Tag Archives: jezebel

Virginity Is A Social Construct

19 Dec

Jezebel published a piece today with the title “Nearly 1% Of Women Claim They Were Virgins When They Gave Birth,” and, because this is Jezebel we’re talking about here, they used this as an opportunity to shame and belittle the women who say that they became pregnant while still virgins. And just so we all understand what author Erin Gloria Ryan means by virgins, she writes that they are women who,

“… were unpenetrated by the peen of a man when they became pregnant.”

She further explains,

“This doesn’t include women who became pregnant via in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination; these are women who gave birth the old fashioned way and were like *shrug! SERIOUSLY GUYS I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED!”

Then (incorrectly) asserts,

“Getting pregnant without sex is virtually scientifically impossible, yet dozens of women in the study (who were teens when the research began) swear up and down that their babies happened sans man. This is the biological equivalent of claiming that your glass of drinking water spontaneously began boiling itself without the presence of heat. I mean, maybe it’s Unsolved Mysteries-possible, but it’s highly doubtful that 0.8% of all glasses of water boil themselves. Come on.”

Also, just so that we’re really super clear on how Jezebel views these women, the article was posted to their Facebook page with the following header:

Nearly 1% of women insist they were virgins when they gave birth, which means that nearly 1% of women are delusional.

Oh, Jezebel. Jezebel. I know all the cool kids have already said it, but damn. You sure do suck at feminism.

First of all, it is definitely scientifically possible to become pregnant without having penetrative vaginal sex. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s possible – all you need is for a someone to ejaculate on or in close proximity to the vagina, or else have some other thing with sperm on it – a finger, say, or a sex toy – penetrate the vagina. Yes, these are unlikely ways in which to become pregnant, but they’re not within the same realm as water spontaneously boiling.

Second of all, can we not have this discussion without calling women stupid or crazy or just flat out accuse them of lying?

Third of all, can we please stop talking about virginity as if it is a real, measurable thing?

Virginity is not a thing. Not really. It is a social construct meant to make people, especially women, feel badly about their sexuality and sexual experience. It is a way of policing other people’s bodies and passing judgment on how they use them. It is, at its very core, a way of controlling and subjugating women.

One problem with the idea of virginity is that there’s no hard and fast way of deciding who’s a virgin and who isn’t. Many people would define loss of virginity in a very heteronormative sense – a sexual act where the penis penetrates the vagina. But does that mean, then, that a queer woman who has only ever been with other women is a virgin? Is a gay man, who has only ever had anal sex, a virgin? Most people, when pressed, would agree that no, those folks aren’t really virgins, even if they’ve never had penis-in-vagina-style intercourse. The flip side of this is that many rape victims don’t feel as if they have lost their virginity even if they’ve had penetrative intercourse forced on them. They consider themselves to be virgins because they don’t consider what happened to them to be sex. So taking all of that into consideration, how do we then define virginity?

Some people have said that performing any sexual act constitutes losing one’s virginity, but that seems like much too broad of a definition. Kids start experimenting with sexual play and experimentation at a fairly young age, so does it then follow that anyone who’s kissed someone of the opposite sex or shown them their genitals has de facto lost their virginity? I’m not sure that this idea makes any more sense than saying that virginity can only be lost through one very specific sexual act.

Another problem is that there is literally no way of knowing if someone is a virgin or not. Oh, people will tell you that you can check if a woman’s hymen is broken, but that’s not a reliable indicator at all. A hymen can be broken without any kind of sexual intercourse, through sports or through some kind of injury. Not all women are born with hymens. Not all hymens tear during penetrative sex. And yet we’ve all been sold this idea of torn flesh and blood on sheets as some kind of definite rite of passage for women. This idea – that you can somehow tell if a woman has been sexually active – has contributed to the oppression and subjugation of women for pretty much all of recorded history. It’s given men a way to control women, to make them ashamed of their bodies their sexuality. It’s led to a double standard where it’s fine – even encouraged – for boys to gain sexual experience, but women who are sexually active before marriage or have sex with too many people are considered to be slutty or damaged goods.

Finally, why is virginity so damn important to us? We don’t have nouns for who or what we were before we hit any other life milestones – there’s no term to refer to a person before they can walk or talk or read and write – all of which I would argue are more important achievements than getting laid – and yet it’s the sex that we focus on. Why do we put so much more weight on this one small facet of human life than we do on any of the others? Why are we still making a big deal out of who is a virgin and who isn’t?

This is the discussion that we should be having – not about whether women are lying or delusional about their virginity, but about why we still use this damaging term. We need to talk about why the idea of virginity continues to hold such sway over our cultural consciousness, and why so-called feminist websites a perpetuating the thought that virginity is a tangible, definable thing. Most of all, we need to figure out a better way to talk to kids about their bodies and their sexuality, because the way that we’re doing it now clearly isn’t working.

Even Mary agrees - virginity is bullshit

Even Mary agrees – virginity is bullshit

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“I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying” – Rape Culture and The Good Men Project

11 Dec

I’m tired of blogging about rape culture.

No, honestly, I am. It gets exhausting after a while. It wears you down, you know? There’s just so much awfulness, so many rape apologists, and it takes a lot of energy to wade through it, dissect it, call it out and then deal with the backlash.

I’ve diagnosed myself with what Jezebel calls “rape fatigue“, a pretty accurate term for how I feel.

I wasn’t going to blog about anything serious this week. I was going to blog about cute things, funny things. I had a whole post planned out about how Red Fraggle is a feminist icon. It was going to be great, you guys.

And then The Good Men Project published a piece called “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.”

And, well, here we are.

Let’s deconstruct this article, shall we?

We’ll start with the title:

I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying

Let’s be clear: while the author does, later, admit that he would rather be raped than stop partying, that’s not what the bulk of this article is about. What he’s actually saying here is that he would rather risk raping someone than stop partying.

You might need a moment to digest that sentiment; I know I did.

Next, we have a caveat from the editors:

We at the Good Men Project do not endorse or support the author’s worldview, but it does speak to a very common experience that is often taken for granted and rarely talked about, except in vague and theoretical terms. We thank the author for being willing to speak openly about it, and share his struggle with his own experiences, though we want to make very clear that we do not agree with his conclusions.

You don’t agree with his conclusions, but you still published it, didn’t you? You’re still giving a voice to someone who is an admitted, unapologetic rapist. Whether or not you “agree with his conclusions”, you are still giving him your support by posting this to your site. You are adding another voice to rape culture.  You are normalizing rape. This is not okay.

Now on to the article itself:

When you party, when you move in party circles, you accept certain tradeoffs.

You accept that you’ll always be the bad guy in after-school specials and sitcoms about teenagers. You’re the bad kid who offers Buffy Summers a beer and gets her almost eaten by a snake demon. You accept that you won’t always be able to piece together everything that happened the next day. You’re forced to enjoy Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” not because you like Katy Perry but because you just plain recognize it.

You accept these tradeoffs because they come with amazing times. They come with glowing memories of an intensity entirely beyond the mundane, they come with crazy sex with amazing people, they come with living a few hours at a time in a world where anything, anything at all, can happen. I’ve moved from one party scene to another my whole adult life, because nobody wants to be that creepy old person or that inappropriately young person, but there are always plenty of people who won’t walk away from that incredible sense of liberation and possibility that you only find at the bottom of the bottle and a hot room full of crazy people.

Anonymous Writer is a hipper than me, has cooler friends, and goes to better parties. He’s a bad-ass who has lots of amazing sex and maintains a love-hate relationship with Katy Perry. He can only find “liberation and possibility” while drunk in a room full of strangers. Got it.

I swear to God, it is only after the fact that you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape. The way crooked businesses accept paying fines for their infractions as the cost of doing business, you gradually, an inch at a time, realize that some of the stories you’ve heard, some of the stories you’ve lived, didn’t involve what they call good consent nowadays.

Yes, because rape is just a consequence of having a good time. Raping someone is just the price you have to pay in order to party hard like Anonymous Writer does.

And you know what? Lack of consent is lack of consent, no matter whether something happened twenty years ago or yesterday. I don’t care whether they didn’t call it “good consent” back in the dark ages; it’s still rape.

With what I’ve learned as an adult, I’m pretty sure I’m technically a rapist. Technically nothing. One woman told me herself.

Anonymous Writer is a rapist. Got it.

Our encounter was years before—I’d been in a drinking contest and she’d been drinking and flirting with me (yes, actually flirting) all evening.

She was actually flirting! You can take this rapist’s word for it!

As blurry and fucked-up as I was, I read her kiss of congratulation to me as a stronger signal than it was, and with friends hooting and cheering us on, I pressed her up against a wall and… well. Call it rape or call it a particularly harsh third base, I walked away with the impression that it had been consensual, if not really sensible. (She had a boyfriend at the time, but their boundaries were fuzzy.)

He was peer-pressured into pushing her up against a wall, either raping her or going to a “particularly harsh third base” (whatever that even means), but it’s fine because he thought it was consensual. Oh, and because her boundaries with her boyfriend were “fuzzy”. Got it.

Years later, she was in a recovery program—not for alcohol, ironically—and she got in touch with me during the part where she made peace with her past. She wanted to clarify that what had happened between us was without her consent, that it hurt her physically and emotionally, that it was, yes, rape.

Here is one story about a time she was drunk, which totally makes it ironic that she’s not in an alcohol recovery program. Also, being raped was probably her fault because she had substance abuse problems.

Oh, and by the way, she was raped. By Anonymous Writer.

We talk about who is and is not a rapist, like it’s an inextricable part of their identity. “I’m a Libra, a diabetic, and a rapist.” That doesn’t work, though. Evidently I walked around for years as a rapist, totally unaware. Nobody stuck that label on me, I certainly never applied it to myself, even now it only feels like it fits when I’m severely depressed. The label, the crime, simply coalesced for me one day, dragging years of backstory behind it.

Anonymous Writer isn’t a rapist, because he doesn’t feel like one.

I literally could not come up with a better way of summing up how rape culture works than that one, single sentence.

That is the damnable thing. We all cluck our tongues at those evil bastards who force themselves on girls—or guys—who are insensibly passed out. At the same time, we all acknowledge that a glass or two of wine helps pave the way for a lot of good times. And in the trackless, unmappable gray swamps in between, we cough and change the subject.

Consent is not trackless or unmappable. Consent is fucking consent. Deal with it.

In the real world, especially among experienced drinkers, being blackout drunk doesn’t necessarily look like being passed out on the floor, helpless prey for any passing predator. It can look like being drunk, but fully in control. It can look like being passionately excited. It can look like being a great dancer. It can look like being very sexually aggressive.

It’s not just booze, of course. Ecstasy makes everything incredibly tactile and you want to touch everyone. Weed makes some people insatiably horny. I had to fend off a young woman recently who was talking a mile a minute and sliding her hands inside my shirt, I was still together enough to tell she wasn’t all there, on what turned out to be a mixture of acid and cocaine. There is plenty of fun stuff out there, but mostly it’s booze. For the majority of people, it’s going to be drinking they have to watch out for.

If you’re not sure that someone can consent, don’t have sex with them. If someone is drunk and you’re not sure how drunk, don’t have sex with them. If someone is drunk, don’t have sex with them. There. I’ve made it easy for you.

A friend of mine once told me about a girl who he knew for a fact had only had two drinks. He didn’t know she was on prescription medication that amplified those two drinks beyond all measure. He thought she was just very horny when she wouldn’t leave him alone or take “Are you okay?” for an answer. It wasn’t until she kept calling him by the wrong name and couldn’t remember the right one that he realized she was not able to consent, and called a halt to things before they went any further. He says he had to dissuade her from pursuing things further, because she was really into it, apart from not knowing who he was or where she was.

“Can you imagine?” he tells me in horrified tones. “I was almost a rapist.”

How do I tell him that I was in a similar position and made a different call? How do I tell him that I am what he’s terrified he almost was?

Well, I guess Anonymous Writer doesn’t have to, because rape culture! He will never be prosecuted. He will never go to jail. He will never even have to admit under his own name that he’s a rapist.

Here’s the plain, awful fact: people can have more and better sex drunk than they can sober. Some of the best, most fulfilling relationships of my life have started out with joyously drunken sex. I’ve had amazing times, orgies sometimes, where it’s simultaneously true that everyone’s consenting and having fun, and that they wouldn’t be consenting and having fun if they were stone sober.

Here’s a plain, awful fact: Anonymous Writer is a rapist.

Here’s another plain, awful fact: you don’t have to have sex when you’re drunk, even if it feels really great. You don’t have to have orgies where you know that the participants would not be consenting if they were sober. You don’t have to rape, but you do. And then you make excuses for it.

Those aren’t the times that bother me. The ones that bother me are the ones where I got loaded, had some fun with a lady, and then she never wanted to contact me again. Messages go unanswered, social contact is dropped.

It doesn’t bother Anonymous Writer when he rapes someone, as long as they remain friends with him.

There are men, rape-apologist pieces of shit, who will tell you that women cry “rape” every time they have sex they later regret. I carry no brief for those assholes. What eats at me is that there’ve been cases, more than one and less than six, in my life where either explanation would seem plausible. If a woman had consensual sex with a guy because they were both drunk, and later she decided he was a loser and she regretted it, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, awkward. But if a woman was raped by a man who thought she was still capable of consent when she was too far gone, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, rapist.

Except, as far as we know, none of these women (other than the one mentioned above) have cried rape. So there was no need for that sentence. They either refused to answer Anonymous Writer’s calls because they regretted having sex with him, or because they felt violated. This has nothing to do with anyone crying rape.

And, by the way, Anonymous Writer, you did rape.

That’s not the worst part either.

Oh good.

It’s been pointed out to me that I’m using a lot of heteronormative language here, men/me as rapist, women as rape victims, and I honest to God don’t mean to do that. It’s just the linguistic habits I grew up with.

But there have been times I’ve cut off all contact with women after drunkenly fooling around with them, the same criterion that, in reverse, makes me suspect myself of rape.

There have been times of “I regret going to bed with her” and times of “I don’t recall going to bed with her.”

There’s been at least one time I was informed, days after the fact, by multiple eyewitnesses, that I’d had sex with a girl. This came as news to me, and explained a couple messages I’d gotten from her, a girl I generally had no interest in getting involved with.

It must be bad manners to admit to being a rapist and to also say one is a rape survivor, all in one article. I don’t know any set of social mores where that’s okay. I certainly don’t feel like a rape survivor, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. I just can’t quite find a workable standard where I’m one but not the other. I don’t say that as any kind of apology or justification for my actions or my mistakes. I’m just trying to state the facts nobody ever quite wants to state.

So the worst part isn’t that Anonymous Writer raped someone, it’s that he’s not sure whether or not he’s been raped, although he doesn’t feel as if he has been.

That’s the worst part here.

Some might think it’s monstrous of me to keep drinking, keep partying. But I have had so many good, positive, happy experiences because I took a chance and altered my state and connected with someone else sexually, it seems crazy to throw all that away. Do people who’ve been in car accidents give up driving?

Translation: I will continue to knowingly rape women, and here is a shitty metaphor about car accidents to explain why I’ve chosen to do this.

Translation: the conditions that lead to me raping women are too much fun to give up.

Translation: I live in a culture that will continue to forgive and excuse me for every rape I’ve committed.

When I sit down and think about it, it seems like I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business, and so have most of the people I know. And that seems like the most sick, fucked-up, broken solution to anything ever. And maybe finding it livable-with condemns us all to hell. I don’t know. I can’t even talk about it under my own name.

Fuck you.

* * *

I want to be thoughtful about this. I know that I should be. I should say that this man clearly has addiction issues and needs help. I should offer him my support, because he is also a rape victim. I should be kind, forgiving, generous. But I can’t. I can’t do any of those things to someone who is an unapologetic rapist, someone who is clear on the fact that he will rape again. Someone who views rape as a “trade-off” for having a good time.

Rape is not something inevitable that happens because you’re partying too hard, because you drink to excess, or because you’re having too much fun. Rape is a choice that this man makes. This man knows that his drinking and partying will lead to having sex with a partner who cannot consent, and yet continues to do so. This man is an unapologetic rapist.

I know that I talk a lot about rape culture, but you guys? This is rape culture right here. It’s articles like these that make men feel better about raping women. It’s articles like these that contribute to victim blaming (if a woman doesn’t want to be raped, she shouldn’t drink so much, right?) It’s articles like these that normalize rape, that make rape seem like a by-product of enjoying oneself, that make rape seem inevitable and uncontrollable.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

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Shameless

23 Sep

On Thursday my piece about girl culture was featured as a guest post on Shameless Magazine’s website.

My response was as follows:

1. Stare blankly at computer screen, totally dumbstruck

2. Run around in circles, yipping excitedly

3. Run down to the store below my studio and tell the two dudes who are working

4. Try to explain to said dudes why I am so excited

5. Send my mother the following email:
MOM MOM LOOK I AM A REAL WRITER CHECK IT OUT
xoxo
Annabelle

6. Receive this in response:

Congratulations. Great Job! Of course you are a real writer. I always knew you were a writer. Love, Mom

7. Go home. Realize that I am really, truly happy. Decide not to do anything about being happy, but instead just sit there and experience it.

8. Put on a pretty dress

9. Pick up Theo from daycare and take him to the park

10. Try not to think about the future

When I say, try not to think about the future, what I mean is: I will try not to stress at this moment about what and where I will be published next. I will try not to worry about writing something amazing, about being The Best I Can Be. I will take this for what it is: pure and unadulterated awesomeness.

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This is good. This is good. This is good.

The Myth of the Woman-Child

20 Sep

My good friend Audra Williams challenged me to blog about this piece on Tavi Gevinson. Then she posted this ridiculous article from Jezebel on Facebook, and I thought I would address both of them at once. I am killing two birds with one stone! Two ugly, judgmental, anti-feminist birds!

Both articles are concerned with the girlification of today’s women. Katrina Onstad, author of the Tavi Gevinson piece, bemoans the rise of “girl culture”, complaining that the word “girl” is “wispy and feminine, destined for head-patting and glass ceilings“. Jezebel’s Deborah Schoeneman, on the other hand, uses the term “woman-child” to describe those of us she feels aren’t acting our age. The hallmarks of a woman-child are, according to Schoeneman, many and varied. She writes that, “from sporting sparkly nail polish to religiously reading every bestselling young adult novel, these women seem to be reliving their teenage years with real gusto.” 

First of all, I didn’t realize that there were rules on how to be an adult female. Maybe there’s a handbook I’m missing? The handbook that, according to Schoeneman, would tell me to watch What To Expect When You’re Expecting instead of The Hunger Games, and advise me against using nail art. Because as a lady I should want to watch movies about other lady-types having babies instead of movies about smart, strong teenage girls kicking ass and taking names, I guess. Also I should have really boring nails.

The funny thing is that Schoeneman is totally selling me on the idea of becoming a woman-child. The way that she describes the beliefs and behaviours she dislikes actually make them sound more appealing than appalling. For instance:

“[The woman-child] truly believes that women are in it together and is all about helping her friends start businesses, meet guys and pick out a cute outfit for a big event. Competiveness among females in the workplace is perceived as totally 80s.” 

I am really confused about what world Schoeneman is living in where the above would be considered a bad thing. I guess she’s maybe concerned that so-called “women-children” are naive about the way things really work? Do I need to point out that we can end competitiveness in the workplace among women if all of us would just flat-out refuse to compete?

Schoeneman is also pretty concerned about the lack of rings on ladies’ fingers and buns in their ovens. She writes that:

“The woman-child will likely get married later than the increasing national average. Advances in fertility treatments like egg freezing have also added to their confidence that they can reproduce older and potentially prolong their own girlhood.”

And this is where she (hopefully) totally lost everyone who identifies as a feminist. Because what she’s advocating here is the same old song the patriarchy keeps singing: marry young, have babies, fulfill your biological destiny, etc. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that women might want to delay (or totally avoid) marriage and children for reasons that have nothing to do with an extended adolescence. It seems like for Schoeneman, as with so many other people, a husband and child are still the ultimate goal.

Schoeneman’s article, while outwardly angrier and more condescending, is ultimately easier to dismiss. It reads like the frustrated rant of someone who has not found adulthood to be the land of fancy dinner parties and Cartier bracelets, the way she always thought it would be. It reads like she’s someone who doesn’t see herself or her style reflected in some of the current trends, and has therefore decided that the trends themselves are at fault. It reads as if she’s upset that her female friends and acquaintances have continued to be themselves, rather than morphing into SERIOUS GROWNUPS at the stroke of midnight on their 21st birthdays.

At the end of the day, Schoeneman is the one with the problem, not the so-called women-children. If the way that her friends behave is an issue for her, then she needs to find new ones. Maybe some married friends with kids?

Onstad’s article is trickier for me to dissect, in part because it talks a lot about the dangers of nostalgia, and I am a total nostalgia machine.

First off, Onstad begins by complaining about the use of the word girl to describe grown women, writing that “…a roaring, shag-cut “woman” is a powerful agent“, whereas “girl” is “the word before the drunken grope“, as if those four little letters are somehow responsible for what she perceives to be the diminishment of feminism. As if the very word girl is somehow responsible for the “drunken gropes” and everything else we’re subject to.

Onstad uses this opening to segue into a sort of review of Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie Yearbook One, a collection of pieces (and “girlie ephemera” like stickers and a 45) that mostly come from Rookie, Gevinson’s online magazine. 16 year old Gevinson is, Onstad assures us, an actual girl (and thus, I guess, allowed to call herself that), and her magazine is aimed at teenagers.

Onstad begins by praising the honesty and authenticity of Rookie Yearbook One, and then starts veering towards the but that you’ve been sensing since the beginning of the article. Rooke Yearbook One is great and all, Onstad tells us, BUT it is totally, totally nostalgic for the 90s. Ah, the wonderful 90s, described by Onstad as, “the time when “slut” was lipsticked across bellies and Donita Sparks of the band L7 threw her tampon into the audience“. Those were good times, right?

Onstad then draws the following conclusion:

Perhaps this, then, is why a surprising chunk of Rookie’s girl culture is about the former passions of 30- and 40-somethings. The promise of that tough, smart, sexually confident ’90s “girl” never died, but it’s never quite been realized either. For women of a certain age, it’s intoxicating – and possibly narcissistic – to revisit the pop trappings of girlhood, and attempt to make sense of what happened.

And, you know, this is where it gets tough for me, because revisiting the trappings of my girlhood in an attempt to make sense of what happened is, like, my favourite thing to do. So there’s a part of me that wants to call Onstad up and be like, okay, you got me, guilty as charged.

But then I think, hang on. Let’s hold the metaphorical phone, Joan. First of all, Tavi Gevinson was only a tiny kid in the 90s, which makes it pretty damn hard for her to feel nostalgic about them. Like many (most?) teenagers, she probably feels dissatisfied with the current state of teenager affairs, and perhaps thinks that things were better (or at least more riot grrrrrl-y) 20 years ago. I went through a phase like that, too, except it involved me wearing tie-dye and listening to bands from the 60s (much to my mother’s amusement/dismay). It wasn’t that I was nostalgic for that time – how could I have been? – it was that I was struggling to figure out where I fit in the particular pop culture landscape that I inhabited.

As for those of us who lived through the 90s, it’s hard not to look back and think that yeah, badass ladies were having a moment back then. I don’t think that this is so much nostalgia, though, as it is a desire to figure out how to bring about a similar moment for the badass ladies of this decade. It’s not wallowing in narcissism and the pop trappings of girlhood, it’s a need to sift through the past, to sort the bad from the good so that we can figure out what needs to be discarded and what we can keep.

And yeah, I’ll admit, the idea that there’s a smart, savvy generation of girls eager to take up the mantle of badassery and fight the good fight is pretty damn intoxicating.

Finally, let’s take a look at the term “man-child”, the male cultural counterpart to the “woman-child”. A “man-child” is typically described as someone who is emotionally immature, often refusing to own up to his responsibilities. A “man-child” often lacks any sort of motivation, and prefers to avoid many of the milestones of adulthood. Now, contrast that to the descriptions above of the “woman-child” as someone who reads YA books and wears sparkly nail polish. A man is a “man-child” because of his total lack of maturity; a woman is called a “woman-child” based on her likes and interests alone.

So, basically what I’m saying here is, fuck the patriarchy, and fuck this anti-woman bullshit. A woman can like whatever she wants, can wear whatever she wants, etc. By believing that they should avoid certain cultural phenomena just because it’s perceived as being young or girlish, Schoeneman and Onstad are missing out on a lot of good stuff. By telling us that we should avoid these things as well, they are attempting to create an even narrower definition of how we, as women, should behave. And believing that the way forward is to put limits on what a woman can like, say, or do is, like, the least feminist thing ever.

So there.

“Hi, it’s me, Tavi. I am way cooler than you. I mean, in case you were wondering.”

The F Word (or, why can’t you just admit that you’re a feminist?)

13 Aug

When I was growing up, my mother always self-identified as a feminist. When she would introduce my sisters and I, she would refer to us as her three contributions to the feminist movement. I grew up with this idea that feminists were awesome, kick-ass women (and men!) who went around fighting injustice and high-fiving everyone. Feminism!

So, not gonna lie, I was pretty upset and confused when, a few weeks ago, I discovered that my mother no longer thinks of herself as a feminist.

It came up during discussion in which I was trying to convince my sisters that they were also feminists (these discussions, as I’m sure you know, always go super well). In a moment of frustration, I turned to my mother and asked her to just tell my sisters that they were feminists so that we could stop arguing about it and get on with our lives already.

To my enormous surprise, my mother said, “I’m not sure that I would call myself a feminist anymore. I don’t like that label.”

Whoa.

Last weekend, when we were visiting my mother, I brought it up again. Because I am a super sensitive individual, the conversation went something like this:

Me: Why don’t you call yourself a feminist anymore? That’s stupid. Feminists are awesome.

Mom: There are a lot of people who use that label whose beliefs I don’t agree with. I don’t want people to associate me with them.

Me: That’s like saying that by calling yourself a Christian, you’re somehow associated with Fred Phelps. It’s like saying that by being part of the United Church of Canada, people will think that you picket gay people’s funerals and believe that AIDS is a punishment from God.

Mom: Annie, I don’t want to argue about this.

Me: WELL I DO.

And I do. I want to argue about feminism with everyone, all the time. I really, truly don’t understand why people don’t want to be known as feminists.

Do you like wearing pants? Do you like being able to vote, or own property? Do you enjoy not belonging to another person and having agency over your own life? Above all, do you believe that women are people and deserve the same rights and treatment as men?

If the answer to any or all of the above is yes (especially about women being people – please tell me your answer to that is yes), then, as Jezebel would say, guess what? You’re a feminist.

I don’t understand why people fear or dislike that label. Sure, stupid, ignorant things have been said (and done) in the name of feminism, but isn’t that true for any movement? If you let those ignorant people dictate what the term “feminism” means, then you’re giving them power, both over yourself and over the movement.

Why are we letting people co-opt our movement? Why are we so quick to wash our hands of it and move on? Why are we so afraid of people having bad associations with the idea of feminism?

Instead of distancing ourselves from the movement, we need to use this as an opportunity to prove that feminism is brilliant, rational, and urgently necessary to our society. Instead of giving away our power, we need to grab it with both hands and take it back.

By silently withdrawing from the label of “feminist”, the message that you are sending out is that those other people, the ones that you don’t agree with, truly do speak for the entire feminist movement. Or, even worse, your silence is communicating that you don’t believe that feminism has a place in our society anymore; people might take your silence to mean that you believe that equality has been achieved (hah!) and male privilege doesn’t exist.

So call yourself a feminist. Prove to everyone how awesome feminism is. Get to work changing everyone’s minds about the dour, humourless feminist stereotypes (and the crazy man-hating ones – those are my favourites!). Go out there, fight injustice and give some high fives.

Oh, and the next person to say “feminazi” gets a swift kick to the shins. Just sayin’.

This is what a feminist looks like