You’re Either First Second or Dead

To be blunt, I hate competitions. I stopped watching The Food Network when nearly every show became a contest over who could be better than the guy next to them. Cut Throat Kitchen. Guy’s Grocery Grab. The Next Food Network Star. Can’t you just show me how to cook?

I hate how I am in competitions, knowing that if I let myself, I whoop and holler on the frisbee field, shouting and exclaiming sounds of adrenaline when an opponent drops the catch or misjudges their throw. Whenever possible I avoid these moments because I don’t recognize that person on the field who can cheer for someone else’s misfortune and who believes that scoring a point ahead of your opponent is worth fighting for. On a smaller level, I avoid games like Monopoly, Uno or Scrabble.

monopolyman

What if I win and feel great about beating someone else? What if I lose and have to acknowledge that I am imperfect?

Competition is patriarchy. The competitive capitalist culture tells us that the goal is to win and you win by beating everyone else. There is no way to share resources or wealth. You win or you lose. You take or what you have is taken. The logic here is not logic at all, but pervades our understanding of the world. If women have equal rights, men must lose rights. Except, this is not the case at all. Men will lose privilege, but we will all have equal rights. You don’t have to knock your opponent down to get up.

At the restaurant where I work, a co-worker approached me to test my knowledge about superheroes. He heard I know about superheroes and here he was ready to challenge my knowledge and put me in my place. He asked me questions about Jean Grey and Cyclops and Emma Frost. He asked me questions about Wolverine. This wasn’t a friendly conversation or a way to initiate an exchange of ideas on a topic we both enjoy: this was meant to shame me and make him a winner. A few servers stopped to listen and throw in their knowledge, but I didn’t want them there. I didn’t want to be a spectacle to increase someone’s self esteem at the expense of my own. I stumbled through some answers (many of which were wrong or incomplete) and went away from the conversation feeling like an idiot.

I spoke with my co-worker a few minutes later and told him that the conversation made me uncomfortable. And though he said he didn’t mean to put me on the spot, that was exactly what he was doing. He needed to assert dominance over me and be the winner. I didn’t even want to compete.

When we foster and allow competitive patriarchal culture to flourish everyone loses. The losers lose self esteem and become the under caste–on every level from small conversations to larger issues of systematic oppression. The losers lose dignity and then have to fight and climb over others to not be the bottom of the bottom. The winners lose ideas of cooperation and knowledge that a life without oppression and dominating others is possible. The winners lose security because they must constantly defend their position of dominance and power through aggression.

I met an American naval officer in the airport a few months ago and she said we live in a world where “You’re either first, second or dead and you’ll never be first.” As long as we are in competition with each other, we cannot work together to overcome or analyze what keeps us divided. We see it in racism where poor white communities are pitted against communities of color, or middle class communities of color are pitted against poor communities of color, where straight women are pitted against the queer community, where women are pitted against trans women. We see this needless competition everywhere, this mad scramble to be first.

And, unfortunately, Patriarchy and the culture of competition is first, and the rest of us claw and spit and climb over each other for the scraps to be second. When we think about competitions, think about who’s dead.

Motivation: As Narrated by Men

If you look up motivational videos on youtube you’ll notice a disturbing trend. Whether it’s one long speech or a compilation of movie speeches, motivational quotes and intense action or training montages, the videos are always narrated by men.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsSC2vx7zFQ

How about:

And:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2WVHIau77Q

If I want to find women narrating to me about motivation and pushing myself to be better than my best, I have to look specifically for “motivational videos women.” Women are not the norm but the deviation. But women do not need specific motivation geared toward us!  The same ideas about “fall 7 seven times get up 8 times” about “take hits because life is tough but we are tougher” are not advice just for men. There is no monopoly on success but mainstream media wants us to believe women are inherently different.

There is no gender monopoly on success and motivation! We do not need “motivational videos for women.” We need non-gender specific motivation that recognizes human potential for success not male potential or female potential. We all can get beaten down by life and we all deserve to be told not to sit down and take it.

Websites You Need to be Following

I always struggle to be politically informed and I don’t have an excuse. I have access to print and online sources. I have no excuse not to be informed. However, I am always concerned about where I read my news and what sources I can trust to give me a full picture of current events. Here are a list of websites I’ve compiled for anyone suffering under the same dilemma I face. These websites are not just news sites, but also websites with links to important petitions and social action campaigns.

1. http://www.truthdig.com

Truth Dig (founded 2005) is an online news website dedicated to digging up the truths more mainstream media would not cover. Some of their most famous publications include “The Last Letter” (written by a paralyzed American veteran who served in Iraq and writes to former President Bush and Dick Cheney calling them war criminals) and Sam Harris’ “The Atheist Manifesto.” The website has won 5 Webby awards for best political website.

2. http://www.democracynow.org

It’s an independent news site. That in and of itself immediately makes it more trustworthy  because I know they are not bought and sold by corporations. The hosts, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, contribute to the news both through broadcasts and online journalism. If you do not want to read their stories online, check them out on NPR.

3. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org

As Just Foreign Policy explains on their homepage, they are about changing American foreign policy to be more just and reflect the views of average Americans not corporations. Like Democracy Now, Just Foreign Policy is also an independent news site. Their current campaigns range from releasing the US’s torture report to the public, to ending Drone Strikes in Pakistan. What I like best about this source is that it does not just encourage you to donate, but offers alternative means of action. Most times you are asked not only to sign a petition but also to make a phone call or send an email to your local representatives or even President Obama.

I am open to further suggestions of your best news site and I plan to add to this as I become more educated.

 

 

 

Take Up Space

It is not difficult to look into a room and know immediately who controls the area. Watch people’s body language. How do they sit? Who is standing? Where are they gathered and around who are they gathered? Who looks the most comfortable in the space? Chances are the ones in control of the space are men.

Count how many women sit with their legs or ankles crossed.  Count how many men sit with their legs splayed. Who is controlling the space?

Men are taught to take up space when they enter a room. Whether that is literally inhabiting more area by sitting with their legs splayed, or standing with confidence to dominate those who are sitting, men are taught they enter a space and they own it. Any competition to be top-dog exists between men only. Women in the space are fixtures of beauty to be acted upon and brought into their sphere of influence.

Just the other day I was standing and drinking tea with a male professor. Another man came by and asked if I was cold. I was not cold and for a moment I did not understand. Then it became clear: I was standing with my tea cup grasped with both hands in front of my chest and my shoulders hunched together. I looked cold because I was unconsciously trying to take up less room.

While men are taught to dominate public spaces, women are taught that their presence is tolerated so long as they don’t speak up or take the spotlight from men. It’s so easy to sink into the shadows when you’ve been taught your whole life the public sphere is not for you. It’s easy to relinquish control to the idea of male domination because most of this power dynamic is incredibly subtle.

It’s me standing with my whole body hunched in on itself to give my professor more room. It’s me walking just slightly behind a male companion to let him lead. It’s me readily giving up my control of a situation. Because that’s what this concept of public space is about: control.

If you control the space, you control the people in the space. You set the agenda for what is heard, what is said and what is taken seriously. With myself included, women need to take up more space. It won’t be easy because a woman who takes up space is a woman with a voice and a woman with a voice is a woman who is shot down at every turn. It is “unladylike” and you will be criticized for it. But it is better to have a voice and push to be heard because eventually you will succeed. With more and more women understanding this idea of body politics, we will succeed.

When women take up space we create a more equal playing field before words are even spoken. We challenge the status quo by putting our bodies out there as whole people who deserve respect. Respect yourself and take up more space.

Be a Good Ally

I took a five-and-a-half hour bus ride out of Istanbul to get to the Gallipoli peninsula.

For those five-and-a-half hours, I had a long conversation with a man also studying abroad through the same program as myself. We had talked a bit before, but had never had the time to just sit and get to know each other. He’s an environmental engineer and I’m a writer, but we talked far more about real world issues we were each trying to solve through our chosen profession.

He knew about racial profiling and understood that racism is still alive today. He knew that when I was canvassing over the past summer, it must have been more difficult for me to be walking around as a woman. I told him it was worse for the canvassers of color who were stopped by the police. He was sympathetic and understood that he has privilege as a straight, white, cisgender man.

But, though he said he supported gay marriage, he would not actively pursue the issue because:

 it wasn’t his issue.

By this point in our conversation, I had explained how I do not believe American governments on any level (from local to national) are actually committed to making positive change. I told him that I wanted to use my creative writing to write better media representations of women, people of color, the queer community and any intersection or variation of the above. He was receptive to my ideas and was clearly considering his own opinions on the matter because he told me he wished he were more informed and could give a stronger opinion.

This is why his response that certain issues were not his issues floored me. By all accounts he was an ally. Not just to the queer community, but to the feminist community and to people of color. He understood that oppression is a contemporary issue that needs to be immediately addressed. So how can he see the problems of the world, know people who are affected by these problems and still believe he is only obligated to care about his issues?

His issues are environmental. I respect that. The earth needs an ally too. However, he is not a good ally.

Being a good ally is more than acknowledging issues exist. It is more than saying you support gay marriage or women’s rights. You can say all you want, but if in the end you won’t do anything because you believe you are somehow exempt from responsibility toward helping people who are not your own, you do not understand what an ally is.

The reason I believe American governments are not moving toward equality is because my friend’s reasoning is the norm. Progressive people are saying they support gay rights, anti-racist policies and gender and sexual equality for women but they are not doing anything about it. And if the people on the ground aren’t doing anything about it, how will our government know we are serious about what we say?

Be a good ally and put action to your words. Do more than tell the world you won’t sit back and let bigotry continue. Stand up and don’t let bigotry continue.

How to not Appropriate Someone’s Culture

I’m taking a Concept Development class for media and the arts and have to market a chocolate. Starting with an abstract concept I have to name the chocolate, design a package and ultimately produce a commercial.

My abstraction is feminism and my idea is that the proceeds of this chocolate would go toward aiding female cacao farmers gain economic independence. I want to name my chocolate in line with a mythology and specifically after a goddess because of the role of women in the cacao industry. Most of the cacao beans are grown in Central and South America or Africa and to be accurate I would then choose a goddess from a Central or South American lore or African lore. This, thankfully, got me thinking about cultural appropriation and that if I were to go the route I am considering I would have to do so with care, research and caution.

So, what is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when someone takes certain aspects of another culture for their own, without understanding the culture they are using and without asking permission. This occurs when someone, knowingly or unknowingly, believes the culture of another can be used as a trend, a fashion statement, or a symbol without acknowledging the origins and oppression that are ingrained in that culture’s history.

So, here is a quick list of questions to ask yourself if you think you might be in danger of appropriating another’s culture. This is not an exhaustive list and I would love to get feedback and suggestions to expand.

  1. How much do you know about the tradition/fashion/religion/symbol (etc) you seek to use? Does your use align with the original intent?
  2. Why this particular tradition/fashion/religion/symbol (etc)?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with someone using your culture’s tradition/fashion (etc) in this way?
  4. Can members of this culture practice their tradition/fashion (etc) in public without social ridicule/stigma?
  5. Does using this tradition/fashion (etc) in any way rely on stereotypes (positive and negative) of this culture?
  6. Does this using this tradition/fashion (etc) in any way elevate your culture above the one you are representing?
  7. Do you know anyone from this culture who might be able to offer some insight on your idea?

If your answer exoticizes another culture in any way, or places the culture as a trend to be used instead of an ethnic heritage to be understood, you should rethink your idea. Cultural appropriation is racist and even the best intentions are not always free from this prejudice.

Question yourself before you take a racist step. There are ways to learn about the cultures of others and appreciate their beauty, but it is through research and understanding.

Men’s or Women’s?

In a perfect world of gender equality men’s clothing and women’s clothing would be a laughable idea. We’re all people after all. Yes, we have different body types but gendered clothing’s only real purpose is to “other” women into a separate category. Women can dress in men’s clothing (to a certain extent) without being harassed, but the instant a man dresses in anything even remotely feminine, he is infected with the female gender all its stigmas.

Again, in a perfect world there would be no men’s section or women’s section in the clothing store and people could be free to wear whatever they want, no gender labels attached.

I went out to buy jeans today. I’m in Turkey, still struggling with speaking Turkish, but the man in the clothing store spoke some English so we were able to get by. When I told him I was looking at jeans, he asked me who I was buying them for.

I said: for myself.

Then he asked me: men’s or women’s?

 

I was grateful for this question because it showed a gender consciousness that even though I present as female, I might not want to buy women’s jeans. He treated this possibility as perfectly normal. It was so refreshing to meet someone who did not prescribe to the strict gender binary.

I do buy my jeans in the women’s section, and I buy my shirts in the men’s section and it’s all perfectly normal. Even though this sales representative asked to put me into a category, at least he had the decency to let me decide which category I chose.

 

 

Hate is not a Perspective

I’m studying abroad in Istanbul! I’m in Istanbul right now and will be in Turkey until June and I tell you this to put this story into context.

Istanbul From Space with Place-Names

Our whole study abroad group of Americans went out into the city the other night for us to get accustomed to the city and know the transportation. We wind up at a club around 11:30 or so and I don’t drink and I rarely dance. The bass music was jarring, but not any worse than I was expecting,even as it rocked its way up through my bones.

But it wasn’t the volume of the music that left me seething. It wasn’t the flashing lights.

It was the misogyny of the music and the music videos. Blasting in my ears was date-rape song blurred lines, songs about dicks and  grabbing hold of your own sexy lady for a night of manly fun. The songs were American, but I didn’t know half of them. Still, I knew enough to hear the words and feel violently ill. The music videos were just as bad if not worse. It’s nothing new for music and music videos to sexualize women, so I know this isn’t groundbreaking news. But, in any other situation I would have had the opportunity to leave. However, I’m in Istanbul. I don’t know my way down the block let alone the public transit two hour commute back to campus. I don’t speak much Turkish. So I stand and I seethe and no one approaches me until finally other girls in our group ask if I want to leave.

As we hail a taxi, someone comments on how the club was too empty. I say it was full of hate and misogyny. One  of the girls laughs, not a mean spirited  laugh, but an awkward laugh because she doesn’t know what to say and she’s amazed I’m being honest. I’m crying now from so much pent up emotions and a Turkish student who accompanied us to the club says he never thought of it from that perspective before.

He was trying to help, but hate is not a perspective you can validate or invalidate. Hate is a fact. Yes, you can choose to notice it or not, but that doesn’t make it any less real or impactful. But it’s simple to see hate as just a way of looking at the world: half full or half empty. In other words, if you choose to see a hateful world that’s your problem and your judgment should be adjusted accordingly.

This is why it’s so difficult to speak candidly about oppression against any marginalized group! Far too often you’re invalidated and told that you’re just misinterpreting the situation. Shift your perspective and suddenly the awful racist comment is just a joke. Or the sexualization of women (and specifically women of color) in music videos is just clever marketing for their target male audience. Suddenly you are the overly sensitive one, ruining the rose-colored glasses of those around you. How dare you see the world for what it is and want to make change.

But though I felt awful crying in front of people I met just the day before, I felt validated that I had stood up against hatred and did not shy away from telling the truth. Hate is currently an ugly truth of the world and it cannot be combated until it is recognized as a real problem that needs immediate attention. If anything, those who deny hatred and bigotry need to shift their perspective.

 

Use the “F-Word” in Polite Company

I don’t swear. My friends are shocked if I casually say “damn.” But I think it is important to reclaim the “f-word” and not just on bumper-stickers. It is all well and good to proclaim from the back of your car: Reclaim the F-Word: Feminism,

but now, we need to proclaim it in the streets, in our homes, and in our work place. Feminism cannot be a silent presence, not when it can be so easy to look the other way and claim sexism is from a by-gone age.

I have a friend who is going into video game design and the last time she and I met up we talked about female characters in films. We talked about Tauriel in The Hobbit (I plan on making a post on my hatred of Tauriel, keep on the look out), the women of Frozen and Tooth from Rise of the Guardians. Without delving too deep into our entire discussion, it was clear we agreed that women in all forms of media deserved to be treated with respect and not rely on a male character to define them. We watched Wreck it Ralph and as my friend gushed at all the video game references, I told her about Feminist Frequency’s video series on Tropes Against Women in Video Games.

I mentioned the word “feminist” and her face darkened. She said she might look into it, but I doubt it. But, she is a feminist: she believes in equality for women. She is a woman going into a male-dominated field who believes she is just as good as her male peers. She is a feminist, but right now would not admit it.

I do not blame her. When I first proclaimed myself a feminist, it was entirely on this blog. I was ashamed of admitting it out loud for fear that I would be fighting a dead fight, that I would be viewed as a man-hater, that I would be insulted by strangers and family for my beliefs. And I cannot say my life as a feminist has been completely devoid of any of this, I do not need to compromise my morals by claiming to be anything that I am not.

I am a feminist. When I began my blog, I was terrified to publish even my about page . I had to whisper to myself “I am a feminist” until the words became easier to say. Now, I do not whisper. But about two years ago I wouldn’t even have dared to let the word “feminism” cross my mind. It was the f-word, and I didn’t swear. At my women’s college, we have a festival in the fall where different diversity organizations set up booths for arts and crafts. The Feminist Club had a booth to make buttons and pre-printed on every piece of paper was one word:

FEMINIST

Friends grabbed at the buttons and wrote slogans already made famous by t-shirts, but no less powerful in meaning.

I, on the other hand was threatened by the word feminist so much that I nearly took a button and wrote “I am not a feminist” in large black marker to offset myself from the hordes of women who were deluding themselves into believing women were not yet equal. Thankfully I did not make this mistake as I do not know how I would have gotten over the shame of my sexist views.

However, I have gotten over the shame of feminism. I do my absolute best to let my friends, their family, my family, co-workers and bosses know exactly where I stand on the issue of gender equality. It doesn’t have to be the first thing out of my mouth, but there is nothing wrong with using the f-word in “polite company” because feminism is not impolite. If those who hear it disagree or are offended, then they are offended. But at least you stood up and did more than whisper or put a bumper sticker on the car. The words need to come from our mouths and the words need to be loud and spoken with certainty.

I AM A FEMINIST.

We Can’t Segregate “The Gays”

My brother and I don’t talk as much as we used to. Granted, I’m out of state in college for most of the year, but even when I’m home we have a list of subjects we cannot talk about.

  • feminism
  • gay rights
  • race
  • trans* issues
  • gender
  • politics

The list goes on. I love my brother, but we can’t talk about anything that matters and so we just don’t talk. I know I’m not the only one who has conservative family members and I need to ask if anyone has advice on how to have these conversations.

This morning I made the mistake of talking with him about gay rights. I haven’t been home since March 2013 and the last serious conversation I remember us having face-to-face since was trying to show him feminist frequency where he told me he didn’t have to listen because “she’s an ugly feminist.” That conversation blew up into a screaming match and, thankfully, we’ve both learned to much calmer.And we are very calm. We make it a point not to attack the other person only their beliefs. But that doesn’t matter when the subject matter is personal.

When we began the conversation this morning, my brother said how sometimes peoples’ lives are too different and therefore they cannot co-exist without fighting. He gave gay rights as his example. Though he said he believes “those people” are people too and shouldn’t be denied housing or employment, he also believes we should not exist in his line of sight. If a gay couple lived on a street where he was thinking of buying a house he wouldn’t move onto that block. He wants “those people” on one side of town and the rest of the world on the other side where there would be no contact. In his view a country that is homogeneous in race and ethnicity is the most stable country.

I told him that was segregation and he said “Yes, I don’t deny that. I’m honest about what I believe.” And he is honest, I have to admire that, but he kept saying “those people” and he knows I’m queer. That was the most hurtful comment. If he does not want to live on the same block as a queer couple, does he not want to live in the same house as me, a queer woman?

I do not mean to place myself as a victim or as a perfect person under attack, but I explained that separate spheres would inevitably be unequal. In the gay/straight binary, straight is valued more (rightly so, my brother claims, because straight people are the majority–as if having the majority is the deciding factor on what is valued). Because straightness is praised, straight individuals have an easier time getting and keeping a job, and straight (cis-gender) couples, if they are married, have an easier time buying a house and living their lives. Just by being straight, my brother has untold advantages he believes he rightly deserves. Even if he did not mean to cause direct harm to other people, that is what he is doing by protecting his privilege and believing gay people should be pushed into a separate sphere.

Segregation is never the option. I cannot believe this is a topic of conversation in 2014. But it is. And more importantly it should be, as I am well aware racial segregation is still a major issue, and I’m sorry I do not have the time to devote to that in this blog post. All the same, segregation based on sexuality is just as bad and just as prejudiced. Instead of having the conversations to overcome hatred and reach an understanding, my brother and so many others who share his views, would rather gay people go be gay and do their “gay shit” as he says where he cannot see it. There is no dialogue and no room to change this opinion. Straight is right. Gay is wrong.

He says that if he ever has children he does not want them growing up in an environment where they would see queer people. He hates “gay shit” and in his perfect world gay people would not exist. I am glad he knows being queer is not a choice, but it doesn’t matter if he wishes we wouldn’t exist.  Other than myself I don’t think he knows anyone who is queer and he is ready to pass judgment.

I have never felt more devalued as a human being than during this discussion. I was saying words and it did not matter. He was right. I was wrong. And I stood there and we spoke calmly like adults. I was screaming in my head, but I didn’t tell him that “those people” are “my people” and even more they are people and that should be enough!

Segregation is a form of hatred. And my brother acknowledged it as such. He said that “Well maybe it is, but at least I’m honest. Other people will lie and say they love everyone. I hate most people.”

How do you debate that? Please, if someone knows, tell me. How do you debate when the person is coming from a perspective of hatred and admits it? There’s nothing to win and there’s nothing to prove. There is no debate and I know I can act the adult if I must and remain under control, but why? If someone can tell me how to debate this please let me know.