Tag Archives: culture

My childhood landscape involved shooting at dragons

Nerf is coming out with a line for girls. The Rebelle – and the first item in their line? The Heartbreaker Bow. It’s… well… Pink.

And it’s for girls.

And for those reasons, I want to hate it.

But the converse of that is this: The function of the bow is absolutely not any weaker than the other products made for Nerf, in fact it’ll pack the same strength behind it as the Nerf Elite darts. The company is making a bow and arrow set targeted at the female child market, and  I never thought I’d see that happen in my lifetime.

But I also think children are smarter than that. And in an age where we have children who are recognizing that there is more than just gender binary – where we do have children who realize their gender may be in flux, we need to stop marketing to children with “Boy” this and “girl” that. We need to just start making toys for children. 

So that the 6 year old girl who wants to hunt dragons (or rescue them, as the case was with me) can shoot a bow and arrow and wield a sword.

So that her brother can play with dolls or a tea set if he wants to.

So that the trans child who doesn’t have an easily identified gender market can play without fearing gender identification by picking up a doll or a Tonka Truck.

Children are smarter than we give them credit for, and really – what’s the difference between the Heartbreaker Bow and the Z Curve Bow except color?

I know that Nerf did market research, that they didn’t just slap pink packaging on one of their other models and call it For Girls, and for that I do commend them to an extent. But why do we need to slap pink on it at all? Why can’t girls play with bows and arrows? Why weren’t girls already part of that market?

In a world where a young woman can choose to enter the military, serve her country – and now go to the front line – we should be changing our perceptions, and maybe it’s a small thing, but the changes start with the toys we play with as children.


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Filed under Feminism, LGBT

Thoughts on Physician Assisted Suicide

They were twins. Both deaf, both cobblers. They never married, were very close to their families, and they spent their days together. They suffered from other medical conditions such as spinal issues, but the full roster of their illnesses is unknown to me. On December 14th 2012 they chose to use the right of Belgian citizens to voluntarily euthanize themselves. They did this because they were going blind as a result of glaucoma, and they could not bear the idea of being unable to see one another, or the idea of being institutionalized.

I am a supporter of right to dignity in death measures in the law; I believe that when people are suffering, when they are in pain, that they should be able to die rather than to suffer if they will not get better. To spare their families the pain of having to witness their death.

But I can’t get past the uncomfortable feeling that these men were choosing death over life. A life that might not be entirely unlike mine. Certainly the idea of being blind and deaf terrifies most people – but I am both. Neither are complete conditions for me, but I can’t shake the the fact that I am reading about someone deciding to kill themselves because they are like me. The story challenges my ability to be fully on the side of allowing people to use the medical establishment to help people die.

In Belgium the law reads as follows:

To make a legitimate euthanasia request, the patient must be an adult, must be conscious and legally competent at the moment of making the request, and must be in a condition of constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident, for which medical treatment is futile and there is no possibility of improvement.

The physician decides whether the disorder is incurable based on the actual state of medicine, and the patient alone determines whether suffering is constant and unbearable. The physician must have several conversations with the patient in which he ascertains whether the patient experiences his/her suffering as constant and unbearable.

The physician must inform the patient about their medical condition, prospects, and possible alternative treatments, including palliative care. He must consult another independent physician about the serious and incurable character of the condition. This physician does not need to be a palliative care specialist.

Taking voluntary euthanasia seems to me a little premature in this situation. Certainly it is tragic to not be able to see ones brother – the twins had lived together their whole lives, never having married. Not knowing the twins personally, I cannot speak to their quality of life, but for some reason I can’t help but feel that their life experiences may have contributed to their inability to conceive of a world where they could not see, and where they could not live without some help.  I feel like the more people with disabilities are encouraged to experience the world,  the world seems less bleak. I know that traveling has made me more confident about my ability to engage with the world, not less.

The first doctor who was approached to euthanize the twins refused them, stating: “There is a law but that is clearly open to various interpretations. If any blind or deaf {people} are allowed to euthanize, we are far from home. I do not think this was what the legislation meant by ‘unbearable suffering’.

It seems that the twins had more medical issues than simply the glaucoma, but I can’t deny that the idea of helping people commit suicide just because they are going blind or deaf is discouraging. There are so many people who tell me that they would just die if they couldn’t see – like I can’t. So many people who have said that they would rather kill themselves than not be able to hear.

We live in a world of possibilities, one where adaptive devices, medical changes, and opportunities to live normal lives are cropping up every day. The surgery I had at 6 months old  to give me the sight in one eye has improved vastly. I’ve met people who have had cataract surgery in the last year who see better than they did before the surgery. We can’t simply give up because we’re scared.

Since I was not in the situation myself, I can’t say if this was right or wrong, but I can say that it shook me very deeply, and made me question a lot of things about the way I live. 
I can’t help but be uncomfortable with this choice, but I can educate myself about the choice they made. There’s no changing their decision, but hopefully we all can strive toward making the options for people facing deafness and blindness less bleak, and more hopeful. I hope that if I do go completely blind, or completely deaf, or both that there will be options which do not include suicide. Because I don’t want to give up.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Uncategorized

The DSM is a Medical Text, Not a Plot Generator

I am tired of feeling like every time I see a mental illness article, I need to shield myself from the comments.

I am sick with fear every time I hear “mental health registry”.

I am undone by the lies media tells in their plotlines, using PTSD, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and therapy as plot points, punch lines and things people get over.

We can medicate, we can use therapists and we can find pieces of truth which comfort us in the darkness of our own existences – but this is something we all live with. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a repetitive joke, it is not the thing which makes a private detective funny. PTSD is not the thing which makes Charlotte King angry and mean, anxiety is not merely fixed with a pill, and therapy should not be the joke of a 30 minute sitcom.

When do we stop using mental illness as a punching bag and start considering ways to help people who live with it?

It seems as though those with mental illnesses are cast into four categories in media: Out of Their Heads Crazy Violent, Nonsensical Crazy,  Functional But Silly Crazy, and Angry Crazy. These all have varying levels. For example, a savant might be in either the functional or in the nonsensical category, whereas often people with PTSD are only cast as angry crazy. schizophrenics are cast as out of their heads and violent. Always, or at least that’s how it feels.

These depictions are wrong.

Mental illnesses are diagnostic tools. They are not all the same.

My experience with PTSD is very different from someone elses’ and my triggers will be different. The way that I express my feelings about the diagnosis which I hold – very different from someone else.

The solutions are different too. For someone who is violent, perhaps medication and time in a hospital setting may help. For that matter, people who have mental health issues which impact their whole lives may need to be hospitalized just so they can get a grip on their own lives – hospitals are not places for just the violent. They are places where people can learn skills they need out in a world which is often harsh on those whose realities are different from the general populations. For someone with PTSD it may be a place to regain control of an episode, and to remember where they are in time.

We don’t need television shows to continue getting it wrong, to keep telling the stories of the mentally ill for us – and telling them badly. We don’t need to have the general public hear stories time after time that PTSD only affects people in the military. We don’t need to have the myths of OCD as funny fill the gaps in where knowledge should be. We should be learning about one another by asking questions, by listening, and by thinking harder than the TV set will encourage us to.

The fact is, mental illness isn’t just about being quirky or different. It is what makes us people. For some of those people, it makes them artists. It makes them see the world in different ways.

I have an ability to understand sorrow, and past pain in a way that some don’t. I have friends whose schizophrenia makes them better writers. Photographers whose stories tell tales of depression – and we wouldn’t know what that looked like were it not for them. Beethoven would not have been the artist he was without his madness and his deafness. Emily Dickinson would not have been the poet we love were it not for her profound agoraphobia. Sometimes these differences are what make us beautiful, and we can’t forget that even though we fear each other.

Perspective is everything – and we cannot forget the beauty inherent in a world of difference.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Language

PTSD in the Age of Social Media

I opened my regular news reading to find photos of yet another rape victim. Yet another violation of a woman’s rights. In full color. The imagery stark against my retina.

I wonder sometimes if the reason why I cannot get the images of my own trauma out of my head is because every day I have to relive something of someone else’s sorrows. Media is spectacularly exploitative. Of course media is. Journalism is about telling other people’s stories, and because of it there is a trend towards exposing the most painful parts of a story without protecting the reader from their own pain.

This is part of why I strongly believe in trigger warnings. Do they seem stupid sometimes? Do we need to make sure we don’t overuse them? Oh, absolutely. If I didn’t read the articles labeled trigger warning half the time I’d miss out on valuable dialogue. But we need to be cautious with our readers. We need to be kind and thoughtful.

The images of gang rape coming out of India will not leave my head easily. The images of the girl in Steubenville, or the eleven-year old in Texas will not escape my dreams.

I wonder if the reason why so many survivors of assault, of rape, of abuse have not been able to heal properly because they are consistently given images to resurrect their own personal nightmares.

I cannot offer any solutions, because I cannot tell the editors of the world that showing us these photos makes our personal experiences sing louder than the present. I cannot deny that some days, all I want to do is throw in the towel and discontinue my fight, knowing that there will be days where the hurt is louder than the sound of my own voice stemming the tide against violence.

Can we heal when we know that the violence continues outside our own safety nets?

I know I can. But sometimes I cannot know it loudly enough.

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Filed under Feminism, Sexuality

Steps to Prevent Rape

Sometimes, inventions are made because we need them – sometimes they come too late. Today I want to talk to you about an indiegogo campaign that could change a piece of rape culture – combined with another thing I’ve seen bars do. Rape culture is pervasive, and we can’t fix it all by talk. The goal is ending rape, obviously – but the baby steps that lead up to the end of rape culture are many and sundry. I think one of these steps could get funded by internet crowd sourcing. I’d like to introduce you to the Safety Cup.

Do I think this is a permanent solution? NO.  But I think that tools to stop rapists are important, and I think humane tools to stop rapists are even more important.  This is such a simple thing which bars can do to help prevent the use of GHB. Color changing straws and cups. Combine that with attentive bartenders who know what it looks like – and attentive drinkers who use it to their benefit, I think we might have a good thing coming.

The second piece to this of course, is what bars can do as bartenders and as humans. The bar “The Black Sheep” in Ashland, OR has a sign up. It reads as follows:

Photo by Kenna Kettrick

Photo by Kenna Kettrick

Basically, they’re offering to help keep people safe. The bar has actually had trainings to make sure that their bartenders know how to handle situations where patrons might be in danger. At my local bar in Jersey City, one of the bartenders has given me the signal where if someone is ever bothering me, she’s happy to help me get out of a nasty situation by physically removing me from it if necessary. Bartenders should be able to do this for anyone in danger. Does it make their job harder? Sure it does. But alcohol makes living safely a hell of a lot harder too. Bars can be dangerous places, but we should be able to drink in safety.

Does this mean we should stop watching our drinks or being responsible for our safety? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But focusing on what we can to protect women is a step, a seriously important one. Please fund if you can, or encourage your local bar to put up a sign like the Black Sheep’s. Focusing on the steps that lead up to the end of rape culture shouldn’t stop us from recognizing the big picture. We can’t end it in one fell swoop, but everything we do that makes it harder to rape, or harder to blame rape victims is a positive.


Filed under Feminism, War On Women

Why I’d be Proud to Have a Book Banned

In graduate school I studied the history of obscenity in the United States, and specifically sought to understand art as a subject for legal critique. My question has always been why art is so threatening to society. Every year, the American Library Association presents one week (the first week of October) as Banned Books Week. One week to educate the public on the history and issues surrounding banned books. So I’m doing my part here at feminist sonar.

Book burning and book banning are both manifestations of the desire to control information. Historically speaking, those who seek to control the kind of information which is deemed inappropriate are socially conservative and religiously conservative groups, trying to keep a hold on the rampant devastation of “good” society.

Stepping into my handy wayback machine, let’s take a look at some of the first people who banned books in the United states: Anthony Comstock and the New York Society For the Suppression Of Vice.

You’ll notice that even in their group seal, they have a man burning books. Comstock was the reason for the federal Comstock Law, which is how many books on the classically banned books list at the ALA landed on the list. The Comstock Law federally criminalized sending obscene materials through the mail providing groups a solid foothold for the legal battle against smut and literature.

These days, books are banned for a myriad of reasons. But I find most of them rather baffling. Scanning the list of banned books over the last 5 years, I can see that not only have I read most of them, but frequently the banning just doesn’t make sense. However, the point is not the baffling nature of the reasons for banning a book, but the very idea that a book should be banned in the first place. For example, I understand why the Catholic Church had issues with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. I don’t agree with their issues, and had I been in a city where the book had been banned, you can be sure I would have been upset. The books aren’t just about religion, but are an excellent story about growing up.

It is the books banned for having homosexuality which I find the most troubling.

The reason I find it troubling is that I feel that most of these books are banned out of fear. Out of fear that children will learn that being gay, or a person of color, of being from a different religious background, or for that matter that having sex is okay. People ban books and burn books as a signal for fear of knowledge. Fearing that someone might live a life differently.  That their lifestyle is a threat. Stories can teach us many things, but one of the most important things that literature can teach us, is tolerance. We can get inside someones head, and learn their life, we can explore their trials and their successes. And we can do it all without having to intrude.

And when it comes to books like The Hunger Games we fear the idea that what happens inside a book is going to happen outside of the book. But I don’t think reading a book is going to make me *want* to go hunt my peers in a dangerous arena. Quite the opposite. But what the Hunger Games might teach a young woman is how to fight for her freedoms. Branded as anti-family, I felt that the book taught us that our family is what we make of it. Protecting our little sisters from going to a terrible place, creating relationships with others in communities – these are not anti-family actions, but rather ones of communal spirit.

And as for the “unsuited to age group” notice that lands on almost every challenged book – we don’t pick the ages when we’re ready to read the books we want to. It isn’t up to groups to decide what someone is ready to learn. I read Sherlock Holmes when I was 6 and it didn’t turn me into a pipe smoking, cocaine using sociopath. It turned me into a person who likes to observe the world, and who would be proud to have a book banned – because it would mean I made people think.

Perhaps, rather than fearing the written word, we should embrace the challenges it gives us. So read a banned book today, and question why it was banned. You might learn something about the society you live in.


Filed under Politics

Why Teens Shouldn’t Read Twilight

Why Young Women Shouldn’t Read Twilight.

In order to verify this I went to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website and took a look at these fifteen criteria. Now you go read them.

In order to go further, I have to admit that I have read the Twilight series. I did it for my 7th graders. In undergrad I was an education major, and since all of my 7th graders were buzzing about Twilight, I wanted to understand what on earth they were going on about. I finished the series, because my friend’s daughter was super excited about the books. I felt I could give her better books to read if I understood the appeal.

Here’s the thing – the books aren’t just terrible, but they’re the kind of easy read that sticks in your brain. They’re candy. But from this piece of information I have to conclude that they aren’t just candy – but incredibly dangerous candy. Because the checklist checks out. It’s true. On all sides. 

The books young women read have to stop setting the example that being abused by men is OK. Authors need to set out to not treat their characters this way, with particular regard to YA fiction. We are already raised in a society where it is hard to learn how to have a backbone. We already live in a society where saying “no” is not okay. We live in a society where the scene in which Jacob kisses Bella against her will gets her father to give him a high five. (and is meant to be funny).

Consent, care, and personal autonomy are all missing for women in this series. Yet it is always the woman’s fault. Every time I hear a young woman say that she wants to be like Bella Swann, or that she wants to have an Edward, I cringe. Because I would hope that they want a relationship free of harm.

It should not be considered “romantic that a man you barely know watches you sleep. It should not be considered “heartwarming” that in order to get her man back, Bella has to risk her life.

These are not the role models we need. We need women who stick up for themselves, women who find good partners, whether they be men or women. We certainly don’t need all fifteen criteria popping up in young adult fiction. Not in a world where domestic violence survivors are asked why they didn’t just run, or how they could “let” it happen to them.

Abuse is never romantic. Don’t let it seem that way. Give the young women in your lives books they can look up to, and books they can live by. Books that will teach them how to love, not how to submit.

Do you have a favorite positive role model for young women? Please share in the comments!



Filed under Feminism