Archive for February, 2010

Linkages: surnames, STIs, marriage equality, pay gap, hysteria

February 26, 2010


image source: redserenade

I’m starting a new category called “Linkages”. Yep! The lazy way to write a blog post… link to some cool articles that someone else wrote!

* Rachel Hills, at her blog Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, writes about the stigmas associated with sexually transmitted infections: So you think you can’t get an STI?

* Mary Gardiner, in a guest post on Hoyden About Town, writes about her decision to give her son her surname rather than her male partner’s name: Many roads, one surname. She writes in response to Catherine Deveny’s piece asking why most children get their father’s surname.

* A private member’s bill to amend the Marriage Act to extend marriage rights to all couples, was defeated in the Senate this week. Disappointing. The major parties did not allow a conscience vote on the issue, and many senators were absent from the vote. Supporters of the Bill claim that the absenteeism makes clear that there are divisions within the major parties on this issue. The Greens plan to reintroduce the bill after the election.

* The gender pay gap widened in 2009: Male wages rose by 6.4 per cent last year but women gained a pay rise of just under 5 per cent.

* Over at Sociological Images, there’s an interesting post about how medical discourses help to shape our understandings of gender. For example, this piece talks about women’s weakness, hysteria and wandering organs, as defined by medical practioners in previous eras. It features some old advertisements for the treatment of such ailments: Hysteria, the Wandering Uterus, and Vaginal Massage.

Problematic headlines

February 22, 2010

Dear smh.com.au,

Today you have run two stories on your front page about successful women in the entertainment industry. Both headlines highlight not the women’s success, but their prior relationships. Why!?

Headlines from the front page of smh.com.au today:

Cameron pipped by ex-wife
Kathryn Bigelow scoops best director BAFTA for The Hurt Locker, beating Avatar director.

Mad men, modern woman
January Jones has confounded ex-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher’s prediction she’d never make it as an actress.

Boohoo Cameron didn’t win a BAFTA for best director. A woman beat him to it! Shock, horror! His ex-wife! If he had won would the headline have been “Bigelow pipped by ex-husband”?? I think not.

And who the hell cares what January Jones’ ex-boyfriend thinks about her acting? What an awful thing to say about your ex-partner to begin with, but why must it be repeated in the headline of an article that celebrates her acting?

Clearly, women still have a long way to go. They can be successful, well-known and win prestigious awards, yet they’re still not talked about in the media as successful on their own terms, but continually linked to the men in their lives…even when those men are ex-partners!

Let’s talk about Salt n Pepa

February 21, 2010

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me

This morning while sipping my tea and crunching on some peanut butter toast, I caught a little bit of Video Hits. The legendary female rappers Salt n Pepa were being interviewed because they’re in Australia touring at the moment. Salt n Pepa have tunes that are still catchy, cheeky, fun and powerful. I thought they should feature as this week’s “Feminist of the Week”.

Rap and hip hop music tends to have a bit of a bad reputation among feminists – there’s concern about sexist lyrics and video clips that objectify women’s bodies (obviously this is not confined to this one genre of music!) – but I reckon Salt n Pepa turn the tables on this. They’re sassy, sexy, in your face, and they’re not afraid to talk about sex and their lusty thoughts about men. They look really good in lycra, their lyrics depict empowered and liberated women, and their songs continue to make people dance and smile.

Below are three of my favourite Salt n Pepa songs for your enjoyment. I’ve also included some discussion from other blogs about about them as feminist musicians and icons.


“Let’s Talk about Sex”

Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be
Those who think it’s dirty have a choice
Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off

The likes of SNP, TLC and En Vogue provided urban music with the right kind of femme-fatale attitude through the 80’s and 90’s, and even provided a strong, powerful feminist voice for those who’d felt they couldn’t speak. Women in music were being given a proper platform, and Salt ‘N’ Pepa were, out of the aforementioned, the first on the Urban music scene to really make a strong feminist impression. Exploding onto the music charts in 1985, Cheryl Wray (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and Deidra Roper (the often referenced in song, never in artist title Spinderella) were feisty girls from New York who, up until 1987 had minimal impact on music buyers wallets.

When the incredibly infamous dance floor monster “Push It” surfaced as a single in 1987, Spinderella and her mates cracked the US Hot 100 for the very first time, and hit the top 5 in both Australia and the UK. Minor hits followed suit (their 1989 cover of “Twist & Shout” – complete with amazing video clip – still remains one of my favourite covers of all time), but the melody and club-attack of tracks such as 1991’s “Do You Want Me” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” cemented them into pop music history for more than just “Push It.” The groups discography reads on-and-off right through to the end of 1999; minor hits broken up by a succession of big ones. However, their biggest effort wasn’t until 1993, when the bands iconic album “Very Necessary” was released and we were given the beauty of “Shoop”, “Heaven or Hell”, “None Of Your Business” and the En Vogue duet “Whatta Man”

Source: Adem with an e.com


“Shoop”

I love you in your big jeans, you give me nice dreams
You make me wanna scream, “Oooo, oooo, oooo!”
I like what ya do when you do what ya do
You make me wanna shoop

Popular female rappers like Salt-N-Peppa and Monie Love use explicit sexual speech to turn the tables on the men and let the women be the dominant ones. For example, Salt-N-Peppa’s 1993 hit single “Shoop”, broke the boundaries of female inhibitions, disputing the myth that women should not and do not discuss their sexual desires of men. The music video for “Shoop” features men in sexy, slightly objectified roles, and camera shots which do not pan to the face before or after a sexy body shot. The word “shoop” is a euphemism for the act of sexual intercourse. “I wanna Shoop” intends to relay a strong sense of sexuality absent of the traditional inhibitions placed on women. The use of erotic imagery portrays women’s physical lust as being not only acceptable but enjoyable. The power of these lyrics serves to boost women’s self esteem, also eradicating the stereotypical attitude that women need to be sexually submissive.

Source: funk-the-system


“None of Your Business”

I hadn’t seen this clip before. It’s got an anti-homophobic and anti-racist vibe to it.

Now you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to
It’s none of your business
So don’t try to change my mind, I’ll tell you one more time
It’s none of your business!

For more information about hip hop feminism, you might like to check Joan Morgan’s book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. There’s a whole range of books exploring similar issues. See the amazon link for other suggestions.

I’m banging on about generation

February 18, 2010

Dr Penelope Robinson has a piece published in today’s smh.com.au!!! 😉

To quote:

We must be careful not to oversimplify generational difference, but the concept of “generation” can reveal things about our society, past and present. These media-generated categories of generation have the tendency to pigeonhole individuals according to their year of birth, but they are not meaningless.

Sociologist Karl Mannheim, writing in the first half of the 20th century, gives us some pointers about how to think about the concept of “generation” in a more complex way. He argues that major events and political currents of a period come to shape a group of people of a similar age because they experience those moments at the same stage in their life-course. For example, for Gen Y this might be the September 11 attacks in 2001. For Baby Boomers, perhaps it was the Vietnam War; and for their parents, the Great Depression.

This concept can be extended beyond major socio-political events such as wars and recessions to include other important cultural moments and cultural products such as songs, fashions, films or hairstyles. Certain moments of popular culture become so talked about that they come to define the era. In a sense it doesn’t matter whether we loved or loathed a particular celebrity or film or album. What matters is the way these cultural products resonate with us. They are worth investigating and celebrating because they can reveal much about our shared social history and ourselves.

For the full article: Why do we keep banging on about generation?

Super women and the changing face of feminism

February 17, 2010

Samantha Stevens, the lead character in the 1960s sitcom, Bewitched, is a woman with special powers – a witch who can make anything happen with a slight twitch of her nose. She first appeared on television just as the first rumblings of second wave feminism were being felt. Samantha symbolised the ideal suburban housewife, and on the surface Bewitched is not a particularly feminist programme. Her powers are mostly restricted to the private world of the home because of a promise made to her husband, Darrin. However, Samantha had powers to disrupt the male world, to break free of domestic constraints and influence the public sphere. While second wave feminism was emerging, a time when women were beginning to realise that they could be more than housewives, Samantha’s supernatural abilities hinted at women’s potential beyond housework and child-rearing.

The programme first screened in the US the same year Betty Friedan’s influential feminist text, Feminine Mystique became a best seller. This famous book, which became emblematic of second wave feminism, uncovered what Friedan called “the problem with no name”. It articulated the stifling and oppressive conditions experienced by many housewives in the mid-twentieth century. Susan Douglas argues that within this context of emerging feminist agitation, new kinds of female characters arrived on television – women with special powers – a witch, a genie and a flying nun. Furthermore, she proposes that these new representations of women suggest that

“the pop culture moguls were trying to acknowledge the impending release of female sexual and political energy, while keeping it all safely in a straitjacket.”
(Douglas 1994: 126)

Bewitched highlights a defining moment in the history of women. Early second wave feminists vocalised women’s sense of oppression as housewives and sought the path towards autonomous selfhood. For example, Johnson and Lloyd (2004: 14-15) suggest that Betty Friedan “drew on a familiar trope of modernity in which the modern self leaves behind the banality or everydayness of home life to become such as self”. This narrative of the journey from suppressed housewife to liberated, self-governing individual became one of the key themes of the second wave.

Samantha was representative of suburban domestic ideals. However, at a time when women were beginning to have their horizons broadened, Samantha’s supernatural abilities conjured up the promise of women’s liberation and the unleashing of female power that was to come.

Fast forward thirty years and another young woman with super powers appears on television. This time she is not a witch, nor a housewife. Instead, she is a teenaged girl, the “Chosen One”, the Slayer. Her duty is to slay vampires and save the world from evil. Samantha’s life revolved around the domestic sphere – the daily tasks of a suburban wife, who must try to suppress her powers and do things the normal – mortal – way. Buffy’s life on the other hand, revolves around the world of the immortal.

Buffy uses her powers to protect society from vampires, demons and the occasional apocalypse. While a proportion of the storylines are centred on her personal and family relationships, the major focus of the show is her ‘slaying’ work, performed in public at night. Buffy exemplifies how women’s roles have shifted.

Coming of age in the wake of the successes of second wave feminism, many young women take equality and career opportunities for granted. This is something I found in my thesis research. A belief in the basic tenets of feminism is almost goes without saying because they have never known anything different. As prominent third wave authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (2000) proclaim,

“for our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it – it’s simply in the water”
(2000: 17)

The emergence of what has been called a new ‘wave’ was paralleled by the publication of several books in the 1990s, claiming to be the voice of the next feminist generation. Although I am cautious about assigning labels, some salient themes of the third wave are its embrace of ambiguity and contradiction; a concern with celebrating femininity; and a focus on difference and diversity.

It is within this context that ‘girl-power’ shows like Buffy materialised. In contrast with the 1960s representation of super-woman as homemaker, the 1990s female hero is empowered, independent and courageous. Buffy is an icon of a time when women have grown up feeling they can do anything. Today’s young women do not feel confined to the domestic sphere as women who grew up watching Bewitched may have.

As Susan Hopkins suggests in her book Girl Heroes,

“if the popular culture texts of previous decades taught girls to sacrifice their own interests for the good of husband and child, contemporary pop culture prepares girls for a future of action and independence”
(Hopkins, 2002: 176)

Buffy’s confidence and autonomy reflect the way today’s young women feel about themselves. Buffy portrays and promotes the ideal of the confident, empowered young woman, while at the same time exploring some of the darker aspects of postmodern life. Despite the opportunities available to today’s generation of young women, as Buffy highlights, there are still some patriarchal demons to slay.

The critique of patriarchy is a constant theme in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy’s feminist credentials can be seen throughout the series. It is the final season of Buffy that is the most blatantly feminist because of its portrayal of collective action against an overtly misogynistic demon. Buffy rounds up an army of “Potential Slayers” from around the globe and the biggest evil they face takes the shape of a preacher named Caleb.

As Pender puts it, Caleb “is a monstrous but familiar representative of patriarchal oppression propounding a dangerous form of sexism under the cover of pastoral care” (2004: 168). This season indicates the strength of Buffy’s feminist convictions and highlights another element of the third wave – diversity. At the end of the final episode, we are shown a montage of clips from around the world as young women everywhere take up the power and fight back against their oppressors. In transferring Buffy’s power to “a heterogeneous group of women from different national, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds Buffy’s final season addresses…the issue of cultural diversity that has been at the forefront of third-wave feminist theorising” (Pender 2004: 170). The transmission of Buffy’s superpowers to young women around the globe underscores the third wave’s critique of second wave feminism as a predominantly white, middle-class endeavour. More significantly, it suggests feminist possibilities for the future.

In assembling a force made up of women from every corner of the earth, what the final season of Buffy hints at is the potential of a feminism that acknowledges and celebrates women’s differences, but does not preclude the possibility of a collective project. When Buffy defiantly declares, “Every girl who can stand up will stand up. Every girl who can fight will fight”, she conjures up the image of a universal battle against patriarchal injustices.

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References

Baumgardner, Jennifer, & Richards, Amy. (2000). Manifesta: Young women, feminism and the future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Hopkins, Susan. (2002). Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture. Sydney: Pluto Press Australia.

Johnson, Lesley, & Lloyd, Justine. (2004). Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife. Oxford & New York: Berg.

Miller, Jessica Prata. (2003). “The I in Team”: Buffy and Feminist Ethics. In James B. South (Ed.), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Illinois: Open Court Publishing.

Pender, Patricia. (2002). “I’m Buffy and You’re…History”: The Postmodern Politics of Buffy. In Rhonda V. Wilcox & David Lavery (Eds.), Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield.

NOTE: I can’t remember where I found the images included in this post. If I’m breaking some kind of copyright, please let me know and I’ll rectify. Thanks.

The Power of Female Sex

February 12, 2010

The four main characters in Sex and the City represent different kinds of women.

“No, they don’t! They’re all white rich bitches”, I hear you cry.

Well, obviously they’re not particularly diverse in terms of things like race, class or sexuality. This is a limitation of the series raised by many researchers. Interestingly, a number of the young women I interviewed also made similar criticisms about the “white upper class-ness” of these ladies. However, they also praised Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte because they are strong, powerful women who offer a range of attitudes to life, love and sex.

The divergent opinions expressed by the lead characters in Sex and the City, are demonstrated in their response to Carrie’s experience in the episode, “The Power of Female Sex” (Series 1: Episode 5). This episode explores issues of female power and sexuality from a number of different angles.

Revealed in this episode (in case we didn’t know already) is the frightening extent of Carrie’s shoe addiction, when her excessive consumption results in her credit card being destroyed by the sales assistant. Carrie’s acquaintance, Amalita, steps in to help. Amalita is an Italian woman who uses her sexuality to fund an extravagant global lifestyle. Or, as Carrie puts it, Amalita does not work for a living but has “a dizzying sexual power that she exploit[s] to her full advantage”. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Amalita buys the shoes for Carrie as a gift. Carrie is then unexpectedly drawn into a world of sex, money and power when Amalita sets her up on a date with a handsome French fellow called Gilles.*

* Not to be confused with the actor Gilles Marini, who played a different character (Dante, aka The Naked Guy) in Sex and the City: The Movie.


(image source)

Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

Right, where was I? Oh yes, some thesis material (with minor alterations)…

We see Carrie on her date, which involves a romantic walk in the park accompanied by an accordion soundtrack. Carrie is sufficiently swept off her feet with the romance of it all because we are then told that she spends the night with him. Carrie wakes the next morning to discover that not only has Gilles left the hotel, he has left one-thousand dollars on the bedside table with a ‘thank you’ note. Carrie is so confused by this occurrence that she invites her girlfriends to the hotel to help her make sense of it – and to share a room service brunch. Carrie does not know whether to be flattered or insulted that Gilles paid her money for their night together. As Susan Zieger (2004: 105) puts it, Carrie, Miranda and Samantha “debate whether keeping it makes her a whore”.

Each of the friends offers a different opinion, as they characteristically dissect the experience and share their wisdom. Miranda and Samantha disagree about the trading of money for sex:

Miranda: The room service is one thing, but the money – uh-uh.
Samantha: What’re you getting so uptight about? I mean, money is power. Sex is power. Therefore, getting money for sex is simply an exchange of power.
Miranda: Don’t listen to the dime store Camille Paglia.

This brief interchange highlights that the women in Sex and the City bring “disparate perspectives” (Lotz 2001) to their frank discussions of sexuality. They do not all react in the same way to this unusual situation, suggesting it is a complex issue that they interpret differently.

[Amanda Lotz wrote a paper outlining a way to identify what she called “postfeminist attributes” within television series. I drew on her work in my thesis to help show how SatC and Desperate Housewives can be considered postfeminist.]

Lotz’s first postfeminist attribute stresses the importance of diversity among women, making clear that women “experience their subjectivity differently and dependent on context” (2001: 115). Sex and the City is a programme not afraid to portray diverse perspectives on the complexities of power and sex. While Samantha sees no problem in Carrie spending the money that the Frenchman leaves after a fun evening together, Miranda argues that Samantha’s attitude is harmful to women. Miranda contends that that kind of logic has been used to exploit women throughout the ages.

Clearly, Sex and the City, with its exploration of the contradictions surrounding women, sex and power, can be considered postfeminist. It shows characters working through the tensions and challenges of this era. The characters in Sex and the City represent women with distinct and varied outlooks. Furthermore, the characters are not only familiar with feminist discourses, as evidenced by Miranda’s reference to Camille Paglia, but they have debates about these issues while discussing their own sex lives. This demonstrates the extent to which feminism is entwined in popular culture, a key feature in my understanding of postfeminism.

_______
References:
Lotz, Amanda D. 2001. “Postfeminist Television Criticism: Rehabilitating Critical Terms and Identifying Postfeminist Attributes”. Feminist Media Studies 1 (1): 105-121.

Seidelman, Susan. 1998. [director] “The Power of Female Sex”, Sex and the City, Series One, Episode 5, HBO.

Zieger, Susan. 2004. “Sex and the Citizen in Sex and the City‘s New York”. In Reading Sex and the City, edited by K. Akass and J. McCabe. London and New York: I. B. Tauris.

Pondering Beauvoir

February 5, 2010

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

I just read an interesting piece about a new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s classic and influential feminist text, The Second Sex.

The article by Toril Moi provides some insight into the way so much nuance and meaning can be lost in translation. But I won’t discuss that in detail here.

What I want to share is the following excerpt which neatly summarises Beauvoir’s key contributions to feminist thought:

In The Second Sex Beauvoir formulates three principles and applies them to women’s situation in the world. First is her foundational insight that man ‘is the Subject, he is the Absolute: she is the Other.’ Man incarnates humanity; woman, by virtue of being female, deviates from the human norm. The consequence is that women constantly experience a painful conflict between their humanity and their femininity.

The next principle is that freedom, not happiness, must be used as the measuring stick to assess the situation of women. Beauvoir assumes that woman, like man, is a free consciousness. In so far as the status of Other is imposed on her, her situation is unjust and oppressive. But with freedom comes responsibility: when women consent to their own oppression and help to oppress other women, they are to be blamed. The epigraph to the second volume is ‘Half victims, half accomplices, like everyone else’, a line from Sartre’s 1948 play, Dirty Hands. But Beauvoir’s true yardstick is concrete freedom: institutions and practices are to be judged ‘from the point of view of the concrete opportunities they offer the individual’. Abstract equality (the right to vote, for example) is not enough: to turn freedom into reality, women must also have the health, education and money they need to make use of their rights.

Finally, there is the insight that women are not born but made, that every society has constructed a vast material, cultural and ideological apparatus dedicated to the fabrication of femininity. Throughout The Second Sex Beauvoir attacks ‘femininity’ in the sense of patriarchal or normative femininity. To her, a ‘feminine’ woman is one who accepts herself as Other; ‘femininity’ is the badge of the unfree. For women to be free, ‘femininity’ must disappear. Taken together, Beauvoir’s major insights are the foundation of modern feminism. Whether they acknowledge it or not, all contemporary feminists build on Beauvoir’s achievement.

[extract from Toril Moi’s discussion in the ‘London Review of Books’ of a new English translation of Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’.]

I have a yellowing paperback copy of The Second Sex that I once picked up somewhere for 2 bucks. I’m hesitant to admit that I’ve not read it. I mean, I wrote a thesis about generations of feminism (well, kinda) and I haven’t even read one of modern feminism’s founding works?! What a charlatan!

Well, I’m just glad that there are wonderful academics like Toril Moi out there, who can translate the translations for me. 🙂

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As a bit of a side note, I’m thinking of adding a section to this new blog of mine where I’ll post about a particular person (perhaps feminist) whom I think needs to be talked about more, or who has influenced my understanding of feminism and postfeminism. It could be called something like “feminist of the week”, but I’d prefer something catchier and broader, while still sticking to the “of the week” idea so that I’m forced against my procrastinatory will to write at least *one* post a week. Suggestions welcome.

Perhaps this entry can be the first in the series. Feminist of the week: Simone de Beauvoir

more defining…

February 3, 2010

(A snippet from my PhD dissertation)

I consider postfeminism to mean after the height of the women’s liberation movement and the changes in society that it brought about. However, I am not trying to articulate a “style” of feminism. Rather, postfeminism offers a way of thinking through the way feminism has changed, and a way of marking and explaining a particular era – a specific generational moment.

As Joanne Hollows (2006: 104) articulates, today’s women:

“have grown up in conditions that are both shaped by second-wave feminism, and which are also the product of a time that is historically post-second-wave-feminism”. [1]

Avoiding the hyphenation, this is one sense in which I use the term postfeminism. It specifies the current historical moment, making clear the role cultural context plays in shaping a generation, and clarifies the extent to which feminism has impacted the lives of the current generation. The idea of “post” meaning “after” gets around the problem of envisaging it as “death”. It allows room to acknowledge that the young women today have grown up after the height of the second-wave women’s movement, in a cultural context different from their parents, that has been strongly influenced by second wave feminist discourses.

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[1] Hollows, Joanne (2006) “Can I Go Home Yet? Feminism, Post-feminism and Domesticity”. In Feminism in Popular Culture, edited by J. Hollows and R. Moseley. Oxford and New York: Berg.