Tag Archives: feminism

The test

There’s a famous metric called the Bedchel Test (or the Betchel Test, or the Bechel Test, depending on your mood). Named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who first proposed it, it involves a very simple metric that a surprising amount of movies (even the most critically acclaimed ones) fail.

In order to pass the Bechdel Test, a movie must have:

(1) two female characters

(2) who have a conversation

(3) that is not about men.

The Bechdel Test is no good for judging a movie’s actual quality at an individual scale, but it displays a very systemic problem in the movie industry as a whole, mainly in their depiction of female characters.

Conversely, I proposed a similar test to my wife concerning love songs. In order to pass this test, which I have just tautologically named “The Test,” a love song must pass this simple metric:

(1) The love interest must be a woman who has one characteristic praised by the singer

(2) that is not based on physical beauty, appearance, or sexual attraction.

I do not command a large library of love songs in my head (I find the vast majority of them nauseating), but at the moment, the only song I can think of right now that passes the test is Cake’s Short Skirt, Long Jacket. It does detail her ability to cut through red tape and her financial assets, not just her physical assets.

I have noticed a lot of love songs that detail a woman’s ability to spend money, but this is never (as far as I know) praised.

Can anyone else think of a love song that passes the test?

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Filed under life stories, music

Buddhism and women

Again, excerpts from Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield, this time about women. I found these excerpts to be especially intriguing, and wonder how they match-up to our female and feminist readers, who I assume are of mostly Western cultural descent.

Soma and Mara

Once the nun Soma, having returned from her alms round and after her meal, entered the woods for a noonday rest. Plunging into the depths of the woods, she sat down under a tree.

Then the tempter Mara, desirous of arousing fear, wavering, and dread in Soma, and wishing to cause her to interrupt her concentrated meditation, went up to her and said, “The goal is hard to reach, hard even for sages; it cannot be won by a woman with whatever wisdom she may have.”

Then Soma thought, “Who is this, a human or a non-human, who is saying this? Surely it is the evil Mara who wants to interrupt my concentrated meditation.” Knowing that it was Mara, she said to him, “What does one’s gender matter to one whose mind is well-composed, in whom insight is functioning, and who comprehends the Dharma?”

Then the evil Mara thought, “The nun Soma knows me.” Being sad and sorrowful, he vanished there and then.

adapted from the Samyutta Nikaya, translated by C. A. F. Rhys-Davids

And this one, which is more esoteric, but just as interesting (and a beautiful poem):

Songs of the Nuns

Free woman,
be free
as the moon is freed
from the eclipse of the sun.

With a free mind,
in no debt,
enjoy what has been given to you.

Get rid of tendency
to judge yourself
above, below, or
equal to others.
A nun who has self-possession
and integrity
will find the peace that nourishes
and never causes surfeit.

Be filled with all good things
like the moon on the fifteenth day.
Completely, perfectly full
of wisdom
tear open
the massive dark.

I, a nun, trained and self-composed,
established mindfulness
and entered peace like an arrow.
The elements of body and mind grew still,
happiness came.

Everywhere clinging to pleasure is destroyed,
the great dark is torn apart,
and Death, you too are destroyed.

from the Therigatha, translated by Susan Murcott

Lastly, there is this story, which involves gender identity, but one that puzzles me as well (comments about this one would be much appreciated!):

Sariputra and the Goddess

Thereupon, a certain goddess who lived in that house, having heard this teaching of the Dharma of the great heroic bhodisattvas, and being delighted, pleased, and overjoyed, manifested herself in a material body and showered the great spiritual heroes, the bodhisattvas, and the great disciples with heavenly flowers. When the flowers fell on the bodies of the bodhisattvas, they fell off on the floor, but when they fell on the bodies of the great disciples, they stuck to them and did not fall. The great disciples shook the flowers and even tried to use their magical powers, but still the flowers would not shake off. Then the goddess said to the venerable Sariputra, “Reverend Sariputra, why do you shake these flowers?”

Sariputra replied, “Goddess, these flowers are not proper for religious persons and so we are trying to shake them off.”

The goddess said, “Do not say that, reverend Sariputra. Why? These flowers are proper indeed! Why? Such flowers have neither constructual thought nor discrimination. But the elder Sariputra has both constructual thought and discrimination.

“Reverend Sariputra, impropriety for one who has renounced the world for the discipline of the rightly taught Dharma consists of constructual thought and discrimination, yet the elders are full of such thoughts. One who is without such thoughts is always proper.

“Reverend Sariputra, see how these flowers do not stick to the bodies of these great spiritual heroes, the bodhisattvas! This is because they have eliminated constructual thoughts and discriminations.

“For example, evil spirits have power over fearful men but cannot disturb the fearless. Likewise, those intimidated by fear of the world are in the power of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, which do not disturb those who are free from fear of the passions inherent in the constructive world. Thus, these flowers stick to the bodies of those who have not eliminated their instincts for the passions and do not stick to the bodies of those who have eliminated their instincts. Therefore, the flowers do not stick to the bodies of the bodhisattvas, who have abandoned all instincts.”

Sariputra asked: Goddess, what prevents you from transforming out of your female state?

The goddess replied: Although I have sought my “female state” for these twelve years, I have not found it. Reverend Sariputra, if a magician were to incarnate a woman by magic, would you ask her, “What prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?”

Sariputra: No! Such a woman would not really exist, so what would there be to transform?

Goddess: Just so, reverend Sariputra, all things do not really exist. Now, would you think, “What prevents one whose nature is that of a magical incarnation from transforming herself out of her female state?” Thereupon the goddess employed her magical power to cause the elder Sariputra to appear in her form and to cause herself to appear in his form. Then the goddess, transformed into Sariputra, said to Sariputra, transformed into a goddess, “Reverend Sariputra, what prevents you from transforming ourself out of your female state?”

And Sariputra, transformed into the goddess, replied, “I no longer appear in the form of a male! My body has changed into the body of a woman! I do not know what to transform!”

The goddess continued, “If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, ‘In all things, there is neither male of female.’ ”

Then, the goddess released her magical power and each returned to his ordinary form. She then asid to him, “Reverend Sariputra, what have you done with your female form?”

Sariputra: I neither made it nor did I change it.

Goddess: Just so, all things are neither made nor changed, and that they are not made and not changed, that is the teaching of the Buddha.

from The Vimalakirti Sutra, translated by Robert A. F. Thurman

To me, it appears the basic idea is that gender itself is a mental construct that is ultimately false. This will be problematic within a Mormon context, but does this ideal of extreme “gender colorblindness” have merit, or is it itself a dead-end road to travel?

Actually, the Buddha would chide me for framing the question in that way, but what can I do? I, myself, am a product of Western constructual thinking.

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Rage, but what else is new?


Girl comics, courtesy of Kate Beaton

Girl comics, courtesy of Kate Beaton

Recently, I’ve been reading the always controversial Feminist Mormon Housewives a lot, and it’s been pissing me off. I am really mad at men right now.

As the stories continued to flood in of men holding incredibly wrong-headed ideas about women, I ground my teeth. I pulled my hair out. I rubbed my eyes in exhaustion and snorted in disgust. I’m not perfect by any means, but I had grown up with strong women – my mother was a strong, opinionated woman who, when she deferred to my father, it was out of respect, to keep the peace, or because the issue wasn’t as important to her. Meanwhile, I never saw my father tell my mother what to do or force her to do anything. She was intelligent, she was compassionate, she was capable, and she did not take lip from her children, that’s for sure.

My sister is studying for medicine. She is engaged to a great guy (congratulations!) and all the guys in Seattle chased her, but when she moved to Utah, the dates quickly disappeared to a small trickle. I often wondered if it was because my sister actually wanted to pursue a career, had strong opinions, and wouldn’t back down from them. While interacting with many Utahn/Mormon men, these qualities I always considered strengths they considered detriments.

My prom date went to John Hopkins to study medicine. My old high school crush climbs cliffs and teaches children. My best friends who were girls went on to do many great things all over the world. My wife today is an inventory specialist and internal auditor for an fine import company. If anyone challenges her accounting prowess, she will put him in his place. Despite all of her strong characteristics, she loves emailing clients best because of her unusual name – people think she’s a man. And once they find out she’s actually a woman, even if it’s months after dealing business with her, they immediately treat her differently, as if she was stupid or weak.

And if anyone tells me that my mother, or my sister, or my wife should know “their place,” I may just knock their teeth out. After all, when it comes to their “capability as a woman,” the women in my life have already proved them wrong, over and over and over again.

I, lucky me, was not in want when it came to strong women in my life. And it has blessed my life greatly.

Whenever men complain about a girl who didn’t make out with him or sleep with him even though he paid so much money for the date, I gnash my teeth because he essentially looks at dating as socially acceptable prostitution, not a courtship ritual for learning the personality of a woman you like.

Whenever men treat a woman condescendingly, whenever they insinuate that her place is in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant, whenever they insinuate that the entire purpose of a wife can be boiled down to (1) look pretty, and (2) make babies, I wish hard that I was a benevolent dictator in charge of a widespread eugenics program.

Whenever I see an article that tells men to dump their girlfriends who can discuss philosophy because it shows those women are insecure and hide behind a false veneer of intellectualism to mask it (true story), I want to scream and yell and kick and rip out their throats and arms so that they can no longer continue to disseminate such horrible misinformation.

And even more so, I despair to see women who know nothing else, who internalize these messages designed to keep them believing they are somehow inferior, somehow ill suited for complex tasks or complex intelligence. I hate it when my wife, after one of my  feminist rants, looks at me and says, calmly, “Yes, theoretically this is all true, but in reality, none of this is true. Too many men and too many women believe in these artificial constructs of themselves.” Because I know in my heart that she may be right.

Who are these men, who profess to revere and love their mothers and wives, and yet look so poorly down upon them? Do they ignore their cognitive dissonance out if ignorance, or because it disturbs their convenient world view? As I sit wondering if we will ever approach anything close to Zion in my lifetime, my heart despairs. How can we, when we continue to systematically abuse and degrade 50% of our population, all the while justifying it as if God wants His daughters to suffer?

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Not your mother’s feminism

A recent video game came out called Bayonetta, and it’s received a lot of criticism for, once again, sexualizing and exploiting women. She’s a woman of impossible figure – big breasted, long legged, unrealistically skinny. Most of her costume is just her hair, so when she fights, a lot of her body is revealed. She blows kisses to break seals and the targets you use in the game is in the shape of lips. She sashays needlessly and no doubt, her sexuality is the weapon you use to fight baddies in the game. In other words, this isn’t the type of game you’d want to play in front of your parents. And so the angry cries of exploitation of the female body for sexual enjoyment by men rings in the air once more.

However, over at GamePro, a female writer by the name of Leigh Alexander says games like Bayonetta – with its flamboyancy, nudity, and fluid violence – doesn’t set back women’s rights; in fact, it’s progressive. Bayonetta is over-the-top, yes, but that’s because the game designer, Hideki Kamiya of Devil May Cry fame, is always over-the-top. Anyone who’s played his games can attest to it. So what some call exploitive, Leigh calls stylized, and sometimes, a little sexuality isn’t a bad thing for women’s rights.

It’s wonderful that our entertainment medium is developing more characters that bring more to the table than their looks — but at the same time, we can accept that being mousy, tomboyish or turtle-necked is not the only way a woman can be considered admirable. Bayonetta’s elegant nakedness in the fervor of battle is not in and of itself a bad thing.

Now, I’ll admit. Just looking at the pictures of Bayonetta set off my exploitation-radar. I am definitely what you would call an old-school feminist – women should be able to wear pants, they should be able to vote, they should have their voices heard, they should be able to work, they don’t have to look like impossible supermodels, or, so help me, I’ll get all Susan B. Anthony up in your grill.

But I can’t argue with Leigh’s logic – in Bayonetta, women are the power figures and players of the world; the men simply follow the rules and hope to survive. The unique fact that Bayonetta uses her feminine sexuality specifically as a weapon means she’s doing something male game characters can’t do, and as Leigh played through the game, she had never felt more empowered by a game in her life.

Leigh’s particular point that impressed me:

I already know that women can do all the same things men can. This time, I get to see a woman do plenty of things men can’t. And I love it.

This isn’t a game I’d let my ten year old daughter play to help her feel empowered, that’s for sure. But at the same time, isn’t this something we want in games? Girl characters in games who not only can do everything guys can do, but something only girls can do? Empowering, strong female characters that aren’t regulated to just sidekicks or mere NPC eye candy? Female characters that are more than “the same thing as a man, just with breasts and a ponytail”? And while I certainly can’t say I want my daughter to grow up into some kind of vigilante that fights naked and overtly uses her sexuality as a weapon, I don’t want her to cover it up, think mousey-ness is good (culturally insert “chaste”) and all forms of female sexuality is bad (culturally insert “slutty” or “exploitive”). I want her to be comfortable with her sexuality, to know that she’s special and different than boys rather than just playing “catch-up”, that she really has power and autonomy in a world seemingly ruled by old, white dudes. Perhaps this is the new direction of feminism, and while at face value it might seem disconcerting at first, it’s really something I can’t complain about for the time being.

To read more of Leigh Alexander’s thoughts on video games and girls, along with a follow up post on her GamePro article, visit her blog Sexy Videogameland.

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An Open Letter to the Women’s Clothing Industry

Dear Women’s Clothing Industry,

Go to hell.

No, seriously. Go to hell. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the torturous emotional war you’re waging against your own market, your own demographic you’re trying to sell products to, but if you are aware (and unless you live in a black hole of ignorance, you are) then please do us all a favor and go burn for all eternity.

What are you thinking? I recently went clothing shopping with my wife. She had always expressed reluctance whenever it came to clothes shopping. She said that it made her feel fat, that it made her feel inadequate, that it made her feel ugly. I will admit, I thought she was exaggerating, that she was being an overly sensitive female. I feel like a jerk for thinking this now, but I am nowhere close to being as mean spirited as you.

Throughout the entire shopping experience, I felt like an abusive ex-boyfriend continued to belittle my wife the entire time. My wife is not ugly. In her prime when she worked out every day, she had the same measurements as Marilyn Monroe (no joke). She’s gained a little weight since then but nowhere near the clinically obese the media parades everyday as social pariahs. No, she’s a healthy weight with great hips and a bust most girls are jealous of. So how come she can’t find any clothes for her? Apparently, the curvy standard of said Marilyn Monroe is out – the new look that is “in” seems to be that of Auschwitz. That, or little girls who haven’t hit puberty yet. What kind of terrible double standard do you set, where you applaud women with large breasts and yet promote a body type that naturally prohibits it? Why do you promote such terrible insanity?

We eventually found a hoodie for her. It’s incredibly cute and I love it. It fits perfectly, a beautiful brown color to compliment her hair and eyes, with a long, tapered feel that clings to her very nicely. But guess what? The size is XXL. What in all that is good and holy is that all about? Are you trying to imply my wife can’t get around on her own unless she’s propelling herself with a motorized chair? Because she is a very beautiful woman, much more beautiful than your models who you could switch out with the kids on those charities asking for money for starving African children and the only thing different is their skin color. It still bugs her to this day.

Like I said, I love the hoodie. I compliment her when she wears it at least five to ten times a day. But every single time, she mutters, “Yeah, I look great in an XXL hoodie.” When we started shopping, she said bitterly that the sizes should be renamed as Too Small, Still Too Small, and Small. I laughed, but my heart sank as the day drew on. Her comment hit the target perfectly. She wasn’t being sarcastic; she had simply endured one too many embarrassing, demoralizing shopping trips.

How do you get away with this? How are you the only industry that runs on maintaining a cruel war of divide-and-conquer on the entire female population in this country, of turning one sister against another simply because of body type? How are you the only industry that can continue this slash-and-burn insult against all women everywhere? How is it that people continue to buy your products that you purposely design to humiliate them? You promote a false sense of beauty that you surely acknowledge as naturally impossible, driving women to starving themselves, slicing themselves up, destroying their original, beautiful identities into false masks, terrible, twisted caricatures of people once unique and charming and quirky without any help from you.

So you know what? Go to hell.

Go to hell for the millions of women whose confidence you have shattered through your dubious practices and malicious marketing.

Go to hell for the millions of women you’ve driven to starving their bodies to fit your artificial, sickening ideal of beauty.

Go to hell for the millions of women who feel compelled to cut up their breasts as if it was sushi, inject chemicals into their faces, shave off their bones with instruments no more sophisticated than the power tools in my father’s garage.

Go to hell for the women who’ve taken their own lives, who drudge through lives of abuse, physical, emotional, and sexual, because they feel they deserve no better, for inspiring an entire generation of men to expect the impossible from those who would do anything just to feel attractive in their presence.

Go to hell for the millions of women who despise themselves, who translate your veiled attacks on their physique as critiques on their personalities as a whole.

Go to hell for all that you’ve done, for destroying the self-confidence of my wife who, despite the fact is the most beautiful girl on the planet, cannot realize this because you and your drone lackeys have told her repeatedly that no man will love her unless she loses forty pounds, dyes her hair, and have breasts so large it would be almost comical if it wasn’t so depressingly sad. You’ve subsisted for far too long as a parasite on our better halves, preying on their insecurities to line your pockets, stoking the fires of self-loathing for your own profit. And for that, dear Women’s Clothing Industry, go to hell. May you pay the price for every tear you’ve battered out of women everywhere, for every stab and twist in their heart, for every thought of hatred directed towards themselves because of your lies and influence until you’ve fulfilled your debt in full.

Sincerely, Ted Lee

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The complexity of femininity

Growing up in Seattle, I was indoctrinated with great oratory on the glory of women’s rights. It was never anything like the militant feminism many conservatives fear today; they were very practical and, as far as I’m concerned, true statements concerning what a man’s proper relationship with a woman should be – no means no, women are people and not property, women should be able to work and go to school if they so desire, women deserve equal respect in the workplace, etc., ad nauseum. If you look at the history of the world and the state of many women around us today, you cannot help but shake your head at the sickening repression women have faced. To me, women’s rights had never been opinion or theory – it was simple fact.

This has two repurcusions – one, I feel I’m a big proponent of women’s rights, and that it helps me with my marriage as I treat my wife with respect and dignity. Two, because I am a big proponent of women’s rights and consider myself progressive in this area, and I have thus become smug (note: smugness is a byproduct of any zealous ideology, not just feminism).

My wife and I have a very balanced relationship. But, to be truthful, that balance need to be calibrated in the beginning, and a lot of that required calibration was because of my love of women’s rights. When I moved to Utah, I rejected a lot of the more conservative, traditional views on women. It would, from time to time, make me sick. The marriage frenzy of the BYU sub-culture always seemed to put a greater toll on women than men, and it was generally women that seemed to compromise themselves more in effort to fit into what society demanded.

Because of that, I intentionally nurtured various non-traditional female roles in my wife. For example, I encouraged her to play some video games. She loved Katamari Damacy, eventually moving to Okami, and recently just finished her first video game in the form of Persona 4 (true ending and all). Some days, to relax after work, she would sit on the couch for an hour or two (or sometimes even three) playing video games to de-stress and unwind the springs her workplace tightly winds. When she lamented that she felt lazy and ugly, sitting on the couch in her pajamas playing video games all day, I merely reminded her that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that I felt she was attractive, and that because she had a high stress job, I didn’t mind if she took an hour or two to just relax.

We would often share the workload of household chores. When Dantzel came to the realization that she hated the never ending laundry piles or dishes, I cheerfully picked up the slack, mostly because I find the monotony of daily household chores to be incredibly Zen and almost relaxing. When Dantzel lamented that she felt somewhat useless around the house, I merely reminded her that such gender constructs, while useful, are not universal, and we should adapt to our individual family needs.

I was, in my mind’s eye, the paragon of the progressive, non-oppressive husband that encouraged his wife to think outside the box and broaden her horizons. She had a career, she attended school, I didn’t chide her to do housework all day and I allowed her to do traditionally non-female activities such as video games. I felt she was on the track to become a confident, well adjusted female in today’s modern-day society.

Except the opposite was happening. Her self-image plummeted. She began to feel completely useless when I would do the housework and she couldn’t help and would sulk or go to her other tasks listlessly. She began to feel pigeonholed into her job. My wife became incredibly depressed.

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure it out, and perhaps a little bit of resentment creeped in. Why was my wife sulking when I was doing the dishes and laundry? Didn’t she feel grateful that I didn’t make her do this? Why does she feel so ugly all the time? Don’t I foster and encourage an environment where she could feel comfortable no matter how she looked? I didn’t understand, because I couldn’t see how I was contributing greatly to the problem.

Eventually, I began to suspect that perhaps I was supressing her in a completely different way. Dantzel, despite being somewhat of an iconoclast amongst traditional Utah Mormon women, still had a feminine side. I quickly realized this when, as my guilt nagged at me, I bought her lip gloss from Target. It was from the bargain bin for $1. It purported to taste of orange colada. It had some sparklies. But Dantzel was amazed – shocked, even – that I would get it for her. Her expression flustered and somewhat embarrassed, she graciously accepted the gift, and I realized that this whole time, I was acting with zeal, but lacked knowledge.

Femininity is a complex concept, multi-faceted and especially hard to understand from the straightforward, one track mind male point of view. My wife was strong-willed and independent. What initially drew me in was her penchant for challenging my world views, opinions and ideas if she saw them confusing or logically unsound. But I realized that also drew me to her was her stereotypical, traditional feminine side – her flirty hats and cute pigtails, along with her ecclectic fashion. I had nurtured all aspects of her – except her feminine aspect, which arguably is her most natural.

When I denied her the ability to contribute in household chores, I wasn’t doing her a favor. She felt useless.  I encouraged her to play video games – and she enjoyed the pasttime – but it wasn’t until later in our marriage that I also encouraged her to knit, her more traditionally feminine hobby, because I was afraid of forcing a traditional stereotype on her. When she sat all day in her pajamas playing video games and complained of feeling unattractive, I carelessly and insensitively shooed away these thoughts as lingering malfeasance from living with an oppressive, over-sexualized and physical image obsessed society domineered by uncaring men. Of course, if I sat around in pajamas all day doing nothing, I would feel nasty, too, but I never seemed to make the connection with my wife. And when I focused on helping her advance her career, she felt trapped in trying to please her husband while maintaining her grip on everything else in life as work became more complicated.

I became like Julia Robert’s character in the movie Mona Lisa Smile (yeah, I referenced a Julia Roberts movie. What about it?). Like her, I enforced my own view of what a woman should be, rejecting all “traditional” views, and in the end, became just as oppressive as the more “traditional” oppressors. What if, her students cry out in the movie, I want to be a traditional housewife and mother? What if that’s what they actually want and Julia Roberts is preventing them from doing so because of her own pride, stubbornness and inability to realize people are diverse and different? I was doing the same thing. My wife is much too modest to agree; however, while a woman’s self esteem and self worth and body image is a complex composite of a vast recipe of thoughts, attitudes, experiences and horomones, my overbearing zeal in promoting a “progressive wife” (whatever the heck that is) also took its toll.

Now, I try to do household chores together, and she loves it, even though she constantly expresses dislike for them still to this day. I bought her a knitting basket to hold all of her knitting materials, which she stows right next to couch and the Wii. I encourage her to do what is best for work, even if it means cutting hours so that she can devote more time to other pursuits. And, yes, sometimes I will go out of my way to look for something nice for her, whether it’s an eclectic turtle carving necklace or even the $1 lip gloss in Target’s bargain bin, to show that I respect her feminine nature.  Even if it means supporting that evil, oppressive, overly-sexualized, physical image obsessed society controlled by domineering, insensitive patriarchs. Sometimes, my wife just wants sexy lips with sparklies. And, well, as an occasionally domineering, insensitive patriarch (without intending to be one), I can’t say I hate it either.

True freedom for the woman is not achieved through any type of dogma; rather, the dogma is an anathema to female agency. A strict, dogmatic anti-establishment feminism quickly transforms into the very shackles the movement strives to o’erthrow. In the end, we become the enemy. We should celebrate all types of women with their myriad of personalities. But traditional feminine roles seem to be based upon natural instincts that our ancestors found best to propogate the species and protect the herd. Even though she hates it, Dantzel still feels a need to act domestically from time to time. While today, it seems to hinge more on her feeling of usefulness rather than fulfilling any internal domestic agenda, it is a good reminder for the feminist (male or female) to remember that tapping into traditional feminine roles may become some of the most liberating activities for today’s 21st Century, modern woman.

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