Friday, November 30, 2007

Tomorrow, December 1, 2007, is World AIDS Day. If you go here, you can listen to Thembi, a South African woman who is living with AIDS.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Apathy Mask

I recently finished reading "A People's History of U.S.," a book I've mentioned again and again here. As I neared the end of the book (and moved closer to present day) author Howard Zinn argues that the government has become disconnected from the people.

Zinn writes
After the disastrous war in Vietnam came the scandals of Watergate. There was deepening economic insecurity for much of the population, along with environmental deterioration, and a growing culture of violence and family disarray. Clearly, such fundamental problems could not be solved without bold changes in the social and economic structure. But no major party candidates proposed such changes. The "American political tradition" held fast.
In recognition of this, perhaps only vaguely conscious of this, voters stayed away from the polls in large numbers, or voted without enthusiasm. More and more they declared, if only by nonparticipation, their alienation from the political system.

Passages like this really stuck with me. My brother turned 18 a few years after Kurt Cobain killed himself. Interviewers were asking Cobain constantly if "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was about teenage apathy because the story of the time was that my brother's generation, the one right before mine, was apathetic. They didn't vote because they didn't care or so said the media.

That story continues today. Sean Combs "Vote or Die" Campaign seems based on the idea that if teenagers and people in their twenties just really understood how incredibly important it is to vote, if they were just whipped into a frenzy, they would be voting.

But perhaps apathy masks something deeper and more frightening, despair.

Again, Zinn writes, "In a two party system, if both parties ignore public opinion, there is no place voters can turn."

The apathy story is a good one for the government and the media because it turns nonparticipation into individual moral failing (laziness, being uneducated, selfishness). The "despair" story is a much more difficult one because it requires us to admit the system is failing the people rather blame people for failing to participate in it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I know where I won't be shopping

In this week's issue of the Hook, the weekly newspaper ran a column called Holiday howlers, which consisted of interviews with local shop owners about their stories of last minute holiday shoppers. Cynthia Schroeder of Spring Street's interview particularly caught my eye. The author of the article, Claiborn Thompson, writes,
In her second year running the women's clothing shop Spring Street, owner Cynthia Schroeder found the holiday season to be especially hectic. But things turned from hectic to strange when a man came into the store-- located at that time in Meadowbrook Shopping Center-- apparently looking for a gift for his wife or girlfriend. But no. Schroeder says he wanted to try the clothes on... himself! Realizing she had no rules against it, she allowed him to take his pick.

Then, while he was busily trying on clothes, a lady out in the parking lot backed into Schroeder's car and tried to drive away.

"Since then," she says, "we've decided that men should not try on women's clothes-- during store hours or otherwise!"

I don't even get how this was a story. Let's break it down: A man wanted to try on women's clothing. The store owner let him. An unrelated woman then backed into the store owner's car. Since then the store owner has decided men should not cross-dress.

All I have to say is, WTF?

This past Tuesday (November 20th, 2007) was Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day "set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice." The website for the day defines transgender as "a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant" individual.

It's depressing that the Hook ran this story the same week as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. If this woman wants to exclude a group of people from her private business, fine, but it's ridiculous for the Hook to publish this as a humorous story that condones her bigotry.

The Hook dehumanizes cross-dressers and other transgender individuals with this story by making them a punch line in a joke and celebrating their exclusion from a business. It is exactly this kind of attitude that protects members of our society who commit violent acts against transgender people merely because they do not conform to our notions of what it means to be a man or a woman.

Shame on The Hook.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


What do you think the removal of body hair is about? If both men and women naturally grow body hair, does it make sense that our culture breeds people of both genders to find body hair to be disgusting? Does it spring from U.S. history which looked down upon and oppressed people with darker hair, from Eastern Europeans to African Americans? (In other words, is it because it makes people look "ethnic"?) Is it a matter of personal preference? (Something that I think is difficult to argue since distaste for body hair in American culture is nearly universal. Maybe you do genuinely "prefer" to be hairless or sexually "prefer" others to be hairless. How convenient though that your preference is supported and pushed by traditional beauty standards.) Is it an attempt to further an artificial distinction between men and women? Is it about creating a market for hair removal products? Is it about making people focus on individual flaws and in doing so, taking their eyes off the big picture? Is it punishment, self-flagellation? Just what, exactly, as a culture, are we willingly doing to ourselves?

(Post stems from this discussion)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Insert slogan here

Yesterday NPR's Morning Edition began with this segment about a poll that had been conducted regarding perceptions of the black community in the United States. The article expands on a lot of information in the poll, but the radio segment focuses on the conclusion that the poll draws that black people in America no longer see themselves "as one race." Steve Inskeep (the host) and Juan Williams clarify that in the poll "not seeing themselves as one race" is akin to seeing themselves as not having the same economics or same values, rather than not having the same skin color.

It was really strange for me to hear this on NPR. Is it really news that all black people are not the same in their values and economics? The article does a better job of framing the poll, saying that television and popular culture portrays black people as having only one set of values, but black people do not see themselves this way. I was really upset, however, when Inskeep asked (something like) "So do middle and upper class blacks seem to get closer to whites in their values?"

Just as black people are not a homogeneous group of people, white people are also divided in their values and along class lines. Inskeep's question implies that all whites are middle and upper-class, which erases a large portion of white people in America who are poor.

According to the article,
72 percent of whites, 54 percent of blacks, and 60 percent of Hispanics agree that in the last 10 years, "values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar."

I think that this perception is wrong, not because there are not shared values between people of different races, but because, like Inskeep's question, this perception rests on that there is such a thing as "white people values" (or "black people values").

Many historians have written about the Jim Crow laws in the south as not only a reflection of racist attitudes of the time, but an attempt to maintain and fuel racist attitudes particularly in poor white people. These historians argue that poor white people and emancipated slaves had much in common, namely the conditions of poverty, and that people in power were afraid of unity between the two groups erupting into a class war.

It's a good step to recognize that there are class divisions within the African American community (as obvious as I think this is, I'm still glad it's being said). An even better step would be to recognize that those same class divides exist throughout the country, regardless of race.

In more local news from yesterday, first-year Alex Cortes had a piece in the UVA newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, in support of shouting "not gay" during The Good Old Song at football games. For those of you who aren't from Charlottesville, when UVA scores a touchdown, the fans sing The Good Old Song in celebration. There is a verse about everything being bright and gay at Virginia, after which some people (fewer and fewer, I hear) shout "not gay."

My sister Caitlin sent me Cortes' opinion piece this morning explaining how hilarious and sad it was all at once, and it really has to be read to be believed.

Anyway, here is my little response (which I may or may not send to him; you can vote! But I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter because he seems the type to google his name on a regular basis [see last paragraph of his article]).

Dear Alex,
You want to shout "Not Gay" at football games during the good old song? Fine, whatever, I don't really care. But you're going to have to accept that in shouting "not gay" you are aligning yourself with idiots and assholes. And do you want to know the reason that is the case? Because as much as you might want it to be, shouting a catch phrase is not an intellectual argument. I don't care if "not gay" is supposed to stand for "I am against the homosexual "lifestyle" for religious reason and I also am against sex between a man and woman before marriage." This is akin to saying that screaming "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you" to your parents at the age of 14 is an intellectual argument that is meant to convey "The differences between our ages makes it almost impossible for us to relate to one another. I am becoming an adult and I need more space and freedom."

However, I whole-heartedly invite you flesh out your "not gay" chant. At the next football game, try hysterically shrieking, "I am not gay because it says it's wrong in the bible and I also believe that men and women should only use the act of intercourse for procreation" if that is what you are really trying to say. I am sure all those people who have been staring at you and saying negative things at past football games will be completely won over by this "intellectual" argument.

Lifestylely yours,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Love has to take us unawares
for none of us would pay love's price if we knew it.
For who will pay to be destroyed?
The destruction is so certain,
so evident.

Much harder to chart,
less evident,
is love's second life,
a tern's egg,
revealed and hidden in a nest of stones
on a stony shore.

What seems a stone
is no stone.
This vulnerable pulse
which could be held in the palm of a hand
may survive
to voyage the world's warm and frozen oceans,
its tapered wings,
the beat of its small heart,
a span between arctic poles.

- Moya Cannon, Arctic Tern (From: The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women's Poetry 1967-2000)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Green, my ass

First of all, Columbus Day, redux.

Secondly, a confession: I do not like "reality" TV (that is not the confession part---and yes, I really am going to use scare quotes around reality), but sometimes I watch "The Biggest Loser." This week I caught part of the "Green Week" episode. The challenge this week was that the contestants had to race up ramps to recycle several tons of soda cans. The team that recycled the most cans in weight won a 2008 Ford Escape hybrid SUV. A hybrid SUV.

Now if you'll please check out the second graphic with this article, the one that lists the Revised EPA Miles Per Gallon Estimates for several different types of vehicles. According to the graphic, 7 different kinds of cars get better gas mileage than the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. In fact, the 2007 Toyota Prius gets 16 more mile/gallon city and highway combined than the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid.

I think this is an excellent example of how the "green"/"environmental friendly" sticker is being slapped onto products and companies right now as just another marketing tool. Why did NBC pick the Ford Escape Hybrid (the less environmentally friendly car) over the Prius as a prize during their all-good-for-the-environment episode of the Biggest Loser? My guess is that Ford offered more money (that other "green") for the product placement of its cars.

So thanks, NBC, I guess this means two more (hybrid) SUVs out there on the road.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Can't stop, won't stop

Yesterday the House passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). (Bad news for the New York Post maybe.) I am very happy that we are one step closer to protection LGB people from discrimination in the workplace, but you'll notice the T is absent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered acronym. Some Democrats decided that ditching protection against workplace discrimination for transgendered people was the best way the ensure the bills passage. Understandably some people feel betrayed and pissed. And some people are arguing that transgendered people and their allies just need to be patient and their time will come.

I do believe that eventually transgendered people will be protected from workplace discrimination and I'm willing to hear the counsel "be patient," but not if being patient is supposed to mean, "shut up, sit still, and wait."

As Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail,

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We cannot stop agitating for the things we believe in. If you want to do some agitating in letter-writing form, here's how to find your US House Rep and Senator.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Radical Act

Warning: If you do not want to read about body issues, please skip this post.

Through dooce, I came across this blog post by Mihow where she describes the way that her weight has fluctuated through-out her life using the real numbers (read: her weight in pounds and her height in feet and inches). Many of her commenters (and dooce) commend her for being brave enough to put her real numbers out there and setting a goal for herself.

I do think it's brave to publicly admit to how much you weigh. It's sad that in our society this is a brave act, but there is so much baggage accompanying the numbers on the scale. So I don't want to sound like I'm coming down on Mihow here. However, when I read her post, it just made me feel bad.

You see, I am two inches shorter than Mihow and weigh about the same amount. And so the comparison game begins. She considers herself overweight, should I? Do other people? Reading Mihow's numbers added fuel to the fire of voice in my head that tells me because of what I weigh I am a failure and others see me as a failure (or, if you want, that I am unloveable and others see me as unloveable). (Let me take a moment here to say that I don't want comments that say that I am not a failure and I am loveable; although I appreciate the sentiment, I feel that that is equivalent to saying "Don't feel the way you feel.")

Recently, I reread my diaries from middle school hoping to find something I could use "Mortified-style" for my friend's variety show. I didn't really find anything funny in there. What I did find though was hundreds of entries that contained the phrase, "I failed today. I ate between meals." I remember wishing that I was thinner in middle school, but I had forgotten how it made me feel like I was a failure because I wasn't thinner.

I don't know why I was so surprised though, because those feelings are still around.

I need to lose some weight for health reasons (because a laminated paper chart taped to a doctors wall was consulted and ordain it). So take the amount of weight I'd like to lose for health reasons. Triple it. That is how much I actually want to lose.

This little math exercise is significant for me because I do believe that weight loss has a healthy, positive place in my life. If I were treating my body as I should be, exercising and eating correctly, the by-product of that would be weight loss (I am told). However (and here's what my little math equation is meant to demonstrate), the kind of weight loss I am really interested in, in my heart of hearts, is divorced from treating my body like I love it. It is deeply linked to hating my body and hating myself for failing to have the kind of body that I think I might love.

Since the end goal is the same, a leaner and therefore healthier body, perhaps it doesn't matter if my motivation is to be healthy or to look "good," but I think it does. Every time I exercise (or chose to stay on the couch) and every time I deny myself food I want (or go ahead and eat it), there's part of me that's doing it out of self-love and there is part of me that is doing it out of self-hatred. And I have a feeling that if I listen to the self-hatred enough, it's not really going to matter if I wildly exceed my expectations in regards to weight loss.

I am coming to terms with the idea that this self-hatred/self-love dichotomy is not like two paths in the woods, where I just have to get off the self-hatred one and step onto the self-love one. I am always going to struggle with feelings of inadequacy in regards to my appearance/weight (as are so many other women and increasingly men). But you know how when you see someone bullying someone else on the street, there's this moment where you have to decide whether or not your going to intervene and stand-up for the person being bullied? I like to believe I'm the kind of person who would intervene for a stranger and now I want to be the kind of person who will consistently intervene for herself.

During college (this is the wrap up, I swear), in one of my Feminist literature classes, we watched Margaret Cho's stand-up at the end of the year. Some of the things she said always stuck with me. She talked about how she use to take time out of her day to look at herself as she passed buildings with glass windows to think "I am fat," and how she could spend her time so much more productively. And she also said this (watch it please, it's good).

She says it so much better than I can.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Two things I like Tuesday

Out in this desert we are testing bombs,

that's why we came here.

Sometimes I feel an underground river
forcing it's way between deformed cliffs
an acute angle of understanding
moving itself like a locus of the sun
into this condemned scenery.

What we've had to give up to get here---
whole LP collections, films we starred in
playing in the neighborhoods, bakery windows
full of dry, chocolate-filled Jewish cookies,
the language of love-letters, of suicide notes,
afternoons on the riverbank
pretending to be children

Coming out to this desert
we meant to change the face of
driving among dull green succulents
walking at noon in the ghost town
surrounded by a silence

that sounds like the silence of the place
except that it came with us
and is familiar
and everything we were saying until now
was an effort to blot it out---
coming out here we are up against it

Out here I feel more helpless
with you than without you
You mention the danger
and list the equipment
we talk of people caring for each other
in emergencies---laceration, thirst---
but you look at me like an emergency

Your dry heat feels like power
your eyes are stars of a different magnitude
they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT
when you get up and pace the floor

talking of the danger
as if it were not ourselves
as if we were testing anything else.

- Adrienne Rich, Trying to Talk with a Man

And this song, by Loudon Wainwright.

Monday, November 5, 2007

But what does it all MEAN?

After reading this post on Finally a Feminist 101 Blog, about the relationship between lesbianism and feminism, I began to think about a certain scenario that I have seen/experienced.

Picture this: Guy approaches girl (or group of girls) in a social setting. Guy makes his move. Girl or (group of girls) rejects guy. Guy says, "What are you, a (bunch of) lesbian(s)?!"

Having been on the receiving end of this insult (which is how I'm going to refer to it, since that is what the speaker intends, even though I don't feel that being identified as lesbian is insulting), I've done a little bit of thinking about what the speaker intends to convey. I've come up with a few different things.

(1) It is a warning. It says, either find me attractive or risk being categorizes as sexual unavailable/attractive (which is how the speaker sees lesbians). This would only an be effective threat in a setting/society that values women based on their sexual availability/attractiveness to men. It's also a little strange considering that the guy has already let on that he finds the woman/women he is hitting on to be desirable.

(2) In the same vein, it is some sort of bizarre reverse psychology. The guy is hoping that upon hearing the above threat, the girl will go out of her way to prove that she is straight, namely, by responding positively to his come ons.

(3) It is the only explanation that the guy can grasp for why he would be rejected. As in, if you reject me, then you must be rejecting all of men everywhere...and if this is the case, man, how fragile can an ego be?

(4) It is a very strange rejection in return (kind of like number 1). The equivalent of a kid's "fine, I don't like you either." (Although this could also be achieved through any kind of name calling so I don't think it really explains why the guy chooses "lesbian".)

(5) The guy decides that if he can't actually have the woman/women he has hit on, he is going to appropriate her through the common male fantasy of girl on girl action (this one works better when it's a group of girls rejecting the guy).

What do you think it is? Why do you think "lesbian" or "dyke" are still used as insults? Do you think it's different when they are used in a sexualized context?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Banana Bread and Easy Egg Florentine

I make darn good Banana Bread.

And here's how I do it:

(Recipe from Jeannine Meyers and posted on

1 1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C butter softened
3 Bananas mashed (ed: I like to use bananas that are so brown/black they are almost fermenting)
2 eggs
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 C sour milk (ed: I just use regular milk)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). (ed: If your oven has a setting where both the top and bottom coils can be turned on, set it to this.) Lightly grease a loaf pan.
Combine all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl; beat well. Pour into greased loaf pan.
Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (ed: I bake with the top and bottom coil turned on for the first 30 min and then just the bottom coil turned on for the last 30 minutes, to make sure the bread does not over-bake on the top.).

For dinner last night I made "Easy Eggs Florentine" from The Everything College Cookbook. As the name suggests, they are extremely easy to make. It's also a filling and tasty meal.

2 C fresh-packed spinach leaves
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 slices crusty rye bread (ed: I just use whole wheat or whole grain bread)
2 TBS ricotta cheese
1/4 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper

Toast two pieces of bread and spread the ricotta cheese on them.
Break each egg into a separate bowl. Bowl about 3 in of water in a medium sauce pan, turn down to a simmer. Slid one egg into the simmering water and cook for 3 to 5 min. (ed: I do the full 5 min to get a "firmer" egg.) Remove from the water with a slotted spoon to drain off excess water. Repeat with the second egg.
When the egg has about 2 minutes to go, heat oil in a frying pan and then toss the spinach leaves on (ed: I use a lot of spinach leaves, probably more than the 2 C; I just eye-ball it). The spinach leaves take about a minute to cook.
Add the spinach on top of the bread with the ricotta cheese. Add the egg on top of that. Sprinkle cayenne pepper on top.
This recipe takes about 5 to 10 minutes.