What if the Supreme Court in a Supremely Sucky Decision Sides with Wal-Mart?

The Supreme Court sided with Wal-Mart. I am still in shock. This is such a blow on so many levels, especially in regards to sexism, worker’s rights, and the continuing corporatization of the U.S. For background on the case, go here and for a list of proposed actions/protests, go here.

I am re-posting a piece critiquing Wal-Mart to mark the day of this  heinous decision.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 3: The Temple of Wal-Mart)

When I read that a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on “Black Friday,” I flashed back to Reverend Billy. His over-the-top evangelical-style preaching’s that encourage ‘worshipers’ to STOP SHOPPING in the docu-comedy What Would Jesus Buy equate our consumerism to evil, to greed, and, catchingly, to the “SHOPACOLYPSE.” Black Friday’s news, with one Wal-Mart worker dead as a result of consumer madness, and several others injured, as well as the shoot out at a Toys-R-Us in Palm Desert that left two more men dead, seemed to indicate that the ‘SHOPACOLYPSE’ is indeed upon us.

As someone who includes a directive to please 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 tragedy reveals 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 disporportionately 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 wonderful Frontline 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-Mart, Wal-Mart Sucks, and Wal-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.’

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What if you wanna read about military rape culture?

Well, check out my new article in the Spring issue of Ms. magazine on newsstands now. So excited to be included in a mag I have read for over 20 years!

What if elementary schools resisted pornification? Or, why not to wear heels to school when you are eight…


Picking my daughter up from school today, I saw what looked like a 3rd or 4th grader trying to navigate her walk home in high heel black fuck me pumps. Her dad trotted obliviously behind her. With parents so blissfully unaware of the hyper-sexualizing of their daughters, can we really be shocked when sexualized violence is so rife in our communities?

Turn a child into a sex object (or anyone into an object) and you make it easier for her/him to be treated as a THING. If such fashion “choices” occurred in the context of a just, non patriarchal world, that would be one thing. But, given our pornified culture which constructs violence as sexy AND younger and younger girls as sexy AND females as “booty” to be “tapped,” such a shoe choice seems very poor judgement.  Get that girl some friggin’ tennies. Sheesh.

Sadly, this pornified footwear is not a unique occurrence. At the talent show a few weeks back, two 5th grade girls gyrated stripper-style to a hip-hop song with “do me” type lyrics. Um, did the talent show crew really think this was acceptable “talent”? How sad that shaking your ass to degrading lyrics is considered a-ok for a K-5 event.

This pornified vibe is also evident in the comments I hear as I wait for my daughter after-school (“that teacher is hot” said by a boy who was perhaps 10), in t-shirt logos (“Boy candy”), and in the sexed-up walk of some of the girls who seem to have learned that our culture views their most important “talent” as the ability to attract male attention. I shudder to think what my daughter’s 5th grade graduation will be like – if my son’s was any indication, likely there will be many unfortunate fashion choices and too much flashing of the class privilege (a teacher shared with me that last year one boy was picked up in a Hummer limo and took a handful of friends off to a day of 5th grade style debauchery at Boomer’s).

How many kids are aware of how wrong this all is or have parents that help them navigate the crazily violent, consumerist, and hyper-sexualized worlds of elementary and middle schools? I wish all of them did. More to the point, I wish elementary could be a place of learning, fun, and friendship, rather than a place to “shake that thang” and flaunt your assets – be they bodily or monetary.

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 menstruation was accepted as a fact of life rather than cause for shock and awe? Reading around the I-pad

The clip below, from MadTV in 2007, muses on the need for an I-pad to have “vaginal firewall protection.” Though hilarious, it does trade in the “ewww, periods are so gross” paradigm criticized in the recent “The iPad: Love It or Hate It, but Leave Periods Out of It” post from Kate Dailey.

As noted in The I-Pad Oh My Periods from Womanist Musings, “Moving from we can’t talk about periods because they are dirty to tee hee is not really any form of progress.”

Or, as asked over at Feministig, The iPad: Where are the women on Apple’s branding team?”
Might all the “tee-hee-ing” going on (as Renee calls it) indicate some internalized misogyny on women’s part (as asked in this thoughtful post here at Gourmet Goddess)? Or might it, as the Goddess questions, suggest feminists need to “grow up,” sharing that “ I do think the fact that a name like the iPad is cause for such vocal derision by feminists, of all people, just shows how far we feminists have to go to fully accept ourselves as women.”

I partially agree, but I also know I wouldn’t really like a product named after hemorrhoidal cream (the iItch?) or after semen (the iCum?). Yes, females bleed, we have periods – they are not something to silence or mock, but neither are they something I want to think about all the time. But, then again, the name I-pad didn’t make me think of menstruation – perhaps because I am a fan of the diva cup. Now there’s a good name, the iDiva.

What if you don’t scream? Is it still rape? (And other idiotic comments by school officials)

Rape in California (and everywhere else) is rife. From the Richmond gang rape to the 14-year-old about to be tried for raping a 12-year-old in a middle school stairwell, rape is so ubiquitous it’s to the point where it’s not even news anymore. Horrid.

We live, as so many have documented so well, in a rape culture. (For a great piece on this, see Rape Culture 101 by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville).

Regarding the case at the middle school, the Contra Costa Times ran a story quoting a number of school officials.

One said, “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream?…Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody’s down there?”

This person obviously has not read Rape Culture 101, which teaches that “Rape culture is the pervasive narrative that there is a ‘typical’ way to behave after being raped, instead of the acknowledgment that responses to rape are as varied as its victims…” Or, not everyone is going to scream!

Another school employee in need of a 101 lesson said “I know for a fact that that girl could’ve knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back.”

Oh, how my feminist head hurts. The stupidity and arrogance of these commentators! Yet again, they are blaming the female – she should have screamed, she should have hit him.

Will this never change????

In regards to the 14 year old boy, Jessica at Feministing brings attention to the language of rape culture where rape isn’t really rape it’s just “hormones gone wild.”

As reported at by a Bay Area news station and posted by Jessica, the School Site Supervisor said

“They’re calling it a rape when it wasn’t really a rape,” Portola Middle School Site Supervisor Mustapha Cannon told reporters Tuesday morning. “When this is all over with I want to see if I can get a public apology for my principal, who is my friend, and my vice-principal, who is my friend who aren’t at work right now. Some kids are not as popular as other kids. You have a girl that’s not as popular as some of the girls. You have a guy who is not as popular with some of the guys and the girls. It was hormones gone wild.”

Seems like people are all too ready to jump on the Whoopee Goldberg bandwagon when rape is not really rape but “rape rape.” Truly stomach turning.

And the fact the Shitty-ass Supervisor frames the “it wasn’t really rape” claim around issues of popularity??? Holy fuck, where do they find these people that run our schools???

In all of these comments from school employees and in many of the news reports, the tone indicates that this is a false accusation – you know, like that 12-year-old really wanted it and know she is crying rape because she is having second thoughts. This false accusation narrative that spreads through the media is a virus that refuses to die. As McEwan notes, false rape reports are LESS COMMON that false reports of auto theft – or about 1.6% of reports. Yes, people, MORE people report false auto theft reports than false rape ones and yet how often do you hear about those in the news?!?!? Instead, the MSM leads us to believe 99% of rape reports are false – ya know, cuz women can’t be trusted. And they ask for it. And sometimes they drink. And they wear tight clothes. And they have multiple partners. And, well, they have vaginas. That right there is asking for it.*

*yes, men get raped too, but the media does not frame them in the same way as it frames females

(For good book-long takes on these issues see Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape or the more recent Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape)

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.