’s Crusade”, the leading article in last weekend’s New York Times magazine by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The first time I read the article, there were several things that irked me but I chose to ignore them because I was just so excited that the Times, a prominent and well regarded mainstream publication, was dedicating an entire magazine to international women’s issues. Emblazoned on the magazine cover was of the magazine was “Why Women’s Rights Are the Cause of Our Time”. Seeing this thrilled me because it was exciting to see women’s issues being brought to the forefront instead of shoved aside, like what typically happens.

But after mulling over the article over the past few days, I decided that the things that irked me originally should not be ignored. While it’s phenomenal that Kristof and WuDunn wrote a compelling article about the need to elevate the status of women across the globe, it is also important to approach it with a critical eye.

The first thing that I noticed that was bothersome was right in the first paragraph where it says:

In this century, [the paramount moral challenge] is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Kristof and WuDunn discuss these brutalities as they occur in Asian and African countries, but for all of the international rhetoric used, shouldn’t the focus then be truly global instead of just limited to Asia and Africa? Sex trafficking occurs in wealthy western nations as well, including the US. According to the Polaris Project, each year an alarming 200,000 American children are at high risk for being trafficked into the sex industry.

Rape, while utilized as a weapon of war in conflict ridden countries like the Congo, is also a brutality that women and girls endure in America as well. Let’s not forget the 68 page report released by Human Rights Watch in March 2009 that put Los Angeles to shame by revealing that at least 12,669 untested rape kits have just been sitting in police storage facilities and crime labs in Los Angeles. (But the good news: yesterday L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarovslavksy announced that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department will 100% fund the testing of every single rape kit in the backlog within the next two years. Furthermore they will expand their staff to ensure that rape kits will no longer be just languishing on the shelves.)

Read the rest of this entry »





Weekend Reads

22 08 2009

Dana Goldstein on the need for a public health insurance plan to provide reproductive health coverage.  Over at The Nation, Sharon Lerner has more on why women need health care reform.

An interesting photo essay that questions and explores what it means to be masculine.  It’s accompanied with an interview with the photographer, Chad States.  The subjects of some of the photos include trans men.

The children’s books industry is a very much white run industry and often children’s books are embedded, subtly and not-so-subtly, with racist undertones.  Read this post on Racism Review about children’s books are very much white-framed and whitewashed.

Here are some thoughts on 18-year old South African runner Caster Semenya whose female-ness was being questioned because she doesn’t conform to traditional western standards of femininity.  Bird of Paradox has more.

Michelle Obama should be allowed to wear shorts without coming under such scrutiny by the media and the public, especially while vacationing at the Grand Canyon.

Being careful with language is very important, especially since language is used to normalize.  There has been much discussion online about language and privilege.  Deeply Problematic takes on being blinded by privilege in these two posts: “Blinded by Privilege”: ableist language in critical discourse and For the Uninformed: Privilege, Perspective and The Little Things That Jab.  Hoyden About Town also has a post on unexamined privileges and unconscious behaviors.

Here is a long but interesting article that contextualizes the use of rape as a weapon of war.  Author Crystal Feimster, a historian at the University of North Carolina, claims that rape was used as a weapon of war way back in the Civil War, which is a new contention.

This one’s more of an uplifting story about a woman in a small West Virginian town, Maria Gunnoe, who took on the coal industry and was victorious.  She was a great community organizer who took action against the coal tycoons and despite threats, harassment and violence, she is not giving up the fight.





PETA gets worse

20 08 2009

PETA has a new fatist billboard campaign in Florida.  This billboard just went up in Jacksonville:

s-SAVE-THE-WHALES-large1

Save the whales.  Lose the blubber: Go vegeterian?!!  PETA is notoriously sexist and racist in their campaigns, and now they are fatist as well.  From their press release:

A new PETA billboard campaign that was just launched in Jacksonville reminds people who are struggling to lose weight — and who want to have enough energy to chase a beach ball — that going vegetarian can be an effective way to shed those extra pounds that keep them from looking good in a bikini. [....]

Anyone wishing to achieve a hot “beach bod” is reminded that studies show that vegetarians are, on average, about 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters. [...]

“Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA has a free ‘Vegetarian Starter Kit’ for people who want to lose pounds while eating as much as they like.

This is absolutely shameful, tactless and tasteless, but is not very surprising considering PETA’s track record.  Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly?  Way to fat shame and make women feel even more pressured to be thin.  PETA is completely inconsiderate and unempathetic of people’s feelings.

One woman wrote a heartbreaking letter saying:

I would like to express my outrage at a billboard I recently saw in Jacksonville, Florida.

My family was visiting, and I was planning on taking them to the beach to enjoy the beautiful day when i saw a billboard that made me want to cry. It says “Save the Whales,” with a picture of an overweight woman in the foreground.

We all sat there and stared at it for a minute and everyone in the car was silent. No one wanted to mention my weight. I laughed it off as usual, but it really had made me so embarrassed, so self conscious and so ashamed about my weight that I dropped off my family at the oceanfront and left to go home, making the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well.

My embarrassment turned to outrage as I was sitting at home contemplating that distasteful, disgusting billboard. I can’t believe that PETA would be so disrespectful as to use the terms “whales” and “blubber” when referring to obese people. I wish there was something I could do. I’ve already written to them expressing my outrage at their malicious terms and asked them to take it down.

Unfortunately PETA does not care that they are consistently offensive and outraging.  H/t Holly at Deceiver.








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