5.28.2015

A Feminist in Victoria's Secret: A Portrait of Crippling Guilt for No Good Reason

Today my husband and I had a fabulous "date day." We went to Davenport Beach and I made ill-advised explorations over slippery rocks, just so I could maybe touch some anemones (I got my wish). We shopped at a militantly organic little store in a trailer off the beach where the lady WOULD NOT STOP TALKING about where everything came from and just how local it was. We drove around in the mountains to gawk at a piece of property that Zillow said was on the market for $25 million for some reason. It was perfect.

And then my husband did something deeply disquieting.

He took me to Victoria's Secret.

This was not a sneak attack. The purposes of our outing today were 1) go to the beach, and 2) go to Victoria's Secret. I knew it was coming. Still, I've been there only once in the past two years, and that time I desperately needed new panties. So I ran in like my hair was on fire, swiped a couple of cute pairs, and got the hell out.

My new status as A Person Some People Know As a Feminist makes bra shopping an interior battle of mythic proportions. Before the Salon article came out and I embarked on trying to parlay this project into a book, I liked Vicki's. I like to shop, and I like their stuff, and there was a time when I had no problem wearing sexy lingerie with a partner because it made sex more fun. I enjoyed it. It was empowering, and nary a thought for The Male Gaze entered my head.

But with my new eyes, the message that was screamed at me amid the thumping music and powdery scents was, "YOUR BOOBS NEED TO LOOK BIGGER. AND PERKIER. YOU SHOULD WANT MEN TO LOOK AT YOUR CHEST, LIKE, CONSTANTLY. YOUR UNDERWEAR ISN'T ACTUALLY FOR YOU-- IT'S FOR THE DUDE WHO'S LOOKING AT YOU, EVEN IF HE'S A STRANGER." Every single bra was lined, padded, push-up, liftseparatesparklemagnify stuff. I could not find regular, unpadded, comfy ones-- there were a couple of lace bras near the front that weren't padded, but they didn't come in my size. It was like they were saying, "Only women with huge breasts have no need for padding. You B cups... we can help!!"

Adding to my confusion is the fact that I don't really know what bras are for-- not for me, anyway. The straps always fall down and my boobs are small enough that I don't need the support. I do know that for some women, not having the support of a bra makes their backs hurt; I know some wear them because they like the way bras change the shape of your body. As far as I can tell, in my case, bras are for preventing men from staring at my breasts: some men seem to think that bralessness is an invitation. Also there's the nipple thing-- which doesn't bother me personally (WE LITERALLY ALL HAVE THEM, SOME MORE THAN TWO) but it does seem to be distracting to some guys. Then again, is that really my problem? Whose comfort am I protecting with two puffy cups strapped to my chest?

Eventually, the braless questions became too much for me, so I started wearing one of those elastic ones from Target just to be safe. But recently I've been onstage a lot, and when I reach my arms up the bra rides up and voila, I have four boobs. And I can't fix it readily because I'm in front of people. Also, it's not super-sexy, and although my man loves me for my mind, no one likes to take their spouse's clothes off to find thoroughly unsexy undergarments every single night. That's no fun.

So yeah. I needed a new bra, one that stayed put. I selected four that were cute and, I thought, minimally HEY CHECK OUT MY RACK-y. Two were comfy. Ish.

I walked out with a bunch of new underwear, bought by my husband. I let my husband buy me a bunch of lingerie. Oh, the guilt.

Buying underwear really shouldn't be this hard.

But the thing is, in our hyperconnected world where even the best intentions are always objected to by someone, every single thing we do feels like a political action.  I let my husband buy me sexy things: am I a kept woman? Or am I accepting gifts from someone who loves me? I'll be wearing a sexier bra from now on. Am I protecting myself from discomfort because I hate it when men stare at my braless chest, or is it their responsibility to keep their eyes on my eyes so I don't have to have underwire cutting into my ribs? I like wearing pretty things. Am I a manipulated consumer, or do I have high self-esteem?

I'm all for dialogue. But after two years of trying to have sane, reasoned discussions about feminism online, I found myself frozen in the Temple of What Female Sexuality Is Supposed to Look Like, overwhelmed, guilty, and totally unable to enjoy something that I used to love.

Makes me wonder where the merit of "healthy debate" is in an age where your detractors are never in the same room as you, and millions of people can weigh in on whatever millions of other people are doing. I think it makes many of us suffer more than it helps.

3.11.2015

The Nightly Show on Gender: Yay?

Like most of the Western world, I too cried into my blankie when Stephen Colbert left late night. Like some of the Western world, I was happy to see that the show that moved into his slot, The Nightly Show, was hosted by a black man, The Daily Show's "Senior Black Correspondent" Larry Wilmore. Still no women in late night, I thought, but at least there'll be a greater chance of fairer discussions around systemic inequality. 

And there has been. Wilmore calls out the ubiquitous nature of racism in this country in almost every single show. His very first show's first three remarks were about race in America ("Tonight-ly, the Oscar nominations are out, and they're so white, a grand jury has decided not to indict them... Oprah marched on Selma this weekend. She has a dream that 'Selma' shall overcome 'The Wedding Ringer' at the box office... Yeah, we talk 'Selma,' Ferguson and Eric Garner. It's Comedy Central's worst nightmare - brother finally gets a show on late-night TV."). Not sure Comedy Central is the network who wakes up in a cold sweat thinking about black male comedians gracing their airwaves, but OK.

Wilmore even did a show devoted entirely to black women, which is remarkable because it addresses intersectionality, which is a fancy word for the ways in which gender and racial inequality intersect to deal Women of Color a particularly nasty blow. This show-- The Nightly Show but particularly the episode devoted exclusively to black women-- is a step in the right direction because it means that someone who has a not-a-white-guy perspective is leading public discourse, and he's encouraging not-white-guy perspectives. (Yes, I realize that it's a weird claim to make, that a comedy show is expected to be at the helm of important issues. But this is a discussion which has already been had, long ago. And considering the sorry state of the news, I'm not sure those of us who skip CNN for Comedy Central are any less informed.)

So I was excited on Monday, when Wilmore announced that his next show would be asking, "Why is it taking so long for America to level the playing field for women?" YES!, I thought. Why is it taking so long? Maybe Wilmore would go right into the round table discussion, like they did with the black ladies, and maybe we could get into some actual feminist issues. Maybe someone would even call themselves a feminist. Ooooooo. I was going to tweet to #Keepit100, the hashtag Wilmore uses to let his audience ask him questions directly, "You're a black guy on late night, but you're still a guy. Better?" But I couldn't get the wording right, and I figured some other, more articulate woman would say something. If Wilmore handled gender inequality the way he'd lifted up black women's voices, maybe finally, finally, there would be a meatier conversation about it.

Here's what actually happened.

1) More about racism-- this time, those assholic frat guys in Oklahoma and the old white lady who had the stupidity to film herself doing the racist chant, and then acted like a victim when she got caught. When Rolling Stone covered last night's episode today, they spent 2/3 of the article talking, in the appropriately disgusted terms of white people who definitely have black friends, about what jerks racists are.

2) A round table discussion with no white women-- not one, but there was a white dude-- which began with the question, "Who puts more hater-ade on the women? Is it women themselves, or the men?"

3) No #Keepit100 question. This is either because women didn't ask, or there weren't any questions worth answering.

Dude. Disappointing. Very disappointing.

Coming from a guy who's handled racial issues, which are always divisive and especially in the wake of the DOJ report of Ferguson, so well, I was expecting an honest look at gender discrimination. And I'm not saying that racism and sexism are exactly comparable: if a white woman steps out of line, she's shamed, bullied and possibly sexually assaulted; if a black man steps out of line, he goes to jail or gets shot. Different consequences, and a different history of discrimination in each case. But still-- I had higher hopes for Wilmore.

First, "Who throws more hater-ade." Really? One of the ways to shut down discussions about gender bias is to, essentially, blame the victim. This is everyone's favorite defense when women say we face discrimination, and it's just a way to avoid the discussion. You know the line: "Women are naturally catty and backstabbing. They're discriminating against themselves, so there is no such thing as systemic sexism anymore." This is like that argument that goes, "Black-on-black crime is still the highest of any racial demographic, so racism is no longer a problem because black people are behaving badly towards other black people." No. No, no, no. Women do not all like each other, but that doesn't mean gender discrimination isn't a Thing. Unfortunately, panelist Egypt Sherrod's answer was that women cut one another down far more often than men do-- which is just the answer everyone wants to hear, rather than, "That question is a dodge." Good, we tell ourselves. Just what we thought: sexism is self-inflicted.

The second panelist, comedian Chloe A. Hilliard, explains this phenomenon awesomely: "A lot of women don't want to support a woman outright because they still want to be respected by men. They want to play on both teams. 'See, I may have ovaries, but I can still sling a dick.'" Interestingly, this proves that sexism is still an active force in the lives of women: Why would we need to try so hard to make men like us if they didn't still hold most of the power? We have to disrespect other women in order to get men to respect us? Look up the definition of a Female Chauvinist Pig, and you'll see why this is a symptom of sexism, not proof of its absence.

The Latina panelist, Alicia Menendez, stepped in and explained that it's due in part to the way we ask women in power to be strong enough to get things done, but nice enough that "I like you." This got a round of applause: women in leadership are expected to walk an impossible line of likeability and laser-focus on results. This is basically impossible, and it represents another way in which women are kept out of positions of power. It relates to being called "bossy," which has been discussed at length by greater minds than mine. So this represented a tiny victory on the show-- so yay there.

Second, there's a white guy on the panel. If there's one voice who's heard loud and clear, whether we want it or not, especially in discussions of systemic imbalance, it's white males. You need a comedian on the panel, I get it. But you already have one in Chloe. I get it: men have to deal with harmfully restrictive gender expectations too. But that's not what this guest was there to talk about-- he was there to make sure that, as usual, a representative for Your Average Middle-Aged White Guy got to weigh in on women's issues. There were no white women who could come and talk about their experience? None? No women over 50? No covered women? But a white guy got to sit at the table, again?

Finally, No #Keepit100? That's on us. Me included. I wish now I'd taken another few minutes to formulate a better tweet. But now that I've seen the show, here's what I wish I'd said:

Larry, you're a black man with firsthand knowledge of bullshit conversations about injustice. Re: gender... Can you do better? #Keepit100 

I hope you can, man. Because that was some weak-ass tea.

6.26.2014

This is what it sounds like to me...

... when people cite "preventing our brothers from stumbling" as a reason to dress modestly.

Suits: A Serious Stumbling Block

6.17.2014

"Feminazi"

I've spent a lot of time and energy since the Salon article came out attempting not to appear to be "angry" (and often failing miserably, as many of you have seen). This is because the quickest way to avoid discussing someone's point is to attack their motivations by calling them "just angry." There's the "angry woman" (Feminazi), the "angry black man" (Thug, Gangster or Hood), the "angry lesbian" (Manhater, Ballbuster, Dyke... wait, these are things I've been called too), "angry Muslim" (Terrorist) and any number of other epithets used to devalue a person and their opinion. Also, if you're a woman, anger is decidedly unfeminine: women supposedly don't GET mad, unless it's a catfight over a man. In which case it's both perfectly fine and hot.

But the thing is, anger is a legitimate response to being told, directly or indirectly, that because of who you are, you do not deserve to be treated with basic human dignity. Whether that be for your gender, race, class, political beliefs, age or any other number of things, when one is told "Sorry, I'm not listening/ don't respect your opinion/ am deaf to your needs because of who you are or what you believe," it's perfectly legitimate to get angry about that. I am guilty of having done that to others, and they have gotten understandably angry with me.

Furthermore, being angry does not necessarily translate to a desire for revenge or punishment. Just because I'm angry at a culture which tells me that I am inferior because of my gender does not mean that I hate those who benefit from that system. After all, I'm part of at least one class which benefits from systemic oppression. But when my culture tells me I'm a "thing," or that others have a right to tell me what to think, believe or do, I get mad, because I am not a thing. No one is.

Furthermore, I get REALLY angry when those who are reaping the rewards of this unjust and egregiously imbalanced system have the audacity to say that there IS no system-- that I'm "just an angry feminist." Things like this and the backlash against the #yesallwomen hashtag war in the wake of the Elliot Rodgers tragedy demonstrate how comfortable those who are "winning" in terms of the culture wars are, in telling those who are "losing" that they just don't know what they're talking about.

So I think people can sling that "you're just angry" insult (if that's what it is, and not an attempt to protect their positions) at me as much as they want because they're right: I AM angry. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong, and it doesn't mean I want to hurt anyone, or take anything from them. It doesn't mean I'm incapable of compassion towards those who are interested in preserving the status quo. I can be angry, and still be kind.

Most of all, I can be angry, but I can still treat you like the human being you are. I can be forgiving of the past while simultaneously not wanting the future to look the same way. I can be an angry woman, and still have a really, really good point.

6.12.2014

The Modesty Police, and how some of them actually insult men

How the modesty police are hurting my son.

I do love it when someone else says perfectly what I can't quite articulate. :)

2.12.2014

Short hair

Do men ACTUALLY BELIEVE that women with short hair are "damaged?" At least one dude does. More evidence that women's hair seems to be something which some men feel comfortable taking ownership of... and also that there are many women who don't care. :)

Why Patriarchy Fears the Scissors: Short Hair Is a Political Statement