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.

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

Origins, Approaches, and Ongoing Life

This blog is celebrating its first anniversary! Running this blog has been both fun and frustrating. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done and the community we’ve built together… even if the comments are still on major lockdown. (Thanks, MRAs!) Today, Angry Feminist Killjoy won the English Department’s Outstanding Writing Award in Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy. First place!! That’s crazy and exciting and I’m so grateful to all the incredible women in my graduate program, family, and larger life who helped build this. Here are a few reflective thoughts about, as Dr. Sue Doe would say, the origins, approaches, and ongoing life of Angry Feminist Killjoy.

When I was trying to conceptualize my final project for Autoethnography, I was struggling to strike upon where I really fit in, where I had Complete Member Researcher status. I felt myself caught in a lot of liminal stages. For instance, I was a graduate student but I was (at the time) 22. I was an ‘academic’ but I was first-generation. I approached my schoolwork with a no-nonsense kind of seriousness, but I had a heart for comedy. I was a feminist but didn’t fit into any of the accepted waves. The connection may not seem immediately clear, but Angry Feminist Killjoy emerged from all of those liminal stages I felt myself inhabiting.

I wanted to write about feminism in the way that I was experiencing it— a kind of Millennial Feminism, if you will. (I don’t know if that’s a real term; maybe I should copyright it.) I wanted to find a way to translate my academic, theory-based knowledge into something that was accessible and meaningful people who aren’t given the opportunity to pursue higher ed. (ie: If I can’t take this home and make it meaningful to my family, what’s the point?) I didn’t want to produce alienating work, but I wanted to produce important work. The blog then, felt perfect. This outlet suited my in-between identities. It is freely accessible, uses technology to reach an audience outside of the Academy, speaks to the experiences of young feminists, and gave me the space to combine academics and comedy. I could use humor and satire to talk about social justice issues. By bringing a comedic voice to Foucault and Bourdieu, I was able to make academic theory relevant beyond academics. That was really important to me.

As for my experiences with the blog… it grew into something so much bigger than a final project. Almost immediately my posts began circulating around the web in really wonderful and truly awful ways. The worst parts are when Men’s Rights Activists pick up my blog and start harassing and abusing me. It’s exhausting and disheartening to know that so much vitriolic stupidity exists in the world. But then, every single time a make a post, I’ll find at least one message that makes it all worth it. Sometimes there are debates and we both learn to reach a middle ground. Sometimes it’s a thank-you for publishing these experiences, for starting a discussion. I hear stories from people who have experienced the kinds of abuses and harms I write about, and the messages almost always say, “I thought it was only me. I thought I was alone in this.”

Doing this kind of work can be emotionally draining. It’s hard to write about the many ways our world is constructed to enact violence against us. It’s hard to hear from people who both agree and disagree with my posts. I’ve taken a months-long hiatus more than once, just to keep myself sane. I certainly don’t think I’m changing the world with my little blog, but I know that I’m able to start conversations, the kinds that we don’t have often enough. And when starting those conversations makes folks feel less alone in the world, lets them know that there are people out here who will love and support them… that’s why I always come back from hiatus. (Also, someone once contacted me about my blog and referred to me as “a feminist thought-leader.” That really frosted my cookies.)

And that’s where we are now! As I wrap up my graduate education (!!!) and head on to new things, I’m looking forward to continuing our conversations here. There are some fun things in the works. If my Girl Gang and I can ever manage to organize, there will even be some Live Action Feminist Fun coming your way. So stick around, my angry feminist killjoy friends. There’s still a whole patriarchy to deconstruct.

Dare to Use the F-Word

Happy Galentine’s Day! Galentine’s Day is a Leslie Knope-invented holiday that celebrates lady friends. Valentine’s Day is for romance, Galentine’s Day is for friendship. One of the most fun parts of being a feminist is learning to reject all the girl-hate we’ve been taught and embrace the incomparable awesome-ness of having lady friends.

In that spirit, I’m happy to share Dare to Use the F-Word, an exciting podcast project out of Barnard College. One of the coolest, most grounded, and most intellectually engaged feminists I know is a Barnard graduate. It’s been interesting to hear her talk about her experiences with feminism while being a student there, and it’s exciting to see the direction feminist discourse is taking on the campus.

Dare to Use the F-Word is great. I live alone and don’t have a television, so I spend a lot of my downtime listening to public radio and podcasts. Dare to Use the F-Word is wonderful and I’ve really enjoyed listening to the episodes. More on the podcast, and an excerpt from President Debora Spar’s recent interview on the podcast can be found below, in a post republished from Barnard’s website.

Dare to Use the F-Word is a new monthly podcast series created by and for young feminists. Street harassment, food activism, body image and slut-shaming are among the diverse issues discussed in the series, which is produced by Barnard College and the Barnard Center for Research on Women and aims to spotlight contemporary issues and activists. The podcast is available for download on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to the series.

In a recent episode, Barnard President Debora Spar, author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, talks with feminist media activist Jamia Wilson about how the drive for perfection affects young women today. Following the interview, President Spar shared her thoughts on the direction of feminism for the next generation.

Read this exclusive piece below:

Since the release of Wonder Women several months ago, one of the questions that I’ve consistently been asked is “how is feminism different today? What do you hear on campus? Do young women want to be feminists, or not?”  It’s a complicated question, without an easy answer.  Because young women, of course, don’t speak with a single voice or share a common attitude.  Some are quick to embrace the term feminist.  Others despise it. And many – sadly, for the mothers and grandmothers who opened doors for them – no longer really have a sense of what the word implies.

My own view – shaped, I’m sure, by the particular environment of Barnard College, a staunch and early defender of feminism in all its many guises – is that most young women today are feminist in nature if not in name.  What I mean is that they implicitly assume that the goals that feminism fought for are theirs to claim.  They assume, for instance, that they will work, for pay, for at least long stretches of their lives.  They assume that all jobs – be they in finance or law or public office or industry – are open to them, and that they will receive roughly the same salaries as their male co-workers.  They assume that their bodies are theirs to enjoy, and treasure, and share as they wish.  They presume that birth control is widely available; that relationships are theirs to make, break, and determine; and that the world is every bit as open to them as it for their brothers.  In other words, they think, without even thinking about it, that they have equal rights with men.  Which was, after all, the central goal of feminism.

What they don’t do, necessarily, is credit the feminist movement for this state of affairs, or eagerly claim the label of feminist for themselves. This is perhaps unfortunate but also understandable.  Because how many young people generally race to thank their ancestors for bequeathing the world they did?  How many adolescents want to attach themselves to the same political causes as their parents or grandparents – especially when they feel as if those causes have already been fought for and won? Or as one older woman once expressed it to me:  how many hard-core feminists of the 1960s defined themselves as suffragettes?

To be sure, there are many young women today who proudly wear the label of feminism, and are expanding both advocacy and theory in fascinating ways: leading the global fight against sex trafficking, for example, speaking out against domestic violence, and pushing at the very definitions of sex and gender and identity.  But there are others, too, the reluctant feminists, who carry the mantle even if not the name.

Continue the conversation by spreading the word about the amazing feminists we cover on our show. Click to tweet: Listen to Barnard College’s Dare to Use the F-Word podcast series to hear how young women are reshaping feminism. http://bit.ly/IDIgGg

Thanks to Alex for sharing this post with Angry Feminist Killjoy and have a very happy Galentine’s Day!

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.

Activist Burnout

I know this is a cliché, but I’m still going to tell you: working on this blog has been incredibly rewarding. My posts here have sparked conversations with friends and strangers. My perspective has been challenged and I’ve learned a lot by listening to different points of view. Sometimes I get messages about topics and current issues I should cover, and I’ve found that I’ve become much more aware of gender and social justice issues in the news and my daily life. I have a huge stack of books, articles, and objects strewn about my home waiting to make an appearance here. I haven’t been absent for lack of interest or material.

The title of this blog is somewhat of a joke- folks who know me personally know that I generally maintain a quiet and gentle disposition. I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at anyone. The conversations I have, even when they’re heated and passionate, are still rational and don’t involve personal attacks. It’s no secret I’m a feminist, but I don’t think anyone in my personal life would have ever called me an Angry Feminist Killjoy.

But just because I’m gentle doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely angry about the state of social affairs today. When I first started working on this project, I did reading about the role of anger in activism. Anger, I learned, is a great motivator. When we get angry and actively choose to throw aside complacency, we can create change by challenging and dismantling oppressive structures.  When this project was just beginning, one of my advisors warned me that this activist anger can seep into our personal lives, exhausting and depleting our mental and emotional stamina.

I thought I was handling the personal/political/professional crossover perfectly well. For every positive comment and message I receive here, I also get one utterly vitriolic personal attack on my character. You don’t see them show up here, because they’re in clear violation of the House Rules. For the most part, these nasty messages don’t bother me. They’re a good indicator that we need to keep having these discussions. My feelings aren’t hurt when a stranger on the internet calls me a cunt/bitch/whore/slut/etc. It’s another sign that we need to keep doing work in this area. But there’s also this swelling feeling of panic and nausea every time I get a new comment notification. Waiting to see if the new message will garner productive discourse or more personal attacks makes my heart do this really uncomfortable jump. My hands shake a little bit. It’s all very fight or flight. Even though I can brush off the hate and move on with my life… I don’t like that it happens. It’s exhausting and draining to know that there are so many hateful people lurking around.

And then my depression showed up. I’ve had depression for years, and I’ve luckily reached a point where I can manage it rather adroitly- ie: no self-medicating or self-harming, yay! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy when it shows up. My depression has this way of showing up out of nowhere, so I go from perfectly content to full existential crisis overnight. Suddenly, looking at the piles of books and articles and objects waiting to be blogged about wasn’t exciting; it was overwhelming.  Every developing news story about injustice made me feel hopeless and heavy. I turned my phone off and slept for something like 20 hours the other day, because moving (not to mention acknowledging the harshness of society) felt like too much to handle.

I’ve held off making this post, because I can only imagine the kind of messages I’ll get, wielding my little hiccups in happiness as veritable proof to invalidate my thoughts.  There’s also the fact that I don’t like talking about my depression with anyone. But as the personal, professional, and political continue to intertwine in my life, and because you’ve all been supportive and generous readers of this site, it only seems fair to be a little vulnerable and provide some kind of explanation.

 One thing I’ve learned about my depression is that it gets much worse when I stop doing the things that make me happy. Unfortunately, I have a way of convincing myself I’m not really happy, and then I abandon things I love. Writing these posts and connecting with all of you really does make me happy (regardless of what my brain chemicals sometimes try to say) so I’m going to stop listening to so much sad indie music and jump back in. Maybe a little more cautiously this time. I think I need to make sure to step away often enough to keep that activist anger from consuming my personal life and pushing me into a giant pit of sadness.

I’ll see you soon. Remember that you can always submit ideas or posts to angryfeministkilljoy@gmail.com. In the meantime, let me know what you do when the personal becoming political becoming professional overwhelms you. How do you avoid activist burnout? 

The People and Places of Mother’s Day

The idea of Mother’s Day is lovely. A recognized holiday to celebrate the women who birthed, raised, and loved us- what could possibly be more pleasant? Unfortunately, this holiday and all the marketing around it assume a specific kind of maternal relationship- one that lots of folks simply don’t have. Not being able to or not wanting to celebrate Mother’s Day can be pretty painful in light of all the attention and significance we put on the day.

I imagine this day can be particularly painful if you’ve always wanted to be a mom, and things didn’t or haven’t worked out the way you hoped they would, if you have a difficult relationship with your children, or if motherhood wasn’t part of your life plan. If you have a complicated or a wonderful relationship with your mom, if you have many mothers, or none at all, know that you’re doing just fine. It’s not weird or abnormal to have a ‘non-traditional’ family structure. Nobody is judging you for having a life that doesn’t mirror a greeting card. Nobody worth a lick of your time, anyway.

Image of the word 'Mom' wherein the 'o' is the sign for female.

Modern Girl Blitz 365 Ways of Feminism #313 (Mom Edition)

I’m enormously lucky to have a sparkling enigma for a mother. Once, I asked my mother what she had wanted to grow up to be when she was young. No amount of prying could change her answer, “All I ever wanted to be was a mother.” I used to think this was direly anti-feminist. Had she really never aspired to be anything other than my mother? And what does that mean now that I’m grown and we live thousands of miles apart? Now, I realize that the only anti-feminist thing is my assumption that motherhood is inherently anti-feminist. That’s absurd.

When I graduated college, I didn’t understand why my mother was so desperately, almost hysterically proud. I’d always been great at school. I was a little insulted by her tears- had she really thought I was going to fail out? Then, I stopped being a self-centered twit and realized that my graduation had very little to do with me. Everything  my mom has done throughout my life, working three or four jobs at a time, often sacrificing her own well being, has been for my sisters and me. My mother should have walked across a stage and collected a diploma when she was 22, but her life didn’t turn out that way. So, when I did it (at 21, she’ll want you to know) it meant more than accumulating the requisite credits. It meant that we were strong women, women who could change our circumstances, women who could achieve. And that’s practically the definition of feminism. Every thing I’ve accomplished in my life, every thing I feel proud of, all of it happened because of the investment my mother made in me.

My friend Flannery writes truly lovely poems. She has a series about a woman who becomes a house. I think about those poems, and the way Flannery reads them sometimes. “Only a woman,” she says, “can be a person and a place.”  My mom wanted, more than anything else, to be a place for her children. We may be grown now, but she’ll always be that place for us. My sisters and I are lucky to have a place with our biological mother, but it doesn’t really matter that she happened to birth us.

Maybe the woman who is your place is another member of your family, is a friend’s mother, a teacher, a mentor, a historical figure, an author. Maybe the woman who is your place is a man. Maybe your dad is your mom. Maybe you are your place; you are the strong woman in your life.

If Mother’s Day is a painful day for you, know that it’s not truly about which uterus you came out of. It’s a day to celebrate the places we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’ll go. Those places might hurt, they might never stop hurting.  On this Mother’s Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate our people and places, the sites of love in our lives, and all the people and places who came before us, forging the feminist way. Because truly, how lucky we are to be here at all. How lucky we are to be people and places perched precariously as we are on the precipice of here and there.

Why would you call yourself an angry feminist killjoy?

Is it too polarizing to introduce myself as an angry feminist killjoy?

I was incredibly lucky to be born a United States citizen. There are lots of problems in the US, and this country’s history is cringe-worthy at best. But from what I’ve been taught, it is undeniably one of the most privileged places you can be. This culture (they keep telling me) is at the top: a fully developed, first-world, wealthy nation. The veracity of those statements is debatable, but I know that I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to be a citizen. I am in a position to speak and critique without fear. I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of critiques.

We live in a racist, sexist place. Young women are taught to hate themselves and to hate other young women. Maybe no one ever said as much explicitly, but we’re all taught to be rivals, competitors, back-stabbing, jealous maniacs. In our society if you’re not white and emaciated, you’re not doing it right. We live in a place where we don’t talk about our bodies, are ashamed of the totally normal things our bodies do (like bleed and grow hair), and definitely don’t have agency over our own bodies. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make healthy and informed decisions about our bodies? Good luck even getting that education into a public school! Okay, so you found some information and now you’re ready to claim your body and your rights. Awesome! Except you’ll also have to wade through a sea of social stigmas, the kind that say, “If you’re raped or sexually assaulted, it was probably your fault.”

If you’re like me, all of this has been piling up for your entire life. It’s overwhelming. It’s aggravating. It seems like nothing we do changes anything and suddenly you’re yelling, “Don’t you tell me what to do! I am not your puppet!” at a guy in a bar. That’s a thing I have done more than once. I think I startled myself more than the dude the first time it happened. Because we’re also taught to be quiet, to brush off harassment- it’s just the way guys are, right? (Eye-rolling so hard y’all.) Talking back can absolutely incite violence, and we should always make our safety the #1 priority, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about speaking out. The first time I let someone know I didn’t appreciate their unsolicited demands, I realized I wasn’t just annoyed by boys being boys, I was completely livid about our entire flawed society. I’m mad about our slut shaming, victim blaming rape culture. I’m mad that we only recognize a gender binary and punish anyone who doesn’t fit into our impossible boxes. I’m mad about white privilege. I’m mad about all kinds of inequity. I’m really mad.

And that’s awesome! We can do a lot with anger. Anger is a great motivator. So while my natural inclinations and general disposition might encompass that ‘sugar, spice, and everything nice’ line a bit more fully than I like to admit, pleasantries and complacency won’t solve anything. If we’re going to change the culture, we might need to start with a good bit of righteous indignation.

Let’s get angry! Let’s get feminist! If the joy is sprouting from sexism, let’s kill it!