31 May 12

Racism, Feminsim, and the Art of Discounting the Dissenting Voices

Problem Chylde writes about the top 5 ways that white feminists continue to discredit women of color. And I have to say that I have seen instances of these happening by white and male bloggers. And while I can’t say I’ve never done any of the things she writes about, I can say that I try not to do any of these and I’m aware that they’re all traps white feminists fall into that often created by anger and defensiveness.

It’s hard to be white and talk about racism. It’s scary, and it makes you feel vulnerable. But it needs to be done.

15 March 12

2012 Nonprofit Selection: CARE

One of the organizations I’ll be donating a portion of all sales to is CARE. Their tagline is “Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty”, and much like the Chicago Abortion Fund, they don’t just use a bunch of experts to figure out what people need and what people need to do to improve their lives, they talk to the people whose lives need improving and then they work with them to get them the resources, and the training, and the contacts they need to improve their own lives. It’s not just about teaching a woman to fish, but setting her up to be a fisherwoman.

I’ve been donating money to CARE for years and a few years ago even designed a custom bag for CARE. The sales weren’t as high as I would have hoped, but the experience working with several women at the local CARE office was a great experience and truly helped me become a better designer and a better business person and I was happy to create several bags and donate them for various fundraisers and to thank many donors at the organization.

The last time I did much with the organization was when the flooding overtook the country of Haiti. The people still haven’t bounced back, but one could say that they still haven’t bounced back from the slave trade and rum production of 150 years ago. It’s a country that has not a lot of turmoil and want. But that didn’t prevent CARE from being on the ground providing emergency support and long-term support. And this is what I adore most about the organization. They’re embedded all over the world, within a wide variety of cultures, and they operate the best way that the culture can permit them to operate. Whether it is providing education to the children of prostitutes, or water-cleaning kits to families, or training on how to turn animal dung into safe and free cooking fuel, they’re doing it. They’re great at using what is available and helping people become self-sufficient.

And that’s what I love that any donation I make to the organization has the ability to do, to help people become self-sufficient. Being able to accept temporary charity is one thing, but making it possible so people don’t need it for long and so that they’re in a position where they can help others follow in their footsteps is what will eventually help end poverty, all while helping people maintain their dignity. For without dignity, we are shells of ourselves. Everyone has the right to dignity. CARE recognizes that and works toward that. And I adore them all for doing so.

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11 February 12

2012 Nonprofit Selection: Chicago Abortion Fund

One of the organizations that I’ll be raising funds for this year is the Chicago Abortion Fund.

In 2004 there was something called the March for Women’s Lives. It was an amazing experience and was the true beginning of my business. I started making bags with a portion of the funds being donated to organizations that funded reproductive rights of all varieties. It was an eye-opening and heart-opening experience. After the march ended and my donations were no longer being sent to raise scholarships for women to go to the march, I decided to look for a local organization to donate funds to.

I’d heard about the Chicago Abortion Fund and tried to contact it to determine how best to make a donation. My letter was never answered so I assumed the organization had died out and began donating to Planned Parenthood and other national reproductive rights organizations.

Because the world works in glorious ways, many months after the march a friend invited me to come join her at a fundraiser and launch party for CAF. Within a minute of walking in the door I met Gaylon Alcaraz (the new Executive Director at the time, she’s still there going strong) and I was invigorated. Gaylon is a force to be reckoned with, which is an important trait for someone who works in such a dangerous profession. But she’s fearless and she encourages that fearlessness.

So I was delighted and thrilled to see the focus of the organization change from being just a place that would raise funds for women to have abortions who couldn’t afford them. But an organization who would do that while teaching women how to prevent future pregnancy, how to care for themselves mentally, physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve been lucky to meet a few women who have been helped by the organization and their stories continue to make me cry. CAF is not the heartless “baby-killing” organization that the anti-choice organizations would like you to believe it is. It is an organization that supports and cares for the women who need their services in whatever way they need.

In whatever way they need. Gaylon and her team don’t go up to any woman and tell her what she needs to do. They ask her what she needs and then they provide and guide her through the steps to get there. And then, once they’ve gotten there, once they are stable and healthy and safe, Gaylon and her team are able to convince many of these women who have received funds and services to reach out to other women who are just like them and offer that same support.

And it is this step that so many direct-action non-profits are missing. And it is the step that is going to not only save this organization for a long time to come, but it is the step that is going to save an exponential number of women who go on to then save an exponential number of women. She’s teaching them to fish, to use a biblical analogy. And oh how they fish.

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18 January 12

Paula Deen, Classism, Sizeism, and Diabetes

Paula Deen is diabetic. The occasionally rumored story has since come out as fact and she’s teemed up with a major pharmaceutical company who creates medication to help patients with diabetes manage their condition. There are many points I’ve seen expressed online in regard to this news.

One thing I’ve heard many times and by several people I didn’t expect to hear it from is, “Paula Deen got diabetes because she cooks horribly and is fat.”

We don’t know her medical history. As far as I know, we’ve not seen her medical report, and unless you’re a doctor with a specialization in diabetes, I probably wouldn’t listen to what you have to say about it anyway. But here is what I know about size and diabetes. Being overweight can make it harder to manage your condition, but becoming overweight will not make you get Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a medical condition that has some times to genetic markers. It is incredibly possible that there are environmental factors that increase your chances of getting diabetes, but I don’t know what they all are and I can be sure the folks saying Paula got diabetes because she cooks with butter aren’t either. I can also be sure that while many of Paula’s recipes are not those a dietician would tell a patient with diabetes to eat on a regular basis. I suspect that most doctors would tell their patient they could eat Piggy Pudding in moderation as part of an otherwise balanced diet.

However, while cruising through Twitter tonight I came across two tweets side-by-side each other which solidified and explained the discomfort I felt. One was from an acquaintance I’ll keep anonymous who said “Paula deserves diabetes for giving every one of her fans diabetes.” [WHOA! Really? Someone deserves diabetes?]

The next tweet was from a local foodie acquaintance who said “The Joe Beef Double Down can’t be a real thing. Bacon, mayo, cheese btwn 2 battered & deep fried foie gras slices, drizzled with maple syrup.”

Now it is possible that because Joe Beef is not battling a public outing as a diabetes patient, he wasn’t criticized for even suggesting such a thing, let alone serving it as his restaurant and possibly publicizing it in his new cookbook that lotsa foodies are all agog over online. Or is something else at stake?

I mean, many of the famous foodie folks and they’re a touch on the overweight side. Emeril Lagasse? fat. Mario Batali? fat. Ina Garten? fat. Alton Brown isn’t fat, but he’s lost weight and he’s had heart trouble. Emeril Lagasse damned near creating Food Network single-handedly with his Bam! and his “more can’t hurt” philosophy. Each one of Mario Batali’s sausages are 30% fat, same as Paula’s. Ina Garten doesn’t shy away from butter use.

But none of them sound Southern. None of them were on welfare as single parents with children. The other guys are a bit snobby for most of the folks living in the diabetes belt. Paula’s not. She’s comforting. She sounds like yer mom, or somebody’s mom. She laughs, she has fun, she uses a lot of butter. But she also creates recipes like this one for White Bean Chili which sound pretty danged tasty and healthy. (And it has been online for more than 2 years, if you’re going to go all “of course she put up healthy recipes now!”)

Every cook on Food Network Television has made a ton of unhealthy dishes and made them look great and appetizing. But Paula’s son joked about how she ate “deep-fried butter” so a fan created a recipe for it and came on the show to help her make it for a special episode. And foodies freaked out. Since then, Paula has become the queen of food that is really, really bad for you, the Queen of Deep-Fried Butter.

But is it her food we dislike so much? Is it her tendency to take tons of “bad for you food” and make it on our TV? If so, then why aren’t we up in arms about Mario Batali’s Mozzarela Carozza? Is it because we know what “deep fried butter” is, but Mario’s recipe sounds fancy. Know what it is? 1/2 pound of fresh cheese put between 2 slices of Wonder bread and pan-fried in butter. Or is it because Mario didn’t have to get famous by becoming a joke of himself? Is it because we couldn’t dare to take Paula seriously as a cook, so she took the road to success that let her raise her kids and pay her bills, and turned herself into a joke at her own expense?

I find it hard to believe that if Mario Batali told the world he was diabetic that the reaction would be the same. No one would say he was a fat cow who deserved diabetes because he gave others diabetes. But Paula, being female, Southern, and of a different “class” (even though she’s rich now, she’s still no Ina Garten, right?) she’s treated differently. I think all of these factors weigh into the public approach to her diagnosis.

I’m glad she’s talking about it publicly 3 years after she found out. I am glad she had time to deal privately with this. I’m glad that she is finally talking about. Because I’m hopeful that others will hear her symptoms, they’ll see themselves in her, and they’ll get treatment of their own illness. They may even end up taking the same medicine she does to regulate their illness, just like she does. And in the end, more people are likely to get treatment, to begin getting well (or at least better, because no one gets over diabetes), to begin understanding their bodies better. If this public announcement had happened right after she found out, I’m not sure she’d have the ability to be the voice of her people now. I think we should be proud of her now. Reading her brief letter to her fans about facing diabetes head-on is nice. But I disobeyed my general rule of not reading comments and read some of hers on this post. The commiseration of people who see themselves reflected in her is uplifting and fulfilling. And that is what Paula’s message has always been for those who watched her show and saw their mother in her smile.

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12 January 12

2012 Nonprofit Selection: Women in Media & News

One of the 7 nonprofit organizations that I’ll be donating a portion of the sales of each bag to is Women In Media & News: WIMN.

This organization was founded by Jenn Pozner, who I’m fortunate to call a friend (for full disclosure-sake). And it has 2 main focuses that I support whole-heartedly.

First, it serves as a resource to connect journalists and other media outlets with women who are experts in their given field. If you are writing an article about Engineering Curricula you could contact WIMN and ask for women sources to contact for your piece.

Second, it critiques coverage of women by the media, while providing training opportunities and educational (and hilarious) seminars to encourage people to engage in their own critique of media coverage.

Jenn also wrote Reality Bites Back a book that focuses on how reality television portrays gender, race, class and more. I joke that Jenn watches The Bachelor so I don’t have to, but it’s true. I have a few reality shows that I like (Project Runway and Project Accessory), which I like because it focuses on the quality of what is created instead of the weight of the people creating it. However, even I had to admit that there have been many instances of some pretty intolerant comments, the challenges are focused on selling things, and my gawd y’all the product placements are getting cray-zay!

In general, I feel like Jenn, and the other people she has writing for the website and who help with the overall message of the organization, holds media accountable. It also provides a place where people who are interested in understanding the dynamics and the behind-the-scenes decisions of journalists and media outlets can turn.

And did I mention she’s funny? Cause feminism isn’t about sapping the enjoyment out of life, but making it a better place for more enjoyment to happen. And WIMN is helping to do that.

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02 August 11

#140reasonsdvisnotajoke

There is a great hashtag on Twitter right now. Actually it isn’t great. It is awful. And horrific. And disheartening. And all to real.

Have you ever seen your father hit your mother and know that you’re powerless to stop it? Have you ever heard, every day, for months on end, that you were going to get hit, and knew you would, but just didn’t know when? Have you ever worried that if you leave, if you do what everyone tells you to do, you’ll die? Have you ever looked at the options to leave and wondered why there weren’t more situations more groups more policies more help more protection?

If you haven’t then take out your wallet or your credit card. Agree to drink the office coffee for a week or make it at home instead of going to #sbux. For one week. Take the money you would save and send it off to the nearest domestic violence agency. I’m not asking you to send it to mine. Just go to Google and type in your town name and then type in “domestic violence agency”. Find their mailing address and send them a check.

Do it now. Right now. Before you forget. Even if it is only $10. Do it.

If it wasn’t for the Lighthouse in Lancaster, Ohio, I wouldn’t be here. My mother may not be alive. My brothers would not be what they are. This organization made it possible for my life to irrevocably change forever, for the better.

And I’m not alone. There are a lot of people like me out there. Out here. You just wouldn’t know it.

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04 May 11

Self sufficiency and feminism

I tend to blog more when I have insomnia. Forgive the ramblings and the grammar.

A friend posted a comment tonight about a classmate who is writing a dissertation, or perhaps just a paper, about how reclaiming the “feminine arts” is either radical or reinforcing a feminine stereotype.

And I’ve got lots of disparate thoughts swilling through my head, and I’ve not read the paper, nor do I really know what her approach or opinion is. I just know that the topic of craft and feminism comes up frequently. And I know I’m interested in it. And I know that I see myself rolling up my sleeves and getting deeper into what is out there someday. But right now, I’m spending that time sewing instead. Oh, the irony? Or maybe it isn’t ironic at all, actually.

So, my thoughts:
Craft is fun. Honestly, the vast majority of people who do something crafty, do it solely because it is fun. But guess what, I bet the vast majority of women who become professional basketball players, or who manage bee-hives, or who learn car mechanics, or who become doctors, or become pastry chefs do it because it is fun. This doesn’t make it unfeminist. However, this doesn’t inherently make it feminist either. Or does it? duh duh duuuuh

People who scoff at women for knitting but then cheer on a woman for playing a guitar irk me right out. Seriously. Unless that guitar player was signed to a major label in 1992 or before, chances are she isn’t rich. Unless that knitter is, well, anyone, then chances are she isn’t rich. But the knitter gets scoffed at? At talk of financial security and traditional women’s roles gets brought up. Guess who is going to be warmer in the winter? The broke knitter struggling to get by and support her craft? Or the broke guitar player struggling to get by and support her craft? The knitter. However, the guitar player can pawn the tools of her craft, so there is that advantage.

But seriously, it all comes down to developing a skill. A skill that has the potential to make you not rely on our consumer culture. A skill that makes you self sufficient to some degree. The guitar player, once her guitar and nominal strings and picks are purchased, can completely back out of a financially supportive model to entertain herself and others. The knitter has less invested up front, more invested for each project that gets undertaken. But she also can leave a financially supportive model to entertain herself and provide for others. A handmade sweater can cost as little as $20 if made with inexpensive yarn. A handmade sweater can also cost as little as $20 when purchased at a major retailer who employs inexpensive and non-American labor to create goods. So the knitter is spending $20 to create a sweater or buy a sweater. However, she gets to make it any size, pattern, color she wants to. She is more likely to get exactly what she wants, in a manner that fits her better, than if she were walk into Generic-Mart and buy a sweater.

But in the meantime, she also gets hours and hours of time where she is assumed to be enjoying herself. Hours that she is not spending buying other goods, shopping for other goods, obsessing about her weight, hair, or skin tone. (Unless she watches TV while she knits and then these are possibly true.) But she is taken out of a consumerist market during the time she is creating. She is not spending money while she knits. So while she has to buy yarn and tools to knit, while she is knitting she needs to buy nothing. This is scary to Generic-Mart who would really prefer we visit them daily and spend every cent we get in the stores.

I warned you about the ramble.

So how I think that knitting is ultimately a feminist act, no matter the opinion of the person doing the knitting is:
Knitting, along with any other skill, makes you self-sufficient. It makes you not HAVE to rely on others to make what you need. It makes it possible for you to determine what your fashion needs are. It maks it possible for you to create a heavy wool sweater in the middle of summer, or a lightweight rayon tank in the middle of winter. Just try to buy either one of those things during an off-season and you’ll see that being able to make what you want/need when you have time and when you want/need it, means that you control the fashion season and direction. Which is not to say that knitting patterns aren’t fashionable. They are. But many of them are free (a topic for a whole ‘nother time) and the people who design these patterns are not getting paid designer-level fees, like the fashion designers of Mossimo, or Free People, or even American Apparel. Why? because their skills aren’t valued as highly by the people who purchase their product.

So if a woman can change her own oil we’re all “Wow! Awesome!”. But if a woman can knit her own sweater we’re all “Poor woman. She’s being brainwashed by Patriarchy into following traditonal female roles.” So what we’re saying is that women who do traditionally masculine tasks should be congratulated because those tasks are obviously harder. Well, guess what. I bet I could figure out how to change my oil in a few hours with internet searching and a car manual. I wonder if a mechanic can figure out how to create a cabled scarf in the same amount of time with a few books and Ravelry access. Maybe. But I bet I’d be better, faster at his skill than he would at my mine. And what we’re saying be reinforcing this, is that male roles are valuable and traditionally female roles are not.

And where did these ideas of traditional male and traditional female roles come about? They’re so tied to class structure it hurts me. You think men didn’t knit in the 1880s? You’d be wrong. Men knitted at night with the women. Maybe not all of them. Maybe not as often. But many of them did. And you think women didn’t know how to shoe a horse or straighten a wheel on a carriage? Boo! Maybe not al of them. Maybe they didn’t do it as often. But they did it when they had to, same as the menfolk knitting. They did it cause they had to. And it was only when people could afford to pay someone else to do something that it became a traditional male or traditional female role. When few people could afford handmade scarves, socks, doilies, etc. they were man by male craftspeople. Once more people became able to afford them, the production was taken on by women. Once people could afford to have their carriages serviced, they took them to men to do so. And the men who fixed carriages were paid better than the women who knitted.

So if feminism is the quest for women and men to be considered equal. Then it stands to reason that the quest should also include the quest for men and women’s historic roles, traits, crafts to be considered equal. By saying that practicing traditional female arts is hurting women, then you’re saying that women can only succeed if they become more masculine. And the Second Wave taught us that doesn’t work.

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20 October 10

My journalistic history

In 1997 I graduated from The Ohio State University with two Bachelor of Arts degrees. I was the final student to graduate with a BA in Photography. And I was one of the final students to graduate with a BA in Journalism. (The school merged the School of Communication with the Journalism school into one Communications department.)

During every photography class, during every quarter I spent dozens of hours sequestered in a darkroom with dozens of other students from a variety of departments, I never experienced anything that made me uncomfortable, made me feel nervous for my safety, nor did I feel that I was being discounted as a person of value. Despite having portions of every class set aside for critique where my teachers and my peers were welcome to criticize my work at will, I never felt discounted. Even during classes where one or more classmates showed nudes or sexual imagery, I never felt threatened. I never felt triggered. I never felt uncomfortable. Their work was about them, not about me.

However, once I began taking classes offered in the journalism department this feeling of safety, of education, of camraderie changed pretty significantly. The stereotypical newsroom atmosphere pervailed, was encouraged. The atmosphere that the NY Times has attributed to the executives at the Chicago Tribune was all present and then some.

I won’t name names, or positions, because all of these people have grown up or moved on. But I will say that the leaders of the newsroom, the teachers, the professors, the people who worked in an advisory capacity knew about and participated in the racist, sexist, sexual, and demeaning behavior. Those who also participated in this behavior “fit in” and were rewarded with editorial positions. Which is not to say that every person during the time I spent working on the student paper at OSU participated, just that it was prevalent and obvious.

During what I expected to be my final year there, I became more involved with the paper. And I became disgusted with the behavior that I saw of the students and of the adults. I was tempted to do something, but I didn’t know what. Then one day while having a conversation with someone across a desk with his computer monitor between us, I hit my threshold of acceptance. He wore glasses. Every time I looked him in the eye, I had to decide whether I focused on his eyes, or whether I focused on the nude woman reflected in his glasses. To say it was distracting, is obvious. To say that I felt threatened is extreme. But I did feel uncomfortable and I felt disrespected.

I complained about this with another classmate that I had vented with before, we talked to another classmate who had received very vocal offers of unwanted advances in front of the newsroom. We decided to take up a formal complaint. Not a lawsuit. Not charges. Just a complaint. We didn’t want punishment, we didn’t want financial retribution, we just wanted to feel comfortable sitting in a room that we had to sit in order to get class credit or in order to get paid for being an editor.

We talked with a variety of officials at the university level. We talked with the dean of the college. And without us realizing it, the transcripts of our complaint were forwarded on to everyone we complained about. Every instance of offense that we mentioned was forwarded on for all involved to read. It became a much bigger deal than we expected it to. Our hope was that dean would institute behavior changes in the employees of the school who would encourage those changes in the students.

Instead, the students we had mentioned were involved in these incidents were enraged, at us. They were enraged at us for airing their dirty laundry publicly. They were enraged for putting potential black marks on the records that would prevent them from getting hired. The employees of the school, mostly refused to talk to us if they could avoid it. And the atmosphere changed, but only because the skilled students, the students who were supposed to receive training in how to participate in a newsroom, quit working for the student paper. The employees who had to remain walked on eggshells, but didn’t necessarily change their behavior. They just made sure to make their comments in a less-public manner.

And while talking with two different professors, professors who were not mentioned in the complaint I filed, I was told something that chilled me and changed me. I was told that the behavior I was complaining about was typical of all newsrooms across the country and if I expected to work for any news-gathering organization I would have to grow a thick skin and participate in the jovial atmosphere. In other words, I was told to suck it up and deal and quit whining about boys being boys.

So reading the article in the NY Times that clearly calls out the bad behavior of the executives at the Chicago Tribune, I’m reminded of this. I have no doubt that the vast majority, if not all, of the actual news producers for the Chicago Tribune are upstanding, decent, staff who work hard while being underpaid. I have no doubt that the newsroom atmosphere was not reflective of what was happening in the executive suites.

However, I also have no doubt that there are many staff members who had uncomfortable moments involving those executives, heard about uncomfortable moments of others, and simply left the newspaper. I’ve heard of several women who decided to leave instead of making a big deal of things.

Journalists are a tight bunch. They’re much more likely to talk among themselves about each other than to ever go public with bad news of each other. What happens in the newsroom, stays in the newsroom. If the executive shake-up of the last week or so were at happening at any other large and influential (and admittedly non-public) organization, journalists from all over would be scrambling to get the details, to get the quotes. But the respect fellow journalists have for each other keeps them for pursuing this with the vigor they might otherwise. For example, a Google News search of chicago tribune executive resigns returns with links to 2 stories. Two stories.

I want to be clear. I do not think that the sexual banter, the sexist remarks, the unprofessional behavior extended to the newsroom. I do think the journalists I know who are employees of the Chicago Tribune are great people who I would feel comfortable working with.

However, I decided that I couldn’t accept the bad behavior I saw as a student. I didn’t want a job that would require me to expect boorish, unprofessional, sexual commentary on a daily basis. And I imagine that there are a number of women, and possibly some men, who decided they couldn’t deal with the goings-on of the executives. Goings-on that weren’t much of a secret if you live in Chicago and know journalists. So they did the only thing they felt comfortable doing. They left. The changed fields, or employers, or their focus.

And I don’t blame them for leaving. I don’t even blame them for leaving without creating a fuss, or complaining, or going public or trying to change things. The behavior of the executives, the loss of qualified staff who decided they deserved better treatment, this is the fault of a few who are leaving or have left. However, it certainly sounds like more people than two people were involved in the descriptions of shenanigans that were unprofessional at best.

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