Sunday, June 29, 2003

An Independent Woman

Katharine Hepburn, 1907-2003Two great female pioneers of cinema are long-worshipped icons for me: the actors Hepburn, graceful gamine Audrey, who died a decade ago, and stylish independent Katharine. Today, we lost her too. I still miss the former... and it seems I will miss the latter for a very, very long time as well.

Miss Katharine Hepburn, Hepburn in 1990 who had been in poor health for a number of years, died today at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, at the age of 96. She was known for being an intelligent, self-sufficient, freethinking woman -- quite the firecracker, onscreen and onstage, of course, and when she was just being herself. Daily Celebrations offers a terrific summation of the screen legend's life and career.

Some of the award-winner's most interesting words came back to me today as I remembered her presence and talents. Surfing around, I found a bunch of Hepburn wisdom and thought I would share it in honor of a gifted artist and a fine role model for indepndent women everywhere.

  • "Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living, " she once said. "After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four."
  • "Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."
  • "We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers - but never blame yourself. It's never your fault. But it's always your fault, because if you wanted to change you're the one who has got to change."
  • "Without discipline, there's no life at all."
  • "It's life isn't it? You plow ahead and make a hit. And you plow on and someone passes you. Then someone passes them. Time levels."
  • "If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun."
  • "Life is hard. After all, it kills you."
  • "Death will be a great relief. No more interviews."

These quotes and many more can be found at Brainy Quote.

Rest in peace, Miss Hepburn, and thank you very much.

Friday, June 27, 2003

rubs me the wrong way

I posted something on allied that I wanted to post over here too. About a site that is fascinating, if not to my mind creepy. Let me say that I'm not anti-donor sperm in general, nor am I against lesbian couples and single women having children. Wonderful parents are wonderful parents, period. But there's something about this business model that makes me suspect of those attracted to spend their money here... Without further delay--here's my post:

Have you heard about this one? The world's first "Internet Baby" will arrive next month.

No, this doesn't mean live blogging from the event, or web-cam assisted delivery, which I'm pretty sure have already taken place. In fact, the story is about man not included, a site that nearly removes the man from the conception equation.

FAQs here.

The service, which is marketed as a kind of e-marketplace or match making service between interested parties--both sperm donors and primarily lesbian couples and single women--gives me the willies. Especially the name, and the branding which has all the panache of a with a rather twisted business model. Guys--if you didn't know what you were good for before, you do now. Ante up the sperm and get lost.

I see a lot being done to ensure peace of mind and security for the sperm consumer, but I don't see fuck-all about making sure the parents to be are legitimate. I'd feel a lot better if I knew no boy children would be born from those drawn to the site.

The notion of "home insemination" with donor sperm from an online matchmaking service that overtly male bashes and now controls the most sacred of data from participants takes conception to a new level: somewhere between a back alley rape and a sterile motherboard insertion.

I wonder when they'll come out with onesies for the children? Imagine the blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler boys of the future running around with this logo on their chests. Destiny pre-determined.

Am I being too hard on the site and its members? Maybe. But I'll take that chance.

And I'll even do the favor of giving them a tagline for free--one they would no doubt be proud of: "No guy, no lie."

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Ladies who tattoo

I keep a curious eye out for the phenomenon of body art, and was sent this article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the growing popularity of tattoos for middle-class women in London. It seems that a Selfridges department store has opened a tattoo department that is doing a fair amount of business-- enough for the store's managers to want to keep the department.

It's interesting the way body art is perceived. In tribal cultures, tattoos, scarification, piercing, etc. are a symbol of belonging, but in Western culture they've long been the symbol of the outsider: criminals, soldiers, rebels, rockstars, etc. They were especially stigmatic for women. Now they are becoming a fashion symbol for the middle class, acceptable even for 44-year-old housewives.

What do I think of tattoos? Well, I don't know that I'd get one for myself, because I'm pretty fickle (though I do have my bellybutton pierced), but I do find many of them fascinating and beautiful. For those that dare to go under the needle, I'm sure it can be a great form for self-expression.

Is the Sky Falling Yet?

And it's still PRIDE Month...

I don't yet know if this makes up for the crime against humanity committed when the US Supreme Court put an illegitimate ass into the Oval Office's main chair. But credit where it is due: The nation's highest court finally did something to uphold justice, ruling that Texas' ban on gay sex is unconstitutional.

Pro-justice and pro-GLBT organizations are, naturally, ecstatic by this supreme occurrence. Some fundamentalist Christians, predictably, accuse the court's justices of signing onto some "homosexual agenda."

Well, if that agenda is fairness for all, good for the justices. I'm certainly thrilled by the long-awaited verdict, even a little shocked. Cynical me, I don't always trust people to do the right thing. On the rare occasions when they do, I am generally left in a state of grateful bewilderment -- it is there I reside today. My happiness and thankfulness is, in part, due to my proud status as a queer human. But the "human" part is glad too -- today's Supreme Court ruling underscores the freedom and protection that we all are supposed to enjoy.

On the heels of Canada's recent breakthroughs in marriage equality, today's controversial high court decision makes me feel actual hope for the future of GLBT Americans; for women; the elderly; differently abled and bodied people; religious, ethnic, and pigmentational minorities; and all the world's citizens. Good stuff does happen!

So raise a glass. Celebrate! Watch for falling bits of sky. And take that, Rick Santorum.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Beautiful Woman Month.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times the other day, regarding an e-mail that’s going around. It announces Beautiful Woman Month. I got it from a friend. The NYT article takes some shots at the veracity of some of the claims made in the e-mail but also talks about the importance of size acceptance.

I was struck by the increase numbers in average weight. Apparently the numbers have jumped (their word) from 144 in the late seventies to 152 in the nineties. Eight pounds. I don’t know about the rest of my Blogsisters but I gain and lose eight pounds every month. It doesn’t seem like much of a jump.

The article does say some very cool things about a shift toward fitness and not thinness. If you have read my blog and read me rant about fat issues you might guess that it does not go far enough for me.

The article has a sales pitch for Curves. Now. I want to say that I’ve not been in a Curves. But I did hear a story about a fat woman who went in one to say that she wanted to join and get exercise but wasn’t interested in losing weight. They wouldn’t let her join. It may be a lone story.

The article quotes Dr. Kelly D. Brownell
“If there's a change so far, it may be that women have gone from being horribly dissatisfied with their own bodies to being somewhat less horribly dissatisfied. It's very hard to find a woman who really likes her body. Even if she likes the shape, she will not like her toes, her knees, her elbows or her ankles. There's always something wrong."

He also goes on to say that body dissatisfaction stems from two assumptions — that a body can be shaped at will, so that the only thing that lies between any woman and perfection is effort and that an imperfect body reflects an imperfect person.

The article includes the usual litany of fat phobia. I guess it’s OK to accept your size but not if you’re fat.

The mighty Deb Burgard, who keeps the Body Positive Site, has the last word.
"I don't see how we're going to stop eating disorders until we stop reading character into the size of people's bodies. It's stereotyping. We've made progress against other stereotypes, and we can make progress against this one, too.”


Small personal note for anyone who normally checks my blog daily. Blogger is apparently overhauling (or upgrading or whatever) a whole bunch of blogs and I haven't been able to get into my edit page for 12 hours now. Pisses me off because I've gotten obsessively anal about posting daily. So just wanted folks to know.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Vacationing with Friends

I just got back from a week in a rented cottage at the ocean in Maine with two of my women friends. I hope that you all have friends like mine, and you can share our adventures at

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Silence as a Feminist Rhetorical Strategy

Back in March, I did a presentation at CCCC titled "Looking to Lorde and Daly: When It's Not Okay to Be Silent in Feminist Rhetorical Theory." It was part of a panel titled "Actions Speak Louder Than Words? Using Feminist Rhetorical Theories to Rethink the Relationship Between Silence, Power, and Culture." I've provided the panel proposal below (proposal written by Merry Perry of the University of South Florida):

This session offers new ways of rhetorically conceptualizing silence as more than just the response of marginalized people to oppressive circumstances. Instead, each presenter uses feminist rhetorical theories to analyze the interlocking relationships among language, power, knowledge, identity, and culture to argue that silence can serve as a rhetorically powerful tool. Moreover, because this panel is predicated on a belief in the intimate connections between theory and practice, each presenter explains the cultural implications and transformative possibilities of feminist rhetorics that acknowledge the power of silence.

In "The Rhetoric of Silence," Speaker #1 interweaves interpretations of classical rhetoric with marginalized theories of rhetoric in order to lay the groundwork for an understanding of women's silence as rhetoric. By analyzing the assertive, active, and expressive qualities of silence, Speaker #1 argues that it may be a rhetoric of choice for women communicators. Thus, silence may be understood as a rhetorical strategy and the silent rhetor as an agent who actively participates in shared discourse.

In "Neither Seen Nor Heard: The Rhetoric of Birthmother Silence in Adoption Policy Debates," Speaker #2 uses the theories of Iris Marion Young and Kenneth Burke to explain how silence speaks louder than words in matters of public policy concerning birthmothers and adoption policy. By addressing the relationship between shame and secrecy in out-of-wedlock births, Speaker #2 explains how advocacy organizations appropriate this rhetoric of silence for their own purposes.

In "Looking to Lorde and Daly: When It's Not Okay to Be Silent in Feminist Rhetorical Theory," Speaker #3 analyzes how conflict and dialogue between feminist rhetors serves to erase the uncomfortable silence that may erupt over unexamined matters of identity such as race, class, sexuality, and so on. Using a debate between Audre Lorde and Mary Daly as a template, Speaker #3 considers contemporary feminist debates over voice and agency and offers useful theoretical alternatives to a rhetoric of silence.

In "Men Not Allowed: Silence About Masculinity in Feminist Composition Theory and Pedagogy," Speaker #4 argues that feminist compositionists have been conspicuously silent about masculinity studies. While many compositionists incorporate an analysis of femininity and of women's experiences into their scholarship and into their classrooms, discussions of masculinity remain largely ignored. In response, Speaker #4 argues for a move toward a feminist cultural studies approach to composition that centers on analyzing how cultural representations of women and men reinscribe power imbalances and reveal cultural assumptions about gendered identities.

By considering the unexamined theoretical implications of silence within multiple locations-rhetorical theory, public policy debates, feminist theory, and composition studies-this session offers new ways of envisioning feminist rhetorics that can transform relationships of power in theory, language, and culture.

[end snip]

My presentation was greatly influenced by recent work by Cheryl Glenn and Krista Ratcliffe on silence as a rhetorical strategy. At first (and I said this in my presentation too) I was skeptical of silence as feminist. How can women's silence, in a patriarchal society, ever possibly be feminist? Glenn and Ratcliffe work showed me, though, and today in my reading of From Housewife to Heretic by Sonia Johnson, I saw a particular moment in which silence could have served a feminist purpose. Johnson was engaged in one of many debates she had with church officials on the church's subjugation of women:


I touched on this issue of insensitivity to women in the church. They turned the full force of their scorn--and of their bottomless ignorance about women--upon me and launched into what I call 'the exalted woman rhetoric' of the church. Finally, as the grand slam of logic, intended to knock me over the brink once and for all into belief in the church's great love for women, [Gordon] Hinckley intoned, 'You know that [Mormon church] President Kimball has done more for women than any living man!'

'Such as what?' I asked quietly.

Taken completely by surprise--Hinckley is not accustomed to having to account for his information, to being challenged; he simply hands down such pomposities for the nodding, unquestioning acceptance of the obedient mass--he flushed, swiveled his chair completely around, picked at his tie, cleared his throat and, trying to maintain his confident authoritative tone, trying to disguise the dreadful, threadbare weakness of the anticlimax he was about to create, said, 'He treats his wife so well.'

At that, I should have left a large silence while this excrescence slowly dripped down the air between us and gathered in turgid blobs on his desk. In absolute silence I should have made him watch this disgusting mess congeal before his eyes. But afterthought being by definition always too late, instead I said, 'A good many living men treat their wives well.'

'Yes, yes, exactly, exactly!' he burbled triumphantly, as if he had actually scored a point.

[end snip, emphasis mine. p. 155 of From Housewife to Heretic.]

See how it works? Such a "click moment" for me...I wanted to share it with you too.

Cross-posted at CultureCat.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Evolution from a Female Perspective.

A post by Jeneane over on her site about evolution made me remember a book I read when it came out in the early seventies that speculated on evolution of the human female. The Descent of Woman (entitled that to contrast with Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape ) rejects the brutish ape-man in caves theory and substitutes a vision of pre-human creatures living in a primarily aquatic environment.

In 1994, Elaine Morgan came out with another book, The Scars of Evolution. According to Ingram review of the book on Amazon:

Natural selection dictates that enduring changes to a species occur because of the need to adapt to changes in the environment. Elaine Morgan, author of The Descent of Woman and The Aquatic Ape, maintains that the human propensity for lower back pain, obesity, varicose veins, and other chronic conditions is the result of an earlier need for humans to survive a watery environment.

It’s always so surprising to me that so many women never even heard of Elaine Morgan’s theories. They make as much sense as the aggressive caveman ones, and I sure like them a lot better. But then, again, when media like the Discovery Channel opt for programs like the one scheduled for tomorrow, Walking With Cavemen, rather than a less male-centric vision of the past, it's not surprising.

Friday, June 13, 2003

From the Bleachers

I went to court yesterday representing a woman who was hurt in a car accident. Opposing counsel argued that she was not really hurt. "So, her husband carried the laundry basket up the stairs a couple of times. Big deal."

My brain was thinking, "WTF?" My mouth behaved better:

"Your honor, she does not have to prove she cannot lift boulders or climb construction buildings to prove her injury. She does not have to be completely disabled. The law requires that you look at what she did on a daily basis and if she can no longer do it, then that is sufficient. She was a housewife and a mom. Her job was housework and she could no longer do it. She could not stand for long at the oven; her husband and daughter did the laundry; she hired someone to clean the house; she could not even sit for more than an hour with her family in the evening and relax without having to excuse herself to lie down. Gardening was out of the question, and needlepoint and sewing were put on hold. The law is clear. She meets the standard. Her life was in large part what she did in her house and for her family, and that was lost to her."

"What about the case your opponent just mentioned? " asked the Judge.
"It does not support my opponent's position. It supports my own," I challenged.

The judge pulled out the decision and began to read it aloud to the courtroom. His voice began strong, but as he got to the part that showed the flaw in my opponent's argument, his voice trailed off as a fizzled firecracker.

As I was leaving the courtroom, I passed near rows of spectaters, including five women in their 60's and 70's. They were sitting by their husbands, waiting for some other matter to be addressed by the court. I caught the glance of the woman closest to me. She wanted my attention. When she got it, she winked and nodded her head in appreciation. The woman behind her said quitely, "You were wonderfully articulate." The other women smiled.

I smiled back. I was glad these women could hear someone talk about their lives for two seconds, and they made me feel good. But we have so far to go. I really should not have to be making these arguments.

Posted at Berlin Blog

Talk Radio -- Where Are The Women?

If you listen to talk radio in the Boston area, chances are you won't hear a female talk show host. I've long been aware that while most listeners who call in to speak on the air are men, female listeners make up nearly half of the audience. The "sweaty, angry, conservative" world of talk radio is a bastion for male loudmouths like Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh. The first conservative female name that popped into my head was blonde "bimbo pundit" Laura Ingraham, who was courted for a Boston-based radio program. She wasn't interested. A lot of Scaife money made sure she and other conservative women like her were in the forefront of television punditry in the '89s -- but not radio.

So, where are the women? One explanation could be that "women are out of fashion in an industry that puts a premium on constant aggression and throbbing neck veins." Ingraham could hardly be described as "sweaty" and "angry." It sounds unattractive. Richard Mellon Scaife showered "bimbo pundits" with lots of funding for television talk shows in large part due to their comeliness. I wondered if visibility could be one factor that works against angry conservative female talk show hosts. Listeners can't see them. They only hear their voices.

As the article stated, "if a female host bellowed like Michael Savage, she would most likely be burned at the stake in Salem." Talkers magazine publisher Michael Harrison said that "it's more difficult for the female personality to capture an audience because what you need is anger, commentary, and charisma. Females, when they get angry, seem not to have the kind of charisma [of] an angry man."

The last thing a producer wants is for the listeners to feel as if they are being squawked at by a harpy.

The few successful female talk show hosts out there don't bellow. They may lecture, like "Dr." Laura. They may pontificate, like Beverly LaHaye. They may even sound intelligent and worldly, like Diane Rehm.

They don't bellow.

When I moved to Massachusetts four years ago, I was disappointed to learn that my local NPR affiliate did not carry "The Diane Rehm Show." I used to listen to her every day at 10 a. m. "Fresh Aire" hosted by Terry Gross is a good show, but I don't tune in very often. Michelle Norris, Melissa Block, Judy Swallow, Brooke Gladstone, and Diana Nyad are a few of the female hosts on NPR, but they don't have the name recognition of a Don Imus or a Howard Stern. If civilized and intelligent voices like theirs exist on conservative talk radio, they are drowned out by the angry ones.

I posted this with links on my blog.

A World without Husbands and Fathers

Last night on the Discovery channel here in Oz: Civilisations focused on a culture almost completely the inverse of many cultural commonalities. The Moso of China do not have an institution of marriage, and no word for "daddy." They are matrilineal and matriarchal. Promiscuity is not only common, but sought after, and jealousy over affection is mocked and discouraged. Men have no role in the upbringing of their children-- indeed, the Moso believe there is no biological link between father and offspring. Instead, uncles take on a father-like role. This unique group debunks the notion that some cultural constructs, like marriage and fatherhood, are not as universal as previously thought. I couldn't find much online about the Moso, but I did find this.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Watch out for Paynter!

He’s done it with other Blog Sister before, here, and here, and here, here, here, and, his very first, here. Well, you can look here for the whole list of those he’s unveiled.

Now he’s set his insiteview on Betsy Devine and says he’ll have his interview with her up any day now. Watch out for it. It’s bound to be delightfully revealing.

And while you’re over there, check out his post on Cyberfeminism and hacker/artist Cornenlia Sollfrank.

If we had a category for “Honorary Blog Sister”, I most certainly would want to see Frank Paynter head the list.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Booth Bitch

Popular culture has embraced many former Coat-Check Girls. These include: Liverpudlian songbird Cilla Black; willowy blonde starlet Gretchen Mol and Fabulous Disaster Mariah Carey. Any reasonable history of coat checking could not, of course, overlook celebrated Exotic Dancer Blaze Starr. Apparently she was ‘discovered’ while sitting behind her Baltimore counter. How, exactly, one demonstrates a talent for burlesque while sitting in a booth is a question I regularly attempt to address. This fascination is due less to my interest in nipple pasties and more to my recent induction into the Cloaking Sisterhood.
Coat-Checking is not, altogether, an unenviable arrangement. Certainly, the position description is more succinct than some and the job title may not command the same line of credit as, say, Chief Executive Officer. However, the pay is reasonable, the coats are, oftentimes, intriguing and, when I think about my former stint as a Senior Public Servant, the complete lack of meetings called to discuss which letter-head the Corporate Mission Statement should be printed on is refreshing.
I am, for the moment, quite content to add Coat Check Girl to my Résumé. I quite like people, for the most part, and I enjoy guarding their possessions with lady-like brutality. I am warmed by their gratitude when I produced their unscathed garments and I am often politely amused to see their coats depart with a coat they have only just met. Further, the confessional aspect of my booth permits all sorts of truths. I am the trustee of more secrets and venal sins that your average Father and, according to Cloaking Code, far less likely to reprimand.
So, work as a Booth Bitch is fine by me. I provision a dependable and useful storage-and-risk-minimisation solution to coat-wearers AND there’s enough down time to get through one decent novel per night. However, my first service industry experience in fifteen years has given me cause to recall: Some People Have No Manners.
There is a handful of people in every well populated room that live, quite simply, to Lord It. These are the sorts who love to rub one’s low-income earning nose into a big pile of crude humiliation. They like to shout at Call Centre staff, tut inscrutably at busy bar staff and roll despondent eyes at anyone near a cash register. Whether this amply expressed frustration is the by-product of Hating The Capitalist System or just a really rotten week, I am unsure. All I know is that I am aghast at the tendency of a few to make the servile feel really servile.
Two to three times an evening someone will just HURL their garment at me. At least one of these people will say ‘watch it, I paid a lot of money for that’ as though it were my habit to drag lesser raiments through a pig-sty of stinking disrespect. One of these errant customers may also (a) blow cigarette smoke into my booth (b) ash said cigarette into my tip jar and/or (c) insist ‘you’ve got a GREAT job, haven’t you?’ without a hint of empathy nor cheeky wit.
I do understand that many people wade through their weeks feeling trammelled and alone. I also understand their need to ‘blow off steam’ – or smoke into my booth as the case may be. It befuddles me, however, that such people choose to relieve themselves on relatively powerless institutions such as Coat Check Girl. Why not pick on the Big Boys?
In my effort to cleanse the world of poor manners and ill-feeling, I have now devised an information sheet for my more troublesome customers. Entitled ‘Yo, You With The Coat: Use Your Rage for Good Instead of Evil’ it suggests a number of bodies to which they might more profitably address their anger such as the World Bank, President George W Bush and the Advertising Standards Agency. (To date, this document has confused all but one parton into silence and has encouraged the emergence of at least two anti-globalisation activists.)
Respect the servile. Or you never know what kind of pamphlets they may produce!

Sunday, June 08, 2003

So mad that I missed this one!

I don't know how I missed this! I guess I'm too sandwiched between cute little grandbaby and frail old mom.

People of the world take note: The women have met. They've hatched a plan. Think Seneca Falls 1848. Think healthy planet. Think: Magic hips.

So begins the report in my newspaper today about the second annual Women & Power Conference to explore self-transformation and world healing that was held last weekend at the Omega Institute -- which is less than an hour's drive from where I live. Eve Ensler, Alice Walker, and Eileen Fisher were there, along with more than 450 women from around the world, including Jungian analyst Marion Woodman and hip-hopper Rha Goddess. Plans are underway for a June 2004 convention to develop a platform for the national elections to ensure, as Ensler asserted, that whoever runs for president "cannot deny the power of women." Supposedly Ensler is going to organize the convention through her V-Day web site, but I haven't seen anything on there yet. I wonder what it would take to be named a delegate from New York?

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Whakakau Paikea hei

Whale Rider is the story of a young Maori girl defying the expectations of her very traditional grandfather. You see, she's a girl, she shouldn't be learning stick fighting, or certain sacred chants, and she certainly isn't qualified to become a leader of her people because of her very femaleness. But, ironically, she becomes the one person best qualified, through courage, persistance, and a deep love for her Maori heritage; she shows herself the inheritor in a long line of great chiefs back to Paikea, her namesake. Good movie, go see it. More thoughts here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Oh no, Not Pants

The King of Swaziland thinks that women wearing pants is the cause of all the world's misery. He ought to get out more.

I remember, back in the 60's when I was in grade school, girls weren't allowed to wear shorts to school (or maybe we were allowed to wear shorts but not "hot pants" which was all there was to wear anyway). The reason, as I remember it, was that the boys wouldn't be able to concentrate. I recall feeling really pissed off about that. Now, sometimes, the young women and men I teach come to class wearing very revealing clothing, and, sometimes, I admit, I find it a little distracting. But I'm still glad that they can wear whatever they feel like wearing.

What to do with teenagers when roller skating gets old? SkyZone!

As the mother of a teenage daughter, figuring out activities that give ME a break, are nearby, don't involve computers and cell phones...