Why are body politics important? [Loving Our Bodies, Part 4]

If I had a penny for every time I’ve seen people, both men and women, call issues such as shaving “petty” or otherwise mock them when someone brings up the double standard as an example of why we aren’t equal, I would be a rich, rich woman. But why is something that, on the surface, seems so minor and so tied-in with personal choice a continual talking-point within discussions of equality?

The easy answer is that it’s not about the act of shaving or not shaving, but rather what those personal experiences mean when they are put into the greater context of socialization and gender roles. What does it mean to learn womanhood? What impact does it have on how we view women’s personhood? Continue reading

Debunking a "female privilege" list

Over on her LJ, Rachel Edidin debunks purported “female privileges” one by one:

Let’s take a closer look at some of these “female privileges”:

1. I am physically able to give birth to another human being, and then do my best to mold her or him into the kind of person I choose.

My sexual choices are more likely than a biological man’s to have life-altering consequences. As a result, the responsibility for birth control is tacitly mine. However, I am less likely to retain custody in the event of a divorce.

2. I am not automatically expected to be the family breadwinner.

If I am not contributing financially to my household, is assumed that I will be a parasite, or, at best, confined to the domestic sphere. In exchange for financial support, I will be assumed to “owe”

3. I feel free to wear a wide variety of clothes, from jeans to skimpy shorts to dresses as appropriate, without fear of ridicule.

If I am harassed or assaulted, it is likely that I will be blamed because of my choice of attire and/or adornment. My culture perceives many styles of dress as inviting extremely invasive and/or personal commentary by strangers, and the style of my dress will have a much more profound affect on my personal and professional opportunities.

Read the rest of the 25 point list here: When I Say “Check Your Privilege”…

My Story [Loving Our Bodies, Part 2]

While I agree with him that it’s not fair that women are expected to remove all of that hair while men are not expected to. Whatever way you look at it, is unnecessary and well just not fair. Why is it gross on a woman but not a man? While I understand this inequality, I am so socially conditioned that I can’t break through with leaving hair because I hate the idea of someone thinking of me as ‘gross’ and well I have heard those terms too often in response to female underarm or leg hair. Don’t get me wrong when I see other women with underarm hair or whatever I am not grossed out instead I want to say ‘good on you’. I just can’t seem to do it myself.

[From Me=Bad by kristy]

I’ve been on-again/off-again with things like shaving and bra-wearing. For the shaving, I faced intense pressure from some members of my family, mainly my father (who, of course, does not shave anything but his beard), and was called “gross” the few times I went out with hairy legs until I actually had it out with him and told him that he was not allowed to say that shit to me. He still does sometimes make niggling remarks, though the more I point out that those kinds of remarks are exactly why he and I aren’t close, the more he at least seems to try to stop.

I haven’t shaved for almost a year now. The last time was in summer because I got annoyed at my hair. Although I actually stopped shaving my pits completely in the summer because I kept getting painful ingrown hairs. I do trim them occasionally, because I don’t like the way it feels if it’s really long and I’m sweaty.

For anyone who wants to try to stop shaving, I would suggest starting off slow. For about two years I would shave in summer (where people could see my hair from my short sleeves and occasional skirts) but leave it long in winter, where the only one who was looking at it was my boyfriend at the time. And, well, I knew he didn’t care and furthermore if he did, I wouldn’t have been with him.

The hardest thing for me was taking the step from secretly growing my hair to publicly doing so. Like kristy, I was terrified of being seen and called “gross” — after all, hadn’t I heard that same rhetoric from my father? Hadn’t I heard my friends and family say the same things about other women who didn’t conform properly to the beauty standard? Hadn’t I, myself, once both said and believed the same things?

I was terrified. I was defensive about it. But I did it. I made my point. Right there in Miami, one of the most image-conscious cities in the USA, I put on my short skirt — in the full heat of summer, I was not going to stick to jeans, let me tell you! — leaving my legs in all their hairy glory for all to see, and marched right out of my house.

I had to go to the supermarket. I was with my best friend at the time and, believe me, I was paranoid. “Everybody’s staring at me! They’re judging me! I know what they’re saying, ‘Gawd, look at her. Doesn’t she care enough about herself to try and look good?’ I just want to die!”

But, then, because my feminism had given me the vocabulary to deal with and understand my situation, I told that part of me, “Why is it that going out as your natural self makes you want to die of embarrassment? Why is it that being proud of what you look like by nature must mean that you aren’t taking proper care of yourself? Men are allowed to grow any part of their hair that they please without these comments. That’s holding women to an unfair beauty standard. That’s inequality in action, and it’s your duty to fight it. This is why you’re a feminist. Because women aren’t allowed to feel comfortable with ourselves just the way we are.”

And so the next day, without shaving, I put on another short skirt. And the next day. And the next. I had to have it out with my father a couple of times. I was defensive to my friends and family if they asked about it. But I did it. Every day it got a little bit easier, I got a little bit less defensive, and my family started to accept it as just another quirk from the one in the family who has always marched to her own drummer.

Is there any day where I slap on my skirt in my hairy-legged glory that I don’t feel any anxiety, or any shame? No. I will most likely live and die with those feelings, thanks to the way we are socialized from young girls to feel that our natural bodies aren’t good enough. But I can’t let shame or fear run my life. I won’t let it.

So, World? My name is Andrea. I do not shave or wear makeup on a regular basis. And, you know what? I am a strong, beautiful woman who is perfect just the way she is.

Introduction [Loving Our Bodies, Part 1]

For International Women’s Day, kristy has put up a wonderful and thought-provoking post. So thought-provoking, in fact, that my comment turned into a post which turned into a series. This is the introduction of that series.

First off, let’s look at what kristy said:

Mr T and I got into a kind of unusual argument the other day. He was arguing that he doesn’t understand why I bother with traditional hair removal (I shave my underarms, legs, and pluck my eyebrows). While I agree with him that it’s not fair that women are expected to remove all of that hair while men are not expected to. Whatever way you look at it, is unnecessary and well just not fair. Why is it gross on a woman but not a man? While I understand this inequality, I am so socially conditioned that I can’t break through with leaving hair because I hate the idea of someone thinking of me as ‘gross’ and well I have heard those terms too often in response to female underarm or leg hair. Don’t get me wrong when I see other women with underarm hair or whatever I am not grossed out instead I want to say ‘good on you’. I just can’t seem to do it myself. Mr T said ‘if he was a female he simply wouldn’t remove the hair’ to which I was quite annoyed with because it is simply unfair for him to make that remark as a man. […] It’s very easy to sit there from another side and argue ‘if….’ but let’s face it you really don’t know what it’s like til you have experienced it and dominant culture is quite powerful.

This resonated with me first and foremost on a personal level, because I have faced the same struggles that kristy is describing. It also resonated on another level because of some of the most persistent and annoying criticism my Equality List about how it’s all “frivolous” and “petty shit” (of course, one of the best responses was a woman named Janis who boiled that language down to what it really means: “You can vote. What more do you want? Now show me your tits!”). And then, of course, there’s Mr T’s reaction, which is (as kristy points out in her post) the standard one for people with privilege. I intend to discuss all of those, though I’m not sure if the last one will be a Privilege in Action post, part of this series, or if I’ll try for both.

Anyway, this will, I think, be one of my shorter series but I think it will be a powerful one, too. The more we women band together and discuss the issues, both similar and different, that we’ve experienced in our lives, the more we can understand that we’re not alone and share strategies to improve our lives and possibly pave the way for the girls and women who come after us.

Now that you've felt a woman's pain, the learning can begin

Over at Sara Speaking Sara has a post called See? See what I mean? which discusses how her male co-worker experiences the same kind of gender-based discrimination that women encounter in male-dominated jobs.

Our main customer set is stay-at-home or work-from-home moms. We have Babies and Biceps classes, prenatal yoga, storytime. Now I agree that it sucks and I’m sorry, I really am, because I know how it feels to be overlooked or disrespected because of your gender, but where children are concerned, women are just expected to be “naturally” more competent. If this were a male-gendered workplace (a sports bar, an auto parts store, a game store, an electronics/hardware store), people would be going to him first, assuming that he was “naturally” competent.

“Well that’s just stupid.”

Yes, yes it is. Which is why I’m a feminist.

“Well that’s just stupid,” he said. You bet it is. And yet, even as Sara sat there agreeing with him and using his experience (as a man) to illustrate why she’s a feminist, he rejected what she was saying in favour of his own opinion that feminism “privileges” women.

Let’s look at that for a minute.

As a man, Sara’s co-worker has gone through life assuming that if he’s hired for a job in which he interacts with customers, customers will respect his knowledge as an employee of the store. This is, I think, a reasonable thing to expect. But, here’s the catch: women can’t reasonably expect that, we can only hope the customer base is more intelligent than to rely on gender stereotyping.

What is happening to Sara’s co-worker is wrong. You won’t get any disagreement from most feminists on that. What I find to be sad, however, is that this man was presented with a perfect opportunity with which to explore his own privilege and to understand, even a little bit, what women face every day of our working lives. Here was a real, live feminist telling him that unfair situations like his were why she was a feminist and all he could think about was to go on about how men aren’t “fairly” represented in feminism.

Most schools of modern feminism don’t shy away from discussing masculinities and men’s issues. They also don’t shy away from having men in their ranks. The only fair way to conduct the fight for equality is to have it focus on those who need it most. And, as long as men are disproportionately advantaged by society, those people are going to be, more often than not, women.

[Yes the title of this post was shamelessly swiped from Family Guy… I can’t be expected to be witty all the time!]

A deeper look into femininity [The Gaming Beauty Myth, Interlude]

I’m labeling this as an “interlude” because the constructs of femininity I’m about to address don’t all directly intersect with the beauty myth, but the way that they interact with femininity as a whole is a topic that I feel needs to be addressed. I’ve been sitting on this one ever since Shannon over at Egotistical Whining wrote a commentary on the second part of this series.

In life, and especially in male-dominated areas, femininity gets a bad rap. It’s seen as frivolous, as emotional, as irrational, as naive… the list goes on an on. It’s not, however, seen as desirable to possess because it’s somehow lesser than masculine traits.

I’ve tried to dispel that false dichotomy in my series thus far, but it’s hard to see the bigger picture when the topic at hand is the beauty myth, a cultural paradigm that relies on ruthlessly exploiting the negative aspects of femininity in order to maintain the connection between women and sex. So I’m going to try here again to illustrate why, exactly, despite its flaws it’s not in our best interest to throw femininity into the same trash bin as the beauty myth itself. Continue reading

BK commercial redux: It's not about the burgers

About half a year ago I wrote about the infamous Burger King commercial and I haven’t stopped getting shit about it. Even more so because it’s apparently on the air again. Most of them I just delete, but there has been one sitting in my moderation queue for more than a week now.

daisy wrote:

As a married women, I saw this commercial and asked what my husband thought. He had a laugh and I asked how he wasn’t offended. He simply said, why do guys play football, wrestle with friends, or eat huge burgers. Boys will be boys. He left me with that thought and I agreed. This commercial is targetted at men, let them enjoy it, and let them eat their meat.

I probably should have let it pass without comment, but the whole “let them eat their meat” was borderline minimizing, as the implication is “you shouldn’t bother raising issue about this kind of issue.”

But, then, today I was reading an entry by Jill of Feministe on PETA’s politics where she discusses the connection between meat and masculinity. Ariel, who is not only a vegan but has done research into the intersection of vegetarianism and feminism, would probably the better candidate to discuss this issue, but I’ll do my best to convey more clearly this time why this issue is an issue not because of the burgers, but rather because it’s perpetuating a destructive view of masculinity. Continue reading

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Girlfriend List Satire

I am a huge fan of satire. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was a delightful read. Irony is my bread and butter and I appreciate it when people can use it to great effect. But, therein lies the rub: most people can’t use it to great effect. Most people can’t even use it properly. Heck, I’m not even sure that I could effectively satirize something, which is one reason why I stick to only short bursts of sarcasm.

And yet one of the most common responses I get when I criticize a girlfriend list is that it’s a “joke”, a “satire”. That may be so, but for the satire to succeed then it needs to be more than vicious criticism of something, it needs to question a person’s assumptions about the nature of the subject at hand. Because otherwise what you’re left with is a piece of vitriol that is offensive without being thought provoking. Continue reading