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.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Female Suicide Bomber

CNN had a story about a suicide bomber who wounded 5. The perpetrator was a woman. The headline reads, “Female Suicide Bomber Wounds 5 In Iraq.” Wounding 5 people is important, and a big deal, but if the perpetrator was a man, it probably wouldn’t have been on the front page of the website. Maybe if five people were killed, because suicide bombing is still a fascinating occurrence to Westerners, but probably not if there were no casualties. At a time when hundreds if not thousands of people are killed every day in a variety of gruesome ways, five people being wounded is not terribly earth-shattering. Saying “Female bomber” is an example of othering; a male suicide bomber is just a suicide bomber, but a female suicide bomber must is specifically a female suicide bomber. Police ended up killing her as she exploded her vest.
I think the reason why this was front-page worthy is because most readers are more horrified at a female suicide bomber, because women are supposed to be kind and caring and nurturing, not destructive. It seems that women suicide bombers are less common than males, but, in the article it says that more there have been more than 30 cases of female suicide bombers so far this year, showing that it is not uncommon.
The Earth, a British news source, has a more detailed story about the woman, explaining that there have been increased warnings about female suicide bombers, because they can pass by easier since Islamic law prevents guards from touching women while searching them.
This suggests that female suicide bombers seem are taking advantage of cultural gender norms to infiltrate places that men would have difficulty entering. If instances like this continue to happen, will traditional Islamic law be reevaluated or reinterpreted to allow for women to be searched more thoroughly? Will they find some alternative possibility, such as employing more female guards who could search women without breaking as much with cultural norms?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Article about Transgender kids

In the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic there was an extensive 5-page article title "A Boy's Life" about transgender children. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the article. It discussed various viewpoints concerning transgender kids, from doctors in the Netherlands who first started giving puberty-blocking hormones to pre-teens, to a therapist in Canada who works with families to get their kids to identify with their birth gender. It’s tough, because with kids it’s hard to tell. When I was younger I wanted to be a boy, almost all of my friends were boys, I dressed mostly in boyish clothes and was proud when someone asked me if I was a boy or a girl. But, in middle school and then in highschool I started acting more “girlish,” and I so completely love being a woman I could not imagine anything different. But, if I had been asked at age 11 whether I would want puberty-blocking hormones, I might have said yes. Maybe not, but it would be a possibility. I cannot imagine growing up as a boy, though. My femininity is so sacred and wonderful and beautiful to me, I would not change anything about it for the world.
Many kids go through similar phases, and sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the child is gay, transgender, or just more comfortable acting like the opposite sex at that point in their life. Thus, there is quite a bit of discussion about what is best to do for children. Many parents are pretty adamant about letting their child go to school and act like the opposite sex in every way, while others try therapy to “fix” the “problem.” For “truly” transgender people, the earlier they can be comfortable identifying with their inner gender, the easier it will be for them to be socially accepted. But, overly encouraging kids who act like the other sex and offering puberty-blocking hormones can even further confuse the child.
The article interviewed mostly the parents of transgender children, but also various therapists and scholars in the field, and I think it is a pretty comprehensive article which discusses the different attitudes toward transgender children.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Women Small Business Owners Receive Pathetic Amount of Federal Contracts

On Thursday, October 2, the New York Times had an article in the business section called “Female-Owned Small Businesses Push for Share of Federal Contracts.” Right now only 3.4 % of annual federal contracts go to female-owned small businesses, even though women account for almost half of all small businesses. A bill was passed in 2000 with a 5% quota for women small business owners to receive the federal contracts. But 5% is absurd. If women own almost half of all small businesses, they should be getting a corresponding quota. Quotas are not even the right way to go about it, but it may be a necessary first step. The article did say that less than ¼ of female-owned small businesses are registered with the government, which may partially account for the pathetic amount of contracts awarded to women. There are also several groups who are working to help women register there businesses.
The article does not address what percentage of male-owned small businesses are registered with the government compared to the percentage of contacts awarded, but if men own slightly over half of all the small businesses, and even if all of them are registered, they should not be getting 96.6% of the contracts. If 1/8 of the businesses registered are female-owned, women should be getting at least 10% of the contracts, at the very least.
The article says that even with the groups helping women to register, “many women remain flummoxed by the system.” It does not say if the men are flummoxed, but it seems they cannot be if they are receiving so many contracts. If the men are not flummoxed it does not say why they are able to so easily register their businesses. Why do women need these special groups helping them anyway? Are there groups that help men and ignore women? If there are groups that help men, and now there are groups that help women, why are men still receiving such a disproportionate amount of the contracts?

Palin Not Airbrushed

The recent hubbub about Sarah Palin’s Newsweek cover and the lack of retouching of her photo is reflective of our current societal norms, including our impossible beauty standards. Sarah Plain is widely regarded as beautiful, indeed, she was a beauty queen when she was younger. The fact that our society cannot handle to see pores, wrinkles and “unwanted hairs” (which is totally problematic in itself…do we know that she really hates those hairs? Who says that they are unwanted? Why are they unwanted?) shows how our ideal of beauty is getting out of control. It is so common to airbrush pictures, that the picture of a politician on a news magazine is expected to airbrushed. Models, maybe, but politicians, really? Also, there would not have been this hubbub if it were a man showing pores and “unwanted hair.” They did bring up the claim that Obama’s pictures are all airbrushed, and I cannot find a written statement either confirming or denying this claim, but from the pictures that I have examined, they do not seem to be. Fox News did a clip on this controversy, and brought in two women to debate it. There was a woman from the Women and Politics Institute at American University, Julia Piscatelli, and a Republican media consultant, Andrea Tantaros. Due to their backgrounds, it makes sense that Piscatelli was arguing for the public to accept flaws because they are natural and okay, and we don’t need to hide them all, while Tantaros was upset because she thought it somehow made Palin’s image worse.
As my friend said when we were talking about this issue, if I was in any way supporting Palin, I would probably support her more if I knew she wasn’t airbrushed in photos, because it makes her more real.
Piscatelli brings up the fact that Hillary Clinton has had unflattering pictures of her on magazine covers, which also shows how Palin, a younger woman, is sexualized, while Hillary is desexualized as an older woman.