Stone Butches and Lipstick Lesbians: Gender Role Construction in the Works of Ann Bannon

butchbannerBefore the days of Facebook and Twitter, lesbians were largely confined to meeting in bars or in secret, and they had few sources to link them to a broader community. Logging onto the Internet these days, one can literally find thousands of websites and social media groups dedicated to helping lesbians from across the country and around the globe forge a sense of virtual community.

Although we live in an age of hashtags and electronic tablets, many of us still read bound stacks of paper called books. Lesbian pulp fiction still has meaning for both young queers who are just coming out of the closet, as well as with lesbians from an older generation. What is it about these dated stories that both younger lesbians and those who made the journey to Stonewall find compelling?

One explanation is that younger lesbians are turning to these artifacts of the 1940s and 1950s to gain a sense of a separate lesbian history. In particular, what these books teach us about the construction of gender roles within lesbian relationships is a key component in that history. One of the most pervasive questions that helps one to identify her place within the lesbian community is “are you butch or femme?” Although these gender roles are hotly contested (some say they don’t even exist), it is my contention that they still serve an important function for lesbians of all walks of life. Lesbian pulp, then, is a means of tracing the development of butch/femme roles that is difficult to find outside of oral histories. [Read more...]

Size M and the Islamic Veil: Thinking about Freedom and Submissiveness in Western Culture

The classic mainstream media encourages diets, while trivializing thinness with retouched photos of celebrities who are already thin. These images at least partly meet the fantasies of Western men, showing women getting younger and thinner, and increasingly close to the body of a young girl.

Meanwhile, the West perceives the Islamic world as a separate place where violence against women is intensified and secular, a late and barbaric world concerning progress of democracy and gender equality. This post is not about issues related to history and geopolitical contexts in the Islamic world;  rather, the point here is to highlight the gap in perceptions of and by the Other. It consists of a cultural gap that distorts reality and thereby causes a wrong image about some aspects of women’s condition in the Muslim world. This cultural gap has been the subject of Le Harem et l’Occident (2001), a book by Fatema Mernissi.

This does not compare the two types of society and what would be the best, but instead highlights some specific elements of women’s condition according to the context and looking at how individual choices of resistance and mass submission may be present in both contexts.

Misunderstandings about the freedom of women
Originally, the word “harem” means “forbidden.” But for Western men, it represents a kind of orgiastic place where unhindered men succeed in a miracle by enjoying a multitude of women they enslaved. This false image of the harem was developed by European artists during the early modern period; in revenge, Muslim artists did not hide the fact that this is a place of confinement and that women who lived in the harem were aware of being oppressed. [Read more...]

Feminism and The Politics of Choice

Today’s guest post comes from Juli Myers, a middle-aged trans woman who lives west of Phoenix. Originally from the Amish Belt of central Pennsylvania, Juli is new to Arizona, new to writing, new to activism, and new to being a woman.  Juli regularly blogs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.  In Juli’s opinion, Arizona is amazing; blog writing is as enjoyable as she thought it would be; activism is full of too many cranks; and she’s loving the hell out of transitioning.

This was supposed to be an essay about sexuality, and it was going to be until I read something this morning that discomfited me a little bit.

In one of the groups to which I belong, a rather long conversation thread was carried out regarding the objectification of women. A series of photographs which were done as part of a protest portrayed scantily clad women (as well as men), and these pictures were published with cutesy slogans. The pictures of overly attractive, under-dressed people were the hook, and the captions were the message. By about a 3:1 margin in this group discussion, this use of sex was seen as gratuitous and demeaning to the women in the photos and, presumably, to all women everywhere.

There was some give and take in the discussion. Interestingly, it seemed that the few who voiced the opinion that there was nothing wrong with the use of sex to make a point felt compelled to almost apologize for expressing their views. Indeed, while they were willing to be conciliatory about their side of the argument, the contrary point of view did not defend as much as aggressively pursue their side.

The argument for the anti-sexuality side appeared to boil down to a few key points: the use of a woman’s sexuality is sexist; any use of a woman’s body that appears to emphasize her sexuality is exploitative; a woman may not feel empowered by using her sexuality in such a way; if you disagree with any of this, you are not a feminist.

My problem with this argument? I disagree with every one of those arguments against the use of sexuality, and I DO consider myself a feminist. [Read more...]

French feminists to “Mademoiselle”: “au revoir!”

French feminists are really on fire these days. Coming off the whirlwind of visibility they generated following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal and investigation, French feminists are taking on a new issue: the title “Mademoiselle.”

The goal: ban the word from state and corporate paperwork.

Why? French feminist organizations, which have launched full-blown campaigns against the term, argue that it is “sexist and condescending.” Origins of the word range from “silly girl” to implications about a woman’s virginity, and most officially whether or not a woman is married. And although similar English terms are more closely associated with martial status in America, in France “Mademoiselle” is associated with a woman’s age, thus making it a term actually preferred by many women.

Surprisingly there is currently no French equivalent to the term “Ms.”

Feminists in France are taking to the streets to create awareness about the movement in a similar way that American feminists pushed for the acceptance of the term “Ms.” in the 1970s. It took years for the effort to be seen as important even by many feminists, but it eventually became one of the most poignant symbols of the women’s liberation movement. Fair pay acts, widened educational opportunities, abortion access and greater legal protection for women quickly followed.

There are those who criticize feminists for making something like this a priority. Terms like “Mrs.” “Ms.” and “Mr.” are such a regular part of every day life that they almost become invisible and it is hard to see where the impact takes place. However I would argue that it is this pervasiveness and the actual simplicity of the issue itself that makes it so vitally important for women.

Something as closely related to a person’s identity as their name has significant, even if indirect consequences on an entire society. Requiring a woman to choose between two terms forces her to be instantly recognized by others by her relationship to a man instead of a whole and complete individual in her own right.

Bravo to French feminists for taking this issue on and I send you all the well wishes in the world. And a friendly reminder to my American feminist peers: always insist on being referred to as “Ms.” Be bold, go as far as to correct those who use it. By doing so you are taking an important stand about how women should be viewed and treated.

What Does Feminism Mean?

Last Saturday, I posed the question “what does it mean to be pro-choice?”  Today I want to ask you all what feminism means to you.

I first started calling myself a feminist when I was fifteen.  This was back in 1995, and it was my sophomore year of high school.  In 1995, Hillary Clinton spoke before the Beijing Women’s Conference and boldly declared that women’s rights are human rights.  I remember thinking, “uh, yeah they are.”  And I bravely stepped where no one in my family had stepped before – the feminist movement.

Back then, I defined feminism as equality.  I used to think that equality and feminism were “the radical notion that women are people.”  I still think that, but my interpretation of feminism has expanded, although the definition is still the same. [Read more...]

A Few Words About the “Unspeakable” Word

Jenny Diski had a really interesting piece in the most recent New York Times Magazine, about the word cunt. At least, I’m 99% sure that’s what the “unspeakable” word was that she very cleverly referred to throughout her essay; the Times’ style guide considers the actual word too crude to be printed.

Among the various points raised was the tension between the “grenade of the four-letter word” and the potential to neutralize a charged word by using it in everyday conversation. Cunt isn’t the only word that fits into this equation; fuck, shit, and several of George Carlin’s other seven dirty words have also been in the hot seat. Yet cunt is almost universally held to be one of the most offensive words in the English language, only able to be verbalized as the c-word or the ridiculously cutesy C U Next Tuesday.

I think it’s time to reclaim “cunt.” What should be so insulting about something that means female genitalia (specifically, the vulva)? Is the dislike of the word symptomatic of a larger unease with female sexuality? There’s certainly ample evidence that our culture is more comfortable with terms for male anatomy than female; look at all the euphemisms for male masturbation, and then try to think of even half as many for the female equivalent.

[Read more...]

When Does Defining Your Sexuality Matter?

I think it’s fair to describe myself as a pretty sexual person. Before I met my current partner, Jason, and got married, I identified my sexuality as bisexual because I thought it was the only “don’t really care” category of human sexuality. But since then I’ve learned a lot more about myself, gender and sex. If I were to define my sexuality today, I would identify as pansexual or omnisexual.

I say “if” because this thought recently occurred to me: Does defining my sexuality matter anymore? [Read more...]

Defining Feminism: The Political versus The Personal

Palin v Steinem

Since Sarah Palin claimed the label feminist there has been quite an uproar about who can and cannot claim the term and what the term actually means. For feminism to be inclusive and therefore true to its basic goal of fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, it has to have a flexible and malleable definition. It is for this reason that Palin was able to claim the term, and still stand by her opposition to abortion and comprehensive sex education amongst other seemingly un-feminist stances.

This blog, however, makes a brazen statement about feminism in its title alone. It claims that to be feminist is to be pro-choice.  In the dualistic sense this means that if one is pro-life that one cannot be a feminist.  How can feminism be malleable and have a narrow definition?

The conundrum of feminism is that it has a personal and political definition and they are two separate entities.  When a politican claims to be a feminist they are claiming support for a specific set political ideologies.  The personal use of the word has much broader definitions and is used in a social context.
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How Do You Change Oppressive Gender Dynamics in Your Own Family?

I am currently visiting my family in Utah. I love my family, but the gender dynamics in their household have really got me down. My stepmom works a full time job, then comes home to cook dinner, water the garden, and clean up after my dad and brother. My dad and brother both work full time, but that shouldn’t excuse them from contributing to the household chores. It’s easy to dismiss the dynamics as being part of the Mormon culture, but that is simply unacceptable in my opinion.

I was really angry about this last week, but I decided not to run my mouth about the patriarchy. I have found that my family members just roll their eyes when I say things in anger. But this week I’ve spoken up. I’ve asked my dad to give my stepmom a night off from doing the dishes. I’ve suggested that my brother should be responsible for his share of the household work. And I’ve offered to help teach the men folk how to cook a simple meal so that my stepmom doesn’t have to cook on Sundays. All of this has fallen on deaf ears.

How do you change oppressive gender dynamics in your own family? It’s far easier to petition voters to protect reproductive rights than it is to talk about the patriarchy within our daily interactions with family members. Part of that is that familiarity breeds contempt. If a stranger slams the door in my face when I ask them to vote for a pro-choice candidate, it doesn’t hurt as much as a family member telling me that I’m “just a feminazi” when I ask them to pick their shit up off the floor. I don’t think that my dad or brother intend to be sexist. But they just assume that it is women’s work to clean the house and cook the meals. Boy wouldn’t they be surprised if my stepmom ever decided to go on strike? [Read more...]

Judith Butler Protests Homonationalism

Feminist theory icon, Judith Butler caused a scene a Berlin Pride in Germany last week by refusing to accept their “Courage” award and calling the organizers out for being associated with Homonationalist movements/sympathizers. You can watch the speech here (she’s speaking in German, so you’ve got to read the subtitles). When a friend posted this link on facebook I had to read it for two reasons, the same reasons I share it with you… [Read more...]