HB2 and making problems where there were none

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking about writing you a letter on this issue for a while, and I guess lucky for procrastinating me, it hasn’t blown over. Unluckily for transgender people, unfortunately, it hasn’t blown over.
By now, you’ve probably figured out I’m going to be writing about the infamous bathroom bill. I’m not a fan.
It’s been incredible to see over the past few years the gains transgender people have made in visibility and acceptance, from Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black to Janet Mock. Unfortunately, just as with the women’s rights, when a marginalized groups makes some gains and gets some visibility, there’s usually a huge backlash. We saw it with the push for women’s suffrage, as I’ve written about before, and we see it in the rise of Men’s Rights Activists and virulent online misogyny in response to modern feminism, and we’re seeing it in HB2 and hysterical fear-mongering arguments that “men in dresses” will attack children in bathrooms.
To top it off, this whole “men in the women’s restroom is a threat to women’s safety” thing assumes that all men are violent sexual predators and that gender-separated restrooms somehow keep people safe. But when I was a little girl just learning how to use the restroom, I remember you going into the restroom with me to help me out. I don’t remember if it was the men’s room or women’s (I feel like maybe it was both on different occasions?) but HB2 would criminalize either.
I’ve seen little boys in the women’s room, and I wouldn’t be upset about a father helping his daughter pee in a public restroom, regardless of which bathroom they use. Public restrooms have stalls, which is privacy enough for anyone to do their business, and no one should have to show their birth certificate to go in a stall.
On top of this bill creating problems that didn’t exist before, it also assumes gender and gender expression are black and white — or pink and blue. But they’re not. I remember a kid in my high school, a couple years younger than me, and the whole two years we attended school together, I didn’t know their gender. They were very physically ambiguous. But it didn’t matter because they’re a stranger! My guess at their gender would have no value on my life, or theirs.
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Boys can paint their nails and like dolls, girls can play baseball and hate makeup. The only thing that says otherwise are gender norms like the ones HB2 seeks to enforce, which leads to individuals who don’t adhere strictly enough to those norms being discriminated against.
And some people don’t really feel like “boy” or “girl” describes them accurately. They can shift between genders, or maybe don’t feel they have any specific gender at all. AND THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY BECAUSE WHAT MATTERS IS THAT THEY’RE PEOPLE AND DESERVE THE SAME RIGHTS AS ANYONE ELSE.
But I’m rambling now. What matters is this, Dad: HB2 creates problems out of nonproblems, and seeks to enforce binaries and create barriers. What we need to be doing though, is breaking down those barriers to create a culture of expression and acceptance.
Also, sometimes when the line for the women’s room is long, I use the men’s. It’s totally no big deal.
Love,
Vicki

Why feminism still matters

Dear Dad,

I just got home from a really wonderful panel on intersectional feminism. There were old and young women, of different races, sexualities, abilities, socioeconomic factors and walks of life, discussing intersectionality, or the concept that feminism must cover not just gender but the “intersections” of each person’s many identities.

One of my favorite things that a panelist said was to describe intersectional feminism as the idea that there is no single, monolithic female experience. I think this really strikes at the heart of why feminism still is so key, and specifically intersectional feminism: Yes, women have the right to vote and divorce and we are no longer considered property in America, but even with the legal protections and cultural strides we have made, there are still so many people who face oppression daily. Women still make less than men, but black women make less than white women , and Latinas make even less still. Queer youth face a higher risk of bullying, violence and sexual assault, as well as increased risk of depression and suicidal tendencies. And girls are still blamed for their own assaults, while the media refers to their attackers sympathetically, though activism is helping turn the tide, slowly but surely.

Later in the evening, a woman read Mindy Nettifee’s “For The Young Women Who Don’t Consider Themselves,” a lovely, hilarious, biting poem about solidarity, about feminist history, about how women still suffer, even if the Women Against Feminism don’t feel like they’ve been oppressed.

It’s a reminder that my feminism is not just about me, Dad. My feminism is not just about street harassment or unshaven legs or sexuality. My feminism is also about supporting people from all paths, of all genders, sexualities, races, riches, nationalities, religions, body types, ages and abilities. My feminism is about railing against teaching little boys they can’t cry because it’s “unmanly;” it’s about fighting for the right for everyone to love who they choose, safely and consensually, without fear of violence; it’s about standing up against racism and standing behind the people of color who are fighting it; it’s about supporting accessibility for everyone, and fighting stigma around disability and mental illness; my feminism is about love, acceptance and equal rights for all.

Love,
Victoria

A wild MGTOW appears!

(Trigger warning: misogyny, mention of sexual assault)

Dear Dad,

It’s been a nice long dry spell, but I got another hate comment on my blog. This one was from a MGTOW, or Men Going Their Own Way, but since he used hate speech (calling women “whores”) and didn’t actually respond to the post he commented on (nothing said about Katniss, archery or representation of women in the media), he violated my comment policy and I didn’t approve it. (The comment policy is a pretty handy guideline when it comes to sifting criticism from hate speech.)

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However, I want to bring him up, Dad, because he is a good example of some of the violent misogyny that exists in the world. I was familiar with the term MGTOW before he began praising it in his comment because I read We Hunted the Mammoth, a very handy guide to “the new misogyny,” or internet misogyny (This is a good example of MGTOW ideology). MGTOW is a mindset that says men are better off without troublesome women, and all their false rape accusations, child support and alimony. Unfortunately, instead of actually “going their own way” and leaving women be, they show up in inboxes of women like me, ranting about how we can all “burn in Hades” (actual quote).

I bring this up because there was one line in his rant that struck me as very telling and important:

Women have nothing to add to my life but the opportunity to have sex.

He then goes on to rage about false rape accusations and STDs, but I went back to this line because of how telling it is. You see, this man does not believe that women are actually people. They are not human beings with histories and goals and ideas. To him, women can’t offer friendship or help on a project or even a humorous joke. They are sexual objects (and sexual objects that apparently come with a lot of traps).

It’s hard to accept, but there is a segment of the population that believes that I am not a person, deserving of rights and respect and individual dignity. There are men who see me only as a hateable sex object.

And this is part of why feminism is so important to me, Dad. People still exist who think that women are not worth as much as men. And as more vocal supporters stand up for equality, it seems more virulent hatred comes from those who do not want things to change. (This man even talked about how lucky women had it in the 50s; you know, when they couldn’t pursue most careers and marital rape wasn’t recognized. It was obviously a swell time for women.)

I believe advocating for feminism is creating change for the better (just this week, Men’s Health South Africa agreed to purge itself of pick-up artist manipulation articles), and I will continue to stand up for my beliefs, because I am a person, and I deserve respect.

With hope,
Victoria

When our strong women characters get written out

Dear Dad,

Have you seen that archer viral video going around? It’s pretty cool. Archer Lars Andersen has studied old paintings and manuscripts to better understand forgotten archery techniques, and demonstrates how to shoot quickly and accurately through a host of challenges. It’s really mind blowing, and satisfies my interest in archery and history in one fell swoop:

However, I have one issue with this, and it’s not with the video; it’s with the way the video is being written again. I first noticed it in The Nerdist’s write up of the video. The article said on-screen archers are popular right now, citing Green Arrow, Hawkeye and Legolas. True, all these are on-screen archers, but Katniss Everdeen, one of the most popular fictional characters with a bow right now, was completely forgotten.

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Another article, from bleedingcool.com, was titled “Move over Hawkeye, Green Arrow, and Legolas, there’s a new archer in town.” These archers are “pretty darn cool,” but again, Katniss doesn’t get a mention.

And it’s not that Katniss is unpopular. None of the three Hobbit movies, released around the same time as The Hunger Games films, have grossed as much as the dystopian trilogy about the archer girl from District 12. Covergirl even released a makeup line inspired by the films (which made me a little uncomfortable considering the books’ attitude toward fashion and frivolous consumption but I digress).

But I suspect that is part of the problem: Katniss is a woman. She’s feminine and in our society, feminine is considered superficial and less important than masculine things. Katniss is a dynamic character, with strengths, flaws and goals, and she’s good enough with a bow to fight her way out of an arena. She did make an appearance in the video, briefly, in a segment about how movie archers shoot wrong, but in coverage of this viral video, she is forgotten.

This is erasure, Dad. We have a female main character known for her archery, and yet male supporting characters get mentioned when discussing archery in film and television. I can’t help but be reminded of the female scientists who are not taught about in school in favor of their male counterparts. This casually forgetting strong women lowers women’s visibility. It tells other women that our stories and accomplishments are not as important as men’s, and it erases our history for the girls who come after us. As a child, I didn’t think women could be funny because I didn’t know any great female comedians. I didn’t think women could be scientists because instead of Rosalind Franklin, we studied Watson and Crick.

It’s a small thing, I know, but I would have liked to see Katniss mentioned in these articles. I would have liked to see women represented.

Love,
Victoria

The marriage quandary

Dear Dad,

It seems I have come to a new stage in my life. No, it’s not my big impending move, or the new job, or my fast-approaching 25th birthday. It’s my friends’ Facebook posts. Over the past six or so months, they’ve all seemed to have one thing in common: marriage.

Whether it’s being bridesmaid or bride, groomsman or groom, everyone these days seems to be in weddings. One weekend in August, I counted seven individual weddings in my Facebook feed. In the last two days, two different couples got engaged (congrats, guys!) and everybody seems to be pinning to wedding boards. And when I wasn’t watching the mass matrimony on Facebook, I was working at an inn that seemed to have a different magical ceremony every weekend.

I confess, I’m getting swept up. Like when I was a kid, I’m daydreaming about a big party, a big, sparkly white dress, cake… I’ve even caught myself planning a reception mixtape, and I’m not even engaged.

And yet, I have to wonder at how much societal influence (especially Facebook) has to do with my interest in marriage. I am in a happy, loving, committed relationship. I don’t need to put on his last name to prove it to anyone, but I fantasize about it.

Even as I get swept up in the romance, weddings still remind me of all the women-as-property traditions that we cling to in this society.

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Many women still believe their boyfriends should ask their fathers for permission before proposing, for instance. Men have told me its “respectful,” but respectfully, Dad, it’s not your decision to make; it’s mine. And the father “giving his daughter away” is a leftover of the transfer of goods that marriage once was. (Mental Floss has a great roundup of the origins of traditions, ranging from superstition to patriarchal rite.)

As I watch many of my friends take their vows, I long for that for myself, and also question why we hold on to so many patriarchal traditions. Why should I take a husband’s name? Do I even need to marry him? Isn’t pledging devotion between two people enough?

I’m not the only feminist who struggles with this. In fact, feminists are torn on the question of whether marriage can be redeemed from its origins. Some believe a feminist getting married is a betrayal, while others argue the very personal decision can change marriage for the better, as married feminist Lisa Miya-Jervis explains.

I guess all I’m saying, Dad, is I don’t have all the answers. As I’m moving forward and entering a new stage in my life, I’m still struggling to figure out what decision is right for me. And whether I marry or not, my decision is framed by patriarchy and a long history of marriage, so I’m thinking carefully before I make it.

Love,
Victoria

Burning the brassiere: One woman’s struggle for comfort and women’s liberation

Dear Dad,

I know living in a house with me when I was a teenager, you had an up-close-and-personal experience of what most girls experience going through puberty. Maybe too personal: Remember sitting up all night with me as I cried that time I had terrible cramps?

You also had a front row seat to the struggles I went through trying to find a bra that fit. First, I was wearing Target bras that were woefully too small, and wore out quickly. Then, I found bras that fit, but I had to shell out close to $200 for two. Working my way through college, I often didn’t have money to buy bras when I needed them, and had to suffer for months with ill-fitting, worn-out contraptions that left me with bruises and sometimes cuts.
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Lately, I’ve been working three jobs, and my bra pain has only gotten worse. Because my body is constantly fatigued, it’s difficult for my bruises to heal, and putting on a bra brings almost instant, excruciating pain.

So I stopped wearing bras.

Mostly.

I’ve taken to wearing bathing suit tops or shelf bras. The shape isn’t the same, I don’t look like Betty Page anymore, but I’m also able to concentrate at work.

It’s been a struggle emotionally. I’ve been raised in a world where women’s breasts are portrayed as beautifully sculpted globes that just stay perky through antigravity or something. As a voluptuous woman, I learned to tie my sense of beauty, attractiveness and self worth to my breasts and the way my bra shaped them. Going out of the house in a shelf bra, I’ve felt as if everyone is staring at me and wondering why my breasts are so saggy.

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Throughout my whole individual saga, I’ve been thinking about the “bra-burning feminist” stereotype that is so often thrown around to discredit feminists as extremists. I remember you telling me stories, Dad, of the feminists when you were in college who burnt their bras and hit men who opened doors for them.

In fact, feminists as bra-burners is a complete myth, fabricated to discredit the women’s movement. Jennifer Lee, director of the documentary “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation,” explains what she learned about the 1968 Miss America protests in the making of her film:

Bras were just one of the items protestors were encouraged to bring that day that signified how the male-dominated culture was keeping women locked into rigid ideas of beauty, but they weren’t burned. Starting a fire on the boardwalk was illegal, so protestors opted to Playboy magazines and other items in a Freedom Trash Can. Still, the bra-burning image remained—a symbol that was easy to belittle as women focusing on something trivial. Misinformation and myths sometimes serve as placeholders in our memory when facts are not remembered.

“Bra-burning,” or rather, throwing items that represented the oppression women faced into the trash, was a symbolic gesture, an act of defiance and liberation. I too, am trying to liberate myself from a beauty paradigm that has brought me pain and bodily harm, Dad. The more I think about it (and every time I put my bra back on) the more convinced I become that being a bra-burner is being a woman who asserts her right to comfort over rigid beauty standards. (Literally, those underwires are stiff and painful.)

Of course, I support anyone’s right to wear a bra if they want, but I’m also speaking out for the women who don’t want to, who are tired of strapping themselves in every morning, who are sick of tracing the bruises on their ribs. Burn your bras, ladies! Wear what makes you happy!

Love,
Victoria

“Free” and “fair”

Hi Dad,

I think we’re having a problem with semantics: You say that the right to vote was “free and fair” when it was given to women by men. But you also agree that the ratification of the 19th Amendment was the culmination of a long and difficult fight for equality.

As I pointed out, women were ridiculed, imprisoned and force-fed for asking for the right to vote, this by their government. Is it really free if it takes 70 years of protests to attain it? If I bake you a cake and say, “It’s free! But first I need you to clean my room and make me dinner,” you’d probably say that’s not free at all.

Second, both you and Tammy Bruce seem to believe that men deserve some sort of praise for the 19th Amendment. But it’s preposterous to demand praise for something that should have been in place to begin with. A voice in one’s government is a basic right of a citizen. It was shameful that women didn’t have it before, but I’m not going to thank men for a right that I should have had in the first place.

Another hypothetical: Remember the blocks my brother and I used to play with as kids? Imagine if I claimed those blocks all as my own, and said he couldn’t have them. Imagine he screams, cries, stages a protest, writes multiple well-reasoned letters to the newspaper, begs for you to intercede. For months, I refuse to let him play with the blocks. They’re mine. If, eventually, I decide to share, do I deserve to be rewarded for “freely and fairly” giving him the blocks? Absolutely not! They were his blocks too. I just kept them from him. There was nothing free or fair about it.

And that’s the problem I have with your argument.

Love,
Victoria