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Category Archives: sexism

Reflections on Free to Be You and Me Turning 40

Last month I mailed a copy of the CD version of Free to Be You and Me, the 1974 musical collection developed by Marlo Thomas to my feminist friend who is having her first baby.  Thomas got her “famous” friends together (Alan Alda, Rosey Grier, Tom Smothers, Diana Ross, Mel Brooks, Billy de Wolfe, Carol Channing, Dick Cavett, and Shirley Jones) to make this album of songs and stories as an antidote to the lack of gender free toys and books on the shelves as she searched for a birthday gift for her niece.  (Imagine getting this present from your Aunt Marlo?).

I don’t know how old I was when my parents gave me this album, but it came with a songbook of the words and I learned every one of them.  As I entered adulthood, I made copies for baby shower favors for my brother and for my best friend.  And while a 40 year old songbook seems dated, it is still very relevant.


Christina Hoff Sommers provides a trenchant tribute in her March 11th Time Magazine article “‘Free to Be’ Boys and Girls: 40 Years After the Failed Gender Revolution.” She negatively summarizes some of the songs and stories, stating “the songs drive home the idea that we are all androgynous beings unfairly constrained by social stereotypes.”  Then she goes on to use the example of the American Girl Doll franchise to demonstrate how boys do not go for dolls; and that is another failure of the women’s movement for gender equality.  WHAT?

Ms Hoff Sommers, you are clearly missing the point.  The point is not that boys want dolls.  The point is that men want to be active engaged daddies and that mommies want help.  And yes, Ms Hoff Sommers, there has been a shift in 40 years toward this endeavor I call equality.  I know many of you would cite examples like this, but my little brother and his wife are true equal parents to their little boy.  They take turns doing all the parenting pieces required to raise a child in today’s world.

But then Ms Hoff Sommers begins her descent down the slippery slope of stereotyping.

But, after 40 years of gender activism, boys and girls show few signs of liking to do the same things. From the earliest age, boys show a distinct preference for active outdoor play, with a strong predilection for games with body contact, conflict, and clearly defined winners and losers. Girls, too, enjoy raucous outdoor play, but they engage in it less. Girls, as a rule, are more drawn to imaginative theatrical games — playing house, playing school — as well as exchanging confidences with a best friend. Boys playing kickball together in the schoolyard are not only having a great deal of fun, they are forging friendships with other males in ways that are critical to their healthy socialization. Similarly, little girls who spend hours in deep conversation with other girls or playing theatrical games are happily and actively honing their social skills.

To suggest that the ways in which boys and girls like to play, as socialized by their parents and our culture, is a prediction for whether they will parent in sex stereotyped roles is a reach.  Free to Be You and Me was about looking ahead to the future where limits wouldn’t be placed on what girls and boys wanted to do with their lives. (This was really happening in 1974.  Remember “Help Wanted” ads for men only or girls only?)  Free to Be You and Me was not, and is not, what Hoff Sommers calls “a cautionary example of how an idealistic social fantasy can turn into a blueprint for repression.”  Sex stereotyping and limiting women’s and men’s ability to develop their own free expression is repression. Patriarchy, which still exists, Ms Hoff Sommers, is the blueprint for repression and continues its architecture in many places across the globe.

Marlo Thomas and her friends planted within me, from this album, a passion for equality, justice, freedom, and theatrical expression.  And forty years later, I am thankful to her for that.

Solidarity is for White Women: A Re-cap

This past week, via Twitter, originally started by blogger Mikki Kendall, the hashtag “solidarityisforwhitewomen” trended as a statement that white feminism leaves out women of color.  (History behind solidarity is for white women hashtag).  (NPR Story) The hashtag went global.  I picked up on this trending and then got to watch it and learn.  I recommend you search #solidarityisforwhitewomen, but I have included some great examples. 

This story is nothing new.  This dialogue was part of my education in Women’s Studies, that women of color did not have a voice at the so-called feminist table.  Women of color were left out of this very white “problem that has no name” movement.  Women of color were left out of the suffragist movement.  Look around the tables where you sit.  What do you see?  I see that we are still not doing a good job at being inclusive.  My workplace is a microcosm of the world.  There are very few women of color on our faculty, or men of color, for that matter. 

Many of the tweets include great examples from media and pop culture that reinforce white privilege, power and white supremacy.   As someone who considers herself a social justice critic of media, I know, as a white women, I notice sexism instantly, but I have to continue to push myself to see the racism. This hashtag, this trend, is asking white women to do just that.  Push yourself, learn, and LISTEN.  Actively listen. It was listening to my friend Cynthia that got me interested in the drama Scandal.  When I learned the history of how few black women had held the lead in a network drama, I was shocked and appalled. (My take on that subject). 

I often criticize an artistic director friend of mine for not producing enough plays by women and people of color.  His response is that he produces a lot of shows by gay men and that he “can’t cover every cause.”  This is the kind of non-intersectional thinking that we get stuck in and one that gets perpetuated in our society. Last year I decided I couldn’t subscribe to theatres who don’t make an EFFORT, even just the slightest effort, to diversify their seasons.  What does this mean?  It means I’m not supporting the arts with my dollars.  I’m picking and choosing what shows I see instead of subscribing.  It means I’m not watching much television today because I’ve become too wary of watching something that misrepresents people. So what else can we do as white feminists who want to eliminate racism and end white supremacy? 

When I was teaching Women’s Studies, one question I always asked my students was “what if the women’s liberation movement of the 70s and the civil rights movement of the 60s had joined up?”  What if groups representing oppressed people weren’t divided up and given pieces of a pie to share? 

Mikki Kendall has a great article in XOJane this week talking about next steps. 

What this hashtag trend has done for me is to challenge me to be even MORE intersectional in my work with student and in my own thinking.  We’re starting out the semester by doing a privilege worksheet to lay this stuff all out on the table at once.  We’re running a social justice media literacy conference and I’m asking all the presenters to keep an intersectional analysis of race, gender, class and sexuality as the foundation for all their talks/workshops.

And I’m looking in the mirror, constantly reminding myself to pay attention and to call out that misrepresentation wherever I see it:  the workplace, the media, and in the theatre.

To Speak Badly of One Woman is to Speak Badly of All Women

As you will see from the following link, a lot of very mean men wrote horribly misogynist things about Marion Bartoli, the French woman who won the women’s singles at Wimbledon this year.   (Marion Bartoli).

In my line of work, I spy sexism all over the place.  And racism.  And heterosexism. But this incident has me particularly pissed.  Serena Williams may be tall, but she isn’t blonde and one would NEVER see those same kind of comments made about her very awesome athletic self.  There are numerous so-called “ugly” men who play tennis who would never be called sluts or fat because they weren’t tall and blonde. 

One of the biggest problems with this open world of social media is that people can actually tweet comments or write comments they would NEVER say in public.  For a few years I felt that homophobia, heterosexism and fat hatred were the last vestiges of public (meaning people DARED to say stupid shit in public about other people) oppression remaining in our culture, but lately, I feel like sexism and misogyny is getting a resurgence that makes me want to vomit.

Perhaps it is all connected to the War on Women.   The attacks by republicans on women’s BASIC human rights to control her body and her fertility might be setting a bad tone.  I mean, if those rights can be attacked, why not call us fat sluts at the same time.

If you can stand it and you scroll further down into the “Public Shaming” article you will see tweets that go from calling her a slut to calling her a dyke and saying she has a penis.  I mean, god, can you imagine a female athlete being a lesbian, being tough, and being strong?  What is this world coming to?  Jeez. 

For me, I want to organize and have a strategy to fight this.  Couldn’t the corporate executives who own these social media have policies about racism, heterosexism and sexism?  Couldn’t they have language about what types of hate speech will not be allowed?  Call me crazy, but we know the FCC has rules around what words can be said on the radio and on TV.  If those same misogynists and homophobes who spoke so horribly of Marion were using racial slurs, would there have been a different backlash or comment?  The twittersphere and blogosphere went nuts when The Onion called Quvenzhane Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild a cunt.  Is it because she was a Hollywood actress, a child or is it because women’s athletics doesn’t get that kind of attention?

What makes all of this worse is that even the BBC reporter John Inverdale remarked that Ms. Bartoli was “never going to be a looker.”  What does THAT have to do with her playing tennis?  Are you fucking kidding me?  Who is his boss?  Do any women producers work for the BBC who might clue him in that Bartoli is an athlete and her looks have NOTHING to do with her talent? 

Seeing blatant sexism like this, 22 years after I decided to be a feminist makes me feel old, sad, frustrated, and disappointed.  First, I’m disappointed that we are still raising men, HUNDREDS of them, as you’ll see from those tweets, who feel that way about women.  Who are their mothers and sisters and daughters?  Do they not get that to speak badly of one woman is to speak badly of all women?  I’m frustrated that we have an educational system that does not address sexism and misogyny at a young age.  I’m sad that the progress I have dedicated most of my career to seems to be slipping backwards. 

And for those of us with really good men in our lives, take a moment today to thank them for not being an asshole like all those jerks who tweeted so negatively about a champion.  Apparently it takes a lot more effort to be a good man these days than to just tweet that someone is a slut. 

Sexism and Racism and Classism, Oh My!

This past week has been one that in the words of my student “my parents did not raise me to be a queer feminist filled with the wrath of a thousand enraged dragons and yet here I am.”  Here we’ll recap all the awesome oppression taking place in a country which, on the cusp of it’s “birthday” still doesn’t get it.

Sexism:  I want to think this is internalized sexism, but it might include a little class privilege along with it. Serena Williams comments about the victim in the Stuebenville rape case were appalling. 
“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people,” Williams said to Rodrick.” She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.” (quoted in  My question is why this topic was even being discussed in a Rolling Stone article. 

Sexism Two:  Texas.  My favorite quote by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business or go to medical school.”  

Racism:  Cheerios put out a commercial with an inter-racial couple  Apparently inter-racial couples are controversial and there was so much hate speech about it that Cheerios disabled comments.  I continue to be amazed that in 2013 people actually have the balls to write out racist comments in public. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked.  I get socialization, I get all the theory behind oppression but I don’t get people who hate. 

Racism Two:  Paula Deen. 

Classism:  Why does a millionaire sports figure like Aaron Hernandez decide to commit murder when he could afford to hire an anger management therapist? What a sad moment for young children who look up to athletes like him.

It’s so Easy to Hate the Media

I haven’t written for two weeks.  I have a good excuse.  Last week I was on vacation and tried, as best I could, to stay away from technology.  My laptop did not come on vacation with me.  The week before, I was hard at work on a 30+ page Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women Grant to help end violence against women on college campuses.  I submitted it yesterday.

In the midst of vacationing and grant writing on topics like sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, I see numerous posts on facebook about CNN and its horrible coverage of the Steubenville rape case.   I read a few of the blogs and articles about CNN’s coverage.  Some feminists believe CNN actually had better coverage overall of this entire case than any other media outlet.  And others suggested we look back at “the gushing coverage from virtually every network during Kobe Bryant‘s rape case, which did affect the judicial process to the detriment of the victim in that case, and women as a class. Those proceedings deserved tons of petitions from women’s rights groups, but got none” (Murphy, Women’s ENews).

What is being understated here is that any coverage is coverage.  We need to talk about rape culture in media over and over and over until SOMEONE (anyone? hello?) starts getting it.  A student of mine, who is a self-identified gay male feminist sent me a link to this website.  Barstool Sports.  It’s a popular “man” blog about men, and sports, and of course, misogyny.  Furthermore, if you search for rape on the internet, tons of videos come up actually showing rapes.  I’m appalled that You Tube even allows that kind of material.  I’m sure if someone wanted to put up a video on how to lure a child into a car, it would be banned.  But raping women?  Sure, that’s fine!

The rapper, Rick Ross, who is also a Reebok spokesperson, has a single out that includes the lyrics “put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”  In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t!), “molly” is a popular street drug similar to ecstasy, which is used to distort reality and reduce inhibitions. This is not “metaphorical.”  He is literally singing that he drugged and raped a woman who was not capable of consent.  There is currently a petition to get Reebok to drop Rick Ross as a spokesperson here.

We know that false rape reports are few and far between, but college students believe that half of all rapes are fabricated. But I don’t blame college students.  I blame a patriarchal media, owned, in general by just a few men, who perpetuate women as objects and glorify rape.  This media seeps into all areas of our lives:  television, movies, music, the internet.  We have to begin being more critical about what we watch and listen to.  We have to tell advertisers and producers we will not tolerate women being served up as victims over and over again.  We have to get schools to talk about these issues.

In 1992, the year I graduated from college, the famous movie Thelma and Louise came out.  I saw it with one of my closest friends.  The media backlash against this film was astonishing.  They called it “male bashing” and violent against men.  If you haven’t seen it, shame on you, go rent it. Or borrow it from me.  But the gist is that a woman is raped and her friend defends her and then they go on the lam.  I wasn’t a blogger back then — oh year, there was no Internet!  But if I had been I would’ve written about how the majority of the movies we see have some form of violence against women in them but there isn’t an outcry from women and women’s groups screaming “Women’s Bashing!”  “Down with Misogyny!”

I could spend all day detailing all the violent depictions of women in media.  This is one reason I refuse to watch any of the plethora of crime drama’s on television.  Probably 90% of the story lines are about women being slaughtered by one psycho or another.  As we move into Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Center for Women, Gender & Sexuality has some great events to raise awareness.  You can find them at our website or on our facebook page. If you’re not in the Southcoast of Massachusetts, take a small step and be more critical about what you choose to watch.  Make sure the movies you go see meet the Bechdel Test (see my blog from October 25, 2012).  And if you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for your mother, or your grandmother, or your daughter or your niece.  I want my nieces growing up in a world that actually thinks rape is a problem, not something to joke about, sing about, or show videos about, on the Internet.

The Biggest Loser is Sexist

This week I am going to write about the only Reality show I watch: The Biggest Loser. My office mate watches it, as well, and every Wednesday we talk about the night before. We have two huge issues with the show, but continue to be sucked in by it. The show has some underlying sexism that needs to be explored.

First off, last night, the black team had low weight loss. All but two of the contestants on the black team are women. My husband turns to me and says “They’re all having their period.” I said he was probably right. Then he says “don’t women get on the same cycle when they live together?” Why he is asking this is beyond me as we had a roommate for over a year who was a woman and she and I were most definitely in sync. What interests me most about this topic is that the show NEVER addresses it. They never say that women tend to fluctuate water weight throughout the month based on their menstrual cycle. In fact, statistics show that women can fluctuate as much as 2-4 lbs during their period. This might not seem a lot, but when you’re on The Biggest Loser, a four pound gain can mean you are going home. For me, this is more about addressing all the reasons that people gain weight and if they are going to ignore a natural bodily process because it is too controversial or “dirty,” I probably should stop watching it.

The other sexist thing that occurs on this show is what people wear. Early on, the women have to wear sports bras while the men get to wear t-shirts. And the men get to take off their t-shirts for the weigh-ins, but the women have to keep theirs on. Why would anyone make obese people show off their stomachs on national television? My suggestion is to keep them all in tank tops. It’s not fair to the women to have to wear sports bras and also not fair that the men get to take off their shirts.

So that’s my rant for the week. February is a crazy month for me with birthdays and V-Week, so my brain is not in its normal Feminist Critic mode. I promise to get it there for next week’s posting.

A Season of Light. A Season of Stress.

I sent this to The Herald News for a December 26th run, or so I thought. The writer in charge of “Community Voices” never got back to me, and I couldn’t find it in any archives, so who knows if it was ever published. Nevertheless, I’ve decided I just need to post more about what I’m thinking. . .

I watched a re-run of Family Guy last night. In this episode, Lois freaks out because she is exhausted from Christmas preparations. She sets fire to their tree and goes on a rampage through the town of Quahog. This episode really resonated with me, even though I don’t have children. I have done the majority of the shopping for the approximately 40 people on our list, many of whom are nieces and nephews on my husband’s side of the family. Last Saturday I spent hours wrapping all of those presents. And I’m still not done. I have to pick up something for my Dad, find the perfect book about trains for my Godson, get something for my neighbors who were overly generous last year, a gift certificate for my brother in law and his wife, go to Target and get dog toys for nine dogs, and maybe something else for my mother.

Then I have to buy the ingredients to make a Christmas Eve dessert, develop a shopping list for Christmas dinner, which will include making another dessert, and finish wrapping the gifts I haven’t finished wrapping, including some I need to wrap when my husband is elsewhere.

Christmas has become a race to exhaustion. And while I love to buy Christmas presents, I wonder if we have stepped too far afield of its meaning. While we hear all the time that we have to “get back to the real meaning of Christmas,” like a new group on Facebook called “Let’s keep the Christ in Christmas,” none of this addresses the pressure that, in most cases, women face during this time of year.

And why does the holiday pressure fall on women? I know I am the one who nagged my husband about decorating the house. I was the one who wanted our house to look “pretty” in my neighborhood. I was the one who went to get a tree and then decorated the whole thing while he cooked dinner one night. I did manage to get him to come shopping with me for some of our nieces and nephews, but I couldn’t get him to move at the pace I needed. Am I the one who puts this pressure on me? Do women bring this on themselves? Or are men happy to let us take charge?

I often get a good cold this time of year. Women run themselves into exhaustion, staying up late wrapping presents or baking cookies or decorating. I wonder if next year, instead of getting back to the real meaning of Christmas, maybe we could begin to think of an equality of Christmas, where no one person in the home takes full responsibility for the increased chores that come with this beautiful season of lights.

my feminist praxis

critical reflections on my feminist praxis: activism, motherhood, and life

The Feminist Critic

Providing weekly critiques of theatre, film, books, politics and pop culture from a feminist perspective.