Tag Archives: worldfail

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.”]


Radical History

14 Apr


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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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.

Well, they found me

25 Mar


Internet troll sourced from here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Internet_Troll.png

That was fast :p Before I’m even entirely certain my friends read this blog regularly, I appear to have attracted some sort of internet troll who wants to save me from the Zionist feminist Zsa Zsa Gabor (?) sexual deviant murder conspiracy via Jesus and venerating manhood. (Sorry kids, the comment isn’t actually going up for your loling pleasure)

Well then. I think I am the Jewish queer feminist conspiracy?

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Queer_turkey.png

Nebekeh, zi hot a mamoshes vi der goyisher gott.

Oh snap.

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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Sister Act

16 Mar

Public domain, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/69/Dolly_Sisters.jpg

This article by Annika Penelope is good and you should read it – even if you’re not trans, it will give you a better idea of how much crap transpeople have to grapple with while they’re transitioning and while I know it’s not the main point of her article, I also feel like it says some revealing things about what being female is like in general. However, when I read number 4 on her list, I knew I needed to talk about that really narrow part of it right now (welcome to that spiritually capslocked post on the sister thing that I promised you).

I’ll reproduce it here, emphasis mine:

I grew up in a mostly white, conservative suburb where my family was considered “middle-class” because we didn’t have a house on the water or a yacht. In other words, I lived in such a privileged bubble that I had never even heard of microaggressions until I started experiencing them after coming out. If, like me, you were presenting as a heternormative white boy before transitioning, these can seem a little jarring at first, but it’s something that nearly everyone but straight, white cis men have to deal with on a regular basis. So what are microaggressions, exactly? In my case, it’s every time a well-intentioned friend posts an article about a trans* person on my wall or remarks on my physical changes since the last time they saw me, or every time someone asks if my girlfriend and I are sisters (even if we’re holding hands). It’s the little interactions that happen every day that remind you that you are “different” in some way.

"Hey, mister, she's my sister."

“Hey, mister, she’s my sister.”

Photo by Nao Ha am Amanha and used under a Creative Commons license

First off, this article is actually the first time I ever heard the word microagressions, and it was one of those cloud-parting, thank you jargon! moments for me. Because wow, yes, that is a phenomenon, isn’t it.

Also, when I read the part in bold I can’t tell you how relieved I was that this happens to someone else.

People don’t just ask Squiddy and me if we’re sisters – often they ask if we’re twins. This happens constantly. We don’t just hear this from strangers when we go to the store, but from people who see us all the time. We’re a really physical couple, as anyone who knows us can attest. We hold hands, cuddle, generally toe the line of how much PDA-sap is bearable for other human beings. Yet one of the security guards in our building, where we have lived for 1.5 years, recently asked me if we were twins and told me he used to mistake us for each other. For a while, he didn’t even realize we were separate people. That last part is definitely a new one and weird, but he’s at least the 3rd guard in our building to ask us the twins question. I really, fundamentally don’t understand.

Annika and her partner look more dissimilar than Squiddy and I do, admittedly. If you read our descriptions on paper, maybe you’d be forgiven for getting us confused – we both have brown hair and eyes, are caucasian-y, wear glasses (different kinds of glasses!) and are similar heights. But we have different facial structures and body types and, I cannot stress this enough, are pretty physically intimate in public. Not to unpleasant-for-people levels or anything, but we tend to cuddle a lot and kiss each other goodbye every morning on our way out of the building.

"Sisters?""We're close."

“We’re close.”

Photo by Nao Ha am Amanha and used under a Creative Commons license

It has been incredibly embarrassing for us to have to deal with this. It’s certainly not the worst thing in the world – may these be our worries, I know – but it makes me feel kind of dirty and weird. How affectionate do people think sisters are? Do we really look so similar that it’s strange that we’re attracted to each other? It never occurred to me, before reading this article, that people asking us this wasn’t somehow a sign that there was something wrong with us.

So I have to ask, does this happen to other gay couples? Is this common? That would be one seriously bizarre form of standard straight-world microagression. This might make more sense to me if people asked the sisters/twins question in a way that seemed overtly hostile, but they almost never do.

My best guess as to why this happens is that the idea of not being straight genuinely doesn’t occur to the people who do this. It must be so far off their radar that when they see a close relationship between women, the only available boxes are BFFs and sisters. This would also serve as an explanation for the rarer-but-it-happens phenomena where we tell someone that we are together and they start misgendering one or both of us, even though neither of us said anything about gender or is dressed particularly butch.

This is part of why I try to make a point of continually coming out in casual conversations. If this post was about boxes! are they always good for us? I guess the conclusion here is that sometimes you really do need to give people a new box.

Public Service Announcement

15 Mar

I live in a building with a security desk. It’s a nice thing to have in my neighborhood, means you can receive packages more easily, and all the guards are very friendly. I try to say hi to them whenever I come by and maybe ask how they are, if I’m not in a hurry. I’d imagine it gets wearing to be constantly ignored by people you see every day; I’d want people to greet me now and again in their shoes.

One of the guards in my building recently asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I told him girlfriend, she’s the girl who lives here with me, he said, “Oh. Oh shit, I’ve been hitting on you this whole time. I thought you were sisters.” *

Now, he didn’t get particularly weird about both of us being female and he didn’t push it at all – I just told him it was fine that he asked, it wasn’t like he’d known, and he said that he had just thought I was attractive. Then we had a couple moments of normal conversation about how we both were that day and went on our merry ways.

I have two wildly bifurcating trains of thought on this interaction. The first one is that he was very polite about that. He didn’t instantly stop talking to me and walk away – the way a guy who hit on me last week did – and he didn’t keep pushing it the way many other people have either. I was glad I kept my act together enough to also be polite and make it clear that I appreciated the way he’d asked and responded to my answer. Go team human, everyone was decent here.

Okay, but here’s the other train of thought. He really hadn’t been flirting with me. This was literally the longest conversation we have ever had. I have a strange blind spot in my otherwise solid perceptiveness filter for flirting, so sometimes when people reveal that they were flirting with me the whole time (!!), I feel bad for missing it. Except that I know I didn’t miss anything this time.

This was the longest conversation we had ever had by far and it was maybe 6 to 8 lines long. In fact, he is one of the guards I’ve talked to the least. We have literally only said hi, have a good one, and waved for the 1.5 years I have lived here. That is not flirting. It’s just being polite.

It’s kind of fucked up, but after that conversation I thought, That seemed okay at the time, but maybe it isn’t actually cool. That wasn’t enough information to be sure. I smiled at him and said it was nice of him to call me pretty – what if he thinks that was flirting? I just didn’t want to be a jerk. What if he doesn’t take my relationship seriously because it’s with another woman and keeps hitting on me? ** I shouldn’t have encouraged him. Shit. He works security here; he has the key to our apartment. Oh shit. Did I do something to make life more dangerous for Squiddy and me?

I recognize that’s me thinking, not him doing anything wrong. Tentatively, I’m going to go ahead and assume the world isn’t awful and think well of him for that interaction. He’s Shroedinger’s crushing security guard though. I haven’t really collapsed the waveform on whether that was an exemplary interaction from both of us, hooray, or whether he is going to continue pushing this and make me feel unsafe where I live.

This is because the security guard, live cat or dead cat, believes that two people of the opposite sex smiling at and talking to each other constitutes an expression of sexual interest. I was supposed to know that every time we smiled and told each other, hey, have a good one – that was flirting.

That’s not a notion he pulled out of nowhere. That idea, in weaker or stronger forms, is part and parcel of the common notion that ‘men and women can’t be friends’, ‘men are from mars and women are from venus’, whatever. Men and women are too different to relate without sex. It’s an incredibly dangerous idea. It makes men who are probably decent men with good intentions frighten women anyway. The idea itself corrodes the ability to be friends – now how can I smile as widely at him and the other men who guard the security desk? What if they take it the wrong way?

You know what I wish? That there was a hanky code for going about your day in public. That you had a handkerchief color for ‘totally enthusiastic about flirts, not that it’s a guarantee I will accept you’, ‘I wouldn’t mind flirts if you’re into it, but I’m not looking actively’, and ‘I really would prefer no flirts under any circumstances, thanks’.

It would obviate so many problems! Maybe it could be super granular and if it’s flirty colored and paisley you’re into male-identified people whereas if it’s striped you’re into female-identified folks! There could even be a signal for if you’re in a monogamous relationship already! Wait, we already have one of those (though it obviously doesn’t work for everybody), in the Engagement Ring! Which Squiddy and I wear, albeit on a chain around our necks so maybe it’s confusing, every day. Blast. Maybe people should just be better at talking to each other.


 * This sisters thing is, like, a whole other, entirely capslocked post going whywhywhy. There was an incident with another security guard right after this one with the sister thing, again. That story can be part deaux.

**This happens. Squiddy and I have had a random guy on the street come up to us, ask if we were together, and then when we said yes, start propositioning us.

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