I have been somewhat remiss in my coverage of this super fun month, and for that I am truly sorry. Also I’m still on vacation (visiting my bestie preggofriend for her spring break shout out to Lake City and the sugar bean.) So here are some other fun things you can read for women’s history month about Gloria Steinem (who just turned 80!), some fun videos, a trans Google Hangout event from Janet Mock and other events from womenshistorymonth.gov, a shout out from Google, and…
This super fun cool article I wrote as a guest blogger for the Association of College and Research Libraries blog, in the Women & Gender Studies Section! It’s called Mainstream Feminism: How it Works, Why It Doesn’t (Always.) A big thanks to the folks at ACRL, particularly Tinamarie and Melissa, for asking me to write and getting the post live. And thanks to all my readers, old and new, for letting me holler at you about gender-y things, sex, love, etc. Enjoy the rest of Women’s History Month, I’ll be back next week to keep up the work of all the fabulous ladies who’ve come before me.
Do you think they are greedy? Indecisive? Are they lying or seeking attention?Perhaps really just gay and not ready to take the full leap yet?
Check this classic Sex and the City convo about Carrie’s young love interest (sorry for the bad dubbing, that wasn’t me and youtube is not trying to give me what I want!)
That conversation may seem dated, but I know plenty of people who’d still describe that as ‘real talk’. Which is why this excellent article from the New York Times, regarding a new push to ‘prove’ that bisexuality exists, wasn’t shocking to me. The writer describes various studies, all collecting physical data and hoping to measure arousal levels to compare with personal identity statements. I can only imagine that this push for scientific legitimacy is happening because folks who identify as bi are actually super likely to be met with ire and mistrust. In some cases, this pushback is more than a gay or lesbian person would get, because lots of folks think that bi-sexual isn’t a real identity.
This situation is a clear example of the problem with linking sexual preference to identity. Actually linking any choice with identity, at least a large group identity. The way that the mainstream LGBTQ community has managed to gain access to rights such as marriage and non-discrimination laws is by a savvy combination of ‘I was born this way’ and ‘we’re just like you.’ And the idea that people choose who they are attracted to is actually super dangerous to this fight, because hateful idiots would use that as ammunition to discriminate and withhold inalienable rights.
But sexuality and sexual preference only exist as an identity marker because the culture demanded it. I used to joke that ‘gay people didn’t exist before 1960’, and that’s actually not completely inaccurate. Folks who wanted to sleep with same sex partners before that was culturally acceptable did so in secret, or in the semi-open as more of a lifestyle choice. Lesbians, in particular, got away with this a lot because it wasn’t seen as a threat to men (because how could sex possibly happen without a penis??) Because these folks were not organized and asking for legitimacy in society, they were less visible. And their sexual choices were what they did, and not exactly who they were.
I do, of course, think it is important that folks are able to live openly, without fear of violence or prejudice and with the full range of options for how to live their lives. However. The more categories you create, the more boxes you draw and the more pressure everyone feels to fit in a box. And we do love boxes don’t we? Male or Female. Gay or Straight. Chocolate or Vanilla. PICK A FLAVOR!!!!!!
But these boxes, these binaries, are reductive and exclusive and they breed a lot of hate and misunderstanding. And bisexuality is an interesting example, because even folks in the traditionally maligned group (gay/lesbian) and their allies are distrustful and ignorant. The same could be said about transgender folks, who face discrimination even from other liberal or oppressed groups. The inbetween people face the most antagonism.
Why is this? What are we all so uncomfortable with? I remember learning about the word queer in grad school, reading about queer time and queer space. I felt so saved by the ideas I learnt about, ideas that gave a name to life trajectories that don’t follow a heteronormative path and a world view that is more circular and leaves room for error. I wanted to exist in those spaces, outside the world of marriages and jobs and the lives that so many choose without choosing. I wanted to exist on the page, at dusk and dawn, living a path of otherness as many had done before me.
And actually, I rejected the term bi-sexual. It was another box, and felt strangely surgical to me. As though that word, bi-sexual, split me into two parts. As though those parts were competing with one another. But there are not two parts of me, just one whole self. And as I learned how to love, I did have experiences that I felt took me out of the ‘hetero’ category. But I don’t, and have never, liked any of the labels I heard as options. So I thought to myself ‘I love at dusk’, and I left it at that.
The studies being done now do shed light on the variations and complications intrinsic to our sexuality, our sexual preferences, and our experience of our own sexual identity. There is a reason why people think that bi-sexual men don’t exist because they are all secretly gay. It isn’t, however, because men can’t be bi-sexual. It’s because we live in a culture where women are believed to be more fluid, and men are given less freedom to experiment. Less wiggle room. And so, it stands to reason that men are less likely to explore desires that could make them vulnerable to a label they are not comfortable with. And that sucks. And it sucks that lots of young women who come out as bi are told ‘it’s just a phase’ and that ‘they’ll grow out of it.’ And it sucks that if you are bi, it can be super hard to find same sex partners because they are distrustful and fear that you will leave them for a hetero relationship. And it sucks that in order to be recognized as a human worthy of respect and rights, you must draw a line in the sand and say ‘I exist, and there are others like me.’ The more categories of folks that come forward, the more we miss the point: That sexuality is a continuum, a path along which we are all traveling. It grows, it evolves, it changes. And our sexuality doesn’t define us. And no sexuality could possibly negate a person’s right to be treated with respect and live a full life.
Although, I do kinda like this definition quoted in the article:
I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way and not necessarily to the same degree.
That shape feels large enough, with flexible enough edges, that I may just be able to dance in there comfortably, with other folks on similar adventures. Cause we are all just trying to be who we are, really. I think this grumpy pug in a unicorn costume illustrates our collective struggle to metamorphize into our most magical selves.
Never stop trying. The struggle is real, haters gonna hate, the journey is long. Find other folks wearing unicorn outfits, love those people for their whole unique selves, take care of them and allow them to take care of you. One day it won’t take scientific data for folks to accept the truth about who we all are and who we all love.
Sometimes, you know, life (especially in this city) is a contact sport, complete with tears and bruises and existential crises that cause you to questions your life path and purpose.
For me, the final blow came last night in the form of some minor tax drama. It’s all going to be ok, the IRS isn’t upset with me and life will go on. But walking home, I was very frustrated and upset. In fact, if we’re being honest (and I’d like to think that we are) I was holding back tears.
As I turned onto my quiet street, I was fuming and just counting the seconds until I could get into my building and cry it out in private. And I was walking in the street because sometimes that feels better than the sidewalk (anyone?) and a guy on a bike rode past. And he said ‘Hey girl, what’s good? I can turn that frown upside down.’
I mumbled ‘fuck off’ under my breath and kept walking. But now I wasn’t exactly able to keep from crying because on top of my own grown up issues, I had just been objectified and harassed on my own fucking street.
Let me be clear about something: I like compliments. It isn’t always easy to accept them gracefully, but sincere compliments (especially from people whose opinion I value) are totally lovely. And you know what, when I put in the extra effort to get my lip stick just right and brush my hair and put together a super cute outfit, I appreciate a little reinforcement. But when a stranger on the street makes a comment like this, it is not a compliment.
Men make these kinds of remarks to women on the street because our culture teaches us that women’s bodies are not their own. It teaches us that we have the authority to make judgments about their appearance, that we have the right to vocalize those judgments, and that we can use their appearance to make reasonable deductions about their personalities (note*: this is connected to rape culture and the idea that rape victims who dress sexy were asking for it.) All people have thoughts in their heads about other people, but it is women who have thoughts vocalized at them the most. Because the culture allows for that. And from there, it’s a hop skip and a jump to folks thinking that, since our bodies aren’t our own, they have a right to touch us and/or react aggressively when we don’t respond with gratitude. Because in a culture that teaches women that their intrinsic value is directly and inextricably linked to their appearance, we all must just be salivating for proof that we are beautiful, and grateful when we receive that validation.
But feeling like my body is not my own is not a compliment. Especially when I know how often ‘Girl you’re fine’ quickly takes a turn towards ‘You’re a bitch/slut/whore!’ when I do not react or do not react positively (or when your body isn’t what your harassers assumed.) People who think you are an object they can comment on freely can’t possibly treat your with the full amount of respect that a human deserves. And in my case, last night, that guy was not interested in any of the possible reasons why I was upset. He saw me as a thing. Because without some extended experience with tax laws and financial experience, it is not at all true that he’d be able to ‘turn my frown upside down.’ But no matter, a sexual object doesn’t have a real life or other needs, so in his mind all I needed was some dick.
Sorry to take it there. But if that offended you, then you should ask some ladies in your life the kind of filth that’s gotten hurled at them in public. My incident last night was relatively tame, and since I kept quiet and kept walking it did not escalate. And it can escalate, drastically. We live in a world where women walk fast with their eyes down and sometimes cross the street to avoid large groups of men-folk because public space isn’t as safe for us. And this is not the same situation as a legit flirtation, with eye contact and a sly smile and reciprocated interest, so please don’t complain about never being able to express your attraction in public. Be a grown up, it’s not that hard to figure out when someone is also into you and open to a conversation.
If you want to read more about how this makes women feel, Google it. There are lots of brilliantly written pieces and organizations like Hollaback! attempting to tackle this very real safety concern. If you are a male-bodied person and still confused, ask a sister or a mom or a girl friend how she feels walking home alone at night. I’ll bet she thinks about turning her music down and glancing behind her and making sure her keys are ready. If that sounds weird, it’s because it is. Women walk around with a heightened sense of caution, a knowledge that some people see us without respecting or empathizing with our humanity. It sucks to think that a whole portion of the population sees me, and women in general, as nothing more than a vessel for their fantasies and an object to satisfy their desires. Last night was already going to be a drag, but that small reminder that I must always remain vigilant was the last straw. I was tired, I was frustrated, and I was unable to keep it together.* I cried, I poured myself a strong drink, and for the rest of the night I distracted myself with my contempt for the show Glee (this whole Funny Girl storyline is the WORST!) If you are a male bodied person and you’ve never felt this kind of tiredness, if you’ve never felt this kind of vigilance necessary, ponder on your privilege. And if you’ve ever been street harassed and would like to share your experience, please comment. Sharing is caring. Let’s take care of each other.
*Shout out to Pepper, who let me cry about my taxes etc and then watched me yell at the TV without complaint. ❤
Listen, anything that Beyonce does I just want to rave about. Especially if she is using her considerable voice to point her legions of fans towards feminist issues. But I have what I can only describe as very mixed feelings about her collabo with Sherly Sandberg and their latest PSA to #BanBossy:
I mean, when she says “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”, I get chills and pump my fist. But…
But. I’m not sure this is quite the best way to address this issue. After reading a whole bunch of intelligent pieces on this campaign, I think I’ve got my own thoughts in order on why this isn’t a slam dunk.
One camp of folks thinks we should encourage girls to be bossy, instead of banning the term. The actual definition of bossy is ‘fond of giving people orders, domineering.’ Not exactly an endearing trait. I don’t think we should encourage anyone to be bossy. Then we will have a whole generation of corporate CEO type assholes, and I don’t see that as a positive step. (This echoes one reason some people weren’t enthused about Lean In, because it encourages women to conform to the patriarchal corporate system instead of making a new system that works better for more people. Valid.)
Now, assertive is maybe a better choice of word. We should encourage young women to be assertive. I have no issue with that idea at all. But banning the word bossy doesn’t really help us encourage girls to do anything. Restricting words doesn’t empower girls or teach them anything about self confidence or being true to themselves. Overall, I think it would be more prudent to encourage everyone to think a little harder before using the word (would I be using this word if she were a boy? why is this word appropriate in this situation?) rather than just banning it. Because if a small person is being bossy, we should for sure call them out. But only if it’s a warranted observation and not a gender based insult.
So I don’t think restricting language is the answer, but I’m also not advocating reclamation. What I really would like to see is a campaign that says ‘Be yourself, you are enough.’ Because the truth is, not all women are ‘bosses.’ And you know what, not all boys and men are bosses. Some people are leaders, and some are not, and that’s completely fine. We need to work towards a feminism that will advocate for everyone. I think Lean In is very smart and articulate, but it’s only aimed at a small contingent of women. What about women who want more of a work life balance, and men who want paternity leave? Why not campaign for a federal family leave minimum and a greater variety of work hours/telecommuting options?
Or if you really wanna stick to this whole leadership track (which totally is a valid track because there is a very real female leadership deficit!) why not campaign for school programs that teach leadership skills for girls, or for schools to teach feminist theory in their curriculum? Why not talk about which books we can give girls with relatable heroines, and how we can get teenagers focused away from Twilight/boys and towards realizing they are worth more than their physical beauty?
Why not feature this dope chick in your PSA, and let girls be inspired by this realness:
The women featured in the #BanBossy video are just so great. They are successful. They are confident. And they are lending their voice towards an issue that I’m sure affected them as girls and in their early careers. But why can’t they use their considerable reach and resources to create a campaign with a more concrete goal? I’m a writer, so I understand that words absolutely matter. But banning or reclaiming a hurtful word isn’t going to solve the over arching issue. I can use the terms ‘bitch’ or ‘cunt’ playfully and say I’ve reclaimed them, but that doesn’t take away their power in the wrong hands and it sure as shit doesn’t solve the overall problem of our sexist, misogynist culture. I wish they had a plan that was less hashtag-able and catchy, and more results oriented.
That being said, the campaign has started a conversation, and gotten people talking about this issue. And any feminist agenda item getting lots of air and page time is a win. So is the fact that recognizable faces are showing support of this idea, and to that end I must return to Beyonce. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist, and the debates around her feminism are lively and important. But I really do think that this kind of mega star, a black woman/wife/mother/mogul, being outspoken about her personal feminism, is absolutely epic and a major step forward (away from other’s who deny the label.)
So while I think #BanBoss is catchy and well intended but ultimately kinda weak, I’m still happy to see this campaign and happy to see these ladies working together and happy to see feminism getting a positive shout out. The more we shine a light on the variety of issues our younger sisters face, the more we can help them grow into the strong, capable, unique women they will become.
Here’s to the next generation of leaders, artists, mothers, teachers, students, performers, writers, readers, thinkers, athletes, creators, dreamers, movers and shakers. I hope we continue to support them and push the world to be a safer place for them (and all of us) to thrive.
In addition to being effervescent and flawless, she is also an outspoken activist against sexual violence in real life, creating The Joyful Heart foundation and appearing in ads for the No More organization:
SVU has been raising awareness about sexual violence and rape for 15 freakin’ seasons. And while I may never get over the abrupt exit of Detective Stabler (SERIOUSLY CHRIS MAOLNI WTF?! WE NEED SOME CLOSURE!) the show has continued to grow and evolve. We said goodbye to a some of the shows most beloved characters this season (I will always love you Dan Floreck), and Olivia got the bump up to Sargent. And episode #14, Comis Perversion, employees one of Law & Order’s favorite tactics: a story ripped from the real world headlines.
This is Daniel Tosh, he has a show on E!, and he’s a comic. He got in hot water awhile ago for making a rape joke. It was a bad rape joke. To be clear, I don’t think that rape is always off the table for a comedy show. Here is a rape joke I find quite hilarious, smart, and on point, from Louis CK:
Ok so let’s put aside the issues of comedy and free speech. Feminists aren’t humorless bitches who want to take away an artists right to explore whatever topics he wants. But I kinda think comedy should be funny and healing, and making the victims of a violent crime the butt of your jokes isn’t funny. At least not to anyone with a single empathetic bone in their body. But you can say whatever the hell you want. That issue isn’t what got to me about this episode.
These are the main players in the scenario, the comic (who does in fact turn out to be a rapist) and his college student victim:
The show does a great job of showing how our culture functions to discredit rape victims. In this case, the girl had been drinking heavily. She flirted with her assailant and even went back to his hotel room and drank champagne. At that point she blacked out and when she regained consciousness he was raping her. She never denied being intoxicated or interacting with him previous to the attack. Despite the fact that she was honest about these details, the defense uses them against her to paint her and her allegations a bright shade of red with a very important underlying philosophy: sluts deserve to get raped.
Let me put this in some really simple language: Flirting is not consent. Accepting drinks is not consent. Going with someone to where the live/sleep is not consent. So basically, she can in fact get drunk and flirt and go home with you and then say no. In this case, it’s likely she passed out, in which case it was absolutely un-consensual because an unconscious person cannot give consent. And any person at any time can say ‘No.’ It doesn’t matter if its a male or female bodied person, it doesn’t matter if it’s a first time sexual encounter or if partners are in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if that’s frustrating or hard to understand.
Now look. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get super wasted and go to new places with strangers. It’s playing with fire and it’s immature. I wish we lived in a world where people were more open about their sexual desires and more forth right when discussing sex and consent. I wish college kids in particular would be more careful, and indeed feel more free to experiment and play without needing to get wasted. Also, shit happens, and I do not think that all drunk sex = rape. But. The statistics that link binge drinking to rape should not lead you to think ‘Oh, girls who drink should know better.’ The appropriate reaction is ‘Oh, predators are using alcohol to pick on already impaired victims and create a built in defense for their crime. What assholes!’
And with all this talk about consent, how to we define it? When I Googled ‘sexual consent definition’ I got a lot of articles seeking to define sexual assault as an act without consent, but consent itself was not immediately defined on clear terms. I did find a great article from Safer Campus.org that attempts to define consent using examples from various university policy statements, but that same article makes the excellent point that lots of universities use the term consent in their policies without attempting to define it at all. There’s also the ubiquitous portrayal of women who at first say no, but are then coaxed into a sexual encounter. This is often a scenario in romantic comedies. But coercion is not romantic, and women are not all playing hard to get because it’s just so much more fun to ‘get convinced.’ (Although that isn’t entirely uncommon because in our culture women are supposed to be sexually available but also not want sex too much or we risk the slut label so all of this can be linked back to that over arching villain: patriarchy.)
I personally love the idea of enthusiastic consent. This article from Persephone magazine says “The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement.” Word on the street is that some people think communication is ‘too much work’, or ‘breaks the mood.’ Sex shouldn’t be easy (not if you’re doing it right) and if talking breaks the mood you should get some tips on dirty talk and how to make consent/communication sexy.
This episode did a fantastic job of forcing us all to put ourselves in the seats of the jurors. When the opposing counsel was describing how the victim was drunk, how she’d flirted, I was shaking my head and thinking ‘Come on guys, don’t do that.’ And part of me stands by the advice that people, especially college aged people and especially college aged women should be way more careful about how much they drink. But that advice comes up short as a solution to the sexual assault epidemic, because we should all be equally worried about personal safety and women shouldn’t be burdened with the added worry of sexual assault when it comes to how much they drink or where they go. The threat of sexual assault does indeed police the lives of women, 24/7 and from a disturbingly young age. It’s unfair. And transgressing those rules of where to be and who to be with and how to act do NOT mean that a victim deserves or was asking for a violent act to be committed against them. As I’ve said before, the only people responsible rape are rapists, and the only advice we can offer to prevent more rapes is ‘Don’t rape anybody.’