Fatherless by Choice!

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the annual onslaught of “Dads and Grads!!!” advertising, today is Father’s Day in the United States, If you have a happy relationship with a good dad, take some time to celebrate that. If you’re feeling down today because you don’t have a dad, don’t have a relationship with a dad, have a bad/absent/abusive dad, it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel less-than-thrilled about today. It’s okay to have complicated and confusing emotions. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to be indifferent. Maybe your dad has died and you feel that loss immensely today. Maybe you have a single mom and you want to give her some extra love today. Maybe you have two moms and aren’t even paying attention to this holiday. Maybe you have a dad, and he’s not great, and you feel conflicted today. It’s okay!

Despite overwhelming evidence that we’re social creatures who thrive in community situations, we have a heavy-handed cultural mythos that holds up the heteronormative nuclear family as the One True family. And when your reality doesn’t fit that narrative, holidays such as this one can be painful and difficult.

I’ve been hesitant to share too much of my personal history here, mostly because I know some ~hate commenters~ will use it to derail our conversations. But, y’know, the personal is political, so here we are. I haven’t had a relationship with my biological father in nearly a decade. And it was only by entering that estrangement that I’ve been able to blossom and grow.

I have a Bad Dad. Like, a very bad dad. I’m not nostalgic for my childhood because most of it was such an abusive and fearful time. My memories of my childhood are of being abused by my dad, and of watching him abuse my mom and sister. It was not good, friends! It was physical, emotional, financial, and yep, probably all those other checkboxes you’re wondering about, too. That dude was not a good dude!

Even after extracting myself, I was stalked, threatened, and further terrorized by him. It sucked so much! (I’m using exclamation points because I don’t want you to feel too bad about this!) Eventually, I lived out my favorite The National song: left my home, changed my name, and now I’m eating my cake. My life is really good now, and it’s in large part due to the fact that my Very Bad Dad isn’t part of my life.

But it took me a long time to feel okay about it. In the beginning, I couldn’t believe how much pressure there was from acquaintances, friends, and even family members to “make amends” and “not burn bridges” – and these were people who had borne witness to years of abuse. Consequently, the first few years of my freedom/liberation/estrangement were wildly difficult. I was made to feel such guilt and shame for refusing to continue a relationship with a clinically ill and dangerous man, just because he was my father.

We have cultivated a ludicrous adherence to biological ties as an absolution of all wrongdoing. I’m here to tell you that idea is bananas. If anyone (even your own family!) tries to guilt you for not associating with an abuser… it should be clear that they’re the deranged ones, not you. You know your own heart and needs better than anyone else. And having a Bad Dad (or any bad relation!) is not a reflection on you or your worth. That we have an official holiday for Fathers (and Mothers/Grandparents/Siblings/whatever) does not in any way invalidate your experiences and the choice to end a relationship.

If you feel sad today, that’s okay. It’s a lil sad! Sometimes I wish I had a dad. Not the biological nightmare I ended up with, but a dad who embodies all the greeting card sentiments. Like I said, it’s a complicated day. But you’re not alone and you’re going to be okay. The most important thing I’ve learned in my fatherless decade is that letting go of bad people makes room for really good people. And those people, the family I’ve chosen, are whom I’ll be celebrating today.

If today is difficult for you, be gentle with yourself. Whether you’re fatherless-by-choice (a new term I just made up and am now in love with), wish your dad was around more, or have lost a father you desperately miss, treat yourself with compassion today. There’s nothing wrong with you or your feelings.

 

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Nice Girls

I’m perpetually grateful to have a stable job that I love. I’m good at it and feel recognized and valued for the work that I do (and I’m fairly compensated, which really spikes that job happiness indicator all the way up). I have ample opportunity for professional development, and I’m encouraged to take advantage of all the workshops and conferences that come my way.

Recently, I’ve been attending a series of workshops for “Women Leaders” and they’ve left me feeling… less than impressed. After every session, I leave feeling like we didn’t have a truly nuanced conversation. The most recent one involved me sitting at a table being told the myriad ways in which millennials (ie: me) are lazy and self-involved. That’s a tired, baseless argument and doesn’t in any way help a group of women succeed in the workplace.

At one of these workshops, someone suggested we all read the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. The woman who suggested it was quick to point out that the title is jarring but promised it was full of really useful advice for us. I was skeptical, but I borrowed a copy from the library. The subtitle, 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers sums up the entire book. It really is just 101 “mistakes” followed by advice on how to correct our behavior. And the “mistakes” are things like having a dish of candy on your desk and not wearing makeup.

We need to reframe the conversation. Instead of focusing on the 101 (101!) ways women should be, we need to address the underlying cause of gender discrimination in the workplace. Because I can promise you that hiding jolly ranchers in our desk drawers and switching to a $30 tube of mascara isn’t going to solve it.

I work in IT, and it’s as stereotypically male and casual as you might imagine. I’m often the only woman in a meeting, and definitely the only one in a skirt. It’s easy for me to discard this book and its laundry list of required changes, because I work in such a supportive and generally laid-back environment. My boss evaluates all of us on the merit of our work, not the extent to which we do or do not wear colors that flatter our skin-tones. I’m lucky because in my team, that doesn’t matter. I know it matters in a lot of places– I don’t want to discredit that. But I also know that reinventing ourselves as Professional Stepford Wives is like slapping a bandaid on a bullet hole. (Ugh, Taylor Swift, your silly lyric is invading my life.)

Even though I generally don’t have to worry about these things in my job, I’m not immune. A few weeks ago, my boss was checking in and said, “You’re doing a great job. Although… people find you very intimidating. They know you’re extremely competent but in general, yeah, you intimidate people.” Instead of feeling completely empowered… I totally freaked out. Even though he went on to say that he thought it was a good thing and I could use it to my advantage, all I was hearing was that people didn’t particularly like me. And I hated that!

I can’t decide what about me is intimidating in the workplace and how concerned I should be about it. I refuse to modify my speech patterns or ‘feminize’ my ideas/comments/requests in meetings, even though I know that makes some dudes bristle and I see most women at my office doing that. Or maybe it’s my resting bitch face? I can’t help my face! Or maybe my shyness is being interpreted as bitchiness?? Ugh!

I pressed my boss and it turns out that the men I work with think of me as a pal. We’re all work buddies. It’s actually the women in various other departments who think I’m a big ol unlikable weirdo. And I’ve found myself wondering if I should tweak things about myself—maybe if I don’t point out ways we can be less sexist (omg, we do NOT need to dye the lemonade BLUE because it’s a baby shower for a boy) people will think I’m more fun and less of a killjoy? But should I even care?

I think that if we want to change the system, we need to do it by being ourselves. Nice girls can and should get corner offices. We need to stop buying into the narrative that being feminine is a barrier to success. Because if we keep telling each other and ourselves that, it only reaffirms that narrative. So if you’re a nice girl, keep being a nice girl. If you’re a badass bitch, keep being one. (I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, by the way.) We need to let our work be judged on its value and merit– our workplace expertise should take precedence over our ability to be experts at accessorizing. I think we all need to start articulating exactly that, instead of trying to change 101 aspects of ourselves and hoping that works.

Last Year’s Rent

Let’s start with a few seemingly disconnected tidbits from my life: my friend recently sent me an Atlantic article about rethinking what we mean when we talk about capital-f Feminism; I can’t stop listening to the Rent soundtrack—it’s like I’ve reverted to my most extreme 2005 theater kid days and I’m not trying to make it stop; in the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time with women I admire and love but don’t get to see often; I still don’t know how to talk about the past year.

I haven’t talked about last year much here. Just the one time, actually. And it’s probably not lost on you that the way I wrote was detached and impersonal. I didn’t know how to talk about it then, and I don’t know how to talk about it now. But I can’t stop listening to Rent and thinking about how we examine a year of our lives.

It was this time last year that all the bad things really kicked into high gear. My whole life unraveled in a torrential whirl, and the thing I try to avoid talking about is that it left me completely unmoored. I lost myself entirely. Fundamental aspects of my life and identity shifted. I’m so different than I was before. I didn’t find my way back to myself. I veered off course and became someone completely different.

I think our impulse in these moments is to talk about how we Survived the Trauma because we’re Warriors and Better because of the Struggle. I’m tired of that narrative. I don’t think I’m better because these things happened to me. I don’t feel broken or fragile, but I don’t feel like this was an essential to my personal growth. Any good things to have come out of the past year could have come about a different way. Preferably a way that didn’t involve having my life threatened, sleeping on couches because staying at home wasn’t safe, talking to police and  detectives, learning about filing restraining orders and temporary protection orders. I’m not glad that any of those things happened to me. There’s not one single part of me that’s grateful for any of those experiences.

The past year was devastating. I hardly recognize the shell I became for several months last winter. I spent most of my time huddled in a bathtub, trying to grow accustomed to the painful tinnitus that pounded in my ear. I completely isolated myself because, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t ask for or encourage any of it… it still felt like my fault. And I have a degree in Women’s Studies! I literally have a degree in learning to recognize these patterns, to understand how abuse happens, how getting you to think that it IS your fault is a tactic manipulators use to gain more control.

It didn’t help that every system put in place to stop these kind of abuses failed spectacularly. There was never any retribution for the perpetrator. There was never any justice for me or for the friend who also experienced it. Our whole lives were upended. We left our jobs. We spent unseemly sums of money paying people to help us sort out the physical and emotional fallout that degraded our bodies.

I don’t like to acknowledge exactly how much of a toll being a Victim took on me. I don’t want people to treat me like I’m fragile. I know I should have acknowledged my own fragility, and that I should be able to talk about the ways my life remains completely altered. Because my experiences aren’t unique. This kind of trauma has an unfortunately ubiquitous quality. I like to blame my bad luck, but I think the reality is that we live in a perniciously malicious society, where the negative percolates to the top. I try to believe that there’s more good than not, but it seems like bad actions are constantly rewarded.

One of the disappointing aspects of my experience was that it left me wary of participating in the same kind of activism I’d done before. Spaces that were once safe felt foreign and dangerous. When I read that Atlantic article, I’d already been thinking a lot about the ways that Feminism, like many movements catalyzed by our reactionary internet culture, has gone off the rails in truly unproductive ways. When I started this blog its title (it. was. a. joke.) was a light-hearted jab at my own mellow, goofy personality and the way passivity sustains harmful norms. Now… I’m not as comfortable with the name. I’m still trying to articulate how in the quest for justice and inclusion, radicalized facets have created more discord and polarization.

I can see the ways that this exact inability to converse contributed to how the past year of my life unfurled. The institutional structures that should have protected me didn’t. The discussion was so bogged down in politics that what could have been solved quickly and painlessly turned into one of the most traumatic and prolonged experiences of my life. How else can I explain why the same person (who had the most ability and responsibility to rectify the damage) was able to say, “You’re not safe. You should never be alone—these are truly dangerous threats.” And a short time later, “Well, we do need to let him express his personality. We can’t ask him to change who he is.” …I mean… really? ‘Stalker’ is a protected identity now??

But then I come back to women who are smart and graceful and funny, who change the world by being themselves, who remind me that I’m doing just fine by doing exactly what I’m doing, who gently let me know that removing myself from the conversation isn’t the path to healing. And that’s the kind of feminism that matters to me. I wouldn’t have survived the last year without it.

We have to keep critiquing and reflecting and evaluating the ways our movement is working and the ways it isn’t. There’s not an end goal—we’re never going to be done. But we have the opportunity to save lives, and that’s not something we should give up on. So I’m not going to change the name of this site, or delete it, even though I sometimes think about doing both. I’m not an authority, but I do have a stake in this work. We all do.

When I think about the last 525,600 minutes I don’t think of them as being seasons of love. (I’m not going to apologize for that. Did you really think I wasn’t going to bring that in??) I want to be very clear that I do not believe those platitudes. None of this made me a better person. None of this should have happened. It was like being on a rollercoaster that was so violent you vomited the whole time and needed a chiropractor after. You don’t get off of that feeling Better. Different, but not better.

One last thought in this discordant jumble: autumn has always been my favorite season. And it’s been hard to love it in the same way this year, because now I associate it with the start of one of the worst times of my life. But nobody gets to take an entire season from me. I’m still here and I’m still trying. And I’m still an Angry Feminist Killjoy, but not in the way you might think.

Summer Slow Down

I have plans to run a half marathon in September. I had an elaborate 12-week training plan set up, because I don’t have a history of adding mileage slowly or safely and that’s how you knock yourself out with unnecessary injuries.

The training plan is in the can and I’m down with an unnecessary injury. I broke my toe. It wasn’t a running injury; I caught it on an old cedar chest and felt the bone crumple. I had no idea such a little bone could hurt so much.

There’s not much to do for a broken toe other than to RICE it– rest, ice, compression, elevation. I’ve been propping my foot up under my desk, with an ice pack balanced on my foot. But walking hurts. I have to go slow and hobble around like a brand new duckling.

Slowing down, especially against my will, has made me reflect on the great privilege and gift of my ability. I’m so lucky to have a body that lets me run, to live without chronic pain, illness, or disease. I am able-bodied and I don’t spend enough time thinking about how much that informs my life experiences.

I’m thinking about it now, and about the ways my prescribed and adopted identities align me with a population I’ve resisted. The county I live in was recently named the least diverse in my state. As I watch housing prices soar, see interesting construction and business changes, and observe various political shifts, it’s clear that my city caters toward wealthy white liberals.

And increasingly, I’m realizing that I’m one of them. There’s nothing wrong with being affluent, or white, or liberal. But there is something wrong when one such privileged group eclipses all others. To help stabilize my toe, my doctor told me to buy a pair of hard-soled sandals. She gave me a list of brands, all expensive and very popular where I live. I didn’t own any, and I hadn’t wanted to. I’ve resisted buying into (literally, monetarily) the dominant culture of this place. I worry about who gets erased as the Wealthy White Liberals take charge.

I bought the shoes, and they’re helping a lot. But it’s not lost on me that I could buy that pricey pair because I now have a graduate degree that helped me find a job with a stable income. I can pay my bills, work on my student loans, and save enough to have a Shoes for Broken Toes fund. I had to buy a new (used) car this year, and I chose a zippy little hybrid. I work in a nice office, in a tech job that provides me fancy gadgets and expensive software. When I’m not injured, I’m out running on trails and visiting microbreweries. All these external indicators place me solidly in this yuppie bubble culture. I worry that I’ll get sucked in and lose sight of the world.

Even now, I feel like all I’ve just done is write a Poor Little Rich Girl story. And what purpose does that serve? Now, more than a year out of school, I find myself still struggling to bridge the gap between student activist and autonomous, isolated, workforce citizen. I didn’t expect the change to be so dramatic, and for the most part, I’m infinitely happier now than I was as a student.

But there are aspects I miss so much. Like the community of bright, and diverse people who challenged this city and me. And even that feels complicated because I’m the one responsible for doing my personal work, not my peers. I need to consider my feminism and how it’s evolving within me, and how and to whom I’m engaging in this new life phase.

As I slow down this month, I hope to think more, challenge my innate and chosen identities more, and to find a way to validate my space without encroaching upon and erasing the people and cultures and communities we so very badly need.

Shining Like Fireworks

When Taylor Swift was 19 she was in an abusive relationship. Statistically, most women will experience these kinds of destructive relationships. It may come from an intimate partner, a family member, or in my case– a guy you had the extreme misfortune of working with.

Most abusers want power. Most abuse is about power. Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power and control. While abusers are clearly mentally unwell, they’re often intelligent and charming. They’re clever manipulators and will often use tactics like gaslighting to make the people they choose to abuse doubt themselves. If you’re able to speak out, they may try (and unfortunately may succeed) to portray themselves as innocent, as the victims of vindictive slander. It’s a terrible situation that virtually every woman has experienced more than once in her life. I don’t know a single woman who can’t recall such a situation.

What do you do when someone is trying to take control of your life, wants to turn people against you, and engages in stalking behavior patterns in an attempt to assert power? Well if you’re Taylor Swift, you don’t take it sitting down, that’s for damn sure. When Taylor Swift was nineteen she wrote a song that clearly says, “You’re trying to make me into a victim and I’m not going to let you.” She did that when she was 19! Of course, the media used this to further their narrative of her as boy crazy and vengeful, not realizing that she’d just given young women of the 2000s what Kathleen Hanna gave young women of the 1990s: a clear path out of that media narrative of victimized women.

Thanks to Tumblr user Monica-Geller, we can all take a moment to appreciate this perfect moment in the song Dear John:

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The lyrics of that song beautifully capture what it’s like to have a mentally unwell man try to control you, and then what it’s like to decide you won’t be victimized, to reassert power over your own life. The man referenced in Dear John tried to manipulate the situation by releasing (a truly pathetic) song trying to deny his abuse, to make people feel bad for him. That’s what abusive men do. They’ll never take responsibility for their actions. And if you have the added struggle of dealing with an abuser who has sociopathic tendencies, you’ve got even more to go up against.

You probably can’t prevent abusive people from showing up in your life. And the very real and volatile, often deadly, fallout should never be ignored. But you also don’t have to resign yourself to a life of fear and mistrust. The person abusing you is sad and empty. You are not, which is probably one of the reasons you were targeted in the first place. An abusive person might stay in your life for a long time, because they’re sad and empty. But that doesn’t need to get you down, because you should be so busy shining like fireworks that when that pitiful abusive person tries to pull another stunt you pause and laugh and think, “You? Still?” and then get right back to your amazing and fulfilling life.

I’m so grateful that Taylor Swift was brave enough to write and share this song, to give young women this incredible example of owning your truth, speaking out, and living fearlessly. I’m so glad I got over my internalized misogyny, stopped exclusively listening to sad white boys, and became the conductor of the Taylor Swift Defense Train.

And I’m especially glad I did all of that before that sad empty guy I had the misfortune of working next to decided to start sexually harassing and stalking me. It’s a truly disgusting situation and it’s always disappointing to see how thoroughly wretched and actively malicious people can be, but that’s his lot to live with. All I’ve been doing in the months this has been occurring is casually achieving all of my personal and professional goals.

My world and life keep getting bigger and happier, and while it’s aggravating to still be dealing with a person who is so clearly and dangerously unwell… my fireworks are shining so bright I barely even notice.

I decided to climb my career ladder and was able to juggle multiple job offers, and then choose to accept one that makes me happy and pays more than I probably deserve. I wanted to brush up my web development skills, so I learned Sass and Javascript and all kinds of frontend and backend tricks. I go out on dates because somebody else’s unwanted infatuation isn’t going to prevent me from having a rich life. I’ve been living with incredible people. I go on runs and every mile feels better than the last. I decided to learn how to cook fancy meals, and most of them have been stellar. I get to cuddle sweet dogs.

All of my relationships are flourishing.

My friends are all shining in their own lives and making me better as a result. I love that I get to catch a plane, just because I want to drink wine with Madelaine. I can drive around with Whitney, screaming, “Testify!” Sam sends me mail addressed to “Bagels” and it gets delivered. Megan and Sarah meet me for Lady Brunch. Lindsay and I discuss the books we’re reading as if we’re living in the stories. Jennie wears silly cat ear headbands around the house with me. Taylor reminds me that our kind of love is immutable. Sue thinks I’m capable of performing and presenting alongside her (!). The coolest 11-year-old girl lets me goofily dance around with her. Lydia inspires me to do no harm, but take no shit. Vani reminds me that even small acts of resistance can have a big effect.

All of these things would be happening even if I never had to deal with being harassed. But abusers want to crush all the good things in your life and, like Taylor Swift, I soundly reject that kind of manipulation. This angry feminist killjoy is shining like fireworks.

Bad Feminist Reading List

I’ve always considered pop culture widely, deeply, extensively, obsessively. My friends and I used to spend endless hours analyzing Harry Potter, building detailed backstories and predictions. This habit was encouraged in graduate school, where critical conversation is always given more weight than the artifact being considered. When Serial was airing, I devoted more time to the podcasts about the podcast than I did considering and consuming the official episodes.

Now that you know this about me, it makes sense that Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, a book brimming with detailed essays analyzing pop culture and our lives, would become an instant favorite. I’m excited about Roxane Gay– and that’s only partly because her PhD is in the same unknown-beyond-academics field I staggered through for my MA. (I feel an absurd connection to Rhetoric and Composition/Communication people because, and I’ve tested this considerably, nobody knows what it is unless they’ve personally been involved in it.)

My favorite part of Bad Feminist was how generative I found it. It made me want to learn more and to create on my own, which are the two greatest gifts a book can give. So, here’s a list of books, articles, and other media referenced in the essays of Gay’s “Gender and Sexuality” section. These are things I want to read for the first time or revisit in a new context, but this is not a comprehensive list of all the media you’ll find referenced and discussed in Bad Feminist. This should keep us all busy for a bit though, especially as we all Resolve to Read More This Year.

From “Garish, Glorious Spectacles”
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Kate Zambreno, Green Girl
Helene Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa”
Joan DIdion, Play It as It Lays
Richard Brantigan, The Abortion
John Irving, Cider House Rules

From “Not Here to Make Friends”
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
James Wood, How Fiction Works
Sara Levine, Treasure Island!!!
Pamela Ribon, You Take It From Here
Megan Abbott, Dare Me
Lydia Millet, Magnificence
Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Marguerite Duras, The Lover

From “How We All Lose”
Hanna Rosin, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women
Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman
Kate Zambreno, Heroines
Junot Diaz, This is How You Lose Her

From “Reaching for Catharsis”
Diane Spechler, Skinny

From “The Smooth Surfaces of Idyll”
Roxane Gay, An Untamed State
Dawn Tripp, Game of Secrets

From “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence”
Lynn Higgins and Brenda Silver, Rape and Representation
Sarah Nicole Prickett, “Your Friends and Rapists”
Margaret Atwood, “Rape Fantasies”
Laura Tanner, Intimate Violence

From “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories”
Garret Keizer, Privacy

From “Beyond the Measure of Men”
Meg Wolitzer, “The Second Shelf”
James Salter, Last Night
Elizabeth Strout, generally.

From “A Tale of Two Profiles”
Katheryn Russell-Brown, The Color of Crime

I hope you’ve read Bad Feminist or plan on finding it soon. Find a good lady friend who will mail it to you after she reads it—thanks Madelaine! In the mean time, check out The Butter, edited by Roxane Gay. I’d suggest starting with my friend Sam’s brilliant and wrenching “Highlights from the Apocalypse.”

Is Complimenting a Woman Sexual Harassment? – MarinaShutUp

Today, I want to share a video from a very smart and articulate young woman, who posts videos to the MarinaShutUp channel on YouTube. This is is a more extensive conversation about the ‘catcalling video’ I referenced in my last post. I’ve tried to express these sentiments frequently– I used a slightly different version of the ludicrous way these situations escalate from ‘compliment’ to threats of violence, and it’s sad that we can all relate to that experience.

Another important note is that while this video rightly focuses on street harassment, abuse happens everywhere and by all sorts of people. It’s common to be harassed by a stranger on the street, but it’s also unfortunately common to be manipulated and made to feel controlled and uncomfortable by people you know well, in an environment that should feel safe to you. There’s a bit of a Stranger Danger myth surrounding who we cast as perpetrators of violence in our mind’s eye.

If someone close to you, a person with any kind of emotional or physical proximity, makes you feel uncomfortable, gaslights you (a term from a Hitchcock film that means you’re made to think you’re the crazy one), or is in any way making you feel unsafe, know that there are people who care and resources available to help you. Not every situation, especially those at an institutional level, are handled the way they should be. That’s something I’m hopeful to see change, especially given the attention these matters have been paid to college campuses recently. Know that it is never your fault if you’ve been abused, and even if you can’t find the support where you are, you are a good and valuable person who doesn’t deserve to be sexually, emotionally, physically, or psychologically harassed.

If you’re a person who doesn’t believe stories of harassment and abuse, please check out the website Marina lists at the end of her video: Everyday Harassment. Listening to the firsthand experiences of survivors (which is what we are) is one of the most important things you can do.


 

One final note, it’s been a long time coming and I’m sad to do it, but comments have been closed down for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, I have enough harassment to handle in my offline life and I’m not up for it cluttering my online life as well. We’ve had some really good and productive conversations here, and I’ve received enough vitriolic and abusive comments to know that this blog needs to keep running– you know that old saying, the comments on any article about feminism prove the necessity of feminism. I may reinstate them in the future, but for now, seek out information from many sources, engage in conversations with the people around you, start your own blogs– and stay fierce, feminists.

Wicked Kind of Women

This weekend, I was honored to perform at the Denver Art Society alongside a group of incredibly talented, smart, and savvy women. Being surrounded by fearless women has been and continues to be one of the most important parts of my life, and I feel so lucky to be supported, challenged, and loved by such a wonderful group. Below is a rough transcript of the piece I performed at the Wicked Kind of Women reading– just imagine it embodied with a lot of improv and sass! And stay wicked, women.

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When my friend Whitney told me about this all women reading, I was so excited. I love women. I think women are so cool and important and should always have a platform for telling their stories. Louis CK once said, “I don’t think women are better than men. I think men are worse than women.” And I relate to that so much. When I see a woman, I’m like, “Cool! I bet she is smart and funny and has had fascinating life experiences that I would love to hear about!” I feel like I am that Bikini Kill song—Rebel girls you are the queens of my world!

I saw a tweet once that said, “You know the old saying, boys will be trash.” And I relate to that so much. When I see men, what I usually think is, “Well. Looks like you crawled out of a semi-decent dumpster this morning.” Men usually find this really offensive and say, “You CANT hate ALL men!” I mean, first of all, don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, but secondly, let’s unpack this idea. There’s a difference between the individual and the collective. So, while, yes, there are good men and I know many of them, all men do belong to a collective nebulous system that gives them privileges to the detriment of others. That’s what I’m most concerned about—not even the inequity of men being advanced, but the part where the privilege causes tangible harm. If you’re so upset that I’m saying that this system of male privilege and toxic masculinity contributes to the continued murder of people who are not men, you’re probably not someone I want to spend my time with. I feel like I have to say ALL men, yes, ALL men. If I don’t, nothing will ever change because every man will assume they’re in the good man group– which is like the Blue Man Group with slightly less body paint. If it makes all you men and men sympathizers feel better, I have to consider this exact same thing with all of my privileged identities—being white and straight and able-bodied and about a thousand other things. Yes, I’m an individual who tries to do active good, but I’m still a member of those nebulous groups that do active harm.

But it really is true that I don’t hate all men. Here’s a story of a man I don’t hate at all. Art. The post office guy. We have this whole comedy bit down where I go in to mail a package and he says, “Liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?” And I say, “No!” And he says, “This isn’t a care package full of batteries?!” And I say, “No!” but sometimes I like to mix it up. Yesterday, when Art said, “Liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?” I said, “Oh yes, all of those things.” And he said, “Batteries?” “No, Art. A six page handwritten letter analyzing the new Taylor Swift album.” And without even missing a beat he goes, “Then we’d better insure it for at least $100.” Yes, Art. You bet we’d better. I like Art so much!

It is possible that Art is always so sweet to me because he thinks of me as his 12 year old granddaughter. This is not unusual in my life. I have to try really hard to look like a legal adult. Once, recently, I had put a lot of effort into looking like an actual adult human. I was flying on an aeroplane which is always a great opportunity to pretend to be terribly sophisticated. You can sit in an airport bar looking mysterious and unapproachable. So that’s the look I was going for. But on my way to the airport bar, my hair tie set off the TSA’s body scanners. And the TSA agent pulled me aside and said, “Okay, we have to pat your hair but I’ll need you to wait right here until we call in a representative from unaccompanied minors.” At which point I said, “I am not an unaccompanied minor! I am on my way to look mysterious and unapproachable in the terminal bar! Look at my sophisticated outfit!” And she said, “You look 12.”

I went to a literary costume party once and I decided to simultaneously make my youthful appearance work for me while providing social commentary on sexual abuse of young girls. Which is to say, I went as Lolita. My friend went as Humbert Humbert and I really thought we were illustrating, once and for all, that Lolita is not a book that should not be romanticized. I put a lot of effort into my costume. I wore a nametag that said Dolores Haze, which is Lolita’s actual name. I was out to rehumanize her! I wore an incredibly non-sexy work-appropriate outfit that I wear all the time in my non-costume party life. It’s actually my most complimented outfit. The last time I wore it I was stopped by no less than five women, all who told me it was super cute. For the costume party, all I did was slap a nametag on that outfit and put my hair in pigtails.

But all I remember from that night is being incredibly uncomfortable. I have never been catcalled or hit on or sexually propositioned so much in my entire life. This is deeply disturbing to me because I did not look sexy. I looked like a twelve year old. I was trying and succeeding to look like an actual child and that’s when I was most attractive to men. All kinds of men, too. Men my age, men much older than me, homeless men on the street, the PhD holding men who paid to go to that literary costume party. A former professor of mine- who did not recognize me- tried to pick me up. He called me a seductress. Even though I felt completely creeped out by this evening, I was mostly terrified for actual 12 year old girls. Who is keeping them safe? Who is stopping men from shouting these horrible things at them?

Have you waltzed through the girl’s clothing section of any store recently? If you haven’t, take a quick goosey gander the next time you’re in Target. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t aimlessly wander through the girl’s section… I’ll just tell you about it now. There is no longer a difference between women’s fashion and girl’s fashion. Sometimes I’ll pause next to a very cute ensemble that I would wear out in public and I’ll look a little closer only to realize it’s made for a literal four year old. And before you get any fancy pants ideas, no, I do not have the sartorial tastes of the recently potty trained. I’ve been to middle school. All that fearless abandon and willingness to mix prints was stomped out of me years ago.

When I was a kid, the girl’s clothing section was filled with, like, spandex bodysuits in every color. On the one hand, I’m glad nobody has to experience that kind of humiliation, although I do believe that kind of embarrassment builds character. On the other hand though, I really worry that we’re taking something away from kids by making them wear tiny versions of grown up clothing. And I feel really conflicted about that feeling, because I don’t want to censor anyone’s body or fashion choices. That’s what high school dress codes are for. You know why those dress codes exist, right? Because we’d rather send girls home from school than teach boys not to lose it over three inches of exposed shoulder. And if that doesn’t tell you exactly who we value and who we believe deserves education, I just don’t know what to tell you.

So, I don’t want to go all high school dress code on girl’s wardrobes. But I also feel like we’re not saying, “2nd graders, you are people and we respect that even at 7 years old, you do have bodily autonomy, and you can wear whatever you want and we will all respect that.” I feel like what we’re saying is, “You must wear this padded bra, even though you haven’t learned long division yet.” Those are a real thing, by the way—padded bras for baby girls. It’s a sick sick world. And I know that there’s really never been a time where it’s been safe to be a girl or woman in this world, and maybe I’m just more aware of it now, but I feel like we’re publicly declaring that we think of children as tiny adults and because of that, we’re not properly outraged when terrible things happen to children. I think we should all be horrified when women are threatened and catcalled and most people aren’t horrified at all. But it feels even worse when it happens to a kid who already has very little agency in this world. So many girls and women have stories about being sexually propositioned in the street when they were actual children and I don’t get why we’re not freaking out about it.

Have you all seen that CNN video where a woman of color and a white guy ‘debate’ catcalling? I don’t suggest watching it, because it’s just rage-inducing. It’s basically just this sad white guy yelling about how he should be allowed to threaten and harass women and the woman listening to this rant makes the most beautiful reaction faces. You should watch the video just to see her incredible facial expressions. Well, this week, some guy posted that on my Facebook page and said, “Let’s critically discuss this!” And, like, what? What do you want to critically discuss here? The fact that men are trash? Because I think I’ve already established that. But then, some other random trashman shows up and says, “Any fem who says catcalling is never okay is just being a bitch. Because cold approaching is different from catcalling and that’s always okay.” I got so furious that I just deleted the whole thing, because I don’t need that misogynistic bullshit anywhere in my life. Anyone who refers to women as “fems” or “females” should not be trusted. That is a dehumanizing tactic. Anyone who believes that a woman is a “bitch” for stating she doesn’t want to be violently threatened, should not be trusted. And anyone who really thinks that it’s harassment to yell, “Nice ass, suck my dick!” but thinks it’s completely acceptable to walk up to a woman, block her path, make her feel trapped, and say, “Hello female with a lovely rump, put your lips on my penis.” Should definitely never be trusted. That person should probably be on some kind of watchlist. These men who pretend to be feminists while espousing deeply harmful ideologies are what Margaret Mitchell would call mules in horse’s harnesses. More succinctly put, they’re asses.

They’re the kind of guys who think women shouldn’t wear makeup. Just this week, I overheard a guy say, “Yeah, but, like, I couldn’t honestly tell a woman that she’s pretty if she has makeup on because I don’t know what she really looks like.” And what I want to know is, when I come into work wearing one outfit one day and then wear a completely different outfit the next day, does that rock your world? Do you find that deeply unsettling?

These are the kind of people who believe in the friendzone. The thing that kills me about this idea of the ‘friendzone’ is that by the time a guy thinks he’s been ‘friendzoned’ the woman doing the zoning did not consider him a friend. I have never thought, “Oh, yay! Here comes my BFF Jim. He’s such a good and dear friend. My favorite part about him is the way he keeps trying to force me into a romantic relationship!” No. The guy who gets ‘friendzoned’ is the guy I run away from every time I see him coming. I’ve stopped using the term ‘friendzone’ actually. I’ve never ‘friendzoned’ anyone. I have been ‘girlfriend zoned’ many times. You can’t just decide that I’m obligated to be your girlfriend and then have a fit when I don’t agree. And honestly, the way you go from “Date me!” to “You dumbass ho bitch!” in 2.5 seconds does not endear you to me in any way.

I feel like I got off track for a bit there. The point I was trying to make is that when my friend Whitney told me about this all women reading, I was so excited. Because sometimes it feels like the whole world is actively working against women, so it’s really important to have this space where we can tell our stories.

SO ANYWAY YAY WOMEN

Am I a Misandrist?

A side effect of writing this blog is having to constantly clarify that I don’t hate men. I think that’s true. I think that I don’t hate men. That’s a strange thing to be uncertain about, and I’m not even sure about the veracity of the claim anymore. When someone says, “I’m not a racist, but” you can be sure that what they’re about to say is definitely racist. Here I am, always saying, “I’m not a misandrist, but” and I’m wondering if I do kind of hate men, and what to do with these feelings.

Before I get ten thousand angry comments, you should know that even I think I’m wrong more than I’m right. I’m painting with broad strokes here. I started to write that you should think about what I say here on an institutional level and not be personally offended as or on behalf of men. But the reason I’m realizing that I might hate men is personal. And I don’t really know what to do with that.

Here’s the thing: even men who are intelligent and deeply thoughtful will inevitably say or do something that makes me wonder what they really think about women. A little comment will slip out and make me wonder if they see me as an equal or if they even see me as human. And then I wonder what might happen if I keep spending time with them.

I’m not sure I can trust men because one thing will trigger another and then I’m remembering that one time when I was a teenager, the terrifying feeling of being overpowered by a man, being held down, crying and trying to get away. Or my mind goes back a year or two ago, to the time a man slipped his hand around my throat and casually said, “I could kill you so easily right now.” Those are just drops in the giant bucket of bad experiences with men. And yes, there are abusive women who do terrible things and should be held accountable for them. But in my personal experience, there have been a small handful of bad women and an even smaller handful of good men. I don’t believe that all men do these terrible things, but I do believe that all or almost all women have had these experiences with men.

There are too many of these stories. We can call these events to mind and discuss them with too much detachment; it happens so often that it’s stopped being shocking to us. I think about how we’ve been told that we’re the ones overreacting, that it wasn’t such a big deal. We’ve been put in situations with the men who’ve harmed us and been told to be nice, to smile and be polite and let the past be the past.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I got tired of making concessions, of letting abusive people maintain avenues into my life. So I stopped. I stopped having close emotional relationships with men. Over the past few years, I’ve surrounded myself with strong, loud, unbreakable women… and no men. And that gave me the space I needed to grow and recover and build a healthy sense of self. It was definitely the right choice at the time, but now I’m not sure if it’s the right path to continue down.

I have to acknowledge that I probably overcorrected. There were too many abusive men in my life and now there are no men in my life. I do extremes: polarized all or nothings. I know that’s not right and I’m trying to do better, but grace is not a word that’s often used to describe me. I’m not good at forgiveness or wiggle room. I’m a terrible educator. When someone does or says something without realizing that they’re implicitly or explicitly promoting rape culture and perpetuating an environment of violence against women… I tend to leave the table.

I don’t always want or feel able to engage in a dialogue about gender and violence. I know that’s not productive. I know that my silence won’t change anybody’s mind, and in fact will be read as compliance or tacit support, but some days it feels impossible. Some days, I want to be petulant, to call myself a misandrist and swear to never ever speak to a man again. I don’t want to sit in the discomfort and pain and try to figure it out. I want to have a tantrum and leave the hard work to somebody else.

But even as I feel this tension so fully, I have to acknowledge that I am complicit in so many oppressive systems. Every time a man says something that makes me swear that I absolutely definitely hate men, I have to remember that my privileged identities constantly contribute to those same feelings for another person. My ignorance and insensitivity around my whiteness, my straightness, my cis-genderedness hurt people just as much, probably more, than men’s general inability to understand how their privilege and power is marginalizing to me.

And that brings me right back to my own lack of grace. Engaging in social justice, trying to challenge and change the harmful aspects of our society, takes a lot of grace. It’s hard, it hurts, and all of us have valid feelings about it—even when those feelings are in opposition. We have to give each other space to figure it out, and we have to give ourselves some grace too. It’s okay to let someone know that they’re responsible for educating themselves. It’s okay to take a break.

But if we don’t join in again, nothing will ever get better. When I think about all the girls growing up now, I don’t want them to have casual conversations with their friends about the ways they’ve been abused by men. I want their lives to be better, safer, and happier than ours have been. So I have to learn how to balance my legitimate mistrust and wariness with productive and human conversations. I’m still trying to figure out how.

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.