Tag Archives: Rants that take too long to write

Seriously though, America…

21 Jun

…Barack Obama really isn’t your boyfriend.

I know that post I wrote (read by approximately 0.0000000000001/smallest percentage possible) of you might have led you to believe that you are actually in a relationship with him.

But you’re not.

So stop writing things like :

Ronald Reagan could convey command with a smile; Clint Eastwood, with a whisper. Americans need to know [Barack Obama] cares so they can be sure he’s taking fast, muscular and proficient action.

Anytime you hear yourself saying “I wish this person was more like Clint Eastwood” (or more likely, his on-screen persona) just know that you’ve taken your belief in the power of masculinity to vanquish all evil way too far. And while we’re at it, stop whining about how Obama’s not showing you that he cares enough about the gulf, because it literally means nothing if Barack Obama gets emotional about the oil spill. I know that some stereotypes may have you convinced that all brown people have a special, mystical connection to the Mother Earth, the kind of power which we can  summon in times of unspeakable disaster. But I feel compelled to tell you that even Barack Obama’s angriest tears are not going to initiate a magical process that heals the Gulf.  Oil is not get sucked up into the Earth, and millions of pelicans will not gather in front of the White House in honor of  The Great Healer. The reality is that this is a truly awful situation we’re all in, one that has no easy solutions and will likely not change any time soon.

But I get that you are a famously romantic people, and the boyfriend metaphor is too powerful for you to let go. So I’ll work with you.

Asking Obama to “show he cares” about the gulf  is like if you suddenly realized that there was an explosive in your house,  and while you were feverishly trying to locate it before it detonated, your partner was following you around the house, getting mad at you because you didn’t want to talk about how stressed out it was making you feel. Wouldn’t your response be: “You know what, I’m trying to make sure we don’t die!”

And let’s assume that something your partner did, perhaps his/her career as a spy who goes around fomenting unrest in the Middle East (kinda like BP!), led to the explosive being placed in your house in the first place. Would it be so unreasonable for a) your partner to feel guilty and begin reflecting on the danger of the lifestyle choices he/she is making and b) for you to ask your partner to stop doing those things that are putting all of you in danger.

But no, America, you have spoken, and you do not want to talk about renewable energy or even consider a moratorium on the very thing that led to the disaster in the Gulf . Instead, you’re busy getting your “drill, baby, drill!” bumper stickers, and it won’t be long till you’ve scraped up enough cash to get that phrase tattooed on your ankle. And you will not rest until Barack Obama is MacGruber, and we all die in a conflagration we had the time to prevent.


The Best Part of Waking Up…Is Your Complete Lack of Agency in Your Cup

26 Apr

Image of a 1963 Folgers coffee tote from flickr user Roadsidepictures

I watch a ridiculous amount of television, and I think it’s fun to make connections between all of stuff I consume and theory I’ve read (I sometimes do it out loud while I’m watching, which everyone else in the room loves). Sometimes, the connections make sense and other times, they’re tenuous at best. This post may be one of those “other times,” so I’m going to ask you to  be generous with me.

There is this Folgers coffee commercial which drives me absolutely crazy (WordPress wouldn’t let me embed it, but here’s the link). The first time I watched it, I was stunned by the old-school sexism of the ad, given that these days, companies at least try to dress up their patriarchy in girl power or ironic dude-broism.

But not Folgers coffee! They’re keeping it real old school, taking it back to those days when women had no agency whatsoever and were totally psyched about it!

The spot opens with a mid to late-twenties looking woman walking into the kitchen in the morning. Her dad is already in there making coffee and he greets her with, “got in pretty late last night, huh?” The woman retorts, “Dad, I’m not sixteen anymore,” but he’s not budging, and says “still, it was late.” Your basic  father-daughter banter, although it’s a little strange that a woman who is that old still has her evenings policed like that. But hey, you wanna live in Jesse Helms’ house rent-free because you lost your job during the recession, you will live by Jesse Helms’ rules!

The next part is so creepily  Helmsian (if that’s not already a thing, I just made it one) when it comes to women’s agency it’s not even funny.  The woman says, “well, you won’t have to worry about that anymore,” (“that” being her staying out late) and then flashes her brand new engagement ring. She almost seems to say, “See, my husband will be the one monitoring my behavior from now on!”

Naturally, the dad is sweet and happy, and says “Todd is a lucky man,” before adding, “that’s what I told him last week.” Oh, so he knew about it well in advance, and gave his permission! Tricky dad!

Which brings me to my strained connection of this nonsense to actual theory. In The Sexual Contract, Carole Pateman’s amazing book on personhood, patriarchy, and the social contract, she writes about the invisible sexual contract which serves as the foundation for the social contract on which Western societies are built. To simplify it (a lot), the sexual contract predates the social contract, and sets up the ownership of women by men. Pateman’s book was largely a critique of how this other contract has been left out of narratives of the social contract, which is particularly egregious since the ownership of women is what makes the social contract possible. She argues that once women were subjugated under the sexual contract, the ideas of equally free men which are present in the social contract became possible, since all men were indeed equal in their right to access to women’s bodies and labor.

To me, the Folger’s ad perfectly captures women’s lack of personhood and agency under the  social contract  (that was a fun line to type).  According to this ad, it is only right that male authority dominate every aspect of a woman’s life. Want to spend an evening away from home? Well okay, but just know that Daddy is going to be on your case about coming back at an unreasonable time, even if you are above 25 like the woman in the ad appears to be. And apparently, the only time it’s acceptable to stay out late is when you’re with your future husband/owner, who will soon be policing your every move with equal intensity (one wonders what the dad’s  reaction would have been if he hadn’t actually known in advance what his daughter spent the night doing).

Pateman wrote that, “individually, each man receives a major part of his patriarchal inheritance through the marriage contract.” The ad does a great job of illustrating how fraternal patriarchy and inheritance work. Recognizing that as men, only they hold true personhood, the dad and Todd the fiance essentially create a marriage contract in which the ownership of the daughter is transferred from the dad to Todd (via the practice of asking for the hand in marriage). The fact that this all happens without the  daughter’s knowledge is essential, as only actual people can enter into contracts.  As a woman, she lacks personhood, and can thus only be the object of the contract. So there was no need for her to be present when they discussed her impending marriage.

Thus, as Folgers demonstrates, under the marriage contract any sense of actual agency a woman may have will largely be fictional. When you make the one decision (i.e. deciding to marry someone) that in your mind, clearly makes you an adult–guess what– it was already decided for you!  Your dad and your fiance hammered out the details to this new acquisition ahead of time, so you needn’t worry about the complicated details like what you want out of life and who you want to spend it with.

In all, this  ad is simply icky in its resounding endorsement of rituals which effectively dehumanize women. But I suppose what makes this especially disconcerting is that even though they are rooted in the perception that women are essentially possessions, the rituals  represented in this ad are an integral part of our culture.   I felt a bit churlish at the end of writing this, because I realized that it might sound really judgmental given that most people do these things, and they don’t perceive themselves as participating in the enslavement of women. And reading this blog post by this woman definitely heightened the feelings of douchiness. But at the same time, it’s difficult (for me anyway) to deny that elements of ownership are, if not the defining characteristics of heterosexual marriage, at least a big part of it.  That makes me very uncomfortable. And if marriage is something that I want in some distant future,  I’ll be forced to grapple with all these issues at that time.  So I’m getting a head start.

Feminism for thee but not for me

10 Mar

Image used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user angela7dreams

This article by Jonah Goldberg in the LA Times is what is keeping me up tonight. Titled, “Where feminists get it right,” it is the definition of condescending man explaining.  It is condescending on two counts: First, Mr. Goldberg writes as if he just stumbled upon this previously unknown gem called  feminism, and as arbiter of all things relevant and important, is here to give it his seal of approval. Worse still, he engages in the “feminism for thee but not for me” hypocrisy, which belittles members of the developing world by claiming that their cultures are sooooo horrible that they desperately need (Western) feminism.

The article is about how feminists are right to object to a number of oppressive things which happen to women in developing countries, like the practice of ironing young women’s breasts in Cameroon, for example. The beginning  is harmless enough: he discusses a number of troubling cases which highlight the myriad ways in which women are generally seen as subhuman across the world. There’s even a really nice line in the piece, when he writes, “I don’t know a social conservative — and I know many — who doesn’t agree with radical feminists when it comes to recognizing the barbarity of female circumcision, wife-burning, breast-ironing, etc. ” Thanks for giving us your approval Mr. Goldberg, it’s good to know that we’re on the same team.

But this being an article also written by the dude who wrote a book connecting contemporary liberalism to fascism, we can’t just end there. So he writes:

“Feminism” is a loaded word in the United States because it carries so many controversial connotations. Professional feminists often insist that they have a monopoly on the word and its meaning, which forces lots of people to reject the label. Conservatives are the most obvious example of that, but many young people, including very “liberated” young women, avoid the term because they think it means rejecting any traditional understanding of motherhood, courtship, etc.

But if you can lay aside all of those worthwhile arguments about Western society for a minute, the simple fact is that “the feminists” are absolutely right when it comes to the treatment of women in much of the developing world.”

Uh oh, it just got real Oriental up in here.  Let’s take a look at what he just did there, shall we? In the first paragraph, he basically says that while feminism is desperately needed in the developing world, where all these atrocious things are happening to women, it’s pretty much irrelevant in the Western world. Why, because “professional feminists” keep insisting that feminism have some meaning, and you know, actually be a coherent movement that can’t just be co-opted by whatever group that wants to sell a product, political candidate, etc. And I find it incredible that Goldberg talks about why otherwise “liberated” young women hesitate to call themselves feminists without acknowledging that social conservatives have been going around for years equating feminists to Nazis, babykillers, shrews and every reprehensible thing you can think of in the world. (Sidenote, who or what liberated these young women? Oh wait, we can’t acknowledge that feminism was successful). Nevermind that he completely misses the point of feminism, which is not to proscribe traditional courtship, motherhood, or any of that stuff, but to give women an existence and identity that isn’t solely defined by it. Dude, haven’t we been through this before, like thirty years ago?

But the second paragraph is what really drives me crazy. Goldberg decides that while conservative arguments against feminism are completely “worthwhile” in Western society, objections to feminism in the developing world are not.  Ah yes, the  “feminism for thee but not for me” attitude that is totally pervasive in the Western world.  It’s strange how people who don’t support economic and political equality for women in the US are all about “liberating” women in other countries, and were the first to talk about how oppressive the Taliban was to Afghan women.   Yet, in a culture in which 1 in 6 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, Americans can hardly pretend that they are light-years away from those “other” countries in terms of their treatment of women.  This is not to equate the issues that women in the West face in comparison to women in the Global South, because that would be misleading. However, it’s equally misleading to pretend that all the myriad indignities that women face in this culture aren’t connected to the same system of female oppression that finds expression in honor killings, femicide, and all those things we now (erroneously) associate with the developing world. Patriarchy is patriarchy, the only thing that changes is how it manifests itself.

The last issue I have with this article is that even in its faint praise of the benefits of Western feminism, it still misses the point, that it’s not about Western feminism! In each of the countries he mentions, like Afghanistan, there are vibrant feminist movements that are challenging the subjugation of women and are claiming their right to be treated as fully human on their own terms. Goldberg seems to be really proud of the fact that he has recognized that feminism can be useful when used to tell those other people how to treat their women, all the while being completely ignorant of the fact that the women in those countries can do it for themselves, thank you very much. Moreover, there are many instances in which Third World feminists don’t agree with Western feminists about fundamental things like what is and isn’t oppressive, and how to go about empowering women.

And that’s okay! Because feminists don’t just care about exporting American values, but actually care about women’s empowerment, which starts with respecting their right to claim their own autonomy. But that isn’t what Goldberg is interested in. What’s clear is that he and other conservatives are only okay with feminism in its most limited form, when it serves the “higher” purpose of advancing American imperialism and more broadly, advancing the myth of American exceptionalism. The gist of his article is: America is so great that we don’t even need feminism, but boy do those other countries! And that’s feminism for thee but not for me, which is a type of feminism that we could all do without.