Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In the news...

Twenty percent of women who die while they are pregnant, are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands, according to a Washington Post article, as stated on ABC News. This is a very interesting phenomenon, because while the article says these men are psychopaths, and that the women simply get in the way, this appears to be a strong example of the ways in which men still continue to not only control women's bodies; it also shows how they make successful efforts to control children's bodies. The police interviewed for the story say that "these murders are sudden outbursts of violence," but I contend that these feelings are everything but sudden. This is not to say that each homicide is premeditated, but what it does speak to are the gender roles that our country relies on. In some ways, there is a lot of pressure on these men to be strong, controlling, and the like. There is also this pressure on women (to be submissive, motherly, etc). If these behaviors have been coaxed since boyhood, how much of these eruptions are founded in societal expectations, and how much of the violence is a sudden act of insanity?

More, there seems to be little attention to the fact that these relationships often circulate around domestic violence -- there may have been signs that family members, or the slain women themselves, were ignoring because they were afraid of speaking up. Also, on a side note, these stories are hot in the media -- giving hours upon hours of TV time(and news print) to these slain women, and what I find it disturbing is that these largely-covered murders are almost always about white women. Just like little children who are kidnapped or killed, it appears that our media still continues to pick and choose stories based on race.

Maxim Magazine Called On By Israel
Ok, so Maxim Magazine, which offers titillating photos of women, and then basically rates women's bodies on a scale, is still up to its old objectifying ways, but it now has a new fan: the Israeli Consulate. Its latest issue highlights women who were soldiers in the Israeli army, and are now posing. Why? "In a statement, the magazine said it was contacted by the consulate to help improve Israel’s image." So...a near-naked woman is the answer to boosting a country's ratings? There is no other way to reach young people? Hmm. How about campaigns highlighting young filmmakers, authors, artists, and the like? Oh yeah, that's right, nations reaching out to the mainstream have to weed out education and culture to reach us young folks...yep. It's only boobs and butt that get our attention. Grrr.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Discrimination in the workplace

CareerBuilder.com composed a survey asking female employees to rate discrimination (if there was any) in their office environments, and the company found (somewhat unsurprisingly) staggering results.

A quarter of those interviewed felt some sort of discrimination in the workplace -- either sexually, economically or otherwise. The numbers go up if the woman is a minority, over 50 years old, or if she is lesbian or bisexual.

As a freelance journalist, who works from home, the thought of discrimination comes across my mind often. In order to make money I come up with an idea, research, interview, write, edit, and then pitch the story to publications that would benefit from the article. It is not an easy thing to do. Often I attempt to create catchy email subject lines so that I may capture the attention of my editors, but when I hear nothing back, I wonder if I am being discriminated against.

My articles are often very in-depth -- research is my passion -- and I take great strides to get as many sources as possible; sometimes cramming too much information in to the 3,000 words. Thus, surprise creeps up when my piece is not accepted. I wonder if it is because I am a woman, and I refer to my self as freelance. Do editors see my name and title and think I am lazy, reliant on a husband at home; interviewing with a baby on each hip? Not that these ideas are a bad thing for those who choose this route, but this is not me. I work diligently on my articles, and I believe that my stories are often rejected because I am a woman, and thus, my articles must be innaccurate or too emotional.

Other times, my articles will be accepted, but a male writer's article will make front page, and mine will find its way in to the middle of the rag. I have to question whether or not there is discrimination here -- particularly when my article may be about a significant discussion in society, while the front page article is about an author who is in town. I know papers (and other mediums) need to sell papers, but at what cost? Is it better to have more people pick up the paper, or more important to be fair to staffers by advocating for diversity?

This is a struggle that we all have to live through -- and as a feminist I question these values all of the time. One would imagine that I would save myself from unnecessary workplace discrimination by working at home, but it appears that there are just as many hurdles in place.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The big move.

This past weekend I moved between Miami and Pittsburgh, as I am staying with family for the summer before transferring to NYC, where I will begin my MSW tenure at Columbia.

Because I had to pack up my life and move, the posts have been slacking. I apologize. Please don't stop visiting...I will have something up tomorrow (June 20).

Thank you for the continued support.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Single women: find your purpose now, but once you tie the knot, forget about it

I read an interesting quote today: Marriage is a sentence, not a word. All jokes aside, I have to wonder if it is true.

Personally, I am not interested in joining holy matrimony, changing my name (or hyphenating it for that matter), and becoming one with my life partner. Instead, I truly enjoy my independent self – I have had this name for all my life, and I don’t see the value in changing it – er, becoming owned by another. I don’t want to own anyone, and I don’t want him or her to be owned. That being said, this is my opinion and I do not knock those who believe in its sanctity – particularly those who have religious or culture reasons for the bond.

BTW, Ms. Magazine states that if you are a man and you would like to have your wife's name become yours, you need to put out an ad in the newspaper, petition in court and pay hundreds of dollars in legal fees. Women simply fill out a marriage application. Only six states in the nation have statutory laws stating the rights of men who wish to take on their partner's last name.

The Washington Post reviewed “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century,” and I have to say that there are some major issues with the ideals printed between the covers.

First, author Jennifer Marshall states that the book is meant to give single women something to strive towards as they await their lifelong partner to come (and by partner I mean man, since apparently she only points out the ills of waiting for Mr. Right). Meaning, the book will give women a reason for living, but it kind of eludes to the idea that once she is married the purpose changes – that she somehow must shift her reason for living. Ok. I get that people enjoy their partners, and want to live for one another, but I think we should be stressing the need for people to still live for themselves. People change, and I don’t know anyone who would want to break out of a relationship and have no sense of self. My mom always told me to be independent of my friends, boyfriends, etc. You never know when you are going to be without them.

Marshall does, however, discuss an important theory called Destination Marriage. She says this occurs when people ready themselves so much for the wedding, and the IDEA of being married, that they come in to the relationship feeling somewhat unfulfilled. I guess she wants people to live their lives first – getting all adventure out of the way – and then tie the night. Hmmm. I don’t know, I contend that as we grow older we change so much. There has to be more wiggle room, and remarkable milestones should not have to necessarily be hit by two people (because the common rationalization is that the two parties in a marriage should celebrate everything together). Let’s be serious. We don’t all grow at the same rate, and finding purpose throughout life – at staggered times – should truly be celebrated. The pressure to grow together may be one of the reasons so many marriages don’t do well, so why do that?

Because of patriarchy. Women, just like men, live in a heterosexual, male-dominated world that is founded on pre-destined roles. And while Marshall thinks it is ok for women to get a job and reach goals, she feels that feminists are to blame for the lack of “chances” a woman is afforded in getting herself a man. She says in the Washington Post article: “Feminism has complicated relations between the sexes and created more confusion about singleness.”

What is the confusion; that it is OK to be single, strong, independent and wealthy? That is OK to have the desire to maintain one’s own self worth, dreams, aspirations, loves, hates, and purpose, post-wedding. More, I can only imagine that she in under the common perception that women cook and clean (and work, and raise kids, etc), while men wear a suit and tie to work each day. I say MANY in our generation DON’T want to follow those crappy rules anymore. We want to branch out and switch up the roles. Feminism fights for those role reversals, which despite Marshall’s thinking, actually STRENGTHENS the relations between the sexes. It gives each individual the true freedom to live life as they want to.

Lastly, she says we live in a divorce culture (then quit telling us to get married unjustly…duh), and that in addition to feminism, the sexual revolution has increased singleness, and decreased the possibility of getting married. To her, these changes are not a good thing.

Wow. I guess we should just forgo education, equality and exploration. Better that our generation reverse all of the “negatives” that people died for.


Rhyming For A Reason

This is just cool: In a giant leap to "bring peace, love and respect back to reggae music," three major musicians in the genre (Sizzla, Beenie Man and Capleton) have signed The Reggae Compassionate Act.Those who sign the Act must adhear to three rules of thumb:

In the Reggae Compassionate Act the three singers pledge to:

■ “respect and uphold the rights of all individuals to live without fear of hatred and violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender”;

■ “there’s no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism or homophobia”;

■ “we agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community”.

The article goes on to describe how "artists promise to not sing lyrics or make public statements, in Jamaica or anywhere else in the world, that incite prejudice, hatred or violence against lesbian and gay people."

I think this is awesome. The media constantly infiltrates our lives, and creating a pact that will effectively remove bigotry and violence, has the possibility of actually shifting the status quo. When radio host Don Imus made his notorious remarks about the women basketball players, much of the mainstream music industry began whispering about this type of anti-hate mantra. Now the reggae world is moving towards it...let's hope it trickles down to all other radio-play areas.

Because let’s face it, music and movie stars have a lot of clout in society, and young (and older) kids may formulate some of their beliefs based on the singer or actor’s message – others may find that they have allowed for a self-fulfilling prophecy to churn their well-being. I know there is a lot of talk about freedom of speech, but there has to be a line that says, hey, you are infringing on the rights of others with your hate-filled speeches; you are inciting violence against those who are not straight, rich, or so on. Sure, people will still get their values from their household – which I contend is where most of the morals stem from in young people’s lives; not the music or movie industry – but it would be nice to curb some of the prejudice on the airwaves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Women in power are only for our enjoyment?

The Associate Press reports that Dan Rather made sexist remarks about his replacement: Katie Couric. Apparently, he believes the news – since her arrival – has been “dumbed down,” and that her appearance has “tarted up,” CBS’ Evening News.

She is the first female anchor to hold this important nightly news position, and just like comments made about the possibility of a female president, it is not surprising to hear hateful words about a woman in power. Stereotypes abound in these positions, as those who are afraid of a strong lady quickly say that because someone has ovaries they automatically equate to an emotional train wreck, and who can do nothing more than spice up the broadcast through cleavage, lipstick and heels.

And in fact, there are hundreds upon hundreds of comments on the Internet regarding the Couric’s legs. Many say that because she chooses to wear short skirts, her now-famous legs are reason for objectification. Usually, the “talking head” syndrome takes place in TV news anchor world, where viewers only see the persons chest, shoulders and head, but Couric added another element, which I think is fine because why the heck does it matter what she wears if she is using her skills and intellect to hold a conversation with world leaders? Her ability to tell the news should be all that matters, yet instead of commenting on her skills, her reporting style, etc, people constantly pull the clothing/looks card when it comes to women in these public positions.

And of course, had she decided to forgo the skirts and wear more masculine suits, she would have still been the subject of appearance discussions, only this time saying she is too butch or not sexy enough to weigh in on the news, rather than intellectual ones.

Stephen Colbert did a great bit on this topic; only he focused on Hillary Rodham Clinton:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Whistlin' a change

A couple of nights ago a group of us were out on South Beach’s Lincoln Road, having drinks, eating, and laughing. And then, the whistling began.

Lincoln Road is a closed-off-to-cars street where tables and chairs line a six-foot-wide pedestrian walkway. We were on one side – closest to the bar – and a table of four (three men and one woman) sat on the opposite side.

I realized that every time I heard whistling – followed by incessant laughing – it was coming from the direction of the foursome. In no time at all I was 100 percent sure that they were whistling at the hordes of people who walked by the tables.

But it wasn’t just anyone who they were whistling and laughing at, it was directed towards groups of women, or single women. I began monitoring the action – just to make sure that I was not crazy – and indeed they were never whistling when there was a man in the group.

As each group or individual woman passed, they would suffer the same humiliation as those before them. Because I was standing at a table further down the road than the ignoramus table, I had a clear view of these women’s faces. They NEVER looked thrilled, they NEVER looked as though someone noticed them as sexy, and they NEVER incited the whistling…they NEVER even looked over at them until they were publicly humiliated by their catcalling.

After the 20th girl (or group) passed, I just could not take it anymore. I was meaning to hold back – because honestly, you never know how a bunch of drunkards are going to react to a life lesson – but before I knew it, I was crossing the pedestrian divide and standing over their table.

Calmly, I asked them if they were whistling at women as they passed. All eyes were on me, but no one dare admit to their wrong doings – and no one fought the accusation either. I did not want to simply say that their act was appalling and that they should be beat up for their sexist harassment, but instead I wanted to fight fire with humanity. I politely explained to them that these women do not look happy to be called out amongst the hundreds of partiers on Lincoln Road, and in fact, the ones who were by themselves, looked downright scared of her verbal attackers. More, I told them that just like men, women have the right to wear what they want and not feel like their outfits (or just having boobs for that matter) deem them candidates for marginalization.

They nodded in agreement.

I never asked them to stop though because I figured I said enough already, and I was already on my fourth beer. To my glee-filled surprise, the whistling ceased. And within the next five minutes the group stood up and walked away; down the same path that their victims eagerly strolled along.

Sure, they may have been annoyed and left, or happen have a meeting time with other friends, but I contend that the foursome left because their actions met its consequence.

Standing up for those around us CAN make a difference, and even more, standing up without raising one’s voice, or belittling someone can really turn the tides. I mean, no one wants to be made to look like an ass – not the innocent women who walked by their table, nor the antagonists themselves. We all come from environmental situations where bigotry, racism, classism, sexism, etc, permeate. But there is wiggle room for change – one advocation at a time.

That night, I whistled myself a happy, social justice tune.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

More on Camel No. 9

Following yesterday's blog about sexist ads, a commenter pointed out that NPR did a piece on the way women feel about the new Camel cigarettes that are advertised toward women, or probably YOUNG women, as this sleek black and fuchsia box will be attractive to the bounds of youngsters who are reading the ads in Glamour or Cosmo. One woman at the promotional party actually said they taste better: "I like them. They're a sweeter taste, and they don't stink like regular cigarettes," said Angela Rewis, 26, who described herself as a stay-at-home mom. "And I like the pack. It's more for females, instead of carrying around a nasty, ugly pack."

In fact, the promotional party - which not only gave out free packs, it also gave out free lip gloss and makeup for the ladies - advertised that the smoke is more "light and luscious."

Wow. So they don't stink, huh? Hmmm...maybe I will degrade my body after all. Or, maybe not.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Sexist Ads

This is an interesting article because Congress is trying to get the beauty-bible magazines such as Cosmopolitan to stop using cigarette ads in its magazines, as it forms an unhealthy relationship with the cancer-causing sticks. Particularly, the attempted ban is pointed at a new Camel box, which is black with teal and fuschia highlights to attract the ladies. Wow. That is some sick advertising (however, unfortunately, it probably works).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I hope the next item on the House and Senate agenda is the very nature of those magazines, as they give room for other unhealthy relationships, based on their models, articles about how to look good ALL THE TIME, wear makeup, heels and skimpy clothes, please the man (clearly these publications have only white, heterosexual women in mind) etc: bulimia, anorexia, self-lathing, depression, suicide, murder, and the like.

MediaWatch, a non-profit organization that creates public awareness about the sexist, classist, racist, ableist perpetuations in the media, compiled this video montage of the images women see when they flip through magazines.

And while we are on the subject of gender-specific products, the The New York Times ran a piece called “To Appeal to Women, Too, Gadgets Go Beyond 'Cute' and 'Pink.” Ok. Here we go again.

According the piece, these products: a computer notebook with the keys spread out to accommodate women’s longer nails; a camera that is lighter in weight (I guess ladies cannot lift the regular one pounders); DVD players with a place to hide the cords so it does not look cluttered (men wouldn’t want this too?); and my favorite, a battery charger that “blends in with the kitchen appliances.”

The article is actually sexist in its own right, and this is too bad because from the article’s headline, it appears that the NYT was making attempts of eliminating the sexism. They highlight stereotypical views of women such as how they don’t want to read a manual, or how they don’t want a huge TV, but rather, just one to accent the room.

Basically, companies are looking to dumb down products in order for women to buy it, but let’s see the stats. I think first, that women who live in our TECHNOLOGICAL WORLD today would buy gadgets no matter what weight or color they were. More, I would contend that men and women alike want products that make their lives easy – this is not only a feminine ideal.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Full Frontal Feminism

Last night I finished reading Full Frontal Feminism, a book by author Jessica Valenti, 28, who founded Feministing. It is meant to be a young woman's guide to feminism, and I think she did an excellent job reigning in the younger crowd as cohorts. She does this by explaining things conversationally, as well as sprinkling cuss words in here and there, while still respecting the seriousness of sexism and equality.

I liked her style, and moreover, I enjoyed her flexibility. So far, I have received my education from a slightly older crowd that is maybe less lenient on ideas about empowerment. For example, I have been under the impression that women who make their livings as strippers are ONLY doing it for the man, and that they are in some way being forced in this profession. Valenti argues that while this is true in many ways, the truth of the matter is that women have a choice -- a choice to recognize that each time she walks on the stage in a thong she is objectifying herself. More, she begs these women, as well those who wear heels, makeup, etc, to ask themselves honestly who they are doing it for. The reality is that women do it for men -- the above-mentioned accessories are part of a male-made fantasy, but that if one is real with oneself, at least the wool is not being pulled over one's eyes.

In fact, her entire sex chapter was fascinating. She points out the ways in which boys are socialized to be sex fiends, and "can't help themselves," while girls are socialized to be virginal; and if she puts out she is a slut. Valenti asks young women to reclaim their sexuality, and erase the double standard. Meaning, it is ok to have sex, to have fantasies, and to be in charge. And while this is not necessarily news to her readers, the truth is that we often forget the ways sexism hurts us all.

She also offers great tips on how to better arm oneself with rhetoric including: I don't want to get married; I don't want to have kids; I want to make enough money; I want to own my body; I want to help smash racism, sexism, classism, and so on. By using statistics and facts -- i.e. the country wants us to pump out babies, and conform to gender norms so badly, yet we have NO universal health care, and child care costs are through the roof. Meaning, society sets up rules that are unfair in the way that they seem to address only middle to upper class ladies who can "afford" to break the rules. Valenti wants us to help break these barriers -- by either not participating in the norm, or by fighting to install better support.

P.S. If you are reading this on June 5, please stay up for the Colbert Report, as Valenti will be a guest on the show.

Friday, June 1, 2007

BBC Nuggets

An Indian Airliner asked its flight attendants to drop any extra weight because while the carrier holds cargo, the powers-that-be do not want junk in the women's trunk. When the ladies complained, saying the qualifications were demeaning, and misogynistic, the company (and the subsequent court who ruled AGAINST the attendants) said, "I do not understand how it is any way unfair, unreasonable and insulting to their womanhood if they are asked to control their growth." The article goes on to say that Indian culture is mirroring that of Westernized standards, i.e. skinny women, but I contend that these types of commands go way beyond the weight on a scale; it is YET ANOTHER way for women's bodies to be controlled.

For $80, Japanese women can now hold a man. And I am not talking about some sort of red light district advertisement. Boyfriend Pillows are now being offered, and made for, single women. There are numerous things wrong with this product: first, it is advertised only to straight women; second, it appears to be race discriminatory as it is only offered with a light-skinned hand; third, it says that men are gross ("does not snore, make commands, [or] betray."); and lastly, it is just disturbing to think that women NEED to feel a man's comforting arm in order to catch some z's.