Category Archives: feminism

Neddy on Feminist icons.

This started out as another driveby, but then I had a bit of a feminist digression.

In class yesterday we were talking about body image and messages for girls in children’s books and tv, and we talked a lot about Dora. (I must admit to being surprised to learn that there are people who complained that Dora was a lesbian, possibly because of her hair? or is it her sensible shoes?) Our discussion was focussed on how it was a shame that Dora, who was a positive role model for girls, seems to be being made more stereotypically feminine.

First, she had to have Diego help her, because obviously, girls can’t really solve problems by themselves without a boy to help them. There was also the old, tired mansplanation that boys wouldn’t watch a show about a female character (despite the fact that they manifestly did watch the show.

Then there was that brief abomination of tween Dora, with her better-coordinated outfit, more feminine silhouette and less sensible shoes. Tween Dora got a lot of pushback at the time she was announced, and she seems to have quietly disappeared. However, the efforts to feminize Dora are continuing. Lately, she’s all about ballet and being a princess instead of being an explorer. Ballet Dora has much nicer hair, and properly girly clothes.

So we talked quite a lot about images of girls (cartoon and real), and what kind of pressures they might put on real girls.

That was all by way of giving you context for the Neddyism. I asked if there were other shows that did present good examples of strong girls (in the context of us having talked for about half an hour about unrealistic body image), and Neddy’s hand shot up. “Sailor Moon,” he said.

Sailor Moon.

Are you shitting me? At least 10 heads snapped towards him with expressions of incredulity and outrage on them. “How is that a positive example of body image?” one of them asked, quite mildly. Neddy’s response, which was about how Sailor Moon has girl heroes in it, made it clear he had really no idea about what body image was, or that it had never occurred to him to think about the pressures women might experience with regard to their appearance.

Now, granted, he’s a young man in the 18-22 age range, and some of them can be pretty damn sexist, as any of you who spend time on the internet may have discovered. In my experience, though, guys of that age KNOW about issues like body image. The ones who choose to argue against media pressure on women tend to counter with “it’s just as bad for men,” or “you can choose to ignore media stereotypes”. Neddy’s response was an example of complete obliviousness.

Naturally, he wanted to talk to me about it in that brief 2-minute window between classes. “I got the impression I said something wrong,” he said, apparently because he noticed a bunch of people “looking at him weird”. Oh, good god. Yes, Neddy, you are about to have an existential crisis, but I really, honestly only have 2 minutes.

Cowardly, me?

Need another blog on feminism?

Probably not, but on the other hand, why the hell not?

Some online chums and I, disappointed by the faux feminism we keep finding on “feminist” blogs that are also about pop culture, decided to make our own. I am hoping that the combination of feminism and snark will fill the gaping hole in my soul left by the demise of FYCL.

Anyway, if you like feminism, pop culture, internets commentary and/or meanliness and snark, come check us out at Feminist Snark. I am really hoping to make it a group effort,  so if you ever feel inspired to contribute, feel free to email me at whatladder at gmail dot com.

FYCL #3, the leaky radiator edition.

FYCL #3, click to listen, etc, you know the drill.

Dubious advice on when to have children, Montessori school, censorship (or not) on the internets, the etiquette of oversharing, body image and advertising, and the nexus of blogging and rubbernecking.

Links to stuff we talked about:

Apologies again for problems with audio quality, including, but not limited to, my cat who kept opening the creaky door. SJ’s headset might be dying, and her volume is a little up and down. I feel like every week I learn new things, but for every issue we fix, a new one crops up. Hey, this is a venture in its infancy.

Music this week at the end of the podcast is “Love, Etc.” by the Pet Shop Boys, and our theme music is the FYCL Podcast Theme, specially composed by our in-house musician, who will take commissions, reasonable rates.

For anyone who is left on the edge of her seat wondering, yes, my brother and his wife arrived, and yes, we had a lovely visit with them.

Please post comments on this episode and questions for next episode here, or you can email me at whatladder at gmail dot com.

I think I might be a remote Hebredean Island.

Wait, what? I was reading this article What if the feminist blogosphere is a form of digital colonialism which SJ linked me to this morning. Apparently it is causing a little bit of kerfluffle amongst those in the feminist blogosphere who are, as the article kind of predicts, taking it a bit like a personal kick in the teeth.

I think the article poses some interesting questions, but I have to ask whether the issues they point out about the dynamics of colonization are really particular to feminist online communities. Actually, I don’t have to ask, because I know: they aren’t. So what really is the issue, here? That somehow, we want things that call themselves “feminist” to operate differently? To be speshul?

Let me take a moment here to navel-gaze, and to take this post personally. Am I colonial power? Is this even a feminist blog?

Well, hmmm. Let’s see. I think I am a feminist, although I have at times been told that I can’t possibly be one because I am in a heterosexual relationship with a man (the person who said this had been in a heterosexual relationship with the same man, but had, after a subsequent heterosexual relationship, decided she was gay and moved into a lesbian household and perhaps at the time, this was more about her than me, but I digress…), but I am a professional person, and I try to see myself as an independent woman and a feminist. Ergo, this is a blog written by a feminist. Sometimes it is about feminist stuff, like reading Emily Martin’s essay with my class, pondering the issues of body image and my daughter or dealing with Sexual Harrassment Colleague. Sometimes, I dare say, it is about stuff that would horrify some feminists, like my previous post where I gave an annoying female student a rather rude nickname. To be fair, I do this to the male students, too. Equal opportunity sarcasm.

Is it a feminist blog? I guess maybe, although I have only had hatemail from one male reader, so maybe I am not trying hard enough. Let’s put a small checkmark in the feminist column, anyway.

So what about the other stuff? The potential colonialism? Full disclosure: I am white and currently live in what might technically be called a British colonial outpost. I used to live in a different British colonial outpost, so not now, nor ever have been exactly USAsian, which I think means I am not quite in the right group.  I am not a visible minority, and I have checkmarks in the “educated” column although I am not wealthy, dammit. So do I  fall into that mainstream  being defined here: “Larger feminist blogs are often run by a centralized group of like-minded, economically privileged, white, heterosexual, American women who follow a third wave feminist ideology”? Outside observers might say “yes”. I am not sure. Sometimes these feel like they might be my people, sometimes they are light years away from how I think about things.

The other issue is the one about the purpose of the blog. “Let’s be honest: blogs are businesses. They sell a product (writing) to their customers (readers) in exchange for revenue (via donation buttons, advertising dollars, referral programs, speaker’s fees, and book deal).”

Full disclosure: this blog costs me $20 a year. No, that’s not some kind of preamble to a donation drive. No ads, and I am not looking for ad revenue. I am not doing this for the cash directly. If someone offered me a book deal, would I take it? Hells yes. Am I in it for the popularity? I guess, but my desires are pretty modest. I look at my blog stats, now and again, and the fact that I have 100 or so hits a day makes me happy. I go, “cool”. But I did that when I had 30, too. I guess what I am saying is that I am happy with my population, and not really looking to expand my territory, to use the “colonial power” metaphor. I’m an outpost. A minor outpost, off the beaten track, with crap weather. If I get a little surge of tourist traffic now and again, well and good, but otherwise, as long as we have internet access and the local store sells coffee and booze, we are content.

If you want to thrash this out a bit more, there’s a discussion thread on Uppity Women.

As Promised: The Tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

Hey, I lost my voice. So I called the Department Secretary this morning to cancel my 10am class, thinking a bit more time to sleep and have coffee, and buy some throat lozenges, and I could probably make it to the noon class. Her reaction to my barely-audible squawkings on the phone was to say “Oh my God! I am cancelling all your classes.” Sweet. This leaves some unexpected free time, so let me lay on you the tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

One semester, after Sarcastic Bastard and I had got rid of Professor Crybaby from our office, and her desk was briefly occupied by Dr We-Won’t-Speak-Ill-of-the-Dead, we were graced by the presence of Sexual Harrassment Colleague (hereinafter referred to as SHC).

SHC is an older guy, who used to be a High School teacher; he’s a published author, and father of adult twins (both female). The final point is probably important in understanding his treatment of me. Gratuitously snarky detail: his hair looks like steel wool that was once on top of his head, but has now slipped down several inches towards his back.

It was SHC’s first semester teaching at our institution, but clearly, as an experienced High School teacher, he thought there was nothing he needed to learn about teaching an upgrading course at a college. Generally, when new colleagues move into our shared space, we give them a couple of weeks’ grace before we hate them and hang them out to dry (although we made an exception for the annoying one we already pre-hated who moved into our office when some of our other colleagues turfed her out of their shared space, but I digress). So when I saw SHC doing some stupid-ass shit, I kindly offered him some pointers.

For instance, on one occasion I happened to be in the room while he was having a chat with a student who was doing badly and needed to get some extra help. Instead of just making some suggestions, he actually phoned the relevant offices and made appointments for the student. Dude. That is not cool. These guys are in college, and need to be treated as adults. When I suggested that SHC was maybe going above and beyond the call of duty – and not in a good way – he gave me a talk about how he had loads more experience than I did, blah blah blah. Full disclosure: I probably look a bit younger than I am, and yes, I am short and blonde, but there I was, his colleague, and I had been doing the job for fully 3 years at that point. But that’s no excuse.

He never called me by my name. Often, he called me “my girl” or similar.  I certainly never heard him call Sarcastic Bastard or Professor Darwin (our other, male office mates) by anything but their names.

The other issue we were having was over the shared computer. This was a semester when my teaching and parenting schedules were pretty tight, so I was doing a lot of work from home. I had 2 hours a week in the office, and needed to be able to use the computer I was sharing with him during that time. I explained this to him during the first week of semester, and said, “You can use the computer any other time, but on these two days, I need the computer for this hour.” That was fine, he said. Except it wasn’t.

Every single day, I would come in, and he would be there, using the computer, and I would have to ask him if I could use it. He never offered to get off the computer, or asked if I needed it. He put me in the position of female supplicant. To me, sharing a resource means understanding that the other person has a right to use the resource. Previous computer-sharers (and this includes people I had made cry, I’ll have you know) had understood this. We had negotiated sharing when our schedules overlapped. None of them made me ask, every single time, if I could please have my hour of agreed-upon computer time. As the semester went on, I got angrier and angrier about his not-so-subtle power-game, and my requests got snippier. He wrote me a note chiding me about my “attitude” and telling me I ought to be more polite. I ground my teeth.

The final straw came one day when a Snowflake Student who hadn’t been to class all semester turned up in my office wanting to know what she had missed. This was, you know, like week 8 of semester. “You’ve missed about half the course,” I said. “The good news is you haven’t missed the withdrawal deadline. I’m going to recommend that you drop the class.” Oh noes! How could I? Of course Snowflake was going to make up the work. I stuck to my guns and convinced her to drop.

After she left, SHC, who had been in the room, leaned over, patted me on the shoulder and said, “That was difficult for you, but you did the right thing.” Excuse me? How dare you a) touch me and b) suggest that doing my job is something my weak female mind can barely cope with? I was so furious, I left the room so that I wouldn’t punch him, and stood fuming in the corridor until Professor Hobbit came by and said “You seem upset. Let me buy you a coffee.”

That day really made me appreciate my colleagues. Well, apart from SHC. Professor Hobbit calmed me down and talked to me about my options. Did I want to make a formal complaint, or did I want to do something more low-key? He suggested I talk to Dr Militant Feminist, who gave me absolutely brilliant advice about how to write a letter to SHC which would be a solid first step in case I wanted to take further action down the road. Professor Hufflepuff let me rant and rave for as long as I needed. Sarcastic Bastard was hugely supportive. Professor Birkenstock pointed out that SHC tended to be a patronising jerk, giving his behaviour some context. I left the note for SHC when I left that afternoon.

I didn’t have class the next day, and when I arrived at work the following day, Professor Hufflepuff (an older woman, who is very proper), pulled me in to her office. “SHC was very upset when he got you note,” she said. Apparently, he had gone to her to complain about the outrageousness of me calling him a sexist. He was not a sexist. He had grown-up daughters, for goodness sake. Prof Hufflepuff had given him short shrift. “You can’t act like this,” she had said, “cut it out. You owe her an apology.”

Miracle of miracles, an apology was forthcoming. After that, he was never in the office during the hour I was there, and at the next time he came back to teach, a couple of semesters later, he was in another office. He doesn’t talk to me, and I don’t talk to him. I don’t know if the experience taught him not to be such an ass, or if he just thinks I am difficult. He now shares an office with 3 women, all of whom are tough, mature and don’t take crap. Apparently, his behaviour is impeccable, so I guess the whole incident goes in the “win” column.

May I please be excused? My brain is full.

Thought you might like to see the Starbucks snark in all its glory.

The reason I bring it up again is that the other day, when I arrived at my office, there was a posse of professors clustered around the door: Professor Birkenstock, Dr Pseudonymous and Sexual Harrassment Colleague, all commenting on this sign on the door. Which by the way, is not on the door alone in all its glory, but somewhat camouflaged in a cluster of papers about creative writing contests, schedules, political cartoons and funny posters about Gower being a wanker.

Anyway, (“Wait, what?” I hear you cry. “Sexual Harrassment Colleague? What is the deal with him? Tell us! It sounds juicy and salacious!” It is, and I will, but not now. Let’s get back to the Starbucks thing.) as I arrive, they all turn to me and ask “Did you or Sarcastic Bastard do this?” I knew it! No one will believe that Starbucks snark could possibly exude from the wide-eyed Poetess.

Later, when I told her about this, she was extremely smug.

In Pineapple-related news, I have been getting a series of emails from Pineapple Boy about why he wasn’t in class, why he isn’t going to be in class, and why his work is going to be late. There are variations in the exact details of the excuses (and I will spare you the dreadful spelling and grammar), but they pretty much all boil down to “my brain is full”. Seriously. And he honestly thinks this is a perfectly okay thing to say, like it is a reasonable explanation, and possibly a common problem.

Brain fullness was also his excuse for missing that in-class assignment a couple of weeks ago. Just the other day, he finally emailed me his “explanation”. Which, of course, makes me wonder about the speed of his thought processes, if it took him 10 days to regurgitate the same excuse. Essentially, it came down to: “I missed the assignment (worth 10%) because my brain was fried from working on the rewrite (worth 1%).” I know he has admitted English is not his strong suit; it looks like Math isn’t really his thing, either.

Meanwhile, he continues to eat and splatter in class. I am starting to be inured to the rudeness of the food, because his other rudeness is so boggling. Yesterday, when I was trying to get some discussion going about a class reading, his analysis was, “This just seems like all the other stupid crap you females come up with.”

There is an upside to this kind of comment, although I know it sounds completely appalling. The rest of the class are such a bunch of vanilla puddings that it is almost impossible to make an impression on them. The other day, when I was asking them about whether they thought war memorials made political statements, they answered “no”. As in “no w haven’t thought about it”, not “no they don’t”, even though I had just showed them a film about Maya Lin and the Vietnam Memorial. So, anyway, puddings. But even unshockable puddings will respond to comments about “crap females come up with.”

I am being all glass half full, because the other option is to stab my eyes out with a spoon.

Happy Easter and other crafty pursuits.

Hem. I have been slack. This is due to many factors, but I put most of the blame squarely on knitting, which I have been doing a lot of. Also hanging out on ravelry, because that is what us knitters do, nowadays, apparently. (If you don’t know about ravelry, it’s like Facebook for people who knit, except that it has actual, useful applications. Also, I am sorry to tell you, if you don’t know about ravelry, you are tragically non-hip.)

I learned to knit in my teens, when it totally wasn’t cool, out of a book my mother gave me which had nice, clear instructions for how to make more hideous garments than you would ever care to shake a stick at. She did this because she already, at that age, had me pegged as “crafty”; better at womanly pursuits like cooking and sewing (I was making my own clothes by the time I was 12) than she was. Which was a slight contradiction, because, in fact, she was the one who taught me to sew, but I committed the cardinal sin of apparently enjoying it, rather than seeing sewing as a chore, or a frugal duty. My mother was a pretty strong feminist, you see; not that I am not, but she definitely had that whole doing things that are gendered female is bad thing going on. At least in some areas. One day I will tell you all about her 3 husbands. But I digress.

Well, not entirely, because I kind of wanted to write about this tension between craftiness and intellect, clearly exemplified by Stephanie in this post. Stephanie is quite possibly the most intellectual person I know, and her blog is smart and funny and highbrow and sometimes very moving (and again, if you don’t read it: tragically non-hip), and yet it made me really uneasy to see her expressing that idea that somehow talking about crafting objects is inappropriate; like somehow admissions that you are good with your hands maybe means you are less good with your brain. Or maybe that’s just my issue showing.

The other side of the coin, which really doesn’t help with the whole “smart feminists can’t also be knitters” meme, is that conversations on ravelry’s forums show a tendency (horribly common in female-dominant communities) to succumb to pressure not to express unpopular opinions, because, however civilly they are expressed, saying contentious things is “not nice”. And heaven forbid that women utter any words that are “not nice”, because of course that opens them up to being labelled as bitchy.

Unfortunately, I cannot point you to the discussion to see for yourself, because ravelry discussions are only visible to members. The discussion was about Yarn Harlot, and whether her humour is gendered, but it rapidly descended into a whole bunch of shrill “You can’t talk about her! She’s a member here! You are not nice!” hysteria. Even though the discussion was exceedingly civil, and in some cases quite literary critical, rather than personally critical (my opinons were of the milder sort, but unpopular – I don’t think she’s very entertaining, but for god’s sake don’t tell anyone). You’ll notice the strong strain of anti-intellectualism mixed in with the whole “be nice” directive here, too, dear reader.

Having managed to alienate another mostly female community by (according to my adversaries) “overthinking and bringing feminism and literary criticism into everything,” I felt I knew where this was going, but at the same time, I don’t want to leave it alone. It bugs me that I cannot be a smart woman who thinks about stuff, and at the same time, a woman who is good at traditionally female activities like knitting or sewing, or who has an interest in Boarding School Stories for girls, or a Nintendo obsession.

I don’t have an answer, or a pearl of wisdom, here. Apologies if you were looking for closure.

Also, we made some kick-ass Easter Eggs.

New Year’s Resolution: Post MOAR

Since I got this shiney new computer, and I can blog from anywhere, I figure I really should blog from anywhere.

We’ve taken the spawn skating the last couple of days. She seems to have taken to it like a duck to water – she has her father’s native athletic abilities not mine. It’s nice to have a rink just down the road, and to see her enjoying it, just because it is fun.

I thought about asking if she wanted lessons, but people take skating lessons so seriously in this town; there are girls in her ballet class who are there because, at age 7, they are taking skating seriously enough that they do other activities, like ballet, to support their skating. Getting up at 6 in the morning to go skating 3 or more times a week seems like a recipe for sucking the fun right out of it, to me.

Of course, I say this as a parent who makes her kid go to ballet and violin, so maybe I am just one-eyed and pushy in my own way, but I hope not. A couple summers ago we tried diving, since she was really keen to do it, and all the kids there were taking it really seriously. At 8. One mother said her child was doing diving because she had fractured her wrist horribly – twice! – in gymnastics, and “her career was over”. At age nine, and her mother said this in front of her.

I don’t want my kid to be an athlete (my grouchiest pal would say that is because I am an incurable egghead), but I love it that she is good at physical activities and confident in her own body. That’s such a difficult gift for girls to retain as they grow older.


The f-word.

I haven’t bitched about my students this semester (I’m teaching an intensive Spring class; we meet 4 times a week). This is because I have the dream class; the class that makes me remember why I actually do really like my job. They are keen, they read, they talk, they ask and answer questions. We have interesting debates, and generally I get the impression that they are learning and thinking, and they tell me they are enjoying it. It is so awesome, I could just collapse into a warm fuzzy glow.

We did have a moment last week, though, and it was particularly interesting in the context of this class because they do seem to be bright, and open to ideas. I had them read the widely anthologised essay “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles” by Emily Martin. Martin’s essay essentially talks about the way we are all taught that science and science writing is neutral and objective, and yet when you read it carefully, it presents its material through “stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female.” Thus the sperm is the active, heroic figure, bravely battling its way to the passive egg, which waits, rather like Sleeping Beauty.

How is it that positive images are denied to the bodies of women? A look at language – in this case specific language – provides the first clue. Take the egg and the sperm. It is remarkable how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively “is transported,” “is swept,” or even “drifts” along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, “streamlined” and invariably active. They “deliver” their genes to the egg, “activate the developmental program of the egg,” and have a “velocity” that is often remarked upon. Their tails are “strong” and efficiently powered. Together with the forces of ejaculation, they can “propel the semen into the deepest recesses of the vagina.” For this they need “energy,” “fuel,” so that with a “whiplash motion and strong lurches,” they can “burrow through the egg coat,” and “penetrate” it. (from Signs 16.3, 1991. source: JStor, footnotes omitted.)

Martin’s essay presents a case made up of numerous specific examples from a wide variety of articles; students always complain about how long it is, but when pressed, they admit that the weight of evidence is partly what makes the essay work so well. They agree that it is an excellent example of linguistic and rhetorical analysis, that Martin supports her case thoroughly and that her research is well documented (there are 12 footnotes in the passage I quoted above). Did they like it? Survey says: “not so much.”

“Why not?” I ask, because in my class rule one is “you may have any opinon you like, as long as you can support it.” There’s a pause, and then Mickey, a very put-together PR student who is working as a realtor while she studies for her degree (i.e. successful and ambitious working woman) says in a depricating tone, “Well, it is a bit feminist, isn’t it?”

“You say that like it is a bad thing,” I reply, and there is a collective intake of breath. Now it is on for young and old. Excellent.

I have a version of this conversation every semester I teach this course and ask my students to read this essay. Sometimes there is a big argument about it, other times the class is apathetic and hasn’t read it, or doesn’t care, and no one says much. Usually, there is some antagonism, often directed at me for raising the issue of the f-word in the first place, other times members of the class get into it with one another.

There was a solid group in the class who, earnest as they are, really tried hard to get me to see their point of view, which essentially boiled down to: “The article would have been so much better without the feminist parts”. What? “The evidence without the connecting argument?” asked Nathalie, who suddenly emerged as an Amazon heroine after being quite quiet up to this point. “If you take away the feminist parts, then there is nothing to say.”

Further pressed as to their objections, it became clearer and clearer that the students agreed in principle with what the article was saying, and more broadly, with feminist ideas. The problem is not feminism itself, but that they have an allergy to the word. I think this attitude is sadly prevalent. I see it all the time in other contexts, too. For instance, on that argumentative forum, a character who claims to hate feminism and all that it stands for said the following:

Am I a feminist? No, I am not. I just don’t let any person take charge of my life. I have self confidence and don’t really care what anyone thinks of me and how I live my life. I’ve always been that way.

Now to me, that idea about not letting anyone take charge of your life bespeaks a strongly feminist ethos, but apparently, to the writer, “feminist” is some kind of insult.

My students seem to feel that way, too. “Can’t we use some other word?” they often ask, as if the word itself is somehow offensive, or that it signifies something unspeakably evil. I say “unspeakably” advisedly, because they have a lot of trouble defining their objections. One thing they often bring up is that feminists have “extreme views,” which, in the case of Martin, apparenly means “she expresses a clear, strong opinion on the topic at hand.” This, of course, is what I nag them to do all semester.

So we went round and around the topic, and while none of them disagreed with Martin, or with any of the views I presented to them as feminist ideas, or even with the examples of gender stereotyping and body image I brought up, they were still resisting this nebulous feminism in the article, and more generally.

Finally, another heroine appeared. It was Annabel, who said, a little defiantly, and a little diffidently (understandably enough, given the previous discussion), “Look, I used to be like all of you, and think that feminism was a bad thing. But I didn’t really know what it was, just that I didn’t like it. Then I read a couple of books on feminism, and I realised that these were ideas that I agreed with. So, now I am a feminist.”

I couldn’t help it. I collapsed in a warm, fuzzy glow.