Why I am a Feminist

November 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am a feminist.

Recently this phrase has been a point of major contention in U.S. society. One of the biggest reasons for this has been TIME‘s poll asking which word should be banned in 2015, which included the word “feminist.” (This article by TIME now includes an apology for including the term in the list, due to much outrage over the suggestion.) As someone who considers myself as a feminist, I, of course, was frustrated by the suggestion that “feminist” even made the list in the first place.

I came to calling myself a feminist my junior year of undergraduate studies at a private Christian liberal arts institution, when I took a class, Media Criticism, and decided to use feminist criticism as my theory because I thought, “This will be easy. Pick a movie and analyze it by bashing men.” However, the more I learned about feminism, the more I realized I was a feminist myself. I grew up with parents who encouraged me to achieve, who told me I could be anything I wanted to be, even president of the United States. I never doubted that I could excel, whether it was athletics or academics. My sister and I played in a summer rec baseball league as nine- and ten-year-olds with mostly boys. I raced boys in elementary school and routinely beat them, proving that “run like a girl” might be something to be desired, not mocked.

The problem is that feminism has and continues to be considered the second “f-word.” It continues to develop negative connotations that have people believing that it means that feminists hate and blame men for every ill in their lives. Yet, that is not what feminism is. For example, a well-respected scholar, bell hooks, explains that,

“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” (Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics Pluto Press, 2000)

Furthermore, Kimberly Tan, in her article in the Huffington Post delineates the definition of feminism and the problems with how people currently understand it, stating,

“By definition, feminism is simply the idea of guaranteed equality between men and women—the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Yet somehow, the term has evolved to take on a radical and pejorative connotation, leading those who support the ideals of feminism to not actually identify as feminists.” (para. 4)

If feminism is the movement to end sexism and fight for equality of the sexes, it is a good thing. Because of feminism, women can vote, women have better access to all levels of education, women can achieve higher positions at jobs and higher ranks in the military, and much more.

voterosie

Yet, feminism is being interpreted as monolithic, as if one version of feminism represents all feminists. Saying that feminism’s one definition is hating men is like saying that Ted Haggard or other televangelists represent all Christians, or that Todd Akin represents all Republicans. In a society that feeds off of sensationalism, making feminism out to be something bad is what gains traction, yet this should be questioned. What it actually leads to is a population making uninformed decisions about words, phrases, or ideas. And, I would argue, many people who proclaim they are not feminists likely are. As Tan explains,

“In reality, feminism cuts much deeper than just shallow proclamations that men and women are equal. Calling ourselves feminists establishes recognition of the inequalities that still remain and reaffirms our commitment to eliminate these underlying issues so entrenched in the fabric of our society. Dismissing feminism only creates the incentive to dismiss the ideas of gender equality altogether—to overlook the fundamental, structural changes that our culture so desperately needs.” (para 12)

To circle back to where this post started, I am a feminist. I am a woman married to a man and we have an almost-two-year-old and another child on the way and a very egalitarian relationship when it comes to chores, childcare, work, financial decisions, and the everyday realities of life. So if someone were to ask me if we need feminism, my answer is a resounding yes. Is feminism bad? To ask a question like that is to oversimplify a concept that has multiple interpretations. Some forms of feminism may not be productive, but at its very foundation, feminism is good and is necessary if we want to see positive structural changes.

Olympic Letdowns

July 30, 2012 § 4 Comments

Many of you might already be aware that the Olympics coverage by NBC has been a source of controversy for many people, perhaps yourselves included. In fact, after one journalist complained about the network’s coverage of the events, his Twitter account suspended. Well, it’s my turn to join the conversation. Here are my main “beefs” with the Olympic coverage this year:

1. Tape delaying in the internet age. Let’s face it, NBC and other media outlets have to make a choice: tape delay and don’t show us the results every time we pull up our internet browsers during the day to surf the web OR don’t tape delay and let everything happen live. The problem right now is that we are not able to watch the events until primetime, yet if we log on to the websites of NBC, Yahoo, ESPN, etc., we don’t even get a “spoiler alert” warning, we’re just told the results. Oh, boy, now I can’t wait to watch tonight when I already know what happens. A bit anti-climatic.

Something that made me and Steve chuckle was CNN’s homepage article about this very issue, yet look at what the article below is about (don’t even get me started on why they may have chosen a picture of a female volleyball player diving toward the camera…). A bit ironic, eh?

 

2. Poor live coverage. NBC advertises that you can stream their coverage LIVE throughout the day on your mobile device or computer. What they don’t tell you is that you have to be a customer of a cable network. Why a basic cable channel (read: FREE if you have antennas) says you can only stream live if you have a cable subscription is outrageous. I remember streaming events live on my computer during the 2008 games, but it’s not possible this year, as we don’t have cable, but only internet. What a racket. It is such a tease to have NBC advertise on TV and online that I can watch it live, only to discover I cannot. However I can read about the results and then watch the events tape delayed that night…

3. The Phelps-Lochte controversy. The media is making way too much out of the Phelps-Lochte competition. Let’s just get it out now: Phelps didn’t train as hard for these Olympics, and frankly seems over it, and Lochte is not Phelps, so let’s move on. They are both doing phenomenally well, and a silver medal is still amazing. It means one is second in the WORLD.

Ok, I’m done for now. Enjoy watching the Olympics tonight, even if you already saw how the men’s gymnastics team and Lochte do.

Getting bin Laden: One Year Later

May 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

I know it may seem like I’m a little late to the party. The anniversary of bin Laden’s death was on Tuesday, May 1. However, this year, a majority of my writing, studying and reading has focused on this event and the texts that emerged as a result (In communication studies, “texts” can refer to any medium that is studied. For example, with the bin Laden raid/death, texts include the Situation Room photograph above, Obama’s speech the night of, the made-for-television specials, etc.). Whether I want to admit it or not, the truth is that this bin Laden raid, and the political atmosphere of a Post-9/11 U.S. have become a major part of my scholarship.

Specifically, this year I have focused on the above photograph as well as an article written by Schimdle in The New YorkerThere are so many interesting aspects of this event and the ensuing texts. And, unfortunately for my classmates and for Steve, I’ve definitely talked about it a bunch this year, too. Last night, there was a special on Rock Center with Brian Williams about the events leading up to and happening that night. In the special, Williams interviewed key players such as President Obama, Hillary Clinton, VP Biden, as well as others in the photograph.

I enjoyed watching the special, as it at times was like reviewing papers I’d written all year. I also like to look for the different rhetorical constructions that occur as a result. Of course there is the heated debate between Romney and Obama about the raid, in which Romney accuses Obama of politicizing it as a way to help his chances for reelection. Um, duh. I’m guessing anyone in this situation would capitalize on such a huge event. It’s also interesting that there should be a forthcoming full-length feature film in the fall about the raid (I have been accused of conspiracy theory here, since I think it’s highly coincidental that the film will be released right before the elections…). The interesting part of the bin Laden raid, that is also articulated in the Rock Center special, is that it unified our extremely partisan country, if only for a brief moment in time.

To date, my research has focused on how Obama embodies the imperial presidency (even if he doesn’t want to), American exceptionalism, and biopolitics (the politics of life…maybe I’ll write on this later). Here are some of the other things I find interesting, and may research further in the future:

1. The role of Hillary Clinton. Initially when the photograph above was released, Hillary claimed to be stifling a cough. In the interview aired last night, she said she was making the same expression she does when Bill takes her to action movies. It’s easy to understand why Clinton would initially want to claim she was stifling a cough. She has worked so hard to create an image of herself as unemotional and not super feminine. To be the only person at the table showing emotion (and the only woman at the table, at that) would seem to negate the image she’s worked to hard to achieve. In the 2008 campaign, it was über-feminine Palin vs. not-so-feminine Clinton. Unfortunately, whatever image a woman wants to create for herself, she still often ends up on the outskirts. The underlying beliefs are that super feminine women do not make good leaders because they are too emotional and maternal, and super masculine women do not make good leaders because there are masculine men that can do the same job. It seems that until it was admitted that everyone in the room was tense, and that it was silent when the helicopter crashed, Clinton could not admit that her expression was, in fact, a result of shock and fear. Studying her could reveal insights to the roles of women in leadership.

2. What is “real”? It is interesting to note that when Schmidle’s article came out, he explained that one of the advisors described the helicopter crash on the bin Laden compound like “watching the climax of a movie.” Additionally, like I said above, Clinton explained that the expression she was making was the same one she makes at action movies. This semester in my theories of pop culture class, I studied a lot about “the spectacle” in society (Debord, Society of the Spectacle), and how in our postmodern society, images are becoming more important, more “real” than reality. This is easy to argue, as one only has to think about the popularity of Facebook, in which many people find their “reality,” as well as the emphasis on pictures that Facebook has cultivated. In this digital age, when we can take as many pictures as we want until we have one we like, and then still edit that photo until it creates an image of ourselves we want to communicate, images dominate. And, ironically, when discussing the mission to get bin Laden, people compare it to a movie rather than real life. So, what is more real, movies or real life?

With the summer ahead, maybe I’ll look into one of these areas. Or maybe I’ll relax and look closer at them next fall :)

The Body Athletic

April 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

My life has been focused a lot on athletics recently. And I’m not talking about my extracurricular activities outside of school, I’m talking about leisure and school. While most of my school work this year has focused on Obama’s presidency and the bin Laden targeted killing, I decided to take a major detour for one of my classes and analyze the three Body Issues of ESPN The Magazine (ESPNTM). I decided that with the Boston Marathon tomorrow, why not devote a post to the athletic body?

If you’re not familiar with these magazines, in 2009, ESPNTM decided to showcase top athletes completely nude every year in a special issue called the Body Issue, claiming “we sing the body athletic.” Now, before anyone gets too uncomfortable, rest assured that what should be private is, well, kept private, whether it is through a strategic positioning of hands, legs, arms, equipment or shadows. Let’s just say it’s been fun having to go to the public library and ask for three specific issues of the magazine and then tote them around while I scan them and take pictures of them. :) It’s actually part of a larger project I’m working on with a classmate. She’s a visual communication doctoral student with an undergraduate degree in art history, and the two of us became intrigued by these issues and the larger messages they are communicating and decided to team up and write a paper for a visual communication conference in June. In the meantime, we’re each writing our own papers for our classes and then will combine our efforts into one paper for the conference. So, needless to say, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at very muscular naked athletic bodies.

On Friday, I spent most of my afternoon analyzing and writing about the photographs. That night, I asked one of my friends if she and her husband would mind if I tagged along with them for dinner, since Steve was out of town. She told me they were headed to a new museum in SLC, The Leonardo, for one of their free quarterly “after hours” presentations. The topic? Exploring the limits of the human body with an emphasis on Olympic Athletes. Why not continue to interrogate these amazing bodies and explore their limits? It was a very interesting talk, with Olympic Gold Medalist Bill Demong and Dr. Troy Flanagan, High Performance Director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. They explained everything that goes into the small details at the elite performance level, such as the ways in which jump suits are designed down to the very part of the bolt of fabric they choose to use. It was quite intriguing, as they countered the claims that we’ve almost reached our limits in how fast we can run, how far we can jump, and how high we can fly. It was the perfect discussion the weekend before the Boston marathon and a week before my first half marathon at elevation.

During this time, I have also read America by Jean Baudrillard for my theories of pop culture class. While we only had to read a few chapters, I was so drawn in by his sarcastic pessimism, that I just kept on reading. One of my favorite sections of his book is when he discusses his observations of the New York Marathon. Describing it as “the end-of-the-world show,” he then asks, “Can we speak of suffering freely entered into as we might speak of a state of servitude freely entered into?” (p. 20). This is a fair observation, as there are definitely parts of athletic training that are voluntary suffering for an ultimate goal. For example, Bill Demong explained that he has a high tolerance for pain, and often thinks, “It already hurts, so I might as well keep going.” However I think Baudrillard’s best observation is as follows: “The marathon is a form of demonstrative suicide, suicide as advertising: it is running to show you are capable of getting every last drop of energy out of yourself, to prove it…to prove what? That you are capable of finishing” (p. 21). While he clearly looks down on the attitude of competing just to finish, for most of us, this is true. At least it was for me last year when I ran my first marathon. My main goal was to finish. But with the elite athletes like the ones I’ve been studying in their birthday suits, as well as Bill Demong, there are bigger goals than that. And, no matter how much technology improves, it still comes down to hard work, which can be painful.

Demonstrative suicide? It’s a bit of a hyperbole. But whatever you want to call it, I’ll keep doing it, because it’s what keeps me sane when I’m stressed out with school or life in general. Also, I think it’s amazing to watch elite athletes in action, and I’m very excited for the Olympics this summer. However, I must say I’m glad they’ll be wearing uniforms, and not competing in the nude like they did in the ancient Olympics. I’m ready to spend some time looking at fully clothed athletes.

My Desire to be a Minimalist

April 6, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’ve been on a minimalist kick for a while. I think moving to SLC helped a bit, as it was so liberating to donate items and have a tangible representation of the purging and what we wouldn’t have to move. However, no matter how hard I try, there are always those things that have sentimental value, or significance, or simply reside in the realm of “what ifs.” What if I want this shirt later? What if I have a need for this in two years? And then starts the constant battle between getting rid of it as a way to make life more simple (and risking having to purchase it again later if needed), or holding on to it “just in case.”

Last Christmas, we drove to Visalia with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. They flew out and accompanied us on the 12-hour roadtrip. One of the ways in which we entertained ourselves was by listening to TED talks. A TED talk that I really remember was one that was only five minutes by Graham Hill called “Less Stuff, More Happiness.”

I was truly inspired by this short talk, but then reverted back to my usual commodified ways thanks to the holidays. It is definitely a battle for me, as there are so many things I want, but at the same time, I look around and think, “Man, I’ve got so much stuff!” There is something appealing to me about the displays at Ikea that show an 500-square foot living space with everything one would need to live—a kitchen, dining area, living room, bedroom and closet. While the home we are living in now is bigger than the one we left in SoCal, our bedroom is smaller, as is the closet. And Steve can attest to the fact that one of my biggest frustrations is how the space we have now in our rooms doesn’t seem to be enough to hold all of our clothes. In fact, I often say to him, “The thing is, when this house was built this was enough room. We have just become such a consumer society that it no longer is enough room.” A couple friends of ours recently reflected on how they always manage to fill the space in which they live. When it was a one-bedroom apartment, they filled it. When they moved to a two-bedroom home, it started out empty and ended up full to capacity. And I think this is true for most of us.

While I’ve been searching for a more minimalist lifestyle for the last year or so, I’m sure the environmental communication class and theories of pop culture class I’m taking this semester are probably contributing to my discomfort with all the stuff I have. In these classes the concepts of consumerism and commodity fetishism are often part of the discussion. And, recently, I got another kick in the pants. One of my friends started a blog called “Twenty Pieces” in which she and her friend purged their wardrobes to only twenty pieces of clothing (excluding underwear, socks, shoes and workout clothes, see the rules here). It’s inspiring. And challenging. And uncomfortable. And that’s what always stops me.

But I can’t help but think, like my friend says on “Twenty Pieces,” that part of my identity, of myself, is wrapped up and hidden in my things, and that purging part of my life would also purge some weight from my shoulders I may not have realized I was carrying, or free me in ways I did not expect. With the changing of the seasons, “spring cleaning” often goes viral, and I’ve caught it again this year. In a month or so, when I’m done with the spring semester, I’ve got big plans to go through my stuff with a fine toothed comb. After all, if I haven’t needed it since we moved to SLC, why do I need to hold on to it? Wish me luck…

Where in the world is Karmin…?

February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

A couple years ago, Steve and I were introduced to the YouTube channel of the duo Karmin, Nick and Amy, who met at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They are extremely talented musicians, and we became infatuated with their cover songs:

What we love the most about them is their pure talent, great voices, unique style (she can rap!) and their fun personalities. As they say on their website, “Simplicity is the key with this music!” About a year or so ago, they were on Ellen, and we started to think and hope they’d make it big soon.

So you can only imagine our excitement when we heard they’d be on SNL a couple weeks ago. “Finally!” we thought. Their time had come. And, Adele just swept the Grammy’s with her simple style of good, pure musical talent, so we thought the timing was right for their SNL debut. We could not have been more disappointed. In their SNL performances, they had an entire band, and it was hard to decipher just who made up the musical guest called Karmin. What happened to the performances we’d seen on YouTube and on Ellen? What happened to the simplicity of just appreciating their musical talent? These two musicians are so talented, they do not need distractions like other pop artists. I couldn’t help but be disappointed and feel like our little band Karmin had become sell-outs.

Prevention by Intimidation

February 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

When we moved to Utah, one of the first things I noticed were the anti-underage drinking billboards. These billboards really disturbed me, and I thought a lot about why I found this ad campaign so offensive. I realized it is because of how completely negative the signs are. In communication, we often say, “Don’t lead with the negative” and these signs are doing just that.

The first thing that struck me about these ads is the juxtaposition of the smirking officers next to intimidating/threatening phrases in bold typography. While the officers claim they participated in the ads because “We just want to help the kids” (read the whole article here), I am not convinced by what is visually communicated. The officers look like they find catching underage drinkers enjoyable. And, with all the recent events in which police officers have positioned themselves less as protectors of society and more as against society (the UC Davis pepper spray incident comes to mind), it seems there might be a better way to communicate the danger of underage drinking.  Additionally, it is a bit coincidental that while the men in the billboards “weren’t chosen for their size,” the officers pictured are 6’11”, 335lbs and 6’1″, 225lbs, contributing to the intimidation factor. I have a hard time believing a smaller male or (gasp) a female officer would have even been considered for this ad campaign.

While these signs may be intimidating and effective in preventing underage drinking, they are also contributing to a polarization between police and youth. (Ideally, there would be a relationship of respect for authority and an understanding that ultimately police are here to protect us.) In the end, though, despite how offended I am by the billboards and the campaign, I do not have a ready alternative. I do not think a campaign with police officers saying “Don’t drink underage, because we care about you” would work, either. Oh, the woes of communication.

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