Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Can't Identify You

(So, I'm realizing this is going to get long...I knew I was fascinated by this, I guess I just didn't know HOW fascinated until I got rolling.)

I've read a couple of interesting pieces on identity lately, that have really got me thinking about where identity comes from and how we are assigned identities. I've come to the pretty clear conclusion that authentic identity is self ascribed and not assigned by an outside source/person.

It's really interesting to ponder this in detail. On its surface, it's pretty straight forward. For example, I can't tell you you're gay. It's something you know/experience/come to understand about yourself. But when you examine it in greater detail "identity assignment" happens frequently, which we are all guilty of time to time. This identity assignment can come in so many look at the woman with locks and dark skin and assign her the identity "black" or "African American" without really knowing her heritage or experience. You meet a man who resides in an affluent community and ascribe the identity of that community upon him; based upon a concept you have formulated by previous interactions with people from this community or what you have been been told by others applies to them.

These are some pretty simplistic examples and really go hand-in-hand with stereotyping. Another type of identity assignment occurs when someone looks at a person they know and ascribes an identity to them, despite the protestations of the person in question to the contrary. Think about it in the context of someone telling you that you are not one of the identities you hold most dear. Imagine how that would feel; someone trying to define you, for you. I was trying to think of a basic example and what I came up with is this:

I identify strongly as a Midwesterner, having spent the first 25 years of my life in Indiana. However, I now reside in the South. If someone was to tell me I am now a Southerner, I would object---not because I see something inherently wrong with being a Southerner (I choose to live here now, after all) but rather my experience if that of a Midwesterner. This is a fairly harmless example, but I think the most common time that identity assignment occurs is when sexuality is involved. This includes phrases like "How does he have a girlfriend? He is SO gay!" "She's not bisexual, she's just experimenting" and etc. When you really think about it, this is pretty heinous and certainly not something I want to engage in any longer.

In exploring identities, I've learned some really interesting things. (And I know much of this seems obvious, but I like writing it all out and sharing my learnings.) For one, everyone values different identities with different priorities and in different ways. For two, some identities are fluid and others are stable (depending on the person.) It's possible to change identities and that's ok (because, again, who am I to tell you who you are?)

Sexual orientation identities are particularly interesting to me, because they are so based upon the feelings/experiences/preferences of the person in question. (As opposed to my previous example of being a Midwesterner, if you haven't lived in the Midwest and don't have any roots in the Midwest, you're probably not going to claim that identity.) Having gone to a small, private university for my liberal arts education, I didn't get too much experience with Queer Theory and it's definitely an area I want to explore more. However, I remember having a discussion with Myranda about the "queer" identity. She was speaking about a classmate of hers who had identified as gay but then was in a relationship with a tanswoman, which challenged his identification. He did not feel comfortable identifying as a straight man. And Myranda explained to me that this is where the term queer comes in to be helpful for many of amongst the LGBTQ community. As explained by PFLAG: "Over the past fifteen years, many who identify as GLBT have embraced the word ‘queer’ as a self-affirming umbrella term, inclusive of all people who don’t fit social norms. Because of its gender-neutrality and implication of social nonconformity, many see ‘queer’ as a term that is both positive and empowering."

Myranda explained to me that queer was a term I could identify with myself, and that got me thinking...I've always identified at straight. It's just who I am, but I've also felt that it is a limiting term for my experience. (Namely I am extremely gay affirming.) I don't see my heterosexuality as anything right or natural for the human experience; I simply see it as where my life has led me. And I don't know that, if given a different set of circumstances (like not meeting Ronald) I would still be where I am in life now.

So is queer my sexual identity? I'm not so sure that I'd be ready to take this on. And not because of any kind of homophobia, but rather because I have lived a life, thus far colored by my heterosexual privilege. I feel it's not my place to take on this identity. I don't have experiences with coming out or the fear of holding hands with my partner in public or the anger of being personally denied a legal marriage. I guess, at this point, I would continue to identify as a straight ally, but it's still incredibly interesting to ponder.

I'm going to end on this quote from the first article I linked by Michael Urie of Ugly Betty who identifies as queer:

I've been in a relationship for a while now, and if you just met the two of us together we'd be ‘gay.' But that somehow means anything that happened before [we met] didn't count-and I don't feel that way. I know that some people feel that way. They were with women, but it always felt wrong. But it didn't for me. It felt right at the time. It didn't work out, but it also didn't work out with other men-many times. That's why ‘gay' never seemed right.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"No Homo"

There are a lot of things about pop culture that just need to DIE. Like, for example, the prevalence of misogyny in hip hop music. Or the widespread acceptance of violence in movies.

To this increasingly long list, I would like to ad something I recently became aware of: "No homo." I've heard this here and there over the past few months (maybe years) but it is at the front of my mind right now because it is a trending topic on Twitter and has made me really think about how despicable this phrase is.

We are all familiar with "That's so gay" ---a hate mongering and homophobic phrase that became so widespread in our society that a series of public service announcements were created to address them. "No homo" is along these exact same lines.

The idea is that if you say something that, out of context, would suggest something homosexual, you immediately say "no homo" after it. I went to the wealth of valuable information,, to find some examples:

"Hey man, pass the nuts. No homo."
"His ass is mine. No homo."

There are a couple of caveats I'd like to put out there before I explain why this phase is obviously problematic. The people using this phrase:
  1. Are not intelligent enough to understand the ramifications of their words.
  2. Don't care about the ramifications of their words.
  3. Really do hate homosexuals.
  4. Are self loathing/deeply closeted.
  5. All of the above.
Now, having laid that all out...I'm going to explain why this phrase is an issue in case those of you reading this don't already get it (which I'm sure you do!) It's pretty simple...if you have to state that you are not homosexual after saying something, then you clearly view homosexuality as something lesser-than and undesirable. Instead of seeing it as a simple variation in human identity, you have pointed out homosexuality as something no one would ever want to be associated with. This use of language is one of those things that people brush off as not a big deal, but contributes to how we shape our reality.

There's a good break down of how important language is here and I've also addressed this in this previous blog.

We've just got to face it. Our society is to a place where saying "no homo," "that's so gay," "throws like a girl," "Indian giver," and other phrases that evoke racism, homophobia, sexism, etc should no longer be tolerated. It takes two seconds to look at what these things really mean.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Annoying Anti-Feminist Quote

Good morning!

I seem to be in a bloggy mood lately. I can't remember the last time I wrote this consistently within a month. I think that can be attributed primarily to my job sitting at a computer with very little to do. I'm hoping that my occupational situation will change soon and I won't have this problem, but I'm not holding my breath.

Anyway, I wanted to jot down a quick note about a quote that I just find overall annoying..."Woman was taken out of man; not out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled underfoot; but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved."

Now, I know this quote comes from a place of benevolent paternalism, but that doesn't make the sexist implications any less real. We all know the creation story this comes from...even if you aren't Christian or from a Christian family, you've probably heard it because our society is so saturated with Christian beliefs. I'm not going to get into a feminist analysis of the Christian creation story, mostly because that doesn't really interest me and also because it's been done. (But I will note that I love the bumper stickers that say "Eve was framed.")

The problem I have with this quote is that it is all about equality...(not to top him, not to be trampled underfoot, but to be equal) and then also says that the woman must be protected. These two premises are inherently contradictory. You cannot be equal to someone and also expect to be protected by him/her. If you need to be protected, you are at a disadvantage.

I've had this discussion with friends before. The argument they put forth is that you can be in an egalitarian heterosexual relationship where the woman's opinions and actions are respected and validated, but she still seeks to feel protected and safe with her male partner. (It's sort of confusing for me, personally, because I do feel safe with Ronald, but I don't seek to be I feel like there's a difference.)

But whenever this topic comes up, I insist that the relationship cannot truly be egalitarian because there is still this protection factor going on. And my particular friend who I was talking about this with insisted that wanting to be protected by her boyfriend didn't make their relationship any less equal. I can't say there's a right answer in all of this, but it certainly makes me think. I respect my friend and her relationship greatly. I don't think either one of them unfairly exercise power over the other. But when this theme of the protection of women comes into play, it still concerns me.

I guess it goes back to what benevolent paternalism is really all doesn't matter if the sexism comes from a place of genuine concern for women as opposed to a hatred. If you believe that there is something inherently fragile about them, that's a problem. Benevolent paternalism is certainly less scary than misogyny...but sexism is sexism.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I'm Awesome Day

In our society, as women, we are so frequently encouraged to disparage ourselves. It starts at a very young age, and in a way such that most girls don't even realize they're doing it. However, once it is brought to our attention, we suddenly realize just how prevalent it is.

"My hair's a mess."
"Ugh. I feel so fat today."
"I look like crap."
"My boobs are so small."
"My ass is huge."

How many of us have said things like this? How many of us heard other women saying these things? During my time with Girls Inc. of Indianapolis, I developed a program which is one of my proudest professional accomplishments. It is called Redefining Beauty. It's goal is simple: to teach girls to appreciate the bodies they have and to find non-appearance based ways to value their own beauty.

For one of the activities in this program, we examined these "bad body thoughts" (examples of which are listed above.) I asked girls how many of them have heard another girl or woman say something bad about her body. Without fail, every girl, every program raised her hand.

The facts were sobering, but not surprising. We, as women, continuously put ourselves down. (And myself, the developer of a program aimed at alleviating this very thing, included.) What's further interesting about it is how the negative comments are almost always totally body focused. When we look at it this way, we see that this self hatred is really about LOOKS. We've really got to be about redefining beauty...recognizing the whole litany of things that make us who we are and not (just) focusing on our bodies.

I want to start a movement...I want it to be called "I'm Awesome Day" (or something.) I want women across the world to take a moment to pause and reflect upon their strengths. In this spirit, I sat down and wrote 50 reasons why I'm awesome, below.

You should try it. It's strangely fun and therapeutic. And disappointingly hard at the same time. But either way, I think it's healthy...not only to remind each of us of the beautiful, unique person we are, but also to do some introspection. Do it! Have your own I'm Awesome Day.

1) I have passions that motivate me (social justice issues).
2) I am dedicated to life long learning.
3) I'm an excellent paper-writer.
4) I'm a loving wife.
5) I rarely give up on anything or anyone.
6) I'm incredibly loyal.
7) I have great taste in movies.
8) I take my education seriously and truly appreciate it.
9) I'm organized.
10) I'm funny.
11) I'm smart.
12) I'm a natural at parallel parking.
13) I can make beautiful jewelry (with the right supplies and resources!)
14) I'm a natural leader.
15) I'm fiercely independent.
16) I have great grammar.
17) I make wise decisions and I'm responsible.
18) I'm great with kids.
19) I'm not complacent.
20) I can do a hilarious Cher impression, but I only reveal it to my most trusted people.
21) I am a clean(ish) person. Getting better at least.
22) I'm a lovey drunk...but I don't drink often and when I do, it's never to excess.
23) I'm capable of putting myself in other people's shoes.
24) I properly use cliche's---and not too often.
25) I can find the beauty in others.
26) I value ethics over success.
27) It might take a while, but I can admit when I'm wrong.
28) Once I admit I'm wrong, I know how to apologize.
29) I have a fantastic shoe collection.
30) I'd rather be with people than be alone, but I 'd rather be alone than with the wrong people.
31) I choose love over hate.
32) I'm a critical thinker.
33) I'm realistic.
34) I have hopes and dreams for a great future.
35) So long as you deserve it, I will trust you.
36) I don't settle.
37) I make a mean baked mac n cheese.
38) I love to learn about new cultures.
39) I'm open minded...not as much as I could be, but I'm working on it.
40) I am confident.
41) I like to try new foods and activities.
42) I value different view points, but I will make you logically defend your opinions.
43) I can logically defend my opinions.
44) I don't judge people on their race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, looks, or sexuality. I let you show me who you are.
45) I try to be as helpful as possible.
46) I don't lie, but I'm not unnecessarily tactless either.
47) I'm not afraid to be different.
48) I don't define myself solely by my relationship to other people (wife, sister, daughter, etc.) but I do strive to be the best I can be in those roles.
49) I love fully.
50) I advocate for myself and others when I see what I feel is an injustice.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Yay Superbowl Time!

So last night was the Superbowl, one of the most fruitful times for feminist fodder. And the feminist world is abuzz about the ads this year.

I don't have to add much. The best points have already been made. And interestingly, the Focus on the Family ad was super blah. (I still insist that the problem is how CBS went about this whole thing and not the content itself.)

But what I will add is that it seems advertising companies responded to the outcry from last year which was one of the raunchiest and most offensive Superbowls I've seen ad wise. (Some may argue that Janet's boob was the raunchiest thing to happen in a Superbowl, but I didn't mind that as whatev.) Point is that the message seems to be, "Ok, you don't like it when we strip women and have them shake their asses and shower for men's pleasure. Prefer not to have *that* form of misogyny? COOL. We'll give you another form: The type that shows what wimps the men are who care about the feelings and societal position of women. You don't wanna be THAT guy do you? GOOD. Now buy our shit and keep your balls."


At least some of us know men who really do care about what women think and feel and experience in life. And they are not beaten down or emasculated. They are actually intelligent, respectable individuals, capable of looking beyond their own experience.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

CBS and the Anti Choice Ad

So, the feminist blogosphere is all a-buzz about the Superbowl advertisement which will be telling the story of how Tim Tebow's mother chose* life and now her son is an amazing football star and blah, blah, blah. The real problem, feminist bloggers have asserted over and over again, is that CBS previously held the position of disallowing "advocacy ads" but suddenly changed their position and allowed this spot. In fact, they are a lot more intimately involved with this adverstisement than it first appeared. (Keep in mind that they've denied PETA,, and The United Church of Christ in the past, and a gay dating website this year.)

Naturally, I found this annoying, so when I saw friends posting a link on Facebook for people to write to CBS standing up against this choice, I sent the email and also posted the link. Then the opposition on Facebook started to speak up...even though the article I posted said:

"CBS has decided to air an anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl, despite years of refusing to run "advocacy ads" by progressive groups. Whatever your opinions, the Super Bowl is not the time or place for an abortion debate. Please take a stand with me and go here:"

Here's what the central thesis of the outcry against this posting was...followed by my ideas on why these theses are foolish.

1) CBS can air the commercials of anyone who is willing to pay. It's their decision.

What's wrong with this idea is that it supposes that CBS is simply catering to the money provided to pay for the ad (which is a reported $3 million spent by Focus on the Family. Think what $3 million could have done if it was actually spent helping women...) However, the fact of the matter is that in the past CBS has denied the groups I mentioned above the opportunity to air their advertisements. Was their money not as good? Was CBS some different kind of business then that didn't care about profits? CBS is clearly picking and choosing when and when not to air ads and promoting a particular agenda over others. That's what the problem is.

2) CBS is a business and will act in their best interests...

I quote, "the Superbowl has a bigger demographic of Christian families [than] leftist feminists." This argument rests on the premise that CBS is just being smart and catering to the interests and beliefs of the people who watch the Superbowl. (Now I might actually believe this when it comes to vetoing material they might see as damaging to their image, like...oh...say tons of advertisements with scantily clad women in them. But that's not what CBS is doing, is it? They're actually specifically promoting certain material, but I digress.)

I can hardly wait to address everything that is wrong with this perspective:
A) First of all, are you really suggesting that someone cannot be both a leftist feminist and a Christian? Or be pro-choice and a Christian?
B) If we are going to agree that the majority of people who watch the Superbowl are "Christian families," (and let's go with the assumption that a majority of them are already anti choice) then do they REALLY need an advertisement extolling the virtues of not getting abortions? I thought advertisements were to persuade someone to buy a certain product, believe something, or do something specific, that they might not otherwise do. Then isn't the Superbowl an incredibly silly, and perhaps even inappropriate place to air this? I mean, there aren't public service announcements telling people to breathe air, for a reason. Hmm...something just isn't adding up.
C) Furthermore, if we're going to start talking about the demographic that actually watches the Superbowl, (and let's continue with the theme of extremely sweeping generalizations) then couldn't we say that the majority of people watching the Superbowl are actually most likely MALE and therefore have no legal say in the actual decision to carry a baby to term or not (according to legal precedent.) Doesn't this make this an even more foolish choice as far as catering to your demographics go? Unless, maybe, you have a certain agenda and you want to promote a very specific viewpoint. Hmm again...

3)...It's not like they're the government, after all!

This follow up to #2 is under the argument that CBS can cater to their audience while the government would have to be more diplomatic to all viewpoints and people. This is laughable, because it rests on the premise that the government does treat all people fairly. (Because, you know, access to education and legal marriage, to name a few, are the same for ALL people, right?) But beyond that, I don't think that CBS is like the government, or should be held to a government like standard...but I do think that the media holds a special place in American society, CBS included. They are part of the long standing tradition of at least attempting to be partial and unbiased. (Even though we usually know which way each media source slants.) It's just sad to me when the media is so incredibly transparent about its political agenda and isolates already marginalized groups.

So while I'm on the topic...I thought I'd mention the Sarah and Bristol Palin In Touch magazine cover, that proudly declares they chose* life. Of course, I would wager that most women who do choose* to have their babies don't regret their decisions and love their babies and would never come out and say "I wish I had an abortion." On the other hand, however, I know there are women who also do not regret their abortions, despite the fact that we are told that all women who have them do. Just some food for thought.

Point is they had a choice...

*Special emphasis on this particular word :)