Showing posts with label gender. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gender. Show all posts

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another day outside of the box marked pretty

Yesterday I was working for a festival for which I’ve been volunteering for about eighteen years.  The work is of the type most often done by men but because of the lefty, hippy vibe of the festival we have a good number of women on our crew.  For those of us who’ve been working together for a while there’s a certain comfort level and a certain amount of ribaldry.  Yesterday, however, was different for just one short moment.  Yesterday I was doing what I do best and reminding some men on a parallel crew to wear sufficient sunscreen when one of them, whom I had only met that morning, said “I’d like it better if you put it on me.”  I laughed at him, as though it were a ridiculous notion.

But my internal monologue was more like “What the fuck? That is so inappropriate! And who does he think he’s kidding, obviously he wouldn’t want my fat self to rub anything on him. Why the hell didn’t I even say anything? I’m not a teenager anymore I should have told him that his joke was uncool.”

For me, it was a humiliating and infuriating experience.  As a feminist I was pissed that he felt so at ease using that kind of faux flirtation with me when I know to the marrow of my bone that I could never feel safe making the same joke to a man I didn’t already know well.  For a woman to make that kind of a joke is to risk that she will be taken at face value and be presumed to have consented to some degree of intimacy, for a man it’s just another day at the office.

As a survivor of sexual assault and harassment I was dismayed and distressed to realize that I still feel like I can’t say anything when some guy’s comment crosses a line.  My overriding instinct is to treat it like a joke and keep my true feelings to myself.

But the worst part was the feeling that he was unintentionally driving home the fact that it was patently ridiculous that he, or anyone else, would ever find me attractive enough to actually mean a comment like that.

This is messy stuff.  When I’m sitting with friends and they’re talking about how often they get catcalls on the street I commiserate with them but in my head I’m thinking, I almost never experience that now because I am one of many invisible fatties.  It is a twisted emotional mess to both revile the street harassment that so many women must deal with while simultaneous hurting because you are far enough outside of “acceptably attractive” for anyone to feel inspired to harass you.

I don’t want to be harassed or otherwise subjected to the unsolicited advances of men.  At the same time I have yet to succeed at not caring if I am attractive to others.  When I look at myself, and see myself only through my own eyes I see beauty, strength, and style.  When I imagine what others see I see lumpy and ill-fitted, or maybe even nothing at all.  For that is what so many of us fat-enough fatties* seem to be, flat out invisible.

But this is what it means to be living in a sexist and misogynist culture.  We learn to care too much about how sexually attractive we are but if we are “attractive enough” we are subjected to objectifying and dehumanizing behaviour and expected to be grateful for the compliment.  You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, either way you finish each day feeling a little less than you were before.

This isn’t even really about being fat. It’s about anyone who feels like they’re outside of that little box marked “pretty”.  And if someone does show interest, no matter how offensive, we are expected to fall over with the joy that someone has deemed us worthy of such double-edged praise.  We’ve all heard it, “What do you mean no? You should feel lucky that I showed any interest at all!” to which we all want to respond, “You should feel lucky I didn’t kick you in the face.” But in reality we are far more likely to just turn away, feeling angry and humiliated eventually turning it all in on ourselves.

I don’t know what to do about it. All I know is that one fairly innocent joke sent me into a tailspin of emotions and nothing about that is okay.

*I say fat-enough because I recognize that there are many who are bigger than I am who face fat-phobic harassment on a daily basis. I am speaking from the perspective of someone who's fat enough to be invisible and have real problems finding clothes but not fat enough to be shown outright contempt when I'm out and about..

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pushing the easy buttons

Okay, I know I know, three posts inspired – at least in part – by Toshgate? There’s just so much to say though. I’m trying not to say exactly the same things everyone else has been saying so well, and I’m mostly trying to take a more personal approach so here you go, post number three citing Toshgate as inspiration.

I’ve spent the better part of the last week steeped in the muck of misogyny in the Twitterverse. While I haven’t been engaging nearly as much of some of my braver tweeps I have chosen to stick around and bear witness, showing support where I can.

And then today Shakesville posted this piece about Dan Savage’s track record of fat shaming and A Time to Laugh posted this piece about rape culture and slavery apologists in conservative evangelical circles.

And all of them bring me to the same point: These people who claim to be railing against the oppression of feminism/liberalism/political correctness want us to believe that they are speaking truth to power. Their rape jokes/fat shaming/slave apologia are a spark of light in the darkness, calling attention to uncomfortable truths. They portray themselves as being victimized or attacked by those who try to silence them with the muzzle of political correctness.

At first, the notion that they are pushing boundaries sounds kind of right. I mean their words are certainly shocking to hear.  But scratch a little deeper, take even a nano-second to reflect on what purpose exactly those shocking words are serving and you can see that there is nothing revolutionary about what they are doing.  Whether they are propagating the rape culture, promoting fat-phobia or denying the horrifying legacy of slavery their actions are simply a natural extension of the dominant discourse.

The only rule these people are breaking is the one that requires those with privilege to exercise and maintain that privilege by subtler, more insidious, more structural means.

Daniel Tosh, Dan Savage and Doug Wilson (triple D?) are not the black sheep of the family.  Rather they are that loud drunken uncle that tells abrasive black jokes at the table while the rest of the family tut-tuts, only to go home and discuss why it’s a shame that that nice George Zimmerman is getting persecuted for defending himself.  The Toshes and Wilson’s are extreme enough in their methods that the rest of us can just shake our heads, safe in the knowledge that “we’re not like that”.  But make no mistake, if you have ever even suggested that a woman “should have known what to expect” or that “Black people should just get over it already” then you are just as much a part of the problem as the most offensive maker of rape jokes out there.

Where the boys aren't

Ever since I was nine or ten I’ve gotten along with guys.  In high school most of my friends, especially the ones that hung around, were guys.  I don’t know why except that I never really related to the way so many of the girls acted with their friends.  I wasn’t into the New Kids on the Block, I didn’t watch 90210 and I had a foul mouth and a dirty mind.  While other girls were pining for Jason Priestly and reading Sweet Valley High I was watching Chopping Mall and listening to the Dead Milkmen.

All I know for sure is that I had some amazing friendships with straight guys in high school.

Of course I also had a lot of male “friends” turn into emotionally and sometimes physically abusive assholes. I can think of four off the top of my head who either threatened me with violence or actually hit me.  Others spread slut-shaming rumours about me.  Others would only talk to me on the phone, not willing to be seen talking to me in public.

Still, I miss having straight male friends.

But this last few weeks of witnessing the vile, hateful and abusive things (here and here) that have been said to and about women I respect, admire, and in some cases consider to be friends has driven home how I got to a point where I no longer had male friends.

Because you reach a point where you can no longer ignore the bullshit that sometimes comes out of their mouths.  Part of the deal was always that you didn’t call them on every sexist thing they say, besides, to do so would be exhausting.  So I pulled back.

As I was reading all the hate and vitriol on Twitter this past week all I could think was, “There’s no way to tell which guys walking down the street think this way”.  There are truly no signifiers of who is safe.  As any woman in the activist community will tell you, lefty beliefs and proclamations of feminist ideologies is no guarantee that a guy won’t shut you down with misogynist epithets or rape you after he gets you back to his place to check out his collection of feminist essays.

And I know what you might be thinking, what about the queers? I’ve heard straight women say things like “just hang out with gay guys!” but being gay is not some magic bullet to shedding all your misogynist baggage. In some cases it’s just more open because, unlike straight or bi guys, gay guys don’t have to worry that they won’t get laid if they piss you off.  I’ve been forced to hide out in a bar bathroom because a gay male “friend” was trying to physically intimidate me because I was upset with his friend’s sexism.

So what’s a girl who likes to hang with guys to do?

There are many amazing, open, and thoughtful guys out there but the problem is that it can take so much time and work just to find out if any given guy is “one of the good ones”.  There are friends I had in high school that I still wonder about.  For various reasons I lost touch with pretty much everyone but I still miss some of those guys, especially the ones with whom I spent a lot of one-on-one time. I miss my friend Ryan who’s only reaction to me coming out as bi was to shrug and start talking with me about who we thought was hot, and who promised me that if I ever died he wouldn’t let anyone eulogize me by talking about how “pretty” I was.  I miss my friend Jay whose only reaction to finding me crying in his bedroom at one in the morning was simply, “what happened?”

But at this point in my life as a married mother in her thirties the door on new guy friendship feels closed to me. Because as far as I can tell, straight (or bi) guys don’t make close friendships with married women, especially when the only men I meet these days are married fathers.

So I miss those old friends, and I wish I still had that kind of friendship in my life but Goddamn if I know how to find it now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This week in rape culture…

I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to blog about this, I wasn’t going to tweet about it. But after seeing the attacks being made on someone I consider a friend who has chosen to take on Daniel Tosh and his defenders I need to say this.  If you haven’t heard, the comedian Daniel Tosh, in response to a woman who “heckled” him by telling him that rape is never funny, declared to the audience “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got gang raped by five guys right now?”  This after witnessing the horror that has been unleashed on Anita Sarkeesian because she had the nerve to even consider talking about sexist tropes in video games. But I digress.

In the ensuing online shit storm a bevy of men, many of them comics themselves, have rushed to his defence.  Because apparently heckling a comedian is the worst possible sin, deserving of any vile or threatening reaction the comic can spew forth.

So, to the point.

For every person defending anyone’s right to make rape jokes there is a woman who just locked another door. In her house, in her car, in her mind.

When I was fifteen at least half of my female friends had been raped or sexually assaulted.  One by her older brother when she was still a child, she worried that because of the assault she’d never have children.  One by a guy in an ally with a knife. One never told me the details, she just asked if that meant she wasn’t a virgin anymore.  Everyone in the school knew that a certain guy had raped a certain girl, when her boyfriend went after him the rapist stabbed him.

When I was in grade twelve a girl in my school was stalked, raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

When I see these people defending the funniness of rape jokes I feel that much less safe in an already unsafe world.  I know that there are real people on the other end of the keyboard who, at the very least, I could not trust to defend my safety if I were openly threatened in a public setting.  More likely they would tell me that I was lucky that someone was paying me any attention at all.

I start wanting to lock doors in my heart and my mind that I have been trying oh so hard to crack open.  Part of me wants to never leave the house again.

I want to not feel nervous every time I hear a bunch of white guys laughing among themselves. I want to not fear for my safety just because I don’t want to give some guy my phone number. I want to remember what it’s like to not fear sex.  And right now, more than anything I want to wrap my arms around those women who literally put their safety on the line by directly challenging the terrifying onslaught of misogyny on Twitter and in the gaming world.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


 Slut. Whore. Tramp. These are the names so many of us live with. Whispered under the breath, like a cold rustling wind that follows us through the hallways or down the streets.  This is a letter to those girls in school right now who have been labeled and slut shamed for the sin of being a girl. And make no mistake – that is all it takes to be at risk for this brand of bullying.

Wear short skirts? Slut.
Hang out with guys? Slut.
Dated the wrong guy? Slut.
Wear baggy clothes? Slut.
Live on your own? Slut.
Wear heels? Slut.
Goth? Punk? Slut.
Listen to hip hop? Slut.
On the pill? Slut.
Have a single mom? Slut.
Get along with a male teacher? Slut.
Popular guy likes you? Slut.
Unpopular guy likes you? Slut.

There are a million reasons why someone might call you a slut but they all come down to this: All girls are fair game. While boys are kept in line by the threat of being labeled “fags” girls are forever at risk for a big fat serving of slut shaming.

When it happens it’s so easy to say, “No honey, you’re not a slut. You’re a virgin/you only slept with one guy/ you have a boyfriend.” But this misses the point.

This is what I need to say to you. It is never okay to call someone out as a slut. You’re body is yours and only you get to decide when, how and with whom you want to have sex. No one has the right to tell you that you are deficient or depraved because of your sexuality.  So long as we accept that it’s okay to call a girl a slut if she “really is one” we are giving implicit consent to those who use the word as a weapon against all girls and women.

I don’t care if you’re having sex. I don’t care who you’re doing it with and I don’t care how often.

I care that you only do it when you really want to. I care that you take ownership of your sexuality and talk openly with your partner(s). I care that you take care of yourself and use protection. I care that you don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘less than’. I care that you don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re wrong or bad for being a girl who is comfortable in her own skin.

So no honey, you are not a slut. None of us are.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fatal Attraction or how I learned to fear men

Dedicated to the memory of Racquel Junio, and every other woman or girl who has died for the sin of being female.

[trigger warning]

I was thirteen when I learned what a dangerous world it is for women. And not just because of my personal experiences with abusive boyfriends and sexual bullies at school.

The year was 1989 and on December 6th of that year Mark Lepin went on a shooting rampage at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. He was angry at “the feminists” for taking up spots in a school that he thought rightfully belonged to men. He killed 14 women. Those events quickly came to be known as the Montreal Massacre.

When I heard it on the news I cried. I still cry every time I think about it. Not just for the women who died or were terrorized on that day but because I understood in that instant just how dangerous it could be to be a woman.

Plaque commemorating the victims of Mark Lepin

In 1992, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy were abducted and killed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, it was later discovered that Bernardo had also been the Scarborough rapist. As a teen girl living in St. Catharines this was constantly on my mind. I had friends who had known Kristen, I knew someone who had known the Homolka family. The tension in the air was palpable. Those of us who were living in St. Catharines at the time all bear a collective scar from those years.

In 1993 Kara Taylor, a student at my school, was raped and killed by an ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. Once again, I had friends who had known her, some of whom had begun escorting her to her car in order to protect her from her ex.

These events, partnered with my own experiences with abusive men, shaped my understanding of what it means to move about the world as a woman.

If you’re a trans woman, belong to a racialized group or have a disability you’re at even greater risk.

Do you think that Robert Pickton could have abducted and killed women for so long if his victims had been white, middle class women?

Do you think the McDonalds staff would have been so indifferent to the beating of a cis woman?

Of course not.

Every time I hear about a woman being killed by her male partner it feels like a punch in the gut. For every murdered woman there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are daily subjected to emotional and physical abuse. From partners, from employers, from friends and family members; we watch our backs as we walk the streets at night but deep down we know that it’s not the strangers on the streets that pose the greatest threat.

Statistically, we are told, a woman stands a 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted in her life. My experience is that more than half of my female friends throughout my life have been victimized in one way or another.

In the aftermath of the Montreal massacre there was a lot of heated debate over the significance of the fact that Mark Lepin targeted women. Some made the point that it was an extreme example of the misogyny and violence that rests in the hearts of so many men. Others said that he was just a deranged madman, as though that precluded his delusions from being shaped by the dominant culture’s antipathy towards women. In the midst of all this, some men decided that it was high time that men take on the responsibility for ending male violence against women. Of all the things that Jack Layton did in his life, this is the one for which I am most grateful.

We often talk of the negative impact on girls of being inundated with images of women as sexual objects. But we forget that they are also absorbing the much more visceral lessons about what it means to take up space as a girl or woman. Walking through life in a heightened state of vigilance, worrying about being called a slut, a tease, a whore. Hearing boys and men brag about “hitting that” in yet another conflation of sex and violence. Watching as friends or loved ones take hit after hit (physical or emotional) from abusive partners.

I don’t have any pithy comments. I don’t have a stunning conclusion. I only have this: If I’m rude to a man who makes a pass at me it’s because I have learned that a man showing interest in me is one of the most dangerous things of all.

Some stats on violence against women in Canada

Related posts:
Padded bras and victim blame: it’s always your fault

Silence means no

And at my other blog: Sexual harassment is bullying

Friday, March 25, 2011

Padded bras and victim blame: it's always your fault

I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to blog about this but here goes, Abercrombie and Fitch has just launched a line of push up triangle bikinis for girls as young as seven.  That’s right, better make sure when your second grader hits the beach that her ‘tits’ are up front and centre because that’s what the boys and (possibly uncle Larry) want.

I hate this for the obvious reason touched on here and here but I want you to read the last paragraph from that second link again:

“It doesn't matter much, these days, as to what the comments are surrounding what the fashion industry has decided our teeny-bopper sex tantalizers should adorn themselves in. I'm slapping the blame on moms  for not seeing any further than their own breast implants when it comes to purchasing push-uppers for girls that don't, as yet, actually have any breasts,” said Shirlee Smith, CEO/Founder of “Talk About Parenting With Shirlee Smith.” “Who is paying for this sexy- kiddie marketing?  Mom in the short run, sex object girls in the long run.”

That’s right, it’s not A&F’s responsibility not to contribute to the hypersexualization of young girls it’s, wait for it…’s fault.  Because it’s always mom’s fault.  Because dad has no involvement in raising the kids.  Because all little girls do exactly what their mothers tell them.  Because kids aren’t affected by the message sent by the very existence of such a product.  Because adults aren’t slowly absorbing and accepting the increasingly sexual images of and for our girls (see Miley Cyrus, Bratz Dolls, hell just read Cinderella At My Daughter by Peggy Orentstein).

Okay, sarcastic rant done.

But here is where I need to take it a step further.  I few weeks ago the New York Times wrote an article about the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by 18 men and boys, for more details read this article from

Don’t worry, I’ll wait…..

To quote:
After all, as the Times helpfully points out, "Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands -- known as the Quarters -- said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said." Gosh, I wonder if she's pretty or you know, developed, because that's relevant too.
The residents also wonder "how could their young men have been drawn into such an act" and lament that "These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives."

Did you get all of that?  The implication is that because she was “dressed older than her age” these poor boys were “drawn into such an act”.

So this is where we are, on one hand Abercrombie & Fitch wants our young daughters to wear padded bikinis and thongs and on the other hand, if your little Wonder Woman gets assaulted while wearing these clothes she was asking for it.

But wait there’s more….
The Times quotes a neighbor lamenting, "Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking? How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?"
The girl's mother, identified only as Maria, told the New York Daily news this week that the family has received several angry phone calls, and that the child has been moved to foster care for her protection. "These guys knew she was in middle school," she said. "You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears." Where's that quote in the Times story?
Well, we’ve come full circle now haven’t we because not only will it be your daughters fault if she gets raped while wearing these precocious clothes it will also be yours, you know, if you’re a mom.  Dad’s are off the hook apparently (is anyone else wondering what happened to the stereotype of dad’s protecting their daughter’s virtue?)

It’s not the fault of the people who make the lingerie for girls if someone perceives her as a sexual object.  It’s not the fault of the rapists if she ‘looked like a ho’.  Stores are businesses after all and their only responsibility is to make lots of cash for their blessed shareholders.  And men, well, they cant’ be held responsible for what their bodies do while their hearts aren’t looking.

And there you have it, capitalism and patriarchy in a nutshell.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to look good naked (so long as you look like a girl dammit!)

For a while one of my guilty pleasures was watching "How To Look Good Naked."  For those of you who haven't seen it in any of it's permutations (British, American or Canadian) here's the formula.  Take one average woman whose body image is so bad that she won't get naked in front of her husband (I only ever see straight married women on this show) and introduce her to her saviour in the shape of the benevolent gay host committed to showing her that she is beautiful just as she is.  Once we're introduced to our heroine and all the reasons she hates her body we watch her strip to her skivvies in front of the host and a three way mirror and cry.  The host chimes in at this point to tell her all about how beautiful she already is and how mistaken she is, hugging her all the while, and she tearfully agrees that yes, she would like to feel good about herself.  By the end of the show she is doing a nude photo shoot and modeling lingerie in a runway show at some mall while her family tells us through their tears how she's a new woman now.

There are a lot of things I like about this show.  I like how they show women how distorted there body image is.  In every episode the subject is asked to place herself in a line of women sorted from smallest (hips, ass, belly, depending on the woman's most hated body part) to largest where she thinks she fits.  Invariably she thinks she's bigger than she really is and has an aha moment that goes something like this, "well she's got a gorgeous hips/ass/belly and she's bigger than me?  Wow! I can't believe I was so off!" 

So yes, I appreciate that this show gives all women permission to feel beautiful in their own skin.  I love that they don't give weight loss tips or put them through booty boot-camp.  But as far as debunking the beauty standards it leaves much to be desired.  First, don't tell me that there's nothing wrong with my belly and then put me in a body shaper.  I've tried a body shaper, and while I liked not having a "muffin top" I was hot, the waist-band of the damn thing kept rolling down to my waist giving a lovely double muffin top and I had a weird muffin thigh thing going on where all the displaced leg fat popped out of the bottom of it.  I would rather make peace with my jiggly bits as they are than squeeze myself into that instrument of shame and torture again.  But I digress.  The body shaper is really only a minor quibble.  The real issue for me is much more fundamental.

The thing that really gets my granny panties in a twist is that there is still really only one kind of beauty.  As soon as we get into shopping and hair and make-up it's the same hyper-feminine commercially viable twaddle as "What Not to Wear."  First, you must where heels.  You cannot be beautiful or confident as a woman without some back breaking, foot squeezing stilettos.  You must wear conventional trendy clothes and you must "dress your age."  If someone pleads comfort it's dismissed as so much nonsense.  Comfort, clearly, must never be allowed to trump fashion and confidence comes from feeling sexy.

So maybe that's why all of the women seem to be straight.  Because queer women know that you can be butch and beautiful, you can be a boy-dyke and be the hottest thing at the bar.  You can be a fat girl in a mini skirt with belly rolls and if you own it and carry yourself with confidence there is no questioning that you are fabulous.  If you really want women to love themselves as they are you have to embrace the whole range of gender expression and gender identity.

When I was a teenager hanging out with all of my alternative friends in the alternative scene I felt damn hot when I walked down the street in steel toe boots, leggings, a mini kilt and an over-sized L7 t-shirt.  Now that I'm a mom and married to a man I'm surrounded by "normal" straight people and I have to constantly shut down those voices in my head that make me feel inferior because I'm not femme enough.  These makeover shows just amplify the already overwhelming pressure to toe the gender line.

While I'm glad that some people are starting to talk about fat phobia and fat acceptance I'd feel a lot better if the gender police would just back the fuck off.  If you don't know what I'm talking about ask yourself how many times you've heard some woman disparaged because she didn't shave her legs or pits.  Or how many times you've hears someone say, "she could be pretty if she just tried."  Because seriously, who the fuck says that smooth legs and pits are more feminine, and who says a woman has to be feminine anyway.  And what does it even mean to 'try' to be pretty.  As one woman I know and love said when confronted with that particular line of crap, "I've got better things to do."

Well, I've got better things to do than worry about if my gender expression is threatening to others.  I've spent my whole life not fitting in.  I didn't fit into to the mainstream but I didn't fit into any of the alternative boxes (punk, mod, hippie, grunge etc.).  I'm not straight but I still like men.  I'll wear a skirt and make-up one day and army shorts and boots the next.  I shave my legs but not my pits.  I love to cook and knit but I'm the "handyman" in the house.  By Sandra Bem's Sex Role Inventory I am androgynous, meaning I am high in both masculine and feminine identification.  I like this definition, I embrace it.  But it sure does seem to confuse people.  So, as with so many other things, I say, "Fuck 'em"  because life is too short to let other people tell you who to be.