Monday, April 28, 2014

From the Archive: Price discrimination is never OK (an open letter to JC Penney)

"From the Archive" is a series of posts that I wrote on past, no-longer-updated blogs that I feel are good enough to need a new home.

This post was originally written in February 2011.

Dear JC Penney:

To the left is a photo I took over the summer, in one of your stores near Buffalo, NY. I believe it was in the Walden Galleria mall, but precise location doesn't really matter as you have consistent stock across the country.

What you see is the exact same style shirt, only one is taken from the misses department and the other is from the plus sizes. The most important thing to note is that the plus size shirt costs $14 more than the misses size.

This is not OK.

There is absolutely no logical reason a size 1X should be more expensive than a size XL. I know what the stock answers are - that plus size clothing requires more fabric or that it is more complicated to make and therefore requires more skilled (and costly) construction.

I will refrain from using profanity in this letter, but let me say that my gut reaction to that "explanation" generally involves the excrement of male cattle.

Especially in this case. See, this is a t-shirt with some non-functional decorative buttons sewn to the front. This is not an underwire bra, a metal corset, a wedding dress or some other item that must conform perfectly to the wearer's body to function properly. IT IS A T-SHIRT. It's made of cotton; intended to hang from the shoulders and maybe cling to the lumps and bumps of the person inside. The construction does not vary greatly with size.

The other common excuse - that plus sizes require more fabric - wouldn't hold much water, either. The two shirts pictured above are an XL and a 1X. Arguably, those are barely different sizes at all. Now, I tried both on and I can say that the 1X had a little bit more room in it, but it didn't feel like it was even a whole size bigger than the XL. If higher supply cost were truly the case, all clothing would have prices that grade up with size. I mean, it takes more fabric to make a medium or large than it does to make an extra small, and yet those are always the same price. The cutoff point at which your company is charging more is arbitrary - based on a pre-determined line between sizes that are considered normal and ones that are othered. But there is no real difference if you look at it objectively.

So why do you, as a company, feel compelled to contribute to the rampant discrimination that plus sized people (in the case of this shirt, plus size women) already face on a daily basis? Is it not enough that we encounter taunts from strangers, rude comments from family and "friends," are ostracized from most clothing stores, kicked off airplanes, and constantly treated like we are stupid, lazy, gluttonous or hideous? Is it not enough that doctors ignore our legitimate concerns or blame every little thing on fat? Since fat people are more likely to be discriminated against for employment and more likely to live in poverty, how does it even make sense to try and charge us more?

And did you really think we were too stupid to notice? Luckily, my body is on the cusp between plus sizes and misses, so I grabbed a shirt from each department. Someone who is slightly larger might not even know the shirt was made in misses sizes, and therefore wouldn't know she was being charged more simply because of her natural body type.

This price gouging and discriminatory practice must end. I realize that this particular shirt is probably no longer in stores, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's not the first or last time you've cheated your fatter customers out of some of their hard-earned money. Therefore I demand that styles be the same price across departments. If they are the same style, there is absolutely no legitimate reason for them to be more expensive in plus sizes. Comparable styles must be comparably priced. Otherwise, you are committing an egregious act of size discrimination. I, for one, will not buy another item from JC Penney until it is rectified, and I will encourage my family, friends, and internet followers (yes, I have some) to do the same.

I encourage you to do the right thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Tunes: The Bird and the Bee - "Again and Again"

Welcome to Tuesday tunes, a new regular feature I'm introducing. Each week, I'm going to share a song that I've been listening to. I hope it will be a fairly interesting and eclectic mix, because my taste can be all over the place. Enjoy!

Consent and Misogyny on 'Game of Thrones'

What the hell world do we live in that we can't even have consensual menstruation incest anymore?

During this week's episode of Game of Thrones (which will get a full recap later this week) we saw some of the immediate follow-up to Joffrey's death, including a scene between Jaime and Cersei.

In the books, Jaime is not present for Joffrey and Margaery's wedding, and does not return to King's Landing until after his nephew/son is dead. His first encounter with Cersei is when he enters the sept -- this is chapter 62 of A Storm of Swords -- as she stands over the king's body in mourning. The pair have grief-fueled period sex right on one of the altars, which plays out like this:

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue. "No," she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, "not here. The septons . . . "

"The Others can take the septons." He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother's altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon's blood was on her, but it made no difference.

"Hurry," she was whispering now, "quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime." Her hands helped guide him. "Yes," Cersei said as he thrust, "my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you're home now, you're home now, you're home." She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair. Jaime lost himself in her flesh. He could feel Cersei's heart beating in time with his own, and the wetness of blood and seed where they were joined.

There is some resistance from Cersei at first, but ultimately she is enthusiastic about wanting him. The notion of consent in this scene as written starts off a little murky but is is, in my opinion, a clear yes at the end. This entire situation played out very differently in the show.

On television, Cersei never gives consent, and never says or acts as though she wants her brother/lover. Jaime forces himself on her, in a rather brutal and violent way, while she begs him to stop. It's rape. There is no other way to look at it. The show writers took a scene that is complicated and full of grief, passion, and a whole host of other emotions and boiled it down to Jaime assaulting Cersei next to the body of their dead son.

While the universe that this story is set in does include regular threats of rape, there are a lot of times where it fits. It's brutal and horrific, of course, and it's not comfortable to watch, but given the point in history on which Westeros is loosely based (yes, it is a fictional world, but there are elements and events that are inspired at least in part by medieval times), it does work within the narrative.

So, yes, I expect a certain amount of violence against women, because there's violence against everyone -- men, women, children, direwolves (I'm still not completely over Lady). But since there already is so much brutality going around, the show's writers do not by any means need to add in any additional horror, and they certainly don't need to mangle character development to do so.

Previously, they added in the murder of the prostitute Ros. If you don't remember, she was one of the women Tyrion hired to try and screw away some of Joffrey's more horrible qualities. That didn't work, of course, because instead of sex the boy king decided to make the women abuse each other, then ultimately killed Ros with a crossbow. It seems that the scenario was added in to highlight Joff's cruelty, but that was already quite clear. He beheaded the father of his betrothed and then made her look at his mounted head, among many other things. We were already well aware of what a skidmark the kid was, which made Ros' murder completely gratuitous. In the books, when Daenerys marries Khal Drogo, they do not consummate the relationship until she says "yes." However, on the show, he forced her to have sex regardless.

Jaime Lannister was, until last night, on something of a path to redemption. We knew him as the Kingslayer, and someone who is willing to murder a child, but on his road back with Brienne of Tarth, he seemed to be growing, even softening a little. He lied to their captors to save Brienne from being raped, for example. Even some of his prior brutality -- like pushing Bran from a window -- was done out of love. Whatever else he may do, he adores Cersei and will do practically anything for her. It was torture for him to know she was being harmed when she was married to Robert. There is no sense to or context for the way he attacked her.

There is simply no good reason for this scene to have played out the way it did. It's gratuitous, does not further the story, and is completely out of character. As great as this show is in many ways, it has made a few misogynistic missteps, and this week's unnecessary rape scene was one of the more egregious ones.

Monday, April 21, 2014

From the Archive: Writing to Congresspeople about H.R. 3

"From the Archive" is a series of posts that I wrote on past, no-longer-updated blogs that I feel are good enough to need a new home.

This post was originally written in January 2011.

Judging by this site, my Representative is Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. I think she's pretty lefty and is probably opposed to H.R. 3 anyway, but you never know, so I wrote a letter that I plan to send her. I guess now it counts as an open letter:

Dear Congresswoman:

Let me start by saying that I'm adamantly pro-choice. I believe that if a woman needs or wants an abortion, she should have it, no matter the circumstances. Her family, her partner, her doctor (barring legitimate medical necessity) and certainly the government should not get to dictate otherwise. It's her decision. I also believe that all reproductive health procedures - yes, including abortion - should be covered by whatever insurance the woman has. If it's private, fine, but also if it's government-based care like Medicaid. Even the procedures that make people uncomfortable should be covered.

I think that H.R. 3, which would limit access to abortion funds for rape victims based on the circumstances of the attack, is disgusting.

I'm not, at this point, a rape survivor. Luck has been on my side and I am not one of the 1 in 4 women who has been sexually assaulted.

So far.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where that could change at any time. It's something I think about when I walk home from the subway at night; when I have to cut through a park; when I meet a new man; when I get a drink at a party or a bar. Despite how cautious I am in all those situations, I could be attacked. Simply because I was born female, I have to worry about this.

John Boehner does not.

As a heterosexual, cisgendered man, the new Speaker of the House has likely never dealt with that sort of fear. He has probably never been cat-called on the street or had someone stalk him back and forth on a nearly-empty subway platform. No one will ever tell him he was asking for it; that he shouldn't have been drinking, shouldn't have accepted that ride home, or shouldn't have been wearing such a short skirt.

The same goes for most of the sponsors of the bill -- if you read the list, all but a few are male.

Congress has no business creating a hierarchy among rape survivors. All rapes are horrible, violent crimes by nature. Whether the attacker used physical force, drugs, coercion or some other method doesn't matter. Rape is rape, a crime is a crime, and a survivor deserves the dignity of having all options available to her (I say her, because while men do get raped, they will never need to seek an abortion after).

Sadly, we live in a world where I could rattle off a short list of friends I know to be rape survivors -- and I'm sure there are even more who haven't told me.

I don't know the details or circumstances for all of them -- and I don't need to. Each of them, along with all other survivors, deserves the same -- justice, of course, but also access to all the treatment they need and choose to have, including abortion. No matter how they got there.

And if my luck runs out and I am ever attacked, I would demand the same.

So I urge you to respect all sexual assault victims and preserve their dignity by voting NO to H.R. 3. It is a horrifying, appalling and unnecessary bill that will ultimately harm more people than it could ever help.

I urge everyone to write to their representatives about this. No matter who they are, but especially if you live in a district represented by one of the people who support this bill. Especially if you can inform them that next time you are in the voting booth, where they stood on this bill may influence what lever you pull (or button you push, or whatever).

Also, if you click on the link above and look at the full text, at least four of the sponsoring Representatives are women. That just makes my soul ache.

Monday, April 14, 2014

From the Archive: #DearJohn - another hashtag of note

"From the Archive" is a series of posts that I wrote on past, no-longer-updated blogs that I feel are good enough to need a new home.

This post was originally written in January 2011.

This time, it's not horrifying the way #rulesforgirls was.

The #DearJohn hashtag started in response to the HR3 bill - which is on the surface about federally-funded abortion but more importantly would re-define rape to include ONLY instances of force. Rapes that involve coercion or drugs, as well as statutory rape and incest on anyone over 18, would not be covered if they resulted in a pregnancy that the woman wanted to terminate.

Basically, it's a giant clusterf@#$ that serves only to endanger women and empower rapists.

So some awesome feministas have taken to Twitter, much like they did with the #mooreandme tag, to address tweets to Speaker of the House John Boehner, explaining to the self-righteous, overly-spray-tanned disaster of a speaker that HR3 is disgusting, appalling and unacceptable. They are also directed at different members of Congress to urge them to vote AGAINST this terrible bill.

The original call to action (with hashtag) appeared on Tiger Beatdown. They also linked to a site where you can find your representative and write to them.

I don't know if a Twitter campaign can truly change policy. I'd like to think it can - it certainly shows that the people are unhappy with this bill, and theoretically it's the people that Congress was elected to represent. I'd like to think at least some Representatives see what their constituents think and act accordingly. It's also somewhat heart-warming to see people use social media this way. In between idiocy and terrible grammar, people are speaking out about something important.

Monday, April 7, 2014

From the Archive: My rule for girls is not to listen to sexist hashtags

"From the Archive" is a series of posts that I wrote on past, no-longer-updated blogs that I feel are good enough to need a new home.

This post was originally written in January 2011.

OK, it's going to seem like a major idea rip-off, because Jezebel now has a post up on this very idea. But I have been rolling it around in my head, trying to think of something coherent to say that wasn't just a string of curse words. But I'll keep it brief, because now it's been covered.

The #rulesforgirls tag on Twitter is disgusting. Appalling. Horrifying. Etc.

And for awhile there, it was trending.

So it's a collection of "tips" for the ladies. That in and of itself is a bad idea - why do women need a whole separate set of rules to follow? I'm not sure if what's worse - the tweets that are deliberately malicious "jokes" or the ones that appear to be sincere.

There's a lot of "fat chicks shouldn't wear leggings/get tattoos/exist in public and be happy" and of course rules on properly conducting yourself regarding the sexytimes, but there are also lots of sad gender role upholding. For example, "cook for him in stilettos" and "don't behave like a dude." (I'm not entirely sure what that even means.)

And it looks like now there's a #rulesformen tag trending. Guess what? It's still pretty anti-woman sounding. It tells men what kind of women to avoid and what to have women do or not do for them. So, no matter who the tags are aimed at, they're still all about what women can do for men.

And don't get me started on why men are men but women are girls. Plus, Twitter grammar makes my soul die a little.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I Took a Bellydance Class

Awhile ago, I saw an article saying white women shouldn't take bellydance classes, because it's cultural appropriation and changing (westernizing) the expectations of audiences.

I am really sympathetic to the complaints of appropriation. I promise. Absolutely, I do not want to participate in the dilution or desecration of sacred elements of another culture. But I do want to explain why I, a white lady, have taken bellydance classes.

I'm fat. As a child, taking ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, my body was scoffed at (less so in jazz than the others, I will say). The studio where I took classes once explicitly stated you had to be thin to try out for one of their productions. Generally, forms of dance associated with American audiences are about as far from body positive as you can get.

Before taking classes, I knew next to nothing about bellydance. I'm still not going to claim anything other than beginner knowledge. But one thing I did know was that it was supposed to be a form of dance that was overwhelmingly accepting of different shapes, and even celebrated those with a little jiggle.

I signed up because, despite the horrible way my body was treated as a child, I enjoy the act of dancing. I signed up because I wanted to participate in an activity I like in an environment that would appreciate my figure.

Admittedly, I was unfortunate. The bellydance classes I took were taught by an instructor who kept mentioning bikini bodies. I quit those, and am looking for somewhere else to go.

That kind of attitude sounds like exactly what the author of the original article was unhappy about. The American mentality of associating movement with weight loss is frustrating, and has no place here.

So now I'm torn -- how do I continue an activity that helps me feel good about myself without perpetuating the very things my presence represents? How do I reconcile the intersection between body positivity and cultural appropriation? I don't want to cause harm, but I also want to exercise self-care, so where is the line between the two?

There are almost definitely not single answers to these questions, but whenever we engage in cross-cultural activities, we should be thinking about them, and about how we may contribute to positive and negative associations with different groups of people.