Tag Archives: Emily Coccia

Problematizing “Coming Out”

11 Oct

by Emily Coccia

Imagine this scenario: a group of self-identified queer women gather together to talk. They come up with topics of discussion, with issues that concern them. But these topics, while important, are never the common bond, the shared experience; instead, they are the areas of division within this already small community. Rather than looking for a shared discourse, a language common to all, they focus on areas of ever-greater marginalization. And as important as those are on an individual basis, one must ask: How is it possible that half of the group leaves disheartened, wondering why in a group that should be their own, there was nothing that applied to them? In a circle with an already-narrow common denominator, why did they feel like they didn’t belong?

As National Coming Out Day rolls by and Georgetown’s LGBTQ groups host events in Red Square, I have to stop and wonder: are we doing more harm than good? When we excessively and compulsively label ourselves, creating ever-narrower bounds for our identity, do we actually seal ourselves off from the possibilities inherent in human existence?

Perhaps this is a side effect of being a student in Intro to Queer Theory, of reading as Foucault problematizes the notion of “coming out,” of revealing the secret, the one secret that defines our identity. As I navigate LGBTQ-labeled spaces, I fail to find a spot for myself. I see people so sure of their identities that they come, not with an L, G, B, T, or Q, but with a list of four or five more designators. And while I can certainly respect this pride and refusal to stand by the norm, I still can’t help but feel that this might not be helping anyone. I feel compelled to buy into this specification, to label myself and box myself into some neat category. I feel how easy (relatively speaking) it would be to take a broad survey and check off the categories that apply to me, to know precisely who I am and who I want as a partner (be that relationship platonic, multiple, or nonexistent).

But frankly, that would be a lie. I don’t want a box. I don’t want a label. I don’t want to “find” myself in a dictionary definition. Instead, I want possibility—an openness to love and happiness, whatever form that might take. I want to find myself on a broad “lesbian continuum” with Adrienne Rich. I want to stand and queer the notions of femininity and masculinity with Judith Butler. I want to talk about the false dichotomy of binaries and the linguistic problems of labels with Eve Sedgwick.

On National Coming Out Day, that’s not the point. The point is to find pride in an identity, to find pride in community—and that’s a beautiful moment. It’s an amazing feeling of pride that emerges from seeing how far Georgetown as a community and America writ large has come. But I can’t help but worry that when the rainbow flags get folded back up, when the door is disassembled, when the day comes to a close, that we will be left with labels that separate and segregate us within an already small community and with specified identities that may close us off from the possibilities of love and happiness standing among the disparate community left around of us.

An Open Letter to Raylan Alleman

25 Sep

Dear Raylan Alleman,

Yes, I am in fact responding because I’m one of those pesky feminists that went off to college, forgetting my proper place as a woman. You wrote an article last week called “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College.” [n.b. I’m sure it’s been a while since you’ve been at college, but 6+2=8 and split infinitives are grammatically incorrect—just for future reference] Normally I ignore articles like yours, but somehow it’s gotten quite a bit of attention, so I thought I would take the time to respond and further advance “the feminist agenda.” I’ll try to use that masculine logic concept to examine your “practical wisdom.”

First, let’s look at the common objections to your argument that you presented.

  • You don’t believe in educating women. You assert that college and education have very little to do with each other, despite colleges being the bastions of higher education and the liberal arts—the foundation of a strong education. So we women can obviously just go to the library and learn what we could have learned in a classroom. I see. I’d like to ask if you’ve read Beowulf in old English on your own. Have you? I read it with a professor and had the opportunity to examine ways it’s been translated. That was great. Unfortunately, I can’t do that alone in the library. But I see now—that’s inappropriate for my gender. I should just study Catholic doctrine at home. It’s funny that I actually attend a Catholic university where I’ve taken classes that involved reading the Catechism, the Bible, and papal encyclicals—but I’m sure I would have gotten just as much out of them alone in my room without any sort of discussion. Plus, if I did opt for pre-professional training, that might convince me that I could try to have a career…what a shame.
  •  You believe in oppressing women. No, no, no—we’re clearly misconstruing the argument that a woman’s duty lies in her maternal and domestic duties, which don’t require “learning.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a great deal of admiration for those women who choose to have families, but to state that having a career is the work of evil feminists and Satan…are we really going to play the devil card this early? Let’s just allow society and our economic structure to collapse as we remove half the workforce so that “the terrorists devil doesn’t win!”
  • God calls women to use their talents. Of course these talents are limited to child rearing and homeschooling, and if one feels an aversion to children, she should be immediately directed toward the single life or that of a religious sister, which, by your standards, means she also has no appropriate talent. (Awkward…)
  • A woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled, or leaves her. Obviously in a world with high rates of violent crime, dangerous jobs, and fatal illnesses, death is incredibly unlikely. Becoming disabled is also clearly not a possibility for anyone who might be working a blue-collar “manly” job. And leaving a spouse? In a world where the divorce rate is near 50%? Crazy. Impossible! So remote! Just get that super affordable insurance… Plus, let’s just remind women that they throw their “COMPLETE trust and future on a man” because it’s always smart to become completely dependent on someone else.

So now, after suffering along through that superb display of logic, we get to the promised 6 8 points.

  1. She will attract the wrong types of men. Right. Education couldn’t possibly provide her with the foresight or maturity needed to avoid marrying a lazy man who doesn’t value her. No. The way to attract the “right type of man” is to have no college degree or work experience and go looking for someone who won’t let her work and insists she stay home, have children, then homeschool them while doing all the household tasks. I don’t know about anyone else, but support of the patriarchy is my favorite character trait in a man.
  2. She will be in a near occasion of sin. Now, I’m Catholic, so let’s look at it from a Catholic perspective. There’s no place we’ve ever seen living amid sin while resisting temptation as a positive life choice that actually teaches one how to be virtuous. In fact, we should probably condemn Jesus for spending those forty days and nights in the desert when he let the devil come tempt him day in and day out because living in a state of temptation is just wrong. And all those times he interacted with beggars and corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes? Those were mistakes. Clearly we shouldn’t learn anything from those stories, though we should make sure to take books like Leviticus at face value.
  3. She will not learn to be a wife and mother. “Nothing that is taught in a college curriculum is geared toward domestic homemaking.” For those who want to have a family, I’m sure there’s nothing helpful about the skills of multitasking or person-to-person interaction in different situations. Those pesky colleges just keep insisting on giving women skills for professional careers, tempting them to be manly and to have careers. And for those of us who don’t want children, giving us the ability to have a career is just double-temptation!
  4. The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup. I’ll give you that, though I’m going to help advance your point even further by pointing out that even in those “masculine fields,” women make less than their male counterparts. Though, I’ll go so far as to say the cost of a degree is actually becoming crazy high for everyone. As an English major, I’ll almost give you this point. Luckily my husbandless, childless life will suit the salary of a barista quite well.
  5. You don’t have to prove anything to the world. I’ll admit, I think our society does assume everyone will go to college and we’ve devalued blue-collar work to an unacceptable level. However, I’m not at college to prove anything to the world. In fact, I don’t think most people are paying $60,000 per year to prove something to the world—that’s the most expensive way to win an argument ever. My economics class would also suggest that the cost-benefit analysis of that amount of debt to pride in having “shown the world up” shows one side to be far more rational. The reasons I’m in college have everything to do with preparing myself for future professional success, pursuing my academic passions, and making myself into a better person who can truly contribute to the world.
  6. It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents. Oh man, I’m an only child and my parents don’t pay for my education? You mean they chose to make an economically sound decision for them and they’re teaching me responsibility while I work and educate myself? I feel gypped…thanks a lot.
  7. She will regret it. Spot on, truly, spot on. Those feminists—they’ll get you every time! I let them talk me into packing my bags, heading down to our nation’s capital, and receiving a first-rate liberal arts education. I’ve read Shakespeare with renowned scholars, met Nancy Pelosi at President Obama’s speech, and made friends I’ll have with me for the rest of my life. If that’s not the definition of regret, I don’t know what is.
  8. It could interfere with a religious vocation. You’re so right. Those Jesuit ideals of discernment and introspection couldn’t possibly inspire anyone to consider what God might be calling them to do in life. And those IHM sisters who ran my high school and Immaculata University—well they were just preaching up the wrong tree.

Well, as wonderfully compelling as your logic has been, I have to remain adamant about being an “evil feminist.” I just cannot bring myself to refute the value of a college degree in my life. Your rhetoric was compelling and your reasoning flawless, yet somehow, I remain staunch in my choice to attend college. I remain staunch in my right to female independence, of my right to not marry or have children if I so choose, of my right to pursue a career in any field I see fit, of my right to have the tools and resources to function in an increasingly educated society, of my right to stand up and tell people like you, Mr. Alleman, that we will not be treated as distinctly “other” citizens, forced to fit neatly into the boxes you’ve carved out for us, left at home to be obedient and submissive to our husbands, and deprived of formative life experiences that have the potential to shape us into the best people we can be.

Sincerely,

Emily Coccia

Why is Fat a Feminist Issue?

18 Apr

by Emily Coccia 

When I look around me—at magazines, at television, at literature—I feel like in everything I see I find a focus on the female body or, more specifically, the ideal of the female body. While one magazine tells me how to lose weight and tone my abs to be ready to “rock a bikini this summer,” the next assures me that “curvy is sexy.” I hear ads for diet pills designed to make me drop weight instantly next to commercials for Wonderbras to accentuate my somehow-lacking female form. While the media criticizes women like Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera when they gain weight, instantly plastering photoshopped and unflattering photos of them across tabloid covers; the women who are rail-thin receive criticism for not being “womanly” enough, for lacking the hips and breasts that a real woman should have. Even feminist literature focuses on the idea of the female body. Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach posits that women become fat because they eat compulsively in response to living in a sexist social system; whereas Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney Martin argues that the feminism taught to women of our generation—the idea that we can do anything—led us to believe that we must be everything, including being rail-thin, and drives us to the extremes, including self-starvation. While Orbach and Martin examine different results, both authors find the root of the disordered relationship between women and food in the mother-daughter relationship and the female identity.

While the conversation about what feminism and gender inequality might be doing to the female mentality and body image is important to have, I have to wonder, why do we keep having this type of discussion? Why must we focus on a woman’s body, on her weight? Why does everything I hear have to do about my weight, about what I should weigh, about how that weight should be distributed on my frame—not for my health, but to appeal to the male gaze, to the societal expectation?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of being healthy, but somehow, the “fat issue” is no longer about health. When I saw the title Fat is a Feminist Issue, I assumed it would confront this idea that we have gendered the issue of weight. Instead, I found a book that discussed gender inequality as a root cause of female weight gain, further casting weight into the realm of the feminine, a “problem” faced by women. When the entire nation is facing an “obesity epidemic,” why am I receiving gender-specific reminders to lose weight for summer? And more importantly, why is the motivation provided always something about appealing to men? While this semester in Italy might have strained my commitment to a healthy lifestyle, I normally tend to promote good habits, eating well and going to the gym. But the point is: I do that for me. I don’t sit down with a box of Twinkies because I don’t particularly like the idea of eating something with a shelf life longer than my life expectancy. I work my butt off at the gym because I enjoy it and it makes me happy (I mean, I certainly don’t do Zumba because I look good doing it…). So why do my body and my weight have to be things for society to associate with my identity as a woman?

One of the reasons I got to thinking about this is the recent influx of comments on the “Georgetown Confessions” page, ranging from women confessing to having eating disorders, to men preaching their love of “full figured women,” to other women criticizing those in Yates. It was absurd. And the absurdity—to me—sprung from the fact that all the attention focused on women. I appreciated some of the responses from people who pointed out that they work out because it make them happy, but no one seemed to notice those comments. Instead, the debate raged on, perpetuating this idea of physicality as feminine, and as on display to the public. And it’s not a Georgetown-specific problem. We see it in the media, pervading our culture. We use gendered terms to talk about weight—when’s the last time you heard someone call a guy svelte or curvy? We focus on the bodies of female celebrities, noticing the second they gain an ounce and typecasting actresses based on their body types. And this discussion always seems to come back to what we find attractive and appealing, instead of what we know to be healthy (which research shows is not necessarily synonymous with thin). So rather than discuss the merits of thin or curvy, why can’t we focus on our own personal health? After all, I’d be much more interested in reading something with a scientific basis than some tips about what type of squats to do to get an “attention-grabbing butt.” If we all put our wellbeing first, maybe, just maybe, we can see that the focus on fat, not women being fat, is the issue for feminism. And maybe, just maybe, the solution lies in treating men and women’s weight the same way, in talking about health and good habits instead of sex appeal.

One Catcall Too Many

2 Apr

by Emily Coccia 

Confession: sometimes I enjoy being catcalled. I know, I know, I shouldn’t. I’m an intelligent feminist who should know better than to feel complimented by these objectifying yells from across the street. But somehow, I can’t help but smile sometimes. Walking to work this summer, I couldn’t help but laugh when the paperboy whistled at me, or when the garbage men called me “beautiful,” or when the delivery guy implored, “Just one smile, it’ll make my day!” After all, it seemed like harmless fun. I knew exactly where I was; the sun was shining; other people knew to expect me at a certain place at a certain time, and they knew how to reach me if I wasn’t there. There never really seemed to be a cause for worry. Simply put, I felt safe. And if I felt safe, what was the harm in getting a little self-confidence booster on my walk to work? Is there really any danger in letting someone tell me my smile makes his day?

But somehow now, the situation has changed. When I’m walking down a street whose name I don’t know in a neighborhood I don’t understand, trying desperately not to look as hopelessly lost as I am, something is different. When I’m in a city for the first time in my life where everything blends together in one indistinguishable chain of unfamiliar buildings, something is different. When I’m communicating in a language which is not my native tongue and trying to function in a culture that is not my own, something is different. Now those whistles and pleas of, “Come on, beautiful, just a smile,” don’t seem so innocent. In fact, they’re pretty menacing. In Genoa, walking down a small side street that would be classified as an alley in the US—which I notice slightly too late is fairly deserted—the slightest movement terrifies me. I scurry silently along, praying that I won’t attract anyone’s attention, tensing as a man outside smoking mutters something. Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I turn my head at every noise. Even on larger streets, listening to a truck driver yell, in what I recognize to be the informal imperative grammatical structure, “Smile at me! The least you can do for me is smile,” I don’t find it sweet, or remotely endearing. I find it threatening and demanding.

In this moment, I recognize the real problem with catcalls. It isn’t that the words themselves are necessarily threatening (though they can be); the problem lies in the suggestion behind them that lingers long after the sound has dissipated. The problem lies in the idea that someone, some man who probably towers over my small 5’4” frame, is always watching, always scrutinizing my every move. And while it may be fun and innocent for most, women carry the burden of fearing the day when they might encounter someone for whom it is more than just innocent teasing, someone who takes all this as more than just a game. We live in a state of constant hyperawareness about how we act and dress, of what we say and where we walk. And this perpetual discomfort and fear bubbling right below the surface of our consciousness, emerging when we leave our comfort zones—this is a problem. So while that delivery boy might not frighten me, by playing along with his game, I might just be perpetuating the cycle, encouraging more and more people to participate. And even though this is my comfort zone, I should think about the woman for whom the streets of Georgetown are as unfamiliar as the back alleys of Genoa, for whom this man’s begging for a smile might seem as scary as an Italian truck driver’s command. After all, I think that’s what feminism is about—about standing together in solidarity, about watching out for one another and recognizing that something that inspires fear, even in just one person, is still scaring one person too many.

My Dirty Little Secret

2 Mar

by Emily Coccia

I have a secret. Well, it’s really not so secret. But when I tell people they gasp; they stare at me with wide, disbelieving eyes; they giggle nervously and uncomfortably shift their feet; they insist it’s just a phase.

Do you want to know what this little secret is? Do you want to know what I tell people that leaves them so shocked, even at a progressive university in the 21st century?

I don’t want children.

I can hear the whispers. I can feel the tension. I can see the confusion. Then I can predict what will come next: “But you will. Give it ten years. You’ll see.” But the thing is, I really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with my position. After all, it’s nothing more than a point of view, a personal opinion. What makes it so much worse than someone who, at age twenty, knows that she wants to have four children and has their names all picked out and ready, just waiting for the day that each one is born? What is the big difference between Sally who knows that her first daughter will be named Katherine Marie and me who knows that my first cat will be named Emily Dickinson? (I love you, Liz Lemon, even if I don’t actually want a cat.)

But in all seriousness, I really don’t understand why my position is necessarily the “deviant” one, the “other,” to put it in colonialist theory terms. Especially with all the talk about contraception, we emphasize a women’s right to choose. However, people tend to assume this is a women’s right to choose when she will have a child, not if she will have a child. No one ever tells little girls, “Just give it a few years; you may find you don’t actually want to have children when you get older.” No one ever questions this dominant cultural belief. But what about those of us who don’t think we’d actually be great with kids? What about those of us who might have a little bit of neurotic perfectionism and who maybe panic and move out of our apartments for an entire week if one of our roommates says she feels “a little nauseous?” What about those of us who can “aww” at children but don’t understand why those cute little hands are perpetually covered in some sticky substance that smells like plain Cheerios and Play-Doh? What about those of us who are in perpetual gratitude to our own mothers but would like to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into a career without feeling like we’re abandoning a baby at home? Why can’t we have that choice?

Quite often (not always) feminism is associated—for better or for worse—with women being able to “have it all” (or the debate over whether or not they can), but we tend to ignore the fact that the underlying assumption states that “having it all” entails having children. The article references The Good Wife (aka the greatest TV show ever—and I don’t want to hear about how it’s an “old person show” because that’s just fundamentally false; it’s fabulous) and the characters of Alicia and Diane. It throws Diane into the category of women who have had to sacrifice family for professional success. But let’s just look at Diane; let’s think about her personality. Does she seem like she really wants children? No. But more importantly, do we ever see her as a character who lacks something, who is fundamentally incomplete? Absolutely not! Alicia is wonderful and all, but I wouldn’t mind being Diane (or Kalinda, save for that crazy ex-husband).

So I just ask: the next time someone turns to you and tells you that she doesn’t want kids, please don’t treat her like she’s crazy. You don’t have to like her decision, but try to respect it for what it is—her choice to make.

Dov’è il Feminismo in Italia?

16 Feb

by Emily Coccia 

“What’s the national sport of Italy?” the police officer asked us during our orientation at Villa le Balze in Florence, Italy.

We responded in unison with some variation of “Calcio!” or “Football!” or “Soccer!”

He smiled at us and laughingly responded, “No. Women.” He continued to explain that catcalls, constant flirtation—even touching and hand pulling—are common experiences for women in Italy. While he warned us to stay in groups and use caution, he explained that the men don’t mean any harm, nor are they dangerous—it is, in fact, a game for them. However—and he stressed this point—we were not to react. Italian men have grown accustomed to women ignoring their advances, but women actively rebuffing their answers—now that’s another story. He told stories of American students responding to these “innocent flirtations” with a few choice words or gestures, often towards the end of the night after having grown fed up with the unwanted attention, only to receive a violent blow from the men. The officer left us with the warning, “And for you women, remember: inaction and non-response are the best responses.”

While I certainly wouldn’t dream of putting myself in danger by angrily reacting towards anyone in a foreign country, the principle behind this bothered me—and it’s been bothering me since I did a project on “il feminismo” in my Italian class last semester. In post-World War II Italy, the influence of fascism, with its emphasis on the importance of the family and traditional gender roles, hindered the development of the feminist movement at a time when it truly began to flourish in most other countries. Since then, women have slowly started to stand up for their rights and demand equal treatment, but many still see feminism as something “extreme” and unnecessary. Yet to this day, the ideal of the feminine housewife remains strong and women remain a minority of sorts, making up only a miniscule percentage of government officials and company leaders. While I recognize that much of the current situation is a product of Italy’s unique culture, as well as its close historical ties with fascism and Catholicism (and I say that as a Catholic myself), I cannot help but wonder at how Italian women still put up with this, at how anyone could possibly see feminism as “unnecessary.”

Just today we watched “Italy: Love It or Leave It,” a documentary of sorts produced by a couple—Gustav and Luca—when making the decision over whether to stay in Rome, as Luca wished to do, or move to Berlin, like Gustav preferred. Over the course of the film, the two traversed the whole of Italy, traveling from city to city as Luca attempted to convince Gustav to stay. In each city they found both beauty and deep-seated problems. Many of these problems centered around issues relating to women’s rights. In once city they found a movement defending Fascism and decrying homosexuality and women working outside the home, while miles away in Milan, they stumbled upon a rally of citizens, including many women, vehemently defending Berlusconi as merely “young at heart,” arguing that they knew he loved women when they elected him. However, just as I discovered in my project, not all is lost.

Luca and Gustav also talked to some of the women leading the feminist movement. One woman, who headed a successful local movement against some of the worst advertising, explained the problems facing women in Italy, especially those based in their television representation. Italian advertising—in addition to just their normal television—tends to look more like pornography than innocent entertainment. Want to see two middle-aged men give you the news while a woman runs around them in a bikini? There’s a show for that. Want to see what appears to be a version of So You Think You Can Dance involving two women suggestively dancing together in heels and lingerie? You got it. Want to see sexually explicit images in all your commercials? Just flip through the channels at night. But one day she realized she’d had enough. She realized that no longer was she simply angry; she had internalized this phenomenon—when she looked at a woman, she saw her in the way she imagined a man would see her. This internalization of the male gaze drove her to start a campaign, which actually found a large degree of success, and which has inspired many women throughout Italy. Movements like these, while perhaps not overly prominent or even very common, play an important role. Sure, the feminist cause faces an uphill battle in Italy, but it’s one that, with enough perseverance and support, can be won.