Possibly the coolest auction ever.

8 12 2009

If only I had money, there are two things I would be all over this Christmas season. One is the Menu for Hope auction, which I almost always donate to, but the other is new, the WAM Feminist Auction. You have really got to get on this if you have any money this year. Some examples of items and their current bids:

  • Katha Pollitt will edit your fifteen-page manuscript for $201
  • Margaret Cho will take a day’s worth of pictures for you for $30
  • Alison Bechdel will create a comic strip just for you at $85
  • Melissa Harris Lacewell is giving away the black blazer she wears on the Rachel Maddow show for $100, plus a signed copy of her book
  • Kate Bornstein will pornographize a fairytale for you for $200
  • Lisa Jervis of Bitch Magazine will customize a recipe for $55
  • Sarah Haskins will record your outgoing voicemail message for $185
  • Ani di Franco autographed and custom airbrushed electric guitar, only $250

And other shiny stuff as well.  I have to admit, the MHL blazer would be very tempting if I weren’t broke.

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What’s Your Guilty Pleasure?

25 09 2009

So we all know about the stupid commercials trying to convince women that our guilty pleasure is shampooing, eating yoghurt, jogging… but today I’ve been thinking about my own guilty pleasures, things that I enjoy and feel a bit guilty about because I’m a feminist, because I’m queer, because I’m supposedly not girly, because I’m intelligent, whatever.  These are my guilty pleasures – what are yours?

  • Britney Spears, especially “Womanizer” and “If You Seek Amy”
  • That fucking Katy Perry song that I hate on principle but can’t get out of my head
  • Justin Timberlake
  • The Holiday
  • The Bachelorette
  • Silly YA novels
  • Diana Gabaldon




Feminist Book Recommendations

16 09 2009

I’ve just written a post over on my book blog with three feminist book recommendations.  Check it out if you’re interested!





An interesting model for womanhood

15 09 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about “masculine” and “feminine” since the Women + Power conference, and about “aggressive” versus “emotional.” I’m just reading Vanessa Veselka’s essay, “The Collapsible Woman,” and she offers an interesting alternative to the strong/weak dichotomy in discussing what society expects of rape survivors. “We need to articulate a new vision that equates feminine strength not with repression and bravado, but with compassion and grit.”

Compassion and grit.

I love that. I think it’s a good workaround for my own insecurities about just how “emotional” I want to be, and what it might represent. I want a way to be a generous and loving friend, someone who cares about people, sometimes has a lover or two, can act as a mentor, sometimes needs to cry, likes doing “girly” stuff from time to time, but at the same time is proudly queer, child-free, and entirely career-oriented. I’m someone who thrives on relationships with friends and lovers, but doesn’t want a life revolving around “family,” with the implicit meaning of husband or wife + brood of children. I am happy to lead a life directed by ambition, but sometimes suffer from depression when I use that purpose to isolate myself or make being alone my cry of pride. Oh, the little white lies we tell ourselves. But I’m not prepared to say that what I truly need is the opposite of what I’ve been preaching, to “confess,” because it isn’t. I do need to be alone. I need to pursue projects, and I need to forge my path through life independently. At the same time, I need the support and love of others, holding my hands but not holding me up.

Compassion and grit. Amen, sister.





Omega Women + Power Conference Wrap-Up

14 09 2009

First, just a couple of administrative notes.  For some reason, comment notification e-mails were not coming to me, and I missed a number of older comments in the moderation queue.  If you’re one of those people, I apologize for not approving your comment sooner!  Those of you who asked specific questions in comments on the About page, I did see your questions and I’ll be responding soon.  Thanks for your patience 🙂  Also, I want to thank everyone who’s kept me on your blog reading list despite a few months of mostly dead time.  This is a transition point for me in blogging, and the workshop at Omega on blogging reinforced something I knew already–that I need to post consistently and keep to a set schedule if I want readership to come and stick around.  So from this point forward, I’m setting a minimum goal of three posts per week.  I hope you enjoy the content and pass the word on about this blog.

That said, I just want to post a wrap-up about the conference in Rhinebeck.  As you may have gathered, I was liveblogging and Tweeting from a mobile device, specifically an iPod Touch, and so the one-fingered typing has some limitations!  Some of my favorite quotes from the weekend are on Twitter (peachy_penumbra), but I wanted to say overall how much I enjoyed the conference and how inspiring, funny, and yes, powerful, many of the women who shared the stage were.  I also made some great friendships over a very short period of time, and got to meet a lot of cool young women who may not have been able to speak on the stage, but had a lot to say off of it.

For me, the conference was a mixture of feeling empowered and refreshed, and on the flip side, feeling a little bit angry and frustrated.  On the one hand, there were these great organic conversations going on, the empowerment of being in what really felt like a safe space (so safe that yoga and naked sauna-ing were involved!), and fabulous speakers that made me feel like I could achieve a lot more than what I’m doing right now.  Women like Gloria Steinem, Isabel Allende, Helen Thomas, Lateefah Simon, Jensine Larsen (etc., etc., etc.) are a great inspiration, even if some of the younger activists make me feel downright lazy!  On the other hand, there were some negative aspects to the conference.

There was a lot of emphasis on nurturing, caring, embracing the “feminine” instead of only focusing on power and aggression.  I have an instinctive clench-up reaction to that.  Part of it is a psychological struggle that I’m going through personally and won’t get into at the moment, but another part is that this masculine/feminine dichotomy is so frustrating.  I felt that a lot of women, especially older women, were saying things like embrace your feminine side, we’re learning these values to pass on to our children, let’s think about our husbands and men in our lives, etc.  In other words, there was a fairly heteronormative, dichotomous gender-based structure to this whole thing.  Lesbians and transgendered people were mentioned from time to time, but I think that there was a deeper structural issue at play.  I noticed it in the insistence on labeling everyone’s “two sides” masculine and feminine in our intergenerational discussion, even when a woman was trying to say that these things don’t really have to do with gender.  Why do we always have to think in twos?

Hopefully our generation is moving in the right direction on this, though, and I think we are.  Overall, it was a great experience–inspiring, thought-provoking, and challenging.  I hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend more events like this in the future.





Liveblogging from women and power conference

12 09 2009

Liveblogging from the omega institute women and power conference!

Friday, September 11

10:27 pm: met some fabulous women today! Omega has great food. Gloria Steinem made some really good points about intergenerational feminist connecting.

Saturday, September 12

9:20 am: Sakena Yacobi is speaking on her experiences as a women’s rights and women’s health activist in Afghanistan. She does amazing work under daily risk to her life. I don’t think I understood the trauma of living through conflict until I heard her describe how families are hurt by the lack of trust and communication that comes from trying to protect oneself. Her solution–education–really speaks to me.

9:45 am: Yacobi is doing something really innovative with her women’s learning centers–supplementing core academics with topics like health education, ethics, etc. They also give women contraceptives, sexuality education, and Koran-based education on how to say no to violence and rape. We could learn from her.

10:16 am: Panel of young women both inspiring and humbling. Jensine Larsen started World Pulse magazine as a shy 28 year old with no publishing experience. Her magazine and website are creating amazing connections between women struggling and suceesing all over the world. I think we forget how much of a lifeline Internet forums can be for women who have few other ways to connect.

11:17 am: Kick ass talk from Lateefah Simon earlier. Fascinating panel now addressing issues such as confronting fear in activism, body confidence, and organizations to watch. Check out my tweets at peachy_penumbra and all the news from the conference at #womenpower.

11:47 am: Loung Ung doing a great intro for Isabel Allende. I’ve been thinking from all these women’s stories how great it’d be to have a mentor. Rather than feeling big and empowered, I feel very small. Lots of confusing emotions this weekend–should I feel angry, closed off? This morning at yoga I prayed to be full of love, and I find that I need that, but also the strength to ask for support, as so many brave young women have here.

2:27 pm: Isabel Allende was unsurprisingly inspiring. Our table got into some critical discussion of how we organize the world along gender lines at the cross generational lunch. I felt like we didn’t make a lot of progress, but it was interesting. Also talked a lot about technology and how we relate. Now listening to sports panel, Feministing blogging workshop next.

12:53 am: Sitting on a bench outside the cafe after a long night. Feministing editors had some good tips on blog promotion, safety, and content generation. Sarah Jones and Natalie Merchant both fabulous. Finally, look for an exciting blog related update in a week or so!

Sunday, September 13

10:45 am: Young feminist presentation this morning. I think Courtney & Charreah did a pretty good job of summarizing young feminism, but I would have liked for them to list more topics of interest for our generation. Now Helen Thomas is coming onstage.

Note: There was one last update from the bus at 7 pm but my iPod went screwy so suffice it to say the moderator sucked, but Helen Thomas was pretty badass, as were the other women journalists on the panel.





Re-Seeing The Phantom of the Opera from a Feminist Perspective

15 02 2009

I grew up on Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.  I could sing every part and play both scores through on the piano.  I saw both plays as a kid, the latter several times.  I also saw the movie version of the former once in college, but I wasn’t paying much attention.  It happened to be on sale at Amazon for $5, so I bought a copy and watched it last night.

It’s not that I’m exactly surprised that the plot is sexist and has a ridiculously portrayed female lead.  That I knew even without being a feminist.  However, I noticed that with this new lens (and also not having watched or thought about Phantom since developing a lesbian identity) there are certain things I read differently.  

For example, I always thought Christine should end up with the Phantom, not Raoul (I think everyone thinks that).  But whereas before I thought that she was just an annoying, fickle little bitch, and I was annoyed at her for screwing the Phantom over, now I read it a bit differently.  First, it’s ridiculous that the disfigurement is so played up, but of course I can see how living in isolation and without love due to your appearance could make you pretty crazy.  Also, though, it’s interesting how before it didn’t really occur to me that a choice might be to go with neither of them.  I mean, Raoul’s still an annoying little twit who just assumes that things haven’t changed in the past ten years, and the Phantom admittedly isn’t a great choice after he starts indiscriminately killing people.  But in previous viewings, I fully bought into the idea that Christine did need a man to protect her – I just thought she was choosing the wrong one.

If you listen to the score, you’ll notice an awful lot of possessive language.  Both characters use the term “guide,” and “Master” is used for the Phantom.  Christine pretty much goes along with this entirely – she needs someone to guide her, a strong male figure.  And no surprise after all, having been raised by her father, then basically put in the Phantom’s care as a teacher, then grasping for another male figure in Raoul when the Phantom starts to get creepy.  I don’t necessarily think there would be a better choice for her in the context of this plot, but it is something I notice, that Christine is in no way created in a way that she could feasibly say “hey guys, let’s talk about this, things kind of crazy here…”  For example, in the film version, there are several clear moments of hesitancy where she shows real care for the Phantom (which I like) and those are completely obliterated by the presence of Raoul.  She really has no chance to speak on her hesitation or express emotion towards the Phantom.  

This problem also emerges in the dramatic graveyard scene.  I can’t remember how this plays out in the stage version, so this is based entirely on how the film version is done.  In the film, this is the one moment where Christine does get to emerge somewhat as an independent character.  She sneaks past Raoul, going to the graveyard alone (well, so she thinks).  Though she probably is trying to get herself out of this cycle of male dependence so that she can marry Raoul, since she deliberately sneaks away from him you could also read it that she’s trying to escape both men, and that she only goes back with Raoul because, well, there he is, on a fucking white horse no less.  The point is, she’s actually doing some independent thought here, recognizing that she’s been living in the past and trying to replace her father.  At the same time I always thought in that song that she was also singing in a way about the Phantom himself, before he went batshit insane.  In other words, I miss these two figures, but I realize that neither are available to me, and so I’m letting both go.  When the Phantom then appears, she moves towards the grave with intention, clearly realizing that this is the Phantom and not the ghost of her father (I mean come on, she knows his voice), and even saying that her mind is warning her that this is a bad idea, but her soul is saying otherwise.  Whether or not that’s necessarily the world’s wisest decision, it’s her decision, which gets cut off when Raoul appears, misunderstanding what’s going on, completely not understanding that hey, the lady might actually be capable of making an informed decision, and then proceeding to take part in the final ridiculous manly sword fight.  So the one time Christine does emerge as something more than property, her boy-toy gets in the way and decides her fate for her.

Similarly, this jealousy plot between the two men is unsurprising but very shallow when you look at it in a critical light.  Christine is pretty clearly treated as property, from Raoul’s assumption that she will be his because they were childhood sweethearts to the Phantom’s outrage every five seconds that she has betrayed him without ever clearly voicing his expectations.  And of course there’s the whole idea that he basically wants her to be one of his objects in the vaults in the first place.  In the scene on the rooftop, the Phantom expresses no realization that Raoul is doing all the pushing with this relationship – she keeps hesitating, while he pours out declarations of love, and eventually she goes with it, but still while expressing reservation.  On the other hand, the Phantom just predictably cringes when Raoul touches “his woman.”  In the end, the jealousy plot subsumes Raoul’s romance with Christine when he uses her as bait, basically saying “yeah yeah I know you’re upset but I’ve really got to get rid of this guy, so, see ya,” just like the way it subsumes Christine’s attempt to make an independent choice in the graveyard.

It got me thinking about the male jealousy plot in general, and how silly it is, but also how much a reflection of our culture.  Men feel this rage when another man touches the object of their affection exactly for that reason – she is an object.  Men are encouraged to view women as property, and thus any sort of expression of desire going in another direction, from or to her, is a betrayal or a slight upon the “owner.”  How often do you see a literary work or a film that depicts a relationship where the characters discuss their desires or their crushes, where a man who sees a woman in a physical embrace with another man asks questions rather than jumping to conclusion?  You don’t.  And if you did, I’d be willing to bet that the criticism would immediately label the female character as a slut, and that the film would be framed as one about weird, kinky, open relationships.  

As a woman, I’m only just starting to realize how huge this thing we casually dismiss as “society” is.  The reason its so hard to change is that we are taught that “women’s” issues are limited to things like fair pay and it takes us a while to realize that societal expectations consist of thousands of layers, heaped up on us by pop culture and often well-meaning, unknowing authority figures (along with the more malicious ones).  I bought into that “need a man to protect me” trope for an awfully long time, and it’s part of why it took a while to believe that I could identify as gay.  I’m not totally over it (the idea of a woman as protector is still somewhat appealing), but I’m starting to recognize it, and the idea of being fought over by two people and pushed back and forth like a sack of beans is not longer sexy.

(But I still like the music.)