Friday, February 29, 2008

Non-Feminist Lit 101

What does everyone think of "chick-lit?"

My general impression is that these books focus on white women balancing well-paying careers with their love lives.  I'm not sure because though I've occasionally picked up a book and read the back cover, vaguely attracted because I recognized a subject-matter similarity to Sex And The City, I've always put the book back down because it seemed kind of "ditzy."  The thing is, these are women who have benefited from the perks of feminism, but none of whom would acknowledge being feminists, not if that terms means standing up for or against something against the cultural norm.

But focus on my "ditzy" call.  Is that fair?  Why should women who enjoy the perks of femininity and the fruits of feminism be labeled?  Aren't they just living their (fictional) lives the best way they know how?  It goes back to feminism.  I want to ask, how can you be so oblivious about the movement that has given you (it must be acknowledged as such, I think) so much freedom?  How can you afford to be so self-centered and utterly oblivious?  (So I've found more accurate labels than "ditzy"...the mere fact that I would use this put-down generally reserved for women, though, to describe something that doesn't appeal to me, speaks to how culture rubs off on us all when we're not careful and, perhaps, how social norms are in us all and bubble out when we're not reflective.)  And, truthfully, though I thought the TV series was great, the criticisms I have of the heroines of "chick-lit" probably also apply to those of Sex And The City.  Heck, Sex And The City was "chick-lit" before it became a TV series.

The thing is, guys like Nick Hornby write about the same thing as it pertains to men, but I don't hear "dick-lit" used to describe his novels.  As a point in fact, it seems that "chick-lit" is a cottage industry while "dick-lit," which is an actual category too, is its ugly, hardly recognized counterpart, basically for the reason that not much of anything readable by general standards is classified in that category. 

So basically, I have two problems, one, how no chick-lit heroines are feminists (I didn't know how to check on this though, other than actually reading it all, so maybe my entire post is riding on bad evidence) and, two, how stuff concerning women's lives, as they are, however they are, is labeled in a sub-category, while similar stuff for guys (I'm depending a lot on the Hornby example here) is recognized with critical plaudits.  I don't care if I think "chick-lit" is just as vapid as Hornby.  It's as vapid as Hornby who gets by with no odious categorizations, that's the main point!

And no self-respecting feminist would say, well, "chick-lit" is empowering.  I mean, where do you go if as a movement all the individuals are focused on their narrow lives and have no values respecting something bigger than themselves?  I know working lives and finding love are real feminist concerns.  I just don't think "chick-lit" addresses those concerns in anything but a superficial manner.  So my position is slightly paradoxical.  I'm defending something and demanding "equal" treatment at the same time as I acknowledge what I'm defending isn't worth all that much.  But I have to say it's worth something, comparatively at least, to say it's worthy of equal treatment.  So one position elevates while the other lowers.

To those who says it's all just fun, I would say, point taken respecting the ultimate value factor, though I would say if all your fun is in the same vein, it's going to influence your "serious" side, and a division between "fun" and "serious" sides is not always workable.  For those who think arguing for equal treatment of hamburger fiction is vapid, I would say, it's these little cultural battles that form the fabric of our existence.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How do you raise a feminist?

How do you raise a feminist?

In this blog post I have decided to write something about myself as a person. Therefore it is not so much “legal”, but still “feminist”.

When Professor Pruitt asked us on the first day of class if we were feminists, I was not taken by surprise. I have thought about it before, and have come to the conclusion that I am. (One of the things that made me think about it was actually a statement by the former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson that he was a feminist, which I thought was pretty cool). But I have never thought about why I do consider myself a feminist. My response to Professor Pruitt on the first day of class was that, that it is just the way I was brought up. And after thinking about it for a while I am definitely sticking to my initial answer, because my conclusion after thinking about in the last month is, that it was in fact the way I was brought up. But how do you raise a feminist?

When I was growing up my sister and I would sometimes ask my father if he was sorry that he did not have any sons. And his response was always, that he was glad that he only had daughters. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or he just said it to make us happy. But I am pretty sure he actually meant it, because he is not really into “traditional” male activities like sports.

When I was younger my father always used to say, that when I grew up I would become the Prime Minister of Denmark, because I was so smart. I never had any aspirations to a political career though, but I think that what my father essentially told me was that I could do exactly what I wanted with my life, even hold the highest position in Danish society (besides from that of regent, but that is a pretty unrealistic career goal), regardless of the fact that I was girl.

My mother has worked outside the home my entire life. She is a kindergarten teacher. During the first five years of my life my father was still studying at university. My mom therefore worked full time, while my father stayed home more often, because studying allowed him to do so and to take care of me and my sister (in Denmark attendance in class at universities is not mandatory). So therefore my father did a good deal of the nurturing in my early life.

I was also raised as a feminist in a more direct way, because my mother, I am sure, would definitely also characterize herself as a feminist. She was educated as a kindergarten teacher in a period (the early 80’s) where feminist issues were very much discussed in her field of work and in the milieu surrounding that profession. So she has directly influenced me when it comes to opinions about feminism. It has just always been in her way at looking at the world.

When I was a baby I had both traditional girls toys and boys toys (even though I would never play with the boys toys except in a “girly way”). And my mother was opposed to dressing us in traditional girl colours such as pink and clothes that was typically feminine like lacy dresses. She always used to say, and still says, “there are no girl colours or boy colours”.

Furthermore my mother did not take my father’s last name when they got married and she insisted that we (my sister and I) should have her last name. In return my father chose our first names.

What I have described above are of course only a couple of the reasons why I today consider myself a feminist, and there are obviously also other reasons, such as experiences I have had in the latest years when it comes to the legal profession. But what the examples above are meant to say is that I have been taught to regard myself as in no (significant) way different from men or boys pretty much since I was born. And I think that is, partly, what has made me a feminist.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Ultimate Outsourcing"

NBC morning show ran a segment called, "Ultimate Outsourcing: Wombs for Rent in India." It features a white San Diego couple, unable to conceive, who pays a woman in Indian to be a surrogate after finding her on a website. There has been a lot of discussion popularly and academically about transnational adoption, and some of it centers around (fairly offensive) fixed ideas of race and culture where commentators worry that the adopted child will lose his/her "real" culture/race. So much better than to avoid that quandary and jump right to having women in the third world literally produce America's biological children. It's the perfect meeting of postcolonialism (a new twist on the 'raw materials' to 'finished product' relationship of mercantilism), reproductive politics (increased government regulation of women's bodies), racism (no explanation needed), and bio-essentialism (or perhaps more appropriately bio-obsesssion--this couple sold their house to afford a child that looked like them).

Here's the link:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dowd: A Flawed Feminist Test

Here's the latest from Maureen Dowd on Hillary. I think she's spot on with several of her points, including her statement that many women empathize with Hillary, "knowing that any woman in a world dominated by men has to walk a tightrope between femininity and masculinity, strength and vulnerability." Just what we were talking about in class yesterday.

Dowd goes on to suggest that if Hillary loses, it is not necessarily because we're not ready for a woman president:
But Hillary is not the best test case for women. We’ll never know how much of the backlash is because she’s a woman or because she’s this woman or because of the ick factor of returning to the old Clinton dysfunction.
I'm not so sure about Dowd's less-tentative conclusion: "If Hillary fails, it will be her failure, not ours." The "ours" refers to women's -- or perhaps more broadly to our society's inability to accept a female leader. All the subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny on display on so many fronts during this campaign makes it impossible to excise "gender" from any assessment of the outcome.

Monday, February 11, 2008

segregrating busses a good thing for women?

I thought this NY times article was interesting.
Read the different reactions of men to the "women only" busses in Mexico City. It seems that some take the harrasment experienced by women quite lightly and ascribe it to a cultural idiosyncracy. But can this form of machismo --that is, touching and gawking at women--be culturally acceptable if only men partake and women are put in a place of fear?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

60 Minutes has pushed me over the edge

I have never blogged about anything before. I don't think I've ever written an angry letter to a newspaper or done much other than complain (lately more than usual) to friends about the problems we're facing in this country. I have stomached the growing anti-intellecualism and continuing shift to the right, and have simply gone about my business, giving to liberal causes, and working at the grassroots level. And I've taken heart in the fact that finally the Democrats have a deep bench, but, this election season has exposed some very ugly truths about the way that our society views women, particularly women in politics. Still, to this point I have kept my ranting to myself. When 60 Minutes, though, starts buying into and perpetuating the gendered and dare I say misogynistic nonsense that's gone on during this campaign, I find that I'm so beside myself that I must share and solicit your thoughts.

Now, the title of this, my very first (and possibly last) blog, is "60 Minutes has pushed me over the edge" and I say that because I have always believed that 60 Minutes was the last hope we had for an in-depth news program minus the Stone-Phillipsizing drama that is now so pervasive on all of our news programs. But, tonight I saw on 60 Minutes the most offensive and gendered set of interviews with Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama that I have seen yet-- and that is saying something in light of the Chris Matthews debacle circa the Iowa caucus (you can see one video here and another here, but there are plenty of great articles out there like Rebecca Traister's in Salon), the violent and offensive anti-Clinton nonsense on the internet (which was aptly described by Kathleen Hall Jamieson on Bill Moyers), and the odd "iron my shirt" comments that Clinton has been hearing on the campaign trail. I'm not even going to touch the "pimping Chelsea" thing.

Take a look and see what you think. But here's what I saw:

Obama interviewed by Steve Croft who asked inane questions about Obama seeming to have endless energy even though he sleeps only 4 hours every night, about Obama gaining momentum, about Obama playing basketball, and about Obama's success on Super Duper Tuesday. Now, granted, there were a few no-follow-up softballs lobbed about Obama getting a pass from the media, about him being light on experience, and about his light-on-details stump speaches. There was, however, no pressing; this was just a check-up on our pal Obama.

Then Clinton was interviewed by Katie "There's a war going on?" Couric, who pressed Clinton about bizarre and non-substantive issues, e.g., "What's your nutritional regime on the campaign trail?", "Were you the girl in front of your class with your hand up; didn't the boys call you 'frigidaire?", and (this was my favorite because KC asked it more than once) "What are you going to do if you lose?"-- I can only assume that the correct answer is cry or seek out Ben & Jerry, but I digress.

I don't think that the stupidity of the KC interview was the result of a bias towards one candidate, rather I'd submit that it was the result of some seriously gender-biased assumptions on the part of 60 Minutes and KC herself. But, if 60 Minutes has gone the way of MSNBC (see references to Chris Matthewes above) and Fox (I don't think I need to say anything), then we're all really in trouble, so I'm hoping that some of you fellow feminists can add something to this discussion because I'm at a loss.

Why do we judge women so harshly?

I like Nicholas Kristof's hypothesis, articulated in his opinion piece, "When Women Rule" in today's NYT. Well, at least it's an appealing one from a woman's point of view. Kristof briefly reviews successful women rulers in history (Queen Hatshepsut, Catherine the Great of Russia, Elizabeth I of England, Isabella of Castile, and Maria Theresa of Austria among them) and speculates about why these female monarchs were unusually successful in comparison to women leaders in democracies. He writes:

In monarchies, women who rose to the top dealt mostly with a narrow elite, so they could prove themselves and get on with governing. But in democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices — and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.

Hmmm. The column provides interesting empirical evidence . . . and food for thought about why it's so hard for women to get ahead.

King Hall Profs Ikemoto and Joslin Speaking on Campus this Week as Part of "Genders, Bodies, Politics" Series

The Consortium for Women and Research is sponsoring this event on Wednesday, February 13, 2008, 4:10 to 5:30 pm. The venue is Hart Hall Room 3201.

Eggs and Embroys: How the Fertility and Stem Cell Research Industries Take Women to Market
Lisa Ikemoto, Professor, School of Law, UCD

Who's In and Who's Out? Same Sex Couples and Assisted Reproductive Technology
Courtney Joslin, Professor, School of Law, UCD

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Program on effectively protecting women's interests, Saturday, 1 March, in Sacramento

My Sister's House, a Sacramento safe haven for Asian and Pacific Islander Women, is hosting a program called, "Effective Representation: Protecting the Interests of Women" on March 1 at the CSU Sacramento Alumni Center. Click here for more information. MCLE credit is available. Co-sponsors of the program include Women Lawyers of Sacramento, Legal Services of Northern California, Asian Legal Services Outreach, Asian/Pacific Bar Association of Sacramento, and Sierra Health Foundation.

Fem legal theory alum Kira Klatchko, who sent this information, tells me that Tam Ma, the President of the Board of My Sister's House, will be a student at King Hall starting in the fall of '08. She is currently a policy consultant in the Office of Senator Sheila Kuehl.

Women as Entertainment in Occupied Areas

Blog Post February 2008
Kelly White

2008 Outlook for U.S. Service Women in Iraq

Women as Entertainment in Occupied Areas

In the Fall of 2007, Redskin cheerleaders visited the Kalsu Air force base. The purpose of the visit was to boost morale. And there are a number of criticisms one could make. Such as whose morale are we trying to boost? Why this particular form of entertainment? Some letters to the editor from female troops criticized the performance. Other letters defending the visit used the "sameness approach," advocating that Chippendales [click on link; see "Women Deserve Chippendales"] should come to the Air force Base (AFB).

What is the impact of this form of entertainment on service women? If one form of entertainment is the sexualizing of women for the entertainment of men, then what are the experiences of the women serving on the same base?

I remember reading an article in my undergraduate women's studies courses on the effect of pornography on people's acceptance of rape. The statistic was something like men were then 25% more likely to believe that holding a woman down to have sex was acceptable behavior. (Although the link I found indicates a greater %).The link from the cheerleading form of entertainment to the pornography and its consequences is not a far stretch, no too farfetched of a comparison.

My friend recently reported to me that a friend of hers had to put in for relocation because her superior officer had repeatedly sexually harassed her. This servicewoman had loved the job she was assigned to, a saving grace during war, and yet, when she filed grievances for the situation she had to endure, there was no assistance.

At some point I would like to explore the grievance process in general for military personnel in combat zones and occupied countries.

In the news media, before the war there were reports of superior officers raping female officers. Now, when there is a less stringent grievance process and other realities of war that hinder a service women's ability to protect herself and find assistance, it should be no surprise that rape reports continue. Washington Times, see 3rd paragraph from the bottom. N.Y. Times supporting documentation.

In response to the "Women Deserve Chippendales" the sameness approach does not always work. That the consequences of sexualizing women compared to that of men in a patriarchal society are not similar. That even if (presuming heterosexuality) servicewomen did have Chippendales as entertainment, the problem would not resolve itself. Military women would still have to contend with sexual harassment and rape. And, presumably, if U.S. servicewomen have limited resources, then women of the occupied country are without a doubt similarly disadvantaged.

Click here for a link of the response military women had to the Redskins visit. [See letter entitled "No more Ta Tas Please"

Friday, February 8, 2008

Decanal Candidates at King Hall include Two Women

Among the four finalists for the deanship at King Hall are two women, both professors at the University of Iowa. One is Adrien Katherine Wing, Associate Dean for Faculty Develoment there, and the other is Margaret Raymond. That Adrien Wing is a "radical feminist" has apparently not gone unnoticed by decision makers. Raymond is an expert on criminal law and constitutional law who has held some significant positions in faculty governance at Iowa.

The other candidates are Associate Dean Kevin Johnson, who is well known to all of you, and Leon Trakman, immediate past dean of the law school at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Trakman was a visiting professor at UC Davis during my first year at King Hall, 1999-2000. He is an expert in commercial law and dispute resolution, and he was apparently a very successful fundraiser at N.S.W., which has a new building to show for his efforts.

I understand that alums can have a real influence on the dean selection process, and I hope all of you (current students, too) will learn more about the candidates and make your views known to Chancellor Vanderhoef by Monday, March 3, the date by which he has requested input. I am sure plenty of senior male alums will show up to meet and vet these candidates, and I hope you will be a part of the process, too. If you are interested in meeting these candidates, you are invited to attend a reception for each in the faculty lounge at the law school during his/her visit. Here's the schedule:

Adrien Katherine Wing: Wednesday, 13 February, 5:30 to 6:30

Margaret Raymond: Thursday, 21 February, 5:30 to 6:30

Leon Trakman, Monday, 25 February, 5:30 to 6:30

Kevin Johnson: Wednesday, 27 February, 5:30 to 6:30

If you would like to be considered as one of the alums to attend dinner with any candidate, I suggest you contact LSA President Sarah Asplin, or Tom Stallard, chair of our Alumni Board.

Difficulties accessing sexual reproductive health in NorthCarolina: Latina stories and photographs

Professor Natalia Deeb-Sossa of the Dept. of Sociology will be talking about her work on reproductive rights among Latinas in North Carolina at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 13th. The Hemispheric Institute on the Americas is showcasing Deeb-Sossa's collection of related photographs, "Reproductive Oppression," on the 5th floor of the Social Science and Humanities Building during the winter and spring quarters 2008.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Happy Voting Day - some musings

As a feminist legal theory alum, it has been interesting observing the primary races and the rhetoric involved in the campaigns and media. I hope today and November brings a record number of women and young people to polls. I also hope as feminists we will call out sexism and racism when we see it.

Various aspects of the Democratic primary race have troubled me. I can't remember if these editorials/blogs have already been posted here, but I think these two authors sum up my thoughts pretty well:

All You Need is Hate
Stanley Fish, NY Times

Goodbye to All That (#2)
Robin Morgan
*I found this blog particularly interesting. While Morgan is not my favorite theorist, I think she makes some good points here.

Finally, I recommend the book Madam President-Women Blazing the Leadership Trail by Eleanor Clift and Tom Brazaitis. I believe the last edition was published in 2003.

Today let's honor all those who fought so hard to give women the right to vote. Happy Voting.

More on women and politics

"16 Ways of Looking at a Female Voter" appeared in the NYT Magazine yesterday. It's worth a read. Some of the sixteen entries relate to the Hillary-Obama contest, of course, but there is also a great deal more regarding the when, how, and why of women's political engagement.