What if we refused to occupy Black Friday? Or, at least stopped shopping at Wal-Mart?

One might think that Black Friday mania might be scaled-back this year, given the economic crisis and the rising awareness of socio-economic injustices evidenced by the Occupy movement. But, no, consumer capitalism will not go gentle into that good night – instead, it will bang the shopping drum in a mad frenzy, exhorting people to buy, buy, buy as if their life and happiness depended on it. Unfortunately, like children running after the Pied Piper, we heed this call, heading out to Wal-Mart ON THANSKGIVING DAY. Yes, that’s right, Black Friday, is being “rolled back” to Thursday.

I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart years ago, years before a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on Black Friday. But, I readily admit that I am somewhat of a shop-aholic. I grew up in a family that loved to shop, and I have not rid myself of the addictive pleasures of consumer consumption. I try to shop less though, to deny the siren call of the shoe sale or buy-one-get-one-free bonanza. And, I try to be more savvy about where I shop.

Of course, buying sweatshop free or supporting fair wages is nigh impossible in today’s world, but we can all take little steps – and giving up Wal-Mart is a great way to start. Why? Because the Waltons are the apex of the 1%, because Wal-Mart exploits is workers, relies on slave labor, and is sexist and racist in it’s hiring, promoting, and firing practices. It is also one of the most powerful and profitable mega-consumer-corporations of its kind. If we could force Wal-Mart to change, other chains would surely follow suit.

As someone who includes a directive to not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedyreveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disproportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderfulFrontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-MartWal-Mart Sucks, andWal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

 

What if Those Nice Puritans You Learned about in K-12 Were Not So Nice? Or, Taking, Not Giving, and Without Thanks

(This post originally ran a few years back and was re-posed at Ms. Blog last year.)

I would like to give a nod to my anthropology professor of years ago, who, when I was a sophomore in college, was the first person to truly begin to open my eyes about Indigenous History. That semester, we read Changes in the Land. My feelings towards Thanksgiving, and US colonization, have been radically altered ever since.

For most people I know, Thanksgiving is not about celebrating Pilgrims or acknowledging the history surrounding the holiday. Rather, it is about spending time with friends and family, being thankful for loved ones, for having the day off work, and, of course, about stuffing oneself silly.

Alas, while attending a recent National Women’s Studies Association conference in Denver, I was reminded of the importance of remembering the true history behind the day when I saw someone in attendance wearing this shirt, which reads “Genocide – Poverty – Hunger / No Thanks / No Giving! /What are you Celebrating? / Give Thanks Everyday.

I would hazard a guess that probably 95 percent of Americans don’t know that there were at least two “first” Thanksgivings. The story most of us know is of the day in 1621 when Pilgrims and Native Americans supposedly shared in a harvest feast. For what really happened at this time, I defer to Dr. Tingba Apidta, who notes:

According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October, but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became known as ‘Thanksgiving,’ the Pilgrims never called it that. And amidst the imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony is some of the most terrifying bloodshed in New World history.

The Pilgrims invited the Indian Sachem Massasoit to their feast, and it was Massasoit, engaging in the tribal tradition of equal sharing, who then invited ninety or more of his Indian brothers and sisters–to the annoyance of the 50 or so ungrateful Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served; they likely ate duck or geese and the venison from the five deer brought by Massasoit. In fact, most, if not all, of the food was probably brought and prepared by the Indians, whose 10,000-year familiarity with the cuisine of the region had kept the whites alive.

The Pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural expertise of the Indians had produced twenty acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Indians often brought food to the Pilgrims, who came from England ridiculously unprepared to survive and hence relied almost exclusively on handouts from the overly generous Indians–thus making the Pilgrims the western hemisphere’s first welfare recipients.

The fact that the hospitality, the sense of community and inter-humanity is what kept the whites alive is lost in the stories we learn in the U.S. education system. So, too, is the savagery of the Pilgrims. As Apitda notes, “Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder.”

What is also conveniently left out of our mainstream history is the fact that in the years following that unhappy meal, the majority of indigenous peoples in the area were either murdered firsthand or secondhand (via diseases of white folks). As Eric Vieth of Dangerous Intersection reminds us,

Hepatitis, smallpox, chickenpox and influenza killed between 90 percent and 96 percent of the native Americans living in coastal New England.

This brings me to another myth–that Pilgrims and Puritans were God-worshipping people who merely sought religious freedom (rather than power, land and wealth). In fact, as Mitchel Cohen points out, these “settlers” used their religion to justify the persecution, enslavement and murder of indigenous peoples.

Speaking of persecution and murder brings me to the second First Thanksgiving–the one in 1637 that occurred near the Mystic River and involved the slaughter of at least 700 Pequot Indians. This is the real First Thanksgiving–the one so-named by the leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

As Mitchel Cohen relates (emphasis mine):

Thanksgiving, in reality, was the beginning of the longest war in the U.S.–­ the extermination of the Indigenous peoples. Thanksgiving day was first proclaimed by the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637, not to offer thanks for the Indians saving the Pilgrims ­ that’s yet another re-write of the actual history ­ but to commemorate the massacre of 700 indigenous men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance in their own house.

Gathered at this place, they were attacked by mercenaries, English and Dutch. The Pequots were ordered from the building and as they came forth they were killed with guns, swords, cannons and torches. The rest were burned alive in the building. The very next day the governor proclaimed a holiday and feast to ‘give thanks’ for the massacre. For the next 100 years a governor would ordain a day to honor a bloody victory, thanking god the ‘battle’ had been won.

Want to read more about this? See Where White Men Fear To Tread by Russell Means and Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building, by R. Drinnon, 1990.

There was no turkey, no happy exchange, no “sharing” between Pilgrims and Indigenous Peoples at this Thanksgiving. Rather, Indigenous Peoples gave, Pilgrims took.

It is the sweetened 1621 version that President Lincoln harkened back to when declaring a national holiday. As Glen Ford notes,

Lincoln surveyed a broken nation and attempted nation-rebuilding, based on the purest white myth. The same year that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he renewed the national commitment to a white manifest destiny that began at Plymouth Rock.

This “white manifest destiny” is yet another piece of the imperial puzzle that we sweep under the rug. What goes unspoken in the historical renderings of this time is race; we are talking about not merely Pilgrims or Puritans but about whites, and a white supremacist ideology that sought to enslave and/or eradicate all peoples of color.

Tune in again tomorrow for Part 2 of the real story of Thanksgiving.
For further reading, see

What if “Columbus Day” was given the more accurate name “Celebrate Genocide Day”?

 (originally posted at this link in 2008)

Today is “Columbus Day,’ a day that has been celebrated in various ways since at least 1792 and was declared a federal holiday by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934. Currently, elementary schools around the nation combine the ‘holiday’ with learning units about Columbus and his “discovery.” The ways in which this portion of history is taught consists of a massive lie.

To start with, most history books claim Columbus “discovered” America. Well, forgive me  for asking, but when there are already anywhere form 10 to 45 million inhabitants living on a land mass, why does one conqueror’s greed induced voyage equal “discovery”? (Not to mention Columbus was lost and thought he was in Cuba when he first landed in the Caribbean and thought he was in India when he landed in North America.)

Teaching children Columbus “discovered” American obliterates the history of the indigenous people’s of this continent, it ignores the genocide that ensued, and it suggests that greed-driven imperialism is something to be celebrated.  It equates being a “hero” with being racist, violent, power-hungry, and arrogant. Woo-hoo.

Many websites offer teachers lesson plans to help kids “celebrate” the wonderful imperialist genocide Columbus’ “discovery” made possible. You can make tiny egg cups to represent the ships. Neat! You can make your own “discovery map.” (Do teachers encourage children to note the numbers of indigenous people massacred at each of Columbus’ ‘discoveries’?) Or, you can download pictures to color. (I wonder if these include native people’s being eaten alive by dogs – a popular way to ‘kill heathens’ by our hero.)

What if students learned a less glorified version of the not-so-great CC? Perhaps they might benefit from knowing some of the following:

  • One of CC’s earliest boasts after encountering the peaceful Arawaks was “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” (Zinn, 1)
  • Columbus was on his ‘discovery mission’ for gold and power – he was a power hungry zealot – so greedy in fact that he denied the promised yearly pensions to some of his crew and kept all profits for himself (Zinn, 3)
  • At the time of Columbus’ quest for gold, power, and conquest, indigenous peoples numbered in the multi-millions in the Americas (Zinn puts the number at 25 million; Gunn Allen notes the number was likely between 45 million and 20 million and further points out the US government cites the pre-contact number at 450,000)
  • Indigenous people’s were not “primitive” but advanced agriculturally and technologically with complex societal systems (so advanced in fact that the notion of democracy was stolen from the Iroquois)
  • The majority of indigenous people were not war-like but peaceful and did not have a concept of private ownership – hence the term “Indian Giver” – which became a pejorative rather than a compliment in our ownership crazy society
  • Many indigenous societies had far more advanced sharing of power between the sexes/genders – or, as Zinn puts it, “the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent” (20)
  • “Contact” with Columbus and the conquerors that followed resulted not only in mass genocide, but continues to have negative effects on the small percentage of remaining indigenous peoples. For example, in the US, 25% of indigenous women and 10% of men have been sterilized without consent, infant mortality and unemployment are off the charts, and many existing tribes face extinction – hundreds of tribes have already become extinct in the last half century (Gunn Allen, 63)

These widely unknown facts (that are certainly not part of most public schools’ curriculum) are vitally important. As Zinn writes, “historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological” (8). The distortions surrounding Columbus serve to bring about “the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress” (Zinn, 9) – an acceptance the USA is practicing today with its imperialist occupation of Iraq. This approach to history, in which the conquerors and corrupt governments shape both how people view the past and how they interpret the present, consists of a massive propagandist campaign to justify greed and power.

In terms of the way Columbus is historically represented, the whole “discovery narrative” not only problematically glorifies (and erases) genocide, but it also passes off lies as truth. Students are led to believe that Columbus came upon some vast and nearly wilderness, when in fact many places were as densely populated (and ‘civilized’) as areas of Europe (Zinn, 21). More prosaically, many people often mistakenly believe Columbus actually set foot on US soil (he never did). Moreover, US inhabitants are encouraged to lionize the man who not only precipitated mass murder of indigenous people’s, but also brought slavery across the Atlantic Ocean. Even ‘revisionist history’ fails to condemn Columbus, arguing he needs to be read in the context of his times. For example James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me,refers to him as “our first American hero.”  Well, if he is a hero, I certainly don’t want to be one of those, nor do I want to encourage my children, or my students, to look up to this version of heroism.

If you ask me, Columbus Day should be voided from the Federal Holiday calendar. Instead, perhaps we should institute an “Indigenous People’s Day” or a “Native American Day” to celebrate the true discovers of this continent. Columbus was an arrogant asshole, a murderous bigot, the cause of history’s largest and longest genocide. Who the hell wants to celebrate that?

Works cited:

Gunn Allen, Paula. “Angry Women are Building” in Reconstructing Gender. Ed. Estelle Disch. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2006) 63-67.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. (New York: Harper Collins, 2003).

For further reading:

Gunn Allen, Paula. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminism in American Indian Traditions.

Jaimes, M. Annette. The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance.

La Duke, Winona. The Winona la Duke Reader.

Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.

 

What if you’re in the market for a vampire daddy this father’s day?

If you have been following pop culture over the past 5 years, you probably know the genesis of vampire fathers: He’s the vampire who turns you into a vampire via toothsome bite or venom injection. The most popular contemporary vampire series, Twilight and True Blood, don’t feature any vampire mothers. But they do present us with a number of good, even godly, vampire fathers. Twilight’s Carlisle Cullen is a perfect undead dad to permanently teenage vampire Edward. And when Bill Compton, the hunky undead leading man of HBO’s True Blood, becomes a reluctant father to vampire Jessica, he steps up quite well.

It’s clear Twilight author Stephanie Meyer would put Carlisle up for the prize for best vampire dad. He literally MAKES his vampire Brady-Bunch family, by, yes, turning people into vampires. How preferable to having to reside in one of those icky woman-wombs for nine months! And, in a saga that so values the sex-free life, he is a surprisingly good matchmaker, turning first the seductive Rosalie into a vampire to provide his century-long-virgin-son Edward an opportunity for bumping uglies, then, when that doesn’t fly, voting to make Bella undead. (Imagine if he sought sex partners for DAUGHTERS–now that would likely cause quite the stir, no?)

Even the non-vampire dads in these series compete for best dad status. In Twilight, Charlie is a benevolent dad to heroine Bella Swan, giving her the space and independence most teens desire and even supplying her with cool wheels. Billy Black is touchingly protective of both his werewolf son Jacob and Bella, and Sam is the dedicated, if overly authoritarian, muscle-daddy of the werewolf pack. True Blood is full of touchingly queer fathering arrangements: queer cook Lafayette serves as a quasi-father to his cousin Tara, shapeshifter Sam acts as dad to waitress Arlene’s kids when she is on a bender induced by an evil manead (don’t ask!), and the town yokel Hoyt plays the role of compassionate, forgiving father-figure to his unlikeable mother.

But, if I were in the market for a vampire daddy to call my own, I would pick the surprisingly progressive Bill of True Blood. Despite his reluctance to vamparent, he is patient with his new vampire daughter, Jessica, helping her to find a synthetic blood she can tolerate and carefully teaching her the rules of vampire life. And, with heroine Sookie’s help, he recognizes Jessica is a sexual being and does not go all Edward-in-Twilight-crazy with talk of her “virtue” or how sex will damn her soul. The final episode of Season Two included a particularly touching scene where Bill and Jessica are each dressed to the nines for impending dates. Bill tells Jessica “you look quite the vision.” She worries this is a nice comment to soften his coming complaints about her dating a mortal (the goodhearted-but-hapless Hoyt). Instead, Bill admits “times have changed” and tells her “I hope you and Hoyt have a nice time.” What a nice trade from dad as quasi-virginity warrior (a concept Jessica Valenti explores in her book The Purity Myth). I would much prefer this kind but not-overbearing Bill to Carlisle’s creepy matchmaker habits!

The uber-pale good vampire daddies in Twilight and True Blood certainly outclass the bad vampire dads of older texts. Such narratives represent vampire dads as crazy, violent and racist (as in the 1987 film Near Dark), as creep-fest, power-hungry patriarchs (1987’s The Lost Boys), or as tooth-happy ghouls who turn innocent girls into wanton, lustful beasts (as in Stoker’s paradigmatic Dracula). In contrast, the human daddies are the bomb. In Near Dark, for example, protagonist Caleb is turned back into a human by his kindly father. Daddy even saves Caleb’s vampire love Meg, who turned Caleb into a vampire in the first place. How sweet.

While these dad-saviors that populate vampire narratives are appealing–they allow us to envision fathers who approve of our chosen mates (as Bill and Carlisle do) –they fail to have equally satisfying mother figures. They reveal the sad fact that our culture still assumes that fathers, even when vampires, werewolves, or shape shifters, know best.

Twilight takes “father-knows-best” to an extra level of creepiness with the notion (one fostered by Freud and certainly held by many Mormon polygamists) that females are seeking daddies via their romantic relationships. In a horribly irksome piece originally posted at Save the Males (who knew they needed saving!), writer Henry Makow argues that men “ought to be more ‘father-like’ in their approach to women;” they “should seek younger women who ‘look up’ to them.” Meyer seems to agree with this notion, providing Bella with a man who has 100 years on her and matching up baby Renesmee and toddler Claire with much older wolves via the imprinting meme (were the wolves “imprint” on a mate – a sort of love at first sight which involves male wolves imprinting on much younger female humans). Such May/December romance is only natural, according to Makow:

Many men want a daughter-figure, someone who will demonstrate the loyalty, trust and devotion that a girl feels for her father. A man wants to be affirmed in his authority as husband and father, not mothered like a child.

So there you have it people: If you are a hetero woman, go find yourselves an older daddy-man to look up to! If you’re not hetero, you can read more (PLEASE DON’T!) from Makow on how homosexuality is destroying capitalism, the family and the world.

To close, here’s hoping that you, dear readers, have a good father or father-figure in your life to celebrate this Sunday. And, nope, I don’t mind at all if that figure happens to be a vampire, werewolf or even a woman! Seems to me we should celebrate parenting in general rather than gendering the phenomenon…

(cross-posted at Ms. blog here)

What if the U.S.A. extended its holidays to include more than DWMs (dead white males)?

Sure, the US has a few days honoring those other than DWMs (Martin Luther King, Jr. day, for example). Yet, for the most part, the USA closes  schools, banks, post offices, etc to honor those of the dead white male persuasion.

Seeing that this year President’s Day and Susan B. Anthony Day fall on the same day, the strikingly un-diverse practice is put into sharp relief. How many people know it is SBA Day? How many kids study her work, and the work of other important women, as much or as often as that of all the dead white dudes?

I found a 3rd/4th grade lesson plan on SBA here. Thank Aphrodite for teachers that recognize SBA deserves as much (or more!) attention than former presidents.

As Miriam at Feministing notes in her “Today in Feminist History” blog column, most recorded history is about white men:

“In just the few months that I’ve been doing this series, I’ve encountered how difficult it can be to find important feminist historical moments, particularly organized by date. Especially when I’m doing most of my research online. So much of recorded history (particularly available on sites like Wikipedia, NY Times on this day) is about white men.”

This is why the 90th birthday of the league of women voters goes relatively unnoticed (except at feminist blogs, as here) and why I couldn’t find any mega big, mainstream blog covering SBA day. Seems like with all the coverage DWMs and AWMs (alive white males) get, we could pay a tad more attention to women’s history. (Yes, I know, it’s called HIStory for a reason…)

As noted by A Funny Feminist (who posted the someecard above), having this day off school “is a total wasted opportunity for kids to learn about presidents and other government whatnot.”

Just imagine if ONE day a year were devoted entirely to learning about women’s history? Yeah, we say there is a month, but my kids experience thus far reveals that Women’s History Month usually involves putting a few women’s pictures on the wall and maybe doing one report on an important woman. If I didn’t cajole some of the teachers into letting me talk in their classrooms during the month, there would be NO mention of feminism and no coverage other than the “rockstar women” that all the kids have already heard about…

If we really did honor these “Other” months, imagine the twist people like the white male studies peeps would get their boxers/briefs in!

Happy Susan B. Anthony Day everyone.

What if Santa brings out the fat-haters?

I was about to re-post a popular xmas piece of mine from last  year, What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa? when I came across this tweet from Bitch Media:

“Our culture’s knack for fat-shaming is now being directed at Santa? Oh no! No one is safe! http://bit.ly/5CsWDo

According to the NYDaily news link “A party-pooping public health expert in a top medical journal says Santa Claus needs to cut back on cookies” and “swap his sleigh for a treadmill…”

This message also ran through Fred Klaus, which I watched the other night. The very authentic looking Santa (played by Paul Giamatti) was continually berated about his weight by Mrs. Klaus (played by Elizabeth Banks). This movie had some funny bits, but I could have done without the fat-shaming.

Seems shaming Santa for his body is popular on Twitter, too. Here’s a quick sampling with added commentary by yours truly.

“BlondHousewife Santa Claus is a terrible role model. He’s fat, he drinks and he speeds. Breaks into people’s homes and abuses animals.” Being fat makes one a terrible role model? How about being a body-policing hater? Is that role model behavior?

“sophiemitch Dear Santa, Don’t bother coming to my house this year I’ve been Naughty! and it was fucking worth it… you fat, judgmental son of a bitch!!” Yup, if you want to insult someone, be sure to throw the f-word in there.

“jbouzou Fat Santa Claus / Think he surely ate / his reindeers. #senryu :o)” Uh-huh, cuz we all know fat people will eat ANYTHING.

“TrendTweetTopic Is Santa naughty if he’s fat? http://twa.lk/VvfLt about 3 hours ago from API” Cuz nothing says your bad like fat.

“Jazbyl24 I wonder if santa got my letter that fat mother fucker didn’t answer me back” Why is fat so often included as a descriptor when thin/skinny is not? Kinda like how we label non-white people but not white ones… As in “a black man was arrested” vs “a man was arrested” — when the person reported on is white, rarely is the whiteness mentioned…

Hope you can ignore all this fat-hatred Santa. Seems like your body size should be the last thing people focus on. But, when you’re fat, doesn’t seem to matter what you do or what kind of person you are, the thing people will focus on and shame you for is fat. Just imagine if you were (an out) female — then you’d likely see a load more fat-hatin and fat-shamin!

Published in: on December 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm  Comments (16)  
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What if…? Short Takes 12/14/09

1. Watched last week’s Xmas episode of The Office and LOVED Phyllis as Santa. Michael, being his regular (cis)sexist self, mocked her as “Tranny Claus,” insisting HE be Santa yet again. Phyllis rocked as Santa! Yeah for female Santa (and gender-queer Santa)! As for Mrs. Claus, I am damn sure she does a lot more than make cookies.

2. Obama gave himself a B+ on Oprah? Hmmm, methinks there is a bit of grade inflation going on. I gave him an A when he entered, especially as he jumped on repealing the Global Gag Rule. But his top student status declined from there. For effort, maybe a C-. For war cry, an F. For being in bed with bio-pharm, big corps, and those who love empire, an F. Don’t think this all averages out to a B+. Better luck next semester, Obama!

3.While if I had my way, we would figure out a way to eradicate the necessity for the military rather than fighting for equality within the military, I understand the need to transform the existing system until we can obliterate it (much like with patriarchy). One area in dire need of transformation in the military is the hyper-masculine ethos that translates into a rabidly sexist war machine. Not only does this result in the sexual assault of 71% of women in the military, it means they are treated like crap when they return home from service. They don’t get the “you’re a hero” attitude nor the resounding welcome into the warrior-hero boys’ club. Nope, instead they are rendered invisible yet again, treated as if all they did in Iraq was brew the coffee, keeping the homefire at the base burning. (For an article discussing the treatment of female vets, go here.)

What if Jesus were out shopping this holiday season?

This holiday season, give yourself a present: watch the hilarious and disturbingly informative What Would Jesus Buy.

This anti-consumerist documentary follows Reverend Billy Miller and his “Church of Stop Shopping” choir as they tour the U.S. in the consumer-frenzied run up to Christmas. The film begins with images of crazed, stampeding shoppers and various news channels reporting on “Black Friday,” as well as other Christmas-induced shopping mania.

It is the perfect film to watch at this time of year as we enter the manic descent into the mindless consumerism of the holiday shopping season and the directive to buy, buy, buy is everywhere. This directive comes through the mailbox via catalogues, through the television via ads, even via one’s email inbox via messages about “lowest prices of the season.” In general conversation, people pepper their speech with Christmas shopping “must-do’s” or share news of recent “bargains.”

As a professor quoted in What Would Jesus Buy clarifies, Christmas successfully convinces us to buy because it “combines commercialism with this true feeling of love and affection.” Or, in other words, we have come to associate the giving and receiving of gifts with love – the better the gift, the more gifts, the more we are loved – or so goes the loving-through-buying narrative, a narrative that translates into 5 million tons of extra waste generated from the holiday season via all the wrapping paper, packaging, etc (and this is in the US alone).
Yet, where all the stuff we buy during the holiday season will go is not a question we as consumers are encouraged to ask. This point is made clear by the “stop shopping counselor” featured in What Would Jesus Buy. Noting that many people are quite literally addicted to shopping, she encourages breaking the cycle via asking questions such as: “Do I really need this?” “Where will I put it?” While we don’t tend to consider where purchased items will go in the short term, neither do we think about where they will go long term.

The “disposing” side of consumption, so well captured in the film The Story of Stuff as well as in the garbage filled earth featured in Wall-e, is not a side we are prompted to think about. In fact, even given the popularity of the “go green” and “save the planet” paradigm we are now in, we are encouraged to SHOP to save the earth – BUY more green products, PURCHASE a hybrid car, GET re-usable shopping bags! This is not to say that these directives do not have their merit on some level, but that we are rarely given directives to NOT BUY, to STOP CONSUMING, let alone to consume less.

Driven by what the film refers to as the familiar god of “buy now pay later,” we are very reluctant to give up our consuming habits and instead create more palatable alternatives, ways to keep shopping that make us feel better about doing so while simultaneously doing nothing to stop our consumerist mindset. This is hardly surprising given the deification of consumer capitalism in the United States. It is, I would argue, the one true religion – the one that speaks to (nearly) all US citizens, that transcends race, class, gender, sexuality, and belief- the worship of the dollar and the joy in spending that dollar is the foundation of the “American Dream.” We are, as the story goes, a country where the streets our paved in gold, where anyone can make it, where Joe Six-Pack can become a millionaire!

Even in times of national crisis we are encouraged to identify as consumers, rather than as citizens. And, just as GW directed Americans to go out and shop post-9/11, so to are we being encouraged to buy our way out of the current economic crisis. Why the focus on “black Friday” and “cyber Monday” as if shopping will solve all our problems??? I am no economist, but I think it will take more than stuffing stockings to cure our economic ills.

Unfortunately, we learn this lesson of ‘good consumerism’ our entire life span in the US. As children, Disney hawks its wares to us, promising hours of endless fun and adventure. As tweens, we have entire genres of film, television, and music marketed to us – not to mention a whole slew of fashion and techno gadgetry. With college and the era of one’s first credit cart, we are tantalized with cars, stereos, and endless dorm/apartment ‘needs.’ As we enter the ‘real’ world, we are prompted to buy houses bigger than we can afford, cars bigger than we need, vacations we cannot pay for, and enough clothes and accessories to outfit a small country. As we age, we are incited to think about devices that can supplement our slowing bodies (purse finders and lights that turn and off with a clap!), as we near death’s doorstep, we are not allowed to go gently into that good night, but are tantalized with designer coffins, special headstones, and snazzy urns.

Not consuming is, in US parlance, tantamount to being dead.

This is why, to Robinson’s question “Is it too much to suggest that consumerism has become a kind of alternative faith, a religion of sorts?” I would answer “Heck, NO!” Consumerism is the most popular, and most impervious to critique, of all US faiths! As What Would Jesus Buy makes clear through its witty conflation of faith and shopping, Wal-Mart has become our Temple, Disney our Church, the mall our place of worship.

(This post ran last year, in a slightly different form. The original can be found here.)

Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 2:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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What if mother-wisdom shaped the world?

The wisdom of mothers is often overlooked in our culture. Mothers are often maligned, under-appreciated, blamed, complained about, put on pedestals, chained to kitchen sinks, or just plain ignored. They are framed as overbearing, uncaring, selfish, controlling, old-fashioned, meddling… They are the stuff of horrid childhood pasts and scary mother-in-law futures. In films, they are often killed off to be replaced by “evil stepmothers” or wonderfully benevolent fathers.

Anyone, as the work of Sara Ruddick and other feminist theorists reveal, can “mother” – mothering need not be done by a biological female – mothering is an act, a state of mind, a way of caring for other bodies of the world and nurturing them – of giving others wings so that they too may soar.

If only “mother-wisdom” shaped the world instead of the “domineering father wisdom” of patriarchal imperialism…

Here are 25 invaluable things my mother taught me. Thanks mom, for giving me my wings. And happy birthday!

1.       That bodies of all different shapes and sizes are beautiful

2.       That “playing hooky” to see a movie is not only okay, but sometimes necessary

3.       That eating is a source of pleasure and sustenance, not shame

4.       That cooking (done right) is an art, not a chore

5.       That dishes ARE a chore and should not be done only by “the mother” in the house

6.       That cookbooks are far more than utilitarian

7.       That beauty in all its forms is a necessary, sustaining part of life

8.       That being a mother is hard work, but hard work of the best kind

9.       That quality is more important than quantity

10.   That bookstores and libraries are as necessary as air

11.   That barbies are dumb

12.   That writing is transformative – of the self and the other

13.   That listening is a supreme act of love

14.   That plays, musicals, and travel are worth saving for

15.   That a few well chosen words can make all the difference

16.   That a person who worries about their hairstyle or waist-size more than other people is not worth worrying about

17.   That women’s places/spaces are a necessity

18.   That family (and world) HERstory is important

19.   That females are invaluable even though they are not valued

20.   That the age indicated via one’s date of birth can be radically different than the age one feels/acts (and that one never need be “old” in their thinking/acting)

21.   That being a good conversationalist is far more important than being good looking

22.   That family is what you make it

23.   That store bought cookies are no substitute for homemade, and that a well-stocked candy jar turns a house into a home

24.   That real is better than fake – both in terms of butter and in terms of boobs

25.   That birthdays  are worth celebrating

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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What if Mr. USA made some New Year’s resolutions?

If I had to characterize the contemporary USA as a single person, I would have to say the US would be a hyper-masculine white male intent on proving to the world he is god’s gift to the planet. He is the type of guy that talks really loud, brags incessantly, and thinks all women love him. Like most men of this ilk, he is all talk. He uses his brawn to smash others, doesn’t use his brain near enough, and sucks in bed. He needs to make A LOT of changes.

Here, in honor of the New Year, is a list of resolutions for Mr. USA:

  1. Lose the cis privilege. (Or at least lose the hypermasculine shtick)
  2. Get off the sauce. (Particularly the oil.)
  3. Exercise free speech. (Which will require de-corporatizing the media)
  4. Stop smoking out the planet. (I.e. quit with the toxic dumping, chemical burning, air polluting…)
  5. Curb the language. Give up the words “terrorism,” “enemy combatant,” and empty uses of “change.”
  6. Give peace a chance.  Stop using fists and guns and bombs so much.
  7. Eat better. Get off the high fructose corn syrup and factory farmed foods.
  8. Kick the (legal) drug habit. (Which will require revamping the FDA and nixing the Bio-Pharm Industrial complex)
  9. Change it up with a new color scheme. Forget the whole “terror alert” color chart and focus instead on erasing the color/class lines plaguing the country.
  10. Stop procrastinating. Do things to make the world a better place! Get your own country in order and give up on the empire plan!

Yeah, so these are lofty, but resolutions are meant to be…

Happy New Year everyone!

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 9:15 am  Comments (2)  
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