The way we use language

March 20, 2009

Yesterday, Courtney over at Feministing posted a list of five issues she wishes feminist men were taking on and asked commenters to add their own.

I’ve been pondering which issues I wish feminist men were taking on, and then I came across this post, On Language and the Comodication of Sexism via Humor at Shakesville, by Melissa McEwan.

At the top of my list of things I wish feminist men were thinking about, talking about and addressing more is the use of sexist, reductive language. When I hear men, especially feminist men crack jokes using words like slut and cougar, it really depresses me. And as Ms. McEwan points out, often taking a stand and pointing out that these sorts of things are not acceptable results in being viewed as humorless, over-sensitive and weak.

Ponder this for a second. Everyone understands the ridiculous, sexist difference between studs and sluts. Men who have sex with a lot of women are praised as studs. Women who have sex with a lot of men (or maybe even not that many) are vilified as sluts. So why would any reasonable feminist man use the word?

Cougar is even more offensive. It likens any 30+ year old woman who considers dating younger men to a predatory animal. It’s reductive and disgusting. Full-stop.

I wish that people in general would give more thought to the language that they use, but particularly feminist men. The way we use language affects the way we think. Accepting the use of certain terms makes it harder to to battle the concepts behind them. Feminist men are in a good position to take on this issue, pointing out to their friends and acquaintances that such language is sexist, hurtful and gross.

So now that I’ve ranted a bit, here’s my list of four (’cause that’s what I came up with) things I wish feminist men would take on more:

  1. The use of sexist, racist and homophobic language.

  2. Sexist, racist and homophobic “jokes.
  3. Access to birth control.
  4. Sex Education in schools (See Courtney’s #1).

Oh, and as a bonus, how about crap like this? Read this post at feministing in response to a disgusting post over at


Quick Hit: HB 228

March 20, 2009

I have it on good authority that HB 228 aka Kerns Crazy Gun Bill, is being amended & approved by the Senate and will be heading back to the House.  I’m not sure when.  4and20Blackbirds posts about it here.

Please get in touch with your legislators.  Here’s my set of links for finding & contacting them again.

1. You need to know your full zip code, which you can find here.
2. Using that zip code, the folks at Project Vote Smart will tell you who your Senator and Representatives are (scroll down).
3. Once you have that info you can go here to use the handy online form to contact your representatives. OR
3a. Between sessions you can go here to find their direct e-mail addresses.

Whedon vs. Whedon

March 19, 2009

Joss Whedon the feminist, vs. Joss Whedon the writer, director, creator.

There are a lot of folks out there who consistently try to judge Joss Whedon’s television shows through a very strict feminist lens because he’s a professed feminist and sometimes writes strong female characters. On one hand, I think discussion of feminist issues is always a good thing. On the other hand, I’m insanely bored with people criticizing Mr. Whedon because the women in his shows aren’t all strong, or always strong and don’t always win and aren’t always right.

It doesn’t seem to matter that he writes television where the women are often very strong, win a good portion of the time and are very frequently right. It also doesn’t matter that who or what a person is in real life doesn’t always translate directly into their art. Or that in real life even strong women aren’t always strong or right or win every battle, or are even always happy.

It seems to me that balancing a feminist sensibility with a desire to write a show that enough people will watch and enjoy to keep it on the air has got to be a nearly impossible task.

What I think Mr. Whedon does better than most television writers is write female characters who are real and have dimension. They’re not just eye candy, they don’t just serve a single purpose and they’re not cookie cutter or stereotypes. Buffy, Anya, Faith, Willow, Tara, Zoe, River, Kaylee, Cordelia and Fred (to name a few) all had depth. None of them were perfect. They all had flaws, pain and weakness. Some had more flaws, more pain or greater weaknesses than others. But to be fair, Mr. Whedon’s male characters are certainly no less flawed, pained or burdened with weaknesses than are his female characters.

I think many of Mr. Whedon’s critics think that because he is a professed feminist who supports Equality Now and has been honored by them, and because he enjoys writing strong female characters, that somehow every female character he writes should fit some sort of feminist ideal. I think that’s a ridiculous expectation and would most likely result in colossally boring television.

Now Dollhouse comes along, and just a few episodes in some feminists are crying foul, or at least criticizing the show from a feminist standpoint. Again, I always think that discussion of feminist issues is good, and Dollhouse certainly has some people talking, but I really think it’s too soon to judge the show and I think some of the judgments being made are unfair and over the top.

I recently followed a link from Whedonesque to a pod cast criticizing Dollhouse/Joss Whedon where one of the critics admits that she hasn’t even watched the show. That was the point where I turned the pod cast off.

I also happened across a blog post where the writer stated that all five episodes thus far have included sexual violence. (I apologize for not providing the link, but I didn’t save it and can’t recall how I found it.) There has been violence in all of the eps thus far, and since our heroine is a woman and the bad guys thus far have been… well… guys, naturally some of that violence has been between male and female characters, but I wouldn’t define it all as sexual in nature or even as having sexual components or overtones. Some of it, yes, but not all and certainly not episode 5, True Believer.

Dollhouse is a slow starter and I’m sure that a lot of viewers are far too impatient to stick it out until it really takes off. Some others are disappointed because Dollhouse doesn’t have the comedy element that Mr. Whedon’s previous shows have had.

I think that Dollhouse is a complex show with a lot of potential and I plan to keep watching and see where it goes, for as long as Fox keeps it on the air. And to be honest, I’m not sure how I could judge the show from a feminist standpoint, even if I wanted to. The starring actress has played a minimum of two different characters per episode and not all of those women can be strong, though many of them have been. They certainly cannot have the same depth that I appreciate in Mr. Whedon’s other female characters, and Echo (the recurring personality) specifically does not have depth, being a rather childlike, suggestible and easily controlled base personality.

Right now, what I know is that the show keeps me more interested with each new episode and that I want to see what happens next. I think it will be worth revisiting this discussion after a few more episodes, when we have a better idea of what the heck is going on, but for now I think it’s best to sit back, watch the show unfold and eat some popcorn.

An update on the bills I discussed a few days ago, in this post.

Would you believe that Sen. Shockley’s bill protecting clinic protesters is ready for its third and final reading in the MT Senate? Well, it is. Please note that should this bill become law, it carries with it a fine of up to $100.

Both SB406 and SB046 passed the Senate and are scheduled for hearings before the House Judiciary committee on March 13th. Here are the committee members. If you write to any of them, and I hope you do, remember to ask that your comments be shared with the whole committee.

Also of interest is SB 236, Sen. Wanzenreid’s bill to abolish the death penalty, which is scheduled to be heard before House Judiciary on March 25th. I support this bill and I hope it passes, though I’m not sure it will make it past the Governor’s desk without being vetoed, even if it makes it through the House.

And remember, you can listen to or watch committee hearings and sessions whenever a particular bill interests you. Audio and video are also generally posted to the archives by the next day.

I used to be one of those women. You know the ones. I believed very strongly in equal rights but didn’t want to call myself a feminist. When pressed to talk (or think) about it I had the same reasons other people have:

-I didn’t just believe in equal rights for women, I believed in equal rights for all humans.
-I didn’t want to be lumped in with the radical feminists, the man haters, or the ‘all hetero sex is rape’ crowd.

None of those things has changed, so what happened?

I got older and I learned a few things.

I learned that in politics and social activism one of the most effective weapons your opponants can use against you is to twist your chosen title around and make it something bad.

I learned that most groups, if not all, have their radical element and that it is often that radical fringe that gets the most attention. They are often the most passionate and vehment and they frequently make the best news stories.

And I learned that quite a lot of modern feminists felt the way I did about equality being a human right and not just a female right. It would seem that many of us take the view that we cannot achieve equality for women without achieving equality for everybody. We are striving for and end to discrimination on the basis of gender, race, gender status, sexual orientation, etc. It’s an all or nothing kind of a thing.

I came to realize that I am a feminist and that the only way to remove the perceived tarnish from the label is to accept it and strive to be heard above the voices of the opposition and the voices of the radical fringe.

First and foremost, I believe that the government has an obligation to uphold and protect the rights of all citizens equally. Full stop.

I believe that there is a fundamental right to equality under the law. Women shouldn’t have to fight for equal pay and equal opportunity.  If opposite gendered couples can marry, same gendered couples should be able to marry too. It should not be legal, as it is in Montana, for gay people to be fired from their jobs or evicted from their homes, simply because they are gay. I believe that trans people deserve our respect and support and should not be hindered in changing their legal gender when they’re going through the transition. I believe that intersex people should be treated with respect and allowed to make their own choices, rather than being medically interfered with in infancy or childhood.

These are all reasons that I’m a feminist. I am glad that I’ve learned to accept and embrace the label. I want to add my voice to the feminists who feel similarly. The sex positive feminists. The feminists who embrace human equality and human rights.

We’re out there, and there are lots of us. Not all of us have embraced the label yet, but hopefully that will change.

Just a few random thoughts on Dollhouse Ep 3 Stage Fright and BSG S4 Ep 17 Someone to Watch Over Me
Cut for Spoilers

I love this. I love Feministing and I’ve always loved the Friday Feminist Fuck You segments. I’m not exactly proud that Montana is mentioned right off the bat this week, but I agree completely with what Miriam and Ann are saying in this installment: Anti-choicers Gone Wild!

Allow me to add some Montana specific details:

There are three bills right now that have my hackles up. First are a lovely pair of bills that have passed the Senate and will be transmitted to the House. SB 406 (Constitutionally Define a Person) and SB 46 (Protection of Unborn Life as a Compelling State Interest). You can find the bill info (who voted for or against) here SB406, SB46 and the actual bills here: SB406, SB46.

Why are these bills bad? Well, for one thing, they directly contravene the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy. Article II, Section 10 of the Montana State Constitution states: The right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest. (See what the sponsor of those bills did there?) Medical decisions between a woman and her doctor are most certainly private.

Also, defining a fetus as a person grants full rights to a fetus. This could potentially cause all kinds of craziness, including women being investigated for criminal endangerment in the case of a miscarriage. Did she eat right? Did she take any drugs that were bad for her fetus (but possibly necessary for herself)? Did she knowingly do anything that could possibly have endangered her fetus?

I’d also like to point out that Montana voters already pretty much rejected exactly this kind of legislation by failing to provide sufficient signatures for CI 100 last year.

Sen. Shockley has also introduced a rather entertaining bill, SB 497, which protects Clinic Protesters from being harassed the people entering a clinic. (Yeah, you read that right. Apparently the PROTESTERS need protection from the people entering the clinic.) The folks over at 4&20 Blackbirds have written about it. Again here is the bill info and the bill language. This bill is still in the Senate, as of this writing.

I am hoping that all of these bills fail in the state House. In the event that they pass, I have a hard time imagining that Gov. Schweitzer will sign them.

However, I don’t think it’s a good idea for any of us to sit back and expect them to fail. We must all contact our Representatives and let them know how we feel about these bills.

I know who my Senator and Representative are, and I’m lucky enough that they tend to agree with me on most things. However, if you’re not sure who your Senator and Rep are, it’s easy to find out and even easier to contact them.

1. You need to know your full zip code, which you can find here.
2. Using that zip code, the folks at Project Vote Smart will tell you who your Senator and Representatives are (scroll down).
3. Once you have that info you can go here to use the handy online form to contact your representatives. OR
3a. Between sessions you can go here to find their direct e-mail addresses.

I cannot overstate how important it is to contact your representatives to let them know that you want them to vote against these bills. Please write to them right away, even if (especially if?) you’re lucky enough to have representatives who agree with you.

And I’d like to say Thank YOU to the lovely ladies at Feministing, especially Miriam and Ann, for this week’s installment of Friday Feministing Fuck You. I hope my fellow Montanans will see it and contact their legislators right away.