All that is Masculine is Good.

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When I was three, my older brother and I would take baths together. We would take turns having Mom wash our hair and try to make beards out of the bubbles. Once I pointed to my brother’s penis and asked when I would get one. It made sense. When you get older you get taller and grow beards but before that you grow a penis, right? So when do I get a penis?

I was somewhat confused when I was told no, you never get a penis. Boys have penises. You are a girl. You have a vagina. I remember looking at my vagina and being disappointed.

As a child, I wanted to be a boy. I played with boy toys, I played boy games (mostly war and assassin type games) and I hung out mostly with my neighbor rather than his sister. However, I think I expressed my desire to be male not out of an identity as a transgendered individual, but as a desire for equality. I saw how boys were treated differently by my father and by my parents’ church. I saw how being tough was cool and doing manly things was something my father admired. He only admired women when they did tough things (running marathons, swimming the English channel, running a business alone) and never for more nurturing or feminine things. I wanted all the privileges that being male gave you. And I couldn’t understand why no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get that privilege. I was excluded and placed into the category of Other. Of weakness and femininity. And I hated that.

As an adult, I can look back and make some sense of my childhood. My childhood was not unusual. I was aware of gender bias at a very young age and found it unacceptable and tried to fight it in my own way. However, instead of fighting that bias, I played by its rules and strengthened it. Yes, being male is best. Yes, foolish acts of aggressive are good. Yes, men are obviously natural leaders.

To this day, I still struggle with the gender bias I was taught as a child. All that is masculine is good and all that is feminine is inferior. When I think someone is being tough, a trait men and women both have, I praise them for “being a man.” When someone is complaining, I tell them to “stop being a pussy.” This is such as hard bias to defeat because it is reinforced by everyone around me, men and women alike, feminists and bigots alike. From the beginning, we are taught that there is a two tiered system and guess what, the glass ceiling is only so high before you starting realizing that playing by the rules of gender bias gets you no where.

Part of a real and tangible resistance to that two tiered system is by denying that framework of thought. I am not a man and I do not desire to be a man anymore, but neither am I a woman. I am comfortable with my genitalia, but I am not one thing or the other. I am neither and I am both and I am comfortable calling myself genderqueer, without any pressure to be more specific. I can be masculine and I know that being nurturing does not exclude me from that definition. I can be feminine and I know that being authoritative does not exclude me from that definition.

Don’t get tricked by the patriarchy. Binaries of value are a community created idea and we can defeat it by creating a world were little girls don’t have to believe that being a boy is the only way to feel in control.

Additional reading:

A trans woman’s experience with self doubt

A butch lesbian’s self identification as such

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Casual Harassment Part 2

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Continuing our discussion from last week about covert vs. overt harassment, I want to bring up interactions with family members, coworkers, and friends. The examples provided last week were all about interactions with strangers, with overt harassment. That sort of harassment is the easiest to point out as wrong, offensive, and unacceptable. However, there are more serious and systemic forms of casual and covert harassment. While being threatened on the street is terrifying, being constantly demeaned and objectified is much more harmful overall because it normalizes viewing women as only bodies rather than a complete person.

One of my main issues is that casual or indirect harassment typically comes from a male gaze and is usually passively demeaning. For instance, at my current workplace, there is very little actual “work” that gets done. Additionally, my job primarily has male employees and mostly male customers. This unfortunately means I have to deal with customers who stare at my boobs behind sunglasses, constantly call me “sweetie” or “honey” (I am a person, not food), “compliment” my hair or attire, and a host of other minor, harmlessly demeaning comments and interactions. It isn’t bad enough for me to quit (I need money more than I need self-esteem apparently), but for every bad customer there are a few nice ones to make up for it. What is worse than the customers are my coworkers, who almost universally are sexist and bigoted.For instance, one day at work I wore a nice retro style dress and decided the store need to be vacuumed. Immediately, one of my coworkers made a comment about how I should be a housewife and then said I should get on my knees and dust something. However, because they aren’t always overt about their prejudices, it becomes difficult to resist their created environment. I tried to fight against their pervasive opinions but it’s tiring to the point where I don’t bother resisting them. I either shake my head or just say nothing. I cannot change these people, but it’s an oppressive environment. What’s worse is that they are not special and unique. Every other work environment I’ve been a part of has had it’s own culture of bigotry.

For instance, no one in retail likes Indians. No one. Every single job I have had is biased against them and while at first I resisted it, now I have joined them. Whenever I see an Indian in one of my stores, I assume they will smell, take forever, and be incredibly cheap. Obviously, this is a gross stereotype. But I have that now because of my environment. I’ve assimilated. As a minority opinion (Lesbians are not all man hating privilege seeking entitled bitches), no one listens to me and so I’ve just stopped bothering to disagree out loud, and my silence becomes acceptance, or at least compliance. Given the choice, I would work somewhere else, as it seems many other people with similar opinions have done. At my workplace, they had hired a gay man before me, but because of the bigoted environment, he did not feel comfortable and chose to leave. Bigotry has almost become normalized in my mind and that is wrong. We need to slowly change what is and is not acceptable in the workplace (and outside of it). And I definitely need to take more of a stance against it.

Recently, I chose to share with one of my coworkers that I am not straight. Despite his previous adamant denigration of lesbians previously, he accepted my statement by saying “That’s hot.” One form of bigotry met with another form of sexual objectification. Any woman who comes into my work has her body commented on after she leaves, each of my coworkers has his “girl” of the regular customers, and every male employee has made negative comments about women whose bodies do not meet their expectations. This is what I deal with on a regular basis. This is what many people deal with on a regular basis. Because this is “normal”.

Casual Sexual Harassment

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Sexual harassment is something that all women (and some men) have to deal with. This may seem like a generalization or an exaggeration, but if you ask around, everyone has some story to tell. Some of them are just sad and some are terrifying, but every women has one, whether they live in the city or in the country. It happens at work, at school, on the street, in the bedroom, on buses, in lobbies… I asked my lovely co-bloggers Bobby Wren and Banal Hex for examples from their personal lives and added one of my own.

Banal Hex: I’ve been harassed a number of times while driving. I happen to love driving with my windows down, and only use AC when it’s above 95 degrees. Most recently, I was sitting in traffic enjoying a cigarette after a long and stressful day (everyone has their vices,right?), when a rather large white pickup with two men stopped next to me. They honked multiple times, and I chose not to engage them. When I continued to ignored them, they yelled “hey baby” and “what are you puffin on there”and if I wanted to come share what I smoking with them. It’s reasonable to try to bum a cigarette in the middle of traffic, right? It was frightening because of the level of aggression these two men had, despite my 1.ignoring them and 2. Minding my own business. An open window on a nice day is never an invitation to be harassed.

Roy Glib: I’ve worked a number of retail jobs and from time to time I get hit on. Mostly it’s just harmless or friendly, nothing I would consider harassment. Sometimes it isn’t though. Once I had a customer complain that I had been rude to him and his 4 friends and started a tirade of insults and threats. I can’t say I handled the situation well. I feel helpless and infuriated at the same time as he and his friends came back to my store multiple times to tell me I should be a street walker, I had a nice booty, that I should suck his left nut (just the left one). I felt so demeaned and none of my coworkers stood up for me and I didn’t have the words to stand up for myself after a point.

Bobby Wren: I was walking hand in hand with Ramie late after a movie date on our way back to the parking garage. These two guys behind us, not quietly, said “look at these two fucking lesbos.” It was pretty uncomfortable and bordering on scary. Two little girls, all alone at night. One of them, purposely to intimidate us, took the stairs with us while the other just took the elevator. We were the only people in the parking garage at that hour. It was unexpected. I’m too used to my home area and its relative safety and openness.

I’ll admit culpability to this one. When Bobby told me that she had been harassed, I immediately asked her if she had pepper spray in her purse. Intentionally or not, I had shifted blame away from the harassers and onto Bobby for not having protection. I can argue I was just looking out for her safety, that I wanted her to be empowered, but the reality is that there is an underlying assumption that women who get harassed are asking for it. Why does Banal have to have her windows down, why did Bobby have to be so visible, why didn’t I just ignore them? All of these responses blame the victim and assume that if she hadn’t been where she was, or have been wearing something else, or had their keys ready to stab, it wouldn’t have happened. But that’s not the case. Harassment happens, and no one is asking for it. As a society, we need to make a group decision that harassment is not okay. Tell your coworkers that their casual comments about the bodies of others is not okay. Speak out about the unacceptable harassment you or your loved ones have experienced. The only way to stop harassment is to deal with it as a community and sweeping it under the rug by blaming the victims is only making the situation worse.

 

An excellent project to stop street harassment

RAINN on sexual harassment at work and school

A Warrior