What if that Pebble Becomes a Boulder?: Racism and Sexism on Campus and in Everyday Life

The theme of one of the common complaints I often get from students in my women’s studies classes is “feminism is so depressing.” Students, young and fresh-faced, though eager to dissect and critique the world around them, also seem to yearn to look through the world through rose-colored glasses. They generally dive into analyzing privilege and oppression historically, happy to give examples of the injustices our world has doled out for centuries. However, when asked to hold up a mirror to their contemporary moment, they often like to focus on the positive changes, suggesting that somehow all the rumors of a “post-racial” and “post-feminist” society are true. It is partially my job to place large cracks in such a rosey-eyed view, revealing that, yes, racism, sexism, homophobia and all those other ugly –isms are still going strong.

On the campus where I teach, this was in shocking evidence today on, of all places, a bathroom wall. The picture above, sent to me by a student, was taken last night in one of the main campus buildings. Placed there on the eve of the statewide day of action defending education budgets, it is surely a modern-day exhortation to “keep your mouth shut,” a threat to those of us on the side of history that seek to progress society towards justice rather than conserve the longstanding privileges that the maker of this sign unabashedly seeks to maintain. (And don’t you just love how there is a heart above the ‘i’ on this message?!?)

While I had planned to post something upbeat today about my daughter turning eleven this week, detailing positive changes in culture compared to when I turned eleven in 1982, my own rosey-eyed view of feminist accomplishments has suffered a brutal beating in the past few days. Locally, just in this past week, there has been news of a high school senior sexually assaulted and murdered, there has been a spate of racist attacks at local college campuses (with the picture above only one of many incidents), there was, just yesterday, another young woman attacked by two men at a local park.

On a more personal level, I was told by my son’s principal that a teacher’s P.E. commentary, consisting of “you throw like a girl” and “don’t use the girly weights” are meant to be “humorous.” “She is a very strong woman,” he assured me, “a role model.” On the one hand, I am proud my thirteen-year-old son sees the sexism his principal fails to, on the other hand, I am deeply disturbed that such sexism is still passed off as “just a joke” and excused by claims that it’s ok because she is a “strong woman.”

To top it off, I have somehow received a plethora of emails of late that either assume I am a man (due to the “Dr.” title I imagine) or that address me as “Mrs. So and So.” This last annoyance is so slight in comparison to all the other horrors of this week, yet it somehow rankles me– it seems, in short, like a virtual but constant reminder, knocking at my in-box, reminding me “keep your mouth shut…you are only a woman…who are you to try and change the world?”  This “little thing” reminds me of Jewelle Gomez’s realization that “Sexism could be like a pebble that needs to be removed from a shoe; a tiny thing that throws off a woman’s gait, causing her to limp, sometimes unconsciously, to avoid pain every day.”

This week, it seems it is not only pebbles, but huge boulders, and I am indeed limping from the resounding evidence that no, we are not living in a post-racial, post-feminist society. However, despite those who wish to “get rid of” people like us, the people who want to change the world for the better, I will keep limping along, teaching my “depressing feminism” and endeavoring to remove pebbles and boulders out of the path of those who march towards justice.

What if you would like to learn to suck dick? Well, apparently you should opt for a degree in male studies…

While away from the blogosphere for several days, it seems I have been infected by a virulently misogynistic troll. Said commenter has littered comment threads with reference to “Male Studies” and lovely comments such as “Hello again Sexist/Bigot/Fascist!” and “Male Studies will begin this year at the OnStep Institute. Suck my dick.”

Who knew we needed a new academic discipline to learn how to suck dick?

Said commenter also claims patriarchy does not exist and refers to me repeatedly as a bigot. Hmmm, seems that his male studies curriculum might need to include a “how to read the dictionary 101” course.

I am certainly devoted to my feminist opinions and analysis, but I do not consider myself intolerant of other opinions. I do not, for example, go trolling on men’s rights websites and leave hateful comments. I do not treat others with hatred and intolerance in the way this commenter has repeatedly done at this site (and I assume at other feminist blogs as well).

I debated whether to approve the repeated hateful comments. In the end, I decided not to trash them even though they are bigoted and hateful. To do so would be to go against my belief that open dialogue is necessary and that even those ignorant of their own misogyny deserve to be part of the conversation. Granted, I wish commenters such as the one currently trolling this blog would make better use of their and my own time – what is the point of visiting openly feminist blogs only to spew hate and try to advertise male studies? News flash buddy, we are not interested in buying what you are selling! (And, I think you may have to learn to suck your own dick as I doubt anyone is interested… View the film Shortbus for some pointers in this department…)

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm  Comments (9)  

What if jeans are a weapon? On Levi’s sexist, war-happy advertising…

Last week the Levi’s Dockers “wear the pants” ad campaign received quite a bit of feminist critique for its obvious sexism. (For example, see here and here.)

Not happy with promoting misogyny alone, Levi’s has another ad using Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers, O Pioneers” that promotes battle-happy manifest-destiny.

Wow, who knew pants could be such a rallying cry.

Using the text of Whitman’s poem, which celebrates Westward expansion and the American “children” who stomp their way across the globe, the Levi’s commercial celebrates wild, angry youth. They bang things against fences, rage against constraint, dance around raging fires, rip off their shirts and march west in triumph.

How ironic the commercial celebrates youthful rebellion and anarchy in order to ultimately promote conformity – conformity to buying into a corporate brand, a normative style, and into the idea that FIGHTING is the answer. Yes, buy your over-priced jeans and you too can “bear the brunt of danger” and celebrate American imperialism. Woo-hoo!
If you feel like writing a letter to Levi Strauss to tell them where they can stick their pants, go here.

For a letter campaign opposing the Docker’s ad, go here.

What if the Yes on Prop 4 group dropped the deceptive language and opted for the more fitting slogan “Bring back the wire hanger”?

 

As per usual with propositions that are based on draconian measures, there is all sorts of misinformation regarding Proposition 4 here in California. While the proposition aims to make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to have access to an abortion without parental consent, Prop 4 is advertising itself with the logo “stop child sexual predators.”

Just this morning, as I drove onto campus, I saw a large sign with the above logo. How does criminalizing abortion have anything to do with stopping sexual predators? This is blatant misinformation and propaganda of the ugliest kind. Orwell (and Sanger) are rolling in their graves…

Rather than being anything remotely related to “sexual predators,” Prop  4 aims to be another nail in the Roe coffin. As the subtitle of an editorial from the LA Times, notes, “Proposition 4 isn’t really about parental notification; it’s an attack on the right to an abortion.” This odious proposition being touted in California as a “stop predators” law is also called “Sarah’s Law.” The story behind this name, as the piece in the LA Times documents, reveals a great deal:

“Sarah” was, according to Proposition 4 supporters, a 15-year-old girl who died from an abortion gone wrong 14 years ago, a death that might have been prevented had her parents been notified beforehand. Much of that is false. The girl’s name wasn’t Sarah; she lived in Texas, not California; and though she was 15, she already had a child and was in a common-law marriage, which means she wouldn’t have been covered by the law Californians are being asked to consider.

Wow! The scare tactics and deception surrounding Prop 4 is off the charts. While Prop 4 pretends to be about “teen safety,” what it is really about is eradicating reproductive freedom and providing the first legal step to outlawing abortion in California. Moreover, this is the third attempt to pass such a measure. Shouldn’t there be some sort of limit as to how many times we have to vote this down?

The proponents of this measure are acting like toddlers, hoping if they ask again and again and again the answer might finally be yes. Here is the scenario dramatized in this way – with a child who keeps asking the same question in slightly different ways in hopes of finally garnering a ‘yes.’ (The role of the ‘child’ represents Prop 4 proponents – imagine a man-child who does not ever face being pregnant in order to accord with the fact that those without pregnancy capabilities (MEN!) make the majority of repro rights laws; the role of the “Mommy” represents prop 4 opponents — imagine a feminist mother who understands that women’s advancements, health, well-being etc are directly related to their ability to own and control their own reproductive capacities):

Scene:

“Mommy, can we please outlaw abortion?”

“No.”

“Please, mommy. I want to protect teenagers from the dangers of abortion. Plus, I like the bible.”

“No. Abortion is a very safe procedure, safer in fact than pregnancy. And, your personal fondness for the bible should not translate into laws affecting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life and body.”

“Please, please mommy. I want to stop sexual predators and I don’t like baby killing!”

“No. Don’t be ridiculous. Outlawing abortion will do nothing to stop sexual predators. This may be over your head, but sexual violence and abuse is linked to our patriarchal society that champions violent masculinity NOT to a female’s ability to control her own reproductive capacity. And, Roe V. Wade never did give absolute abortion rights. Abortions in the third trimester have always been limited to those cases where the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus is not viable. Plus, an embryo, zygote, and fetus is not a “baby.” You are mixing terms, sonny!”

“But, mommy, please? Life begins at conception!”

“No. The way you are characterizing life is simplistic. If the embryo/zygote/fetus cannot survive outside the womb on its own, does it represent an individual life? A potential life, maybe, but not a ‘baby’ that could survive without relying on its mother’s body/womb. In this type of scenario, the ‘life’ of the fetus is given far more precedence than the ‘life’ of the mother. Please refrain from throwing around terms like ‘life’ until you understand the complexities of the argument.”

“But, Mommy, please, can we? Can we just outlaw abortion? Pretty please?”

“No. Stop asking! Now run off and do something useful. And leave your sister alone!”

Curtain.

So, this dramatization might seem a bit of a stretch, but what I am trying to convey is that the Pro-4 group is acting like spoiled children who just want their way – they are lying to get what they want and trying to tug on the heartstrings of voters with misinformation. Despite the continual rejection of such propositions (this will be the THIRD TIME in California!), and despite the hard work of groups like The Feminist Majority Foundation, the “children” (re: anti-choicers) keep asking the question! In so doing, they ignore the fact that most teens already inform their parents of pregnancies. And, although the anti-choicers claim Prop 4 has loopholes that would allow girls/young women with abusive parents an out, the hoops one has to jump through to be able to avoid parental consent are preventative. How many 12 year old girls that are pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by their father are going to make a written accusation to take to the authorities or go before a judge to petition to avoid parental notification? How will said twelve your old get to the court? What will she tell her parents she is doing? Seems like this “judicial bypass” would create the need to deceive and sneak around as well as likely require girls/young women to try and navigate transportational needs and the court system on their own. Yeah, but the law is about “protecting and helping teens.” BS!

What a passage of Prop 4 would do is promote UNSAFE abortions, not curtail the number of abortions. Prop 4 is not going to make teens have any less sex, it is not going to do anything to promote safe sex or the use of contraceptives, it is not going to do one damn thing to “stop sexual predators.” If anything, teens who would have likely told their parents about their pregnancies might feel less inclined to do so when this sharing of information is mandated by law. Wouldn’t focusing on good, trusting, open communication with one’s child/teenager be the best option for parents/caregivers to take? Does this sort of thing really need a law? And what message does this give to children/teens about personal responsibility and maturity? Do we really want to raise a generation of youths who are forced into revealing information by law rather than by choice?

When I was in high school in the late 80s, I recall a number of stories of attempted self-induced abortions – and this was in the pre-Bush empire days when there was a lot more access to family planning clinics, etc. The most horrific example involved a good friend of mine who was afraid to tell her mother that she was pregnant as her mother was already verbally abusive and controlling in the extreme. It was just her and her mom, with no support of involvement on the part of the father, and they were financially struggling. Thus, she had no financial means to seek out an abortion, let alone the car that would be needed to get her to the clinic in our no-public-transportation locale. So, she opted for a hanger. Her mother found her passed out, surrounded by a pool of blood. She nearly bled to death. This was in 1987 – not 1957! If this was happening pre-evangelical USA, what must be happening now? And how much worse would laws like Proposition 4 make things?

Before the passage of Roe V Wade, the number of illegal abortions occurring each year was in the range of 1 million – this is an estimate as this 1 million number represents women willing to divulge such information. Thus, the actual number of yearly abortions pre-Roe is likely much higher. Would we like to go back to the pre-Roe days of knitting needles, wire hangers, bleach solutions, Drano douches and the like? Um, NO! No! No! No! (Sorry for the repetition — the anti-choicers seem to have trouble hearing “No” when it comes to their desires to curtail reproductive rights.) The slogan for the Yes on 4 group should NOT be “stop sexual predators” but “Bring back the wire hanger!” Sadly, even if this were the slogan accompanying Yes on 4 signs, there are still all too many people – some of them women – who would vote yes.

If this disturbs those of you in California, go here to sign a pledge, donate, or learn about No on 4 events in your area. And, go here to see a No on 4 video by the Feminist Majority Foundation, and, of course, vote NO on 4 come election day

What if we had White Hetero Male Studies?

Poor Attorney Roy Den Hollander. His rights have been infringed and his penis-privileged life has been blighted not only by Women’s Studies, but also by Ladies Night. The pitiable guy was supposedly duped by a female who married him to gain citizenship. Now, in seeming retribution, Hollander has declared a jihad against feminism.

Will any of you kind readers help him and donate to his fund for Men’s Rights? A resounding no? Well, thank the goddess. Yes, and this goddess worship of you crazy feminists out there reveals what Hollander claims in his lawsuit against Columbia University – that feminism is a religion that violates the 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendments. Reminds me of how a student of mine lovingly referred to my Advanced Feminist Theory class as “feminist church.” Yeah, if only.

If feminism was a religion we would be doing far better in this country that does not separate church and state. If feminism was branded as a religion we could get away with all sorts of things…

We could claim equal wage day a religious holiday! We could get all sorts of tax breaks!

We could refuse to do any number of things that offend our feminist sensibilities and then sue for religious protection under the law (like the male police officer who took civil action after he was fired for refusing an assignment at a casino because it went against his religious beliefs, we could refuse assignments such as doing the dishes or ironing – “sorry, no wrinkle free clothes, it’s against my religion.”)

In some states, such as California and Michigan, we could use publicly funded vouchers to send our kids to feminist schools.

We could come up with “charitable choice” or “compassionate conservatism” or “faith-based initiative” programs as a way to compete for funding with secular non-profit organizations.

Heck, we could jump on the jihad-is-so-damn-cool bandwagon and declare feminist jihad against the patriarchy.

And how about creating abstain-from-abstinence programs to preach in schools across the nation with both the blessing and the funding of the government?

Of course, if feminism were branded a religion, we would still have a pretty tough sell on our hands. But, with enough “Jesus was a feminist” bumper stickers and a number of cool re-tooled commandments, we just might be able to do it. Heck, we could even keep some of the old ones. “Thou shalt not kill” seems pretty in keeping with feminism. However, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” would have to be changed to “Thou can covet anyone or anything if the coveting is done under the conditions of mutual consent by all involved parties”…

Anyhow, with that digression aside, allow me to return to poor (Hem)RoyDenHollander, a royal pain in the feminist ass. He claims that University of Columbia’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender is discriminatory and unconstitutional because there is no equivalent “men’s studies” program. Huh? Has HemRoyD not heard of men and masculinities courses? (For more on this line of argument, see the post about RoyD here at Appetite for Equal Rights.)

Perhaps (gasp) he has never actually taken a Women’s Studies course. No, that couldn’t be. He couldn’t possibly declare jihad against an entire school of thought that he knows nothing about. That would make him kind of like GWBush. Oh wait, squinty eyes, gray hair, crazy and incoherent claims, anti-woman… Hmmm, guess they are a bit alike.

His laswsuit claims that within Women’s Studies “Females…are credited with inherent goodness who were oppressed and colonized by men.” Wow, what brand of feminism you reading there RoyD? Did you get a hold of some radical gynocritical 2nd wave stuff and take it as gospel representing the entire movement?

In case any of you hetero females out there feel like RoyD would make a real catch, he shares that “I am looking for … superficial temporary escapades with pretty young ladies.” RoyD continues that “It’s harder than it was when I was younger. I only go after girls who are in their athletic prime.” By girls, I assume he means the under 18 set. Surely he wouldn’t refer to grown women as “girls” as this would be enacting the very type of gender bashing he claims to deride – and I don’t see him ever referring to men as “boys.” Thus, apparently rules regarding adulthood and who is able to give informed consent are not amongst the laws concerning Mr. RoyD. Who cares how old she is as long as she is in her “athletic prime,” hey RoyD?

RoyD is quoted as claiming the following in a Times Online article:

“The long-range goal of my law suits is that I am, in my own small way, trying to give all those feminists equality – not the equality of all the best in life, but the equality of the worst in life.

“Make them register for the draft, make them go to war and die, make them work in the worst occupations,” he said.

“They do not want equality. They want preferential treatment. It’s just the same old pedestal. they say, ‘I am a female. I want to be the CEO of a company.’ I want to be on a pedestal.”

Pardon me while I pick away at these inane claims.

  1. We don’t have a draft and thus neither women or men have to register for it
  2. Uh, females do go to war and die – they have for quite some time now RoyD, and they are dying in larger numbers than every before in another jihad – the one ran by your long lost twin, GWBush
  3. Worst occupations? How about sweatshop slavery? Sexual slavery? Domestic servitude? In fact, the worst jobs with the lowest pay (and often no pay) plus the most inhumane conditions are undertaken in the vast majority by females
  4. Preferential treatment? Perhaps you should look up the meaning of preferential – I think you have it confused with equal opportunity
  5. CEOs and pedestals? Well, there are a number of female CEOs (although in the vast minority), but none of them that I have heard actually sit on pedestals

As for refuting his misogynidiot claims (i.e. idiotic claims based on misogyny), perhaps Kim Gandy, president of NOW, puts it best: “They have a men’s studies department: It’s called ‘history’, ‘politics’, ‘business’. It’s the entire university. It’s all about men’s studies. It’s like asking why there isn’t a White Studies department.”

But, wait, no white studies department? Why not? How unfair!!!! Excuse me, must end this post now so I can work up a lawsuit of my own – I think I am going to call for a White Moneyed Christian Heterosexual Male Studies program. What’s that you say? The interests of that group run pretty much the whole show? Dang, is white hetero rich dude the ‘his’ referred to in the word HIStory? I never realized.

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