Home » Articles posted by meganhmackenzie (Page 15)

Author Archives: meganhmackenzie

Let’s (Keep) Talking About Sex

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

Foreign Policy just published its latest issue online. The letters section includes a response that expands on my earlier blog post calling the recent “Sex” issue a Teen Magazine. For those interested in reading further, my letter points FP editors to a wider range of scholarship and contributors they might have considered and challenges them to reconsider gender as only a ‘special issue:’
“Women are half the population (are we still having this discussion?), and norms associated with gender and identity affect everyone. So forget the special issues. Instead, start publishing more articles that focus on gender and pay more attention to the excellent research on gender, feminism, and sex that is happening all around you. Your readers will thank you.”
This echos Charli Carpenter’s excellent post on the issue, which included a dos and don’t list for anyone considering a gender/sex/sexuality issue, and reminded the editors of FP that “you can’t just assert that “sex is the missing part of the equation” and that this works “to shore up the abusers and perpetuate the marginalization of half of humanity” and then tell us that besides “this one issue” (which by the way mostly focuses on sexuality, not on women’s issues or gender relations broadly) you’ve done your due diligence…”

FP Issue is More Teenage Pop Mag than ‘Sex’ Issue

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

After reading the FP special ‘sex’ issue this week I had the strangest feeling. It was like I woke up and it was 1991 and I was 13 again reading teen magazines. After reading Charli’s excellent post on the issue I couldn’t help but chime in. You see, I know that one of the obvious retorts to some of the criticism that has been waged about the issue will be ‘Hey, it was meant to raise a few issues and have some fun while we’re at it. We’re riffing off the Cosmo style ‘sex’ issue and just mixing it up. Lighten up.” Ok, fair play FP. But keeping with that theme let me start by saying that most of the issue was more like a teeny bopper mag rather than a sex issue (with some excellent exceptions). You’ve missed the target audience FP, and you are behind about 20 years in research. Parts of the issue was sort of like having an article on “a girl’s first period’ in a magazine aimed at adult women and men (oh yeah, I went there). Here are a four pointers on how to write a real sex issue.

1. When you read a Teen Mag you expect banal questions like “who is the sexiest teacher/leader/football player,” but even a low grade pop magazine wouldn’t publish the idiotic list of answers you got re: world leaders (which included Vladmir Putin and “those in South Africa and Muslim countries”). You might as well have just published “brown men” as one of the answers. When adults respond to surveys in ‘sex’ issues you’d hope they can at least remember the names of the brown bodies they fetishize. Why not just have a bunch of photos of politicians and have us rate them ‘hot’ or ‘not’?


2. When you asked why there should be more women in politics you collected answers that covered almost every single cliche: they are more peaceful, they think more about children, they are multitaskers…I guess for the full effect you could have asked someone to mention puppies, gardening, and aprons too…but not exactly sexy right?

3. The article, ‘The Most Powerful Women you’ve never Heard‘ of, must have also been aimed at teens. If your readers have never heard of any of these women then they haven’t been reading the news, preparing for lectures, watching TV, or generally participating in public life. So, like, duh. We know they are powerful- now how about some analysis? This list was like a “60 Sex Tips” article that wouldn’t help the reader undo a bra. Talk about a “most embarrassing moment” FP!!

4. The cover images? That Miley Cyrus-esque Vogue-naked-hunched-pose combined with elements of Muslim/war porn-fetishism is interesting but really below you, don’t you think? Also, paint the woman blue and you’ve got the playbill for Blueman group too, so there may be copyright issues with that.
FP, maybe its time to take the survey: “Are you totally out of the loop?” when it comes to gender and sex. Next time you want to write a sex issue, call in (more) of the experts.

Roseanne vs Kim: TV icons and the Republican ‘war on women’

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

Over the last few weeks it has been hard not to get overwhelmed by all the headlines related to the Republican primaries and women. There has been theRush Limbaugh fiasco, with Rush outdoing his usual dink-guisting self by calling law student Sarah Fluke a slut. This has been followed by outrageous comments from almost all the Republican candidates: Romney just declared that he would get rid of planned parenthood, Newt has had a consistent ‘woman problem‘ (and I don’t mean his two ex-wives), and Santorum has had a string of great one-liners, including the recent declaration that sex should only be within marriage and for pro-creation (hmm that’s what my 10th grade biology teacher told us at Catholic school too, and half my female classmates ended up pregnant). This has been topped off with Fox News commentators adding to the accusations of female birth control users as ‘wanting to be paid to have sex.’

All this chaos surrounding birth control, sex, and women’s rights leads me to ask one question:What would Roseanne Bar do?

Seriously, as each of these women’s issues get’s raised and dragged back to the dark ages by Republican candidates or commentators I can’t help but think of the good old days, when (1) it felt like we’d settled birth control and abortion as a woman’s right (I think it was 1993 when Roseanne had a ‘frank’ discussion with Becky about birth control- the show also dealt with abortion around 1996); (2) when we accepted that families came in all forms and classes (there were divorces, single moms, and Roseanne was one of the first TV shows to feature a lesbian couple, who controversially kissed in an episode); (3)when we stopped talking about ‘family values’ because we started asking ‘whose family?’ and ‘what values?’; and (4) when women actually took risks and did something with their lives in television shows (in the first season Roseanne works at a dead end factory job and through the seasons we watch her struggle to stay employed, often working two part-time jobs).

So what would the 1990s Roseanne think about the procreation, abstinence, use-an-asprin-between-your-knees as birth control moment we are faced in American politics today?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t look to television as a ‘beacon of morality’. But it might not be a coincidence that the TV ‘women of the moment’ today stand in stark contrast to the working-class shit disturber hero that was Roseanne. In fact, you also don’t have to look far to see the Republican ideal of the virginal, unemployed, simple woman reaffirmed on our TV screens today: House Wives of Atlanta/New York/New Jersey, and the Kardashians anyone?

In these (sur)reality shows women really do seem to have sex for money, they don’t have jobs (do they?), and they certainly aren’t interested in politics.

What do we make of the shift in the representation of women both within political commentary and within our entertainment programs? How can we start to see the Republican war on women as something being waged within the episodes on vaginoplasty and Kim’s wedding preparations? How, in 2012, do the Kardashians of the TV waves allow the space for a reversal of debates (not just about birth control, but also about class, race, and sexuality) that we had more space to talk about in the early 1990s?

And- most importantly- where’s Roseanne when you need her?

All Male Soldiers are Rapists and all Female Soldiers are Weak Homewreckers: Fox News on Female Soldiers

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

I mostly try to let Fox News polemics slide past me like water off a ducks back. It was easy to dismiss Liz Trotta’s first rant about the proposed changes to the US military, which will allow more women into front-line positions (and recognize those women who are already in these posts) but the second iteration, in which she clarifies her position (and clearly reads a diatribe from a prompter) demands another interruption to my blogging hiatus. We should start with a briefing of Liz-isms, including: “hardline feminist,” “feminist biology,” and “feminist creed.” Let’s see if these become clear after a quick view of her main arguments:
1. The women and combat issue has “never gotten a fair and open hearing” and has instead been established as a “fait accompli” by “hardline feminists.”
2. These same hardline feminists have helped to fabricate “silly and dishonest fairy tales about women’s heroism in war” to support their case for removing the exclusion.
3. Biology is destiny and that men are facing “feminist biology” and having to work with weaker women.
4. Testosterone rules in war and that in closed combat “basic instincts” take over, which put women at risk.
5. Signs of abuse within the military are all too often used to support the “never enough bureaucracy of women victims within the armed forces.”

Let’s just leave her rant about pregnant women and the desecration of the American family aside for now and work with these 5. First, the women and combat issue has received almost as many open hearings as Fox has failed Republican hosts. Liz herself cites the 1991 Senate hearing on the issue and fails to note that the policy changes she is talking about came as a result of a commission initiated by Congress. Second, Trotta cites the Jessica Lynch fabrication as evidence that women’s participation in combat more generally has been essentially ‘made up.’ The Lynch debacle is something to take note of precisely because the fairy tale it created was one of female victimhood and male heroism. Why turn to this example of military propaganda when there is other evidence of women’s participation in combat- for example, women make up 16% of the fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions and several have won medals for their contributions to combat missions in Iraq. Trotta is right on the third point in the sense that women do measure up differently than men in physical standards tests. But, as reported in a previous blog, the military chose to have sex-specific testing- not because it wanted women to have lower standards, but as part of a recognition of physical difference and the requirements needed to test job capacity rather than meet the male standard. And PS Liz, biology isn’t destiny because according to experts like Maia Goodell, over 5% of women are kicking men’s butts on physical standards tests. The AVERAGE women has less upper body strength and endurance than men, but the military often attracts and creates above average female candidates. The fourth and fifth points that Trotta makes are the most troubling. This ‘basic instinct’ argument is a thrown back to prehistoric analysis of men as incapable of controlling their drive and their genitalia. The argument is insulting to men and ignores subsequent evidence that women and men can work in close proximity without men feeling obliged to rape. As for the sexual violence statistics- surely this is evidence of a major gender problem within the military rather than proof that women need to be kept out.
How did we get here Liz (I feel like we’re on a first name basis since you call feminists whatever you want)? What is your objective? Who are these crazy hardline feminists you speak of and why are you so cynical and dismissive of a “feminist creed” focused on “the right to choose, rights over one’s body etc” as you put it? Why are you and other Republicans like Santorum making this about family values rather than seeing it as a sign the changing reality of the US military (and others)? Australia, Canada and 12 other countries have NO restrictions on women in combat roles and the family structure has not disappeared, men do not rape every female in their proximity, and feminists have not overrun the countries with their irrational cries for respect, rights, and recognition.

Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, and Grammy Irony

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

This Sunday the 2012 Grammy Awards attracted more attention than normal due to the untimelypassing of Whitney Houston on the eve of the awards show.
During the Sunday night event,numerous artists dedicated their award to Houston or mentioned her amazing talents and the loss her death will mean to the industry.
Interestingly, running counter to this somber dedication theme of the evening was a notable counter story: the ordained comeback of Chris Brown’s career. Chris Brown was made infamous in 2009 when he was charged with beating his then girlfriend Rihanna. Images of a brutalized Rihanna surfaced across the web and Brown’s skyrocketing career was effectively snuffed out with big names in the business like Jay-Z and Kanye refusing to associate with the artist.
But that was 2009 and this is 2012. Since the incident Brown has had a subsequent album that rose to the top of the charts. He’s back in favor with key R&B players, and is largely viewed as one of R&B’s sexiest males (Glamour.com nominated him the hottest male solo artist in 2010).
The 360 turn-around for Brown culminated at the Grammys on Sunday, where he performed alongside the other industry top-players, and won for best R&B album.
There are several troubling aspects of these counter-themes to Grammys.
First, that a man who was publicly associated with domestic abuse would be so generously celebrated at the same awards show that made tribute to Whitney Houston, a woman who herself suffered a public battle with domestic abuse from her former husband Bobby Brown.
Second, the music industry’s general amnesia or hypocritical acceptance of an artist it chose to shun just three years ago- what about all the hype in 2009 about sending a message about violence and respecting women?
Finally, what’s most concerning has been some of the unexpected responses to, and defense of, Chris Brown’s return- including a surge in women not only supporting him, but also sending tweets about their desire to ‘be beaten’ by him (see the following summary of tweets if you want to be completely dismayed).
What does this all mean about the state of domestic abuse generally, and the music industry and its promotion of womanizing, degrading, and violent lyrics and artists? Does no one connect Houston’s drug abuse to her experience of domestic abuse and her tumultuous private life? I don’t look to awards shows to stand as moral beacons, but I do think it is worth considering these counter Grammy narratives as a signal of the state of popular culture and gender relations at the moment.

What ‘Hot’ Guys Can Tell us About Masculinities and Social Norms

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

My second option for a title was: ‘How to teach masculinities by looking at pictures of handsome men.’ (Note: this photo was sent to me as a humor-gift from one of my students…I didn’t do it myself!)

Feminist Ryan Gosling, a website featuring photos of actor Ryan Gosling posed next to intelligent quips about feminist politics is a perfect tool to use in a lecture on gender- no really. Why has this website gone viral (it was even re-posted on the Duck last week)? We know from movies and interviews that Gosling is buff (he sports a mean six pack in Crazy Stupid Love) and tough (he recently broke up a fighton the street in NYC)- classic ‘manly’ stuff. Bim Adewumni at the Guardian goes further in her answer to the question ‘Why do Feminists love Gosling?’ claiming “It goes beyond looks. He was raised by a single mother to whom he’s close, and he waxes lyrical about his female co-stars and ex-girlfriends. Guys love him too- he kissed Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn on the Cannes red carpet…Basically, he’s perfect.” Putting him next to feminist engagement is so unexpected that viewers seem to find it titillating and super-sexy (or so I’ve heard). Discussions of these types of gender contrasts, as well as broader debates of who is considered a male icon (sexy, ‘hot’) at particular moments in time can actually be very useful when trying to talk about different forms of masculinity and the social expectations placed on men and women in class.

Every year when I give my first lecture on gender I struggle to find new ways to make it resonate with students. Most men in the class assume that gender is ‘not about them’ or that they can’t say anything in a gender lecture without getting lashed from me or the female students. The female students- on the other hand- appear equally isolated in lectures on gender: they seem to feel like they are supposed to have an opinion or respond a certain way about gender.

Each year I start this lecture with a brainstorming session- getting students to list the qualities associated with both masculinity and femininity. Then we have a chat about what characteristics are valued in different roles or different elements of society. I often put a box around the set of characteristics- to illustrate gender stereotypes and social expectations- and have them talk about how individual men or women that have characteristics that are outside their sex-specific box are often seen as different- or even problematic. For example, a guy who is otherwise quite ‘manly’ but spends too much time on his hair and clothing choices is meterosexual (students still think this categorization is hilarious). If this same guy was less ‘manly’ (too sensitive, too weak etc) people would probably assume he was gay- he would be too far outside his gender box. We think Ryan Gosling with feminist quotes is sexy because it is just slightly outside of the box- the contrast is interesting and exciting. He seems even more manly because he can pose next to quotations about Enloe or Mohanty but still flex his arms and seem pensive.

While working in and out of these boxes can be a boon for your hotness factor, the problem is that these boxes cause all kinds of problems for individuals who don’t fit in them. Take gay male military service members. Somehow people can’t quite get their heads around a physically dominating man serving his country in one of the most hyper-masculine institutions in the world. The public- and policy makers- have often assumed that gay servicemen must be somehow weaker and less able to bond with their platoons- that they are a threat to the military somehow. Surely they can’t embody hypermasculinity AND want to have sex with men? It is a real head trip for people with strict gender boxes.

So next time you see something like the Feminist Ryan Gosling, or semi-pornographic photos of women in bikinis with AK47s, websites like Hot Navy Chicks (for real) that feature female service members that are also apparently sexy- remember that the reason why these are sexy and exciting is that they challenge the gender stereotypes we have engraved in our minds. Unfortunately, while Feminist Ryan Gosling and other gender contrasts may have elements of ‘inside/outside’ the box, they don’t exactly do much to erase our gender boundaries. That said, I think its safe to say that these photos will keep my students awake and engaged through my first gender lecture of the year next year…we can slowly work on getting rid of the boxes.

New Zealand’s Oil Spill and the myth of its ‘100% Pure’ image

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

With the rugby world cup semi-final only a few days away, it would take something like abroken ship dumping tons of oil and chemicals onto the country’s beaches to get the country to talk anything besides the All Blacks… Wait… New Zealand is all about environmental protection, green energy, clean air (and funny guys like Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Concords) isn’t it? I mean, what is a ship with oil even doing near this environmental mecca?

Given that the country prides itself on its green and clean image, and given that there is an election in a month, you would think this would be a major story here. Yet, a week after a cargo ship loaded with oil and other toxic materials hit a reef off the cost of the North Island, most Kiwis are remain more fired up about the upcoming match between the All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies. No one seems to mind that the ship may break at any moment, or that it is dumping oil at a rate five times higher than originally projected. It took nearly a week before its major newspaper, the Dominion Post, featured the story on its cover (not a huge surprise considering that it recently featured a cover with two birds that collided mid-air and today is covering the story of a family that got lost in a corn maze in Massacusetts, of course). The gallons of oil dumping into the ocean and the apathetic media and public in New Zealand seems at odds with its lucrative 100% Pure tourism campaign.

Perhaps this is Peter Jackson’s fault with the Lord of the Rings, or perhaps its just because the country is do damn far from everywhere else that few people actual get to check the place out and see if the reality lives up to the hype/myth. Having lived here for almost two and a half years now I can say with confidence that there are three myths associated with New Zealand that are just fallacy.

1. New Zealand is not 100% Pure
2. Kiwis are just like Canadians and New Zealand is just like Canada
3. New Zealand is a feminist country, with progressive policies related to women.

The first myth is the most important for the moment. The myth here is that New Zealand is not only clean and pure- it is cleaner and more pure than most other places in the world.

By contrast to the stunning images of mountain ranges and untouched native bush and forest, an unfortunate reality is that New Zealand has increasingly relied on farming- especially diary farming- as a primary industry. This isn’t the kind of farming that involves a few dozen cattle crazing on pristine grass- it is a massive industrial, clear cutting, dirty industry.

Greenpeace New Zealand has directly attacked the 100% Pure campaign, focusing on the growing dairy industry in the country and its environmental impacts. 49% of emissions come from the agricultural sector- the growth of the sector has resulted in massive deforestation of native forest, the use of fertilizers and chemicals in the soil, and industries burn coal to process dairy milk powder for exportation- Fonterra (the largest dairy producer) alone burns 450,000 tonnes of coal per year. This combined with the gasses that the cattle themselves emit contributes to a massive environmental problem for a small country. Also, although NZ does use a great deal of wind power, there is evidence that wider environmental policies are relatively weak with WWF New Zealand recently criticizing the local Emissions Trading Scheme for making “further extensions of the loopholes in an already weakened and flawed scheme.”

As for the last two myths- I’ll leave those for now because as a Canadian living in Kiwi-land I’m not exactly objective. Sorry New Zealand. You are truly amazing- beautiful, slow, and isolated- but like many countries, your myths are preventing you from dealing with reality. When the rugby world cup hangover subsides the country will have to wake up and face a serious environmental disaster washing up on the North Shores.

Obama ‘how’s that hopey changey stuff working for ya?”

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

As the Occupy Wall Street New York movement enters its second week of activity and the movement spreads to LA, Boston, Chicago, Denver and other cities across the country, the silence on the part of the Obama administration becomes more and more noticeable (we can’t count Biden’s weird and incoherent references to the movement in an interviewyesterday). Few expected Obama to come out with any statement last week, when the media was still painting the movement largely as a band of hippies who don’t know enough to shower, let alone drive a political movement. Dan Gainor at Fox news pointed out that these individuals did not represent the 99%, that they may not even be real Americans, and they certainly didn’t have a movement with traction.

But its October 5th, and there are thousands (there aren’t any specific ideas of numbers yet) of protesters RIGHT NOW who have marched through the city to Zuccotti Park. Backed by one of the cities biggest unions, and joined by thousands of students participating in a national day of protest, one thing is not undeniable: this is a political movement speaking not only about corporate greed, but also about government failure.

Most of us know all this, what we don’t know is what Obama has to say about all of it. And for the first time since I heard her shrill voice spit out these words, I feel Palin’s taunt “how’s that hopey changey stuff workin for ya?’ somehow seems appropriate here (or at least its the first time I can think of the line and not want to hurt Palin). If Obama doesn’t have the political savvy to come out at least with a statement of understanding and support, surely his advisers must be telling him to do so?

Many of the chants resonating through the Occupy Wall Street movement seem to echo lines from Obama’s election campaign.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
“Change doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”

Can you really run a campaign on change, hope, speaking to the average American and ending Wall street greed but then remain silent when thousands of Americans (likely many of whom voted for you) start a peaceful political movement asking for a voice and for change? In my mind Obama has already missed the boat in terms of his chance to connect with this movement. The initial silence went from tentative, to awkward, and now is just insulting. These are the issues that American’s want to talk about and the longer Obama remains silent, the more he looses his right to cast himself as the hopey changey presidential candidate in 2012.

The Aussie Military Accepts GI Janes into the Ranks

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

While the US and UK continue to debate the ways that women impact cohesion and combat effectiveness, effective immediately, the Australian military will allow women to participate in combat roles. Australia joins a small group of countries that have removed combat restrictions for women, which includes Canada, New Zealand, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Serbia, Israel and Switzerland.

Several individuals within the Australian Defence Forces I’ve spoken to over the last year have indicated that this policy change has been a long-time coming. Defence Minister Stephen Smith came out several months ago indicating his support for the policy change– even in the face of national concern and criticism. Despite warning signals from the department of defence, several national media outlets and opposition leaders are calling the policy a gimmick and an attempt to distract attention from recent sex scandals associated with the military, including the now infamous ‘skype scandal’ involving the un-consented broadcasting of a sexual encounter within a military academy. Neil James of the Australian Defence Association said that the policy ‘jumped the gun’ and warned that there could be more female casualties if women were allowed to serve in all combat roles.

One former naval officer told ABC radio that she didn’t expect many women to meet the physical requirements for some of these positions but that “it just has to be done, and I think Australia’s very brave to do this.”

The impact this policy change will have on the Australian military and its ability to recruit and retain women can only be measured in time. But if other military’s experiences of gender integration are any indication, this policy will largely be forgotten in a few months and women who meet the physical requirements will enter these roles with little fanfare. Perhaps this renewed debate will spark attention back in the US, where policy-makers and the US government still cling to weak arguments about the need to keep women out of combat.

Obama Reveals his Superhero Powers at the UN

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

The world has been watching this week as the Palestinian Government prepares to make a bidto the Security Council for recognition as an independent state. Many thought Obama had backed himself into a corner with a statement last year declaring his support for Palestinian statehood. But never fear, the President’s propensity to dilute astute political goals to the point of meaninglessness appears to be limitless. In fact, if Obama was a superhero it is likely that his power would be to retract from lofty political objectives and political commitments at the speed of light. He entices victims with incredible speeches about change, ethics, and possibility and then inflicts disappointment, dissolution and disbelief to all in his realm of influence. In fact, he is SO talented that many victims have fallen into his charming trap more than once.
Many don’t want to see Obama’s dark side. Furthermore, with the scary Big Brother cast of rejects that make up the Republican candidates it becomes easier to hold on to fantasies of Obama’s potential as a good guy.
“He just needs more time, he’s under so much pressure, he inherited such a mess…” yeah yeah, we got it. But this week the President had an opportunity to follow through on his word. To make a politically difficult decision and support Palestinian statehood. Instead of sticking his neck out he gave a rambling UN speech that included a statement likening Palestinian requests for statehood to a ‘shortcut’ and declaring that “peace will not come through statement and a resolution at the UN.” I fell into your trap Obama- again. You got me on guantanamo bay and health care too. But now I see the superpower talent and I’m not going to get caught by your tactics again.