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.

April 1, 2010

Femivore? Hegan? You Must Be Kidding…..

In case you all hadn’t already noticed – I am a little bit obsessed with food. I love it. I love to grow it, shop for it, chop it, cook it….and, despite some annoyingly, gratuitously non-feminist argument to the contrary, I love to eat it!! My top two “intellectual crushes” are on Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation). They’re work has changed the ways that we discuss food and the politics that surround the consumer culture that produces our food. I also feel elated by the rise in cultural acceptance and understanding of the choice to be vegetarian or vegan. I believe that this is mostly due to the voices of these two men. Though I sometimes question the motivations of a book like Skinny Bitch, but its authors have done one thing very well: they have the ear of a demographic that previously wouldn’t have given a second look to a lifestyle not made of convenience and microwaves. There has also been a surge of energy around locally grown food, as well as growing your own food!

However, there is still a stigma that surrounds vegetarian and veganism. It’s feminine. In the same way, growing your own food is taken to be “masculine.” Recently, two words have been popping up in magazines and newspapers that irritate the you know what out of me: Hegan and Femivore. It seems mundane enough, but as Paula Forbes of Eat Me Daily pointed out,

“They are artificially gendering aspects of food culture that don’t naturally align themselves according to traditional views of what is male and female. The greatest potential food has is to be a unifying force: everyone has to eat, and food is one of the best ways to experience other cultures.”

Attempting to invalidate someones decisions by gendering them (or calling them “gay.” Ugh.) is really just an impertinent, easy way to say that you don’t care about or understand their beliefs. But here is an obviously intelligent group of people who seem to respect what these people have chosen, and still they are using language that is denigrating.

The women and men who choose to make these decisions (and, are lucky enough to have the option), as well as everybody else, have to reject these words the way that men should have rejected the word “metrosexual” as nothing more than media-propagated, gendered fear……

March 19, 2010

Rule #1, Soldier: No Water After 7 p.m.

By the end of 2010 there will officially be more women in the workforce than men. Both the Speaker of the House and the Secretary of State are women. And, 20% of U.S. armed forces are female. Because of these aberrant shifts we feel like we’ve won the war when the reality is that those are only a few battles. We tend to take for granted the positions that most women in America find themselves in in this “post-feminist” society.

In recent weeks, both Time magazine and The New York Times have published articles on the egregious number of women being raped in the military. Time reported that…

“…a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”

I was shocked to read that female soldiers stop drinking water at 7 p.m. so that they don’t have to go the bathroom in the middle of the night as this reduces their risk of being raped. Though the NY Times reported that the number of assults reported is up 11% from last year, Time statesthat the Defense Department still estimates that 80-90% of sexual assaults go unreported. Additionally, they differentiate an assault from sexual harassment which undoubtedly brings the number of women assaulted OR harassed up exponentially. They may as well just say, “If you’re female and you join the military you will be abused in some way.”

We live in a world where we fight to have universities install campus security buttons and cameras and we teach women how to protect & defend themselves against attackers and we create program upon program for victims of sexual assault. All of the security measures we take only further perpetuate the idea that WOMEN need to learn how to protect themselves. Why aren’t we teaching men how to be respectful and responsible? How do we transform the dialogue from Women’s Issues to EVERY ONE’S issues??

I don’t say any of this to discourage women from joining the military or going to college (or from leaving your house!) or to promote the fear that is already so rampant, I say this because as a woman living in a supposedly “post-feminist” world, I believe we need to inspire more people – NOT just women – to struggle, to act!

There was a great article in The Guardian, the UK based newspaper about men and feminism. In it they mentioned a program that was started by Oxfam called “Gender Equality and Men.” Here is a quote from their page:

There are potential gains from focusing on men and boys. As Kaufman has suggested [1], such efforts may:

  • create a broad social consensus among men and women on issues that previously have been marginalised as only of importance to women;
  • mobilise resources and institutions controlled by men, resulting in a net gain in resources available to meet the needs of women and girls;
  • isolate those men working to preserve men’s power and privilege and to deny rights to women and children;
  • contribute to raising the next generation of boys and girls in a framework of gender equality;
  • change the attitudes and behaviour of men and boys, and improve the lives of women and girls in the home, workplace, and community.

That about sums it up! So, instead of continuing to shake my fist and scream about men not taking responsibility for violence and ignorance – I’ve made a list of some ways in which men (and women!) can become involved in the movement…..which despite those post-feminist doubters…..is still very much moving!

1) Start simple: Read This
2) Take a Women’s Studies class!
3) Join the feminist club on campus or START one!
4) Get involved in community outreach organizations. Lead by example and show young men and boys how to be!
5) Encourage local organization to implement programs like Oxfam UK did!
6) Be creative! Find ways to encourage change through things you like to do or are good at! Activism isn’t the only way. Music and art speak volumes!

And, if you’re still confused and wondering what you can do – come to WAM! Los Angeles next week Thursday, March 25, 2010!

cartoon-feminist     feminst-cartoons

February 15, 2010

For the Love of Christina!

Admittedly, I do have a disturbing, and probably diagnosable, addiction to “Mad Men.” From the word go I was stoked about the presence of the self-assured, beautiful, quietly defiant, and, of course, red-headed (!) female character, Joan Holloway. She was not so defiant that anyone would call her a bitch, and not so promiscuous to provoke the use of slut. Not an out-right activist or poster girl for any one’s feminism, but all the same she was fabulous. I remember being surprised that her body hadn’t been the topic of more hushed chatter. Well, until now it hadn’t. 

After this years Golden Globe Awards ceremony, New York Times blogger, Cathy Horyn, blogged/critiqued “you don’t put a big girl in a big dress. It’s rule number one.” Being one who automatically jumps to the defense of people I love (it’s a flaw), I was pretty irritated. Her husband, Geoffrey Arend, came to her defense discussing how hurtful the comments had been to her. As for Christina, in a recent interview with New York magazine she says that all the questions about her body “put a bad taste” in her mouth.

As the viewing public, we feel entitled to pick her out and discuss her body because she’s in the limelight and stands out from the normal, Hollywood-sized 22″ waist. The fact is that we are not entitled. We have to understand no matter how benign the comment seems when it first rattles around in our tiny, little brains these kinds of issues are a sensitive and contentious topic for most, if not all, American women. So, from the most seemingly innocuous, to the most obviously offensive we have to think twice before we speak these kinds of words as they breed insecurity and potentially harmful habits. We have to actively encourage and advocate for positive body image and self-confidence in our sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters every time we have the chance.

So, for Christina, you are a stunning, confident, and talented woman! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, sister!

September 21, 2008

Hillary Clinton's message re: Planned Parenthood

Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards were featured in the Opinion section of Friday’s New York Times.

“Last month, the Bush administration launched the latest salvo in its eight-year campaign to undermine women’s rights and women’s health by placing ideology ahead of science: a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would govern family planning. It would require that any health care entity that receives federal financing — whether it’s a physician in private practice, a hospital or a state government — certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.

Laws that have been on the books for some 30 years already allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further, ensuring that all employees and volunteers for health care entities can refuse to aid in providing any treatment they object to, which could include not only abortion and sterilization but also contraception.

Health and Human Services estimates that the rule, which would affect nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics and other health care providers, would cost $44.5 million a year to administer. Astonishingly, the department does not even address the real cost to patients who might be refused access to these critical services. Women patients, who look to their health care providers as an unbiased source of medical information, might not even know they were being deprived of advice about their options or denied access to care.

The definition of abortion in the proposed rule is left open to interpretation. An earlier draft included a medically inaccurate definition that included commonly prescribed forms of contraception like birth control pills, IUD’s and emergency contraception. That language has been removed, but because the current version includes no definition at all, individual health care providers could decide on their own that birth control is the same as abortion.

The rule would also allow providers to refuse to participate in unspecified “other medical procedures” that contradict their religious beliefs or moral convictions. This, too, could be interpreted as a free pass to deny access to contraception.

Many circumstances unrelated to reproductive health could also fall under the umbrella of “other medical procedures.” Could physicians object to helping patients whose sexual orientation they find objectionable? Could a receptionist refuse to book an appointment for an H.I.V. test? What about an emergency room doctor who wishes to deny emergency contraception to a rape victim? Or a pharmacist who prefers not to refill a birth control prescription?

The Bush administration argues that the rule is designed to protect a provider’s conscience. But where are the protections for patients?

The 30-day comment period on the proposed rule runs until Sept. 25. Everyone who believes that women should have full access to medical care should make their voices heard. Basic, quality care for millions of women is at stake.”

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