Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Post-Racial" My Pasty White Butt

First Trayvon Martin, a young African American in Florida, gets shot because he "looked" like he might be a threat. He looked like a threat because he was black and wearing a hoodie, that's it. He wasn't armed, he wasn't "up to no good," he was walking home from the local 7/11. While there was plenty of media outcry against the shooting, some people believe that he was "asking" to be shot simply for "dressing like a thug." Which is weird because white people wear hoodies all the time and aren't called thugs for doing so.

Not too long after this news broke, the Hunger Games came out and people were SHOCKED to see little Rue being played by an African American actress - even though the character in the book is clearly specified as having brown skin. Twitter exploded with people expressing disappointment and even rage that Rue wasn't the innocent, white, blonde girl they imagined, and was instead just "some black girl." Some people actually said it ruined the movie for them. Some were also annoyed that Cinna was also played by an African American, though he was never written as a black man he could have been any race. I think I did, however, picture him as having dark, cinnamon colored skin because of the name. Again, there was disappointment that the two "good characters" in the movie were black.

Why can't the good people be black?

What no one has pointed out yet is that the Twilight movies, particularly the first, had some racial casting as well. None of the characters, to my knowledge, were specified in the book as being non-Caucasian, but in the movie two of Bella's school friends were Asian, and the guy who almost kills her with his van and one of the "bad" vampires are both African American. I'll be honest, these casting choices were certainly unexpected, but they weren't unpleasant surprises, and to my knowledge there was no public outburst of rage regarding these casting choices.

Perhaps the difference, why people were okay with the Twilight guys being black and not Rue, has to do with this still pervasive idea that innocent equals white, and black equals up to no good. Though we don't, or at least shouldn't, equate white with innocence as the real bad guys in Hunger Games are all white and so are the really evil vampires in the Twilight franchise (Laurent does try to kill Bella in one movie, but he's nowhere near as sinister and evil as James and Victoria, and of course all the members of the Volturi are white; the Twilight franchise does, however, have its own racial issues I'm not going to touch in this post). These two recent media explosions regarding race should be an indicator that we're not post racial. We're not all racist, but many people still cling to harmful stereotypes about people of color.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not a perfect meme, I'm crap at this stuff, but you get the idea. What I'm trying to illustrate, and ideally explain without sounding like a horrible person, is that the expectation to fight every form of oppression is overwhelming as hell. Again, intersectionality is awesome, fighting oppression rocks, but to have this all or nothing approach (either you're in it fully or you don't belong at all) isn't realistic. People should be allowed to pick their battles and prioritize their activism without being made to feel guilty.

Under Pressure in the Feminist Community

Most feminists assert that as long as you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist. They encourage people to take on the feminist identity and wear it with pride. There's certainly no shame in being a feminist. At least, I don't think so, though I have been attacked for being an out and proud feminist by ignorant douchebuckets.

But I've found that while being a feminist is (supposedly) as easy as believing in gender equality, being a part of the feminist community is hard. Online and in club meetings, I'm in almost constant contact with people who believe that if you're a feminist, you should do X, or you shouldn't do Y, or you should also believe Z, etc. There are unofficial rules. Suddenly it's not enough to just believe in gender equality, you have to not only support but be actively involved in every social justice movement currently in existence; every consumer choice must be informed and socially responsible - local, small business, woman owned (ideally), fair trade, organic, vegan, doesn't support violent conflicts overseas or causes counter to the progressive agenda, etc.; donate most of your disposable income to charities, but only really good charities; avoid mainstream media and watch mostly independent movies and listen to independent music, especially stuff performed and produced by women, especially queer women and women of color, absolutely nothing that sexualizes women, or anything violent (violence is inherently counter to social justice, apparently); never support banks, you must keep your money in credit unions; stick to organic cosmetics that don't contain any carcinogens; I can list off all the "rules" I've been exposed to all day, but those are the ones off the top of my head.

There's nothing horrible about these rules, they all act to further important social justice campaigns. It's just really unrealistic to expect one person to adhere to all the rules the feminist community constantly tries to shove down the throats of its members. The model, ideal feminist is just that - ideal. It's hardly achievable. If you're poor, chances are you can't afford to adhere to the "rules" regarding what you should and should not buy, and where you should and should not buy it. Not to mention, poor and even middle class women don't have a lot of free time or resources to participate in social justice as much as the feminist community expects of its members. Third wave feminism may advocate for poor women, but the community itself is still one that poor women cannot participate in without feeling guilty, like they fall short of expectations. The conferences are expensive, the focus on academic theories and constant
examination and analysis of privilege is one that practically requires a college education.

Not to mention, it's counterproductive. Feminism counters the idea that women should live up to this socially constructed "ideal woman," because that impossible ideal is detrimental to women's self-esteem - but the feminist community has itself constructed an ideal feminist that is just as hard to live up to without tremendous sacrifice. The "ideal feminist" leaves little room for individuality. It's hard to be multidimensional and pursue one's unique set of interests if you're giving your whole self to social justice activism. I myself feel guilty for leaving Students for Choice early to attend ballet class.

In my middler year I threw myself into activism. When I wasn't in class or attending activist and political groups on campus, I was going from protest to protest, at each rally learning about upcoming events and going to whatever I could. But in doing so I sacrificed my other interests. Then, I'm ashamed to admit, the pendulum swung the other way when I went back to anime club and almost immediately began dating a guy in the club. Nowadays I try to strike a balance, it's the best thing I can do for myself. But that balance means that I still feel guilty for hearing about a protest or meeting or speakout or rally of some kind that my peers in Students For Choice or the Feminist Student Organization passionately compel each other to attend. I feel like a bad feminist for once again missing the CLPP conference, this year because my ballet recital is that weekend (in past years I've missed because of work - again, the almost inherent classism rears its ugly head, in order to attend CLPP you not only need money and transportation, but the whole weekend off, which isn't doable for people who work part time jobs, many of which not only prefer but require weekend availability).

Maybe I'm being paranoid, maybe it's anxiety, maybe I'm "just crazy" (because y'know, women are all insane), and maybe people aren't judging me as harshly as I think they are. Maybe I'm insecure and too desperate to win the approval of my peers - but isn't it human to want to win over the approval of the community you want to belong to? I can't be the only one internalizing all this pressure from the feminist community. Ultimately, this may do more harm than good. Encouraging each other to take up other causes and be informed consumers is one thing, and an intersectional approach certainly has merit, but the insane pressure to live up to this feminist ideal may be turning people off from the movement. It's the same way I don't identify as Wiccan, and sometimes I'm even hesitant to call myself Pagan because I may not be Pagan "enough," I may not know enough or worship enough or fit the model of a "correct" Pagan to deserve the identity. Sometimes I'm hesitant to even try to become a member of the feminist community because I feel inadequate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sex Week at Northeastern

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post are of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of modern day feminism. They are not meant to inform anyone of diddly squat, I acknowledge that my perceptions may not be entirely accurate, and I certainly acknowledge that my feelings toward the subject at hand are not 100% feminist, nor do I think this is how a feminist ought to think.

I don't get it. I really don't understand my feelings towards Sex Week at my school. I am a pro-choice, sex-positive feminist, who certainly enjoys sex and has no problem with other people having as much sex as they please. Yet when Sex Week rolls around, my appreciation for the spread of free condoms and sexual health tips is somewhat dulled by a weird, uncomfortable feeling with an unknown source.

Don't ask me why it makes me uncomfortable. I know it shouldn't, I know I should LOVE that week with all my slutty, feminist heart. I really, truly don't know why I don't like it.

Maybe because, to me, it doesn't celebrate all kinds of sexuality. It seems to celebrate one kind of sexuality and rarely seems to explore alternatives. It focuses on people who are having sex and seems to encourage people to open their sexual boundaries just a little more, ignoring people who choose not to be sexual for whatever reason, or people who are somewhat sexual but would rather confine their sex lives to the bedroom. It's mostly heteronormative as well. I dunno, it just seems to alienate certain groups of people.

Maybe I'm the one who feels alienated. Don't ask me why. It just never feels like my thing. I never feel all that compelled to partake in the events, the magazine always feels drab and boring - maybe that's it. Maybe it's boring. No, boring wouldn't make me uncomfortable. So what the hell is it?

Maybe it's because while I'm open about my sexuality in some settings - with friends, in certain club meetings, and at certain feminist events on campus - I'm a little shy about my really rather complicated sexuality when it comes to the general public.

I have no problem going to passion parties, I had no problem attending Oh Megan's event. It could be a "vibe" thing. Those events felt like Bitch magazine while Sex Week feels like the love child of Hustler and Cosmo. The Feminist Student Organization/Students for Choice events felt like Good Vibrations while Sex Week feels distinctly more like Condom World. Honestly, I don't feel comfortable engaging with the programming to fully grasp what it's all about, but I think the fact that there's something about Sex Week that turns me off the second the schedule is released ought to count for something.

The worst part is I feel like a terrible person for feeling this way. I feel as though I ought to embrace it, and that feeling uncomfortable is judgmental and bitchy and I should give the programming my full support. Because a good feminist would, right? Otherwise I may just be some ignorant, pearl-clutching prude.

Or it's possible that I'm entitled to my feelings and I don't have to justify every emotion to myself, let alone the world.

So those are possible reasons why the whole thing makes me want to hide under the covers for a week. Still not sure what the exact reasons are. Maybe it'll become more clear in the coming week or so.