Saturday, September 13, 2008

Here Tits: The Wet Nurse and The Revival Of Mammy

Well everything old is new again.  I was reading Hoyden About Town when I came across a link for wet nurses. My initial reaction was WTF....seriously...not in the year 2008.  As a WOC the idea that you can, or should pay someone to breast feed your child is extremely problematic.  For those that aren't aware, historically it has been white women paying, or forcing  WOC to act as wet nurses for their children.  There was a time when breast feeding was believed to ruin a woman's figure, and therefore rather than risk their sexual appeal, white women of privilege hired dark skinned women, or used slaves to nurse their children.  The other factor that made wet nursing attractive is the detachment that parents believed to be in the best interest of the child in the 1800's and early 1900's.  If a child was breast fed by the mother it was deemed that said infant would develop an unnecessary, and unnatural attachment. WOC were also seen as best able to bond with a child, as it was deemed that they had the same mental capacity.

 image The role of wet nurse reduces women to roving tits, that are available to hire.  For women of colour the association with mammy cannot be dismissed.  Women of privilege hire wet nurses because they want to continue working, and provide the best possible nutrition for their child.  That this is exploitation, so that they can achieve their goals is something that is not considered.  Women of wealth have a history of exploiting poor women to aid in reproduction and child rearing.  When feminists say that women can have it all, the answer is certainly yes they can, if they depend on another woman to do the labour that they are either unwilling, or unable to do.

Outsourcing reproduction, or child rearing is strictly the preserve of the rich.  That women are the ones equally participating in this exploitation is extremely disgusting.  While fighting to be recognized as equal beings in the public sector, reducing women to their biological functions in the private sector is counter to the progress of all women.  Between the rent a womb explosion in India and the increased sale of eggs,  reproduction has become big business. 

Once something becomes commodified it becomes subject to review and control. Women that are selling their eggs, or working as wet nurses must undergo medical testing and live a life of rigid control.  Their bodies no longer belong to them and instead belong to the family that has bought its capabilities.  Class, once again combines with capitalism to further curtail the activities of women and render them inseparable from the functions of their biology. This is a uniquely female oppression. 

Poverty is a feminized condition, and as the economy continues to worsen how many women will make this choice because they need to feed their families?  A choice made within constrained circumstances is not a freely made choice. The companies that profit based in biology and reproduction, trade on the idea of female bonding to obscure the reality of what selling breast milk really entails, the predatory exploitation of the rich over the poor.  Historically the wet nurse was known to reserve her milk for pay, while her own child was forced to live on a substandard substitute.  Upper class women may feel empowered because they are able to mother and work, however what they are really doing is outsourcing labour, while diminishing the source of nourishment for another child.

For a family to function with even one member working a high powered career a support staff is needed.  It is not possible to work 60 plus hours a week and do the the laundry, keep the house clean, nurse and be successful in the working sphere, without having someone in the household to do the maintenance work.  This is why traditionally it has always been understood that when a man is in a high pressure "flannel suit" job he needed a wife.  A wife was as necessary to his success, as his education.  Even though the labour performed by women was socially discounted as recent as the 1800's, a man could not even secure a business loan unless he was lawfully wed.  It was determined that a man would work harder if he had a family to support, without recognizing the ways in which the wife "he supported" made his labour possible. Today the same sort of situation exists, except now women are looking for their "own wives" as they increasingly embark upon careers that demand a more total commitment.

The advancement of some women on the backs of others is not progress, it is simply the perpetuation of past crimes.  Class and race play a central role in who is designated as 'woman' and who is recognized by their biological capabilities.  For women to achieve equality we need to stop serving the needs of the wealthy and embrace communal ideas that would elevate us all.  As long as woman are seen as a pair of roving tits for hire, or a uterus for rent, we will all be subject to the limitations that reproduction causes women.  Wanting a wife and being a wife are too very different things.  Internalizing patriarchy and using capitalism as a tool to oppress makes us guilty of employing the masters tools.  Freedom for all, means all women are more than the sum of our parts.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Feminist Parenting A Radical Act Of Love

This post is entirely inspired by a comment left on this blog by Meadster.

Renee, you condemn parents for spanking but I am willing to bet that your treatment of your children amounts emotional abuse more damaging than the so-called physical abuse of the average spanking parent. After all your children are boys, males, future men and clearly males can do no right, never deserve praise or kind words for anything. Your partner may get off on that sort of treatment, but your boys did not choose to be born to a man-hating mother. Of course, maybe you make exceptions for your own children. One can hope.

This ignorant shit has been permanently banned from commenting here. No one speaks about my on to the purpose of this post.

The basic premise of his idiocy is that because I am a womanist/feminist I hate all men and would therefore emotionally abuse my male children.  Teaching a male child to own his privileges from birth of course is abusive because I am denying my sons the opportunity to believe that the world should revolve around them.

I am sure that it is patently obvious that I live my politics and as such my mothering is very much informed by my feminism.  Unlike many 7 year olds Destruction (my pet name for him) is daily encouraged to think critically.  At our dinner table we discuss current events, politics, religion, racism, sexism, homophobia, class, gender and sexuality.  No conversation is ever considered taboo and he is openly encouraged to ask questions.

Using feminism as my guide I am daily teaching him that all bodies matter and that he does not exist with the right to exploit another simply because he was born with a penis.  Being a feminist parent takes a real commitment because many around you will endeavour to undo your hard work.  The education system continually presents essentialized gender lessons, privileging males over females. Other parents will use sexist language unthinkingly around your child. Many cartoons and children shows constantly show boys succeeding, and  achieving, while  little girls are presented either nursing dolls, or performing domestic labour. 

Teaching a little boy about privilege is an extremely loving act because it says as mother that I value him for who he is as a person, and not what his physical self embodies.  It further opens him to a world of possibilities that would otherwise have been closed to him.  Destruction is well rounded, he loves to watch hockey but can be found in the kitchen when it is time to cook a meal. From gardening to soccer there is no activity that he is limited from attempting because of his gender, thus allowing him to be a more well rounded person.  If life is about the experiences that we have and the people that we share with, Destruction is off to a good start because gender will never be a factor in his decision making process.  He will or will not attempt something based on the merits of the act and not whether it is for boys or girls.

Shall We Talk About Privilege

Hey you in the back row with the unacknowledged privilege, I am talking to you.  That's right, I am pointing my long black finger at you. It is time to listen up and learn.  Privilege is an extremely loaded word.  Many will not acknowledge it, preferring instead to focus on their good deeds.  Privilege can come in many forms, you can have race, class, gender, western, cis, ability, etc, and it is important to recognize each and every single one of them, they are a part of your being and can not be halted at will any more than you can stop breathing.

I am black, western, straight, middle class, educated, and able bodied, all of these factors combined create who I am and colour how I view the world.  Had I been born elsewhere, and were illiterate and poor all of the comfort that I view as everyday occurrences would not exist in my life.  If I am hungry I walk into my kitchen. I can kiss my unhusband in public and know that the stares we receive are because of our racial differences, and not because of our sexuality. My education ensures that I will have a good chance at achieving and maintaining good paying employment, and it further empowers me to discuss ideas, concepts and ideologies from a detached academic point of view. This is who I am, and I own all of it.

Owning privilege is not about feeling ashamed, it is about acknowledging the benefits that one receives without having to work for them.  It is about realizing that people born to different circumstances will not receive these benefits as a consequence of our skewed understanding of worth and value.  It is further about realizing that no matter how many good and charitable works I perform, my body will always exist with privilege.  No matter how often I donate my time to food banks or homeless shelters, I cannot undo the class privilege into which I was born.  No matter how valiantly I advocate for fair trade, and  an end to things like the western fuelled wars in Africa, I cannot undue the damage that my government has done in my name.  As sickened as I am about the systemic inequalities that plague humanity, I am privileged and I own it.

It is not acceptable to say, I am not racist, sexist, homophobic etc and therefore any accusation of privilege is misplaced.  These privileges are encoded to the body before birth simply because of the society we are all born into.  We do not live outside of socialization we are the product of it.

To become defensive and immediately stammer, oh no not me, is a clear indicator of denial.  It is this very state of denial that allows privilege to maintain its insidious grip on society. One cannot actively fight against interlocking isms while continuing to deny the effect that they personally have on you.  How are you to convince anyone that inequality is systemic, if you as an individual continue to benefit without acknowledgement?  It is dishonest and begins ally work from a false groundwork.  It's like saying I'm not racist because my best friend as a kid was black.  People see that kind of commentary for exactly what it is.

Understanding and owning privilege does not mean that you must live a life of shame or guilt,  it does however mean that you owe a debt that must be repaid.  For each advantage that you are given, you must at some point attempt to mitigate some of your unearned privilege.  This will never absolve you of said privilege but over time, if enough people equally dedicate themselves to mitigation it will lessen privilege through the changing of ideas of what it means to exist as a specific body.

We spend far too much time saying oh no not me, or feeling shame for things that are out of our control.  A dear friend once told me that she felt ashamed and guilty because of slavery.  I was actually dumbstruck for a moment before I responded, "you have never personally enslaved anyone, the issue is not history, the issue is how you continue to be advantaged because of history."  This is central to the point that I am trying to make. No one individual can bear the sins of the world, but each individual continually recreates these sins by failure to acknowledge the degree to which we are socialized to accept that certain bodies are somehow less than.  There is no righteous person, only righteous thoughts, deed and emotions.

Virginity For Sale, Natalie Dylan's Off To Grad School

image Natalie Dylan has decided to auction her virginity to pay for grad school.  "I don't think auctioning my virginity will solve all my problems, but it will create some financial stability," the 22-year-old Sacramento State graduate said. "I'm ready for the controversy... I'm ready to do this."

I fully support her right to pay for her education in any way she sees fit.  I do believe that some women actively choose prostitution because it is the best option for them, and that it is something that they enjoy doing.

My problems with this story are two fold.  On one hand, the idea that virginity is something special, that can be offered as a prize is problematic to women.  The cult of virginity helps reinforce the Madonna/Whore complex.  Women who are deemed sluts are unfairly targeted by society, and in in some circumstances it can lead to death.  In a world where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers, auctioning it off only maintains the idea that virginity is something that elevates a woman.

The cult of virginity is something that is specific to women.  It exists to control womens sexuality.  Men are not encouraged to remain chaste, in fact their male status is heightened by their ability to have sex with various partners.  Men are socialized to consume, and women are socialized to submit.

Virginity became prized with the advent of private ownership.  As men began to leave an inheritance, requiring virginity and the chastity of women was the only way to ensure the paternity of their offspring.  In this we can see the biological imperative to reproduce taking precedence over the so-called male need for sex. Of course men did allow themselves an out.  By actively supporting prostitution they can participate in "meaningless" sex, and then return home to a proper domesticated wife.  Each woman plays a key role in maintaining patriarchy by serving male needs.  Although each woman is significant to a mans life, their value is based solely on their vaginas, and the pleasure or status that it provides.

My second issue with this auction is class related.  Dylan is selling her virginity to pay for grad school.  While it is certainly her choice to do with her body as she sees fit, I doubt that she would make this choice were it not for financial difficulties.  This calls into question how active her decision is, because it is a choice made by constrained circumstances.

Poverty is a feminized phenomenon and in difficult economic times it is women and children that suffer the most.  Whether or not economists will admit it, the US is in a recession, if not a depression, and therefore those already living on the margins of society will have even greater difficulties achieving subsistence.  There is already a spike in women selling their eggs, and now we can add virginity auctioning to the latest specifically female attempt to manage economic disparity.  As the economy continues to worsen, I suspect we will see more and more cases like this.

While I fully respect Dylan's choice, I must wonder how many women will be forced to make similar decisions because of the sudden poverty that they find themselves in?  There is a difference between choosing prostitution because you need the money, versus wanting the money.  The terrible part about this is that no one will rail against a government that refuses to provide education, which is a human right. Dylan will be slut shamed, and left with a spoiled identity.  If you have any doubt about the slut shaming, just read the commentary posted on the first link that I provided.  Good luck to you Natalie, but I certainly hope that some significant changes occur, so that women will no longer have to make the "choice" that you did.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Audacity of Whiteness

The audacity of whiteness never ceases to amaze me.  Some make the most obvious racial statements and then say, gee I'm sorry is my privilege showing. Well duh, of course it is and you damn well know it.  If it were not so tragic I could be amused by the constant apologizing for racial commentary, when the clear intent was to be racial in the first place.  Do yourself a favour and stop with the false apologies it only compounds upon the issue.

As a child most people are taught to think before they speak, but somehow, for some reason, when it comes to discussing bodies of colour, white people regularly experience temporary amnesia.   Of course it is assumed that POC will magnanimously turn the other cheek eagerly awaiting the next slap.  Why else do we exist but to take the sharp barbs and daily humiliations.

If you can't get a job some Latino immigrant stole it from you.  If you cannot get into the college you want, some African American stole your spot due to affirmative action; or some "super smart" Asian who has no life but to study unfairly outworked you.  Are you falsely reporting a crime? Of course blame the black man, everyone knows they're all criminals anyway.  Want some land to pollute, find the nearest Native American, break yet another treaty and wrap it in small pox blankets smothered in their blood. Despite all of the privileges that white bodies are able to marshal if the slightest problem occurs it is always the fault of the body of colour.  We're all equal until a white person feels disenfranchised. I know the drill all to well.

That POC exist without power relative to whites in western society is certainly not something that is worthy of serious consideration.  Privilege must be maintained at all cost.  If at any point a white person has found said privilege to be mitigated by class, gender, sexuality, or ability the problem is not the system which creates a hierarchy of bodies it is the uppity brown bodies of the world.

Of course I can certainly see how fuelling wars in Africa could be beneficial to a small group of people and since no white people are generally harmed in the process no foul right?  Here is another thought...why should western governments be blamed for neo-colonialism.  Is it the fault of white run western governments that there are no people left to conquer?  How about those hot tamales?  South America makes an excellent playground and if Latina women are permanently damaged from the rape tourism that regularly occurs at least it is a way to halt our dangerous trend of Malthusian living.

In the generous post racial world in which we live whites continues to feel entitled to their anger at the minimal loss of privilege that they have experienced, yet when a WOC rightly speaks out about issues effecting our lives our anger is somehow overly aggressive or uncalled for. How dare we express even the slightest angst that we continue to remain at the bottom of the social and economic pyramid when white people have so generously given a few of us the opportunity to rise above poverty. See look at that one referential black over there, she isn't angry, you just have a chip on your shoulder. I swear I know why black people live shorter lives...we are literally stressed to death.

Daily living within the social delusion of whiteness, refusing to sip the kool aid and internalize racism has made me a problematic body.  It may be gauche to publicly say nigger bitch but really it is not necessary when every action reifies the label.  I read body language just like anyone else and the defensiveness and the hatred are obvious.  Excuses are made and explanations are proffered but essentially nothing changes because white people cannot move beyond saying, oh I didn't know that was racism, or that really was not my intent.  For a group of people who want to run the world you really do fuck up a lot. 

Halloween Can Sometimes Be More Of A Trick Than A Treat.

image image

Halloween is one of my favourite times of the year.  For one night you get to step outside of yourself and embrace a different side of your personality.  Unfortunately for girls many of the costumes that are available purposefully reinforce gender norms. Here we see the classic good girl/bad girl binary.  On a night when a woman or a girl could literally become anything, we are offered  more of the same tired cliches that are meant to discipline our bodies and behaviour.

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Even when boys and girls are offered the same "type" of role, they are noticeable genderized.  What is it about having a vagina that automatically means that you must declare it the world by wearing a cutesy colour? Of course the little girl cannot have a gun because guns are for "real boys". For a cowboy notices how white her clothing is? She is meant to "play" the role of a cowboy but the boy on the other hand, actually has the possibility of being a believable cowboy.  If both were transferred to a ranch, it is the boy who would immediately be accepted

image image image

Along with reinforcing gender norms apparently Halloween is also a perfect holiday for teaching racial appropriation.  It is not enough that we have decided that it is okay to name sport teams after Native tribes, nooo why not take that one step further and decide that we can play Native for the day for fun.  This is the perfect companion to the lie that children will perform at their yearly Thanksgiving celebrations, when schools conveniently omit the truth of the near genocide of Native peoples.

image  image image

Why not compound racism with sexism.  North Americans have often romanticized the "Native Princess".  She is always a sexualized being who is honoured for her capitulation to whites.  Isn't it wonderful that for one day a year, women will get to slip into the tantalizing role of the  erotocized 'other'.  These costumes are a mockery to the history of abuse, rape and murder that Native Women have been subjected to.  That these costumes are all worn by white women who were comparatively deemed pure and womanly when juxtaposed with the "squaw drudge", makes this cultural cooption that much more awful. 

When you go Halloween shopping this year, either for yourself or your child, take the time to think about the message that you are sending with the costume that you choose.  Though this is supposed to be a night of fun, replaying sexist stereotypes or displaying racial privilege by deciding to appropriate the culture of another, is not fun to the bodies that are being targeted.  What message are we sending our children when we teach them that recreating some of the worst aspects of our culture is nothing  but harmless amusement?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin Sex Dolls.

Once again for the record I am going to state that I do not support Sarah Palin or her positions. Though I have not dedicated myself to logging each and every incident of sexism that has been aimed at her, certain occurrences require a response.  I found the following link at Feministing and it is simply deplorable.

 image image image

Not only have they sexualized the governor, they have done so with the intent of making a profit.  The idea that no matter what a womans accomplishments are that she is always sexual is a direct result of patriarchy's desire to reduce women to fuckable holes. 

The obvious cliches of the naughty school girl and the superhero are meant to specifically create her as  a body that is meant to be fucked.  Over and over again she is referred to as the sexy school marm or the naughty librarian by the media, thus implying that her sexuality is just waiting to be released by the first happy dick that comes along.  It is no accident that males bodies are not perverted in this manner.

Don't listen to what she is saying, the important thing is that she has breasts and a vagina.  The cooption of the female from is not something that is specific to Palin, it occurs daily in various circumstances.  Whether it is the work uniform that is low cut to profit on womens breasts, or women being used as adornments to sell cars, the message is that women exist for the purposes of male pleasure.

This is yet another example of capitalism and patriarchy working as a team to ensure the second class citizenship of women.  Capitalism continually profits from the free labour of women while using  patriarchy as a mechanism of impoverishment.  This causes women to labour even harder in the service of subsistence.  No matter from what angle you look at this intersection what is clear is that men are the winners.  It is a vicious circle.  Women are not taken seriously because they are always sexually accessible bodies, thus women work harder for less pay to achieve some form of recognition causing the patriarchal bourgeoisie to gain even larger profits.  The sexualization of womens bodies ensures that women are hyper exploitable and for the sake of all of us who were born with the blessing and curse of a vagina we must take a stand.


Comment Policy

I have really wanted to avoid writing this post.  Womanist Musings is one of the few feminist blogs that allows comments without moderation.  I do not believe in censorship and as such have allowed people to freely voice their opinions in my space.  Recently I have become more and more disturbed by the comments that have been posted here.

To the asshats that think that they can come here and pollute our discussions, you are not welcome.  Womanist Musings is about free and open discussion but this does not include commentary that is racist, sexist, homophobic, abelist, or classist.  I am sick of the ignorance and the outright disrespect for the bodies of others.  I believe that we all have the right to dissent, but it should never ever lead to 'othering'. 

I would also like to state that any further commentary regarding my family will lead to an immediate lifelong ban.  My children and my "unhusband" are not open for discussion at any time.  I will also not allow any further name calling or taunting.  If you cannot make a point without calling someone stupid or dumb then you have no point to make.  

At this time I will continue to leave the moderation off.  If I find that this problem continues, or worsens, moderation will be turned on and comments will be posted at my pleasure.  It is not my wish to censor, but I simply will not allow my space to be polluted.  Womanist Musings is meant to be a safe place for all to engage in open and honest discussions, but when we are disrespectful to others a space becomes hostile. 

To my regular commenters, I appreciate your participation.  I have learned so much from many of you.  I deeply appreciate the time you take to read my little blog, and the time that you take to share your insights.  One of my greatest pleasures are the conversations that take place here.  I hope that we can continue on a positive vein as we unpack privilege together.  I am deeply sorry that I have had to write this post, as I know that the majority of you already engage wonderfully with each other.  This post is specifically directed at those that believe that their right of expression is more important than valuing others.  I am sure that I have made it quite clear that one of my core beliefs is that all bodies matter, and as such this blog will no longer allow ignorance to pass for legitimate conversation.


Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo

Hair does not mean the same thing to white women as it does to black women.  Hair for us is a physical indicator of the ways in which we are different. It is no accident that the first black millionaire, Madame CJ Walker sold hair care products. Part of female beauty has always included long flowing locks, and for black women who have  gravity defying hair, that refuses to be tamed, this can be extremely problematic. To mess with our hair, is to mess with your safety; much of who we are is invested in our beautiful audacious locks.

Many of my childhood memories involve sitting at my mothers feet as she braided my hair for the week.  Every Saturday night I would unbraid my hair, and then my mother would wash it and braid it.   I would then put on my head tie,  and go to bed thinking of how pretty I would look in church the next day.  This is a ritual that most black women can relate to. 

As a black girl growing in a mostly Greek and Italian neighbourhood, my hair often became the subject of conversation.  I was a curiosity.  People would  touch it, and ask questions about its care like my hair was some kind of pet dog.  That they were being racist, or treating me like some kind of exotic creature, never once occurred to them.

Today I am a grown woman with dreadlocks that reach to the middle of my image back.  I love them, and they are an expression of my racial pride.  What many white people often fail to realize is that wearing our hair natural is a political choice on the part of black women.  In a culture that constantly teaches that anything black, or associated with blackness is negative, to publicly wear your hair natural is to embrace blackness as a positive.  More often than not, when the media chooses to portray black women as angry or revolutionary, our hair is altered to its natural state even if the woman in question has straightened hair. The most recent example of this, can be found on the heinous cover of the New Yorker, where Michelle was depicted with an Afro and a rifle.

Natural hair equals revolutionary because it says I do not covet whiteness.  It says I have decolonized my mind and no longer seek to embrace the qualities of my oppressor.  It flies in the face of beauty traditions that seek to create black women as unfeminine and thereby undesirable.  My natural hair is one of the truest expressions of the ways in which I love myself because I have made the conscious choice to say that I am beautiful, without artifice or device.  It further states that I will not be judged by the yardstick of white womanhood.  My beauty is a gift from my foremothers who knew on a more instinctual level than we know today, that 'woman' is as beautiful as she believes herself to be.

Today I have the confidence to loudly proclaim no you may not touch my hair.  I am not an animal at a petting zoo.  I will not be your path to the exotic. Even worse than the ones that ask, are those that assume that they have right to touch me without permission.  I believe that part of this urge stems from the fact that black women like so many other WOC, have historically been denied even the smallest forms of bodily autonomy.  While white women were covered in multiple layers; corsets, floor length dresses etc, no honour was given to our desire for modesty. The black female slave at anytime could be forced to disrobe for the pleasure of her owners.

Today white people still feel that they have the right to our bodies.  It can be a small act like touching our hair without permission, to a heinous act as serious as sexual assault.  In each case it is an assault, and an affront to our bodily integrity.  My blackness and your curiosity does not give you the right to touch me.  I don't care if you smile while you do it, or whistle Dixie out of your ass.  My body deserves just as must respect as anyone else.  In answer to your question both verbalized and assumed, NO YOU MAY NOT TOUCH MY HAIR.


Jaish-i-Islami, A Message To Whores

This story was e-mailed to me by a reader named Bev a few weeks ago.  When I first read about the brutal murder of two women in Pakistan I was filled with a rage that is difficult to relate to you.  Even now weeks after learning about the senseless loss of these women, the rage has not diminished.

The Jaish-i-Islami are self described Taliban, and therefor feel that they have the right to slaughter women at will.  According to the Times of India, the following note was left on their beaten and disfigured bodies.

"We warned these whores but they did not stop their business,"

The article did not provide any evidence as to whether or not these women were actually sex trade workers and stated only that "the women appeared to be from middle class families." Class location cannot rule out how these women may or may not have earned a living.

While this incident happened an ocean away in Pakistan by declared extremists, it could have occurred anywhere in the world.  There is a war on woman that has been waged since the beginning of time.  Those women that are the most vulnerable are often the ones that are selected for the worst forms of patriarchal violence.

On this blog I have made a point of noting each time I come across the death of a sex trade worker because I feel that it is important for us to recognize that this is an every day act and not some form of social anomaly.   There is no doubt that these actions reveal the level of homicidal misogyny that plagues our little blue planet. 

If these extremists were really interested in restricting the social behaviours of their societies they would kill the Johns as well as the women. Men who engage in sexual activities with prostitutes are just as guilty of flaunting morality when they choose to pay for sex.  These acts are not about sexual behaviour, they are about controlling women through violence and fear.  Just as in the west where the prostitute is arrested and the John is released, morality is seen to have been affronted by the woman.

To be born with a vagina is to have ones body subject to limitations, stigmatizations and cruelties.  To survive in this world a young girl must learn to satisfactorily perform femininity because her very life often rests on at least the appearance of respectability. For those whom circumstance forces into performing behaviours that are deemed morally repugnant, the decision to turn to prostitution to alleviate the slow death of starvation, or to feed a drug addiction can lead to a fast trip to the morgue. 

Even knowing the risks involved some women actively choose the sex trade.  Not only must they face the dangers that selling sex involves, they are constantly denied agency and told that their decision is not legitimate because___ insert whatever patriarchal conditioning control words are appropriate.

These whores that were killed in Pakistan are nameless and faceless women, and their anonymity is purposeful in that it encourages us not to view their murders as a loss. Their deaths cannot be attributed to a specific culture, race or religion.  They died because they were women, and patriarchy has decided that ultimately womens bodies are disposable.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lipstick Feminism and Dressing The Part

Beauty as power is something that is taught to every young girl. Common adjectives that are used to compliment girls often refer to how pretty, sweet, or kind that they are.  Very seldom do we reward girls for their intelligence, assertiveness, or passion.  As a child becomes a woman she internalizes the idea that is what is most valuable about her, is her physical appearance.  That this is something that will decline in value, often keeps young women awake at night; plotting the best way to take advantage of the small window of opportunity that beauty as a source of power offers.

image Feminism has engaged with beauty on many levels. Some feminists feel that performing beauty even to gain personally is internalizing the male gaze.  Others feel that the daily ritual is a sign of their autonomy in that they actively chose which beauty procedures that they will adhere too and which they will reject based on personal desire.  The debate between the lipstick feminists and the I will not subject my body to social discipline feminists has been waged since the 1970's.

What is beauty without the finery and the flash?  Each season the fashion industry deploys an army of models to inform us how to best maximize on our feminine whiles.  image One simply cannot be caught wearing the wrong shade, or sporting a purse that is the wrong size.  On the other side of the equation, you have women that are blissfully unaware of the fashion trends and dress for comfort over style.  These are the "utility women," who find power in thwarting the seasonal call to the mall.  Utility women take pride in dressing only in what makes them feel comfortable, while at the same time voraciously attacking their dolled up sisters as patriarchal dupes.

Back and forth the conversation goes. You're a patriarchal colluder says the utility feminists.  Well you're lazy, jealous and don't realize that autonomy can be found in many different ways retort the lipstick feminist.  Normally I would refrain from calling two groups of women engaged in conversation a cat fight, but what else can you call it when both sides display such narrow minded western privilege over beauty and clothing?

What neither of these groups ever seem to want to acknowledge is that whether or not your purse cost 500$ and has a DKNY label, or it is a 35$ Walmart find, both are participating in the impoverishment of women globally.  The problem is larger than whether or not you are dressing to please a man.

According to The Feminist Majority Foundation, "Women make up 90 percent of sweatshop laborers. Women are paid as little as six cents an hour and work ten to twelve hour shifts. In many instances overtime is mandatory. In some cases, women are allowed only two drinks of water and one bathroom break per shift. Sexual harassment, corporal punishment, and verbal abuse are all means used by supervisors to instill fear and keep employees in line.

Many of the companies directly running sweatshops are small and don't have much name recognition. However, virtually every retailer in the U.S. has ties to sweatshops. The U.S. is the biggest market for the garment industry and almost all the garment sales in this country are controlled by 5 corporations: Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Sears, The May Company (owns and operates Lord & Taylor, Hecht1s, Filene1s and others) and Federated Department Stores (owns and operates Bloomingdale1s, Macy1s, Burdine1s, Stern1s and others).

Several industry leaders have been cited for labor abuses by the Department of Labor. Of these Guess? Clothing Co. is one of the worst offenders - Guess? was suspended indefinitely from the Department of Labor's list of "good guys" because their contractors were cited for so many sweatshop violations.

Other companies contract out their production to overseas manufacturers whose labor rights violations have been exposed by U.S. and international human rights groups. These include Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart, Reebok, Phillips- Van Heusen, the Gap, Liz Claiborne and Ralph Lauren.


When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are  in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege.

A woman who is making less than 1USD per day does not have time to concern herself with whether or not patriarchy is informing her clothing choices.  This woman must deal with trying to provide subsistence for herself and her family under brutal economic slave labour.  Her class location informs her position, as the realities of her daily lived experience extinguish the angst that lipstick/utility feminists engage in.

Regardless of your position regarding performing femininity through make up and or  clothing, what cannot be denied is that any purchase within our capitalist economy is predicated on the exploitation of women.  The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in  our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of others.  Class position we posit is based on meritocracy, but I must ask, who works harder than a sweat shop labourer?  Though feminism is a movement to end oppression against women, often times the failure to acknowledge privilege leads to the marginalization and exploitation of the most vulnerable within our society.  Class division is not a  flight of fancy, and to ignore the ways in which the Cult of I, turns us into oppressors is to decide unilaterally that only certain women matter.




Spare The Rod

Trigger warning

Recently I have authored a few posts about spanking.  This issue continues to weigh so heavily on me in part because I myself am no stranger to the belt, and because I truly believe in the right of all living beings to be free of violence.  Spanking a child is a violent act and any attempt to justify it is just a denial.  Children are amongst the most powerless in our society.  They are considered to exist without bodily integrity and cannot legally act on their own behalf.  Parenting by its very nature is authoritarian, and this has lead some to believe that they have right to strike a child in the name of discipline.

Some parents repeatedly refer to a lack of spanking as a failure to discipline. This spank or no discipline argument is a ridiculous strawman and they know it. How do these parents believe that things like groundings and timeouts came into practice in the first place?  There is also such a thing as rewarding positive actions to create a desire to continually perform behaviour that is socially acceptable, and responsible. 

When parents assert to legislators that they are taking away their right to parent/discipline, what they they are seeking is to maintain authoritarian control over children.  Our offspring are of us, but do not belong to us.  In a society in which many feel powerless, parenting is one of the few areas left where people feel that they have the right to complete control and ownership. 

Some continue to hide the desire to wield power over another by calling spanking an act of love.  It is encouraged that the child be told that they are loved after each incidence of violence.  What does this teach the child but to associate violence with love?  How many women fall into abusive relationships after being abused themselves as children?  This occurs in part because they understand violence as being part of loving someone. 

What hurts me the most is that there are not more pleas that base love as a supreme act of teaching.  When you reach for your child their reaction should not be to shrink  away with fear.  We don't exhort parents to model the behaviour that we wish children to perform.  It seems our entire focus is rushing them from one event to another without actually communicating about life and sharing lessons.  We can schedule play dates but sitting down and critically engaging with children is something we simply don't have time for.

Children are not robotic individuals that can be programmed to obey on command. Part of the process of growing is testing boundaries, and making mistakes.  To be punished physically for maturing in the natural process impedes personal growth.  It teaches a child that they are not worthy of respect. If we can socially decide that beating an animal is wrong why can we not decide that hitting a child, the fruit of our wombs is equally wrong?


Monday, September 8, 2008

Everything You Wanted To Know About Palin, But Were Afraid To Ask

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

What commentary needs to be made except to say that I am overwhelmed by her experience and her agenda...

Can You Spot The Lesbians? Lohan and Ronson Are Out In Public Again.

I am not a big reader of celebrity news.  I find most of it to be trite nonsense meant to function as junk food for the brain.  Living in the 24 hour media world though, I have been unable to avoid having it unwillingly foist upon me.  Usually I read the glaring headline and move on to something more relevant to the issues that are dear to me. 

image In the flashing of headlines I learned that Lindsay Lohan is dating Samantha Ronson.  No big deal, two women dating time to move on.  Even with my limited attention to celebrity news what I cannot help but notice is that every time there is a story about these two women invariably in the title or somewhere in the body of the article the reporter makes sure to mention that these women are lesbians, and that they are dating.

Lesbian, Lesbian, Lesbian...the media wants to be sure that we are aware of this fact as though it is any of our business who Lohan gets to double click her mouse.  I find this trend to constantly make her sexuality an issue disturbing.  There is never this sort of hysterical declaration of straight celebrities.  You will not find a single article with a picture of a straight celebrity screaming in a declaratory tone, heterosexual, heterosexual, heterosexual.

Straight women apparently are just doing what is "normal" and "natural" and therefore there is no need to announce (other than when they are being "slutty") that they are in engaged in an intimate relationship with someone.  We are meant to be shocked that Lohan and Ronson are fucking, and that they are happy about it.  Is happiness without a dick even possible in a world where we are reared to worship the phallus as the ultimate giver of pleasure?

When we think of sex and female orgasms, it is always constructed as something men give to women, or what I have termed the Passive pussy complex. (note link contains graphic images) Can we even call what these two women do in the dark sex?  If sex is understood as a man inserting his penis into a vagina, thus bestowing on an extremely lucky woman an orgasm, then no we cannot define what these two women do as sex in our heterosexist understanding, and this is our failing.  

The hetero/homo binary informs much of the media's treatment of Lohan and Ronson.  Heterosexuality must never declare itself, whereas homosexuality must always declare itself, thus announcing difference to the world.  Heterosexuality is dependent on homosexuality to be understood as normal and thus socially we constantly discipline bodies that are GBLT.  It is done for the sake of affirmation that yes indeed, you are sharing your lust and genitalia in the right and normal way.

Patriarchy also plays a huge role in the ways in which Lohan and Ronson are treated.  Women's bodies are socially constructed to constantly be consumed by men.  For these two women to reject the great dick and find love with each other, is an affront to the idea that a man is a necessity in the life of a woman.  Patriarchy depends in part on projecting and promoting the idea that fulfillment for a woman is simply not possible  unless there is a man actively engaged in her life.  For generations one of the worst insults that could be hurled at a woman was the label of old maid.  To this day there is a panic in the black community because of the supposed lack of eligible black men, for black women to marry.  Dear God the black women are living without a dick to submit to, how will we survive as a people?

We seriously need to move beyond the point where two women fucking is headline news.  With all of the shit going on in this world, our obsession with other peoples sex lives is ridiculous.  What Lohan and Ronson do is none of our concern, and they certainly should be able to exist in peace and happiness without the media playing spot the lesbian every time they dare to enter the public sphere.


Allies, Privileges and Pats On The Back

As a womanist/feminist I often advocate from an ally position on what I deem bodies that matter.  I do this because ultimately I believe in justice and equality.  It sickens me daily to see the way the cult of I (read: capitalism), patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism and abelism combine to construct people as less than in this world.  These social constructions have real effects that often result in violence, and death for those bodies that are targeted.   It is my hope that by daily writing about the "isms" and how they interact, that awareness can be raised.

Doing the work that I do is part of what I deem my human responsibility.  If the woman across town from me does not have enough food to eat, it is my business. If an infant girl is being circumcised in Egypt, that is my business.  If a child in France is banned from wearing a Burka to school, that is my business. Each one of these incidents though happening to an individual is a direct result of the ways in which we have chosen to privilege certain bodies and certain behaviours.   These occurrences reflect the degree to which "isms" are a systemic cancer to humanity.

I am not alone in working towards ending the power that  "isms" have to effect the lives others.  Daily millions of people across the globe work to create change.  We do this because we feel equally convicted in the belief that the cause of justice is not only worth while, but necessary to creating a better world.  As allies we seek to form alliances for the greater good and unpack our own unearned privileges.

Ally work is often difficult work because it forces us to be cognizant of the way in which we benefit from the very same "isms" that we are fighting to destroy. It also makes us second hand victims of those that seek to maintain the current power structure.  This can lead some to feel that have earned the right to a pat on the back simply because they have become personally aware of the potential power that they have the ability to wield in certain circumstances.

There is the tendency on the part of some to say, look how good I am. I can acknowledge that I have a class privilege, or a race privilege while the rest of the world remains wrapped in a myopic ignorance of what constitutes real value.  Yes it is good that as an ally that you have begun to unpack some of your unearned privileges and work for justice but this does not entitle you to a pat on the back.

Not exploiting or oppressing is what each person should actively be engaged in, and to think that abstaining from using your available power for personal gain is worthy of special recognition is once again an exercise of privilege.  A man that does the dishes does not deserve praise because he is a man doing the dishes. A person that eliminates racial slurs from their daily vocabulary does not deserve praise for recognizing that this language is hurtful. 

Honouring each person despite the "isms" attached to their body is part of human responsibility, and part of owning personal privilege.  To say that I deserve a reward or recognition is akin to belittling the people on whose behalf you labour. It keeps hierarchy in the relationship in that you are positioning yourself as good because you have lowered yourself to help and this undoes any progress that your personal labours have made.

To my fellow allies I say, continue to do the work that you do because it is important and necessary.  Take time in your labour to always own your privileges and realize that it is the work that is important and not you.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bristol Is Pregnant

I am sure some of my regular readers were wondering when and if I was going to get around to commenting on this. In actuality I wrote a post on this issue last week for Global Comment and forget to post the link. So as usual I will get you started with a tidbit and then you will have to go there to read the rest of the story.

By now, many of us are aware that Bristol Palin, Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter, is pregnant. You probably have listened to the media pundits trying to spin this in several different directions.

Some are gleefully rubbing their hands together, expressing overwhelming euphoria. Senator Obama issued a statement saying, “I think people’s families are off-limits, and people’s children are especially off-limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice president.” He specifically denied that his campaign had anything to do with the information becoming public.

Most of the debate on Bristol’s pregnancy deals with whether or not her mother Sarah is responsible, because of her public insistence that abstinence education is what we need to be teaching our children. Some see this as proof that preaching abstinence to our children is a failure, as clearly this approach did not stop the Alaskan governor’s daughter from deciding on her own to engage in sex. Others feel that Sarah Palin is not responsible, because a parent can only control a child’s behaviour to a certain degree. Some claim that the whole debate is irrelevant because it is a family matter. Here you have three opinions on one pregnancy.

It astounds me that people believe that they have the right to even enter into discussion on what another does with their body. It seems that in our post-feminist world, women’s reproduction is still something that is open for social discipline. I find it interesting that no one considered for a moment, that pregnancy could have been an active choice for this young woman. Immediately we assume that birth control failed, that she lacked morals, or that her closed-minded harpy of a mother did not engage in conversations with her regarding sex and sexuality. We claim to acknowledge the autonomy of women and yet motherhood as a conscious decision never once entered the debate.

Read the rest of this post here.