Explaining Sexism to the Oblivious

I knew it was going to be a long conversation when a male co-worker, upon learning I graduated from a women’s college, asked me, “So you hate men?” I told him that it has nothing to do with hating men but with believing in equality and valuing myself and others no matter their gender or sexuality.

I’m busing tables in a restaurant. I’m not part of the waitstaff. I didn’t think I would need to deal with this much blatant and oblivious sexism immediately, especially not two days into the job. How I was that naive, I don’t think I’ll ever know.

everyday sexism

The man who asked me this question told me he never had to think about sexism before. He said, “I can’t really say much because I’m not a woman but in my mind men and women are equal.” If you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. “Women might even be smarter than men. Men suck.” That’s an appeasement tactic. You’re throwing me a bone thinking that by praising women as greater I’ll believe you’re one of the nice men. The gentlemen who think holding the door for a woman means you’re not a misogynist. Try again, sir. Try again. “I just think that women only think men treat them differently. I think most men believe women are equal.” Tell that to the wage gap. 

“No.” let me say that again: NO. I told him that everything about our culture praises traditionally masculine qualities and devalues traditionally feminine qualities.

“Do you have an example to prove your point?”

The English language is inherently misogynistic. There are more ways to describe women than men and most of these terms are sexual and insults. The female equivalent to male terms always go the way of insults. For instance, a master is in command, but a mistress is a sexual being. Boys will be boys, but don’t hit like a girl/run like a girl/throw like a girl.

I laid out one or two examples as we stood in the back of the kitchen peeling potatoes. It was a moment of pressure because I was defending all women and all feminists. My answer would be the answer. I hated his smug white face as he nodded occasionally, but clearly didn’t believe me. He did not see sexism in the world because he never had to deal with it, only reap the benefits.

Just the fact that he needed proof is evidence enough that he valued my opinion less than a man’s. I had to defend myself. I had to explain sexism, knowing he wasn’t interested in anything more than being polite. I’d rather he wasn’t polite. I don’t want feminism to be tolerated and on the margins. Tolerance is far from acceptance.

I told him, “Feminism is more than just equal rights or thinking you treat women equally. You have to act on it. Feminism is active and you have to want it. You have to want to tear down the structure of male privilege.”

You have to seek out equality, not just ask about everyday examples of sexism too numerous to count. You have to want it more than anything else in the world.

and that I (gasp!) wanted to be there

Advertisements

Piccolo: the Genderless Alien (Man)

Thank you to everyone who has been commenting on my other DBZ posts (specifically The Women of DBZ). I know I promised to write further posts regarding Android 18 and Videl, but right now there’s a different aspect of DBZ I need to address first. In the comments on my post about women in DBZ, I talked about how the goal is not have action girls, who enter a scene fists flying and then politely back out of the way, but women in a wide array of roles. Increasing the number of female characters who are featured would automatically go a long way toward decreasing the likelihood that the one female character would need to serve as a representative of all women. And while I wrote briefly about how it wouldn’t have been any structural changes to the plot of DBZ to create Raditz or Vegeta as a female, I’m realizing that one of the more obvious ways Akira Toriyama could have promoted gender equality was through Piccolo and the Namekian species.

The Namekians are a genderless species. They reproduce asexually and if there are multiple genders or sexes we can see no difference. So why is it that all Namekians are male? It’s not through the way they dress (who’s to say female Namekians have breasts like human females, or that if they do they would need to cover up) or how they act, but that every voice actor is male. By portraying a species of male Namekians the message is clear:

  1. masculinity is the norm and to be genderless is to appear and present as male

I do not believe Piccolo had to be female or that there should have been female Namekians. I do however believe that voice actors should have been chosen who could create a genderless voice for a genderless species. This way, even though for instance, Piccolo appears male (and is basically understood to be male by not having any female identifications) in the manga, the anime was in a unique position. The anime could reshape our understanding of this alien character and in so doing reshape our understanding of an agender society.

There is no reason male should continue to be the norm on the basis that it is identifiably not-female (further fostering the harmful idea that the female body is marked as the other in society). Especially when creating alien races and exploring topics more closely linked to science fiction than action/adventure this is the place for societal commentary! The fact that Namekians reproduce asexually is brilliant, but the fact that they are all understood to be male is problematic. Had Piccolo been an agender character the plot of DB and DBZ would not have been altered, but the ideas of a gender binary would have been shattered. That is something the action/adventure genre desperately needs.

Why I do not want a woman president

ready-for-hillary-e1388976729948

I am ready for Hillary but America is not. And this is the issue. Hillary Clinton (or any woman running for office) should not be defined by her gender. The fact that it is groundbreaking for a woman to have a fair shot for the American presidency, puts unnecessary emphasis on the fact that she is not a man. It should not matter whether she is a man or a woman so long as she fulfills the role of President and makes smart decisions for the country.

It is a similar situation when President Obama was running for his first term in 2008 and it was groundbreaking that a black man could not only run for president but be elected. And the logical leap commences that because a black man is president of the United States therefore racism is a thing of the past. If a black man can “make something of himself” every black person (or person of color) is obviously just not trying hard enough to make a decent life for themselves. If they are poor, if they are in jail, if they are illiterate it is now undeniably their fault. We live in post-racial world, after all. The logic of these statements do not hold up.

Just because one person of a specific race achieves something deemed “out of the ordinary” by the dominating white culture, means nothing in regard to the others of that race suffering under systematic oppression. The fact that a successful person of color is deemed “out of the ordinary” at all holds its own immense problems.

I fear that if Hillary Clinton is elected, it will give the world another excuse to claim feminism is a defunct principle that belongs in a history book and not in contemporary issues of debate. If a woman can become president, then sexism cannot exist, right?

In addition, anything that goes wrong during her presidency would be blamed on her gender. Most arguments I hear about why we need a woman president is based on biological essentialism: women are naturally more inclined toward peace and therefore a woman president would prevent wars. Women are not naturally inclined toward anything and neither are men, but this argument consistently arises. Even people who support female leadership do so by putting emphasis on her gender. This is not the way to bring about equality but to further the gender divide and place it as a normal concept in the public sphere.

Whoever becomes the first woman president would be an experiment, but even worse, an experiment pre-determined to fail. No matter what she might do in office her policies will be treated harsher and she will be more criticized than her male predecessors. Women in any sphere fight a two fronted war. They need to first fight to enter the conversation and then fight again to get an idea implemented. Imagine fighting this war when you are chief executive of a nation trapped in a political system that is already stagnant. It’s not that she would fail because she is a woman, but that is exactly the message the American people would receive. Everything would be a failure for not being the perfect president women have claimed a female president would automatically be. Putting someone on a pedestal is just another form of oppression: it gives you a reason to hate this person when they do not live up to your expectations.

I believe in gender equality, but I do not believe in a female president. The only change in American politics would be the gender of the commander-in-chief. Instead of instituting gender equality from the top-down we would be replacing a male led power structure with a female led power structure. Politics would remain stagnant. Policies combating racism, sexism and classism would remain on paper (at best). And when her term (or terms) were over she would be relegated to a footnote in history.

Gender equality will not come about through top down reforms anymore than racial equality came about with Obama’s presidency. Real change needs to be a bottom-up overhaul of the oppressive systems that make a black president or a female president an anomaly even in the 21st century.

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.

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.

 

 

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.