Tag Archives: feminism

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.

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.

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.

The Obruni Diaries: A Few Last Thoughts

6 Dec

by Allyn Faenza

As my semester abroad in Accra, Ghana comes to an end, I have been thinking through the things I have experienced, the people I have met, and the things I wish I knew before coming. I only talked to one person about his semester abroad in Ghana before boarding the plane. As a male, he had not been fully exposed to the sexism present in Ghana, but he did tell me that men would approach me and call me “obruni,” which means “foreigner.” I was not ready for living in Ghana as a woman, so here are a few observations I have made over the past four months that might help you understand what it is like to be a visitor here if you should choose to visit this frustrating, hot, wonderful little country in the future.

Here in Ghana women tend to dress modestly, but the rules of socially-sanctioned clothing are very complex. College-age females often wear tight-fitting blouses or T-shirts and skin-hugging leggings despite the 90 degree heat. Even when it comes to church attire, women wear long dresses that are worn very tightly. Here it seems like modesty is all about the length of one’s trousers not their tightness. Personally, I cannot wear leggings in this heat. Even though I may get a couple extra stares, I wear my shorts and skirts that hit above the knee. If you do dress as you would during the summer months in the States, expect some men to approach you more, stare at you, and assume you are sexually easy.

I wish someone had told me to come up with a plan for rejecting romantic advances. I was so intimidated by all of the male attention when I first arrived in Ghana. I had men at the airport asking where I lived and if they could have my phone number! The easiest way to turn a guy down is to be direct. At first, I was not sure whether making my intentions clear would help or hurt me, but once you have had men approaching you each day who tell you they want to marry you, you learn that the direct approach is best for your sanity and time. If I spoke to every man who talked to me, I would never feel safe walking around alone, and it would take lots of time to get from place to place. Some girls on my program pretend to be engaged or married, while I typically take the honest route. If their conversation takes the direction of a romantic proposition, I say, “No, I don’t want to be your friend or give you my number, because I don’t like you. Have a nice day.” Say whatever makes you feel comfortable. Women are so often convinced that the most important thing is to appear nice and spare people’s feelings, however, your safety is more important than saving a stranger’s feelings.

One other thing I wish I knew before coming here is how much I appreciate my privacy. In America it is not difficult to locate public restrooms with toilets for males and females. In Ghana if you are traveling on the highway or in the city, it is not common to find a public restroom. Instead, it is often a little field where men and women free-range urinate. There are so many health reasons that make this practice problematic, but I found the experience of urinating outside, near a highway or in a gutter at an open market so emotionally distressing. I treasure moments of privacy, but now I realize they are a luxury that comes with infrastructure development and social norms. As I have mentioned in my other posts, men sometimes grab me or touch me without my permission. This is because Ghanaian culture accepts men as sexual aggressors who have the right to touch a woman without her consent. If I protest their touch, men respond angrily saying that I have no right to tell them no because I am a woman. Being a woman here means life can oftentimes be less comfortable and private.

My personal lens is inextricably linked with my feminist lens, which has made many situations difficult here. I have found myself in this male-dominated society completely of my own choice. Numerous times I took a look in the mirror and asked myself why I was here. Why would I choose to go abroad somewhere like Ghana? But my experiences here have not been in vain.  Now I know that Ghana has changed me, made me stronger and prouder than ever to be female.

This is the final addition to the author’s weekly column about living in Ghana.

Because Lists Are Trending and This One is Needed

12 Nov

by Stacey Lynn

This post originally appeared on Stacey’s blog Homeward Bound

After reading Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege for the first time, a friend asked me if I had a good article to send her way on male privilege. She was looking for a gender-related equivalent to help raise some flags around the way sexism functions in our lives. This left me sitting with the question: how have I experienced sexism alive in my life? It made me think about the day-to-day comments and assumptions that litter my social experience, all upholding the ideas that (1) gender is neatly defined in two boxes with distinct traits (2) which correlate to our biological sex with (3) one box being superior to the other.

So I made a list of the ways I’ve seen 1-3 played out recently. This list is nowhere near comprehensive and is certainly filtered through my experience and other identities, particularly as a White upper/middle class American cis-woman. It is not angry and it is definitely not exclusively a list of microaggressions perpetuated by men towards women. It is a series of observations on the ways in which I see myself and the people in my life promote a view of gender that keeps us locked into an oppressive system.

Here goes…

  1. On a date recently, the man I was meeting ordered a colorful drink with cherry grenadine and I proceeded to order a whiskey. His jaw dropped, “Are you really going to emasculate me like that?” he inquired. Here’s the thing: the extent to which I do or do not perform according to traditional gender roles should have no bearing on someone else’s sense of self. The expectation that it does puts undue pressure on me to be someone other than who I am so not to threaten their sense of and confidence in being someone other than who they are.
  2. One of my students suggested— on more than one occasion— that my anti-war sentiments were likely rooted in deep-seated anger and resentment from my previous relationship with a man in the military. The thought that I could have an independent, rational opinion about institutional violence seemed less likely than me being blindly driven by an emotional charge from past love.
  3. A dear friend (and many women I’ve been acquainted with) seems to think “bitch” is a term of endearment. The idea that an animal being female (originally stemming from a reference to a female dog in heat) is insulting is misogynistic. Thus, for me, the use of this word casually indicates a comfort with the aforementioned view, condoning language that literally equates one’s genitalia and hormones to a lower social value. The same is true of the pervasive use of pussy, cunt, sissy, and tit as insults. When my body and its cycles are used as derogatory terms, my very self is relegated to something one would never want to have— or be.
  4. Every time I go to a wedding, or fill out a form, I am struck by the archaic symbols that persist in our unions. The changing of names, passing off of the bride, donning of a white dress, all stem from the idea that a woman (and her virginity) is property being passed from father to husband. I understand that people engage in these rituals without holding these beliefs. Yet, in sharing my critique of them, many have defended traditions— such as asking a bride’s father for permission/blessing— as being respectful. My question is, respectful to whom? The extent to which we fail to question the origin of our traditions— and the messages underpinning them— is connected to our acceptance of the power structures in place. My issue is not in maintaining tradition, but in neglecting to raise questions around the histories, significance, and ramifications of such practices.
  5. A close friend, who identifies as a feminist himself, told me that he is uncomfortable walking through a door when a woman holds it open for him. Do I really need to elaborate?
  6. As a lot of this is about the messages we take in, lets collect some data. How many songs on the pop-radio station do you hear that aredevoid of lyrics that treat women as objects and/or hyper-sexualized beings, or use language that condones violence against us? How many books have you read in the past year with a female protagonist whose main storyline did not revolve around her relationships with men? How many television shows do you watch with a female lead? Really, I am asking you to count. Or, the next time you flip through a magazine or look at the tabloids while standing in line at the grocery store, ask yourself: how are women being portrayed in these stories and ads? Essentially, what does the media teach us about what it means to be a woman and what her place is in society? (This same question should also be asked about men)
  7. While reading on the porch this week, the three boys (ages 6-8) we are staying with mocked me for having hairy armpits. “Gross!” they squealed. “Girls aren’t supposed to have hair there,” they explained to me. The idea that women are not “supposed to” have hair where itnaturally grows— be it leg, armpit, or pubic— likens women to children and dolls, both of which you control and hold power over. (NOTE: I understand that this preference is socialized, that’s my point)
  8. I increasingly struggle to identify with most worship music within my faith tradition, as gendered images of God are exclusively masculine. And I know that this complaint, or advocating for moving language from mankind to humankind, or problematizing using “he” as the default pronoun, is bashed as being overly concerned with political correctness. I am not interested in being PC. I am interested in my existence as a part of the human race being acknowledged and valued equal to that of a man’s. In learning herstory too. In letting the divine be reflected in images beyond those conjured under patriarchy’s reign.
  9. I learned growing up that being “cute” is something women are valued for. At some point, I thought small sneezes fell into this category. I am still working on unlearning the habit of putting my tongue to the roof of my mouth to suppress a sneeze and make it “cuter”. I just rewrote my “About me” for this blog with the recognition that this same pattern of a socialized cute-Stacey drove my initial description of myself (chocolate is not actually a core tenant of my self-image or understanding).
  10. Some people who read this list will dismiss it on the basis that I am yet another “overly sensitive” woman. Within this criticism is the underlying acceptance of gender norms and prioritization of rationality and logic, categorized as “masculine” traits. From this perspective, emotion holds little weight and women’s voices fall into a category less worthy of being heard. My sensitivity, my attentiveness to my emotional experience, is not indicative of my sex, nor is it a handicap. And it does certainly not provide grounds to stop listening or to delegitimize my claims.

There was a point in my life when I would have internalized all of these exchanges as indications of the way I am supposed to behave— measuring my value against the extent to which I performed my gender. Drink fruitier drinks. Shave more. Let’s not put too much stock into your thought in case it’s actually coming from your heart, or your menstrual cycle.

Still today, I find myself believing some of these messages— finding myself less-than for the ways that my natural tendencies, interests, and desires don’t fit into the neat package of a “feminine” woman. This is so far from the liberation I yearn for: a world where people can be who they are and want to be, without power or inferiority imposed on them for this choice.

You don’t have to hate women to contribute to a system that oppresses them. You don’t have to identify as a man, or have a penis, to perpetuate sexism. You merely have to believe the messages you received since your birth announcement, likely scribed in blue or pink. In fact, you don’t even have to be as active as the word belief implies. You just have to live your life without noticing or finding fault in the patterns described above.

I invite you to practice noticing with me. How have you seen sexism alive in your life?

Miss Pink Tights

17 Oct

by Katie

On June 21st, 2013 I decided to do an extra hard workout at my high school’s track to help improve my chances for a spot on the cross country team in the fall. The only thing motivating me to finish on that sweltering day was that fact that I would be turning 16 the next day. According to Mexican culture, I was supposed to have transformed into a woman already. Many Mexican girls have a traditional, elaborate fifteenth birthday celebration, called a quince. I had a modern sort of quince; I just went to the beach with my family over my birthday weekend, but it’s not as if I felt any different afterwards. Maybe being sixteen would be different, I thought. Maybe when I would turn sixteen I would become woman. When would I have my metamorphosis? And what is a woman, anyway?

I nailed my workout into the ground on the humid, 95-degree June day.  As I felt the warm, stinging, salty sweat run down my face, I saw the heat rising off of the track in steamy waves. Just completing the workout made me feel like a total “badass,” as Coach Moore would have said if he had seen me. Popping my hip up and out as I took a long drink of hot water, I had a triumphant walk of a champion. I felt confident about going to states in November! I had put on my favorite t-shirt and new electric pink spandex shorts to make me extra confident for my run, and it worked! Though, I was also worried that maybe my new shorts were too tight.

All the little people in my brain were arguing back and forth: “Katie, you look like a total whore wearing those shorts! Everyone makes fun of That One Girl who feels the need to show everyone her ass all the time. Don’t be That Girl. Those tight spandex will ruin your reputation,” Conservative Katie warned.

“Hey, it’s not my fault if a boy thinks I’m attractive while I’m running in shorts and a cutoff t-shirt. It’s really hot out! We wear spandex for track meets; it can’t be that inappropriate. Anyway, I am going to be at the track; it’s not like there are drivers there that can honk at me and catcall,” Feminist Katie reasoned.

I was jogging slowly in the soupy heat, rounding off the 200-meter backstretch. I saw some football players talking and laughing past the gate that connected the track and the lacrosse practice field. Look down, look down, I remembered. Don’t make eye contact. I chanted in my head: chingate, chingate, chingate, my silent Spanish curse to force them to ignore me.

But then Reasonable Katie reminded me: “Not all guys who are talking and laughing while looking at you are necessarily laughing and talking and looking at you. The guys at your school aren’t going to catcall you and say something inappropriate.”

“Yeah!” Low Self Esteem Katie chimed in, “Stop flattering yourself; you’re not attractive enough that a guy would even want to hoot at you.”

Embarrassed for my vain thoughts, I kept running. I rounded out the 200-meter mark. The clock read 2:15 pm. It was too hot. I was dizzy. I hadn’t hydrated properly. Coach Moore would have been disappointed. I swerved a little to the side. My foot rolled over a pothole in the track. Stupid pothole. I started tripping. I looked up as I wriggled around, trying to prevent myself from rolling my ankle. The boys and I made eye contact. Quickly, I ducked my head. I adjusted my ponytail so they couldn’t see my face. The boys. They were all crammed into the athletic director’s golf cart-maintenance truck hybrid. There were some short, squirrely freshmen boys standing in the flat rear part of the cart. There were two older boys, seniors who were sitting up front. I knew who they were, but I denied it to myself for a while afterwards. The sweat ran down into my eyes and my mouth. I could taste the bitterness. I was inhaling, doing my silent curse and praying that the eye contact had gone unnoticed. But their voices were getting louder. I saw them nudge each other again. I inhaled. I held my breath. The boy I knew hooted something. “Hey, pink tights!” Another seconded the call, “YEAH! You go, pink tights!”  They all laughed deep from their bellies and sped away. The boy I knew drove.

Pink tights.

I hear it from landscape vans. I hear it from middle aged men. I hear it from speeding cars and I even hear it from Jewish boys walking down Main Street to get to Friday evening services.

I never hear it at school.

Once I got home, I cried and holed up with my computer for an hour. I’m a member of a Facebook group that is a gay-straight alliance (GSA) for students in the DC area who are allies of the community that surrounds the vlogbrother videos. Everyone in the group is always supportive. I uploaded a rambling post about what happened to the group Facebook wall. The track was always safe. How could I have dressed so horribly as to provoke this? Was this incident even enough to report? Or am I just a bitchy feminist? Once I tell the football coach and the administration about this, I thought, they are just going to laugh at me and tell me it’s no big deal. They’re just going to say that I was asking for it. Jesi, one girl in the GSA whom I really admire, commented on my post, “Yes, it’s totally valid to be creeped out and want to report them; what they were doing was not okay.”

I agreed with Jesi that I would send an email. But first I created a new email address, misspinktights@gmail.com. That way, no one would need to know about who I was and I wouldn’t be harassed if the football players were in trouble and people started to blame me. I drafted and edited a long email to the head coach of the football team explaining everything that happened. But I didn’t mention the boy’s name.

I copied the 10th grade Assistant Principal, the 12th grade Assistant Principal, and the athletic director on the email. After making my third edit, I became anxious again and I started crying. I didn’t ask for any of this. All I did was wear clothing that made me feel confident and kept me cool on a hot day. I just wanted to forget everything that happened.

But if I never stand up for my right to wear what I want, then who will?

Who else would make sure that these boys, who were soon to be men, would treat all women with respect? I commented on the post, “And email sent.” Rapidly, my computer kept making this repetitive pinging sound. It was the sound of Facebook notifying me that five people liked the comment.

Then, one of my best friends from the GSA, Hannah, sent me a message that read, “You are seriously the best im so sorry you were subjected to them because they make me SICK.” All the support that was pouring in made me cry a little at my computer desk.

I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone.

From Jesi, who helped me stop blaming myself, to Hannah who showed me that even people at my own school found this behavior despicable, to all the people in between who simply liked the comment that read, “And email sent.” That meant the world to me.

The 10th grade Assistant Principal and the head Coach of the football team both emailed me back a few days later and apologized that I had to go through the experience. The Coach assured me that he would, “Find out who was responsible because this sort of behavior will not be tolerated by [my] players.”

I’m actually glad that this happened. I am so proud that I said something. I have no idea if the boys were ever even punished. I just hope that the players and their coach know that we won’t tolerate this. I know that I can’t change the whole world’s ideas about the objectification of women in one step. I know that if I’m running on the road that I can expect some idiot to hoot out his window because he thinks my ass looks good or whatever, but I drew a line at this kind of behavior happening at school.

I do know that I did become a woman on the last possible day of my fifteenth year, just like I was supposed to when I celebrated my quince. I stood up for what I believe in and for how I want to be treated. Jesi couldn’t have pressed the send button for me while I was getting the new wave of anxiety. I had to do it myself. As a woman, I hope to embody what Gloria Steinem once said: “Whenever one person stands up and says ‘wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people to do the same.”