Monthly Archives: October 2008

Bring back shame! Vote, loser!

It makes me happy that The Left has money.

May I present MoveOn.org’s customizable video to send to your less reliable friends and family for Voting Day…

2 Comments

Filed under election 2008

Feminists go with the Flow

U.K. feminists went head-to-head with U.S. feminists in an academia smackdown at the Flow television studies conference earlier this month.

Actually, it wasn’t even like that. I just felt like being dramatic. It was, however, a really great conversation on a panel titled, “Feminisms and Feminists in the Public Sphere.” The panel’s organizers voiced a need to take a good hard look at how feminism is represented in the public sphere—widely defined as public discourse or conversations about feminism. Who does the media select to represent feminism? What issues are deemed feminist enough for the mainstream media?

Frustratingly, for me, whoever chose the response papers decided that public sphere meant “blogosphere.” Was it the suffix –sphere that threw them off? I mean, dang, I like blogging, but I refuse to concede the terrain of, well, all mass media except the Internet to anti-feminist viewpoints.

For example, my bête noir is the Observer’s monthly Woman supplement. I was way excited when its arrival was announced and way-er disappointed when I actually picked up the rag. For one thing, it featured its same, tired columnists (Burchill, Vernon, host of SNAGS*) with their one-note, “Look, Ma, I can say ‘pussy’!” version of feminism.

Second, the topics were those hard-hitting gems of feminist discourse about to-shave-or-not-to-shave, public breastfeeding dilemmas, and does high street retailer Marks & Spencer represent today’s Bridget Jones? To be fair, there are occasional glimmers of political analysis, but they are usually an afterthought or way behind the progressive press in its coverage of significant feminist politics. The result is the neutered idea that just because one is talking about something related to females or women that feminism is sorted.

That might all seem like a load of sour grapes, but trust: I hate the game, not the playa. Our argument about feminisms and public discourse is not new and one that radical feminists made quite adeptly in the early 1970s: the star system blows because there are many more voices that represent feminism than the mainstream press allows.  The response would seem to be that blogging allows these voices to be heard, but yet, I quibble with the notion that blogs are the be-all, end-all and not merely preaching to the choir.

Going Public: Girl City TV and feminism 3.0

From the U.S. side of things, our co-panelists offered a range of ways (besides blogging) to bulldoze one’s way into the public discourse. Artist and theorist Stella Marrs is building on her catalogue of kickass patriarchy subverting postcards.

Using online video to encourage storytelling, GirlCity.tv, starts with stories about Barbie.  The goal is for the videos to detail experiences with the leggy legend and how women of all sizes, races, classes, etc. played with/manipulated Barbie.

Also notable was Vicki Callahan’s  feminisms 3.0.  It’s a feminist media website dedicated to exploring how we communicate differently via the web. Here theory and practice are intertwined through “distributed authorship” of, not only blogs, but also videos and podcasts. Both Girl City TV and feminism 3.0 recognize that the terms of public discourse are not set in stone and that the public sphere only remains public because we demand it remain so.

Feminisms

The panel also raised challenging questions for feminists on both sides of the tenure divide regarding academic freedom and blogging. If our goal is to spread feminism’s message (assuming there’s only one), does blogging anonymously as we do here at Across the Pond count as a significant intervention in the public sphere? Do women who are just starting careers in higher ed risk job prospects by being vocal on the web or in the press about their feminism or discrimination they may face in the academy?

Our conclusion was that, in addition to fostering existing connections, perhaps we need to more closely examine the idea of a plurality of feminisms. As a black feminist, I found it provocative to think that perhaps 1980s interventions around multiple identities have diluted feminism’s overall strength in public discourse.  Surely, feminist issues gained breadth and depth by thinking through gender, sexuality, race, class, and physical ability. But what might we have lost in this balkanization? We can’t speak for everyone, but in that knowledge, has feminism ended up still speaking for the very few of us? Has the lack of a singular message or issue made feminism inscrutable to the mainstream media?

*Sensitive New Age Guys: they attend Billy Bragg concerts and hold up the fist salute when he sings union songs despite the fact they’ve never even been near a union hall.

2 Comments

Filed under Social Justice, women

Move over Hillary & Barack: it’s Shirley!

If you’ve not seen the fab documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed and you’re in London this Wednesday (29 October, 4pm), get thee to King’s College London. The American Studies Department is screening the film about Shirley Chisholm‘s 1972 presidential campaign.

The film is followed by  a discussion on race, gender and the presidential race. On hand will be Diane Abbott who is the first black woman member of the House of Commons. Who better to comment on the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress?

While Shirley wasn’t the first black woman to run for President (Charlene Mitchell ran for the Communist Party in ’64), she’s so sassum-frassum-awesome that we really should start a Shirley Chisholm Day!

4 Comments

Filed under African Americans, race, Social Justice, women

Flow’s special issue on That Ol’ Palin

My friend Mark’s gran has taken to calling Sarah Palin “That Ol’ Palin.” Since that’s better than most of the misogynist crap rolling around in my brain, I’ve decided to adopt gran’s moniker.

Flow, an online journal of television studies out of University of Texas-Austin, launched a special issue on Sarah Palin and the Media.

My favorite article title? “Even Mud Had the Illusion of Depth”. Dang. Burn.

Leave a comment

Filed under election 2008, sexuality, women, work

Sarah Palin’s Extreme Makeover

Sarah Palin received $150,000 worth of new clothes from the Republican National Party since her nomination was announced in September, according to a recent Politico story.

The public and the media confused beauty with money upon Palin’s debut, heaping praise on Palin’s good looks, a mistake made so often in the United States that beauty and money have been long indistinguishable. Palin dazzled because she was covered in staggeringly expensive designer garb. Stylists know that small town beauty queen fashion sense does not make true loveliness on a national stage. I wonder what Palin looked like before the GOP got a hold of her, shaped her hair and makeup, and literally clothed her in money.

If the point of Palin on the ticket was her down-home appeal, why not let her continue to take a curling iron to her bangs, and wear outfits from the local Anchorage or Wasilla shopping malls? Why outfit her in a way that few hockey moms (and only about 5% of people in this country) could afford?

Perhaps because without the class status her clothing conferred, she’d run the risk of looking like what she is: an untutored woman and an unpolished small-time politician. And how would her nutty right wing views read coming out of a package like that? Would our perception of her moose hunting, woolf-shooting ways change if her class status presented differently?

Campaign spokespeople poo-poo stories about Palin’s wardrobe, suggesting that the clothes are on loan to Palin and will be donated to charity once she is finished. Imagine the lucky work-to-welfare Mom, or abused woman who fled her house without her clothes, who would benefit from Palin’s cast-off Armani suits.

Is it just me, or does the McCain campaign’s dismissive suggestion evoke a “let them eat cake” ethos to you too?

Funny that the McCain campaign, for all of their Joe-the-Plumber advertising, still can’t manage to disguise their Marie Antoinette ways

htg03

1 Comment

Filed under election 2008

“No One is Pro-Abortion”

Obama said it in the last debate, just as countless apologetic ‘pro-choice’ politicians have before him: ‘No one is “pro-abortion.”’ Probably Obama has to say things like this if he wants to win, and certainly I’ll take his Supreme Court nominees over McCain and Palin’s any day. But it is a strangely illogical stance for someone who supports abortion rights to take. Think about it: arguing that abortion should be legal but rare implies that, while we think it shouldn’t be against the law, there is definitely something wrong with it. It’s a sort of ‘pro-choice-but-anti-abortion’ position, which preserves the legality of choice only by insisting that abortion is a horror that should be avoided at all costs.

In terms of logic, this obviously makes no sense. If you accept the pro-life position that the abortion is murder, then why should it be legal? If, on the other hand, you accept that the fetus is not a person but in fact a collection of cells inside an actual person’s body, then why should abortion be more any more problematic or ‘rare’ than other kinds of elective surgery? Of course it’s not ideal to undergo elective surgery: it’s expensive, it requires recovery time, and it involves some health risks. But surely the culture that brought us breast implants and the use of neurotoxins to fight wrinkles has made its peace with the downsides of elective surgery?

In fact, I think the ‘legal but rare’ stance probably serves Obama well precisely because it reflects a view held by many pro-choice voters. This is a stance that accepts the legality of abortion but shrouds it in secrecy, guilt and shame. It’s a view more common than you would think, even among Lefties who would never take a publicly anti-abortion stance. Just try substituting the words ‘my abortion’ for ‘my hernia operation’ or ‘my caesarean section’ in conversation with a group of progressives and see what kind of reaction you get.

The blogger over at ‘What To Expect When You’re Aborting’ (WTE) recently found out the high cost of foregoing the usual guilt and shame. (Many thanks to my friend JW for bringing this blog to my attention.) This witty, foul-mouthed and clever young woman referred to her abortion as Best. Period. Ever. and, in one of my favorite posts, compared the photo that came up when she searched a stock-image bank for ‘abortion clinic’ (a sad looking woman sitting in a darkened hospital room, holding her head in her hands) with a photo illustrating how she expected to feel after her abortion: like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club.

Rolling like Judd Nelson

Rolling like Judd Nelson

Although I don’t always agree with the WTE blogger (I think she should lighten up on Planned Parenthood, for one thing), WTE did a great job of calling the bluff of people who say they’re pro-choice but still expect abortion to be a guilty secret, with predictable results. Here’s a sample response from Nerve.com:

She’s gleefully blogging the countdown to her abortion, and she’s nicknamed her fetus “the tumor.” Though there’s nowhere to leave feedback, there is an email address, and she swears she’s received mostly supportive comments. We’re tempted to call shenanigans on this whole blog, but if it’s real, it’s kind of amazing. And by amazing, we mean horrifying. We’re pro-choice, but on this, we’re conflicted. And if you’re not, you’re surer of your ideals than we are.

And WTE’s characteristic response:

Horrifying? Gleefully? You know if my iPhone was waterproof I would go wrist deep and take a picture of the former zygote’s malicious wiggling toes. And then an after picture of me in the recovery room busting the “this guy” move.

In a way, Nerve.com hits the nail on the head: the WTE site requires that you are sure of your ideals. It assumes that if you think abortion is fine, you actually do think it’s fine, rather than thinking it’s sort of OK provided you skulk around like you’ve been branded with a scarlet A, acting all weepy and guilty. It assumes that if you are really pro-choice, you (unlike the noxious Juno) don’t really give a fuck if the zygote has toenails or not, because the fetus is not a person and the woman getting rid of it is.

In fact WTE had to pull the archives of her site for a few weeks after some other, non-anonymous women bloggers were accused of having secretly authored it. These other women received death threats, so WTE locked the site in order to protect them. (See the perfectly named post ‘I am Spartacus’ for details.) She’s recently unlocked the archives but hasn’t yet provided details about the decision.

For me, WTE is a reminder of what we lose when we compromise in order to win people to our cause. Yes, presenting abortion as something most women will reject themselves if given the choice probably brings some people into the Democratic fold. Yes, the stakes of this election are so high that I understand why Obama has taken this road. But the pro-choice-anti-abortion position in effect argues that, although abortion is evil, it’s OK that it’s legal because women will recognize this evil for themselves—and either reject abortion or feel self-loathing about having one. When she provokes readers with her joy that her ‘tumor’ has been removed, WTE points out the way that the legal right to abortion comes attached to an implicit demand that women act like dutiful, responsible vessels for unborn children, even when they’re deciding not to have them. She shows up the ideology that makes abortion technically legal while insisting that women who have one view and represent themselves as secret criminals. As Leftists from Marx onward have reminded us, you don’t need the law to stop people from doing something if you can convince them to stop themselves.

jke

4 Comments

Filed under reproductive rights, women

Couric+Clinton= Palin Corrective

Katie Couric and Hillary Clinton remind us that intellect (and proper grammar) are alive and well U.S. politics. See for yourself in this post-debate exchange (which I bet has been allowed on youtube by CBS because they put the commercial IN the interview, but that’s another story).

P.S.– I’d take a nutcracker over an action figure of myself any day.

htg03

1 Comment

Filed under election 2008