Third-wave Feminist thinker, political consultant, and author Naomi Wolf published a recent column in Harper’s Bazaar regarding the subject of female rivalry. I assume this was drafted in response to Susan Faludi’s inflammatory piece about intergenerational conflict within the movement itself. The underlying issue here is how the mainstream media gets lazy, referring to the same few designated “experts”, who are believed to represent any minority or identity group in totality. It’s insulting, but also far too commonplace. No single voice can speak for everyone and closer examination would reveal that no movement needs or desires a designated spokesperson.
Oct 28 2010
Oct 20 2010
We often think people are motivated to do something solely by facts alone. Instead, they are spurred to action by the feeling these facts produce. People make choices and decisions based to some extent on figures and concrete details, but it is the emotional impact these soberly presented bits of information create that really matters. It has been noted many times before that polls and other human-made means of discernment have limits because no one can truly understand what lies inside a voter’s heart. This, in part, is what I mean. Unlike the typical columnist, I do not intend to use this introduction as a segue-way to rip into President Obama and the ineffectiveness of the (for now) Democratic-controlled Congress. Rather, I’d like to go well beyond.
Oct 11 2010
Here an introduction for the layperson. The past several months have seen a flurry of postings and columns in which Generation X and Y Feminists have expressed exasperation at the ways of their Baby Boomers mothers. Snark and sarcasm factors have been high. This argument has quickly grown very personal indeed. Linked below is the latest salvo in a growing war of bitterness and resentment. What I have written here may not be worded as tactfully as it needs to be, but I wrote it feeling decidedly annoyed and opted to keep my initial response. The essay I have referenced is snide and condemnatory, so I couldn’t help but return a volley or two of my own.
Sep 06 2010
On this Labor Day, the fullest definition of economic equality and fair wages is on my mind. While on the subject, I’d like to pursue a related issue that has lately been front and center. While we continue to debate the role of marriage and what it means to us today, I thought I’d contribute a different strain of discourse to the already deeply rutted road. Most prevailing trains of thought opposing same-sex marriage tend to see it in only one of its many incarnations over the eons. Opponents of marriage equality take a rose-colored glasses interpretation of an earlier era that probably never really existed. Imagination can be deceptive. The sacred institution was only as sacred as each individual couple regarded it. These arguments presume that the impetus and motives of marriage were basically the same across the board and throughout the centuries.
Aug 08 2010
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak informally at length with several college-aged young adults. Most were at least a decade or so younger than me, and it was interesting to compare how a younger generation’s perspective was both different and similar to that of my own. We covered a wide variety of subjects in a relatively short period of time, but one particularly interesting discussion grabbed my attention. To some extent, it might as well have sufficed for the main idea of every related topic we covered. Many were within a few semesters of graduation, and starting to contemplate what life after college would have in store for them.
Jul 12 2010
I am and have always been a vocal proponent of therapy, medication, and introspection. All three in tandem have proven to be invaluable to my own understanding of self, as well as an effective treatment plan. I am not the only person who has reaped great benefit from them, too. Recent developments, however, have given me a greater understanding of the limitations of each of these methods of attaining mental health. By this I mean that a friend recently pointed out once again my infamous difficulty in setting adequate boundaries for myself and alongside it, unintentionally exhausting people with my need to constantly reach out.
Jul 08 2010
On Tuesday afternoon, while returning from an errand, I stopped briefly at Union Station here in DC to get some lunch. Union Station has long been a busy depot by which rail and bus traffic arrives and departs, and it also serves as a rail and bus stop for area public transportation. With the passage of time, part of the inside of the terminal has been transformed into a shopping mall of sorts, which frequently satiates the boredom of tourists and passengers. Predictably, it also houses a Victoria’s Secret.
May 12 2010
Forgive me for doing something a bit different today. A steady diet of teh serious often gets burdensome.
The late 90’s to early 2000’s MTV animated series Daria was finally released yesterday on DVD in totality. I’m not sure a more perfect encapsulation of my adolescence could have ever been created. Born in an era where content on MTV still could be seen as edgy and daring, instantly creating a kind of seductively rebellious authenticity with a younger audience, the series served as a lifeline to lonely, isolated, insecure teens like myself. I myself related so much to many of the characters. Daria and her best friend Jane were a kind of wise-cracking vaudeville act, lampooning the contradictions and hypocrisies of the world around them with their own private repertoire. I also knew many in my own life who reminded me of Jane’s ne’er do well brother, Trent, a chronic slacker whose dreams of rock ‘n roll stardom are always frustrated by his limited proficiency as a songwriter and guitarist. Sometimes I still encounter the Trents of the world, particularly when it comes time for me to once again take my guitar in hand, sit, and play before an audience.
Apr 17 2010
An internet advice column responded to the question of a man who was uncomfortable with the idea that, assuming the two of them would marry, his girlfriend would not agree to take his last name. The columnist deftly turns his original question around in her reply, suggesting that perhaps he should agree to take her name or that the two of them could form a new surname unique to the both of them. Inherent in the whole of the reply is the assertion that the soon-to-be husband in question isn’t nearly as open and accepting of a woman’s right to individual choice as he thinks he is. The major issues expressed in the column are an articulation that men who place demands upon women, especially in situations like these are speaking from a place of privilege and in so doing need to rethink their attitudes. When politically problematic and personal choice butt heads, the two almost always clash.
A particularly popular line of thinking states that, should a woman make a conscious decision to participate in what would at its face be a restrictive, oppressive custom, she should be allowed to do so without being criticized as somehow violating the aims of women’s rights. Up to a point, I think this statement is justified but if one expands the application, it becomes more and more problematic. It should be noted that not all oppressions are the same, but in an earlier post this week, I tried to draw a parallel between all systematic injustices. If, for example, an African-American chooses consciously to dress in blackface and to participate a minstrel show, offensive and demeaning though it is, is the practice any less evil and reprehensible if it is justified by deliberate personal choice?
Apr 14 2010
A fellow Friend told me the other day about one of her passions. She is a skilled seamstress and designs her own ballroom gowns. The clothes she makes are ornate and authentic, designed to be worn to balls which seek to re-enact social functions that date back to the 19th Century. Part of the appeal, as she describes it, is to dress up, and part of the appeal is to participate in specific dances authentic to the period while socializing with others. I am conscious that recreating a Jane Austen novel has its appeal, but as a Feminist I am also aware of the gender inequality and sexism inherent as well in the practice. British society of that day was rigidly stratified and effectively divided by a strict adherence to class distinctions. I doubt many in the current day would care to deal with them or wish to feel marginalized and discounted to such a stifling degree.
Knowing this, the first question I have is why many feel such a strong sense of fascination with this particular time in history. Every few years the same novel is adapted yet again for film and yet again it makes money. I question if it is easy to brush aside the objectionable parts and still enjoy the experience. If such films, books, or plays were, for example, full of racism or homophobia I doubt we’d be so forgiving. We can tolerate that which effectively disregards the rights of women much more effectively than, say, a new adaptation of a minstrel show. I doubt few would wish to go to social functions where participants dressed up in blackface, attempting to emulate Stepin Fetchit the whole night long.
The past proves a respite from the daily grind, but we choose to see it in romantic terms, and really, squarely on our own terms. Some would return to Austen’s day, but they’d certainly want to bring their toothbrush and modern medicine along, too. Neo-cons and anti-feminists have done much the same thing in idealizing the Fifties, forgetting, of course, that those days were also full of paranoia and a constantly nagging fear of imminent destruction by way of nuclear war. In those days, the average housewife had access to a car perhaps a few times a week, almost always at the discretion of her husband, and was predominately cloistered at home doing household chores. This may be a very normal means of longing for simpler days, but some take it beyond fantasy and escapism. When this does happen, then problems arise.
I wonder if we have truly come to terms with escapism and its role in our daily lives. Most notably now it drives the Tea Partiers and those allied with them. As many have commented before, there is really nothing especially authentic or historically accurate that points back to the American Revolution, aside from the occasional demonstrator in colonial militia costume. Those who take the Second Amendment in its original context and apply it to today, arguing for the establishment of a well-regulated militia are the ones who scare us all; yet again it should be said that they are trying to use a document centuries old and make it fit exactly as justification for their own leanings. We already have the National Guard and have no need for vigilante justice or a firearm in every holster.
Some social critics warn of attempts by the powers that control society to provide means of escapism instead of actually bettering the condition of the people. For example, Karl Marx wrote about religion as being the “opium of the people”. This is to be compared to the thought of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who argued that people try to find satisfaction in material things to fill a void within them that only God can fill.
If nativist, xenophobic, reactive movements like these on the Right considered themselves wrought of honest religious dissent to the status quo, I think I would have less overall reservations. Most likely I still wouldn’t agree with them, but religion practiced honestly has a leveling, moderating influence. Without it, we quickly see rage and open hostility. Taken to extreme we have the Westboro Baptist Church and its hatred towards LGBTs, but this is the exception, not the rule. Tea Party groups thus far have cherry-picked passages from the Bible to suit their needs, but it is, by in large, a secular movement. If these activists really are intent on turning back the clock, I think adopting a conservative Christian framework to guide them might not be a bad idea, since the days they allude to were far less secular than our own. Here is another example of how many will selectively choose which parts of history agree with them while and disregarding the rest. If it is purity which we are seeking, none of us passes the test.
German social philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that utopias and images of fulfillment, however regressive they might be, also included an impetus for a radical social change. According to Bloch, social justice could not be realized without seeing things fundamentally differently. Something that is mere “daydreaming” or “escapism” from the viewpoint of a technological-rational society might be a seed for a new and more humane social order, it can be seen as an “immature, but honest substitute for revolution”.
An important distinction to make here is that there is a difference between Utopia and Dystopia. That may be the best encapsulation of what is on everyone’s mind right now. I admit that I have my own bias and my own loyalty, but aside from a few misguided souls, I note that what we have been debating amongst ourselves in recent Progressive discourse are escapist means of imagining how government would run if our specific ideas were adopted. As we scheme and ponder, regrettably some on the other side want to take the law into their own hands, while, regardless of how they frame it, wishing to take advantage of the government which agrees with them while seeking to dismantle the government that does not. Our definitions of what constitutes active revolution are very different from each other, but regardless of it is phrased and by whom, one wonders what period in history or historical document will be cited next. Doing so would seem to be inevitable. And, as we do so, I hope we will realize that the past, consulted honestly, has no allegiance to Party or ideology. Rather, as C. Vann Woodward noted, “there is too much irony mixed in with the tragedy for that.”
Apr 09 2010
For years, student activists have fought to combat the disturbing numbers of rapes and sexual assaults which routinely occur on college campuses. Actual statistics are tough to come by because many victims are too intimidated and scared to report them, which is often compounded by apathetic university administrators who grant only cursory attention to the matter or try to sweep things under the rug. Colleges and Universities are unfortunately run like businesses these days, and none of them wants to entertain even the faintest hint of scandal. Fighting for tuition money, grants, and endowments trump keeping female students safe and protected. The amount of administrative staff in higher education is staggering, and no one wants to stop piling on layer after layer of middle management, even when most of it is entirely unnecessary.
In any case, props to the students at American University in Washington, DC, who have recently fought back against an offensive column (or two) in their campus paper by mobilizing to stand united against rape apologists.
Much of the protest centers around this particular passage, written by columnist Alex Knepper in the AU student newspaper, The Eagle.
Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.
“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex – especially anonymous sex – can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!
A previous passage noted, as well, that
Feminist religious dogma, long ago disposed of by neuroscientists and psychologists, states that men are essentially born as eunuchs, only to have wicked masculinity imposed on them by an evil society. This is usually presented as “social construction theory”.
I am understandably pleased to observe such an outpouring of righteous indignation and with it a desire to push back and push back hard. Still, I am also struck that it takes a college flush full of money, privilege, and students already inclined to activism to set up such an elaborate response in the first place. Offensive as the passages are, I can at least follow the author’s “logic”, even though I disagree with it strongly. As someone who is not a native of Planet Progressive, I reflect back on my own upbringing in a solidly conservative state, where, to refer back to Knepper’s column, no one talks about social construction theory, even in conversation with fellow students, nor does anyone acknowledge or have even the faintest notion of why it is offensive to use the term hermaphrodite in place of intersex.
As for me, when I was in college, I was not privy to these sorts of dialogues. And, for that matter, most students now enrolled in schools across the country are not, either. I attended a state school which gave perfunctory and short-lived attention to topics like educating men about precisely what constituted consent, and never spoke as any unified voice. LGBT students were greeted usually with a shrug, and it took years of effort to even establish same-sex partner benefits for university employees. I do recall that a scandal broke during my time there involving an early enrollment student who began her freshman year at age fifteen. She was then later revealed to have been frequenting the beds of athletes. Though the sexual contact was consensual, it was still statutory rape due to the female student nonetheless being under the age of consent. As is typical, the matter was dealt with internally and invisibly until the parents filed suit. Even then, once the matter became public, there were no protests, raised fists, or plans among the student body to go to the news media and raise hell. Most people were ambivalent to the matter. The lawsuit stalled and was eventually thrown out of court. Among many it has been forgotten altogether.
But to draw a contrast, I would expect nothing less than this sort of coordinated protest from a place like American, but again, I can’t help but wish I’d see it in areas of the country not quite so blue and not quite so well off. This is not to say that women in predominantly liberal, highly competitive, and affluent schools don’t face the chance of being date raped or assaulted on campus. That risk, unfortunately, never goes away completely, but the odds do increase dramatically when the framework meant to counter sexual assault and rape simply does not exist or exists so weakly as to become ineffectual. A program designed to accomplish this need not be as detailed and exacting as what American University is now doing, and indeed, a school with a much more modest budget could not begin to mimic that of a wealthier institution.
Being that I live in Washington, DC, and associate with several American students and employees, I know for a fact that the student who wrote the columns in the first place purely meant to provoke a response, not necessarily out of some inward conviction in his supposed cause. Taken this way, he was little more than a troll, and we all know how trolls love to needle us just to see us roar in response. Even though the writer might not have meant what he said in totality, I still think it’s important that the students have adopted an important cause and are fighting to advance it. Again, I think it is imperative of them to spread the message to other schools across the country if they wish to fulfill their idealistic ambitions. It honestly breaks my heart to see just how much of that which is proposed and adopted in blue circles stays there and never leaves. Being that I grew up in a red state, I always feel somehow slighted when I see clear-cut evidence of all the things that money can provide with a snap of the fingers. This is bold evidence of classism and one of the deepest ironies of all is that it is on full display even in efforts designed to improve conditions for marginalized people whose voices have been ignored or silenced.
Apr 02 2010
The third segment of Helen Thomas’ interview talking with Paul Jay of The Real News. In this segment Helen talks about the challenges she faced as a woman journalist in her early days as a member of the White House Press Corps, about the continuing discrimination women still face in political journalism, and about her experiences and reflections on the era of McCarthyism.
Real News Network – April 01, 2010
Parts 1 & 2 of this interview are here, in which Helen talked about Barack Obama’s credibility and political integrity, and about the capitulation of US media to the Bush Administration and foreign policy establishment during the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.