“Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?”

As my writing on this blog can attest, I am a little hot-headed. I get riled up about issues pertaining to social inequalities. I feel things, and strongly. I generally put these feelings to paper — or, in this case, wordpress.

This is also true in my personal relationships. If I’m expounding on, say, the wage gap in the American workplace and my close friend (or boyfriend, or family member) disagrees that there is such a gap, or argues that wage inequality is irrelevant or unimportant, my feathers get ruffled. Justifiably or not, I can’t seem to let these disagreements slide.

I’d like to think I’m open-minded and capable of thinking logically, and even dialectically, about important issues. However, my feelings, experiences and gender studies background generally get in the way of this.

The concept of feminism has always been something I put in the “worth my energy” category. In the past, when someone close to me claimed they weren’t a feminist, that tended to irk the crap out of me. I used to get passionate and make grandiose statements to the tune of “how in the world are we even friends!?”

But then I got older, wiser, and chilled the fuck out a little. I gained the insight that it’s not nearly as important to surround yourself with people who agree with everything you say, value, or believe. A little challenge and some free discourse to sharpen your debating chops: these are good qualities to have in relationships.

So I thought I was over it.

Wrong.

Last night, fueled by some red wine and drowsiness, I single-handedly turned a delightful evening with my new boyfriend into a (briefly) high-stakes situation in which I miiight have bandied around sentences like “if you’re not a feminist, that’s a deal-breaker” and other nonsense.

Don’t worry, readers, it all ends well. I’m not completely without reason and amended the above statement to some degree. However, all today I was left with the mental questions: “Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?” “Why do I care?” “Is it enough that people in my life agree with most of what I believe?” And on.

So I got to thinking — and yes, I’m uncomfortably aware of how much I sound like Carrie-fucking-Bradshaw right now — about some answers to the above questions, given the fact that I’m 23 and I’d like to outgrow my knee-jerk tendency towards outrage.

“Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?”

The answer, truthfully, is no. Would it be ideal? Yes. Is it realistic? Not really. Maybe someday.

Which leads to…

“Why do I care?”

I care because I spend a lot of time feeling like Cassandra from Ancient Greek mythology. I’m a privileged white chick soap-boxing her theories and thoughts to anyone who will listen (read: this blog) and often, no one listens.

After years of explaining why I think sexism is still a pressing issue to women and men alike, I think my “passionate responses” to anyone who isn’t a feminist can be attributed to the following:

A) Frustration. B) Passion. C) An unbending sense of personal integrity. D) The desire to be understood, especially by those closest to me.

I think I can’t really be understood without first understanding feminism. Therein lies my “fear of the non-feminist.” If someone doesn’t understand my struggle — and the struggle of others around the globe due to their sex, gender, class, etc — I think I’m a little terrified of what exactly does go on in that person’s head. Maybe it can be attributed to an overactive imagination, but sometimes I feel this expansive, endless capacity for empathy. I’ve heard others’ stories; I’ve walked a hard path of my own. Knowing what I have been through makes me feel that much more aware that everyone has a unique path they walk. So to live our lives without empathy, without giving validity to others’ stories and feelings, without giving validity to the fact that race and sex and all those other outward indicators of “otherness” do matter, and matter on a scale that we do not give nearly enough credit to — that is what I fear.

So, given the importance feminism holds in my life: “Is it enough that people in my life agree with most of what I believe?”

In the end, I suppose this is what I should be grateful for — that I have people who care about me and support my endeavors in spite of their divergent personal beliefs. In turn, I should be supportive of their endeavors and values and opinions. I can learn from them, just as I hope they will learn to understand the feminism I represent.

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Occupy Wall Street Pt. II

I don’t speak for everyone in the Occupation movement, however, I live with and am friends with people who are a part of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston movements. I have also been involved with the Boston branch of this protest.

It’s a complicated movement, and I have many thoughts about it. I thought I’d share my insights with you all [author’s note: this was originally an email to my family] since my uncle asked for someone in the US to comment on it and I think there’s a lot that could be cleared up about what it is and what it isn’t. This is by no means comprehensive.

What the Occupy movement is:

The occupation is comprised of people who are frustrated with the status quo: capitalism, corporate greed, corporate interests and money running the country, ineffective progressive politicians, the wars and war industry, the fact that college graduates (like myself) are often faced with meager job opportunities.

For example: in order to pay rent, pay off my loans and put food on my table — with no financial help from either parent — I work three jobs. All are part-time, because no one is willing to hire me full-time. Two are temporary. I do not know, month to month, whether two of my jobs will continue or not. This is what I face as a graduate from a well-known liberal arts college. Most of my friends have either gone straight into graduate school (racking up more debt), are unemployed and living at home, or barely scraping by, living on next to nothing.

For the above reasons this movement might appear to be a youth movement, but it is not that simple: veterans for peace, and others of all ages and backgrounds have joined. This movement is attempting to be non-hierarchical; there is direct democracy, consent-based decision-making and anti-oppression training going on at the camps (i.e. people working together to reject racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, etc).

This movement is about creating community and making people realize that they’re not alone. We are the 99%, after all.

Fun fact: I’ve been to both the Occupy Boston and Occupy Philadelphia campsites. I’ve heard from the trenches of Occupy Wall Street. At each camp there is a library, a medical tent, different tents dedicated to different faiths (I saw a sukkah at Occupy Philly), art, comedy, workshops, homeless people, students, families, the list goes on. It’s amazing.

What the Occupy movement isn’t:

Chaotic. Sure, the occupy movement does not seem cohesive. Many protests start with a specific goal (for example: returning funding to Planned Parenthood) and the narrowness of that goal attracts maybe dozens or a hundred people who care about that goal. Here we see no goal attracting thousands and tens of thousands of people.

But what does the movement expect to change if it doesn’t have a goal?

That is something that I find personally frustrating, to be sure. But I have come to appreciate that an unspoken goal of the movement is this: to get a voice. To show others that we (the people) have a voice. The movement has so far been highly successful in this goal.

I recently walked down the street in Harvard Square holding a sign my friend wanted to bring to a march. Six or seven different people (of different ages, races, genders) approached me and asked me about Occupy Boston, about the Noam Chomsky lecture, about my views. They shared with me their views. I walk in Harvard Square all the time and have never been approached by anyone. This movement is opening up dialogue among strangers. That’s a beautiful thing.

What do I think, really?

This movement is powerful and it is absolutely crippled by lack of focus, leverage. It’s a contradiction. It’s necessary and it’s the first step of many. Better to support those who are in it, rather than tear them down with judgment, misunderstanding and condescension.

In the fullness of time, I expect the solidarity, community and dialogue that has been sparked by Occupy Wall Street to be called upon by future protests, organizing efforts and policy-making. What is happening now is bigger than a couple dozen tents.

—–

Addendum:Thoughts on police:

The Occupy movement has been peaceful. Yet there have been 2500 arrests (unlawful, for the most part) made in the month that the Occupation movement has been ongoing. We need to look around us and realize the truth: it is illegal to peacefully protest in the United States. The powers that be (all corporations, most government officials, some of the rich) want us to shut up and go away – at the expense of our first amendment rights.

I’ve attached some video links below – they are potentially disturbing but they are of the Oakland police last night in response to the Oakland occupation movement. This is the America we live in today.


(2:00 min in is where he addresses the Occupy Wall Street movement)

Further reading:
Barbara Ehrenreich on homelessness and the Occupation movement

Occupy Wall Street

I’ve been putting this off. Not because I haven’t been thinking about it, but more because I’ve been thinking about it too much. I have too much to say.

Occupy Wall Street. There are plenty of voices being heard on the subject, many of whom with much more clout, experience and wisdom. I leave the analysis to them (see links below).

But what does this peaceful protest mean to me?

I see hope. We want change but due to the pitfalls of his office, Obama has not provided us with that hope, or that change. I stand by him because I believe he’s doing what any progressive realistically could in that position. The problem isn’t President Obama but the constraints placed on him by the system.

The problem is the corporatocracy we live in. This is no democracy. We cannot even protest peacefully in the streets. We do not have freedom when innocent young women get kettled and maced by police officers. When we still have the death penalty in many of our states. When the voice of 99% of Americans is drowned out by the 1% who control the money and the media.

So I will be peacefully occupying Boston in solidarity with those in NYC, and in solidarity with similar protests across the country. This is our time. To quote another,

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”


Warning: the above video is upsetting.

Want to help out with Occupy Boston? Spread the word! Come to the first General Assembly meeting tonight at 7:30 at Boston Commons. Remember security culture, remember to be peaceful and lawful. The cops will, naturally, be there.

Chomsky speaks out in support of Wall Street protests

Why I Was Maced at the Wall Street Protests

Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination

President Obama’s Silence on Troy Davis Execution Emboldens Young Progressives

I Was Maced

Monday Morning Links

More links. Can never get enough.

The Pervocracy. Feminism. BDSM. Fuckyeah.

Rebel Artistry’s thoughts on catcalling.

In other news…”Kate Winslet, Rachel Weisz Form “Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League“.

I’m boycotting Nivea these days. Here’s why: “Beauty Company Nivea says “Look Like You Give a Damn”, Cut Off Your Fro

Clutch Magazine: Does Feminism Scare Black Men?
(Thanks to K.Hope for the head’s up — check out her blog here).

China dissident Ai Weiwei launches scathing attack on govt.

Jezebel: Talking to an Abortion Clinic Protestor.

For some comedic relief:

Bras in Bars

So I went to visit my college town a few months ago and, naturally, went to a bunch of my usual drinking holes. I had a bit of surprise when walking into this one joint that houses a lot of great local acts. For the most part, it looked exactly the same as I’d left it — murals on the walls, cushy couches strewn about haphazardly. Except for, of course, the festive assortment of bras draped from the ceiling.

I’ve seen this odd phenomenon before — in dive bars back home, or in random clubs in various cities. It’s by no means de rigeur (thank god), but it’s cropping up in the most unlikely of places and it leaves me feeling… well, uncomfortable.

I’ve been trying to parse out why this is.

To acquire these bras, bars typically offer some sort of incentive. Maybe a free drink, your name on the wall, that kind of deal. I’ve not been witness to any woman offering her bra up for this exchange, but I can only imagine these females demurely unhooking their bra and slipping the straps off their shoulders and handing the piece of fabric over. The typical locker room shuffle.

However, even if there is an exchange — monetary or otherwise — it still comes out in the bar’s favor.

What does the bar get out of this?

A) The titillation of nearby male customers watching the “show” — leading, perhaps, to increased drink orders (purchased for the very women who remove their brassieres) or increased regular customers

B) Increased interest in the drinks at the bar — buy one, get sloshed, want another.

C) Fueling the male fantasy of “girls gone wild” with an array of bras (a highly sexual symbol) at the bar — again, gaining more regular customers

D) Minimal cost: one shot per bra doesn’t add up to much.

Meanwhile what does the woman get?

A) Dubious “admiration” from fellow bar-mates

B) A drink totaling perhaps $5 in bar-money, $1 or less in reality (given the over-pricing of bar drinks)

C) Handing over an expensive swath of fabric that probably cost upwards of $50 (considering most of the bras I saw were specialty brands or Victoria’s Secret. Most looked new, or in good condition.)

Who comes out on top?

As a female customer, I see these bras and feel uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy looking up and feeling this weird pressure to take my own bra off and add it to the collection. I don’t like wondering why other women took theirs off, or imagining the hooting and hollering that might’ve occurred while they did it.

Maybe I just find it crass and my secret Emily Post is coming out, full of tsk tsks and condescension. Mostly, though, I find it mildly (or flagrantly) exploitative. Which sucks, because goddamnit, I liked that bar.

What do you think? Is it semi-harmless fun a la Girls Gone Wild? (For a parsing-out of that cultural product, see this post). Or is it more insidious than the neon-colored bra-art would lead one to believe?

– Kelly

A Guy Weighs In:

You have to look at what each person is getting out of it. The woman in this situation gets to be edgy/sexy/risque or what have you, without crossing any boundaries that weren’t set by her grandmother, who still thinks that wearing skirts above the knee is a big deal. She also gets to point out to anyone who will listen that the bra that now adorns the bar is hers, and will probably giggle out a solid exaggeration of what too many Cosmos will do to her, and if anyone gets the wrong idea, she can always point out to them that “she’s not that kind of girl” and that the public never actually got to see the twins, so stop getting any ideas, creep.

Meanwhile, the bartender gets a decoration that insinuates to his hordes of alcohol and testosterone fueled minions that the female half of his establishment’s patronage are the the type who will sleep with you if you pump them with enough drinks. At the very least, you’ll get see some titties. This means that every dude in the place trying to get some will be buying for two and mister barkeep will be seeing dollar signs.

– Will

A Response to Anti-Feminism

“I’m an anti-feminist, actually.”

I’m standing outside of a doom metal show, hand on my patched jeans, the wind rustling the newly-shaved side of my head. I’ve just met a friend of a friend, Lauren, and we’ve been discussing the proportion of male metalheads to females (I had wagered roughly ten to one).

Then, inexplicably, Lauren expressed the above statement. I think my reaction, at first, was about as eloquent as “huuuuhhhhh?” I recovered quickly, though, and peppered her with the obvious questions:

“What is an anti-feminist?”

“What about the wage disparity between American men and women?”

“You just got back from a study abroad program that took you to the Masai tribes in Africa to rural India, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the mountains of New Zealand. In all those travels, certainly you saw that feminism is a world prerogative and is not limited to white American women?”

She said (I paraphrase) the following points: we live in a post-feminism country (similar to the post-racial argument bandied about by certain folks in regards to Barack Obama’s presidency). Women should not talk about getting CEO positions, earning equal pay or getting into politics but just do it. There’s no need to talk about feminism or to claim the title. We, as women, have the same opportunities as men and we should just claim them already.

To which I said (more eloquently now, I’m sure, given time to reflect and the absence of alcohol in my system):

It’s all well and good you say that, but you (like me) are a white, college-educated American female. We have white privilege, we have a foot up in many respects thanks to our college degrees, and we live in America, which, despite its many, varied flaws, has already experienced several waves of feminism and activism.

However, even in America all women and girls still face injustices — these injustices may be more aversive than outright, but they are pervasive, insidious and they exist. We can’t pretend they don’t, as nice as denial might feel. Similarly, wealth and education and opportunity and privilege can often blind a person to the plight others face daily and systematically. It’s short-sighted to assume that everyone walks the same path that you do. Furthermore, just because we can’t always understand where another person is coming from, that doesn’t make their experiences any less valid.

As such, feminism is very much relevant.

Why, too, choose the term “anti-feminist”? How can that be a beneficial stance? It’s one thing to not identify as a feminist (even though, ironically enough, most of the non-feminists I talk to agree that we should live in an egalitarian society, which is the main tenet of most branches of feminism). It’s an entirely different thing to reject the very concept of feminism and put down those who claim the title. I don’t think being an “anti-feminist” means exactly what these young, educated women think it does. The only difference between me and Lauren, for example, is that I call myself a feminist and she doesn’t. At the end of the day, after talking to Lauren more about her views (to give her some credit), it became clear that she is a feminist in everything but name.

This willful rejection of feminism is problematic and seems…a little immature. It’s giving off this vibe of “I just want to distance myself from those crazy radical chicks,” so that certain men don’t feel threatened by them or their views. That’s bullshit. Stop trying to appear “laid-back” and “rational” at the expense of effecting positive change. If more people claimed the title feminist, maybe the negative stereotypes (“crazy women,” “hysterical bitches,” “feminazis”) would fall away as more people realized that men and women alike are feminists if they believe that humans should all be equal and enjoy the same opportunities and respect. Is that so very crazy an idea?

I’ve decided I’m going to memorize this quote from Gloria Steinem to say to those who question feminism in my presence. While to most of my readers this quote may seem very obvious, and might spark you to say aloud, “well no shit!”, I think it is one of the most comprehensive, succinct descriptions of what feminism is, regardless of the schisms of thought within feminism, regardless of politics, economic background or nationality: this is what feminism is all about:

“Women are human beings first, with minor differences from men that apply largely to the single act of reproduction. We share the dreams, capabilities, and weaknesses of all human beings, but our occasional pregnancies and other visible differences have been used–even more pervasively, if less brutally than racial differences have been used–to create an “inferior” group and an elaborate division of labor. This division is continued for a clear if often unconscious reason: the economic and social profit of patriarchy males as a group.”

The antidote, I believe, to this “anti-feminism” nonsense is to recommend some good reading. If the person refuses to read any of your suggestions, then you know automatically the caliber of person you’re dealing with anyway. If ignorance is bliss, then let them have it, at the cost of your respect for their opinions. Tough shit.

The Most Depressing Show On Television

I told myself I was watching the first episode Bridalplasty for “research purposes.” Really, though, I’ve got a morbid curiosity about all things trashy and enormously fucked up. I was expecting to have a few laughs, get a little self-righteously enraged and write a feminist critique of the show.

What I wasn’t expecting? To feel so goddamn sad.

I made it through five minutes of the show before turning it off. The women on this show, instead of inspiring disgust, just inspire pity. They are so image-obsessed, misguided, insecure — but really, it’s like picking up a distorted mirror and watching yourself.

I’m not about to drool over a Hollywood wedding and I’m diametrically opposed to plastic surgery. Even so, these women are lovely…yet they want to undergo massive amounts of plastic surgery to appear more mainstream gorgeous. And I fucking understand where they are coming from.

Watching this show is masochism. Its target demographic is American women — the same women who come in all shapes and sizes, who suffer from anorexia and obesity, from warped images of health and beauty and from a pervasive beauty/fashion/health industry that thrives off of their discontent. Here we have a show about women who are relatively “normal,” who have friends/family and interests and lives — and they are competing with each other for an over-the-top consumerist-wet-dream wedding and the most extreme method of achieving mainstream good-looks. Then we have the women (and maybe some men, and definitely teenagers and the odd child) watching this show, who view this reality shit with a mixture of fascination, disgust, and a huge helping of actually identifying with these women.

This is the most depressing show on television not because it features assholes who think starring in a reality show is “the best thing evarrrr” but because it zeros in on the dark places in our own psyche. The part of us that watches a woman say she wants a nose job and think to ourselves, yeah, if I were her I would too.

Bridalplasty makes me uncomfortable. Yes, it is full of the same bullshit reality-tv-crap that every other reality show is famous for (i.e. the dumbing down of America, sexism, and the sheer violence with which its contestants compete for the prizes), but it adds a new element to American television — thinly-veiled preying on the weak. I’m not talking about the women on the show, but the ones watching it.

I Want You To Like What I Like

I have dated the lead guitar player in a thrash metal band. The cute skateboarder from science class. The DJ who spins and scratches in dark, throbbing clubs. With each of these boyfriends, with each of these dates, music is our common ground — we lay out our cards on the table — “What is your favorite album? Top three? Four?” “Acid Bath changed my life.” “I’ll never forget when I first saw Dio live.” These small intimations — and they are intimations, the most soul-baring sort — are the way we connect. For every band we both like, we fall more in love. For every new band we pass each other’s way, we are more besotten, more charmed.

And yet. Has anyone else felt that it’s always about the boy giving his songs to the girl? Every boyfriend I have ever had has imparted his music onto me. And, being the ravenous consumer I am, I have cherished these bands, collected them, made them (in some way) my own. CKY, Acid Bath, Misfits, The Dwarves, Fair To Midland, Faith No More; these bands were passed onto me from men in my life. They are now integral; I can’t imagine not having them around. Even more cherished are the memories they bring to mind — I cannot listen, for example, to “Horse Pills” by the Dandy Warhols and not think of wine drunk from a grimy water bottle, sitting in a dark car outside some party with someone I was infatuated with years ago.

And yet. I never seem to impart my songs on a man. For there are bands, believe it or not, that I come across on my own. Organically, even. On the radio, sure, or blogs, or by buying a random CD from Best Buy and changing the way I see the world for $9.99 plus tax. Take, for example, the band I hold closest to my heart: Polkadot Cadaver. This is a band that I find particularly brilliant; they have a frenetic Mr. Bungle-esque quality to them that is irresistible. That, coupled with the fact that I discovered them all on my own, makes them my all-time favorite band. (Strong words, those).

However, when I play this band for men in my life, I get muted reactions. No one seems particularly interested in them, and while I don’t really give a shit what people think of my musical tastes, this leads me to think that I must really have bad taste, or, more likely, these guys just don’t care about what I like. They already have their beloved bands, their Neurosis and Megadeth and obscure strictly-underground punk bands.

I’d like to think that maybe I’m completely wrong. That if you lined up my past loves and lovers and questioned them on their musical tastes and memories they associate with songs and songs they associate with memories, they would list bands that I introduced them to, bands that remind them of me, songs and lyrics that bring to mind rainy days spent in bed with me or wild shows that we went to together. Perhaps this isn’t sexism, but merely my inability to know what other people absorb, what other people remember.

Case in point — an ex-boyfriend texted me the other day asking what “that morbid pirate rock band was that you were always listening to?” and then, after I neglected to answer, he replied, “Polkadot Cadaver?”

He was right, and I am glad to be wrong, just this once.

—–

Originally posted here at my failed attempt at a different blog (which I may continue with, with proper encouragement).