Boycotts and Pepsi

(Upon re-reading, this post kinda reeks of middle-class privilege. So… yeah. I’m working on that.)

I’m entirely sold on boycotts. Sometimes, they work spectacularly, then there are ones that have been going on for decades with little sign of progress.

(Note: I am not directly comparing these two, except that they were both, y’know, boycotts.)

Sometimes, I think boycotts serve as a way to make you feel like you’re doing more than you are, especially when it may or may not be a product you use that much. (I’m currently, say, technically boycotting Jamaica because of the rampant homophobia and violence against gays, but since I don’t drink Red Stripe nor plan on going to Jamaica anyway, it’s not making a damn bit of difference either way.) And in some cases, boycotts may prevent people from interacting directly with something problematic and attempting to fix it by just cutting ties.

But what I do like about boycotts is the simplicity. You don’t approve of something, you quit giving it money. In the US that means hitting it where it hurts, right in the wallet. Of course, I’m also a great believer in sending angry letters to places to let them know you’re boycotting them and why. Otherwise, that $5.75 or whatever they’re not getting from you may pass unnoticed. But boycotts also have the virtue of making you stick to your convictions, especially in cases where doing so makes it harder for you.

I’m thinking about boycotts because I just found out about AMP UP YOUR GAME, an iPhone App released by PepsiCo to promote Amp energy drink. This App allows you to “improve your game” by identifying which of “24 types” of women you’re dealing with, giving you “tips” to help you “score” with each, and then allowing you to track and share “conquests” (seriously, it’s call the Brag List) with your (presumably all-male) friends through Twitter and Facebook.


Where to start… Okay, I hate the idea it’s a “game.” Because that means there are winners and losers, and I always get the feeling the women are losing. Or “conquest.” I’m not a conquest, I’m a person. Maybe these guys would have better luck if they thought of women as people instead of rewards/conquests. I’m also reasonably sure there are more than 24 types of women, also, that women don’t all fit into types…. again, it’s attempting to depersonalize women and turn them into categories with predictable behaviors, with whom if you do the right thing, you get sex. Kind of like putting quarters into a gumball machine. (Types, by the way, include “Aspiring Actress,” “Cougar,” “Out of your League,” and, of course, “Women’s Studies Major.”) And the problem with treating women like sex dispensers (one of the problems) is that it encourages an understanding where if they don’t “give you” sex, it’s their fault. The machine’s broken. Because by your limited definition, you’ve done everything right, and if it’s not putting out, you need to shake the machine ’til it drops that Vagina bar you paid for.

And then you can share your Brag List with your buds, who are clearly all-male, because what would you be doing hanging out with a woman, and again, reinforcing the heteronormative He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut dichotomy where all that matters is notches in the bedpost for the guys, and the women are interchangeable, disposable objects.

Of course, homosexuality is completely absent from the equation. Men who like men? Girls who don’t like men? Preposterous!

Girls who might like to be actively engaged in their own sexuality, instead of hanging around waiting to be “gamed” by clever males with iPhone Apps? Preposterous!

I have no idea if the marketing team, or Amp, or PepsiCo are as miscogynistic and homophobic as this app suggests. Likely, they’re not. Which means that encouraging this behavior is all part of a cynical marketing ploy, which kinda makes it worse.

So I, a lifelong Pepsi drinker, am now boycotting their products. It will probably make no damn difference to PepsiCo. But the knowledge that every time I bought a twelve-pack, I would be supporting the assholes who think it’s okay to reduce me to an object to be acquired by their male heterosexual customers (the ones that actually matter, clearly) would have made it taste like shit anyway.

And yes, I’ve already written them an angry email letting them know that since they clearly don’t want my money, they won’t be getting any more of it.


Another Perspective on Health Care

My lifelong best friend recently wrote this essay in response to the health care debate. I liked it so much I asked her if I could repost it here. She very kindly gave me her permission.

Let me tell you a story.

It is 2 July 2003. I am in bed, doubled over in pain. My skin is yellow, I can barely swallow and haven’t eaten anything in two days. Suddenly, I can no longer breathe. I try to scream, gasping. I can’t make a sound – there’s no air. I pound on the floor, falling out of my bed, tears streaming down my face. The noise thankfully wakes my father, who wakes my mother. In five minutes I am in an emergency room.

It’s sometime after midnight. I still cannot breathe, and the pain in my abdomen is so bad I cannot lie down. I beg for someone to help me in my mind, trying to get the words out. I am in critical condition – in 15 minutes the doctor has seen me, and I am now hooked up to an IV and oxygen mask. The pain is subsiding, but I still cannot breathe.

I am taken all around the hospital. Ultrasound. MRI. Chest x-ray. By dawn, the doctor comes into my room and says that I will not survive without emergency surgery, and that I am to be prepped immediately. There is a large gall stone stuck in a duct near my pancreas. It is infected, and the infection has spread to other organs, including my lungs. The ultrasound showed something else as well – blood-filled cysts on my ovaries, uterus, and intestines. If they burst, I may die of internal bleeding.

I am only 21 years old.

My mother asks about the risks. Things could go wrong, says the doctor. Bleeding might occur. There is fluid in my lungs and scar tissue around the gall stone. It is dangerous.

I am prepped for surgery. I don’t remember much about that.

While I go through surgery, my parents are fighting with the hospital administration. They have to meet with the insurance liaison. There is concern about the costs, whether or not I will be covered. Have I been diagnosed? Do I have cancer? Do I have the proper referral?

Thankfully, I have a referral, called in by my family doctor just before we arrived at the ER. I had not yet been formally diagnosed with endometriosis, and my biopsies for cancer came back negative. Still, I would spend two weeks in post-surgical critical care, another week in the hospital, and be back again the next month for another surgery to remove my gall bladder and the cysts.

Two months later, statements start arriving. My father has one of the best insurance plans in the city, through his employer with added benefits that we pay for out of pocket. There are some costs that must be paid – $50 emergency room co-pay, $300 surgical consult, $200 specialist consult, testing fees. But that pales in comparison to the final amount for my summer of hospitalization – around $300,000.

I think about that summer a lot when I hear about the health insurance debate. After the surgery, my attending asked why I waited so long to come to the hospital. I told her I was afraid of doctors and I thought I would get better on my own. She told me that, had I waited one more day, I would have died.

22 January 1982 – 3 July 2003.

What is I had been afraid of the costs? What if the doctors had stabilized me and sent me home that day, as they do with charity care cases? What if the insurance company had dumped me, leaving me with $300,000 worth of hospital bills?

Would I be alive today? I think the answer is a definite NO.

A year and a half later, I would be back in the hospital, with another specialist. The cysts have come back, as has the pain. I’m back in surgery. The diagnosis is made final: I have endometriosis.

I’m afraid of that diagnosis, because I know I can be denied private health insurance now on the grounds of a “previous condition.” I know that I am very, very lucky to have excellent insurance through my employer.

But what about the unlucky ones? And there are so, so many now… what will happen to them? When they get sick, will they die? What about their children?

I know there is a lot of anger and fear surrounding the health care debate – that a lot of people think it is a government take-over that will lead to rationed care and federally-sponsored human euthanasia. I don’t know what the best answer is – I don’t know enough about medicine to form a best opinion.

All I know is that I don’t want to be one of the few lucky ones.


Mourning Neda

Today is the fortieth day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a citizen of Iran shot by the state while at a protest over the disputed presidential election. In Shi’ite Muslim tradition, the third, seventh, and fortieth days after someone’s death are especially important parts of the mourning cycle, when the deceased is publicly remembered.

Neda has become a symbol of freedom, of martyrdom, of all sorts of things, but in honour of this fortieth day, I’d like to take a minute to think about her as Neda, a twenty-seven year old with a fiance and two siblings, who was hoping to become a Persian pop singer.

Her death has meaning, but her life had meaning too.

Rest in peace, Neda.


Wimbeldon Sells Out for Sex Appeal

If you pay attention to sports, particularly tennis, you might have noticed an odd phenomenon occurring at this year’s Wimbeldon. Some of the best-ranked players (ex. the Williams sisters) were playing on the lesser courts, while relative unknowns played on the centre court. What gives?

…the All England Club admitted that physical attractiveness is taken into consideration.

Spokesman Johnny Perkins said: ‘Good looks are a factor.’

Johnny Perkins said court selection is ‘a great big mixture of where the players are in the draw, who they’re playing, what their ranking is’.

But at the end of the day, box-office appeal has to be taken into consideration.

‘It’s not a coincidence that those (on Centre Court) are attractive.’

Ah. It doesn’t matter how great a tennis player you are, if the All England Club decides you aren’t “pretty” or “hot” enough.

Thankfully, male sports writers have stepped up to the bat to decry this cheap sexism.

From ESPN’s LZ Granderson:

Yes, it’s sexist.

Great! We’re all on the same page.

“Anyway, if putting the athletic equivalent of [Britney] Spears on TV can help draw in fans, increase ratings and thus make the Women’s Tennis Association more money, by all means, go for it. Doing so might hurt some of the players’ feelings, but it’s not undermining the integrity of the sport.”

Wait, what?

As long as the players themselves respect the game and carry themselves as professional athletes and not sex kittens, I don’t see the harm. Some critics say it sends the wrong message to young girls — namely, you have to be pretty to be noticed. I say it sends several messages to young girls — one being that you don’t have to be some man’s trophy just because you’re pretty. That you can be strong, smart, competitive and pretty.” (emphasis mine)

Dude, how does that even work? How can you respect the game when you know it’s your looks and not your skill that’s bringing you the attention? When you’re treating looks as the main factor, skill will always have second place. And when you relegate Serena Williams to a side court, you are telling young girls very clearly that no matter how hard they work, if they are not judged to be “hot” by a bunch of men they will always be less than someone who is. (And I’m choosing right now not to address a recent column by Jason Whitlock on Serena Williams where he insults her ability to play while insulting her looks, because clearly to him they are one and the same.)

And the ‘sex sells’ argument being made to justify this decision? How come it’s almost always used to objectify women for the benefit of heterosexual men?

Women make up 1/2 the population, but, as a Guerilla Girls ad might say, are almost always the ones being exploited for ‘sex sells’-based advertising.

And in tennis, at least, it’s not even attracting men.

Dr. Mary Jo Kane, sports sociologist from the University of Minnesota, specializes in gender and sport for women and undertook a far-reaching study of images of women athletes putting their bodies on display for a wide-ranging focus group of both men and women. Kane found a very basic truth: sex may sell airport frat-porn like Maxim magazine, but it doesn’t sell women’s sports.

Kane believes these images “alienate the core of the fan base that’s already there. Women, age 18 to 55, are offended by these images. And older males, fathers with daughters, taking their daughters to sporting events to see their favorite female athletes, are deeply offended by these images.”

We need to recognize that “sex sells” really translates to “we are more interested in exploiting and objectifying women (as well as in typifying a certain “type” of attractiveness) in order to attract our idea of heterosexual men to our product than we are in advertising or selling to gay men, straight women, or lesbian women (most of the time, anyway, because I really can’t imagine they find penis imagery that much of a selling point).”

And that? That right there? The idea that the most important thing in any context, whether it’s an ad for a product that men and women use, or a movie, or a sports tournament is whether or not the women will appear ‘sexy’ or ‘fuckable’ to an abstracted heteronormative male? That is the fucking male gaze. And it’s making women’s tennis not about women or for women.


Article about Homosexuality FAIL

The latest TIME magazine has an article on homosexuality in the animal kingdom, titled, appropriately enough,
Why Some Animals (and People) Are Gay
. I am all for articles like this, if only because they inherently refute the “Homosexuality is unnatural!” argument, and because gay penguins are completely adorable.



But there were a couple sections in this that made me wonder, exactly, why John Cloud was chosen to write the article. Surely they could have found someone who could make science accessible without resorting to cheap and insulting gay jokes? Please?

I mean, there’s got to be a way to inform people that “One particularly charged finding is that in most species besides humans, same-gender pairings rarely lead to lifelong relationships” without following it with “In other words, when one attractive bonobo male eyes another in a lovely patch of Congo swamp forest, they occasionally kiss and then move on to other oral pleasures, but they don’t bother anyone afterward about trying to legalize their right to an open-banana-bar ceremony.” (emphasis mine)

Translation: “okay, sometimes animals are gay, but it’s a phase they go through, and thus it’s just a phase for humans and I’m also going to mock gay marriage, because it’s not found in nature.”

Later, in the same article: “Last year, researchers studying a Hawaiian colony of albatrosses found that nearly a third of all the couples involved two females who courted and then shared parenting responsibilities. (Albatrosses don’t have U-Hauls, so no lesbian jokes, please.)”

Dude, you’re the one adding in U-Haul Lesbian jokes. In a science article, which pretty much by definition doesn’t need cheap jokes. Especially cheap homophobic ones. Were you so uncomfortable writing about homosexuality in any form you had to “defuse” your article with these bits? Because I really can’t make sense of them otherwise.


Pelham 123

Sometimes the most revealing statements about gender come when people don’t think they’re talking about gender.

Witness this quote from a NYTimes review of the Denzel Washington/John Travolta movie “The Taking of Pelham 123”

Women are decidedly marginal in this urban gallery. Garber’s wife (Aunjanue Ellis) answers the phone every now and then back home in Queens, and the girlfriend of a hostage appears by online video chat. But romance and domesticity have never figured very prominently in Mr. [Tony] Scott’s imagination.

So apparently (as is well known by Tony Scott), women do not actually exist in New York City. And the ones that do are apparently all wives/girlfriends of Real New Yorkers (who are inherently male).

Okay, clearly the director has some issues, though he’s not exactly the only one confused on the people=men issue. But look again at what the reviewer, A.O. Scott (probably no relation) says: But romance and domesticity have never figured very prominently in Mr. Scott’s imagination.


Okay, I get that this is not a romance. But surely you can have a female character or three without it being a romance? Do women not exist apart from romance or domesticity?

Sure, the reviewer seems to be saying, if this were some sort of film dealing with the home, there would be girls in it.  But they’re not needed here.  This film is set outside, where women do not go.   Also, this film is not about romantic relationships, so there is no need for females.  Because females only exist in the context of romance.  They do not have jobs or hopes and dreams or, y’know, commute to frikkin’ work.  On the subway.

This is the power of careless, invisible sexism.   If you asked A.O. Scott, they would probably say they are not a sexist.  They are probably a nice, average person who writes reviews for the NYTimes.  But in the above statement… those lines, and those ideas… those are sexist ideas.  They are reducing women to a very small, small place where we can exist.

And they’re a couple of casual lines in an unrelated review in a big paper on an average day.


Today, the terrorists won…

Dr. Tiller’s clinic, one of the few in the US providing late-term abortion services (and the only one within a three hour area providing any abortion services) will be closing permanently, following the late Dr. Tiller’s murder by a domestic terrorist.

Murdered Doctor’s Abortion Clinic Shuttered

Terrorism is defined as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes. If abortion providers are unable to do their jobs because of threats to their safety or life, that is terrorism. If you murder someone not because of who they are, but what they are, and your purpose is further inflicting fear upon others who are similar so that they live in fear, that is terrorism. (Also potentially a hate crime.)

Dr. Tiller’s murderer was also a terrorist, and now women already in the midst of horrible, tragic, life and death events will have even fewer places to turn for help.