Archive for Humorless Feminist

I’m pretty sure I won that debate.

Mr. Neil Dan wrote right back yesterday, and we got into a lengthy e-mail exchange, which he eventually quit when he ran out of justifications. His first response called my objections “reasonable and predictable,” and hit several of the anti-feminist posts, including “The woman in the ad also wrote and directed the ad [read: so it must not be sexist],” “OF COURSE women have value beyond their sexuality . . . but the point is to get people’s attention,” and “If this ads save women’s lives, I think it’s worth the minor tremble in correctness.”

I dutifully went through the Feminism 101 spiel: Yes, it can still be sexist if a woman writes/directs. The point is always to get attention, but some ways of getting attention are unacceptable (see PETA ads for further examples). Terming something “politically correct” is an easy way of dismissing an issue without having to think about its very real effects on people’s lives. To which last point Dan wrote back, “I am affected. I personally am sooo tired of being objectified for my beauty and rock-hard abs. I’ve got a brain, you know, ladies!” (He did apologize quickly for that, at least.)

“You’re waving your first-wave feminism at me and I can’t do but shrug helplessly,” he complained. Poor Dan. It must be tough when some bitchy 19th century broad calls you out. A brave soldier, he quickly rallied. “I think this ad actually subverts male objectification,” he argued. “It uses the visual grammar of porn and filmic eroticism not for the gratification of the viewer but as an explicit demand that the viewer act. It also suggests that there are human beings behind the breasts, human beings who get sick.”

O RLY? I called bullshit. “It demands that the viewer act to save that which gratifies him, like putting another quarter in the peep show slot ensures you get to keep watching. It suggests that the breasts get sick, and obscures the human beings behind them.” I suggested that in order to be actually subversive in the way he describes, the ad could juxtapose images of hawt boobs with images of mastectomy scars, or dying young women.

Abandoning his “but it’s subversive!” argument, he returned to The Ends Justify The Means. “Those sorts of ads have been done to death, pardon the expression, and their effectiveness is debatable, esp. when it comes to invincible-feeling young women.” He then pulled the Good Samaritan trump card. “This is just one approach to bring attention to breast cancer. It is, after all, breast cancer awareness month.”

“I’m all for breast cancer awareness. Just not at the expense of those most likely to suffer from breast cancer, i.e. women,” I wrote back.

I haven’t heard from him since. Call me, Dan!

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In which I write an angry letter.

Dear Mr. Neil,

I’m probably wasting my time writing to you about this column, because, let’s face it, you’ve already written me off as a “bluestocking” and “the morals police” (I’m pretty clearly neither a psalm singer nor a family focuser). I’ll just get right to the heart of what irks me here, and you can either listen with an open mind or scoff, whichever feels better to you.

This may come as a shock, but women have value beyond their sexual appeal to men. Breast cancer is a problem because it kills women, not because it makes them less sexy.

You liken this ad to one in which a shot of a woman’s “ample bosom” gives way to an x-ray of her diseased lungs. Good shock tactic, that. So if they really wanted to make a point about the unsexiness of breast cancer, they’d follow up the shot of bouncing breasts with pictures of mastectomy scars. But that would be somehow going too far, wouldn’t it? That’s a little too unsexy. Thus, boobs and statistics it shall be.

“These ads make the equation explicit: More breast cancer equals fewer awesome breasts. Brilliant. Where do I send my check?”

Sincere question: did this ad actually inspire you to send a check? How much did you send, and to what organization? See, that is probably the worst problem with this ad. It’s cute, it’s funny, it plays into people’s comfortable sexism and objectification of women’s bodies, and it won’t do a damn thing to help breast cancer research. Because cancer – even cancer of the ta-tas – isn’t cute and it isn’t funny, and no one is going to laugh at this ad and then sit down to write a check.

“If these sexy cancer PSAs do nothing else, they underscore the notion that we’ve moved beyond blaming the victim.”

You are wrong, sir. If these sexy cancer PSAs do nothing else, they underscore the notion that women’s lives only matter as long as they are sexually appealing to men.

Oh, and kudos, by the way, on this insightful statement: “the earnest, sad-violins spots invoking moms and grand-moms of the past probably haven’t gained much traction among men.” Until I read this, I hadn’t realized that only women had moms and grand-moms.

UPDATE: Mr. Neil Dan, since he’s addressing me by first name, wrote back, calling my responses “reasonable and predictable,” and using an ends-justify-means defense. We are now engaged in an e-mail back and forth. Let’s see where it goes!,

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Forty Days against women’s health care

Those of you who follow Bitch, Ph.D. may already be aware of this, but for those who aren’t, here’s the nutshell version:

Operation Rescue plans on protesting women’s health clinics all over the country for 40 days, starting 23 September. You might wanna call your local clinic, if it’s on the list–mine is–and offer to help in whatever way they need it.

There’s a clinic less than seven miles away from me on the list. I called the same day the above was posted, but the clinic manager was unaware of the Operation Rescue harassment plan. I filled her in, gave her the web address for the list of targeted clinics, and emphasized my desire to help. She said she’d call me back. She didn’t. I called again a few days ago. The manager couldn’t come to the phone, so I left my name and number and reiterated that I wanted to support them. No call back.

At this point, I’m not sure what to do. If there’s an organized counter-protest afoot, I don’t want to undermine it by starting my own thing. On the other hand, how can I find out if there is one at all if no one will call me back? I can’t figure out whether they’re not returning my calls because they think I’m a sneaky pro-lifer trying to get inside information, or because they’re just too busy, y’know, providing health care to women (crazy thought, right?).

What I’d like to do is start a Pledge A Protester website* as a fundraiser for the clinic, whereby people pledge a certain amount – 10 cents, 50 cents, a dollar – per anti-choice protester. The more people who show up for Operation Rescue, the more money the clinic brings in. It doesn’t look too hard to set up (thank the gods for the “view source” button), and it shouldn’t step on anyone else’s efforts if other things are being planned. Does anyone here have any experience with something like this, or want to offer their web expertise in case I need help?

Any other ideas for how to support a clinic that won’t call me back?

*Linked Pledge-a-Picket website is for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pennsylvania. Feel free to contribute to them, or wait until I get the Los Angeles one running – if indeed I can get one running at all. I’ll keep you updated on that.

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Babies are so uncool.

One thing that really grates on me is hipster hostility toward parents and children. The linked article is maybe not the best example, since I agree with the writer’s basic point that the Kickbee is a dumb-ass idea, but I find the tone of the piece obnoxious. Berman codes her ire carefully as aimed specifically at “yuppie” parents, but the bullshit alarm goes off when you consider that Berman, a 20-something Salon writer living in “the upper-middle-class baby factory known as Brooklyn,” is pretty much just as yuppie as her targets. Lady, I’m not better than you because I have spit-up flecking my jeans, and you’re not cooler than I am because you don’t.

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A follow-up in search of solutions.

KS wrote in comments below:

So my question is, how do we support individual women in their choices while still disseminating correct (and important) information about breastfeeding, and how much should we be responsible for our own reactions to that information?

I think these are great questions. I do believe it’s important to own your decisions, and if you decide to formula-feed, at some point it’s up to you to be okay with that and try not to feel offended by factual information. I hate seeing the “breastfeeding nazi” boogeyman come up, as it inevitably does in these discussions. I think most lactivists truly are trying to deliver important information to a vulnerable population – pregnant women and new mothers – and they don’t have the corporate backing or financial interests working for them the same way the formula companies do.

Of course, there are also some completely judgmental jerks around, and it’s okay to smack them down when they get all snippy about your personal choices.

What do you all think?

(Notice how I lazily avoided addressing the first question? Don’t be lazy like me! Brainstorm!)
(OH also yes I am dying of the pre-election suspense and DO NOT FORGET TO VOTE PEOPLE.)
(Unless you’re voting for the other guy, in which case, please forget.)

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Breast is best, but formula’s fine? Question mark?

So far, from the perspective of nearly eight months of parenting (does it count as sixteen if I have two babies?), it seems nothing divides us quite like the issue of breastmilk vs. formula feeding. Over and over again, on various parenting forums and e-mail lists to which I belong, the battle is waged, and over and over again I am bemused by the hostility. I think it’s sad that, as parents – and particularly as mothers – we feel so defensive about our choices and methods, especially when it comes to feeding our children. This is not to say I don’t understand why we’re so defensive – I certainly do, and as a breastfeeding, formula-supplementing mother of twins, I’m far from immune to those feelings.

Formula-feeding moms often feel bombarded by the “breast is best!” slogan, which is so ubiquitous that it even appears on cans of formula. They We feel judged and found wanting, and they we are not crazy for feeling that way. When I started carting Robin and Wren around in public, I was regularly asked by strangers, “so, are you nursing them?” I didn’t tell those people I was supplementing with formula; I simply said “yes,” and let it go, though this kind of interrogation felt aggressive and intrusive.

But why do people feel entitled to ask the question at all? It’s valuable to have some perspective on the history of feeding babies in this country.* Formula was created in the late 1800s, something close to what we have now was developed in the 1950s (at which time over 50% of babies were already being fed on evaporated milk formulas), and by the 1970s, over 75% of babies were fed on commercial formula, due to a variety of social pressures and successful marketing by formula companies. So the push for breastfeeding, not unlike the push for natural birth, is relatively recent, and is no doubt sometimes pushed hard because of the ingrained institutions and corporate interests it’s pushing against.

On the other side, there is a lack of real support for breastfeeding. Women regularly have to fight for their right to feed their babies in public, or for safe and sanitary lactation facilities at work. A woman at my office was surprised I was nursing at all, and made a horrified face when she found out I was planning to nurse for at least two years, saying “That’s too long!” A pediatrician condescendingly told me that he knew it was important to me to breastfeed, but . . . and left the implication hanging. Despite what seems to formula-feeding moms to be an overwhelming pro-breastfeeding message, as of 2003 only 36.2% of mothers were still nursing at all at six months.

It’s so incredibly hard to feel secure in our own choices as parents, because god knows it seems everybody and their dog on the street feels they could parent our children better than we can. There is extensive research that says breastmilk is best, but that doesn’t mean that formula is inherently damaging or that using it makes you a bad parent. In a perfect world, everyone would have the physiology and the support necessary to create a healthy breastfeeding relationship. In reality, the alternative shouldn’t be chronic guilt and defensiveness.

*I specify this country because the breastmilk/formula debate takes on whole other dimensions in less industrialized places.

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Wait issues.

Like most women, I haven’t always been kind to myself. In fact, there have been times in my life when, were such things possible, I really ought to have packed my bags and left me, slamming the door and vowing not to come back until I got some help. Instead I had to ride out those awful years, and thank the gods I did, because now I have a pretty great life and some cute babies to boot. (Not that I boot my babies. That would be wrong.)

One of the ways in which I treated myself poorly had to do with weight. You name the eating disorder, I had it, or at least flirted with it. Or maybe just gave it my phone number when I was drunk, but I probably picked up the phone when it called. After college, I thought I was done with all that, but then graduate school came along. I needed money and a flexible schedule, so I started modeling, and, well, I’m sure you can guess how good that is for the ol’ body image.

I got out of the beauty business in 2003, taking a big pay cut for the sake of my sanity. I moved out to LA, home to every homecoming queen, and tried to get used to life beyond looks. And I was doing pretty well. Then I got pregnant with twins.

Let me just say, I loved my pregnant body. I had trouble gaining the recommended amount of weight, which I worried about loudly while being secretly, shamefully pleased. I sincerely did try, eating ice cream and avocados and olives and lots of meat. But each time I stepped on the scale and saw the needle hover only a millimeter above its previous reading, a nasty little voice in the back of my head congratulated me. Eventually I did gain about forty pounds, and I was proud of that.

Now, though, it won’t go away. I’ve lost about twenty-five pounds, while fifteen more cling to my butt and my stretched-out, wrinkly belly. My face is rounder than it used to be. And I am struggling to be all right with this. Because old habits, like cliches, die hard, and my instinct is to crash diet this squishiness away. But I am nursing and have a low milk supply; now is not the time for me to diet. (Oh, and that old saw about nursing being the best way to lose weight? Not so for everyone, as it turns out!)

I have made a promise to myself that I will not seriously try to lose this weight until I’ve stopped nursing. I could embark on a sensible, nursing-friendly weight-loss routine, but I’d be risking a precipitous tumble back into the waters of Crazy, and it’s not worth it. Still, accepting my body as it is is hard for me. Harder than even I would have anticipated.

Wren sleeping on Mama

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