Saturday, January 21, 2012

Drop It Like It's Hot

Hey everyone, thanks for another great week of conversation.  I think that there were some really great conversations that challenged a lot of what has become normal discourse.  Please remember, we cannot always agree but it is important that we stay respectful and committed to listening to each other. Talking at each other, rather than to each other, get us nowhere.

I am still looking for new contributors.  Though I can write about a myriad of things, we all learn best from the people directly negotiating a particular ism.  I am particularly looking for someone to discuss fatphobia and class critically but I am very open to other ideas. Please be aware that womanist musings also has an open guest posting policy, so please feel free to submit a piece or a cross post from your blog.  You can reach me at womanistmusings (at) gmail (dot) com

Below you will find a list of posts that I found interesting this week.  Please be aware that a link does not necessarily mean an endorsement of the article, just simply that I found something about the piece interesting.  Please be aware that I don't read the comment sections so read those at your own risk.  Well start spreading the love, and when you're done, don't forget to drop it like it's hot and leave your link behind in the comment section when you are done. 

The agony of the male novelist
How To Write About Black Women
What Happens When Class Warriors Ignore Race?
Lose like a Man: Who is Really Losing in the new Weight Watchers Campaign?
Snake Oil and Badvertising: FatGirl by Bliss
The Big C’s Big Black Problem
The postnatal body project
Defriending My Rapist
BeyoncĂ© is the Whitest She’s Ever Been in New Album Promo
On negotiating the parallels and divergences of kinkphobia and homophobia
Hot Girls in Wheelchairs
Thin Mint Morality Wars: The Girl Scout Cookie Boycott
An Open Letter to Syd the Kyd
Georgia woman missing for 5 months with no media coverage
Matriarchal Voice
This Story Is Too Bootylicious for Me

Friday, January 20, 2012

It's Friday and The Question Is ........

'45. Good Friday? ' photo (c) 2009, Cathy Stanley-Erickson - license:

The last few days have been brutal for me in terms of my fibromyalgia flaring.  When one is pain, it's really hard to do anything.  My medication isn't even making a dent in the pain and so in the evenings I have been self medicating with alcohol.   I have run of pineapple daiquiris and have been forced to drink straight rum and coke.  This is not my drink of choice at all.  This week's question is for those that drink.  When you decide to have a sip or two, what is your drink of choice and why?

Talking About Approrpiation to Kids

'Pack of Wolverines' photo (c) 2008, eyeSPIVE - license:

As regular readers are aware, the unhusband and I are extremely dedicated to social justice parenting and teaching our children critical thinking skills.  There are times when I wish that there was some model that we could follow because winging it can be tough.  If you want to know how to potty train a child, there are tons of how to articles on line, in magazines and in books but when it comes to teaching a child about the way the world truly operates, you won't find anything.

The boys were recently watching X-Men and Destruction was concerned about the opening scene in which Magneto was being separated from his family by Nazi's.  We have just begun to have conversations about Antisemitism and so this scene stood out to him.  Not having the proper word to call it at the time, Destruction referred to it as racism and so I of course corrected his terminology.  He immediately identified that being separated from your family because you're Jewish is a problem. 

One of my issues with the X-Men series is what a few to be a strong history of appropriation.  I understand that the over arching message is that to other people because they are different is wrong, but I take issue with the fact that these hyper able bodies are constructed as oppressed.  The power differential does not ring true to me in the least.  We are after all talking about beings who can suck your life away with a simple touch, materialize anywhere, read and control your mind, control weather to point of creating lightening bolts and tornadoes, shot lasers from their eyes, etc and etc,.

I think the major criticism of the X Men series should be based in the idea of apporpriating the history and or oppressions of historically marginalized people, and so I got the big idea to tell my 11 year old so and was greeted with a big huge blank stare.  Appropriation is a huge undertaking to understand.  It was prevalent in my mind because earlier that day, the unhusband was playing this song.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Part IV: Guinevere, Racism and the Tyranny of Beauty

I'm a 23 year old Sinhalese woman in Minnesota by way of Dubai by way of Sri Lanka. I am a Womanist, and part of my womanism is figuring out how to be in solidarity with my transnational sisters worldwide. I'm a daughter, a sister, a partner and a writer. I'm a brown girl who knows Shakespeare by heart and devours anything Toni Morrison. I believe in radical, revolutionary living and loving.  I blog at Irresistible Revolution.

I'm a fangirl. Always have been and, I suspect, always will be. Being a fangirl means (among giggling, obsessive Tumblring and overall silliness) that I allow myself to become immersed in cultural texts in ways that are both insightful and transformative. As I said in a previous post, the reason I'm able to thoughtfully critique culture is because I unabashedly engage it; it's precisely because of my passion for art and culture that I so strongly oppose it's complicity in systems of oppression.
Art and culture are not 'just entertainment': they are powerful tools with which we understand, contextualize and justify the world we live in. Being a fangirl means that I invariably encounter cultural texts that justify sexism. Being a fangirl of color means....a whole lot more.

I've written before about my love for the BBC show 'Merlin', particularly due to the casting of WOC actress Angel Coulby in the role of Guinevere. The show has many problematic elements, as do all cultural texts, but I keep returning to it because it's one of the few media images of a woman of color, especially a Black woman, as beautiful, sweet, desirable, gracious, queenly. Angel Coulby is the reason I watch this show, and the reason I partake in its fandom. It's been years since I've participated in a fandom; the unquestioned racism of Tolkien fandoms drove me away, and the predominant whiteness of so many fantasy texts curtail my ability to empathize with the stories being told. In short, 'Merlin', even with its many pitfalls, is a breath of fresh air, and has reminded of all the reasons I love being a fangirl.

While Angel Coulby as Gwen boasts a devoted fanbase, there are many who virulently dislike her role as future queen; examining some of the reasons cited by those who dislike her, while painful and quite frankly nauseating, help illustrate how deeply white supremacy is embedded in our cultural landscape, and how much decolonizing we still need to do.

I won't go into all the whitesplaining reasons in this post: many other Merlin fans of color have done so superbly. What I'm interested in discussing here is the the question of beauty, and how our cultural definitions of 'beautiful' are interwoven with the stories we tell.

Many (usually white) contend that they have no issue whatsoever with Angel Coulby being Black, rather they insist their dislike is based on purely aesthetic reasons. Some of the comments on YouTube videos can be summarized thus: "it's not her race, I just don't find her attractive enough to play the part. It's not racist! It's my opinion."
I try and understand how some people could simply find her unattractive. Then I look at pictures like this:
Or this:

All Hail Mary Sue

The term Mary Sue is quite common in discussions of urban fantasy. It has become so ubiquitous that  I often wonder if everyone is truly aware of not only what the term means, but how it effects historically marginalised women.  A Mary Sue is a character who is perfect, flawless or only having very cutesy flaws (cute non flaws), and who is instantly adored by all of the cast.  If someone is not instantly enthralled with a Mary Sue, it is because they are jealous and or evil, and sometimes even both.

Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood,  Elena Gilbert from the Vampire Diaries, Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments Series, Tessa Grey from the Infernal Devices series, Elena from Kelly Armstrong's Otherword Series, Clare from the Morganville Vampires, Abby Corrigan from Sanctuary, Bella Swan from Twilight, are just a few examples of the Mary Sue phenomenon from books, movies and television.Each one of these characters is beloved for absolutely no reason. The people around them follow them without question and without cause quite frankly (especially considering that these women have the sense of a concussed penguin), even in cases when doing so places themselves in jeopardy. Mary Sue represents the most privileged form of femininity in that she is normally straight, cis gendered and White.  

It is rare to see a protagonist of colour in this genre and they never ever fulfill the role of Mary Sue. (In fact, when “Mary Sue” or “self insert” as a criticism is levelled at authors of colour and other marginalised authors, it is usually because the mere presence of a POC character that is capable and not a side-kick is considered “overly perfect” in a genre that frequently prevents POC from being main characters) Mary Sue then on some level relates to the perfection of White womanhood and marking it as superior to women of colour.  In many ways, it reminds me of the faux pedestal that White women have historically been placed upon.  This pedestal exists solely to give them race privilege and certainly does not apply to equality with White men.  

Even as it works to oppress in terms of race, it is also extremely sexist as it leaves no room to appreciate strengths based in intelligence, loyalty, speed, humor or strength.  It tells women that they must perform womanhood in a very specific manner to be considered truly feminine. Mary Sue is not complimentary to women, and in fact acts as a sort of literary corset, restricting individuality even as it promotes a false form of agency.  Real women are not made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice.

Read More 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Title: Shedding the tears and Looking forward

Itoro Udofia is an artist and writer living in Amherst, MA. Currently, she is attending graduate school to study social justice and education. Her work focuses primarily on the African Diaspora, black womanhood, identity, solidarity, and love. She hopes to continue using art as a tool for social justice. 

It's the New Year and I am well aware that a thoughtful post has been a long time coming. Much happened in the 2010-2011 year to leave the very core of my spirit shaken. To ring in the New Year I want to use this space to begin having more of a dialogue about, naming the unnamed, articulating habits and actions that often remain hidden in our circles of safety, community building and radical organizing. I am glad to know that there have been a flurry of articles and activists courageously addressing the many types of violence, violation and abuse we oppose so valiantly in the presence of our obvious enemies, and then practice those same habits in more subtle ways, sheltered in the safety of our homes, our places of organizing and our personal relationships. 

My reasoning for wanting more of these conversations have been propelled by the painful experiences I went through trying to organize from the past couple of years, and finally 2010-2011 was the year that broke my heart and made me look at things as I had never done before. I had found that somewhere along the line, I allowed myself to become everything I did not want to become. When advising me on this situation, one of my close friends said, “You have to be there. And whatever you do. Don’t let them win.” By my actions, I had…let them win. I became profoundly silent and debilitated. I had internalized many of the harsh criticisms, cutting eyes, controlling gazes and all the denials, silence and betrayals that accompanied it, all of that had been stored inside myself. Finally, something deep, that thing that somehow held me together, broke.  In the end, I spent most of my time in tears and confusion.

I began to believe that I did not deserve genuine relationships, honest answers and even so much as a civil conversation. More insidiously, especially in White radical spaces, I began to feel that I only existed to help others with their own liberation and that it was my job to take those risks for them. Any destructive habits or actions was “just a part of their process” and needed not to be taken so personally.  If I dare uttered that I was tired, then it was a selfish gesture and I better be careful because clearly I did not have enough love for the people. In the end, I truly believed that I was a problem that needed to be fixed and perhaps the contempt was well deserved. Therefore, any type of humiliation, bullying or downright ignorance experienced must have been warranted somehow, because after all, don’t people who often experience the worst of what humans have to offer deserve this anyway? Isn’t this the way the world is? After all, we’re not so bad, the world is much worse! And besides, White people are trying! They’re getting it, they’re moving…at their own pace, I mean so what if they talk too much! You should talk more. So really, there should be no support, no structures, no anything because this is the world anyway. Nasty.  And I’m sure not gonna do anything to make it better. Better yet, I’ll watch.  And besides the way I treat you isn’t really the big issue here, the issue is actually about this, so the way you are feeling is simply just that, a feeling that has no merit here. The list of the ways we annihilate one another goes on. 

Why Grow Your Own Pubic Hair When You Can Have Fox Fur and Feathers

I thought that when the vajazzle phase came in, that we had seen the worst of decorator vaginas, but I should have known that this could only get worse. I give you the designer merkin.

A waxing salon run by former Real Housewife Of New York Cindy Barshop has finally come up with something even more offensive than vajazzling: fancy merkins made out of real fur and feathers from real slaughtered animals. For this absurd beauty procedure, the client’s pubic hair is waxed completely off and replaced with a wig made of either fox fur (“the Foxy Bikini”) or feathers (“the Carnivale”), so that it looks like you’re starring in a tacky porno for furries. They cost $225 and $195, respectively. (source)

When Did This Become Hotter Than This?

I came across the above image on Facebook, and I was immediately drawn to it.  Many of the women that were deemed truly hot from the past, would not be considered sex symbols today.  Marilyn Monroe for instance, was a size 14, and today at best, she could hope to become a plus size model.   Today, the desired size is a 0 and thinner the better reigns supreme.  Jennifer Hudson who is what I like to call a triple threat, achieved such celebration and admiration when she lost weight and it was revealed that she is now a size 0 as though she was somehow deficient at her previous body size. The moment a celebrity has a baby, the rush is on to see if she can get back into her skinny jeans in 6 weeks or less, as though having a baby does not change the size the shape of a woman's body.

If someone is naturally thin, then they should embrace their body size and shape; however, I think we always have to acknowledge that this trend has led to a generation of women for whom starvation is the norm and food has become the enemy. Rather than something that nourishes our bodies and something that we can find pleasure in, far too many women live on calorie restrictive diets, mourning every single morsel that they ingest, for fear that it will add that one extra inch that will be too many. Being thin has become so idealized, that it is suggested that women need to lose weight before they start living their lives.  The best one can hope for in a fat body is to disappear quietly into the background, so as not to offend others with our presence.

Beyond the problem of when full figured stopped being the standard, I think the over arching issue is the fact that we continue to persist that there exists some magical size or shape that makes a woman sexy or attractive.  These changing norms are not solely about progress, they're about about keeping women completely off balance and chasing an elusive dream.  It also helps to feed the multi million dollar diet and exercise industry.  The moment a new diet comes out, before it can even really be determined whether or not real health benefits exist, there is a mad rush to embrace it.  From the Atkins (die of heart attack) to low/no fat diets ( looking at you Susan Powder) some new magical plan is always being praised as the ultimate solution to achieving the body you have always wanted. 

Does Islam Need Muslim Feminists?

WoodTurtle is a Canadian Muslim feminist currently using her extended maternity leave to explore developments of Islamic feminism in the Western and Muslim world.  As a woman who wears the hijab (owns several abayas and a niqab monogrammed with her initials in pink, sparkly sequins), she writes frequently on genderized Islamophobia. She also works toward dispelling myths and stereotypes about women in Islam for both Muslims and non.
Common topics discussed in the Islamosphere tend to appear and reappear cyclically. It’s like a wave that spreads through the many talented voices dedicated to grappling with the more “uncomfortable” discourses in our nuanced communities – where suddenly, Muslim bloggers are all talking about the same thing at the same time: the “beating verse,” hijab, gender segregation at mosques, hijab, women’s rights and roles, hijab, polygamy, hijab, menstruation, hijab, domestic violence, hijab, and on it goes.
This month the topic of choice is Islamic and Muslim Feminism – discussed here, here, here and here by people more brilliant than I.

This post was supposed to allow me to daydream myself into a faerie-tale discussion of the “perfect” mosque – but a reader sent an e-mail requesting my thoughts on the recent Goatmilk debate: Islam is incompatible with Feminism, and I decided to throw my two cents in.

Two respectable minds entered the debate – only one emerged victorious … though, the jury is still out, and will probably be out for a very long time on this very complex subject.

Debater Mohamad Tabbaa favoured the motion, and argued that Islam and Feminism are two different and irreconcilable ideologies:
Muslim feminists must now make the choice between the Islamic paradigm, which is centred around God, or the secularised modern theology, which is based almost exclusively around (white) men.
In his rebuttal, Tabbaa nuanced his arguments further with the idea that merging Islam into Feminism colonises “Muslim spaces and voices” and that, “Islam already has within its paradigm the language and tools with which to deal with women’s issues.”

Arguing against the motion, Katrina Daly Thompson took the position that there are some Muslims who simply don’t understand Feminism (just as there are Feminists who don’t understand Islam is open to interpretation) – and that Islam and Feminism are fundamentally linked:
Feminism and Islam both need Muslim feminists—Muslim men and women who believe in the full humanity of women—to fight against gender discrimination within Muslim cultures and spaces.
Guess which one I sided with.

Reading the articles and subsequent comments (with lots of eye rolling and victory air punching) started me thinking about my own feminism and how I view myself as a religiously-oriented, Muslim feminist.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hugo Schwyzer, Redemption and the Jizz Heard Around the World.

The last few days, I've engrossed myself in a crash course on Hugo Schwyzer.  Because I am not a feminist, I am not overly familiar with his work, though I had heard of him before he decided to author He Wants to Jizz on Your Face but Not Why You Think at Jezebel. Is there a more controversial subject than a discussion of facials, on a so-called feminist space? Suffice it to say, this piece quickly went viral,with several online feminist blogs decrying what they felt to be not only the misogyny of the piece in question, but  a history of active anti-woman beahaviour and writing. Hugo’s fans rose to the challenge to defend the man they clearly feel is the last best chance of cisgender, White male feminist thinking.  
A man ejaculating on a woman’s face, heretofore referred to as the facial, is a contentious subject, as I am sure Schwyzer was well aware when conceiving this piece.  Schwyzer makes it extremely clear that he supports the necessity of a woman’s consent to this specific sexual act when he writes: “No one should be obligated to endure humiliation for the sake of someone else's longing for validation.”  The problem is that he then negates this statement by arguing that the impetus for a man to perform a facial stems from a desire to have both his genitalia and his ejaculate accepted and embraced by his female partner.  Because we live in a patriarchal world, it is female genitalia that is regularly attacked as unclean, and a history of unnecessary cleansing products bears this suggestion out. No such products are regularly marketed to men.
Within the text, Schwyzer also affirms that at least in part, the facial has its origins in pornography by quoting sex educator Charlie Glickman:  “That changed in the 1970s, when porn movies became longer, scripted features with bigger budgets. Since there would be more than one sex romp in the film, external ejaculation was the mark that a specific scene had ended."  The form of pornography that both Schwyzer and Glickman are referencing is produced from the perspective of the straight male gaze and is largely consumed by straight men. This means that pornography not only serves as an inspiration to perform a sex act, it infuses a rigid performance of gender that renders women’s desire and sense of self invisible for the purpose of male sexual gratification.  But does this make the facial inherently degrading and anti-woman?

Shit White Girls say ..... to Black Girls 2

Yes, Franchesca Ramsey back with the second installment of Shit White Girls say to Black Girls. In some circles her original video was well received however there were those who claimed that the video racist. This response highlights exactly why Shit White Girls say to Black Girls is important.  People of colour have the right to talk about their lived experience and to combat the racism that we face.  If it makes Whiteness uncomfortable, then I say too damn bad.

Paula Deen Has Diabetes and the Judgement has Begun

'Paula Deen Enterprises' photo (c) 2010, HumongoNationphotogallery - license:
Okay, I am sure none of us were surprised when it was announced that Paula Deen has type II diabetes.  I have to admit that I am guilty of watching her show with a sort of voyeuristic pleasure.  Between the butter, oil, and mayo, her cooking is an extravaganza of everything, and I do mean everything that is just terrible for you. When Deen was on Oprah, she was asked specifically about the unhealthy nature of her food, and her response was, "I'm your cook, not your doctor."  I laughed because I recognized the truth of what she said.  Just because she can show you how to make certain meals, does not mean that you have to make it or consume it.

Deen has announced that she has no plans to change her lifestyle, and intends to partner with Novo Nordisk to create a website that focuses on managing diabetes and highlights the insulin injection Victoza.  Apparently, Deen uses this medication on a daily basis.  Diabetes is a killer and so the very idea of shilling medication, but not changing your lifestyle is offensive to me.  Just taking your insulin or medication, does not mean that you can escape the harm that diabetes is doing to your body.  I find her approach offensive and quite frankly irresponsible; however, I fully recognize that it is Deen's right to negotiate her illness as she feels fit. Furthermore, anyone who has diabetes has had a conversation with a doctor about the role of nutrition in managing their disease. 

Enter the king of arrogance and fat hated Anthony Bourdain.
And as news leaked she was making the announcement regarding her health, Bourdain was inundated with people "looking for quotes." And he says he "takes no pleasure" in her news, telling, he suspects she's known for a long time and been looking for a way "to position herself."

"When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you've been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you've got Type 2 Diabetes ... It's in bad taste if nothing else," he said. "How long has she known? I suspect a very long time." (source)

Sometimes being rude is the acceptable response

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.   

So, let’s say you’re volunteering at your local RSPCA shelter one day and someone comes up to you and starts to discuss the merits of punting kittens. Maybe they talk at length about how aerodynamic a well punted kitten is. Maybe they discuss just what noises kittens make when punted at various surfaces. Maybe they just express their joy at the idea of kitten punting.

How do you respond to them? Do you politely and calmly and reasonably tell them that punting kittens is not well regarded behaviour, explain to them about empathy and the creature’s pain and just how cute and fluffy and adorable a kitten is?

Or do you curse at them and call them a horrible human being who should be kept away from all animals at all cost? So you attempt to hit him over the head with a large fish? Do you pelt him with angry armadillos?

Or let’s say you’re walking around quite calmly and some fool approaches you and says the most repellently offensive things about your spouse; truly unforgiveable, dehumanising, wretched things.

Do you calmly say how not acceptable such behaviour is? Do you quietly say how upsetting you find this? Or do you give him the world’s most cutting side eye and proceed to inform him in no uncertain terms how he pollutes the very oxygen presumes to steal into his worthless lungs?

Or let’s say someone approaches you in the street and slaps you across the face, knocks you down and then starts kicking you. Do you politely ask them to stop doing that? Do you nicely let them know that it’s kind of unpleasant? No?

See, there are times when being polite, kind, calm, understanding really has no place. In fact, I would say there are times when the appropriate response – the correct response – is blistering rage, fury and yes, even telling someone to go take a long walk off a short pier. I would even say that not being angry, furious and yes, rude and aggressive in these situations is inappropriate. I would go even further and saying that engaging these people in a civil and reasoned manner is not only counter-productive – but it’s harmful.

Monday, January 16, 2012

More on the Trans* Umbrella

Biyuti is a Bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. He also blogs at The Biyuti Collective.
Over at TransGriot, there has been a very fascinating and educational series of posts about the trans* umbrella. The first part details the origins of the umbrella term and why it was chosen, while part two discusses why an umbrella term is needed.

In the first part the transgender label is described in the following way:
We understood that to be transgender is to have a non-conforming gender expression regardless of one's gender identity. Transgender therefore is a meta-group consisting of many distinct groups, each sharing common causes but each also having unique challenges. Together we are stronger then we are when we are alone.
Which is, of course, how bakla ended up being part of the SF Trans March’s original call out. My first post on Womanist Musings called into question the applicability of such a rubric when removed from its cultural context and put into other contexts. I still think that this argument fails. One reason is couched in another statement, “The real problem is that the labels we have all SUCK.” Maybe all the English words suck, but I’m quite happy with bakla. It expresses everything I need it to about my gender/sexuality.

Of course it is a problem if anglophones/westerners have no words to express or identify their gender in ways that they like. Apparently, the solution to this problem is trans* or transgender. Which, of course, is a good thing. But it isn’t something I need (or want).

Shit White Girls say to Arab Girls

Yes, the trend continues on and as I promised, each time I find a new one of these videos, I will be posting them on the blog.  These videos represent a trend of marginalized people speaking about the every day assaults to their person that they are forced to live with.  I think that they are extremely important, and if the video does not apply to you specifically, or criticize an action that you have done  in the past, the subversive nature of them serves to remind us all that marginalized people not only deserve to be heard, but that we have something to say.