Friday, January 11, 2008

Full Frontal Feminism

The picture is of author Jessica Valenti and her book of last year which was written especially for young women of college age. The image illustrates an interview with her at Salon .

A man met a lad weeping. "What do you weep for?" he asked.
"I am weeping for my sins," said the lad.
"You must have little to do," said the man.
The next day they met again. Once more the lad was weeping. "Why do you weep now?" asked the man.
"I am weeping because I have nothing to eat," said the lad.
"I thought it would come to that," said the man.

---Robert Louis Stevenson

If you don't find God in the next person you meet, it's a waste of time looking for him further.

---Mohandas K. Gandhi

Drinking his morning tea
the monk is at peace.


I've been trying to think how I got interested in civil rights. I know it was all the way back in early childhood, even though there was no "movement" to speak of then nor was my normal white family particularly involved in politics or social problems. What I think did it was a Walt Disney movie from 1946, which would have put me in 1st grade. Anything Walt made was OK, even though Mom worried about the scary parts in every one. To this day my worst fears can be traced to Snow White running and lost in the forest, or the disappearance of Bambi's mother, or especially the transformation of Lampwick into a mule in Pinocchio---all done with animated shadows...and sound. Neverthless, as a family we saw everything that came out, and so it was with a film called Song Of The South.

By '46, Disney was experimenting with live action and much less animation interspersed. Song Of The South is about a little boy, played by Bobby Driscoll, who lives on a big plantation in the South, although I don't remember that it was exactly slavery times. At any rate, he wanders one day into the area where his father's black workers live and meets a man known as Uncle Remus, played by James Baskett. The whole situation is a setup for Remus to tell the kid 3 of the stories about Brer Rabbit, collected in the writings of Joel Chandler Harris. Of course we shift to cartoons then, but it's the only animation I remember...except for the bluebirds when Uncle Remus sings the Oscar-winning song from the film Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

OK, if you're wincing at some thoughts of stereotype here, you're not alone. In the 1960s, the NAACP protested to Disney about the movie...and it was withdrawn. The song and the Brer Rabbit sequences still can be found here and there, but apparently the full movie only can be purchased in Japan. A friend of mine found a couple of copies of video from there up in Canada, and smuggled them in. As a result, I can report I've seen Song Of The South fairly recently---and had the chance to share it with my kids. What impressed me as a child was the racial interaction in the movie, how Remus and the boy came to love each other, and the social repercussions their relationship eventually produced. But isn't this strange---that the very movie I credit with developing an interest in me in the civil rights of American citizens, and people around the world, is banned as being prejudicial?

Well leaving all that aside, what happened back in first grade is I became open to friendships with people of other races and nationalities. At the same time we were beginning to learn folk songs in music class at school. My uncle, who was essentially a farmer and a United Brethren, got me started in stamp collecting. The whole world and its peoples were opening up to me and I loved it. But I was made aware of problems. A black school friend named Ronnie followed me home one day, and Mom gave me a talk about different people staying and playing with their own "kind." I didn't like that, and so a year or 2 later I went home with another black kid named Morris. When we got to Metallic Avenue, I saw there was no street there at all. In fact, 10 feet in front of the house, which had no door on it by the way, there was a tall wire fence...and 10 feet beyond that were the tracks of our town's major railway, the Erie. I guess I was pretty scared, and I went home.

Even more disturbing to the quiet 1950s lifestyle of the Carlson residence was my musical evolution into jazz and rhythm 'n' blues. I learned that jazz had started among black people in New Orleans at the turn of the century, traveled up the Mississippi with musicians employed on riverboats, and developed among whites in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. Never mind that we now view this story as too simplistic, it got me to know who Benny Goodman was and his importance as a white man with an integrated music organization. By the time Martin Luther King was inspiring us college kids to hit the bricks in the late '50s, I was ready.

In the early 1960s we began to hear about feminism and a sexual revolution. The combination of the Civil Rights Movement and invention of something called a birth control pill---and of course the inequalities college-educated women were encountering in the workplace---brought us plunging into a whole new era. I found myself developing a sensitivity and consciousness that never would I allow my white maleness to be of some unfair advantage in my life. But by the late '60s it all became more complicated with a Black Backlash. Now I found I needed to be secure and strong in my white maleness, while ready to confess many crimes of history. Then there was a Feminine Backlash in the '70s---and I guess I just sorta dropped out for a while.

During the 1990s I found myself resentful of racial groups and women who seemed to be playing both sides at the same time. Like, there were women who boasted they despised "housework" and wouldn't do it because their careers took up their creative time---but always needed big, strong men to come in to "take care" of their maintenance problems. I began to see myself as a second-class citizen as payback for sacrifices in "social standing" I thought I had been making for 30 years. I see the predicaments differently now, and the fact today that Democrats seem to be supporting Obama and Clinton as potential presidential candidates feels really good to me. As a nation we're beginning to face many of the issues of race and gender that have been such a major part of my whole life. I like what's happening.

From now until the election The Nation magazine online is devoting its blog, called Passing Through, to a different writer each month. That blogger can post whatever he or she wants as often as desired. Kicking off the whole thing is somebody named Jessica Valenti. I hadn't heard of her, but her star seems to be rising quickly. The Nation has a lot of assertive women in it, so I'm not surprised Valenti is the first choice. During her first week she already is stirring things up, having written entries about political paternalism and Bush, women who put down feminism and the "sex education" they shove into public schools, and violence against females and what Romney knows about it. Miss Valenti uses very strong language when she writes (one might even say foul language, but I have to be careful) so comments coming back are pretty tough too.

I guess I have to say I like her style. Since she's 29 I think, she represents a generation that's increasingly refreshing. She's grown up through all these "wars" and has her own version...and a message certainly that's helpful to me. Last April when her book came out, ELLE magazine, which I subscribe to, did a little feature on her. It concluded with the note that her site,, was first to publish that the sale of vibrators is banned in some states. Miss Valenti wrote this is an issue "that overwhelmingly affects women. In Mississippi you can buy a gun without a state background check, but you can't get the Rabbit. How f--ked is that?" Yeah, wake us all up Jessica!


mowrey said...

Solid essay, from racial awakening to Benny's integrated combo to Jessica's sacred/profane feminista rap. But what's a Rabbit?

jazzolog said...

Heh heh, Mowrey's as hesitant to Google up a Rabbit on the computer where he works as I am on this one where I work. Maybe someone who's not being monitored will tell us.

Quinty said...

They're only $16 a piece.

An advantage to being a Retiree is that I can go where no one else dares to go. Unless the Thought Police and Bush Era Morals Squads squelch those of us who slip off the reservation. Odd, what the Far Right considers "family values." A sure road toward neuroticism it would seem to me........

This is from the Rabbit's online ad..... And it is a hoot!

Our Rabbit Vibrator Will Make Her Purr..

The Jack Rabbit Vibrator is an all time classic vibe. As seen on television, this wonderful and fun vibrator is loved by women around the world! The soft jelly like ears can really turn up the heat. Just turn up the power and these ears provide immense clitoral stimulation.

The shaft provides a circulation motion and undulates to your body rhythms. The mid section contains white pearls which expand to create further stimulation.

A great benefit is you can use all these features simultaneously! Used properly the Jack Rabbit will take your orgasms to a new level.

The main soft jelly shaft of this vibrator is 7 inches long and about 1.25 inches in diameter. Uses 3 C batteries. We recommend using with Eros Lube for an exceptional experience .

Me, your Dirty Old Man once again. They don't tell us if it comes with the batteries, do they? Do you have to pay extra?

Now what respectable TV stations does this thing appear on? Are the ads crammed in between the ads for toilet paper and overcoming ED?

mowrey said...

Thanks. As usual, Jazzolog's roving band of experts are on the case. Makes me almost wish I were a dame.



jazzolog said...

In Ohio we don't have to make a primary/caucus choice yet, but that choice next month may be affected mightily by what goes on in 24 states today. I've just spent about 3 hours reading stuff on the Internet that's gotten posted since yesterday...and I've hardly scratched the surface. Increasingly people who can read and write turn to the Net for news and opinion; I suppose the rest...and there are more and more in America...stick with TV and radio.

I had hoped the Green Party would produce a viable candidate this time. It has not...and Nader again would be absurd. So then I kept coming back to Kucinich, but he could not or did not mount a campaign that penetrated overwhelming resistance on all sides...including, some say, the Democratic Party in Ohio, which gathered a pile of characters to run against him for his House seat. If he loses that, I wouldn't be surprised if he gives up on this country entirely.

Then I went to Edwards, who talked the issues and avoided any slinging. His message was about the weakening Middle Class and disproportionate influence of corporations upon our lives. He also questioned our dependence upon warfare for both our wealth and apparently even our sense of personhood. Yet he could not get a foothold, and so also dropped out. I wonder how his wife's health is doing.

So with this record, I figure whomever I might lean toward next will be doomed as well. Fortunately I'm among many progressives and radicals who swing back and forth day by day between Obama and Clinton. That's why today is important to me because I think a story may unfold from the results. I think something decisive may happen for both major parties.

Of the material I looked over today, I was particularly grabbed by Erica Jong's article on Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post yesterday. This is the strongest advocacy I've seen for her...and presented from the perspective of Full Frontal Feminism. Highly recommended!

But Katha Pollitt at The Nation's blog wrote for Barack Obama on Sunday, and there are good points there too. She does say she'll give Clinton her all if she's nominated. As you probably know both The Nation and MoveOn have come out for Obama. Here's Pollitt's blog~~~

I didn't bother to read the comments on either of those pieces. There's a ton of them though.

My friend Paul Quintanilla and his partner Ellen spent yesterday sounding the alarm about McCain, and I'm grateful to them. Much of their concern comes from an article by Johann Hari, who writes for the UK's The Independent, which appeared here last month in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer~~~

I loved the opinion piece Sunday in the New York Times about the new Real President of the United States. Wal-Mart. Yes, it's where Americans go for community, protection, bargain prices and their sense of reality. Now it has environmental policy, a health program and a prettying up of its image for true world leadership. Consider not voting at all this season, like most of the rest of your countrymen, and let Wal-Mart show the Way~~~

In this week's New Yorker, Seymour Hersh demonstrates again why he is the premier investigative journalist. This time he looks into the bombing raid into Syria by the Israeli Air Force last fall. What was it about, and why did no one talk about it?

See you at the end of the day.

Quinty said...

Here's another one on the Clintons...

jazzolog said...

My wife and I were trying to come to agreement yesterday as to just how maddening Maureen Dowd can be. Dana says she never can forgive her for trashing Al Gore back in those days, but my contention is that when she's on a roll there's just no argument. I think her columns on the Democratic campaign have been spectacular, and particularly her insights into Hillary Clinton (and Bill). Today's article is no exception and as the nation struggles to decide, she makes important points...BUT describes the election as "not just vertiginous," and even after a look in the dictionary I STILL don't know what exactly she means---and that's maddening~~~

The New York Times
February 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
A Flawed Feminist Test

Russell Berman, a young reporter for The New York Sun, trailed Bill Clinton around Maryland all day Sunday. The former president was on his best behavior, irritating the smattering of press.

After Bill’s last speech at Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, Berman interviewed two women in the audience.

Elaine Sirkis, 77, an Obama supporter, confided that she just isn’t sure she’s ready for a woman president. Betty Conway, 83, a Hillary supporter, confided that she just isn’t sure she’s ready for a black president.

As Conway walked away, Sirkis smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry,” she told Berman sweetly about her friend. “She’s a bigot.”

We’re not just in the most vertiginous election of our lives. We’re in another national seminar on gender and race that is teaching us about who we are as we figure out what we want America to be.

It’s not yet clear which prejudice will infect the presidential contest more — misogyny or racism.

Many women I talk to, even those who aren’t particularly fond of Hillary, feel empathy for her, knowing that any woman in a world dominated by men has to walk a tightrope between femininity and masculinity, strength and vulnerability.

They see double standards they hate — when male reporters described Hillary’s laugh as “a cackle” or her voice as “grating,” when Rush Limbaugh goes off on her wrinkles or when male pundits seem gleeful to write her political obituary. Several women I know, who argue with their husbands about Hillary, refer with a shudder to the “Kill the Witch” syndrome.

In a webcast, prestidigitator Penn Jillette talks about a joke he has begun telling in his show. He thinks the thunderous reaction it gets from audiences shows that Hillary no longer has a shot.

The joke goes: “Obama is just creaming Hillary. You know, all these primaries, you know. And Hillary says it’s not fair, because they’re being held in February, and February is Black History Month. And unfortunately for Hillary, there’s no White Bitch Month.”

Of course, jokes like that — even Jillette admits it’s offensive — are exactly what may give Hillary a shot. When the usually invulnerable Hillary seems vulnerable, many women, even ones who don’t want her to win, cringe at the idea of seeing her publicly humiliated — again.

And since women — and some men — tend to be more protective when she is down, it is impossible to rule out a rally, especially if voters start to see Obama, after his eight-contest rout, as that maddening archetypal figure: the glib golden boy who slides through on charm and a smile.

Those close to Hillary say she’s feeling blue. It’s an unbearable twist of fate to spend all those years in the shadow of one Secretariat, only to have another gallop past while you’re plodding toward the finish line.

I know that the attacks against powerful women can be harsh and personal and unfair, enough to make anyone cry.

But Hillary is not the best test case for women. We’ll never know how much of the backlash is because she’s a woman or because she’s this woman or because of the ick factor of returning to the old Clinton dysfunction.

While Obama aims to transcend race, Hillary often aims to use gender to her advantage, or to excuse mistakes. In 1994, after her intransigence and secrecy-doomed health care plan, she told The Wall Street Journal that she was “a gender Rorschach test.”

“If somebody has a female boss for the first time, and they’ve never experienced that,” she said, “well, maybe they can’t take out their hostility against her so they turn it on me.”

As a possible first Madame President, Hillary is a flawed science experiment because you can’t take Bill out of the equation. Her story is wrapped up in her marriage, and her marriage is wrapped up in a series of unappetizing compromises, arrangements and dependencies.

Instead of carving out a separate identity for herself, she has become more entwined with Bill. She is running bolstered by his record and his muscle. She touts her experience as first lady, even though her judgment during those years on issue after issue was poor. She says she’s learned from her mistakes, but that’s not a compelling pitch.

As a senator, she was not a leading voice on important issues, and her Iraq vote was about her political viability.

She told New York magazine’s John Heilemann that before Iowa taught her that she had to show her soft side, “I really believed I had to prove in this race from the very beginning that a woman could be president and a woman could be commander in chief. I thought that was my primary mission.”

If Hillary fails, it will be her failure, not ours.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Quinty said...

I like Dowd’s columns on the Clintons too. And I think she has a clear understanding.

For me the question of “identity politics” should be left out. This is too important, the presidency is, especially now, for race and gender to become any kind of factor. And whenever I hear a feminist accuse a woman of “selling out” for backing Obama I cringe. Nor do I think blacks should choose Obama out of racial pride. To his credit he has left race out of the race as any kind of issue. (And some have even criticized him for that.) But they should both run as Americans. What’s more, the baggage evens the other out.

Dowd nicely sums up the case against Clinton in her final paragraphs. I was always on Bill’s side during the Lewinsky thing. And as has often been pointed out, the Clintons’ enemies spent millions trying to pin something on them. Proving only with their far fetched investigations the Clintons were clean. (Well, nearly. There were those matters at the end of the presidency.)

But with Bill Clinton’s performance last month I clearly remembered how he had emphatically said: “I did not have sex with that woman.” And the manner he said it, as if he were reacting to a rightwing smear. That was one whopper of a lie.

And Hillary, frankly, strikes me as a shameless opportunist. The way she cozied up to the Christian right when it appeared they were powerful enough to be the King makers some time ago. And then she flip flopped on the iraq war, and continues to coldly obfuscate, finding one rational after another for having supported it. When we all know that most of those politicians who went with Bush merely wanted to be on the wining side, the victorious side, of a short war to oust a dictator. And were thinking only of their own patriotic public image.

No, I don’t want to see these people back in the White House. And Bill will be back, one way or another. His presence will be there. Will Hillary “triangulate?” Will she move further to the left or to the right? We don’t really know. My guess is that constant accommodating has gotten under her skin. Perhaps “corruption” is too strong a word. But she certainly is a politician through and through. A sense of moral flabbiness and expediency accompany her tired, unconvincing words. But who knows? She might turn out to be a great president if she can defeat McCain?

Yes, I agree with Dowd’s excellent opinion piece.

Oh, vertiginous - maybe what she meant was the lack of clarity in this campaign. All the pundits have been wrong, admitting they’re wrong too. And there have been many ups and downs, twists and turns, surprises.

My vertiginous guess is that if Obama gets the nomination he will beat McCain in a landslide.

Did anyone see Krugman’s editorial yesterday on “hate?” What a strange piece.

Quinty said...

To the grammarians out there....

A sense of moral flabbiness and expediency accompanies...

Krugman's piece was very strange, and, uncharacteristically, not that intellectually honest. At least that was how it struck me. You may differ.

Here's a link....