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.”