Thursday, June 25, 2009

Smile Time

Goddamn motherfucking bastard. Possibly the best line in the best chapter of Amanda Marcotte's It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments--Being Told to Smile by Strangers.

In my case, it isn't limited to just strangers. I get told to smile constantly from the man who calls me "Sammy Girl" at work. While there is a certain amount of misogyny in this practice, I don't think he's being purposely malicious--he was just conditioned to think that women like to be told to smile.

Newsflash: We don't.

According to Marcotte, the premise behind the "Smile!" brigade is to "remind a woman that she shouldn't forget [that] her first duty to the world is to provide a vacant but pleasing smile to everyone she encouners." While I don't necessarily disagree with her assertion, I believe there's a deeper level of socialized misogyny behind this frown-upside-down movement which actually ties in with more serious issues of verbal/sexual harassment. When you really boil down to why men (and I suppose in some instances, women) think they have some sort of duty to tell women to smile or think they have a right to cat-call or scream CUNT out of motor vehicles, it's because women are second-class citizens. Possibly stemming from Victorian era gender divisions where men were a part of the public sphere and women the domestic, women have less of a right to move freely through public space. Whether it's a (seemingly) benign "Smile!" or an aggressive slur (which, you'll notice, are female, because female=negative), these verbal cues remind women that they don't carry the same social merit that men do.

Last summer, I was walking down North Main on my way to the gym. A car drove past me and a man leaned out the window and cat called, and I called him a mutherfuck under my breath. As much as I hate to admit it, the first thing I thought about was my clothing--I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt that even my grandmother would consider conservative. Huzzah, another instance in which my feminist consciousness fails me and I revert back to the nineteen years of whatdidYOUdowrong socialization. Of course, the problem was not what I was wearing, regardless if I were to hypothetically to ever wear booty shorts and anything that didn't go at least 3/4 past my shoulders. The problem is some jackass who thinks it's okay (and possibly even flattering, yuck) to remind me that I am less than he. All the power was taken from me in that situation, because regardless if I were to ignore it, scream YOUFUCKINGASSHOLE back or go the passive-aggressive route, his attitudes would remain fundamentally unchanged.

If I want to smile, I will smile. If I want to walk with my trademark neutral expression that I've been told looks like I'm pissed off or aloof, I will walk in all my neutral-pissed off-aloof glory. There's little I can do to prevent stupid assholes from shouting things from car windows, but I can begin to stand up for myself and womenkind at work by (politely and demurely) calling out sexist behaviors. When I'm asked if I'm happy or grumpy, I'll ask if I have more than just two mood options. When asked (this happens continually, for some reason) if I drank over the weekend, I'll half-smile and not even dignify an answer. Ditto for the weight-loss questions.

I like to smile. In fact, I love smiling. But only on the condition that it is a genuine smile. I will not smile for the sake of vacancy and I will not be an emotional dichotomy.

In effect, I will be a person.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Deliberately Accidental Examination of Casual Footwear

Reading through Amanda Marcotte's It's a Jungle Out There: A Feminist's Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments, I excitedly (and excessively) scribbled poignant comments in the margins, just waiting for a free moment to write this blog. Before stumbling across There are No Good Options for Feminist Footwear: The Perils of Dressing While Feminist, I planned to blog about like...choice. Or something.

Then I had EPICRAGE and completely forgot.

Right under the title, I scrawled untrue, flippy floppies. Ha, that'd show her. Marcotte goes through shoe groups and explicates her reasoning for why each will bring you some feminist backlash:

birkenstocks (openly repulse sexual attractiveness),
high heels (bad feminist! fucks up your posture and feet),
steel-toed doc martens (if you want to be treated like a relic),
sneakers (don't want to be taken seriously?),
flats (more subtle than flaunting armpit hair),
bare feet (at the cost of looking like whatever the female version of a tool is [Ann Coulter]),
ballet flats (cuteness over pragmatism),

[you'll understand why I've isolated this last one]

flip flops (the favored footwear of sorority girls nationwide...blonde girls with full faces of makeup and their fair done wearing sweatshirts, shorts and flip-flops...they make it really hard to walk at more than a snail's pace, giving the wearer the proper feminine hobbled aura, presumably making her less threatening to men).

Ahem. Fuck you, Amanda Marcotte.

Before I go on a tirade about why flippy floppies are the best footwear known to humankind and why you're an asshole to assume that sorority girls are hobbly blondes who wear makeup, let's get to some unsettling assumptions she makes about the inherent feministness of footwear.

What is inherently feminist, or antifeminist for that matter, about footwear choices? Is it not the freedom of choice, rather than the actual choice that is feminist? If a woman choses to wear high heels and fuck up her back, that is her prerogative. I used to be all oh noes I'll never wear heels again, they're all about the patriarchy, but then I realized how GOOD my calves look in them. Plus, who doesn't like a challenge? I'd like to see a man try and walk when they're three feet off the ground. So go you, high-heels wearing girlfriend. I respect your decision to wear whatever footwear you damn well please.

Insertion of irrelevant personal story time. So, I have this dress. It is ADORABLE. I decided to wear it on the last day of classes, because I wanted to feel pretty on the last day. My choice. However, I have these cute little white sandals that go with it--but I didn't want to be too feminine, like I was trying too hard. I wanted to shake it up a bit, add an element of badassiness to it to show that while I can look pretty, I still won't take misogynist bullshit.

Enter BAMF boots.

Now, the only issue with these boots was that is was ASSJESUS hot outside. So I kind of looked like a doofus. So after my WS class, I decided to give my poor sweaty legs a break and switched up my footwear. But wait, I thought, am I going to lose face if I cave and wear the cutesy sandals? It was rough, but I chose comfort over BAMF gender transgression.

I chose my flippy floppies. Which didn't even match.


So back to why this irrelevant personal story ties in with the theme of the blog. My footwear switch was at matter personal choice. The decision to change my footwear was for no one other than me, and I what was so feminist about it is that because I felt that sandals would be too over-the-top cutesy, I compromised my BAMF boots with my green, unmatched flippy floppies.

So step the fuck off my hobbly flippy floppies, Amanda Marcotte, because my decison to wear them was inherently feminist because it was my decision and I'll be damned if I let someone tell me or any other person that I'm compromising my feminist beliefs by donning a certain style of footwear.

You're on my shit list.

[End SNAP]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Take This Hand 'Cause I'm Out

Yesterday, my mom called to tell me that my grandmother is in the hospital. She's doing okay, but has pneumonia. The first thing I think of? Jesus Christ, I hope my uncle isn't there when I visit. Second thought was how I had neglected to call her this past weekend, but I'll save my guilt-riddeness for another time.

See, my uncle is creepy as fuck. Fairly certain there was some unwarranted early childhood inappropriate touching, but as I have no means of verifying that, I've let it go. In the sense that I don't bring it up at family gatherings. However, I have a physical aversion to this man. Physical, not just psychological or emotional. As I epic win at male character judgement, I trust this instinct and follow it to the best of my ability. Problem is, empowered as I may be within a feminist and women's studies context, I feel that I have very little control over who touches my body in the real world.

Now, not all touches are bad. I've recieved hugs and kisses and such from well-meaning friends and family that have made me feel uncomfortable, but I'd chalk that up to my extreme uncomfortableness with physical contact. I've definitely grown in the not-freaking-out-at-people-showing-me-physical-affection department, but I'm still fairly reserved when it comes to my space bubble. Unfortunately, I think this makes me come off as aloof. I am aloof to a certain extent, not because I think I'm superior or uncaring, but because as a rule, am emotionally baggaged and lack the social skills necessary to function in touchy-feely group contexts (re: sorority).

My goal this semester (strikingly similar to last semester's goal, sans my life being one long emergency) is to be more social. Not just attending sorority functions, which are uncomfortable to me on several levels (opposite sex, drinking, being around more than three people in general), but engaging with people beyond the superficiality of so how are your classes? (Not that I have anything against asking people how their days were, I'd just like to talk about something beyond first-day-of-orientation topics.)

I just realized that I'm way the fuck off topic.

So back to the reason that I wrote this before I spilled out my feelings about my life for the past six months, I'm afraid to visit my grandmother because I don't want my uncle to try and touch me. Sadly, he has all the power in this situation. (Backstory: He was in a motorcycle accident that gave him brain damage after he was running from the cops in Kentucky and was coked out and drunk, and now the family babies him even though I know he knows what is and is not appropriate conduct. Oh, and rather than coke and alcohol, he's addicted to Jesus...much worse, in my opinion.) Hypothetically, if I were to say fuckoffyoufuckingpervdon'ttouchme, that wouldn't go over so well with my grandmother, who is unaware that I'm a flaming liberal who *gasp* swears. (PS, I love my grandmother dearly. Just not entirely sure she gets me.) Potentially, I could get away with him not touching me on account of he doesn't bathe, but even then I feel that my family would look down upon that. My feminist consciousness is like, what the fuck, it's your body, do what you want but my social consciousness is like, holy shit, don't make your family mad, you're a girl and who are you to police who hugs you?

So, I have an unsolvable problem. I don't want to piss off my family, but I feel nauseated when he's in my general proximity. When my mom is around, he doesn't mess with me. ('Nother backstory: he sexually propositioned my mother after my father died, he stares at me, and once when he and my grandparents were at dinner, he stared at my mom who shouted WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STARING AT and he hasn't bothered her since. Love her.) My strategy for contact avoidance now is not going to my grandparent's before five, without my mom, or at all, and when he IS around, always staying low to the ground and generally ignoring him. It works in theory, but I don't want to avoid him at the expense of seeing my grandparents, both of whom are in their eighties. I'm going to have to stand up for myself eventually, but as I've been pegged as the good-girl sweetheart of the family (my competition is coke addicts, alcoholics, drop-outs and violaters of the law, so it's not like I have to even try), I feel like breaking out of that is going to hurt my family in some way. They all love my mom and appreciate her outspokenness, but for some reason, I think they'd be less than enthused if I went fucken ballistic and told my uncle off. And I can't just politely say gee uncle greg, you haven't bathed since '96, i'd prefer if you didn't touch me because he'd make an ordeal out of it. Subtlety is not his strong suit, so I'm pretty sure this is going to be pretty much a big deal.


Monday, June 15, 2009

It is My Most Sincere Wish That Bill O'Reilly Choke on His Own Shit and Die

There are few things in this world than I hate more than right-wing religious bigots. So, it should come as no surprise that Bill O'Reilly is at the top of my "I Hope You Choke on Your Own Shit and Die" list. Let me explain. Amy Richards, co-author of Manifesta (alongside girlcrush Jennifer Baumgardner) went on O'Reilly's rightwingasfuck talk show The O'Reilly Factor. Wouldn't you know, it addressed the topic of abortion, specifically the services provided by the late George Tiller.

Barely allowing Richards a word in edgewise, O'Reilly goes on a ultraconservativerepublican tangent about "baby killing" and how clinics exacerbate the problem of rape by not releasing the rapists' names (he has proof they have the names, though he neglects to name his source). Now, one (meaning me) could argue that rather than releasing the names of rapists and jailing them (which, incidentally, is less jail time than if you're caught with MJ), society could deal with the rape epidemic by not socializing men to think that the bodies of women are ohsoavailable to them. Or, rather than up to a year of jail time, cut their fucking dicks off and feed them to wild boars. Problem solved.

I understand that the problem of rape is not limited to male aggression towards women, but for the purposes of this blog I'm sticking to the status quo. And interestingly enough, I came upon another instance in which O'Reilly discusses rape--this time, he blamed two moronic young girls for their car breaking down.

Were these girls asking for it? Well...not exactly. But they were moronic and their car did break down. And the girl was wearing a midriff-bearing halter top (perish the thought!) and a mini-skirt. Victimblamingvictimblamingvictimblaming. Good on you, Bill. Good on you.

Oh, and did I mention that ACLU is hypocritical?

I'm not even going to touch that one.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Look Both Ways, Except for Straight

So because of my extreme girl crush on Jennifer Baumgardner, I ordered her book Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics even though it's not all that relevant to my interests. Only, after getting through the first couple chapters, it actually kind of is.

Although not a blatant heterosexual, I am attracted to men--a very specific kind which I don't too often come upon, hence the familial assumption of gayness (I covered this in an earlier blog). Although Baumgardner is clearly writing her book for very specific reasons and to a very specific audience (re: bisexual), I feel like any open-minded person can relate in some way to this book. I haven't exactly finished it yet, as I am all too often prone to staring out the window and spacing the fuck out, but I've come to notice some very specific behaviors I display around the physical book itself: I flip it to the back cover. To be fair, I'm the token flaming liberal within the pocket of conservatism that is Allegheny Security, and as I do not enjoy my Fox News-watching employers making jabs at the unfairness of Miss California's firing (rly?!) or Obama-smashing, I can only imagine my irritation at the discussion that would surround the scandalous topic of bisexuality. (Sorry my sentences are so long-winded.) I do not wish to be teased, however playfully (though I'd challenge the notion of playfulness as it is a means to ridicule under the guise of humor) about my sexual preference, which is really no one's business in the first place. So, I turn the book over. If I am quizzed about it, I can always reply honestly--I'm not a bisexual, but I'm interested in the topic and things that relate to gender, sexuality and politics are always relevant to my interests.

This frees me in a way that real-life bisexuals are not. I'm not suggesting that they're not sexually free in and of themselves, but within the context of society (and patriarchy!), there are limitations set on sexual expressivity (may or may not be a word). I'd argue that for anyone not a WASPy male, there are societal limitations on sexual expressivity, but Baumgardner has made me realize that even non-WASPs pose limitations on bisexual expression, including my beloved Elizabeth Wurtzel, who stated something along the lines of "you've gotta choose sometime."

Ah huh.

Currently, I've got Look Both Ways face up. Though it's kind of a lame gesture to make up for all my heteronormative heterosexism (that was probably redundant), I feel like I am, in some small way, making a political statement. I think it is perfectly fine to be bisexual. You fuck whomever you want to fuck, regardless of what's between their legs.

I guess what I'm trying to convey here is that if you try and step outside your own sexuality (be it straight, gay, lesbian, queer, bi- or omni-sexual), you can learn about your own conscious or unconscious prejudices that result from years and years of heteronormative socialization. And you may develop crushes on brilliant authors who you'd probably not want to sleep with.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Political Activism 101, or Why I'm Paranoid as Shit That I've Become a Manic Depressive

Jessica Valenti is coming to Allegheny. I've decided.

Problem is, I have no money and really poor persuasion skills. As the VP of Young Fems, I feel it is my duty to bring Valenti to speak to our campus as she can cater to both a feminist and nonfeminist audience. In addition to being the center of my universe, she is an incredibly witty and talented writer and speaker.

To shift the focus to me for a moment because I'm narcissistic, this sudden JESSICA-IS-COMING revelation was somewhat disconcerting to me, as I have been terrified of developing bipolar disorder since I learned the first episode generally occurs by the time you turn twenty (which, incidentally, happened to me yesterday. The turning twenty thing, that is). My last blog was about my general disinterestedness in Valenti's Purity Myth, so this dramatic shift was like ZOMFGNOWAI WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? But, I've decided that rather than seeing this mood shift as signs of my inevitable manic depressive doom, I'm going to take this as a sign that I'm on my way to mental wellness.

Shifting focus again, sans narcissism.

So as I'm sitting bored as shit at my job, I start thinking about my future as VP of Young Fems. What should we do this semester? I've always been a fan of speakers, but I don't know that everyone shares that sentiment. Also, they're hella expensive (I apologize for my use of the word hella...I've been trying to bring it back but it's just not happening and the sooner I get that through my subconscious the sooner my writing will be less post-Just a Girl Gwen Stefani-esque). I thought it would be neat to have a woman come in and teach some self-defense moves, but after reading several passages of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape (edited by Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman) I began questioning the need for women to have to defend themselves. That, of course, is tied in with women's bodies being marketed as cultural rather than personal (as in, the woman's) property, which ties in with the way women's sexuality is commodified and how men are socialized to believe they have some sort of, I dunno, RIGHT to women's bodies and sexuality. Therefore, Valenti. Her books are a huuuuge FUCK YOU bold underline exclamation point to the social, political and ecomonic powers who have specific interests in perpetuating the commodification of the female body. (Sorry I insert waytoomany words into sentences but I am an highly caffeinated feminist English major.)

I guess what I'm going for here is that I think I'm finally in a place where I am mentally well enough to really push for a speaker like Valenti on our campus. Ghandi wants me to be the change I want to see in the world, and I can see no better way to change the world than to open my campus's (goddamn I can't figure out how to pluralize that correctly, I hope that's right) eyes to feminist consciousness. I'm ready to rally Young Fems with the FMLA (Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance), SPEAK (Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge--may be a bit of a stretch, but the pres is my sister), ASG (student government) and the Women's Studies department to get her on campus. Plz can has?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

STOP. Summertime.

It's only been about a month into summer, and I am bored as shit. I miss blogging. I miss Women's Studies solidarity. I miss reading and discussing articles, or listening to other people's opinions of articles I don't underfuckingstand. Since I don't have to blog anymore, I haven't been keeping up with my regular dose of feminist literature, which is unfortunate, to say the least. Actually, I've been reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that's another story entirely.

A few weeks ago, I finished Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth. Although Valenti's books are pretty much the center of my universe, I found that I was disappointed with it overall. It's difficult for me to discern whether I really thought it was lacking, or whether I was just too goddamn depressed and involved in my own issues to care about right-wing propaganda and funny, intelligent feminist prose. I'm guessing it's the latter, because Valenti is practically Jesus in my eyes.

This brings me to the point of this blog: a definite lack in mentally ill or psychological feminist literature. Elizabeth Wurtzel notwithstanding (Prozac Nation is incredibly relevant to my interests), I'm hard pressed to find feminist survival guides to, well, myself. I mean, is there a feminist way of coping with mental illness? I certainly think so, but I would love to read up on some discourse on the links between patriarchy and mental wellness (or the lack thereof). In the self-help/improvement section of Barnes and Noble, I found a memoir of a woman who struggled for (literally) decades with anorexia and bulimia. I find memoirs to be feminist in themselves, but after reading through just the second chapter, I found this woman to be an incredibly feminist inspiration. I'm always unsure about memoirs, as there is an element of narcissism in their very nature. However, I'm much more open about them since Wurtzel's Prozac Nation, and I think they can certainly be beneficial to people in similar situations.

Anyway, the link between the eating disorder memoir and feminism is that at practically infanthood, the woman was subjected to unhealthy attitudes about eating. Body image is thematic throughout (obviously), which is very much a third-wave issue. Why, then, is feminism not addressed at all? It's certainly not necessary to market feminism in a memoir about eating disorders, but the two are inextricably linked. Perhaps it was the choice of the author, or it may have been the publishing house itself. Maybe I'm making too big a deal about the inclusion of feminism within psychological/mental health literature just because I believe it would be beneficial to me. Soapbox soapbox soapbox.