My Body My Decisions

For years I wanted to cut my hair short. Not because I identify as queer but because I love short hair. I think short hair is beautiful. I think short curly hair is beautiful and that is the look I wanted.

My brother hates short hair on women. He believes an attractive woman has long straight hair and that this is somehow the ideal. The last time I was home in March I told him I was thinking of cutting my hair short and we talked about how if I stayed in GA for the summer then I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. This was our deal, for all that it was worth, though I didn’t plan on sticking to this agreement. I didn’t take it too seriously.

Yesterday I cut my hair to my chin, nothing radical, but a good six inches of hair was hacked off and lay in clumps on the floor of Great Clips. And I knew that no matter how much I loved this new style I did not want my brother to see. He would not approve and I would be less-than in his eyes.

But when I Skyped my mother, she of course called my brother over to see my hair cut. He told me flat out: “Your hair is too short.” He asked me: “Why???” Why would I ever do something with my body that he thinks makes me less attractive to men? I wonder.

It didn’t matter that my room mate told me my hair looked adorable, or that my mother told me I looked beautiful. My brother felt he had the right to command my body and my decisions.

So I told him flat out: “I want to hit you right now. You have no right to say what I can and cannot do with my hair.”

He told me, “But I don’t like it.”

“That doesn’t matter. Your opinion has no bearing.”

“None?” He spoke in a soft voice, confused.

“No, I don’t care what you think.”

Silence. For a few moments neither of us spoke as we had nothing more to say until we said our rote I love you’s and hung up.

I am not going to lie, it felt great to tell my straight, white cissgender brother that his opinion does not matter. It felt great to silence someone who so often has the power to silence others. Maybe I am being petty, but even for something as small as a haircut, I am standing my ground and standing up for my rights as a woman.  On a much smaller scale, this is what the war on women comes down to: men believing they know what is right for a woman. And whether it is reproductive rights or as simple as a haircut, no one knows what is best for you, but you.

There is no one standard of beauty. I do not need to adhere to my brother’s  ideas of what a woman should be because they revolve around a world of heteronormativity. But even if I were straight, my decisions are my own and no one has the right to demand I change how I wish to present myself.

 

 

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The Princess Bride AKA Look at the Straight White Blonde Couple

Anyone who knows me personally will know that I have complex feelings about The Princess Bride. It was the film my parents saw on their first date and the book that led me out of the teen section and into the world of adult fiction. I loved the film before I read the book and then criticized the film to no end once the book became my bible. I worked at a summer camp and would spend days reciting the story of The Princess Bride to my campers.

Then I found out that the classic tale by S. Morgenstern and abridged by William Goldman was actually just written by William Goldman. S. Morgenstern does not exist. This was earth shattering to someone who was legitimately planning on finding a way to get to Florin (the city Goldman claims to be real) and seeing the museum where we could actually see Buttercup’s wedding dress and the six fingered sword.

Just a quick summary of the story for those who don’t know. Buttercup is the most beautiful woman in the world and lives out on a farm. She and a farm boy named Westley fall in love and he leaves to seek his fortune in order to marry her. But he is killed at sea by pirates. The Prince of Florin, Prince Humperdink, finds out about Buttercup’s beauty and decides he will marry her, even though he knows she doesn’t love him.

But on the day her engagement to Humperdink is announced, Buttercup is kidnapped by a hunchback named Vizzini, a Spanish man named Inigo, and a giant named Fezzik. Her captors plan to kill her and blame it on the neighboring country Guilder in order to start a war. But they are being followed by a man in black who rescues Buttercup through a series of sword fighting, hand fighting, and a battle of wits.

The man in black turns out to be Westley who was never actually killed and the straight white couple is re-united. Then, Prince Humperdink tracks the lovers down and Buttercup makes a deal that she will go back with Humperdink if Westley is allowed to live freely. Though Humperdink agrees, Westley is not spared and is taken into Humperdink’s Zoo of Death (Pit of Despair in the film if you’re more familiar with the movie version) to be tortured.

Humperdink kills Westley, but Fezzik and Inigo bring him back to life with a miracle pill and they storm the castle to stop Buttercup’s wedding. In the end, Westley and Buttercup ride off with Inigo and Fezzik and true love conquers all.

The End.

I know I’m leaving out Inigo’s storyline and tons of stuff from the book (for those of you already familiar), but this is the main plot condensed as best as I can condense it.

For the past two years I haven’t touched the book or the film because of my anger at William Goldman. But last night I watched the movie with my room mate who had never seen it before and I realized that this was the first time I was watching it as a feminist.

It is such a heteronormative story! It is such a sexist story!

I knew even before I would even consider touching the word feminism that Buttercup does nothing and gets everything she could ever want. And what she wants is Westley. Her arc, if we’re generous and want to call it an arc, revolves around her love for Westley. What is she without the male protagonist? She is beautiful. The most beautiful woman in the world. Why does Westley love her? For her beauty. Her looks are all anyone ever mentions of her in the book and it’s all that Westley ever talks about in regards to her. Granted there isn’t much else to talk about. William Goldman makes it a point actually to emphasize that Buttercup isn’t very smart: she named her horse Horse and used the world syllabub instead of syllable. This just shows that Goldman is sexist and thinks that writing comedy involves making fun of women’s brains in order to highlight their beauty.

Hilarious, William Goldman. Hilarious.

The whole idea of a couple where the woman is just prized for her looks reminds me of this scene from The Swan Princess:

Even when I liked the book, I never liked Buttercup. It’s a shame to hate a female character just because she is written as flat as a piece of cardboard. But the strange thing was that even though I hated Buttercup, I envied her and perhaps that was the source of my hatred. A shallow part of myself wanted to be Buttercup because she does nothing and gets everything she could ever want. She is the stereotypical princess, except that The Princess Bride was writte in 1973 during the Second Wave of Feminism. William Goldman had to have been aware of what he was doing in writing this “perfect woman” who had all the beauty in the world and none of the brains.

Westley on the other hand has both looks and brains, because the two go hand in hand in men, but not so much in women, right? Westley is also perfect, but where Buttercup is a Mary Sue, Westley is amazing! He scales the 1,000 feet of the Cliffs of Insanity (part of the way not even using a rope), he duels the greatests swordsman alive, beats a giant in hand to hand combat, outsmarts a schemer and rescues Buttercup at every possible moment where she is in danger. Buttercup exists to be rescued by perfect Westley and this is called true love!

There is such a double standard here. When Buttercup is brave and stands up to Prince Humperdink expressing her love for Westley her bravery is framed in words. She has the regal bravery of a queen who commands in words though not in actions. She is and always was passive. When Westley is brave he is undergoing torture and not crying out because he is removing himself to think of Buttercup’s beauty. As Westley says to his captor Count Rugen, “We are men of action”.

I don’t care if this book and film were meant to be a comedy because it takes the theme of true love very seriously as being the through line of the plot. And Goldman’s idea of true love is the limited one of a straight white blonde couple where gender roles match up like puzzle pieces. Comedy is never funny when it is at the expense of any group of people. If someone believes in true love more power to them, but true love is not just between a man and a woman. True love is not just between “beautiful people” and true love is not based on gender roles.

“So Beautiful It’s a Curse” Trope

My favorite historical figure is Hannibal Barca-the Carthaginian general who marched elephants into Rome during the Second Punic War.

File:Map of Rome and Carthage at the start of the Second Punic War.svg

Carthage is on the tip of modern Tunisia: look to the right of Numidia and up toward Sicily. Carthage (the city) is right at the star. 

Hannibal was a military genius and even though he lost the war against Rome, his battle strategies are still studied today. I could spend hours just writing about his brilliance and my adoration of this man, but author David Anthony Durham has done most of that work for me. His historical fiction novel Pride of Carthage (2005) is what drew me into Hannibal’s world and over all, this is a very good book. Durham cites a bibliography, crafts rich and compelling characters on both sides of the war, and animates historical figures who have been dead for 2,200 years.

Yet he is incapable of writing women. While he does a decent on the historical women of Hannibal’s wife and sisters, Durham also writes a love story as a side plot line set against the larger back drop of the Second Punic War. The love story is about a foot soldier, Imco Vaca, who Durham creates and this woman, Aradna, a Greek who follows Hannibal’s army as a camp follower.

While Imco is an interesting character, rising through the ranks of Hannibal’s army, surviving the war and even conversing one on one with the Carthaginian general, Aradna’s greatest attribute is her beauty. This wouldn’t be so bad, if she weren’t introduced as a woman so beautiful that her entire back story is being raped by various men, starting with her dead father’s friend. Throughout the novel, Aradna falls into the trope of So Beautiful It’s a Curse. And the writing does not feel as if Durham is portraying the mindset of 200 BC, but his own ideas that beauty is a reasonable excuse to rape someone. We’re supposed to feel terrible for her after we read her tragic back story, but during the novel we’re told to accept that her beauty will attract men because that is naturally the way things go for beautiful women. Durham takes the responsibility off the men and reminds his readers that it is the woman’s job to not get raped.

When she’s not fending off men by rubbing herself in excrement in the hopes the smell will keep them at bay, she’s being pursued by Imco. By this, I mean he saw her bathing we get an uncomfortable look into Imco’s mind about how he wants to have sex with her. From the start of their interactions, she is an object. Throughout the novel the two meet up periodically by chance and Imco is always lusting after her. He’s in love with her beauty and this is the relationship readers are supposed to root for.

What bothers me the most is that even though she’s not interested and feels he’s just another man trying to attack her throughout most of the novel she finds him trapped under the dead bodies after the Battle of Cannae and she rescues him. Then they fall in love because the man needs to win the woman in the end. She is, after all, his prize.

There are so many things wrong with how she is written and where her arc goes, but I think one of the most important things to point out is that her story is sexist against both men and women. Against women, the obvious is that it perpetuates rape culture and also denies the woman agency unless it’s to aid a man and be his love interest. Against men it portrays them as sex-driven animals who can’t control themselves if a beautiful woman is around. I don’t understand why a man would want to portray his own sex in such a negative light, but that’s what Durham does.

This trope vilifying beautiful women as tragic figures destined for unwanted attention and rape is one that I didn’t understand when I first read the novel in high school. All I understood was that I never wanted to be Aradna. Because she was sexually assaulted she was the literary example of my greatest fear. It is terrible when young girls cannot look up to female characters without feeling as if being a woman is wrong and sinful somehow. I thought that her Aradna’s beauty was the cause and I didn’t want to be beautiful. And because beauty was her defining feature, I didn’t want to be a woman. I wanted to be Hannibal: the respected general with an intricacy of thought I still marvel at, not Aradna the beautiful woman followed by tragedy

I love Hannibal Barca, but I can no longer love the novel Pride of Carthage because it represents all of my fears of rape culture and places fear into women readers. I will not read something that makes me afraid or ashamed of my sex and these are the real evils of sexism that feminism combats. Feminism is needed because of how flippantly women are hated and how often we are told to hate ourselves. I’m a feminist because I refuse to hate myself and I will fight so that others can also understand the love and respect women deserve.

Women Wear Bras…Get Over It

When I was in 5th grade, my mother started telling me to wear a tank top underneath my shirt. I didn’t understand at the time this was her way of transitioning me into wearing a bra without having to bring up such a distasteful word. And it’s word ripe with negative connotations.

After all, bras are a reminder that women have breasts and that this is a main biological difference between males and females. It is the reason women are not permitted to go shirtless despite both sexes having a chest area and nipples. Somehow, having breasts must make women inferior.

It seems that way, as when growing up I was constantly embarrassed to even say the word bra or have it come up in conversation. There was an episode of The Amanda Show where during a sketch in outer space, Amanda’s space ship was attacked by a giant bra. I was offended and mortified watching that episode with my brother and I left the room. I was too young to be wearing a bra yet, but I understood there was a horrible connotation with female underwear and I was ashamed I would one day be associated with something so vile. I explained that there was a flying bra in The Amanda Show to my mother and I had to use the offensive word and that somehow made the situation worse. It was barely 30 seconds out of a 20 minute television show, but that attacking bra still tugs at my mind that a woman’s body is evil and destructive.

I am well aware of the counter arguments to my point: 1. it’s a comedy show so they weren’t trying to be offensive  2.it was said by a woman and therefore it’s okay, and 3. I’m overreacting. But this wasn’t comedy to debunk stereotypes and it didn’t explain why a woman’s body and what she is told to wear is not evil. Laughter is only the best medicine when it’s laughter with purpose and direction not geared to oppress. As to the show starring a woman and the joke being said by a woman, that does not make the joke funny any more than it makes it excusable. Women do not have the right to put other women down anymore than men do. And no, this is not an overreaction because I was traumatized by this one memorable instance where it felt shameful and horrible to be a girl. No one should have to go through that.

From early middle school into most of high school I didn’t wear bras. I wore tank tops with bras built into them because I hated underwire and I was embarrassed when someone could see the outline of my bra through my shirt. But above all, I didn’t want to be associated with wearing bras. I didn’t want to be a woman.

The last time I went bra shopping with my mother at the mall, my brother was at the mall with us. To explain where we were going, my mother told him we were going to go get me unmentionables. Bra is not a word for polite conversation and is apparently not even polite speech within families. Heaven forbid my brother realize I’m a woman and that I wear a bra! Heaven forbid the world catches on that half the population is female and most are expected to wear bras! It all goes back to the nipple conundrum, I suppose.

This is not to perpetuate the stereotype of the bra burning feminist. My point is that female biology is treated radically different than male biology and this is a tactic to keep women feeling poorly about themselves. If women’s underwear is linked directly to sex and being sexy then there is a cultural connotation that sexualizes women’s bodies no matter whether they wear Victoria’s Secret or a run of the mill Sport’s Bra. It’s the breasts that are sexy and the bra just increases this natural sex appeal and so women are naturally more sexy than men (the female body is supposedly always sexy because of a woman’s breasts). By this theory, there is a  need to keep this sexy nature under control.

Breasts are always tempting to men and therefore evil, but to dissuade this perpetuation of rape culture being featured prominently in the media, when bras aren’t advertised as sexy they are portrayed as funny. The only reason bras can be played as humorous is because they are directly linked to women and not only is it okay to sexualize the female form but it is also okay to portray the sexualizing device as necessary and evil.

 

I’m not suggesting women go burn their bras as signs of the patriarchy and oppression, but use the word. Take back the word bra to mean support or however else you define it. If we can own the word feminist we can take back the word bra. Bras are not synonymous to Victoria’s Secret, they’re not a measure of your worth, they’re not designed as a gag to make fun of women, and above all they are not evil.

A woman’s body is not evil and there is nothing to be ashamed about.

*NOTE:For more information on wearing bras and why women should or should not wear them, check out this link:

http://www.007b.com/why_wear_bras.php

Accept the Compliment

As women, it is accepted that we need the approval of men. Our worth is based on how well we fit a man’s definition of attractiveness and any compliments passed our way should be graciously accepted. According to societal constructs, there is no such thing as unwanted attention because it should be an honor to get the attention of a man at all.

This flawed principle is behind much more than the debate about who’s to blame in a rape case. On a day to day basis, it is somehow known and expected that as women we cannot displease or offend men.

I work on campus at college in the kitchen and there’s a man who works there who I talk to about everything from super heroes to religion. I know he’s a lot older than I am, and I still don’t know how much older, but he has told me on multiple occasions that I’m beautiful, or that I look pretty with my hair down, or some other minor compliment I should accept. And I did. His words made me uncomfortable and embarrassed, but I did not want to offend him so I stayed silent.

I wish I had spoken up.

I was dressing up as Captain Hook for a party and I was explaining my costume and he told me I would make a sexy captain hook. This was unwarranted. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. If I were a sexual woman would that be a compliment I would enjoy? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to explain my asexuality to him either so I turned the conversation away from my costume. There was a hope that any stiff behavior on my part would suggest to him that I was offended.

I should have spoken up.

Unwanted attention is just that: unwanted. As women we should not need to accept compliments if they make us uncomfortable or if we’re not interested. I ask that as women, we learn to use our voices and say no even if the situation seems minor. Your comfort should come first, not his feelings.

 

You Deserve to be Beautiful

When I was a child I loved dressing up in fancy outfits. I was in elementary school where boys had cooties and if you were a girl you couldn’t be friends with a boy.  If you were friends you were obviously dating. There was such a divide between the boys and the girls that I never thought about why I wanted to dress up. I liked the dresses I wore, I felt beautiful so I wore them.

But as I got older and understood my asexuality it became embarrassing to look pretty. I didn’t want the attention from men and dressing up made me feel awkward, as if I were borrowing someone else’s body.

I was-and to a certain extent, still am though I’m working on overcoming it-operating under the sexist lie that women should look beautiful to impress men. Because garnering the attention of the opposite sex never applied to me, I thought I didn’t deserve to be beautiful. No matter what my mother or grandmother told me about how pretty I would look when I dressed up for a family event or party, the compliments that were supposed to matter the most were from my grandfather and brother. I would always go downstairs on display so my grandfather could tell me whether I looked right or not. To the entire family, his opinion was the one that mattered the most. I’m old enough to make my own choices and I choose to ignore his advice on how to be beautiful. But ignoring the advice of one man is not the same as speaking out about changing the notions of beauty.

A woman should be beautiful for herself. Single or married, straight or not it is wrong that women are not only judged based on their beauty but that beauty is only relevant through the eyes of men.

I ask all women who have ever felt they didn’t deserve to feel beautiful to take this day and dress for yourself, in whatever brings you the most joy and however you feel most comfortable. Be beautiful by being you. Be beautiful for yourself.

“It’s a Man’s World”

Six months ago I would have denied that statement. I would have explained how the feminist movement of the past generated equality, and even if it wasn’t perfect I would not have admitted that it was a man’s world. Coming to terms with the inequality and sexism around me would have been acknowledging my own ignorance and silence. Two months ago I would have agreed that it’s a man’s world but been too afraid to say so.

Yesterday I told my grandfather that he was right: it is a man’s world. And that’s why the feminist movement is necessary.  So long as we live in a world controlled by one sex and a world that is gendered we will need feminism.

When I discuss feminism with my brother, as I have been doing long before I worked up the courage to call myself a feminist, his understanding of feminists is women who are too ugly to get a man and so whine and complain about the unfairness of the system. To him, and myself for a long while, women had already achieved enough equality that feminism had no purpose.  It couldn’t be a man’s world because that realization was too painful.

But by understanding the truth of the situation that the patriarchy exists is the first step toward building true equality. This post is a reminder as to why feminism is necessary and why being a feminist is such a powerful tool.

My mother has been told in debates that she’s too emotional. My friends have been told the same. I do not want to let this happen to anyone else.

For all the women who have been told feminism is no longer necessary, that your worth depends on your beauty and for all the men who have been told emotions are for women and that real men look like Superman and act like Batman, this is for you. Men and women should not live in a ‘man’s world’ but a world of the people.