Men opening doors for women = sexism?

There is a concept in feminist thought known as “the birdcage.” Oppression, according to feminist philosopher Marilyn Frye, is like a birdcage. If you concentrate on just one wire, you don’t see the whole cage, or your own imprisonment within the cage.  In my Gender Women’s Studies class, we discussed whether or not a man opening a door for a woman is sexist. Those who spoke in class unanimously agreed that it is sexist, and feminist should reject that particular social practice.

 After I left my GWSS class the other day, I couldn’t stop thinking about that particular “wire” in the “birdcage.” Do I really think that a man opening a door for a woman is one of these wires? The conclusion I continued to reach was a decided “no.”

As a woman, I know that I am capable of opening my own door. I am under no illusion that I need a man to open a door for me. If I am on a date and my date opens the door for me, I certainly do not feel that I am being oppressed. Nor do I feel offended that he was clearly socialized in an oppressive (towards women) society. Often, it is the man’s parents who have taught him to open doors for women he takes out, and they teach it to him as a formal sign of respect. Because my date’s intention in opening the door is not sexist–rather, it is grounded in respect for women–I do not have a problem with it in the least. In fact, I would rather that anyone I date always open the door for me. Furthermore, in our culture, we teach others that opening doors for people in general is polite. Assuming a man is only opening a door for a woman because she is a woman is oftentimes untrue, and thus, it is not sexist.

Ultimately, being upset about men opening doors is the kind of thing that gives femists a bad name. There are much bigger fish to fry, and, pursuant to Frye’s “birdcage” analogy, we need to stop concentrating on one “wire” when we really need to step back, look at the whole birdcage, and  find the door out.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Feminism Means to Me

As someone who identifies as a feminist, I feel the need to define what feminism means for me. The best I can do is explain my beliefs concerning feminism as they currently are, with the knowledge that they will evolve and probably end up differently from what I now believe.

As I type this, my fingernails are painted red, my hair is styled and I am wearing makeup and a push-up bra. Can I still be a feminist? While I agree with Jessica Valenti that everyone can create their own definition of feminism that works for them, according to my personal definition that is only meant to dictate my own brand of feminism, yes. I am still a feminist, even with all the accoutrements of a woman victimized by the patriarchy.

My definition of feminism (for myself only) is this: Embracing traditionally feminine characteristics while simultaneously working to empower and better the lives of other women, whether that empowerment be through example, action or the written word. My belief is that “femininity” (as defined by our patriarchal culture) is a powerful tool for advancing the cause of feminism. Sexists and misogynists need to see that a stereotypical woman can also be a feminist. In this way, femininity and feminism would no longer seem to be at odds with each other.

My personal experience being one such feminine feminist has been that I come off as a strong woman, not just a strong person. I think that identifying as a strong woman is imperative to combat sexism, an issue that directly concerns gender. Furthermore, the stereotype of the “butch,” “dyke-y” feminist only encourages disdain from others, which does feminist ideology itself a great disservice. Thus, the gender I perform is integral to my personal definition of feminism.

Drug war on our doorstep: Why marijuana should be legalized

Personally, I will never smoke marijuana, nor do I think it is necessarily a good thing that others do so. However, my opinion about the morality of personal marijuana use is irrelevant in the face of strong evidence that it must be legalized.

There is no reason why marijuana should be treated differently than alcohol and tobacco in terms of its legality. All of them are bad for you, and all of them are worse for you the more you use. Nearly 100 million Americans acknowledge having used marijuana during their lives. It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals for their use of a substance that does not have drastically different  health risks than alcohol or tobacco—especially because it costs so much to prosecute all marijuana related arrests. A better and more sensible solution would be to tax and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco.

This measure would accomplish several things: First, it would address the health issue of marijuana use. Dealers often add more ingredients to their particular stash of marijuana so they can sell more, and therefore profit more. These additives are mostly worse for you than the actual marijuana, and can be lethal. If the government regulated marijuana like it does tobacco and alcohol, it would also have the power to regulate what goes into it, thereby making it much safer and getting rid of lethal additives. Legalization would reduce health care costs by reducing the probability of overdoses and accidental ingestion of an unintended drug—situations that will remain prevalent without government implemented product safety standards.

Legalizing marijuana would greatly impact the covert nature of the marijuana trade itself. Dealers are the ones in power now, what with their ability to, in large-scale cases, greatly threaten the safety of the general public. One example is the drug war in Mexico (in which 10,000 people have already been killed), another is drug related violence we hear about every day on local news. Dealers are the source of the danger, and if the government stepped in and legalized marijuana, there would be much less need for dealers.

Economically, it makes sense to legalize and regulate marijuana. Prohibition entails direct enforcement costs, and prohibition prevents taxation of marijuana production and sale. First, legalization eliminates arrests for trafficking in addition to eliminating arrests for possession. Second, legalization saves prosecutorial, judicial and incarceration expenses.

   Harvard University Professor Jeffrey A. Miron created a report endorsed by over 500 economists titled The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition. The report shows that taxing and regulating marijuana  in the same way as alcohol or tobacco might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually for a state’s individual budget, and upwards of $300 billion nationally.

Many are concerned that, with legalization, suddenly there will be an increase in marijuana use. What they don’t realize is that people who want to smoke a joint can obtain marijuana very easily anyway. Those who want to use it already can- its legality or lack thereof wouldn’t change that.

To put one’s faith in the anti-drug movement is to ignore the fact that it just isn’t working. We are now in the same position we were in during Prohibition. Everyone who wanted alcohol could already obtain it, and eventually, the country was forced to acknowledge that their efforts to put an end to alcohol consumption had failed.

I am by no means suggesting that we just “give in”—I am suggesting that we assess the situation without a cloud of cultural stigma impeding our ability to see reality. In order to accomplish this, marijuana must be legalized, and in doing that, we can protect the health of a significant portion of our population, eliminate middlemen from the marijuana industry and profit economically.


Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 5:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why We Need a New Political Party

The abyss created by America’s recent culture wars only grows deeper as it divides the far-right Republicans and those who are conservative, but socially liberal. My own father, for example, is a lifelong Republican, yet he doesn’t support the socially conservative agenda being pushed by his party’s vice presidential and presidential candidates. The disparity between the two groups of conservatives has only grown wider with this election, and now, cautious fiscal conservatives are no longer represented by the party that has instead adopted a slash-and-burn approach to economic policy (i.e. McCain’s proposed spending freeze). In much the same way, fiscal conservatives/social liberals no longer have a political party that truly represents them. They are now forced to choose between two candidates who they don’t feel strongly about one way or another. I would recommend that independents and fiscal conservatives/social liberals form their own political party. Hopefully, the extremist philosophy of social conservatism would fade away election after election, leaving the U.S. without the ideological dead weight that inhibits societal progress.

What Europe Taught Me About American Politics

“Bush est une erreur,” my cab driver said as we sped away from the Charles DeGaulle Airport.

“OUI!” I replied.

My cab driver, clad in a Rochas jacket and driving a Mercedes, quickly became my first insight into the European view of American politics. I was quite fascinated by the little gray-haired Frenchman, who was eager to talk to me about the presidential candidates of a country that he had never visited and to which, as he told me, the French felt increasingly alienated. I immediately felt guilty that my knowledge of the French president Sarkozy consists of a partially-read article from The Economist, a Vogue article about his wife, Carla Bruni, and the fact that he looks freakily like my French teacher.

I met quite a few Obama supporters in Europe, including a Danish tour guide, a good-looking German businessman, some intellectual Californians, two cab drivers, several random members of our tour group, and assorted French people. I even saw an Obama pin attached to someone’s beret!

While Republicans go on our news channels and repeat the same refrain that got us into trouble in the first place, that of “We Don’t Care What Europe Thinks Because They Don’t Vote In The Election,” Europe has made it clear to me that America would reclaim its benevolent image with an Obama presidency. There is no other way to put it, but I am so flipping tired of listening to the crazy Religious Right spouting the same divisive jargon that led to the election of the most harmful president in American history. It MATTERS what Europe thinks because the world is more interconnected than ever before, and we cannot pretend that our level of interconnection with the world doesn’t exist. A policy of diplomacy is one of the main attributes absent in the Bush administration, and it won’t change by electing John McCain, who dismissed Obama’s desire for talking out our differences as “a failed policy.” If we stop our saber-rattling, “We’re America, Dammit” approach to foreign policy, then hopefully we’ll be able to reach a point where we can talk to our enemies and say “I do agree,” just as the Danish tour guide said as she pointed at my Obama pin.

“Mama’s Girl”

Let me begin by explaining that I have a very unusual relationship with my mom. Unlike many people my age, I don’t hate, resent, or want to differentiate myself from my mom. I’m happy that I look just like her and that I have the same tendency to talk with my hands in a way that’s worthy of even the most enthusiastic Italian (though we’re not Italian). I steal her clothes, jewelry and makeup all the time and she’s totally Ok with it. I’m happy to hear her wisdom (most of the time) in the wonderfully new-age-y way she provides it (self-help books, pep talks and mantras, etc). My mom has never stopped believing in me, even when I have my moments of self-doubt. I have no idea how I will ever live up to her: She raises three kids, works and still manages to come home and make dinner worthy of any five-star restaurant. Every night. And she’s personable and fun to be around, too!

My dilemma is that I am undeniably a “mama’s girl.” When I go to college, I’ll have to pack her up in a suitcase and bring her with me. I’ll have to have an embarrassing backpack because I’ll need to carry her around in it from class to class- school rules be damned! My roommate will have to move out into the hallway and I’ll get hated.

Ok, so I exaggerate a little. But the bottom line is that I have always been a mama’s girl and always will be. A while ago, my mom and I were brushing our teeth and discussing John McCain’s budget plan simultaneously. As I spit out the toothpaste foam to emphasize my distaste with J. McC, I realized that not many parents discuss politics with their election-coverage-happy children the way my mother does, and that I’m pretty lucky.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama! Je t’aime!

Published in: on May 11, 2008 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The personification of hope

A month or two ago, as I was at Mock Trial State Championships in Springfield, IL. On a dreary Saturday afternoon my team and I went out to lunch at a restaurant called McCarthy’s. They have a few flat screen TV’s mounted on the walls near the bar, and one of them was turned to CNN. As the rest of my team gathered around our coaches and watched some sports game, I made my way over to the CNN TV. It must’ve been on mute, because no sound was coming out. However, Barack Obama was speaking. Though I couldn’t hear a word he said, I stood and watched. Obama’s charisma was visible even without words to convey it, and for some indefinable reason, I find watching him speak comforting.

As I stood there watching the silent TV in the otherwise empty part of the bar area, I saw an African-American man, probably in his early 30’s, sweeping the floor. I noticed that he kept looking up at the TV screen, and that he was likewise watching Obama speak. Gradually, he came closer to where I was standing, and for a moment, he stopped sweeping altogether to watch the silent screen. There we stood- a macchiato-sipping, white, female high school student and an African-American custodian in his 30’s. We stood together in silence and watched Obama speak.

Once Obama’s speech was finished and the screen showed a CNN news anchor instead, the man asked me, “Is there anything I can get you?” The spell had broken.

That moment reminds me of a conversation I later had with Senator Dick Durbin. He said that he has never seen a politician inspire people the way Barack Obama does.

In that moment, in that dark bar at McCarthy’s in Springfield, IL, I experienced that firsthand. The custodian and I were brought together for a brief moment in lives that would probably never again cross paths, yet that moment illustrates Obama’s effect on America. That effect is unification of people from all backgrounds, and it is an effect that we desperately need. Obama brings us back to what it truly means to be an American by bringing people back to the core values of our nation- the belief in the inherent goodness of man, the necessity of a government that truly represents the people, and the inalienable right of freedom.

I realize that hearing Obama’s words as he spoke wouldn’t have been necessary. His message of hope and unity was personified by we, his audience, and in that way he communicated on a level beyond words.

Published in: on April 16, 2008 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lessons from a fat chihuahua

Chihuahua and DemocratMy chihuahua’s name is Zuzu. Zuzu is fat. Zuzu is fat and happy.

I am about to begin an extremely extended metaphor- so bear with me!

My chihuahua is much like our nation at this point in time. The mind is concerned with instant gratification rather than long-term wellbeing (Yes, you, W!), the body is large and somewhat inactive (like our nation due to obesity and job loss) and the legs are tiny, skinny and shaky with the effort it takes to hold up the extra girth, much like the instability of our economy.

Continuing the metaphor, Zuzu, like our president, just takes a nap (metaphorically) in response to the Chinese government’s crackdown on peaceful Tibetan protesters. I mean, come ON, Zuzu! Start petitioning! Her inaction only enables their tyranny.

Maybe W. would care more about the Tibetans’ plight if there were oil in Tibet… Just as Zuzu would care more if she knew a biscuit was waiting for her there.

I should apologize to my little rolly-polly chihuahua for comparing her to our current government/the Bush administration. She’s probably an illegal immigrant, anyway, so she’s most likely a Democrat.

Published in: on April 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm  Comments (3)