Monthly Archives: April 2013
“Hell no, I’m not one of THOSE girls!” On internalized sexism.
Soraya Chemaly talks about Facebook’s misogyny problem — namely, tolerance of abuse against women.
Germany resolves to increase the amount of women represented on the highest levels of management.
A judge has permanently blocked North Dakota’s medication abortion plan.
Jill Soloway’s kickstarter project, “The Empowerment Project”, aiming “to create positive role models for women everywhere”, looks really fascinating.
The creator of the Everyday Sexism project talks about her experiences, the stories, and the backlash that she’s received.
This is rape culture: an Arizona Man proudly displays a sign reading “You Deserve Rape” at a sexual assault awareness event.
Amanda Marcotte talks about how not to be an overt sexist.
Likewise, Phaedra Starling talks about how to approach women without being threatening.
Don’t forget! The sexism in video games panel is tomorrow night at 5:00PM-5:50PM in the Culp Center Meeting Room 2, and Feminerds Unite! Discussing general sexism in nerd culture, is from 11:00AM-11:50AM in the forum.
Christina Huffington debunks the myth that women are underrepresented in leadership positions due to lack of ambition.
Teach sex ed honestly, already.
Pregnant women in America are being locked up for losing their babies in miscarriage.
Michael Dyzel Smith talks about how street harassment is partially about impressing other dudes.
The importance of calling rape and rape culture out, and calling them by name.
Linda Burnham gives a critique of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, and “1% Feminism”.
Boys’ Clubs: A tumblr dedicated to exposing the areas in society that women have yet to tread.
Ozy Frantz put up a wonderful post critiquing “sex positivity” and our dialogue regarding sex, sexual desire, sexual goals, and expression of sexuality in general.
Brittney Griner talks about being “out” in pro sports.
David Haglund talks about the “feminist comedy” of Louis C.K.
And on a day like today it is important to remember the power of white privilege, as Tim Wise points out.
(editor’s note: I am also very proud to announce that at next week’s ETSUcon, a comic convention held right here at ETSU, there will be not one, but two incredible feminist panels which I highly recommend attending. The first, hosted by Women’s Studies student Caroline Locke, “Feminerds Unite!” is a discussion about internet misogyny in nerd culture in general, with the second, my panel, regarding Sexism in Video Games (industry, culture, the games themselves)
A final note of congratulation to all FMLA members and Women’s Studies students elected in the SGA elections, as well as a thank you to those who did not for running and trying to make the campus a more inclusive and safe space. It is appreciated.
Remembering Margaret Thatcher as she was: Anti-Feminist.
Sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior is unacceptable no matter how someone is dressed, and cosplayers are fed up of having to deal with it.
Vanessa Valenti released an update on her project looking at the future of feminism and the capacity of the internet to shape the movement.
Plan B will also now be available to all women over the counter.
Shannon Sun-Higginson started a kickstarter for a project about women in gaming that looks really promising.
Comic artist Aaron Diaz released a pitch for a gender-swapped Legend of Zelda game inspired by Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.
A woman calling out rape jokes and misogynist content on facebook herself became the recipient of rape threats.
The backlash against even the idea of Brittney Griner trying out for an NBA team exposed some very problematic attitudes in NBA fans.
Hollaback! Philly posted this great ad speaking out against street harassment.
(originally posted on my personal blog 4/4/13). Content advisory for language and an image of blood.
“It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, ‘when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole — and yet — and yet — it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I’ll write one.” – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
As a transgender woman I’ve thought a lot about the idea of myself being flawed. I struggled for 24 years overexamining every tiny indicator of “maleness” that I saw in the mirror. I carry the flaw of having identification, documents, and records in a name other than my own. I carry the flaw of genitals that are seen as incompatible with my gender. I still feel flawed in my fashion choices and the fit of the clothes I wear on my body despite not looking or feeling right in men’s clothes, either.
Simply put, I have felt for most of my life that I’m caught in a perpetual state of being flawed – caught in the inbetweenness of “not” and “not quite yet”. I’ve been always expected to measure up to a standard that as a deviant I can only approach, but never attain. A human asymptote.
Nevertheless, these “flaws”, due to nothing but blind luck, were something that I could hide and bury from the world, because they saw me as physically beautiful and thus somehow more worthy of owning the identity that I had fought for. I would tuck, powder, and blend away the flaws, hold my head up high, and walk with a confidence that I was very much privileged to have, simultaneously freed from my own mental prison and dragged down by the guilt of knowing that there were prisoners like me not so lucky to happen to fit into socially constructed beauty standards.
Though I would often ruminate on this and try not to, there were times when I took my identity for granted. Thinking about it, that seems like something anyone should be able to do, and cis people, no matter how conventionally attractive, do so all the time. Yet in my case, this was something I had to feel guilty for. I tried to minimize my cognitive dissonance and live for the first time proud of who I was and how I looked and how others saw me – attractive and unflawed.
Then, yesterday, it happened.
I got out of bed and wrote a little bit of an essay and decided to take a shower. I felt a little lightheaded, but I ignored it. I took for granted that I would wash my hair and my skin and then dry off and head for the store. I took for granted that I’d be able to go print off the poster I had made for a class assignment and get coffee with a friend. I took my health and lack of visible flaws for granted. I took for granted my consciousness and the wholeness of my identity, until I lost it.
I passed out when I stepped out of the shower and was in the process of putting on my bathrobe. I don’t remember the fall, only waking up covered in blood surrounded by shards of a broken full-length mirror that once stood on the floor.
“Oh, fuck,” I said.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
I looked in the mirror above the sink, which was unbroken, and it revealed to me that I had suffered hideous gashes across my forehead and nose and deep into my cheek. I would later learn that the forehead gash was 3cm deep and my nose had a trench 1.5cm deep. I was bleeding profusely, and the amount of blood already on the floor combined with the still-woozy dehydrated feeling that I had made me wonder if I would lose consciousness again as I frantically dug through the cabinet for something, anything, to stop the bleeding. I tried to apply the 1 piece of gauze we had left, but it was small and drenched in blood before it had any shot at being effective. I tried to apply bandages but they slid off my face, unable to adhere to my skin in the viscous blood flow that would not stop. I finally applied all 3 of the towels I own to my face in rotation as each of them became covered in my blood.
With my bathrobe on, I managed to amble into the kitchen and get a drink of water in preparation for what came next. Little crimson droplets left a trail behind me with each frantic footstep.
“Okay, I can’t go naked… FUCK, I can’t afford this, I don’t have insurance! Maybe I should just try to stop the bleeding myself… No, then it won’t heal right and I’ll be a scarred mess… FUCK, I’m going to be hideous…”
I was sobbing, my blood mixing with my tears as they fell to the floor and I frantically searched for a bra and my black V-neck to throw on. I pushed my still wet hair aside and called my parents, who advised me to go to the emergency room and “not to worry” about having no insurance, which was of course impossible. I then called my roommates. They were at work, so I just left a voicemail and told them that I was going to the hospital. Once I was dressed, I actually took the time to scribble a note for them so that they knew the house was not a murder scene and apologized for the mess.
I grabbed the least visibly blood-soaked towel and my purse and keys and got in my car. Somehow I was able to drive to the emergency room where I checked in. It was normally uncomfortable any time I had to take out my identification with an outdated picture of myself and a name that was now foreign to me, but with the entire room focused on my bleeding face and thrown-together appearance, I felt suffocated.
Once checked in, I took a seat and my roommate called to let me know she was on her way. She soon arrived and comforted me, holding me in her arms.
“I’m… sorry…” I said.
“Don’t you even.” She replied. “It’s going to be okay. Don’t apologize for this.”
I heard my birth name called out. Embarrassed, I got up and sat down in front of some woman who asked for basic health information.
“Now… your name is…” She said.
“Katharine.” I replied. “That’s just my birth name.”
“So are you male or female?”
“I’m a woman. I’m… I’m trans.”
Always a scary admission to make in East Tennessee.
After talking to her, they admitted me back into a room. I disrobed and put on a hospital gown as strangers laid me onto my bed, uncovering my body to examine it and determine what was wrong with me. They then wheeled me out and into a dark hallway where I waited to be thrown into the CT scanner. A woman came out and asked my name as they wheeled out an old man and prepared to wheel me in. I told her, and her reaction was accepting, but in a way that seemed as if it were more to humor me than actual acknowledgement of who I was.
They strapped me onto the stiff, phallic bed of the CT machine and slid me into the alien womb. I remember feeling totally helpless, disoriented, exposed, and alone as the machinery whirred, scanning me until finally it had finished and I was birthed back into the world. The woman from before gave me another robe to more fully cover myself where the first had been pushed aside. She seemed more concerned with my exposure than I did, but I put it on and slid back over in my bed so they could wheel me back.
Once I was back in my room, the doctor finally saw me. They said that I’d done a hell of a job injuring myself. Congratulation on my wounds, still dripping blood on my face, was not exactly the most comforting thing to hear. I asked him if I would be permanently disfigured and he told me that with the severity of my lacerations there would likely be permanent scarring. Tears again welled up in my eyes.
As they prepared to give me my stitches, I talked with my roommate and my aunt, who had just arrived, and the conversation seemed to revolve around how I would learn to accept these flaws and eventually forget about them. How there were people who were once beautiful, but then learned to live with being damaged. I did not want to hear that. I didn’t want to be formerly beautiful. I didn’t want to be damaged.
It felt like the actual process of being stitched took an eternity, but I am glad that the doctor seemed to be meticulous. I was talkative with him as the blood and anesthesia fluid dripped down my face, trying to find humor in my situation to deal with the emotional and physical pain I was feeling.
“I’m just like a little stuffed rabbit with its stuffing falling out.” I said.
I received 30 stitches, and the doctor said that I looked good. I still hadn’t seen how bad I looked, but relative to when I walked in the doors I suppose that was true. My aunt took a picture to send to my mother so that she wouldn’t be as worried. Everything still felt like a bad dream. Soon after, a strange man who fittingly had a voice that I would describe as “Mad Hatter-ish” came in to confirm that I was uninsured and unemployed, and they wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and sent me on my way.
In my friend’s car, I saw my reflection for the first time since I was stitched up. I remarked that I looked like a “last girl” from some horror film who had just fought with Jason and emerged victorious. I didn’t feel triumphant, however. I realized that I could no longer hide my flaws. That I would have a permanent marker upon my face, the defining characteristic of my identity to others, that I was to be categorized under words like “damaged”, “lacking”, “inferior”.
I was not whole, so I was not beautiful.
I never really thought much about that feeling, and the way that our society views bodies and faces which deviate from a “norm” apart from the feelings that I experienced as a transgender woman. Even then, however, I could hide my “flaws”. I could conform to the standard with relatively small effort. I could do “beautiful”. Now that isn’t an option. Defective is written on my face.
I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way and I see now that beauty is more something that is done than something that one is, and that those who cannot do beauty as well as others are marginalized for it through no fault of their own. I know now that I had a lot of internalized shit that made me value those beauty norms in myself and it very likely colored my perception of others.
I feel a lot of emotions about my face right now. I know that it will “get better” and that it will heal but my face is likely permanently changed and I can’t help but feel the tears welling in my eyes writing that. I wish I could be like Alice through the looking glass and say that I’ll come through it stronger. I wish I were in a wonderland that I’ll return from or a fairy tale with a happy ending but I don’t think that’s the case and I don’t really deserve it to be. Other people have to deal with a lot worse than this and I was privileged beforehand being seen as beautiful. If I’m honest, I don’t know if I’m strong enough to leave the house and venture out of this world beyond the looking glass. I don’t know if I’ll be stronger. I don’t know yet if I destroyed the mirror or if the mirror will end up destroying me.
If I am stronger, however, I can’t help but think about how great the metaphor of a trans woman destroying a mirror and coming out the other side to self-acceptance despite her “flaws” is. I was selfish, though, in being okay with the idea of being able to avoid that adventure to a much greater degree than some other trans women that I know. Maybe I needed to be humbled. I’m not really sure, and if my life has taught me one thing, it’s that I will be learning lessons from this fall through the looking glass for years to come.
Maybe it will make me stronger and a better person.
Maybe I should just think of it like Alice did.
“After a fall such as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling downstairs!”
In my interactions with individuals who are hostile to feminism, one phrase that I encounter repeatedly, either verbatim or in similar iterations, is
“The problem with modern feminism is…”
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately and very clearly there is a perception out there, however misinformed it may be, that “modern feminism” is something that is deviant from an idealized version of feminism that existed at some point in the past, where it was more legitimate (because in their minds equality has already been achieved) and that now those who proudly wear the feminist label are merely “too sensitive” about things or “take things to seriously” or are just “too radical”.
For those of us who actually have even a cursory knowledge of feminism, we know that such notions are silly, to put it kindly. Feminism as a movement has only become more aware of intersectionality and more mindful of inclusion as a goal over time, and the feminism of the past was severely lacking in that area – leading to necessary movements such as womanism springing forth to fill the gaps that first and second wave feminism left unfilled in their push for equality. This can only be a good thing. We need to include a diverse range of experiences in our push for equality in society if we wish to be able to tackle the broad systemic oppression that we face, which cuts across boundaries of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, and class.
Granted, there are some issues in modern feminism which are problematic, and there are spaces for legitimate criticism that we should address – the trans-exclusionary radical feminists (often called TERFs, who self-identify as radfems), the lack of respect and inclusion for sex workers, paternalistic, first-world centric attitudes, etc.
Feminists aren’t perfect, and they never claim to be. Similarly, like any social movement, feminism is one that has necessarily evolved over time as more and more individuals have identified with it and brought their experiences to the table. We all have blind spots and having people remind us of those is helpful in pushing the movement forward rather than having it remain stagnant and unable to take on evolving oppression.
I think at the root of this, partially, is a concept called the straw feminist. One of my heroes, Anita Sarkeesian, made a wonderful video analyzing what is not only a social conception that many unfortunately have of feminists and feminism, but it’s one that is a common cliché in popular forms of media, thus constantly reinforced and validated.
Like Anita points out, the straw feminist is not an accurate representation of feminism as a movement or feminists in general, but merely a means by which detractors of feminism are able to create a division between their idealized, toothless feminism that never really existed at all and a “straw man” feminist that is hyper-aggressive, tilts at windmills, and is altogether unnecessary in our age of equality.
Nevertheless, despite what they may think, we do not live in an age of equality, and women DO face oppression, even in the first world. Just with regard to some of the things that I’ve written about, Rape culture and sexual violence are at epidemic levels and the perpetrators are rarely charged, let alone convicted – and all the while blaming the victims for their assault is normalized. Access to reproductive health and contraception is under constant assault. Transgender women face even higher rates of violence, sexual or otherwise, than cisgender women, especially if they are trans women of color, and their oppression and lack of acceptance in society even extends to forcing them out of public restrooms.
Despite increases in earnings, the gender pay gap, which cannot be explained away by lack of ambition or biological determinism, persists. Women are underrepresented in tech jobs , gaming (both of which fields in which women are not only underrepresented but face severe, organized harassment campaigns for speaking out) , STEM fields, politics, and really any upper level positions across industries. This is the oft-referenced “glass ceiling”, which Hillary Clinton famously alluded to as recently as the 2008 elections.
Feminism is not a movement whose time has come and gone, it is a movement whose time is now, and the only thing that is “too radical” in our society is the broad, systemic, unrelenting oppression that women face across the globe. Identifying with feminism is an identification with the overall broad goal of an increasingly inclusive and mindful movement actively engaged in dismantling this system of oppression, and a milquetoast, toothless version of feminism that neither acknowledges nor is willing to aggressively confront this oppression is so pointless that if it ever existed, it would beg the question of why it even exists at all.
These critiques, which I hesitate to even refer to them as, are ignorant excuses to uphold the status quo and insulate their complicity in perpetuating it from receiving any criticism. Frankly, in my opinion, if these “critics” aren’t going to lead or follow, then it’s time they get out of our way. We’ve got work to do.