All About That Bass

It’s time for another fun round of my friends and I critically analyzing music videos via email!! As with “Hard Out Here” Sam sent us Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass with this message,

yeah so issues with 1. skinny bashing, maybe? 2. basing appearance on what guys want to grab at night 3. jesus with the pastels 4. are the black back up dancers being used as props? is she being inclusive of all big booties or capitalizing on black booties? why can’t my white booty stop bouncing to this song?

I started to respond, but then I wrote an essay (why can I never shut up??) so I’m posting it here and maybe we can all talk about it together!

The message I took from this video is, “I’m not a size 2; I’m a REAL WOMAN.” Oh, ever so sorry, I didn’t realize I’m not a real woman. Turns out I’ve been a velociraptor this whole time.

I don’t understand how this song can simultaneously call for an end to unrealistic body images and harmful photoshopping while having lyrics like, “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that– no I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat.” Haha, oh my god, that’s so funny, what a total laugh, women have been taught to hate themselves!! A real knee-slapper there. But then it goes on to say, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” I’m so confused; didn’t you just say that the only good body is the one that has “that boom boom that all the boys chase” and that “boys like a little more booty to hold at night”?

We absolutely have body image problems in our society. We demonize fatness; “fat” is an insult. Our whole society needs intense therapy. We need to fix that stuff. Let’s all pause and listen to Beyonce.

Thin privilege is real. I could go to 7/11 right now and get the biggest size slushy possible and people would probably chuckle and think I was doing something endearing. Kind of like when I was out with Megan and Whitney and our server thought it was ever so precious when I ordered a cookie. He chuckled and gave me a look that said, “Aren’t you adorable?” But if my body were different, people wouldn’t think that. They would have nasty thoughts and they might even vocalize them. I don’t have to experience that, and I can only speak from my position as someone who benefits from having a body that’s considered worthy by the people who send certain sizes of clothes to Target.

I’ve noticed this demonization of fatness more and more as my sister’s gone through a weight loss journey. She’s lost nearly 100 pounds over the past year and people treat her differently now. I notice people responding to her differently. We talk a lot about how it’s been for her to transition, both bodily and in the eyes of society. People are nice to her now and they weren’t before. 100 pounds ago, people treated her like she wasn’t a human. That’s unreal.

With all of that in mind, this song seems like it should be great. We should be changing our cultural perceptions of bodies and worth. We need to stop equating skinniness to worthiness and fat to trash. But trying to replace one ideal with another isn’t the way to do that.

Sam, I read your comments before watching the video and I thought it must involve some kind of Jesus swathed in pastels. I think I would have preferred that, but you’re right, there’s no way to address that mess other than, “jesus with the pastels.” The video uses the pastels to play up classic femininity—sugar and spice and everything nice, now with big butts! But what all of this is really doing is saying that there’s one right way to be a woman. We’re still going to be pastel Stepford Wives, now we’ll just be curvy pastel Stepford Wives.

Swapping out one oppressive ideal for another won’t get us anywhere, ESPECIALLY if it’s done through the lens of pleasing men. Ugh. Ugh. Ew. I can’t. As the resident outspoken (ironic) misandrist of our friend group, allow me to loudly state that I don’t care what men think about women’s bodies. I don’t care and neither should anyone else. As kids, we’re taught that we should avoid peer pressure by being True To Ourselves and Not Doing Things Because Our Friends Are and Don’t Jump Off That Bridge Because Your Friends Say To, but none of those lessons seem to apply when it comes to heteronormative relationships. Then, throw all of that self-actualization out the window and do everything you can to make a dude happy.

The song reinforces that message- that we should craft ourselves around the aesthetic ideals of men. There’s nothing more important than being wanted by a boy! And boys want big butts! And nobody likes skinny bitches!

Putting down women hurts all women. Why doesn’t anyone seem to understand this?? Love your body; it’s awesome. Be all about the bass. Just don’t vilify the treble while you’re at it. (Aside: I really can’t get over bass/treble being used as a stand in for fat/thin.)

I want to meet with every person who’s been hurt by this toxic thinking and clutch their cheeks while staring into their eyes and whisper, “All bodies are good bodies.” over and over until they believe it. And I want everyone to stop pitting women against each other. Nobody signed up for this fight, but we keep being thrown into the ring.

I didn’t even get to the race stuff going on in the video, but I think Sam’s right about the appropriation/capitalization. And, as always, a thousand thanks to Riot Grrl Whitney for popping in with some of her musical preferences. Here’s her selection: Half Girl’s Lemmy, I’m a Feminist. I’m going to slink back into my cave and listen to The National.

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Summer Hair

Summer hasn’t officially begun in the northern hemisphere, but summer hair has been emerging in my friend group. The end of the school year (which brings with it the pressing need for change) and the sweltering weather has all of us trimming, shearing, and shedding our locks. The conversations around our haircuts have been an interesting insight into the continued expectations and pressures placed on women’s appearances.

It seems like everyone’s partner has an opinion on how a lady’s hair ought to be styled. Either it’s suddenly too short or it should have been cut even shorter. I think we’re all interested in the opinions of our friends and partners. When it comes to the choices we make about the way we look though, I wish people would keep their criticisms to themselves.

I cut my hair ridiculously short my freshman year of college. It looked really cute, but I got so tired of complete strangers asking if I was a lesbian, I just grew it long again. Now that I’m older and more comfortable talking back, I almost want to cut my hair off again- not because I want short hair, but because I would really enjoy getting into rows with all the idiots who a) think that short hair is a signifier of sexual preference, b) that there’s anything at all wrong with looking like or being a lesbian, and c) have the audacity to comment on my appearance at all.

Even the process of getting a haircut can be a bit of an ordeal. I never feel more out of place than when I’m sitting in chair surrounded by beautiful people with perfect hair and flawless skin. I always feel like a female failure when my stylist asks what I usually do with my hair and I say, “Um, you know, I wash it?” I’ve never had my hair cut without the stylist asking me about my boyfriend. I guess that’s a good conversation starter, but I always have the urge to make some snarky comment about having a girlfriend. I never do- I don’t want to even risk offending the person with the power to shave my head- but I can’t imagine how alienating those questions must be for people who actually are (my goodness!) lesbians.

So much about the presentation of race, gender, and sexuality are wrapped up in the way a woman’s hair is styled. Our hair is another site of bodily ownership, yet another place that is constantly coopted by others. Do we wear our hair the way we do because it makes us feel great, or because it’s the way somebody else wants us to be wearing it? How funny, when hair is at the very bottom of the List of Things that Matter. Rather, it’s at the very bottom of the List of Things that Should Matter. Hair is pretty near the top of the List of Things that Inexplicably Do Matter. Especially if you’re a black woman! There are so many politics around a black woman’s hair. I have a very limited understanding of it. I watched the documentary Good Hair and thought I’d learned a lot, but this article helped me understand how much of the film was playing into and perpetuating white dominance.

My dear friend gave me a bracelet that says, “fuck off”. It’s not the most polite thing in the world, but it is my absolute favorite piece of jewelry.  It’s my response to every unwelcome comment about trivial matters. You think my summer hair looks stupid? Allow me to direct your attention to my bracelet! You don’t like that I won’t get a pixie cut even though you think it’s so super hot? Have you seen this bracelet I’m wearing? But while being self confident and assured are great attributes we should all strive for, they don’t in and of themselves depoliticize our presentation of identity. And that’s frustrating. It shouldn’t matter how we look, what we wear, or the way we cut our hair. It shouldn’t matter, but it usually does. I can flash my bracelet all day long (and I’m more than happy to do just that) but the real change is going to happen when we stop making judgments and assumptions about identity based on appearance.

For what it’s worth, I think your summer hair looks great.

Welcome to Sex Week!

Today I need y’all to be my confessors to something that’s been weighing on my Feminist Conscience. I’ve been advocating for reproductive rights and sexual health for years. I have a “Get Yourself Tested” button on my backpack right now. In high school, I drove my friends to clinics for STD checks like a Sexual Health Soccer Mom. I (very loudly) believe in the importance of annual exams and check-ups.

Okay, but here’s the thing… my first visit to the gynecologist happened just a few months ago. Yeah. I’ve been preaching about sexual (and general genital) health for years, but have been seriously failing to take care of myself. I was scared of the gynecologist and scared of my own body.

Before my Big Feminist Awakening, I was told in various direct and indirect ways that my body, because of its femaleness, was inherently shameful. Like most girls growing up in mainstream America, I was immersed in a slut shaming mentality. I was raised by a very religious mother. My mother is a strong and wonderful woman, but church? That place can mess you up.

I cried when I noticed the first hints of puberty (which actually makes sense because that life stage is the worst) and again the day I started my first period. My mom laughed at my horror and tried to comfort me, but I was seriously convinced I had just reached the Age of No Return. I was sure my graduation into Womanhood meant I was condemned to burn in hell for all eternity. I had been told over and over that all women are sluts and whores who must beg for forgiveness every Sunday. If you’re told your entire life that you should hate yourself, your body, and all its human functions, with the added bonus of hearing that God is judging your every unholy action, you’re bound to have some issues to unpack.

I had my Big Atheist Awakening a few years before finding feminism. It’s been years since I left my mom’s conservative religion and became a raging feminist, but I’m still struggling to shake the remnants of body negativity and body shame. I know and believe that body positivity is an imperative for healthy living, especially for young women. But I still have moments of full on self-loathing, body hatred, and shame. I know it’s a product of society, but I can’t logic my way out of my emotions. Turns out, shaking a lifetime’s worth of internalized self hatred isn’t always as easy as I think it should be.

I have a feeling a lot of us are dealing with these body issues so, guess what, folks? Welcome to Sex Week! It’s like Shark Week with less teeth…unless you have been blessed with the vagina from the movie Teeth. Still, it’s like Shark Week with 100% less fear and more body positivity! This week, we’re going to be talking about bodies, lady doctors (not doctors who are ladies, doctors FOR ladies- and people with lady parts!), sex education, sex positivity, and the myths around of all it!

My Cuterus, My Choice

Important Note: I don’t want to frame reproductive justice as a women’s issue because not everyone with a uterus identifies as a woman, not every woman has a uterus, and not every person with a uterus can carry a child. But I firmly believe that decisions about what goes into and out of a uterus, and when, should only ever be made by the person with the uterus in question. I am now picturing my uterus being cross-examined in a court of law.

One of the coolest parts of working in a Writing Center is having the chance to learn from students with all kinds of opinions and perspectives. A few days ago, I had a great consultation with a Chinese student who was writing a paper about her country’s One Child Policy. She taught me a lot about the late term forced abortions routinely carried out as a result of the governmental policy. Then, she wanted to know how abortion works in the United States. That’s a challenging topic to discuss when a language barrier is involved.

The session was really great, and not only because we spent some time teaching each other how to pronounce “uterus” in English and in Chinese.  The student wrote about abortion factually and calmly. It was so refreshing to discuss reproductive rights without being blinded by a fit of religious and political rage. During our discussion, the student observed that, “In China, some mothers die because they are forced abortion. In the US, some mothers die because they are not allowed abortion. Yet each government says it cares about the health of its people.” Bingo, baby.

I’ve thought about that student a lot lately, because the anti-choice group Justice For All has returned to our campus for their annual shame fest. I’ve been thinking about everyone whose only real exposure to the conversation around abortion in the US is coming through Justice For All’s garish, enormous billboards of bloodied fetuses. I’m not going to link to their webpage, because I really don’t want to support this organization’s efforts to garner more attention, but the motto/slogan/mission statement listed on their homepage reads, “Justice For All trains thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time.”  Clearly, this group is utterly off base in their approach.

There are a billion reasons a person with a uterus might choose to have an abortion. Those reasons aren’t anyone’s business but the uterus owner’s. Conversations about what’s right for each individual uterus should only include that individual, a licensed health care provider, and maybe but not always the individual’s partner. Organizations like Justice For All should not exist. A group of people shouldn’t be able to make forceful attempts to deny access to health care, to compromise legal rights, or to shame others based on their legitimate and completely shame-free decisions. Here’s a message that needs to be heard much louder than JFA’s: Abortion is not shameful.

An undesired pregnancy is the only health issue I can think of in which treatment is mediated by origin. If you accidentally stab yourself in the stomach while overenthusiastically opening a present and need emergency gut surgery (this actually happened to someone I know) nobody says, “You fool. I don’t care if things didn’t go as planned, it was your CHOICE to open that package, so you can just deal with the consequences!”  But when the health issue is a pregnancy, people feel justified making absurd arguments like, “You had sex so you can deal with the consequences and the consequence is MOTHERHOOD!”

Justice For All is attempting to create a cultural climate in which terminating a pregnancy will result in social ostracization.  By “making abortion unthinkable to millions” this organization is attempting to eliminate choice. A choice that turns you into a social pariah isn’t a choice likely to be made- JFA’s entire goal. This is the difference between being personally pro-life and being publicly anti-choice. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy doesn’t mean the entire nation is going to adopt a One Child Policy and start forcing abortions. Choosing to carry a pregnancy to term doesn’t mean that no one is ever allowed to have an abortion. I have lots of feminist friends who identify as personally pro-life while loudly and proudly supporting reproductive justice. That’s the whole point of choice!

We, and only we uterus-bearing individuals, are allowed to make choices concerning our bodies. JFA’s approach is to present abortion as a morally repugnant act, thereby shaming everyone who has had an abortion, everyone who has considered abortion, and everyone who supports abortion rights and reproductive justice. Public shaming is not an effective rhetorical approach, especially when… there is no shame in abortion!

There's no shame in abortion.

Ty’s tank top speaks the truth!

I’m lucky to be part of a campus that has a vibrant array of social justice student groups who are peacefully and positively protesting JFA’s presence on campus. We’ll be wearing t-shirts with positive messages to show our support of reproductive justice. There will also be a human tunnel to help folks get across the plaza without being harassed, triggered, or shamed by members of JFA.  I’m so glad there are proactive groups filled with such smart, brave, and compassionate students on my campus!

SURJ shirt making

Madelaine and Justin make pro-uterus shirts.

This year, and every year, I find myself wishing anti-abortionists cared as much about the children who are already alive as they do about fetuses.  If all that energy and misguided compassion were directed at living-in-the-world humans, can you imagine how incredible our world would be? There is so much poverty and inequity in our country already. There are kids who don’t have access to basic resources. I wish we could stop fighting about whether or not we’re capable of making informed decisions about our bodies (we are!!!) and start making informed decisions about improving conditions for the people who are already here.

SURJ Shirts

Madelaine, Abigail, Lydia, and cuterus shirts!

We formed a ‘cuterus’ girl gang- why not add some body positivity into the mix? My cuterus ended up looking like a bunny. I’m going with it. Your morals, opinions, and legislations can hop right on out of my uterus!