Tag Archives: sex

Racism, Sexism, and Satire

A couple of weeks ago two of my oldest and closest friends came up to visit.  While she was here, one of them stumbled across a “satire” piece on Thought Catalog titled, “Asian Women Need to Stop Dating White Men.”  And she was pissed.  “You need to write about this.  It’s so wrong, even if it’s satire it’s still perpetuating stereotypes.”  (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember her exact word-for-word statement)

 

Let’s address this from the get go: the author was a troll and the piece was poorly executed satire.  There is no Anne Gus, the piece was written by a guy.  That doesn’t make the article any less incredibly fucked up, not just for it’s “satirical” generalization of Asian women, but for it’s target: discrediting feminism via mansplaining.

 

White feminism absolutely has a huge problem with race (still), and it would be naïve of me to suggest that there aren’t white feminists who do espouse the ass-backwards ideas presented by “Anne Gus.”  And, rightfully, women of color feminists call them out on their bullshit.  But the purpose of this article wasn’t to call out racism within the movement, it was clearly to portray all white feminists as insecure and frothing-at-the-mouth.  And, as illustrated by two previous links, it worked: feminist women of color immediately (rightfully, given at the time nobody knew it was a troll) jumped on the article as exemplary of everything wrong with white feminists.  It pit us against each other, it reduced us to “this is why we can’t get along,” and it wasn’t real.  The author, who goes by the name of AryanofValhalla on bodybuilding forums, pretty clearly has some huge issues with race so it’s no surprise that he had no restraint using racist stereotypes of Asian women to make another attempt at making feminists look stupid and segregated.

 

Just in case it’s unclear, Asian women:

1. do not lack Feminist ideas or movements…just like other women

2. are not delicate or subservient to men (“pleasant”), unless they want to be…just like any other women

3. are not being “taken advantage of” by men of other races (in fact, I’ll let you in on something, Asian women date outside of their race for one reason: they meet someone of another race and they like him/her)…just like other women

4. are totally capable of knowing when someone is fetishizing them…just like other women

And these bullshit stereotypes, even used as “satire” to have a deleterious effect on feminism, are hurtful and damaging to Asian women.  Thought Catalog should have known better.

 

I had a moral conundrum writing this piece (back to my last post, Asian women don’t need me to speak for them), so I’ll wrap up with a quote from my friend:

I believe this “piece” was meant to be inflammatory and insulting, so I am playing right into the master plan (because bad publicity is still publicity, right? Plus, it is Thought Catalog!), but I wanted to say that I’ve dated (white) men in the past and am dating a wonderful (white) man now, and not one of these men ever made me feel like I was only attractive or worth dating simply because of my ethnicity (which is half White, half Cambodian, and a product of the author’s dreaded “WMAW” relationship).

Physical attraction is a first step, and while men who dated me may have initially found my “exotic” look attractive, they eventually found other reasons to continue dating (or not date!) me just as I found reasons beyond their physical aspects to continue dating (or not date) them.

Maybe I am just lucky, but I have never felt like the men who cared about me only fetishized me, considered me subservient, or thought me better than a white woman (or any woman of any other ethnicity for that matter). Not only is this language racist, but it pits women of different races against each other when we should be sticking together to fight the glass ceiling. The author claims to be a strong, white feminist, but if she chooses to turn female against female, I don’t think she is a true feminist at all.

My choice of feminism is about freedom of choice and equality… for all races and genders. Girl Power, y’all.


The Feminist Vaccine

Before we get started, this is going to be a LONG post, and I mean really long.  I don’t want to leave any stone unturned on this topic and I want to be as thorough (and sourced) as possible.

We – feminists, women, men, mothers and fathers, people – need to put a lid on the anti-vaccine craze.  “Wait, why is this a feminist issue?”  We’ll get there.  In under five thousand words, hopefully.

My goal in this entry is not to mock or fear-monger.  There are legitimate points brought up by the anti-vaccine side, which I will gladly include and address as they come up.  My point in all of this is to educate and persuade.  If my thoroughness comes off as condescending, please understand that is not my intention.  I don’t think anti-vaccine people are stupid – I think that raising kids is scary and every parent wants to do what’s best for their kids and is terrified of doing wrong and it makes things complicated.  I’m writing this with a “from the ground up” approach and assuming that someone, not everyone, but someone reading this has no academic background in biology.

If I miss anything, if there’s a rebuttal that needs to be addressed, comment and I’ll edit it in.  I am more than happy to address any questions or comments on this topic, because it’s something I feel very passionately about.

What is a vaccine?  The functioning base of a vaccine can be a number of things, I’ll break them down one-by-one, explain how they work in layman’s terms, and give some examples:

Live attenuated vaccine – this type of vaccine has a live form of the virus in it, but it is weakened or somehow made inert so that the patient’s immune system can “learn” the virus without getting ill.  Measles, mumps, rubella, and the chickenpox vaccine all contain attenuated agents.  Very rarely a bacterial vaccine can also be live attenuated type, such as cholera, but this is uncommon and not a type of vaccine most people will get.  Can a live virus vaccine become dangerous again?  The virus is bred down to be weak inside of humans.  Viruses can exchange DNA, but you would need to have the “wild type” in your system already (or a compatible virus – this is VERY rare and should not be considered an elimination-worthy fault of this type of vaccine).

Inactivated vaccines – like attenuated, these vaccines contain whole virus or bacteria, but it is killed (by heat, drying, radiation, or chemicals [we’ll get to chemicals later]).  Since it is dead, there is no chance it can revert back to being dangerous.  Inactive vaccines don’t provoke as strong of an immune response, so a “booster” later in life may be necessary.  Some examples of an inactive vaccine include the polio vaccine, most flu shots, and pertussis/whooping cough.  It’s important if you’re having children later in life, or if you work with children, the elderly, or the immunocompromised to get these types of shots as directed by your healthcare provider or employer.

Toxoid vaccines – some bacteria are not harmful because of the bacteria itself, but because of toxins secreted by the bacteria during it’s lifespan or at death.  You cannot build a “natural” immunity to most of these types of bacteria, because a bacteria is not going to produce a weak toxin on it’s own and often the toxin is fatal in it’s “active” form.  The most well-known toxoid vaccine is the tetanus shot, which is given every ten years.  Toxoid vaccines are made with formalin, which is a solution of formaldehyde and water (we’ll get to formaldehyde later), which damages the protein of the toxin enough to make it harmless enough for the body to learn how to fight it off.  Like inactivated vaccines, boosters are very important in this class.

Conjugate vaccines – this class of vaccine is particularly important for infants and young children, who’s immune system can’t yet identify and break down bacterial walls with special polysaccharide (a type of carbohydrate) coatings.  The coatings can mask the proteins sticking out from a bacteria or virus, which can make it difficult for a young immune system to identify and fight off.  The way this vaccine works is by developing the elements from the polysaccharides as well as a toxin or protein the body can identify.  This way the body learns how to respond to the coating using the secondary element as a trigger for the response.  The Hepatitis-B vaccine is an example of a conjugate vaccine, it contains protein marker elements, polysaccharide elements, and inert toxins that the body can identify and respond to better than the polysaccharides on its own.

Recombinant  Vector vaccines – this is one of two “new” classes of vaccines, made possible by developments in genetic research and understanding.  A recombinant vaccine functions by inserting the genes for one infectious agent’s protein or toxin markers into another attenuated virus or bacteria that the body can fight off.  This way the body learns how to deal with the potentially very harmful disease by way of a weaker, non harmful agent.  The HPV vaccine is a recombinant vector vaccine.  Why can’t you just make an attenuated vaccine then?  Some infectious agents are simply too virulent or risky to do this with – like HIV.  While we don’t currently have an HIV vaccine, a recombinant vector approach may hold the key to developing one that is safe and effective.

DNA vaccine – this type of vaccine is experimental and a bit tricky to explain, so I’ll let the NIH do it for me: “Researchers have found that when the genes for a microbe’s antigens are introduced into the body, some cells will take up that DNA. The DNA then instructs those cells to make the antigen molecules. The cells secrete the antigens and display them on their surfaces. In other words, the body’s own cells become vaccine-making factories, creating the antigens necessary to stimulate the immune system.”  What, generally, this means is that your own body uses the virus or bacteria’s DNA to make the protein all by itself.  There are currently no DNA vaccines approved for human use, though a bird flu vaccine using DNA vaccine research is being studied and developed.

Okay, what about all of those chemicals in vaccines?  Aren’t those harmful?  Are some of the chemicals in vaccines potentially harmful?  Yes.  Are they harmful as they are in vaccines?  No.  The thing a lot of people don’t understand about organic chemistry (and, in this entry, organic does not mean the same thing as it does at the grocery store, but scientifically, which is having to do with carbon-based biochemistry) is that dosing is everything.  Literally anything is harmful in the wrong dose (even good ol’ water) and most things are harmless at the right dose (even one of the deadliest naturally occurring toxins, botulinum can be safely administered, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it).  Biomass is very important in chemistry – the amount of formaldehyde, for example, that is lethal for a bacteria is totally and wholly inconsequential to humans, even tiny ones.  You will consume more formaldehyde in fruits and vegetables than you will ever get in a vaccine – it’s abundant in nature and it’s okay for us to consume because it’s the “dose” that matters – low levels of formaldehyde are processed into other chemicals in the body and passed in the urine.  Constant, high-level exposure to formaldehyde is dangerous and carcinogenic (cancer causing).  The amount of formaldehyde in vaccines is not.

The “hot chemical” in vaccines is Thimerosal.  Some have speculated that the inclusion of thimerosal in vaccines has led to an increase in autism.  It’s important to note that this chemical was phased out of most vaccines and reduced to a very, very low levels in the ones it remained a part of in 1997, so even if it were related to autism (it’s not), it would not be possible for this link to be made to children born after that time.  The removal was purely precautionary – thimerosal is ethylmercury, not methlymercury or elemental mercury.  When people hear “mercury,” most don’t realize there’s multiple types at all, much less that they have totally different effects on the body.  Elemental mercury is what you would find in a thermometer and is really only dangerous if inhaled (it’s where we get the term “mad as a hatter“) – the body does a poor job absorbing it and if eaten/swallowed would pass through the body.  DO NOT DO THIS, IT IS STILL A HEAVY METAL AND POTENTIALLY TOXIC.  Methlymercury is the “dangerous mercury” that can be found in high predator fish (through a process called biomagnification, in which a large fish eats 100 medium fish, which ate 100 small fish, which ate 100 tiny fish that ate 100 filter feeders with a small amount of methlymercury in it’s system – this is why pollution control is important).  Methylmercury is absorbed into the bloodstream and is harmful to humans, even in small doses because it accumulates and takes a very long time to break down.  Thimerosal/ethylmercury is broken down by the body quickly and excreted – it is not harmful and does not put people are risk for accumulation of mercury in their system.

Somewhere along the line a lot of people got caught up in this idea that natural  = good, artificial = bad, even if the artificial is merely a laboratory mass-created chemically identical version of what’s found in nature.  It’s not reasonable and it’s not a scientifically sound approach to life.  Prior to mass-production of antibiotics the number one killer in war wasn’t bullets and broadswords, it was bacteria.  Convention medicine occasionally has a misstep but, on the whole, it has vastly improved the quality of life for living things (not just humans).  Yes, new drugs should be tested thoroughly.  Yes, sometimes nature holds the cure (let’s not forget that penicillin producing fungus is naturally occurring and opiate based pain relief has been around for centuries), but sometimes artificial does too.  It’s one thing to ask questions, it another thing to entirely discount something because “you don’t understand the words on the label.”  Chemistry and chemicals are not the enemy, they are not bad for you any more or any less than nature.  Nature didn’t eradicate smallpox, vaccines did.  Nature isn’t going to halt HIV, science is.  Chemical synthesis is vital, it is absolutely critical to improving life on earth.  Period.

My general point is, yes, there are chemicals in vaccines that sound scary and can do scary things…but not at the concentrations in vaccines (even in all regular childhood vaccines put together at once).  Which brings me to the next question…

Isn’t the infant and early childhood vaccine schedule a little extreme?  With that many vaccines so close, how can you determine which one caused a reaction if a child has a reaction?  This is a point on the anti-vaccine side that does have some merit though I must emphasize that vaccination before socialization is the key because with many diseases group exposure is the real danger.  I hesitate to link to any popular “alternative schedules,” because most of their proponents spread misinformation about vaccines overall.  Suffice to say, if you want to spread out your child’s vaccine schedule, talk to their doctor about doing them 1-2 at a time and prioritizing according to local disease trends and potential illness complications. This is where it’s important to understand how vaccines move through a population, a study called epidemiology.

In epidemiology, you’ll see the term “r-nought” (R sub 0, R0, or R0).  What this identifies is for every one person infected, how many other people they can be expected to infect.  This is determined by a lot of factors: how the infectious agent reproduces, how it is spread, and how long the host is spreading the illness before symptoms show and incubation period, et cetera.  Measles, for example, has an R0 of 11-18 – that’s very high.  While measles is not typically fatal, 1 in 1,000 children with measles will have encephalitis and 1-2 out of 1,000 will die.  Some math:

On infected child will infect (lowball) 12 children.

12 infected children will infect 144 children

144 infected children will infect 1728 children

So within 3 cycles you’ve hit your statistical number for fatalities and encephalitis.  That’s a pretty rapid progression for a disease.

Let’s do another one: Pertussis.  R0 of about 15.  In infants and children 1-2 in 100 cases involve convulsions, 1 in 100 death, 2/3 apnea (which if not monitored closely can result in death), 1 in 300 encephalopathy.  If you include adult infection these numbers drop.

So, 1 infected child infects 15 peers.

15 infected children infect 225.  Two cycles to statistical mortality.

There are a lot of factors that go in to surviving a serious childhood illness, not just simple math.  Nutrition, overall health, and speed in seeking medical attention all factor in to survival, so it’s perfectly possible a large pertussis outbreak can have no fatalities in an affluent area.  However, participation in society comes with responsibility.  There are children who legitimately cannot have a specific vaccine, or any vaccines due to medical issues (allergies, childhood cancer, and immune disease, for example).  For these children, “herd immunity” (an often misunderstood term) is vital – if a disease cannot move within a population because everyone in it is capable of fighting if off before they become infectious, the odds of someone who is a “good host” coming into contact with the disease drops drastically.  Herd immunity doesn’t negate the existence of a disease within a population, only the effectiveness by which it can spread.  Vaccines don’t magically make it so you don’t come in contact with an infectious agent – when you are infected, you body responds without you ever knowing you were infected, and you don’t pass the disease along.  You ruin the R0.  The point of the vaccine is twofold: to prevent possible severe complications from illness and to disrupt the natural movement of a disease through a population.  You don’t just get vaccines for yourself, you get them because humans are social animals and the microbe world relies on that fact to propagate.

But most of these diseases are rarely fatal anyway.  I feel I’m violating my child’s bodily autonomy by forcing vaccines into it to accommodate “regulations.”  Natural immunity will be better for him/her anyway.  I cannot emphasize enough – the immunity you get from vaccines is natural immunity.  Your body is responding, your body is producing the necessary antibodies, your body is learning the disease.  It’s like learning to ride a bike with training wheels or a tricycle first versus just jumping onto a two-wheeler from the get go.  Yes, you’ll probably learn to ride a bike still, but it will likely be at the very least painful if not outright hazardous.  Vaccines are training wheels for your body learning how to ride a disease, so when you come into contact with the disease you’re already a pro, you know what you’re doing, and the training wheels can come off.

As far as bodily autonomy, I feel it’s impossible to address this without comparison and weighing options.  Functionally all medicine given by a parent and doctor without consent of the child is a violation of their autonomy if you’re using “forced vaccines” as a standard – I didn’t want to take antibiotics any of the many, many times I got pneumonia as a child, but my parents forced me to so I didn’t drown in my own lung goo, arguably a good call on their part.  Children don’t want to do anything that’s painful and the concept of “pain now” versus “pain later,” they will pretty much always pick later because cause and consequence is a rationalization that takes a while to develop.  “You can get this shot now, and it will definitely hurt for a little bit, or you can maybe *insert common symptom list here* later,” most kids are going to pick whatever later is because later is not a concrete concept especially with “maybe” or “possibly” attached to it.  Compulsory vaccination is no different from compulsory vision tests for a driver’s license, or compulsory HIV screening for blood donation, or any other number of things wherein you trade something to participate in society – you are certainly able to opt-out, but it will reasonably restrict you from certain social activities, because failure to comply can result in consequences not just for you, but for someone else who had no way of knowing you were not in compliance and no way of protecting themselves.  You don’t have a right to put other people at risk, your right to put yourself at risk ends when it possibly risks someone else.  You don’t have the right to be negligent.

Further, I would make the argument that what amounts to intentional exposure to potentially serious illness is a greater violation of a child’s bodily autonomy than an injection.  Take something really benign for example, like chicken pox.  Fatality, ataxia, even pneumonia are very rare.  But scarring (a superficial blemish, but still permanent, and it’s not like we don’t live in a society that focuses on physical beauty) is quite common.  Amy Parker’s piece about growing up unvaccinated raises a good point about this – you can make it through unvaccinated alive and no worse for wear as far as complications and still look back on the illness experience miserably.  This is a situation where saying, “you can’t tell me what to put in my child’s body!” as a rallying cry out of principle is seriously counter-intuitive to reasonable medical decisions.  Most people would agree that parents who withhold life-saving treatment from their children for religious reasons are morally reprehensible – and the government has decided even in the face of religious liberty that when it comes to minors, medical care is compulsory.  Withholding misery-saving preventative healthcare should not be viewed as a brave or medically sound decision.  It’s not a decision between “exposing my child to something harmless” and “not,” it’s a decision of “how will I expose my children to something potentially harmful: in a controlled situation or not.”  Your child *will* be exposed to most, if not all vaccinatable childhood illnesses in their lifetime.  Your choice is whether or not their system is already equipped to handle it, they’re going to be exposed to it either way.

Also, the possible complications of not vaccinating our daughters is even more severe.  A great deal of childhood illnesses are generally recoverable…when you have them as children.  Rubella and Chicken pox can all cause pregnancy complications and do very serious damage to a developing fetus – and many vaccines cannot be given during pregnancy (though the pertussis booster and some forms of the flu vaccine can be and should be).  Additionally, a mother cannot pass temporary immunity to her baby for something she is not immune to.

Big Pharma can’t be trusted!  Vaccines are a profit scam!  Will you deny that some children die from vaccines?  Look, vaccine reaction is a absolutely a real thing, the body can adapt to or reject anything at any time if it’s in the right genetic cards.  You can reject your own organs, type I juvenile diabetes is a result of the body’s immune system attacking the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (versus adult-onset type II resulting in the body’s cells no longer accepting insulin properly).  No matter what you introduce to the body – vaccines, medicine, essential oil, juice – someone is allergic to it, someone can’t process it, it will kill somebody.  Ginger is a great natural remedy for an upset stomach.  I’m (potentially lethally) allergic to ginger, so I don’t take it for an upset stomach.  Infants and children (and adults) should be monitored following vaccination and if anything seems awry, medical attention should be sought.  It’s not reasonable to avoid something because of the possibility of a reaction (unless you have a family history of adverse effects) because you’d have to avoid everything.  The CDC monitors vaccine reaction closely, and it’s important to note with childhood vaccines the frequency of severe reactions is so infrequent it’s medically impossible to prove the vaccine was at-fault in most cases.  Just as a quick comparison, the statistical odds of death or serious side effect from DTaP is less than 1 in 1,000,000 (.0001%).  The statistical odds of death from just pertussis is .2% – not high, but much, much higher than the vaccine.  MMR is also less than 1 in 1,000,000 (.0001%).  Combined in the US the mortality rate for these diseases is about 2 per 1000, also .2% (with poor nutrition this figure jumps to about 25%)

It’s worth recognizing that “Big pharma” is starting to realize serious profit from vaccines…because of the growth of the voluntary vaccine market.  Childhood vaccinations are a pretty null line for pharmaceutical companies, you can’t turn profit on something that’s been around for a long time because it goes to generic production.  Flu vaccines, however, will always be new market/brand name because it’s a different vaccine every year.  So yes, pharmaceutical companies are making bank on vaccines, but only because of flu vaccines.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get them – the important takeaway from flu history is that the biggest, most lethal epidemics have killed the young and healthy more than the weak because of immune over response.  That’s right.  Your healthy young body does such a good job at building immunities when it sees a totally new, strong flu, it boots into beast mode trying to kill it, fails, but in the process manages to start taking out your own cells.  This doesn’t happen in vaccines because the flu doesn’t “fight back” so you don’t get the hyper-response from your immune system.  And before anyone says it – flu vaccines do NOT go onto the market untested.  For one, the majority of flu vaccines are made by the same method (which isn’t new by any stretch) and for two, they are tested, extensively, and when they fail their producer is out millions.  It happens.  No company is getting a pass on having to test their vaccines.

A pharmaceutical company is a business, not a charity, they operate to make money.  It’s unreasonable for anyone to expect there to not be a profit margin associated with  their products – the up-front costs alone for developing flu vaccines are into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Profit allows pharmaceutical companies to dump literal billions of dollars into research and development of new drugs (phase III trials alone account for about 40% of most pharmaceutical companies’ R&D operating budget) and often end up with complete failure/FDA rejection (only 5 out of about every 5000 make the cut).  The flu vaccine having a mark-up doesn’t make it less effective, or less of a good idea especially for at-risk individuals and people who work around other people (aka everyone).  Everyone selling something is in business to make a profit, the super nice local farmer you get peaches from every summer at the Wednesday farmer’s market is selling those peaches with a markup to make growing the peaches and driving the peaches to the market a worthwhile endeavor.  The farmer’s family isn’t living off of peaches and wearing peach-fiber clothing and checking email on an iPeach, they make profit from their products and buy things.  That doesn’t make the peach less delicious and it doesn’t make the farmer dishonest…so why is it bad for a pharmaceutical company to make a profit?

Doctors don’t know how vaccines work, how can they explain them to patients?  This is a radical statement made by some anti-vaccine advocates based on anecdotal observation, not objectively fact-based.  Do all doctors everywhere know exactly how each and every vaccine works and exact numbers behind every possible reaction off  the top of their head?  No, that’s ridiculous to even expect.  What doctors can do is give you general expected side-effects (soreness) and common reaction signs to watch out for (difficulty breathing).  What doctors can do is go over the vaccine brochure/insert (which you have every right to ask for, some doctors won’t offer it out the gate because most people don’t want it, but all are required to have it on-site) with you and explain things you don’t understand.  You absolutely have the right to know what a vaccine is and to have it explained to you, and if your doctor is flippant or resistant about providing that information, by all means “fire” them and get a new doctor or anonymously report them to their superiors or state licensing board for investigation if you feel it’s warranted.  Most doctors and nurses are in medicine because they care about their patients.  Most scientists working in pharmaceuticals want to help humanity.  A doctor isn’t blowing off this information because they don’t know or care, it’s that most patients and parents coming through the door that don’t know and don’t care.  If you do care, they are obligated legally and ethically to explain it to you in a way you understand (because those inserts are not typically written in laymen language).

…so what the hell does any of this have to do with Feminism?

Look at these pictures:

Group-photo-rally1 img_01251

And this rally.  And this one.  Notice anything similar?

The voices in the anti-vaccine crowd, overwhelmingly, are women.  The above seems to have a male speaking, but most of the participants are women.  The most famous face of the movement (who I’ve avoided mentioning because she’s not taken particularly seriously at this point) is Jenny McCarthy (who ironically now promotes unregulated eCigs).  The anti-vaccine movement relies on women, and these women communicate with and trust and relate to the other women in their group.  It’s a place where women have power.

If pro-vaccine, pro-science advocates want to turn the tide on public misinformation, the face needs to not be pharmaceutical companies, or faceless blasts with stock images from the CDC and NIH, we need real, relatable women explaining why these vaccines are safe and necessary, we need scientist moms out there explaining why they vaccinated their children, we need female doctors who got the Gardasil vaccine showing that it was safe, we need, as women, to get out there and be vocal about this because when it comes to something as dear and important as raising our children, facts and numbers aren’t going to break the ice on their own.  We need facts and numbers and compassion, we need relatability, we need leaders.  We need crunchy moms who understand that vaccines aren’t unnatural immunity, we need parent groups to explain vaccines and illness clearly and without fear because you don’t need fear to illustrate vaccines as good and illness as bad.

Women listen to woman and men, but women relate to women.  Vaccines need feminism, and feminism needs to get on board with advocating for vaccines.


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.


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.


Why I didn’t post about the election

As I’m sure you’ve (rightfully) assumed, I’m more or less surrounded with politically and socially active men and women.  Some are liberal, some are conservative, some are somewhere in between; my facebook wall saw more candidates pictures on it this year from both the big two and third parties than ever before.

 

So, why didn’t I speak up?  This was, arguably, one of the most important elections for women since suffrage was still on the table.

 

Here’s the thing: as much as I agreed with (and ultimately, supported) the Democrat’s positions regarding women’s health issues, I was more than a little bothered by the rhetoric that seemed to assume that 1. women’s health issues were my only concern and 2. as a woman I should automatically feel a certain way about women’s issues and so would be naturally inclined to vote Democrat.  And, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m overjoyed Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost their respective races, it’s great that Americans won’t put up with people with such misguided and horrifying opinions on rape (especially when those opinions can dictate law).  And Elizabeth Warren winning her seat is totally awesome not just for women but for constitutional law scholars as well, she’s a brilliant scholar motivated to end corporate welfare.  Wisconsin electing the first openly lesbian senator, Tammy Baldwin?  Amazing, as was Washington, Maine, and Maryland voting to support gay marriage.   I guess what I don’t understand is the mentality that, if you’re a woman, you should have automatically voted for President Obama.

 

Why?  I mean, quite a large percentage of women are pro life.  Further, both Gary Johnson and Dr.Jill Stein ran on pro-choice platforms (Dr. Stein’s being arguably more liberal in regards to abortion and birth control access than even the Democrats).  And it’s not like Libertarian or Green are the only two third party options even.  Yes, it’s true that in the present political climate no third party has a chance of taking a presidential election, but third parties do win Representative and Senate seats, and ultimately change tends to start at the grassroots and as third party voices become stronger, their ideas tend to be absorbed into the big two.  My point is, you really weren’t limited to two choices, there was more than one pro choice/pro life and pro birth control access/anti birth control access if you didn’t care for Obama or Romney (as many didn’t).

 

I don’t like that both the right and the left seemed to bully voters into picking between Rep or Dem, especially women.  It’s like over the span of a few months my uterus became a battleground state, with both sides saying they knew that their side would do what’s best for it.  The fact of the matter is, no matter how pro choice, pro birth control I am, another woman holding the belief that a early term fetus is a person and that as a person has rights does not make her fundamentally anti-woman, nor does it make me a baby killer.  The issue is a lot more complicated than that, it really is, and if you’re trying to simplify it down to a simple “it’s a woman’s body!” statement then I’m sorry but you’re missing the point.  I guarantee that no pro life woman believes that she doesn’t own her own body, or that her body is worth less than, say, a man’s.  And but for a very small percentage of evangelicals, no pro life women would say that abortion should be 100% illegal even if the mother’s life is in danger.  It is a fundamental difference in the view of personhood of a fetus, not just over who has rights to a woman’s body.

 

Thus, if a woman believes that a fetus is a person with rights, then that woman is justified in voting for a party that supports that idea and isn’t “stupid” or “anti-feminist.”  I disagree with her wholly, but I understand where her decision is coming from and while I may try to persuade her to see things my way, I would never say outright she shouldn’t vote for the candidate she supports just because I think she’s wrong.  Trying to shoehorn women into voting against their beliefs just because of their gender seems inherently wrong to me.


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