Saturday, October 11, 2008

Happy National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day. Why is that important? Because when people come out--as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, etc.--they're telling the world that they're not ashamed of their sexuality, themselves or their lives. That they're proud to be who they are. The more people come out, the more obvious it will become that LGBTQ folks are just the same as everyone else, that being LGBTQ is only a part of our identity. We have families and pets and jobs and houses/apartments and coffee tables. And, chances are, people who know LGBTQ people are more likely to stand up for LGBTQ issues (except if you're Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin).

But you don't necessarily have to be gay to revel in the spirit of coming out day. Today, even if you're straight, come out as something as a sign of solidarity with the LGBTQ community (H/T to the Pride group at my graduate institution, who did this last year). Are you a feminist? Come out as a feminist. Are you a Buddhist? Tell the world. Each of us has many identity positions we occupy day after day, sometimes without even realizing that we take certain rights and privileges for granted. So, whether you're LGBTQ or not, today is a day to own your identity and to think about how your life is shaped daily by all the little pieces that make up who you are.

I'll start. I'm a lesbian, biracial, agnostic, a democrat and a feminist. Everyone I'm close to knows that I'm gay, from my parents--who were and are terrific about it--and relatives (even though it took me quite a while to tell them) to my friends. Still, I used to be very wary of coming out to people I only knew casually, to the extent that I attended the same karate dojo for five years (and worked there for one of those years), and only came out to two people there. But this summer I moved and made a decision; I wasn't going to hedge anymore. If someone asked me why I moved, I would tell them (to be with my partner) and if they didn't like it, tough. Four or five times now I've encountered the same question from people I just met, "Oh, so why did you come all the way out here?" and I've answered, "To be with my partner." And when they ask what my partner does, I always start the sentence with "she." It seems like a small step, but it's a huge deal to me, and every time so far the person I'm speaking with has responded positively and without hesitation. And that's how I realized that all these years I've been isolating myself. No, not everyone is going to be okay with the fact that I'm a lesbian, but I'll never know if I don't tell them and give them a chance. That's what Coming Out Day is about to me--not worrying what people will think of me and being proud of who I am and whom I love.

What about you all? Come out, come out! And, remember, you don't have to be LGBTQ to participate. Share your stories in the comments.

Update: Check out Hahn at Home's great coming out post over at Lesbiatopia and Queers United's Coming Out Day open forum. Also, a wonderful coming-out-as-an-ally post from Renee at Womanist Musings and Britni explains over at her blog why it can still be so hard to come out even when you're open about everything else.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Yay Connecticut!

Despite my "tolerance" for the Democrats' pro-civil unions anti-gay marriage stance, I am of course beyond thrilled that the state of Connecticut has decided to legalize same-sex marriage:
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry, reversing a lower court decision that had concluded that the civil unions legalized in the state three years ago offered the same rights and benefits as marriage.

With the 4-to-3 ruling, Connecticut becomes the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. California legalized gay marriage in May 2008, and Massachusetts in 2004.

“Today is really a great day for equality in Connecticut,” said Bennett Klein, senior lawyer at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Today’s decision really fulfills the hopes and dreams of gay and lesbian couples in Connecticut to live as full and equal citizens.”

Is it too early to be optimistic and say that things are starting to look up?

(H/T Pretty Much Everyone)

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Woman with a Gun (Part 1)

Much has been made in the six weeks since we were introduced to Sarah Palin of her gun-totin' ways, her life-long NRA membership (unsurprisingly the NRA has come out in support of the McCain-Palin ticket), her rather extreme views on gun control (or lack thereof) and her propensity for shooting things. For a while now, I've been interested in media representations of violence (or implied violence) and so Palin's predilection for firearms has me intrigued. What follows is the first part of a three-part analysis/exploration of the "woman with a gun" trope in popular/media culture. From politics to film to television and back to politics.

Part 1: They Shoot Wolves, Don't They?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit something before I even begin: I'm not really anti-gun, nor do I have a moral problem with hunting in general. I do believe in stricter gun control, including required background checks and permits to purchase both rifles and handguns, but I don't think firearms should be illegal. (Some states already have these requirements and some don't. If you look around, you can find up-to-date gun control laws on the internet with little trouble, but--just for illustrative purposes--this map of gun control laws by state is straightforward and succinct and gives you a general overview, even though it's a little outdated.) As regards hunting, I've never hunted myself and I'm not sure I'd ever want to hunt, but as long as hunters handle the animals humanely (i.e. not dragging out the chase or carelessly maiming) and use the animals they hunt for food and not trophies, I don't really have a problem with it. (It'd be pretty hypocritical of me to get up-in-arms over animals being hunted for food when I regularly eat meat. In fact, responsible hunting is probably more humane than what happens at slaughterhouses. But I digress.)

That said, we all know Governor Palin likes to hunt and she's happily asserted that "We hunt as much as we can, and I'm proud to say our freezer is full of wild game we harvested here in Alaska" (Newsweek). We've also seen the pictures of her with her spoils:

(The bear was actually shot by Palin's father, but now resides in her Anchorage office.)

You've probably also heard about her promotion of an aerial wolf gunning program, which is quite a bit more insidious than shooting the occasional caribou. The program, started by previous Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, was designed to control the population of wolves so they would leave more prey for human hunters:
Wolves, Murkowski believed, were clearly better than humans at killing elk and moose, and humans needed to even the playing field.But that was before Sarah Palin took Murkowski's job at the end of 2006. She went one step, or paw, further. Palin didn't think Alaskans should be allowed to chase wolves from aircraft and shoot them -- they should be encouraged to do so. Palin's administration put a bounty on wolves' heads, or to be more precise, on their mitts.
(Read the full article at Salon.)
Here's the ad against the practice paid for by the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund:

While hunting prey animals may be partially about "living off the land" and feeding your family (although I imagine the percentage of hunters who only care about food is small), the aerial wolf gunning program is solely an assertion of power. The mastery of (wo)man over nature. It not only enacts human dominance over animals for our own gains but also implies that we have the right to exert our superior weaponry and machinery however we please. It doesn't take a huge leap of logic to imagine where that kind of thinking can lead us (and has already).

And what of the image of Sarah Palin with a gun--from the faked bikini photo and Tina Fey as Palin pretending to cock an invisible gun on SNL, to the real McCoy (see the first photo above)? In the first two instances, the emphasis is clearly on sex appeal. Woman with a gun = hot.

And the latter case? The actual Sarah Palin holding an actual gun? Take a look at this very short video made by Palin supporters before the rest of the country even knew who Sarah Palin was (the video was posted to Youtube way back in July by the Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President folks, who are probably patting themselves on the back right about now):

What visual associations do they make with Governor Palin? Integrity. Sarah Palin is sworn in as governor. Leadership. Sarah Palin speaks with Army officers. Courage. Sarah Palin shoots an assault rifle. And then the kicker: "Republicans are much more open to strong women." Following on the heels of rat-a-tat gunfire, the only spoken words in the video make implicit connections between firearms/courage and courage/strength. So, again, we're back to guns as symbols of power (certainly not a new idea in and of itself). The photos speak: This woman can shoot and kill a 1200lb moose, a swift caribou or a vicious wolf, so she's master of the natural domain. She knows how to fire a rifle and doesn't blink, so she has the strength to lead and the courage to defend our nation.

But...there's more. Stay tuned for Part 2. In the meantime, what's do you think is the (theoretical) appeal of Sarah Palin and her guns? Why are they important to her image?

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Carnival of Feminists, #66

Check out the 66th Carnival of Feminists over at Apu's World.

The next Carnival will be hosted on October 22nd by Sally over at Jump Off the Bridge, so don't forget to submit your recent feminist blog entries to share with the world.

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Can I Be a Feminist and a Bottom in Bed?

This is my first post to Fourth Wave, and I feel a little like I'm dropping into your world in mid-sentence. I maintain a blog at and I will be cross-posting feminist-y bits and pieces from that site here. Hopefully that won't make my writing here too scattered; I figured it's just best to dive right in.

That said, here goes:

I'm a huge bottom in the bedroom. My best friend calls me "Little Nelly Bottom."

Depending on what sexual subculture you spend your time in, this could mean any of a million things. I spend most of my time in the lesbian community, and a little in the BDSM world, so that colors my understanding of the term. I use it to mean I like someone else to be in the driver's seat for sex, and I like to be on the tied-down end of bondage, a little spanking, and some power play.

Now, being in the passenger's seat doesn't mean I don't communicate my needs or that I'm not contributing to the action. I just like to get fucked. I like it when my lover takes control; I like to be pushed around a little, and I like being told what to do. As I've said before in my blog, I love to tease, but then I want to be thrown down and made to stop. (With appropriate consent, of course.)

I try to be comfortable with my naughty subservience, but as a feminist and a fiercely independent person, it's an awkward thing to feel and admit to. I get this niggling sense that I should be large and in charge all the time, like my personal politics should be carrying over into my sexual preferences. I'm trying to overthrow gender roles, here. Being submissive in bed is a stereotypically feminine thing. Bad feminist!

I don't consciously subscribe to that way of thinking, but it sneaks up on me a lot. One unfortunate consequence of feminism's emphasis on the personal as political is that it becomes too easy to discriminate against people for not being "feminist enough." I think that feminism is largely about personal choice regardless of gender, and when we try to name some behaviors as always feminist and others as always anti-woman, we're losing sight of that.

It's absolutely true that the patriarchy is created and perpetuated in our personal lives and our culture. There are millions of little ways we all contribute to it every day, without even noticing. It's so programmed into us that it's nearly impossible to get rid of completely. It's good to try not to perpetuate male privilege.

I think there are as many ways to fight patriarchy, though, as there are feminists. I think I can be a sexual bottom in a feminist way. If what I want is to be handcuffed and fucked and I name that, claim it, and go out into the world trying to make it happen, that's a feminist action. Being a woman and respecting my own sexuality and honoring it is a powerful thing.

Controlling female sexuality has been a big way the patriarchy has controlled women. By resisting that and writing my own narrative of sexuality, whatever that may entail, I'm coming into my feminist own. So long as I'm conscious and deliberate, I feel good about being a bottom.

Cross-posted to Paper Cuts and Plastic.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bill Maher: "a lot of girls...are just hos"

Maybe I'm a bit too touchy, but in my channel surfing last night I ran into the ever classy Bill Maher on Leno, and he was off on this tangent about how the people who were trying to get rid of wall street corruption (Elliot Spitzer) and who are trying to address poverty (John Edwards) were needlessly taken down by sex scandals. In the process of arguing the point with Leno, and trying to argue that pontificating about prostitution is exploitative is absurd, he said "a lot of girls in America, jay, are just hos, they wanna be hos..." I was really disgusted by these comments, as I was with Maher discussion of rich people, as though he is not one of them. I understand what Maher is trying to say, but I'm not sure I understand why women have to be taken down in the process, but apparently according to Maher, boys will be boys. Tell me what you think. All I could find was was the whole show at it is the October 7th show in "chapter 4." I'm curious to know if you all think I'm crazy or maybe Maher is just a hack?

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Are we objects or people?

Someone else was as pissed off as I was when McCain referred to Obama as "that one". Actually, if the various debate live-blogs and commentaries are any indication, most people are pissed off. Which is good. We should be. Donna Brazile explains further:

H/T Feministing

Also, on a not quite related note, check out this video made by the Human Rights Campaign about how LGBT Alaskans feel under Sarah Palin's watch:

H/T Queers United

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sarah Palin and Tina Fey Redux

I was going to just post a short comment on my SNL skit analysis responding to all the thoughtful and compelling comments I received from others around the blogosphere, but then I realized that my response might actually warrant its own post (because it got way too long for a comment), so here goes.

I don't think that it's SNL's job to change the world nor do I deny that its satire can and has made a difference in this campaign--at the very least, it's thrown all the hypocrisies and incongruities we've witnessed in the debates specifically and in the presidential race in general into sharp relief. Perhaps it's done more than that, but it's hard to measure a television show's effect on the politics of individual voters (unless someone's done a poll, though I don't know of any so far).

What I was getting at in my analysis is two-fold. On the one hand, in their comments both Erin and Kekla emphasized my point that "it's not SNL's job to bring home the political reality that Palin is a threat" (although commenter Bruce doesn't quite agree: "Tina Fey isn't just trying to amuse, she's trying to provoke as well.") This is exactly right--that SNL is comedy and should be held to comedy, not news show, standards--but it's also a bit like saying that fake news shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report don't affect people's outlook on politics just because they're supposed to be funny. So we can't overlook SNL's influence or the impact of the Fey-Palin association.

On the other hand, commenter drink me writes: "I find it very hard to believe that there's anyone who loves watching Tina Fey satirize Palin, and also is planning to vote for McCain/Palin. I understand the disconnect you're feeling, but in actual votes, I don't think it will make a difference." This commenter's point is well taken. It's probably true that most people who love Tina Fey's satire aren't McCain/Palin voters. However, I'm more worried about Democratic voters than Republican ones. The impetus for my analysis was working out why I found the SNL skits so disconcerting. One of those reasons, which I perhaps did not emphasize enough, is that these skits seem so funny, so obvious--and Fey is so good at making Palin seem ridiculous and, therefore, harmless (which was Le Loup-garou's original point)--that these skits may seduce us into thinking that everything's fine, that Palin's inexperience (for example) is clearly apparent to everyone in the country.

It disturbs me when I see that SNL skits and Daily Show clips get more (or even equal) net time than actual news stories, political analyses or clips from the real debates. I'm basing this concern on my very personal and completely unscientific experience with my friends' Facebook postings and email forwards, but that's how information travels these days, so I don't think it's an entirely specious assessment. That said, I'm not admonishing anyone. My previous post was a personal working-through, but I came to a conclusion that I think is important in a more widespread way. SNL is fantastic, but we need to keep striking while the iron's hot and bolster the effects of satire with continued political vigilance and public outcry. We can't rest on our media-sanctioned laurels.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Campaigning Women

I'm exhausted today, so while I've been working on a longer post, I just don't think it's going to happen tonight. Instead, I thought I'd post a couple things I've been meaning to share since late August, when I attended a few events at the Democratic National Convention with my friend Few.

The first is a link to the website of the Women's Campaign Forum's She Should Run project. WCF is an organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting pro-choice women who want to run for office, be it on the local, regional, state or national level:
We are delighted that a record number of women are serving in federal and state government in 2008, but there is still a long way to go. With 16 women in the U.S. Senate, 71 women in the U.S. House, eight women governors and 1,746 women serving in state legislatures, we have only scratched the surface. Also despite the tremendous class of women who ran in 2006 and 2007, the overall numbers of women running for office are still alarmingly low. But this is a story about more than numbers – example after example shows us that women (or even just one woman) make a huge difference.

With the She Should Run campaign, Women’s Campaign Forum will find and provide the critical ask to women who will make that difference. And by encouraging women at the beginning of their political careers, we will build a pipeline of pro-choice women to lead our country for years to come.

If you know a woman who should run for public office or if you've ever considered politics yourself, check out She Should Run. They even have a Step-by-Step Guide with candidate resources.

Secondly, check out this trailer for Director Mary Lambert's film 14 Women, co-produced by Sharon Oreck and Nicole Boxer (Senator Barbara Boxer's daughter). 14 Women is a documentary about women in the U.S. Senate (since filming, the number's risen to 16). It came out in 2007, but hasn't yet had a wide release:

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

How many times have you seen this today?

You all have probably seen this clip of the VP debate skit/opening from last night's SNL at least seventeen times today already, as I have. No doubt the skit is uproariously funny, but, like a few others today who have been offering compelling commentary on the Fey/Palin dopplegangericity (just writing that made me shudder, and not because I made up a word), I wanted to weigh in with a slightly more serious analysis.

First, the clip:

Since the moment three weeks ago when Tina Fey first donned that bouffant Palin wig and coaxed her voice into an accent reminiscent of someone from Garrison Keillor's fictional rural Minnesota town Lake Woebegone who spent a few years as part of the cast of Northern Exposure, I've marveled (admittedly a bit aghast) at the amazing and terrifying resemblance. And last week, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler--the comedic duo to end all comedic duos--satirized Palin's interview with Katie Couric, I remember thinking how it was simultaneously scary and hilarious that part of the fake interview was an almost verbatim recitation of the real interview. Today, Lauren over at Feministe quipped, "Next week, SNL is just going to overdub a laugh track on clips taken directly from the campaign trail." This is funny because it's true. And scary because it's funny.

Until now, I couldn't quite articulate the weird combination of hilarity and discomfort these SNL's skits instilled in me. Luckily, someone else did the job for me. In a post about last night's opening, Le Loup-garou at The Feminist Underground put into words my ambivalence:
The same thing happened with W. We marginalized how scary he was through parody and mocking. He is an idiot, but we (the media) made the fact he is poorly educated and underqualified less terrifying and more acceptable by painting him as lovably bumbling. Let us not marginalize Palin's poor qualifications by letting Tina Fey turn her into a harmless beauty queen. Palin denies global warming, gay rights, and science. She is as dangerous as her ideology and ideas, and we will not be misled by her winks and Fey's comedic renderings!

Le Loup-garou makes a compelling point here about the power of satire to diffuse and distort reality to the point of "lovable" buffoonery, and I realize now that the Tina Fey-Sarah Palin connection is problematic because it renders the contrast between charming parody and biting satire hazy and ambiguous. Le Loup's impetus for posting was a comment on the gossip site TMZ offering this consolation: "Tina nailed it again last night and even the staunchest Dem can see a silver lining if McCain/Palin wins in November -- four more years ... of Tina Fey." This also explains how I was feeling during the actual VP debate, when a small part of me, a part I kept trying to quiet down, wasn't so much listening to Palin's rambling recitation of talking points but instead thinking, "Wow, she really looks like Tina Fey. Tina Fey has been doing a great job parodying her. Boy, I love Tina Fey. Ack, but I don't love Sarah Palin. Nononononononono! Bad mental association. Bad." Or something along those lines.

It's hard to know if the SNL parodies are hurting or helping Sarah Palin. On the one hand, they provide much needed humor and relief to Democrats whose greatest desire is to see the absurdities of this campaign reflected back to them in the media. A satirical mirror that tells us, "You're not alone. You're not seeing things. This is crazy and, yes, Sarah Palin is talking in circles and not answering the questions asked of her. Yes, she's a hypocrite and homophobic and likes to shoot wolves from helicopters. Let us show you how absurd this all is." On the other hand, I think Sarah Palin is popular with certain people precisely because she's "folksy," precisely because she doesn't take herself as seriously as McCain or Obama or Biden, precisely because she can get away with saying at the debate that she "may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you [Biden] want to hear,” and winking repeatedly at the camera. And what an additional honor to be satirized by Tina Fey, to be made to seem so lovably, comically misguided, just a regular hockey mom, smart and ambitious and a little goofy, up there behind the podium doing her best to obfuscate and appeal to her version of the American public.

The Palin-Fey juxtaposition is disconcerting, even for me, and I've been reading all the political blogs and The New York Times and The Huffington Post. I recognize that Palin is grossly inexperienced, that I do not agree with her on a single issue, that her stance on abortion frightens me, that her "tolerance" of LGBTQ "lifestyles" infuriates me, that her disregard for the environment is mind-boggling, and that her version of women's rights is not just nonexistent but regressive. And yet, as Le Loup-garou reminds us, the association with Tina Fey's brilliant parody still manages to make her seem funny instead of downright terrifying.

Don't get me wrong. I think satire is important. But it's not SNL's job to make Sarah Palin look bad or good or scary or anything. SNL is just supposed to be funny, to hold a wavy circus mirror up to our already twisted contemporary political landscape and let us laugh a bit here and there. And maybe that's enough--to expose and magnify the inconsistencies and the incompetency and the obvious ploys that distract us from actual policies and beliefs. But the tenuous boundary between what's funny and what's real is something we should keep in the back of our minds while we're guffawing over Queen Latifah as Gwen Iffil and her raised-eyebrow disbelief at Palin-Fey's antics.

Feminism has often been accused of being anti-humor, but that's a ridiculous simplification. I love comedy, I think SNL's presidential campaign satire is hilarious and engaging, even necessary. However, satire cannot fully convey the very real stakes of this presidential race, and the impact on the economy, on women's rights, on gay rights, on the environment, on health care. That's all very serious. Because if John McCain and Sarah Palin are elected, it's not Tina Fey who will be our Vice President. And it won't seem so funny anymore.

[ETA: For an addendum to this post, including my response to comments, click here.]

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Feminist Flashback #5

A blast from the past. 1984. The other VP Debate. Geraldine Ferraro and George Bush, an excerpt. (Ferraro doesn't start talking until 3:50 and check out Bush's condescending tone around 7:35 -- "Let me help you Ms. Ferraro..." -- and she totally calls him on it afterward):

And check out this 1984 ABC News special about the pre-debate hub-bub (they don't allow embedding, but click for the video).

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