The Wage Gap Reproduces Traditional Gender Roles

domestic labor

Image via Youtube

Happy International Women’s Day! Shoutout to the women organizers who are leading the revolution–Black trans women, the women of Black lives matter, Indigenous women, Latina and Chicana women, Muslim and Palestinian women, Asian women, migrant women, radical white women, queer women, women around the world who are fighting patriarchy, colonialism, racism, and all the systems of violence and exploitation that use abuse and aggression to keep women globally from owning their labor, their bodies, and their choices.

I thought today would be a good time to make space for myself to write about some of the women’s issues that have been on my mind since I moved to the Bay Area two years ago. For multiple reasons, which I’ll discuss below, being here–away from the activist communities I was lucky enough to embed with in Syracuse–has pushed me to develop my feminist consciousness, because feminist thinking allowed me to forgive myself for some of the choices I made, to see the larger structural forces that brought me here and have shaped my time here so far.

Warning: personal writing ahead.  Continue reading

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Confused Feminist in an Apron Seeks Answers (Reflections on FemRhets 2015)

I spent a long weekend at the biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Tempe, AZ, and boy (girl!) was it needed. After moving away from Syracuse in May to finish my degree while living with my partner in California, it had been far too long since I’d been surrounded by smart colleagues and conversation about writing, literacy, and rhetoric. I missed it. I missed you guys. A lot.

Being at the conference also gave me some perspective on the choice that I’d made. It’s hard to talk about my situation this fall without feeling a lot of shame and self-indulgence, because my position is a privileged one. But the vertigo of being among my peers all weekend gives me the perspective to admit the truth: it’s been a really hard four months. I left radical activists who challenged me and inspired me every day to move to Silicon Valley, the suburbs where strains of oligarchism float through the air like pollen, in an environment built for cars and nuclear family privacy, except I’m usually in the house alone. And not teaching or being a student has been seriously challenging to my sense of self-worth.  How do I know I’m valuable if a teacher or student didn’t tell me so today, and I am just barely affording my grocery, gas, and medical bills, let alone conference travel?

Faced with this situation, time has spun backwards. I’ve regressed, whiling away the hours doing the dishes and the laundry, wishing I had a dog. Not pulling my weight financially makes me feel worthless and useless, and I pick fights with my partner because I don’t feel deserving. I feel like a loser. I have to keep reminding myself that I was supporting myself just fine until I quit my job to move to the most expensive megalopolis in the country.

Being at a conference gave me the perspective to acknowledge how isolated I am out here, how hard it is to be away from one’s colleagues, mentors, and friends, and has allowed me to forgive myself a little for not being as productive as I wish I’d been these past few months, for taking some time to adjust. But being really busy for four days also felt so good, and lit the fire under me again. Forgiving myself for taking some time is giving me motivation to get over it and get to work.

via The Feminist eZine,

via The Feminist eZine, “The Problem that Has No Name”

But this wasn’t any conference–it was a feminist conference, which meant that great conversations didn’t hover in the abstract, but descended down to the complex material realities of our everyday lives. During lunches, attendee Ames Hawkins was wandering around with a microphone conducting micro-interviews for podcast Masters of Text, asking folks what their favorite moment was of FemRhets so far. My co-panelist LaToya Sawyer and I told the mic our favorite part was Ann Morton’s incredible opening keynote, where she discussed leaving her career in graphic design to begin making textile art that built and engaged the Phoenix community. Now that the conference is over, though, I know that my favorite moment came later, at the graduate student happy hour on Friday night. One of the women I met asked about my move out to California, and I admitted how isolating it had been. We and a few other women began talking about the choices we had made for our relationships–three of the women I spoke to had chosen their PhD programs based on proximity to their partners, all men. We shared the conflicting feelings we had about these choices, how strange it felt, especially as feminists, to feel ourselves limiting ourselves–and was it limiting ourselves?–for proximity to the men we loved. We talked about the structural inequalities which ensure that, when partners decide (with egalitarianism in mind) to follow whichever of them has the higher-paying job, the men inevitably have those jobs and the women are left to compromise. We talked about the ironies of a post-Women’s Lib world where two partners who each invest in their careers means a whole lot of long-distance relationships.

I haven’t written on this blog regularly for some time. But today I put weekly blog posts on my calendar. I want to hold myself to a higher standard from here on out. I want to acknowledge the confusing situation I’m in but not waste the luxury of it. Mostly, I want to write. Hope you’ll be hearing more from me soon–and shoutout to the awesome women and men I met, talked with, presented with, and created knowledge with last weekend. I needed y’all.

Alicia Florrick Tho

still from season 6, "The Good Wife"

still from season 6, “The Good Wife”

The Good Wife is a show about a woman learning to wield her white privilege for her own ends. It is about her—this woman, Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguiles), the “good wife” of a disgraced Chicago (of course) Attorney General (Chris Noth) learning what powers are available to her as a white upper-middle class woman, if she can accept the limits and insults that come with the role. In its interrogation of white female privilege, identity, and limitations the show is aptly named, because even as Florrick is the title character that moniker is itself defined by its relationship to a man, and by its value judgment around how well the woman, Florrick, plays the role she was cast in. The Good Wife.

Now we have watched Alisha for six seasons, from her start as a mild-mannered suburban housewife-turned-returnee to the workforce, through her years as an increasingly powerful lawyer at Lockhart Garndern, in her role as first lady when her disgraced husband pulled off a return to the governor’s mansion of Illinois (another great spot for a corrupt politician), to her new role in the current season, as a candidate for Attorney General of Chicago, to succeed her husband’s smug successor.

I started watching The Good Wife because my mom, my sister, and Emily Nussbaum told me to. My mom and my sister recommended The Good Wife even more highly than Scandal—in a television lull, I’d asked them which show to start—but it was the New Yorker’s Nussbaum whose glowing column sent me clicking to Amazon Prime. But what Nussbaum or her colleauge Josh Rothman never key into—and what may have tipped the scales for my mom and sister, though they never said so explicitly—was the way that The Good Wife interrogates the role of the white woman in professional-class society—a role the women in my family have tried to master—just as Olivia Pope toys with the limitations of being a black woman with power and prestige. I love watching Kerry Washington tease out the socio-cultural possibilities of Olivia Pope, but I don’t identify with them in the same way I do with Alicia Florrick, whose Bobbi Brown makeup pallette (amirite??) and deep brown hair stain are surely the same as my mother’s, a woman also married to a Chicago lawyer with enough friends and cousins in Highland Park to fill a big country club bat mitzvah.

shady people of color scheming on "The Good Wife" - still from season 6

shady people of color scheming on “The Good Wife” – still from season 6

In their sixth-season coverage for the New Yorker of The Good Wife, both Nussbaum and Rothman attend to Florrick’s increasing comfort with and facility in using her power, but neither see the way that it is specifically gendered and raced: Florrick’s power, I contend, is specifically the power (in our society, at least) of white women. It is the power of being a white lady. Let’s take a closer look at their two reviews. Rothman writes:

The longest plot arc in “The Good Wife” shows Alicia becoming more like Peter—that is, becoming more comfortable with the exercise of power, more elegantly invulnerable when she is being magnanimous. Part of that transformation entails coming to terms with her own privilege. Alicia starts out the show as an underdog, but, at the end of the first season, she draws on one of her husband’s connections to win a coveted position at work. When, a few years after he’s released from jail, Peter becomes the governor of Illinois, Alicia leverages that connection to secure clients.

She’s also privileged in subtler ways that she is less willing to admit. From her husband’s sex scandal, Alicia retains an air of innocence and vulnerability; women root for her, and men are attracted to her. For much of the show, she drifts in and out of a romantic relationship with Will Gardner, one of the partners at her law firm. When, as the governor-elect’s wife, Alicia starts her own firm, taking some of Will’s most valuable clients with her, he calls her out on her own mythos of innocence and victimhood: “You’re awful, and you don’t even know how awful you are,” he says. Everyone, including Alicia, thinks that she’s a victim—but, in fact, she’s a predator, all the more dangerous for being stealthy.

In this accounting of Alicia’s coming to power, Rothman figures Alicia’s “stealth” as an aberration to her use of power, a quirk in comparison with her husband’s brash use of the throne. But I contend that her stealth is gendered—her “stealthy” danger, that wolf in sheep’s clothing, is her feminine use of power, power through flirting, through favors, through being nice. This is power in a “ban bossy” universe, where bossy women are bitches so Alicia has to be the bossy by flirting and cajoling to get her way, not demanding it.

All Hail Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)

All Hail Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)

Now here’s Nussbaum:

Alicia didn’t get the job [at Lockhart Gardner] because she was exceptional: an old law-school friend, Will Gardner (Josh Charles), promoted her over stronger candidates after she strategically flirted with him—a shady origin story that emerged slowly, over years. On “The Good Wife,” there is no success without corruption. The higher Alicia climbs—winning the second-year slot, making partner, leaving to start a new firm—the more compromised she becomes, and the more at ease with compromise. This applies to her marriage, also: it’s too valuable an asset for either spouse to abandon, even when they separate, when he is elected governor, and when she has an affair with Will. “You’re a brand! You’re St. Alicia,” Eli Gold, her husband’s chief of staff, tells her, begging her to run for office. Yet, despite everything, Alicia clings to her self-image as a heroine, a moral person in a godless universe. (Alicia Florrick is one of the rare explicitly atheist heroines on TV.)

Here again we see how the specifically feminine way Alicia starts her law career is folded into a larger narrative about corruption, collapsing Alicia’s crucial wielding of feminine power into a larger story about power. Similarly, the compromises Alicia has to make to retain that St. Alicia brand—namely, to stay in a sham marriage with a compulsive cheater—is the same compromise women have been making for millenia, just without the rewards.

IMG_0268

By the sixth season, in fact, Alicia Florrick has given up the delusion of her earlier years that she can or cares to help anyone—the delusion of white women living in the suburbs, which she doesn’t anymore. Instead, when asked point blank by her new campaign manager (who I am still waiting for her to sleep with) why she wants to run, she answers, “Because I can win.” The only trick to winning is to keep pretending she doesn’t care to. After an interview, Alicia comments to her new foil and “body woman,” Eli Gold’s brash Jewish daughter Marissa, “I don’t like being someone I”m not when I’m being interviewed.”

“Really?” Marissa says. “You’re good at it.”

Good at it in a way that a brash Jewish girl could never be, because to own white femininity is to be invisible, to make one’s power and pain invisible, to win just to win without anyone thinking you want anything at all.

People commend this show for its deft handling of race themes, because a series of minor issues which characters of color adds up to a discrimination lawsuit for Peter Florrick. What no critic seems to have noticed is how Florrick’s continued demotion of lawyers of color equals the show’s continued demotion of actors of color. There’s no neat way to handle that. The discrimination line is like saying “no offense.” Sorry, but it’s still offensive. But very deftly handled.

IMG_0271

[all the stills in this post are from season 6 episode 6, “Old Spice,” the most awesome and most feminist episode of the season, which features the show’s female stars almost exclusively. Alicia Florrick tho, but also Diane Lockhardt tho, Elsbeth Tasscione tho, and Kalinda Sharma tho. Fuck yah lady lawyers.]

Dontgetit

On Saturday night I was groped in a club in Chicago. When I whipped my head around to see who had done it, I thought I could identify my assailant by the way he was furiously speeding away, not looking back. A run-by grabbing. By the time I turned around he was well away from me but I thought that was him, anyway, speedwalking through a crowd of people chatting and standing mostly still.

I brought the water I was ordering to my boyfriend on a nearby couch, told him what happened, and then watched as the man emerged from around the corner and stood by the ping pong tables, taking pictures. I told my beau I was going to go yell at him.

We walked over and I said something like hey you just grabbed my ass and what the hell, not even sure it was him, expecting him to deny. But instead he gave us this blank stare, touched his chest, shrugged, said sorry, said, What do you want me to do? It was fucking creepy. I guess in the end he said he’d leave.

We went back to the dance floor and I felt this wave of guilt because what I should have wanted was to take his picture, to drag him to the bouncers and say, This man assaulted me—don’t let him in here ever again. Fuck, call the police! That’s illegal, right? Assault?

***

As a rape survivor I hate when we call rape sexual assault. Calling rape sexual assault makes both invisible. Sexual assault is this man purposefully molesting me. Sexual assault is my classmate in graduate school following me into my apartment after getting me drunk and unzipping my sweater while I cried hysterically, frozen and in shock. Sexual assault is grabbed breasts, dicks, and asses, a feel-up during a pat-down, any forced or unwanted touching, kissing, or contact. Rape is assault with penetration. Of a vagina, of an anus, of a mouth. We make all the assaults invisible when we forget the word rape, which is another, worser, thing, a thing often done also by the men and women who commit assault.

***

The whole night my friend kept saying that Soho House, where we were, was “the eating club of Chicago”–and now, after this dude visibly groped me in open well-lit space and no one noticed or seemed to care, I find myself remembering when I was being raped my freshman year of college in an actual eating club and one of my friends stood at the front door of the club begging the bouncers to let her in and get her friend, because someone called her and said I was in trouble. We’ve talked about it since, she and I, the useless irony of security guarding the doors but not protecting the people inside.

And I think also of the seven Syracuse University campus security guards manning the doors at occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall, getting paid the overtime the Administration has complained loudly about to eat potato chips and turn away lawyers and food deliveries at the door. Maybe, maybe, for our safety, we could have used one guard, to walk around the space regularly and make sure everyone inside was actually medically safe.

***

Now I have been a rape survivor for ten years and I have educated myself on sexual predators and I know, for example, that among men who rape, their average number of victims is 6. I know that not a lot of men are sexual predators but that the ones who are do it repeatedly. And I see the smug sociopathic mug of this dude who grabbed me offering with blank stare to leave and I’m kicking myself for not taking his fucking picture and showing it to the bouncers or the cops or the whole internet because he knew what he was doing well enough to leave quickly so he could do it again, and who knows what else, too. And in the rape culture we live in, the onus is on me, the victim, to make sure sex offenders don’t further offend. But I never heard of the victims of poor people’s drug use being forced to be aggressive and press charges if they wanted those poor drug addicts of color to end up in jail.

***

What is security? Whom does security make secure?

I have never heard of a security detail in which off-duty policemen are specifically hired and trained to walk around a space making sure sexual predators are not assaulting or raping people. Have you? If the man who groped me had thrown a punch he would’ve been out on the street immediately, but no one is looking for assault and I don’t know who would’ve cared if I’d asked them to. That’s just the price of admission, for being a woman in a bar, these days.

***

I want a world where security makes women more secure. Where there’s one security force to keep the bar exclusive and cool, sure, but then there are trained people inside the premises looking for vulnerable passed out women and men and going to them and finding their friends and getting them out of there safely and stopping strangers from fucking with them and arresting the people who do. I want a security guard who is scanning the bar scene and noticing when a man purposefully speeds past a woman to molest her unconsenting body as he passes by, who calls the fucking cops on him because that is sexual assault and assault is illegal and, in this imaginary world, it is recognized that sex offenders are repeat offenders and it is a legal priority to get them off the streets, because unlike nonviolent drug users, for example, they actively and inherently are a threat to those around them.

And in this imaginary world women and men who say they are assaulted are believed and not demeaned and not blamed because in this world the fact that 2% of rape accusations are false is as taken for granted as the broken window theory that sends black teenage potheads to jail and gets a man murdered for selling loosies on the street. As Lil Wayne says in “Dontgetit,” the outro to his Carter III, “we don’t have room in the jail for the real motherfuckers, the real criminals,” He describes a sex offender moving into his neighborhood. “They givin me a paper—is that a misunderstanding? ‘Cause I really don’t understand it.” But I really don’t want to know that answer.

Literacy in “Awkward Black Girl”

[this is an excerpt from a final-paper-in-progress called “’Write the story yourself’: Literacy as Social Practice in Hiphop Feminist Art, Scholarship, and Activism”]

In her “Hip Hop and the Black Ratchet Imagination,” L. H. Stallings points to the way that Issa Rae, the creator and star of the web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, has her protagonist J “strap on hip hop” as an outlet for her righteous anger (136). Stallings is referring to those moments when, in fits of frustration, J sits down on her bed and writes furious, explicit, gangsta-inflected rhymes. In her text, Stallings focuses on J’s male-oriented gender performance to explore the queerness of what she calls the “Black Ratchet Imagination.” But we might also see J’s scenes writing raps, one of which appears in the series’s first episode, as a complex literacy event* that not only queers J’s gender identity (a theme brought up in other parts of the episode) but also queers, or questions, her middle-class status, her participation in the information economy, and professional rappers’ processes when writing ridiculous, shallow, expletive-laced lyrics. Continue reading

Veronica Mars and the Bummer Patriarchy

Last night I watched the first episode of Veronica Mars and it blew my mind. I have never felt a need to write an episode recap so badly as I did watching that pilot last night. I mean, holy shit, one of the first shots of the episode is of Veronica cutting a black classmate down from a flagpole to which he’s been duct-taped, naked, her face at about waist-height.

Granted I’ve been studying lynching, but these are loaded opening shots for a girls’ after-school special. Continue reading

A Tough Love: “Beyoncé,” Mutuality, and the Dirty South

In a previous post, I discussed some of the lyrics on R. Kelly’s new album, “Black Panties,” alongside the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his essay “The Body’s Grace.” Looking at the lyrics to “Marry the Pussy” alongside similar lyrics in songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Miguel’s “How Many Drinks,” I noticed a similar ability to disguise male desire and male need in the trappings of celebrating women. Each of these three songs is about what a male agent wants, and each of these three songs denies or obscures the agency of the women they’re sung about or to. But in making women (or women’s body parts) the objects of desire, these songs lull critics into thinking they are pro women, so that Jezebel calls “Marry the Pussy” a “magnificent ode to pussy,” and another source I can’t find calls rapist R. Kelly’s album “sex-positive.”

still from "No Angel" -- Bey's homage to  Houston

still from “No Angel” — Bey’s homage to Houston

Continue reading

#WeCantStop Appropriating Blackness: A Bibliography

Y’all, it is a bull market out there for appropriating Black culture. Sell, sell, sell, ’cause folks are buying. You got twerkers on hand? Set them around a white lady and open the auction. Miley was just the beginning. It’s a bonanza out there.

a still from Miley's video "We Can't Stop," via vimeo.com

a still from Miley’s video “We Can’t Stop,” via vimeo.com

For a few months now people have been asking me when I’m gonna blog about Miley Cyrus–her VMAs performance, her recent music videos, her appropriation of ratchet cultural signifiers–it all seemed so in my cultural wheelhouse. There was only one thing standing in my way: I don’t like Miley Cyrus, and I don’t like her music. No special offense, really, to Miley. It’s just, I’m a busy lady, so when I blog about something it’s because, even if I find it problematic, I am attracted to the music or the star enough to spend my free time researching, listening, and writing around them. Continue reading

Some Links For the Ladies

I’ma post these female-centric links so that I can close all these dingdang tabs clogging my browser. Because gender relations are part of the hiphopocracy, too.

Year of the Young Woman by Jessica Valenti–published last week in The Nation

The article carried forward by Melissa Harris Perry

Hillary Clinton eats hamburgers with Elizabeth Warren, important discussion ensues

Urban Cusp interviews Issa Rae, director/writer/star of Awkward Black Girl

Jewess Hilda Silverman fights for an ethical Israel

White Americans Don’t Believe in Death (a collection of testaments for Dr. King, belatedly)

Last semester, after my students were done working on a small-group activity involving theologian James Cone’s book The Spirituals and the Blues, one of my students announced that Cone was guilty of reverse racism. From the section on “The Blues and Sex,” here was the passage which offended him:

People who have not been oppressed physically cannot know the power inherent in bodily expressions of love. That is why white Western culture makes a sharp distinction between the spirit and the body, the divine and the human, the sacred and the secular. White oppressors do not know how to come to terms with the essential spiritual function of the human body. But for black people the body is sacred, and they know how to use it in the expression of love.

Now, this book is and will continue to be a hard book to treat in an introductory class, not least because of Cone’s fondness for the steadfast binary (here, at least) between “white oppressors” and “black people.” But that body/spirit split so central to Western Christian thinking is worth meditating on.

I first came upon it in feminist criticisms of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, which criticized this binary as not only an underappreciation of the fullness of the human condition, but–in the way that the spirit was continually valorized over the body–a construction that led to an overemphasis on sins and salvations of the spirit. Judith Plaskow wrote in her Sex, Sin and Salvation:

First of all, Niebuhr’s concern with the negative side of creatureliness may be part of what leads him to underestimate the sin of sensuality. The fact that Niebuhr ignores the positive features of human naturalness may prevent him from fully apprehending sensuality’s temptations. Not seeing human beings as continually, positively involved in the world’s vitalities, he is less likely to view loss of self in some aspect of these vitalities as a clear and ever present danger. (1980, 69)

How great of a word is creatureliness???

But this distance from the realities of the human body have repercussions outside the realm of the theologians, in spaces spiritual and political. In his book The Fire Next Time (1962), James Baldwin explained the conundrum simply and powerfully (as he explains all things in that little book).

Behind what we think of as the Russian menace lies what we do not wish to face, and what white Americans do not face when they regard a Negro: reality–the fact that life is tragic. Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life….But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them. And this is also why the presence of the Negro in this country can bring about its destruction. It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant–birth, struggle and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so–and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. (Cone’s emphases)

Mexican poet Octavio Paz makes related comments in his essay “Dia de los Muertos,” from his 1961 collection Laberinto de la Soledad, in which he contextualizes death’s disappearance as a paradox of modernity.

Modern death (Paz writes) does not have any significance that transcends it or that refers to other values. It is rarely anything more than the inevitable conclusion of a natural process. In a world of facts, death is merely one more fact. But since it is such a disagreeable fact, contrary to all our concepts and to the very meaning of our lives, the philosophy of progress (“Progress toward what, and from what?” Scheler asked) pretends to make it disappear, like a magician palming a coin. Everything in the modern world functions as if death did not exist. Nobody takes it into account, it is suppressed everywhere: in political pronouncements, commercial advertising, public morality and popular customs; in the promise of cut-rate heath and happiness offered to all of us by hospitals, drugstores and playing fields. But death enters into everything we undertake, and it is no longer a transition but a great gaping mouth that nothing can satisfy. The century of health, hygiene and contraceptives, miracle drugs and synthetic foods, is also the century of the concentration camp and the police state, Hiroshima and the murder story.

In his recent article for the Washington Post, “Why do we ignore civilians killed in American wars?” John Tierman detailed the many ways that official tallies undercount the damage done by the Iraq War–but his argument is more about the attitudes that underlie such a callous inattention. Suggesting that America’s wars of the last 50 years have produced around six million casualties (no Holo), he refers to a theory called the “just world” theory, “which argues that humans naturally assume that the world should be orderly and rational” and explains that the “The public dismissed the civilians [of Vietnam, Korea and Iraq] because their high mortality rates, displacement and demolished cities were discordant with our understandings of the missions and the U.S. role in the world”  (Tierman).

Sounds to me like Mr. Tiernan found–but didn’t name– another reason Americans ignore death: chauvinism.