Friday, May 16, 2014

Sending Out Some Love & Appreciation


This week, the New Statesmen published several feminist essays in a series entitled Rereading the Second Wave. I recommend them all. Second wavers tend to run the gamut from ignored to derided/dismissed to all-out monstered in popular media - therefore, I am thrilled to see a mainstream publication featuring their work. Furthermore, I am more grateful than I can say for the writers who were open-minded and curious enough to read their maligned/sidelined foremothers, smart and talented enough to pen truly engaging essays about them, and most impressively (to me) brave enough to publish under their real names.

Because to publicly engage second wave feminism is to bring all sorts of shit down upon oneself, and not just from the usual crowd of violently woman-hating trolls, MRAs, AFTAs, and their various handmaidens, but also from the Radical Feminist Tribunal. I found the negative, hyper-critical response of some radical feminists to this series heartbreaking. Radical feminism is not an i-dentity, it's a set of ideas, and nobody owns those ideas. The more people who sincerely engage those ideas the better.

But most of Twitter is uninterested in sincere engagement of ideas. Most of Twitter wants to ask you one or two yes-or-no questions so they can put you in the right feminist box - liberal feminist, intersectional feminist, radical feminist - and in your box you shall stay, lobbing grenades at the other boxes. 

I hate those boxes. If I'm intellectually honest, and I do like to be intellectually honest, I do not fit perfectly into any of them. If we must have boxes I'd like one for the Freethinking Feminists, where all texts are available, all ideas are testable, and all grenades are aimed at the patriarchy.

...


In other recent news, pro-feminist trans women have announced a day-long workshop called "New Narratives 2014", to be held in conjunction with RadFems Respond.

From the New Narratives web site:

New Narratives 2014 is a trans woman-only discussion about the ways in which current trans theory harms trans women, and reconciling the goals of gender abolition with the reality of the gendered world we are currently living in.

In this day-long workshop, we will discuss our experiences at Radfems Respond, talk about how our conceptions of trans existence have changed over the course of time, develop new narratives of transition that are healthier and more ethical, drink craft beer, and make new friends.


Some of the topics we will cover include:

  • the difference between sex and gender
  • how and when can we set boundaries around our community?
  • healing from the trauma of being gender-nonconforming
  • victimization as validation – and how to get past it
  • viability of identity politics in real life
  • what if you don’t pass? what if you do?
  • removing the bullying from trans activism
  • ways trans women would benefit from gender abolition

Q: How awesome is this?
A: So awesome.
Q: How much shit are the hosts getting from the trans community?
A: So much shit.

Like the authors of the New Statesmen second wave series, pro-feminist trans women endure haters from all sides. Some feminists claim all trans women are necessarily misogynists whose only path to redemption is de-transition. On the flip-side, anti-feminist trans activists and their allies demand capitulation to their nonsensical identity politics, label transsexuals who insist upon dysmorphia as a pre-requisite to trans-ness "truscum," and attempt to kick them out from under the "trans umbrella." My trans women friends who try to publicly engage their community in rational discussions have been called TERF, accused of murder and told to die just as many times as I have, if not more.

More boxes, more with-us-or-against-us thinking, more benefit to the powers that be. 

For what it's worth, I send all my support to these pro-feminist, pro-rational-discussion trans women, who are so brave to be putting themselves out there like this. I appreciate you.
...

Whew. I feel a little worn out just having typed out the above. Sometimes I feel like my heart is just a pulsing mass of half-scabbed wounds. Don't you? 

Anyway, I was inspired by the New States(wo)man series to reflect on the feminists who really shaped my thinking. Adrienne Rich and Catherine MacKinnon are big on my list, and I'd love to write essays about them if I can ever work up the gumption to take on such looming subjects. But many of the women who influenced a young Miss Hell Bedlam were outside the second wave canon (if such a thing exists). Here are just a couple:

Pauli Murray, Proud Shoes (1956)

In which a bi-racial woman traces her roots and refuses to either give in to or stand outside in opposition to the ideal of a pure white America - by firmly placing herself and her complicated, often painful history within the label "American," exploding it from the inside. (Murray was one of the founding members of NOW, along with Betty Friedan. More about her here: http://paulimurrayproject.org/)

Lilah Abu-Lughod, Writing Against Culture (1991)

(As far as academic articles go, this one is passionate, clear and not overly-long!) Feminist anthropologist Abu-Lughod explores how concept of culture rely on concepts of the self and the other, and how concepts of the self and the other rely on difference and power- "Does difference always smuggle in hierarchy?" Worth a full read, whether you're into anthropology or not, as engaging difference is a critical issue, if not the critical issue, of our time. Perhaps most germane to this post is her regard for the potential of feminists and "halfies" - those who straddle the chasm between culturally-defined Selves and Others (such as Murray) - to illuminate new ways of seeing and writing.

And do you know what these two authors - one of African and European ancestry, writing an autobiography, and one of Palestinian and Jewish ancestry, writing an academic article - 35 years apart - have in common? They transcend the simplistic boundaries and reactionary egotism of identity politics.

There's a whole 'nother essay in there, and I'll get to it eventually. For now what I need to say is this:

Here's to all of you who aren't either/or, who live in the lonely spaces in-between, trying day-in and day-out to build bridges faster than your short-sighted naysayers can burn them down.






Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Use Your Words. Name The Penis Problem.


TRIGGER WARNING: Your penis is not that impressive.

When we were kids, my brother was obsessed with becoming a ninja. He was also very clear about girls being incapable of becoming ninjas. As time went on he also wanted to be an Air Force pilot (no girls allowed) and an engineer (no girls allowed). He was backed up in these (and many other) sexist notions by our parents.

Now, my brother was not a moron - he was a normal kid. He did not have any outstanding athletic ability or sharp eyesight or hand-eye coordination or math skills. But he did have a penis, signifying strength and capability. Therefore, in my parents' eyes, his dreams -no matter how unconnected with reality- were worthy of indulgence.

I on the other hand was a gifted kid, and in my family this was not acceptable. Where my brother had a penis, signifying strength and capability, I had a vagina, signifying helplessness and servitude. So my dreams, no matter how connected to reality, were worthy only of derision.

Most importantly, my giftedness could not be allowed to make my brother feel bad about himself. Therefore, his dreams and potentialities and accomplishments needed to be raised up, and mine played down.

There was also violence, of course, which I won't get into just now. This is is NOT a pity party. My parents struggled to do the best they could given their own sexist upbringings and their own mental health problems, which were exacerbated by financial stresses. And my brother was just a kid. I'm very happy in my current life and both my parents and my brother have come a long way vis a vis "the battle of the sexes."

But I'm blogging today about penis-havers.

I may have felt like an unwanted prisoner in my own home, because of my sex. But my brother was a princeling in that same home, because of his sex. How is any boy who is raised like that supposed to feel about his genitalia, about what peeny+balls means?




Some trans activists and their zombie-righteous allies want to take the words girl and boy, woman and man, and even male and female, away from us. Reproductive categorization of humans is *so* old fashioned. Or silly. Or bigoted. A penis means only whatever a particular penis-haver says it means! Why would you ever not want a naked penis in your vicinity? Yadda.

Thus, as a brief thought exercise I'll use SPH and OPH (sperm-producing humans and ova-producing humans) instead.

You can attempt to derail via the tiny percentage of people born intersex, or with cries of sensitivity for the infertile—it does not matter, because this statement still stands:

SPH control the world. Not just the “global south.” Everywhere.

Politics, law, law enforcement, the military, commerce, media, medicine, science, technology, even the arts … all dominated by SPH.

Why?

Either you think SPH are naturally superior to OPH in all those fields, in which case fuck off, or you think SPH have been unfairly elevated and OPH have been oppressed, in which case kindly stop pretending that genitalia doesn't matter.

Peeny+balls =(descriptive) male =(prescriptive) privilege over females. We don't rectify male privilege by making it impossible to name.



This constant battle over the clear use of basic vocabulary makes me wonder – while I’m fighting for the right to name the basis of my oppression, what have the oppressors achieved – what are they effectively hiding?



You want to make it impossible to discuss the socio-political consequences of being born one sex or the other? Hmmm...

THEN I’MA TALK ABOUT PENISES.

I'M JUST CONTRARY LIKE THAT. 

Do world leaders use their penises to perform diplomacy? Maybe they use their penises as microphones when making important speeches? Do lawmakers sign bills with their penises? Do police and military men actually use their penises as guns? Are businessmen joining important conference calls via the Bluetooth in their penises? Maybe bankers discuss pie charts using their combination penis/laser pointers. Do doctors perform surgery with their penis-scalpels? Are artists painting with their penis-brushes? Et penis cetera?


No?

Yet all these fields are dominated by people-with-penises.

MEANINGLESS COINKYDINK?

The vast majority of people who identify themselves and are identified by others as talented in those fields just *happened* to be born with trouserworms and undernuts?

I THINK NOT.

When I worked as a paralegal and clients would try to refuse to work with a female, was that because they were looking for someone who could use their penis to hit the tab bar when toggling between all those computer form fields? It was certainly not because they wanted someone who "identified" as competent, because I did that. They simply assumed competence attached to penises, and lucky "cis" me, they could assume I did not have one of those!

People born with penises+testicles are raised by their families and encouraged via media, merchandisers, schools, workplaces and the general public to think of themselves as both superior to and entitled to the servitude of people born without penises+testicles (which is to say, with ovaries+uteruses+vaginas+clitorises, as there's not actually an endless sucking void betwixt our legs.)

And I posit we’re disallowed from discussing this fact so nakedly not because it is silly or gross or hurtful - but because naked peeny+balls is… hilariously stupid, as far as a symbol of superiority goes:


[Yes, through millennia of rape men have made the phallus a symbol of intimate violence. I do not and shall not ever denigrate any woman's negative reaction to penises. But it is only via men's lifetimes of sex-based social entitlement and women's lifetimes of sex-based social subjugation that rape can stand as a (for all intents and purposes, accepted) cultural practice. And if men insist on using their penises as weapons, it's about time we women learned to both mock and SMASH cock. This video demonstrates how we should respond to rape, AFAIC (content note: graphic violence against penises).]


Seriously? I'm supposed to *ENVY* that? Or, alternatively, as porn would have it - immediately drop to my knees to worship it?

Look, I'm heterosexual. I've been quite fond of several penises in my lifetime. But: Oh hai, you can pee standing up, so clearly you should be the boss of me...?

Seriously?

Let me share my favorite crotch-related story. I was dating this fella, and when we would rassle, he would say "Darling, do you really think you could stop me?" The first time he said this, my blood ran cold. I froze up, and warned him, "Don't ever say that to me again." The second time he said that, I responded, "Fair warning: god may have given you superior upper body strength, but he also put your genitals on the outside. Don't make me prove I can stop you." (God here is figurative, OK?) The third time he uttered that vile, threatening phrase, I brought my knee up and lightly tapped his balls. He fell to the ground and rolled around in pain. It was the most pleasure his crotch had ever given me.

I do NOT tell this story to shame any woman who was not able to utilize this technique to escape sexual assault, although I know some opportunistic victim-blamers may take it that way. I tell this story because it is important to note that this man, a self-identified Leftist who supposedly cared about me, felt such impunity in "playfully" threatening me, even after repeated warnings. It *never* seriously occurred to him that I would *ever* harm his magical, sacred male parts.

Just as patriarchists, ever experts at reversals, would have us associate shame and weakness with the female organs that CREATE HUMAN LIFE, they would also have us associate male organs - frightfully vulnerable as they are - with unassailable power. And apparently these days, indescribable power. Do not name g-d. G-d is whatever g-d says. Submit. Do not look behind the curtain/zipper. DO NOT SAY VOLDEMORT'S NAME.


I will bet you $100 these people have penises.

It should not be a shock that we end up here...
.
...OR HERE.

Whenever the person on the left, below, tells the person on the right that having been born with a penis entitles him to dominate her – whether via economic control, or threats of violence, or the emptying of her language, including her right to say "no," (just for examples) – he is being an obnoxiously entitled sexist pig. And he is entitled because he was raised and groomed to be so. Because of his genitalia. 


And that is as inescapably true as it is inescapably absurd.

Use your words. Name the penis problem.

The human penis is:

1) the MALE organ of sex & peeing.
2) Out of context, rather unimpressive (sorry not sorry).
3) In context:
     A) a lifelong lightning rod of unearned (and most often, unexamined) privilege, and
     B) a universal marker of membership in a violently oppressive class.

The good news, women, is that every time you stubbornly insist on seeing, naming and analyzing male privilege, you are metaphorically punching patriarchy right in the crotch.

In conclusion, might I suggest that every time a male brings his #unexpectedpenis into a space clearly designated as female-only, he leaves with a stump?* 


*Many women will be uncomfortable with this statement. I do not like violence. However, if you take away the language I use to fight my oppression? I will pick up an axe.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dear Janet Mock, I have a lot of ALL CAPS for you


Hi, Janet!

You are right - I never had to tell anyone I’m “cis!” I was born, a doctor looked at my labia and told my parents “It’s a girl!” AND THE LIFELONG PERVASIVE SEXISM IN MY FAMILY, SCHOOL, WORK AND PERSONAL LIFE BEGAN! Thanks for opening my eyes to how lucky I am to have skipped the “invasive” questioning and gone STRAIGHT TO THE RELENTLESS “REDUCTION OF MY IDENTITY TO MY GENITALS."

Just exactly what do you think sexism is? Female humans are 1) visually differentiated as such starting from birth so 2) we can be groomed as second class citizens. The method and degree of grooming will vary based on other factors such as geographic location, economic class, race, religion, health, et cetera -- but in any case there is the inescapable physical reality of femaleness, the all-pervasive requirement that said femaleness be visually signaled at all times, and the immediate expectations of others in response to that visual signal, of a striving towards helpless beauty and loving servitude.

Hey Janet, you know those white people who complain about affirmative action because poor white folk have a hard time of it too? Economic class is extremely important, and our discomfort in addressing commonalities of economic struggle across race is a problem. But those white people are still incorrect. They are incorrect because they do not know what it is like to grow up not-white in a white supremacist culture. To shine a constant strobing light of Otherness to the Powers That Be. 

AND YOU KNOW WHAT, JANET? MEN – no matter how difficult they find masculinity -- DO NOT KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GROW UP FEMALE IN A MALE SUPREMACIST CULTURE.

I wish you would’ve asked an articulate feminist about her experiences growing up as a “cis” female, because you and all your identity-zombie followers need a blast of some basic honest truth.

First of all, I’m not a “cis” woman, I’M A WOMAN. AN ADULT HUMAN FEMALE. I do not need to qualify my membership in a basic biological category that applies to more than half the human population because less than one percent of males experience sex dysmorphia. I grant those males the term “transwoman,” and that is all I’m granting.

I’m a woman – a white woman born to a working class American family. A less happy accident of birth might have seen me killed for simply being born female, or married off at age 12. Based on nothing but my “physicality.”

But I was born to a white working class American family – So I was lucky enough to grow up merely doing all the chores while my brother was coddled. Being punished for outdoing him in any way. Sleeping with a kitchen knife under my pillow after checking the lock on my door one-two-three-four-five times (thrice over, and this is how OCD grows) because he was armed -- I unwrapped dolls at Christmas, he unwrapped weapons -- and bound to prove the dominance of his penis.

Yes, his penis. His genitalia. That Which All Of A Sudden Is None Of Anybody’s Business Even Though We Can’t Even Talk To Or About Babies Or Dogs If We Don’t Know Their Sex. My brother and I might as well have been raised in different households. And we both knew the reason why: Penis wins over vagina.

So yes: Lucky. Lucky to be told at age eight that all any boy wanted was to get into my pants and ruin my life, and three years later to be asked what was wrong with me that I wasn’t dating. Which pretty much sums up a woman’s position, huh.

I got my period at age eleven and hid it from my mother for two years. She hit me when she found out. I was hit for any and all infractions, of course, and this was not an unusual experience in my peer group. Not all the world is an upper-class helicopter-parent preciousized playground. I bound my budding breasts with ace bandages whilst she hung newly-purchased Wonderbras from my chair at the kitchen table. 1. Sex will ruin your life! 2, Why aren’t you sexy enough? When life gives you lemons: stuff ‘em in your bra. L-O-L.

Though I was thin I’d never have the sexy body of the 25 year old beauty queens playing teens on TV. With puberty came not only the painful menstruation and cystic acne of PCOS but the intensification of ulcerative colitis and the humiliating gassy-belly and speed-waddles to the girls’ bathroom between classes. I gave in to the persistent existence of my boobs only to have the most popular DJ on the radio announce with a smile in his voice that small breasts such as mine were deformities to be cured with surgery. I had pale skin that would never tan – though I laid out under a baking sun every day for two months straight the summer before high school in a valiant effort, my only reward was burn after burn – and black leg hair that shown through my translucent epidermis even when I shaved twice a day.

Thus being female and “becoming a woman” – a process at which I felt hurtled against my will, a black hole in space or a meat grinder in a horror movie – was always bound up with feeling “trapped in the wrong body”. I felt not only hideously ugly but hilariously so, like a tiny cartoon of simultaneous (unwilling) sexual availability and greasy un-lovableness. I would lie in bed night after night dreaming of miracle cures that would smooth the constant eruptions on my face or allow me to finally achieve tan, smooth legs tucked into perfectly white Keds (I won’t get into the self-tanner misadventures). Buying a bra that fits is a dream that continues to elude me.

Looking back at photographs now, I was perfectly normal looking. Sometimes even cute. This doesn’t change the fact that for something like ten years looking in a mirror was a physically and psychically wrenching experience for me.

...

Though I didn’t have beauty (or couldn’t see it) I did have brains. My parents could downplay my accomplishments and make fun of my aspirations all day long-- my teachers always encouraged me. Until middle school, that is.

BECAUSE PUBERTY DOESN’T JUST BRING BIOLOGICAL UNPLEASANTNESS. IT’S WHEN THE SOCIAL SHIT REALLY HITS THE SOCIAL FAN.

Suddenly I was fighting teachers and administrators to take math classes or join math club. Asking boys in my classes to pose questions on my behalf, in order to receive answers rather than snickers and snide remarks. Working summer jobs in food service or office support where sexual harassment was as common as winking condescension. I gave up math and science for the humanities and social sciences and when I graduated from a top college with top honors, my parents wrote asking if I was finally ready to settle down, work as a secretary and rent a trailer until I could find a husband.

As it turns out, I would need to work my (female) ass to the bone in jobs that paid me less to do more and better work than my male colleagues for several years before going that route. I married. I threw myself into wifedom, and onto the sword of step-motherhood. I thought if I proved my love through daily self-sacrifice and creative, intelligent acts of support and nurturance I’d be rewarded with affection and safety. I got condescension, resentment and poverty. After three years of misery, I left.

More underpaid, overworked jobs in blatantly sexist workplaces. My net worth? Zero. My self-worth? Less. I became a semi-famous writer’s secret lover. It wasn’t exciting, it was crushing. I was eminently fuckable but not high-status enough for public declaration. I moved away, tried to start over again, saw it over and over: no matter how hard and well I worked, the only reward was more work. (I was even told – to my face – by an HR professional – that my salary was meant to supplement a husband’s income. This was in 2006.)

I met another writer. Flirted with S&M. It brought the relief of temporary self-erasure. That was the most pleasure I experienced during that time: a few minutes of blissful non-existence via the blatant intimate hatred of a supposed “lover.” [Followed of course by an STD and unwanted pregnancy. Almost like biology matters.] This chapter drew to a close when it became clear he expected me to follow him across the country assisting with his career in return for… vagina-tearing sex and casual infidelity. Because that was all I was – a sweet, supportive sex doll. Not my own human being.

Life is not a romance novel; my writer-lover was not a tortured hero. He was just an entitled asshole taking advantage of the huge holes in my heart and my complete lack of hope in my future. He found me attractive and knew I was smart and extremely hard-working, and it made all the sense in the world to him that this qualified me to be a handy cumrag and (unpaid) personal secretary. SUCH ARE THE SPOILS OF FEMININITY.

...

It was a female friend who eventually bailed me out of debt and a married male friend who eventually set me on the path towards a decent job. My happily ever after is a 9-5er with a little house and some pets all my own. Decent health insurance and a 401k.

BUT WE’RE SEEPED IN A DIFFERENT NARRATIVE, AREN’T WE? FROM BIRTH. THE PRINCESS MYTH.

If you’re beautiful enough, pure, and sweet – birds will dress you in the morning and a prince will rescue you and all will be happily ever after. Of course, these days you need to be eager to take the prince’s cum in your face, but – details.

IT’S ALL LIES.

THERE IS NO RESCUE.

BEAUTY IS NOT ONLY IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER – IT GUARANTEES NOTHING. CERTAINLY NOT LOVE.

DESIRE IS NOT LOVE. LOVE IS NOT RESPECT. NEITHER DESIRE NOR LOVE IS SAFETY.

AND SELF-ABNEGATING LOVE BRINGS ONLY SELF-ABNEGATION.

WOMEN: BASED ON THE GENITALS WITH WHICH WE WERE BORN, WE SPEND OUR LIVES TRYING TO WIN A GAME. THE GAME IS CRUEL. THE GAME IS RIGGED. AND THE PRIZE IS: NOTHING. LIES. DISGUST.

MULTIPLE CHOICES FOR SELF ERASURE.

AND NOW WE ARE BEING TOLD THAT PrincessStripperWife IS NOT ONLY A VALID PATHWAY TOWARDS HAPPINESS FOR WOMEN, IT IS THE DEFINITION OF WOMAN. MEN’S FANTASY OF WOMANHOOD: THE DEFINITION OF WOMAN. SAY IT OR YOU’RE A BAD FEMINIST NAZI WHORE WHO SHOULD DIE.

AND I AM SO TIRED OF FIGHTING REARGUARD ACTIONS.

“Adult human female” is a biological category with important social ramifications. This statement is in no way phobic of any-fucking-thing. It is not essentialist, determinist or any other –ist word some ignoramuses choose to mis-use because hey, actual dictionary definitions are so fasc-ist, bro, pass the doob. Feminists did not invent human reproduction, we did not cause anyone to be born with one organ system or another, we did not assign sexist presumptions to those organ systems, and we are not responsible for somehow curing male dysmorphia through elaborate self-erasing games of play-pretend.

AND NOW TO MY FELLOW FEMINISTS: CAN THIS BE IT? CAN WE STOP ARGUING WITH ASSHOLES AND FOOLS? BECAUSE I HONESTLY DO NOT CARE IF SOME DELUDED MISOGYNIST SCHMUCK THINKS CHASING THE PRINCESS STRIPPER DREAM WILL BRING HIM HAPPINESS. I DON’T WANT TO INDULGE THOSE ENTITLED SCHMUCKS ANY MORE. IF WE HAVE TO MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR THE RIGHT TO DEFINE “WOMAN” AS A MATERIAL REALITY RATHER THAN A MALE FANTASIE, LET’S DO THAT AND BE DONE.

MEANWHILE:

WE NEED TO GET BUSY TELLING GIRLS THE TRUTH. PUSHING BACK AGAINST THE PHOTOSHOPPED LIES AND PORNIFIED HATE. PREPARING THEM FOR SAFE, HEALTHY, REWARDING ADULTHOODS, RATHER THAN "REDEFINING REALNESS" AS A CAREFULLY CULTIVATED, AESTHETICALLY PLEASING FEMININE FACADE OVER PAINFUL, DELICATE LIES.

Let's
Get
REAL.