Carrying on with the feminism trend, I saw this image on Facebook a few days ago with some guy named Greg Gutfield supposedly quoted as saying: ”A Smith & Wesson does more for empowering women than feminism ever could.” First, I had to look up who this guy was. It turns out, he’s a Fox News personality. This fact gives him zero credibility in my view. Second, I said “supposedly quoted,” because so many quotes on social media are not by whom they say they are. In this case, however, Greg Gutfield really did say that on The Five on November 1, 2011.
After overcoming the initial outrage sparked by this quote, I tried to make sense of it. (In the transcript from the show featuring this quote, Mr. Gutfield talks about how women should get a permit for a concealed weapon and carry one, because a rapist would rather go for an unarmed woman than an armed one. This begs the question, if the gun is concealed, how would a rapist know not to mess with said woman? Anyway, he also says this misogynistic gem: ”The fact is, keeping a piece is the only way to keep the peace. So, get one to match your shoes.”)
The problem is as the problem always is these days. The assumption is that men are going to rape. You don’t know which men, so you best just protect yourself. Take self-defense classes. Don’t go out at night. Don’t wear [insert type of clothing here]. Don’t go anywhere alone. Carry a gun.
I do not doubt that a gun can make a woman feel safer and even feel more empowered (especially after feeling a loss of power due to an attack or the threat of an attack). However, feeling empowered is not always the same as being empowered. Is having a gun more empowering than having the right to vote, to make the same wage as everyone else, to run a business, to be recognized as a human being? It might help protect one’s bodily integrity and might help alleviate fear. However, wouldn’t it be more empowering if society recognized and protected a woman’s right to her own body and her right to exist? Or, how about if society condemned rape/sexual assault flat-out, instead of continually sending mixed messages about how rape is wrong, but it’s the victim’s fault?
Perhaps Mr. Gutfield is saying women should seize their rights with guns. After all, politics seems to be a hit-and-miss mish-mash of rights and rights violations. Maybe, in that way, a gun would make women more empowered.
Please note: In the event that it is not obvious, I am not encouraging anyone to engage in any violent action to achieve recognition of their rights.
I was thinking about another blog post to write today and how I should write something positive. I don’t want this blog to be solely a place to vent. I was reminded of a quote from Amanda F. Palmer’s “Dear Daily Mail” video/song, to which I linked in my last post. I should make it the subtitle of my blog: ”blah blah blah feminist blah blah blah gender [stuff].” (I’d change the last word, because I’m not big on swearing. Swearing can be useful and powerful, but I think it should be wielded carefully and used sparingly. Too often, I hear it used as everyday words. As a side note, I am not saying that Amanda Palmer does not wield her swears carefully, although she does swear a lot. )
written February 27, 2014
My last blog entry got me thinking more about Barbie. One of the weird things about the doll’s body is her lack of nipples. One of the weird things about our culture is how offensive we seem to find nipples to be. In her early days, Barbie had nipples. Wow. I didn’t know that until I typed in a search: ”Why does Barbie lack nipples?” It seems that the public may have been the reason Barbie’s nipples vanished. Public, what gives? Would Barbie having nipples make our children want to have sex at a much earlier age (like porn, peer pressure, and a constant stream of media images of sex likely do)? Who’s afraid of the Big, Bold Nipple?
Whether it was the Mattel execs or public decision, Barbie lost her nipples. (For those interested, you can customize your dolls to have nipples.) In some cases, Barbie has even lost her vague vulva. A couple of my daughter’s Barbie dolls have plastic molded underwear, obscuring any genitalia and making it weird when the dolls try to shower. There’s also the vague penis on Ken dolls. I don’t know about recent ones, but the Ken and other male 12″ dolls I had when I was a child had this strange lump where genitalia should have been. Imagine if a Ken doll had a penis and testicles and if a Barbie doll had a vulva. They’d have sex and teach children to have sex! Gasp. Shock.
Yeah, my vaguely genital-ed dolls had sex anyway. My Barbie dolls sometimes even got pregnant after said acts. Shocking. I didn’t have sex even though I imagined my dolls did. I was imagining what grown-ups could and did do.
Another example of our culture’s nipple-phobia can be seen in Facebook’s policy on breastfeeding photos:
“We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and we’re glad to know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook. The vast majority of these photos are compliant with our policies.
“Photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing do violate the Facebook Terms. These policies are based on the same standards which apply to television and print media.”
In other words, no exposed nipples. Even if there is a child in the picture about to or just finished breastfeeding, exposing a nipple equals pornography. However, Facebook has violated its own policies in this regard too many times.
Then there are the other cultural shocks regarding breasts/nipples: Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, for example. This incident led to an apology from the artist and widespread vilification of her. More recently, there was a photo of Amanda F. Palmer published by the Daily Mail about her breast (and nipple) “escaping” its bra during a performance; clearly the folks at the Daily Mail failed to do much research on Ms. Palmer. This incident sparked a response from the artist (link warning: it contains nudity and swearing) that was far from apologetic. I could discuss how the different responses by the artists in these two incidents created different results, but it would have to take in a large number of variables (the era in which the incidents occurred, race, age, career differences, etc.) and would make for a large blog entry. It would also take away from my main point, which is that our culture finds nipples wholly offensive.
Nipples are from where breast milk comes to nourish our children. Nipples are also sources of sexual pleasure. I understand wanting to limit exposure of nipples in a sexual context in public. The problem is that our culture doesn’t limit sexualized images in public. We cherry-pick things that are offensive, while allowing a large swathe of sexual imagery to remain for everyone to see. I also understand that it is difficult to find the balance.
I will speak as an artist. If I am doing a reading in a public place such as a public park, I will choose pieces of my work that are sensitive to the audience I might encounter. Some artists may not agree with this. However, I am an artist and a mother. I am not going to read about the most mind-blowingly wonderful sex my narrator has ever had in a public park where children are present. However, if I were doing a reading in a rented hall or a place of business geared to adults, I may well read such a piece of work.
It is a difficult balance. On the one hand, we are encouraged not to care what others might think or say about us. On the other hand, there are times when we do need to take others into consideration before we speak or act. It is the fine line between being a rude person and being a caring person.
And nipples. Context is important. While I do believe children should have sexual information that is appropriate for them and for their ages, I do not want this constant stream of sexualized images in the media (on billboards, in shop windows, on TV, in films, everywhere an image can pop up); not to mention the fact that many media images are more misinformation than information. I’m not suggesting we repress all sexual images, hide them away in dark back alleys. I am saying we need to find a better balance that takes the audience into consideration as well as the needs of the person producing the images. (Realistically, I see a huge difference between artists and corporations.) That clothing shop doesn’t *need* to show a young, scantily-clad woman with a pout and a sheen of sweat on her body in order to sell clothes. We’ve just been told for so long that “sex sells,” we’ve forgotten what else sells.
I’m not afraid of the Big, Bold Nipple. And it’s not all about sex.
I first heard about Barbie being on the cover of the newest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in one of the local daily papers. Then I read this article and this article. My initial response to the first article was, “I think I shouldn’t let any more Barbies into our house.”
A few years ago, I had debated whether we’d let Barbie into our daughter’s life. Barbie does present an unrealistic body size to young children. That in itself wouldn’t necessarily be a horrible thing. However, as I’ve said before, combined with the many other homogeneous messages girls and women get from the culture, it is a problem. I was also conscerned about Barbie for environmental reasons. Barbie is made of PVC which, when made, unleashes a human carcinogen. Not to mention the fact that old Barbies which aren’t sold at garage sales or customized to give them new life or which are damaged end up in landfills. The final issue I have with her is one of social import. Mattel has faced controversies over the use of sweatshops.
During the time of this debating, I researched alternatives to Barbie and eventually got some of them for my daughter. These alternatives included Lottie doll and Only Hearts Club dolls. These two brands present dolls with children’s bodies. However, both still LOVE the colour pink and adhere to other gender stereotypes. Another alternative I quite like is the Mixi doll line; unfortunately, this doll line adheres to the idea that all women LOVE fashion and shopping.
In the end, I decided we could let Barbie into my daughter’s life so long as she also had dolls in a variety of sizes and styles. (I really wish I could find a 12″ doll with a realistic or even overweight body size.)
After some thinking about the Barbie Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue a bit, my second thought was, “Why doesn’t Mattel just put Barbie on the cover of Playboy Magazine and have done with it?”
Barbie aside, what does the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue have to do with sports? Nothing. Sure, some sports require swimsuits, but not the kind of swimsuits featured in that issue. The swimsuits in that issue are for one purpose: to sexually arouse the issue’s assumed-male (and, by extension, heterosexual) readers. I know women look at the magazine, too. Some look out of aesthetics; some may look to see what’s hot in swimsuits. However, the main audience the publishers seem to be trying to lure are heterosexual men who enjoy seeing the same stereotypical, sexualized objectification of women.
Does it make sense to put a doll on the cover of such a magazine? However “iconic,” however loved and collected by both children and adults she is, does it make sense to put this doll on the cover or in the pages of said magazine?
Well, sort of. A doll is an object. It rather goes along with the magazine’s seeming view of women. Also, Mattel’s sales are lagging. They need to get Barbie front and center in people’s minds. There are several ways to do this; however, one sure-fire way to do this is to do something controversial or shocking. (There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the proverb goes.) Get everyone talking about Barbie. Sure, it could back-fire. However, it also could be just the kick in the pants that their sales need. That kind of thinking leads me to this conclusion: I’m not playing that game (other than blogging about the incident and, thereby, creating more publicity. Darn it.) They won’t be getting any more of my money any time soon, despite my recent interest in making doll crafts.
Some could argue that the Barbie spread in the swimsuit issue is geared more towards the adult collectors. After all, they are making a doll to tie in with the magazine spread. However, they are making a doll to tie in with the magazine spread. So even though the magazine isn’t geared towards kids, kids will get an idea of what’s going on by there being a doll based on it all.
Other people in the articles I linked early on in this blog have mentioned the fact that the attitude of this campaign is repugnant. ”Unapologetic.” You want your doll to be more fully equated with stereotypes, oversexualization and objectification of women? That’s your choice, Mattel. I have the choice to send you a letter and give you a piece of my mind; however, given your attempt to obviate criticism ["As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in (the issue)… gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic"], I don’t think you’d listen. I also have the choice not to accept your view and not to buy your products. I, too, can be “unapologetic.”
Alright. New year, new attempt to post regularly. I am striving to be more consistent with several things I enjoy this year: writing and belly dancing. Writing and dance are alike. You take basic elements/moves and put them together to create something beautiful, something fun, something exquisitely personal that can be enjoyed beyond the personal.
Things I am doing to attain this consistency: sending at least one submission a week and dancing three times a week. (I will be reviewing the writing plan in April.) I’ve also been attempting to get up early on my days off from my paying job to write for at least an hour. That plan has not been working so well, as I have been losing time in the evenings and going to bed too late, which makes me too tired to get up when the alarm chimes at me. Even when I endeavour to get to bed by a set time, the sand slips away and it is too late. So I need to re-organize my evening routines, I suppose.
Anyway, here I am again on my blog, hoping to post the blog entries I think up as I wait for the bus after work or as I sew something fun or necessary for me or my loved ones.
About a month ago now, I saw a movie poster at the local cinema for the sequel to Grown Ups. For those who don’t know, Grown Ups is an Adam Sandler film. I watched Grown Ups last summer when my parents came for a visit. I had misgivings before I watched it, as my sense of humour differs from that of my parents. Grown Ups is typical American fare as far as humour goes. There are the almost-obligatory fat jokes, the sex jokes, the unsurprising yet irritating old person jokes (surrounding the older, very much sexual Gloria, who plays Rob Schneider’s character Rob’s girlfriend), and the misogyny.
There is a particular sub-plot in the film that fills me with rage (well, two or three subplots at least, but let’s focus on this one). In the film, Sally (Maria Bello) continues to breastfeed her son Bean (I think he was supposed to be three years old or possibly a bit older?). The other main character couples in the film display disgust at this fact. (I say “couples,” but this is mainly a film about the male half of the couples.) In one scene, the husband Eric (Kevin James), their son Bean (Morgan and Frank Gingerich), and Eric’s friends are waiting in line for a water slide. Bean wants milk. Eric, giving in to the peer pressure of his male friends, grabs a small carton of cow milk from another kid and coerces his son to drink it. The boy does, and his dependence on breast milk is magically broken.
(And it gets better, which is to say, worse.) When Sally finds out about this incident, she doesn’t flip out and get angry. Here is the quote from the scene where she finds out (taken from IMdb):
Sally Lamonsoff: See that? Now he won’t even drink from me.
Roxanne Chase-Feder: That’s what men do. They take and take, and then give you up for some cow.
Sally Lamonsoff: Well now I don’t know what I’m going to do with these. [as she gestures at her breasts]
Eric Lamonsoff: I do.
Now to pick this incident apart.
A man, pressured by his male friends, chooses to take away his wife’s power as a parent and as a woman by deciding his son must be weaned to appease his male friends’ beliefs and re-establish his “real manhood” in their eyes.
What else could he have done? He could have respected the decision his wife (and himself as well, ideally) made about breastfeeding. He could have told his friends that the WHO recommends breastfeeding for “up to 2 years of age or beyond.” He could have relayed the many benefits of breastfeeding beyond the six-month mark (six months of age is the recommended age for introducing solid food). He could have said why he and Sally made that decision. He could also have told his friends to smeg off and worry about their own parenting choices.
While I prefer the educational route, I’m sure the script writers, producers, and movie execs see the original scene as more humourous and, above all, more profitable.
And when Sally finds out what happened? She’s put in her place as a sex object. The importance of her breasts as sex objects supersede their importance as nutrition and comfort for a child.
I would also like to remark that the children in this film are more like props for the adults than actual characters.
Oh, it’s just a movie! It’s funny. Quit reading all this power-stealing misogyny into it. Feminists!
The problem is, it’s not just one movie. It’s not just one image or one thought or one idea. It is the majority of movies, images, thoughts, and ideas that promotes an unhealthy, hateful attitude toward women. (We aren’t even delving into the hatred against non-cisgendered women.) It is our culture, and our culture, ultimately, is us. Isn’t it time for equality to be the norm? Isn’t it time our movies/images/thoughts/ideas reflected equality? And if not now, when?
I would like to announce the creation of my first zine since I was young and made my own “beauty” magazine (titled Beauty Magazine) and, later, newsletters. It is called Tattered Blessings: a literary zine of the everyday. The zine features work by me, Beth Couture, and Kat van Loon. The zine costs $2 (to cover shipping costs) and can be purchased by contacting me. I am considering doing a second volume of this zine, so please contact me if you are interested in contributing to a second volume.
While I have not posted much on my blog in a few months, I have been pondering blog posts and writing poems. With the pending announcement of the actor who will be playing the twelfth Doctor on Doctor Who, my favourite TV show, I felt it appropriate to post the following poem. It was written in early June. There has been a good deal of debate over whether the Doctor could be, will be, or even should be played by a woman. Personally, I think it would awesome if the Twelfth Doctor were androgynous or even genderqueer. I’m not so hopeful that will be. Here is the poem:
The Doctor Is Never Female
I want to say that
because you are a man
you are sexist
it isn’t fair (don’t speak
to me of fairness)
and isn’t always true
so let me speak
of privilege white privilege heterosexual privilege
and you can defend,
“the idea that the Doctor
might be a woman
began as a joke.
It’s still a joke.”
And who is laughing?
Let us have our strong
female assistants companions children,
as if stereotypes melt away
in stereotypical screaming
or stereotypical good looks
as if it should be enough
to be the sidekick.
Orlando did alright,
but you may be right.
Maybe the BBC is more old, white men
at the thought.
© 2013 Robin A. Sams
For my final poem for NaPoWriMo 2013, I reflect on the experience of it. Overall, it has been positive and very, very good for me.
On a whim, goals took shape
a little scratching every day
opening the Other, the Muse, the vessel
to the Source
a stranger at the bus stop,
the wind blowing a certain way,
birdsong human song,
shock and news,
snippets of a day
and then words and lines
a mouthful formed
for another day
Then there is excitement
what if I keep going?
a little inspiration every day
what if I mould these moments
into work into hope
a chance at potential filled
a story, a cookbook, a chapbook,
A little scratching every day
at the bus stop
between demands of Mommy
before the demands of languid Sleep
then there is excitement
and goals take shape.
© 2013 Robin A. Sams
I had a hectic day at work yesterday, so poetry did not get written. However, here is #29:
Hush now, hush now
hear you breathe
sun’s not up,
and I’ve yet to sleep
lullabies fade into starlight
no monsters hiding under the floorboards
no monsters humming in the closet
no monsters raging in your heart
such wrenching sweetness in your face
a hundred dreams fill the quiet room
protective vigil sealed with a kiss
you stir and mumble
hush now, hush now
hear you be.
© 2013 Robin A. Sams