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F*cked Over by Gender Roles: Not Just For Women

18 Apr

Here are two paragraphs:

#1 Christine is an employee of Boring Company. She has a low-level but crucial job. She is good at it, but unreliable. Her hours are irregular and she sometimes disappears with no notice for weeks on end. Everyone at Boring knows she has a longtime, live-in boyfriend that she complains a lot about and they break up and get back together every month or so. When they break up, he kicks her out of the house and she needs to sleep at a friend’s or in the office. She sometimes comes to work with a black eye, scrapes, and bruises. People say they are from her boyfriend. Usually she doesn’t comment and when she does, she says she walked into a door.

Imagine this response from the bosses at Boring:

“Yeah, don’t bother Christine too much this week. She’s fighting with her boyfriend again, heh. Men,” shake of the head. “So she might be out the next few days on a bender. I might have to bail her out again – you just can’t trust some people with money. Anyway, fill in for her job for a little while.”

And this response from her coworkers at Boring:

“God, I hate it when Christine takes off for days just because she’s fighting with her boyfriend. It’s so unprofessional. ”

#2 Chris is an employee of Boring Company. He has a low-level but crucial job. He is good at it, but unreliable. His hours are irregular and he sometimes disappears with no notice for weeks on end. Everyone at Boring knows he has a longtime, live-in girlfriend that he complains a lot about and they break up and get back together every month or so. When they break up, she kicks him out of the house and he needs to sleep at a friend’s or in the office. He sometimes comes in with a black eye, scrapes, and bruises. People say they are from his girlfriend. Usually he doesn’t comment and when he does, he says he walked into a door.

Imagine this response from the bosses at Boring:

“Yeah, don’t bother Chris too much this week. He’s fighting with his girlfriend again, heh. Women,” shake of the head. “So he might be out the next few days on a bender. I might have to bail him out again – you just can’t trust some people with money. Anyway, fill in for his job for a little while.”

And this response from his coworkers at Boring:

“God, I hate it when Chris takes off for days just because he’s fighting with his girlfriend. It’s so unprofessional. ”

[For maximal bonus points:

“I mean, she/he seems like her/his boy/girlfriend is abusing her/him. That would make it really hard to function.”

“Yeah, I guess. I switch between feeling bad for her/him and just being really annoyed. She/he’s lucky to even have a job in this economy and it drive me nuts to see her/him blowing it.”]

Being an Ally

16 Apr

an_injury_to_one_is_an_injury_to_all

Source: http://openclipart.org/detail/152659/an-injury-to-one-is-an-injury-to-all-by-worker

I’ve been  trying to answer for myself the question of what makes a good ally,  defining ally as someone who actively supports the rights of an underprivileged group of which they are not a member. I occupy a reasonably privileged place in society and I often feel like in an ineffective advocate for equality. In the name of self-improvement, below is a list of all the key points I could articulate. If anyone reading this has ideas for additions, I’d love to hear them.

1. Be informed. Know the history, know the current politics, talk to people in the underprivileged group about their needs

2. Do advocate – when someone says or does something messed up, call them out even if it’s awkward and even if it wasn’t directed at you. Don’t let your PC decency paralyze you. As in, don’t be too afraid of saying something wrong or being an outsider to get involved. Also don’t assume that your work is already done and that the battle is already won.

3. Don’t ‘white knight’. It’s okay to be, say, offended by a racist comment when you’re the caucasian in the room. But don’t try to speak for an individual in the underprivileged community when they’re there and can speak for themselves unless they have told you they would appreciate this.

4. Do listen. Make sure to actually listen to members of the underprivileged group and to add your voice as a secondary  support to theirs. Signal-boost. Pass the message on. Also, they will tell you who they are, how they feel, and how they’re going to act. None of those are things you should be telling them.

5. Don’t appropriate. An ally does not a member make. You don’t have to claim an identity that isn’t yours to be one of the good guys. This is one of the best bits of ally-writing I’ve ever read. It makes trans equality a personal issue for the author, without ever veering into appropriative, self-congratulatory territory.

6. Don’t use being an ally to offload privilege-guilt. That’s something you need to deal with on your own. No one can magically make your privilege go away, including you. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is something you’re going to have to be aware of. Your good intentions won’t make you immune to saying and doing problematic things.

7. Apologize where it’s called for. If you mess up, ‘fess up (I’m sorry, I wanted to rhyme -alliterate? whatever – so bad). So many people get defensive about how they’re not a racist/misogynist/etc, therefore they can’t have said something screwed up about race or gender. They didn’t mean it like that and that should have been obvious, etc. Don’t explain yourself. A sincere apology and examining your words does more to defend your enlightened reputation. Good people screw up sometimes.

8. Remember the underprivileged group is not a homogeneous block. They will not all have the same opinions and identities. They will not all be ‘model minorities’. They will not all be – and do not have any obligation to be – activists. Also, you are not obliged to totally agree with any given individual in the underprivileged group, as long as you are respectful of their opinions and watch your own privilege.

9. Do  self-examine. Sort of a corollary to #7  – just because you want to be enlightened and decent, doesn’t mean you automatically will be every time. Try and think about the -ist things you might be doing subconsciously or carelessly. Notice where you’re privileged or reinforcing privilege.

Thoughts? Additions? Criticisms?

Radical History

14 Apr

fist_2-

Source: http://openclipart.org/detail/168935/fist-by-rapperklimov

When I was in college, I wrote my thesis on the first Rainbow Coalition, militant namesake of Jesse Jackson’s current organization. Theirs is a lost history of radical empowerment – part of the struggle of writing about it was simply trying to find any sources at all. Many of the websites that put me on the trail of the coalition’s history are gone now. The primary sources I have access to at the moment I can pretty much count on my fingers. James Tracy, who was himself one of Uptown’s organizers in the 1960s and 1970s, is pretty much the only person to have written a book on the subject.

The Rainbow Coalition arose from the least mainstream end of many minority communities in Chicago; the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots, the Young Lords, I Kor Wen, and more. The Panthers, neglected in civil rights history as they are, are easily the most well-known of these groups. Some sources for the history of the Young Patriots do exist, mostly in the form of films and documents obscure except among extreme left organizers. The invention of portable video cameras was the first information revolution – and the activists of 1960s and 1970s Chicago kept their history alive and accessible through film.

One of the biggest problems I had getting my thesis idea approved was in answering that most fundamental of academic questions, why does this matter? Why is this group influential? How does this fit into the literature? I managed to answer these questions well enough to convince my advisor to give me the go-ahead, but with distance I can tell you that my answers were pretty thin. An activist can say, these people mattered because of what they tried to do, not how well they succeeded. The fact that you don’t know about them is in itself a reason to write about them. But that’s not a very academic response. In retrospect, I view that paper as a failure not just because it wasn’t terribly good, but because it split the different between academia and activism. I tried much too hard to bring aloof intellectualism to the history of a group that was meaningful because it wasn’t run by aloof intellectuals.

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I Should Print Business Cards

5 Apr

What do you think? Too wordy for a business card? I need to get the design down pat before I have a hundred printed.

Business Card Star - Make Business Cards

Or what about something more multi-purpose? Don’t want to pigeonhole myself.

Businesscard 2

Or maybe brevity is the key here.

businesscard 3

Feminism and the Chill Girl

2 Apr

This one is for you, Chill Girl. I have been you. I understand that makeup and women’s magazines bore and embarrass you, that so many women’s preoccupation with pleasing men and objectifying themselves makes you ill, and that you desperately want to be holding up a sign saying that you care about the things that really matter. That not all girls are Cosmo girls, that Cosmo girls aren’t even real girls. That you are not squeamish, not slutty, not narcissistic, not sensitive. I get it, I really do. I have felt unwelcome in all-girl spaces and been disgusted with women who seem to be intent on confirming every stereotype about them.

But laughing along with jokes about slutty, stereotypical women is Not Helping.

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with being (ethically) slutty or liking makeup. That’s a big conversation, but I’m just going to say it, black box it, and move on. * I think a lot of Chill Girls, in addition to just trying to be one of the guys, are embarrassed by women who they feel are ‘holding the gender back’. They’ve fallen into the trap of thinking every woman is standing in for Women and therefore it is each woman’s duty to be a model minority. But women are people and people are sometimes dumb, selfish, affectionate, slutty, witty, generous, narcissistic, strong, and prudish and they each have every right to pursue that as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. They don’t speak for you and you don’t speak for them.

There’s no reason a woman should be more responsible for how her behavior made you feel than a man. The girl whose revealing dress you’re discussing may have made a legitimate personal choice you don’t understand – or she may be doing something stupid. It probably was incorrect office-wear.  It’s not like being a feminist means you can never say something bad about a woman ever again.

But it holds the gender back when you assume stupidity before choice.

It holds the gender back even more when you blame her for not having anticipated the reaction men would have to her clothing.

You don’t have to be extra-harsh to prove you’re not part of the dreaded underclass. The girl could be dumb as a rock and make poorly thought out sexual decisions daily – you, had you met her, could hold whatever opinion of her you wanted to as a person – and that still shouldn’t make it open season to comment on her body. ** Her dress was unprofessional and you’re allowed to say that without losing your feminism club card, but so was your boyfriend’s stained South Park t-shirt and that didn’t get nearly as many laughs.

Mr. Geek Feminist Lite, don’t get me started on you today. Since Chill Girl is not actually an avatar of Women, she does not have the power to hand out get out of saying-crap-about-women-jail-free cards. It’s not secret!not-sexist because your girlfriend laughed.

For god’s sake, tell me a funny story about how she couldn’t stuff envelopes right and I’ll laugh. I’m not a saint, I haven’t  had my sense of humor surgically removed. Incompetence stories are funny and we tell them all the time. But don’t tell me about how much of her boobies you saw and how it was great in the same breath that you tell me how you embarrassed her for it. If you like seeing boobs, try treating their owners respectfully even when they’re in view.

Ladies, gentlemen, in-between folk, your house is made of glass. Everybody’s house is made of glass. There are a thousand things about you that are laughable and embarrassing. Think about them before you speak unkindly about someone else.

And Chill Girl. You don’t need to like someone to stand up for them and you don’t need to throw anyone under the bus to feel secure. Or maybe you do, and that’s part of the problem.

* There are many more eloquent people on the internet to un-black box it. I’d advise reading all the Pervocracy ever, for instance. A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride/Family/Home also have a lot of little essays on why judging women for liking girly and/or impractical things is bullshit.

** In case someone’s an obtuse reader – I’m not saying this girl was dumb or slutty or that being ‘slutty’ is a bad thing. My point is that for the purposes of this conversation, it shouldn’t matter.

The Marriage Post

1 Apr
Wedding_dress_princess_seams

Night of The Living Brides.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wedding_dress_princess_seams.jpg

Given the recent cases before the Supreme Court, I figured now is as good a time as any for the marriage post. I’ve been trying to edit it up to my satisfaction for the last day or two and I’m officially giving up and just posting it before the moment’s past and I’m eaten by camp nanowrimo anyway. This post is pretty near and dear to my heart, so I may try to do a revised version of it one day. Or it may just stay here in all its sprawly glory.

This decision of Squiddy’s and mine to get married has actually been rather controversial in our circles. Our friends in Altlandia have a variety of reasons for being uncomfortable with and suspicious of the institution of marriage. My mom isn’t crazy about it either; my parents got married by a judge (by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actually) almost a decade into their relationship, pretty much only because they were about to have a kid. Though my parents weren’t really Altlander parents per se, my mother is as marriage-skeptical as the best of them.

Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg

How married are my parents? So married. The marriedest.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg.jpg

So it seems reasonable for me to try and explain why Squiddy and I want to do this.

First off, I think there are two major kinds of marriage that get conflated – marriage (legal) and marriage (social). Squiddy and I want both, but I’m going to start with the one that I think is easiest to explain. I don’t think I need to tell you that marriage opens up a wonderful world of legal protections and connections between two people. Taxes, property ownership, medical decisions, child-rearing, you name it, marriage makes it easier and safer.

Let me get this out of the way right now and say that in my perfect world, marriage as it stands would not be the only way to get allthese legal rights and responsibilities with someone(s). I’m not even going to try to encapsulate all my problems with how our governmental bureaucracy categorizes people and relationships – in my utopian fantasy its role would be descriptive rather than prescriptive anyway. In my universe, when you came of age it would be de rigeur to march off to a lawyer and explicitly state who’s making your medical decisions if you’re incapacitated and who’s getting your money if you die. There would be a family registration form of some kind and it would be totally possible to register with whoever you liked. You could register with more than one person – poly families could have the same advantages as monogamous ones and sexual/romantic/familial relationships wouldn’t get automatically privileged over all others. Squiddy and I happen to be monogamous and romantic in a way that pretty much fits the current standard model, but it shouldn’t be everyone’s default.

Wow. I am...never googling rainbow unicorns again. I got some weird shit in results.

Wow. I am…never googling rainbow unicorns again. I got some truly weird shit in results.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HappLand!.jpg

However, that’s not the world we’re living in and in these matters I’m rabidly pragmatic. I’ve had a lot of experience with the intersection of law, medicine, and family. I am viscerally aware of what it means for you and your loved ones to have a medical power of attorney and a written will when shit hits the fan. Even ignoring my qualms about marriage in general, the marriage Squiddy and I will be having doesn’t come with the full suite of legal protections yet. The legal security blanket of gay marriage is pretty thin. But does the inadequacy of those advantages mean we shouldn’t go get them anyway? Really no. The perfect, in this case, is the enemy of the good. Squiddy and I whatever chunk of security we can get for each other and practicality trumps everything in that area for us.

Practicality! Safety! Worrying about sad things! Real romantic. So why haven’t we moved somewhere gay marriage is legal, tied the knot in a judge’s office, and called it a day already? I think the explanation for why we want a legal marriage is pretty clear-cut, but why do we want a wedding?

This part’s more complicated.

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On Violence

23 Mar

I sort of wanted my thoughts on violence to be a paragraph or two in another post on feminism and/or raising kids, but I think it might warrant its own space. I am a huge advocate of not just learning about violence but learning violence in a controlled space. Particularly for women. I would also like to note that I believe that the responsibility for violence rests squarely with the aggressor, but until we live in a world where irrational violence never happens I’m going to advocate everyone taking the necessary steps to feel safe. My stance on this is pretty deeply rooted in personal experience and I’m hesitant to speak for other people on something this sensitive, so let’s open with that.

[I’m also, on reflection, not sure if this deserves a trigger warning or not, but to be on the safe side – contains descriptions of violence.]

I started taking Tae Kwon Do when I was six or so. I don’t remember the exact impetus. Certainly I was an aggressive, rambunctious kid and I went to a school where it wasn’t unusual for kids to get into fistfights now and then. I definitely had no hope of keeping my mouth shut enough to stay out of trouble, so that might have had something to do with it. My dad was no stranger to fisticuffs himself, having grown up in rough neighborhoods where fighting the local bully daily until you beat him was de rigueur. He always wanted me to be able to defend myself, particularly as a girl, and I definitely idolized him for his stories.

My mother was less enthusiastic about the whole thing than my father and neither parent wanted me to be a little thug, so there were rules: 1) You absolutely never hit anyone first; 2) If someone hits you, tell them to stop, walk away, and if necessary tell a teacher. You must try all three of these things first; and 3) If you’ve tried all of these and this person is still hitting you, you are not in trouble for hitting them back.

It might seem surprising, given that I followed these rules pretty religiously, that number 3 was usually triggered once or twice a year until I was in 9th grade. All I really have to say about that is that public schools in DC are crap-funded and you’d be amazed how ineffectual and apathetic teachers can be under those circumstances. Also, there was no rule against being a loudmouth, and I was. The ritual when one of these incidents happened was my dad running through the checklist with me (Did you tell him to stop? Yes! Did you tell a teacher? Yes. Really? Ask Ms. Brown! I did!) and when I passed the test asking, Did you win? Not always, but I got a high five when I did.*

So I got into fights and, separately, I started learning martial arts. My teacher was a tiny, scowling Scottish man who was improbably gifted with children. We did not backtalk him or goof off in class, and somehow we all liked him. Now, I should say right away that martial arts and real violence are very different things. In some ways it’s odd that I’m advocating Tae Kwon Do as a way of learning violence, when I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve employed it in an actual fight. ** But here are the things I got out of Tae Kwon Do*** that helped me handle violence:

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