Archive | January, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures

30 Jan

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I recently decided that I wanted to do a large-scale study on the new craze of tween fantasy novels and their implications for young women. You guys know the books I am talking about, they are all vampires, and witches and werewolves.

So, I’ve made it through one book. And writing aside, Beautiful Creatures wasn’t bad as far as female fiction goes. It wasn’t great either.

So the story is told from the point of view of the young male protagonist Ethan White. I thought this was an interesting move on the part of the two female authors. I’ve done some short pieces from the point of view of male protagonists, and it isn’t easy.

Ethan is the main character, and he is powerless. He falls in love, (in a matter of days) with the mysterious Lena Duchannes. Lena, as we find out but really kind of already knew, is a caster- basically a witch. I’m making the assumption here that the authors strayed away from using the term witch because of its negative connotations, and its history of being used to slander strong women. But I could be reaching. Instead they went with their own gender-neutral term, caster.

Now honestly, for most of the novel I kind of hated Lena. She is a super interesting girl with some kick-ass powers but she is constantly leaning on Ethan to “save” her. Also the story is built up around the premise that Lena will be claimed for either the light or the dark. So she comes off as kind of helpless and not in control of her own fate- which I wasn’t a big fan of.

I was however a HUGE fan of Amma, a badass woman in her own right. She is a seer, and is essentially the housekeeper for Ethan’s family who ends up being his surrogate grandmother. The story gives some pretty intense power to an often over used, and completely marginalized fictional trope- the old black maid. That’s not to say that her character doesn’t fulfill all kinds of stereotypes, she does, but the power she holds over every single character in this book flips those stereotypes on their head in a way. Amma orders around, and holds power over everyone, including Macon Ravenwood, Lena’s mysterious and seemingly all-powerful uncle. In fact, Amma seems to be one of the only characters who really orders Macon around at all.

Another great female character in this book is Marian Ashcroft, the librarian. She fulfills another over utilized trope- but here again the authors sort of flip the common stereotype surrounding librarians on its head. Marian turns out not to be just a mortal librarian, but also the librarian of the caster libraries. She knows more about the town than anyone, and has access to what seems to be an infinite amount of knowledge. She also proves to be an important ally to Ethan and Lena throughout the story.

As much as I really hated Lena initially, she grows on you. Yes, she’s not automatically a kick-ass female heroine- but she’s also not even 16 yet. She is going through some growing pains, trying to fit in, trying to deal with boys. She has some pretty great powers yes, but she is still human, she is still an adolescent. And at the end of the story when the narration switches to her, she makes some pretty hard choices.

It turns out she gets to choose between the light and the dark- she isn’t being “claimed”. Thank goodness- that term alone was kind of annoying. Anyway- so she chooses her fate. There are just some stipulations. If she chooses light, all of her dark caster family members will die. This includes her uncle Macon who is a kind-hearted incubus, and she will never be able to “be with” Ethan physically. Which is of course no good… So, some shit goes down and basically Lena’s mom kills Ethan. Lena then goes on to perform this crazy spell that ends up unintentionally trading Macon’s life for Ethan’s. Woops.

When Ethan comes to, he has no memory of what happened and Lena doesn’t enlighten him. She (finally…) protects him for once. She doesn’t want him to know that he is the reason her beloved uncle is dead. So, that’s cool. She ends up getting some autonomy. I can respect that, even if it was all for the sake of “true love” at 16. Right… But I guess its tween book, that’s kind of to be expected.

As cool as Lena’s character was, there was a lot of girl-on-girl hate going on in this book. There were the stereotypical mean girls, the leader being Emily Asher, a cheerleader of course. These girls were completely marginalized and stereotyped. There was also Mrs. Lincoln, the mother of Ethan’s best friend and essentially a grown up Emily who ends up having her body taken over by Lena’s mom.

All women are complete characters unto themselves, and I hate seeing any of them pushed into stereotypical roles in this way. Cheerleaders can be cool, kind-hearted people too. The only women worth our time aren’t just the super-natural, alternative girls. Normal, everyday girls (including cheerleaders) deserve some kind of narrative too.

So overall as far as being a positive book for young women, I give Beautiful Creatures a B. Not great, but certainly not Twilight.

Common Sense Immigration Reform to Include LGBT Couples

29 Jan

Today Obama called for “common sense” immigration reform to help immigrants “get on the right side of the law”. Ok well duh.

Before President Obama’s immigration reform speech, which he gave today in Las Vegas, BuzzFeed broke a story reporting that Obama would include same-sex couples in his immigration reform proposal.

As it is now, even a legally married same-sex partner under state law is unable to confer citizenship for their foreign-born spouse. In the same situation a heterosexual person married to a foreign born spouse would be able to receive a green card for that spouse. This pretty much leaves same-sex couples with the choice between separating or moving to another country.

While Obama did not specifically call for equal rights for same-sex couples in his speech today for immigration reform, the Write House did release a set of proposals that urges lawmakers to guarantee same-sex the same privileges granted to heterosexual couples.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/29/read-president-obamas-immigration-proposal/

Under the heading Streamlining Legal Immigration, and the bullet Keep Families Together the proposal states-

“It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

The Senate framework laid out by a bipartisan group of eight senators was unveiled Monday, and same-sex couples were not included. Additionally, the federal defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, is still in place. And while the Supreme Court is to rule on the legality of DOMA this year, it may not be overturned.

Even so according to Steve Rall a spokesman for Immigration Equality a group that supports immigration equality for LGBT families said this, “We’re really hoping the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA in June, but if it doesn’t happen, immigration reform is a critical safety net for lesbian and gay couple, because if DOMA does not get struck down, they would be vulnerable to separation.”

Even if an immigration proposal including federal recognition of same-sex couples fails, this set of proposals by the president is a great way to begin a conversation about gay rights. It may help work to shift public opinion towards a more positive one. Beginning with his inclusion of the LGBT community in his inaugural address, Obama has made it clear where he stands on the issue of same-sex rights.  It’s a bold move in the right direction that could potentially change the lives of thousands of American immigrants.

President Obama- “If Congress in unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send them a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it right away.”

Link

Israeli Government Forcing Birth Control on Ethiopian Immigrants

29 Jan

Israeli Government Forcing Birth Control on Ethiopian Immigrants

A piece I wrote for Feminspire.com. It is stunning and truly upsetting things that are still going on in a “post-racial” era…

Dat Dog: A Sad Tale of Racism and Sexual Harassment in a Local Business

29 Jan

I love local business. I love food. And while I am a vegetarian, I was always a huge fan of Dat Dog. I was there when it was just a small stand on Freret Street, and I witnessed it morph into the beautiful, quirky restaurant we know today. I was excited to hear about the opening of a second location on Magazine Street. I love hearing stories of small business success, which is why when a woman, “Abby” approached me with a story about her experience working there I almost didn’t want to hear it. Almost.

The revitalization of Freret Street has been met with some resistance. In an effort to bring in new business and bring down crime rates the once primarily black community has become more and more marginalized, losing time old traditions such as its second line. While lowering crime and bringing in business can be great, it is important to do so while still maintaining the culture of the community that was there before rather than trying to whitewash an entire neighborhood.

Dat Dog is a prime example. I have gone there, with many of my rich uptown Tulane friends. In fact, I frequent much of Freret Street with these same groups of people. Considering that it is located in a largely black community it is startling to see how few African Americans are employed at many of these businesses.

This was one of the issues my source, a former employee of Dat Dog, brought up to one of her managers. She asked him why there were no minorities working there, despite the fact that the store is located in a primarily black neighborhood. The response she received to her inquiries?

“We need people who can read and write…”

I guess, at least he was honest…?

This alone unsettled me, but the story gets worse.

My source told me that in April, shortly after Dat Dog moved to its new, larger location they hired a new manager. Lets call him “John”. John quickly became known for making sexual comments and sexual gestures to the majority of the female staff. Finally Abby and one of her fellow employees, “Jane”, had enough, and they complained- to no avail. After their complaints John began targeting his sexual harassment towards Jane specifically. The harassment got progressively worse for Jane, from vaguely creepy comments to him looking her up and down saying, “You look like you wanna go home with someone tonight…“. She complained twice more and was repeatedly told by her superiors simply not talk to him, to avoid him. Although Jane did as she was told he would still harass her. She’d continued to go to her superiors reporting the new offenses, and they would just shake their heads and tell her he was a moron. It was, as Abby states “insane.”

Once again, here is an example of putting the pressure on the victim, of making it their responsibility not to get sexually harassed. This is what patriarchy looks like in everyday life.

A third girl, “Emily”, who had been facing extreme sexual harassment by John eventually approached them. She told them that she had been too afraid to come forward, that she had no idea he was harassing others at work as well. John had invited her to a pool party under the pretense that it was a work party and that everyone from Dat Dog would be attending. Long story short, they weren’t. Emily went to the party to find that it was just she, John, and a few of his male friends. Emily told them that he hit on her repeatedly, that he smacked her ass, and that when she finally called him out on it- telling him that sexual harassment is not O.K.– he simply told her that no one was around to witness it so there was nothing that she could do.

Eventually, around September, John was fired, but according to my source it was basically like chopping off one head and replacing it with two more. In late September, two new men who were just as bad if not worse replaced John. One of the men made a comment to a fellow female employee one night at the end of her shift that he was “thinking about her in ways that would make her husband unhappy.”

Eventually more employees started to complain about the sexual harassment that they were facing at work, but according to my coworker nearly 40 of them either quit or were fired for “lack of morale”.  The woman I spoke with said it took a lot for her to finally quit, but what finally pushed her over the edge was when one of the managers made a mistake on the computer when he was adding up the profits for the day. They came up short and he took it from the employee’s wages. This finally gave her momentum to put in her notice and leave this organization that I once thought of as inspiring.

Sadly, for Abby this wasn’t the end of the story. She was unemployed for months. She couldn’t pay any of her bills or her rent. Abby did originally file for unemployment and after an initial letter stating she would be granted the unemployment, she received a second letter stating that her claim had been contested by a previous employer alleging that she had lied about the circumstances under which she left her job. Abby told me that fighting the claim while being unemployed and having no money would have been nearly impossible. She and her fellow ex-Dat Dog employees thought about suing, they thought about filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but they were so drained from fighting management and not being heard that they decided they just wanted to move on with their lives- something that Abby says she is still trying to do.

This kind of blatant racism, sexism, and harassment is what makes it so difficult for women to succeed and advance in the work place. We are told to get thicker skin, to toughen up, but when your livelihood is at stake, when your wages are being garnished, and no one is listening to what you have to say it can feel more than hopeless. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Women shouldn’t be afraid to go to work. They shouldn’t have to choose between working in a hostile environment or face months of unemployment. When people suggest that we live in a “post-racial” era, or that sexism doesn’t exist, they should really take a closer look at the everyday goings on at the businesses they spend their time and money at.

Sadly, the service industry is rampant with racism, and sexism. I don’t think that it needs to be however. As brave as these young women were for voicing their concerns, and leaving this establishment, the power for change lies in the money. It is unlikely that these common practices will ever change solely from the efforts of those who work in the service industry, its takes people on the outside exposing this behavior to make a difference.

Remember, every time you make a purchase you are casting a vote. For me, until I learn that Dat Dog has severely revamped their managing practices I know I wont be casting my vote for them any time soon. I urge you to do the same.

Boy Scouts of America to Vote on Excluding Gay Members and Leaders

29 Jan

So maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t, but next week Boy Scouts of America will be voting to change its policy of excluding gay members and leaders from joining its ranks. Today the organization issued a statement stating it is “discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation”.

That official statement from the organization said this:

“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, but that the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.”

This change has come about in part due to grassroots efforts from individual BSA chapters urging the organization to reconsider its position. This is profound in that as recently as last July the BSA had reaffirmed its decade old staunch position on the issue calling it the “best policy for the organization”. Quickly after this reaffirmation of values, the organization began losing financial backers.

In September 2012, Boy Scouts Pack 442  in Cloverly, Maryland announced it’s intention to adopt a non- discriminatory policy and admit gay members, however the National Capital Area Council pressured them to take down this statement in order to retain their charter.

Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young, two corporate CEOs on BSA’s national board have said that they would work to end the ban. Additionally President Obama and Mitt Romney both voiced support for ending the ban during their campaigns this past election cycle.

Undoubtedly this possible shifting of attitudes comes largely from financial interests, but the result could mean wonderful things for the LGBT community. When an organization as iconic and representative of “American Ideals” as the BSA begins to reconsider its stance on this basic human rights issue, it holds hope for the rest of the country. This is an organization which shapes and influences the lives of many young people, and its ban on gay members and leaders has been a strong statement of the fundamental Christian ideals in this country, which whether we like it or not hold a lot of water in the decision making processes of our country.

If they do decide to change their stance, which is a big if, they could be setting an example for countless other organizations to follow in their footsteps. They would also be a shining light of hope, an example to other grassroots organizations of the change they can effect in this country. It could demonstrate to those who have money and power that the ways in which they chose to yield that influence really does matter. So, I congratulate all those who worked to make this happen, I commend those bakers who pulled their financial support from an organization that refused to value all people equally. People can make a difference in the future of this country, and that is reassuring in and of itself.

Link

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors

29 Jan racism

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors

This might make you uncomfortable, it should, but it is really well thought out and entirely worth the read. It really addresses white privilege in a way that is coherent and easy to digest.

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