Book Summary: Feminist Theory by bell hooks

For one of my classes this summer, I had write annotations/summaries for several books.  I enjoyed many of them and I thought that the annotations might be useful for other people, so I will be posting them here.  They’re somewhat rough, but considering how much everyone loves when someone at FtB posts about feminism, I doubt it matters.

This is one of the more important pieces of feminist writing, and it is very critical of the feminist movement at large.  I think it is a useful resource for the skeptic/atheist movement because it addresses the problem of contention within a movement.  The discussions and infighting within the feminist movement parallel very closely the kind of discussions and blindnesses and privileges on display with the atheist movement around questions of race and gender.  She also addresses the problem of being a minority within a minority — something that women in the atheist movement deal with.

hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.

Question(s) Investigated: What is the role of black women in the feminist movement, and what has it been?  What can be done to make feminism work towards ending all oppression, not just that of upper-class white women?

Time Period: Originally published in 1984, about the feminist movement in the 70s.

Geographic Region: US

Subjects studied: The intersection of gender, race, and class and their interaction with capitalism.  The importance of including all people in social movements.  Education, Parenting, and Violence.

Place in the literature: Considered a very important piece for pushing the feminist movement to be more inclusive of men, people of color, and different classes.  hooks also argued against women being separatist and that sexism negatively impacted men as well.  She criticized the movement for focusing on small goals and not systemic change.  Essentially, she saw the limits of contemporary feminist theory and addressed them.  Established hooks as a key figure in feminism.

Abstract:

The book begins immediately with her key argument, that feminist theory and feminism as a movement has been led by middle to upper-class white women who ignored the plight of poorer, non-white women.  In her first paragraph, she criticizes Betty Friedan, not because white women didn’t need liberating, but because Friedan ignored the problems that the majority of women faced.  hooks comes back to this later in the book, but one of her main arguments is that work is not liberating, it is oppressive, and the white women who sought careers to get out of the home ultimately found that work and capitalism were not fulfilling, as lower class women who had always had to work already knew.

She goes on to talk about how not everyone is oppressed equally, and it has been the least oppressed women who have set the goals and tone of feminism.  “Being oppressed means the absence of choices.  It is the primary point of contact between the oppressed and the oppressor.  Many women in this society do have choices…” (5)

White feminists have ignored the needs and causes of black women or treated black women with contempt, and so black women have not been pushed away from the movement.  Black women are the only group that has no “other” – black men and white women both have privilege over black women (16).

One of the main problems with feminism has been its willingness to accept small victories rather than to push for large change.  hooks argues that “society is more responsive to those ‘feminist’ demands that are not threatening, that may even help maintain the status quo” and reforms often reinforce “capitalist, materialist values (illustrating the flexibility of capitalism) without truly liberating women economically” (23).  The movement cannot be about small, personal goals, but about changing ideology.

Minority women often reject the feminist movement in response to the white bourgeois leaders.  hooks’ main argument is that capitalism supports an oppressive paradigm generally and being a feminist shouldn’t mean excluding other fights against oppression.  In other words, feminism should be one part of a broader anti-oppression ideology.  The system hurts everyone.

There is no “hierarchy of oppression” but “[s]exist oppression is of primary importance not because it is the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination most people experience…” (36).  Sexist oppression occurs within family units, the hierarchy of sexes can be introduced before exposure to people of different classes or races happens.  Feminists have argued for the elimination of the family unit and that is problematic for black women, who get a great source of love and support that they cannot get from institutions richer, white women have access to (39).

The idea of sisterhood of women is important, but the white bourgeois version insists that all women are equal, while hooks believes the movement must learn to accept and embrace differences and except that there is no sameness (44).  They must also drop the victim mentality (45).  The rest of the chapter rehashes this idea in various ways.

(From pages 54 – 67 there is a very interesting discussion on the idea of minorities within minority movements.  The discussions and infighting within the feminist movement parallel very closely the kind of discussions and blindnesses and privileges on display with the atheist movement around questions of race and gender.)

Chapter 5 focuses on how important it is to include men in the feminist movement and how sexism hurts men as well as women.  In the feminist movement, there has been some push for complete separation of women from men, which is neither realistic or possible, relationships between women and men are important to many women (79).

Chapter 6 focuses on power and how white bourgeois women have focused on increasing the power that women have rather than examining how problematic power is because it depends on dominating others (85).

Chapter 7 goes back to the idea that work in a capitalist society is not necessarily rewarding and is often exploitative and that white women insisting that working was a key to liberation made no sense to the poor women who were not liberated and already had work.  There needs to be a new system and women need to learn not to devalue their own work and low-wages are considered a sign of personal failure in this culture (105).

Chapter 8 introduces the importance of education and how many poor women and many people of color are not literate so the feminist focus on transmitting ideas through writing necessarily was exclusive (109).  Although the feminist movement has been interested in education, it has been interested in higher education not teaching basic skills like literacy.  There is also a tendency in black feminists to be anti-intellectual, to think that theory doesn’t matter, while white feminists in the academy often neglect to understand real world problems when they create theory, both sides need to learn to embrace the other.

Chapter 9 discusses the feminist movement’s attempt to end domestic violence, which is a way of establishing dominance.  Related closely to the previous chapters on power and on how sexism hurts men, this chapter focuses on how economic exploitation makes men feel powerless despite the fact that they are told they should be powerful (118-119).  They take the resulting frustration out on their home life rather than at work.  The entire culture is violent, including women.

Chapter 10 discusses parenting and the movement of feminism away from dismissing motherhood as something that stops women from achievement towards embracing it.  This shift has made black women feel more welcome because family life is very important to them.  The problem now is that motherhood is being romanticized when the reality is that men still do not contribute equally and society as a whole doesn’t provide infrastructure for taking care of children – children need a community and are not individual possessions (145).

Chapter 11 is about sexuality and sexual freedom.  The feminist movement was successful in creating a world in which women could be sexual but didn’t remove the stigma that came with women who were openly sexual (151).  It also didn’t remove heterosexism – the lesbians in the early feminist movement were known as the “lavender menace” (152-153).

Resources used: There is a very long bibliography, it focuses heavily on works written within 10 years of the publishing of this work.  Much of what she cites is to point out flaws in seminal feminist works.  Key works cited, in style of book:

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 1963.

Brown, Rita Mae. “The Last Straw,” in Class and Feminism. Eds. Charlotte Bunch and Nancy Myron. Baltimore: Diana Press, 1974, pp. 14-23.

Barber, Benjamin. Liberating Feminism. New York: Dell, 1975.

Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.

Boggs, Grace Lee and James Boggs. Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.

Morrison, Toni. “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” The New York Times Magazine, August 22, 1971.

Spelman, Elizabeth. “Theories of Race and Gender/The Erasure of Black Women,” Quest, Vol. V, No. 4 (1982), pp. 36-62.

Schechter, Susan. Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women’s Movement. Boston: South End Press, 1982.

News Flash: Sexism still a huge problem

The following is a screencap of a Facebook conversation happening right now.  It is a lesson in how not to be welcoming to women in the movement.  And I would like to point out that the person who is recievng this abuse is a woman in a position of power.  I cannot imagine what a girl who is not already a member of their group would think when looking at that.  Hey, would you like to join our group, I promise to tell you if you’re hot or not.

Zack Fowler, ladies and gentlemen:

For those who cannot see images, the conversation goes as follows:

Kelley Freeman: Hi SSA at EKU! I’m Kelley and I’m the Volunteer Network Coordinator for SECAA (Southeastern Collegiate Atheist Alliance) and a leader of the SSA affiliate at USC (formerly Pastafarians, now SSAUSC). I’m sort of in charge of helping to facilitate networking between groups within the region and such. I also operate as something of a ‘second’ for Gordon Let me know if you have any questions. SSA at EKU leaders are more than welcome to add me especially. :D

Zack Fowler: 10/10 would bang.

Kelley Freeman: Cool story, bro.

Zack Fowler: Figured you would need a pretty blunt greeting. We’re rowdy and crude and hungry for babies. You’re welcome to stick around and get nasty.

Kelley Freeman: Good to see this group is so welcoming to women.

Katherine Leonard: We’ve had a few feminism discussions now and then :p *thwacks Zack upside the head*

Zack Fowler: What makes me not welcoming to women?

Kelley Freeman: Dunno. Generally when I’m introducing myself with some professionalism, I don’t expect people to comment on my gender or looks.

Kelley is the very awesome president of my university’s SSA affiliate and someone who spends an unbelievable amount of time and energy working for the secular movement.  And this is the shit she takes from people who are on her side when she is trying to reach out to do her job… her job that she does as a volunteer.

This is what the problem looks like.  Can we please all agree that there is a problem and that we should be fixing it?

Everyone is a geek, even the hot chicks

You simply must go read this piece from John Scalzi, it is too brilliant. Some jerk on CNN posted about how the attractive women who just go to Comic Con to dress in revealing cosplay outfits aren’t real geeks and are only there to get the attention. John Scalzi has an appropriate response, which was more intelligent than my initial, “Fuck that noise.”

Who gets to be a geek?

Anyone who wants to be, any way they want to be one.

Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it.

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

I am a geek, though I used to identify a lot more with that title than I do now.  A lot of the reason behind that is that I often felt excluded, like I had to prove my geekiness more because I was female and don’t look like one of the comic book nerds in The Simpsons.  Like I had to prove my geekiness at all.  I don’t like Magic, OK, I’m not into your card games, isn’t that fine?  Can’t I just really like to talk about Harry Potter and watch movies and read graphic novels.  Seriously, someone talk to me about Harry Potter, I can go for days.  Not even joking.  Let me link you to my old fanfiction — LOL nope.

Do I have to know how to tap mana and build roads in Settlers of Catan and know who the Cylons are?  Cuz I don’t really know any of that stuff, I probably just said all that wrong.  And I absolutely hate playing RPGs like D&D because other people are so damn slow at making decisions.  KILL ME NOW.

I’m still a geek though.  I’ve spoken at Comic Con, so I’m legit.

Geek culture is male dominated, and that’s fine, but it often means that it’s less than perfectly female friendly.  And there is a general sense of “oppression from being different” that many geeks have, a sense that normal people are bad.  Normal people are preppy or cheerleaders or cool and they’re all mean to geeks.  But somehow a lot of geeky stuff is mainstream now, and instead of being all HOLY HELL LOOK AT ALL THIS AWESOMENESS some of the “hipster geeks” are all like “well I was a geek before it was cool”.  OH BLOW ME.  Let us all be people who embrace weird shit and share our passions with one another!  Even the cheerleaders who like Twilight and the jocks who like Game of Thrones.

More awesomeness from Scalzi in the comments:

As with any culture, its aspirations are sometimes confounded by the real live people in it.

Brad R. Torgersen: “I think Joe Peacock is simply expressing despair over the fact that to be geek is now chic.”

If only he could have done it in a manner less antagonistically sexist.

Lila: “I’m curious: do people ever accuse a male of just pretending to be a geek for attention?”

I have yet to hear of such a construction.

I’m serious. I want to give this man a “fighting sexism in geekdom because it’s the right thing to do” medal.  Is that a thing?  Can it be a thing?

Being a bitch or bossing up?

I’m going to be honest here and admit that I have no idea who Nicki Minaj is — I’ve heard the name, but I don’t know her music. But this video, which is quite old, makes me love her dearly. Also, why can’t I have pink hair?

I’m a human beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeingggg

“When I am assertive, I am a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind bossed up, but lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”

And she goes on to talk about Trump versus Martha Stewart.

Also, I can’t hear the word boss without also thinking of this completely unrelated music video.

Book Summary: Enlightened Sexism by Susan J. Douglas

For one of my classes this summer, I had write annotations/summaries for several books.  I enjoyed many of them and I thought that the annotations might be useful for other people, so I will be posting them here.  They’re somewhat rough, but considering how much everyone loves when someone at FtB posts about feminism, I doubt it matters.

Susan J. Douglas is one of my new favorite writers.  She is clever, into pop culture, and one of the funniest academic writers out there.  Her book Enlightened Sexism is one I highly recommend if you are interested in television culture, Buffy the Vampire SlayerXena, or good writing.

Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done. New York: Henry Holt, 2010.

Question(s) Investigated: What do representations of women’s power in the media mean?  Is feminism’s work over because we see powerful women in the media?  How are women’s interests being harmed by the media?  What harm is done by spreading the belief that sexism is over and feminism’s work is done?

Time Period: 1990s-2000s

Geographic Region: US

Subjects studied: Media portrayal, stereotypes, equality, beauty

Place in the literature: This is a very recent book, but it is an important response to reactionary anti-feminism and claims that the world is post-feminist.  Despite many claims to the contrary, Douglas claims that feminism’s work is not done, and the lie that it is done has caused ground to be lost in the fight for equality.  Partially a call to action and partially a denunciation of those who claim that the fight is over.

Abstract:

CH1 – Teenage Girls
The focus here is that teenagers, particularly teenage girls, became an important demographic in the 1990s.  Beverly Hills 90210 became the most popular television show for young women in the 90s, along with shows like Melrose Place and Murphy Brown.  Depiction of women in these shows generally were stereotypical, either of superficial women who used sex to get power or women who were too busy with their careers to have lives. Women were always beautiful. Even in shows that were theoretically empowering, like Murphy Brown, employed tropes like motherhood was “natural” for women and careerism was not (40).

Interestingly, shows with strong female leads were highly rated, even when they did not have traditionally attractive women as leads: Roseanne, Designing Women, Murphy Brown, Murder She Wrote, and Grace Under Fire (43).

She also talks about Riot Grrrl, a rock movement from the early nineties that mixed punk with feminism, dealing with complex and troubling problems facing women, problems that were ignored by the mainstream.  The mainstream press did not appreciate that and were very dismissive, but the terms of the movement found their way into a sanitized mainstream version of “girl power” (45).

Douglas then goes on to talk about the magazine “Sassy,” which she is a fan of and which, frankly, I’m upset I didn’t have when I was a teenager, it sounds pretty amazing.  An article went backstage to reveal the codes used behind the scenes at Miss America: WC, H, BB for Weak Chin, Heavy, and Big Butt (48). The chapter also addresses the problem of being a teenage girl: “if they behave like true adolescents, they can’t be feminine, and if they adopt the mantle of femininity, they aren’t really adolescents.” (53).  The briefly powerful moments of Riot Grrrl and “Sassy” were immediately co-opted by major media outlets and tamed into something profitable and not good for women.

CH2 – Violent Women

Lorena Bobbitt in Vanity Fair

Framed within news stories surrounding destructive women like Lorena Bobbitt, Amy Fisher, Tonya Harding, and Janet Reno, this chapter focuses on the anxiety around changing/evolving gender roles.  The stories in the media reflected themes in TV and film at the time (56).

“Enlightened sexism rests on that ever-quaking and shifting fault line about female sexuality: it should be exploited and stoked (especially to sell products) but it should be policed and punished (to keep girls and women in their place)” (57).

I was 8 when Amy Fisher was news, and I never heard anything about it.  I was 9 when the Bobbitt’s were news and there were lots and lots of penis jokes.  I didn’t realize how young they were, she was only 22 when she attacked her husband.  Also, this is the picture I found of her when Googling:

CH3 – Warrior Women
This chapter is about Warrior Women like Xena and Buffy with whom “we saw the proliferation of a new kind of heroine, a sexy, mouthy, physically violent ass-kicker whose duty it was to save the entire world from really monstrous evildoers” (77).  In the 90s, feminist concerns had moved from explicit discrimination, particularly in the work place, to sexual politics and more subtle discrimination and personal violence (79).

And then there was Charlie’s Angels, which brought back women using their sexuality to defeat men.  And then La Femme Nikita, which included the line “there’s no weapon as powerful as your femininity” (95).  Dark Angel emphasized that female sexual desire was dangerous, by having the lead go into heat (96).

CH4 – Feminism as Ugly
Focuses on media that dismisses feminism as a thing of the past or unattractive.  Clueless heralded the beginning of female narrated films, but those narrations came with a focus on “girly” things like fashion and whether boys wanted them.  And this happened at the same time as the warrior women (104).  The idea of essentialism, that women and men were fundamentally different, was promoted (105).

She goes on to discuss Ally McBeal, which managed to be both feminist and anti-feminist; Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde, which were about balancing feminism with girliness; Down with Love, which implies that women aren’t really feminist they just want men to be good to them.

CH5 – Black Women
This chapter focuses on the black female power and how the media represents black women.  There’s focus on what she calls “Black Speak” and sass and powerful women’s ability to move from speaking white middle-class to speaking black.  This is escapist for white and black people.  The problem is that black women are represented as having power giving the impression that in the real world, feminism isn’t necessary.

Black women earn “62.5 cents to every white man’s dollar (in Louisiana it’s 48.9 cents to his dollar)” (130).  Even as representation of women got more complex in general, it embraced stereotypes of black women, such as in shows by Martin Lawrence (141) and crime shows generally (144).

Douglas writes at length about Oprah.  “Oprah and her audience construct a fantasy, a utopia where white and black women come together as allies and friends. And how many black women, besides Oprah, have launched a magazine named after them, featuring herself on the cover every month, and have it be a hit with white women?” (147).  Although Oprah herself is committed to helping people, she focuses on individual self-improvement in a world where not everyone with the will to succeed necessarily will, these problems “can’t be overcome simply by pulling up your bootstraps or finding your spiritual center” (150).

CH6 – Sex in America
This chapter is about American sex culture and how it focuses on women and very young ones at that.  There is a “culture that is prudish and pornographic – how’s that for a contradiction to navigate?” (155).  She introduces the idea of the “sexpert”, someone who is an expert at sex and openly talks about it – sexual empowerment got twisted into self-objectification (156).

Then she goes on to talk about very young girls who are exploited by the culture, including those on Toddlers & Tiaras (she drops the ampersand for an ‘and’) and the tragic case of JonBenet Ramsey (157-158).  She also addresses how horrible Cosmo and Maxim are in their advice to women.

CH7 – Television
According to her, “a close look at reality TV reveals it to be the ground zero of enlightened sexism” (189).  She discusses several different television shows and then, from pages 198-210 offers the top 10 sexism in action:

  1. Women are to be judged first and foremost by their appearance

“if you’re beautiful, you have it knocked – all else will follow. But at the same time they show us that we can never be beautiful enough… such shows provide an excellent selling environment for the multibillion-dollar diet and beauty industry…” (201).

  1. Women need to compete over men
  2. Women can’t get along with one another and will stab each other in the back
  3. Women are overly emotional and obsessed with relationships
  4. Women should be sexy, but not overly sexual
  5. The worst thing a woman can be is a bitch: strong women are bitches and rich women are bitches
  6. African-American women are lazy, threatening, have a chip on their shoulder, are not marriage material, or all of the above (except for Tyra Banks)
  7. Women (especially blondes) are shallow, materialistic, and live to shop
  8. Housework and child rearing are a woman’s domain
  9. Lesbians? What lesbians?

Reality TV resurrects these stereotypes, leads to approval of them, lets women know how they are judged on appearance.

CH8 – Dieting
This chapter is about the rise of diet culture and the mean girl culture.  Women failing to live up to the ridiculous standards of beauty, requiring extreme thinness and giant breasts, has lead to them being angry, and they turn that anger inward and towards each other rather than at the media (220).  She complains about the increased spending on cosmetic surgery and the focus on cosmetic surgery in television – I would point out that, like many medical fields, the technology and results have improved massively over time and the costs have come down, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to entirely blame this growth on a change in the media landscape.  It is certainly based on a beauty ideal that is unattainable, but that ideal has existed all along.

She then goes on to address the mean girl phenomenon, something that isn’t new and isn’t particularly widespread, despite the focus on it.  She argues that the focus is to create the idea that women themselves are the problem, not the culture, and women need to be put back into their place because they can’t do that for themselves (236-237).

CH9/CH10 – Celebrity Culture
These chapters are about celebrity culture and how obsessed the media is with controlling the femininity of women celebrities and politicians.  Magazines tear women apart for being too fat, too thin, too controlling, lacking children, lacking a husband, aging, and just about anything outside of the cultural model of perfection for women.  “Losing your man is a tragedy, but remaining childless is a thermonuclear disaster” she says of how magazines cover women’s family planning choices (259).  Meanwhile, women with political power give men like Tucker Carlson castration anxiety (269).  She then goes on to talk about the representation of female power in fictional television, and how it focuses on women who are in typically male jobs and not very feminine, rather than focusing on jobs where women usually work (279-280).

She also writes about the lack of representation of lesbians in the media, with the exception of the occasional straight girl make-out session (290).  She mentions Ellen and Rachel Maddow, but argues that their sexuality remains in the background, but I think that this isn’t true – they both speak often about LGBT issues and certainly their sexuality more openly impacts what they report on than most people with talk or news shows.  Her point about fictional representation stands, though.  The root problem is that lesbians are politicized and anti-consumerism (291).

Resources used:

Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (New York: Free Press, 2006)

Rosalind Gill, Gender and the Media (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2007).

Angela McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism (London: Sage, 2009).

Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer, How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

A. Susan Owen, “Vampires, Postmodernity, and Postfeminism: Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27 (Summer 1999).

Dawn Heinecken, The Warrior Women of Television (New York: Pete Lang, 2003).

Kristal Brent Zook, Color by Fox (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Laura S. Brown, “Outwit, Outlast, Out-Flirt? The Women of Reality TV,” in Featuring Females: Feminist Analyses of the Media, ed. E. Cole and J. H. Daniel (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2005).

Jackie Stacey, “Feminine Fascinations: A Question of Identification?” in The Celebrity Culture Reader, 252-85.

Amanda Lotz’s work in general

Social Justice and the Secular Community: a discussion

Me and fellow Freethought Bloggers: PZ Myers, Brianne Bilyeu, Russell Glasser, Ian Cromwell, Al Stefanelli, Justin Griffith, and Ophelia Benson discussing social justice issues place in the secular movement.

Secular Woman: National Organization Devoted to Women in Secularism

There is a new organization on the scene, and one that I am very excited about.  I hope it is successful, because it seems to be pulling together a lot of the things the feminists in the movement have been calling for.  The organization is focused on raising money to give grants to send women to conferences, much like SurlyAmy has been doing; collecting the sexual harassment policies for different conferences in one place, much like Stephanie Zvan and others have been doing; and developing a Speaker’s Bureau to encourage conferences to invite women, much like Blag Hag’s list of women speakers.

It’s not that any of those women’s efforts have been unsuccessful, but rather that the ad hoc collection of efforts from different women now has a centralized, official effort.

I also think it’s important that the constant arguments about this seem to have been making a huge impact.  Even the, in my opinion, completely wrongheaded attacks on Sexual Harassment Policies from thunderf00t and Todd Stiefel have been coming from a place of assuming that policies are good and necessary, just that they need to be less trusting of women’s honesty in reporting sexual harassment.

Through strategic partnerships, Secular Woman will also advocate for equal pay, reproductive choice, and marriage equality, addressing political trends the group sees as ideologically-motivated threats to its members’ freedom of conscience.

I have joined.  The first 25 student memberships are free, so if you’re a student, get on that!

Aren’t you making it up? – Why women don’t report harassment

There has been a lot of discussion about why women don’t report sexual harassment (Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina) and what they’re up against when they do, including hyper-skepticism over claims that are routine, mundane, and unsurprising.

I would like to present to you a comment I got today, which you can go find if you want, but I have no intention of linking to it or encouraging people to respond to it.  I want you to read it and keep in mind a few things:

  1. Unlike most cases of sexual harassment, I had several witnesses
  2. Many witnesses were willing to make public statements
  3. Although the report was incomplete, it was made as the harassment was ongoing, not afterwards
  4. It was not a complaint about a named person, no one is on the defensive
  5. It was not a complaint about a well-known speaker
  6. Many people in the community know and respect me, I am not unknown
  7. I have a public platform from which to speak

These things are not always true for a woman who is being or has been harassed and the following is a response I got with all of those things on my side.  Take away one or two or all of these and tell me what kind of response the average woman might expect to get.  And then tell me whether you’d find it worth it to make a report when you can expect this treatment from many other people.

Miss Miller, is there any actual evidence that the alleged harassment took place? Is there any actual evidence that “some other women” were harassed? Did you submit a written report of the alleged harassment to the conference organizers? Did the alleged “other women” submit written reports? Did any of you report the alleged harassment directly to “DJ”?

If the guy was so obnoxious for so long, why didn’t you ask someone for help? Why didn’t you ask for help right away if you were so repulsed by and uncomfortable with the guy’s alleged behavior? You say that someone from TAM’s staff eventually (but “so quickly”) intervened but you don’t say whether you asked for help or if someone just happened to come along and deal with the alleged situation.

You say that someone from TAM “made it stop” and that someone kicked the guy out but you don’t say exactly who it was who first intervened and how they knew you were being harassed. You say that you were told that “DJ himself” kicked the guy out but you don’t say who told you that.

You obviously think that TAM should consider what you did as a “report of harassment” but you don’t actually say what you did, exactly who intervened, whether you asked for help, who you talked to (either to ask for help or otherwise), and there are a lot of other missing, important details.

Another thing you said is that you were ultimately impressed with and proud of TAM’s staff for so quickly intervening. If they intervened so quickly, how could the guy have harassed you from room to room for so long?

You also make it sound as though “DJ” must have known about the alleged situation at the time but you don’t actually know that he did because you didn’t actually talk to him about it at the time, did you?

Exactly how would it make TAM “look bad” if you had gone “into explicit detail of exactly how gross the guy had been to” you? Who exactly would you have gone into explicit detail to about how gross the guy was to you that would have made TAM look bad? If you had gone into explicit detail with TAM’s staff, how would that make TAM look bad? If you didn’t go into explicit detail with someone on TAM’s staff at the time, then why did they intervene and kick the guy out? How would they know for sure what they were intervening with?

And another question: Do you expect the TAM staff or “DJ” to be psychic and to know what’s happening to you and/or other people at the conferences at all times, and to know what has allegedly happened to you or other people even though you and/or those other people don’t properly report it to the people in charge?

According to your own words TAM’s staff  took care of the alleged situation “so quickly” and effectively. That speaks well of TAM’s staff, which should demonstrate to you and all others that TAM’s staff deals with problems quickly and effectively as soon as they know about them. TAM’s staff can’t reasonably be expected to be psychic or to personally babysit every woman (or man) at their conferences. It’s unreasonable for you to blame TAM or “DJ” for something that you could have ended a lot faster if you had asked for help quickly and had properly reported it to the people in charge.

Is it wrong for ‘skeptics’ to be skeptical of non-evidential claims that don’t add up, and that weren’t properly reported to the people in charge of the conference?

Are you making up the whole thing?

On its own, it might just seem like a bad apple not worthy of notice, but I’ve gotten dozens of other comments here, on other blogs, on Facebook, and in e-mails that reflect the same sentiment.  And I knew I would get them.  Every woman knows she will get them.  Every time she speaks up.  Every time.  And sometimes it’s just exhausting.  It hurts a little, having to relive it and be called names and a liar, but ultimately it just makes you tired, completely bone-weary, and a little heartbroken.

Boobaversary: In Defense of Plastic Surgery

Two years ago today I got a boob job. I feel like blunt is the best way to start this conversation.

Plastic surgery is usually the butt of jokes, it’s what celebrities do to themselves that makes them look like aliens. Sure, there are burn victims and cancer victims who get cosmetic surgery, but that’s just to make them look “normal”. If you’re a “normal” person who gets plastic surgery, it’s probably because you’ve got too much money, are incredibly vain, or have no self-control when it comes to weight. If a woman gets plastic surgery, she is stupid and skanky. If a man does, he’s kind of gay.

If you’re a feminist, you are betraying your sex by succumbing to the cultural pressure of normative standards of beauty.

I am admittedly biased, but I think plastic surgery is great, why shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we want to with our bodies? Tattoos, piercings, hair dye, nose jobs, whatever… why isn’t this a great thing? My reduction is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I introduced my procedure as a “boob job” for a reason, because it was a more aesthetic and emotional choice than a medical one. Even though reductions seem to be more culturally acceptable than augmentations, the difference is simply the direction I moved on the size scale.

I was a 32H and it was making me miserable. They were uncomfortable, there were no clothes that fit me, I always felt like people were staring at them, and the bras I had to wear were incredibly painful. I would get sores on my shoulders from where the straps dug in.

I hated my breasts. Loathed them. In fits of pique I would daydream about getting breast cancer so that I would have a reason to get rid of them entirely. Let’s just say I didn’t have a healthy working relationship with them.

I was already a D cup in 6th grade. By the time I was in high school, there were no local stores that actually stocked bras in my size.  Open stares were not uncommon.  And then there were the comments, shouts, and open groping from strangers.  I was a freak.

It took me nearly a decade from when reduction surgery was suggested to me and actually going under the knife.  It turns out surgery is really scary and you find that people are going to think less of you if you have plastic surgery.

I can usually weasel out of it because I had a reduction and not some other procedure.  I still feel obligated to emphasize just how much I had to get removed, to try to justify it.  I feel the need to tell you all that there was almost no fat in what they removed, so having more control over my weight wouldn’t have made a difference in my breast size.  I feel obligated to assure you that it was absolutely necessary, that I had macromastia, but in reality, I would have been fine without it.  Just not as happy, not as confident.

And while getting smaller breasts wouldn’t generally strike people as trying to fulfill the normative beauty standards, I immediately looked as though I’d lost 20 pounds. I think I look way more conventionally attractive now, which means that I’ve engaged in a hateful act that some people think is morally equivalent to female circumcision.

“Slicing up the body to conform to a societal ideal is inherently a woman-hating act, whether the offending body part is the clitoris or thigh fat.”

On the other hand, I no longer look like I’m smuggling party balloons under my shirt.  I can run.  I can buy bras that cost less than $150, or I can even just not wear one!  I can wear normal clothing and I am not immediately perceived as slutty for having enormous tits.

I recognize that there are a lot of cultural specifics to what we consider beautiful, but  I wasn’t trying to please anyone except for myself.  I’m still a freak, but now it’s for reasons that have nothing to do with my appearance.