holidays are all the same.


This really resonates with me.

As I've noted before vis-à-vis thin privilege, it's easier in many ways to be an ally than to act as an advocate for oneself. In particular, being an ally means having the privilege of opting out, of keeping a safe distance from the subject at hand. I can't explain how deeply exhausted I feel navigating the casual misogyny of everyday life as a woman. I often feel I am navigating it alone, too, thanks to the fact that women are socialized to hate themselves and each other, to compete against one another instead of working together. Establishing a supportive community is hard fucking work, and we are generally stretched too thin as it is.

There are so many things I want to talk about, but it is all so fucking complicated when abstract theory collides with your own private life. Particularly so when your inner life is the only thing you own. For me, integral to the experience of being female is the sense that I don't have meaningful ownership of my body. I know I'm not alone in this. Our bodies are subject to the whims of others. They are legislated and appraised and used against us and used against other women and generally disconnected from our humanness. I don't feel like I live in my body, and my relationship to it could only be described as 'combative.' I don't recall every feeling any other way. Behind everything I do there is a sense of permanent displacement.

The result is that I often fall short of being an 'ideal' activist. It isn't that I'm not angry, really; it's more that I don't always have the resources to constructively use that anger, because I'm often angry about things that affect me in a deeply personal and inescapable way. They're not abstractions to me. If any woman has ever struck you as being reactionary or unreasonably defensive when discussing feminist issues, reflect on this, please. If you had no choice but to think about these things every waking moment of every day, perhaps you'd be equally defensive.


search for what's not lost

Continuing the trend of writing when upset. Ha.

I've lost some weight recently. It sucks, to be perfectly blunt. I'm trying to learn how to deal with depression and anxiety without slipping back into old toxic patterns, but I'm a work in progress. Right now, progress is slow. And I guess it's becoming sort of obvious.

I work a desk job, so I am no stranger to weird office culture as it intersects with food and body issues. I doubt I need to elaborate, right? Diets and weight change and food morality are constant topics of conversation. Women bond over body hatred, as we're socialized to do. It's a nightmare for anyone who has ever had an eating disorder (it's a nightmare anyway, I would imagine, but I can only speak to my own experience).

Today has been especially rough. A former coworker came in for a visit and made a few weird comments to me, ending by jovially asking me if I quit eating, wink wink nudge nudge. I wish I could say I rebuffed her in a calm but firm fashion, but I didn't. I froze up. I shut down. I'm still thinking about the million things I could have said, but didn't.

A few minutes ago, three coworkers sitting near me started to talk about how thin I am, and what must I be eating, and aren't I so LUCKY. Even after explaining that I owe this weight loss to depression and anxiety, and that being thin does not make me happy, they continues with a barrage of back-handed "compliments" and judgments ("That's true, you never seem upset when you get really heavy!!" hey cool that's not a mindfuck. Thanks.) One woman actually said, "Trade places with me, I'd LOVE to be skinny and depressed!"

I'd love to be skinny and depressed. Marinate on that for a second.

I have to stress that this is not unusual. These conversations take place all the time. It's just that much more difficult to deal with them at your place of employment. I tend to get defensive, and my default retort is something along the eloquent lines of "Fuck off!" Which is obviously not an appropriate response in this context.

So I freeze up. I shut down.

It's SO tricky, and it evokes in me such a complex and overwhelming internal response. I feel weird and embarrassed about the fact that I didn't come up with an effective way of shutting down that toxic conversation. I feel scrutinized and exposed, because this intensely personal, private struggle of mine manifests itself in a highly visible, public way. I feel betrayed by my own perceptions, because I really can't tell what I look like; though I know logically that I have lost a significant amount of weight, that isn't what I see when I look at myself in the mirror. Hearing other people assess my body like this is startling. Perhaps worst of all, I feel really frustrated and angry that so many women have internalized the belief that their health is worth less than conforming to an arbitrary impossible standard. I'll get better, my weight will stabilize, and I'll be ok, and I'll...still be living with the knowledge that people thought I was lucky that my mental health issues were once severe enough to impact my physical health.

That is fucking gutting.

And we get to live with it every fucking day.

I don't think I have an insightful spin to put on this one.


full of your regrets

The difficult and painful truth is that the body and the brain aren't separate. I like to pretend as though there is a divide. Things are neat, like a TV dinner. Your peas don't have to touch your mashed potatoes, ever.

I think this illusion is very comfortable for a person whose borders are daily invaded, or who has suffered an occupation of her internal landscape. If brain and body are separate, there is always something to keep safe for yourself in every interaction. Which means that in every interaction, you must believe that people are out to overwhelm and conquer you. Me. I should say me. This is my illusion.

The difficult and painful truth is that boundaries have to be established without relying on a stark, polarized interpretation of reality. Grey area is terrifying, but it is also real. It makes for hard work. Navigating it involves risk and vulnerability and, inevitably, fucking up. A willingness to be brave and whole, and to believe that there might be other brave and whole people out there, too.


what it's like feeling occupied

Obama sez:

“I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage,” he said. “But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents. And I care about them deeply. And so while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about. That’s probably the best you’ll do out of me today.


so I guess, if you're a queer who cares about getting married, it actually DOESN'T get better! Imagine. Thanks a lot for your thoughts, you fucking asshole.


slightly cheaper rate

Hey guys, It Gets Better. Totally. Every young queer person is gonna rise above and have a fancy job and a stable income and a family that loves and accepts them, because no one in the adult world is bigoted or violent or ignorant and queers definitely don't face routine discrimination, a stunning paucity of cultural representation, limited access to resources, or the burden of living with damaging effects of growing up as a target of hatred, which often includes a heaping dose of self-hatred. It Gets Better. We're all gonna be rich white guys who escape to France on ski trips when we simply can't stand the pressure of glamorous life in the Castro for one more moment. It's especially true now that Obama said so! I mean, he'd know, right?!!?!


typical girls

Even though this blog has a readership of only ten people or so, writing in it is still really stressful. Part of it is that I'm admittedly very, very self-conscious about my lack of formal education, and I think women especially are constantly told that their own thoughts, feelings and ideas are Not Important. Or at least, Not Important Enough to stand on their own. It's hard to fight against that, and to make myself believe that I actually am articulate enough to talk about the things I experience and place them in a larger context. I'm always afraid that I'm simply stating the extremely obvious, and that that has no real value. I'm always sure that someone else has already said it, and said it better than I can. As a result, I lapse into silence.

I'd like for us ALL to believe that talking about these issues is never a problem. We can't talk too much; we can't talk ENOUGH. There is no statement too obvious and no idea so simple that it isn't novel for SOMEONE out there.Or maybe it just needs to be said by us, FOR ourselves.

So I'm just going to write. I am just going to say what I think and feel and believe that it is good enough, and that I am an authority on my own experience. It's sad to me that this is such a radical act. So many women internalize the notion that they haven't the right to speak authoritatively. We are all supposed to believe that someone else, maybe someone smarter or more experienced, more educated, can say it better than we can. HAS said it better than we can, surely. We are always so fucking careful to qualify our voices. 'But that's just what I think.' 'But I don't think I'm expressing this the way I want to.' 'I might be wrong.' God help us if anyone ever thinks we are wrong. I want to know why. Maybe it's because we understand what it feels like to be annihilated, and so we take extra pains not to crush anyone else with our words. Maybe it's because being socialized as female in our misogynistic culture means never, ever, ever, EVER being good enough, no matter what. Maybe it's because, when we raise our voices and demand some fucking space, we're suddenly no fun. Negated, just like that. It happens so fast. Maybe it's because we know how much it fucking hurts to realize that people you care about are more invested in having a good time than in addressing the things that are killing you slowly every single day. Maybe it's all of that, and more. Or maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm not articulating this as well as I'd like...


Listen. Please, TALK. Please, demand space. I will if you do, and each of us will make the other person's existence feel a little less lonely. 'Cause aren't we all terribly, terribly lonely? I am. I feel myself getting more and more radical as my peers are, for the most part, growing less and less so. We get older and we're supposed to have more of a stake in maintaining the status quo. But I don't, and I WON'T. And I feel fucking alien. Alienated and alienating. I'm shutting my mouth, and maybe you're shutting your mouth, too, and maybe we're sitting side by side without a damned clue that we're on the same side.

Please, give yourself permission to get upset. I don't know about you, but I'm very fucking tired of forcing myself to shut down my emotions when I get upset. Like right now, I am upset. I don't let myself write or talk to people when I'm upset, usually, and I've been thinking about why that is. It's not that I'm afraid I'll say or do something I don't mean. It's just that when you're a woman, getting emotional is one of the ultimate sins you can commit. It makes you feel like JUST a girl. Just a girl. Just a creature who can't be logical, whose emotions are something to be embarrassed by because they run so deep. They get in the way, we are made to think, of logic and reason. But it isn't true. They don't. And I am tired of trying so fucking hard not to feel anything. I am tired of retreating from the thing that makes me feel most human and vulnerable. I'm tired of the burden of macho pressure; the burden of proving I can be more than JUST a girl. Sometimes I think macho pressure is harder to deal with as a woman than it would be if I were a man. I am expected to do the impossible- to transcend my sex. I can't and I won't and I don't want to. I don't.

I don't want to believe that I don't matter because I'm a woman, or because I am radical, or because I am queer, or because I sort of kind of fit into any number of tiny, inaccurate boxes. The energy I expend shutting my mouth for the sake of keeping the boat on an even keel is fucking wasted. Every fucking day I bite back so much. Don't you? Every day these small barbs get under my skin. That fucked up thing your friend said that I heard. That fucked up thing my boss did that I had to witness. That fucked up person who invaded my space or your space or anyone's space and this fucked up culture that encouraged and allowed it to happen and all those people who looked the other way. The things I never, ever, ever talk about because they're too awful. I'm swallowing them every day, and every night I lay awake forever thinking about them. I can't sleep for all the times I've bitten my tongue.

And even while I'm writing this I'm thinking, do I sound unhinged? Is this too emotional? Should I do what I usually do? I write so much. So fucking much. I write until I can't anymore, and then I go back and read everything through the cold, critical lens of every possible detractor, and I whittle away. I pare down every thing that might possibly be stupid or obvious or too revealing, until there is nothing. Until I believe I have nothing worthwhile to say. Someone else has said it better. But you know, it must still need to be said, I think. Because I still can't sleep at night.


so be dear to your friends

Ok, I only have a few minutes, so- extremely quick hit:

I want to talk about something that I notice happening a lot when discussing street harassment with men.

Whenever I try to have these conversations, there is a tendency on the part of men to dismiss it as an incident reflective only of the personal idiocy or lack of couth of the specific harasser in question. In contrast, most of the women I talk to who have routine experience with street harassment seem to have an intrinsic understanding of the fact that it is a systematic problem.

So this is what I would like men to understand: it isn't just about individuals. I understand that this is an uncomfortable concept. Acknowledging that our culture is misogynistic and that cultural attitudes toward women allow for and encourage things like street harassment makes street harassment every man's problem. It isn't just about that one jerk who said that one mean or fucked up thing. At the root, it's about the power and privilege that, setting aside all other factors, all men have vis-à-vis all women. Things like street harassment are expressions of that power. And it takes consistent work to examine one's own actions and beliefs honestly and to work against the internalization of those damaging cultural messages. I would like for all people in positions of privilege to commit to that work, rather than scrambling to point out the ways that THOSE privileged people are the bad guys but I'M different!!! No. It's work we ALL have to do, and it requires us to check our defensiveness and be open to the possibility that we need to come correct.


if you think the world is a machine with one cog

Hey, here's something I can't believe I have to talk about in 2010*.

I'm really, really, really tired of straight people ignorantly joking about wishing they could be gay- ie 'Men suck, I wish I was a lesbian', sexual comments aimed at women by women who'd never actually have sex with a woman, and the like.

I'm just going to go ahead and repost something I wrote elsewhere in response to a comment like the above: being a queer woman is cool until you have to deal with realities like bigotry, hatred, tokenization, harassment, cultural invisibility, a lack of civil rights, not being able to display affection in public, being treated like a joke, having your sexuality appropriated by straight men while simultaneously being told that your sexuality must be a last resort born of your inability to land a man, not having a cohesive community, discrimination in every arena, and little things like straight people telling you that you have it easy and joking about wishing they could be gay.

One thing I declined to mention in that laundry list is dealing with internalized homophobia and misogyny, which is something I've felt really uncomfortable discussing in general. I've been struggling a lot with the pressure to live up to Model Minority Standards. Being a Model Minority means not complaining about your oppression or pointing out other people's privilege when it would make them uncomfortable. It means letting your concerns take a back seat until it is convenient for everyone else, and then being grateful and gracious when you are permitted a chance to speak out. It means being convenient, period. It means being invisible. If you dare to grumble, you're just bitter, and you're too angry and too sensitive, and you won't have earned the right to be heard. If you dare to like yourself too much, you're self-absorbed or myopic; if you dare to not like yourself enough or have quarrels with members of your community, you're a sellout, or you're someone to be pitied and there's something wrong with you.

These pressures are partly why I haven't been writing here as much as I'd like to. I have to contend with each of them every time I speak. It's a lot of effort to expend, especially considering that what I have to say tends not to be terribly crowd-pleasing.

*just kidding, of course I can believe it


will you hold my hand will you hold my hand

I've been going to the gym on a semi-regular basis. It's hard to articulate how weird and complicated this is for me. I look forward to it every day that I go; while I'm there I don't think anything at all about the way my body looks or the way anybody else's body looks. I just go, enjoy the feeling of my limbs moving and stretching, and stop when I'm not having fun anymore. I don't compete with the guy on the treadmill next to me, I don't try to go further and faster than last time, and I don't pride myself on being able to go until my body gives out. I don't pride myself on remaining unsympathetic to my own biological needs and limitations.

In a way, I'm still faking it till I make it, because I still feel every one of those old impulses skimming beneath the surface of all of this progress. It is so hard. And I like to act like it's easy, but I've been thinking that I'm doing myself and every other woman a disservice by hiding the work, just like I did myself and every other woman a disservice by hiding the fact that I had an eating disorder when people used to ask me how I stayed so thin. All of that hiding and pretending is so damaging. It perpetuates the notion that these impossible feats can be accomplished through ordinary means; if I can do it, anyone can! We are all on an even playing field, bootstraps, etc.

So, here's this: I had an eating disorder for ten years. I've been solidly recovered for about five years, give or take. And it's still very, very hard.

It's hard to recover a sense of being connected to your body, of living inside your body and thinking of it as part of yourself, when you've been trained all your life to sever that connection. (Caveat- I've been diagnosed with bulimia and anorexia, but I've never dealt with binge eating, so I can't speak to that experience. It's impossible to ever speak for all of us. That's actually something I want to talk more about at a later time.) To take a lot of pride in subsisting on very little and working so very hard and tolerating so much discomfort and pain and pushing through that. You have to learn to ignore the things your body tells you. You have to be able to look at yourself and convince yourself that what you see isn't real. That everyone else's judgment is right and yours is so wrong it will never matter.

I think many girls aren't taught to DO THINGS with their bodies when they are growing up. We don't have a utilitarian appreciation of what our bodies are capable of. We don't learn to be proud of what they can do; we learn to be proud of how they can look. Which, of course, is a game no one can ever win. The bar will always be raised or shifted; the closer a person is to attaining that ideal look, the more we are encouraged to scrutinize them and rip them apart (celebrities without makeup! beach cellulite!! 'oh she's so perfect, I HATE HER,' etc.); and even if someone does somehow manage to be today's perfect beauty queen, tomorrow she'll be too old to be fuckable, and will therefore be worthless.

We really can't win this game. We're not meant to. But I want to discourage people from blaming women who try really hard to win it anyway. Think about that course of action critically, perhaps, but do so with this in mind: it is EXTREMELY hard to opt out. I have tons of advantages- I'm small and hourglassy (which is how we define a "feminine" figure, apparently), white, have Anglo features, etc., AND have supportive feminist friends and a supportive feminist therapist, and it is STILL really, really hard for me to try to opt out. I can only imagine how difficult it is for women who don't have all of those advantages. And when you're powerless, sometimes you're willing to settle for the scraps of imagined power that you're offered because at the end of the day you are still just trying to survive. So please, don't place all of the blame on the scabs, so to speak (especially if you are a man, in which case you really can't understand what this experience is like). Blame the system that pits us all against each other and never even allows for a real victor among us.

I'm trying my best to not play the game. Part of rejecting that cultural script, for me, has been forging a real connection with my body. Figuring out that language, which I purposefully erased from memory so long ago. Learning to enjoy being in it and using it to whatever extent I am able. I'm the one who lives inside of it, so I'm the one whose approval of it is most important- no more holding myself to a set of impossible standards to which I don't hold anyone else on earth.

It's a process. Some circumstances make it easier than others. At times, passing feels like a matter of survival. But instead of turning on one another for not living up to whatever standard we idealize, I think one of the best things we can do is talk to each other and stop hiding how fucking hard it is from each other.

*I think this probably goes without saying, but I'm not trying to imply that this is all about preening for the male gaze; but I do think that many of these pressures are sold to us using the idea that if we don't accept these standards for ourselves, we won't appeal to men/find partners


laser beams and gamma projectors

Wow, this blog title certainly became a self-fulfilling prophecy, huh? I'm trying to write more frequently. I'm overcoming a crippling case of perfectionism, which is...something I want to talk more about later. But something's come up and I'm just going to lay it out here without worrying about getting it perfect; staying silent until you have things JUST RIGHT is utterly ineffective, so I'm trying to knock it off. Anyway!

I recently gave a speech to persuade for a communications class I'm taking. I chose to argue against the conflation of thinness and fitness and debunk some myths about the "obesity crisis." I was really nervous, especially because nearly all of the students who spoke before me included some fairly intense yet utterly casual fat hatred. In the end, though, my speech was very well-received. This is in part because I am a practiced and effective public speaker; but it is also due in no small amount to the privilege I have as a thin person. And I want to talk about that.

Think of it this way: when you're privileged, you're granted a certain amount of authority and credibility that you haven't had to earn. You also have the benefit of emotional distance from a particular social stigma. Why NOT use those advantages to advance social justice? As a thin person, I have an advantage when talking to other thin people, or to people who are bigoted against fat people, because it appears I have no ulterior motives; no one is going to try to shut down my arguments or stop listening to me because they sense that I'm coming from a place of self-serving bias. Since I'm thin, they infer I have nothing to gain from speaking out against fat hatred.

It's important to note that I am emphatically NOT saying that what I have to say about how fat people are treated in this country is more valuable or insightful or meaningful or important than what an actual fat person has to say. In fact, of course, it's quite the opposite; I will likely never have first-hand information about what it's like to be fat. I certainly don't have that information now. I'm coming from a less-informed position than any fat person is and what I have to say reflects the gaps in my knowledge and experience. I think this is the part of social stigma that is most difficult for me to stomach sometimes; people who are oppressed and marginalized have very fucking important and valuable information about the experience of oppression and marginalization, but by virtue of being members of an oppressed class, their voices are considered less valuable, less informed, and less capable by those who could most benefit from actually listening to what they have to say.

In short: bigots are most effectively addressed by members of their in-groups. So if you are in the advantageous position of being part of that in-group, and care about social justice, I think it is your responsibility to do three things.

Seriously, please, shut up and listen. Don't be so eager to be an ally that you forget to actually be an ally. This isn't about you, so don't try to make it about you. Men- if you care about women and want to be a feminist ally, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen to women. White people- if you care about people of color and want to be an antiracist ally, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen to POC. Thin people, wealthy people, able-bodied people, straight people, cisgender people, etc: don't use activism as a convenient way for YOU to get up and be the center of attention and decide how these conversations should proceed, what constitutes progress, etc. That is taking advantage of your privilege in a way that harms the people you aim to work with. Don't speak FOR people; relay information on behalf of other people. There's a difference.

If you don't think knowledge gained from lived experience is as valuable as knowledge that comes from a book, a lecture, a class, or a person with a degree, then you need to check yourself. Period. There are many barriers to acquiring an academic understanding of social issues, especially for members of oppressed classes. Someone who hasn't been able to purchase a place at a university can tell you a hell of a lot of things about the impact of oppression on the lives of the oppressed, and that's information that you CAN'T buy your way into. So please don't presume that a person who lacks formal education has nothing insightful to say, or that such a person needs you to launch into a paternalistic explanation of how to articulate anything about their life. Please, stop it. It is so elitist and frankly embarrassing.

It's SO hard to do. It really is. It fucking sucks to feel like you have to risk alienating the well-intentioned, or even the not-so-well-intentioned, who say or do fucked up things. Confrontation is very uncomfortable. Etc. But the thing is, if someone says or does something hateful or ignorant in your presence, things are already pretty fucking uncomfortable. Right?
I'm the first to admit I'm not the best about this. There are plenty of times when I don't speak up. I ALWAYS regret it. Always. Especially so because I KNOW how frustrating it is when people who want to be my ally do so only behind closed doors. Frankly, I don't need any secret allies, and neither does anyone else.



Look, here is my thought on the Elena Kagan issue:

She doesn't publicly identify as a lesbian. OK? Let's drop it. Every time there is a swell of squawking speculation about the undisclosed (homo)sexuality of a public official, it makes me feel really weird. It heavily underscores the fact that queer people are still considered freakish anomalies with a monolithic agenda and no right to privacy.

This brings up something I've been wanting to talk about recently. Let me reiterate: queer people do not have a monolithic agenda or identity. I understand wanting some representation in the public sphere; I understand the desire for queer public officials to be out, proud, and fighting for queer rights/promoting queer visibility. But let's be real. It is very, very hard to shoulder the responsibility of being visibly, publicly queer; and there are many interpretations of what constitutes "queer rights".

I think for all of us, there is such pressure to be a model queer first and a human being second; and a model queer is:

- nonthreatening
- upstanding
- conventional
- exactly the same as a straight person with the sole exception of matching genitals in the bedroom
- haplessly queer (IE "I was just born this way")

I get it, you guys. I do. We've been painted as deviant, repugnant, abnormal, promiscuous, man-hating (lesbians) or Not Real Men (gay men), ineffectual, ugly, a threat to children, a threat to families, diseased, predatory. The sex we have is Not Real Sex (especially dykes; like, can it even be sex if a flesh dick isn't involved?! It's the sexual equivalent of veganism- "Wait, so what can you even EAT?!"). The relationships we have are Not Real Relationships. We are not complex beings; all we are is our queerness, and it is depraved.

So says dominant culture. And I see a lot of queer folks reacting to these assertions by living lives as Exemplary Queers. We Are Just Like You, they say. We Are No Different. We Were Just Born This Way, Just Like You Were Just Born Straight. They strive for upward mobility. They prove that queers can be conventionally attractive, too. That rather than seeking to tear them asunder, queers want nuclear families and children of their own, too. That their relationships are just like straight relationships.

In short, their goal is assimilation.

It is not my place to claim that this goal will not work for them. But it is not my goal, and it won't work for me. I don't choose to entertain the question of What Causes Queerness, and I think that relying on the "I was just born this way and can't help it!" trope too heavily does us a disservice, whether it is true or not. The 'cause' of my queerness should not have any impact on anyone else's willingness to treat me like a human being. I watched a video recently that a friend shared in which a queer girl stated that if she had a choice, she'd choose to be born straight. Now, I understand that what she probably meant was "I would choose to not have to live in a world in which I am hated for being who I am," but I thought it was very telling, and very sad. And I think more of us need to be willing to say that we wouldn't erase our queerness if given the chance. I may be hated for being queer, but I do not hate myself. I do not want to be folded into the straight world, enveloped, until my queerness disappears. It is not who I am entirely, but it is part of who I am, and I will not twist and compress it into something that is more palatable to those who hate queerness.

In short, I do not want to be erased.

I do not care about proving that queers can be conventional, too. I am more interested in critiquing convention. I am not interested in being a Designer Dyke. I am interested in questioning beauty standards (both straight beauty standards AND queer beauty standards, because they are factually different), not adopting them with a queer twist. I am interested in questioning consumption as identity, not in asking, begging, fighting to be acknowledged as a potential consumer. (I will come back to this one, because I would like to write an entry about a film I saw at the Davis Feminist Film Festival that dealt with this issue in a way that dissatisfied me.) I am more interested in extending legitimacy to various social units than in reaffirming the nuclear family headed by the married couple as the only legitimate one. (queer folks, we have been creating and choosing our own families since time immemorial. these bonds are unique. they are part of our culture. why are we so quick to abandon them when the marriage carrot is dangled in front of us?)

I am not exactly the same as a straight person in every respect except for my sexual orientation. That theory works about as well as colorblind or genderblind or any other -blind theory, for me. I think it is appealing because it is simple, and because queer folks are made to feel less than human so often; but life is complex and human beings are complex, and experience is a powerful force. My experience as a woman-born, woman-identified person living in a misogynist, patriarchal culture is different than that of a male-born, male-identified person. People of color experience white supremacy in a different way than white people. Saying that queer and straight people are fundamentally the same is a denial of our experience as an oppressed class of people. This is not a value judgment. This is an acknowledgment of difference.

I would like to see as much effort put into healing our community as we are putting into these causes that are, in my opinion, assimilationist. Assimilating is practical, more convenient than radical reform, and also just...the genuine desire of some people (though it is hard for me to accept this, because it isn't as though we are presented with much choice in the matter). But it should be an option, not a mandate. Not our only means of survival. Which is why I truly do believe that the mainstream queers upon whom I am a poor reflection NEED my radical ass. As much as I need them. We need each other. They need radical queers to keep fighting for the right to be recognized as legitimate human beings without denying our difference. We need them because they fight for the things that some of us do want- like marriage, which I will frankly never, ever fight for because I do not want it and I believe it is destructive. I have to acknowledge that not every queer person is radical and that my agenda can't be every one's agenda, no matter how right I think I am (and I really, really, REALLY DO think I am right. Really a lot. But, you know, so do they. We can and should keep having conversations about this issue, but we may just have to call an impasse an impasse at some point. I'm not gonna kick them out of the queer club for choosing something I wouldn't choose, and I do hope they will start treating me the same way.)

...you know, my main flaw as a writer is that I never have a snappy conclusion. I guess because I view all of these things as ongoing conversations that will never have a pat ending. I love a pat ending, but they rarely have a place outside of fiction. t...the end.


double dare ya

Something interesting happened to me on my way home from the gym last night.

I was dressed in typical, fairly unisex gym clothing (shorts and an undershirt). On the off chance that anyone who doesn't know me personally is reading this, I have a generally low-maintenance uh, look; my hair is extremely short (I cut it myself with a buzz cutter), I don't usually wear makeup, don't shave my legs, etc. Basically I choose to eschew all of that costly and time-consuming maintenance that we are meant associate with femininity.

As I walked home from the gym, I saw a young man draped over the door of a car, speaking to a woman inside. As I passed, he laughed, loudly and sarcastically catcalled me, and then said, "SHE LOOK LIKE A MAN!!" and continued laughing.

(Uh, just as a reminder: I look this way on purpose, and do not base my self-worth on my ability to appeal sexually to men, so this wasn't the devastating experience it might otherwise have been; my feelings weren't hurt or anything, so no need to be like "I'm so sorry that happened!!!" etc. I'm not sorry it happened at all! For reasons which I will try to make clear.)

My immediate reaction was to think, "My god. The blatant ways we try to police one another's gender expression and sexuality in order to reinforce our own."

Prior to him noticing me, I noticed him. His body language was overtly masculine; he was peacocking for the woman in the car, towering over her as she sat in the driver's seat, leaning into her space in a way that was simultaneously casual and meaningful.

So here he was, caught in this moment of extreme heterosexual posturing, and suddenly I came into view. His reaction was SO visceral that I have to believe I was read as a threat. Of course I was. I am a woman who is not playing by the established rules of femininity. This indicates two things:
1) I am possibly intentionally withholding sexual availability from men; at the very least, I am clearly not invested in this moment in garnering sexual attention from men, which is a violation of the heterosexual feminine mandate
2) I am encroaching upon his masculinity with my masculinity

That last one. Oof. Of course he reacted by derisively pointing out my transgressive gender presentation! Masculinity belongs to men! All else equal, relative to women, men are free; their freedom derives from their masculinity and their masculinity is an expression of their freedom. Regardless of how you feel about femme identity, I think we can all agree that presenting as ultrafeminine (as it is culturally defined) takes a fucking lot of TIME and MONEY and EFFORT. Women's shoes and clothing is EXPENSIVE. Makeup is EXPENSIVE and takes time to apply. Shaving your legs and armpits and whatever else you may shave takes a lot more time and costs a lot more money than not shaving. Women's haircuts are EXPENSIVE and women's hair tends to take longer to style than men's. etc, etc, etc.

As a woman who does none of these things, I get to hear a lot of women telling me why they could never do x or stop doing y. These justifications tend to center around not wanting to be perceived as masculine or as sexually unattractive to men (or censured by other women; "if I have to do this, YOU should have to do this, too"). Giving up these markers of femininity frees up time and money and effort, but the cost is great. We are daily reminded that as women, our value lies in the approval of men, since men have more social power than we do; and that we are valued most when we are most feminine. The best bauble. If we are willing to be decorative first, we will be highly prized by the average heterosexual man.

(I am deliberately generalizing here because this is a blog post, not a book; but books can and have and will be written about the many ways this scenario is impacted by class, race, age, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, etc. all worthwhile and important things to consider.)

Choosing not to be a bauble is threatening to men who are invested in maintaining the status quo. A woman who chooses not to be merely decorative and not to place value upon being objectified is a threat to those whose first-class status relies on her second-class status. And so we police one another. So a man derides a woman who presents as even slightly masculine, or who has not done enough work in his estimation for him to consider her a viable sexual option. So women tear one another down in an attempt to form an alliance with the men who occupy that coveted position of relative power and freedom.

And that is why working on this project was important to me.

We are policed by individuals as well as by cultural messages which are dispersed quite blatantly via advertisements. Advertisements convey and reinforce social law and allow others to profit from our acceptance that these are absolute truths rather than constructed meanings open to critique and even rejection. This is nothing short of tragic. These are not theoretical battles; the impact of these social edicts is tangible and inescapable. I am not infrequently told that I should lighten up, calm down, not think so hard or so much, relax, stop being so serious, etc, etc, etc. Truthfully, sometimes I would love to be able to afford the luxury of not thinking about these things perpetually. Every human being wants to rest now and then. But there is always some peacocking social enforcer lurking round the corner, all too willing to remind me that I can never forget, relax, let my guard down, think less.

And so.

(Side note-This marks the end of this blog as a service learning project, but I do think I will continue to discuss feminist issues here in the future.)


Vikings and Spartans and Naked Ladies, Oh My

I'm sure I don't even need to express my general feelings about Axe and its ad campaigns. This particularly egregious ad spot calls our attention to the Axe Undie Run Challenge, in which college students across America (but mostly conventionally attractive women) eagerly donate the clothes off their backs (literally) to charity.

Notable items:
- Far more semi-naked women than men in this advertisement. All women are, as mentioned, conventionally attractive; a good portion of the men featured are not conventionally attractive, and reveal far less skin than the women (clothed men are placed prominently next to unclothed or undressing women)
- Men are seen dressed up as Spartans, Vikings, and...Zorro. Women can't be costumed plunderers (or masked heroes), apparently.
- Dumbed-down voice-over. Because men are stupid.
- Obvious heterosexist slant. Because queer men don't exist.
- Use of the phrase "up in this bitch," which is a gendered slur used to dehumanize women.

You know it has to be pretty bad when it makes me long for an Old Spice commercial.


Manly Men: Lite Beer Edition

Miller Lite Ad

I think this ad is really interesting because it uses a woman as the voice of misogyny. The female bartender is scornful towards the beer-ordering male patron who doesn't appreciate REAL beer (which we're meant to believe is a masculine trait), telling him that when he's ready for a real beer he should "put down his purse" (ie rid himself of traditional signifiers of femininity) and order a Miller Lite. Presumably we're meant to be okay with this incredibly blatant anti-womanism because it is...coming from a woman. The message to both men and women is that women (and feminine men) have no appreciation for a good beer; in a bar setting, this translates to femininity being inherently shameful and embarrassing. (Though I should note that the female bartender does not have a masculine appearance; perhaps to make up for her aggressive persona, her appearance is hyper-feminine) This is another example of an advertisement based on the notion that Manly Men don't want any Girliness girling up their manstuff.


This one is from the UK; normally I try to choose advertisements from the United States, but in this case I think the cultural messages at play are relevant.

The advertisement takes us on a journey through a woman's life, from infancy through old age. Throughout most of the advertisement, she is placed in the context of a family- in fact, is the center of the family. As the commercial opens, we see her plucked from her crib by a women in stereotypically feminine clothing (whose face we do not see- we know her as a maternal entity, but nothing more) and set down to play. The child wears a frilly-sleeved pinkish top with flowers and butterflies on it (in other words, extremely gendered clothing). She crawls through a tunnel, and emerges at the other end, older and wearing a red and white gingham dress (also extremely gender-specific clothing). As she climbs up into her school desk, we catch a glimpse of her pencil container - pink. Many of the other children in her classroom are raising their hands; she is not. We are then taken to a birthday party given in her honor- she wears a red dress, blows out candles atop a pink and white cake. I have to say, this birthday party looks INCREDIBLY fancy- teapot, petit fours, all sorts of teeny, adult-looking snacks. This is no working-class affair, I assume. We then move to a scene in which young adults celebrate some occasion in what looks to be the hallway of a college dorm. She's not wearing a dress, but she IS kissing her boyfriend; our heroine is definitely straight. (props, I guess, for including SOME people of color at this point, though they are definitely background characters, even by background characters' standards).

Next, of course, we see our heroine getting married in a somewhat formal-looking ceremony (white dress for the bride, suit for the groom). The couple moves into a home (we see the woman opening the refrigerator and catch a bonus shot of her wedding band) and as she pulls back from the fridge, pizza slice in hand, we note that she is pregnant. There is a scene depicting two children and the woman and her husband together in the living room, and then we move to a scene with the woman in the kitchen yet again, talking on the phone and baking something with her daughter (the son is nowhere to be seen). As she gets older, we see her in the kitchen AGAIN, grabbing a pitcher of some sort of beverage to bring out to the family. At the end of the commercial, she is seen with her husband taking her grandchildren out to play.

Did she do anything with that college degree we assume she received (at least, that's what I figured the celebration in the dorm was about)? Who knows. All we really know is that her life followed an extremely well-worn path: school, love, marriage, THEN kids (heaven forbid kids come before marriage), then kids' kids. Her life is defined by her role in her family (which, for those of you who were paying attention, includes lots of time in the kitchen). We're supposed to feel like we have followed this woman on the journey of her life, but we really know almost nothing about her except that she is a wife, a mother, a grandmother.

And we all know how many products wives and mothers and grandmothers need to purchase to successfully care for those families, right? Hmm.


So, this is the Lane Bryant lingerie ad that ABC and Fox allegedly refused to air. Apparently, ABC and FOX have nothing against large women being portrayed as sexy; it's just that they HATE ladies running around in skimpy outfits. Their viewers deserve better than such tastelessness.

I mean, You'd never catch anyone running around in negligible clothing on ABC's Desperate Housewives.

or The Bachelor.

Or Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.

I could go on, but you guys deserve better than such tastelessness, right?


The Bechdel Test

This is one you may have seen making the rounds on feminist blogs of late: Feminist Frequency's video about the Bechdel Test. I've been advertisement-focused on this blog thus far, but the lack of substantial female representation in entertainment media is definitely something that bears scrutiny. The Bechdel Test was created by Alison Bechdel, who wrote and illustrated Dykes To Watch Out For and Fun Home. A movie or television show passes the Bechdel Test if it

1: Contains two or more women who have names
2: These woman talk to each other
3: These women talk to each other about something other than a man

Doesn't sound too rigorous, does it? You may be surprised by just how many movies and television shows are not able to pass this test. This lack of representation is a huge problem! It renders invisible women in general, specifically women with interests other than men (like, for example, non-heterosexual women! And let me tell you- as a queer woman, not having any real representation in the media definitely DOES have an impact on me, and I definitely DO feel invisible much of the time). Throw race into the mix, as The Angry Black Woman has in her blog post here, and the dearth of representation becomes even more marked.

Food for thought.


Violence as Glamor

Youtube video

A stunning collection of advertisements which use violence against women as a selling tool, glamorizing misogyny. (Note: I am not the creator of this video; I just stumbled upon it while looking for an advertisement to analyze this week.)


Smell Like A Man, Man

Ahhh, Old Spice Body Wash. Old Spice appears to be making a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the ridiculous, over-the-top portrait of masculinity portrayed in many advertisements for male grooming products. (Am I giving them too much credit here? I hope not.) Parody or not, I think it's worthwhile to take a look at what we're being told about masculinity.

Ad number one: Guy with a remarkably hairy chest (because body hair is apparently a signifier of Masculinity with a capital M, rather than something that grows naturally on the bodies of humans across the spectrum of sex) unflinchingly rips off some of said chest hair to reveal a message: "SMELL LIKE A MAN, MAN." The brains of manly men appear to be too overwhelmed by testosterone surges to care about elegant prose.

Ad number two: A decidedly feminine tableau containing a stuffed teddy bear ballerina-princess hybrid, some pink flowers, pink and red rose petals, and a pink cupcake is destroyed by the single punch of a MANLY MAN. Manly Men HATE pink! Pink things and flowery things and even stuffed teddy bears are the antithesis of masculinity, apparently. (Note the not-so-sly heterosexual subtext; masculinity punching a hole in and ramming through femininity.)

In conclusion, men, if you don't use Old Spice Body Wash you might end up smelling like something other than a man, and you can't be a manly man if you don't smell like a man, man. Man!



Let's talk about Mootopia, shall we?

California Milk Advisory Board - Mootopia / Gorgeous Hair- (2010) :30

In Mootopia, conventionally attractive women lounge near a pool of cow's milk, drinking said milk through straws and getting into spats because their shiny hair is just so shiny. This is, apparently, "part of another perfect day in Mootopia."

Mootopia is:
- 100% white
- 100% cisgendered
- 100% female

Problems: Beauty in Mootopia is white (even the dresses are white!). Women in Mootopia drink milk not for their health, but for its beauty-enhancing qualities, specifically its ability to promote lustrous hair- hair which is relatively straight- definitely not remotely kinky. Are these women friends? Their only interaction is a looks-based squabble, so I'd say no.

Overall, I'd say this advertisement reiterates cultural "common sense" when it comes to issues of gender: women are looks-obsessed, decorative (both women remain prone through the entire advertisement), and competitive with one another. With messages like these, it's no wonder sisterhood is tough.


Target Advertisement: Dating for Consumers

Target Advertisement

This Target ad depicts a heterosexual couple on a date. (Of course. According to the advertising world, queer people don't date. Or purchase things. Or go places. Possibly we don't even exist [even conventionally attractive women engaging in vaguely sexual contact with one another are played for straight- there's always a dude wearing Manly Body Spray or Deodorant or drinking Manly Beer involved.] But I digress.)

So, John and Jane are on a date. John purchases Jane a fancy-looking necklace and Jane says she didn't think they were "there yet," after which John clarifies that he didn't actually spend THAT much, and everything is okay. And by "okay" I mean incredibly awkward.

Women apparently need to be cajoled into serious relationship territory with men (which I assume we are meant to believe is sex, in this context) with very fancy, costly gifts. Dating as a capitalist venture! This is really brought home by the awkwardness that ensues for both parties after John admits he has not spent that much on the necklace. Frankly, I don't think this paints a very sympathetic portrait of men or women.


Haiti Relief Advertisement: Women and Children First

Haiti Relief Advertisement

In this thirty-second advertisement for a Haitii Relief fund, nearly all of the victims we see are women and children. All of the people who appear to be rescuers are young men.

I tried to go through the ad frame by frame to get an accurate count of the people portrayed. We see:

A man lifting an injured child
An injured child
Two men lifting an injured elderly man
An injured child
A man carrying a baby
A woman clasping an injured child
An injured child
An injured woman and injured child
A crying woman

Plenty of men were impacted by the Haiti disaster, but you'd never know it to look at this advertisement; the only male victim we see is elderly. This overrepresentation of women and children in roles of victimhood is nothing new (see this article for an in-depth analysis of this phenomenon); the second-class status of women and children is routinely exploited for effect in advertisements aimed at garnering sympathy. This ad is well-intentioned, but linking femininity with victimhood is damaging to both men and women.



Welcome to Nearly Bare Junkyard. This blog is a service learning project I am working on for a class I am currently taking (Social Problems). Herein I plan to cull images from advertising/the media and examine the messages they contain regarding gender. For the curious, the title of this blog comes from a line from Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin: "The person with imagination is pushed forward by it into a world of possibility and risk, a distinct world of meaning and choice; not into a nearly bare junkyard of symbols manipulated to evoke rote responses." I think the nearly bare junkyard of symbols which comprises popular culture can be harmful to all people, in that it offers no representation of the true spectrum of human diversity. Social constructs like gender and race appear to be genetic edicts under its influence. I aim to view these messages with a critical eye, and encourage others to do the same.