Getting to 101

A Shapeling (who wishes to remain anonymous for the purpose of this thread) has some questions she’s been mulling after some of our recent discussions about gender and feminism. What do you do when the men in your life are only partway to feminism — when they agree that, say, women should have equal pay for equal work, and that rape is bad, but they think the rest of it is silly or overreacting? Or when they don’t accept that some of their own behavior — whether it’s as “minor” as flirting in the street or as major as thinking their sexual needs are more urgent and non-negotiable than their female partners’ — contributes to the culture of sexism?

Our Shapeling asks:

So I guess my question is, how do you navigate this type of territory?  How do you educate a loved one about their own sexist behavior when they don’t believe they are being sexist?  Without any back story, the easy response is that I should just dump him if he can’t learn to respect me and take me seriously…  But what do you do about men you can’t dump?  What do you do if it’s like, your uncle, or your dad, or your brother?  You can’t just dump your family.  So what are you supposed to do when you’re dealing with someone who, for the most part, is on board with your feminism, but still has certain sexist expectations about you, and is unwilling to admit or acknowledge that certain behaviors are sexist?

I’m sure we all have some experience with negotiating our own feminism (and other commitments to social justice) with reluctant people in our lives. What do you do when people you care about convinced they’re not sexist — and are wrong?

No more “fat talk”

We’ve been deep into Advanced Feminism and Fat Acceptance the last few weeks, but sometimes it’s good to get a reminder of the basics and why we have to start there. The most important step of FA — and the one that often hardest to do — is to stop talking shit about yourself. This is Tri Delta’s Fat Talk Free Week:

(The video soundtrack is just music, for those of you watching without sound.)

What I really appreciate about this campaign is the focus on how fat talk isn’t just about you — every time you put yourself down, even if you really, truly are thinking only about yourself, you are also adding to the toxic environment that your loved ones live in, too. Self-shaming behavior implicitly shames others.

The Fat Talk Free Week campaign says “Friends don’t let friends fat talk” — what are your tried and true ways of resisting fat-shaming conversations?

This one’s for the masochists

You all know that we get a lot of trolls here; usually they are discouraged by our despotic comments policy and give up after one or two bits of low-grade trolling. Of course, when Dude Nation descended upon us to wave their liberty sticks, the frequency and stupidity of the trolling went sky-high.

Here’s the thing about getting really stupid trolls: they suck and we don’t want them here, but sometimes the things they say are hilarious. I mean, we’re talking perhaps-you-are-speaking-moon-language territory. We can’t douchehound them all, but we often have the impulse to let you know just how inane the people who want to fuck with us (with all of us) are.

To that end, I’ve started a side project: the Helpful Comments blog. I’ve anonymized the comments so as not to feed the trolls’ little egos while still providing maximum amusement for you. I intend to keep this updated as often as men feel the need to come here and tell us how wrong we are because we’re ladies and shit. Think of it as a safe way to use up your leftover Sanity Watchers points on any given day. Enjoy!

Quick hit: Fat Barbie

No, not that fat Barbie, sadly. According to WWD, shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who recently designed some high fashion Barbies, had to “reshape” the dolls because “He found her ankles were too fat” (according to a spokesperson).

Cankles? (photo by melloveschallah)

Cankles? (photo by melloveschallah)

I’ll let you sit with that one a minute.

*wanders off, pours some booze, comes back*

Barbie’s ankles are too fat for fashion. Barbie, the fashion doll. Barbie, the legendarily disproportionate model of femininity, whose feet are permanently molded for high heels, has cankles.

(Hat tip Broadsheet.)

Something reminded me of this recently…

…I can’t imagine what.

As bonus weekend fluff, please enjoy this old chestnut from The Onion: Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement. Excerpt:

“All the feminist movement needed to do was bring on someone who had the balls to do something about this glass ceiling business,” said McGowan, who quickly closed the 23.5 percent gender wage gap by “making a few calls to the big boys upstairs.” “In the world of gender identity and empowered female sexuality, it’s all about who you know.”

McGowan, who was selected from a pool of roughly 150 million candidates, made eliminating sexual harassment his first priority before working on securing reproductive rights for women in all 50 states, and promoting healthy body images through an influx of strong, independent female characters in TV, magazines, and film.

“It’s about time,” McGowan said upon returning from a golf game with several “network honchos” in which he brokered a deal to bring a variety of women’s sports to prime-time television. “These ladies should have brought me on years ago.”

Quick hit: Sour milk

Quick hit so we can talk about something other than how I’m a humorless, comics-hating, loveless feminist who thinks men should be arrested for talking to women in public: Feministing points to Spike TV’s utterly appalling feature, “The Top 10 Actresses Past Their Expiration Date.” Get it? Like milk! Ha ha!

If you can stand to look at the list, you may note, not without some bitter chuckling because that is the only laughter produced by feminist bodies, that what most of these women are criticized for are actually measures that they have taken so as not to look older. Thus the beauty ideal eats its own tail: age naturally, and you’re a wrinkly hag; attempt to fix your haglike wrinkles and you’re “a scary mix between Michael Jackson and the mummy of King Tut.”

Here’s the main complaint for each of the 10: too much Botox; too skinny; too chubby; too skinny; too squinty (?); too wild; too mannish; too much Botox; too much makeup; too old. So, there you go, Hollywood Ladiez, it’s easy: just don’t be any of those things, and the dudes at Spike will grace you with their hard-ons forever.

Would it kill you to be civil?

We’ve been talking about rape culture and myths about artistry (or, perhaps, artiste-ry) for the last few days, and god help us but it’s been depressing. I want to continue the conversation a bit but shift it to the somewhat less eye-gougingly bleak realm of the Nice Guy TM, specifically how it relates to geeky guys and girls.

I’m prompted by this post (on SP fave Sociological Images) about a recent xkcd strip. Now, xkcd has done some instant classic antisexist strips in the past, like this one and this one. In fact, xkcd even has a strip that handily illustrates Nice Guys TM. In other words, xkcd often serves as a kind of Feminism 101 for nerds, which is why it’s extra disappointing when the strip has its rare excursions into “woe is the geeky boy, who shall never get pussy” territory. The strip in question starts with a spot-on confrontation between a woman on a train and a strange man hitting on her, in which she firmly tells him that if she wanted his attention, she’d have shown it. It’s the conversation you always wish you would have with skeezy dudes on the train, if you weren’t worried that they’d retaliate in some way. The punchline of the strip is — haha! — the chick wanted it all along! She’s aching for some sweet sweet cock! If only men hadn’t been so paralyzed by feminist talk about rape culture and personal respect, she’d get hit on by more men, which is exactly what she wants on the train! (ETA: The mouseover is: “And I even got out my adorable new netbook!”) It’s funny because it’s true, and it’s EXTRA funny because she brought her cute netbook specifically so men would hit on her, just like when you wear a low-cut shirt it’s because you really want men to comment on your hot tits. Geeky girls are so hot! They’re so hot for you, geeky boy!

Look, I really love xkcd 95% of the time. But just as surviving violence doesn’t make it somehow totally cool to rape people, not meeting cultural standards of he-man masculinity doesn’t make it just fine to perpetuate rape culture. That’s what the Sociological Images post* gets at very clearly:

So this is the crux of the issue for me: nerds really are members of a subordinated masculinity, and from within that viewpoint it’s easy to dismiss anything which says that you are privileged and not downtrodden. Once you’re in that space, it’s really easy to start thinking in a certain way that says you’re not privileged just because you’re a man — and I think things like this XKCD strip can contribute to that way of thinking.

Of course, any man who falls farther from the pinnacle of hegemonic masculinity is less privileged than his more “masculine” counterparts, but he’s still a man. Nerd discourses sometimes let us forget that, and let us think we operate outside the system, because we’re not like those other, sexist guys — but it’s a fantasy. We can be better than that, but it means telling ourselves the truth, and not pretending that our interactions with women — even a simple conversation on a train — aren’t influenced and structured by the patriarchy.

This is how privilege works: you have less of it in some areas, and more of it in others. That’s how it works for everyone. This is why it’s important to think beyond yourself: not in some self-abnegating “I can never talk about my own problems” way, but in a way that understand that some forms of your own behavior contribute to a culture that hurts you too. (This is, for instance, why we don’t bash thin bodies to promote fat acceptance — because “fat acceptance” and “body acceptance” are really the same project.) So talking about geekery is actually one of those scenarios in which saying that patriarchy hurts men, too, is not a strategy to distract from women’s issues. But the xkcd strip is the fantasy of a Nice Guy TM: if only he weren’t so gosh-darn nice to women, he’d get some tail. The Nice Guy TM blames on feminism what is really the fault of sexism, thus imagining himself the True Victim of both.

I do think this particular comic may have worked fine if the same scenario were played out by known characters, instead of xkcd’s generic boy-and-girl stick figures. What’s so powerful about the “How It Works” strip is that very generic-ness: the joke is just that, that men are assumed to be individual human beings and women are not. But that’s also what’s happening in the male fantasy in the “Creepy” strip: the man is an (oppressed) agent of his own desires, while the woman is a mess of contradictions and unreadability.

All of which brings me to what is perhaps my favorite Nice Guy TM lament of all time, as well as the perfect cap to a post about geeks and rape and entitlement: Jonathan Coulton’s great song, “Skullcrusher Mountain,” about a mad scientist “in love.”

What I love so much about this song is that the creepiness builds from verse to verse (never disturbing the sweetness of the melody), so that what starts with “Welcome” ends with the most passive-aggressive murder threat ever:

You know it isn’t easy living here on Skullcrusher Mountain
Maybe you could cut me just a little slack
Would it kill you to be civil?
I’ve been patient, I’ve been gracious
And this mountain is covered with wolves
Hear them howling, my hungry children
Maybe you should stay and have another drink and think about me and you

Nice Guys TM, you see, pretend that we don’t live in a culture that systematically deprives women of power; they think (or rather, they pretend to think) that interacting with women is just a matter of being civil. I’m so nice, but women don’t like me! They say “think about me and you” as if we didn’t know that they could unleash the wolves at any second. They think women on the train are secretly doing everything — using a cute netbook, sitting there looking pretty — in order to snag their attention. They’re nice, not like those other guys — how dare you lump them in with the worst of their gender! You’re just like all the other girls.
*Note ableist metaphor in title. Hello there, privilege!

Fat people in love: Not as rare as unicorns

Hey, remember all the troglodytes over the course of your life who implied, concern trolled, or flat-out decreed that you would never find love if you’re fat? Fatshionista’s Lesley has put together the ultimate comeback: The Museum of Fat Love, “an incomplete collection of evidence proving the existence of those not-so-rare creatures: fat people in love.”

Fat people in love

Fat people in love

Like fat athletes and fat models, fat people in love are not the rare thing we’ve all been led to believe (more evidence: fat brides). I really like that the MoFL includes the stories of the people in the photos: it’s amazing what happens when you give people space to use their voices. And, you know, their heads.

Lesley is still accepting submissions from “anyone, in any variety of romantic relationship, who’d like to be included,” as well as individuals who’d like to “share themselves and their stories of self-love.”

High five a gay kid today

There’s a really wonderful article in the NYT magazine this week about queer teenagers and how cultural changes have made it safer (in many but not all areas of the US) to come out in middle school. The gist of the article is that the increased visibility of queer people in the culture at large has made it easier for kids to identify and articulate their own sexual identities, and it makes their peers more likely to accept them. Overall, despite the fact that anti-gay bullying is still widespread, many middle schools have become less like sex-and-gender torture systems and more like safe spaces. I cannot even tell you how delighted I am to hear this.

The angle I want to discuss here is not just about happy gay kids (though it cannot be repeated enough: happy gay kids! omg!), but about a word that never appears in the article but which underlies the whole thing: normativity. In this article specifically, the main cultural shift appears to be a weaking of heteronormativity. Kids these days know there are people who are not straight, and that those people aren’t doomed to lovelessness or criminality. Part of how they know this is because of pop culture, and part is this here series of tubes we’re all on. Take the case of a 12-year-old bi girl named Kera:

Kera says she was 10 when she realized she was interested in both sexes. “It was confusing for a while, because for some reason I thought that you had to be straight or gay, and that you couldn’t be both,” she told me at the coffee shop. “So I thought about it a lot, like I do about everything, and I went online and looked up bisexuality to read more about it. I realized that was me.”

This story, in its very simplicity, just about kills me, because I was Kera as a teen. My diaries from elementary school are filled with “I love so-and-so” hearts with both boys’ and girls’ names in them; my middle school days were spent furtively staring at both the widening shoulders of boys and the widening hips of girls. But I had no word for it back then, and I didn’t have Professor Google, so I just felt… well, weird. The first time I heard the word “bisexual” used in a casual way (as in, not as an insult or in a tone of disgust), it was electrifying. It was like something woke up inside of me; something in myself stood in recognition. I was 15, and a lot of my friends were dating, but I wasn’t — I was too busy having super-intense friendships with sexual tension that couldn’t be talked about because I was too busy trying to wish it away. I literally cannot imagine how different my adolescence would have been if I, like Kera, could have just looked it up and found other people like me.

The adults featured in this article are not, generally, as quick to accept this less heteronormative world as their kids are. Many of them doubt their queer children, wondering how they can possibly “know” when they’re so young, or before they’re sexually active. As the author points out, straight kids are not doubted when they have sexual or romantic feelings at the same age; many of them, in fact, are encouraged. Kera is lucky to have a mom who sees right through the fog of heteronormativity to accept what her daughter tells her:

“My first reaction to the poem [in which Kera came out], which she slipped under my bedroom door before going to hide in her room, was that she seemed really worked up about this,” her mother recalled. “But I knew I was interested in boys when I was her age, so it didn’t strike me as unusual that Kera might know she’s interested in boys and girls, put two and two together and call herself bisexual. Kids just know what those words mean a lot earlier than when I was growing up.”

You rock, Kera’s mom! Kera’s mom has passed Empathy and Cultural Diversity 101: she thinks of herself and her own experiences, compares them to her daughter’s, and acknowledges that while different, they are just variations in standard human behavior. Kera’s mom had crushes and sexual fantasies as a teenager, so she gets that Kera does, too — and she knows that if she definitely liked boys, it makes sense that her daughter would be definite about who she likes too, even if it’s different from her own desires.

Kera’s mom,* could you please adopt every queer kid in the country? Kthx!

I know this is my week for tortured analogies here, but I think that there’s something to be said for FA here, too. When we depathologize states of being that are considered abnormal, we can reveal the normative structures that propped up our pathologizing in the first place. When we accept that the categories we’re accustomed to are not best described as X and not-X (straight and not straight, thin and not-thin, etc.) but as X and Y and probably Z too, we see that X was only considered “normal” because it was important to people who are X to view it that way. When we look from a standpoint of celebrating human diversity, it seems bizarre to think of Z as abnormal or the “opposite” of X: Z is its own way of being. Thin people and straight people aren’t required to explain away their bodies and desires; they’re not asked “How do you know you’re straight?” or “Have you ever thought about trying not to be thin?” Social justice movements aren’t simply trying to flip things around and make it so that those questions do get asked of “normal” people, too; they’re trying to get rid of these demeaning, eliminationist questions in the first place.

And for some lucky kids and their cool friends and understanding teachers and awesome moms, that seems to be working.

*Or, as I probably would have called her when I was 12, Mrs Kera.