Saturday, April 14, 2012


Since I don't write here often, I've decided to try a Tumblr account instead! Please join me.  :-)

Monday, January 31, 2011

'City of Ladies?' Sounds nice.

An early (and I mean early... 1405, in fact) feminist writer, Christine de Pizan, wrote The Book of the City of Ladies. A selection from this book kicks off The Essential Feminist Reader and shows that not a lot of society’s perceptions of women have changed drastically over the past 600+ years. At the beginning of the text selection, Christine de Pizan’s character makes her way through various writings by men and finds that “they all concur in one conclusion: that the behavior of women is inclined to and full of every vice.” (pg. 4) She continues to describe how women are constantly attacked by men in every “book on morals” she read. 

What’s great is that, in the context of the fifteenth century, a woman put forth a logical -- albeit, religious -- argument against the sexism that seemed to be inherent:
“And I finally decided that God formed a vile creature when He made woman, and I wondered how such a worthy artisan could have deigned to make such an abominable work which, from what they say, is the vessel as well as the refuge and abode of every evil and vice.” (pg. 5)
While logic and even facts do not always correct misperceptions, it does help solidify a case. 

Two final points that struck a chord with me. The first has to do with de Pizan writing about how women are just as able to learn as men. “...If it were customary to send daughters to school like sons, and if they were then taught the natural sciences, they would learn as thoroughly and understand the subtleties of all the arts and sciences as well as sons.” (pg. 6) This is an issue some women’s organizations are still fighting today -- that girls and women are biologically different than men in that they cannot do work in some science, engineering, technology, and math fields as well as their male counterparts. Some of the overarching solutions are to provide women and girls the same opportunities to pursue those fields as well as socialize them to know they can learn it and pursue it if they want. For a medieval feminist philosopher, de Pizan was on the right track. 

Finally, de Pizan takes on the hypocritical nature of arguments against women as well as the stereotypes women face. She argues that women are not expected to “lapse,” even though they are considered to be “delicate and frail by nature.” Yet, men “are unable to prevent themselves from falling into many, even graver faults and sins.” (pg. 8) She recognizes at a broader level the double standards with which women have to live. Those double standards are still prevalent today, particularly regarding sexual activity -- it’s considered cool for boys to have as many “conquests” as they can, while girls are seen as “sluts.” And that’s just one double-standard that’s easily seen when it’s played out day by day.  

In addition, what really struck me about this early text was Estelle B. Freedman’s introduction to the selection where she noted that Christine de Pizan utilized her education to support herself and her family when she was widowed. And she did that by writing to combat the image and belief that women are inherently unequal and inferior to men. I had actually heard about The Book of the City of Ladies from one of my friends who studied English in school and now teaches the subject. Having been able to have a preview of the writing, I am very interested in getting into the whole text. I wonder what other topics de Pizan tackles in addition to education, repression in public affairs, and general beliefs and perceptions of women...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New Yorker on The Feminine Mystique

One of my contacts sent me an article from the New Yorker: "Why the Women's Movement Needed Betty Friedan." While the article recognizes The Feminine Mystique's privileged standpoint of white middle-class/upper middle-class women, it also discusses how Friedan's book was still a necessary and very significant work for the women's movement.

I just started reading this article and thought I'd share it with others who have similar interests to mine. I had picked up The Feminine Mystique a while ago and noticed its importance, but I need to start reading it again and give it some more time in order to finish it entirely. I'm glad this New Yorker article (so far) has re-invigorated my interest in this classic book.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Susan Brownmiller and the Parable of Rape

Last night I read a quick selection from Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape in The Essential Feminist Reader. One of the many striking things I read in this short introduction to Brownmiller’s text is her notion that the story of Little Red Riding Hood is, in fact, a parable of rape (and patriarchy in general). When I think back on fairy tales, I have always recognized the sexism that abounds. Most have that “damsel in distress” focus where only the prince can save the princess because she can’t save herself, is helpless/vulnerable, etc. But I had never really thought about fairy tales in terms of sexual violence, even the implications of it. That, for me, was particularly eye-opening. 

I also appreciated her discussion of the various ways people react to rape. Victim-blaming is particularly prevalent and harsh, and is something that I wrote about extensively in my Master’s thesis on the framing of sexual violence in the media. Victim-blaming is not only detrimental to the survivors of sexual assault, but detrimental to all women in how they are perceived by society. Brownmiller also writes very powerfully about the claims that “no woman can be raped against her will” and “if you’re going to be raped, you might as well relax and enjoy it.” (All I can say to people who think that way is: WTF?! Seriously?) 

Along with the concept of victim-blaming, these claims go to show that there is a monumental effort needed to overcome society’s perceptions of women and rape, and it all starts with reconceptualizing how we think about sexual violence in general. Until we can think and talk about it in a non-sexist, sensitive manner, we won’t be able to shift public discourse. And that’s where I think the media comes into play. 

As I’ve written about before, popular and news media play a large role in shaping what people think about on a daily basis. That’s why changing the media's coverage and framing of these issues is key. Another key is to engage male allies, and garner men’s understanding and cooperation, which Brownmiller also suggests.  

Now I wonder if I have access to the full Against Our Will in one of my feminist & gender theory texts... This selection left me wanting to read more.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Getting back into the blog

Well, I've been out of touch with this blog for quite some time. I've been wanting to get back into the blogging world, but since I'm not writing too much about Public Communication anymore and my thesis has long been over, it's time to move on to something else.

I've decided to keep the "Women's Issues" part of this blog's focus, so I've renamed the blog Feminist Writings because, well, I'm a feminist for one. And I'll be writing here. But also, I'm looking to explore the world of other feminist writings. I've read a bunch of feminist theory and philosophy in the past, but now I'm going to try to start writing about it a little more. I want to -- even if only in my small way -- draw attention to all the good stuff that's out there, including fab female authors. For example, I've recently read my friend and colleague, Holly Kearl's, book about street harassment. (It was fantastic!) While I've started The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir before, I'm going to make the commitment to read the newly translated version of the full text. That's certainly on my to-do list. At the moment, though, I'm reading Marilyn French's The Women's Room. It's a fascinating look into the gender roles of (white, middle-class) women and their families in the mid-twentieth century. I think it's amazing how some of it is still applicable today, and some of the same rights are still being fought for.

In addition, I've started reading an essay by Martha Nussbaum in her book, Sex and Social Justice, which critiques some of the concepts created by Christina Hoff Sommers with regard to feminism. Enough said. (For now anyway.) I do have to say that it is refreshing to read a feminist account of American feminism that recognizes how far we've come, but instead of criticizing the need for the women's movement in the West altogether, Nussbaum recognizes that we still have work to do for full social equality. Others, such as Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, tend to disregard the work of Western-focused women's organizations as being trivial when compared to the need for women's empowerment and safety in other countries. But I've already said enough about that.

Hopefully this new focus will re-invigorate my writing/blogging. That's the goal of this new venture, I suppose. Let's see how it goes!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Labor Union Women Making History

This entry was originally posted on AAUW's blog, Dialog.

Who has been honored this month with esteemed women such as Linda Chavez-Thompson, Augusta Thomas, Elizabeth Shuler, Arlene Holt Baker, and Nancy Wohlforth? My mom!

I know it may sound a bit cliché, but for Women’s History Month, I would like to recognize my mother, Jane Broendel. As the first female officer for the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), she has truly has broken through barriers.

My mom started carrying mail in Davenport, Iowa, in 1984 and joined the union her second day on the job. She became very involved and served as treasurer for the Iowa State Association, among other positions within the union, including, of course, union steward. When I was a freshman in high school, our family moved to the Washington, D.C., area so Mom could take up her new post as the first and — at that time — only female national officer in the union’s 100-plus-year history. She now serves as NALC’s secretary-treasurer. When my mom started working in D.C., she was the only woman on the 28-member executive council. Now there are four other women on the council as well.

It’s been a slow journey for women in the NALC, not to mention in the labor movement in general. When Mom first took on this challenge, she met grueling and disheartening sexism. Because she worked hard to prove herself and show that a woman is just as capable of leading as a man, those who once criticized her for taking one of the top jobs are becoming less vocal as time progresses.

In recognition of her accomplishments as a barrier-breaking woman in the labor movement — not to mention the inspiration she provided for working women in general — as part of Women’s History Month, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) honored Mom with the Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award on March 18.

At the awards ceremony, the presenter mentioned my mom’s desire for all women to be able to speak without judgment, both at the bargaining table and in their lives outside of work. In her acceptance speech, Mom spoke about the challenges women face to be taken seriously and about how women have to work much harder to prove their worth as contributing team members — challenges she knows because she has lived them.

I’m very proud that CLUW honored my mom for Women’s History Month, and I think it’s amazing that she will be featured in CLUW’s Hall of Fame so that future women leaders will remember her. She’s a true leader who has paved the way for many women. For me, though, she’s more than a strong, confident role model and mentor — she’s my mom.


Now that Women's History Month is over, we move on to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. My colleague at AAUW, Holly Kearl, is the administrator for the Stop Street Harassment! blog. She has a great post titled "Sexual Assault Awareness Month: 10 Ideas for Activism," which I think everybody should read.

Today is actually my last day at AAUW! While I'll miss the awesome ladies (and men!) at AAUW, I'm excited about my new opportunity to return to National Geographic as a researcher. I'm getting back in touch with my Geography roots! :-D

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy Women's History Month!

Today is the beginning of Women's History Month! To kick off AAUW's online/social media activities for the month, I published this blog post today. It includes a lot of information about the month-long celebration as well as how others can get involved! I'm really excited about the strategy and seeing what others do to recognize women's accomplishments.