15 Books Every Feminist Should Read

1. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir2. Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly

3. Borderlands/La Fontera: The New Metiza by Gloria Anzaldua

4. The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

5. Goddesses and Monsters by Jane Caputi6. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature by Val Plumwood7. Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins8. Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick9. Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture by Janelle Hobson

10. The Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo11. Pornland by Gail Dines 12. Guyland by Michael Kimmel13. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler14. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by Bell Hooks15. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions
by Paula Gunn Allen

Do you Think They Practice in These Uniforms?

With a nod to the thesis of Ariel Levi’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, (quite an interesting read by the way) I present you with images of the players in the Lingerie Football League:

I am sorry but WTF? Really! Is this how women athletes expect to be taken seriously? It is images like these that prove I will never be a third-wave feminist. (I am talking about this a lot lately, aren’t I?) I might wear make-up and love it or occasionally feel sexy in some sassy/naughty/sexy attire (pick the term that most satisfies), but I will never see this show of skin as anything but a mockery of female empowerment. Not to mention the fact that I would be hard pressed to call fully dressed football empowering – I am thinking about ideas that are similar to my recent post regarding mothering – which included a little Simone de Beauvoir diatribe – football is a staged enactment of violence – much like the less staged Roman gladiators.  This staged “football” violence is interested in dominance, not equality or peace. It is a game constructed in a violent framework, which teaches domination and destruction as the desired goal.  Literally the goal of a foot ball game is to “beat” the other team, to win, to prove your domination over them. Traditionally associated with hegemonic masculinity and patriarchical mastery, domination represents a false road to empowerment because it is about individual success rather than equality.I know this may seem a little heavy-handed – but I can’t help myself. There are even moments when I see football – much like basketball – as continued reinforcement of the horrifying sexist, racist and almost suicidal elements of hegemonic masculinity. No one seems to care that football has been linked to the early onset of dementia, sexual assault  (second article on this), and increased sex trafficking.  Despite its violent nature, football plays the role of  a masculine right of passage in many American communities.

My mother (and favorite feminist) sent me a link to an article by Natasha Thomas-Jackson last night. In the article entitled “Why I like my Feminism Gray,” Thomas-Jackson writes:

The ultimate goal is to create a world where women can be whatever they want to be, whenever they want to be it, without limitations imposed by gender and sexism. I think that any idea, institution, or person that tries to deny a woman this full range of expression is an enemy to feminism.

Looking at this quote the rest of the  article it is clear that Thomas-Jackson is a third wave feminist – and obviously women should “whatever they want to be, whenever they want to be it, without limitations imposed by gender and sexism,” but the question is do we live in a world where that is possible?  Or are we so contained and constructed by the social moray of our particular cultural groups that we have never genuinely ventured to know what would allow us to be  free of the “limitations imposed by gender and sexism.” I would guess but I can’t say for sure, that the women pictured above enjoy what they do and are appreciated for it  but why are they appreciated. Is it because they are great athletes? hot bodies? genuine intellects? individuals? Or are they just objects – jokes in comparison to their male counterparts?

But mostly, Really!@??? Gross.

Social Justice is about everyone, isn’t it?

So lately I’ve been encountering some troubling stuff. Stuff that makes me question myallegiance to the feminist tribe. (Well, sort of.) In particular I have encountered three conversations with feminists that make note of the idea of limiting the sphere in which one can truly be a feminist.

The first instance was a comment from a good friend – one I know to be an active advocate for social justice of all kinds. In fact, I would argue that I have almost never hung out with her without discussing some way in which the current social systems are hurting or inhibiting the needs and desires of honest hard-working people or animals.  A few years ago she had a baby – a beautiful strong-minded little girl – and after much toss and turn – she decided that she was not going to return to work as a teacher. So now she is a stay at home mom.  Her comment to me was that most of her feminist friends no longer respect her. REALLY?!! I was shocked – horrified even. This is like the best mom ever, a woman who studies and thinks out all her moves as a mom – what food her daughter should eat, what fabrics should be close to her skin, how much television is too much television – or is she better off with non at all?  This woman who washes her own diapers because she’s worried about the earth and yes, she has a partner – who happens to be a man – who works day and night so that she can stay home and raise their daughter in the way she thinks is best.  This is a job, and important one, is it not?  It is also a job she loves and one that she feels has great meaning for her.

I’ve done some research and there are definitely women who rage against this idea. Like this one . And this one. But, I will continue to defend women who choose to stay home.  Mothering is a key element of society. It is a valuable and honorable profession. Viewing childcare as a less than scenario relies on philosophical framework of importance or success that  is defined by the masculine identity – in other words one of the key issues, early on for feminism was the idea that men’s lives are defined as free – potent and subject oriented. 

Ringing in the second wave of Feminism by writing The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, explained the nature of women’s cultural standing. She said, “man represents both positive and neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative.”   In other words, masculinity is perceived as the norm or the superior state of humanity and femininity exists as “inessential” opposition to this norm. Beauvoir’s theory on implementing male/female equality was grounded in the understanding of womanhood as a limiting state.  Beauvoir advocated the rise of a woman from subordinate to dominate by becoming more like a man, i.e. disconnecting from her connection to ‘her own nature,’ her physicality, particularly her womb and the job of child rearing.  Later feminists recognized a fundamental flaw in Beauvoir’s perspective. In “Humanism, Gynocentrism, and Feminist Politics,” Iris Young explains, “Beauvoir does not call into question the definition of being human that traditional western society holds, and she devalues traditionally female activity in the same way that the patriarchy does.”  In other words, Beauvior’s perspective equates the true state of humanity with masculinity. In light of this understanding, it is my contention, that femininity is not the problem, rather inequality is caused by the “the denial and devaluation of specifically feminine virtues” (Young). The road to compassionate equality does not require that women become more like men, but rather that we cease to devalue and define femininity and masculinity as constructs in opposition, with hegemonic masculinity functioning as the superior form and femininity an inferior reflection.  This idea can be explored further in the works of Val Plumwood.

I am off on a tangent from where I began…So let me just circle round a bit. While I’ve focused on this discussion of stay at home mom’s, I mentioned that there were three conversations that threw me for a loop. The second conversation occurred with Gail Dines and some of the current  key players in FAU’s Women, Gender and Sexuality department at the Florida Consortium for Women’s Studies Conference. The topic of the actual discussion eludes me by the basic premise was a number of female  feminists met to discuss pornography and anti-porn strategies and the told a transgender feminist that her attendance was not appreciated. Ouch…REALLY! Isn’t the ultimate goal empowering and accepting each other as we are and want to be? 

My final issue was a conversation with friends about sexuality – one friend, who is in a long-term relationship with a man but used to date only women – mentioned that when she started dating a man all her lesbian friends disowned her. REALLY!  – I can’t really say that the women who disowned her are feminists, but I can say that they bear the burdens of unequal social justice issues – wouldn’t they want to let people be and choose whatever makes them happy? Obviously not.

What is that? 

I am a proponent of the morality detailed by the principles of feminist care ethics, i.e. acknowledging and examining how one’s personal background, experience and viewpoint affect one’s moral choices, focusing on responses that are person and situation specific, and creating solutions that focus on care and empathy for others. If you are interested in these ideas read Maternal Thinking: Toword a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick. I guess my point here is that in the end, the ultimate goal, breaking down abstract prejudice and oppression is the only goal – and these behaviors – judgement and criticism of the choices people make – these are the behaviors of the oppressor.

So, I went to the movies, again – no strings attached.

 Those of you who know me personally know that despite my feminist leanings and my best intentions, I am still a sucker for hollywood. In particular, I love romantic comedies and teen  flicks, ( not to mention teen television and YA novels). When it come to these often patriarchal films, I am not a complete push over – and by that I mean I don’t just sit there and sop up the cheesy without thinking about it, and I certainly don’t take chauvinism lying down. But, I know that merely buying the ticket is a donation to the kind of media that promotes a male dominated asymmetrical gender dynamic.

That said, I saw No Strings Attached this weekend. For those of you who don’t know,  this film stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Portman plays Emma, a strong-willed and determined female doctor, who has no need for relationships or love. In fact, she finds relationships taxing and complicated so she avoids them completely. Enter Adam (Kutcher), a fun-loving, sensitive male wannabe writer, who works as a producer for a teen show similar to Glee (sidenote: yeah, glee!). Adam and Emma enter into a “friends-with-benefits” scenario, which is basically a denial of their budding relationship. (Note: Normally, this is the point where I might say spoiler alert – but if you don’t know where this  film is heading from the first scene than you aren’t living on the same planet as the rest of us.) Ultimately, after much push and pull Emma realizes that she’s in love and gives in to her version of traditional heterosexual partnering.

The basic premise here is about reaffirming gender construction. This is the story of how the stoic woman learns to face her emotional core, a storyline I think we are seeing more and more often (Juno, Love and Other Drugs, The Ugly Truth, The Proposal…)  and one that seems to be a backlash against the ideas of 2nd wave feminism. Before, Simone de Beauvoir women were (and still are) perceived as unreliable because they are “emotional” and so some 2nd wave feminists looked to strip away the understanding of woman as emotional and replace her with the super-woman, a career focused gal who could do anything a man could.  (Note: I am italicizing woman and man here to emphasise that these terms are constructs – no one genuinely fits into these categories 100%). No Strings Attached, like the other films I’ve mentioned, features this less than emotional girl and portrays her lack of desire for a relationship as reactionary scar or wound, which is the result of either having to grow up too fast or deal with a great traumatic event earlier in her life.  Emma is heroically emotion deficient because she is the rock for her mother and her sister.  The confirmation that Emma, has these issues is a scene in the car driving to her sister’s wedding in which Emma’s mother explains to Emma being so brave since her father died was important but isn’t really necessary anymore. Following this chat and a similar conversation with her sister Emma takes a whirlwind dive into the emotional mess category. Blech.

The point is this film seems to say that women who choose work over relationships or women who don’t act emotional are just out of touch with the truth of their feelings; they are  lying to themselves and all they need is the right guy – the sensitive guy –  to help them see how relationships can make you happy.  This is a backlash to that super-woman who acts like a man – the infamous feminazi. Films like this usually include a gender switcheroo – a sensitive man and a dominating woman – so in some ways they flatten the rigidity of gender categories but they still maintain  dominate codes of the patriarchal system one strong stoic partner and emotional partner, i.e. a non-equal partnership of domination.  

I am absolutely not saying that relationships don’t make people happy. They often do. Nor am I saying that a woman can’t walk around and say she doesn’t need or want a relationship and then change her mind. In fact, I know that an enactment of traditional male stoicism is not anything I want to be and I generally question why women would want to mimic this fallacy of the masculine construct because isn’t it the history of what men have done that caused the problem – our culture of domination? But that said I still find myself wondering why? Why, in the second decade of this new millennium am I seeing this story pattern?  The answer seems obvious to me: if you can’t beat them join them. In other words, any pattern that reaffirms the heteronormative love match maintains the othering and subjugation of non-conformist behaviors , i.e homosexual relationships, single moms, asexuality etc. Sure, go ahead be a doctor – act emotionless – poo poo relationships, as long as it’s in theory, not practice.  Because in the end we learn s that despite her hard exterior Emma is after all a girl – a gorgeous, tiny ,thin,  emotional mess who acts jealous, hides in bushes, binge eats doughnuts and gets the guy.  Puke. Puke. Puke.

Anyway – it was funny and man oh man, Portman and Kutcher are so very pretty.