Saturday, September 29, 2007

Plastic Feminism

Has Artificial Beauty Become the New Feminism?
By Jennifer Cognard-Black, Ms. Magazine. Posted September 29, 2007.
How the pitch for cosmetic surgery co-opts feminism.

This spring, Sideways star Virginia Madsen became a spokesperson for Allergan Inc., the maker of Botox." Quoted in People magazine, Madsen asserts that she's made "a lot of choices" to keep herself "youthful and strong": "I work out. I eat good foods. And I also get injectables."

In celebrity promos such as Madsen's, the current pop-cultural acceptance of cosmetic medicine is clear -- and is borne out by the rising numbers of customers. Since 2000, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reports a 48 percent increase in all cosmetic (elective) procedures, both surgical, such as breast augmentations, and minimally invasive, such as the injectable wrinkle-filler Botox.

Once considered clandestine and risky, cosmetic procedures are currently treated across a variety of media as if they were as benign and mundane as whitening your teeth. Advertisers, TV producers, publishers, PR personnel and even physicians themselves are touting it as an effortless, egalitarian way for women of all backgrounds to "enhance" their looks and "stay young."

Not only have cosmetic procedures become more acceptable, but they're being promoted in less sensationalized ways to whole new markets. Increasingly, reality TV's Cinderella tale of surgical transformation is being replaced with a smart woman's narrative of enlightened self-maintenance. While Extreme Makeover and its imitators shame and blame ugly-duck patients in order for prince-surgeons to rescue them and magically unlock their inner swans through "drastic plastic" (multiple surgeries), other media sources now compliment potential customers as mature women who are "smart," "talented" and "wise." Such women are supposedly savvy enough to appreciate their own wisdom -- but, then again, they should want to soften the telltale marks of how many years it took them to acquire it. "I am not using these injectables to look 25," Madsen insists. "I don't want to be 25. I just want to look like me."

Alex Kuczynski, a New York Times reporter and author of Beauty Junkies (Doubleday, 2006) calls these latest appeals "the new feminism, an activism of aesthetics." That ignores the work of feminists from Susan Faludi to Susan Bordo, who have argued for years against the global beauty industry and its misogynistic practices. Yet the cosmetic-surgery industry is doing exactly what the beauty industry has done for years: It's co-opting, repackaging and reselling the feminist call to empower women into what may be dubbed "consumer feminism." Under the dual slogans of possibility and choice, producers, promoters and providers are selling elective surgery as self-determination.

Moreover, much of the media covering cosmetic surgery centers on the idea of choice. Parallel to Madsen's insistence that using Botox is just another lifestyle choice with little difference from working out and eating well, Cosmetic Surgery for Dummies (For Dummies, 2005) promises that the reader will discover how to "decide whether surgery is right for you," "find a qualified surgeon," "set realistic expectations," "evaluate the cons," "make the surgical environment safe" and ultimately "make an informed choice." The word "choice" obviously plays on reproductive-rights connotations, so that consumers will trust that they are maintaining autonomy over their bodies. Yet one choice goes completely unmentioned: The choice not to consider cosmetic surgery at all.

These days, with consumers able to "choose" from among a dizzying array of procedures and providers, even the most minute areas of the female body are potential sites of worry and "intervention." Surgical procedures have been developed to reduce "bra fat," to make over belly-buttons, to "rejuvenate" vaginas after childbirth or to achieve the "Sex and the City effect" -- foot surgeries to shorten or even remove a toe in order for women to squeeze their feet into pointy shoes.

Few seem immune to the sell, no matter what their income. In fact, according to an ASPS-commissioned study, more than two-thirds of those who underwent cosmetic surgery in 2005 made $60,000 or less. Easy access to credit and the declining cost of procedures has brought even the working class into the market.

The most graphic consequences of these trends are the stretched, alien, expressionless faces worn by certain celebrities and increasing numbers of "everyday" women. There are also the disfigurements and deaths that can result from surgeries gone wrong.

At the end of Beauty Junkies, Kuczynski asserts that "looks are the new feminism." Yet it's feminists who have led the fight against silicone breast implants when research suggested they were dangerous. It's feminists who have pointed out that a branch of medicine formed to fix or replace broken, burned and diseased body parts has since become an industry serving often-misogynistic interests. And it's feminists who have emphatically and persistently shown that cosmetic medicine exists because sexism is powerfully linked with capitalism -- keeping a woman worried about her looks in order to stay attractive, keep a job or retain self-worth. To say that a preoccupation with looks is "feminist" is a cynical misreading; feminists must instead insist that a furrowed, "wise" brow -- minus the fillers -- is the empowered feminist face, both old and new.

This article is excerpted from a longer piece in Ms. Magazine. To get the whole story, pick up Ms. magazine on newsstands now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Periods and the School Cops

September 28, 2007

Keeping schools safe through period-monitoring

As a security measure, a school in upstate New York, has banned students from carrying bags (backpacks, purses anything). Unless you're a menstruating girl, that is. Need some clarification? So did I.

A student at Tri-Valley High School was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin, 14, had a small purse with her that day.

That's why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn't have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, "Do you have your period?"

Samantha was mortified.

Apparently, there was a school rumor (not an actual rule) that girls could only carry small bags or purses if they had their periods. So security guards starting pulling girls out of classes, or questioning them in the hallways, about whether they were menstruating or not. Real appropriate.

What's heartening, though, is that the students aren't taking this crap without a fight.

Girls have worn tampons on their clothes in protest, and purses made out of tampon boxes.

Some boys wore maxi-pads stuck to their shirts in support.

After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to {Principal Robert] Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now "part of the problem."

Yeah, girls who don't want creepy security guards knowing about their cycles are huge problems. Soon, they'll expect things like basic respect and privacy rights!

h/t to Shannon.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Egypt and Genital Mutilation

Court Backs Egypt's Ban On Mutilation

Published: December 29, 1997
In a judgment that women's rights groups say will resonate throughout the Islamic world, Egypt's highest court yesterday upheld a ban on the genital cutting of girls and women, a ritual widely practiced in Africa.

The decision by the supreme administrative court marks the culmination of several years of debate in Egypt between Government officials and some Islamic conservatives, who contend that the practice they call female circumcision is a cultural or religious issue, and not a matter for government or the courts.

Yesterday's ruling overturned a lower court decision challenging the ban that was imposed by the Egyptian Health Ministry in 1996. The ruling cannot be appealed. Violations carry a three-year jail sentence.

''Circumcision of girls is not an individual right under Sharia,'' the court said in its judgment, striking down the argument that Islamic law condones the practice. ''There is nothing in the Koran that authorizes it,'' the court said.

Asma Abdel Halim, a Sudanese lawyer based in New York who has been helping African women campaign against the practice, said that the Egyptian decision ''will give a tremendous boost to women, because they will now have a very strong weapon to use.''

''This decision from Egypt's highest court is really profound,'' Ms. Abdel Halim said in an interview yesterday. ''It is significant because Egypt has for a long time been the center of both Islamic scholarship and Islamic jurisprudence, and many people look up to Egypt.''

Ms. Abdel Halim said it was also important that in Egypt, as elsewhere where what women's groups call female genital mutilation is practiced, the battle is being waged by local women. The practice includes removing a girl's clitoris, and sometimes much of the outer genital area, to strip her of sexual feelings.

The ruling counters accusations that only outsiders -- ''neo-colonialists'' in the opinion of some who defend the practice -- are intent on ending it, she said.

In Gambia in November, a grass-roots organization called the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices succeeded in persuading the Government to lift censorship on the subject of genital mutilation, giving private groups freedom to campaign against it.

Jessica Neuwirth, an American lawyer who is president of Equality Now, an international women's human rights organization that helped the Gambian and Egyptian campaigns, among many others, said on Sunday that Egypt's female genital mutilation task force should get the credit for making the issue of genital mutilation public. The task force included Government officials and representatives of a range of private organizations like the Egyptian Society for Prevention of Harmful Practices to Woman and Child.

The cutting of a girl's clitoris and sometimes the outer lips of the vagina -- rough surgery often performed by traditional practitioners or family members wielding knives or razors -- can leave her severely damaged, prone to infections and, frequently, incontinent. Many girls bleed to death during or after the procedure.

In extreme cases, women's organizations say, girls' or women's mutilated vaginas are stitched shut, then unstitched before and restitched after intercourse with their husbands, an attempt to make them appear to be permanently virgins.

In Egypt, where the practice is very common among not only Muslims but also Coptic Christians, private and some Government clinics have been teaching medical staff members and patients about the dangers of genital cutting.

Today's court decision ended -- at least legally -- a controversy that began when Egypt tried to stop the practice in Government hospitals and heightened after Health Minister Ismail Sallam announced in July 1996 that genital mutilation would be banned across the board in Egypt. The ban followed a long campaign by Egyptian human rights organizations and women's groups.

In June of this year, Mr. Sallam's ban was overturned by a lower court in a case brought by proponents of genital excisions, who argued that it was an Islamic practice. The leader of the challenge was Sheik Yussef al-Badri. He argued in court that Islam had condoned the practice for 14 centuries.

Seeking Trophy Wife

Seeking Trophy Wife: M.R.S. Degree Required By Mike S. AdamsMonday, May 7, 2007 I have a friend who’s going through a rough time in his marriage. Recently, his wife told him she was moving out and getting an apartment for six months so she could “find herself.” In typical feminist fashion she asked him for some money to help pay for her lease, power, and cable deposits. One of her main criticisms of him was that he offered her unsolicited financial advice. Had she listened to her husband she wouldn’t be in such a fix. So I told my friend to give her a copy of the book Catch-22 instead of writing her a check. Maybe she could “find herself” in a twelve dollar novel by Joseph Heller.

Of course, when I hear of married women making idiotic statements like “I need to go find myself,” “I need to learn how to be me,” and “My husband and I should be equals in every respect of the marriage” I’m forced to make one of two conclusions. First, the woman is not taking the medication her psychiatrist prescribed for her. That can be cured by simply telling her to take her damned medication.

But the other conclusion - that she is just a bad wife because she got a bad education while she was in college – calls for a more complicated cure. That is why today I’m asking colleges across America to put an end to the jokes about M.R.S. degrees by actually starting M.R.S. degree programs nationwide. With all the talk about sexual diversity it’s high time we started to celebrate nuptial diversity without all this useless banter about gay marriage. No reasonable person could be opposed to M.R.S. degrees for women who aspire to be “nothing more” than a wife and mother. The most important job any woman can ever hold is that of a mother.

Important people like teachers can have an effect on thousands of students, but no teacher can have that much of an effect on a child she only knows for one year. Mothers, on the other hand, will influence their own children for about fifty years. Last week, Fox News ran a story saying that if housewives were paid they would make about $138,000 a year. This number demonstrates that there is a great deal that goes into being a stay-at-home mom. But is the average college graduate prepared to handle these responsibilities? Not without an M.R.S. degree. A student who chooses to pursue a bachelor’s degree in M.R.S. would receive a true liberal arts degree. She would take classes in general areas such as history, English, and science, just so she can educate her children. She should take child development classes, educational psychology, first aid, and accounting, too. Culinary classes, sewing, interior design, day care management, safe driving classes and communication classes would also be required. Of course, like any other major, the college would need to set up some new classes distinct to the M.R.S. major.

I have several suggestions below: MRS 101 - Why Ovaries Matter. Recently, a female student at Ohio University was attacked for saying she would want a male, rather than a female, firefighter to save her if she ever got caught in a blaze. Those who criticized her were under the impression that gender differences are simply socially constructed. That isn’t true. Men have testicles and women have ovaries. And both of these facts have consequences. MRS 102 - Sexual Activity and Reproductive Choice. If a woman has a constitutional right to have an abortion, she certainly has a constitutional right to be a slut, too. But there is no constitutional right to exercise a constitutional right without consequences. A woman needs to know how being a slut in college will affect her self-image and how that will, in turn, affect her marriage or marriages later in life. And she also needs to know how sleeping with a lot of women affects the psychological make-up of her future spouse.

“Equality” is not the only reason we need to do away with double-standards on pre-marital sex. MRS 210 - Sex after Marriage. A woman has an obligation to keep herself trim and attractive after she gets married. She also has a right not to have a fat slob for a husband. That’s why married couples should work out together. That will do a lot to keep their sex lives interesting but they’ll need more than just physical fitness. That’s what this class will be all about. MRS 220 - Spousal Communication. Some women who are married think it’s alright to talk to their mothers each and every single day on the telephone. That’s okay, unless, of course, she’s talking to her mommy about a marital problem her husband does not even know about. It’s not rational or adult to expect the man to figure out the problems you conceal. It’s far healthier to learn to communicate with your spouse directly even if it means there will be an occasional argument.

And, for the sake of fairness and balance, there will be plenty of time in this class to talk about the consequences of marrying a momma’s boy. Cait Jacob and Becky Banks join my wife and mother-in-law as some of the prettiest red-heads you’ll ever see. I thank them for giving me the inspiration to write this column. Because we need more women just like them, we need M.R.S. degree programs now. Our young men need good wives more than anyone needs another degree program teaching women how to become lesbians, feminists, and man-haters for life.

Dr. Mike S. Adams would like to apologize for the redundancy in the final sentence of this column. Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and author of Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel: Confessions of a Conservative College Professor.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Southwest Airlines and Prudery

From Feministing.
Come fly the slut-shaming skies

Southwest Airlines is apparently now telling its female passengers how to dress. Kyla Ebbert was reprimanded and nearly kicked off a flight for daring to wear a tank top, miniskirt, and cardigan. (This picture is of the outfit she was wearing at the time. Scandalous, no? How dare she walk around in 100-degree weather wearing that?!)

They walked out onto the jet bridge, where [flight attendant/fashion policeman] Keith told Ebbert her clothing was inappropriate and asked her to change. She explained she was flying to Tucson for only a few hours and had brought no luggage.

“I asked him what part of my outfit was offensive,” she said. “The shirt? The skirt? And he said, 'The whole thing.' ”

Keith asked her to go home, change and take a later flight. She refused, citing her appointment.

The plane was ready to leave, so Keith relented. He had her pull up her tank top a bit, pull down her skirt a bit, and return to her seat.

Guess we know what airline Wendy "Modestly Yours" Shalit is going to be flying from now on!

The San Diego Union-Tribune columnist clearly thinks Ebbert's treatment was unacceptable, but then he throws up his hands:

Who knows where the lines are drawn these days, particularly when it comes to dress? If you watch television, or visit the mall, or take in a game at Petco Park, you'll see women dressed in ways that, 50 years ago, were pornographic. Today they are stylish.

Uh, newsflash: 50 years ago, Southwest was requiring its own stewardesses to wear skirts just as short as Ebbert's. (Picture below the fold.) So much for the good ol' days of modesty.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Feminism and eastern religions

1. Anderson, Pamela Sue. A Feminist Philosophy of Religion. Blackwell Pub., 1997.

Feminist philosophy of religion as a subject of study has developed in recent years because of the identification and exposure of explicit sexism in much of the traditional philosophical thinking about religion. This struggle with a discipline shaped almost exclusively by men has led feminist philosophers to redress the problematic biases of gender, race, class and sexual orientation of the subject. Anderson and Clack bring together new and key writings on the core topics and approaches to this growing field. Each essay exhibits a distinctive theoretical approach and appropriate insights from the fields of literature, theology, philosophy, gender and cultural studies. Beginning with a general introduction, part one explores important approaches to the feminist philosophy of religion, including psychoanalytic, poststructualist, postmetaphysical, and epistemological frameworks. In part two the authors survey significant topics including questions of divinity, embodiment, autonomy and spirituality, and religious practice. Supported by explanatory prefaces and an extensive bibliography which is organized thematically, "Feminist Philosophy of Religion" is an important resource for this new area of study.

2. Jeffery, Patricia and Amrita Basu, ed. Appropriating Gender: Women's Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia.

"Appropriating Gender: Women's Agency, the State, and Politicized Religion in South Asia" is a comprehensive collection of essays that examines the role of women in fundamentalist movements, as well as the gender policies of these movements and of the South Asian states in which they operate. Divided into three sections, Part I examines gender, nation, and the state; Part II the "Everyday and the Local"; and Part III the dynamics of agency and activism in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. "Appropriating Gender" is the first work to address fundamentalism from a woman's perspective, and is sure to become a classic in the fast-growing field of gender studies.

3. Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women: Tradition, Revision, Renewal By Ellison Banks Findly
Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women is a diverse array of scholars, activists, and practitioners explore how women are bringing about change in the forms, practices, and institutions of Buddhism.

4. Feminism And Islam: Legal And Literary Perspective. By Yamani, Mai
In an age when Western feminism is undergoing redefinition, this book offers to the worldwide debate sixteen contributions from the surprising setting of Muslim countries. These studies address the feminist modes of expression in relation to, or as a challenge to, Islamic laws and traditions.

5. Feminism and World Religions By Arvind Sharma, Katherine K. Young
Leading women scholars address their own traditions as they explore seven world religions in this unprecedented feminist treatment.