Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Apologies and a thought on educating others

As I've mentioned a million, billion times, early-mid November is the most busy time of year for me professionally. And this year, I went MIA for much longer than I usually do. So sorry to fall of the face of the earth, but not sorry that I've been taking sometime to recharge, rest my brain, and not write.

All that aside, the event I was helping manage for work brought up an interesting mental debate for me (one which I always return to.)

I was running a session where a panel of high school aged young women were talking to funders and sponsors about the real issues they and their peers experience. It's a very unique thing my organization does, where instead of "high profile" and very "important" adults constantly lecturing, educating, and "inspiring" youth...youth tell them what's really up. I love it.

One activity we had going while people arrived asked the adults to write positive messages for girls. This morning I was reading back over the answers and I saw one that made me think a whole lot of things all at once. The statement was, "Boys can be your allies, but they need to be taught how."

My first reaction was YES, AMAZING! followed quickly by, "But wait, boys should educate themselves. We can't put the onus on girls all the time." followed quickly by "No one owes anyone an education!" followed quickly by "But the default of our society is so misogynistic, that we all must actively unlearn it. Why not help boys do just that, if you can?"

It's something I think about a lot. I go back and forth on the concept that marginalized people bear a responsibility in educating the privileged. On one hand, the privileged should undoubtedly be held responsible for their own thoughts, views, and prejudices...and changing them. On the other hand, the dominant culture so regularly preferences whiteness, malenesss, straightness, cissness, able-bodiedness, thinness, (etc.) that if we don't specifically listen to the marginalized, the status quo will be forever maintained.

I guess what I keep coming back to is the conclusion that individuals do not bear the responsibility of educating anyone (but themselves), but if and when we feel up to it, we should try. So if someone wants to tell girls to take the opportunity to educate boys on issues of sexism and misogyny, then GREAT, so long as we don't ever hold girls responsible for the continued presence of sexism and misogyny.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My body is not a costume

[Content note: fat shaming, fatphobia, weight loss]

I wasn't surprised to see a few "fat suit" costumes come across my newsfeed Friday night and Saturday morning on Facebook.

No, not surprised. Disgusted. Embarrassed. Outraged. Yes, all of those, but not surprised.

There's a disturbingly long history of fat suit usage in popular culture and our media. The trend of these artifacts is to mock, shame, humiliate, and belittle actual fat people. But even the more seemingly positive "I'm just trying to experience life like you for a day" examples convey the message that thin people sensationally experiencing the just so awful lives of fat people is more interesting than listening to ACTUAL fat folks.

One costume I saw in particular rubbed me the wrong way. It looked like this (but this particular image was pulled from Google.)

[Image text: two people posing in fat suits and Biggest Loser contestant shirts.]
The Biggest Loser is one of the most heinous examples of outright fat hatred that I can think of...what they put their contestants through is dehumanizing and outright dangerous. So for some thin folks to not only don a fat body for funsies--but one that is so visibly abused and degraded by that crap show week after week...well it just pisses me the fuck off.

Listen very carefully: My body is not something you get to put on for fun and take off again, retreating into your ignorant bliss of thin privilege. My body is not to be worn for mockery. You don't get to do that. My body is not to be your object of shock! It is not to be disparaged. It's taken me YEARS to feel comfortable and strong enough to say that so publicly...to embrace myself...to feel at peace and you don't get to take that away.

My body is not your fucking costume--it's my actual existence. When will people start learning that other folks identities are NOT to be worn?

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some random thoughts on Gamergate

[Content note: misogyny, harassment, threats]

I haven't been following Gamergate too much, because I can only consume so much on the topic of misogyny and harassment before I need a nap, a hug, and a bottle of wine. But I did catch a recent discussion NPR's Diane Rehm Show about online harassment and they briefly touched on Gamergate. I was horrified to hear the extremeness of the threats that Anita Sarkeesian has received. I mean, I knew it was bad, but I'm not sure if I grasped just how bad.

Stories like these clearly demonstrate just how all encompassing the culture of fear (including rape culture) is that women must navigate within. The message is obvious: don't cross us or shit will happen to you. It makes it so that women who are on the periphery of the situation are legitimately afraid to speak up and the women who are involved have to move just to feel safe.

It's all the more frustrating because the misogynistic response here actually validates why these women are speaking up in the first place. (Not that the threat makers are capable of noticing that.)

It's all kind of terrifying. I've long said that being a woman with an opinion online is rarely a neutral experience. As I've lived first hand, someone is always there to tell you kill yourself or to call you every misogynistic thing they can think of. As one of the guests on the NPR segment explained, often the reaction is to tell women that they should just stay offline--as if that is any kind of actual solution. Let's be real, that mentality is one step from, "She was asking for it." It places the responsibility back on women, instead of examining toxic hypermasculinity. It polices women's ability to act freely instead of deconstructing how our culture continues to transmit misogyny to men which says, "If a woman disagrees with you, you put that bitch in her place."

I'm trying to wrap my mind around the experience of having someone critique something I love (in this case, gaming) and thinking that a suitable reaction is, "I'm going to threaten her very life." But I can't get my mind there, because I haven't been raised in a society that is so tailored to my being that I'm entitled enough to think my favorite stuff is beyond criticism.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

A Fatshaming Moment

[Content note: Fatphobia, food]

In case you haven't had a fat shaming moment yet, today, here's one for you!

[Image text: A cartoon of what appears to be a fat man wearing a shirt that says "USA." He is eating a cheeseburger and fries. Drinking beer and soda, and smoking. He's screaming "EBOLA!!" and the text says, "Obesity: 300,000 deaths per year, Tobacco: 450,000 deaths per year and Alcohol: 88,000 deaths per year."]
SIGH.

Listen--if we want to discuss the problematic, racist, xenophobic response of the American public to the outbreak of Ebola, COOL. But this isn't actually how you do it. I am so incredibly sick of critiques of the American people which center on mocking and shaming fat people...equating them with disgust and excess. And let's be clear, no one does this worse than leftist cartoonists.

It's tired and old and hateful.



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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rape Culture Watch: The Mindy Project Part 2

[Content note: Rape culture, vulgar language]

Sigh. I'm a glutton for punishment.

I should have learned long ago, and I said I would learn, that The Mindy Project is garbage. But I keep tuning in. And 75% of the time, I like the show for being mindless fun. That other 25% should have sent me packing by now. I feel like a really bad feminist.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stouffer's Commercials and Teen Girls

I might be looking too far into this, but a series of Stouffer's commercials caught my eye. First up, we have one released this past spring, which ran until June.

In it, teen girl, Katie, is on her cell phone at family dinner, but when she eats Stouffer's lasagna, she puts the phone down.



The message I got initially was "Our food will bring your family together for in-person interactions, get your kid off her phone, and actually talking to you."

Ok, I can get down with that...but then we have this latest installment, which is airing now and made me think a little differently. In this one, another teen girl is shown, this time telling her family a story that "had 30 minutes left." But then the girl takes a bite of Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese and suddenly forgets the story.



This is what rubs me the wrong way...Now I can't help but wonder...what are they selling here? Not having to listen to your daughter tell a long story? But Stouffer's, I thought you wanted us to talk to our families more?

I know this is by far NOT the most serious gender issue, but I can't help but bristle a little when I see this because it doesn't exist in a vacuum. We live in a society that hates on teen girls, and makes me protective. Media routinely portrays teen and preteen girls as vapid and self-absorbed. It downplays their interests as frivolous and embarrassing. It uses them as an insult (think, "What are you, a 12 year old girl?" said to men.)

In reality, there might be no gender messages here at all, but with the 2 spots together, part of me can't help but see it as Stouffer's selling "how to deal with your annoying teen daughter!"

What do you think?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beautiful, Hilarious Aidy Bryant

[Content note: some discussion of fat shaming stereotypes and weight loss]

Something kinda awesome is quietly happening on SNL right now. Since Fall of 2012, Aidy Bryant has been a cast member. If you don't watch the show, here she is:

[Image text: Bryant standing at a formal event in a black and blue cocktail dress.]
Her addition to the line up immediately caught my attention. I was overjoyed for a lady cast member who is bigger than a size 10. I mean...I can easily think of many fat dudes in the show's history (John Belushi, Horatio Sans, Chris Farley, and currently Keenan Thomas.)

But big ladies? I can't think of any...have there been others besides Bryant?

So I was rooting for her, and she didn't disappoint. Many of her skits have been the highlight of my viewing experience lately. But there's another pitfall of ladies on SNL, which I will call the Melissa McCarthy effect--where they are too often written into skits as kinda disgusting weirdos frequently obsessed with food. (That's not to say I don't love McCarthy's times hosting the show because she's hilarious, but the content does make me kinda sad.)

But this isn't happening with Bryant, and that's the quiet amazing thing that I'm watching. To my observation, Bryant is being used in a body neutral way. Sometimes she plays someone absurd, but other times she plays someone who is sexy, just like any of the other ladies. (I wish this didn't feel revolutionary to me, but it does.) And because she's hilarious and kills it nearly every time, she keeps getting more and more prominent roles.

I first got an inkling of this last year during the music video skit "(Do It On My) Twin Bed." In it the female cast mates are talking about bringing home their boyfriends to their parents house for the holidays and the weirdness of having sex in their childhood bedrooms. Bryant is there with the more conventionally attractive cast mates and it's no big deal. Because...it's actually not, ya know? Us fat ladies actually DO have healthy sex lives too.

This theme continued during this season's opener, which featured Bryant in a skit about a sexual medication called "Cialis Turnt." Again, the joke here isn't Bryant herself, but rather the ridiculousness of the content. I'm sure other fat ladies like myself know exactly why I find this so interesting. For us to not be caricatured as the hypersexual, but intended-to-be-seen-as-repulsive figure is rare.

The best thing about Bryant's role in the season opener, is that she was cast in a skit about flirting opposite Chris Pratt, who is widely considered as a Hottie McHotterson lately (due to his extreme weight loss...if you ask me he was just as attractive before, but that's a blog post for another day.) And again, it's no small thing that the joke of the skit is not that SHE is flirting with HIM, but HOW they are both flirting. And if anything, her "big fat ass" isn't a point of shame, but pride: thanks, Nicki Minaj! (And it's worth nothing that Bryant has also appeared in another skit last year which at least partially embraces the term "fat" as a self-descriptor. On national television. Who else does that?)

I just love it. I mean, I'm not saying I love the content of all of these skits...but I do love her place in them.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Getting older

[Content note: light mention of abuse]

I haven't written a word all week. Things have been incredibly busy and draining for me. Mostly work things, which is probably why I have a cold that is getting worse because I haven't taken time to properly rest.

It's been a week of horrible annoyances and stress, but all that faded into the unimportant when I got a call an hour ago that my maternal grandmother passed away this evening, or as she was known to her grandkids, Mammaw.

The really awful thing is that I didn't even know the woman. As in typical abuse patterns, my dad isolated my mom and us from almost everyone, including her family who did not approve of his behavior. Add that to the fact that Mammaw had a stroke when I was younger and moved to Tennessee to live with my aunt who could provide her with care. The moral of the story is that I'm mourning the relationship that could have been with her as much as I am mourning the passing of her life.

Mammaw was my last living grandparent. My dad's parents were incredibly influential in my life, and as I've mentioned a couple times, my paternal grandmother had a profound impact on who I am today. My maternal grandfather died 4 years before I was born.

All of this comes at the cusp of my 30th birthday when I've been thinking about my own life and going down the frequently terrifying path of dwelling in the concept of mortality. It's mind boggling to think about the fact that there is now only one living generation of my family older than me. Scary and horrible and weird and sad and bone chilling to me.

On the other hand, there are some aspects of aging that I'm OK with...I really love the person I am. I am more self-assured than I've ever been. I feel like I'm making an impact in the world with my work. I have a partner who loves me (despite my many flaws) and who helps me laugh every day. We don't engage in the petty stuff we did in our early 20's.

Myself at 30 is not anywhere near what I thought it would be like when I imagined my future at 15 or 25, but I'm still pretty damn proud.

I do regret that I didn't know Mammaw and I don't have some happy stories and anecdotes to reflect on right now. But part of growing up is learning not to beat yourself up, and when to take a lesson to heart. I'm going to stop sweating the small stuff right now and focus on what actually matters. At least for a bit! Cheers.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Bubbles are Great...Until You Leave Them

[Content note: rape culture, pedophilia]

As mentioned, last weekend, I had a fantastic trip to Chicago. It was the best time, full of laughter and love. Of course, venturing into a new city and hanging out with all kinds of folks also means that I wasn't in my safe little feminist bubble, and I sometimes forget that. My happy little wonderful bubble...that lulls me into a false sense of how the world really is.

I know all too well that assholes are out there, but I don't usually have to spend time around them, yanno? Sometimes they feel as relevant to my actual daily life as a yeti.

But I had a situation this weekend that sent me flying back into the reality of what the world is. At karaoke one evening, I was sitting next to a guy I've been tangentially aware of but don't really know. Some of the other people it the room put on an R. Kelly song, and because I can't let that stuff go unaddressed, I said, "Ah yes, a child rapist everyone. You're listening to a child rapist." Random dude next to me says...totally seriously...
"At least he's not like Michael Jackson and doesn't rape little boys."
A piece of my soul died. Yes, that's right...this guy thinks that the rape of little girls isn't as bad as the rape of boys. Apparently, girl lives aren't worth as much as boy's. (In case this needs to be clarified, it's pretty clear he's coming from a homophobic, misogynistic place. Child rape is child rape and it's all horrific.) So I said that to him, totally stone faced, "Child rape is child rape" giving him a moment to realize his fuck up but he didn't back down or THINK about what he said at all.

My skin's still crawling thinking about this. What a turd. What a dickwad. What a disgusting shit stain.

Yep...stuff's much nicer inside my happy little bubble. But out there, the rape culture is, of course, alive and well.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Today in victim blaming

[Content note: abuse, violence, victim blaming, sexual assault, rape culture]

After a lovely long weekend away in Chicago (and specifically being in a bubble) I've been catching up on the news. And FANTASTIC! Misogyny is live and well. /Sarcasm

I don't know a damn thing about sports, but I do know that people have been watching a video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Janay Palmer, (btw, don't). Some folks have been all, "Why would she marry him after that?!" And when her defense of him on Instagram was shared on Facebook, I saw quite a few people calling her "dumb" and "crazy."

Sometimes only a gif can adequately express frustration:

Thankfully, Beverly Gooden took to Twitter and started #WhyIStayed which demonstrated the incredibly complex and dangerous situation that victims of domestic violence face every day.

If you don't understand this topic...if you've never been abused or studied toxic relationship dynamics...the solution is to keep your opinions to yourself and go READ from people who do. And let me make this perfectly clear and as blunt as possible...if you hear a story like Palmer Rice's and you EVER feel the need to say something like 1) Why didn't she just leave? 2) Why did she marry him? 3) What did she expect? ...I ask that you kindly a) shut up and b) fuck off forever. That's really all I can say about that.


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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I'm not so sure about "Good Enough"

[Content note: mentions of fatphobia, weight loss, harassment, objectification, and one article in the section about Playboy details an instance of the sexualization of a child.]

I've been ruminating on this topic for a while, but I haven't quite known how to put it in words. I still don't, actually, but I figured I'd at least give it a shot.

I'm someone who tries as hard as possible to be really self aware. As such, I've taken every personality test available to me. That's led me to learn very clearly that I thrive on order and structure (for example, I'm a "concrete sequential," ESTJ, and my Strengths Finder results are: Achiever, Discipline, Input, Learner, and Communication.) And I have a hard time with things being "half assed" as it were. I like it when stuff's wrapped up neatly, tasks are complete, and work is thorough.

Of course, life doesn't play out that way and almost everything we encounter in "real life" has a lot of ambiguity and messy edges to it. This is especially true of social justice and feminist endeavors.

What I mean specifically, is that I want everything to be as inclusive, equitable, and justice-oriented as possible, but it never is. It's the whole, "your fave is problematic" thing. Even people/pieces of media/companies that are awesome about one topic are horrific at another. And I can't ignore it. Once your eyes are opened to various intersecting oppressions and privileges, you can't turn it off...my brain has become rewired to bristle when people use certain language or invoke certain concepts. So I can't overlook when an awesome feminist does something shitty. It sort of taints the whole thing for me and I'm not really sure what to do about this.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writer's Block Sucks

[Content note: mention of emotional abuse]

Things have been pretty quiet around here for a while. I mean, I'm getting up posts here and there, but nothing of substantial content. I wouldn't consider anything that I've put up as actual "writing" in well over a month.

Part of it is work stress. As I've said about 50 billion times, the fall is really busy for me, so the closer that we get to September and October, the more I'm finding myself staying at my desk later each day and when I get home the last thing I want to do is hop back on a computer and queue up a post.

But it's more than just that. There are SO MANY interesting feminist topics to be digging in on right now. Just to scratch the surface there's the debate surrounding Nicki Minaj's Anaconda video, the horrible harassment Anita Sarkeesian is facing, Beyonce's amazing VMA performance, and the "rape prevention" nail polish nonsense. I COULD say something about any or all of those topics, and usually, I already would have. But lately, I just feel like I don't have anything original to say. I've certainly been in this place before, so I know it's going to pass, but I HATE feeling uninspired. When I have writer's block like this (and that might not even be the best term...) I just kinda beat myself up about it. "Come on, brain. THINK of something to say about this." And then I don't and I'm disappointed.

I'm always working toward going easier on myself about this type of thing...not engaging in mental self-berating. But when the baseline from your upbringing is "always be the best you can be and if you don't, then you're worthless" it's much easier said than done to reset your mental self-assessments.

Ah well. My inspiration will come around again. I've just got to wait it out and chill.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Observations from Jury Duty

So I've just had jury duty and now that it's over, I can talk about it allllll I want. But for obvious reasons, I'll keep things not too identifying here.

I had a few observations that I figured I'd write about. Nothing earth shattering or anything, but interesting stuff (to me.)


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How NOT to be a white ally (and how to be one too.)

[Content note: police brutality, racism.]

Last Thursday, I attended the Austin gathering for NMOS14. Overall, it was an extremely powerful event. After the national moment of silence, the names of local victims of police brutality were listed. Family members, like those of Larry Jackson, spoke about their experiences. Local organizers called us to action and shared what we can do. Black people of all ages shared their experiences living in a world where they could be shot by supposed authorities simply for existing.

One woman, A'Driane Nieves, shared about a piece she wrote over a year go called, "America's Not Here For Us" and the experience of raising black and brown children. She commented how the American systems see these children as expendable.

From the crowd, an angry white guy yelled, "We're all expendable to them!"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What I'm Reading: A Sad Edition

[Content note: violence, racism, suicide, ableism]

Things in the news right now are not great. (Of course, they never are...) but it feels all the more sadder to learn that another unarmed young black man, this time Michael Brown, has been murdered by police. The subsequent situation in the city where it happened (Ferguson, MO) is also indicative of extreme racism. I am just trying to read and learn as much as I can about it. I have really appreciated the numerous informative pieces and updates that Colorlines is posting:
Kirsten West Savali also wrote a powerful piece about her reaction to this story:  My Sweet Young Sons: Cops Are Neither Here to Protect Nor Serve You. Go read it...and if you haven't already, go read all you can about this situation. Especially my fellow white people...we can't ignore this or turn our backs on these folks.

And if you can, participate in the National Moment of Silence tomorrow night.

In other sad news, everyone is all abuzz about Robin Williams' death, by suicide. I've been surprised that a majority of the reactions I've seen on social media have been dealing with the topic with an uncharacteristic level of compassion. Discussions, for the most part, have centered on raising awareness about depression, the stigma of mental illness, and getting help if you need it.

...and then someone shared this HORRIFIC piece by Matt Walsh, who, to this point, I thought was just a character actor, but I've now learned is an incredible douche. (Don't worry, I used "donotlink" here, so you can click through guilt free.) His basic premise is that Robin Williams made this "choice," this isn't something awful that just happened to him. Walsh writes,
It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision. 
To reduce a mental illness like this down to a "bad decision" makes my skin crawl. And here we also have the othering of mental illnesses--they're not like cancer; they don't "just happen to you." I realize that Walsh is talking specifically about the suicide when he is saying this and not the depression, but can you really parse them apart like that?

It's very close to the harmful and ableist narrative that "suicide is selfish." To this, might I recommend a piece by Katie Hurley, where she debunks this perspective and provides some good tips and resources.

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