Monday, November 28, 2011

Just 2 Single Gals Celebrating 2 Great Years!

Who could have predicted two years ago that I would eventually cut out the head of a dead woman and paste it onto the body of a real live friend!? (Sorry Mackenzie) Hopefully the creepiness of the photo will be lessened by the general sentiment of the following post. Hopefully.

Jamie Keiles is a feminist activist who has a cool tumblr I like to check in on every now and then. Recently, I noticed she had posted this:
"Struggling with the fact that there is not an external barometer that can ever make one feel validated as an artist/producer of content. The notion of making your own happiness and finding your own satisfaction is really hard to cope with."  
The last year has been full of uncertainty for me personally. My living situation was completely unstable, my life partner moved across the country, I had a "single lady" breakdown, and I spent a bit too long boo-hooing my perceived lack of validation. Instead of having only a moment of fear and self doubt, my year was the embodiment of Jamie's post. 

Sometimes it's hard to self motivate. Sometimes it's hard to be your own director. Sometimes second guessing myself is the only thing I feel like I do well. August was particularly difficult and just like last year, I didn't publish a single post. I started to question the point to all of this: My blog, my beliefs, my purpose in general. 

When I turned 27, I braced for a heavier "WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN!?" feeling. But that never came. Instead, I danced, I laughed, there were surprise appearances by Prince and Michael Jackson, and! a friend streaked at a club. My birthday was fabulous. 

It left me with a refreshed perspective that sparked renewed optimism. The night reminded me of all the great people in my life and that I have been encouraged by so many over the past year. 

This blog has affected me in ways I could never have expected. When a concept pops into my head that I need to develop into a complete idea, I have CalistaJones to turn too. It is an incredibly personal outlet but at the same time completely candid. An ever evolving mirror, where I can revisit former thoughts to see how I've grown. Or a source of pride whenever I need to be reminded of my value. She is a friend of my own creation.

CalistaJones isn't just a representation of me as an individual. It is a collaboration of the community existing around me, continually challenging me and reminding me of the need to question myself and my world. I have been praised and pitied; understood and questioned. Positive or negative, nothing has been wasted through this project.  

I didn't even have a specific vision for the site when I first started posting and now I can hardly keep up with all the ways it has influenced my life. I was even contacted by a casting director to be a part of documentary series (euphemism for a reality show) about feminist writers! That was a weird moment. Videos were made, phone conversations with producers occurred, tons of anxiety about what becoming the "feminist Snooki" would do to my family was had. Ultimately, they decided to cast directly out of LA which was probably for the best since I was asked if I could reasonably expect to have a boyfriend at some point during the 6 month filming period. Obviously, that was not a reasonable expectation, and a clear signal the project wasn't as feminist as they said seeing as I apparently needed a guy to complete my story arc. But still! A cool, weird, interesting experience I would not have had had it not been for CalistaJones.

The most valuable part of this experience has been the conversations I've had with people about feminism, influential women, and the way they are affected by this site. My middle school teacher, Jeff Kresge, contacted the Jamestown Public Schools Archivist, Pam Brown, and found a picture of Calista and more information about her life. Now, you'd have thought that maybe I would have done that research on my own, but, like I said, this is a collaboration. The fact he not only reads my posts, but went out of his way to find out more information about her, means so much to me. His support is the perfect example of the  connections that have been made. I don't always feel like I deserve the quality people I have in my life however, I'm careful to never take them for granted.

Jamestown Bricks on Lee Ave
As a girl who dreamt of the day she would leave her hometown since she was old enough to really think about her future, writing down my memories of childhood and realizing how influential my town's history has been on my adult life has left me with new appreciation for where I'm from. This really is invaluable because I spent 16 years of my life in Jamestown which of course impacted who I am greatly. Sometimes I think of it only in a negative way because I wanted to be surrounded by bigger, more obvious opportunities. However, writing about Calista has changed that completely. I've found a discerning new lens making Jamestown's impact on my life look a lot shinier, and I have to say I really like that. 
The oft mentioned Fenton History Center
My first introduction to Calista!
Every time someone reaches out to me to comment on a post, recommend an article, book, or new subject, critique something, or just let me know they were reminded of me while learning about another feminist or female, I feel really successful in whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. The whole point is to have an outlet for discussion, new ideas, and inspiration. CJ has helped me make new friends, reconnect with people from my past, strengthen relationships, and even encouraged a date here or there. I'm learning to become a better sister, daughter, friend, coworker, roommate, woman, and human being in general through each post. To me, that is all above and beyond what you should logically expect from a blog. I'm really grateful. Also, I will never get tired of being told you have read some of my posts. So, keep telling me! ;)
What a wise woman.

This July, I was supposed to go to the Pitchfork Music Festival with a sailor. That did not happen. Instead, my sister Cat came out for the weekend and during the fest we sat in the grass and had a great talk about life and my blog. She told me about my mom having a moment of concern over some of my content and the possibility of overexposure. She asked my sister why I had to be so visceral and direct. There was also mention of fears about future political endeavors being negatively affected. Oh moms. Using daughters' hypothetical political campaigns as covers for not liking their public lamentations about how difficult it is to get bald vaginas! (We're pretty sure that is the post that made her worry most, but who knows!) 

All I do know is #1, I have no political aspirations, #2, I could be much more direct, and #3, Cat's response was the greatest gift she has ever given me. She told my mom saying the things I say in the way I say them helps other people to look at certain situations in new ways. Women like me are the ones encouraging change. My mom came back to her a bit after the conversation and thanked her for making her feel better. Had my mom come to me with her concerns I wouldn't have said those things and I know I probably wouldn't have been successful in describing why I write the way I do. I'm sure she still cringes every time she reads the word "fuck" but at least I know she gets it and I always know when I piss people off and need to cry for at least 20 minutes, she'll always answer and listen to me. And I know my sister believes in me more than I might believe in myself. Good thing that sailor was a no show, huh? ;)

Recently, there was sort of a Facebook catastrophe based on a status update I made about the gender derived wage gap. I used the NFL and cheerleaders to make a point that as long as more male-only jobs exist in mega profitable industries, there won't be equal pay between the sexes. I forgot when you say ANYTHING about pro-football, you will surely face a lot of challenges seeing as it's the favorite entertainment outlet for many this time of year. I survived, but it sort of taught me a valuable lesson: people don't see how complacent they are in their own support of society's inequities. Myself included. 

Continually denying privilege is completely regressive and destructive.  Feminism has a history riddled with ignoring certain advantages reserved for white women. I can't say I don't benefit from the oppressing class and while yes, patriarchy is a real thing, it's not the only repressive social organization. This past year was about examining the point of feminism, so this next year will be about how to make feminism better. I want to look into how gender rules, as they are now, negatively affect us as a whole, not just as women. I also would like to examine how feminism in the past has fallen short of it's actual goals and how it can be better aimed to attack the kyriarchy in a way that stops neglecting certain facets benefiting oppressors.

When you allow yourself to formulate your own thoughts and opinions, you achieve true self empowerment, which is the greatest gift. You become open, a better listener, more willing to interpret ideas and understand the world. It's unimaginative to assume the way things are is the only way they can be. So, I'm excited! There is so much to learn. Here's to a long and beautiful friendship with CalistaJones!
Proof that I have actual living friends! :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Miriam Christine Olson

To know me is to understand that I am the stereotypical first born child: an aggressive yet conscientious know-it-all. To love me is to fully and completely accept me despite this because otherwise I won't give you the time of day. (See.) In the spirit of progress and personal growth, I'm learning to (trying to) become less dominant and more open to the fact that not every thought, opinion, belief, idea, or action I have or take is the only right one. No one else in the world has had to deal with my growing pains as pointedly as my sister Mim.

Sally Renata (My CPK), That Baby, & Me
As a new two year old, I wasn't so sure about "that baby" when my parents brought her home. I can imagine life was pretty great for me pre-Mim; full of attention (my personal drug of choice) not only from my mom and dad but also my grandparents. Every day was a Julia-day, a luxury reserved for the first born. Poor Mim never got to experience life without her older sibling looking down on her every move with either disdain or jealousy-tinged pride. Luckily, I quickly took to loving "that baby". After all, without her, I couldn't be a big sister. She became my favorite companion.

As kids, we did everything together. Since we are only two years apart we had a built in friend in one another. We danced, played violin, sang in choir, and took gymnastics classes. At home we loved to play dress up and regularly turned our bunk beds and back yard apple tree into ships or rockets. We had a lot of fun and if you know me, imagine my laugh, double it, and you can hear the soundtrack of my childhood. Lovely, right? ;)
Mim looking a little PO'd.
War inducing soap.
It wasn't always so idyllic as I'm sure my mom would be the first to point out. From the moment Mim was able to talk, we were able to fight. Notorious fighting. We had mega brawls that usually ended in tears, sometimes blood, and often, time out in our room with (gasp!) the lights off. We'd fight about everything. One time we fought for days about who got a particularly cute seashell shaped soap our grandma sent us from Florida. My parents quickly learned everything had to be identical and fair in order to avoid a blow up fight. My primary weapon was my words and Mim's was her teeth. She was constantly biting me which always seemed to garner stricter parental consequences even though I will now admit to saying horribly mean things to her to push her over the edge and get her to chomp down on my arm. Mim, alone in time out, meant I had "won".

I really did a great job in my role as the bratty, obnoxious, bossy older sister. Mim had her 4 year old birthday party at our house with all of her friends, and my superior 6 year old self of course had to make my presence known as the way cooler Olson sister. As a first grader, I could not read. Instead, I had memorized the book Suzy Swoof. To impress Mim's party guests and focus all of the attention onto myself for her special day, I made the girls sit around and listen to me "read" to them. They were all awed and thought I was amazing: mission accomplished. Mim was infuriated because she knew I couldn't actually read one word. Her retaliation was to teach herself to read before the age of 5. I didn't learn to read until the age of 7 after a team of adults gave me special attention in remedial reading.

Sisters and 90's Fashion.
Even with the arguing and competition, we were often on the same side. We both sucked our thumbs (I taught her how) and my parents kept coming up with ways to trick us into quitting. They tried cutting our blankies into pieces and at one point bought bad tasting liquid to paint on our thumbs. We came together to concoct a plan to steal the bottle. They ended up bribing us with American Girl dolls which worked like a charm on Mim who quit a good year before me. While Mim had Molly to play with, I still had my thumb and my stubborn determination to never give it up. It wasn't until I became so sick that I was unable to breathe with my thumb in my mouth before I would get my coveted Felicity. I was NINE.

Our main difference lies in my contentment in perceived intelligence and Mim's pursuit of actual knowledge. I could always just get by in school, sports, whatever and be fine with myself even if I didn't do that well. Mim needs to be a master. And she is. Always at the top of her class she is now in her 4th year of med school. When I'm faced with difficulties, I usually quit. I like to tell myself this has made me really well rounded because growing up I did a little bit of everything (delusional, I know). Mim committed to activities and became a competitive gymnast. We would go to her meets and I'd always sit there imagining the announcer calling me up to do the floor exercise and dominating it, while Mim was actually out there winning ribbons. If I wasn't instantly good at something, I didn't see it through. To be honest, this is definitely how I still am. Just sitting around, waiting for things to happen. Mim understands that achievement requires effort; a trait I highly admire.
After Junior Miss!
(Cat and me experiencing life's awkward phases:
Post Freshman 15 and Tween )

Mim has accomplished a lot in her life. In high school, she was selected to be a contestant in our area's Junior Miss, a scholarship competition for Senior girls. In order to compete in the pageant, you had to be interviewed as well as have a high GPA and participate in various extra-curricular activities. Mim was an obvious choice for this type of event and I believe was 4th runner up. Unfortunately, I also auditioned for Junior Miss. I was not selected. Shocking, I know. Especially when you consider my enlightened response to the simple question "What is your favorite color and why?" Julia answer: "Hot pink because, you know, girls and boys can like it. Like, it's gender neutral!" Clearly, I was not a feminist prodigy as I'm sure I had no real idea what "gender neutral" meant at the time and am unable to explain to this day what the hell I was talking about.
Me (15) & Mim (13)

We had two years together as high school students. Two years as very different kids in the same place, dealing with the same things, in totally different ways. Sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit, I could be mean to her. Nevertheless, Mim is so loyal to me even when I'm clearly off my rocker and dealing with my emotions in a completely misguided way. A good example of this was poor little Mimmy's first high school dance as a freshman. I was going through a phase, a moment of pure immaturity, (that I have of course surpassed), where I would get into verbal fights with "bitches". It was my way of getting my attention fix I suppose but at this dance, Mim watched in horror as I fought on the stairwell with a girl whose only grievance against me was that she had once made out with my ex-boyfriend after we had broken up. There were lots of "Fuck you, slut!"s lodged at one another resulting in a momentary halting of the dance. Mim was rightfully concerned with my behavior but stood by me and we laughed about it later on. She always knew if anyone was terrible to her, I would stand up for her too. Even when I knew I could be mean to her, the idea of anyone else mistreating her made my blood boil.  

We don't always see eye to eye, or fully understand each other's choices, but we support one another. She doesn't judge me when she doesn't agree with me. And that's what sisters are for. In so many ways she is the only person who totally understands me. We've grown up together. We've experienced life's highest highs and lowest lows as only sisters can. And as different as we are, we are very similar. We both have a fierce independent streak. She is also the only person in the world who knows what it is like to have Cat as a sister. Yes, guy friends, we know you think she is hot. ;)
Pretty Mimmy

Mim makes me so proud. She is one person who really knows what she wants in life. She knew she wanted to be a doctor way back when we were really little. She has worked so hard to make her dreams come true and I think that is amazing. She has the purest intentions to help people and use her talents to fix the broken health care system. And even though she is a super intelligent person, she is very humble and silly. Everyone loves her med school stories about dissections and labs. There seem to be a lot of smells in medicine.

I love Mim, not only because she made me a big sister, thus giving my bossiness a context, but because she makes me want to be better. She questions me when I most need it but also supports me through everything. She makes me want to be nicer, work harder, and gives me a drive to really figure myself out and what it is that I'm passionate about. As my younger sister, she has taught me a lot about having standards, setting personal goals, and that arrogance is not always a progressive trait. I can't imagine my life without her and even though we still have epic fights here and there, she is one of my best friends and favorite people. (Can't wait to get our sister tattoos! Hint hint :)
Sistah friends! (I wish we still had that heart bedding)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beth Phoenix

Me 'n The Rock
My earliest memories of professional wrestling are from my friend Jay's house. He had 2 of those wrestling buddy dolls, countless action figures, and really liked Hulk Hogan. His room was a WrestleMania explosion; wrestling toys were everywhere. In high school, my boyfriend was really into The Rock. During a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, I found a pro-wrestling souvenir shop and I bought him a life size cut out. All along the boardwalk people were stopping to pose with it for pictures. It was so weird because, in that moment at least, with this huge 6'5" cardboard statue, I appeared to be one of the WWE's biggest fans.
Hulk Hogan Pillow Buddy

My lil baby potato Marty
Outside of knowing  The Miz was once on The Real World and the WWE used to be called WWF until the World Wildlife Federation sued them, I basically knew nothing about this particular brand of entertainment. Then Marty DeRosa moved in with me.

Mr. Wellington
Marty is a prominent comedian within the Chicago comedy scene (YouTube him y'all!) and he LOVES wrestling. He is super supportive of my writing so having him in the apt is really, really great for me creatively. And he has a cat, Mr. Wellington, so he really is the roommate jackpot. We have spent a few evenings here and there watching the latest WWE saga unfold on TV. Marty does a great job of patiently explaining to me who each person is and what the hell is going on. I feel like I do a decent job of trying to follow along and take it as seriously as any non-wrestling fanatic can. I mean I'll never fully get it, but then again I've seen just about every episode of The Real Housewives and have a legitimate crush on Albie Manzo (I check his twitter every day). Wrestling is creative so it beats my Housewives fascination by a landslide. And it really is fun!

A little over a year ago, in a perfect twist of fate, Marty met one of his personal wrestling heroes, Colt Cabana, at a 7/11. They have become good friends and work together on 5 Dollar Wrestling, Creative Has Nothing For You, as well as various comedy and wrestling shows around the country. It's really inspiring to watch Marty work really hard to combine his two passions and succeed.

Right before Marty moved in, he got really excited because Colt was trending on Twitter after a shout out from CM Punk during Monday Night RAW. As any good roommate should, I went to YouTube to better understand what was going on.

Now listen, if you watch the video and have no real idea about what is happening, it doesn't matter. All you really need to understand is that there is this cool movement toward promoting wrestling as an entertainment art; a craft and skill that should be cultivated over time by people who work hard to perfect it. CM Punk, Colt Cabana, and Beth Phoenix are leading this movement.

Beth is from Elmira, NY (not far from Jamestown!) and started wrestling in high school, even though her love of the sport began much earlier. Her grandmother, originally from Poland, loved wrestling and shared her interest with her granddaughter. When asked why her grandma was so into it, Beth says that she thinks it was because it was easy for her to follow the story. She was new to America and didn't speak much English so watching the good guys fight the bad guys could be exciting even without understanding every word. When she was 11, Beth's prize for winning a coloring contest was 4 tickets to the WWF show in Binghampton, NY. From then on she was hooked.

Phoenix's developmental days
In high school, she was the first girl to wrestle at the Varsity level in her school's history and after graduating she went to Canisius College and began training to become a professional. After about 8 years of hard work and not giving up on her dreams, she made it to the WWE.

Since Marty has moved in, I've learned a bit more about the wrestling community. Much like stand-up comedy, there are many different levels and ways to go pro. There are indie circuits and developmental organizations where amateurs train for years in order to make it professionally. There are many dedicated athletes exerting blood, sweat, and tears knowing that not everyone will succeed. Cabana, in his podcast, Art of Wrestling, talks a bit about his frustration toward many of the females in the WWE. They tend to be models or actresses who have been scouted by producers and convinced to train as wrestlers with promises of jump starting a different career in the spotlight. His issue isn't necessarily with the women per se, but with the way in which the system uses and promotes most of the women in wrestling. If you have a true desire to wrestle that led you to sacrifice a lot to achieve your goals, like Beth and Colt, this would be understandably frustrating. Punk, Phoenix, and Cabana are working to change the system so it is more about quality wrestling, rewarding those who have done the work.

Phoenix Wrestling Punk
Ultimately, this would help the overall image of women in the ring. Often thought of as simply sexual and not able to perform as well as men, women wrestlers haven't always been taken seriously. Beth is anything but a stereotypical WWE Diva. She is in control of her look and develops her character based on what she wants to project. She has always had to wrestle males; starting in high school and continuing well into her professional career. On her episode of Art of Wrestling, she recalls her journey from childhood, to waiting tables at Perkins while working as an amateur, to finally getting called up to the WWE. Her determination sounds no different than any of the guys that have gone before her or who will follow behind. This fact makes the below statement that much more infuriating.
"So the Divas are nothing more than high priced courtesans that WWE have around to keep the Superstars happy. That makes sense. Lord knows they never do anything with them worth while in the ring, at least they serve some function. WWE sure is a great company. Whenever I’m upset with my corporate office, they only sends over dead hookers. Well, they aren’t dead when they get here, but if she can’t take some light choking while I hit her in the head with a lamp, than she clearly wasn’t the best of the batch was she?"
This little gem of hate speech is brought to you by a simple minded, wrestling scene blogger who is insinuating that Beth was only selected for RAW because CM Punk wanted her to keep him company. I came across this when I was researching this post and only highlight it to remind you all that many still boil women's achievements down to nothing more than serving the sexual needs of the men in their particular field. If you are able to completely read the poorly crafted, unedited sentences, you may have a moment where you feel ultra creeped out by the ease of the writer's disregard for the lives of sex workers. Sure that part is meant to be a "joke", but I stumbled onto this site by searching for photos of Beth, an intelligent, accomplished woman. I'm not OK with hookers being disposable, and I'm not OK with female objectification whether it be in wrestling, in politics, in regular boring old offices, or anywhere. It doesn't have to be a part of life we just accept or deal with. This mentality should bother us.

The traditional feminist mindset can sometimes box us into a limited worldview. There is a standard the feminist community has set against anything that doesn't fit neatly into what is obviously progressively pro-woman. Don't get me wrong, I am a full-fledged member of this community, but I understand that the level of intellectualism many feminists want to tout, excludes a lot of cultural aspects that could reach more people; ultimately becoming regressive. Feminists don't just burn bras and blog about how wronged women are. They get shit done. Without Marty I wouldn't even know who Beth was, let alone understand what she had to do to get where she is. Wrestling is one of the number one forms of entertainment in the world. Feminists should be aware of it and understand it.

The more I learn about it, the more I see wrestling as a case for how damaging sexism can be for everyone. Men are just as objectified as women in this realm. They have strict body image standards that have to be met in order to keep their place in the story lines. Many successful male wrestlers have died as a result of drug abuse due to the anxiety caused by unhealthy expectations. Scott Goldman (Colt Cabana), Beth, and others make a point to not use steroids and some have embraced the straight edge lifestyle after watching their personal wrestling heroes succumb to drugs and alcohol. You can't really discuss what women wrestlers wear in a disparaging way seeing as the men are usually clad in teeny tiny briefs. They're all sex objects to a certain degree, promoting unnatural and usually unattainable physiques for the viewing public. Obviously, the quote from that dumb blogger shows some still see women as things, but on the whole, professional wrestling could be a prime opportunity for men and women to come together to change unreasonable and unacceptable gender based expectations. Performers who are more forward thinking could use their characters to cultivate new inspirations for fans. The typical meat head muscleman or super boobed small waisted gal aren't the only two options for those who are creative and love what they do. Beth and CM Punk already exhibit a wider than status quo range with their personas which fans have embraced wholeheartedly. 

Actions speak louder than words, so I'd say that earns Beth my unsolicited feminist stamp of approval. AKA: Beth Phoenix is a feminist. Gloria Steinem says the whole point of feminism is to achieve equality between the sexes. By blazing a path for women in wrestling in a way that really honors the sport as a craft that has to be worked on and perfected, she seems to be the embodiment of Steinem's ideology. She doesn't focus on being female, she just focuses on wrestling. That's the way progress happens. To listen to Marty talk about Beth Phoenix, is to listen to a wrestling fan talk about a favorite wrestler. Gender has little to do with it.

It is important to acknowledge the positive female presence in wrestling because that expands the opportunity for everyone in the sport. Beth's not the only woman Marty really admires in wrestling. Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, and Mischief are other women he really respects in the ring. Beth looked up to wrestlers as a girl and the more examples children have of women achieving goals and not just cheering on the sidelines, the more they believe in themselves, their potential, and the abilities of their female peers. Beth has encouraged progress simply by doing what she loves to do.

As the second year of this blog winds down, I keep evaluating whether or not I'm making any real points about feminism and its worth. Or if there is even a point to what I'm doing. My blog makes me happy and is a fulfilling hobby to have for sure, however, does it matter in anyway, or any little bit to the rest of the world? With my subject matter, it's easy to think that I'm doing nothing in a world full of women, who are using their minds and abilities to make actual strides for the rest of us. Not just sitting around thinking about the philosophies behind the actions of others or what else is wrong with the world that should be fixed by someone else. It's not always easy to be an out feminist because people tend to shy away from anything too political. That has always confused me because I feel like allowing women equal opportunities shouldn't have to be legislated but reality seems to feel otherwise. Since I know people think that feminism is a political offshoot, it makes me feel like finding feminist inspiration in professional wrestling of all places should somewhat shake that idea up a bit. And selfishly, it makes me feel like I do have a purpose. I know it's hard to be a feminist; well it's hard to say you're a feminist. Not all women can do it because of the stigma attached with the label so I've decided to do it for them. Once we start to see feminist examples in different types of people, the negative associations will become a thing of the past. If Beth were to ever read this post, I would hope she would take some pride in knowing that she has influenced someone outside of the wrestling world.

*Research for this post came from Beth Phoenix's episode on Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Manal al-Sharif

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I haven't always been the best feminist I can be. Some may think I'm too hard on myself, however, there is something to be said about these moments of weakness that speak to the struggle many women have in accepting ourselves as equal members of society.  The feminist's purpose is overcoming the mind fuck drilled into us as soon as we are swaddled in pink as newborns.  Feminism is about reprogramming ourselves to believe it is OK for us to think outside the acceptable perimeters defined for us. Clearly, this is really hard to do. Great strength is required to see beyond what everyone else sees and accepts.  

Peg pic.
(Has the baby girl been abandoned
or just not picked up yet?)
Feminist Fail Admission for This Post:

As a kid, I always put the blue (male) peg in the driver's seat in the "Game of LIFE". 

I remember this because it was really important to me to adjust the driver peg after "getting married".  My mom noticed this once and said, "You know, you can put the blue peg as the passenger." But it just wasn't right in my mind. I hated that she noticed I went out of my way to switch the pegs because it made me feel a bit ashamed. I felt like I let her down for some reason, even though she was usually in the passenger's seat when we were in the car with my dad. I didn't want her to think I thought only men could drive, since she was the main "chauffeur" for my sister's and me when we needed to get to practices and friends houses. 

Now, obviously, I recognize this is just a game and that most would think it's just a silly little thing. However, I'm pretty sure my sister Mim used to do it too and we aren't much different from other women our age. I bet a lot of girls grew up adjusting their gendered plastic pegs. Why would we do this? Even in the game, the single peg is responsible for "driving" itself on the board before the "wedding". How did we know where the proper place was for the pink peg after the blue peg entered the scene? 

Driving Miss Barbie
Driving is directly marketed to males from birth which is why men like cars.  Ad companies allow us to believe that the way society is shaped comes from some natural place but really they just mold us into the standard that sells shit the best. Boys like to go fast and be powerful. (Read: boys are allowed to like to go fast and be powerful.) So "naturally", dudes like cars. Hot wheels are for boys. RC cars are for boys. Even the illustration on the box for the "Game of LIFE" has every car driven by a guy. Look at the Power Wheels page on Fisher Price's website. Only a few models are made for girls (they are all pink, NATURALLY) and if there is a girl in a "boy" car,  she is the passenger. Barbie doesn't even drive her own beach cruiser! (Clearly, this is a great way to sell Ken dolls.) These images are advertised to children. Toys teach. 

Then of course, there is the way real drivers are marketed. Take this ad for tires from 1970...

Or this one from 2010...

What have we learned? 
Men drive. 
And women are a liability. 

These ads are FORTY years apart. The 1970 ad is now known as "The most sexist ad ever!!!", but I'm not sure the 2010 ad is any less offensive. It's actually slightly worse I would say since the only change represented shows men are no longer mandated to "protect" their burdensome wives but can now discard them when necessary. Whatever. 

My boss Leigh Ann just had a negative Facebook run-in with her 20 year old male* cousin. He posted this as his status:
"Women cannot drive at all. period."
This bothered her A LOT. More than it should, as some people told her. But he had "likes" and supportive comments all over this update. He didn't even think twice about being offensive and defended himself when she questioned the statement's legitimacy. Nothing about what he said is new or interesting. We all have heard that women can't drive before and I'd say more than some of us have accepted this as fact.

I now understand why it was so important to me to put the pink peg on the right side of the little plastic vehicle: I was doing as I was told.

                              *   *   *   *   *

Gloria and Jackie
Academy of Arts & Letters Board Members
Jacqueline Kennedy was interviewed in 1964 shortly after the assassination of her husband. These recorded conversations have just been released to the public. She makes many critical comments directed toward some prominent women who, at the time of the recordings, had chosen to live their lives much less traditionally than the former first lady. After her second husband passed away, she chose not to remarry and lead a successful career life as a book editor until succumbing to cancer in 1994. In his statement after her death, her son famously said she died" her own way, and on her own terms."  

Women like Gloria Steinem, Flo Kennedy, and Bella Abzug socially martyred themselves in the name of feminism back in the 1960's and 70's so women like Jackie could accomplish more than they originally thought was acceptable. She went from being a woman who believed her secondary status was her primary duty, to a woman who was taking advantage of the new rights won for her by those she once negatively referred to as "being afraid of sex." Her later life is just one example of the successes of feminists and the significance of their sacrifices. 

                                *   *   *   *   *

Enter, Manal al-Sharif.

al-Sharif's slogan: I don't like the backseat!
This video was a part of the women's rights campaign al-Sharif began in Saudi Arabia in order to lift the ban imposed against female drivers. She filmed herself driving with the help of Wajeha al-Huwaider, another activist, and posted their conversation to YouTube. She was arrested shortly after and ignited a renewed desire by women, and many men, in her country to extend driving rights to all citizens. 

During her illegal ride, she sites many practical reasons to grant women the driving privilege. She is not speaking irrationally or angrily. She doesn't turn on her Islamic faith. She doesn't speak negatively about the state of her nation, but rather intelligently high lights the reasons the ban should be overturned:

- Cost of hiring a driver is too high for many to afford
- Educated women are kept ignorant of driving rules; unprepared in an emergency
- Relying on strange men to drive puts women in danger of sexual harassment and rape 
- Women are also banned from public transportation, so they are further inconvenienced when trying to get to work or run errands if they can't get a cab or driver

Manal's right to drive campaign was different than previous attempts because she infused these practical reasons with feminist rhetoric. She wants women to drive because they are no less than men. Women aren't just for emergencies. We don't exist to simply support the male population. This was a message that resonated with many Saudi citizens. In her video she says:
 "A woman has the same right as a man in her daily life. To dignity."
These words are revolutionary. And they worked. After Manal's arrest, there was a campaign to free her that was won. She started a wave of women driving to join her in her protest. Tickets are now being issued to women caught behind the wheel, which is a positive change from the arrests that used to occur regularly. Secretary Clinton, along with others all over the world, have also spoken out against the ban which has fueled great hope that it will be completely overturned in the near future. 

Manal's struggle resonates with me on a personal level. I am not a licensed driver. 

When I was 16 years old, I caused a fatal car accident. 

Back of my ID Card.
Clearly, not a license.
Manal speaks about her time living in the United States and the time Americans invest in teaching teens to become safe drivers. She recognizes driving can be dangerous and should not be a responsibility taken lightly. This was a lesson taught to me in a terrible tragedy. The accident was simply an accident in the sense that I wasn't doing anything overtly dangerous or wrong.  It happened in August of 2001 and I stopped driving in the winter of 2010. The decision to do so was not easily made. It was more of a gradual process in the years following the accident. I knew the great freedom I was giving up and can identify with the Saudi women. I am now dependent on a lot of people because of my choice to not drive. Luckily, I am not prevented from using public transportation because of my gender and getting my license is as easy as retaking a driving test. Well, theoretically it is that easy; I don't have any bans to overcome. 

We are not as in control as we think we are when we get behind the wheel, no matter how many precautions we take. Cars are dangerous. While I'm relatively well adjusted and have overcome a lot of guilt, I still HATE this part of my personal history. I'll forever experience moments of intense pain, causing a lot of anxiety and frustration. Not a day goes by that I don't think about what happened. Outside of not driving, I don't think there is a way to ensure a similar accident won't happen again. Driving for me means I'm ready to take responsibility for the lives of others on the road and in my vehicle. I am not strong enough, yet. 

Manal has given me a lot of reason to not embrace this personal weakness, however. She has reminded me I am sitting on top of a privilege that shouldn't be squandered. So, I'm working on my mental issues regarding my unlicensed self. There are some positives to not drive. I can say I'm super "green" and I don't have to deal with the high cost of gas. But I don't think it's something I should never do again. If I have kids someday, I don't want them to grow up with an immobile, dependent mom. My grandma Madelyn never drove because of the insecurity her dad made her feel when she was learning to drive. I don't think she would want her granddaughter to limit herself in the same way. My little sister Cat just got her driver's license after years of not being sure she wanted the responsibility driving entails either. But she knows in order to accomplish the goals she wants to achieve in her lifetime, she needs to be as independent as possible. I'm very proud of her.

I mentioned Jackie Kennedy to show that Gloria, Bella, Flo and all feminists have a real impact. It's hard for us to see the point to feminism because we live in a relatively evolved country today. American women are granted the same rights as men which makes it easy to think the feminist struggle here is won and done. It also makes it easy to forget how things used to be. Manal is a modern day example of what it took to get us to where we are: women sacrificing; women fighting. Her words and her efforts should encourage us to not take our own right to drive for granted. This includes thinking about the ideological inequalities remaining between the genders in the way we view who should be the driver. Our attitude toward women behind the wheel should be expressed with cultural equivalence to the laws we uphold. Barbie should drive her own beach cruiser with Ken in the passenger seat. Commercials should advertise women confidently skidding to stops with safe tires in speedy vehicles. AND, *20 year old males who rely on their female cousins to drive them in sports cars because they don't know how to operate a stick shift, shouldn't be arrogant enough to post sexist Facebook updates. 

The reason the ban exists in Saudi Arabia against women drivers is to propagate gender segregation and make sure males have more opportunities than females. As liberated women in America, we have a responsibility to recognize the rights we are privileged to experience. We need to partake in these rights whenever possible and always be vigilant against any threat to them. Every time a woman drives herself to work, tells her daughter to place the pink peg in the left hand side, and reminds an immature boy about his  own shortcomings behind the wheel, we are supporting our Saudi sisters and affirming the work of all feminists.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ryeisha "Rye Rye" Berrain

Not to brag (but to brag), I have the greatest friends ever. One of the loveliest is my gal pal Gretchen. We lived together in college for a year and ever since, she has been unable to rid herself of me.  What I love the most about G is that she is truly her own person and really has an eye for unique and interesting things. Much to her chagrin, most of the stuff she loves, become in the moment trends months after she has made them her own. She is definitely ahead of the curve. Gustaf Hale, the tumblr she started with her husband is a perfect little window into her tastes as a creative person. It's a fun collection of the recipes, music, art, and fashion that decorate their lives.

Gretchen and Nathan

One of the many perks to being Gretchen's friend, are the super fun CD mixes she likes to send in the mail. Along with the mix, she usually will decorate the CD or make a fun play list cover and send along pictures. They are among my most prized possessions and while she will be the first to say much of her musical taste comes from what Nathan introduces her to, he would probably like it known that a lot of it is purely Gretchen. On a mix she sent me a few years back she included Rye Rye's "Shake it to the Ground".

Easily the most fun song on that particular disc, I quickly found out Rye Rye, 20, was only 15 at the time she wrote and originally performed it. This was the song that initially outed her to Blaqstarr and MIA as a potential new force to be reckoned within the hip hop scene. MIA said she was the new artist she had been looking to find.
"My arrogance knows no bounds and I will make no peace today, and you should be so lucky to find a woman like me."
Jenny Holzer's quote has become the motto of this blog. Women are often required to seek forgiveness simply for being female. Submission is guilt in action. Holzer's words are difficult for many people to read in a positive way because they fall out of line with the qualities a "good" woman should embody. We are supposed to be the peacemakers, humbly standing aside while the men get things done. The machismo these words express are out of place for what we acknowledge as appropriate female speak. Women have been taught to fear aggression, leadership, ego, and entitlement; all while being told to feel guilty. This quote confronts our guilt directly which attacks its legitimacy, thus broadening female capabilities.  Rye Rye is the perfect personification of Holzer's meaning. 

She doesn't fear power, and rap, at its core, is an expression and assertion of authority. While there are flaws in the power structure many current rappers choose to uphold, the art form began as an outlet used to speak out against the oppression of the black minority. Rye Rye reloads these revolutionary roots by confronting the suppression and silencing of females by the dominant male majority within the current hip hop community. 
"Who could ever know a chick that could spit as I do
I'm conceited; I take the cake from you fools
see your face is all blue yeah you know that I'm true."
                                                         -Shake it to the Ground lyrics 

She asserts herself with the same bravado any great Kanye song would require. She also wraps her message in an innuendo that takes a shot at the normal depiction of women in hip hop music. At first glance, "Shake it to the Ground" sounds like a song about a girl trying to get the attention of boys from her sexualized dance moves. When you really look into the lyrics you see that "Shake" means "Rap" as evidenced by the line; 
"All my ladies if you shake it then you know it's a rap."
The meaning is packaged in a familiar way even though it's a new, fresh message to girls offering depth. There is power behind this type of stealth feminism. You can't "see" it but the affect it has can be overwhelmingly positive. Almost like that clear Benefiber you can mix into water. Your body needs and wants the supplement, but it's easier to swallow without the rough taste. So think of stealth feminism as Femi-fiber. You don't have to spend time explaining and defending the feminist message because it just seeps in undetected. 

An intentionally in your face feminist outlet, like this blog, is a hard sell for the masses. Lot's of people hear the f-word and want nothing to do with it because of the misunderstanding or negative connotations surrounding the terminology. It makes it difficult to attract readers even if the actual content can spark a broad range of interests. Almost like the bran muffin version of feminism if you will; appealing to some, but not everyone. If you want to make a statement that reaches beyond those who already accept your views, the way Rye Rye has chosen to showcase herself makes a lot of sense. Instead of a subversive message teaching girls submission, she has subverted the positive message of female strength. 

Rye Rye is only powerful as a person because she has already obtained self acceptance. Her music isn't about getting boys to like her or achieving popular girl status, but instead showcases her superior skill as a rapper. This is a revolutionary message when you compare her to other young female performers her age such as Taylor Swift*. Swift speaks to people in a way that is trying to convince them of her worth; Rye Rye states hers out right. 

Female sexuality has had a tumultuous relationship with pop music and rap culture. Traditionally, women in hip hop are sexualized in an excessive way which is either completely misogynist or totally faux-feminist (overtly sexual, defined by male preferences; marketed as female empowerment). Most discussions surrounding this issue either vilify or overtly extol female sexuality, making it the sole focus of the argument. Obviously it is important for women to be sexually free; however, this should be a singular piece to the puzzle, not the entire picture.

Rye Rye is sexual without objectifying herself which is how men normally employ their sexuality. Usher, Justin Timberlake, and most male performers use sexual power to their advantage which is commonplace for their gender. Male heterosexuality, controlled by the individual, has always been acceptable. Women usually are relegated to two extremes that are equally problematic: Sexpot or Virgin. Placing sexuality on a hard to reach pedestal turns young women into "pure" objects, making them no different from those who are told sex will establish their only value.  Labeled "Pure princess" or "Dirty Slut", the woman is advertised as a thing to be conquered and consumed, therefore rendering her powerless. Rye Rye remains in control of herself as a being who can be sexual which is a major accomplishment for a woman in entertainment. She's a new role model for girls who haven't wanted to accept the either or option typically offered to them.

There is a proverb that says a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. Hopefully, with lyrics like "You can't buy me, I'm a priceless girl" and "Princess a dis, so bring my name", combined with fun beats and Rye Rye's obvious talent as an MC, she'll be able to ignite a new message within hip hop highlighting female self-worth and value. The best hope for feminism to have an impact is for it to become as commonplace as the patriarchal imagery we are accustomed to today. Rye Rye has positioned herself to be a fearless leader and it will be really exciting to watch her develop her craft.

*Full disclosure: I've been known to have moments of Taylor Swift music enjoyment. ;)