Author Archives: Chana

Facebook Idiocy and Willful Ignorance: The ‘Slut isn’t Offensive’ Edition

I can’t always deal with facebook. I can’t always deal with normal, un-evil people who say things that they probably believe but don’t much care about, and when they’re unthinkingly attacking that which I hold very dear, I have a hard time staying calm. An acquaintance of mine shared the status update of a friend of his, and it went something like this:
‎”Slut-bashing is a cheap and easy way to feel powerful. If you feel insecure or ashamed about your own sexual desires, all you have to do is call a girl a ‘slut’ and suddenly you’re the one who is ‘good’ and on top of the social pecking order.” Societies shame individuals who express their sexuality in ways that do not conform to their society’s traditional values. I do not condone the shaming of deviant sexuality (as long as the deviant behavior does not involve some kind of coercion). Particularly because I don’t conform to them myself.”

To which someone (male) commented:

“The definition of slut: A slovenly or promiscuous woman. Whether people choose to be offended by it or not is up to them.”

Fucking seriously, dude?

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Sexual Agency on Titanic

Titanic PosterI am a failure as a child of the nineties, because until a few days ago, I had never seen James Cameron’s 1997 classic, Titanic. (You know James Cameron, the one who directed Avatar? Anyone who thinks that directionality of recognition is odd is officially old.) I liked the movie quite a lot. There’s something about Cameron’s willingness to push film-making further than it has ever been pushed that allows the 3 hour length, the oh-so-perfect love story that also manages to be a commentary on class and the saccharine lines of adoration that the romantic leads speak to each other to work within this context of overindulgence on every level. Much has been said about almost every aspect of this movie, from the enormity of the budget, to the selection of the cast, and even to various social issues, such as class and wealth. A feminist analysis, however, has been much lacking. The only vaguely related pieces I could find were written by disgruntled Men’s Rights Activists looking for any reason to hate women and finding, of all things, “women and children first” to be the most egregious example of feminism run amok they had ever seen. Now, the movie takes place in 1912, before the modern feminist movement had really taken hold, but I guess those suffragists (no, I don’t call them suffragettes) were just going crazy, demanding to be saved from boats and all.

Anyway, what I see nothing of at all, despite the fact that in one viewing, it smacked me in the face with its obviousness, is a treatment of Rose Dewitt Bukater, later Rose Dawson’s, incredible sexual agency. Like, seriously. Lady has some game.

(Note: there are clips from the movie preceding every sub-point of analysis, and some of them are NSFW/generally graphic. To be perfectly honest, much of the writing is graphic as well. You have been warned)

On to the sex! (That is, a discussion of sexual agency)

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Morning is a Battlefield

Morning is a battlefield.

One hour before class, my alarm goes off. I take 15 minutes to shower, 15 minutes to get dressed and put my things together, 15 minutes to go to my dining hall and eat breakfast, 15 minutes to walk to class. It’s not as regimented as it sounds, but I do have to run a tight ship in the mornings in order to get to class on time. Sounds a little crazy, but I’m not skipping over anything important, and I like to think that I don’t look like a slob. After all, I take a few minutes to look through my closet and pick out clothes that will let me present myself the way I want to be seen, as a put-together but not fashion-concerned, somewhat attractive, motivated student. So I pick out my clothes and walk over to a table upon which sits various toiletries. I take the five seconds it takes to run gel through my low-maintenance short hair, and then, just before I pick up all my books and put them in my oversized backpack, I hesitate. I linger, just a moment, at that toiletries counter. My eyes flick back and forth, glancing among the bottles of colored goo I know are in the sterile Container Store plastic container. And that morning, like every morning, I wonder what kind of person I’m going to be.

I know what my face looks like. I’m told I have nice eyes. My skin is more problematic. That’s just the way things are, the way I was born. But now, there are remedies. Medications, yes, but those are remedies for the underlying problem, and those take time and patience. But my face doesn’t look right, right now, and the remedy to that is to make it look different. That’s the point of makeup, after all, to make us look different, and right now, this morning, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. So I know what I’m moving away from, namely the vision I see of my bleary-eyed teenage visage in the mirror. What I’m moving toward is another issue entirely, and it is that quagmire of a dilemma of a tantalizingly simple question that throws me into the depths of moral quandary every morning, before I’ve even had my coffee.

I do mean every morning. Every morning I stand here, for a minute, thinking that that there are two paths, diverging in my tiny yellow dorm room, and while both of them may lead to my getting to class, there is a world of difference between them. In one, after all, I am a beautiful, composed, clean-faced lady, a true woman with heightened contrast between eyes and lips, with a shimmer of her mouth and green eyes showed to their best advantage. I am perceived more favorably, by friends, romantic interests, and everyone else. I am more attractive, more trustworthy, more competent, more normal. Because what woman doesn’t look like she dipped her lips in glass this morning?

And this opens up a world of possibilities. If I no longer have an emotional tie to my face as it is now, I am liberated from the thousands of years in which the only presentation we could give to the world is the one we were born with. But our imaginations are so much broader than that, so much more bountiful and beautiful. Anything I care to imagine myself looking like, I now can be. I can explore the playground that is the infinitude of possibilities. What care have I of coherent personal identity when the world is there to bound about joyfully, becoming someone different with each costume, each application of this or that technique. Today, I am vampy. Today, I am sweet. Today, I am professional. Today, I am a vampire. Today, I am Ophelia. Today, I am a man. I am tethered not by a broken, unfounded conception of self that limits me to a fiction of an essential self. I am large; I contain multitudes. And these multitudes stand in line, patiently giving each their proper turn, to appear on my face, to present their existential debut to the world.

And yet, it seems problema-

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I’m not sure what gender traitor backstabbing false consciousness of a woman wrote this post, but she’s clearly suffering under the delusion that just because her choices feel free that they are unrelated to societal expectation and demands, that her ‘fabulous free face’ doctrine might as well be an advertisement, probably starring Drew Barrymore, for the Duane Reade makeup aisle. Holy commodification of appearance, Batman! She really thinks that no one’s interests but her own are being served by this antipolitical nonsense? It certainly has never seemed to occur to her that the makeup industry is fueled not by money or labor, but by a sense of inferiority. Sure, maybe some women put on makeup simply because they like it. But she admitted herself that every morning she wakes up and thinks that who she is, what she looks like, isn’t good enough for the world, and it’s beginning to be not good enough for her. The only solution, then, is to buy and wear makeup.

“Let not your face offend, fair-ish maiden. Let the body politic’s aesthetic sensibilities be not displeased, by the horror that is your visage. What kind of image of femininity could you be, looking like that? Don’t you know that Simona de Bovoir said, “You’re not born a woman; you become one.” So get on it, lady! Become the woman we all know you can be! That’s it, that’s the spirit, yup, just a little more eyeliner, but remember to blend; too much makeup just looks tacky and to be honest, a little trampy.”

But it’s her choice, of course, and I’m supposed to sit back and respect that. As if her choices didn’t affect anyone else, as if every time a woman walks out of her house with a natural, flushed, lively face it didn’t instill, in just one more way, the notion that that’s how women do and ought to look? As if it didn’t reify the hetereosexual male paranoia of going to bed with an attractive woman only to wake up and realized you may have fucked someone who is not, in fact, fuckable. As if it didn’t let every little girl on the street know that this is what she’s supposed to look like when she grows up. As if it weren’t exactly what the cosmetics industry wanted.

She also ignored the race issue, of course.

That’s my piece, I’m done. Back to your regularly scheduled blog.

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Well hold on, now I have to say my piece, too. Leaving aside that you apparently don’t think women should be able to choose what they look like, and you appear to have fetishized how women ‘naturally’ look as some kind of ultimate good, and are also ignoring the fact that the problematic aspects of makeup you’re talking about apply far more to clothes and hair, which are even more regulated and certainly more expensive. You also totally ignored the trans issue, you remember, when we as feminists don’t constrain people’s identities to the bodies they happen to be born into? Because women have too long been identified with body, with the corporeal, the physical, and men with the mind, the cerebral, the transcendent?

Leaving all that aside, you’re essentially asking for women to be left behind, to suffer in their social lives, in their workplaces. You’re asking for naturally ‘attractive’ women to always have an edge over naturally ‘unattractive’ women.  People have been using makeup for a million reasons for hundreds of years; you’re harkening back to a golden age of feminine naturality that has never existed, and frankly it’s essentialist and wrong. You’re just finding one more way to shame women. Let them do what makes them comfortable, what gets them through their day. Really, though.

Ok, now you can have your normal blog post back.

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-tic. Not for the reasons you might think, but because there’s a competing image, fighting for predominance in the part of my brain that tortures me with images of who I could be, who I desperately with all my heart, want to be – fictional characters, successful women, my mother and grandmother, people I make up. That image is, as you’ve probably guessed, of the feminist I want to be. The woman who is secure enough, confident enough in her own skin, to walk out the door looking exactly how she looks, and not giving a damn what other people think. She bucks the trends, fights the patriarchy, and does a shitton of math to boot. Or business, or law, or philosophy, or building airplanes.

But then the other images start to crowd in, too. Maybe I want to be Trinity, or an obscenely polished corporette, or her, or maybe even them.

At some point, I have to wonder, how many perfect complete images of women I could be but never can be, because I am real and they are impossibly perfect fiction, can I fit in my head before I explode? How many ways can we tell women that they’re not doing it right? At the same time, how can we resist and fight the collective action-induced de rigueur nature of standardized appearance? What do you do when you don’t have the luxury of being overwhelmed?

I’m not sure, I have to get to class.

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Sources:
Beauty Secrets: Women and The Politics of Appearance, Wendy Chapkis
Pretty, Katie Makkai
Slip of the Tongue, Adriel Luis
Sex Neutrality, Mandolin
Always and forever, Ani Difranco. Seriously, go listen to her music.

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What We’re Talking About When We’re Talking About Gender

A post on the intersection between feminism and rationality. How novel. And yet, there are really interesting things to talk about. In particular, while in a past post I discussed the need for rationality to address how it is feminists discuss their theories and ideas with non-feminists or with non-academic feminists (meant in both ways), in this post I would like to point out the ways in which academic feminism has been utilizing a rationalist approach for some time now, even while the rationalists accuse them of playing with words and being nonempirical, and some feminists have criticized even the need for rationality, pointing out that its supreme importance in epistemology is heavily gendered masculine, historically and sociologically. I think both of these critiques have some merit, but of course I feel that both ‘movements’, or sets of theories, paradigms and practices, are valuable, and so I’d like to demonstrate these long-forgotten points of overlap.

Things!

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Sex and the City

I’m going to take a break from the rationalist analysis (in addition the break I’ve taken from blogging in general – sorry!) to share a series of personal experiences that have made me think more about feminism, and my feminism and more generally about what it is to be a woman in this world. Major caveat: this does not represent all possible viewpoints or opinions, not even all of my own. But it is still an important one.

I spent the summer in New York City, where I walked and took the subway to and from work, and also around the city. For the first week or so, I noticed getting more street attention than usual, but I thought little of it. It had been part of my life before, in Miami, in the Midwest, in positive and negative ways, so I took it as an unfortunate consequence of city life that I would learn to ignore. Which was fine when it was occasional, something to be attributed to rare bad apples or at least apples with a sense of entitlement where their sense of self-control should be. But then it got more, and worse. Somewhere around three times a day, a man would whisper “sexy” into my ear as he walked past, or stop me and tell me how beautiful I looked, or ask me to smile, or holler at me from a car, or honk at me from a cab. “Isn’t it a compliment?” you might ask. Or perhaps, “Well, what were you wearing? Did you look unhappy?” I was, in fact, asked all of these things and more whenever I complained or pointed out the problematic aspects of my experience. Not that it matters, but for the record, I was wearing all sorts of things. I was wearing a miniskirt and heels; a knee-length skirt and a t-shirt; a business skirt and button down; dresses; jeans; work pants and flats. Sometimes jewelry, sometimes not. Sometimes with a swagger and confidence in my step, sometimes rushed, sometimes exhausted, trudging home. It happened in the morning, in the afternoon, at night.

More stories and thoughts about the sheer weight of the burden of Existing While Female

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The Art of Effective Communication: How ‘privilege’ and ‘patriarchy’ might be doing us more harm than good

The issue I presented a few weeks ago was a clash that arose as a result of a culture unwilling to accept the criticism that feminism was levying, partially because societies by their nature are inertial entities, partially because changing attitudes towards women is an incredibly difficult project given their longstanding marginalization, and partially because the feminist critique is so far reaching. I advocated for an uncompromising defense of feminism, its goals and its methods. I maintain that that attitude has the power to effect great change and keep feminists energized and mobilized politically and personally. It is the case, however, that there is more to the story, something along the lines of the piece I wrote about sexism and sexists. As a political movement, it is important to keep troupe morale up (apparently I’ll be using an explorer/adventurer metaphor for the purposes of this piece) as well as venture into higher and as yet unknown ground (e.g. academic work, analysis, feminist theory, etc.), and these purposes are well served by a certain ferocity as well as by the supportive subculture of references, music, movies, ideas, websites, blogs and most of all, jargon. Unfortunately, subcultures are inherently exclusive to those who do not subscribe to the fundamental tenets or are not familiar with the body of work, research or media that form the basis of the shared culture. This prevents feminism from expanding and appealing to larger and larger groups, and so a rational response is to look at the ways in which we communicate and establish if they are fulfilling the goals we see for them.

Working on our Words: To the rest of the post!

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Feminist Humor

A contradiction in terms, I know. One of those most common side-effects of the phenomenon I spoke about last Monday is the stereotype of feminists as being humorless, joyless and not being able to laugh at a joke. Usually, this refers not to the whole of comedy, but jokes that make fun of women, feminism, violence against women and rape that are just so funny, why can’t you see it? Oh, because you’re a feminist and therefore can’t take a joke. Comedy and laughter are some of those things that people always point to when thinking about those wonderful, ineffable things that make us human, and it would be a shame if feminists were somehow missing out on all that great humanness, so I’m going to try to deconstruct the debate by looking at different types of jokes, the effects they have and where the role of appropriate discretion comes in. If we can all just get over the irony of a humorless feminist dissecting humor into an oblivion, then we can move on. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to all of these ideas, and there is caveat at the end.
On to the jokes!

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The World, the Internet, and the Scourge of the Scary Scary Feminists

Sorry this is up so late. This is a big topic and I’m still not sure I dealt with it adequately, but I needed all this time.

Feminism as a Bad Thing

It’s an oft-repeated trope that feminism has become a dirty word, that there is an aversion to the term that is new in this young generation. The claim that the youth don’t care about political feminism is questionable at best, but the un-mainstream nature of feminism has much more compelling evidence on it side.

We see this everywhere. We see it in this video, where despite some excellent, totally rockin’ responses, we also have a socialist who refuses to call herself a feminist as well as someone who sees it as a thing of the past.

We see it in Lady Gaga’s response to the question. Lady Gaga, who sees herself as transgressive and boundary-breaking and who questions her interviewer’s sexist bias, demurs from calling herself a feminist, not because she doesn’t believe in the tenets or agree with the direction of the movement, but because she doesn’t want to be associated with man-haters, with those who hate the “male culture” of beer and fast cars and don’t ‘love’ and ‘hail’ men. What has gone so deeply wrong that this powerful, adventurous woman cannot bring herself to say loudly and proudly, “I have a deep appreciation for certain aspects of what it means to be a man in this culture, but there is no earthly reason why those should be restricted to men and damn it, someone whose gentialia have been as questioned as mine have should understand that at our core we must respect the flourishing and empowerment of everyone, and we are not there yet, especially not for women.”

More examples and an impassioned explanation

Sexism and Sexists: What did you call me?

One of the problems facing feminist discourse in the United States (it probably exists in other places, but I’m speaking from my own experience) is a conflation of action, intention and identity. Which is to say, when an action is deemed sexist or in some way problematic, it is almost automatically assumed by the public at large that this is an ascription of malicious intent, along with a deeming of the person at fault to be in some way a fundamentally bad person. It probably began with Locke, when in a single sentence of the Second Treatise on Government, he discusses a murder, and then calls the perpetrator a murderer. It’s also probably a cognitive bias of some kind. Whatever the source, this phenomenon undermines the ability of feminists to engage in criticism of actions or messages found in the broader culture, since these frequently stem from the choices of a single individual or organized group, and such entities tend not to take kindly to being called sexist, misogynistic, privileged, or something similar.

Even if they are! Read on for how this applies to the DSK and BHL cases

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Let’s do this thing

My name is Christina, Queen of Sweden. At least, it was. I go by Count Dohna now, because I decided the life of an incredibly capable queen just wasn’t for me and I wanted to rule my own patch of land out in the countryside. As a man. That’s who I am. I like to reinvent myself if the mood strikes, and come at things and ideas from all angles.

I attend the same Midwestern school as my wonderful fellow bloggers, though I’m in the Northeast for the summer. I’d like to take a moment to thank these fantastic women for bringing me into this project, because feminism deserves to be talked about by the thoughtful as well as by the passionate. In fact, its that intersection which fascinates me most. I’ll be writing about academic feminism and political feminism, the trajectories they’ve taken, how they interact with each other and how they’re perceived by the broader culture. We need our crusaders for justice, calling people on their casually sexist bullshit. We also need our intellectuals, bravely rethinking gender and class and race. And we certainly need those who are constantly re-evaluating the movement, making sure it’s going in the right direction and coming across the right way.  Unfortunately, sometimes we’re forced to choose one of these approaches or worst of all, none of them.

I don’t even remember how I ‘got into’ feminism. The basic tenets always seemed kind of obvious, and if asking for respect for myself as a woman (among other things) meant I was part of a movement, then part of a movement I was. Then, of course, there were all those protesters, fighting for suffrage, for abortion rights, for divorce reform, through history and on the news. They were heroes and heroines of mine, who fought for me without seeming to ask anything in return. Finally, I arrived in the world of the internet, where I realized that feminism meant so many things to so many people, that people who were ‘on my side’ so to speak disagreed vehemently with me, and that feminism was really not just about women. I had to, nay, got to rethink all of my positions, enter the world of abstractions and jargon and take on a subculture confidently as my own. Then I got stuck, as a fighter spending time in a thinking world, a thinker hoping to enter the fighting world, and as a feminist in a hostile world. That’s what I’m looking to change.

I hope to be impassioned enough to get academic feminism on the streets, rational enough to get activism in the books, and persuasive enough to get both into people’s heads.