Stuffed Peppers

Here’s my mama’s recipe for stuffed peppers.

Ingredients:

Medium-large green bell peppers
Ground pork
Instant white or brown rice
Salt
Pepper
1-2 large cans of tomato sauce

Preparation:

1. Using a pairing knife, cut a circle around the stem of a bell pepper in order to remove the stem and central stalk with seeds. Once removed, use a spoon to scrape out all seeds and spines inside the pepper. Rinse under cold water then set aside to dry.

2. In a large mixing bowl combine ground pork, rice, salt, and pepper. I don’t use exact measurements, I mix to sight. The ratio of ground pork and rice to peppers depends on how many peppers you wish to prepare and how large they are. 4-5 medium peppers needs approximately 3 pounds of pork, give or take. The denser you pack the peppers the longer it will take for them to cook through, so keep that in mind as you set up your ratios. Mix your pork mixture by hand. Yes, it’s messy, but you will get a more evenly combined mixture without pockets of unmixed pork or rice.

3. Once your pork mixture is evenly and fully mixed, spoon it into the prepared peppers. Again, try not to over pack. The denser your peppers the longer they will take to cook through and you run the risk of undercooked pork (highly unhealthy). Once you’ve filled all your peppers, place them on the bottom of a large, heavy bottomed stock pot. A cast iron dutch oven works just as well (Le Creuset or Staub). What ever kind of pot you choose must have a lid though. Do not stack the peppers. Keep them in a single layer even if that means cooking in multiple pots or in batches. Cover the peppers with tomato sauce. I generally use one 29-oz can of tomato sauce per 4 peppers. I like a good ratio of sauce to pepper. Feel free to play with the ratio if you’d like. But keep in mind that the hearty tomato sauce is key to a good stuffed pepper. Add water to the pan (I add it too the sides so as not to wash off the tomato sauce from the tops of the peppers) till the “sauce” level reaches the tops of the peppers. Do not fully submerge the peppers! They will begin to float and can flip onto their sides while cooking leading to uneven cooking.

4. Cook covered on medium-high heat till the pork is fully cooked through (no pink coloration left). Thorough cooking is essential. Consuming uncooked or under cooked pork is highly unhealthy and can make you sick.

I don’t like to eat the peppers, but that’s just me. I cut the pepper off the cooked pork filling, dice the pork, and serve with a generous amount of the tomato sauce/broth that the peppers were cooked in.

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Can the Subaltern Speak?: Gayatri Spivak and Post-Colonialism

While she is best known as a postcolonial theorist, Gayatri Spivak describes herself as a “para-disciplinary, ethical philosopher” though her shingle could just as well read: “Applied Deconstruction.” Her reputation was first made for her translation and preface to Derrida’s Of Grammatology and she has since applied deconstructive strategies to various theoretical engagements and textual analyses: from Feminism, Marxism, and Literary Criticism to, most recently, Post-colonialism.

 

My position is generally a reactive one. I am viewed by Marxists as too codic, by feminists as too male-identified, by indigenous theorists as too committed to Western Theory. I am uneasily pleased about this.[1]

Despite her outsider status — or partly, perhaps, because of it — Spivak is widely cited in a range of disciplines. Her work is nearly evenly split between dense theoretical writing peppered with flashes of compelling insight and published interviews in which she wrestles with many of the same issues in a more personable and immediate manner. What Edward Said calls a “contrapuntal” reading strategy is recommended as her ideas are continually evolving and resist, in true deconstructive fashion, a straight textual analysis. She has said that she prefers the teaching environment where ideas are continually in motion and development.

 

Of Grammaology – an English translation of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie – introduced and positioned her as a postcolonial critic whose deconstructive interpretations of imperialism and the struggle for decolonization seek also to interrogate the very premises of marxism, feminism, and Derridean deconstruction that underwrite her own work.

 

Encompassing literary criticism, a learned application of European enlightenment philosophy, as well as ambitious forays into economic problems of labor and capital, Spivak’s eclectic and often contradictory critical scope resembles her shifting position as an academic “subject.” Simultaneously privileged as an elite, even esoteric intellectual currently teaching at Columbia University, and marginalized as a “Third-World woman,” “hyphenated-American,” and Bengali exile, Spivak uses deconstruction to address the ways in which she is in fact complicit in the production of social formations that she ostensibly opposes. In the following passage from “Bonding in Difference,” an interview with Alfred Arteaga, Spivak describes her indebtedness to deconstruction in order to explain the postcolonial critic¹s responsibility to question the assumptions not only of the social formations under their scrutiny but their own critical and institutional allegiances:

 

So right form the beginning, the deconstructive move. Deconstruction does not say there is no subject, there is no truth, there is no history. It simply questions the privileging of identity so that someone is believed to have the truth. It is not the exposure of error. It is constantly and persistently looking into how truths are produced. That’s why deconstruction doesn’t say logocentrism is a pathology, or metaphysical enclosures are something you can escape. Deconstruction, if one wants a formula, is among other things, a persistent critique of what one cannot not want. And in that sense, yes, it’s right there at the beginning.[2]

 

While Of Grammology jumpstarted her career, her 1988 essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” redefined it and post-colonialism at large. The essay, initially presented as a lecture and then later published, introduced questions of gender and sexual difference into analyses of representation and offering a profound critique of both subaltern history and radical Western philosophy.

 

Spivak’s eloquent and uncompromising arguments engaged with more than just power, politics, and the postcolonial. They confronted the methods of deconstruction, the contemporary relevance of Marxism, the international division of labor, and capitalism’s “worlding” of the world, calling attention to the historical and ideological factors that efface the possibility of being heard. 

Since the publication of Spivak’s essay, the work has been revered, reviled, misread, and misappropriated. It has been cited, invoked, imitated, and critiqued.

 

Benjamin Graces, an industrious and brilliant Brown student, introduces Spivak’s seminal essay quite critically and astutely:

 

Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” – originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg’s Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988)[3] – perhaps best demonstrates her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinscribe, co-opt, and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural erasure. In other words, is the post-colonial critic unknowingly complicit in the task of imperialism? Is “post-colonialism” a specifically first-world, male, privileged, academic, institutionalized discourse that classifies and surveys the East in the same measure as the actual modes of colonial dominance it seeks to dismantle?

 

According to Spivak, postcolonial studies must encourage that “postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss” (Ashcroft. et al 28). In “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group, a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci’s term “subaltern” (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and re-establish a “voice” or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India. Although Spivak acknowledges the “epistemic violence” done upon Indian subalterns, she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems:

1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people, and

2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to “speak for” the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves.[4]

 

As Spivak argues, by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity, subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos–a totalizing, essentialist “mythology” as Derrida might describe it–that doesn’t account for the heterogeneity of the colonized body politic.

 

Spivak’s essay should be required reading for everyone. But if you don’t have the time or if you do have the time and want a critical companion, there’s one listed below for you.

 

Thesis:

 

“My view is that radical practice should attend to this double session of representation rather than reintroduce the individual subject through totalizing concepts of power and desire.” (279)

 

Fourfold Argument of the Essay:

 

  1. Problematize the Western subject and see how it is still operational in poststructuralist theory (Foucault and Deleuze)
  2. Re-read Marx to find a more radical de-centering of the subject that also leaves more room for the formation of class identifications that are non-essentialist (Derrida, also)
  3. Argue that Western intellectual production reinforces the logic of Western economic expansion
  4. Perform a close reading of sati to analyze the discourses of the West and the possibilities for speech that the subaltern woman has (or does not have) within that framework

 

Arguments 1-3 are addressed in the first half of the essay, which address Spivak’s theoretical framework and argument, while argument 4 is addressed in the second half of the essay, which serves as an example of Spivak’s argument and her conclusion.

 

Spivak’s article moves from a critique of current Western efforts to problematize the subject to a still more radical de-centering of the subject implicit in Marx and Derrida. It makes the point that western intellectual production is complicit with Western international economic interests, and finally raises the question of how the third-world subject is represented within Western discourse, using the example of sati (widow sacrifice).

 

The juxtapositions brought into play over the course of the article emphasize how ‘benevolent’ Western intellectuals can paradoxically silence the subaltern by claiming to speak for their experience (by asserting that the subaltern ‘knows’) in the same way that ‘benevolent’ colonialists silenced the voices of the women who ‘chose’ to immolate themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres i.e. it is in the appropriation of the voice of the subaltern that s/he is silenced.

 

Foucault and Deleuze (Guattari):

  • Spivak’s criticism:
    • They [Foucault and Deleuze] short-circuit the radical implications of the ‘crisis of the subject’ by introducing the concept of ‘subject effects,’ which differ in name, but not in function, from traditional subjects (273)
    • She criticizes Foucault for emphasizing the pervasiveness and heterogeneity of power while ignoring how power produces ideology, and instead filling the place of ideology with a generalized notion of ‘culture’ (274)
    • Spivak finds a contradiction between Foucault and Deleuze’s valorizing of the concrete experience of oppression while providing little explanation of the baggage of the intellectual in the conflation of the ideas of ‘representing’ (as in politics/speaking for the interests of a group of people) and ‘re-presenting’ (when what is presented becomes fused with its signified and takes on an immediacy of presence) (274-275)
    • Spivak’s response:
      • While many of their contributions are useful, their political effectiveness is impaired by systematically ignoring the question of ideology and their own implication in intellectual and economic history
      • She objects to their use of ‘master words’ such as ‘the workers’, which generalize the experience of a diverse range of people (272)
        • Conversely, her own use of the term ‘subaltern’ is emphatically multiple
      • Beginning with Deleuze and Guattari’s implementation of an undifferentiated ‘desire’ supporting all kinds of revolutionary movements and acts, Spivak demonstrates how the unspoken and un-interrogated assumptions behind these totalizing theories end in reinforcing the subject positions of the theorists themselves (273-274)
      • To Spivak, the idea that desire and interest may work in opposition to one another under the effects of ideology seems to escape Deleuze and Foucault (273)

 

Marx and Derrida:

  • Spivak refers to Marx to demonstrate how his concept of class formation clearly differentiates between darstellen (re-presentation) and vertreten(representation) (276-278)
    • Darstellen
      • Re-presentation
      • Rhetoric as trope
      • Class as a descriptive concept, class in a system
      • Class consciousness
      • Vertreten
        • Representation
        • Rhetoric as persuasion
        • Class as a transformative concept, through substitution/representation
        • Transformation of consciousness
    • Spivak uses Derrida as a tool to deconstruct and de-center, particularly when it comes to Foucault (primary motives of the essay and of Spivak’s work generally)
      • “I have tried to argue that the substantive concern for the politics of the oppressed which often accounts for Foucault’s appeal can hide a privileging of the intellectual and of the “concrete” subject of oppression that, in fact, compounds the appeal.” (292)
      • Following up this passage, Spivak notes that: “though it is not my intention here to counter the specific view of Derrida promoted by these influential writers [Anderson and Said], I will discuss a few aspects of Derrida’s work that retain a long-term usefulness for people outside the First World…yet he is less dangerous when understood than the first-world intellectual masquerading as an absent non-representer who lets the oppressed speak for themselves.” (292)
    • Spivak cites a chapter of Derrida’s “Of Grammatology As a Positive Science” (a book she famously translated and provide a critical introduction for in 1976)
      • For Spivak: Derrida = Deconstruction

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Sarah Harasym, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (London: Routledge, 1990)

[2] Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, ed. The Spivak Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), 28.

[3] Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, et al, eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988) 271-313.

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Thank God I’m Not One Of Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

As usual, I’m behind the curve. But at least I’m catching up.

I’ve managed to finally get around to watching a few episodes of HBO’s “Girls.” If you don’t wade into the blogosphere or subscribe to HBO, then you may not be familiar with the Lena Dunham created and written and Judd Apatow produced half-hour dramedy. I’ll sum it up for you: “Girls” is Lena Dunham’s “Write your diary like Diablo Cody fanfic” fantasy come to life. Four twenty-something white women braving the Big Apple with jerk boyfriends and a mixed nuts group of friends and acquaintances in tow. Yes, of course it sounds familiar. Yes, the “Sex and the City” comparisons are played up and chum for glossy magazine reviews. But the show isn’t original, gritty, groundbreaking, or any of the other overly magnanimous modifiers pinned to it like a tacky corsage to a cheap prom dress.

The only success of the show is that a show with nothing new to offer managed to get made, managed to get a slew of shockingly good reviews, and managed renewal for a second season. Most of the positive reviews for “Girls” are from women. I don’t mention this to say that female critics like the show only because it’s written by and is centered on women. I mention this to highlight exactly what is wrong with this show and the portrayal of women on television generally. Noted often, and with a correct amount of amazement, is the fact that this is a show created by, written, and directed by a woman. A rare feat indeed in Hollywood. But is that reason enough to excuse the faults? It’s great to see a woman in charge of a show on a major network, but that’s not enough reason to support the show.

The most common praise improperly heaped upon “Girls” is that it’s a snapshot of young women making their way in the big city without a lot of gloss and polish. (I suppose that’s what bloggers mean when they say “gritty.”) People unaccustomed to reading their children’s twitter feeds or having an unadulterated or pre-formulated experience themselves have called “Girls” “real” and “frank.” True, the Vogue editorial panache of SATC is nowhere to be found here. Upper East Siders these gals are not. I suppose we can applaud “Girls” for being the antithesis of “Gossip Girl;” even if it accomplishes nothing else. Hannah (Dunham) and her gal-pals rolled through an Urban Outfitters on their way out of an Anthropologie catalog and hit the streets of Brooklyn with the confidence only Millennials could express with a straight face. It helps that the actresses themselves have the luxury of being from New York without actually being from New York. Children of an artist (Dunham), NBC’s Nightly News anchor (Williams), and a film and theater multi-hyphenate (Mamet). Children without the need for skill and education to back up and support their ambitions staring in a show about children without the skill or aptitude to support their ambitions let alone themselves.  

It’s not without some sense of humor that I write this piece while I watch the amazing Marina Abramović documentary. Here is a artist who uses, displays, abuses, manipulates, tortures, praises and honors her body by turning it into definitive performance art. Without knowing it, Dunham is beholden to the legacy and ongoing evolution of performance art. Body as canvas, life as art work. But where Abramović (without getting off the point too much) transformed a dialogue and paradigm with her work, Dunham reinforces everything she thinks she’s breaking. The female actress portraying a female stereotype, young woman making it (or attempting to) in the city, unfiltered discussion of sex and sexuality as mode of “realness” or “authenticity.” I could go on, but I think the point is made. Dunham’s formula isn’t new and worse it’s been done better. “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Murphy Brown,” hell “Cybil” and “Designing Women” were better than this. 

I rarely care for HuffPo, but in this instance I think the review hit the nail on the head (and not just because it agrees with me and I with it, though that helps):

“Girls feels less like a commentary on this generation and more like an indictment on it,” John Kubicek wrote for BuddyTV.com. “These characters have been raised believing that they’re special and that they can do anything they want. The problem is that none of them seem to want to do anything. There’s nothing particularly special about Hannah’s life, no reason that her memoirs would be remotely interesting.”

Many writers found the characters unsympathetic, mostly on account of their privilege. (Dunham is photographer Laurie Simmons’ daughter and plays the daughter of two professors on the show. Brian Willliams’ daughter Allison plays Dunham’s roommate).

“Laurie Simmons’ daughter’s best friend is Brian Williams’ daughter. She is uptight, pretty, straight-laced, and has a boyfriend who’s just too nice and loving. She wears a retainer when she sleeps, symbolically,” John Cook wrote on Gawker. “Laurie Simmons’ daughter says Brian Williams’ daughter’s boyfriend ‘has a vagina,’ a notion that isn’t at all hackneyed and retrograde when it’s uttered by a self-aware 24-year-old girl who has tattoos of illustrations from children’s books all over her body.”

I could go on, I really could. But if you’ve read any of my pieces before (especially my piece on SATC or Vogue, etc) then you probably already have a since that myopic narrow-mindedness is the fuel to my cultural rage. If you want to live in a bubble, go ahead. Enjoy your bubble. But don’t tell me that your bubble is the real world and that you’ve some how become enlightened in your bubble, from your bubble. That’s bullshit. And “Girls” is one big, privileged, white, myopic bubble. Dunham manages to insult and enslave the vary audience she thinks she’s speaking to. Is this what twenty-somethings are? Should be? Can be? More importantly, is this what we all are? Hardly. Not even close. “Girls” is Dunham’s fangirl diary experiment come to life for her and her friends’ amusement. Such a terrible, insulting, damaging shame it is for young women everywhere who now must bear the burden of this nonsense and the nonsense of brainless women posturing as generational mouthpieces. 

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“Boobie Wednesday” and the State of Women’s Health

Some time ago I wrote a piece on the Twitter phenomenon of “Boobie Wednesday” (#BoobieWed). When I first wrote the piece my intentions were to share my personal experience with breast cancer and to provide my opinion of women using shots of their bare or barely covered breasts as their avatar. In the time since that original post, almost a year now, I have written openly in other posts about my life, my sex life, and my body since my procedures. This was done in part to speak about cancer tangibly as opposed to many on Twitter who speak intangibly about the disease. Part of the choice to write so openly was assuage the fears and concerns of women facing reproductive cancers, women often racked with fear of losing their sexual appeal or the aspects of their person that define their femininity. It is the latter half of my impetus that has been and continues to be missing from the “Boobie Wednesday” movement and programs like this.

 

What should be central to programs aimed at educating women about cancer and reproductive health should be just that: education. Pink ribbon campaigns, the Komen Foundation, Save the Tatas, etc do more to shill products than to provide education and support. The primary goals of these and similar organization should be:

 

  • Providing templates and conversation points to aid women in constructing a family health history
  • Providing conversation points and important topics for women to speak with their primary care provider and gynocologist on a regular basis about
  • Frank and proper education about women’s bodies that dispels myths and encourages a woman to accurately know her body and how to care for it

 

Lastly, organizations MUST finally break their silence about life during and after treatment. When have you ever seen the Komen foundation talk about maintaining sexuality and sexual confidence post-cancer? Never. It’s never happened. Breasts can be reconstructed. Ever hear that message while you’re being sold lipstick? Clothes? Pink shoes? No, of course not. When do pink ribbon campaigns talk about sex during and after treatment? How medications and treatments can affect a woman’s libido? They don’t. The sad thing is organizations often run by women, for women behave as if women can’t handle the truth. The constant call for mammograms and participation in “Race for the Cure” never seems to include frank discussion of other reproductive cancers and health concerns. So how many American women are under educated or falsely educated about their bodies as a result of this? In fact about 60% of American women are unable to accurately answer basic questions about their reproductive organs.

 

Sure, we can start the finger pointing. We could blame our “Puritan” heritage, the lack of sexual health instruction in schools. We could say mothers should talk to their daughters about this. But finger pointing doesn’t accomplish anything. At the end of the day, organizations devoted to the health and well being of women have consistently dropped the ball. In fact this country has consistently dropped the ball about women’s health in the name of religion and morality.

 

This brings me to the heart of why I felt compelled to revisit this topic. Since the 2010 midterm elections, there has been a deluge of legislative action taken to greatly limit women’s access to contraception and abortion. In addition to making abortion nearly impossible to many women in this country, efforts to make hormonal contraception illegal has taken root across the country as well. Never since the passage of Roe v. Wade has there been such and organized and concerted effort to remove reproductive rights from women, to dictate and mandate the care a doctor will tell a woman she can have as opposed to discussing options with a patient and allowing the patient to make their own medical choices. It is as if second wave feminism never happened, as if Our Bodies, Ourselves never happened.

 

What Our Bodies, Ourselves accomplished, what Roe v. Wade accomplished was to make it legally possibly for women to be active participants in their health care. Woman could know their bodies, enjoy their bodies, decide if and when to have sex, if and when to have a child, what kind of birth they’d like to have, etc. The book arose out of a 35-cent, 136-page booklet called Women and Their Bodies, published in 1970 by the New England Free Press, and written by twelve Boston feminist activists. The booklet was originally intended as the basis for a women’s health course, the first to be written for women by women. Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston’s Emmanuel College organized the health seminar that inspired the booklet in 1969. “We weren’t encouraged to ask questions, but to depend on the so-called experts,” Hawley told Women’s eNews. “Not having a say in our own health care frustrated and angered us. We didn’t have the information we needed, so we decided to find it on our own.”

 

Now, sadly, this country is returning to an age where doctors dictate care, tell a woman what she can and can’t do or have done to her body. The rights of a woman to be her own advocate, to speak for her own body should be essential to any and all awareness campaigns. As women’s access to health care are being diminished, let “Boobie Wednesday” serve as a weekly reminder that women have a voice and should be in charge of ALL health care decisions. This isn’t a liberal issue or some anti-church issue. This isn’t about politics. This is about human rights. It’s about not allowing women to become voiceless members of our society again.

 

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Curse of Being a Modern Woman

Ever had a day where you just had shit inside of you that you want, no, need to let out but it makes you sound pathetic and sad and silly? You want someone to hear you, acknowledge you, and support you, but you’re afraid to call on them? Yeah. I’m having one of those days, for sure. So I wrote this. Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Email it to your friends and have a giggle. But I just had to purge.

—————————————————————————————————————

I’ve been single for ages.

It’s been so long since a man took me on a proper date I don’t even know what I “proper date” is anymore. In fact, I think I was in my teens the last time a man took me out.

Was that the last time I had sex? Of course not. And here in lies my conflict, the curse of being a woman in this day in age.

I have not been on a date in my twenties and they’re more than half over. I have slept with men, many men, in that time. None of these men took me on a date. None of them even so much as brought flowers over or made breakfast after fucking me (of course most of them didn’t even stay the night…).

I could give you a million and one reasons for why I slept with men who didn’t show me the respect of even thanking me for my body. I could tell you that I’m a sexually liberated woman. That I’m a modern woman who loves sex and doesn’t need the traditional structure of a formal relationship to have it. I could tell you that I just fucking wanted sex and didn’t care about the extraneous relationship “stuff.” But the truth of the matter is that I slept with those men because I was lonely. I slept with them because I had no self-worth, no self-appreciation. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t like my body or how I looked. I thought if a man fucked me he must like me. He must find me attractive and sexy. For those hours, those temporary, fleeting moments in bed together, I felt pretty. I felt appreciated and cared for. Of course that faded the minute the man got up out of bed and left. And when I never heard from them again or when I was just a late-night booty text I felt worse about myself. I hated myself and valued myself even less.

But in these years of meaningless, emotionless sex with men who couldn’t have cared less about me, there was never even a hint of a man who wanted more. Who showed even a modicum of interest in me. My loneliness continued, often growing to almost unbearable heights. I wanted to be touched. To be held. To be desired. I wanted a man who didn’t just get his rocks off and then forget all about me.

None of the men I’ve slept with have called me beautiful. None of them have called me sexy. In fact, I’ve never heard that from any man in my life. My father never said I was beautiful. When I asked him if he thought I was pretty he said I could be pretty if I lost weight. My mother defended him. Saying that men are visual creatures and if I wanted a partner I should lose some weight. So it really wasn’t surprising to sleep with men who didn’t think of me as attractive. Who were just in it for sex. In fact I find it very hard to believe any man could find me attractive, could want more from me than sex.

So where do I go from here?

People say I need “standards.” That I should value myself more and not sleep with a man who’s not going to give me more than a one-night-stand. But then I’d have nothing. I’d be alone. No contact. No nothing.

Is that really better?

I look at dating sites and tumblr and craigslist and all this other shit out there and all I see is: “Hi, I’m looking for a petite, height-weight-proportionate woman who is slim and fit and not taller than me! Thanks!” I see people post pictures of curvy and voluptuous women only to be met with comments of “she’s obviously overweight and unhealthy.” How does a woman who’s tall and thick and curvy face that? How does a woman who gets nothing but blank stares when she tells men about her degrees and professional development date in this world?

I don’t want to continue to dim my light, to smile and nod to the well-meaning “you’re time will come, just wait.” I want someone in my life who fucking gives a damn about me. I want human touch, I want passion and desire. I want someone who loves my body – lumps and curves and scars and all – without caveats.

My dating criteria is now: employed and not a jackass. That’s it. That’s the best I can hope for, because it seems that a woman like me can’t and shouldn’t aspire for more.

Yeah, I’d love to follow my therapist’s advice and work on building my self-esteem, but it’s hard to do when there’s no reinforcement. I’m independent. I can care for myself. But having a partner isn’t about being unable to care for oneself, it’s about wanting to share your life with someone and grow from and with their support. I need that. I crave that. But it’s no where in sight. So the meaningless, emotionless sex continues. The “standards” remain non-existent. But at least if I sleep with a man I have a decent shot at a hug or a cuddle afterwards. However fleeting it may be.

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It’s the Little Things

Since news broke of pedophilia allegations against a Penn State University assistant football coach earlier this fall, I have resisted commenting on the situation on Twitter or elsewhere. I was appalled that such behavior had occurred in the first place and deeply disgusted that, as facts unfolded, members of the Penn State athletic community knew of or witnessed illegal actions and said nothing, did nothing to protect the victims. The national media has focused on the nature of collegiate athletics, programs often so valuable to institutions that employees and athletes are given free reign to behave as badly as they’d like, and who knew what, when. The national sports media, divided over the Kobe Bryant rape case, is now unified in its disgust for Sandusky and the coverup, lack of action within the Penn State football association.

But the bigger issue here, I think, is the way in which sex crimes are approached in this country in general. Or rather, I should say, how men, in particular, approach what is and isn’t a crime and what is and isn’t worth mentioning to the authorities.

I’ve blogged a few recent items on tumblr. (You can follow my tumblr here.) The issue of rape “jokes” and the lack of humor women find in them was discussed here by Lipstick Feminists. Is it possible to make a rape “joke”? Well, comics are divided on the issue, but the prevalence of mentions of rape by Donald Glover should raise people’s eyebrows and open a discussion of why men think it’s okay to joke about sexual assault. What kind of message does it send for such a prominent actor/comic to so openly and frequently joke about rape? To use rape as a go-to insult or threat? Or how about this fellow who repeatedly refers to women as “cunts” as he rails against feminism and blisters on and on about why feminists shouldn’t be taken seriously. What does it mean for our society to have such prevalent thoughts and sentiments at the forefront? Even with the widespread abuse epidemic within the Catholic Church in the US, the discussion and acceptance of sexual assault victims, especially men, is still so hushed and peripheral in the US. Just looking at the staggering lack of reports of sexual assault shows how many victims are afraid, ashamed, or unable to speak up in their defense and alert authorities.

To start, some statistics on sex crimes in the US:

  • 44% percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 80% are under the age of 30
  • A person is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the US
  • It is estimated that only 40% of sexual assaults are ever reported to law enforcement
  • 15 out of 16 rapists/sexual abusers will never spend even one day in jail for their crimes
  • 60-70% of sexual assaults and crimes are committed by person(s) known to the victim
  • 30% of sexual assaults are committed by a intimate partner
The statistics are startling, scary, and make the blood boil of any person with a conscious. Even with about 40% of sexual assaults reported to authorities, there is only a 50% chance of an arrest. If an arrest is actually made, there is only an 80% chance of prosecution. If, by chance, a felony conviction occurs, there is only a 69% chance the convicted with serve jail time. That means that in the 40% of assaults reported, there is only a 16.3% chance that the assailant will serve a jail sentence. Therefore, factoring in unreported cases, only 6% of sexual abusers and rapists will spend time in jail. Sexual assault doesn’t just happen by men against women, men are victims of rape, sexual abuse/assault, and incest as well. In the US, as of a national report published in 2003, just over 10% of sexual assault victims in the US were men or boys.
But the statistics of crimes and reporting of assaults is not nearly as troubling as the statistics of how Americans think about sexual assault:
  • About 50% of college women who were sexually assaulted did not consider the attack a crime
  • In a survey of high school students, 56& of girls and 76% of boys (some were incoming college freshmen) believed that forced sex was acceptable in some situations
At least one factor on how and why the genders have such a skewed view on sexual based crimes may be the pervasive availability and use of pornography, strip club environments, internet and phone sex services, and escort and prostitution services. In a study published in July of this year, Boston-based researcher Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education, commented on how difficult it was to find a control group for her study of men who pay for sexual services.
“We had big, big trouble finding nonusers. We finally had to settle on a definition of non-sex-buyers as men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute.” (Newsweek, July 25, 2011, page 61)
The prevalence of and ease of acquiring sexual services in the digital age has flooded the marketplace, so to speak, with so many easily attainable options that many men and women don’t see most sex industry activities as prostitution. “The more the commercial sex industry normalizes this behavior, the more of this behavior you get,” says Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Traffiking in Women, in the same article. Paying for sex has become ordinary, as have feelings that not all forced sexual situations constituent assault or rape or that violence against sex workers is acceptable.
“Overall, the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them to be men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation. Sex buyers are more likely to view sex as divorced from personal relationships than nonbuyers, and they enjoyed the absence of emotional involvement with prostitutes, whom they saw as commodities… In their interviews, the sex buyers often voiced aggression toward women, and were nearly eight times as likely as nonbuyers to say they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. Asked why he bought sex, one man said he liked to “beat women up.” Sex buyers in the study committed more crimes of every kind than nonbuyers, and all crimes associated with violence against women were committed by buy purchasers of sex.” (Newsweek, July 25, 2011, page 61)
The bottom line is this: Why should the lack of action at Penn State bother us now given the historical lack of action to aid and defend victims of sexual assault in this country and bring their accusers to justice? I wonder how many sexual assaults go unreported on Penn State’s campus annually. Why are there no national press conferences shining a light on the fact that 1 in 4 women will be raped or assaulted in college? We’ve let some many “little things” slip past us, become commonplace, that it takes something as shockingly disturbing as serial pedophilia to shock us awake and force us to ask ourselves the hard questions.

 

 

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Pink All Over

I started writing this post at the beginning of the month. I thought about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it for a long time. October is a trying month for me in a couple of ways. Both my mother and I are breast cancer survivors and her birthday is at the beginning of the month. A month that should be a celebration of my mother’s life brings with it a month slathered in pink bullshit in the guise of cancer awareness. Each October when I celebrate my mother’s life, I am reminded of how close I came to losing her. How long and trying and excruciating her battle was. I wouldn’t have been able to go through what I went through had I not seen how brave and strong my mother was throughout her surgical process. She was there with me, everyday in the hospital, everyday at home, helping me dress and change, helping me care for my wounds and scars and drains. To have to contend with that personal connection to my mother and the unshakable bond we will always have because we went through this process at the same time that our culture becomes swaddled in pink products, perky-breasted celebrity PSAs showing how much they care about women who face this diagnosis, frankly, it’s a real bitch. 

So here is my take on all those “awareness” and “pink power” products and all the talking heads trying to put some sort of fluffy, pearly, sexy spin on a disease that, let’s face it, still kills more than 40,000 women a year and will affect 1 in 8.

It’s that time of year again, when America bathes itself in coat of Pepto Bismal in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness.

It’s well-meaning. It’s meant to raise awareness and money for research and programs that seemingly assist patients. But the truth of the matter is it’s a month of product pushing under the guise of charity. You can buy a $23 designer lipstick from Esteé Lauder and feel good about the $2 (not even 10%) that go towards their in-house foundation. The list of products – exclusively pitched to women – proudly pink and proudly declaring their support for breast cancer is longer than I am tall, but many donate only a small fraction of the cost and most donate nothing at all to research organizations or foundations.

But is it really about awareness or raising money that actually does something for patients?

A dominant voice in “Pink October” is the Komen Foundation, the breast cancer charity founded by Nancy Brinker in the wake of her sister’s death from breast cancer. If you instantly know what a pink ribbon symbolizes, you can thank Komen. If you know that mammography is the best screening measure for breast cancer (particularly in women 50 and older), you can thank Komen. If you’ve ever participated in Race for the Cure, thank Komen. The list of the national effects of Brinker and her foundation are seemingly unending, but do they make a significant enough impact on women, men, and survivability from cancer?

Let’s some things straight about breast cancer:

  • 40,000 women and 450 men will die this year from breast cancer.
  • 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed during their lifetime.
  • More than a quarter of a million (about 258,000) new cases of breast cancer (in women alone) occur each year.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women (apart from skin cancers).
  • Breast cancer is the second deadliest (edged out by lung cancer).
  • The survival rate rate is still only 1 in 35.
  • Presently the American Cancer Society estimates there are 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the US.
  • The survival rate has increased by 60% since mammography became a widespread screening measure.
  • African American women are 5 to 8 times more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
These statistics aren’t affected by NFL players wearing pink shoes or cheerleaders using pink pompoms. These statistics aren’t affected by scarves or t-shirts, scented candles or cosmetics. What would make anyone think that buying a CFDA t-shirt from Saks would make a difference? Is it good for your “image”? Sure. People see you in your pink ribbon products and think you care or that someone in your life had/has been through the disease. It’s certainly a bonding agent amongst women: the uniting of survivors who find comfort in the understanding and reassuring presence of others who know what they’ve been through and the unifying effect of the fear of being diagnosed and having to face the harsh realities of the disease. But the purchase of products emblazoned with pink ribbons and messages about breast cancer help the company producing them a whole hell of a lot more than the women and men who face a diagnosis and have to deal with the repercussions.
Take a recent article in the New York Times:

In marketing circles, “to pink” means to link a brand or a product or even the entire National Football League to one of the most successful charity campaigns of all time. Like it or not — and some people don’t like it at all — the pinking of America has become a multibillion-dollar business, a marketing, merchandising and fund-raising opportunity that is almost unrivaled in scope. There are pink-ribbon car tires, pink-ribbon clogs, pink eyelash curlers — the list goes on.

Down on the 50-yard line on this early October day isNancy G. Brinker, the chief executive who has done more than any other to create what might be called Pink Inc. With a C.E.O.’s eye, Ms. Brinker has turned her foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, into a juggernaut. She has tied this nonprofit to hundreds of for-profit brands and spread its message far and wide with“Race for the Cure” foot races. She has, in effect, invested to maximize returns. Over the years, Komen has raised many billions of dollars to urge women to get mammograms, as well as for treatment and research.

“It’s a democratization of a disease,” Ms. Brinker, who is the Cowboys’ honorary captain for the day, says just before the coin toss. “It’s drilling down into the deepest pockets of America.”

The story of Komen is, as much as anything, a story of savvy marketing. Ms. Brinker has rebranded an entire disease by putting an upbeat spin on fighting it. Her foundation generated about $420 million in the 2010 fiscal year alone. Perhaps more than any other nonprofit organization, Komen shapes the national conversation about breast cancer.

If you’re feeling hopeful about the strides being made against this disease, rather than frustrated by the lack of progress, that may well reflect Komen’s handiwork. If you think women should be concerned about developing breast cancer, that’s often Komen’s message, too. And if you think mammography is the best answer at the moment, that, again, is the Komen mantra.

Like Big Oil, Big Food and Big Pharma, Big Pink has its share of critics. Some patient advocates complain that Komen and other pink-ribbon charities sugarcoat breast cancer, which kills about 40,000 American women and 450 men annually. Others complain that pink marketing, despite the many millions it raises for charities, is just another way to move merchandise and that it exploits cancer by turning it into an excuse to go shopping. And some pink-theme products have no relationship with any charities at all. (Consumers should check before buying.)

In any case, these critics say, all of those pink ribbons and pink products create more good will for charities and corporations than game-changing medical advances for patients.

The downside to Komen’s slick packaging and upbeat pink image is that it focuses on mammograms and screening as the answer to breast cancer’s long and often deadly reach. But breast cancer awareness isn’t just about mammograms, a screening measure that is not effective on the fatty breast tissue of younger women. Prevention measures need to include campaigns that encourage women to talk openly about family history, especially in minority cultures or religions where open discussion of women’s health and reproductive care is not the norm. It needs to include campaigns aimed at imploring women to speak to their doctors about their health care and risks not just cancer but other illnesses and risks factors that can raise the risk of cancer (smoking, obesity, etc). It needs to include ad campaigns that educate low-income, under-insured or uninsured women on the resources available for wellness care, screening, and access to doctors and resources if they are diagnosed.  The New York Times continues:

This kind of mammography marketing by a variety of nonprofits frustrates patient advocates like Frances Visco, who says it lulls the public into thinking that breast cancer is a manageable chronic disease, while tens of thousands of women are dying from it. Routine screening does identify many breast cancers at early stages, when they are most treatable. It also ends up increasing the numbers of people with precancers and slow-growing tumors who may get unneeded invasive treatment, she says, while doctors still don’t know how to prevent many of the most aggressive breast cancers from spreading.

“If we continue to pretend that it is making a huge difference, we are not going to do the real work and figure out how we can save tens of thousands of lives every year,” says Ms. Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a network of hundreds of patient and professional organizations.

Regardless of efforts of Nancy Brinker and her supporters and detractors, the truth of the matter is that breast cancer is still deadly and a diagnosis of breast cancer still greatly increases a woman’s risk of uterine or ovarian cancer. These facts don’t change with any of the cute merchandise available around every corner, every October.

 

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