Why can men not be PRO-choice?
Reposted without permission from: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/04/17/1883121/west-virginia-abstinence-assembly/?mobile=nc
High Schooler Protests ‘Slut-Shaming’ Abstinence Assembly Despite Alleged Threats From Her Principal
By Tara Culp-Ressler on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm
High school senior Katelyn Campbell
A West Virginia high school student is filing an injunction against her principal, who she claims is threatening to punish her for speaking out against a factually inaccurate abstinence assembly at her school. Katelyn Campbell, who is the student body vice president at George Washington High School, alleges her principal threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to report that she has “bad character.”
George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker,Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.
Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.
GW Principal George Aulenbacher, on the other hand, didn’t see anything wrong with hosting Stenzel. “The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her,” he told the West Virginia Gazettelast week.
But it didn’t end with a simple difference of opinion among Campbell and her principal. The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they cant speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.
Despite being threatened, Campbell is not backing down. She hopes that filing this injunction will protect her freedom of speech to continue advocating for comprehensive sexual health resources for West Virginia’s youth. “West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S.,” Campbell told the Gazette. “I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW, under George Aulenbacher, information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.”
Campbell’s complaints about her high school reflect a problematic trend across the country. There are serious consequences when figures like Stenzel repeatedly tell young Americans that contraception isn’t safe. Partly because of the scientific misinformation that often pervades abstinence-only curricula, an estimated 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness — and some of those teens choose not to use it because they assume it won’t make any difference. Predictably, the states that lack adequate sex ed requirements are also the states that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.
Some of Campbell’s fellow students at GW High School are also rallying for her cause. They plan to take up the issue at a local board of education meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.
Reported without permission from :
The “#FemFuture: Online Revolution” report was released this week. Organized by Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, and funded in part by Barnard College, the report builds
“….on a 2012 convening where 21 writers, activists, and educators who work in the online feminist landscape came together to discuss their needs, desires, and hopes for the online feminist future. Here they provide a cogent explanation of the power of online organizing, the risks and challenges of the current state of the field, and some possible solutions for creating a more sustainable system.”
Critique of the report was immediate. Following the #FemFuture hashtag, bloggers, activists, educators, and organizers have taken the participants and the report to task for what appears to be U.S.-centric, mainstream, feminist elitism and historical erasure.
I have huge respect and love for a number of the #FemFuture participants. I’ve followed several of them–Brittney Cooper, Ileana Jiménez, Shelby Knox, Andrea Plaid, and Miriam Pérez–for some time and find their intervention online to be unique, refreshing, and necessary. I also find it fascinating that a group with so many perspectives on feminism and different levels of investment in what that word even means was able to gather for the purpose of crafting the report. I applaud Barnard College for supporting it; academic institutions need to take a larger role in supporting, dare I say, sustaining the work that is happening on the ground and online. Educators have a significant part to play in encouraging and supporting feminist thought so I’m not surprised to see so many involved.
I read the report and I appreciate the work that went into it but I wonder about mistakes that may have been made and ways we can move the conversation into a real #FemFuture. I find myself facing the report with, as Charlene Carruthers tweeted, “mixed feelings and mixed loyalties.”
My thoughts are varied but I’ll share a few here. I hope you’ll read it in full but if you need to jump around (or jump ahead and come back), you can follow the anchors: History and the Newness of Things, Uncompensated Labor x Unrequited Love, We Are All in This…Together?, Who Pays for (Online) Feminisms, and Dear Academic Feminists: A Coda on Privilege.
In case it isn’t clear, when I speak of “black feminists” I am using the term in its broadest, gender-neutral, inclusive of all sexualities, diasporic conception. For me, it is a term that describes more than individuals; it describes a set of practices and living in the world.
I also use the term “radical woman of color” as defined in This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moragá and Gloria Anzaldua, to include non-white radical thinkers and activists in the United States and globally (some prefer the term “Global South” others “Third World”). “Radical woman of color” has been critiqued for the limits it places on gender expression and ways it may elide differences of nation, ethnicity, and race. I, too, am uncomfortable with the way the term circumscribes gender, but find the term useful as a coalition-builder. I also recognize many of the individuals I discuss (myself included) see themselves as radical wom-n of color. There is a longer discussion to be had here (terminology, movements, gender, new generations of rwoc) but for the purpose of this post, I use the acronym (rwoc) as a gender neutral alternative.
History and the Newness of Things
There is a dangerous ignorance in assuming #FemFuture is a first, a start, or new.
Communities built around the Allied Media Conference, the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association, Incite: Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, VivirLatino, Quirky Black Girls, Angry Black Woman, Black Feminism Lives!, BrokenBeautiful Press and Ubuntu (which used blogs to create energy, awareness and support for rape victims in the wake of the Duke lacrosse case), Hermana Resist, Guerrilla Mama Medicine, Latin@ Sexuality, New Model Minority, the WOC Survival Kit, and TransGriot have been agitating online for years now. Not to mention older, defunct spaces like the Culture Kitchen (although Liza Sabater is busily tweeting away) and the Radical Woman of Color Blogring, or others who stepped away from active blogging like Brownfemipower. African Diaspora, Ph.D. (created in 2008) and Diaspora Hypertext have been part of this conversation as well. Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote about many of these black feminist and rwoc networks in 2010. There are many others (please leave suggestions in the comments, I will add them to the bit.ly) because well before Tumblr and Twitter, there were still blogs, and long before there were blogs, there was LiveJournal. Feminism was online even then.
Barnard College itself has been site and witness to some of this activity. In 2010, Scholar & Feminist Online published a special issue called Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert. Barnard also hosted a Polyphonics Feminisms Gallery featuring Moya Bailey, Larissa Sansour, Speak: Women of Color Media Collective, Nuala Cabral, Lina Bertucci, Fe Montes, Lisa Factora-Borchers, Jasmeen Patheja, Anida Yoeu Ali and Mary Jane Villamor. This institutional memory extends to the #FemFuture report itself, Storified in the moment by the Crunk Feminists Collective.
These groups and activists have never stopped speaking. And the praxis at the heart of this work is believing and acting, online and on the ground, in a feminism that is rooted in community and therefore community accountable, challenges all forms of violence and oppression, is global, and practices and pushes for transformative justice.
Visit the sites, contact the bloggers directly, explore the issues and the frameworks they have described as ‘feminist’ and their understanding of how digital technology is used to make change. Several of the individuals and groups described above have been actively speaking back on Twitter using the #FemFuture hashtag. Listening to them is a lesson in and of itself.
Admittedly, the aforementioned are imperfect creations. Transmisogyny continues to be a problem. Ableism in black feminist and rwoc circles still needs to be addressed (see corrective work by cripchick, Mia Mingus). English is the language most often used, limiting global impact (important exceptions are Liza Sabater and Hue Global). But there is nothing new about bloggers attempting to create digital media and activate online networks to challenge interlocking oppressions while agitating on the ground for social change.
There is also nothing new about attempts to build coalitions with majority white feminist organizations and blog spaces. The problem is not that this hasn’t happened, the problem is how horribly it has failed in the past. Kristin Rawls, writing at Global Comment, describes some of the more recent moments–the lackluster response to Quvenzhané Wallis’ being slurred by the Onion, discomfort with supporting sex workers rights. Another example is mainstream feminism’s hot-and-cold support for artists like Rihanna, and what that might say about support for victims of domestic violence. And this post builds on a long history of written, blogged critique of moments like #FemFuture, as well as mainstream feminisms’ selective amnesia, internalized racism and elitism.
Black feminists and rwoc bloggers have historically been open to working in community with mainstream organizations and in majority white feminist spaces online but the vitrol and attack they have had to endure limits the success of these border-crossings. Some of the #FemFuture participants represent online spaces that have a less than stellar history with black feminst and rwoc blogging (Feministe, Feministing). These are wounds that have never healed and cannot be healed unless this past is acknowledged, reconciled and dressed. Time and again the communal memory of radical bloggers has been pushed to the margins or glossed over instead of centered in the story of the revolt.
In 2012, when Barnard hosted the #FemFuture convening, a dense twitter conversation ensued and ambivalence about coalition-building across race was pervasive:
The #FemFuture report appears promising on the surface. It states “multiplicity is not only okay, but healthy and inevitable.” There are foundational radical bloggers, networks, and movements mentioned in the report–Viva la Feminista, #BeTheHelp, Janet Mock’s #girlslikeus, National Black Justice Coalition, #BlackTransProud, the QueerBlackFeminist blog, as well as Racialicious and the Crunk Feminist Collective.
At the same time, moments of discomfort emerge. The refrain “feminist blogs are the consciousness-raising groups of our generation” is provided without attribution (the quote is from Samhita Mukhopadhyay) even as the premise is a strategic jumping off point (see pages 3, 6, 8, 24, and 26). This seems emblematic of the larger problem with the gathering and mission of the project. In other words, the base of knowledge appears to be generated and propelled by black feminist and rwoc online activity; the citation, attribution, and support of this work appears to be missing; and those who stand to benefit most from the visibility and exposure the report appear to be digital feminism’s elite, women who already have professional capital, publications, and institutional funding. It may be that the report was meant to be a communal, co-authored venture, but if so, this isn’t stated clearly. If only because of this history, it should be.
Since these concerns were raised in tweets before the report was published, in a robust conversation occurring online in tandem with the gathering, it is unclear why they make no appearance outside of key sections (see Part II, “Creating Space for Radical Learning”). Did the writers of the #FemFuture report chose smooth, clean narrative (and the silencing that attends the same) over incorporating the critique levied ten months ago? And as a digital humanist invested in theorizing social media, I wonder what it says about the potential of the “back channel” to speak back to power? As digital feminists, shouldn’t this too be an issue we are concerned with, something we integrate into our online and offline engagement?
Black feminist and rwoc bloggers are quite clear about the dispossession and dismissal they have experienced in their encounters with mainstream online feminism. That history is at the heart of much of the critique. lllegal Plum Pudding discusses several omissions in the report here. A #FemFuture Response Tumblr was created within days of #FemFuture going live. Lisa Factora-Borchers, Jessica Luther, and TF Charlton respond in Bitch Magazine. Jessica Luther published a Storify of her live-tweet read of the report and asked several questions around who might have been in the room, the format, and process leading up to the report.
#FemFuture would have done better to address these outright. One of the key frameworks of the report is the “collective.” If so, why not acknowledge this history? How is it possible to move forward when it appears these feuds are being ignored? The report does little to address how “multiplicity” operates along power lines and therefore is both horizontal and vertical.
Perhaps a level of transparency should have been built into the report. How did the meeting come to be convened? Was a general call for participants circulated? How were participants chosen–by availability, by skill, by field of expertise and interest? By race? By class? Was Skype made available to those who could not attend or participate? What kind of effort was made to build a reasonably equitable balance of people and interests–funding, targeted asks, etc. Who claims ownership over the knowledge created in the room and if it is communal, which communities are the participants/organizers/funders accountable to? Is there a plan to disrupt any power & privilege in the room–or created by its very existence?
These are some of the questions black feminist and rwoc bloggers, mainstream feminist bloggers, and academic bloggers divide over. There is no hopscotching over these conflicts into a #FemFuture or we will find the future includes only certain feminists and a certain kind of feminism. It is necessary to address them, especially in a context where a small group of people purport to speak for the whole.
Uncompensated Labor x Unrequited Love
I found the Crunk Feminist Collective‘s narrative in the report especially satisfying. The report’s affirmation of issues of community-building, storytelling, knowledge creation, poetry, and intimacy as necessary for building loving relationships that will sustain any movement appeared to come right out of CFC praxis. And I wonder whether providing this framework of analysis in the name of the “collective” is uncompensated labor as important as the work of “constantly educating people with white privielge about racial justice issues” (as described by Andrea Plaid in the document).
In other words, loving is labor. Delicious labor, but labor nonetheless. How can we better appreciate ways love-work ties into dense histories of uncompensated labor and unrequired love within communities of color, and is linked to the same moments that birthed (mainstream) feminism (anti-slavery, civil rights movement, etc)? How can we imagine this link as a symbiosis and not a binary?
Consciousness-raising is also rightly cited as one of the ways online networks and digital media make an impact. But unacknowledged intellectual production is another deep well of uncompensated labor causing burnout and fatigue, a fact acknowledged, perhaps without meaning to, in the report itself—
“Another striking development in online organizing today is the role of citizen-produced media in online activist work. On feminist blogs, for example, writers post commentary about the day’s news with a feminist lens, highlighting and amplifying social justice work that is off the mainstream media’s radar, and often linking this analysis to action that readers can take. This widespread, collective effort creates the necessary consciousness and a broad range of content that organizations like Hollaback!, Color of Change, Move On, UltraViolet, and the Applied Research Center draw on as they share articles, connect with others, sign petitions and pledges, and use online tools to mobilize on-the-ground action. Users can then be instantly contacted to request action in the future.” (emphasis mine)
Differentiating the labor of creating “citizen-produced media” from the labor of organizing online and on the ground (re)creates unnecessary fault lines, privileges certain kinds of organizing over others, certain kinds of knowledge over others, and further gnarls issues of compensation, attribution, citation, and recognition that are the heart of black feminist and rwoc critique of the report (Full disclosure: Having just engaged some of these issues on an online project I’m part of, I’m viscerally aware of how damaging this kind of silencing can be).
These missteps by the writers mean critics miss the condemnation of feminist organizations as “hierarchical, insular, monocultural structure” that is also part of the report. Instead, comments like this…
“Online feminism has the power to mobilize people–young, old, and everyone in between–to take politicla action at unprecedented scale at unprecedented speeds. So far this power has mostly been exercised in ad-hoc, reactive (as opposed to proactive), and unsustainable ways, but even so, it has had remarkable effects.” (emphasis mine)
… highlight the uncompensated work black feminist and rwoc bloggers have done to build online feminisim into what it is today while diminishing the impact this work has had on the communities these groups represent. This perspective hints at the presence or black feminist and rwoc online but devalue it as “reactive,” in a disorienting back and forth.
Black feminist and rwoc bloggers struggle against erasure and silence, and for inclusion online, which saps their energy, taking time away from meetings, coalition-building, and making media. These battles become moments of trauma that are then rehashed online without permission, attribution, or consent. They encourage black feminists and rwoc to write under pseudonyms and alter egos, if only to protect themselves from further retribution from the people and institutions they critique. This uncompensated labor is at play as you read this post; it includes the labor of those who I solicited for feedback and the intellectual production of those commenting on the hashtag, or discussing it in back channels around the (English-speaking?) world.
This labor will go into creating a #FemFuture that appears more inclusive and holistic regardless of whether it is acknowledged because there are so many speaking out. But without extending invitations to enter the room, without proper acknowledgement, how to return this labor and love? And who, then, is #FemFuture for? What is #FemFuture’s feminism that I walk away unsatisfied and wondering if the people I love most–my grandmother, my mother, sisters, my future daughters, my lovers, and sons–will ever be included?
The fatigue that accompanies these questions is the sort of fatigue unique to the most vulnerable, least funded, least institutionally supported activists operating online.
We Are All In This….Together?
There is something disingenuous about calling the report, “#FemFuture: Online Revolution” while asking critics to focus only the reports discussion of sustainability, funding, and corporate backing.
So let it be plain here–this is not a history of ‘online feminism.’ In response to critiques, nearly all of the participants have been careful to note #FemFuture is not a comprehensive primer on the history of feminist activism online.
That said, this illustrates one of the structural flaws of the report–a desire to use and coin a blanket term like “online feminism” in the name of collective action. A misrepresentation of an heterogeneous internet space teeming with polyphonic & polyrhythmic feminisms, “online feminisms” attempts to assimilate too many perspectives into one type.
Why do so? Why “collect” as opposed to ally? Coalitions, alliances, links forged–this may be the best we can hope to achieve because attempts to create grand, master narratives of any movement always require we leave someone behind. Even then, no coalition is power-neutral and nodes of power should be acknowledged. Feminism is messy, bumpy, and often uncomfortable. Why this investment in glossing over the differences? Why package and dumb it down and for whom? Black feminist and rwoc bloggers already know there is nothing easy about what we do. Perhaps this is why there is such an ambivalent investment in espousing an industrial model whose purpose is to consume us, swallow us whole.
This power, at play in the space, conveners, and even among the participants, is precisely what allows the long history of black feminist and rwoc online activity to be erased. We are not all in this together. Some feminists are able to write the story down, tell it, and have it be seen as the gospel truth. Power and privilege are invisible and insidious and difficult to face, but only power and privilege explain why such a well-documented past (and thriving present!) is not explored. As a historian of slavery, I’m well familiar with what happens when certain stories are told and others are dismissed. It was never the case slaves weren’t telling their own stories or philosophizing their own experiences. But it was always the case that the means through which they spoke–from the languages they used to the technology they chose–were seen as illegitimate.
Why not address this by creating a website, databank, wiki, or hyperlinked blogroll as an addendum to the report? The report is a narrative of “online feminism” in PDF format [EDIT 4-12-13 @12:02pm: Organizers have since added a Scribd version for easier mobile access]. Why not take advantage of the technology that is being discussed? Why leave unspoken and unnamed the thousands joining forums, networks, and blogs instead of creating a forum whereby those reading the report can explore those networks for themselves, maybe be exposed to issues they did not consider before? Some of this is discussed in the recommendations but I was disappointed at what was not implemented around the report itself. As Jessica Luther suggested on Twitter, why not, from the start, take advantage of using Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook to broaden and continue the conversation? What about mobile technology, which is one of the primary ways youth of color in the U.S. (and I believe globally) connect online?
Not addressing these questions plays into concern over who #FemFuture’s audience is. Who is #FemFuture accountable to? Whose life is it saving? Why aren’t we asking these questions from implementation to execution? It is possible to do so. Groundbreaking conferences like Alien Bodies at Emory University or the Queerness of Hip Hop/Hip Hop of Queerness at Harvard implemented social media schemes with intention, drawing a brave community of participants into their knowledge network. The Allied Media Conference has done the same for years.
Because the report is supported by an academic institution with considerable resources, in a format legitimated by both the academy and policy-makers and written in English without accompanying translations, it holds the megaphone. The linear narrative, absorbing the voices of everyone in the room that day, mediates the dissonance of feminism(s) that were not in the room, who could not or were not asked to “show up:” youth, transgender and genderqueer activists, non-US writers and thinkers, disability activists, single mothers, undocumented, incarcerated, and more.
We are not all in this together but we could have spoken across the table to each other. So is it any wonder that critics (many of whom are women of color) express hurt and anger? It is the deep, acerbic pain of a movement ignored and exacerbated by knowing none of this is new.
And it begs an important question, one I’m still grappling with myself–what can be done to shift that balance of power?
Who Pays for (Online) Feminism?
Speak plain and the critique and conversation could move productively to “keeping the lights on”– a very, very real concern for all of us online whether we are proto-capitalists or grassroots funded.
Speak, perhaps, of “Sustainability, Marketing and Funding Feminism Online: A Primer.” A report with that title would still be critiqued for what some see as a capitalist, corporate, anti-feminist framework. But at least it would be clear this is the purpose of the report, allowing activists who are invested in a different kind of sustainability, community accountability, and in disrupting the media-industrial complex to respond with more accuracy.
Sustainability IS a huge issue and #FemFuture critique should not detract from that. But the black feminist and rwoc critique of #FemFuture suggests sustainability is about more than blogging. It is linked to communities inability to access all kinds of resources–from legal support, to health care, to welfare, to housing, to protection from police violence.
Black feminist and rwoc bloggers are burned out and fatigued because, for many of them, their everyday is a battle to survive the very issues they blog and organize around. Feminist work online suffers from “a psychology of deprivation.” But for black feminists and rwoc bloggers, these corporeal concerns add another dimension to the problem and require a several-tiered approach to institutional oppression. And I wonder whether the study’s focus on “third-party ad companies” and “inadequate attempts to bring in revenue” as reasons for burnout and fatigue misses these concerns. That is to say, these are reasons but there are others that may be more immediate.
To this, it is easy to suggest, “We need to start somewhere.” But black feminists have responded to that before and they are informed by lives that are disappearing, not just blogs that are disappearing.
Sustainability is absolutely a node to build a coalition on. The report makes an important structural point: “no women’s foundations have initiatives specifically dedicated to online feminist work.” Certainly, part of the purpose of the report is to create new kinds of grants and back channels of funding for feminists online. Support models like crowdfunding and membership drives are outlined and already being used in different ways among black feminist and rwoc bloggers. Also discussed in the report are selfcare retreats, annual meetings (although how this would differ from meetings that already exist, like the AMC, I’m not sure), skillshares, and several suggestions geared towards helping either bloggers or organizations develop sustainable business models. It is a problem that #FemFuture does not differentiate between feminists online with unequal material access to application processes (paying for copies, mailing costs, fees, paper; computers; advice on building grant narratives; mentoring to discover where funding is). Many of the recommendations (Part III) seem pitched to address at least some of this. And providing material resources is only half the battle. Are funders ready to pay for the anti-racist, anti-misogynist challenge these projects present? Again, imagining coalition-building, one consideration might be for mainstream feminists to leverage their connections and resources against organizations to make space for the more marginalized feminist projects. This was not suggested in the report. And is the “collective” prepared for “action that affirmative?”
There is nothing sexy about poverty. No one, activist or otherwise, should be online advocating bloggers reject advice, education, or resources. There are excellent suggestions embedded in the fabric of the report and may be useful whether or not bloggers or organizations embrace capitalist modes of operation. But for all of those resources, the report is still two-tiered.
The concern with sustainability is the first-tier.
The climate around the report–its delivery online (including format, language, and lack of social media), the launch in New York, the #FemFuture hashtag, the memes, the infographics, and, yes, the history it claims even as the organizers and participants describe it as a start–all of these constitute a second-tier. And this may be less defensible in the end.
Dear Academic Feminists: A Coda on Privilege
A letter I’ve been meaning to write, that deserves a longer conversation, was inspired by this moment but is not of this moment.
Let’s discuss how to love each other a little harder.
I am a historian. I could never speak of an interviewee without permission or discuss a historical intervention without giving proper attribution and citation. I could ruin my reputation by not acknowledging the labor that has gone into creating ideas, intellectual frameworks, fields of study, or disciplines.
This logic of scholarly interaction is still missing from “online feminism” (or however we wish to describe it). When we fail to ask permission, cite, or acknowledge movement-making on the ground and online, when we tell stories that aren’t ours without considering the trauma that comes from reiterating certain narratives of violence, we do harm to our ability to create coalitions across degrees of education, access, and other borders. The academics among us should know better. The self-described feminists among us should know best.
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I took certain steps while writing this post to try to counter my own privilege. It was sent to several of the individuals described and I incorporated much of the feedback I received. I want to thank them for that “uncompensated labor” and give them my love. Lisa Factora-Borchers gave me especially challenging feedback and while I hope I did it justice, I think I will need to come back to it in future posts. I asked permission before using screenshots and block quotes (except quotes from the report) and that permission was received. I sent a version to the #FemFuture participant I’m especially close to and discussed with her the timing of publishing this post. And I still know I have not done enough to balance the privilege I have on one side with my commitment to black feminist and rwoc activism on the other.
I say all of this, because it is very important for those of us with the larger megaphones–English-speaking, U.S.-based, salaried, consensually mobile (as opposed to displaced through gentrification, detained, incarcerated, deported), cis-gendered women with multiple degrees to stop, listen, and reflect on ways our power and privilege impact our approach to transformative justice and equity. Even those of us who embody race, gender, or sexual difference, again, myself included, in this one instance, though it may not feel that way, we are the whites in the room.
If we don’t reflect, we defraud ourselves of useful coalition-building. We risk looking, sounding, and advocating feminist paradigms that may in fact be harmful to the very people we say we represent. We risk silencing or ignoring the most marginalized and least resourced in our communities. Just as we fight against being presumed incompetent in the academy, we should not presume the incompetence of those outside. Some of the most incisive critiques have been from activists who have spent a decade and longer on the front lines of online and on the ground movement-making. There is a history there that ought to be shared, pondered over, and digested. That critique should be heard, not labeled “hating,” “unkind,” or ungenerous:
This is not to say we should stand idly by while we are attacked! But there is attack and there is critique. And while no one deserves to be vilified, academic feminists should also remember that the level of privilege we operate from means the hand we use to slap others down is larger, flatter, and wet. Mainstream feminists should consider this as well. We should not be so invested in winning tenure or internet celebrity we are willing to sell our souls.
I’m not alone in hoping the next step in digital academic feminist evolution will mean discussing a praxis of engagement online that allows all of us, inside the academy and out, to be supported, support others, and create alliances. In other words, I join Maegan ‘la Mala’ Ortiz and others who hope we learn more from this about loving hard, loving harder.
Featured Image Credit: Folasade Adeoso | http://lovefola.com/theblog/
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert | S&F Online | Polyphonic Feminisms http://bit.ly/1230G9d
Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs | We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For | Ms. Magazine (Winter 2010) (no link available)
BCRW hosts #femfuture conversation on online feminism | crunkfeminists | Storify http://bit.ly/10NbbL5
Jessica Luther | #femfuture Storify | http://bit.ly/ZhjGg1
US Centrism and inhabiting a non space in #femfuture | Red Light Politics http://bit.ly/10TdRW2
illegal plum pudding – i am absolutely *appalled* at the #FemFuture… http://bit.ly/ZHhCns
Online Feminism #Femfuture and the “Dirty” Money Problem | Fake Pretty http://bit.ly/10UJgdc
Why We Can’t Ignore Being Ignored or Accused of “Sniping” | Mamita Mala :One Bad Mami blog http://bit.ly/ZRd0eC
The #FemFuture Report Bundle | curated by @jmjohnsophd | http://bitly.com/bundles/o_5h4obm5uq7/i
1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?
#1) and a little #3): I feel unsafe walking to my car after work, walking from my car to my house, walking at night…I suppose its because I live in G-town and Im white, while most of my neighbors are black, and Im usually dressed up in a skirt that feels beautiful when I look in the mirror, but suddenly feels like bad idea when I step outside. I usually regret my clothing choice when Im walking to my front door at 3am. I wish there was a softer way to close my car door. I wish I wasnt so aware of my fear because it Im afraid its palpable. I sometimes think my over-awareness and fear wakes thieves up at night….its blood in the water. Bad men sense it and know how to find me…sniff me out.
My uncle says to walk with confidence…walk like I have power. So I do that now.
I must appear wealthy walking out of my great big mansion with my multiple coats and scarves dressed to the nines.
I want to yell: “NO! am very poor! these clothes were purchased by my parents! and not even they can really afford them! they should be saving for retirement, but I think they still feel guilty about divorcing so I get a lot of gifts! These headphones were an impulse buy! Im sorry! Please dont break into my home! I collect vintage things! its all I have, my things!
2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?
#2) I am a pretty girl. My family tells me. My friends tell me. Strangers tell me. Men who have no business talking to a young girl, tell me. Married men wink at me while their wives backs are turned. My boss likes my shirts and tells me so, more often than he should. Old men tell dirty jokes after I help them to their cab. Police men roll down their windows and ask if I need a ride (cue wink and hat tip) Old boyfriends want “one more night” before they commit to meaningful relationships.
After 3rd and forth dates I am pushed up against closed storefronts on Passyunk and kissed violently. My breasts are ravaged and sore for days. My hair is pulled on dark porches. I am ran-sacked. I let it happen because im sexy. I provide an outlet for the beast in men. I am fantasy and kink and things you do while you’re young…before the mortgage payments come….before you wed that woman that will solider through your marriage and always take the kids to school. I am a last stop on the way to regualr sex, 9-5 jobs, or a mid-life break from all that.
Men don’t want to marry me, they want to fuck me in soccer nets on the fields of their high schools in the middle of the night because they never made the team.
Men want me to give them blow jobs in their new cars because it’s the first thing they’ve ever really owned.
Men want to take me to Japanese fan exhibits and take me back to their apartments and dress me like a geisha and spank me.
Men want me to keep my glasses on, take my bra off, leave my high heels on, turn around, apologize, say thank you, slap them, keep quiet for three months and do it all over again.
I am a mirage.
I am thirst-quenching.
I am brief.
I am physically attractive which registers as a meal to men. Sometimes I think Im expected to know how to be on top during sex, give great head and talk dirty. S actually said to me, “I thought you would have loved being on top” …. What the fuck does that mean? what about me registers as loving being on top?! I hate it, actually. WHich turned him off. I KNOW it turned him off because when I decided to suck it up and try being on top, he lost his erection. I climbed down like I had lost…utter defeat. “no no its me…i had too much to drink” he says…..not an acceptable excuse. I know it was me. He was expecting some crazy red-head to rock his world and I failed. Humiliating.
It will all end when my looks fade.
Other girls are jealous because their boyfriends think about me naked. They want to have three-somes and tuck me in on the couch after giving me too much wine. They want to give me the spare room and they peek through the crack in the door while im undressing.
Some women are pretty and travel in attractive circles and dress well and never pay tabs and dont know their boyfriends over-tipped me because they paid me for my beauty (as Ani says)
I have been those other women, and sometimes, for a night, they become me, but we are not alike.
Some women will have backyards.
Some women will never have dates to weddings.
*I think this answers #3….or its a ramble…I AM longwinded, after-all.
Some days I want to hide. I blame it on my profession which is kinda like a prostitute. The sexier I am, the more likely you will buy alcohol and get drunk and tip me money. I feel good on Mondays….I meet my friend for coffee in the morning at a local cafe and we have gorgeous conversaton with gorgeous women who offer insight from their classes up the road. I feel filled with ideas and confidence. I am excited and relaxed and feel like a million bucks. I call it my girl factory. I need it, because every week, something or something(s) happen where I want to crawl into a sleeping bag while at work and change my clothes and put a patch over my eye. Its a feeling that gives me the start of an anxiety attack. I feel trapped. I feel powerless. Maybe I overhear my boss talking about a co-workers breasts to a bunch of regulars, maybe Im at a table, and this jerk with a sick southern drawl tells me he’ll only tip me if I can name the republican members of congress. “Dont know that one? I’ll give ya an easier one” he smirks….his dumpy wife looks uncomfortable….I imagine very little pleasure in their sexual life…I am unable to answer his questions about politics. I provide some sass, and a smile and clear the table to find a “conservative tip” and all of a sudden I am trapped again. cant go to my girl factory, cant catch a break, cant name the rebuplicann members of congress…fuck fuck fuck. I feel a gender gap widening. “we’ll have two pale ales sweetheart, and make it quick cause my friend here is thirsy” “before you say anything, we want napkins because your table is dirty” They dont speak this way to male servers….i know it for a fact. Im out of responses that wont get me fired. Frankly, im out of energy. I cant WAAIT for girl factory on Monday….I may go Thursday too…just to get a boost.
4) Age plays a crucial role for women and how they define themselves in society. I do feel pressure to procreate and marry. No direct pressure, but there is a lingering feeling of a race to win, a rush of sorts to complete this selfish goal of taking more space, breeding and ruining the planet. The other day I overheard two young Indian girls talking about their friend who had gone astray. This woman had married a non-hindu man and was living in sin somewhere in Philadelphia so her parents cut her off. Instead of sympathy, the two girls criticized their friend for choosing love over financial stability, suggesting that she would have been much happier marrying a hindu man and staying in her parents good graces. I was appaled. Not only because they were drinking white zinfandel which is the lowest of the low on my wine scale, but because I was raised with the go-ahead to fuck, marry, elope, and procreate with whomever I chose. When I brought K home to meet my mother she didnt say “get that philandering Jew out of my house”, she bought him a sweater for Christmas and told me to have sex somewhere else besides my bedroom because we were waking her up. If I brought home a woman to meet my mother, she might have a fit, but she’d soften when we had children. My woman-ness mirrors what my mother and grandmother taught me, and some things Ive learned on my own from books and movies. I wanted to be Gigi the outspoken french girl, Nancy Drew the daring sleuth, and my grandmother all rolled into one. I still do.
I still feel my intelligence is sub-par. That in order to be taken seriously, I have to be smarter or I will be that wise-ass WAITRESS forever. I feel stronger for having slept with women….like we exchanged some feminine power that refueled me. I feel marginalized without a degree, however. Maybe that’s on my end…in my own head. What do you say when you introduce yourself though? My name is B. I am working, I live here, I read these books, I listen to this music, I went to school briefly here, maybe I give my age, my relationship status…..It’s strange. Withiin minutes Ive been compartmentalized to a group “no degree” “single” “almost 30” gulp gulp gulp.
When people compliment me on carrying multiple plates I want to slap them. “I can do so much more”! I register this overreaction as insecurity, but I never get the chance to describe myself with the details that make me an individual. Its seems unfair.
On the upside, I am a white girl from the suburbs. No one in my family has ever been incarcerated or killed. I have pride in that. We managed to keep it fairly scandel-less throughout my familys history save for some substance abuse and mental illness. I don’t feel alone, is what im trying to say. Even when Bipolar hits, and I want to end my life, there is a part of me that has stability within my family. In the end it makes me feel like I have something to offer. My family provides a sense of security that in essence helps me become a woman with values and love. They provide confidence and care above all. Perhaps thats why I would be unable to live far away from them. Perhaps Ive been nurtured too much and have lost some independence.
Essentially I am a caregiver. I am a direct product of the love I was given. I cherish history and continuity and tradition. I am my mother, but with fresh ideas. I am my grandmother, but stronger.
1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?
I feel safest in middle-class urban environments (this is difficult to pinpoint, but I’m going to go with the parts of cities filled with businesses, moderate-cost housing, with mixes of blue and white-collar workers): this is probably due to being raised in a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class suburb. Being mixed race, I feel safer around racially diverse areas, and being a sexual minority, the city provides me with a much larger community of other sexual minorities to feel more comfortable around.
As far as emotional spaces, I feel most safe in spaces that are open-minded and liberal. Because I am often faced with environments in which I am a minority, openness helps to ease my discomfort with being different.
2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?
I perceive myself to have a mildly masculine presence in comparison to most other women. I feel most comfortable in men’s clothing (however, due to the lack of masculine clothing cut for women’s figures, this is difficult to accomplish). I think others perceive me to be more feminine than I feel at times, but this is usually heterosexual women that I feel that from. At least heterosexual women with little exposure to masculine women. I think this is maybe because my face has soft features, and I like to wear makeup, and I have a curvy body.
3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?
When I am by myself and my hair is down, I am more aware of being stared at and am more alert, knowing that I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done. I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but I feel mildly uncomfortable. This discomfort is heightened when I am alone in lower-income areas with a predominant Black/Af Am population. This could be for a number of reasons, but sometimes I feel it might be that I’m perceived as more attractive in these communities, or it is just more culturally normative, but I’m not sure.
4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.
I enjoy being a part of the LGBTQ community, because I don’t feel as much pressure to conform to the generic expectation of what a woman should look like. I still cave partly to this pressure in professional settings (like I won’t wear a tie to an important interview even though I want to). Also professionally, there is always a women majority in any setting I’m in, which I think actually helps in expressing myself as whatever type of woman I want. I think that’s because I expect diversity in a large group of women, whereas if I’m in a group of men, I feel like I’m almost representing all women in a way.
By NICO LANG
When you write on the internet a lot, you tend to notice patterns in your feedback and what pushes peoples’ buttons. If I plan to write about race, gender or rape culture, I have to mentally gear up for the blowback, and the couple times I wrote about Rihanna (who encompasses all three), I planned to just stay off the internet altogether. Best to just take up croquet that day.
But the comment I get more often than any other is people questioning my gender — which I often don’t make explicit. At first it wasn’t a conscious decision, but as someone who dabbles in dating columns, I noticed that respondents would automatically assume that I was female. They would look at my name, which could go either way on the gender divide, and check the female box every single time. Even in pieces where I did briefly bring up the fact of my assigned sex, the comment board would somehow miss that part. Any fact that didn’t support the discourse of my femaleness would be left out, not part of the dominant narrative of my gender.
I’m going to take a moment to just say it. I’ve been working up to it for a year, scared if you would accept me if I told you, Thought Catalog readers. But I was born a male. Twenty-five years ago I shot out of my mother’s vagina with something that would later look much more like a penis between my legs. As a kid, I had long hair, and people mistook me for being female. As an adult, I have a shaved head, a nose ring, tattoos and a beard, so nobody has that problem anymore — except on the internet. Varying perceptions of my gender don’t bother me, as I don’t see anything wrong with being female. As long as pronouns and genders are invoked with respect, who cares? I’m a myriad being.
On my birthday, I threw a Bridget Jones-themed birthday party, and I planned on going all out. I even got a damn karaoke machine, because if you tell me we’re going to be celebrating Bridget-style, I expect singing. It was a costume party, and I initially planned on going as Colin Firth, so I could wear a reindeer jumper and pretend to be mean to people. However, as the host, I knew that would be shirking my responsibility. Bridget herself needed to come to this party. I would have to bring Bridget Jones realness. Luckily, I had the clothing left over from my ill-fated Halloween costume, where I attempted to be Chloe Sevigny (from the videos) and ended up Very Mary Kate. I just frumped Mary Kate down and threw a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt over it. And then I threw out my bra. Bridget doesn’t need that.
Throughout the night, guests accepted Bridget as a natural consequence of the costume party — and hardly out of the ordinary. Drag was an expected part of social behavior and didn’t violate any expected norms. However, this changed when I had to leave the party in the middle of the night to go let someone in my building. I hopped in the elevator and pressed Ground, daintily tapping my Converse as I waited for the doors to close. I had to share the elevator with two frat-looking guys from my building, and I did the “dude head nod” out of social politeness, intended to make the experience of sharing a small, dark space with two total strangers less awkward. What (s)he said, I know.
The moment the two of them got a look at my face, which still had a beard on it, they started laughing hysterically. Naïve creature that I am, I didn’t understand why at first. Did I have a banana peel on my foot? Was my underwear showing? Had my mascara started to run? I then realized that they were laughing at me because the sight of a “man in a dress” is funny in our culture, even though a woman dressing in male clothing is comically neutral. When Diane Keaton and Coco Chanel embraced menswear, it was a revelation in style. For me to wear a dress was a joke, a debasement of my own masculinity. Because otherwise, who would want to be a woman?
This sort of thing happens to me all the time on the internet. When I’m writing a dating piece, commenters automatically assume that I’m a woman. If I’m writing on the Women’s section on Huffington Post, that makes sense to me—because the title of the section interpellates my gender. However, on Thought Catalog, my columns give the reader no marker by which to assume my gender, yet it’s projected onto my work in telling ways. That readers assume a dating columnist would be female isn’t a shock, because society tells us that women are supposed to be the only ones that obsess over a relationship and analyze everything to death.
Trust me, ladies: guys do it, too. They just don’t talk about it because it’s “not masculine.” They get nervous when you don’t call. They want to know what your text messages mean. When they meet you for the first time and they find themselves liking you, a moment flashes in their mind where they picture themselves married to you. Guys dream about their wedding days, and they want children and a home to ground them. Because it’s America, we like to pretend that every guy is Jim Belushi and every girl is the nag who has to trick him into staying married to them with a three-course meal, fuck-me pumps and fifteen minutes of strictly missionary.
However, that’s not the way it works in this thing we call “real life.” If you’ve ever actually been in a relationship that isn’t a cartoon depiction of what women and men are like, you know that gender norms are more complicated than popular discourse or Steve Harvey give humans credit for. People just like bounded categories, to place us in either/or, masculine/feminine, us/them or familiar/other because it’s simpler. It’s what we know. Thus, when you’re dating someone of the same sex, straights will often ask which person is the “man” and which of you is the “woman”—because it reaffirms gender models they’re already familiar with. It might not be the reality, but it’s a comforting myth.
Gay men get offended by this because a) it assumes heteronormativity and b) if they’re being honest, neither of them want to be the woman. Both of them like being the man.
But this question should be equally insulting to heterosexual couples, as it assumes total masculinity and total femininity. Being the “man” and the “woman” reaffirms limiting power hierarchies that we should be problematizing. We should be challenging what those terms mean and building a society where femininity is seen as strong and positive. We should all want to be the woman. Who wants to live in a society where little girls will grow up being ashamed of their gender and learning to hate other women, in order to externalize their own self-hatred? When we ask women to tear each other down, it’s because we’re asking them to be punished. It’s that Eve bullshit all over again.
As someone with a gender-neutral name, I’ve experienced this first-hand. When someone wants to tear apart my writing — because I had the gall to suggest that society is racist or sexist — they often bring up my presumed gender to do so. I’m interpellated as “that girl,” “a chick on the internet,” “this whore” or just “some c*nt,” and my femaleness is never mentioned with respect. No one ever says, “O’ wise woman, thou hast shown me why fat-shaming is bad form.” They say, “Stop being so easily offended, bitch.” Femaleness is used to discredit me in a way that maleness is not. No one has ever said, “This guy is an asshole” or “Dude doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Because maleness is our societal default setting, it’s never mentioned.
Interestingly, the only time that my maleness comes into play is when respondents dismiss me because of my perceived sexuality. I interchangeably call myself bi- or pansexual, which really just means that application is open to all (especially Christina Hendricks), but my queerness usually gets coopted by the binary. I’m never silenced for being a “heterosexual male” but a “faggot” — another marker of feminization.
In the feud between Azealia Banks and Perez Hilton, the reason she used that word against him had nothing to do with homophobia, because Banks herself is queer and to suggest otherwise erases her identity. (Frankly, Hilton should have stayed out of it to begin with.) As someone who raps in a male-dominated industry, Banks is forced to out-masculine many of her male counterparts — to be the “top dog” in the room by having the “biggest balls.” By always having to prove she’s one of the guys, Banks is likely experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, when it’s her femme fierceness that’s truly powerful.
To use a term like that against him wasn’t a signifier of his sexuality but his perceived femininity — because the ultimate dig isn’t labeling someone as gay. It’s calling them a girl.
Katy Perry’s music displays the same tendencies. One of the reasons I loathe her is that I find her music a magic combination of sexist and homophobic, and her debut album under the Perry moniker contained tracks like “Hot and Cold” and “Ur So Gay.” The latter was a put-down song where Perry compares her rotten ex to a woman, which is an unfavorable thing. The gay metaphor gives it a putrid veneer of homophobia, but the song is really about his femininity, which is worse than being gay. Similarly, the object of critique in “Hot and Cold” is her beloved’s indecisiveness, a stereotypical female trait. Perry insults him by singing, “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes/You PMS like a bitch I would know.”
Of all things, that album was called One of the Boys.
Perry reminds me of one of those girls who doesn’t like hanging out with other women, so she hangs out with gay men instead — because it’s “like being around girls without having to deal with girls.” Sure, it’s casually homophobic, but it doesn’t come from a place of hating gay people. It’s about hating women.
I see the same tendencies in my father. He doesn’t personally have a problem that I intermittently recreate Samson’s “What What in the Butt” with men of varying ilk. (For my grandma, it’s just so long as they aren’t, you know, black.) It’s that on top of going to football games and being a loyal Cincinnati Reds fan (#socloseguys), I’ve seen every episode of Sex and the City and idolize Tina Fey, who I feel is my soul twin. I just get her. When I went through my first romantic comedy phase, at twelve, I devoured Julia Roberts’ entire catalog—and begged him to take me to see Erin Brockovichin the theatres. He told me to stop acting like a girl. I was just being me.
I hear that voice sometimes when someone attacks me for having breasts and an opinion, which are intended to be mutually exclusive, or tells me to shut my vagina. Before I wrote this piece, part of me didn’t want to come out and talk about my gender—because I knew that coming clean means affirming my own gender privilege. When I use gender neutral pronouns in my pieces, it’s because I want respondents to think about what gender means and how the ways in which we construct gender norms affect people. It’s not just a pronoun. These are realities that people live with, and if being called a “twat” in a message board helps me see that more clearly, I was fine with that. I’ll be the woman. I’ll be all the women.
In Communications courses, a certain exercise forces students to be cognizant of gender construction. The exercise asks students to describe their weekend without signifying any kind of gender—no masculine pronouns, no female best friends, nothing. When the students complete the assignment, the responses consist of complaining about how hard it was to take gender out of everyday life. They say that they never would have expected the problem would be so difficult. In the exercise, the instructor then asks them why that is. The student will think about it for a moment. They will pause. They will bite their lip. They will whisper something to the friend next to them. They don’t know. They never know.