Tag Archives: feminism!

No, I Don’t Want To Learn How To Love Criticism, Thanks

30 Sep

Tara Mohr recently wrote a piece in the New York Times about women and criticism. The article is called “Learning to Love Criticism,” but it could probably more accurately be titled “Haters Gonna Hate,” because that’s the type of approach that she advocates. She starts out promisingly enough, citing a recent study done on workplace performance reviews that contains the following fascinating (and appalling, and, if you’re a woman, entirely familiar) statistics: “Across 248 reviews from 28 companies, managers, whether male or female, gave female employees more negative feedback than they gave male employees. Second, 76 percent of the negative feedback given to women included some kind of personality criticism, such as comments that the woman was “abrasive,” “judgmental” or “strident.” Only 2 percent of men’s critical reviews included negative personality comments.

Yet in the next paragraph, after admitting that women in the workplace walk an “impossible tightrope” in trying to balance competence and niceness, the best advice she can come up with for women in this situation is little better than “learn to deal.” And while I get that none of us are likely to see a monumental change in how women are treated in our lifetime (though god knows I pray for a bloodless feminist coup every night before I go to sleep), it’s still frustrating and angering to be told that, instead of trying to affect any kind of change, women should just suck it up and learn how to better live in a man’s world. I don’t want to be better at playing by men’s rules; I want to change the rules so that they’re fair for everyone.

Women, apparently, just need to learn to be less sensitive, even when the criticism that they receive is personal and heavily gendered. Mohr writes that, “Many women are aware of this problem. “I know I need a thicker skin, but I have no idea how to get it,” one woman, a consultant to small businesses, said to me.

I’ve been told that I need to “grow a thicker skin” so many times that I’ve lost count; I’m willing to bet that the same is true for many other women. It’s the same stuff we tell little kids who are being teased or made fun of – “just ignore them, and they’ll leave you alone.” Stop getting upset. Stop reacting. Stop being an easy target. It’s the kind of pat advice that sounds helpful in theory, but doesn’t really work in practice. Once anyone – another kid, a coworker, a boss – knows how to push your buttons, they know how to push your buttons and that’s that. Even if you stop reacting to one thing, they’ll figure out another way to get your goat. At least, that’s been my experience.

Not only that, but, after thinking about this pretty long and hard, I’ve realize that I don’t want a thicker skin. It’s not my skin that’s the problem. It’s never been my skin that’s the problem. I don’t want to thicken, solidify or otherwise change my skin.

Instead, I want to figure how to rely on myself, how to rely on my instincts, and how to trust in the fact that I am a smart, capable person who is worthy of respect.

It might sound as if I’m splitting hairs, but I can’t help that “thick skin” and self-esteem are two very different things. The former is all about ignoring or disregarding the negative stuff that people say about you; the latter is feeling solid enough in yourself and your abilities that you don’t need to rely on other people’s feedback, be it positive or negative, in order to figure out how to navigate your life. And maybe I want to have thin skin, if that means an ability to feel things more deeply. Maybe having thin skin has its positive sides, like a heightened ability for compassion and a greater awareness of the impact that I might have on other people. Maybe empathy is one of the results of never having developed a thicker skin.

And you know what? I don’t want to learn to love criticism. If the criticism is valid – if, say, someone is calling me out for doing something hurtful or problematic –  then that criticism should feel uncomfortable. If, on the other hand, the criticism is some kind of personal attack or comes from someone who doesn’t have the same values or beliefs that I do, then why on earth should I love it? I want sound criticism to make me feel bad, and I want to use that bad feeling to force myself to continue to grow and learn. I don’t ever want to be stuck in an unbending, call-out proof shell of haters gonna hate. Because sometimes the haters are right, as much as we might not want to admit it.

I also don’t particularly want to learn how to keep a heartless poker face when dealing with people saying shit that’s cleverly designed to find every chink in my armour. First of all because that’s fucking exhausting and sad-making and doesn’t seem to be very sustainable. Second of all because I’m tired of teaching angry little boys on the internet that the more they throw shit at women, the quieter and more patient those women will become. Silence and acquiescence is what those trolls want – it’s exactly what they’re trying to frighten women into doing. And I’m tired of giving them what they want, even if that does temporarily make my life easier.

At the end of the day, it’s all very well and good to give women tips on how to function within the current framework of society; it’s another thing altogether to assume that this framework will never change. It’s never going to stop being a man’s game if women keep playing by men’s rules, and if our only form of resistance is to learn to live with how things are, well, this revolution isn’t going to get very far.

1940s vintage female telephone operator BELL SYSTEMS advertisement illustration by John Falter

A Dudely Challenge: Read More Books By Women

28 Sep

The Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), a national organization devoted to promoting “strong and active female perspectives and presences within the Canadian literary landscape” recently released a report looking at gender representation in Canadian book reviews. You can find the full set of numbers here, and an infographic explaining those numbers here.

Folks, the news is not good. I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s also not great. It’s also pretty indicative a deeper gender imbalance in the literary world in general.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers provided by CWILA, shall we?

First, the basics:

Out of the 5,613 book reviews studied, 56.9% were reviews of books written by men, 37% were reviews of book written by women, 5.02% were reviews of books co-authored by men and women, 0.14% were reviews of books written by non-binary individuals, and 0.93% percent came from “unknown author(s).” So far so good – I mean men are slightly outpacing women, but it’s not a big deal. 37% of the pie is still a lot of delicious pie (whenever I look at pie charts I always picture a big old steaming dish of apple pie, but your mileage may vary).

It’s when we start to look at who’s reviewing what (and how often) that things start to get a bit .. whacky? Out of all of the reviews written by women, 51% are of books authored by women and 43% are of books authored by men (with the remaining 6% being taken up by reviews of books that were either co-authored by men and women, were written by non-binary individuals or were written by unknown authors). Out of all of the reviews written by men, a staggering 69% were of books authored by men, while a measly 25% were of books authored by women (with, again, 6% of the reviews taken up by the same three groups mentioned above).

On top of that, while some publications (The Vancouver Sun, The Toronto Star, Quill & Quire) employ more slightly more female reviewers than male, reviews written by women still make up only 38% of the top 20 reviewers (those who wrote 50+ reviews last year) in the country.

Let’s just look at some of those numbers one more time:

25% of the books reviewed by men were written by women. 

69% of the books reviewed by men were written by men.

Men review nearly three times as many books by men as they do books by women.

If that’s not a huge indication of the problematic ways we view women writers, then I don’t know what else is. Women review nearly twice as many books written by men as men review books written by women. And it’s not as if there’s a dearth of women authors writing quality books – novels written by women won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, 2012 and 2010. Books by women won both the French and English Governor General’s Literary Awards in 2013; women also won in 2012, 2010, and 2009. Alice Munro won the Nobel Fucking Prize for literature last year. There are so many fantastic, internationally-recognized, award-winning books by women (many of them Canadian – CANLIT, REPRESENT) – so why aren’t men reviewing them?

The answer is, unfortunately, pretty simple: men don’t read books by women.

There are a lot of reasons for why this is true. Some men – like David Gilmour and all of his highbrow dudebro acolytes – just don’t think that women are very good writers. See, they only like the serious, classic stuff – stuff like Chekhov and Tolstoy and Proust. They like the good ole-fashioned, tried-tested-and-true Western literary cannon, which is pretty male-dominated for reasons that I’m sure have nothing to do with the historical oppression of women and everything to do with talent and know-how. Some men have shied away from books by women, worried that being caught reading Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights will somehow bring their masculinity into question. And some men have literally just never thought about it; they grew up with a toxic cultural mix of beliefs that taught them that real, serious books are written by men and only girls read books by girls. Which is tragic, and not just because every kid should should have the chance to read the delight that is Anne of Green Gables.

It’s this last group of guys who, I’m pretty sure, make up the majority of the male readers in this work. They’re guys who, in school, were told to read famous books by famous men as a matter of course. They’re guys who were never handed works of literature written by women because a teacher or a parent or a friend never thought they needed books they could better “identify” with. They’re guys who don’t question the fact that nearly all of the major works of fiction displayed at a bookstore or library are written by men. They’re guys who have never noticed that male writers are the status quo, because if you’re part of the status quo, why would you ever bother questioning it?

Women are, in many ways, treated as a special interest group. And sometimes that treatment is legitimate, like when we’re talking about reproductive rights or street harassment or workplace sexism. But that also means that literature written by women is viewed, often subconsciously, as being especially for women. And while we might praise the technical aspects of a book written by a woman, or laud its excellent storytelling or well-developed characters, we still ultimately view it in the category of other. It’s not regular a book – it’s a lady book. Probably with some kind of lady agenda. But books by men are just books. Serious, literary books.

Men aren’t encouraged to read books by women because on some level we don’t believe that those books were written for men. And yet no one ever questions why women would read books by men. It’s just taken as a given that books by men are the gold standard, and that everyone, no matter what their gender, should read them.

So here’s a challenge for all the men out there (including, but not limited to, the men who write book reviews): read books by women. Pick out a specific chunk of time – maybe a month, three months, or, if you’re feeling especially brave, a whole year – and during that period only seek out books by women. This challenge, by the way, doesn’t have to be isolated to literature – you could also have a month where you only listen to music by women, or look at paintings by women, or watch movies written and directed by women. If you’re struggling to find enough media to fill a whole month, then ask for recommendations; ask you’re girlfriend what she’s reading, or ask your little sister what she’s listening to these days. Ask your mom. Ask the woman who sits next to you at work. Ask that aggressively eye-linered punk chick who almost always ends up on the same bus as you in the morning. I mean, don’t be pushy or gross about it, and if they’re not interested in talking then back the fuck off, but still. Just try asking. I’m willing to bet that most women would be delighted to have a man ask them what they’re reading these days.

I have a friend who was recently explaining to me why she’d decided to end a blooming relationship with a nice, smart, funny man. There were lots of reasons why things just weren’t working out between them, but one red flag for her was this: he wasn’t reading any of the books she loaned him. See, book-talk was a big part of the attraction between them, and he was lending her plenty of books (which he expected her to read and which, diligently, she read), but apparently it wasn’t a two-way street. The books he gave her were, in his mind, important; the books he received were not. And before you jump in and tell me that not all men, let me say that I’ve seen this same dynamic play out in so many relationships. Men take it as a given that the women in their lives will read the books they recommend; unfortunately, they do not extend those women the same courtesy.

Guys, don’t be that guy. Read (and review, if that’s your bag!) books by women. If you consider yourself to be in any way an advocate for gender equality, then let that equality extend to the media you consume. Because women’s voices won’t get any louder if men aren’t helping to amplify them.

Not only that, but if you’re only reading books by men, then you are seriously missing out on some really fucking good books.

Photograph by Edward Steichen

Photograph by Edward Steichen

Feminism Killed All The Grownups

19 Sep

The patriarchy is dead, adulthood is in steep decline and A.O. Scott feels Some Type Of Way.

At least, that’s my takeaway from Scott’s rambling 4,500 word essay in this week’s New York Times Magazine. Of course the piece has its supporters (since, after all, Scott is a well-known film critic and noted Man of Words), and some of the folks tweeting about this essay in earnest adulation are people that I typically agree with. But I’ve read Scott’s piece in its entirety three times now, and I can’t seem to get anything out of it other than one lone white dude raging (and raging, and raging) against the dying of the light.

Scott starts out by using the upcoming second half of the final season of Mad Men as proof of the death of the patriarchy. The speculated death Don Draper, he argues, as well as the deaths of Tony Soprano and Walter White, mark a sort of “end stage reckoning” of a certain type of television masculinity. This masculinity is, according to Scott, pretty complicated – after all these men aren’t exactly nice or good (in fact, Scott at one point refers to them as “monstrous”) – but they’re undeniably charismatic and quite often sympathetic. Are we supposed to cheer for them or hate them or just feel sorry for them? The answer, for most viewers, seems to be a strange combination of all three, and their deaths apparently mark a watershed moment in our culture. Scott writes that “Tony, Walter and Don are the last of the patriarchs.”

He then hastens to point out that, although he believes the patriarchy to be dead, that doesn’t mean that he’s denying the existence of sexism or misogyny. No, not at all. In fact, he believes that “in the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life.” But, he adds, “… in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.”

I’m not even going to get into the ludicrousness of a middle-aged white dude announcing that the patriarchy is dead – I trust my readers enough to believe that they can figure out the many ways in which that statement is wrong without me offering them a long-winded explanation. But I do take issue with Scott’s assertion that criticism of male privilege is the uncontested norm in the “universe of thoughts and ideas.” First off, my main concern when it comes to discussions about male privilege isn’t so much that people will “defend” it, but rather that people will ignore it, downplay its cultural effects or flat-out deny that it exists. Those speaking up in “defense” of male privilege are easily discounted; those who don’t even acknowledge it are much more slippery and harder to fight.

Second of all, it is absolutely untrue that assertions of male privilege or belief in the inherent superiority of men (especially when it comes to ideas about the superiority of male intelligence) don’t exist in the “universe of thoughts and words.” Look at Richard Dawkins, for example – even in light of his recent comments on false rape accusations, people are still defending him by saying, “well, he’s still a brilliant scientist.” Or, for a broader perspective, look at the short-lists for the more prestigious book and film awards, and count how many books and films are written or directed by women, versus how many are written or directed by men. Or look at the gender imbalance when it comes to tenured staff at a university. There is plenty of evidence that we still take the superiority of men as the “natural order,” even in the world of deep thoughts and bon mots.

Five paragraphs in, Scott finally comes to what you might call the thesis of his essay. “It seems” he writes, “that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.” So, feminism is to blame for the supposed death of adulthood? Is that what I’m to take away for this? That in exchange for the cultural domination of men, we’ve traded away our ability to grow up? As evidence of this so-called death of adulthood, Scott offers a few brief anecdotes: Nearly a third of young adult fiction is purchased by readers age 30 to 44. Sometimes Scott has seen grown men riding skateboards or wearing shorts and flip-flops. There’s a woman in his office who wears plastic butterfly barrettes in her hair; when Scott sees her, he can’t help but make a disapproving face. That’s just how much of a grownup he is.

“God, listen to me! Or don’t,” he cries, sounding exactly like a modern-day Holden Caulfield. He then goes on to list all of the awful shows, mostly dominated by women (think Girls and Broad City) that have replaced more adult television fare like Mad Men or The Sopranos. Writes Scott, “What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.”

After a lengthy side-step into the apparently childish history of American literature (mostly, according to Scott, “a literature of boys’ adventure and female sentimentality”), and a brief discourse on why the Founding Fathers weren’t really fatherly and should maybe more accurately be called the Founding Bros or something equally un-grown-up, Scott finally swings back around to the cultural force that’s to blame for modern America’s lack of real, bonafide adults: the feminist movement. See, there are lots of young women who self-identify as feminists, most notably Beyoncé (who Scott calls the “most self-contradicting” feminist, which I can only assume is a dig at her overt sexuality and the length of her proverbial hemlines), and they want equality. But these women don’t want the good kind of equality; these women – especially the ones with television shows – want, Scott writes, to be “to be as rebellious, as obnoxious and as childish” as men are allowed to be.

All of which is to say that what Scott refers to as “cultural feminism” (as opposed to, I guess, academic feminism) is ruining being a grownup for everyone. Instead of forcing men to grow up, it’s encouraging women to be just like the man-babies. Instead of fostering a type of equality where everyone has an awesome job and wears a suit, it’s created a slacker equality where we all live in our parents’ basements and make fart jokes. For shame, feminism! What would Susan B. Anthony say? Oh god what hath we millenials wrought?

Finally, in the third to last paragraph, Scott writes what is probably his essay’s most important and most telling sentence: “The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all.” This, you see, is ultimately what Scott believes is holding people back from achieving full adulthood: not wanting to pay attention to critical discourse, a field that, by the way, has long been dominated by white men. And, you see, this is what this whole 4,500 word essay has been about. It’s not about people who read YA fiction or revere Huck Finn or live in their parents’ basement; this whole thing all boils down to the fact that A.O. Scott, and other successful, well-educated white dudes like him feel like they might be losing their audience. This isn’t a brilliant article about the downfall of the patriarchy and who the real grownups are and whether or not Beyoncé is too bootylicious to be a feminist – it’s the sad, dying cry of a white dude who sees all of his unearned privilege slowly slipping away.

It seems worth pointing out that not once in this entire essay does A.O. Scott define what adulthood is; he only tells us what it isn’t. Adulthood isn’t wearing shorts and flip-flops. Adulthood isn’t living in your parents’ basement. Adulthood isn’t liking what you like just because you like it. So from all of these negatives, I guess that we can infer that being a grownup means wearing a suit, living on your own, and only enjoying literature and media that someone else tells you will be challenging and enlightening.

If that’s what adulthood really means, then let me be the first to dance on its grave.

mad-men

10 Reasons Feminism Might Not Be For You

18 Sep

This post originally appeared on the blog The Outlier Collective. But since that blog is now defunct, and since people have been asking for this post, I’m republishing it here.

I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for individuals who don’t subscribe to the idea of a gender binary! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.

So without any further adieu, here are ten signs that feminism might not be for you:

1. You are against victim-blaming except in the case of _____

No one is deserving of any kind of violence, sexual or otherwise, at any time, ever, full stop. I would have thought that this would be something that would be fairly well understood within the feminist community, but apparently that was just wishful thinking. I’ve heard self-professed feminists say all kinds of nasty victim-blaming shit, especially about women who have been sexually assaulted, ranging from complaints about girls giving out mixed signals (hint: there is no such thing as a mixed signal, there is only consent and lack of consent), all the way to suggesting that if a woman does not loudly and forcefully defend herself against an attack then she’s somehow complicit in it. I’ve also heard people criticize and even doubt assault victims because they’ve said something problematic or at some point in history weren’t very nice. But let me tell you something right now: there is no such thing as a perfect victim.

You guys, a victim is a victim is a victim. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve lived an exemplary life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve said things that you find disagreeable. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like them or would want to be friends with them. None of those things mean that they are deserving of violence.

victim-blaming-600x309

2. You think that one of the goals of the feminist movement should be to make men feel safer or more comfortable about feminism.

Someone recently shared this video with me and it made me want to throw up everywhere:

I mean, I have so many issues with this video that I could probably write an entire series of blog posts about it. Also, I’m not sure that someone who doesn’t understand that sex and gender are two different things should be telling anyone about anything, and especially not opining on feminism. But the moment that especially makes me want to claw my own eyes out is when she asks “young women” to make feminism “male-friendly.”

Look, lady, the entire world is male-friendly, for one thing. For another, feminism isn’t anti-man – it’s anti-patriarchy, which is completely different. It is really fucking toxic to the feminist movement to suggest that we need to be more open and welcoming to men. That’s like saying that the civil rights movement should have been more open and inclusive towards white people. And this isn’t to say that men can’t be involved in feminism, in the same way that white people are still able to fight against racism – it’s just that movements working to forward the rights and freedoms of the oppressed should never, ever try to make themselves more friendly to those who have been historically oppressive.

That’s just common sense.

3. You think that someone can’t be a feminist based on how they dress or present themselves.

I can’t help but think of an interview with Zooey Deschanel that Glamour ran in February of this year. In it, she said,

“We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”

There’s this weird idea (even within the feminist movement) that femininity somehow takes away from feminism. And, I mean, I guess that I kind of get it? Maybe? Sort of? Like, wearing pretty dresses and putting on makeup and removing your body hair definitely plays into patriarchal ideas of beauty. But you know what? Feminism is about choice, and these patriarchal ideas are so deeply ingrained in our culture that’s it’s nearly impossible to escape them. So you know what? You fucking wear your feminist Peter Pan collar with pride, Zooey, and I will do the same.

ABC's "Live With Kelly And Michael" - 2012
Still A Feminist

4. You don’t think that feminists are funny.

We’re fucking hilarious. Deal with it.

And not only are we funny, but our jokes don’t rely on the same old tired stereotypes about women that dudes seem to find so charming. That’s right – we’re actually coming up with new material and it’s fucking fantastic and maybe you should get over yourself and read some Lindy West or Mallory Ortberg or one of the other million woman who are a riot and a half. Turn off your white dude comic show for HALF A SECOND and check out something new for once in your life. Just saying.

humfewbarspostupdate

5. You’re not interested in hearing how women of colour, queer women, or trans* women feel that the feminist movement has failed to recognize or address their needs and wants.

The feminist movement likes to think of itself as being anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia. And I do think that most feminists believe in these ideas in theory; unfortunately, many of them have a harder time putting these concepts into practice. There’s a tendency to ignore or even silence queer women, trans* women and women of colour, and while I don’t think that this silencing is intentional, exactly, I do think that many people, even those working within the feminist movement, don’t want to address this problem or even acknowledge that it happens.

Here’s the thing: when someone from an oppressed group speaks up, you listen. You shut your mouth and you listen. You don’t tell them that we’re all women, here, and the issues that we’re working to resolve are issues that affect all women. You don’t discount their lived experiences by countering with your own examples of being oppressed as a white woman. And finally, you most fucking do not pretend that sexism experienced by women of colour or queer women or trans women is exactly the same as what you’ve experienced. Because it’s not; it’s worse. Get off your high horse, acknowledge your privilege, and let someone else have the microphone for a while. Feminism isn’t an egalitarian movement if it’s only promoting the rights of white, educated, middle-class women.

27 Audre-Lorde-IWD

6. You can’t handle being called out.

Getting called out is going to happen, I can guarantee it. Pretty much any person working in any kind of social justice movement is going to fuck up at some point (or, at the very least, do something that another person views as “fucking up”), and someone is going to call them out on it. And when that happens to you, it’s important to take a moment, cool your jets, and not immediately get your back up or become defensive. Instead, actually listen to what that person is saying (especially if they’re coming from a place of oppression that hasn’t been your lived experience). Try to take what they’ve said into consideration, even if you think that you’re not, ultimately, going to agree with it. And you know what? The funny thing is that you may very well end up realizing that the person calling you out is, in fact, right.

If you do realize that you were wrong (and let’s be real, probably you are if the caller-outer is from a more marginalized group than you) and you need to apologize, try taking a few notes from the fabulous Chescaleigh:

7. You ever, ever, ever feel the need to clarify that you’re not one of those feminists.

This is code for, “But I don’t hate men! I don’t wear cargo pants! I shave my legs! I promise!” And for sure those statements are true for many feminists; in fact, none of us hate men. But by distancing yourself from those feminists, whoever those feminists are, perpetuates the idea that a) there’s something wrong with those feminists, b) those feminists are totally threatening to men and masculinity, and c) that they make up the majority of the feminist movement.

Remember how we were talking earlier about feminism being all about choice? Well, it’s a two-way street, my friend. You can choose to wear your lipstick and your Peter Pan collar, and another woman can choose to wear hiking boots and a baseball cap, and at the end of the day, both of you are awesome feminists.

8. a) You think that there might be a type of body-shaming that is acceptable.

Nope. Never ok. You don’t get to comment negatively on another woman’s body, ever. You don’t make fat-phobic comments, you don’t make divisive remarks about how real women have curves, you don’t treat “fat” as if it’s a dreadful, dirty word. Oh, and while we’re on this subject, you can also feel free to keep any remarks about plastic surgery to yourself. Recently, when the new season of Arrested Development came on the air, a ton of my friends were gleefully jumping all over the fact that Portia DeRossi appeared to have had some kind of plastic surgery.

And yes, plastic surgery typically plays right into patriarchal ideals of how women should look. And maybe these women are furthering the idea that there is only one, very narrow definition of beauty, and that the appearance of aging is to be avoided at all costs. But you know what? Bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that you get to do whatever you like with your body, and other women get to do whatever they like with their own body. End of story.

b27f8794b17e8bbfd26b2c78722d809b

8. b) You think that there might be a type of food-policing that is acceptable.

I once had a woman say to be that she openly judges anyone who uses margarine instead of butter, because apparently margarine is a tool of the devil or some such shit. Now listen, I am the last person to deny being judgmental. I will openly judge you if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice, mean to puppies, or any of that sort of vile shit. But when it comes to what you put in your body? I literally have zero things to say about that. No wait, I have one thing: bon apétit.

You guys, food is complicated. On the one hand, yes, you do need a certain combination of nutrients in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level. On the other hand, not everyone has access to so-called healthy foods, and even if they do, they are under no obligation to eat them. In fact, no one is really under any kind of obligation to even be healthy. Bodily autonomy! You get to treat your own body however you want.

9. You are pro-choice, except in cases where _____.

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you were on Jeopardy or whatever, the WRONG ANSWER buzzer would be going off right now.

The first part of this statement should never be followed up with an “except” or a “but.” You are either pro-choice or you are anti-choice. There is no hierarchy of abortions; they should be available to everyone, on demand, and without apology.

Sure, you are totally free to feel uncomfortable about why someone might choose to terminate their pregnancy, but you know what? You keep those feelings to yourself.

Say it with me, now, one more time: b-o-d-i-l-y a-u-t-o-n-o-m-y

10. You think that there is one specific way to be a feminist.

I know that I’ve pointed out a ton of things that people do that are unfeminist, but the flip side of this is that there’s no one way to be a feminist.

You can be a feminist and be married. You can be a feminist and be single. You can be a feminist and have kids. You can be a feminist and be childless. You can be a feminist and take your partner’s last name. You can be a feminist and keep your last name. You can be a feminist and breastfeed. You can be a feminist and formula-feed. You can be a feminist and work outside the home. You can be a feminist and stay home with your kids.

You can be a feminist in a box. You can be a feminist with a fox. You can be a feminist in a house. You can be a feminist with a mouse. And so on. And so forth.

Seriously, you guys, I can’t believe that I have to say all of this in 2014.

And yeah, I know that I said earlier that maybe feminism isn’t for everyone, but I totally take that back. I still think that everyone can and should be feminist. But I also think that it’s super important for people, especially those already within the movement, to be able to take a step back every once in a while, re-evaluate their beliefs and ask themselves if their speech and actions actually do help to promote women’s rights and equality. Because you know what? It’s easy to fall into the trap of offering the appearance of giving a hand up to women while actually actively engaging in pushing them down. It’s easy to feel that you are working towards “equality” while still sliding back into the old patriarchal beliefs that we all grew up with, to one degree or another. And it’s especially fucking easy to find things to criticize about the ways that women dress, act or talk – in fact, I actually can’t think of anything easier than that.

But we’re not here to take the easy route, are we? So let’s all start taking the time to check in with ourselves, to make sure that the stuff that we say and do actually promotes the changes that we want to see in the world. Let’s take a long, hard look at our thoughts and beliefs, and try harder to call ourselves out before anyone else can. And let’s all try to take few moments every night to repeat bodily autonomy is a necessity five times, out loud, in front of the mirror.

Because, you guys? This is our movement. And it’s our job to continue to make it a better, safer, happier place.

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On Motherhood and Losing Myself

7 Sep

I remember the first time it happened – it was shortly after Theo’s birth and I was still in the hospital. My mother and husband were in the room with me when the nurse came in to do something – maybe weigh him or help bathe him or check his vital signs. After she finished, she said, “all right, now I’ll give him back to mom,” and I was momentarily confused. Why was she handing my son off to my mother? Shouldn’t she give him to me or my husband?

And then I realized that she had, in fact, meant to give Theo back to me. Mom meant me. I was mom. My mother, meanwhile, had graduated to “Grandma.” The nurse left before I had the chance to tell her that my name was Anne, although if she’d really wanted to know that she could have just looked at my chart.

I got used to the name Mom, though, and faster than I’d thought I would. I started using it to refer to myself in the third person when I spoke to my son: “Mama loves you so much,” I would say to him. “Mama’s just going to change your diaper, and then you’ll be much more comfortable.” “Mama’s making your dinner, but don’t worry, she’ll be really fast!” “Ma-ma. Can you say ma-ma? Ma-ma. I’m your mama. Ma-ma.” By the time Theo was eight months old, he would howl “Maaaaaaaaa-maaaaaaaaa” every time he wanted me, and I felt a funny sense of triumph whenever I heard him call me. He knew my name. I was Mama.

I wasn’t the only one who referred to myself as “Mom” or “Mama” either. My husband did it whenever he was in front of our son, even when he was talking directly to me – after all, we wanted to keep things consistent and easy to understand for Theo, didn’t we? My mother did it, too. So did my sisters. And as my son got older and we started making the rounds of playgroups and library programs and sing-alongs, the other parents (almost exclusively women) referred to me as “Theo’s mom.” Not that I was any better – I didn’t know any of their names, either. We were all just so-and-so’s mom, as if that were our name or our job title or maybe the most fascinating fact about us. 

Admittedly, there were a lot of things in my life that made me feel as if being a mother was the most fascinating thing about me, or at least the best, most noble thing about me. Strangers smiled at me, and offered me their seat on the bus. People working in customer service were more polite and attentive, whereas before I felt as if I’d often been brushed off. Everyone took me more seriously. It was as if by giving birth I’d somehow gained some strange kind of respectability. I wasn’t just that weird girl who talked too much and cried easily; I wasn’t just another person who had never reached their full potential. I was a mother, and according to a lot of people I’d fulfilled exactly as much of my potential as I needed to. And while on some level that fact was embarrassingly gratifying, mostly because I’d never felt so much societal approval before, underneath that gratification was a restless, howling anxiety. 

I wasn’t the only one in our household to be given a new title, of course. My husband became “Daddy,” a name that also carries some baggage with it. But he didn’t seem to feel as if he was losing himself, the way that I did – and it does seem to bear pointing out that our circumstances were vastly different. Every day, while I stayed at home with our son, my husband went to work. Every day, while I sat on the couch and cried over how fucking hard breastfeeding was, while I took a deep breath and tried not to scream with frustration because my kid was inconsolably exhausted but absolutely would not nap, while I stripped off yet another urine-soaked onesie and brightly-coloured cloth diaper only to watch in horror as my son chose that exact moment to unleash a jet of poop, my husband went back to the Land of the Adults, a country that we both called home but from which I had temporarily been exiled. Every day, while I opened my laptop and tried yet again – through frighteningly hive-minded online parenting communities, frantic status updates on Facebook, and emails to my family – to find the training manual for my overwhelming new job, my husband went back to his same old job, where he could take hour-long lunches and everyone called him by his real name.

No. It wasn’t the same thing at all.

I tried not to feel like I’d somehow lost something, because how could I have lost something? I hadn’t lost anything; I was still the same person, wasn’t I? Even if I felt like I’d lost myself, I was clearly still there. I still existed. On top of that, it seemed unbelievably selfish to frame it in terms of “loss” when, in fact, I’d gained a perfect baby – especially when several of my friends were struggling in various ways to become parents. And I’d wanted this, hadn’t I? Becoming a mother had been my choice. So how could I complain?

Another layer to my unease lay in the fact that if I felt like I’d lost some part of identity, then had my mother experienced the same thing when she’d given birth to me? It seemed impossible that she had ever been anything other than what she was, namely my mother; and yet that selfish feeling of impossibility was almost certainly evidence of the part that I had played in who she had become. For a long time I’d thought that I would never grow up to be my mother, because my mother’s life had always seemed so constrained and limited. Now I saw that I was the one who had limited it. 

Maybe saying that becoming a mother was my choice wasn’t quite the right way to put it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I chose to become a parent, and then society gave me the label “mother” with all of its loaded associations. After all, what is there specifically about being a woman that says that you have to lose yourself completely once you have a kid? Isn’t it possible that if we lived in a world that treated motherhood and fatherhood equally – a world where we called it parental leave instead of maternity leave, a world that was just as accepting of stay-at-home fathers as it was of stay-at-home mothers, a world where women couldn’t expect their wage to decrease by 4% for every child they have – then women wouldn’t feel as if having children was a deeply personal sacrifice?

I mean, of course you have to give some stuff up once you have a child. I’m not saying that your life should stay exactly the same. But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice yourself.

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The X-Files, As Told By Me

4 Sep

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It’s The 24th Century, Shouldn’t We Have Fucked Up The Patriarchy More Than This By Now?

4 Sep

The other day I was chilling out on my couch, eating Cheetos and watching Star Trek (TNG, for those of you nerdy enough to care), when I had a sudden realization:

Almost all of the married women on Star Trek take their husbands’ last names.

Doctor Crusher. Keiko O’Brien. Jennifer Sisko (sidebar: I guess the name Jennifer is popular again in the 2300s?). On Voyager they actually make a hilarious joke about how weird it would be for a dude to take a woman’s last name, like haha oh man can you even imagine?

PARIS: ‘B’Elanna Paris’. That has a nice ring to it.
B’ELANNA: Thanks, but I already have a ring. Anyway, I kind of like the sound of ‘Tom Torres’.
PARIS: I hope you’re kidding.
B’ELANNA Hey… it is the 24th century.

Yes. It’s the 24TH CENTURY, TOM. It’s the 24th century, race is a social construct, humans are atheists, there’s a fucking KLINGON on the BRIDGE (not that they ever listen to him – sorry, Worf), but women are still expected to change their names when they get married.

Like seriously how can you imagine a future where dudes are totally comfortable in mini-skirts but Bev can’t be Doctor Howard?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. The other day my kid asked me why he has two last names when my husband and I only have one each and I was like, “Because I’m trying to fuck up* the patriarchy here, duh.” But names are kind of more complicated than that. I mean, sure, I didn’t take my husband’s last name, and my kid got both of our last names but, like, what about everything else? It kind of seems as if it’s just as patriarchal to keep my father’s last name – in fact, that is basically the definition of patriarchy. And what if my kid has a kid, how is that going to work? Especially if his future partner also has a double-barrelled last name? Will their kid have four names? Or will they just choose the name they like best? I mean, I assume that they’ll figure it out because by then they’ll be grownups, but still. 

The idea that women should change their names when they get married seems to be a tough one to shake; it’s all tied up with culture and tradition and the nagging conceit that it’s somehow more romantic if a woman takes her husband’s name. There’s this weird belief that if a woman doesn’t take her husband’s last name, then she’s somehow less committed. Like legit, I know some otherwise very nice, very liberal men who believe that they should have been able to foresee their marriage not working out because their ex didn’t want to change their name. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. That’s the level of shit we’re dealing with here.

One argument I’ve heard from more than a few women for why they changed their last names is because they thought it would be “confusing” for their kids to have parents with different last names. Which like first of all is totally weird because it ignores the fact that lots of kids have parents who never married and never had the same last name, and second of all just flat-out isn’t true. I know that from experience, because my mother didn’t change her name when she married my father.

I never found it confusing to have parents with different last names. At times I was annoyed, because I wanted us to be a cozy one-last-name type family unit, just like all of my friends and cousins had, but that really says more about the culture we live in than it does my capacity to understand which people I was related to. I always knew that even though my mother and I didn’t share a family name, she was still my mother. I was never confused, although I was sometimes an asshole teenager who yelled stuff like, “I’M GOING TO TAKE MY HUSBAND’S NAME WHEN I GET MARRIED AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME” in the middle of a fight. Because that’s how you rebel when your parents are liberal feminists, I guess.

Teenagers, man.

Anyway, then I grew up and realized I had a really fucking rad last name (with accents and silent letters, even!) that was tied to a really fucking rad cultural background and I knew that I absolutely didn’t want to change it ever. I also knew that I wanted my kids to have my last name because I just can’t deny them that amount of awesome. No one had any problem with either of these things, least of all my charming husband. 

Oh, and my kid? Isn’t confused. Children are hugely adaptable and have a pretty broad idea of what “normal” is. To him, mom has one last name, dad has another, and he has both. As far as he knows, that’s just how the world works.

The name game is tricky, I get that. There’s so much pressure for women to change their name when they get married, both from society at large and possibly from their partner or their partner’s family. On top of that, there’s the question of how to escape patriarchal ideas about names if your only choices are your father’s name or your male partner’s name – and for sure you could take your mother’s last name, but eventually that runs into the same patriarchal problem of her name coming from her father. All names lead to dudes, is I guess what I’m saying, which isn’t really a big deal except that it kind of feels like one sometimes, you know?

But I have faith that we can figure this shit out. And unlikely Gene Roddenberry et al, I think we can figure it out sometime before the 24th century. I mean, c’mon. We will for sure have fucked up the patriarchy real good by then! We have like over two hundred years to make things more equal. We’ve totally got this, you guys.

*I did not actually say “fuck up” to my kid, I promise