My Shaved Head

Wow, guess I never made an update on this, but I shaved my head in March. I took a little pair of sewing scissors, cut off my curls and then buzzed my head in my bathroom. I liked it so much, I reshaved my head April.

Shaving my head has been the most feminist action I’ve taken. I have never had such complete control of my appearance, and it is such a powerful feeling to own my body and defy gender norms of feminine beauty.

profile picture bald

I want to look as queer as I feel and be proud of who I am.

When I first shaved my head, strangers asked me if I had cancer. My hair has grown out a bit since April and now strangers assume I am sick in a different way: they assume I am queer and the thought sickens them.

Yesterday a man yelled “Fag!” out his car window at me as I walked down the street.

For a few moments I thought I deserved the slur. I wanted to look queer, after all. What else should I expect? But I was victim blaming. If I deserve anything, it is to look how I want, cut my hair how I want, dress how I want and be respected as a human being. If I should expect anything, it is to be able to walk down the street (no matter the time of day, no matter the length of my hair) without being afraid.

We all deserve respect and dignity and we should expect nothing less.

The slur shouldn’t bother me, and I know I am hardly alone in this instance of homophobia and street harassment. But I can imagine my brother as the man in the car. He was the type of person to laugh with his friends at women he thought were dressed “slutty.” He believes women are “asking for it.”

He does not approve of women with short hair. He does not know I shaved my head and I will see him less than a month.

It’s disturbing that the man who shouted at me from his car hardly feels like a stranger. But the people who commit acts of bigotry and violence against any marginalized person or group, are people we know. They are our neighbors, our childhood friends, our friends’ parents, peers we went to high school with. They are our family.

But they are never right in what they do or say to us. We are never to blame.

The Casual Language of Sexism and Homophobia

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not gay, but…

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

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

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

Take Up Space Revisited

Two years ago, I wrote about the need for women to take up space and claim their power in a room. Now, I’m realizing that the issue is much larger.

This issue of body politics extends to food and body image. The smaller women are in body weight the more confident we are supposed to feel. When we make ourselves thin we are beautiful. When we make ourselves small at the dining room table, we are beautiful. We do not reach for second helpings. We do not take first at meals.

I never feel more visible and aware of being a woman than when I am eating. From how I hold my fork to when I sip my water to what is on my plate, I feel exposed. Eating makes me feel guilty and gluttonous. Eating can become a cause of anxiety (when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat). When I eat, I want to be invisible and shrink myself down to nothing. From my own experience, I take up the least space when I am at the table.

Not every woman has the same experience, and I cannot claim to speak for others. But before I can spread my legs on a bus seat or tuck my shoulders back and straighten my spine when I enter a room of men, I must first take up space with food.

We must choose to be visible in all aspects of our lives, even, and especially, the ones we are shamed for. Eating becomes a political statement: a chance for women to claim our right to exist! If we are shamed for surviving and told to gain confidence by making ourselves small and invisible, there is no space we can inhabit as full human beings. To take up space physically, we must start at the source and claim food and eating as a stance of political power.

10 steps to positive body image.png

 

Some Queer Cheer

A co-worker just introduced me to Denice Frohman, a queer Latina slam poet. Frohman uses her lyrics to create social change and spark conversations about feminism and intersectionality.

Her poem “Dear Straight People” is hilarious, brutal and a necessary addition to our conversation on queer identities. Her poetry plays to a queer audience, but don’t we deserve poets speaking our stories already?

Here’s some queer cheer for your weekend. Enjoy Denice Frohman’s poem, “Dear Straight People”.

 

Becoming a Feminist 2016

I started this blog in 2012 and gave my blog the caveat that I was becoming a feminist. Claiming feminism, even through an online presence, was terrifying. What if my brother found out? What if my friends from high school knew? What if feminism was just a big sham I was believing in to give myself a cause to fight for?

So I compromised. I wasn’t a feminist yet. I was becoming a feminist because it was safer.

For months now, I’ve thought about changing the sub-heading of my blog. Nothing is more important to me than inclusive feminism that progresses us toward a just and egalitarian world for all. And I don’t care who knows my beliefs now because I’d rather stand up, say something and be wrong, than sit down and say nothing at all. Surely, I’ve moved beyond becoming a feminist.

Surely, I’ve arrived.

Only, the more I think about, the more I realize I haven’t arrived. As long as there’s a need for feminism, I’ll always be growing and becoming a feminist because it’s a process. If my feminism isn’t expanding I’m not much of a feminist at all.

For 2016, I look forward to continuing to become and I urge you to start or continue your own feminist process. I look forward to a year of growth and a stronger voice to make a feminist world that much more possible.

Happy New Year!

 

Saying it Simply

As from an earlier post, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a teacher, an educator, a mentor or whatever you wish to call a job working with young people.

While driving a few students back to the high school, one young man played a song on his i-pod for the car and the lyrics came down to: women make up rape, don’t believe them.

I wanted to tell him this was rape culture, that he is perpetuating a system which tells the world women lie and dismisses sexual assault as just another way women seek to harm men. And for about thirty seconds I tried to formulate this thought.

But the student is a sophomore in high school. He doesn’t know the term rape culture and I realized I didn’t want to lecture him or turn the car ride into a space to shame him for something he most likely just doesn’t understand yet.

Instead, I said, “Do you mind if we listen to something which doesn’t say women make up rape? It’s making me really uncomfortable.”

He immediately turned it off, apologized and we asked the other students in the car what they wanted to listen to.

And while I’m not sure he understood why I was offended, he respected the fact that his choice was harmful to others. I’m very proud of his maturity. I’m also proud of myself because I didn’t defer to academic language or language only people within the feminist community know. A few months ago I would have used terms like rape culture and tried to explain as if I am the expert. But I’m not.

It’s not that academic language and important terms like rape culture cannot be discussed with high school students and I don’t believe I was dumbing something down for him. I believe I was making a choice to say what I needed to say simply so it could be understood by everyone.

What good is social change if it is not accessible to all?

Books By Women: The Red Tent

indexI read The Red Tent (1997) as a first year in high school and I didn’t understand any of it.

The novel by Anita Diamant is a feminist biblical retelling of the story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. In a male patriarchal narrative, all we know of Dinah is that she is raped and her brothers decide to welcome in her rapist’s family into their own tribe, circumcise them and then kill them.

We do not hear Dinah’s version of the story.

And then there is The Red Tent, first a novel and now a miniseries (2014).

In this novel, Dinah is the first person narrator. She tells not only her story, but begins even earlier: telling the stories of her mothers Leah (her birth mother), as well as Leah’s three  sisters, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah who all marry Jacob.

This is a novel celebrating and exploring the voices of women. As Dinah says in the first chapter of book:

If you want to know about any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.

As a reader, you do listen. Diamant does a phenomenal job at taking biblical women and crafting real and complicated people. Leah and Rachel are so distinct and so beautifully flawed in their reality as women, I almost feel I could meet them today, despite the vast cultural divides that separate their world from ours.

The most interesting cultural element is the theme of the incoming patriarchy. The goddesses Dinah’s mothers worship are goddesses which value women and hold menstrual blood as sacred, not profane. To bleed is a woman’s entry into adulthood and it is a time of joy. The red tent is where women go when they are menstruating, where they relax and tell stories and live as women unencumbered by the lives and world of the men around them.

Reading the novel in 2015, there is a definite cis understanding of womanhood and I hope a new edition of the would include an introduction  by Diamant, welcoming transwomen into the fold of womanhood the novel creates. I can only hope.

My one other critique is that while the female characters are fleshed out and envisioned with subtleties and skill, the male characters, especially Dinah’s lovers, are flat and bland. Oddly enough for novel rich in cultural nuance, sexual love is almost fairy tale like with love-at-first-sight syndrome. And while I believe Dinah deserves happiness, I struggle to believe her love because of how uncomplicated it is.

Still, I would recommend this novel. I would also recommend having a basic background on the original biblical story so you do not read blind as I did entering this text as a fourteen-year-old. But with a bit of background and an open mind to believe in the power of women’s stories and hearing women’s stories, the novel is a great read.

Keep reading!

From Beyond the Women’s College Bubble

There are so few environments in the world where if you turn to the person to your left and the person to your right, chances are they will identify as a feminist. The women’s college I graduated from was such an environment. Though not perfect, everyone discussed queer issues and combating rape culture as the natural and logical way of being in a human being in the world. There is some nasty racism that needs to be addressed, and there are nay sayers who refuse to watch their language around pronouns and accessibility issues.

And yet. I am a product of a women’s college bubble.

I recently read a post on a high school friend’s facebook page about how she’s a prominent feminist organizer at the University of Toronto and is afraid for her life. Just as their classes were starting there anonymous online bloggers and people on Reddit made threats made about shooting feminists on campus, both students and faculty.

One user named “Kill Feminists” wrote the following on 5 September 2015:

Next week when a feminist at the University of Toronto tries to ruin your life with false sex rape allegations, rent a gun from a gang and start firing bullets into these feminists at your nearest Women’s Studies classroom.

A Reddit user agreed:

go into the nearest Sociology or Womens Studies classroom next week, and fire bullets into the Professor’s head and spray bullets all over the room until all the feminists are dead.

And though the university increased security and sections of the Canadian news media, as well as Feminist news media, like Jezebel, are covering the issue, as of September 11, The Globe and Mail decrees in its headline: “Police Find No Credible Threat After University of Toronto Investigation.” 

That’s that then, right? Wrong. This is terrorism and feminists are still afraid.

This fear is thankfully not what I experienced as a feminist in college, but I need to recognize that this is the day to day life of many feminists. Whether I know you personally or we have never met, I want to take a moment and stand in solidarity with you, the feminists who live this struggle and press on through this very real and terrifying threat. I want to do more for you and with you.

To all the feminists who organize and work toward a more just world, thank you for all that you do.

So, You’re Jewish

download (3)I was riding the train home tonight and spoke with one of the passengers about his glasses. I told him that I needed new glasses. He nodded, paused the conversation, then asked, “Are you Jewish?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so.” he nodded again as if proud of his Jew-dar. He asked me, “Is she Jewish too?” He meant the woman sitting next to me, a woman I had never met before.

She told him she wasn’t and he said, “Oh well, I was right fifty percent. Fifty fifty odds.” He was smiling as we both got off the train.

I don’t know what to make of this conversation or this man. I don’t understand. I didn’t do anything that should have singled me out. Maybe I look Jewish. I don’t know. My Jewish education taught me to fear Antisemitism to a debilitating extreme. My great-aunt reminds me to be afraid but also proud of my heritage but also conceal that I’m Jewish because it’s dangerous. I don’t want her to be right. I live with enough repressed fear walking around as a woman with the audacity to travel alone. Living under rape culture is enough to be afraid of.

I didn’t feel threatened on the train, though maybe I should have. I don’t understand what happened. If anyone has any insight or advice, please let me know. I appreciate it.

Books By Women: Memnoch the Devil

I know I promised that my next book post would be We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I just finished Memnoch the Devil and I have a lot of critique I need to express.

download (2)Memnoch is the fifth book in Anne Rice‘s Vampire Chronicles Series (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, etc). I read the first four books my first year in college, one after the other after the other after the other and fell into Anne Rice’s characters with devotion I couldn’t begin to explain. I talked about the series for hours to my mother and pulled out quotes and passages I found devastating or hysterical or blindingly real and human, despite the characters being undead. There are still passages in The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned (book three of the series) I can still quote from memory, though I haven’t reread the books in nearly five years. Anne Rice’s characters are nearly all pan-romantic and homo-erotic overtones shape her narratives. The first three books are a dream.

Without going into too much detail, I found the fourth book, Tale of the Body Thief, bland and overall unpleasant in any number of ways. I stopped reading the series there because I had been told by friends and numerous internet reviews that Memnoch the Devil was the worst of the entire series (now ten books total).

The premise is that the vampire Lestat, the narrator and hero of the past three books in the series, gets called upon by Memnoch the Devil to serve as the Devil’s Lieutenant in Hell. Throughout the book, the Devil takes Lestat through Creation, Heaven and Hell as well as throughout time. Lestat needs to decide if he’ll serve God or the Devil by the end of this journey.

I wasn’t expecting much but was somehow still deeply disappointed. The flowing descriptions that characterized Anne Rice’s historical settings in Paris and New Orleans became purple prose and were spent describing three things:

  1. Lestat’s clothing and appearance (even for a self-identified dandy of a character, it’s an incredibly odd and jarring choice because Lestat is the narrator)
  2. Dora’s beauty (the one Human female character Lestat is obsessed with)
  3. Lestat’s tears (you could play an intense drinking game for all the times Lestat cries in this book–for a bonus round, take a drink every! time! there’s! an! exclamation! point!)

But her writing style aside, what upset me the most was her treatment of her female characters and the way women are woven into (and not woven into) this alternative creation narrative. And while Anne Rice published Memnoch in 1995 and just declared on Facebook that she quit Christianity, saying “I refuse to be anti-feminist” I still find it important to discuss the ways this narrative remains a harmful portrayal of women, rape culture, and the erasure of female narratives within religion. Regardless of whether she continues to hold the views or opinions I gathered from this book, it is still important to discuss the issues.

The narrative is told from Lestat’s perspective, but there is no pushback against his misogyny. We, as readers, are expected to agree with him and be sympathetic to his views. So when Lestat’s narration reads:

[Dora’s] voice was small and typically feminine, that is, the pitch was without mistake feminine, but she spoke with terrific self-confidence now, and so her words seemed to have authority, rather like those of a man.

are we supposed to agree with him?

Dora is a saint, a televangelist saint, who is perfect in every way. She is not afraid of Lestat even he reveals that he killed her father or when she knows he’s a vampire. And at the end of the novel when Lestat returns from his journey with the Devil and is distraught and crazed, Dora kisses him and she’s on her period (which Lestat has noted every time they’re in the same scene together). Lestat’s response is:

I rolled her over gently […] and I pulled up her skirt and I lay my face against her hot naked thighs […] my tongue broke through the thin cotton of her panties, tearing the cloth back from the soft down of pubic hair, pushing aside the blood-stained pad she wore, and I lapped the at the blood just inside her young pink vaginal lips […] blood that brought no pain, no sacrifice, only her gentle forbearance with me, with my unspeakable act […] my tongue licking at the secret bloodstained place, taste and smell of her blood, her sweet blood, a place where blood flows free and no wound is made or ever needs to be made, the entrance to her blood open to me in her forgiveness.

um…well, it’s great to know the female body is there for a male character’s enjoyment and forgiveness. It’s even better to know that Dora’s response is to hold Lestat’s head as he cries, call him her darling and her angel, and then ask to sleep beside him when he goes to rest. Did I mention there are two other male vampires in the room and no one does anything to stop or question Lestat’s actions? I can’t remember the last time I was so angry or disgusted over the treatment of a female character.

The novel disregards women again through Anne Rice’s mythology of Angels and God. All the Angels are male. God is without a doubt male. This, despite the fact that Memnoch says Angels resemble females more than males yet Angels are without a doubt more male than female. And what angered me the most as a feminist was that rape culture and violence against women was explained as a natural part of humanity. When Memnoch goes to live among the humans, he chooses to become male. Lestat understands this decision, saying:

‘I would imagine you had seen enough of rape, childbirth, and helpless struggle to make the wiser choice. I know I would have.’

And right there, to be female is laid out as to be deficit and there is no challenge to this conversation. There is no alternative voice or speaker of authority to these two male character parading their superior maleness. There is no thought that women are not naturally victims of rape, that childbirth could be anything but horrific and painful, or that women do not naturally struggle.

Of course, I knew going into this book that not all female authors are feminists, but I was amazed by the breadth of the dismissal of the female sex. Although I’ve definitely read books since starting to read books by women I did not enjoy, this has been the first book I was angry about and would not recommend.

But, if nothing else, reading this book has made me more conscious of the fact that it’s not enough to be a female author writing speculative fiction. You have to consciously decide on feminism and equality.

Next up: We Have Always Lived in a Castle. Keep reading. Even the books you don’t like, just keep reading.