Mrfl

I have lots of interesting and insightful posts in my brain to write.

I have a follow-up to the previous post about Femen and Muslim women wearing veils.

I have one about a fascinating social experiment that demonstrates the insidiousness of racism, which can then be extrapolated to other social ills.

I have things to say about the bombs in Boston, and also about the earthquake in Iran, and whether the fact that we know and care more about the former than the latter (even though more people were killed by the earthquake) is evidence of anti-Muslim sentiment, or just the natural phenomenon in which things that happen closer to home “feel” more real than things that happen far away.

They’re all fascinating topics, and I really wanted to get at least one or two of them written while the baby was at daycare today, and maybe also clean the nursery to boot.

But I was rudely awakened at 5-5:30 this morning (note: I am a natural night owl, late to bed and late to rise), and spent almost 2 hours repeatedly changing, feeding, and rocking an infant, pleading over and over in the gentlest tones imaginable that “if the sun’s not up, it’s not morning, babygirl…” all to no avail.  At around seven I gave up and put pants on.  Also I’m sunburned so much it hurts to move, and I’m pretty sure I’m coming down with something nasty.

So fuck it.  I’m gonna play lotro for a while and maybe take a nap.  If I’m feeling super ambitious I’ll get an early start on dinner.

*puts the world on a shelf for the day*

This is why we need gay marriage

So I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the Orlando Weekly’s local darling, Billy Manes.  I find his writing style abrasive (usually – we’re getting to the exception), and tend to skip over his articles (of which there are usually several in each paper.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when he made me cry this week.

The link contains trigger warnings for suicide and homophobia.  I had to try more than once to get all the way through the piece.  But it’s powerful, and it’s worth reading.

‘Til Death Do Us Part, by Billy Manes

“Saving” people who don’t particularly need or want saving

Ok, so.  A Tunisian woman named Amina Tyler posted topless pictures of herself to Facebook, with the words “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honor” written across her chest.  She has since received death threats and has gone into hiding.

So, kudos to her, I admire her bravery, and I wish her good luck.  I definitely think we should be supporting her, and anyone else who is insisting that their body is their own.

To support her, the Ukrainian group Femen declared April 4 to be International Topless Jihad Day, and staged topless protests in Paris.

Which… ok, I see where you’re going with that.  I think the name is, um, unfortunate, but I can definitely get behind radical attempts to normalize women’s bodies and attack the idea that our breasts need to be hidden away, that our bodies shouldn’t exist where people can see them.  I could see myself getting involved in a protest like that.  (Though, y’know, minus the inherent Islamophobia – as if body policing, shaming, and “decency” double standards were restricted to only one religion!)

So… ok, so far so good.  Sort of.  I fully agree that all women deserve the right to bare their bodies if they so choose.  I do understand that in some countries and some cultures, there are strong penalties (social and/or legal, and in some cases extending to physical threats or retribution) for women who don’t adhere to very strict standards in their dress and personal behavior, and I think that is reprehensible.  In every society, in every culture, in every country, women need to have full agency over their own bodies.

But the framing of Femen’s protest – the strong implication that this is a problem unique to, and uniform within, the Muslim world, is highly problematic.  The fact that many of their protesters were topless while simultaneously wearing a hijab, or a fake beard and turban while kneeling on a prayer rug, comes across as… well, racist, basically.  It ignores the fact that plenty of countries and cultures have problems with allowing women full agency over their own bodies.  (Hell, my own country’s no prize in that regard.)  It ignores that while some parts of the Muslim world are, yes, quite problematic in that respect, others are not.  And it ignores the fact that while some Muslim women do feel oppressed by their culture and its modesty rules, many, many others do not.

Quite a few of those others who do not have pushed  back against Femen.  Inna Shevchenko, a leader of Femen, responded to that pushback:

“They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me’.

“You know, through all history of humanity, all slaves deny that they are slaves.

“Why do they have to cover their bodies? This is beginning of the process.”

And that is where they lose me.

*sigh*

Look.  It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog, or who knows me personally, that I am the world’s biggest cheerleader for nudity.

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My family spends a significant amount of time going to local resorts and beaches where we can walk around in the buff.  Our apartment in college was clothing-optional, and if it weren’t for my roommate, our current house would be, too.  Even when I’m not actively being a nudist, I tend to prefer clothes that cover very little of my skin. (She says, looking down at her strapless shirt that flaps open at the belly.)  Unless the cut and the fabric is just so, I really don’t find clothes comfortable or pleasant to wear.  One of the reasons I love living in Florida is that I can get away with wearing as little as possible for a solid portion of the year.

So in my heart of hearts, I don’t grok why anyone would want to cover herself up.  I don’t understand why any woman would freely choose to wear concealing clothing and cover her head and/or face with a scarf or veil.  It makes zero sense to me.  Living that way would be, for me, a sort of hell.

However, I also cannot understand why anyone would freely choose to put banana peppers on their sub sandwich, but people do that all the damn time too.  Because I am not every woman.

I’m also painfully aware that I’ve run into the narrative before that women who dress “sexy”, i.e. skimpily or scantily, are doing so because we’ve been brainwashed by our culture to view ourselves as sexual objects and display our bodies as mere decoration.  That we’re just doing it to pander to the male gaze.  I’ve been told that wanting to wear revealing clothing, wanting to bare my breasts in public, means I’m seeking validation and approval, that I’m devaluing the worth of my body and just seeking to use it to please men.

And… y’know, in our fucked-up patriarchal culture, I’m sure there are some women for whom that’s true.  For me, however, it’s not.  I wear skimpy clothing because that’s how I feel most comfortable.  I don’t do it to please men.  Hell, some days I do it despite being unhappily aware that it won’t please men.  (There are some mornings when I look in the mirror at my bad skin and flabby arms and unshaven pits and think “Shmrr, I feel so ugly, maybe I shouldn’t wear a tank top today, nobody wants to see my bare arms.”  And then I think about the sticky heat of a Florida summer and go “Fuck it bitches, you couldn’t PAY me enough to wear sleeves today.  Deal with it, world.”)

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And assuming that all women who choose to wear revealing clothing are doing it for the same reasons – especially when you ignore or contradict women who tell you that no, this is not the case – invisibles us as individuals, and disrespects our choices.

And it’s the same thing with the hijab/niqab/etc.  I’m sure there are women out there who hate wearing them, but who don’t feel like they can safely/comfortably choose not to.  Those women need and deserve all our help and support.  But many, arguably most (I don’t know how you would even begin putting together statistics on that, so I’m not even trying) women who wear them do so because they want to.  Because it’s how they feel comfortable.  In much the same way that telling me that I must cover myself up would be wrong, telling these women that in order to be “liberated” they must uncover themselves is also wrong.  Because the root problem, the core of the objection, is taking away women’s choices, making their choices for them.  You can’t fix that by doing the exact same thing.

Because “liberation” doesn’t mean making the same choices as me.  It means having the same choices as me (or more).  And being free to decide for yourself, without fear or pressure, how you want to dress and how you will feel most comfortable.

So for all the Muslim women out there who are quite happy covering themselves up, thank-you-very-much, and don’t need anyone to come in and “save” them from the hijab, I offer you Bitch-You-Don’t-Know-Me Cat.  He’s very useful for things like this.

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This living room… is CLEAN!!!

Hey, wait, is this a mommy blog?  Oh yeah, it totally is.  In theory.

SO ANYWAY… I cleaned my living room yesterday.

Those of you who’ve been to my house before, take a moment.  Get your jaw back up off the floor.  Get some smelling salts if you need ’em.

And I mean, everything.  I cleaned behind the bar.  I cleaned IN the bar.  I cleaned off, under, and around the table.  I hung things up that belonged on the walls.  I threw things out that needed throwing out.   I moved the cat food to where the baby can’t snack on it anymore.  I got everything dangerous out of the reach of little arms.  I strong-armed SpouseMan into vacuuming.  I did EVERYTHING to transform the living room into a completely safe area where my daughter can crawl around to her little heart’s content, without worrying that she’s going to accidentally kill herself or destroy something.  It took all goddamn day.

And then I found out that our baby gates do not fit the doorway or hallway that lead into the living room.

Sigh.

So of course as soon as we put  her in the middle of the happy little baby-friendly floor, the first thing she did was crawl cheerfully into the kitchen, where she shredded a cardboard box, licked the dirty floor, and tried to escape down the stairs.

Still.  It’s a step.  Next step: the den!

(…give me a few more weeks of this and I might eventually have the sort of house an ADULT might live in!)

On intersectionality

(CN: 101 on intersectionality and transgender issues)

So a few weeks back I was boppin’ around Twitter, when someone asked the questions: 1) What does “cis” mean, and 2) what does “intersectionality” mean?

They asked this in the middle of a slew of radical feminists railing against those evul transwomen, and the responses received were rather less than helpful.  So even though I did NOT want to get involved in that particular discussion, I jumped in and gave a quick-and-dirty definition of both terms.

I was gratified to hear that it was apparently helpful.  (Woohoo, I did a good!)  Still, while Twitter can be fun, sometimes things need more than a bumper-sticker response.  So here’s a post to expand on those words.

1) As my lovely and intelligent commenter grigoriguardian explained, “Cis-* as a prefix of Latin origin, meaning “on the same side [as]” or “on this side [of].” Now look at the definition of trans: Trans-* is a Latin noun or prefix, meaning “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side”. So cis- just means “opposite of trans.””

So why do we use terms like “cisgender” or “ciswoman” to refer to people who are not transgender?  Well, as I said in an earlier post,

[I]t’s a pretty useful word, as the alternatives are things like “real women/normal women,” (which are pretty damn othering), “women who were assigned to the female gender at birth and also identify with it” (which is a mouthful), and “women-born-women” (which, in addition to being co-opted by transphobic radical feminists, is also impossibly twee.)  I’m cisgender.  I’m a ciswoman.  I’m also a white woman, an American woman, a married woman.  These are descriptors.  Not insults.  (Unless you really truly think having what kind of woman you are noted in conversation to be offensive, in which case can we just call transwomen “women” too, then?  I think that would be nice.)

Being cisgender is not a bad thing; it is not intended as an insult.  It’s simply intended as a word to make the conversation about transgender issues easier, as the alternatives are worse.  Yes, many trans* people and allies will refer to “cis privilege;” much like white privilege, male privilege, etc., this is also not a value judgment.  No one is saying that anyone is bad for having privilege.   But if you do have privilege (and believe me, cisgender people DO have privilege compared to transgender people), it’s your responsibility to recognize that and to educate yourself on people who may be more marginalized (or marginalized in a different way) than you.

Which brings us to…

2) Intersectionality.

To understand intersectionality, you have to understand the concept of kyriarchy.  See, for a long time, feminists spoke about Patriarchy and its evils.  We still do, but more often these days you’ll hear the term kyriarchy instead.  Why?

Well, “kyriarchy” means, more or less, the overarching system in which people are oppressed or marginalized by other people.  Sound open-ended?  It is.  That’s a feature, not a bug.

Y’see, yes, male privilege is a thing.  All else being equal, a man has more privilege in this society than a woman.

But what if all else isn’t equal?

Does a Black man have more privilege than a white woman?  Does a gay man have more privilege than a straight woman? Does a man born into poverty have more privilege than a woman born into wealth?  Does a Pagan man have more privilege than a Christian woman?  Does a transman have more privilege than a ciswoman?

Does an educated, wealthy, Black Muslim cis-lesbian have more privilege or less than a poor, undereducated, white Christian straight transman?

The answer to all the above is a resounding “…Maybe?”  And in order to explore that Maybe, that grey area, the ways in which someone may be simultaneously less privileged and more privileged than someone else, we have to acknowledge that privilege and oppression and marginalization are Complicated.  And that whole Complicated shebang is called kyriarchy.

And the best way we’ve found to navigate it is through intersectionality.

Intersectionality is me understanding that a Black man does have more privilege than me in some circumstances, while I have more privilege than him in others.

Intersectionality is understanding that although we are all women, I don’t experience the same types of sexism as a Black woman, a transwoman, a Muslim woman, or a lesbian.

Intersectionality is knowing that it’s not a contest.  Nobody wins when you play the “who’s more oppressed?” game.  Acknowledging the marginalization others face does not diminish the marginalization we face.

Intersectionality is refusing to play the zero-sum game, where my rights can only be established by taking away someone else’s rights.

Intersectionality means, in conjunction with the above, being willing to take a clear-eyed look at what is a “right” and what is merely a privilege I’ve grown accustomed to.

Intersectionality is understanding that while race and sexuality are not the same thing, the arguments used to justify racism are now being used to justify homophobia.  It’s recognizing that if those arguments were flawed and unjust in one case, they’re flawed and unjust in all cases.

Intersectionality is desiring the same basic rights and protections for ALL groups as for our own.

Intersectionality is seeking to improve the whole system, not just replace one privileged class with another.

Intersectionality is recognizing that, while we may not be able to fight every battle at once, we can at least refrain from hindering other people’s battles while we fight our own.

Intersectionality is respecting the rights of marginalized people who make different choices than yours.

Intersectionality is believing that everyone who’s experienced any kind of marginalization should be a natural ally of anyone else who’s experiencing it.  We’re all in this together.

And, yes, intersectionality is understanding that sometimes, not often but sometimes, rights will conflict.  And when that happens, we need to be willing to talk, to listen, and to see the other group as fully human.  We need to refrain from throwing them under the marginalization bus in order to “win.”  We need to approach these conflicts not as enemies hoping to score points off each other, but as friends who genuinely want to find the fairest solution for all parties.

Pie-in-the-sky?  Eh, maybe.  Humans are rarely perfect.  But the alternative model is an “us-vs-them” mentality where we can’t even agree on who “them” is.  Understanding that different types of marginalization exist, and understanding that all of it is bad, is the first step towards creating something better.

Choose your insults carefully/Just A Bitch

(TW: racist terminology, sexist terminology)

A few years ago, we had an impromptu get-together in our backyard.  (Not an uncommon occurrence, round these parts.)  An old friend and former roommate had stopped by, with three of his friends that we hadn’t met, and it quickly turned into a “new friends, meet old friends” sort of party.

It was a perfect Florida night, not too hot, not too cold.  We had a fire blazing in the firebowl.  The beer was chilled and plentiful.  We were sitting around, shooting the shit, like ya do.  And then, in the middle of complaining about her job, one of our friend’s new friends came out with this:

“My boss has been such a bitch this week.  I hate that nigger!”

A shocked silence fell.  Someone – might have been me, I don’t know – let out a nervous giggle, loud in the quiet.  We stared at each other, stunned, not entirely sure we believed she had just said that.  I glanced at my friend – who the hell did you bring here?  He gave me a minuscule shrug – I didn’t know she was going to say that!

Realizing too late that her statement wasn’t going over well, she tried to explain:  “Hey, I’m not a racist or anything.  But she’s really mean to me, so I don’t mind calling her that.”

The silence deepened.  Got louder.

Finally our other roommate, one of the world’s natural born peacemakers, came out with, “Heyyy, I think we’ve got some marshmallows.   Who wants to roast some marshmallows?  I’ll go get ’em!”

And I, quietly, went inside and hid in my computer cave, spending the rest of the evening obsessively refreshing my blogs, trying to find something to distract me so I didn’t go back outside and pick a fight.

To this day, I sorta wish I had.  Half-drunk and incensed, I don’t know if I could have voiced my objection coherently.  Most likely it would have come down to me insisting that if she didn’t apologize, she would have to leave.  And since my friend was her ride, he’d have to leave too, and I didn’t want that.

But I still feel like I should have said something.

My mind, however, keeps coming back to her justification: I don’t like her, so it’s ok to call her a nigger.

At the time of this incident, I was working at a restaurant.  And I absolutely despised one of my managers.  She was lazy, she was incompetent, she was  mean, she flat-out refused to call me by my right name (long story.)  She particularly disliked me, and would single me out, whether I’d done anything wrong or not, to be nasty to me.  Oh, I hated her.  Oh, I called her every name in the book, in the privacy of my own head.

But – even though I’m white, and she’s Black – it never even occurred to me to call her a  nigger.

Why would it?  None of the things I disliked about her had anything to do with the color of her skin.  She would have been just as bad if she’d been white, or any other race.  And trust me, I had PLENTY of things to complain about without resorting to racial insults.  Why on earth would I use a word to describe her that means, and ONLY means, “you are bad because you are Black”?

If you’re going to complain about your manager, complain about what your manager actually does.  Tell us how she messes up your schedule without warning, how she always assigns you bathroom-cleaning duty, how she refused to let you go home even though you were throwing up, how she constantly belittles you.  Find an insult that reflects all that, or one that generically says “you are a bad person because you choose to be.”  But racial insults mean one thing, and one thing only – racism.  You don’t throw the n-word around as an insult and then claim to not be racist, because that word is only insulting if you start from the premise that being Black is a Bad Thing.

**********

So let’s talk about Margaret Thatcher.

Full disclosure: I don’t know anything about Margaret Thatcher.  I have less than zero knowledge about her.  That’s right; it’s negative knowledge.  If you listened to me talk about her for five minutes, you would come away stupider for having had the conversation.

So I have absolutely zero opinion about her politics, her actions while in office, her worth as a human being.  No clue.  None.

But according to the rest of the world, she was apparently… unpopular.  In some circles.

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This… this is not ok.

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And this is not true.

Much like with the other, racist example, it’s really quite simple: either being female is, IN AND OF ITSELF, something to be despised and mocked, or it is not.

If it is, then you are sexist.

If it is not, then when criticizing and condemning someone who happens to be female, it is not ok to use sexist terms to insult them.  Because what words like “cunt” mean are “you are bad for being female.”

If Margaret Thatcher was really as bad as all that, I feel sure you can find ways to insult her that do not ALSO say “hey, being female is bad.”

And no, the fact that she “denied” feminism or that you do not consider her a feminist does not exclude her from this.  If feminism means anything, it means that women are ALWAYS people.  Whether they agree with us or not.  Whether we like them or not.  It means doing away with the “exceptional woman” myth, where those OTHER women are bad, but we GOOD women are ok.  You are not required to like Thatcher, to respect her, to support the things she did, any of it.  But if you are truly a feminist, you have to respect that she was, indeed, human, and that using sexualized insults to belittle her and diminish her – and by extension belittle and diminish everyone she shared a gender with – is 100% Not Ok.

It’s Not Ok to do that to Thatcher.  It’s Not Ok to do that to Sarah Palin.  It’s Not Ok to do that to Michelle Bachmann.  It’s Not Ok to do that.

Gender equality isn’t just for people we like.

***

“But wait!”, I can hear some of you saying.  “You like the term ‘bitch,’ Kristycat!  Why are you objecting to it now?”

Why yes, inconveniently-observant reader, I do like the term bitch.  I object to it here on two grounds:

1) Many people using it in reference to Thatcher DO consider it sexist.  Regardless of the term being used, I want to attack the root idea that “sexism is bad for me, but ok for thee.”

2) Amongst those of us who do use the term “bitch” as an insult, it’s usually used dismissively: “Oh, just ignore her, she’s just a bitch.”

When something that dismissive is used against a woman who holds or held a position of great power, that dismissiveness sends its own message.

Imagine: if someone described George W. Bush, or Mitt Romney, or any other prominent male politician as “just a dick” or “just a jerk,” you would seriously wonder about their political awareness.  After all, these men held significant power, or were at risk of holding significant power.  The stakes were pretty  high.  People, real people, suffered or would have suffered as a direct result of their policies.  International world leaders knew their names and faces.  We may have disliked them, thought them stupid or immoral or irrational or blinkered by privilege… but we wouldn’t have considered them petty or irrelevant.  Yet that’s how such an epithet would have rendered them.  Someone to be ignored, scoffed at, dismissed as though their very real shortcomings were of no more import than a guy being a creep at a party.

It’s disrespectful to a world leader, and it’s a dangerous way to think – a way of hiding from a problem.

When people apply the word “bitch” to Thatcher, what I hear is that, because she’s a woman, she doesn’t have to be taken as seriously as a male politician.  Doesn’t matter what she did, what she accomplished – in the end, she’s Just A Woman.  She’s Just A Bitch.  It erases all the good and all the bad she may have done, erases all fame or notoriety.  It says, “yeah, she did some really bad things, and I WOULD be angry about them, but I don’t really care.  Because it doesn’t matter.  She’s Just A Bitch.”

Just a bitch.

I don’t imagine men enjoy being demonized either, but at least they get demonized in ways that respect their power, their accomplishments.  They’re dangerous.  They’re a threat to society as we know it.  They’re someone worth mobilizing against, worth debating, worth fighting.  In certain extreme cases, they may even be (called) the Antichrist!

They’re taken seriously.  Because they’re men.

But Margaret Thatcher was a woman.

So she’s Just A Bitch.

On a related issue…

(CN: transphobia, murder)

…if you support the Arizona bathroom bill that would prevent trans* folks from using the bathroom of their preferred gender, I just want to make this clear.

These are the people you are insisting must use the women’s room:

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And these are the people you are insisting must use the men’s room:

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I’m just sayin’.  For people who get all up in arms about “men in the ladies’ room,” y’all seem to really want those guys up there in your bathrooms.  And you really seem to want to send the women (and little girl) up there into the guy’s bathroom.  Just seems weird to me, is all.

(A depressing side note: I had a very hard time finding pictures for transwomen, because every time I’d click on one, I’d find out she had been recently murdered – most often for being transgender.  Didn’t really want to do that, as I felt it would be disrespectful.)

(Also: the pictures I’ve used are all of people who are openly trans* in their public lives.  If someone isn’t, please don’t out them.  That’s not cool.)

H/t to chris the cynic for suggesting this particular line of thought, btw