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Archive | Gender

because we all know that girls can’t do math, right?

Here we go again:


This t-shirt is for sale just in time for “back to school.”  Isn’t that just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? A girl’s t-shirt that tells her (and us) that she can’t do math but it’s not a big deal.

It’s funny, you know? I looked on the website for The Children’s Place and didn’t see a corresponding boys’ t-shirt that says his best subjects are…football, TV, and accidentally breaking things.  What would the unchecked box be….reading? writing? empathy?

A few weeks ago, I was in a children’s store–Gap, maybe, or Old Navy, something like that–and the boys noticed that the store was divided into the pink section and the non-pink section (Okay, they’re a little slow. Give ’em a break, they’re boys.)  When I said that the store marketers figured that it would sell more merchandise or something, Liam (who is 12), had a very succinct response:

“That’s stupid.”

We’ve weathered the ridiculous JC Penney shirts, the disgusting Victoria’s Secret underpants…and corporate America keeps right on swinging back, hell-bent, it seems, on sending the message that girls are…less than boys.  And, as Liam would say, “it’s stupid.”

You want a funny shirt? Try this:



Now that is a shirt any kid could wear, just in time for back to school. Funny–and grammatically correct.

Continue Reading · on August 6, 2013 in Children, Feminism, Gender, kids, Parenting, Politics, shopping

The F word

“You’re a feminist? But you’re so…calm!”

A male college student of mine said that to me years ago, when we were discussing Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s brilliant novella The Yellow Wallpaper, in which the female narrator slowly goes mad, due in large degree to the misogyny of the world around her.

I’ve never forgotten that comment, for several reasons, not the least of which is that no one has ever, before or since, accused me of being calm.  But his shock about the f-word has stayed with me too, because you’d have thought that by 1994, when I was teaching that class, “feminism” would no longer be associated with hysteria.

If it weren’t so sad, it would be almost funny, the way in which the stereotypes of feminists have remained the same for more than a century: a feminist is a shrill, man-hating, emasculating, humorless, ugly bitch with no fashion sense.


Wouldn’t you think we’d have come just a little further, baby?


And yet clearly, we haven’t come that far at all. My female students say “I’m not a feminist but….”  And then they say they expect equal pay for equal work; that they want to choose when, how, and who they want to marry; that they have control over their own bodies; and that they have a say in the government.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, my students from non-western countries where women cannot rely on being in charge of their own destiny are far more likely to define themselves as feminists.

As Grace Hwang Lynch wrote a few days ago, even people like Susan Sarandon and Marisa Mayer distance themselves from the term “feminist.” Mayer said that she’s not “militant” enough and doesn’t have “the chip on her shoulder” that feminists do; Sarandon said that people think feminists “are a load of strident bitches.”  Et tu, Louise?


Really? Strident bitches? I know that the history of feminism in the US has its ugly moments, such as the cynical calculus done by the white leaders of the suffrage movement to jettison the needs of immigrant women and African American women, in order to woo Southern Senators to vote for the 19th Amendment. And no less than Betty Friedan, in the concluding pages of The Feminine Mystique, ranted about the dangers of “the lesbians” who were going to destroy feminism.

Clearly, then, feminists are not angels and clearly the feminist movement has made some mistakes. But to be a feminist is not to want this:


What then, as Freud asked, do women want? Well, in the early 20th century, when women were all, you know, uncalm about suffrage, they had a list that looked like this:

Suffrage 3

Hmm.  Education, healthy food supply, workers’ rights…That’s absolutely a list compiled by a complete man-hater. I mean, only a strident bitch with a chip on her shoulder would make these sorts of outrageous claims, right?

Sarandon says she wants to call herself a “humanist,” and that’s all fine and hunky-dory because hey, humans are great. Everyone should be able to be a human, don’t you think?   The problem is, though, that gender matters. Just ask Malala, or Wendy Davis, or Lily Ledbetter. Malala wasn’t shot because she was a human trying to go to school but because she was a girl; Wendy Davis stood for eleven hours in the Texas capitol because someone had to speak for all the women whose autonomy has just been squashed by the (mostly male) Texas state legislature; Lily wasn’t underpaid because she was human but because she was a woman.

Two other less serious examples: Entertainment Weekly just put out an issue of the “100 All-Time Greatest” in movies, books, TV shows.  Of the 100 Best films? 97 were directed by men and of those men, all but two were white. The same ratio applies, more or less to the list of TV shows. Women fare slightly better on the list of authors: 29 (although Toni Morrison appears twice so really it’s only 28).  Forbes just put out its list of top earners in comedy: not one woman is on the list.

And for an all-time dispiriting–enraging–list, see the VIDA list of women in the literary arts. You’ll want to cancel your subscriptions to…well, to almost everything.

Okay. I can hear what you’re about to say: calling ourselves feminists isn’t going to change anything; it’s not going to fix these problems. But I think it’s important to see that these problems are not individual isolated cases but instead create a picture of a society in which women are consistently, constantly overlooked and unheard. And is that a society, or a world, in which we–men and women–want to live?

Here is an assessment of what might happen if women remain unheard for too long:

Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Abigail Adams wrote that to her husband John, in 1776.

I wonder if she’d be disappointed at our relative lack of progress?

The F word hadn’t been invented yet, but if it had been, she would have used it.

Calmly, of course.

Continue Reading · on July 13, 2013 in Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics, ranting, Uncategorized

underpants for the underage

I will not be the only blogger who writes about this latest “ooh aren’t we edgy” marketing campaign; there are bloggers with far bigger platforms than mine who will draw attention to the latest entry in the “How Low Will Corporations Go” sweepstakes.  You thought perhaps the JC Penney “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother does it for me” shirt was lame, right?

Is your daughter too pretty to do her homework?

And I imagine you weren’t real happy about the fact that Abercrombie & Fitch had a campaign to sell padded swim-suit tops…to 8 year olds. Because really, let’s start training these girls early that it’s all about the boobs, girls, all about the boobs–and thus every swimsuit should, without a doubt, resemble a personal flotation device. (You’ll be happy to know that the company altered the description of the swimsuit top from “padded” to “lightly lined.” Which totally makes it okay.)

But now? Now we may have a winner in the Tastelessness Sweepstakes. I present to you the latest line of underwear being marketed by that bastion of tastelessness, Victoria’s Secret:

It’s a whole new line of undies that seem designed not so much in the “delicate unmentionable” category as they are in the what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking category.  Here’s another beauty:

Victoria's Secret: Pull "Bright Young Things" From Shelves

Couldn’t a gal just, you know, text some guy her number instead of dropping trou to present her request?

The undies are part of the new “Bright Young Things” line being launched as part of the VS PINK line; the ad campaign features scantily clad girls women frolicking in what are being billed as “Spring Break Must-Haves,” which is why I guess the collection also includes some fabulous beach towels, like this one:

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old lady muttering into her hearing aid, I’d like to suggest that from meet to kiss there should be more than one step. It seems appropriate that a beach towel carries this message, which is about being utterly and completely passive: just recline and let things be done to you: be called, be met, be kissed, be pinked. It’s like the girl is some kind of puppy waiting to be adopted from the pound: like me like me like me, all tail-waggy and dewy-eyed. And let’s not even contemplate what “pink me”  means, shall we?

Oh I know, there we go again, we shrill humorless feminists, we mothers whose memories of youth vanished when we zipped up that first pair of comfy mom jeans. I mean, it’s just a towel, for god’s sake, it’s just a pair of underpants.  Reeeelaaaaaxxxx, right?

Or as this oh-so-clever article from E! Online (ever a reputable news source) says, “don’t get your panties in a twist.”  And here’s why we should all just chillax, according to the article:

Victoria’s Secret PINK is a brand for college-aged women,” the company said in a statement to E! News. “Despite recent rumors, we have no plans  to introduce a collection for younger women. Bright Young Things was a slogan used in conjunction with the college spring break tradition.”

So, in other words, they’re not trying to make teens too sexy before their time.

The misunderstanding originated when the company’s chief financial officer, Stuart Burgdoerfer, said at a conference, “When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”

The Bright Young Things just got caught up in the fray.

So no worries on the underpants front, folks, those sexy-pants messages are safe from your high school daughters.  Victoria’s Secret isn’t trying to turn 15 year old girls into sexy college students, absolutely not. I’m sure that store clerks will be carding their customers to ensure that no prepubescent lassie will be buying underwear that says “I Dare You.”

But hey, as “part of the magic,” I think that PINK should by all means encourage college girls women to emblazon sexual challenges on their scanties, and to splay themselves on beach towels that encourage objectification, passivity, and … pink-ing, whatever the hell that is.

Okay, sure, it’s just a stupid marketing gimmick and it’s just an overpriced pair of underpants that maybe don’t mean much. But the body that will wear those underpants? That body has meaning; that body has value.

Or at least, it should have value.  Unfortunately, the folks at Victoria’s Secret seem to have missed that point.


A petition to pull these pants off the shelves (as it were) is circulating the web; you can find the petition here.

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2013 in Feminism, Gender, growing up, Kids, Parenting, Politics, Products, ranting, sex, shopping, Uncategorized

Dear Eighteen: A Linkup with Chosen Chaos

Over at Chosen Chaos, Jamie has been running a series called “If I Could Turn Back Time,” in which writers are asked what they would tell their eighteen-year-old selves.  I posted this piece on her site a while ago, and now she’s doing a wrap-up week, inviting the entire year’s worth of writers to re-post their letters on their own blogs.  It’s hard to  re-post without tinkering and tweaking (or hiding information), but I’m going to sit on my hands and let this one go, just as it is.

Plus you get the picture of me at eighteen. Ah, the hair of youth:

 Dear Eigh­teen

You’re almost ready to go to col­lege and although you’re not really talk­ing to your par­ents these days, I’m hop­ing you’ll lis­ten to me.  After all, I’ve got sort of a vested inter­est in hav­ing you come through col­lege alive. The last two years of high school have been tumultuous, to say the least, and your par­ents are ter­ri­fied about leav­ing you alone at school half-​​way across the coun­try.  You keep insist­ing that once you get the hell out of the Mid­west, you’re going to be FINE, but I know that under all that hair and bravado, you’re also scared about embark­ing on this new stage of your life.

So do your­self a favor and before you go stomp­ing off to lis­ten to the Grate­ful Dead on your super-​​cool eight-​​track cas­sette player, just lis­ten to me for a few min­utes? If you lis­ten to me, maybe the next four years (and, er, three decades) will be smoother.  It’s true that some of this advice might echo what your mother has been say­ing to you all these years, but here’s my first piece of advice: your mother is a hell of a lot smarter than you think she is.  Try lis­ten­ing to what she has to say. 

Sec­ond piece of advice? Don’t bother bring­ing that eight-​​track player to col­lege. Trust me on that one.  

Now, a few other things:

I know you’re going to this single-​​sex col­lege under extreme protest and that you have every inten­tion of trans­fer­ring at the win­ter break, but please don’t do it.  Being in class with­out boys will feel like a huge rock has been lifted off your head: you have bet­ter things to think about than whether some boy has noticed you notic­ing him.

Now that you’re in col­lege, it’s time to bury “Dizzy Deb­bie,” the per­sona you adopted to sur­vive in high school. Remem­ber? Try­ing to hide that you were in 4th year Latin and AP every­thing else, pre­tend­ing you didn’t know how to work the com­bi­na­tion on your locker, never talk­ing about any of the things that mat­tered to you?  In col­lege, let your­self enjoy being smart. It’s a lot more fun than being ditzy.

In addi­tion to what you’re learn­ing in class, do your­self a favor and learn to say no. To drugs, to drink­ing, to stu­pid men, to “friends” who try to help you by point­ing out all your flaws and none of your strong points. And while you’re learn­ing about “no,” take a minute to learn this phrase “when she says no, it’s rape.” Remem­ber that night in high school, when you said NO and STOP but he laughed and kept going?  Yeah. That was rape. It shouldn’t have hap­pened and it wasn’t your fault. Take that guilt you’ve been car­ry­ing around for three years and turn it into anger that some football-​​playing jack­ass could do that to you and get away with it—brag about it, in fact, to his friends.

Once you find that anger, though, you’re going to have to let it go. If you don’t, you’re going to get stuck think­ing that sex is a power tool and not an expres­sion of inti­macy.  Men are not like ram­shackle old houses. Do not get your­self a “fixer-​​upper.” Please fig­ure that out now, and save your­self thou­sands of dol­lars in ther­apy, years of mis­er­able rela­tion­ships, and one bro­ken engage­ment (a nec­es­sary break-​​up, true, but bru­tal nonethe­less).  Yes, rela­tion­ships are work but being in a grown-​​up rela­tion­ship doesn’t mean end­less fights. Learn the dif­fer­ence between com­pro­mise and com­pro­mised; live with the for­mer but not the latter.

Don’t shake your head at me, Eigh­teen. Am I harsh­ing your mel­low? Bum­mer. Stop flip­ping your hair at me and lis­ten for a few more min­utes. Then you can get back to per­fect­ing your Farrah.

Actu­ally, let’s talk hair, shall we?  In a few years, when you’re study­ing in Eng­land, you’re going to be tempted to be a hair model at the Sas­soon school. Here’s where I want you to prac­tice that “no” we talked about ear­lier. You’re going to think “a model! How cool!” RESIST! They’re going to cut your hair really short and you will look like a brunette broc­coli.  The hairdo they’re going to give you requires scimitar-​​like cheek­bones, not a jaw­line that Churchill would envy.

Writ­ing kept you (mostly) sane dur­ing high school and it will con­tinue to be your great­est joy dur­ing col­lege, but then you’ll start studying for your doc­tor­ate and start hear­ing voices in your head. They’ll say things like “maudlin,” and “deriv­a­tive,” and “juve­nile,” and “under-​​theorized.” Tell those voices to shut the hell up. Keep writ­ing your own stuff, in addi­tion to your aca­d­e­mic stuff, so that you don’t have to wait until the inven­tion of some­thing called “blogs” to find an out­let for your ideas. 

It’s hard to imag­ine right now but you’re going to be both a wife and a mother.  And, fur­ther­more, you’re going to have boy chil­dren, not girls, which I know you think is totally nutty.  I mean tomato plants don’t sud­denly sprout beans, so how a girl body can give birth to boys is anyone’s guess.  But it’s going to be okay—you’re going to love your boys despite, and some­times even because of, their boy-​​ness.  In fact, you’re going to love your hus­band in much the same way—he can’t help that he’s a man, but you’re going to love him anyway.

That’s about it for now, I think.  Let’s review:  Be nice to your mother, stay in col­lege, say no to stu­pid men and bad hair­cuts, keep writing, have babies, have a mar­riage, have a career (but not nec­es­sar­ily in that order).

That about cov­ers it, I think.  In the long run, just as you sus­pected all those long years ago, you’re going to be FINE.  It’s just going to take you a lit­tle while to get there.







Continue Reading · on August 10, 2012 in Feminism, Gender, growing up, me my own personal self


so. vaginas.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “oh good lord, here comes a post about the idiot in Michigan …”

But this post is not that post. You can write that post in your head: just say “vaginavaginavaginavaginavagina” and then make a donation to Planned Parenthood or your friendly local women’s health clinic (although of course “local,” at this point, might mean anywhere in a three hundred mile radius) or to the Michigan legislator who thought it would be all right to talk like an adult in the company of other adults. Silly woman. She should have just talked about “her lady bits” and then everything would be fine.

No. I’m not writing that post. But I am thinking a lot about vaginas. Which is actually unusual for me, because although I own a vagina, I don’t really think about it that much.

I’m thinking about all the ways in which vaginas have been in the news lately – and that the impetuses (impetusii?) of these news stories are seldom, themselves, the owners of a hoochie.

The battle over Planned Parenthood funding? Started by non-vagina owning persons.

The constant fight to erode (or erase) access to safe, professional abortions? Championed by vagina-less people.

The endless iterations of mommy wars, which look on the surface to be all about vaginas? Fostered and publicized by vaginas absentas.

What is it about “down there” that causes vagina-less folk to want to police it, regulate it, tell it how to behave (and how not to)?

Is it that you can’t really see a vagina? Is it that most of it is all, you know, mysterious and tucked in, and thus needs constant vigilance lest it – what – run away? Have vagina owners, unbeknownst to me, been clamoring for help at the local sheriff’s office: “help! help! my vagina ran away and I can’t find it anywhere! she’s off somewhere, gambling away the rent money!”

I mean, is that what we’re dealing with?  Vagina-less people are so concerned about what an untrammeled vagina might do that they want to put up a veritable thicket of laws and policies to prevent vaginas from vagina-ing all about the town? Is the idea to create a sort of legislative chastity belt for vaginas?

What’s the worst thing that could happen, do you think, if vaginas were left alone, to sort of vagina around in their natural habitat? Would they breed wildly, out of control, like what happened when people stopped shooting deer in New Jersey and now you can’t even grow a goddamn tomato in the backyard without all the deer for forty miles doing the tomato happy dance and bam there go your hopes for a nice little red sauce?

Is that it? Are the vagina-less attempting to erect these pieces of vagina-repellent legislation to keep herds of vaginas away from the tomato gardens of privilege and power?

What would happen if all the vaginas got together? Would they have a vaginabellion? Are we talking hoochie biker gangs rampaging through the halls of power, terrorizing the non-vagina’ed?

Think about it. Have we ever seen what a vagina can do when she puts her mind to it? I’m thinking that after about Elizabeth I, the answer is pretty much…no. And of course Liz I kept her vagina firmly on the throne by claiming that her hoochie was virgin territory, which is not a game that the hoochies I know are willing to play.

Word on the street these days is that vaginas are getting really irritated by all this scratchy legislative underwear. And an aggravated hoochie makes Liz I look like June Cleaver.

If I were vagina-less, I’d be spending less time thinking about how to legislate that which I don’t have and start paying attention to what I do have, so that when the vaginalution comes, I don’t lose it all.

File:Elizabeth I (Armada Portrait).jpg

 image source



i’m linking up with all the people at yeah write – some vagina’d, some not – and you should probably go over there and visit. you never can tell what will happen on the grid: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll maybe even get to look at some cartoons. click over to the challenge grid, and then the hangout grid, and then come back to the challenge grid and vote for your five faves.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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Continue Reading · on June 25, 2012 in Feminism, Gender, health, Politics, ranting

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