Archive for the 'Feminist Theory' Category

John Jay High School

Wasn’t it just International Women’s Day? Couldn’t we celebrate instead of attacking women?

Update: Contact phone number for John Jay High School in NY: 914 763-7200 Leave a message with the principal in support of the Megan Reback, Elan Stahl and Hannah Levinson.

I got a link to the censorship taking place at John Jay High School in the mail today. Seems women’s bodies are still dirty and unsuitable for children (er well, it’s okay if we give birth to them — lots of them in fact). It doesn’t matter that these girls defied the order not to say the word “VAGINA” — that order was Wrong. There is nothing wrong with what these three girls did, nothing at all. I’m glad to see support from the community, and how it’s crossing borders into Canada and soon will go beyond. Hopefully it will come from far and wide and this school’s admins will realize that rules like this try to make women feel ashamed of their bodies. I’m especially glad to read this quote from Dana Stahl, Elan Stahl’s mother, “To me, they were reciting literature in an educational forum and they did it with grace and dignity.” Way to go Elan!

I wonder if there are other words associated with women’s sexuality that are not allowed at this school? Like rape? Could you imagine a school where girls are not allowed to talk about rape? Scary scary — what we do not hear does not exist, right?

I’d like to see the principal apologize to these girls and the community and tell us that he does not think women are shameful, sexless, dirty and offensive. I’d like these girls to organize some mandatory workshops for staff about the importance of a healthy attitude towards women’s bodies and how this is directly linked to women’s position in society (i.e. the end of misogyny). The staff could get a special certification at the end of the workshop (which includes writing an essay on the topic) — maybe “Gynophile”? or how about this classic: “Teacher”? These workshops would be adapted for the students at the school too because they’ve all been told now that “vaginas” are a problem. I’m not looking forward to seeing how that plays out in their futures. What do you think Megan, Elan, and Hannah? Actiongirls would be happy to help!

Here is the entirety of principal’s statement. He’s insisting that the girls are not suspended because they said vagina but because they said vagina when they were told not to say vagina. This is sooo not cool. Mr. Leprine, really, it gets easier the more you say it. And as for kids hearing it — it wasn’t that long ago that they were sliding through their mothers’. They’ll be okay. Maybe even better than okay.

March 6, 2007

Dear John Jay Community Members:

I appreciate the concerns expressed by students and parents over the monologue issue that occurred last Friday night at the “Open Mic Night.”

John Jay High School recognizes and respects student freedom of expression in the context of the school setting. That right, however, is not unfettered, particularly when an activity or event is open to the general school community where it is expected that young children may be in attendance. The challenge is to balance the rights of student speakers and the sensitivities of the community. The School’s response to that challenge was to pre-audition the students before several faculty members for the “Open Mic Night” and to determine the suitability of the intended presentations for the audience. In many cases, younger siblings, often elementary age, attend these types of events. This event was also being videotaped for the local cable television channel.

When a student is told by faculty members not to present specified material because of the composition of the audience and they agree to do so, it is expected that the commitment will be honored and the directive will be followed. When a student chooses not to follow the directive, consequences follow. The students did not receive consequences because of the content of the presentation.

There is a clear difference between putting on a production of a play such as “The Vagina Monologues” and an open performance at the microphone of an excerpt from the play before unsuspecting parents and their children. In the first case, the community would have been aware of the nature of the production and could have made an educated decision to attend or not to attend based upon that knowledge. In the case of the “Open Mic Night,” the community was invited with the expectation that the pieces presented would be appropriate for the general community, including younger children. Parents and community members did not have the ability to make an educated decision about the appropriateness of the content of the presentations for younger children.

There is also a clear difference between what is read and discussed in the classroom and what is presented in an activity open to the entire community. Our judgment was guided by the forum, the audience and the students’ commitment. Our decision was made in a considered, careful and thoughtful manner.

Rich Leprine,
Principal JJHS

Bucking the System

When you decide that things aren’t quite right and that you have the power to make changes in the world, however large or small those changes might be, you leave the path. You can no longer follow the map of your youth, the instruction book your parents gave you, or mimic the decisions made by those around you. Breaking new ground is just that — you’re on your own.

If you’re lucky you’ll find like-minded people along the way and together you can chart this new territory, consult before making brave new choices of your own, or stumble along, helping each other pick up broken pieces from the mistakes that come from any learning experience.

Love and relationships are a site of potential change as gender roles and relationship power dynamics are being navigated and changed by more and more couples. Heteronormativity is no longer the only relationship model, but what’s an individual to do when they are conscious of historical imbalances and there is a desire to leave hegemonic power differentials behind, but yet there really isn’t a clear cut working model to follow?

Start with divorce. In North America right now anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of marriages end in divorce. So many people are divorced which means their fantasy picture of the happy nuclear family with white picket fence, etc. is not their lived reality. I’m divorced but most of the people I know who are divorced are close to my age. I don’t have a whole lot of elders to look to for help navigating the fallout of divorce (like co-parenting with someone when we’d rather never see or speak to each other again). It’s not possible to just walk away from that person forever, in a way that it once was. Where is my role model? Someone to tell me that “one day this will be ancient history and here’s what worked for me”?

And single parenting. Where are the supports for parents who are doing it on their own? Shouldn’t this be worked out by now? If so many families in Canada are managed by single parent head of household and most of the families headed by single mothers are living in poverty why hasn’t it been dealt with? We’re doing things differently than our parents’ generation and there is no one to drive the soccer team around, bring cupcakes to school, or even attend PTA meetings. Time for basic family maintenance and survival is precious. There are no extras.

Regarding fathers, many today are more than breadwinners. Divorced or not, how many of them are following their own father’s parenting style? The supports and guidance for these men are minimal and those that are around are underutilized. Whether for lack of time or anxiety/inexperience with the support structures that do exist, there are lots of dads who are winging it.

Next, more and more adult students are turning up in university classes. Many of the ones I’ve encountered are women post-divorce who hope post-secondary education will be a way out of poverty for themselves and their families. The supports for us, the roadmap for how to study and parent and juggle work (sometimes more than one job) has yet to be drawn.

People are redefining what a relationship entails. Sex in a culture of AIDS and STIs (on top of the fear of an unwanted pregnancy) has to be negotiated. Rape and sexual harrassment are real things that could happen to you and could come from the people around you. It really could (or really has) happened to you.

Dating can now include all kinds of technology: emails and text messages and messenger clients. Profiles on myspace, facebook, and other social sites can lead you to potentials as well as the older sites specifically for finding a match. Some people still think it’s wrong to look for a date through a matchmaker site, others wouldn’t dream of going out with someone until they’ve sussed out their language skills and interests via the distance and safety (perceived or real) of online communication. Each person has to navigate this themself; there is no consensus as of yet.

More re: dating: the question of who pays for what on a date is no longer such a big deal — for some people. There are still traditions in place about who drives, who opens doors, who sits first. For some couples, these things are reciprocated but for others old habits die hard. For those in the new water, it can feel good to know your relationship is on equal footing and that a gift of kindness is just that: a gift, given and accepted altruistically, not in order to create debt.

Couples use language to show they are part of this new movement: descriptors like “partner” and S.O.for a significant other show real effort to reflect how we feel about another person. Gender-neutral language is a big part of this. Calling someone your partner reflects that they are truly an equal: equally responsible, equally knowledgeable, equally capable for maintaining the relationship and all it entails. It shows that a couple is committed to working together and is helpful in preventing one part from blaming the other for any difficulties. You are partners.

It can also be a way to reject the traditional marriage model of husband who rules and wife who is chattel and obeys. Rewriting the language helps us to reflect the true nature of our relationships. The term partner is also useful for describing same sex relationships since there is no implied gender in the word. The term partner opens up minds as to what a relationship can be, in an attempt to breakdown heterosexist culture.

Language isn’t the only changing thing in relationships today. Choosing cohabitation or longterm dating with each partner maintaining their own residence are practical alternatives to marriage for a lot of couples. Having children or not are greater options as methods to control fertility and prevent pregnancy are further developed. If a couple does decide to marry for legal or religious reasons there are a greater number of choices for language used in a ceremony to reflect equality between the individuals and the diversity of couples marrying. It’s no longer assumed that a woman will change her name when marrying a man — many couples choose a hyphenated name for all or a hybrid name.

We are an individualistic society. We have a lot of choices to make and there aren’t a whole lot of examples to follow. We do the best we can, with the information we have at the time, but are we really making informed choices? Do we just rationalize when we make a choice that follows a tradition?

If we were truly lazy we wouldn’t do anything differently. Because we do endeavour to make changes, to reconstruct our families, our language, our ideologies we mustn’t t be lazy. Doing things differently takes effort, but it’s worth it: for us, our families, other people breaking ground along side us, and those who will follow.

The F-word again: what’s the diff between ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘feminism’?

An egalitarian believes in equality for all people: equal opportunity, equal access to resources, regardless of their gender, age, skin colour, language, culture, sexual orientation, religion, ability, etc.

A feminist shares this belief but takes it further and says that women’s oppression must be acknowledged and eliminated before an egalitarian society can exist. We cannot discuss ‘equality’ without discussing women’s lack of equality. Thus, a feminist is a specific type of egalitarian (thought ‘feminist’ can be broken down further, into different ‘types’ of feminists), and feminism is a branch of egalitarianism. Of course there will be overlap: many feminists will also be LGBTQ activists, many LGBTQ activists will also be animal rights activists, many animal rights activists will also be feminists and so on go the circles.

To the Death: A Historical Snapshot of Feminists Who Took it to the Extreme

Margaret Sanger. Ethyl Byrne. Genora Johnson Dollinger.

There are women who have dedicated their lives – even risked their lives – for the cause of the women’s movement. Publishing, speaking publicly, and hunger strikes are some of the ways that feminists have placed the greater good of many before their own needs.

Margaret Sanger

In the excerpt from My Fight For Birth Control (in Women’s America, 370-378), Margaret Sanger reflects on her decision to give up her work as a nurse and turn instead to a life of disseminating information about birth control (375). She recalls Mrs. Sach, who died due to a self-induced abortion and how had this woman have available contraceptive information this likely would not have happened to this mother and many others in similar circumstances. She wished to improve the lives of struggling families. Following this, Margaret Sanger committed herself to researching, developing, and sharing birth control information.

In 1918 in New York State, Section 1142 of the law made it illegal to give information to prevent contraception (375). Although Section 1145 allowed physicians to provide this advice, Sanger was unable to find a physician willing to work with her to challenge this law. Challenging the law was inherent with risk. Margaret and her supporters faced arrest and imprisonment and eventually a police squad raided their Brownsville Clinic and plain-clothed officers took Sanger and an associate to prison (376).

Ethyl Byrne, Margaret’s sister, was not at the clinic at the time of the arrests. Her arrest followed the others (376) and it is her commitment that I consider here. Byrne, a trained nurse who shared the work of “advising, explaining, and demonstrating to the women how to prevent conception” (376), took her dedication to the issue further than the others did. Upon her arrest, she declared a hunger strike (377). Jeopardizing her own health and ultimately her life, she realized that drastic measures would offer the issue the attention required to bring change to this section of the law. Byrne believed that the greater good for all women, and hence their families, would be served by her sacrifice. After four days of refusing food, the court ordered her forcibly fed (378).

Sanger quotes Byrne (via her attorney) saying, “With eight thousand deaths a year in New York State from illegal operations on women, one more death won’t make much difference” (377). Illegal abortions were taking a real toll on the lives of women. News about Byrne’s condition was reported on the front page of the newspapers (377), achieved the effect of gaining attention to the outdated law, and garnered support for the cause.

Byrne’s condition deteriorated to critical and Sanger negotiated her release. Byrne was prepared to die for what she believed in, a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her body.

Other women also risked their lives for the cause of the women’s movement. Genora Johnson Dollinger wrote an account of her experience in the 1930s with the Women’s Emergency Brigade. Workers suffered from difficult working conditions and their attempts to unionize were not well received. Dollinger was compelled not only to join the strikers but also to organize actions that she felt used her abilities and contributed to the movement to unionize. Dollinger began a sign painting department, faced police against tear gas, clubs, and gunfire, fought alongside the men with “rocks and car door hinges” (433) and inspired other women to join the fight (434). Her motivational words rallied the women. This increase in strength and numbers was the force that won success for the strikers that night.

This had been a dangerous undertaking: Dollinger describes the gunfire around them and the serious injuries received by some of the strikers. In spite of this, Dollinger refused suggestions that she retreat to safety with the other women (434). (Hear interviews thanks to Sherna Berger Gluck and the Women’s History Project here) Following this success Dollinger organized the Women’s Emergency Brigade. The women in this unit were fundamental to the successes of the strikers. With song, a wall of bodies, and intelligent arguments as distraction for the police, the women of the Emergency Brigade saved the gate and allowed the union to close “the huge and valuable Plant 4 with another sit-down strike” (435). The action that night set the stage for negotiations between the union and General Motors, and the eventual “[recognition] of unions in GM plants across the nation” (435).

Byrne and Dollinger were both willing to risk their lives for their causes: Byrne for women’s reproductive rights, Dollinger for workers’ rights to unionize.

Hunger strikes were among the tactics used by both British and American suffragists. Hunger strikes were a prisoner’s way of having some control over her circumstances and showed her dedication to the cause. The unanimous decision to go on hunger strike upon imprisonment showed the suffragists commitment and their willingness to persevere until women won the right to vote. Not only were there obvious risks of dehydration and starvation, there were also serious risks associated with force feedings.

Byrne and Sanger grew up with the ideology of Victorian womanhood. Domesticity and childbearing were considered the ideal roles for women. Most women lived their lives in service, according to the desires of their fathers, and later their husbands. A woman’s own desire was considered equivalent to what was good for the family and her community/society. As women were considered morally superior, their engagement in community charitable acts developed to include assisting prostitutes and the poor, and joining the abolitionist, temperance, and suffrage movements. Growing up at this time, the two sisters, Byrne and Sanger, would have been greatly influenced by this and likely encouraged to help others. Both took training as nurses. Both would have been aware of the socially constructed responsibilities that, as women, they held for the welfare of those around them. Possessed with the idea of women’s right to control their own reproduction, it is reasonable that these women would seek to help those who did not access to contraception. Upon arrest, Byrne had several options. She could (i) give up the fight, (ii) go willingly to the workhouse and continue the fight upon her release, or (iii) dedicate herself further to the cause, at the risk of her life. Although extreme, Byrne’s choice was automatic. Byrne recognized that many women were dying from unsafe abortions and knew that this would continue until women had access to safe and reliable birth control. Socialized to consider the needs of others, her choice was not radical for her times.

Without a fight herself, Dollinger would continue to live under difficult working conditions. The strikers had everything to gain and in comparison, nothing more to lose but their lives. For Dollinger, this risk was worth it.
There are differences between the strategies and their actors. Dollinger was a working-class woman. Byrne and Sanger were middleclass women with certain privileges. Their status would have placed great pressure on them to display the expected social behaviour for women of their class. This would have had some influence on their choice of strategy – and their potential alternatives. Non-violent action was expected of them. Dollinger was a working class woman, and her action came twenty years after Byrne. She lived under slightly different social conditions, but her reality, that of a working woman, placed different pressures on her behaviour (although values of Victorian womanhood were still pervasive). Each woman’s strategy considered her opponent and the most effective means of persuasion under the circumstances.

These women seem to have acted altruistically. In doing so, they perpetuate the idea of women as selfless, caring, nurturers, willing to sacrifice their very beings for others while showing at the same time that women are certainly not weak and defenseless. While selfless giving seems to be a good strategy for fighting injustice, it is problematic because of the stereotype of women as martyrs that it creates. It is important, however, to recognize the lengths to which women will go to fight for justice.

Works Cited

Kerber, Linda. 2004. Women’s America, 6th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Further Reading

Scholarship about feminist ‘martyrs’ is not easy to find. Because of this, the following annotated bibliography focuses on resources that contribute to the understanding of Byrne’s and Dollinger’s passions and the challenges they faced, as well as information about other women who took on similar challenges. It also includes some sources to encourage further thought about women leaders, particularly who steps forward and why.

Commire, A., ed. 1999. Women in World History: a biographical encyclopedia. Volume 13. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications: 778-785.

This reference work provides details about Margaret Sanger, beginning with her childhood and education. It provides background to her later activism regarding women’s reproductive rights and provides dates that were missing in her own recounting of the Brownsville Clinic. It also provides information about what later followed the police raids on the clinic: her activism in organizing birth control clinics around the world and her activity as the first president of Planned Parenthood. It was very difficult to find information about her sister Ethyl Byrne, beyond what Sanger wrote in My Fight for Birth Control. As they worked together to open and run the clinic, inferences may be drawn between the lives of the sisters until information about Byrne, independent of her famous sister, is found.

Crane, V. 2001. “The Very Pictures of Anarchy: Women in the Oshkosh Woodworkers’ Strike.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 84 (3): 44-59.

Women’s roles as street fighters in the Oshkosh strike parallel that of Dollinger and her associates and provide another example of women challenging the ideals of Victorian womanhood to improve working conditions for themselves and their families. Women in the Oshkosh Woodworkers’ Strike acted as strikers, strikebreakers, and in support of the men in their families but the strongest action came from the group who organized as a “mob” to harass scab workers as they entered and left the mill. The women fought with eggs in handkerchiefs, with pouches of sand, with sacks of salt and pepper, and with clubs. This article shows that Dollinger and the Emergency Brigade had predecessors whose struggles and successes were inspirational to the efforts of future women.

Dollinger, G. 1987. “I Want to be a Human Being and Think for Myself.” American Socialist. March 22, 2006.

Dollinger gave this speech at the 50th anniversary of the strike. In it, she reflects on how the women’s contribution was devalued following the success of the strike by authors like the previous speaker, Henry Kraus, who she challenges for misrepresenting the women of the Emergency Brigade. Dollinger reminds us of the influence of those who record history and calls for recognition of women’s contributions here and elsewhere. This piece shows how the risks women took were ignored and forgotten once the union had its demands met. It also provides further details regarding what took place and what the Emergency Brigade accomplished in 1937.

Falcon. 2003. “Only Strong Women Stayed: Women Workers and the National Floral Workers Strike, 1968-1969.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24.2&3: 140-154.

These women combine elements of the histories of Dollinger and Byrne. Like Dollinger they protested their working conditions, but instead they chose non-violent methods of demonstrating in ways similar to Ethyl Byrne, chaining themselves to a fence to form a picket line. Their experience with tear gas, and their willingness to jeopardize their lives show again women’s willingness to fight against injustice. This example, from 1968, shows that women continue to endanger themselves for their causes, and that causes continue to present themselves.

Freedman, E. 2002. No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. New York: Ballantine Books.

Freedman’s book is useful because it provides a history of feminism, including background to both the issue of reproductive rights and of women in labour unions. From page 257, in a section called “The Sexualization of Western Cultures” Freedman describes the characteristics and responsibilities of Victorian Motherhood that would have been a strong influence, especially for Byrne and Sanger. In Chapter 8, “Workers and Mothers: Feminist Social Policies,” Freedman delves into the history of women’s involvement with labour unions, from mill girls in the US to lace workers in Great Britain. She includes some global perspective, also including experiences of women in Germany, France, and Russia, China, and South Africa.

Polnick, B. et al. 2004. “Groundbreaking Women: Inspirations and Trailblazers.” Advancing Women in Leadership, No. 17, Winter.

Polnick et al. investigate the characteristics of women like Sanger, Byrne, and Dollinger who become female leaders. By studying female groundbreakers, they hope to address the needs of women in today’s leadership roles. They identified several characteristics common to the women of their study, including courage, resilience, self-efficaciousness, vision, passion, a belief in family first, and advocacy for the under-represented. Sanger, Byrne, and Dollinger are no exception to these characteristics. Understanding the characteristics of groundbreakers gives insight into the personalities of historical figures. This article helps the reader identify and draw parallels between important women in history.

Richards, C. and N. Van Der Gaag. November 2004. Women Who Have Moved Worlds. New Internationalist 373. March 22, 2006.

This website shows that women around the world continue to jeopardize their lives for justice. The list includes Medha Patkar, who, like Ethyl Byrne, almost died during a hunger strike. This website shows that women continue to sacrifice themselves as an alternative to directing violence outward at others. Links to more information about these women would make this site more useful.

Yalom, M. 2001. “A History of the Wife.” New York: Perennial.

Chapter Five in Yalom’s book describes the Victorian woman in America and chapter Eight includes discussion of Margaret Sanger’s work. Yalom’s work shows how the efforts of Byrne and Sanger influenced relationships, particularly the emerging concept of companionate marriage, and the idea of women as sexually passionate individuals.

It ain’t easy

These ‘happy’ posts are easy. Essays about sexism, feminism, culture, i.e. ‘Issues’ are easy too. For the ‘happy’ posts, all that’s required is making a list about my day, noting a few good things. For an essay, I just do some research, often something I’m doing for school anyways, maybe form an opinion or take a stance, depending on the type of essay, but really, it’s all pretty academic. I mean, it’s work, but it’s all relatively straightforward.

Blogging about ourselves is sometimes straightforward – like the happy posts from last week. But sometimes, publishing a blog post puts us out on the line. A real line. I talked about this a bit in this post, about how often do we play down our politics.

I’m involved in an action campaign which began through a club at school. The backlash has been personal and at times overwhelming. I’ve debated writing about it but fear potential backlash on my own ground. Of course, without posting about it I can’t enlist the support I might get from the community of bloggers that come here to visit.

Feminist backlash is not just some academic thing that happens to other people. It happened to me and is happening to me still. If I find the courage this weekend I might put up the post. I sure could use the support.

“Feminism for Sale”

THIS magazine, “the leading alternative Canadian magazine of politics, pop culture, and the arts” still says that Heath and Potter’s article “Feminism for Sale” will be online soon. Harumph. I’m about ready to give up. I’ve been waiting since at least November for it to go public to put up this post. How can we have a thorough discussion of the article and its issues until the editors make it available? I read the print article and was blown away by it – there’s no way that these two can be taken seriously. With this week’s Carnival of Feminist being about Feminism and Pop Culture I figured now was the perfect time to post it – maybe the article will still make it up someday. Or maybe THIS Magazine has changed their mind following the backlash in their letters section. john_d at the THIS Magazine blog says, “I don’t know if any THIS Magazine article has ever received more letters of complaint than Feminism for Sale.”

So in case you haven’t read it: Heath and Potter provide a superficial overview of the second wave feminist movement. Although they make reference to some ‘big names’ and a partial agenda of the 1960s and ‘70s women’s movement, they do not give credit to the depth of issues interrogated, the progress made, the personal empowerment of large numbers of women and the impact second wave feminism has had around and beyond the American borders.

It is hard to have a neutral reaction to this piece. Whether or not a reader believes that feminism has lost its steam and that the women at the forefront of the second wave have sold out to the technocracy (THIS Magazine, September 2005, p. 220), readers will definitely find themselves engaging in (and I hope vehemently objecting to) the writing of Heath and Potter.

Within any activity or organization, there are always pieces to criticize, feminism and feminists of yore included. However, Heath and Potter hardly present both sides of the story, preventing readers from drawing their own conclusions. Perhaps because this piece was written for publication in a magazine it draws more heavily on emotional persuasion through its chosen topics and the style of language used. Its purpose is not to present facts or inform but to persuade, challenge, and even enrage. THIS Magazine’s focus is alternative pop culture and political issues and certainly feminism and the second wave fall into these categories. Unfortunately, because their approach is to enflame rather than methodically critique the second wave it is difficult to accept their article as a legitimate critique of contemporary feminism.

The first question to ask regarding this article is who are Heath and Potter? What authority do they have to speak of – and comment on – feminism? Whose voice do they represent and whose interest do they protect? Further, whose voices do they present? The authors do not provide first-hand experience with either the second wave or third wave women’s movement. To truly understand a movement or a perspective it is necessary to enter it and participate. Heath and Potter show no indication of actually having spoken to today’s feminist activists. There are no personal anecdotes of third-wavers, no quotes, nothing. Where are the women????? Again and as always, they are hidden beneath the voice of patriarchy, the very voice Heath and Potter represent. Their failure to situate themselves weakens their credibility.

And another thing! Where are the Canadian voices? THIS Magazine is a Canadian publication yet the feminists Heath and Potter discuss are all American. Everywhere we turn, Canadians are subsumed by Americana: culture, technology, politics, and the arts. Here, in this counterculture magazine of all places, an effort be should made to include Canadians and Canadian content, whether or not the authors support or recognize their activism. Given that the majority of Canadians will never pick up a copy of Herizons, where will they ever read about their Canadian foresisters? Heath and Potter do their best to make sure it is not going to be in THIS Magazine. Canadian women are alive and kicking and it is time that this is recognized.

Regarding the issues discussed in Heath and Potter’s article, I want to address these that I think are especially significant: women’s self-esteem, rape/pornography, and the thrust of the second vs. third wave movement:

Heath and Potter claim that women have easy confidence, and are taking over universities and preparing to dominate the job market (214). Many women that I know struggle with their self-confidence and feel an incredible pressure from their surrounding culture to look and act a certain way. Where are the women to whom Heath and Potter refer? The rates of eating disorders among young women in Western society show that self-esteem hardly comes “easy” to women. Although there are increasing numbers of women enrolling in universities, these enrollments are hardly spread equally across all disciplines. Men still dominate engineering, science, math, graduate and doctoral programs, and higher positions of administration. To say “women are taking over universities” (214) is a gross misstatement. The same is true in the job market. Women continue to dominate the pink-collar ghetto and experience the phenomenon of the glass ceiling. Struggles to find the balance between career and family responsibilities prevent many women from “dominating the job market” (214) as Heath and Potter suggest. Perhaps including some statistics would help their position here – if there were any.

Heath and Potter should also back up their statement that “despite some vague claims about matriarchal societies in the distant past, most of the available evidence suggested that all major cultures throughout history were patriarchies” (216). This is pre-history. There are no written texts from this period. Modern archeologists have to interpret artifacts without any input from ancient peoples. I will concede that research supporting matriarchies is impossible to confirm but it is equally difficult to disregard what has been uncovered. To suggest that the evidence favours patriarchy over matriarchy when there is no way to confirm either is unacceptable.

Further disturbing is Heath and Potter’s discussion of rape. They claim that an “entire generation of young men is now entering adulthood, having come of age in an environment that is completely saturated with pornography” (219). Heath and Potter claim that according to MacKinnon’s work, this saturation should have led to the “ultimate nightmare scenario” (219). Heath and Potter fail to recognize FEMINIST campaigns regarding education about sexual consent (e.g. No means No), the emergence of porn/erotica without scenes containing violence against women and other sexual forms of expression that continue to grow (e.g. online instant messaging and chat rooms). But even given all of this, men still rape. How much rape per capita are Heath and Potter willing to accept? Feminists say NONE. If one woman is raped it is a sign that men still feel the power, desire, and ability to dominate women and this is a problem. Moreover, regarding their claim that we have not entered a sexual apocalypse: there are many signs that this is indeed upon us. Sex, that is, women’s sexuality, is commoditized and enlisted to sell anything and everything. Sexual harassment is a reality in the workplace, in schools, and in society-at-large, and little girls’ clothing is sexualized to the point where lingerie stores have storefronts which cater to girls who have not yet hit puberty. Children are being exploited as sexpots! To me, this bodes apocalyptic.

Heath and Potter suggest that at the core of the second wave movement was women’s “collective victimization” and this contrasts with the third wave focus on “personal responsibility and individual achievement” (220). They criticize third wavers of culture jamming the second wave’s critique of culture (220). What Heath and Potter do not recognize is that the second wave accomplished much more than a critique of “beauty culture, sexual abuse, and power structures” (220). These activists made progress for women in the workplace, in sexual liberation politics, and in the culture of the day. The result of this is that third wavers have a greater public visibility than previous generations. And yes, since there are more women with independent lives and resources, there will be more *stuff* created by them and for them. Art and business can go hand-in-hand and it was never the intention of the second wavers that women take a vow of poverty. What they asked was that women make conscious choices regarding their consumption. Creating and owning property does not make today’s women sell-outs to their forerunners. It means that we have had progress. Before the second wave, it was still difficult for women to have earnings to invest in their own enterprises. Now they do. This is good.

Activism never ends. For each goal that we reach many more are discovered along the way. Feminists are in the struggle for the long haul, whether the issue is the beauty/cosmetic industry, sexual abuse, gendered division of labour and equality in the workplace, etc. Heath and Potter do not give any credit to the extensive achievements that were made by the second wave women’s movement. Perhaps this article has been effective in jarring people from any impending complacency and inciting them to action before mass society has the opportunity to believe what they read in This Magazine.

So pardon me Heath and Potter: this is OUR revolution and while you are welcome to join us, until you talk to the women doing the work here, we will speak for ourselves, thank you very much.

Our Influence on Language: “Podcast” is now a word

This story today announces that the word “podcast” has made it into the New Oxford American Dictionary 2006. Originally coined as a combo of ‘ipod’ and ‘broadcast’ the word has spread into popular culture and beyond. My extended family now knows what a podcast is. My children know. Their friends know. The widespread popularity has legitimized the word and the practice and it’s no longer some geeky 1337 thing. Read more »

Blogging from the poorhouse – Blogher 2006

Blogher 2006 has been announced so mark your calendars: July 28 and July 29, 2006. Sour Duck has asked the question of how to get economically disadvantaged women to the conference this year. If you scroll down here to the comment section you can read Lisa Stone’s response which includes what helped last year. Some of the solutions included donations, free passes in trade for volunteer hours, and sponsorship.

If you have any ideas on how to help cover the costs of Blogher for those who can’t afford to jet set across the country, continent, or globe, contact Blogher and help open doors.

Regarding the challenge of poverty, I really feel strongly about blogging as a people’s media. I like to read opinion blogs, but I get a lot more out of experience blogs, or when the two are brought together. I like to read about what is happening in the world based on people’s real lived experiences. I like it when practice shows theory – after all, the personal is political only if made so.

Access to blogging does suggest a certain minimum level of prosperity. There is an inherent technology required for blogging, and to own that technology can be expensive. As universal access increases however (at least in the western world) public libraries and computer centres are helping to minimize the need to own your own computer. But still. Blogging from the poorhouse is important and should be supported. Read more »

Masculinity and 40 year old virgins

Download the audio:

I saw the movie. And while I was also in shock at the way women were discussed and treated, I laughed at the main character Andy while he tried to navigate the pressures to be what a man is ‘supposed’ to be and do what a man is ‘supposed’ to do.

Just as women face stereotypes to behave a certain way, so do men. Men are somehow supposed to be sexual experts, responsible for their own pleasure as well as somehow reading the minds of their partners in order to provide their pleasure as well. Stereotypes prescribing male behaviour are just as damaging as those proscribing that for females. Read more »

Audio Activism

Third wave feminism is characterized by its activism. Although some still argue that there is ‘no third wave’ I see plenty of proof peeking up all over that a re-emergence of feminism is upon us and hopefully this will be accompanied by progress towards gender equality.

Audiocasting is an ideal tool for combining third wave issues with a people’s media. This audiocast addresses some issues surrounding opportunities for activism and one woman’s experience in social justice issues and as a nun.


Download this audiocast now:

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