Tuesday, June 12, 2012

To Men, About Feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2012

Confession: I Don't Like Superhero Movies

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

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

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

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

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

On Dress Codes

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

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

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

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

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