News and Miscellany

Photo Credit: Elephantjournal.com

Connecticut threw women under the bus this May. Gender Identity Watch, 9/7.

Nepal’s Menstrual Exiles. Al Jazeera, web documentary.

Los Angeles midwives aim to end racial disparities at birth. Al Jazeera, 9/5.

Everything You Know About ‘Sex Work’ is Wrong | Mickey Z. Interview with Rachel Moran. World News Trust, September 6.

Navajo teenager stands up about genocide Indian Country Today Media Network.

Black Queer Feminist Erased From History. Salon, February 18.

The girls aiming to change Africa: young activists speak out. The Guardian, September 1.

Stanford historian says falsified medieval history helped create feminism. Stanford News/History News Network, August 24.

Men who buy sex have much in common with sexually coercive men. UCLA Newsroom, August 31.

Training Midwives to Save Expectant Mothers in Chiapas. NY times, September 1.

– Kajsa Ekis Ekman: EU Project Hijacked by The Prostitution Lobby

EU Project Hijacked by The Prostitution Lobby
Sweden is represented by people who oppose the Swedish Sex Purchase Law and, in addition, lack relevant expertise

© Kajsa Ekis Ekman *

ekis-fri

“May 13, 2015, Stockholm. First the good news: the Swedish model criminalizing the purchase of sex – is gaining ground. In recent years, Iceland, Norway, Canada, and Northern Ireland has passed sex purchase laws, and France may too, while even more nations decide to increase focus on the demand – that is, on the responsibility of the sex-purchasing man. Finally, we are focusing on the real driving force behind the prostitution industry: the johns.

The European Parliament passed a Resolution last year concluding that the Swedish model was the most efficient in terms of curbing human trafficking. The European Commission also announced a research project of 2.5 million Euro to study the demand.

All this has meant that the pro-prostitution…

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Pornography celebrates pedophilia

Purple Sage

Warning: this post contains upsetting content regarding the porn industry.

The most popular theme in pornography is “teen.” The teen genre features 18 year old girls who are supposedly virgins and being deflowered by older, more experienced men, and pseudo-child pornography where the 18 year old is made to appear younger and has to act out an incest or molestation theme.

In Gail Dines’ book Pornland, she has a chapter called Children–the Final Taboo where she describes the connection between the sexualization of underage girls in popular culture, the pseudo-child porn genre and actual child porn. Dines begins by describing several fashion and magazine images that appeared in the last few decades that sexualize teenage girls and pose them as if for a porn shoot.

Miley Cyrus Miley Cyrus, age 16, Elle magazine

French Vogue French Vogue magazine 2011

French Vogue Magazine

“As pop culture begins to look more and more pornographic, the…

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RIP Denise Marshall

Anti-Porn Feminists

Denise Marshall, who has died of stomach cancer aged 53, was a passionate campaigner against male violence towards women and girls. During her lengthy career within the women’s sector, Marshall was the founder of an internationally acclaimed scheme, the Poppy Project, which housed and supported the victims of sex trafficking into the UK, and a number of other innovative projects that brought about real change for those who had experienced sexual assault and exploitation.

Marshall had been subjected to sexual and physical abuse during childhood. Her father died when she was two years old, and her mother married a man who, following a head injury, became violent. Between the ages of seven and 14, Marshall was regularly raped by her paternal grandfather. The abuse stopped after she stabbed him in the leg with a butter knife.

Born in Highbury, north London, to an Irish mother, Margaret, and Traveller father, Brian…

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Choices, Choices

Rebecca Mott

Written in memory of Denise Marshall, RIP.

A slogan of the pro-sex trade lobby is that – prostitution can be chosen freely.

That is a lie – and could only be said by those who gain from the status quo of prostitution.

All choices made by the prostituted are the trapped bird who if made free faces an electric fence.

All choices made during being prostituted are made with punters, sex trade profiteers and their allies pulling their strings.

The concept of having full chosen for the prostituted is a dream trodden into mud.

Every time, I heard or read of the so-called contented and empowered prostitute, I want to dig deeper.

Like, the original Happy Hooker who as a child was in a concentration camp, and witnessed the horrors including women force into prostitution in the false hope of survival.

Or the romantic view of temple whore – which…

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Is there a ‘state of emergency’ around trans murders in the US?

Moar MichFest

IronFoxe reports on an Intention vs. Inclusion workshop.

“As someone with a history of being open to having this discussion, and more importantly as someone who has suffered negative consequences for having done so, I had low expectations for this workshop but I have to say I stand happily corrected. The organizers were dedicated to safety and respect, they laid out firm groundwork for having this conversation in an open manner, and they were sure everyone got to speak genuinely. They had thought-provoking exercises to engage us with, in groups and pairs and on our own, to challenge our thoughts and help us navigate where our sisters with differing views were coming from. They clearly had put a lot of effort and heart into creating that space, and they did an outstanding job of it.”

A slideshow from the final Fest, by Heart.

When Women Were Warriors weighs in.

“The fireworks. And fairy forest. I feel to type it all out somehow flattens what really happens on that land. The reason I bother to say any of this at all is because I hope to see women recreate space like that all over the world until there is no Man’s Land left.”

Lori King writes about a bit of herstory of Fest.

AspensPlease was ambivalent.

“Over the years, “I’m not down with that” became “I’m not up for that,” but my basic answer to Michfest remained the same. I vaguely appreciated its existence, I vaguely disagreed with the intention against trans inclusion. Because Michfest had nothing to do with me, I never tried to nail down my thoughts beyond that.”

Elle Kacee blogs of singing at breakfast, with videos.

Loving Lily was pleasantly surprised.

“Michigan was immaculate the whole time I was there. Women cleaned up after ourselves. There was no violence, yelling or public drunkenness. If you had camping gear or duffle bags or other possessions, you could put them on the ground with NO FEAR of anything being stolen or destroyed.”

image

Photo credit: Elle Kacee.

Recent Events at Orwell Correctional Institution

By Vliet Tiptree

Something is afoot at the Orwell Correctional Institution. There are stirrings at this large venerable penistentiary, which seems as old as the oceans which border it on both sides.

The prisoners are restless. The Warden and the guards know something is coming and have been especially vigilant removing suspected troublemakers to Solitary lately.

Orwell is a minimum-security prison. The prisoners are non-violent and receive more privileges than at other places in the System. This means they need a firm guiding hand, as prisoners given an inch will try to take a mile.

Orwell is one of only a few minimum-security facilities worldwide. There are plenty of maximum-security prisons elsewhere, some quite strict. The prisoners in those places are seldom heard from. They communicate only through lacy slots in their iron doors. No need for books in those places – the prisoners weren’t allowed to learn to read, as they were bound for prison anyway and literacy is a known risk factor for breakouts. Even in their yards these prisoners have to be robed and veiled, or the guards will attack them. Rickets is a common result as their skin is never exposed to sunlight. Yes, the Wardens at these places elsewhere run a tight ship. If their prisoners act up they may get the rest of their lips sewn shut.

Orwell is leagues more progressive than these places, and the prisoners are lucky to be there.

. . . . . . . . . .

The prisoners at OCI have all committed the same felony – Alive While Female. AWF charges always result in convictions and a life sentence.

The guards are almost all men, though they are assisted in day-to-day work by the Trustys, cooperative prisoners who can be relied upon to watch prisoners from within their cells for a few extra dollars or a pat on the head.

The prisoners are almost all women, though a few oddball guards have “gone native” and entered cells voluntarily. But this isn’t about that.

Prisoners daydream about getting out someday. But that would require a lot of expensive legal help – they’d have to go to the Supreme Court of Wardens – and the prisoners aren’t paid for most of their work. The hours are 24/7 and their bodies, minds, and souls are appropriated for this work, which the guards consider far too soul-deadening to do themselves. The prisoners take care of the guards and children, clean dirty things like toilets and floors, prepare huge amounts of pizza and steak and mancheeze and curry every night, and must serve the guards in uncomfortable costumes in which their surgically-altered secondary sexual characteristics must be fully displayed and frequently squeezed. Their main prison job is Sexual Access. They do get occasional tips and pats and few days off for childbirth, and, as the guards constantly remind them, their food and shelter is provided for free so they have it easy, actually.

Even though OCI inmates are treated more leniently than at many other prisons, OCI has ongoing disciplinary problems. Occasionally prisoners try to escape, but they are promptly catcalled back through the gates by off-duty guards. They are allowed to read, though they do complain that books at the prison library are extremely boring as they are all written by guards so that prisoners appear only as inanimate costumed objects in them, and also that the prisoners in the books are often unhappy, but unlike in real prison life, can be made madly happy simply by receiving another pat on the head. They also complain that in these books the worldwide Prison System is never mentioned. These rather over-privileged prisoners can be ungrateful, not understanding their luck in being kept safe and protected from marauding guards from stricter prisons.

To keep prisoners on track, TVs are kept on night and day, or loudspeakers play pop music, and each and every speech and song repeats the same two words over and over: PUT OUT…PUT OUT. Prisoners become pliant and amenable to Sexual Access after a few decades of this.

Prisoners can become Trustys by fraternizing with the guards – the quickest route to Trusty status is to fraternize with a Hefner, a male decades older than they – but as the prisoner passes the age of 45 (or younger at places like Malibu Surf Facility) she is likely to be demobilized and revert to plain Prisoner status. Most prisoners end up fraternizing, not just to become a Trusty, but also to avoid being called an Elle and correctively raped.

A small population of prisoners escape fraternization by pretending they have seen a ghost. They are transferred to a pleasant walled facility with candles and incense. There, they do the same work as prisoners and also have to do a lot of chanting and marry a ghost, but are permitted to remain celibate.

Life is not all Easy Street for the minimum-security inmates at Orwell. There are regular riots, started by the guards, not the prisoners. The guards build up some steam, egg each other on, break into the ammo shed, and start shooting at each other and the prisoners. Though the guards start the riots and the prisoners are injured and killed in special predictable unfortunate ways during these riots, the prisoners are later blamed for the riots, because of the Special Prison Rule of Proxy Violence , which means prisoners are responsible whenever guards get crazy..

. . . . . . . . . .

A century ago at Orwell, some of the prisoners came to the conclusion that they had done nothing to justify their imprisonment. They began remonstrating with the guards, marching around with signs, and fasting. The guards ignored them at first, but finally the Warden had to do something, so he awarded the prisoners an extra cookie ration, which the prisoners of course had to bake themselves. The prisoners wrote about these events and secreted their writings under the bathroom sinks, where guards never look.

Forty years later, the same thing happened again. A new generation of prisoners began making noises about freedom and justice, but this time the Warden was ready with a million excuses. First and foremost, he responded in scholarly tones, no one could even remember when there hadn’t been prisons and guards and prisoners. The Prison System must be natural. After all, would the Prison System have lasted so long, and occur so universally, if it wasn’t the best possible evolutionary result?

Furthermore, the prisoners enjoyed prison life; they would sometimes laugh and sing and dance a jig in blackface as they washed the rags and scrubbed the floors; they could even become Trustys and receive some respect. Also, prisoners were known to be too fragile to live outside the walls, and they were too weak, what with all their childbearing and some sort of bizarre interest in Nature, to handle guarding and engage in rioting and exploitation of the Earth.

To put a capper on it, there was the rule of nature that only guards could live outside the prison. As a token of his empathy, however, the Warden awarded the prisoners another extra cookie ration, which the prisoners declined, as they knew by now that the guards would sneak in at midnight and eat the cookies.

. . . . . . . . . .

Even with all this historical lack of success, the Orwell prisoners are protesting again. This time they have prepared legal, epistemological, ontological, normative, empirical, statistical, ethological, anthropological, historical, and novel arguments, not to mention that they have a whale of a lot of surveillance video showing dispositively that all their arrests were illegal and that their status is intolerably unjust and unheard of in the annals of humanity.

The guards refer their complaint to the Warden. A few empathetic words are spoken. The prisoners await a full apology, the gates swinging open, release papers, a final end to their imprisonment. They smile hopefully and put away the turkey and pickles, the ghee, the fire-sticks, the dirty clothes and the toilet rags and the pushup bras. They know their cause is just and only one rational response is possible.

The next day, a long long limo pulls up at the gates. The Governor is escorted into the Warden’s office and a meeting behind closed doors ensues. The guards are then brought into the guards’ gym and another closed meeting is held. Muffled noises are heard, but the prisoners can’t make out the words.

The prisoners bite their nails, bate their breath, begin packing the few possessions that belong solely to them into their pillowcases.

They are called into the yard. The guards, standing behind the Warden and the Governor, appear serious, grave even. The Governor moves in front, stroking his starred-and-striped tie.

The prisoners nudge each other, eyes alight. A historic announcement is coming!

The band strikes up a new tune, one that seems vaguely familiar. The Governor raises his hands like a conductor and the guards open their mouths and white balloons are released overhead. In perfect unison the guards begin to sing the song they have been rehearsing, with a refrain which will ring in the prisoners’ ears long after they are herded back to their cells and the doors clang shut for another generation: BUT WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ?!”

 

The End

________________________________________________________________

Alternate Ending in a Parallel Just World

The Governor smiles for his photo op, then gets into his limo. He settles back on the cream-colored leather, takes a deep breath, and flashes back to what he saw for an instant as he faced the prisoners and the chorus was sung.

Their faces scared him. He shrugs mentally, fastens his seat belt. “Get me out of here,” he tells the driver. The key turns in the ignition. And boom, without ado the Governor and his limo are transformed into a more suitable form of energy, becoming a cloud of excited molecules in a storm of heat and light. The gates of Orwell open wide and forever; cheering is heard; and the Governor always was just hot air.

Reprinted with permission from FeminismXX.

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Loving Women

By Natasha Chart

You remember lesbians, right?

They’re sort of like gay men, but they are female people who are only sexually attracted to other female people. They are discriminated against in every society in the world, and often specifically targeted for rape because of their rejection of men. They tend to be gender nonconforming and are economically punished, not rewarded, for the perception that they’re insufficiently compliant with mainstream female sex roles.

They do not, cannot, constitute an oppressor class on the basis of their sexual orientation. Having a vagina is not an axis of power in patriarchy, because it’s a male supremacy, and for two women to love each other and reject all men is a deep revolt against the compulsory heterosexuality baked into the system.

Are we having a dim flash of recognition? Some stirring of memory? I ask because I’ve really been left wondering a few times recently.

It started when I was forwarded an article Jos Truitt wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review, “Why The New Yorker’s radical feminism and transgenderism piece was one-sided.” In it, Truitt said, “She leaves unquestioned, for example, the position that women are defined and oppressed by men as a class because of pregnancy, an argument that makes no sense for lesbian separatists to make.”

When I finally got around to reading it, I thought there must have been some kind of outcry over that statement when it was published. There was none that I could find. Is it really controversial within feminism that biological reproduction is a central axis of women’s oppression? This is pretty blatantly the case. Oppressing women is the point of reproductive health restrictions, and control over our own fertility is an important feature of the fight for women’s rights.

Men have always been seen, and construed in law, as having a right to control their own reproductive health decisions. Men have always been seen, and construed in law, as having a right to control the reproductive health decisions of the woman or women they’re seen as having authority over or simply whom they’ve had sex with, which is the same thing to a lot of men. Men are granted the ultimate in reproductive and sexual independence, without having to demonstrate the kind of gender-conforming reproductive and sexual responsibility that is expected of women in the conservative view of sex roles from our earliest childhood. Men have always typically been given the best in reproductive rights and sexual healthcare available to their social class, generally at the expense of women and children.

It is in no sense revolutionary, or even very interesting, in a feminist context to talk about expanding reproductive autonomy, without foregrounding that the people who primarily need this expansion of rights are women. The point of fighting for those rights for women is the belief that women should be recognized as the people with rightful authority over our own reproductive capacity and pregnancies, and that male coercion not be allowed to override our desire to be neither forced into childbirth at a given time nor deprived of our right to bear and raise children.

You can map out special cases all day long where this analysis wouldn’t apply. But in almost every common situation, it’s women who are denied reproductive rights, denied economic rights, and denigrated on behalf of the actual or inferred female parenthood, upon which undervalued economic bedrock our society rests.

Environmentalists talk about the unpaid-for natural capital that makes industrial profit possible. Women’s reproductive and care labor is the human version of that “natural” capital and it must not be disappeared. If women in the actual women’s rights movement can’t explicitly say that, then we can’t speak to the motivations of our oppression and will lose our ability to fight it.

Anyone in liberal politics, let alone feminist politics, should also know that a lot of lesbians have children and that being a lesbian doesn’t protect women from being oppressed for any of the reasons other women are oppressed. Being a lesbian is no protection against rape, indeed rape is a common form of anti-lesbian hate crime. It also isn’t as though lesbians, let alone lesbian feminists, are somehow not supposed to know or care what happens to other women, even where it doesn’t necessarily affect them as often.

Truitt seems to presume that political solidarity among women is a non-starter, rather than political solidarity with other women being something where we often fall short along racial and class divisions, but should continue to strive for. If no solidarity among women is possible, if we don’t exist even in possibility as a political class, then feminism means nothing.

We might as well pack up all the women’s legal advocacy, too. If women don’t exist as a materially defined sociopolitical class, one described at least in part by historical patterns of oppression based on biological reproduction, then we can neither be oppressed as a class nor liberated as one. And there goes the theoretical basis for sex discrimination suits in the courts, too.

For instance, why not support the position that discrimination against breastfeeding mothers doesn’t constitute sex-based oppression that poses a major structural obstacle to women’s economic equality? If pregnancy, and all that relates to or follows from it, has nothing in particular to do with men’s oppression of women as enforced by nearly every facet of society, there’s little basis on which to argue otherwise.

In short, I can make neither heads nor tails of a good reason to have publicly wondered what pregnancy has to do with women’s oppression, or lesbians, and have that represented as feminism. Because that sentence of Truitt’s, all by itself, is close to an argument that feminism has no reason to exist.

Although it could simply be ignorance. After all, Truitt also thinks that lesbianism is sexist, and I don’t even know any straight men who are willing to say such things in public.

Then there was this article in Everyday Feminism by Sarah Alcid, “An Answer to ‘Why Is She Dating a Masculine Woman Instead of Just Dating a Guy?’” She started it this way, “Maybe you’ve heard it, been asked it, or wondered about it yourself: Why do queer women and lesbians date masculine-presenting women instead of just dating a cisgender dude?”

I’ve never heard anyone ask something like that outside of a homophobic, conservative religious explanation of homosexuality as an “unnatural” attempt to be the other sex. And this is wrong because it’s perfectly womanly to love other women, and does not necessarily have anything to do with one’s attitude towards men or a distaste for one’s own, female body. The answer, in short, need have nothing to do with men at all. Just like lesbianism.

But also, that opening sentence is the only time the word “lesbian” appeared outside of an acronym in the entire article. I think that people of only average clue-having would usually assume that two women romantically involved were probably lesbians, or maybe that one or both were bisexual, but that they were together because they liked women. And if the women we’re talking about are definitely lesbians, that should be all most people need to be told. Marriage equality is a popular enough policy that I somehow doubt there’s still a lot of confusion about what a lesbian is.

Mystery solved. Why is this so hard to just come out and say, without playing into the homophobic perspective of lesbian relationships as an attempt at being male, that Alcid seems to disapprove of herself?

When people see a heterosexual couple where the woman has a short haircut and gender neutral clothing, do they typically wonder why the man isn’t with another man, instead? Do people usually wonder why a gay man with a feminine-presenting male partner doesn’t just date a woman? I don’t think stereotypically masculine men get asked questions like this much, if ever.

Does an attraction to a local set of 21st Century fashion and behavioral norms constitute an innate sexuality? There is nothing down the line of this inquiry that does not lead into fresh hells of contrarian unreason.

Really, no one involved with that piece thought to themselves that it would be reasonable to include, somewhere in this article by a woman who dates other women, that lesbians don’t date men because they are lesbians and only date women? Alcid suggests that sex and gender shouldn’t be confused with each other, but then goes on to use “masculine” as an adjective in a way that completely confuses the issue even after multiple readings.

How are we helping people understand romantic relationships between women, if an article explaining these can’t get over the awkwardness of conflating women perceived as masculine with men, by suggesting that such women are somehow privileged? (And no, by the way, it does not give women masculine privilege women to opt out of performing mainstream feminine behavior and grooming, as about a million articles on “agency” have thoroughly explored in the context of the decisions of sex role conforming women.) And if this article never once fully acknowledges that some women exclusively love other women, the end?

Because even if we’re just talking about bisexuality, my own attraction to women has nothing to do with men or a fascination with exploring alternate permutations of masculinity. I can’t even relate to such an off-putting description.

My first girlfriend was a somewhat androgynous lesbian, but I can tell you, what I was interested in was her as a woman. My affection for her and view of her fully included recognition of that womanhood. I wasn’t confused. She was magnificent. The only photo of myself from those years where I had a genuine smile on my face was taken with her. I hope she’s well.

I did end up with a man instead of her in that near term, and a gross, abusive man who insisted that he was “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” That had a lot to do with both my girlfriend and I being broke teenagers who lived in different towns, had conservative families, and poor access to transportation. And I had not myself escaped the conservative, patriarchal mindset enough to understand how screwed up it all was.

He hit on her, too, which was gross. I didn’t want him near her, for reasons I couldn’t even articulate at the time. Too bad I didn’t think I had any options besides having him near me, either.

It’s previously been my habit to avoid telling people that I’m bisexual when I’m in a relationship. There has too often been the assumption made that I must therefore be polysexual, or at any rate, on the prowl or possibly available. No, poly wasn’t for me. No, I’m not telling you that as a prelude to hitting on you. No, bisexuality isn’t like some sort of atomic valence bonding condition where I must have both types of partner at once or be forever questing. But I’m not straight even though I am married to a man, so there.

I did always want to get married, though. While I know there are valid feminist, and progressive, and even lesbian critiques of marriage as a traditional institution; it wasn’t something that was on offer outside of heterosexual relationships during my formative years. It sounded science fictional. Did this subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly shape my behavior and preferences? Certainly it did, though like any such set of personal decisions, it’s hard to pin down a single cause. It did bluntly shape the options available to me as a young person, one who was still figuring out who I was after growing up surrounded by what I can now see as over-the-top homophobia.

In fact, two years before I was born, the largest LGBT massacre in US history took place. I was still a teenager when Matthew Shepard was left to die on that fencepost. I have read people wonder why the older generation of not-straight people don’t always like the word queer, and this is why. Because children still played a game called “smear the queer” on school playgrounds. Because when you heard about gay people in the media, they were dead. Maybe someone had murdered them, or maybe later because of AIDS.

Then your older relatives would make nasty jokes about how great it would be if more “queers” or “fruits” died, maybe even throwing some wrath of god into the mix. Everyone was happy they were dead and no one even felt like it was wrong to say so. It was terrifying. Every day we should respect the bravery of people who were out then.

Sometimes people say things like, “hearts, not parts.” As a bisexual person for whom that is about as true as it’s ever going to be for anyone, I don’t buy that. It isn’t like I have no perception of difference, myself, but that I potentially find both sexes physically attractive for different reasons. And I have to be realistic that even this is simply not a way most people live their lives or experience attraction. Not even other bisexuals generally choose partners without regard to physicality.

According to Pew, 84 percent of bisexuals have opposite sex partners. What would that ratio be if the entire weight of socioeconomic acceptance weren’t set up to support heterosexual relationships? What would it be if it weren’t simply so much easier to meet and date, as a fact of numeric majority and social acceptance, someone of the opposite sex?

How many bisexual people would end up settling down with a same-sex life partner if those relationships could expect a degree of stability that was similar to heterosexual partnerships? If none of us had grown up knowing how happy it made our families to read news stories about dead gay people? How many bisexual women have been discouraged from even trying to find a suitable female life partner because we did want marriage, or because we did want children, which is often much more expensive without a male partner?

Nor does assisted reproductive technology come with a lesbian discount. The kinds of men I met who’d be interested in “helping” for free were enough to make me feel warmly towards life as a nun. I’m not even Catholic, but still.

We can’t know at this time in our history what patterns of same-sex relationships would emerge without these layered incentives towards heterosexuality. We can only keep working to level the playing field and see what happens. But it hardly seems like a random, wacky coincidence that bisexual people, most of the time, end up in heterosexual relationships like most everyone else. Homophobia is still rampant, life is harder for same-sex couples, everybody can work that math.

We can also know that financial difficulties have long been recognized as injurious to relationship stability even for socially-favored, heterosexual relationships. It should make us more protective of recognition for lesbian relationships, where both partners are disadvantaged by misogyny and homophobia, and perhaps by additional oppressions over race or disability.

And you can’t protect what you won’t even plainly talk about. Feminism can’t fully include lesbian women and the fight for their rights if we can barely bring ourselves to say “lesbian” without hinting, as Alcid seemed to, that a same-sex attraction to women should be considered as if it were probably a phase, or “fluid.” Nor if we are more comfortable with saying “LGBTQIA,” an acronym that of necessity includes many men, than “lesbian.” So if you’re going to use the acronym and you’re part of a movement to liberate women, please be willing to spell that L-word all the way out occasionally.

“Lesbian.” See, it’s easy!

Then most recently, as a sort of last straw, there was Jessica Valenti, writing in The Guardian, “Feminists don’t care if you like hot pink, eat salads or shave your crotch.” I agreed with a lot of the points she made, but one portion of it typifies an attitude that I feel has become common and sadly unremarkable. From the article:

“What kind of feminist am I now?,” Vernon writes. “The shavy-leggy, fashion-fixated, wrinkle-averse, weight-conscious kind of feminist. The kind who, at 43, likes hot pink and men.”

Because the rest of us are all flannel shirt-wearing man-haters with hairy legs? This caricature died years ago, and any hint that was left Beyoncé promptly trounced last year.

Thank goodness, right? Now none of us have to worry that anyone will think there are feminists out there who give no damns about what mainstream male culture finds appealing in women. Phew!

I’d hope most people knew that, in addition to being an obnoxious stereotype of feminists, “flannel shirt-wearing man-haters with hairy legs” is also an obnoxious put-down of gender nonconforming women in general, and women who are considered to have “aged out” of the all-important beauty metric, and especially of lesbians.

Sure, the point of the article is that it shouldn’t matter to your ability to fight for women’s rights if you conform to patriarchal beauty standards. Everyone has to pick their battles and there are a lot of others out there. We get it. But when someone basically taunts you with lesbian stereotypes, replying with the equivalent of shouting really loudly that you ARE NOT A LESBIAN is not a good response.

It’s nothing special to seek conformity with patriarchal conceptions of how women should act just as hard as the next woman. Everywhere we turn we’re being encouraged to do that, or taught how if we’ve somehow missed a step. We’re all drowning in advice about how to please men, suffocating in it, swaddled in it from the cradle in a society that was built from its foundations for the task of breaking women’s wills and stifling our humanity.

It’s not some kind of feminist political act to brag about our “free” enjoyment of the mainstream beauty rituals that signify our compliance. Rituals that can be by turns poisonous, painful, unhealthy, hobbling, tedious, and expensive. Rituals whose results will be viewed as successfully “beautiful” in comparison to standards that center around coded, and often racist, public displays of emotional or mental fragility and submission to male dominance.

We practice the ceremonies of femininity as if they will save us from the hatred of men. We hope against hope that we, too, will not be instantly discarded once we’re no longer regarded as sex objects, and that we can postpone that reckoning a few years longer than the next woman. We’re often rejected as worthless and unfit for public viewing at the very same time in a man’s life when he’s seen as being at the height of his power, the time of his greatest potential to build his accomplishments into a legacy for his family, his community, or simply for himself.

Nor does it invalidate the strides that have been made in expanding mainstream U.S. beauty ideals beyond a narrow set of blonde white women, and the occasional brunette white woman thrown in to liven things up, to say that there is little place in media culture for women who don’t bother with any more in the way of grooming rituals than men do. The studio executives even make Rachel Maddow femme up before turning on the cameras.

All the usual words to describe a woman who shows up to life clean and neatly groomed, wearing clothing that’s comfortable and suited to the activity at hand, have an unfortunate whiff of the male about them. As if it makes a woman manly to simply not bother with the usual painting and pinching. As if it suggests that she is not really a woman and therefore affection for her might have something to do with men.

This means that all the words that easily convey such simplicity of presentation by a woman don’t seem adequate to express loving her as a woman. The not-femme women I dated were not manly, or masculine, or masculine-presenting. Someone might describe them that way but it seems a bit off to me now. I don’t know that “butch” would have really fit any of them either, and they never claimed that when I knew them. They were women. They were delightful to me for that reason.

Is a woman not a woman when she doesn’t “put her face on,” as my mother used to say? And really, it’s one thing to engage in elaborate and obvious beauty rituals because it’s your habit, or because you personally like it, or because you feel you must, and another to see beauty rituals as the true face of any woman. Beauty rituals are a performance, as feminists have discussed for many years, and that performance is rarely something women have originated for ourselves based on what we find appealing in each other and our own lives.
Jessica Valenti even knows this and has said so quite recently, yet the stereotypes creep in unnoticed.

But again, this very specific trope of supposed un-beauty in mind and body is heavily associated with lesbians, as everyone who gives the matter any thought is surely aware. You don’t actually have to call someone a lesbian as if it were an insult in order to make the same point.

And also, if you’re concerned about being an ally to the lesbian community, or being welcoming to girls just waking up to the different ways in which society hates the unfeminine woman; you should definitely refrain from performing thinly veiled victory dances over having distanced feminism from women who are or would read as lesbians. Why is a feminism that delights in successfully rejecting association with lesbians and gender nonconforming women not simply seen as a recapitulation of everything we insist that we’re fighting?

Why must feminism, like every other space in mainstream society, be dominated by a terrible insecurity over being found sexually unattractive to men? It isn’t as if that keeps us safe. We’re feminists, we should know very well that there are no ways a woman can look or behave that will protect her from sexual or other male violence. It isn’t as if lesbians are keeping the straight women down. It sounds ridiculous put that way, and it should sound ridiculous by implication, as well.

There’s a reason that suicide is the leading cause of death worldwide in girls aged 15-19 years-old, and it isn’t the fault of other women or girls. Have too many feminists spent so much time around nominally liberal people, steeped in benevolent sexism, that they have forgotten we live in a society built on thinking of women’s bodies as the rightful, unrapeable property of their husbands, and that this view is still publicly acceptable to many people under the guise of Christianity?

We are seen as things. Things for men. Things whose worth and desirability to men determines everything about our perceived value, even society’s willingness to redress wrongs against us. Regardless of whom we love privately, there is no fighting this state of affairs unless we can publicly love women when no one else will.

Women are not our clothes and makeup and depilatory habits. Genuine love between women, romantic or sisterly, isn’t about men, or imitating men, or looking for an imitation of a man. You can hardly get rid of men for trying, if that’s what you want, one would think they run the place.

No. Just as lesbian relationships are about loving women as women, whether they bother to perform local feminine gender roles or not, so should the women’s movement be about that. Our business, every day, should be loving women. Trusting women, as Dr. Tiller used to say, as well. We must care for each other. This is something we can’t realistically do if we see women who refuse to perform for men as an embarrassment to us.

So stop asking if you can be a feminist if you conform to patriarchal norms or go along to get along, posing the question as if it’s judgmental feminists oppressing you instead of the men who think your only worth revolves around their erections. If we could get ourselves free by encouraging the male sex drive, we’d have gotten there by now. Stop worrying so much about the lipstick you may be expected to wear at work. I’m sure there must be at least one unleaded brand out there. You have to get by, we get it, as Valenti and many others have said.

Think more about the undoubtedly sexist business practices of the institutions that take a cut of your every financial transaction, or any mainstream institutions at all, and what would need to be done to make things better. Because they’re all sexist. Every one. We each support sexist institutions every day out of necessity, and the places where we can fight are so small.

This is a spiritually crushing realization, a psychic burden of such immense weight that it seems tangibly heavy. I won’t hate you if sometimes it actually succeeds in crushing you, because that would make me a terrible hypocrite.

Consider, instead, if one can be a feminist without participating in the project of liberating women as a class, because feminism is a political practice. Then look for a way to participate that works for you. Consider if one can be a feminist while shunning women who reject local racial, ethnic, or mainstream norms of feminine behavior and grooming, who may reject men as partners or arbiters of women’s worth. Whether it’s because you’re afraid of contamination by association, or because you have unresolved feelings of despair over living in a society that you accurately perceive as hating female humanity, or because you feel conflicted about your personal ability to fight every battle … please face that in yourself instead of punishing other women for noticing different aspects of our sexist society that you participate in.

Because all women participate in sexist aspects of our society. It’s all right. It’s not your fault. Dead men set it up like that before you were born. You can’t personally fight every battle. It’s impossible. Make peace with it. That’s what movements are for. Individual women didn’t get into this mess on our own or because of something we personally did. We were born into it. We comply out of duress. We can’t get out alone, and we can’t because there is no “out.” There is no place to go in this world that isn’t patriarchal and sexist. The only out is to build another world together.

Feminism that regularly tolerates or expresses this much casual hostility towards lesbians and same-sex female relationships isn’t just walking the well-worn paths of homophobia, of lesbophobia if you want to be precise, though it is doing that. It’s failing to love women in even a sisterly fashion, failing to provide a cushion for the extremities of hatred towards us. A feminism that can’t love women, or the women who love them, or celebrate female bodies for the particular ways in which they differ from male bodies, is pretty pointless. It can create no sense of community within which we can stand together and gradually increase the space in which it is acceptable to be a woman who does not serve men.

Online feminism is long on jokes about misandry and male tears, but for all that they’re not usually funny jokes. They become a farce teetering into tragedy in a movement whose mainstream seems increasingly isolated from unapologetically woman-loving, woman-centered perspectives.

Just love women. Even if you don’t like them very much. You can’t get feminism right if you leave that part out.

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Gender, Patriarchy and All That Jazz

By Mary Lou Singleton

Published at Counterpunch on July 31, 2015.

“I do not predict an easy or peaceful future for Jazz. I, however, am even more concerned about what the future holds for Jazz’s sister and all of the girls she represents: the less special kind of female, the kind who doesn’t automatically get awards of bravery for declaring herself a woman and devoting herself to the performance of her assigned gender role. The kind of female conditioned to take up as little space as possible, even if this means starving herself. The kind of female whose body is not legally her own. The kind of female who is viewed as a state regulated incubator, worthy of public debates in mainstream media venues about whether or not she should be allowed to end an unwanted pregnancy or give birth at home.”

“Jazz wants very much to be a parent. Lucky for him he lives in a world where women’s bodies are for sale and rent. In the Cosmo interview, Jazz brags that he is “convincing” his sister to serve him as incubator so he can fulfill his dream of being a mother. Jazz, speaking of his sister’s vagina (which he calls her “vag”), says, ‘We’ll take my hubby’s sperm and throw it in there and fertilize it.'”

The rest of this effective and disturbing article may be read at the link.

 

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