Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Quick thought: The effect of underrepresentation

One of the more interesting things I've learned recently is that when women represent just one third of a group, men believe they are the majority and are dominating.

I can't help but see how this is an effect of the persistent underrepresentation of women, especially in various forms of media and leadership. The result is that male voices and perspectives become the norm, so when there are just enough female voices (about 34%, as it turns out) it's odd enough to the men in the room that they actually feel like women are dominating. From there, we have some stereotypes and myths which follow like that women talk all the time.

And, of course, under representation is compounded when you take into account other identities such as race, sexual orientation, etc.

Time after time the default person in the media is depicted as a straight, white, able bodied, cis man. As such, we are systematically taught to empathize with these characters. We see them, their stories and their perspectives, as "normal." They are humanized. And, without critically analyzing this lesson, we are at risk of going out into the "real world" and seeing people who don't fit this mold as overbearing, simply because they are also speaking.

It's fascinating. And kinda scary.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Rape Culture Watch: SNL

[Content note: Sexual assault "joke," discussion of rape culture]

This past weekend's episode of SNL sure had a lot of cringe worthy moments. And not just the kind that come from really awkward, unfunny, weird crap. Also the kind that come from extended "jokes" about sexual assault.


The skit in question featured host Seth Rogen at an engagement party where his awkward hilly billy cousin, played by Cecily Strong, is revealing all kinds of embarrassing facts about his past. At first it appears that he did something sexual with a guy, a blow job I think (oh how embarrassing. *Eye roll.*) But then it turns out that this incident occurred when the other guy was sleeping and he is totally unaware it ever happened.

Cue me trying to stifle a scream of sheer exasperation.

Look, I know I'm not supposed to go to SNL for my social justice-y laughs, but given some of the slightly more progressive stuff they've done recently, I was pretty disappointed that they wrote something that gross. How in the world did they think it would be super-awesome to produce a skit where the entire punch line rests on a violation of consent? (And add to that the fact that they coupled the sexual assault with homosexuality, as if those things are equally deserving of shame...what?!)

If you're someone who hasn't thought about rape culture in detail before, it could be easy to dismiss this type of skit as "harmless" but I'd like to remind everyone that each of these "small" depictions of rape-as-a-joke add up to the cultural mockery of survivors and the normalization of rape. This results in a society where defense attorneys argue that if a semi-unconscious person doesn't "affirmatively say no" it's not rape. (Just typing that out makes my skin crawl.)

This shit is real life. So you'll have to excuse me if I don't find it funny. And hey, SNL, I'd take more weirdo French dance skits over this crap, any day. That's how low my bar is right now.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Consent is so simple

[Content note: discussions of rape, consent, and bodily autonomy. Brief mention of victim blaming.]

I've been in several situations lately where I have been thinking acutely about how we, as adults, can teach the foundational principles of consent to very young children. It's actually not that difficult.

Most recently, I came across this article. A few weeks back, I enjoyed listening to Jessica Luther share on the Gender Justice & Parenting panel at WE Con about how she teaches her son that his body is his, because that inherently implies that other people's bodies are theirs only, and all boundaries must be respected. She even goes as far as to ensure that her dad (the child's grandfather) doesn't tickle her son if he says stop.

Now you could hear that statement and think she's being a buzz kill, or you could stop for a second and think about what consent and bodily autonomy are in their simplest terms: You never have a right to do anything to anyone else's body that they don't want. That's it.

So teaching this to young children is entirely possible. And it's easy. If adults commit to this lesson, the implications for our future are really, really positive. Of course, this means we must all follow the rules too. Like Luther suggests, this includes "innocent" things like tickling, hugging, and putting your arm around someone. If they say no, that is to be respected.

When we backslide on respecting someone's bodily autonomy when it comes to a simple hug, then we open to the door to thinking that this shit is funny, and then rape culture is ultimately perpetuated.

I know that change doesn't happen over night...but we've got to start somewhere. Why not with our kids?

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Still working on this "body positivity" thing

[Content note: mentions of weight, body shame]

It's no secret that I embrace body positivity and denounce fatphobia. Two seconds on this blog will reveal that much. But as with unlearning any of the dangerous messages that society transmits, even when we try our best, it takes time and there's a LOT of back sliding.

The biggest way that I know that internalized fatphobia still has an effect on my mind is how I view my own normal body fluctuations. I put on a pair of pants that I haven't worn in a few months and they're loose: I feel happy/excited. I put on a dress I haven't worn in over a year and it's snug: I feel gross/ashamed/sad.

I look out into the world and can appreciate all the other lovely fat ladies I see. I can teach body positive workshops and lessons to others. I can write blog after blog post about the negative effects of healthism, fatphobia, and body shaming...but when push comes to shove, the hardest battle I will ever fight on this front is inside my own head. Just like unlearning racism, sexism, transphobia, homphobia, ableism, etc...the wider societal messages fight against my personal process every day.

So many times I feel disgusting and ashamed.

But I am thankful that I do know that this is all a process. I'm getting better at forgiving myself when I do slide back into old views that thinner=better. I can let the thought exist in my mind for a moment and then push it to the side. Beating up myself about it won't solve anything.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this reminder that no matter how far you evolve in your journey to self-acceptance and body positivity, it will probably always be a work in progress. And that's ok.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Carl's Junior/Hardee's: Still Sucks


Carl's Jr. (Hardee's if you grew up in the Midwest like me) has a long history of gross, shitty, sexist advertising and their most recent ad is no different. I had seen it play a few times recently, but I didn't actually pay attention until last night. Here it is:

Yes, that's right. To eat their new Western X-tra Bacon Thickburger, Mystique from X-Men, the shape shifting bad ass, turned into a dude. With the tag lines, "Man Up" and "Eat like you mean it."

You can't make this stuff up.

And I'm not going to even waste my time explaining why this is sexist. That is totally self evident. I'm tired (and actually home sick today, so yeah.) Let me summarize it with a sweet, simple: Fuck off Carl's Jr.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

When your frame of reference is flawed/Supporting someone who's being abused

[Content note: abuse]

I was having a conversation the other day and I stumbled onto a topic that I've thought about and talked around before, but never really dwelled in for a second.

When you come from an abusive background, your frame of reference for relationships is quite often very, deeply flawed. It's simple for others to see, even when you can't.

I know that I've probably just stated the obvious and people cover this all the time, but it's so true that I need to reiterate it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Internet ain't your scapegoat, bro

[Content note: brief mentions of rape threats, death threats, suicide, harassment]

I recently caught a discussion hosted by Marty Moss-Coane on NPR's Radio Times about the extreme harassment women (in particular) face online with guests Amanda Hess and Danielle Citron. [If you'd like to hear the full thing you can here, but note that it does cover such potentially triggering topics as threats of violence and rape and other misogynistic attacks. (My apologies there isn't a transcript at the link, I usually try to link to both sound and text.)]

What I'd like to react to in particular is one of the comments a caller made. He shared a story about a time he sent a Facebook message and then later realized that he was being really strange and became this whole other person because of social media.


I'm tired of this line of thinking and I don't think that it was properly shut down on the program, so let me add my unsolicited 2 cents here. As I say over on the info section of FacebookSexism, "If you're a feminist, Facebook can be a minefield. If you're a sexist, it's your playground. But just so that we're clear, social media doesn't create misogyny, it merely reflects what is already there."

I mean this so firmly and so sincerely. We can't change the misogyny (and other bigotry) in our culture if we dismiss it by saying that "the Internet made me do it!" I understand that the nature of the Internet separates people from others' humanity and it increases the chance that they will say something shitty but it, in no way, creates those the slurs and hate that comes to the surface when someone is behind a screen. That hatred, that misogyny, that violent rhetoric was clearly already there.

It reminds me of the old trope about how "haha, person X becomes so racist when they're drunk." NO. They were always a racist, they only say that stuff when they're drunk because their inhibitions are lowered.

So, nah bro, the Internet didn't make you do it. (And it's interesting to me that the people who might make this excuse are probably the same folks who drone on and on about the super-duper importance of taking "personal responsibility" when it comes to abortion, welfare, etc.)

All of this feels particularly timely right now because I received my first "kill yourself" comment on Tumblr (ya know, the kind of comment I get here all the time.) I was really interested in the discussion shared between Moss-Coane, Hess, and Citron because it covered what recourse those of us who are harassed online have. But unfortunately, the law is years behind in this area, so for the meantime, we're going to have to deal with it.

Not cool.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fragile male egos and hurty feelings if you're nice to them?

Still swamped over here in chaos town. But came across this study and I HAD to quickly share it.

As found on the Huffington Post,
According to a new study, men feel less confident when helped by other men. Research out of Purdue University found that men who had the door held open for them by another man experienced lower self-esteem. 
Psychologists Megan McCarty and Janice Kelly positioned a male researcher walking towards a set of double doors at a campus building. When a student approached the doors, the researcher either stepped ahead and opened the door for them, or fell into line with them and reached for the adjacent door so that the two doors opened at the same time. Inside the building, a female researcher approached the 196 subjects with a short questionnaire measuring their self-esteem. 
Researchers found that male students who had just had the door opened for them felt less self-confident and had lower self-esteem. (Women were unaffected by the door-holding condition.)
...In a paper published in the December 2013 online issue of Social Influence, the researchers suggest that the gesture of opening a door for a man may unintentionally send the message that they are "inferior or too dependent," or feminized in some way. 
Are you kidding me? I...I just can't...WHAAAAAT?

How ridiculous that we have socialized the male ego with such fragility and extreme misogyny that they can't handle someone else opening the door for them? This is not only mindbogglingly absurd to me, but it also explains the whole dudes REFUSING to let me open a door for them phenomena that I've written about before. (Although the study doesn't technically specify if the same effect happens when a woman is the door opener, I feel like it would.)'s the quick and dirty of this all: Be polite to other people. Accept other people's politeness. There is literally nothing implied about your manliness in a door opening interaction beyond the fact that I probably arrived at the door before you. Happily live and move on. 

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Privilege is...

Thought about a microcosm of privilege recently...privilege is posting incredibly bigoted, often violent, comments on public social media under your full name and not even thinking twice about it.

When I started blogging more seriously a few years ago, I made the decision to not write under my legal name. I was concerned that my personal opinions could come to affect my professional success or the reputation of the nonprofit I work for. As I say in my about me section: as someone whose livelihood depends on the generosity of others (individual donors, government grants, corporations, foundations, etc.) I do not ever want my personal opinions to be seen as representative of my professional affiliations. I don't feel that my writing is particularly controversial, but you never know what others might think, and I want to minimize any confusion between the personal and professional spheres of my life. 

A couple of recent interactions I had online with some raging bigots made me think about this and how sad it makes me. All that my writing really amounts to is advocating for oppressed people, bodily autonomy, and the end of rape culture...but I'm worried that these things are somehow controversial...really?? On the other hand, we have people throwing around all kinds of slurs, threats, etc. under their full names and not batting an eye. They probably know that society generally affirms their views and there will be little consequence for their actions (unless they hold some kind of public office or something, and even then who knows?)

Now, I realize that many of these people might just not be as generally cautious as I am, but I'm certainly not the only feminist/social justice blogger, tweeter, tumblr, who writes under a pseudonym or just first name. The concern is I have is shared by many. (And I'm privileged in that my only worries center on professional damage and not actual bodily harm like the threats I've seen slung at many trans women and women of color.)

So yeah, privilege is feeling free to write under your "real" name. 

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Monday, March 10, 2014

In case you find yourself in a debate with a victim blamer any time soon...

[Content note: rape, sexual assault, victim blaming]

You know how every time anything about rape or sexual assault and drinking comes up some dude has to chime in with things like, "What if you're both drunk? It's so confusing," and "Having drunk sex and regretting it the next day isn't rape!"...?? Well, a study I've seen floating around several places importantly shows that these examples have little relevance to real life and are pretty inappropriate in discussions of rape. Turns out male sexual predators aren't necessarily intoxicated themselves but they ARE targeting drunk women.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Revisiting the "Friend Zone"

About a year ago I wrote "A Primer on the Friend Zone." My basic premise is that this phenomena is sexist and should die a quick death. Mostly, I hate it because it:

1) It ignores the actual wishes of the woman
2) It displays an entitled attitude to a woman's body
3) It posits that the worst thing ever is to be "just" friends with a woman
4) It's a go to complaint of guys who are actually deeply misogynistic

Since publishing that piece, it's been linked in a few different places and has received more attention and comments than my average post. Some of the comments shared a view I've heard frequently...that the real reason men complain about the friend zone is because they've been the victims of manipulation by women. Let's take a closer look at this idea for a moment.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Seeking Consent Isn't a Mood Killer

[Content note: discussions of sexual consent, rape culture]

In my numerous complaints about how busy/chaotic my life is lately, I believed I mentioned that I'm buying a house. Well now it has been bought! We closed today and we move on Thursday and it is wonderful and great and exhausting and terrifying. That's one of many reasons I've been writing (and reading!) much less lately. What I do write isn't super detailed or quality. I feel bad about that, but I'm also trying not to beat myself up about it. Self care and all that.

Anyhoo one of the things I did catch recently was this great list of "16 ways to talk about consent." I was pretty psyched when it came across my Tumblr dashboard. Here's a few:
1. "Do you like when I...?"
2. "I like when you..."
3. "Will you...?"
4. "How does this feel?"
5. "Do you want me to...?"
6. "Do you want to...?"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stick Your Dictionary Up Your...

[Content note: flashing gif below the cut.]

I am so incredibly sick of people who think that textbook definitions of concepts like "sexism" and "equality" are relevant to nuanced discussions of kyriarchy.

Specifically, I'm talking about the frequent messages I receive that say things like "You aren't for real equality, you're for special treatment!" or "It goes both ways!" or "Why do you put men down? I thought feminism was about equality!" (Side note, I don't even ever put men what?)

And then there is the very verbal crowd of MRAs out there who bemoan "misandry" without understanding that every single piece of evidence they site to "prove" it actually comes from and is perpetuated by other men.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gender Neutral Language Modifications

I write a ton about language, because I feel strongly that the words we use both influence and are influenced by our reality. In other words, language is important.

I love words. I love writing. I love vocabulary. I love crafting an argument...but beyond that I am someone who would never bemoan "political correctness" or accuse someone of being the "PC police." If you can afford someone a modicum of respect by simply shifting a few words, why wouldn't you?

So in this realm, I'm almost always thinking about how the words I use can be more inclusive. Lately, one thing in particular has been bugging me, as I quickly mused in a post on Tumblr last night:
I’ve become really attuned to unnecessarily gendered language lately like, “access to abortion is so important for women.” Or a commercial I saw recently about factory work appreciation (I can’t for the life of me remember the product but) the sentence it ended with was something like “in appreciation of hard working American men and women.” 
Why can’t we just say “access to abortion is so important” or “in appreciation of hard working Americans.” First and foremost above all, these options are more inclusive to trans and non binary people, but also the alternatives I suggested just sound like stronger statements to me. So, like, be more efficient AND include everyone all at the same time. Why not? 
Almost every time I hear someone say a sentence that includes "men and women" I find myself wondering, WHY? It's such a long way of saying people, and since people, as a word exists and it runs little risk of bugging anyone, why not just go with that? For the same reasoning, I love terms like police officer, fire fighter, mail carrier, etc.

I would encourage everyone to think about this for a while and try to move away from describing groups with any unnecessarily gendered terminology. As I've mentioned numerous times before, feminism is one of the biggest offenders of this when we constantly frame reproductive/family planning services as necessary for women and thereby erase people who need these things and don't ID as female.

The false gender binary is taught from an early age, especially in how we describe and work with students in classrooms. As someone who was a substitute for a while, I had to conform to the structure the teachers had in place for their kids. In elementaries that was almost always walking in two lines in the hallway, one line of boys and one line of girls. I couldn't control that, but I could refrain from saying "boys and girls!" when I called them to attention. It was a small, easy shift to something totally neutral like, "I need everyone's eyes on me." Teachers could and should think about the implicit messages sent. Hallway lines can be arranged by last name instead of gender. Students can be called students, kids, everybody, etc. without reference to the false binary.

Again, these are small things...micro shifts that, if enough people think about them can, over time, reshape how we view and approach things.

Just some mid week musings.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What I'm Reading: Janet Mock's Redefining Realness

To open this blog post up with some honesty...I'm exhausted.

Usually the winter at work is a little slower than other times and I get a moment to breathe. Not so this go around. For a litany of reasons (which as I've mentioned before include more than just my accidental over commitment to volunteering) I'm running on empty. So there's less time for me to read and stay caught up on the world and less time to write and less time to even think.

Thankfully, I have found time to fit in Janet Mock's amazing book, Redefining Realness, in which she chronicles her personal life experiences as a trans woman of color.

[Image text: Janet Mock pictured on her book cover]
Here's a brief synopsis from the book's Amazon page:
This powerful memoir follows Mock’s quest for identity, from an early, unwavering conviction about her gender to a turbulent adolescence in Honolulu that saw her transitioning during the tender years of high school, self-medicating with hormones at fifteen, and flying across the world alone for sex reassignment surgery at just eighteen. With unflinching honesty, Mock uses her own experience to impart vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of trans youth and brave girls like herself. 
In a word, it's incredible. Mock is a wonderfully relatable person with a true knack for connecting to others through the written word. I found myself, so different from her in so many ways, nodding my head vigorously in agreement at the lessons she imparts and the dissection of how her personal stories reflect wider societal trends that so many marginalized people face. She delves fearlessly and truthfully into very private facts of her life from sex work to abuse, all while educating and imparting messages of hope and possibility.

I wish that I had time to give this book the review/analysis that it deserves...but that's why this is a "what I'm reading" and not a full review. Let me just end with a strong recommendation: READ IT. You will be better for it.

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