Saturday, June 26, 2010

Global Perspectives: The Girl Effect

Here is one amazing organization to look into for a bit. Be sure to check out their site here and at least the first two videos to perk your interest.  Investing in a girl can be one of t he most powerful things to do for a country's well-being.

Here are some interviews with some girls from Ethiopia and Bangladesh:

The Aka People: Gender Egalitarian Parenting

This article about the Aka people in Central Africa is extremely interesting.  The Aka people are extremely egalitarian parents.  There is no stigma against men who parent or women who hunt.  Here is an abridged version of the article:
Professor Barry Hewlett, an American anthropologist who was the first person to spot male breastfeeding among the Aka Pygmy people of central Africa (total population around 20,000) after he decided to live alongside them in order to study their way of life more closely.

When it comes to gender egalitarian parenting, the Aka - who call themselves the people of the forest - beat anyone else he'd ever studied hands down. According to the data he began collecting more than two decades ago, Aka fathers are within reach of their infants 47% of the time - that's apparently more than fathers in any other cultural group on the planet, which is why Fathers Direct has decided to dub the Aka "the best dads in the world".

What's fascinating about the Aka is that male and female roles are virtually interchangeable. While the women hunt, the men mind the children; while the men cook, the women decide where to set up the next camp. And vice versa: and it's in this vice versa, says Hewlett, that the really important message lies. "There is a sexual division of labour in the Aka community - women, for example, are the primary caregivers," he says. "But, and this is crucial, there's a level of flexibility that's virtually unknown in our society. Aka fathers will slip into roles usually occupied by mothers without a second thought and without, more importantly, any loss of status - there's no stigma involved in the different jobs." 

Women are not only just as likely as their men to hunt, but are even sometimes more proficient as hunters. Hitherto, it has usually been assumed that, because of women's role as gestators and carers of the young, hunting was historically a universally male preserve: but in one study Hewlett found a woman who hunted through the eighth month of her pregnancy and was back at work with her nets and her spears just a month after giving birth. Other mothers went hunting with their newborns strapped to their sides, despite the fact that their prey, the duiker (a type of antelope), can be a dangerous beast. 

If it all sounds like a feminist paradise there is, alas, a sting in the tale: Hewlett found that, while tasks and decision-making were largely shared activities, there is an Aka glass ceiling. Top jobs in the tribe invariably go to men: the kombeti (leader), the tuma (elephant hunter) and the nganga (top healer) in the community he has studied are all male. But that doesn't detract, he says, from their important contribution as co-carers in the parenting sphere: and nor, either, does it reduce the impact of the message he believes the Aka people have for western couples struggling to find a balance between the demands of employment, home-making, self- fulfilment and raising kids. 

One thing that's crucial in the raising of the young is the importance placed on physical closeness: at around three months, a baby is in almost constant physical contact with either one of her parents or with another person. There's no such thing as a cot in an Aka camp because it's unheard of for a couple to ever leave their baby lying unattended - babies are held all the time." Aka fathers, apparently, aren't averse even to heading down to their equivalent of the pub with a child attached to their chest (or even their nipple); the Aka tipple, palm wine, is often enjoyed by a group of men with their infants in their arms. 

It's all a far cry from the west and, says Hewlett, the first thing fathers here could think about is the lack of time and physical contact they often have with their young kids. "There's a big sense in our society that dads can't always be around and that you have to give up a lot of time with your child but that you can put that right by having quality time with them instead," he says. "But after living with the Aka, I've begun to doubt the wisdom of that line. It seems to me that what fathers need is a lot more time with their children, and they need to hold them close a lot more than they do at the moment. There are lots of positive contributions fathers can make to bringing up their children, but we shouldn't underestimate the importance of touch and cuddles." 

Another lesson the Aka have for us - and this is for all of us, mothers as well as fathers - is about how precious children are, and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. If it sounds a bit schmaltzy well, that's exactly why we need to hear it: the fact is, says Hewlett, that we've strayed into believing that our kids are a burden rather than a blessing and that's something the Aka never do. "To the Aka, your children are the very value of your life. The idea of a child as a burden would be incomprehensible there ... children are the energy, the life force of the community." A saying from another tribe he's studied, the Fulani, sums the sentiment up: they say that you're lucky if you've got someone who will shit on you.
But back to that male breastfeeding: Jack O'Sullivan of Fathers Direct says he was invited on chat show after chat show on Monday in the wake of the report going public, and faced a mixture of horror, consternation and support. "Some fathers phoned in to say they'd let their child suck their nipples - often it had just happened when the baby was lying on their chest in bed," he says. But some people were disgusted: the words "child abuse" came up more than once, which points up interesting cultural differences when you think that, to Aka folk, much of the way we raise our kids would count as child abuse to them (babies being left to sleep alone in a different room from their parents, for example). 
For O'Sullivan, what is sad is that the negativity to the Aka revelation points up the continuing awkwardness around intimacy between fathers and their infants: while mother-child intimacy is very public, and celebrated, father-child intimacy is still shied away from and worried over, despite an increasing body of evidence showing that, given the chance, fathers can be every bit as respondent to their infants as mothers in terms of reading their signals and communicating with them. In a nutshell, says O'Sullivan, men are scared of intimacy with babies and small children - and it could be that looking anew at that fear, with reference to the Aka experience, could be a useful and liberating male experience.

Doll Face

Here is a 4 minute video which is extremely creepy (I must emphasize the creepy), yet it is a very accurate metaphor for the incredibly impossible task of achieving feminine beauty in our culture.

It begins with a mechanized 'doll' and a TV screen very close to the machine.  The fact that the 'female doll' is a machine can have so many layers of meaning.  Drawing from my previous post about childbirth, women's bodies = money, profit to corporations.  It's not important that women (and men) have feelings, have lives of their own, have pain of their own; profit is the bottom line, and, therefore, women become machines with no purpose of their own other than to serve someone who controls them.

As the mechanized 'doll' takes in what's on the TV, the 'doll' begins to doll herself up with makeup.  After the 'doll' achieves this goal, the TV moves further and further away the more she tries to achieve perfection, representing the unachievable goal of American beauty.  The doll then tries to move closer, but it eventually ends in her own destruction (real life examples: anorexia, bulimia, depression, poor self-image, bad diets habits etc.)

If I had a hammer, I'd smash patrirchy...

I love this!

The Business of Being Born & Pregnant in America

Here are two wonderful, eye opening, and yet tragic documentaries which criticize the American health care system with an emphasis on drugs, costly interventions, and its view of childbirth as a medical emergency rather than a natural occurrence.  This is relevant to the feminist movement as women's bodies are commodified for profit which isn't necessarily done for their well-being, their child's, or for the society as a whole.

Here is the first part of The Business of Being Born:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Couric, Steinem, Greene Weigh In On “The End of Men”

Ms. founder Gloria Steinem and Women’s Media Center President Jehmu Greene talk with Katie Couric on her web show to refute The Atlantic article, “The End of Men: How women are taking control–of everything.” (Here's a link to that article).  Even if you don't read the article, it's an absolutely great discussion covering women in the workplace, today's feminism, and shifting dynamics in American families.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco is a musician and a feminist whose songs center around politics, feminism, religion, racism, sexism, etc.  I highly recommend checking her out.  Her music is so diverse lyrically it's almost unbelievable.  She's really talented.

Songs I recommend:
Not a Pretty Girl
Blood in the Boardroom
Talk to Me Now
Adam and Eve
As Is

Both Hands
Untouchable Face
'Tis of Thee

 Also I recommend a song by Rilo Kiley called Silver Lining and No Man's Woman by Sinead O'Connor

Empowering Women with a Female Condom with 'Teeth'

This article on CNN talks about a female condom which is inserted into the vagina like a tampon.  "Jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line its inside and attach on a man's penis during penetration."  While the article argues that the devise will constantly remind the woman that she is vulnerable to psychological trauma, I'll argue that it's far more empowering.  The woman is already ten feet deep in misogyny that she's already well aware of her vulnerability and her vulnerability to rape.

Here is a short video about it:

Here is an abridged version of the article (follow the link to  see the complete article):

Once it lodges, only a doctor can remove it -- a procedure Ehlers hopes will be done with authorities on standby to make an arrest.
'It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it's on,' she said. 'If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter... however, it doesn't break the skin, and there's no danger of fluid exposure.'
Ehlers said she sold her house and car to launch the project, and she planned to distribute 30,000 free devices under supervision during the World Cup period.
Critics say the female condom is not a long-term solution and makes women vulnerable to more violence from men trapped by the device.
'It's also a form of "enslavement,' said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. 'The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.'
Kajja said the device constantly reminds women of their vulnerability. 'It not only presents the victim with a false sense of security, but psychological trauma,' she added. 'It also does not help with the psychological problems that manifest after assaults.'
However, its one advantage is it allows justice to be served, she said. Various rights organizations that work in South Africa declined to comment, including Human Rights Watch and Care International.
'Women and girls who experience these violations are denied justice, factors that contribute to the normalization of rape and violence in South African society,' Human Rights Watch says.
Women take drastic measures to prevent rape in South Africa, Ehlers said, with some wearing extra tight biker shorts and others inserting razor blades wrapped in sponges in their private parts.
Critics have accused her of developing a medieval device to fight rape. 'Yes, my device may be a medieval, but it's for a medieval deed that has been around for decades,' she said. 'I believe something's got to be done ... and this will make some men rethink before they assault a woman.'

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Iron Jawed Angels

If you haven't seen this movie and if you consider yourself a feminist, you must see this film.  I was so impressed with this movie that it deserves a mention here.  I was very inspired and shocked as I hadn't realized what these suffragists did to cause America, specifically President Wilson bowing to political pressure, to give women the right to vote.  I searched a bit online after watching the film, and it is pretty accurate to what actually happened.  I do know that two of the characters are fictional including: Emily Leighton, the senator's wife, and Patrick Dempsey's character, Ben Weissman who was Alice's love interest.

 Here is the film on youtube in 12 parts:

Here is a short synopsis of the film:
Iron Jawed Angels, inspired by a pivotal chapter in American history. Hilary Swank plays Alice Paul, an American feminist who risked her life to fight for women's citizenship and the right to vote. She founded the separatist National Woman's Party and wrote the first equal rights amendment to be presented before Congress. Together with social reformer Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor), Paul struggled against conservative forces in order to pass the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. One of their first actions was a parade on President Woodrow Wilson's (Bob Gunton) inauguration day. The suffragists also encountered opposition from the old guard of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston). The activists get arrested and go on a well-publicized hunger strike, where their refusal to eat earns them the title of the iron-jawed angels.

Feminism Keeps Marriage Together

Here's an interesting article on AlterNet about one woman's experience with marriage and how the traditional roles and expectations of women and men in marriage can be destructive and sexist.  You can click on the link to see the original article on AlterNet or read it here in its entirety:

When it comes to heterosexual marriage, feminism gets blamed for everything from the divorce rate to declining birth rates, or even in the case of Ted Haggard, meth addiction and secret gay affairs. Feminism is, after all, the movement that teaches women to leave husbands, kill children, and become capitalist-destroyin', witchcraft lovin' lesbians (thanks Pat Robertson!). But on the eve of our second anniversary, my husband and I credit feminism with keeping our marriage together.

Many second-wave feminists argue that no matter how many gains feminism makes, it should never cease to be taught, because the younger generations will be stunned powerless in the face of unexpected sexism without having feminist education to help put that sexism into context. Thanks to my marriage, I know this to be true. Patrick and I considered ourselves equal partners, but not necessarily feminists. One night while folding laundry, we, two equal partners decided to get married.

We got engaged for all the reasons that very young 20-somethings do -- we wanted a public declaration of commitment, we hoped we would be together forever, we were straight and it never occurred to us to do anything else, and we were a little bit crazy. From that moment on, sexism smacked us in the face at every turn.

We didn't want an engagement ring, as we felt it was a one-sided gesture based on a tradition involving the man proving his financial worth to the woman he would take care of. We did, however, buy each other some badass high-top sneakers. At first were thrilled. We were counterculture. But I became less thrilled when the same script played out with nearly every person I knew.

"You're engaged? Congratulations! Where's the ring?"

"Oh, we didn't want one."

"You poor thing. He'll buy you one soon."

"No, I didn't want one. We bought each other these rad sneakers, though. We thought it would be more equal. I wanted him to have something too."

"Well, he'll come around. How did he propose?"

"He didn't. We just had a discussion. That's really our style."

"He didn't get on one knee or plan a big surprise?"

"Nope. Hey, don't you know us? I hate surprises and he sucks at keeping secrets. And I've never really appreciated the knee thing."

"Oh, honey. You really shouldn't settle for this. I'm sure he'll buy you a nice diamond if you just drop some hints. You deserve better that this."

This what? This equality?

The overwhelming majority of romantic traditions are deeply rooted in sexism and any deviation from those traditions left me pitied and questioning my own value. Sure Patrick and I thought that sexist traditions were stupid, but if he didn't offer me sexist traditions, how else could he show me that he really did love me? What else was there? I had always known that I wanted to keep my name if I got married, but suddenly I was pretty pissed that Patrick was OK with this. "Why aren't you upset that I won't share your name? Why doesn't this bother you like everyone keeps telling me it will? Oh my god, you don't want to marry me, do you? If you wanted to marry me, you'd be insisting that I keep your name! Everyone told me so!"

We had a lot of confusing, bitter arguments. Patrick couldn't understand why we couldn't just make decisions in a vacuum. Surely if he and I wanted things one way, then all the other ways shouldn't matter. I couldn't understand why there was so much dissonance between what we wanted and what family, friends, magazines, and seemingly the rest of the country told me to expect -- and why it all made me feel awful. I felt guilty for letting Patrick do most of the wedding planning, even though he loved designing invitations, buying decorations and all the other artsy aspects that bored me silly. I felt guilty for not having an aisle.

I felt guilty for not stressing out enough over the wedding itself; I simply didn't do anything that I didn't want to, and it seemed to close me off to bonding with other women who were always asking if I was "going crazy yet" (I was, but it had nothing to do with reception menus). I felt guilty for making decisions, because someone was bound to say, "Hey, look out for Bridezilla!" I felt guilty just for buying a wedding band after the jeweler saw us walk into the shop and said to Patrick, "Poor guy. I know this is the last place you want to be right now. Well, let's make her happy and then you can leave."

Looking back, it's a wonder we even got married. I wish that I had the language of feminism back then, to understand how we are all socialized to see marriage as a woman's prize for being appropriately attractive and wily, and how men are offered no part in it except as reluctant, defeated lumps following behind. But the wedding was just the beginning.

As a wife, thanks to popular culture, well-meaning friends and family, and generations of sexist baggage, I was convinced that I had to be constantly capable. Growing up in my family, the women handled all the cooking, cleaning, event planning and what we call "friend maintenance" (making plans, returning calls, sending cards, etc.). The men didn't dare handle any of that because everyone knew they would fuck it up.

If television has taught us anything, it's that men in the kitchen produce inedible meals and explosions. Men with mops will ignore piles of visible dirt. Best to leave the details to women, who are innately suited to the more mind-numbing elements of daily life. I tried to do it all, plus pet care, paying the bills on schedule, and keeping track of birthdays and big events in both our families.

The more I controlled Patrick's life as well as mine, the better I convinced myself I was at marriage -- and the culture at large reinforced that. Sometimes I told myself that it was better this way, because if we tried to split chores 50-50, then Patrick wouldn't do things as well as I did. But I was kidding myself. Patrick was a great cook and an OK housekeeper. If we would abandon the idea that men don't or can't clean, he would learn to do things well, just as I had learned them.

Marilyn French once said that with feminism, "it always comes down to the damn dishes." In my house, it came down to sex. I wanted it constantly. He didn't. When the tables are turned and a woman has a lower drive, it's natural. It's expected. When a woman wants more sex and isn't getting it, then something is badly wrong. She must be gaining weight. She must be ugly. Because as we all know, men are simply walking penises who want sex all the time. A woman who can't convince him to have it with her must be doing something wrong. Or there's a deeper issue at heart, as a friend said when I complained to her that our drives just weren't synching up. "Do you think he could be gay?" she asked, quite seriously. At this time, we were having sex about twice a week. "Still," my friend said. "What kind of a man turns down sex?"

For me, that's when things began to change. What kind of a man was Patrick, to be an independent, thinking, feeling, capable person, when everything in the world was giving him marching orders to be something completely different? What kind of woman was I to do the same? We always had been individuals who valued equality, but we were gradually beginning to see the impact and influence of sexism on our lives. We didn't live in a vacuum, and we never could. The day we began to acknowledge sexism, instead of pretending that it didn't exist, was the day we started to treat each other like adults.

Patrick has taught me a lot about feminism by being my husband. I've learned that patriarchy hurts men, too. While I was feeling guilty for anything and everything I did, he was beating himself up over his salary and benefits, his lower sex drive, and his own struggles with anxiety and lack of confidence -- emotions that men aren't supposed to have, much less express to their partners. He was chafing under the idea that he wasn't smart enough to manage his own daily life, and he was insulted by the implication that he was so governed by his penis that he would cede all control to it at the prospect of sex.

Just as sexism tells women that they must fit a very narrow mold, it tells men the same thing. Any attempt to simply be yourself is met with derision and disapproval, even from supposedly equal partners who expect you to act as they've been told "all" men do. Intimacy just isn't possible under patriarchy. You don't see your partner or even yourself as a real person, but instead you see through the lens of gender expectations, through which deviation is confusing at best and threatening at worst. You suppress every scary impulse -- whether nonmonogamy, demanding equal effort on chores or relationship issues, or simply slumming it all weekend -- lest you upset the security of living under those expectations. Maybe that works for some people. But at 23 and 25, we hope to have a lot of years of marriage ahead, and we'd rather just relax and be real. There is enormous security that comes from knowing that your partner respects you enough to handle what you dish out, and vice versa.

These days, we're both feminists. In feminism, we've found a language to describe the challenges inherent to being multifaceted, complex people in a society that reduces us to pink and blue, and we've found alternatives to buying into that society. Being heterosexual has afforded us many privileges, but it also has allowed us plenty of opportunities to challenge assumptions about what heterosexual marriage should be. This summer, I'll be enrolling in full-time law school while Patrick takes over all of the household responsibilities. Eventually, Patrick would like to take some time off work to focus on writing. We've even discussed living apart for travel and internship opportunities.

Whatever we do, I'm confident that it won't be motivated by the guilt that drove the early part of our relationship. While our marriage may not look like the ones we knew growing up, it works for us. We married a friend, but we got an ally"