Thursday, December 1, 2011

Twilight and the "Girl Improvement" Narrative

This isn't a new narrative really. It's a classic fairy tale formula - a woman, either an average pretty girl or an actual princess - meets a prince who takes her to his castle, dresses her up in fine clothing and either makes her royalty or makes her qualified to rule through marriage. Either way, she is improved merely by being with him.

Now we do see movies where the opposite is true, a woman strives to make her boyfriend or husband shape up, takes him shopping and buys him nicer clothes, and motivates him to get a job. However, the woman who does this is typically framed as a bitch, or a ball-buster, the guy complaining that her efforts to shape him are emasculating. Of course, the woman usually only intervenes in his life if he's in really bad shape and needs her help - unemployed, dirty irresponsible, plays video games all day long and dresses like homeless man. Rarely does the female character intervene when he's doing all right.

The girl improvement narrative, which I am hereby coining on my own, is a little different. Rather than a woman improving her male partner with her femininity, her partner improves her femininity. He takes her in and improves how she dresses, how she talks, how she carries herself, etc., even if she's doing fine on her own This is often seen in Disney movies, but Twilight takes it to a new degree, trading the sparkling tiara for glittering skin.

Bella draws a lot of criticism for being bland, clumsy, lacking in ambition and any real ability to make up her mind. However, had she not found Edward she probably would have grown out of her awkwardness and matured, personally I give the girl a break for being human and only a teenager. But that's just it, she's only human. Edward swoops in and saves her from her human flaws, and in fact, her very humanity itself. Before they marry he gently works to "improve" her, practically making her apply to various schools, helping her with her homework, in the book he put shiny things in her hair for prom. Though I shouldn't be too harsh on him, at least he doesn't criticize her character flaws or teach her how to walk, sit, and speak like in the Princess Diaries.

The Cullens are like royalty, their mansion a castle. They are wealthy, well known in school, accomplished and well spoken. Bella is afforded every luxury when she is with them - a glamorous birthday party (and later a lavish wedding), beautiful dresses to wear, a luxurious bed to sleep on when she has to spend the night. The couple spend their honeymoon on a gorgeous private island. This is all in stark contrast to her human life, where she lives in a small house and takes care of her father - if this is starting to remind you of Beauty and the Beast, you're not alone. It really is like a modern rags-to-riches fairy tale, where her life is drastically improved just by being his girlfriend. This is not always addressed when critics point out how incomplete she is without him.

Finally, after they marry and she dies in childbirth, almost ruined by the result of their partnership and intimacy, he turns her into a vampire, giving her new life. This is also rarely addressed in the common critiques about the abusive relationship she has with Edward. After enduring his controlling nature for over a year, she finally commits to him forever, gives him her virginity and as a result wakes up covered in bruises with a monster growing inside her. The birth, which to her credit she does choose, kills her. This may remind the reader of the way abusive partners destroy the souls and selfhoods of their victims so they can build them anew, making their victims into what they want them to be. In Breaking Dawn, the Bella that Edward creates by turning her into a vampire is beautiful, sparkling, coordinated and strong - just like the rest of the Cullens. Not to mention that in becoming a vampire, she is forced to cut off all contact with her father and her human friends, and she isn't supposed to be friends with Jacob but at least he is in on the secret so eventually it's okay.

But this isn't about the escalating abusive nature of the relationship. This piece is about how by being his, Bella is transformed from a normal girl to a dazzling princess- I mean vampire. This age old narrative has drawn criticism for the messages it sends to girls, but I want to focus on the message it sends to guys and the behavior it normalizes. These stories subtly tell guys that it is their job to improve the women that they're with, rescuing them from their mere mediocrity. I've known young men who have internalized this, one who did feel it was his job to have a paternalistic relationship with all the women in their lives, giving them advice and making them "better" whether they wanted his help or not. When I rejected his unsolicited guidance he vilified me for being ungrateful, saying he wouldn't help me at all ever again. To him it was absurd that I wouldn't want to improve (I did, I just wanted the improvements to be of my own doing), that by being happy with who I was I was merely settling, and that a mature woman would be happy to accept his improvements.

This used to be the rationale for allowing men to hit their wives. In fact, it is still the rationale behind Christian Domestic Discipline marriages. The idea is that women require guidance from their husbands, and that by correcting bad behavior through spanking, he improves her very character.

The "girl improvement" narrative in various fairy tale, rags to riches movies only normalizes the condescending, paternalistic, borderline controlling way too many guys treat their wives and girlfriends, acting as though it is their duty to make them better women. Twilight is by no means the only example of this narrative that women need to be improved by their male partners, it's just a glaring example.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Women and Black Friday

(this started out as a piece on the general sociology of Black Friday, but evolved into most an analysis of women who shop on Black Friday, mostly because the majority of Black Friday shoppers are women. if someone would like to post a comment discussing the male experience of Black Friday, be my guest)

Black Friday has gotten a reputation as being a day where hoards of Americans flock to the stores in the wee hours of the morning to snag some ridiculous deals on merchandise, and get a jump start to their holiday shopping. It has become a day associated with greed, violence, and recently worker exploitation as well. While those important elements should not be forsaken in people’s criticisms of Black Friday, it is important to look at the sociological side of it as well. Black Friday isn’t just a sale day; it is both a bonding experience and a time of great competition for women.

Watch the news on Black Friday; watch the interviews of those crazy people standing in line at 2am, freezing their tails off. Notice how a lot of the people are standing in groups. You’re likely to see a mother and daughter say that they do this every year, or sisters who say that waiting in line on Black Friday is a tradition for them. Think about it: shopping is a female bonding activity, and Thanksgiving is all about spending time with family. It’s a holiday that brings together family members who don’t often get to see each other.

When the day after Thanksgiving rolls around, families are looking for something to do. They want to keep up the momentum of spending time together and having fun. They can either sit around talking – which gets old after a lunch of cold turkey sandwiches – or they can go out and do something fun, perhaps something that family members from out of town want to do while they’re there. Shopping is one way to do this, as is going to a movie or go out to dinner. Family members visiting from out of town may want to take advantage of shopping opportunities unique to the area, visit stores they do not have where they live. It’s true that not everyone stands in line for the “door buster deals” to do this, but for some family members, especially women, even the experience of standing in line together can be fun and a good way to bond and catch up.

By now, American society seems to have split into two groups: those who wait in line for stores to open on Black Friday, and those who don’t. People who haven’t begun to do it probably won’t start this year or anytime soon, unless they just have to buy something they cannot normally afford, and those who have been doing so may not want to stop. It is not as though these people enjoy waking up at 2am after a feast of wine, turkey, and pie just to shop – surely, as the hours of Black Friday become more ridiculous, fewer people may begin to make Black Friday shopping a tradition, but for those who have already made it a tradition in their families, they may not want to give it up just because of the hours. To them, the hours might even make it more fun and exciting.

While Black Friday may be a way for some women to bond, it is also a time of great competitiveness among women. Black Friday advertisements, and in fact advertisements throughout the holiday season, urge women – who are still the main consumers in most households – to hurry to the malls and spend as much money as possible trying to make Christmas perfect for their families. There is an immense amount of pressure on women to buy the perfect gifts, and as many as possible, for everyone they know; purchase the perfect holiday outfits; throw the perfect holiday parties; transform their houses into Christmas wonderlands; and finally, cook the perfect feast. For women, the idea is not to enjoy Christmas but to make sure everyone around them does, giving even more of themselves than usual. It is true that Christmas is the season of giving, but there is more pressure on women to be the ones making the sacrifices, especially since many women still feel pressure to be self-sacrificing year-round.

As seen in recent years, this pressure to be perfect, and especially to buy as many presents as possible, has driven some women to hysterics on Black Friday. News stories show people camping out outside stores, storming the doors at 3am, shoving people out of the way and trampling others, even pepper-spraying their way to the discounted Xboxes. Yes, there are men in these crowds, but most of the “crazy” ones are women, and a lot of the violence is women harming other women. Are some of these women actually mentally unstable? Sure, some may be, but a good portion of them are simply women who have internalized the pressure to give, give, give and are trying desperately to do this in tough economic times. This is not to defend this woman-on-woman crime, but merely to explain that the causes of such behavior.

This is not to say that men do not go shopping on Black Friday, we all know that some do. However, it’s less common and in general, men – especially heterosexual men – do not use shopping as a chance to bond with others (unless the shopping is something sex-related, such as an outing to Victoria’s Secret or an adult toy store). This often creates the comical scenario of a man being dragged through the mall with his girlfriend, who sees it as a date, while he sees it as a chore. There are men who do enjoy shopping, there are men who enjoy shopping with others, but shopping as a bonding experience is still primarily a feminine activity.

While there are men present on Black Friday, Black Friday and much of the holiday season is still traditionally a season of women. Much of the work that goes into Christmas is feminine – shopping, decorating, cooking, baking, hosting, and making the day special for the children. The insane retail hours and shopping hysteria is merely the product of all this pressure women still face to make Christmas perfect for their friends and families. However, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone who shops on Black Friday does it for those above reasons, and many women do it simply because it is a way to bond with other female family members in the wake of a holiday where families get together and kick off the holiday season.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Potential Rise of Third Wave Feminism

Back in September, I wrote about the parallels between the first and second waves of feminism, and why the third wave is only in its early stages, if it exists at all - we may still be in a complacent or even regressive era. That was before Occupy Wall Street really got going, and I've been watching the movement ever since. I can begin to say with some confidence that Occupy Wall Street may be the catalyst Third Wave Feminism really needs.

For one thing, OWS isn't just about economic reform, its basic message is one of equality. However, as the movement slowly progresses and we're seeing more and more incidents of sexism within the camps, the women of Occupy Wall Street are once again realizing that they haven't fully reached equality with men. Just like in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960's, women who are occupying their cities' financial districts are seeing sexism within the movement. For one thing, stories of rape and sexual assault in the Occupy camps keep surfacing, and the rapes sometimes go unreported as protesters would rather keep that problem quiet than bring more negative attention to the movement. The problem has gotten so bad that we're seeing women-only tents being constructed, so women have a safe space. It's not as though this is the only movement experiencing internal rapes - my first sexual assault was committed by a fellow protester, at a post-protest shindig.

There's also the infamous Hot Chicks of Wall Street website, brazenly sexualizing women in the movement, often against their will, and reducing the value of female participants to how attractive they are. This is hardly anything new. The pro-marijuana movement has its Girls of Ganja website, and Anonymous has a blog dedicated to showcasing naked "femanons" in Guy Fawkes masks. I'll even admit to wearing sexy outfits to anti-Scientology protests. PETA almost goes without saying, using naked or scantily clad women's bodies to draw attention to their cause and push their agenda. When we think of the Tea Party, we often think of the attractive female politicians who represent it. Over the summer, I realized that "hippie chicks" are still being sexualized, assumed to be openly sexual beings just because of their involvement with the decades-old subculture.

While the inequality women face within the Occupy movement is nothing new, it's magnetized due to the size of the movement and the amount of attention it's receiving. This could mean trouble for the Occupy movement; it seems as though the rapes taking place within the camps are only being taken seriously and being reported without much victim blaming in an attempt to make the movement look bad, and "otherize" the people in the camps, rather than acknowledge that rape and sexual assault are happening everywhere else outside the camps in relatively similar numbers. The attention being given to the misogyny within OWS and its camps around the world is a wake-up call to those who think that we, especially left-wing society, are post-feminist and egalitarian. Yet, if OWS is a catalyst for Third Wave Feminism, the surge in feminism will come from the camps themselves, as these women realize that they need to fight for their own equality if they want to be taken seriously as Occupy protesters.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why The "Stranger in the Bushes" Myth is so Prevalent - and Why It's a Problem

The stranger in the bushes myth is the idea that most rapes are perpetrated by sketchy nutjobs who jump out of their hiding place, drag a woman into a dark alley or a thicket of bushes, hold a knife to her throat, and brutally rape her as she screams. The reality is that you're more likely to be raped by someone you know, inside a house or apartment.

1) It helps women feel safe
It seems so easy to prevent getting raped by the mythical Stranger in the Bushes. Don't walk alone at night, don't wear a short skirt, stay sober, walk defensively, know how to defend against a violent attacker, carry pepper spray and you'll be fine! Sadly, there's no kick or punch that can defend against subtle coercion.

On the flipside, it opens the floodgates for victim-blaming. And there's always victim-blaming. even if a woman is attacked by the Stranger, someone is bound to say "well you shouldn't have . . ." or "but you were . . ." or "why on Earth would you . . ." And if you can blame a woman for being raped by a guy she barely knew simply by walking in the wrong place or wearing the wrong clothing, you can definitely blame a woman for being raped by someone she's actually met before. She should have "known" he was a rapist and avoided him. Because clearly, rapists are always easy to spot and women aren't expected to give people the benefit of the doubt- oh wait!

2) It's the most clear-cut, blameless example
A woman who's raped by the Stranger in the Bushes has never met the guy, so there was no way for her to give any "sign" that she was into him and wanted it, nor is there any reason why she'd want to "get back at him" with a false rape accusation. It's the "least" consensual form of rape, the only situation where a woman is most definitely raped. Even if you do blame her for wearing a short skirt, you'd call it rape - not unwanted sex, not "regret sex," not a drunken mistake, not anything other than rape.

3) It allows for "othering" among men
The Stranger in the Bushes is cold, psychotic, evil, violent human being. The lowest of the low, a criminal comparable to a serial killer due to the nature of his work. Because of this, a guy can easily say he's not a rapist because he's not "that kind of guy."

Just the term "rapist" conjures up an image of a sleeze ball hiding in the bushes with a knife, not a guy acting as though he is entitled to sex because he's in a relationship with the woman in question, or because he bought her dinner; nor does the word conjure up a socially awkward guy who thinks that unwanted touching and constant nagging for sex is the normal way to get laid; nor does the word "rapist" conjure up a guy who thinks that because a woman wears X and does Y, that means she definitely wants to screw him, and thus acts accordingly without actually asking to confirm. You get the point. The truth us, there are many rape situations that don't involve a crazy, knife-wielding psychopath, but you never consider them rape because they don't fit the Stranger in the Bushes mold. You wouldn't consider a guy to be a real rapist if he is well dressed, intelligent,, well spoken, seemingly sane, and well liked.

4) It keeps women in line
Don't party too late, you might get raped. Don't drink or do drugs, you might get raped. Dress modestly or you might get raped. We use rape as a tool to make women afraid to do things that may be toeing a moral line. The Stranger in the Bushes myth also dismisses all date rapes and intimate partner rapes as not "real rape," giving validity to the idea that a woman is an object that belongs to her male partner (or date).

Of course, the Stranger in the Bushes scenario happens. We hear about it on the news, especially when it's the same guy going after multiple women. We only hear about other forms of rape when they're perpetrated by high profile individuals such as athletes and politicians, and of course, articles covering the allegations are sure to mention what the woman was wearing, her sexual track record, and whether or not she may be a sex worker - coupled with a description of how "good" the man is. How innocent he is. How much good he does for the community. How much women like him and his friends, family, and colleagues adore him. How he swears the allegations are not true and he will go to any length to prove that she's just a lying tramp. After all, it's not like that guy to jump out of the bushes and rape a woman.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Regarding Tonight's Family Guy

Now we can't pretend like Family Guy hasn't "gone there" before with its offensive jokes. It's been racist at times, sexist at others, and it's probably offended every group there is. But tonight's episode took things too far when it acted like domestic violence was a huge joke.

We're not talking about one little domestic violence joke in a flashback, the whole episode was about two people in an abusive relationship - the guy, a typical jerk, and the woman, a weak, sodding idiot. I'll address that later. If you didn't think domestic violence jokes were funny, chances are you wouldn't have laughed at all during the episode, that's how much of the humor was based on the abusive relationship.

This isn't just poking fun at a group, this was probably psychologically harmful to abuse survivors watching the episode, and probably struck a chord with their friends and families as well. The truth is, everyone knows someone who's been abused - either sexually, physically, or at least emotionally - if you say you don't, you probably just don't know who it is. Yet. Not everyone likes to come out about their experiences, because they may be labeled as dramatic individuals trying to get attention.

The problem with this episode is that it only reinforced a lot of problematic assumptions we make about domestic violence. Aside from the humor going too far, the episode did speak some truths about how we treat domestic violence in this society. We assume that the victims are all weak and stupid individuals who are incapable of asserting themselves and therefore deserve what they get, and we only encourage them to leave, rather than try to get the abusers to stop beating their partners. We act as though abuse is an unstoppable force of nature, that some people are just sick individuals who don't care if they hurt others, and there's nothing we can do about it except keep the ones we love away from them, and scold our friends and family members for dating them. At no point in the episode did anyone try to intervene in the abuse - they all heard it, saw it happening, and no one tried to stop it, or call the police, or take the guy aside when he was calm and say "you really need to stop beating her." If anything, Peter validated the behavior. Nice.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Clothing Options

As I think on the availability of women's Halloween costumes, and the fact that when it comes to store-bought costumes the only option is sexy, I realized that shopping for a Halloween costume isn't that much different from shopping for a dress for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It may be an exaggeration of the phenomenon, but it's not exactly isolated to that one holiday.

What am I talking about, you ask? Go into a store that sells young women's dresses any time of the year, and most of the dresses are cut above the knee and either strapless, one-shoulder, or have very thin straps. Yeah, when it's time to cut the turkey, I'd like a little more fabric than that. Ignoring the fact that my Thanksgiving and Christmas apparel has to be family appropriate, I want to be warm! What's the point of throwing on a sleeveless dress when I know I'm just going to throw on a sweater before dinner is even served? And that wouldn't be such a problem if stores had those cute boleros and shrugs - I'd love a white bolero to wear with my Christmas dress - but even those are hard to find. I tried looking for cute sweaters last year, but I couldn't find anything I liked, and even in December most of the fashionable clothing is short-sleeved or sleeveless, and ankle-length skirts are usually nowhere in sight. Look, when it starts snowing outside, what I wear has less to do with my sexuality and a lot to do with staying warm.

And it really does seem as though the kind of clothing available speaks volumes about what sexuality is currently acceptable. Fashion isn't just about what colors, cuts, and styles are "in," fashion also dictates how much skin you should be showing. It also dictates whether a women should be wearing heels or flats. Last year when I went boot shopping, it seemed like all the flat boots were frumpy or looked like something you'd wear in a stable, and all the cute boots happened to have heels. Funny.

I'm not saying that someone who wants longer skirts or longer sleeves is completely SOL, of course they can go online, find small niche clothing stores, or make their own clothes, but it says something when women who prefer to cover up, either for modesty purposes or so they don't freeze their butts off, can't find what they want in mainstream clothing stores. It says to them "you're not normal."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don't Call It Slutty: Changing The Launguage Surrounding Halloween Costumes

"In the regular world, Halloween is when little kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress as a total slut, and no other girls can say anything bad about it."

If only. Many young women show skin on Halloween, to be sure, but their peers aren't exactly keeping their mouths shut about it. There's plenty of girl-bashing and slut shaming surrounding Halloween as well as sexualization and sexual liberation, which I'm sure Ariel Levy would have plenty to say about. People call Halloween "Slutoween" as a clever joke, referring to the number of "sluts" running around in "skanky" costumes. When my mom and I used to shop for costumes, she would call many of the ones I picked out "slutty." Last week, as I mentioned previously, there was a piece in my university's newspaper entitled "Trick or Tramp."

This. Needs. To stop.

Seriously, it's only contributing to our culture's horrible trend of slut-shaming when you call a girl in a skimpy costume a tramp, or a whore, or a slut, or a skank, or any of those words. It doesn't help to refer to the costumes themselves as slutty. The word "slut" is a funny word, it can have a positive or negative connotation depending on whether you think being sexual is a good thing or not. Feminists have the SlutWalk, where they try to take back the word slut and, more importantly, insist that no matter how much of a "slut" a woman is, or how slutty she's perceived to be, it's not okay to rape her (honestly, the latter reason is the only reason I'm okay with the name of those demonstrations, knowing the history of why the walks started in the first plce). Jenna Marbles did a "pro-slut" rant on YouTube where she dissed the trend of girl-bashing, and good for her! But her constant use of the word slut was, to me, problematic. However, "slut" is still largely used as a judgmental word, used to diss someone for being too sexual.

I'd rather see people who criticize these costumes use words like skimpy and revealing when referring to the costume, and inappropriate when talking about costumes for teenage girls. I'd like to see the judgmental girl-bashing to come to swift end, as soon as possible. If someone truly and genuinely wants to use Halloween as a time of sexual liberation when they can unleash their wild side and show a little more skin than usual, why is it anyone else's problem? Trends can be problematic, the rampant sexualization surrounding Halloween is a feminist issue to be sure, but individual behavior is really only a problem when someone gets hurt as a result.

And guys, I'm sure you love seeing cleavage and thighs on Halloween, but maybe consider the idea that Halloween isn't really about you getting a boner. I always thought that's what Mardi Gras was for anyway. Personally, I wish we as a society would scrap the sexy trend on Halloween in favor or a return to scary costumes on Halloween - for everyone, not just for guys. Sometimes I wonder if women were ever socially allowed to wear scary costumes. I know I'm going as a sexy jellyfish this year (originality for the win), but I think next year I'm gonna scrap the glitter and tights in favor of old, torn clothing and lots of fake blood and zombie makeup. A zombie usher, perhaps. Covered in popcorn. With a broom "fused" to me somehow! Yeah . . .

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Believe

(this has a lot of references to religion and spirituality. if you think religion is stupid, you don't have to read this post. there's really nothing scholarly or academic or critical in here, just me realizing something about how and why I became a feminist)

I have a Pagan spiritual identity, and gender equality is a big part of that faith. Another part is the belief in the idea in fate, or the idea that a higher power has a hand in acts of chance.

Sometimes, like now during midterm season, I feel hopeless. I feel like the dumbest, most incompetent student in my classes, with no real future in what I'm studying. Then I realize, perhaps it was a higher power that led me here.

The personal is political, and I believe that a higher power allowed many personal events to happen not to torture or punish me, but to open my eyes and inspire me to fight. Somehow.

Maybe it's not poor decision-making that led me to date all those douchebags. Not only could it have been a way for me to find the one who is actually meant for me, but perhaps the gods sent them to me, and me to them, so that I may learn the dark side of sex and relationships, and learn firsthand the awful ways in which women are still being treated by men. I was to learn that relationship abuse is not a series of isolated incidents, but a gendered behavior pattern ingrained in society and interlaced with the patriarchy that still exists whether we want to admit it or not.

Maybe it was an act of fate that led me to Joe, who showed me the Foamy cartoons, which featured a gothic feminist character named Germaine, whom I'm beginning to realize was another one of the big reasons why I became a feminist at such a young age.

Maybe it as another act of fate that had me placed in Mr. Shuman's junior year US History class, where I began to realize my passion for politics, especially laws and public policy matters relating to the public interest. That class is why I'm here, studying politics and wanting to one day run for office, though people laugh at me.

Sometimes I think there's no way I can succeed in what I want to do. But then I realize that the gods would not have led me here if I didn't have the strength and the intelligence to succeed in the field I was inspired to study through a series of events I can only attribute to fate, and to following my instincts in many occasions. Perhaps by being a student of politics, sociology, gender studies, and possibly law someday, I am training to serve a higher power as well as the general public.

No Such Thing as a Bad Excuse

I'm tired of people saying that having a headache is not an excuse not to have sex. Look, I get that an orgasm can relieve a headache, but all that means is that if I want to have sex, a headache shouldn't stop me. If I don't want to have sex, for any reason, I shouldn't have to have sex. The idea that there are bad or invalid excuses only reinforces the idea that you need a "good reason" not to have sex, and if you don't, you'd better spread 'em for your guy.

Now, there's traditionally been a missing discourse of desire in our society - basically, it's been assumed that women do not want sex, and merely have sex out of obligation or wanting to please her partner, or because she's pressured. We know that some women still have sex mainly for those reasons. In order to combat this, many sex-positivists instead assert that women actually really want sex. A lot. All the time. Now there's a myth that women are really horny little monsters who are ready and willing all the time, unless they adopt a pure lifestyle, in which case they really need to be liberated because they must be oppressed. Because a healthy, sane woman would never choose abstinence, right? This new myth assumes that if a woman doesn't want to have sex, there must either be something wrong with her, with the guy she's with, or with the relationship - and if that's fixed, she'll fuck away!

This only opens the door for coercion. If it is assumed that all women want sex all the time, it only gives merit to the idea that a woman saying "no" is only trying to play hard to get, or trying to get the guy to work a little harder, or just following a social script - she doesn't really mean it. And if she does persist, a little work on his part to get rid of whatever problem she's having is really all it takes. Once the problem's resolved, her excuse is gone, right? The new myth that women are extremely sexual beings also poses coercion as a favor to the one being convinced. Often someone will legitimately believe they know what's best for the other person, they "know" what will feel good for them even if the person insists they have no desire to do it. There are men, my ex included, who feel that a woman rejecting sex doesn't fully understand what she's turning down, and that she'll thank him for talking her into it later. Women are actually encouraged to talk their male partners into trying anal play, even if they vehemently reject the idea.

I'm gonna get a little personal here. I get that anal play does feel good for a lot of men, and it's a shame so few are closed to the idea because they feel such sex acts are gay and emasculating. However, if my partner says he doesn't want anything in his butt, I'm not going to try to coax him into trying it, nor am I going to stick my finger in there when we're fooling around, sure that once it's in there he'll change his mind. Why? Because I know firsthand how it feels to have someone penetrate you without asking first. It's not fun, the words "disrespected," "violated," and "raped" are among the first come to mind. Also, I can understand that just because a sex act feels good for a lot of people doesn't mean it's right for everyone - for some, even a mainstream sex act can be more painful or just more weird than pleasurable. To each their own, leave it at that and move on. If they change their minds on their own, they can say so themselves.

Coercion is never okay. Even if you mean well, even if you really think your partner will thoroughly enjoy whatever you're trying to get them to do, it's not okay to coerce them. No means no, it doesn't - it at least shouldn't - have any other inherent or assumed meanings. No doesn't mean "try harder," it doesn't mean "I really shouldn't," it doesn't necessarily mean "I don't like you" or "I don't want to date you" or "I want to break up," it just means "I don't want to have sex." And it's entirely possible for a sane, emotionally and sexually healthy person to simply not be up for sex once in a while. Once we recognize that everyone's sexuality is different - that some people want it more often than others - we will understand that the word "no" needs to be taken much more seriously than it is, and that one need not give a "good reason" why not.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Slut Shaming in My School Newspaper

This week's edition of my school's newspaper, the Huntington News, had a column that seriously pissed me off. The piece, entitled Trick or Tramp, decried the tendency of young women to wear slutty costumes, and did so in a very judgmental manner. The author insisted that wearing a skimpy, store-bought costume was a waste of money and dignity, and encouraged readers to get off the stripper pole and go the creative, homemade route.

Now, let's get one thing straight. I'm not a fan of Halloween costume options for young women either. The majority of costumes are supposed to be sexy, and the ones that don't go the sexy route are crazy expensive. I don't like that women feel pressured to be sexy on Halloween either just to fit in. I did like that the author posed some more creative and clever options, though honestly I've seen better suggestions in Reddit.

However, the author ultimately pissed me off by saying that women shouldn't choose sexy costumes, period, and that she had harsh, judgmental words for women who did. There's nothing wrong with showing skin on Halloween if someone wants to do so. There's also nothing wrong with opting for a store-bought costume if you're so inclined. Let's face it, not everyone has the time and mental energy to put a unique costume together. Yes, it's cheaper, but it also requires a lot of thought during a time when many people are bogged down with papers and midterm exams, and it also takes time to go out to various stores looking for the necessary pieces of the costume. Not everyone can just reach into a vast closet and put together a costume. I commend people who are able to pull off something creative and funny, but I don't judge people who settle for a trip to iParty two days before the Halloween party.

That said, because some people do resort to store-bought costumes, it's a downright shame that all costume options for women are skimpy. Growing up and browsing the teen costumes, I remember growing increasingly frustrated as my mom vetoed every costume I liked because she thought they were too slutty. Even when I fell in love with a gothic ballerina costume (though I was dismayed that the costume had a tiny tutu rather than a full tulle skirt), my mom didn't want me wearing it to school. So yes, I've worn Halloween costumes that showed a little more thigh than necessary, but I don't think that warrants judgment from a self-important university columnist.

The answer to the trend of sexualization during Halloween isn't to call women who wear sexy costumes "tramps," or do hold up the option of quirky homemade or put together as the better option. Rather, the remedy is to encourage young women to choose whatever option is best for them, and to frame either choice as valid in its own right. Another remedy is to encourage designers to come up with women's costumes that are actually scary, or funny, or powerful, and not just sexy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Evil Slutopia: Cosmo's Guy Guru Doesn't Understand Consent

(this isn't my work, I just really wanted to share it)
Evil Slutopia: Cosmo's Guy Guru Doesn't Understand Consent: There's a regular column in Cosmo called Ask Him Anything that features sex and relationship advice from "guy guru" Ky Henderson. We're generally not fans of Mr. Henderson's advice (or 99% of the other advice that appears in Cosmo), but one answer that he gave in the November issue really set us off.
(click the link to read more)

The "Women As Victims" Assumption

One big criticism I hear about feminism, especially from the men in my life, is they perceive feminism to be painting women as victims of society. To them, it looks like feminism degrades women by assuming that women as a whole are weak-minded, weak-willed individuals who cannot take care of themselves or hold their own against what society throws at them, and therefore they need to be protected and given extra support.

These men probably know strong women, and thus assume that all women are strong. The women in their lives either live up to people's expectations, seemingly taking it in stride and making it look effortless - OR they manage to stand up to society and telling it to fuck off. Perhaps these men are able to resist all the pressures and expectations society exerts on them, or are even unaware that these pressures even exist, and they can't understand why some women can't do the same, thus perceiving women who cannot hold their own against the bullshit expectations society has for them as weak, and exceptions to the rule rather than the rule itself.

Feminists don't assume women are weak. We don't assume that all women are strong either - expecting every woman to be Superwoman and "do it all" is counter productive, and only makes women who fall short of that expectation feel like crap. Unrealistic expectations for any group of people - whether the expectation is to be unerringly polite, to be stick-thin, or to get straight A's and excel academically - is unhealthy to that group. Rather, feminism believes women are human. Thus, not only do we believe women should have basic human rights at an institutional level, but that they should be treated like humans at the societal level as well. As humans, women have weaknesses, they aren't perfect or infallible.

Feminists not only acknowledge that women are human, but that the societal pressures put on them are too much for any human to be expected to bear, and that those pressures shouldn't exist in the first place - at least not to the extent to which they do exist.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Women Don't Run for Office

On last week's episode of Modern Family, Claire Dunfy - a stay at home mom - decides to run for local office. This isn't so much driven by personal ambition, she just hates the guy in office and wants to replace him. Anyway, at one point in the show she realizes that she has too much to do at home, and that her family falls apart when she has to step out for a few hours to fill out some forms at town hall (because her husband doesn't know how to handle the tasks she normally takes on), and she decides she can't run for office after all. Someone finally talks her into it, but it's fairly accepted that she won't actually win.

Now I realize the show is fiction, but I think Claire's struggle is one many women looking to run for office relate to. Despite how far we've come, many families rely on mom to run the family - make breakfast, pack the lunches, drive the kids to school, make the costumes for the school play, drive the kids to soccer practice and ballet class, make dinner, do many of the household chores, the list goes on and on. Even women with jobs are still expected to work the second shift (taking on the housework after a full day working outside the home). Being a mother is still a tasking, thankless job, and many people don't even realize how much they rely on mom until they have to somehow make do without her for a day or so. That said, I think it's common for women to feel like they can't run for office because they have too much to do at home, and they can't just up and leave their families to fend for themselves.

Another, related reason - one big reason keeping women from running for federal office, is the feeling that a wife and mother cannot uproot her family. Holding office in the executive branch requires one to live in Washington, and it also requires one to travel all over the country during the campaign. If a woman were to become president, her whole family would need to move to Washington with her, and I think many women feel like they cannot make the family move like that. What about the kids? What about her husband's job? Certainly, men have to ask themselves this too before moving for work, but such a move is generally acceptable for men because they are assumed to be the family's primary breadwinner, whereas his wife's occupation - if she has one - is often seen as secondary income, a job she holds just to make some extra money, rather than a career she's invested in. I know I often try to consider a career I can do anywhere, so that when I get married we can go where my husband needs to be and I can do what I want to do there. Sometimes I date a guy who wants to live and work in a specific region and I think "if we get married, I can't be president, because I have to be where he is and I can't expect him to move for me."

Maybe that's just me, but I can't help but feel like there are plenty of other women with the same dilemma. I'm sure many women don't feel like they have the right to move their families, or even their husbands.

Then there's the economic reason keeping women from running for office. A campaign costs money, and public service doesn't pay well at all. You need money to run and many women, single or married, can't afford it due to the still-present wage gap. Married women, again, don't feel like they have the right to that much of the family budget. That's for the husband and children. It's for family vacations, dance classes, Christmas presents, and of course dad's business trips.

In short, running for office is a selfish thing. It requires money and resources; it requires one's family to support you in the campaign, make television and live appearances, even go on tour in some cases; and running for and holding public office is a huge time commitment many women don't feel like they can make because of all the responsibilities they have at home. While men are still encouraged to go after their career ambitions and that it's okay for their family to be a close second to work, women still feel pressure to put their wants and needs last, behind those of their husband and children - they still feel that they exist to serve others before themselves. This may not be true for all women, and of course we see that many women run for office either despite these sociological obstacles, or because they are a non-issue for them - these issues are true for enough women that they need to be examined and addressed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Still Frustrated

I wrote about this before, albeit briefly, but it's still frustrating me to no end so I shall write about it some more!

I'm tired of being called a "bad feminist," or a "fake feminist," because of the decisions I make and the insecurities I feel as a woman and as a human being. This time people criticized me for planning to wear a sexy outfit for Halloween. First I said I'm going to be sexy jellyfish, which I am, it's a plan I've had for months - to me it's more funny, almost satirical, than a strict adherence to a patriarchal norm - but not everyone saw it that way. They really didn't like it when I even suggested an even "sluttier" Halloween costume, something I wasn't really planning on doing but I thought the idea, the play on words, was pretty funny. No no, I'm a bad feminist for being sexy on Halloween.

It's not as though I'm doing this as any sort of real statement. I'm just having fun. I don't think that everything I do has to be some big feminist action, I don't have to "stick it to the man" every second of every day, it would be exhausting as hell to even try. Sometimes I do wear high heels, I wear sexy panties, I wear pushup bras, I wear makeup, I go through extensive skincare routines trying to make my face look more human and less like the surface of some undiscovered planet. I don't do all of those things all the time, but I don't make a point of keeping such "tools of oppression" at arm's length. There are some things I won't touch, like Cosmo - I might pick up a friend's copy if a cover story really interests me or I'm just really bored, but I can't remember the last time I bought that magazine, or one like it, with the intention of actually reading it instead of cutting it up to make a collage. There are also things I avoided, TV shows like Mad Men and Big Love, then I caved and got addicted to them, knowing that they weren't entirely feminist TV shows but loving them anyway.

I could list a whole lot of things I do, and things I have done, that don't qualify as "feminist" actions. And to me, that's okay. I don't kid myself into thinking that those are empowered choices, because I know they're not, but I don't think they make me the anti-feminist or a "bad feminist" either. Again, not everything I do has to be a statement. I pick my battles, I guess.

The problem is that society has this view of what a feminist is, what a feminist believes (and this assumption goes beyond a belief in gender equality), what a feminist is supposed to love and hate, what a feminist wears, what a feminist eats, how a feminist dates, how a feminist feels about herself - and when a woman who declares herself to be a feminist strays outside the boundaries of that stereotype, she runs the risk of being attacked as a poser or a hypocrite, mostly by non-feminists who know little about what real feminism is. Now, there are some women who really are "fake feminists" like Sarah Palin, but I don't think that choosing to show my knees and cleavage on Halloween (le gasp!) puts me on the same level as her.

Now, when this happens, when I am attacked like that, I know a "good feminist" would defend herself, and take the time to argue and debate and tell people to back the fuck off when all else fails, but I don't always have the energy or the time - I'm a college student, people, my days consist of class, club meetings, homework, errands, trying to stay on top of the housework, and usually falling short in one or more area because I'M NOT SUPERWOMAN; I'm running on chemicals I know are bad for me and will probably make me sick (nothing illegal), but I don't have time to get enough sleep, so excuse me if engaging in a heated, intelligent debate on gender issues isn't always at the top of my priority list - a lot of the time I just let it go. Walk away. Go do something productive, or relaxing if that person really steamed my clams. It's not always worth it. I have one friend in particular whom I've been butting heads with for years over the topic of feminism, and I know he's probably not going to come around anytime soon. Sometimes it really is like talking to a wall, you're not going to get through to everyone.

I think this really links back to what I wrote earlier about us being in a complacent lull or a regressive period rather than a wave. The difference here is legitimacy - First and Second Wave Feminism may not have had sweeping public support, but they did have legitimacy in the public eye as a real social movement. Right now, we don't. We're seen as a joke, an unnecessary "movement" that has served its purpose, a bunch of angry women who complain about everything but aren't getting anything done. And you can direct your criticisms about feminism at me all you want, but I can't rev up the feminist movement single-handedly, or at all really. I'm doing some feminist work on my campus but I don't really have the time or resources to fix things beyond that right now. Someone actually accused me of not caring enough about a particular abortion-related bill because it passed and I wasn't able to stop it. The bill wasn't even passed on my state, it was passed in middle America, what did he want me to do, fly over there and storm the legislature? By myself? I am one very tiny human being with little influence, what do people expect me to do? Excuse me if I haven't changed the world at 22, to do so would be a remarkable, if not completely unrealistic feat. I want to change things for the better, that's why I'm going to school, but give me some time and stop jumping on me when I fail to live up to crazy expectations about what I, as a feminist, am supposed to be doing.

I got a little off topic. This was more of a rant than an intelligent, well-thought out and researched post, I'll admit that. I'm just very, very pissed off these days.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I'm a Feminist, and I Like Monogamy

That's right, I like to be monogamous. With men, no less! I've seen lots of feminists rail against it, and I don't get it. I see nothing anti-feminist about only being with one man. I don't like the idea of dating multiple people, really. While it works for some people, it doesn't feel right to me.

I can understand not wanting monogamy to be the only acceptable choice for men or women. I can understand not wanting marriage to be compulsory, and I certainly wish people would stop nagging unmarried women to hurry up and get a ring on their finger. But while I don't think women who choose to have casual sex, or opt for polyamory and open relationships should be judged as sluts, I want monogamy to remain an acceptable choice as well. I get irritated when people put down women who want monogamy as either old fashioned, prudish, or worse, just plain selfish.

And there's nothing wrong with choosing to be old fashioned. It may not be the most empowered or feminist choice out there, but it's not inherently a bad one either as long as it's an informed one. Being monogamous doesn't have to mean being submissive or letting someone own you, and the decision to be traditional and monogamous isn't always one made out of obligation (doing something because you believe it's how all women should act).

Feminists judging a woman for wanting a monogamous relationship is just as bad as people judging a woman for choosing polyamory.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Feminist Dating Advice #4: The Feminist Approach to "Who Pays"

(This one is for men and women)

The debate on "who pays" still rages on, and for feminists, it's not as simple as "the man" or "the woman." Feminism gets a lot of heat from men who are unhappy with the discourse that demands that men pay for most or all dates they go on, despite the fact that feminists aren't the ones perpetuating it - if anything, feminists are more likely to pay on dates than non-feminists. No I don't have an official statistic for it, but it's pretty fair to assume that someone who believes in gender equality for women also believes that men shouldn't be shouldered with all the financial burdens in a relationship.

First of all, it's important not to assume that just because someone's a feminist, they definitely want to either go Dutch or pay for everything, just like it's important not to assume that all feminists want to be dominant in their romantic and sexual relationships with men in general. Gender equality means that both parties in a relationship pay on dates. Being on a date means that, for the most part, one person pays for both people for each transaction - rather than each person pay for his or her self, which is something friends do when they're hanging out.

Now, if you ask someone on a date, whether you're a man or a woman, you should be prepared to pay for that date. Don't ever take someone somewhere, and then expect them to pay or say "by the way, you owe [X amount of money] for this." If you're expecting someone to pay for something you initiated, you should tell them in advance.

Douchebag story time: this summer a guy took me to the mountains for a weekend, and it wasn't until we got there that he said "oh yeah, you owe $20 in lodge fees for the weekend." Umm, what? I was a bit peeved for two reasons: 1) he hadn't told me that, and probably just assumed that despite being a full time student on a part-time hourly wage $20 would have been nothing; it wasn't a huge expense for me, but it was a substantial amount that I would have liked to have known about before going. 2) I felt that because he had initiated it, he invited me to go with him to a place that was practically his territory (property of a school club he, not I, was a member of), he should have at least offered to pay the fee. Being a feminist, and one who's constantly called out on less-than-feminist behavior, accused of not being a "real" feminist or being a "bad feminist," I didn't ask him to pay lest I risk sounding like a hypocrite. It wasn't a sexist move on his part, but it was a dick move, and one that I'm sure a lot of guys make in their attempts at more egalitarian dating dynamics. But guys, don't do this.

If two people agree to go somewhere in a "what should we do tonight" conversation, who pays for what is a little more up in the air. It can be decided based on who paid last and who has more disposable income at that moment, among other things - it's reasonable to have a dynamic where the person with more money, regardless of gender, pays more than the other. I've been in relationships where I paid more (almost all the time) because I had more money than he did, it just made more sense.

If you feel that you're paying more than the other and you want to make things a little more equal - guys, pay attention - sit the person down and have a conversation about it. Maturely. Without getting mad or making accusations. Before you go out on another date. Do not call the person out while on a date, get grouchy about having to pay, or murmur some hostile, passive-aggressive comment that's only going to bring down the evening for the both of you. This isn't something that should turn into a public argument.

In short, if you want gender equality in the relationship, you need to take gender out of the equation when deciding who pays.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

That Moment of Validation

I love the feeling I get when I find an article or blog entry that perfectly puts into words something I've been thinking, but haven't been able to put it into words - or worse, that I'm afraid of the backlash that might come from saying it, sure that I'm the only person who feels that way and people are going to jump all over me for saying it. Finding that piece is often an "AHA" moment, and a moment where I find comfort in knowing I'm not the only one who feels or thinks that way, and that I'm not crazy.

For example, I found this blog post today, which sums up my frustration with the "crazy" label perfectly. For years I've dated guy after guy who's told me I'm being too emotional, too sensitive, or just crazy - for getting upset with him for doing something selfish, mean, or just plain insensitive. I've always hated it, always felt there was something wrong with it. I even wrote a "Feminist Dating Advice" post about it, urging women to not tolerate being called crazy. And someone jumped down my throat for it, calling me an insult to feminism. Made me want to stop writing, really, and certainly made me want to shut up about the "crazy" issue, sure that I must be the only person who takes issue with it. But according to this blog entry, I'm not alone, and I'm really not crazy after all.

For another example, I found this a while back, a blog entry about female nerds self-objectifying themselves - sort of a Female Chauvinist Pigs specific to nerd culture. I was frustrated with the same issue, especially when I was at Anime Boston, especially after dark when the convention was dominated by 18+ events, including Hentai Dubbing where girls would get up on stage and moan and gyrate for the entertainment of a room full of people, followed by a Cosplay Burlesque. Those words put together just make me feel sad. Why I went to the event I'll never know, but I left feeling sick. Again, I seemed to be the only person who had a problem with it, even my female friends thought it was fun to watch hentai dubbing and that there was nothing wrong with the trend of skimpy cosplays, so I kept my mouth shut.

The fact is, when you're the only one with an opinion, it can be almost impossible to sway the masses. But that's why blogging is so important. If those bloggers mentioned above had never penned their essays on issues of gaslighting and self-objectification, I'd still keep my mouth shut. But because I know my beliefs are being backed up from afar, and now that I've found some intelligent ways to put my own frustrations into words, I'm more likely to speak up about the issues myself, adding my voice to the mix with conviction. And as more people add their voices, that belief gains strength in the public eye. Blogging helps a opinion go from a fringe belief to a message that can sway the masses.

PS: one does not need validation because they are weak or insecure. We need validation because we are human, and it is human to be afraid to stand alone.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Call for Social Amnesty

Too often we're quick to chide victims of rape for putting themselves in unsafe situations. "She should have known better," people remark. Believe me, I'm sure she knows that too. Hindsight is 20/20, and after being a victim of sexual assault, it's common for the victim to kick herself for every decision she made that night that may or may not have led to her assault. I shouldn't have gone to that party, I shouldn't have hung out with that guy, I shouldn't have gone to his apartment, I should have gone home instead of crash at his place, I shouldn't have worn that top, I shouldn't have worn those panties, I shouldn't have accepted those drinks, I shouldn't have danced like that, the list goes on and on. She doesn't need a slap on the wrist, she's already slapping herself.

A rape victim doesn't need to be scolded for her decisions. It's unnecessary and makes her feel worse about what has happened to her. Because of this, I propose social amnesty for rape victims. What does that mean? Think about it as similar to a university's medical amnesty policy. Usually if a student is caught violating the alcohol policy, he or she gets in trouble. However, if that student seeks medical attention in the case of extreme intoxication, that student as well as those with them at the time do not get in trouble. This is to make sure that people who are really sick get the medical attention they need. Similarly, social amnesty means that if a woman is raped, any "stupid" decision she made that night - any decision that, had nothing happened her, might have warranted a scolding of "are you stupid?? never do that again, you could have been raped!!" - is overlooked and her peers focus instead on making sure she gets the help and support she needs - support she may not even try to seek out if she's afraid people will blame her for what happened, or afraid of getting in trouble with her friends and family for putting herself in that situation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Isn't a Wave - But It Should Be

After the Women's Suffrage Movement (or the "first wave" of feminism), there was a decade of complacency. Women enjoyed their right to vote, but beyond that, saw no reason to push for more rights, nor did people in general feel the need to care about politics. It was a period known for its music, its fashion trends, and for its fun-loving attitude. Women began to show more skin, party more, and enjoy sex more than they ever had. Compare the 1920's to the 1980's, where women has just received a plethora of rights from the Women's Liberation Movement (or "second wave" of feminism), but suddenly began to see a greater focus on looking good (crazy fashion trends, big hair that required a lot of work and styling products), being thin (think of all the workout videos associated with the decade), and being sexual (think MTV).

Shortly after the 1920's came a period of depression and war. Eyes were on Washington again, as politics suddenly became more relevant to everyday people, but there was little focus on women's rights. Sure, women entered the workplace when family money was scarce, and when WWII required women to take the jobs the men left behind, and along with that surge in women's labor came adjustments to women's rights in the workplace. Similarly, in the last decade we've seen a greater interest in politics as the country went to war and plunged into a recession, but those concerns were so great that women's rights have hardly been a social or political priority. Women are going to work not because they necessarily want to, but because they need to in order to put food on the table.

The period between the first and second waves of feminism did see some feminist activity. Someone had to fight for women's labor rights in the 1930's and 1940's, and surely the American people had greater support for these reforms during that time period because there was a need for women's labor. The New Deal also included support for low income mothers. Feminism wasn't dead in that time period, but it was very subtle, a fringe movement that people paid little attention to. That's where we are now.

We're not in a "third wave" of feminism. The Third Wave hasn't come yet. We feminists are like surfers out in the water, trying to catch the occasional baby wave and occasionally getting a good ride in, but nothing major has come our way since the 1970's. We're in a lull, and almost a regressive period where, if anything, legislatures are drastically turning back the clock on women's reproductive rights; rape apologism and victim blaming are rampant with no end in sight, and people are so concerned with evil jezebels making false rape claims that even victims are beginning to doubt their own stories; and people still defend employers who pay their female employees less money for the same job, or who impose greater image standards on the women who work for them than the men who work for them. To many people, feminism is a dead movement. We got what we want, why don't we fight for something more important, right?

In order for Third Wave Feminism to become a reality, there needs to be a catalyst - an earthquake to churn the tsunami. The first two waves arose out of the struggle of African Americans - the suffrage movement arose out of the abolitionist movement; and the early women's liberation movement had close ties to the civil rights movement. Could the catalyst for Third Wave Feminism once again be connected with a racially charged movement? Could be, since we're no more post-racial than we are post-feminist. We don't see any feminist activity arising from an anti-war movement either, as it had during the Vietnam war. Abortion and gay marriage are hot button topics, but as much as they're closely tied with modern-day feminism, there are plenty of people who are pro-choice or pro-gay marriage without identifying as feminists, and there are even people who identify as both pro-life and feminist.

If we are in the early stages of Third Wave Feminism, we need momentum. And if the wave hasn't come yet, we need to figure out how to make it happen.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Feminist Dating Advice #3

Don't let him call you crazy.

In my experience, I've found that guys LOVE to call girls crazy. Sure, we've all heard stories of truly bonkers things girls have done in relationships (and after them), but guys seem to label girls crazy for minor things too, or call a girl crazy for displaying any negative emotion when he doesn't think she has a "right" to feel that way.

Make no mistake, it's okay to get upset. It's okay to get angry. It's even okay to feel jealous. As long as those emotions don't lead to any violent or abusive actions, of course; it's important to know how to manage those emotions, and to say something when something first bothers you. It's tempting to say that something's okay when it's not, to keep the peace and seem easy-going. With all the relationship advice thrown at us by women's magazines and websites, it seems like the ideal girlfriend is someone who doesn't get annoyed at "guy behaviors," and someone who is passive and calm all the time. But it's healthy to tell your guy when something bothers you, rather than when you're fed up.

However, even when we do this, even when we do make an effort to manage our emotions and express them in a healthy way, things do occasionally bubble over. It's hard to handle frustration when you're already in a weakened state - tired, hungry, stressed out, PMSing, etc. When this happens, a good boyfriend will take the time to try to identify what's actually making you upset. A jerk will jump to conclusions, or worse, call you "crazy."

Don't take that shit.

You are not crazy. Say it with me - "I am not crazy." Now say it to him. You may be upset, you may be pissed off, you may be frustrated, you may be jealous, you may be a mixture of those very real and often very understandable emotions, but you are NOT crazy. Calling you crazy is dismissive, invalidating how you feel rather than trying to address the real problem that's upsetting you.

Now, if you start dating a guy and he says all his exes are crazy, beware. It's possible he's one of those jerks who's quick to call a girl crazy, and it's also possible that they were all "crazy" for the same reason - in other words, he kept pulling some dick move that upset a lot of girls. It's also possible that he's afraid they'll tell you something about him, something you don't want to know, and he thinks if he can convince you that they're not right in the head, you won't listen to them.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Legally Blonde: Femininity vs. Intelligence

Women are often advised to cut their hair short for better success gaining employment. Michelle Bachman is criticized for spending too much money on her appearance, as if caring that much about one's appearance makes one a poor leader. Hillary Clinton is mocked for being too masculine. And in the Legally Blonde movies, Elle Woods is assumed to be stupid, simple minded, and unable to succeed in law or politics because of her overt femininity.

Too often, if a woman shows her femininity, people assume she is stupid. I'm not immune to this thinking: sometimes I see a group of girls in super girly clothes, giggling and squealing together, and annoyed, I roll my eyes and think "please God, save me from the stupid." But it is problematic when we see femininity as being incompatible with the workplace, or at least most workplaces (often femininity is seen as compatible with working in industries such as fashion or wedding planning, which happen to be frequently recommended careers in young women's magazines). This is because the underlying assumption is that being a woman is incompatible with being successful in the workplace. Naturally, people still make jokes that PMS, and women's assumed emotional tendencies, interfere with a woman's ability to do her job.

Feminism isn't about eschewing femininity with a strong hand and encouraging women to be "like men," nor is it about compelling women to be "true to their gender" and embrace femininity. Rather, feminism is about believing that there is no right way to be a woman, that how feminine a woman is in her presentation should have no bearing on her perceived ability to be successful in her career. That a female politician's support should be based on her politics, not the length of her hair or the silhouette of her suits.

To me, the Legally Blonde movies don't idealize femininity, nor did they ever make me feel bad about the way I look. Rather, they taught me that whether I wear black or pink, I can kick ass in anything I choose to do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Wildly Inappropriate" Episode of Dance Moms

I'm watching a re-run of last week's episode of Dance Moms, my new guilty pleasure, and the focus of the episode is on the girls wearing extra skimpy dance costumes and performing an extra sexy dance for a competition. Think the infamous "Single Ladies" dance that made headlines last year.

Now, there were two conflicting opinions. Most of the dance moms thought the costumes and routines were extremely inappropriate. Personally, I agree with them. Then the choreographer and one of the dance moms made the point that a lot of successful dance groups wear that stuff, and do dances like that. To them, that level of sexualization is just necessary to be competitive in the dance world. And sadly, they're right.

Let's get one thing straight: I support dance, and I support cheerleading. I support any physical activity that can (potentially) teach girls to value their bodies for what they do rather than what they look like, or what they can do for men. Studies have shown that, statistically, girls who participate in sports and physical activities are less likely to participate in risky behaviors such as drugs and underage drinking; casual, unprotected sex; gang activity; and eating disorders. Not to mention, the endorphins from practices and success of doing well can boost a girl's confidence and test scores. This is why the Women's Sports Foundation launched its GoGirlGo! initiative, which gives money to programs that help underprivileged, at-risk girls get active, giving them a better shot at a bright future. Dance and cheerleading can be very good for girls and young women.

That said, there is a sexualizing element that needs to be addressed. My sister's an all-star cheerleader, and I've seen what a lot of the successful squads wear: short, short skirts, cropped tops, and lots and lots of makeup. These aren't just young women wearing skimpy outfits and pageant-level amounts of makeup, I've seen seven year-olds wear stuff like that, and it's a little disturbing. The dance world has the same problem. It's not just a few gyms and studios pushing the limits, it's a widespread problem that's often rewarded with top titles and trophies. Now, on Dance Moms the girls did not place, and the sexual nature of their routine was probably the culprit. But that was a single competition in Lancaster, a conservative area, if they had done the same routine at the Phoenix competition where the choreographer got the idea to do a steamy number, they might have won.

What message are we sending these girls when the teams when sexy equals success for so many teams?

I do understand that revealing uniforms make it easier to move. As a young woman, I get that girls probably get a boost of confidence from feeling sexy in those outfits. That is, the girls who have the "typical" cheerleader/dancer body (skinny). What about the girls who, despite the exercise they get from practices, aren't as skinny and don't feel comfortable, forget sexy, having to reveal so much of their bodies? Skimpy cheerleading uniforms may make some girls feel alienated from the sport because of their bodies. If being sexy is seen as a par for the course, a requirement for success in competition, girls who are unwilling to dance and dress in a suggestive nature might feel alienated as well. In fact, there was a six year-old girl who was kicked off her squad, not because she said anything, but because her mom expressed concern over a cheer where girls chant about shaking their booties.

Abby Miller, the owner of the dance studio in Dance Moms, does not take kindly to parents expressing concerns over their kids' dancing. She says that when a parent opens their mouth, they ruin their child. And yes, that is sometimes true. Doing theater in high school, the director made it clear that we were to ignore any notes our parents gave us about the performance. Overly involved parents have the potential to undo what is taught in the gym or studio. However, in this case, parents should be outspoken when they feel that something their daughters are being made to wear or do might be too sexual. It's a parent's responsibility to protect their daughter from early sexualization and exploitation.

This isn't about young women choosing to be sexy and exploring their sexualities. This is about girls having no choice but to be sexy, not realizing the implications of their actions. These girls are at risk of growing up with a manufactured sexuality, influenced by their dance moves and how they're dressed for competition, rather than an authentic one. The competitive environment can be toxic for the girls' sexualities and sense of self, overemphasizing the importance of being sexy in order to be competitive with other girls, not to mention the importance of being skinny enough to look good in belly-bearing tops and tiny skirts. Now, I'm not saying that it has this impact on all girls who compete, and it's certainly something that needs to be studied, but it really appears to magnify a lot of toxic cultural ideals.

So what can be done? Sadly, I don't have a fool-proof plan. The problem is that all-star cheerleading and competitive dance isn't exactly centralized. It seems as though every competition has its own rules and judging criteria, with lots of overlap but nothing established as a universal rule. The Varsity corporation does run a large portion of it, but even then, there is no one ruling body regulating the competition circuit, so there's no one office to write to in order to get judges to crack down on vulgarity or to implement rules regarding cheer uniforms and costumes. And of course, if skimpy costumes were banned or suddenly very much frowned upon, that means gyms have to get new uniforms, which may not be a problem for the rich, expensive gyms that frequently change their uniforms anyway, but might be an issue for lower income gyms that recycle their uniforms and can't afford to buy new ones to adapt to the rule change, putting them at even more of a disadvantage in competition. Still, change can come from the top down, if successful cheer gyms and dance studios can be persuaded to lead by example and wear uniforms with more coverage, at least for the younger squads.

I think the world of cheerleading and dance can be just as good, if not better, sans the skimpy outfits and suggestive dance moves that, by most people's standards, are not appropriate for the younger age groups. After all, the focus of cheerleading and dance should be what people's bodies can do, not what they look like.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Waiting Periods

In the wake of a judge overturning a law that would mandate a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions in South Dakota, I thought I'd write a little something about my problem with these waiting periods in general.

The waiting periods are put in place so women have some time to think over their decision before going through with the procedure. Or so these lawmakers say. I don't disagree with the idea of wanting women to think things through, it's an important decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. However, what these rich white men in Congress and state legislatures fail to realize, is that women already DO think long and hard about that decision.

It's safe to say that most sexually active women do have a game plan, or an idea of what they would do if they ever got pregnant. Many of these women discuss that plan with their partners, to make sure there's no conflict, should the situation ever arise. I know that when my period is even an hour or two later than expected, I immediately start thinking about what I would do. It's fair to assume that when a woman goes in for her abortion consult, she has already thought a great deal about her situation and she's made up her mind.

Go to Go on, I'll wait here. Notice how many of the stories mention how hard the decision was, that the women and their partners thought it over, going back and forth. They mention how scary it is go undergo the procedure, and how painful it is. That there were times when they weren't sure they were making the right decision. The sad thing is that many women who get abortions wouldn't do so if they had the means to become mothers, but they knew they couldn't in their situation.

Now, I do think women should make informed decisions as well. The problem is that when the state steps in to make sure they're informed, the information they are mandated to receive is biased, emotionally based propaganda aimed at making sure she "knows" she's about to do something "evil." Most women in the country are misinformed about the procedure, but not in the way the anti-choice movement says they are, claiming that women who get abortions don't know what they're doing. Rather, too many people think all abortions are the horrible, gory procedure associated with late term, emergency abortions; or that what's being aborted is a small infant that can think and feel pain (and talk, sing, and narrate, according to one propaganda video); or that abortion will cause breast cancer and infertility, or that it will lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. If anything, busting those anti-abortion myths and promoting unbiased, science-based information to all women will help women decide what to do with their pregnancies.

Some see waiting periods as a necessary roadblock, out of fear that abortion shouldn't be too easily accessible. This is also a condescending sentiment, thinking women will get abortions without thinking if there's nothing in their way. What waiting periods actually do is make women take a lot of time off work, and force many women in rural areas in middle America to stay in a hotel for 2-3 nights - so while she's losing a chunk of her paycheck, she also has to pay out the ass to put herself up in a hotel, because the nearest clinic still takes hours to reach by car.

If a woman does take getting an abortion lightly, she probably shouldn't be having kids anyway. However, most women who experience unexpected pregnancies do give their decisions a lot of thought without any government intervention. The waiting periods imposed on women in several states are unnecessary and paternalistic.

Now to get really political: it's ludicrous that Republicans claim to want less government, yet try to pass these laws that interfere with women's personal lives. I suppose "less government" only means fewer laws interfering in the lives of rich, white men, but women still need restrictions on their lives, because clearly they can't be trusted.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Something Positive: Miss America

Now, I'm not a huge fan of beauty pageants in general. The swimsuit portion alone is enough to make me gag. Overall, I have a problem with giving women scholarships just for being pretty and feminine. But I have noticed one thing about the Miss America pageant that I actually like:

The question portion has become political.

No more "what's your favorite book?" stuff, no more vague questions that can be easily answered with "world peace" or "help feed the starving orphans." This year's questions focused on specific political issues, and were actually a little tough to answer. Our new Miss America came out in support of medicinal marijuana, and didn't outright oppose recreational use - she said she didn't know whether she supported it because it is addictive and causes problems for some families, which is fair enough, but the fact is she did not say something blatantly anti-drug. Last year's Miss America said birth control should be free and available to all women. I've been happy to see that at least one part of the pageant makes women use their brains rather than just their tits and smiles to win over the judges.

Of course, I would probably get really pissed off if, in the future, they crown a girl who rails against gay marriage or abortion. But in the past two years they've crowned women who have expressed liberal sentiments, and that's saying something. I'm also glad that, in the past, the question portion has helped to expose and draw negative attention to the ignorant, and often downright moronic answers some of the girls have given, which shows that we do, in fact, want a Miss America with a brain as well as beauty. Now if only her intellect was more important than her appearance.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dichotomies of Femininity in American Musical Theater

Since the birth of the American musical in the 1930's, there have been many shows which demonstrate dichotomies between female characters, mainly those relating to femininity and sexuality. The shows that come to mind first, at least for me, are Anything Goes, Once On This Island, and Avenue Q. In each show, two female characters are portrayed as being vastly different in terms of their behavior and personality traits, and these differences are often highlighted by gaps in socio-economic status, race, and the pitch and range of their singing voices.

I'll start with Anything Goes, the oldest of the three; this analysis is going off what I remember of my experience with the 1962 and 1987 versions. The show it set in the 1930's, and two leading ladies in the show are Reno Sweeney, a night club singer with a shady past, but who now uses her act to evangelize with her troupe of "angels;" and Hope Harcourt, a wealthy young woman engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. The two women are connected through Billy Crocker, a friend of Reno and Hope's former lover. Reno expresses that she has feelings for Billy, but Billy only sees her as a friend - perhaps because she lacks dainty feminine qualities most men found desirable in that time period. Reno is, in fact, loud, has an attitude, and despite her evangelical activities is the sexual character in the show; whereas Hope is the virginal one, the innocent, feminine one, and the one destined for marriage. The two vocal styles are vastly different as well, Hope's voice is more traditional, almost operatic, and her range is much higher than
Reno's, who still hits some high notes but in a more modern, belting style (bear with me, I'm not a theater major).

These women represent a classic virgin/whore dichotomy, which is best illustrated in two duets: "It's DeLovely," sung by Billy and Hope; and "Let's Misbehave," sung by Reno and Evelyn. Reno is also used as a sexual pawn in order to break up Evelyn and Hope, so Billy can be with Hope. There is another related dichotomy, and that is between ladies who are marriage material (Hope), and women who are just seen as dating prospects or objects of sexual desire (Reno).

Fast forward to Once on This Island, a show that opened in the early 1990's, but it's a little unclear when the story is supposed to take place. Or where, for that matter. My guess would be the 1950's, and I'm fairly certain it takes place on the island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. What is clear is the racial and economic tension between the two sides of the island: on one side, the people are poor and "black as night." On the other side, the people are rich and have lighter skin, as they descended from the French colonists and their slaves - one song, summarizing the history of the island, mentioned a rich white man who married a pale, blonde woman but had sex with the black peasant girls who served him.

The protagonist, Ti Moune, is a young, black girl on the poor side of the island. She is sweet, innocent, and naive, and longs to travel beyond her village. When Daniel, a rich man from the other side of the island, crashes in her village, she tends to him, keeping him alive, demonstrating that she is also very loving and selfless. When Daniel returns to his side of the island, Ti Moune decides to journey there herself to be with him. The two of them have a relationship, and people gossip about them, implying that she is a slut. While she is sweet and innocent, she is assumed to be inherently sexual by the townspeople, and it is implied that she is, in fact, having sex with Daniel. It is true that intersectionality theory is critical to the full analysis of gender within this show, because the racial differences skew the sexual dichotomies. While pure of heart, Ti Moune is arguably sexualized because of her race, and the virginal woman is Andrea, Daniel's wealthy and fairer-skinned fiancee. Before Ti Moune meets Andrea, Daniel sings to her about how wonderful and fascinating she is - and that "some girls you marry, some you love." Again we see the marriageable vs non-marriageable dichotomy illustrated in this musical. Daniel loves Ti Moune, but he must marry a certain "type" of woman.

Again we see class coming into play. Both Hope and Andrea are both the wealthy, asexual, and marriageable characters in their respective shows.

Finally, there's Avenue Q, the most modern of the three shows. This show is also a special case because of its satirical nature, and the fact that two vastly different female roles are played by the same actress - when the two characters are on stage she'll operate one of them, but do the dialogue for both. It's a little bizarre to see her switch between the two roles so rapidly. The female lead is a sweet kindergarten teacher named Kate Monster. Then there's Lucy the Slut, whose name says it all. While Kate Monster does have sex with Princeton (the male protagonist) once, she still mostly embodies the innocent side of the sexual spectrum, opposite Lucy. Lucy is not only easy, but she's sexually aggressive, whereas Kate is more passive - she's drunk the one time they have sex. Lucy is also kind of a bitch, who deliberately tries to keep Kate and Princeton apart during the second act.

In this we see more modern dichotomies, which may be in a satirical context, but are rooted in real ways in which we label women. There's the bitch/sweetheart dichotomy, which was sort of in Once on This Island to a lesser extent, and basically means that if a woman isn't a perfect angel, she must be pure evil. There is a virgin/whore dichotomy, though Kate embodies a less extreme part of the "pure" spectrum - she's not chaste and asexual, but again, she only has sex once, and she's very passive. We see another dichotomy, and that is where a woman is either extremely emotionally invested in a guy, or she's cold to him and just using him for her own benefit.

There's another reversal in Avenue Q: hair color. In shows such as Chicago and Grease, the more innocent character is typically blonde, whereas the more sexual character is brunette. We even see this in modern pop culture, such as Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" video (don't get me started on that one). In Avenue Q, Lucy the Slut is blonde and Kate Monster is brunette. The hair colors of these characters are used to instead highlight (no pun intended) Kate's down-to-Earth personality against Lucy's identity as the male fantasy.

Of course, the shows analyzed above are in no way the "best" examples or the most classic, they really were the first that came to mind and the relevant shows I happen to know best. I almost covered Wonderful Town as well, as the two women being sisters makes it another interesting case, but I figured 3 was a good number. I've only seen the movies for Chicago and Grease, both of which are somewhat different from the original Broadway shows, but those two definitely have virgin/whore, bitch/sweetheart, feminine/not-so-feminine, etc. dichotomies in them. Wicked is another great example, with Glinda being blonde, rich, feminine, desirable, "sweet," and of course Popular, but the complete opposite of Elphaba. If you look hard enough, you can even see the polarization of femininity between Grace and Miss Hannigan in Annie. You don't, however, see these dichotomies in every show, especially shows that focus on male characters and don't have a lot of female characters, such as the Book of Mormon; or shows with more then two leading ladies such as A Chorus Line, or even American Idiot, where there are multiple female archetypes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Women DO Lie!"

Today I found this article highlighting the problem of women lying about rape. Not a new sentiment, it's something that's become increasingly prevalent since the Duke case. It's the reason a former friend of mine basically disowned me, he thought I must be lying and abusing the legal system because my situation didn't follow the classic formula for a sexual assault case. I hate articles like these, and my first reaction is usually unintelligible rage followed by feeling totally depressed.

It's really hard to articulate why articles and blogs like that piss me off, but I'm going to try. First, I have to point out that the person writing the above article is the mother of a boy who was accused of rape. Of COURSE she's going to think he's innocent, of COURSE she's going to instinctively think the girl is just a lying psycho bitch, because there's no way her son could do something about this, she raised him better. The reality is, an abuser is hard to spot, and most people who commit abuse pass themselves off as perfect angels, fine upstanding citizens, men who would never hurt women either. And it's easy to pretend to be a "feminist's dream," we're kidding ourselves if we think misogyny is always obvious.

Not that I think the boy mentioned in the article was guilty. I have no idea. I'm not an idiot, I know false rape accusations do happen, every crime can be falsely reported. BUT it doesn't matter, even if there are cases where a man is falsely convicted of rape, that's no reason to start demonizing every woman who says she was raped.

Once again we've become a culture of extremes. It seems people either think the victim should always be believed, or that the legal system needs to take the man's side and be very skeptical of every accusation, because women are evil lying bitches who shouldn't be taken seriously.

And I will say, for the record, that I am sympathetic to men who have been falsely accused. As in, they've done nothing at all. It does make me angry when false accusations are made because they chip away at the validity of real rape reports. The more false rape accusations are made, the less people will believe real victims. The more women know about the growing cultural skepticism surrounding rape, the less likely they will be to report sexual assault should it happen to them. Skepticism may result in victims of rape or sexual assault being unfairly labeled as liars and losing their support networks.

It also saddens me that this whole "too many women lie about rape" mentality is causing people to demonize feminism as a whole, especially its work regarding rape prevention. It's a shame that people think female empowerment is to blame for every evil crime committed by a woman.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Adventures in Street Harassment

Guess who experienced street harassment today. That's right, I did!

The experience: I was walking down the sidewalk, music from Sucker Punch blaring in my ears, and I see these two guys coming towards me. I made eye contact, and soon I noticed that one of the guys was talking to me. I never actually knew what he was saying, but I'm not an idiot, I know harassment when I see it. The "you and me" gesture, the intimidating body language, the sexual tone of his voice. I tried to stare dead ahead, with an emotionless expression, trying to ignore him. I was desperately trying not to let him have that power over me. Even after we passed each other, I could hear him yelling after me. For a moment I was afraid he might turn around, come towards me, and either follow me or try to grab me.

It sank in as I boarded the bus, what had just happened. The loss of control, the power he had exerted over me. I couldn't help but feel upset, especially considering my abusive past. What may have upset me the most was knowing that if I told someone, he'd likely brush it off, or worse, blame me for it. "Look at you, wearing a skirt, all dolled up, what did you expect? If you don't want attention, don't dress like that."

Luckily, the guy I told did not react that way. Thank God he's not that kind of person. Still, too many guys treat street harassment like it's either no big deal, just something that happens and we need to learn to let it go, or it's the woman's fault. Or worse, that I should take it as a compliment. I'm sorry, but it's really hard to feel good about myself when all I feel is a loss of power.

Again, let's examine the gender politics at play. Women do not compliment other women on the street, nor do men compliment men, and you'd be hard pressed to find a woman yelling after a man "daaaayum daddy you so sexy!" Men are the ones coming onto women on the street, asking for their numbers, asking for dates, making sexual comments, demanding that they smile.

Sure, sometimes strangers talking to each other isn't such a bad thing. Certainly it's fine at clubs and parties as long as the one striking up conversation or flat-out hitting on someone takes rejection well (i.e. doesn't get belligerent, accusing the rejector of only wanting jerks or bimbos), and random conversation is prevalent at anime conventions, or among people of relatively same age waiting in line for something at any given event. And certainly an actual compliment like "I like your shirt" or "your hair is cool" can be perfectly innocent and conversational if said in the right tone of voice.

Street harassment is a way for men to put women in their place. It makes the public sphere a hostile place for women, and sexualizes them, sending them the message that the only role they can hope to fill in the public sphere is that of a sexual object for men's pleasure.

And make no mistake, every woman is at risk for street harassment. It's not just pretty girls who wear short skirts, although wearing skirt does put one at greater risk. Other "risk factors" include riding a bike, jogging, carrying food, and not smiling (seriously, commanding me to smile is only going to piss me off, and if I do smile it's because I'm using laughter as a coping mechanism). Street harassers will look for any excuse they have to talk to a woman, will comment on anything they can. It's usually not about getting a date; street harassment, like rape, is about a man exerting power over a woman. And I'm going to run the risk of sounding "too dramatic" and say that more severe instances of harassment do feel like a spiritual form of rape. It's a violation of one's right to merely "be" in the public sphere.