So Much More Than Gender: The Social Class/Race Disconnect

9 Apr

by Angela Bui

Going from an environment comprised of a mainly lower class, predominantly Latino and African American community to an upper-middle class and predominantly white area gives me a combination of experiences which continue to increase my awareness on both sides of the spectrum each day.

Growing up, I was under the impression that the higher the social class and education someone had, the more open-minded and empathetic they would be. However, going to my small, liberal arts college has shown me that it was wrong to make this assumption. For example, my friend often tells me about the conversations that go on in her “Social Movements” class. One day, a girl in her class felt cheated since her wealth kept her from getting into free educational programs for those with low financial statuses. My initial response to this was shock, anger, and confusion. I was unable to wrap my head around how such a selfish and contradictory statement could make sense to someone. Instances like this make me think about the impossibility of everyone coming together to promote justice for all rather than just the majority.

In this particular case, we are similar in that we are both women. However, we differ in social class and race, which changes the experience of our gender so greatly that it is hard to relate with her in anything. I learned that this is called the “matrix of domination,” which points out how various systems such as race, class, gender, and sexuality work to shape a woman’s identity and experience. This girl in my friend’s “Social Movements” class probably has experienced objectification and oppression by men as a woman, but she has not experienced and may not understand the struggle of growing up through poverty and being seen as inferior due to financial status.

I recognize that my response to this ignorance of privilege is detrimental to the essential relationship between women. I often write women like this off as ignorant, rather than try to work together with them so we can understand each other and progress. However, the process for women to understand each other needs to involve both parties, and the privileged side often does not feel like it is necessary to understand the oppressed side since it does not have any direct benefit to them.

Besides being contradictory, this girl’s statement was disturbing in that it reflects a larger problem in feminism. This issue is present in the new, third wave of feminism called “Lifestyle Feminism,” which focuses on the notion that your own needs are what the feminist movement needs. Compared to white women, it is harder for colored women to be heard due to the various levels of oppression they experience. Since it is easy to ignore the needs of colored women, white women tend to focus on gains for themselves rather than go out of their way to liberate all women. There is a lack of understanding that various systems such as race and gender intertwine, and without it movements such as feminism cannot progress. The necessity of having the recognition that various oppressive institutions and social structures work together is essential to getting closer to justice for all.

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Tired

7 Apr

by Anonymous

I should be angry. I should be enraged and impassioned. I should be motivated to fight and struggle. But I’m not. I’m simply too tired.

I’m tired of going to my evolutionary biology class. Tired of being a gay in person in a space where all we talk about is critical importance of heterosexual mating behavior. Homosexual animal behavior was alluded to once – as something bonobos do for fun in their spare time. I’m tired of my sexual orientation being reduced to an outlier in the data.

I’m tired of hearing professors casually use the word “rape” in classes containing survivors of sexual assault.

I’m tired of being warned to avoid certain professors because they’re sexist. (Does anyone even ever say that to male students?)

I’m tired of people believing that my painted nails and long hair tell them anything substantive about me.

I’m tired of explaining why a lesbian cares so much about reproductive choice.

I’m tired of that little bit of discomfort every time I write or say “mi novia” in my Spanish classes.

I’m tired of going to parties with my straight friends and being the only one that doesn’t get the option of a hook-up (I enjoy sex just as much as everyone else.)

I’m tired of my dreams of motherhood being tainted by the extraordinary cost of IVF and the logistic and bureaucratic nightmare of the adoption process.

I’m tired of feeling feminist shame every time I enjoy a TV show or movie that happens to include female characters that personify lofty western beauty standards.

I’m tired of being asked if I have a boyfriend. The answer is always going to be no, no matter how much you’d like to define me by relationships with men.

I’m tired of knowing how much more likely I am to be raped that my hetero best friend. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m tired of knowing how likely it is that my hetero best friend will be raped before we graduate. She didn’t do anything to deserve this either.

I’m tired of explaining why feminism is still relevant.

I’m tired of being told I talk too much about “women’s issues.” You can bet that no matter how tired I get, I will never stop talking.

Hurting

1 Mar

by Anonymous

Trigger warning for language and depression

MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR SELF-HARM

He was my best friend. The only person who knew every big secret I had…and I had a few. That’s why, when he called me a bitch, I was inclined to believe him. I had always had moderate self-esteem, spurred on by the knowledge that what most people thought about me didn’t really matter. But what he thought mattered. He knew me better than anyone else, so I must be the horrible friend he sees me as.

My chest began to ache. It felt like my insides were boiling, expanding my skin, and the pressure kept building. I was crying so hard, I could barely breathe. My mind was racing: Am I a bitch? Will I ever feel “normal” again? Should I just kill myself now? Would the world be a better place without me?

I didn’t know what to do, so I called my university’s psychiatric crisis line. The process was somewhat convoluted, was conditional on giving my full name (which I was reluctant to do), and was ultimately unsuccessful at providing me with any sense of relief.

Shaking and sobbing into my hands, I figured out that the only way to relieve my emotional torment was through physical pain. Knowing I would have to remain scar-free for my dance class (leotards only), I grabbed the pen cap in front of me, dragging it across my arm as hard as I could. After doing this several times, the pressure in my chest subsided enough to be considered bearable. Satisfied, I used my sleeve to cover the scratches that would fade by morning.

Over time, the pen cap turned into a broken shaving razor, the need for relief melding into the desire to feel anything, as my mind was numbed by depression.

I came to enjoy every aspect of cutting.* Cutting makes me feel better, when nothing else can. I owe my life to it, as it brought me down from the brink of suicide time and time again.

Just knowing you shouldn’t be doing it isn’t a good enough reason to stop. The shame isn’t a good enough reason to stop. Neither is the restriction in clothing or the threat of being found out. The pleas of family and friends aren’t good enough. None of these things is enough of a reason to stop, because I wasn’t cutting because I wanted to. I was cutting because I needed to. None of these things reduces that need.

What does? Love, understanding, coping strategies, therapy, all or none of the above. It depends on the person. For me, my strength is in my faith and in my friends. I know that to God or to my best friend at any time when I feel overwhelmed. Staying on the right medications helps, too. So does knowing that I’m not alone in my struggles.

Almost 3 million Americans are believed to be struggling with self-harm. A vast majority of these people are teenage girls. Studies also show that almost half of those who engage in self-harm have been sexually abused. Self-harm can manifest as cutting, scratching, burning, or hitting oneself or other self-abusive behaviors.

To all those out there who hurt themselves, recognize that it is not a long-term solution to your pain. If you want to deal with your emotional pain, I urge you to seek help. Maybe your parents wouldn’t understand; maybe you feel that you can’t talk to your friends about it. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t love you and want the best for you. If you can get yourself to do it, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.** They’re free, anonymous, and there to help anyone in crisis, regardless of whether or not you are suicidal.

To all those who care for someone who self-harms, be patient and understanding, but also strongly encourage them to seek help. It is a problem and it won’t go away by itself. But do not judge. For those who self-harm, the cutting is the least of their problems. They must challenge the reason they feel that they need to cut. And that is hard and scary as hell. Let them know that you care and are there for them, and then let them know what resources are available to them.

*I want to fully explain why I would cut, but I don’t want to glorify it in any way, so I’ve chosen to leave that out.

**National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

March 1st is National Self-Harm Awareness Day. Spread the word. Spread the love.

Are Allies Entitled to a Voice? To Self-Care?

24 Feb

by Kat Kelley

Despite the oppression I face as a woman, I derive privilege from many of my identities- I am white, a member of the Georgetown community, and- on the spectrums / in the spheres of gender identity and sexual orientation- I pretty much identify and present as cisgendered and heterosexual.

I’m also pretty good at being a feminist, within my communities, but I’m pretty subpar at intersectionality. I have struggled to find my voice as an ‘ally’ on issues that affect marginalized identities that do not define me.

Thus, I’ve made an effort to shut up and education myself, two leading pieces of advice on allyship from Mia McKenzie, founding editor and editor-in-chief of Black Girl Dangerous. McKenzie argues that ally is not a valid title or identity but a “practice,” an “active thing.” She continues on to say that it is ‘exhausting’ and that it “ought to” be, “because the people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted. So, why shouldn’t their ‘allies’ be?”

This piece both challenged and rejuvenated my constant regular but inconsistent attempts at allyship. I absolutely agree that I am not entitled to the term ‘ally,’ and actually prefer McKenzie’s interpretation. I fuck up at social justice all the time and often ‘retreat’ into my privilege in the name of self-care. I feel fraudulent as an ‘ally’ every time I ‘pick my battles,’ every time I decide to ignore racist, ableist, heteronormative, or gendernormative microagressions.

I certainly do not want to misrepresent McKenzie’s words; she did not explicitly say that allies are not entitled to a voice or to self-care. I did, however, interpret her words to imply that the role for allies’ voices is limited, and that self-care is a privilege for individuals not experiencing a particular kind of oppression, and that instead of seeking self-care we should resign ourselves to exhaustion.

After reading her article, I immediately felt discomfort at her words, in large part due to the fact that my approach to social justice began in 2009, when I became a sexual assault crisis counselor, speaking to survivors of sexual assault on a 24-hour crisis hotline- a position in which self-care is vital. However, being called out on your privilege is uncomfortable, and often elicits a defensive response. I thought that I may just be reacting negatively to her words because of that privilege, because of how convenient it is to retreat into my privilege when I’m exhausted, or trying to maintain a relationship, or trying to study for a midterm or when I’m trying to cope with my own experiences of oppression.

Ultimately, I think we –members of social justice movements – should recognize that for the sustainability, mainstream acceptance (which is unfortunately a pretty valuable thing), and growth of our movements, we need to make a space for part-time allies. I don’t mean that we should validate the allyship of anyone who shares the HRC equality sign on their facebook page, but if someone listens to call-outs when they fuck up, if they strive to be better allies, if they don’t actively perpetuate privilege and oppression, I want them on my team.

Why? People of privileged identities are not entitled to the safe spaces of people of marginalized identities, and they certainly aren’t entitled to a voice in those spaces. However, social justice work is complex and the roles within a given movement are diverse. We need bridge people just as much as we need radical voices that won’t budge. We need people who can do ‘translation’ work, and leverage their privilege and reach the spaces in which they are accepted due to their seemingly-less radical beliefs.

This is coming from someone who six months ago was drunk-crying to her best friend soul mate, partner in feminism, utter idol and inspiration, Erin Riordan, saying “I’m not radical enough.” But ultimately, the Erins of the world could not uproot the patriarchy alone any more than the Kats could. While Erin is unapologetic and uncompromising (weirdly enough those words, just like ‘radical’ don’t always have a positive connotation; to me they are the highest compliments I can give), I could spend hours talking to a misogynist, meeting them where they are, facilitating their break down and challenging of their own biases. While my beliefs are ‘radical’ my approaches are more mainstream, more socially palatable.

We need the Erins of the world to call out HRC for sucking at incorporating trans rights and justice into their work, and we need the HRC equality sign all over Facebook to ensure that LGBTQ-youth know that a portion of their friends support (some of) their rights, so that bigots know that they can’t get away with saying ‘faggot’ in front of many of their peers. The invalidating oversimplification of these roles would be to label them as ‘prinicpled’ vs. ‘pragmatic,’ but ultimately no movement can succeed if they forget those most marginalized or if they alienate the mainstream members of their community.

We need casual allies, we need bridge people, not to speak ‘on behalf’ of people of marginalized identities, but to work within their communities, and encourage people of their privileged identities to recognize, check, and dismantle those privileges.

While I love intra-feminist dialogue, it can be frustrating to talk with individuals who don’t self-identify as feminists and whom need convincing that feminism is relevant, who invalidate the microaggressions I regularly experience as a woman. Allies have an invaluable role to play in validating the experiences of people of marginalized identities to people of privileged identities. I don’t need a man to tell me that my experiences are valid, but other men may respond well to their peers acknowledging that my experiences are valid and that I’m not just sensitive / overreacting / hyperaware.

Finally, self-care is vital to the sustainability of a movement, or of an individual’s work within a movement. Radicalism is more ‘popular’ or tenable in youth because burnout is real. Nonprofits that don’t enable and encourage their employees to practice self-care see debilitating levels of employee turnover.

It’s okay to turn off your feminist lens for 30 minutes to watch TV produced in our rape culture. It’s okay to not call your uncle out for racial microaggressions because you want to enjoy Thanksgiving. It’s okay to prioritize you over ‘the’ movement every now and then. Self-care isn’t selfish, self-care is sustainable.

Audre Lorde selfcare

Looking for Women Representation in HBO’s Newest Series

21 Jan

by Johan Clarke

The new series Looking premiered on HBO this past Sunday, opening with a jab at the “cruising” trope as one of the main characters, played by Jonathan Groff, awkwardly tries it  just for fun. From there, the show begins to look at his failures in the dating world, showing fairly honest portrayals of the lives of gay males in a fairly liberal American city. The show seems like it wants to destroy certain images about the gay community, and in some regards, it does.

To a certain extent, it does better than many other shows that have tried to do the same thing by having characters that are not just white. One of the main three characters in the show is Latino, but the show does not necessarily define him by his background. He and the other Latino character are not exotified (yet), but they keep their identities and are not wholly white-washed.

This representation is nice to see, but some of the creator’s comments on it have been less than ideal. In response to certain concerns that the show would be as lacking in diversity as Girls, which plays on HBO right before Looking, creator Andrew Haigh commented, “We have two very prominent Latin characters. We have an African-American character. We have an Asian-American character, so I think we are dealing with different ethnicities. There’s always a limit to what you can put in a half-hour show and we’ve never tried to represent the whole of the LGBT community because it’s an enormous community made up of lots of different elements. All we can really do is try and tell a story about our characters.” The comments sound similar to many other responses in the past from shows with lack of diversity. They have every right to tell a story about their characters, and as of now they do tell stories about the queer people of color fairly honestly. However, the beginning of his comment is akin to the “I have black friends” argument many people with white-savior complexes tend to use to say or do things they really shouldn’t be doing.

The problem is that they could have these characters, they just choose not to. At the moment, there are no characters on the show who identify as bisexual or pansexual, though Dom, one of the main characters, alluded to a girlfriend in the past, though it was done more as a joke. There are also no trans* characters on the show, furthering trans*-erasure in media. And they also have no lesbians in the show.

In fact, in the entire thirty minutes of the first episode, only one woman had a somewhat significant speaking role (there was one other woman, Augustín’s artist boss, who had a total of about three lines and was on screen for less than half a minute). The show does not even pass the first criterion on the Bechdel test. In a scene at a wedding ceremony, there is a shot of the guests, and the crowd looks uncomfortably masculine. The only female character is Dom’s long-ago ex, who is shown for about a minute as she gives him dating advice in a fierce, almost sassy manner. The only reason she is on screen is because she is a support for the male character to not make a bad decision, treading dangerously close to the rather sexist “fag hag” trope.

Some people may argue that the show is about gay men, so why would there be women? If the show wanted to accurately portray gay life, though, it would have at least more than one woman in it, or the woman would have more screen time. Gay men do not exclusively hang out with other men, and when they do hang out with women, they do not have to be overly feisty and talk only about the men’s love lives. This way of thinking has dangerous implications in creating a new trope of the “token female friend”, as the show is also dangerous to tokenize its characters of color.

If the show is not supposed to have women because it is a show about gay men, then it proves that female characters can only be love interests. Gay men would never have a girlfriend or would never be romantically involved in one, so why would they be allowed a character on the show? In fact, the only woman on the show is an old romantic interest because in media logic, men and women can never just be friends. It’s the same basic logic that fuels the notion of the Friend Zone.

Looking has great promise, but it has also set itself up for possible failure in regards to representation. For a show that claims to represent the real gay man, it does little outside of obsessing with his dating habits. If it wants to really show what it’s like to be queer, it will have to show more than one letter of the acronym LGBTQIA, and show that there are queer women as well, or any women.

Gender Journey

19 Dec

by Anonymous

This isn’t an argumentative piece or a politically correct one. Actually, I’ve just barely scratched the surface of gender variance in my life and wouldn’t know the proper words anyway. This is just a story really, or several, I guess. It’s my stories, of my life and my feelings. And that’s it. It’s a call to walk in my shoes for five minutes and see a different perspective than you may usually see.

I’m eight, and just starting to question everything. The great WHY. Why are there stars in the sky? Why are some people tall and others short? Why was my soul born in a girl’s body?

I don’t feel out of place in my female body, but I don’t feel attached to it either. If I had been born exactly as I am in a boy’s body, I would live my life as a boy with its privileges and downfalls and not think a thing of it. I mean, even the way I phrase it in my head “my soul……girl’s body” shows that what I consider to be “me” is ungendered, even at this age, even though my mom insists on forcing me into dresses and curlers for church. I didn’t like anything girly, and I think a lot of it was due to the stigma against women in society, so I felt more free to do things as a tomboy that are “unbecoming of a young lady.”

I’m seventeen and getting the hang of masturbation. Over the years, I’ve explored my body and fell in love with the responses I can cause with my own touches. I stop railing against everything feminine and let myself enjoy wearing an occasional skirt or some mascara. This is also the age I first fell head-over-heels for Laura.  From the closet, of course. But loving Laura showed me that liking girly things doesn’t make you less of a person in some way. Femininity isn’t a block you have to accept or reject as a whole. You can like what you like, hate what you hate, leave the rest, whatever.

I’m twenty and at university. As I pass a security guard, he says, “Good morning, sir.” I smile, but he quickly blushes, realizing his mistake. I liked it, though. I don’t even know why, but someone not seeing my gender correctly (according to society) really excites me. It’s like a glimpse of a future where no one really knows a stranger’s gender, but it doesn’t matter. I REALLY DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR GENDER IS. And I know that leaves me open saying to lots of possibly offensive statements, but I like my maybe/ maybe not gender, and I respect everyone’s right to define their own gender (or to purposefully not define it). Whatever floats your boat.

I’m twenty-one and at my grandparents’ house for Christmas. I know they disapprove of short hair for girls and so I wore a purple dress, my girliest clothes to struggle for their approval. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but it’s family, you know? Then my grandfather introduces me to one of his neighbors as “that boy.” This is not how gender fluidity works. I’m still upset about it. I hate when people purposely mess up a person’s gender identity, especially so they can use it as a way to insult them. I HAVE DIGNITY!! Okay, end of rant.

Thanks for sticking through my ramblings to the end. From talking to my friends and peers, I’ve learned that most of us don’t think or talk about gender as much as we should. I mean we talk about the bi-gendered world we live in, and male privilege, and the constraints on women in society, but we rarely talked about our gender, how we feel about gender, if we even feel the need for gender at all. So a strange point-of-view like mine may not be heard so often. So, I hope you got something out of this.

My Mad Fat Feminist

17 Dec

by Anonymous

There is a show (a British show—the best are always British) called My Mad Fat Diary. The title is fairly explanatory: Rae is a fat teenager who struggles with binge eating, depression, and self harm. There are only six episodes, but those six episodes are life-changing.

As someone who has identified as fat my entire life, I had never seen a fat character be a main character. She is no one’s sidekick. She is self-conscious and funny and just a little trite. It is a TV show with a fat main character and before I saw the TV show, I didn’t know why I needed it so badly.

Here’s the thing: people always try to hide my fat. It’s secondhand embarrassment; I am the living embodiment of something everyone around the world is afraid of being. My roommate freshman year said that fat people disgusted her. My friend said that fat people weird her out so much that she can’t even look at them. My classmates grimace as a fat person slips into the desk next to them. Being fat means I’m lazy and ugly and always relegated to the back of the photograph. Being fat automatically means I am unwanted because fat itself is unwanted. There is a reason fat people are known to be “jolly”: when we put up with your bullshit 24/7, we have to use humor as a coping mechanism, because otherwise we will literally want to tear our skin straight off.

I have found other ways of coping to get around being fat. I am the first one to every class, every day, every semester of every year because I have first pick of seats. When I choose where I sit and I sit down first, I don’t have to squeeze between desks and maneuver between gaps that I may or may not be able to fit through. It’s a defense mechanism. No one has to see how I angle myself to fit between the desk and the chair. When I eat at the dining hall, I go when the dining hall is empty so no one can see me eating alone. A skinny person eating alone looks different than a fat person eating alone. A skinny person eating alone is not a big deal; a fat person eating alone means they did not deserve to have someone sit with them. When I listen to my friends talk about how much they ate at dinner, about how fat they feel, or about the three pounds they gained over the summer, I stay silent. I am supportive in their quest to be skinny and I ignore the implication that what I am is undesirable. I smile at strangers on airplanes because I know they are angry they have to sit next to me during the flight and I avoid stares when I finish my Chipotle burrito.

Because I have been told my entire life that I am something that people do not want, I have believed it. I still believe it. But when I watch My Mad Fat Diary, I feel a little better about myself. Rae gets to be a main character. Rae gets to be interesting. Rae gets to battle binge eating. Rae gets to talk about her depression with a therapist and have it not be embarrassing. Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

For the first time in my television-watching history, I get to see a fat person be likable and desirable. Rae’s visible sexuality (she masturbates to the fantasy of a Roman god in an early episode) is absolutely vital because I have absolutely zero idea what orientation I am; I have been conditioned to believe that I do not deserve sexuality. I am universally unwanted and, as a result, my sexuality is futile. So when every TV show, every magazine, every book and movie stars a skinny girl, my sexual erasure is reinforced. It doesn’t matter if the medium is alternative manga or reality TV; fat, sexual people do not exist, and they certainly do not exist as main characters who have entire stories and worlds revolve around them.

My Mad Fat Diary is a pioneer and a champion. It tells me that I deserve attention and that I deserve to be seen sexually, and what’s more, I deserve to have a choice. I do not have to settle for the first person who expresses any interest in me. I do not have to be flattered when I am harassed on the street because at least someone noticed me. When I am treated like a real person, and when I see myself as a real person, I can escape from oppressive structures that keep me meek and mild-mannered. I get to have a voice. I get to have self-worth. And yes, of course, my self-worth should be self-derived, but in the meantime, I get to walk through the world with the knowledge that there are people who think I deserve to be a main character. That I deserve attention and respect. That I, unlike my fat, am wanted.

(Note: I could write pages and pages and pages about how great this show is regarding issues of mental health, but that’s an essay for another day. Also, disclaimer: My fat experience is not the same for all fat women—WOC experience size very differently than white women.)