Saturday, December 14, 2013

today's reminder that women are supposed to feel fat and unsexy so that we can spam you successfully

So, it's just a normal day. My Facebook feed is full of status updates about snow and babies and complaints about grading. Facebook is predictable like that. And then there was this.

Why, Facebook? What is it about me that suggested to your algorithms that I needed an ad from some outfit called "Be Sexy" that wants to let me know that someone who can't spell success wants me to click on some spammy little url because "Lisa from Oregon" lost 60 lbs?

OH RIGHT. I'm a woman.

Just today's little technomicroaggressive reminder that, since I'm female, I probably feel bad about myself because I think I'm fat and unsexy, and might even feel bad enough about it that I might click on some spammy little website that will take advantage of me in other ways.

So, you know, when I report this for being sexist spam targeted at women, it'd be nice if the response wasn't "this doesn't violate our community standards."

Yeah, I know that sexist crap doesn't violate community standards. SUGGESTION: LET'S UPDATE OUR COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

Because I'm not lowering mine.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Traditional Christmas Repost: theological reflections on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

theological reflections on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

One of my favorite perennial Christmas classics is that edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwhere Burl Ives narrates as Sam the Talking Snowman and sings. You know, the one where the little figurines move around jerkily but endearingly. (For some interesting info about this classic, click here.)

My favorite character in this thing is Hermey, the Elf who wants to be a dentist. Hermey reveals this sick unnatural ambition in a conversation with the Elf Boss, who lectures him threateningly:

Hermey, miserably: Not happy in my work, I guess.
Head Elf: WHAT??!
Hermey: I just don't like to make toys.
Head Elf: Oh well if that's all...WHAT??!! You don't like to make toys?!
Hermey: No.
Head Elf, to others: Hermey doen't like to make toys!
Others: (repeat it down down the line) and in chorus: Shame on you!
Head Elf: Do you mind telling me what you DO wanna do?
Hermey: Well sir, someday, I'd like to be...a dentist.
Head Elf: A DENTIST? Good grief!
Hermey: We need one up here...I've been studying it, it's fascinating, you've no idea, molars and bicuspids and incisors--
Head Elf: Now, listen, you. You're an elf, and elves make toys. Now get to work!

The ontology undergirding the Head Elf's reprimand of Hermey leaves no room for consideration of an elf who deviates from his "nature" by not liking to make toys. It's simply inconceivable. Hermey's attempt to "fit in" is stymied when, engrossed in the task of providing teeth for some dolls, he misses elf practice and suffers another confrontation with the Head Elf, which concludes with the Head Elf's vicious assertion, "You'll NEVER fit in!" Miserable, Hermey jumps out the window in self-imposed exile, his only option to be true to himself.

Rudolph's situation is parallel. Born with the disgusting congenital deformity of a red glowing nose, his parents are horrified (even his own mother can only weakly offer, "we'll have to overlook it," while his father goes so far as to actually hide it by daubing mud on his son's face.) Later, at the "reindeer games," Rudolph outshines the other reindeer in skill, but when his prosthesis falls off, everyone gasps and his erstwhile playmates mock and shun. The authority figures echo this attitude: the Coach gathers everyone up and leads them away, saying loudly, "From now on, we won't let Rudolph join in any of our reindeer games!"

Santa's role throughout most of the cartoon is to legitimize the prejudices against the misfits already evident in lesser members of the Christmastown community. When Santa visits the newly birthed Rudolph, his unthinking prejudice becomes plain when he comments that Rudoplh had better grow out of it if he ever wants to be on his team of flying reindeer. Santa's behavior at the scene of the reindeer games is even more disturbing; like his pronouncement at Rudolph's birth, he says, "What a pity; he had a nice takeoff, too." For Santa, Rudolph's skill is less important than his nose, an arbitrary physical attribute. A distant and authoritarian figure, Santa is unaware of Hermey's plight (apparently the welfare of elves is beneath his notice) and condemning of Rudolph's gall in considering himself a reindeer of the same worth and dignity as the others.

Rudolph and Hermey get together, and a few lines of their "misfit theme song" are revealing:

"We're a couple of misfits, we're a couple of misfits--
What's the matter with misfits?
That's where we fit in.

We may be different from the rest...
But who decides the test
of what is really best?"

In "Christmastown," those who decide "the test of what is really best" seem to be the tyrannical and thoughtless majority, reinforced by authoritarian sanction by Santa, the pseudo-benevolent despot. Those who question the status quo--those who are already marginalized--are mocked, punished, and driven out of the community.

Over the years it's become apparent to me that this simple children's cartoon contains some real subversive elements: Hermey's misfit-ness is the result of apparent "choice," but the kind of choice where the alternatives are to be true or false to oneself. Rudolph's misfit-ness is the result of birth rather than choice. Change "dentist" to "gay" and "red nose" to "black skin." Now the subversive message is clear: Santa is racist, the Head Elf and the elf community is homophobic, and "Christmastown" is really "Whiteytown."

Given this subtext, the change of heart on the parts of Santa and the Head Elf at the end are more than just the formulaic ending to a well-known Christmas fable. Although it takes a prodigious feat of community service on both Hermey's and Rudolph's parts (each requiring skills peculiar to their misfit-ness) to bring the authorities and the community to repentance, repentance is indeed the note sounded in the conclusion. Everyone, including Santa, apologizes to the misfits. And in the end, difference is valorized rather than exiled.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Mama's Rules for Dressing Well

"One might say that the measure of women's liberation is any culture is at least partly indicated by whether or not they wear shoes that allow them to walk freely!" Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk, 176.

One might, but one probably ought not to go much beyond that, and certainly shouldn't suggest that a feminist in high heels is like Dawkins in a rosary.

I have some basic rules for dress for myself and my daughters, and they go pretty much like this:

1) Anything you wear shouldn't hurt any part of your body.
2) What you wear should keep you warm (or cool) enough.
3) What you wear should let you do what you plan to do in it (that is, be functional and appropriate to the specific occasion).
4) You should feel good about what you're wearing.

These rules are a work in progress. As my bright-shining brilliant, beautiful oldest continues to, well, get older (dang it!) I keep revisiting these basic guidelines--gauging whether or not she is following them…and whether I am, too. She's great at it--as, I think, most kids would be, if we encouraged them to think of dress and clothing in these ways. Me, not so much; I have some unlearning to do, still, especially about #4. (Not too long ago, I recall, I went on a brief FB rant about the evils of pleated pants, because I wasn't #4ing very well that day.)

But I'm getting better, and it's pretty awesome to have a 7-year-old role model to learn from.

But none of these rules mean I won't be wearing my incredible hand-knitted (yes: this is me, bragging about my knitting skillz) lace stockings and vintage heels.

The last time I put on a pair of heels for a fancy dinner out, my husband teased me about it. Then Clare, hypocrisy radar bleeping, joined in: "you shouldn't be wearing ouchie shoes!"

Yes, I get it. I worked for a few years in an orthopedic shoe store and I am a proponent of comfy shoes. I tell people all the time that putting the investment in for really good shoes is worth it. And day in, day out, I still wear the shoes that I bought years ago on employee discount from my fabulous boss at the Princeton Foot Solutions store (hi Linda! muah!).

I don't put anything on that hurts. If I can't walk in it or dance in it, what's the point? You can't look fancy or feel fabulous if you're hobbling across a room wondering why the hell your table is in the farthest corner.

But most often, I wear heels for a couple hours at a time in a context where there's more sitting than walking, and when the point is to be extravagantly, flagrantly fabulous. Maybe even (gasp!) sexy…which for me, like a lot of women brought up in the kind of purity/modesty culture of American conservative Christianity, is a reclamation of our bodies and their goodness.

My anniversary comes up in a few days and you can bet I'll be rocking some #feministheels and showing my daughter that Mama can be fancy as well as sensible, sexy as well as grubby, fun as well as hardworking. And that when it comes to Dressing Well, it's about feeling good in your body, and accomplishing what you set out to accomplish--be that dazzling your students with a philosophy lecture or dazzling your spouse at an anniversary dinner.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

today's new mommy song

manufactured crises are the best ones to have
that's why we make them up all the time

You lost the pencil you just had in your hand?
Well that's a manufactured crisis right there!

gratulations because manufactured crises are the best ones to have
that's why we make them up all the time

You still need a pencil to do your homework?
Well there's lots of pencils in this house
When you manufacture problems you can make solutions too
Go look for a pencil right now!

manufactured crises are the best ones to have
because we can manufacture fixes for them too.