February 16, 2011

Team Katniss!

Filed under: Book Spotlight — Tags: , , , , , , — Lani @ 2:08 am


With the advent (and subsequent global takeover) of the Twilight Saga and Team Edward/Jacob – I feel like we were left longing for a time when Team BELLA might have meant something. Or, maybe we were longing for a Bella that merited having a team to begin with….I don’t know. But, the extreme popularity of Bella and every terrible stereotype she represents (as well as shows like 16 and Pregnant) have made my desire to find a worthy role model for teenage girls & young women that much stronger.

So, when I heard about The Hunger Games Trilogy & its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, I was excited….and also a little cautious & skeptical. I finished all three books in 10 days. Moving through each chapter, getting more attached to the characters, I kept expecting some egregious misstep by author Suzanne Collins. The more I appreciated her obvious attempts to create such a worthy role model as I sought – I just kept expecting the whole thing to result in disappointment. Well, much to my utter delight, surprise, relief & joy – that moment never came.

In Katniss, Collins created a young heroine who truly deserves the respect and adoration that – up ‘til now – has been given to the likes of Twilight’s Bella. Katniss is a 17 year-old girl living in a place called District 12 (a dead ringer for the poverty stricken Appalachian region of the U.S.), a division of Panem, the remnants of the United States post global warming & civil war and about a hundred years after the latter. Without giving away too much of the story – The Capitol (which is at once a metaphor for a dystopian United States, its excesses and imperialism) has created The Hunger Games to keep the Districts (an obvious metaphor for the developing world, as well as working class America) in check after an uprising 74 years earlier. For the Hunger Games, The Capitol chooses two “tributes”, who are children between the ages of 12 and 18, from each one of the Districts, they lock them in an arena, and have them fight to the death. The one left alive is the victor. Obviously, you can assume Katniss becomes one of the tributes from District 12.

Collins’ portrayal of Katniss is that of a strong, capable young woman-hunter who is left to provide for her mother and little sister after her father passes away. Collins allows her this strength & will without the cliché of her also being emotionally distant and/or a bitch. Katniss is simultaneously self-effacing, humble and amazingly confidant. She is wise and capable of making her own decisions (and always does – unlike Bella), but also faces doubt and is sometimes haunted by the consequences of her decisions. Katniss refuses to marry or have children in a world where they are certain to face the ominous threat of The Capitol and the Hunger Games. She is the most holistic, responsible and deserving role model the media has created in recent memory.

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September 10, 2010

“Like in Gay”….or not.

With great enthusiasm (despite the trailer – which I’ll point out later) I went to see “The Kids Are All Right” last week. I was pretty stoked to be seeing a mainstream, Hollywood film produced and directed by a lesbian feminist – Lisa Cholodenko – whose other directorial credits include “Hung,” “The L Word,” and “Six Feet Under.”

The film is about two teenagers (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who are being raised by their lesbian moms (Julianne Moore and Annette Benning). We pick up their story as they decide to contact their biological father/sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) much to the chagrin of Benning’s character, Nic.

First off, I want to get out of the way that I was really entertained by, and actually, liked the Bechdel-approved, film overall. So, don’t think I’m not a total stick in the mud. BUT, you can assume if that’s the preface to everything else I’m about to say – it was not without its problems. The number one most irritating aspect of this film is its depiction of lesbian sexuality. Surprising, given that it was written and directed by a lesbian…just goes to show how powerful those production dollars are.

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August 13, 2010

Ladies! Grab Your Wallet & Cast Your Ballots!

Filed under: Advertising,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , — Lani @ 3:56 pm

Reposted with permission from www.aidstillrequired.org

Today, when we go to the market or Target or even the convenience store we are asked 9 times out of 10 if we would like to add a donation to our purchase to save the whales or feed the children or save little Timmy’s music education program. That’s pretty new. (There have been donation boxes for as long as I can remember, but this is still pretty new). It is an easy, near effortless way to make a contribution to an organization that is working to make someone, somewhere’s life a little better while buying our (toxic) laundry detergent or tonight’s (genetically modified) dinner. NGOs have learned how to make it easy on us. Add on a dollar, send a text, etc.

This simple action makes us feel good. But, I’m really not concerned about whether or not you feel good about yourself when you’re buying your (paraben infused) shampoo; I’m concerned about what’s in our shopping carts at the time of said purchases…..

American women hold 60% of the personal wealth in the United States, influence 85% of the purchasing decisions, and are the number 3 market in the world! Bigger than Japan! And even in 2010, American women do more than 90% of the shopping for our families. There are countless studies and market research companies that are trying to understand how to get and keep the “voting” dollars of American women. We all know that fashion magazines are mostly advertisements….you have to flip through 30 ads in a Vogue before you get to the table of contents!

That being said, with the simplest of our daily purchases we are casting a ballot. We are by default acknowledging and approving of the business strategies and practices of the companies that we are buying from. Wal-Mart? Archer Daniels Midland? Monsanto? McDonald’s? Chevron? Or, god-forbid, BP?!

It may not seem very “feminist” to tell women that they have the collective buying power of an entire nation. Is that really a way that we want to have “power?” But, really that is a huge, huge power to wield! We have the power to make or break entire product lines and corporations by utilizing a collective sense of ethical consumerism! I know, I know – it sounds like a lot of work & responsibility. But, to help you out on your own research journey – here are a few websites: Ethical Consumer (U.K. based, but as so many corporations are now global they have some really great information), Treehugger, Knowmore.org, and BrandKarma (a new site with great potential).

I hope that the next time you go shopping you will consider the global impact that your seemingly tiny, insignificant decisions are making on other people, in other places, that are probably far less fortunate that we are.

Why I STILL Call Myself a Feminist….

Filed under: Gender,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Lani @ 2:23 pm

In response to Kate Fridkis at Huffington Post – “Why I Don’t Call Myself a Feminist Anymore.”

According to Fridkis, the word “feminist” conjures up a lot of negative images. That I don’t disagree with. (A good way to test this theory is by telling your male boss that you’re a feminist). What I do disagree with is just about everything Ms. Fridkis asserts thereafter. I am a feminist who is offended by a lot of bad behavior – none of them include the shaving or not shaving of armpits, the wearing or not wearing of high heels, or calling god a “he” (as I believe that what we call “god” is both masculine and feminine and both aspects should be appreciated and honored). And, the founder of this here feminist site is an adherent to the regular mani/pedi.

But, the way that Ms. Fridkis dismisses feminism’s validity in this post-modern, “post-feminist” society is offensive.  Yes, feminism has some baggage, and yes, it is a fractured movement. It has history. And, the requirement of the movement and the activists in it are always changing. To use feminism to gain a personal sense of freedom, then throw it out and attempt to negate its power and efficacy as a movement and in the lives of others is offensive. To truly be feminist, Ms. Fridkis should have continued the struggle and fought to change the negative connotations that she freely admits are associated with the word.

For most feminists being a feminist is not “an act of defiance” as it was for Kate; it is a self-identification that defines the ways in which they live their lives and informs the way that they struggle for equality along-side activists from every social justice movement be it gay rights or racial equality. It becomes a part of you that could no more easily be extracted than a healthy part of your body.

Feminism’s work is not done. 21.6 Million American Women have an eating disorder; 1.5 Million American Women will be the victim of domestic violence this year; 0.03% of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 company’s are women (that’s 15 of 500); Female members of the United States Military stop drinking water at 7 p.m. to reduce their chances of being raped. And, those are simply a few of the obvious problems HERE. Globally, the work that is to be done to improve the lives of women is limitless. The very least of their concerns is body hair or what to call god.

So, Ms. Fridkis, I don’t really mind if you don’t want to be a feminist, but please don’t continue to disseminate the fallacious message that feminism is dead and expendable. It invalidates the life-altering experiences of your sisters and the work that remains to be done here at home and globally.

Photo courtesy of Jay Morrison, CC 2.0.

July 1, 2010

Sex, Virtue and Restraining Orders in Twilight's Eclipse

Yesterday, the third installment of the The Twilight Saga was released. Though I’m sure that you already heard unless you live in a cabin with no electricity or under a rock or in the mountains of Forks, Washington….even then I’d find it hard to believe you were completelyunawares. For many reasons that have nothing to do with a feminist critique this film was a lot better than its predecessor. But, from a feminist perspective, it was full of just as many reasons to want to ring Bella’s (Kristin Stewart) neck and issue restraining orders against both Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

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May 3, 2010

The Token Feminists are Missing

A few months ago, I saw the-little-remix-video-that-could Buffy vs. Edward , and I subsequently fell back in love with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (No kidding – I’ve watched the first three seasons on Netflix in the last 4 weeks). I started watching Buffy when I was 13, in the prime of my uncomfortable adolescence – we’re talking the braces, puffy hair, nose is too big for my face, but I’ve only just realized that….yeeeah. But it wasn’t all bad, and I’ve certainly heard worse junior high/high school horror stories. And, of course, I had Buffy….

One of my favorite aspects of the way that Buffy was written is the fact that she was not continually made into a victim before she had to opportunity to protect/defend herself or others. And, the vast majority of female characters are given power to protect themselves (whether it was physical [e.g. Faith] or supernatural [e.g. Anya and Willow]). I’m not going to waste too much time singing the praises of how Buffy (though sadly not Gellar herself), as well as her creator Joss Whedon, are feminist. That has been written. Many, many times. There are some valid complaints, but overall Buffy was, and continues to be, a great example of what we’re capable of. However, if you’re still not convinced and want to fight about I’ll definitely take you on *note sarcasm.*

Feeling a little drunken 90’s nostalgia, I realized that it wasn’t just Buffy. Through all of my phases and changes, I had many strong female characters to model my confused, dorky, adolescent self after. In retrospect the 90’s seem to be the era of fabulous feminist characters: Roseanne, Jesse Spano (Saved by the Bell), Murphy Brown, Rory Gilmore, The Powerpuff Girls, Dana Foster (Step-by-Step), Lisa Simpson, Andrea Zuckerman (90210), A Different World (several characters over the course), Dharma (Dharma and Greg), Marcy D’Arcy (Married with Children), Dark Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BlossomJoey and Jen (Dawson’s Creek)….ok, I think you get the point.

So, now what I do want to know if where are all of the feminist characters? Why is it that all we see are these vapid, homogeneous, BORING female characters? Given the fact that the media that young women consume (everyone really, but I’ve never been an adolescent boy) serves as such an incredibly strong influence/unavoidable force on the creation of our self-identity and personal paradigm – I’m left wondering if Bella Swan, the girls from The Hills, Sookie oh-so-annoying Stackhouse, and Tina Fey  are the only examples that this generation of young women are growing up with? For the life of me I can’t find one female character on television that I would want my young daughter looking up to (sadly, not even my beloved Mad Men is stacking up).

What’s worse is that it isn’t just the characters. The actresses that are playing these less-than-role-model-worthy characters – or themselves (e.g. The Hills) – are not quick to pick up a feminist lifeline. Kristin Stewart has said that she doesn’t understand why feminists critique The Twilight Saga, and that “Bella wears the pants in the relationship. She’s the sure-footed, confident one…It takes a lot of power and strength to subject yourself to someone completely, to give up the power.” WHAT? Are we talking about the same story? The one where her boyfriends is a sexist stalker and she is powerless to defend herself?? She has also discussed how she grew up feeling like as a woman she could do anything.

And, there – in that statement – are our answers. The media has convinced this generation of young women that feminism is obsolete, that it’s outdated and outmoded, and that to align yourself with it is to be a pariah. They truly believe that we are living in a post-feminist world. I have heard the word “humanist” being substituted where “feminist” used to live comfortably in the mouth….and heart.

Seems a dangerous world to live in where we have to convince even the young women that the gender balances are unequal….they have finally convinced them that the lies are the truth. That we are powerful as long as we are sexy…and, so, this is what they strive for…..

April 23, 2010

Archie, Veronica….meet Kevin!

When I was a kid my Dad had a huge trunk FULL of “Archie” comics in the basement. Leftovers from his childhood, I suppose. When I found them I literally devoured them, and gained a few of my very own. I was really excited to hear today that the comics writers will be introducing a new character this fall – Kevin Keller who will be openly homosexual. I would venture a guess that the original writers from way back in 1939 would’ve never have guessed that would happen! (And, the conservative Archie lovers are having a field day!) Apparently, the storyline is that Veronica has a crush on Kevin and he has to find a way to let her down….gently, of course.

We’ll be keeping an eye out in September to see how awesomely the Archie folks handle this subject!

April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day! Please don't buy a cheap t-shirt….

Happy Earth Day! Today is the 40th celebration of Earth Day. It was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson in an attempt to bring what he believed – in 1962 – to be an “environmental crisis” to the forefront of social commentary. Only 4 years after the first Earth Day celebration we saw the emergence of ecofeminism. Ecofeminists believe that the oppression of women (as well as other races and the LGBTQ community) and the oppression of nature are interconnected, and that man’s domination over nature is what led to a patriarchal society. Obviously, the environmental movement would feel a kindred spirit, so to speak, in this ideology and vice versa. 

I’m not one to box myself in with labels….wait, vegetarian, feminist, environmentalist, activist, communist……ok, maybe I am. So, since I’m already all boxed in, I definitely feel that the ecofeminist movement is most near and dear to my heart. There are critics of all tenets of feminism and we all seem to fall into one or another (but, maybe many) little sub-sects of the greater whole; I happen to fall here.

In 1970, the environmental movement was really just starting to blossom as a social movement. With the help of this article published in the New York Times Senator Nelson created an event that I think every Earth Day since should envy:

“Rising concern about the “environmental crisis” is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems, analogous to the mass demonstrations on Vietnam is being planned for next April…..

Students, activists, environmentalists and ideologues sprang to action. And, just a few months later, an estimated 20 million Americans participated in Earth Day events on April 22, 1970. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeway and expressway revolts, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlifesuddenly realized they shared common values.

With all that invigorating history, a movement that today – of all times in history – is more active and energized, and my self-identification as an ecofeminist – you would think I’d be a lot more excited about Earth Day than I am.

The celebration of Earth Day 2010 seems to be something else altogether. With global climate change on every  other front  page publication (despite doubters) and cheap t-shirts that say, “Recyle” and “Eco Warrier” it seems that these issues have been appropriately brought to center stage….and appropriately transformed into something “consumable.” So, the people who truly care seem & believe in environmental responsibility have become….cheap t-shirt wearing, reusable bag carrying (sometimes), Prius driving zombies. And, the corporations who only want to seem like they care have done their jobs convincing consumers that they do. A la Walmart and Chevron’s greenwashing campaigns. Or, how about SunChips attempt to completely revamp their image? Your (genetically modified corn) chips even come in a compostable bag now! But…wait…aren’t they a Frito Lay company? And, Frito Lay is a PepsiCo company. And, PepsiCo is one of the worst environmental offenders. “Green?” Seriously? *Yawn*

So, here’s my Earth Day wish – do something real. Plant an organic garden (feminism and food are inextricably linked; and, it’s much easier than you think) or a tree. Volunteer for an environmental organization (even if just for a day). Try to reduce the number of times you flush your toilet (that’s 1.6 gallons of water EVERY time, California folks). Start to compost (also, much easier than you think). What I don’t want you to do…buy a ridiculous t-shirt that advertises your position on environmental issues and simply makes you feel like you’ve done something good for the Earth. We can’t all be No Impact Man, but actually making real, tangible changes in our daily lives is what creates the most change and sets an example for those who want to make change, but aren’t sure how.

Now go laugh a little before you get to work……

April 16, 2010

"The Great Underarm Campaign" 1915-2010?

So, of course it would fall to me to write this piece as I am the hairy feminist of the bunch. I never shave my armpits and so rarely shave my legs that it’s a special occasion to my partner. Literally. I present my freshly shaven legs as a gift (oh, you only think I’m kidding). As a woman who doesn’t shave AND is a feminist, I feel like it’s incredibly taboo to even be having this discussion, but here it goes.

On Monday an article was published in the New York Times “Unshaven women: Free Spirits or Unkempt.”  It was prompted by Mo’Nique (winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Precious”) lifting her dress at an awards ceremony to reveal her unshorn legs. She is not the first celebrity to make this decision (mistake or not): Julia Roberts, Alicia Silverstone, Gillian Anderson, Britney Spears and Amanda Palmer of the Dresdon Dolls have all done it. I was kind of excited both to read this article and to see what responses it elicited from bothmen and women…the most annoying of which are men complaining about how it’s gotten so hard for men now, as well. I’m not even going to validate that with a response. Of course, the vast majority are men who basically say, “Do what you want, but you and your hairiness would never have a shot at me.”  How about this one:

I’m sorry. I will vote for a woman for president. I will work for a woman. Women should be priests, soldiers, equal pay, whatever. But hairy women are seriously unappealing.

Well, in all your glory, I can only imagine what we’re all missing! There are also a great many women who share a similarly grossed out sentiment, and have been indoctrinated to believe that it is somehow dirty or unsanitary to not shave your body hair. And, not just the ‘pits and the legs….ALL OF IT HAS TO GO! But, I’d like to backtrack and review a little bit of the history of shaving. Here’s a condensed timeline for you……

Around the time of dinosaurs OR 100,000 B.C.E.     –     Neandertal men first start pulling body hair and tattooing (they also enjoyed filing down their teeth. Enjoyed? Yeah….right.)
3,000 B.C.E.      –     Invention of metal tools; Egyptian & Indian priests use copper tools to shave their heads
400      B.C.E.     –      Alexander the Great advocates shaving to prevent “dangerous beard grabbing in combat” (also, Alex hated the five o’clock shadow)
Middle Ages, Rome, and The Crusades OR 300 B.C.E. to 1603     –     Various strange and painful methods of hair removal from plucking eyelashes, to using resin, pitch, white vine, ass’s fat, she-goat’s gall, bat’s blood, and powdered viper to remove body hair are employed
1603 – 1700’s     –     Both women and men shave/remove their eyebrows and forehead hair, and wear artificial wigs and mouse fur for eyebrows…..again, really? : /
Late 1700’s – 19th century      –     Shaving becomes something that only “dandy’s” engage in…and, mostly in London; as well, as “women of the night,” but they only shave to prove to their sirs that they don’t have lice.

And, that brings us to the juicy stuff (no, not the lice)…..the important stuff…..the stuff that still matters and compels me to write this blog. In 1901 King Camp Gillette along with MIT engineer William Nickerson patented their first safety razor. This was the beginning of the creation and domination of the shaving market. In a large and profitable marketing venture, Gillette teamed with the U.S. Army and gave every enlisted man in the army a razor during World War I (for those of you who were asleep during history class, that was 1914-1919). During the same time, Gillette was trying to find a way to expand his reach. He was motivated, of course, by the same thing that motivates any corporate campaign. Greed. That coupled with a seemingly mundane development in fashion – the popularity of sleeveless dresses marked the beginning of “The Great Underarm Campaign.” In 1915 Harper’s Baazar published the first advertisement featuring a woman with shaved “underarms.”

    

From this point the campaign turned female body hair into something “objectionable,” and “the woman of fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face.” And, by 1922 (two years after women won the vote), Gillette and the advertising barrage had won the underarm hair fight. They didn’t win the leg hair fight as easily as the length of skirts didn’t mandate shaving. However, by the 1930’s we’re not only shaving it all off we’re waxing it off!

Okay….so almost 100 years later why are we STILL shaving? Why do a lot of women shave, pluck, wax (which can actually be very dangerous), burn, trim, bleach, dissolve, laser or otherwise remove every inch of body hair?? It is not dirty, unsanitary or unfeminine. Contrary to everything you have ever been told, that hair is there to hold in your essence and protect the skin (note: your skin doesn’t develop those annoying little red bumps for nothing). This may seem counter intuitive due to all of the bad press your body hair gets! It has become such an ingrained, unconscious part of our culture that it’s an assumed responsibility as opposed to a choice. The first time a former boyfriend of mine commented on the fact that I hadn’t shaved my legs in a couple of days….it hit me. How ridiculous! And, how dare you! To be rebellious – I stopped shaving. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you have to be hairy to be a feminist. I like the way Amanda Palmer summed it up…..wake up every day and make your decisions. But, I’ll take it a step further and say wake up and make informed, conscious decisions.

Seagal's Sex Trade

Three days ago a law suit was filed in California against actor Steven Seagal. The woman who filed the civil suit, Kathryn Nguyen, 23, apparently found an ad on Craigslist for an executive assistant. She was taken to New Orleans after her third interview. When she got there she found two Russian “assistants” that Seagal was apparently keeping in his home, on call 24/7 for sex. According to Nguyen, Seagal attacked her several times and forced her to take “illegal pills.” According to Seagal, she is upset because he fired her for drug abuse. However, since Nguyen came forward several other women have come out saying that he assaulted them, as well, one of them being actress and comedian Jenny McCarthy.

My concern here is less for Nguyen who has felt empowered enough to employ all appropriate resources & and take action; she will inevitably be taken care of (despite the misogynistic assumption that she is doing this for money – note the condescending dollar signs in the linked post). My concern is even less for McCarthy who left the interaction physically unharmed and untouched. My concern is for the two nameless, faceless and presumably missing  Russian immigrant women. Where are these women and why haven’t they been taken either a) into custody or b) FROM SEAGAL!? In all of the news on this story there is no mention of of these women beyond Nguyen’s assertion that there were two Russian sex slaves in Seagal’s house.

It has been estimated that sex trafficking will be the number one crime worldwide by the end of this year. This link to the Polaris Project’s compiled statistics is unbelievable. Why don’t people know that there are more slaves right now than at any other point in history and that sex trafficking is the most prolific form? Why is no one talking about it in a meaningful and urgent way? I can only hope that it is not because the overwhelming majority are mostly sex slaves, and than that, by nature, is a “woman’s issue.” We have to use this unfortunate opportunity to ask these questions.

Our most mainstream point of reference of late was a mildly catty interaction between Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian a few weeks ago, but that played out more like an episode of “Desperate Housewives” than an intelligent conversation as far as I’m concerned. Even with Seagal’s story making headlines and our nightly news there is absolutely no discussion of the sex trade in the mass media. By contrast, working in predominantly activist and academic circles, we have the work of Ben Skinner who actively & purposefully threw himself into following the global human slave trade, and became the first person in history to view the sale of human being on 4 continents. His book A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern Day Slavery is his account of what he has witnessed.

On a far smaller scale, I have also been witness to the difficulty that some of these young women have in getting out of these situations. I worked for Neighborhood Legal Services in their Domestic Violence Legal Self-help Clinic in Los Angeles. It is admittedly hard enough for American women who are victims of domestic violence to get out of these potentially life threatening situations, but immigrant women are often much more fettered. Whether it be the language barrier, confusion about the law, their immigration status, or literal bondange the odds against them are crushing.

Whatever outcome is in store for Seagal we have a much larger problem here that needs to become part of our social dialogue in way that will produce real local and global change for these women. Not just bad reality t.v.

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