Saturday, July 29, 2006

An Education for Me

I recently attended a national conference where I learned how to form public awareness campaigns and educate communities about domestic violence and sexual assault.

While there I had some big awakenings:

#1 Anger is unhelpful.

I mean, of course this makes sense. If I ever train a group of health care professionals, clergy or police officers, I would never come across like I do on this blog. This blog is a place for me to vent my anger and say what I'm really thinking. I don't worry about coming off as bitter or even offensive, I just write what I feel.

I have always assumed that this blog can be just that for me because it's not a publication or any public p.s.a. Now however, I'm worried. I realize how much anger can turn people off and how it can shut the door on any helpful dialogue. I don't speak for all feminists, I really only speak for me at the moment. I don't think I will be able to get rid of my anger, and I shouldn't have to. I enjoy my anonymity and I utilize this site to vent. So please know, I speak only for me and I'm sorry about the anger. But sometimes I just need to fume.

#2 Oppression is everything

Sexual assault and domestic violence has everything to do with society as a whole. I saw a PSA created by another campaign that showed a beautiful rural farm scene with the narrator saying, "Jim's neighbors helped him last year when he hurt his back. They helped him with the chores and farm work, and even helped him beat his wife, because they knew Jim was hitting her and did nothing to help. It's hard to know what to do. Call us and we can help."

Imagine, an ad not directed at abused women telling them what to do... but rather targeting neighbors, friends and community members for ignoring the problem.

I mean, people will call the police department if their neighbor's dog is barking too loudly, but how many people pick up a phone if they suspect their neighbor is beating their spouse?

#3 It's not because men are "violent"

Men don't beat women because they are violent. Men beat because they have been taught that women are objects or property. And by that logic, you can "use," "control," and "beat" what you own. We teach our society a hierarchy of oppression. That's why there is such a tiny minority of situations in which women beat their male partners. However, when you look at stats of child abuse, we see that it is evenly split, women and men are equally likely to abuse children because in the hierarchy of oppression children are controlled by both parents equally.

So in essence, violence has less to do with a particular gender being bad but has everything to do with the way we devalue groups of people based on our power and control over them. This can also be seen in history-- the Holocaust was possible because Jewish people were objectified, devalued and considered sub-human.

#4 Victim blaming is not a myth

People (mean people) want to act like women have it so easy now. Like all a woman has to do is accuse a man of abuse or rape and she's gonna get all this sympathy and win her case easily. Um-- yeah NO! Look at court stats or work at a women's shelter for a week. Or-- simply listen to the way people STILL talk. For example:

On rape victims:

What you hear:

What was she doing walking alone that late at night?
Why did she get so drunk at that party?
She was flirting with a ton of guys, wasn't she?
Well what did she expect wearing that?

What you should hear:

What gave him the right to sexually assault her?

On victims of domestic violence:

What you Hear:

Why did she marry a wife beater?
Can she quit complaining and move out?
She keeps going back to him?
What did she say to provoke him?
She was drinking too, right?

What you should hear:

Why does he beat his wife?

This happens because we put all the blame on women. Of course, it's important to help women leave abusive situations but do we ever stop and think, "Does this makes sense that SHE should have to leave her home? Why doesn't he leave?" And we teach girls to never walk alone at night, always keep an eye on your drink etc. But do we really teach young men to respect women and not use a state of intoxication as an excuse for rape? Because we are so focused on teaching women what "not to do," when a woman is abused or raped... we often feel it is somehow her fault, after all-- -We taught her what not to do, so she must have done something wrong. But remember only rapists can 100% prevent rape, and only the abusers can stop abuse.

Every time I attend conferences like this last one, I get a renewed surge of hope as I see how many people are dedicated in the fight to end oppression and violence. But today, as I was surfing the internet, I was also reminded of what we have left to fight.

I found t-shirts on a men's website emblazoned with these messages:

"Women are Property, Put em Where They Belong: on Their Knees, Barefoot, Spanked, and Pregnant!"

"Repeal the 19th amendment! Anti-Women Voting, Women should be Seen not Heard!"

"Repent Being Feminists! Your Children Need You at Home and the Sex is Better When Women Obey Their Husbands."

We still have these ideas to combat, so keep up the good fight and if that means you need to open a blog and god forbid, "bitch" a little. I understand, believe me!!!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A movie feminists might NOT love

Keep in mind, to be fair, I have not seen this movie. However, based on the preview, I sincerely doubt I'll see it.

First of all, off the top of my head I can't think of any recent movies that are that flattering when it comes to the idea of female superheros. Charlies's Angels seemed nothing but an excuse for three hot women to dance around in various male-fantasy outfits. Now comes this one where a superwoman uses her various powers to strangle her ex, throw live sharks into his room and blast a hole in his ceiling.

She has the power to fly, carry a car and survive just about anything and yet losing a boyfriend is just the worst thing ever!! Judging by the preivew only, she seems completely neurotic, prone to breaking down into crying fits and losing it. Now if there's one thing I don't find funny in the slighest, it's relationship violence, and I'm sorry, the mere fact that it's woman to man, doesn't make a difference. At one point in the movie, Uma Thurman leans in to her boyfriend Owen Wilson and says, "I always knew you'd come back to me, that's why I didn't kill you." Har har.

Take for example this plot description:

When Matt Saunders meets Jenny Johnson, he thinks he's found the perfect girl. However, he decides to break things off with her when she becomes too needy, controlling, and jealous. Jenny doesn't take it well and decides to get back at him by using her superpowers. When, Matt and his co-worker, Hannah start to have a romance with each other it sends Jenny over the edge.

That's supposed to be funny? When people leave violent situations and are stalked and threatened... I don't laugh. Becoming jealous of an old lover's new romance and then taking violent action, is also not so funny. It's annoying that they bill this as some kind of super woman type flick.

A really compelling movie would be a woman with superpowers and a relationship with an average Joe... see if those two could make it without jealousy or life differences getting in the way. Then we'd have a plot that wouldn't force Uma to play this needy, jealous, pyscho.

But to be totally fair. I probably can't judge it until I see it-- if I ever do. Judging by another review, I'd say I won't have to.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More TV and films for feminists

Veronica Mars- Another TV show I love. Strong, funny, intelligent female lead who works as a private investigator with her father. She is confident and centered in her values. A great role model for young women watching the series, Veronica is a take-no-prisoners, fearless woman. Fave scene: Veronica walks up behind two boys who are making fun of an intoxicated girl at a party and says, “It's all fun and games till one of you gets my foot up your ass.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- I’ve actually composed an entire blog post to this show alone. Its strong female and male leads all embody feminism. Plus the show is funny, poignant, touching and gives us a lot of great life lessons regarding sexism, racism and the metaphoric good vs. evil battle. Fave scene: way too many to pick from-- seriously. Check out the other post but if I had to choose...ugh... it's impossible. Maybe I'd choose the episode "Once More with Feeling" just because it stands out so much as different-- it's the musical episode. But if you don't believe a show called Buffy could have an impact on feminism, check out the many academic books and college level courses some universities offer JUST on this show... one of my fave books, "Sex And The Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer For The Buffy Fan."

Sex and the City – at times, I’ll watch an episode and roll my eyes at the over-the-top bed hopping and promiscuity, especially from character, Samantha. But overall these women are strong, independent and yes, flawed—it only makes them more human. They forge strong female bonds of friendship and are there for each other in times of serious turbulence, failed relationships, marriages, infertility, miscarriage, unplanned pregnancy, heartbreak, death etc. I admire all of them, even Samantha. Fave scene: Unfair. Can’t choose. I’ll be lame and say the last scene of the finale when all the girls are walking downtown Manhattan together.

Saved –This movie is a must-see; it’s a great comedy with interesting religious commentary and feminist musings. The plot involves a cast of teenagers attending a Evangelical Christian School. There, Pastor Skip backflips onto the pep rally stage shouting, “Are we down with G-O-D? Let's get our Christ on! Let's kick it Jesus-style!" Yikes.

Main character Mary has the perfect life as one of the more popular girls at school. She has the perfect friends and the perfect Christian boyfriend, Dean. Except her friends turn out to be vapid and her boyfriend turns out to be gay. Mary is convinced she can help Dean be born again, trying everything to turn him straight, eventually offering her virginity to “save” him. Problem is, Dean’s gay porn stash is discovered and his parents cart him away to hospital for drug users, gays and unwed mothers *what a nice combo, huh?*

Mary, ends up pregnant. She discovers this not due to any help from her high school sex ed which showed pictures of human bodies sans private parts and only included the lesson “wait for marriage” but thanks to a show on TV about a woman who thought she was pregnant (due to a lack of her period) but ended up finding out it was cancer. Next scene you see Mary riding home with a pregnancy test chanting in fear, “Please let it be cancer” --alas, she is pregnant and forced to reevaluate her Christian morals and friends.

The outcasts from school take her in after figuring out her secret. A great line in the movie are where two kids are talking about Mary.
“There's only one reason Christian girls comes down to the Planned Parenthood.” ”She's planting a pipe bomb?”
“Okay, two reasons.”

Mary eventually comes to a new realization about sexuality and Christianity. This transformation is best exemplified when one of her former "friends" tries to “help” her:

Hilary Faye: Mary, turn away from Satan. Jesus, he loves you.
Mary: You don't know the first thing about love.
Hilary Faye: [throws a Bible at Mary] I am FILLED with Christ's love! You are just jealous of my success in the Lord.
Mary: [Mary holds up the Bible] This is not a weapon! You idiot.

A long description… can you tell I love the movie?

North Country – “What are you supposed to do when the ones with all the power are hurting those with none? Well for starters, you stand up. Stand up and tell the truth. You stand up for your friends. You stand up even when you're all alone. You stand up.”

A great movie to watch if you want to understand the history of sexual harassment in our country. Based on real events, this movie makes you so thankful that women and some men stood up back in the day against what was wrong. It was true that women living in the iron range and working in the mines were brutally harassed. Women were grabbed, groped, attacked, bullied, cornered and asked to “service” their male coworkers and much worse. Plus all the women applying for a job were forced to undergo a gynecological exam to prove they were not pregnant! Yikes. Charlize Theron gives a powerhouse performance even though at times, it seems that the director may be trying to hard to “move” us.

Any woman who complained of her treatment was threatened with losing her job, but the main character goes ahead and takes the company to court anyway. There is a fantastic courtroom scene where other female co-workers stand up in solidarity behind her. Some of the women standing in the courtroom are not actors, but real plaintiffs from the real courtroom drama that unfolded years before! Chills!

Little Women— Also a great book for feminists. Another tear-jerker and perhaps smacks a bit of the smaltzy-ness of Anne of Green Gables but again… I love it. Marmee (the mother played by Susan Sarandon) brings up her four girls to be strong, and take pride in their worth as human beings, not simply as women. I remember at a young age, watching this movie with my mother. There is a scene where two men sit next door watching the March women and one asks, “What do those girls do over there all day?” The answer, “Over the mysteries of female life there is drawn a veil, best left undisturbed.” My mom scoffed. I remember thinking then, how stupid it was that men made us out to be these incomprehensible creatures. Which, by the way, I still hear in many movies and in stand up comedian routines… like women are so tough to figure out. Really women on a general level want respect, as equals. They don’t want to be treated like second class citizens. As Jo says, “I find it poor logic to say that women should vote because they are good. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are men, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.” And Marmee teaches her daughters, to never think of themselves as mere objects of physical beauty for men; they are strong, not weak. “Feminine weaknesses and fainting spells are the direct result of our confining young girls to the house, bent over their needlework, and restrictive corsets.” Go Marmee!

The Buccaneers—“Can a woman never be free?” laments character Laura Testvalley in this BBC adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel. Laura works as a governess in the St. George home helping raise young Nan. Through Laura, Nan and her sister Virginia secure marriages to wealthy English landowners. The plot is much too complex to explain. It’s a 2 part miniseries running 212 minutes long but it’s well worth the time and it will keep you engaged. The four main characters are young American women who marry English Lords and Dukes and find that their lives as kept wives in oppressive English society are not what they had imagined. “They told us it all ended at the church door and we would live happily ever after!” one woman sobs.

The main story revolves around Nan and her daring escape from an abusive husband. Nan is aided by her governess, Laura in leaving her marriage for the love of her life, Guy Thwaite. But what happens along the way is a truly shocking revelation of what life was like for women and men in that type of society --when marriage was a business arrangement at best and at worst a living hell. At one point Nan’s husband Julius comes to London, under orders from his mother to, “Bring Nan back home by force if necessary.” When Nan asks Julius why he doesn’t do this, he breaks down screaming, “Because I’m not a monster!” Heartbreaking.

Movies for feminists

I haven’t posted in so long. I guess I’ve needed a break from the anger. So, for a change of pace... here's something fun. I’ve started to think about movies that I’ve watched through the years that have helped me understand my feelings on feminism. Some funny, some serious but all great films.

This post is going to be a series. I have other movies and TV shows I’d like to add but here they are for now… these movies are great for men and women who enjoy great cinema and embrace feminist values.

Iron Jawed Angels- Best movie ever. It should be required to watch in high school classrooms. My high school history teacher told me that women were “given” the vote in 1920. What a load of hooey! Watch this movie and you’ll see just how hard women like Alice Paul had to fight for women to vote. Being wrongfully imprisoned and tortured for starters… This movie is very informative, very entertaining and very moving!!! Fave scene: The suffrage parade where a woman on a horse leads groups of women, some in cap and gown, some in their country’s traditional dress down the streets of D.C. with Lauren Hill music playing… I get goosebumps every time.

A League of Their Own – Strong, athletic, competitive, beautiful, muscular, raw… FEMALE athletes in the 1940s. A funny story more about the relationship these women form as teammates, and most importantly the two sisters who are the focus of the story. But if you watch closely, you’ll also get the message of female independence, a desire to be seen not as different, or less worthy but seen as equal. Fave Scene: There’s a very well done scene where a young black woman throws a baseball so hard it actually hurts the catcher’s hand. You see the looks of amazement from all the women on the team (all of whom are white) and you realize that these women have once again been awakened to prejudice.

Legally blonde- Beautiful, perfect sorority girl has guy. Loses guy. Decides to get guy back. Learns in the process that she is smarter, cooler than doofus guy ever was. Girl becomes secure, powerful lawyer even though she is (gasp) blonde, beautiful and ultra perky. Who knew? Fave scene: A mean girl tricks Elle (Reese Witherspoon) into showing up at a party in costume. When she makes fun of her look Elle bites back, “You look great too. Except when I dress up as a frigid bitch, I try not to look so constipated.”

Anne of Green Gables – I don’t care if anyone makes fun of me for loving this schmaltz-fest... I love this movie and it is good! Anne was my hero growing up. She was strong and very smart. And even though it bothered some of the other boys that she was different, strong and smart, she didn’t care. Anne was never afraid to go her own way as an independent woman, turning down marriage proposals to pursue a career and a life in a bigger city. Although, when the time comes, she’s not afraid to do what’s right for her... return home and marry her childhood love. Fave scene: When Gilbert “rescues” Anne from the water, she doesn’t let him off the hook, “The fact that you rescued me, unnecessarily, hardly wipes out past wrongs.”

Vera Drake— Set in 1950’s England; Vera is a selfless woman who is completely devoted to her working class family. She is a caregiver to everyone in her life, new neighbors, sick friends and her elderly mother. She also secretly visits women and helps induce miscarriages. In 1950’s England abortion was legal but very expensive. Vera provided a safe method for “girls who need help.” She doesn’t even take money for it. Vera always treats these women with a smile and kind words. When she is found out and brought to trial we see just how this affects her family. When she is in prison, she meets other women jailed for providing illegal abortions but realizes that the fight must continue or more women will die. Favorite scene: Her family sits talking about abortions. A friend of the family says thoughtfully, “Me mum brought up six of us in two rooms. If you can't feed 'em, you can't love 'em, now can you?”

Real Women Have Curves—Ana is a first generation Mexican-American teenager on the verge of becoming a woman. She lives in Los Angeles. After she graduates high school, she is offered a scholarship to Columbia University but her traditional parents disapprove of her moving away and leaving their family. Her mother wants her to help at her sister’s sewing factory which is little better than a sweatshop making dresses that wouldn’t fit one woman in Ana’s family. Through that experience, Ana learns a lot about the “values” of corporate America. Her mother is always harping on her to lose weight so she can get a husband but Ana teaches her family that her real qualities are in her wit, education and truly, she is beautiful. Fave scene: When Ana gets all the women at work to strip down to their underwear in the hot sewing factory and celebrate their curves.

Westward the women—An old 1950’s Cowboys and Indians movie with a twist. Back in the day where the west meant “Texas,” men settling out in California needed wives. They sent a wagon train to bring women from the East to live with them and marry. Over one hundred women go on a wagon train journey through desert, Rocky Mountains and some Indian attacks. It's old, so not entirely politically correct, especially when it comes to portraying Native Americans. However, I love how the women in the movie transform from society gals in New York to hardened pioneer women that can survive just about anything. A great idea for a movie today would be what happened after the women arrived… interesting, maybe I could write a script. Hollywood anyone?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rape and the Iraq war

Read this story, and your hair will stand on end... mine did.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Thankful to be an American

Women' rights have a long way to go in the United States. The history of women's rights in this country is even more embarassing--- I just bought a book "The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women's Rights in America" and it's bigger than my bible!! Yet, I still realize how lucky we are.

Because we didn't grow up in Africa. I mean, the country suffers from a major AIDS crisis and widespread poverty, not to mention terrible political and civil upset. Genocide has left many refugees behind, many of them women (millions of rape victims among them). But we are also lucky to be American because stuff like this happens in Africa. As if female genital mutilation and rape/abduction marriages aren't bad enough... now reports show that 1 in 4 girls living in Cameroon suffer a new form of mutilation.

Breast ironing:

~~~When hard, heated objects (or other substances like boiling water) are used to try to stunt breast growth. When girls begin to develop, often their mothers or older sisters begin the ironing process. Side-effects include "severe pain and abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts." This savage practice has also endangered the next generation. Some victims of ironing cannot produce milk to feed their infants.

Apparently this practice is a very old tradition but it has just started to nab some press time. Women who were themselves victims, are in turn ironing their own daughter's breasts because they believe it's the best thing they can do to protect their daughters from rape.

"A survey of more than 5,000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 from throughout Cameroon, published last month, estimated that 4 million women in the central African country have suffered the process."

Now, this is a racist thing to say, but I immediately assumed this would be associated with fundamentalist Islam. After all, you most often hear about their atrocities against women as far as genital mutilation (not to mention covering women with burqas). However, breast ironing is most common in the Christian parts of the country. Only 10 percent of women in Muslim provinces are affected. Certainly an eye-opener to me (and hopefully to everyone) that violence against women and disdain for outward signs of sexuality (especially female sexuality) does not discriminate when it comes to religion. It's a worldwide epidemic of fear, distrust and violence directed at females.

I know these questions go without saying but I'll state them anyway... why are women responsible for the sexual abuse they receive? Why are they mutilated for the benefit of men or for their "protection" -- and by mutilated I mean clitorises severed and breasts ironed off. What is next? If lips become a symbol of lust, will they cut those off? If speech becomes too independent, will they cut out a woman's tongue?

These atrocities are an EVERYONE-issue-- basic human rights violations. It was wrong to keep people in shackles because they are black, therefore our slaves. It was wrong to pin on a Star of David and dehumanize, degrade and eventually kill millions of Jews in the Holocaust. It is wrong throw a large sheet over a woman, or iron off her breasts.

Be aware that "women's issues" are really human issues. And be concerned because reactions to what is different, and what we fear are still very, very barbaric.