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Did you read this week that so-called “partial birth abortions” have been banned by the US Supreme Court?

Let’s talk about this a bit. “Partial birth abortion” – sounds grotesque, right? Sounds like pulling a baby half out of the birth canal and slitting its throat or something, right? Or perhaps one might picture a baby in the womb being punctured with a sharp object until it is mutilated into a pulpy mass of half-formed flesh?

Notice the difference in how pro-life/anti-choice folks talk about pregnancy vs. how pro-choicers do. For pro-lifers, pregnant woman are carrying babies, little innocent children, people, persons. For pro-choicers, pregnant women carry fetuses – babies only exist outside the womb. This is, of course, the “medically correct” way to talk about pregnancy. Not that that matters one lick to the pro-lifers. Same goes for the actual terminology used to talk about abortion.

See, the truth is, “partial birth abortions” don’t technically exist. It’s a politically, emotionally charged term for a medically necessary procedure that quite often saves women’s lives. Who do you think came up with the term? Not the doctors who perform it, and not the women who have it done.

So, as per usual, power comes into play in the naming of things, in this case, a medical procedure typically performed on women whose lives are at risk. The religious right strikes again in its ongoing efforts to control women’s bodies and women’s rights, force women to carry fetuses that for one reason or another they do not wish to carry, to punish women for getting pregnant and being such sluts to begin with. Let me tell you, late-term abortions are typically only performed when the woman’s life is in jeopardy, and quite often these women are not aborting fetuses that they don’t want, but fetuses that they very much wish they could continue to carry and give birth to and nurture and raise. Other times, late-term abortions are performed for women who did not discover they were pregnant until very late in their pregnancies, and would have terminated earlier if they had only known.

But this is ultimately irrelevant. Women must be able to decide what to do with and what happens to their own bodies. It doesn’t really matter whether they would have aborted sooner if they could have. It doesn’t really matter if they would really rather give birth to their fetus. What matters is, women have the right to decide what happens to their own bodies, and now the options are more limited. Oh but right, “their bodies aren’t just theirs anymore, once they’re pregnant.” Um, yeah, they are. Women’s bodies are still and are always their own bodies, no matter if they are pregnant or not. Do recall, fetuses are parasites who derive all their nutrients from the bodies of their hosts, and quite often pose to their hosts serious health complications and risks. Any woman carrying a fetus is being generous.

so what we’re talking about with this ban is valuing fetal life over women’s lives. Why? Because “fetuses are innocent” and “women have to live with their decisions and be responsible.” Which translates, contra-positively, to “women are guilty and irresponsible.” Which sounds about right, from the righties. So it’s better to ignore the wishes of the women who don’t want to carry fetuses to term for whatever reason (and whatever reason is a good enough reason for me), and the professional opinions of their treating physicians. Because fetuses are innocent. Never mind the complication of original sin, that’s not important in the context of abortion. Because what we’re talking about is how guilty and sinful women are. Right, righties?

So is this all what abortion law will come down to? Who has the power to name, to define, the terms? It seems that way to me. And it comes as no surprise.

For other perspectives on this decision:

rhrealitycheck.org

and again

and again

Reclusive Leftist

The American Prospect Online

If you read any other posts or articles on this, please leave a comment and I will add the link to this list.

UPDATE:  Just found this post this morning over at Huffington. By Jill of Feministe.

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Hi all –

well, finally finished that final paper. boy, it was really kicking my ass. I got two – count ’em, two – extensions on it. part of the problem was that I already felt like I was finished for the term, since this was my last assignment. anyway, I finally turned it in today, and I feel much better now.

However, I’m not really up to any heavy mental lifting right now. I know, I should be blogging about Don Imus, or the Duke lacrosse case, or about the ridiculousity of the Indian government asking women to detail their menstrual cycles.  But I just can’t right now.

I also realize it’s my first FF post for a few weeks now. which makes me feel guilty – although others have started participating, which totally rocks my world.(Check them out on the sidebar under FF Participants – great posts up this week at Rainbow Girl’s, Unapologetically Female, RiotGrrrl’s, and Canace.) I love it, and I hope others continue to participate. Maybe someone could design a sidebar button or something. That would be great. It can’t be me of course, but if someone else did it I would be totally supportive.

So, instead of the usual kinds of FF posts I write, I thought this week I would write a kind of fluffy post. I watch a lot of TV – when I can – and I have certain shows that I totally can’t miss for anything. Right now, those are Lost, Heroes, Grey’s Anatomy, and 24. I love them. So anyway, being the denizen of pop culture that I am, I thought I’d write about some of the strong women characters on TV, and ask you to share the women characters you find inspiring.

OK, so number one, although she’s not really a character, is Oprah. I can’t help it, no matter the criticism I hear about her, I still think Oprah’s great. She’s so generous – I wish I could be so giving in my own life.

onto the fictional characters…

Sydney Bristow of ALIAS (played by the lovely Jennifer Garner, who I love in everything she’s in) – kicks ass and looks awesome in every weird costume they put her in. I want her muscles!

Brenda Johnson of The Closer (played by Kyra Sedgwick) – she gets what she wants by being the perfect southern belle, which I think is actually rather subversive. Good manners never hurt anyone.

Karen Hayes of 24 (played by Jayne Atkinson) – she plays the National SecurityAdvisor to the president. One of the most powerful women in the fictional version of america, and  she actually has a conscience!

Catherine Willows of CSI (played by Marg Helgenberger) – yes, she’s got a troubled past, it’s true. Coke habit, exotic dancer, abusive ex. But, she pulled herself out of all that and made a life for herself and her daughter. She’s tough, and smart, and good at her job. (although I do admit I don’t watch the show anymore…)

Kate Austin of Lost (played by Evangeline Lilly) – she rolls with the guys, does everything they do, no matter how physical. She’s one tough woman!

Cristina Yang of Grey’s Anatomy (played by Sandra Oh) – tough, stubborn, smart, competitive, driven, dedicated. Yup. And she cracks me up.

Miranda Bailey of Grey’s Anatomy (played by Chandra Wilson) – “the nazi” is her nickname. Bailey’s a total control freak with her interns, pushes them to their limits and teaches them with tough love. But, the love is there – she’s like a mother hen to them too.

Addison Sheppard of Grey’s Anatomy (played by Kate Walsh) – she’s the only female doctor in the running for Chief of Surgery at the hospital. She’s smart and sexy and beautiful and caring and good at her job. I love that!

Neela Rasgotra of ER (played by Parminder Nagra) – she’s my favourite character on ER by far. She’s been a bit lost, trying to find her niche, and now that she’s in the surgery program, she’s kicking ass. She’s a good friend, smart and beautiful, and she was a good wife to her husband.

Kerry Weaver of ER (played by Laura Innes) – I always liked Kerry. She’s really smart, dedicated, hard-working, and she doesn’t back down. Also, I LOVE that she’s an out lesbian on the show, and that she and her partner had a little son together, and that when her partner died she fought and won custody against her partner’s homophobic parents.

Claire Bennett of Heroes (played by Hayden Panettiere) -SAVE THE CHEERLEADER, SAVE THE WORLD! Claire is the practically indestructable cheerleader, and she’s awesome. She’s smart and sensitive and super brave. and totally cute as a button!

Anita van Buren of Law and Order (played by the amazing S. Epatha Merkerson) – the “Lieu” is awesome. She’s good at her job, she’s been there a long time, she’s a strong black woman. I think she’s actually the longest-running black woman character on TV – meaning Merkerson is the longest-employed black woman actor in TV history. That’s pretty fucking cool.

Olivia Benson of Law and Order: SVU (played by Mariska Hargitay) – well, I don’t watch this one anymore either, but Olivia is one of the strongest female characters on TV, for sure. She’s a good cop, and she shows a lot of caring in her work. Strong doesn’t have to mean uncaring.

Ruth Fisher of Six Feet Under (played by the absolutely incredible Frances Conroy) – I can’t tell you how much the characters on this show affected me. I bawled like a child when the series ended, I was devastated. I so loved Ruth, because she was searching. She had spent her life making a family, and she had a hard time when it came time for her to make a life for herself. I think that is really real for a lot of women. I just loved that about her.

Samantha Jones of Sex and the City (played by the super-sexy Kim Cattrall) – I know, a bit controversial. I admit, Sam was over the top. But her approach to sexuality was definitely sex-positive feminist, I think.

Ok, that’s my list of women TV characters that I think rock it. Agree? Disagree? Which characters do you think are particularly strong?

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I noticed in my dashboard today that another blogger has joined in the Feminism Friday fun – Tracey over at Unapologetically Female, with this post, which was a great read. Also, Tigtog of Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog has joined in on her other blog, Hoyden About Town, with this post. I thought what I would do is create a sidebar link category for Feminism Friday Participants, instead of posting all the links I came across to the various FF posts.

So, each Friday, check out the blogs listed under this link heading. And if you or someone else you know of are participating in FF, please let me know and I’ll add them to the link list.

Thanks!

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As I will be working on a paper most of the day and don’t have time to write a post, I recommend reading the FF post at Pandagon about compulsory femininity instead.

And then, read this post about domestic violence [via Pandagon, thanks Amanda].  Here’s an excerpt:

I know this happens to men, too. That in similar circumstances, they feel the same humiliation, the same self-hatred, the same rage at their total loss of control over their lives and fates. But it sure doesn’t happen to one in three of them, and they’ll never get the help they need while abused women are marginalized, are not taken seriously by law enforcement, or are told that it’s all their fault. Men socialized into a macho society will always have a hard time admitting that something that women are blamed and mocked for, something that women are supposed in some bizarre way to ‘deserve,’ has happened to them.

Because that makes them part of the underclass, and the best way to preserve an unfair hierarchy is to convince certain members of the underclass that they have an automatic leg up on others, to turn them into enforcers and tell them that they can be Big Cheeses, too. If they get victimized in the same way as mere, lowly women, then the gig is up. If they admit it, that is. The only way to help those men is to stop treating domestic violence like a punchline.

My story is personal, but as they say, also political. The horror of it for me was long years in fear and constant anxiety. Years of having no meaningful control over my life. Years of being ruled by the whim of someone whose mood I depended on absolutely for my well-being, privileges and favors.

This is the dynamic, also, of the feminist demand in politics.

Women want the right to decide whether or not to have children and equal footing in sexual relationships. Women want the right to pick our own medical care. Women want the right to have a say over how money we have a part in earning is spent, whether that money is part of our household budget or part of the national budget. Women want equal protection under the law from violence perpetrated specifically against us by intimates, just as men can expect protection from the violence that may be perpetrated against them by strangers.

Women want not to be threatened for asking for these things, which should be our right and due as human beings. We want dignity and independence, and we will demand it if it isn’t given. Even though it may take a while before we speak up for it.

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Hi all,

I know, I have been really neglectful with the weekly Feminism Friday posts. But, good news! At least two other blogs have taken up Feminism Friday, which makes me very glad and not feel so guilty about neglecting my own FF posts. Catch the latest Feminism Friday posts at Feminism 101 and Pandagon:

Feminism Friday: Young Feminists at Feminism 101

Feminism Friday: Saying ‘No’ to Passivity at Pandagon

Friday Open Thread and Feminism Friday Op-Ed at Feminism 101

Pro-Choice Populism at Pandagon

So, if you know of any other cool kids who are dropping FF bombs out there in the femiblogosphere, leave me a comment, and I’ll link ’em up here! And, please do feel free to join in the FF bomb-dropping fun.

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A common claim in feminist theory is that sex and gender are different; that “sex” refers to biological characteristics like genitals and chromosomes, and “gender” refers to social roles and practices like masculinity and femininity. Continuing this distinction, the “sex” categories are referred to as “male” and “female” and the gender categories are referred to as “man” and “woman”. It’s been a useful rhetorical tool to talk about the social vs. the physical aspects of sex and gender, as well as to allow some wiggle room to open up in which people can subvert these roles by, say, being “female” and also “man”, or vice versa.

I don’t find this distinction helpful anymore. I also don’t think it’s particularly true.

I’ve been reading a fabulous book lately by Anne Fausto-Sterling, a feminist biologist, called Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. She talks about intersexuality, the state of being where one’s reproductive or sexual anatomy isn’t simply “male” or “female” according to genitalia, gonads, or chromosomes, but some combination of both. Intersexuality is not so uncommon as you might think: about 1.7% of births are intersexual. In a population of 20,000, that’s about 340. It’s significantly more common than albanism, the lack of melanin in the skin and hair – only 1 in 20,000 births, or 0.005%.

Intersexuality is considered a medical emergency. When an intersexual child is born, doctors rush to try to figure out what to do – cut off the bits of genitalia that don’t match the chromosomes, like an elongated clitoris or an external testes on an XX infant? try to reposition the urethral opening to save an XY infant the future humiliation of not being able to pee standing up? cut open fused labia to create a vagina? parents are told that their child is “really” a boy or a girl (not that they are intersexual), and that it is necessary to make its body match the “true” sex identity. They are told that they must act quickly, or risk their child growing up with severe psychological trauma because they won’t be like all the other kids. They are told that there are no other people they can talk to who have gone through the same thing, and anyway, tick tock, the more minutes their infant spends in this ambiguous state of limbo the more likely they will be traumatized later on. They are told if they want to be good parents, they must sign the forms and submit their infant for genital surgery.

And so, for the most part, intersexuality is surgically “corrected” right away. Sometimes, which “sex” the child is encouraged to be raised as doesn’t match up with its chromosomes, and is instead rather arbitrarily decided according to how large or small the penis is – if it is deemed “too small” it is simply removed, the head is made into a nub that is meant to represent the clitoris and surgically embedded into the genital area (if they’re lucky!), and a vagina is created, which often involves several surgeries and requires the infant or child have a dildo inserted into their newly constructed orifice so that scar tissue doesn’t develop and close off the new opening.  One surgeon who specializes in this work has been quoted as saying “it’s easier to dig a hole than build a pole.” However, as the child develops, it is often necessary to undergo several more surgical procedures to make sure everything is working properly. Sometimes, intersexuals have one ovary and one testes, and later on the ovary is removed. Sometimes, gonads are fused together into one, called ovo-testes, and surgery is performed to remove whichever unwanted bits are there. Most often, the child is not told why they are undergoing additional surgery, and their medical history is kept secret from them. there’s a lot of ignoramce cultivated around intersexuality.

Anne Fausto-Sterling is arguing that this medical practice of eliminating intersexuality, thus creating only two sexes, is a social one. The existence of intersexuals disproves the theory that there are biologically only two sexes. We as a society have forced a false binary sex system on intersexual people because we have too much invested in the idea that there are only “male” and “female” people. It’s ridiculous!

And so, I don’t think we can really separated sex and gender. They are both social practices, having to do with creating false binaries and negating the experiences and bodies of real living people who have been “naturally” born as neither female nor male. It seems that the primary motivation behind creating two sexes is so that the people in question will not experience gender “confusion” as they grow up. Gender and sex cannot be so easily divided; they are intricately interwoven onto the bodies of us all, and especially intersexuals.

Sex/gender is a performance – there is no original, as says Judith Butler in Gender Trouble. And sex/gender cannot be separated from bodies; we are deemed to be “male” “female” “man” “woman” because of and sometimes in spite of our bodies – and if our bodies do not co-operate, they are tamed by surgical means into upholding our socially constructed and enforced binary sex/gender system.

What’s more, sex/gender is also deeply tied to sexuality. You know how doctors determine whether sex/gender assignment on intersexuals is successful or not? Whether the person in question ends up being heterosexual. That is supposed to be the indicator of whether or not they chose the “right” bits to cut off and the “right” bits to encourage! If the person in question turns out to be gay or lesbian or bisexual, then their sex/gender assignment is considered a failure – because obviously, heterosexuality=normal in this strange society we live in, and anything else is deviant or abnormal! I mean, it’s so ridiculous it’s kind of mind-boggling, how desperately we cling to these false dimorphisms! We’d rather label whole segments of the population as “freaks” of biology than admit that our social system is fucked up.

So anyway, lots of interesting stuff going on in that book, I highly recommend it. As a jump-off for discussion,  Fausto-Sterling recommends ending genital surgery on intersexual infants, and allowing them to be raised in whatever way the parent deems appropriate, and allowing the intersexual person him/herself decide later on, say at puberty, what they want to do: either have surgery to make their bodies less ambiguous, or stay the way they are. I fully support this proposition. What do you folks think?

And as a last link, I recommend taking a look at the Intersexuality Society of North America website to learn more. This is a wonderful group dedicated to helping families and intersexual people make informed decisions and alleviating the stigma of intersexuality.

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Something my wonderful prof Letitia said this week in class struck me. She asked whether something (OK, I admit, I can’t remember exactly what she was referring to) was a failure of feminism. And I wrote down in my class notes, Has Feminism Failed?

I had a flashback: A couple of months ago in another class, I was doing a presentation and we asked the class how many there would call themselves a feminist. Know how many raised their hands? 4. Including me, and including the professor. The other two students were white women. So we talked about it, why the ones who raised their hands did consider themselves feminist, why the ones who didn’t, didn’t. One girl who did said that it was how she was raised, and that she could see in the world around her that women are still oppressed. I said I was committed to raising women’s status in society and that feminism has provided me with a framework and a vocabulary to defend women’s rights and poke holes in patriarchy.

One woman who didn’t raise her hand said that she didn’t feel, as a woman of colour, that feminism represents her experience, but that she was pro-woman, and in particular, pro-black-woman. Another black woman said she felt better represented as a woman of colour by the “womanist” movement. One (white) woman said she felt that feminism was over, because women had achieved political and formal equality. (This was in a gender and women’s studies class, where we had been studying all the ways in which women all over the world were still subjected to gendered stereotypes that restricted their freedom in various ways!!!!!!!!!) One (white) woman said that she felt like “feminism” was too extreme, that it is too “radical” for her tastes, and she thought feminists spent too much time “man-bashing.” Another white woman said that she associated feminism with lesbianism, and she didn’t want to present herself as a lesbian because she’s straight. (SERIOUSLY!)  None of the men in the class even bothered to contribute to the discussion, like feminism is only for the ladies.

I was shocked that, in an upper year gender and women’s studies class, so many misconceptions still pervaded a discussion about feminism. I was disappointed that so few people in a class of more than 30 would consider themselves feminists. I was especially disappointed to hear that so many women of colour felt unrepresented by feminism (not just the two I mentioned, another 4 or 5 also agreed). I was surpised and saddened at the western-centric view of gender equality as formal equality – and especially at the idea that feminism’s job was done!

So, in a world where gender equality is formalized, on the books, in the statutes and in the rules, why has the situation of women on the ground not improved to the point of equality/equity?

Why are reproductive rights still in jeopardy? Why are women still the majority of the world’s poor? Why are women still making unequal pay for equal work? Why are women still largely responsible for unpaid domestic work in their own homes? Why are women still in the majority of underpaid and unskilled jobs? Why does birth control and pregnancy avoidance still rest largely on women’s shoulders? Why are women the number one growth demographic for HIV/AIDS? Why are women still being raped? Why are women still being beaten in their homes? Why is violence so gendered? Why are women still objectified as the recepticles/vehicles of male sexual pleasure? Why are lesbians discriminated against? Why are women starving themselves to be “beautiful”? Why are women so under-represented in business, in science and math careers, in politics, in high-level academic positions? Why are women’s bodies so medicalized? Why are women’s bodies considered public property?

Why are women still so oppressed, after more than 100 years of feminism, and after more than 30 years of second-wave and third-wave feminism?

Has feminism become too academic? Has misogyny become more insidious, squirmier, harder to pin down? Has feminism not changed enough to accomodate its critiques, particularly by women of colour? Is feminism too fractured, too unfocussed – do we need a new definition, a set of common claims about feminism? Has feminism been too radical? Not radical enough?

These are questions I have. I have no answers. I put it out to you, dear readers, for some brainstorming. How can we move forward and actually achieve the aims of feminism – if we can even agree what those are?

*Note: I hesitate to make this a thread only open to certain kinds of commenters, but at the same time, I don’t want this to devolve into a feminism-bashing party.  Constructive comments only, no MRAs please.

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When I began studying feminist thought, I knew it would change my life. I had always been something of a feminist, believed in women’s equality. But I had no idea how embedded gender roles really were, how everything around us reinforces gender. Through feminist thought I discovered a huge body of work about race, sexuality, (dis)ability, poverty and class, trans issues. Again, I had always believed in equality for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, level of ability – but I had no idea how deeply these identities are embedded within society. All of this led me to examine every relationship I had with another person, and adjust my methods of interacting and engaging with other people in friendships, in my family, in sexual relationships, in workplace relationships, in my interactions with strangers I don’t even know. It led me to examine the implications of my work, my workplace dynamics, how I earn my living. It completely changed the focus of my degree, and my future plans. It led me to question the music I listen to, the movies and TV shows I watch, and challenged me to give up music and movies and TV shows that I loved but were not coherent with the goal of gender equality. It led me to challenge my own identity politics, my privileges as a white heterosexual middle-class able-bodied woman, and what it means to even identify myself by these names. It led me to question the very body I live, the foundations of my embodiment, my personal biology and how my body functions. It led me to examine my political beliefs, the people I voted for. It led me to have a greater respect for the environment. Feminist thought, and the thought I have been exposed to through feminism, has changed my life. I understand full well the meaning of the personal is political. my question is, how can it not be?

I am not a patient person. Never have been. Oh, I have patience for certain things. I am quite good with details, and I can perform tasks that others find ‘tedious’ or ‘nitpicky’ with a high degree of accuracy. But patience is not exactly one of my strong points.

Lately, especially, I have been feeling very impatient. I am impatient for the completion of my degree, and I am impatient to find out where I will be going to school next year, where I will be living. But this isn’t even really the issue for me, why I am short on patience, what situations cause me to lose patience.

I look around my world, my society, and I see much to be desired. I see oppression everywhere I look. I see misogyny. I see racism. I see heterosexism. I see the poor starving, dying of treatable preventable illnesses. I see gay marriage being called down in parliament by my country’s leader and put to a vote whether to keep allowing gays and lesbians to marry. I see funding cuts to vitally important programs like the Status of Women Council. I see kids being born and then neglected, turning into bullies and killing themselves and their classmates. I see rape. I see torture. I see murder, even state-sanctioned murder. I see disease. I see hatred between religious groups. I see wars built on lies and continued on egos. I see cities and towns and villages being wiped out by natural disasters. I see capitalist exploitation. I see war profiteering. I see victim-blaming, everywhere.

and I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do. All I know is, this has got to stop, and fast.

And so I talk about it. I write about it, and I talk about it. I visit other blogs and join in other discussions. I write academic papers about it. I talk about it with my friends and with my family. And I get encouragement sometimes. And sometimes I get D grades from sexist profs. And sometimes my own parents tell me they don’t understand why I am doing what I do, and that I should really think about doing something vastly different with my life because I will never be able to change a thing. And sometimes I get letters and comments from misogynistic assholes who accuse me of hating men, of being a lesbian (which is just so ridiculous, as if I would consider that to be an insult in any way – but the point is that’s how it is meant), of denying women their autonomy, of trying to take down men, of ignoring harms that men experience, of being a godless whore who is on the straight path to hell, of being a frigid bitch who needs a good deepdicking. I get letters and comments from men who want to prove to me how women ask to be raped, how men aren’t at fault because it’s just a natural biological sexual urge for men to rape women, or how violence against women isn’t really that big an issue. I get spammed with more porn links than I can shake a stick at because I talk about sex and sexuality and how pornography is harmful to women and female genital cutting and vaginas and breasts and clitorises and vulvas – many of whom will try any trick in the book to get you to click on their link so their site will pop up on your screen full of shaved crotches and cum shots and women getting fucked in every orifice they have simultaneously. I get unbelievable amounts of hits on this site from people searching for videos of female genital cutting, pictures of children’s genitals, photos of women undergoing pap smears, pictures of infibulated vaginas, and all manner of pornography demeaning and harming women from incest rape to women being fucked to death by a machine. The spam and the searches I receive on this site proove exactly what kind of sick world we live in where women are worthless and small. And each day when I check my stats and respond to my comments and delete my spam, I am alienated by the pervasiveness of this hatred that I can’t escape even as I sit in my own home and facilitate my own little space on the web.

And if I get upset by any of this, I am accused of being overly emotional. If I stick by my arguments I am accused of being inflexible and irrational and having too much pride to admit when I’m wrong. I’m accused of not being very nice, of not caring enough about men and their delicate feelings on the subject of how deeply patriarchy hurts them, too. Posts devoted to supporting and encouraging survivors of sexual violence get infiltrated by men who insist that women are somehow magically raping themselves – are responsible for their own victimhood. And if I lose my patience, or my temper, with insipid fallacious arguments along the misogynistic lines that ‘men are just better than women and it’s a matter of biology so stop trying to fight a losing battle’, then it only encourages them because they think they have found a chink in my armour, they think I’m too emotional and that emotion negates reason so any showing of emotion means I am weak and wrong and they can disregard what I have said and therefore they have won because they were able to remain calm and ‘rational’ – no matter how illogical or irrational their point. I’m sick and tired of repeating the same old stuff, over and over again, to rotating audiences who are unable or unwilling to get it. My patience is wearing thin.

so I don’t know what to do. can’t win. can’t give up the fight.

rock. hard place. me.

it is frustrating. it is infuriating. it is depressing. it is oppressive. It is exhausting. It is isolating. it is heavy and dark and cold.

I am so grateful to my readers who are supportive, who encourage me, who consider what I have written, who share my mindset and my goals, who inspire me, who engage with  me, who challenge me, who teach me. I may be losing my patience lately, but I am not losing my hope, thanks to you. so, thank you.

the rest of you can kiss my ass.

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This is my first FF post in a long while. I’d almost begun to think I was done with FF. Then the xmas season hit, and everywhere I look I see adverts for girl toys, especially dolls, and especially Barbie. So I thought I’d write about that.

When I was small, my parents gave me many toys. I had trucks and dinky cars for dumping dirt and racing, I had engineering toys to build cool things, I had paint sets and crayons and markers for making works of art, I had board games, I had GI Joe for parachuting from trees, I had bikes and Star Wars figures and stuffed animals and books. But I loved none as much as Barbie.

She was so glamourous, so beautiful. She had so many pretty clothes. She had hair I could braid and pin up and even cut. She had a face with makeup already drawn on (even though I often wanted her to have more, and one lucky Barbie got turned into Marilyn Monroe with a haircut and a black marker). She had feet that only fit into high heel shoes. She had a great car, and a dream house, and a little sister, and a couple of dogs, and horses, and a camper, and any kind of job she wanted. She had a stady boyfriend, too. Barbie had it all.

I stopped playing with Barbie when I was about 11 or 12. I sort of missed her for a while. But ultimately I was glad she was out of my life – Barbie had been a bad influence on me. I didn’t like sharing my many Barbie dolls, even though I had several. I always wanted more Barbies, and I would examine their faces at the store to see which one I thought was most beautiful – we all knew that not all Barbies were perfectly alike. I began to get more destructive with Barbie, pulling off their heads and switching their bodies for ones with straight arms or bent arms as the occasion called, and cutting their hair shorter and shorter, and putting more and more heavy makeup on them with markers, and burning their hair by putting them by the heater – the sizzling smell was yucky, so I didn’t do that too often. Eventually, Barbie and Ken didn’t get along anymore, and Barbie was getting kidnapped a lot, and would end up tied upside down and hanging from the railing. I had come to love-hate Barbie.

Barbie advocates say that she is a tabula rasa – an empty and blank slate onto which the imagination of the child can inscribe any set of circumstances. Barbie is only limited by the child’s imagination, and the makers of Barbie have created a whole world of possibilities for Barbie to participate in – and little girls to dream of being themselves one day. Barbie can do anything.

Well, not so. Barbie is not a tabula rasa – she is the epitome of femininity. She is very rarely brunette – and although Barbie now comes in all kinds of ethnicities and races, this was not the case years ago, and those aren’t really Barbie, are they, those dolls are named something else. So only blonde white dolls can be Barbie.

Of course, we all know how unrealistic Barbie is for young girls. She seems to have a lot of money for buying lots of things, yet she can’t hold a steady job and flits from career to career just as quickly as changing an outfit. She never has a day where she looks tired – she’s always perky and pert with that stupid smile plastered all over her face, and the makeup that is permanently painted on. She never gets any older – her hair never turns grey, her face never wrinkles, her breasts never sag. She never could get pregnant (at least not when I had her). She never gains weight. And we all know about the “if Barbie was a real woman, she’d be 7 1/2 feet tall and have a 26 inch waist and a 150 inch chest” or whatever. She never eats. Her arms are permanently bent or straight, and her legs bend apart in only one way. She is always athletic, never disabled. And her genitals are just how the world wants them – clean and tidy and tiny. Very odd.

Barbie is quite simply not real. Nor could she ever be real. Yet she is held up as a paragon of femininity, an unachievable ideal for young girls to mimic. She is a princess, a dentist, a lawyer, a movie star. She is demure and always smiling, always pleasing to the eye, ready for anything. She is heterosexual. She is patriarchy’s ideal tabula rasa, an always-already perfect female form onto which anything can be inscribed. All you have to do is buy her.

And what’s worse, she teaches little girls to be the same as her.

There are lots of great dolls out there for kids to play with. I recently heard about Amamanta dolls – antomically correct, multicultural, multi-sexual, multi-aged dolls that come in family sets or as singles. There are also Teach-A-Bodies dolls, which come as large as life-size. Families can be heterosexual or gay, and mother dolls can give birth and breastfeed. These dolls can be used as sex education guides, and are used in conjunction with police investigations for child victims of sexual abuse and as aids to child therapy. While no dolls are going to perfectly encapsulate every kind of family or person, these dolls are a much better option than Barbie, in my book.

So this holiday, I say, boycott Barbie. She’s no good for your children’s self-esteem, and she is a symbol of patriarchal capitalism in the extreme. Don’t teach your children Barbie’s lessons.

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OK, so everyday I get hits on this site from people looking for a feminist analysis of the hit TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. I guess they end up here because I have the show linked in my sidebar and, well, I write about feminism. Since Grey’s Anatomy is my new favourite TV show since the untimely death of my true all-time favourite, Alias, and in keeping with Ballgame’s post about feminism in film, I thought I’d give them what they come here looking for.

First: why I love Grey’s Anatomy.

  • I tend to generally like medical TV shows (I’ve been watching ER for as long as it’s been on TV)
  • I love Ellen Pompeo, she’s totally cute and I loved her in that movie, Moonlight Mile, with Jake Gyllenhall, who I also love
  • I also love Sandra Oh, I think she is a comedic genius
  • Patrick Dempsey is… dreamy
  • Isaiah Washington floats my boat
  • smart dialogue
  • good friendships
  • an ethnically mixed and representative cast of characters in positions of power and status

Is the show always realistic? I don’t know, I’m not a surgeon. Hell, it’s a TV show for christ sake, it’s meant to entertain us. What I think it does well is show the competition and determination and dedication that medical professionals have in order to get where they are, and it also shows us the massive egos involved. 🙂

Next, where does the feminist critique come in?

For starters, the show has a lot of female characters, all of whom are doctors – surgeons in fact. Surgery is a difficult specialty, and very competitive. These women are portrayed as smart and strong, dedicated and deserving. One is Jewish-Korean. One is from a trailor park and put herself through medical school by modelling underwear. One is Hispanic. One is Black. They are all kind of a mess emotionally. None of them hold a top administrative position. Two are attendings, and one is a chief resident and oversees the interns.

The men on the show are handsome and smart. The chief of surgery is black. The next in line for his job is also black. The guy who owns the bar across the street is gay and his partner is Asian. A couple of them are assholes. But all of them are portrayed as having a sensitive side, being good guys who just act out sometimes.

One of the main relationships on the show is between Meredith, played by Ellen Pompeo, and Derek (AKA McDreamy), played by Patrick Dempsey. Here’s how that went: boy meets girl, they fall in love. Boy just happens to be girl’s superior at work. Boy was married all along to Mrs. McDreamy, girl dumps boy, girl pines after boy while he tries to work out his marriage, boy still loves girl, girl meets a new boy, boy gets jealous, boy and girl have sex, boy leaves Mrs. McDreamy, boy and girl are still messed up emotionally but want to give it a try. So, the one with the power in this relationship? The boy. He also holds all the cards in his marriage because his wife cheated on him and he feels that gives him moral superiority that allows him to be kind of an asshole to her. He lied to Meredith about being married. And she has to deal with accusations of sleeping her way to the best surgeries and claims of favouritism, while he just gets to do what he wants. But, he’s just so darn dreamy! With the floppy hair and the dimples, he is oh-so-hard to resist. I should note that Meredith is quite often referred to as the Slutty Intern, especially this season since she slept with McDreamy once after knowing he was married. hmmmm.

Another big relationship on the show is between Cristina (Sandra Oh) and Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington). Once again, he is her superior at work. She is the one who is vulnerable to criticism and accusations of using her sexuality to get ahead, while his sexuality or morality is never put on display or questioned in any way. Currently, Burke is having difficulty returning to full ability after a shooting accident last season, and Cristina is covering for him so he can maintain his image of ultra-egoiste, powerful, best in the world heart surgeon. Now she’s getting in trouble for covering for him and keeping his secret. She is making sacrifices that could really cost her and put her in an even more vulnerable position so that he can maintain his super-masculine image of the brilliant doctor. hmmm.

Then there’s Izzie, played by Katherine Heigl. She’s beautiful, blonde, smart, sweet. She bakes for relaxation. She grew up in a trailer park and modelled lingerie to pay for school – which posed a problem for her when her fellow interns found out about it. She reclaimed that situation by stripping down in the locker room in order to shame the asshole who was giving her a hard time and spouting my favourite line of the entire show thus far: “Yes, I have breasts! God, how can anyone practice medicine with these?”Last season, Izzie gave that asshole, Alex played by Justin Chambers, a chance and carried on a sexual relationship with him for a time. She was somewhat redeemed when she fell in love with one of her patients and he asked her to marry him. Too bad he died. hmmmm.

Then there’s poor old Mrs. McDreamy, Addison, played by Kate Walsh. The whole truth about her when push comes to shove is the fact that she was: a) married to Derek and b) had an affair with his best friend. Oh, and she happens to be a talented neo-natal/obstetric surgeon. Whenever an intern gets the chance to work with Addison, the situation is referred to as being stuck on “gyne patrol”. hmmm.

Last, there’s Miranda Bailey, played by the brilliant Chandra Wilson. She’s tough, strong, dedicated, private. She has a husband and a new baby, but she is just as determined to be the best damn surgeon around as she ever was. She is the supervisor of all the interns – what do they call that, chief resident I guess. She wields the power she has, and is a force to be reckoned with. She is judgemental of Meredith and Cristina for sleeping with attending surgeons. She has a strong sense of what’s right and what’s not and that is definitely out in her books – she’s demonstrated that by riding Meredith’s ass. She has no power over McDreamy, but she did chastise him for his inappropriate relationship with Meredith. She is the kind of moral centre of the show – and the show’s only mother. Tough disciplinarian, but caring bedside manner. hmmm.

The only other women we see on an ongoing basis is the Chief (James T. Pickens)’s wife, played by Loretta Devine, and Meredith’s mother Ellis. The chief had a long-term affair with Ellis, a demanding and severe surgeon who was overbearing but now has Alzheimer’s disease. The chief’s wife knew about the affair – which broke up Ellis’ marriage to her husband, who deserted Meredith – but the chief’s wife stayed. She even put aside her own desire for children so the chief could pursue his career unencumbered by familial responsibility. She just kicked him out for refusing to retire. Her role is definitely the victim/martyr/good wife, who always supports her man. hmmm.

In addition to all of this, most of these women are all beautiful and slim and have perfect hair. We never see any of them exercising and we often see them eating sweets and ice cream and things that Izzie has baked. Of course, they are not really surgeons, they are actors and their job is to present an image of perfect femininity to the world, so what else can we expect from people on TV shows. But still, unrealistic demands of femininity are perpetuated by this show.

That’s all I have to say about Grey’s Anatomy. On the one hand, it portrays strong, successful women. On the other, the men on the show have more power than the women in every situation. Art imitating life? Seems like it to me.

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