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All Apologies

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Feb 2, 2013 11:50 AM 66,116 570

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Stop Apologizing! Why Are Women So ‘Sorry’ All the Time?

Karyn Polewaczyk

Men and women will supposedly both apologize for their wrongdoings, but because we ladies are more prone to “commit personal offenses” (as in, we think we’re making everyone mad when we speak up), we’re more apt to apologize when we sense we’ve been the wrongdoer, even if the other person is totally oblivious to our perceived faults. I call bullshit.

A few weeks ago I had plans to meet a friend for coffee when she sent me a last-minute text saying that she couldn’t make it. Actually, let me rewind: I received a string of five or six texts pleading for my mercy and salvation if I could just let her off the hook so she could take care of her sick kid. I was already sitting in the café we’d agreed to meet at, flipping through a magazine to pass the time, when the first message chimed from the table: “Ugggggggh.”

I was about to ask if she was stuck behind a slow walker when the next text appeared: “You’re going to kill me.” And a third: “But please don’t hate me.” My finger moved to hit ‘Reply’ when her confession appeared: “I can’t make it, and I’m sooooo sorry.” The fifth and sixth texts went into tacit detail about puke on the living room rug and a miserable baby — and could we please reschedule, please?!?!

Immediately, I morphed into my alter ego, Sympathetic Single Girlfriend — every mommy needs at least one—and let her know that all was fine, and that she especially didn’t have to apologize. She seemed relieved (“Thank you sooooo much!”), yet remorseful (“I owe you big time. I’m really sorry”). I sent back a smiley emoticon to acknowledge receipt, slightly annoyed at the change in agenda but otherwise okay, and hit the road.

Lest you think I’m some high-and-mighty bitch who dallies around her friends’ grievances while they’re left to clean up shitty diapers, ask yourself: How many times have you been that texter, in some way, shape or form? And how many times have you received the alphanumeric equivalent of an apology bouquet for a minor hiccup?

According to this (old-ish, for the Internet, but it was all I could find to back my point up) Scientific American report, probably more than a few times. In fact, probably a lot. ‘Cause, see—it’s a she thing. Men and women will supposedly both apologize for their wrongdoings, but because we ladies are more prone to “commit personal offenses” (as in, we think we’re making everyone mad when we speak up), we’re more apt to apologize when we sense we’ve been the wrongdoer, even if the other person is totally oblivious to our perceived faults. Men? They just have a “higher threshold” for offensive behavior, so it’s cool, yo.

Yeah, I don’t think so. While it’s easy to chart the number of times someone apologized during a scientifically-controlled study, I don’t think women are genetically programmed to act like this, or that men have a “higher threshold” for offensive behavior. I think it’s that women are expected to be exceptionally grateful for the crumbs tossed our way—and so we show our gratitude by cushioning our wants with a series of, “I know this is asking a lot, but…”, “I hate to ask, but could you…” and “I might sound like an idiot for wondering, but…”-isms. In the case of my friend, she felt bad—that was obvious—but she wasn’t committing a serious sin. Nor was it evil of me to ask the guy who stood directly in front of me at a concert to move out of my way so I could see the stage, or to send back an underwhelming meal at an overpriced restaurant, or ask a cab driver if I could use a credit card to pay my fare (Boston, can you hear me?)—and yet I’ve prefaced these proverbial shoulder taps with, “I’m so sorry to ask this, but…”

Or, take the case of our careers. You don’t need to look far to see that women are seriously kicking ass—glass ceiling be damned—but our pay lags, and as a writer, it pains me to see that there’s a huge disparity between the amount of work published by men and the amount of work published by women. Do we feel greedy for wanting to stick our hands in the proverbial cookie jar, or are we afraid it’ll shatter once we’re in? (Speaking of cookies and gender stereotypes: toss me that apron, would you? You’re busy? Oh my GOD, I am so sorry for interrupting! Here, take one of my kidneys as recourse. I won’t bother you again. Ever.)

Call me old fashioned—there I go with the gender stereotypes again!—but I think it’s time we ditch our guilt complexes and inner Pollyannas, and while we’re at it, retire stale phrases like “Tooting my own horn” and “Sorry I’m not sorry!” (because, like, what does that even mean?). We don’t need balls of steel to keep us steady when the answer is ‘No’ or if we sense disappointment. We just need a bit of courage—my mentor calls it “ruthlessness”—and patience. (Another anecdote: I was interviewed by the Huffington Post about the concept of “dating yourself,” and I prefaced my answer to one of their questions with, “I know this probably seems narcissistic…” Uh, duh! It’s my opinion. Which they asked for. Moving on.) Feeling overwhelmed by your to do list? Figure out your priorities, and cancel the remainder accordingly. Have a banner year at work and want a raise? Gather your evidence, and request an annual review. Think you’ve got the writing chops and want a byline somewhere? Then pitch, girl, pitch.

If that doesn’t move you, you can always take heed to the advice proffered by the very unapologetic Madonna in her 1992 book, Sex: “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.”


Oh, So You Really Think The Female Body Works Like That?

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Oh, So You Really Think The Female Body Works Like That?

The Hawkeye Initiative takes one basic premise, that you can fix every “Strong Female Character” pose in comics by replacing that character with Hawkeye doing the same pose, and applies it to actual comic book panels and covers. If you don’t read comics, you might better remember Hawkeye as the archer from a little-known movie called “The Avengers” (although he usually looks more like this).

Scroll down for some of my favorite examples of Hawkeye getting his “female empowerment” on … comic book style.

ORIGINALS: By The Hawkeye Initiative. The first image on this list was created by artist Blue, who swapped Hawkeye and Black Widow. Blue then teamed up with webcomic creator Noelle Stevenson to challenge other artists to submit their own Hawkeye-ified illustrations. The drawing of Hawkeye as Emma Frost was drawn by curseofthefanartlords, the drawing of Hawkeye as Black Canary was drawn by foundbysara, Hawkeye as Mary Jane was drawn by exittt, and Hawkeye as Star Sapphire was drawn by thecolourfulway.

Fair or unfair? Even Capuchin monkeys recognize unequal pay

Video

By Dana Macario, TODAY contributor

You do your job, you get paid. Life is good, right?

Unless you’re a monkey — and you see your buddy is getting a better reward than you for doing the exact same task.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist and Emory University professor, conducted an experiment on Capuchin monkeys about 10 years ago, which he dubbed the “Fairness Study.” During the study, two monkeys were each asked to perform a task for a reward. If you’re a monkey, a chunk of cucumber is an acceptable reward, but you know you’re really keeping up with the Joneses when you get rewarded with grapes.

In the viral video, uploaded to YouTube in May, the first time a monkey completes the required task (which involved handing a lab worker a small rock), he is paid with a small chunk of cucumber. But then the monkey discovers his buddy is rewarded with a grape — valuable currency in the monkey world — for doing the exact same job. Well, that wasn’t going to fly. What was going to fly were chunks of cucumber as the first monkey, now green with envy, pounds the table in protest and rattles the walls of his cage.

“So, this is basically the Wall Street protest that you see here,” says de Waal, referring to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

De Waal as his colleague, Sarah Brosnan, published their findings in the journal Nature in 2003. The video from May has gone viral, with more than 1.2 million views.

That’s all he ever wanted…

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Why I Want a Wife

By Judy Syfers (1971)

(Note: This classic piece of feminist humor appeared in the premier issue of Ms. Magazine and was widely circulated in the women’s movement.)

I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife.

And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother. Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?

I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children’s clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturing attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they have an adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife’s income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.

I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals,serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue care for me and my when I need a rest and change of scene. I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of studies. And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.

I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who take care of the baby-sitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my quests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d’oeuvres, that they are offered a second helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.

I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.

If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.

When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife’s duties.

 

My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?

War on Women, Waged in Postcards: Memes From the Suffragist Era

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War on Women, Waged in Postcards: Memes From the Suffragist Era

November 1st, 2012
 By Lisa Hix

“Do hormones drive women’s votes?” That headline is not from a newspaper published in 1892 or 1922, but from CNN online in 2012. Posted just last week, the story survived all of seven hours, weathering ridicule from the blogosphere, before the news hub “determined that some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN.”

“Should women with school-age children work? Should men co-parent? We’re having the same debates.”

No kidding. Check out the lead: “There’s something that may raise the chances for both presidential candidates that’s totally out of their control: women’s ovulation cycles.” This statement bears an uncomfortable similarity to the early 20th-century postcards opposing the right of women to vote. One hundred year later, women may well influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. According to New York Times statistician Nate Silver, the gender gap is as wide as it’s ever been. His math shows that if only women voted, Democratic President Barack Obama would crush Republican challenger Mitt Romney; whereas if only men voted, Romney would easily defeat Obama.

Here’s another fact that may astonish you: In the United States, most women haven’t even had the right to vote for 100 years. The 19th Amendment only passed in 1920, a mere 92 years ago. And suffragists, as advocates for women’s voting rights were known, spent nearly that long—more than 80 years—pushing the cause.

Top: A little boy reprimands a young suffragist for ignoring her dolls in this U.S.-made card marked "BS." Above: In 1909, the Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company of New York issued possibly the most beautiful set of 12 anti-suffrage cards ever. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

Top: A little boy reprimands a young suffragist for ignoring her dolls in this U.S.-made card marked “BS.” Above: In 1909, the Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company of New York issued possibly the most beautiful set of 12 anti-suffrage cards ever. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

Lucretia Mott, from Philadelphia, blazed the trail in 1840 when she attempted to lead a delegation of women to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where her group was denied seats. She then got together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to host the first American woman suffrage convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, which led to a pro-suffrage statement called “The Declaration of Sentiments.”

“Mobs overwhelmed the parade route, spitting and yelling at the women. The police didn’t hold the mobs back.”

Most suffragists were also involved in campaigns to abolish slavery, and so the crusade for women’s right got put on hold, particularly during the Civil War. But when the 15th Amendment gave black men, but no women, the right to vote in 1869, Stanton felt thwarted. So she joined with Susan B. Anthony and formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, which merged with another group to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890.

“When the amendment was passed to give rights to black men, former slaves, Anthony and Stanton were incredibly frustrated by this,” says Catherine H. Palczewski, a professor of women’s and gender studies at University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls. “That’s where the racist component of the suffrage campaign comes in. Stanton and Anthony did not support black male suffrage unless women were also given the right to vote. They were also frustrated that the 15th Amendment was one of the first legal documents that made it clear that only men had the full rights of citizenship, including voting, and one of the first places where hard-and-fast distinctions between men’s and women’s rights got enshrined.”

The women who participated in this 1913 pro-suffrage march on Washington, D.C., were yelled at and spat upon by an angry mob. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The women who participated in this 1913 pro-suffrage march on Washington, D.C., were yelled at and spat upon by an angry mob. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The Wild West, as it turns out, tended to be more progressive in this matter. Decades before they even became states, the territories of Wyoming and Utah gave women the right to vote in 1869 and 1870, respectively. The states of Colorado and Idaho granted women the right to vote in 1893 and 1896.

In the United Kingdom, Parliament began to politely ignore the matter of women’s voting rights in the mid-1800s, when pressed by Millicent Fawcett and her National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). It wasn’t until Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel founded the radical, militant group called the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 that anyone began paying attention. For the next 11 years, these “Suffragettes,” as they were dubbed in the press, declared war on the British government, breaking windows, chaining themselves to railing, and on occasion, setting off bombs.

Starting in 1909, imprisoned Suffragettes going on hunger strikes were often force-fed by their jailers, a form of torture that made them ill. Some even died from it. Copyright June Purvis.

Starting in 1909, imprisoned Suffragettes going on hunger strikes were often force-fed by their jailers, a form of torture that made them ill. Some even died from it. Copyright June Purvis.

“The Suffragettes said, ‘Deeds not words,’” says June Purvis, a professor of women’s and gender history at the University of Porstmouth, United Kingdom, whose collection was featured on Brain Pickings this summer. “They used a lot of legal tactics like campaigning to Parliament, putting up posters, and speaking at meetings. And they also engaged in a lot of illegal tactics, like destroying postboxes, cutting telephone wires, and setting fire to empty buildings. But the aim was never to kill anybody.”

When arrested, Suffragettes would go on hunger strikes. Often, they were force-fed in prison, a form of torture that often made them ill and even killed some. To save face, the British government passed the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act (commonly called “The Cat and Mouse Act”) in 1913, which released women when they were ill to die outside of jail. If they recovered, they could be re-arrested.

The 1913 British law known as "The Cat and Mouse Act" released Suffragettes who were sick from the force-feeding so they could recover (or die) at home. Once the women were well again, they could be re-arrested. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The 1913 British law known as “The Cat and Mouse Act” released Suffragettes who were sick from the force-feeding so they could recover (or die) at home. Once the women were well again, they could be re-arrested. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

World War I in 1914 forced England and the Suffragettes into a truce, and after the war, property-owning women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote in 1918. It wasn’t until 1928 that all women over the age of 21 received the right to vote in the United Kingdom.

“They were depicted as very ugly women with big feet, protruding teeth, hair pulled back in a bun, and glasses.”

“The social pressures that resisted suffrage can’t be underestimated.” Palczewski says. “It wasn’t just that women had to fight for the right to vote, but women had to fight for the right to speak in public to be able to advocate for their own rights. The phrase ‘public woman’ actually referred to prostitutes. The assumption was, if you were out in public as a woman, unescorted, you were a prostitute. The battle for suffrage wasn’t just about the legal right to vote, but it was also about women’s ability to be public figures, not confined to the home. It was more broadly about women’s role in society.”

Inspired by the WSPU in England, Alice Paul helped organize a 1913 national pro-suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. At the time, women asserting First Amendment rights to assemble peaceably was considered radical.

A woman dominates her husband in this Bamforth postcard. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

A woman dominates her husband in this Bamforth postcard. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“Mobs overwhelmed the parade route, spitting, yelling, and assaulting the women,” Palczewski says. “The police didn’t hold the mobs back. The Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, ended up having to call in the cavalry from a nearby military base to clear the route so the parade could finish. This made national headlines, such as ‘Hooligans Vs. Gentlewomen,’ and even the New York Times, who were not kind to woman suffrage, covered the parade as a moment where civil society had failed women. One news story quoted an officer as yelling, ‘If my wife were where you are now, I’d crack her head open.’ It was a turning point in the PR campaign.”

In 1916, Paul left the NAWSA to form the more militant National Woman’s Party in the United States. Like her British contemporaries, she was also put in jail, where went on a hunger strike and was force-fed eggs through a feeding tube.

A large set of motto postcards was published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association itself in 1910. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

A large set of motto postcards was published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association itself in 1910. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The response was extreme, but at the time, the U.S. Suffragists and U.K. Suffragettes were upending wide-held social mores. Victorians firmly believed in the concept of “separate spheres,” meaning men were more naturally suited for the public life of politics, law, higher education, and business, while women were meant for the private life, dealing with domestic matters like maintaining a home, raising children, and upholding religious piety.

These sentiments, particularly the priority and sanctity of motherhood, are still echoed by politicians today, from First Lady Michelle Obama’s declaration that her most important role is “Mom-in-Chief” to Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s anecdote about how, as Massachusetts governor, he let his female chief of staff go home early to make dinner for her kids. President Barack Obama talks about the sacrifices his single mother made for him, while Romney champions the ideal of the two-parent home, where husbands and wives adopt traditional gender roles.

The women here are smoking, playing poker, and eating chocolate while the man cleans and tends to the baby. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The women here are smoking, playing poker, and eating chocolate while the man cleans and tends to the baby. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

Of course, at the turn of the century, no one had Facebook, TVs, or radios, and very few people had telephones, so the hot new medium for expressing ideas were cheap color-lithographed postcards, which had their Golden Age between 1893 and 1918 when the postage was pennies. Thus, postcards became the favored method for anti-suffragists to mock feminists and assert the status quo. It’s estimated that 4,500 different designs addressing suffrage were produced.

“There were two types of postcards primarily,” Purvis says. “The suffrage societies themselves produced their own postcards, which were mainly photographs of the leaders. But the bulk of the postcards were commercial comic postcards making fun of the Suffragettes.”

A gathering of unattractive spinsters plots against men in this British postcard. Copyright June Purvis.

A gathering of unattractive spinsters plots against men in this British postcard. Copyright June Purvis.

The messages you find on anti-suffrage postcards from the 1910s are not dissimilar from what you might hear from Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly today in the 2010s. Suffragettes were drawn as conniving coquettes, ugly, mean spinsters or, worse, ugly, mean wives who left their families helpless as they attended town-hall meetings. Scenes of women politicians showed them hatching diabolical plots to undermine and emasculate men further. In England, particularly offensive cards took sadomasochistic delight in the force-feeding, while sympathetic cards depicted women as beat-up cats, referring to the Cat and Mouse Act.

“Married Suffragettes were depicted as nagging wives, that was a common one, and the wife was always big, and the husband tiny and puny,” Purvis says. “Or, if they were single, Suffragettes were depicted as very ugly women with big feet, protruding teeth, hair pulled back in a bun, and glasses. They were depicted as quite mannish and unattractive so that no man would want to marry them.”

Many postcards mocked "masculine women" who wanted to wear pants.

Many postcards mocked “masculine women” who wanted to wear pants.

Naturally, it was assumed that giving women the right to vote would lead to other freedoms, which threatened to smash the separate spheres. Ironically, when men were shown the chores of child-rearing and housekeeping, these tasks were depicted as stressful, humiliating, and misery-making. “Manly” activities like voting, smoking cigars, attending meetings, and wearing pants looked dignified and invigorating, even as the smug Suffragettes partook in them. Why would women want to get stuck with all the dreary domesticity while men got to go out and have all the rights?

“That was a common theme, that if women were given political power they would crush men and upset the gender roles in society, particularly in the family,” Purvis says. “So if women got the vote, a woman could ask a man to marry her. If women got the vote, men would have to look after the children.”

Palczewski says these postcards are important records of history, revealing the zeitgeist of the time, very much like today’s online memes (such as the Romney-inspired Binders Full of Women Tumblr) that repeat the same ideas over and over. Several different images can be found for “Suffragette Vote-Getting” showing a woman kissing a man, or the “Suffragette Madonna,” depicting a saintly man holding a baby.

The 1909 Dunston-Weiler set is notable because the Suffragettes are depicted as attractive, but scandalously sexually available. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The 1909 Dunston-Weiler set is notable because the Suffragettes are depicted as attractive, but scandalously sexually available. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“If you read the spoken discourse for and against suffrage, there are all sorts of arguments that women getting the vote will masculinize them and make them lose their feminine identity,” she says. ”But there’s not much about what women’s vote will do to men. But all over the postcards, there are these images of men being feminized. There’s stuff in postcards that you’re not going to find in other archives.”

At least, five motto postcards issued by the NAWSA talk about working women paying the same taxes as men, and therefore, deserving the same rights. But Palczewski says that in the United States, working-class women were not as much part of the movement as middle-class white women.

In anti-suffrage postcards, babies were usually crying for their absent mothers, or the women were depicted as whining babies. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

In anti-suffrage postcards, babies were usually crying for their absent mothers, or the women were depicted as whining babies. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“What women are we talking about?” Palczewski says. “Slaves always worked, without pay. Poor women worked in factories. But the proof of a white man’s manliness was that his wife didn’t have to work. So in the U.S., suffrage was framed as a middle- and upper-class white woman’s struggle. What woman would see she could have been a captain of industry, lawyer, or politician if she were a man? White, privileged women saw that sex was the thing that was keeping them back. For women of color, poor women, immigrant women, it was a constellation of things that impacted their standing in society.”

While publishers mostly produced anti-suffrage comic cards, on occasion they made pro-suffrage cards, too. In “The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards,” Susan Brown Nicholson explains that often postcard artists of the era would draw an image that would be used on both pro and con postcards. Nicholson says that you’re more likely to find pro-suffrage cards unused, possibly because the social climate of the time made it safer to keep these postcards or exchange them face-to-face. Palczewski says it’s more that some postcards could be read both ways, like the Bamforth postcard of a large, old woman being carried off by a police officer, his hands between her legs, and she’s saying “Slow march, constable, I’m having the time of my life!”

This particularly risque Bamforth card could be read as both pro-and anti-Suffragette. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

This particularly risque Bamforth card could be read as both pro-and anti-Suffragette. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“At one level, the card is making light of the police brutality the suffrage protestors faced—because the police were incredibly violent toward them,” Palczewski says. “But on another level, it’s showing a suffrage protestor saying you can arrest me and carry me away, and I’m not going to be bowed down by that. The images could be read in very different ways.”

Illustration, as it turns out, was one of those rare occupations where middle-class women were allowed to have careers at the turn-of-the-century, especially if they were good at drawing cute and pretty things like big-eyed children, elegant ladies, and cuddly furry animals. At least one influential American illustrator of the day, Rose O’Neill, the quirky pants-loving creator of the Kewpie, was an adamant suffragist. Others, like Ellen H. Clapsaddle, employed her large-headed children for both pro- and anti-suffrage Valentines cards. Cute kids were always popular in the Golden Era of postcards, but it’s possible the images of adorable children were depicted in suffrage cards to diffuse the intensity of the subject.

The National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co. circulated pro-suffrage cards designed by the Campbell Art Company, the same group of illustrators that produced the Campbell’s Kids. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co. circulated pro-suffrage cards designed by the Campbell Art Company, the same group of illustrators that produced the Campbell’s Kids. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“Women have always been infantilized,” Palczewski says.”To reduce a woman to a child is a way to undercut her argument, to belittle it. It may be trying to minimize the power of a woman’s argument or to reduce a suffragist to just a whiny little girl.”

Some suffragists often played up the idea of separate spheres, too, suggesting that women voted from a higher moral authority as loving and religiously faithful mothers. Wide-eyed sex appeal, too, was wielded to gain power, as flirty little girls refused kisses from boys who wouldn’t let them vote.

“Frances Willard of the Temperance movement got very involved in suffrage, arguing that women were morally superior to men and that women would vote to pass Prohibition,” Palczewski says. ”There were two broad arguments for suffrage: The first is justice, that all citizens should be treated equally. But then there was the argument of expedience, that giving women the right to vote is good, because they’ll pass laws for child protection and Prohibition. But there was a women’s group called the Remonstrants that argued that women didn’t need the right to vote because they could exert political power was by influencing their men at home and working behind the scenes in social and civic organizations.

The "Suffragette Madonna" was a popular theme in anti-suffrage postcards. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

The “Suffragette Madonna” was a popular theme in anti-suffrage postcards. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“Even when you hear some of the contemporary discourse about the conservative women who go into politics, when you listen to the Michele Bachmanns or the Sarah Palins, there are strong connections back to the arguments and ideologies of the Remonstrants. Should women with school-age children work? Who is the primary giver in the home? Should men co-parent? Yeah, we’re having the same debates.”

Now, in 2012, it’s possible the women’s vote could effect the outcome the U.S. presidential election. You would think we’d also have moved beyond gender stereotypes depicted in these postcards, but they’re still strong. In fact, in the past year, a lot of breathless articles have been passed around declaring “the end of men.” American women, it seems, have gone and reduced the male population to sniveling man-children, just by making small advances in academics and business.

Giving women the right to vote also meant that they might start wanting to wear pants, too. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

Giving women the right to vote also meant that they might start wanting to wear pants, too. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

“We operate with this zero-sum mentality, which is, if women gain rights, men lose them,” Palczewski says. “You see the same sort of idea that if people of color or ethnic minorities make gains, whites therefore lose something. So if men only understand their identity in relationship to being bigger than women, then it’s a trade-off. You see it in dozens of anti-suffrage postcards, showing men being hurt if women advance. Human beings seem to operate with this mentality where if you expand the rights of some, it diminishes the rights of others, instead of collectively expanding the rights of all of us as a people.”

For more suffrage postcards, check out June Purvis’ BBC History slideshow, Catherine H. Palczewski’s online Suffrage Postcard Archive, and the Woman Suffrage Memorabilia site.

Straw Feminist (Tropes v. Women)

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Anita Sarkeesian on the Straw Feminist
by Lisa Wade, PhD, Oct 6, 2011, at 10:03 am

In this ten-minute video, Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian does a great job of discussing the problem with “straw feminists,” overtly feminist characters who are made to look bitchy, ridiculous, or just plain wrong… even when they’re describing forms of gender inequality that really exist. More, they’re used to suggest that feminism places men and women in opposition when, in fact, gendered expectations and institutions are oppressive to men as well.

By demonizing these characters, Sarkeesian concludes, the straw feminist leads real women to disassociate from feminism, even when they believe in the equal rights of men and women.

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Anita Sarkeesian on the Straw Feminist
by Lisa Wade, PhD, Oct 6, 2011, at 10:03 am

In this ten-minute video, Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian does a great job of discussing the problem with “straw feminists,” overtly feminist characters who are made to look bitchy, ridiculous, or just plain wrong… even when they’re describing forms of gender inequality that really exist. More, they’re used to suggest that feminism places men and women in opposition when, in fact, gendered expectations and institutions are oppressive to men as well.

By demonizing these characters, Sarkeesian concludes, the straw feminist leads real women to disassociate from feminism, even when they believe in the equal rights of men and women.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Transcript after the jump:

Every now and then, in Hollywoodland a character that’s identified as a feminist will magically make its way through the production process and appear on our television screens, unfortunately this is almost never good.

What the Hollywood machine churns out is a distorted and warped version of feminism which bares little resemblance to actual feminist movements.

In a desperate quest to distance themselves, their plots and their characters from anything that could in anyway be mistakenly mistaken for feminism, Hollywood writers rely on one of the most deceptive and disgusting tropes ever to be forged in the fires of mount doom, that trope is called The Straw Feminist.

In television and movies The Straw Feminist works by deliberately creating an exaggerated caricature of a feminist, which writers then fill with a bunch of oversimplifications, misrepresentations and stereotypes to try to make it easy to discredit or delegitimize feminism. The goal is to make feminists and our movements look completely ridiculous, over the top and unnecessary.

In terms of media representation, one of the most disturbing example of the Straw Feminist can be found in the 3rd season of Veronica Mars. Sadly, the Veronica Mars writing team turned the last season into a train wreak partially by introducing a group of Straw Feminists as villains in the series.

Characters like these serve to undermine and discredit feminist movements but they also serves to separate female leads which are smart, strong and witty, in this case, Veronica, from any association with feminism. 

The Straw Feminist character is part of a fictional post-feminist world that only exists in Hollywood, the trope is a tool that’s used to promote the fallacy that everyone is already equal.

What’s exceptionally frustrating is that these characters often bring up legitimate feminist concerns about women’s rights and women’s equality but those concerns are quickly undermined by the writers making the characters seem over the top, crazy, and extremist.

For example the Straw Feminist appears in Married with Children as Marcy D’Arcy, the irritating and pompous neighbour. In this case, the Straw Feminist is coded as the castrating wife who emasculates and dominates her docile, stupid husband.

We see the trope repeated in Rugrats with Phil and Lil’s mother who Wikipedia describes as “Quite the jock and women’s-libber” and we can also recognize her as a straw feminist because of the giant woman’s symbol on her sweater. Much like Marcy she’s framed as the castrating wife who barks orders to her submissive husband.

In 2001′s Legally Blonde the writers threw in a Straw Feminist for cheap laughs who believes that the word “semester” is an evil conspiracy against women.

Clip – Legally Blonde (2001)
Straw Feminist: “Take the word semester ‘k, it is the perfect example of this school’s discriminatory preference of semen to ovaries, that’s why I’m petitioning to have next term be referred to as the winter ov-es-ter.”

Another problematic example comes from the Powerpuff Girls episode, “Equal Fights” in the third season. The Girls encounter a female villain named Femme Fatale who we can immediately see is a straw feminist because she has the oh-so-terrifying woman’s symbol on her mask, her clothes and even as her weapon. 

The episode begins with the traditional pan around Townsville showing us that gender inequality is not a problem.

Clip – Powerpuff Girls “Equal Fights”
Male Narrator: “A city where everyone gets their fair turn”

Even boys and girls on the playground get along.

Clip – Powerpuff Girls “Equal Fights”
Boy: “Your turn Jenny… think fast” “Oops”
Girl: “Very funny Joey, you’re gonna get it”

But this harmonious balance is deviously disrupted by Femme Fatale and her conniving, deceptive women’s rights rhetoric.

Curiously though, Femme Fatale brings up some pretty valid points about the lack of female faces on American money, or the lack of female superheroes in pop culture.

Clip – Powerpuff Girls “Equal Fights”
Femme Fatale: “Surely, you’ve noticed, female superheroes aren’t nearly as revered as male superheroes.”
Bubbles: “Sure they are! There’s Supergirl, Batgirl”
Femme Fatale: “They’re so lame, merely extensions of their male counterparts.”

The Girls are influenced by Femme Fatale’s malicious rhetoric to see benign, routine every day things as a conspiracy against women and against them personally.

The writers of the Powerpuff Girls have carefully created a fantasy world without gender oppression, so that they can have the Girls start seeing oppression where none exists.

Clip – Powerpuff Girls “Equal Fights”
Blossom: “We saw what you did Joey Finklemeyer”
Joey: “Whhaaa’d I do?”
Buttercup: “Shut up!”
Blossom: “Don’t play dumb with us!”

Professor Utonium: “I’ve finally caught up on all the housework and all that’s left is your room, if you could take care of that please.”
Professor Utonium: “uh, I’ll just do it later”

Blossom (on phone): “Why don’t you get some big strong man to save your precious city or better yet why don’t you stop making women do your dirty work and do it yourself!”

The problem is, all of these things that the Powerpuff Girls are complaining about are actually happening! Girls are getting bullied on school yards, and women are overwhelmingly responsible for household duties. Women are being institutionally oppressed all the time in nearly every facet of our lives.

Once again this trope is used to separate the Powerpuff Girls from any notion that they could in anyway possibly be feminist characters. Because you know you awesome, funny, world saving, independent young women but you know, not feminist…

The Straw Feminist trope is taken to a whole new level in adult animation shows such as South Park or Family Guy. In the episode “I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar” the Family Guy writers took a stab at feminist attorney Gloria Allred. Allred is known for taking on high-profile cases defending women who have been assaulted or harassed. In this attack, the Family Guy writers created a character coincidentally named Gloria Ironbox who brainwashes Peter into thinking he is a woman, after he is accused of sexual assault. The emasculation and feminization of Peter and his sudden transformation into a feminist is played for laughs.

Clip – Family Guy “I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar”
Peter: “I can’t respect men, men are the reason our world is in such lousy shape. If men were as caring as women we wouldn’t have crime or violence.”

Because you know, nothing is worse in a patriarchal society then being a woman, except maybe being a feminist…

In these fictional narratives institutional oppression and wide scale sexism just doesn’t exist. It’s a carefully constructed world where feminism is no longer needed.

Even the comic book world delves into this trope, with Y the Last Man. When all the men on earth die except for one, there is a extremist homicidal group called the Daughters of the Amazons. The violent, vigilante group is founded on the disdain and hatred of men and anyone who mourns the death of men, even though there aren’t anymore men.

Let’s get back to Veronica Mars, there is a 9 episode story arc in the 3rd season about a series of rapes that occur on the University Campus. A group of straw feminists on campus hold demonstrations, volunteer with the Ride Home Safe campus program to escort young women home, and demand that the university institute an official sexual code of conduct.

All of these are logical, rational and important steps to creating safer college campuses. However, the writer quickly dismisses these characters as irrational, stubborn, pigheaded man-haters, and it serves to fulfill the tired old stereotypes about angry and militant women of colour.

Clip: Veronica Mars “Spit and Eggs”
“Pig” “Rapist”

The writers of Veronica Mars takes the Straw Feminist to an obscene level by actually having them “fake a rape” in order to blame the fraternity.

Women lying about sexual assault is a grossly overused myth. Women generally don’t put themselves through the social shame of admitting assault for petty personal revenge.

In just a handful of episodes the creators of Veronica Mars undermine the work that thousands of students are doing globally on there campuses to end violence against women.
While we see the Straw Feminist over and over again in television and movies, it’s also unfortunately deployed on a regular basis by American talk shows and news pundits.

Mainstream religious and conservative news media often attack women with deliberate misrepresentations and extreme exaggerations of what feminism is. This false impression has been infused into the mainstream by popular talk show hosts such as Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly.

You may have heard the slur “Feminazi” popularized by Rush Limbaugh. A term used to discredit and demonize any woman fighting for social equality.

Clip: The Rush Limbaugh Show (2010)
Rush Limbaugh: “The feminists, the feminazis have been working for years to this end, advance women by diminishing men.”

Ya…

The Straw Feminist is set up to perpetuate and advance the myth that feminism is no longer needed, that we have arrived at gender equality and anyone who disagrees is quickly demeaned and portrayed as an extremist.

This trope represents a backlash against feminism and groups supporting women’s rights. As we make more gains towards equality, the backlash gets stronger.

It’s an old yet effective tactic but clearly it’s working because I often hear young women saying, “I believe in the equal rights of women but I’m not a feminist.” This sentiment is a direct result of the straw feminist trope. Because women want to distance themselves from the extreme and false representations they are seeing on tv, movies and talk shows.

We need to proudly claim the title and fight back against these distorted and demeaning representations in the media and in real life, and if y’all really do believe in the equality of women then we need to continue this long legacy of feminism and fight for it.

And Hollywood, get over your fear of strong, smart and talented women and stop contributing to the backlash by writing absurd and ridiculous Straw Feminist characters.

Now I will leave you with Polly Bergen saying something pretty awesome on the otherwise unremarkable show Commander in Chief.

Clip: Commander in Chief “Unfinished Business”
Rebecca Calloway: “Look just because it matters to mom doesn’t mean it matters to me. I mean, I’m no feminist.”
Kate Allen: “So you don’t believe that women should have rights equal to those of men”
Rebeca Calloway: “w..well of course I do… it’s just-”
Kate Allen: “Might I suggest my dear, that you look up the definition of feminist.”

Music: Nellie McKay “Mother of Pearl”
“Feminists don’t have a sense of humour. Feminists just want to be alone. Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo”