Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cafe Cherie: A discussion of T.C. Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain"

This edition of Cafe Cherie discusses T.C. Boyle's 1995 novel, "The Tortilla Curtain."

The novel explores the issues of immigration, compassion, and human rights.

Give it a listen:

Leo at the iron

I could not resist posting this pic of Leonardo DiCaprio from a back issue of Esquire magazine.

Although the corresponding interview was mostly drivel, it's just great to see a man holding an iron that's not a golf club.

Feminist quote bag

In praise of strong women

"What's the alternative? Being a weak woman? What do you get from that? Nothing. I'm strong because I believe in what I do. When I put my head on the pillow at night, I know I have not hurt anybody. That's my message to people: Don't hurt anybody. Know what you're about. Keep learning. Don't shut down. Don't give in. Don't give up. Don't settle. Find what you like to do and do it."

-- Doris Roberts, actress, "Everybody Loves Raymond"
Courtesy of USA Weekend

In support of family

"It wasn't like a group consensus thing with my family ... We kind of all came to the natural conclusion that we didn't want to be part of a religion that didn't support him, so we just kind of left.

-- Anne Hathaway, actress, talking about her family leaving the Catholic church after her older brother came out as gay.
Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A new blessing for a cruelty-free feast

"& say, On this grace I feed, I wilt
in spirit if I eat flesh, let the hogs,
the rabbits live, the cows browse
the eggs hatch out chicks & peck seeds"

--- Virgina de Araujo, "The Friend ..."

Chris and I read this before partaking of our Thanksgiving dinner. Use it for your next vegetarian/vegan feast, you don't need a special occasion to celebrate the "grace" of eating plants ... and contribute to the destabilization of patriarchal meat consumption.

Blessed be.

Ecofeminism in action: Green products that really work

One of my ongoing goals is to replace my toxic household cleaners with environmentally-friendly products.

Yet, there is an issue of cost, availability and performance of some of these products.

I believe that by replacing the products I use frequently, and targeting the most toxic products, I can positively impact the environment.

Toilet bowl cleaner is very toxic. If you've ever gotten a drop on your hands while cleaning the bowl, you know it burns. So, I replaced the brand I've used for years with Green Works toilet bowl cleaner. It works great, it's affordable and it's widely available ($2.39 at Target.)

Dishwasher detergent is another product I use frequently.

My biggest challenge was finding a brand that cleans effectively.

Well, Eureka!

Enter Seventh Generation automatic dishwasher detergent. As dishwasher detergents go, it is a little pricey ($5.39 for 75 oz. at Target,) but I believe the results and the reduced environmental impact are worth it.

Chris put this product to the test this morning with a bowl containing the dried, crusty remnants of Cream of Wheat -- sound appetizing? Anyway, we were amazed when it emerged from the dishwasher sparkling clean with no trace of the cereal left and no detergent residue.

I've also notices my glasses becoming clearer with each successive wash. My old detergent left them covered with residue that the Seventh Generation product seems to remove over time.

I love the company's credo from the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy: "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."

The company claims that, "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one box of 75 oz. automatic dishwashing detergent containing phosphates with our phosphate-free product, we could save 100 million pounds of phosphates from entering our rivers and streams."

While the mainstream detergent industry decided to voluntarily ban phosphates in its products in July, Seventh Generation has been working for 20 years to develop environmentally-friendly formulas.

According to Clean Water Action of Michigan, phosphates encourage algae bloom that kills fish and aquatic plants that clean and balance our ecosystems.

Seventh Generation is also chlorine-free. And while I'm not negating the efforts of the detergent industry's efforts, nobody is saying anything about chlorine, which is basically a pesticide used to kill living organisms and has its own list of associated health risks including cancer and heart disease.

I urge you to try environmentally-friendly products and make substitutions whenever you can. Every little bit helps.

And that's ecofeminism in everyday action.

New airport security measures carry risks for women

From examiner.com:

There has been much discussion this week as the new TSA airport security measures were unveiled; airline passengers do have a choice, but both options of airport security measures present health concerns for certain groups of women. Pregnant women, cancer patients and women with other health problems have concerns about the radiation risks of the new airport scanners; in addition, women who opt for the alternative “pat down” may feel uncomfortable, an invasion of privacy or, in some instances, humiliated or threatened.

The health implications of airport scanners

The new airport scanners introduced under the TSA airport security measures require that you step into a booth with your arms raised above your head. In order to produce a photo image of your body, the airport scanner will either use electromagnetic waves or low energy X-rays, depending on the type of scanner used.

Although official guidelines indicate that the amount of radiation emitted from the airport scanners is “minimal”, some people may feel that the risk is not worth it. In addition, women who are pregnant, have/had cancer or other associated health problems are more vulnerable to the perceived risks than others.

TSA airport security pat downs: Why some women will fear them

The alternative to the airport scanner is a “pat down” by a member of airport security. The “pat down” has sparked debate because of its “intrusive” nature of the patting down of “private parts.” Women may find this more distressing in certain instances. In addition, for women who have been a victim of abuse, or raped, the whole process of the “pat down” could be more than she could endure.

Women's health and airport security measures

Airport security is of utmost importance but the new TSA airport security measures may cause health problems, either physically or emotionally, for many women. Flying suddenly got a whole lot more “risky” in terms of women's health – if you suffer from the problems mentioned. Learn as much as you can about the new TSA airport security measures before taking a flight this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

World AIDS Day is coming Dec. 1

AIDS is still with us.

We all know what it is, but for the record, AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

It poses a threat to men, women and children around the world. The vast majority are from lower- and middle-income countries.

Wednesday, Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. The theme for this year's event is "Universal Access and Human Rights."

World AIDS Day started in 1988 with the goals of raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education.

Oakland University is hosting a series of events on campus:

  • "Safer Sex Seminar" 12 - 1 p.m. in the Oakland Room in the Oakland Center.
  • "Positive about being positive: A conversation with Todd Heywood About Living with HIV" 5-6 p.m., Oakland Room.
  • HIV/AIDS awareness event "Rogue 3" 8 - 11 p.m. in the Gold Rooms.
Wear a red ribbon to show support.

Related Links:

Avert.org -- claims to be the world's most popular AIDS website

An economy based on feminized labor?

Feminism has been played by the corporate elites of the world to power their neoliberal, capitalist economic and political systems.

And what's worse -- most feminists don't even realize it.

That's the message of Hester Eisenstein's book, "Feminism Seduced: How Global Elites Use Women's Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World" (2009)

Eisenstein is a Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She explains the title of her book:

"I entitled this book "Feminism Seduced," because I felt that in the process of selling globalization, corporate leaders and other elites have been systematically trying to seduce women into embracing the expansion of capitalism ... corporate media publicize the achievements of women in high places. All of this has seemed to me to be an overall effort to smoothly fold feminism and feminist ideas into the corporate embrace."

It is indeed a seductive economic, social and gender-based tango on the domestic and international stage.

Here at home, Eisenstein traces the changes in the United States as the economy was radically restructured away from manufacturing and towards a low-wage, unorganized service sector where big corporations take advantage of a vast pool of predominantly female labor.

Need proof?

As of May 2009, statistics show fifteen jobs accounted for more than 25% of U.S. employment, but only three of those had mean wages above the U.S. average of $20.90 per hour, or $43,460 annually*.

Of those 14 jobs, nine would be considered feminized labor, or woman's work. I've ranked them by annual pay, highest to lowest:

Bookkeeper, accounting, auditing clerk, $34,750
Customer service rep., $32,410
Secretary, except legal/medical, executive, $31,060
Office clerk, general , $27,700
Retail Sales Person, $24,300
Stock clerk/order filler, $23,460
Waitperson, $20,300
Cashier, $19,030
Food preparation, fast food, $18,120

There are two feminized exceptions*:

Registered nurse, $66,530
Elementary school teacher, except special ed., $53,150

What Eisenstein refers to as mainstream feminism -- basically the liberal feminism of the 1960s and 1970s has affected gains for women, but it's a good news/bad news scenario. Eisenstein says:

" ... the good news for women as the result of the long and hard struggles by unions and by anti-discrimination lawsuits, was the opening up of access to virtually all areas of work. The bad news was that with overall economic restructuring, wage levels stagnated for decades.

"... government officials were quick to use feminist ideology, interpreted as women's rights to paid employment, as a way to gut the welfare legislation of 1935, thereby removing a crucial safety net that had helped to provide a floor for wages."

How clever was that?

We see a similar perpetuation of this same mindset around the nation today as more states -- including Michigan -- continue to overturn parts of their affirmative action laws.

The latest hot spot is Utah -- where a proposal would overturn affirmative action laws, not just as they apply to universities, but to public contracts and state employment as well.

You'll want to listen to this segment from "The Takeaway."

"So Long to Affirmative Action in Utah?"

*Sources (courtesy of the Detroit Free Press:) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. The third job exception is General operations manager, $110,550.

The transgender community: Invisible victims of violence

When it comes to violent crimes, there is one sector of the population that is virtually invisible. There are no statistics for the crimes committed against them and they often do not receive media coverage.

They are the transgender community.

I recently met Michelle Fox-Phillips, of Transgender Detroit during Oakland University's Anti-hate Week, which ran in conjunction with Transgender Remembrance week.

She says it is often hard to get local, mainstream media to attend conscious-raising events focused on violence towards LBGTIQ community.

Why the phobia? The reasons are many and range from simple misunderstanding, to prejudice to pure hatred.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines transgender as:

"of, relating to, or being a person (as a transexual or transvestite) who identifies with, or expresses and gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person's sex at birth."

I don't know if I necessarily agree with the inclusion of transexual or transvestite, but there are different thoughts on the issue -- and they are complex and personal.

In my mind, gender refers to roles men and women play in society. Sex refers to a person's biology. So in this context, perhaps the difference between transgender and transexual would be between someone who decides switch roles as opposed to someone who wants to undergo changes either through hormone therapy or surgery.

Perhaps my view is incorrect, or over-simplistic.

I think transgender activist, writer and web designer Gwendolyn Ann Smith puts it beautifully:

"I'll gladly admit that I did not grow up like many other women. I have a history that some would regard as incongruent with the gender I inhabit today. As such, I have an adjective -- transgender -- that sits in front of the word woman. It's a modifier for the modified, I suppose, but it does not diminish the value nor the importance of the word "woman" in my life.

I absolutely love the Wikipedia entry for transgender and encourage you to check it out. It is well documented, although the neutrality of a couple of sections is in dispute.

Yet, the bottom line should be nonjudgment -- that is unconditional acceptance or at least an attempt to understand. After all, we are all human beings.

Related links:

Gwendolyn Ann Smith's website
Gwendolyn Ann Smith's essay, "Transmissions: Ain't I a Woman?"
Transgender Detroit's website


New avatar Cherie

I decided my avatar needed an update for the next phase of my life after my upcoming graduation from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.

So, here she is -- same attitude, different hairdo.

You can make one too. I'd love to see it.

Just go to www.mywebface.com

Happy Tofurky Day -- a new tradition

Chris and I are getting ready to celebrate our third meatless Thanksgiving.

Don't worry, I'm not taking any shots at the carnivores out there -- this time.

In Carol J. Adams book, "The Sexual Politics of Meat," she says family dinners where meat is being consumed might not be the best place or time to aggressively advocate vegetarianism.

I agree. Pick your time and place carefully, especially where friends and family are concerned.

But why not think about starting a new tradition?

Here is the meatless, cruelty-free menu for the Wyatt-Rolfe family:

  • Tofurky vegetarian feast pack complete with gravy and "wishstix."
  • Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes.
  • Green bean casserole
  • Sweet potato-cornbread stuffing (from Whole Foods Market)
  • Whole Foods Holiday Salad.
  • Vegan pumpkin pie -- also courtesy of Whole Foods.
Yum! So delicious -- and nobody gets killed.

Have a happy and peaceful Tofurky Day.

Blessed be.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

At last ! A heart study that focuses on women

For years research on cardiovascular disease -- and the recommendations based on those studies -- have been focused on men. Feminist researchers have been working to include women in these medical studies.

According to this article from Todayonline.com, here is the longest, major study to look at stress in women -- who now make up nearly half the workforce in the United States.

Todayonline.com says the study analyzed job strain in 17,415 participants from the Women's Health Study, a U.S. project that began in 1991 and ended last year. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Maryland.

The article includes some interesting verbiage, I think. It defines stressful positions as "demanding tasks with little authority or creativity." Basically, this refers feminized labor -- those jobs typically categorized as "women's work." It does however, acknowledge that previous studies focused -- almost exclusively -- on men.

NEW YORK - Women with high-stress jobs face about 88 percent more risk of a heart attack than if they had low workplace strain, according to Harvard researchers.

The scientists defined the stressful positions as those with demanding tasks and little authority or creativity .

Those jobs were also associated with a 40 percent greater chance of getting any kind of cardiovascular disease, according to a study presented Chicago at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions.

Job strain, social isolation and some personality traits have been recognized as raising risks in both men and women, according to the Dallas-based heart association.

Past studies that focused on men, the traditional breadwinners, found that higher job stress raised heart risks.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One year later -- I'm still advocating feminism

"Welcome to my blog. I hope you find it a mind-blowing, eye-opening, or at least through-provoking experience."

Those were the words I wrote exactly one year ago today.

As I pause to look back on my work, I gives me great pleasure to say, "It is good."

The funny thing about a blog is that you never know who's looking. You never know who you can touch, affect or change.

My most profound experience came as the result of a poetry podcast I did back in April. The poem was "I am a woman in ice" by Martha Courtot.

The only criteria I have for selection of my monthly poetry reading and commentary is that the poem speaks to me. This particular selection spoke loudly and clearly. It spoke of emerging out of a frozen state into the light.

In the course of research for my commentary, the Internet revealed very little information about the late poet. She didn't even have a Wikipedia entry -- so I mentioned that I'd liked to give her one.

I got chills when I was later contacted by her daughters who periodically Google their mother's name to see if anyone is studying her poems or writing about her. They were delighted with the idea of giving her a "wiki." I have one in process and hope to polish and publish it after I wrap up my studies at Oakland University in a few weeks.

The really cool thing is, I now have a picture of Martha to share with the world. When I read poetry or literature, I like to have a face to go with the writer's "voice." Seeing her image and
reading her words brought her to life for me in a profound moment.

I hope the family won't mind if I share Martha's photo here.

I've also found that there's no telling what people will read.

My post titled, "The Tudors: A lusty study of partriarchy" has surpassed all my other entries in terms of number of hits.

It is followed by "All aboard the 80s musical time machine," which featured a couple of my favorite songs from Peter Gabriel's 1986 album "So."

Another popular post is "The Cinderella Syndrome and Other Tales of Gender Conditioning" -- a paper I wrote way back when I first started my adventure into women and gender studies on the way to becoming the angry feminist I am today.

Over the course of the year, I've registered the blog with blogexplosion.com and liquida.com. I do believe this connection has enabled me to broaden my audience and I am thrilled to see hits from all over the world where women's movements are growing.

If I can open just one mind, or touch just one life -- then I've done my job.

But, I don't want to stop there. I want to take my blog forward with me as I leave my Oakland University family and venture out into the brave new world of media and feminism.

It's going to be an exciting journey -- and I hope you will join me. If you like what you're reading, follow me and encourage others to do so. Together we will grow and continue to make a difference.

Welcome to my blog, welcome to my world.

Blessed be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The UGG alternative

UGG brand boots continue to be hot.

I see them worn by young women all over Oakland University's campus. I've even seen them worn by women closer to my own age.

UGGs are not new. They have been worn in Australia and New Zealand for almost 200 years.

Here in the U.S., UGGs are big business and come with a price tag between $100 - $200 a pair.

But in actuality, the cost is much higher because they are made of fleece and sheepskin leather -- the skin of a dead animal that was stripped off while it was alive and would continue to decompose if it wasn't treated with oodles of chemicals.

If that makes you cringe, I've found a cruelty-free alternative from Alternative Outfitters Vegan Boutique out of Pasadena, Calif. Here they are on the left.

According to the the website, the boots are made of micro-suede uppers and lined with faux fur. They are available in camel and black for $48 + shipping. But the best part is -- nobody gets killed.

Alternative Outfitters says "all products are non-leather and comply with the vegetarian and/or vegan ethic." The company also strives to make sure products are manufactured under fair trade conditions.

Why not try a pair? Alternative Outfitters also offers other vegetarian/vegan products and apparel.

And nobody gets killed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Of Frankenstein and Feminism

Feminist connections can be found in the most unusual places.

Frankenstein's monster has become one of our most enduring cultural icons -- from the old Boris Karloff movies (right,) to Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live, to Peter Boyle in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein."

The monster -- or rather the Creature -- is often portrayed as a clumsy, inarticulate hulk.

And yet, in the original Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley novel, he's not only articulate, but quite advanced in his thinking.

In her book, "The Sexual Politics of Meat," Carol Adams calls attention to the creature's vegetarian nature -- a much overlooked, and yet deeply fascinating aspect of the story -- and to the novel's "feminist/gender issues."

However, these themes are not so surprising once you know that "Frankenstein's" creator Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley (left) was the daughter of feminist philosopher Mary Woolstonecraft who wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" in 1792.

In the chapter titled "Frankenstein's Vegetarian Monster," Adams says the Creature's vegetarianism makes him "a more sympathetic being who considers how it exploits others."

She explains how the Creature extends his moral code to include animals. In the novel he says:

"My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid, to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself, and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man, and will ripen our food. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human."

Adams says, "the Creature's futile hopes for admittance into the human circle reflect the position of that time's vegetarians and feminists; they confront a world whose circles, so tightly drawn, refuse them admittance, dividing us from them."

There are also other "Frankenstein/Feminist" connections found in the book. According to Adams:

  • Actress Elsa Lanchester (right,) who played "The Bride of Frankenstein," was the daughter of feminist, suffragette, socialist and vegetarian Biddy Lanchester, who challenged the false naming of meat. Elsa sometimes referred to meat as "offal" and explained, "Biddy the vegetarian inspired the use of this word, that's what meat was to her." Merriam-Webster defines "offal" as the trimmings of a butchered animal, or rubbish.

  • Actor Marty Feldman (below,) who played Igor in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," is quoted twice in the book.

    Of the meat-masculinity connection, Feldman said, "It has to do with the function of the male within our society Football players drink beer because it's a man's drink, and eat steak because it's a man's meal. The emphasis is on 'man-sized portions,' 'hero' sandwiches; the whole terminology of meat eating reflects masculine bias."

    Later, Feldman talks about his father who was in the army during World War II, "(he) could not eat meat because he was an Orthodox Jew. He practically starved to death and was treated with great contempt by the other soldiers because a soldier should eat steak."
The Frankenstein-Feminist connection lie dormant for more than 100 years. But now that you can see it, ask yourself, "Who is the real monster?"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Speaking of rice ... join my team to end world hunger

In the spirit of Fran Winant's poem, "Eat rice and have faith in women," here's a fun, free way fight global hunger.

Freerice.com is a nonprofit website run by the United Nations World Food Programme in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

It's goals are to provide free education to everyone and to end world hunger by providing free rice to hungry people.

It's simple. You can hone your skills in the areas of art, English, chemistry, geography or math. For every correct answer, 10 grains of rice is donated through the UN World Food Programme.

You'd be surprised how quickly the grains add up and you can do it while you eat lunch or listen to music.

I've created a team for my followers and readers. I invite you to join me in an effort to "Eat rice and trust in women." Here's how:

  1. Go to freerice.com
  2. Click on "groups," then select "find groups" from the pull-down menu.
  3. In the search window, type "Eat rice and have faith in women."
  4. Click "join."
  5. Play.
Those grains add up fast. I earned 700 over lunch.

Dr. Ruth Seymour has encouraged her grammar for journalists class to earn extra credit quiz points by practicing grammar and earning rice. One thousand grains equals one point up to 20,000 maximum.

Thank you, Dr. Ruth, for turning me on to this.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The Sexual Politics of Meat" set to music

I just finished studying "The Sexual Politics of Meat" -- 20th anniversary edition -- by Carol J. Adams for my gender and international studies class at Oakland University.

My professor, Dr. Laura Landolt, played this song for the class. The group is"Consolidated." The CD is "friendly fa$cism." The song is -- what else -- "The Sexual Politics of Meat."

What's interesting about this track is that it includes Carol Adams' actual voice making connections between the domination of women and the consumption of meat. It effectively packages the message into a three-minute nutshell.

Get up and dance and check it out:

Thank you, Dr. Laura.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Poetry Podcast: "Eat rice and have faith in women" by Fran Winant (b. 1943)

Listen to the poem here:

About the poem:

I found excerpts from this poem in Carol Adams' book, "The Sexual Politics of Meat."

In the book, Adams discusses how meat consumption perpetuates the exploitation and violent treatment of animals and -- by extension -- perpetuates a similar violent exploitation of women.

If you think this is a stretch, think about this:

Have you been referred to -- or heard of other women referred to -- as a "piece of meat" or a "piece of ass?"

Well, then you can start to make the connections between these oppressions.
As a postmodern feminist, Adams examines language. She specifically addresses the concept of the "absent referent" whereby -- through language -- women and animals are stripped of their living essence and become simply a benign piece of flesh.

By taking the living being out of the meat -- so we don't have to think about the fact that it was once a living, breathing earthling -- it makes meat consumption -- along with the exploitation and violence associated with it -- an acceptable, normal, natural activity.

The same applies to women. Through language they are cheapened and commoditized just like the animals and -- by extension -- violence against women becomes legitimized.

In the context of Adams' book, the poem "Eat rice and trust in women" speaks to adopting a kinder lifestyle that does not perpetuate violence, oppression and exploitation. Part of the way to make this happen is to eliminate -- as much as possible -- the meat consumption that fuels the cycle by eating rice.

This poem also advocates sisterhood and the way women should treat one another. It is so easy to become like the woman in the poem who is "too busy" for others and adopts a selfish attitude as a defense mechanism.

But, if we are not there for one another, if we do not teach and support one another, building up instead of tearing down -- how will we truly affect change? How will we ever begin to shake the foundation of the patriarchal systems that bind us and uphold the status quo?
Nothing will change until women begin to nurture one another instead of harboring spite and petty jealousies.

It is only then that we will be able to "have faith in women."

About the poet:

According to glbtq.com:

"Poet, painter and activist Fran Winant was one of the early participants in the Stonewall-inspired gay rights movements of the 1970's. Through her poetry and visual art, she helped define the role and sensibility of lesbians in the contexts of gay liberation and radical feminism, especially during the 1970s and early 1980s.

"Winant had a natural affinity for the convictions driving the gay and feminist consciousness-raising efforts of the 1970s. She had been writing poetry since childhood, but had been unable to share her deepest desires. To express her feelings about women, and keep her classmates from discovering them, she invented a secret language, which she describes as 'a metaphor for an inner language of the socially inexpressible.' The new political fervor of the 1970s afforded a long-awaited opportunity for Winant to speak out.

"A member of the Feminist Lesbian Art collective (FLAC,) Winant began exhibiting her paintings in 1974 ...

"The secret language she invented in childhood, a blend of math and Greek-like symbols, is often worked into the backgrounds of her paintings. Her passion for animals is inextricably linked to her feelings about how gay men and lesbians are denied full humanity in society that allows the 'murder' of less visible, and therefore unprivileged species."

Related links:

Carol Adams' website