Internalizing it all

Although I have “officially” completed this portfolio assignment, I wanted to revisit it to discuss Wednesday. 

Rewind to the previous Wednesday, where my planning-an-ism-group focusing on transphobia and gender performance/presentation decided that we would challenge ourselves and our classmates and professor to pick “something that is integral to their/our gender identity” and alter it in some way over the course of the next week.  The members of my group gave the option to complete this activity at Columbia, on the next class day, and agreed that we would do this ourselves, so that if someone else decided to, they would not be the only one.

I decided that for this activity, I would not “do” my hair-brush, product, style, etc, and just put it under a hat.  Additionally I decided that I would not wear makeup, heels, jewelry, or accessories of any kind. 

Fast-forward to two days ago.  I had been nervous all week. 

I put on my jeans, T-shirt, and hat as planned and nothing else.  Finding I was ready twenty minutes early, ate some ice cream for breakfast (my version of a pep talk).  Walking to the subway, I felt like a little boy.  I watched as men on the corner who usually call to me said “Hello gorgeouuussss” to the woman in front of me and looked right through me.  As some middle-aged women in my interviews described feeling as they aged, I was invisible.

Feeling not desirable, sexy, beautiful, or even cute, affected me in almost every interaction I had that day.  It shook my self-confidence, it changed the way I walk and assert myself in conversations.  I had conceived the activity to challenge what it might feel like to not be able to present as the gender we identified as, as the gender we ARE.  But the activity turned itself on me, as these things often do.  It became an exercise in misogyny, the male gaze, and internalized misogyny.  I could not wait to go home to change and wear heels and flowers in my hair the next day.  Even my size had become traitorous: as a skinny woman, I was perceived as attractive, the “right size.”  Without my other feminine accessories and form-fitting clothes, I felt young-not like a man, but like a boy- and asexual. 

Was I still myself?  Somewhere beneath my “undone” face and hair and baggy clothes, of course I was myself.  But I didn’t feel it.  The world has spent the past 27 years teaching me that the BEST me, the most desirable, presentable, acceptable, RESpectable, successful version of myself, takes an hour to “become” each morning and otherwise, I was doing it wrong. 

I don’t want to end this blog by condemning myself or other women and taking the onus off of men and patriarchy for putting this male gaze, this rape culture, this blatant and more covert misogyny upon us.  It is NOT our job to shake this but we may be the only ones willing to begin interrupting it.  Even just a thought: perhaps I don’t shave my legs twice a week.  Perhaps I let my hair frizz.  Part of this is difficult for me because it intersects hugely with my OCD: ‘put-together’ means a different thing to me and moisturizing, accessorizing, perfect hair, perfect face, perfect matching underwear and bra: these give me peace of mind on multiple levels, they are part of a checklist.

Or MAYBE, maybe, I look at each piece of it and try to find out what feels good to me: the essential me.  Maybe I have internalized, breathed in, so much misogyny, so much genuine hatred and non-acceptance of who women really are that this will be a never-ending process.  I’m okay with that. 

If I let my hair puff and swirl and put flowers in it, maybe I am more that original me than the girl with ironed hair OR the girl with all her hair beneath a cap.

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What makes a woman?

4/14/13

What makes a woman?

Who decides that?

In composing this portfolio, I decided I wanted to branch out beyond articles, blog posts, websites, and talk to people in my own life.  I sent out 4 questions, that can be seen in a variety of the other posts below, to family members, friends, acquaintances.  The responses I’ve gotten back have commented on everything from society’s sense of entitlement to pregnant women’s bodies, the invisibility of aging for women, the back-handed slap of being a mostly straight and very beautiful woman being eaten alive by men’s desires, the complexity of meaning behind the hijab, to where and why we feel safe or unsafe.  They have been honest and beautiful, as are these women.  But I made a mistake, I think.

 

I purposefully sent these questions only to women.  I questioned this decision, but ultimately felt that the questions were designed to explore sexism from the perspective of those experiencing it, on a very personal level.  I would love to work on a whole new project that explores sexism and rape culture from men’s perspectives, but for the purposes of this assignment, I wanted to hone in on the female experiences of rape culture, safety, the male gaze, beauty, sexuality, etc.  

 

But one friend who I sent it to is a lesbian with a very masculine gender performance.  She uses feminine pronouns but over the years of our friendship, I have heard her say things to indicate this is more for logistical than preferential reasons.  She has a gender-neutral name and is often mistaken for a man, both in person and on paper.  She is often asked if she is trans* or transitioning.  She answers no, at least when I’ve heard her, but makes no claims to feel connected to an identity as a woman either.  Several days after sending these out and looking over responses, I had the thought that sending it to this friend as part of “my group of women” was incredibly thoughtless.  I’m not sure what -ism that falls under, but I’m fairly sure I’ve made a mistake.  I can’t decide what to do about it because if I say something and she did not think twice about it, I am singling her out in an uncomfortably way.  Or maybe I’m the one it would be uncomfortable for.

narrative

4/4/13

Narrative for ISMS class

What ARE you?

they asked me again and again with my bushy eyebrows my 18 year old breasts on a 10 year old chest my flying away nest of hair as it stood

three inches from my head

until I was furious with my straight-haired mother who never owned a pair of tweezers or a cup size above B

“can I turn you over and mop my house?” they asked until my father offered to walk me to the busstop

each morning.

jewish is never the right answer, never the satisfying answer

 

I am not pretty to you like this

you do not know this type of beauty and you will not. Stop. Talking. Until I am not

pretty to me either

Until

what ARE you

 

Tell them you are tired of trying to make other people happy with labels that do not belong to you.

it is the small spaces, the cracks on the edges

that belong to me. 14 is not enough,

when I crawled beneath my bed and couldn’t breathe for hours or

seconds

is there a name for this dyingness

Is it okay as long as you’re quiet about it? As long as you feel ashamed?

Don’t pretend not to notice.

Make it a joke. Make it funny.

Make it not real.

I spend only 3 dollars a week on hand sanitizer because I know all the bargain brands

I know the bargains for everything

that makes you clean

I wish sometimes I could bathe in it

I think sometimes if you sliced me open I would bleed lysol

beneath the desks I sanitize five times each class but you will never say a thing

until three beers after finals and then you say, oh I wondered about that

 

there is no section of me until intersection I am

wide open and barely here

 

I call myself crazy before you can so when you think it

I can pretend not to notice

 

so why still do I want to show you the dark-spotted rashes

of my wrists

What IS that?

What ARE you?

why do I want to tell you about the summer I was sure

my mother was trying to kill me or my friend who’s bi-polar and every three months

like clockwork, drops her phone into a glass of wine because

she just. can’t. pick up.

 

I could love a woman, a non-man, a trans person, a non-man, a gender-neutral person, I could love someone else.

“Stop calling yourself queer, you date boys!”

“You, bi? You’re boy-crazy!”

Boy-crazy boy-crazy boys are easier

boys are so easy I know how to do boys how to do

boys

maybe if I can feel bad enough about being the white one in this thing I will not notice you are the one in this thing

whose dick is in my mouth how did you not notice

your dick was in my mouth

you are not sorry so I am not

sorry for saying it

 

24 is not enough, “should I say she or they? How can you not care?” I will say she because I knew her when she

or never she

I want to say the right thing.

What ARE you?

 

27 is not enough, “you no longer

meet this diagnosis”

no shit because you stuffed me full of pills

till I was choking

 

Is it okay as long as you’re quiet about it? As long as you feel ashamed?

only tell the truths you are sure about.

 

M: “I don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to my woman ness”

4/10/13

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 safe at home and at work, physically speaking and also emotionally (not sure if that’s what you mean), and i feel pretty safe in most areas of suburbs and city up till maybe 10 pm, less so after that if along.  i know that i feel safer as a woman now that i’m older, even though i’m not sure this makes sense.  i also think that my race and class privilege have something to do with my feeling of general safety  in the world.

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?

hmm, well i generally feel pretty good about my physical appearance, and i think i appreciate a fairly wide range of appearances in other women.  in terms of others’ perceptions of me physically, i think it depends so much on who the others are and their contexts.  especially in terms of body weight – perceived as ‘small’ especially by larger women.  also i think i’m perceived as relatively young-looking for my age, not sure whether/how this relates to viewer and her/his context, though. 

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?

usually pretty safe and ignored, much more than when i was younger i’d say, but also true that i’m in less and less varied places probably than when much younger.  but even so there’s some variation with how dressed, more with who i’m with and also time of day/night.

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.

intersection of woman-ness with race and class is most evident to me most of the time, especially race, i don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to womanness, in fact those other identities tend to come to my awareness first but i do think my sense of my own gender is deeper than i sometimes think.  now, getting older, and also working with young people, i’m also pretty aware of age, and what it means to be a getting-older, white, m-c woman, how the age dimension orients me differently in relation to others, to my own wishes and concerns, etc.  i tend to take my sexual orientation for granted, though less so when i’m around others who don’t share it, or even don’t take it for granted.  and ability, hmm, in some ways i take it for granted, like more socio-politically, but in relation to age i also really value my physical ability, and do think about not always having it.  i don’t think that much about learning ability in my life, but do in the context of my work.  and think of mental health a fair amount but maybe not so much in relation to gender.

TRIGGERING

4/2/13

 

Annotation:

When I found these shirts via a link from a friend, they were already pulled down.  Should that make me feel better? Relatively speaking, better not for sale and general consumption by the public than for sale and general consumption by the public.  I guess.  But someone MADE these.

Someone thought of it, then thought it was funny enough to invest time and energy into doing it, then weighed the pros and cons and was relatively unafraid of backlash of any serious kind, then thought enough other people would find this FUNNY that they would make money off of it.  Someone hates women enough to make this.  You can not sell them but you can’t- “unexist” them.  It’s only a matter of time before someone prints their own.  And then they will be out there in the world, where I walk down the street, possibly next to someone who, had these remained for sale on amazon, would have bought it. In a world where people think it is okay to feel and advertise your desire to hurt and rape women.

In way, I wish they had sold them.  That way I would know you if I was walking down the street next to you, sharing a pole with you on the subway car, behind you in line at the supermarket.  If you can’t announce your LOVE of RAPE and VIOLENCE, how do I know who to be scared of?

It is at these moments that feminists, women, are accused of “over-reacting,” of “having no sense of humor.” I’ve stopped caring about these comments. The world is sometimes too scary to laugh at.

Update: I returned to this after several lengthy discussions concerning the race and class of certain acts of misogyny, specifically the common perception of street harassment as done primarily by men of color in poor and working-class neighborhoods. Although I later heard that this was an “automated” design- which further presents the problem of how a verb list could let this one “slip through, which I find fairly unbelievable- the person responsible for this “fluke” is Michael Fowler, a White company CEO. This requires that we think of harassment in broader terms, no matter how much we like to keep it in a race and class box.

Assuming this “fluke” though: how were no shirts printed that “accidentally” said, “Keep calm and rape HIM”?

Pretty girl

3/27/13

Story:

Between classes this afternoon, I went to do a little “self-care”: get my hair done down the street.  When I sat down the hair stylist started shampooing, then asked why I would want my hair straightened when I had curls, curls are so great, etc.  I get this fairly frequently so didn’t think much of it.  Then he said “most of my girlfriends have had curly hair.”  I felt a little uncomfortable but tried to relax.  Then he brought me to the chair and called me “pretty girl.”

I don’t like that.  I might feel differently if it was a boyfriend, I don’t know.  In general I don’t mind endearments but not from men I don’t know.  I felt increasingly uncomfortable as he did my hair.  What is relaxing when done by an older woman (heterosexist ageism much?) felt sexual and scary. When he finished he said, “Get in your house quickly” and smiled.  I didn’t understand, partially because he had a fairly thick accent.  I felt bad asking him to repeat himself but finally I understood when he said, “Get in your house, because you are so beauful, you understand,” and motioned to the windows as if men outside were waiting to accost me.  Which, since I sometimes feel like that, was not a particularly funny joke.

After I left, I thought, well something interactive for my misogyny blog/portfolio.  So the questions/thoughts I’m left with-

Annotation:

There is this idea that men can say whatever they want to women and if it’s “complimentary” it should be and will be taken as such.  I did nothing to counteract this idea.  Some people would say this makes me part of the problem.  I think they should know.  Is it really my responsibility to tell a man he is making me uncomfortable?  I don’t think so, but this is the norm.  You cannot tell a woman she looks bad, but you can tell her she looks good in almost any way and try to justify it.

Would my reaction have been different in another scenario/context/with another person?  I felt somewhat embarrassed by my inability to understand some of what he was saying and i think this may have softened my reaction.  I also think I unconsciously (until now) wrote some of it off to a certain unnamed “cultural” element that I should therefore, not be rude to or offended by him.  Hello, intersection of misogyny and racism.  I would’ve felt more considering of the option of speaking up if it had been a White man without an accent. And to be a thousand percent honest, I think this is because i am the least afraid of White men.  I think this is the first time I have verbalized (written) why I usually do not respond to street harassment: I don’t feel safe yelling back at men of color. There is also the class element that always makes me feel small and spoiled simultaneously when someone performs a “service” for me, such as doing my hair.

Damn.

That being said, and alongside it, I am angry.  I want to be able to feel safe with men.  But there’s a reason I prefer to interact with women in almost all (pretty much only excepting intimate relationships) areas of life.  Because I keep feeling like I feel now: unsafe, just a face, invisible, highly visible, and mute all at once. And yet my assumption that the woman doing my hair would be straight is also problematic. I don’t know how to change these unquestioned assumptions…except I suppose, by beginning to question them.

poems are good for ugly truths

2/10/13

Twins

Until the end of 12th grade

I wrote about you for every prompt

the stains like Vs on the bed

spread

your hand spread

brown and wrinkled reaching out

your stupid blank smiling

face

it was hard to hate you

paperbagman

but i did anyway

every freewrite I filled notebooks

about your twin nieces

melody

and melanie

their melodic names

i imagined their melodic whimpers.

I wrote it all down, how you were not the twin house, but just over

that row house hump

and you sat on that stoop with that

paper bag i had

no idea

i wrote about the way I was sure the stairs would give

out beneath me they were just

splinters of wood waiting for that particular future

moment

when they would crack through

this was the worst I could imagine:

a broken leg

or what I saw the next morning:

my stray cat swallowing whole

its stray mouse.

I could not imagine your penis

the way it looked soft and stood out

crookedly

from your lap.

I can not imagine it, soft and hard allatonce, I have

written it too many times

so later when i so importantly told my new friends

i knew about rape

it was just another four-letter word and

didn’t quite

maybe almost but not really

matched you

paperbagman

it is hard to hate you

but i did anyway

later for where’s

waldo and nopolicenopolice

later for the calico kitten I never forgave

later for the middle of the night chinese food we

never ordered.

later for drafting silly stories in the girls’ room

later for 24 and my mother saying she was surprised

at the way i love black men.

i wrote about you everytime

paperbagman

i think you taught me to hate and then to

stop