“Girls Shouldn’t Walk Alone”

I recently started working for an environmental non-profit as a canvasser. This means we go around to different residential neighborhoods and knock on tons of doors each night to raise money and get petition signatures.

And for all the people who are incredibly enthused to help out our cause, there are just as many people who instead of telling me “No” or “I would love to, but“, they instead offer me advice. The first house I went to last to last night I was asked by two older women if I was alone. I told them that there were other canvassers in the surrounding blocks. They proceeded to tell me to be careful, and the underlying whispers of you might be raped hung heavy in the subtext of their words. Just as I was turning to leave to the women called me back and asked me, “If you had seen two men sitting in this house and they invited you in, would you still have come inside?”

I told them that I would use my best judgment based on my own comfort level of the situation. They told me again to be careful. These weren’t the only comments I received on my safety that evening.

While I understand that these individuals were thinking of my safety, it was all women who lectured me about caution. This is the product or rape culture: women telling other women not to get raped. By this logic it’s all the victim’s fault for walking alone and having the audacity to have a job that requires walking alone. Women are constantly told to be dependent. When we’re not dependent on men to protect us from other men, we’re dependent on female friends to walk in a group and uphold safety in numbers. Or we’re dependent on relatives to keep us sheltered from the harsh reality of the world where women walking alone risk sexual violence.

I once had a conversation with a close friend of mine where she too was concerned about me walking alone, especially after it gets dark. I told her that I don’t want rape culture to run my life. I’m not going to quit my job or limit my activities because I fear being attacked. And if I walk alone because I need to, hopefully I can show other women that it’s okay to be independent. If there’s one more woman walking alone and challenging the authority of rape culture then we’re one woman closer to a country where it’s the norm for both sexes to walk freely and not fear violence.

I understand that this is dependent on the neighborhood and that there are extenuating circumstances, but a fear or being raped should not keep either sex dependent. Men get raped as well and I do not mean to discount their experiences. Rape culture effects everyone: the victim and the attacker. Everyone should be free to come and go as he or she pleases without fearing sexual violence. Freedom of movement should be a natural right.

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Gender Bent Cross-Plays

I had always wanted to cosplay ever since I found out that dressing up as a character could be more than just a Halloween costume or an obsessive hobby.

And while I have still never been to a con or cosplayed “for real”, a  few years ago I put together a costume of Terra from Teen Titans, may favorite female character. Because I was not going to cut up my under-armour shirt I didn’t do the midriff shirt, but I had the blonde wig and the yellow shorts and some rocking boots.

I wore the costume to a Purim service at my synagogue (Purim is a Jewish holiday where everyone dresses up in costume). When I walking around passing out programs one of the older men of my synagogue was giving me a look like I was suddenly sexy and that because I was wearing boots and shorts that he could comment on my body and my appearance. I knew nothing of feminism then and was just embarrassed and hurt, wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this attention. I didn’t do anything: I had the right to dress as I pleased and looking back on it, that was sexual harassment.

But despite my debut in cosplaying being less than satisfactory, my Terra costume was (and still is) a staple in my life. It’s the friendly clothes I go back to when I need a boost, comfortable in the way only a second skin can be.

And for a while this was my only attempt to cosplay because there weren’t any other characters I so wholeheartedly identified with or struggled to become not just in appearance but personality as well. I dressed up as Captain Hook once,. Another time I went with a group as the Three Musketeers, but it didn’t have the same emotional impact that Terra did.

Then the movie The Avengers came out and I was quickly introduced to the beauty that can only be known to the world as Science Bros. This wonderful friendship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was the highlight of the film for me and even a year later I am still so deeply invested in that friendship that it is more than just actors on a screen.

It feels as real to me as Terra does because there is so much to unpack from their interactions.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is legitimately Tony Stark as a woman. And because I’m the quieter one, the one who responds to her snark and keeps her in check, I am Bruce Banner in this relationship. Together we are: Gender Swapped Science Bros.

It didn’t take long for us to come up with a cosplay for this and it was the first time I had felt truly comfortable in a costume since Terra. What I loved the most is that we weren’t playing male attributes. We didn’t go into this idea thinking that Tony and Bruce are inherently  male characters and that even if we change their gender they’d still act like men. We were able to embrace the aspects of their personalities we already had and work to push ourselves for what we did not, but we were never forgoing our femininity in favor of popular maleness.

Our female versions of these characters were not marked or othered because of the gender we played them as. It was such an excellent experience to wear a skirt and carry a purse, but feel that my version of a female Bruce would still use the name Bruce  maybe as a nickname. So I was still Bruce Banner. My partner in crime wore a Pink Floyd Shirt, jeans and sneakers, jazzed up with a headband and sunglasses. Though she was technically Antonia Stark, Toni was every bit the Tony Stark we know and love from the films and comics just gender bent.

It was a brilliant experience to feel at once wonderfully androgynous and at the same time so aware that I was playing a woman and doing her justice.

I love gender bent cross-plays because they challenge gender and sexuality in ways few other things can. They’re messy and complicated, but that’s the best part. It would feel so easy to bind my breasts and put on a man’s clothes and cosplay as a male character, but then I’m ignoring my own sense of being a woman. I’m disregarding female characters that way. And this is why I love gender bending fandoms: you’re not doing disservice to women, but expanding what a woman can be.

Because I had such a great time being Bruce, I’ve been drawing up doodle comic strips of my adventures with Tony. Take a look below: we’re women in all but name and proud to express our gender in this expanding medium of cross-plays.

doodle comics I drew of my friend and myself.

 

Honor the Dead Don’t Honor the War

Every year for Memorial Day my family would march down our street set up lawn chairs along the main road and watch the Memorial Day Parade. Everyone from the boy scouts, to the girl scouts, to the high school marching band, to the fire department would get to march in the parade.

I didn’t think about it until this year but Memorial Day is a poorly disguised day to honor the glorious tradition of America.   I have family who are veterans and I’m not writing as an excuse to dishonor those who gave their lives. However, it is in terrible taste to create a holiday where everyone is taught to blindly love the wars America has fought.

My whole life, I’ve been told that we’re honoring the dead’s sacrifice for the living so we can have freedom today. But in reality, we’re honoring war. We’re honoring a tradition of white men who fight for some abstract idea of America. What does this even mean? We may have a democracy in theory but how many people actually feel they have a voice and can make change? Although America was founded under the banner of representation, we were never an egalitarian country: the founding fathers wrote up the Constitution to protect the interests of the rich white male. And that is the same interest of most of the wars we’ve fought in since.

I understand that’s a big generalization, but from my experience being taught to be patriotic and uphold the values of American freedom and democracy I’ve found that as we get older we’re never really told the truth. Sure we find out that our founding fathers owned slaves and that the Civil War wasn’t actually fought over slavery, but we turn the wars America has fought in, into an impossible good vs evil struggle. And America is always the good guys.

I once argued with a friend’s boyfriend about America’s involvement in WWII. He told me that if America hadn’t gotten involved the world would have been lost. First, how can you prove this? Second, this is giving America a hero complex. This is completely ignoring the terrible racism America had against Japanese Americans even before the internment camps, ignoring that Pearl Harbor happened because America cut of Japan’s oil supply, and ignoring that America didn’t open our borders to Jews. There is so much more going on here than good vs evil and America’s great altruism to save the world.

It’s a great idea to have a holiday honoring the dead. However, we’re honoring America’s wars instead. We’re honoring the racism inherent in our system which segregated blacks and whites–racism which still affects people of color today. We’re honoring the lie of self determination we fought for in WWII, while America still held onto colonies and continued to racially oppress its own people. We’re honoring the numerous rapes and war crimes of Vietnam.

My home town is majority white and could be the quintessential American suburb: great school system, affluent area, white population. This is reflected in our Memorial Day parade where almost everyone who walks down the main road is white, middle class and raising high the American banner of white supremacy and patriarchy.

If we really wanted to do something for our troops, how about we implement a program where soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not encouraged to be islamophobic and racist. How about we protect the Bradley Mannings of the world instead of imprisoning them as threats to national security? What the women of the armed forces? They are suffering through sexual assault at increasing rates by other American troops. And this is the tradition we are honoring: one of violence against everyone.

This parade I had gone to since I was a child is a facade to further imbed American nationalism. I do not feel comfortable supporting a parade which perpetuates ideas of racism, patriarchy and violence.

By all means, honor the dead, but there are no heroes of war.

Islamophobia: Stop the Racism masked as Homeland Security

My grandfather sends me chain emails he gets from his friends. These emails are sometimes funny, sometimes worthwhile, but more often than not they’re offensive. Yesterday I received a particularly racist gem that I couldn’t just ignore and send to my deleted items folder.

Under the guise of being pro-American and religious, the email spoke about how a leader in Prison Ministry had to undergo diversity training and attend a lecture by representatives of Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Muslim faith. The email begins with a subtle racism, but blatant Islamophobia:

The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States , especially in the minority races!!

As if the exclamation points don’t voice their concern enough, the speaker needs to dirty his language further by referring not just to those who identify as Muslim, but identifying a connection between minorities and Islam. There is a fear and hatred in these words directed at the Muslim religion and those who might be converts- i.e. those who are not white. The speaker fears minority representation taking away from the dominant white vote.

In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President! I think everyone in the U.S. Should be required to read this; but, with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

If minorities get the vote, who knows what will happen to our precious country, right? Where will our country be without the strong leaders of white male America to lead it away from the hatred of Islam, right? Everyone in the US should read this, but because it is eye opening about how easy it is to shove our own hatred of others onto them hating us.

The anecdote the email’s author shares is that while attending this lecture series, he asked the Muslim speaker about the holy war and how Muslims are guaranteed a place in heaven if they kill an infidel. He asked the Muslim speaker to define an infidel and the Muslim man said an infidel is a non-believer.

According to the author of this email, the Muslim man “held his head in shame” when his beliefs were brought to light. According to the author of this email, the truth about the Muslim religion was out. What truth? That Americans generalize about the beliefs of others? That Americans hate based on race and religion while preaching tolerance? Those are the only truths I see.

The email ends with a call to action:

This is your chance to make a difference…

FOR SAVING OUR COUNTRY, AS WE KNOW IT,

IN SPITE OF IT’S WARTS AND MOLES, PASS ON THIS MESSAGE. IT IS OUR COUNTRY, WITH LIFE, LIBERTY, AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, THAT WE ARE TRYING TO PRESERVE! THE INACTION IN   EUROPE, MAKES THEIR FUTURE VERY MUCH IN DOUBT. WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR CHILDRENS’ FUTURE? A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL
AMERICANS, AND NOT A RETREAT TO THE HATE, MURDER, AND DARKNESS AS ESPOUSED BY MUSLIM-ISLAM!

I’ll end with a call to action of my own: we need to get the word out that Islamophobia is real and has an active audience. it is our country, but that does not mean it is a white country. The liberty and justice for all will be best preserved when the doctrine is followed through. Good luck preaching justice for all when you espouse hatred. Good luck educating children, when you raise them on a diet of white supremacy. Good luck, because the “hate, murder and darkness” you attribute to those of the Islamic faith are just reflections of your own ignorance and fear.

All minorities and oppressed groups need to take a stand and  act out against this! Hatred against one fuels hatred against all.

Asexual Visibility

I was looking up literary magazines to send my creative writing to and came across Glitterwolf. This UK based lit mag opens up submissions from LGBT writers and artists from around the world. This is a fantastic idea: celebrating the creativity of the queer community, but my issue arose with the use of the category LGBT.

Not everyone is comfortable, or agrees with, the umbrella term queer and I understand that, but LGBT is limiting. As an asexual, I didn’t know if I was allowed to submit because I’m not technically on the LGBT spectrum. As a Gender or Sexual Minority (GSM) however, I thought to ask.

I emailed the magazine and later that same day someone responded! Mr. Matt Cresswell told me:

I’ve never even considered this question before–I think I’d like to err on the side of welcoming though, so go ahead and send us a submission and we’d be happy to read it!

Even just these simple words of encouragement are enough to remind me that every part of the queer community can be visible. We don’t need to specifically identify as LGBT in order to be queer and I’m so excited that there are people who are open to this premise.

This little victory gives me assurance that the queer community can be inclusive. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction.

More than Happy Mother’s Day

Just like my post for International Women’s Day, I want to do more and encourage more for Mother’s Day than just buying Mom flowers or chocolate or wishing her a “happy mother’s day”. Mothers need rights and suffer through the same sexism of other women, but with an additional layer that’s rarely touched upon. How will chocolate or flowers ease someone’s oppression?

When I was in Elementary school, one year instead of the traditional art project or craft fair where we would buy our moms useless trinkets or coffee mugs, we instead made coupons. The coupons said anything from: “this coupon is redeemable for one hour of alone time”  to “redeem this coupon for a week’s worth of housework” or “your child will wash the dishes tonight” and the list continued. In its own small way, this set of pieces of paper, no more valuable than monopoly money, did something no other mother’s day gift could: it recognized the strictures surrounding mothers and sought to alleviate them.

Mothers do too much to even try to name it all-I know my mother did, and still does, make great sacrifices for me and my brother-and mothers are oppressed to a higher degree.

There’s a great book on feminism called “Full Frontal Feminism” by Jessica Valenti (founder of feministing.com). Although it is informal in its presentation (it reads with a smart and witty voice, short chapters and the facts she provides never bog down the material but enhance it, although as  a warning she tends to swear and be blunt) it is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to know more about modern feminism and the issues facing women in the world today.

There’s a full chapter on the injustices facing mothers. Valenti quotes a study done by the University of Connecticut and the University of Minnesota which showed that:

not only do moms feel undervalued by the people in their lives, but they also don’t feel appreciated by society in general-nearly one in five moms said she felt less valued by society since becoming a mother (162)

And this is just feeling undervalued as a person. In terms of being undervalued in the work force, married women with children make 73 cents to the man’s dollar, single women with children make 56-66 cents to the man’s dollar, and women without children make 90 cents to the dollar.

Women are told to have children and be super-moms, but once they have children they’re in a worse social position than they were before. They are then undervalued at home and at work.

This is why the coupons idea was so phenomenal. My teacher recognized that mothers go through so much  in their daily lives that a box of chocolate and one day out of the year can never make up for the sacrifices mother’s make for their children or the harassment mothers put up with on how to be a good parent. The coupons took Mother’s day and turned it into a week, a month, or however long it took for those coupons to run out. It took some responsibility off of mom’s shoulders and distributed it around to the rest of the family.

Now mom has a chance to do something for herself for an hour and not feel guilt ridden.

My brother and I are adults now and I am so proud to see my mother living her life. I regret that we didn’t take more responsibility sooner and let her have her own life and her own identity when we were much younger.

My mother is a healer, a yoga teacher, a health coach and a woman who is not defined by her biological function of producing my brother and I. When I hear about the schooling she does, the belly dancing classes she’s enrolled in, the friends she Skypes with, I’m reminded that she has every right to be an individual.

Motherhood should not force women to give themselves up some standard, or lose their individuality in an effort to raise children.

If you’re interested in finding a mother’s day gift, try to find something that addresses the core of mother’s day: that mothers need to be valued and respected. Give mom a day off from chores and let her know that you appreciate what she has done for you and your family. Let her know that Mother’s Day may only be once a year, but motherhood is a lifetime and should be treated with dignity.

For more information on the rights of motherhood visit:

momsrising.org

This blog is dedicated to my mother, who is the most positive influence I could ever ask for in my life. Thank you.

Mountain Dew and other forms of Racism and Misogyny

I know it’s been on the news and around the internet a lot, but in case you haven’t heard, Mountain Dew had to pull an online commercial on account of it being racist and misogynistic. Below is a link to the commercial and news commentary about the ad.

I take multiple issues with the ad and also the news briefing afterwards.

The ad is both racist and misogynistic, but they work  hand in hand and cannot be spoken about separately. Everything about this commercial is grounded in stereotypes. All the criminals are black men because obviously, only black men commit crimes. It’s the same logic that all criminal black men are gangsters and abuse women. It’s the same logic that on one hand says we’ve moved into a post-racial world because of Obama and in the same breath compares black men to animals.

In a more subtle fashion, I’m interested that those newscasters failed to mention that while the women’s assailant could only be black, she herself was white. The notion of black men attacking white women has kept our modern age secretly grounded in Jim Crow because we refuse to become racially aware and progressive. The message of this commercial was not “buy Mountain Dew” but “black men are criminals and animals; white women are fragile and overly emotional; the white male law officer is in charge.”

The racism is not more or less important than the misogyny. They feed off of each other.  While the racism pits the good guys in white against the criminals in black, the misogyny pits men against women, and the battered woman is harassed on all sides. Yes, the goat is trying to intimidate her, but so is the white man behind her. She is placed in the role of absolute weakness: physically because of her injuries and emotionally because of her harassment and eventual breakdown.

By this analysis, the ad says it’s okay for men of both races to intimidate women, but when the black man does it he is demonized in a police line up, when the white man does it he has authority behind him. Racial and patriarchal hierarchies are kept in tact and are perpetuated by the ad.

There are not two different fights raging for equality. There is no racial equality camp and gender/sexual equality camp. If we are for equality, we are fighting for everyone to have the same human rights. It helps no one to separate racism and misogyny into two categories because they support each other and they divide us. We need to unite under a banner of human dignity for all because this separation is helping no one but those who wish to uphold the racial and patriarchal standard.