What if you refuse to be seduced by violence?

(With great homage to the brilliant bell hooks*, I offer these thoughts. They come from a brief speech I gave this week at my campus at an event aimed at eradicating violence.)

The rape, sexual assault, and interpersonal violence that plagues our culture  are by-products of our patriarchal, militarized, and commodified world. Yet, such violence could not continue if we did not allow it

We like to act as if violence happens out there, beyond our control, yet violence is a part of most of our lives. For some of us, it happens regularly in our homes; for all of us, it happens in our neighborhoods, our schools, our cities, our nation, and our world. And, while US culture is good at convincing us we are powerless to change this, we are not – in fact, a key hope for change lies within our daily acts of resistance to violence

One place to begin the process of eradicating violence is within our own desires.

If as heterosexual women desire violent, aggressive men, we are perpetuating violence.

If as men, we are turned on by power, control, and domination, we are perpetuating violence.

If we as parents allow our children to achieve addictive adrenaline rushes by playing grand theft auto and other such games that glorify murder and rape, we are perpetuating violence.

If we as citizens accept war as an answer to world problems, we are perpetuating violence

One place we can begin to change our own immersion in violence and our attraction to it is in our response to popular culture – we can begin by examining how intertwined violence and sexuality are in contemporary society.

We, as citizens of the united states, our turned on by violence – yet, this need not be the case.

Currently, an entire army of 10 to 14 to yes even 40-year-olds are immersed in the Twilight book series, a series that romanticizes violent masculinity and presents sexual assault as proof of love. Vampire and werewolf legends are of course dripping with thinly veiled references to rape, violent sexuality, and sexually motivated murder – they are also predicated on a championing of violent masculinity. Yet, the messages about sexuality and violence these rabidly popular books contain are far from unique – the Hostel film series and other such pornified horror films repeatedly make violence seem sexy while simultaneously presenting violent sex as an extreme turn on.

When youth our encouraged to desire werewolves who sexually assault them (via books like Twilight) and teens are encouraged by Eminem to think homicidal misogyny is cool —and those of us who watch television are so inundated with violent sexuality that we become immune to it, we should not be shocked that our culture is one of extreme violence

We, as largely apathetic bystanders to this violence, must realize that we are actually not bystanders but accomplices- for if we, like bell hooks suggests, fail to refuse to be seduced by violence, we our culpable for all the violence that occurs in our culture.

A first step that we all can take is this – we can vow to be seduced by violence no more.

Whether that means refusing to enjoy films that glorify sexual violence or choosing  not to play video games where you get extra points for committing gang rape, whether that means refusing to stand idly by while the ROTC plans to set up camp on your campus or whether that means intervening when you witness violence, whether it means refusing to listen to songs that construct women as rape targets, hoes, and tricks,  or whether it means reshaping your own desires so you are no longer attracted to violent people, ALL of us can play a role in this – and I encourage all of you, from this day forward, to actively refuse to be seduced by violence.

*hooks, bell. “Seduced by Violence No More,” in Transforming Rape Culture, edited by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993).

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”.

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.

What if fat is no better (or worse) than thin? (Reflections on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Surgery, Part 2)

Over the past several years, the characterization of weight loss surgery (WLS) as effortless, coupled with tabloid type coverage of surgery gone wrong, fails to offer any in-depth consideration of WLS as a cultural phenomenon brought about by a collision of factors. The healthcare industry’s limited approach to body size, the practices of loading food with high fructose corn syrup and offering super size portions as the norm, the failure to promote health, nutrition and exercise rather than diet, diet, diet, and, most pertinently, the sanctioning of prejudice enacted upon fat bodies (and especially fat female bodies) in the news, the workplace, and the public arena are just a few of the causes contributing to the growth of WLS.

Not only has the thin-loving media condemned WLS, so have fat acceptance groups and fat activists. Paul McAleer claims such surgeries are done “in the name of fucking vanity” while Kelly Bliss predicts that in the future we will look back on WLS as “comparable to lobotomies.” It is surprising fat activists such as these suggest those opting for surgery only do so for aesthetic reasons on the one hand, and that ‘stupid fat people’ are being duped into surgery on the other. Comments comparing WLS to “fat genocide” or framing WLS as a moral outrage similarly construct the debate in very stark terms – namely, WLS bad, fat good.

However, I don’t think it is any better to claim that fatness is ALWAYS good than to claim that thinness is always good, beautiful, etc. Fat CAN be unhealthy for certain people given their genetics, body frame, and other health factors. Fat is not INHERENTLY unhealthy in and of itself, but so-called morbid obesity (I hate that term) CAN be a health risk. Fat activists and acceptance sites often seem to deny this. But, what if fat is no better (or worse) than thin? Isn’t this notion the goal body liberation groups are trying to reach? That, we need to, as activist Marilyn Wann claims, erase the “line” between fat and thin  – and – in so doing – eradicate “skinny privilege.” If this is truly the goal, condemning the symptoms of body hatred should not be the focus – rather, the CAUSES of this cultural dis-ease with certain types of bodies must be addressed and eradicated.

Further, the insinuation that WLS is done in the main for vanity or conformity reasons fails to account for the fact that health risks are the number one reason people cite for considering (or having) WLS. While I understand that such risks are trumped up and mythologized by an anti-fat medical establishment, I also believe that fat can complicate certain health factors for CERTAIN bodies. Is WLS the answer? Not necessarily. But, acting as if it is NEVER the answer seems myopic. Further, hammering the point that it is risky and can lead to death seems like scare mongering – surgeries are inherently risky, all of them can lead to death… giving birth is risky and can lead to death – should we frame it as comparable to a lobotomy as well? (This rather overstretched analogy is prompted by McAleer’s post that frames WLS as a “moral decision” in relation to reproductive choice/abortion).

Camryn Manheim touches on an important issue related to what seems like the conditional acceptance in the fat acceptance movement. In Wake Up, I’m Fat, she notes her discovery of the plethora of fat acceptance organizations and magazines, sharing her dismay with trying to find a potential partner in the personals sections of such publications. Revealing fat as a sexual commodity in such magazines, she laments that “In this world of ‘size acceptance,’ my fat was all that mattered; the other stuff was apparently irrelevant” and bemoans that the ads are not based on “size acceptance but ‘size insistence'” (Manheim 1999, p.121 and 123). To a degree, this observation can be extended to the fat acceptance movement. If you are not fat, or not ‘fat enough,’ or have lost your fat, you are suspect to insinuations of cultural conformity and ‘giving in.’ This is why I now tend to favor “body acceptance” or “body positive” or “healthy at any size” or “body liberation” rather than the phrase “fat acceptance” as I feel ALL bodies – not only fat ones – deserve acceptance.

Protesting WLS by marketing anti-surgery products on the web and staging anti-surgery demonstrations, fat activist Marilyn Wann is in line with this view of WLS as acquiescence to cultural conformity. Noting a future issue of her zine Fat!So? will be about “how silly weight loss surgery is,” Wann says “I think the most powerful force for change in our society is public ridicule.” Wann describes her plan “to ridicule the idea that cutting off the healthy stomach of a human being is ever a good idea,” noting she will enact this plan “without ridiculing actual people” How, in fact, is such supposedly well meaning ridicule possible?  Rather than the ego-deflating practice of ridiculing, which fat people already suffer on a daily basis, how about devoting energy to examining the widespread causes that have made WLS such a widespread cultural phenomenon in the first place? For, while questioning the validity of surgery as an option is certainly laudable, condemning surgery on all counts seems narrow-minded. Such a blanket condemnation seems to go against the very message such organizations preach – namely, diversity, acceptance, cultural awareness, and extended analysis of the deep-seated causes of fat phobia.

And, while size acceptance groups roundly condemn the surgery, the very media that exhorts us to be thin at all costs, that sends us thousands of daily messages conveying only thin bodies are beautiful, also chastises those who attempt to live up to inane standards via surgical means.  Survive on liquid protein (ala Oprah), exercise so fanatically that even post-pregnancy you’re stick thin (ala Demi Moore), or opt for drugs instead of food (ala heroin chic) and you are a fat fighting hero. But, opt for surgery, well, you’re a brainless lazy schmuck with zero will.

Even more ironic is the MSMs relative approval of the fat sucking procedure know as liposuction (as extolled on shows such as Extreme Makeover and The Swan). If this surgical option is ok, why isn’t WLS?  Hmmm, could it be that those who opt for liposuction are usually only curvaceous with plump thighs or tummies that they must get rid of in order to morph into Kate Moss? In contrast, the bodies who undergo weight loss surgery are for the most part upwards of 250 pounds. They are the bodies paraded on talk shows as freakish, the ones inspiring bumper stickers like No Fat Chicks!, the ones no one wants to sit next to on an airplane, the ones constantly exhorted by ‘well-meaning’ friends, family, and strangers to diet. Often, they do, creating a cycle of loss and gain and ending up with far more health and esteem problems than if they had accepted themselves in the first place. These bodies, rejected by culture, mocked by the media, and scorned by the general public now have yet another burden to add to their vilified existence if they opt for WLS – now they are also too lazy to do it the hard way (as Oprah suggests), too weak to exercise self control (as Maher jokes, characterizing the surgery as “willpower bypass”), too cowardly to refuse conformity (as fat activists propose).

The many before and after shots lauding post-surgical success stories may make it seem the media have embraced this phenomenon. But a closer look reveals an emphasis on extreme risk, deprivation, pain, and, horror of horrors, post-op saggy skin. And, predictably, the stories focus on female bodies. As with shows such as The Swan, where ‘ugly duckling’ female contestants undergo extensive surgical and diet procedures to become ‘beautiful swans,’ it is still the female body that is under strict cultural surveillance to be attractive (read thin) at any cost. These stories are told not to celebrate let alone analyze this latest trend in our never-ending futile fight against fat – rather, they are the newest form of the fat body as freak show entertainment, proclaiming: “Come one, come all! Feast your eyes on a former fatty!” Oddly enough, the fat acceptance movement seems in league with the media in that it also frames those opting for WLS as freaks – or, as lobotomized morons with amputated stomachs… What if instead, we saw fat as no better or worse than thin?