Archive | Feminism

Does This Laptop Make My Butt Look Big?

pinklaptop.jpgThe bluetooth doodad thingy that I use in the car has been malfunctioning: it works, but then when I turn it off, I have to re-set the doodad so that it can “find” my phone, which, of course, can’t be done when I’m driving. It’s aggravating but I’ve been kind of living with it (who has time or inclination to go find another ear doodad, really?)

Husband searched the web and found a deal on an earpiece, which arrived in this morning’s mail. I thanked him (so lovely to have a tech assistant, isn’t it?), put the package on the floor next to my desk, and went about my day. That night, when Husband came home, he said “did you try it?”

“What?” I asked, mind on dinner and dishes and homework.

“The earpiece, did you try it? Does it work?”

“Uh, no. I don’t need it until Thursday, when I drive to work, so…” Husband sighed and returned to his email.

And there it was: the gender-tech chasm, running right across the apartment floor. He didn’t understand why I wouldn’t immediately want to fiddle with this new doodad, see what it can do, tweak it and tinker with it, set it up with my phone. I can’t understand why I should futz with it until I have to. And then when I do futz with it, I just want it to work.

Luckily, Dell, the computer giant, has decided to create a bridge across that chasm: this week, they’ve launched, a site designed to help women with their technology choices.

The home page features attractive women holding even more attractive laptops, all with stylish cases; there are directions for how to recycle your tech (isn’t this something men want to do, too?), a spotlight on a woman designer who works for Dell; and a list of “seven unexpected ways a mini can change your life.” Did you know that a mini be a recipe finder, diet guide, and provide maps to restaurants? (Women, apparently, are very interested in both eating and not eating.)

Your mini-laptop can even provide free guided meditations, for those times when you can’t make it to yoga but can find the time/place to have your laptop tell you to listen to your breath (rather than to your laptop’s “free tweakable online task manager”).

Now first of all, there are lots of women who have crossed the gender-tech chasm, and whose tech savvy puts everyone around them to shame. (For an academic’s take on tech, digital media, and gadgetry, try Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolesence, just for starters.)

And second of all, doesn’t seem to want to help women be more tech savvy; it just wants us to buy the super cute polkadot laptop sleeve, and maybe the matching tote.

Finally, if this site is Dell’s way of trying to sell more laptops to women, does that mean that the “regular” Dell site is the “male” site? Or will Dell start to proliferate like the Gap did – babydell, dell women, dell men, dell kids?

The mind boggles. In the meantime, my ear doodad is still in its box. I’m hoping Husband will set it up soon.


Continue Reading · on May 11, 2009 in Feminism, Gender, tech life

Lost in the twilight

Book_jacket_of_Twilight.jpgI’ve been hooked, bitten, seduced, sucked in, pulled under.

Ever since last Tuesday, more or less, I’ve been living in two worlds: Manhattan, and Forks, Washington.

Yes, it’s true. Stephanie Meyer, the sweet-faced Mormon Mom from Arizona, author of the Twilight series, can now count me as one of her readers.

It shouldn’t have happened this way. I mean, I’ve got a doctorate, fer crissake! In literature!  I’m supposed to read books like Twilight with an ironic sneer, with a knowing wink-wink at the cognoscenti to indicate that I’m reading these fat books with their sexy red, white, and black covers just to stay in touch with pop culture.

Truth be told, that is how I started – a colleague and I are having a “book chat” with a group of first-year college students about Twilight and then taking the group to the movie. So when I got my copy of the book, I figured if nothing else I’d get a little insight into the world of the YA reader. An adult friend of mine had started the first book and hadn’t gotten past the first few pages, so I wasn’t expecting much.

That night I read until 1:30. The next night until 12:30. Then I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the other three books (two of which are still in hardcover).  This detail matters because I’m a get-it-on-reserve-in-the-library gal – if any more books take up permanent residence in our apartment, we’ll have to move out.

Not this time. Plunked down my money, grabbed my books, and went home to my small fractious children (one of whom had strep throat last week, one of whom was home on a school holiday). I proceeded to let them both watch the telly (usually verboten in our house until that dark hour after dinner and before bedtime) so that I could READ. AND READ. AND READ.

I finished the fourth book Friday night.

Sunday I started the first one again.


Don’t get me wrong. These are not well-written books. The Jack Reacher thrillers, by Lee Child, for example, are probably better written, and the great Donna Leon detective stories, set in Venice (thanks, Sean, for telling me about those), have characters who are infinitely more “real.” In Meyer’s books, characters say things like “I love you more than everyone else in the world combined,” which, while perhaps an accurate transcription of how a 17 year old girl might  talk, doesn’t make for profound insight.

And yet – I am obsessed. Maybe I was an easy target: I’ve always been a bit of a vampire junkie, ever since I was a little girl sneaking to a friend’s house to watch “Dark Shadows” (which gave me horrifying nightmares for months, but that’s a post for another day). I loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which had much more interesting, complicated things to say about gender relationships than does Twilight. But even though Buffy’s sensibility is closer to my own, the show never enthralled me the way these books have. Even that other pillar of vampire pop culture, Interview with a Vampire, which I read when I was about thirteen, didn’t hook me like Twilight has,

So here I am, a middle-aged woman with several advanced degrees, completely enamored of an alternate universe in the Pacific Northwest, where vampires and werewolves and shape-shifters live among us, going shopping, going to the prom, and driving really, really hot cars. 

My real life – that pesky pile of student papers on the floor, the email stacking up like planes at Newark, the laundry that threatens to spill into the hallway – seems intrusive, almost rude. Vampires don’t have laundry or dishes or dust or bills or children with strep throat.

Meyer paints a fairy tale about an ordinary girl beloved by an extraordinary being, although this fairy tale has quite the kicker: to keep the prince, you have to sacrifice your soul

And it’s tempting, I have to say. Maybe that’s because I’ve not quite come to terms yet with that whole “soul” question, but from where I’m standing, it looks like an easy trade: sacrifice my soul, which may or may not exist, in order to get: eternal love, exquisite beauty, an extraordinarily well-mannered lovah (as Sarah Jessica P would say), lots of money, loads of free time (no time spent sleeping, you see, so plenty of time to learn a language, travel, paint, write, study). What’s not to like?

Meyer sweetens the pot even further by making her vampires “vegetarians”  (their joke): they have sworn not to kill humans, only wild animals. Thus the whole “blood-sucking” thing becomes a little less hard to swallow (sorry, couldn’t resist). I mean, if you’ve ever ordered steak tartare in a restaurant…

So is it just the fairy tale? Is that what has led to the series’ enormous success and the huge buzz around the movie? Is that why I’m feeling a bit befuddled these days (or maybe I’m getting strep, who knows) – a case of fairy-tale-itis?

There is more for me to think about here, in part because I’m vaguely appalled that I’ve been recommending that people read these damn books. But I can’t write any more tonight. I’ve got to go re-read book three.

Continue Reading · on November 16, 2008 in Books, Feminism


mrsolsen.jpgYesterday I overheard two of my female students discussing their Halloween costumes:

Student 1: …it’s like slutty cop, but with fishnets.

Student 2:  Where’d you get fishnets? I need them for my devil costume, I’ve got these great high red boots…

After that I walked away, not wanting to hear how else the high red boots were going to be accessorized.

I indulged in a brief bit of head-shaking – had these girls no shame! is this what feminism brought us – girls dressed like strippers in the name of empowerment!

Then I remembered a long-ago Halloween and my mother’s suggestion for a costume: “You can be Mrs. Olsen the coffee lady! A cardigan, some powder in your hair, we’ll get you a can of Folgers…”

She was thinking ease-of-costume-making.

I wanted to be a gypsy, with eyeliner and long jangly earrings.If I’d owned red boots at the time, I would’ve worn ’em in a heartbeat – and I’m sure my mother would’ve had the same reaction as I did to my students.

Clearly I’ve already got my costume for this year’s Tricks or Treats: I’ll be going as my mother and probably wearing a cardigan.

Continue Reading · on October 31, 2008 in Feminism, Parenting

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


nytimes_palin_rosie.jpgI promised myself that I’d stop writing about Sarah Palin because frankly, what more is there to say? 


Then I saw this photo in the Times this morning and I got cranky all over again. What’s that line from “The Godfather III”? Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in….


The sloganeering posters in this photograph are another reason why access to Photoshop should be regulated: here yet again is la belle sarah, but this time instead of the guns-and-gals image, her head has been superimposed on Rosie the Riveter. 


What’s wrong with this picture? 


First a few facts:


Rosie the Riveter started as a promotional campaign that encouraged women to enter the work force during World War II, mostly by tackling the manufacturing and industrial jobs that had been vacated by men fighting overseas.


Women were told it was their patriotic duty to sacrifice the comforts of home for the rigors of work and they answered that call in droves: over six million women went to work outside the home during this period, an unprecedented rise in female employment. The work they did wasn’t glamorous, “feminine,” or domestic, but it was absolutely necessary: these Rosies kept the wheels of US manufacturing moving during the war years. Many of them worked in factories that produced the necessities of war for soldiers: bombers, tanks, weaponry.


Here is a less glamorous picture of women welders, by Margaret Bourke-White:



It’s a slightly different image than pretty Rosie with her bulging bicep, but equally at odds with Pretty Palin, who probably HAS gotten dirty in her life (hard to field-dress a moose and stay moussed), but who always has a weather eye out for the best camera angles.


What does Sarah Palin have to do with Rosie the Riveter? As mayor, governor, and now veep candidate, she presents herself as a woman who can have it all, but she has never worked for any of the necessities that working women need:  health insurance, pre-natal care, affordable safe child-care, flexible work schedules. Call me crazy but I’d say that even stay-at-home-moms need those things, too.


I know that Palin had a full-time nanny when her kids were younger, and I find myself wondering who scrubs her toilets, washes her clothes, cleans her house? Does she do it, perhaps on one of those days when she’s at home in Anchorage but billing the people of Alaska for the governor’s work she’s not doing in Juneau? Does the First Dude do dishes?


What do Palin and McCain have to do with Rosie the Riveter?  McC & P carry forward the policies of an administration that encouraged people to SHOP in support of the war effort.  Never once have we been asked to make any sacrifices to support the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistant.  


Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a big fan of sacrifice but it does seem we’re asking a relatively small percentage of families to support the war at the cost of the flesh, blood, and mental health of their children, shouldn’t the rest of us do SOMETHING? Maybe, oh, I don’t know, try to become more fuel efficient?


What do Palin and McCain have to do with Rosie the Riveter?  Rosie’s image and her “we can do it” slogan have been linchpins of the feminist movement for as long as I can remember.  I have seen Rosie’s face bobbing up and down at pro-choice rallies, at Clinton rallies, at “Take Back the Night” protests.  What do Palin and McCain have to do with any of these things? 


I can think of only one way to connect Sarah and Rosie: when women worked in the manufacturing plants, they earned roughly half what a man did for the same job. Men earned about $55 per hour, women about $32.  Would Sarah have settled for the Alaska governor’s job if her salary had been that much less than that of her male predecessor? Somehow, I think not. Sarah has Rosie (and the legions of feminists who followed in Rosie’s workbooted footsteps) to thank for that.


Sarah may be riveting her right-wing supporters but to the rest of us? She’s just a pretty face pasted on a poster.  Pure P.R. intended to assuage Republican moderates that McCain is, in fact, a with-it maverick, who “gets” women and knows what they need.  But if his examples are Cindy on the one hand and Sarah on the other, then what McCain “gets” about women wouldn’t fill Rosie’s upraised fist.




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Continue Reading · on September 15, 2008 in Feminism

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