But Why-y-y-y??

I’m writing this post in mid-October. It’s more suited to late January or early February, for reasons that will become plain. I may hold off and publish it then. More likely, I’ll write it and publish it immediately. That’s my usual MO: I get an idea, spit it out, and release it into the world. Actually, I’m not so sure any of us will be here come February, and I want to go on record with this moment of clarity over a question I’ve wrestled with a long time.

When my husband was still teaching (a career he yet hopes to return to some day), he would sometimes tell his teenage male students, “There are three dates you have to remember when you’re in a relationship: Your girlfriend’s birthday, your anniversary, and Valentine’s Day.” I’m going to leave aside, for the moment, the way this humorously-intentioned advice reinforces the stereotype of men as lovable bumblers incapable of remembering significant details and focus on the teenage males’ inevitable response:

“But why-y-y-y-y?? What makes Valentine’s day so important? It’s just a day!! Why do I have to do special things that day? I mean, she knows I care about her. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be with her!”

My husband has also asked me this question over the years. With us, it’s delved into the social and political implications of a manufactured holiday: Why do women expect men to make such a big deal out of it, even men they’ve been with for years? Don’t we know it’s a marketing ploy? If you want those things, aren’t you falling into the trap of perpetuating patriarchal gender norms? How can you be a feminist and want a romantic Valentine’s Day? And for years, I have been at a loss to answer. I’ve struggled with my wish to be acknowledged in what I believe to be a way that reinforces a lot of societal ills and stereotypes about gender. I’ve been deathly afraid that my desire to be shown special attention, my desire for a celebration of love, has marked me as a Bad Feminist.

Right now, though, all those questions boil down to the same adolescent protest: “But why-y-y-y-y?” And I have an answer:

Because you don’t get to think that the mere fact of your bodily presence is enough because you’re a man. Because women of all ages consistently and constantly go out of their way to make things nice for their partners, whether this looks like listening to them talk about subjects in which they have little interest, or debating about what dress they’re going to wear on a special occasion, or doing more than their share of the work of keeping the environment livable. Because women are required to do more than just show up, and suffer when they stop putting in the extra mile.

Lately–and I mean in the last year or so–I’ve seen more and more women talk about how they do nice things for themselves, not to benefit the male gaze. Usually this comes in conversations about catcalling and other unwanted male attention: Some dude bro says, “If you didn’t want to be noticed, you shouldn’t have worn that pretty dress,” and a woman responds with “I dress for myself, not for you.” My gods, you’d think the men had been robbed. They cannot stand it when women talk about doing things for themselves rather than the men in the world. It’s even worse if you reject cultural beauty standards altogether. How dare you make yourself unattractive? You simply can’t win.

But men still think all they have to do is show up. “She knows I love her. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

News flash, guys: You are not that special.

I get that the rituals of a different time are confusing and maybe seem irrelevant in a changing world. In my parents’ time, in my in-laws’ time, relationships between middle class cis het couples followed a (relatively) clear course: Courtship, which was mainly led by the man, I believe; proposal, marriage, a couple kids. The man as the breadwinner, the woman as the caregiver. Probably then the ritual of giving your wife a box of chocolates and a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day–or going out to dinner as a couple, or whatever–served as a mark of appreciation and a reaffirmation of the connubial bond. But the late 60s began the process of throwing off the chains of the 50s. My gods, women have careers now. They can ask men out! They have sex without being married and still demand respect as human beings! Geez, isn’t that enough? WHY DO YOU STILL WANT THAT OUTDATED BOX OF CHOCOLATES?

Despite the loud and persistent denial of certain male-identifying people, the women’s movement has never been about just women. Challenging patriarchal norms has benefited men, too. You don’t have to wear the stiff suits and ties all the time, just as we don’t have to wear skirts and heels. (Unfortunately gender-based dress codes have not yet accepted men in skirts.) You can grow long hair, get your ears pierced. You don’t have to be the sole support of a family. You can be a stay-at-home dad if that suits you and your partner. You don’t have to repress your emotions. You can not want to have sex all the time. You do not have to subscribe to the toxic models of masculinity that have made men’s lives so hard.

But, and there’s always a but, you do have to stop being so full of yourselves. You have to show up. You have to participate. You do not get to park your ass in the easy chair and say that’s enough. “Of course I love you, honey! I married you didn’t I?” doesn’t cut it. Don’t pass it off on being unable to articulate your feelings. Exhibit some learning behavior.

Women are fucking tired. And part of the reason we’re tired is that so many men have taken women’s progress and the changes we’ve initiated in society to mean they can be lazy. Yes, you can do something other than go “into business” and still be considered a contributing member of society rather than a deviant (provided you have enough of certain types of privilege, which I’m not even going into here). You do not have to strive toward the house in the suburbs and the 2.5 beautiful children. But there are consequences to whatever you choose, and one of the consequences of wanting to be in a relationship is doing the work. Part of the work is active participation in whatever rituals you and your partner find important. If a romantic Valentine’s day isn’t important to either of you, fine; rituals change. You need at least to discuss it, and it wouldn’t hurt if you were the one to broach the subject. Far too often, women are left with the responsibility of bringing up topics that men would rather ignore.

And please, don’t with the manly-man “emotions are beyond me” shit. I already told you, we’ve worked hard to begin to build a world where men don’t have to suffer such constraints, and we’re sick to death of the “Women Are from Venus/Men Are from Mars” crap. For too long women, and LGBTQ+ people, and People of Color, have borne the burden of speaking the language of (mostly) white, cis, het men and moving through a world geared towards white, cis, het men’s wishes. It’s about damn time white, cis, het men got in the game.

This post is probably making a few people reading it extremely uncomfortable. Good.

In the end, the answer to the question “But why-y-y-y?” is very simple: Because your partner wants it from you. That should be more than enough. We are not things for your amusement, like your X-Box or your flat screen TV. We are humans, and it is perfectly fine and normal for us to ask for what we want. And if you have a problem with that, it’s on you, not on us.

Mansplaining MMCCLIXXIVV: The Irony

So, the other night, I posted this Tumblr meme to my Facebook page:

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I both like and dislike it. I like it because it uses superheroes many, if not most, people are familiar with as examples of struggle and perseverance. This is something Geek-minded folks, who may not find more common inspirational memes accessible, can relate to. I dislike it because I dislike inspirational memes in general. At their best, they reduce significant struggles to simplistic terms. At their worst, they become “inspiration porn,” a nasty internet phenomenon that hurts all people with disabilities, whether physical or mental. Bearing this in mind, when I shared the meme, I said I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or whether it made me want to shove my fist through a wall. Soon after posting, I went to bed.

When I checked Facebook the next day, a couple of my friends (with one exception all women with a variety of chronic illnesses) had commented. Nothing major, but the general consensus was “Fist through wall.” Several mentioned that the characters were fictional (IMO, not a stumbling block to taking inspiration from them), or that at least two are fabulously wealthy–a reality which, if it doesn’t solve problems, does, in fact, make them infinitely easier to bear. One friend noted that the list doesn’t include any woman superheroes, which made her think that it was geared toward “TEH MENZ.”

Oh, my. Haven’t we learned by now the danger of pointing our sexism and misogyny in Geek culture? Apparently not. Not long after my friend posted this last comment, this happened:

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A male friend came onto the scene. I think it’s relevant to point out that he isn’t a close friend; he’s someone I picked up from one game or another and kept after I stopped playing because I genuinely like him. But I don’t know him beyond Facebook, and he doesn’t know me. On the other hand, I’ve been extremely close to the women involved for years.

So this male friend starts off with how he thinks people on the Internet just take things “way too seriously” sometimes, and the meme was meant to be a positive message against suicide, and that’s all. And then he goes on about every character mentioned, and how the creator probably picked ones that resonated with him, and how comic book characters have always been sources of inspiration and on and on AND ON FOR ALMOST 1000 WORDS.

One of the original woman commenters, who wrote her B.A. thesis on censorship in comic books, replied with a refutation of some of the things the man said and pointed out that the meme addresses movie versions of the characters rather than the comic book versions, which made his examples inapplicable. He replied by saying she was still “missing the point” in that we were “nitpicking whether these heroes were good enough to convey the message.” And on for another 1000 words or so, describing various iterations of the characters in Golden and Silver Age comics.

That’s where I stepped in and said enough. I told him IMO he was the one missing the point, which was that no one was trying to nitpick whether the heroes were “good enough” to convey a positive message, but that we dislike inspirational memes in general, that all of us have various chronic illnesses which are more than a matter of “just suck it up and keep fighting,” and that he took the entire conversation out of context. Plus, where the heck did he get that it’s an anti-suicide meme, because I don’t see that anywhere. I actually may not have stated things as clearly as that. Yesterday the whole incident had me so livid I could hardly bear to read the thread; today as I write this and look at it, it all seems way less loaded. In retrospect, I probably should have mentioned that I have an “Always Keep Fighting” sweatshirt which I love to death (Thank you, Jared Padelecki). Another woman friend got into the fray, mentioning that the meme almost offended her because how the Hell was her experience supposed to be comparable with a superhero’s?

Massive side-eye for this entire incident.
Massive side-eye for this entire incident.

Dude comes back with ANOTHER lengthy, point-by-point essay full of this, that, and the other, by the end of which he’d kind of admitted that he flew off the handle because he’s seen a lot of nastiness around this particular meme, and said he considered it anti-suicide because he got it from a suicide prevention page, and even managed to apologize in words. Kudos to him. But he still thought my one friend was missing the point.

Anyway, that really should have been the end of it, but later my feed barfs up a lengthy status update from him. This guy’s status updates are rarely shorter than 1000 words, and I mostly enjoy them, especially when he takes down inaccurate religious memes. He and my dad would have loved each other. Well, this one started with how he doesn’t generally agree with the Right about political correctness ruining everything, but you can be overly critical of innocuous stuff, and THERE’S THIS ANTI-SUICIDE MEME…. etc, and “more than one person who shared it even stated that they didn’t know if they loved it or hated it.” *clutches pearls*

Okay, enough. I restrained myself all night and most of today. Done now.

evil willow

Dude, first off, do you really not understand the concept of irony, or can you just not apply it to yourself? You come into a thread where people are having a relatively light-hearted discussion about their problems with a meme and proceed to lecture them AT LENGTH about “taking innocuous things too seriously,” to the point where it took me telling you to back the fuck off to get you to disengage, and then you complain about it to the public? Who’s taking things too seriously now?

In the second place, I have no idea if you’ve ever experienced suicidal ideation, but I doubt it, because if you had, you’d know it’s FAR from innocuous. It’s a fucking killer. People lose the fight every single day. I’ve attempted suicide more than once, which is why I have a fucking semicolon tattooed on my wrist–NOT because I love proper punctuation, although I do. So have several of my dear friends, and let me tell you, when you get to that point it takes more than a shitty meme about metahumans to motivate you to keep breathing. Fuck you for dismissing the pain of that. And fuck you twice for taking issue with people who have to find reasons to go on living every day pointing out that your “innocuous” meme is problematic. In case you hadn’t heard, you can like things and STILL critique problematic elements in them.

In your extended status of yesterday evening, you cite a problem in the LGBT+ community of safe spaces designed for that community (the gay male community in particular) being welcoming to others not of that community (straight women in particular), who then complained that the safe space wasn’t designed for them and, in effect, tore it down while while being unwelcoming to those who had sheltered them when they built their own safe spaces. Back to irony, you did the exact same thing on my post: You came into a space that was not yours and insisted it play by your rules. In addition, you took exception to people who have actually attempted suicide not loving your “positive message” against it. I thought you were better than that, honestly. If a marginalized group has issues with a piece of media purporting to address that group, then you need to shut up and listen instead of getting all butthurt when people in the group say “THIS DOESN’T WORK.”

But you know what? I think it boils down to sexism. I think you saw some women discussing something they found problematic, and I think you saw my friend’s reference to TEH MENZ, and you could not help but jump in to mansplain to us that we were the ones taking things too seriously and taking things out of context and whatever-the-hell else you felt we wimminz weren’t “getting” because you couldn’t STAND for us to have opinions that differed from yours. It would have been easy enough not to engage–as I chose not to engage beyond one comment (and okay; I’m lying, it wasn’t easy at all, but hey, KEEP FIGHTING THOSE IMPULSES LIKE BATMAN). It would have been easy enough to let it go, to say, well, these people have a different take, this meme doesn’t work for them. But you didn’t. You had to let us know just HOW WRONG you thought we were, and how much better you know about all things superhero than we do. Because misogyny.

I don’t know what you meant to achieve aside from parading your own knowledge, but I can tell you one thing you did achieve:  I trust you less than I did yesterday morning. As I said above, I enjoy your rants. I enjoy your takedowns of idiotic memes. But having been on the receiving side of one, I now have to wonder how many times, when you’ve complained about people just not understanding, you’ve painted an inaccurate picture putting yourself in a more positive, and them in a more negative, light than objectivity dictated. How many times have people on the Right with whom you’ve interacted been far more civil and more articulate than you let on? Because I’ve learned you’re loath to admit wrong, and you love having the last word.

I’m going to post this on Facebook. I’m going to post it to a restricted list you are no longer part of, because I don’t trust you anymore. Not because I can’t take criticism, but because you can’t. And in the event you stumble across this anyway, through a mutual acquaintance or just through the randomness of the Internet, I leave you with this reward:

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Congratulations.

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We Need to Talk about Thin Privilege

The other day, I stumbled into a volatile conversation on Twitter. I know: BIG SHOCK, right? I should have seen it coming. Well, maybe. But I didn’t. What happened was this: A friend of mine questioned whether thin privilege exists. Without knowing the context or the incident that had provoked the question (my bad, I own this), I assured her it did. Then someone I don’t know–I presume my friend does–came into the conversation to tell me my examples were bullshit. It got a bit harsh. I got upset at having my experience disregarded and disengaged.

Later, I had a private conversation with my friend in which she told me what bothers her about the concept. She had some good and valid points. I understand where she’s coming from, as much as I can. But I can’t agree with her that thin privilege doesn’t exist, or that it’s inordinately divisive to talk about it when women should be supporting each other. Unfortunately, those are things people with privilege always tend to say to avoid confronting their privilege.

For those new to the concept, “privilege” in feminist and social justice circles is the accumulated unearned advantages that a person might enjoy due to race, class, caste, or membership in any other arbitrarily elevated social group, e.g. particular body size or education level.  It’s not a new concept, but it came more into the public consciousness with Peggy McIntosh’s 1990 essay, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Privilege might be as simple and seemingly inane a thing as a white person being able to buy “flesh” colored Band-Aids that match their skin tone, or it might be as significant and difficult to address as the lack of woman and PoC leads in Hollywood movies. It’s insidious and hard to confront, because rather than obviously elevating a class or population ABOVE another, it adjusts the default value to match that of the privileged. To those in a privileged class, the arbitrary elevation becomes normal, so there’s no need to question it. However, it sends a message to those outside the privileged class that they are NOT normal, and therefore have less worth.

Of course, as with any concept or theory, there are instances which contradict it. My husband and I, both white, have both been randomly stopped by police and required to show ID when walking in suburbs where we didn’t live–a thing that doesn’t commonly happen to white people. There are wealthy, educated People of Color, and poor, uneducated white folks. Some people try to use these instances to prove that privilege doesn’t exist. Really, they happen because of another thing called “Intersectionality.” Privilege runs along a huge number–maybe an infinite number–of different axes, and a person may have privilege on one or more while not having privilege on various others. For example, a person may be white, male, and Christian (privilege) and also gay, poor, and disabled (not privilege). Discussions of privilege need to take into account the intersections and their ramifications if they’re to do any good.

In working towards equality, the main idea is to include marginalized populations in the default, i.e., to redefine “normal.” This requires a certain amount of tearing down social structures which support unearned privilege, mainly through education and activism. People in privileged populations can find this difficult for a number of reasons. Confronting privilege can have the effect of taking you out of the center of your own world, which is something most people are reluctant to do. It’s difficult to swallow the truth that a reality you have always taken for granted actively hurts others. We all want to be good people, and confronting privilege makes you question that. It’s tiring and frustrating always to question yourself when you just want to wear a certain hairstyle because you like it, without thinking about cultural appropriation. As well, there is often backlash against the privileged class. For example, one popular meme, “Real women have curves,” came out of frustration at a particular body type being presented as valuable while others were devalued. But it elevates women with curves at the expense of those without. Any of these things can contribute to a person denying the existence of privilege. When various axes intersect, which is almost always, denial can easily become entrenched. An annoying thing about privilege is that the lack of it is generally more keenly felt than its presence.

Thin privilege addresses the tendency of (especially Western) society to set the default value for a “normal” body rather smaller than that a significant segment of the population inhabits. You can find some examples of how this plays out here. For examples of backlash against the concept (content warning: Fat Shaming) look here.

Since my body has been on the large side of average most of my life, the existence of thin privilege seems like a no-brainer to me. Some of my earliest memories are of being bullied for being fat. In the last few years, a medication-related weight gain has made me bigger than ever before, and it’s rubbed my face in the small definition of “normal” more than ever before. When I was of smaller proportions than I am now, I fit in our lawn chairs. Now the arms of those same chairs press against my butt. I used to climb our household ladder to get to things higher than I can reach. But that ladder is rated at 200 lbs, and now I’m not sure it’s safe. I used to enjoy taking a bath from time to time. Now I’m almost as wide as the tub.

The tub came with our house, but we bought those other things. It never occurred to me to sit in the chairs or question the ladder’s safety rating before buying them, because why would I? Even as a large woman, I fit the “normal” parameters. I never anticipated a 60-lb weight gain, never thought something beyond my control would thrust me outside those parameters. But it did. I’ve a hard time because of my weight all my life. How much harder is it, every day, for people whose bodies never fit into the “normal” range at all? Fat people hear all the time that we have no right to complain, because we “just” have to control ourselves to conform. Leaving aside the whole question of why the hell should we be required to conform in the first place, the truth is, it’s not so simple. Any number of factors can contribute to being fat, and losing weight is not, as many would have it, merely a matter of “stepping away from the cupcakes for a change.”

You know what? I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. If you want to learn more about Size Acceptance as a civil rights issue and the reality of body size and health, please go read some articles here. I’ll wait for you.

Right. Back at it.

It’s an unfortunate truth that some thin people have similar experiences to fat people in several arenas. I know thin people whose doctors focus on their body size to the exclusion of every other issue, and thin people who have been bullied and called names, and thin people whose food choices are constantly remarked upon, and thin people who can’t walk into a department store and find clothes on the rack to fit them. I know thin people who have suffered all these things and more. I’ve been guilty of perpetuating some nastiness toward thin people, myself; mea culpa. The first time I heard my dance teacher say, “Nobody wants a bone but a dog, and he buries it,” I was delighted. I found it empowering. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that attitude is just as hurtful toward thin people as “Nobody will ever love a fat cow like you” is to people like me.

All those things are real things that cause pain. It’s never okay to shame someone about their body, no matter what it looks like. But the fact that it happens doesn’t negate the existence of thin privilege. Nor does a statistic that I see bandied about, “69% of the population is obese or overweight.” I’m sorry to break it to you, but a majority population can still be marginalized. Roughly 52% of the population is female, and male privilege still exists, too.

I think a lot of the situations in which fat and thin experience is similar, especially for women, can be attributed to the intersection of body size and sexism. Women are taught from an early age that our value lies in our sexual attraction, and being sexually attractive means fitting into an extremely narrow range or body types: not too fat, not too thin, neither too brawny nor too much lacking in muscle tone. To make matters worse, standards of attractiveness for women are changing all the time. In the 50s, we had Marilyn Monroe. In the 90s, we had Kate Moss, and now we have Kim Kardashian. The impossibility of perfection is enough to give any woman body issues, and it does. Women who are naturally very thin fall outside the narrow range of acceptable body size the same way women who are fat do. But I don’t notice anyone talking about the “Slenderness Epidemic.”

Another thing people use to dismiss thin privilege as a reality is the existence of eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa.  According to this school of thought, since people with eating disorders have troubled relationships with their bodies and endure similar meal- and body-policing to fat people, thin privilege doesn’t exist and saying that it does is “disgusting.”

This is the hill upon which my conversation the other day died, by the way. I tried to explain my point of view about this, having had an eating disorder which kept me mostly hospitalized for three years and affects my life to this day. I got called a hypocrite. That’s when I made my exit, muted the stranger who had inserted herself into my mentions, and had a good cry.

I haven’t written a lot on this blog about my struggles with anorexia, just a word here and there. I don’t really want to relive that time now. But I think in this instance I need to prove my street cred. In one form or another, it dominated my life for ten years, from the time I was fourteen until the time I was twenty-four. It’s a terrible thing to go through. Maybe it starts as a way of controlling certain aspects of life, but in the end, it controls you. I’ve read that anorexia and bulimia have some things in common with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or maybe come from the same place. I think that’s true. It became much less about weight loss and body image for me than it was about the ritualistic behaviors necessary to preserving my feeling of control. Many of those behaviors started as weight loss facilitators–excessive exercise, restricted diet, rules about how and when and what I was allowed to eat. I had a page-long list of things I had to do every day, without fail. If I didn’t do them all, I was garbage. Later, when I became bulimic rather than anorexic, I had fewer rituals to fulfill, but bingeing and purging were both compulsive. Eating a single cookie rather than an entire package at a sitting was literally impossible; trying to do so filled me with indescribable fear and horror. I had to follow the whole process to the bitter end in order to get any relief.

I saw absolute control of my eating as a way to be successful when success in other areas seemed beyond me. This thought actually crossed my mind when a school mate came back to class after a hospitalization: “I bet I could do anorexia even better than her.” In a real way, I decided to be anorexic. I don’t know if others experience this or not; in the late 70s and early 80s, when my eating disorder was at its peak, they had just come into the public consciousness and weren’t at all common. I was the only person on my psych ward being treated for an eating disorder. I’m not sure special hospitals for eating disorders even existed.

And no, having an eating disorder is not a privileged existence. I experienced some thin privilege in the early stages. I could buy fashionable clothes, for example. I got a pair of riding boots I loved. I’d never been able to wear tall boots before, because the maximum standard calf circumference for women’s boots is fifteen to sixteen inches, and my calves were too big, even when I was at a “normal” weight for my height. People stopped making barfing noises when I passed them in the halls (later, they whispered, but that’s something else). Someone considered me beautiful for the first time. I had a boyfriend. For a while.

Once, when I was in college, a high school friend and I were at the dorm store. I was in my bulimic period then, and weighed around 145 lbs. My friend had one of my senior yearbook pictures in her wallet, taken when I was under 100 lbs. The clerk at the store saw it and said, “She’s gorgeous! Who is she?” While I was standing right there.

Anyway. Having an eating disorder is not a privileged existence. You lose all right to privacy. Everything you do around food is examined and questioned. Your freedom of movement is restricted. Your integrity is called into daily question. Doctors looked at nothing about me except my eating patterns. They told me constantly that my lived experience was meaningless. They threatened me with tube feeding when I didn’t meet their expectations. When I didn’t gain weight according to schedule, they accused me of purging in secret, long before I had any notion of doing so. When I denied that I did so, they accused me of lying. They did not see me as a person, but as a collection of symptoms, and when my symptoms didn’t fit the model they assumed I was untruthful, not that the symptoms didn’t apply.

I was excessively thin, and I was not privileged. And yet, I still believe in thin privilege. The perspective of years not only makes this possible, it insists that I do.

There are a couple reasons for this. The first goes back to intersectionality. The thinness of eating disorders is the bodily manifestation of a mental illness. Having a mental illness diminishes privilege, and having a severe, life-threatening mental illness diminishes it exponentially. The lack of privilege that comes with an eating disorder doesn’t fall along the body size axis; it falls along the ability/disability axis. When I was excessively thin, strangers unaware of my illness still admired me, my “willpower,” my visible collarbones, my adherence to an exercise regimen. I fit in the bathtub and in chairs with arms. I could have climbed that ladder rated at 200 lbs, had I been strong enough to climb. No, I couldn’t buy clothes that fit, not until I gained weight. But that was because I was sick.

The other major reason I believe in thin privilege despite having had an eating disorder is this: Eating disorders are the result of thin privilege in the much same way that violence toward women is the result of male privilege. Much of men’s socialization revolves around gaining and maintaining their privilege. Some men believe they have every right to subject women who threaten that privilege to harassment, beatings, rape, and even death. You can see the evidence of this on any men’s rights forum, if you can stomach it. In the same way, much of women’s socialization centers on attaining and maintaining an idealized form. Models of a specific size–thin, and these days with a fair amount of muscle tone–are on the cover of almost every magazine and feature in almost every television advertisement. Women’s magazines are full of diet plans and ways to “get your body back” after having children. Ignoring the message that thin is the appropriate way to present is all but impossible. So it’s little wonder that an increasing number of women take the pursuit of thinness to the extreme. Of course, there’s a great deal more to most eating disorders than trying to achieve thinness, and most people don’t develop them any more than most men, in these times, are violent toward women. But obsession with body size is generally how they start, and preoccupation with being thin is the most notorious symptom.

Thin privilege is real. It hurts everyone, and, like many forms of privilege taken to extreme, it can kill. That’s vastly more important to me than the idea that focusing on it is divisive. No one likes to confront privilege, but until people stop ignoring and dismissing it, nothing will change. Personally, I’d rather confront my own privilege than practice endless damage control.

 

 

 

I Will Not Be Silent

I will not be silent because people dislike the truth I speak. I will be respectful and open to discussion. I will do my best to be considerate. But I will not pussyfoot around, and I will not worry about treading on sensibilities of which I have never been informed.

I will speak up and speak openly about my issues and feelings, without giving in to fear. I expect those with whom I engage in discussion to do the same. But I will feel no contrition about pushing boundaries I don’t know exist.

I will listen with an open mind to reasoned discourse. I might even change my mind about my own position. But I will not be derailed, or swayed by nothing more than consistent and ever more strident denial and refusal to consider my views. If necessary, I will cite sources to support my position.

I will speak my truth with the awareness that my truth is my own and may not be anyone else’s. But I will not be responsible for unspoken personal truth. It is not my job to probe for the hidden thing, lest I cause offense to closely-held beliefs and apprehensions that remain unshared.

I will address behaviour. I will not condemn identity, feelings, or experience. But I can’t promise never to brush up against issues of identity, feelings, or experience that I have no clue exist in a manner which might be painful.

I will back off if asked, in the full realization that backing off does not imply backing down. I will agree to disagree. I expect the same treatment from others.

I will own my shit and I expect others to do the same. People who consistently refuse to own their shit are not worth my time and energy.

I will speak about my experience. I will say, “This happened.” I may or may not name the parties involved in my experiences, at my own discretion and not out of fear of reprisal. It is neither slanderous nor abusive to speak of my lived experience, or to stand up for myself and my gender. In speaking of my lived experience, I will not make judgments as to character, worth, morality, or other intangibles. But I will call bullshit when I see it and I will point out flawed arguments and definitions.

I will not assign blame. Neither will I accept it where blamemongering is a personal attack or diversionary tactic. I will take responsibility for my behaviour, but I will not accept personal attacks.

I will not refrain from pointing out problematic behaviour, even, or perhaps especially, when it comes from people in my personal circle or those who consider themselves allies. The bonds of friendship do not excuse a person from being sexist, racist, homo- and/or transphobic, or a general, all around douche. A person may be an ally to one group while still holding bigoted ideas of another. A person who seems to be an ally may still act out of unearned privilege toward the group with which they claim alliance. Making people aware of this is not a fault. It is not malicious gossip when I speak from my own lived experience. It is an effort to facilitate safety in interactions.

Personal work is never-ending. Neither I, nor anyone, gets a free pass because we did a portion of it, or once questioned ourselves, our beliefs, our actions, our issues, or our privilege.

Silence is violence. Silence allows privilege to go unquestioned, power structures to remain as they are, and abuses to continue. Silence supports the status quo.

I will not be silent, nor will I be silenced.

This is my declaration to myself, above and below, by the goddesses and gods of my house and my personal Patron. By earth, air, fire, and water I so declare.

So mote it be.

 

 

 

A Subtle Form of Sexism

I’m a fan of the Green Arrow comic book from way back. So is my husband. Consequently, we’re also fans of the current television series based on it, The CW Network’s Arrow. Yeah, it took a while to get started, and yeah, there are flaws and problems with it. But overall, it’s well done and offers a fresh take on many familiar characters from the DC Comics universe. (BTW, if anyone from the network happens to be reading this, Felicity and Ollie NEED to be together! She and Ray have NO chemistry!)

Anyway. *clears throat*

In a recent episode, the action split between the goings on in Starling City and a rescue mission headed by two of the supporting characters, John “Dig” Diggle and Lyla Holland. Diggle is one of my favorite characters in the show. He’s a genuinely good guy who has grown devoted to Oliver and his cause since they first came together as a traumatized and self-absorbed rich boy-man and his implacable bodyguard. I love Dig and Lyla as a couple both because they’re an outstanding example of a mixed race relationship on a popular television show and because they operate as partners. There’s little or no power inequity between them. Both are bad ass, with Army backgrounds and secret military connections. Both care for their daughter. They have their difficulties and differences, as every couple does. But for the most part, they resolve them through communication and compromise.

And yet.

Ain't they cute?
Ain’t they cute?

In the episode in question, “Suicidal Tendencies,” John and Lyla got married (for the second time). Unfortunately for them, as they were about to depart on their honeymoon, Lyla’s boss summoned her for a covert mission leading members of the Suicide Squad into a fictional Middle Eastern country to resolve a hostage crisis. I’d like to reiterate: Lyla was the official Team Leader for this operation. Diggle, who had accompanied Lyla to ARGUS headquarters when she got the summons, decided to tag along and lend his (not inconsiderable) support. Well, to make a long story short, everything went kablooie when the hostage crisis turned out to be a con set up by the very senator the team was sent to rescue. And here’s the rub: when things blew up and the team got trapped in a hospital rigged to explode, Diggle automatically assumed command. EVEN THOUGH LYLA WAS THE OFFICIAL TEAM LEADER. He didn’t ask. He didn’t consult with her in any way. He just did it.

True partners. Except for that one time.
True partners. Except for that one time.

Now, you might offer several justifications for this. You might say since the mission turned out other than they thought, the original command structure didn’t hold. Or you might say Diggle was better suited to lead the changed operation because his experience on Team Arrow better suited him to situations that don’t go as planned and made him better able to improvise than someone with a strict military position. You might even say that Diggle is more of a major player than Lyla, so putting him in charge makes sense from a narrative standpoint.

Or you might say that Diggle–and the episode’s writers–took it for granted that when things go to hell, a man should be in control.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t notice this at the time. It wasn’t until the next morning, when my husband said, “They did it again,” that I got it, and even then, he had to explain to me what he was talking about. (Ten points to Ravenclaw!) Since then, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about it. The thing is, Diggle KNOWS Lyla is competent–MORE than competent. She’s trained to handle doubtful situations. They’ve had each other’s backs over and over again. He knows what she can do. And he didn’t ask.

Qt8baQh

I mean, one line would have done it. “Hey, this mission has gone south; maybe I should take the lead.”  That’s all he had to say. But he didn’t. Or he could have said, “Well, Lyla, you’re in charge. What do you want to do?” In which case, she might have replied with, “You’re better at improvising.” Or ANYTHING. Just acknowledge it!

It reminded me how insidious most sexism is. It goes on all the time, all around us, and we’re so inculcated in our sexist culture that we don’t notice. Sometimes I don’t notice even when it’s directed at me. It’s not until later, when I’m upset for no reason, or when I start to cry out of the blue, that I remember. Or my husband points it out, like he did the Arrow episode. Which is ironic, because I’m talking about the way our culture assumes men know better, think better, see better than women in almost every situation, and here’s a case where it’s true. My husband CAN see this shit better than I can, because it doesn’t endanger him. The microagressions of everyday sexism aren’t meant to reinforce a power structure where he’s inferior. If I had to acknowledge every single one in the moment, if every woman had to do that, I don’t know if it would be possible to go on living in this culture or on this planet. So mostly I, like many other women, don’t acknowledge the bulk of them. Not until later.

What does it look like in my life? Here’s a few examples culled from the many.

I used to be a DJ for the local community radio station. I developed an original Celtic Music show, “Whiskey in the Jar,” and both produced and hosted it for fifteen years, every Thursday night unless an illness totally incapacitated me. Sometimes I went in when I was sick, because I had a more difficult than average time persuading one of the other DJs to cover my slot. This is actually relevant. The usual excuse other DJs gave was that they weren’t familiar with the music. Which was pretty much a bullshit excuse, because any competent DJ could go in and pull music from the Celtic wall and come up with a decent two and a half hours by flinging random CDs at the players. They did it for shows in other genres, like Jazz and Bluegrass and New Age. Be that as it may, the other DJs acknowledged my expertise in the Celtic field in this weird way. They conceded that I knew what I was doing.

My show ran during the dinner hour, a shift from 6 – 9 PM. My husband was in the habit of coming to the station with me to bring me dinner and keep me company. THAT’S ALL HE DID. He’d been a DJ for a time as well, but during my show, I ran the board, I took calls, I chose the music and arranged the playlists. Yet, when we were out in public, even at some of the radio station functions, people inevitably referred to “Whiskey in the Jar” as “Your guys’s show.” They assumed my husband played more of a role than he did, sometimes to the point of engaging him in a discussion of the last show while I stood by with my jaw hanging open. I have a framed certificate on my wall that the station gave to me when I decided fifteen years was enough. It says the station proudly recognizes “Kele and Michael” for our outstanding contributions hosting “Whiskey in the Jar.” I was really glad to have my husband’s company on that journey, but I hardly consider his contribution to the show “outstanding.”

During my show’s run, the station engaged a nationally-known professional (male) photographer to shoot all the DJs for a series of photographs to be hung in the studio offices. I suggested to Michael that we pose in costume, and we had a great time. When the proofs came out, however, the photographer and I had a problem. He’d picked a particular shot as “The One” that represented the show best. I disagreed with him. We went back and forth for several emails, and finally he agreed to print and hang my choice in the show. At which he gave an interesting speech about how people need to trust an artist’s judgment and vision even if they don’t understand it. And his choice was the one that ended up in the show catalogue. Curious how that worked.

My choice.
My choice.
The artist's choice.
The artist’s choice.

Do you see the difference here? It’s not that I dislike the artist’s choice. In fact, I love it. I have a framed copy hanging in my dining room, and we gave another to Michael’s parents.  But in the photograph on the left, it’s clear that Michael is the dominant figure while I lean on him for support. He’s running the show. In the one on the right, I’m the dominant figure with Michael as a background presence. Which one better represents MY radio show? I think it’s pretty clear.

This isn’t a singular incident. Not long ago, I walked into the local print shop to get an estimate on bookmarks to use as promotional materials. I started talking to the woman behind the counter (one of the owners, someone we’ve known since we’ve lived in this town). She began showing me what they could do, how many bookmarks would fit on a page, explaining how their process worked. And then, Michael came in from parking the car. IMMEDIATELY, the printshop owner’s attention turned toward him, the man. She stopped talking to me in favor of talking to him, even though moments before she had assumed me competent to grasp her explanations. Even though I was the one who started the conversation, about materials I wanted to promote books I wrote, and my husband had simply driven the car.

Another time, shortly after I published my book of fairy tales, an acquaintance (a woman) purchased a copy from me. I asked her if she wanted me to sign it. She hesitated a minute, then said, “Can I get Michael to sign it?” Remember, I wrote every word of the book. I had arranged its publication, from the interior design to the cover art. And yet, this woman wanted my husband to autograph it. I asked her why and she said, “He’s really cute!” At the time, I laughed. The incident became a funny anecdote I won an “awful publishing stories” contest with at the next conference I attended. Looking back, though, it’s another in a long, long line of similar incidents. Times when my husband has been given credit for my successes, in which he only peripherally participated, if he participated at all.

I’m not angry at Michael for this. He does nothing to detract from me and nothing to claim the spotlight. Nothing except be a big, imposing, confident, reasonably attractive white man. Exactly the kind of man one would like to put in a position of authority, particularly as I’m extremely introverted and not at all confident in groups of people. Usually he catches the problem before I do, just as he did with that Arrow episode. If I could ask him to do one thing differently, it would be to address the situation when he sees it. Mostly he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to be rude. But at least he can see it.

Sexism isn’t always blatant. It’s not always the catcalls, the come-ons, the boss who asks the one woman in the office to pick up his dry cleaning and make his coffee, even when her qualifications are equal or better to those of the men. In fact, as damaging as those things are, they are less so than the little things that slip by us every day. The person who asks the man about his career and the woman about the pets or the kids. The tendency of certain fields to promote the work of men over that of women and People of Colour, even when the quality of the work and the subject matter is the same. It’s in the way we define normal and average to look like a white guy in a suit. And the fact is, women perpetuate it as much as men. Because we’ve learned that it’s the way things work, and because it seems rude to make a fuss. Because it’s really hard to confront nice people who honestly didn’t mean any harm, and because it’s really easy to think, “But maybe the quality of the work really IS different. Maybe men are simply better at these things.”

Like the writers of that Arrow episode, we remain unaware. And like them, we could solve many instances of it with a single line.

“Excuse me. She’s in charge.”

 

They’re Not Your Friends

A couple months ago, my celebrity crush got a new girlfriend and his (female) fans LOST IT.

I have, for the most part, sat on the sidelines watching the situation escalate. But it occurred to me this morning, with the latest series of nasty Facebook rants on a particular fan page, that what’s happening here is representational of both gender inequality in popular culture and the false sense of intimacy we get when our idols are accessible through social media. Hence this blog, which I am writing simultaneously to drinking my morning coffee, so please bear with any incoherency.

Celebrity Crush–yes, we all know who he is, and if you don’t you can go check out a couple past blogs where I mention him by name. But for the sake of at least paying lip service to the principals’ right to privacy, I’m going to pretend no one knows. Please humor me and play along. Celebrity Crush is a big, buff guy known for playing über-masculine roles and speaking out about what it means to be a man in the modern age. If you’re familiar with the concept of Alpha Male, both in real life and in fiction, he’s it. New Girlfriend is an interesting choice for someone like him, or at least for the person his fans assume him to be. She’s an attractive actress who violates all expectations because she’s 1. Older than he is by a few years, 2. More successful and well-known than he is by a HUGE margin and 3. Not a red, white, and blue-blooded American or native English speaker, but was born in another country.

I’m going to come right out and say that I like them together and I think Celebrity Crush shows massive brass balls by defying expectations and dating a woman with more status. In fact, he seems truly smitten. I can’t know this, of course, but it looks that way to me. He’s admitted several places to having had a crush on this woman for years. So he’s living the dream, and more power to him.

To hear many fans talk, though, he’s lost whatever attraction he once had by falling for this woman. Plus, they claim, he’s on the fast track to major disappointment. When the story of their relationship first broke, people refused to believe it. Many still don’t. They insist it must be a PR stunt, because obviously two attractive people could never have real feelings for each other when the woman has more power. They minutely examine photos for evidence that they’re posed. They point to minor details of expression and body language as proof that the two have no real attachment and that Celebrity Crush is unhappy.

New Girlfriend is routinely subject to both sexist and racist calumny. She’s a hag, she’s fat, she’s ancient. A while ago a rumor started the rounds that she and Celebrity Crush have talked children. My gods, you’d think they planned the destruction of the world as we know it. How dare she?! She has an adult son! She’s MUCH TOO OLD AND DECREPIT to have kids and has no right even to consider it–this despite the fact that she seems healthy, she had ova frozen because she KNEW she wanted to have another child later in life, and she’s an adult perfectly capable of making decisions for herself. She “barely speaks English,” no one “can understand a word she says,” and her family “are all drug dealers.” Another fan of Celebrity Crush who called people out on their racism was bluntly informed “you know what those people are like” and besides, “they joke about that themselves, so it’s not wrong.”

Elrond-Facepalm

Celebrity Crush, meanwhile, has been photographed buying roses and holding hands with New Girlfriend, and “Sources Close To The Couple” say he’s truly in love and intends to study New Girlfriend’s native language so he can communicate with her family better. Recently, he tweeted a picture of a “Share a Coke” can with his name in New Girlfriend’s language. Now, I personally think this is sweet. But other fans saw this as a sign of impending holocaust, at the very least. Because Celebrity Crush pays attention to New Girlfriend, he’s “Not an Alpha any more.” Because he wants to learn her language, he’s “pussy-whipped.”

What better example do you need of the dangers to men in our society in ACTING LIKE FUCKING HUMAN BEINGS? When people you don’t even know can take away your “man card” because you’re nice to your girlfriend, it takes an exceptionally strong man to stand up to that shit and do what he knows is right.

Oh, but “she obviously doesn’t care as much about him as he does about her.” He waits on her hand and foot and calls her the perfect woman. She says “what’s not to like about him?” and “my mother approves.” Surely if she had real feelings she’d say more! For gods’ sake, people! Have you stopped to consider that 1. English isn’t her native language and she might not have the words you want or even the cultural context to apply them? and 2. It’s NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS? What if the genders were reversed? If Celebrity Crush shared few words about his relationship and put a lot of energy into his career while New Girlfriend gushed and waited on him, what then? I suspect you’d think this normal, and a confirmation of his Alpha Male status.

In the last couple of weeks, fans have actually been tweeting at Celebrity Crush to tell him the error of his ways. In case this isn’t enough “I Can’t EVEN” for you, these same people are bitching and moaning when Celebrity Crush reacts in the obvious fashion and blocks the fuck out of them. Now he’s “grown an ego he didn’t have before” and “isn’t treating his fans right” and is “alienating the people who made him what he is.” I’ve got news for you: He isn’t your friend. He doesn’t owe you anything because you went to his movie and bought his t-shirt. It’s not your right to say mean and hurtful things virtually to his face under the thin veil of being concerned. I’d question your right to do it even if he were your real life best friend. Celebrity Crush and New Girlfriend are public figures, true. They’re also adults who are perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves that don’t involve you. A social media presence may create a sense of intimacy with stars that the days before Facebook and Twitter lacked. But you need to keep in mind that it isn’t real. Okay, I have many close friends I’ve met through the Internet. None of them are celebrities. All of them interact with me on a personal level on a daily basis. Celebrity Crush has re-tweeted me fairly often, and once he even addressed me. And I get heart palpitations every time. But I have no illusions that this gives me any right to comment on his personal life.

If you have nothing better to do with your life than whine and complain because a guy you once liked has taken his personal life in a direction you don’t like, I have a few words of advice for you: GROW A PAIR. You need them more than he does.