Vibrators VS Guns

In a follow-up to our previous post on Texas’s new acceptance of vibrators, check out this astounding photo and caption regarding the story, from the Washington Post (H/T Feministing).

Vibrators or Guns?

Should buying sex toys be as easy as buying guns?

My questions range from the nerdily linguistic to the cultural (I’m sure you can tell which is which):

(1) I’m sure this is my new favourite example of *something*.  It feels a lot like presupposition, given the way that a bare ‘yes’ and ‘no’ both seem like the wrong answer. This is just like the classic example, “Have you stopped robbing banks?”  (OK, that’s not precisely the classic example…)  But note the way that it differs. One can perfectly well answer it by saying either “No, because it should be much easier to buy sex toys than guns;” or “Yes; and in fact it should be even easier to buy sex toys than guns.” But while “Have you stopped robbing banks?” can be answered with “No, because I never started”, it can’t be answered with “Yes; in fact I never started.”  Is this difference a significant one? Another thought I’ve had is that *it should be easy to have guns* might be merely an implicature of the question.  (Implicatures carried by questions is an under-explored topic, but David Braun has a nice recent paper about it.) This would explain the feeling I have that *it should be easy to buy guns* is more weakly suggested than *I have robbed banks*.  I’m very rusty on presupposition, so thoughts from those more up on it are much appreciated!  

(2) As readers may know, I’m a US expat living in the UK. I’ve gradually learned that newspapers here make jokes– that is, just slip them into regular stories. This is something that didn’t happen in US newspapers last time I checked. Has it started happening now? Or is the question being asked in earnest? I’d be grateful for guidance from My Fellow Americans. If it is being asked in earnest, ‘culture shock’ doesn’t begin to capture what I’m feeling.

Global Voices

Bideshi blue makes me aware that yesterday was the Global Day of Action, and the entry for Jan 26th is full of links to important information and events.   The post also has links to dsicussions about the World Social Forum, a significant event to many women in other countries, though its covereage in the US and UK seems slight to non-existent.  (I would love to be wrong about this!)

Bideshi Blue is connected to the Nari Jibon website , an initiative of Rising Voices, which seeks to redress the representative inbalance in the online world:

“..certain regions of the world and certain demographics within those regions have benefited from the boom in citizen media more than others. Most bloggers and podcasters still tend to be middle or upper-middle class. Most have a college-level education. Most live in large cities. And of the 70 million weblogs now tracked by Technorati, 95% of them are written in just 10 languages. The truth is, what we often call the ‘global conversation,’ is a privileged discussion among global elites.”

Rising Voices in turn is an initiative of Global Voices Online, which is currently linking to the project to provide input to the World Economic Forum from ordinary people.

These online voices are an enriching source for Western feminists. And after Jender mentioned Nari Jibon in her edition of the Carnival, we have had several vaued communications with its Executive Director, Kathy Ward. Thanks, Kathy!

Addition:  The Nari Jibon project is much bigger than its website; to quote from the  calendar Kathy so kindly sent:

Nari Jibon Project provides alternative skills and training for women workers in a safe space and then connecting them with employers. Nari Jibon has established a blog in English, titled “Bangladesh from Our View” and Bangla “Amader Galpa (Our Stories)” to increase students’ & staffs’ creativity on different areas.

Hello Kitty … for the guys

Hello Kitty is a trademark of the Sanrio company in Tokyo. Created in 1974, she’s become internationally popular. She is also deeply associated with a girlish culture of a very traditional sort.

Hello Kitty is pretty cute; she shows up on laptops

And on bags

And watches

Sanrio Character Wrist Watch Vol. 2 - Hello Kitty

Her face is a part of some pretty expensive jewelry:

Today the head of Sanrio, who developed the line, has announced that it is seeking larger markets.

“Young men these days grew up with character goods. That generation feels no embarrassment about wearing Hello Kitty.”
Sanrio Co spokesman Kazuo Tohmatsu, announcing that Hello Kitty products for men, such as T-shirts and watches, will go on sale in Japan, other Asian countries and the U.S. next year.

In addition to the fascinating idea of marketing a product, one deeply embedded in a traditionally understood ultra-feminine context, to young men, there is the discussion of it in Japan Today. One thread in the discussion concerns questions about Western views of Asia, and who speaks for whom, but another addresses the question of whether joung Japanese men are becoming more feminine.

Though it is so easy to miss the cultural subtleties in a discussion like this, it looks as though the association with young men becoming more feminine is their being childish. Another factor that complicates understanding the discussion is that it looks as at least some Japanese are very sensitive about a Western stereotype of the Japanese as childish.

Since it is hard to tell from a  short newspaper article what is really going  on culturally in another country, let me just suggest readers have a look for themselves.  It may be a case where market forces actually work to make girls’ things more acceptable to boys.   Or  not.

Your Mother, Your Self?

(While perhaps not exactly a feminist topic, this is surely interesting to feminists)

 It is a cliche that East Asians are less individualistic than typical Westerners.  How deep does the different go, one might well ask.  It’s about as deep as anything gets, recent brain imagining results suggest.  As one report puts it, the Chinese idea of self includes mother.

Here’s the abstract of “Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation.” from NeuroImage (Feb.2007)

Culture affects the psychological structure of self and results in two distinct types of self-representation (Western independent self and East Asian interdependent self). However, the neural basis of culture–self interaction remains unknown. We used fMRI to measured brain activity from Western and Chinese subjects who judged personal trait adjectives regarding self, mother or a public person. We found that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) showed stronger activation in self- than other-judgment conditions for both Chinese and Western subjects. However, relative to other-judgments, mother-judgments activated MPFC in Chinese but not in Western subjects. Our findings suggest that Chinese individuals use MPFC to represent both the self and the mother whereas Westerners use MPFC to represent exclusively the self, providing neuroimaging evidence that culture shapes the functional anatomy of self-representation.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to access either journal, so I don’t have information about the size of the sample* or the sex of the individual subjects.  (*Thanks to Jender in the comments for pointing out the need for clarification here.)

UPDATED:  The NeuroImage article arrived about 4 hours after I requested my library get it.   It turns out that the Chinese and the Western samples were extremely similar.  Each  13 young adults (early 20’s), 8 men and 5 women.

16 Days

Today, 25 November, is the first day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. 

The International Red Cross is one of many groups to be a part of this campaign. One of their initiatives is to give a voice to women who are suffering from violence.

The IRC is in war zones around the world, helping many thousandsof women and girls every day. We know they have much to say andwe know how easily their voices are lost, so we’re working withwriter, photographer and long-time women’s advocate Ann Jones togive them an opportunity to speak, loudly and clearly.With digital cameras, women who have survived conflict,displacement, discrimination, sexual and domestic violencevividly document their own lives. Through these personalphotographs, stirring portraits are revealed and women cometogether to tell stories of strength, reclaim their rights andmake their voices heard.Be a part of this powerful exchange, which begins tomorrow,November 25th to kick off “16 Days of Action against GenderViolence.” Over the course of the 16 Days, you’ll be inspired bythe extraordinary changes these brave women make with the boldclicks of their cameras.Just sign up for our 16 Days e-mail list, and on each of thosedays you’ll get a special e-mail with one woman’s photo, anamazing story and a chance to add your own voice. Afterward,you’ll get occasional updates from Ann and the IRC about newstories, IRC programs empowering women, and the many ways YOUcan help.

To sign up for the IRC 16 Days list go here.   Thanks, Jender-Parents!

A Jihad For Love

This wonderful documentary profiles gay and lesbian Muslims in twelve countries.  It tells an incredibly complex story (really, many stories) that I couldn’t hope to do justice to here.  I think perhaps what struck me most was this: the people in the film are being persecuted in the name of Islam, yet it is also clear that what sustains them through this persecution is precisely their deep faith in Islam.  The stories are complex, the people are complex, the interplays between culture, religion, and politics are complex– and they all (people, cultures, religious intepretations, laws) differ tremendously from one another.  I won’t try to say much more, except to note that there is a vast amount of rich material here for those interested in sexuality, gender, self-understanding, religion, culture, textual interpretation, human rights, silencing, and on and on and on.  See it as soon as you can, and tell others about it! the director has a blog here.  And here’s an interview with the director to whet your appetite.  

Document the Silence: 31 October

The Document the Silence Project aims to end the lack of attention to crimes of violence against women of color in the US. They have an important event coming up on October 31, and I’d urge you to participate:

Recent events in the United States have moved us to action. Violence against women is sadly, not a new phenomenon in our country or in the world, however, in the last year women of color have experienced brutal forms of violence, torture, rape and injustice which have gone unnoticed, received little to no media coverage, or a limited community response. We are responding to:

The brutal and inhumane rape, torture, and kidnapping of Megan Williams in Logan, West Virginia who was held by six assailants for a month.

Rape survivors in the Dunbar Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida one of whom was forced to perform sexual acts on her own child.

A 13 year old native American girl was beaten by two white women and has since been harassed by several men yelling “white power” outside of her home

Seven black lesbian girls attempted to stop an attacker and were latter charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11 year prison sentences

In a Litany of Survival, Audre Lorde writes, “When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” These words shape our collective organizing to break the silence surrounding women of color’s stories of violence. We are asking for community groups, grass-root organizations, college campus students and groups, communities of faith, online communities, and individuals to join us in speaking out against violence against women of color. If we speak, we cannot be invisible.

Join us and stand up to violence against women!

Be bold, be brave, be red. Wear red on October 31, 2007. Take a picture or video of yourself and friends wearing red. Send it to: We’ll post it!

Take Your Red to the Streets! Know of a location where violence occurred against a woman of color? Have a public location where you feel women of color are often ignored? Make violence against women of color visible by decorating the space in red. Be sure to send us pictures and or video of your display!

Rally! Gather your friends, family, and community to rally. Check out the Document the Silence website for the litany we’re asking participants to read together on October 31st. Be sure to send us pictures and/or video of the event! You could even gather where you created a display!

For more Information on how to Host a RED Rally, please click on the page “How to Host a Red Rally.”

Share your story of silence. Share your own story of silence by uploading it to the Document the Silence website ( You can send a story in any form you’d like – as a written statement, video clip, movie, documentary, or visual art.

For more information, go here.

Stanley Fish just doesn’t get it.

In “Yet Once More: Political Correctness on Campus” Stanley Fish undertakes to straighten out a recent supposed expose of the alleged left-wing indoctrination that is said to plague higher education in American. But he really doesn’t get it. A minor example:

As for the clannishness of students who hang out only with those of their own race and ethnicity, that is certainly worrisome, and it is likely that the strong marking of identity in admissions policies, course descriptions and race- or gender-based centers contributes to it.

One hopes he doesn’t really mean that a Women’s Studies Center causes racial/ethnic clannishness. But nearly as implausible is the idea that if it weren’t for Queer Studies, straight guys might love to hang out with gay students. And even if we assume admission policies that increase the number of black students create a resentment among others, what’s the alternative? An even smaller minority of black students who are somehow treated as though we live in a non-racist society?

But Fish’s blinkered point of view is particularly evident in his assumptions about what is political. And that’s clear in the following passage:

There are more than enough legitimate academic topics to keep an ethnic or gender studies department going for decades — the recovery of lost texts, the history of economic struggle and success, the relationship of race, ethnicity and gender to medical research. And there is no reason in principle that such investigations must begin or end in accusations against capitalism, the white male Protestant establishment and the United States government.

But some of them do. Some of these programs forget who’s paying the bills and continue to think of themselves as extensions of a political agenda.

That is, the fact that topics of such importance are left to the almost always marginalized center-for-women/gay/lesbian/black/etc studies is just a fact. To tell students about the establishment that considers them marginal is political. And Fish tells us about professors who use the classroom as a stage for their political views that

I would put the number much lower, perhaps one out of twenty-five. But one out of 10,000 would be one too many.

If racism and sexism were political, if it were a political act to give preference to white male students, Fish’s numbers might be different.
Skimming through the comments, I saw mostly ones that agreed with Fish. Still, kudos to some who could see the problems, perhaps especially this one:

Wouldn’t you know it? After hundreds of years of world domination, I finally become a middle-aged, white male just in time for that to be an oppressed minority!

Get real.

As I see it, those who bemoan “political correctness” (a term I abhor), are the same people who complain of “reverse discrimination.”

Do you financially comfortable, white Conservatives wish you could trade places with a handicapped, gay, black woman so you can take advantage of all the great perquisites you’d then have? If not, you’re just blowing smoke.

— Posted by Daniel Glennon

Beauty and the ‘burqua’

Reuters here reports on a version of ‘America’ s next Top Model’ from Afghanistan.

It struck me as an issue full of ambivalence for feminists; on the one hand, there’s the recently reported on problem of the ‘whitewash’ of the fashion world (see here). Given this, the promotion of different ideals of beauty seems to be a good thing.

But on the other hand, the body image emphasis of these programs is something that, for the most, I find myself uncomfortable with.

To illustrate my ill-ease, consider this quotation, from one of the models on the show, Timour:

 ‘”I have seen outside Afghanistan they have a different kind of idea about women in Afghanistan — they think they are always wearing the burqa and sitting at home but it is not like that,” she said.’

Sounds good! I thought… but then she qualifies, with 

“Girls in Afghanistan are beautiful.”

which isn’t false, but I wish she’d said more! About not just misconceptions about the appearance, but the misconceptions about all Afghan women living as shut away, oppressed, victims (though, fair enough, she was talking about the fashion program, so not really fair to criticise her for not going beyong appearance issues…)

On which note, such misconceptions are, as Racialicious points out here, only perpetuated by the Reuters write up. There, Fatemah Fakhraie writes:

  • ‘Reuters eroticizes Afghan women, making it seem like just going out to get the day’s groceries is an act full of sensuality! Apparently, in Afghanistan, there’s always somebody cute in the grocery store.
  • But don’t forget! Reuter’s use of the phrase “behind the bars of its [the burqa’s] grille” reminds us that these poor, sexy women are unfortunate prisoners of their brutal man-folk or their terribly oppressive religion! These women can’t possibly be making the choice to wear a burqa (or, as it’s really known in Afghanistan, the chaadari—again, good job, Reuters).’

Whilst Reuters does report on a fair spread of opinion about the show, Fakhraie also criticises the way that the reported claims from a Muslic cleric that the women’s participation is against Sharia law, and so should be punished, are inadequately scrutinised or explained; whilst on the other hand, nor is the reported view from Afghan businessman that “It also complies with Afghan culture, so it’s fine.”

Indeed, the article seems at a number of points (though not wholeheartedly) to be guilty of cultural essentialism – seeing the culture as a homogeneous whole, in which individuals are mysterious ‘others’, who are subsumed by ‘the culture’ – in the way that Uma Narayan (1997) has highlighted and shown to be deeply problematic.

Feminism and 9/11

As part of the Carnival, I linked to a post asking why there isn’t more feminist writing about 9/11. But I wasn’t sure what such writing would actually be– sure, there are plenty of feminist things to say about the ways that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been justified, and about their effects on women. Lots of feminist things to say about the way that Islam has been demonised as monolothically anti-woman, and so-on. But specifically about 9/11? I drew a blank. Susan Faludi didn’t, in part because immediately after the event she was told that “this sure pushes feminism off the map!”. In her new book, she argues that the crisis of 9/11 has served as a way of pushing women back into traditional domesticity. She also ties it into American history and national mythology:

Our foundational drama as a society was apposite, a profound exposure to just such assaults, murderous homeland incursions by dark-skinned, non-Christian combatants under the flag of no recognized nation,” she writes. “September 11 was aimed at our cultural solar plexus precisely because it was an ‘unthinkable’ occurrence for a nation that once could think of little else. It was not, in fact, an inconceivable event; it was the characteristic and formative American ordeal, the primal injury of which we could not speak, the shard of memory stuck in our throats. Our ancestors had already found a war on terror, a very long war, and we have lived with its scars ever since.

Interesting and important arguments, though as Rebecca Traister at Salon notes things are complicated by the rise of women to certain positions of power during the same time (Condoleeza Rice, Katie Couric). And as Patricia Cohen of the New York Times notes, invasion narratives are hardly unique to the US psyche. Though I haven’t read the book, I’m a little troubled by all this talk of “our” founding narrative as one of being light-skinned people invaded by dark-skinned ones. Aside from the fact that this really gets the facts wrong about who invaded whom (which needn’t prevent it from being a myth that we believe), very few Americans have family histories that go back to those narratives. Most of us are more likely to identify with narratives of immigration or slavery, surely. Still, interesting and thought-provoking stuff.