Tag Archives: culture

Baking My Own Cake

Today I’m 27 years old.  When I was 19, I was certain, somehow, that 27 was going to be the best year of my life.  I have no idea if that’s going to turn out to be true, but I am looking forward to finding out.

I don’t talk about myself and my personal life here much, mostly because (outside of the context of privilege) it doesn’t matter and I wanted to focus on more “big picture” issues than my personal struggles/triumphs/whatever.  However, I would like to take a brief moment to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned in 27 years that I would like to pass on to other women – younger, in my peer group, older, it doesn’t matter.

1. Bake your own birthday cake.

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No, don’t hermit away just for the sake of making a point, bake your own birthday in a metaphorical sense (or literal, whatever you want to do).  Be the kind of person that you can rely upon – be there for yourself, be self-sufficient, take care of yourself.  The most important thing you can ever realize is that you are a whole person without anyone else – value companionship, treasure healthy and positive relationships with friends, family, and lovers, but never stick something out because you feel you will not be whole without it.  You are.  And if nobody is around to bake you a birthday cake, bake yourself a cake and celebrate you.  Make whatever kind of damn cake you want (might I recommend almond pudding cake with white frosting and toffee bits?  It’s superb).  I know too many women (and men) who are “serial monogamists” – they’re never alone, even when they’re single they’re rapid-fire dating.  There will be times in your life where you should be alone, and you miss out on so much of life being miserable just because there isn’t someone there.  I explained it to a friend once like this, “people who are looking to never be alone never will be, with all the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons.”  The great thing about love is that giving it away doesn’t deplete your stock, so love yourself before you love anyone else.  Love yourself so much it makes you giggle.  Make a vegan cake.  Make a flourless cake.  Make a meat cake.  It doesn’t matter.

2. Speaking of not mattering, Let that which does not matter truly not matter.

Yeah, it’s a line stolen from Fight Club (shamelessly).  Illegitimi non carborundum – don’t let the bastards grind you down (and don’t bother to tell me it’s not real Latin, you’re not going to grind down my fun).  Everything will seem important as it’s happening, which is why it’s best to not make decisions when things are happening.  Give yourself breathing room and distance, you’ll find that most things don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do and the things that do matter, you’ll be able to handle better.  There’s a lot of things you can’t change – the actions of others, for example – and the things you can change you need to be smart about.   You are powerful, you are capable, and you are one in seven billion.  Seven billion people with at least seven billion problems – prioritize what and who gets your time and attention.  Let the little things go.

3. Get a DVR.  Or Netflix.  Install AdBlock.  Get something that lessens the influence of advertising in your life.  Advertising affects everyone, it tunes you in to things companies want you to feel insecure about and reinforces gender roles that hurt and suppress women (and men).  Screw it.  I haven’t seen a commercial (save for ones I’ve looked up on YouTube at the recommendation of friends, like the Interracial family Cheerios ad) in over a year and I can’t even tell you how much better I feel about myself – I don’t see ads telling me I need surgery or pills to “attract the man of my dreams,” I don’t see commercials with ultra-thin women obsessing over their weight, I can’t even remember the last cleaning product ad I saw with a bumbling husband outwardly saying men are incompetent and directly implying women are naturally more suited to household work accordingly.  I just don’t see it, it’s not a part of my life because it was poison and I decided I’d had enough.

4. People can only treat you how you allow them to treat you.  When someone first told me this I mentally kicked back.  “Fuck you, you don’t know anything about the psychology of abuse, nobody is responsible for the actions of others, don’t blame the victim.”  Yes, all of those things are true: I am not saying anyone at any point is ever responsible for being mistreated by another.  That being said, don’t even think you can’t leave, or that you deserve mistreatment, or that things can’t get better because things can always get better.  There will be people in your life that take advantage of your emotions, they will prey on your feelings, and you will think every step of the way you have to stay to “save them,” or that loving someone means sticking with them no matter what.  This is not the truth.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is tell them to fuck off.  It’s almost always the best thing you can do for yourself, and you can’t take care of anyone before you take care of yourself.  That’s why they tell parents to put on their own oxygen mask before helping their children on airplanes – you’re in a shitty position to save someone else if you’re killing yourself to do so.

5. Be grateful.  Be grateful for what you have and what you may have.  This isn’t to say “first world problems *eyeroll*,” but never lose sight of how much you do have.  You can have problems, you can get upset (remember point 2 though), but remember: you have so much.  You will have more; things can always get better.   Write thank-you notes, write letters period.  Donate your spare change to anything – a homeless person, a local scout troop, an advocacy group you support, anything.  Perspective is a powerful thing and using what you have to help others will make you feel as if you have even more.  I don’t make New Years Resolutions, instead every year I set out to be a better person than I was the year before.  There’s no excuse to fail something like that.

6. …but in the path to help others, don’t silence their voices.  This is something, as a feminist, I (and others) need to be aware of.  Too often white middle and upper class feminists with the best of intentions silence poor and minority women…in the name of helping poor and minority women.  Or, more sinister, white feminists outright slam black feminists, or attempt to discredit them, or exhibit transphobia against transwomen (TERFs).  The latter is obviously unacceptable (and seriously, if you do either of those things you should knock it the fuck off), but the former is damaging as well.  Nobody in a position of privilege – any privilege – should be speaking for the oppressed group.  Wealthy women should not speak for poor women.  Straight women should not speak for gay women.  White women should not speak for black women.  US citizens should not speak for immigrants.  Cis women should not speak for transwomen.  What we should all do is A. listen, B. support, and C. use positions of privilege to amplify voices.  One of the biggest criticisms of Jezebel is that, by and large, their pieces are written by white women for white women.  They have one of the largest and most popular sites for feminist news and editorials.  Is the solution for white authors to post about black issues.  No.  They should, as an influential entity, use their position of power to spotlight more diverse viewpoints, and not in a “token” way, in a constant and consistent manner that engages the community.  This is something easy to get caught up in, everyone does it: you get so excited about making a change and helping that you lose focus of the fact that the people you’re trying to help are, in all likelihood, 100% capable of helping themselves and don’t need a savior.  Pippa Biddle had a great post about “Voluntourism,” and the damage of overvaluing your own help.  If you want to help, let the people you’re trying to help tell you what they need, don’t try to tell them what’s good for them.

That’s it for now – let’s see what I learn over, “the best year of my life!”

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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.


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.


I’m Not Giving Seth MacFarlane the Benefit of the Doubt

There has been a lot of fallout from the 2013 Oscars ceremony, namely from the jokes presented by the host, Seth MacFarlane.  The articles written in the days after seem to fall on one of two sides: that the ceremony was sexist and racist, or that MacFarlane was hilarious and people needed to lighten up.

There’s serious problems with both of these arguments, but a piece that particularly struck me was Victoria Brownworth’s Op-Ed for Advocate.com, in which she argued that the jokes were a dismantling of the Hollywood hyper-sexed system.  She asks if those calling the jokes sexist and racist were watching the same show as her, to which I have to reply to her, “are you talking about the same Seth MacFarlane?”

Yes, Mr. MacFarlane does advocate for marriage equality and against domestic violence, but I fail to see how in the 21st century it’s even slightly “impressive for a straight male” to do these things.  Are we not in an era where being anti-beating your significant other is somehow unique and worthy of praise?  It’s a moral standard to advocate for those who are taken advantage of.  Yeah, I get it, it’s still somehow acceptable to nominate Chris Brown for Grammys, but by and large society looks down upon abusers.  It’s not special to do so.

I’m extremely hesitant to even consider the idea that Seth MacFarlane doesn’t have serious issues with women and respect and equality given his track record for presenting what he considers to be an ideal role for women in his shows.  I’m not talking about blatantly sexist characters (like Peter Griffin and pretty much any other strong male character in any one of his shows) – those are clearly not written to be identifiable and indeed we are supposed to laugh at their stupidity.  For example, consider Family Guy S2E8, “I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar.”  Peter makes a sexist joke and is forced to attend sexual harassment sensitivity class, where they take away all of his “positive” masculine traits and replace them with emotionally sensitive “feminine” ones.  This is perceived by his wife, Lois, as a negative – she wants her man to act like a man while she acts like a woman.  The dilemma comes to a head when Lois and the feminist lawyer who sent Peter to the class get in a fight over choice feminism and wrestle, inspiring Peter to become aroused and be a man again.  The feminists are portrayed extremely negatively – they demean housewives and hate men – whereas Lois, the “feminine” woman comes to the rescue of traditional gender roles to say it’s more feminist to choose to stay home and have a chauvinist for a husband.

Choice feminism is a topic that literally can encompass entire books, so I won’t go in to it other than to say I have friends who’s job is to be a full-time mom (or dad) and that it is in fact, work.  My issue is with the tone with which MacFarlane approaches feminism and empowered women in the first place, which is my major issue with the Oscars.

I got in a facebook disagreement (I know, I know) with someone on the issue because I said the jokes weren’t funny and he fell back onto the “humor is subjective and who are you to decree what is and is not funny/acceptable humor” argument that literally comes up in 100% of all arguments about subject matter of comedy routines, and that’s not what I was trying to argue at all.  The problem is not boob jokes (though it’s pretty tasteless to include scenes of graphic rape, especially when the film is based on actual real-life accounts), or anorexia jokes, or even jokes poking fun at the future sexuality of a nine year old girl (ugh).  The problem out and out is tone, it’s the execution and the reliance on the idea that “if you don’t laugh at this, the problem is you and it’s you we’re really laughing at” that’s the problem with MacFarlane’s brand of “humor.”  It’s bullying.  Amy Davidson for The New Yorker really hits it dead-on, “Getting Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts to pre-record looks of mortification didn’t help, either. (…) It just seemed like a way for MacFarlane to make fun of viewers for being prudish and not ‘getting it.’ (See, the cool girls think that it’s funny!).”

In an industry where women struggle to be treated with the same respect as men, where to be willing to do a nude scene can be viewed as a make-or-break career decision, having a song where the tone is, “you did this incredibly personal work for your art and ultimately it’s still for our sexual amusement” is really gross.   It’s faux-edginess, it’s offensive for the sake of offensive without any counter-culture goals at all and you’re lying to yourself if you think otherwise.  Seth MacFarlane is not a champion of women’s empowerment or acknowledging the problems actresses uniquely face compared to actors in Hollywood, he’s paid huge sums of money to continue to get cheap, exploitative laughs, and is seemingly eager to do so.

I’m not here to be the morality police and say “certain things aren’t okay to joke about” because context and tone is really everything.  However, we need to be honest with ourselves: the Oscars were an embarrassment.  People who were offended had a right to be so and “comedians” aren’t immune from criticism just by the nature of their art.  Seth MacFarlane may believe he has nothing to apologize for, which is fine, because it’s not like we didn’t already know what kind of a person he was in the first place.


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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