Gender Focus Reads: Excluded by Julia Serano

photo of a hard copy of Julia Serano's "Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive", with several post-its sticking outby Jarrah Hodge

I received a review copy of Julia Serano’s newest book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive last fall, and I knew it was going to be particularly important. Serano’s last book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Feminism and the Scapegoating of Femininity has been a hugely impactful book for many trans* people and feminists and was even named the 16th most important feminist book of all time by Ms. Magazine.

Moving into 2014, it’s clear this book – and the discussions it provokes – are more necessary than ever. Last year saw more than 790 individuals and 60 organizations sign on to the Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism, but it also saw trans people continuing to struggle – often without wholehearted feminist support – for acknowledgments of basic rights and freedom from violence. It saw the unjust imprisonment of CeCe McDonald, Vancouver Rape Relief invite an anti-trans speaker to their December 6 memorial event, and British media harassing trans teacher Lucy Meadows, leading to her suicide. And literally this past week, a similar event occurred when Grantland writer Caleb Hannan outed a trans woman, Dr. V., and published a cruel, misgendering article even after her suicide.

The continuing injustice and exclusion should unite us as feminist and queer activists, rather than dividing us, and Serano’s book considers how we can get there.

The first part of Excluded is a collection of Serano’s essays since Whipping Girl, outlining exclusion within feminist and queer movements, including femme and bisexual communities, and at events like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest:

“I realized right there at the lake what a mistake many women from Michigan make when they insist that trans women would threaten their safe space, destroying a rare place where they feel comfortable revealing their own bodies. Because there is never any safety in the erasing of difference, and no protection in the expectation that all women live up to certain physical criteria. The only truly safe space is one that respects each woman for her own individual uniqueness.”

The essays are particularly helpful for understanding the big picture if you haven’t read Whipping Girl or experienced the kind of discrimination she talks about first-hand.

The second part is new material introducing Serano’s proposals for creating inclusion. Serano states:

“One-size-fits-all approaches to gender and sexuality – whether they occur in straight male-centric mainstream, or within feminist and queer subcultures – inevitably result in double standards, where bodies and behaviors can only ever be viewed as either right or wrong, natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, righteous or immoral…we should distance ourselves from these one-size-fits-all models, and instead embrace an alternative approach – what I call a holistic approach to feminism.”

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

Masculine Style: What Cowboy Masculinity Tells Us About Our Material Selves

Cover of Daniel Worden's Masculine Style: The American West and Literary Modernismby Jonathan Alexandratos

A quick search on a particular, massive online bookselling site yields numerous texts that discuss cowboy masculinity. Some do it by examining the “high art” of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, etc. Others use “low art” – John Wayne films, dime novels – as their starting point.

Daniel Worden’s Masculine Style: The American West and Literary Modernism, however, uses both. In a brief-but-pertinent 178 pages (excluding his bibliography and index), Worden summons, more-or-less chronologically, T. Roosevelt, Nat Love, Cather, Hemingway and Steinbeck, as well as Anthony Comstock, Edward S. Ellis, and Edward L. Wheeler (all dime Western novelists) to support his claim that masculinity, in Western (meaning, here “of the American West”) modernist literature, is a performance, not a biological assignment. To Worden, a character’s ability to participate in the culture of masculinity relies on how well he can wear its costume and conform to its established traditions.

“Masculinity is not a thing but a history,” begins Masculine Style. With this opening statement, Worden is able to do two things: (1) show that masculinity is not a tangible, static “thing” but a role that one acts, and that (2) this view is supported by various historical mile markers, starting in the late 1800s and going through the Cold War. Read more

Posted on by Jonathan Alexandratos in Pop Culture 1 Comment

Buying Presents for Other People’s Children: Actually Not Super Difficult

bkue and ping baby shoes-twinsby Jessica Critcher

It’s winter solstice time, and for my nieces and nephews, that means presents. Unfortunately, most mainstream toy stores are polarized between pink and blue, and the intent seems to be instilling and reinforcing traditional gender roles rather than encouraging play. It’s so obvious, even little kids can figure it out. If you don’t believe boy toys and girl toys are marketed differently, check out the Gendered Advertising Remixer to see them hilariously juxtaposed together.

I would like to offer a few strategies I’ve picked up for buying things for children– specifically for other people’s children, as I am not a parent and do not claim to be an expert.

  • Books. Sometimes I worry that buying books all the time will hurt my chances of being the cool aunt. But then I remember that’s ridiculous, and high-five myself because books are the best. A Mighty Girl has tons of suggestions for books with positive female characters, from princesses who rescue themselves to Rosa Parks. You can even browse by genre and by the kid’s age. And you don’t have to stop at showing that girls can kick butt. The Achilles Effect suggests books with healthy images of masculinity, and both sites offer toy recommendations as well. Read more
Posted on by Jessica Critcher in Pop Culture 7 Comments

The Ups and Downs of Being a Feminist on Pinterest

by Jarrah Hodge

Confession: I’m a feminist and I’m on Pinterest.

I thought it was time for me to weigh in on the discussion that’s been going on about feminism and Pinterest. A BuzzFeed article that was making the rounds back in October argued that Pinterest was “killing feminism”, saying:

“Pinterest’s user-generated content, which overwhelmingly emphasizes recipes, home decor, and fitness and fashion tips, feels like a reminder that women still seek out the retrograde, materialistic content that women’s magazines have been hawking for decades — and that the internet was supposed to help overcome.”

Amelia McDonell-Parry at The Frisky was one of several feminists who called the BuzzFeed post an overreaction:

“How users experience Pinterest varies from person to person. I, for one, rarely see a diet recipe or a fitness tip come across my dashboard, because I don’t pin that type of content and I don’t seem to follow users that do. But I don’t knock users that do; what’s wrong with wanting to get in shape, lose weight, and eat healthy? Is there something explicitly anti-feminist about that and thus anti-feminist about a platform that allows users to link to that type of content? Give me a break.”

I think it’s fair to recognize, as Terri Ciccone at the Jane Dough does, that there is problematic content on Pinterest, but that “Pinterest didn’t put it there; it’s not a monolith. Women did.”

It’s important to look at what’s on Pinterest because it can tell us something about what its users (60% women, although some estimates go as high as 79%) are looking at and sharing online. We can talk about the potentially problematic messages being shared just like we do with Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags, and Tumblr posts, by looking at what it means that so many people participate in spreading those messages. But we also need the perspective of recognizing that Pinterest is only part of many users’ social media engagement, so looking at it probably doesn’t give us quite the whole story.

So I’ve been on Pinterest now for 8 months and I wanted to talk about what I see as the potential ups and downs are for feminists on Pinterest. When you add my craft and recipe boards to the tens of millions of other Pinterest users out there, does it start to seem to an average user that women are more interested in traditionally feminine pursuits than, say, politics or the pursuit of equality? It might, and that’s something worth discussing. Are there ways to make Pinterest more of a feminist tool? I want to talk about that, too. If you’re a feminist already on Pinterest, let me know if you agree, disagree, or have anything to add.   Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 21 Comments

Man Showers: Redefining or Reinforcing Masculinity?

"En brudgum i Sorunda"Heather Klem is a reading addict, yoga enthusiast and feminist and body image blogger located in South Florida. She rails against our culture’s narrow definitions of beauty, the destructive idealization of thinness and the mass marketing of packaged perfectionism that leave women and men feeling inadequate and shameful about their bodies and themselves. Heather believe in empowering and educating our youth on harmful media messages and limiting social systems that call them to equate their self-worth with appearance and body size; instead equipping them with tools that support healthy self esteem, positive body image and individuality.

There are few customs more gender ritualized in Western society than those associated with the wedding planning process. The wedding industry, a money making monolith boasts 40 billion a year in revenue. It is a seemingly untouchable empire wrought with timeless tradition, cultural significance and deeply embedded gender stereotypes. The contemporary wedding has become a veritable commodity and multiple pre-nuptial parties are par for the course.

The usually hyper-feminized bridal shower in particular is one of the tried and true traditions that centers on the bride and typically precludes the groom. In recent years, men, ever the gender-busting pioneers, have expressed their desire to cash in on the fun. And thus was born the “man shower” or – in some crowds – “bro baths” or “man gatherings”. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism Leave a comment

Ferngully: Last Rainforest and Great Gender Equalizer?

Fern Gully The Last Rainforest Cover

This cross-post by Emma Kat Richardson originally appeared as part of Bitch Flicks’ series of reviews of animated children’s films.

Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit-reared freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Laugh Spin Magazine, 944, Alternative Press, Real Detroit Weekly, and on

If you’re the parent of a child who has outgrown mindless fare like the Teletubbies but not quite ripened toward Harry Potter levels of sophistication, stumbling upon a film like Ferngully: The Last Rainforest to share with your family must be nothing short of an epic “Eureka!” moment.

Released in 1992, this movie has managed to simultaneously entertain and educate young minds for close to 20 years. It upholds within the Western film canon something of a timeless, iconic quality for those in the age group most likely to become Wall Street Occupiers. Indeed, a trip beneath the leafy canopy of Ferngully, a lush, fictitious rainforest set in the Australian outback, always proves a nostalgic harkening back to that brief period in animated film history when female protagonists were front and center, relative to the action. At the same, its the sort of film that presents an upbeat outlook for young viewers, regarding the many ways that a world stripped of suffocating gender norms could help build an egalitarian playing field.

At such an empowering crossroads do we find Ferngully, a stunningly animated early ‘90s classic that preaches an important lesson on environmental protection in the simplified language of children. Leading the charge is Crysta, a spunky, quasi-adolescent forest fairy who begins the film frivolous and carefree, but finishes it as a respected leader among the forest sprite community. Alongside her mentor Magi Lune, the two flit about Ferngully’s dense and lovely layers of vegetation, using their combined magical powers to conjure up the forces of nature and help all sorts of exotic plants grow. Things turn problematic, however, when an evil, primordial force of destruction – a demonic smog cloud called Hexxus, voiced by Tim Curry in always reliably flamboyant Dr. Frank mode – is released from his tree prison, trapped there generations earlier by Magi, to wreak havoc on the serene oasis of Ferngully.

Its perhaps no coincidence that the moniker “Hexxus” sounds like it could double as a brand name for a major chain of gas stations, seeing as how the villain spends the bulk of his time on screen sucking down human produced poisons and plotting how best to capitalize on manmade machinery, to aide in Operation: Rain Terror. (And acid rain.) Assisting Crysta and co in the struggle against Hexxus are Batty Koda, a fruit bat who has been experimented on by humans and has the voice of Robin Williams, among other afflictions, and Zak Young, a hunky human forester whom Crysta accidentally shrinks down to fairy size while trying to protect him from a rapidly falling tree aimed at his head. (Obviously, shouting “timber!” is not a phrase found in fairy vernacular.) And of course, there’s the aforementioned Magi Lune, whose flowing, matronly robes provide an early contrast to Crysta’s biker chick meets lady Tarzan look. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 3 Comments

The Gender Anachronisms of Figure Skating

Artistic Impressions Book Cover

The 2011-2012 figure skating Grand Prix Final is starting this week in Quebec City, but according to Queens University Kinesiologist Mary Louise Adams, figure skating’s gender roles are running at least a few decades behind the times.

Adams is the author of Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport, which I highly recommend for figure skating fans, skaters, and anyone with a passing interest in the gender dynamics of sport.

Last year’s Vancouver Olympics brought the gender dynamics of figure skating to the public’s attention more than ever before as the battle between male skaters Evan Lysacek and Evgeny Plushenko turned into a debate on whether men skating without a quad jump was “effeminate”, and former US champion Johnny Weir was the subject of homophobic remarks by French commentators. Over the years, skaters like Elvis Stojko have argued that figure skating needs to be re-branded as more masculine to appeal to young boys. And organizations like Skate Canada have on occasion taken up that torch with ad campaigns.

Adams’ book gives historical perspective to these issues, showing how figure skating originated as a gentleman’s sport in which women were not even allowed to participate. But over time society changed, and so did the technique, rules, artistry, and demographics of figure skating so we now see the sport dominated by younger and younger women.

(Note: Adams’ book and this article only look at the singles’ events. The gender dymanics of pairs and dance events are too much to get into here.)

“The thing about skating more than other aesthetic judged sports is the division between presentation and aesthetic qualities and also technique and athletic qualities. The relative weight and balance of these things and what they mean for both the sport and for the people who participate in the sport has been a debate since the beginning of the 20th century. It’s changed over time. It used to be about class and now it seems to be more about gender,” Adams told me in an interview.

Adams points out that the very way we score skating today is based on arbitrary gender constructions. In addition to obvious gender markers like women’s revealing, skirted costumes (women skaters weren’t allowed to wear pants in competition until recently) the women’s long program is thirty seconds less than men’s. It’s based on the idea that men are stronger, but it has real implications in terms of the scoring. Adams points out that women’s world champion and Olympic gold medalist Yu Na Kim will never be considered “the best” under the current scoring system because women’s scores are very likely to always fall below men’s. Adams continued:

“The thing that surprises me most is that these rules persist – the spirals, the timing – and the illogicalness of them given, say, that pairs skaters skate longer. The anachronisms of figure skating are stunning given what women figure skaters do now and have done. They pretty much always do what the men have done except for one or two things – and we then place the emphasis on those things.”

“Those things” includes the quad jump: widely purported to be the ultimate goal for male skaters. Male skaters like Evan Lysacek who do fail to work quad jumps into their programs are frequently attacked with homophobic accusations of effeminacy. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 4 Comments