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.

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.

On Being Out and About While Female

There’s a classroom activity done in Women’s Studies courses that illustrates the differences between what it’s like to be a man in the world and what it’s like to be a woman in the world. It’s very basic; I mean “in the world” in the sense of “walking down the street”. The men in the room are asked to describe the things they do to ensure their safety when they go out. The usual response is crickets. When women are asked how they keep themselves safe, there’s a flood of responses. Never go out alone. Carry mace. Hold your keys between your fingers so you can a) jab a potential attacker with them and b) aren’t fumbling around at your car like a sitting duck while you try to unlock the door. Imagine what it’s like if you happen to be trans or gender queer or your sexuality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative. There’s a whole pantheon of extra things you have to do to stay safe, then.

I tend to disregard all these ingrained rules for being Out and About While Female. It’s not a smart decision to wander around as if I have the same privilege as men, but I do it anyway because I’m really mad that I’m denied the simple right to feel safe in my own community. My logic is nonsensical, and I’ve regretted my lack of mace/key shanks/rape whistles more than once when a man has felt okay stepping in my path, touching me in some way, or suggesting I spend my evening with him.

In our culture, we teach girls and women to be constantly on guard and take preventative action. Violence is assumed, and it’s our responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. This also assumes that the violence will be inflicted on some other girl or woman, one who (maybe like me) wasn’t willing to play the precaution game. If you’re harassed, assaulted, or raped- it was probably your fault for not fending it off well enough. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get our lives together and start reframing these issues as the perpetrator’s problem? Rape isn’t a woman’s issue. Rape is a man’s issue. Instead of teaching our girls and women not to get raped we should be teaching our boys and men (hold it in your holsters here, pals, this is one heckuva thunderbolt coming your way!) to not rape.

Last night, my friend and I were out together when we found ourselves propositioned by two of the most flap-mouthed, milk-livered gudgeons I’ve ever encountered. We just couldn’t seem to shake them- even when we moved to another bar entirely. This is the moment when that Personal Safety bit came up again. There’s a line between maintaining social decorum and feeling safe. These men were total jerks sure, but was it enough to justify being rude and giving them the what for? But, why is that even a question we felt the need to ask ourselves? This was our night out- why did we feel obligated to keep spending our time with these (im)perfect strangers?

Because we’re socialized to be nice and polite and pander to men. Ugh. Even us Angry Feminist Killjoys fall into that trap sometimes. And then one of the dudes bought us drinks. That’s the kiss of death on a quick getaway. My friend and I took one of those group trips to the bathroom so we could discuss how we were going to make our escape. That’s when we were told we couldn’t take alcohol into the bathroom. Because of course we couldn’t. This bar happened to have a strange setup where the bathroom was technically outside of the bar, so while I understand the liquor licensing issues going on, that presents a huge problem for Lady Safety.

What were we supposed to do with these brand new drinks? Leave them with the absolute codpieces who purchased them? That would definitely work… if we were hoping to get drugged. We ended up making a desperate plea to the employee barring our entrance. My friend said, “We’re with these awful guys” right as I said, “Look, I think they might actually slip rufinol in these.” She was very kind about it, babysat our alcohol, and I’m pretty sure she was ready to help us sneak out the back. Ladies have to help each other out, you know. We broke away shortly thereafter. The fellas didn’t take our departure kindly, which was just so endearing it made me want to change my mind and spend more time with them after all!

The point of this post wasn’t merely to complain about that uncomfortable experience, but to illustrate the frequency with which these same stupid situations crop up in our lives. Every time my lady friends and I go out without a gentleman amongst us, we end up spending the night fending off handsy dudes. Sometimes we meet really great people and have nice conversations and a fun time, but… there is always the assumption of violence. Is this situation safe? What do these people really want from us? Is this going to end poorly? The presence of even one male in our group will change the course of our night entirely. At one point, my friend mentioned her boyfriend to the dudes. Even though we’d been saying we weren’t interested all night, they didn’t hear it until a male partner was invented. Why is it that men will respect men (even imaginary ones!) more than they’ll respect the women they’re courting?

It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating that none of our male friends ever fully understand what we’re trying to tell them. I was out with two male friends once, and they couldn’t understand why I was frustrated when they vanished for a quarter of an hour. We were in an unfamiliar city and I had to spend the entire time alone, trying to escape leering eyes and unwanted advances. (I was tipsier than I should have been, because until they disappeared, I felt safe with my friends around.) I really pride myself on my independence, but there are some situations where even I know that being mouthy and snarky is going to get me into trouble.

Our culture keeps making all of this my problem, but it’s not. I shouldn’t have to be constantly sparring and on edge. Because this is a man’s problem. Apparently that’s a really difficult concept in our society, so here are a few things you can stop right now: expecting sex because you bought me a beer; assuming that I owe you my time; becoming rude and violent when I don’t give you my time or my body; touching me without my permission in any way, at any time, ever; generally being a nuisance. Let’s start there, okay?

Cinderella Ate Her Daughter

I recently finished reading Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daugther: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This NPR interview with Orenstein offers a solid introduction to and overview of the book.

This book was an interesting exploration of the sickening media frenzy and marketing circus that now dominates childhood- especially girlhood. I loved the small facts that are sprinkled throughout the book. Did you know that Disney Princesses, when they appear in a group, never make eye contact with each other? Princesses don’t have friends! Creepy. Orenstein charts the origins of Princess Culture (guess what, it was conceptualized by money-grubbing dudes) and the steady rise of young girls’ obsession with all things pink and sweet.

But for some reason I haven’t quite pinned down yet, I had a difficult time making it through this book. It’s short, not even 200 pages of text, but I had to renew it from the library twice. One chapter entitled “Wholesome to Whoresome: The Other Disney Princesses” toed dangerously over the line of Slut Shaming in its judgments of Disney media moguls. (Or, as Orenstein called them, “mogurls”.) Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Hilary Duff, Melissa Joan Hart, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez were all dissected as examples of good girls gone bad. But instead of critiquing the culture that created and sexualized these young women (guess what, WE did that to them) Orenstein vilified and shamed their choices. In a chapter on cyber-bulling, she brushed off young women’s suicides as the result of their previous mental instabilities, not the torture they were subjected to. Throughout the book, I felt like Orenstein was flirting with slut shaming and victim blaming in a way that made me very uncomfortable.

Furthermore, while I think the marketing and media blitzing aimed at little girls and young women is terrible, I’m skeptical as to how much our childhood phases really impact the people we’ll become. For most of our lives, my sister refused to wear dresses or to allow the color pink to exist in any of her belongings. She spent most of her time wrestling and breaking her bones. Conversely, I am sporting a heavy pout in my preschool photo, because my mom forgot it was picture day and sent me in pants. I was devastated to be photographed in a moment when I wasn’t wearing a dainty dress. I played with dolls, took ballet classes, read all the American Girl books. And wouldn’t you know it, my sister is married and fully entrenched in domestic life while I’m an angry feminist killjoy busily bucking all sorts of trends.

If you never leave the Princess vacuum, that’s clearly problematic, but I think most of us grow up to be people who don’t much resemble the various months we spent obsessed with one thing or another. I did once know a young lady who, in our first year of college, wore an inordinate amount of Disney gear- a Disney World bracelet, Snow White t-shirts, and the like. That was disconcerting to me. She was so invested in the Princess plotline that she was incapable of initiating or maintaining interpersonal relationships. Turns out in the real world, being a Sleeping Beauty isn’t a great way to win friends and lovers. Because you’re, you know, asleep. But I still think this was a rare case.

Rather than shunning all popular trends, we should probably just emphasize media literacy more. If we learn how to gain a critical consciousness around the media that’s produced and mainstreamed in our culture, we’ll be better equipped to examine how it functions in our lives, and what role we want it to play in our lives.  Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to participate in lots of the popular culture my friends reveled in, because my mom didn’t think pop culture was appropriate. She was absolutely right, but this resulted in some really awful ostracization and exclusion from my peer group. Rather than rote banning, I think it would have been more productive if my mom and I had conversations about why this media was popular and why it was objectionable.

Ultimately, I’m glad I read this book. Aside from the interesting facts, I wasn’t introduced to any new positions or ideologies I wasn’t already familiar with, but it was nice to see this topic taken on publicly. I imagine I would feel much differently about the book if I were a mother, or happened to be considering motherhood. At this point in my life, the contents of the book were interesting only in a detached way.  I was moved to side with and defend the young women (those “other” Disney princesses) rather than to outright ban the color pink from my life.

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.

Disney’s Brave: White Feminism Strikes Again!

I generally try to avoid Disney entirely, because I have pretentious tastes and because Disney is every kind of problematic. The princess movies are especially frustrating, as they gleefully celebrate tired sexist and heteronormative narratives. Plus, I’ve never understood America’s obsession with princess narratives. Isn’t this nation’s origin story wrapped up in leaving monarchies behind? Despite my aversions, I watched Disney’s Brave while recovering from surgery last week. I’d heard that it was actually wonderful, and by day four of bed rest, even Disney seemed more appealing than staring at my ceiling.

Like most Disney movies, Brave is filled with only white people.  It also draws on Scottish folklore, featuring magical wisps and spells cast by the classic old witch. There’s probably a lot of cultural appropriation and inaccuracies tied up in the depiction of the clans and their histories. However, the movie did a nice job of exploring and challenging the traditional princess tale.  In the film, Princess Merida doesn’t want to wear the clothes her mother chooses, learn the ‘feminine’ skills her mother tries to teach her, or act like a traditional princess in any sense. When three suitors arrive to compete for Merida’s hand, she is not pleased. She ultimately competes for her own hand, out-shooting all three suitors.

That’s awesome! This all happens quite early, and the betrothal line takes a backseat for the rest of the film. I was glad to see the movie abandon the usual ‘She doesn’t want it now, but she’ll be gushing in love by the end!’ way of these stories.  Ultimately, this isn’t a story about gender roles. It’s a story about familial relationships, especially the mother/daughter bond.  This was all explored within the framework of the traditional Prince/Princess setup, but it was nice to see the storytellers manipulate that in productive ways. Hopefully, we’ll eventually reach a point where strong, independent young women aren’t shown as rebels and rule-breakers, but we’re moving in the right direction.

I was feeling pretty pleased with Brave, only to immediately hear about Disney’s redesign of Princess Merida. Before Merida could be officially inducted into the Disney Princess membership club (why is this even a thing? Honestly, why?), some official decided she needed to be sexier. Yeah. 16 year old Merida just wasn’t sexy enough to be an official Disney Princess. Even though it’s antithetical to her entire character, Merida was stripped of her trusty bow and arrows, stuck into a fancy dress (the exact kind she literally tore off her body in the film), her wild hair was tamed, and she was made much skinnier. This is why we don’t get along, Disney.

Here’s where things get interesting: there was a huge public outcry! The sexed up version of Merida was not receiving any kind of approval. Disney has been petitioned, the film’s director expressed anger, and it seems like the entire internet has been yelling, so much so that Disney replaced Sexy Merida with Original Merida on the official website. Unfortunately, it sounds like Disney is still planning to use Sexy Merida on their official merchandise.

I think this public response is great. Really, I do. I can’t help but to feel frustrated, though. Because this isn’t the first time Disney has redesigned a Princess. It’s kind of their MO, honestly. When Mulan became an Official Princess, her weapons were taken away, too. Not only that, they made her white. That’s right. They changed her race. And it’s not just Mulan. Jasmine and Pocahontas? Also suddenly white.

Yes, it’s wickedly annoying that Merida was completely changed into a sexy cartoon. We should be frustrated by that. But where were all the petitions and outcry when this exact same stuff was happening to Princesses of Color? I mean, really, white feminism? Really? It’s anti-feminist to care about issues only when they pertain to people who look like us. That is wrong-headed in so many ways. I’m happy that Brave has been received so well, that people are excited about a princess who breaks out of the traditional roles.  But by getting angry at her redesign and not the same problematic redesigns of her fellow princesses, we’re not doing any better.

Feminism has an utterly unsavory history of excluding women of color, lesbians, the working class, basically anyone who wasn’t white, straight, and rich. I don’t want to be a part of that feminism. So if we’re going to have a canary about Merida, we need to have canaries about Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and while we’re at it, let’s talk about how Tiana, the first black princess, spent most of her movie as a literal frog. We need to stop caring about all of Disney’s problems only when they pertain to white girls.

Actually, let’s stop caring about Disney entirely! That might be asking too much, but it seems odd that we keep celebrating a company that consistently makes overt racist, sexist, and heteronormative choices. If you really can’t kick Disney, check out this great blog called Feminist Disney. We have to challenge our media. All of our media. Not just the parts that cause white tears.

Education as Activism

There seems to be a trend of really smart and talented young women adamantly denying the importance of feminism and strongly disassociating with the word ‘feminist’. Then, we land ourselves in a Women’s Studies course in college and it seems like our whole world explodes. Suddenly everything makes sense! All our self-hatred, insecurity, fake friendships, and unstable relationships make sense because we finally understand the system we’re operating in. If an Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course was required in the same way that First Year Composition is required, I really believe our campuses would be much safer, smarter, progressive places. But what about the folks who don’t want to or aren’t able to attend college? What about the folks who don’t ever find themselves in a Women’s Studies course? What if gender justice education could start earlier?

My primary, middle, and high school experiences would have been infinitely improved if someone had explained the basics of gender roles to me. When we don’t understand how our society functions, it’s hard to understand why things like girl hate and slut shaming are wrong. We’re taught that it’s just the way things are. Girls are jealous, competitive, and hate other girls! Anyone having sex is a depraved slut! This toxic environment (especially pitting young women against each other) hurts all of us and contributes to rape culture. Recent media attention around the Steubenville rape trial and the truly tragic suicides of rape victims who are blamed and harassed clearly showcase the need for education. If you can handle it, do a quick Google search for ‘slut shaming suicides’. It happens all the time. We need to teach other about what victim blaming is and why it happens. We need to learn about sex and especially about consent. Lack of education is literally killing us.

This is why young feminism is so important. Adult feminists spend lots of time talking about politics and laws, and that’s incredible! We need that! But our thoughts, ideas, and life philosophies are profoundly shaped in our youth. It’s hard to make decisions about what you believe in and who you want to be when you’re only given one example, one message, and one way to be. We need to change the dominant narratives that shape our society. Young feminists are in a great position to do that. I think about this constantly, so I was incredibly excited to find an article in The Star about a group of five young women who are bringing gender studies courses to high schools in Ontario.

The Miss G Project for Equity in Education is an awesome, totally inspiring example of activism. Too often, we end up talking about problems and injustices without getting anywhere. Activism is difficult, and progress is often snail-speed. But it’s the vital second step to talking about problems. If we keep telling each other things are bad but don’t do anything to make things good, we won’t get anywhere. When we make a plan and stick with it, even if it takes eight years (!), then we’ll see big things start to happen. Talking is an essential first step, and I don’t mean to belie its importance. This whole blog is a lot more talking than doing, because educating ourselves is an important kind of activism. If we don’t know what’s happening or why it’s happening, we can’t do anything to change it. That’s the premise of The Miss G Project!

I’m so excited that teenagers in Ontario will now have the opportunity to learn about the important role of gender in our lives…and they’ll learn about it in public schools! That’s so cool. That is what I desperately needed when I was a teenager, even if I didn’t know it at the time. What kind of education do you wish you’d had access to growing up? And if you were going to launch an activist campaign today, what would it be?

Condescending Gold Star Award: Love Is All You Need

Last night I watched a short film called “Love Is All You Need?”. That link will take you to the film if you feel like spending 20 minutes acquainting yourself, but this needs to run with a massive trigger warning: the film is full of slurs and shows graphic images of bullying, violence, and suicide. If those might trigger you, I think it’s better to sit this one out than to have a seriously day-ruining experience because of a mediocre movie.

The basic premise of the film is to flip the societal script. Our current world is heteronormative and full of homophobia. The world of the film is homonormative (I guess? Is that a word?) and full of heterophobia. In the film, heterosexual individuals are the targets of hatred and bullying which emerge from society’s systematic othering. The film is attempting to show hetero people how it feels to live with the kind of violence that is inflicted on queer people every day. It’s been received positively and has won lots of awards. Unfortunately, this movie is a problematic disaster hiding under a façade of good intentions. Congratulations, “Love Is All You Need?”, you’ve just been awarded a Condescending Gold Star!

You Tried Gold Star

First and most glaringly, this film features a blatant erasure of identity.  The film gives no space, voice, visibility, or even acknowledgement of anyone other than cisgender gay people and cisgender straight people. The entire community of trans* folks, as well as people who identify as bi, pan, or asexual are completely absent. This erasure of identity is a form of violence, and is extremely problematic in a film that is allegedly advocating for social justice. On top of all of that, there are no people of color in this film. (Help! I’m drowning in a sea of white people!) Oh, wait! There is one person of color… a black man who beats up a white girl. Your star is being amended.

No You Didn't Star

One of Ashley’s moms is aggressive and disinterested while the other is passive and compassionate. These obvious male/female role assignments are clearly a heteronormative representation. I don’t know what the filmmakers were trying to do there but it was disappointing to see queer parenting presented in such a heteronormative manner. Emphasizing our sameness is not equivalent to celebrating our difference. Just like the idea of being colorblind, this approach ignores very real struggles. It results in more identity erasure.

This was further emphasized by another of the film’s galling missteps: the bizarre portrayal of gender role reversal. In the film’s world, acting is for boys and playing football is for girls. Of course I support boys in the arts and girls in sports, but the film showed a reversal not a mingling. That is completely inappropriate in a film about sexual orientation. It seems like these filmmakers don’t understand that sexual orientation and gender identity operate independently of each other. This film effectively reinforced the harmful and idiotic stereotype that all lesbian women are butch and all gay men are femme. The film’s website argues “this film is not about ‘genderizing’ or ‘stereotyping’ but I really can’t see how perpetuating the masculinization of lesbian women and the feminization of gay men is helpful in any way.

In fact, very little in this film is helpful. It speaks to a group of hetero folks who probably already vaguely identify as allies. These hetero ‘allies’ should be learning about microaggressions and legal inequities, and how they can use their privilege to change those things. I have a feeling that were a violent homophobe to watch this film, they would leave feeling more justified in their hatred. Because homophobic individuals are already operating in an illogical framework, they’re going to use the film as a justification for eradicating homosexuality in order to prevent the perceived end result of the gay rights movement- heterophobia. I can already hear the deranged chorus, “If we don’t stop the gays, look at what they’ll do to us!”

The real kicker comes at the very end of the film when a slide appears saying, “This film is dedicated to every child who has ever felt such darkness due to others’ hatred and misunderstanding. Always know that love is meant to be within and you should never feel wrong or alone by being who you are…Unique” which is a seriously minimalizing and hurtful message. They may as well have said, “Oh, you precious gay kids. Sure, you live in a violent world where people literally try to kill you because of who you are, but it doesn’t even matter if you just love yourself!!”

Tried and Failed Star

“Love Is All You Need?” is an unfortunate example of the problematic ally relationship. Too often, allies come into a movement and silence the group they’re allegedly advocating for. I don’t agree with the rhetorical approach of this film; I think it’s a blatant straight appropriation of a queer movement. Straight people should not gain sympathy or decide to become an activist as a result of the issues being made all about them. Everything is already about straight people!

I do think this film could work. But it needs to be made by queer folks. If we’re really going to be allies, we need to stop taking control of movements that are not ours. We need to have more public discussions, and I appreciate this film’s attempt to do that. I think the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place… but there reaches a point when love is not all you need. As allies, what we need to do is to shut up and stop trying to take control of movements that do not belong to us.