We’re Not Sex-Dolls

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When, in the middle of a conversation, my friend dropped that he thought that women could never enjoy sex as much as men, I thought he couldn’t actually be serious. It seemed so ridiculous to me that I assumed he was joking. As consenting adults why would a whole group systematically be unable to enjoy the act as much as the other? I mean, both sex organs are instruments of both giving and receiving pleasure. It’s not mutually exclusive. Both have clusters of sensitive nerves for receiving pleasure, and have shapes and textures for giving pleasure.

He and I were unable to conclude our discussion at the time, but I’ve continued to mull over and deconstruct his statement since then. It’s a concept that I just really don’t understand. Maybe it is that he had such a wonderfully erotic experience that he just couldn’t imagine anyone feeling as much pleasure as he did. But then again, that doesn’t excuse him for putting all females on the less-than list when it comes to sex. Does it come from Ego? That “I am the most important person in this act”, or that “the enjoyment of sex is made exclusively for me”. Perhaps that is the case, since he often likes to interpret Christian elements in that sort of way—that Eve/Women came from and for Adam/Men.

Or is it disdain for the person on the receiving end of the act? You come across this a lot in homophobia and the idea of what “makes you gay”. There seems to be more disgust and judgment leveled at men being penetrated, whether orally or anally, versus those being on the dominant side. Think of the “joking” insult of “suck my dick” when said to another man. The person saying it is not (usually) purporting themselves to homosexuality but is using this statement to belittle and emasculate the other person. (Serious Sex-Positive Side Note: People need to stop encouraging the view that oral is disgusting and degrading. Please.) He, personally, might be coming from something like that. As an upright heterosexual Christian male, he can’t even condescend to imagine what it is like being on the receiving end of intercourse.

I keep coming back to his Christian background for a reason. As someone who grew up in a very conservative Christian household, I have experienced how it can greatly shape and distort your perspectives. No, not everything Christianity teaches is bad, but there are a lot of things that skew priorities. Christianity is (as a whole—let’s not even get started on differing denominations) a religion focused on tradition (even if it has a varying and complex history), the patriarchy (it’s generally accepted that women should not be congregational leaders based on such passages as 1 Corinthians 14:34-351 and 1 Timothy 2:11-122), and biased morality. I say biased because it always seems that certain groups are judged more harshly than others. There are those whose very identities are seen as invalid and taboo (i.e. homosexuals and trans* people). And then you have the privileged, cis heterosexual white men, who are seen as complex beings who can stray but be forgiven, while you have girls being taught that their primary value is in being pure and chaste, who are taught to even restrict their thoughts. It is likely that this view had some impact on my friend. In the American suburbs he grew up around the concept of good modest Christian girls, and at college in Africa he was around the idea of good modest Muslim women.

Religions just seem to have this obsession with pure virginal females, who don’t even think about doing the dirty (heaven forbid!). For me, that idea is pretty scary. It has this even more sinister misogyny than the idea of “I know she wants it”, but instead “I know she doesn’t want it and I don’t care.” Not that I think my friend is a rapist. He is a very thoughtful and caring person generally. I do think, however, that he is also a victim of conditioning by religion and social institutions, which leave room for misogyny and a whole bunch of other messes.

It’s not only religion that has an obsession with purity, but a large part of human society. Innocence is something to be admired and protected. Women and children are to be cared for, looked after and sheltered despite their own desires. I’m not saying that we, as people, should not want to protect others, but that this way of thinking often leads to dismissing the wishes of the very people you are proclaiming to help. Think of the concept of “wanting it all”. It usually isn’t that women want it all (although, what is really wrong with that?) but that they want more than just the very narrow role that is given to them. But, like the response given in the 80’s, it’s the men and the “well meaning been-there-done-that” women who say that they know what is best despite what you want. And seriously. Some women want to both have a job and have a family? Don’t they know that only men are capable of doing that? Ridiculous. (Check out this analysis on social climate’s affect on media)

In many patriarchy-based religions women are expected to defer to ay male, particularly their religious leader, father and husband. It’s not just in religion, though. This aversion to female agency is seen all over. Women are often slut-shamed when they have sex with multiple partners even though that is more often accepted when it is a man sleeping with multiple women. Whether it is the childfree being dismissed and told that she will “change her mind”, or having their physical bodies controlled through being denied access to family planning product, or fathers being the defining factors in what their daughters wear, or “giving away” the bride, or women’s voices and opinions being dismissed because they are “too emotional”, we see women being treated as if they can’t think for or even represent themselves. It’s society (the patriarchy) telling the female population that it doesn’t care what you know to be best for you because THEY know what is best already.

I got a bit sidetracked there (not that it isn’t true), so let’s get back to the good stuff—sex! The world seems to have women placed in two main categories, 1) ladies, and 2) whores. You can pretty much see this wherever you look (particularly in pop culture tropes). Once a woman acts on her sexual agency usually she moves to the category of whore, with some exceptions, of course. Such as when a sacrifice is made, like a girl giving her committed boyfriend her virginity, although still super frowned upon in Christian circles. This concept may not really be addressed by American society, which considers itself to be fairly progressive, but it is all pretty ingrained.

It’s not sex, per se, that society has such an issue with, but female sexual agency. It is more normal in Hollywood movies and the like to showcase rape, coercion and violence than it is to show a woman making a conscious choice to get down with someone she fancies without first being “won” (not even getting into honest portrayals of homosexual relationships). So, no, I don’t think there is any one cause that neuters women’s sexual desires in the eyes of others. It’s many parts that make up our, and my friend’s, culture. It’s society that thinks the wants, needs and desires of women are secondary. Hopefully we speak up when we hear people talk like my friend did, and hopefully these sort of views will go extinct.

1 “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

2 “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

*** I feel like I should add a disclaimer, that no, not everyone enjoys sex, no one is the same, and not everyone likes the same things. Some people are asexual. Some people only get off through exterior stimulation. Some people need more intense scenarios. I don’t want to discredit anyone’s personal experiences and autonomy in this post. What I do want to encourage is to listen and communicate with your partner (woah!), to challenge what society may tell you is normal, and to consider that maybe if someone chooses to have sex with you that their pleasure is just as important as yours (just maybe)!

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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

Reaching Intersectionality

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We are all so different and perhaps it is our differences that should really unite us. The fact that we are all diverse should bring us together instead of pushing us apart. It’s usually our sameness that brings people together because there is comfort, understanding and safety there. But the fact that we are all unique is a sort of a similarity, isn’t it? The fact that no one can look the exact same and have the exact same experiences and the exact same background and the exact same trajectory should open the gateway for empathy.

However, even when looking for differences I’ve found that I’m often looking for differences outside of myself, not in me. Such as, in High School I wasn’t necessarily looking for people that challenged aspects of myself, I was looking for people that challenged the exterior structure. I bonded with people very different from myself in many ways because we still shared something. We were all discontent with the institutions we were in (school, religion, family…).

How awesome would this cast have been for The Breakfast Club? Awesome.

How awesome would this cast have been for The Breakfast Club? Awesome.

I think it is so easy to label people as “others” because we feel comfortable with the familiar and hold onto things, which establish and support what we see as “right” and “normal” in ourselves. People generally don’t seek out perspectives that challenge their views, but support them. Which I think is pretty sad. Where is the growth in that? Where is the evolution of the mind and thought?

I may encourage us to break out of this status quo, but I am definitely not exempt from it. Looking at my media and news intake, it is fairly clear what my political and social inclinations are. I choose my sources and topics based on what is most important to me. (So, a lot of stuff on feminism, equality, fairness, social justice, cultural awareness…). I am not usually reading things by authors who, in my opinion, are ignorant or who purport things that I consider wrong. But in doing so I am limiting my own dialogue. I am not learning to deconstruct other people’s arguments or to reevaluate my own. I find that I am dismissing their words instead of challenging them. By doing this I am keeping myself in a separate bubble and compartmentalizing.

Because of that when I write I end up not speaking to the people who I really want to affect, the people I think need to change their minds. Instead I am just talking to the people I already have an affinity with, the people who already agree (at least partially) with what I am saying. That is definitely a weakness.

This is something that is a huge problem in US politics today. How I see it is that there aren’t feminist Republicans because the whole political scene is an extreme bipartisan split with the whole mindset of “Us vs. Them” instead of actually being able to have an intelligent conversation and then compromise. The two parties have become caricatures of what they stand for (which makes them even more disconnected from the needs of their constituents and pretty useless). People often seem to see other people’s political views, or even basic needs, as threatening their own. So you have this strange combative fight for survival when it isn’t even necessary. There are female republicans but they all seem to hate feminism and feminist liberals who all seem to think republican females are hypocrites in terms of choice, healthcare, and opportunities. Of course, that is a very simplistic way of putting it, but it shows how these politicians are being exaggerated representations. That is something we really don’t need—particularly when it comes to our legislature.

It’s this whole thing of erasing people with whom you disagree. If you dismiss people’s ideas and what they stand for, you are dismissing them. If you never learn about the struggles of others then, in your mind, they do not exist. Think of it as if you are ignoring what is going on in the rest of the world. You are not going to run straight smack into it because you have that privilege, so you will never be forced to acknowledge it. Or, like people who say that they don’t “see color,” it is both trivializing a current issue and erasing the identity of others.

I’m not saying anything new here. It’s all about empathy and education, as I’ve already gone on about in my last post (and will continue to in the future). I will just end here with this excerpt from Zara Bennett in Dear Feminists: I’m One of You! Please Don’t Save Me discussing ignorance and dismissal and how it directly affects global feminism:

“Excluding a feminist or denying her feminist identity on the basis of her cultural affiliations is akin to rejecting the idea that a man can be a feminist. It creates divides that shouldn’t exist because the key role feminism plays in our lives is one of intersectionality; no two people share exactly the same experiences, and it is these distinctions that allow us to identify problems within our social institutions. These very same distinctions also help us find solutions to those problems, so instead of arguing over whose view is best, we should instead be focusing on how various perspectives can be used to further our understanding of oppressive constructs in our different societies.

Women from non-Western cultures do not need to be saved. When I go out wearing shalwar kameez, it is not a cry for help; it’s just as self-expressive as blue hair or a tongue piercing. It is a statement that I am proud of where I come from. I do not have to compromise my feminist identity with my cultural affiliations. If we could all just talk to and educate one another before assuming that different perspectives are automatically conflicting, I believe we would open a lot more doors for one another.”

(can anyone help with the source?)

(can anyone help with the source?)

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

 

In Response to: Does Feminism Have a Class Issue? (Belated Post)

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A day late but here it is! Which is probably not the best way to start off my posts, but I have lots of excuses as to why I was unable to put up a blog yesterday, I promise (just give me a little longer to concoct some better ones). Let’s all just agree to pretend it is still Monday, okay? Thanks.

This post was inspired to continue the conversation about class and feminism. So, do I think that (mainstream) Feminism has a class issue? Yes definitely! (Read the Curve article for some economic insight on this subject.)

I think it’s more that people find it difficult to completely see outside themselves even when they are trying. A lot of that is just ignorance. We don’t actually know the everyday problems and struggles that others face because the evidence is not right in front of our faces. That is a HUGE issue and really not a good excuse anymore with the plethora of information at our fingertips that the Internet provides. Yet we are still completely unaware of problems that are just outside of our peripheral vision.

As a white, middle-class, cis female, there are a lot of trials I have never had to know and most likely never will. I grew up in a community that I could fall back on should something go wrong, and a family who had the financial stability to support me when I worked for little pay when I moved back home in my early 20’s. I am privileged and blessed that the majority of my personal feminist fight deals with principles, definitions, and details, and not fighting for survival. But that is not the case for everyone, just those who have the loudest and most accessible voices in American feminism at the moment.

There are many things that the privileged have access to that others don’t. Education, healthcare (usually), respect, birth control, affordable childcare, recognition, safety… And, like with affordable childcare, it’s not just about having convenience, but having the opportunity to improve your situation. If you can’t afford childcare, how will you have time to work to improve your station? How will you have the chance to further your education? How will you have the chance to take the “equal opportunity” supposedly guaranteed by law?

It is very important for all of us to realize not just how the Civil Rights movement will help ourselves individually, but even more so how it will improve the lives of those who have a more pressing need. We ought not be complacent in our ignorance or only focused on egotistic goals. A lot of this is the idea of solidarity. But you can’t have that if you don’t even know the very real issues others face.

So get out there and educate yourself! Practice empathy! Imagine people complexly!

Here are a few places to start:

– Intro to the concept of the Poverty Trap

– On how “I don’t see race” is an excuse that erases identity

Cultural Sensitivity

– On trans-feminism (read ALL of them!): Natalie Reed

Transnational Feminism