Archive for June, 2006

I wrote a paper recently about a topic that brings a great deal of emotion with it for women worldwide, and men too. I’m going to share some of what I learned here, but not the paper itself, which is slightly different in intent (the paper dealt with what the UN policies are and whether they are working to eradicate the problem). The topic is female genital cutting.There has been a great deal of debate among various groups internationally about female genital cutting. One of the major debates has been about language: the terms used to describe these practices vary. First was Female Circumcision, which is not really accurate, as it gives the impression that the procedures are similar to male circumcision, which mostly they are not. Then came the highly political Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is still widely used by feminist and human rights groups to discuss the subject. Next came Female Genital Surgeries, which is a bit euphemistic, but has the advantage of being more inclusive of cosmetic procedures to enhance genital “attractiveness” as well as gender assignment surgery. Newly popular is Female Genital Cutting (FGC), which is my preferred term, because it is not political and is not insensitive to those who have undergone the procedures, yet does not gloss over what the procedures involve. So, I will refer to the practice as Female Genital Cutting, or FGC.

It is estimates that up to 140 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGC. There are four categories of FGC recognized by the World Health Organization. Type 1 is excision of the prepuce or hood of the clitoris. This is often called Sunna, or tradition, and is most like male circumcision, although in many cases the tip of the clitoris is also removed. Type 2 is excision of the entire clitoris and labia minora, also referred to as clitoridectomy. Type 3 is excision of the entire clitories and labia minora plus the scraping away of the inner surface of the labia majora, followed by the stitching shut of the vaginal opening, except for a small opening to allow the passage or urine and menstrual fluid. This is called Phaoronic circumcision or infibulation. Type 4 is any of the above combined with other invasive tissue damage, including burning, cauterizing, pricking the clitoris, slicing open the vaginal opening further, or introducing foreign objects or substances into the vagina for inducing bleeding or scarring. These procedures are largely performed by traditional circumcisors, who are almost exclusively women, and are performed with a variety of tools, from scissors to razor blades to pieces of glass, and usually without anesthetic and in unsanitary conditions. The sewing shut of hte vaginal opening in infibulation is often done with needles or thorns from acaica bushes. Sometimes a combination of plants and animal dung is rubbed on the genitals to stop the bleeding, and the child’s legs are wrapped tightly to facilitate healing.

Some of the health implications include shock, infection, retention of urine and menstrual fluid, infertility, painful intercourse, blood poisoning, keloid scarring and of course extreme pain. Psychological problems can arise, and FGC has been shown to cause major complications during childbirth, particularly infibulation, and monitoring sexual health and pregnancy is almost impossible. During the 1970s and 80s, WHO and NGO anti-FGC action focussed on the health implications of FGC, and the effect was not eradication of the practice, but medicalization of hte practice, where medical professionals began to offer the service in sterile conditions with anesthesia and other medical supplies.

In addition, FGC is a form of gender-specific violence that violates the human rights of women and girls. FGC is used to control female sexuality – the assumption of course is that female sexuality is dangerous and must be controlled. FGC is also used to control women psychologically, as a physical reminder that women are of inferior social status. Since about the 1990s, the focus of anti-FGC work is focussed on the human rights violations involved.

FGC is mainly practiced in Africa and the Middle East, however the practice is performed throughout southeast Asia and in refugee and immigrant populations in Europe, North America and Australia. Also, aborginal people in Australia and New Zealand have been known to practice some form of FGC. FGC is performed on women of varying ages, depending on the community norms. Mostly, FGC is performed on young girls, either between 4 and 10, or during puberty as a rite of passage into womanhood. In some communities, women are cut before marriage or during the first pregnancy. One recent concern is that younger and younger girls are being cut as families hoping to gain refugee or immigrant status in the west want to perform the procedure before they leave their homeland, because FGC is illegal in western countries and families who express a desire to take their daughters out of the country to have the procedure performed are charged under child protection legislation.

FGC is deeply steeped in tradition among the communities that practice it. Some of the reasons given include: increased fertility, prevention of adultery, preservation of virginity, hygeine, increased male sexual pleasure, acceptance into the community, and that it is a requirement of religion (mainly Islam). There is also a belief that if a man’s penis should touch a woman’s clitoris during sex, the penis will fall off, and that if a baby’s head touches the clitoris during childbirth, the baby will die. (Note the strong undertones relating to the dangerousness of female sexuality.) None of these reasons stand up under scrutiny: fertility has nothing to do with genitals, cut women are still able to have extra-marital sexual relationships, infibulation in particular often has the effect of diminishing male sexual pleasure and can cause impotence because of fear of hurting the woman, and there is no evidence in either the Qu’ran or sunni hadith literature that says FGC is required by Allah. Hygeine as a reason for FGC is not at all feasible, as described above. The most compelling reasons for FGC have to do with custom and tradition within the community.

This, then, is the debate aroud FGC. While the western world sees FGC as a clear halth risk and human rights violation, the communities that practice FGC hold it in high regard. FGC has special importance and meaning for these communities. FGC is often accompanied with a celebration, and uncut girls and women are considered a complete disgrace, unmarriageable, dirty, and worthless. FGC has great meaning for communities where it is practiced, and is in fact institutionalized to the point where it is associated with being female. Eradication of FGC is often construed as eradication of every meaningful aspect of culture that surrounds the proactice. The latest term for anti-FGC work is abandonment, where some customs are retained and perhaps new ones adopted, but the physical integrity of the girls’ genitals are maintained. In areas of Kenya, a particulalry promising development in anti-FGC work has arisen, where communities still celebrate the rite of passage into womanhood, but the actual ceremony when the procedure is performed has been replaced with a “circumcision by words.” The rate of FGC has declined noticeably since this development was introduced.

another problem with anti-FGC discourse is the framing of FGC as a human rights violation. In parts of Africa in particular, the idea of human rights is alien. The libertarian individualism upon which western society is built does not translate, and is instead seen as selfishness. The way of life is more community-oriented, rather than focused on the individual.

One last problem is that the practitioners who perform FGC are often very well-respected and command a high earning for each procedure: sometimes as high as $15 per girl, compared to a typical income of $1-2 per day in some areas. the women who perform FGC lose a great deal of income and social status when they give up cutting.

The best ways to create abandonment is with a thorough integration of education as to health risks of FGC, along with an understanding that the rites and customs involved may still be practiced without the actual cutting procedures and an effort to include the entire community in the decision to end FGC, combined with full government support and legislation against FGC that includes penalties as well as plans to help transition traditional practitioners into new roles.

The good news is that a recent UNICEF report shows signs of anti-FGC work making a difference. The percentage of women who have been cut who have at least one daughter who has also been cut has diminished to less than 50% in some areas, and has diminished in all areas studied except for 3. It looks like with education, increased awareness of health implications, and alternatives being provided for everyone, FGC is on the decline. IT can happen quite quickly in areas where dedicated teams are working in harmony with community groups, but it can also be very slow going and met with lots of resistence. However, overall, FGC is on the decline, and that has to be good news for women everywhere.

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So, I just spent the most wonderful weekend travelling around small towns in Nova Scotia and PEI with my friend who is doing a PhD on the subject of small towns. It’s a neat project: she is writing a novel set in a small town for half her thesis, and the other half is an exegetical piece about the nostalgic discourses that arise around the concept of “small town”. She has been interviewing people who live in small towns to find out more about small town life, and has found lots of interesting things from very generous people who have been willing to share their experiences and thoughts on the subject.I thought I would pose some of the questions to you readers: What does “small town” mean to you? If you live in a small town, what is unique about your small town? Why do you like living there (or don’t like living there)? What do urban dwellers think of small towns and people who live in them? If you live in a city, why do you like living there rather than a small town (or why do you not like living there)? What do you think about small towns?

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Wow! Well, after last week’s post, I’m not sure if I can top that discussion. I want to thank everyone who participated in the discussion for their input and insights, I learned a lot about where I stand on matters of free will.I must admit, I’m a bit intimidated because I feel pressured to write something else that will generate such debate. I don’t know if this will do it or not, but I want to write about a topic I know well from my career background. I’ve bene thinking about women and ageing for some time now, but I haven’t had a good way of expressing myself on the topic until a discussion I had this week with a friend on the topic where I was finally able to express how I felt about it. I’ll explore this a bit now.

It has been my professional experience that over the past ten years, there have been many scientific breakthroughs in the “treatment” of the ageing body and face. This has been reflected by the number of women (primarily, although some men are also concerned), who at one time would have thought there was nothing available to “treat” their ageing skin and resigned themselves to growing old gracefully, are now availing themselves of all sorts of interventions to turn back the hands of time that have been walking across their faces. Not only are the mid-50s and early-60s aged women coming for anti-ageing products and services, but now the typical woman I see at my job are early-40s aged. Now, the “treatment” of ageing has become a mantra of prevention, and younger and younger women are becoming increasingly concerned with the first appearance of wrinkles and lines on their face, sagging breasts and tummies, and under-eye bags. Particularly popular is Botox, a neuro-blocking agent derived from botulism that acts to paralyze the muscle that causes the expression line. For example, try frowning. The two muscles just above the eyebrows that cause your brows to furrow together and create a vertical line between the eyebrows (for some) can be paralyzed by injecting Botox into muscles. The muscles become paralyzed, so when your brain tells your muscles to frown, your muscles do not move AS MUCH. (It is true that some women go overboard and get way too much of this stuff injected, but they are few and far between. It is not likely that all muscle movement will be circumvented by Botox if it is properly administered.)

Ready for the feminist analysis of these anti-ageing “treatments”?

As I have discussed before, feminine beauty is a myth that is socially constructed by those in power in a patriarchal system, and it is self-enforcing, so women internalize femininity norms and self-regulate to enforce the very system that oppresses them. I have also mentioned how women are punished both for participating in beauty norms and for not participating. Also, I’ve discussed that a woman’s best chance of economic and social advancement in society is to get married to a man. Feminine beauty is an expression of women’s usefulness in society: youth symbolizes fertility, and women are at their most useful when they are breeding and raising children. As such, women are relegated to the private sphere of home and family while men move more freely through the world in the public sphere of work, economics and politics. Not that much has changed in the world since women gained the right to vote: women are still highly pressured to get married and have children, and while now women are encouraged to become highly educated, they are still expected to sacrifice their careers for motherhood. If you don’t think this is true, try being a young unmarried woman who is becoming educated. I can tell you from personal experience that it is assumed women will want to get married and have children and when they do they will stop working or at least put their careers on hold to raise children. When people find out that a particular woman is not interested in any of those things, it doesn’t go over well.

Now, add to the mix the rise in divorce. More women are coming onto the dating scene – the “market”, as they say, none too jokingly – for a second time, or a third time even, after experiencing divorce, and often after having children. If a woman is to attract a new man into her life – her best chance of economic security is to re-marry, particularly with dependent children – she must show that she is still young and fertile. Hence, the rise in anti-ageing “treatments”.

One further point: Botox is particularly disturbing, because it not only reduces the appearance of ageing on the skin, but it prevents normal expression of emotion. Women have long been associated with the emotional (rather than the rational) life, and have often been subjugated and dismissed as a result. Botox effectively creates non-expression of emotion, which says, in my view, “we don’t care about your emotions – we don’t want to hear it.” Botox reinforces society’s non-interest in emotions, and in particular the emotions of women. This seems a little bit dangerous to me, and the fact that women are rushing to inject poison into their faces to avoid expressing emotion is indicative of a greater problem in our society: the silencing of women’s emotions.

So, that’s my take on ageing. I would love to see more women embracing their changing bodies, their changing faces, their changing lives, their emotions. I would like to see a society in which all that would be safe for women and would not lead to isolation, abandonment, and economic reliance on men. As it is, women have not so much freedom of choice about the matter: if youth and beauty are linked to economic survival, it makes the waters that much muddier.

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Well, this is a highly unlikely post from a Thinking Girl like myself. However, I felt moved to write something about the travesty I witnessed on Thursday evening (June 15) when Matt Lauer interviewed Britney Spears for NBC’s Dateline. (If you missed it and want to know what I’m talking about, click here.)Now, it’s true that I don’t think much of Britney Spears. I don’t care for her music. I don’t care for the immense pressure her persona has put on young women. I don’t care for her uneducated republican-christian political views. I don’t care for her and Madonna co-opting lesbianism in order to sell records. I don’t care for her sense of fashion. I don’t care for her videos, which represent women in a degrading manner. I don’t care for her in general. And furthermore, she has made some very public blunders in regards to the care of her child, and she doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about it: her response to Matt Lauer’s questions about almost tripping and dropping her baby was “Accidents happen,” which seems a bit flippant and irresponsible to me.

However, what I do have sensitivity for is her position in society. Britney Spears is not perfect, this is true – but who of us is? Which of us would be up for the job of role model to every young girl in north america – much less be up for that job as a mere corollary to our primary job? Britney is an entertainer – she should not be held up as an example for young girls to emulate. Moreover, that is a job she didn’t ask for – she just wanted to be a singer!

The evolution of Britney’s career has been really weird and she has been subjected to a lot of expectations and pressures. First, she started out as an innocent kid on the Mickey Mouse Club. She went on to a solo career as a teenager, and gained instant success with her cuteness, catchy tunes and good dance moves. Then she blossomed into a young woman, and the rumours started: “Britney had breast implants.” I always said, give the girl a break, she just went through puberty! Then the pressure was on. Britney was linked with Justin Timberlake, and rumours flew about their sex life. Britney, raised in the south as a christian, and feeling the pressure to be a good role model to young girls everywhere, emphatically stated that she was saving her virginity for marriage (a move also made by Jessica Simpson, apparently with more success). Britney then made the move into slutdom, dressing in barely-there outfits for performances and gyrating suggestively on stage, which was in direct opposition to the values she claimed to hold, so said her critics. Enter the paparazzi. When she and JT broke up, he spilled the beans in a most ungentlemanly way about having slept with Britney, and she was shamed. Suddenly, she was a laughingstock; her unattainable physique was slipping, her famous friends were diminishing, and she was photographed and interviewed in msot unflattering lights. The poor kid! All of a sudden, the world thought she was trailor trash. Then, after a brief marriage and anulment, she met a guy she loved and got married, quickly having a baby afterward. Now she is the subject of many many many criticisms of being a bad mother. All before the age of 25! This poor girl has grown up under intense scrutiny, public pressure, pressure from her management, pressure from her record label, pressure from her family, pressure from her romantic partners, and we have the nerve to criticize her for not living up to our ridiculous standards! She never asked for all this attention – and the worst thing about it all is that the attention itself is molding her actions. The incident recently where she was seen driving with her baby on her lap was a direct response to paparazzi, who were harassing her and making her feel unsafe. The paparazzi have moved from the role of observing celebrities from the outside to directly influencing the actions of celebrities – but they still “report” the incidents as though they had nothing to do with it, as though the celebrity in question is still in her glass fishbowl, not interacting with her environment.

So the pressure is on, and always has been. First, Britney was pressured to be virginal, then slutty, then a perfect wife and mother. However, there is always the underlying assumption and desire that she is going to fail at some or all of these roles. The truth is, she is just a girl, a young girl, who is new to all this motherhood stuff and is harassed by people who are paid to report back to you and I what she buys at Starbucks and when she gets her hair done and who she meets for dinner. She doesn’t have the power to just do what she wants and thinks is best – she has to live up to a patriarchal society’s vicious expectations in order to be successful. Her success is based exclusively on playing into male dominated ideas of femininity and sexuality under the virgin/whore dichotomy. Sadly, she has been both, and now she is seen as somewhat useless because she is viewed as failing as a mother – the cardinal sin for a woman, whose greatest and most important social role under patriarchy is mother.

I say, even though the poor girl is not helping women achieve more equality, leave her the hell alone. She needs the privacy and space to make her mistakes and learn and grow, just like the rest of us.

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well, I had my first exam today for my latest class, a political science class called The United Nations in World Politics. I think I did really well on the exam, I normally do pretty well at exams because I can memorize large amounts of information for regurgitation purposes over a short amount of time. Also, I have a *somewhat* photographic memory, so if I can’t think of something, I can often picture it in my mind, where it was on the page, whether I highlighted it, and see it in my own handwriting. Then, I just copy it onto the exam booklet page and I’m good! Lucky me, right? I think that’s how I learned to spell so well when I was a child – I remember seeing the word in a book I was reading and then remembering it for spelling bees and whatnot. Kids in my classes didn’t believe me that I could remember things like that and learn how to spell words they hadn’t even heard about. But, that’s what you get when you learn to read at a very young age – just before the age of three – and combine it with a *somewhat* photographic memory. However, I always lost at those stupid math challenges. I wasn’t so good with numbers, it was a language that didn’t come easily to me. Words are better than numbers. The only way I could remember numbers was to make up little personalities for them, and picture them with faces and colours and little houses and stuff. But words – now those came easily.

The UN class is really interesting. I’m learning so many fascinating things about how the organization works, some of the politics involved, why the UN and the US have such a difficult relationship. More and more, I come to hate that cocksuck*r george bush. (Is cocksuck*r a bad word? I mean, I know it’s for *swearing*, but is it a derogatory term for gay men? I think maybe it is, so I’ll refrain from using it in the future. Can someone clarify?) Like for example, bush refused to sign onto the International Criminal Court (which is not a UN-affiliated organization, that’s the International Court of Justice) because he was afraid that US soldiers would be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He tried to negotiate with some 150 other countries for exclusive immunity from prosecution in the ICC for all american citizens. The European Union would accept only if bush agreed to seek prosecution of his citizens within the american justice system. He refused to accept even this concession, and instead pulled out of the whole ICC organization. My thought is, if you’re afraid your soldiers are being assholes out there and committing crimes against humanity during warfare, perhaps you should deal with that problem instead of seeking to grant them special privileges of immunity from prosecution for their actions.

bush’s ongoing unilateral actions, in areas like the environment and the Kyoto accord, the Iraq invasion, the ICC, many peacekeeping missions, and repeatedly vetoing any resolutions that would put an end to the strife in the Middle East – instead continually siding with Israel and refusing to acknowledge Israel’s wrongdoing in the region – all add up to major problems in the UN. I hope the next president changes this trend and gets more in line with what the UN mandates. The current american ambassador to the UN seemingly has absolutely no use for the organization, and Congress regularly refuses to ratify UN resolutions if they conflict with US interests – even if the whole rest of the world benefits. One of the biggest conflicts in the UN has to do with the G-77, a grouping of all the developing nations of the world. The G-77 has the voting power in the General Assembly to defeat any opposition on any issue, and quite often does just that. The US in particular gets really pissed off about this, because they feel since they contribute the most money (in dollars) to the UN, they should be able to decide how that money gets spent, and the G-77 quite often carries anti-colonialist, anti-american views. The G-77, on the other hand, contributes less money in dollars, but actually contributes MORE money according to ability to pay, which is the UN’s formula for deciding assessments. The poor countries of the world are not required to contribute much in terms of dollars – some are asked to contribute less than my yearly salary – but they do it, because they believe in the UN and its work. The US on the other hand is constantly trying to find ways out of paying their assessments. They frequently refuse to pay and go into arrears – this is especially true of peacekeeping missions with which they disagree politically, as in the case of El Salvador and Nicaragua – and when they do pay, they agree only to pay a reduced percentage of what they owe, 20% instead of 25% of the GNP at which they were assessed. This is millions of dollars of the UN budget that the US holds hostage. When the US doesn’t pay, everyone at the UN suffers – areas of conflict that need military support, development programs that support environmental sustainability, programs like the World Food Program, which ran out of funds this past March and had to cut rations to Kenya, and the secretariat, whose personnel mans the organization and does everything from get coffee to reasearch democratic elections in new and fragile governments post-conflict. The US should be paying interest on what they owe, not paying less than what they owed in the first place!

Another thing that bugs me is that the US holds a permanent seat on the Security Council, which comes with the power to veto any resolution, even when the rest of the council is in consensus. (4 other countries hold permanent seats – France, China, Russia, and UK – and they also have veto rights. the other ten seats are 2 year rotating positions: 5 go to Africa/Asia, 1 to Eastern Europe, 2 to Latin America, and 2 to Western Europe/other developed nations, like Canada and Australia.) To pass a resolution, a majority of 9 is needed with the support of all 5 permanent members. Therefore, when a peacekeeping mission (PKO) is approved, these are the people who approve it. However, the troops for peacekeeping missions almost always come from developing nations – Pakistan, India, Uruguay, Libya, Nigeria, Paraguay, etc. The country that has contributed most to PKOs is FIJI. Incidentally, Canada has contributed to every UN PKO ever deployed. The US? They don’t send their soldiers out to UN PKOs. Not ever. (I guess they must be too busy committing war crimes in countries they have no right to be in and that the international community disapproves of…)

UN reforms have been buzzing about for the last decade or so. A friend told me recently that the UN had tried to set forth some reforms, but that the G-77 had shot them down in the General Assembly because the reforms were too friendly to the US. It seems to me that any reforms have to suit the US, or they will simply pull out of the organization altogether and funding will suffer and programs will suffer and that means people will die, starve, kill one another, suffer, get sick, not learn how to read, etc. etc. The UN is too dependent on the US. It has no choice but to cow to them in order to put any reforms through. That seems wholly unfair, since most of the problems within the UN have to do with countries not ratifying UN mandates and acting unilaterally… and the US is the biggest perpetrator.

Anyway, this is the stuff I’ve been thinking about today. I thought I’d share. This stuff was, for the most part, news to me, so I thought just maybe it might be news to some of you, too. Go visit the UN website, it is fascinating!

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well, I’m thinking of changing my blog to a different site. I’m checking out wordpress.com, to see if I like their software better. I find that Blogger is sometimes a bit slow, and not as flexible as I might like. But whatever, I’ll see what I think about it. For now, I’m changing my blog’s name to, naturally, Thinking Girl. Stay tuned!

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I recently finished a class in ethics, which was great, and very interesting. The topic of my paper for the class was feminist moral theory (naturally), and there is a great, diverse body of work on this subject. I thought I would share some of my findings on the topics I researched.To begin, the three main types of ethical theories are as follows:

  • Consequentialist, which holds that the rightness and wrongness of actions can only be determined by the consequences of those actions. Utilitarianism is the most common form of consequentialism; the tag line for this theory is "the greatest good for the greatest number." The most famous consequentialist is John Stuart Mill.
  • Deontological theories, which hold that people may never be used merely as a means, but as an end in themselves (this is straight out of Kant's categorical imperative). Other than Kant, deontology has led to rights-based moral theories, like that advocated by Robert Nozick. This type of moral theory is important because it places restrictions on how people may be treated, which consequentialist theories do not.
  • Virtue ethics, which holds that the most important moral question is not "What should I do?", but rather "What kind of person should I be?" Virtue ethics has to do with striving to posess and display certain characteristics that are deemed objectively good; out of these characteristics arise good actions. This theory is appealing because it involves the intentions of actions rather than simply the results of actions. The creator of virtue ethics is Aristotle.

Okay, the theory is out of the way (although of course there are so many arguments and questions to be answered about each of these theories, and I have hardly done them justice here). The beginnings of feminist moral discourse began in the 1980s with the publication of a work by psychologist Carol Gilligan, called In a Different Voice. The book outlined a study Gilligan did over a period of several years that examined the question of why women scored lower on psychological tests for morality than did men. It turned out that the problem lay with the tests themselves; the framework of the tests used a standard of moral agency that incorporated traditionally masculine traits. Gilligan found that males typically view moral issues in terms of justice, or competing rights claims, and in terms of moral rules or laws that are absolute. Females, on the other hand, tend to view moral issues in terms of conflicting responsibilities of care and concern for those involved, and tend to search for resolutions that allow for the continuation of the relationship between the parties in conflict. Because tests for morality are built on the model of justice, women's ethics of care are excluded; thus, women score lower on test for morality and were largely deemed to be morally deficient.

I'll give an example to illustrate the point. One of the questions on Kohlberg's test for moral development involves a hypothetical situation. A man, Heinz, has a sick wife. She will die if she doesn't get a particular medicine, which is rare. The druggist in his town can produce the drug, but is charging an exorbitant amount of money for the drug and refuses to lower his fee. Heinz breaks into the pharmacy and steals the drug. Is this morally permissible?

Typically, men respond that yes, it is morally acceptable for Heinz to have stolen the drug, because his wife's life is worth more than money. The issue is cast in terms of competing rights-claims. The wife's right to life is stronger than the druggist's right to property.

Women, however, are split on the issue. Many use the model of justice (I'll discuss this a bit more) to arrive at the same conclusion as the men surveyed, but others use the model of care and decide that Heinz should not steal the drug, but should find an alternate arrangement with the druggist. The reasons given for these conclusions are that the relationship between the druggist and Heinz would be damaged by stealing the drug, and potentially the relationship between Heinz and his wife could be damaged should Heinz be caught and go to jail for theft. The focus is on the relationships, and the solutions offered are alternative, constructive solutions rather than black and white This or That options.

As a result, women who responded in this way scored lower on Kohlberg's test, because their answers did not fit into the framework set out by Kohlberg when the test was designed. At best, the questioners recorded that the women did not understand the question, and so were deemed not only morally deficient, but cognitively deficient as well!

As a result of these findings by Gilligan, feminist moral theory exploded. Some claim that the ethic of care is better, and should replace the ethic of justice upon which our legal system is based. I completely disagree with this move; if the complaint about traditional ethical theories is that it ignores the moral experiences and intuitions of women, then transitioning to an ethic of care excluses the moral experiences and intuitions of men. Some women do use an ethic of justice, but virtually no men use an ethic of care. My opinion is that women who do use an ethic of justice have assumed some masculine traits in order to succeed in a patriarchal world.

My theory is that moral frameworks do need to change in order to incorporate the moral experiences and intuitions of women. I see the point of difference lying in the fact that males and females are socialized differently, and taught to strive to embody different kinds of virtues. Males are taught to be strong, brave, independent, and just. Women are taught to be gentle, caring, self-sacrificing, and demure. The pictures of a "good" man and a "good" woman are very different. The way I see it, both the ethics of care and the ethics of justice are virtue ethics theories, and out of these virtues come the frameworks used to create other moral theories focusing on acts. However, accepting both sets of virtues is not enough; a moral theory should strive to eliminate oppression and protect the vulnerable, like Kantian and rights-based ethics do in many ways. I think only a feminist theory of morality can accomplish this, since feminism is more sensitive to problems of oppression that other moral theories. I'm not sure how to construct this theory of morality; I don't have all the answers, but I think I've got a good start.

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local scandal

so, I thought I'd share this little local scandal. A few years ago, a female high school gym teacher was "caught" by several male coworkers coming out of a locker room washroom with a female student. The teacher, Lindsay Willow, is a lesbian, and was accused of molesting the student. They were in fact putting away some gym equipment, had gotten their hands dirty, and were washing them in the washroom. The incident was investigated, and no charges were laid. The student involved denied any impropriety, and stood up for Lindsay – pretty brave for a 16 year old. Lindsay took the case recently to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, where she argued the incident hurt her chances of career advancement and was discriminatory. After several months of hearings, Lindsay won her case, and received a measly settlement from the HRM (that's Halifax Regional Municipality to you) school board. (The student also received an even measlier settlement.)In addition to the scandal of the discrimination against a lesbian teacher, the bigger scandal emerged when Lindsay announced that the Nova Scotia Teacher's Union offered her no support or congratulations, but paid the legal fees for one of the accusers! Not only that, but one of the accusers was recently given a post on the school board – I think it might even be the same guy! (Sorry, I forget if it is or not, if someone knows please verify!)

I think the actions of the union, of which this woman is a dues-paying member, is disgraceful. However, it gets worse! Last week, the school board released a survey – annual, perhaps? – and one of the questions asked teachers to disclose their sexual preference! They argue that the question is important to allow them to incorporate "diversity" into their schools! And, to top it all off, the teachers union decried the survey, saying that it left open the potential for discrimination! AS IF THEY CARE! They have a lot of nerve, in my opinion, to say something like that after not standing up and supporting Lindsay Willow!

MY question is: have you/would you fill out a workplace survey – or any other – that asked you about your sexual preference? If you are straight, would you feel differently were you gay/lesbian?

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well, I'm late, again. I'm sorry I wasn't able to post a new Feminism Friday piece this past week. I had a bit of a tough week, and my energy was way down and then blogger was acting up and I had to finish a paper and all I really wanted to do was drink wine and sleep it off, which helped enormously. Things are getting back on track this week, and I'm feeling more like posting, but I think I'll save a Fem Friday post for this Friday. While this post has a gendered bent to it, it's mostly about me and my struggle with reconciling my studies and my beliefs with this little thing called a career. My work is in conflict with my heart.So, here's my big confession: I work in the beauty industry. I have done so for the past 11 years. I am an aesthetician and makeup artist, and right now, I am working in a plastic surgery clinic. I hate it.

I actually like a lot about my job. I enjoy my coworkers, I have an easy atmosphere, and my bosses are kind and respect what I do. The problem I have is ideological. I am a feminist, and I am complicit in perpetuating the beauty myth. I am a puppet of patriarchy.

It all started out innocently enough. when I was 19, I decided to leave university because I hated it and instead took a course in aesthetics. It was, I thought at the time, a nice career where I would be helping people feel good about themselves, physically feel good, and help reduce stress. So, for years I worked in spas, and took a holistic approach to skin and body care. Then makeup called, and I loved the creativity I was finally able to display in my work. Finally, I realized that if I was to continue doing what I was doing, I would have to concentrate on the growing skin care market in order to make money and not ruin my body. (Pedicures and waxing are really hard on the body, you have no idea.) So, I learned advanced techniques in skin care for lightening sun damage and reducing ageing in the skin.

Which eventually led me to this job. I had wanted a job like this for as long as I could remember. Working in this clinic has been a dream in so many ways, because I am not stuck doing all the things I had grown to hate about aesthetics – pedicures, waxing, manicures. I only do skin care treatments now, and that is something I had wanted for a long time. And plus, the job pays really well. It has allowed me to work part-time and attend classses full-time, which is what I want. Sounds great, right? So what's the problem?

I am at the pinnacle of my participation in the patriarchal beauty machine. I work with patients who are – for the most part – succumbing to the pressures of patriarchy to be and look a certain way: young, thin, nubile, sexy. But these women CHOOSE to undergo plastic surgery, right? Well, when female sexuality has been commodified so extensively, and everywhere you turn you are being shown what the perfect female form is, and you don't have that kind of body or face, and your husband is having an affair with a younger thinner woman, or you find nobody looks you in the eye anymore, or your breasts disappear because you breastfed your children, or your stomach won't shrink down to the size it was pre-pregnancy no matter how many situps you do, and even Jennifer Aniston can't keep her husband from straying… is it a choice?

Plastic surgery is, in my view, coercive in most cases. Now, in some cases, it can be really wonderful, for reconstructing a missing breast post-mastectomy, or correcting genetic anomalies such as tuberous breasts, or reconstructing faces post-accident, or correcting disfigurements after burn trauma. This is not what I'm talking about, although the case can be made for a more radical acceptance of ALL kinds of bodies and faces. If society was more welcoming to these types of "problems" there would be no need for plastic surgery. However, what I'm most worried about is plastic surgery's role in perpetuating the oppression of women through femininity. Why should women have to change their bodies and faces through surgery just to live up to the patriarchal definition of "woman" or "feminine"? That seems really harsh to me, considering these are not small procedures: risk of infection, allergy to anesthesia, hemorrhaging, sepsis, scarring, permanent loss of sensation, capsular contracture (this is where the tissue contracts around a breast implant and squeezes it until it becomes hard – this is very painful), etc. are all real concerns.

It isn't women who should have to change. It is societal expectations for women to be and look a certain way that should have to change.

I find it hard most days to go into work. I struggle with it all the time, because I feel so hypocritical! Here I am reading, writing, studying, and advocating feminist theory, yet I am contributing to patriarchal femininity by working at this job. My biggest dilemma is that I can't afford to take a different job. I have bills that need to be paid, including tuition, and I just can't afford to take a different job. Because my skill set is very unique and specific, there's not that much transferrance of skills to a different type of job. I feel trapped. If I left this job and took a job working at a job that doesn't require much in terms of skill, I would have to work three times as many hours to make what I make now, which would leave me no room for studying. My job is making it possible for me to study what I am studying.

Anyway, I hate to be a complainer, but I am really kind of torn about this issue. I don't feel like I have much choice in staying at my job, and I can't possibly see a different way of looking at it so that it wouldn't make me feel so bad about contributing to the oppression of women. But, at least it's only one more year, and even though I'm colluding with patriarchy, it is enabling me to be doing this very thing: sitting at my computer, thinking and writing about feminist issues and how to make it better for women all over the world.

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