#becausefeminism

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The next time a man I barely know sits at the dinner table in my mother’s house and jokes derisively that he has a feminism filter on his web browser, it will be a miracle if I don’t kick him in the dick.

‘What kind of magazine?’ he asked me in mock confusion, having heard exactly what I had said.

‘A feminist web zine’ I said. Again. ‘It’s called The Hairpin.’

‘Oh, well I don’t know about that. Will I even be able to access that?’

Then he chuckled contentedly at his funny, funny joke.

We had been discussing, of all things, how to remove water stains from wooden surfaces. My housemate had supplied the answer, sourced (as is all excellent cleaning advice) from ‘Ask a Clean Person’, a long-running column on cheerfully feminist web zine, The Hairpin.
Aside from myself, sitting at the table were my two housemates, my mother, her friend and the aforementioned man. Mum’s friend and this guy were also having an on again off again affair.
My mentioning the word feminism, even in this incredibly casual and tangential context was enough to stop his speech, widen his eyes and produce the mock-shocked ejaculation described above.

Not wanting to be impolite to my mother’s guests, I refrained from the full verbal shanking that I might otherwise have delivered. I was actually still pretty rude, earning myself a subtle ‘stop that Rebecca’ look from my mother, but true to form, this man’s blind arrogance allowed him to completely miss my not-even-remotely-veiled snark.

If I had been subtitled on that evening (for the benefit of the hearing impaired and also the profoundly bigoted), they might have read something like this:

How can you, an (apparently) intelligent and educated man sit comfortably as the only be-testicled guest in a room full of women and so casually and arrogantly deride feminism? Even with the excuse of ignorance that your generation so frequently employs, how can you suggest that Feminism is one big terrible, embarrassing, radical faux pas?

You are sitting at a table with a woman who raised two kids single-handedly. I’m one of them. Without feminism, she would not have been able, or even ALLOWED to do that. She would have been shunned and stigmatised for even wanting to leaver her husband. We might have been taken away and raised by a properly married couple.
You have two daughters. Do you know why they have jobs? Because feminism. Do you know why they could leave their husbands if their husbands hit them? Feminism. Do you know why the police would arrest their husbands if they accused them of domestic violence instead of refusing to become involved in ‘people’s private business’? Feminism.
Do you why they were able to attend university? Feminism.
Do you know why you and your lover are able to have an affair without her facing ostracism, or even threat of death? Feminism.
Do you know why you get to use contraception and have a greatly reduced risk of contracting STIs and accidental children?
Do you know why my mum is allowed to own this property?
Do you know why women are allowed to own any property?
Do you know why we can drive, or even ride a bike?
Do you know why we can goddamn vote?
Do you know why your girlfriend is able to wear a stretchy dress and bare feet right now? Why I am able to wear pants? Why any of us can breathe and eat comfortably in our clothing? Why we can walk easily in our shoes? Why our feet, or even our genitals are not subject to ritual mutilation?
Why I could choose, of my own free will to not marry a bigoted, inconceivably arrogant airbag twice my age who condescends to tell me how ludicrous my ideas about basic human rights are?

Because Feminism. You fucking douche-canoe.

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SlutWalk 2012

 

Sex Worker and Activist Jane Green speaking brilliantly at the rally

 

I didn’t make it to the inaugural rally last time and this year I was awfully glad that I made the effort. There was a reasonable turnout of maybe, 200 people – Melbourne can be a terribly ambivalent city, so anyone showing up is a good sign!
SlutWalk has never been more relevant, with the year between marches filled with attempt after attempt by western politicians to misappropriate women’s rights and bodies for their own advancement. The rally was, if nothing else, a reminder that no matter how cleverly* certain fuckwits may try to slice and dice rape to suit themselves, the quotidian reality of rape and sexual harassment remains that same for women. It happens. It happens a lot, and it happens to all of us.
The name may be controversial – I know many women and feminists are dubious regarding the reclamation of “slut” –  but the core message of the rally is clear and extremely powerful: survivors of rape and sexual assault should never be made to feel responsible for the crime done to them.
I still believe that slut-shaming and victim-blaming are intrinsically linked. Both rely on the precept that a woman exerts some kind of inexorable sexy-force that causes mens’ pants to fall off, that they are asking for it, that they should have done more to not get raped.
Calling someone a slut, or a “tease” is in my opinion, informed by the same attitudes that give voice to victim-blame. It is a suggestion that the woman in question is exhibiting unladylike behaviour and as such deserves any unwanted attention she receives.

I hope that SlutWalk will continue for many years, so that we “sluts” might stand together and refuse to let blame be placed upon us. So that we might continue to insist that the relevant ‘choices’ in an incidence of rape do not include what a woman wears, how much she drinks, who she speaks to or where she goes, but ONLY that of the rapist to rape.

*by cleverly, I mean idiotically.

Shaving and Success: When does feminist practice compromise feminist ideology?

When I first fell down the feminism rabbit hole in my early years at university I, and my classmates, were encouraged to apply our new-found ideology to our lives in whichever ways we felt comfortable.
My story was one which I’m guessing was mirrored by many other twenty-somethings; I stopped shaving and wearing makeup, avoided binding clothes and ditched heels. I also had some pretty uncomfortable conversations with my then boyfriend and learnt the hard way that ‘feminist’ is still a dirty word.
I eventually reached peak in my ‘radicalness’ (which I suspect some would rather refer to as ‘militarism’) and began to wind back many of the changes I had made. I started to wear makeup again, grew my hair and stopped yelling at men on trains who unwittingly invaded the personal space of their female co-passengers.*
Some changes however, I kept; I haven’t worn a pencil skirt or a pair of heels since 2007 except when in costume.

The truth is, that whilst I still appreciate the theory behind many of these feminist practices, they are not always, well, practical.
I recently had a discussion with a woman that I was friends with back when we share gender studies classrooms – she is undertaking a masters of law now and has recently started shaving her legs again. Some of her feminist friends have given her shit for it, but the reality is that she simply cannot expect to advance professionally if she continues not to.
“But that’s FUCKED!!” you say, “fight the power!”
And oh how I agree. But where do you draw the line between damning the man and damaging your opportunities? If wearing mascara and skirt is necessary to get you into the boardroom, then is it more important to take a stand and be left outside than to access your potential to be chairing the fucking meeting, skirt and all?
Because the way I see it, the end-game of feminism is to achieve equality. Pretty basic. But it appears that the path to success is paved with compromise, and sometimes I’m not sure whether the practice is still truly feminist if it prevents the end result.

I have no answers here. A part of me sees frightening parallels between the above and the argument that women should exploit their own sexual objectification in order to gain power. Which I do not endorse.
So tell me blogosphere: what kinds of compromises do you make to get by in the actual fucking RL? And what will you not change for anyone, anytime?

 

*Total bullshit, I still yell at people on trains.

Tweens, Teens, and Thoughts on ‘Role Models’

I nanny a twelve year old girl and her older brother. They are both bright, friendly and pretty well behaved; I love my job.
12 had a vocal recital at her school this week and I went along to witness the effect that very expensive private tuition can have on aspiring starlets.
Three of the five performers (including My Girl) chose songs by Taylor Swift. Three.
One sang Miley Cyrus and the last, Adele.

When I poked gentle fun at 12 after the recital, she felt compelled to defend her decision – saying repeatedly that Taylor Swift was A Good Role Model.
Miley Cyrus on the other hand, is apparently not.

Taylor Swift as an appropriate consumer product for 12 is not a new topic in her household – last year she was allowed by her mother to attend Swift’s concert for that reason whilst being banned from Katy Perry by the same logic.
I cannot disagree with a mother’s decision to prohibit the latter given sexualisation of Perry’s stage presence (she is twelve after all), but I railed against the quick condemnation of Miley for, let’s face it, behaving like a perfectly ordinary teenager.

12 and I had also recently engaged in an argument over Justin Bieber and the fact that she did not ‘like him anymore’ because he ‘did drugs’.* I’m pretty ambivalent to The Biebs, being well past the age where floppy-haired, baby-faced teen popstars graced the walls of my bedroom, but this particular discussion was about not believing every single rumour the media cooks up and provides only a thin veneer of severely skewed evidence for, so I defended him.

She also expressed her disinclination to like The Veronica’s any longer last year, because ‘they are all yucky and have tattoos now’.

Back to Taylor. I like Taylor Swift pretty well. She has catchy pop tunes and really amazing hair.
Up until now I have been on board with the idea that she is a Positive Role Model for Young Women, and I still think she has a lot to offer. She writes her own songs and is genuinely talented in an industry full of auto-tune and even though she is undeniably beautiful, she seems to committed to getting by on that talent (wikipedia tells me that she refuses to take part in sexualised photo-shoots).
There is definitely a case for her lyrics and videos endorsing the whole purity/virginity/helpless damsel deal (I really enjoyed reading this article that cuts right into her) but I want to talk about HER image here; Taylor as an actual live human being. If she wants to avoid alcohol and not get her tits out for FHM, then that’s her prerogative.
My argument is that by censoring and censuring the ‘role models’ available to young we:

a) prevent and avoid discussions about diversity
b) fail to facilitate conversations about choices and stigma
c) endorse the Madonna/Whore paradox for young women

Miley Cyrus led me to this, so let’s work with her. So she drinks and parties and probably makes questionable clothing and/or party pash choices. Why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, it’s because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I DID when I was in my late teens (read: continue to do, albeit with less frequency and stronger hangovers).
I have issues with the culture of binge drinking in Australia, and I don’t endorse reckless behaviour (particularly the unprotected variety) but it would be super-naive and extremely hypocritical of me to criticise a teenager for behaving like a teenager.
Of course I want 12 to wait several more years before even looking at a pint glass, but when the time comes, I would encourage her to enjoy her late highschool and university years. If she chooses to do that by joining her friends at the pub, well good. If she decides to go the full Swift, also good.

By simply labeling teen icons like Cyrus or Swift good or bad, we avoid a vital conversation about agency, consequences and stigma. I think it is far more important for girls to learn about making choices they are comfortable with preparing them for the many social pressures they will face. Alcohol, drugs and…let’s call it ‘hoodlum mentality’ for bonus kitsch, are going to be a part of their lives no matter which path they choose for themselves, but relegating certain behaviours to a spectrum of evil does nothing to help them negotiate the pros and cons of that world.

I also think that allowing stereotypes concerning physical appearance or ‘lifestyle choices’ (read: tattoos) to determine the pre-teen social value of a celebrity is one step away from straight up bigotry. As someone with tattoos, I was under the impression that the (obviously sad) but inevitable death of the baby boomer generation would free up a lot of the freak factor generally allotted to those demon spawn besmirched by ink. Hearing a twelve year old disparage the virtue of performers she admittedly used to like because they put some pictures on their skin made me feel pretty low.
Once again I feel the good/bad role model mechanism at work. Parents utilise it in this situation because they don’t want their kids to get tattoos, but they are also encouraging their kids to discount people on the basis of appearance, and of difference.

Finally, the Swift/Cyrus dichotomy reeks of Madonna/Whore to me.
This mutually exclusive distribution of teen behaviour seems to me to offer girls but two options for gaining attention and approval once they hit their teenage years: be a white, middle class virgin with shitloads of talent and amazing hair OR get drunk and ‘forget’ to wear underwear every now and again.

Obviously it is not my place to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for every twelve year old in the country, but I would encourage parents, sibling and other peers and caregivers to be less hasty with those labels. After all, we are their real role models, and defining our own behaviours (and what will come to be, for most, normal behaviours in later years) as either intrinsically plus or minus in the morality meter can only end with confusion, uniformed choices and misplaced guilt.

*Apparently there was a picture of him with  cigarette. I made a pretty half-hearted attempt to find it, and couldn’t.

Rug Munchers and Other Mythical Beasts

As a former student of Linguistics, I fail to understand the semantic link between ‘this is my girlfriend’ and ‘I very dearly want you to fuck me with your manly penis’.

No seriously, I don’t get it.

I have been in a lesbian relationship for over a year now, and I am beginning to sympathise with the Angry Lesbian stereotype. Not because, in addition to requiring low slung jeans and banded underwear, I am genetically programmed to simply BRIM with angst, but because:

+ Unless I take specific care to be in a gay bar at the time, men interpret my dancing with my girlfriend as an invitation for sex.
+ If I introduce my girlfriend to a straight man whom I have recently met, they interpret that as an invitation for sex.
+ If I tell a man that I am unavailable due to my being a committed relationship with a woman they INTERPRET THAT AS AN INVITATION FOR SEX.

I would argue (perhaps radically) that a vast majority of general populace do not in fact, believe, in lesbians.
Hear me out.

Anecdote:
I recently attended a university club event with my girlfriend and several other friends. We had several (read: all of the) drinks and were enjoying ourselves immensely. We were also on a boat, which is necessarily a good time.
During the last hour or so of the event, I made friends with a few young men on the dancefloor. I learned their names, I told them a bit about myself, I danced embarrassingly and they danced embarrassingly. Then my girlfriend approached, and I introduced her to my new friends.
They looked surprised, then disbelieving, then interested. We had drunk dancing fun together, and when the event finished we convinced them to attend our favourite trashy gay bar with us, instead of the official after-party.
On the way to said after-party, my girlfriend got into a cab with these boys and I followed separately. I was several minutes behind, and when I finally managed to track down my girlfriend (she had left her phone in my coat pocket), she was in tears.
Upon arrival at the bar, the boys had become irritable at my absence, and had admitted that they had only come with us in order to ‘watch you make out’. When I failed to turn up on time, they stormed off, asserting that we had ‘ruined their night’.

After years of making out with women in public (well, in venues) I have a hundred of these stories to tell.
It gets a little…tiresome.

That covers my interactions with the majority of  straight men with whom I do not have a prior acquaintance.

Maybe I’ll start carrying laminated copies.

Anecdote:
I attended the birthday of a woman with whom I have been friends for many years. We boarded together at high school and became a member of each other’s families.
He family was at the party; I spoke with them all and introduced them to my girlfriend for the first time.

Two weeks later  when I was meeting my friend for A Nice Glass of Wine, she said to me (slightly shocked and moderately offended):
‘You’ll never guess what Dad said after meeting your girlfriend!’
I said: ‘I bet I will. But she’s too pretty to be a lesbian’
‘YES!!’

I probably don’t need to unpack this statement (which I have heard a great many more times than once) for people who read this blog, but I will anyway.
‘But she’s too pretty to be a lesbian’ = ‘But you are attractive, so you must be able to get guys to fuck you. It’s only women who are too ugly/aggressive/fat/etc to get men who need to resort to lesbians.’

On the one hand, I experience men who absolutely can not conceive that two women might sexually interested in each other for any other reason than to attract or enhance the pleasure of men. I have tried to convince them. I have been firm, angry, polite, charming, and even borderline violent (of which I am not proud). I have spent literally hours trying to cheerfully explain my own experience to men, before realising that they were just glazing over until such a time as they deemed appropriate to cut me off and deliver their own personal reflections.

So I have decided that for most people, Lesbians are less a concrete reality, and more an abstract concept with which they can account for the failings of women and/or their failings with women where applicable.

I would really appreciate any handy tips for deflecting such attentions in the future, for I fear that the next time it happens I may headbutt someone.

 

Phat

From a linguistic perspective I sometimes long for the brief period in the 90s where phat was A Thing. Or should I say, a thang.
For the uninitiated, it meant ‘cool’ or ‘Pretty Hot And Tempting’, but you wouldn’t use it nowadays unless deliberately uttering a slang faux pas.
Because fat people are GROSS. Didn’t you know?

These days, I struggle to think of an instance in which a bigger is better – at least when we’re talking about ladies.
Fat phobia freely abounds in the media. Chic mags occasionally do this thing where they pretend to celebrate ‘curves’, usually by juxtaposing pictures of hospitalisation-worthy underweight celebrities with Kardashians, but it’s pretty hard to swallow when the next page contains ‘5 ways to lose those last five pounds’. Pun intended.

I am not overweight by medical standards. I also not thin. My belly and thighs wobble when I move about and you can grasp a handful of flesh at my middle if I fold my body in any way. I have muscle tone, and proportionately very slim ankles. I don’t think I’m fat, and I don’t believe any of my friends do either.

And yet:
There are stores in my city where  clothes ‘don’t come in my size’.
Other women speak to me about weight as if they assume that I wish to lose it.
I frequently hear people criticise the appearance of other women who are a similar weight to myself.
I constantly (constantly!) criticise my own appearance. Obsessively even. I can’t even watch television any more without wishing (a touch desperately sometimes) that I could rip out their spines and move into their bodies.*

But enough about me.

I have  mature lady in my life who is overweight by medical standards. She is  obese actually. And she faces so many obstacles because of this, in every single aspect of her life. For an introduction to just one way in which she is discriminated against because of her weight, here is an article on how fat-bias affects the level of medical care given to overweight individuals. Here is another one.

The thing is, people assume that overweight people have made a choice to be overweight.
As raised in stories of the above articles, no-one ever asks them what kind of journey they have had with their health and weight loss efforts. They see fat people as actively lazy and deliberately neglectful and don’t ever consider that there might factors in play other than desire or self-control.

They don’t consider how being overweight affects that person’s ability to lose weight. They don’t realise that overweight people are often ashamed to exercise in public. They don’t realise that many overweight people are not educated about nutrition. They don’t realise that overweight people may be suffering from eating disorders and mental health problems which compromise their ability to lose weight. They don’t realise that overweight people often have ingrained habits of years, or decades that are Really Rather Difficult to break.
They don’t realise that most overweight people are constantly and desperately trying to lose weight. If it were easy, we would all be our ideal weight.

Most importantly, they don’t seem to have any grasp of the scale of social discrimination which overweight people face. This overweight, mature lady that I know has confided to me that she repulses herself, and that she feels judged and shamed by literally every set of eyes upon her. And because of the relentlessness with which the media equates women’s value with women’s physical beauty, she does not see herself as a worthwhile or valuable person.
Even without being ‘overweight’, I can testify to the immense power of accumulative judgement, whether real or imagined, and it’s ability to induce a demotivating despair. It is difficult to foster and embrace a healthy respect for your body and to learn to care for it, when immersed in a culture of such hatred and repulsion.

Much of this judgement is not imagined. As mentioned in the articles above, complete strangers often feel entitled to comment on overweight women’s appearance. You know what guys? They FUCKING KNOW. They are aware, because they live their life in their own bodies, surrounded by your constant judgement. They Do Not Need To Be Told.
When someone critiques an overweight person’s appearance, they are Not Helping. “Tough Love” and/or negative motivation are not effective tools for weight loss. All they do is reaffirm that person’s view of themself as ugly, worthless and incapable of success.

It would be instead helpful, if we could work towards creating a positive environment in which women are taught to love and respect their bodies. In which women are taught from a young age to value their health and well-being above ridiculous fashion standards.
In which health professionals want to hold conversations with their patients about their history, their mental health and practical advice for achieving not just a healthy weight, but a healthy body image.

You can contribute to this by not shaming overweight people – whether or not you think they can hear you. Do not make comments about how amusing you find their attempts to work out. Do not laughingly express your revulsion at the possibility that fat people might have sex. But most of all, do not disregard their capacity to feel hurt or despair and assume that the only reason they are not thinner is because they are stubborn, lazy or unconcerned.

*Please do not be alarmed, it’s a Dylan Moran reference.

+ My friend canbebitter wrote a post this week about Hairspray and ‘fat’ as a feminist issue, which in addition to the other three linked articles above provided the inspiration for this post.

++ Please don’t assume that because I did not directly address the fact that women can and should be perceived as beautiful at any weight, or that fat people can be healthy, that I do not believe it. I just didn’t choose to focus on that aspect this time.

“Manstruation” and the Abject Object

Manstruation
Defined for me by a young Australian man (via the magic of talkback radio) as ‘just having a really shitty week’. As the conversation between the radio host and the gentleman in question unfolded, I learned that he and his friend had coined the term for their own usage after having an unusually and arbitrarily crap week. Generally speaking, the dialogue addressed the appropriate treatment of the symptoms: consumption of ice-cream, intense couch-time, copious amount of sympathy and a dash of self-pity.

I have to admit I was charmed. From a semantic perspective, the transfer of meaning (from ‘menstruation’, obviously) seemed to center around a sense of vulnerability as a reaction to extraneous circumstances. Basically, feeling like shit because the universe dicked you.
I enjoy the idea that these young guys perceived monthly bouts of emotional fuckery as both something beyond the control of their lady compatriots, and something they could share in. It made me feel a little better than I usually do about Boys And The Periods, which is pretty fucking terrible.

Cloth Menstrual Pads, now in Space Cadet!

I read something once when researching a paper about menstrual fluid being constructed socially as the most abject of all the body fluids. It provided many examples of how bleeding ladies are ostracised in certain cultural and religious practices (and a few where they were revered or sanctified) and argued fairly convincingly that western culture tends to group ‘dirty’ fluids (faeces, urine, menstrual blood) in opposition to ‘clean’ fluids (semen, non-menstrual blood).
The main contention of this author was that menstrual blood was abjectified, partly because of its ties to childbirth (and the Original Sin etc) and partly because, well, it comes from the va jay jay.

I would love to say that I don’t agree with the above, but the truth is that I tire of the squickiness surrounding periods. Luckily for me, I have always found myself in relationship where my partner’s reaction has been at worst ‘I am a little unsure of how this operates, but I believe I should fetch you a hot water bottle?’ and at best ‘I’ll just put down a towel’.
Outside of my personal relationships however, I frequently perceive a weirdness towards, even a fear of menstrual blood, And not just from dudes.
It makes me sad to hear fellow ladies who are ‘like, so totally grossed out’ by the fact that they bleed from the vagina. I mean, it’s not like I want to sweeten my tea with the stuff, but it’s just blood, right?

Unless you’re in the business of advertising feminine hygiene products, in which case, it is actually a thin blue liquid.
I don’t know how it works in other countries, but here in Australia, menstrual blood is apparently too indelicate a visual for the general public, so things like magic-anti-leakage-troughs and what not are demonstrated with what I would guess to be Listerine.

As a result, we’ve all heard one or more stories about a young girl who has Freaked the Fuck Out because she is bleeding ACTUAL BLOOD of the red variety OUT OF HER VAGINA.

So I guess that’s why I was so charmed by these lads and their Manstruation. It was just so nice to hear people talk about it (on National Radio even) without a trace of squick or mystification.

BONUS ROUND: I made a list of fun ways to refer to your ‘time of the month,’ using only my eyes and our friend The Internetz.

  • The Great Ovary Revolt
  • Bleeding out of my Goddamned Vagina (straight to the point)
  • Surfing the Crimson Wave (I heart Clueless so much)
  • Trolling for Vampires
  • Panty Shields up, Captain!
  • Expelling my Hysteria (particularly amusing if you are aware of the etymology of ‘hysteria’: from the Greek ‘of the womb’, suffering of the womb’).
  • The Tears of a Disappointed Uterus
  • There are Communists in the Funhouse (definitely my favourite)

I also found some really awful ones that you should never, ever use unless you are terribly skilled with irony:

  • The Curse
  • Using Man-Hole covers
  • Sick with Girl Flu
  • Broken