Sunday, February 27, 2011

Follow Up: Fausto-Sterling and Douglas

I found Fausto-Sterlings article really interesting. The part that struck me most was how she said that we constantly consider men the norm. The fact that women have menstrual cycles and different hormones is considered the "other" rather than just different. It was actually quite clever of men to use it as a method of keeping women oppressed. The ability to point out a specific biological difference, and apply it as a weakness to their character, allowed them to repress women with an excuse. It's interesting, though, that it's considered a weakness because women have always been having children and are half responsible for keeping the human race alive. You would think they would get some support for the role they play.
I also found myself nodding along to Douglas's writing about women being under a lot of pressure to be thin. I think a counter argument to that is that men are expected to be buff and in shape to be attractive, but I think the pressure is a lot stronger on women because women are more often than men looked at as "decorative". When I was watching the Oscar's tonight I noticed the fact that the women were all dressed up in fantastic, creative dresses. There was a huge amount of pressure to look great and fashionable and they were being critiqued by how they looked. All the men were in tuxedos, and the differences were slight. It was like they were in uniform and no one commented on how they looked in their suits. I also like how she pointed out that even magazines that claim to love all body types still focus half the time on how to lose unwanted weight or tone the body. We receive two contradictory messages, and I think it's clear which one they hope we listen to, and which one the companies knows sells. If everyone felt good about themselves, no one would bother buying the magazines.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Follow Up: Fausto-Sterling

I was shocked by the idea that women’s bodies are abnormal.  It doesn’t make sense to me to decide to use the male biology as “normal” and compare other bodies to it.  This notion clearly results in an abnormal and even deviant view of the female body.  Thus the fact that women have menstrual cycles and go through menopause is linked with the idea that women are less able and inferior to men.  Thus this idea is very detrimental to women in today’s society.  It portrays women in a stereotypical manner.
            Furthermore, when people believe ideas about the abnormality of the female’s body it can be dangerous to female health.  For instance, especially in the past, doctors may dismiss one’s ailment under the impression that the female simply has abnormal hormones levels or neural differences.  Furthermore, the lack of information on menopause and PMS makes diagnosis faulty.  Doctors may diagnose many symptoms as related to PMS or menopause, while in fact there is a different underlying problem.  Without full knowledge of the female body it is difficult to understand what symptoms are related to which ailments.  Something such as suicidal depression could be mistaken as PMS; mistakes such as these can be fatal.  I agree with Fausto-Sterling in that it is necessary to consider both the male and female bodies as normal yet having differences as well as similarities.  With this perspective diagnosis will likely be more accurate as the symptoms of PMS and menopause will be better understood.  With a fuller understanding, society is more likely to accept the female body as normal; I believe that when we comprehend something we are often more likely to accept it.

Summary of: "Hormonal Hurricanes: Menstruation, Menopause, and Female Behavior" by Anne Fausto-Sterling and “Lean and Mean” by Susan Douglass

“Lean and Mean”
Fausto-Sterling writes about the different myths that surround menstruation, menopause, and the general female behavior. She starts with the basic myth that hormones control women. Apparently, these hormones make women biologically less than men. Fausto-Sterling quotes numerous doctors who support the conclusion that biologically men are more fit to rule than women. This idea that hormones rule women is historical idea. In the 1800s scientists argued that men and women require different educations, and this idea continues today. Some scientists have come to the conclusion that women are just not fit for certain jobs because they require a male. Fausto-Sterling points out how there are a lot of flaws surrounding the science behind these assumptions of women are their hormones. Experiments do not account for important factors many times. Scientists will not listen and believe the things that women are telling them. Also much of the "evidence" for female behavior is correlation, not causal.
Fausto-Sterling writes how menstruation is seen as a disease, that all women have until they fall victim of another disease, menopause. If you are a woman, there is a bind surrounding menstruation and menopause. If you complain then you are making things up. If you do not complain then you just have to suffer in silence. Fausto-Sterling also writes about diagnosing PMS, and the real science behind menstruation and menopause. For hundreds of years (and it continues today) menstruation and menopause are/were seen as something that controls women and marks them out as diseased. Testosterone plays a big part in menstruation, and men have testosterone but men are not considered diseased because, well, they are men. When a woman acts negatively it is viewed as evidence for the biological behavior of women, but when she is positive it is just personality and nothing to do with her hormones. Fausto-Sterling talks a little about health education, and how young girls (no matter their class or race) have a negative attitude toward menstruation. This reminded me of Douglass's argument for better sex education in schools.
Throughout the reading Fausto-Sterling explains different reasons why hormones are seen as the ruler of women, and how this in turns encourages patriarchy. The myth that because men do not suffer like women from hormones (not true) they must be the better gender has little real evidence as Fausto-Sterling explains. Despite all of the myths surrounding women and their bodies, she is hopeful for a coming change.

“Lean and Mean”
Douglass writes in this chapter how being lean may be connected to being mean today. She begins with the fixation women have on their bodies. Women are not born with this fixation, but taught it by society through the media, books, posters, peers, etc. Enlightened sexism tells us that being skinny is a way to be empowered. If you are beautiful then you might be powerful, but if you are ugly you definitely are not empowered. So simply, how hot you are equals how powerful you are.
Douglass goes on to explain how the perfect body today is not possible naturally. Women are expected to be size zero in jeans and size 38D in bras. Eating disorders have risen dramatically as well as plastic surgery. Despite how impossible it is to have this body, the media seems to be full of women more beautiful than possible. Clothing stores, magazines, ads, etc. everywhere you look you see the images of women you can never be like naturally. Douglass looks at the lie that plastic surgery sells to women. If you do not like how you look (how could you be perfectly happy with your body?) then plastic surgery empowers you to make the change. If you go under the knife, you wake up happy. She explains shows like “The Swan” and their horrifying display of American society. Americans now spend more on plastic surgery then education. This shows clearly what American society is telling us, (just as Abercombie&Fitch did as well) “Who Needs Brains When You Have These?”
From being lean, Douglass moves on to being mean. Douglass admits that women can be absolutely horrible to each other. She gives different examples of female cruelness, such as in the movie Mean Girls. She also thinks that women have been taught by enlightened sexism to be mean to one another.
Her overall message in this chapter is that we need to recognize the paradox of enlightened sexism with body image and personality. If a woman is not flawless than she does not measure up. Girl power means that girls are hungry for power over each other. Women just can’t seem to win.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Follow Up: Rich and Rupp

I thought that these two articles were both really interesting. The part that I found really parallel in both articles was the idea of women involved in same-sex relationships. What really caught my attention was the fact that in most cases, same-sex relationships between women always seemed really taboo. Rich says that oftentimes, authors completely ignored the idea of a lesbian sexual identity. I thought this connected to Rupp's article because in most cases, it seemed that sexual acts between women were pushed under the rug or not generally stated. There is a clear history of men having intercourse with one another. There is no embarrassment surrounding it whatsoever. I don't know if it's necessarily embarrassment that keeps women from openly talking about these relationships or coming out and saying they're happening, but there are definitely forces at work that cause women to keep these relationships under wraps. I think what makes that interesting is that men continually seem to call the shots on what's "okay" in society, so if they say that sex between a man and a boy is okay, then it is. However, they had never really outlined what was acceptable between women. In contrast, today, most men seem heavily in favor of women as same-sex couples when it is for their benefit. Since then, we have seen an explosion of girl on girl porn and "Spring Break" trysts. It seems like girls were waiting for the go ahead from men, and now that it is socially acceptable, even asked for, they will be open about it.

Summary Post: Rich and Rupp

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence 

Adrienne Rich explains that in our society lesbianism is often seen as deviant and pushed from scholarly literature.  This is done through the media, religion, and politics.  She defines a bias of compulsory heterosexuality as the assumption that all women must be sexually oriented towards men.  She also argues that heterosexuality should be seen as a political institution.  Thus, heterosexuality is often considered what women want, yet Rich argues that it may actually be that our society is forcing these views and decisions on us.  Marriage, and heterosexuality have been forcibly imposed on women and thus heterosexuality cannot be considered a preference but rather a duty or necessity on behalf of women.
            To offer examples of the ignored lesbian existence in scholarly literature, even feminist literature, Rich critiques several books. Some books ignore the idea lesbianism entirely.  This leads the reader to believe that heterosexuality is expected as well as favored.  Other authors, such as Nancy Chodorow, ignore the historical suppression of lesbianism and the effect of society enforcing heterosexual relationships.  Chodorow explains negative feelings that can be associated with heterosexual relationships while still offering a view that leads us to believe that heterosexuality is preferred over lesbianism. 
Rich also gives descriptions of the ways in which males demonstrate their power over women such as through physical confinement, rape, male abortion control, and pimping.  Through such demonstrations, males are able to enforce a society in which heterosexuality is preferred.  This leads women to believe that their only option is heterosexuality; furthermore, this is essential to their womanhood.  Also, through the concept of male identification, Rich argues that women are taught that men are superior and more important than them.
            Rich introduces the term “lesbian continuum” as a new way to view and expand upon the term lesbianism.  Thus, if the concept of lesbian experience is viewed on a continuum, it will be broadened to include things such as female friendship and comradeship.  She explains that with this view, all women would be placed on this continuum. 

Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality

This article by Leila J. Rupp emphasizes that ideas concerning love, relationships, and sex acts must be viewed within their historical context.  Different cultures and time periods viewed same-sex sexuality with unique perspectives. Globally, our views still differ today.  Rupp explains that historically age and status differences structured sexual acts.  Thus, these acts were often considered acceptable and normal.  Furthermore, in some cultures same-sex relations were institutionalized and used to promote masculinity or a “warrior-personality”.  Other same-sex relations are found in history as well, for instance in India as well as Brazil some men were found to either remove genitalia, or take drugs that could enhance their femininity.  Often these individuals occupied low status roles.  Sometimes in history women dressed as men with the hopes of obtaining the privilege associated with the male gender.  For instance, women dressed as men to get a male job with higher prestige.  This was frowned upon by society as a type of counterfeiting and warranted great punishment.  
            Rupp explains that her historical cases demonstrate that although we use the term “same-sex relations” to explain sexual relations between genetically alike people they may be more accurately coined “different-gender relations”.  Rupp also questions what exactly we mean when we use the term “sexuality”.  What constitutes a sexual act?  What is considered to be a sexual act to some may actually be viewed as a spiritual act or an example of male dominance or power to other societies.  Thus these acts have different meaning and significance depending on their context.  Examples during the 1800s demonstrate that to many women, romantic friendships were not seen as violating any cultural sexual norms.  Rather these acts were more acceptable and were not considered to be sexual as they may be today.  Furthermore, it is necessary to look at the cultural context of the act, for instance although kissing in our culture is considered a sexual act, it is not and was not universally so. 
            The article ends asking many more questions concerning our perception of sexuality and the how we can define and think about same-sex interactions.  Rupp emphasizes that not all same-sex interactions are considered sexual, some are for power and status purposes, institutionalized practices, or have spiritual implications.  To better understand the implications of same-sex interactions it is important to look at them in their historical and cultural context. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Follow Up: “Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality” by Rupp and “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (1980)” by Rich

I think these two articles are really thought provoking. Rupp and Rich both look at what same-sex sexuality is. Rupp views same-sex sexuality through a historical text. She describes different examples throughout history and the world of sexual acts, just between men or just between women. She also delves into what Anne Fausto-Sterling talks about over whether or not there should only be two genders. Rupp brings up the idea that same-sex sexuality may be same-sex domination, especially for men. I think that this is a too narrow view of sex. I do think that same-sex rape has to do primarily with domination, but I am not sure how far that extends into all sex. Rupp’s article made me question where does love fit into intercourse? Historically sex does not require love and that is true today too. Sex is a biological act, so why do we tie love to sex? Clearly today love is not a perquisite for sex for everyone, but for some people it is. Love can also mean different things for people. A girl may love her girl friend, but only engage in sexual acts with men. Perhaps this has to do with what Rich argues in her article about “compulsory heterosexuality.”
Rich argument surprised me. In her first paragraph she suggests that heterosexuality takes away from the feminist movement. She goes on to explain that heterosexuality is a way for men to dominate women, and if not enforced on women for thousands of years, many women would not think that they are homosexual. I think this has some validity to it. If society told us that homosexuality was the norm, and that was what is acceptable, maybe more people would be gay? On the other hand, I would disagree with some of the things that Rich says. She seems to be arguing that feminists should all be lesbians. I think that this goes against some of her complaints that heterosexual feminists are not open to lesbian feminists. Isn’t that hypocritical? Many of her views are very extreme too, such as saying that all sex with men is subordinate. Can’t women make other women feel inferior too? Also what happens to women who prefer sex with men?
Something that caught my eye was when Rich writes how women use sex so as to get attention from men. While saying that all sex is just a way to get attention is too extreme, it is an interesting point. Many girls today feel like they have to be sexual for men to like them. I bet that most girls in this class (and guys too for that matter) know multiple girls who have gone farther with a guy in order to a) impress him or/and b) get him to give her attention. As I said today in class I had a friend who had sex in eighth grade. She did not have sexual desire yet, but she felt like her then-boyfriend might break up with her if she did not have sex. He did not force her to physically, but mentally?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Follow Up: Sex "R" Us and Why Black Sexual Politics

The most striking thing about these two articles, which I felt they shared in common, was the idea of black women's portrayal in the media. One quote I found that really embodies this is when Watkins says that young black women are asking, "We love hip hop, but does hip hop love us?" (179). The paradox that black women feel that they so identify with hip hop, when it completely demoralizes and stereotypes them is a very interesting. They believe it is giving them a voice and and outlet, yet, even women who are in the hip hop industry are still using negative slang and creating lyrics that reflect poorly on the gender. In Collins's article, she notes that Destiny's Child is in "celebration of the body and the booty" yet they still dress in clothing which people identify with the negative qualities of black people (29). It's like taking one step forward and two steps back. This reminded me of the idea that in order to break down things we don't like about society, we need to step out of the rules of society. By adhering to the stereotype of black women being animalistic and sexual by wearing skimpy animal print outfits, Destiny's Child is essentially playing into the role laid out for them that keeps them oppressed. In order to move forward, women, especially women of color, need to stop allowing themselves to be sucked into these roles.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Follow Up: "Black Sexual Politics"

In response to Patricia Hill Collins’ article, “Why Black Sexual Politics?” I found it very interesting and contradictory that artists like Destiny’s Child try to portray a strong independent female image yet also succumb to societal expectations of a woman as a sexual spectacle.  Thinking about the media today, it seems as if so many women groups and artists display this same ironic image.
            I was also very interested in the way that Collins explains the new racism in today’s society.  I found her depiction of how the media reproduces ideologies and stereotypical images of women to be extremely telling of the type of society that we live in today.  It is very evident that sex sells.  This is explanation for why we are constantly surrounded by sexual images in our pop culture; this includes advertisements, television shows and music videos.  This also relates to why groups like Destiny’s Child may need to portray a sexual image in order to sell albums and survive in an already very sexualized industry.  This obsession with sex has definitely driven the media industry.  It is necessary that the media is evaluated and changed if we want women to be viewed differently and not in this stereotypical, objectified manner.  Only with a massive transformation of American values will women actually be portrayed in a strong manner without the accompanying sexual and derogatory image. 
            Another aspect of Collins’ argument that I agree with is that our culture views the terms “sexuality” and “heterosexuality” basically as synonyms.  We also see these terms as both natural and normal.  This works to further promote stereotypes about homosexual behavior as both deviant and abnormal.  With this view, homosexuality is also pushed into the background and not always discussed.  Heterosexuality is both expected and as Collins says “inevitable”, therefore homosexuality is not a forefront idea when discussing sexuality.  By closing off the minds of the American public, homosexuality is not discussed and people are then even more closed to the idea of anything that is not considered normal.  This feedback works to strengthen stereotypical and negative ideas about homosexuality.  

Summary: “SEX ‘R’ US” (Douglass) and “Why Black Sexual Politics?” (Collins)

“SEX ‘R’ US”
Douglass writes the American sex culture, focusing on how it affects young women. She talks about how our society is paradoxical. On the one hand, our society tells us not to talk about our sexual habits, and on the other hand, society is full of sex (on TV, ads, buses etc.). “SEX ‘R’ US” is a clever chapter. Douglass brings up different points effectively and humorously. On the first page she writes how right-wing conservatives religious groups and liberal feminists actually agree on one thing: sex.
Douglass introduces a new term for us in this chapter, the sexpert. This is new female icon is very comfortable with sex and talks about it all the time (or just be Carrie from Sex and the City). The sexpert is confusing because she is suppose to be on equal footing with men when it comes to sex, but this is the only thing she is actually equal to men with. There is a thought that sexual equality means economic and political equality, which Douglass disproves. The sexpert can be dangerous though, not to men, but to young girls. Douglass devotes a lot of the chapter talking about how young girls are being told to be sexperts too young. She looks at shows like Toddlers and Tiaras and Calvin Klein ads. Young girls are being displayed as sexy before they can even legally have sex. I don’t think that six year olds are empowered by getting to put high heels on. I also don’t think that anyone will have good self-esteem if the way to be happy is to be a beauty queen by age three.
“SEX ‘R’ US” goes on to talk about the media and its role in creating this sexpert. Douglass compares the power of magazines, television, movies, and music. Magazines like Cosmo and Mazim give advice to their different audiences about how to “get the guy/girl” and “become beautiful instantly.” TV, movies, and music also support the image of the sexpert and how by being beautiful and an expert on sex, you are equal. Douglass also relates the personal story of how she saw a college boy wearing an inappropriate shirt. She gives this as an example of how our society allows sexism in daily life because we think it no longer matters. (On a side note this story made me laugh because one of my guy friends at Colgate has a shirt that says: “Fuck Bitches, Get Money” on it).
Douglass makes the point of how sex is at once exuded by our culture and also kept under the raps. Young girls can read about “How to become instantly sexy” but are not taught about safe sex in schools. It is how females are sexualized that is the problem; instead of having sexual liberation, it is more: do everything you should/can do to get Mr. Right.

“Why Black Sexual Politics?”
Collins begins this chapter describing black sexual icons from different generations. She then goes on to explain how black men and women are stereotyped through their sexuality. There are differences with how they are sexualized though. Black women are excitingly different from white women with their “booties” and their wild sex drives. Black men are also considered to have a wild sexuality, but to go with their wild sex side is their wild violent side.
Collins focuses on how black people are repressed in society today. She makes the argument that racism has not lessened rather it has just changed. She looks at capitalism, class and politics. This new racism is not obvious and so harder to fight than the Jim Crow laws were. I have read arguments similar to this, and one author called it “color-blind racism” which I think aptly describes the new racism that permeates our society.
“Why Black Sexual Politics?” looks at how Western culture is filled with sexuality and at the same time is very repressive. Collins and Douglass both make the same argument that sex is at once everywhere and not openly talked about. Adolescents should be taught about safe sex instead of just seeing it on a billboard. Sex sells so there is no way that adolescents will not be exposed to it, thus it is unreasonable to not want sex education because kids should not know about sex. Sex is all around us in society; not talking openly about does not change that.
Collins goes on to talk about how technology supports racism and sexism. She points to different TV shows such as The Montel Williams Show and Jerry Springer. These shows support the stereotypes surrounding blacks and their sexuality.
She finishes the chapter with the thought that until our society stops being repressive racially and sexually then we will not move forward.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

News Flash: The Proof is not in the Video

The Proof is not in the Video

The issue of abortion is hotly debated across America. Pro-life and pro-choice groups have rallies, petitions, and more in hopes of garnering support for their side. Recently a pro-life group called “Live Action” released videotapes of their supporters acting as people interested in receiving services from Planned Parenthood. The videotape was created to question whether or not Planned Parenthood should continue to receive funds from the federal government. The reality of Planned Parenthood is that it is a necessity for women who cannot otherwise receive the care that they need. The funds for Planned Parenthood are already low, and should not be cut. The video tries to show Planned Parenthood in a bad light, but it really shows how Planned Parenthood is there for every type of women who needs the medical care it offers and the confidentially it promises.
An article in the New York Times discussed the recent tape of a Planned Parenthood in the Bronx, New York. The Bronx Planned Parenthood Is Target of Under Cover Video article’s link is here: The article, written by Anemona Hartocollis, discusses the videotape of a man and woman going into this Planned Parenthood as a pimp and his prostitute. The video can be found here:
This video has different effects on people. On the one hand, for people who are pro-choice the video suggests that Planned Parenthood allows for child prostitution to occur. On the other hand, for people who are pro-choice the video shows the reality of Planned Parenthood’s predicament to protect women at risk, and to try to get women to come in so as they can receive medical and social help. Lila Rose, president of Live Action, made a statement saying that Planned Parenthood’s funds should be cut directly because they are abetting crimes of sex trafficking and exploitation of minors (Hartocollis 1). As a pro-life leader, she is directly against the service of abortion that Planned Parenthood offers. Planned Parenthood responded to this by saying that this is a false claim and that after the incident the staff woman in the video reported what happened to the F.B.I., following protocol. The organization defended itself against the attacks by pointing out how the girls who were “in need” of health services were not actually there, and if they had been they would have been screened for child abuse and met by a social worker. This video has spurred many members of pro-life and pro-choice to become angry over the implications.
Planned Parenthood is officially known as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and offers health services at its various clinics around America. It is funded by the federal government and has been in existence since 1916. Its founder was Margaret Sanger. She was a feminist in the early 1900’s who worked for women to have their rights, health, and equality. Today Planned Parenthood describes itself as: “A trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.” ( Planned Parenthood offers health services to men and women who are in need. The organization does not just provide health services, however; it also tries to educate the community and spread awareness.
Live Action is a non-violent pro-life group. They are “a youth led movement dedicated to building a culture of life and ending abortion, the greatest human rights injustice of our time. We use new media to educate the public about the humanity of the unborn and investigative journalism to expose threats against the vulnerable and defenseless.” ( Their projects are all about abortion, and most of them aimed at Planned Parenthood too. The project site is: Live Action accuses Planned Parenthood of allowing statutory rape, prostitution, and abortions, as well a being racist. Planned Parenthood is their target because legalized abortions take place there. One of Live Action’s projects actually leads to a video where an abortion procedure is shown. This is a powerful group with over 47,900 people liking it via Facebook. Live Action passionately believes in their cause and pursues their goals fervently.
Live Action questions the necessity of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does offer abortions to women. In some states, a woman may not receive an abortion if she younger than 18 without her parent’s permission, but this is not true in all states. Planned Parenthood will provide abortions if the requirements are met, along with offering other health services. Pro-life groups disagree with Planned Parenthood and their stance on abortion. Pro-life groups, such as Live Action, are calling for Planned Parenthood’s funding to be cut.
Planned Parenthood is portrayed as an organization that allows for many crimes to be committed because they will let “anyone” have an abortion by Live Action. On Live Action’s website there is a blog which argues that Planned Parenthood is not, as others will portray it, a feminist organization but the opposite. The blogger, Lauren Uhrich, writes, “To its defenders Planned Parenthood is the allegorical home of FEMINISM. Never mind, that the rights and freedoms of hundreds of thousands of little women are denied by their abortion procedures each year.” ( This is an interesting argument because many people do consider Planned Parenthood to be a feminist organization because it allows women to control their own bodies. In The Essential Feminist Reader, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards write about the importance for “a woman’s right to bear or not to bear a child” in their Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (Freedman 425). The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margret Sanger, a famous feminist is also accused of being a eugenicist and having a plan to kill black children through Planned Parenthood (Rose, The central argument against Planned Parenthood is that it is an organization that allows for crimes and other atrocities, and it should be shut down.
The question, right now, is whether or not the federal government should fund Planned Parenthood. Pro-life groups argue against tax money going to abortions, when Planned Parenthood uses no federal money for abortions. The videotape of the Planned Parenthood in the Bronx does not show that is allows for illegal activity, as Live Action argues. The reality of the world is that abortions will occur even if they are illegal. Before abortions were legalized, women died because they went through “back alley” abortions. Planned Parenthood offers women a safe, sterile place to have an abortion. The organization does not advocate that women have abortions, and before each abortion staff members discuss the other options with the patient. Planned Parenthood offers abortions to women who want one, they do not force anyone into it, and the government should support the organization.
Like abortions, prostitution is sad reality of the world today. Prostitution exists across the world and saying that organizations like Planned Parenthood some how encourage it is ridiculous. Yes, it is true that there are some prostitutes that come to Planned Parenthood to receive abortions. However, is it not better that there is somewhere safe for these women to go rather than to have them try to lose the fetus is some other way? Also if Planned Parenthood does suspect that something is wrong with the woman (for example if is she is a teenage sex worker) than they are meet with a licensed social worker. The staff member who met with the Live Action workers might have been trying to get the “pimp” to bring the girls in so that they could be brought safely away from him. It is unreasonable to accuse Planned Parenthood of allowing prostitution or statutory rape, and it is even more unreasonable to try to shut down Planned Parenthood.
The videotape in question does not prove that Planned Parenthood agrees with prostitution or statutory rape. After the “pimp and his prostitute” left Planned Parenthood, a staff member reported the situation to the F.B.I. What is interesting is that there is no mention of the F.B.I. following up on the situation. No one seems to have accused the F.B.I. of being killers, only Planned Parenthood. It makes one wonder how many cases of prostitution are not investigated by the F.B.I. and why no one questions this.
Live Action’s stance on the video is not subjective; it only shows what Live Action wants to see. Clearly, Live Action is going to be against Planned Parent because Live Action is a pro-life organization. Live Action is calling for the government to not fund Planned Parenthood, but this would be a mistake. Planned Parenthood offers services to many who are in need. It also offers confidentiality, which is allows people to feel comfortable enough to go to Planned Parenthood. The accusations against Planned Parent by Live Action are unfounded. Planned Parenthood may provide a service that is controversial, but it is the woman’s right to have those services.

News Flash: Banning the Burqa

Banning the Burqa

There has long been criticism over the way that the religion of Islam treats women. People have argued that the system severely oppresses and isolates them. The burqa plays a major role in the claim because it forces women to cover their faces, therefore masking their personal identities. European countries that have been passing legislature to ban the burqa cite this as one of their main grievances. They claim that it is impossible to be a part of a democratic society, which relies so heavily on face-to-face communication and discourse, if one is not recognizable. However, if Muslim women see the burqa and their religion as part of their personal identity, the new laws will be just as oppressive as the religious ones they are trying to put an end to. These new restrictions could be just as devastating and repressive to women who, according to European countries trying to ban the burqa, are already suffering under patriarchal laws disguised as religious practices.

European countries are facing a dilemma. They have consistently been known for their open mindedness towards religious and cultural rights and freedom of expression. However, Europe is full of modern countries. According to one source, European countries are having difficulty trying to “reconcile the values of modern Europe with more assertive expressions of Islamic faith” (Gauthier-Villars, 1). Being a republic, France values communication between its citizens. When members of the population are wearing face-obscuring scarves, this task becomes much more challenging. Justice Minister Alliot-Marie states that “Showing one’s face is a question of dignity and equality in our republic,” if one is not able to do that, they do not seem fully active in the political sphere (Gauthier-Villars, 3). Along with the problem of democratic ideals are the negative values that seem to run alongside the burqa itself. Many maintain the belief that “the Muslim headdresses worn by woman are symbols of misogyny and totalitarian patriarchy” (Sheen, 1). Some, like Nicholas Sarkozy, have even gone as far as to say that the burqa is “a sign of enslavement and debasement” (Gauthier-Villars, 1). The possibility of outlawing the burqa on the grounds of republic ideals would essentially kill two birds with one stone. Not only would it negate the issue of communication, but would also allow women freedom from oppressive religious restrictions. One activist for banning the burqa, Solodkin, stated that “part of democratization is to say no to tradition” (Sheen, 1). Democracy is a form of government that believes in forward momentum. Ideals or traditions that are repressive and restrictive should not be kept simply because of their historical importance. France, in keeping with this statement, previously banned “headscarves, yarmulkes and other visible religious symbols from being worn in public schools, in the name of separation of state and religion” (Gauthier-Villars, 3). This direct example shows how modern European countries are making changes as a means to benefit all.

However, there are some standout representatives of countries that have banned the burqa who feel that it may be an attack on Islam and its women rather than a means of protecting democratic values. Thomas Hammarberg, a commissioner for human rights on the Council of Europe stated that none of the countries that banned the burqa “have…managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals” (Schultz, 3). This realization that no definite conclusions were reached encourages the possibility that banning the burqa was a result of “Islamophobia” rather than a democratic or women’s issue. In fact, many women claim that wearing the burqa is a personal and even empowering decision that they made for themselves rather than one forced on them by a patriarchal society.

First, the burqa has taken on many connotations that it may not have been meant to carry. Most people automatically associate the burqa with the religion of Islam; however, this is a serious misunderstanding that is deeply engrained in many Western cultures. The burqa doesn’t come from religion at all; its roots are actually wound in the pre-Islamic cultures of Persia and India. It was created as a “protective response to the slave trade that existed before Islam, rather than a patriarchal one” (Carpenter, 4). Islam itself, in its purest form, is “the most progressive of all religions when it comes to women’s rights” (Carpenter, 4). It allows and expects women to own their own businesses, inherit wealth, choose marriage partners and even divorce them. The negative associations we make with Islam and the oppression of women come from the radical forms of the religion, not the actual teachings.

The majority of Muslim women have chosen to wear the burqa of their own free will. In an article about Muslim women’s opinions of the burqa, the author, Carpenter, stated that “nearly all of those interviewed stressed that wearing the veil was a personal decision, a far cry from the coercion experienced in Afghanistan” (2). She went on to say that “even in countries where the hijab is not required, today more younger women are covering their heads” (3). Obviously the hijab, which only covers the hair, isn’t quite as impeding as the burqa, yet it conveys a strong message. Women are choosing this symbol as a means of representing their faith and they do not see it as a hindrance to their communication with others or as any type of inconvenience. Michelmore, an associate professor of history at Chatham College added to the argument by asserting that she thought “that for many young women, it’s a symbol that they are attached to their culture, they’re proud of their religion, and they see it as part of their identity as separate from the globalized McDonald’s world” (Carpenter, 3). This argument makes it seem like a stretch to say that women who wear the burqa are forced to do so by the patriarchal society that is embedded in the religion of Islam.

According to Carpenter, many Muslim women even see the scarves or veils as forms of feminist expression. This is based on the idea that “it forces people to judge [women] by their character rather than their looks” (Carpenter, 3). In this way, they are empowered by being able to protect their physical appearance. One Muslim woman says that she feels it is liberating because “it protects [her] dignity. [She doesn’t] have to worry about looking good and doing [her] hair all up just to impress others” (Carpenter, 3). Other reasons for wearing the burqa have to do with the sense of belonging it instills in Muslim women. It allows them to be connected to something that it very important to their way of life and is a “visible manifestation of [their] faith” (Carpenter, 1). Michelmore continues to add that for many Westerners, “cultural restraints on individual behavior automatically look like oppression…[however] for lots of cultures, communal standards aren’t seen as inhibiting individual freedoms. They’re seen as part of belonging to a group whose cultures and values are important to those individuals” (Carpenter, 4). It’s important to step out of the Western frame of mind when examining different cultural traditions, like the burqa, because often they are not restrictive in their relative situation. The burqa for Muslim women seems to be a positive choice that they make of their own accord.

While the burqa seems to be an individual choice that Muslim women enter into willingly, there is still the question of how they come to the decision. They say they are not personally oppressed or forced into wearing the burqa, and that is truly believable. However, the question still remains of how a system that expects women but not men to cover themselves came into being. Especially a system that makes women feel like it is fair and okay and makes them do so willingly without protest. Although they do not consider it a form of patriarchy, the fact that the inequality exists makes it seem as such. One source described this phenomenon as a patriarchal hegemony. The burqa is a symbol of patriarchy that is justified under the name of religion and therefore makes women willing to accept it. Women eventually adopt the burqa as a part of their identity, making patriarchy a part of their new identity. Women are consenting to being a player of the subordinate group by participating in the practice of the religion that encourages them into a lower category (Dhanan, 3). This means that, although Muslim women say they are not oppressed and choose the burqa themselves, there is still the possibility that the cultural norms of patriarchal hegemony run deeper than we realize.

Although it is a possibility that European countries are correct in stating that the burqa is a form of patriarchy that oppresses Muslim women, the fact still remains that it is unwise to “fight an oppression with another oppression” (Schultz, 3). By not allowing a group of women to practice their religion freely, not only would they be oppressing the women as well, but they would be going against their commitment to freedom of religion. Even though it is important to make sure that women have equal rights, in this case, with the population of Muslim women who wear the burqa in the European countries being so small, it seems like a case of paranoia at a religion that has recently been taking a lot of heat in the media. Islam has continuously been negatively publicized, especially for its treatment of women, even though it preaches equality in its purest form. While the burqa is definitely a religious norm to question and to speculate the necessity of, it is not the governments place to intervene on the religious territory of a woman’s daily life.

Works Cited

Carpenter, Mackenzie. “Muslim women say veil is more about expression than oppression.” PG News. N.p., 28 Oct. 2001. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. .

Dhanan, Jay. “On Burqa Ban in Belgium.” Pragoti: Progress and Struggle. N.p., 17 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Feb. 2011. .

Gauthier-Villars, David, and Charles Forelle. “French Parliament Passes Law Banning Burqas.” The Wall Street Journal 15 Sept. 2010: 1-4. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. .

Schultz, Teri. “Belgium Unites to Ban the Burqa.” Global Post. N.p., 29 Apr. 2010. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. .

Sheen, David. “After France, Israel considers ‘banning the burqa.’” Haaretz 10 Feb. 2010: 1-3. Web. 9 Feb. 2011. .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Follow up: Anne Fausto-Sterling Sexing the Body: “Gender and Genitals” and “Should There Only Be Two Sexes?”

“Gender and Genitals”
Fausto-Sterling writes about the surgeries that doctors will perform on babies when their sex is not perfectly clear. She clearly disagrees with this practice for multiple reasons. She talks about how doctors will not tell the parents all the details about the surgery done to their child. I think this is wrong. A parent should be able to receive all the information about what is happening to their child. By not telling the parents, it is allowing the doctor to make choices about a child that is not theirs. Fausto-Sterling goes on to talk about the debate with nature vs. nurture and why the doctor does not tell the parents about their child’s surgery in more detail. I do think that nurture is usually more important than nature. Your parents could be murders, but that should not reflect on you. Still that is not an excuse for not telling the parents.
I was shocked when I read about how doctors choose what sex to make the intersex babies. The pole vs. hole line was awful. I agree with Tira that it is encouraging a patriarchal society. I think that a penis size should not be the deciding matter of what sex to make the baby, but I am not a guy.
This chapter really made me wonder what I would do if I suddenly found out that I was an intersex baby. It is a crazy idea to think and I am curious if parents usually tell their children or not.

“Should There Only Be Two Sexes?”
In this chapter Fausto-Sterling talks a lot about how she thinks things should change. (I have to admit I was happy to see she had suggestions…) I am curious about the part where she mentions how medical students traumatize children by sitting in on their medical examinations. I thought that patients had the right to tell the doctor that they only want the doctor to be in the room? Also, a medical examination might be uncomfortable for any sex, let alone someone who is intersex or someone who had surgery to change their intersex state. It is not that I am disagreeing with Fausto-Sterling’s points, but I do think that it is interesting.
One point in the chapter really caught my eye. It was when Fausto-Sterling talks about how Americans argue against genital mutilation in different cultures, but it occurs within our own. This reminded me of the book Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah, which every freshman (2014) had to read before coming to Colgate. In Cosmopolitanism Appiah writes about genital mutilation and how Americans should not be so judgmental, that we did not understand the culture so we could not understand the practice. If we look at the intersex surgeries from a cultural view then we learn a lot about our society. Perhaps the reason we want sex to be either male or female is because men and women are treated differently. So when we participate in a patriarchal society what happens to the person who is neither a man to be placed higher nor a woman to be placed lower?

Summary Post: Fausto-Sterling Chapters 3 & 4

Of Gender and Genitals:
In this chapter, Fausto-Sterling notes that many physicians and scientists in the field believed that nurture mattered much more than nature when it came to gender roles. They claimed that a child's psychological health depended on their body image which is why they so quickly adjusted the "abnormalities" that children were born with. Physicians especially stressed the fact that it was necessary for the parents to have no qualms about the sex of their child because if there was doubt then they might raise the child differently. Doctors have continually told white lies to parents and used clever wording to keep them in the dark about the true condition of their child. Doctors have stated that "environmental forces clearly trump genetic makeup" (67) however, this implies the possibility that children are born "gender neutral" at birth. Any child, whether male or female, with enough cultural pressures to be a certain way, will develop the gender that s/he is raised as. This claim seemed somewhat unsteady to me.
The other emphasis in this chapter was the common practices and how doctors make medical choices about what to do with intersex babies. One rule of thumb is based on the size of the phallus (oversized clitoris or penis). Doctors say that in general, the phallus is considered a penis if the boy will be able to pee standing up and if it is large enough for vaginal intercourse. To them, a penis is more of a social thing. The concerns are more social than medically based because often, even if the penis can function, if it is too small it is removed and the baby is changed into a girl. As one physician said, "you can make a hole but you can't build a pole" (59). Also, even if an intersexual has female sex organs (like a uterus and ovaries) if s/he has a penis of adequate size it will often not be removed. I think this really emphasizes our cultures problem of male dominance. The fact that doctors find it ludicrous to remove a perfectly good penis, even though the child has the structures to have children and be a female, hints at the patriarchal set-up in our society. The other thing that I found really upsetting was that doctors were mostly concerned about appearance in female babies with oversized clitorises and seemed to care little about maintaining their function. Oftentimes, if a clitoris is too large, doctors perform a clitorectomy where the entire organ is removed meaning that the woman no longer has the sexual abilities of a regular woman. The ignorance of doctors, thinking that the clitoris was unnecessary, also highlights things from our discussion on the sexual revolution. Men (and sometimes women) seemed to know nothing about female bodies sexually, and this is a great example of the ignorance surrounding female pleasure.
I think it is clear after reading this chapter that intersexuals in fact do form another category of sex. I found it really interesting that we recognize albinos as a normal phenomenon even though the frequency of albino births is much lower than that of intersexuals. I think it is extremely important that we reexamine our world view that there are only two sexes, male and female.

Should There Be Only Two Sexes?
Fausto-Sterling beings chapter 4 by listing 3 things that need to change in the medical field when it comes to intersexuals. She believes there should be no unnecessary (aka non life threatening) surgery on babies, that doctors should apply a provisional sex to the child based on the probability of the gender s/he will grow up to be, and that information and long term counseling should be provided to the parents and the child when the time comes. The chapter mostly focuses on the issues within the medical field and outside of it that intersexuals face. The lack of information and the secrecy surrounding the issue only makes it harder on the child and the family. She notes that although the surgeries are performed to keep children from having psychological difficulties, often children are traumatized the most by the "parade of medical students" who sit in on their medical examinations and the examinations themselves which are very invasive (86). The likelihood of success in these surgeries is also very low and often intersexuals are left with scarring and are overall unsatisfied with the results. 9 out of 10 women who had had vaginoplasties believed that it shouldn't be done until adolescents. I thought one of Fausto-Sterlings quotes was extremely powerful, she states that we "protest the practice of genital mutilation in other cultures, but tolerate them at home" (79). Especially since there is no evidence to back up the claim that intersexuals can't lead normal happy lives, it seems strange that we immediately jump to "normalize" their genitalia.
Fausto-Sterling claims that we need to start recognizing sex as variable. Perhaps we still have male and female, but just recognize a larger range or genitalia as such. In order to do this we would need legal support. She says it would mean taking "sex" off of licenses and passports and pledging to in a way, place less emphasis on the sex of a person. There clearly is a large range of sexes and sexual orientations. One part I found really interesting was about transexuals. Although they don't necessarily believe in the 2 sex model, they were forced to view the system that way in order to get surgical help. This made me think of the article, "The Master's Tools Will Never Destroy The Master's House" because in order to make change, we have to change the system entirely.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Follow-Up Post: Fausto-Sterling Chapters 3-4

One specific aspect of Fausto-Sterling’s argument in “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?” was extremely interesting.  Of intersexual individuals who chose to change their genitalia during adolescence, those raised as males were more likely to decide to surgically masculinize their feminine bodies.  Fausto-Sterling argues that this is likely due to the emphasis our culture places on males.  We seem to value males as the superior sex and data like this demonstrates how cultural norms and ideas are so deeply embedded in our thinking.  Even when a person is intersexual, he or she understands that masculinity is prized in our society and this can play a role in his or her decision regarding whether to undergo surgery. 
            Overall, I find the issue regarding medical management in intersexual births to be very difficult to address.  It seems crazy that the decision would be left to a medical doctor to decide for himself which sex the baby should have.  Furthermore, it surprised me that surgeons have been known to perform surgery without parental consent.  However, it also occurred to me that doctors may be unsure of how to act in these cases; for instance Hugh Hampton Young expressed doubt over what his action or role should be, especially when he lacked parental consent to operate. Thus, I do believe that if surgery is not necessary, as in a life-threatening situation, it would be useful to have specific protocols for what physicians are expected to do.  Personally I believe that there should be trained professionals in this field that are available for parents to consult with after birth.  Also, despite whether surgery was chosen, it would be beneficial to provide the parents and child additional information and, as Fausto-Sterling suggests, long-term counseling.  Obviously this is a complicated issue and society’s emphasis on a two-sex system likely makes everyday life difficult for someone who falls outside the realm of a “normal” or “natural” gender.  Thus, I believe that disclosure of information and counseling are necessary for the well being of the parents and child. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Follow Up: Dueling Dualisms and The Sexe which Prevaileth

Dueling Dualisms:
I thought that it was really interesting reading about the different ways in which societies saw sexuality throughout history. I had always assumed that it was male and female, which is what our culture and society teaches us to do. However, Fausto-Sterling tells us that we should question this norm. She believes that sexuality is a social construction that it has to do with things like politics and even capitalism. It's all about the norms created by societal pressures. In the Legacies class I'm taking now, we were reading Plato's Symposium. In his story, Plato often notes older men's relationship with young boys. This is noted as just one of the cultural norms which was considered common practice in ancient Greece. However, in our culture today, this would be considered illegal. The person would be shunned from society for being a pedophile.

The Sexe Which Prevaileth:
I was really shocked by the frequency, that Fausto-Sterling implies, of hermaphrodite births. I always assumed it was a really rare occurrence and hadn't even considered what people would have done before there were surgical correction techniques. This new evidence definitely makes me question our system of only two sexes. If this is a naturally occurring phenomenon it just doesn't make sense. I also liked how Fausto-Sterling connected the idea of hermaphrodites as being different to the constant search for difference that was going on in society as relating to race and religion as well. I think this parallels our discussions in class about how to go about equalizing men and women if they are, possibly, inherently different.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Follow Up: “Dueling Dualisms” and “The Sexe which Prevaileth”

“Dueling Dualisms”
The first chapter of Fausto-Sterling’s book Sexing the Body gives a basic overview of what society thinks of sex. Society views gender as just a physical attribute. Before coming to Colgate I agreed that sex was defined by your physical appearance, but now I think there is more to it. During orientation at Colgate, the entire freshmen class attended a program called “In Their Shoes” in which older students at Colgate gave speeches about themselves and being a Colgate. One student talked about his sex change. It really made me think of how hard it would be to live like that. He talked about how bathrooms were hell for him. It kind of fits in to what Fausto-Sterling writes about nature vs. nurture. It seems that gender is not just defined by what nature assigns to you, but that nurture also plays a part in it. I also think that it is possible to have the physical attributes of one sex, but to feel more comfortable as another. I think that society should try to become more accepting of people who are transgender. It is not something to be ashamed about, and I think it would be very hard to not feel accepted as you are. In a way it is almost like how some people view homosexuality. Just because you do not fit into some people’s view of whom you should love, it does not make it any less beautiful that you are in love.

“The Sexe Which Prevails”
Fausto-Sterling writes about how society considers there to be only two sexes. When you are born, you are either male or female, even though biologically you can be more. She discusses hermaphrodite history, and how this is evidence that there are not only two genders. I took an Anthropology class last semester and we read a book that discussed gender. The book talked about how gender is more about personality than we realize. The author believed that the brain is what controlled gender. Physical attributes may not necessarily assign you a gender. There are not only two sexes, rather there is a wide spectrum of sex and people fall in various places on that spectrum. Fausto-Sterling also discusses how doctors can now assign a sex to a baby at birth. I think this presents an interesting dilemma. Do you choose the sex of your baby and then not tell them? If you do not tell them you could have chosen wrong, and your child might not feel comfortable in their body. On the other hand if you tell your child, it might confuse them and make them feel different. There is also the option of allowing your child to choose what they want to do once they have grown up a little, but this also presents problems too. I am not sure what I exactly think of this situation, because there are a lot different things to consider. I agree with Fausto-Sterling that when doctors do surgery to make the child more male or female, it does emphasize how our society sees only two sexes.

Summary of “Dueling Dualisms” and “The Sexe Which Prevaileth”

In the book Sexing the Body, Fausto-Sterling begins her first chapter “Defining Dualism” by exploring society’s ideas about gender and sex.  Past sexologists have differentiated between sex and gender by defining sex as biologically and physiologically determined while describing gender as something that is more psychological and dependent on a person’s behavior.  Furthermore, second-wave feminists stressed the idea that socialization is the primary factor that creates gender, rather than physiological differences.  Fausto-Sterling explains that through this book she is attempting to demonstrate the ways in which science has created “truths about sexuality” and how these truths are what lead to our socially constructed views of gender.  Thus, although many may accept information about gender, race and sexuality as factual we often do not see the impact of the social world and our experiences on these “facts”.
            The world today has become obsessed with the idea of normalization, Fausto-Sterling explains.  We are constantly trying to maintain the norm and therefore we only define two sexes.  People look to define the normal as male or female, as well as either heterosexual or homosexual.  People like clear-cut categories expressed through dualisms, which are often portrayed as part of a hierarchy.  In the way that we define genders and sexuality in our society, Fausto-Sterling argues that we “narrow life’s possibilities while perpetuating gender inequality”. 
The chapter, “Dueling Dualisms” also discusses the historical background concerning sexuality.  Fausto-Sterling explains how our perception of sexuality has changed with time as well as culture, demonstrating that it is constructed socially.  Furthermore, she emphasizes the idea that sexuality encompasses everything from physical factors to behavior and motivation.  Sexuality is only constructed through a combination of these factors. 
Fausto-Sterling also focuses on the idea of nature versus nurture with regards to dualistic thought processes.  Developmental systems theory rejects the idea of two fundamentally different processes of genes and the environment, suggesting that the two concepts need to be combined. 
The second chapter of Sexing the Body, “The Sexe Which Prevails”, explains that society works to establish two distinct sexes, even though biologically there is more of a sexual continuum.  The idea of more than two sexes goes against norms and greatly disrupts society and thus we find benefit in keeping a male-female system of sex.  Hermaphrodite history demonstrates that hermaphrodites were considered disruptive in the past; still, depending on the culture and nation they were treated in various manners.  Some societies were more accepting such as the Italians, while others like the English found it “distasteful”.  Nevertheless, these societies emphasized the idea of a male-female sex system. 
The arrival of teratology worked to classify people with different bodies, lending explanations to uncommon births.  Now due to scientific improvements, doctors are better able to “fix” sexuality abnormalities at birth.  In this manner, doctors decide what sex the baby should be; Fausto-Sterling explains that this type of surgery emphasizes the societal assumptions that there should be only two sexes, heterosexuality is correct and that gender roles identify men and women.  Thus, this works to maintain the socially constructed view of gender. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Summary of The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House (Lorde), White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (McIntosh), and A Bla

Audre Lorde: The Master’s Tools…
Lorde is a black lesbian feminist who is sick of prejudice. She begins her article on how black women are separated from white women in the feminist movement, with the focus being on what white women think. She says that racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable in America and we need to do something about that.
Much of the article focuses on difference. There is a difference between being tolerated and being appreciated. Lorde writes how black women are only tolerated, and the same is true for homosexuals and women. She also discuses age and economic status, and how this affects how you are treated. There is a divide between black and white women because they have different experiences. No white women will ever be able to understand what it is like for black women, but there should more of an effort to try to. If feminists want to get rid of prejudice against women, they should work harder to get rid of prejudice against black women too. Lorde brings up Adrienne Rich, which is interesting because we have read some of Rich’s writings previously.
Lorde writes that there is a difference between being male or female, being white or black, being gay or straight, and being young or old. These differences cannot be helped, but the prejudice that goes along with them can be.

Peggy McIntosh: Unpacking the Invisible…
This article also looks at racism within the feminist movement. McIntosh describes what men believe about women becoming empowered. Men think that the relationship is one of negative correlation (as one goes up, the other goes down), but McIntosh disagrees. She links how men see sexism to how white people view racism. The privileged group does not see how they are privileged. Racism and sexism are both forms of prejudice that need to be ended.
There are many forms of prejudice in the world today. McIntosh looks at racism and sexism, but she mentions many other forms as well. She makes a list of the ways that she is privileged every day. When describing the list she only mentions how black people have different experiences because they are not privileged; she does not mention any other race, which is an interesting side note. One of the items on the list struck me particularly. It is number seven, which says: “When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is” (2). She is just talking about how white people are the ones that people mostly learn about in history class, yet it can also be said that it is mainly white men that people learn about.
McIntosh goes on to discus prejudice in our society and how it affects everyone, even those who do not think that they are affected. She calls for new social system, just as the Combahee River Collective does. Finally she concludes that power needs to be redistributed without prejudices to control whom gets what.

Combahee River Collective: A Black Feminist…
The Combahee River Collective is a group of black, lesbian, feminists who want to see a change in the social structure. Like McIntosh and Lorde, they criticize the feminist movement for being hypocritical. On one hand, feminists fight for equal rights between men and women, and on the other hand, there is a divide between white feminists and black feminists.
The Combahee River Collective starts out by talking about what it is like being black women. They list the different stereotypes that go along with black women, and how they reject these attributes. White men are considered above black men, black men are higher than white women, and white women are higher than black women. Sexual politics are directly involved with racial politics, and class prejudice is also important when looking at how people are treated.
They call for a total social revolution, but even this may not be enough. The Combahee River Collective writes about how personal these issues are for them, and they are sick of waiting for them. There is a call for everyone to become involved with attaining equality for people. Like Lorde, they directly look at the racism involved with the white women’s movement. The struggle for equality is harder for black and homosexual women, and instead of ignoring this fact (like white feminists do) the Combahee River Collective wants to start a social revolution.

Response to McIntosh, Lorde, Cambahee River Collective

I found “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh to be very interesting and very relative to what we spoke about in class on Tuesday.  McIntosh emphasizes the immense amount of privilege that whites are given as well as the various daily effects that accompany them.  Often these effects are not even considered to be privileges to those who experience them.  Rather they are taken for granted as the norm when in actuality not all groups of people are able to experience them. 
This privilege is due to a social system in place that keeps whites as the privileged group and non-white races as the oppressed group.  McIntosh explains that many see racism or sexism only in actual individual acts however racism is immersed in an “invisible system” that gives whites dominance.  Thus, like Johnson and McIntosh I believe that racism, sexism and other forms of oppression are due to the system that we live in and interact with.  Still, as people we are all active participants in continuing this societal status quo.  Changes need to be made, and it must be understood that the changes need to be made to this underlying power structure.
I also liked that McIntosh explained that often, bad behavior or activity is blamed on an individual’s race or gender.  For instance, she gives the example, “I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color”.  This statement is very interesting; in psychology classes I have consistently learned that people often attribute some negative behavior to that person rather than the situation or some other factor.  Thus, when a bad behavior is observed people may see it as a reflection of ones race or gender because that is what they associate the behavior with, when it fact there are other underlying explanations.  This is another example of how stereotypical thinking is employed in daily life when making judgments about people and their actions.  Underlying all of this is the system in which these stereotypes thrive, the system itself needs to be fixed if we are to live in a more just and equal society.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Follow Up: Lorde, McIntosh, and the Combahee River Collective

My favorite article was "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. I had never before considered that being white came with privileges. She notes that men will say that women are disadvantaged but won't say that they are overprivileged. I think I was of the same mindset. However, after reading McIntosh unpack the numerous different ways that white people have advantages, I have changed my mind. The "invisible package of unearned assets" that I carry around with me at all times has probably shaped my life more than I know (1). McIntosh preaches that we need to try to spread the positive advantages while, at the same time, rejecting the negative advantages to force us out of our present hierarchy. This requires that we completely reshape social systems so they take the unseen prejudices into account. This relates to Lorde's comment that we need to accept difference and think of it as a strength because we can't use the masters tools to dismantle his own house. I thought it was really interesting that the Combahee River Collective related the oppression of women (and patriarchy) to imperialism and capitalism. I never would have made that connection, but it makes their goals seem even less attainable. Not only are they trying to fight patriarchy and the oppression of women but the huge institutions of imperialism and capitalism too. I was a little confused about how the two were related but from what I understood, it had to do with the fact that the Collective believes that race, sex and class are all interrelated.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Summary Post: Oppression, Johan Gokova, and Patriarchy

Oppression by Marilyn Frye

According to Frye, the word oppression has become a meaningless term that is a catch-all phrase for anyone undergoing any type of suffering. She claims that "humans can be miserable without being oppressed" (1). The word oppress is much stronger than it is often treated and should be used with such words as "immobilize" or "reduce". She claims that oppression means that the oppressed people's options "are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty" (1). She relates this to the difficulties women face in everyday life. For example, sexual activity isn't okay because women could be considered a slut, but sexual inactivity isn't okay either because it implies that there is a greater problem or the woman is a lesbian. The life of an oppressed person is thus being forced to live "one's life...confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction" (2). She says we need to consider all aspects of life macroscopically rather than microscopically. She uses the metaphor of a bird in a cage. If you only look at the one wire in the fence, it isn't clear why the bird can't escape. However, if we pan back and realize that the one wire is part of an entire fence, it becomes much clearer why the bird is immobilized. The small everyday actions that oppress women could be seen as silly when looked at individually. Yet, when examined as a whole, they pertain to a much larger problem.

"Challenging Men to Reject Gender Stereotypes" by Johan Gokova

Gokova argues that men are equally oppressed by gender stereotypes and that, in order to restore an equilibrium, men must seek to make women their equals. They need to strike gender stereotypes once and for all. He believes that gender stereotypes have had a strong negative effect on men as well, and says that, "Living the myth of male superiority has sometimes resulted in men suffering from stress, even early death, because of pressure to project an image that is not naturally theirs and that is not sustainable" (422). Gokova argues that getting rid of typical stereotypes and patriarchy would positively effect both sexes.

"Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us" by Johnson

Johnson argues that patriarchy is a system. Systems are made up of parts that create one whole. Thus, we as people, are parts of the whole that facilitates patriarchy. He believes that people take the "path or least resistance," and this helps foster the ideals. The path of least resistance essentially means that we do what is easiest and most comfortable. Since patriarchy is a system in our society, we play into the system because it is what we are used to and fighting that system may cause some resistance. Johnson argues that "when people step off the path of least resistance, they have the potential not simply to change other people, but to alter the way the system itself happens" (32). He uses the metaphor of a game of Monopoly to prove his point. In the game, people are ruthless and steal the money of the people they care about. They don't think twice about it because those are the rules of the game. What we don't consider is that we are playing in the privacy of our own home, and therefore, have the power to change the rules if we don't like the way the game is played. This idea of change doesn't occur to us because we assume the rules are finite. Patriarchy in society is "an arrangement of shared understandings and relationships that connect people to one another and something larger than themselves" (34). If we want to stop this cycle, we have to change the structures and the systems. We consistently individualize patriarchy by "shielding the system by pretending problems like violence aren't about systems, only about individuals who have somehow gone astray" (48). However, individualizing it, doesn't solve the bigger problem and can't explain the fact that violence against women is a pattern. It involves everyone even though the minority group is the one doing the victimizing or being victimized. Thus, "by participating in patriarchy we are of patriarchy and it is of us" (43).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Follow Up Post: Why Patriarchy?

Reading “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us”, I pictured the author to be a woman.  However, the author’s identity as a man was identified towards the end of the article.  Personally, I found the article much more appealing when I discovered that the author was male.  At first, I thought that the peice was whiny and full of complaints.  Even though good points were made I found it biased, thinking this was a female discussing the idea of patriarchy as a male-dominated system of inequality.  Finding that Allan G. Johnson wrote the chapter I found the argument more persuasive because it was coming from someone who was not female yet still saw women as being oppressed.
I definitely agree that often when issues arise we look at personal traits, or individual cases rather than trying to address the underlying social roots.  Although people are obviously part of “the system” they must be viewed as participants who are in turn are also shaped by socialization.  I think this is a clear model that displays social issues well yet I also don’t believe that the general public realizes this relationship.  It is much easier to see people as the main issues, thus when a specific course case is displayed in the media people are likely to see personality traits or past personal experiences as the root of the problem.  I believe it is easier to see the relationship between a personal experience and an issue rather than investigate the social systems in place that caused the issue to happen.  Thus, as Johnson explains, people often take the path of least resistance and accept the easy solution. 
I would be curious to read the rest of Johnson’s book, as he references chapter 10 at the end as including his thoughts on how people can take responsibility.  The answer of how to address the many problems embedded in society is unclear.  It would be interesting to read how Johnson attempts to tackle these patriarchal issues.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

News Flash: Critics of Oprah Disregard Her Success

"Is Oprah’s Network Too White?" 

            Oprah has recently received much press regarding her new cable network OWN.  The network debuted on January 1st with many new shows for Oprah’s established audience.  Already Oprah has become a household name through her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show.  Still, critics find fault with many of Oprah’s ways.  Newsweek recently ran a story on Oprah’s new endeavor questioning whether it is “too white” (Samuels, 2010).  Although Oprah targets a 25-54 year old women audience as expressed by The New York Times, she has received much backlash regarding her emphasis on white rather than black women (Anburajan, 2007). Much of this critique stems from the fact that many of Oprah’s experts are white and unrepresentative of all women.  Furthermore many feel that Oprah’s programming is not only geared towards white over black women but it also neglects other backgrounds, ages and races.  This perspective also explains that black portrayal in the media, especially portrayal of black women, is already not optimal and one would think that Oprah should remedy this situation.  Still, it is important to recognize that Oprah runs a business in which profit is her primary goal.  Clearly she has established herself as a popular host for women, yet the network’s main goal is still to make a profit.  The criticisms for a more diverse network are important for Oprah to consider yet in the end it is important for criticizers to recognize what Oprah is already achieving for American women of all race and class.  Oprah herself represents women, especially black women, favorably and helps to demonstrate the power that women can possess.  Thus, it is important to remember her achievements when considering her downfalls.
Data from NBC in 2007 found that Oprah’s audience is primarily women, 5.7 million women to 1.7 million men.  Furthermore, is predominately white as 5.6 million whites watch her show versus 1.4 million blacks (Anburajan, 2007).  This evidence demonstrates the vast difference in the race of Oprah’s audience; this finding was also expressed in Susan Douglas’ Enlightened Sexism.   Still, it is important to understand what exactly Oprah has done for women in general.  As a strong, independent talk show host Oprah has managed to represent women favorably.  Not only is Oprah a beloved character, but also her audience trusts her.  In this manner, despite her downfalls regarding demographic inequalities, she does act as a positive role model to her women audience.  As an accomplished woman, she demonstrates the power that women can hold.  Thus, personally she exemplifies a strong woman, while her female experts such as Suze Orman also demonstrate great knowledge and intelligence.  The benefits of having positive women role models on television need to be taken into account when critiquing Oprah. 
            Furthermore, when compared to other media representations of women, particularly black women, Oprah is clearly a more positive depiction.  Thus, Oprah may be seen as the lesser of two evils.  When faced with watching Oprah or a degrading music video displaying the objectification of women, it is clear that even though Oprah is imperfect she does portray women more favorably.  As Mora Johns, a high-school teacher from Chicago expressed “It’s so upsetting to see what’s on TV today and to see the way most shows still depict blacks, and particularly black women, in a negative light.  So I do look to OWN for more of a balance to show who we really are. I hope that’s coming,” (Samuels, 2010).  Thus, rather than bash Oprah for her shortcomings, it is important to embrace the accomplishments that she has made for women.  Douglas explains the manner in which Oprah has managed to bring together women “as allies and friends” (Douglas, p. 147).  As a force, Oprah has united women despite their race and background, undoubtedly an uneasy feat. Thus, although many people still find issues with Oprah it is necessary to be proud of the achievements that she has made and understand that there are many worse networks and shows than OWN.  Not only has she proved herself as a powerful icon but she also displays a more positive depiction of women than most other media representations. 
            Finally, the current issue regarding demographic inequalities in Oprah’s audience and new network are likely found in other networks as well.  Shows and networks are working to make a profit.  Thus although many would like to think of Oprah as their friend or companion she is also a businesswoman who is gearing her show towards profit.  Oprah knows who her audience is and thus must shape her shows and topics around that demographic.  Thus, a probable reason that specific races and backgrounds are focused on by Oprah is so that she appeals to her viewers.  Therefore, it is likely financially beneficial for Oprah to gear her network towards this audience despite critiques for its “whiteness”.
            Apart from this current news article, it is also important to address the critics that dislike the fact that Oprah focuses on individual achievement rather than politics.  As Douglas explains, “advancing personal empowerment is hardly the same as advancing a feminist political agenda” (Douglas, p. 150).  Still, Oprah is working on awareness from within her women audience and through doing so she increases consciousness about sensitive issues.  This is better than no action, Douglas also explains that “researchers have found that watching shows like Oprah, which often focus on family and child welfare issues, increases people’s support for government programs like national day care, greater funding for education, and universal health care,” (Douglas, p. 149).  Although there are ways in which Oprah could improve the diversity of her network as the article by Newsweek suggests, it is also necessary to question whether Oprah is expected to do it all.  Already Oprah has become a female media icon, with a new network and worldwide fame.  She has portrayed women in a more positive light than many other media outlets and has managed to educate women on current issues, possibly indirectly impacting approval for government programs.  Thus, despite not directly working for working for political change, as many feminists would have hoped, Oprah still influences women and is an important contributor to public awareness.
By criticizing Oprah for her shortcomings we are criticizing a woman who has already enhanced the portrayal of black and white women in the media.  Although she likely could improve her diversity, along with many other shows and networks, she should simultaneously be applauded for her achievements as a women.  Together, American women should appreciate victories made by other women.  These victories clearly do not mean that the fight for gender equality and fair media representation are complete.  In no way does having Oprah as a famous talk show host lead us to believe that all races and classes of women are portrayed in a positive light.  However, it is important to accept accomplishments as they come, no matter how minute.  Although Oprah still can and should improve the OWN network, the network itself is a great symbol of women power.


Anburajan, Aswini. "Breaking Down Oprah's Numbers ." First Read. NBC News, 2011. Web. 1 Feb. 2011. <>.

Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2010.

Samuels, Alison. "Is Oprah's Network Too White?" Newsweek 30 Jan. 2011: Newsweek. Web. 1 Feb. 2011. <>.