Tag Archives: Ms.

On the Table, 7/11

Some of these items I’ve been meaning to share for months and am just cleaning out my favorites folders.  Sorry for their belatedness.

According to a 2011 report from the U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “32 percent of world fish stocks are estimated to be overexploited, depleted or recovering and need to be urgently rebuilt.”

With conscious consumers starting to take note, Kristofor Lofgren, owner of the Portland restaurant Bamboo Sushi, says his strategy is to overwhelm them with proof that his seafood is actually harvested properly, because, frankly, sushi often isn’t. And even when it’s not from an illegal vessel or an overfished area, there’s still massive waste: As much as half of all fish caught never even make it to the table…. [Read on]

Read more: Looking for sustainable sushi in your neighborhood?  Use these sites to score some earth-friendly sushi.

  • Fish2Fork.com which rates restaurants that serve fish for quality and their sustainability efforts.
  • The Green Restaurant Association at DineGreen.com which is a national non-profit organization that provides a convenient and cost-effective way for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers to become more environmentally responsible.

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The well-documented “other-race effect” finds that people are less likely to remember a face from a racial group different from their own. Northwestern University researchers set out to determine what causes this rift in perception and memory by using electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings, which measure brain activity, while participants viewed photos of various faces.

The researchers found that brain activity increases in the very first 200 to 250 milliseconds when seeing both same-race and other-race faces…. [Read on]

Read more:

  • Time“They All Look the Same: How Racism Works Neurologically,” by John Cloud on a similar study out of the University of Glasgow which notes that humans are “remarkably skilled at facial recognition: we can differentiate family members and friends from strangers in far less than a second.”
  • Check out The Hapa Project – a book and museum exhibit organized by artist Kip Fulbeck which explores the intersections of race, ethnicity, and identity.  When asked, “What are you?” how people of mixed race answer?  It’s pretty neat.

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  • And your clip for this “On the Table” is of two fabulous female comedians – Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres:

It’s kind of glitchy.  AND some of the good stuff is in the second half, which is here!  And part 3 is here!

Read more:

  • Check out Tina Fey’s new memoir Bossypants about her life so far as a mother and female comedy writer.
  • Ms. Magazine‘s Natalie Wilson provides some commentary of the interview here.  For example, Wilson states: “While Fey focuses on feminist issues relating to sexism in the workplace and in politics, DeGeneres is more of a comedic lesbian activist. While she has noted she doesn’t wish to be an activist or spokesperson for the LGBTQ community, she often publicly denounces heteronormativity and uses her show as a platform to promote LGBTQ rights….” [Read on]

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Good News for Same-Sex Nuptials and Unions

February 23, 2011 by Stephanie Hallett at Ms. Magazine

In a move eagerly anticipated by gay rights advocates since his election in 2008, President Obama has ordered the Justice Department to cease its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)–bringing federal marriage equality one step closer to reality.

The 1996 act defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman and allows the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states where the unions are legal. That means legally married same-sex couples are denied the federal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples, such as Social Security death benefits and veteran benefits. In directing the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA, constitutional challenges to the law can be brought to court with a hope of succeeding.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias Wolff told The New York Times:

The Justice Department and the president have taken the position on behalf of the United States government that discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all cases is presumptively unconstitutional.

It’s the first time the United States government has ever embraced that position, and if the courts agree it will help to eradicate all of the various forms of discrimination that gay and lesbian people suffer around the country.

In another victory for queer couples, same-sex civil unions will soon be allowed in Hawaii. The civil union bill was successful in the state senate today and the governor has vowed to sign it.

The state’s relationship with gay civil unions has been tumultuous; in July, a similar bill nearly passed but was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. Today, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, “For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

Though gay rights groups applaud Hawaii’s decision, they will continue to push for full marriage equality in that state.

Says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry:

Loving and committed same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in 12 countries on four continents–as well as in five states and the District of Columbia here at home–and the sky has not fallen and the sun continues to rise every morning.

While a welcome step, civil union is no substitute for the full measure of respect, clarity, security, responsibilities and protection of marriage itself. States that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding–providing legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning–have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.

Clearly gay rights are taking precedence at the federal level. Last year, a repeal of DADT. This year, an end to DOMA. Upwards, toward an end to discrimination!

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Sex and Sexism and “Skins”

Sex, Sexism, and “Skins” by Mia Fontaine at the Ms. blog

MTV, you’ve come a long way baby.

In six short years you’ve gone from pimpin’ rides to pimpin’ girls, starting with the recent premiere of Skins, a remake of the hit British program by the same name. Immediately labeled “the most dangerous show for teens,” by the Parents Television Counsel and lambasted for gratuitous sex and drug use, what was seen as most controversial was the employment of underage actors. Given that the show includes implied fellatio and sexual assault, simulated masturbation and half-naked teens having sex, MTV potentially violated child-pornography laws.

Without minimizing the above accusations, what shocked me, however–and should shock everyone–was the show’s flagrant and unaddressed sexism. And I’m not talking garden-variety sexism, I’m talking a show that’s glaringly sexist in truly alarming ways.

Episode One, for instance, centers around Tony’s efforts to get his best friend, the virgin Stanley, laid. His brilliant plan? Borderline date rape. In MTV teen lingo, “get some girl ‘recaucusly spliffed. In her confused state she comes to believe how–momentarily of course–you’re [Stanley] attractive and then … she bangs your brains out!” For the lucky girl, Tony’s girlfriend Michelle nominates Cadie, recently released from a psych ward and described on the Skins’ website as “the most dysfunctional girl ever to attend a high school.”

Not that Cadie minds. Using sex like wampum, she accepts the plan for Stanley to, “dope me into outer space and then bang my brains out.” Is it me, or does this smack of prostitution? Sleeping with someone for drugs cuts the cash out of the equation but not the principle. And if Cadie plays the prostitute, Tony and Michelle play her pimps. Worse, because Michelle is another girl, MTV promotes sexism by all genders. By treating Cadie in a stereotypically male way–a sex object–the message is sent to girls to objectify other girls for male gratification.

Perhaps Michelle’s willingness to devalue Cadie as a human being shouldn’t surprise us, given her utter subservience to Tony. Despite his belittling nicknaming for her–Nips, because of her “funny nipples”–she continues to see him, and when she does weakly protest the name he patronizingly tells her to “get used to it kid.” As if someone appointed him both nipple expert and sage, able to predict a lifetime of nipple shame. Forget worrying over breast size: Now girls are being taught to scrutinize their nipples as well. (It’s worth noting that the Skins website describes Michelle as gorgeous and clever. Note to self: MTV defines clever as someone who sleeps with a partner who continuously degrades her).

Another example of the show commodifying young women and encouraging them to use sex to curry favors comes in the second episode, in which the character Tea is asked by her father to go on a date with the son of a prospective business partner.

What is this, the Middle Ages? Aren’t we beyond children-as-chattel eras in which daughters do their father’s bidding? True, he asks her twice if she’s comfortable with it, and reminds her she doesn’t have to fool around with the boy (albeit saying “have to” implies the possibility for it). Nonetheless, he tells her not to mention the date to her mother, possibly because Mom would have found it problematic that he used their daughter like a pawn to facilitate a business transaction.

I doubt many people took note of this, however, because Tea’s father is the only remotely sympathetic parent on the show. Tony and Stanley’s fathers are crass and irate, and the show’s mothers, aside from serving food and babysitting, are without real roles or voices. Had Tea’s father been a jerk, his request might have raised eyebrows; instead, his affability disguised the fact that, like Cadie being used for Stanley’s sexual gain, Tea was used for Daddy’s professional gain.

If MTV’s looking for edgy, edgy can be done responsibly and respectably. Pierced, tattooed and chain-smoking, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander is as edgy and sexual as they come, yet she’s subservient to no one and stands up for her beliefs. Given Lisbeth’s propensity for justice, I’d love to see what she’d do to the brains behind a show like Skins.

If you want to see this show, be quick about it: Skins might not be around for long. The New York Post reported that it’s in danger of cancellation because of low ratings and fleeing advertisers. I just hope the fleeing viewers are as disturbed about the sexism as the underage sex.

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Precious Swan – Ms. Magazine

“Precious Swan” by Janell Hobson

[Spoilers included.] There is a painful scene in the critically acclaimed 2009 movie Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, which shows our titular heroine (played by Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe) gazing into a mirror and imagining a slender white girl gazing back at her. In the mind of Precious, a 16-year-old poor, black, obese survivor of abuse, she longs to be someone who is her polar opposite–a figure who is beloved and far removed from the sexual abuse that she suffers.

So imagine, then, watching a more recently acclaimed film–Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, starring Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman–and finding yet another young woman, Nina Sayers, horrified by her own image. Unlike the obese and impoverished Precious Jones, though, Nina is the epitome of beauty and white femininity: an anorexic-thin ballerina, whose chance to shine in the spotlight is nonetheless threatened by darker forces.

Despite their obvious racial, class, physical, and geographic differences (Precious resides in Harlem; Nina lives on the Upper West Side), both women dwell in gloomy apartments heavy with the air of maternal oppression. These heroines could actually be each other’s double–a theme dramatically explored  in Black Swan. See, both Precious and Nina suffer from mother-daughter sex abuse, a topic that few have discussed publicly even though both films received widespread attention when they opened in theaters. How much of our reluctance has to do not only with the subject matter but also with how each film chooses to tell their stories? How do these stories, and our own responses to them, reflect racial constructions around motherhood and family dysfunction?

When Precious opened last year to critical acclaim and big box office, the main debates surrounding the film concerned the demonization of Precious’s mother Mary (played by Oscar-winning Mo’Nique). Black audiences were quick to point out that Mary was a stereotypical distortion of black motherhood, while others chose to view the story through a sociological lens. We could point to the family’s impoverished conditions as the cause for its dysfunction, as well as to the sexist treatment both Precious and Mary received from the absentee father, who took off from the household after twice impregnating Precious and giving her HIV, thus sparking Mary’s envy and resentment toward her own daughter. This is the pathological black family writ large.

But poverty is just part of the problem, as we witness a similar dysfunctional family in Black Swan, in which Nina and her mother Erica (played by Barbara Hershey) live in a relatively spacious and middle-class apartment in New York City. In this story, there is no mention of the absentee father, which might suggest that single-mother-headed households are viewed as deviant across racial and class lines.  However, black dysfunction is often reduced to sociology, while white dysfunction is reduced to psychology.  It’s not surprising that most conversations about Black Swan focus on how “crazy” and “psychotic” Nina became towards the movie’s end, while few have named the source for her mental decline. In other words, few recognize Nina as a victim of incest, the way we immediately recognize Precious’s victimization.

Granted, it’s rather difficult to not talk about Mary as a sexual predator when director Lee Daniels left little to the imagination (depicting Mary in bed pleasuring herself before calling for Precious to “come take care of Mama”), while Aronofsky overwhelmed Black Swan with surrealism, Swan Lake allegories and ambiguous shots. As a result, the abuse that Nina suffers can only be hinted at (such as depicting Erica calling out to her daughter, “Sweetie, are you ready for me?,” right after we witness Nina exploring ways to keep her mother out of her room).  Even here, the racial differences in the heroines are highlighted. Precious is expected to serve as the sexual aggressor while Nina is expected to be passive as she awaits her mother in bed.

Moreover, there is a certain ease in blatantly depicting a black mother as monstrous and depraved, while the pathology of the white mother, whose interaction with her daughter is one of suffocating love rather than outright hatred, can only be suggestive and viewed as “creepy” (as in, she is definitely “not the norm,” even if Aronofsky invokes ethnic stereotypes of “pushy Jewish mothers”).

Even more telling in the conversations we are having about Black Swan is the fetishistic treatment of white women’s bodies, which distracts us from some of the deeper themes explored. For instance, the infamous lesbian sex scene, which had audiences buzzing even before the movie debuted, is a cover for the sex abuse Nina experiences. It’s important to note that, after this scene (which is later revealed to be an Ecstasy-induced fantasy), Nina’s attitude towards her mother changes from fear and resentment to outright disgust,  leaving us to question if she had been having sex not with Lily (played by Mila Kunis)–another dancer whom she views as a rival–but with her own mother. It is this disgust that leads to her mental deterioration, her rage (which I interpret as a “healthy” response to abuse) and her eventual embrace of the passionate and sensuous Black Swan role that she must master in her debut performance as the Swan Queen.

Because Nina’s abuse remains an unspoken and haunting presence in the film, she cannot find healing. And this is where the narratives in Precious and Black Swan diverge.  Even as they tell similar stories of how some daughters suffer unspeakable abuse at the hands of their mothers, we tend to romanticize the story of the black survivor and the white victim. If Precious can find salvation and liberation in an alternative school, where she learns to write and encounters self-empowered women such as her teacher and other students like herself, Nina’s education leads to the exact opposite: She can only find self-destruction in art, similarly abusive authority figures (such as her ballet instructor) and female rivalry versus feminist support and friendship. Lily comes closest to being a friend, except Nina’s paranoid fantasies, which confuse Lily with her mother, turn her into a threat.

While I realize Aronofsky would rather eschew feminist liberation for his nihilistic fixation on death and madness (a recurring theme throughout his movies), I prefer my own imagined alternate ending for Nina. In my story, she survives her deep wounds, seeks psychiatric treatment and eventually joins a New York City survivors group.  There, she might encounter a Precious–both women automatically dismissing each other at first as being too different from themselves. Then they share their stories and realize how easily they could be each other’s double.

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Club 907 Dancers Freed! : Ms Magazine Blog

Club 907 Dancers Freed! : Ms Magazine Blog.

All of the 80-plus women who were arrested during the November raid of Club 907 in downtown Los Angeles have been released. Club 907 is a “hostess club” where patrons pay for women’s companionship (e.g., dancing, delivering drinks). Officers from the L.A. police department (LAPD) raided the club on suspicion of prostitution on November 5, but ended up arresting 78 (of 81) dancers on documentation charges. Although some of the women are still facing immigration court proceedings, this is a major victory for the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and the Raids Response Network of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The Club 907 raid generated a flurry of criticism. According to the LAPD, the action was initiated because police witnessed illicit sexual activity at the club during a routine inspection. But CHIRLA and others claimed that it constituted an immigration raid in violation of S.B. 40, which prohibits the LAPD from initiating “police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person.” The vast majority of those arrested were handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Others expressed concern that the working conditions may have constituted indentured servitude or human trafficking, and that the LAPD arrested the victims of, and witnesses to, criminal activities at the club.

Speaking of the women’s release, Xiomara Corpeño, CHIRLA’s organizing director, said:

This is a great day for the almost 80 women who have worked so hard to have their pending immigration cases reconsidered.  These women were detained by the LAPD for a crime they were never charged with but ended up nonetheless spending almost two months behind bars. A great injustice was done unto these immigrant workers who are not criminals but working moms and clearly victims of exploitation by their employer. Six out of 10 women were moms and their children missed them deeply during Christmas and New Year’s.

The raid on Club 907 generated more than 50 national news stories. The success in this case is a testament to the effectiveness of tireless legal advocacy and intensive media attention in holding public officials accountable.

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How Women Are Faring in the Workplace

Click here to read Catherine Traywick’s article explaining the chart at Ms. Magazine.

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Ms. Magazine’s “No Comment” and Jean Kielborne’s “Killing Us Softly”

Every year since Ms. Magazine hit newsstands as part of the roaring Women’s Liberation Movement in 1972, the magazine has always included a “No Comment” section on its last page.  This page featured advertisements, submitted by readers, that were insulting or degrading to women, but always in the vein of political or social action.  Ms. Magazine: “Some make us roll our eyes. Others inspire us to write letters or to boycott products.”

And you know what?  Ads over the past forty years haven’t gotten all that better.  For example, here’s a classy product for suitcase stickers from July 2010:

Here’s what Stephanie Hallett from the Ms. Magazine blog had to say about this:

Identifying your ubiquitous black suitcase on a baggage carousel can be challenging, it’s true. But is it really challenging enough to warrant this violent suitcase sticker from thecheeky.com? We think not. Canadian entrepreneur Colin Hart, who runs thecheeky.com, said the stickers are meant to personalize and spice up your travel bags. His collection of large stickers features old leather luggage torn open to reveal illicit contents. What’s “inside” the bags? Stacks of cash, bags of cocaine, sex toys–and a bound-and-gagged flight attendant.

Jean Kielborne in her film series “Killing Us Softly” (now in it’s fourth edition) provides an in-depth examination of the sexual objectification and degradation of women in advertisements.  Watch a snippet from her latest, “Killing Us Softly 4” below:

So what do we do with this?  Get involved!  One privilege of living in a capitalistic consumer-driven country is the power to put our money where our mouth is.  You can submit your images to Ms. Magazine via letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com, join this Flickr “No Comment” group or start one in another online community.  Check out some of the “No Comment” archives for inspiration here.

I’ll begin with Urban Outfitters.  Can their models get any younger or any skinnier?  Or paler?

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