The Destructive Potential of Words

I’ve finally found a church home in the area (after two years of looking for a place).  The sermon last night was on James Chapter 3 — a passage about the impact that words have and the importance of watching what you say.  He began the message by talking about some of the ways that words can hurt.  I thought to myself, well of course they can! Look at the impact that words spoken by political leaders/candidates and everyday people.  Look at the impact that street harassment — sometimes just words thrown at women on the street — can have on the safety of women.  And yet, none of this came up once in the message.  Instead, the pastor focused on the impact of swearing or complaining.

Now, maybe I’m more left-leaning than my church preaches, but to me this seems like a huge sidestep of a really important issue.  Toward the very end of the message, he made the point that the words that come out of our mouths are symptoms of the condition of our hearts, and in order to change our words, we must change our hearts.  I would take this a step further and say we have to change our minds as well.

It is not enough to say that we will watch what comes out of our mouths.  At some point, the thoughts that give way to those words will come out, and will be put into words that are harmful.  Telling someone to watch his mouth, doesn’t mean that the urge to use that language changes.

For example: The pastor used an analogy to illustrate this point that relied on cultural ideas about the differences between men and women: the idea that men never know what to say to women because women are so damn hard to figure out.   What he doesn’t realize is that these words have meaning as well.  These words reinforce the generalizations about men and women — the same stuff the fuels the romantic comedy machine.

It just boggles my mind that anyone could have a discussion about the impact of words without ever once even hinting at this implications.  But maybe that’s my shaded view of the world.  To me, everything comes back to a discussion about these social issues.  And to not even acknowledge them seems to me to be a deliberate ignoring of these issues.  Which is something that does no one any good.

Religion scholars: how do you weigh in on this?

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Liberals vs Conservatives

There is a difference between those that identify themselves as liberals and those that identify themselves as conservatives.  Mainly, that one identifies as liberal and the other as conservative.  We spend so much time splitting people down an imaginary line that both sides see as the line between good and bad.  Rather than looking for similarities, we label people as different from us and attack until they come around.

Case in point: This graphic from David McCandless. The article surround this graphic says it is ‘useful to remember what each side is supposed to stand for’ and gives a perspective on the difference in child rearing.  The infographic is McCandless second attempt, as he thought the first favored liberals too much.

The problem is that this second attempt does the same thing.  The language on the Liberal side is softer while the language on the Conservative side is harsh and strict (the colors don’t help this).  Apparently Liberal child rearing is based on respect and trust and Conservative is based on respect and fear. Because no liberal would ever instill fear in their child.

According to McCandless, Liberals idealize a community based on ethics, while Conservatives view a community based on morals.  That’s a pretty fine line there — ethics inform morals and vice versa.  Is it really all that different?

The Liberal side is about improving the world, while the Conservative side is about protecting what is good.  I know Conservatives, and they also believe they are improving the world.  Liberals also believe in protecting what is good.  Both sides are doing it, but one is soft, just trying to make it a better place, and the other is harsh, just trying to protect what they have.

Finally, the whole infographic is based on assumptions.  Not all Liberals are like that.  There are some who would claim the title Liberal who are racist or sexist, or don’t really believe in achieving equality for everyone.  Likewise, there are some Conservatives who are not out to protect big business or raise children with tough love.  In short, the graphic is too neat, too this side and that side to be a good representation of what each side stands for.  Knowing what each political leaning supports is good when it comes to explaining politics to high schoolers trying to decide where they fall, labeling people based on assumptions is bad when it comes to working together and fostering peace.  We don’t need to add any more fuel to the fire of partisanship.  Why not remember that there are commonalities in both sides instead?

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Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon: Feminist Fail

In my partner and I’s Summer of Superhero, Transformers 3 was going to be a bright spot (if you haven’t caught on by now, I’m a huge action/superhero movie fan).  Filmed with 3D cameras, T3 was the first 3D movie I’ve seen that was worth the extra bucks and uncomfortable glasses.

But, that doesn’t mean that T3 sidestepped some major fails.

1. Megatron, the evil leader of the Deceptacons, makes his home in Africa, while the good Autobots reside in America.  Because, you know, it can’t hurt to reinforce that white people = good, people of color = bad.  I get that they needed a far out of reach of people place to make Megatron reside, but were the safari shots necessary?

2. Newly cast as The Hot Girl, the character of Carly is used for little more than a hot body swathed in white (why is she always in white??).  Her first entrance follows her bare feet as she tiptoes across the room toward Sam and the bed, and then sweeps up her legs to show that she is nearly naked.  Only after all of this do we find out she’s actually pretty brainy — in a typical action movie sort of way.  She worked for the British embassy in a high enough position to be in the White House and now manages a collection of cars — the implication I guess being that she’s some sort of personal assistant.  She’s paid well and pays the rent, a point which undermines Sam’s masculinity and we are constantly reminded of throughout the movie (BTW, Sam’s parents are disappointed that he hasn’t found a job in DC after 3 months of searching.  Thank you T3 for showing how hard it is to get a job out of school, and reminding me that society thinks I suck for not having a job yet).

3. Carly’s character is restricted to doing the normal action movie Hot Girl things: screaming ‘Help me!’ and standing around in six inch heels and wearing tiny dresses.  Points, though, for putting Carly in jeans and a tshirt for the big action sequence, and letting her run in flats (in each scene where she runs, she’s in flats, when its a long shot of her standing or cowering in a corner, she’s in heels again.  I mean, I know when I’m being held hostage by the man allied with the evil robots who are about to bring destruction to planet earth and enslave the human race, I would definitely put on heels. Because there is no way for me to look hot while being practical. Just saying).  The movie does let her buy Sam more time by engaging with Megatron in order to stop the threat to Sam and Optimus, but she does so by insulting Megatron’s masculinity, by insinuating that he is less of man if he doesn’t get up and fight.

This is one of my biggest problems when watching the superhero movies I love so much.  The women characters are only there to act as eye candy.  When I watch an action movie I want the women characters to be as kick-ass as the men are.  And there is a way to do it right — in Thor, for example, Natalie Portman’s character gets into scrapes and ends up being saved by the manly Thor.  But her character is crazy smart, running her own research project, and she participates in the saving of the world.  She doesn’t stand around waiting for Thor to do things, she accepts his help in furthering her own goals.  Plus, she’s played by Natalie Portman, who is a pretty kickass woman herself.

Transformers 3 just doesn’t let its women characters get that far.  Each of the three women in the story play into some stereotype.  Carly is the hot girl way out of Sam’s league, but who is with him anyway.  Sam’s mom is the ‘happy wife happy life’ woman with her husband wrapped around her finger.  Mearing is the no nonsense woman in charge, who won’t listen to the sense of the men around her.  And these are the only three women given significant dialogue.

Aside from these three main points, the movie is good as far as action movies go. The action scenes are pretty good, the plot is followable and feasible given the pretense of alien robotic life, and the characters respond how we would expect them to respond.  Of the three transformers movies, this one is my least favorite, with the least amount of story.

*As a disclaimer, my knowledge of Transformers is restricted to this series of movies only.  I did not follow the 1980s series, nor any other movies made of the Transformers.  I have vague memories of boys wearing Transformers tshirts in Kindergarden, and know that it was cartoon on when I was little.   

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Water activists on the ground

I read this article this weekend about a Palestinian water activist working in a conflict situation.  It got me thinking about the importance of discussing water conflict.   It has been said that the wars of the 21st century will not be fought over oil or land, but over water.  In the case of Israel/Palestine, water has added to the unrest.  Disputes over who ‘owns’ the water and who can do what with the water have added to the ongoing tensions.

Fighting over what little water is left is happening all around the world — nomadic tribes in the Kenya/Ethiopia area of Africa come into conflict over the dwindling Omo River that marked their boundaries, the US and Mexico argue over the supply of the Colorado River.  People are intent on keeping what water they have under strict supervision, when the solution to some water issues is to share it as best we can.

Conflict over water is something that is not talked about nearly as much as other water issues.  The intricate connections between water conflict and other political tensions make unraveling and negotiating water conflict tricky at best.  It takes cooperation and give and take on both sides.  And it means considering both sides to have equal standing — nomadic tribes have just as much right to water as city people.

As a side note to this discussion, the article also mentions dams as a solution to water issues.  Most water people realize that dams generally do more damage than good.  And damming transnational or international rivers can cause even more fuel for water conflict.  There are even a set of international guidelines to govern the damming of cross-boundary rivers.  Yet this water activist views building a dam (in an area where the damming of rivers has caused much of the existing conflict over water resources) as a way to foster peace? I’m not sure I follow that.

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Moving water from one place to another….

There is a ‘new’ idea to move the water in the icebergs to the places in the world without enough water.  This is not a new idea, I’ve heard it floated around a few times before.  But this article over at GOOd discusses and actual plan for it — or at least a potential plan of action that might actually work.

The problem with this plan (or problems) is that it doesn’t think about things outside of dragging ice from one part of the world to another.  Ice/water is heavy — the energy/fossil fuel cost of dragging the icebergs is considerable.  I have heard plans in the past where the idea is to drag the freshwater in huge sealed bags under the water, making it like dragging pockets of freshwater under the ocean.  I do not see how this could possibly work without popping, but apparently it could.

Furthermore, this is just not the solution.  The idea of piping water from Alaska to California and the Colorado River basin has been floated in the United States.  It is the same situation and solution — water is running out and the answer is not to change habits or industry or come up with ways to clean polluted water, but to simply import it.  This smacks of US environmental policy, which basically says we can invent our way out of environmental damage.

The thing is that you can’t do that.  It doesn’t make the problem go away, it just hides it.  For tens of thousands of years, this planet has had enough water without people having to come up with ways to drag icebergs around.  Granted there are more people living in more parts of the world, but there should be enough water to go around if we are careful with it.  Water scarcity has to do with a changing climate and horrible consumption habits.  These are things we can change without engineering elaborate plans like this one.

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Women and Water: Fitting into the Discussion

I have a new post up at Women in and Beyond the Global entitled ‘Women and Water: Fitting into the Discussion.’  The post is the most recent in a series I started writing at the beginning of graduate school to discuss the intersections of women and water.

Here’s a snippet of the latest post:

Often, advocates for water issues discuss the need for a holistic view of water.  To be truly holistic, we need to be exploring all sides of water scarcity – including the gender implications or the gendered uses of water.  The division of labor among people, and the reasons that certain people do certain tasks, has huge implications for water use and scarcity.  The security issues involved in women’s access to clean water and sanitation are also intertwined with the gender norms of society.  To really address the issue of water scarcity, those issues have to be discussed as well.

Check out the full post here

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On Stranger Tides rankles my feminist self

Last weekend I went to see the fourth Pirates of the Carribbean movie (On Stranger Tides) expecting the usual pretty faces, swashbuckling, and Johnny Depp’s swagger.  I was sadly disappointed.

Firstly, the movie recycles some of the scenes from previous movies and just uses different characters or slightly different settings. However, this is likely to happen in a fourth movie, so I can let that slide.

What I can’t let slide, is the way this movies uses women.  There is a subplot involving mermaids (spoiler alert!) — Jack Sparrow and crew need the tear of a mermaid to complete the ritual for the Fountain of Youth.  However, these are not Disney’s usual mermaids.  Instead, these mermaids are beautiful women, who entrance sailors and then pull them down into the ocean to die.  When provoked they hiss and growl at the men, barring sharp vampire like teeth.  Could this be a more thinly veiled reference to women as evil temptresses??

In much of ancient literature such as the Greeks, women are portrayed as being either beautiful innocent virgins, or evil temptresses who entice men to evil or outright kill them.  Think of Greek mythology, or the story of Sedna from the Inuits. Women have been fighting that dichotomy for centuries.

Previous Pirates movies have been thin on plot and have relied on assumptions to make their movies work.  But they also had the character of Keira Knightly who shuns the feminine in favor of the life of a pirate.  In this latest installment, the balance is Penelope Cruz’s character — a character that doesn’t move beyond the stereotype of a Latina woman filled with hot blood.  She is sexualized in ways that Kiera Knightly was not — her costumes are much more revealing, and most of the conversation about her revolves around sex.  Yes, she is independent and strong, but she is also cast as manipulative and conniving, little different from the mermaid subplot (who are the only other women characters in the film).

I could not seem to get past these issues when watching the movie to enjoy the other really great parts — Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is once again hilarious (although the character is beginning to grow stale), the chase after a ship, the adventures to unknown lands, some really good witty banter from Sparrow.  All of it seemed overshadowed to me by the awful reliance on stereotypes (Did I mention that the Spanish are cast as the ultimate evil characters who destroy what the rest are looking for? Because, you know, anyone of Spanish blood is clearly worse than being a pirate!) that hit just a little too close to home.

Perhaps this is true of the first three movies as well, and I just never noticed it.  I’m itching to get my hands on copies of the first trilogy and test this out.  My recommendation? Either don’t see this movie at all, or go into expecting to be disappointed.


Posted in Entertainment, Gender, race, Uncategorized | 3 Comments