Monday, August 30, 2010

I Heart Jane Lynch

This is irrelevant, but I love Jane Lych and I loved her acceptance speech so am posting it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yay! Good News for Trans People in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is finally recognizing peoples' gender identity on their driver's liscenses.

The department and Equality Pennsylvania announced a settlement Wednesday that allows people to change the gender on their licenses if they are living full-time in their new gender and it can be verified by a licensed medical or psychological caregiver.

The previous policy only allowed changes in gender for drivers who could prove they had sexual reassignment surgery. PennDot said about half the states already have adopted a similar policy. The policy takes effect immediately.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Invisible Young Feminists

Apparently it has once again been stated that young feminists don't exist. I know I talked about my frustration with this a little in response to Eve Ensler's new book of monologues, but given this recent article I think it bears repeating. In a conversation in the NY Times between Gail Collins and Stacy Schiff the subject of young feminists came up. Here is what they had to say:

Gail Collins: Every time I go on a speaking tour I get questions from sad middle-aged women who want to know why their daughters all insist they aren’t feminists. They might be planning to devote their lives to healing fistula victims in Somalia, but they won’t let anyone call them feminists because they think it means being anti-man, or wearing unattractive shoes.

Stacy Schiff: Partly the word has been deliberately sullied, like “liberal” and “progressive.” It spells man-hating, militant, and, especially, no Manolos.

If it makes you feel better, I just texted my 17-year-old to ask if she considered herself a feminist. “If by feminism, you mean equality,” she answers, “then yes.” It’s not a word that appeals, because her generation thinks the work has been done. They’ve been reading articles about the End of Men. Somehow the news that men who work full-time make on average 23 percent more than women do seems to have escaped them.

Well, I am aware of the inequalities between men and women, am 20 years old, and I call myself a feminist. Apparently Female Impersonator and the rest of the lively young femnist blogosphere escaped their attention. It is really annoying that myself and so many other young women are feminist activists online and outside cyberspace but have yet to be recognized by the 2nd wave feminists that we admire so much.

That being said, I acknowledge the frustration over some (but nearly as many as was implied by Gail and Stacy) young women my age who are feminists, do feminist work, but refuse the name. One of my friends once told me that she didn't want to identify as a feminist because she didn't want to associate with anything like a political party. So yes, misunderstandings about feminism exist in my generation. However, I don't think it is fair to point this out without acknowledging how many young women do identify as feminists and how many young feminists are working to end all those misunderstandings about it. The purpose of Jessica Valenti's book
Full Frontal Feminism was to erase any bad connotations with the feminist movement that other young women might have.

So anyway, in response to this article, Shelly B has called for young women to post the link to their feminist blog in the comments section of
her blog post and to include the above image on their blog. If nothing else, the comments on her post have given me a great list of new blogs to take a look at. We encourage you to include your feminist blog on her site, but also in the comments of this post. We want to know what you're writing!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today is the 90th Anniversary of Women Gaining the Right to Vote

It is really discouraging to do feminist work sometimes. It seems like there are a thousand people working against equality for every person working towards it. When I talk to my peers, it becomes obvious that a lot of people have accepted sexism as a fact of life. But looking back on important milestones in feminist history helps. It helps to know that despite the fact that a lot of bigoted policies are still out there, the feminist movement has made huge advances in the last 100 years. A woman nearly won the democratic nomination for president, we now head two-thirds of American families, and we have a female Speaker of the House.

Speaking of which, Nancy Pelosi wrote an article today celebrating this anniversary while urging women to vote. I did a lot of voter registration work this summer and I can attest that not nearly enough women (particularly young women) vote in off-year elections. So celebrate this anniversary by voting and reading the below Susan B. Anthony quotes which I included out of hero worship.

"It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union."

"The fact is, women are in chains, and their servitude is all the more debasing because they do not realize it."

"[T]here never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers."

"I can't say that the college-bred woman is the most contented woman. The broader her mind the more she understands the unequal conditions between men and women, the more she shafes under a government that tolerates it."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Capitalism and Feminism Meet

So I have been looking at feminist merchandise all morning and fell in love with this T-shirt. I also might have become infatuated with this bumper sticker and this blogger-loving T.

So post your favorite pieces of feminist merchandise in comments and we can shop while working to end patriarchy together.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Equal Opportunity Public Toplessness

I found Lori's post on feministing about public shirtlessness very thought-provoking. I didn't really take the issue that seriously at first, but then I started thinking about women breast-feeding. Breast feeding isn't obscene, but the sexualization of this pretty utilitarian part of us is what makes it so mothers can't post pictures of themselves nursing their infants on Facebook.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Should feminists take seriously the equal opportunity public toplessness issue since "it's small things like these where big gains can be made"? Or is it just a little too small of an issue to be worthy of our attention?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Study: Behavioral Differences Between the Sexes Not Hard-wired

Thank God! Finally science is showing what feminists already suspected for years:

...There are no major neurological differences between the sexes, says Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, which will be published by Icon next month. There may be slight variations in the brains of women and men, added Fine, a researcher at Melbourne University, but the wiring is soft, not hard. "It is flexible, malleable and changeable," she said.

In short, our intellects are not prisoners of our genders or our genes and those who claim otherwise are merely coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility. It is a case backed by Lise Eliot, an associate professor based at the Chicago Medical School. "All the mounting evidence indicates these ideas about hard-wired differences between male and female brains are wrong," she told the Observer.

"Yes, there are basic behavioural differences between the sexes, but we should note that these differences increase with age because our children's intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by our gendered culture. Children don't inherit intellectual differences. They learn them. They are a result of what we expect a boy or a girl to be."

Thus boys develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and are encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Step Up and Step Back" - Hugo Schwyzer discusses men's role in feminism

My second most-recent post at Feministe (The Masquerade: I call myself a feminist, therefore I am a feminist) generated some interesting discussion. One comment by Hugo explained some guidelines for men's participation in feminist spaces, called "Step Up and Step Back."

This is exactly what I want all men who are interested in feminist work to understand, and I think it's an important read.

Hugo elaborates on his ideas here.

The Latest in Sizeism

A nail salon reportedly charged a customer $5 more for her manicure because of her weight:

Michelle Fonville tells WSB.TV that the owners of Natural Nails in DeKalb County, Georgia charged her extra for her manicure, claiming that damage to salon chairs had been done by overweight patrons, and that the extra $5 was to cover the potential cost of a replacement chair. "I said, Ma'am, you can't charge me $5 more. That's discrimination because of my weight," Fonville says, noting that Kim Tran, the manager of the salon, brought up the broken chair issue in response: "Do you think that's fair when we take $24 [for manicure and pedicure] and we have to pay $2,500? Is that fair? No."

But the salon was seemingly set up to discriminate to begin with; the chairs they're so concerned over only have a weight capacity of 200 pounds, and claiming that anyone over 200 pounds is responsible for chair damage, after already inviting them to sit on said chairs, is a very shady means of getting an extra five dollars through completing the manicure and then slapping on the extra humiliation charge. If the salon is so concerned about its precious chairs, perhaps it should order some that accommodate all of its customers, instead of blaming the patrons for "breaking" chairs that were not designed to support their weight to begin with.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Masquerade: I call myself a feminist, therefore I am a feminist.

(cross-posted from Feministe - wording edited slightly to reflect being posted here)

There’s this guy at my college who calls himself a feminist and, well, I just wouldn’t feel right calling him anything remotely close to a feminist.

I blogged about this student after he attended his first meeting of the feminist organization on my college campus (Students Against Sexism in Society, or SASS), tried to tell its largely female membership how to best run the organization, dominated the conversation, displayed an alarming lack of concern about triggering survivors of sexual assault, told stories of assault experiences that were not his to tell, then called out, by name, people he believed to be rapists.

As someone who has taken on several leaderships within this organization, I had to deal with the aftermath of this situation in which this student (let’s call him Mike) decided to make himself out to be a more involved pro-feminist guy the following term. I was co-president of SASS, but due to class scheduling conflicts, I was unable to attend SASS meetings, so my co-president ran them.

SASS’s major event that term was Take Back The Night and Mike first showed his disrespect for the organization he claimed to want to be a part of when he, on his own initiative, created flyers advertising TBTN as a march “against anti-LGBT violence” (he explained later that he was attempting to attract a larger crowd, not seeming to care that he was doing so by misrepresenting our event). He sent electronic copies of these and several other flyers out to the SASS e-mail list, instructing people to hang them up. I was forced to counter his e-mail, telling the group that those were not the flyers that were meant to be hung up, that Mike was not in charge of publicity, and members would be notified when the correct flyers were ready to be hung up.

I got an angry e-mail from Mike about this. He called me rude, stupidly hostile, “an immature insecure leader intent on doing nothing but touting her title around and impeding progress” and ended on this note:

Are you going to do ANYTHING for Take Back the Night? Or are you just going to impede the progress of smarter, more political members of the club you are a tyrant of?
Interestingly, the language Mike utilized in his e-mail was very similar to language in e-mails I had received earlier in the year from a female SASS member who fundamentally disagreed with my leadership style. I felt that both e-mail attacks were unwarranted, as they took place after I exercised due responsibility as an elected officer of SASS. The difference lies in the fact that the female SASS member who criticized me (however harshly or unjustly) could clearly be viewed as acting in what she felt was the best interest of SASS as a feminist organization that she cared about. Mike, however, could not be said to have had the same motives.

He showed a worrisome disregard for survivors of sexual assault (the same people he claimed to want to help by taking part in TBTN), disrespected SASS (by misrepresenting one of its events), and insulted an elected leader of an organization that is legitimately concerned about the interests of women after that leader took measures to ensure the integrity of the group. He made it clear that his interest lied not with SASS or even helping women.

The worst part is that in three separate e-mails that Mike sent me, none of which offered a fair critique and which seemed to be nothing more than a backlash against me acting as an officer, he insinuated time and time again that he was a better feminist than I am.

I’ve been trying to write this post for months now, but I’ve found this situation incredibly difficult to deal with. Being insulted is never easy, but when it comes from someone who claims to be an ally it’s not only confusing but incredibly hurtful. It stings to be called a bad feminist by a guy who doesn’t even seem to understand what feminism is and who showed little respect for women, some of the people that he should have been interested in fighting for.

I know I should just brush off these insults. I usually can. But it really bothers me when someone like Mike takes on the label of feminist, a label I wear with pride, when it just doesn’t apply to the type of actions he has undertaken. This is the kind of thing that undermines the work of people who actually want to make the world a better place for women and other oppressed groups. When people like Mike can call themselves feminists, I usually end up going to bed frustrated and a little hurt.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

True Blood Rolling Stone Cover- Possible Interpretations

My first reaction when I saw coverage of the bloody, naked Rolling Stone cover featuring three True Blood stars was that True Blood was once again combining sex and violence in a really disturbing way. I hadn’t watched the show until this season, but after seeing a really graphic rape scene and other, subtler sexist elements that fetishized violence against women I was disgusted. I realize it is a vampire show and some amount of sex intermingled with violence is inevitable. However, the violence was almost always erotic when committed against women and not nearly as often when committed against men.

So like I was saying, seeing the True Blood cast naked and drenched in blood just seemed like another instance of sexualizing violence. But Stephanie at Ms. Magazine’s blog has another,
more interesting take on the cover.

By mixing sexy bodies with blood, Stephanie argues, that the cover serves to remove some of the taboo surrounding menstruation and “period sex.”

Most often in popular culture, the only images of naked people we see are in sexual situations (other possibilities include naked people bathing and as babies). And because sex + menstrual blood = an absolute no-no for mainstream media, then blood and naked bodies–especially women’s naked, bloody bodies–are not likely to appear together.

So when I saw the True Blood cover I was surprised and a little thrilled. I knew I was supposed to be seeing sexy vampire stuff, but immediately I started to think about other situations in which you might be naked and bloody. And what did I come up with? Period sex. Which is an even bigger taboo than menstruation itself.

And that brings me to why I think this cover is so fantastic. Though Anna Paquin (likely) isn’t menstruating in this photo, we are seeing blood, sex and bodies in the same frame, forcing us to consider the mingling, seeping and blending of these very human things. If we can look at these sexy, naked actors covered in blood and still think they’re damn fine, we’re one step closer to getting over the menstrual
taboo and taking part in the joys of loving our girlfriends while they’re bleeding.

Frankly, I still stick by my first analysis of the cover though I think Stephanie’s thoughts are really interesting. So what do you all think? Does the cover fetishize violence the way many True Blood episodes have, is it a celebration of menstruation, or something else?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Parental Advisory: Explicit, Unladylike S**t

(Cross-posted from Feministe)

It's true. I swear a lot. It's a fact that gets brought up frequently at random times by people who have spoken with me.

Apparently, I shouldn't swear.

Why is this?

A) It makes me sound unintelligent
B) It makes me sound angry
C) It makes me sound trashy
D) It's unladylike

Trick question. It's actually all of the above, according to a number of people I've spoken to.

I understand that swearing is not appropriate in every situation. I make sure to censor myself when I am at work, around people I am not acqainted with, or around people I know are offended by my language. However, when I have been told that swearing makes me sound unintelligent, angry, trashy, or unladylike, it has not been because the person making these statements has been offended by my language. It seems to come from a place of concern about how I will be perceived if people hear me using vulgar language.

Fair enough. Certain segments of the society I live in have problems with women doing "unladylike" things like wearing pants, having sex with multiple partners, drinking, and swearing. Women being looked down upon for engaging in what some deem unacceptable behavior is not an uncommon experience.

I know that that, quite frankly, is bullshit, and when people express their concern about what people will think about me because I swear, I tend to laugh it off.

Then I met a girl a few days ago who is a few years younger than myself. She didn't talk much, but when she did finally open her mouth, some of the first words she

spoke were what some people would consider vulgar. I was shocked by this, and when I thought back on this later, I was surprised that I felt this way.

I swear. My friends swear. I listen to music that comes with parental advisory labels. In none of these situations am I ever shocked by or give a second thought to the "vulgar" language. But when a girl in her teens swore the first time I met her, I froze.

I was thinking about this. I don't have a problem with women swearing, so did my reaction have to do with this girl's age? If so, does that mean I buy into the idea that young girls are innocent, and that violating that sense of innocence somehow violates the essence of their girlhood?

I hope not. The idea of the innocent, virtuous woman plays into patriarchal ideas that women needing to be protected by men, the only people who can stand guard over all that is good about them. And that's certainly not how I want to think about young women who use words in the same way that I do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Consent and coming out

(cross-posted from Feministe)

Knowing your preferences and your limits is an important part of having a satisfying sex life. For most of my life as a sexually active person, I could have talked about these ideas, but it wasn't until more recently that I was finally able to practice what I often preached.

This is tied to the fact that I came out (selectively) as queer in 2009.

Coming out was not easy for me. I starting coming out to myself late in my first year at college, but I distinctly remember looking myself in the mirror and seeing "QUEER" stamped across my forehead. For a while, thinking of myself in that way was so difficult that I shoved myself back in the closet, determining that what had just happened must have been a weird symptom of stress or something. In the meantime, I was in a long distance relationship with a boyfriend I'd been with since high school. We'd see each other about once a month and we almost always had sex when we were together.

Fast forward one school year and I had come around to certain things about myself.
I was definitely queer. I came out to my boyfriend right away as bisexual (which is no longer a label I use). He was supportive and we stayed together because this did not appear to change our relationship. There was a problem, however. I still was not terribly interested in sex with my boyfriend.

This was something I didn't realize fully until I had a new partner, but I had never been very interested in the sex I had had with men in the past. My boyfriend and I did have sex, and it was something I had convinced myself (dishonestly) that I wanted. I had bought into the idea that I was supposed to want to have sex with my boyfriend, even when I could tell that I was not truly interested. The sex was not terrible or selfish on his part, but my interest only seemed to hold for a very brief time. This created a situation in which I rarely initiated sex. It also meant that enthusiastic consent was not something that was practiced in our relationship.

I knew my boyfriend wanted sex because he almost always made the first move. While he did not often check in with me during sex, something that may have given some indication of my lack of interest, he was good at asking me if I wanted sex before we did anything. I always said I did, whether or not it was really true, but I was aware that this wasn't the kind of consent that should take place in these situations. I knew about enthusiastic consent and I often spoke to people about the idea. I just couldn't bring myself to amend the situation with my boyfriend. It would be messy to explain that what had become a common practice did not actually fit with my personal definition of consent.

Our relationship ended a few months later for reasons unrelated to sex. I don't want it to sound like my ex was a bad guy. He did practice affirmative consent (having sex when I said, yes, I wanted to), but it didn't change the fact that I just wasn't into having sex with him and he didn't seem to notice.

Once that relationship was over, I had the time to come to terms with my queerness. I quickly realized that while I had thought that I had enjoyed sex with men before, I had not been completely honest with myself. It was a bit shocking to realize that the sex I had had in the past didn't fit my personal ideas about proper consent, but in a way it makes sense. If you can't be honest with yourself about your desires, then it's hard to be honest about what you want sexually, and not being honest about what you want makes consent very tricky. Once I was able to be true to my desires, I found myself wanting sex more often and being able to enjoy it on new levels. This gave me the freedom to navigate new rules of consent.

I've been with my current partner for almost a year now and something that I am incredibly pleased with is how effortlessly we've been able to have awesome, feminism-informed sex, and how easy it was to communicate my ideas about consent. We practice enthusiastic, affirmative consent with ease and for the first time in my life I can consider myself truly satisfied.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Emotional Creature

Eve Ensler (Of Vagina Monologues fame) has a new book of monologues out, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. MTV has been promoting the work through posting videos of young women reciting segments of five of the monologues on their website. I am predisposed to like everything Eve does and really appreciated large portions of these pieces. However, there are a couple of elements of the monologues that annoyed and offended me a little. Below are my thoughts on the video segments I saw and monologues I read.

The first monologue listed on MTV’s website for the series is “You Tell Me How to Be a Girl in 2010.” The parts of this monologue that I really like are how Eve takes on homophobia with lines like “And if the hetero nuclear family is so great/how come everyone is fleeing it” and how she highlights the world’s violence against women problem (“Women are burned, raped, bludgeoned, sold,/starved, and buried alive/and still don’t’ know they are the majority.”) However, neither of these aspects were highlighted in the video clip read by Aubrey Plaza. What is highlighted is the part of the monologue that calls my generation apathetic, “What happened to teenagers kissing/instead of blogging and dissing?/What happened to teenagers marching/and refusing/instead of exploiting and using?” That really made me angry.
As Stephanie Herold wrote for Campus Progress, young activists do exist despite the lack of “teenagers marching.” And part of the way we are working to bring about change is by doing some of that blogging.

The second monologue “I Dance” I found very powerful, especially when it speaks out against society’s attitudes towards a young woman’s body “I dance past your lustful eyes/Your dirty interpretations of my teenage body.” However, again, what was chosen to be highlighted in the video was the part that speaks against technology, “I dance ‘cause it’s better/than sexting.” I realize that technology
has been utilized as a way to abuse women, but the theme of technology-bashing in these monologues is really disheartening for someone like me who does most of their activism through it. Sure, we should highlight what is wrong with it (it makes it easier to bully and emotionally abuse people) but not without also displaying the awesome ways young people are using it.

The third monologue “Asking The Question” is just awesome, both the part emphasized via video and the entire thing. Adorable and happiness inducing.

The fourth monologue “It’s Not a Baby, It’s a Maybe” was a really thoughtful look at how one young woman might think about an unplanned pregnancy. However, I was once again disappointed with the segment they decided to highlight in video. The video seemed to deliberately avoid the central conflict in the monologue, which was whether or not the speaker would get an abortion.

The fifth monologue “Dear Rihanna” was hard to read, but I appreciate how it captures some of the troubling reactions people have to dating violence. The video segment seemed well chosen.

If any of you get a chance to see any of the videos or read any of the monologues let me know your thoughts in comments.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Domestic Abuse Survivor Granted Asylum

**Trigger warning for description of domestic violence**

L.R., a 43 year old Mexican woman, was repeatedly abused by her common-law husband. This abuse included repeated rapes at point of guns and machetes and an attempt to burn her in her bed. Knowing Mexican authorities would not help her and there was no place where she could not be found by her abuser in Mexico, L.R. filed for asylum in 2005. On August 4th, an immigration judge approved asylum for L.R. as well as her two sons, now 22 and 20 years old, after a favorable recommendation by Department of Homeland Security officials.

Before this case, domestic abuse survivors seeking asylum were often dismissed by immigration judges. This was partly because until recently, the Department of Homeland Security did not have clear required criteria for domestic violence survivors seeking asylum. Unfortunately, with this new criteria “hurdles remain high for battered women” seeking asylum. However, this case at least clarifies what those hurdles are and makes it a little easier for people like L.R. and her sons to receive asylum.

If not granted asylum, L.R. would have faced insurmountable obstacles to be protected from her abuser in her homeland of Mexico. When she asked Mexican courts to protect her, a judge only “offered to help her if she would have sex with him.” If she were to continue working as a schoolteacher in Mexico, she would have to post her current address online in a public registry that her abuser could easily access. The Mexican police would also likely been of little help given the “‘enormous social and cultural tolerance of this abuse, resulting in the virtual complicity of authorities who should prevent and punish these violent acts.’”

While it is unfortunate that it still remains difficult for domestic abuse survivors to be granted asylum in the U.S., L.R.’s case at least helps to specify what the criteria is and shows it is possible to be given asylum. To learn more about the state of violence against women on a national and international scale, visit Amnesty International’s “
Stop Violence Against Women Campaign” page.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lily Allen Rocks my Socks

This song is fantastic.

Enter Madam Buzzkill

(cross-posted from Feministe)

**Trigger warning for description of violence**

It's a Friday night after a long work week. A group of friends, four men and two women, sits down for drinks at someone's house to unwind. All seems well. There is banter all around the table. Someone turns on a radio and music mixes with the sharp notes of quick laughter. A few hours later, a number of drinks have been had and everyone is feeling good, especially one young man who is singing an out of tune version of a once-popular song to the young woman sitting next to him. This young man picks up his drink and his voice soars ever louder and off key as his male friends laugh and cheer him on, finding his antics quite amusing. The young man eventually sits down next to the woman he had been serenading. She is texting someone. The young man next to her does not like this and tries to take her phone. She resists. He tightens his grip on her hand and arm and is eventually joined by another man who grips the woman's other arm. As the three other people at the table watch and laugh at the developing struggle, the woman still does not let go. For several long moments the Singer persists until he bites the woman's arm, gives one last yank at her phone, and finally he and his accomplice give up. The young woman is in shock. She does not register the pain in her arms yet. Instead, she feels betrayed by the others sitting at the same table who watched this behavior, which is already beginning to leave a bruise on her arm, and did nothing but laugh. In effect, they encouraged it.

This woman sits in silence while the others at the table continue to laugh and drink. She gets up to pour herself a glass of water. When she returns, the young man who had serenaded her and tried to take her phone from her is standing behind his seat, drink still in hand, swaying on his feet, clearly very intoxicated. His male friends are laughing at him. Every slurred word, every stumbling footstep seems to produce a new wave of hilarity. As the drunk young man spills his drink and is greeted by even more laughter, the woman stands up. She has had enough.

Enter Madam Buzzkill.

The above story is my own. A drunk young man who I considered my friend tried to take my phone and in the process, bit my arm while another, less-intoxicated man had me by my other arm. The young man was clearly very intoxicated, but none of the other people sitting with us stepped in to stop his behavior from escalating to physical violence. I finally had enough of everyone's inaction and even encouragement of this man's behavior, so I pulled this young man aside to have a talk with him about how his behavior was unacceptable and could potentially get him into a lot of trouble if he wasn't careful when he was out in public. When I explained that he had bitten me he looked shocked. He said he didn't remember it and that he was sorry. I told him that his inability to remember was a cause for concern and he agreed. As I got him to drink some water he explained how he didn't want to look weak to his friends

Before I could address this with him, the other woman in our party came over to where we were talking, listened for a few moments, then essentially began apologizing for my behavior. I would say something and this woman would suggest an alternative and say something about me along the lines of, "I'm sorry. This lady over here, she's kind of uptight about these things." In fact, this woman explained to me later that she basically reinforced that message when she got the young man alone. In essence, she was explaining how I tend to be a buzzkill.

Therein lies the problem. At least in American society, the one I am familiar with, people are socialized to stand by and let things just happen when the situation involves alcohol. Calling people out for unacceptable behavior while drinking is deeply frowned upon because, hey, everyone is just trying to have a good time, right? Who wants to be the downer who warns that maybe Billy shouldn't drink another beer when everyone else is having a good time laughing at how he's wearing his pants on his head? No one wants to be ostracized for not going along with the feel good vibes that come with a few drinks.

Truth is, alcohol does not promote good decision making, and a good sense of community responsibility is important.

A feeling of responsibility to those you drink with would make it easier to step in when a situation appears problematic. Is someone acting sloppy? Say something. Is someone too drunk to be going off alone with someone else? Say something. Being able to speak up in these situations requires a deeper sense of community than what may be accomplished by merely sharing a few drinks with some people you may or may not want to see again.

This is a complicated idea to develop in the minds of most people who drink to relax or perhaps even escape. Most people don't want to add any responsibility to the mix because it's extra work. When I first started drinking, I did so with a carefully selected group of women. We were all good friends and without any prompting we felt comfortable discussing our limits with each other. With that knowledge established before we started drinking, we had no problem looking out for each other. Once I felt comfortable doing this with my friends, it was an easy step toward doing the same thing with people I was less familiar with when I felt that the situation called for intervention.

Simple awareness and a sense of responsibility in bystanders can help prevent people from embarassing themselves and can even help prevent more serious issues such as sexual assault. However, speaking up when socialization demands our silent compliance is not easy. It will take practice to get used to this idea of action, and it may be met with hostility or resistance. But I have hope that in the future, instead of being viewed as a buzzkill, an individual who steps in could be viewed as acting out of love.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Speak up and expect to be dismissed, petulant child.

(cross-posted from Feministe)

The past few months of my life have made one thing startlingly clear: At 21 years, I am too young to be taken seriously by some people who are older than myself, and quite frankly, it’s beginning to piss me off.

I am not the type of woman who has ever been able to watch injustice unfold and do nothing. I often confront people who I believe are acting in hurtful ways because I hope that people would do the same for me so I could learn from my mistakes. In fact, that is the only way I ever have learned much.

I have stood up to people older than myself and this has almost never turned out well.

Start with Situation #1.

My hometown is a small place, and unfortunately, it is not very open-minded. This town is not often outwardly hostile, but I have never been comfortable with the bigotry displayed by many individuals there.

A few days ago the ex-fire chief updated his Facebook status, wondering if a type of deodorant was for men or for women. I saw this as a good opportunity to voice my opinion that if he liked it, I hoped it wouldn’t matter gender it was “meant” for. My comment was immediately followed by another grown man from the community saying that I must have meant that it was ok for the poster to be a “homo.”

I immediately commented back to clarify that I had meant nothing of the nature and that using the word “homo” as an insult was offensive and hurtful.

This man never acknowledged my words and instead took to making fun of me. Eventually another woman commented and told me that using “homo” as a type of insult in this instance was not offensive because the person being called the “homo” was not offended by it. I replied that just because the person being insulted wasn’t offended doesn’t make the use of the word any less hurtful and that excusing this behavior was problematic. I was then told off by that woman who called me “sweetie,” said I knew nothing about her, and that God would be the final judge.

It was the “sweetie” thing that bothered me the most, because with that languge, the kind that is usually used to address children, it was blatantly clear that she was through listening to me. She had already made up her mind that I had nothing worthwhile to say. Turns out I was right about this.

Annoyed and feeling as if this woman had a completely false idea of what I was trying to accomplish, I sent her a private message offering to talk in detail. She made it clear that she did not feel a discussion with me would offer her anything, an attitude which she indicated through her constant claims that she has more “life experience” than I do, and the fact that she has attained higher levels of education.

Now, on to Situation #2.

At the end of June I attended a meeting for queer youth. At this meeting, there was a misunderstanding between myself and another female attendee that ended with the woman getting very upset and leveling several insults at me, including one about my personal life that was completely irrelevant to the current situation. She then stormed out of the building.

A few moments after she left, the man running the meeting turned to me and told me, in essence, that it was my fault that she had verbally attacked me. He then got up and started doing some light cleaning. This act of silent approval of the woman’s behavior left me feeling attacked and without an ally at this meeting, a feeling that prompted me to leave and not return that night.

So a few weeks later I messaged this man on Facebook (as I was without a phone). I explained how disappointed I was with his behavior, how he had made me feel unwelcome, and how I felt that it was inappropriate for him to place the blame squarely on my shoulders when I was the one who had been attacked.

He responded that I should come back and see him if I wanted to have this discussion, which was fair, but I explained that in my current situation, I had no transportation. He told me that was my choice, and I said I was disappointed in him not trying to work something out with me. He responded:

Your inability to to get or find transportation is no concern of mine. You want to be treated as an adult, then start behaving as one not as a petulant child.
This was the end of our correspondence, and it left me incredibly ticked off. Not only did I feel that my words did not warrant such a critical response, but he was completely dismissive. Not once did he acknowledge what I had said, or give any sort of idea that if I were to find a way to meet with him that he would acknowledge what I had said. He kept things on his terms until he decided to end our correspondence. That’s the problem in both of these situations.

Both of the people mentioned above are twice my age and both of them clearly had problems with me, but not outwardly so until I challenged them on their behavior. However, while I’ve been sitting on this post, I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes because I feel that that is only fair, and I think I can relate to them to some extent.

It’s difficult and uncomfortable to be challenged by people who are strong in their convictions, no matter their age. It makes me feel insecure about my own ideas and beliefs when this happens to me. It must be especially difficult when the person challenging you is much younger because I know that most people who are much older than me tend to be of the mind that children are not supposed to question their parents or authority in general, so when this role of submissive child is broken, I can imagine it being shocking. And maybe this shock is why these two people spoke down to me when I voiced my criticisms.

However, this dissmissing of my ideas based on my age leaves a big problem. If people set some arbitrary age until which they will not take people seriously, they are missing out on many opportunities to learn valuable lessons. People of various ages and life experiences (and I do not buy into the idea that just because someone has been alive longer that they have more “life experience” than someone younger) will bring very different ideas about how to solve problems, and it is that kind of melding of ideas that is most likely to come to practical and workable solutions. But it also requires that people want to listen to others who may not agree with us or may be younger than us.

I am open to the idea that perhaps I could have handled myself better in these situations, and I have been giving this some serious thought. Should I not have said anything? Would these people have been more receptive if I had sugar coated my criticism? Would they have taken me seriously then? Will people who perceive me as angry (rightfully or not) ever be able or willing to truly listen to me?

All I know for sure is that I did make every attempt to express myself firmly but not impolitely. I know that what I had to say was not going to be easy to hear, but I tried to say it in the least offensive way possible. But my attempts were met with dismissal and cruelty. Neither of these people seemed to have listened to anything I said. Their behavior was, as they made clear, largely based on my age.

These people that I have been bumping heads with are hiding behind the idea that their years give them experience that no idea in my head will make up for. None of my thoughts or my own experiences mean anything simply because these people have been alive longer and, in their minds, know better. This is extremely frustrating because it makes no sense. Dismissing someone based on their age and supposed lack of experience is easy, but it is harmful, too. If we cut people out of our lives by believing they have nothing to teach us, how much can we really know about the world we’re living in?

Monday, August 9, 2010

New Policies Make Trans Inmates in Maine Safer

Great news from Maine:
A few enlightened prison experts have figured out that placement decisions shouldn’t be based on fixed rules about transgender people, such as the “genital rule” most prisons currently follow. Under this rule, a transgender inmate who has lived for many years as a woman is placed in a jail cell with other men, just because she hasn’t had genital surgery. And routine searches of transgender women are often carried out by male, rather than female, staff.

Imagine the risks these practices impose on transgender men and women. A 2007 study found that “[s]exual assault is 13 times more prevalent among transgender inmates, with 59 percent reporting being sexually assaulted.” (emphasis added).

Recently, the jail administrators at the county jail in Portland, Maine recognized the need to do something to protect transgender detainees and drafted a policy to guide those efforts. The Maine Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU LGBT Project, along with some help from Jennifer Levi at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, were given the opportunity to comment on the draft and the result is a great success. Although there are aspects of it we’d change, the basic structure is exactly right.

It puts into place a Transgender Review Committee that takes into account gender identity (someone’s internal sense of maleness or femaleness) before classifying transgender inmates. Verbal and physical harassment are explicitly prohibited Transgender inmates are allowed to state their preference for whether they’re searched by male or female guards. Inmates can dress and use names or pronouns that fit their gender identity. It’s an extraordinary improvement over the practices in most other jails and prisons. Mainers should be proud.

Hopefully other states will soon follow in Maine's footsteps.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

*trigger alert for discussion of sexual violence and spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the book*

Okay, so I realize I am super-late in reading Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and that there is already a bunch of feminist discussion about it out there in cyberspace. However, I just finished the first installment (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and am excited so have decided to pull ya’ll along with me as I read and contemplate the series from a feminist perspective.

For those of you who don’t know, the novel focuses on Lisabeth Salander, a survivor of multiple sexual assaults (two of which are graphically depicted in this novel) who is an anti-social bi-sexual detective/hacker who takes revenge on her rapist. Some feminist critique has questioned whether or not she is a feminist heroine, both because of implausible and all-too real aspects of her persona.
One reviewer in particular stated that the fact that she takes on men twice her size is ridiculously unrealistic and therefore not threatening to the patriarchal status quo. The same reviewer also said that Salander’s weaknesses- her self-consciousness about her breast size and infatuation with the male lead- undermine any feminist heroism. I have to disagree on both counts.

I haven’t read the second or third book, but in the first I thought Larsson did a good job of balancing the realities of Salander’s 90 pound frame while also making her into an action hero. She doesn’t punch the bad guys out- she takes them on by thinking ahead and using technology. I found her self-consciousness about her breasts an important reminder that even sexually liberated women who actively fight against sexual assault are susceptible to societal pressures telling them they are lesser because they don’t fit into a traditional model of femininity. I also thought her infatuation Blomkivist, the much older journalist, was totally understandable considering what a dream-boat he is, but I could be blinded by my literary love there.

Another thing I loved about the book: Blomkivist is the traditional male action-hero in that he sleeps with no less than three very desirable women in this novel. However, unlike a lot of stereotypical male leads, all of these women pursue him and express their sexual desire without being described as desperate or unwanted.

In fact, all of the women we meet in Larsson’s story are active characters. Even Harriet, who disappeared as a teenager and we do not know is alive until the end of the book, is a strong female character who killed one of her rapists and became a shrewd businesswoman.

However, despite my obvious affection for the book, I do have a couple qualms with it. There are two graphic scenes depicting the oral and anal rape of Salander as well as plenty of discussion about how other women were raped. I think it could be argued that these scenes serve to display how dangerous misogyny can be and how disgusting sexual assault is. But it could also be argued that these scenes just follow in the gratuitous footsteps of authors who sexualize and fetishize violence against women. I am not sure what to think about these scenes, but I would be interested in hearing others’ impressions.

The one thing I could definitely say I didn’t like about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the title. It was originally published as Men Who Hate Women, which is a much better title considering the novel is about violence against women; meaning the book should focus on what assholes perpetrators of the crime are, not sexualizing women. I also hate how the title belittles Salander by calling her “girl,” when, in fact, she is a woman in her mid-twenties.

I will keep you all updated as I read the series. I am hoping to watch the Swedish movie soon, so hopefully some discussion of that is also forthcoming.

If you have read the book or seen the movie, please let me know your thoughts in comments.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Awesome feminist book store: Women & Children First

I was in Chicago yesterday and without internet access when I got a text message informing me that Prop 8 had been overturned (although this will be appealed). That good news put me in a fantastic mood which was added to by a visit to quite an amazing book store in Andersonville called Women & Children First.

This is the kind of book store where, say, on your first visit, you could be looking at a book, make a face, and the women working will ask you if you want to talk about it. It was amazing to interact with such knowledgeable and friendly women in such a welcoming environment. It was the best experience I've ever had in a book store.
Complete with an impressive amount of all kinds of feminist/gender/queer theory and literature (and quite an awesome collection of zines) and even a "Kid's Corner," this store is definitely at the top of my list of favorite places in Chicago.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trans Woman Denied Medical Treatment

Erin Vaught, a transsexual woman, went to an Indiana hospital coughing up blood. However, instead of being treated for her very scary symptom, she was dehumanized by the hospital staff and was refused treatment.

The first sign of discrimination occurred when Vaught was entered into the hospital computer system as male despite the fact that her ID said female. When Erin pointed out the error, a staff member laughed at her. Later, in the exam room, she was called “he-she,” “it,” and “transvestite.”

If all this humiliation weren’t enough to endure for a woman who was coughing up blood, she was then denied treatment because of her “condition.”

"I was confused," Vaught said. "I told them I didn't know my condition, that's why I was there. She said 'No, the transvestite thing.' She said I couldn't see a doctor until I came back with test orders from my doctor in Indy."

Advocacy groups have since filed complaints with the hospital and a spokesman for the hospital said the incident is being investigated.

Unfortunately, being treated poorly by the medical community is not that unusual for transgendered folks. Part of it is due to blatant bigotry, as was the case for Vaught. However, some of it is just ignorance of how to treat transgendered individuals. Joanne Herman recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post, detailing just some of areas of the health community that remain ignorant about trans issues. Therapists and surgeons, two groups that should be especially well equipped to deal with trans issues, are sadly ignorant of the needs of the trans community. Those who are experts in trans issues usually learn on the job since there is little training in school about trans needs.

The plight of Erin Vaught is yet another example of how trans people are overwhelmingly mistreated by the medical community. To tell the hospital that mistreated her that disrespecting patients because of their gender is not okay, use the contact information