walmart woes

About once a month, I usually find my cupboards empty, the cat food on it’s last cup and the toilet paper on its last roll.  When the shampoo is all gone and every sock is missing its pair, I start preparing for WW3 – War on Walmart in less than 30 minutes.

I head out, armed with a shopping list and a determined attitude to get in and get out of the  zoo as quick as humanly possible (a lofty goal, I might add). While the shopping experience at Wal-Mart leaves much to be desired (especially at the cheaply renovated Superstore Wal-Mart’s like the one on Dougall Ave), I’ll be the first to say it: I am a feminist, and I shop at Wal-Mart.

The contemporary fight against Wal-Mart is a rightful and necessary form of resistance. The concerns and issues surrounding Wal-Mart’s practices are long and dreary, ranging from discriminatory labour practices, exploitation of child labour, nasty globalization consequences (maquiladoras) and negative impacts on local economies (along with many others). Even Wikipedia had to create a new page on the problems of Wal-Mart. It’s safe to say, Wal-Mart is possibly our contemporary world’s most evil corporate enterprise. That’s all well and good – but I get a little tired of hearing feminists say they “don’t shop at Wal-Mart” and look to me for approval.

OK – I care about the issues listed above.  I know that as a consumer, I do have the choice to not shop at Wal-Mart.  I can boycott it until my face goes blue, but in the end, my financial situation dictates where I shop and what I buy.  Being a poor student narrows my shopping choices dramatically.  Even though I consider myself to be a more privileged student based on my upper-middle class upbringing, I still have to navigate a less-than substantial loan each new school year and have to figure out how to make ends meet for ten months.  I’m not exactly poor, but I don’t have money to throw around, buying all organic products or fair trade items every time I need a roll of paper towels.

Feminists shouldn’t look down on every person who shops at Wal-Mart or participates in such cultural practices that seem to perpetuate larger gender, race or class inequalities, especially when it is those very systems of oppression that force many people to shop at low-price stores like Wal-Mart.  It is a privilege for those who can afford to shop at stores that practice a more humane version of capitalism, but even then, can we ever be absolutely sure that a store does what it promises to do (fair trade, equal pay, green initiatives)?

Yes, it’s important to be critical of such stores and consumer practices, but I also think we tend to dismiss the larger external social/economic system that corporations like Wal-Mart participate in. We are in an era where we expect to pay the lowest possible prices with complete disregard for where our products came from and how they got there. But this is only half the problem. We exist in a cyclical pattern of consumerism, where we believe our  life experiences can be translated through the act of buying. Places like Wal-Mart thrive off their ability to provide items to the masses without incurring penalties for their inhumane means of production. So to me, it seems as if the choice to shop or not shop at Wal-Mart is only one side of the coin.  When we are critical about Wal-Mart, we have to also turn a critical eye on the larger social system that allows such a corporation to thrive off the exploitation of certain persons.

So, part of me wants to say to the non-Wal-Mart shoppers: back off. For people of low-income, it’s a matter of constrained choice, not ignorance. What happens when you want to resist, but you can’t? How can we activate for change when we ourselves are party to the deal, as de Beauvoir would say?

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what’s the deal with gender reveal?

by: karly van puymbroeck, editor

Apparently, gender reveal parties are quickly overtaking the baby shower market as the parties to throw by parents-to-be.  At these parties, the gender of a baby is revealed to the parents and the guests.  This is usually done by way of giving a sealed envelope with a sonogram inside to a bakery, which then bakes cupcakes or a cake filled with either blue or pink icing inside.  After the parents and guests at the party have voted or bet on the possible gender of the baby, the parents slice open the cake in front of everyone, and –voila — gender revealed.

Photo taken from feministing.com

Gender reveal parties struck me as an odd way to announce the sex of a baby.  When I look at the parties from an academic feminist stance, I am struck (yet again) with our culture’s common mistake of seeing the biological sex of a person as their inherent gender.  Indeed, our culture has long since adopted the phrase “It’s a boy/girl” to describe the sex of a baby – but to go as far as actually appropriating gender as an interchangeable biological sex term is, well, wrong.  The sex of a baby is not the gender of the baby: so why the explicit push for assuming that gender pronouns can take the place of sex pronouns?

Our culture’s seemingly indifference between sex and gender has long been a focus of feminist advocates.  Gender itself is born out of the false biological essentialist view that the biological sex of a person (male or female) inherently creates one of two distinct genders: man or woman.  The dichotomous categories of “boy/girl” or “man/woman” dictate what feminists see as “gender roles”, where each gender assumes certain characteristics (usually what we see as “masculine” or “feminine”).  The problem with a biological essentialist point of view is that it ties culturally driven gender characteristics to biological sex, thus attempting to disguise any socialization process (or social construction, as feminists see it) that has worked for centuries to create a distinct power imbalance between males and females.  Thus, gender itself becomes misconceived as biological sex – a problem that is at the root of sex inequality.

I see gender reveal parties as a product of a patriarchal culture that is obsessed with eliciting and maintaining sex inequality.  Assigning a socially constructed category to a nonexistent human being (in Canadian law) seems to me to be a way of reproducing a cultural script that dictates how males and females will live their lives before their lives have even come into existence.  As Judith Butler argues, this script is historical: men and women have been performing a gender script for centuries. If parents-to-be are assigning a culturally produced script to their babies (which is a faulty script to begin with), they are buying into a problematic sex-gender system that is in place in order to uphold patriarchal power structures. By attaching a traditional gender to their unborn baby, parents-to-be are  helping perpetuate a social system that historically and presently places men above women.

Why this cultural push to reveal “gender” before the child is born? The only reason I can think of is the dominant class’ need to establish traditional power structures, to stabilize our long-standing sex-gender system.  The news is littered now with stories of parents opting for gender neutrality for their children, stories of transgender beauty queens, and with issues surrounding LGBTIQ rights.  Challenging the sex-gender system is all around us: indeed, it is becoming a part of pop culture.  As always, the fear of resistance and fear of change spurs long-standing power structures to assert their power.  However, as a feminist in a developed, Western country, I know that asserting power doesn’t necessarily come in the form of violence or direct intervention. It comes in a subversive form, a more subconscious littering of images and messages supporting traditional gender roles. And as Butler says, gender always conceals its roots;  well, gender reveal parties have yet to fool me.

editor’s note: karly is a fourth year women’s studies and english double major.  she is a teaching assistant who is an hbo fanatic. 

summer & editor position

due to extended hours of sunlight and natural cravings for ice cream and lemonaide enjoyed on porches and balconies, posting for feministjuice throughout the summer months may be sporadic. for readers, thank you for supporting the blog and leaving comments for our lovely contributors. for potential writers: if you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, please consider writing a piece for the blog this summer. the best way to submit a piece is to email vanpuy@uwindsor.ca.

as this semester comes to a close, it is also time for feministjuice coeditor Nicole Beuglet to graduate. with Nicole moving off to start her Master’s, feministjuice will be in need of another coeditor to help Karly run the blog throughout the 2012-2013 school year. the job itself is voluntary and can be put on your co-curricular transcript. any interested parties may email Karly directly at vanpuy@uwindsor.ca.

thank you all for help make feministjuice a success in its first year. again, please keep checking for updates throughout the summer and consider becoming part of the only feminist blog at uwindsor.