The F word and Choice

13 02 2009

There seems to be a popular opinion out there that feminism is about giving women the choice to do whatever they want to do and therefore empowering them. So if a woman chooses to be a porn star, if she chooses to stay home and raise a family, if she chooses to take her husband’s last name, if she chooses to get breast augmentation, then lay off, it’s a feminist decision and power to her!   

However the whole idea of empowering women by letting them make their own choices is not the only goal of feminism, and by making it seem as such and not questioning the whole issue of choice, the other important goals of feminism are eclipsed. Furthermore, it is less about a woman’s personal choice and what society inclines them to choose.

The whole buzz around choice started in the 80s when the women’s movement started framing issues around legalized abortion as a question around women’s choices. Then it started to somehow become ingrained in other feminist discourses.

The word choice tends to get thrown around a lot. I remember seeing a Chapstick advertisement that showed a woman putting on Chapstick and the text said something like, Empower yourself . Choose Chapstick. That is just a little irrelevant…I don’t see how choosing Chapstick is a feminist or empowering decision.

Choice is a tricky and confusing concept to discuss… On the one hand, one cannot blame patriarchal society for duping women into acting under “false consciousness” because that renders women as completely lacking in agency. However, one must also consider the large degree of societal influence that affects the choices each one of us makes – to what extent do we do (or not do) things because we genuinely want to do them, and to what extent do we do things because we feel that we are supposed to (or not supposed to) do them?

What are people’s thoughts / reactions?

Women’s Studies in jeopardy

13 02 2009

Florida Atlantic University is one of the select few universities in this country that offers an Advanced degree in Women’s Studies. However, university officials have proposed a suspension on the Women, Gender and Sexuality department due to budget cuts. If the suspension is approved then it will be enacted in Fall 2010 for an indefinite period of time.

Budget cuts are not a legitimate excuse. The Women, Gender and Sexuality program only utilizes .00025 percent of the university’s total education budget. As one department representative states:

At a university where the average salary of a male professor is $16,000.00 higher than the average salary of a female professor, how else are we to interpret the proposed suspension of the Women’s Studies Center and M.A. program than as an attack on women? 

Eliminating Women’s Studies is a misogynist move that attempts to maintain the status quo by trying to further marginalize an already marginalized discipline. Women’s Studies isn’t perceived to be “necessary” or “practical” and therefore ends up being shoved to the side. Furthermore, the wage gap is still an unfortunate reality. It exists here at Tufts too.

If the purpose of higher education is to broaden students’ perspectives, to challenge traditional modes of knowledge production, and to introduce new ways of thinking, then institutions should not be trying to eradicate Women’s Studies, or other academic disciplines such as cultural studies, that dare to subvert the dominant paradigm.  

There is a facebook group to Save the Women’s Studies program at FAU! that has a link to a petition circulating to protest the administration’s decision.

Misogynist Flashback #1: 1970

13 02 2009

Golly gee willikers, driving really is tough for a woman.  Good thing I have these tires to do the driving for me!

Violent Masculinity as a Cultural Ideal: Both Men and Women are Victims

13 02 2009

A lot of people seem to think that because I am a feminist, I will jump to support women in every context.  This is blatantly not true.  Women participate in patriarchy just as men do.  I do NOT feel that men as a group are holding women down, but that societal definitions of masculinity and femininity are holding men and women down.  Both men and women participate in perpetuating gender stereotypes.  Both men and women participate in gendered hierarchies.  There are aspects of patriarchy that I do think women have very little control over.  But there are also aspects of patriarchy that victimize men.

Violent masculinity has become a cultural ideal.  Violence in society is organized by and also defines gender.  Both men and women live in fear of violence.  Abuse occurs in the workplace, in families, and even between children.  In a media-infused culture that defines acceptable manhood as the “tough guy,” men are encouraged to struggle to fulfill this ideal in order to protect themselves and make themselves physically attractive.  Childhood bullying is just one way in which masculinity is asserted early on, and the “cool” boys are separated from the not-as-tough.  In any context, violence results from a lack of power and an attempt to gain power.  Thus, we are caught in a vicious cycle in which one of the only ways to exercise power comes from intimidating others.

A woman who cannot walk down her own street late at night, attend a frat party, or go on a trip alone may be more conscious of the threat of violence and rape than her male counterparts.  According to some statistics, one in three women will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  Other statistics give more conservative estimates.  It is impossible to know how many women have been beaten, assaulted, or otherwise victimized because these events are so underreported.  The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network estimates that 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  RAINN also estimates that at least 60% of assaults are not reported to the police.  

For all of RAINN’s sexual assault and violence statistics click here.    

Many organizations give higher estimates than RAINN, but RAINN’s statistics in themselves are shocking.  1 in 33 men is no small number.  Imagine your largest lecture class.  Divide the men in that class by thirty-three and the women by six.  Chances are you know numerous men AND women who have been sexually assaulted.

Not only women are raped and beaten.  Some sources estimate that about 98% of rapists are male(1), but women are capable of rape as well.  So many rapists are male, not because men are inherently evil, but partially because our society in a sense condones the association of violence with masculinity.  Obviously, violence in the media is not to blame for rape, but the need that many men feel to be tough in order to fit in perpetuates the association of violence with masculinity.  Violent masculinity does not only encourage violence against women, but violence among men as well.

The socialization of violence begins at childhood.  The acceptable toys for boys are often violence-oriented, whereas most girls’ toys have to do with fashion, nurturing, and childcare.  In the media, as in American society, gendered stereotypes are continually portrayed and rewarded.  Characters such as Rambo, Rocky, Conan The Barbarian, and The Terminator depict masculinity as violent and sometimes animalistic.  Our male sex-symbols, such as Ludacris,  Eminem and 50-Cent spew misogyny, and we willingly dance along.  

“Put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand,” says one of Eminem’s oh-so-charming tunes, “Superman.”

“And hos never close they open like hallways,” asserts Ludacris in his song “Ho.”

“Nah, I don’t be fuckin wit them fat bitches.  That’s Yayo,” argues 50-Cent’s rap entitled “Fat Bitch.”

Artists such as T.I. are idolized despite histories of violence and weapons charges.  It is astounding how many people have jumped to defend Chris Brown after his recent attack of girlfriend, Rihanna.  When toughness is viewed as sexy, girls are taught to have a masochistic desire to find the good in the “bad boy,” to uncover his secret love for them under his violent exterior.  Attraction can prove dangerous to women in our society.  We are taught that “nice guys” don’t get girls, and in some ways the statement is true.  Women are socialized to be attracted to bad boys, and men are socialized to have to attain a tough ideal in order to be viewed as attractive.

It is my opinion that both men and women must cease to fashion themselves based on stereotypes.  We must refuse to accept the abuse that is normalized in the media.  Our own consumerism drives sexual themes in advertising and television.  Let’s use our fear to rebel, not to conform.


13 02 2009

So I have been getting a lot of protest from one commenter about my position on PETA.  I just want to provide a little more evidence to back up my claim about sexism or racism in PETA’s advertisements.  I simply do not think that undercutting other movements is a way to further one’s movement, no matter how noble the cause.










The list goes on and on.  Displaying women and African Americans as cuts of meat, animals, or sexy and battered really is counterproductive and offensive.  Juxtaposing the lynching of African Americans and the slaughter of animals can be interpreted as insensitive and dehumanizing.  The historical implications of presenting minorities as “wild” animals and women literally as pieces of meat may get attention, but negative attention can undercut a movement and cause offense.

“I’m not a feminist, but…” and “I’m a feminist, but…”

13 02 2009

This person is the individual who always says smart and insightful things in your Women’s Studies, or not Women’s Studies, class, the one who comes to the Take Back the Night rallies and knows what to say and how to say it to captivate and move the crowd, the activist always organizing events or pitching in awesome ideas.

But then you hear s/he say, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and you cringe. Oh no. A feminist afraid of feminism.

The right wing’s attack on feminism along with the absurd way that the media has portrayed feminism has tremendously discredited the movement and has made people, men and women alike, to reject identifying themselves as feminists. Saying “I’m not a feminist, but…” is making a concession to the dominant paradigm by continuing to vilify the F word. Replacing the word “feminist” would not really remove the stigma – if we chose another word instead, that word would bear the stigma because feminism is a radical ideology that threatens to subvert the status quo.

Popular stereotypes of feminists iterated and reiterated by the media also harm people who identify as feminists but preface their sentence with, “I’m a feminist, but…”: I’m a feminist, but I’m not a lesbian (but what’s wrong with being a lesbian?) or I’m a feminist, but I don’t hate men. Hearing these statements reaffirms how pervasive, powerful and damaging these stereotypes that try to discredit feminism are.

It’s also disheartening how quickly people can be to reject feminism even if they don’t know what it is. Even celebrities are quick to deny that they are feminists, even though these denials contradict other statements they have made. In a recent interview Kelly Clarkson was asked, “Do you consider the record industry to be a boys club?”, she said:

I just know for a fact … why I said that was because I was actually on a phone call with two people who did not know I was on the phone, and I literally heard somebody I used to work with say, “Well, you know what, he can get away with it because it’s a guy. She’s a girl, so let’s just face it, it’s different.” And I was like, “Is this the 1950s?” I hung up and didn’t listen to the rest.

But then when asked if she was a feminist, she immediately said, “No, not at all…I’ve never had to even think like a feminist because no one around me even thinks one [sex] is higher than the other.”

It befuddles me… Feminists should not feel like they have to be afraid of, conceal, feel embarrassed about, or apologize for their beliefs.

Sexist Advice

13 02 2009

So over on Feministing, there is a conversation going on about the worst college advice people have been given which made me think about the sexist advice I’ve been given throughout my life, specifically because I am female. Even if they were well intentioned comments told to me by people who care about me, the sexist undertones and implications are offensive. Here are some examples:

– Don’t walk by yourself late at night. Try to get a guy friend to walk you, or walk with a group of your girl friends.

– When you go to parties, cover your drink, or don’t drink from open containers.

– Don’t wear such low cut tops or short skirts!

All of these pieces of advice are indicative of a victim-blaming rape culture in which women are responsible for protecting themselves from the actions of others that they cannot control. They all insinuate that if you follow them – if you don’t walk by yourself late at night, if you cover your drink at parties, if you don’t wear “slutty” clothing – then you will be less likely to be raped or sexually assaulted. However, wanting to go out on your own late at night, drinking at parties, and wearing a short skirt or a revealing top is not asking to be sexually harassed or assaulted. I understand that these preventative measures are part of well intentioned risk reduction and safety planning, but it’s just sad that so much focus has to be on what not to do in order to not get raped, and so much of the emphasis is placed on what potential victims should do to stay out of harm’s way. What about putting accountability where it belongs, on the perpetrators or the potential perpetrators? Women should have the right to go out and do as they please without worrying about being raped or sexually assaulted.

Other examples of sexist advice:

– Don’t carry heavy things, ask _______ (insert male figure: father, brother, boyfriend, guy friend, random male acquaintance, etc.) to help you.

– You should ask _______ (again, insert male figure) to help you fix your _______ (bike, computer, printer, heat, etc.)

– Don’t do _______, it’s not lady-like. / Be ladylike.

What are some pieces of sexist advice that other people been given?