Saturday, September 20, 2008

Election Music

No, this is not going to be about Mike Huckabee's band.

Nor is about the bands who played at the political conventions.

No, I'm going to look at the most important music in the campaign - the music played during political ads. We don't usually engage background music directly with our brains, like we do other music. Instead, we listen to the spoken words and watch the picture. This allows the music to affect us emotionally, almost without our knowledge. Have you ever found yourself feeling tense after viewing a negative ad, or calm after an ad about education? It's all in the music. I believe that the music in a ad affects us almost much or more than the content does.

So what does this have to do with feminism? Well, nearly all of music is gendered. Some music will bring up feminine images and feelings, and some will bring up masculine images and feelings. The music used in the campaign ads is carefully chosen to reinforce gender stereotypes and sexism, even when the is no mention of gender in the ad itself.

(for a fun introduction to this topic that doesn't involve reading dry academic papers, read this analysis of the Buffy theme vs. the Angel theme.)

All of the ads mentioned in this post can be found here.

There are four basic types of music found in the ads:
  1. Strong Leader - obviously masculine. characteristics include a strong, often rock, beat, a powerful melody. Usually paired with a positive, issues-centric ad.
  2. Security - very feminine sound. Designed to appeal to the listener's sense of home and family.
  3. My Opponent is Evil - what it sounds like. Has a creepy, scary sound, but without an real threat. I also call this the 'creepy femme' theme.
  4. No Music - this is also notable, as we shall see.
We will examine each type in detail.

Strong Leader

Listen to McCain's "Ohio Jobs". Notice the strong beat, the short, syncopated notes, and the repeated phrases. Also, note the fast tempo. All of these are masculine sounds. As you listen, notice how your heart rate increases slightly, how you sit up and feel like doing something. This ad may be about jobs in Ohio, but the music makes it about a specifically masculine construction of work - in effect, it says: "McCain will help you get out there and succeed!" "Michigan Jobs" uses the same soundtrack as "Ohio Jobs". Obama's "Hands" contains his campaign's sole pure example of this theme.

Listen to McCain's "Disrespectful". This ad is about Sarah Palin, yet it contains the most masculine music of any republican ad. The voice-over says that Palin is being attacked, and that it's 'disrespectful' (Stop picking on the girl!), but the music says, "Palin's tough. They can't hurt her, she's as tough as Hillary." "Fact Check" is similar, but not quite as extreme.

"Foundation" is an interesting ad. It starts with the 'creepy femme' (see below) theme, but notice how the music changes when McCain says, "I've taken on tougher guys than this before." A drum beat begins, and the music becomes stronger ,pushing it over the line to the 'Strong Leader' sound. Obama's "Sold us out" is quite similar to "Foundation".

McCains's "Patriotic Act" uses an overly masculine, patriotic-sounding track for parody purposes.


This type of ad music is incredibly stereotypical. It features pretty, feminine melodies with a calming accompaniment and slow tempos. Obama's "Need Education", "Burden", "What kind", and McCain's "Enough is Enough", "Education", and "Symbol of Hope", are all examples. These ads are all about family values, education, and financial security. While few of the ads mention gender, the message - that these are the 'women's' issues - is quite clear.

"Crisis" is unusual - it combines a feminine flute melody with masculine beat; Strong Leader with Security, for a McCain-Palin ad. The implications are rather obvious.

Obama's "Still" uses 'old' sounding feminine music for the purpose of parody - but also to imply weakness...

Which brings us to the most musically offensive ad that I have found. McCain's "Advice" is about how "weak" Obama is, paired with a soft, feminine soundtrack and a female voice over! The ad clearly says, without using words, "We can't have a leader who is feminine in any way!", and given the masculine music given to Palin in "Disrespectful", this makes perfect sense.

My Opponent is Evil \ 'Creepy Femme'

This sort of music confused me a bit when I started this analysis. It is quiet, tense music, usually with a repeated xylophone or marimba melody. The melody has a fairly strong beat, while the accompaniment does not. Is is masculine? Is it feminine? Or is it just scary?

I believe that it is primarily feminine, hence the 'creepy femme' designation. The music lacks power. It is feminine, but with enough masculine elements to feel dangerous. It is scary, but in a manipulative, underhanded way, playing on the fear of strong women. It's "Watch out, she's going to stab you in the back!", not the "Oh, no, here he comes!" of horror movie music.

The 'creepy femme' theme is used in almost every negative ad, except those already mentioned. McCain's "Chavaz", and "Nothing new", and Obama's "Who advises", "Honor", "His Administration", and "Naked lies". There is one example of 'creepy masculine' music: Obama's "Fundamentals".

No Music

Two of Obama's ads contain no music, "Plan for Change", and "Real Change". This is excellent, as it forces us to think about the ideas presented, rather than respond to emotional appeals. Indeed, Obama's campaign is using no music in ads where McCain would have used Strong Leader music.


Obama's campaign shows more variety and reasonableness in choice of music, but both campaigns use it to manipulate emotions. Their opponents are presented as feminine and weak, while they themselves are masculine and strong - except when they are talking about financial security and education, when they suddenly understand what woman want!

Listen carefully to the music in political ads! Don't let yourself be taken in by the feelings presented by the music, and recognize the sexism that is being implicitly presented.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

The Not-So-Subtle Misogyny of the Cesarean Section

Until recently, I was absolutely stumped as to what I wanted to write about for my first post at Fourth Wave. Many topics (including and not including Sarah Palin) occurred to me but none seemed exactly right. Last week, sitting in my little office behind medical records in our Family Medicine Center, I finally realized exactly what I wanted to talk about: Cesarean sections as a form of oppression of women.

For those of you who don't know, I am a lesbian with no children and no plans to have children who works as a Medical Support Assistant for the Maternal and Child Health Program at a University clinic. I had no medical experience when I began work here and my experience with children was limited to babysitting, to time spent with numerous younger cousins, and to extended time with my niece and nephew, who live only ten miles from me. Over the last two years, I have absorbed a vast amount of knowledge on pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding and I'm now considering adding a lactation consultant specialty to my nursing degree when I finish.

One of the things our clinic is known for is our support of TOLAC/VBAC. For those of you not fluent in "medicalese", TOLAC is a Trial of Labor After Cesarean and a VBAC is a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Women who have had one or more Cesarean sections are free to request a TOLAC as part of their childbirth process here and the goal is to have a successful VBAC. What is so unbelievable to me is that we are just one of a few clinics/medical centers/obstetrics providers in our state that supports this labor/birth option. Most other clinics/medical centers/obstetrics providers in our state tell women who have had previous c-sections that their ONLY labor/birth option is a repeat c-section. Ninety percent of women in the US who have had a previous c-section are having repeat c-sections with their successive pregnancies because of a lack of medical support for a completely natural birth option. Why the lack of support?

The reasons why medical providers are unwilling to support a natural birth option after a previous surgical intervention are woven inextricably with the reasons why the c-section rate in this country surpasses necessity and belief. Currently, approximately 1 in 3 US births end in Cesarean section while the World Health Organization maintains that only 10 - 15% of births should do so. We are subjecting twice the recommended number of women and children to surgical interventions during childbirth without good evidence for our actions. And by "we", I mean the health care industry. Contrary to popular belief (made popular by sensationalist media outlets), there are not droves of women ordering non-medically indicated Cesareans for cosmetic/personal/scheduling reasons.

So if there are no droves of women requesting Cesareans for Convenience and only 10 - 15% of births are statistically likely to require medically-indicated surgical intervention, where are all these other Cesareans coming from?

Natural Vaginal Birth Takes Too Long

First and foremost, the health care industry and insurance companies believe natural birth takes too long. Patients these days are being shuffled out of hospitals earlier and earlier after major illnesses/surgeries due to a combination of overcrowded conditions and insurance companies' resistance to compensating hospitals for longer stays. Therefore patients that have longer labors often receive medical intervention to "speed things up", including pharmacological inductions and AROM (Artificial Rupture of Membranes). The problem with these interventions is that many times a woman's body simply isn't ready to give birth yet, often leading to Cesarean sections due to fetal distress.

Also, many insurance companies offer a "global fee" for childbirth that does not take into account the length of the labor, so many providers are paid the same whether a woman's natural labor takes 30 minutes (precipitous) or 30 hours (prolonged). Some providers, therefore, are more likely to suggest induction or AROM for longer labor periods for simple financial reasons that only benefit themselves.

Pregnancy and Birth as a Medical Condition rather than a Natural Process

Added to this travesty is the disturbing trend of national medical associations, such as ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), toward the criminalization of non-hospital births. Birth Centers are closing all over the country due to a reluctance of major medical centers to support them and midwives and homebirths are being attacked on legal fronts, threatening the entire natural birth concept.

The truth of this matter is that 90% of the time, birth is a natural event that requires little medical intervention. It certainly does not require a hospital or else many of our grandparents and some of our parents would not have been born. The Western transition toward hospital births began in the 1920s in Germany and became very popular in the US during the 1950s (that decade is another entire study in anti-feminist behavior in and of itself). Since then, birth has been regarded by the US health care industry as an illness rather than as a natural function of a woman's body and they have devised numerous "interventions" that they claim are for the safety of the mother and the child. Some of these interventions are medically indicated but some have no evidence to support them. Some, like continuous fetal monitoring, have recently been linked to the increase in Cesarean sections.

Only about 30% of the world's children are born in hospitals or health care centers and yet we are seeing a population boom in almost all regions of the world. Women have been giving birth to healthy, hearty children without the benefit of routine medical care for thousands of years.

Don't get me wrong; I am not advocating that birth should be without medical care or monitoring. Certainly maternal and fetal outcomes, especially in developing countries, can be improved drastically by medical presence. What I am advocating is a discontinuation of the (mostly Western medicine) mindset that pregnancy is something to be "fixed".

The Concept of "Routine" Surgery

As anyone who has ever had abdominal surgery will tell you, there is nothing "routine" about it. Depending on the complexity of the surgery and the location/size of the incision, it can take years to recuperate from abdominal surgery. The short-term complications are the same for any major surgery: increased risk of infection, of blood clots, of chronic pain, of being readmitted to the hospital for failure to thrive or other poor functioning. There is also an increased risk of hysterectomy and of surgical injury. The long-term is much more complicated. Chronic pain, inability to lift weights over 10lbs, lack of stamina, infertility, weight gain, long-term absences from work, adhesions, gastrointestinal difficulties including intestinal blockages, future ectopic pregnancies, complications with future pregnancies--all these are possible with Cesarean sections but are rarely discussed with the patient. And what about babies born by Cesarean? They are more prone to respiratory illnesses and asthma, they are susceptible to surgical injury themselves, they are more likely to experience difficulty breastfeeding, and they miss out on that first skin-to-skin contact with their mother in the first hour of life that is so necessary to the hormonal health of both mother and child. Cesarean sections are hardly "routine" surgeries but most hospitals, insurance companies, and even patients treat them as such.

Why do they do so? One of the reasons are the inordinate numbers of "reality" television shows on channels like the Discovery Channel that portray birth as something that a) always happens in a hospital and b) always requires significant medical intervention. We call it "birth as a rescue operation" around here and we are disgusted. The shows focus on the most at-risk patients with the most severe complications and present these births as the norm, scaring women into believing that their babies might die if their births aren't micromanaged by medical personnel. Another reason is our Western ability to accept non-medically-indicated surgery in general. Statistically speaking, how many people in, say, Laos get cosmetic surgery? Compare that with US figures and you'll see a part of the problem.

With these three factors (and I'm sure there are others), it is not hard to interpret the non-medically-indicated Cesarean section as a misogynistic dismissal of a woman's innate abilities. So what are the remedies? How can we lower our out-of-control Cesarean rates in this country?

Support Midwives, Birth Centers, and Homebirths

The birth center that is affiliated with our clinic is the last free-standing birth center in our state. They facilitate approximately 450 births a year and their Cesarean rate hovers at about 5%. Homebirths attended by qualified midwives also enjoy extremely low rates of Cesarean section, especially homebirths for low-risk women. There are no electronic fetal monitors at homebirths and midwives are more likely to allow the pregnant woman's body to direct the birth process, intervening only when medically crucial.

There is absolutely nothing behind the desire to criminalize homebirth other than greed, plain and simple. Hospital births cost money, Cesarean sections cost more. Doctors and insurance companies profit from expensive medical procedures and they do so at the expense of women and children. Period.

Study after study has proven that homebirths attended by qualified providers are safer and cheaper than hospital births and yet ACOG and the AMA push to criminalize the practice?

Even if you never plan to have a child, please support the right of women to choose midwives and homebirths for their deliveries.

Choose Family Medicine Providers

Statistically speaking, more women are choosing to specialize in Family Medicine and women providers are more likely to approach medicine in a collaborative give-and-take way. Family Medicine providers who also provide obstetric care are more likely to support alternative birth processes.

For example, at our Family Medicine Clinic we offer three types of prenatal care to our pregnant patients: traditional care, where the woman sees an individual provider for a 20 minute appointment at regular intervals; group prenatal care, where a group of 4 to 8 women at roughly the same gestational age see a provider and a group facilitator for 90 minutes of care at regular intervals, including group discussion and special talks; and focused prenatal care, where a woman who is low risk and/or who has had multiple low risk pregnancies/births with excellent outcomes can choose to see a provider fewer times over the course of her pregnancy.

What are the benefits, specifically in regards to the Cesarean section? Well, our hospital's overall rate of Cesarean births is approximately 30%, right with the national trend. Our Family Medicine Center's rate is currently 18% and we are actively trying to lower it. We are conscious of the WHO recommendations and are trying very hard to meet them through extensive training in labor support and other practical means of allowing a woman's body to direct the birthing process.

Trust Your Body

A woman's body has all the tools it needs to give birth. Period. Except for the statistically few women who require substantial medical intervention, the other people present during births are really only there to cheer a woman on, to occasionally "catch" a baby, and to clean up afterwards.

Do not buy into the crap that pregnancy and birth is "too hard" or "too scary." Do not watch those ridiculous medical shows on Discovery that present birth as a dangerous condition that requires medical intervention. Do not let any provider make decisions for your and your baby without your input.

Do educate yourself about the birth process. Do consider all your birth options keeping foremost in your mind what you hope for and want out of the experience. Do shop around for a provider that can give you the support you need to give birth in the way you have chosen.

Women are strong. Birth is natural. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Choice matters

(Update: Check out the op-ed piece about reproductive rights and Bush's new restrictive health care regulations in the New York Times by Senator Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood): Blocking Care for Women)

I grew up in a very liberal household and for that I am extremely grateful. I was also lucky to grow up in a fairly liberal city, where my parents’ interracial marriage and my biracialism were barely worth remarking upon, where my parents really did have gay friends who we regularly spent time with, where the biggest social divide in the public schools I attended seemed to be whether or not you liked sports or were in the honors classes. (This is, of course, not quite true, but I don’t want to go off on a long tangent about race and class in my school(s). Perhaps in another post. Suffice it to say that, in my personal experience at least, there was never any racially-motivated hostility between students, and I had both black and white friends. Things may have changed in high school, but I didn’t attend high school in my hometown, so I don’t know.)

We had comprehensive sex education in seventh grade—although it was called “health” class and quite dull—and, even in elementary school, my fourth grade teacher once responded to a complaint that my friends and I were reading a book with “naked pictures” (we were reading The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls) with the comment that “different people are mature enough to handle information about their bodies at different times” and that she wasn’t going to ask us to stop (although she may have asked us to be a bit more discreet). I had an openly lesbian pediatrician, for goodness sake—she later became my gynecologist and her partner, also a doctor, once treated me for a particular nasty throat ailment—and I distinctly remember attending a huge Planned Parenthood fundraiser with my parents when I was eleven or twelve.

So, given this charmed existence of liberalism—I realize I was quite privileged to grow up this way; it has inexorably shaped my worldview and I feel very lucky—you can imagine my shock and horror when I stumbled across the 1996 HBO movie If These Walls Could Talk.

I don’t remember how I came across the film. We didn’t have HBO when I was a kid, and my television viewing was pretty restricted (an irony now considering that I now adore TV and recently conducted an “experiment” wherein I watched television for twenty-four hours). Maybe it was rebroadcast on another channel. Maybe my parents had a tape of it a friend had given them. I don’t know. But it totally rocked my worldview.

I’m fairly certain anyone reading this has probably at least heard about the movie, if not seen it, but just in case…If These Walls Could Talk chronicles three women’s experiences with abortion in the 50s, 70s and 1990s (starring, among others, Demi Moore, Cher, and Sissy Spacek). It’s pretty harrowing, as you can imagine, and was nominated for a number of Emmys and Golden Globes. The 1990s segment ends in the insanely bloody bombing of an abortion clinic, which haunted me through much of my adolescence.

So, it’s no wonder that in 8th grade, when we were asked to write a short speech taking a stance on some controversial issue, I chose abortion. I recently came across my speech while cleaning out boxes (I just moved last month), and thought I’d quote a bit here. It’s not Shakespeare or anything—I mean, I was fourteen—but I was pretty proud of it at the time and so I haven’t edited it from the original:
Picture this: a young girl, maybe 14 or 15, sneaks down a dark alley to have a dangerous operation performed without correct supervision and under unsanitary conditions that may cause AIDS and many other disesases. This is what will happen if abortion is made illegal. Not only will women continue to have abortions, but it will be life-threatening to them. Abortion is one of the most controversial issues today in America. As in all controversies, there are at least two sides to the abortion issue basically under the headers, “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

I happen to be advocating the latter. Pro-choice doesn’t mean, as some people think, that abortion should be used as a method of birth control. It simply means that women should have the right to make a decision that concerns their body on their own. The first point I’d like to make is that aborition was illegal in most states between 1880 and 1973, and many women who had illegal abortions performed were put at serious risk or even died. In countries where aborition is illegal it is the leading cause of maternal death. […] The so-called “pro-life” advocacy is also ironic considering that there have been over 1000 reported acts of violence towards abortion clinics including bombings, death threats, kidnappings, and shootings since 1977. In fact, in 1984 a part-time abortion consultant came home to find her cat decapitated; in 1993, Dr. David Gunn who performed abortions in Florida was murdered after withstanding years of harassing letters and death threats, and there have been several more bombings, shootings, and even murders by anti-abortionists since. […]
It goes on, as I try to address as many issues as possible in two pages (religion, when life begins in the womb, etc.), and hence it ends up being pretty formulaic in terms of rhetoric, and not the impassioned narrative I remembered it to be. However, the research I did and the sentiment I was trying to express have stuck with me through the years. Granted, I now have a much more nuanced understanding of reproductive rights and abortion issues, not just information gleaned from an HBO film and a few newspaper articles and websites (I’m not even positive I had all my facts right). Still, I think my younger self would be as horrified as I am that there’s a serious risk these days that Roe v. Wade could be overturned. And, so, I wanted to dedicate this post to reproductive rights, and finish up by sharing a few links.

RH Reality Check: Does Personhood Start At Fertilization? from RH Reality Check on Vimeo.
  • And last, but not least, check out the What to Expect When You’re Aborting blog. Some people might find the blogger—who’s been posting almost in real-time about her experiences with her own abortion—a bit…er…provocative (some might say offensive, but I wouldn’t), but I think her blog is incredibly fascinating, engaging, intimate and real. Very much worth a read.

What about you all? When do you first remember learning about Roe v. Wade and the pro-choice versus pro-life debate? Have your feelings about abortion changed over the years or stayed the same?

Also, please feel free to include more links to other useful/interesting articles in the comments.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

'Bitch' and 'Chicks Rock' P.S.A.

Two Public Service Announcements from Fourth Wave:

1. Help Save BITCH Magazine. If you can donate, please do. If you can't donate, spread the word. BITCH is a non-profit, feminist magazine, and this may be their last issue:

2. The Women's Mosaic has started a new blog, Chicks Rock, which is dedicated to providing a space "for women to share their experiences related to diversity and personal growth." Check it out, comment and maybe even consider becoming a guest blogger.

Plus, a couple bonus links:

* A great article pondering why there aren't more superheroine movies ("And why not start with the superwoman who was sent here to bring a feminine--and feminist--perspective to the fight against evil? It might take Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth to make studio executives own up to the fact that 41 years after she first made it on the screen, they're still afraid of Diana Prince.")
H/T don't ya wish your girlfriend was smart like me?

* Stephen Colbert on the McCain campaign's tactics of silence, diversion and hypocrisy

H/T Appetite for Equal Rights

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Sexism, noun

From the Oxford English Dictionary:
sexism, n: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
(my emphasis)

Do we need to explain to the McCain campaign the difference between sexism and satirical criticism? Just because someone is a woman and you're making fun of that someone doesn't automatically make it sexist. Why are you doing this to me Carly Fiorina? I don't want to even have to think about Sarah Palin anymore, let alone talk about her, and you all keep making me. Of course, that's been your ploy all along. But we're on to you, McCain. America is on to you. I hope.

H/T Appetite for Equal Rights for the vid.

P.S.: Check out Feministing's new anti-Palin shirt.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Feminist Flashback #2

I know I said that I wasn't going to talk about Sarah Palin anymore, and I won't. My excuse for posting this is because it's Feminist Flashback Sunday, I needed to post a clip/image anyway, and even though this isn't technically a flashback (flashback to 24 hours ago...such a long time past!), I absolutely adore Tina Fey. So there.

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