50 Shades of Meh: Women in Pop Culture

I can recall reading about women’s fan fiction with great interest. The cultural studies work about shipping and the Kirk/Spock love triangle was fascinating to me in the early 1990s. When fan sites began to devour (pun intended) the Twilight series, I did not think this was anything particularly new or exciting. Then, the fan sites frenzy gave birth to E. L. James and her 50 Shades of Grey series. I read the first book carefully and pretty much yawned through it. The writing was similar to the Twilight  series, which was no surprise given that this book came from one of the fan sites. The book was painfully difficult to read as it was obvious that the author was not familiar with the norms in this SadoMasochism (SM) or Bondage and Discipline (BD) community. BDSM as the abbreviation.>

Right about now, most readers will think one of two things: huh and wait, how do you know about this? Well, my MA thesis was about Women and Consent. This does not make me an expert, but it certainly makes me interested in the series, the movie, and conversations related to consent in pop culture. I have been mulling over a few things about the book(s) and now the movie, which apparently has made some real money. This series has popularized grey ties and re-ignited conversations about BDSM, and the popular culture depictions of a BDSM relationship. Now, if you want to read well-written books in this area you can see the Erotica Booklists or see what Susie Bright suggests–many know her by her alter ego, Susie Sexpert.

The BDSM issue is an extremely divisive issue for feminists. In the 1980s, the sex debates/sex panics/sex wars * culminated with the emergence of “anti-sex” and “pro-sex feminists.” The lack of cohesion and agreement among feminists and others centered around the definition and understanding of women’s sexuality. One of the problems was that feminist epistemology has never been unified in terms of defining what constitutes women’s sexuality. The various sides of the debates acquired their own definitions of women’s sexuality and furthermore, what constituted a feminist sexuality. -there is one feminist sexuality? No. And, if you have followed sex positive discussions, this is still not ironed out.  For ease of discussion, though, I will refer to the two major sides of the sex debates.>

There were different, heated opinions regarding women’s exercise of power and consent. Can women consent? The anti-sex side viewed women’s sexuality as something that male-identified society defined, controlled, and used against women. By contrast the pro-sex camp acknowledged women’s power to pursue pleasure and exercise sexual consent with others in SM sex or non-SM sex. Subsequently, women’s bodies were interpreted as either a site of domination or power among the two loudest or most prominent factions. And, this might shed light on how sex positive debates are at times fraught with controversy, when perhaps they should not be.

Feminists need to take consciousness raising to the level of self-education of women’s various sexualities. It is self-effacing for feminists not to make coalitions among one another and acknowledge the diversity of the movement and identity. We must understand the history and struggles behind women’s sexuality and how this aspect informs women’s identity in society. Clearly this does not require a monolithic feminism with feminists united in one belief. Feminists must work toward developing an inclusive theory of sexuality that includes pleasure, desire, and autonomous consent to sex thinking of women as having sexual agency.

In the future an inclusive sexual theory that embraces various sexualities and sanctions sexual consent as part of women’s sexuality is auspicious. Continued research into theories of sexual politics and consent is justified and needed in the hope of someday securing equality and not playing with the same tired tropes about male dominance of women, as witnessed with the 50 Shades series. This is one of the many reasons why I think: 50 Shades of Meh. I read the book, and do not have to see the stylized version of the book from Hollywood. My safe word here: no.

*Yes, I linked to Wikipedia. It is a good synopsis and written for the lay audience. <Do not be cheeky.>

Working in Man’s World: #Breatheyyj

It’s OK to be a Woman in a Man’s World! #Breatheyyj Really looking forward to this preso! Participants are: Marisa Goodwin @organicfoodme Anya Sereda @tinybean and Katie McDonald. What a great panel of woman who are working in male dominated fields. I just want to add that a great majority of the #BreatheNow meetings were held at Discovery Coffee, which Anya Sereda works for as their Green Bean Sourceress!

Sereda speaks to the coffee industry and refers to the baristas–the boys–as the show ponies, while the women are more apt to manage! It’s really interesting to hear about how so many coffee farms owned by women in the countries that she’s visited, but men run the farms. Interesting. I love that she admits to looking young. She’s 26 and looks like she’s 20. (Her words). She has a passion for beans, for coffee. And, after listening to her preso, she really knows coffee!

“Coffee has really taken me on a trip all around the world.” Anya Sereda

Her job sounds amazing. Out in the field doing her work… She noticed the ways that some people have treated her due to the issue of her youth and gender. She acknowledges her strengths and knowledge in the field and how it can at times be difficult for people to take her seriously. Happy sigh that my teen is here listening to this and hope it’s insightful to her and the rest of us in the audience.

The next speaker, Marissa Goodwin, reflected on her experience with her business Organicfair and the farm that she and her family run! She shared compelling stories about the level of sexism within the industry. We have more work to do! Looking at her bio it’s nice to see that their company includes 99% women employees. They are making change day to day in their work and their philosophy. Organicfair is based in Cobble Hill not too far from the Greater Victoria Region. Overall, Goodwin is another trailblazer! You, go!

The last speaker Katie McDonald is a mixologist who works at Veneto Tapa Lounge in Hotel Rialto. She has avoided thinking about being female in her career. She knows it’s there. “This elephant in the room.” I have to say that this is really common with lots of women—ignoring gender. But, she notes that we do need to think about gender. I like that she brought up equality and difference. Oh, those debates have not been resolved years later. Really? Some men call themselves, “Cocktailologist.” OK. She says that she’s a Mixologist or Bartender.

“It’s a dirty job. Lots of heavy lifting.” Katie McDonald

Interesting that for every one resume from a woman they field twenty resumes from men. And, this quote below also speaks to another binary in the job or industry. These quotes are telling. I’ll say it again and again: we have more work to do.

“If I’m the best female bartender on the line…you don’t have to compete with me.” Katie McDonald

She’s right, it’s an idealist view if we insist on saying that we’re all just people. This erases different components of identity. I do think that at times when people say this they are coming from a place of privilege and do not think that any difference exist at all. Again, this is in some instances and not meant as a sweeping generalization. And, McDonald notes that she wants to be just another Bartender and not the fact that she’s the “best woman bartender on the island.” On the flip side, she likes seeing women at competitions so that more women can/will attend these competitions. She’s sharing some honest, good points in her preso. I’m really enjoying the frank anecdotes.

“I do notice my gender.” Katie McDonald

Sexism in Golf: Grass is Green

I don’t usually read Golf Digest but this last issue included a few articles related to sexism within the golf world. The first article was “Woman Undercover” by Peter Finch. In this article, professional golfer, Kim Hall, played golf at five different courses assuming a different persona: the stay at home mom, the golf newbie, the pretty golf newbie, the jock, and the LPGA Tour player. She played the golf course according to her role and the anecdotal observations demonstrates that sexism is pervasive on the links. (Is that what they call it? I’ve never golfed before, so who knows.)

I’ve always thought of golf as a patrician sport. To me, golf is a sport that is mostly male and upper class, as it is expensive to play and it is where lots of men (and some women) do business. I read the article with particular interest, as it was suggested to me by the golfer in my household. I opened up the magazine with an open mind considering that he often refers to many a Men’s Health article to me for review.

When I read that the Hall “mom” character shared that she was a mom and was summarily ignored for the rest of the game, I was not too surprised. Western society often does this to mothers—they are boring and have nothing to add. I recall being a new mother and taking time off from my dissertation and seeing people’s eye glaze over, when I shared that I was a new mom. Hall was “just” a mom and the small talk did not take place—she was invisible. Not surprisingly the persona that fielded the most attention and deference was the pretty persona—including red lipstick and more alluring outfit. It was interesting to read how the people she was paired with would leave without her…they didn’t wait! Each of the characters she portrayed was treated with some dismissal though, until Hall played her true game, then the male golfers that she was paired with paid attention. They denied that they had tried to lose her by starting without her, but I think they had “misremembered.”

Hall had a good taste of the way in which she was immediately judged by men based on her dress and golf game. Again, this study was not scientific, but we can certainly draw something from it. I read each anecdotal experience with great interest. And, you would have to live on an island to not know that golf is not a sport that has lots of gender parity and diversity among the golfers. We can thank Babe for opening golf to more women, but that is a different post!

One of the next articles is a short one by Stina Sternberg “Avid Women Golfers Speak Out,” where some statistics are offered about the ways in which women golfers perceive the ways in which they are treated on the golf course. The questions vary from how strangers treat them, when they are paired for a game to how often they garner unsolicited golfing advice by men.

The March 2012 issue was certainly interesting, but I don’t see myself taking up golf anytime soon. But, to students who are thinking of going into business, government or the non-profit sector, lots of people golf, so you might want to take some lessons.

Teachable Moments: Part 1

Recently I had the opportunity to give a talk related to Gender and Public Policy. I spent the talk really talking about the elephant in the room—patriarchy and sexism. I figure that if the students should have an honest conversation about the existence of systemic issues that influence their lives and influence public policy. When I have these conversations with students several things typically happen. There are nodding heads among the students and several who have had sociology or women’s studies and are cognizant of readings or other information. Some people will cross their arms and stop listening—they see women in their classes and as a woman she might not have ever experienced any sexism/racism/classism and what am I talking about in class? This is not her experience. Others are open to the conversation and want to understand where the disconnect it—lots of women on campus, yet not in the workforce. And, then others sit in the class enjoying the question and answer period and are not sure where they stand. They want to see where the chips fall. This is a quick and easy description and certainly not exhaustive.

And, some will offer that women just do not want to be engineers, doctors, politicians, and the like. Their opinion is generally this: if women really wanted to do these things—we would see more women in this array of professions. That is, it’s women’s fault for their lack of success. If women were more ambitious they could have it all, they could do it all.

Well, where do you go with a statement like that? There are so many layers to cut through with that sentiment and logic. And, understand that the student who makes this statement is not looking for a fight or using sarcasm. In my experience, the comment is a common one and usually said without any malice. So, it is not conducive for me to pull a Dana Carvey and say, “No, you’re wrong and here is why.” (This dates me, but I’m thinking of his bit on SNL when he starts saying wrong or no. See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0Yr9XyBdnI&feature=related). The truth is that the person who raised this point is not right or wrong. This person is offering an opinion and the opinion might be based on life experience or just what s/he thinks.

This is ripe teachable moment and my reaction is important for a few reasons:
1. I represent all feminists on the planet in the classroom.
2. If they like my response then I’m OK, but if they don’t, then I’m one of those mean fill in the blank feminists.
3. If I disagree it is read as critical or attacking and I am biased or have a closed mind.
4. If I my explanation is something they can work with then things are salvageable.

Now, those four points are said in a tongue in cheek fashion. You see, it is easier to recover or move on with a conversation when you have a few months with a group, but when you have 50-90 minutes each minute is precious.

What I have attempted to do is respond in such a way that I am open to the statement, but offer an alternative point of view and then call on the audience to participate in the discussion.

What do I do in this situation? I attempt to offer that there are systemic reasons for the different numbers of women in leadership positions, but do not rely on the “they just are not ambitious.” I know too many ambitious women who have left their fields due to the sticky floor and glass ceiling. I know too many young women facing hardship at work and their ambition hits against the reality of issues that are typically outside of their control.

How do you deal with the generalized question about what women want? I look forward to your points.