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
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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?

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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

“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

Picture of a girl gamer

Dear Dad,

Merry Christmas! How were the holidays? Sorry I couldn’t be with you. How was all the loot? Did baby brother get the video games he asked for?

My day was pretty relaxing. Made some Christmas lunch/dinner, called you and the fam (as you know), and chilled with the cats. I kicked back in the afternoon and played some Destiny.

As I was running a strike with a couple of random players, I realized that my perception of all the other players was male. I realized this as I rode my speeder behind a female hunter into the depths of the planet Mars. No matter the gender of their character or the style of their armor, I just automatically assumed that the other players were dudes.

I wouldn’t say this is an internalized misogyny so much as an internalized, unexamined sexist assumption. Though female gamers and game developers are more vocal then ever about our place in gaming, I still encounter sexist opinions about women who play games, even in myself.

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All kinds of people have played video games since their inception, including women.

So what can I do about this, Dad? My response is twofold: I’m going to stop seeing the people behind the controller as exclusively male, opening myself up to other genders; and I’m going to keep writing about my own gaming experiences, because even though I’ve played video games for almost two decades, it’s the voices of other women in gaming that have shown me how diverse the medium can be.

Next time I’m running a strike in Destiny, I won’t assume the people on my team are a couple of men. And when I change my perception, I start to feel a little more welcome, too.

Love,
Victoria

Get a grown-up girlfriend, er, razor

Dear Dad,

I have just seen the most infuriating commercial. Maybe you’ve seen it too. It’s the the Gilette “First Girlfriend vs. First Real Girlfriend” ad. In summary, Becky was your first girlfriend, for about three periods in seventh grade. Then there’s Sarah, your first real girlfriend, who’s super hot, and sundresses were made for her. Cue montage of Sarah in sundresses.

Now, this ad already had me upset before I even knew what they were selling. Maybe it was the way Sarah was on display mostly to show skin to titillate men. Maybe it was the way apparently girlfriends are only good for being sexy, and your relationship with your “first real girlfriend” didn’t extend beyond her looks. But then they got to the sales pitch:

At some point, every man is ready for his first real girlfriend. Just as he’s ready for his first real razor.

Did you see it? The misogyny? It’s okay, I know, it was quick. But here it is: This ad is equating women to objects. And not just objects like a thing you can own, but objects like a thing you must possess, as a right of passage. The girlfriend is no more than a razor, a way of stepping into manhood. If you haven’t had a hot girlfriend, you’re not a full man. You have to acquire one to secure your masculinity. Also shave.

The fact that this ad is targeted at young men who are just learning to shave is even more distressing, as they will internalize harmful attitudes toward women. Instead of viewing women as equals or partners, we’re viewed as acquisitions. Never mind that this ad erases the existence of queer men, or any man who chooses not to have a girlfriend (they are implied to be not real men at all).

It’s not the first ad that treats women as objects, and I’m dismayed to say that it won’t be the last, but I hope when you see ads like this, Dad, you’re aware of what they’re selling ideologically, and I hope you’re not buying it.

I know I’m not,
Victoria

A sexist’s chance in Hell(s Kitchen)

Dear Dad,

I just finished watching Hell’s Kitchen season 7. If you know anything about the show, you’ll realize it’s in season 13 now, but it’s free on Hulu, so whatever. I’ve been sort of lazily watching episodes when I get off stressful days at work so I can relax by watching other people stress.

The show format is simple: Bunch of cooks all compete for an executive chef job while Gordon Ramsay cusses at them. This season had a first, though, as a romance developed between two competitors, Holli and Jay. At one point in the confessional, Jay says, “I have two goals in Hell’s Kitchen, and one is to sleep with Holli.” The other is to win.

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The romance isn’t all that surprising. I was honestly more surprised that there hadn’t been much flirtation in previous seasons. It’s reality TV!

What was odd, for me, was watching two of the male competitors, Jay and Ben, discussing their rivals, and each other. Jay frankly tells Ben that he likes Holli, but he doesn’t believe she’s competition. Over the course of several episodes, the two men size each other up as rivals, and Holli, and another woman, Autumn, are written off as “not passionate” or skilled enough, despite Holli’s frequent challenge wins and praise from Chef Ramsay.

“I’m a better cook than Holli and Autumn, I know it. And I’m the only person that can compete with Jay,” Ben says in a confessional.

After Holli wins a challenge, Ben and Jay tear down the women in private.

“If I lost to Holli, I’d be really angry, but if I lost to Autumn, I would be suicidal,” Jay says. Then, the kicker: “I know I can beat Holli, but I don’t know if I want to just beat Holli. I think I want to go out, like I want to lose to someone good.”

“Even if I don’t win, and she wins, I’ll still be further than her in three years,” Ben says.

“Oh, of course, dude,” Jay agrees.

It’s obvious that the men here see themselves as serious competitors, real chefs, with enormous egos to match. The women are just cooks who would rather be partying or getting dolled up, they say, as if beauty and brains can’t exist in the same person.

After watching the finale, I told my boyfriend about the way the men wrote Holli off.

“It was so odd,” I said.

“Oh, it’s not odd,” he told me.

I thought about it for a minute. What was odd about the show was not the ideas, really, so much as hearing them aloud. It’s the kind of thing, as a woman or marginalized group, that you always suspect is happening but can’t necessarily prove. I worked with a man once who talked to all the men like colleagues, but seemed to talk to the women like his inferiors, even though I had been at the business far longer than he had. But there was no way, aside from impressions, that I could prove he looked down on me as a woman.

And that’s the thing about sexism, Dad. It’s subtle, it’s insidious, it’s little suspicions and impressions. And often, I think, the person perpetuating these prejudices doesn’t even realize they are. So many misogynists insist that they “love women,” that they appreciate our bodies or our delicate touch. Jay would probably say that he likes Holli, he does say she’s “good looking,” but it’s clear from his attitude toward her that he doesn’t respect her. He just thinks she’s attractive.

It might be the most important, real thing I’ve ever seen on reality TV.

Love and respect,
Victoria

On a false feminism

Dear Dad,

I was really excited when I saw your new post, Feminism 2.0! And I thought you hit on some very important feminist notions of freedom and choice. I couldn’t watch the video because I wasn’t home, but I made time for it this weekend.

And what I felt made a little bubble of rage grow inside me until I felt like one of those anime kids with the cartoon blood vessels. I’m not going to link to it here because that page doesn’t deserve any more hits, but I will pull some quotes from it to summarize why Tammy Bruce’s “feminism for the 21st century” is about destroying a lot of the progress feminists have made, and I’ll even do it with her pillars.

  1. Dignity.
    Tammy defines dignity as meaning “that a woman should be able to freely choose her own path in life.” Okay, fair enough. She then goes on to say that while female college students might say they want to be lawyers or doctors, they never say they want to be mothers or wives. OH MY GOD. THIS IS SO BLEEPING WRONG ALREADY. I’m just gonna say, I am guessing I’ve been a female college student more recently than Tammy Bruce and for eff’s sake! There are women in college who talk about desiring a husband, or children, a family, and how they intend to balance home life and work. I even had classes with some wives and mothers, believe it or not.
    She goes on to cite the backlash to an opinion piece written by a Princeton grad that urged Princeton women to find a good man in college:
    “Any time someone has the temerity to suggest that a woman might want to look for a husband in college… feminists go nuts.”
    I read that letter when the story broke, Dad, and it wasn’t saying, “Maybe you’re interested in finding a man,” it was saying, “Ladies, you’re getting so educated and you’re going to be so successful no man will ever feel masculine enough to want you so marry a guy now.” She even said her sons, themselves Princeton students, could easily have any woman they wanted, but women aren’t so lucky when searching for potential mates, so better hop on that quick! As if the only desire in a woman’s life is to get a husband. Please.
    She then goes on to say that on the subject of dignity, women shouldn’t aspire to “be like men” sexually, casually drifting from one one-night stand to another. SO SLUT-SHAMEY! This, again, is not the goal of feminism. It is to allow women to safely and comfortably express themselves sexually, whether that is through frequent sex with multiple partners, or monogamously, or not at all! It means that a woman’s worth is not her chastity, purity or virginity, not that she is required to sleep with many people.
    Notice the double-standard, too? She never critiques men for the stereotype of their sexual appetite that she takes for fact. It’s fine that men sleep around, but women should be BETTER.
  2. The word “no.”
    Tammy just can’t stop slut-shaming. Though she earlier says a woman’s choices should be respected, here she says that throughout history, some “women said ‘yes’ when they should have said no.” Names like Anna Karenina and Cleopatra flash on the wall. Apparently, women’s power lies in the ability to say no. This has some heavy sexual overtones, and plays into the patriarchal idea that women withhold sex to punish and control men. As if our bodies are our only tools. IT’S EFFING GROSS DAD.
    Then she credits hook-up culture and naked pop stars to feminism, and while feminist empowerment has allowed women to a certain extent to feel more comfortable in our bodies, the current trend of objectification of women is actually a backlash to women gaining rights. For more on this, watch Miss Representation, since you like feminist videos so much. It’s a really incredible documentary analyzing women’s representation in the media, its origins and impacts. Plus it’s on Netflix!
    She goes on to say that feminists hate men but want to be like them. Which is false on two counts. A) I don’t hate men. B) If wanting some of the same rights as men means wanting to be like them, maybe. But I also embrace my right to wear lipstick and lace and cross stitch and be feminine. It’s about choice, remember, Tammy?
  3. Men. “That’s right, men.”
    Tammy says we shouldn’t forget that men “gave up their monopoly on political power and gave women the right to vote” as if we should be just grateful well gosh gee whiz to have some of the rights that men have. Isn’t it nice that my husband gave up his right to beat me? Isn’t it sweet when a man restrains himself from yelling rude things at me on the street? Isn’t it swell that they gave up some positions in the job market? Aren’t men AWESOME for GIVING US A BASIC VOICE IN OUR OWN COUNTRY’S GOVERNMENT??>??? Oh, and they also invented birth control, washing machines and refrigerators, Tammy says. Probably Tammy would say they invented shoes too, so we don’t have to be barefoot, pregnant, cooking in the kitchen making your GOD. DAMN. SANDWICHES.

In short, Tammy Bruce’s feminism is not in fact an advancement of women’s rights. She wants women to stop trying to “be like men” and go back to being feminine, subservient, chaste and motherly. It’s not feminism at all.

/Rant,

Victoria