The upside

25 03 2010

Recently, I had an email exchange with an old friend about that British study published this month which claims that we (society) are still sexist in our writing.

I wanted to share it with her not only because she is a close friend but also because she is intelligent and she is, at times, interested in feminist perspectives.

I got a quick response from her and was not surprised to see that it was a long one but was surprised at how defensive she seemed. I read her words with a quickening heartbeat – my old friend was bristling at a somewhat tame study. When I initially decided to send it to her, I had considered it something we could both relate to and recognize easily – the wording “he or she” is so common in english language. In verbal situations, the female is almost always listed second. It’s a subtle way to maintain females as second-class citizens. Or worse: invisible in the instances of ‘guys’ being used to describe a group of people of varied genders. “Hey guys”, “those guys”, “what are you guys up to”, etc. Can you imagine someone approaching a mixed gender group and saying, totally seriously, ‘hey gals, how’s it goin?’*

After a few back-and-forths, none of which consisted of personal criticisms rather just discussions of language, we closed it on the agreement that talking openly is essential to exposing oppression – though she ultimately said that this in particular is not a very important issue.

In a way, ‘masculine first’ language isn’t the most damaging thing in the world if you measure it as a single blow at a time but if you zoom out and view the effect it has on all of us – its subtle influence individually expands to widespread unnatural male privilege which extends the power of men and maintains the oppression of women.

Language is important.

I was definitely glad to find a common agreement between us – very glad to know that she values discussions as well but I’ve been bothered that she felt defensive, especially considering I wasn’t challenging her, or at least, I didn’t think I was. I’ve been wondering – what is so threatening about feminism?

Let me wind it back a little:
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The Philadelphia Story

23 03 2010

If a good horror film is one that scares you when you’re least expecting it, then The Philadelphia Story is a good horror film.

This 1940 black and white film is dazzling. The people are beautiful, rich and dewy in soft focus.

What I knew about this movie before seeing it for the first time was that Katharine Hepburn was mostly responsible for it being made at all – she brought it to Broadway and then to Hollywood. I also knew that I generally enjoy her films and characters.

What I didn’t know was that this film showcases a real life conflict but in a fantasy setting.

The movie opens with a lover’s spat that quickly ends in the man pushing Hepburn to the floor. You get the feeling it’s supposed to be comedic. Me and my guy didn’t laugh. “This film is already condoning violence against women” he said, just minutes into the film. *Collective grimace* as we curled up on the couch to watch the plot unfold.

Instantly the film advances two years after the domestic violence incident as Hepburn is set to marry a different guy. She seems to be happy and secure in her life at this point.

An exchange between Hepburn and her mother:
Her mother: We both might face the fact that neither of us have proved to be a very great success as a wife.
Hepburn’s response: We just picked the wrong first husbands, that’s all.

Her being rich and fabulous, some tabloid staffers show up to capture the wedding – one of which is a future love interest for Hepburn’s character. And by “future” I mean that very night.

How did the tabloid crew get into her big ol’ mansion the day before her wedding? Why it was all thanks to her sweetheart of an ex-husband. You remember him? The guy who pushed her? He’s a very charming Cary Grant in fact.

Over the next several scenes, we get treated with funny antics, physical comedy, a little charm, some quirky relatives – it plays out like a typical wedding movie. The highlights in this film are the bursts of great dialogue:

At one point, the new love interest says to Hepburn’s character: Oh, it’s grand, Tracy. It’s what everybody feels about you. It’s what I first worshipped you for from afar

To which she replies: I don’t want to be worshipped. I want to be loved.

It is perfectly romantic at times:

The new love interest: No, you’re made out of flesh and blood. That’s the blank, unholy surprise of it. You’re the golden girl, Tracy. Full of life and warmth and delight. What goes on? You’ve got tears in your eyes.

She responds: Shut up, shut up. Oh, Mike. Keep talking, keep talking. Talk, will you?

At this point, we’re really into the movie – it’s all that black and white dazzle, all that quick dialogue and charm. Still, the scenes between Hepburn and the other men in her life are very disturbing. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Care Reformed!

22 03 2010

Breaking news before going to sleep tonight – Health Care reform has passed in the U.S. Congress

More later on what this really means – it’s lengthy and there have been many negotiations – I can hardly wait to hear more tomorrow.

Yay for us :)

Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick

21 03 2010

Last year I picked up a great read at a local used bookstore: Women’s Firsts edited by Caroline Zilboorg and Susan B. Gall. This is a hardback, heavy resource full of all sorts of interesting things women have done throughout global history.

Every once in a while, I will post tidbits of info from this book so check back.

If you know of any women’s firsts – please comment!


Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick

Born in 1893, Broadwick was the first woman to free-fall parachute – she jumped out of a plane at 1000 feet over Los Angeles in 1913 and lived to tell the tale. She eventually made over 1100 jumps, saying:

“I was never afraid. I’d go up any time, any place. The only thing I hated was getting back to earth so quickly.”

In 1914, Broadwick was the first person to demonstrate parachuting to the U.S. Army. Wearing a parachute pack newly designed to fit on a person’s back, she performed several jumps for the military. Through the course of the demonstration, she modified the operation to reduce risk of injury (her line tangled on her 3rd or 4th jump, sources are conflicting). Parachuting jumps previously involved using a static line which ensured parachute deployment upon immediate departure from the aircraft – but being attached to a physical line heightened the risk of injury during the fall. For her fifth jump in front of the military, Broadwick cut the line (allowing her to open the parachute manually) and thus was the first person ever to do a premeditated free fall jump from an airplane!

Totally awesome.

Teen there, Done that

20 03 2010

“But my dreams, they aren’t as empty

As my conscience seems to be”

Perfect words for teenagers struggling with being ignorantly selfish/self-consumed in a small world that hasn’t broken open for them yet. Doesn’t apply to all the world’s youth, of course.

I am several years removed from teenhood today but I still remember the pain of my parents not understanding me – of being branded evil, lazy, shades of worthless. My visions of living in a house without them fueled my forward motion. My creativity and dreams were another world, deep and suffering in a private space that I could share with no one.

In certain moments, I might crave a closeness with my parents that still doesn’t exist (and might never) but to speak that to them, back then, wouldn’t have worked. Our existence was a battle of rights. I moved out at the age of 15.
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Oh the Humanity

15 03 2010

Watching PBS’s National Park Series recently, I was moved by the life and perspective of John Muir. Born in 1838, Muir was essential in the formation of Yosemite as a U.S. National Park. The documentary focused on the challenges faced by those (like Muir, future founder of the Sierra Club) who wanted Yosemite to be a protected space. Muir’s efforts are preserved in his letters and essays which illuminate his passion for the land. In addition to his musings on nature, John Muir noted that there are enough different kinds of people in this world to do all the good things you could think of (beautiful space preserved/conserved for the public’s benefit) and all the bad things imaginable (destruction of nature/consumption of land for private interests). Still, he persisted. And he sounded so damn peaceful about it.

One person’s beauty-on-earth can be another person’s high-dollar-dream. We the people are so varied – we shouldn’t be shocked to see our interests set against each other. And we shouldn’t be so quick to think that one interest is Right (though some interests/deeply held beliefs are more considerate than others).

This got me thinking about how his words didn’t shatter the earth at that moment – I’m hearing his words on a documentary in 2009 and I’m thinking – yeah, we still don’t get that evil and good not only exist within us all but exist despite our neat little boundaries. Somehow after his words, future generations were not smarter, better. I’m thinking about privilege. Borders weren’t done away with – racism could’ve been relegated to history books. There are enough good and bad people in the world? There are shitheads and sweethearts? Shitheads can be sweethearts? Sweethearts, shitheads? Nothing else matters, like, where you were born? Wait .. you’re telling me that .. wait … the world is complicated? Like I said, it got me thinking.

I’m looking at this on an individual level as well as a humans-as-one level. Humanity is complex.

There is no inherent purity swimming within humans or rancid bile boiling our blood. Just as there is no single idea that unites all feminine people/no single trait that connects all masculine people. A world of binaries is a world that is easily duped.

You know that eternal question we face at least once in our lives – are people inherently good or inherently evil? I’ve never bought it. I’ve tried to go there in my mind but entering into that simplistic world is difficult – perhaps more so without the proper religious background.
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Remembering those I never met, ones who helped many

14 03 2010

Honoring 3 amazing women who lost their lives in the January Haiti earthquake: Myriam Merlet, Magali Marcelin, and Anne Marie Coriolan. Ambassadors of justice, they were honored on March 8 (International Women’s Day) across the globe, including at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Here’s more info on who they were, how they helped in this world and how they were honored recently:

Madre Press Room: Women Worldwide Will Honor the Lives of Feminist Leaders Who Died in Haiti’s Earthquake

An excerpt from MADRE.ORG:

“All three leaders had a long standing trajectory in feminist activism reforming a judiciary that never took rape seriously, creating organizations and houses to protect girls and women against domestic violence and trafficking, publishing a feminist newspaper, expanding a documentary center and an historical archive, and struggling for the protection of sexual and reproductive rights.”