Men are People, Women are…Not

I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my post about The Women of DBZ as well my post on rape culture in Teen Titans Go!

Mainly, commenters tell me that I am over reacting. These are cartoons and anime, after all! What does it matter? Why do I care, especially when this media is out for ratings, not appeal to feminists.

And though I’ve replied with my own comments and counter arguments (because yes, DBZ and Teen Titans Go! are two of many examples of sexism and misogyny in animated programming) I have yet to formulate a cohesive rebuttal. Until now.

Critiquing sexism in animated programs (or any media) is necessary because this criticism challenges the idea that men are people and everyone else are not.

women-are-people-too

When we tell stories about men, make male centered narratives the only stories, consume media that features almost exclusively straight, white, cis, male protagonists, we create a culture where men are the only ones who matter. Men are human and we can connect with them and their struggles and triumphs.

Male characters have a backstory, dreams and a life beyond the constraints of plot. We know Goku since he was a child, we age with him as he develops into an adult and we believe his actions come from a deep rooted place of emotional honesty. He’s an alien, but we believe he is complex enough to be human. We can see ourselves in Goku, regardless of our gender.

Female characters in mainstream media, however, exist for a male hero. She is his lover, his mother, his friend, his ex. Whether explicitly or implicitly, he owns her, the same way male viewers own her. She is created for male pleasure because she only exists on the page or the screen only so long as the male hero exists. Her conversations (and relationships to other women–if there are other women in the narrative– revolve around men, (so much so that we can test this with the Bechdel Test). She has no real struggles or triumphs of her own. We do not believe she is alive.

By extension, it is such a small, dangerous step, but so simple to believe women are not alive. This is one facet of rape culture: dehumanization.

The media representations of women are flat, sexual beings who exist only for the male hero. The real life women who jog down the street, bag your groceries, practice medicine, sleep in on Saturdays, drown their cereal in skim milk, drink their coffee black, become flat sexual beings. We have no responsibility for them because they are the shadows and cardboard cut-outs on the periphery of our lives. They are not human. They are receptacles for violence.

This is why when even well-intentioned people fight rape culture, they can resort to the argument: “This could be your sister. Your daughter. Your mother. Your aunt.” It’s a tempting argument, one I’ve considered using with my own brother. It’s a tempting argument, but a flawed argument. Just like the media we consume, we are then saying that women only matter when they are placed in relation to a man.

I am a sister, a daughter, a niece, but I am a human being! A human being in my own right. Women exist, even if a man isn’t watching. And if media, especially media geared toward young people, refuses to acknowledge female autonomy then I will continue my criticisms. Because with the media we consume being so male-centered, there is no way in hell I am going back for a second helping.

1001 Holocaust Poems

At work, we’re in the process of reviewing applications for which students to accept into the college access program I work for. And nearly every  applicant’s graded assignment they shared in their application, was in reference to the Holocaust unit in their 8th grade curriculum.

Every student had a Holocaust poem. At least ten applicants said if they could go back in time they would want to interview Hitler.

And on the one hand, it’s great. Here is a whole generation of incoming high school students who have (at the very least) a cursory understanding of one of the genocides of the 20th century. Some students were even aware that the Nazis murdered queer people, people with disabilities, the Romani, political prisoners, and others.

download (3)Learning about the Holocaust teaches compassion, empathy and a tangible way to see how oppression can lead to justifying violence. Students have the opportunity to question their role as bystanders.

But on the other hand, there are not many Jewish students at the school where I work. And I’m concerned that the only exposure to Judaism, comes from a clinical view that labels Jews as victims. If the only way students hear about Judaism is through the Holocaust then schools are erasing Judaism and Jewish students from a larger historical conversation. Jews exist in the past, in this specific box of victim status. Jews do not exist in the present.

If we are not oppressed then we have no place in the history books.

This narrative is limited and harmful and keeps Jews as Others. You can care about the genocide against us because we’re White enough to look like you, but if we are not victims we are nothing. We do not have a history beyond the Allies liberating the concentration camps and (maybe) the foundation of the State of Israel. Students do not know to question the role of Jews today.

As Passover arrives at the end of the week, it’s important to know that Jews are not yet free in many places in the world and at the same time, that we are responsible for restricting the freedom of others. We are not just perpetual victims. We are also perpetrators against Palestinians and Jews of color.

I cannot stomach another Holocaust poem, knowing this unit of history, this poem might be a student’s only engagement with Judaism.

Call for Interviews

For all the asexual people who follow my blog and want recognition for their own art (writing, visual, dance, music, anything creative really!) take a look at Lauren Jankowski’s site and contact her for an interview.

Asexual Artists

Hello all!

Once again, I’m low on interviewees. Since I don’t have the time to constantly post calls every single time I’m running low, I’m hoping to use this post as a kind of a reminder:

ASEXUAL ARTISTS IS OPEN FOR INTERVIEWS YEAR-ROUND!

I’m always looking for artists who are on the spectrum to interview. Any and all kinds of artists are welcome.

This is including but not limited to:

WRITERS: all genres and forms are welcome (novelists, short stories, poetry, flash fiction, etc). It doesn’t matter if you’re unpublished, just starting out, a student, a hobbyist, or established. Traditionally published, self-published, small press, etc. You’re all welcome and you all have something to offer.

VISUAL ARTISTS: Self explanatory, any kind of visual art you can imagine (photography, painting, sketching, drawing, sculpture, installation, etc.).

FANARTISTS: Another self-explanatory category. Cosplay, visual, fanfiction, etc. Whatever you do in your fandom (any and…

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Goku as asexual

Goku was my first hero. He was my brother’s hero first, to be honest, but Goku was also mine. I watched the anime with my brother when he was in high school and I was in middle school and we spent our nights and weekends sparring each other as Z fighters.

My brother looks the part of a saiyan. He has black hair. He’s dedicated to training and strengthening his body. He’s male.

And yet, Goku was my hero. Even though we look nothing alike, Goku was mine. He is my belief that goodness and heroes exist. That strength of mind and discipline is just as important as strength of body. That you get back up every damn time you’re beaten down.

Dragon Ball Z perpetuates hypermasculinity. It’s a male dominated manga and anime where fighting and winning is key. As a feminist, I shouldn’t love this series. But I do. I love it more now that I’m further embracing my ace identity.

I see Goku as an asexual character.

He marries Chi-Chi and has Gohan and Goten, but he never expresses sexual interest in any sex or gender. A person can be asexual and still get married. A person can be asexual and still have sex. Sex simply isn’t that person’s primary means of navigating relationships or the world.

And while I do not believe Akira Toriyama meant to write Goku as ace, in creating a chaste hero, who (especially in Dragon Ball) has no concept of sex or sexuality, Goku can become an asexual icon. Toriyama’s intent does not matter. It is the character he created and what Goku can mean for generations of asexual people to have a hero we can see ourselves in.

This is huge for the asexual community. We do not have ace heroes of any gender to look up to! We have to scrounge and dig and create head canons just so we can claim characters as our own. I claim Goku as asexual because he’s so much more than a sexual orientation. He’s the epitome of Get Up and Try Harder. He loves his family and his friends with such an intensity that they are the world he protects. I claim Goku as asexual because love is more than sexual love and Goku is my reminder of how this love can motivate us.

Goku is my hero. One day, I hope we do not have to rely on head canons to have asexual heroes in our lives.

goku

The Casual Language of Sexism and Homophobia

For the past week I was chaperoning a dizzying tour of colleges in PA. But instead of leaving with a flavor for each school, I left with the muddy taste sexism and homophobia crusting in my mouth.

I was a tour guide for my college, so I understand that when you’re giving a tour sometimes you’re coming up with your words on the spot. I do not think our tour guides meant to be offensive, but as a queer feminist, their language was hurtful and isolating, even while it was also mundane.

But when a female tour guide describes the all-female dorm on campus as “the quiet dorm because it’s all girls” what am I supposed to think?  First, these are women, not girls. They are adults. Second, women are not naturally more quiet or passive or reserved. These are harmful stereotypes of women being perpetuated on college campuses and repeated to high schoolers.

When the same female tour guide later says, “our school’s 60% female, but that’s not a problem” my first thought is, why would it be a problem? What makes a majority of female students on a college campus threatening or a dissuading factor for students to apply? Why aren’t we celebrating these women?

On a different college campus, a male tour guide (who expressly said he is a feminist, that he cares about anti-racist work and participates in community service) said, “I’m not gay, but I love that dean.”

I’m not gay, but…

And in an instant, a space which should be welcoming to all becomes hostile. Because I am a female. I am queer. And your college campus is suddenly a threat.

I spoke to both of these tour guides after the tour and let them know how their language was harmful. Please, speak up when you hear things that make you uncomfortable, whether it’s about an identity you hold or not. These small things, this casual language, must also be stopped if we are ever to address the larger issues of rape culture and more blatant homophobia.

Please, speak up so that public spaces can be our spaces too.

Asexual (and queer)

I use queer as an ace inclusive term. Because the LGBT doesn’t include my experience (or the experience of pansexuals, demisexuals, and many others!) and when I hear LGBTQIQA, I feel like I’m back to being a first year student in college and timidly approaching the Queer club’s representative asking, “Does the A stand for Ally or Asexual?”

I’m done having to “come out” even in queer spaces.

Yesterday, at C2E2 (Chicago Comic Entertainment Expo) I went to the panel “Where are the Asexual Voices?” presented by Lauren Jankowski. Jankowski runs Asexual Artists: a blog dedicated to highlighting asexual art and artists, so anyone on the ace spectrum knows they are not alone in the creative process. Our work matters and our sexual orientation should be celebrated.

7155e1d6b8c14e380dbc6f4f233b9d57And while I’m openly queer online and have published essays about coming out as asexual and my asexual experience in Wilde Magazine and Voices and Visions (available to read for free), I identify as queer in most online spaces. I identify as queer and not ace.

If I say I’m queer you can assume I’m a lesbian and I won’t have to correct you. If you assume I’m a lesbian you assume you understand my sexual orientation and do not ask further questions.

I fear going back to high school, when I didn’t have the language to say I’m asexual and instead floundered through conversations about how I didn’t understand crushes and had no desire for a boyfriend or to have my first kiss. And even well intentioned friends told me, “You just haven’t found the right person.”

As an ace person, we face invalidation every day. We are not straight enough, we are not queer enough. We are infantalized. We are instructed on how to use a condom by ill-intentioned room mates in high school summer programs. We are outed at social gatherings as a spectacle. And I’ve put all this behind me because hey, it happened 4 or 5 years ago and I’ve also had incredibly loving conversations about being ace where my friends and my mother are respectful and show nothing but support.

But just a few weeks ago, I co-facilitated a queer ally training for seniors in high school and made the decision to come out as queer. And while I recognize the immense privilege I have in holding a job where I can come out to my students at all, it still felt like a lie or an omission because I did not come out as ace. I still fear the questions about my sexual orientation.

Being queer and not ace has allowed me to hide and cloak myself in a more understood and accepted term.

I’m done hiding. I am an asexual homo-romantic writer. I am asexual (and queer), but I cannot keep hiding under the queer umbrella.  I am proud to be ace.

Demonizing Teenage Sexuality

I work with high schoolers everyday. Other adults, snort and chuckle, pat me on the back and say:

“Ooh, that’s rough.” “How’s that going?” “Good luck.”

When I once failed to properly lock the staff restroom, a teacher who followed me in demanded I learn to  lock the door properly. “Believe me,” she said, “you don’t want one of them getting in.”

Them. As if high school students are dangerous animals and that just because we see them everyday doesn’t make them human beings. We herd them from class to class on a bell schedule to manage them. We place security officers in the hallways and the cafeteria to control them. We expect criminal behavior.

And because our school system does not trust young people to walk from class to class without, of course we do not trust them with their own sexuality. Yes, teenagers make mistakes. And yes, those mistakes are especially harmful when they involve sex and sexuality, because what is a healthy sexual decision and what is rape might not be clear.

So, let’s talk about it!

I grew up in liberal blue-Democratic Connecticut, and our sex-ed program only focused on STDs. While I don’t remember it being an abstinence-only education, in health class there was still no discussion of healthy sexuality. Furthermore, sexuality was heterosexuality (and allosexuality–not being ace) only. There was no way to be a teenager and also make smart choices.

Teenage Sex = WRONG.

This is especially challenging for queer students (promiscuous stereotypes, anyone?) and students like myself who are ace and might not even have the language to say so.

But what happens if we change that narrative?

Chicago schools have begun to institute sex ed as early as kindergarten in order to promote a healthy shame-free understanding of sexuality from an early age. As from thinkprogress.org said in 2013, not teaching accurate sex education

has led to disastrous consequences: damaging women and LGBT Americans’ sense of sexual self-worth, fueling the STD epidemic, and creating a moral environment where rape culture has flourished.

I am privileged to work one-on-one with students where I have fewer restrictions than teachers. I can question the sex ed curriculum and American sexual mores. One of the most liberating ways to do this is to not shy away from sex language. If it’s not a big deal for me to say “queer” “sex” “vagina” “penis” “trans” “cis” these words become a little more normalized. Young people then have space to consider what healthy sexuality means to them and how they can develop healthy and smart relationships. My expectation is not perfection, but it certainly isn’t failure.

I refuse to be embarrassed by high schoolers singing and dancing to songs about sex during a school dance. As long as there is no coerced sexuality or romantic conduct, I would not step in. If high school students are shouting and singing about sex acts, this might be the only place where talking about sex is a free act. And if we, as adults, are embarrassed or demonize this freedom, then shame on us.

We have clearly not created inclusive spaces in schools and youth programs where people of all sexualities and genders can discover what healthy sexuality means for them. It’s time to create those spaces.

Books by Women: Foxfire

303564Thank you, mh1430 for responding to my recent post on which books by women you’d like to see me review next. As per request, here is my review of FOXFIRE: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates.

This was the first novel by Joyce Carol Oates I’ve read. Now I have been meaning to read more of her work because this novel was so beautifully put together. The novel focuses on a teenage girl gang in Upstate New York during the 1950s. The gang, FOXFIRE, targets misogynist men, sexual predators and racists.

What struck me the most about this novel was the narration, as it is both first person and third person and weaves between the two. Maddy Monkey looks back on her life as FOXFIRE scribe and narrates. She pulls together the notes she took on the gang’s exploits, where she refers to herself in the third person, as well as her reflection on the past events. The result is a narrator who is both distanced from herself and her past mistakes, as well as reliving them and far too present. The novel is raw from Maddy’s reflections.

Whoever’s reading this, if anyone is reading it: does it matter that our old selves are lost to us as surely as the past is lost, or is it enough to know yes we lived then, and we are living now, and the connection must be there? Like a river hundreds of miles long exists both at its source and at its mouth, simultaneously?–FOXFIRE, Joyce Carol Oates

And while Maddy is the narrator, she is not the protagonist. Legs Sadovsky is. Legs, the androgynous leader of Foxfire, the exquisite Marxist, the woman who defies her gender and defies the law and it is difficult not to fall under the cult-like quality of her words and the daring quality of her actions. Even at her most manipulative or insensitive, I wanted her to succeed at whatever her goal was. What I love the most that her gender and her sexuality are left undefined. If the novel were set in 2016, would Legs be trans? a lesbian? pansexual? polyamorous? We don’t know.

And it is that very not-knowing that guides the novel to perhaps the most perfect ending line I have ever read. Because for all the novel repeats that “FOXFIRE burns and burns,” the novel ends (no spoilers):

Like a flame is real enough, isn’t it, while it’s burning?-even if there’s a time it goes out?

Keep on reading and tell me which book you’d like me to review next.

 

 

Books by Women Updates

Though I am behind on reviewing, I have still been reading books by women. Since I last posted a review of my experience rereading The Red Tent, I have read:

In Fiction:

The Vampire Armand-Anne Rice

Somewhere Beneath These Waves (short stories) – Sarah Monette

Honor -Elif Şafak

Ten Thousand Saints – Eleanor Henderson

Lost Boi (check out a preview with my post on a quote from the novel) – Sassafras Lowrey

Foxfire– Joyce Carol Oates

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (short stories) – Bonnie Jo Campbell

Boneshaker – Cherie Priest

Women Destroy Fantasy! (check out my review of this collection on upthestaircase quarterly)

Room (a literary magazine of Canadian female authors; check out my review on New Pages)

Avengers: Science Bros (a comic!) – Kelly Sue DeConnick

A Cappella Zoo: Queer and Familiar (a literary magazine of magical realism; check out my review on New Pages)

In Nonfiction:

Sweet Hell on Fire: A Memoir of the Prison I Worked In and the Prison I Lived In – Saranna DeWylde

Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence – Aliza Marcus

I will definitely get to reviewing all of these and in the mean time, let me know which titles you’ve read and which titles you want to read! Which book would you like a review on next? Otherwise, I’ll just keep plugging away in order.

Keep on reading!

Experiencing White Privilege

As a Jewish person, I do not always feel White. I’ve talked about this before because I see White culture as Christian culture. And yet, I look White, I grew up thinking I was White, and I have White privilege.

I went to the bank a few nights ago to deposit a check and one of the tellers told me the bank was closed. “Please go to the drive up.”

“I just need to endorse a check.” I told her. “Can I come in for a moment to use a pen?”

She told me no, that it was against policy for her to let me in. For a moment, I was upset. I felt I deserved to be able to use a pen at least. Then I realized, I was operating from a position of White privilege. The teller didn’t owe me entry. The teller didn’t owe me anything.

I was about to walk away when the manager got involved. The manager (a White male) told the teller (a Black female) to let me in. “It’s okay,” I told him. “I can use the drive up. It’s not a problem.”

He insisted I come inside and as I was endorsing the check, he quietly chastised the teller. I took the check and headed out so I could use the drive up window, but the manager continued to insist I remain in the branch and speak to a different teller behind the desk to deposit my check.

White privilege was happening to me and around me and I didn’t know what to do to stop it.

I would never feel comfortable saying I’m a person of color because I’m not! I walk through the world as a White person, where people like the White bank manager open doors for me (both literal and figurative) because they view me as one of them. Even though I am female, I am, at least a White female and therefore given certain rights as if they are my due.

Yet, I told the high school students I work with that I am Jewish, female and White and saying I’m White somehow still doesn’t feel right. Maybe, I am speaking from a desire to not be White and to not take responsibility for racism and the oppression I am a part of.

Paul Kivel, writes of a similar issue in his essay I’M NOT WHITE, I’M JEWISH. BUT I’M WHITE: Standing as Jews in the Fight for Racial Justice” for Dayton University. Kivel says that at an Academic Conference on Whiteness (can we talk about privilege to hold such a conference?) none of the White people said they were White. From gender to sexual orientation to class, everyone had a reason to say they were not White.

I do not want to be that person. I am open to thoughts and insights into what it means to claim Whiteness, not just White privilege.