It's not rape if they don't say no (this time)

I know I haven’t been around lately, and I’m sorry. I have some posts half finished, but I haven’t had the time lately. I have a big test on Monday (continued on Wednesday), but Golden Week is coming up so maybe when I get back from Nagoya I’ll have some time. But, while you’re waiting with bated breath for more words of wisdom from me, let me point you to a post by regular reader and poster here, Darth Sidhe.

I haven’t actually read the news article that spawned the original discussion that lead to her post, but question asked was thus: If we take it that Editor (woman) brings home Drunk Guy, eventually says no to sex, he goes off elsewhere, then comes back to “her” room. In actuality, it’s Roomate’s room. Roomate is sleeping and he initiates sex with her. She wakes up and, thinking Drunk Guy is her boyfriend, doesn’t resist. She later finds out that Drunk Guy was not, in fact, her boyfriend and is pressing charges. Is Drunk Guy guilty of rape?

In Washington state (the state I identify as my home state), hell yeah he is. While alcohol is one of the factors for removing consent, I’m fairly sure it’s trumped by, you know, having sex with a sleeping person (who hasn’t consented to have sex with you under those conditions). As Darth Sidhe also points out — Editor, the woman Drunk Guy thought he was sleeping with — had already said no.

It seems pretty cut and dried, right? Well, not in the community that Darth Sidhe found the question in. She has this to say on the matter:

I’m still pretty much confused by the reactions. Several comments, disturbingly, assert that since Roommate was sober and Drunk Guy was not, she was raping him, largely ignoring the fact that Drunk Guy initiated sex with an unconscious woman. Does someone who wakes up to being fucked by a drunk person have the legal responsibility to do everything they can to stop sex or else be considered a rapist? That sounds ludicrous, yet could the letter of the law protect such a thing? I imagine that if the conscious, drunk person regretted the sex, they could legally press charges.

Anyway, go read the post and the discussions. I think they say a lot about the way Americans view rape that isn’t violent stranger rape. I’m leaving comments on for the time being, but I’d like to remind any potential posters that victim blaming is not allowed on this blog. Keep the discussion civil or I will delete your comment and ban you without notice. This is non-negotiable.

The other side of… the other side?

Apparently someone who can only be bitter about me banning him made the letters of a Salon article. Under the heading, “Are Feminists Necessary?” he writes this multi-paragraph treatise that, frankly, I didn’t read. I sort of thought that his invoking the idea that feminists = Republicans was close enough to invoking Godwin’s Law for me to pass him off at losing at the internet. But I did have to read the paragraph in which I got an honourable mention – no link though, too bad.

The guy, who signed off as Two Sides To The Story (not that you’ll ever learn that) — his aside is ironic, given that unless people find my site they won’t ever actually learn the true context behind what he claims — had this to say:

On one of the links off Carnival Of Feminists (provided in another Boradsheet post) – “Official Shrub” – there’s a rule that says male writers can’t post opinions on the message board that point out that men suffer from discrimination, as well. Preposterously, they actually have a term for it – they call it: “What About The Mens Phallusy?” – which is meant to be satiric and clever, but actually only proves how fascist feminists still are in their thinking, and their desire to completely control the conversation.

Ignoring the fact that this is a, you know, blog and not a message board (a small, but significant difference), let’s just take a gander at what I actually say about men’s issues:

No Hijacking of Threads
Off-topic discussions are tolerated to a certain extent. I understand that threads can, and often do, take a life of their own. However, an attempt to come into a discussion for the express purpose of disrupting the main conversation will be seen as trolling. This includes invoking The “What About the Mens?” Phallusy with arguments like, “but this happens to men, too!” or otherwise trying to shift the focus from an oppressed group onto the individual oppressions a majority group faces. It’s one thing to relate one’s experiences and opinions when appropriate, but bringing up how the poor mens/whites/heterosexuals/etc. have problems, too, when the author’s discussion was about the institutionalized or individual acts of oppression of a minority is not appropriate. Any comment that tries to de-rail a thread is subject to either a warning or deletion, depending on how severe the infraction.

What that means is that if I make a thread that includes a platform for discussion of masculinities, then of course it’s appropriate. But if I’m talking about women, then it’s so fucking rude to come on here and be like, “But [x] happens to men, too!” Okay, great, but that’s not anywhere near my point. If you want to talk about that and feel I don’t give it enough airtime, go elsewhere. I give links. Lots of links. This is my soapbox, you see. Mine. Not yours. And, frankly, if you’re so steeped in your own privilege that you are unable to see the distinction, well, then maybe you deserved whatever ban I gave you for whatever reason.

And remember, ye anti-feminist trolls of jerkitutde, Feminists don’t hate men, we just hate you.

Via reader Darth Sidhe.

Feminism in 10 Things I Hate About You

I recently watched 10 Things I Hate About You for like the fourth time. A modern remake of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, it is a love story that follows a senior in high school, her younger sister, and the various men who become entangled in their lives. I admit I have a soft spot for cheesy romantic comedies and there’s something about 10 Things that really resonates with me. Maybe it’s because I can relate to Kat, the protagonist.

You see, Kat is a feminist. A staunch one, at that. She’s an intelligent, witty, strong-willed woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it gets her tossed out of her English class on a regular basis. And yet, even as I applaud her character, I am troubled by the way she (and her feminism) was represented. As always with these things, I’m putting a spoiler warning up for those who haven’t seen the movie yet.

I. The Making of a (The) Feminist

Kat is, in many ways, your typical middle-class, white feminist: she’s familiar with Simone De Beauvoir, has read The Feminine Mystique, likes indie girl bands, hates the rigid social roles of society… you get the idea. If that weren’t enough for the audience to label her has The Feminist, there is a scene (which I will deal with in more depth later on) where she goes on a diatribe in her English class about the exclusion of female authors from the reading list.

In addition to being The Feminist, she’s also The Bitch. Seen as an anti-social man-hater with a serious attitude problem. Sound familiar? Yup, that’s what all women who don’t play to the patriarchy’s tune get labelled, feminist or no. In any case, her anti-social tendencies, which are implicitly tied to her feminism, are shown to be a shield that she uses to keep people out (and therefore keep herself from being hurt). Not only is the whole “man-hater” stereotype invoked, but by showing her feminism as something she uses as a “keep away” sign, the movie isn’t doing the movement justice on what it really is about: recognizing and fighting oppression, especially women’s, in order to achieve a culture of equality.

But, the best is yet to come. How Kat became a feminist is never explicitly addressed, but it is revealed that she was popular one night and then gave it up for reasons unknown to those around her. What was the reason? Well, she had a night of regrettable sex with Joey, The Misogynist (who, at the start of the movie, is out to fuck her little sister), when they dated in ninth grade; then, when she refused to continue conjugal relations, he dumped her. It was then, she said, that she realized that she shouldn’t do things for anyone but herself. I like that her feminism is linked to doing something for herself, but we still have the movie playing into another stereotype: feminist consciousness can only arise when a woman has been burned by a man.

II. The Outsiders’ Views

Most of the people at the beginning of the movie view Kat as being, well, The Bitch (aka. The Bitter Feminist). Throughout the movie, that view changes (as hopefully the audience’s view of her changes) and by the end, she is portrayed in a mostly positive light. Of course, by that time she has also gone through some changes and has accepted Pat into her life. Of those who interact with her, it is her teacher (Mr. Morgan), her family, and Pat who are most important to her feminism (well, Joey as well, but he’s sort of cross-sectional so I won’t give him his own space).

Of all of the people, Mr. Morgan’s relationship with Kat is the most problematic. On the one hand, he always makes a point to jump down the throats of her detractors. Joey’s misogyny never goes undetected in his class, and he makes a point of shaming him at the end of the movie. I also felt that he had some kind of respect for Kat, because underneath his snark he seems to crave her usual analysis. Indeed, the one time she doesn’t offer any criticism, he is at a loss.

On the other hand, he publicly shames her as easily as her detractors and he sends her, and only her, to the office. He also always prefaces his calling on her to speak with phrases like, “here we go,” which I know from experience is hurtful because it carries the intent to shame. In the scene where she complains about the lack of women in the school’s reading list, he (rightfully) points out that there aren’t any people of colour, either. However, the way he does so not only plays the “hierarchy of oppressions” game (which I’m not too fond of because, depending on your angle, you can come out with a thousand different answers for the question, “which oppression is the root of all oppressions?”), but also invalidates her, her opinions, and her feminism.

His words are as follows:

I know how difficult it must be for you to overcome all those years of upper middle class suburban oppression. It must be tough.

But the next time you storm around the PTA crusading for better lunch meat, or whatever it is you white girls complain about, ask them why they can’t buy a book written by a black man!

I don’t know exactly how the audience is supposed to take Mr. Morgan (someone with real knowledge of oppression, as opposed to Kat? The Angry Black Man, as stereotyped and maligned as The Feminist?), but I have a feeling that most wouldn’t see that, while he stands there accusing her of white privilege, he is able to do so because of his male privilege. His ability to invalidate her (reducing her struggle against oppression to “storm[ing] around the PTA crusading for better lunch meat”) comes, not from his authority as a teacher, or his minority status as a black person, but from the power conferred to him by our society as a man: the privilege to dismiss one without power. The same power, I might add, that he is able to see in her while she was rattling of a list of white feminist authors. It also stuck in my mind that he said black man rather than black person. What, are authors like Bell Hooks and Zora Neale Hurston not good enough for him? Again, I call male privilege. Snuck in there snugly at the end of his diatribe as it was, I’m not sure the audience was intended to catch it and make the connection.

Kat’s relationship with her family is a more clear-cut progression. Things begin with the audience, and Kat herself, believing that her father and sister think she’s an off-base bitchy, man-hater. Indeed, the whole premise that started the wacky chain of events between Pat and Kat (yipes, that rhymes) was because Walter (the father), knowing Kat’s dislike of dating, said that Bianca (the younger sister) could date when only Kat did. There was also a dispute over Kat’s choice of colleges, where her father forbids her to leave the area because he wouldn’t have any control over her life. Bianca’s stated opinion of her is no better; in the course of the film, she calls her sister anti-social, a bitch, says that she’s ruining her life, etc. She looks down upon her for not wanting to be in the in-crowd, as well.

Yet, it’s made clear to the audience that some of Kat’s independence and unwillingness to play the social game at the cost of herself has rubbed off on Bianca. She begins as the Queen Bee style socialite, using Cameron for her own purposes and trying to get with Joey. But, a night with Joey’s narcissism leads her to begin questioning those beliefs. In the end, she realizes that she was being the heinous bitch (to Cameron) and rectifies things. When Joey comes around, frustrated for being effectively dumped, and decks her boyfriend, Bianca wastes no time punching him, saying, “That’s for making my date bleed,” and again with, “That’s for my sister,” and, finally, she knees him in the crotch, “And that’s for me.” I swear I cheered when I saw that; it seemed to me that it was a vindication of female agency. Cameron wasn’t defending her honour for her, she was defending it for herself.

Walter’s part is not nearly as detailed, but he wasn’t a main character, either. After prom, he and Kat have a chat about what happened. When she tells him about Bianca’s altercation with Joey, she asks if he’s upset that she (Kat) has rubbed off on her (Bianca). He says that no, in fact, he’s impressed. He does his little father explaining why he’s been an overbearing parent thing and tells her that he’s sent in the check for her to attend the college she wanted to.

For the most part, Patrick doesn’t see Kat’s personality as something to be derided. There are a few odd comments here and there, such as the one about female bands as “chicks who can’t play their instruments,” but overall he seems to take her attitude in stride. My guess would be that it’s because he is a similar type; his “bad boy” reputation, much like her “man-hating” one, is overrated and mostly fabricated. Indeed, when talking about why Kat thinks they act the way they do, he talks about her attitude of living up to her own expectations (rather than other people’s) as disappointing them “from the start.” Yet, he makes a point of saying that she has never disappointed him. Even his comment about the indie girl bands seems to be a fabrication for Cameron’s benefit, as he says that he can’t “be seen” at Kat’s favourite club, and when he goes there it’s made clear that he’s on friendly terms with the bartender. In the prom scene, he gets her favourite band to play by calling in a favour.

III. Conclusion

Even after laying all this out, there are a few things about 10 things that continue to bother me. The fact that the portrayal of her as The Bitter Feminist was never outright questioned outside of an off-hand comment or two makes me feel as if the silence is, in some ways, legitimizing the negative stereotypes utilized in characterizing her. I’m also still not happy about the way the movie pitted oppressions against each other in the scenes with Mr. Morgan.

But, despite the problems in the treatment of Kat and her beliefs, I feel that the movie didn’t do a terrible job portraying feminism. In the end Kat was pretty well vindicated; Joey was turned down in the most humiliating way by her sister, her father decided to treat her as an adult, she got to go to the school she wanted to, and she found someone who could both understand, and appreciate, who she was.

Trading one set of chains for another

More ranting via midlife mama. Libby critiqued an article from the American Prospect Online and asked for opinions. I was foolish enough to think that I could contain my opinion in one little comment. I know, I know, I should be used to the Attack of the 50-line Comment by now. So, I decided to turn my rant/fisk into its own post.

First off, I’m going to steal Libby’s summary of the article:

It’s an article in American Prospect Online that takes all those “opt out” articles seriously. The author, Linda R. Hirshman, a feminist professor, is working on a book about “marriage after feminism.” She interviewed 30 some-odd women whose weddings were announced in the Sunday NY Times over three Sundays in 1996. Most of them, she says, were staying home with their kids 7 or 8 years later. (Actually, 50% were no longer working for pay, and a third were working part time.) : Conservatives contend that the dropouts prove that feminism “failed” because it was too radical, because women didn’t want what feminism had to offer. In fact, if half or more of feminism’s heirs (85 percent of the women in my Times sample), are not working seriously, it’s because feminism wasn’t radical enough: It changed the workplace but it didn’t change men, and, more importantly, it didn’t fundamentally change how women related to men.

Just because I can, I’m going to use the same style of breakdowns as Hirshman uses in her article. Well, also I want to mock her section heads. And we all know I love mocking people and things. Also, all further quotes (unless otherwise noted) come from the article itself.

I. The Truth About Bad Science
Although Hirshman does offer up her own data on the matter, she (as Libby said), “takes all those ‘opt out’ articles seriously”. Given that, I must admit that I question the validity of her own research because of her horribly low standards. I fail to see how it’s helpful to downplay the importance that bad science and bad journalism play in the continued oppression of women.

People who don’t like the message attack the data.

And this, my friends, is why America is still debating whether or not to teach evolution in schools. Apparently, sloppiness is the new black. The next time I talk about how flying pigs are taking over the city and we need to stop them, I’ll just accuse my dissenters of attacking my data because they don’t like the message. Take that flying pig lovers!

Seriously, though, without proper data a proper discussion cannot take place. The articles Hirshman cites are crap, even if the message they send may have a grain of truth. There is nothing to be gained by validating their improper methodologies, flawed logic, and misuse of data. If you want to discuss the message, then both sides need to approach the issue with data that was gathered and analyzed properly, otherwise it’s fair game to discredit the message by discrediting evidence provided.

What evidence is good enough?

I don’t know, how about properly researched studies that aren’t out to prove their bias by any means necessary? How about not using articles from newspapers that care about being entertaining and therefore will go for sensationalism over facts? How about real evidence versus made up evidence? You know, ’cause that’s how adults argue things.

But, apparently, it is too much for Hirshman to think that it’s worthwhile for us to want real evidence of those kinds of trends so we can have a real discussion on them and what they mean about our society and our future. Using bad science is good enough for the Intelligent Design proponents, and – gosh, darn it! – it should be good for us feminists, too!

II. The Failure of Female-Only Responsibility
One thing I can agree with her assertion that the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. One of my biggest criticisms of some popular feminist movements in the past is that they focused so much on “earning” the right for women to be like men, that womanhood (and traditional women’s work) remained the lesser to manhood’s default normalcy.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the battles that were fought were necessary ones. I owe my bright future to the feminists who campaigned for workplace equality, access to birth control, and giving women a place in the public sphere. It is not their fault that we haven’t broken out of a male-normative mindset, but it will be ours if we don’t get our heads out of our asses and realize that women’s liberation isn’t just for women anymore. We live in a society with people who are not women and no amount of changing ourselves will change our lot if those around us don’t change as well.

For her brave start with criticizing “workplace feminism”, Hirshman just doesn’t seem to get it:

Women must take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions.

Why, oh, why do feminist conversations about how far we still need to go always come down to female responsibility? I’m responsible enough already, thanks, I’d like to see some of that responsibility levied on the patriarchy for once. And, while we’re at it, maybe we should start encouraging men to pick up the slack in the domestic arena, too. Just a thought.

Thereafter, however, liberal feminists abandoned the judgmental starting point of the movement in favor of offering women “choices.”

Oh, yes, screw people’s ability to choose a life from themselves. Let’s tell the women what they should do, and if they try to do anything different let’s shame them until they do what we want! Oh, wait, that’s what misogynists do!

It all counted as “feminist” as long as she chose it.

No. Just… no.

Such ignorance really makes me angry. The point of “choice feminism” is that we must recognize a woman’s right to make her own choices, even if those choices are anti-feminist, bad for her, or just ones we don’t agree with. It is her right as a human being to live her life the way she sees fit.

It is our job, however, as feminists to see where women’s choices are taken away from them and to broaden the path. For example; there are different-sex couples for whom the choice to take a partner’s last name is just that –a choice. But if they have sat down with their partner and truly discussed and considered all options, then they are privileged. In many societies (especially Western ones), women don’t really have a choice in the matter; they will take their husband’s name or be punished for it.

Does that mean that I should blame my eldest sister for taking her husband’s name? Or berate my middle sister if she chooses the same? Of course not! Not everyone can be a one woman army, and it is wrong of us to attack those who have chosen the easier path. I put the blame where it belongs: the patriarchy and its sexist traditions.

To “prove” her point about choice, Hirshman goes on to say:

(So dominant has the concept of choice become that when Charlotte, with a push from her insufferable first husband, quits her job, the writers at Sex and the City have her screaming, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!”)

Someone has missed the point of that scene. In an earlier conversation with Miranda, Charlotte was berating her friend for not supporting her. Miranda, in typical fashion, did the “thou doth protest too much” comment. The whole message behind that was that it wasn’t Charlotte’s choice; it was the choice that society, and her husband, had made for her.

Speaking of robbing people of choice, Hirshman furthers the impression that it’s her way or the highway with this criticism of feminism:

Great as liberal feminism was, once it retreated to choice the movement had no language to use on the gendered ideology of the family. Feminists could not say, “Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.”

Not interesting to you and me, perhaps, but there are people out there who take great pride in the running of the household and the raising of children. Heck, the latter should be interesting to both partners, otherwise maybe they shouldn’t have had kids! But I guess the only woman that matters to Hirshman is herself!

Honestly, her contempt of women truly disgusts me. She has bought into the victim blaming, male-normative bullshit that continues to plague us despite feminism’s continuing efforts to achieve equality. The whole statement she makes is one that devalues women by calling traditionally women’s work boring and implying (with her last sentence) that it’s useless (because money, power, and honor are the only things in life that matter).

III. What Is To Be Done?

I’ve kept the exact section head for this one, and I’d like to give an answer to that question before I proceed the section itself. For starters, stop blaming women for the patriarchy’s chains. Then you can follow it up with a healthy dose of “you’re not the boss of me”. Meaning, forcing women to be what you want them to be is no different than what’s been forced upon us for centuries.

Here’s how Hirshman starts her section:

Here’s the feminist moral analysis that choice avoided: The family — with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks — is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust.

And there we have it, folks, Hirshman employs the same tools of the patriarchy: women’s work (and the women and men who do it) is not as good as men’s work (and the women and men who do it). Thanks, Hirshman, for continuing to prove your contempt for your own sex. ‘Cause I haven’t gotten enough of that from ignorant, privileged males recently. Really, I appreciate it.

In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots.

Hirshman, meet the Christian Fundamentalists. Christian Fundamentalists, meet Hirshman. Once you get past the differences in your surface agendas, you’ll find that your moral values are exactly the same. Death to those who think differently than us!

IV. Does Hirshman Really Care?

Honestly, I never though I’d meet someone ostensibly on my side that was more sanctimonious than I. Hirshman, my hat goes off to you. I’ve never met a feminist who could spin a militant ideology that is about controlling women’s choices and blaming them if they want something different as “caring” about these women.

Hirshman plays the benevolent matriarch in the grand old tradition of the “benevolent” patriarchy:

We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times.

It’s for your own good, sweeties! You’d better just stop trying to find your own personal happiness because you’re hurting society with all this “choice” nonsense. You should just listen to Mommy Hirshman with a smile on your face. Your life doesn’t belong to you, after all; you’re a woman!

As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes — the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference.

Wow. That’s… wow. The classism in that statement is so thick, even to a privileged person like me, that it leaves me without anything coherent to say; whether it be real criticism, witty snark, or even not-so-witty snark.

Worse, the behavior tarnishes every female with the knowledge that she is almost never going to be a ruler.

Yeah, those stay-at-home sluts moms. They are ruining it for all of us chaste, moral virgins working women. No sex until marriage! Er, I mean, keep working after marriage!

A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives.

Wow, thanks Mom, for educating me on how when one leaves the public sphere they lose any opportunity to exercise their brains because they stay on the couch eating bon-bons all day. Seriously, what does Hirshman think homemakers and stay-at-home parents do?

But, you know, things like raising the future generation definitely doesn’t count as “doing more good than harm in the world”. The only importance of babies is in the making of them! It’s not that fathers should be encouraged to step up to their responsibilities, but that mothers should opt-out of them because that kind of work just isn’t worthwhile. The kids can raise themselves just fine.

Although it is harder to shatter a ceiling that is also the roof over your head, there is no other choice.

Not for Hirshman’s women, anyway.

And, just for giggles, I’d like to draw attention to the little “about the author” blurb at the bottom of this article:

With almost no effort, she landed spot No. 77 on Bernard Goldberg’s “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.”

It’s a sad, sad day when I agree with someone like Goldberg. Although 1) for vastly different reasoning; and 2) truth be told I don’t think she, by herself, has that much power. It’s rather her espoused discourse that is “screwing up America” because it continues to perpetuate the myth of feminine inferiority.

Fatty, fat, fat, fatty!

I was pointed to a post over at marginal notations, privilege – redux, where cheshire discusses the dynamics of privilege. As always, the post is worth reading, but I wanted to bring one question over to here since it gave me an avenue in which to voice something I’ve been struggling with all my life.

cheshire asked:

Can you think of the instances where we actively play a part in this game (I know I do) and are simultaneously victims of it?

When I saw this question, the first thing that popped into my mind is my (and my family, and society’s) obsession with weight.

First things first: I have thin privilege.

More than this, though, I’ve grown up in a family (immediate and extended) that is obsessed with weight. I’ve been taught by my family, by the media, and by society that “overweight” people (ie. people who aren’t paper thin like me) are sad, pathetic, unhealthy, undesirable, and disgusting. I’ve fought against this idea since I can remember but I still sometimes find myself judging people with extra weight. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been discussing something with my friends, whether it be weight, fashion, health or something like that, and I hear myself say something disparaging about overweight or obese people. And those are the times that I notice myself doing that, what about all the times that I don’t?

But I’m not free from it myself. It’s easy for me to advocate for society to adopt a broader image of beauty (and of health) because I’m thin. It’s easy to feel good about my body because I fit into what’s seen as the “correct” weight. But, as much as I try not to, I do think about my weight. I dress it up in pretty words like “healthy” and “toned” but part of it will always be about my body shape. It doesn’t help that every time I see certain members of my family I get comments about my weight. Snarling at, cursing at, and otherwise being angry with them has helped to keep the comments at a minimum, but I haven’t been able to get them to stop completely no matter what I do.

I’ve seen family members struggle with it, too – not just my sisters, my mother, my grandmother, but also my father, my uncles, and my cousins. I’ve sat by and watched my aunt tear into my cousin about being “fat” because he had a little belly. Sometimes she and my uncle would play it off as health concerns, which given his lifestyle of junk food I can agree with, but in the end it would come down to words like “fat” or “overweight” and the terminology associated with that. My other cousin who is a fairly active person, and who used to ride so she had some pretty impressive muscles, got similar comments from my aunt and uncle mostly because she has a broad frame. My mother hates having pictures taken of her, in large part, because she thinks she looks fat. My dad is always on one kind of diet or, more aptly, right about to start/resume one because his previous attempts failed. I was visiting my sister a few days ago, she currently works at Bally’s as a personal trainer, and one of the other trainers came over and told her that a new client asked specifically for her. Cool, right? Well, I thought so until he related that the client gave the reason as something like, “I want her because I have a weight problem and she’s the only one who can understand my weight problem because she overcame her weight problem.” Whatever the actual conversation, she had impressed upon the other trainer that my sister had (like her) had a weight problem that she overcame, thus making her more qualified to train this woman. I’m sorry, but my sister never had a weight problem except in the way she felt about herself.

But, that’s just the problem isn’t it? A lot of the problems that “overweight” (and even some “obese”) people have is not necessarily their weight, but how they feel about themselves. Having even 1% body fat in a world that says fat is evil and disgusting doesn’t make people feel good about themselves now, does it? Honestly, from where I’m sitting (which, again, is from the privileged position of being thin), it’s not fat that’s the biggest problem here, but how we treat people who we see as fat. Hell, even how we treat people who aren’t “fat” by any stretch of the word but aren’t personal-trainer- or eating-disorder-thin either. Am I the only one who think it’s a tad bit fucked up that it’s more acceptable in society to be too thin than have 2% more than the “healthy” percentage of body fat?

Maybe I’m just pissing in the wind here. I don’t know. All I do know is that I want one day, just one fucking day, when I can wake up and go through an entire 24 hours without think about weight at all. Hell, I’d settle for 12 if that’s all I could get.

Feminism is about Choice

Over at reappropriate, I was half responsible for hijacking one of Jenn’s threads, The Sexism of Father’s Day, with a lively debate on gender roles and choice. I highly recommend reading through the post itself, as well as all the comments, because there is a lot of interesting discussion on all sides.

phillyjay drew me into the debate when he said:

I just don’t think it so bad if men and women live up to their gender roles.

I responded with:

I would just like to say this outright: there is nothing wrong with people choosing what is best for them, whether it fits in the accepted gender roles or not, what the problem is that society in many ways forces it on us.

And, really, that sums up what I think is one of feminism’s biggest points: people should have the right, and opportunity, to choose to do what’s right for them. Now, there are obvious limits; my ability to choose ends when it impedes someone else’s life. Debates within and outside of the feminist community arise because that division is not a simple line to draw, but, at the root of it all, the feminist ideal is that of choice.

One traditional stereotype of feminists is that we look down upon women who choose to be homemakers or stay-at-home moms. While some people devalue that choice, it is completely anti-feminist to believe that. Ideally, feminists want homemaking and stay-at-home-parenting to be seen as a valuable activity, one that can be (and should be) open to either gender. Many feminists advocate the elevation of these “caring” activities (and professions such as nursing and teaching) to the same level as traditionally masculine jobs. If that is achieved then it will bring us one step closer to giving people a real choice in what they do, whether that be working outside of the home or inside of it.

Now, we feminists say we want choice. Some people may wonder how all of our social activism comes in. Some may argue that, instead of equalizing society we’re just trying to gain supremacy for women. I mean, we live in a world that seems, on the surface, to be pretty equal and no one is forcing a gun to our heads to make us act a certain way, right?

I address this a bit in my response to phillyjay:

Most times it’s more a very firm pressure that implies that if one steps outside these preordained roles then they will be branded as an outcast for the rest of their lives.

We have in our society what I like to call a “cult of masculinity” and a “cult of femininity”. What this means is that, from birth, we’re presented with images of what a “man” is and what a “woman” is with very little room for anything in between. This can be as simple as the “pink for girls” and “blue for boys” regimen, or as devastating as forcing a transsexual or intersexed child into the gender one wants them to be. We are, in many senses, robbed of the choice to be exactly who we are from a very young age. Sometimes all it takes is growing up and becoming aware of the issues to take back some of your choice. To say things like, “it’s ok for me to like racing cars” or “it’s ok for me to like makeup.” In a truly equal society, there would be nothing wrong with advertising that shows women in nurturing roles or men in overseer roles, because there would be other things to show the opposite is ok, too.

Freedom of choice means that a person should be able to be who they are without fear of being ridiculed because they don’t fit the traditional norms. It also means that they should be able to be without fear of being ridiculed if they do fit the traditional norms.

While feminists fight for choice on many fronts, we aren’t some perfect beings. We aren’t the Borg and there is no hive collective. Not all feminists want the same things, think the same way, or hold all “feminist” ideals. The same is true for non-feminists and anti-feminists. I know many people, women and men, who don’t identify as feminist and yet hold many feminist ideals and act in very feminist ways. And yet it is feminists who are held to some standard of “man-haters” as if that’s one of our basic tenets.

But, get this, feminism isn’t about hatred, it’s about giving people the choice on how to live their lives. It’s about letting women choose to use power tools, to read romance novels without shame, to work on the same level in the same jobs as men, to be valued for the work done at home and not be seen as “lazy” or “freeloaders” because they don’t earn a wage. It’s about letting men choose to play with Barbies, to watch sports on TV, to be able to enter “caring” professions without being branded a failure, to be able to contribute to the work done at home without being seen as some bumbling man incapable of even the easiest domestic tasks. It’s about seeing those who don’t fit into the binary of “man” and “woman” as people instead of freaks, to allow transsexuals to explore their gender identity without fear of being teased or worse, to stop the barbaric hospital procedures that force the intersexed children who are born with both a penis and a vagina into being “female” by removing their outward male organ, to let those uncomfortable with the implications of male and female exist as they are. It’s about all that, and much, much more.

People need to be free to choose who they want to be. But we’re not. And that is why I fight. That’s why I blog. And why I debate. And why I want to educate people out there about the world beyond constricting binaries. That’s why I sometimes come off as angry or, as two people close to me have suggested, “man-hating”. Because I am angry. I’m angry at the institutions that have taken away my ability to choose how to live my life. I’m angry at the media that has told me and the people I love that a feminist is a “man-hater” and that if you attack a dominantly male institution then you must be attacking the men that make it up. And I’m not going to stop being angry until I have done all I can to give the choice back to people.

Sexism, racism, and xenophobia oh my!

I’ve spent time discussing over at East Asia Blog the racism and xenophobia of East Asia in the context of the kerfluffle surrounding the China/Japan problems, but now I’m going to turn to something more close to home: Michael Lohman, Asian fetishism, and the xenophobia, racism, and sexism inherent in American communities.

A few months ago, feministing had a post about Michael Lohman’s assault on Asian women. On one of the feminist live journals I check out from time to time, I came across a post that linked to a forum called ModelMinority: A Guide To Asian American Empowerment. The article posted, For Asian Women, ‘Fetish’ is Less Than Benign, highlights the problems with American society at large while the comments show the problems that the Asian American community is part of.

American society seems to be perversely fascinated by “submissive” women, whether it be finding one, forcing someone to become one, or imagining one. This is not only nothing new but it is, arguably, an integral part of the Puritan ideals America was founded on. What comes into play here, however, is the stereotyping of all Asian women as the ideal submissive woman, the real facts about these women be damned. This notion is not limited to sexual perverts, but can hit anyone: friends, family, and any other people who are usually against racism. I cannot count the number of times I have heard people talk about how submissive Asian women are; I remember having a conversation with one of my cousins about how he wanted a Korean wife because Korean women were so submissive. My story is merely an anecdote and, like the Michael Lohman case, is easily dismissed as an outside incident.

Many might discredit this news as an isolated incident of perversity, but the fact is that there is a pattern in which Asian women are targeted for sexual fetishes, harassment and assaults, even on college campuses. For example, in 2000, two Japanese college women were abducted, raped, videotaped and told that if they told anybody what had happened, the videotapes would be sent to their fathers. The three white assailants admitted targeting Asian women precisely because they had a sexual fetish for “submissive” Asian women, but also because they believed that this same submissiveness and cultural shame would prevent the women from reporting the assaults.

The article begins to explore some of the reasons behind this fetishizing of Asian women coming, not surprisingly, to the media.

Though it may be difficult to identify the exact origins of violence targeted at Asian women, there is no denying that media portrayal of this minority population has had an effect on building preconceived notions and shaping stereotypes of Asian women as passive, exotic and more easily dominated. Images of the Japanese Geisha girl, the South Asian seductress and the China doll pervade American culture and add to the misconception of Asian women. This has had disturbing results. For instance, in 2002, Jennifer Lynn Gossett and Sarah Byrne conducted a content-analysis study of 31 pornographic Web sites that advertised scenes depicting the rape or torture of women, and found that nearly half of the sites used depictions of Asian women as the rape victim.

This fetishization of Asian women is, among other things, a manifestation of American racism/xenophobia. The Asian woman is objectified, dehumanized, and exulted as exotic and Other; an animal that needs to be tamed. While this process is not too different from what all women, regardless of race, go through, the element of Asian-ness adds something more to the Otherness/exoticism of these women. Perhaps, since women have long been the gatekeepers to morality and society, it would not be so far off to suggest that part of this fetishism might be a way to “conquer” the East. But that is mere speculation; I would have to do more research into the matter to support that kind of claim.

The fetishization described in the article is bad enough, but some of the comments on that thread are disturbing, to say the least. The star of this particular show seems to be someone with the charming handle sir_humpslot, who starts off the conversation with accusing Asian women of “yellow cab service” (another way of calling Asian women sluts), accusing these women of playing “dragon lady,” and saying that the women brought the assault on themselves. UsAgainstThem adds, “Lets face it, white guys are fuckin perverts, no matter what they look like, they are thinking it, and they still get stupid ass whoreientals.” Apparently he not only is qualified to speak for the whole of male white America, but also has the insight into the inner workings of Asian women, as whoriental apparently implies that it is “biological for all Asian women to want to be desired.” And he wonders why it is these supposed “white perverts” who get the women while he, who clearly has such high regard for the “stupid ass whorientals,” can’t get the time of day from these women. Right.

It is heartening to see that amidst the racism and woman hating, there are some voices that try to highlight the problems rather than dismissing it as “white men are perverts” and “Asian women are whorientals”:


What a disgusting pervert. Some things can not be forgiven.

Incidents like this show that the fetishization of AA [Asian American] women and the demasculinization of AA men are two sides of the same coin, and both are hurtful racism. AA men and women must join and fight this together.


I don’t think Asian culture blames women for being victims of sex crimes, and in that sense I didn’t agree with the authors of the article. But yes, community support is important but prevention should also have the same amount of attention. It’s stupid INDIVIDUALS who blame victims (not culture), a few stupid individuals have commented on here as well.

You can’t tell me that of these 50 incidents it was the women’s fault all along. DFH, are you saying that if women aren’t taught self defense that it’s their fault if they’re ever assaulted? Why is it their fault that they were minding their own business when some sicko attacked them via bodily fluids?

Knowing that racism, xenophobia, and woman blaming are in no way limited to the Asian American community does not make me feel better about what I read in that forum. Being friends with many open-minded and women friendly Asian Canadians cannot erase the bitter taste of some of those posts, any more than being part of and having friends in the nebulous white collective makes me feel any better about the Asian fetishism, and the sexual assault that goes with it, that permeates American culture. In the East Asia Blog comments I said, “When you have such a strong discourse of Otherness then how can you expect to even begin moving away from xenophobia and racisim?” Here I feel I must add “sexism” to xenophobia and racism, for women are very much part and victims of the discourse of Otherness. So, when are we going to step away from these discourses and start seeing people who are different from us as, well, people?

Via feminist_rage.