Why We Blog

Blogging actually matters.  It was blogger Melissa McEwan of Shakesville who got me into blogging, got me thinking about the issues of feminsim, sizeism, fat acceptance, got me to stop using ablist language, and taught me about the concept of privilege.

Rosie says it best, though.

Related articles

Awful Assumptions-Feminists

Cureafeminist

 

Did I mention that there are awful stereotypes about feminists?  Just in case you forgot, Maxim published this gem in 2003, and it has spread all over the internet.

Apparently, a feminist equals an “unshaven, militant protesting vegan” who needs to be turned into an actual girl.

I’m not sure how they define girl, or why a Maxim reader would want to have sex with a girl rather than a woman.  Isn’t it illegal to have sex with a girl?  Isn’t that statutory rape?   And why does the third girl from the left look like a child?  Semantics aside, there are other highly offensive feminist stereotypes portrayed here.

Feminism is a broad label applied to anyone who believes that men and women are equal as human beings and supports the movement toward equality.  Within that movement, there are a wide variety of individuals.  Some shave, some don’t, some are vegetarian, some are vegan, some eat bacon, some are angry, some hate men.  But most feminists love men, as lovers, as friends, as allies.  Most feminists are angry about injustice, rightfully so.

I’m absolutely horrified that I’m supposed to be turned into the girl on the right hand panel.  I want to wear clothes, have opinions, and actually make a difference, not “speak into your microphone.”  Classy, Maxim.  Classy.

You would think that Maxim would like Feminism.  After all, who said that women should pay for more of their own dates?  Feminists.  Who said that women should feel free to have sex without commitment?  Feminists.  Who invented birth control?  Feminists.  Who says that women should be confident and self-reliant?  Feminists.

Feminism taught women that it’s okay to be sex positive, to love life, to pay for your own dates, to use birth control, and to not rely on a man.  Isn’t that what Maxim wants for its readers?  Why on earth would they want to cure that?

How to Handle a Rape Joke

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve been aware that there has been controversy over rape jokes.  Which ones are funny, which ones aren’t.  The question of what makes a good rape joke has been debated ad naseum this summer, in light of the Daniel Tosh routine.  The feminist conclusion seems to be that jokes that use rape as a punchline aren’t funny, while jokes that make fun of rapists or rape culture are.

Unfortunately, given the number of staunch defenders of rape jokes, we can still expect to hear jokes that use rape as a punchline.  So here is some advice from Divorce Divorce on handling rape jokes.  I was especially surprised to hear that Divorce Divorce’s author is a 33 year old man.  He is Daniel Tosh’s target demographic, but he is writing with advice on how to handle a rape joke.  Allies come in all shapes and forms.

I think the best response to a rape joke is this:

I don’t get it.

Persist until they explain, explanations always being the death of any joke, funny or otherwise. Persist until they reach the point where they have to say “she got/gets raped”.

And nod, slowly, looking a little confused.

This method works for all methods of offensive jokes.  Avoiding confrontation may change minds in a way that direct activism might not.

Any other advice on how to handle offensive jokes?  Leave suggestions in the comments.

Awful Assumptions-Feminists have it Too Good to Complain?

Muslim Women

Muslim Women (Photo credit: Jarek Jarosz)

Don’t assume that abuse to women only happens in “less enlightened” countries.

First of all, that’s really offensive, and second of all, it’s not true.

Sara writes about her experiences with abuse in the United States.  It’s just as real as female genial mutilation, and no less wrong.  Feminists are excellent multi-taskers who work on ending abuse everywhere.  Saying that because others have it worse, we shouldn’t be working on issues that affect us close to home is a derailing technique.

Activists and Allies-a Call to Arms

For those  of you who don’t know, I’m a huge fan of Rosie’s blog, Make Me a Sammich.  She is hilarious, and always has new insights on popular culture.  For those of you who don’t read it, you should.

Recently, I read Rosie’s amazing piece , on the impact and responsibility of men to help fight sexism.  She gave great suggestions, with concrete steps to take.  I’ve shortened them to adapt them to fit the format of this blog, but they’re worth reading in their own right.  The original suggestions are for video games and internet forums, but they are adaptable to the real world.

  1. Mockery. Use public shame to police the idiots who can’t behave. They’re social inadequates, immature losers. Let’s tell them so, loud and clear, in front of their friends.
  2. Shut them up. The right to speak in a public forum should be limited to those who don’t abuse it.  Anyone who persistently abuses others gets automatically muted. New users don’t even get the right to talk. They have to earn it, and they keep it only so long as they behave themselves.
  3. Take away their means. Make it abundantly clear that it is unacceptable, then deny him or her the opportunity to do it further.
  4. Anonymity is a privilege, not a right. Anonymity is a double-edged sword.  The default setting in all online forums that are not intended for people at risk should require real names.  A limited number of people need it in certain circumstances: children, crime victims, whistleblowers, people discussing their medical conditions, political dissidents in repressive regimes. But those people normally don’t misuse their anonymity to abuse others; they’re protecting themselves from abuse.
  5. Impose punishments that are genuinely painful.  This isn’t all that unusual; if you smoke in a non-smoking hotel room, you are typically subject to a whopping extra charge for being a jerk.

Any other suggestions to get people to be more polite and more inclusive?  Share your ideas in the comments!

Awful Assumptions about Teenage Girls

UPDATE: If you want to contact Seventeen, email editor Bernadette Anat at mail@seventeen.com.

Seventeen

Confession time: I love magazine quizzes.  So when I found a Seventeen quiz that  which TV character I am, I took it.

The very first question asks me what my favorite class is.  My options are lunch, English, Film Production, Art or Drama.  Science, Math, Shop, or anything that doesn’t involve creativity or emotions is not an option.

The next question asks me about my dream date. Do I envision it at a coffee shop, a gallery opening, a comedy show, a concert, or a candlelit dinner?  Assuming that I actually think about this, none of these options are realistic for the pimply-faced sixteen year old boys that the readers are pursuing.  Seventeen, setting young women up for perpetual disappointment.

The next question asks me which yearbook superlative I’m most likely to earn.  My options include most likely to appear on idol, best dressed, most artistic, biggest flirt, or most likely to succeed.  I get excited to see that we’ve finally acknowledged academics.

Still thrilled to have possibility of a career, I click on the next question.  Do my friends depend on me for relationship advice, gossip, “fun, spontaneous plans,” jokes, or listening skills?  I’m mildly annoyed that this is the second question about what other people think of me rather than my own perceptions of myself.

The quiz continues: What is my favorite website?  Is it Tumblr, Pinterest, Youtube, Perez Hilton’s blog, or Pandora?  I’m surprised that Facebook or Twitter aren’t options and extremely annoyed that there is no option for a news site.

Seventeen’s final question inquires after my other magazine subscriptions.  Do I read Vogue, Glamour, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone or Marie Claire?
At sixteen, I read Time and Newsweek, and I currently subscribe to Ms.  Sensing that none of the above contain quite the same content, I settle for Rolling Stone, the magazine with the highest words to picture content.

While asking which TV character I was most like, the quiz assumed that I was into emotions, fashion, music, and dating boys, traditionally girly interests.  It didn’t ask me about my dreams, career aspirations, and values.  Either way, the quiz would have been wrong; I’m sure that even if Seventeen had asked about careers, Feminist blogger would not be a career option.

I end up as Mercedes Jones, the sassy, black soul singer on Glee.  (Because that’s not stereotypical at all.)  Mercedes, although a problematic character, captured my emotions best in her self-written number, “Hell to the No.”

This quiz makes it sound like teenage girls are all about their friends, their relationships and fashion.  It reduces the wonderful, complex young women they are into melodramatic, entitled mall rats with daddy’s credit card.  No, Seventeen, your readers are more than this.  They read smart magazines, have goals, dreams and want more than the latest printed reincarnation of skinny jeans.  They like all subjects, not just the creative ones.  They want to travel, to dance, to start their own businesses, to change the world.  Believe it or not, they care about more than their crush on the cutie in English lit (stop being so heteronormative while you’re at it.  Your readers aren’t all attracted to boys).

Seventeen is one of a few magazines that caters to teenage girls, and they have a unique opportunity to address the issues that teenage girls face, not to just write a one page insert about them and then show new shoes.  It’s a shame that their quizzes and content perpetuate stereotypes about girls instead of helping them.  But that doesn’t bring in ad revenue, does it?

Time for a Party-Picking a Theme

College Party Themes are Terrible

Toga party

Toga party (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My roommate and I want to host a party.  So we found many suggestions for party themes.  They fall into four categories: Non-offensive but overdone, Sexist and Offensive, Just Plain Offensive, and Just Because it Rhymes, It Doesn’t Mean that it’s a Good Idea.
Non-Offensive, but Overdone Party Themes
You can find these in every depiction of college life ever.
  • ABC parties
  • Letter parties
  • Rubics cube parties
  • High School Steroeytpe parties
  • Blacklight parties
  • Decade Parties
  • Toga Parties
  • Movie Themed parties
Sexist and Offensive Party Themes 
These parties provide two options for costumes, one a slutty female costume, and the other, a powerful male complement.  They inevitably have the word “Ho” in the title.
  • CEO’s and Corporate Ho’s
  • Pimps and Ho’s
  • Kingtuts and Egyptian Sluts
  • Lawyer Bros and Prison Hoes
  • Lifeguard Bros and Surfer Hoes
  • GI Joes and Army Hoes
  • Gangsters and Flappers
  • Golf Pro’s and Tennis Hoes
  • Pirates and Wenches
  • Yoga Hoes and Workout Bro’s
Just Plain Offensive Party Themes:
These parties are built on stereotypes of cultures and treat these cultural trends as novelties, instead of real people’s lives
  • Crossdress party
  • Colonial Bros and NavaHoes
  • Fiesta Party
  • Cowboys and Indians
  • White Trash
Just because it Rhymes, Doesn’t Mean it’s a Good Idea Party Themes 
These party themes are either pointless, mix unrelated things or have unsavory implications.
  • Bathing Suits and Cowboy Boots
  • Kegs and Eggs
  • 80’s Lady or Pagent Baby-Three words-Honey Boo Boo.
  • Guys in Ties and Girls in Pearls
  • Black Out or Get Out-Because nothing says fun like alcohol poisoning.
Roommate and I aren’t big on drinking and want to host a party that doesn’t emphasize drinking and is still fun, clever and creative.
Any ideas for a fun, inclusive and novel party theme?  Tell us about your best parties in the comments.

Bears, Sharks and Vodka Tampons, Oh My!

It’s Not Rocket Science: Unless Your Name is Todd Akin

For my non United States readers, Todd Akin was the conservative Republican Senator who sits on the science committee, who proudly professed the belief that women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because the body has mechanisms to shut down unwanted pregnancies.

Todd Akin was, of course, wrong about pregnancies resulting from rape.  In the United States, 32,000 pregnancies a year result from rape.  But Todd Akin is far from alone in his ignorant beliefs about the female reproductive system.  I’m not going to go into great detail of all the ignorant things that have been said about rape in the US Election cycle, because that’s three posts on its own, and Todd Akin lost his re-election bid.

Instead, I shall talk about the other demonstrations of ignorance about women’s bodies.

  • Stephen King: The Infamous Locker Room Scene in Carrie.
    • Nobody bleeds that much.  Unless you’re miscarrying a baby, having your internal organs sliced to pieces, or in a Stephen King horror movie.  Who came up with this notion that women bleed buckets and buckets of blood?
  • If you’re emotional, it’s because you’re PMSing so you’re clearly “on the rag.”
    • PMS means PRE, pre as in before.  Before your period, you are not using “the rag.”  Semantics, people.
  • Shark Attacks:
    • Seriously, we can’t swim in the ocean because the shark will smell the blood on our tampons and eat us?  Who comes up with this?
  • Bear Attacks.
    • So we can’t swim because of Jaws, but we can’t go camping either, because our periods might attract a bear.  Why leave the kitchen?
  • Vodka Tampons
    • This had to be designed by a man.  Because whoever designed this has no understanding of how tampons actually work.  Tampons expand when they absorb liquid.  If they have absorbed liquid, they are too big and lose their insertability.  Also, alcohol burns.  Who wants to burn one of their most sensitive organs?
  • PMS and Mood Swings:
    • No we wont’ kill you.  We’ll just be a bit more moody than usual, although whether or not PMS is real is the subject of academic debate.
  • Women don’t poop or fart.
    • Sorry to bust your illusions, but we’re human beings first, women second.
  • HPV/Plan B makes women, especially teen girls, sex addicts, hosting orgies.
    • High on fantasy fodder, but low on evidence.
  • Women only take oral contraceptives because they’re having sex and don’t want to get pregnant.
    • Ovarian cysts, irregular bleeding, acne, …there are a myriad of reasons women take birth control, none of which are your business.
  • Asprin between the knees works as a contraceptive.  (Seriously?)

It’s not just women’s health that many people fail to comprehend.  Many people conflate statistics to justify fears about autism and vaccines, call evolution a “theory,” not understanding that the scientific and vernacular uses are different.  A large proportion of the United States population believes that President Obama is not a United States citizen.

Where is this culture of ignorance coming from?  Why is innumeracy and illiteracy so common?  Shouldn’t it be a source of shame, rather than pride?  I read somewhere that in business, there is such a stigma on not knowing something that people are compelled to make up information, sometimes with disastrous results.  But this doesn’t seem to be the case in politics.

This culture of ignorance is especially tragic when the resources to gain this knowledge are so ubiquitous.  I understand that not everyone has the abilities to spend hours pouring over Machiavelli and mathematical theories.  However, when these ignorant statements come out of those with platforms of speech, platforms where people take their word as truth, and have the ability to get the correct information, this ignorance is just sad.

Seriously, it’s not rocket science.  Unless you’re Todd Akin.  In which case, you really should resign from the House Science Committee.

Tell me, Readers, what other baseless beliefs have you heard?

Dear Men, I’m Sorry for Thinking that You’re Rapists

alone at night

alone at night (Photo credit: Michael Speed)

Note: I want people to hear what people honestly think about rape culture, but overly aggressive attacks are not welcome here.  You are free to debate comments however much you’d like.  No ad hominem attacks and personal threats.   No cursing.  Keep it civil.  Check my comment policy for full instructions.  

I wrote a follow up piece, addressing some of the criticisms.  In Response to Dear Men.  In response to some of the responses I got, I decided that I needed to make this piece more approachable and more inclusive.  

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

You and another male friend are walking out of the movie theater.  It is late, nearing midnight, and most of the cars have left the parking lot.  You are walking by yourselves, talking about the plot and the mind-blowing ending of the movie.  About thirty feet in front of you you see a lone girl, walking back to her car.  She hears your voices, looks back, clutches her purse close to her, and walks faster toward her car.  Perhaps she pulls out a phone and starts talking loudly about where she is and that she’ll be home soon.  While walking as quickly as she can, she keeps shooting you nervous glances until she gets in her car and drives away.

You look at her and realize-she thought that you were going to rape her.  To you, this is ridiculous.  You would never rape anyone!  You respect women!  Rapists are evil, awful creatures!

You are livid that she could profile you as a rapist.

Why is that?  To put it simply, women are socialized to avoid rape and it is an issue that women are constantly, vaguely aware of.  We live in a rape culture, that blames women for their own rapes, asks them why they were alone, why they trusted that friend, weren’t their eyes saying yes, aren’t you sure that this wasn’t legitimate rape , why didn’t they watch their drink, what kind of pants they were wearingwhy were they drinking in the first place, why were they out at night, why were they therewhy were they out of the kitchen in the first place?

 We live in a world where we are seen as sexual objects first and human beings second.  So forgive us for being hyperaware of the threat of rape.  

Before you say that we’re overreacting, dress too provocatively, blame the media, use the word “feminazi” or ask how you are supposed to get a date, stop and listen.  We are taught that one in four women are raped or suffer an attempted rape in their lifetime.  Commonly cited statistics reveal anything from one in four to one in six.  A 2003 study by the United States Department of Justice found the number to be one in six.

The same study revealed that one in thirty-three men will be raped in their lifetime.  Yes, rape can happen to men, as well, and this is a case of our current system hurting men and women.  This system benefits nobody.  And that is a subject for another piece.  But this piece is about why many women profile strange men as potential rapists.  Because rape, at least according to the FBI, is a highly gendered crime, with 90% of victims as female.   In other studies, twelve percent of men will admit to what amounts to the legal rape, as long as you don’t use the “r-word.”

On the streets, going about our daily lives, women are often subject to a myraid of sexually charged micro-agressions known as street harassment. We are told to smile, we get sexually inappropriate looks, horns honked, catcalls, approving whistles, a glimpse into the special bond between street harasser and his hand and a series of invitations to examine various stranger’s anatomy.  If we refuse to engage these would be suitors, we become ungrateful, too-good, entitled, stuck up princesses.   These conversations go from, “Hellooo, sweetheart!” to “@#$% you, you @#$%^ing !@#$%!”  in about three seconds.  It is not a pleasant experience, nor is it a rare one. Many women have been dealing with street harassment since they hit puberty. There is no time that we are safe from street harassment.  We can’t even go to the grocery store without being harassed. While walking alone at night, in a potentially vulnerable situation, the presence of another, larger person may trigger these memories and existing anxieties.

In short, women, homosexuals, transsexuals and other persons of relative disadvantage have been dealing with sexualized threats and violence for many years.  They may know stories of friends and neighbors who have suffered rape, abuse, stalking, etc.  They have often taken self defense classes, and admonished to carry a whistle and a weapon.  But, in the end, each person chooses his or her own risk tolerance.

From a mathematical perspective, we know that you pose no threat to us, that you are statistically unlikely to rape us, mug, us or beat us up.  We know that men are the recipients of more non-sexualized, violent street crime and muggings.  We know that you are good men, who really have no intention of harming us.  And we certainly hate being uneasy or worrying about rape.  But we still are socially conditioned to be afraid.  Rape is a pervasive fear for women in our society, and even though we know that we will most likely know our rapists, it is easier to pin the nebulous fear on a stranger at night than those you trust.

Because we are in a position of discomfort and at a relative disadvantage, we are more likely to be at perfect ease with you in public.  You are bigger and generally more physically imposing than us.  Also, we are not socialized to fight, so fighting is not a natural response to a threat for us, and we are not always confident in our abilities to defend ourselves.  So you have two options.  You can choose to say, “Not my feelings, not my problem” and continue on your merry way.

Or you can realize that you don’t live in a vacuum, and your presence impacts other people.

Fortunately, this is easy to do.

1. Be aware of the space around you and the other person.  Is he or she alone?  Think, if I was a dangerous man, would a woman be safe with me in this situation?

Here’s how you determine that.  Assume that you suddenly were replaced with your evil twin, who immediately attacks the other person.  Is anyone around to come for help?  If the other person screams, will anyone hear them?  Are there any lights around, open stores which he or she can flee into?  If the answer is no, don’t label yourself as a threat.  Don’t invade the other person’s space.  Don’t stare at him or her.  Don’t try to hit on them.

2. Keep walking, just shuffle your feet to make them aware of your presence.  It would be frightening to see a person fifty pounds heavier and seven inches taller just appear behind you, seemingly out of nowhere.  You can also hum quietly, shuffle your feet, or say “excuse me.”  As a child, you were taught to say, excuse me so that people would move out of the way and not get hurt.  It was simple manners, to make the other person aware of your presence.  The same rules still apply.

3.  If you are waiting somewhere with a stranger.   Polite converstion is just that, polite conversation.  If you are making polite conversation with someone you are interested in pursuing a relationship with, read the other person’s body signals.  If they are merely being polite, it is not an invitation to flirt or a form of foreplay.   If your conversational partner is giving curt, one word answers and looking away or at his or her book, headphones, phone, etc, back off.

4. Be careful with elevators.  Elevators do not have an escape route, because if they break, you are trapped in a small metal box.  If you and another person are sharing an elevator at night, read the other person’s body language.  If she is not engaging you, don’t engage her.  Just get in the elevator, press your floor button first, and let her press the button for her own floor.  Or if you feel like being polite and pressing both buttons, push yours first.  Entering your floor first signals that you won’t follow her.

5. Some people are more afraid of elevators than others.  So observe the body language of the other person.  If they are abjectly terrified of you, of the elevator, of the whole environment, let them go first.   For a women who looks two steps away from a panic attack, let her go first.  I know that it’s not egalitarian, but she will spend the next minute or two waiting for the elevator alone, eyes frantically skimming the area surrounding her, headphones in, music off and keys jammed between her fingers, ready to attack the next person who invades her space.  The elevator will come and she will breathe a huge sigh of relief, hitting the close door button as fast as humanly possible.  The sooner she gets home the sooner she feels safer, so be a compassionate person and let her get in the elevator first.

Most women are really not afraid of elevators.  Most of us are as caustious in an elevator as we are walking down the street.  The only reason I’m writing about elevators is that there is no exit hatch, so a bit more awareness is called for.  We just want you to be aware that elevators have the potential to strand us in between floors with a stranger.  So, I’m not asking for chivalry, to protect the delicate, defenseless woman.  I’m asking for manners, to show some compassion for a person who looks like he or she will have a panic attack at any moment.  It goes both ways, I promise.  In the same way, if you are obviously frightened and I seem to be scaring you, I’ll be happy to let you have the elevator.  There is nowhere that I need to be so badly as to induce a panic attack in another person.

6. Don’t be that guy, that drunken aggressive jerk who harasses women at night.  We are already edgy, we already don’t know you, you’re acting really aggressive and horny, and the drinking has stripped your self control.  You are doing a really good job of convincing us that you might indeed rape us.

7. Don’t make sexually charged comments to a woman alone at night.  Just don’t.

8.  Tell your male friends that they too can avoid being profiled as threats if they show basic consideration for personal space and don’t act predatory.  Explain that all they “Heeey baby’s” make women less likely to trust men, and that how much that impacts you.  Tell your male friends off when they are drunkenly harassing people.  A simple, “knock it off,” goes a long way.

9. Don’t laugh at a rape joke, or make comments that a woman was “asking for it.”  These actions perpetuate the culture in which rape is trivialized, not taken seriously by law enforcement, and hurts both male and female victims.

Dear men, I know that you are not rapists.  I don’t want to think you’re a rapist, I hate every second of wondering if you’re a rapist, and I know that statistically, you are no threat to me.  I hate feeling guilty for having what my left brain knows is an irrational fear.

But at the time, it does not seem irrational, in the context of millions of sexually charged micro-agressions, and a culture that accuses me of asking for it.  With this framing my thoughts, I still feel a twinge of uneasiness when I see you pushing boundaries, especially when I am in a vulnerable situation.  If you follow these guidelines, you demonstrate yourself as non-threatening, and a good man.

Final Words: The statistics and critiques do not invalidate the emotions that people feel, especially in vulnerable situations.  This piece is about how to cope with the fact that for both real and legitimate and media induced fears that real people have.  It’s extremely rude to invalidate people’s feelings, to insinuate that they should feel differently than they do, based on a noramative model of what society “ought to be.”  I would like a society where I don’t fear rape, where I make equal pay to a man, where people don’t get beaten up for loving an adult with the “wrong” genitals.  I am fighting to make that society, and part of the way to become that society is to examine our current society, to figure out what needs to change.  That means, we need to talk honestly and honestly listen.    

So let’s fight for a fairer society, and in the meantime, as a part of that transformative process, please be aware of the impact your presence has on others.  

Thank you.

Related articles