I stand with the women who march: Anatomy of a backlash

January 18, 2017

Politics would make a great spectator sport. How many years did Donald Trump question President Obama’s legitimacy, spreading the cockamamie lie that he wasn’t born in America? One soft-spoken Congress member from Georgia questions Trump’s legitimacy and Baby Hands has a full scale meltdown. It’s entertaining! But it’s not funny. It’s real. And people know this and they’re getting involved. And I don’t mean on Twitter.

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Instead of focusing on the circus of Inauguration Day (No wonder Ringling Brothers is calling it quits. Who can compete!), my focus is on the day after and the Women’s March on Washington. Trump may have secured Pat Boone to sing at his event (Glad to know Pat’s still alive!), but the real star power will be in the streets with an estimated 200,000 marchers in DC. Julianne Moore, Jessica Chastain, and Chelsea Handler will be there and a lot of other women who Baby Hands will surely tweet about. (“She’s totally overrated. A real dog.”) And an estimated million people will join sister marches around the country, including here in Portland. You should see my wife and daughter there.

Unlike a lot of “pop culture feminism,” the march promises to be truly intersectional. I’ve written about intersectionality in this blog. Let’s just say, for now, that feminism doesn’t just belong to middle-class white females with degrees in Women’s Studies. The organizers of the march have made a point of making it open to all identities who see the new oppression of sexually harassing politicians as a growing problem and the liberationist positions of feminism as the solution. Their four-page statement says upfront, “Our liberation is bound in each other’s.” So expect to see bell hooks marching alongside Katy Perry and Malala Yousafzai next to Scarlett Johansson. Trump may have 3 Doors Down, but they’ve got Solange. You can read the full statement here:

Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles

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I wanted to locate this march historically and sociologically, because this isn’t just about a president who brags about sexually assaulting women. The election of Donald Trump represents a significant backlash against the empowerment and true equality of women and girls. Susan Faludi popularized the concept in her award-winning 1991 book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. The text was a crucial theoretical component of my doctoral dissertation on the rise of racist skinheads and I just pray she is working on a 2017 edition.

So here’s the mini-version of her thesis. Faludi argues, with convincing evidence, that each time women make collective gains of empowerment there is a corresponding backlash that tries to push them back into their second class role. She lays out three historical periods in the twentieth century.

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First was the women’s suffrage movement and what has become known as first wave feminism. Among the gains made were things like access to birth control and, in 1920, the right to vote. This political empowerment was met in the 1920s with the double backlash of the flapper and the housewife. One was cute and ditzy, like cartoon Betty Boop, the other was obsessed with care for the home, the children, and a new invention, fashion magazines.  The message was clear, women don’t politically organize, they have fun or wash their hair before hubby gets home.

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The second wave was about women’s economic empowerment during World War II. As men were off at war, many women were in factories and shipyards, building the weapons of war. Their symbol was Rosie the Riveter. The federal government funded daycare. Theaters were showing films starring Betty Davis, Lauren Bacall on other dames who didn’t take any guff from men. And women had their own money with no men telling them how to spend it. When the war ended in 1945 and the men came home, it was time for women to leave the tank factory and go back to the kitchen. Betty Davis was replaced with Marilyn Monroe and the 1950s became the glamor era when women were meant to be seen and not heard. Backlash #2.

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The second wave feminist movement socially empowered women in the 1960s and 1970s. Betty Friedan’s book 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, and her National Organization of Women brought women into the streets on a range of issues, including workplace harassment, pornography, and abortion rights. “Women’s Lib” became a part of the counterculture of the baby boom generation and every aspect of culture was inspected through  feminist lens (although it was typically a white feminist lens). The great attack on patriarchy was met with the third backlash in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and the ultimate weapon – THE SUPERMODEL. More than ever women were bombarded with the message that they were their looks and would only lose power as they aged instead of gaining it.

It has been argued that Faludi helped launch third wave feminism in the 1990s. Third wave is more intersectional and not afraid to take on micro-aggressions along with macro power structures. But Faludi’s model would predict that the turn of century wave of personal empowerment for women (including transwomen, lipstick lesbians, Muslim feminists, and a bunch of other cool categories) would be met with yet another backlash. Who would have guessed that this backlash would have come in the form of a TV gameshow host with a fake tan, fake hair, and a wall of fake news stories.

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The new War on Women began before the Trump candidacy. But the fact that the first female major party candidate for president was defeated by a guy who runs beauty pageants and brags about never having heard his latest wife fart was the tipping point. More disturbing than Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments were his flock, chanting “Trump the bitch” at his rallies. It was like an army of anti-feminists had suddenly been released from the gates of hell. And now their fake “Good ol boy” (Lordy) and his porn-model wife are moving into the people’s house. Don’t expect much support for women’s issues for the next four years. They’re already going after Planned Parenthood.

My cousin, Chamisa Kellogg, is in DC for the march. She’s an incredible artist who has created the piece below to commemorate this moment in history. She just sent me this message – “The ‘Pussy Grabs Back’ drawing was based on a photo I took at a protest in Portland, Oregon two days after the 2016 Presidential Election. As the Million Women’s March 2017 draws near, I find myself reiterating my goals and beliefs in gender equality, and the importance of affordable healthcare for all, including women (who may sometimes need abortions). I’m selling high-quality archival prints of this drawing on my etsy shop, and all profits from sales will go to Planned Parenthood.”

You can purchase a print at THIS LINK.

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So women will be marching in 2017 just like they marched in 1917. But the beautiful thing about Faludi’s model is the backlash never pushes women all the way back to where they were. Once women have tasted political, economic, social, and personal empowerment, that genie doesn’t go back into the bottle. It may be one step backwards, but there were two steps forward first. Donald Trump may want to make America great “again,” back to a time when women were more like Melania, seen and not “being a bitch,” counting calories and not wage gap data, but he’s looking at more than one march coming his way. The future is female.

See you in the streets.

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Feministing in Havana

14 August 2016

Going to Cuba was a lot easier than I thought it would be. My second major at Emory in the Reagan ‘80s was “International Studies” with a focus on Soviet and Latin American politics, Cuba being the connection. My mother was there as a bobby-soxed teenager in 1959 and flew out Havana the day Castro took the city. The one paper my she saved from her college days was about Kruschev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So Cuba has always seemed completely off-limits to me. But if Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, I can see Cuba from my balcony here on Isla Mujeres. Actually, it’s just over the horizon. If I had a frisbee and a good south-eastern trade wind, I could probably land it inside a cell in Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. government is still actively creating terrorists. So why not just go?

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That’s what Andrea and I did. On a mad impulse we bought tickets to go. On Tuesday I went scuba-diving and on Wednesday I was on a Cubana Airlines flight over the water from Cancun to Havana. Barely an hour in the air and we were there with our hastily prepared visas and access to the world’s last “socialist paradise.” (Your Nikes are made in Vietnam and your iPhone is made in China, so they are disqualified and nobody is claiming North Korea as anything but an Orwellian nightmare.) Off to the land with no internet, leaving our wi’s and fi’s behind.

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There’s so much to write about the experience. We were there as the country was getting ready for Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday. I can’t believe the guy has been there my entire life. His brother, Raul Castro, has somewhat normalized relations with the U.S. and since Obama eased the embargo, you can feel the Starbucks shops just lining up to come in and change the nation overnight. Ask anyone from a small-town what Wal-Mart has done to America. Havana had plenty of construction cranes and the new hotels were coming. I’m sure the names “Hilton” and “Trump” will become part of the new oceanfront skyline. (Although nobody seemed to know who Donald Trump was. God bless them.)

It reminded me of my first trip to Czechoslovakia in 1991, right when the country opened its doors to the west. The people and infrastructure in Prague had no idea how to handle the rush of tourists who wanted to come and look around. There were no hotels or restaurants and capitalist entrepreneurialism was a foreign language. We stayed in people’s homes and ate whatever we could find in beer halls. When I returned in 1992, all that had changed. Western money flooded the “Paris of the East,” and there were billboards proclaiming (in English), “There are now four McDonalds in Praha!”

So we’ll see if Brother Raul lets that happen to his island. I have feeling it’ll look a lot different next time we go back. We stayed in a wonderful casa in the center of the city that might be a Quality Inn this time next year.

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But I thought I’d write a little but about gender on the streets of Havana. Cuba has been known for being on the vanguard of gender equality issues for a long time. Women, like Celia Sånchez, were at the forefront of the revolution in 1959, fighting alongside Fidel and Che. The Federation of Cuban Women was formed shortly after that. Half of the judges and justices in Cuba are female, over a third of the parliament is female and 62% of university students are female. There are great feminist Cuban rappers, like Krudas Cubensi and Obsession and 31 Cuban women are competing in the Rio Olympics.  (Watch for Yorgelis Rodríguez in the heptathlon finals.) Unlike in the United States, gender equality is a part of the Cuban constitution. “The state guarantees women the same opportunities and possibilities as men in order to achieve woman’s full participation in the development of the country.”

So it must be a great place to be a woman, right?

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Andrea and I were walking around our little neighborhood on Friday morning, just behind the Cuban capital building and some guy, seeing her, angrily shouted out to his friend, “She got fucked by the French!” He probably thought I was French and what was this brown girl doing with a white guy. It was in Spanish so I totally missed it but Andrea was visibly upset. After a similar comment she felt abused enough to return to our room and just hang out, away from the catcalls. She was shaken as the daily war on women followed her all the way to a communist outpost that supposedly outlawed sexism before I was even born.

Cuba is an incredibly diverse place, from dark Afro-Caribbean to Europeans (and probably some Hemingway descendants). Andrea, who would be punishingly sexy in a medieval suit of armor, noticed the comments were coming from men of color and asked me why that was. I assured her that white men were not free from the same behavior but there might be some good feminist explanations of the race-gender interaction.

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I took a moment to play professor and tackle it from three of the many feminist perspectives. Liberal feminists would argue that black Cuban men have be raised with a different relationship to women than white Cuban men which may be more vocally aggressive and seeing a Latin woman with a white man viewed as a betrayal of an ethnic subcultural value. Marxist feminists would say that even in allegedly communist society, poor people still exist and are alienated and poor black Cubans are alienated the most. (Stats back up that black Cubans have the lowest paid jobs.) So Marxist Feminists would argue the one place those men have power in a patriarchal world is over women. (Stats also show black women in Cuba experience more domestic violence.) Finally, radical feminists argue that patriarchy will rear its ugly head in spite of popular values of gender equality, finding any way possible to subordinate females, either through institutional means (less pay) or old-fashioned scare tactics. So on our little block, mostly populated by men who were poor and dark-skinned, it was the catcall.

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I don’t know if this discussion was of any value to my wife. The conversation became one of how do we get men to raise their sons right so our daughter won’t routinely experience the same harassment. We both absolutely loved our brief time in Cuba and want to return as soon as possible, before Starbucks and Wal-Mart (and future bankrupt Trump casinos) erase a nation frozen in revolutionary amber.

There’s a great line about Cuba – “Cuba got three things right: education, health care, and baseball.  And it got three things wrong: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The food can be pretty bland. I would say it’s been wrong on lots of human rights issues as well (although the last ten yeas have seen massive improvements for the lesbian, gay, and transgender populations). But all the socialist good will hasn’t stopped men from being dicks. I have to side with the radical feminists on this one. You can get rid of capitalism, but until you get rid of patriarchy it’s the same old shit. Cuba libre.

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Feminist Herstory Part 6 – Revolution Grrrl Style Now!

September 22, 2015 (Happy birthday, Joan Jett!)

We’re back for the occasional history of feminist theory. Earlier posts are here:

Feminist Herstory Pt. 1 – It is discovered that Women are PEOPLE!!!

Feminist Herstory Pt. 2 – Here comes the FIRST WAVE

Feminist Herstory Pt. 3 – Let’s Judge Ourselves as People

Feminist Herstory Pt. 4 – The Swingin’ Second Wave arrives

Feminist Herstory Pt. 5 – Hey, Soul Sister

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In the early 1990s, it was clear there was something going on with feminism. As the second wave became an established voice in academia and the media, things begin to change. There was a wave of books finding a new audience of young women and men, like Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (1991), Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991), and Camile Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990). No one could figure out if Paglia, for example, was a feminist or an anti-feminist. She wrote about patriarchy and sexuality in a way that pissed-off established feminists, like Germaine Greer (but got her on a lot of talk shows). Was this a new kind of feminist voice?

At the time I was teaching my signature class at Emory University called The Sociology of Youth Subcultures (which I continued to teach at Portland State). I had a young graduate student named Lauraine LeBlanc in the class. Lauraine was a Canadian with a Mohawk and deeply involved in the punk subculture. A big part of the class was the exploration of link between music and youth and I made the students several compilation tapes, mixing everything from Minor Threat to the Sugarhill Gang (and violating countless copyright laws). Lauraine told me about a new scene coming out of Olympia, Washington called Riot Grrrl.

Born at Evergreen State College, the Riot Grrrrl movement built on the failed promise of punk rock. In the 1970s, punk emerged as an androgynous subculture that rejected the beauty myth and the macho bullshit of mainstream hard rock (with Alice Cooper hacking up female mannequins and all). In 70s punk, females had a place on the stage or in front of it. But by the 1980s, punk had devolved into “hard core” and females bands faded out and females being groped in the pit at Corrosion of Conformity shows faded in.

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So the radical kids at Evergreeen and in other scenes across the country began to create pro-women punk rock. There was an explosion of bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, and Bratmobile. What the bands lacked in musical chops, they made up in passion. Most bands had only female members and the songs were about things like rape victimization and menstruation, stuff you were not going to hear Ozzy Osbourne singing about (although allied male groups, like Nirvana did take up the banner).  They drew on influences like Patti Smith, Joan Jett and Yoko Ono and even the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. It was so exciting that something new was happening in music and it was coming from young women who were sick of being told that if they wanted to be in band, they had to be the sexy lead singer.

I got a first hand lesson in Riot Grrrl ethics when I went to see the band 7 Year Bitch in Portland in May 1996. I will always be the guy who wants to get as close to the band as possible. I was a huge fan of 7 Year Bitch. The four women from Seattle rocked full on, so I pushed my way to the front of the stage at EJ’s, the tiny punk club on Sandy Boulevard. Within seconds a young woman said, “Hey man, you guys always have the space in front of the stage. How about tonight letting us have it?” I got it. I’m a tall view-blocking guy and guys who look like me often want to get rough in the mosh pit. Female fans usually get pushed farther and farther away from the action. I got how much that must suck for a young woman who just wants to rock. I smiled and watched the show from bar. Man, those riot grrrls were in heaven.

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Lauraine brought me tapes, CDs, and lists of bands I needed to seek out. She also supplied me with zines, homemade magazines, made by young, pre-internet, women who didn’t want to be told by Cosmopolitan or Glamour how to do gender. They re-appropriated the dismissive term, “girl,” as the angry “grrrl” and wrote it across their chests. Boys who didn’t get it could fuck off. I learned a lot from Lauraine LeBlanc that semester, including how to think about gay and lesbian subcultures. Lauraine ended up turning her interest in the voices of young women in punk into her doctoral dissertation and one of the best books ever written about gender and youth culture, Pretty in Punk: Girl’s Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture (1999). It is required reading in my Subcultures class.

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The Riot Grrrl scene was part of a larger trend that became known as Third Wave Feminism. The Third Wave took a cue from black feminists, like bell hooks, and rejected the monolithic voice of mainstream feminism. There wasn’t one feminist position, there were millions. And the voice was local. Like postmodernists, who love to deconstruct all things social, third wavers deconstructed what it meant to be a feminist. Supposedly, wearing lipstick and a short skirt made you a sex object and potential rape victim. Third wavers asked why can’t you be a feminist AND dress how you like? Can’t you be for the eradication of sexism and enjoy silly pop culture?

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So it’s not surprising that by the late 1990s, “grrrl power” had morphed into the girl power tag associated the Spice Girls (more on them next chapter). Any female in music was being called a riot grrrl, including Madonna and Gwen Stefani. But any girl power is a good thing, right? But the ethics of the subculture survived its diffusion into the mainstream, with institutions like the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, based here in Portland, Slut Walks, and the continuation of much-revered band, Sleater-Kinney. Sara Marcus’ 2010 book, Girls to the Front The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, is now required music history reading. The 2013 film, Punk Singer, about Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna has brought the message to a whole new generation of girls who weren’t even alive in the 1990s.

We’ll discuss next about how Third Wave Feminism is about a lot more than a punk rock position statement, but the call of the wild attracted a lot of kids (and a few older sociologists) with the battle cry, “Revolution, grrrl-style now!”

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I got to see one of the first Sleater-Kinney shows in 1995 and Andrea recently went to their reunion show here in Portland and got a T-shirt for our daughter Cozy. Cozy will grow up with this music in her house and be her own rebel girl. I’m glad I live in a time with people like Kathleen Hanna and Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney (and Portlandia) and all the other strong young women who rocking out on their own terms. Sisters are doing it for themselves, and it sounds damn good.

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The following books mentioned in this post are available at Powell’s by clicking on the covers below.