Homonormativity, Homonationalism, and the other ‘Other’: the dangers of a liberal discourse in the fight for (gay marriage) ‘equality’

by Christiaan Rapcewicz. Christiaan is a MA candidate in Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies at York University. He is interested in exploring the various ways Grindr operates as a mechanism of sexual regulation. This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

There has been an incredible increase in the amount of media coverage of gay rights, specifically the pursuit of gay marriage equality in the United States, covered by both queer and non-queer media. Although a movement for equality in relation to ‘gay rights’ is worthy of mobilization, media coverage, and policy changes, it is the ways in which particular queer media outlets address the topics of gay marriage, gay rights, and the ‘fight for equality’ that must be called to attention.

In my observations of following multiple queer media outlets, the discourse of ‘gay marriage,’ and, thus, ‘gay rights,’ has been shaped by an extreme liberal discourse of (human) rights – in which there is a constant push and demand that lesbians and gays have the right to marry, as it is a right any human should have. This is dangerous. This insidious heteronormativity that is seeping into the gay and lesbian ‘community’ is what Lisa Duggan addresses in “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism” as “homonormativity: a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions – such as marriage, and its call for monogamy and reproduction – but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption” (179). In the lesbian and gay ‘fight for equality’ for a right to marry, there is a reproduction of heteronormativity through the institution of marriage. The important questions that must be raised in the production of homonormativity include: What kind of gays and lesbians are to be included in this ‘fight for equality’ through marriage? By who are these ideal, respectable, homonationalist gay and lesbian subjects being sought by and for what purposes? These questions outline the significance of how, through the processes of inclusion, there are still gay and lesbian (or queer) subjects pushed to the margins for their differences. These others continue to be rendered invisible even within the gay and lesbian ‘fight for equality.’ These ‘other Others’ are often racialized, or non-normative: those who refuse or reject homonormativity, or those who are refused by it (for example, because of race). This ‘fight for equality’ outlines who, exactly, is allowed to participate in a (white) respectable, homonationalist project of ‘good gay’ subject-making and becoming.

It is clear how those who identify as gay or lesbian are considered ‘outsiders’ even within their own communities, so, how might we keep feminisms open to ‘other Others’ in its very commitment to collect forms of struggle? First, queer spaces, including online space(s), need to be continually interrogated and challenged – especially if these spaces reproduce homonormative ideals. Second, alliance building must occur within our own communities. However, in order for this to occur, we must determine who are allies are.

If we seek allies in our own community who refuse to include others (sometimes ourselves) in their politics, how are we to stand in solidarity with one another and resolve the very real issue of exclusion? Third, in order for change to occur it must be tangible, graspable; not (highly) abstract and theoretical: people need to hear it, see it, feel it. If you are as privileged as I am to study and learn such concepts as “homonationalism” and “homonormativity,” you will also realize theoretical concepts can lead you straight into a brick wall: their ability to create concrete change is lacking. If feminism(s) is(/are) to create any real change, it must start with the interrogation of and already-existing oppressive reality: the oppressive system of discourse of a liberal fight for gay marriage and equality. By no means am I arguing against equality and/or gay marriage, but ‘equality’ should not stop at gay marriage: there are many more inequalities to be addressed and (further) dealt with. Lastly, as Michael Warner states in The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, “‘pursuing marriage means abandoning the historical principles of the queer movement as an antiquated ‘liberationism’” (Warner 91). Although the (queer) media landscape in the United States is operating on the continual struggle for gay marriage and ‘equality,’ it is important to realize that by simply refusing the structure and institution of marriage, one refuses the hetero-and homonormative. Refuse the system. Refuse what others cannot have, and will never have, because they will never be considered citizens; they will never be included in a homonationalist and homonormative project. By participating in ‘gay’ marriage, by participating in the regulatory structure and institution of marriage hetero (and, thus) homonormative desire is reproduced. Again, this is dangerous. An interrogation of and a resistance to a particular Western (U.S.-centric) liberal human rights discourse of gay marriage and equality must occur in an attempt to cease the reproduction of normative, heterosexual desire. As Sara Ahmed (2002) clams, (and I agree), “there is a violence of seeking to assimilate difference back into the category of the same.”

There are ‘non-normative’ (and the reality is there is a normative) individuals that continue to be pushed to the margins of an already-marginalizing reality in which particular queer media continue to disseminate messaging (or an agenda) of an ideal ‘good gay.’ Gay and lesbian media (continue to) contribute to the production of a homonormative and homonationalist subject, allowing for the reproduction and exclusion of ‘the other Other’, of the invisible, and, often, of the non-white: the bad queer subject that is not respected, nor is represented as a legitimate subject of the nation. In order for change to occur in the real world, a greater activism must occur: we need collective activism. We must also recognize the state of ambivalence that we will experience: How might we be able to continually challenge interlocking systems of oppression while simultaneously advocating for gay marriage, gay rights, equality, and, now, trans* rights and equality? We must also hold queer media accountable of reproducing a normative gayness: queer media need to take responsibility for pushing a dangerous liberal agenda that creates the ‘good gay’ homonationalist citizen, and, as a result, continues to exclude others: those who refuse and reject (homo)normativity, or are refused and rejected by it: those who are not, and will never be, the ‘good gay’ citizen. We must recognize that these are the limits of liberalism: pushing for an agenda of gay marriage, gay rights, and gay equality at the expense of those ‘other Others’ who are themselves excluded from this particular discourse. The solution is simply to refuse: f*ck normativity.

Please use the comment section to add anything you would like clarified or expanded upon – or to stress anything you would like to see happen in terms of action projects around this particular issue. How might we be able to f*ck normativity?

 

Image Credits: jadaliyya.comsomeecards.comtotheexclusionofallothers.tumblr.com

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Men’s Rights Activists and Misdirected Hatred

by Carly Rhianna Smith

Carly Rhianna Smith is a journalism student at Langara College currently completing her practicum at The Tyee in Vancouver. 

I became aware of the men’s rights movement in September of 2012, when a friend showed me an upcoming debate called “Has Feminism Gone Too Far?”

Vancouver slam poet Ruth Mason-Paull organized the debate. Feminist speakers as well as men’s rights activist (MRA) speakers were scheduled, and a public event on Facebook was created. Interestingly, the debate was to be held on Commercial Drive at Café Deux Soleil, a neighbourhood eatery haunted by many feminists, as well as others of the political left.

The Facebook event exploded with venomous discourse between the two camps, and the event was cancelled. According to an article on feminist website Jezebel.com dated September 10, “Mason-Paull canceled the debate … after receiving what she said was an overwhelming barrage of comments and threats.” On Mason-Paull’s Facebook page, she said “I come from a middle class belief that people can discuss things and work it out through logic and reasoning. I understand that this is at best delusional when applied to certain members of our society.”

Around the same time, in the same neighbourhood, posters from the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) Vancouver group began appearing, and were soon torn down. The posters said things like “Rape Culture. Men Can Stop Rape. All Men Are Rapists. Had Enough of This Shit Yet?”

 

Journalist Derek Bedry, who soon came under fire from MRAs, reported on this in a story on Open File. They accused him of “creating the news” by tearing down the posters himself. They posted pictures of a man (who didn’t look much like him) and publicly vilified him in comments on the article. Comments were patronizing, saying things like “So how did you become a reporter again Derek? Do you receive a pat on the back from some ladies at work for this? Or do they throw some more bones at you?” All this was too juicy and I did some further research into the MRM.

The most active website I came across was AVoiceForMen.com. They have over 1,200 featured articles separated into categories like “misandry,” “sexual politics,” and “feminism.” They also put out radio shows on a multitude of topics pertaining to the MRM.

But what, exactly, do they stand for? And what do they hope to accomplish?

 

At best, the MRAs look to correct what they see as a series of social injustices directed towards men in a society that caters to female dominance. At worst, they are misguided, angry people with a chip on their shoulder using feminism as a scapegoat for the problems they face in their lives.

“You have a group in a privileged position in society and they’re claiming to be the victim; it’s either a strategic maneuver or else it’s just a misguided perspective,” says Nicole Deagan, a member of The F Word feminist media collective. Deagan encountered a lot of resistance from MRAs when she worked as a legal advocate for women who were going through the court system in the 1990s. “Either it’s people who have power and are uncomfortable with the idea of losing their power or they’re uncomfortable with somebody who’s typically not had power trying to get some. Or else it’s individuals, especially in the men’s rights movement, who are suffering injustices as individuals and they interpret it as a systemic issue,” she says.

The Vancouver Men’s Rights Activism website states in its FAQ: “The MRM is a true civil rights movement, which entertains no goals of removal of the legal rights of others. Both men and women are members of the men’s movement, which recognizes and works to address the real struggles men now face.” To them, this is in contrast to feminism, which “is now elitist, and prejudiced against men” because “many mainstream feminist organizations define masculinity in their public literature as hostile, violent and oppressive.”

The main antagonist of the MRM is feminism. “I’m of the firm belief that, while no society is perfect, we have pursued, and I think achieved, as much sexual parity as could possibly be hoped for in western culture,” says Paul Elam, creator of A Voice For Men. “If there is systemic discrimination against women, I would certainly stand up and speak against it if anyone could show me where it was. However, what I see in terms of systemic discrimination anymore works against men.”

 

MRAs are fighting against misandry, the fear or hatred of men and boys. A lot of MRM literature uses examples of men being irrationally feared as sexual aggressors, female-on-male violence not being taken seriously, and the court system’s favoritism of women to illustrate their point. The problem with their approach is that they frequently cite anecdotal evidence to back up their claims, yet provide either no or blatantly false empirical evidence or statistics to back them up.

Many MRAs, such as Vancouver resident Chris Marshall, seem to have become involved in the movement due to a personal hardship. Marshall runs the website A Father’s Story, which documents his custody battle with his wife, who lives in Alberta with their 11-year-old son. The website, to say the least, does not seem to be working in his favour. He has continued posting despite being ordered by a judge to take the site down, saying in a post, “It is still up because it is the only tool I have to get people to understand the 10-year nightmare that I have been through in the Alberta courts.” He posted his entire psychological assessment, in which Dr. J. Thomas Dalby states: “Mr. Marshall has shown, by his past actions, a sense of entitlement that he feels he has the natural right to construct access to his child in the way he sees fit in spite of legal restrictions. He has seen the consequences of this casual disregard of legal boundaries and his conduct can only be described as self-defeating.”

In an interesting turn of events, Marshall was to co-host a new debate after the first one at Café Deux Soleil was cancelled. John H., MRA blogger at A Voice For Men named only as “John The Other,” would also host. I intended to attend the debate and interview some of the MRAs in person. It was going to be held at the car dealership in East Vancouver, CC Motors, of which Marshall was the manager. I showed up not realizing this, and walked around in confusion, looking for the master debaters. I could see signage out in front of the dealership being taken down but not much other activity. I asked someone and they told me, “The guy who was supposed to run it never showed up.”

I found on the Facebook event page that police had escorted Marshall off the premises and that his position at the dealership had been terminated due to an entirely separate issue. I got his contact information from his website, and he seemed eager, if not overly so, to share his story with me. He expressed worry in our conversation that I was going to “use him” to get to other MRAs and defame their movement. After some reassurance, we arranged an interview time.

I showed up at the coffee shop we’d arranged to meet at 10 minutes early. I waited for him for over 45 minutes and placed several calls to him that remained unanswered and unreturned. He later replied to one of the emails I sent him, but never got back to me about re-scheduling an interview. This was perturbing; isn’t their goal to have their voices and points of view heard by the public? The opportunity was there and gone.

I soon found that MRAs are an elusive bunch outside of the realms of the internet. I managed to get ahold of Paul Elam after several emails over the course of two weeks or so. He admitted to me that the only reason he ever called me back was because I was “so persistent.” I also attempted to contact John The Other through the website, through Paul Elam, and through Facebook, to no answer.

This seems to be an MRA tactic – they control what information they’re putting out and the slant with which it’s communicated. If they don’t cooperate with media, then there is less of a chance of media scrutiny. In many articles, media has been unkind to MRAs, but this has been as much their own undoing as anything else.

Firstly, to get to the heart of the matter, a majority of claims made by MRAs are false. In a video made by Men’s Rights Edmonton, they say, “Women and men initiate domestic violence at similar rates. Over 250 scholarly studies demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.” This assertion is widely purported in the MRA community. Notice that the “scholarly studies” are not named, nor are they cited anywhere. Another poster put up on Commercial Drive in September said, “Stop Violence Against Women. But not against men. Because men do not matter, and despite being more often the victims of violence, male victims are no good for fund raising, so screw them.” However, according to Statistics Canada, “In 2010, 7 in 10 (70%) victims of police-reported family violence were girls or women. Looking at rates, the risk of becoming a victim of police-reported family violence was more than twice as high for girls and women as it was for boys and men … The main factor behind females’ increased risk of family violence is related to their higher representation as victims of spousal violence. Women aged 15 years and older accounted for 81% of all spousal violence victims.” In addition, the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project says in its Clemency Manual, “Currently, there are approximately 2,000 battered women in America who are serving prison time for defending their lives against their batterers. As many as 90% of the women in prison today for killing men had been battered by those men.”

MRAs make claims that sound true or based in fact, when in actuality, they’re based on assumption, anecdotal evidence, or a complete misunderstanding of the issue. “Domestic violence against women is much more likely than domestic violence against men to be life-threatening,” says Jarrah Hodge, who runs the blog Gender Focus. “If MRAs want to address violence against men they should also look at male violence against men and address the stereotypes and pressures that unfortunately tells many men that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict and necessary to prove masculinity.”

Most perturbing are their claims regarding sexual violence. In the “Facts” section on A Voice For Men, they claim “Men are the overwhelming majority of rape victims.” However, none of the following statistics they present prove that. All the statistics have to do with the percentage of female aggressors in cases of child abuse, correctional facilities, or the inmates who report prison rape. These are all misleading. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, nine out of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003, while SexAssault.ca statistics show the over 80 per cent of sex crime victims in Canada are women.

Even more dangerous are their attitudes toward rape and rape culture. John The Other was quoted in Bedry’s Open File article as saying, “Maybe it’s a mistaken accusation, she doesn’t remember who she had sex with because she was drunk at the party or whatever. Some make accusations that have nothing to do with being raped; they’re angry, or they got stood up, they wanted to have sex with a guy but he said no. The fact that our society doesn’t have a balance for this is a major problem. I’m not suggesting every woman you meet is a loose cannon, but every woman you meet has the potential to be one, because for those few who are nutty, there’s no disincentive for them to go, oh, I was late for work. I know, I’ll just say I got raped.” This is speculative and revealing that, while MRAs say they are not anti-women, their attitudes are misogynistic at the core. The belief that women can and will falsely accuse men of rape in order to further their own ends is another symptom of the rape culture that MRAs claim does not exist.

“[They] definitely seem to see feminists as enemies. And so these men are in a position of power but are rallying people against their supposed ‘oppressors’. But since those aren’t real oppressors with real social power then it just ends up feeding into the same discrimination that women experience already,” says Deagan.

The clash between feminists and MRAs is tempestuous. “In my experience, their approach is quite reactionary as opposed to pro-active; I find they are more interested in smear campaigns against feminism rather than making a case for issues they think are important to men,” says Megan Karius, who maintains the Feminist Edmonton website. “They generally blame feminism for what they consider men’s issues and that ultimately detracts from their arguments.”

There seems to be a group of them that are quite vocal and quite aggressive so when they see something, specifically when they see women’s activists or anyone who’s trying to look at women’s issues, they kind of come in for the attack and so it’s very hard to have a reasonable conversation,” says Deagan.

I recognize that patriarchy is not only oppressive to women, but functions to oppress men as well. The term “patriarchy” is not some sort of imputation against all men, identifying them as oppressors of all women. Patriarchy is an institution; it functions at the cultural level and, while it does avail men with privilege, this does not mean that males are not also detrimentally impacted by patriarchy,” writes Jasmine Peterson in an article on the blog Gender Focus. This spurred a mocking, hateful response video from MRAs. The background of the video is a photo of someone in a gorilla mask with superimposed text that reads “Feminist sans makeup.” The men read her entire post in a mocking tone and present their own unsubstantiated facts, then go on to invite people to attack her.

The ones who have engaged me have generally taken one of two approaches: outright hostility and total dismissal of feminists as “cunts” or “feminazis” who are bent on bringing down men, or arguing more civilly that they don’t believe feminism is necessary because, in their view, society actually discriminates against men,” said Hodge.

They are just the latest trend in the ongoing backlash to the gains of the feminist movement we’ve seen in the past few decades.  While individual men may face structural inequality due to other aspects of their identity, such as race, class, sexual orientation, or ability, they still derive privilege from being male; I think the majority of MRAs are reacting to seeing some of their previously unquestioned privilege eroded and they are threatened by that,” says Karius.

One begins to wonder whether MRAs hate feminists, or are just rattled by women asserting themselves and challenging traditional modes of behaviour. Elam believes that the over-sexualization of women in the media is simply “recognizing women’s sexual power in this culture. Their sexual power gives them access to men economically.” He says that “sexuality generates a lot of financial generosity in men,” and some women are not only aware of this, but use it to their advantage. “We’ve been skewed by feminist ideology – we don’t see the power women have in our society,” he says. For how often MRAs accuse feminists of misandry, it’s incredibly ironic when they rely on arguments such as this one.  That statement is more insulting to men than anything feminists could come up with,” says Karius.

All this is not to say MRAs don’t have any valid claims. “We can and should absolutely talk about how our rigidly gendered society hurts men, but we can’t stop talking about the ways that women have been unequal and the ways in which women still suffer because of their gender,” says Hodge.

The issues MRAs have qualms with are basically class or social issues and have little to do with gender.

As feminism continues to be misrepresented and seen as some sort of hate movement, the goals feminists pursue become all the more relevant.

I think attacks by Men’s Rights Activists can be distracting from the issues and campaigns we’re involved in around women’s equality. It’s frustrating but I think most people who look at the issues can see MRAs tend to be pretty out-of touch,” says Hodge.

That being said, when I was waiting for Marshall’s interview, a man noticed I had been waiting for someone with a notebook and recorder and asked me about it. 

“I’m going to interview someone for an article,” I said.

“Who? And what is it about?” he asked

“I’m writing an article about the men’s rights movement,” I replied.

“Men’s rights! Ha! That’s a laugh! There’s no such thing these days!” he said as he walked off, guffawing.

Their attitudes may be outdated and misinformed, but many men agree with them. Examining gender inequality equipped with the wrong information can lead to some very troubling conclusions. MRAs create such noise in their political lobbying that they are bound to influence change. For example, a group called RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) claims they have blocked four federal domestic violence bills in the United States. These are not the first legal implications MRAs have had, nor will they be the last if MRAs are taken seriously and feminism continues to be painted in a negative light. 

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Fembots Have More Fun

By Sandi Sonnenfeld  

Originally published, in slightly different form, on the Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review on October 31, 2012.

It all started 18 months ago when I saw a new ad from a national anti-abortion group being promoted on the subway.  The ad featured a sad-looking woman hugging herself for comfort and a single sentence, “Abortion changes you forever.”

It was so simplistic a slogan, an affront to every woman who has ever agonized over her choices.  It meanly implied that women who unexpectedly find themselves pregnant blithely rush out to get an abortion without giving any thought to the consequences, which directly contradicts my own personal experience and the other women I know who faced such a decision.  What made the ad particularly galling, however, was that it was sponsored by the same group that was egging on former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and others in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the few affordable places left for women to obtain reliable birth control that would help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place.

The hypocrisy, then, led me to do it.  I dug into my purse, pulled out a black pen and wrote over the sign in big thick lettering, “Not nearly as much as having a child—wanted or not—does.”

My heart raced as I publicly defaced private property in full view of one hundred and fifty or so other New Yorkers.  I never before had knowingly committed a crime. As is usual among my fellow urbanites, the subway passengers pretended not to see what I was doing.

I wish I could say that when I had finished my rage subsided, that I took satisfaction in my defiant act.  If anything, to my surprise and without a little shame, I felt only more infuriated.  So I sat on the subway fuming, replaying in my head all the statistics I’ve read over the past few years. Statistics like:

  • American girls now enter the first stages of puberty at an all-time low of 10.4 years (nine years for African-Americans and nine and a half-years for Hispanic Americans), likely as a result of over-processed food which speeds up the activation of the hormone leptin.
  • One hundred thousand children, the majority of them girls between 12 and 17, are involved in sex trafficking in the US each year; 70 percent of them are runaways from foster care.

Recalling such statistics kept me enraged until I arrived at my office, where it quickly dissipated as my workday got underway, sidetracked by my day job as a Director of Public Relations at one of the country’s largest law firms.  Indeed, when I left my office that night and headed home, I chastised myself for so foolishly tilting at windmills. As I exited from the Kings Highway subway station near where I live in Brooklyn, a huge delivery truck sat idling at a red traffic light.  The truck was emblazoned on both sides with a billboard ad for a premium vodka featuring three naked women sipping liquor out of martini glasses.

The women had no stomachs, necks, wrists, ankles, or genitals other than a metallic shield-like loin cloth where their vaginas should be. They did of course have breasts: large rounded breasts, bald heads, pink-lipped mouths and two slits for eyes that were framed with oversized pink and black eyelashes.  The slogan read, “Fembots have more fun.”

The gale hit me with full force, tossing me around emotionally that even now all these months later, I still feel cast adrift.

In fifty years, we’ve gone from blondes having more fun to fembots do.  Why bother with a flesh and blood woman anymore, who possesses hair that requires grooming, a stomach that craves filling, a mind that hunger for ideas?  Just give us some breasts to stare at, put a glass of vodka in our hand and away we go.  Once men lusted after the Hollywood pinup, then the airbrushed women of Playboy; when that grew tiresome, they switched to watching pornography on the web, jacking off to electronic images of women generated by lines of code made entirely out of Xs and 0s.  Perhaps, however, even those images reminded them too much of the smart-mouthed woman they shared an office with or their ex-girlfriend who dared to fall in love with another guy, so let’s move on to fembots instead.  Fembots who can’t talk, and don’t demand anything more than a shiny martini glass from which to drink.

It would be easy, but inaccurate, to lay all the blame on men.  But the sad thing about the ads, which are produced for Swedish vodka company Svedka by Constellation Brands here in New York, is that they are aimed at women.

“The Svedka image is playful, even naughty, featuring the sexy fembot symbolizing the brand’s fanciful futuristic achievement,” said Marina Hahn, senior vice president for marketing at Constellation Brands in a story by New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott.  “Our vision of the future is very different from others. It’s ‘a lot like today, but better, more fun’ and Svedka [is] the vodka that lets you ‘be your fun, flirtatious self…at a price point you can afford.’”

The Times went on to report that the new campaign featuring the Svedka fembot includes print and online ads, signs in stores, billboards, events in bars and nightclubs, photos and videos on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“Maybe one day, ‘Svedka Girl, the Movie,’ ” Hahn said, laughing, at the close of the article.

I want to laugh too.  Yet how can we ever make true strides as women, not just politically or in the board room, but, even more importantly, in reducing those all too real statistics about the trafficking of teenage girls, childhoods cut way too short by early puberty, and the millions of people, men and women alike, who prefer to masturbate to porn than take the risk of actually interacting with a no doubt flawed, but nonetheless potentially attractive  human being, when women still feel the need to starve themselves to fit into a size four dress, buy self-esteem through breast implants, or simply fail to reach their full potential for fear that boys at school won’t like them if they are “too” smart?

We all have grown so used to seeing fantastical images of women in advertising, film, television and on the web that even those of us with a profound awareness of the implausibility of such gorgeous, overly sexualized creatures existing in real life still regard such images as the standard far too many of us, myself included, aspire to.

Maybe that’s the true source of my rage—I’m mad at myself for not being able to dismiss the ad or others like it.  I’m mad at my fellow countrywomen for not only putting up with such messages that fundamentally tell us that, nearly 100 years after our great grandmothers chose to go on hunger strike rather than be denied the right to vote, and 50 years after Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan helped usher in the second wave of feminism, we still think of ourselves as sexualized beings rather than fully fledged, sensual individuals for whom our sex is just one defining factor of who we are.

I’m mad at Sarah Palin, who as former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska ordered that victims of sexual assault pay for their own rape kits to keep costs down, for her audacity in declaring that she and the “mama grizzlies” represent the new face of feminism.  Palin said it during a meeting of the Susan B. Anthony List, a PAC which supports Congressional bids of anti-abortion candidates, including that other mama grizzly, Michele Bachmann.

That Palin and Bachmann are among those now shaping the discussion of what it means to be a feminist today is clearly a failure of our own making.  Too many of us have turned away from discourse, or perhaps have simply turned out, all too aware that we possess more choices than any other generation of American women.

We take it for granted that women walk on the moon, climb Everest, travel alone to exotic countries to negotiate peace treaties.  We’re no longer wowed that women launch twice as many US businesses as men, or that women have invented everything from central heating to Kevlar, the material from which bullet proof vests are made.  Indeed, we rarely think about the battles won before us, and most of us have never been schooled in the hard-fought efforts of generations of women to be taken seriously as citizens of the world. We accept without question that we can purchase property, adopt children without a partner, and increasingly, in many states, even marry each other if we want.  That we have made so much progress has also made too many of us complacent.

Or perhaps we are just too distracted.  No one is more squeezed for time than those of us in the sandwich generation.  Women in our thirties and forties perpetually torn by the demands of our careers and our personal lives, many of us are also caring for a child and an aging parent at the same time.  We squeeze our bellies and thighs into Spanx after squeezing out from the plastic bottle that last bit of ketchup for the French fries we ate at lunch. Our thoughts are squeezed into the 144 characters of a Tweet or compressed into a download on YouTube.  We squeeze into the crowded, noisy subways of New York and Boston or into traffic on the Interstate in Los Angeles or Seattle on our way to work.  We squeeze in yoga classes, painting courses and Thai-fusion cooking between the food shopping, picking up the kids from school, making a dental appointment for our husband, trying to stretch that salary for which we collectively still earn eighty-five percent of what a man with comparable experience and education does.  Thus many of us have also been squeezed into compromises that we once swore we would never make.

That we all pay a price for such compromises goes without saying, but I’ve started to wonder if the cost is just too much to bear.  Lately, I find myself in a state of near perpetual rage at what is happening in America. Perhaps it’s the angry rants of the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of this world that has brought out this fury in me, a mad desire to answer fire, as it were, with fire.  Or my sorrow and disappointment as I watch President Obama make concession after concession to the fringe right in the spirit of bipartisanship, wondering how he still cannot understand that the Tea Party-obsessed, Koch brothers-funded opposition not only has little interest in bipartisanship, it has no interest in governing at all.  Or perhaps I’m just simply out of patience, no longer able to hide behind the cloak of deference and respectability.

When Michele Obama became First Lady, her popularity soared.  Some admired her for trying to raise her girls in as “normal” way as possible despite that they no longer lived a normal live.  Others admired her stance towards community service.  But mostly, we admired how chiseled her arms were, that her biceps were “cut,” how stunning she looked in her white beaded Jason Wu inaugural ball gown.

Just as many of us women vilified Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate for her ugly haircut, love of pant suits, or simply staying married to a man who had convinced himself receiving a blow job by a young intern was not sex, and therefore not a betrayal of his wife.

We still worry far too much about being “playful,” “likable,” “fun,” about not turning men off with our talk of inequity at the workplace or unfair division of home labor, or worse, driving them into the arms of another woman.  And we care far too much about being perceived as chic, glamorous, or just plain sexy.

“How do I look?” we ask our husbands, our friends, our lovers. “Is my ass too big?  My tits too small?  Do I look fat?”

Perhaps that explains why, according to The Village Voice, the fourth most popular Halloween costume of 2011 for women was the Svedka Fembot.

So as autumn again draws near, and in the hope of creating in the words of Marina Hahn, “a future a lot like today, but better,” here’s a list of Halloween costumes to consider based on other female images that occasionally can be seen flickering across our digital screens:

  • Gabby Douglas – At age fourteen, she had the courage and determination to leave her family and home in Virginia Beach to train with top coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines, Iowa, a largely all white Mid-Western suburb. Less than two years later, Douglas became the first black American to win a gold medal in gymnastics and the only American to ever win gold in both the All-Around and the team competition during the same Olympics.
  • Jessica Jackley – a Stanford MBA graduate and co-founder of Kiva, which has facilitated hundreds of millions in loans among individuals across 209 countries by enabling internet users to lend as little as $25 to individual entrepreneurs.  A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a 2011 World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader, Jackley serves on several boards of organizations championing women, microfinance, technology and the arts, and has worked in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with Village Enterprise Fund and Project Baobab.  Oh, yeah, she’s also a trained yoga instructor, avid surfer, wife and mother of twin boys.
  • Sylvia A. Earle – Known as “Her Deepness” or “The Sturgeon General,” Earle led the first team of women oceanographers in the Tektite Project in which they lived in an underwater chamber for fourteen days to study undersea habitats.  Author of more than 125 books and articles related to oceanography and protecting ocean ecosystems, she served as Chief Scientist of NOAA and led the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, a five-year program to study the United States National Marine Sanctuary from 1998-2002. At 76, she currently is National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence.
  • Tawakel Karman – Called the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution” by her fellow Yemenis, Karman is a journalist and politician known as one of the public faces of the Arab Spring. Co-founder of Women Journalists Without Chains, she is co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman awarded that honor and the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date.

As for me, come October 31, I will pay homage to that great, forgotten star of the silver screen, Hedy Lamarr, once described as the most beautiful actress in Hollywood.  During a dinner party shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lamarr embarked on a passionate conversation with an avant-garde composer named George Antheil about protecting US radio-guided torpedoes from enemy interference.  She scrawled her phone number in lipstick on the windshield of his car so they could explore their ideas further.  In 1942, the duo developed and secured a patent for a torpedo guidance system based on what Lamarr described as ‘frequency hopping,” which they then donated to the US government to assist in defeating Germany and Japan. Though the US military didn’t take the invention seriously until more than a decade later, today frequency hopping is the basis for the technology we use in cell phones, pagers, wireless Internet, defense satellites, and a plethora of other spread-spectrum devices.  Pretty darn good for a five-time divorced, foreign-born actress who never attended college.

But mostly, I’m picking Hedy Lamarr because she is the ultimate anti-fembot, who once told the press, “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sandi Sonnenfeld holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington, where she studied under National Book Award winner Charles Johnson.  She is the author of the memoir This is How I Speak (2002: Impassio Press), for which she was named a Celebration Author by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. Her short stories and personal essays have appeared in more than 30 literary magazines and anthologies, including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Sojourner, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, THIS, Raven Chronicles, Perigee, The Storyteller and Mr. Bellers’ Neighborhood.  For more, visit www.sandisonnenfeld.com.

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The Empty Promises of Prometheus

Guest post by Aphrodite Kocieda

Aphrodite is currently a graduate student at the University of South Florida focusing on Communication. She is a radical feminist and an enthusiastic media and cultural critic, as well as a contributor for Out Front Magazine

Is Hollywood completely dominated by white males who are only able to write about their own experiences and their own fantasies? I kept thinking this as I watched the first five minutes of the newly released film, Prometheus. When it was over, I could feel the feminist itch in my hands reaching out to the keyboard to unleash the anger that manifested during the viewing of the film. My boyfriend and I initially decided to take in Prometheus based on the merit of the online previews. The previews looked promising. It appeared to have a strong female character (which is RARE for Hollywood), and had a plot that was almost identical to Alien. However, as usual, I was completely disappointed to the point that I left before the movie ended. It appears as if Hollywood today spends more time and money on constructing distorted previews for their films to trick you into buying a movie ticket, instead of just creating a good creative plot.

I feel like we’re in an era where Hollywood is turning EVERY book into a movie because film writers just don’t exist anymore. Though maybe more disturbing is the trend of blatantly stealing plots and storylines from the past, regurgitating them on the screen for an oh-so-loyal audience that is overly entertainment-saturated to the point that almost anything with bright colors, 3-D glasses, and loud noises will fulfill their expectations and desires for creativity and entertainment.

One of the reasons I was disappointed with the film is that while it capitalized on the legacy of the 1979 hit film Alien (also by director Ridley Scott) it did not build on the progress of the original which was, in many ways, progressive for its time. It had a lead female character that was not stereotypically attractive in a challenging role that centered on her and her actions, instead of her sexuality. The plot for Prometheus was too large and the only semblance of an attempt of progressive representation was represented in its ONE black cast member, and ONE Asian cast member. I do not understand how, in 2012, white people still dominate the screen. Based upon the previews, it seemed as if the film was going to focus on the lead character, played by Charlize Theron, but her role was merely a façade of power and progressiveness. Theron’s character, Meredith Vickers, acts as the supervisor of the mission, and contains all of the trite stereotypical characteristics of a female leader in a masculine world. She is bland in appearance, tough within her internal core, and is a physical threat to some of her crew members. Although it is wonderful that the film does not focus on her sexuality or her attractiveness in a stereotypical mainstream sense, the writers merely fall into another stereotype in their lack of imagination for their female character in power. Power, for the white male writers, immediately equates to dominance, aggression, and physical fear. Theron’s character, Meredith, is even assumed to be a robot by Idris Elba’s character, Janek, because she did not want to have sex with him. In response to his accusation, she crumbles to his insult, and ends up fulfilling his desires in her bedroom.  Her tough exterior and cold composure merely fulfilled the stereotype of the “bitch” in power that is unsympathetic to love and human emotion. In order for a female to be in power, she must abandon any signs and traits of femininity, and overtly subscribe to a distorted version of masculinity.

After shuddering at the thought that the writers actually assumed their Meredith Vickers character was progressive, the movie just got worse. The archaeologist character of Elizabeth Shaw, the only other main lead female character, subscribed to a trope that feminist Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency, calls, “The Mystical Pregnancy.” Here is a video Sarkeesian created that pretty much sums up the trope.

Sarkeesian examines how Hollywood writers use women’s bodies as incubators and vessels for alien offspring or demons. She states, “Basically the characters are reduced to their biological functions.” Additionally, writers use pregnancy as a way to torment and violate the female characters whose male counterparts are not tormented in a similar complementary manner.  The archaeologist, Shaw, ends up becoming pregnant with an alien baby and enters a machine that rips the baby out of her. She runs through the hall with blood all over her half naked body due to her fear of what was inside of her own abdomen. This was so cliché and uncreative. I honestly couldn’t believe they included an alien pregnancy in the film because it was so unnecessary. They couldn’t find a way to construct fear within their female character, so they had to resort to impregnating her with an alien. Real creative (note the sarcasm).

After all of this ridiculousness, the movie was just garbage. I remember looking down for a minute, and when I looked up, the film looked like a WWE wrestling match. I saw a character bashing in the face of another character, there was fire, tons of gunshots, and too much masculinity for me. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if Vin Diesel drove by on a motorcycle in space with Megan Fox in a space suit behind him. After this, I got up and left. The movie was not worth watching until the end, even with the 3D glasses, and an IMAX screen. It seems like the more you have to wear for a movie, the more it is going to be garbage.

The only captivating thing about the film was the graphics. They were awesome, but unfortunately, being attached to the plot it just began to self-destruct. I hate watching mainstream films. I thought the point of film and science fiction was to escape reality, not reinforce the shitty parts of it.

 

 

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Rush Limbaugh’s slander of Sandra Fluke

So, it’s Saturday morning.  Here I sit, drinking a cup tea in my fleece pajamas, cozy on the couch with my laptop, surfing the ‘net, when all of a sudden…  Are you in the mood to get riled up?  zOMG me too!

I know it’s bad to read any piece of news related to Rush Limbaugh.  It is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure significantly (“urge to kill rising…”).  On Friday, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke received a telephone call from President Obama, telling her not to take Limbaugh’s calling her a prostitute to heart.  Oh yes, get ready.

At a hearing at Georgetown about health care coverage of contraception at religious institutions, Fluke spoke about the high cost of contraception and about their importance to women’s health.  Limbaugh made these comments about Fluke’s testimony:

What does it say about the college coed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns—no! We’re not the johns. Well—yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word.

Can you believe it?  Can you fucking believe it!  Then, after a public outcry against these comments, he responds with:

So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.

…. I’m not questioning her virtue. I know what her virtue is. She’s having so much sex that she’s going broke!

This is jaw-dropping, shocking stuff.   This is hate-speech.  How is he still allowed to voice an opinion about anything?  Oh wait, I forgot.  He’s actually aligned with Republican politics.  Reproductive rights belong only to those who can afford them.  ”‘She’s going broke!’ — that’s what makes [Fluke] attackable,”  says Amy Davidson in The New Yorker.  ”The real target here is poor women — poor families.”    So, while Limbaugh’s bullshit might seem extreme, this sort of slander really isn’t anything new.

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