Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Advocate Feminism's Woman of the Year: SlutWalker

Time magazine named "The Protester" as its 2011 "Person of the Year."  It is in that spirit that I have named feminism's most visible entity of 2011 as my Woman of the Year:  The Slutwalker.

She is personified here in my own original digital depiction (above.)

She started walking in Toronto in April, and before too long, her sisters were walking all over the world.  

She even has her own well-researched and documented Wikipedia entry which succinctly explains the movement and its criticisms this way:

"Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman's appearance. The rallies began when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that to remain safe, "women should avoid dressing like sluts." The protest takes the form of a march, mainly by young women, where some dress in ordinary clothing and others dress provocatively, like "sluts." There are also speaker meetings and workshops. Some objectors have remarked that this approach is an example of women defining their sexuality in male terms."

While SlutWalkers marched through downtown Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan Diag in October, SlutWalk Detroit, originally scheduled for June, never happened and its future is still up in the air.

And there lies the challenge for SlutWalk and all recent "occupy" and protest movements:  Will they remain a visible force for change, or just fade into history as another passing fad?

Related links:

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas past meets Christmas present on Antenna TV

WADL, Channel 38.2 here in Detroit is home to Antenna TV, which broadcasts classic television shows.  I love classic TV, especially shows from the '70s when I was growing up.  Two of my favorites, "All in the Family" and one of its spinoffs, "Maude," are icons of an era when TV as a medium was pushing our boundaries.  By covering topics from racial prejudice, to feminism, to abortion, the shows made us uncomfortable -- and they made us think.

It was a different time -- or maybe not so much.

I found a case of Christmas past meeting Christmas present when WADL 38.2 ran holiday episodes of the classic shows during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I happened upon an episode of "Maude" titled "The Christmas Party," specifically, Season 4, Episode 14, original air date: Dec. 22, 1975.

Maude Findlay, played by the late Bea Arthur, was the fictional depiction of a strong-willed, liberal feminst woman at the heart of the '70s women's movement.  She was created as the antithesis of Archie Bunker, the ultimate blue collar, conservative patriarch of "All in the Family."  Maude was the cousin of Archie's wife Edith.

In this episode, Maude's old friend, Stephanie, a feminist writer and activist, comes to visit.  Maude's husband, Walter, is worried that feminism might not make and appropriate topic for his Christmas party with his employees.  Take a look (forward to 5:45):

While I respect Stephanie's passion, we do have to pick appropriate moments to express our views, especially with friends and family who we really want to see the importance of our cause.  Even Maude starts to squirm here and later tells Stephanie to "just relax for once."

However, I find it interesting that 36 years later, in 2011, we are still talking about the same issues Stephanie mentions:  male images as subtle put downs of women, feminism referred to as "women's lib jazz," or the like, and references to women as "guys" being passed off as "just an expression."

But there's more.  Here's the conclusion of "The Christmas Party":

 Here we see Stephanie, in the midst of a barrage of stereotypical jokes about women being "nags" and "hags," trying to make the point that language matters.  "Language reflects the way we think," she says.  She's right.  But the guests retaliate by calling her a "party pooper."  Even Maude calls her friend a "militant flake."

But in the end, Maude defends Stephanie saying that she has worked hard to defend "our dignity and our future as women."  The two friends embrace and Stephanie gives in saying she has no more righteousness left in her.  Everyone sings a carol around the piano and has a merry Christmas after all.

And 36 Christmases later, we could do the same show with an updated wardrobe.  And that really makes you think.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Face of Jesus: Is this what a feminist looked like?

Rembrandt's rendition of Jesus

"Jesus vigorously promoted the dignity and equality of women in the midst of a very male-dominated society: Jesus was a feminist, and a very radical one.  Can his followers attempt to be anything less?

-- Leonard Swidler "Jesus Was a Feminist"

Now through February 12, there's an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts titled "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus."

The DIA's website says "The exhibition of 64 works includes approximately 52 small, intimate paintings, prints and drawings by Rembrandt and his students that illustrate how Rembrandt broke from traditional 17th-century representations of Jesus."

Actually, nothing is known about what Jesus looked like.  The only Biblical reference that alludes to Jesus' appearance in physical form as the messiah is found at Isaiah 53:2, cited here from the New International Version:

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
   and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." 

In other words, his appearance was quite ordinary.

There are many ways to "view" Jesus, other than artists' representations.  But whether you see him as God in human form, the Son of God, a savior, a prophet or simply an historical figure, there's one view of Jesus that is seldom discussed:  Jesus was a feminist.

In her essay "A Change in Women's Rights," Marilyn Adamson, director of, says, "In contrast to the Middle East culture that viewed women rather dismissively, we see Jesus giving great honor to women.  Constantly."

According to Adamson, in Jesus' day, women were treated more as property rather than as persons.  Their function was to serve the needs of their husbands and families.  And women's rights were not even a topic for discussion.

My personal favorite depiction of Jesus appears on a book cover
A man could divorce his wife for any reason.  She was given a bill of divorce and sent away without even a right to contest.  But, the wife could never divorce her husband on any grounds.

However, Jesus disagreed.  In his article "Jesus Was a Feminist," Leonard Swidler emphasizes that Jesus' views on marriage were quite different:

"His unpopular attitude towards marriage presupposed a feminist view of women; they had rights and responsibilities equal to men.  It was quite possible in Jewish law for men to have more than one wife, though the reverse was not possible.  Divorce, of course, also was a simple matter to be initiated only by the man.  Jesus rejected both by insisting on monogamy and the elimination of divorce.  Both the man and the woman were to have the same rights and responsibilities in their relationship toward each other."

While advocating marital rights, Jesus also taught women religious truths and the meanings of the scriptures, even though Judaism forbade it, and women were among his first followers.

Swidler calls Jesus' "extraordinary, deliberate decision" to teach women one that can be "properly appreciated only when it is recalled that not only were women not to read or study the scriptures, but were not even to leave their household, whether as a daughter, wife, or member of a harem."

In his teachings, Jesus often used stories, parables and similitude that featured women in a positive light. One of my favorites is the story of the Widow's Mite from the book of Mark, quoted here from the New International Version:

"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” 

A more controversial aspect of Jesus as feminist might be reproductive rights. 

"If one accepts the Bible literally, certain scriptures come to light which will lead you to the inescapable conclusion that Jesus held to the same beliefs as modern Pro-Choice advocates," according to, a website that professes free thought and atheism.

The reasoning is that Jesus agreed with the law of Moses, at least on the point that life begins at birth and a fetus is not equal to a human life, and termination of a pregnancy would not be considered murder.

The website's interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 says, "... if a fetus dies and is expelled from a woman's body as the result of being struck by a man, then the man who struck her is fined a certain amount of money, which he must pay to the husband.  But, and here is the important part, if the woman dies, then the man who struck her shall be put to death (life for life.)"

The website cites John 5:46-47 as Jesus' endorsement of Mosaic law when he said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Of course some will find flaws in this reasoning and cite other scriptures as proof that life begins at conception.  

Still, Jesus' treatment and views of women during his time on earth was extraordinary.  He was an ally of women and not to blame for the abuses heaped on women and other marginalized people by the patriarchal, institutionalized religious institutions of today that claim to act on his behalf.  

Perhaps it is necessary to separate from Christendom when we visualize the face of Jesus for ourselves.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Buying it or #NotBuyingIt

As the holiday shopping season enters its final stretch, the producers of "Miss Representation," the documentary film exposing sexism in American media, want consumers to use their buying power to fight sexism.

The "Miss Representation" team wants shoppers to watch for offensive products that sexualize women and girls -- and Tweet about it.

The campaign is called "NotBuyingIt."  The film's website explains how it works:

"If you see a product or ad during the shopping season that misrepresents or degrades women, use Twitter to post a description or upload a picture of the offensive item. Use the hashtag #notbuyingit so that we can all follow along!"

The campaign can also be used to show toys and images that promote positive representations of women and girls.

Images can also be posted on the film's Tumbler page.

Here's a few examples:

 Susie Barr-Wilson posted this image from the Lego Friends collection launched by the company to broaden its appeal to girls clad in tank tops and miniskirts.

She says, "The minifigures are built to hold hairbrushes and handbags, they’re designed in pastels, and one of their building sets is a hairdressing salon.

While I applaud Lego for recognizing that girls like to build just as much as boys, perpetuating traditional gender stereotypes is NOT the solution to expanding their market. Create “girl” minifigures, sure, but why not make them astronauts or crime fighters (dressed in practical clothing for the job)? Or how about rock-climbers or world travelers on safari?

A company of such popularity has great potential to defy patriarchal gender norms, rather than promote them. Nice try, Lego, but until you create “girl” legos that don’t endorse traditional femininity, I’m not buying them."

Tessa Crisman Tweeted this image at right of baby close that emphasizes the importance of being "pretty."

Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of the Paley Center for media says it best when she reminds us:

"We have enormous power.  Eighty-six percent of the purchasing power in this country is in the pockets of women.  Well, let's use it."

Tweet on --  #NotBuyingIt.

Friday, December 16, 2011

As Ms. turns 40, women still can't agree on a definition for FEMINISM

"A central problem within feminist discourse has been our inability to either arrive at a consensus of opinion about what feminism is or accept definition(s) that could serve as points of unification."  
-- bell hooks "Feminist Theory from Margin to Center"

Forty years ago this month, Ms. Magazine began as an insert in  New York magazine. The publication's cofounders Gloria Steinem and Letty Pogrebin appeared on NBC's Today show.

As a feminist and a journalist, of course I'm interested in the story of how this magazine got its start and has endured through the years.  And, of course, I respect the hard work and tenacity of these feminist pioneers.

But what I found even more interesting about this piece are the opening perspectives on the definition of feminism. Watch now, and come back for my analysis:

It was true then, and it's true now.  Mainstream feminism is a movement existing without a true definition. Much too often we hear "What feminism means to me" statements like the ones in the "Today" video.  These views contain verbiage that sound meaningful, and sometimes contain elements of truth, but they don't identify an underlying cause of discrimination and oppression.

Most importantly, without a baseline definition, there is no basis for unity.

Lack of a baseline definition has lead to a societal and political malaise surrounding feminism, as reflected in statements like these from the video:

"I don't see feminism as a really strong movement today."

"It's not really even totally meaningful to me in the sense that I take for granted the equal rights of women."

In her book, "Feminism is for Everybody:  Passionate Politics," feminist writer bell hooks does what liberal mainstream feminists have failed to do after 40 years, she offers a simple, baseline definition for feminism:

"Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression."

This simple definition works, and is needed, hooks says because it makes it clear that the problem is sexism.

"And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action.  As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men," hooks says.

This definition does not target men as the enemy, another commonly held belief about feminism.

"To end patriarchy (another way of naming the institutionalized sexism) we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism until we change our minds and hearts," hooks says.

It seems perfectly simple.  So, let's look at how a few other definitions offered in the "Today" video measure up.

"Feminism, or the word feminist, means to me that you're an independent woman who can take care of yourself."

Well ... First, every woman is not a feminist.  This definition implies that being born female and being a feminist automatically go hand in hand.  They don't.  There were strong independent women who took care of themselves long before the feminist movement, and there are strong, independent woman today who do not identify themselves as feminists, perhaps due in part to misconceptions and lack of a basic definition for the movement.

hooks adds that definitions emphasizing independence are "almost apolitical in tone" and are "the type of definition many liberal women find appealing" because they evoke "a very romantic notion of personal freedom that is more acceptable than a definition that emphasizes radical political action."

"Feminism is demanding equal rights in the workplace or in everyday life."

"(If the) Definition of feminism is men and women have equal rights, then I'm a feminist."

Equality -- specifically women's legal and or social  equality with men -- is a word that is commonly associated or even "equated" with perceptions of feminism.  Yet, hooks, asks the $1 million question in her book "Feminist Theory from Margin to Center": 

"Since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?"

Class and race are major factors that are left out of a "simplistic definition" limited to legal and or social equality, hooks says, and adds, "Feminism defined as social equality with men might easily become a movement that would primarily affect the social standing of white women in middle- and upper-class groups while affecting only in a very marginal way, the social status of working-class and poor women."

hooks concludes that "neither a feminism that focuses on a woman as an autonomous human being worthy of personal freedom nor one that focuses on the attainment of equality for opportunity with men can rid society of sexism and male domination."

Therefore, it is only when we commit to feminism as a movement against sexism that we have the opportunity to affect change that benefits both mean and women.

Defined this way, "Feminism is for everybody," hooks says, because it "aims to end domination to free us to be who we are - to live lives where we love justice, where we can live in peace."

Sounds good to me.

BTW:  bell hooks is the pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins.  According to, "Her pseudonym, her great-grandmother's name, celebrates female legacies and is in lower case because, 'it is the substance of my books, not who is writing them, that is important.'"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Poetry Podcast: "A Christmas Cookie"

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we don't ask for, or least expect.  Yet, if we accept them, they can change our lives forever.

My cat Cookie
That's the message of my poem "A Christmas Cookie."  It's the story of a little tuxedo cat that came into my life on Christmas Day in 2000 and has been a part of my family since.

Down through the ages, women have used poetry as a vehicle to record their stories, express their feelings and work through their issues.  "A Christmas Cookie" was one of my first forays into poetry writing, which is more challenging than it might seem on the surface.

It's a little corny, and the rhythm is a little "off," but it served a purpose:  to tell the story of Cookie that is unique to my own personal history.

And the sharing of it is my gift to you this Yuletide season.

Enjoy and Blessed Be:


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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ecofeminism in Action: Living with Feline Leukemia

Sometimes animals come into our lives needing our help.  At these times, doing the right thing is not always easy, but taking that course molds and changes you forever.  

This was the case with our cat, Peppermint Patty, when she came into our life six years ago, and I think it's finally time to tell her story.  I hope you enjoy and learn from it. -- CWR.

A first glance reveals nothing unusual about my cat, Peppermint Patty.  On the surface, there’s her sleek, black coat. A closer look reveals extra toes on her front paws. Concealed on her underbelly is a single white spot.  
Peppermint Patty

But, under the surface is a dark secret. Peppermint Patty has feline leukemia.  It’s a fatal disease, but not necessarily a reason for fear or despair. And in the six years she’s spent as part of our family, Peppermint Patty is proof that living with feline leukemia is possible with the proper understanding, management and acceptance of the disease.

Feline leukemia (FeLV) is a disease of the bone marrow.  It is classified a retrovirus, akin to HIV (AIDS) in humans, and its feline counterpart, FIV. The disease compromises the cat’s immune system leaving it vulnerable to cancers and other diseases.

Our veterinarian, Dr.Bonnie Burke, of Little Friends of Ferndale in Ferndale, Mich., says 85 percent of cats that test positive for feline leukemia die within three years of diagnosis.

Peppermint Patty is six years old, and Burke calls her “a miracle.” Although, she has seen FeLV- positive cats live as long as 15 years.

Still, the fatal aspect of the disease is all too real to our family. Peppermint Patty’s littermate, Pig Pen, who was also diagnosed with FeLV, died when he was only 16 months old.

The first diagnostic step is a simple blood test known as an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA test, also called a “snap” test, that’s administered and read in the veterinarian’s office.

Dr. Paul Maza, a veterinarian who teaches anatomy and does education and outreach for the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y., explains that this test checks the blood for antigens, in this case a protein, not antibodies.  

“If the protein is present, the virus is present,” Maza says. However, the infection might be “transient,” or temporary. 

It’s possible that a cat could “clear,” or fight off, the virus after exposure, so Maza cautions against jumping to conclusions from a single positive ELISA test result. He recommends retesting after a waiting period of at least four weeks. 

Burke says many rescue groups will opt to retest cats after an initial positive ELISA result, but adds that the test yields very few “false positive” results.

Another blood test, the indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay, or IFA, tests for antibodies. Burke calls this test the “gold standard” for diagnosis. For this test, a blood sample is sent out to a diagnostic laboratory.

A positive IFA result indicates a “persistent” or permanent infection. This is the case with Peppermint Patty.  

The feline leukemia virus is spread through bodily fluids like saliva, blood or semen. It can also be passed from a mother cat to her kittens through milk.  Because she was diagnosed as a kitten, it’s likely that Peppermint Patty contracted the disease from one of her parents, an infected male or female cat.

In a multicat household, social grooming, and even sharing food dishes or litter boxes pose a risk of spreading the disease. So, Peppermint Patty – who is also known as “Pep Pat” or “Peeps” – lives in her own “apartment,” a spare bedroom in our house. My husband and I both spend time with her there.  

The space is very much like a studio apartment. She has a couch, a water fountain, toys, a “turbo scratcher,” food and litter box.  A neighbor made her a custom kitty condo that sits in front of a window where she has a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood activity.  

Feline leukemia cannot be transmitted from cats to humans. The virus is fragile and does not live long outside of the cat’s body, so there’s no need to worry about transmitting it from clothing or skin to our other cats.  

Soap and water kills it, so we simply wash our hands after a visit with “Peeps.” I wash her food dishes and bedding normally.

We have chosen not to vaccinate our other cats against feline leukemia, although a preventative vaccine is available.  

Maza says that while the vaccine can provide “adequate protection,” just how “adequate” is unknown. Additionally, the vaccine poses a risk of causing an injection site sarcoma.

The decision to keep her separate from the rest of our feline family was, and continues to be, a difficult one. Yet, we believe it was the fairest and safest choice for all concerned, and gave Peppermint Patty a quality life she might not have had elsewhere.  

Sometimes, the decision is made to euthanize a FeLV-positive cat. And, while Burke supports our commitment to give Peppermint Patty a quality life, she recognizes it’s not possible in every case. 
Based on living conditions, she says, “For some people, doing the right thing is impossible.  There is no right answer.”

There is no cure for feline leukemia. Management of the disease includes good nutrition and preventative veterinary protocol. 

We feed Peppermint Patty a premium diet of both canned and dry food and she drinks from a fountain that recirculates and filters her water. We do not use any other supplements.

Wellness exams and vigilant health observation are also part of feline leukemia management.  Peppermint Patty has an annual checkup that includes a stool sample analysis and blood work. Her vaccinations have been suspended. 

I watch for changes in her eating and litter box habits, but Peppermint Patty has only been seriously ill once in her life. Vomiting and loss of appetite prompted a visit to our vet, where she received aggressive treatment. She recovered fully and has only suffered an occasional hairball since.

At her last checkup, Peppermint Patty weighed in at a healthy 14.8 pounds with normal blood work. We have every reason to believe she will remain healthy and live a normal lifespan. 

Yet, nothing is entirely certain when living with feline leukemia. But, in Peppermint Patty’s case, a compassionate conscience would allow me to do nothing less than give her the best quality life possible. Regardless of how long she might live, seeing her healthy and happy right now is the reward.

Related links:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Follow that blog -- with email!

Now you can get "I Advocate Feminism ... a mini-blogzine" delivered directly to your email in box and never miss another post.

It's easy.  Just scroll down the column on your right until you find "Follow by Email," enter your email address, click on "submit," and follow a few simple instructions. 

Of course I'd still love to see you as a fan, so feel free to click the "Join this site" button, too.

Cherie's favorite things

Thoughtful gifts that won't break the bank

"I love to give. I do it because I want to, and I do it because I can. This time of year, it’s important to keep giving in perspective.

Nothing should be expected, especially in our economically challenging times. If someone can’t afford to give, no explanation should be needed and no judgment should be passed. I also believe that gifts are not quid pro quo. Give for the simple joy of giving and ask nothing in return."

Those words were true when I wrote them two years ago, and they are still true today.

And it's in that spirit that I present my gift suggestions for the season.  Blessed be.

Dress like the Prez:  Here's where you can get one of these "This is what a feminist looks like" T-shirts and hoodies.  $22-$30. The Feminist Majority Store also has a great selection of jewelry, buttons and tote bags.

Prevent violence against women:  Buy the Avon Empowerment Bracelet for only $10 and 100% of the net proceeds ($8.03) will be donated to the Avon Foundation for programs dedicated to ending violence against women.  Add a matching ring for only $5.
A gift for the heart: Raise heart disease awareness and encourage healthy cooking with these heart-shaped measuring spoons from the American Heart Association. $10.  Add a "Red Dress"  lapel pin for $12.

The wonderful woman of Willendorf:  Restore the sacred feminine to the holidays with this replica from The eMuseum Store. Item number VEN01, $34.

A gift for the mind:  One of my favorite books by my favorite feminist writer, bell hooks.  "Feminism is for everybody:  Passionate Politics." 

Barnes & Noble says: "In this engaging and provocative volume, bell hooks introduces a popular theory of feminism rooted in common sense and the wisdom of experience. Hers is a vision of a beloved community that appeals to all those committed to equality, mutual respect, and justice."  $11.42.

 Three for the bees:  If you haven't yet seen this amazing documentary, take advantage of this special, limited-time offer to get three copies for $30. Keep one, give one to a friend and donate one to your local library or neighborhood school.

For our BFFs and BCFs (best feline and best canine friends):  
Vegan dog treats! Dogswell Veggie Life Vitality Sweet Potato Chew Treats.  Pack of six 5-oz. pouches, $15.23 at and some Target stores.
Cat Grass Plus, $4.99 at Petsmart stores.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Feminist Quote Bag

"Just like a rose is beautiful

so is a sunflower

so is a peony


All flowers are beautiful in their own way, and that's like women too." -- Miranda Kerr, Austrailian model encouraging women to embrace their uniqueness.