Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Hero(ines): A Tribute to the Women Who Made Me Who I Am

When I started writing my thesis, one of the first things I wrote out concerned my childhood and how the fictional characters I loved affected me in lasting ways; how I modeled myself after them.  Out of that writing came a section in my Introduction called "Modeling: Lessons Learned Watching TNG" where I talked at length about Star Trek: The Next Generation's portrayal of Counselor Deanna Troi and Tasha Yar, and what those portrayals taught me about womanhood and femininity.  While this is, I think, a really strong section and I am happy with it, there was a lot more in my original conception of this idea of "modeling" that got left out (and rightly so: I needed to focus in on the pieces most relevant to the overall project).  It is that which got left out that I want to return to, perhaps briefly, now.  It's a return I wanted to make for some time, but I got the kick in the ass I needed from the Heroines Zine project, where I plan to submit some version of this piece.

A Chronological Tribute Poem Thing

To the woman who taught me to sing, Ariel (The Little Mermaid).

To the woman who taught me to read, and that it's ok to be "strange," Belle (Beauty and the Beast).

To the woman who taught me to feel, to empathize, and that perceiving the world through feeling is ok, Counselor Deanna Troi (Star Trek: The Next Generation).

To the woman who taught me to fight, to defy unjust authority, and to hold myself with dignity, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars).

To the woman who taught me to never give up, to think things through and to embrace my own power, Agent Dana Scully, M.D. (The X-Files).

To all the women who fired my imagination and made me look at myself and womanhood a little differently: Thank You.  I would not be who I am with out you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Important Shit I Have Been Reading: Some Reflections on Creating Fragrance-Free Space

Also file under: "stuff I haven't talked about that much but should."

Read it all, the author talks about not just the challenges of this issue of accessibility and large gatherings (excerpted here) but also methods of implementation and the point of the whole thing.  If you don't know much about fragrance accessibility, this is a great post for learning a whole lot in a short amount of time.  It's something I've been working on for the past few years, negotiating and figuring out what things are most important to get fragrance free, and where/when fragrance can still be in my life.  It's a process, and it takes time, but I do think it's pretty important.

via Tape Flags and First Thoughts
The first challenge is that many people don't know that they are making a choice about fragrance. It is so ubiquitous in the products we use that it comes to seem a natural part of our environment; the proverbial water the fish are swimming in. Why would people who don't have sensitivities think about this on their own? You'd be astonished if they did. So it's necessary to, first, let people know that there's a problem.
This leads directly to the second challenge: a lot of people--perhaps most people hearing about this for the first time, if my experience is any indication--don't believe there's a problem even once they're told about it. I don't, in general, blame people for this. If they've never known anyone who was affected, they probably have no idea how bad it can be. I have sometimes been tempted to tap someone on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, I need to leave now, but I wanted to let you know before I go that your decision to wear perfume to this event not only excludes me from it but means that I will probably be sick until next Thursday." But hardly anyone has ever received that shoulder tap, from me or anyone else. So they've never enountered a sufferer in the wild.
Even if they believe there's a problem, and that for some people it can be quite bad, they're inclined to assume that these folks are very rare. The first time I brought up the issue of fragrance at the summer gathering, many years ago, the person I spoke to assumed that I was the only one affected, and that the problem of one person was not sufficient to merit asking 1500 people to change their behavior. In other words, the problem might be real, but it's the job of the sufferers to manage it.
One friend told me that she met a woman at the gathering two years ago who was ranting about the FF policy. She thought it was just another pointless PC thing. My friend told her about me, about how hard gatherings had always been for me, and how much my experience had improved since the FF policy had started to get some traction. The woman was surprised and moved. She'd had no idea this actually mattered to anybody.
I also suspect that many of us progressive types suffer from issue fatigue. We've gotten on board with "Column A: The Essential Social Issues." However imperfectly, we've embraced racial justice; gender equality; the gay and lesbian rights movement; physical accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, scooters, canes, and walkers. In addition, each of us has probably also chosen to prioritize some or all of the "optional" social issues in Column B as well: factory farming, a struggling educational system, the dismantling of voter rights, conditions for workers in overseas factories, animal rights, over-reliance on petroleum fuels, global warming, the environment, the existence of bisexuals, the bottled water industry, invasive species, and whatever else I can't think of off the top of my head.
It can be very frustrating when you try to introduce the fragrance issue to the very people you think will be most open to it, and instead they resist. But I do think that resistance often comes from folks feeling like they have enough on their plate and they don't have the energy to take on one more thing.
I also wonder if some of the resistance might come from a desire not to seem even more like whacked-out troublemakers than we already do. I can imagine--and this is entirely my imagination, not anything I have any knowledge of--but I can imagine the person whose job it is to talk to universities or retreat centers about our needs ranting, "I already have to tell their cafeteria staff that they have to learn to cook vegan food, turn off the ice cream machines at Wednesday's lunch, and get us re-usable cups instead of the paper ones they usually have at the beverage station. And I need to tell the facilities people that we need some of the bathrooms re-designated from Male and Female to Gender-Neutral. Now I'm supposed to tell them, what? That we want them to switch out all the bathroom soap for fragrance-free, and that they can't use their usual cleaning products in the bedrooms? Well, I sure look forward to that conversation!"
Even once people decide they'd like to make some personal changes to help with this problem, there are challenges. They might not know where to find FF products for instance--though this has gotten much easier in recent years. I used to be able to use only Clinique makeup, for instance--$15 for a lipstick!--but a few years ago, when I needed to buy makeup for the first time in years for a choir concert, I was able to get cheap FF lipstick, blush, foundation, eyeshadow, and mascara at my corner Rite Aid.
But people who haven't looked before may not know that somewhere in that wall of shaving cream is one brand whose "extra sensitive" product is fragrance-free, or that Common Brand Of Lotion makes a FF moisturizer you just have to read the fine print to find. It can be disorienting and overwhelming.
People might also be concerned that FF products won't work as well as what they're used to. And that might indeed happen. Sometimes that's a trade-off people should just resign themselves to making (are your perfect hair and blinding-white gym socks really that important?), and sometimes it's a trade-off they can't make. I had some things to say about this previously in a post called The Hierarchy of Harm.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Important Shit I Have Been Reading: Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The factory on the hill

via Environmental Health News:
"While most coastal cities breathe ocean breezes mixed with traffic exhaust, people in north and central Richmond are exposed to a greater array of contaminants, many of them at higher concentrations. Included are benzene, mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and neurological effects. People can’t escape the fumes indoors, either. One study showed that some of the industrial pollutants are inside Richmond homes. 
It's the triple whammy of race, poverty and environment converging nationwide to create communities near pollution sources where nobody else wants to live. Black leaders from the Civil Rights Movement called the phenomenon environmental racism, and beginning in the early 1980s, they documented the pattern at North Carolina's Warren County PCBs landfill, Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," Tennessee's Dickson County, Chicago's South Side, Houston's Sunnyside garbage dump and other places across the country. 
About 56 percent of the nine million Americans who live in neighborhoods within three kilometers of large commercial hazardous waste facilities are people of color, according to a landmark, 2007 environmental justice report by the United Church of Christ. In California, it’s 81 percent. Poverty rates in these neighborhoods are 1.5 times higher than elsewhere. 
Those numbers, however, reflect a miniscule portion of the threats faced by nonwhite and low-income families. Thousands of additional towns are near other major sources of pollution, including refineries, chemical plants, freeways and ports. 
Richmond is one of these beleaguered towns, on the forefront of the nation's environmental justice struggle, waging a fight that began a century ago."

As you've probably heard, the Chevron refinery in Richmond had a fire a couple of days ago.  This fire left huge toxic clouds which are now going to make their way around the bay area (in fact, currently, in my direction).  Environmental racism is a deathly real thing, and I think it's very important that we understand that it's part of a long pattern of behavior.  This is not simply "an accident," it is part of a historical trajectory that says low income people, people of color, and Native people (in particular) are fair game to be slowly poisoned and their lives risked for the profit of an upper crust of normative White people.  This article does some of that work, and so I share it with you.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Good Shit I Have Been Reading: Defining Muslim Feminist Politics through Indigenous Solidarity Activism

It's been a long time since I did a round up of good pieces I have read recently, and to be honest over the last two years in particular I just haven't kept up my reading as I once did.  But I am doing a bit more of it lately and I felt particularly moved to share this piece by Shaista Patel with you.  Do go read it all at The Feminist Wire....

Defining Muslim Feminist Politics through Indigenous Solidarity Activism:
"While we may share some histories, it is critical for us Muslims and other non-Indigenous people here to not fall into the trap of equating the struggles of Muslims with that of Indigenous peoples in white settler colonies, where Indigenous people who have been living here since time immemorial have now been outnumbered by whites through illegal land grab, dispossession, and outright genocide. Under settler-colonialism, as Patrick Wolfe asserts, “the dominant feature is not exploitation [of Indigenous peoples’ labor] but replacement” of Indigenous people by white people.[iv] Our connection as racialized people to this land is not the same as that of its Indigenous peoples, and we have to remember that they are not just a “minority” group here, like we are. In “Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy,” scholar Andrea Smith explains how the logic of the genocide of Indigenous peoples and slavery, and continual treatment of Black people as property under capitalism, interrelate and work with the Orientalist logic of seeing Muslims and Arabs as inferior, which legitimizes constant war on their lands and bodies.[v] It is important, therefore, to understand the different but interrelated ways in which white supremacy affects and implicates us. My Muslim feminist praxis asks me not to leave this recognition of living on stolen land as rhetoric, as a mere admission, but rather to make my complicity into an urgent political and personal task. 
How does this sense of complicity translate into an everyday feminist praxis? As a Muslim feminist, fighting racism, sexism, and homophobia has been at the forefront of my agenda.  However, an understanding of ongoing colonial relations between Canadians and Indigenous peoples here makes it necessary to remember that, as several Indigenous women have patiently pointed out again and again, colonization happened precisely through patriarchal gendered violence against Indigenous women. As Smith explains in her ground-breaking work,Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide:
[I]n order to colonize a people whose society was not hierarchical, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy.[vi]
Drawing on these insights, I recognize that my struggles against gender violence will fail if articulated in isolation from confronting colonial patriarchal relations that continue to strengthen sexual and other forms of violence against Indigenous women, women of color, and white women. I cannot fight against the invasion of my body if my politics do not account for the ways in which Indigenous women have been constantly marked for death and disappearance. If I am angry about Mark Steyn’s anti-Muslim vitriolic cry that the “future belongs to Islam” because Muslim women are reproducing “speedily” while the Western (white) population is declining,[vii] I have to remember that Indigenous women are still seen as “better dead than pregnant”.[viii] The “Stolen Sisters” report by Amnesty International (Canada) states that a 1996 Canadian government statistic reveals that Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44, with status under the Indian Act, were five times more likely than all other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.[ix] Native Women’s Association of Canada reports the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women at 582 since 1980,[x] while several other Indigenous men and women report the number to be much higher, which is not surprising given the fact that colonialism works precisely through targeting Indigenous women’s bodies. If Indigenous women’s bodies are disposable and a site of everyday violence, what integrity can my body demand here?"

'via Blog this'

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Once More into the Spuffy Breach, Dear Friends, Or; My Evolving and Complicated Relationship with Spike

There was a day when I was a teenager, probably 15 or 16, when I saw the sex scene from "Smashed" (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you didn't already know from the post title) on television.  It was completely out of context.  I literally clicked the remote onto the channel right at the moment where Buffy and Spike were making out, tearing down a house, and fucking.  And my jaw dropped.  And I was like, "holy shit, is this seriously on TV right now?"  And then I was simply very aware of how turned on I was by the whole scene.

Cut to... At least seven years later and I still haven't really watched Buffy cuz honestly I didn't care that much about the show, but friends of mine are STILL raving about it so I finally give in and decide to watch it - also there's that sex scene at some point to see again and I'll be honest: I was looking forward to it.  So I watch the series, and I get really invested in Spike as a character.  Yeah, he is really stalkery, but that's ok (it's not really [and I'm over-simplifying my reaction, I wasn't ok with it then either but I also chose to sort of let it go]), and he doesn't know how to take no for an answer (not cute IRL in any way).  BUT WHO CARES LOOK AT HIM OMG (no really though you should care, but I didn't).

But despite this, when I got to that sex scene again... It didn't affect me the way it did that first time.  I suspect because, in part, I knew the story that went along with it.  Truthfully the kiss at the end of "Once More, With Feeling" affected me more (IN MY PANTS) than that sex scene did.  But I still have lots of feelings about that sex scene because of what it meant to me the first time I saw it, and I felt I should continue having those feelings for it.  I certainly was still attracted to Spike, hugely so, so I just accepted that perhaps part of the fun of that first viewing was that it came out of nowhere and caught me by surprise - along with that sense of (in my parents living room sort of late at night) "I should NOT be watching this right now!"  But still, that it didn't affect me the same way bothered me.  And has continued to bother me.

Cut to lots of years later and Mark of Mark Watches getting to season six of Buffy, getting to this episode and his reaction...could not be more different than mine was over ten years ago now and I'm just like "WHAT?" because you see I'm still really invested in this scene and this character.  But along with that "WHAT?" reaction is the same nagging little voice that bothered me the last time I watched this scene, the one that's like, "you're not turned on, why is that?"  The very non-reaction of my body to this scene is in itself a reaction and it's one that I don't know how to process.  Hell it's been processing for years at this point and I still don't know how to express what I feel and why it matters even as I know it does matter to me.

The best I can figure is that this matters to me now because I understand something about the politics of desire - that what we desire is as imbued with political meaning as everything else.  I started exploring that in my posts about how it bothered me when I realized my "hottest guys" list was populated exclusively by white men.  I have over the years consciously forced awareness of these things onto myself, in an effort to decolonize my mind in this arena to the best of my ability (with noticeable positive results).  And it was roughly during this period that I watched Buffy all the way through for the first time.  I was subconsciously already processing these issues when I watched the series, though I wouldn't be able to write about (or articulate) them until much later (obviously).  Although, if you look back, my very first posts on this blog were reposts from livejournal about...what else?  Spuffy. (P.S. those posts have major spoilers so if you're watching for the first time don't go looking for them, also if you do go looking for them please excuse my ableist language. Good gods that is some old writing...)

Quite frankly I don't know if I'm ready to dissect my attraction to Spike.  I am certain that is a very loaded piece of my psyche, maybe that doesn't NEED to be totally unpacked? (I waffle on this).  But here's what I do know.  I do know that what Mark wrote in his reactions to these scenes and this relationship hit me in the gut.  I do know that I had a hot mess of conflicted feelings reacting to what he wrote; some of which are very personal feelings about whether or not I am in fact a fucked up person (in ways I didn't already know about/am not ready/don't want to deal with).  And I do know that I've been putting off going back and rewatching that episode; that I'm wary of what I might find this time around.  I also know that, given the clusterfuck of a reaction the fandom has given Mark as a result of his writing on that episode (now dubbed the Great Spuffy Meltdown of 2012 by Mark himself), I am getting indications that maybe my reactions to these scenes and this relationship are ones I SHOULD analyze more than I have.

And for once I don't really have a conclusion here, I'm just kind of laying out the things I've been thinking about.  I keep thinking about these things off and on as I read Mark's reviews, and revisiting feelings that have lain dormant for YEARS as it goes along.  I know there are Buffy fans who read my stuff, what do you think about all this?  What were/have been your feelings watching this relationship evolve?  Where is consent in their sexual relationship, if it's there at all?  I remember brownfemipower having some interesting thoughts about the sort of BDSM type nature of the Spuffy relationship and its being a rare instance of that sort of relationship being OK on mainstream television and agreeing with her interpretation, but I haven't been able to find those posts again on tumblr.  Does something along those lines ring true for you?  Or am I just way out in left field?