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.

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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.

 

B: “I am a mirage, I am thirst-quenching, I am brief, I am physically attractive which registers as a meal to men”

4/11/13

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?
#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) 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.

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.

S: “knowing I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done”

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 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.

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.

“Things I’ve Learned From Writing Under A Gender-Neutral Name”

4/9/13

MAR. 3, 2013

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

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. TC mark

K: “it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.”

4/8/13

 

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 in my home. not only am i physically safe here, but i am emotionally very safe within my marriage.  one of my favorite things about my home and my marriage (which for many intents and purposes are the same space, one being the physical embodiment of the other) is that i feel completely accepted. i also feel (and this may sound odd), genderless. i’m just a person here and my husband and son are just people too. i can do stereotypically feminine things like bake cookies or stereotypically masculine things like re-tile the kitchen floor and it’s just what *i* do, it doesn’t have to stand for anything or mean anything to anyone beyond that there are cookies to eat and the floor looks awesome. not sure if that makes sense.

not having been any other sexual orientation or race. i’m not sure i can reflect on how those things would be different there. sometimes i think it would be even more awesome to be in a same-sex relationship because there are NO prescribed gender rules, but i’m sure there are other complications i can’t imagine.

i do think that our SES (more education level than income for us) helps because my husband and i both grew up in worlds where men have a wide range of identities to choose from, not just “be strong and build stuff” — because we come from very knowledge/education-based families. we also both had stay-at-home dads when we were very young (which was even less common in the 1970s than it is now) so being smart or great with the laundry is just as masculine (or feminine) as anything else for both of us. and so the freedom my husband has to feel like he’s still fully masculine even when he is not the breadwinner (as he is not right now), does not excel in athletics/manual work, or takes longer to do his hair in the morning 🙂 allows me the freedom to enact whatever feminine identity appeals to me. i don’t have to worry about hurting his feelings or making him feel somehow emasculated. i feel for boys/men who grow up without this freedom, and by extension the women who love them. it is not hard for me to see how hunting and other “manly” things take on so much meaning for working-class men who have been sold a version of “man” that hinges on strength, primarily through breadwinning…in this economy, those men have nothing but violent past-times to make them feel whole, and it f*cks things up for them and everyone else in their lives. it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.

as for unsafeness, i’m not wild about parking garages at night.  🙂

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 have no idea how others perceive me physically (except my husband, who i can tell finds me attractive). i lived for our 4 years in nashville without a full-length mirror (not by accident, this coincided with pregnancy and my first 3 years as a mom) and it was extraordinarily freeing. we have one full-length mirror now but it’s in morgan’s room and i look in it exactly once per day (in the morning, to make sure i’m actually fully dressed, not always a given i’ll remember two socks, etc.) and i don’t miss it. i think being over 35 (!) and someone’s mother has allowed me to go back to the way i felt in childhood — i’m just a person in a body who has THINGS TO DO! so who has time to think about how it looks? i’m surrounded by women most of the day at work, and the things that stand out to me about my students is how young and skinny they are, how effortless their beauty is, particularly when they are in class, not all dolled up to go out, just wearing sweats and thinking about things.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

i think my age (again) plays a role here. i can remember, in my 20s particularly, living in philadelphia, feeling the male gaze in public spaces very strongly. sometimes i enjoyed it and other times i did not. i went through a phase where i thought muslim women have it all figured out because they control who gets to perceive them sexually (by covering their hair). unfortunately, in my later years i’ve come to see that less as empowering and more as central to a rape culture — the hijab (as i understand it) is worn because of a belief that men can’t/shouldn’t have to control themselves when they can see women’s hair. and that’s messed up.

but back to now, i just feel busy most of the time, pre-occupied with things i have to do or ideas i’m grappling with. i almost never go out at night bc i’m busy being someone’s mother. i also don’t live in a city, don’t take public transit, hate to shop, and almost never go to bars anymore, so i don’t spend much time in so-called “public” spaces…i spend most of my “outside” time on the playground at my son’s school with almost exclusively other moms my age. sometimes i walk across campus but there i am constantly struck by how much i feel like i should be one of the college kids walking around, not someone who is old enough to be their mother!

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.

as is captured in my responses above, i think, the intersection of woman-ness and age has been most interesting as i’ve gone from adolescence to adulthood to mommy-dom. sometimes i miss the feeling i used to have that men were paying attention to how i look, but most of the time i’m too caught up in the business of living to worry about it, and i think it’s freeing that i don’t care much about how i look at preschool dropoff in the morning (sweats and a hat? yes please!) because i’m not trying to impress anyone or get laid.  🙂  a friend once told me how excited she was to be turning 30 because no one expects you to look good after 30 so you can stop worrying about it. indeed. also, not sure if you ever watched “six feet under” but in one episode, kathy bates’s character convinces another character (also a woman in her late 50s/early 60s) to shoplift at a nice department store — she says “women our age are invisible, so we can get away with anything” — so true. my mom is that age (and single) and very bitter about it, but it doesn’t bother me now so i can’t imagine it will when i’m her age. i think my marital status has a lot to do with my gender-based perceptions w.r.t. myself.