Thursday, September 28, 2006

Edith is Still Sorta Alive

Vicky's latest activism has made me break my current yet sort of accidental silence here. For some reason, whenever I move to a new place, it takes me a while to get back to normal contact with people, and that goes for this blog too.

Yesterday, I went to an on-campus lecture given by the director of the Emma Goldman Papers in Berkeley. I don't really know how a person dedicates herself to researching the life of one individual for thirty years, but that's exactly what this woman has done.

I'm going to say right now that mostly, I approve of such historical research and cataloging and so forth. I know that people do this with even more current folk, such as Nikki Craft's incredibly valuable and worthy collection of writings and speeches of Andrea Dworkin. I have such love for Kate Millett that it's fun to imagine doing my own project where I explore all her writings and art, and it really wasn't so long ago that I was an adolescent would-be punk rocker, except for my incredibly geeky habit of stockpiling information about my favorite bands instead of, like, going to their shows.

The big problem though is that, to me, how in hell do these women separate THEIR identity from the identity of their subject? Quite frankly, I don't feel like this Emma Goldman researcher really has. Every question asked about Emma Goldman that focused on things about her that weren't so favorable and therefore harder to understand (such as the fact that she almost totally ignored the rising tide of the Holocaust [only to mention the sad destruction of Jewish ART] although she critiqued Hitler in other matters, and spent the later years of her life focusing on Spain, which you know, no offense to Spain, but hardly the country to give a shit about during 1938-1940), the director tried to spin it in a way that made Emma look good. She was clearly being protective and I think that stance has invaded her research, her biographies, and the world's knowledge of Emma Goldman.

It was interesting though to find out stuff I never knew about Goldman -- such as that her English writings were all very fluffy and wholesome and lovey-dovey compared to her non-English work, where instead of talking about anarchism as "freedom" she talked about killing all the people in power. And the fact that her arrest for helping with the plot of the presidential assassination here in the US might, actually, have had some merit, considering she helped in the assassination of OTHER political figures and, in fact, much of her speeches about education and family and love are in part just coded messages for "Meet me with your guns at this place, and we'll be sending them to Russia."

This director also found a bunch of letters sent from Goldman to her lover/manager that are very revealing and in stark contrast to the free love message she's known for, because basically, she totally fell for this dude and couldn't abide him being with others and didn't like sleeping with other people because this dude is the only person who could make her orgasm. Like, these letters are way personal and hard to read or, in the case of this lecture, even hear because they're just so heartbreaking and feminine -- she talks about how she hates her lectures and her writings and feels like the biggest hypocrite and if anyone ever found these letters, her reputation would be ruined.

It made me think a lot about activism, how women, how we are under extreme pressure to be strong and courageous and confident. It really doesn't seem like much has changed since Goldman's day in that we are allowed to reveal weakness but only so much, and it should be expressed well and well-written, it should be "deep" or whatever. I mean, there's a big difference between elegant language expressing doubt and fear and something like, "Ohhhhh my gooooooddd, like I am so pissed at myself! :*(" Which is what these Goldman letters are like, the latter. It was funny when the director said, "Yeah, she was a bit of a drama queen," but even that I have to address -- does that make you disappointed? Disappointed to know she was so histrionic and female?

It seems the director was actually more disappointed to discover the extent of Emma's violence, the "masculine." It does seem that, in general, people don't talk about the hypermasculine OR hyperfeminine of Goldman but again, that's probably due in large part that nobody really knows about that stuff. But I guess I would encourage you to ask yourself -- what makes you cringe more, the masculine or the feminine, and what does that say about you and about your expectations of powerful women? Are they expected to play the kickass take-no-prisoners role in the "man's" world or be ideal women giving the alternative to the activist/powerful men? Like, how do you see women in power, honestly, what are your thoughts, and how has society helped form your thoughts? I think depending on your perspective, that's the focus you'll take in thinking about women and power and about specific powerful women.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Open Up the Dog House, My Favorite Radio Station Is Coming In

I sent the following email to my local, community radio station last week. I should first explain that this radio station is almost entirely listener-supported. They play Democracy Now! every day and they advertise themselves as one of the only progressive voices we have in this repressive state. Most of their programs are absolutely fantastic, a few of them even having a major feminist bent to them, but one of them has really started to piss me off.

Dear KRCL,

You are by far my favorite radio station. One of the major highlights of every day for me is listening to your programming on my way to and from work and often on the weekends also. I absolutely adore most of your Drive Time programs, but I have decided to stop listening to KRCL during Monday Drive Time because the DJ, Dr. Gianni Fever, repeatedly plays a certain song which he refers to yesterday as his "theme song." The song, "Open Up the Dog House (Two Cats Are Coming In)" by Dean Martin and Nat King Cole features these ever-so-charming lyrics (done call and response style):

"There's just one way to handle a woman
Dean we just got to treat 'em rough
Got to slap 'em
That's right
We got to show 'em who wears the pants
Cut out that sissy, sissy stuff
Now it ain't no use to take abuse
Whenever they are cranky or cross
Let's put the women in their place and we'll show them who's the boss."

Over the years I've come to see KRCL as one of our most important community resources. It is a gloriously progressive voice that is about being inclusive and supportive of all your listeners from a huge, diverse array of backgrounds. I cannot tell you how beautiful and important it is for us to have that here. The lyrics to this song are the most blatantly misogynistic nonsense I've heard in a long time though. They explicitly encourage men to engage in violence against the women in their lives to keep them in their place and "show them who's the boss." When I hear this song being played on a radio station that does such an amazing job the rest of the time at representing the disempowered minority voice in this state, I feel incredibly disappointed, not to mention pretty angry. These lyrics preach hatred, they reinforce the sexist status quo here, and they make me and other women in this community feel isolated, ignored, threatened, and ridiculed. At the very least I would like this song to be stricken from the KRCL airwaves and I would appreciate an on-air apology from Gianni Fever for the thousands of women in this state who know firsthand what it's like to experience violence and to be "put in your place" by a man who's supposed to love you.

Vicky Vengeance

Here is the response I just got from KRCL:

First I'd like to apologize for the length of time it has taken for my response to your issue. Thank you for sharing your concerns. Feedback is important to both KRCL as well as individual programmers.

The song at the center of this exchange, Dean Martin's Open Up the Dog House, is mysognistic. I agree with you. However, one of the things that is important for me as Program Director is ensuring a broadcaster's First Amendment Rights. Concepts like free speech, community and democracy are more than words, they are concepts as well as practices. These practices are often ugly and messy, but none-the-less essential to the premise of a free and unfettered marketplace of ideas. KRCL and the community radio movement need to provide for this concept.

I have spoken to Gianni about this matter and he has expressed his regret, but we both agree that illegal language was not used and banning this song would be censorship. It is a jump to assert Open Up the Dog House is the cause of domestic violence, patriarchy and hatred against women. I think the song illustrates attitudes and norms present when the song was published. A time in our history when it was appropriate to hold these values. KRCL certainly does not promote violence against women, nor do we value violence against women. I think our track record is clear on this. Gianni, KRCL, and myself have no intention of offending our community.

You have my sincerest apologies for any duress caused by the airing of any material. I only ask that you consider not letting Gianni's program sully your KRCL experience. I am sure that you will find programmers and shows that provide music and news that you will connect with. Thanks for being out there.

Ryan Tronier
Program Director
(801) 363-1818

Indeed. The song certainly "illustrates" something and it's not just "attitudes and norms present when the song was published" or "a time in our history when it was appropriate to hold these values." If you'll notice, thousands of women experience sexual assault and domestic violence every single day. Thousands! If you'll notice, women continue to be completely disadvantaged and oppressed. If you'll notice, this song CONTINUES to be played on the radio as though, GASP! it IS totally appropriate now! I don't care how "appropriate" roughing up your woman was when the song was published. The point is it's NOT appropriate NOW being played on a public, community radio station unless DJ Fever is explicitly critiquing these attitudes when he plays this song. Which I presume he's not when calling it his "theme song" immediately after playing it. Just guessing.

Further, if you'll look at my original letter to KRCL, I never said this song causes domestic violence. I said it encourages it. WHICH IT DOES. I said it reinforces sexist attitudes. WHICH IT DOES. I said it makes me and other women feel like we don't matter, we don't count as an important part of this community. WHICH IT DOES. I'm not just extrapolating, it literally does these things and that is NOT OK. I understand that it is not the Program Director's job to censor what his DJs play. I've worked as a DJ, I've worked as a Music Director, I know how these things work. I'm not trying to take somebody's First Amendment rights away. What I was hoping in sending my original email is that they wouldn't WANT to play a song that causes their female listeners to feel alienated, angry, and afraid. I was hoping they would have more respect for women, for the diversity of their audience, and for how the blatant misogyny demonstrated in the song hurts our entire community. Guess I was wrong.

The most depressing thing about this is that it really does make me feel isolated and unimportant. I can feel a giant ball of fear rise up in me that I am being petty, bitchy, uppity, unreasonable. I'm haunted by the all too familiar refrain, "Oh you feminists just have no sense of humor." But it IS a betrayal for a radio station that calls itself progressive, that claims it is all about the community, to play a song like this. My anger is justified. I have a right to feel upset about this. I wonder how long it will take for me to be able to really believe that without having to wrestle with what the patriarchy tells me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ally Ally Oxen Free

Last night I went to a Rakim/Brother Ali concert. I wasn't really familiar with Rakim before a friend told me about the show and invited me along. Lately, I've been listening to more hip hop and I really like a lot of what I've heard so I went. I had a lot of fun at the show, but it got me thinking a little bit about politics and music and how they correspond in my own head.

So, admittedly I know next to nothing about hip hop as a genre and sometimes I feel weirdly guilty about that because I wonder if my ignorance of it comes from my socio-economic and racial privilege. Is it racist for me to pretty much ignore hip hop considering how many other genres of music I listen to and considering hip hop's connection to black identity? Is it racist for me to ignore world music too? Not the in-your-face kind of racism, but the subtle kind where you just happen not to notice the existence of whole groups of people who are Other to yourself. Then again, I don't come from an urban environment, I come from a decidedly suburban one. I am not street, I have not dealt with poverty, I have not grown up surrounded by the race war that some of the harder rappers reference. Is it racist to assume that is what hip hop is about in the first place? What does it mean that the key market for hip hop is young suburban white males? That the key market for world music is aging new age yuppies?

I hate the way the Beat Generation appropriated the language of jazz and the image of the hip black male for themselves and turned it into "literature." I hate the way the early Rock 'n Rollers stole from traditionally black music like blues and gospel to create a much more popular sound. And watching a hip hop culture that rose out of struggle and community be appropriated by rich kids playing at disempowerment, I get really uncomfortable. There's a part of me that feels like I have absolutely no business whatsoever nodding my head along to lyrics that describe a reality I have been sheltered from my whole life. It's embarrassing. I am ashamed.

Which leads into a whole lot of other big questions like, what does it mean to be an ally? What does a good ally do? How do we exchange culture without allowing power dynamics to turn exchange into colonization? When I appreciate music, what about it am I appreciating? Is there a hierarchy of what it is and is not ok to like? When is music just music?

I think a large part of the confusion revolves around an ambiguity that's built the whole purpose of music. On one hand, music is about bringing people together. It's about building an emotional truth that goes beyond yourself and grabs someone who might be completely different than you, but who by some miracle can suddenly understand how you feel. Nikki Giovanni says the very most important part of poetry is empathy because without it we could never get beyond ourselves to really see other people for who they are and what they're going for. On the other hand, a huge accompanying part of every single musical genre I can think of is a style, an image, and an identity. Punk, country, indie, metal, bubblegum, classical, jazz, rockabilly . . . they all have their stereotypical listener/performer. And sometimes music isn't so much about connecting with people who are different from you, as it is with people who are exactly the same. It's about asserting an individual identity in opposition to all the others and for a person to intrude on that identity, to pretend that it is theirs when it is not, seems wrong. Particularly when that identity contains a component of oppression that you do not actually contend with.

And this leads me to the question, is it possible to develop a respectful empathy in our daily lives that can navigate both sides? Because I think music is in fact both of the things I've laid out. I think that LIFE is both. When a white woman tells a black man she understands how his oppression feels or vice versa, I think that probably is and is not true. Sometimes I need someone who will tell me they can relate to what I'm going through and sometimes I need them to admit they have no idea what that's like, but they're glad I told them and they're going to think about what I said. Neither one of those responses may be the full truth, but that tends to be what I end up needing.

The fact is, for as much as I get frustrated with male feminist allies or white allies, it's just really fucking hard to be an ally sometimes. It's hard to admit when you don't know something. It's hard to admit your complicity in a system that hurts your friends. It's hard to push past feelings of guilt that are so big you're terrified and paralyzed. But to be a good ally, no scratch that, a good PERSON you've gotta be able to put yourself on the line and show some fucking backbone.

What does this mean for me and hip hop? Ultimately, I'm going to keep learning about and listening to the hip hop that connects with me. I'm going to keep researching the history of it so I'm aware of where it's coming from, who is making it, and what it's trying to say. And you know, do my best not to be a total asshole.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I don't know about you, but something about the intense, serious look on that man's face is just about the funniest thing I have ever seen. Now scroll down and read the actually intelligent post Edith put up today.

I Like Bottles

(Disclaimer: There have been many posts lately that have far surpassed this blog in general meanity, so clearly, I have to step up. Do remember why you're reading this blog in the first place, if this offends you too much.)

Over at Twisty's place, there's a great post where she exhales some carbon dioxide on the whole "breastfeeding women should only breastfeed in public toilets, lest someone see a booby in a NON-SEXUAL context." High fives from Edith, as this couldn't be more annoying to her.

But what do you know, the utterly typical happens: it becomes a thread about how much better breastfeeding is for infants and how mothers who bottle-feed are putting their babies at a serious disadvantage. And one poster even says, more or less, forget the woman's "choice," WE HAVE TO THINK OF THE BABY!!!!!

So, here's a hearty FUCK THAT.

Bottle-feeding your infant is, guess what? FINE. It's FINE. When did it become oh-so-feminist anyway to, you know, turn your back on the segment of the population that has to bottle-feed (i.e., the working class, the disabled, the women who have shit to do and/or don't feel like being guilt-tripped into doing something that is perhaps painful and difficult for them when there is a PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE alternative) their infant?

This reminds me of another similar breeder-specific hysteria, the "don't have kids when you're old" genre. Because there are studies!!! You know, that say that's bad!!! Your kid could have autism!!! Or like, more earaches!! OMG!! You're 29-years-old?! You better have a kid now or not at all, because it's just not fair to your future child!!! THINK ABOUT IT!!

I have expressed displeasure at the strain of feminism that embraces the typical feminine virtues of "being at one with nature" and generally the typical patriarchal judgment on those people who choose the "unnatural" in the forms of: taking pills to minimize the number of periods a woman has, taking psychiatric medication instead of merely relying on meditation, giving birth in a hospital instead of with a midwife because they fear complications, etc. But let's be real: I will criticize the bio-medical model all day long. But seriously, I wonder why we are all for it when it backs up our dubious prejudices towards breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding, but all against it when it backs up psychiatric medication for children? You know what I call that? I call that selectively using science to justify your bigotry. And I call that pathetic, and disappointing, as well as being unfeminist.

On a lighter note, check out some info on male breastfeeding, which is totally biologically possible, in the form of this obnoxious Guardian article. This may be the best news you've heard all day, if you didn't know about this before. I know it was for me.