gender

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny…

Designer Jessica Rey implores for greater modesty from young women, asking the question [of the bikini], “Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?”

To this I say, “Maybe… I DO ?”

Her argument for greater modesty is underpinned by studies showing that men really do see women as objects the less they wear. However she is invoking the same logic used in arguments saying that if women and girls don’t want to be raped they shouldn’t wear short skirts. Feminism is about equality and choice. If I want to wear an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, I should be able to— without fear of some consequence such as sexual harassment or abuse.

Rey’s argument also ignores the existence of a woman’s own agency. To her own question, “who says it has to be itsy bitsy?,” she answers: everyone— “fashion designers, the media….”—everyone except the woman buying the bikini, that is. In this way, she completely fails to acknowledge a woman’s own agency.

But perhaps, Ms. Rey, it’s the WOMAN buying it who says so. I buy bikinis because I think they suit my particular body shape better than a full bathing suit, and, quite frankly, I find it more comfortable. Point in fact, I actually feel like a sausage stuffed into a casing in a full bathing suit. Hell, maybe I would actually look “better” in a full bathing suit rather than a bikini, but I just prefer letting my belly and hips hang out. It’s so freeing.

Quite frankly, Rey seems to be living in line with the misogynistic male gaze more than I do in my bikini, or perhaps any woman in her bikini for that matter. After all, she’s the one conforming to the very androcentrism behind her whole argument.

“Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?”

Me. And my freedom of choice, and my fashion sense, and my self-recognized agency. That’s who.

 

 

 

 

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PSA: feminism and wussy men are a threat to national security

I don’t know if you all knew this, but…

“American men are on the decline.”

Or so says Australian Author, Nick Adams, in the below Fox & Friends interview with infamous Anti-Womanist Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and other Faux News Douche [insert name here].

 

First off, I love that the “wussification” of American men (and I can’t even tell you how much that made-up word drives me up the wall, Charlotte Perkins Gilman style) is especially seen as a threat “given the leading role” of our country. Ah, American Exceptionalism at it’s finest! Guess what… I love this country. I am very happy to be living in the United States. But, it’s not the greatest country in the world. That doesn’t mean that I hate America. It just means that I’m very critical and very aware. (Thanks, UC Berkeley!) After all, part of my thesis involved looking at our infant and maternal mortality rates against other countries whose primary labor attendants were midwives and indeed, ours is abysmal. There are plenty of other elements factoring into the cold hard fact that we are not the greatest country in the world, and while the above hyperlink is a clip from a TV show (well, it’s not really TV, it’s HBO) that does not render the information contained within it invalid.

I also love that Mr. Adams postulates that feminism sees men as preventing us [women] from achieving our goals. Funny… I’m married to a man, yet… hmm… he actually helps me achieve my goals… OH MY GOD THIS ENTIRE TIME I’VE NEVER EVEN BEEN A REAL FEMINIST.

Ok, so clearly Mr. Adams is not really familiar with what feminism actually is, what it sets out to do, or why most of us feminists view it as a necessity. Suffice it to say that Mr. Adams clearly sees feminism in “Backlash” black and white. Not to mention right in front of his face, during that very interview, was an actual woman who strives to prevent other women’s [feminist] goals….sooo…that’s funny.

And, I’m sorry, we’ve “whitewashed” genders? When did that happen? Does he even know what gender is? And that it is not the same thing as one’s biological sex? (Which is also not binary, by the way—there are both more genders and sexes than just male/female, masculine/feminine) I can only laugh at the lack of knowledge behind such a statement.

Finally, I find it humorous that he declares, with the utmost authority and confidence, that “feminism has delivered angry women and feminine men.” I beg to differ. Feminism has made me (and my predecessors, I’d argue) quite happy. It’s really more the whole sexism bit that has delivered the “angry women,” I’d say. And as for the “feminine men,” is he talking about gay men? (Not that all gay men are feminine, of course) Because whether he is, or is not, his stance that “Weeps and wussies deliver mediocrity” is intrinsically bound up with homophobic rhetoric and ideals. After all, the very notion (or existence, really—it’s not exactly a notion, anymore is it?) of homosexuality has very much undermined the concept of traditional masculinity. Either way, this guy’s notion of masculinity is what I really find most threatening…

Says Katie McDonough, in her Salon.com article:

After listening to Adams bemoan how men once known for “wrestling alligators” have been reduced to “wrestling lattes” instead, Hasselbeck asks — in her most serious journalist voice — if feminists and wussified American men are a threat to national security.

“Do you see this affecting national security? How a nation operates in terms of being a strong presence globally?” she inquired.

“Absolutely, without a doubt,” Adams replied. “I think it has wide-ranging implications. Weeps and wussies deliver mediocrity. And men win. And what America’s always been about is winning. So I think it’s pivotal to the health of the country.”

********

Tom Hanks once said:

“I’m glad I didn’t have to fight in any war. I’m glad I didn’t have to pick up a gun. I’m glad I didn’t get killed or kill somebody. I hope my kids enjoy the same lack of manhood.”

I can’t tell you how much I have loved this quote over the years. And the so-called “manhood” that he is referring to is the very same masculinity to which Mr. Adams is referring. It is a masculinity that engenders violence. It is a masculinity that infers dominance. It is a masculinity that engenders rape, bullying, war, and oppression.

And masculinity isn’t just for men. Anybody—regardless of sex or gender—can exert masculinity. Though it is obviously an image of which is overwhelmingly expected of, and pushed upon, almost all young boys and men (if not all). In my opinion, that’s the real societal threat.

A Vindication of the Rights of Pin-Ups

hilda

“America’s Forgotten Pin-Up Girl,” Hilda

 

I am really feeling the sting of woman on woman deprecation today.

And in the name of feminism no less!

First there was the article on how straight feminists hate lesbian feminists, (which, thankfully, was sufficiently rebutted by others’ comments) and then almost immediately after, I came across this post condemning women that are fond of pin-ups and/or like to dress up in the pin-up style. The following words are in response to the currently trending popularity of this pin-up character from the past, “Hilda” (pictured above).

 

Here’s what the post said (taken from this article):

“We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.

That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.

When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.

This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.

If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.

Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.”

 

I think it goes without saying that I do not like this attack on pin-up girls/pin-up culture.

More importantly than what I do, or do not like, however, is the fact that saying, “talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony,” ignores the very multi-faceted world of pin-up culture as well as the individuals participating within it— which is relevant. (Since when is talking about the parts of a picture irrelevant to the picture as a whole?) While the author’s critique invokes the rhetoric of “hegemony,” he or she is creating a hegemonic feminism of their own, in which all other feminists who like to participate in and enjoy pin-up culture are castigated.

The feminism I learned about was more accepting than this. While I do understand the perspective from which this author is writing (I did study gender politics at Berkeley after all), I choose to not make such sweeping generalizations about people, or groups of people (except Republicans, of course… Just kidding! I actually do really like Meghan McCain, so there). To imply that just because someone likes to wear pretty dresses and curl their hair, they “have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression” is extremely insulting.

For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant the ability to see through such cultural patterns and influences, actively resist them, and perhaps even become self-definitional if such a thing is possible. Just because I indulge in pin-up fashion on occasion does not mean that I don’t know the history behind it, nor does it mean that I don’t understand the gendered, sociopolitical implications of it. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one (okay I know for a fact that I’m not). As a matter of fact, there is a vast array of modern day pin-ups out there that take the original concept of pin-up beauty and culture, and turn it on its head, thereby subverting the entire set of traditional notions behind it— the very sexist “white enterprise” that the above author is citing. Just look at the Suicide Girls (started by a woman and still largely run by women) which, may I remind you, began as a counterculture of “alternative” beauty.

Moreover, my brand of feminism is about choice. Just as I’m not going to castigate any woman, feminist or not, for being a stay at home mom, I’m also not going to do the same to a woman that chooses to delight in her femininity through replicating pin-up looks. Not only does it not, in my opinion, seem in keeping with the basic tenets of feminism (though, yes, I know, there are a myriad of different feminisms) but honestly, it’s also just not polite.

 

 

Allow Me To Introduce Myself…

FEMINISM

Hello, my name is Justine.

I’m the woman behind MFB.

Seeing as I’m coming up on almost 50* posts by now, and some of you are actually reading this, I thought it a good time to tell you a little bit about myself.

I’m the youngest of three children, with an older brother and an older sister.

My brother and sister both have dirty blonde hair (at least naturally they do), green eyes, sun-kissed light skin, and they’re both tall. I’m five feet tall with brown eyes and dark brown hair (at least naturally, it is) and I have olivey-tan skin. I’m adopted. Yet I somehow look more like our mom than they do.

I used to sing and play guitar in coffee shops. (Yes, it was the 90s)

I grew up in Venice, CA. (Think: beaches, skateboarding, drive-by shootings!)

I used to work with animals. Then I worked in fashion. Then even later, I traded in my Gucci and Prada for t-shirts and jeans in order to work at a grocery store while in college. Giving up that fabulously fashion-forward job to go back to school full-time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I had just left my boyfriend of 5 1/2 years right before doing it (yes— leaving him was easier than leaving the job).

I left home at 17, but only became a serious college student at 22, just shy of my 23rd birthday. I mean, come on—living on my own, and in a different state at 17 years old….? For me, being a responsible and independent SEVENTEEN year old college student was riddled with contradictions.

Once I did become serious about obtaining my B.A., however, I was an English major for the first three years  until I got to UC Berkeley…where I felt like the universe had opened up a Pandora’s box of all the world’s knowledge from which I could pick and choose what I wanted to learn. Who could pick just one “major” from all this worldly knowledge…? So I went with the department that let me make up my own. I majored in Gender Politics (under the auspices of the American Studies Department) and ended up studying how and where law and gender intersect. I spent over a year researching and writing my thesis, which was on the socio-politics of childbirth. If you’re curious, you can read an excerpt here.

I became so enamored with reproductive law and feminist jurisprudence that I actually went on to law school in order to pursue a career as a legal advisor in the field of ARTs (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), as well as possibly practicing midwifery law (midwives need good lawyers dammit). Unfortunately, as I came to learn, law school is a soul-sucking experience and as much as I loved studying the law, I knew a life in law was not the life for me. But I continue to study it in my own way, writing about that which I am passionate about here, and I do still enjoy at least attempting to apply legal reasoning to my everyday life.

When I first started college I was a musical theatre major.

Music will always and forever be my first love. I still own two guitars from when I was 15 and 21, and still listen to a lot of the same music I listened to at age 13, 15, and 20…which seems weird to me now because that seems so long ago. I have also had the #1 most favorite song in the world for the last 20+ years. I listen to so much music, and so many different kinds, I like to think that I am some kind of idiot savant when it comes to the music round at pub quiz, but if I were really that good at identifying so many songs and musicians, my team and I would probably win more.

The end.

 

*This article has been revised as of 1/13/2014. When first published I was only at approximately 20 posts.

He’s My Man, and I’m His Lady

he's my man i'm his lady

My man generally (on the day-to-day, when in conversation with others) refers to me as his ‘lady,’ (and I do indeed refer to him as ‘my man’ quite frequently) and it has come to my attention that this can, in fact, bewilder some of those who know about my feminist leanings. And it’s funny actually, because now I’ve come to see it as almost a kind of epitomizing symbol of us as a couple. It kind of encapsulates our whole dynamic. After all, we are, I suppose—when I really think about it—liberal, yet traditional. We’re like “traditional radicals,” if that can even be a thing. (Yeah, you know what, it is a thing. Because I just said so. We’re it, so there it is. Done.)

We have democratic leanings, to be sure. We engage in thoughtful political discussions and debates. We share a secular belief system as well as what some might call “radical” socio-political ideals and morals. He is, of course, aware of my feminist perspective, and moreover, he welcomed the thought of possibly becoming a house-husband/stay-at-home-dad if I was to be a full-time (i.e. working 70-80 hours/week) lawyer.

But then on the other hand:

We got married (which does, in my opinion, infer some degree of “traditional” deference). I did say I would take his last name (though I have yet to change it legally). I do, in fact, do the bulk of our domestic housework (laundry, dishes, coordinating puppy-sitting and vet visits), and he does, in fact, handle all of our finances, as well as anything that involves power tools or heavy lifting (& killing bugs).

So, does this make me any less of a feminist?

Does it mean my husband is a sexist?

I think not.

As sexist or stereotypical as it may sound (which it shouldn’t, because I am simply talking about myself here—one singular being—not the whole of women everywhere) the plain fact is, I’m just no good with numbers, I’m no good with money, I’m not skilled in the arts of fixing or building things, and you know what, I’m effing TERRIFIED of spiders. So there. And as for my husband, well it’s as simple as this: he wasn’t raised by a total neat freak like I was, he is gifted in all the aspects of intelligence of which I am not (he went to motorcycle mechanic school/ I studied feminist jurisprudence), and while I seem to be able to effortlessly oversee the “domesticity” of our household, he seems to be able to effortlessly develop amazing financial planning strategies and build things like planter boxes and a dog house for our two large hound dogs.

Is this sexist? Are we gender stereotypes? Is this offending you???

Hey, it’s just who we are.

I’m not saying it’s biology. I’m not saying these are the roles we are meant to play. And I’m definitely not saying this is the way it “should” be. It’s just how we ended up, it’s just what turned out to work for us, and trust me, the irony is never lost on me.

So in spite of the fact that I’ve referred to him as my partner for years now (& still do on occasion), yes, I like calling him ‘my man’. I mean, why not—he’s “manly”! It doesn’t mean he relies on it (being manly), or thinks it’s essential to his persona, or his being. He isn’t dictated by his masculinity. He just happens to have some very masculine attributes. Conversely, as I have mentioned in a certain previous article, I relish in my feminine side. I delight in the gender performance that is femininity. So I like that he refers to me as his ‘lady.’ It’s very old school/old-timey charm, if you ask me, and I’m into it. Why not. We are, after all, traditional radicals.

“WALK A MILE IN HER [gendered, sexist, high-heeled] SHOES”

Image source: http://unews.com/2011/09/26/walk-a-mile-in-her-shoes-men-raise-awareness-of-violence-against-women/

“Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. ”
― Virginia Woolf

The following was posted to the MFB Facebook page by a reader the other day:

“My school, George Washington University, is holding a “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event. While I understand and support the point that this event is trying to get across, I have an issue with the high-heeled shoes part. According to the website “men will literally walk one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes (from Mid Campus Quad to the Lincoln Memorial) in order to help them gain a better understanding and appreciation of the experience of being a woman in today’s society.” High heels play a very very (very!) small part of my life as a woman, and I think that the mere symbolism of high heels can be seen as more of a sex-symbol than empowerment for women’s rights.”
http://gwsasawalkamile.eventbrite.com/

This is what I deem to be a case of “their heart is in the right place but the idea’s very half-baked.”

As a matter of fact, the idea is detrimentally half-baked. To quote the aforementioned MFB reader, “I understand and support the point that this event is trying to get across,” but the inference that wearing high-heeled shoes is somehow intrinsically, or perhaps even innately, linked to “womanhood,” or is somehow a fundamental aspect of being a woman is not helpful. It’s actually quite harmful.

In fact, it’s predicated on a very gendered and somewhat sexualized notion of what it means to be a woman. That is to say: femininity does not equate being a woman, nor does being a woman mean being feminine.

One more time:

FEMININITY DOES NOT EQUAL BEING A WOMAN / BEING A WOMAN DOES NOT EQUAL FEMININITY.

A straight woman can be masculine, a gay man can be masculine, a gay woman can be feminine, a straight man can be feminine, many of us can, and do, express both masculinity and femininity, perhaps even simultaneously, and let’s not forget the factual presence of androgyny among us humans, as well. In addition to this gendered notion of womanhood, this “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event also speaks to a sexualized (think: “male gaze“) concept of being a woman due to the inherent sexuality ascribed to the high-heel. It is, after all, a piece of sexual symbolism in itself.

I have to here stop and say, once again, that I applaud the young men that take part in these events across the country. Their hearts are in the right place, as are those of the people that created it. However, it does unfortunately propagate gendered and sexist notions that we women would do better without, and moreover, it doesn’t really accomplish anything in the way of helping young men “see what it’s like to be a woman.” But then I have to ask: Can such a goal even be accomplished? Can a man ever truly understand the experience of what it is like to be a woman?

Something to ponder, from the amazing Cherrie Moraga:

“…a gay male friend of mine once confided to me that he continued to feel that, on some level, I didn’t trust him because he was male; that he felt, really, if it ever came down to a “battle of the sexes,” I might kill him. I admitted that I might very well. He wanted to understand the source of my distrust. I responded, “You’re not a woman. Be a woman for a day. Imagine being a woman.” He confessed that the thought terrified him because, to him, being a woman meant being raped by men. He had felt raped by men; he wanted to forget what that meant. What grew from that discussion was the realization that in order for him to create an authentic alliance with me, he must deal with the primary source of his own sense of oppression.”

(Taken from Moraga’s essay, “La Guera.” Bold added by me, for emphasis)

Marriage is a System of Privilege, Part 2: Love

First and foremost, I would like to say… I looooove my husband. Immensely. He is my best friend, the love of my life, the yin to my yang, my emergency contact, and most importantly, my life partner. I am very happy to be married to him.

In reality, however, love is not a requirement for all marriages. While it obviously should be, and hopefully is the ultimate catalyst for all such unions, people can and do marry simply for those benefits, privileges, and protections previously mentioned. But shouldn’t it be all about the love? I think so.

What if marriage was, in fact, a love-centered social institution, instead of one based on heterosexual romance?

A story, as told by Lisa Duggan (her story*):

 

“A few weeks after September 11, 2001, I went with my ex-lover to register as domestic partners with the city of New York. We had never registered our relationship with any state agency during the 17 years that we had actually been partners. But we changed our minds nearly a year after we broke up, on September 11, as we searched for each other in the chaos of that day. I had spoken to her on the phone that morning, but then lost phone service and all contact with her. She was teaching at Brooklyn Law School then, and I at New York University; we lived near each other only minutes from the twin towers. I did not know where she was, or how she would get home. I started to panic that she might have walked across the bridge right when the second tower fell. I imagined her hurt and me unable to find her, or unable to convince a city worker or hospital employee that she was my next of kin still, though no longer my lover… When she finally came through my door late that evening, covered in grey dust and totally exhausted, we both grasped the significance of that term “next of kin” as we never had before. If anything happened to her, the importance of me being recognized as the one most responsible, the one most concerned, arose in my mind then as an absolute emotional and practical imperative.

As soon as the relevant city offices reopened, we made the trip to city hall to register—though given the requirements and assumptions of the domestic partner provisions, we had to lie and claim we lived together as a conjugal couple. We were not surprised that there was a long line of people waiting to register along with us. We were very surprised to find that nearly all were heterosexual couples. We asked the people around us why they were there, and their reasons were very much like ours. They did not want to be married, or they were not romantic couples, but their experiences since September 11 had convinced them that they wanted the basic legal recognitions that domestic partnership registration would provide.”

 

Lisa’s personal narrative underscores her political one: That the abolition of marriage could be “one other path to full equality of gay and non-gay people…in the meantime, it is obviously discriminatory to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. But given the demographic reality—the diversity of our actual relationships and households—might de-centering marriage and multiplying options be not just another, but a better path to meaningful equality?” The way I see it, she has a point. What if we took heteronormative romance out of the equation, leaving only the love, along with a corresponding “life partner” aspect? What if we redefined marriage (or as Duggan suggests, abolished it completely and replaced it with something new) as a legal union that addresses the “diversity of our actual relationships and households”?

For example, my godmother in Spain once half-jokingly proposed that my mom move to Spain and they get married so that my mom could finally retire, not worry about health care and, they could ultimately, ‘be there’ for each other (after all, the two have been best friends for 40+ years and they are both single senior citizens). Think about it: Why shouldn’t they be allowed to enter into a legal union together, affording them the benefits and privileges of a life partnership if they have the mutual love and respect that I believe any such union should require (and, in my opinion, should be the basic foundation for any such union). Why not? Why should they not be entitled to a legally recognized life partnership in which they share all property, health benefits, and anything else they wish, if they so desire?

Why should that kind of deeply committed partnership not be recognized or allowed? Just because it’s not romantic or doesn’t fit into our traditional notion of “marriage”? Well maybe that kind of notion is becoming outmoded; Or, at the very least, it is no longer the only kind of union or partnership that we are seeing these days. Hence, Duggan’s proposed abolishment of marriage in favor of a new, more inclusive, and pragmatic legal system that addresses the needs of the varying types of households and partnerships that we are increasingly seeing these days. Oftentimes our legal system needs to be re-imagined and reworked in order to more appropriately fit what the current state of affairs in our society is, and I believe that this is one of those areas in which the law needs to catch up with the status quo- not the other way around.

Oddly enough, I think Carrie Bradshaw said it best when she simply stated, “It’s just two grown-ups, making a decision about spending their lives together.” ** I love this statement both because of its simplicity, and because of its inclusion of potentially platonic, yet pragmatic partnerships. It speaks to an institution that “potentially separates state recognition of households or partnerships from the business of sexual regulation altogether,” to borrow from Lisa Duggan again. It speaks to an institution founded on love- one that caters to partnerships founded on mutual respect and love- whether that person is the love of your life or your emergency contact. It speaks to a legal system that is simply about “two grown-ups, making a decision about spending their lives together.”

 

 

 

*taken from Lisa Duggan’s “Beyond Marriage: Democracy, Equality, and Kinship for a New Century.” You can read the full article at: http://sfonline.barnard.edu/a-new-queer-agenda/beyond-marriage-democracy-equality-and-kinship-for-a-new-century/

**quote taken from Sex and the City, the movie.