I’ve been meaning to write on the Trayvon Martin case since the final verdict of the Zimmerman trial was announced. I haven’t yet written though because I didn’t know what to say that hadn’t already been said. Even now I don’t think I can speak about the trial itself, but I can speak about my own experience.

Although I was born and raised in Connecticut, a state which claims to be very democratic, liberal and open minded, my home town was full of racism. We were-and still are if I were to go back-a place of hypocrisy. Most of my home town voted for Obama and therefore they feel they are free of racial bias. It doesn’t matter that out of 5,000 students in my high school barely ten percent (maybe) were people of color. No one noticed or thought to question that the upper level AP and honors level classes were only filled with white students. This was the natural order of things, we told ourselves. Of course, we never bothered to analyze our privilege at all.

White privilege was not a concept because it was a lifestyle. It was everything I grew up surrounded by. My brother filled my head with football statistics of how white players are discriminated against for being white, how more black men are in jail than in college and commenting on the lower intelligence of black men as evidenced by some test to get into the NFL. I never bothered to check his facts and I half heartedly debated him because I knew there was something wrong with his logic, but could never put my finger on it. Or I was too afraid to call him out as being racist when I was just as guilty. We never thought to question why the world appeared to us through such a white lens.

My mother never spoke of race. It was somehow known to me that I shouldn’t have black friends, watch black tv shows like the Proud Family for instance, or listen to music by black artists. It was never outright stated, but if I didn’t get it from my mom then I got as if through osmosis by living in a majority white and insulated town.

Is it so difficult to believe then that even though I attend an open minded liberal arts college where a primary focus is diversity and tolerance, that I packed my bigoted views in my suitcase along with my clothes?

When Trayvon was first shot, I had the opportunity to attend a student held event by the Black Student Association on our campus discussing Trayvon’s murder and it’s racial implications. I was on the staff of the newspaper and was given the option to cover this campus event and I declined. I didn’t even go to the event. My excuses were many: I didn’t know enough about the issue, it was an event for black students I wouldn’t be accepted, it was an event for black students why should I care?

At the top of my list though was the most brutally honest and terrible reason: I didn’t care. All I knew was that a black teenager had been shot. Everything I grew up knowing screamed at me that this was a common occurrence because black people get shot every day living their hoodlum gang lifestyles. Trayvon’s death was therefore not only natural, but expected. It would be somehow immoral of me to attend an event when I already knew what side I stood on: the white side.

A year and a half later though and I’m able to see that there isn’t a white side and a black side. There is a racist and bigoted side and there is the side of equality. Perhaps this simplifies things too much, but from where I stand right now you are either pro-human rights or against them. I do not see how there can be a middle ground. If I am going to have the courage to stand up and say that women should be equal in all ways to men, then I better have the courage to look at my own privilege as a white woman.

Oppression is oppression is oppression. I know that I will never need to deal with racism in the same way people of color do and I do not claim that my experience fighting for feminism can ever give me the insight to speak on racial oppression as someone who experiences it first hand. But I do see my privilege and I know that it is wrong for me to be treated better by the color of my skin. I know that things will only change if we rid our minds of white vs colored and focus on opening up our minds to look at ourselves and what we can accomplish.

I know that I can’t do anything for Trayvon. I know that I can’t say anything here which will make up for his death or for the white privilege America prescribes to which allows his murderer to walk free. But I also know that I can look back on my past and see my mistakes and know how to change them so I can fight on the side of human rights. I know where I stand now.

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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.

We are Trained to Take Sexism

It’s been almost a year since I discovered that I’m a feminist and have actively taken the route to pursue what this means. During the course of this year I’ve noticed all levels of sexism, from women hating on women, to being told it’s a man’s world, to people who try to invalidate me because of my sex. There comes a point where you think that even if you haven’t seen it all, then at least you have a good idea of the sexism that pours out of people’s mouths and that maybe you even have a response ready.

I’m always surprised by what people will say, but I’m even more surprised by how much I won’t say in response. I think I have my responses, and I know I know what I stand for, but I find myself freezing up.

Today a man in his early twenties had a conversation with me about how I don’t have a car and can’t get to a movie theatre close by. He told me to take public transit and then rethought his answer. He corrected himself: “Then again, I wouldn’t want to be a little girl walking in those areas by myself.”

What?

It took me a moment to process this because it came out of nowhere. This man is maybe two years older than I am. He would never say something like this to a man, but he said it so casually too that he didn’t even stop to think that he just called me a child.

And I didn’t have a response because suddenly everything I could have said felt weak and invalid because this is how I’ve been trained to think. This is how all women are trained: you do not contradict a man.

I now have a clearer idea of where my feminism needs to go. Now that I see sexism clearly in my own life and in the world scene as well, I need to make the same conscious effort to not just see it but give voice to it.

You’re an Ugly Feminist so…

It’s no secret that the stereotype of the feminist is an ugly  man-hating lesbian. Because of this cruel imagery girls don’t want to be feminists. It’s not attractive and, as we all know, a girl’s only purpose in life is to attract men.

My brother believes whole heartedly in this stereotype. Months ago, before I was even remotely interested in feminism my brother showed me a video of RamZPaul on youtube discussing (and I use this term lightly) what feminists think of Legos. While I am hesitant to recommend his video to anyone, as it is extremely misogynistic, homophobic, racist, you name it, his video proves a point about why feminism is still needed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TrUNNKPC4E

Mr. RamZPaul’s point in a nutshell, is that feminists wanted the Lego corporation to make Legos for girls and that when the Lego company obliged, the feminists called sexism. RamZPaul’s response to the feminists speaks for itself.

I bring this misogyny up for three reasons. My brilliant friend introduced me to a wonderful feminist youtube channel feminist frequency and Feminist Frequency also tackled the Legos and  feminists debate.  When I found this 2 part video series explaining how Lego markets specifically to boys and how this is not only sexist advertising, but greatly inhibits both young boys and girls, I remembered the video my brother had shown me. Though I had never agreed with RamZPaul to start with, I now understood RamZPaul had it entirely wrong. Feminists did not ask Lego to make Legos for girls; they asked that girls be included in the Lego play experience. No where did anyone ask for Lego Friends  or a pink and purple pastel world separate from the ‘real’ boy’s Legos.

image

So, my second reason for including RamZPaul’s video is that I attempted to show my brother the Feminist Frequency video in return and he would not even watch far enough to hear her argument. According to my brother, not only is RamZPaul correct but that the woman of Feminist Frequency is a feminist and therefore her points are automatically wrong. He claimed to already know her arguments before she voiced them and told me flat out our discussion was not worth having because  he wouldn’t debate something he knew to be true. He left the room after he called the woman an ugly feminist. He did not need to listen to her and he did not need to listen to me either.

It is not just strangers on youtube who have these opinions. It might be people you know or are close to. Which brings me to my third reason for talking about RamZPaul: the more the word is spread that people do in fact act upon and perpetuate sexist ideologies the more men and women will know feminism is still necessary. If a woman can be dismissed for voicing her opinions on what affects female childhood development and and have her words twisted into what RamZPaul claims to be the truth then feminism is necessary. When a woman’s argument is invalid because she is ugly and she is only ugly because she is a feminist then more and more women need to become aware of the issues that affect them. Sexism is not always blatant and that is what makes it so real and so scary.

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

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.

Why are nipples sexy?

I play frisbee on a regular basis with my older brother and some of his friends. I’m usually one of two or three girls out of approximately 14 people who show up to play. It’s summer. It’s hot. I understand that a few of the guys want to take off their shirts. It’s a different story when they joke about one team being  ‘skins’ because then automatically myself and whoever else happens to have been born with female anatomy are excluded from said team. Our ability to play is no longer a factor.

Which leads me to question why do nipples exude sexuality? A woman could walk around in pasties and although she wouldn’t be considered ‘decent’, it’s a whole different story when her bare breast is entirely exposed. It’s one inch of a person’s body that is only sexy because it on the end of a woman’s breast.

If nipples are only around to serve as a feminine attribute that justifies the notion of the nurturing mother breast feeding her child, then the cartoons have it right. Cartoon men do not have nipples.

But I didn’t know that when I was a child. I would draw women with no eyebrows and men with no eyelashes.

As a child what did I know of nipples? But I knew (though I couldn’t tell you where I learned it) that certain features were masculine and certain features were feminine. If you messed that up your drawing was worthless because who would be able to tell if you had drawn a lovely woman or a handsome man?

Based on this cartooning logic there is only one solution to the nipple problem: nipples should be exclusive to the female just like eyelashes so no one can ever be confused again.

But in all seriousness, it’s one thing to pick me last when playing frisbee because, as a woman, I’m not as strong or fast a a man. It’s something else entirely when the sexism goes from being unintentional unconscious perceptions to blatant ostracism based on anatomy men and women both share. I’m not asking women to run around topless to prove a point, but I am asking men and women to question why it is acceptable for a man to bare his nipples to the world and for a woman to need to cover up.