Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beauty ads in feminist articles

Don't you love how posts that are supposed to help with self-esteem contain ads or links that do just the opposite?

In the following picture, an article on helping children value thier inner beauty is accompanied by a link to another article called "How to get Victoria Beckham's Legs" at the top and centre of the page.

Girls' self-esteem will not be helped by tips on how to get the best-looking legs possible. Also, I think that we should move away from the term "inner beauty" and use an entirely different word. The concept of inner beauty as being something that we should strive to achieve suggests that the word "beauty" is important, and I don't think that we can ever move beyond dominant conceptions of beauty while using this word.

Similarly, this is one of my favourite feminist blogs, called feministing, but it has ads on the top of it; this particular ad being for eliminating belly fat.

I am guessing that they don't get to choose who advertises on this space. I am also quite sure that the writer of the article about girls' self-esteem did not pick the articles that are linked on that page. But it annoys me that this content can be so difficult to avoid, even when reading articles or blogs that are considered to be feminist and are actually trying to fight against these problems.

murderers, occupiers and mobsters, oh my!

I couldn't sleep last night, so I turned the tv on and the news was playing. I almost never watch the news, but last night I decided to keep it on while I tried to sleep. A news story about hackers came on that I found particularly annoying. The video is here, but I'm not sure how long the link will work for.

First, they showed a person using a smartphone, then went on to talk about the dangers of web connected cars; apparently hackers can unlock them or even apply the brakes when you are driving. Seriously, I'm not sure which hackers with the sophistication to break into car computer systems are going to want to apply the brakes to your vehicle. But, be afraid, relatively wealthy people with computerized cars, very afraid.

Here is where it really pissed me off. Check out this quote...
far more dangerous are the threats to embedded medical devices. A hacker could stop an insulin pump, turn it on, and drain all of it's contents. Banks are also being warned about the occupy movement, that they might team up with so-called hack-tivist groups
So, they bring up the occupy movement right after talking about a way that this hacking could be life threatening. They don't actually link the two together, but they definitely do not break up these to sections. So you go straight from thinking about how hackers can kill people to learning that the occupy movement might team up with hackers.

Then, just in case we aren't afraid of the occupy movement yet, the next sentence goes on to talk about crime syndicates getting your banking passwords, and how we can protect ourselves against these cyber threats.

So, murderers, occupiers, mobsters. Great links to make.

Those in power are afraid of occupiers, so they have to make sure that everyone else is too because if they weren't afraid of us, the system as we know it would have to change.

Thanks CTV news.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crossdressing as a form of humor

This post is inspired by criticisms of a new sitcom (here), that I am actually not going to talk about at all, but figured that I would mention...

Yesterday, when I arrived at daycare to pick up my kids, two boys (about 10 years old) were dressed up as girls, wearing sleeveless dresses and high heeled shoes from the dress up bin.

This, in and of itself, is not a problem. I love when kids play dress up, I have a wide array of dress up clothes in a dress up toy box at home and there are no gender rules when it comes to who can wear what costumes. The problem that I had was with regards to how they were wearing the clothes, the way this was seen as humorous by the other kids, and the reasons behind this humour.

At first, I tried to tell myself that it was the element of it being unexpected that was funny to the kids... like when I make used to make my kids laugh, as toddlers, by putting one of their toys on my head like a hat or by using a shoe like a telephone and pretending to be confused when it didn't work. But I think this is more than that... little girls at the daycare dress up in men's clothing all the time, wearing suit jackets and ties or a variety of other outfits that are gendered as masculine. I have yet to witness this being seen as funny. But as soon as these boys came out of the change room in dresses and heels, the daycare exploded in laughter.

If femininity was equal to masculinity within society, this would not be funny. It becomes funny for boys to wear strapless dresses, high heeled shoes, and to walk with exaggerated hip motions because femininity has less value than masculinity, and the children at daycare know it.

I'm not saying that drag is misogynist, I love drag for a variety of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post, but I am mentioning this to differentiate someone who is gendered as male dressing in ways designated for females as a joke and those who do it for reasons related to gender identity, expression, or to expose problems with the gender binary (among other reasons).

I believe that for someone who is gendered as a male to dress in female clothing for humor (with some exceptions)is not unlike a white person wearing blackface; it is someone from a dominant group making fun of an oppressed or marginalized group.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution this specific issue would be... I don't think it would be appropriate or helpful for daycare workers to enforce gendered dress up rules; gender policing would make things worse, not better. But I do think that education could help, try to teach children why it isn't funny. I also think that the only real solution would be to end patriarchal social relations that lead to this being funny in the first place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gender and Sleds

I was looking at sleds for a possible christmas gift for my children, and was annoyed with the gendering of these sleds. There were a total of 12 sleds at the department store I went to; one was wooden, one was a pink and purple Dora the Explorer sled (meant for young girls) and the other 10 were various "boys" sleds... Bakugon (if you don't know what this is, consider yourself lucky) Spiderman, Ironman, and other such comic-type characters that I did not recognize in battle ready positions. Apparently girls don't go sliding as much as boys.

Even the helmets for when they are sliding/snowboarding, had only one option meant for girls, being disney princess (which my 9 year old has outgrown) and tons of "boys" options. Luckily, one of those was a rather plain black and white one that I felt was relatively non-gender specific.

Also, I am wondering what the implications are regarding the infantalization of girls, as Dora is geared towards preschoolers whereas comic books are typically meant for older kids.

Now, I have nothing against getting my daughter a spiderman sled, but my son would think it was for him and I'm not sure my daughter would like it... she's all about the pink and frilly. She rides her brother's Marvel comic book sled all the time, but I'm not sure how she would feel about owning one. It seems as though it doesn't matter how much I tell them that these products are needlessly gendered, I am only one voice, and their peers and the media tells them otherwise.

I am not advocating for making a bunch of pink sleds for girls to ride... All I wanted was a sled in pretty much any colour that didn't appear as though it were being marketed only to children of one specific gender. I'm sure I can research it online and get the kind of sled I am looking for, so I'm not posting this looking for sled advice, just commenting on the annoying gendered sleds.

Friday, December 16, 2011

psychology today on vaginas

I saw an article entitled "15 crazy things about vaginas" through facebook that i thought of writing about, then a friend brought up the article in conversation, and I decided to go ahead with this post (found here)

Here are a few comments on some of the points.

1. Pubic hair is not just a biological accident that forces us to the waxing salon. It serves three critical functions. First, it protects the delicate vagina. Second, it serves as a reproductive billboard to alert potential mates that you are biologically (if not emotionally) prepared to procreate. And last, it's a pheromone carpet and traps the scents that lead potential mates to the promised land. So you might think twice before you shave it all off. It's there for a reason. Embrace it.

So, the first reason, which seems to be the most important is talked about in passing, without saying how or why it protects... but sociobiological arguments that have nothing to do with how we currently have sex are emphasized and appear to be more important.

3. The average vagina is 3-4 inches long, but fear not if your guy is hung like a horse. The vagina can expand by 200% when sexually aroused, kind of like a balloon. Remember, the vagina was made to birth babies, so it's exceedingly
elastic. If you have pain when getting it on with someone large, you can use
dilators to help stretch the vagina so you can accommodate the whole package.

Hetero-centric. Vaginas exist for penises. And if the penis doesn't fit, the answer isn't to have different types of sex, but to learn to accommodate it.

5. Yes, it's true -- your vagina can fall out. Not to belabor the sock metaphor, but it can turn inside out just like a worn out sweat sock and hang between your legs as you get older. But don't fret; this condition -- called pelvic prolapse -- can be fixed.

Isn't that a pretty thought? So many things that we can talk about without having to make women's bodies seem even more disgusting... warn out sweat sock? Really?

6. Vaginas have something in common with sharks. Both contain squalene, a substance that exists in both shark livers and natural vaginal lubricant. (Cue music: "She's a maneater...")
Ewww... vaginas are disgusting... and psychology today is misogynist. I'm not sure how they get away with the maneater comment.

7. You can catch sexually transmitted diseases even if you use a condom. Sorry to break it to you, but the skin of the vulva can still touch infectious skin of the scrotum -- and BAM! Warts. Herpes. Molluscum contagiosum. Pubic lice. So pick your partners carefully.

This is the first practical thing that was said, but again, very heterocentric.

8. The average length of the labia minora is less than ¾ inch long (yes, someone got out a ruler and measured 2981 women). Only 1.8% of women have labia longer than 1 ½ inches. But remember, every vulva is different and special. Some lips
hang down. Some are tucked up neatly inside. Some are long. Some are short. Some are even. Some aren't. All are beautiful. You're perfect just the way you are.
If you don't want to make one type seem preferable to another, why use words like "neatly"? Also, they tell us what normal is with statistics and measurements and everything, then say not to worry if we aren't normal. If we don't want to worry about not looking "normal", why tell us what "normal" is in the first place?

11. Only about 30% of women have orgasms from intercourse alone. The clitoris is where the action is. Most women who do orgasm during sex have figured out how to hit their sweet spot, either from positioning or from direct stimulation of the clitoris with fingers.


13. Vaginal farts (some call them "queefs" or "varts") happen to almost all women at one time or another, especially during sex or other forms of exercise.
So don't be embarrassed if your hooha lets out a toot. You're perfectly normal.
I don't not trust anyone that refers to a vagina as a hooha.

15. Safe sex (or even just orgasm alone) is good for you. Benefits include lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, reducing your risk of breast
cancer, bolstering your immune system, helping you sleep, making you appear more youthful, improving your fitness, regulating menstrual cycles, relieving menstrual cramps, helping with chronic pain, reducing the risk of depression, lowering stress levels, and improving self esteem. So go at it, girlfriends!

I'm confused about the separation of safe sex and "even just orgasm alone". To me, this gives an assumption about what counts as sex (vaginal intercourse)... I think it should say something more like "sex and masturbation are good for you." Also, why is it "just orgasm alone"... prioritizing certain acts above others? Maybe this is unintentional, but this kind of language can shape how we think about sex.

This is an example of why I sometimes really don't like psychology as a discipline. The idea that these medical "experts" get to shape so much of what we know and how we know it. The underlying assumptions in this article, such as heterosexuality and what counts as sex, never have to be explicitly stated, and come to shape what we "know" and how we think. Hopefully this pop psychology is far worse than academic psychology. Also, I don't mean to offend psychologists as a whole because I know some that do fantastic work and I know some sociologists who do terrible work.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Would you like fries with that diploma?

This is a comic I made for a zine, using my campus map and attempting to turn it into a factory pumping students through on a conveyor belt to McJobs or unemployement.

I have been reading and thinking a lot about privatization within universities lately. Maybe not universities so much as within the particular institution that I currently attend. In the almost 6 years I have been here, I have seen so many changes occur, and like many academics, I am getting increasingly concerned about the future of my program and university educations more generally.

I have done a few presentations lately on the cuts within the university, and the main point that I have been trying to get across is that this is an organized attack on the quality of education and the quality of jobs on campus in the name of profits.

My university, like many others, has been changing from a public institution of knowledge to a private service where students purchase a degree and investors purchase research. Within neoliberalism, an attack on the idea of public goods is rather typical -- whether it be education, health care or social services -- the idea of publicly funded anything is counter to neoliberal ideologies, and for the wealthy to become as rich as possible these ideals must permeate into other areas of our social worlds.

With regards to employment on campus, there have been many changes. The highest paid positions are increasingly becoming even more high paid (our president just recieved a $79,000 wage increase) and the lowest are becoming even lower paid (from full-time to part-time). The combined salaries of the 10 highest paid people in the university are higher than all 240 GTAs combined. This past summer, 25 unionized positions were cut, as they were deemed redundant, and yet they are being replaced by contract workers. There are rumors that there will be another 25 jobs cut this coming summer.

The cuts to services on campus have been terrible. We went from having 6 counsellors to 2, and there is currently a 4 week wait to talk to someone. Tutoring services used to be free for all students; now they only exist for those with special needs and the rest of the work falls to GTAs and professors. There used to be a shuttle to take students around campus, as the parking lot is quite far from some of the buildings and it is sometimes -40 degrees in January and February, but this shuttle was cancelled despite rising parking costs.

My undergraduate program was quite small. When I started, there were about 10 full-time faculty and several sessionals. Last year, there were 6 full-time faculty and many sessional professors. Next year, it looks like we may only have 2-3 full-time faculty as well as fewer sessionals than in previous years. We are also be one of the only sociology programs that I have heard of that does not have a (non-sessional) female professor!

If these were strictly cost-saving measures, as the university claims, cuts would be felt across the board. There would be no raises or bonuses for upper admin, and there certainly would not be more upper administrators right now than there was 3 years ago.

One of the reasons I think this is happening is because of the change from universities being run by academics to them being run by business people. The current president was just named one of Canada's top 40 people under 40, and has a background in business. He does not have a PhD, and has no experience teaching in universities. How can we expect that the needs of educators will be met when those making the big decisions are not educators, but business people trained to make a profit? Our university is not a corporation, and I resent it being run like one.

Another consequence of this is what happens to academics. Academic freedom is lost. Researchers only take up certain types of studies because searching for knowledge is no longer funded. Those that speak out against certain companies or corporatization more generally can be reprimanded as it can affect corporate donations. So, business friendly administrators receive profit and power while employees see eroding wages and working conditions and students see diminished quality and access.

The only way to fight back against an organized attack like this one is with a coordinated response. Students and workers will have to work together across campuses if we expect any kind of meaningful change.