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

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

“That’s your dad, not society”

Dear Dad,

Today, I did something foolish: I got into an argument with people on the Internet. You think I would learn, but I’m stubborn, and when I see something ignorant, sometimes I don’t resist the urge to step in and clarify.

In this case, it was in regards to an article about Heidi Klum saving her son and nanny from drowning, and a story that focused on the nip slip that ensued, instead of the heroism. The headline was posted as an example of sexism in the media. Someone responded that that was stupid, but not sexist. Of course, I stepped in to say that women’s bodies are sexualized in ways that men’s aren’t, and offered examples of how the innocuous nipple is treated differently when it’s a woman’s than a man’s. I mentioned that you had told me to wear a shirt when I was a girl to be “modest.” That concept is sexual in nature, as it requires of woman a certain level of sexual purity that men are not held to. My brothers were not required to wear shirts the way I was.

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Long story short, this man responded that that was my “dad, not society,” which was an interesting response, to say the least. And it launched me into a train of thought about how much of our actions are individual and how much part of the societal structure.

Of course, you, individually, told me that I needed to be modest (and in response I tucked my hair under a cap and decided my name was “Thomas.” Remember that?) but you are not the only parent who taught their daughter what modesty is, or that as young women we needed to cover our chests, while our brothers ran around shirtless in the backyard.

As a feminist, it’s crucial for me to parse what actions are individual from those that are part of the patriarchy, and at the same time, it’s impossible. You see, you told me, voluntarily, to cover up, and through your voluntary, individual action, you perpetuated a system in which women’s nipples are considered obscene but men’s are not. Just as a woman shaves voluntarily , or men have voluntarily, individually called me both a slut and ugly for my writing, yes, it is a single person doing these things, but many single people do them, see them, reenact them, creating this thing we call culture.

Being aware of the creation of culture, the connection between society and “your dad,” is part of effecting change. In high school, I proudly said that I was “not like other girls.” When I realized that what I was saying meant that I was ashamed to be a woman, that I thought femininity was inferior to masculinity, I quit saying that. I broke that cycle and embraced being a woman.

Hopefully my actions, my writings, are not just me. Hopefully, the idea is, that others will see, catch on, and perpetuate, just as I was inspired to write this blog by the feminist writers I admire. Hopefully we can create a shift in culture. Hopefully, we can smash the patriarchy.

Love always,
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.)

2015/01/img_0122.png

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

The power of words

Dear Dad,

As a writer, I know you meditate frequently on the power of words. Growing up, I admired how you pored over different versions of the Bible. I remember the time I asked you to translate to me from your Greek Bible, and you laboriously worked out each word from the passage. In sermons, you’d expound on the value of understanding that the Greek word for spirit was also wind, or ghost.

I’ve grown up with an awe of the power of language, not just writing, but how language shapes our perceptions (just as I’m sure you’ve realized when comparing the impression Holy Spirit makes compared to Holy Ghost).

This week, I received a particularly nasty hate message. I’m not posting it because it’s vulgar and hateful. But the troll did say that my blog proves why we need “police MEN and army MEN” to protect weak women like me. Instead of thinking how much I needed a man for protection, though, his emphasis on the word “men” launched me into a reflection on how words create our perceptions of the world.

Gif of Sailor Moon jumping into the sky triumphantly with sparkles behind her and the text

See, things are not exactly as they seem. In fact, language creates much of our reality. For instance, different languages have different words for colors. In Russian, light blue is an entirely different word, and color, than dark blue. Might seem strange until you realize that in English, dark red and light red are defined as different colors, and words: red and pink.

For decades, police were defined as policemen, firefighters were defined as firemen, etc. Sometime in the late 20th century, however, people began pushing for gender neutral language. Policemen become police officers and firemen become firefighters.

To some, this may be just fussy PC language, but it makes a big impact. Switching to gender neutral terms makes a field open to people of all genders. There are, after all, female officers and firefighters and members of the military. Changing the terminology makes those fields more welcoming.

A vintage photo of three men and three women gathered around a table, looking at a piece of paper. They wear civilian clothes and carry firefighter helmets.

During World War II, English men and women volunteered as civilian firefighters in England. They are all heroes, regardless of gender.

And, as the troll showed, the old terms maintain a patriarchal structure. My disgruntled hater placed an emphasis on men to erase women’s existence in the military and police force, and to reassert male dominance. Policemen are strong, he said, to defend weak women, the inferior sex. It’s language used to keep women down.

I’m not particularly phased by the hater. He’s going to hate. But I am intrigued, in a world where women are fighting to make inroads into even the most male-dominated fields, by his insistence on using traditional language to keep women out.

Our words shape the very way we think. Awareness is the first step to changing them.

Love,
Victoria

How many more?

(tw: violence against women)

Dear Dad,

I am crying right now, actually crying as I write this.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. You may know that two students are dead, including the shooter, and four others are wounded.

The line that stuck with me the most from the story I linked to? This:

Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot.

Just a few months after the Isla Vista killings, a child takes aim at his classmates again in his rage against women, and I’m left feeling powerless and hopeless with the question, “How many more will die before we do something about it?”

There’s a culture of male entitlement, toxic masculinity and violence against women that pervades our society. At Isla Vista, one man killed six people because he felt entitled to sex from women. In Washington, a boy shoots his classmate because she refused to date him. Earlier this month, media critic and feminist Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a talk at Utah State University after receiving threats of the “deadliest shooting in American history.”

I am horrified, terrified and enraged to live in a world that will probably talk about this shooter as a madman, as an outlier, while online hordes are harassing women such as Sarkeesian and game designer Zoe Quinn with threats of rape and murder. We will discuss his mental health, and gun control, and gun sales will skyrocket while the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we need to do something about a culture that teaches men to hate women will get swept under the rug.

After the Isla Vista shootings, Richard Martinez, the father of victim Christopher Martinez, went to national media to demand that “Not One More” person die of gun violence. I admire Richard Martinez’ courage and eloquence in speaking about such a difficult and personal subject, and I believe that restricting access to guns is a wise idea.

And I want to extend that idea now to violence against women, to misogyny. We need to band together as a society and take a stand. We need to take a hard look at a culture of male entitlement and misogyny and say, “Not one more. We will not allow another person to die because of hatred of women.”

I’ve attached some resources here, Dad, for info on how toxic masculinity perpetuates violence against women, and ways we can fight it:

  • White Ribbon Campaign, a Canada-based campaign that “positively engages men, young men and boys through relevant educational programming that challenges language and behaviours, as well as harmful ideas of manhood that lead to violence against women.”
  • Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian’s website where she breaks down harmful, sexist tropes in video games and movies.
  • Amnesty International, a global organization that fights for human rights, including breaking down a culture of discrimination that leads to women being beaten, raped, tortured and killed around the world.
  • Men Can Stop Rape, which engages men in ending violence against women and “embraces men as vital allies with the will and character to make healthy choices and foster safe, equitable relationships.” Currently, they’re accepting registration for the “Healthy Masculinity Training Institute.”

These are just a handful of sites that I admire, Dad, and there are plenty of other organizations out there doing their part, but it’s clear there’s so much more work to be done. I encourage you to visit the sites, spend some time reading up on them, and think about what you can do to help too.

It’s been a rough day. I love you,

Victoria