• UIC Graduate Employees Move to Strike

    Note: While I wouldn't consider my work on The Feminine Dialectic to be terribly journalistic in nature, I do strive to be political. This is a press release I worked on for the Graduate Employee Organization at UIC. To stay up to date on bargaining and strike information or to find out how to support us, please visit the GEO website, Facebook, or Twitter

    On May 16, 2012, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) presented UIC administration officials with a comprehensive contract proposal to go into effect when the current contract expired in August 2012. Eleven months later, counterproposals continue to be exchanged.

    The GEO represents more than 1,400 teaching and graduate assistants on UIC’s campus and is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the AFL-CIO.

    Since contract negotiations began last year, the major sticking points between the two camps have been wages, health care, and tuition differentials. (Tuition differentials are thousands of dollars of additional fees on top of base tuition that many programs require graduate students to pay to fund research and equipment not covered under the department's base budget.

    While the GEO has significantly revised their demands with each counterproposal, the administration continues to inch its way through negotiations. Currently, the wage difference between proposals for the 2012-2013 academic year is around $1,500. The GEO’s current proposal is thousands of dollars less than their original request; UIC’s most recent adjustment was to increase the minimum wage by $75, or one-tenth of one percent of the current wage.

    Other, smaller issues have been sticking points during the last year. For example, the administration refused to include a specific sexual harassment clause in the contract because sexual harassment is a matter of perception rather than fact. UIC administration officials have regularly cancelled, rescheduled, or prematurely ended bargaining sessions, drawing out negotiations.

    To make matters worse, UIC gave Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares a 9.8% raise, bringing her salary to $411,752.11 in 2012. Professor Howard Bunsis of Eastern Michigan University has done an analysis of UIC’s finances and found $300 million in unrestricted reserves, quashing the argument that the university’s financial situation is uncertain.

    The GEO has been organizing its members and filed intent to strike paperwork on April 6th. The next bargaining session is scheduled for April 17th, after which the general membership will consider options for striking. If a fair contract cannot be reached by the end of this session, the GEO is prepared to take action.   

  • Practicing Gender Neutrality

    It's been a year since Slate published this article about Sweden's gender-neutral pronoun, hen, being added to the popular lexicon. Jezebel's Lindy West wrote a succinct (and entertaining, as usual) response to the piece earlier this week, which I would like to expand upon. 

    First, I have to point out the condescending and derogatory tone of this piece. Ms. Rothschild makes no attempt to hide her disdain for these "activists," not to mention her callous treatment of trans issues. She practically bemoans the consolidation of men's and women's bowling leagues and the legal right of parents to choose just "any" name for their children. Gender-neutral public restrooms, a politically charged (yet hardly radical) issue for trans individuals, is mentioned in passing, almost as an inconvenience for those of us who don't have a problem choosing a gendered restroom. 

    But on to the actual content of the piece. Language is a political construction; how we talk about things dictates how we think about them. The suggestion that a linguistically practical idea has been perverted by "feminist activists" makes an impossible distinction. To turn a cliche on its head, the public is political, and there is nothing more public (or personal) than language. The "he/she" awkwardness only became a problem when it was suggested that only using "he" in sentence construction was a way of silencing and marginalizing female experience and existence. The fact that somebody had to develop a way of avoiding the admittedly awkard dual construction (which English has yet to deal with) is a political statement in and of itself. By adding hen to dictionaries and creating gender-conscious curriculum, Sweden has taken real political action toward these once-radical goals. 

    Schools absolutely should be the place for policies that actively address gender stereotypes and the opportunities that individuals are denied because of those stereotypes. Other socializing entities, whether family relationships, institutionalized distinctions, or mediated representations, will continue to provide traditional, patriarchal gender roles for our children to learn. If this is one part of society that can be effectively changed to chip away at some of those gender stereotypes, then it should be. It could even be argued that school is the most important place for gender roles to be erased to ensure that every child receive a stimulating, challenging, and personally rewarding education. 

    We are already "interrupt[ing] children's discovery of gender and sexuality" (which, I have to point out, are two distinct and separate things - I thought we were only been talking about gender) through those outlets mentioned above. Providing gender-neutral toys or suggesting gender-neutral roleplaying games is at least as overt as decades of the Barbies-here-Hot Wheels-there method of directing children in play. 

    That being said, I don't believe children should be "micromanaged by concerned adults" (although I'd be surprised if there were as much micromanaging going on as we are led to believe). Play should be organic to fulfill the needs of children. It is an essential part of understanding what it means to be a part of society and children will achieve that understanding with or without the interference of adults (but probably better without them). Secondly, maybe gender doesn't necessarily have to go out the window, but the conflation of sex and gender is what needs to be dismantled. I believe femininity, or what society has defined as feminine, is beautiful and important. We should be empowering all boys and girls to embrace the positive aspects of masculinity and femininity within them, rather than trying to force them into gendered boxes. 

    Which is, essentially, what Sweden is trying to achieve. And I applaud their efforts. Patriarchy has been built up for thousands of years and it will take some new and different ways of thinking, and speaking, if we are going to tear it down anytime soon. 

  • Those poor boys...

    In case you haven't seen it yet, CNN's coverage of the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial yesterday caused tremors far beyond the feminist media one would expect to be outraged. Immediately, news outlets as diverse as Yahoo! News, The Daily Beast, and The Washington Post commented on CNN's breaking news segment that dwelled on the tragic effect this verdict will have on their once-bright futures. Oh, and don't forget they were football stars. Real red-blooded young men. Suddenly two female anchors were painting this rape as a night of drinking that just went a little too far; they sounded simply dismayed by this verdict and sentence. I caught three mentions of the victim, two of which were in passing when discussing the details of the trial.

    While the defense's arguments were a textbook exercise in victim-blaming, the sentencing creates an opportunity for rape apologists to decry the long sentences, and the "lasting impact" of such sentences that will "haunt" them for the rest of their lives. Instead of asking ourselves why such apparently-upstanding young citizens thought this was at all appropriate, instead of asking what kind of support services and avenues for justice are available to rape victims, instead of respecting the victim's right to privacy, a very popular and (at least nominally) influential news source framed this story as a tragedy for two young men who were unlucky enough to have allowed their hormones get the better of them. 

    If there is one positive thing to come out of CNN's misguided and insensitive coverage, it is the widespread and vocal criticism it received. If we can communicate efficiently and effectively with media organizations (a practice that has taken an incredible leap forward with social media technologies), we are more likely to have a media that better reflects a more sensitive and nuanced interpretation of events rather than one that creates sensationalized news products. 

  • Really, Amy? Really?!

    In a recent Parks & Recreation episode, this exchange took place between feminist hero Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her best friend, Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), when Ann tried out a joke that fell flat: 

    My jaw dropped when this statement came out of Amy Poehler's mouth. Not only is it exceedingly out of character for Leslie, but Poehler has made several public comments about the absurd and offensive notion that beautiful women can't be funny. 

    There is no indication that this was a joke (especially considering Ann's reaction to the statement), but rather a reinforcement of an idea that not only separates and defines women based on arbitrary beauty standards, but also insists that women who meet those standards cannot and should not be anything but a sexual object. Leslie Knope believes she is beautiful and funny, so why can't she believe that for her best friend? 

    Airing immediately after an episode where Leslie reasserts her decision to keep her last name after marriage, this statement comes out of the blue and doesn't fit with the rest of this (mostly) feminist sitcom. While I truly hope this was a tongue-in-cheek moment, there is little evidence of the presence of irony in this brief exchange. Rather, it appears to be a continuing erosion of the feminist ideals the show started with, along with the surprising plot line of Ann's uncontrollable urge for a child. I'm crossing my fingers that Parks & Rec hasn't jumped the patriarchal shark. 

  • Is Ironic Sexism Still Sexist?

    After two weeks of reading about how outrageously sexist and mysognistic Seth MacFarlane was as the host of the Oscars, I feel it's time to provide an alternative feminist analysis. I can't possibly defend every joke that could be construed as sexist, and I was legitimately offended at more than one. But I have yet to see any consideration of the fact that he and his writers may have been ironically and subtly poking fun at the very sexism that pop culture commentators have been so quick to accuse him of. "The boobs song" especially stood out as an apparent statement on the absurdity of the the objectification of women in film.

    As much as we would like to see rabidly feminist entertainers host these media events, the powers that be simply won't allow it. Even Tina and Amy hosting the Golden Globes disappointed many that expected them to be more political. Shouldn't it be more important that we allow the hosts that do have feminist sensitivities make their subtle jabs at patriarchy than requiring every media personality to maintain impossible standards of one specific type of feminism? I don't mean to disregard or belittle any real offense taken to any of MacFarlane's jokes, but a nuanced response to a nuanced performance shouldn't be taboo, and shouldn't be a litmus test for being a modern feminist. Without ironic and subtle critiques of sexism, we limit our tools for confronting and dismantling patriarchy. 

  • To Livetweet or Not to Livetweet...

    Last night, my husband I ran into the same problem while watching the Oscars that we did while watching the State of the Union and the Golden Globes - I desperately wanted to find out what the twittersphere was saying about these media events in real time, while he wanted me to focus on the television screen rather than the computer screen. 

    The first time this issue came up, I probed him about why he didn't want me to be on Twitter while we watched and the answer was straightforward: when I'm focused on livetweeting, I'm no longer watching the event with him, but with Twitter. Not only is he not "in" on what I'm quietly chuckling at, but he's now watching the event by himself. I have moved from the social space of our living room to the online space of Twitter, leaving him behind. The growing trend of following Twitter while watching the event in real time drastically alters the social situation of television viewing. The effect is strong enough in a two-person household, but when this phenomenon occurs at an Oscar viewing party, it must be staggering. Is it possible to maintain and contribute to two separate social situations simultaneously? Can I be present and interact with those physically near me while I communicate with individuals in a virtual space? My husband doesn't think so, and I'm inclined to agree with him. My attention can only be divided so many ways, and if we're making snide observations to each other while I'm livetweeting and reading the tweets of others, I have little time left to actually watch the program. So which do I choose? And would it be any different if he was on his computer next to me? Would we share our quips verbally, in our apartment, or in the virtual space of Twitter? How would that change our interpersonal communication experience? In my personal life, I will always put my relationship with my husband before those of the twittersphere, but I think an experiment or two is in order. Too bad awards season is over. 

  • 'Bound to obey and serve' : The ignored possibilities of Tudor feminism

    Growing up, Alison Weir's Tudor biographies were some of my favorite reading. Family legend and some dubious genealogy suggested that I was related to Elizabeth I and a natural nerdiness cemented my love for the histories of Henry VIII, his wives, and his children. Re-reading Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991) as an adult with an acute feminist sensitivity brings up some significant questions about how readers and historians understand the lives of Tudor women. Weir's histories are rich, intriguing, and nuanced and she spends significant time discussing feminism (though never explicitly defining it as such) during Elizabeth's reign. In her introduction to The Six Wives, however, she precludes any possibility of feminist action on the part of women of the early Tudor era. After several pages detailing the intense societal restrictions and expectations of women, she begins the final paragraph of the section with this definitive statement: "To today's liberated women and 'new men', the lives of Henry VIII's wives appear to have been shockingly narrow and hemmed by intolerable constraints. Yet, having experienced nothing else, they did not think to question these, and accepted their inferior status as part of the divine order of things" (p. 12).

    This is a dangerous statement to make. It attempts to define subversive acts within the limited scope of sources available to the historian; it inadvertently declares public and overt acts of subversion or rebellion the only ways to address patriarchy. While I am not a historian and do not intend to provide evidence to the contrary, it is naive to believe that these powerful, educated, and intelligent women never had a thought, or even a private conversation, about the inequalities suffered by Tudor women. It too narrowly defines the lives of these women as well as the rebellious acts available to women today. 

  • Must-See TV Gender Stereotypes

    While Jenny Korn problematizes the gender stereotypes rampant in 30 Rock's series finale this past Thursday, it is emblematic of a host of television shows that were once promising sites of subversion (or at least a more nuanced conversation) of gender roles, yet have spectacularly failed to live up to those expectations. NBC's Up All Night, Parks & Rec, and even CBS's How I Met Your Mother have all rearranged character's personalities and lives, walking back any semblance of alternative gender performances. 

    While television often appears to be a leader in alternative representations of gender roles and relations, those appearances are often misleading. By presenting a family-friendly, de-clawed version of feminism to audiences that ultimately ends in fairy tale romance, the goals of feminism are subtly undercut. Keeping these messages covert prevents healthy conversations about those messages; featuring Leslie Knope fighting for workplace equality allows the networks to present, simultaneously, traditional, oppressive, and subjugating notions of womanhood under the guise of "popular feminism."