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.

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People Aren’t Movies: Don’t Rate Them

I am a very harsh judge of films and I freely admit that 9 times out of 10, I leave a movie disappointed because I want perfection. I was having a conversation with my brother today and he told me how he realized that I rate movies the same way he rates women.

This floored me. I can rate a movie, pick it apart and critique it as much as I please because no matter how many individuals worked on the film, I am not making a numerical judgment on a single person’s worth. I feel as if this doesn’t need to even be said anymore, but apparently it’s still common practice for people to rate each other based on some unknown scale of hotness. This scale is the ultimate deciding factor in a human being’s worth. Because all people are ultimately worth is how good a partner they would be.

Women are just as guilty as men, but women are under a microscope to always be perfect in a way that men are not. The added pressure of women feeling that every time they walk past a man he is silently rating her based on how she dresses and the size of her breasts vs the size of her waist and hips is disturbing.

It makes me feel violated just walking down the street. I dress in superhero shirts and jeans (or shorts during the summer) and one day I went to high school in a jean skirt, leggings and pretty rocking combat boots. There was no reason for the outfit, I just wanted to look different. I remember one of the guys I was acquainted with kept looking at me. If I remember correctly, he said something along the lines of “Wow” because I was suddenly an attractive female and not just a quiet body to fill the space. I had gained worth by dressing more feminine and my rating went up as a result. Lucky me, I was now the proud owner of worth.

Lucky me.

I know this gets dangerously close to the people are not what they wear argument to combat slut shaming, but I feel it is also necessary to address here because I think slut shaming and ratings go hand in hand. It’s part of the cliched-but-true double edged sword. Women must be sexually available in order to be rated high, but if they appear too sexually available then their rating goes down because they must be a slut.

This logic infuriates me. I don’t know if I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but I was disgusted by my brother’s comment about rating women because he said it so casually. His idea is that people have always rated each other therefore it must be natural, therefore it must be morally okay. Except it’s not. Killing people has also always gone on and there’s a conscious effort to stop that. Harm doesn’t need to be physical or blatant.

I don’t care if rating is a thing people do, or even it’s the norm because it’s wrong and reduces a person to a single number that is so arbitrary. I know I never want to feel that type of judgment and if you agree with me stop rating others if this a habit you have, or tell your friends the reasons why this a sexist practice that perpetuates oppression. Rating people needs to end if sexism is to end.

50 Cents. Period. part 1

I just came back from the most magnificent event. My college is fortunate enough to have hosted Lorrie King, the founder of the women’s health organization 50 Cents. Period.  50 Cents Period is an organization dealing with menstruation in developing countries, focusing currently in Andhra Pradesh, India; the Kathmandu, Sindhupochok, and Karnali portions of Nepal; the Masaka, Kutamba and Kasese portions of Uganda, and Managua, Nicaragua.

As 50 Cent Period explains:

“We believe that every woman has the right to experience her period with dignity. Our mission is to empower women and girls to stay fully in engaged in their lives and educations without the stigma and barriers surrounding their periods.”

The brilliance of this organization is not just in their efforts to promote healthy menstruation or their feminist push for female education. The brilliance is that women like Lorrie King are not afraid to talk about their periods.

On a personal level, this struck me as incredibly fearless in an area that shouldn’t require bravery. And yet I know I struggle to remember that having my period is not a curse. It’s such a taboo subject that even going to CVS to buy pads is a mortifying experience that makes me feel degraded. On some level I can blame the world around me for perpetuating the idea that menstruation is an ugly, terrifying process that distorts the beauty of womanhood. But I know that it is my choice to believe this myth or not.

I must applaud Lorrie King for reminding me that I can view my body’s natural functions as the natural occurrences that they are. I know I am not the only one who struggles with this self perception of womanhood.

I am grateful to King again, because she has agreed to an open interview with me for this blog. I open the floor to you though. Please submit any questions you wish to ask and I’ll forward them to King for the interview. Please get the questions to me by April 12th. After April 12th, submissions will be closed.

  

Pro-Life/Pro-Choice

I was previously unaware that October 16th is the Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity. Although my college campus is for the most part quite liberal, there were quite a few fliers and supporters decked out for the occasion  I found myself angry at the Pro-Life supporters who waved fliers with slogans like: “1/3 of our generation didn’t make it”. Some of my friends were involved, wearing red duct tape with the word LIFE scrawled in black sharpie.

What surprised me the most though, was not that the campaign was going on, or that I had friends who participated, but that I was angry at these individuals. My own reaction frightened me. I am used to being able to debate calmly, accept the views of others even if I inherently disagree, but I couldn’t as soon as I saw the posters and the duct tape.

I hated the flyers, where a woman’s mouth was taped over to emphasize the silence of the generation who “didn’t make it”. Why silence the mother? Why not have a poster with a baby with the tape? The advertisement tells me that women should be silenced. I can’t reign myself in when this is the promotional material of the opposing argument. My friends who are women were in support of the day and saw nothing wrong. If our moralities contradict so clearly is it wrong to be upset?

The argument between pro-life and pro-choice sometimes seems as silent as the Pro-Life Day of Solidarity. Political candidates won’t breach the subject because their opinions are so clearly split down party lines. Why would a democrat need to say he or she supports pro-choice when their opinion is written in between the letters of their party? I am angry at this day of solidarity because I do not feel that communication between the two sides is open and I fear that even if it were nothing would be accomplished. I’ve talked to other, far more vocal, women in support of pro-choice who tell me horror stories of debates with those in support of pro-life where the pro-life individual calls them a baby killer and the debate ends there. I’ve had conversations with people who think abortions (like birth control) are a girl’s ticket to be a slut so the government should not support it. In their words: let women claim responsibility for their actions.

I feel I need to address these two arguments separately, and although these are not the only arguments made, I feel  I must address the baby-killers in a different manner than the slut shamers.

First, the baby-killers. Perhaps this is why I fear opening up communication: even the labels people choose to identify themselves with put each other more than at odds. If we are at odds, the two sides would either be Pro-Life and Pro-Death, or Pro-Choice and Con-Choice (for lack of a better word). But    instead by choosing Pro-Life and Pro-Choice it doesn’t feel that we’re even having the same conversation. I personally hate the term Pro-Life because it implies anyone who is of the opposite opinion, must be Pro-Death. Now, I know a lot of liberals and none of them are racing off to kill babies, neither before they are born or after. The ‘you’re a baby-killer’ argument fails on multiple accounts: it not only distances the two groups from having any semblance of a reasonable discussion, but it also uses the wrong terminology because the fetus is not yet a baby, and perhaps not even yet a fetus. So long as these lines are up, separating those who believe in life and those who believe in death there can be no open dialogue.

But perhaps if the labels were changed there could be a discussion with the Pro-Life supporters of the above argument. Things get a bit more complicated when the second argument comes into play. Denying women access to abortions because they deserve to be taught a lesson for having sex is rooted in a deep seated misogyny rather than in labels. Though the two arguments of baby-killing and slut shaming are very often entwined, I feel I must separate the two because my anger feels quite different for the second argument. Perhaps I can forgive those who are bound by labels and associate Pro-Choice with choosing death, but it is much more difficult to forgive those who not only deny women access to reproductive health care on multiple levels, but justify through the age old belief that women’s sexuality is dangerous and immoral. I do not believe that when people make the argument that a woman needs to pay a penalty for having sex that the issue is actually about the unborn child. It is so much more likely that the issue is about controlling women and what better ruse to hide behind than the sanctity of life? Pro-Life then has the advantage of both a religious moral high ground and being on the opposing side against feminists. It makes me sick the lengths people will go to in order to keep women domesticated and sexless objects for the sexual pleasures of one man.

Until I got to college I knew I was Pro-Choice, but I didn’t know why. I would not have gotten angry at those of Pro-Life. I hoped writing this would help me understand my anger, and it has helped to get my thoughts out. Still, I do not know if my anger is justified. I want an open dialogue, but I do not know if I am ready to have this discussion. I present my thoughts to you with the question of anger and where it belongs in morality and politics.

What we are taught about sex and gender

Until last year I did not know there was a difference between the terms sex and gender. I feel foolish to say so now, but I’m wondering how many others were just as shocked to learn the two words were not synonyms? I was in a class on how to write history and we dipped our toes into gender and feminist criticisms of historical practices. At the time I was angered by the entire interlude of feminist criticism. Why would I want to learn about feminism? What could feminism teach me about being a woman that I didn’t already know just from being alive? In my mind at the time, women were not oppressed.

When my teacher asked us to define gender and sex I was amazed at how many people were able to contribute to two very distinct definitions. I was even more amazed that two definitions was nothing like I had been taught. Gender as a performance of cultural norms and sex as biology was a new concept. I was raised with such a strong aversion to the word sex that until that moment, it had no other meaning than procreation. Gender was the neutral word my family could say and use comfortably. We never referred to sex to refer to sex organs.

I can’t be the only one who was raised this way. Although I know that it is up the parents to decide when and how they will teach their children sex education, why is there such an aversion to the word sex? If it is more accurate to describe one’s sex then why do we substitute gender?

I wonder if my education on sexuality would have been different had I known that sex was not procreation. If I had known and had been less afraid to explore what sex and gender were, I might not have grown up wondering why I didn’t like men, but that I didn’t like women either. I might not have struggled to find a word to identify myself. I might not have waited until tenth grade to become a comic book fan and buy shirts from the boys’ section. My gender and my sexuality would have been mine to explore earlier in life.

When gender and sex have the same meaning dialogue between parents and their children can never be exact and the crucial stage of questioning sexuality becomes more difficult to reach.

I do not pretend I would have been comfortable if my mom or my brother had used sex as a term for biology, but I would have learned to accept it. I would have grown accustomed to adult language and adult ideas. I would have grown up around feminist ideas whether anyone in the house knew so or not. There is no greater gift to identity than the right words to use and a no-fear attitude toward approaching sexual differences.

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

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.