Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Fury Road and Agency

May26

Just saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” and it was utterly fantastic in so many different ways. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not. But one thing I noticed was how many of the marginalized characters had agency, made their own decisions, controlled their own lives. There’s spoilers in this, so I’m going to tuck the text behind a fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

posted under feminism, review, women | Comments Off on Fury Road and Agency

Transphobic bathroom laws aren’t about protecting women

February10

One of the big explanations/excuses for why various transphobic laws restricting public bathroom use to genitals is that it protects women from men who’d put on wigs and dresses (and shave their bodies? and wear foundation garments? and pad themselves? and use extensive make up? and manage to find size 12 or larger womens’ shoes?) and assault women in the bathrooms while disguised as women, something which has never happened, although men dressed as men have assaulted women in bathrooms and have camped out in portapotties to get a glimpse of women using the toilets.

If legislatures really wanted to protect women in bathrooms, they’d realize that first of all, assault is assault. It doesn’t matter if a man assaults a man or a woman; it doesn’t matter if a woman assaults a man or a woman. If you’re in the bathroom and someone assaults you, that’s already a crime. You don’t need to make a special law that only targets one particular marginalized group of people on the grounds that one of them might maybe commit a crime at some point. Then maybe they’d look into laws across all states, or even federal laws, protecting people from “upskirt” photos. It’s legal, at least in Scotland, to install one-way mirrors in public bathrooms and then sell tickets for men to watch women using the bathroom. Has there been a rash of legislature outlawing that in the USA?

Laws barring Trans and Non-Binary/GenderQueer folk from bathrooms because of their genital configuration are not about protecting other bathroom users. They’re about curtailing the ability of Trans & GQ/NB to exist in the world without harassment. They’re about making it illegal to exist as a Trans & GQ/NB person when there are more and more laws protecting their right to exist. They’re about finding ways, about creating ways, to oppress a marginalized group and make it very clear that they are unwelcome and not fully human.

These proposed laws spin ciswomen as delicate tender flowers needing extra protection and transwomen as sexual predators who are “really” men. They are harmful and they are bullshit and they are created not out of any desire to help or protect but out of the desire to actively oppress and harm Trans and GQ/NB people.

This is a tremendous problem.

posted under feminism, GQ/Trans*, politics, social responsibility | Comments Off on Transphobic bathroom laws aren’t about protecting women

Bechdel, Mako Mori, and other “feminist” “tests”

February7

In 1985, Alison Bechdel used an idea by her friend Liz Wallace to create a strip for “Dykes to Watch Out For” where two women discuss going to see a movie. One states her movie rule: That any movie she watches has to have:

  • at least two women
  • who talk to each other
  • about something other than a man

The character goes on to state that the last movie she was able to see was “Alien” because the two women in it discuss the monster.

This is, again, a comic from 1985.

Thirty years later, most movies still fail this basic criteria. This is the absolute bare minimum required for anything approaching decent representation of women, and yet most movies and tv shows don’t even offer this much. Marvel, for instance, is much lauded for their leftist movies, yet in “Captain America II: The Winter Soldier” Black Widow and Agent Maria Hill don’t interact except to discuss Nick Fury and who shot him. Black Widow, an amazing character, doesn’t interact with ANY women, although she talks about them in attempts to get Steve Rogers laid.

It’s possible to have a movie that passes the Bechdel test and is still a horrible movie that treats women like garbage, too. You could have two women whose only interaction is to discuss how much they looooove chocolate and manicures and shoes, for instance, or how bad they are at math. But since the vast majority of movies and tv shows have no or only one woman, even that doesn’t happen.

So some people have proposed the Mako Mori test to see if a movie is “truly” feminist, even though the Bechdel test isn’t anything close to a guarantee of feminism. The Mako Mori test is simple, involving:

  • at least one female character
  • who gets her own narrative arc
  • that is not about supporting a man’s story

Wow wow wow, amazing right? A movie that has a fully fledged female character that does stuff independent of a man? Well this obviously blows the Bechdel test out of the water, who needs that garbage thing anymore, right? Except this ignores the fact that Mako Mori type characters, as great as they are, still tend to be Exceptional Women who exist in isolation, in worlds populated almost solely by men. “Pacific Rim” had all of one female character other than Mako Mori, who had very few lines, and never interacted with Mori. Mori was raised by a man, studied with men, had no women in her life. She’s treated, her character is treated, as a human being with motivations and flaws and goals just like male characters are routinely treated. But she’s the ONLY female character allowed to be human. It’s a step forward, but it’s a baby step.

It is incredibly easy to set up a movie, tv show, or book that passes the Bechdel test. It’s the lowest possible bar for treating women characters as something more than accessories for male characters or tokens, yet most media still utterly fails to do this simple thing. The Mako Mori test provides a template for a more realized woman character, but still leaves her isolated and tottering gently on the pedestal of Exceptionalism. They’re both good starts, but after thirty years media still has the same problems Liz Wallace and Alison Bechdel were so frustrated with.

It’s interesting to see people pitting the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori test against each other, as if there’s only One True Way to express women as human. And of course by “interesting” I mean “depressing as hell.” They’re both pretty bare bones requirements and yet these basic needs still aren’t met. Women overwhelmingly are not treated as humans and when they are, Mako Mori aside, they tend to be white women.

But I’m A Nice Guy!

May25

Rich, well-dressed, fancy-car-owning, connected, white-identifying virgin Elliot Rodger described himself as a nice guy and a gentleman, and was furious with women for “rejecting” him.

He left behind an online presence like a pustulant rash, documenting his interactions with women and how they made him cry simply by existing. He describes himself as a “nice guy” and a “gentleman” while insulting -and physically assaulting- women. At one point he, in a car, smiled at two women waiting to cross the street. When they didn’t smile back, perhaps not even seeing him, he circled around and threw his coffee at them, lamenting online that it wasn’t hot enough to burn them badly. That’s the action of a nice guy and gentleman, right?

In his many, many brain leavings online he does not talk about actually approaching women. All that rejection he faced? He never asked any question, he never put himself out there. He decided to punish women for not reading his mind, for not sensing his interest, for not flocking to him and being the sexual prizes he felt he deserved. He murdered women because women did not attach themselves to his dick, unasked.

He wrote many, many times and made many videos about how much he hated women, and Black men, and Asian men. He was deeply misogynist, and deeply racist as well. He described himself as “a nice guy” but nothing in his writings, nothing in his representations of himself, can be identified as actually NICE.

There’s an awful lot of guys who identify themselves as “nice guys” with nothing backing that up. And like Rodger, they lash out at women and try to punish them for any perceived failing. They call women sluts, all women, define them as such and deride them as such… then seek to punish them when those “sluts” exercise control over their sexuality and refuse to have sex with them. There’s a lot of comments -a LOT- supporting Rodger and claiming that if some woman, some sacrificial virgin, had just TAKEN ONE FOR THE TEAM, then Rodger wouldn’t have been forced to become a spree killer. There are comments literally saying that women need to pay for their lives with sex, that a woman who does not have sex with a man deserves to be murdered.

But rape culture doesn’t exist, right?

posted under feminism, life, social responsibility | Comments Off on But I’m A Nice Guy!

White Feathers & Misandry

May22

I’ve seen, a few times now, MRAs explaining fervently that Misandry IS TOO A REAL THING and backing that up with WOMEN FORCE MEN TO GO TO WAR!!!! and REMEMBER THE WHITE FEATHERS!!!!!!!!!!

If you’re unfamiliar with “white feathers,” they were a social tool used in England previous to and at the time of World War I to shame men who didn’t join the military. Specifically, in WWI, they were used to target men who used their money and position to evade the draft and send lower class men in their place. Men who received white feathers from women often responded by slapping or punching the women, and getting applauded for it, recounting the times lovingly in their memoirs. Women who passed out white feathers in public were often ejected from those places. Receiving a white feather may have made a dude feel bad or hurt his feelings, but it didn’t MAKE him do anything, and as a movement it wasn’t very well supported.

Meanwhile, serving in the military (assuming you survived, of course) had a lot of benefits for a man– benefits denied to a woman. There was the prestige and glory, of course. There was the financial benefits… income, pension. There was the social benefit, the way it looked good on a resume, the way it added heft to a career and made one more eligible for certain positions, including political ones. These benefits were all denied to women.

Claiming that it was misandry that consigned so many men to war, and death, during WWI is one of the most laughable things I’ve ever heard, frankly. The argument is about as persuasive as a series of wet farts. Women in England didn’t even get the right to vote until the 1930s. They weren’t politicians. They weren’t making political decisions. They were absolutely not in any position at all to make enforceable decisions about war… what wars to fight or not fight, who should fight or not fight. They weren’t even allowed to fight themselves. The best a woman could hope for was to become a nurse or disguise herself as a man and enlist… the latter, if discovered, would most likely end in being stripped of any rank, medals, and pension.

And honesty, if your best “proof” that misandry IS TOTES REAL!!!!! is something that happened literally a century ago?

When people discuss misogyny, they are discussing things that are actually happening literally right now.

It is misogyny that women overall are paid less than men for the same job, for same hours worked, for the same skillset. It is misogyny that male politicians are doubling down on the idea that women DESERVE less pay than men for the same job, same hours worked, same skillset. It is misogyny that women politicians are discussed based on their physical appearance, that they’re accused of being “too old” when male politicians much older than them are considered viable candidates. It’s misogyny that many MANY men exclude women as potential employees solely on the basis that they’re women. It’s misogyny that doctors are less likely to prescribe pain medication for women patients than for men patients. It is misogyny that medications are tested on men but not women, that there is no information on what safe dosages are for women for most medications because no studies have been done. It’s misogyny that most doctors don’t recognize the signs of a heart attack in women, don’t know how to treat a woman’s heart attack. It’s misogyny that men are lauded for “daring” to state that women are less intelligent, less capable, less able then men… especially in traditionally male fields like math, science, computer science, astronomy, and other fields that women once dominated or helped found. It is misogyny that leads to “best of” book lists and award lists featuring only male authors, that leads to male teachers smugly announcing how gosh darn it, they just don’t LIKE any female author EVER so they only deign to teach male authors because women just can’t WRITE.

It is misogyny RIGHT NOW, existing in the world RIGHT NOW, that negatively impacts my life and the life of every single woman I know. It’s misogyny that prevents women from filing claims about domestic abuse and rape because most likely nobody will believe them… not the police, not the judge if the case even makes it before a judge). IF she can convince someone to do a rape kit, and IF she doesn’t have to pay for it herself (and even if she does), in all likelihood it will languish untested for a decade or more. SHE will be put on trial and called a gold digging whore or a slut or someone out to destroy a poor man’s reputation, regardless of the fact that false rape claims make up a tiny fraction of rape claims… at the same rate as false B&E claims, false mugging claims. It’s misogyny that holds girls, minors, responsible for the sexual attention adult men inflict upon them. It’s misogyny that puts extreme limits on the clothing girls and young women can wear to school without putting limits on the way their male classmates and teachers ogle their bodies, claiming that halter tops and shorts are so distracting that men cannot learn around them… and that a man’s right to learn undistracted by female bodies is more important than a woman’s right to learn wearing the clothing she feels comfortable in, unharassed by unwanted sexual attention.

MRAs are quick to point out individual, isolated examples of “misandry,” of things that happen to some men that they know that is totally unfair. But misandry isn’t actually a real thing, because it’s not a pervasive element of society and because the people (men) affected by it are in a position of power and not marginalization.

posted under feminism, social responsibility | Comments Off on White Feathers & Misandry

Being Fat In The World

December12

(content note: discussion of body hate, disordered eating, mental health issues, harassment, etc)

What is a microagression?

A microagression is a small, non-physical act that takes a negative, hostile, insulting, etc stance toward people of lower status. The term was originally used to refer to issues of race but is also sometimes used to describe similar actions with regards to gender and gender expression, class, ability status, etc.

On December 11th, Melissa McEwan started the hashtag #fatmicroaggressions on twitter “because I was having a moment of fedupedness with people pretending that fat people’s lived experiences are not spoken about, not known.”

I started college in 1997 when I was 18 and already pretty solidly in the grips of an eating disorder. If you’d asked me about it, I would have talked about diets and willpower and how unbelievably fat I was. At the time, I was still able to shop in “normal” clothing stores and wasn’t unbelievably fat. But adults had treated me, since childhood, as a massive disgusting fatbag one snack away from imploding from my own fatness. Didn’t I know how disgusting I was? Didn’t I know how cute I’d be if I’d only lose some weight? I look back at photos of myself as a kid, and sometimes I was a little chubby and sometimes I was skinny, but I wasn’t a fat kid. But adults around me were super quick to enforce the idea that I was a fat kid and fat kids were fundamentally worth less than non-fat kids. I think a lot of that was in reaction to the fact that my mom is fat… that they were trying to stage some sort of intervention to prevent me from going down the same (constantly dieting, constantly hungry, constantly hating herself) path she was on. And I internalized that. I took it as a given that I didn’t deserve clothing that fit properly or looked good, that I didn’t deserve to sit on the nice furniture for fear of breaking it, that I didn’t deserve people to treat me well, that I shouldn’t expect to ever find a husband or have kids (neither of which I was interested in at the time) unless I was willing to be strong and use my willpower to lose weight and get skinny. Because I was just lazy and indolent, that’s all, and all I needed to do was pay attention and count calories and measure things and work out and walk just a little bit and not so fucking much.

I stopped doing ballet (and tap and jazz) because my instructor told me I’d never be able to go en pointe, I was too fat. Too bad I don’t live in Russia or I could have joined Big Ballet, made up of dancers who weigh 220 lbs and up. I stopped doing tumbling/gymnastics because the instructor refused to help me get into positions she helped the other kids get into, and responded to my complaints of physical bullying (shoves, pokes, punches, and pinches of my little tummy) with an admonition to lose some weight (I was under ten years old). My pediatrician dismissed my mom’s concerns over my recurring ear infections, bronchitis (2-3x a year), and strep throat and advised her to put me on a diet. (When I turned 20 I got a new doctor who immediately had my tonsils removed. In the ensuing 14 years I’ve had bronchitis maybe 3 times total instead of 2-3 times a year. She also, worried about my weight, put me on an anti-depressant because it tended to suppress the appetite. She completely missed the part where I was incapacitated by Depression and Anxiety, but boy did she see my stomach and decide losing weight would do the trick. She missed the obvious signs of PCOS, too.)

By my senior year of high school, I was subsisting primarily on heavily caffeinated diet sodas. They were calorie free and filled me up sloshily and gave me energy which I needed because I was taking in so few calories. They also gave me horrible headaches thanks to the artificial sweeteners, but it was worth it, because no calories! I counted calories to the extreme, measuring out teaspoons of peanut butter for sandwiches and making hot cocoa with half the amount of the mix recommended. And when I was too hungry to keep doing it, when I’d been fasting for three or four days, I’d go on a binge and eat until I hurt while hating myself the entire time. I had excruciating nightmares for years about eating, would wake up racked with guilt from eating in dreams.

At some point in college I encountered the Venus of Willendorf and, possibly somehow through that, Marilyn Wann’s website Fat!So? which was a life changer. They both started me thinking in a very fundamentally different way about my body and my place in the world. I later discovered Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES) and Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose and other blogs from the fatosphere.

I’m a lot healthier– and a lot fatter– now than I used to be. I rarely have my blood sugar drop so low I get shakey and nearly pass out. I haven’t fasted or binged in a long time. Keeping a food log can trigger incredibly unhealthy mindsets and behavior in me, but I can keep one if I need to (for instance, to be sure I’m taking in enough calories in a day). I still deal with stress by losing any inclination to eat, and sometimes realize that it’s almost bedtime and I’ve literally eaten nothing that day. I still have deep rooted problems, physical and mental, from the way people have treated me and my body for daring to exist as a fat person.

And I encounter similar problems pretty much every single day, people pre-judging me and my worth based on my size.

When I was pregnant, my first OB-GYN did not have a scale that went above 250 lbs. In order to weigh in, I had to leave his office, walk into a different office of a different doctor, and ask to use THEIR scale. I’ve had doctors fret that I was too heavy for their exam tables (I’m not). I’ve had medical staff refuse to use a larger sized blood pressure cuff (which skews my BP reading, making it register as abnormally high) or insist on using a thigh cuff (which is too big, and also gives a false reading… this time of too low). I’ve had many medical staff offer me exam gowns that were ridiculously small, because they simply don’t stock plus size gowns. When I had just delivered my child via C-Section, which is major abdominal surgery, and was still unable to feel anything from my chest down, I was expected to self-transfer from a gurney to a bed because the nurses didn’t want to touch my fat body. When I accidentally soiled myself (again, just had major abdominal surgery, had no sensation below the chest) they refused to clean me up and I lay there caked in feces for over an hour. When they DID clean me, they did an incredibly poor job. The morning nurse assumed I was simply incontinent and had regular bowel leakage because that’s just how fat people are. Medications, including birth control, are not tested on people over a certain size, resulting in fat people routinely being given the wrong dose of medication.

Every day that I leave my house I know I am going to be judged harshly by people. They are going to pull faces if I sit near them on the bus or train. They are going to be extra angry if I’m too slow crossing the street. People who see me with my kid assume I’m his aunt or nanny and not his mom. I know for a fact that I’m statistically likely to receive inferior medical care, that if I need an EMT they might stand around mocking my size instead of assisting me, or might post photos of me and insults to twitter or facebook. If I go into a grocery store, someone would feel it well within their rights to take photos of me and post them online with insults. In fact, there’s websites devoted to mocking people my size. People feel it acceptable and normal to casually insult me simply for existing, to judge me and find me wanting based solely on what they see.

I’m not going to pull that ridiculous “last acceptable prejudice” card or claim that anti-fat bias is somehow unique in the world of hatred and -isms. I’m also aware that as a white woman who usually doesn’t look obviously disabled I don’t get slammed with as much bias as other fat people in the world.

But still.

Every day I wake up and go out into a world that’s full of assholes. Every day I wake up and brace myself for absolute strangers to attack and deride me. Every day that I post something online i wait for the “lol ur fat” responses to roll in– and they frequently do.

So Melissa McEwan started this hashtag and people started posting under it. And some of it’s petty little shit like cashiers side-eying their Halloween Candy purchases and some of it’s bigger stuff like being denied birth control or having eating disorders and other medical issues go undiagnosed/untreated. And some people responded with WELL THAT ISN’T REALLY MICRO NOW IS IT.

I have 2 responses to that.

1) When you deal with toxic bullshit every single day, what should be a huge instance of hate and bias kind of sinks into a background noise. Pretty much every very fat person I know has had their medical concerns dismissed because they’re fat and “they just need to lose weight.” So on the one hand, that is (or should be) a huge fucking issue. On the other hand, it’s incredibly common. Almost every fat person I know dreads having to find a new doctor (or A doctor if they haven’t got one) because it means you’re probably going to have to shop around extensively just to find a person who treats you like a human being and not a gross sack of lipids. So a lot of the things mentioned under the hashtag? Are super huge things and not micro at all. But you know what? Those things are so common, so ubiquitous, and so many people feel they are deserved, that they just… lie there. Accepted. Acceptable.

2) It’s rare for the voices of fat people to be centered, to be heard, to be granted legitimacy. So fat folks see these kind of thing, and on twitter there’s very little barrier to entry, and suddenly… they’re entered into a conversation with other people who have Been There, who have Experienced That, who have Survived That, who Know How It Is. And the dam breaks. And all this fear and resentment and anger comes pouring out. Yes, there’s a difference between that woman on the bus who got up huffily after you sat down because your thigh touched hers and she didn’t want your gross fat cooties and the time you went to the doctor and he dismissed your questions about MS and advised you to eat more kale and lose weight, but at the same time, those exist on a spectrum of hate that affects all fat people and both are equally acceptable ways to react to fat people: with disgust, with anger that they exist, with dismissal. Just go away and don’t come back until you’re skinny.

The trolls, of course, have come out.

It’s easy to lose weight, they say. You’re just making excuses, they say. One asshole, whose entire account seemed to have been created solely to seek out and harass people who’d participated in the hash tag, tried to dismiss some of my claims. MAYBE THEY JUST SECRETLY HATE YOU.

Look.

Darling.

Sweet troll.

Precious little one.

It’s not a fucking secret.

It is socially acceptable and valid to hate people, to treat them as less than human, to consider them both worth less than thinner humans and also to consider them worthless.

That’s not a secret at all.

Joss Whedon and the Myth of the Exceptional Woman

October15

One of the tropes Joss Whedon returns to over and over is The Exceptional Woman. In his narratives, this is a (generally very young, very physically small) woman who is the best ever at what she does without having to really work at it. It’s either a natural talent, or an unnatural one forced upon her against her will… sometimes painfully. On the one hand, you have your Willow Rosenbergs and Kaylee Fryes, and Skye (no last name)s who may work at something but don’t need to work THAT hard because they are NATURALLY GIFTED. Willow did a lot of research, but also had a vast well of world-ending power deep inside her. Kaylee could fix engines she’d never seen before, because OSMOSIS (her dad was a mechanic, it rubbed off on her). Skye does a lot of computer work, but has never had to seriously study anything seriously, or even finish high school. Naturally talented! Gifted! Effortlessly amazing! On the other hand you have your Buffy Summers and your River Tams, cruelly manipulated and forced into something they didn’t want to be, by the actions of old men. Unnaturally gifted, they don’t have to work for what they have either. Sure, early series Giles is always bugging Buffy to practice and study strategy and be serious, but over and over we were shown that she doesn’t need to.

Joss Whedon is often lauded as Feminist, and as good for women. His shows, especially “Buffy,” are considered girl-positive. And it’s honestly rare to see decently developed female characters on tv. But the way Whedon persists in displaying women and their abilities is harmful to women.

Why do I say this?

It’s rare for women to be recognized as experts in their field, even in women-centric discussions like Feminism or in traditionally women-centric fields of employment like teaching or nursing. As Ben Barres has famously pointed out, people react differently to scientific research, to facts and figures and provable results, based on the gender (or perceived gender) of the person publishing the work. It’s why Kim O’Grady only got callbacks on his resume after he added “Mr” to his name. It’s why a man who admitted to attempted murder and “accidental” rape was one of the paid spokespersons for Feminism for years. Patriarchal society accepts that men are superior to women, and that it’s rare for women to be in positions of power or authority, to be good at what they do, because they just are innately inferior. Patriarchal society accepts that men and women simply think differently and that the way women think (and speak and socialize and budget their time and spend their money etc) is inferior to the way men think (and all the rest). Patriarchal society accepts that a handful of women will be super exceptional and naturally gifted and will rise to the top, proving their natural worth, but the rest of women are just inferior or lazy or stupid or too busy shopping for shoes or whatever to do the same.

So when a Big Name in media, someone lauded as Feminist, routinely portrays only Exceptional Women Who Are Naturally Gifted, it buys into the established myth that most women are mundane but some select and glorious few are ~~SPECIAL~~ and ~~GIFTED~~ and ~~DESERVING~~. And it reinforces the narrative that while it’s accepted and normal for men to work hard and get ahead, to study martial arts or science or tactics or wood working or whatever to become successful, the same isn’t true for women. The only really acceptable way to be a stand out woman, a central character, is to have The Hand Of God marking you as innately special and gifted. And that means it’s ok and normal and routine for men to be experts and leaders 95% of the time, because most women just can’t cut it.

It’s a way of both putting women on a pedestal (so special! so exceptional! so naturally gifted!) while also putting limits on them (no need to try to work hard or study or practice, you’ve got it or you don’t). It’s a way of establishing unrealistic role models and goals. It’s a way of dismissing most women and their experiences.

It really sucks.

And it’s harmful.

(NB: I have not discussed “Dollhouse” at all because I found the show deeply, deeply creepy and did not watch it.)

Microaggressions In Popular Science: or, why don’t more chicks choose STEM careers?

July31

Nesko and I were watching a run of shows on the National Geographic channel about peripheral vision and sleight of hand and how the brain functions. My breaking point came when a pair of identical twin women “interviewed” for a “job” to demonstrate a study. They were dressed the same, right down to heavy make up and very short skirts. I mean, this was supposed to emulate a job interview, and they looked like they were about to go clubbing. The moment also kind of bought into the “sexy twins” fantasy. They could have used one woman dressed differently each time. They were needlessly sexified. It was kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back moment, though.

Earlier, cheerleaders took their shirts off to demonstrate how when your eyes are tracking something moving you don’t pay attention to stuff in your peripheral vision.

Men were told to use their peripheral vision to pick the “hot” cheerleader out of a pair (one cheerleader was a man dressed in drag) because beauty totally isn’t subjective and it’s easy to discern hotness from a distance. And they were mocked for choosing the “ugly” cheerleader because all men have the same taste and all men prefer feminine looking women.

There’s a very real perception of SCIENCE! as a male field. Statistically it’s true, STEM fields are dominated by men, and women who study/work in them face a lot of explicit and implicit prejudice. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how more women can be encouraged to study STEM fields. Start ’em young, some people say. Increase their access to STEM programs in high school, in grade school, in after school programs, in camps. Offer more mentoring to college students, say others. Make more STEM-themed toys and games advertised toward girls. Add more pink to the mix! Make videos showing women scientists wearing high heels and lipstick and sexy clothing!

One really easy way to change the perception of SCIENCE! as a boys club would be to strip the male gaze out of pop science productions.

Want to make a show about how the brain works? Get rid of the cheerleaders and the shirtless titillation and short skirts. Operate under the assumption that your audience will be made of both men AND women, in equal numbers. Science is really interesting! If you can’t sell how the brain works on its own merits, if you need sex to sell it, you are doing something VERY wrong.

Men as Default, Women as Other: Thanks, Wikipedia

April25

Years ago, when I was in college, my university required all students to take cultural sensitivity classes. Not specific check-your-privilege type stuff, but we were required to take X amount of credit hours in classes dedicated to literature of a marginalized group or groups. Virtually all the students, myself included, actively resented this. It felt like a ploy to require us to take, and pay for, extra credit hours. I sullenly took a class on Hispanic-American authors and was surprised at how awesome it was, exposed to a lot of really great literature. So obviously, it ultimately paid off. But why weren’t any of those short stories, novels, or poems taught in “regular” English classes? When I took an English class on American Short Stories, every single author was White and Male. I joked about how testosterone-filled the class was, me and another woman student joked about growing penises just from sitting in the class. Sure, we could have taken classes that covered women and only women, but we would have had to pay extra for that class/classes and at the time it might not have counted as a requirement for higher level general English classes, but toward womens studies classes (this may well have changed).

At that time, in the late 90s/early 00s, it was very firmly established that (white) men were authors and anyone who was a woman, was not white, was other. Not real. Not authentic. After all, if they were REAL authors, they’d be in with the STANDARD authors (who were white and male) and not shunted off to the side in specialty classes taken only by people studying minority authors or required to to satisfy cultural competency requirements.

It’s over ten years later, and Wikipedia currently has editors sorting American and Haitian novelists into “authors” and “women authors.” Male, you see, is the default. If you want to find women authors, you need to go to a special place to do so. They are other. They are marginalized. Amanda Filipacchi writes about it here, listing some of the notable women novelists now consigned to the margins.

Wikipedia’s page on American Novelists notes that due to the vast number of novelists grouping like novelists together is a good thing. But surely every single novelist could be included in one or more group. Right now there’s genre classifications, but you could also add gender; geographical region lived in and/or written about (CF Southern Gothic); arbitrary chunks of time (5 years, 10 years, 15 years); historical epochs (writing pre-WWI, writing WWI-WWII); etc. Or you could just be all WHELP LET’S SEGREGATE THE WOMEN.

It’s an ongoing point of view, the status quo. Men are default, are allowed to be human. Women are other, are special, are special interest.

As Abigail Grace Murdy notes:

Within the Wikipedia community, women make up only 15% of contributors and only 9% of editors, so this unfortunate reshuffling hardly comes as a surprise. Within the publishing community, it comes as more of the same sore thing. Women writers are consistently underrepresented, their work receiving much less attention than that of their male counterparts. In 2012 the New York Review of Books reviewed only 40 female authors, as opposed to 215 male authors.

The subcategory “American women novelists” simply reflects a widespread and belittling perception of women writers that already exists. But in reflecting that perception, Wikipedia perpetuates it, and the sexism marches on.

Remember in 2011 when gosh golly wow Wikipedia just couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more women contributing to/editing Wikipedia and ‘reached out to women’ by complaining how uninvolved they were?

According to the American Novelist talk page the majority of the editing was done by a lone person. As one contributor points out:

It’s worth noting that a single user, Johnpacklambert is responsible for the vast majority of these edits. He has made thousands of edits, removing African Americans from the category “American Television Actors”, and erroneously placing female authors of young adult fiction into the American Girl Authors category (intended for books in the American Girl series).

Discussion on the talk page ranges from vilifying Filipacchi for “being a drive by columnist” who “doesn’t understand how Wikipedia works” to people who recognize there’s a problem and want to solve it, to people who don’t see anything wrong at all with consigning women authors to the fringes, on totally separate pages, because gosh! They’re WOMEN authors! What do you want?

Coverage of the issue, obviously, uses the word “sexist” a lot and those involved are quick to say that woah, wait, they aren’t sexist! They don’t, like, beat women or refuse to hire them or think they should be chained barefoot to ovens all day or anything! They’re nice people! How DARE you call them sexist? And, you know, I don’t think there’s a secret cabal of wikipedia editors sitting in a dark room smoking cigars and plotting how to Keep Women Down. But this sort of thing is an accurate reflection of the constant slow grind of male supremacy, of patriarchal society. This is oppression. Men create things, women are a subcategory. Men are legitimate, women are other. Men are authors and novelists, women are a special interest group. A college level class on short stories features only male authors, erasing women’s experiences, women’s voices. On a larger note, THIS is why we have Black History Month and Women’s History Month in the USA, because the Black experience, the Woman’s experience, the Jewish Experience, the Hispanic Experience, the Asian Experience isn’t represented at all in history classes. It’s all white men doing white things. There’s a cable channel that has a whole series about “the Men Who Made America.” Men. Only men. Not a (white) man? Not important.

This is the status quo. This is the patriarchy. This is why women still fight for equality, still struggle. Because men are still the default, and women are still the other.

It’ll last longer

April2

There’s a Jenny Craig ad featuring a woman sobbing because she realized there were no photos of her and her infant daughter, but now she’s lost a bunch of weight she can take SO MANY PHOTOS and REALLY LIVE HER LIFE.

This commercial makes me so, so angry.

Look.

There is nothing preventing you from taking photos of your fat ass, or living your life, but you. I super hate the societal message that women who are fat should hide away and never be seen, should exist in a state of shame, should do everything they can to reduce their physical bodies to an acceptable size. It leads to ill health both physical and mental, and it leads to people putting their lives on hold, waiting forever for the magic moment when they’re slim enough, when they’re good enough, when they’re deserving enough, to actually live.

Get out there and live.

Bust out the camera and take photos of yourself, have family and friends photograph you.

Then look at the photos.

You may hate the way you look, but seriously, the more you look at them the more used you get to them, and the more you’ll get to like them. Pretty soon you’ll stop focusing on your belly or thighs or double chin or weird hair or the way your shirt bunched up or your crooked teeth or your zits or whatever the problems are. You’ll just see you. And you’ll see you having fun and doing things and being with people you love.

I have very few photos of my mom, because she spends most of her time hiding from the camera “feeling fat.” Looking through family photo albums there’s a weird sense that she doesn’t exist. When she is photographed, she’s usually hiding behind someone or something, or half out of the photo, or something like that. One of my favorite photos of her is her on the stairs with a terrible haircut, a perm that went awry. My dad took it to document her awful hair, and she’s laughing, and you can see her brilliant smile and sense of humor and how gorgeous and full of life she is. Another snapshot is her on the day she graduated from college, holding her diploma triumphantly, in her weird hippy shirt and her hair longer than she usually wore it. She’s so alive, so present. Her favorite photo of herself, one that she carried around in her wallet for years (and might still have), is her standing in the sunlight in cut off jean shorts. She’s at her slimmest, and she keeps it to remind herself of how perfect she was then. She was taking prescription amphetamines and spending time she normally would have been sleeping running on treadmills to use up the excess energy. She was also in her 20s and hadn’t had kids yet. But oh, how she clings to that photo. It’s like something out of the long-running (now ended) syndicated comic “Cathy.” I mean, at one point, Cathy pulls out a photo of herself at her slimmest and compares her current fat self to it.

There’s a quote I ran across once and now I can’t find it again. I don’t know if it’s from a story, a blog post, a song lyric, or what. “We were young and beautiful and didn’t even know it.”

We’re all young and beautiful, and we don’t realize it, don’t recognize it. Especially those of us raised female. We worry about our fat and our breasts and hips being too large or not large enough. We fret over our skin and hair and posture. We’re perfect, but convinced we are imperfect and those imperfections make us unlovable. And we get older and bigger and more wrinkled and our hair thins and we lament our lost pasts. Why didn’t we take more photos? Why didn’t we run around enjoying our bodies? Why did we spend so much time hating ourselves? But we’re still unkind to our bodies, still viewing them with suspicions, still expecting perfection and disappointed in the reality. We had from the camera, too fat, too wrinkled, too female.

And our family looks through photo albums and we’re not present, we’ve made ourselves invisible.

It’s easy to pick up a camera and take on photo taking duties. It’s a service. It’s part of the emotional heavy lifting that’s expected of women. But it’s also an excuse. If you’re handling the photos nobody else has to. If you’re the only photographer, it’s an easy out, an easy excuse to not be in the photographs yourself.

Please stop doing this.

Take photographs of yourself, let others take photos of you. Leave a record of your life, be present in your life. Just live. Stop thinking about your body and live, exist. Give yourself permission to exist and take up space. Stop being afraid of not being perfect, not being good enough. Stand in front of the camera and just be.

When Niko was an infant, my sister-in-law snapped of photo of me sacked out on the couch holding him. I hated the photo when I first saw it, the first tens of times I saw it. I’m so fat. Look at my chins. Look at that huge mole. Ugh, my hair. Ugh, my hairy arms. Ugh, my crooked glasses. But the more I saw it the more used to it I got. Yes, I’m fat. That’s how my body is. I’m fat and I’m hairy and that’s just me, it’s how I am. And look at me, there with my baby, relaxed and happy and both of us safe and comfortable and asleep. It’s an intimate moment, a photo of us just being together and loving each other. I love that photo now, and Niko loves to look at it.

You are who you are. Please, please, stop putting your life on hold until you’re a better version of yourself. Start your life now and actually live it.

And take some photos.

You’ll appreciate it later.

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