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.
transgender q
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

Thoughts on Thank You

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-esteem lately. As a young woman, and a feminism, it’s something that I’ve worked to grow and bolster in myself, as well as worked to help others grow. I’ve blogged in the past about my body, and written a lot about body positivity. It’s one way I work through my own complicated feelings about my body, as well as, hopefully, show other women that it’s okay to love your body exactly as it is. I even had a friend message me recently to say she quit shaving her armpits and loves it, and to thank me for being vocal on the issue and giving her the courage.

A photo of a white woman with pink hair sitting on a rock on a beach looking out toward the sea.

Learning to love every curve, crook, and fuzzy patch of my body is a continuing process.

As part of being positive about my self and the corporeal form I inhabit, Dad, I also strive to speak positively about my body. When someone compliments an outfit, or my hair, or some physical aspect, I try to thank them, instead of shrugging it off with, “Ugh, my boobs look so dumpy in this though,” or some other negative, self-deprecating comment. This reinforces for me that it’s okay to be happy with my body just the way it is, and it’s also gracious. (Though I’m not perfect and don’t always stick to this goal…)

My goals in not tearing myself down weren’t always noble, though, Dad. I think it started first as a misogynistic rebellion against the stereotype that girls are always complaining about their appearance. I saw it in the locker room in middle school: One girl would sigh, “Ugh, I’m so fat,” and her friends would rush to reassure her that she was totally not. And to be honest, I was jealous. It seemed like the prettiest girls were always complaining about their looks and getting accolades, and so, in rebellion, I didn’t complain about my flaws or insecurities. Because I wasn’t a “shallow girl like the rest of them.” Internalized misogyny can be complicated.

Since then, I’ve worked to improve my relationship with my body, and with other women. Instead of feeling myself superior to others of my gender, I focus on learning to love every curve, crook, and fuzzy patch of my body, and speak out about it publicly to encourage others to fearlessly do the same. It’s a little bit making amends for my old opinions, and a lot bit dedicating time and energy to being happy with me as I am.

I still get jealous, though, Dad. This week, I saw a friend on Twitter praising someone else as cute. The person’s response was essentially, “No! I’m not cute! I’m gross!” Which was met with, “Of course you’re cute! You’re so so cute! The cutest! Everyone, tell her how cute she is!” And part of me was hella jealous. Part of me wondered if instead of meeting the occasional compliment with a “thank you,” I responded with, “No, I’m really not!” I would be given even more praise and adoration. Part of me wanted to sigh and bemoan how very fat I am so that someone somewhere would reassure me that I’m totally not. I still get insecure and I still get jealous of other women and I still get petty, sometimes, try as I might to uphold values of sisterhood and self-love.

I think for now, I’ll keep saying thank you, if/when I get compliments. And I’ll fight the urge to get jealous of other women. And remember that I still have a long ways to go.

Love,
Victoria

Mad Max smashes the patriarchy

Dear Dad,

Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet? If not, head to the movies RIGHT NOW and watch it.

Did you do it? Hopefully yes, because I am about to talk about what an empowering feminist flick it is. If you haven’t seen it yet, though, I shall attempt to keep this post as spoilers-free as possible.

Let me start by saying that I planned to see this movie from the first time I saw the trailer. It looked awesome. I mean, hello? Car chases, futuristic desert setting, explosions, post-apoc punks, those awesome firework flares? It all looked rad! 

To top it off, a bunch of Men’s Rights Activist-types were enraged by Charlize Theron’s tough character Furiosa in the trailer, and called for a boycott of the film:

Not only REFUSE to see the movie, but spread the word to as many men as possible. … Because if [men] sheepishly attend and Fury Road is a blockbuster, then you, me, and all the other men (and real women) in the world will never be able to see a real action movie ever again that doesn’t contain some damn political lecture or moray about feminism, SJW-ing, and socialism.

As David Futrelle writes over at We Hunted The Mammoth, these men are enraged that an action movie would dare to have a woman in one of the lead roles. So of course, if misogynists want to boycott a film, I have to go see it.

I was expecting action, explosions, a post-apocalyptic world and Charlize Theron. But I got an incredible movie about the power and agency of women.

To start with, there are the wives, the pretty young women wrapped in white cloth in the trailer. The harem of a powerful dictator, they rebel and try to escape, setting up the entire conflict for the movie. And their mantra? 

“We are not things.”

  
These women fight actively against being objectified, and their fight is the central struggle of the film. All of these car chases and explosions happen because a patriarch wants to keep women as property, and they refuse.

There’s also a delightful number of women in this movie, not just the wives and Furiosa, but a matriarchal tribe of biker babes who are badass and good with muskets. And these women are of all ages, with more women over 40 in speaking roles than any other film I can think of off the top of my head. (I will say no more on this matriarchal tribe as I don’t want to spoil anything, except that they’re called the Vulvalini, which is delightfully campy as well as hella feminist.)

And then of course there’s Furiosa, Charlize Theron’s delightful, glorious Furiosa, who gets top billing alongside Tom Hardy’s Max in the opening credits, who drives a war rig and is well respected in her society, who is missing an arm and wears an awesome robotic prosthetic, but can keep up with Max in a fight even without it. Furiosa is fierce, smart, brave, willing to die for what she believes in, and absolutely mesmerizing. She is a complex character, not reduced to eye candy or a love interest, and watching her on-screen made me feel as if I (and women in general) was included in the intended audience of the film, which is HUGE.

In sum, Dad, this is a movie about women’s struggle against an oppressive patriarchy, their fight to be seen as people and not objects, all set to the soundtrack of cars, explosions, and that awesome guitarist hypeman guy. Go see Mad Max.  Go see it again and again! I know I will.

Love, 

Victoria

Let’s talk about menstruation!

Dear Dad,

Today, I want to talk about periods. I know, not a topic that gets discussed a lot in the mainstream. If it does, it’s usually derisively, as in, “If Hilary Clinton gets in the White House, she’ll start a nuclear war the first time she gets her period!” (Spoiler alert: No woman has ever started a war over menstruating.)

  
I read a wonderful, emotional piece on the excellent website Femsplain today that made me want to sit down and get out my thoughts on this constant in most women’s lives. The essay, titled “I’m Not Crazy, There’s Something Wrong,” details the author, Katie’s, struggle with unusual periods, a heavy flow, and a misdiagnosed medical condition. When she goes to the doctor because she’s concerned about her cycle, he tells her that it’s normal and not to worry about it. Unfortunately, Katie had a serious condition that didn’t get recognized until she was severely weakened from the blood loss and had to be rushed to the hospital. She survived, and never went back to that doctor.

What really struck me, though, was how silence and shame around our periods keeps us from opportunities to be healthy and at peace with our bodies. Katie writes:

Why are so many of our embarrassing stories about our periods? Probably because everything in society tells us that this is something dirty that we should hide and only talk to other women about. We should definitely not speak to men about it. It’s so messed up because we know so much more about their bodies then they do about ours — I mean, do we really want to know about wet dreams, or morning hard-ons or the fact that they feel the need to adjust themselves all damn day and in public? NO. But we are inundated with this information. Meanwhile, I’ve had grown-ass men refuse to pick up tampons at the store for me.

I think about the way I saw menstruation shamed growing up, Dad: the constant rumors in middle school about who had “started,” the virus that changed your MSN Messenger name to “I got my period,” or my own brother dismissing me when I was upset with, “Are you on your period?”

I’m sure you also remember how vocal I was about my period, mostly because my cramps were so bad that I had to explain why I was curled up on the floor crying. Talking about it, refusing to apologize for it or be ashamed, was an incredibly powerful experience. Unabashedly saying, “Yeah, I’m on period right now,” was claiming back some power over my body.

I don’t always feel at peace with my body, Dad. Whenever I get sick I ask myself what I did wrong and why I deserve this. And lately I’ve been working to get back into shape so I can ride my bike for longer. But I will say that one step to help me and other women and girls feel better about themselves is to destigmatize menstruation.

Love,

Victoria

Compromise is a dirty word

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking a lot about romantic relationships, and the way I was taught to approach them. I keep having the same conversation with male friends of mine, and for some reason, I can’t wrap my head around the gap between my understanding of relationships and theirs.

See, I’m not a big fan of the idea of compromise. Growing up, I remember the virtues of compromise in relationships being extolled, and I internalized that. I learned my lesson well, and in high school, dating Kyle, I knew that compromise was a necessary part of making our relationship work.

 

No compromise, no surrender!

 
Unfortunately, it seemed that time and again, I did all the compromising. We abided by the rules of his church, not mine. He seldom came to church with me, though I frequently went to youth group with him. He wanted a different level of physicality than I did, and he decided all of the boundaries. I found myself compromising, and bending, and bending further until I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I know you noticed, Dad. I had learned compromise.

Now, 7 years later, compromise to me is an evil word. Too often, I feel, what is meant by “compromise” is really a surrender. Instead of reaching a mutually agreeable solution, the woman must give up what she wants for the relationship’s sake. Roxane Gay summed up my feelings pretty well in her essay “The Trouble With Prince Charming, Or He Who Has Trespassed Against Us“:

The thing about fairy tales is that the princess finds her prince, but there’s usually a price to pay. A compromise is required for happily ever after. The woman in the fairy tale is generally the one who pays the price. This seems to be the nature of sacrifice.

I know this is not what everyone means when they advise compromise. Good men, men who do not want women to sacrifice for them, have told me how necessary compromise is for relationships, and I believe they value cooperation equally between partners.

However, there are men who will hold that obligation of compromise above their partner’s head, demanding they give in. And there are women, like me, who have given in, who will continue to give in.

So you’ll forgive me if I say I don’t compromise anymore, Dad. Everything I give a partner is freely and happily given, and if I don’t want to give, I won’t. I don’t surrender anything anymore. Compromise is a dirty word.

Love unflinchingly,

Victoria

Shrill

Dear Dad,

As a writer, I think about words a lot. You know that. I try to pay attention to words in common use, how they’re used, what they imply, if their meaning or connotation is changing. I think too, about how their use relates to gender, and what it reveals about gender dynamics. And one word that’s been bugging me a lot lately is “shrill.”

I first noticed it in a now-memed tweet to Brianna Wu, a game designer and vocal advocate for women in gaming. Someone tweeted at her that “Respects is earn, not shrilly demanded.”

Screenshot of a tweet to Spacekatgal saying, "no you are worse than that. You are the public face of the stormtroopers. Respects is earn not shrilly demanded."

Hilarious grammar aside, the use of the word shrill stuck with me. The writer did not just critique that Wu was asking for respect, but how she was doing it. The “shrill” here was used as a way to belittle and insult Wu.

A quick search of Twitter reveals the word is used in predominantly three ways:

  1. To describe wildlife (often birds, often in poetry).
  2. To express extreme excitement (often shrill screams).
  3. To insult someone (almost always a woman).

This word is just one example of how women are criticized and ridiculed not for their views or actions, but for simply being female. As a word that is largely associated with a woman’s often higher-pitched voice, it is used to critique how women speak, not what we’re saying. Lose your cool a little and you’re labeled shrill, aggressive, bitchy, and unworthy of respect.

 

The original tweet didn’t have anything to say about Wu’s views, game design or advocacy. All that mattered was that she “shrilly demanded” respect, and that meant that she was unworthy of it. It’s a tactic meant to make women self-conscious about speaking out, and ultimately silence them.

There was one thing that I found that made me happy, when searching the interwebs on shrillness, Dad. Badass, loudmouth writer Lindy West just announced that she’s publishing her first book, a memoir called “Shrill.” West, an outspoken and unapologetic woman, has throughout her career claimed the insults slung at her and proudly thrust them back at her haters. As a fat woman, for instance, she embraces her body and refuses to let trolls calling her fat chase her off the Internet. I deeply look forward to reading her memoir when released, and seeing West throw the word “shrill” back at all the misogynists who would try to cut women down with it.

Love,
Victoria

Volkswagen: “Your precious daughter will never get married if you never let her boyfriend ask you for her hand”

Dear Dad,

You know how I feel about asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. So of course I cringed when I was catching up on the latest episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine and saw a new Volkswagen ad with just that as the premise.

The plot is this: Young man and his girlfriend’s dad are on an 11-hour car trip. Young man keeps trying to ask for her hand (“There’s something I have to ask you.”) and father keeps distracting him, shushing him, making the conversation about his swell new car. At one point, dad even accelerates in an attempt to, I dunno, outrun the guy in the passenger seat?

http://youtu.be/yZWLgApBq5A

And nowhere in the commercial is the woman, or any woman, for that matter. This commercial is on the one hand about selling cars (which like, what do marriage proposals have to do with torque or fuel efficiency?), but it’s also about selling the centuries-old idea that women are property to be handed from father to husband.

It’s just another commercial that reinforces the idea of women as tangential to men, existing only as wives or daughters, and not even of their own choosing. I’m sick of this kind of media, Dad, just as I’m sick of these gender roles we can’t seem to shake. I, for one, am not buying it.

Love,

Victoria