Msnowe's Blog

Metaphors for Stagnation (not change)

Posted in Palin, sexist metaphors, women by m.snowe on September 9, 2008
This morning M.Snowe decided to flip through some network news programs (against her better morning judgment that usually dictates sticking to the ipod). The stories on all three major networks (as if you would even consider FOX part of the repertoire!) were extremely Palin-centric. This was to be expected with the current hype, and was part of the reason it was turned to in the first place. Despite all the reading, M.Snowe was looking for some television news stories–to see how they were covering it all.

There’s nothing like that unedited commentary you sometimes get in the morning from precaffeinated television pundits. The stories are always hokey, and this morning was no disappointment–the reporting centered on the projected bump in women supporters for the McCain/Palin ticket–a jump of 20% among white women voters. This seems astronomically high, but let’s just pretend it’s true. Also, it was surmised that this bump was solely due to the addition of Palin to the ticket (although historically, after a convention, the polls get a natural bump, and we’re not talking about Palin’s daughter’s new baby bump here, either).

Then, the accompanying story focused on Clinton’s response to the Palin pick (because you always have to check what each of those bitches is saying behind the back of the other)–and more than one pundit or newscaster had this comment to make: That Clinton was viewed as not being tough enough on Palin. In other words, they blamed Clinton for not attacking Palin more fiercely and personally, and said that her inability to attack Palin was lingering luke warm sentiments for Obama, a.k.a. bitterness of her own failed campaign–a wily attempt to intentionally disrupt his campaign.

Somehow, the campaign has shifted from focus on McCain and Obama to Palin and whomever looks like the best democratic stand-in, be it Clinton (either one of them) or Biden, or someone else to hit the scene. And this can’t be blamed completely on the media–people have had months, even years of analyzing McCain and Obama. They’re looking for new material–and boy have they found some. This might be perfectly benign, but the force with which the media coverage has become misogynistic, or at the very least rice-paper-thinly-veiled sexist is downright distressing, and anger-inducing.

Example: When multiple newscasters/pundits described the relative quiet of Clinton on the topic of Palin’s controversy, one phrase was commonly shared amongst the new stations. Each interviewee said that if the two criticized each other, it would be a “cat fight.” When men like Obama and McCain bicker over policy, it is a “political debate,” or at worst maybe a “mudslinging.” A normal cat fight, in the literal sense, is two cats shrieking at the top of their lungs and alternately backing away and scratching at each other. No real damage is usually done, and no real winner takes the spoils–all is for naught, and the cats stalk away to fight another day, with all the people in earshot mildly annoyed by the raucous. They barely raise a paw, compared to being mauled by a bear, or bitten by a shark (or a “barracuda”). Although the accusations of Clinton’s indifference or purposeful avoidance of attack are ridiculous, this characterization also implies that a fight between the two, if initiated, would be irrelevant. Also, M.Snowe hates to have to point out the obvious, but the pundits, in their use of “cat fight” are, at the very surface, making sure that the audience remembers these two political figures do indeed have pussies. When was the last time you heard an Obama/McCain argument escalate into what the pundits labeled a “cock fight?Hmm. Thought so. No one ever accused McCain of wanting to scratch someones eyes out, but that’s where we are now.

Also, from the most recent New Yorker, we get statements like this from people at the Republican National Convention:

A republican delegate “had been wearing a pin that said “Catholics for McCain,” but swapped it for one that said “Hottest VP from the Coolest State.”

“She’s tremendous. I’m gonna scream, ‘Marry me,’ if I can just get up the nerve.”

Juxtapose these statements with the ones Clinton received during her campaign, like the signs that said “Iron my Shirt.”
Both types of messages are the same: We are not comfortable with where you are politically, so let’s bring the debate down to the level we can handle: either critique your body, your supposed lack of femininity, or abundance of it. One scholar of gender and racial studies said that your subjection can be measured by a simple mirror test. When you look in the mirror in the morning, how do you identify yourself? If you just see you, or see yourself as a human being–then you are relatively unaware of social class and racial bias. But if you identify a race, or class or sex with your image, it is that constant acknowledgement of difference that follows you throughout the day, and is reinforced by the people and social practices/behavior taking place all around you. It’s a sad but true statement that women (similar to other races and sexual orientations), when they look in the mirror, are constantly reminded they are women first and people, second.


Bead Bullocks

Posted in beads, kumquats, reproductive health, scientific study, women by m.snowe on March 31, 2008
Let’s say you’re a kumquat farmer with a crop of enough kumquats to form a line from one end of the Great Wall to the other. You’re crouched down, still constructing your bright orange line of juicy beads when you realize you’re mid-Mongolia and still haven’t found a decent market for your tiny delights. You just don’t understand how people couldn’t catch on–they did with the pomegranate, that sissy of a fruit with an anus-shaped sprout and wussy little red seeds. Then your reach a Confucian-like epiphany: you ask yourself: How can I make people realize how wonderful and beneficial my fruit is, so that I can make a profit?

1. People like exotic/alternative/new age and different things.
2. People like “natural” remedies, even if they’re enhanced with chemicals.
3. People are easily persuaded by “scientific” studies.
4. People like numbers, percentages, and doctor recommendations.

So your little kumquat dream can soon become a reality–all you need is a kumquat-obsessed doctor, a few small piles of research grant money, and a couple kumquat advocate test-dummies, and you’ve got yourself a legitimate pitch for kumquat supremacy. Before you know it, Oprah is extolling the fruit’s greatness, and having celebrities tumble on her couch with squirt bottles of your newly minted Kumquat Quench lifted in triumph between the healthy jumps so vigorous even their surgically enhanced breasts jiggle. Your commercials praise the natural rejuvenatory qualities of a good kumquat enriched diet, with “facts” from your study to back up the claims. All is well and good–people don’t know that your study was conducted by you, for the sole purpose of fashioning the study and results so that no other outcomes but positive ones could be reached. Granted, kumquats won’t kill you–but they certainly might have been as advantageous if they we squashed against the side of the Great Wall, to give it a bit of color.

So what happens when this type of marketing and branding technique, which is overtly flawed, enters into the arena of public health and awareness campaigns? What happens when the private interests, and family values agenda, seep into scientific study? Well, in short, nothing good. Apply the aspects of the above example to this story on so-called “natural birth control” and it’s effectiveness.

First, let’s look at this story on the pure surface of the reporting, without digging deeper into the source or accuracy of the data (which will come next). Here’s a quote from the article:
Family planning groups, health ministries and community development organizations introduced SDM at 14 different sites in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Problem: These groups are already targeted towards people who would rather really try this method. As a rule of thumb, any health organization called a “ministry” inevitably is tied to a religious organization of some sort. Also, look at the testing sites: Latin America leads the group, and Latin American is heavily Christian. Also, there are many studies of African reproductive health that report that religion sponsored programs of celibacy are not effective in preventing the spread STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Since this “family planning” method is based on abstinence for at least eight to twelve days a month, it flies in the face of other proven tests.
Problem #2 with the article, shown in this quote:
There were 14.1 pregnancies for every 100 women per year of use of the method, which was comparable to the 12 pregnancies per 100 woman years found in a 2002 clinical trial of the method.
Does ANYONE think that 14 out of a 100 is a GOOD, LOW number? 14% of ALL women using this method would get pregnant. Contraception such as the pill and even just a condom have up to a 99% effectiveness rate. That means, used correctly, women on the pill have a LESS THAN 1% shot of becoming pregnant (verses 14 out of 100 with the beads) So how can they endorse this method?

Problem #3 (And perhaps the most pernicious of all):
“Men reported being very satisfied with the method, and a significant number of men reported being involved in some way in helping their partner to use this method,” she noted, for example reminding a woman to move the marker on the beads or making sure to have condoms available on a woman’s fertile days.
While it’s a lovely sentiment that men are “supportive” of this method, it is absolutely delusional to think that men are supportive for the reason implied–that women would be free to discard hormone-shifting pills and be more in tune with her cycle. Fact: Men absolutely hate using condoms. No one can blame them, it’s like putting an oven mitt over your back massager. But this is awful–truly, because not only does it suggest a fabricated and completely unsafe form of preventing pregnancy, it disregards the notion that women should shield themselves from STDs.
The rhetoric of “family planning” should have been the first clue: the whole idea that planning for a family can also mean planning not to have a child is ridiculous in the first place–it merely implies, through it’s title that “it’s okay not to want a child now, but you should have many many babies, and hey, if those darn beads don’t work, well, take out your other set (the rosary) and pray your husband will get that big promotion so you can sit barefoot and pregnant without a care (or original thought) for the rest of your natural existence.” Those two words sure say a lot.

Okay, now on to the not so obvious stuff. This study was conducted by the very same people who manufacture, market, and sell the “cyclebeads.” They sell from anywhere between $14 – $40 a pop. Oh, and did we mention that the 2002 study, performed by Dr. Jennings, the same woman who oversees the research and is the head of the reproductive health center that sells the cyclebeads and teaches the methods, acknowledged the help of the following in her study:

“The authors are particularly grateful to our field collaborators:
Dr. Saleg Eid, Catholic Relief Services, Bolivia…

The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of USAID or Georgetown University. The Standard Days Method and CycleBeads are
trademarks owned by the Georgetown University Institute
for Reproductive Health. CycleBeads are patent pending.”

Hmmmm. Those kumquats sure seem stupid now, don’t they?

Truth, the Nineteenth Century Novel, and Women

Posted in 19th Century Novel, Androgyny, Brontes, Fiction, History, Jane Austen, men, women by m.snowe on March 26, 2008

Jill Lepore wrote a piece on all three topics, (and memoir, historians, etc.) in last week’s new yorker.
Her ability to weave in the scholarship with insightful quotes from some of the best novels ever (pardon the rather ungracious nod to favorite authors such as Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft) was exceptional.

The article, tracks the patterns of presentation of three distinct, yet intersecting genres: the novel, the memoir, and the historical treatise. Lepore explains how in the late 18th and most of the 19th centuries, “histories” were often what we would today consider fictitious novels, and memoirs were a mere twinkle in a historian’s eye. The intellectuals of the day, especially during the 19th century, were of the prevailing notion that “history” as a concept was flawed–there was no way to completely and accurately report historical facts without the skewing of perspective by the author, and the reliance on the accuracy of second-source texts. In a sense, history became a memoir or portrait of the one who was writing it. Lepore quotes Jane Austen’s juvenilia, The History of England, to prove her assertion. Austen wrote that the history was in fact written by “a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian.” Of course, this was Austen, and her acuity for an acerbic pen was spot on at all times–she is here flexing her sarcastic muscle.

Lepore is correct in explaining the nineteenth century novel. In many novels, the readers are asked to believe the stories presented are “based in fact” or “histories” of people’s lives–and often the lives of the “ordinary” or “lesser.” Pick up many a book written during that longish time span, and you will see not a fiction outright, but frames. For example: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The entire story is told by a ship captain’s letters, writing at sea, who is retelling the story of Dr. Frankenstein. Charlotte Bronte’s stories are often told as if the life histories had already occurred, and the “dear reader” is learning of them at the end of the writer’s life. The same goes for Dickens, most notably in David Copperfield. One doesn’t even have to look too far back to find these interesting frames or layers that synthesize reality–take Jame’s Turn of the Screw. It is told by a man to a group of others, relying the story from an observer. Wuthering Heights is a collection of historical artifacts that a visitor to the Moors learns piecemeal from maids and Heathcliff himself–the story is already over, and in fact–in the past.

Lepore then goes on to make the distinction that although people realized that novels were essentially “made up,” they had a higher claim of “truth” which rose above the mere pittance of “historical fact.” The nineteenth century was obsessed with getting to the essential truths, and the people of the age weren’t so easily deluded to believe that the history books, or the newspapers would provide them. The 19th century novel, unlike any other time, was a philosophical and symbolic journey. Philosophy also pivots on the same messy ground between fact and truth. The prove-ability of novels? Slim. The disprove-ability of the truth novels and philosophy supplies? Also very difficult. Like psychoanalysis (but much more enjoyable and enriching), the structure of novels have a system built into them that does not allow the reader to deny its influence–there is an explanation for everything.

Lepore explains that novels in the 19th century were primarily written for women, about women, and many times, by women–whereas, in supposedly direct opposition history was written in the majority by men, for men, and about great men. History was seen as the “serious” work of literature, whereas fiction and novels was seen as the softer, frivolous type. To some extent–this is still “true” (or perhaps a better word would be “fact”) today. Although, it’s surprising that 19th century novels, even some written by women, have hit the mainstream in college syllabi. But ask anyone today, and they will tell you history is a more serious subject than novels. Yet it remains that novels allow the reader a wonderful historical perspective into the lives of the “average” (though that depends on your definition of average) people living during the 19th century. That’s why novels were so much more popular and enjoyable–they functioned as both familiar (in the fashioning of everyday lives of everyday people) and extraordinary (in the expressive ways that novels transmuted the mundane into the dramatic). Was Maggie Tulliver depicted all that different in The Mill on the Floss from the other farm people–running about as a child, snipping off her hair and toiling for her family?

What is bothersome about Lepore’s qualification of these nineteenth century realities is that she posits the feminine with “truth” and the historical fact with the masculine. Yes, this is probably a correct estimation of how people felt in the 19th century, as shown by such essays and writings that denounced fiction and asked women to read history instead. But today, history is still targeted towards men, and novels and fiction are largely assumed to be read by women. This is simple the promulgation of 19th century myth. William Goodwin once said that when men wrote novels, it was “a symptom of effeminacy.” If genres are indeed “gendered” it is probably more a mistake of verbal aphasia or dyslexic tick with the similarity of the words “genre” and “gender” than it is based in any hard facts. (and why are “facts” hard? and “truths” soft?) Why do they have to coincide with the “appropriate gender”. Doris Kearns Goodwin is a brilliant historian among many other female historians, and there are many popular male fiction writers–Stephen King, etc. Why do we still give in to this notion that women deal in ideals and men in historical certainty? I think its the critics that need to get their heads out of the clouds. Luckily, the tide is turning, and more histories are coming out about women and influential female figures, and likewise, men are writing fiction about ordinary men. Again–we should look to the androgynous ideals of Virginia Woolf, when it comes to fiction.

Your moment of hormonal zen

Posted in estrogen, gay, gender, PMS, testosterone, women by m.snowe on March 16, 2008

“During those days immediately preceding her menstrual period (i.e. the infamously nicknamed ‘PMS’), a woman’s estrogen level drops to it’s lowest point in the monthly cycle. Thus, just before menstruation, women, at least hormonally, more closely resemble men than at any other point in their cycle. Perhaps, then, the only sensible purely biological solution would be to have every corporation, government office, and–especially–military operation run by gay men, whose levels of testosterone would presumably be low enough to offset the hormone’s propulsion toward aggression, while they would also be immune to the ‘raging hormonal influences’ of PMS.”
-The Gendered Society, Michael S. Kimmel

p.s. – for those who don’t realize it, this means that during PMS, women are hormonally controlled by testosterone. This means that if a woman is “PMS-ing”, she is truly just acting like an everyday male (regardless of the time of the month).

Happy V Day!

Posted in abuse, genital mutilation, rape, Vagina monolgoues, violence, women by m.snowe on February 14, 2008

…and that stands for fighting violence against women day, of course.

Here’s a few unhealthy facts for you:

– Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted.
– One in six American women are victims of sexual assault, and one in 33 men.
– In 2005-2006, there were an average annual 232,010 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.
– About 44% of rape victims are under age 18, and 80% are under age 30.


(stats from RAINN.org)
– 17.6 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape.
– The FBI estimates that only 37% of all rapes are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.

– Following the Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 to strike down the civil-rights provision of the Federal Violence Against Women Act (ruling that only states could enact such legislation), only two states in the country (Illinois and California) have defined gender-based violence, such as rape and domestic violence, as sex discrimination, and created specific laws that survivors can use to sue their perpetrators in civil court. (Kaethe Morris Hoffer, 2004).

And now on to the global numbers:
– At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are “missing” from various populations, mostly in Asia, as a result of sex-selective abortions, infanticide or neglect.
– Globally, at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. (UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00)

– An estimated one million children, mostly girls, enter the sex trade each year (UNICEF)
– More than 90 million African women and girls are victims of female circumcision or other forms of genital mutilation.


“Violence against women has profound implications for health but is often ignored. WHO’s World Report on Violence and Health notes that “one of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or male partner.” This type of violence is frequently invisible since it happens behind closed doors, and effectively, when legal systems and cultural norms do not treat as a crime, but rather as a “private” family matter, or a normal part of life.”

-World Health Organization

**And let’s not forget that violence against women does not just come in the highly brutal, physical form. It also smacks each of us in the face every morning, when we wake up to find ourselves locked in an abusive relationship with those who (being primarily men) decided women must not have the mental capabilities to control the machinations of their own reproductive lives, and who try to strike down a woman’s right to a choice, to birth control, and to freedom from parental or a partner’s consent when making choices which will effect our health, bodies, and overall well-being. Disrespect is not just physical abuse — it is any action that seeks to break you down into bite-able pieces and serve you up to fit other’s needs like chocolates in a russell stover box. Instead of reminding people you already love today of a fact they should already know, how about showing some love for those unfortunate people who are shown the opposite daily?


for advocacy in the fight against violence, go here

And despite the putrid pink colors on this website, it’s an important cause