Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stop telling me what to do with my hair

Sometimes I think curly hair is adorable and express interest in curly hair. I'm met with a condescending chuckle or frustrated sigh and someone ranting about how us girls always want what we don't have when it comes to hair. Maybe that's true, but my occasional interest in curls or a demi-permanent shade of red is nothing compared to other people telling me how my hair should look.

Not magazines, mind you. People. People I know. Friends, family, boyfriends, etc.

When I had bangs, people told me I should grow them out. I did eventually grow them out, tired of dealing with them, but a few years after they'd grown out, people started telling me I should get bangs again. Despite me telling them I hate the way I looked with bangs and hated even more the way I looked while growing them out, the encouragement to get bangs was incessant for years.

When I mostly wore my hair down, my friends kept telling me I would look cute with my hair up. I eventually had to do just that for dance and cheerleading, and then got into the habit of frequently putting my hair up. But then, when that became a habit, people were suddenly telling me I would look so much better if I wore my hair down.

When my hair was long, people kept telling me I should get it cut short. Once they shut the hell up about it and I got into Mad Men and retro hair styles, I decided to experiment with short hair. Sure enough, it does look good on me, but I know that within the next two years people will start telling me I would look so much prettier with long hair. I know it'll happen, I can feel it.

There's a reason why I try to refrain from "helpful suggestions" when people don't ask for it. I know that unsolicited advice when it comes to people's appearance is annoying as hell, and for women, it's often incessant. No matter what you look like or how good you look, there's always one change everyone is sure you should make, and it's almost impossible to shut them up without sounding rude or arrogant.

So cut it out. Seriously. I will do with my appearance as I wish. The more you push me to change it, the more I'll resist.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Still Not Ourselves

Almost fifty years after The Feminine Mystique, we still haven't solved women's identity crisis. Today's post by Jessica Valenti reminds us that our identities aren't our own - we are wives, future wives, mothers, girlfriends, daughters, and friends, but we are not ourselves. Who we are is primarily based on our relationships to others. What we do is expected and assumed to be in relation to others - which explains the constant accusations that so-and-so is just doing that for attention, just wearing that to attract men, just claiming to be what she is to impress a guy, just going to see that movie because her boyfriend wants to, etc.

This reminds me of an article I read years ago about how a stay-at-home girlfriend spends her day. I may have written about this before, in fact I'm sure I have. My problem wasn't that she was trying to stay in shape or picking up extra chores around the apartment - what she did could have made sense practically speaking - my problem was that she was doing it all for her boyfriend rather than for herself. Nothing she did, apart from sending out a few resumes in the morning, was for her own benefit, but because her boyfriend deserved it. He deserved to come home to a clean apartment, dinner on the table, and a pretty, energetic girlfriend ready to cater to his every whim. The justification that that should be her attitude all because he was paying the rent is also a reason why I'm not comfortable with men being the sole financial providers in this culture. Whether he's paying for every date or paying all the bills, the one who signs the checks has a lot more power than the person who benefits from it.

But I digress.

I get that our relationships are important, some more than others, and some of us value those relationships more than others. No woman is an island. But when women are expected to sacrifice their selfhood to please and accommodate others, there's a problem. When women feel like they have to prioritize outward appearance over inner wellbeing, there's a problem. When women are told that they are not good unless they are selfless and endlessly giving, there's a problem. When we are made to feel as though our comfort and sense of safety in any given situation comes second to being polite and accessible to others (see: the emergence of so-called "creep shaming"), there's a problem.

Suggested reading material:
"The Feminine Mystique" - Betty Friedan. Dated, of course, but touches on the problems women still face today.
"Reviving Ophelia" - Mary Pipher
"The Curse of the Good Girl" - Rachel Simmons

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why I Don't Like Chivalry

1) It's a one-sided practice that maintains gender roles. He can and must do things for me but I can't reciprocate. I like to be able to do nice things for a guy - open doors for him, pay for dinner, drive, etc. - without him refusing or feeling emasculated.

2) There's usually an expectation that I will reciprocate in some other fashion. I keep hearing that dating is legal prostitution because the guy pays for things and he gets companionship and/or sex in return. Even if the guy doesn't see it that way, there's still an expectation that I will do "girlfriend" things, assuming the "woman's" role in the relationship, since he's assuming the "man's" role.

3) It gets in the way of equality. If I hear one more guy complain that women are hypocrites because they want equality but still expect chivalry I'm going to scream. I highly doubt there are that many women who want both - most women I know are either feminists who don't like chivalry, or anti-feminists who would rather maintain their status in society so men will keep doing things for them.

Which leads me to my 4th issue with chivalry:

4) Chivalry makes women feel okay with inequality. I'm 90% convinced that's part of why it was implemented in society, so women will feel superior, and so women will be okay with how things are. As long as men keep doing nice things for them and treating them like princesses and queens, they will be okay with gender inequality and won't question it, let alone fight it. It's similar to the feminine mystique in the 1950's, make the life of a housewife look charming and irresistible so women will love their status as second class citizens.

5) It's a simplistic approach to dating. We're stuck on this idea that a "good boyfriend" foots the bill and gets the door, rather than setting higher, more complex standards for what makes a good partner. Doing nice things for a girl mean very little if they're done out of obligation. Paying for dinner means nothing if he's condescending towards me during the meal and doesn't listen to what I have to say. Getting the door for me isn't nearly as important as how he treats me when we're inside.

6) It's makes a lot of assumptions. It assumes that every couple has both a cisgendered, heterosexual man and a cisgendered, heterosexual woman. It also assumes that the man has more money, is stronger, and more able-bodied. This doesn't do much for a guy's self-esteem if he can't afford to take a girl out on a date or buy her presents, and it really doesn't help a guy's self-worth if he's handicapped and can't open the door for his date, or if he's vision impaired and can't drive her to the restaurant. I definitely think it's a problem when guys feel emasculated just because they can't do "the man's job" in the relationship.

Now, I have no problem with a guy getting the door if he gets there right before me. It's when he sprints in front of me to get it, holds the door when I'm still fifty feet away, or doesn't let me hold the door for him that I get a little peeved. I have no problem with a guy paying for dinner, or lunch, or breakfast, or whatever, and I may let him pay for most meals if he's making more money than me. I'm not a fan of going Dutch most of the time, usually I'll only go for it if we're just friends. But if he insists on paying for ALL the things and never lets me reciprocate, there's a problem. And yes, I'm aware that some servers will judge a guy if he doesn't foot the bill, I think that's garbage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

To Men, About Feminism

Men, as much as I encourage you to become feminists or at least support feminism, I do not require it of you. You're allowed to choose not to be a feminist. You are, of course, allowed to join the movement if you want. However, whether you choose to join or not, there are some things you need to know:

1) Don't derail the discussion.
For example, if people are talking about Female Genital Mutilation, do NOT jump in and start ranting about male circumcision. While the two are similar in nature and have some parallels, they have a stark contrast in severity. If people are talking about barriers women face in the workforce, don't start going on about how there are some feminine jobs that men have a hard time entering. If people are talking about one thing, don't try to shift the topic to something pertaining to men's rights. While men's rights are of importance to feminism and do merit mention in some situations, by shifting a conversation to men's rights you are saying that men's rights should come first, and that whatever women's problem they're talking about couldn't possibly be anywhere near as important as men's problems.

And when you do bring up men's rights issues, don't be a jerk. Don't accuse people of being stupid  and misandrist just because they're talking about a problem as it pertains to women, and you really shouldn't insult them and call them gendered slurs such as "bitch" or "cunt."

2) Don't make it about you.
You don't rape women? You don't say sexist things? You're not like that? That's nice, here's a cookie. Just because you don't do something doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Just because you don't think a certain way doesn't mean no one does. Just because you don't know any misogynist people doesn't mean they don't exist. Just because you live in a blissful equality bubble doesn't mean sexism doesn't exist. And when people talk about male privilege, don't write it off just because you don't consider yourself "a sexist." A lot of people have unexamined privilege that they ought to take a look at, and a lot of people have prejudices they may not be aware of. Even women tend to harbor internalized misogyny. So be open the fact that you may be a little bit sexist, and be open to the fact that sexism exists outside your little social bubble.

3) Don't try to take the reigns.
Maybe you have some great ideas as to how feminism can move forward as a social movement and adapt to the changing times. STOP. Especially if you're new or not even a part of the movement. You may make suggestions if you're educated about what feminism actually is and why it operates the way it does. However, outright saying that feminism should change its name, that feminists should adopt a different demeanor, that feminists should shift their focus and prioritize different things, and then getting angry and frustrated when people say "no, we're not gonna do that" is not okay. It may be about equality, but your place is not to lead the movement and make major decisions for all feminists. That's not how it works.

Just because you have a mom and a sister and a girlfriend and some female friends does not mean you are an expert on women's issues or what it means to be a woman. In order to really understand it, LISTEN to women when they talk about what it's like to be a woman, and read books and blogs about feminism. Do not reject ideas just because you don't think they pertain to the women you know. Do not tell women to just suck it up and overcome whatever obstacles are in their path, don't tell them to just "get" some self-esteem or tell them to stop being so weak. You will show your privilege and you will sound ignorant as all hell.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Confession: I Don't Like Superhero Movies

I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry. I just don't like them. Watching The Avengers the other night and realizing that despite how well made it was, or how awesome Joss Whedon is, I just wasn't into it. I tried to figure out why. I came up with some feminist reasons, things that bothered me regarding the tokenism and how Black Widow was so heavily sexualized, but no, that wasn't it. I still can't figure it out, but superhero movies, for the most part, just don't interest me.

That's not to say I hate them. If my family wants to watch it for a family movie night, or a guy I'm seeing wants me to see it with him, or some friends (male or female) invite me to see it with them, I'll probably accept, because then it's social viewing. But I'm usually not one to go "oh my god, I HAVE to see this movie!" and wait in line for hours to see it at midnight.

I don't hate all action movies either. I really liked Kick Ass, I loved Sucker Punch, and I was one of the first people to see The Hunger Games at midnight. I also like some action anime. Not all, mind you, I never got into G Gundam but I really liked Gantz and I've recently got into Blood+ and Corpse Princess. And I am very much into horror movies, the gorier the better. So I don't hate all things masculine.

But I don't like that I don't like superhero movies or comics. They're pretty much the quintessential nerd genre, nerds are expected to like them just as nowadays we're expected to love Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Dr. Who (especially us girl nerds), and as a self-identified nerd I feel like I'm supposed to like them or I may not be considered a real nerd. And nerd culture aside, I'm afraid if I admit to not liking the genre, my dislike will be attributed to my gender. To others, it may not be purely a matter of taste, but a matter of a woman not liking superhero stuff because she is a woman, and thus has different (read: inferior) taste and doesn't get it. In other words, they'll see me as a (stereo)typical girl. They may chuckle and pat me on the head and say "hehe, it's okay," adding in their head but never saying out loud: "after all, you're just a woman." Worse, I'll reinforce the stereotype that women as a while don't like or "get" superhero stuff, that women are just inherently different after all and thus feminism, as they keep insisting, really is irrelevant; that a woman couldn't possibly be genuinely into superhero movies or be a "real" nerd because nerdy things are for men and women don't like that stuff, so they don't really belong there.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I don't want to be seen as the reason, or even part of the reason, why female nerds can't have nice things. So I try to keep my dislike of superhero stuff to myself when around other nerds.

On Dress Codes

I'm bringing this up now because of the recent events in Brooklyn, where high school students protested a dress code that targeted young women's bodies. I've always had an opinion on dress codes. Reasonable ones are okay. For example, disallowing outfits where underwear is purposefully shown makes sense (see-through shirts, pants pulled halfway down the butt, "whale tails," and even bra straps showing is kinda tacky).To an extent, I understand private prep schools wanting students to look a certain, well, preppy way. However, when a dress code targets young women, or when the language is vague but the rules are mostly applied to female students, and the purpose is to make women less distracting, then I have a real problem.

This was a problem in middle school. Our dress code was pretty reasonable and reasonably enforced when we had a female principal. Then, when she left and we got Mr. Sanchioni, everything changed. By the time 8th grade rolled around, us girls couldn't wear tank tops, or anything strapless really (unless the straps were, I think, about an inch thick), short skirts, open toed shoes, or any outfit that showed any skin between the pants and shirt. Now, it's reasonable to ban cropped tops from a middle school, but they didn't even want outfits that showed skin when girls sat down or bent over. And while some teachers didn't care, others were extremely nitpicky and would approach girls at their lockers telling them to cover up. I was barely a teenager and I knew there was something wrong with it.

And why did we have this rule? Because bare skin was distracting to male students. I had to cover my body so the guys could learn. It had nothing to do with my well-being or my ability to learn, this wasn't about making sure young girls weren't overly sexualized, this wasn't even about imposing rules to give me the structure I needed to grow as an adolescent. This was purely about making sure the boys could learn. THAT was unfair. The message was "don't dress like a skank, the boys need to learn."

It didn't occur to them that girls were distracted too. Sometimes it was because of attractive guys, but usually because both guys and girls were being douchebags. I remember being picked on for having unplucked eyebrows, for having clothes that weren't trendy, for having skin that was oily and broken out, for my posture (people kept saying I walked with my chest thrust out, although I never did it on purpose), for my enlarged thyroid gland, for having a (real) boyfriend in Canada, for being half Canadian myself, the list goes on and on. I wonder if the principal cared about the bullying that was going on right under his nose. I also wondered if he was even aware that some girls felt the need to dumb themselves down in class, or that girls who did show their intelligence or actually tried in class were punished by their peers. Finally, it was really distracting to constantly worry if I was showing too much skin, it was distracting to be called out for showing "too much skin" when I sat down. Most of the female students were understandably outraged about the strict dress code, and not just because they wanted to look like they were "at the beach."

Unreasonably strict dress codes that target girls over boys are an unnecessary waste of energy. They distract students and teachers from the learning process by making people overly focused on clothing rather than education. Dress codes also hardly solve the larger problems that distract students from learning, such as bullying and harassment that hardly stem from girls showing their shoulders.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No, I Don't Think Women Are Weak

I've blogged about this before but it warrants repeating. I, nor any feminist I know personally, thinks that all women are weak and need men to protect them. That's pretty much the opposite of what feminism as a whole believes. HOWEVER, we do acknowledge that women are human, therefore exhibit a range of strength, and some women are weak and vulnerable just like some men are weak and vulnerable. Feminists also acknowledge that this vulnerability is often taken advantage of, and that women are being screwed over in many ways that do warrant legal reform in order to prevent said screwing over.

The goal of feminism is not to turn every woman on the planet into a stoic badass. We do think that's a perfectly okay way to be, and we want to encourage that through empowerment. However, there's nothing wrong with being vulnerable, or sensitive, or emotional, or exhibiting any traits that are considered feminine and thus "weak." Women. Are. Human. And as humans, we are subject to the world around us whether we like it or not - anyone who has ever studied sociology, psychology, or communications will tell you that socialization does affect how a person develops. Looking glass self and all those fancy buzzwords. We shouldn't be surprised when women act the way they've been expected to act their whole lives, and we certainly shouldn't put down that behavior. If a woman chooses to embrace her vulnerability, or whatever other "weak," feminine traits within her, that's her own damn business. Feminism is about choice, remember? And remember that feminists also want men to be allowed to show their vulnerable sides as well.

That said, it's not sexist or somehow bad for women to acknowledge that women are getting the shitty end of the stick. They are being raped and beaten far more often than men, they are being paid less than men, they are still discriminated against. And while women should be empowered to fight that crap, there should be laws in place to protect them from the bullshit. I'm not saying every woman needs a knight in shining armor, but for god's sake, it's the law's JOB to protect people from being hurt and screwed over. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that the police forces and court systems are still dominated by men. That should change too, by the way.

Now, this came up when I posted something on Tumblr saying that if a woman feels uncomfortable in a situation - specifically, if she perceives a guy as "creepy," she should be allowed to trust her instincts and act accordingly. The reaction was that I was assuming women were all weak and needed protecting, and that most women unfairly label men "creepy" when they really should consider why they feel that way. Yes, a woman's perception could be shaped by sexism, ageism, racism, etc., but we shouldn't assume that's always the case. A woman could examine her perception and why she felt unsafe AFTER she has gotten to a safe place or situation. It's about priorities: safety first, then in-depth examinations of privilege. We need to trust that women can make decisions for themselves, especially in regards to safety. This is not about women needing to be protected, it's about women protecting themselves from perceived threats.

Silly me, I thought that women who ignored their instincts and stayed in creepy situations just to be nice and politically correct were the "stupid" ones that needed empowerment. Isn't teaching women how to protect themselves usually considered empowerment?