Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sexuality Feminism

I’ve been struggling, like many feminists interested in sexuality, with the issue of self-identification. I am clearly neither an anti-porn feminist nor a sex-positive feminist. I very much enjoy porn, but I think its trends and messages are extremely problematic. I'd much rather see a new, different kind of pornography as an alternative to what we've already got.

In the past, I’ve identified most closely with sex-positive feminism. When I was growing up, I was socially attacked and ostracized for being a woman who was openly interested in sex. This hurt me. When I encountered sex-positive feminism, it was like a light shone down from the sky. There were other people who thought that sex was important, that women could be sexual, that I was really an okay person even though I had a sex drive.

On the other hand, I don’t agree with their total lassiez-faire attitude towards porn. I think it’s important to recognize the systematic misogyny in porn. I don’t want to ban porn at all, but we can’t do any better for sexuality if we don’t recognize its problems. That “pornified” misogyny is part of what creates the idea that women can’t be sexual unless they’re whores (in other words unless their sex is in service of men). I can see that, and think it’s important.

Therefore, I am coining a new term for myself. I am a sexuality feminist. I believe that sexuality is central to gender inequality. I think that addressing sexual inequality is a very crucial step towards decreasing overall gender inequality. I make sexual equality the main focus of my activism.

This term could, in fact, apply to both the anti-porn and the sex-positive feminists. It says nothing about whether you’re in favor of mainstream porn or not. Maybe it could even let us work together sometimes.

It doesn’t mean we have to give the word “pornography” a new meaning in order for the average person to understand what we mean when we define ourselves. It doesn’t suggest that those who oppose us are “sex-negative” or anti-sex. Rather than putting us in opposition to something, it gives us a realm in which to work, rebel, agitate, create, define, and live.

Who knows, maybe it could catch on. I'm claiming it here and now: I’m a sexuality feminist.

Cross-posted at Paper Cuts and Plastic.

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Will unemployment help reduce pay equality?

Mild speculation alert!

According to the latest statistics, due to men being laid off at higher rates women now make up almost 50% of the workforce. (Thanks to Girl w/ Pen.) Now, as the Gw/P post pointed out, this is not necessarily a good thing, either for women or society as a whole.

But I do think that something very interesting could happen here. While much of the reason for this gender-unequal decrease is due to an overall decrease in male-dominated sectors (construction, etc.), there are many, many jobs being lost in other areas. Now, we know that women are paid much less on average than men. Furthermore, this pay inequality is not only caused by a larger percentage of men having jobs in higher paying fields, rather, the inequality holds true in almost every field (PDF).

If an employer is forced to lay someone off out of several who hold similar jobs, who are they going to choose - the higher paid person or the lower? Given similar work output (which is reasonable, I believe), most employers should choose the higher paid worker, who is statistically more likely to be male. This, will lead to a decrease in the gendered pay gap, at least temporarily.

The real test will come when the economy improves, pay rises, and unemployment drops. Will the men who were let go for having higher salaries be hired back at similar salaries to the women who remained? Will women's salaries be raised? (increased relative seniority, etc.) In other words, whereas historically women have been entering, at a lower wage, into a male-dominated workforce, at some future point significant numbers of men might be entering into a (slightly) female-dominated workforce. I'm certain pay won't become equal overnight, but hopefully things will improve.

On the other hand, non-whites are being disproportionately affected by rising unemployment. I'm not sure what the causes are, but I imagine it's related to social inequalities. So, it comes down to: a (potential) step forward, and an (immediate) step back.

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Some Entertainment News

According to Just Jared (and with a h/t to After Ellen for the link), Amy Poehler's new television series, created by The Office executive producers Greg Daniels and Michael Schur and co-starring Rashida Jones, has begun filming. The new show Public Service will premiere on Thursday, April 9th at 8:30pm on NBC. As a huge fan of Poehler's, and an even bigger fan of women headlining sitcoms, I'm looking forward to it!

In a related vein, Awards Daily published a list of 2008’s Top Ten Best Written Female Characters (h/t Women and Hollywood). They are, in order:

1. Eve, Wall-E,
2. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), Frozen River
3. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), Doubt
4. April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), Revolutionary Road
5. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and Elizabeth Abbo (Tilda Swinton), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
6. Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas), I’ve Loved You So Long
7. Poppy (Sally Hawkins), Happy-Go-Lucky
8. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Kym (Anne Hathaway), Rachel Getting Married
9. Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), The Wrestler
10. [Honorable mentions] Wendy (Michelle Williams), Wendy and Lucy, Kate Walker (Emma Thompson), Last Chance Harvey, and Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that #1 is a robot, but Eve is a pretty awesome character. I haven't seen most of the films listed (although I can't wait to see #6 and I'm going to see #8 tonight); I did see The Wrestler and have to agree that Marisa Tomei (who is generally not my favorite actor in the world, and that's an understatement) was incredible.

What do you all think about the list?

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tweet tweet tweet

Just a quick public service announcement to let all our readers know that I've finally succumbed to Twitter. You can find FWF's twitter feed on the right sidebar or via this link. For those avid tweeters, I may not be quite in your league yet, but I'm going to try to stay on top of things, at the very least I'll tweet updates about what's new on the blog.

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Put on your lipstick ladies and fight!

So we have a few news items to get excited about from this new political regime. First the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act will be signed by the President today (great name for legislation, almost as good as Loving v. Virginia). explains the bill here.

Hillary Clinton's election campaign has now morphed into It is hard to tell what they will get themselves up to, but I'll do my best to keep you posted. In the meantime some tasty nuggets from what they have posted so far on the site. First Senator Barbara Mikulski from my home state, Maryland on the Fair Pay Act:

Change in the federal law books means change in women’s checkbooks. We need to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It's time for a new American revolution - we need to put on our lipstick, square our shoulders and fight together!

Gotta love Senator Mikulski!

And also a great story from New Hampshire which not has the first state senate with a majority of women.

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Check out the 71st Carnival of Feminists

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Hop to It! and check out the excellent entries in the 71st Carnival of Feminists!

(Also, if you haven't already, you should also take a gander at the 70th Carnival of Feminists over at Sheffield Fems, which I stupidly forgot to mention a couple weeks ago. Oops!)

Go. Read. And be careful not to land on Park Place or you'll owe the banker your first-born.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ten Tips for Dads to Promote Daughters' Sports

Why should a daughter or stepdaughter participate in sports & physical activity? To be more healthy (in mind & body), feel better about herself, learn new skills, stay off alcohol & drugs, defer sexual activity, and, TO HAVE FUN! Sadly, some people (too often, including fathers) worry that girls are too delicate, unskilled, or inadequate to play sports. To which the smart father and stepfather reply: "Baloney." In anticipation of February 4, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, here are 10 Tips to help Dads provide the kind of support Daughters need.

1. Make sports fun from an early age. Keep a relaxed approach when she's young. For example, have athletic-theme parties, like kickball and pizza.
2. Demonstrate interest in her athletic programs and activities. Attend her games and other extracurricular activities. If you live away from your daughter, be sure to talk with her after every game to hear how it went.
3. Learn the importance of physical activity for girls. Read research from organizations like the Women's Sports Foundation (e.g.: "
Go Out & Play") and Kids' Sports Psychology.
4. Leave coaching to coaches. Tina Syer of the Positive Coaching Alliance says, "You're there to fill the kids' emotional tanks and make sure they bounce back from mistakes, not to tweak their throwing motion or tell them where to be on the field." Be smart about choosing coaches tuned in to her age and skill level. If there's a lack of adequate coaches, sign up to volunteer!
5. Be a model fan. Cheer hard for your girl, and then cheer for everyone else who is playing, too. Think about what you would look like on the sidelines if someone were videotaping you instead of the game. Be sure you (and your daughter) would be proud of what you'd see. Every kid (and parent) should remember why they call it "playing" sports. And then encourage her to be a fan of college and professional women's sports like the
WNBA--by becoming a fan yourself!
6. Ask, "What do you and I hope to get from the experience?" Then tell her what you hope she gets. If you don't talk (and listen), she may assume all you care about is a winning record or how good her stats are. Make sure she knows you want sports to be a fun place to make friends, test herself, be healthy, and feel good about herself.
7. Let her play with boys. In "Raising Our Athletic Daughters: How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem and Save Girls' Lives," Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill suggest utilizing coed or single-sex programs according to your daughter's comfort level and what will contribute most to her learning and growth.
8. Help her use "mistakes" productively. When she messes up, she'll look to you first. So illustrate how to put mistakes in perspective by a) showing her how to let go of them and b) encouraging (but not demanding) her to use them as motivation to improve her skills.
9. Make sure girls and boys have equal sports opportunities and resources. Support Title IX and encourage school and other sports programs to be aware of and promptly address inequities.
10. Keep a relaxed, fun approach. Team sports teach girls how to be self-reliant while also working collaboratively to be competitive. If she loses interest in sports, you and she can still be physically active together--and books like The
Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide have plenty of other ways to relate and have fun together.

Learn more about healthy fathering of daughters @
© Joe Kelly

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Subversive Sirk: A Preview

In this evening's class, I'll be discussing two Douglas Sirk melodramas: All that Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956). Though Sirk expressed some discomfort over critics' interpretations of his films as subversive, ironic statements on the failings of American social values, even the trailers for his films seem to support such a reading of his work. Check out the trailer for All That Heaven Allows for a taste of Sirkian melodrama and Universal's sensational marketing of his highly popular "14-karat" films.

Many of Sirk's films contain fascinating, and highly problematic, female subjects that should provide plenty of fodder for feminist-minded debate: a daughter who is an avid student of Freudian theory, a son who seems the very embodiment of the Oedipal complex, a nymphomaniac socialite who's been repressed by her domineering father and brother, and the list goes on. His films are full of subversive female subjects who engage in behaviors that challenge the social norms that determine how women should behave. And spectators may find themselves in the interesting position of both admiring a Sirkian woman's courage and condemning her rashness. Or, in the case of All That Heaven Allows, one may be impressed by a character's initial willingness to challenge deeply-seeded social norms, only to exclaim in frustration when she returns to an unsatisfying, but socially acceptable, position of conformity. Later in the week I'll present more detailed highlights from my class's discussion of the two films

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Feminist Flashback #21

Sunday was my birthday, so I'm going to count that as a valid excuse for being a day (and a half) late (again) with this week's Feminist Flashback. Today, as a form of penance, I'm offering two videos (the intro and a skit) from episode 9 (11/27/1976) of the second season of Saturday Night Live, which was hosted by Jodie Foster when she was 14 and the most adorable tomboy you will ever see. Enjoy!

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The End of Swagger

Sometimes, it really is better to just let the professionals say it for you. In this case, Anna Quindlen's take on U.S. foreign policy, women, and the woman who is now in charge of it.

The End of Swagger

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Something Else Besides a Mother: Reexamining a Feminist Classic

This semester, I'm teaching a graduate seminar in film theory that will examine three different film genres/types: melodramas, crime films, and horror films. In fact, we'll be discussing many representations that are ripe for feminist analysis: sacrificial mothers in the 1930s "woman's film;" manic lesbians in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures and Jean-Pierre Denis's Murderous Maids; castrating women in Mitchell Lichtenstein's Teeth and Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct; both female victims and valiant "final girls" in 1980s slasher films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. The films selected for the course, and the accompanying readings, certainly betray my interest in genre films and their often contradictory and inflammatory representations of the female subject. Since I thought all of this might be of interest to Fourth Wave readers, I'm planning to share highlights from each week's seminar in the hopes that readers might find these films interesting, perhaps even weighing in on the debates that crop up in my classroom each Tuesday night. So I'll start with a film that is likely familiar to anyone who's spent any time reading feminist film theory: Stella Dallas.

King Vidor's 1937 film has been debated almost to the point of exhaustion in the 70-odd years since its release. Yet, Stella Dallas's central questions--What, precisely, does it mean to be a good mother? What, if anything, should a mother sacrifice in order to ensure her children's happiness--still feel strikingly modern and ripe for debate. My students certainly expressed a wide range of opinions about Stella's struggles. The film focuses largely on its titular character, a feisty working-class woman, Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck), who seduces and marries a man seemingly far outside of her league, Stephen Dallas (John Boles). In this clip from early in the film, we see the method by which Stella attracts the attention of the eligible, handsome, and rich bachelor.

With Stella's mother prominently displayed in the background looking haggard and unhappy, this scene makes it clear that Stella's decision to woo Stephen is motivated by a desire to avoid becoming a tired "mill hen" like Mrs. Martin. Unlike her brother, she believes in being ambitious in searching for a spouse. So what's so interesting about that, you might ask? Hollywood constantly depicts women who use their sexuality to escape poverty via marriage, who hood-wink men into marrying them by recasting themselves as picture-perfect examples of wifely compliance. However, Stella Dallas's story becomes increasingly complex and inspires a debate about whether women want, or should want, "to be something more than a mother."

I'll summarize the narrative so that readers may have some insight into why this film has attracted the attention of so many feminist film theorists: shortly after the above scene Stella manages to win the hand of Stephen Dallas, much to the surprise of both the upper- and working-class citizens of the mill town. In one particularly telling scene, the couple go to a movie after which Stella expresses her desire to become just as refined as the women she sees on screen. Although he counters that Stella should remain 'just they way she is,' Stella's proclamation clearly impresses Stephen. Though it later proves to be an empty statement, one can't help but admire Stephen's insistence that Stella is far more interesting than the cookie-cutter women he sees in their town or on the silver screen.

Following a brief courtship, the couple marry and, after the passage of an indeterminate amount of time, have a daughter, Laurel, whom they both adore. In fact, even though Stella used to make fun of the other mill women who were so eager to have children, she is surprised to discover that she loves being a mother. In fact, when her friend Ed Munn asks why she doesn't get out much anymore the former party girl proclaims, "I don't seem to get any fun out of a good time anymore. All the time I'm out I'm thinking of [Laurel] and what she's doing and how soon I can get back to her." To my mind, Stella's comments speak to both her particular situation and to today's debates about motherhood. Certainly, I'm troubled by Stella's house-bound state, her willingness to give up all her social activities, every time I watch that scene. I wonder what happened to the woman who enjoyed parties and meeting new people. What happened to Stella's plans of going to school so she could obtain a job. Why must she only sew clothes for little Laurel when Stella can design clothes that look like they belong in an up-scale boutique. On the other hand, I also must acknowledge that Stella seems to truly enjoy the role of devoted mother. She is doing precisely what seems to make her happy.

Yet, despite her obvious devotion to her daughter, many members of Stella's community--including her husband--deem her too crass to be a good mother to Laurel, and her husband decides that moving away from Stella's working-class roots will allow them to "start fresh" and encourage Stella to become a more refined, upper-class wife and mother. However, Stella longs to remain in the community she has always called home and refuses to join Stephen in New York. With Stephen making only occasional visits home, the couple's relationship becomes increasingly dysfunctional. To make matters worse, while in New York, Stephen runs into his first love, Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil) while purchasing a gift for Laurel's upcoming birthday. Many years before, just prior to his first meeting with Stella over sandwiches in fact, Barbara left the mill town to marry, leaving Stephen broken-hearted--not that one would have guessed given Stephen's eager romancing of Stella. Stephen sees in Barbara, the picture-perfect mother of three picture-perfect boys, the kind of wife and mother he thought Stella could become with a little coaching. And, as luck would have it, Barbara, with down-cast eyes, informs Stephen that she is now a widow, which allows Stephen and Barbara to renew their relationship posthaste, with Laurel paying frequent visits to the Morrison's lavish Long Island home.

Though she obviously loves her mother dearly, Laurel quickly become enamored with both the Morrison's high-class lifestyle and Barbara's particular brand of femininity.

Eventually, Stephen tries to persuade Stella to grant him a divorce, but she steadfastly refuses--until she learns that her own working-class roots are preventing Laurel from fully integrating into the upper-class world that Stella had long dreamed of accessing. Laurel falls in love with the wealthy Richard Grosvenor III (Tim Holt) during one of her trips to New York to visit her father, but now she is in danger of being ostracized due to her mother's flamboyant attire and crude behavior. In the following scene, one can see how Stella's unique attitude and style of dress may hamper Laurel's ability to move up the social ladder and win Richard's hand. Though she has the money to grant her entry into the country club frequented by the Morrisons and the Grosvernors, Stella cannot project an image of feminine beauty that will satisfy this crowd. In fact, Stella embodies a vision of womanhood, and motherhood, that turns her into an object of ridicule within this button-down, country-club community, one that will likely cause Laurel to lose the affection of Dick Grosvernor.

Or is there another way to read Stella's feminine self-presentation? Are her attire and her crassness signs of naivete and failed imitation? Or is Stella expressing an admirable devil-may-care attitude that exposes the absurdity of this upper-crust imagery? I'm not sure Stella cares one bit whether those country club snobs approve of her sartorial style--that is, until that sartorial style begins to have a negative impact on Laurel's life.

Shortly after the above scene, Stella decides that perhaps her critics were right: she's bad for Laurel. Stella becomes convinced that a complete severing of the mother-daughter relationship is the only way for Laurel to achieve the full transition to the upper-class that has eluded her mother. As a result, Stella tells Laurel that she has fallen in love with loud-mouth, drunkard Ed Munn, a friend whom Laurel has always loathed. Stella emphasizes that she cannot pursue this relationship with Laurel hanging around and explains that she wants to "be something else besides a mother" at this point in her life. The viewer knows this proclamation is all a lie, but Laurel runs back to New York, completely heartbroken.

An ellipses follows this wrenching scene between mother and daughter and the film immediately moves to the day of Laurel's marriage to Dick Grosvenor. And it is this final wedding scene that often inspires the most heated debates among viewers and critics. I know my students certainly disagreed about how one is to interpret the film's final moments: Laurel mourning her mother's absence on her wedding day while Stella stands out in the rain, stealing a glance at her daughter's wedding before walking away with both a wide smile and tears clearly visible on her face.
What happens to Stella after that moment is anyone's guess. And there's the rub. Viewers often debate about whether this final moment is a sign of Stella's victory--she has happily assured her daughter's success--or a sign that Stella has simply become complicit in her own demise. Stella has been convinced to give up the thing she desires above all else--her child--because being a good mother means making that ultimate sacrifice. I wonder where Fourth Wave readers might fall in this debate. Whether you've watched the entire film or only the clips I've posted here, I'd enjoy hearing how our readers might interpret that final scene of Vidor's much-discussed film. Until next week, when I'll bring you the highlights of some feminist-minded aspect of our discussion of two classic Douglas Sirk melodramas: All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind. Hopefully, this series will encourage me to become a more regular contributor to FourthWave as I've certainly been lax in posting!

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