Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coconut Oil

Tonight I'm getting my hair cut, so I spent last night trying to devise ways a cut could turn my hair into luscious, long locks a la Kate Middleton or Kate Beckinsale.

Since I've been thinking about hair, I thought I would share with you a fun little trick for making your hair super soft and shiny.

Coconut Oil!

Once a week, I heat up two tablespoons of coconut oil and massage it into my wet hair. Then I tie it all up on top of my head while I take a bath and shampoo it out right at the end (I usually skip conditioner so my hair doesn't look oily afterwards). My hair always feels really healthy and is incredibly soft and shiny afterwards. And because coconut oil absorbs right into your hair - instead of sitting on top of it - it also makes your hair look thicker and prevents breakage.

I always have coconut oil on hand because I cook with it, so this spa treatment doesn't really cost me anything. It is also organic and chemical free so it is good for your body and the earth!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Religious Groups Upset That They Have to Protect Women's Rights and Follow the Law

I've already written a long post on why the outcry from some religious groups over the administration's decision to require all institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception is ridiculous.So I'm not going to go into another rant. But the New York Times published an article today on the controversy the mandate is causing among Catholic universities, in particular, and I wanted to highlight one section I found particularly terrifying.

"Mr. Santorum has taken the position that health insurance plans should not be required to cover birth control. He also favors allowing states to decide whether to ban birth control. He and Mr. Gingrich both support “personhood” initiatives that would legally declare fertilized eggs to be persons, effectively banning not just all abortions but also certain contraceptives, including IUDs and some types of birth control pills."

I know I've said this before, and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but this is why it is so important that we protect access to contraception. Because the religious groups that are upset over having to provide coverage for contraception think of contraception as "poison," and "baby killers" and "murder." They literally think it is "demonic" and that Obama is Satan (I can't find links to these now, but I promise these make up the majority of comments on Catholic blogs). And they don't want anyone in the U.S. to have access to it. They want contraception to be illegal.

This is religious extremism at its worst.

This is not a murder weapon.
 P.S. Do you support the Obama administration's decision to protect women's rights? Send him a thank you note.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

On Saturday, I sat around all day wearing Brett's cozy flannel shirt, drinking tea, and reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

It was fantastic.

The Handmaid's Tale is a feminist dystopian novel, similar to George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. It is set in the not-so-distant future, when a Christian group has taken over the United States and established a totalitarian theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. The book is told from the perspective of a woman, Offred, who lives in the Republic of Gilead (Offred is a patronymic that means "Of Fred"). She is a "handmaid," a class of women who are used solely for their reproductive functions.

The book primarily explores themes of women's subjugation and what could potentially happen if an extremist Christian religious group took over the U.S. It offers a critique of theocratic fascism and the idealization of "traditional values," specifically the idea that women are best suited for the home and making babies. Interestingly, it also offers a critique of anti-pornography feminists (the book was written in 1985 when the "sex wars" between feminists were raging), and Atwood implies that these anti-pornography feminists gave the religious extremists too much power and became somewhat fascist themselves.

The novel is rife with biblical allusions and plays on the idea of basing a society's morality on the morality found in the Bible. Gilead (Genesis 31:21) is used in the Bible to refer to a mountain region east of the Jordan River, and is frequently translated to mean "heap/mount of testimony." The handmaids, such as Offred, are sent to the Rachel and Leah Re-education Center to train for the position of handmaid, and Atwood makes it clear that the Gileadean idea of the handmaids is derived from the story of Rachel and Leah found in Genesis 29-35. In the biblical story, Rachel and Leah, the two wives of Jacob, give their maids to Jacob so he can have (more) children through them. This biblical story is read by the husband to his wife and handmaid before they all engage in a bizarre fertility ritual.

Atwood has stated that "this is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions." I don't think she could have described it more accurately.

The book takes ideas that we hear all the time from the religious right today --  ideas like women should return to the home, that men are the rightful "head" of a household, that women shouldn't have access to birth control and/or abortion, and that women's pursuit of things like an education and career are to blame for a declining birth rate and the corruption of society -- and shows what happens if those ideas, and the people who believe in them, are allowed to influence law. In the novel, women are not allowed to be educated, to use birth control or have abortions, to work, travel freely, or hold private property. Divorce is declared invalid, and anyone who is in a second marriage when the Republic of Gilead is established is accused of adultery.

One of my favorite parts is about the wife of the husband Offred serves, who used to be a televangelist and was active in establishing the Republic of Gilead. She preached that women should return to the home, but becomes deeply depressed after the Republic is established and she is confined to the home and unable to speak in public. Through this story, Atwood critiques women who are active in political life while preaching domesticity, and implies that anti-feminist women would be unhappy if they actually lived out the traditional roles they idealize.

To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of this story is how quickly the United States became the Republic of Gilead. Much of it was done in the name of security (initially, an increase in military control is blamed on the need to protect from Islamic fundamentalists), and the constitution is actually suspended after the religious group realizes that the constitution does not, in fact, establish the religious theocracy they idealize. The warning of the novel is clear: you have to protect women's rights -- protect not just freedom of religion but freedom from religion -- because it is a slippery slope. Rights can be chipped at and taken away if we aren't careful, don't advocate for ourselves, and don't fight every attack.

Honestly, this is a book that everybody should read (the other one being the Price of Motherhood). Religious extremists are constantly trying to limit women's rights, take too much control of our government, and preach dangerous, limiting, and disempowering views on women and femininity. The Handmaid's Tale is a deeply distrubing picture of what our society could look like if these groups win. We don't want the Republic of Gilead to become our reality.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thank the Obama Administration!

Are you grateful that the Obama administration has stood with women and protected access to contraception? Do you believe, as the United Nations does, that access to contraception and family planning services are a fundamental right?

Then sign this thank you note to Obama!

I promise you, anti-choice extremists are protesting Obama's decision, so it is important for him to know that the majority of those in the US support him and access to contraception.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Shit People Say to Feminists

I know the "shit people say" videos have already made the rounds on the internet, but this was too funny - and accurate! - not to share.

"Whoa whoa whoa! Don't get all crazy feminist on me!"
"I believe in equal rights for women, but I am NOT a feminist."
"Men are discriminated against ALL the time too."
"But you're too pretty to be a feminist!"

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Military Spending

Source: The Global Fund for Women

Source: Informed Comment

With all this talk about how to reduce the deficit, I thought it might be fun to share these two graphs that show just how much we, as a country, spend on the military.

And people are worried that we spend too much on food stamps, education, and poverty reduction.....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State of the Union

Yesterday Obama delivered the State of the Union, the one day we all get to feel happy about everything we as a country are going to get done in the next year before realizing that none of it will actually happen.

I'm not going to give you a thorough analysis of Obama's speech, because there are a million of these on the internet that are much better than mine could ever be, but I will share with you ten things I learned yesterday about the state of our union.

1. Mitt Romney makes more than what I make in a year - every single day.

After releasing his tax returns to the public, we've learned that he made 21.7 million dollars in 2010. According to the IRS, the average median adjusted gross income is around $33,000. Romney makes more than that in a day. He also paid a tax rate of 13.9 percent, which is much less than the average middle-class American pays and less than other people in his income bracket pay.

2. The wealthiest 400 people in America now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

3. Obama said that women should earn equal pay for equal work. Yay Obama! But Boehner couldn't even clap. Did I miss something? Is equal pay a divisive, controversial, partisan issue?

4. Obama focuses on jobs and the economy, while it seems that Republicans and the Religious Right are mostly concerned with limiting access to women's rights. State of the Union vs. State of my Uterus!

5. The auto industry is back and there are going to be lots of green jobs and initiatives happening. That is great! But don't forget that these industries only employ a small number of women (approx 22% of jobs in the auto industry are held by women). Let's not make it a he-covery. Include women in recovery plans and jobs initiatives! 

6. Obama wants all students to stay in school until they are 18 or get their diploma.

7. I love Gabrielle Giffords so much I tear up every time I see her.

8. I tear up every time I see Gabrielle Giffords' husband because he loves her so much that you can just feel it and it is the sweetest thing in the whole world.

9.  Obama's joke was lame and Michelle Obama knew it. Major eye roll from Michelle (who totally rocked that blue dress).

10. The Republican response can be summed up by saying that the only thing they think Obama did right was kill bin Laden, and that they think Obama's statement that the rich should pay their fair share means he is super bossy and mean.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Feminist Mystique: On Finding Feminism in Beauty, Fashion, and the Everyday

I have a secret to share with you!

I like to read blogs about beauty, decorating, and fashion.

Gasp! Am I the only one who finds this hard to admit? I actually had a total crisis in college and thought I couldn't be a Women's Studies major because I enjoyed reading the US Weekly's my mom would bring me way too much. Then a professor mentioned reading US Weekly, and a feminist writer came in and talked to us about her analysis of The Bachelorette, and I felt redeemed (and then I found Jezebel and felt like I had entered some sort of snarky, feminist, pop-culture savvy heaven).

Being a feminist can be emotionally draining and difficult - we're aware of the sexism that surrounds us and spend a good portion of our time working on or reading about issues such as gender-based violence, sex trafficking, poverty, and attacks on reproductive rights. It is difficult stuff!  And even though it can be very rewarding, sometimes I find that it takes its toll; that I feel overwhelmed by the sexism, violence, and inequality around me.

So sometimes I check out and look at pretty pictures of dresses, or decorating ideas, or hair tutorials (I'm fast becoming a pinterest addict). It is a fun  little escape and offers a respite from the serious things in life. Indeed, sometimes I feel like I need these little escapes to remind myself that life can be fun and beautiful, even while we're working on the hard stuff - like destroying patriarchy.

One of the things you hear about doing feminist work is that it isn't sustainable. People usually mean this in two ways; that it isn't sustainable because it doesn't pay very well, and/or that it isn't sustainable because being a feminist is emotionally exhausting (this is a variant of the classic: you'll only be liberal while you're young. In the words of a friend, "don't you ever get sick of analyzing every article, every tv ad, every show, every tradition for sexism!"). The latter has already been addressed, and the former...well, it is true that feminist work, like most non-profit and advocacy work, doesn't pay very well. And that is a very real social and economic problem. It is unfortunate that so many professions, such as teaching and non-profit work, mean a trade-off in quality of life, or even that one can only do it for a few years because it is impossible to exist on such a salary.

I, however, am trying very hard to make it sustainable. I think the work is necessary, and I'd rather change my lifestyle and become less capitalistic - I'd rather learn to live simply on less- than give up the work.

My perusal of pretty dresses, decorating ideas, and beauty tips are all being shaped by these goal, by a desire to remind myself of the fun and the beautiful, and by a desire to live a more simple, natural, and chemical-free life (the many reasons for this last one will have to wait for a separate post). I've been thinking a lot about how much I buy and consume, and how much I have that I could give to others who need it more. I've been thinking about my impact on my fellow humanity and our planet. I've been thinking about how everything -- from the food you eat, to the shampoo you use, to the way you decorate -- can be political. After all, the personal is political! That is feminism 101.

This is actually one of the reasons why I started this blog, and why I named it the Feminist Mystique. I started writing a few months after I had graduated with a Master's and was suddenly thrown into the real world. A world where I couldn't just spend all day reading feminist theory, but had to live my feminism. And yet, I wasn't sure what feminism meant to me and how I could bring those values into the everyday. I'm still not sure.

So, while this is hardly a lifestyle blog, I'm going to start blogging a little about my desire to live more simply; to live as a feminist in every sense of the word. I'm going to share with you some things I do that make me happy and give me a fun break from the hard stuff, while also (hopefully) helping me to live a better, more simple life. And I'll share some fun, all-natural, not budget-breaking beauty, fashion, decorating, and cooking things as well.

I hope you find these posts helpful and fun!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Happy Birthday Roe v. Wade!

Happy, happy birthday Roe v. Wade! 

Source: Sweetapolita

It has been a tough fight -- one we're still fighting. But we're so thankful for you and the right to choose!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Women's Health and Religous Freedom

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared that health insurance plans must cover preventative services for women, including birth control. The goal is that all women, regardless of their faith or where they work or go to school, should have access to birth control if they so choose to use it- without having their access restricted by expensive co-pays or an insurance plan that does not cover contraception.

The move was strongly opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who wanted the law to allow for a religious exemption. Obama took their concerns seriously (too seriously, in my opinion), and a meeting with the U.S.C.C.B. sparked outrage and protest from many concerned about religious encroachment on women's health.

But yesterday we learned that Obama didn't pander to religious groups, who want to hide behind religion and religious exemptions to strip women of their rights and endanger their health. Or at least, he didn't totally pander to them. The ruling still includes a religious exemption that allows religious institutions, like churches, and small religious-based nonprofits that can prove that the majority of their employees are people of the same faith, to not provide insurance that covers contraception.

Unfortunately, some people of faith are absolutely outraged by the decision, calling it a "disaster" and saying that Obama is marginalizing people of faith and pandering to the far-left's sexual politics. Even the pope is involved, issuing an address to the bishops of the United States in which he says:

It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres... Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level. In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights.

There are also lots of comments with a liberals-are-so-quick-to-cry-out-separation-of-church-and-state-so-shouldn't-that-also-apply-to-this-outrage! theme.

Honestly, I think the outrage is ridiculous and demonstrates that many people don't understand exactly what separation of church and state means.

Obama isn't pandering to the far-left's sexual politics, because it isn't just the far-left who think that birth control should be accessible. And it isn't just crazy liberal women who use it. As the statement by the Dept of HHS itself says, "Birth control is the most commonly taken drug by young and middle-aged women." And as we know, 97% of Catholic women will use birth control at some point in their lives. This isn't pandering to some far-left sexual ideology, this is ensuring that women have access to a drug that they clearly want and use, one that is crucial to their health and quality of life.

Secondly, the law isn't forcing anyone to do anything that their faith prohibits. It isn't saying that people MUST use contraception. It simply says that if they want it, they need to have access to it. If you are a Catholic woman who strongly opposes contraception at a place where it is now covered by insurance, simply do not ask for a prescription for contraception. The ruling isn't encroaching on your religious freedom to do so.

One of the big concerns over a religious exemption was Catholic universities, where many non-Catholic students attend and many students - both Catholic and non-Catholic alike - are having sex and should be able to do so safely. From what I can tell, universities are one of the few places that will really be affected by the ruling, since churches and many religious non-profits are exempt. I'm sure many people would say something along the lines of, "If you're not Catholic, don't go to a Catholic school!" which is fine and dandy for them to say. However, it doesn't change the fact that by depriving non-Catholics, or Catholics who disagree with the idea that contraception is wrong, access to contraception, they are depriving those people of their rights and their religious freedom. Religious freedom means that you have a right to make a moral decision about your actions and behavior based on your religious beliefs. It does not mean that you have a right to make it impossible for other people to do something that contradicts your religious beliefs.

I suppose a final argument could be made that religious persons are now having to spend their tax money on something that they disagree with. And honestly, I sympathize. I do. Because I have had to pay taxes that largely fund wars I disagree with, prison systems I think are inhumane, a justice system that uses the death penalty, and programs I think are inefficient and ridiculous (hello, abstinence only sex-ed!). But the bottom line is that despite my objections, I had to pay them. Because while I can vote and advocate to change the system, I can't opt out of the system. Catholics, in in particular, should be well aware of the fact that that is how it works, because the last time I checked the Church also disagreed with the recent wars, our inhumane prison system, and the death penalty. Where is your outrage over your tax money being used for these things? Why do I only hear the "tax money" argument brought up around reproductive rights?

I think one of the reasons this ruling has been so difficult for certain religious groups is that it highlights an increasingly divergent understanding of religious freedom. To many religious groups, religious freedom means that no one in the U.S. should have a right to do something they find morally wrong; no one should have access to abortion, no gay couple should be allowed to get married, no one should be able to conduct stem cell research. Yet, as stated previously, that means they are depriving others of their right to religious freedom, to make decisions based on their own construction of morality.

That isn't religious freedom, that is religious tyranny.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You're Invited! All Our Kin Event in NYC

On January 19th, All Our Kin is hosting an exciting event in New York City. The event will feature a presentation on the economic impact of child care licensing initiatives on child care providers, low-income parents, and children. Speakers include Dr. Shyama Venkateswar from the National Council for Research on Women and Helen Blank from the National Women's Law Center. If you have some free time that morning, swing by to grab some (free!) breakfast and learn about feminist economic development. Click here for more information and an event flyer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Closing the Achievement Gap in Connecticut

On Monday, I testified on behalf of the organization I work for, All Our Kin, at Connecticut's Achievement Gap Task Force Meeting. The achievement gap in Connecticut between  low-income and non-low-income students is the largest in the country, so obviously this is a critical issue. Read my testimony here. Or watch the task force meeting in its entirety here.