Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When I Grow Up

I want to be the New York Times film critic, because Manhola Dargis is my new hero after reading this Jezebel interview.

Although, I'm not afraid to be the feminist movie critic. That's what I prefer to be. Now that grad school applications are signed, sealed and delivered, I'm all yours, blogosphere. And I've got a lot to tell you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A White Woman's Shallow Understanding of Black Hair

Another possible title for this post: what Smalls has been up to in a women's studies class. After being introduced to the complexities and connotations of black women's hairstyles by Liz via Shakesville, I chose this topic for a report this freckly, blue-eyed white woman stumbled through in front of a mostly multi-racial class, including two African women. The report went over well and the African women spoke up about the hair pressures in their respective countries. One said that it was normal for girls' heads to be shaved all through school, but the girls who were sent abroad for school always had braids or wigs because they were picked on in other countries for looking too boyish.

I was inspired by this Time article, in which Jenee Desmond-Harris discusses the impact of first lady Michelle Obama’s image. When the first lady attended a festival with her hair pinned up last July, a media frenzy erupted because people who saw photographs of Obama were unclear whether or not she had cut her hair short. Obama’s muscular arms, sleeveless dresses, bare legs and shorts have all made headlines since she became a public figure.

But one style point that stands out, especially to black women, is Obama’s choice to straighten her hair, since black women’s hair is naturally curled very tightly. Journalists have wondered if Obama straightens her hair with heat alone, or with the help of chemicals, and bloggers have discussed why Obama would hesitate to wear her hair in a natural style. But the hesitation becomes clear when Desmond-Harris considers the implied connections between hair and placement in the social hierarchy, that the natural ways for black women to wear their hair have subversive and even sexual connotations, as evidenced in Don Imus’ verbal attack on the Rutgers women’s basketball team and the controversial New Yorker magazine cover featuring Obama with an Afro. Desmond-Harris recognizes that Obama and the president crushed a huge political barrier, being the first black family in the White House, but that social barriers for black women remain. Being a public figure, Obama brings black women’s social issues to center stage. As a black woman, Desmond-Harris sees a woman in the White House dealing with the same image standards as herself, and wonders if the choices black women make with their hair will ever be a non-issue.

Reading Desmond-Harris’ article as a white woman, I felt a lot of guilt at the idea of black women’s success being so closely tied to a beauty standard that limits their options. All American women are held to ridiculous beauty standards that demand we be thin, big-breasted and delicate among many other things, to be feminine and desirable. But within these beauty standards, I can see that the decisions black women make with something as trivial as a hairstyle can be a loaded choice, when the successful women on television and in politics conform mostly to the standard of making their hair more like white women’s hair. As a white woman of Western European descent, the images of women in fairy tales, movies and even advertisements all show women that look like me. When I wake up in the morning, I have to worry about women’s beauty standards when I consider my hair, makeup and dress, but the decision to wear my hair straight and down takes me a fraction of the time it would take a black woman, because my hair falls naturally straight. I never have to worry that wearing my hair how it naturally dries after showering will affect my reputation at work, or even make people question my beauty according to the typical standards. It’s clear from Desmond-Harris’ arguments and from other viewpoints, that there are unfair connotations for hairstyles that come more naturally to black women.

Michelle Obama is widely considered a beautiful, stylish and sophisticated woman, but Desmond-Harris’ article “Why Michelle’s Hair Matters” points out that Obama’s image is carefully constructed to fit a beauty and image standard that has social implications for black women everywhere. Black women’s hair is curly, and there are ways to style it without chemicals or excessive heat, but natural styles like Afros, dreadlocks and braids have negative social connotations. Although all women deal with beauty standards that dictate behavior and body image, the beauty standards favoring straight hair in the United States take considerable time and money for women with curly hair to conform to. These standards not only establish what is desirable, they dictate black women’s professional and social opportunities.

Because black women’s hair is naturally curly, if a famous black woman like Obama wears her hair straight, observers jump to a number of conclusions for how Obama’s hair got that way, all of them requiring significant effort. Desmond-Harris talks about the possibility that Obama had her hair chemically relaxed, blow dried and straightened or hot-combed. Whatever the method, one thing is clear: It took a lot of work. Desmond-Harris mentions that Tyra Banks, another black celebrity renowned for her style and beauty, was relinquished the hair extensions she’s worn for her entire public life on the season premiere of The Tyra Show. The extensions, wigs, chemicals, straightening irons and hot combs are implied every time the public sees a black woman with straight hair, and going without these significant efforts can be controversial.

Black women don’t go through the straightening process for no reason—the natural ways to style black hair are often considered unprofessional, subversive or dangerous. Desmond-Harris cites commenters on the Philadelphia Inquirer web site sympathizing with Obama’s choice to wear her hair straight. One commenter admits that she wears her hair straight for the first few months of a job, and one wrote, “Girl, ain’t no braids, twists, Afros, etc. getting into the White House just yet.” But why would it be outrageous for Obama to wear one of these hairstyles?
Desmond-Harris points out that the controversial New Yorker cartoon image satirizing Obama as a militant pictured her donning an Afro, not by coincidence. By relinquishing a natural hair style like the Afro, Obama is conforming to a beauty standard that favors white women, a standard that has been established in the United States since Colonial times by the people that have been in power since then—white men. For Obama to wear her hair naturally would likely make white men, or white women, uncomfortable, helped along by the associations people make between Afros and black pride, cornrows and gang culture, or dreadlocks and Rastafarians. The link these hairstyles have to black pride or even Afro-centrism clearly makes people nervous, as if the hairstyles could lead to a social hierarchy shift. The fact that the styles associated with black pride are ones that complement black women’s naturally curly hair is probably no coincidence—any style besides laboriously straightening hair to look more “white” is easier for black men and women to wear and maintain. On the other hand, hairstyles that Caucasians are comfortable with, the ones that are never considered out of uniform in police departments or the military, are the ones that come naturally to white people. As the previously mentioned commenter pointed out, the White House isn’t ready for a black woman whose hair isn’t styled like a white woman’s—a black woman can be the first lady if she’s not too black. If Obama didn’t spend the time and effort to straighten her hair, she would most likely not be considered such a stylish, beautiful and sophisticated woman.

Because Obama is a smart, successful black woman whose closest relationship is that with the leader of the free world, her actions and decisions reverberate in the cultures she represents. Desmond-Harris writes that the web is afire with blogs dedicated to dissecting Obama’s style and hair choices, analyzing why and when Obama gave up her “schoolgirl’s curls” as seen in her 1985 Princeton graduation photo. Black women and girls who look up to Obama seem to be wondering why and when Obama made the decision to start straightening her hair, and whether they should do the same to send a message of maturity and sophistication. But in addition to the influence she will have for black women, Obama also has the power to normalize black women’s hair for everyone else. Desmond-Harris mentions the obnoxious questions she encounters when discussing the care of braids or dreadlocks with people who aren’t black. She mentions people’s confusion of how to wash one’s hair when wearing those styles, and the assumptions people make that the styles are “dirty” because they aren’t conducive to the washing habits that are easiest for white hair. These questions have implications of their own, that these styles aren’t civilized, that they’re savage. But these notions could be swayed if black hair in its natural state was considered normal. In college, a white professor gasped and gaped at a classmate and friend of mine when she wore her hair curly once—hair that was usually straightened and shoulder length was all of a sudden very short and curly. My classmate eventually stopped the professor’s exclamations by saying, “this is how black people’s hair usually is.” I would guess that this ignorance about black women’s hair is pretty widespread, because people might not realize that straight hair isn’t natural for black women.

All women deal with beauty standards that dictate how to behave and look, but the current hair standards in the United States favor white women. While women deal with constant messaging about weight loss, health, attire and sexuality, most of the non-black population doesn’t have to worry about expensively taming their hair to go on a job interview. These are considerations that other women simply don’t have to think about, if they have socially-acceptably curly hair. The level of curliness that seems acceptable is the kind we see every day in women held up as beautiful: long, flowing hair with loose curls, or curls that have seem to be controlled on some level. The fad curls that have come and gone mostly represent straight hair intentionally made a little curly, the work of perms, irons or curlers. Even curly-haired Jewish women in my life are adamant about straightening their hair, almost as a defensive move to not look as identifiably Jewish, since their curls are more on the uncontrollable side of the spectrum. Because their hair texture and color was one way Jewish men and women were identified during the Holocaust, it’s an understandable reaction. Even if they’re not worried about death, Jewish women certainly could be defending themselves against anti-Semitism in many forms in the present day, in the same way that black women are defending themselves against the reputation of being dangerous for proudly wearing dreadlocks or an Afro.

Black women know well what it takes to make their hair straight, although people born with straight or socially-acceptably curly hair might not understand the expense and time it takes black women to attain this beauty standard. Being the first black first lady means that Obama will always be a trailblazer, and hopefully her example will inspire black women everywhere that they can accomplish as much as she has scholastically and surely, in the next four years, politically. With natural-hair awareness on the rise on the web from feminists and other proud black women, hopefully braids, twists, Afros and dreadlocks aren’t too far from the White House. I recognize that I can’t fully appreciate the pressure black women face regarding their hairstyles, but I will try to understand and be an ally in whatever way I can be.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Ladybrain Abeyance

Hello internet-land. Please forgive our months-long blog neglect. My partner in crime and I have been go-go-go since the beginning of October, with grad school preparations, marathons and that pesky business of making a living.

I'm going to post some of my current women's studies musings, and probably the intro to what I hope will be my dissertation proposal: an analysis of women's role in three John Hughes films, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Those are also three of my favorite movies of all time, so it's a tough topic. So far, the analysis hasn't been pretty.

So stay tuned for some more analysis from Liz and Smalls, especially after the first of the year. Until then, take the time to catch up on 30 Rock (I'm on season three) via Netflix streaming. Make sure to keep tabs on Sarah Haskins' Target Women segments, too. Support the few strong women in Hollywood at the box office and on the interwebz.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ladybrain Movie Review: Whip It

Roller derby, a coach in Drew Barrymore’s new movie Whip It reminds us, is more than fishnets and tough stage names. But it’s undeniable that the sport, in which roller-skating women—yes, often in fishnets, short skirts and heavy eyeliner—race around a track, body-checking and tripping opponents along the way, has a certain allure. To paraphrase the same coach character, it’s a contact sport, and the players certainly “make contact.”

Derby enthusiasts (Liz and I among them) and people who like good movies about women have been eagerly awaiting the release of this derby-themed movie since the trailer hit the web months ago, and they won’t be disappointed.

Set in and around Austin, Texas, Whip It follows Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page, of Juno fame), a meek high-school senior with misfit tendencies, who gets in touch with her ballsy self when she ditches the beauty pageant circuit in favor of Austin’s derby scene. Coming in to her own as ace-in-the-hole Babe Ruthless for her team, the Hurl Scouts, Bliss keeps her beloved derby life a secret from her parents, especially her former beauty-queen mom. Along the way, Cavendar falls for a tight-pantsed indie dude, makes an enemy of a competing derby star (Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven) and befriends her crazy teammates, like “your favorite Whole Foods clerk” Smashley Simpson (Barrymore) and Maggie Mahem (Kristen Wiig).

Bliss has to figure out whether embracing her new life will mean leaving behind her old one, including her family and her best friend and partner-in-crime Pash (Alia Shawkat), who is as determined as Bliss to leave small-town Texas behind.

Along the way, Bliss butts heads with several people, mostly women, but the film handles these opponents in a much more sympathetic way than most do. In fact, apart from a brief segue into “stalking is a compliment” territory, no hugely offensive sexist themes stuck out in this movie, a breath of fresh air for a wide release.

As an edgy, angsty type, Bliss clashes with the beauty pageant scene, including a malicious fellow contestant who harasses Bliss at work and school. This nemesis is the only female character whose behavior the film doesn’t bother to excuse—she’s just the kind of bitchy, vapid girl who would tape up naked Barbies in someone’s locker to hurl the ultimate insult, that Bliss and Pash are gay. But another beauty pageant contestant, although she and Bliss will never be great friends, still garners sympathy as an insecure girl in the judgemental pageant world. She and Bliss still treat each other kindly, and the girl plays an interesting part in helping Bliss and her mother reach common ground.

Bliss’ mother, played brilliantly by Marica Gay Harden, also represents the pageant world, which disgusts Bliss as a 1950s-style idea of womanhood. The conflict and resolution between mother and daughter, both tough women, is realistic and touching. Even when the issue of sex comes up in a conversation between them, it’s treated with remarkable sensitivity—no slut shaming or exploitation in sight, just one woman helping another understand herself.

In her derby world, Bliss inspires jealousy in derby star and opponent Iron Maven (Lewis—is she ever not amazing?) who feels threatened by the rookie savant. But even this competitive relationship is more than one tough, aging woman’s jealousy of her young opponent. Maven’s admission to Bliss about how long it took her to find something she was really good at, and how hard she had to work to get there, is such a genuine, thoughtful portrayal of a character who is otherwise ruthless. Maven knows Bliss has years and years of derby ahead of her. It doesn’t seem fair that it came so easily to someone so young. But when Maven has a chance to force Bliss out of the league, Maven prompts Bliss to make peace with her two identities. Maven even admits that she doesn’t want to force Bliss out on a technicality; she wants to beat Bliss on the track.

I won’t tell you what happens in the derby tournament, or the details of the na├»ve-first-love story, except to voice my approval at the fact that Bliss doesn’t take shit from anyone, and the fact that sex is neither omitted nor exploited in this movie. I also want to commend Ellen Page for managing to take off tights in a swimming pool.

For a great time at the movies, go see Whip It when it comes out tomorrow. For a great time at derby, go see your local roller girls.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In Other Sad Rape News: Mackenzie Phillips

[Trigger warning.]

Last week, I heard some news that I'd describe as soul-crushing, to the extent that it just kind of makes me sad to be alive in a world where things like this happen.

Mackenzie Phillips--a child star with an infamously drug-addled adolescence--reveals in a new book that she was raped by her father, musician John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, and that the relationship became what she calls consensual later, ending when Mackenzie Phillips terminated a pregnancy and determined that she "would never let him touch her again."

The American media rushed to sensationalize this horror show, recalling the same issues of using the word "sex" to describe what was clearly, in at least one instance identified by Mackenzie Phillips herself as rape (see Liz's post from yesterday for a great example from the Roman Polanski coverage). For more on the shoddy coverage, see this Shakesville thread [trigger warning]. In addition to this typically ridiculous coverage, I've seen some familiar victim-blaming: She consented later, she's a junkie, she just wants attention, she shouldn't have brought it up.

All of this is depressing as hell, and really hard to talk about. I briefly tried to describe my reactions to Liz last week, and utterly failed. I've been following the story closely, though, and always leave humbled and somber. There is a lot left to be answered here, like whether consent is relevant in a case that Mackenzie calls a "betrayal" and an abuse of power, whether she could have ever really consented in a situation this rife with abuse and confusion. I'm grateful that Sady of Tiger Beatdown attempted to make heads or tails of this case with a recent post. Reading her discussion provides solidarity for those wading in the confusion and tragedy of this situation.

I know Mackenzie Phillips from two roles: the teenage tag-along in American Grafitti and the rockstar mom in So Weird. Her fucked up childhood, during which her Dad gave her hard drugs from the time she was a pre-teen, has been well documented. I remember when I watched The Disney Channel's So Weird as a kid, my mom told me the story of Mackenzie Phillips' childhood, and how she hoped Phillips' role on the show meant that she was off drugs for good. Until I heard Phillips' new claims, I was sad enough for her drug-doomed life.

Well, here's hoping future media coverage is more fair about rape, and that Phillips' story brings the dark problems of incest and rape to light, and eventually to prevention. It's a tall order.

Hollywood's Rape Apologia

[Trigger warning.]

After Liz brought up the media coverage of Roman Polanski's recent arrest, I thought we could use a little blog closure on the topic, even though "closure" in this case can be more accurately described as "disgust."

As you've probably read, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland last week when he entered the country to attend a film festival and receive an award. He's been living and working in Europe for the last three decades. He fled the United States to avoid being sentenced for unlawful sex with a minor--a crime to which he confessed. His 13-year-old victim testified that Polanski gave her champagne and Quaaludes and that he didn't stop his mulitple assaults when she repeatedly said "no."

There are several facts that people like to insert at this point, to brush off and excuse Polanski's actions. The victim had a pushy mother who intended Polanski to sleep with her daughter. The judge in Polanski's case behaved improperly. Polanski thought he had a plea bargain. Polanski has been living in "exile" outside the United States, therefore suffering the horrible fate of not being able to return to Hollywood to direct the many films he's made since the 70s. His victim does not wish to prosecute Polanski anymore. And of course, it wouldn't be rape apologia if we didn't insert the classic: She wanted it.

What all of these "but, but, buts" don't change, however, is that sex between a 40-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl has a name: statutory rape. It's got rape in the name, because regardless of the drugs and liquor, or even supposed consent, in the eyes of the law it's assumed that the power structure that exists between adults and children makes it impossible for a child to truly consent to sex with an adult. Any such act is not truly understood by the child, and is an abuse of power. Why we wouldn't believe the testimony of a girl over Polanski is another issue. What we do know is that Polanski confessed to an act that is rape, of a child, period, and never served his time.

More insightful writers have detailed this case and the reaction from Hollywood's elite, especially the depressing number of film industry people (Wes Anderson, sigh) who have signed a petition in support of Polanski. I encourage you to read the pieces on Salon and Jezebel. I also encourage you to check in on this Shakesville thread every once in a while, where you'll hopefully see the list of celebrities speaking out against the rape apologia as this case pans out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rape: Not Synonymous with Sex

So I read a headline this morning, and I didn't even have to look at the article to be 100% convinced that the headline was wrong. Right there in my morning paper. The headline was this:

Polanski Arrested in Sex Case

No he wasn't. SEX is not illegal. One does not get arrested in for committing sex. Polanski was arrested in a RAPE case. because he allegedly committed RAPE.

"Director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police as he flew in for the Zurich Film Festival and faces possible extradition to the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old-girl in 1977, authorities said Sunday."

True, his actual guilty plea was for "unlawful sexual intercourse" with the underage girl, but even if you somehow accept the notion that a 13 year old girl can give valid consent to sex with a middle aged man, it still qualifies as, at the least, statutory rape. In any case, it's not sex.

The bright and vigilant feminist blogosphere has done a very good job pointing out the media's rape-apologist presentations of rape as sex, and the ways in which it diminishes the seriousness and consequences of rape.

I think this sort of presentation does damage to "sex" as well. It sort of feeds into this idea that sex is something that's dirty and scary and sordid. I mean, sheesh, it's something you can get arrested for. And I don't like that. Sex can be great. Sex happens between consenting adults and can bond relationships or provide pleasure, and myriad other positive things. Of course, it can also suck, just like other nice things can suck, depending on the circumstances. And yes, there are risks and possible consequences that absolutely need to be addressed in smart, comprehensive sex ed.

But sex and rape are not the same thing. They're not even particularly similar. And we do a disservice to both terms and, especially, to rape survivors, when we conflate the two.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Periods and Purification

Last week, I read an essay called “Purification” by Grace Poore, an autobiographical account and analysis of the Tamil traditions associated with a young girl’s first menstrual period. In the essay, which you can find in this anthology, Poore describes the alienation and purification rituals young girls go through when they start menstruating. Poore had to follow a specific diet, submit to superstitious rules (don’t wash your hair during the first three days or you’ll get dark circles under your eyes), stay home from school, wash and hang her clothes separately from her family's, keep her distance from her brother and finally submit to a humiliating purification ceremony where she was washed with milk to cleanse herself and her house.

I’m always interested in menstruation stories, because there’s so much shame surrounding this biological function that girls can’t control. One of my first rebellious streaks as a teenager involved talking openly about my period to show I wasn’t ashamed of it, inspired by my dad yelling at me to “put that thing away” when he spotted a tampon in my truck, because “that’s embarrassing.” I thought at the time, “Is it really that embarrassing, dad? The biological process that makes it possible for me to have children, and for you to have grandchildren, is something embarrassing?” I mean, later on in life, there will be social expectations that I’ll have children, and my dad will presumably be asking when he can expect to hear the pitter patter of feet kicking to get out of my insides.

But that physical fact of menstruating—that it’s a part of the biology that makes babies possible—is only acceptable and unthreatening later in women’s lives, when they’re settled down with the menfolk within the legal and spiritual bounds of marriage that make everyone more comfortable with women having sex and being knocked up in a controlled way. (Controlled by who? Anyone but them.)

When you’re a teenager, periods are something to be ashamed of, because your body is sending the shameful message: Grand opening of sexual maturity, come on down! Meanwhile, society is trying to keep you and your ladyparts chaste.

“But wait,” you think. “When I started my period at 12-years-old, I wasn’t out looking for sex any more than I had been the days and weeks before I started my period.” Well, that doesn’t matter. Consider the angry way Grace Poore’s mother reacts to her daughter’s total bewilderment at finding blood on her skirt: She snaps at her daughter for not knowing what to do with a pad that involves loops and a belt, enforces a strict diet, keeps her daughter home from school for a week, forbids Poore to speak about the situation and refuses to explain any of it to Poore, who is left wondering what she did wrong. It’s almost as if one day, Poore was an innocent young girl and the next day, she started menstruating and became someone to tame and suspect. At Poore’s purification ceremony, during which she was bathed in milk by a stranger to cleanse her and even the air in the house of her monthly condition, she describes being scrutinized by her family and friends:

Then, all eyes fell on me. They studied my face, my hair, the color of my skin. They looked carefully to see if I would make a suitable daughter-in-law someday. Finally, done with their scrutiny , they came over and shook my hand…they swarmed over to the feast Mother had laid out for them and forgot my presence. I sat in my chair and watched them. Amidst the smells of ladhus and gulab jamuns, chicken curry and spiced rice, I became invisible.

Thus, after this tradition that supposedly celebrates a young woman's entrance into the adult club, she realizes that women in her culture (and she's not alone, it's true in most cultures) are invisible in their daily routines and accomplishments. From the moment her ceremony is over, she'll be expected to take her place in a daily domestic routine, where her work will be expected and unnoticed unless she deviates from the norm.

I was struck by how coldly Poore's mother treated her, as if Poore somehow turned sinister slut overnight. One would think that Poore’s mother would have felt sympathy for her daughter, who was about to go through a humiliating and isolating process. Instead of sympathy and communication as someone who had been through it, Poore’s mother angrily refuses to explain the situation, leaving the young Poore utterly bewildered about what is happening to her and why. At least Poore seems determined not to pass on this humiliating treatment of girls to the next generation in her family. Poore writes that in adulthood, she doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps and be complicit in these rituals that humiliate young girls for having the audacity to be born female.

I think a lot of women find it really therapeutic to share your-first-period stories because they’re always memorable, although taboo. It’s an experience all women have and can share, but we’re encouraged to keep it to quiet and isolate ourselves from the comfort we could take in solidarity with other women. It is in that spirit that books like My Little Red Book are compiled, along with losing-your-virginity anthologies.

For my part, compared to Poore, my first-period experience was downright PC. The Friday of my first week of seventh grade, I looked down and noticed I was bleeding on the couch while watching The Tonight Show with my mom. I knew vaguely what periods were, and that I wasn't keen to start mine soon, but the suddeness of it left me very sincerely bewildered.


She followed my eyes and saw what I saw. She rushed up and said, "Wait here, I'll be right back." She walked out the front door with her keys, and returned a short time later with pads from the corner grocery store. She took me to the bathroom and explained, "You wear these in your panties. If you want to learn how to use tampons, just let me know."

When I went to bed a few minutes later, she came to tuck me in. A wave of pessimism had come over me that I couldn't explain. I didn't want to tell her that I wasn't excited, that I dreaded this next phase of my life. I wasn't eager to grow up. I felt a weight on my shoulders that I couldn't quite describe, but I've had the feeling many times since then. I just find it amazing that I was capable of feeling that downtrodden at age 12. I could tell that my mom was excited for me, that she wanted this to be a mother-daughter moment. But she could tell that something was wrong, and that I just wanted this moment to pass as soon as possible. She asked if I was okay, and was anything wrong. I said no, I'm just tired (a response I've used countless times since then, also to avoid explaining what is wrong). I cried and went to sleep. That was 12 years ago.

I never asked my mom how to use tampons. My older friends told me horror stories about how much they hurt, and I read those vapid stories in teen magazines about tampons getting stuck inside you while cliff diving with your crush, how embarassing. My horrible sex education (I'll save that for another post) also left me utterly clueless about where you would even put a tampon. After years of virtual diaper rash (I especially remember horrible discomfort during basketball and volleyball practices) and fear of swimming, Tampax sent some sample tampons with very thorough diagrams and directions for how to use tampons. Thus, sometime during my freshman year of high school, I spent a few hours in my closet, with my door locked, painfully and secretly teaching myself how to insert and take out tampons. When my next period rolled around, I felt like a real woman, a grownup. I walked with a swagger for that one day. Tampons without applicators still thwart me, but I kept that Tampax diagram for years, and I've never looked back.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Back in the Game

Hello there new wave feminists. Because of some family issues and being so busy in general that L and I constantly battle the urge to curl up with her kept-in-the-office down jacket and pass out in our cubes, we've been too exhausted to blog.

Fortunately, I'll have some fodder from a Women's Studies course I'm taking (stay tuned for some analysis on why Michelle Obama's hairstyle is important), and I'll soon be tackling some sort of film analysis as a thesis and writing sample for grad school. So send L and I good vibes for the GRE as well. I'll advise on my Women's Studies projects as they come up--taking a cue from Tiger Beatdown and some other kick-ass femme bloggers, I'm thinking of writing my thesis on some of the all-American woman-hating John Hughes classics.

But to ease us back into the wide world of ladybrained analysis, let's just take it easy this Friday, and kick it back to school with the ever-awesome Sarah Haskins.

P.S. I had some weird high-school nostalgia feelings yesterday as I watched a 90s-riffic movie while making friendship bracelets and skipping school, I mean work. Aaaah, yes, that was about one-quarter of my high school experience. The Rilo Kiley soundtrack didn't help matters much.

Friday, August 28, 2009

It's Not REAL Food, it's Yogurt

It's a rainy day here in the Washington, D.C. megalopolis. So let's go back to an oldie and a goodie, Target Women: Yogurt. This is one of my favorite Sarah Haskins segments because it's hilarious, but also because I wish the women in my life would stop comparing their diet habits to mine. It's healthier-than-thou bullshit. And can we all let go of this ridiculous notion that yogurt is delicious? You're not fooling me--yogurt is gelatinous, tasteless ooze. And when it's not tasteless, it's packed with chemicals and aspartame, which for me will mean delicious headaches and possibly preservatives-driven seizures. Yummy!

The whole health Olympics schpiel is pretty transparent. I get it! You're healthier and therefore fit better into the beauty standards women are supposed to measure up to. You eat yogurt and blueberries and you love going hiking. All of this equals a pretty thinly-veiled proclamation: I'm skinny and healthy, right?!

Well, I certainly hope you're healthy, and I hope I am, too, but I'm not going to brag about how little meat I eat and how soda and french fries taste like poison to me. I have been called out by strangers for how Irish I look--potatoes are my favorite food. Stop hating on my french fries. I'm running a marathon this fall, I walk to the train every day to commute to work and sometimes I bike the 30-mile roundtrip trek to commute. I'm as healthy as I need to be, so keep your beauty standards to yourself, and pay attention to Ms. Haskins.

This also reminds me of a commercial Liz and I saw once. Our commentary struck us as amazingly hysterical.

Along with the graphic of a container of yogurt slimming down in its fat, fat midsection with the help of what appeared to be a tape-measure girdle, was this commentary:

Commercial: We cut the fat...

Liz: Which makes it yogurt!

Commercial: And we cut the calories...

Smalls: Which makes it food!

Even on a long run last weekend, my running partner confessed that she is motivated in the last few miles of a run by thinking about the food she'll have when she gets home. I second that emotion! Except that when I mentioned making an omelette or having an egg and toast, she bristled and said, "Maybe some yogurt, and fruit or cereal." Since when is an egg and wheat bread bad for you? Eff off, healthier-than-thou sentimented smug people. Leave the beauty standard judgement to the patriarchy and stop jealously eyeing my potato chips.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Women as Weapons of War


Monday saw the release of a long-anticipated Inspector General's report on CIA torture of detainees since the "war on terror" began after 9/11. There have been countless allegations of abuse and murder, along with the graphic torture that the IG report documents. Much has been said about the ethics of this torture and many have questioned its effectiveness and asked who, if anyone, should be held responsible for these acts.

Like everyone, I struggle with the notion of war as a way to peace, trying to balance the emotional truth and religious belief that violence is never acceptable, with the human thirst for vengeance. But it's hard to ever justify the types of violence and sadistic torture that is outlined in the IG report. For a good overview of the types of torture interrogators used, I recommend, via Liz and Shakesville, Glenn Greenwald's synopsis.

But the method of torture I found especially sick was this one: the threat of raping detainees' female family members in front of them.

So, our government is threatening to use rape as a tool of war, not unlike the type of evil we were supposedly fighting when Sadaam Hussein was in power, which included rape and sexual enslavement. That the CIA is using women as a prop for sexual assault, perhaps with approval from the Bush White House, is an apalling power play that demoralizes women as a tool for terrorism. Yes, it's a different kind of terrorism than suicide bombing, but it's spreading fear through sexual exploitation nonetheless. Did CIA interrogators actually fly out mothers, daughters and wives to rape in front of detainees? Probably not. Is it a cruel threat that dehumanizes women as weapons of war? Absolutely.

The admission of using sexual threats as a torture tactic is a new low for a government that has a recent history of war scandals that included sexual humiliation as well as violence.

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing in January, she cited the unacceptable use of rape as a war tool in Congo. In April, she reiterated the problem and said, "We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender based violence, and there must be arrests and punishment because that runs counter to peace." Her statements hit home for people whose peace of mind has been shattered since incidents of sexual assault. There can never be true peace when rape is involved with military defense. Take it from someone who knows, Melissa McEwan:

The idea that impunity for sexual violence is an impediment to peace is one that touches me so deeply and intimately, I don't know if I can sufficiently convey how profoundly meaningful it is to hear my Secretary of State say it. Endemic and epidemic sexual violence without justice is, in its broadest sense, an obstacle to national peace—and then there is this: Surviving sexual assault without justice is not a peaceful life. It decimates all the elements of a peaceful life—one's sense of security, one's peace of mind, one's contentment within one's own skin. I have never again felt the kind of peace I knew before sexual violence without justice.

Rape is a crime of power, hurting victims in one of the most destructive ways imaginable. Since the leaders of the free world so often see themselves as the moral compass for the globe, it would do them well to acknowledge the impact sexual assault has victims all over the world, and to set the standard that sexual crimes will not be used to spread more fear and terror in a world that has plenty of both already.

The full IG report may be read here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What kind of culture raises kids like this?

Um, this one.

Check out this disturbing vlog post, wherin this 10ish-year-old child lauds the release of topless photos of the young High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens.

I wonder who taught this kid to appreciate the finer points of child pornography and violation of privacy (the recent and 2007 set of Hudgens photos were taken when she was a minor, when her phone was hacked)? My guess: A clear value system that objectifies women from an early age, to show boys that girls exist on earth for boys' sexual entertainment.

But there's also a level of disgust associated with these objects of desire. This kid points out that Hudgens is "dumb as a blonde" (as dumb as some other type of woman, shocker). It's the same reason men seem to be able to disassociate the women they throw dollar bills at in a strip clubs from the women they could bring home to mom--there's a dichotomy of men's expectations, God help you if you're on the slutty end. It's the same disgust that makes strippers, promiscuous women or prostitutes--women upon whom men project their desires--likely to get slut-shamed after a sexual assault. They're not on the angelic side of the sexual dichotomy, maybe they were asking for it.

I can't imagine this little guy even knows what to do with erotic information, other than vaguely dry hump a bed and make obscene gestures with his tongue. Could he possibly even know his way around a bottle of lotion and a Kleenex box yet? I'll have to have the men in my life enlighten me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My mixed feelings on a famous high school classmate

Co-blogger Smalls and I went to the same high school. We've been friends since then -- well, once she decided that me being an arrogant, slacker asshole who basically got away with murder (and sleeping) in our honors biology class wasn't a total deal breaker. We went to a private all-girls high school in Arizona that rejects a higher percentage of its applicants than a lot of colleges (it also makes you submit a photo with your application, and all sorts of other weird things). Public education in AZ is pretty bad in a lot of places, so lots of people try to get their kids into this school. For the academics, the sports, the discipline, all of it. Some kids were sent their by parents who were really stretching their budget to give their kids a leg-up in college applications, some kids were on scholarships and some kids were filthy rich.

Our high school class, class of 2003, was something of a juggernaut. By our junior and senior years, the school was pretty over crowded. See, they let in the same number of freshmen each year, but typically, many are gone by senior year. Not us. At our commencement, the nun in charge of discipline, among other things, gave us this ringing endorsement: "Class of 2003. Congratulations. They didn't flunk out, they didn't drop out and we didn't kick 'em out." In a school where girls drop like flies, for reasons ranging from rebellion to nervous breakdown to inadequate grades, this was significant. Our school basically either made people or broke them. And though I highly resented it at the time, that school did a decent job preparing me for the world, considering it was so insular.

Class of 2003 has continued on to be successful too. Me and co-blogger are doing well, by our own standards, and our friends are doing kick ass things, too. Our class has ivy-league scholars and athletes, people who worked full time all the way through college, at great schools all across the country. Filmmakers, published writers, studio artists, philanthropists, athletes, etc. etc. We're rocking out, basically. Not to brag, except that i just did.

Only one of my high school classmates has achieved any real national notoriety. It's fairly clear that she has achieved said notoriety because of who her father is, rather than her individual achievements, but hey, she IS quite famous these days. We'll call her "Shmeghan ShmcCain."

You might have read some of Shmeghan's work, since she is a blogger (oh, I mean blogette), but it's more likely that you've seen/heard her on various television talk shows and other venues, or perhaps you've read rather vicious attacks on her. The subjects of these attacks have ranged from her words to her weight to her privilege as Shmon ShmcCain's daughter, to her age, to basically anything that the general awful misogyny and dismissal aimed at nearly all female public figures can find to latch on to. Suffice it to say that the arguments people have against her RARELY fall into the first category I listed: disagreement with her words.

This is where my feelings get truly mixed. See, i don't think she's particularly brilliant. She never stood out in our high school class full of really bright girls. I disagree with nearly 100% of her actual political positions. For these reasons, I'm not overly interested in what she has to say on most political issues. What interests me a great deal is the WAY she is dismissed. I do not believe that if it were one of the very brilliant girls that I knew in high school who got the lime light that she would be treated any better.

This hypothetical brilliant girl would still be called too fat, too young, undeserving, too stupid, etc. etc. And so, I find myself vociferously defending a person who I've interacted with personally and didn't find very compelling. But I have to defend her, right? I can't just ignore her, as I would your average not-that-compelling middle aged white dude. Because from an identity politics standpoint, she and I have a great deal in common (except, you know, I'm a big homo). She has a great deal in common with all of my brilliant, funny, exceptional female friends and peers -- to differing degrees. And when one of us can be dismissed in this decidedly bullshit manner, we all can.

Here's the part where I'll give young SchmcCain some considerable credit. She has not shut up. I'm glad she hasn't. And on a few issues, I think she has even done a very good job; most particularly, I think she has responded appropriately when people attempt to silence her. When she basically told people to suck it, who called her fat: perfection. Suck it, people. For the record, she's not fat. If fat were seen as value neutral, no one would be calling her fat, because she's decidedly average sized. They're calling her fat to get her to shut up and feel shitty about herself. It's an aspersion that can be cast on any woman, to great effect, regardless of her size. They say it because it's powerful.

If she were fat, she should still tell them to suck it, and she should be shamelessly fat. Because these status-quo-loving-assholes, you know, there are lots of people who they want to categorically exclude from having a voice. They'll use everything in their arsenals ("nah nah, you're fat!" "you're a bitch!" "ur dumb," "you're just a little girl" and on and on) to try to shut people up. So we have to hear their worst and then say "suck it, assholes." And to them, she and I are in the exact same category. So it's in both my personal self interest and an imperative in my code of ethics that I keep standing up for her right to be heard. I will. Even when we disagree.

Ladybrain Review: Name Changes

I have a confession to make. I married a dude and I took his last name. I do the Hillary Rodham Clinton thing at work, and might continue to do it professionally, but for all legal purposes my birth name is no more.

You might think "bad femimist, very bad!" but I didn't take the decision lightly. When we were dating, my fella talked about changing his name to mine, us both adopting a different last name, or changing our name to a symbol. I shit you not. It was a bracket smiley. :]

My Fella is a fucking adorable human.

So believe me when I tell you that I thought long and hard about it. Because family names are very important to me and because I wanted to establish a family distinction from my controlling parents, I made the decision to change my last name upon tying the knot. And let me tell you, it was a huge pain in the ass. Plane tickets mistakenly made in my married name before I changed my license, or my birth name after I had changed it, credit card not matching any form of identification but my college ID, trips to the MVD, sigh. It sucked. But because it's a societal expectation that I will change my name without giving it a second thought, at least I wasn't met with any indignation.

I've read several essays from men who want to take their wives' names, for any number of reasons, hitting huge road blocks from MVD clerks, friends and family. Here's one from The Globe and Mail.

I was chastised, however, by a coworker of my fella, who identifies as a feminist.

So whatever your decision is, if you're a hetero couple hypenating, a gay couple keeping individual names or anything in between, all I will say to you is this: Congratulations on your nuptials, and don't take shit from people who disapprove of what you decide to do with your name.

But, shocker, most Americans don't share my cavalier attitude on this subject! A recent study from Indiana University and the University of Utah shows that 70 percent of respondents think it's beneficial for women to take their husband's names when they marry, and a little over half of repondents say that there should be a government mandate forcing women to change their names.

I'll let that sink in a little.

Now, once you've recovered from that little gem, let's talk about the language here. I haven't been able to find the study in question online, but the USA Today story implies that the question was worded roughly this way: Is it beneficial for women to take their husband's last name?

That's pretty poor wording for what I'm guessing they're trying to get at. The answer to that question--is it more beneficial for women to do the socially normal thing and take their husband's names--is obviously yes. I'm sure all the women who have endured eye rolls at their hyphens and explanations that they started their careers with their birth names can attest to the fact that it would be much easier in some ways if they were comfortable being Mrs. So-and-So.

If what they're trying to find is people's opinion on whether women should change their names, as a proclimation of the proper-thing-to-do, the question should have been this: Should women take their husband's names when they get married? Bam. Beneficial problem fixed.

Although the study was conducted by universities in conservative-type-states (my bro-in-law pokes fun at his hometown of Seymour, Ind. by pointing out that the former grand wizard of the KKK hails from there), one would assume that they took a random sample of people all over the country. Until we can see the study online, we can't be sure of the sampling or the question-wording.

One thing we can be sure of: If the reports on this study are even close to the true results, we're in worse societal shape than I thought.

No, You're a Bad Feminist

Don't you love it when feminist women stop fighting sexism and start fighting each other? Such was my experience being judged by a self-identified feminist woman who teaches with my partner. She didn't like the fact that I changed my name upon getting married. Never mind why!

Fella relayed a conversation he had with this lady at school.

Lady: So, you got married last summer. Did your wife take your name?

Fella: Yes.

Lady: Ahhh, I don't understand why women would still take their husband's names. It's so stupid. (Rantrantrant, don'tbotherlettingFellaexplainthereasons).

Upon meeting me at a gig of Fella's (he's in a band), I had this decidedly anti-feminist experience with this lady. At the gig, all of Fella's coworker friends, mostly older women teachers, were there to support him, along with one 20-something woman teacher, who Fella is good friends with.

Lady: We're Fella's groupies. Are you threatened by us?

Me: Ummm.

Lady: Well, maybe not us, maybe her (points at the young woman teacher).

So, I'm glad to see that this feminist has her priorities completely straight. Not bothering to ask why I would make the decision to change my name upon marraige, she just assumes that I'm a dumb broad doing it for no reason at all. Then, she tries to pit me in competition with the only young woman my partner works with. Awesome.

To me, feminists enforcing what I can and can't do is the same thing as men enforcing it. I had my reasons, one of which was to cut the chord with the most controlling man in my life--my father. Being a feminist takes more than just judgement.

Monday, August 10, 2009

John Lennon was a Proud Househusband

Because I'm a huge Beatles fan, because I've fallen in love with the acoustic version of this song, and because it's a Monday, I think we should all just soak in this John Lennon tune. He reportedly wrote it in response to people wondering why he left the music industry behind in the last few years of his life to hang around The Dakota and be a "househusband."

Ahhh, that's better.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Weeks Without Sarah Haskins

While happily on vacation, I sadly missed a segment of Target Women, which airs Thursdays on Current TV. Smalls-of-no-cable usually catches it Friday mornings online, in between sneaking in late to the office and scheduling my coffee break.

Here's another classic from Sarah Haskins, my hero. Here, Haskins gives us another lesson on the wacked portrayals of modern marketing: suave, single men in commercials versus blundering idiot married men. What's the variable? He's married to some woman like you!

Happy Friday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ladybrain Review: Doing Everything Like a Girl

After weeks of back and forth, writer Bev Vincent came to a final agreement with his publisher for a final draft of his manuscript. Months later, a new editor swooped in and wrote a scathing two pages of edits on Vincent's story, all the while assuming Vincent was a woman.

Among the first comments this editor (and I do not know who he or she is) offered: “It’s quite a challenge for a writer of one sex to explore writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Bev Vincent has not done a convincing job.”

The protagonist in my story is a man.

Oh, but it gets better

The editor says: “The story seems far too personal, introspective and emotional for a man . . . It is hard to imagine a fellow from a place like [the setting] uttering the following line.” The editor then provides three sentences from my story as examples. He or she continues, “And I can’t think of many guys from [setting] who call home every Sunday afternoon to talk to their family” [Emphasis his or hers]. Another brilliant insight: “Most men don’t think deeply about the dewy greenness of nature.” The ultimate conclusion: “She [sic] needs to write more convincing [sic] from a man’s perspective.”

I pause here to note that this was the most autobiographical story I’ve ever written, and all the things that the editor complained about were my real observations and my real thoughts cast into the mind of a fictional character participating in fictional events. I did, in fact, call home every Sunday afternoon to talk to my parents, while they were still alive.

Vincent refused to reimagine a piece that he wrote, as a man, about a man, on the whims of a sexist editor. This is a perfect example of sexism hurting everyone. An editor who believes an author to be female swoops in on a final draft--already edited by the publisher's staff--to use bad-woman code words like emotional, personal, introspective and elegant. These descriptions keep women squarely in the mood-swinging, teary-eyed and domestic social spheres, the kind that say we're good at the arts but not math and science.

The editor also does men no favors by fitting them into a macho box where they couldn't possibly write elegantly about nature, or even be close enough with their parents to call home once a week. Women who can write about macho men don't exist, I guess, and neither do sensitive men, outside the world of manuscripts.

This judgement call, based on the androgynous name Bev, brings to mind the infuriating study released by Princeton in 2000, showing the clear sexist bias women face when auditioning for orchestras, showing a 50 percent better chance women will get past the first round of cuts if their audition is "blind" or done behind a curtain. You'll notice some other code words for women-aren't-good-at-man-stuff-like-music: They have "smaller technique" and "are more tempermental."

You can read Vincent's full essay on this situation here.

Doing anything "like a girl" doesn't seem to get us very far in this patriarchy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Female Politicians Should be Well-Dressed

In light of the terrific news that two American journalists jailed since March 2009 on in North Korea have been finally released, I wanted to point out the role gender has played in diplomacy with North Korea over the past few weeks.

After North Korea conducted seven missile tests and one nuclear device test in the past few months and sketchily handed down 12-year prison sentences for reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had harsh words for the reculsive communist state's leaders, likening them to “small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention."


n response, the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman should logically focus on opposing Clinton’s argument or policy, right? Well, that wasn’t exactly his tactic:

“Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”

Also, don’t forget that this poorly-dressed woman is “by no means intelligent” and a “funny lady.” I just wonder if he means funny “ha-ha” or funny “strange.”

And isn’t it funny (strange) that the male half of the Clinton powerhouse, Hillary’s partner and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, was accepted along with a personal envoy days after these comments were made, to have talks about securing Lee and Ling’s release, and that the effort was successful? The stories I’ve seen report that Bill Clinton was acting as a private citizen, and that the talks were only about Lee and Ling, but some have speculated that a former president’s visit was, to Kim Jong-il, an affirmation of his power near the end of his reign.

As atypical a political figure as Hillary Clinton may be, it seems that in this diplomatic situation, a whole lot boiled down to gender and male ego. Some politicos are even speculating that nuclear testing or other issues may have come up in the talks--subjects that fall squarely under Hillary Clinton's authority as secretary of state.

But how was our former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, also a woman, talked about by North Korean leaders? In 2005, Rice was described as “no more than an official of the most tyrannical dictatorial state in the world. Such woman bereft of any political logic is not the one to be dealt with by us [sic].” Rice had described North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ladybrain Review: Adoption Rights for Mothers

An Atlantic City, N.J. woman is suing the New Jersey Department of Children and Families for opening her decades-old adoption file, allowing her biological child--a product of rape--to find the mother against her will.

This lawsuit is especially relevant in light of the recent efforts among adoptee-rights groups like Bastard Nation to open up files for adoptees, which advocates see as tantamount to constitutional rights.

I can't fathom what adoptees go through in the way of wondering about their health records and identity, but as a women's rights advocate I am deeply disturbed that such invasions of privacy would be allowed and encouraged. If you read about the Atlantic City, N.J. woman's case, the agency who helped arrange the unwelcome reunion did so without a court order, and took the woman's non-response to a request for contact as a go-ahead and "more or less did what they had to do."

This case mirrors the abortion debate in that, ultimately, pro-life advocates are putting the rights of a fetus above the rights of a woman. Similarly, adoptee rights advocates, although their curiosity is certainly understandable, are putting their rights above the rights of their biological parents' privacy. It's as simple as that.

No woman who has been terrorized by sexual violence should be forced to face the product of that violence, especially after she generously went through with the pregnancy--a serious emotional investment after she had already been through a rape. (Read this woman's account of two unwanted pregancies, one aborted and one carried to term and given up for adoption.) If it were me, I would terminate the pregnancy, no question.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviewed today: a movie trailer, and adoption.

Below, I have embedded the trailer for Orphan.

See. Told you I embedded it. Now I'm going to talk about it. Typically that's what I mean when i say "review." I'm really just going to hold forth, basically, on a given topic. I shall bloviate, if you will. Today, I shall bloviate about this trailer, adoption, and various other things, a few of which are a little depressing.

Trailer first: Did you see that? The trailer is kind of pretty and eerie and scary, and I like at least one of the actors, and the little kids are adorable, except when they're being assholes or devil-children. But it bothers me to see them literally demonizing a little kid. A vulnerable one, at that. I, myself, am adopted. I think adoption is awesome and necessary. I was lucky enough to get adopted by a great family when i was an infant, but for various reasons this doesn't happen for all kids. Kids who are in state-run or religious organization-run homes, or who are in foster care need to be adopted too. Badly.

There's already a lot of fear out there, surrounding adopting older children. Some of the fear and nervousness is legitimate. If you're taking on the responsibility of an older child (almost certainly one with a tumultuous past) without a little nervousness and self-reflection, then you're an idiot. I would hope, though, that the fear would be of the "do I have the resources, emotionally and otherwise, to give this child a good crack at a healthy life?" variety. Not the "will this child turn out to be a possessed demon who kills my biological kids and burns shit down?" variety.

I'm sure in the actual movie it will turn out that this particular child is the product of satan, or some freak medical experiments, or whatever, and thus shouldn't be considered a representation of ALL kids in foster care. But I probly won't see the movie. Most people won't. But I bet a hefty chunk of Americans see the trailer. And all you see in the trailer is a precocious, artistic, slightly awkward, introverted little girl turn out to be a total monster. I was a little girl of the books-for-friends variety, myself, and I was one determined couple away from ending up in the foster system (as is true of many adopted infants). For one thing, I object to the idea that the smart, quirky girl turns out to be a homicidal maniac. It's also frustrating to see a major motion picture capitalize on the fear of an already vulnerable group of people -- Although obviously this is ridiculously common; see Smalls' post, below, regarding Bruno.

I probably would have had a negative gut reaction to this trailer anyway, as an adoptee and a former quirky girl, but these stories from my adopted hometown of DC really bring the point home. Foster kids need permanent homes, and the agencies that try to place them need so many options that they get to be choosy, and they need to watch out for this kids a whole hell of a lot better.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ladybrain Review: Journalism 101

As a pseudo-journalist and John Cusack enthusiast, I had to share this video with you.

I've done a fair number of intense interviews for my college paper and for my current job at a non-profit publication, but I've never made quite as much an ass of myself as this dim-wit. Sheesh, she's making us all look bad.

But the clip brings to mind the following notion:

I wonder if my high anxiety when I'm interviewing politicians, organization leaders, z-list celebrities and indie rockers is laced with the idea that, at all costs, I must avoid seeming like a vapid girl, because that's what people might expect of a young woman.

I try to combat this with lots of research and general lack of squeals. If we're all held as examples of our sex in general (and by "we" I obviously mean women) then let's be as brilliant as possible, and celebrate those among us who are examples of what women can be without regard to objectification.

Ladybrain review of: maybe, probably having mono

I am exhausted. All the time. I've had this lingering sore throat bullshit going on. Swollen tonsils, difficulty swallowing, etc. So, after the near-fruitless adventure of navigating the cesspool that is the American medical system, laced with a good amount of procrastination, I finally got a doctor's appointment. This was so fucking hard to do. So hard. And I work for a non-profit; they practically pay me in insurance. I cannot imagine trying to get any sort of halfway decent medical care while un- or under-insured. I don't know that I'm qualified to write on the travesty that is our healthcare system, so I'll leave that for another day (or a better informed author), and move on to my anecdotal experience.

My doctor, once I could finally find one who would take me, was quite good. And thorough. He had all these adorable, just-finishing-med-school, white-coated helpers. He was patient with them and explained everything he was doing, and politely questioned their conclusions, to make them think things through. My scared looking lab-coat helper was a dude named Luke. Luke was adorable. He also didn't bat an eye when asking me about my dating habits and sexual activity. After hearing my symptoms and the duration, he understandably had an interest in who I've been swapping fluids with. He scrupulously avoided male or female pronouns, and when I decided to just clear the air and tell him I swap saliva with women, he launched into a very matter of fact and rather informative talk on the safe-sex practices best suited for lesbians. Of course, how to keep yourself safe (even if you're a lesbian) should be taught in, you know, schools, before people are likely to be sexually active, as opposed to doctor's offices, to people in their mid-twenties, but that's another rant.

So, in addition to being scheduled for blood work, they checked to see if my spleen was enlarged (apparently if it is mono, I've just been BEGGING for a ruptured spleen by continuing to box for the last two months), and had me do this crazy EKG, breathing mask, riding a bike test. To see if I have blood vessel constriction around my heart. This is apparently rather common, and presents as fatigue. If someone my age, in good shape, comes in to a good doctor complaining of two months of illness and fatigue, they take it rather seriously, it seems. So I left the doctor's office covered in EKG pads, looking like a robot, or a riveted pair of jeans (the clinician said she suggested that I take them off in the shower due to the strong adhesive. they were so visible through my shirt that i ripped them off at the bus stop).

So here's the long and short of it, everybody. Mono: it sucks. Final verdict.

It made me realize something, as I was dragging my ass home from the doctor's office, looking and feeling like I'd been shot at and missed, and shit at and hit. It was this: Being a woman takes a lot of energy. I got street harassed three or four times on my way home. This is common in my neighborhood. But yesterday, I didn't even have the energy to flip them off. I didn't even have the energy to debate with myself over whether or not flipping them off was a good idea. I felt too exhausted to brush my hair, when i got out of the shower. Shaving my legs was out of the question. I didn't have a snappy comeback when I was riding my bike to work this morning and a car decided I was too slow off the line after a stop sign, and thus prevented him from making a right turn, for about .4 seconds. He called me a stupid bitch, and I just rolled on, barely perturbed.

Normally, my armor from all of the things that make me feel shitty for existing while female is 50 percent umbrage/feminist awareness and 50 percent compromise and compliance trying to fly under the radar (hence the leg shaving). But my recent exhaustion and near-apathy has been a kind of armor, too. A tempting, easy kind. But here's the thing: it SHOULD piss me off to be called a stupid bitch for basically no reason. It SHOULD piss me off that I can't walk around my own neighborhood without being cat-called and hissed at. And the people doing these things should know that it's entirely unacceptable.

But it's just so exhausting sometimes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

So much for the gay version of Target Women

When I saw the premiere of new Infomania segment "That's Gay," I thought it was going to be the gay "Target Women." Awesome, right?

If you haven't seen the fantastic Sarah Haskins' "Target Women," I have some homework for you. It's due immediately.

A funny, insightful look at how these shows about women do no favors for women, cool. Way to go, Sarah. (Also see her segments on yogurt, pube-trimming and milk, among others.)

The first few "That's Gay" segments, hosted by "resident gay person Brian Safi," were pretty good, although very white-gay-dude focused and not nearly as funny as "Target Women."

But the most recent segment, where Safi makes a pretty dum-dum endorsement of Bruno as a figure gay people should rally behind, was a big ol' turnoff.

Safi briefly touches on the fact that GLAAD has panned the film, but never mentions why, and then just goes on a semi-ridiculous interviewing spree asking street people if they agree that Bruno is the new Malcom X. Color me scandalized. This is supposed to be one of those, "OMG he said Bruno is like Malcom X and that's radical, ZOMGLOL." It's hilarious because it makes no sense and because he has the balls to say it, I guess.

What Safi failed to mention is that GLAAD and many other gay rights advocates aren't embracing the film because a straight comedian is doing his best imitation of a ridiculous, can't-take-him-seriously gay dude. Safi wants all the gays to rally behind a mostly inaccurate caricature of his entire orientation. I notice that Safi dresses and speaks like a relatively normal person--I'm not sure why he'd be so enthusiastic about someone who is reducing his lifestyle to any and all stereotypes in the book. After seeing Bruno on a few episodes of Da Ali G show, Sacha Baron Cohen can get plenty of "the joke is on America" utterances without being that flamboyant.

The gay rights movement and its allies are trying to normalize the gay lifestyle so that major human rights goals like equal marriage rights, adoption, and protection from discrimination and hate crimes are within spitting distance. Portraying a gay dude as a sexually predatory pervball who has sex in a hot tub with his small child nearby isn't doing favors for anyone.

So when Safi urges us that "the rest of America needs to change, not us!" I'm not sure exactly what he's talking about. Ninety-nine percent of gay people would have to change to even be like Bruno, and since almost none of you fit this ridiculous portrait, maybe you should wake up and smell the homophobia.