Category Archives: culture

I Don’t Look Down on Family Women, But I Think I Understand Why Amy Glass Does

By now everyone has read the Thought Catalog piece by Amy Glass/Chrissy Stockton titled, “I Look Down on Young Women with Husbands and Kids and I’m Not Sorry,” and her follow up explanation-ish piece, “Hi, I am Amy Glass.”  The piece inspired dozens (if not hundreds) or response pieces, 7 of which were published on Thought Catalog alone.

I think that Stockton misses the forest for the trees…but she’s not exactly “wrong.”  Allow me to explain…

Choice Feminism is a serious issue within feminism.  In Linda Hirshman’s piece she states, “During the ’90s, I taught a course in sexual bargaining at a very good college. Each year, after the class reviewed the low rewards for child-care work, I asked how the students anticipated combining work with child-rearing. At least half the female students described lives of part-time or home-based work. Guys expected their female partners to care for the children. When I asked the young men how they reconciled that prospect with the manifest low regard the market has for child care, they were mystified. Turning to the women who had spoken before, they said, uniformly, “But she chose it.””  They chose it.  And therein lies the issue: if something is expected, if a behavior is something we are reared into, is it really a choice?  If it’s assumed, are we really making the decision at all?  If it’s a choice, and an appealing choice, why are more men not choosing it?

Let me be clear – child rearing is absolutely a job, and is absolutely important in society.  Children grow up to be citizens.  They need to be raised, and raised well, whether that’s from a mom, a dad, both, two of one or the other, grandparents, a legal guardian, whatever.  It’s a shame that as a society we do value child rearing so poorly because it is the foundation of our society.  That doesn’t mean that a woman choosing to give up her career for childrearing is empowering.  It’s not, it’s important, but it’s not empowering.  It’s not necessarily feminist either, though there are certainly a great deal of awesome feminist mothers that use their role as a caretaker to raise children (boys and girls) who are respectful of others and aware of societal privileges.  Being a working woman isn’t necessarily feminist either, look at Ann Coulter or Michelle Bachman – both successful working women, both staunch anti-feminists.  A woman saying or doing something doesn’t automatically make it “feminist,” and trying to brand things like not-really-a-choice choice feminism and choice objectification as legitimate feminism only serves to dissolve the necessary force behind the movement.

This is where, I feel, the Glass/Stockton piece failed.  I don’t look down on married women with children, I wonder what their life could have been like if they hadn’t been brought up in a society where the expectation of women was still that they would sacrifice their careers when the time came to start a family, how much further we may be in science and medicine if half the population wasn’t still shoehorned into neglecting their academic potential, how different developing nations would be if women were really and truly given the same educational and career opportunities as men.  Chrissy is right to be angry that so many young women are giving up on their potential outside of the home, but she’s directing her ire at the wrong people.

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Valentine’s Day Sucks

Valentine’s Day really is the worst – for everyone.  It’s a holiday that has become the representation of everything that is wrong with relationships, an emphasis on rom-com style romance and gratuitous consumerism that has absolutely nothing to do with love, commitment, loyalty, or sex.  That being said, this post has nothing to do with how horribly we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Instead, I am solely going to focus on Valentine’s Day advertisements.

It’s not news that advertising harms women (and men) by enforcing impossible body ideals (even the models in the ads don’t look like the ads), adhering to traditional gender roles rigidly, and playing up negative stereotypes of both genders.  Valentine’s Day brings out a special kind of self-hate inducing and objectification in advertising.

This was the inspiration for this post (sorry for the quality, a friend nabbed it on an iPad screenshot for me):

workoutappad

Um…what?  The language of this ad communicates several troublesome things: your body belongs to “him” (it’s a capital H, so maybe they mean Jesus, but I doubt it) and it’s not good enough.  I’m going to lay down some truth to all of you: if someone is with you, they already think you’re pretty great.  If you don’t think you’re pretty great and want to change something about yourself, do it for yourself, and do it for healthy reasons.  If your partner demeans, degrades, and doesn’t appreciate you, don’t “surprise him with a new body” he (or she) doesn’t deserve anyway, surprise him with a breakup because you deserve better than to be made to feel like your body is for the enjoyment and property of another.  Period.  This ad is bullshit and further, there’s zero chance the young woman featured it it only works out seven minutes a day anyway.

Nakshatranatan

These are two diamond ads from previous Valentine’s Day promotions.  For the sake of just evaluating these ads, let’s put away the issues with diamond engagement rings for just a second.  It’s not even a “clever joke” anymore and frankly the implication that women are essentially willing to prostitute themselves for a valuable shiny rock is eyerollingly offensive.  It also reduces the value of a woman to her vagina.  “Give her diamonds, not because you love her, but because you want easier access to sex!”  It cheapens relationships, it prostitutes women and stereotypes men into being drooling sex fiends only interested in women for what’s between their legs.  Frankly I don’t see why a woman would want a diamond from a company that implies she’s a frigid idiot only meltable with an overpriced stone or why a man would want to spend a borderline obscene money at a business that thinks he’s barely higher functioning than a baser primate.

Also according to ads, ladies, not only is your body not good enough for him, but the only part of it he apparently cares about is a disgusting filth hole you should be embarrassed of:

TampaxValentinesDay Summers_Eve_V-Day

Ah yes, don’t forget your “v!”  Never mind the fact that douching and introducing harsh scents and disinfectants to your vagina really screws up your body’s natural flora and can actually cause yeast infections.  Also don’t forget your naturally occurring period will ruin your significant other’s planning (seriously, it’s a 28 day cycle guys, learn how to count and you’ll know when your GF’s next period is; if you’re not into period sex, then don’t book a sex hotel room during that time.  Duh.).  I’m not even sure what Tampax is trying to communicate – that you can have sex with her tampon in and avoid having your dick look like it came out of the elevator in the Shining?  That doesn’t sound very safe, sounds like a gross way to get TSS actually.  I don’t even understand what’s going on besides trying to shame a woman out of having a period on Valentine’s Day.  I can’t speak for all women but if that was something I could control with will power alone, I would never have a period.  Ever.  It’s messy and painful and I’m a big fan of efficiency and not wasting resources, i.e. keeping my blood inside of me.

This Valentine’s Day, don’t celebrate with consumerism and encourage companies like these to put out degrading advertisements.  Celebrate with earnest expressions of love and loyalty, and cherish those close to you.


Chivalry is Dead; Long Live Courtesy!

#58th Rule Revised

A friend of mine, well meaning but very much still stuck in the idea that men should be gentlemen and women should be ladies recently posted this article.  Never mind the fact that the article itself is rife with errors, I took issue with the concept that somehow, as a gender fighting tooth and nail to be treated equally, women were somehow doing it wrong and that “gentlemen” were missing out on the “ladies” they deserved and wanted so desperately to pamper spun in the direction of “ladies, you deserve better/a guy like me!”

Here’s the thing: “gentlemanly” behavior, as an appreciated standard, hasn’t died: we just call it common courtesy now.  Holding a door for someone?  It’s something women and men do, for women and men, because letting a door slam in someone’s face is rude.  “What happened to paying to take a woman out for a nice meal?”  We now go Dutch or take turns paying – as it should be!  MRAs love to criticize feminism as a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too movement.  “You want to be equal, buy your own drinks! *smirk*” …Okay.  That’s not a problem, the origins of a man paying for dates goes back to when middle and upper class young women did not commonly work outside of the home (women in the workforce is not new for the impoverished in the United States, but it’s not something you hear about too often in your average history class).  Women do work now; presumably in a couple if one party is not working, the other one pays most of the time.  This isn’t a bad thing and you’d be hard pressed to find an academically respectable feminist that thinks it is a bad thing that women are now increasingly becoming financially independent of men.

Mr. Picciuto argues that, in reference to this so-called “hookup culture,”  “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.”  As linked above, this isn’t the case, but even if it were, why is it so incomprehensible to believe that women, uh, like sex?  “When did it become acceptable to just text a girl, inviting her to come bang? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about those instances, I’m just saying, why have we strayed away from what has been established as the norm?… Eventually, I feel that women will wise up and start asking for the things that they deserve, the things used to be automatic and expected of men, like holding a door, pulling out a chair, and paying for dinners.”  I can’t speak for all women, but if a guy walks through a door before me and doesn’t hold it, especially if we’re on a date, I think he’s an ass.  I also think the same of a woman on a date.  And I always hold the door, because I’m not a self-important jerk.

Wait, hang on, “the norm?”  Is he referring to the historical norm wherein politically powerful fathers used their daughter’s virginity for social leverage?  Or the norm outside of the US where young women (and men) are arranged to each other, sometimes at a very young age?   The virginity insurance norm has lived into today thanks to great marketing by jewelry companies.  Maybe he meant the norm where premarital and casual sex happened with the same frequency as it did decades ago with the same number of partners, just by different means (i.e. the internet and texting), but women were shamed for it being publicly known?  There’s no such thing as a “norm” in dating and things like courtesies and the enjoyment of sex becoming a common ground is good for both sides.

You’ll notice non-heterosexual couples don’t have an issue with “chivalry,” because both parties have an expected common ground of courtesy, neutral of gendered expectations.  Why is this such an issue for heterosexuals to get a grasp on?

Oh, right, because being “gentlemanly” gives men a platform for which to criticize women for not being “ladies,” AKA “women who are having more sex than I personally find acceptable at a completely arbitrary level/not with me.”  This isn’t an attitude expressed only by men, women slut shame the shit out of each other under the guise of being more “ladylike” than the women in question.  The great thing about being a woman standing in judgment of the sexual freedom of other women is that the amount and type of sex you’re having is never slutty *eyeroll*!  Which, ultimately, is the point of slut shaming – if someone else is sluttier, and you can make sure everyone knows it, then you’re not a slut, and you’re better marriage material than her.  Gag.

The image at the top of this page is a modified macro from The Rules of a Gentleman circulating on imgur.  Looking through the list and eliminating the weirdly infantilizing ones (“If she can’t sleep, read her a bedtime story.”  Haha, what?), the ones that are date-specific (“Run with her on the beach.”) and the ones that are just plain wrong (“If she slaps you, you probably deserved it.” – No, nope, physical assault is never acceptable. “Never give her a reason to think that she’s the man in the relationship.” What does this even mean, like never let her be in charge?  The hell?), this is a good list…for how to interact with all people in a polite way in society.  We need to let go of this whole chivalry thing because it’s keeping us all down, and we need to actively suppress the idea that the value of women is directly tied to who they do or don’t sleep with.


“You’re a Bad Feminist”

This is something a lot a self-identifying feminists hear (and think) at some point.  For me, it was something that become a bit of an existential crisis – how could I champion women’s rights if I couldn’t champion myself?

 

It took me a long time (months) to come to terms with the fact that acknowledging the falsities of the media and the pressure women and girls face did not somehow make me magically immune to the effects.  I’m not immune to body image pressure, I can’t turn my mind off to the pressure to fit a very streamlined and impossible idea of beauty, and I felt like a failure as a result.

 

When Pinterest opened up private boards last year, I made a thinspo board.  In public I wrote here, I wrote for friends, I wrote to friends discussing the dangers of thinspo (and it’s closely related cousin “fitspo,” which has nothing to do with being athletic and everything to do with being incredibly thin AND very toned) and I had my own thinspo collection.  I hated myself for it, I cried and I felt ashamed, and eventually I stopped writing, not just here but everywhere.  I couldn’t even make myself write fiction that had nothing to do with women’s rights because I felt like a fraud, unworthy of even writing a female character.

 

A friend of mine who I admire deeply posted a query on Facebook towards the end of the year asking about diet pills.  At first I thought she was kidding – this is a woman who works, lives, and breathes fighting for women’s rights – but it became clear to me she wasn’t.  I was floored, I was angry, I was so pissed that such a smart and motivated friend was driven to something so harmful and I didn’t understand why or how.  I’d put her on a feminist pedestal, I decided for her that she was immune to the exact same societal pressures I couldn’t escape from myself, and I realized how utterly wrong I had been to do so.

 

Ultimately my “failure as a feminist” wasn’t a failure at all, it was an awakening.  We’re all in this together.  I deleted the thinspo board.  And now, I’ve admitted it existed.

 

I’m back.  Every part of me, every weakness and strength.


The Commodity of Sex

I’ve wanted to do a piece on sex workers for a long time (the first draft of this was in November of 2011 to give you an idea).  Sex work (prostitution) is a tricky topic in feminism with no clear conclusion either way and good arguments on both sides.  I think my problem is I’m not entirely sure where I fall, there’s just too many issues with both sides.  I’m breaking this piece into bullet points of pros and cons.  Ultimately I favor decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution…but it’s really a lesser of two evils, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with my own position even.

1. First, let’s stop pretending it’s an merely an issue of choice.  “If a woman wants to sell her body for sex, it’s her body and she should not face legal penalty for doing so.”  Well, yes, if it were that simple, then there wouldn’t even be a question.  But it’s not that simple.  Most women working as sex workers were sexually abused as children and/or raped before the age of 15 with a very large number having been raped as a child by at least 3 perpetrators.  Sex workers are disproportionately impoverished with 75% being homeless or previously homeless.  89% of prostitutes want to leave sex work but have no other means of survival.  Certainly there are some women who are not financially desperate, victims of childhood sex abuse, and work in sex 100% by choice, but they are exceedingly rare.  These numbers do NOT back up the claim that women are entering this profession by choice.  To quote Catharine MacKinnon, “If prostitution is a free choice, why are the women with the fewest choices most often found doing it?”  The choice between starvation and homelessness or selling your body isn’t really a choice.  Desperation, abuse, force, and coercion are not choosing to be a sex worker.  In fact, in some cases it’s rape.  Legalization does absolutely nothing to solve these issues, but it doesn’t exacerbate them either.

2. …but let’s also recognize that in areas where prostitution is legal (even if Johning isn’t), the women in the industry have comparably better lives.  Nevada’s 12 county legal prostitution isn’t without problems, but the sex workers in that area are regulated and legally protected.  Pimping is still illegal, prostituting is not.  Women who are raped by their Johns can go to police (for those not in the know, prostitution in legal brothels is typically done in a pay-by-service model wherein a sex worker can deny clients and/or specific services at any time for any reason and acts and prices are negotiated beforehand).  Johns are required to wear condoms for all sex services.  Sex workers are regularly tested for STDs.  Brothels are strictly forbidden from recruitment or encouraging women (or men) to become sex workers.  But despite these laws there are still abuses and women are still exploited.  It’s not a good industry, it’s just comparably better than street work.  Perhaps a better example is the Swedish system that makes the purchaser the criminal, not the woman.  Since the change in prostitution laws and crackdown on Johns took place, Sweden’s sexual assault rate dropped to the lowest in Europe.  By 2008 the prostitution rate dropped by half.  Women could now go to police when they were being exploited and abused.

3. Keeping prostitution illegal hasn’t stopped prostitution from occurring.  Legalizing prostitution doesn’t remove danger but it sure as hell doesn’t help abused sex workers seek justice either.  Women performing sex work illegally are often told “what did you expect?” when trying to report rape or abuse.  However, legalizing prostitution has the burden of further solidifying the patriarchal norm of considering a woman’s body not her own property.  Ultimately as long as there is poor job opportunity, sexual abuse of minors, poor education, and cyclical poverty, exploitative prostitution will exist.  By making prostitution legal (but not necessarily Johns) and keeping pimping illegal it is a step towards helping sex workers have personal autonomy and more control over the industry they work in.  In Spain, which has very lax laws regarding sex work, sex trafficking is rampant, so legalization doesn’t even necessarily decrease the exploitation factor.

4. The prevalence of violent pornography has made prostitution more dangerous, not less, and legalization can possibly make it worse.  Nearly all porn contains anal sex and a huge amount has verbal and/or physical abuse of the actress.  This wasn’t the case even as recently as the 1990s.  Because prostitutes are often treated by Johns as outlets for sexual gratification they fantasize about or cannot get at home, sex work has taken a darker turn as well.  It is in most cases not only not really a “chosen” career, but also a violent and dangerous career.  Moves to make condom usage mandatory in pornography was met with serious outcries from industry big-wigs and from porn viewers who complained that it ruins “the fantasy,” completely ignoring the fact that it’s real people with real health concerns performing.  Sex entertainment, sex work, and sex trafficking are very closely intertwined.  The problem with legalization is that prostitution will become more like porn in that since services are more openly shown, women will more or less be forced to perform acts they might not even want to do (such as anal sex or violent BDSM) or risk losing business.  We’ve already established that most women in sex work do not want to be prostitutes in the first place, adding the element of violent sex acts just to stay “employed” is another layer of horror.

5. …but legalization and regulation allows women to openly network, form support systems, and even unionize.  Prostitution is not going away.  It’s not.  It’s idealist to say “prostitution should be illegal because it’s exploitative and makes women property.”  Yes it’s exploitative, yes it makes women’s body into property, and both of those things are bad but keeping it illegal only serves to make former sex workers transitions into the non-sex job force more difficult because it adds a criminal record to their history.  Slut shaming related sex discrimination already occurs in the workplace, having a sex-work offense on a permanent record only serves to keep women out of regular employment.  There is an international sex workers union, it would be nice for sex workers in the US and around the world to have access to this group and the legal protections it advocates.

In the end, we should work to abolish prostitution…but we should legalize sex work first.  The end goal should be to stop sex trade because it’s rooted in the sexual abuse of minors and taking advantage of impoverished women.  We need to work towards ending what causes prostitution in the first place, but we can give sex workers tools to keep themselves safer until that is achieved.


There is no such thing as “The Friendzone”

If you spend (waste) any time on the internet for social activities/entertainment, you’ve probably stumbled upon Reddit or Tumblr at some point.  A tumblr called “NiceGuysof OKCupid” has exploded in popularity recently.  As it turns out this site is comprised almost equally of fakes (unfairly putting quotes from one profile onto the pictures of unsuspecting others) and legitimate (horrifying) pictures with profile quotations such as “No is just a yes in disguise.”  “Always friendzoned because sluts and whores always go for assholes.”

The explosion of online dating has led to a new avenue of risk for women in part because expressing violence and hatred after being denied sex is easy to do online – you don’t have to say anything face to face and risk bystanders and/or law enforcement getting involved.  Tumblr blogger JHameia (linked above) took matters into her own hands, but no doubt countless other harassers continue to degrade their victims until the woman in question deletes her profile and/or changes her email address to avoid being harassed.  Certainly these men don’t behave this way in public during in-person social interactions – they’d have a hard time interacting with anyone with the slew of restraining orders placed on them.  Labeling women as “fat/ugly, sluts, whores, bitches,” because they had the audacity to deny you sex is a particularly perverse privilege to profess (excuse the alliteration).

These sentiments certainly aren’t new, even before online dating the myth of “the friendzone” has been pervasive in young adult dating culture for decades.  How many romantic comedies do you see where the hot, nice girl who’s with a macho asshole boyfriend ends up with the quirky, less attractive, pining “friend” who was right in from of her face all along?  I don’t blame “nice guys” for thinking that “the friendzone” exists, I’m just saying they’re probably not actually nice and not actually friends.

The Friendzone implies several things:

1. That being “nice” is all that should matter in a relationship (male or female).  This simply isn’t the case – being nice is a standard of behavior, and if that’s all you offer to someone then you’re probably not bringing much to the table.

2. That sex is a negotiation wherein friendship can/is traded for physical affection (the “women aren’t just machines you put nice coins into and sex is dispensed” dilemma).  I would argue this is tied in with the myth that men and women can’t be friends without someone wanting sex/falling in love and is the crux of the false friendzone – if you approach a woman with friendship and are disappointed with the result being friendship, then you have come in to the situation with false pretenses, not the woman.

3. That women “always go for assholes/rich guys/jocks/whatever overarching group that doesn’t include the individual in question.”  And that, as a result, these women are all “shallow, whores, sluts, and bitches,” a rather hateful attitude to express towards women as a whole.

4. That all feelings and desires a man directs towards a woman, she should reciprocate.  I think this comes from the kind of entitlement society we live in wherein everyone feels that their voice should be heard and respected no matter what they’re demanding (in this case, sex).  To quote Phaedra Starling, “Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.”  Being nice to someone doesn’t put them under any obligation to you at all, period.  This goes back to nice being a standard of behavior, it is not exemplary or unique in any way.

5. That, and this is actually kind of scary, men are “owed” sex/a relationship after a certain amount of time spent being nice to a woman.  That “niceness” is a tactic for sex and isn’t genuine at all – that a “nice guy” is nice expressly for the purposes of gaining trust and using that trust to manipulate a woman into intercourse (think about it – if you’re really and truly nice, then you aren’t going to be angry about a friendship).

“These guys are only making themselves look bad/aren’t hurting anybody,” you might be inclined to say.  “Casual misogyny isn’t new and it’s not what’s causing sexual assault.”  Hear me out – this is exactly the kind of attitude that allows rape culture to exist.  When you mix a feeling of being owed sex, an opinion that women are generally stupid/”bitches”/”sluts”, and a facade of kindness, you’re creating a prefect storm for assault.

I’m not saying all “nice guys” are rapists waiting to happen.  Most nice guys are casual misogynists who need some self-reflection and to not be in the kind of echo chamber that Reddit communities and Men’s Rights forums tend to create.  I am saying, however, that they have to potential to be (to borrow again from Phaedra Starling) “Schrödinger’s Rapist,” which is to say if a man isn’t satisfied with “no” in one circumstance (taking a friendship to a next level, for example), he may be more likely to override “no” in a more serious circumstance (and commit rape).

I strive to not crutch my argument on anecdote and I’m opposed to writing about my own personal life and relationship, but it’s particularly pertinent because my boyfriend is exactly the kind of man a “nice guy” would call an asshole – he’s loud, he’s confident and outgoing, he plays a very aggressive sport at a semi-pro level, and by all accounts growing up he would have been grouped in with the “popular jocks.”  He also loves animals, is quite artistic, and (get this), he’s nice to me.   Often the label “asshole” is tacked onto a male that is guilty of nothing more than self-confidence and outgoing personality, which, yeah, is more appealing to more women.  Does that make women “bitches” and those men “assholes?” No.  Women, like men, like different things – some like loud and some like quiet, some like thin and some like fat and some like muscular, some like artistic and some like athletic, et cetera.

Everyone likes kindness, it’s not unique or special to be nice or courteous, you have to be more than that.  A nice guy who expects sex simply for functioning like any socialized human does isn’t nice at all.  A guy who presents friendship only to be angry with getting a friend instead of a girlfriend “deserves” neither.


Culture and Feminism: Where does What Belong in the Discourse?

When I first started this blog I did a post about identifying bias, mostly to be transparent about who I am and what my perspective is, but also to remind myself that I cannot – and should not – ever try to write for or on the behalf of a group I can’t represent.  That being said, someone proposed the question to me and several others recently: who belongs in the feminist discourse, and what roles do radically different, sometimes opposing, groups have?  There seemed to be a few points of contention but they mostly boiled down to culture lines and gender lines.  This post will address the former, a future post will address the latter.

 

A forum I regularly post in has a feminism megathread (amongst hundreds of other political talking points) , and routinely the thread is closed and derailed on rehashed and repeated arguments, one of which is what level of “education” someone posting in the thread should have and why or why not that arbitrary line is fair.  It’s an odd conundrum – nobody wants to explain every page what male privilege is and that yes, it definitely does exist – but at the same time, can anyone rightfully be excluded from the discussion simply on the base of lack of academic feminist knowledge?  Surely saying so implies a rather white, upper-class attitude towards the discourse.

 

One member proposed this: does an educated Western feminist with a degree in women’s studies have more weight in the feminist discourse than an uneducated individual campaigning against female circumcision in his or her small community in Africa?  Is the second, who may or may not have any interest in “women’s rights” in a western sense at all, even really a feminist?

 

No, and yes.  The face of feminism in the US and Europe tends to be a pretty pale one (I would argue due in large to widespread racism when modern feminism was coming to its peak in the 60s and media still preferring to center on white spokespeople in most issues today), but it’s inaccurate and unfair to suggest that women’s issues are a white woman’s affair.  But why, in an era of global communication, is there still this disconnect between voices in the discourse?

 

We have a major cultural gap between priorities.  Not that first world women’s issues aren’t issues (an argument often made by particularly right-wing anti-feminists “you’re not stoned for being raped so you have nothing to complain about!” “your vagina isn’t mutilated so you have nothing to complain about!”) – that white, upper-class women, by and large, have failed to even identify and listen to what issues face other groups of women in the discourse.   So we end up segregated by lack of understanding and communication when we all have a common goal: at the root, everyone in the discourse wants women to have a safer, healthier role in the world they share with men.  An end to patriarchy, even if how they view patriarchy varies wildly.

 

Take body image issues, for example.  The body image issues that face black American women are vastly different from white American women – something I thought I understood – until an exchange and conversation I witnessed and took part in at work one weekend.  One of my coworkers – a married, childless, middle class mid-20s black woman – opted to let her hair grow naturally, no weave, no straightening, just her natural hair.  I remarked that it looked nice and she replied, “black men hate natural hair.”

 

This kind of took me aback for a second.  It’s her natural hair, it’s what her body is genetically conditioned to grow, and it looks lovely, why would anyone dislike it?  “Not all black men I’m sure,” I said, about to eat my own words.

 

A customer came in shortly after, a middle age black man.  “What happened to your hair?”

“I’m letting it grow naturally.”

“You should straighten it.”

“To look more like a white woman?”

“Nappy hair is shameful on a woman.”  I am not making this up or exaggerating, this is exactly what he said.

“You have nappy hair under your hat, why should I have to straighten my hair?”

“You’re a woman.  It’s not ladylike.”

 

My cheeks burned red with embarrassment.  How could I have missed such an obvious cue that she was expressing a real and very legitimate body image problem that is so embedded a complete stranger thought it was appropriate to say her natural hair was shameful?  The next man in line (another middle aged black man) who had heard the exchange assured my coworker that her natural hair was in fact, beautiful, but the damage had already been done – her feeling that “black men hate natural hair” had been validated.  I was stunned, I am still stunned, that the exchange happened.

 

And it’s because I hadn’t listened, I’d heard what she was saying, but I hadn’t listened.  In her saying, “black men hate natural hair,” what I was missing was the “…because black women are socially pressured to have straight hair like a white woman and to reject their own natural appearance.”

 

I realized my own personal error in creating an inclusive environment for feminist discourse, and I realized that my mental lapse is probably representative of a larger issue in the global discourse: we’re just not listening.  Every cultural group has a place in the discourse, every opinion has a place in the discourse, we just need to reach past hearing the words and listen to the heart and soul behind them.


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