Monday Blogaround

5 10 2009

Here are some things that popped up on my feminist radar:

What Counts as Real Rape? – More from Gwen on the Roman Polanski case

Concerns About Racism Are “Weird” – The trivialization and dismissal of racism by saying “it’s weird”

US Fence Causes Increase in Border Deaths – Today marks the 15th anniversary of the poorly misguided border strategy known as Operation Gatekeeper

Childbirth at the Global Crossroads – The implications of surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology on women in the “developing” world

End the War in Afghanistan – Peter Rothberg’s lists ways you can help end the war in Afghanistan

Fiona Pilkington inquest: how ableism can lead to suicide – ableism has been instituted and normalized in our society, thus marginalizing and erasing certain existences

Woody’s To Face Boycott – The Fairness Campaign is calling for a boycott of Woody’s Tavern at 4 PM Tuesday

My Weight – Stomp out weight bigotry and fatism. As Joy Nash says, “Tell people how much you weigh. It’s just a stinking number.”

Reclaim the Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminism Network – Feminism is not fully functional if it excludes trans people

Activist Modus Operandi: Methods of Communication – a great post from Genderbitch on activism for marginalized groups and tips on how to be an effective activist





Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Right to Decide

5 10 2009

Today was a lovely day for Mass NOW’s Counter-Protest to Mass Citizens for Life – the rain held off, it was fairly warm out, and an enthusiastic, energetic crowd showed up in solidarity to participate in the counter-protest.  Here are some images from the Boston Commons:

 

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Gwen- The Homeless American Girl Doll

1 10 2009

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, one out of every 50 children in the US is homeless.  And the American Girl doll company seems to be trying to take a stand on this issue…by providing a new homeless American Girl doll named Gwen for the exorbitant price of $95 (talk about irony).  The doll, “Gwen,” has been quite controversial in the media lately.  Whereas some see this as a positive step towards promoting tolerance during the economic downturn, others see it as really poor taste.

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Let me point out that “Gwen” is not new news.  She is a limited edition doll who has been around for quite a while.  But, the media only seems to have picked up on the story quite recently.  Gwen’s biography on her Wiki page reads:

Gwen and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen’s father left them and they became homeless the fall before the start of the book’s events. Initially, Gwen’s mother has them live in their car until the winter comes; she then takes them to Sunrise House, a place for homeless women and children. Sunrise House helps them get on their feet and eventually get a new apartment.

Gwen is presented as a companion doll to Chrissa, the first “Girl of the Year” doll.  Gwen is one of Chrissa’s friends, and Chrissa’s movie and books include scenes of her defending Gwen from school bullies.  Sonali, Chrissa’s other “friend” companion doll is also available for purchase.  Bitch Magazine asks:

Does the fact that homeless-shelter Gwen and “at least part South Asian” Sonali are sidekicks rather than Girl-of-the-Year themselves contribute to the other-ing and tokenizing of disenfranchised or non-white young girls? Or is it good that they’re getting the American Girl Doll treatment at all?

CBS sent a correspondent to an L.A. homeless shelter to get some reactions to the doll.  One woman in the shelter claimed that the doll touched her heart, but was disturbed to discover that the doll was not actually being used to raise money to help the homeless.  Others in the shelter found the creation of the doll in itself offensive.  The American Girl company claims the doll “offers valuable lessons about life.”  The company also notes that although no proceeds directly from the sale of Gwen dolls and related items go to help the homeless, the company has donated nearly $500,000 since 2006 to HomeAid, a national nonprofit group that seeks housing for homeless people.

Another concern about the doll is that instead of teaching tolerance, the doll is just promoting complacence.  Some fear that the doll sends the message that homelessness is an acceptable aspect of society, and that it is perfectly okay to have some children be homeless while others are privileged (and buying $95 dolls).

Andrea Peyser at The New York Post is especially upset by the doll.  She says:

What message is being sent with Gwen?

For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She’s also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don’t lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too.

I am really very perturbed by Peyser’s implication that a woman should lose custody of her children if she is abandoned, loses her job, and is forced to be homeless.  And Gwen’s mom in the stories is not actually “helpless” at all, but is struggling nobly with Gwen to make ends meet and to survive.  There are women who are abandoned by their husbands (yes, Peyser, sometimes completely without “cause”), lose their jobs, and are thrown into poverty, and the fact that Peyser implies that these experiences are unheard-of is really ridiculous and offensive.

I can see where the company was trying to go with this doll, and I think as a child I would have really identified with this character, given my background.  In some ways, it is really nice to see a doll acknowledge other family experiences and it might have been comforting as a child for me to see that there are other families who struggle, and other children abandoned.  I remember having so many images of perfect families thrown at me that I really felt inadequate and abnormal in a lot of ways.  A lot of criticisms of the doll have focused on preserving children’s innocence, arguing that this doll is inappropriate for children.  But to assume that children live in a bubble is kind of ridiculous to me.  The truth is, a lot of children are feeling the impacts of the economy firsthand.  A lot of children struggle with family issues.  These problems exist, and it seems irresponsible to act as if they do not.

But $95 is ridiculous.  And perhaps, like Bitch Magazine points out, Sonali and  Gwen aren’t quite being given their due.  Do Gwen and Sonali’s position as “companion” dolls somehow make them seem “less-than” and other-ized?  Why must Gwen be the quiet insecure girl who is bullied and called names, but is then so nobly defended by her savior, “Girl of the Year” Chrissa?  Is “Gwen” actually a successful attempt at teaching children acceptance?  Or is it just another marketing ploy to make big bucks by exploiting other peoples’ misfortune?  Is the irony too much to bear?





On Inclusionary Language

30 09 2009

This is a wonderful post about Why Inclusionary Language Matters. It really gets to the heart of a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

Here’s an excerpt:

What do all of the following words or phrases have in common?

Bitch. Cripple. Grow a pair. Lame. Cunt. White trash. “He/his/him” as a generic when the gender of a subject is not known. Ballsy. Harpy. Whore. Female impersonator. Jewed. Real woman. Retarded. Slut. Dumb. Natural woman. Harridan. Witch. Idiot. Man up. Biological sex. Crazy. Tranny. Step up. Breeder. Shrew. She-male. Gay. You guys as a generic greeting to a mixed gender group. Skank. Mankind. “Man” as a generic for “people.” Gyp. Insane. Schizo/schizophrenic. “Disabled” as a noun. Women born women. Ungendering by using “he” as a pronoun for a trans woman or “she” as a pronoun for a trans man.

They’re all exclusionary. Some of these words are actively used today as insults, and some of them have a historical context of use as insults which oppress, silence, and marginalize large groups of people, some of whom happen to be women. Some of these terms are racist, some are sexist, some are classist, some are cissexist, some are heterosexist, some are ableist. (I deliberately haven’t used speciesist terms here because, while I think that there is a clear intersection between animal rights issues and feminism, others may disagree, and thus, may not think that using speciesist language is exclusionary.) Many of these words are a common part of the vernacular; I use “bitch” all the time, for example. Many are examples of subconsciously exclusionary terms, in that people use them thoughtlessly, without realizing what they are really saying.

All of them should not be used by people who claim to be feminists, if feminism for them is about advocating for all women and improving conditions for all women. I include myself in this admonition. Every time we use them, we engage in othering. We exclude The Other, and make it clear that we don’t actually care about the issues that other people may experience. We make it clear that our claims of ally status are just lip service.

At its core, feminism should be, to my mind, about justice. Justice for all women. Not just women who fit into a very narrow set of categories. And this is why we need to use inclusionary language. This is why we need to cultivate spaces which are truly safe for everyone. This is why we need to own our actions and apologize for them if they are hurtful. We cannot repair the damage we have done to other human beings, but we can work to prevent it in the future.

Lots of people like to defend exclusionary language. They say that they like using a term, or can’t come up with a good alternative, or don’t really see why they should have to change. “The word doesn’t really mean that anymore,” or “but I’m not really [pick your poison]ist, so it’s ok.” But, here’s the thing. Even if the word doesn’t mean that anymore, that doesn’t mean that it does not carry very negative implications. Even if someone thinks that the word is being used in a positive sense, it is still loaded with negative meaning. It does not mean that the word does not have a very loaded history. It does mean that every time you use it, you are unconsciously enforcing a system of oppression. You can participate in and even perpetuate a system of oppression without actively subscribing to it.

People who dislike being told that they should not use exclusionary language are often people who have something to lose if actual justice is achieved. If we ever live in a society where trans hatred doesn’t exist, everyone who is cis gendered will lose privilege, for example. As the old saying goes, “we all like to see our friends get ahead, but not too far ahead,” and this appears to apply to social justice issues as well, though you would be hard pressed to find someone who openly admits it. Being informed that you are hurting people with your actions threatens people when they have something to lose in this fight. This is why people push back so strongly when they are informed that their word usage is hurtful. This is why people become defensive when they are asked why they failed to include different perspectives in discussions. This is why people get angry when they are called on their privilege.

You can believe with all your heart that sexism is terrible and evil, but when you call a woman a bitch, it kind of undermines your point. You can think that people with disabilities are oppressed and marginalized by society, and that this is wrong, but when you call something “lame,” you’re saying that you think it’s ok to continue oppressing people with disabilities. When you say that someone should “step up,” you are unconsciously erasing everyone in the population who cannot step, like wheelchair users and people who are bedbound. When you refer to someone or something as “insane” or “crazy,” you are using mental illness as a slur.

So stop it. Stop using exclusionary language. Start including people.

And stop trying to defend it. If you’re too lazy to find a better word or phrase to use, that’s your problem, not society’s. If you can’t be creative enough to think of a different word or phrase, a word or phrase which does not exclude or silence someone, you apparently have not heard of a thesaurus.

I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.





Weekly Feminist Reader

27 09 2009

Cara covers the story of a Trans Woman Murdered in Hollywood

Partisan Politican Contributions by US Companies

A Take on The Good Wife: The Wrong Side of the Mommy Track

Health Care Reform — at the Price of Women’s Health?

Nike Makes Black Athlete Look Like…an Animal? An Alien? What?

Cross-generational discussions can be difficult – but we need to have them

Trans-misogyny? There’s an app for that

A topic that’s worth revisiting over and over again: How to be an ally

The Reverse of Discrimination is “Not Discrimination”

Minor Offenses: The Tragedy of Youth in Adult Prisons

What’s wrong with [not just young people] everybody now

Malkin’s venom knows no bounds: Obama “doesn’t like this country very much”, is the “Groveler in Chief”





Happy Peace Day!

21 09 2009

Today, September 21st, is International Peace Day. In 1999, filmmaker Jeremy Gilley started Peace One Day to find a starting point for peace. He was on a mission to document his efforts to establish the first ever fixed day of global ceasefire and nonviolence. Two years later, all 192 member nations of the United Nations unanimously adopted September 21st as an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence and thus September 21st became Peace Day.

Peace Day is  not just about creating and sustaining peace between nations, but it is also about creating and sustaining peace on a more local and interpersonal level. This means observing nonviolence in our homes, our friendships, our relationships, our schools, our communities, our workplaces, etc. As most peace activists already know, peace is more than just the absence of war. Peace is also the absence of structural violence.

Structural violence can often be invisible and harder to detect because it is so normalized and ingrained in society. It is a term that was coined by Johan Galtung to denote violence that is perpetuated by the systematic ways in which a given social structure or social institution oppress people and violate their basic humanity. Examples of structural violence include racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ethnocentrism, etc. Structural violence is linked to and interdependent with direct violence because it creates the foundation from which direct violence can manifest seemingly justifiably.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama has said, “We must make every effort for the promotion of peace and inner values.” Peace One Day has suggestions for how you can take action on Peace Day. One simple way is to make a commitment to take action on Peace Day. Go throughout the day with this elevated intention. Taking action does not have to be a grand gesture. It can be small (afterall, the personal is political), like apologizing to someone who you may have wronged, making a donation to a nonprofit organization that you support, taking some time out of your day to volunteer, etc.

Gilley, the Chair and Founder of Peace One Day, says:

We want to reach 3 billion people with the message of Peace Day by 2012, and we are working with governments, the UN system, non-governmental organisations, schools and corporations to achieve that; but ultimately it is your support that will help make it a reality. As Ahmad Fawzi (now Director of News Media at the UN) said at our launch in 1999, “It is the peoples of this world who can create peace.”





Feminist Reader

19 09 2009

Here’s some stuff that’s out there on the interwebs right now.  Check it out.

A piece by Ann at Feministing about the Hofstra case and rape culture.

All female trains in India.

Rush Limbaugh once again being a jackass, says that we should return to racially segregated buses.

Cara at The Curvature does an excellent job explaining why we should not pressure rape survivors into naming their attackers.

Stuff white people do-  feel entitled to touch black women’s hair.

Marvel writer has rape in storyline, then responds to criticism with rape-culture apologism.

Katrina’s lessons are as important as 9/11’s.

In upcoming stuff:  “Sex, Lies, and Gender” will appear on the National Geographic channel Tuesday Sept. 22 at 6 PM.  Check out the airing times near you.  I have seen it.  I will watch it again.  You should definitely watch it too.

ACORN pimp sting, child prostitution, and accountability” by Atlasien at Racialicious

Tenured Radical goes to Washington D.C., offers some thoughts on the Tea Party rally.