Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I'm Sick of "Crazy"

I'm really, really, REALLY, tired of hearing that all women are crazy. "Bitches be crazy," people say. "Men fuck shit up, women are fucked up," says a famous comedian, and I've heard far too many (male) comedians say similar things, that all women are psycho. Stop it. Seriously, stop it.

How is saying that all women are crazy any less sexist than saying all women are stupid, or all women are weak and helpless, or that all men are jerks, or all men are obsessed with sex? All of those statements are sexist. Any generalization like that, where you say all members of a certain gender have an inherent personality trait, is sexist. Period.

I don't care if you've met women who were a little unhinged. Maybe you even knew of a man being abused by a woman. Maybe YOU were abused by a woman. Maybe you have lots of bad experiences with women, but that it's still completely unfair to say that all women are screwed in the head.

Sexist generalizations aside, it creates a prejudice people have regarding women. If we assume all, or even most, women are crazy, we expect crazy, and then when a woman gives any indication that she may be "crazy," we slap that label on her right away, and suddenly any psychological abnormality or personality quirk is attributed to her being crazy.

There's also a huge double standard in place. In order to call a man crazy, he has to be really unhinged. He has to pull a Charlie Sheen type stunt or have extreme religious views. It doesn't take much to call a woman crazy. All she has to do is get upset with her boyfriend for flirting with another girl right in front of her. She has to get mad at her roommates for not cleaning up after themselves. Just like women get called bitches for behavior that's considered normal or only mildly problematic coming from men.

Throughout history, women have been assumed to be psychologically inferior and unstable. From ancient Greece through the 19th Century, women were commonly diagnosed with "female hysteria." Women were diagnosed with hysteria for really any symptom that couldn't be explained. Doesn't sound too different from today, where women are assumed to be crazy due to any inexplicable abnormality.

Because it's easy to call a woman crazy. Trying to find out what's really bothering her means doing stuff. Asking her how she feels, listening to her talk about her feelings and her concerns. And even if you do that, it's very convenient to say "nope, you're just crazy" rather than take her seriously, especially if you don't agree with her.

Women acting crazy is a source of entertainment for Western society. I'm talking about reality TV that focuses on women's lives. Real Housewives, Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, and most other reality shows that are about women, are basically showcasing women behaving in ridiculous, outrageous ways - or being "crazy," and we love to watch it and go "haha wow, those women are crazy!" We love to watch them and pass judgment about how "crazy" they are. And of course, these shows reinforce the stereotype that all women are crazy. But while we like to watch women we perceive as crazy, we don't want to associate with them. We like to alienate "crazy" women, for fear that they will erupt and spew molten crazy all over us when we least expect it, ruining our parties and social gatherings, causing trouble in our groups of friends. This is why so many young women avoid other young women altogether, they think all women are crazy drama queens and it's just better to hang out with guys.

It's dismissive. Maybe a woman does have a real problem, maybe she needs help, but even if she is struggling with mental illness, calling her crazy not only reduces her problem, makes it seem as though it's an incurable part of her. "Crazy" has a very negative, judgmental implication to it, often tied to a woman's perceived morality, almost as though being "crazy" is pretty damn close to being evil.

And on a personal note, being called crazy can really hurt.

"Crazy" is usually used as an insult, and usually used against women. We use it to bait women into behaving in a way that we consider acceptable for women, threatening to label any women who takes one step out of line as "crazy." We use it as a scarlet letter to label women we'd rather not associate with, sewing it into a woman's reputation and public identity. We use it as a derogatory term against women, and men to an extent, who struggle with real psychological illnesses. Yes, men are sometimes called crazy too, but nowhere near as often as women are, and the concept of "crazy" is rarely used to control men and dismiss their experiences. This is why I'm really fed up with the word, and why I wish people would stop using it as an insult so frequently.

Affirmative Action vs. Entitled White Kids

Time to step away from feminism for a wee bit and talk about the issue of affirmative action. Because unfortunately white people won't stop whining about it.

I grew up in a white, rich, suburban town, so naturally I was socialized to hate affirmative action from the moment I knew what it was. Racism! Reverse Discrimination! We don't need that stuff, the civil rights movement is over, no one's racist against black people anymore, right? And naturally, most college applicants despise anything that might keep them from getting into their top school, so going into my senior year there was extra adversity towards affirmative action. "You might not get into the school of your dreams because a black kid with a slightly lower GPA might be given your spot." As if we were somehow entitled to college admission.

When I got to college, one of my first classes was Introduction to Law, where everything I thought I knew about affirmative action was turned on its ass. I learned that racial quotas were actually unconstitutional and effectively illegal, and that in order to be considered constitutional an affirmative action admissions system has to consider all pertinent elements of diversity - race being one of them, of course, but also things like overcoming adversity, traveling abroad (something plenty of rich, white kids do), volunteer and work experience - basically, you don't have to be black to benefit from affirmative action. After that course, I had an entirely different perception of affirmative action, and it only evolved from there when I realized the value of cultural diversity in the classroom. Not that my school is extremely diverse, we do have a lot of international students and ethnic minorities but we're still mostly white and middle to upper class (you can't throw a hockey puck without hitting someone wearing a North Face or Ugg boots). Still, during class discussions it's always great to hear from someone with a different cultural perspective in the classroom, especially when they're about social and political issues.

Some may argue that it's racist to even suggest that African American and Hispanics still need a boost to achieve equality in this day and age. While I think the narrative of a white person stepping in and saving the day may be problematic, it's not racist to point out the ways in which we're NOT a post-racial society. It's not racist to point out that de facto segregation still exists, with many low income areas highly populated by ethnic minorities and most wealthy suburbs dominated by white people. It's not racist to point out racial gaps in wage, employment, and education. It's not racist to say that most suburban schools (especially the ones with state-of-the art facilities and some of the best teachers around) are mostly white, while run-down, inner city schools have mostly African American and Hispanic students. It is racist to say that all black people are poor and uneducated and cannot advance themselves, while all white people are wealthy, well educated and capable of succeeding in the professional world, but am I making those kinds of generalizations? No, I don't believe I am. If I did by accident, I apologize, because I swear to god I don't think that way.

So yeah, affirmative action may not be a perfect system, it may mean some really smart, white people don't get into their top schools and have to settle for their second choices (oh no!), but it's also still necessary. I'll be interested to see how the Supreme Court case goes, I'm hoping the ruling will be relatively similar to the last two.

My Experiences with Birth Control

I wanted to go on birth control when I was a teenager. It had very little to do with sex, really. I did want to have sex with my then-boyfriend, but whether I had access to birth control pills or not wasn't really going to impact that decision. I had condoms and, to my under developed teenage brain, that was all we really needed. We never actually had sex, by the way, but that's not really relevant.

I wanted birth control because I had awful cramps. Not cramps that kept me home from school, mind you, but that's mostly because my parents didn't think that was a good enough reason to miss school, so I had to stick a Thermacare heating pad in my underwear and suck it up. But dear god they were awful. Not to mention my other symptoms, and of course my acne, which I didn't have a problem with most of the time in high school, but still, birth control could have helped with that. But my mom was too worried about me having sex to let me get on the pill until I was 18 and about to head off to college.

Honestly, whether someone can get birth control probably won't make or break their decision to have sex. It might for some people, but for most people (I think), if birth control pills are inaccessible they're just going to use condoms. And the only barrier to condoms, other than the fact that they cost money, is that some pharmacies in low income areas keep them under lock and key and you need a sales associate to get them for you, kind of like whitening strips and razor blades. Even if buying them is embarrassing, I have not heard one story of a sales associate saying "sorry, I'm Catholic" and refusing service. I'm sure it's happened somewhere at some point, but clearly it's not all over the internet. The only thing restricting access to birth control does is make sex less safe and unplanned pregnancy more prevalent. I'm not saying that restricting access to birth control isn't a problem, it certainly is, all I'm saying is that restricting it because you think it'll keep people from having sex is flawed logic. So you're limiting reproductive freedom based on flawed logic, not to mention an archaic reason. It's not the government's business, or my employer's business (Catholic or not) whether I have sex.

Okay at this point I'm just covering my bases so no one reads this and says "but you forgot THIS reason why barriers to birth control are bad" or "no no no, that's not THE reason why it's bad," I get that there are several reasons why the government should stay out of my lady business, I just really don't feel like listing all of them here when I really wanted to connect my personal experiences with the larger issue at hand.

Street Harassment as Humor and Entertainment

(DISCLAIMER: I know not all men harass women. I'm not an idiot, nor do I think all men are sketchy douchebags. I'll say it again, I am not accusing the entire male gender of being dicks, I DO NOT mean to insinuate that all men partake in street harassment. I know most don't. So when I say that men do it for X reason, I mean men who DO harass women, not every man alive)

Yesterday it came to me: street harassment serves many functions. Some men who harass women do it to show appreciation for women's bodies, some men do it simply as a means to get a woman's attention, and some guys do it as a joke. It's something I've noticed, mostly among younger men who harass women. They do it simply as a form of entertainment, a way to make their buddies laugh.

Examples: In an earlier post I mentioned an incident where a guy was giving me a hard time on the street- er, sidewalk. I still have no idea what he said but the gestures and facial expressions said it all, it was definitely street harassment. This guy wasn't alone, he was with a friend, who if my memory serves me right, was laughing his ass off at the whole thing. A year ago I was walking across a quad on campus to go to a friend's place, and this group of guys was coming towards me. As they got closer, one decided to get right in my face and make a sudden, loud noise, just to scare and intimidate me. After he did it, he and his friends howled with laughter and ran away. The joke was that they managed to scare a woman. How silly of them.

Now I'm not saying this to excuse street harassment. It's never okay no matter what the reason, and while harassing women for the sheer fun of it may seem less threatening, it's problematic in its own way. It only perpetuates this idea that violence against women is a joke. I don't mean that street harassment is the same thing as rape or beating someone up, but it's a form of verbal abuse, and no matter what its intentions, it makes (most) women feel uncomfortable and often unsafe in the public sphere. It's part of a culture that makes light of gender violence.

I'm really trying to explain this in way that will make everyone happy, trying not to make unintentional generalizations or make it sound like I think talking to a woman is "rape" (I don't know why, but a lot of people assume feminists think that, when we don't, we just think it's a problem when a man acts as though he's entitled to a woman's company for whatever reason). No matter what I say someone's going to say I'm making a big deal of nothing, that I'm humorless and can't take a joke, that I just don't understand some forms of humor, that this is somehow pro-censorship. I'm not trying to ban this way of joking around, I just think it goes against human decency when someone's idea of a "joke" is to make intimidate a woman and make her feel unsafe in public.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Objectification and Girl Hating

The main complaint about the objectification of women is that it leads men to perceive women as objects, causes them to disrespect women, and can encourage rape. We all seem pretty aware that objectification affects the way men view women, but it stands to reason that objectification also harms the way women perceive and relate to each other. It's not just men who objectify women, women objectify other women - just in a different way that's rarely addressed.

Objectification leads women to see other women as objects. As nothing but obstacles to what they want. Admit it, we've all done it at one point or another, see another girl and immediately hate her because we're not just afraid she might get what we want, but that she's after what we want, or what we already have. We assume that that's all she wants, that she was just put on this Earth to get in our way. We're rarely taught to see other women as people with aspirations, interests, intellect, and personal struggles that have nothing to do with us.

It's not our fault! Woman-on-woman misogyny isn't good but it doesn't necessarily make someone an awful person that must be shunned from society, though it does indicate that one may need to examine her attitudes towards other women. It's no secret that the media encourages women to compete like crazy against one another, but the media also often portrays women as either very flat, or exaggerated, stereotypical characters with little depth or personality. There are many advertisements that barely portray women as people at all, but things that exist for men. They exist to pursue men, to please men, to live their lives for men. So while men may internalize this and feel superior to women, or entitled to having women devote insane amounts of time and energy to please them, women may internalize this and not only feel pressure to do this, but may assume that other women do exist for men, and that may feed into the problem of competition, and breed resentment among women.

Is it unhealthy to assume other women are out to get your boyfriend/crush/guy you're dating? Absolutely. It's not good to feel that paranoia, but my fear is more women suffer from it than we know, because no one wants to admit to that.

And obviously, this is not the only source of "girl hate." It's a multi-dimensional problem I could write about for hours, but I can only do so much in any given night. I have homework I need to to get to work on.