Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Blogger Who Cried Sexism: A Cautionary Tale

I don’t usually directly respond to articles written by other women who write from a place of feminism. I don’t like a lot of the infighting that goes on amongst feminists, the ‘is she a good feminist‘ and ‘can she be feminist even if she says she isn’t‘ and ‘can she be a feminist and also sexy‘ etc etc blah blah blah.  I disagree very much with the article I am about to discuss, but this will not be an indictment of the writer. Instead I just wanna tell a sort of cautionary tale, in the hopes that we can continue to have thoughtful discussions that go deeper than a click bait headline.

That being said, the title of the article in question is:

Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways Systematically Erases Women in Music

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Ok. So. That’s a lot. It’s a big claim. And our author tries hard to back it up. Reading it, however, gave me the distinct impression that she had a pretty big issue with Grohl to begin with (“Grohl has shown himself increasingly to be not much more than a rock and roll formalist, the type of man who is a dying breed”), and wanted to write about her dislike of both the series and the director in a way that seemed important. She claims, “Sonic Highways is meant to reflect Grohl’s own fandom and musical upbringing—but it also positions itself as a type of definitive oral history of each city’s music scene.” I object! Sonic Highways is Grohl’s pet project, an obviously self serving adventure that he wanted to take his band on, and film and sell to HBO. Each episode ends with a Foo Fighters music video, with the lyrics displayed on the screen. It’s not exactly Ken Burns, but I’ve found it pretty entertaining. I don’t think he makes any claims that it serves as a Definitive Oral History. It’s just him talking to people he thinks are cool, and allowing the places he visits to directly influence his new songs.

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But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is a history of sorts. I have only watched 3 of the 8 episodes, but I can remember women in each episode. The last episode I watched, set in Nashville, shows women ruling the day. He talks at length to Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and motha fuckin’ DOLLY PARTON herself. The 2nd episode in DC features Amy Pickering, and our author does acknowledge that: “Amy Pickering, who headed up punk band Fire Party and started the scene’s legendary “Revolution Summer” essentially in solidarity with apartheid protesters, gets a decent amount of airtime, but mostly about politics (and, at one point, the camera cuts in to her convo with Grohl for the sole purpose of showing her laugh at a joke Grohl makes).” Is it just me, or does that parenthetical aside just reek of disdain. That aside is also a pretty big assumption about a directorial choice, meant to undercut the presence of a woman when she claims there are none. She goes on to mention female bands, mostly from Seattle, that she feels Grohl was remiss in leaving out. But it’s his show, for his personal fun. He interviewed who he wanted. I mean, sure, he could have tried to pick a few more ladies, I guess. But not only are there enough that I myself didn’t notice any dearth (and I love finding and pointing out misogyny/gender issues/sexism, let me tell you, I basically live for it), but the project just isn’t about that and I don’t think it needs to be. She also says: “As Sonic Highways tells it, women’s involvement in American music has been cursory, at best, with a the amount of women musicians allowed to speak in any given episode topping out at around three, regardless of how prominent these women might be. Furthermore, no women of color have a chance to speak in any of the seven episodes that have aired (the eighth and final episode, set in New York City and at least touching on hip-hop, airs Sunday, and will hopefully remedy that).”  I do not concur. I do not feel he portrays the women he includes as cursory to the main story, and 3 in an episode may be enough if you know how many men there are by comparison and how the screen time divides (I don’t, but if you need to delve this deeply and use math to prove your point then the phrase ‘Systematically Erases’ doesn’t apply. Also Dolly Parton counts as like 10 women cause she is effing amazing so in that episode there are like, 13.) I do agree with her observation about racial diversity; the majority of the folks interviewed on screen are white. But not everything is going to be a bastion of diversity when someone has their own agenda. So yea, he is choosing these specific stories, because his experience has been informed by these folks. And again, since he isn’t making claims about this documentary being all encompassing, I think the observation ‘diversity is scarce’ is fair, but find the vitriol confusing.

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I don’t want to be an apologist for stories that lack diversity, and that is not my intent. Here is my issue: There are lots of super real and present issues that women continue to battle against on a daily basis. Sexual violence, the wage gap, reproductive rights and more are pressing and current and painful, and they are systematically supported by a culture that still doesn’t truly believe that sexism is real. And you know what, the erasure of women from history and culture is also real and painful, and in it’s own way a form of violence. I completely acknowledge that. And if Grohl had said ‘I am making a documentary about all the most important people in music organized geographically’, then the conversation would be different. But this is just some fan shit he’s doing. He wants to talk to people he thinks are cool. And some of those people, I would argue a fair amount, are women. I think we also have to remember that he grew up in a culture that downplayed women’s role in the culture, and downplayed their talents beyond beauty. So if his influences are mostly male, this is not entirely his fault because his experiences don’t happen in a vacuum. Neither do our own. And this article with it’s sensational title is NOT HELPING the cause.

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This headline, and her whole tone, I just feel they don’t create a productive piece. While sexism and misogyny continue to be pervasive and harmful, we must be mindful of the claims we make. It’s not fair, but it’s true. If we cry wolf, or get our facts wrong, then we leave ourselves open to criticism from folks who don’t want the world to change (Jon Stewart addressed this brilliantly last night, after he himself made an on-air mistake #worththewatch). If we blow our righteous anger load on stories that aren’t deserving of it, then our righteous anger becomes a joke. We become caricatures, the silly/emotional/hairy/angry feminazis they claim we are. The burden of proof is still, unfairly, on us. And this article doesn’t meet it.

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But this isn’t a trial, and if this author sincerely feels this way about Sonic Highways, then she has every right to express those feelings. I still think the headline is over the top, but maybe that’s the editor, and indeed that’s how the internet journalism game is played. In this case, I agree that we disagree. I urge you to check out the docu-series and judge for yourself. Are women given enough camera time? Does it matter in the context of this project? Are you inspired to create your own series dedicated to women in these places, in these historical spaces? Because I wish, rather than yell at Dave for being a “rockist-Dad”, that she’d just told us more about the bands she wished were chosen and why. Why be so antagonistic about a pet project that is not meant to cover the entire music history of each city it visits? Why not try to start a discussion instead of scold the front man of a band you so obviously find repulsive and dated? For example, lets talk about why there aren’t more documentaries directed by women or minorities, specifically telling stories that have been left out of the mainstream canon? I would love to see more women helmed projects about women in music, or more black directors telling stories about black music culture. If we diversify the people in charge, the resulting stories will be ever more unique and diverse, and more voices will be heard. Why isn’t this happening more? Is it happening at all? How can we help these story tellers to create and release their projects? Sometimes, I think it can be helpful to tone down the rage and just ask some questions.

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**Sometimes rage is completely the acceptable response, and women are completely capable of feeling and harnessing anger, and we should when it’s needed. I just want us to use all the tools we have, thoughtfully, with an eye towards education and inclusion.

Making Babies and Making Money: Pregnancy and Worker’s Rights

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that I find completely fascinating, and super important for all families. The case is brought by Peggy Young, a UPS employee that was denied her request to change work duties after being advised that she should not lift over 20 lbs. She was pregnant.

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The details of her case can be found here, but in a nutshell there is a Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) that requires that employers give the same accommodations to women affected by pregnancy or child birth that it would give to employees that are temporarily disabled/injured. To be clear, the UPS will allow a change of duty not only for workers injured on the job, but also for workers who lose their license because they are convicted of a DUI. So drunk drivers can switch roles and continue to earn a living, but pregnant women made a choice and so they are shit out of luck. (Actual comment from NY Times op-ed: “Pregnancy isn’t a disease. In fact as I understand it, it is a choice. These women became pregnant due to their own actions. They can no longer do the work they were hired to do. Why is that such a big deal. It isn’t an injury.”)

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I had a fascinating chat with my coworker about this case. She claimed that if what feminism fights for is gender equality, then you must err on the side of UPS. Because men cannot get pregnant, accommodating pregnant women is giving them preferential treatment. And she was hung up on that word, equal. As if equal here meant equivalent. But I don’t think equality means we all must be the same. And in my dream world where the patriarchy is dismantled, I do not imagine a world where men and women are alike. I imagine a world where your personality and your physical characteristics aren’t policed by societal gender norms. I imagine a world where everyone is free to express themselves compassionately, and explore interests that are close to their heart without any thought to what girls and boys are supposed to like or do. I don’t claim that men and women are the same, but it’s important to remember that making statements like “women can get pregnant and men can’t” as proof that we will always remain different/unequal erases women who are unable to conceive, or women who do not want to bear children, as well as a range of trans experiences. Not all women are able to bear children, not all women menstruate, and plenty of folks live outside of the bodily gendered binaries we assume. We mustn’t be biologically reductive.

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i imagine the dude she kills is the embodiment of misogyny. so satisfying.

 

And equality has never been about equivalency. Separate but equal was ruled unconstitutional for education, because being equivalent doesn’t always mean that the spirit of equality is being honored. I do not think that being injured or disabled is the same as getting pregnant, however in both cases the ableness of one’s body is compromised. We have determined that folks that are injured or disabled have a right to work, and that right should be extended to those who are pregnant.

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And what is so interesting to me, is that this is actually a conservative issue. The state has a vested interest in regulating families, and in encouraging its citizens to procreate so that there are evermore citizens. It’s similar to gay marriage, an issue I am always confounded by. Marriage is a conservative value, and if you truly value the nuclear family and two parent home, then you should be an advocate for gay marriage. The more people creating those kinds of unions, the more those values continue to guide our society and the more regulated sex and the family continues to be by the state. The same with this issue. Encouraging women to become mothers by assuring that their jobs will be safe and they will be able to work and earn is not exactly a liberal fantasy. In this case, the state should recognize it’s interest both in regulating the family and encouraging the work force. It should be a no brainer.

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And yet. I wonder how the justices will see this. They have seriously let me down recently, and I fear that people will conflate the issue of pregnancy advocacy, which is a feminist issue, with leftist liberalism and dismiss it. But it’s important to remember that feminism isn’t liberal or conservative, and that the interests of women across race and class lines span a broad array of values and belief systems. Reproductive rights don’t begin and end with abortion. Folks should be able to get or not get pregnant, to access the full range of care they need, to determine the state of their bodies, and to do so while pursuing their economic and personal goals. Peggy should not have been forced into unpaid leave because she was temporarily limited, while ‘light duty’ remains available for other workers. If the choice to drink and drive is accommodated, then the choice to create new life should also be accommodated. And yet, misogyny runs so deep that for some, any chance to demean or limit women must be taken. We do indeed treat pregnant women poorly, often limiting their autonomy and assuming they must be protected (or assuming they must be protected against.) It astounds me that some parties will vote against their own interests because something is seen as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. Those two sides, they are made up, they are socially upheld and constructed. Kind of like gender (ZING!)

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Separate but equal is bullshit, and thinking about equality and social justice in terms of equivalency and sameness  misses the point entirely. Social justice is freedom from sameness, it is permission to be different and live on your own terms. It is a world where your choices aren’t determined by your gender, or your race, or your ability to participate as a cog in the capitalist machine. It’s a world where pregnant women can continue to work, where both families and single folks are supported. How hard is that to understand?

On Ferguson

I’ve hesitated to write about the events in Ferguson, MO for a few reasons. The first is that I have a lot of emotions, and that can be hard to sort through to write something clear and concise. But the feels are real, and I keep starting to compose this in my head, so obviously it needs to come out. The second reason is that this is not my story to tell, and I hesitate to make my voice heard over the folks that are truly affected, both in Ferguson and all over the country every day. So let me start by saying that I am writing about this topic as a white feminist ally. My experiences with gender discrimination make me empathetic, but they do not afford me authority to speak about racial discrimination. I cannot know the true depths of pain and anger that communities of color live with. Their words are paramount, and you should 100% go read this, this, this, and especially this, this and this.

The day after they announced there would be no trial I sat in my office, reading. I have read quite a bit about the shooting, the aftermath, and the effect it all has had. From my office in the Financial District, I read about the emotional and psychic pain felt in the community and I read about the callousness that some folks feel towards those people. From my office, overlooking the new World Trade Center, I thought bitterly about how lucky I am and about how uncaring and cruel the world can be. And even as I continued to read, becoming evermore angry and sad, I knew that my pain was nothing compared to the folks on the ground in that community, grieving their slain child and fighting against a system that was never meant for them, that was built on the very idea of their inhumanity.

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Black Lives Matter. You shouldn’t say ‘All Lives Matter’ because some lives, particularly white lives (and more specifically hetero-white-male lives) already matter and everyone knows they matter. It’s important to specifically say Black Lives Matter because black bodies are seen, by the state, as more expendable and dangerous than other bodies. Replacing Black with All is like saying that you think all lives are devalued in the same way, and this is not the case.

Privilege is a hard thing for a lot of people to comfortably grasp. It is hard for me to talk about my white privilege because I hate that it’s real, and because (obviously) I love a number of incredible black and brown people and it makes me ill to think about the personal and institutional ways they’ve been hurt because of racism. But acknowledging my privilege is essential. It allows me to better empathize, and without acknowledgment and empathy the conversation is not honest. Here is a classic and wonderful essay on privilege that we all should read and reflect upon.

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Racism is a feminist issue not only because it affects women of color. It is a feminist issue because structural violence and oppression must be dismantled in all forms. Racism, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and corporate greed, they are all interwoven. We must fight them all if we indeed believe in social justice. Black women are leading the protests in Ferguson, on the front lines and keeping this movement alive. Black women have always been an integral part of the civil rights movement, despite being overwritten by their male counterparts. Another example of how racism and patriarchy overlap and entwine.

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And we must believe that these issues are both structural and personal. If you do not believe that racism exists in the very foundation and fibers of our country, then you need to wake up and read more. This country was founded on stolen land and the death of an indigenous culture, and then built on the backs of black bodies that were enslaved, degraded, and hated. This hatred did not end with emancipation, and our educational system, housing laws, pop culture and police tactics are still laden with racist policies and attitudes. Not to mention the mass incarceration of black bodies. The deck is stacked. To say otherwise is to uphold the idea that if black folks just worked hard enough they could have the American dream, and that their communities are violent and impoverished because they as a people are inherently violent and impoverished. Those lies are gross, and perpetuated by white culture to relieve our own guilt and justify our discrimination.

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I do not believe that a kid deserves to be shot down in the streets for petty theft, for being tall and ‘threatening’, or for being black. Michael Brown was 18, still full of youth and potential. The loss of that potential is tragic, especially when taken in alongside the lost potential of other black folks who were murdered as part of our racist American history. I believe that any police officer who uses lethal force should always be subject to a trial. Fuck a grand jury. Police should be held to a higher standard, as they are acting as attendants of their communities, sworn to protect and serve. And if you yourself, as a white person, have never had a negative experience with cops or the justice system, I urge you to consider that as evidence that the system is not only racist, but working as designed.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Furthermore I believe that the militarization of the police is an act of war against the American people. I believe that our state perpetrates violence on its own people each and every day under the guise of ‘protect and serve’ and also under the guise of state sanctioned war. I believe that guns have no place in homes or on our streets, and the police shouldn’t have them. Other countries manage just fine without them. The continued killing of children, of people of color, and yes even of criminals (who deserve a trial at the very least) disgusts and disturbs me. Even when a whole group of white children, and they were rich white children, were gunned down in their elementary school, we did nothing. That level of apathy, the fact that we’ve allowed our elected representatives to be bought so fully, leaves me speechless.

Gun control activists march on the NRA offices on Capitol Hill on Tuesday

I think about how women’s bodies are written as a site of out-of-control sexuality, and how we locate the shame and guilt of sex in all female-bodied persons. And then I think about how we criminalize the black body, and locate the fear of violence and chaos there. And I want to stop labeling bodies, and stop criminalizing and dehumanizing bodies. I condemn violence in all forms but do not and cannot condemn this community’s actions. I will never know how it feels to live my entire life with the burden of state mandated racism. I will never hear the daily comments, never live with a police force that targets my body and my family. I will never live with the fear of an authority that claims to protect you, and I have never watched my son/friend/brother/neighbor lie in the street for 4 hours in the late afternoon, shot dead for no good reason, knowing that justice was an unlikely ending to the story. If you are more outraged by the ‘riots’ and property damage than by the violence enacted each and every day by the state, and by the history of pillaging and plundering and slavery and lynching and rape that is our nation’s story, then I think you need a priority check.

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.- Martin Luther King Jr

I suppose this is getting rambling, and I hope I’ve remember all the things I want to say. I want to say that my thoughts and feelings as an ally to oppressed people’s everywhere are tangential to the real story, which should be told by folks who live this everyday. My place is to march silently in the streets when I can, and to use my voice in harmony with theirs but never to speak over them. The story of racism should be told by black, brown and non-white folks, and their stories deserve to be heard and believed. And then we must all use our collective voices and our collective power to undo the structures that support our racist history and limit the potential and humanity of black bodies. I vow my solidarity and my support, as a feminist and social justice warrior. I wish I could do more.