Archive for the ‘feminism’ Tag

shut your face-hole: thoughts from a n00b

I’ve been tromping creeping with an ear-trumpet through the feminist blogosphere for about a year now, and I’m experiencing my first live Feminism Kerfuffle™ in the form of a post by mai’a over at Feministe about children, motherhood, and, through comments, the role of WOC in mainstream feminism.

I include details of my short time in the blogosphere to make clear that I’m far from well-versed on the various discussions within feminism, and all of the amazing nuanced intersectionality that should come part-and-parcel with working for social justice (and, apparently, is widely sorely lacking.)  mai’a’s original post focused on strictly adults-only spaces and how they exclude caregivers (and, in our society the majority of caregivers are women, thusly the practice excludes and oppresses women).  I’m not going to talk about this, as I haven’t made up my mind about it yet.  I want to focus on mai’a’s follow-up post, in which she talks about her experience of the label “mama” in different contexts, and what that means: specifically,

“being a mama is not a description of one’s biology or genitalia. it does not describe how many children we have nestled in wombs. it is not a description of age or even male/female gender.

it is who we are. it is what we do. it is love by any means necessary.”

From my n00b point of view, what I see happening in the comments is what I’ve seen from trolls on other, less controversial threads: women who identify as feminists are recoiling, digging their heels in, and fighting back – without consideration of, and in direct opposition to, the voice of the oppressed.  Folks are practicing classic pearl-clutching:  “What do you mean, you don’t identify as a feminist?  Then why are you writing on a feminist blog?!  Good heavens!” …aaaaand the critical-thinking skills have left the building.  Faith tries to inject some perspective:

Here’s a thought: instead of getting offended by that statement, maybe you might want to step back and consider why someone like bfp would utter such words. Someone whom I’m guessing also believes very much in the full humanity of women everywhere. If even women like me who have identified as feminists for years are not offended by that statement, then maybe it’s time for some people to consider that maybe there are some very valid criticisms to be made about the feminist movement in general.

Of one thing I am certain: Mainstream Feminism Has Issues.  And, though I don’t agree with other things in the OP, I agree with mai’a on this:  “if your brand of feminism does not embrace and push to the forefront the critiques of itself, then i have no interest in your brand or your movement”.  Folks are not engaging with mai’a’s critique; they’re just grabbing their Feminism badge and running for cover behind the brick Feminism barricade, flinging things like “you’re excluding and oppressing me by pointing out things that are problematic but don’t affect me so I don’t think about them!  That’s not helpful!” at women who dared to step into hostile territory and speak truth to power.

Ellie provides an example of this:

Do these women owe me an explanation? No, not really. But I also don’t see how exclusion, whether it’s of them or of me, helps anyone here. I understand, perhaps the community has not always done the best job at including everyone, I can acknowledge that. But does it help any more now than it did then?

Imagine that statement coming from a Men’s Rights Activist.  See the problem?  Traditional feminist perspectives and practices are being called into question, and the practitioners cry “exclusion! silencing!” instead of thinking critically about the issue.

This is not the way to go about having a dialogue.  This is oppression rearing its ugly head in a place where, though varied and opinionated it may be, the folks in power shut their mouths and the voices of the marginalized are finally, actively, heard.

on eclipse*

I haven’t in a while, but once upon a time I used to read fan fiction.  I actually read a lot of fan fiction.  I would keyword search on my favorite characters and read whatever came up on my screen, which meant I read some of the worst drivel ever mashed out on a keyboard.  On the other hand, I read some amazingly well-crafted, engaging fan fiction that made me totes happy and, in the case of After the End, kind of confused me once the actual canon came out and it didn’t match up.

So, when I say that the Twilight series is on par with that former category, know that opinion comes from a place of experience.

Which is not to say that I didn’t read them.  I did.  I admit it.  I read them all in a few days, ravenously, like a little kid who finds herself alone with her Halloween loot and goes to town.  And I kind of felt the same afterward, too – overfull and nauseous, but with that tinge of regret that comes with knowing you blew through it so fast, and there isn’t anymore left.**

So, I’m torn between two interpretations concerning Bella.  1st, obvious interpretation: Bella is an inanimate object, like a tennis ball, being volleyed back and forth between two men who do nothing but seethe with hatred at one another when the ball’s not in their court.  This is shitty from a feminist perspective, because CHIVALRY, and, Bella makes virtually no active decisions in the entire series.  Even when vampire-types want to kill her dead, it’s not because of something she did (her personality didn’t attract Edward [her smell did, not something she can control], she didn’t actively provoke James, she didn’t kill James, she didn’t choose to be pregnant, and jeez, even her vampire superpower is passive and keeps her from fighting as her heinous newborn self).

The 2nd, more complicated interpretation: Bella as a Mary Sue.  This should not be complicated – everyone knows that Mary Sue stories categorically suck.***  BUT WAIT, there’s a great discussion happening on Mary Sue policing.  There is a dearth of strong female characters in source material so what the hell is so wrong with writing a few in?  “It’s wish fulfillment!” shout the self-proclaimed Serious Writers of Fan Fiction.  “It’s lazy writing!  Stop trying to include characters you can relate to in worlds where they do not belong!”

As Margaret Lion points out in comments, Captain Kirk and James Bond much?  I’m pretty sure Gene Roddenberry and Ian Fleming wished HARD that they could be the womanizing, action-hero characters they invented, rather than their lackluster, everyday selves.

Yes, Bella’s not strong or bad ass or interesting.  The few traits Stephenie Meyer emphasizes (clumsiness, ho-hum run-of-the-mill talent, “plain” in a culturally lauded [thin, blemish-free] way) are easy to relate to, and familiar, and desirable, and make her a placeholder for girls who live in a patriarchal culture and wish their life was fantastical and exciting and dramatic and tragically beautiful.

The solution to this conundrum, I think, is not demonizing young girls for being “Twihards.”  It’s working to change the culture that dictates the only thing a woman can be is attached to a man, and writing fiction with interesting female characters that do more boulder-crushing and lightning-zapping and puzzle-solving and battle-winning and awesome-being.  There’s nothing wrong with throwing a few sparkly immortal men in there too, if that’s your dish, as long as they don’t mansplain ass-kicking.

*even though there isn’t an eclipse in the movie and I know that the book titles are supposed to be clever plays on daylight and all that but the plots are so thin that the “moon cycle” series metaphor doesn’t even work, y’know?

**I have a history of liking source material that sucks, and picking out the few meaty bits to elaborate on myself: the characters of Rosalie and Jasper intrigue me, and Carlisle is just damn hot.  Can someone with more talent than me write some backstory for these folks?

***I wrote a Mary Sue character series.  Over 240 pages of it.  No, you can’t read it it is gone forever THANK GOD.

mini-reunion

A few days ago, I had an interesting experience.  I met up briefly with a friend that I spent every day with in college, but only see every 2 years or so now.  Let’s call her Martha.  And – Martha did not like my jump to the dark side.  Oh no, not at all.

You know.  That dark side where you don’t laugh at rape jokes.  Where you are disgusted by being harassed at bars, instead of “having fun” with it.  Where I, as a white person, try my damndest to not be complicit in the racism of other white people, which more often or not involves becoming the aguafiesta.

In school, our favorite bonding pastime was “people watching,” aka Body Police.  We’d sit outside, or walk outside, and make casual (and high-larious) remarks about the slovenly state of so-and-so, look at that dude’s sideways hat what a douche, and various riffs on the ever popular, “she shouldn’t be wearing that.”  See, the thing is, she’s very thin, and I’m fat.  Actually, I was fatter then than I am now.  And I had Issues with that, materialized in the form of social isolation, constant hand-wringing about others’ imagined perceptions of me, and a vacuum where my self-esteem should have been.

Flash forward 4 years in the future.  I spent 3 of them living far away in hip hip Seattle becoming all cosmopolitan and confident and independent and such.  Last summer I downed the red pill and had my feminist awakening (thank you blogosphere btw), and she hasn’t seen me since then.  Our mutual friend, herself quite an activist, visited Martha a few months ago, and did a little bit of that awkwardness-inducing stoic silence stuff.  Since our mutual friend was my roommate for a time, Martha decided to plumb the depths and see how much I’d been “indoctrinated.”

I don’t think it worked out quite as she’d hoped.

And I was disappointed too; I didn’t expect to play race bingo with one of my best friends.*

I know this is just the beginning, the first of many: as I start to see people I used to be close to, I’ll start realizing just how fucked up some of the things they say are.  I used to say those things, too.**  When I see them again, no matter which action I choose, I will be different.  I won’t be fun anymore.  Even if I turn a blind eye to offensive shit and change the subject, they’ll still notice I’m not participating, and their perception of me will change.

Which is good, if it makes them think.  Here marks the beginning of my journey to Keep Friends and Influence Them To Start Thinking About Their Privilege Without Driving Them Away Totally.

Which would’ve totally been a way better book.

*This round’s winners: “Well, it depends on the context.”  “Won’t people just find a reason to hate each other anyway?”  “Well, my 2 black friends don’t talk about race so it must not be an issue anymore.”   “Well, where I live, I’m the minority, so I understand what it feels like.”

**And I’m sure I will again, since privilege rears its ugly head even when you’re conscious of it.  That’s how it works.

twirly twirly

Back in January, Courtney wrote a great post about externalizing internal milestones: in her case, it was chopping off 10 inches of hair.

Sadly, I think hair has become one of the most powerful tools in a misogynist culture, in a few different ways:

  1. Women use critiques of other women’s hair as a policing mechanism:  “Did you see [so-and-so]’s new haircut?  It looks awful.  I can’t believe she did that.”
  2. Men disparage women for spending so much time on their hair, using it as evidence of how women are vapid, self-obsessed and shallow.
  3. The expectation of “looking presentable” is disproportionately levied on women, because grooming (hair & makeup) takes much longer.  Elaborate hair processes are almost a requirement if you’re a professional, because to do otherwise is sloppy and a poor reflection on your ability to do your job well.
  4. Numbers 2 & 3 combine into a perfect double standard: our culture requires women to always be beautiful, but they are condemned for the amount of time it takes to create that image.

So all of that sucks, because hair is fun.  It’s a great tool for making a statement, or not, to rebel or conform, to play make-believe and to celebrate yourself.

It’s also a great distraction: since I started my career of sitting through things that are boring, I’ve twirled my hair between my fingers.  So far, I haven’t been officially accused of not paying attention, but I live for the day I get called out and reply with such a witty retort that my accuser is stunned into silence.  (I have a bank of imaginary interactions in which I impress people, which is another post.)

Courtney says her hair was a security blanket of sorts, and that was true for me as well, but for different reasons.

For a long time, the primary purpose of my hair was to be a personal characteristic that people could use to describe me other than “fat.”  I thought that if I had really  long hair, when people would think of me or refer to me, they might say “the girl with the long hair” instead of “the fat girl.”  (That these 2 options weren’t the only ones available did not occur to me at the time.)

I was also hook line and sinker for the fantasy of being thin, and thought that a sweet hairstyle would have to wait until I actually started living my life (i.e., got thin).  Not unrelated, I self-deprecatingly thought that styled hair on fat women looked ridiculous: Why don’t you go to the gym instead of the salon, fatty?

In my sophomore year of college I chopped my hair off, from halfway down my back to above my shoulders.  The picture I have from that day is the first one since I’d turned twelve that I was beaming.

Obviously the journey to self-acceptance took more than just a haircut, but it was my way of trying to kick myself in the ass and stop waiting around for my life to start.  It was the first act of many, many acts, done on a daily basis with varying levels of success, designed to convince myself that I was capable of being and doing more: not after school, not after I get a boyfriend, not after I lose 50 pounds, today.  Right now.

And 6 years later, as I sit here twirling my hair between my fingers, I realize that those daily reminders have become weekly, monthly.  They’ve given me the glorious power to try, and if I fuck up royally, either get over it or blame it on someone else.

lolsob-asana

Yesterday I experienced something incredibly frustrating, and in thinking about how to frame it for this post, I became even more intensely frustrated.  I imagined explaining it to a friend of mine I spent a lot of time with in college, whom I haven’t seen much since.  She is naturally very thin, and spent a lot of time consoling me in my college years when I lamented about how fat and ugly I was and how, because of this, I would never have a real relationship.

 

Since that time, I have discovered feminism and fat acceptance and HAES and my mindset has taken a 180 degree turn.  Instead of being angry at myself for being fat and ugly, I’m angry at culture for applying those labels to me and making me internalize them.  (It’s complex, of course: first individualist patriarchal culture deems fat to be ugly, and also entirely controllable, therefore if you’re fat you’re ugly and it’s no one’s fault but your own.)

 

My experience was this: I have been practicing yoga for 4 years now, and for the past few weeks I have been taking a vinyasa class.  (Basically, moving fairly quickly through a flow of poses that are strength based.)  At first I resisted the “trendy” sweaty yoga that has become so popular with white urban rich folks, but after a few classes I started to enjoy building heat and focusing my mind on the combination of movement and breathing.

 

Now, being a good “yogi” (someone who practices yoga) means you acknowledge your limitations, embrace them, and work at your comfortable but challenging (and not painful) edge.  At the beginning of this particular class, our instructor asked if any of us would like a block to modify any of the challenging poses we would be doing.  After a short silence, one person said yes.  “Now that’s being a good yogi!” my instructor told him.  By acknowledging that he would need a block, he was being honest and open with his body.

 

So the essence of yoga is to not be in competition with anyone else, and especially with not with yourself.  Yesterday, after we’d done headstand and handstand (neither of which I can do fully because I don’t have the upper body strength) our instructor wanted us to practice the elevated lotus posture (ironically, called lolasana) to flow from a face down position to a seated position.  Because of the size of my thighs and bum, my arms are not long enough to lift myself completely off the mat in order to do this.  So when the thought, “I’m too fat to do this pose” crept into my head during my yoga class, which is intentionally my break from the competitive, misogynistic world I live in, I was furious.

 

The strength of the thought was fierce, and it would not dislodge itself from my head; it began to spread more and more, expanding to “I’m too fat to do any inversions, I’m weak and undisciplined, I’ll never be able to do this,” etc.  (Let’s call this my version of Jay Smooth’s “little hater.”)  I began to cry.  The room was dark so I was not called out; but I couldn’t focus, my breathing pattern was interrupted, and the stillness I was trying to cultivate vanished.

 

Now, in daylight, it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal.  (Even now I looked up a modification for the pose, in which you place blocks under your arms to give yourself more room to swing through.)  But last night, in the (literal) heat of the moment, it took me over.  At the same time this insidious, self-hating dialogue reared its ugly head, I was thinking, “Fuck you for getting into my brain.  Fuck you for invading one of the only safe spaces I have free of judgment.  I know better than this; this is not what yoga is about.”  Today, that anger dominates.  And that anger is what this post is about; and that anger is what my college friend would misunderstand.

 

She would see it as me making excuses for myself, or creating a straw man out of culture, to make myself feel better.  “We all know you’re fat, but I’ll support whatever you have to tell yourself to keep yourself happy.”

 

As any feminist knows, the influence of culture is not a straw man.  It is not paranoia.  It is not an excuse.  It is a strong behavioral influence that dictates the framework in which we think about issues that affect our life, one of those being weight and body image.  Culture is viewed as an authority: “of course you don’t want to be fat, it’s unhealthy and unattractive, everyone knows that.”  But culture is mutable.  Cultural standards change.  And taking my anger and turning it into a driving force will allow me to reject misogynistic culture instead of rejecting myself.  Fuck you, little hater.