Monday, September 29, 2008

Changing My Name

I’m becoming Brandi Brown again. For the past four years, I’ve been Brandi Rhoades, but it’s just never quite fit.

When Brian and I were considering marriage, I intended to keep my birth name. Then we started talking about having children. Let’s face it: naming our children Brown Rhoades is just inviting ridicule into their lives. What to do?

When you’ve previously thought you wouldn’t have children, these discussions are fun and academic, but once you know you’re going to have a babe, they become more serious.

Somewhere in the midst of those conversations came a discussion of “family.” Brian and I have pretty radical ideas overall about what constitutes a family. Gay and lesbian couples. Single parents. Grandparents. Older siblings raising younger ones. Polyamory. We’re really open...when it comes to other people.

As it turns out, our family looks pretty fucking suburban.

We’re a nuclear family unit with 2 cats, a mortgage, soccer nets in the backyard. So when we were having this discussion somewhere in early 2004, when I was thinking of giving up my life as a radical because it was chaotic, Brian brought up the idea of family. If we all have different names, what does that suggest? Does it suggest we’re not really a family? Does it create problems and questions where none should exist? And why was I clinging to “Brown” anyway?

Brown is a common last name. In fact, the website of that name is home to a wedding planner, and I’ve heard rumors there’s a porn star with the name as well. Plus there was that girl on the Mickey Mouse Club when we were little.

Despite my current relationship with my dad, I didn’t grow up with him. I didn’t see him much growing up. And Brown hasn’t been my mother’s name for decades.

I toyed briefly with the idea of using Lambert or Snowden, two other family names that have more meaning to me. Brian and I talked about both using Dawson, which we got by playing around with the letters of Brown and Rhoades.

In the end I bought into the idea that it doesn’t matter what my name is; I know who I am.

Only – it does matter.

Names are important. They speak to who we are, and in the case of last names, we live in an area where having different last names indicates that we’re radically different from everyone around us.

Now that I’m returning into the feminist fold, I’m returning to Brown as well. I’m Brandi Brown. I always have been.

And as for my children, they’re becoming very attached to Rhoades-Brown.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Rape Kits

I was planning to write about how anti-feminist Sarah Palin is. I had a post outlined with notes ready to publish. I just couldn’t get over the scandal about the rape kits. I’ve read a dozen or so articles on the rape kits, and I’m still appalled.

In case you don’t know, here’s what happened:

In 1996, Palin became the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. She soon fired the chief of police for an undetermined reason. The chief’s replacement decided that to cut the budget, the city would stop paying for rape kits. While he said in an interview from 2000 that he’d prefer the rapist pay for the kit, the cost fell to the victims. Palin signed off on the budget with this provision.

In 2000, the state of Alaska decided to make it illegal to charge complainants for rape kits. Wasilla was the only municipality known to be doing so at the time, according to some sources, and one of many according to others.

Now, Sarah Palin claims she didn’t know the city was charging for rape kits. One of two things is happening, and neither is ideal. Either she did know and accepted the charges, or she didn’t know and signed off on the budget without reading it.

I would like to provide a clarification because the articles online, even on supposedly reputable sites like, aren’t clear on this point. A rape kit is not a medical exam. A rape kit is a tool for forensic analysis. Charging for a rape kit is the same as charging the victim of a home invasion for the cost of checking for fingerprints.

After reading about rape kits, I started doing some digging. Does my commonwealth charge for them? I found out that in 2007 – yes, just last year – Kentucky legislators passed a law requiring a fund from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s office to cover the cost of up to 2 medical exams and a rape kit for victims. A bit late, to be sure, but I'm glad the provision's there.

What about other states? Well, it's hard to tell. When a state has a law, as Alaska and Kentucky do now, it's easier to tell that victims aren't footing the bill. When the state doesn't have a law, though, finding out it trickier. Other than calling up random sherriff's offices and asking, there's no real way to know. While I don't have much ground to call other states, you can do so. Call your local law enforcement office and ask.

If someone is raped, who pays?

If you find out it would be the victim, I'd love to know. I'm curious as to whether this practice continues - and if so, whether it will continue now given the coverage the Palin/Wasilla story has received.

Really, though, I want to know. I'll help you mount a campaign to get it stopped. Post a comment here with the municipality or shoot me an email: brandi @ featureresumes . com. I'd love to help.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bitch magazine is a countercultural independent magazine billed as “the feminist response to pop culture.” The amazing women at Bitch provide readers edgy articles about feminism and how a feminist lifestyle fits into the larger culture. I’ve been working on beefing up my feminist credentials, and being published in Bitch is on my list right alongside Ms.

I finally worked up the courage to head to the website this morning to head over to see about querying. (I’ll be damned if that’s not necessary to get published there!) Imagine my horror when I went to their homepage and saw first, a wiener dog, and second a huge headline screaming “Save Bitch!” What? The Bitch needs saving? How can that be?

So I watched the YouTube video about the fate of Bitch magazine.

Then I went back to the homepage to see that supporters of the magazine contributed well more than the needed $40,000 and well before the deadline. Way to go, flush feminists!

But it did make me think. How long will it be before Bitch needs financial help again? Are independent-minded publications destined to financial instability forever? Aren’t there non-mainstream people with the funds to help?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know I want to be part of the solution. Though I’ve picked up Bitch here and there at the bookstore, I’ve never been a faithful reader. So this afternoon I’m ordering a subscription to the magazine. And in the next few weeks, I suspect I’ll be sending a donation as well.

I hope you’ll consider sending something in, too. Bitch needs, according to their video, $160,000 per year to put out four issues. As a whole, that’s a lot of money, but 8,000 people donating $20 can get them there.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What is a reclamation feminist?

To reclaim means to revert something to productive uses which is what I'd like to do with the word “feminism” and the idea of feminist activism. In the 19th century, feminism became synonymous with women's suffrage. Though that association wasn't entirely accurate, it worked. Suffrage is a worthy cause, even if identifying feminism with suffrage meant missing out on other relevant issues.

The second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s was a bit more complex. The most obvious single contribution to which to point is Roe v. Wade, which granted women (in theory, anyway) unfettered access to abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy. Women also gained entry to all forms of higher education and (again theoretical) into all professions. Women earned the right to make decisions about what would happen with their lives.

Somewhere along the way, though, feminism became associated with a sort of mainstream armchair liberal ideology that ultimately meant a refusal to examine data about various gender-based issues. This watered-down feminism also meant elevating all forms of oppression to the same field with a fear of discussing one over another.

Should feminists concern themselves with the rights of immigrants?

Absolutely they should.

They just shouldn't pretend that to care about women's issues primarily is bad or wrong.

Upper middle-class straight white women who pretend to understand the plight of lower-class Latinas living with the threat of deportation do feminism no good. They're not genuine.

By extension, the acknowledgement that some things are just wrong and unfair about the lives of upper middle-class straight white women isn't bad either. These women still face pay discrimination - a wage gap that in many cases exceeds that of their lower-class sisters. These women face sexual harassment, the dreaded "second shift" of domestic work, and seemingly immovable obstacles for juggling careers and families.

These issues are important, too.

After coming to feminism 15 years ago as a teenager, I've cycled from being timidly pro-woman to being a raging, man-hating, hairy-legged feminist to exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships as a show of solidarity with my sisters, and then to a retreat into the nightmare that is middle-class America.

Now I come to a new awakening.

I'm staking again my claim that sex is the most deep-seated category of oppression and that we, as women and men, must rise up to fight for equality and justice. I'm reclaiming feminism as my own and rebranding it to suit the needs of the twenty-first century without equivocation, apology, or fear of retribution.