One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Cracks in the glass gondola-sphere

An unlicensed female gondolier?

Get off that gondola, woman.

Courtney at Feministing passes on news of a breakthrough in Venice:

Twenty-three year old Giorgia Boscolo just became the first female gondolier after nine centuries of exclusively male rowing in the canal in Venice. Boscolo had to pass a grueling six-month, 400 hour course, but told reporters that she had no fear that she couldn’t handle the physicality of the job: “Childbirth is much more difficult.” Boscolo is the mother of two.

Nine centuries of sexism don’t surprise me.  What shocks me is that a gondolier would need 400 hours of training to row people up and down canals in a little boat.  Was this something that was imposed only on Boscolo because of her gender?  Or are all gondoliers just…really, really good at rowing gondolas?

(Just guessing here, but I also imagine that this kind of rigorous regimen is a way of keeping the cadre of gondoliers insulated.  If it’s something that most people — even women! — can do, then that seems all the more reason for current members of the club to make ridiculous requirements for entry.)

(image from flickr user blacque_jacques under a Creative Commons license)


June 29, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | , , | 1 Comment

Can’t buy me love — or patriarchy or materialism or…

I agree with Ann Friedman’s point here…

diamond-ringAs Dana points out, the engagement ring doesn’t quite mean what it used to — a downpayment on a woman’s virginity. But I would argue that in many cases, an expensive diamond ring does still function as a signal to other men that a woman is “taken” by someone who has paid a lot of money to tell the world that she’s his. The bigger the rock, the stronger the “off limits” signal.

…but I think that the phenomenon of buying as big a diamond as you can also has something to do with the ethic of competitive consumerism. It’s not just a relic of a sexist practice; it still is one, as any notion of buying a ring for a woman to “claim” her for marriage would be. But I think it’s also tied up in a dynamic of purchasing the gaudiest, most expensive thing you can to somehow show your “love.” Think buying a Lexus for Christmas — but with creepier, patriarchical overtones.

(image from Tambako the Jaguar under a Creative Commons license)

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | , | 1 Comment

NATO drills (and cameras)

(cross-posted at Dispatch)

leicaKudos to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband for calling Germany out on its sexist gifts to delegations at the NATO summit in France:

The German government are taking every opportunity to fight the downturn.  The large box in my (French) hotel room at the NATO summit was a Bosch drill (with extra drill bits).  But traditions die hard: women Foreign Ministers were given a Leica camera.

Better than DVDs that don’t work, I suppose.

(image from flickr user Glenn Zucman under a Creative Commons license)

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | , | Leave a comment

Real people can be objectified just like Barbies!

What better way to celebrate Barbie’s 50th birthday than with photos of “real-life Barbie dolls?” Why just objectify dolls when you can objectify real people by comparing them to dolls? What problems could giving legitimacy to an icon of physical impossibility possibly create for girls everywhere?

At least that seems to be along the lines of what the trashy New York Daily News must be thinking.


(image from flickr user jikamajoja under a Creative Commons license)

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton: Advice Columnist at a Daycare Center?

Clinton dispensing advice in Korea

Clinton dispensing advice in Korea

Yes, I find this stupid poll (to which Miriam at Feministing correctly responds E, “take your sexist poll and shove it“) offensive, but it is this Reuters dispatch that caused me concern this weekend. Headlined “Hillary Clinton: diplomat, politician or advice columnist?,” the article has an immediate tabloid feel, which veers quickly in the direction of sexism in reporting the supposed frivolous questions that “women students” asked her during her trip to Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. I’m sure such questions — “how she knew her husband ‘would be your love'” is the example that Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed cites, in his very first line, revealingly — came up, and it’s all very witty for Clinton to quip that she felt “more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state today.” But to pick up that thread, to equate the substantive questions and work that came up on her trip with the gossip of her “rock star reception” and the solicitation of love advice, is to distort, or at least to disturbingly rearrange, the highlights of her first trip abroad as Secretary of State. Sure, it’s a cute angle for a wire service to take, but isn’t it a little condescending to intimate that one of Clinton’s three primary functions is that of an “advice columnist?”

What’s next, comparing Clinton to a sexy crimefighter?  Oops.

(image from flicker user US Army Korea – IMCOM under a Creative Commons license)

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Feminism, media | , , , | Leave a comment

Singles are all pathetic losers

In this Guardian op-ed, Sarfraz Manzoor seems to think that the opposite of being in a relationship is despairing and debilitating loneliness.

I have been both single and in relationships and recalling my single days I had freedom all right: the freedom to return to an empty house, the choice to feel achingly alone at weekends when my friends were with their partners, the right to wonder if I would ever know again how it felt to be loved and wanted and missed, the liberty to sleep alone secure in the knowledge that no one gave a monkey’s toss about whether I was alive or dead. Let’s not kid ourselves: the freedom that being single gives is a hollow- eyed freedom, a prison that pretends it is a palace.

Only couples can be happy.

Only couples can be happy.

With all due respect to Mr. Manzoor’s personal life, that seems a little melodramatic, more befitting of a cinematic collection of stereotypes than of a real consideration of singledom. He has created an entirely unnecessary dichotomy between being in a relationship (and, one can presume from the tenor of his piece, an entirely traditional one) and enduring a pathetic and loveless life. This characterization misses entirely the point of those who would defend bachelor(ette)hood — that the only option besides a relationship is most emphatically not desperate spinsterhood. Here’s Manzoor’s equally misguided take on the gender issue:

…had a man written an article extolling the virtues of a guilt-free middle age without serious relationships or children he would be dismissed as a sad loser trying to hold onto the last strands of his youth.

I too would react differently to a man writing such an article about “a guilt-free middle age” than to a woman doing so, but that is not because of a double standard for men that Manzoor seems to perceive. Rather, this is because a woman’s celebration of the freedom of being single occurs in a very different historical and societal context — namely, that women, not men, have been the ones shackled to the inequities of patriarchical relationships. In this sense, of which Manzoor seems completely unaware, championing singledom as a principle enjoys a singular importance regardless of the particular benefits of each state for individuals.

And even though Manzoor claims to acknowledge exceptions to his morbid characterization of being single, he’s entirely ready to paint this large swath of the population with a rather bitter diatribe (with undertones, I would venture, that apply to one particular sex more than Mr. Manzoor is likely willing to admit).

Those who shout loudest about how they absolutely love being single aren’t more sophisticated than the rest of us – they’re the most screwed up. You show me someone in their late 30s and older who chooses to be single – and I repeat, chooses – and chances are they are a dysfunctional control freak either too neurotic, too immature, too blinded by ambition or too frightened of growing old to be capable of holding down a meaningful relationship.

I retain the right to be an immature and neurotic control freak and in a relationship, thank you very much.

(image from flickr user Eric & Cynthia under a Creative Commons license)

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | , , | Leave a comment

She’s a woman, therefore she must be a feminist

charliesangelsJames Joyner responds to Spencer and Matt‘s critique of this cover of The National Interest — depicting Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, and Susan Rice in the manner of those “sexy crimefighters,” Charlie’s Angels — and, in the process, shows how easy it is to dismiss feminism out of hand.

Interestingly, TNI is edited by Justine Rosenthal, who is both decidedly female and taken quite seriously.   For example, she garners A Sit-Down with Brent Scowcroft, chairman of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board, for the current issue.

See, look, it’s edited by a woman!  So feminist critiques are out-of-bounds.  And not just any woman — a serious woman.  She was even able to nag an interview with a real (male) political figure.  Good for her!

And just in case missing the point that TNI is, with a single (silhouetted) image, reducing the tremendous career accomplishments of these women down to the attractiveness of the “Angels” was not enough, Joyner digs an even deeper hole:

In an OTB exclusive, I would add my conjecture that few women are offended at being compared to Farrah Fawcett, Jacklyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, or Cameron Diaz.

And I don’t think he’s referring to Barrymore’s role as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN World Food Program.  Who’d be flattered by that, anyway?

(image from flickr user scherre under a Creative Commons license)

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yes, abortion is for profit

undoingthedamageThis is a cute (read: atrocious) line of attack on Obama’s (two days’ belated) undoing of the restrictions that prevent any U.S. funds to go to family planning clinics overseas that so much as utter the word abortion:

“When we wake up every morning to a deepening financial crisis, it is an insult to the American people to bail out the abortion industry,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.

“Planned Parenthood is a billion dollar company and they do not need additional resources to burden the American taxpayer,” she added.

Apparently the moral imperative falls short, and anti-choicers find need to play to Americans’ real concerns: their pocketbooks.

(image from flickr user Renegade98 under a Creative Commons license)

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | | 1 Comment

Meta-legislating feminism

Jessica highlights the long-overdue official change in the male-centric lingo of the House of Representatives.  A snippet of the bill:


This is indeed hugely important, but doesn’t this “meta-legislation” underscore just how dull legislation really is?

January 7, 2009 Posted by | Feminism, U.S. politics | , | 2 Comments

Female genital mutilation — just a “small problem”

This bit of yesterday’s Washington Post article about female circumcision in Kurdistan captures the sexist domestic attitudes that make ridding this horrific practice so difficult.

Zangana has been lobbying for a law in Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region with its own government, that would impose jail terms of up to 10 years on those who carry out or facilitate female circumcision. But the legislation has been stalled in parliament for nearly a year, because of what women’s advocates believe is reluctance by senior Kurdish leaders to draw international public attention to the little-noticed tradition.

The Kurdish region’s minister of human rights, Yousif Mohammad Aziz, said he didn’t think the issue required action by parliament. “Not every small problem in the community has to have a law dealing with it,” he said.

Describing the damage done to girls by this practice as a “small problem” is bad enough, but the truly heinous aspect of the minister’s comments is his firm situation of the issue within “the community.”  By shoving the problem out of the political, and into the communal — read: the familial, a.k.a. the patriarchical — Aziz is both damning the prospects of achieving such legislation and striking a powerful and timeworn blow against feminism.  Issues like female circumcision very much belong in parliament, and shunting them out, will naturally only prolong the abuses toward Kurdish women and girls.

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Feminism, Foreign politics, Iraq | , , | Leave a comment

First lady do’s and don’ts

It’s odd that an op-ed like Lauren Stiller Rikleen’s in the Post today — urging a more formal definition of the role and responsibilities of the president’s spouse — should fail to make explicit the pattern that its author identifies in her survey of what some recent first ladies have and have not been expected to do:

Betty Ford was criticized for her strong advocacy of women’s rights, including her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights. Yet she was beloved for her courageous battle against breast cancer and her successful fight against alcohol and prescription drug addiction. When Rosalynn Carter sat in on Cabinet meetings as her husband’s protective observer, the public reaction was negative, notwithstanding the intensely close relationship she and the president shared. She served with distinction, however, as the honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health and drew international attention to the plight of refugees in Cambodia and Laos.

Perhaps it’s just too obvious, but it’s worth spelling out plainly: initiatives of which “the public” approved had to do with things like health and caretaking; while those for which women were criticized involved a substantive policymaking role, and/or attempted to assert women’s rights.

Chances are, Michelle Obama’s responsibilities will include more than flowers and babies.

UPDATE: Eve Fairbanks at The XX Factor wisely suggests that, instead of constricting the “First Lady’s” possible role by defining it, we do away with that whole “Lady” anachronism entirely. [h/t Maggie]

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Feminism | , | Leave a comment

Women newspaper readers only care about families

One of Deborah Howell’s year-end ombuds(wo)manly recommendations is for the Post to feature more stories about women and issues that women care about.  To wit, typical motherly stuff:

Opportunities abound, especially on Page 1, to draw in women with stories about families, relationships and parenting. The Post in print has precious little coverage of those topics outside of Style advice columnists. has a blog, On Parenting, and women gravitate to the Web site’s Smart Living page. Women also care about consumer issues, which can get short shrift.

Featuring stories from the stereotypical “women’s sphere” of influence does not seem to be the solution to making the Post a more gender equitable and accessible paper.  I agree much more strongly with Howell’s points about the staggering gap between stories (even, *gasp*, political ones that women readers might be interested in) that feature or quote men and those that include women more robustly.

Or maybe the Post should just replace the front page with a section on flowers.

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Feminism, media | , , | 2 Comments

Women’s rights are no more than “stirring words”

In an otherwise mostly reasonable essay, Michael Crowley makes the rather repugnant insinuation that those who argue in favor of the war in Afghanistan from the standpoint of defending women’s rights against the horrific abuses of the Taliban just don’t understand the man’s world of realpolitik.

women-afghanistanShortly after the fall of the Taliban, in November 2001, Hillary Clinton, soon to be Obama’s woman at Foggy Bottom and a key voice in the Afghanistan debate, penned a Time essay arguing against the notion that imposing Western values there amounted to “cultural imperialism.” “Women’s rights are human rights,” Clinton wrote. “They are not simply American, or western customs.”

Stirring words, to be sure. But the day may come when cutting deals in Afghanistan means consigning some women, if not to the brutal life of the high Taliban era, to strict Islamic rules sure to offend the likes of Hillary Clinton. It may well be, in other words, that America’s moral and strategic interests are beginning to diverge in Afghanistan in a way that supporters of the “good war” may not yet appreciate. [emphasis mine]

What makes Crowley’s dismissal of “the likes of Hillary Clinton” so disturbing is that he cites, in the same article, the disgusting incident of two Taliban supporters spraying acid in three teenage girls faces as simply a harbinger of what other rank transgressions might ensue under the Taliban.  To make a grudging calculation that, once all factors are considered, a compromise with the Taliban is advisable, even if it may to some extent curtail Afghani women’s difficultly reclaimed rights, is one thing.  To minimize the legitimacy of defending women’s rights qua rationale for war as mere “stirring words,” and to imply, essentially, that feminist activists like Clinton may just not “get it,” is quite another.

(image of Afghani women from flickr user Feinstein International Center under a Creative Commons license)

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Feminism, U.S. Foreign policy | , , | Leave a comment

What first ladies are there for

According to Governor Rod Blagojevich’s website The New York Times, the responsibilities of Illinois first lady Patricia Blagojevich are, you know, all those womanly things.

The Web site for the governor’s office says that in addition to raising the couple’s two daughters, Ms. Blagojevich occupies herself with typical first lady issues: raising awareness on children’s health, food allergies and literacy, and starting the State Beautification Initiative, which planted native wildflowers along state roads.

The portfolio of a first lady

The portfolio of a first lady

“Typical first lady issues” are, according to The Times, raising children, self-State Beautification, and planting flowers.  True, Patricia Blagojevich’s website does list these initiatives…but it describes them as “issues that directly affect the well-being of Illinois’ citizens” — a far cry from prescribing norms.  The “typical first lady” crap is all The Times.  I guess it just made a better story to have the “blast of vulgar language” that emanated from Ms. Blagojevich — I’m not even entirely sure what “hold up that [expletive] Cubs [expletive] … [expletive] them” really means — come from a typically demure first lady with a “very low profile.”  And who takes care of babies and flowers.

(image from flickr user Dazed81 under a Creative Commons license)

(h/t Megan)

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Feminism | , | 2 Comments

Ryanair defends its right to exploit its employees

For an airline, it’s not all about cheap flights.  It should also be about, you know, not encouraging your female flight attendants to pose in suggestive and demeaning poses in a gimmicky “bare all” calendar.

The sexy calendar features Ryanair’s staff posing in skimpy bikinis wielding hoses and sprawling across aircrafts. But worse still the links I received in a promotional email took me to a YouTube soft porn-style video of Ryanair staff being stroked by greased-up men and scintillating camera close-ups.

Ryanair...powered by sexism.

Ryanair...powered by sexism.

Mary Honeyball is a British Member of Parliament who is mounting an admirable crusade to take Ryanair to task for this disgustingly sexist promo tactic.  According to Ryanair’s press release, though, she is “loony UK politician ‘Mad Mary’ Honeyball.”  This same press release offers a brazen “defense” of the calendar’s sexism that is even more offensive than the calendar itself — and perhaps even more galling than the company’s promise to offer free “beds and blowjobs” for business class passengers.

“The ad simply reflects the way a lot of young girls like to dress. We hope the old farts at the Swedish Ethical Trade Council loosen up a little. Ryanair defends the right of Swedish girls to take their clothes off. This is a storm in a D-Cup.”

And I suppose that Ryanair’s punishing union members simply reflects the way a lot of employees like to remain underpaid and subject to their employer’s whims.

(image from flickr user wicho under a Creative Commons license)

November 27, 2008 Posted by | Feminism | | Leave a comment