Saturday, January 22, 2011

Help Stop the Official Release of Kanye's "Monster"

While toying with drugged women on his
bed, Kanye muses whether women are
"best living or dead."
I was surfing the Net when I found this article on the cleverly-titled feminist blog Reclaiming Roe. I am absolutely disgusted and outraged by the content of the article, which talks about a new music video by "artist" (I use the term loosely) Kanye West. The video is for a song called "Monster" and features drugged or dead women (I can't tell which) who are either in chains or in the process of being sexually assaulted.

I refuse to post the video on this blog because it is very graphic, both in language and imagery. But if you need to experience the horror for yourself to get a better idea of the violence and degradation I'm talking about, you can find the video here. (To my younger readers, please don't corrupt yourselves!)

Anyway, while I struggle to find PG words to capture my fury, please sign the online petition Prevent the Official Release of Kanye West's Women-Hating 'Monster' Video, and get all of your friends to do the same!

The petition reads as followed:
We the undersigned write in response to the leaked video teaser of Kanye West's video "Monster," released by The shocking and demeaning images of slain women, fetishized and eroticized in the video clip, suggest that violence against women is sexy. The 30-second clip sends the message that women as lifeless and passive objects are sexually appealing.
 As one critic has written, "Women are slaves and bitches who can service a man's sexual needs, even in death. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat. Female bodies should be displayed before men as a great feast for their consumption."

The mainstreaming of videos of this nature, combined with accessible and repeated exposure contributes to desensitized and callous attitudes toward violence against women, which is a scourge around the world. Becoming numb to violent images makes violent acts easier to commit and condone.

We ask you to consider the fact that much of West's fan base is comprised of young people in the formative stages of their development. Possibly millions of them globally will absorb and potentially internalize the unhealthy and harmful messages that women are playthings and objects of male pleasure - even if dead or drugged - and that they do not deserve basic human rights.

We hope you will agree with us that the music industry portrayals of women's pain, suffering, abuse, objectification, and victimization as valid forms of entertainment are not acceptable.

An official release date of the full-length video has yet to be announced. We respectfully request that you take a stand against the official release of "Monster" by refusing to promote, support, and/or give it airtime.

We await your response.
Google has spoken, and Google knows all.

Friday, January 21, 2011

We Cannot Sit Back Down (Gender Equality Speech)

The future of feminism.
I wrote this for my AP Language and Composition class. We had to pick an issue that we're passionate about (in my case it's gender equality) and write a speech that mimics Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream."

I’m so happy to be speaking to you today. My generation—and possibly yours, as well—has been accused of taking many things for granted, including prior triumphs for women’s rights.

They say that feminism is dead; perhaps we need to dispel a few things. I know that this conversation will substantiate the strength and determination possessed by our nation’s youngest activists. I know that this conversation is one for the history books.

More than a century ago one of the first women's rights conventions was held in New York state, immortalized—in the feminist arena, anyway—as the Seneca Falls Convention. Influential activists such as Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave lively presentations in front of a crowd of 300, concluding with a re-write of the national promise made seven decades earlier: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal."

What these 300 women—and men—had was a simple dream: a world in which both parties would be treated equally, in society and under the strict peripherals of the law. The women, it seems, were tired of being seen as sub-par and treated as sub-human. The men, tired of seeing their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters reduced to the status of livestock.

What these people wanted was justice. What they got was a world against them.

It took nearly 60 years for the United States government to take those like Anthony, Bloomer, and Stanton seriously, but finally on August 26, 1920 what I can only describe as the glorious 19th Amendment was ratified, and women were allowed to enter the political sphere as undisputed, legitimate, registered voters.

This is very similar to my school's motto:
"Failure is not an option." Is it just me,
or is this button freaking awesome?
To say that our progress has halted would be a gross miscalculation. In the past five decades women have seen the legalization of birth control and laws like Roe v. Wade. Women have worked their way into the bloodstream of universities and hospitals, police academies and the military. We are slamming gavels, writing novels, catching criminals, running, jumping, performing, dancing, literately and figuratively building bridges.

When one thinks of things this way, it’s almost too easy to say that we have come “far enough.” Perhaps men and women really are equal. Perhaps we need to just keep quiet, and quit while we’re ahead. Perhaps feminism really is outdated. Perhaps it really is “the dreaded f-word.”

You can think any number of those statements, but you would be wrong. Because what I’ve neglected to say is that while women are going to school, saving lives, and dispelling old myths about womanhood, they’re doing so on $0.77.

$0.77 for every dollar that a man makes for doing the same job. (That number is even lower for women of color.)

Sit there with a straight face and tell me that feminism is dead when:

Forty years after the fact women are being denied birth control and fed misleading information about their sexual health.

Forty years after the fact federally funded abstinence-only programs are feeding young girls (yes, only girls) slogans like “You are... a beautiful rose. Each time you engage in pre-marital sex, a precious petal is stripped away. Don’t leave your future husband holding a bare stem. Abstain.”

Forty years after the fact women have higher rates for depression and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

Forty years after the fact women’s bodies are continually degraded in all areas of the media, and violence against them is often glorified or ridiculed.

Forty years after the fact little girls have to suffer broken hearts as they’re told they’re not strong enough, smart enough, worthy enough...

...and yet when we do stand up for ourselves we’re called prudes, whiny, mannish, and a thousand other things that probably aren't appropriate for this speech! We’re told to sit back down!

But now is not the time to sit back down. Now is the time to stand up on our tip-toes, extend our arms to the sky, and confess to the world that we are sick being called whores, sluts, and bitches. We are sick of people taking one look at us and automatically assuming we’re secretaries and nurses, not CEOs and brain surgeons. We are so sick of being seen as less than a sum of our parts.

My greatest dream is that one day, I’ll have a little son and daughter of my own. When my son asks me what it means to be a man, and when my daughter asks me what it means to be a woman, I’ll be able to tell them the same thing:

“The world is going to try to tell you what to do, how to be, and what to think based on the body you’ve got. But what all of those people have forgotten is that we’re all just people. People who cry, bleed, feel the ache of sorrow, and the sweet embrace of pure joy. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you are in life, but how you live it, how you love yourself, and how you love others.”
Life should be a cat's game.
I truly believe that if we come together—every gender and every race, every age and every creed—we will be able to stop the vicious cycle of gender stereotypes and degradation. If we learn to love and respect each other based on internal qualities such as compassion and understanding, and pay less attention to outer qualities such as the absence or presence of breasts, we’ll all be able to live better lives.

I’m not an intensely religious person, but I’ll never forget that little saying that goes something like Eve was taken from Adam’s rib. Not from his foot to be trampled on, nor his head to be above him. But from his chest to walk beside him.

Right beside him.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Tribute to My Daddy (1964-2011)

Darrin C. Burch
(Sept. 2, 1964 - Jan. 17, 2011)
It feels unreal that less than two weeks ago I was writing about feminist issues, and now I'm writing about my dad who has passed away.

Each word I write and each breath I take feel like a cruel dream at the end of a rough day. But it's real, it's here, this is now, and my world will never be the same. I don't think I will ever be the same.

My dad was in intensive care for about a week before he was officially pronounced brain-dead; as much as they tried to pump life back into him, his body wouldn't have it. All we could do was sit by his side for hours on end, hold his hand, and rub the arm hair we used to make fun of.

It's true what they say: you don't always realize what you have until you lose it. Because as much as I knew in my heart that I loved my dad, we didn't always see eye to eye. But in retrospect, everything we argued about, everything we butted heads on... that stuff really didn't matter. I want to smack myself because I wish I would have just swallowed my pride and let him be right once in a while so we could get on with life. I wish I would have savored every simple, happy moment.

As an "angsty" teenager, I feel like I never gave people the true story about my dad. It was always "yeah, my dad did this," or "he makes me so angry sometimes!" But did I ever tell anybody about how he used to pay me to try to get him to laugh by tickling his feet - and after seventeen years I finally succeeded? Did I ever tell anybody about how he used to flaunt his "moves" (especially one he made up called the Praying Mantis), or how he used to rub my earlobes "for power"? Did I ever tell anybody all the silly, simple, amazing things about him? Did I?

Let this be one of my greatest tributes to my dad: the true story.

Me and my dad on Christmas morning.
(Can't you just feel the excitement?)
To my dad, immense joy could be found in a new pair of socks. I could never understand that. I mean, really? Socks? I always thought that was lame and unoriginal. I can even remember trying to do my Christmas shopping as a kid and being so darned frustrated because Dad would never flat-out tell me what he wanted.

"I'll like anything," he'd say.

"So you're saying I can get you a rock with some mud on it, and you'll be happy?!"

He always said "yes." That's the kind of guy he was.

My dad and I would take walks sometimes, and just talk about the future, my prospects, and where I was going in life. My dad had faith in me like no other, and when he said he was proud of me, I was proud of me.

One of the only times I ever saw him cry was when I sang in public for the first time. He said he couldn't believe how brave I was - and coming from him, that meant a lot.

He was also my dinner buddy. Nobody else in my house likes ribs, for example, so when Dad would slap a rack on the BBQ - just for the two of us to share - watch out! I wonder who will eat ribs with me now.

One time my dad saved me from choking on a chip,
another time he jumped into a pool - fully clothed -
to stop me from drowning. This guy was my hero.
But the absolute best memories I have of my dad are from the time we spent together, just the two of us, out on the basketball court.

Once in a blue moon we would pack up our ball and head to my old elementary school to shoot hoops. He would always show off by doing crazy dribbles, jumping up, and dunking the ball like he used to do when he was a kid.

My dad was so cool when he was flying in mid air. He was Superman.

My dad was one of the quietest, most private people you would ever meet, but I don't think he realized how many people truly loved him, looked up to him, and respected him. Even in the end, he was incredibly selfless and chose to be an organ donor (we just found out that his heart will be going to somebody at the University of Washington - fitting, because he was a Husky fan).

I will be saying goodbye to my daddy for the last time tonight, and it may just be the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But I need to tell him a few things, including how much I loved him.

How much I love him.

In closing, I have a few things to say that probably won't make any sense, but my dad will get it:

Dad, for as long as I live,
I'll try not to leave the fridge door open too long,
or let my fan run and run,
or turn the lights up too high.
And I will always, always put my chips in a bowl!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What are your feelings on chivalry?

My friend Erika asked me this question a while back, and I think it's an important one. We all know that one gross misconception about feminists is that we all hate men*, so it's probably also a preconception that feminists despise chivalry, or "special courtesy afforded to women by men."

I honestly had a heckuva time coming up with an answer to this question. I mean, if a boy insisted on opening my car door, pulling out my seat at dinner, whatever - would that go against my beliefs as a feminist because, in all actuality, I'm perfectly capable of doing all of those things by myself?

As they say, this issue is a double-edged sword. If a feminist woman denies chivalry, people will call her a man-hater (just check out the shirts that say "Chivalry is dead, and women killed it!"). If, on the other hand, a feminist woman accepts chivalry, people will call her a hypocrite.

We just can't get a break, can we?

Well, here's my answer to this brain-bending question. You might agree, you might not, but either way I'd love to hear your opinion.

Q: "What are your feelings on chivalry? Legitimate, heart-felt, pure chivalry?"

A: First of all, interesting question! But it makes all the difference that you said "Legitimate, heart-felt, pure chivalry." I think there's a huge difference between a boy doing something nice for a girl because he expects to "get something" in return, and a boy doing something nice for a girl because he genuinely cares for her. 

But I also don't think chivalry is necessarily something that a man should do for a woman* - it's common courtesy that all people should exhibit. It's the little things you do each and every day for people to show respect: holding doors and elevators, helping somebody with their groceries, giving somebody the bigger slice of pizza . . .

So, am I against a boy holding a door open for a girl? No way. But tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, I would expect that same girl to hold a door open for the person behind her, that person to hold a door for the person behind him, and so on.

In the long run, everybody deserves respect. Guys should respect girls, guys should respect guys, girls should respect guys, girls should respect girls . . . and I'm pretty sure I should respect you, and you should respect me. Because we're all people, right?

*Don't get me started on the "feminists hate men" stereotype . . .

*Yes, I know the official definition of chivalry is "The qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women." But we're not in the 10th Century anymore. If knights are characterized by bravery, courtesy, and honor, women sure as hell can be modern-day "knights"!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Stereotypes about femininity got you down . . . ?

About a month ago a woman from HighWire, a program at Lancaster University in the UK, contacted me about a video made by some of her students. On top of earning PhDs, they're part of something called the "EmpowerMe" project. How cool does that sound?

The video advertises a new (and fictitious) product called Gendolene, a bleach of sorts that can be used to eradicate femina stereotypica, or stereotypical femininity, via the color pink.

The video's only a minute long, but it's a clever commentary on the "pinkification pandemic" that's taken the world by storm. Here's what the makers of Gendolene had to say on their website:
"The power of Gendolene isn’t something that comes in a bottle. It’s our collective ability to resist and reverse the tide of pinkification that has gradually washed its way across so many toys, clothes, accessories and household items targeted at girls and young women.
Our goal is to challenge the production and marketing of items that simply reinforce restrictive and damaging stereotypes about what it means to be a girl.
The culture of pink segregates boys and girls into different aisles. In one it’s cool to be active, adventurous and explore the world; in the other it’s cool just to look pretty and explore as far as the next pair of shoes or shade of lipstick.
We think it’s about time manufacturers and retailers join the 21st century and find new ways of engaging with our young people that promote equality and empowerment for all, irrespective of the body we happen to be born into."
I can already see somebody reading this and thinking "so that's what feminists want, to get rid of all the pink in the world?" Puh-lease. The video is speaking to the fact that when institutions such as "femininity" and "masculinity" are rigid and narrowly defined, everyone is affected - men and women alike!

Update (1/11/2011) - Becci from the EmpowerMe Project would like to add:
"I think that its really important for children's toys to inform and prepare children for the diverse and complex world that lies ahead. We should therefore be providing our children with a wide range of toys which not only support their physical and cognitive development, but that also develop their understanding of how 'real' men and women look, behave and interact with the world, as opposed to distorted and often unobtainable representations."
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