Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vintage Lady-ness

A Facebook friend of mine posted the following line from Andre 3000's "Behold, A Lady" to her status the other day:

Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like.

I think this is the opposite of sad. I think this would be a genius moment in human development. Not because I dislike femininity, or because I have a problem with women who wear high heels or whatever. But because the culturally-constructed version of "lady" that Andre 3000 is praising here as the height of desirability is something a great many women would find oppressive, both of your faithful bloggers included. For instance:

You don't say too much, but when you do it's profound.

Reeeeeeally? That's not going to work for me. What is "too much," and why does Andre get to decide what that is? Why is he the arbiter of "good girl"?

I realize that this is an old song now, but these are sentiments I still hear ALL the time. We would be better off if we got rid of this idea that there is a way a "lady" behaves, and that this is preferable to... the way an unladylike woman behaves? I don't think I behave in a lady-like fashion with any kind of regularity, and I feel great about that. Because too often "lady-like" is equated with submissive, quiet, accommodating, undemanding, etc.

Furthermore, I'm assuming that the only people Andre thinks should be ladies are cis women. Men should be gentlemen, of course. A man who behaves like a lady is twisting up the gender spectrum too much, rendering it unintelligible to someone so concerned that women behave in a way he finds pleasing that he wrote a whole song about it.

And what about queer women? What is the point in a lesbian, for instance, behaving like a lady if there is no gentleman counterpart? Do lesbians not exist in his world, or does he see them as not-women, or does he just not care because he can't sleep with them anyway? And trans women - do they have a hope of being lady-like?

Prescriptive gendered behaviors are a big problem for me, because they define anyone who is not adhering to an unobtainable standard as deficient. Not particularly interested in wearing heels and walking in a way a man might find appreciably sexy? Then your very womanhood is in question.

So, I hope that we have to go to museums to see what we used to think of as the ideal of lady-likeness looks like, because that would mean that we've stopped policing gendered behaviors. Women who still choose to present themselves in a way that aligns with Andre's version of femininity would be free to do so without having to do so for a man. And a man who presents himself in a way that aligns with Andre's version of femininity would be doing so freely as well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On "Honor"

Reader, your faithful blogger is kind of flagging, so today you get an unstructured, but blessedly short, rant about "honor." Ready?

I've had dudes tell me, straight to my face, that men have "honor" and women don't. This is so antiquated, and I hate it. I especially hate it because I'm rather invested in trying to be an honorable person myself. For me, this mostly means "you do the shit that you say you're gonna do," which is related to a whole bunch of other things. Not being a hypocrite. Being punctual. Not trying to get away with shit I know I shouldn't be doing. Checking with friends before I date their exes. Washing and ironing cloth napkins for the rest of my life because I convinced my mom to switch from paper when I was a kid and it just seems fair that I should have to do so as an adult, too. That sort of thing.

None of this should be gendered; women are quite capable of being honest and conscientious in any aspect of life, and if you disagree you are profoundly misogynistic. Also, dumb -- why would we (on average) entrust the less honorable sex with raising our children? Yet this particular combination of reliability and ethics that we call "honor" is peculiarly gendered, and I don't understand why. It's something that we should all strive to embody, regardless of our gender.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NYC Pride: A Photo Essay

So I went to New York City to hang out with my awesome brother and sister-in-law for Pride this year. It was well worth the time and effort, but now I'm too tired to think, so y'all are getting a photo essay. I promise to write overly windy posts again soon.

But first! Yes, marriage equality passed in New York on Friday. This is good news, to be sure, but I would also like to alert you to the fact that the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act has been languishing in New York for three years. Let's not forget our trans and gender-queer siblings here, okay? Get to making phone calls. You know what to do, New York.

On to the pictures!

This is me and my lovely sister-in-law, Becky, at a queer women's dance party. We had a blast, and got rainbow-colored skin right from the beginning.

Becky really loves rainbows. A lot, you guys.

And this is my badass brother, Jordan, who also loves flags. They make him feel patriotic, apparently.

Y'all know I love some drag queens, and these ladies were fierce.

Of course people dressed their dogs up for Pride. I hope these puppies signed a photo release, because I'm guessing they'll be in every publication in the city.

The parade was really fun. I honestly don't remember which float this was, but it had cool music and looked awesome.

And these people were ice skating on a float in June. Really pretty badass.

This lady out-rainbowed even me!

Me and my brother, before I got fully rainbowed. The shoes are Kyrie's, and I luff them. She was very generous to let me wander all over NYC with them. I might give them back, if she's lucky.

Jordan and Becky played "decorate the lesbian," and this is what happened. What you can't see are the rainbow tattoo on my arm and all the gay pride buttons on my bag, and my shirt says "roller derby is so gay," but I think you get the point. If Becky could score it for free and it had a rainbow on it, it was ours.

And, finally, the train station itself was very gay. A nice way to close the weekend, I think.

If you went to a Pride festival and want to e-mail us pictures, I'm happy to do another photo essay.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Those Who Live in Glass Houses

One of the downsides of NWF is that Jess and I represent a pretty limited demographic. We are both highly educated, highly privileged white American cis women. As a result, there are a lot of topics I'm just not able to write about; for instance, a friend suggested that I post an opinion piece about the hijab, and I had to refuse. It's not my place, you guys. (Though we would be delighted to receive guest posts from readers who do have the perspective we lack on these kinds of issues.)

I also think that critiquing other cultures sometimes serves as a way of ignoring our own issues. Things are not all hunky-dory for women in the U.S. The pay gap sucks, abortion access is continually under fire, and one in six women has been the victim of sexual assault. This is no post-feminist utopia. And when helping our sisters internationally, we need to listen and help them with issues they deem important.

The U.S. is definitely a glass house when it comes to gender inequality; I was reminded of this yet again when a reader posted a link to our Facebook page discussing the preference of American men for sons (49% would prefer a son, 22% a daughter). In a poll of over a thousand individuals, presumably half of which are men, that is a statistically significant difference. I have often heard the Chinese criticized for their valuation of sons, particularly in the context of that country's one-child policy and its claimed effect on the sex-ratio at birth. Yet it seems this is an attitude that we share, to some degree; who knows what our sex-ratio would be under similar circumstances?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Which Nomadic European Ethnic Group Do You Hate, Exactly?

Okay, I've had this conversation now with several people, so I might as well write a quick blog post about it. Y'all, it's racist to talk about "gypsies" stealing your shit.

I get that some people may not realize that "gypsy" is an ethnic slur, but it is. It lumps together a large number of ethnic groups under one pejorative term: Wikipedia will tell you that. I don't care if you've met folk who belong to one of these groups who call themselves "gypsies;" that's called re-appropriation, and they get to do it, and you don't.

I have a bigger beef with the representation of all members of these ethnic groups as "thieves." Look, making generalizations about any ethnic group is generally a bad idea. Even supposedly positive stereotypes are often problematic. So just knock it off. We can talk about how things vary by nation or by culture without relying on stereotypes. "I've heard there's a lot of pick-pocketing in Barcelona" is fine. "Watch out for all the gypsies in Paris" is not.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Nice Guys™

She seriously does not want to be dancing with this dude.
Here at NWF we are divided in our opinions of good old Jane Austen. Jess would like to "dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone," a la Mark Twain, whereas I genuinely enjoy many of her books despite an admittedly increasing frustration with the extreme limitation of the characters' lives. This post is not, however, a defense of Jane Austen.

Rather, I'd just like to point out something kind of interesting I noticed in Pride and Prejudice. Now, this novel is basically the chick lit prototype. Rare1 is the woman who has neither read the book nor seen its adaptations. And dear lord are there a lot of adaptations. Clearly the book continues to resonate with large -- very large -- numbers of women.

Simultaneously (and this is relevant, I swear), straight women are frequently accused of choosing partners poorly. And by "choosing poorly," I'm referring to our supposed collective love of bad boys. Of course, this is ridiculous; genuinely nice men don't come in last, it's just that creepy, manipulative men tell themselves that the reason they have romantic difficulties is because they're "too nice." Blecch. But don't take my word for it, let's take a look at one of the best-loved pieces of chick lit from the last couple hundred years.

As everyone knows, the book details the interaction between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Basically, Mr. Darcy quickly falls in love with our protagonist, because she is pretty and spunky in a socially-sanctioned Jane Austen kind of way. But he's rather an ass to her in the first half of the book, and she is having none of it. When he begrudgingly proposes marriage to her halfway through the novel (he may love her, but he's not thrilled about it) she tears into him with a speech that is shockingly blunt, particularly after half a novel of antiquated etiquette. The lady is not playing hard to get, she's not secretly in love with him, he's been an ass to her and she's pissed off.

Frankly, the novel could end there, as it's immensely satisfying. But Elizabeth's words hold up a mirror for Mr. Darcy, and he doesn't like what he sees. He then sets about changing himself, and reappears in the second half of the novel with vastly improved social graces. Elizabeth Bennet also finds out about some generous acts he's performed, and, depending on the adaptation, sees him in a rather wet shirt, and the net result is that she obtains both first and second-hand information that dude is not a total d-bag, and can actually be a pretty stand-up guy. Then she falls in love with him.

And, y'all, it's not all about him changing for her, either, because a lot of what changes her mind is finding out about nice things he's done for other people. It's just this: when she thinks he's a bad boy, she has absolutely no interest. When she finds out he's actually a pretty nice man, she develops an attraction for him. There you go, that's the whole plot. Hopefully this is one more nail in the coffin of the idea that nice guys come in last.

1EDIT: I would like to point out that by "rare," I meant in the U.S., and probably within the white population of the U.S. As a commenter has pointed out on our Facebook page, the appeal of this book is demographically limited, and that's good to keep in mind. It certainly does not represent the hopes and fears of women collectively, but is rather a reeeeeeeally popular piece of chick lit that provides a great counterexample to the "we're into bad boys" stereotype.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What is a Woman?

Like I've said before, I am thrilled to be making friends and influencing people through this blog. Thank y'all for reading. I've noticed that this blog is serving as a point of introduction to trans issues for some of you; I've been frequently asked to explain terms like "trans man" and "cis."

So, first of all, I am not an expert in trans issues. Not not not. I hope to heck all of you read the book club book, because Wilchins is an authority on the topic. Nevertheless, I would like to say a few things on the subject, because
  1. It's difficult to explain "trans" without defining "man" and "woman," and
  2. People seem to want to rephrase what I do tell them in cissexist language.1

It really is difficult to define "man" and "woman." Yes, many humans have either an XX or XY genotype. Many, not all. It is also possible to be XXX, XXY, XYY, one of several other variations, and to have mosaicism. Even if you fall into either the XX or XY category, these chromosomes may not necessarily determine your sex. For instance, individuals with androgen insensitivity may be XY yet develop a vagina and, later, breasts. Such individuals are usually raised as female and consider themselves women, so it makes little sense to call them "men." Physical characteristics are also not useful for creating a strict binary, as somewhere between a tenth of a percent and two percent of newborns (depending on what criteria you use) have so-called "ambiguous" genitalia (i.e., genitalia that do not fall neatly into one of the two favored categories) and may be considered intersex. These issues were highlighted recently by the ridiculous farce over Caster Semenya's "biological" sex; really, there is no medical test on Earth that can determine a person's sex.

Even if there were a perfect biological binary, we'd still run into trouble, because we've layered so much cultural meaning onto "man" and "woman" that nobody fits into either mold. I'd try to separate sex and gender, but the reason that evolutionary psychology studies are so damn popular with the media is that we are heavily invested in the idea that culturally constructed gender binaries (boys like trucks! girls like dolls!) are fundamental and important and purposeful. So, since nobody else wants to separate sex and gender, I'm not going to either. I think both binaries are bullshit.

"But," you may say, "this is a feminist blog! You talk about women's issues all the time. How can you do that if you don't have a definition for 'woman?'" As it turns out, I do have a definition for "woman." And it's actually really simple. It is "a person who calls themself a woman."2

Any attempt to label some of these women as "real women" or "bio women" is cissexist. We're all real women. If you're a woman you're a woman, and your body is your body: therefore, your body is a woman's body. Now, I'm not trying to tell people how to identify themselves and their bodies; if a someone identifies as both "woman" and "man" (or neither!) we should be able to deal with that, and if someone identifies as a "woman" but calls their body "male" that's their choice, too. But if someone identifies as a woman and you insist on calling their body "male," that is not okay.

We do sometimes distinguish cis women from trans women here at NWF, usually when we want to discuss transphobia in general or cite the experiences of a self-identified trans person. But when we say "women," we mean all women.

1I am far from perfect in avoiding cissexist language myself. While I feel like I did a reasonable job in my post on birth control, I failed miserably in my post about matrilineage. For what it's worth, you have my apology and my assurance that I am working on it.

2This is admittedly a cyclic definition, but, as Jess quoted Judith Butler to me earlier today, "Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original." In this situation, what kind of definition but a cyclic one can possibly be given?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Supporting Corporations Of The United States

It's not a good week for our big box overlords around here on NWF. Although in the rest of the world, they're sitting pretty.

The Supreme Court ruled that a massive class-action lawsuit brought against Wal-Mart goes too far. This is a happy day for big business and a terrible day for working people, especially women.

As I understand it, female Wal-Mart employees filed a class-action lawsuit against the corporate giant because they were being paid less than men and receiving fewer promotions. Wal-Mart said that decisions like who was getting paid what were left in the hands of managers. Of course, if most of the managers are men, and a boys'-club atmosphere is encouraged down the corporate ladder, that's not going to be conducive to the whole equal-pay-for-equal-work thing, as was argued in the dissenting opinion.

This decision from the court does not say that Wal-Mart is not guilty of gender bias, just that these women can't pursue a class-action lawsuit, because their cases do not hang together sufficiently to have them tried together. This is because of Wal-Mart's point that the decisions were not based in corporate policy, but were made at lower levels. This is too disparate to fulfill the requirement that they be cohesive claims, according to the majority opinion.

All of the women on the court, plus Breyer, thought the decision should go forward. The others, all men, did not. I am not convinced that is a coincidence. Also, the Roberts court will, apparently, always make pro-business decisions (see also: Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which people have been heralding as the end of democracy as we thought we knew it).

As several people have pointed out, it's not as though the women can't still sue as individuals. They certainly can. But part of the benefit of having a class action lawsuit is that it gives the people involved a fighting chance. There is no way an individual with standing to sue Wal-Mart over a pay discrepancy will be able to afford legal representation that can sufficiently challenge Wal-Mart on her own. Having a class is kind of like having a union: it lets regular people have a shot against the big business.

It's 2011, and we're still suing about gender bias in pay and promotions. I know I'm not meant to be surprised by that - or by the decision - but just because something isn't a surprise doesn't mean it doesn't suck. The privileging of business interests over the welfare of the people on the part of SCOTUS is horrifying and gross. It is one more sign that our government is favoring corporations over people, and we can't even vote the Justices out. Clarence Thomas has known connections to the Koch brothers, and no mention has been made of his resignation. And don't even get me started on Congress. This corporate ownership of politics has me very worried.

Image via.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Let's Practice Boycotting Some More: Target Edition

Apparently I really like to suggest that we boycott stuff. But I haven't done it in awhile, so here we go again. Next on the list: Target.

I can hear you from here. Yes, they have cheap colorful stuff that you need for your house. Yes, they have the only jeans around that fit you and that you can also afford. Yes, you can buy your produce and your new bedspread in one place. I know. Trust me, this hurts me as much as it hurts you.

The catalyst for this post is their corporate anti-union video that has been making the round on the internet lately. A friend of mine brought it to my attention, appropriately describing it as "funny and fucked all at the same time." All Target employees have to watch this video, so you should too, out of empathy, and so you know what the hell I'm talking about in the next paragraph! Go ahead, you're looking for a reason to procrastinate anyway.

Here are the things that Target is willing to prioritize above treating people humanely, according to what the goons in this video say:
* The health of the business.
* The convenience of guests (clearly related to health of the business - all of these points are).
* Being A Valuable Team Member (because you are not valuable if you have rights).
* Your "freedom" to work in any department, not just the one you were assigned.
* The labor relations dude's "freedom" to dress like a jackass. Yes, I am judging his turtleneck.

I'm glad we got that cleared up. Happy customers and productivity matter more than anything else. This video also plays right into the myth of meritocracy: Someone else might get something that you "deserve" more! Whatever that means. And this is also more important than treating people humanely, obviously. All of this also makes me wonder why they need to make this video, since they bend over backwards to say that Target team members have the freedom to join unions but never do. If joining a union is such a horrible idea, this video isn't necessary, and anyone who can think critically will figure that out. So I'm guessing that people would maybe sometimes like to join a union, but feel that their job or well-being would be threatened if they did. Videos like this certainly contribute to that sense.

Much of what they say about unions in this video is wrong, of course. Ezra Klein does a good job laying out some of the reasons we still need unions here, and I shall summarize his points for you: Unions do give people a voice, allowing them to raise issues with management without fear of reprisal. In an economy dominated by corporations, they serve as what John Kenneth Galbraith called a "countervailing force" and push back against policies that are against the best interests of workers or the environment. And in a world where politics is dominated by money and big businesses have most of that money, it helps to have another big organization pushing back. Robert Reich over at Talking Points Memo also points out that if we want to get the economy back on track, we need to expand the purchasing power of the middle class, and studies show that unionized employees make 30% more than non-unionized employees and are 59% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance. He also makes the point that at many large corporations - ahem - employees might want to unionize but are intimidated or threatened into not doing so.

Need some more reasons? How about the fact that the Target CEO doesn't even want to talk about their donations to anti-gay political candidates? As Queerty points out, they can't claim to be neutral on a civil rights issue. This fact alone has many people in the queer community avoiding Target.

Oh, also, Target totally lets its pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control if they have a religious objection to it. This is lunacy. If you don't want to fill prescriptions, don't be a pharmacist. Being a pharmacist should not give you the power to make decisions about someone else's reproductive health. Corporations should not be getting behind this kind of moral judgment-making, though Target crossed that line, if you will, already.

That's enough for me. I'll be getting my cute throw pillows on Etsy.

Image is of the Lawrence textile strike of 1912.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Horror Movies

You guys, I was a scaredy-cat kid. I could not watch or read anything even remotely scary without many sleepless nights ensuing. So it's pretty weird that I find myself increasingly enjoying horror movies (though I still can't handle anything with ghosts.*) However, I've noticed that the horror movies I've seen recently do a not terrible job with their female characters.

Last year I went to see Splice. (Not a great movie to go see with a coworker, by the way.) This movie is about mad science (the mad scientist in question is female) and fucked-up mother-daughter dynamics. It veers off the rails at the end (let's throw in some rape!), but the first 80% is pretty fascinating.

Then a month or so ago I finally got around to watching Jennifer's Body. ZOMG, you guys, I heart this movie. Amanda Seyfried!** Amy Sedaris! Dudes getting eaten! Spiky vomit!

Again, though, the movie is really about the interactions between two women. Said interactions are, again, kind of fucked-up, because this is a horror movie, but you get that there's a real bond of some kind between the two women. So, my question is, is this a horror movie thing? Why can't we have complicated woman-woman interactions and realistic female badassery in other types of mainstream movies?

I don't have any answers for you, because it's Friday, and my brain is tired. But I have bumped up Teeth and Ginger Snaps in my queue, that's for sure.

*The Haunted Mouth, it warped me for life.

**SPOILER ALERT: Am I the only one who thinks that this whole movie would be a totally kick ass origin story for a superhero movie centered around Amanda Seyfried's character?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Safe Space

Photography by Gary Tumilty
In Saturday's post and comments section, we briefly discussed the infiltration of queer spaces by straight folk and why that can be a problem. It relates to the concept of a safe space, and to the fact that sometimes such a space can only be created by limiting the numbers of or excluding members of the oppressor class.

When gay bars or gay-straight alliances fill up with straight people, what was previously a safe space for queer individuals can lose that feeling of safety. And a true ally will respect their friends' need for safe space and their friends' right to choose what that means, rather than pestering them to justify it.

The need for and ability to construct a safe space is going to vary person by person and issue by issue; when it comes to discussing women in science, many of my colleagues, male and female, can see no value in a woman-dominated safe space, while I find one highly useful. The dynamic simply changes when no men are present.* Another example lies in online communities; I consider Feministing to be a safe space for me where I can read the comments section of any post without encountering trolls, yet one of their own contributors feels that no space, including Feministing, can be a safe one for her.

I often hear the desire for a safe space criticized as an unwillingness to engage with the world at large. First of all, I see no problem with such an unwillingness; lesbian separatism is a valid lifestyle choice, in my humble opinion. But most people remain engaged with mainstream culture. An individual may or may not choose to broadly share the ideas they generate within their safe space of choice, but enough do that there is no excuse for ignorance. If you want to know more about a group, I guarantee you that there's a blog about it. Go forth and Google!

*For instance, you can discuss sexism in science without encountering a wave of hostility.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Don't Look Now, It's 1860

Today in "let's all remember the good old days when only white dudes were people," we have Catholic University reminding all of us that while women have the right to vote, they certainly don't have the right to make decisions for themselves! Not when there's a man around to do it for them!

I believe this is the perfect moment for the Sad Trombone.

So very concerned for the virtue of the young ladies under his surveillance is President John Garvey, Patriarch, that he is converting his campus back to single-sex dorms over the course of the next several years.

Here's the thing: President John Garvey, Patriarch, is an idiot.

He says that he thought that by having women and men in the same dorms, women would have had "a civilizing influence on young men." Alas! Women started to drink alcohol too! To keep up with young men! Who were plying them with the demon rum so they could get laid!

Now, this is not President John Garvey's original idea. President John Garvey, Patriarch, is only part of a long line of ridiculous patriarchs who believe that women would never drink or have sex or do drugs or climb water towers or whatever if men weren't around to trick them into it. Because those things are fun, and women don't like to have fun. Women like to do dishes and nag their doofy husbands. However, I will do him the favor he will not do me and assume he is a sentient being able to make his own decisions and judgments. As such, I believe that he is able to question the "logic" of this kind of thought and realize that women are people with impulses and hormones. Just like, you know, men.

I don't need to tell you, gentle reader, that women are just as likely to sincerely want to get drunk or laid as men are. Furthermore, men are just as likely to do things they don't really want to do because they feel peer-pressure as women are. You are an evolved human, so you know this.

President John Garvey, Patriarch, does not make the case here that he is only worried about the virtue of his female students, but he contributes to the myth that women are the gatekeepers of morality in society. It reifies gender essentialism by claiming that there are inherent differences between men and women, and I object to that premise. It also puts the blame on women if they can't fulfill the role that has been foisted upon them, so now women can't win for losing. Because, yes, many men are going to do things that President John Garvey, Patriarch, would consider uncivilized. That's their business, not the business of their female hallmates, partners, friends, parents, or siblings.

Image via.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This is What Classism Looks Like

You guys, I love Snopes. It is one of the best things ever. Also, reading it regularly helps me look like I have a fantastic bullshit meter, heh.

It also functions as kind of a touchstone for what people get freaked out about. Which apparently includes the occasional purchase of fancy food with government assistance. If you visit the link, you will find that someone bought a bunch of lobster and steak with food stamps. They then attempted to resell those items, which is illegal, but a bare image of the receipt was emailed around, getting people riled up over the very idea that someone would buy lobster with food stamps.

This sort of thing drives me nuts. None of us make the best financial decisions all the time. (I'm referring to the idea of someone buying lobster, which is what the emailer got freaked out over, not the reality of someone trying to commit food stamp fraud.) Sometimes it's because we make a mistake, but a lot of time it's because we want something. And in those cases we often tell ourselves that we deserve whatever that something is because because because, yet we are far less willing to allow others to do the same.

You shouldn't have to trade your personhood for government assistance. Sentiments like "the card should be limited to beans, rice, milk, and fresh veggies" are paternalistic and dehumanizing. If your idea of charity requires people to trade their dignity for survival, that's not really charity at all.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Recognizing Your Privilege

Owning up to privilege is a difficult but absolutely necessary task for all of us. I know I'm currently struggling to identify all the ways in which my cis privilege manifests (among other forms of privilege). While I'm loath to hand out "cookies," I would like to give props to a few white guys that discuss their privilege in constructive ways.

First of all we have Brother Ali, who has some interesting things to say about race in general, but I would specifically like to draw attention to his interview with Jay Smooth over at Ill Doctrine:

Particularly good bits at 1:12 and 1:48.

Next we have Hugo Schwyzer, whose blog I've been reading more and more. His post on the gender imbalance in age-disparate relationships is particularly interesting. Although it's criticized by some feminists for neglecting the agency of young women, it is in my opinion a thoughtful analysis of the way that male privilege interacts with the power dynamics in May-November romances.

And let's round this out with a bit of humor. I may have mentioned this clip before, but it bears re-watching. Louis CK may sometimes be a raging gender essentialist, and this clip has a reference to rape that I dislike, but he sure seems to understand white male privilege.

All right, readers, it's your turn. Got any good examples of folk usefully discussing their straight, cis, thin, able-bodied, and/or class privilege?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chat Excerpt: The Problem with "Ally"


Kyrie: OMG, that's so cute.

Jess: I know!

I object to putting "genderqueer" under "allies."

But otherwise, rock on.

Kyrie: Yeah, that seems just wrong.

Jess: It IS wrong.

Maybe they'll revise it.

I kind of want the coloring book. I shall put it on my Christmas list.

Kyrie: I'm loving the "old school" segment.

Yay for reappropriation.

Jess: yyyyyyup

Oooh. They sell buttons.

Kyrie: Can you get a button for your element of choice?

(Looks like most of the allies section is wrong.)

Jess: yeah

I don't know how I feel about the word "allies" anyway.

Kyrie: But I do like that the abbreviation for genderqueer is "GQ."

So, I have my own issues with "ally." But what are your concerns?

Jess: It seems to normalize homophobia, maybe?

Like, we need a word for "ally" because the normative assumption is that you are somehow anti-gay.

Kyrie: Yup, I agree.

Jess: My friend says the "A" in LGBTQIA stands for "ally."

But it stands for "asexual," as far as I understand it?

Kyrie: That's what I thought.

But I've seen LGBTA, where A supposedly stands for ally.

Jess: Barf

Kyrie: Right.

Not being a homophobe doesn't make you a member of the queer community.

Jess: Sorry.

I shouldn't barf.

But here's the thing: Gay-Straight Alliances in schools have been taken over by straight white girls.

Kyrie: Hmm.

Jess: Gay bars have been taken over by straight people, too, in a lot of places.

Can we have our fucking acronym, please?

Without straight people getting all up on it?

Kyrie: Yeah, it smacks of cookie-ism to me.

Also, and I think I've told you about this before, I don't like wearing "ally" stuff, because it feels kind of like "no homo" to me.

I'd rather just wear stuff to promote queer rights/groups and not comment on my own sexuality in the process.

Does that make sense?

Jess: It absolutely makes sense

Kyrie: Ok, good.

Jess: What do you mean by cookie-ism?

Kyrie: Oh, it's this thing on feminist blogs where a dude commenter will be like "feminist comment, and I'm a guy," and the ladies will be like "what, do you want a cookie or something"

Jess: Ahhhhh.

Rock on.

Kyrie: It's like they expect a reward, in the form of accolades or acceptance, for not being a douche.

That's what the ally thing reminds me of.

But I invented "cookie-ism," which is probably why it didn't make sense, heh.

Jess: I really like it. Coin that shit!

Friday, June 10, 2011

One Quick Bad Thing and Then Some Happy Stuff

UPDATE: Tracy Morgan has apologized, and the HRC and I finally have something in common: Neither of us accepts his apology. Neither does Unicorn Booty. So, um, good luck next time you try to get money from the gAyTM, there, chief.

Happy Friday!

I had planned to write today's post on some positive things that are happening in the queer community, but then Tracy Morgan had to go and spew hatred at gay people. Read the linked post if you want more details - for the purposes of this blog post, I'll just say that the things he says are violent and gross, and not funny. If he wants to make jokes at the expense of teh gheyz, they need to be funny. This, from all reports, was just vile.

According to Queerty, people have been trying to contact his PR agent, who is responding with "no comment." We need to get more details, but from the sound of it, Tracy Morgan has firmly lined himself up with the homophobic opposition to queer rights. Thus, I shall be boycotting Tracy Morgan. You are welcome to join me.

Okay! Moving on.

Yesterday I wrote again about how screwed up religion is when it comes to bullying gay people. This is an important theme to stay on top of, because people still seem to have this idea that being a Christian is the same as being a good person, and because Christians are an extremely powerful group in this country, it needs to be pointed out when they consistently and clearly stomp all over people.

That said, there are churches out there doing good work for gay people. My own personal brother goes to one such church! I met his pastor at his wedding, and she's great: social justice oriented, committed to inclusivity, sensitive to the fact that the view on the ground might be different from what she - a straight person - sees. We don't share a faith, but I think we share a lot of other important ideas. Anyway, her church is hosting a workshop on reducing anti-gay bullying, in conjunction with a church that has a homeless shelter for queer youth in its basement. She asked me to check out a resource on reducing bullying, also being put out by a church.

My brother's church is Lutheran, and in looking into it, I learned about a Lutheran program called Reconciling in Christ (RIC). This program is about making a conscious effort to be queer-inclusive. It acknowledges that queer people often feel excluded from or harmed by churches that call themselves inclusive, so it is about making it clear that sexual orientation and gender identity are not grounds for discrimination.

Another important group is Soulforce, run by gay film director Mike White's* gay dad, Mel White. I have corresponded with Mel White in the past, and in his communications he was warm and kind, despite the fact that I put my atheism right up front. He has written books on how the Christian Right is damaging. He is a personal hero of mine, and someone whose work I think is so important.

From the efforts of a trans-denominational group of people, we get Believe Out Loud. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has the GLAD Alliance. The Episcopalians - the denomination my parents belong to and that I grew up in - runs Integrity USA. There are lots and lots more. This is encouraging.

Groups like these are important in that they are counteracting the message that so many queer kids and adults are receiving about themselves: that they are damaged and damaging others. But beyond that, they are deliberately disinvesting themselves of the privilege that comes with being organized Christian groups in America. The most powerful and vocal Christian (and Catholic, and Mormon) groups are the ones opposing queer rights and spreading homophobia. These churches have a lot to lose by being inclusive - congregants who are committed to their homophobia, resources from other churches, and so on, as well as inviting attacks from the homophobes - but are doing the right thing.

There. The pig has wings, and I said nice things about organized religion.

* You know Mike White because he directed School of Rock. If you watch The Amazing Race, you saw Mike and Mel run the race twice.

Image via. And sign the petition while you're there.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Religious Right: At It Again

I guess I should have called this "The Religious Right: Still At It," as there is no evidence that they have ever let up on their ridiculousness when it comes to queer youth.

First, we have the Family Research Council asking the New York State legislature to pray really hard about whether they want to encourage gay sex by allowing gay marriage. Because we all know that gay sex is going to bring our civilization to a screeching halt. It's gay sex that has destroyed the economy, right? It's because of gay sex that we're stuck in multiple illegal wars and have people wanting to kick the elderly off their Social Security. Got it.

Second, a Catholic school has decided that the best way it can prevent gay sex is to make sure kids never see rainbows. I know that's what did it for me. Overwhelming rainbows, just everywhere. Here's hoping none of those kids ever goes to Hawaii with their families. They have rainbows on their license plates.

But just in case you weren't getting the point about teh gheyz being the scourge of humanity, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer just outright lets us know that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. And we definitely shouldn't be buying gay pride t-shirts from Old Navy, because of that whole shame thing. Of course, he also notes that national borders were put there by god, which does not explain at all how he thinks gay people got here. I'm not a believer, but I can sniff out an inconsistency like that from here.

I know there are churches out there doing good work, and they are going against the grain, for which I applaud them. But that caveat aside, it distresses me that the loudest churches are the ones that are spreading lies and rumors about queer people, and actively working for our oppression or even death. Lots of religious Americans behind that kill the gays in Uganda bill, you know?

I don't get why people who want to call themselves pro-gay stay in churches that are anti-gay - or even neutral, which is almost as bad. How people can be okay with the dehumanization project their churches engage in is truly beyond me. And "there are other things about the church that I like" just doesn't really fly with me anymore. What about the church is so great that it's worth the active harm it does to people? I'm not seeing it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fuck You, FIFA

Feministing reports that the Iranian women's soccer uniform has been judged by FIFA to be in violation of its ban on religious displays, preventing the team from playing in the 2012 Olympics. Now, take a look at the above photo. Yeah, that's the uniform in question. Oh noes, headscarves.

First of all, I'm not entirely sure why religious symbols are banned. But it looks like the Iranian team was willing to accept that, so whatever. Lots of things can be religious symbols: fish, hammers, stars, pretty much any conceivable variant on two lines intersecting at a right angle. To be safe, you basically have to eschew symbols in general. Which the above uniform does. The supposed problem is not any symbol, but rather the featureless white wraps the women are wearing on their heads.

I'm not really going to get into whether head wraps are problematic or not. I mean, it does seem a leetle unfair that women have to wear them in Iran but men don't. But we in the US have an even more uneven approach to shirtlessness. So how is it that no one can understand that headscarves can potentially be a cultural, as well as religious, garment? Women in the US reportedly prefer running in comparatively concealing skorts instead of the traditional short shorts, yet we begrudge Muslim women their own version of modest sports clothes?

Any headscarf discussion is usually accompanied by hand-wringing and murmuring about Islam oppresses women. Well, the Iranian women's soccer team is certainly being oppressed here, but it's sure not by Islam.

*I so want to write "crucifices"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Progress and (Non)Inevitability

One thing I've learned in my time teaching history is that people assume that if time is moving forward, then progress has been made. I have them write weekly response papers, and in the first couple weeks, a great many of them will say something like, "Education was only available for the very upper-class white people, but now we have equal educational opportunity for everyone! USA! USA!"

The fact is, we don't have equal educational opportunities for everyone in 2011. And while racial minorities have achieved full legal equality, racism and discrimination are still very real. But the rhetoric around these issues doesn't allow for that, because the official narrative is that we have a benevolent state that will do the right thing for people. In fact, as James Loewen and others have asserted, there have been major backslides in many human rights-related arenas, and the story that is told of the benevolent state is meant to keep people from seeing the value in activism. Successful social movements aren't taught in schools because the government doesn't want anyone to get any funny ideas.

So anyway, it wasn't a surprise to me to read that most Americans think queer people already have employment protections. We're supposed to be the land of the free, right? So how could it possibly be true that it is still entirely legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states? Just for that? Some cities, like the one I live in, give protections beyond what the state does, so that I can't be fired or face housing discrimination for being gay. But if I leave my town, it's a crap shoot. And harassment of gay people is on the rise where I live.

I don't say this to be gloomy, but to point out that there's more work to be done. We need employment protections passed, and that must be trans-inclusive. Anything else is just more oppression.

As Queerty and Andrew Sullivan point out, we have to do the work ourselves, and we have to tell our own stories about our communities. Letting our stories be co-opted by corporations and government officials who want to make a buck or pat themselves on the back is not going to help us achieve equality or stay safe. Hold the government accountable, to be sure, but let's not forget that there are plenty of grassroots or underground movements out there doing good work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Club Reminder, Announcement

Happy Monday, faithful readers. We'd like to make a couple announcements regarding the book club.

First, I hope you've had a chance to track down Wilchins's book by now if you plan to read with us. We'll discuss it at the end of this month, so even if you haven't started it, you should have time to read it by then. It's fairly modest in length.

We've also chosen our next book, to be discussed at the end of July: Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues. Though it also discusses gender issues, SBB is a novel, in accordance with our plan to alternate fiction and non-fiction.

Get readin'!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Drinkin'

Feministing's Maya has a post up about how women should be able to get drunk if they want. To which I give a hearty "amen."

Generally, those lists of tips on how not to get raped your older relatives are always forwarding you (or is it just me?) are bullshit. Spare me your ruminations on ponytails and properly wielded car keys. The majority of rapists are known to their victims; your parking lot defense tactics are not going to be particularly relevant.

However, said rapists are known to often use alcohol as a weapon.* This is no doubt partly because it renders their victims somewhat more vulnerable. However, I am convinced that it is also because (and perhaps primarily because) inebriation plays the leading role in victim blaming. For reasons I cannot understand, we view women who get drunk as participants in their own rape. Would-be rapists, living in the same culture as the rest of us, know that if they choose a drunk victim, society will look the other way.

So, as a feminist and an enthusiastic drinker, I would like to say fuck that. I will not be judged for participating in an activity as integral to our culture as drinking is, and I will not be complicit in crimes committed against me while inebriated. Neither should anyone else.

*You should really, really read this link.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roller Derby Is Better Than This

The roller derby community is supposed to be a place where people can be themselves, express who they are, and engage in a really fun contact sport. It's a subculture built on including those of us who often find ourselves outside the mainstream - that is why I was drawn to it in the first place. It looked like a place where I can be whoever I am, and for me, with my team, that has absolutely been the case. I have tested the bounds of my team's supportiveness and never once found it lacking.

Unfortunately, not every team is as great as mine. Last weekend, members from one team, along with their coach, security guard, and fans (including the parents of one of the skaters) ganged up on and humiliated an NSO from the other league. In brief, they were policing her gender identity, calling her a man and asking her to lift her skirt to prove that she is a woman. They harassed and harangued her, and humiliated her in front of the entire audience. The NSO in question is a woman and had therefore used the women's restroom. Apparently the people who harassed her felt it was there place to be sure she had peed in what they thought was the right place, "for the sake of the children." Both the NSO and I are wondering what children have to do with it.

The offending league issued a milquetoast statement on Facebook saying they are "sorry for any inconvenience" the events of the evening caused the derby community. Excuse me? Any inconvenience? This is not a question of convenience. It is a question of civil rights. She has the right to her identity, her humanity, and to not be violently harassed in public.

The statement also said they hope to host "safe" and "family-friendly" events. I cannot for the life of me imagine how raising a ruckus, harassing an innocent person, and behaving like bigoted asshole fucks is "safe" or "family-friendly." I know I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty sure that treating people as inhumanely as the harassers did is not setting a good example for the kiddies. It's just making the world a less safe place.

There is no excuse for this behavior. None at all. I hope the people in question are deeply ashamed of themselves and that they are no longer invited to be part of their league. I will certainly never participate in an event with them. I expect the larger community will have all kinds of things to say about this.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


We live in a world in which people do not always fit into neat little boxes. (Hooray!) And that is just as true for gender as it is for any other label. Unfortunately, the English language forces us to try to smoosh everyone into a box through its insufficient supply of pronouns. And I assume it's one of the reasons everybody gets so worked up when a caring set of parents quite reasonably refuses to report the gender of their baby.

There's "he" and "she" and that's about it. "It," of course, is inappropriate for a person, which forces us to try and assign a gender to everyone regardless of whether we know a person's gender or whether or not they even have one; some individuals self-describe as agendered or non gendered.

This has been an irritating problem for some time, and there have been many attempts to rectify it, none really catching on. Using "he" as a gender-neutral as well as gendered pronoun is confusing and problematic, given that it reinforces our perception of male being the default and all other genders being deviations from the default. "He or she" is cumbersome, and "(s)he" is unpronounceable. Constructed pronouns like "zie" would work quite well ... if we could ever get people to use them.

Personally, I like the singular "they." It's already sort of in use; it just needs to be accepted as grammatically correct. It could be potentially confusing, but since "they" already refers to an indeterminate number of people I think we can reasonably add single persons to the list. And I believe it's how Facebook refers to me since I refuse to report my gender, so we already have that behemoth on our side. It's the usage I'll generally be using on this site, though I may throw in the occasional "zie" so we don't forget about it.

Our language reinforces the gender binary, but mostly through pronouns. With occasional exceptions (like "blond" and "blonde"), nouns and adjectives are not gendered. Some languages gender everything male or female, others don't, and others have more than two genders. It makes me wonder how trans experiences vary across cultures from language issues alone.