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
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Ideologically speaking

(TW: violence)

Dear Dad,

I enjoyed visiting you and the fam in Minnesota for Christmas. You know I always love a chance to get a White Christmas, throw a few snowballs, before returning to the warm climes of California.

A photo of a woman, bundled in jackets, sweaters, scarf, sweatpants and a hat, standing on top of a snow-covered playground structure.

Wearing my haphazardly slapped together snow outfit on a winter excursion. Can you tell I don’t actually own snow clothes?

I also enjoy our conversations, even though this Christmas’ debate was a particularly tense one, which wasn’t aided by the fact that we hopped around from topic to topic like a cat on the nip. I’d like to return, however, to our discussion on ideologies, especially since it relates so much to discussions we’ve had before on this blog about ideology and “lenses.”

Your second blog post to me was on this same topic, describing ideologies as glasses that one views the world through: They shape how we perceive our reality. I’ve thought often about this comparison, and about where this metaphor falls down. Even with a feminist worldview, for instance, my perception could vary wildly from that of Beyonce, Gloria Steinem, and Jessica Valenti. What I’ve experienced and learned, read about and watched, all has an impact on my own personal ideology, which is an amalgam of classes I took, advice from friends, my own contemplations, and my reading.

I guess what I’m saying is, we all have our paradigms. Sometimes, we put a name to them and call them an ideology, to let people know we fall into the same camp as other individuals we admire. I proudly say I’m a feminist because it’s a quick way to let people know that I stand up for women’s rights. But my feminism is something I keep revising and evolving in and growing. I proudly claim the title, but if one day, I find one that suits me better, I can discard it in favor of that one.

All that being said, you were right when you wrote that ideologies can warp reality. In our discussion over the holiday, Dad, we talked about the frequency of shootings in the U.S. You said that the San Bernardino shooters espoused a violent Islamic ideology, but that other recent mass shooters were simply mentally ill and in need of care. I thought on this on the plane ride home, and for the whole week, and I can’t agree. I think in our country’s narrow focus on terrorism as an Islamic threat, we don’t acknowledge that there are other ideologies present in the fabric of the United States that can lead to violence as well, regardless of the mental health of the perpetrator. Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, for instance, took a gun to African-American churchgoers because he believed he was defending white women. This man espoused a radically white supremacist worldview. He wasn’t just some “crazy.” His vision was warped by lenses of racism and a twisted sense of patriotism. Similarly, the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado declared afterward that there would be “no more baby parts,” clearly influenced by pro-life rhetoric about the health care provider. His view of right and wrong was distorted by a pro-life movement that led him to believe the only solution to safe, legal abortion was to kill those providing it. Maybe it’s difficult to see a pro-life person lumped in with radical Muslim terrorists, but all of these shooters have an ideology, a distorted worldview influenced by their experiences and the information they receive, that led them down the path they took. To write the non-Muslims off as “crazy” anomalies is to obscure the path to a solution.

And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after a week of stewing, though I’m sure, with time, my vision will continue to develop and I might have to adjust the prescription on my lenses a little. Thanks for the food for thought, Dad, and happy new year.

Love you,
Victoria

On Kim Davis

Dear Dad,

I’m sure you’ve heard of Kim Davis, the county clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. It seems lately my Facebook feed has been nothing but Kim Davis, memes of her, memes about how many men she’s married, angry statuses about how she should suck it up and do her job, videos of her crying after she was released from jail, Mike Huckabee proudly at her side.

And I need to say up front that I think what Davis has done is deplorable. As a county clerk, her job is to serve her constituents and uphold the constitution. Our interpretation of the constitution has changed (that happens occasionally), but that doesn’t mean that she gets to refuse to uphold it. On a moral level, she’s homophobic and hateful. I’m happy that we finally have marriage equality, and that the country is moving toward giving all people equal rights regardless of sexual orientations. People like Davis stand in the way of that, but it’s clear that she’s part of a shrinking (if vocal) minority.

Meme of Kim Davis with jerk meme hat on. Text:

BUT—and it’s a big but—I am sick to death of the way Davis’ personal life is being treated by progressives. I can’t scroll through my Facebook feed without seeing something about how many men Davis has been married to, Dad, or how many kids she’s had out of wedlock. This isn’t kind, understanding, or progressive, and I can’t stand it.

As a feminist, I don’t believe women should be judged for their sexual history, and that includes women I don’t like. I don’t suddenly get to make fun of a woman for being divorced multiple times because I disagree with her politics. The wider progressive movement pushes for more compassion and consideration of marginalized voices, which is why I am attracted to it. We support gay rights, women’s rights, transgender rights, the rights of people of color. But when a movement about compassion starts deriding its opponents based on their personal lives, I can’t stand by silently.

Several people have told me that this is about pointing out hypocrisy: Someone fighting for “biblical marriage” doesn’t live by those ideals herself. They’re cutting this woman down with her own weapons.

Maybe I’m an idealist. But I don’t think that’s okay. If we’re going to hold people and society to a higher standard of compassion and acceptance, we have to hold ourselves to it too. We can’t just throw that aside the first chance we get to mock a brazen woman.

Furthermore, attacking Davis’ marriage history doesn’t really stop her from being a hero to the religious right. I was raised in a church, Dad. I know that Davis can say she repents and she’ll still get to keep her new spouse. Maybe some of the church members will gossip about her behind her back, but grace means she can ask for forgiveness and move on with her life. An LGBT person doesn’t have that luxury, because the “sin” is their sexual orientation. For an LGBT person to repent, according to Davis and her ilk, they’d have to stop being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender, or at least suppress it forever. Look no further than Mike Huckabee proudly standing beside Davis as she was cheered by her supporters: To them, she’s a born-again woman standing up for God.

I believe that Kim Davis is wrong. As a county clerk, she must abide by the law and do her job or step down. I believe that she’s homophobic and that gay people should have all the same rights as straight people. But I will continue to defend Davis’ right to marry any damn person she pleases without progressives butting in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Dad. How has the rest of the family been talking about Kim Davis? What is your church’s reaction? What is your reaction, to both Davis and progressive attacks?

Talk to you soon. Love,

Victoria

Idolatry, Beyoncé and feminism

Dear Dad,

I think a lot about my Sunday school lessons, and particularly the commandment not to have “false idols.” As a kid, I learned that this was in response to the Israelites, led by Moses’ brother, Aaron, creating a calf out of gold to worship. As I grew up, you and Mom taught me that idols are more than just statues of gods; they’re anything you put on a pedestal for worship, like money, a relationship, or a pop star.

This lesson came to mind when I saw the latest Beyoncé trend sweeping the Internet: #Beyoncealwaysonbeat. If you’re not familiar, footage of Beyoncé dancing is matched up to almost any song you please, be it rap, pop, gospel, or the Ducktales theme. The results are glorious.

But, as anyone who reads music would know, and as Slate points out, it’s not hard to match up music and dancing when most songs are written in the same time signature.

I love Beyoncé. I think her music is fun and inspiring, her dance moves are ridiculously awesome, and her feminism is empowering in its unabashed visibility. But, scrolling through #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos at 11:05 last night, I thought again about those Sunday School lessons on idols, Dad.

Beyoncé is not perfect. She does make mistakes. And putting her on a pedestal is dangerous for me and her, as I risk disappointment, and she gets held to impossibly high standards.

I’m learning to respect people I admire as humans, instead of believing they, and their dance moves, can never slip. I’ve written before about Anita Sarkeesian. I think her work is hugely important and I love her videos. Recently she tweeted about how Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film. My heart sank. Obviously, I didn’t feel the same. And then I realized that it was perfectly okay for us to disagree. Feminism is not a monolith and Anita is not my idol. I can respect her opinions and work but I don’t need to be on the same page as her about everything.

In the end, Dad, learning not to have idols helped me be a better feminist, and helped me relax and enjoy things more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if there are any new #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos.

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

What happens when we get representation

Heya, Dad!

How long has it been since we talked representation? Awhile?

As a refresher, representation is when diverse people are included in media (preferably) as fleshed-out individuals. It’s the idea that people want to see stories about people they can relate to, and that when we see positive portrayals of people like us, that can give us something to aspire to. Like Whoopi Goldberg going into acting after seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek.



Recently, I read a phenomenal article, Hanna Brooks Olsen’s “A Leslie Knope in a World of Liz Lemons.” Olsen contrasts Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, two enormously popular sitcoms created by celebrity best friends and outspoken feminists Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. When 30 Rock aired, Olsen says, women reveled in seeing a woman as flawed as they were on TV. Liz Lemon was hungry, sloppy, kind of a mess with guys and really selfish. Seeing such an honest character was a breath of fresh air. Women everywhere found themselves saying, “I am Liz Lemon!” (Including me.)

But, Olsen argues, aspiring to Lemon-hood holds us back. Instead, we should aspire to be Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a woman whose flaws include her intense passion:

Leslie’s flaws — like that she’s a borderline hoarder and that she sometimes is so passionate about issues that it’s “like arguing with the sun,” as her husband tells her at one point—are less cute. They are real and they are difficult and they are the kind of flaws that women rarely play up. They are the flaws that get women pegged as “bossy” or “bitchy” in the workplace. They are the flaws that we desperately try to distract from as we “complain” that we sometimes (adorably!!!) eat the entire tub of Just One Of The Guys Full Fat Because We’re So Bad Ice Cream in one sitting.

But her positive traits — her unstoppable work ethic, her deep, thoughtful love of her friends, and her nonstop motivation to succeed—are the ones that make her a role model.

While the representation of Liz Lemon was refreshing and new, Olsen argues, Knope gives women someone they can aspire to be.

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of Broad City, another female-driven comedy. It’s the first comedy series I’ve ever watched that has made me laugh out loud at every single episode from the very first episode. 



Watching it, I tried to figure out which of the two protagonists I was. Like Ilana, I have short hair and sometimes wear inappropriate, childlike outfits. Like Abby, I work hard at my job and aspire to climb the ladder. But after several episodes of vacillating between the two, I decided I am neither. I don’t smoke weed or Skype my best friend everyday, or go on the same wild adventures they do.

And that is perfectly okay. That’s the thing about representation: When there are enough diverse, interesting women in media, I don’t have to see myself in every one. I don’t have to be every complex portrayal of every woman on TV. But when there are so many different women on TV, I have plenty of role models to choose from.

Have you seen Big Hero 6 yet, Dad? You’re missing out if you haven’t. Like I’ve said before, the film features several female scientists in the main group of friends. The best part about that is their gender doesn’t become central to their identity. When you don’t have one girl in the cast fulfilling the role of “the girl,” you’re free to create more interesting characters. In this case, there’s the tough-as-nails speed-demon with a cool bicycle and the sweet, all-things-pink chemistry whiz. Do you know how powerful it is to see a group of diverse women and realize how open your options are? It’s empowerment.

And it’s why representation matters.

Love,

Victoria