What if Bella met Bella? Or, Wed, Bed, and Bruised – But Certainly Not Equal (Musings on Women’s Equality Day through a Twilight Lens)

As today is the 40th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, it is an appropriate moment to consider the continuing inequalities women face. As a scholar of popular culture that tracks the way culture grapples with changing conceptions of gender and sexuality, I am struck by the profound difference between Bella Abzug, staunch supporter of women’s rights, and today’s most popular Bella, Bella Swan.

The November release of Breaking Dawn: Part 1, the first half of the two-part film adaptation of the final book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, will include the much anticipated wedding and honeymoon of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.

Fans, given previous reactions to leaked photos of the vampire-human honeymoon scenes, will likely clamor for these racier scenarios. Parents, depending on their views of appropriate sexuality and relationship ideals, will be variously delighted by the “happy ending” in marriage or dismayed by the film’s sexualized content. Traditional vampire aficionados will scoff at the idea that the lead vampire, Edward, Mr. Sparkly Pants himself, is able to impregnate a human, something that goes against typical vampire lore.  But I, as a women’s studies professor, will be viewing the film with an eye to how it romanticizes sexual violence.

From where I sit, Twilight wrestles with gender norms, abstinence imperatives, and that age-old message foisted upon females: true love conquers all. No Buffy the Vampire Slayer nor her contemporary descendent, Sookie Stackhouse, the saga’s female protagonist is instead a rather weak damsel in distress, traipsing after the two leading men, one a domineering vampire, the other a prone-to-violence werewolf.

Though the bruised body of post-coitus Bella in the opening sections of the Breaking Dawn should concern anyone who cares about violence against women, in all likelihood, what instead will interest viewers is Bella’s “morning after” body, which, after a night of Edward’s headboard busting and pillow biting, will be covered in bruises and feathers – a sort of modern day, sexed-up take on being tarred and feathered. But Bella’s battered body, like the bodies of so many women, will likely be largely forgotten in between frames.

Yet the saga, and this segment in particular, begs the question: “Is sexualized violence acceptable?”

Why don’t images of battered women give us more pause, especially on a day like today –  Women’s Equality Day.

Bella shares her first name with the initiator of today’s 40-year old holiday, Bella Abzug.  But any similarity stops there. The one Bella was famous for her hats and her saying “This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives,” the other for her clumsiness, and for promoting the idea that a woman’s place is in the domestic home (whether she be cooking for her father – as in the first three books – or bedding her beloved vampire husband – as in the last).

Sure, Meyer’s Bella gets a super-power at the end, but it is the power to cocoon others in a protective mind shield – a sort of virtual womb space. Yes, you got it: she is allowed the power to mother.

While the Twilight saga has hints of female power– a Wall-Street savvy female vampire and a smattering of female vampire leaders, the overwhelming undercurrent of romance, sexual violence, and female subordination – as well as the “happy” ending of Bella as wed, bed, and bruised – suggests the best path for us women is not the road to equality but true love, a myth as enduring as vampires.

To be sure, the film is hardly the only one to render females as the second sex and proffer such depictions of violence sex as proof that true love is in the air. But, given the rabid popularity of the saga, and the highly anticipated depiction of the sex scenes, we should take a human moment  and consider what the other Bella – Bella Abzug– would make of Bella Swan’s treatment in the film.  Is the type of equality we seek that in which we can choose to romanticize hot, abusive vampire sex?

I, for one, think we’d be better off wearing a crazy hat and insisting, as did Abzug’s resolution, that women not be treated as second-class-citizens, in life or in film.  From the onslaught against reproductive freedoms to the rape-blaming that frames women as at fault for the violence done to them, evidence that Women’s Equality Day is here in name only abounds, and not only in headlines, but also in representations of domestic violence in the pages of the rabidly popular Twilight saga and its film adaptations.

Though it’s been ninety-one years to the day since Congress ratified women’s right to vote, women’s place in the House of Representatives is still far from equal. And, more pervasively, a woman’s body is still not her own.

What if book news…

A friend asked if I knew the two people that have reviewed my book on Amazon so far, and I pinky- double-cross-my-heart-promise I don’t! I was very excited when I found these two five star reviews, and even more excited when I found out they are from two total strangers – especially as some people have (rather cruelly) asked “who is gonna like a feminist take on the Twilight saga and vampire culture???” Apparenlty, people do! And people I don’t even know!

If you’ve read the book, please consider posting a review at Amazon and/or at Goodreads. Thanks so much!

Here are the two existing Amazon reviews:

5.0 out of 5 stars Review: Wilson, Seduced By Twilight, May 5, 2011

By

MPBridgemanSee all my reviews

This review is from: Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga (Paperback)

Natalie Wilson’s book Seduced by Twilight provides an excellent examination of the pop culture phenomenon know as Twilight. Countering the simplistic reactions to this incredibly popular series in the media and some feminist scholarship, Wilson presents a nuanced exploration of both the conservative and subversive aspects of the texts. She avoids the trap of constructing Twilight readers as cultural dupes passively consuming a straight-forward conservative message, rather she respectfully considers the contradictory messages at work both in Twilight and in the wider American cultural imagination. In this way she roots her analysis in specific sociohistorical contexts. This lends her work greater impact, as Twilight is used as a lens through which cultural understandings of difference are refracted.
This book is required reading for anyone working in the area of 21st century feminist popular cultural criticism and would also be of interest to those fascinated by Twilight but feeling somewhat uneasy about that very fascination. Well-researched, well written, and highly engaging, it was a pleasure being Seduced By Twilight.

 

5.0 out of 5 stars Seduced by Natalie Wilson, May 20, 2011

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JamesSee all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

This review is from: Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga (Paperback)

I have to start by raving about this author. She was able to create an educational and insightful book that was interesting to read. Her writing is phenomenal. I am anxious to see what else we see from this author.

This book takes a critical and thoughtful look at the messages presented in the Twilight saga that are accepted as the norm. Inspiring us to think more deeply about what this series is truly stating. Not to mention who this is series is targeted to! Thank you for opening our minds about things that are so often over looked!

 

What if Womanism and Feminism were equal?

(A guest post from Renee of Womanist Musings)

When we look at labels to describe activism by women we commonly use the term womanist, or feminist.  Words mean something despite how casually we toss them around.  They are how we order and understand our world.  In an effort to be inclusive when we write about activism many will often write feminists/womanists.  This acknowledges that some WOC have to some degree separated themselves and have taken on the label of womanists because of the history of racism within the feminist movement.

The problem with using these labels is that they often appear in a certain order.  Most will write feminists/womanists rather than womanists/feminists.  This may seem like a small insignificant point but what it does is that it once again sets up a hierarchy about what counts as real activism when it comes to women.  If feminism is routinely placed first it sets up womanism as a ridiculous offshoot.  When we consider that womanists largely identify as such because of racism in feminism, routinely placing it behind feminism only reaffirms the idea that white women still see WOC as secondary bodies.

Even though writing feminists/womanists is an attempt at inclusion, the order of the words appear means something because it speaks to who has power and privilege.  Often unconsciously we reaffirm power dynamics in our society.  Privileging certain bodies has become a naturalized phenomenon and  it takes a conscious effort to decolonize your mind. These small slights do not go unnoticed even if they are unremarked upon.

Many WOC are rightfully distrustful of white women.   There is a long history of betrayal and silencing.  I have watched time after time as we are assaulted and our issues ignored.  We are told that we focus to much on race in an attempt to destabilize our organizing.  Womanism  speaks about our lives, our needs and our existence in a way that feminism never has.  It validates our experiences and places us in the center of the conversation.  To place feminism before womanism  continually only reifies the need for womanism.

The rift between WOC and white women needs to be healed.  Each new slight just adds to the bitterness and contempt and is the equivalent of pouring salt into an open wound thereby further  dividing  us from each other.  When there is such a large history of betrayal we cannot afford to continue to fuel the negativity as it only detracts us from our common enemy: patriarchy.

WOC are always going to have issues that are unique to us, and yet we share many issues in common with white women.  The anger and bitterness often causes us to ignore their valid commentary and make sweeping assumptions.  There will never be one monolithic woman that can represent us and the “sisterhood” will never cure all the hurt, but we need to think about how we speak to each other if we are going to move forward.

Our future lies in unity and not in separation.  It is important that we leave room for forgiveness and  it is essential that white women acknowledge the ways in which they have wronged us.  This is a problem that we need to tackle together with patience and love.   Both WOC and white women essentially want to see women succeed, we just don’t always agree with what constitutes “woman”.

Published in: on April 5, 2009 at 11:48 am  Comments (7)  

What if real women need babies? (On Kate’s “finest hour” in Lost season five)

A while back, I wrote the post “What if Lost time travelled to a feminist future,” noting that:

While Kate is back-tracking into the “problem that has no name” this season (re: Betty Friedan), Sun’s presence in season 5 could be hurtling towards a more feminist future. Unmoored from dad and husband, I am looking forward to where this season takes her.

Perhaps this season the show will break with the rather normative way it has presented gender thus far, with females being framed in relation to males and/or to their children (or desire for them).

Well, the season is not taking Sun in the direction I had hoped. Her character has been shoved to the background and, when she is focused on, she is ALL about finding her man.

The other lead females are similarly framed with the Kate/Sawyer/Jack triangle turning into a quad with the addition of Julia. And, on last nights episode (April 1), Kate and Julia teamed up to save a child. How mommy-esque! Problem is, this child they are saving is Ben Linus! Are their lady parts pushing them into maternal mode at the expense of rational thought? This is what the narrative seems to ask us to believe – that they have both forgotten who Ben is and what havoc he wreaks – that all they can focus on is “save the child.” I could not suspend my disbelief to swallow that one. I think the writers made a big gaff here – and a very traditionally gendered (re: sexist) one. If any character would save Ben it would be Jack – the softy surgeon dude with a supposed heart of gold – not the pragmatic Julia or the no-nonsense Kate.

Framing Kate’s decision in relation to her backstory made matters even worse. Drawing on the Freudian “baby as penis replacement” motif, Kate is depicted as trying to repare the great rift losing Sawyer brought about in her life with baby-love. As she coos to this child in his car seat and sings soppily as she cradles him, she seemed very out of character. Shortly after seeing her in ultra-mommy mode, Kate and Cassidy discuss Sawyer supposedly breaking her heart and Cassidy insists Kate “needed” Aron to replace Sawyer. She says “You needed him. Sawyer broke your heart. How else were you supposed to fix it?” Go with the Freudian analysis Cassidy! Replace that penis with a baby, that will fix all your problems!

While Jennifer Godwin refers to last night’s show as “Kate’s Finest Hour,” I think it was the hour I was MOST disappointed in her. I, unlike Godwin, don’t revel in the depiction of Kate as a “full-grown mama lion” – in fact, I take issue with the implicit claim such a description entails – that, in order for her to be the “profoundly magnanimous woman” Godwin claims she has become, she “left behind her selfish, childish petulance” to “become … a wildly competent mother.” Uh, why do none of the childish men have to ‘become men’ via parenthood? Why does it take a baby to make Kate a ‘real woman’? Could this be any more horribly dated and backwards-ass-traditionally-gendered-in-the-worst-way? Yes, let’s throw her in a tight short skirt and ultra high heels, make her run frantically through a grocery store searching for her lost toddler, THEN let’s have her do the whole streaming tears shtick over the sleeping child before showing emotional vulnerability with her “Bye Bye Baby” parting line. Yeah, THAT is what makes here a “magnanimous woman” NOT her bravery, indepedence, strength, courage, and bad-ass island-saving skills. Put her in heels and make her a mommy – finest hour my ass.

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 8:38 am  Comments (10)  

What if our supposedly feminist president repealed the Global Gag Rule as promised?

On the one hand, this post is in honor of Blog for Choice Day 2009 . On the other, it is an angry response to the fact that President Obama is already failing to live up to his image as portrayed on the infamous Ms. cover:

obama

While I will not get into a lengthy debate as to whether one must be pro-choice to be a feminist, I will share that FAILING to repeal the Global Gag Rule or at the very least address the 36th anniversary of Roe V Wade publicly (and to address what this means in terms of reproductive justice) does seem to put one’s feminist cred into question.

Now, onto the question for this year’s Blog for Choice Day: What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?

Well, to start, let me get all professor-of- rhetoric on the question: ‘FOR’ seems to be a very poor word choice. As written, the question asks me to consider a pro-choice hope FOR Obama and/or the Congress RATHER than to consider a pro-choice hope for the world’s people let alone a pro-choice goal or agenda for the new administration.

To answer the question as written, I would say my hope FOR Obama would be that his daughters are given full reproductive freedom and the chance to grow up in a world where they can fully own and control their own reproductive capacity rather than having it be controlled for them. (A secondary hope FOR Obama would be that he could live up to the claim made on the Ms. cover.)

As for a hope FOR the new Congress, I would hope they collectively make (pro)choices that will give not only their children, but all the world’s children, the capacity to control their own reproduction.

Now, if the question was written as I think it should have been, as “What is the top pro-choice change that you hope President Obama and/or the new Congress will bring about,” well, my answer would be “Reverse the global gag rule!!!!”

GW’s first executive order was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. Obama has already issued three executive orders – one to close Gitmo, one to ban torture, and one to create a task force to review detention policies. These are indeed important – but, a fourth order is in order!

Given that today is the 36th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, why is Obama NOT making good on his promise to repeal the GGR? Is the Ms. cover all photo-shop and no substance? IF he did repeal the GGR as promised, well, we could begin to redress some of the DOWNRIGHT DISASTROUS effects of the GGR (as documented here: “How the Global Gag Rule Undermines U.S. Foreign Policy and Harms Women’s Health.“) And, on a more personal note, he MIGHT begin to restore my faith that the claim made on the Ms. cover is true rather than mere wishful thinking…

Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Comments (6)  

What if F-words (fat and feminist) were stripped of their negativity? A review of Bolt

My daughter and I went to see Bolt last night. Probably my favorite thing about the film was the representation of Penny’s mother. She was fat. But, her fatness was not focused on, it was not used to characterize her, it was not used as code for “she is dumb.” Rather, it was represented as normal, as average, as not having anything to do with what type of woman or parent she was. She was a nice character who played a very small role in the film, yet this representation of fatness as something NORMAL, as just another body type, is HUGE as it so rarely happens.

Usually fat is used to indicate a character is dumb, funny, evil, lazy, gluttonous, and/or diseased. Often the fatness of the character becomes the primary focus – they are seen as fat first, and as human second, it at all. Fat is used as a sight gag in many movies – so much so that fat bodies themselves create an expectation of humor. If you are fat and not funny, you are breaking expectations.

Many films have done “fat-face” (akin to black-face and yellow-face). Fat face is like the ‘lookist’ equivalent of the racist tradition of black/yellow-face. Yet, when actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Edie Murphy, and Tyler Perry don fat suits for laughs, it is seen as funny – rather than discriminatory.

Thus, Bolt broke relatively un-trod ground in its depiction of fat as normal. Imagine if the majority of films and television shows gave us this “fat is normal” message; imagine how this could change the body hatred that has become widespread in the US. Imagine too how it would hurt the sales of the multi-billion dollar diet/fitness/surgical industry that seeks to make us all – fat, thin, short, tall, hairy, bald – find fault with our bodies.

This “love yourself as your are” message fit in with the grander narrative of the film – Bolt learns to like himself despite the fact he is not the super-dog he though he was. We would do well as a culture to learn this same lesson.

My second favorite thing about the film was the representation of Penny. She is brave, heroic, independent, and caring, or, as one review refers to her, she is “fully equipped with the habitual spunk of a Disney New Feminist.” Her lightening speed scooter riding skills are Bond-worthy and, for once, we have a chase scene where the female is neither sexualized nor incompetent.

While in the TV show she and Bolt star in, he is her repeated savior, in real-life, the two are equally heroic – Penny for her refusal to give up when Bolt is lost as well as for standing up to her evil studio boss, and Bolt for his refusal to give up the hope of returning home to Penny. While the end of the film involves Bolt saving Penny from a burning building (in typical male must save female narrative style), it is ultimately Penny’s mother who saves them both by realizing that the Hollywood life is not a good place for dogs or girls.

Thus, while the film does not shout it’s pro-feminist, pro-fat message loud and proud, it certainly goes a lot further than the likes of Wall-e or Kung Fu Panda in putting strong females front and center, and, in the case of Penny’s mother, stripping the fat body of its negativity. For these reasons, as well as for the wise female feline Mittens and the sly debunking of masculinized fan-culture in the character of Rhino the hamster, the film is worth a watch. And, as someone who has never managed to stay awake through a Bond movie (so repetitive, so yawningly macho, so tediously sexist), I would recommend it over Quantum of Solace any day

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 11:37 am  Comments (10)  
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What if you rape someone while sleepwalking?

Well, no problem! How could we blame you? You were asleep, after all.

Come on, how many of you have sex while sleeping? Raise your hands!

Ok, now how many of you have accidentally and unknowingly raped someone while sleeping? Not too many of you?

Well, that doesn’t mean that the poor guy in the UK who was cleared of rape in a recent trial on the grounds he was sleepwalking doesn’t deserve to be pardoned.

I mean, it can be very easy to accidentally find a sleeping woman when you are yourself sleeping, to become accidentally and unknowingly aroused,  to accidentally rape her, and then to wake up with no knowledge of your criminal behavior whatsoever.

Come on hetero ladies out there, how many men in your lives sleep-walk around the community with hard-ons and (ooops) rape people while sleeping? It’s an easy mistake to make!

So, why all the fuss about this guy being cleared of rape charges? We can’t BLAME him for something he didn’t knowingly do.

We might, however, blame the woman who was raped – what was she thinking being there in her own home, in her daughter’s bedroom, fast asleep, all ready and willing to be raped? Boy, the ways in which women ask for it never seek to amaze me!  As if having a vagina is not asking for it enough, she had to actually be asleep too? How could we blame the poor sleepwalking guy given these facts?

Are these the kind of thoughts that went through the judge’s head in this recent UK case? Through the jurors? How in the F*** can someone be given the “get out of rape free” card on a sleepwalking defense?

Now, I admit a penis is not one of my bodily accoutrements, but from my experiences with those of penis privilege, sex takes a bit of focus – it does not seem something easily carried out while sleeping. Now, erotic dreams, (wet or dry) are one thing, but actual sex while asleep? Sounds pretty unlikely.

If sex while sleeping is unlikely, rape while sleeping seems damn near impossible. It also belies the imagination that people can violently assault, stab, and even murder in their sleep. Yet, the sleepwalking defense has been used in many such cases.  For example, in May 2008 a 28 year old Florida man was cleared of sexually molesting a 12 year old girl after using a sleepwalking defense.  Further, in 1999, the sleepwalking defense was used by a man who stabbed his wife 44 times then drowned her in the family swimming pool.

While I am no sleepwalking expert, I find this defense extremely problematic – and most definitely so in this recent UK rape case. For one, the man who has been acquitted, Jason Jeal, has NO MEDICAL HISTORY OF SLEEPWALKING. His lawyer suggested to the jury he should be cleared of charges as he was sleepwalking, noting that people do crazy things such as “going to the toilet in the wardrobe” while asleep. Hmmm, so dreaming of walking to the bathroom and accidentally peeing in your closet is equivalent to passing out in your friend’s home and then RAPING her as she sleeps next to her nine year old daughter? Unbelievable.

Worryingly, two other recent UK cases allowed “sexsomnia” to be used as justification for acquittal.  Kenneth Ecott, 26, was not charged with raping a 15 year-old-girl as he was supposedly asleep. James Bilton, 22, was cleared of three counts of rape on a sleepwalking defense in 2005.

Jane McKenna, the woman raped by Jason Jeal, has waived her right to anonymity as she is concerned about more attackers using the sleepwalking defense.  She notes, “These people should not just walk free – they should either be given a prison sentence or medical treatment, otherwise we could find more and more people finding this defence on the Internet and using it.”

Indeed, it seems just about anything can get you acquitted of rape these days. What’s next? The “hard-on defense”?  “I had a hard on, judge, it wasn’t intentional. My boner made me do it.”

According to UK law, a defendant is guilty of rape only if the attack is intentional. Forgive me for my naiveté, but I think being able to claim sleep as a defense is whack. How is it that much different from “I was drunk. I don’t remember. I didn’t do it on purpose.”  How is “not remembering” (Jeal’s defense) because one is supposedly asleep different from “not remembering” because one was intoxicated?

How would these cases be different, I wonder, if it was women doing the rape, murder, and sexual assault? I somehow doubt they would be handed the “get off scot free” card quite as easily…

Rape and sexual assault is a product of patriarchy (as this post at Womanist Musings clarifies). Yet, colluders such as Helen Mirin still use the “she was asking for it” card. When Mirin claims that women are “animalistic” and “sexually jealous,” she entirely forgets the ways in which patriarchy CONDONES and PROMOTES and even ENCOURAGES rape – does so, to such an extent in fact, that now men can pull the “I was asleep” card and get off rape charges with NO PUNISHMENT, NO COUNSELING, NO MEDICAL TREATMENT, NADA!  Absolutely disgusting.

What if “traditional” wasn’t used as a catch all term meaning ‘good’ or ‘natural’? (Or, what ‘traditions’ should we vote to perpetuate come Tuesday…?)

If you have been on this planet long enough to learn how to read, you have likely come across phrases such as “It’s tradition” or “We’ve always done it this way, it’s a family/community/religious tradition” or “traditional family.”  In sayings such as these, the word ‘tradition’ is used to indicate something is good, right, natural, worth doing, etc. People say things like, “I will go to my mother’s for the holiday, it’s tradition” or “traditional recipe” or “American tradition.”

While there are many bad traditions, we don’t tend to talk about these things as traditional. For example, it’s quite traditional for many whites to raise their children to be racist and/or deny white privilege. Yet, we don’t tend to speak of the “white racist tradition.” It’s also tradition for boys and men to learn to degrade and objectify women — sometimes they learn this from their fathers, sometimes from their friends, and certainly from popular culture. Yet, we don’t speak of “sexist tradition.” It’s also tradition for the USA to rely on an exploitive labor system and an economic set-up that favors the very rich. Yet, we don’t say “the USA’s traditional to use slave labor” or “the tradition of keeping all the wealth in the hands of white male elites.” We don’t say these things because traditions are assumed to be good, to be things worth keeping.

Lately, the word ‘tradition’ is being thrown around a lot in relation to heteronormative concepts of family and marriage. Here in California, the “Yes on 8″ camp (or, in other words, the we support homophobic hate crew) use lines such as “protect the traditional family” or “protect the tradition of marriage.” Here, ‘traditional’ is used as a synomym for “the right kind,” as in, “protect the right kind of marriage, not that crazy gay kind.” Notice that the Yes on 8 crew does not uses phrases such as “support homophobia, it’s tradition” or “it’s traditional to hate and exclude others who are not like us,” or, “save traditional marriage – keep the man in charge and the woman as property.” No, none of these “traditions” are named as such.

And, as a post at Straight Not Narrow notes, the Yes on 8 crowd seems to interpret the need to “keep traditions” quite differently than how Jesus might have characterized tradition. As the post notes, in the book of Mark, Jesus contrasts “the traditions of men” from “the commands of God,” and, not surprisingly, suggests that God’s rules are the ones to follow, not human traditions. Here is the quote from Mark 7:8-9:

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.”

Now, I don’t personally believe in the bible, but for those that do, doesn’t the way Jesus characterizes tradition here not jibe with how the Yes on 8 crew is using the word? Tradition in the above is characterized as bad, as willful, as going against God. Huh, I may be on to something there. If “the traditions of men” are going against “the commands of God,” then upholding “traditional marriage” (as the Yes on 8 crew is doing) is actually hubris – it is taking the stance that “my tradition” or “my belief” is better than everyone else’s – including that of God, Jesus, etc.

A story about a ballot measure introduced in Olympia, Washington puts the hypocrisy surrounding the “traditional marriage” in stark relief. As reported at the SeattlePI back in 2007:

“Proponents of same-sex marriage have introduced an initiative that would put a whole new twist on traditional unions between men and women: It would require heterosexual couples to have children within three years or else have their marriages annulled.”

Gregory Gadow, who filed the I-957 proposition, claimed the initiative was filed “in the spirit of political street theater” with no real intention to actually put this into law, but rather  “to get this on the ballot and cause people to talk about it.” (See the full story here.)

Such “political street theatre” makes it abundantly clear that “traditional marriage” is touted as a good thing without much analysis as to what this really means. While it is ‘traditional’ for most marriages to result in children, does this mean that marriages which don’t are no longer real or valid?

Ideas surrounding “tradition” also circulate around California’s Prop 4 initiative. The Yes on 4 camp, that would like to limit reproductive rights, uses the platform of protecting “traditional family values.” However, as anyone who doesn’t live with their head stuck up their backsides knows, the ‘traditional nuclear family’ model in the US is rife with heinous and hypocritical ‘traditions.’ For example, the tradition of seeing the women in the family as servants, as property, as items to barter or ‘give away’ to men/future husbands. Or, the tradition of valuing sons more, of putting male’s education/goals etc first. While these traditions are thankfully waning, they are by no means under threat of extinction. If Prop 4 passes (and if the even more draconian Prop 11 in South Dakota passes(see here for more on Prop 11)), the ‘tradition’ of controlling women’s bodies and their reproductive capacities will be strengthened – or, in other words, we will be moving BACKWARDS in terms of equality, social justice, and reproductive freedom.

“Tradition” has also been used in the presidential campaign to promote racism and sexism. As Obama threatens the ‘tradition’ of white male rule, he has been targeted in extremely racist ways that feed on the tradition of white supremacist views that are still prevalent in this ‘free’ country. And, as the sexist coverage of both Clinton and Palin reveals, any woman, even when she is a right-to-lifer, weapon/oil/war loving darling of the right, is framed as a threat to the tradition of male/power privilege.

While some traditions are good, (like calling your dad on father’s day, or eating meals together as a family, or voting!) others, (like sexism, racism, homophobia) are abhorrent. While all people should have equal rights and privileges, equal opportunities, the right to marry if they choose, the right to control their own reproductive capacity, the right to run for office without being targeted by racist/sexist campaign propaganda, all traditions are certainly NOT equally good or right.

Thus, when something is touted as good because it is ‘traditional,’ let us all pause and think about what traditions we want to perpetuate and what traditions need to be axed. The ‘traditional family,’ ‘traditional marriage,’ and ‘traditional leaders,’  are not actually altogether good traditions, but traditions that work to limit access to privilege and power and that disenfranchise women, people of color, and non-heterosexuals.

Up with feminist, progressive traditions and down with traditions of hate! And, please, please consider what traditions you would like to perpetuate when you vote come Tuesday…

What if one is not born, but rather becomes, a non-feminist?

As Simone De Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, notes, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” But, in the case of feminists, I think they are actually born and then ‘unmade.’ I doubt girls are born feeling they are ‘naturally defective’ as Aristotle argues they are. Likewise, I doubt boys are born feeling they are the superior sex. Rather, one is ‘made’ into a woman (and distanced from being a feminist) via a constant onslaught of messages that define one as the Other. One is ‘made’ into a man via living and breathing in a society that perpetuates male privileges. (for more on male privilege see here and here) Thus, this making into ‘woman’ and ‘man’ is societally constructed and maintained.

Bodies do not come in only two varieties although we like to act as if they do. Nor do they come in only feminine-women and masculine-men versions. If we did not learn before we even left the womb that woman are the secondary sex, perhaps we would not have to talk about ‘click moment’s’ with feminism because we would all still be feminists!

Although I am a card-carrying social constructionist, I think being a feminist may be one of the most natural identities – perhaps that is why they try to beat it out of us so hard! Is it such a stretch to think that humans might be born feeling they are not better or worse than any other human but equally deserving?

I have long joked that I was born a feminist as I can’t recall any one click moment, but a series of battles, arguments, and feelings of “what the f is wrong with this world” as I grew up. From questioning the unfairness of class inequality and the exploitation of migrant workers during elementary school (I lived in a migrant farming town divided along class/color lines) to wondering why I wasn’t supposed to play with ‘those Mexican kids,’ I was already flaunting my feminism cred in grade school. I refused to have a different curfew than my brother in high school – didn’t seem to me just because you had a penis you should get to stay out later. To the dropped jaws of my college professors, I wrote feminist essays in every single class, asking why anthropology acted as if the world was made of men only, why literature focused on DWMs (dead white males), and why psychology acted as if the female brain was substandardly different. To the chagrin of my family, I balked at the suggestion that mothering was more important than an academic career and refused to buy into the ‘women are meant to nurture’ crapola that culture hawks at us all the time.

Today, I frustrate my children’s teachers (and my students) by asking them to stop saying ‘you guys’. I hunt down principals and tell them they need to put a stop to the use of homophobic language on the playground. I annoy gym instructors by asking them to change their music selections (call me crazy, but I don’t like to work out to songs glorifying gang rape.) I call out people for their sexism, racism, able-ism, body-hating, xenophobia — and guess what? They don’t like it. I am ‘too opinionated.’ I need to ‘mellow out.’ “Do you always have to talk about feminism” they whine. Well, yeah. It’s like a religion. I live and breathe it every day. It is like nourishment – I would starve without feminism.

There are so many definitions of feminism that I love, it is hard to pick just one. Many of my favorites comes from The Feminist Dictionary by Paula Treichler and Cheris Kramarae.

I agree with Nawal el Saadawi’s claim that “as a radical feminist…you should oppose imperialism, Zionism, feudalism, and inequality between nations, sexes, and classes.” Feminism is not just about sex/gender but about all forms of social inequality and oppression/privilege.

I also like Peggy Kornegger’s description of feminism as “A many-headed monster which cannot be destroyed by singular decapitation.” Guess what crazy feminist hating trolls? You can’t kill feminism! It’s a hydra – as soon as you cut of one head, another will grow back. This ‘multiplicty of feminisms’ is another thing I love about feminism. There are so many varieties feminism puts 31 flavors to shame. From anarcha-feminism to eco-feminism to womanism to third wave feminsm to radical feminism, each flavor has something yummy. Try them all, pick one, or rotate! Hell, get a quadruple cone of feminism and delight your feminist taste buds!

The Combahee River Collective’s argument that feminism must be “actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” and seek to develop “integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that major systems of oppression are interlocking” is another classic. The intersectional approach to feminism is one flavor I cannot live without – it’s my mainstay.

Charlotte Bunch’s argument that feminism is “an entire worldview or gestalt, not just a laundry list of ‘women’s issues’ is another favorite of mine.” As Bunch argues, “Feminst theory provides basis for understanding every area of our lives, and a feminist perspective can affect the world politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually.” Yes, it certainly can. And once you re-place your feminist lenses stolen from you by the culture/society/history/institutional white supremacist heteronormative imperialist patriarchal matrix that defines ‘reality,’ you will never look at the world in the same way again.

See, you were born a feminist, we all were, and if haven’t already done so, please find your way back.

*This post was inspired by a call at The Feminist Underground for feminism definitions and musings. Thanks for the inspiration Habladora!

Published in: on June 19, 2008 at 11:29 am  Comments (11)  
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What if women could have careers AND good sex? Camille Paglia’s ‘look’ at Sex and the City

In the “Six Ways of Looking at Carrie” in the 5/23/08 special double-orgasm issue of Entertainment Weekly that showcases Sex and the City, Camille Paglia does some supposedly feminist looking at the show.

Paglia starts with the argument that:

Sex and the City is extremely important in entertainment history because of the way it foregrounded the pro-sex feminism movement of the 1990s that I was part of. The show is the most visible result of that generational shies away from the antipornagraphy crusade that dominated in the 1970s and ‘80s.”

Over time, the show really turned into an accurate anthropological chronicle of the bittersweet dilemma faced by the modern career woman. For every big career gain she makes, there’s a trade-off in her personal life.”

Is the “women asked to be raped” and “date rape hysteria” stance of Paglia’s part of the pro-sex mantra she speaks of? (Pardon me for asking, but can’t being “pro-sex” include being anti-rape?) Does the “anti-pornography crusade” refer to the radical feminist critique of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and gender as performance of MacKinnon, Rich, and Butler (and many great others) or does Paglia, in bad-feminist-mythmaking style, simply conjure up the hellaciously misinterpreted claim of Dworkin that “all sex is rape”? And, geez, couldn’t she have picked a word other than the zealous, fanatical image inducing “crusade”?!?

It would have been nice if she had taken the chance to give voice to feminism in a national magazine in a way that is a tad more complex and a smidgen less divisive (she is – whether you agree with her brand of feminism or not – whip smart). Or, perhaps the ET editors could have rallied up a feminist not reviled by so many in what she claims is her own camp. Was no one from feministing, racialicious, or the women’s media center available? Have bell hooks, Jane Caputi, and Jackson Katz stopped doing “feminist looking”?

Instead, we have to gaze through Paglia’s view, which constructs woman as girls, second-wave feminists as old baddies, and heterosexuality as NATURAL – as in the following:

“I can see why many older, second-wave feminists were highly critical of Sex and the City in the way it showed women always obsessing about men. But guess what? Wake up, that’s the truth! Most young women are naturally interested in men.”

Girls together in groups are constantly talking about their relationships. That’s what girlfriends are for!”

For the love of feminism, is there anything RIGHT about her look at SATC? Women are “naturally” interested in men? Hello? Queer theory, anyone? Or, how about the fairly widespread understanding of the social construction of gender/race/sexuality? And “girls” (not women of course, because I guess it would be too old-school-second-wave to refuse female infantalization) “constantly talk about relationships”?!? What “girls” are you hanging with Camille? Perhaps you need some new “girlfriends” that understand friendship entails more than discussing heteronormative relationships (while shoe shopping and dieting, I presume).

I look forward to the release of the film next weekend– and to doing some feminist looking of my own. When I talk with my friends (who are not all girls), I will try to go beyond my “natural” interest in men and my “essential girly desire” to talk relationships – I might just, in fact, consider the film from a critical, feminist perspective that includes an examination or race, class, gender, sexuality, body image – and yes, Camille, relationships too.

Published in: on May 25, 2008 at 11:48 am  Comments (1)  
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