Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On the off chance anyone wants to buy me a ridiculously expensive gift 'just because'...

Yep, me too. Pretty much anything she wears, I think is awesome. Too bad my fly grad stipend is, while still amazing, slightly sub-par to royal couture budget standards.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pierre Bourdieu, my love, why do I want to be June Cleaver?

So last night we celebrated Will's birthday with a lovely little romantic dinner at home. It was the epitome of domestic perfection: apron clad moi making steamed crabs, from-scratch mashed potatoes, green beans and cupcakes a la Giant Supermarket bakery. Of course, I added my own 'unique' touch by putting too much oil in the pan to cook the green beans, resulting in (I'm not kidding) the oil splashing a bit onto the gas stove flame and creating a HUGE fireball. Green beans flambe, anyone? Will even brought me home beautiful pink long-stem roses, and we snuggled on the sofa and discussed how the day's events had treated us both. It was really, really nice. Operation Domestic Felicity: success.

So here's the curious thing that kept running through my head as I waltzed from Costco (guilty) to Giant to CVS...as I saw all these mommies running about gathering groceries with their little children, and then later while I stirred my flaming green beans and mashed the potatoes with my apron tied oh-so-coyly around my bourgeois yoga pant ensemble, I kept thinking that despite how exhausting the whole 'buy ingredients make dinner from scratch' project is, I really enjoyed the whole idea of Will walking into a home cooked dinner that I had prepared as a sign of my love to him. He spends all day and many, many nights slogging away at his work, all for the betterment of our financial future and stability, and I know he is doing it because he cares about our family's well-being. And I couldn't help but feel yesterday that my making dinner was 'providing' something along the same vein. Seriously, I couldn't shake the feeling that me making dinner and errand running hamster-crazy style was the 'right' way for me to be contributing to our household. To my rational, feminist-y brain, this is just nuts. I have a well paying job (thank you G-d), I am a mere few credits away from holding an M.A., and I am officially a 'doctoral candidate' (cue parting of clouds, singing angel chorus). My contributions to our domestic bottom line radiate far beyond my abilities to set the kitchen on fire cooking green beans (ahem). So why is it that whenever I switch into domestic goddess mode I get this weird high off the feeling that I am embodying my true calling? I have told Will many (many, many, many) times that one of my worst nightmares is finishing my PhD only to 'retire' into stay-at-home-mommage. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but rather because it's not the path I choose for myself. I have this deep-seated fear that no matter what steps I take- even going so far as to get my doctorate- I am still going to somehow board the mommy train and end up sidetracked from my professional goals and pulling into PTASoccerAttachmentParenting Station. And yet...slap on an apron and away I go, full steam ahead. All aboard the Phyllis Schlafly express.

To get some clarity on why my brain thinks cooking is cat-nip, I talked to my sociological BFF Pierre Bourdieu (who is dead, but I like to think of him and Michel Foucault as the angels on my shoulder...Glen Beck resides on my other shoulder, for those of you that are curious). I am currently working my way- too slowly- through Bourdieu's writings on social power dynamics, specifically in An Introduction to Reflexive Sociology and Distinction. Bourdieu contends that dominated classes, in this specific case women, reinforce the social structures that subjugate them by buying into the idea that these social delineations are in their own best interests and are 'natural', thus reinforcing power dynamics by further legitimating the status quo. More concisely put, I get high off of my domestic goddess groove because I have drank the 'female in the kitchen='normal/good' kool-aid. I have been socially programmed from my earliest interactions (think Little Tikes plastic kitchen) to think that my 'natural' role is to support my family through my gastrointestinal and errand running contributions. I see this reinforced among my friends constantly. We had our cousins over for spend-the-night and brunch fun this weekend, and my cousin and I hung out (read: made coffee and gossiped) in the kitchen while Will and Micah hung out on the sofa. Dinner parties is the same bet- you'll find me and my female compatriots camped out cleaning dishes while our men folk tend to the pressing needs of Mario Cart Wii. It doesn't matter if it's me and my beautiful stay-at-home mom sis, or my high powered attorney pal J, it's always the same show: women in kitchen doing food prep, men hanging out in living room. I am not pointing fingers and saying our XY chromosome pals are lazy, or trying to make a case for shared kitchen labor. What I am trying to get at is the fact that none of us even raise an eyebrow to question this dynamic. We have all been programed to think of this as normal, and that programming results in the creation and propagation of socially constructed gender roles. We think it's 'natural', that somehow we, as females, are better suited to loading a dishwasher, because it's always been presented as the norm. Had Will and our male pals been raised thinking that playing with a plastic kitchen set was 'fun' perhaps they would be vying to get in on the dishwasher loading fiesta. But they were not raised with this, we female types were. We were the ones fed a big pink plastic Barbie Dreamhouse of domestic fantasies that included cooking, cleaning, and taking care of Ken. And then we grew up in post-Title-IX-anything-is-possible era, got fancy degrees, and accomplished major resume building, kudos garnering feats. We learned that we could run for Congress, own companies, and sue the shit out of anyone who commented on our breasts at work (thanks again, Professor Hill!). Law degrees and PhDs in hand, we marched towards the equality horizon, emboldened with dreams of a just future filled with Ken dolls that happily shouldered half of the toilet scrubbing duties...only to find out that, whoops-a-daisy, girls, let's not get too carried away! We can have our cake, but we better be willing to bake it, too.

In honor of Women's History Month, the Obama administration conducted the first report on the status of women since Eleanor Roosevelt prepared one for President JFK. In less-than-shocking news, the findings show, among other things, that women are still responsible for a majority of the housework in most families. Many are also, not surprisingly, working outside of the home full-time. Juggling this dual role madness of full-time work and full-time housewife is exhausting...and somehow, sickly, exhilarating to me. I feel, deep down, this warm sense of satisfaction knowing that I am 'taking care' of my family when I cook dinner, scrub the bathroom, or sweep the floors. I feel somehow that I am doing 'my part', that I can feel ok accepting roses from my partner because I too have done my job to make the house warm and welcoming. I have kept the familial ship afloat, one home cooked meal at a time!

Many of my male friends would balk at the idea that they expect their partners to do more of the housework, and I think that many of them-at least in my crowd- do kick in nearly 50%. Will folds laundry, takes out trash, tackles the ickier domestic problems like unclogging the toilet...and kicks in half for our cleaning lady to come twice a month so neither of us has to shoulder the brunt of scullery duties. (I am guessing that most of the women in America are not blessed with a partner as evolved as mine, as evidenced by the status of women report.) The issue I'm trying to work out is not that I am expected to do the majority of the housework. Rather, what I am trying to understand is just why, when I do engage in housework, I get this feeling that I am 'really' contributing. I don't get this same high when I put my paycheck in our savings account, nor when I pay for the cable bill or pick up the tab for dinner out. It comes only when I am cooking and/or cleaning. I would love to say, "gee, that's so weird!" but I actually think it's indicative of something much, much deeper at play. Bourdieu contends that sociology's purpose is "to uncover the most profoundly buried structures of the various social worlds which constitute the social universe, as well as the 'mechanisms' which tend to ensure their reproduction." (1992: 7) Applied to my domestic dilemma, sociologically speaking, the feeling of happy provider that washes over me while washing dishes is the result of deeply rooted social conditioning. My domestic diva bliss is the result of me fully giving myself over to society's messaging that the value I bring to the societal table is my skill to cook something to put on the table.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Will!

You are the love of my life. And you're pretty cute too, which is a nice bonus. Happy Birthday, mi amigo!

Friday, March 11, 2011

In other news, it's not all bad if James Bond is in drag.

The name's Boobs. James Boobs.

Mr. Bond's mission for the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day: to take on gender inequality. In a video put out by EQUALS, Bond's boss "M" spits out shocking- but all to real- stats about women in society while a drag-clad Daniel Craig stares down the camera. Among the stats highlighted- 30,000 women lose their jobs due to pregnancy every year and every week two women in the UK are killed by a current or former partner.

Thanks Mr. Bond. As much as I hate to be thought of as a damsel in distress, I appreciate the 007 powered boost.

More information about the campaign can be found at weareequals.org.

CAUTION: Rant ahead- Girl tacitly blamed for her own rape. Stay classy, New York Times.

While I generally try to stay on the sunny side, I can't help but be completely pissed by this New York Times article about the gang rape of an eleven year old girl in Cleveland, Texas. Reporter James McKinley decided that the best possible way to frame his article was to highlight the ways in which this child provoked her own assault- by eighteen- yes, you read that right- eighteen men and boys ranging from middle-school aged to 27 years old.

McKinley quotes neighborhood residents that state the victim, a middle school-er, "dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground." Like dressing a particular way could possible insight EIGHTEEN people to gang rape you. That would be one heck of a fashion faux pas, to be sure.

To be honest, my biggest 'oh my G-d, you have got to be kidding' moment reading this article was this gem from resident Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who reportedly knows several of the defendants, who stated: “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

Wow. It never occurred to me that I should feel horribly sad and distressed by the fact that "these boys" who allegedly assaulted an eleven year old child (can I say that enough? No, no I can not.) are going to have to "live with this" for the rest of their lives. This is clearly going to be horrible for them- much worse than, say, the pain and trauma that their victim- who they raped repeatedly while some of them video taped the assault on their cell phones- will have to grapple with the rest of her life.

While I would like to say that I am shocked by this reporting, the sad truth is I find it fairly par for the course. The idea that women are responsible for their own assault is hardly news. Victim-centric constructions of rape and sexual assault are firmly ingrained in our general psyche- rarely do we question that the best ways to 'prevent' rape is by encouraging women to 'stay safe' by dressing conservatively, walking in pairs, parking in well lit areas, etc. I have never, EVER heard anyone suggest that the best way to prevent rape is to- brace yourself- reduce risk factors that contribute to individuals performing violent sexual assault. Gasp.

Elizabeth Stanko refers to this as "everyday violence", and details the ways in which women must plan many mundane aspects of their lives to reduce their risk of sexual assault. This continual process of placing the onus on the victim desensitizes us to just how ridiculous it is to blame the victim, a process Pierre Bourdieu terms "symbolic violence", where the overarching social structures reinforce and make power dynamics that are socially constructed appear 'natural'.

If you're as steamed as I am, please sound off by emailing the article's reporter, James McKinley or call the New York Times at 1-888-NYT-NEWS (1-888-698-6397) to productively express your opinion that victim-centric constructions of gender have no place in responsible reporting.



Thursday, March 10, 2011

20 years later, it's still an upHill battle

Last week George Mason Women and Gender Studies, along with African and African American Studies, hosted a lecture by Anita Hill to kick off Women's History Month and close out Black History Month. It was incredibly inspirational, moving, and powerful to see this woman who spoke truth to power when she shared her experience of sexual harassment during Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings before the Senate back in 1991. The state of women's rights in the workplace has changed dramatically in the past 20 years- because of the reaction to Hill's testimony, women are more vocal about harassment and companies are more vigilant to ensure they do all they can to prevent a law suit and also (we hope) because there is a growing recognition that a safe (read: not hostile) work environment is good for the bottom line.

But here's the thing: Despite all of the positive changes that have happened since Hill's testimony, I can't help but get the feeling that the overarching culture that recognizes women first and foremost as sex objects is still alive and well. This is not exactly breaking news, but I continue to be startled by the ways this culture manifests itself in my daily life. I have the tremendous privilege of working each day at the Women and Gender Studies Center, then hanging out with gender/queer conscious peeps in my free time. So each time 'reality' in the form of tacit misogyny pops up it is a shocking slap in the face.

Most recent stark case in point: After spending the day with Professor Hill in preparation for her lecture and following her speech, I was walking back to my car musing about how amazingly lucky I am to live in a time where trailblazers like Anita Hill have paved the way for me to live in a more just world. Strolling in my happy pink cloud, I was abruptly pulled back down to earth as I passed the senior student housing on the GMU Fairfax campus. Apparently something about me in my long black coat (that completely covered me head to toes) was so tantalizing that some man in the dorm just couldn't keep himself from wolf whistling at me. This certainly is not the most horrific thing that could happen to a woman, and some people might even take it as a compliment (I didn't). Regardless of the whistler's intention (did he really think I was going to stop walking and run into his arms, so turned on by his appreciation that I couldn't hold myself back?), for me, the result of his whistle was a cold reminder that no matter how far we have come in recognizing women's value, the way the world sees me above all is as a sex object to be appreciated for my ass(ests) and curves, not my brain or contributions to society. Wolf whistles, comments about 'you look sooo good' in creepy tones, and other remarks along the same vein function to keep women concerned for our physical safety, hyper aware of our surroundings, and always tuned into the fact that society grants anyone the right to comment on our physical appearance and sexual activities. How exactly am I supposed to think of myself as a credible professional when 30 seconds later some co-ed reminds me that, in his eyes, I am just legs and breasts?

Anita Hill, thank you for what you did to make it possible for me to stand up and assert my right to be seen as more than a sex object. Now, if the rest of world could join us feminists climbing up the mountain of inequality, perhaps we could reach a point where it's not too much to ask to walk down the street without commentary.

Article about Professor Hill at GMU:

More info about Professor Hill's recent adventures in misogyny land:



S-CARily happy!

Just a comment and I promise to post more soon-