Archive for the ‘Friday Feminism’ Category

Belated FDQ: Where’s My Independent Media?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Okay, I’ve been working on this platonic ideal of a post about the media for weeks now, and instead of becoming the definitive post on mainstream news reporting, it’s become nothing. So, now I’m thinking about horses and getting back on them.

My thoughts are basically this: Some time back I read an interesting criticism of feminist blogs from a womanist blog. She talked about how feminism don’t like mainstream media and mainstream news, but instead of working on changing them, feminists blogs tended to just react to them. I can’t say if this is true in every feminist blog (certainly groups like Girl Wonder; are working to change the media they criticise), but I certainly see it in a lot of them.

And so I got to thinking - what would a news source that I could get behind look like? How would it work?

I know that funding and staffing are serious issues. Like a lot of people, I have that image in my head of the intrepid report, living off coffee and a sense of responsibility, the maverick, going out and finding those stories that no one else will follow, getting the big lead, blowing everyone away with hir some scandal that brings down a government. These fictional reports live entirely for the thrill of the chase, since they rarely seem to make enough money to get more than a seedy apartment and a constant influx of coffee.

Reality doesn’t seem that far off, from what I can tell. According to this very good review of a book that talks about the problems with the British news, there are only four reports to cover Cardiff, South Wales, and the Welsh Assembly. I know Wales is small, but it’s not that small! A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) works in the news room of hir local radio station. “Works”, of course, makes it sound like zie has coworkers, but no - zie works alone. To cover all the news, write the stories, make it out to any and all events, and still be bright-eyed and bushy tailed every morning on the air, starting at o-dark-hundred. How is someone supposed to get all the news, analyse it and give out strong news reports with that much on hir plate?

Is blogging the way of the future of the news? Certainly some of the bigger stories of the past year have started out being blogged and flogged by smaller blogs, until picked up by bigger blogs, and then suddenly they’re front page news. (The most obvious example of this I can think of is The Jena 6, but I know there’s been others.) Certainly a lot of things are brought to my attention through blogging, with passionate and insightful posts varying from the latest attempt (or success) to ban certain articles of clothing to long discussions on the state of privacy (or lack thereof) in the UK. I know when I blog about things on LJ, it brings things to other people’s attention who might have missed it otherwise.

I don’t think that’s the right answer, though. Most people don’t get paid for blogging (I know there are exceptions, but they are rare), which means they’re writing these passionate posts in their “spare” time. Most people who blog don’t have any investigative reporting training. Most people who blog do it in such a way that they can’t really be held accountable if they turn out to be incorrect about something.

I want a news media where I feel they are talking about something important - not making the news, but reporting the news. I want a media where half the stories are not recycled AP stories. I want a media that doesn’t focus so much attention on the antics of various celebrities, and then more attention on how awful it is that the media focuses on the antics of various celebrities. I want an independent media, that isn’t all run by one or two big umbrella companies across the various countries.

But I don’t know what that would look like.

What are your thoughts? What do you want out of the news media? What do you think a more vibrant and relevant-to-you news media would look like? What do you think the answers are? I’m curious as to your thoughts.

FDQ: Ask a Feminist*

Friday, March 7th, 2008

I joined up with a group of people who want to do a group project called “Ask a Feminist”.  The basic premise, as I understand it, is that various people will ask questions they’ve “always” wanted to ask a feminist, and the various feminists, all of whom come from different backgrounds and ideas, will answer them.

I’m really quite interested in this project, as one of my main frustrations with discussing feminism with people is that I’m suddenly expected to defend everything any feminist has ever said or done for the past 30 years, as though all feminists everywhere not only have a Hive Mind, but we walk in lockstep together and never have difference experiences or interpretations of the same event.  It also, of course, leads to people saying things like “Oh, I like lipstick, thus I <i>can’t</i> be a Feminist, because feminism doesn’t allow lipstick wearing.”

For myself, I have two things that say “this person is a feminist” to me.  The fundamental belief that women are people and men are neither monsters nor children; and self-identifying as a feminist.  It may be that I secretly think most of the people on my flist are Feminists, but if none of you have said “I am a feminist”, I’m not going to force the label on you.

After that, though, it becomes more in depth.  At the moment, my focus and energies are going into dealing with issues of poverty and issues of disability & accessibility.  I like to read about women in comics.  I want to read more about women in Fandom and in the media, and want to write more about issues of racism in the media.  I  am beginning to read more about Third World Feminism.  I like general media criticism, and things like “Killing us Softly”, a documentary on how advertising uses women.  I have many and varied thoughts on the issue of sex work, and try and read as much as possible about it, from people opposed, people in favour, women working in the industry, etc.  Womanism is something I want to understand more of, so I’m reading and reading and reading because a lot of it is based in the US and for all that we share a common border, I do not understand racial issues there.  I’m excited because my local feminist bookstore has many books dealing with racism and sexism around First Nations people.  Queer & Trans issues are being brought to my attention more often now, especially with Trans being closely related to the Disability Blogosphere, and I’m finding a lot of my assumptions on “safe” questioned.

I’m not sure if everyone and everything I read would identify as feminist, but each of those topics has branches that work within feminism, and there are many more.  Many of them take issues and don’t agree on them in the slightest, as there isn’t one overall solution that will magically make all our problems go away.  It’s complicated, and whereas I do think there are some very legitimate concerns about main-stream feminism, I think a great many problems are caused not by what the majority of feminists do or think, but by how the media portrays feminism.  (I have been doing a lot of critical thinking about the media this week.  It’s certainly not an issue unique to feminism, but I will save that discussion for Monday.)

The point of all this is that I’m very excited about the idea of working with people on this project, and I would like to encourage others to participate, through the asking of questions.

If you could ask a group of feminists anything, what would you ask?

My personal questions about feminism have a lot to do with the history, of course.  I want a better timeline on how Women’s Shelters came into being.  I want to have a better understanding of where this concept of “The Lavender Menace” came from, and how one combats the past.  I want to know where the feminists in my life stand on issues like accessibility, and Gay Marriage, and Queer Adoptions.  I’m always up for a spirited discussion on Women’s Only Spaces, both for and against them, both in public and in private.  I want to better understand the racial issues outside of my personal sphere, and get a better bead on what is happening.  I like asking feminists for book recommendations.

But, what are your thoughts?  What would you ask?

(*My random sense of humour now has the theme from “Ask a Ninja” running through my head.)

Toronto Opens Black-Focused School

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I got another email from my friend, Mark, forwarding me a link with this comment:

The City of Toronto has just decided to open up a “black-focused school.” This school’s main emphasis will be to teach Black History and other things that have a strong appeal to black people.Some are calling it segregation. Some are calling it a victory for the Black community.

I just want to point out that it will be a public school, and open to people of all races, creeds, and colours.

Toronto trustees vote in favour of black-focused schools

[I have quoted the text here, as I am unsure how long things remain available on CBC’s website.]

A proposal to create Canada’s first black-focused public school was approved by Toronto District School Board trustees Tuesday night.

They have recommended the creation of an alternative school that features a curriculum and teaching environment oriented around black history and culture.

The vote took place after an evening debate on the controversial proposal, which critics believe is a plan for segregation, while supporters believe it could keep more black students in school.

Trustees heard from a number of delegations including academics, parents, teachers and students.

A presentation was also made by the mother of Jordan Manners, a15-year-old boy shot dead in a Toronto school last May. Loreen Smallstood in opposition to the black school plan, calling it “segregation.”

“This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she told trustees, saying teachers need more help to engage with students in multi-racial classrooms.

Some parents have said they want to try something new because the current system isn’t working. As many as 40 per cent of black students don’t graduate from Toronto high schools.

Angela Wilson is a mother of two who has been at the forefront of a push for Africentric or black-focused schools for years.

“Make our education system better for everybody,” she said.

“It’s not a one size fits all education system. It’s actually working its way to be one size fits few — and the few that are successful do not look like me.”

Trustees were supposed to have discussed a report delivered last week that makes four major recommendations:

  • Open an Africentric alternative school in 2009.
  • Start a three-year pilot program in three other high schools.
  • Work with York University to improve school achievement.
  • Develop a plan to help failing students.

Supporters said those options will keep black students engaged and in school, but opponents said it will lead to greater isolation.

“I just feel being with a mixed group of people is better, you know, you get to learn different cultures, different aspects of different people, the way they live,” said Grade 10 student Terrin Smith-Williams.

Board chair John Campbell sees an Africentric school as just one option for dealing with the problems facing young blacks in Toronto’s education system.

“It should not be viewed as the sole solution to a problem, but should instead be seen as a response to a community request for action,” he said in a news release issued before the vote.

My thoughts:
(anything in italics I took from the article)

- “This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she told trustees, saying teachers need more help to engage with students in multi-racial classrooms. I do definitely agree that there needs to be more work done on getting teachers to engage in multi-racial classrooms, but how long should students have to wait for that to happen?

- I’m not entirely certain what’s wrong with a black-focused classroom. With all due respect, the classroom I went to was white-focused, and it wasn’t like every student in the class was white. White (colonial) history was taught, white (male) artists were taught, the default assumption was white. If a black-focused classroom is a bad idea, why is a white-focused classroom a good one?

- As Mark says, it’s a public school - there’s nothing stopping people from sending their kids there at all. Which doesn’t necessarily follow that that will happen, sadly. I wonder if it will. I wonder if the school will be successful in what it wants to achieve. I really hope there are many news reports on it, because I’d like to follow it and see what happens.

- I have to admit, I went to school in B.C., which meant a lot of East Asian people as opposed to black people. I didn’t see a lot of history focused on the third of the class that wasn’t white. In fact, I have no idea of much of went on in countries outside of Europe during the 20th Century. (My high school history classes were mostly about the 20th Century, and a lot of talking about Germany, which is where my history prof was from.)

- I really just wish we could have properly integrated schools that didn’t act like races other than white (and countries outside of Europe) didn’t exist, but I don’t know how long that would take to fix, and again, how long should students wait?

- I’m certain I’m missing some very important aspects of all of this.

- Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of talk that goes on when there’s a move to segregate “women’s only” transportation (like buses and trains in Japan, for example) about how doing this gives an implication that women who decide not to ride in the women’s only area are indicating that they’re okay with the typical groping and other forms of assault that go on in “regular” train cars. I’m wondering if there’s going to be comments about how “if you want education about black things, go to the black school, you black person!” (which, of course, won’t be that polite) if there are complaints in the other schools. I mean, I never went to school in Toronto, so I don’t know what it’s like there in terms of teaching.

- Arg, can’t something be easy?

What are your thoughts?

You Must Be This Thin: >< To Perform (But If You Are There’s Something Wrong With You)

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Every Friday on my LJ, I’ve been hosting a “Friday Discussion Question” to various levels of success. This is today’s.

Ah, yes. The age-old discussion about the beauty standard. Although this FDQ was not inspired by the whole Britney Spears thing (I meant to post it last week but got distracted), that mess is certainly very relevant to what I’d like to discuss today.

We live in a world where we constantly push the concept of “you can’t be too thin” on women. Advertising features slender models in come-hither poses. Major magazines take perfectly-normal looking women and photoshop the pounds off (to some frightening results: Hot but not hot enough - America Ferrera from Ugly Betty and Redbook Shatters our Faith… with the photoshop job done on Faith Hill [be sure to check out the animation at the bottom]). Dove does a series of ads with “real women” in them and men freak out and say they don’t want to see ‘that’ on their morning commute. (And that ads showing women in Size 6 and 8 are promoting the obesity epidemic in the US. O.o?)


In this post I talk about a woman on my flist who won’t eat in public because she’s slender and people make assumptions that she has an eating disorder based on what she eats. A Rabid Mouse talks about being invited to join a ‘Down with Size 0′ group - except she is a Size 0. When Britney Spears was on stage six years ago there were criticisms that she was too thin. Now, after having had two children, she’s apparently too fat.

It seems like the standards are setting women up to “fail”. If you’re thin, you’ve got an eating disorder. If you’re not thin enough, you’re too ugly to be seen in public in anything that shows some skin. If you’re a mom, you should only wear “appropriate” mom clothes. Don’t be sexy, unless you’re a Yummy Mummy, and even then, it’s not appropriate. How dare you, anyway? Women over 30 should be covered up anyway, because only the young should be showing off their legs, but please, let’s wring our hands over the sexualisation of our children.

[The late Dr Violet Socks has a very valid point to make about that in Like Lambs to the Slaughter - I really recommend you read it. It’s short. She makes her points faster than I do, probably because she is dead.]

I’ve read about female star after female star crashing herself against the Beauty Myth, and I’ve watched my friends and flist struggle with the same issues.

Too thin? Too fat? Not healthy? Should I do weight lifting or will I get ugly muscles? I need to lose 20 pounds before I can get married! My friends think I’m too thin and now I feel ugly. People tell me to stop losing weight, that I’m ‘thin enough’ - what should I do?

I’ve talked before about how I think advertising is a big factor in all of this, as is Hollywood and airbrushing and the general idea that women are “supposed” to be attractive - and thus anyone outside of that attractive is to be punished, but those who reach that attractive must have something wrong with them because the ideal is set so high.

What are your thoughts?

Important Note:
I usually am pretty okay with whatever people want to write in response to these posts, because they’re supposed to be general discussions and not ‘please toe party line’ things. However, I want to nip two things in the bud right now:
1. NO. It does not make me feel better that a small, but significant and growing, number of men also suffer from eating disorders. Don’t imply or state otherwise.
2. As fascinating as a discussion about what different people find attractive in women, varying from body size, hair colour, and personality, can be, this post isn’t really about that. It’s about society and pressure on women to appear in public looking a certain way and then punishing them when they don’t. It’s not about what you, I, or any other particular individual finds attractive or appealing. I don’t want to get bogged down in that.

Slightly less important note behind the cut:


Friday Discussion: Walking While Female and Foolishly Asking For Violence To Be Done Upon You

Friday, September 7th, 2007

I have a confession to make: I’m not afraid to walk after dark.

I’ve read and participated in quite a few discussions about women and the sorts of things they do to protect themselves when they go out alone - clutching of the keys like claws, checking the backseat of a car before going in, never talking to anyone after dark - and I don’t do these things. It’s not that I think they’re being foolish, and it’s not that I’m unaware of what can happen if you’re caught unawares, but I just don’t fear things enough to do that. (I suspect this is because I grew up in smaller communities, and well, it’s not that violence doesn’t happen there, but there’s a different attitude about it overall that affects how I view it - I just don’t see myself as at that much risk.)

I really want to emphasize that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the women who do do these things. Just different ways of dealing with the world.

Because, see, I’m not afraid of walking after dark. What I am afraid of is, if something happens to me, I’m going to be taken to task by everyone I ever knew, including my mother, for not being “prepared” for some random act of violence to happen. Of being told I “shouldn’t have been there”. Of the questions about what I did to be attacked. Because heaven knows that I should know better than to go out after dark, by myself. Look at what could happen!

Amy and I were talking about this a few days ago, and she brought up a statistic that I can’t quite remember about the number of women in Perth who feel unsafe if they go out after dark. (I can’t find it; my google-fu skills are obviously unl33t, but I remember the number seeming unreasonably high to me.)

Because, you know, if a woman goes out after a certain time of night, or if she’s dressed a certain way, or if she just walks in the wrong way, she did the wrong thing. She shouldn’t have been there.

Walking While Female, as I said before.

So, where do we draw the line? At what point is the woman responsible for the violence that she suffers from when she goes out of her house? At what point does how she act or react make it her fault? Where do you think these attitudes come from?

[Do you notice that, despite the fact that most violence is done by men, I’ve managed to write this entire post so far without mentioning them? Passive Sentence Construction is actually a big part of the dialog around this stuff - “the violence she suffers from”. “A victim of male violence” sounds so accusatory to me, which is also very relevant to the discussion.]

Personally, I think walking after dark shouldn’t be something that automatically puts the onus on women to carry their keys like a weapon or to dress in a certain way or to risk being told that being attacked, robbed, raped or killed was her fault. And, as I alluded to, I think the way we talk about this stuff is what contributes to the culture of fear around it - women are raped, but apparently men do not rape? “A man raped a woman” sounds accusatory to me, and I wonder if it does to other people as well. “A man robbed a bank” does not - probably because I’ll hear that sentence construction quite often, and not the other.

The other thing I think contributes to this is that the Big Three Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have expectations of “modesty” that do affect the greater Western Culture, even those who aren’t religious. This recent Modesty Survey (where teen boys rated how much of a “stumbling block” to their salvation the clothing teen girls wore was for the boys) reflects the idea that it is Woman’s Job to keep Man’s thoughts pure. In Orthodox Judaism, like Orthodox Islam, women pray in a separate room from the men. I was told that this is to help keep men’s mind on God, and not on the bodies of the women in the room. Women are gatekeepers.

This again gets back into that idea that Men Are Children Or Monsters, and without womenfolk to care for them or keep them away from the “uncovered meat“, men will go crazy and be forced, forced against their will, to attack the women.

We have a responsibility, after all, to not go out after dark in a t-shirt and jeans but no bra where we could distract some man and drive him into a frenzy of lust and violence.


[Original Post]