X is for Xenophobia

Much as it pains me to type these words, and as much as I’m still holding out for Bernie Sanders to have a huge upset at this year’s DNC, Trump and Clinton are looking to be the frontrunners for the general election this November. Nearly everyone I know claims they are going to flee to Canada if the opposing candidate–or indeed, either candidate–is elected president.

Now, yes, I realize these statements are made partially, if not fully, in jest. Yet, at least half the people making these jokes were opposed to offering shelter to Syrian refugees last year. Incidentally, most of those people also claimed to be Christians. Make of that what you will.

It’s not the first time the US refused desperate people a safe haven. During the German rise to power that preceded the second world war, the US had strict anti-immigration policies that blocked European Jews from finding a home on US soil, famously resulting in some of them dying in the Holocaust. We have a short memory when it comes to retaining our historical lessons.

Anti-Islamic sentiment runs ever higher in this country–Trump even threatens to evict current Muslim Americans in the name of safety. We have hate to spare, though. Mexicans and Mexican Americans are often accused of stealing jobs, never mind that it was American economic policy that destabilized the Mexican economy and sent Mexican citizens over the border in desperation, seeking work and a way to provide for themselves.

The (white) American ideal is nothing new. Of all the ethnic groups that have been demoralized and loathed throughout our history, the Irish had the easiest time assimilating, due in no small part to our white skin and shared cultural norms with the dominant groups. As much as people may claim that we are a melting pot, our culture shows little real love for diversity.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Our current political atmosphere is tinged with a longing to return to a simpler time. Trump is the most overt, with his “Make America Great Again” rhetoric. Let me be clear: America, that is, the United States, has never been great. Never for women, people of color, poor people, queer people, for the huddled masses we purportedly welcome via the Statue of Liberty. We have been nothing but a better option, a whiff of hope, a brighter future over the darkness of the past. We are a reserve of untapped potential, one that will never come to fruition if we don’t let go of our old prejudices.

Suggested Reading: The Muslims are Coming by Arun Kundnani, Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe

W is for Wonder Woman

The past ten years have seen a boom in superhero movies. Lifted straight from the colorful pages of comic books with over 50 years of mythology from which to mine stories, there are as many superheroes as there are storytelling tropes. Yet even in this rarefied age of comic  book movies, superhero franchises have one thing invariably in common–they’re all headlined by dudes.

There are, of course, some pretty kick-ass superheroines (which WordPress is trying to tell me is not a word) to be found in the latest ventures from Marvel–assassin turned agent Black Widow, enemy turned ally Scarlet Witch, rogue space ninja Gamora–but none of them have been given a chance to lead a standalone movie.

DC has had a woefully male dominated showing, but they are promising to give Wonder Woman, perhaps the most famous of all superheroines, her own feature film next year. The double edged sword is, Wonder Woman is going to forecast all female driven comic book movies. When DC released Man of Steel, it turned a profit but was divisive at best with critics and fans. The sequel, Batman V Superman fell short of expected profits and was panned by critics, but more Batman and Superman films are slated for upcoming release. But if Wonder Woman fails, it will be seen as representative of all women-led comic book movies, and it could be more than a decade before we get another.

Women led films of all genres are presumed by Hollywood to speak for all women, both characters and audience. When a male-led movie does poorly, the writing, directing, or acting is rightly blamed. When a female-led one does poorly, estrogen gets blamed.

It seems a small thing, to complain about lack of female characters in film when we have so many more pressing matters. But it’s all part of the same cultural narrative. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Batman because he was the coolest, and it was considered normal. A boy wanting to be Wonder Woman would not be. Our cultural narrative casts women as role models for girls and men as role models for everyone. We place one woman on a team with five guys and pat ourselves on the back for having gender equality.

How we represent ourselves in story is emblematic of the mores we cherish and value. Our stories tell us more about the culture of a time period and place than anything else we leave behind. And they are our greatest tool for empathy–exposure to books, movies, and television in homogenous communities can create bonds between real people and characters.

Wonder Woman deserves a good movie. But we deserve as diverse a cast from our superheroines and we have for superheroes.

Suggested Reading: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years, Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Ash by Malinda Lo

Available for purchase here.

I am a sucker for a fairy tale, and as a child when I had thoroughly devoured all of the Disney fare I sought more, both classic versions and modern interpretations, an ongoing desire to consume all variations of these timely tales that haunts me to this day.

Enter Ash. A YA (don’t judge) variation on the quintessential fairy tale, Ash‘s titular heroine is more focused on her long lost mother and the very real fairy faith that surrounds her home. Ash is “claimed” by the fair folk, and because of their connection to her mother, is resigned to her fate if not thrilled about it. Her forest wanderings lead her into the path of Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, and she reawakens Ash’s hunger for life.

Queer romance has, for a long time, been water in the desert–so rare that we’re just happy to have it, regardless of how flawed it may be. Lo could’ve easily written Kaisa to be as complete a non-entity as the prince of the traditional tale, and she still would’ve created an engaging and interesting story just by adding the bisexual aspect to her Cinderella figure, but she doesn’t take the easy way out.

Ash and Kaisa hit all the points of the typical hetero romance–the meet-cute, the cautious flirtation, the hesitation, and of course, the Happily Ever After.

Queer people, especially kids, rarely get to see themselves in iconic stories. I remember being the target audience for YA, and reading Annie on My Mind over and over, tolerating the gayngst just so I could see a lesbian romance with a happy ending. There’s great beauty in the availability of more diverse reading material featuring queer characters that function as something other than a stereotype or a punchline, especially for teens just starting to explore their identity.

Lo has taken one of the oldest tropes available and spun a fresh, engaging story from it, one that feels entirely pure and hopeful, the greatest hallmark of a good fairy tale.

 

V is for Voting

Today are the primaries for my state (go Bernie!), and being a dutiful American/annoying outspoken feminist bitch, I went to cast my vote early, although my polling place didn’t deign to give me a sticker. It’s the 96th year in a row that women in this country have had the right to cast a vote, and yet it’s not as simple as the achievement along gender lines.

Once again, race makes itself known in the fight for equality. Native Americans (men and women alike) were barred from casting votes until 1934, and state and local governments have implemented multiple voting conditions meant to restrict the rights of Black Americans from accessing their polling places, to the point that in 1965 Johnson had to sign the Voting Rights Act to ensure a cessation of those restrictions.

This A to Z challenge has had me banging on incessantly about the history of racism in the women’s rights movement, to the point that I feel like a broken record. Noted suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton used anti-Black sentiments to stir up support for their movement, which was ultimately effective (see: 19th Amendment).

We cannot change the past, much as we wish otherwise. I owe the vote I cast today, as well as the past twelve years, to Stanton and Anthony and Shaw and other white women who excluded Black and other non-white women from their fight for equality. If we ignore the scapegoating of women of color, which enforced their struggle, and turned white women into oppressors instead of allies, we are doomed to repeat that history.

We cannot allow ourselves to win victories in feminism on the backs of another’s oppression. Otherwise, we are worse than the patriarchy.

Suggested Reading: Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter, Southern Horrors by Ida B. Wells-Barnett

U is for Understanding

The greater a force in the public consciousness feminism becomes, the greater the cultural backlash. Some of the backlash is valid: the tendency of the modern movement (and the first and second waves that predated it) to prioritize the needs of white, cis, straight, middle and upper class women has been well documented. Other forms of criticism are leveled at outspoken displays of misandry coded as feminism.

Misandrists are a vocal, annoying, idiotic fringe movement who use men and masculinity as fodder for female empowerment. They are often, but not always, TERFs, and they call themselves feminists the way members of the Westboro Baptist Church call themselves Christians. And similarly, it’s unfair and misguided to judge the whole movement by the sins of the fringe.

There are those who purport to oppose feminism but have had feminism defined for them by the malicious, the self-serving, and the plain ignorant. Feminism is not a push for female superiority. It is not about granting women power at the expense of more marginalized groups. It is a movement rooted in equality. A movement that has twisted and folded to accommodate new realities while learning from its growing pains. A movement that has the right to speak for itself.

There are too many ways to be a feminist than can be written about in a simple blog post. Feminism is both academic and active, and cannot be summarized any more elegantly than this: We strive for an egalitarian society where equality of both justice and opportunity is recognized along lines of race, sex, class, ability, sexuality, gender identity, et al.

There is great diversity in the realm of feminist thought, great sources of debate and discussion, but the ultimate goal is hard to oppose.

Suggested Reading: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano

T is for Toxic Masculinity

Patriarchy marginalizes everyone who doesn’t fit into the straight, white, cis male paradigm, so seemingly anyone who fits neatly into that category should be thriving, and they should be opposed to feminism because it seeks to take away the system that allows them to flourish.

Insidiously, patriarchy is detrimental to the very people that are supposed to benefit from it. In relegating women to second-class citizens, patriarchy also demonized the behaviors associated with femininity: nurturing children, expressing emotions, even certain professions and vocations like art, cooking, and nursing.

Men are taught from boyhood that anger is the only emotion that’s acceptable to express, that problems are solved with fists, that their identity as men is contingent on their behaviors, and that anything thought of as feminine is to be cut away and scorned.

Men are treated like animals, exculpated when they rape: “he couldn’t help himself”, indulged when they are violent and cruel: “boys will be boys”, and castigated when they are soft, thoughtful, and kind: “faggot”, “sissy”, “pussy”.

Patriarchy puts men at the top of the pyramid, but at the cost of their basic emotional needs and ability to empathize. Every time a man shows his vulnerability, nurturing, and appreciation for beauty, he triumphs over a system that seeks to box him in and make him less than.

There is nothing inherently wrong with what we see as masculinity: strength, leadership, firmness, tenacity, these are all admirable and goal-worthy traits, but they are not exclusive to men the same way feminine things are not exclusive to women: masculine and feminine are false dichotomies that help us codify humans and assign values to them–perpetuating the system.

Feminism is a movement pushing for the social, political, and economic equality of women. It advocates for the marginalized groups for society, and men are taught that feminism is not for them. But feminism advocates that men are more than what they’ve been told they are.

Suggested Reading: The Will to Change by bell hooks, The Guys Guide to Feminism by Michael Kimmel and Michael Kaufman

S is for Sex Workers

My last job was one of the most degrading I’ve ever held. My coworkers and I were responsible for all the non-medical needs of our patients, but often had minimum staff when we were at maximum capacity. I frequently worked with the kids while I had a full bladder and an empty stomach, while wiping asses, dodging punches, being bitten and cursed at while trying to teach social skills and fine motor concepts, for 8 to 16 hours at a time, frequently without a break, and all for the big bucks that evened out to less than $15/hour. Anyone who has ever had a job like that can agree it’s inherently degrading.

We have a high respect, and deservedly so, for healthcare workers. But when we talk about sex workers, we take up the mantle of the angry, disgruntled patients. We criminalize their livelihood, invalidate their existence, and heap verbal vitriol and physical violence on them with impunity.

It’s hard to say why we have such scorn for the practitioners of the world’s oldest profession–we damn sure want what they’re selling. Regardless if it’s stripping, prostitution, or porn, we want our flesh peddled to our exact tastes, but relegate the ones who fulfill that need to the bottom rung of society, and give the most violent in society implicit permission to victimize them. Prostitutes can’t report crimes without implicating themselves in the process, and even if they muster the fortitude to do so, they aren’t given the same level of aid.

We make so many assumptions about people who use sex as a transaction, puzzle about what might have happened to them to drive them to such a profession, despite the fact that two of the things any of us want or need at any given time are sex and money. There are damaged sex workers, to be sure, but there are damaged kindergarten teachers, lawyers, janitors, and psychiatrists too.

Our disdain for sex workers is seemingly self-loathing–we want sex, but hate ourselves for wanting it, so we push that disgust onto the people offering us what we’re seeking. It’s a hallmark of our puritanical heritage.

This same disgust blinds us to the fact that sex workers are a diverse group, all of whom are worthy of respect. It keeps us from allying ourselves with them in the same fashion we do any other marginalized group. It allows those who would harm them to remain in a position of power over their intended victims. And worst of all, our refusal to be compassionate and pragmatic towards sex work prevents us from sussing out those who choose their profession from those who are trafficked into it–we lump everyone together and treat them all like criminals.

Overwhelmingly, sex workers are women, which makes it easy for us to assign a Madonna/whore classification and disregard either side. Women (and men) who are simply pursuing a trade deserve all the same protections that any other worker does, including protection from coercion. Protection we cannot offer when we treat them like a plague instead of people.

See The Sex Workers’ Project for suggestions on how to ally and advocate for sex workers and human trafficking victims.

Suggested Reading: A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown, Sex Work: The Story of a Life by Frédérique Delacoste, Whores and Other Feminists by Jill Nagle

R is for Reverse Racism

To those wondering: There is a WET that runs counterpart to BET. It runs on multiple channels included in both basic and premium cable/satellite packages. It can be found on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, and Showtime, among others.

There is a Men’s History Month, it’s January of every year. Also, April through December. Coincidentally, these are also White History Month.

Finally, anytime you see a heterosexual couple holding hands, kissing, flirting, etc. in public, you are witnessing a Straight Pride Event.

No suggested reading for this post, as any above point can be made through one of the books I’ve listed in A through Q.

Q is for Queer

The LGBT community has fought for equality in modern America since the days of the Stonewall riots in New York (a movement sparked by transgender women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson), but just like the intersection of privilege in mainstream culture, the movement and community suffer from emphasis on the issues of some groups more than others, to the point that it seems more like the LGBt community, to say nothing of the other gender identities and sexualities the community supposedly represents, since in reality it’s supposed to be the LGBTQIA+ community. A small breakdown of terms:

L: lesbian

G: gay men

B: bisexual (attracted to both male and female genders)

T: transgender (a woman assigned male at birth, or a man assigned female at birth)

Q: queer, an umbrella term for anyone in the community to adopt, or questioning

I: intersex, a person born with the biological characteristics common to both males and females. Note: no one has full reproductive male and female parts, and there are many ways to be intersex. Also, intersex people, like everyone else, have the right to determine their own gender.

A: asexual, people who don’t experience sexual attraction, and/or aromantic, people who do not experience romantic attraction

+: pansexual (attracted to people across the full gender spectrum), non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, and agender: people who don’t identify as male or female, or as both male and female, or have a fluid gender identity, demisexual: people who only experience sexual attraction when they have an emotional bond

This list, while exhaustive, is by no means comprehensive, but it does shed some light onto communities that are frequently ignored when we discuss the advancement of civil rights for all the non-straight, non-cisgender people who brighten our world and make us so beautifully diverse. One of the issues that I’ve seen get more attention is the infant genital mutilation of intersex babies, where doctors perform unnecessary surgical procedures to make intersex children “girls” and “boys”, even though infants by definition cannot give consent, even though the procedures can be dangerous with cosmetic results at best, and even though it’s barbaric to assume  a) that genitals determine gender, and b) that determination of either gender or genitals is anything but a decision to be made by an individual.

This is but one of many issues facing the queer community, and while marriage equality was a huge win, there are other problems facing these people that have gone ignored and unnoticed for far too long, simply because there’s less coverage. Mainstream media chooses to highlight the “others” that “pass” more easily–Neil Patrick Harris and his husband are the go to couple when a mainstream publication wants to highlight a same-sex family, neck and neck with Ellen and Portia, and on Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show, she surrounds herself with equally conventionally beautiful trans women, while their siblings in arms remain on the fringe.

Inclusion means exactly that, that everyone is part of the conversation, not just the white, the rich, and the pretty. Like with most else, those of us with privilege need to be more mindful of when to put down the mic, take a step back, and listen.

Suggested reading: Gender Outlaws by Kate Bornstein, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Annabel by Kathleen Winter 

P is for Pink

There is a great misconception surrounding the idea of a feminist as someone who values traditionally masculine roles, so long as they are assumed by women. It’s more “feminist” to have women in media depicted as doctors, lawyers, CEOs, and other high achievers. Women who are shown as teachers, nurses, maids, and housewives are presumed to be stereotyped and swallowed up in traditional values.

Women are considered airheaded if they have an interest in beauty, fashion, celebrity, jewelry, etc. “Feminist” women read novels and the the New York Times, stupid women read romance novels and Cosmopolitan. It’s a false dichotomy–there are many women who read both, and even women who fall into the latter category can’t be defined as intellectually wanting just because of  their reading material.

There’s a lot in feminism that dictates we can’t judge women for not being attractive to men, that we deal too much with body shaming, dysmorphia, and impossible standards in the media. All of that is true, but that doesn’t mean women who are traditionally feminine in appearance or deed are somehow less feminist by definition.

Men who identify as feminist often get praised for being comfortable with their feminine side when they take up the role of stay at home father, or express interest in Chanel’s spring line. Where are the accolades for women who are similarly comfortable in their feminine side? We have been brought up to believe that success (often measured by education and money) comes at the cost of femininity–our ambition cannot be marred by our emotions, high voices, girly clothes, or “frivolous” interests.

There are many women who don’t feel a keen kinship with the pink and frilly, and to them I say, do you. Enjoy being the person that you are. But the same should be said to women who wear Clinique and listen to Taylor Swift. Feminine is not anti-feminist, and we cannot afford to shun “girly” things in the fight for equal rights.

Suggested Reading: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney, You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent