The Feminist Gadfly

Discussing the problems of feminist identification in the context of gender egalitarianism

Open Letter to Paul Ryan

by EddyNorthwind

[Content Note: Paul Ryan, dehumanizing language, mention of Hell]

Dear Rep. Paul Ryan,

I was going to say that you’re a sack of shit, but then I realized that that was unfair to shit. Shit makes decent fertilizer. You are the chemical waste that set fire to the Cuyahoga; you are the plastic island in the pacific; you are the bully, the bullet, the overdose, and the razor blade; you are everything that is wrong with this world and none of what is right.

In the likely event that you are unaware of which of your many utterly inhuman actions triggered this rant, I’m referring to your recent speech in Cincinnati in which you implied that I, along with ~54% of the country, are not human. In your words, “The things you talk about like traditional marriage and family and entrepreneurship — these aren’t values that are indicative to any one person or creed or color. These are American values, these are universal human values.”

Mr. Ryan, I am both human and an American. I do not share your value of “traditional marriage.” In fact, I find it utterly contemptible. That you would presume to speak for god and seek to use this presumption to deny millions of people their most basic human rights tells me that you are far beyond just unfit for public office. Your narcissism, chauvinism, and hatred are dangerous, and people are right to fear a government with you at the top.

Mr. Ryan, when you get to hell, take solace in the fact that your path there was both narrow and straight¹.

No love,
Eddy

¹ Stolen from Guante’s poem “Neutral

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Missing the Point

by aronjerrison

[Content Notes: Male privilege, Discussion of sexual harassment and rape culture]

In a fantastic, recent article [CN: Reference to sexual harassment and assault] on Jezebel, adult performer Stoya made a call to action. Women across the world face verbal and physical sexual harassment every day while people look blithely on. This should not be the case. We need to speak out when we see this occurring, we need to speak out when we hear about it having occurred, and we need to speak out when we hear someone considering it.*

She’s right.

There’s no question about it. In order to combat the sexual harassment that has become so ingrained in our society we need to do more than just not perpetrate it, we need to actively stop it being perpetuated.

Apologizing for gendered harassment helps no one. As she says:

Men have been responding saying that they want to divorce their gender. That they didn’t realize, until we started sharing our stories en masse, what it is like to be a woman. That they wish there was something they could do. That they’re sorry for the way other men treat people. Men shouldn’t have to feel like they need to apologize on behalf of their gender, or feel ashamed of being male. Unless they’re one of the ones doing the harassing, I don’t think they should apologize.

Why then, when I scrolled down to the comments, did I find three different people apologizing on behalf on their gender on the very first page?

It’s not simply a matter of not being responsible for other people’s actions, apologizing on behalf of our gender helps no one. Apologizing for sexual harassment isn’t going to stop it happening; if you’ve sexually harassed someone, apologizing isn’t going to erase what you’ve done.

Over on Shakesville about two months ago, Melissa McEwan wrote a post in which she said the following:

contemplating rape culture for the first time as a 44-year-old man with two daughters, and patting oneself on the back for it instead of framing it as the profoundly regrettable evidence of privilege that is is, isn’t something that ought to be praised—and praising it breathes life into the terrible idea that rape culture is difficult for “men” to understand. That is not accurate.

She was discussing Louis C.K.’s role in Toshgate, but it seems to be applicable here. Saying “Oh shit, I never realized how bad things are. I’m sorry.” and thinking that that is going to help shows a profound misunderstanding of how negative aspects of our culture are perpetuated. Just as harmful as the people who degrade and objectify women are those who stand by doing nothing or offering their condolences. By not speaking out, they exacerbate the problem, their passivity is why rape culture exists.

Men have a role to play. We need to stop our friends, family members, and acquaintances from engaging in degrading behavior.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of ignorance. Telling a friend that his behavior is misogynistic might be enough to open his eyes. Other times, however, it won’t be enough, and cutting that person out of your life may be in order.**

Either way, standing by, saying “I’m sorry” isn’t going to help anyone; it’s just missing the point.

-AJ

*Please, don’t take my word on this, read her article.

**I understand how hard something like this can be; I am currently struggling with it myself. (There may be a forthcoming post on the topic)

I Welcome the Coming Polyamorous Revolution, and You Should Too

by EddyNorthwind

[Content Note: Polyamory, discussion of homophobia and anti-poly sentiment*]

Over on Role / Reboot, an article said something that got me thinking.

My son told me that as much as he enjoyed it, he did not plan to do multiple partner sex again. He thought it was great as an introduction, but now he wanted to go back to a single heterosexual partner. As I audibly sighed with relief, he reminded me gently, “Mom, poly is the new gay.” If I wanted to keep my cred as a liberal parent I would need to accept it. This set me back for a second. I thought about how quick I was to judge other parents who refused to accept their adult children’s homosexual relationships. Poly is the outpost on the sex positive frontier that my children’s generation has reached.

Poly is the new gay. The similarities are definitely real. The Christian Right believes our “lifestyle choices” are abominations, and would rather us not exist. Poly marriage is as illegal as gay marriage, and has even less popular support. We’re both extremely othered by mainstream culture — gays with archetypes like the gay male pedophile or the scary man-hating lesbian, and poly people with images of philandering jerks and religious cults. I can easily imagine the same battles we’re fighting now over gay rights being repeated 50 years down the road over polyamory, with one key difference.

Polyamory actually is a lifestyle choice. And that’s awesome.

We’re making progress on the gay rights frontier, but that progress has mainly come about by changing how society views homosexuality, and not by changing how society views sex. I’m fine with this. All the same, it does leave much to be desired.

While it’s possible that poly rights will follow a similar route — normalizing polyamory rather than promoting sex positivity, that seems unlikely to me. There is no “born this way” for polyamory; it’s a choice. To win this one, we’re going to have to convince people that poly lifestyles are no better or worse than mono lifestyles; it’s simply a matter of preference. To do that, we’re going to have to convince people that sex is fundamentally private and personal, and that good consent, safety, and honesty are the only issues society has any business regulating or stigmatizing.

Read that last sentence again, because those two propositions are the absolute core of sex positivity. If we win poly rights, we win the culture war, at least about sex. There will be no need to worry about de-stigmatizing (safe, consensual) BDSM, because it will fall under the umbrella ideal of “your sex is not my business.”

I want to live in that future, and applaud those who are making it possible. Keep kicking ass.

~Eddy

*After reading AJ’s recent post and a ton of Shakesville, I decided to personally adopt the Shakesville policy of putting content notes on everything instead of trigger warnings on potentially volatile stuff. I haven’t talked to the other Gadflies about this yet, but if you see them doing it it’s because we’ve agreed to all start doing it.

Trigger Warnings and Pop Culture

by aronjerrison

Content note: intentional conflation of trigger warnings with content notes

Over the past couple years, a series of conversations with different people on similar topics has led me to form an opinion which I should very much like to share.

I got a phone call last year from my mother telling me that her next door neighbour (with whom I have some serious political differences) was attempting to ban a book that was on the curriculum at the high school that both her son and my brother attend.* The reason that my mother had called me was that she wanted to know what I thought she ought to do.

After making the potentially inflammatory statement that if she supported banning a book, any book, I would cut all ties with her, we had a long discussion during which we came to an agreement: the best thing to do would be to petition the school to provide all the parents of students reading the book with a run down of the potentially objectionable aspects of the book. This is not so that they can make the decision to “opt out”, but rather to give them a heads up so that they can be prepared to discuss these topics with their children.

It was only later that I realised that we had just reinvented the trigger warning.

When I began my foray into the feminist blog-o-sphere, I loved the idea of trigger warnings. We can talk about some serious problems, and it’s truly refreshing to have warning and be able to not read a post if I know that it might be difficult for me to read.

It is for this reason, that I would love to see trigger warnings in use everywhere.

Why doesn’t the Harry Potter series have trigger warnings for child abuse and neglect? The books have been challenged a great deal over the years, but it’s always been for silly reasons like promoting witchcraft. All the while, Harry suffers from criminal neglect and no one in the books mentions it as anything other than sad. I think that the discussion about child abuse in these books is one that needs to happen, and that warnings might start people thinking.

It’s not just books either. I want this for movies, comics, video games, art. If it would be describable as ‘text’ in a comparative literature class, it should have trigger warnings.

I have been asked if the movie rating system is what I’m looking for. Unfortunately, it’s not. I would love to be able to point to the MPAA and say “Yes, that’s what I want.” but they limit the accessibility of their reviewed works based on age which is pretty much the opposite of what I want. Don’t take it upon yourself to police the work, give fair warning and allow parents to make the decision with their children.

I have been told that this is an idealistic pipe dream, and that’s probably true. But as my earlier posts have shown, I’m an idealist.

So how about instead of looking at how unrealistic it is, just think about how nice it would be.

The first time that I asked my dad if I could watch an ‘R’ rated film, he sat me down and discussed the major aspects of the film that I, as a child, might find shocking, disturbing, or frightening. After the discussion, having decided that I was appropriately prepared, he let me watch the film.** Even if we’re ignoring the obvious benefits of trigger warnings, i.e. the purpose for which they were designed, I think that it would be wonderful to have this sort of discourse happening every time that a child watches a film or reads a book.

And hey, if you agree with me, maybe, together, we can make this happen.

-AJ

*I cannot for the life of me remember what the book was.

**Nor can I remember the film.

So It Turns Out I’m Not Straight

by EddyNorthwind

My name is Eddy, and I am…well, that’s the issue.

When I hit puberty and was suddenly feeling all sorts of strange feelings in my pants, my parents gave me a book about the birds and the bees which, relative to what some of my peers were getting, was pretty damn progressive. It didn’t give instructions for condoms, but it at least told me that they existed. It hit important topics like the subjectivity of cultural notions of attractiveness — complete with pictures of male and female paragons of beauty from different cultures. It even mentioned homosexuality, something that, comparing notes with my peers who had received similar talks or books, was not touched on by most parents in my social group.

The problem: the book tried it’s damnedest to remain “neutral” about homosexuality. With great quotes like “some religions believe that homosexuality is a sin. Others believe it is perfectly natural and no better or worse than heterosexuality. If you think you might be homosexual, talk to your parents and religious leaders for guidance” (paraphrased), the book did an excellent job of pleasing precisely nobody, liberal or conservative, to the extent that I seriously wonder how my parents found it.

One of the “neutral” positions taken would have a pretty large effect on my life. “Many boys and girls in adolescence experience same sex attraction, but later go on to be heterosexual. Sexual attraction may not be ‘fixed’ until adulthood, so don’t worry too much if you do experience homosexual attraction and don’t want to. It may be just a phase” (Again paraphrased). It seemed possible, and I had no reason to doubt it, so I took it for truth. Then the attractions came.

Going through puberty, there was never any doubt that I liked girls. Less clear was how I felt about guys. Periodically, I’d look at a guy and think, “Damn.” Thing is, it never happened so often that I was unable to write it off as “I just wish I could be him” or “it’s just a phase”. Homophobia was a very real thing in my community, and I had internalized some of it. A combination of that prejudice and fear of becoming an outcast pushed me to convince myself that I wasn’t attracted to men — I just thought some were pretty.

That self-deception held pretty strongly until I went off to college and was suddenly free from home’s shackles. At this point, I had befriended enough queer folk that the internalized homophobia was long gone, washed away by positive experiences with members of the feared group. There was, though, still a very real fear of being rejected by my family and peers if I were to come out as more than just an ally. There also weren’t that many hot guys around — I tend to go for guys with beards, something rare in my high school and delightfully common in college.

Things started off pretty slow and alcohol-induced. I’d drunkenly cuddle with another man, I’d look at a guy after a couple drinks and think a little more than “I wish I looked like that”, or some assdrip at a party would not-quite-enough-to-call-campus-police-but-definitely-lacking-enthusiastic-consent kiss me, and I would think about how I would’ve responded had he just fucking asked to avoid thinking about what had actually happened. Then, midway through last year, I sent the following text to AJ, in my typical can’t-walk-straight-but-dammit-I-can-spell style:

“Remind me in the morning that if I kinda sorta like guys while drunk, I probably kinda sorta like guys while sober.”

Amazingly, I ended up not needing reminding, but AJ obliged anyways. Then came the identity issue.

Straight was out — I knew I was way too into dudes for that. But bisexual didn’t seem quite right, either. I definitely have a preference: I find a little over half of the women I meet physically attractive, but only about one in ten guys. I also don’t like anal with either gender, which seemed to lessen credibility the homosexual attraction. I felt like, if I called myself bi, that would be cheapening the label for people who are “more bi” than I am, as silly as that sounds.

So I like men, just not as much as women. AJ, in his pedantry, thinks that I should just call myself bi and explain the specifics only when asked. And, after writing this out, I’m inclined to agree with him. I like both men and women. If that isn’t the definition of bisexuality, then what is?

~Eddy

In Defense of “Born This Way”: A Response

by EddyNorthwind

As some of you have no doubt noticed, AJ recently posted a rant about the phrase “born this way” and its kyriarchal implications.

I agree completely that the phrase is problematic and, in an ideal world, would not need to be used. Where I disagree, however, is in AJ’s assessment that now is the time to stop using it.

Because, to be blunt, his opinion reeks of the privilege of someone who has never had to live in an area where homophobia is rampant.

I wish I could, as AJ does, just say “fuck those people!” and ride off into the sunset. “Those people”, however, are not just some abstract concept, encountered only when they show up with bibles and ridiculous protest signs. “Those people” are my high school teachers and classmates, my neighbors, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and, until very recently, my father. “Those people” are the reason I spent six years convincing myself that I had no attraction to men whatsoever, and those people are the reason I am currently absolutely terrified to act on that attraction. “Those people” are also my support structure and, as wrong as they are, they’re all I have.

The rhetoric of “born this way” convinced my father to switch his position from “I will disown any gay sons” to “I don’t understand it at all, and I’m not comfortable with it, but you guys are my kids and I will love you no matter what.” Without that shift, the thought of coming out to my parents would not have crossed my mind as an option.

The rhetoric of “born this way”, argued brilliantly by my class’ out-and-proud assistant principal, convinced my high school administration to allow the formation of a gay-straight alliance, which has since provided a safe space for four classes of LGBTIQ teens.

As problematic as it is, “born this way” has lead to a marked improvement in my own life and in the lives of countless others. It works. We know it works, because public opinion on gay rights is shifting in our favor and has been for some time. The fact that we ought not need to apologize for our attractions is something to worry about after existential concerns like bullying and child abuse are gone. Internalized prejudices rarely die before their hosts, but we can at the very least convince homophobes that we cannot just be prayed away. I’ll take tolerance now over compassion and understanding in some far-off, indeterminate future.

~Eddy

Disclaimer: I’m a 2 on the Kinsey scale who still hasn’t decided whether to identify as bi or “heteroflexible”. (Gods, I hate that word, but it’s useful.) My romantic options are not significantly hampered by only dating women. I have the ability to remain closeted to my family without much effort, something I am acutely aware that not everybody gets to do. I also do not have the privilege of being from a community that is at all accepting of homosexuality, though, and I still have some lingering doubt about my father, so please consider my decision to remain closeted thus far in it’s full context.

A Rant

by aronjerrison

Every time that I try to write a post, I get stuck with the same problem. Of all the things that are making me angry right now, what ought I write about?

Well, today at least, I’m going to be writing about something with which Eddy will disagree, strenuously.

With the recent Chick-fil-A controversy and the resurgence of BSA problems, queer rights have been at the forefront of my mind lately. In particular, a piece of rhetoric that nearly all of us use when trying to convince homophobes to be tolerant. I am speaking, of course, about being “born this way.”

I am not attempting to present an argument about the origins of homosexuality. I just think that queer folk, myself included, have a hard enough time. Why would we want to de-legitimise our own sexualities?

Every time that someone says “Don’t hate gay people, they can’t control to whom they are attracted.”, they are implying that, were sexuality a choice, homosexuality would be the wrong one.

How can we stand for this?!*

Eddy has claimed, and most likely will claim again, that rhetoric like this is important because it can help sway people who can’t accept the validity of homosexuality.

My response is always the same. “Fuck those people!”

I want the right to marry whomsoever I chose. I want the right to adopt without facing discrimination. I don’t want to have to worry about my sexuality being a barrier to employment.

I also don’t want to degrade myself by dismissing my sexuality as an unfortunate circumstance of birth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me, nor, indeed, with anyone else who doesn’t conform the heteronormative paradigm. If someone finds his/her/hirself to be unable to accept that, I will not condescend to meet them half way.

Homophobes are beneath my contempt.

-AJ

*It’s at times like this that I wish I had an interrobang on my keyboard.

On Progressivism, Direct Action, and the Boy Scouts of America

by EddyNorthwind

Before I say anything, I want to make it very clear that I absolutely do not support the BSA’s current policy excluding gay youth and adults. As an open atheist in the scouts, I lost a lot of sleep to the fear that someone would decide to tell the regional office about my troops’ unwritten policy of blatantly ignoring the “No Gays, No Godless” rule imposed by the Mormon- and Catholic-controlled national organization; and to this day I’m angry at them for pushing me to lie about my lack of religion in the board of review for my Eagle award. I’m ashamed to call myself an Eagle Scout right now, and I’ve said as much in letters to the national office.

That said, I am not backing out now.

In response to Chick-Fil-A’s announcement that every sandwich will now come with a side of homophobia and the boycotts that followed, a friend of a friend of AJ’s (the internet is weird) posted something on Facebook which nailed down something which has been kind of swirling around in my head for a while now:

It seems that ultra-conservatives follow up their words with actions and money, whereas liberals sit around salivating over chicken they denied themselves the right to eat and doing exactly nothing useful for their causes

I know that the above is a massive generalization and there are plenty of counterexamples, but it also rung true to at least my personal experience. It seems that the first instinct of many progressives is to “not help”, which, to be blunt, hasn’t and doesn’t work. Action speaks louder than inaction. So I’m trying something different with the group that taught me to care about more than my own privilege-filled bubble in the first place.

Instead of returning my Eagle and removing myself from the BSA (which I’ve been considering for some time), I’m going to rekindle my involvement. I’m going to build a network of like-minded people in the organization, and I’m going to see what we can do from there. I know from talking with current and former scouts and scouters that, at least in my area, there’s a lot of anger at the national office for its decision to continue discriminating. I also know from experience that we make things happen when we get organized. We’ll make some noise.

~Eddy

Facebook and casual sexism

by EddyNorthwind

First, an image:

As you can probably guess, I made this after seeing one too many of the “As’ rules for Bs'” Facebook memes, and figured I’d share it in hopes that someone will find it useful. This phenomena deserves more than just a 92 word response, though, so I figured I’d comment on it here in a more extended manner.  But first, some source material:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/301184903264628/


…and you get the gist. (content copy/pased after the jump for non-Facebookers and in case links break)

This stuff is pretty obviously sexist, but for the sake of completeness, I’ll go over why:

1) It makes a hugely general claims about classes of people (men and women) that vary widely; many of these claims don’t even apply to a majority of people in the given class. Example: It’s pretty hard to get statistics on “sports fans”, since the term is so loosely defined, but Super Bowl XLV had 111.3 million viewers. Given that the United States currently has 310 million people, less than 72% of US men watched the most-watched game of the year, even if we assume that literally every person watching is a US male. More realistically, the figure is something like 48%, which is what it is if 2/3 of the viewers are male. Sunday is not sports day for me, or, apparently, for the majority of men, and claiming that it is universally so erases the existence of a huge swath of the population. This particular example is relatively benign, but some of the claims made by these memes, like “all women are unapologetically horrendous while on their period” and “all men are cheating pigs” are genuinely harmful, because they encourage such poor behavior as a means of gender performance. These ideas also make it easier to make excuses for poor behavior, i.e. “Boys will be boys.”

2) It erases homosexual and transgender people. These are universally voiced as one cisgendered individual addressing another cisgendered individual of the other gender. It’s easy to say, “well, yeah, these are specifically about cisgender, straight relationships, so of course they’re going to be cis and straight-centric. You don’t hear people complaining about how the Women’s rules for Men don’t directly address women, do you?”, but such an argument is flawed, because there are no (no widely shared, at least) “Men’s rules for Men”, or “Women’s rules for Women”. Sure, you can say they’re not widely shared because they don’t apply to as many people, but I for one have seen plenty of men sharing the women’s rules, and vice versa, even among people who I know have never been in a relationship. These memes aren’t about actual experiences in relationships, they’re about the kinds of relationships we see in TV and movies, which are almost universally cis and straight.

Casual sexism sucks, because it often feels like there isn’t much you can do about it. You don’t want to be labeled a “humorless feminist”, but at the same time you don’t want to just do nothing while people you know contribute to a shitty, sexist culture. What’s one to do?

Fight bad jokes with good ones, is what I’ve concluded. If someone is engaging in casual sexism, they’re probably not going to respond well to Shakesville links or Naomi Wolf quotes; direct confrontation without social backup is typically a losing proposition. An obviously fake laugh and some well-done sarcasm, on the other hand, provides negative feedback and expresses that you don’t find the joke funny, but does so without making you into a Captain Ahab, unable to see anything but the White Whale of sexism (even if, in reality, sexism is more like the matrix: the only reason people don’t see it is because it’s everywhere). Unless you’re literally surrounded by sexists, it’s pretty easy to come out of such an encounter ahead, which will teach the casual sexist that “hur hur sexism hur” is not going to make them any friends.

…and that’s pretty much the gist of it. The question of how best to engage a sexist world is a difficult one, but if the response I’ve gotten on Facebook is any indication, stuff like this seems to be pretty effective.

~Eddy
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Reflections

by aronjerrison

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but getting settled home after a year away took more time than I had thought it might. Anyhow, here goes:

Although I have been calling myself a feminist for years, this past year* was the first in which I have actually made an effort to immerse myself in the writings of contemporary feminists. This has mostly taken the form of following a substantial number of feminists who blog, and checking sporadically on the works of many more. It doesn’t sound like much, but as a philology student, it was really all I could do to keep up.

This post shall, I hope, present a couple of the more salient thoughts that I have had when reflecting on this.

Looking at it, one of the things that comes to mind is how enjoyable reading these blogs are. It’s one thing to rail against the injustice of the world and have your room mate agree with you, it’s quite another to find other people ranting about the same things. I found a sense of connectivity with those bloggers who are getting angry at the same things as I.

The other big(ger) thing is how much it has opened my eyes. After a year of reading, I am noticing more of the sexism in our system. I take greater note of the inequalities in gender portrayals in tv shows, I am quicker to notice when comedies play into the stereotypes of hegemonic heterosexuality.

Possibly the most important thing is that I’ve become a better person. By nature I’ve never been one to shy away from conflict, but there have been times at which I’ve been afraid to point out someone’s sexism or heterosexism or rape apologism because I wasn’t ready to “rock the boat”. As I’ve read more, I’ve been able to speak out more readily, and I like that.

 

-AJ

*Due to my studenthood, when I refer to years, please take the phrase academically rather than calendrically