Midwifery and the Home Birth Movement: Women Questioning the (Medical) System

In 2008, actress and talk show host Ricki Lake and filmmaker Abbey Epstein collaborated on their revolutionary documentary film The Business of Being Born, which explored the current experience of childbirth in the U.S. and the history of the home birth movement.

Featuring a number of birth stories – including Epstein’s, which occurred during the course of making the film, and Lake’s second birth, which was a home birth – the film was made in a similar spirit to the hugely popular Our Bodies, Ourselves, compiled and published by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (see Wendy Kline’s article “Please Include This In Your Book…”).

As Dr. Kline mentioned on Tuesday, much of our current conversations about women’s reproductive justice centers on access to contraception and abortion – but here is a key piece of reproductive justice for women as well: the messages we give women about birthing and about the options available to them for a safe birth.

THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (2008)

So What Can I Do? Becoming an LGBTQ Ally

This list, recently published by Everyday Feminism online magazine, provides those who want to disrupt heterosexual privilege and become allies for the LGBTQ community – specifically trans- individuals – a series of small ways they can change the conversation for the better in their everyday lives.

Want to do more? Sign up to attend one of the Safe Zone Workshops at Purdue’s LGBTQ Center. There are several each semester.

Trans Ally To Do List

 

Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality”: Constructing Heteronormativity

In her groundbreaking article for the feminist journal Signs in 1980, feminist poet and scholar Adrienne Rich argued that we need to see and understand heterosexuality, marriage, and motherhood as political institutions and not simply as a “natural” life path that women are “innately oriented” to desire – that is, we are not born desiring these things, but rather learn to desire them. Judith Lorber would say that we learn that certain desires are connected to “doing gender,” or performing femininity or masculinity. In other words, we need to understand how the dominant social order has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

So not just gender, but sexuality, is also socially constructed and reinforced through socialization and the ways we are taught to “police” each other’s behaviors and desires.

In American culture, heteronormativity is the dominant narrative – that is, heterosexuality is considered “normal” and images of heterosexual life dominate our advertising and popular culture.Look at the cover of every rom-com ever produced:

rom coms

In the last decade or two, popular culture has started to embrace certain images of homosexuality, but because even people who are gay live in a patriarchal society, we have largely gotten images and stories of gay men. Shows like “Will & Grace,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and more recently “RuPaul’s Drag Race” all feature gay men. Where, we might ask, are all the gay women? Though they’re becoming slightly more common, gay female celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres tend to be exceptions. (Check out “Leaps and Strides: The History of Gay Characters on TV.”)

queer eye

Of course, we might also consider the ways in which these particular stereotypes of gay men have so frequently served and supported heteronormativity. For example, the cast of “Queer Eye” allows for straight men to engage in fashion and appearance without their own heterosexual masculinity being called into question. Or the images of gay men we so often see in fashion or in drag culture seem to instruct women to better perform femininity, sometimes by highlighting its extremes.

THE BARSEXUAL TREND:

Ok, so calling an independent woman today a lesbian for being too “pushy” or sure of herself doesn’t have quite the same impact it did in 1970 when women involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement frequently had this insult hurled at them. (This is a perfect example of binary thinking: if a woman will not perform femininity, she must by default want to be the opposite, i.e., masculine. There’s no continuum on which one might identify oneself here – there is only a pair of opposites.)

So how have our attitudes toward women perceived as lesbian changed? Let’s consider for a moment the whole barsexual trend. A “barsexual” is slang for a woman who kisses or otherwise engages in sexual behavior with female friends (often at bars) in order to attract the attention of the men they are actually romantically or sexually interested in.

Watch this clip from the Tyra Banks’ Show, where a woman in the audience who is lesbian confronts two heterosexual female guests on the show who engage in barsexual behavior:

QUESTION:

  • How does such behavior help or hurt women – particularly young women like those on the show – interested in supporting solidarity with their sisters (lesbian or otherwise)?

Homosexuals on the Prowl?

This PSA (public service announcement) was produced in the 1950s, in cooperation with both the local police and school district. Notice that it’s directed toward young men, specifically boys. Female homosexuality is invisible here.

How do we still use the “threat” of male homosexuality – what C.J. Pascoe calls “the specter of the faggot” – as a form of social control to “police” masculinity?

Gender Identity, Essentialism, and Social Contructivism

Ever wondered what might happen if parents tried to raise a child without a prescribed gender identity?

Watch the story of Baby Storm on NBC Today.

A Feminist Political Party? Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Changes the Conversation

Can you imagine living in a country where you could vote for a feminist candidate or support a feminist party? You can in Sweden.

Over the last few years, Sweden’s Feminist Initiative party has gained increased support as many citizens have pushed back against the racist and sexist remarks and scandals of the country’s center-right party currently in power in Parliament. Read the short article at Ms. magazine.

Sweden's Feminist Initiative Party

Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Party

Racial Profiling: Reading Race, Gender, and Representations of Criminality

Just as being able to read someone’s gender clearly reassures us that we will know what kind of behavior to expect (and what our own behavior should be) , we have expectations of what someone’s behavior should be based on their race as well.

A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

So both race and gender shape our social interactions according to our expectations of how others should behave based on their “role.” For example, watch how individuals in a public park react to three different actors in the same situation in the following social experiment:

Here’s a similar experiment on racial profiling involving an African-American woman in an upscale boutique. Notice that in this scenario, they also dress the woman up and down to change how others might read not just her race but her class as well:

REPRESENTATION AS ARGUMENT

In their essay on racial formations in the U.S., Michael Omi and Howard Winant discuss the importance of the media in both shaping and disseminating racial caricatures:

“Film and television…have been notorious in disseminating images of racial minorities which establish for audiences what people from these groups look like, how they behave, and ‘who they are.’ The power of the media lies not only in their ability to reflect the dominant ideology, but in their capacity to shape that ideology in the first place [...This] has led to the perpetuation of racial caricatures, as racial stereotypes serve as shorthand for scriptwriters, directors, and actors” (17).

These caricatures have serious real-life consequences for people of color. As the author of “White Privilege Radically Changes Appearance of Tsarnaev Brothers” points out, recent portrayals of Muslims in the media since 9/11 reinforce “the current dehumanizing ‘Other’ label that whiteness has constructed as a sanctioned target for violence in US popular culture” (emphasis mine).

Consider how the decision to lighten or darken the skin color of the following two celebrities makes an argument about who is “othered”:

In 1994, former football running back O.J. Simpson made headlines after a dramatic police chase. Simpson was arrested and accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson, and the trial was widely televised. He was eventually acquitted of the murder charges, but opinions about his innocence or guilt divided the public for years. Compare the representation of Simpson on these two covers.

In 1994, former football running back O.J. Simpson made headlines after a dramatic police chase. Simpson was arrested and accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson, and the trial was widely televised. He was eventually acquitted of the murder charges, but opinions about his innocence or guilt divided the public for years. Compare the representation of Simpson on these two covers.

On the other hand, consider how often the complexion of Black performers and models are often lightened:

A photograph of Beyonce (left) compared to the representation of her in L'Oreal's advertising campaign for Feria hair color.

A photograph of Beyonce (left) compared to the representation of her in L’Oreal’s advertising campaign for Feria hair color (right).

Debate erupted about whether Rihanna had been airbrushed to appear whiter on the November 2011 cover of British Vogue magazine.

Debate erupted about whether Rihanna had been airbrushed to appear whiter on the November 2011 cover of British Vogue magazine.