Monday, December 1, 2008

I am currently taking a women’s self-defense class with other members of FIA-STARSA. So far we’ve only had one lesson, and it was interesting. This one was focused on the mind, so we did less physical stuff and more mental. We made three lists, one of behaviors that are annoying, one of behaviors that are dangerous, and one of life-threatening. Included in the “annoying” category were whistles and catcalls, unwanted conversation, being called “baby” or “honey,” and stares. The “dangerous” list was comprised of things like being locked in a car, being alone with a strange man, being drunk and vulnerable, and unwanted physical contact. The “life-threatening” list includes violence, coercion via weapons or drugs, and being chased. We talked about how quickly something can go from annoying to dangerous or life-threatening, and how all of these actions are tied together. Some of the “annoying” behaviors are so embedded in our society that they would be difficult to challenge.
This made me think about something that I spend a lot of time thinking about: the line between careful and paranoid. People close to me have been raped, so I know the very real danger, which makes me more cautious. But, I also know that sometimes I can be more paranoid. It’s bullshit that women even have to be careful. I was talking to one of my male friends, and he said something to the effect of “sometimes I’m scared when I’m alone by myself at night, but then I realize I’m not a girl, and nothing will probably happen to me.” I might over-think certain situations, but whenever I am out in the world at all I am almost always aware of my surroundings and the people around me. I am wary of a parked car with its lights on, and get nervous if a guy is walking behind me. How can I, as a feminist, be strong and confident and independent when I prefer to walk with a guy at night? How can we change this societal norm that makes women the constant paranoid victim and men in control on busses and streets?

Macalester Dance performance

Last weekend the Macalester Theatre and Dance department put on their winter performance. Included in the program was a dance where about 30 people were all naked. I had heard about this dance before, and was thinking about taking part in it, but the time commitment ended up being too great. But, I still didn’t really know what exactly to expect. I was wildly impressed, and I thought the whole thing was incredibly well-done. They managed to not make it a sexual thing at all, which is almost never seen in today’s society, unless it is the grotesque. Especially considering that the majority of the dancers were girls, and all of them attractive, it was wonderfully refreshing. It was refreshing because nudity has an interesting place in our society. Historically it has been inappropriate and shameful, and although now that is changing, almost the only time we see nudity is when it is tied to sex. We are surrounded by partial nudity that is almost always sexualized, in advertisements, movies, and television especially. This nudity was not sexualized at all, it simply was.
I think part of why the dance was so powerful was because it was so blatant. If it had been people wearing skimpy outfits it would have sent a totally different message. They were bold in a very frank, open way. They danced onstage, punctuating the dance with statements like “would you be able to do this?” and other statements emphasizing the fact that the body is only a part of a whole person. They also came down into the audience and walked around shaking hands and introducing them to people, demonstrating how they are more than their body, they are also a person. So often in our society bodies, especially female bodies, are objectified so much that they have become their bodies in many situations, and are often portrayed only as sexual beings. This dance showed that nudity does not have to be sexualized, and our bodies are only a part of ourselves, and should be accepted, but not dwelt upon.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Stripping and poledancing as workouts

I was reading Feministing and there was an article about the recent craze of sexual aerobics, such as stripteases and poledancing. The author was arguing that it was degrading to women and demonstrated the internalization of the male gaze into all members of society. She quoted a girl who talked about how she liked the pole-dancing classes because it was a safe and fun environment to act out her sexuality. The author responded that if that was her idea of sexuality, then that in itself was skewed. I’m torn because I can see both sides of the argument. I was talking to some of my friends about this. One of my friends and I agreed that if it was in a safe space, and only meant for their significant other to see, it was fine. Taking pole-dancing classes does not mean that these women will go out and get a job dancing in a club, displaying their bodies for a couple of bucks and any random men that walk in the door. It simply means that they want to have fun and show off to their significant other, and I do not think there is a problem with that. Another friend asked if this would still be thought of as sexy if it weren’t for poledancers and strippers. I could see her concern, and if that was the only reason why these women’s dances were viewed as attractive, because of workers in the sex industry, then that would be problematic. But, stripping and dancing has always been something that is attractive.
The internalization of the male gaze is also an interesting argument. If these women are learning these dances in order to please their husbands, than that is definitely internalization of the gaze, but, as long as it stays between people who really love and care for each other, what exactly is wrong with that? Part of sexual relationships is pleasing your partner, even if it might not be terribly pleasing to you, simply because you want to make you partner happy. An important part of this pleasing the other is definitely reciprocity, and if one partner is the only one pleasing the other, that is definitely problematic. But, I think if a woman learns a striptease routine as part of a fitness class, and wants to show it to her husband, especially if he in turn strips for her or does something equally pleasing to her, than it is fine.
This fad can be frightening, though. A friend and I were looking at a website for one such studio, and they were talking about how a mother bought her daughter and eight of her daughters friends a poledancing class at the studio for the daughter’s Sweet Sixteen. This definitely sends the wrong messages to these girls, and it is very unlikely that they all had boyfriends. This tells the girl that poledancing is attractive and sexy and the way that they should attract boys, and also reinforces the glamorization of sex work. But, if it is educated adults making the decision to take these classes, I think it alright.
There are also women who take these classes and never show anybody what they learned, and I think that is equally harmless. I remember the first time I bought pretty bras, I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, and no one really saw them, but the knowledge that I had them made me feel prettier and more confident. I could imagine a similar phenomenon happening with women who take these classes and never show anybody. It could boost their own self-image without exploiting their body. Although, then there is the argument that if their self-image relies on their ability to swing around pole, and relies solely on their perception of their sexual appeal, that is also problematic.


The clip that Amit showed in class from The Price of Pleasure really made me re-think my ideas about pornography. I did not attend the screening of the film, because I could barely handle the trailer that we watched, and I decided it would be too intense for me. But, I did start thinking about it. I never really thought too much about porn before, and basically had no real opinion. I think there definitely are people who could enjoy working as a porn star, and as long as they had thought about it and made an educated decision, I would not have a problem with the actual person. And then I was talking to a friend of mine, and she said she was all for porn, as long as it wasn’t too degrading or insulting to women. I agree, and I think gang-rape, violence, and inclusion of animals is going a bit too far, but then where do we draw the line? Is porn with just one man and one woman acceptable? How intense can it be before it gets too violent? What about orgies? Is it okay if it is something that people would do normally, and then unacceptable if it’s too extreme? But that’s an arbitrary distinction, because there will always be some people who are into all sorts of unusual things.
Also, as the clip mentioned, pornography is often the first and sometimes only form of sex education that children receive, and is obviously not a healthy education. But then should there only be very simple pornos so that children will not learn bad behaviors? It’s additionally difficult, because I think porn affects all people differently, and some people can definitely watch violent porn without perpetuating that same violence in their personal lives. But, in order to not be affected, I think the person would have to have a healthy and educated attitude toward sex. Often this is not the case, which is why these violent pornos can affect the viewers so radically.
There is also the issue of feminist porn, which my friend is all for. I would ultimately like to see that documentary about it, because I feel like I do not know enough about it to make a statement. But, the Lusty Lady was known as a “feminist” peep show, which does not mean that the women were treated any better or that they were showing their bodies any less. If the same is true of feminist porn, that the women are basically treated the same and perform the same tasks, then there is virtually no difference, and feminist porn is no better than any other kind of porn.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reflection on "Arranged"

I recently watched "Arranged" for my Images of Women in the Middle East class. It is about two women, a Muslim and an orthodox Jew, both living in New York, and both facing arranged marriages. They both work as teachers, and get to know one another through their work. They have problems going to one another's houses because of their parents and family being less than happy to see either a Jew or a Muslim show up. They bond over meeting horrible prospective husbands, but in the end both end up happily married. It was interesting from a feminist perspective, because although both the main characters, Rochel and Nasira, are strong, independent, educated, working women, both end up agreeing to an arranged marriage. They both go through arguments with their parents over men they do not want to marry, and Rochel keeps saying she wants to take a break from looking at men, but neither of them flat-out refuses. This explores the intersectionality of gender and religion. Both women are devout and steadfast in their beliefs, and also really respect their parents, so it is an internal battle between their heart and their religion and parents. It ends up that Nasira falls in love with one of the men her parents pick, and Rochel falls in love with a man Nasira suggested to her matchmaker. In this situation, the end is happy because they fall in love, but what would have happened if they hadn't? Would these strong women have ultimately given in and married someone they didn't love? Rochel tells her mom repeatedly that she refuses to "settle," but would the family pressure have been so intense that she would have? How do arranged marriages infringe upon women's independence, and how do women reconcile this?
This movie was set in the present (it was made in 2007), in the secular society of New York. What new challanges has secular society posed to arranged marriages and the women in them? Now women are surrounded by a society that approaches love and marriage far differently. Rochel does have a period when she is unsure whether she wants to stay in her Jewish community, and goes and visits her cousin who left the community, which also meant leaving her family. Rochel ultimately returns to her family, but the temptation must be much greater for women facing arranged marriages in the present than how it was hundreds of years ago, when everyone in a society would have arranged marraiges.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gender in the Leonard Center

The Macalester Media Collective puts out occasional magazines centered around an issue or two that doesn’t get much press or attention elsewhere on campus. I sometimes glance at it, sometimes don’t, but this time it was entitled “Wither Gender? Saunesty in the ‘Nard Center.” Pretty much anything claiming to address gender grabs my attention and so I picked it up and threw it in my bag. Later I sat down to read it, and it is a bit disjointed, but it’s discussion of gender, particularly around the saunas, at the Leonard center was interesting. There is two short articles about the gendered spacing of the saunas, and one interview about the genderedness of the Center as a whole.
In discussing the sauna, they also touch on the gendered differences between the locker rooms. The men’s locker room has a big open shower room, while the girls has individual stalls. Someone also decided to put two separate saunas in the two locker rooms, rather than one mixed-gender sauna available. I understand that Macalester, especially at a bureaucratic level, is often not nearly as progressive as we’d like to think, but still, the separation of the saunas is interesting.
There is an interview between a guy and a girl at the Leonard center discussing their view of the gendered nature of the Leonard center. The girl talks about how the Leonard center is intimidating, and how there never seems to be girls there, and if there are, they are always on upright machines, like the treadmills. They guy talks about how it’s “sort of exhilarating to become just another guy in gym shorts,” and how he feels and unspoken bonding between any guys who happen to be working out at the same time. The girl said she wants to be ignored, and when she does go to the Leonard center she wants to get it over with as quickly as possible.
After reading this is asked one of my friends, who works out much more than me, if she felt the same way. She totally agreed, and said the reason why she never went to the Leonard Center was because she felt uncomfortable and like an intruder. She thought that a big part of this was the vast amount of weight-lifting machines that seemed inherently more masculine than the treadmills.
I don’t know if any of this can be changed, but it is something that I never thought about since I am only ever in the Leonard center for my Social Dance class, which is not gendered in the same way. There is not really anyone to blame for the gendering of this space, except perhaps society and therefore everyone/no one, but the blatant separation of genders and different treatment of the genders as evidenced by the differently constructed locker rooms surly contributes to these attitudes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Greek Men Against Sexual Assault

The local newspaper in Laramie, WY, the Laramie Boomerang, had an article today entitled “One Mile: Men Sport Heels to Raise Awareness of Sexual Assault.” The group Greek Men Against Sexual Assault hosted the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” for the second year to raise awareness and money for the local SAFE Project. The President of Greek Men Against Sexual Assault, Ryan Foristal, said “a lot of us know it’s a men’s issue when it comes to sexual assault, and we just felt that helping out SAFE by wearing high heels would be a pretty unique way to do local philanthropy.” The walk raised $2,334 dollars this year.
This is quite wonderful for a couple of reasons. First, it is important that Greek men are taking a stance against sexual assault, because fraternities and frat parties are one of the places on college campuses where the most sexual assaults happen. Having allies within these groups can drastically improve the attitudes toward women. It is also quite impressive of them to acknowledge that sexual assault is a men’s issue. Even though it obviously is, women have historically been the main advocates against it, and historically women have been blamed for sexual assault and the men were never a part of the equation.
Getting men involved in fraternities on board is a particularly important step, because they are the ones that can talk to their friends, and their friends will listen to them. Burly football players may not be as likely to listen to a group of women against sexual assault, but if their friend brings it up casually that is where real change and understanding can happen.
The location is also interesting. Wyoming is not exactly regarded as the most liberal of states, and Laramie is the town of the horrible Matthew Shepard murder, which does not give Laramie a history of anti-sexual violence work.