Feminism 101

On Divorcing Slurs from Their Contexts: There are men (and women) who would swear up, down, and backwards that they're not homophobic, and may even genuinely be supportive of full LGBTQ equality, but nonetheless continue to use the word fag to malign other men—or use "gay" as a negative descriptor. They just like the words. They don't want to give them up, because they haven't found anything else that feels quite so good rolling off the tongue as "What a fag!" and "That's so gay." Who's it hurting? I totally don't hate gay people! And that's why we get these tortured explanations of how they're not using them "in the gay way."

On Off-Limits Humor: Here's the main reason I object to the use of "politically incorrect" humor at this blog: There's a whole fucking world out there where women and gay men and trans wo/men and racial minorities and the disabled and the overweight and people who are intrinsically and inescapably "different" for any reason are made fun of, marginalized, turned into punchlines. There's a whole fucking world out there which expects us all to be perfect according to some arbitrary definition and seeks to punish us if we're not. There's a whole fucking world out there where people who don't conform to that standard are not only ridiculed and made to feel not good enough, but can also find themselves at real risk of physical harm. Where they're denied rights, job opportunities, friendships, votes, equality. If you want to use "politically incorrect" humor that targets those people, you have the entire rest of the bloody world to do it, but you can't do it here. This is a safe space.

On What Angry Men Can Learn from Girls and Queers: For straight men, who exist in a culture largely structured to accommodate male primacy, pulling apart the intrinsic nature of men from the socialization borne of a society that reinforces the privilege of maleness, is exponentially more difficult. And thusly, lots of men cannot dissociate their rigid understanding of manhood from the societal influences which are largely mutable; they've had no reason to question whether a society that so perfectly suits them has created a definition of manhood that isn't "real," and so attempts to change society are inextricably linked to attempts to change men in ways they believe they cannot be changed. And that makes a lot of men angry.

On Hazing, Misogyny, and Homophobia: While we might hope that being forcibly effeminized and summarily raped would generate some sympathy for the women and gay men whose stereotypical accoutrements were employed in one's shaming, the reality is more grim. Even those violently hazed who don't engage the instruments of hazing outside the explicit milieu are generally not left with sympathy, but increased contempt, for the others to whom comparison served as the basis of their indignity. It's a dreadfully destructive cycle, and, at its center, the definition of masculinity predicated on contradistinction to and supremacy over women and gay men becomes increasingly, unavoidably, indurated.

On Men Being Part of the Solution: To a woman whose every post on sexual assault and domestic abuse has prompted untold numbers of women (and some men) to share their stories of having been raped or otherwise violently abused, that the subject could never come up among men is simply astounding. And yet I am assured by the men in my life, it does not. Of the issues with which they concern themselves, sending them into tumbling debates about what should be done and how best to solve the problem—the environment, poverty, encroachments on civil liberties, etc. etc. etc.—the fact that one out of four women will be raped in her lifetime, and many more yet victims of domestic abuse, rarely, if ever, makes the list. How can it be that so many men and women live such different lives? I dream of the day when we don't.

On Cunts: Pachacutec could have just said "Yeah, I called her a whore. So what? Fuck you." to anyone who disagreed with that language. As Tammy Wynette might say, stand by your sexism. But instead, the argument became, as it always does, that the language wasn't sexist at all, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a hypersensitive, hysterical loser. Tom was deemed "Ned Flanders," and Pachacutec told him to "Face it. We do punk rock posts and you're into Guy Lombardo." All I can say is that if punk is challenging the comfortable conventions of the bourgeoisie, there's almost nothing less punk than demeaning a woman by calling her a whore and pretending it's not sexist. That's the Milli Vanilli of blogging—derivative and radio-ready, pretending to be something it ain't.

On Rape Not Being a Compliment: Rapists are not merely men with heightened libidos; they are men who seek to possess and control, and sex is the weapon they wield—not the ends, but the means. To think that rapists all rape for one universal reason is to think that murderers all murder for a single reason, and to think that rapists all rape because of sexual attraction is to think that murderers who use guns all murder because they like the smell of gun powder.

On Humorless as an Insult and Thick Skin: Feminists Can't Win 101: When identifying oneself as a feminist to a non-feminist, the non-feminist is likely to make a gesture or comment that is trite and uninspired. When the feminist reacts to the "joke" with the resounding dearth of laughter it deserves, the non-feminist's presumption that feminists are humorless is thusly reinforced.

On Natural Allies and Privilege: Realistically, the breadth of allies in a comprehensive challenge to the patriarchy is vast and varied. Though all of us, sans rigorous philosophical exertion, are hapless conduits for every limiting and oppressive archetype upon which the patriarchy depends, conveying the bars of our own cages, very few of us are its unconstrained beneficiaries. Even the average straight, white, middle class American man exchanges privilege for severe limitations on his personal expression and emotional life—and he is encouraged never to examine that devastating trade-off too closely, lest the veneer on the alleged bargain prove thin enough through which to see. We all serve the same callous master, and there's little to celebrate in being the favored slave—especially compared to a life of freedom. It is foolish to believe that there is more feminist, gender-queer cisgendered straight women, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and the Ts don't all have in common culturally and politically than that which we do, given the particular restraints and prejudices of the patriarchal structure and its rigid notions of sex, gender, and sexuality conveyed in all its aspects. We struggle to achieve and/or maintain, to varying degrees, autonomy over our own bodies, and, crucially, freedom of choice with regard to what we want to do with those bodies. Life- and identity-changing events hang in the balance for us all—parenting, marriage, gender reassignment, being legally able to keep a job in spite of prejudice. The only question worth asking is how willing any of us are to secure rights for some of us at the expense of rights for the rest. Because we are in this thing together. We are natural allies. We must be fierce together.

On "Bitch" and Other Misogynist Language: Life is hard enough without my unexpectedly smacking people in the face who trust me not to be a jerk, and it's in that same spirit that I've tried to convey how misogynist language is uncool—hey, I don't want to get blindsided with shit like that from an ostensible ally. When I highlight the use of sexist language at a male-authored blog, it's because such language is alienating and demeaning and infuriating and I'm operating under the assumption that those bloggers don't want to alienate, demean, and infuriate their female readers. But that, as it turns out, usually tends to be a faulty assumption.

On Allegedly Looking for Things to Get Mad About: The truth is, if I actually spent my days actively paying attention to every example of misogyny around me, I would be a profoundly unhappy woman. Not bitchy or grumpy or short-tempered, but paralyzingly depressed. Women have to train themselves to avoid consciously reacting to every bit of misogynistic detritus permeating the culture through which we all move, lest they go quite insane. I write about the things I can't not write about. If I wrote about all the examples of sexism I see every day, I'd never sleep.

On Circular Firing Squads and One's Vote as One's Own: This oft-wielded cudgel to silence feminists who cry foul at sexism expressed by political allies is wrong for the following reason, which I cannot state any more succinctly than this: When someone engages in divisive behavior, any resulting division is their responsibility. It is, simply, not the duty of any person who is repeatedly subjected to alienating language, images, behaviors, and/or legislation to nonetheless never complain and pledge fealty from the margins. If women, men of color, gay/bi/ trans men, et. al. are valued, then they should not be demeaned—and if they are demeaned, they should not be expected to pretend it does not matter.

On Periods: Let's put this shit to bed right now: Women don't lose their minds when they have period-related irritability. It doesn't lower their ability to reason; it lowers their patience and, hence, tolerance for bullshit. If an issue comes up a lot during "that time of the month," that doesn't mean she only cares about it once a month; it means she's bothered by it all the time and lacks the capacity, once a month, to shove it down and bury it beneath six gulps of willful silence.

On Being a Progressive: Feminism is an integral part of progressivism. If you're not a feminist, you're not a progressive. You're a fauxgressive. End of story.

On Being Shakespeare's Sister: I cannot walk away from misogyny for a moment, and so I cannot for a moment walk away from feminism, either. I cannot set it aside any more than I can set aside my womanhood. No—I will not. The choice is mine, and I choose to face the world equipped at all times with the only tool of self-defense I have against inequality. Feminism is my sword and my shield, which I carry because the world is hostile to me, not the other way around. I fight because I have to. My obligation. My muse. That is the context of this room. It was built by a woman. A feminist woman. Shakespeare's Sister, carrying the weight of all of Shakespeare's Sisters with her, as she clumsily stumbles toward making long, greedy use of the opportunity they provided her, sucking up every last drop of the chance she's been given to do what others could not and pay forward with interest the chance to another sister of Shakespeare who may just now be warily peering into this room and thinking there's something I like in there

On Feminism and Humanism: As long as there are men, who would ostensibly be part of the "humanist" movement, yet retain a visceral and violent reaction to the feminine, there is no foundation for a sexless, "humanist" movement. Generally, those arguing in favor of a "humanist" movement won't say they're arguing for men's inclusion, instead citing what they perceive as the limitations of feminism/womanism—"But what about gay people or people of color or the disabled or the poor or…?" they ask, as if there is something intrinsic to feminism that precludes also fighting other biases. The truth is, if one is genuinely concerned with the betterment of women, one is necessarily concerned with fighting biases against any marginalized group, because, half (give or take) of all such groups are women.

On Shoez and Getting Personal: Making the personal public and political is serious business. Because women's stories aren't told, it's incumbent upon female feminists to tell their own stories, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance.

On Owning the Context: Ultimately, if you want to punch Hillary Clinton for being Hillary Clinton, or because of the sound of her voice, that's your prerogative, but you ought to at least have the integrity to own it wholly, which means owning the entire context: Irrespctive of whether it's specifically because she's a woman, the desire to punch a woman necessarily carries with it particular cultural baggage, including, for example, that women are disproportionately victimized by domestic violence and that women's voices and tones are routinely singled out as prohibitively unbearable. That's the context of womanhood.

On Objectively Assessing Sexism: Becoming intimately, actively involved with the methods by which sexism is conveyed is not unlike becoming fluent in another language. And just like how people who speak Arabic are better translators of Arabic than people who don't, people who have immersed themselves in the critical theories of gender are better translators of what is and is not sexism. Identifying and defining sexism is not, as "sexism is a matter of opinion" suggests, a speculative chore. There is an existing framework for recognizing and characterizing expressed sexism—and those who have made it their business to become fluent in it are the closest thing to objective experts as exist in any discipline.

On Anger: If you have even the merest capacity of imagination, it shouldn't be difficult for you to conjure your emotional reaction if you were, for example, told your entire life that you are equal, only to have the opposite be communicated to you in big and small ways every minute of every day, or if, as another example, there were people who argued that they should have control over some significant function of your body, that they needed to rob you of personal autonomy because they can make better decisions for you than you can for yourself, or if, for instance, you made less money for doing the same job someone else is doing for more, just because of some arbitrary physical feature, like, say, the color of your eyes. If you are indeed in possession of the capacity of imagination, you have no doubt concluded by this juncture that these scenarios, coupled with a lack of immediate recourse, might make you angry. So the idea that a feminist/womanist with demonstrable anger is somehow nutz is actually quite stupid.

On How Feminism Works: Individual women don't have to earn a feminist's defense from sexist attacks; it is offered because a feminist recognizes how sexism works—against the collective. As Echidne says, it "hurts all women, all little girls, all old ladies, women everywhere." If you grok how sexism works, and you fail to defend a woman because you don't like this or that about her, or her politics, you don't grok how feminism works.

On Using Projection to Turn Women's Real Fears into Men's Fake Ones for Yuks: For a very long time, women really have entered male-centered spaces at their own risk, and it really has been like entering a war zone for a whole lot of women—women who wanted the right to vote, women who wanted to work in mines, women who want to play sports for which there's no organized women's league, women who want their basic goddamned equality in every space—who were brutalized and subjected to all manner of indignity for their trouble. Mr. Hilarious AP Writer turns that history on its head to make jokes about how tough it is to be a guy going to see Sex and the City. That, he calls a war zone. The women there, he calls a plague. That shit verges on eliminationist rhetoric—and it's in an entertainment article. This is what we're dealing with on a daily basis; it's teaspoon versus dumptruck, and for every one of them using massive machinery to move shit one way, there's got to be a hell of a lot more of us working our teaspoons to move it the other way. That's the privilege of privilege.

On Blaming Liberalism for Rape: Evidently, people who say that rape is "the inevitable result of the collapse of sexual morality" are unaware that rape pre-dates the Pill, or whatever equivalent boogeyman they'd cite as the linchpin of moral decline. Not only does rape pre-date the Pill, the sexual revolution, miniskirts, Madonna, and "hysterical ultra-feminist propaganda" (as Peter Hitchens loves to refer to the idea that rapists are solely responsible for rape), it also pre-dates marriage—and whatever other accoutrements of Hitchens' "sexual morality" he fancies protect women against rape. The rape of women is as old as penises.

On Objectification Not Being an Expression of Love: The USB Pole Dancer is an item for the bloke who loves women, can't you tell? The sort of bloke who thinks it's outrageous he has to actually pay strippers for their services, who thinks being able to manipulate a female figure into performing a sex act with the press of a few buttons is "hilarious," who thinks this sort of thing is fine for a work environment that includes female coworkers, who thinks that any woman who might object is just a humorless, hysterical prude. There's so much love for women there, I hardly know where to begin. ... There are plenty of men and women who quite understandably love the female body. They don't show it by putting a plastic stereotype on their desks to be enslaved to their cruel and objectifying whims.

On Women Supposedly Being Their Own Worst Enemy: 1. Men not being sexist shouldn't be contingent upon women not being misogynist. They should stop being misogynist just because it's the right thing to do. 2. Men and women are misogynistic for different reasons: men to marginalize women, and women to ingratiate themselves with the men trying to marginalize them. Neither one is justifiable, but one is oppressive and the other is a (bad) strategy to deal with that oppression. 3. One thus sees that if the men who are misogynists weren't, the women who are misogynists wouldn't have any reason to be. Ergo, exhorting women to stop being misogynists so that men will stop gets it precisely backwards.

On the Mommy and Daddy Binary: Men are there to provide and discipline; women are there to care. This lie is the foundation for every damnable binary about sex and emotion in our culture—men are rational; woman are emotional—and it is on what we've based our pernicious refusal to regard the most destructive versions of emotions like anger, jealousy, possessiveness, vengeance, apathy, and selfishness as not emotions at all, but merely biological evidence of strength, as long as they emanate from men. Every man and woman reading this post who was raised in a house with a father who did not see "caregiver" as part of his role, who couldn't have a bad day without the whole house having a bad day, who called his sons and daughters emotional or hysterical or weak if they cried, without a trace of irony as he stomped around the house in a fit of pique that no one could ignore, unable to properly process his emotions because he's not supposed to have any, knows intimately the damage done by narratives that tell men they aren't meant to care and that only girls and pussies show emotion. The "daddies aren't there for caring; that's what mommies are for" meme can't die soon enough or hard enough. It hurts the men who believe in it, it hurts the boys and girls they raise, it ain't a picnic for Mom (or second Dad, or Grandma, or whomever else may be a secondary care provider). It's bad for families, and every member in them, and it's bad for the country when writ large. Men are designed to care, too—and they should, for themselves as much as anyone else.

On the Feminine as an Insult: I have played video games with men who refused to play female avatars; I have been with a man who was miffed that I classified his predisposition to copiously pre-cum as being "like a woman"; I have been talking about some female bodily function to a male friend or lover only to have him make a face and inform me he's so glad he's a man; I have heard male coworkers grousing about how "being a woman sucks," because of another male coworker with a groping proclivity; I have been exhorted to "not be such a girl" about things; I have known men who refuse to wear pink; I have been told by men who consider themselves feminists that they won't be raising their daughters "to be girls" but instead raising them "to be people"; I have been told flatly that women are inferior in intellect by virtue of our biology; I have been "complimented" by being told how very much like a man I am in my humor, or rationality, or some other quality; I have listened to men express directly to my face in every way imaginable that they would never want to be a woman. And most of them have been surprised when I had a problem with that—because, you see, we're all supposed to take it as read that no one would want to be a woman, given the choice, since we all know they're the inferior model.

On Gendered Language: Terms like "She's all girl!" and "He's all boy!" (much like "man's man") create a tremendously limited definition of both sexes. To inextricably associate being "all boy" with toy trucks and tumult, and being "all girl" with dollies and diffidence, limits both the boys who like trucks and girls who like dollies and the boys and girls who don't, the latter of whom are not somehow "partially" girl and boy, or not girl and boy at all. Our insistence on reducing children to these incomplete and hopelessly retrograde definitions of sex and gender does them no favors. And, besides that, it's about as sophisticated as believing girls really are made of sugar and spice and everything nice and boys of snakes and snails and puppy dogs' tails. Surely, we're cleverer than that.

On the Fundamental Difference Between the Anti- and Pro-Choice Positions: Anti-choicers and homobigots have been playing this game for decades, pretending that both sides of the abortion issue and the same-sex marriage issue are equivalent, and they are not. The pro-choice position does not force anyone to get an abortion who does not want one; the anti-choice position, however, prevents women who want abortions from getting them. The pro-marriage equality position does not force anyone to marry a person of the same sex, nor require that any churches perform same-sex marriage ceremonies; the anti-marriage equality position, however, prevents same-sex couples who want to get married from doing so and prevents churches who want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies from doing so. The progressive position allows for individual choice; the conservative position does not. The progressive position expands freedom; the conservative position limits it. The progressive position treats women and LGBTQIs as autonomous, rights-bearing human beings deserving of full equality; the conservative position treats women's bodies as state property and LGBTQIs as second-class citizens.

On Persistent Pursuit and the Rape Culture: In a culture where no doesn't mean no, you've just got to be a "persistent motherfucker" until a woman relents—and then you can claim victory and convince yourself you're some kind of awesome Casanova who owes his sexual conquests to "poetry" and not the wholesale rejection of every women's right to say no and then be left the fuck alone instead of wooed, pressured, cajoled, coerced, manipulated, or otherwise convinced to have sex. Or "have sex."

On Girl Math: 1 girl = Acceptable token. 1 girl + 1 girl = Catfight. 1 girl + 1 girl + 1 girl = Slippery slope. 1 girl + 1 girl + 1 girl + 1 girl = Emasculating vortex. 1 girl + 1 girl + 1 girl + 1 girl + 1 girl = War zone.

On "Realness": Some women have noticeable curves. Some women have less noticeable curves. All of them are real women. Some men hew quite closely to traditional male stereotypes. Some men's gender expression is wildly different from traditional male stereotypes. All of them are real men. ... I am a real person. And so are you.

On Projection and Natural Alliances: The Gay Predator and the Female Rape Victim Who Was Totally Asking For It operate on different sides of the consent equation, but we are both demonized via lies told about consent. For gay men, the lie is that they don't seek consent. For women, the lie is that consent is an implicit constant, by virtue of our bodies being public property. (Keen observers will already have noted that both mendacious narratives are spawned of projection, arising from the ugliest manifestation of straight male sexuality, which itself is predatory in nature and has no respect for consent, having intractably objectified women into beings whose value is wholly contingent upon the provision of sex.) ... And, in another swell little marriage between projection and the reliance on contradistinctive definitions of manhood, the straight man who invents a sexual assault out of whole cloth benefits from the overwhelming narrative that it is women who routinely make false rape claims in desperate bids of self-preservation (or vengeance). Wonder not why that pervasive accusation against women exists; it exists for the same reason narratives about predatory gays does—because the patriarchal male who is treated since birth as The Norm (from whom all Others deviate) imagines Others to have his motivations.

On Flaws: Being beautiful on the inside doesn't change the fact that it's still a radical act to look different and be happy in this culture. If you're obviously, undisguisably Less Than Perfect, you're not only meant to be unhappy, but deeply ashamed of yourself, projecting at all times an apologetic nature, indicative of your everlasting remorse for having wrought your monstrous self upon the world. You are certainly not meant to be bold, or assertive, or confident—and should you manage to overcome the constant drumbeat of messages that you are ugly and unsexy and have earned equally society's disdain and your own self-hatred, should you forget your place and walk into the world one day with your head held high, you are to be reminded by the unsolicited comments and contemptuous looks of perfect strangers that you are not supposed to have self-esteem; you don't deserve it. Being publicly Less Than Perfect and happy is hard; being publicly, shamelessly, unshakably Less Than Perfect and happy is an act of both will and bravery. That is the world in which we live. And being beautiful on the inside doesn't fucking change that. ... Which is why it is imperative to challenge the criteria by which the world judges beauty, to look at the profoundly unreasonable, totally crazymaking, and inherently condemnatory Beauty Standard in its increasingly unachievable face and tell it to fuck off.

On Language and the Commodification of Sex Via Humor: It all seems so innocuous, the jokes we make offering ourselves, our bodies, our services to men (and other women, irrespective of our sexualities, or theirs) to compliment them: Marry me… I want to have your babies… I totally want to fuck you, blow you, make out with you, be your slave… If only I were straight/gay/single… Oh, it's harmless, you may be thinking—and I wouldn't blame you, as I've thought the same thing, too. ... But how can it be, knowing what we know about women still being valued (or not) primarily for their bodies and sexuality? There's nothing innocuous about playing into the idea that the greatest contribution any woman has to offer is her body as a sexual reward or or babymaking machine. ... Okay, but it's ironic! But how can it be, knowing what we know about women forced into sexual servitude around the world? It's only ironic if women (all women, women full-stop) have agency. If they don't, it's merely privileged—a proud display of agency that we have that other women do not, tinged perhaps with the anxious fear that we are not as far away from forcibly bearing babies against our wills as we'd like to believe that we are.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus