I went to the Degenderettes Panel

I went to the Degenderettes Panel

I’m not much of a writer, but when I heard that the controversial Degenderettes Antifa Art Exhibit was having a discussion panel on May 12th, I knew that I had to see it for myself. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would record the meeting, so I decided to record whatever I could in case no one else did. And here we are.

On the day of the panel, I had accidentally overslept and had to rush out almost immediately after getting out of bed. I didn’t have anything to eat and I was stressed for the entire drive. San Francisco isn’t exactly close to where I live, and I didn’t know how much traffic there would be or how long it would take me to find parking. I was relieved when I arrived at exactly 2:00, and I rushed down the stairs to the panel room.

It turned out that I didn’t need to worry about the time after all. The room was already full, but about 50 more people wanted to attend the panel so the library staff decided to open up the other half of the room and find more chairs. We were assured that the panel wouldn’t start until we were accommodated, and we lined up against the wall to wait. I was by myself, nervously trying not to make eye contact or let anyone talk to me. After five minutes passed, a few feet away, I heard people talking about “terfs” and how evil we supposedly are. “I wonder how many terfs will show up after that whole fiasco.” “God, they make me sick.” “Completely overreacting, as usual. I don’t see what was so offensive about the shirt!” I started to feel faint. My heart beat faster and I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. Was I going to pass out? Would I be carried out and miss the whole panel? I slid down to sit on the floor and took some deep breaths while trying (and failing) to block out the words. “Terfs are liars.” “They’re afraid of us. Because we know the truth and everyone else knows the truth.” “Their group is getting smaller and smaller all the time.” “Their own friends and families hate them.” Normally I’d shrug at this kind of talk online, but in real life it worried me. What if someone tried to talk to me and I accidentally gave myself away? Would I be assaulted or just screamed at? Would they kick me out? Dox me? I felt sick. Luckily, I heard a member of staff announce that we could finally go in. I immediately felt better as I stepped inside to grab a seat.

The staff started off the panel by mentioning the controversy, not taking any stance on it, and recommending that everybody see it in person. Then they spoke about what the library did, and some of the upcoming events/exhibits. I wasn’t paying much attention until they mentioned an upcoming exhibit called “Portals to a Radical Feminist Multiverse.” The attendees stared at each other and shifted uncomfortably in their seats while I tried not to laugh–it was too perfect!

The moderator was then given the microphone, and she immediately introduced herself as a “queer white Jewish cis woman!” because for some reason she thought it was “important to share.” She lay down the ground rules, which were “No interruptions/yelling, no name-calling, and no touching.” Additionally, livestreaming, videotaping, and recording were NOT ALLOWED! However, we were told that taking pictures and writing notes was okay.

There were six panelists. The first guy was Scout Tran, a trans male. He liked to talk. A lot. I think he talked for maybe 50% or more of the panel, often trying to crack sassy jokes and make the audience laugh. The second person, by contrast, barely spoke a word. Her name was Uriah Ezri Sayres and I’m pretty sure she was supposed to be a “trans man.” The third person was our favorite trans male Mya Byrne, who starred in the infamous “I punch terfs” photo. I wasn’t sure what to think of him. His demeanor seemed a bit shy but mostly easygoing, and he reminded me strongly of a gay friend of mine (only with stupid hair). The fourth was this terrifying “genderqueer” woman named “Yolkai LeFierce” (LOL). She was clearly going for a “tough girl” look and her tone of voice often shifted dramatically from normal to seething rage, like she was about to murder someone. And I’m not trying to be funny here; she actually sounded like someone who was about to slit your throat. The fifth person was someone named Mason Lopez and I couldn’t tell if he was male or female because his face was hidden by a pair of glasses and a VERY unfortunate haircut. The sixth was an older woman named Dana Hopkins. She was a “pansexual, queer woman” and basically the Mama Bear of the group.

Before anyone accuses me of doxxing them, keep in mind that this was a PUBLIC event in a public location, where anyone could attend. We were clearly informed that we were allowed to take notes and pictures. The panelists’ full names were spoken out loud.

I pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and decided to jot down as much down as I could. Unfortunately, I was not able to cover everything down, which means there’s a chance I might get a few details wrong in my descriptions. I will be summarizing the Q&A, but if anyone wants to hear it in detail, Gendertrender has audio clips from someone who managed to record most of the panel.

The moderator asked the first question: “What are some misconceptions about you guys? Actually, who ARE you?”

“We are just here… to SURVIVE. That’s it!” (There was applause and cheers.)

Moderator: “What are some common misconceptions about you?”

Scout: “That we’re not cute. But we ARE very cute! LOL!”

“That we have anyone in charge. There’s no one in charge. I won’t tell you the internal structure of the DGs, but there’s no one in charge.” (I wasn’t sure if this was true or not. Scout seemed to be in control of the entire thing, judging by what I saw in the panel discussion and what I saw online. If he’s not the leader, then he’s at least the face of DG.)

Scout: “We are a MIXED group!” (I was skeptical of this too. Out of all the panelists, he was the only POC. In fact, most of the audience was a sea of white people. I wondered if there really were many POC involved in GD or if he had meant something else when he said “mixed.”)

Moderator: “What do the DGs do?”

“We’re here for visibility. And protesting things. There aren’t always spaces for trans or LGBT people in marches!”

“We’re trying to SURVIVE! Not just the six of us… but ALL of us!”

“We make safe spaces in marches.”

“We pass out gender neutral stickers so you can put them on bathrooms yourself!”

“We have MERCH!”

“We have a ‘breakables’ room where you can come and SMASH things! It’s cathartic!”

“We do self defense training. And combat sports. Because there’s really no place for us to do combat sports!” (They seemed to love activities that involved physical violence, but they clearly viewed this as a positive thing.)

Moderator: “What artists inspire you?”

(I didn’t bother writing down specifics. The panelists quickly listed artists I’d never heard of, and then kept saying that the other panelists were their favorites too. It was a little nauseating.)

Moderator: “You used to be called the Feminist Genderqueer Bicycle Club. Tell us about that.”

(Scout took the mic and talked for a very, very long time while going off on tangents and cracking jokes. Basically, some of them formed the club so that they could “hold each other” and provide mutual support. They threw parties and drank a lot. “LOL! Drinking! Lots of drinking! LOL! Tequila!” Eventually they heard about some “queers” who “didn’t feel safe” at parties or gatherings, so they decided to team up with them and protect them from the “unwelcoming” crowds.)

(I didn’t quite catch the moderator’s next question, but she mentioned something about the AIDS epidemic, women’s rights, and trans misogyny in the 80s and 90s.) How did they feel about that?

Yolkai: “We’re continuing a legacy. We’re pissing people off because we’re DOING SOMETHING RIGHT. And I want you all to be PISSED OFF! TRANS WOMEN ARE DYING!!!! AND IT’S GETTING WORSE. EVERY. DAY.”

Mya: “We CANNOT be silent!”

Dana: “I’m a pansexual, queer women. For decades I’ve seen political and personal hardships. Many people died. I WILL NOT see us lose a generation again!”

Moderator: “What are your proudest, most heartening moments?”

Yolkai: “At March For Our Lives, we saw two girls who were holding a trans flag/banner but they were afraid to show it off. So we gave them a safe space. … TRANS IS A SCARY. FUCKING. THING TO BE. AND IT’S GETTING SCARIER…”

Scout: “I cried when someone got DG tattoos, lol!”

Mya: “I stood down the police once when they were being awful to queer people!”

Mason (FINALLY): “At the last trans march, I was part of a large puppet that a group of us were operating! It was giant and beautiful. I was feeling scared even though I was at a trans march, but afterwards people were saying they were grateful for the puppet and stuff!”

(Then it was time for audience questions. Audience members had turned in cards and the moderator chose which questions to read out loud. I didn’t submit a question, but I suppose it didn’t matter since they were all screened anyway.)

Moderator: “Why do you mask up?

“Because of harassment and doxing, especially online.”

“Also because of the police and the far right, who harass activists!”

“We’re just protecting ourselves!” (ARE you though?)

“It’s not about getting away with illegal things… necessarily! LOL! or looking intimidating!”

Moderator: “How do you move from ‘survival’ to ‘okay’? Survival isn’t enough.

“Survival isn’t enough, but it is accumulative.”

“Mutual support. And art is also important!”

(We were suddenly interrupted by Dana, I think): “BY THE WAY, FOLLOW WHAT WE ASK! NO LIVESTREAMING!”

A staff member added: “Please keep an eye on the audience for anyone recording!”

Moderator: “Could you talk about the exhibit, and also about the piece that got taken down?”

(Everyone on the panel sighed and shook their head, acting as though the whole controversy was over something silly and harmless. After an attempt at humorous banter with Mya, Yolkai took the floor.)

Yolkai: “I made the piece that was removed.” (The audience EXPLODED into cheers and applause.) “It says I punch terfs.” (There was more cheering and applause.) “It means… if you want to get to my friends… you fucking come through ME first. Violence… is fucking DEFENSE! Now… I’m not going to actually punch them, but if they want to get to my friends, come at me! By the way, no one said ANYTHING when I wore it at a march! It was fine when I wore it!”

(I tried looking for a picture with Yolkai wearing the shirt, and this was the only image I found. Notice the lack of blood):

(And I think it’s also worth noting how much bigger Mya is than Yolkai. That and, well, he’s a male.)

Mya: “But when a TRANS person wears it, it’s suddenly a problem! Anyway, the blood represents TRANS people’s blood! I am tired of us and our art becoming recontextualized in a false manner!” (I found this response particularly baffling because it’s obviously NOT supposed to be trans people’s blood. Everyone knows it is “terf” blood. No one reads “I punch so-and-so’s” and expects bloodshed from anyone except maybe the people being punched. Any idiot can tell you this. If by chance it actually was supposed to represent trans people’s blood, then Yolkai is a moron who didn’t get her intention across at all (and I don’t think she’s a moron). Moreover, is the shirt supposed to be “violent” or not? Yolkai’s very first comment about the shirt was that violence is defense. But Mya seems to be saying that the shirt was “misinterpreted” as violent. Which is it? Actually, don’t answer that. We all know the answer.
Yolkai: “I made this shirt! So stop attacking trans women! The shirt isn’t the problem, the problem is transmisogyny… and it’s DEADLY!”
Mya: “We received threats over this!”
Scout: “This was considered violent only because it was worn by a trans person!” (No, Scout. It wasn’t.)

“NO RECORDING!” (I looked around the room and wondered how many people were trying to record the event because this was the third reminder. Were there fellow gender critical feminists at this event? Was anyone else scribbling notes? I thought I detected a woman near the back writing some stuff down, but I didn’t want to watch her for too long. I just hoped nobody was watching me.)

Moderator: “How do we support queer and trans people of color?”
(Everyone basically gave non-answers, and then mentioned that some DGs couldn’t be at the panel that day because of the visibility. Finally Dana gave an actual response, saying that they prioritized POC’s needs in front of everyone else’s.)

Moderator: “What is a terf, for our audience members who might not know?”
(Mya pulls out his phone, and I got the impression that he was googling the term. At least, until…)
Mya: “TERF is an acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, an oppressive belief-set that attempts to delegitimize trans women — not just theoretically, but by inducing suicide through internet harassment, public release of personal information, calls to employers and landlords, legal action and substantiated threats of death and physical harm — often directed against minors. It is possible that more trans deaths have occurred as a result of TERF harassment than by cis men homicides.” (Some of the audience members gasped at this and whispered “Wow…” in an awed voice. My blood boiled. I was angry, not only because of the disgusting, blatantly false description of gender critical feminists; but also because he didn’t even google it–he just quoted the original plaque that they used for the “I punch terfs” display. What an asshole.)

Moderator: “What is your definition of paradise?”
Dana: “Where I no longer have to worry about the at risk youth.”
Scout: “That’s not really what we’re about. There are a lot of queer and trans writers writing about this stuff and you should look into them.”
Dana mentioned something about how art was great.
Mya then went on some kind of tangent and ended it with, “We need to keep protesting.”

Moderator: “What would you do with $100,000?”
“Give it away to every single person in this room! And all trans people! And also give it to various organizations!”

Moderator: “How can we support you? And can we give you fanmail?”
Yolkai: “You know who likes fanmail? Trans people in prison.”
(Then the group listed various organizations to donate money to. I was too bored to bother writing them down.)

Moderator: “Can someone donate directly to DG?”
Scout: “We discourage it, but you can give tips on our online merchandise. But we usually donate that. USUALLY! LOL!”

Moderator: “Any final words before we end this panel?”
“Thank you for the support, especially through the fallout, thank you staff and moderator, etc.”
Yolkai: “I want all of you to go and check on a trans woman in your life! Oh, and one last thing. If you REALLY want to help us… Never call the police again!”


I decided to linger around a bit to check my messages and reflect on what I had just seen. My general impression was that they were trying to come across as warm, gentle, heroic protectors of trans people in peril. But I got the feeling that a lot of it was forced. That they were trying to backpedal as a result of the controversy. I don’t believe for one minute that the DGs are an adorable kumbaya we-just-want-to-save-people-and-survive group, when they’re saying they “punch terfs,” mask up, and carry around bats and axes (which they sell on their website!). I don’t believe that they’re an honest group because the narrative sounded ridiculously dramatic. In particular, Yolkai reminded me of a preacher who believed in frightening perishioners with descriptions of hellfire before giving them hope that Jesus might save them. She was very much the trans activist version of an Evangelical Christian.

The art exhibit was on the third floor. I had already seen some of the pictures floating around online, but I wanted to make sure that I got a shot of every display. Please forgive me for the bad quality on some of the photos–the light settings made it near impossible to photograph anything in a display case.

The non-apology from DG that they were probably forced to write.
I’m not sure why they didn’t change this plaque. Despite the title and description, there wasn’t anything there except for the urinals. I was both disappointed and relieved that I never got to see the jacket.

Huh, this shield looks different from all the others!

It turns out, this shield was deliberately covered up on the bottom half. Why? Because this was the original.
 
“Die cis scum”? What an interesting contrast to the “trans dykes are good and pure” shield.
The photo that accompanied this description was impossible to take, unfortunately. I do find the message amusing though–conspiracies abound!

“Temporarily update.” In other words, deface.
 
I found this comic hilarious! The sheer ignorance over the Pussy Hats, the comparison of women to zombies, and the idea that a crowd of women are somehow scarier than the police? Is this for real? I noticed the labrys sign in the crowd and thought it was refreshing to see the symbol depicted with anyone who wasn’t a DG because the group especially obsessed with axes. I noticed they use axes on their shields (see the Die Cis Scum shield).
Real ones in display cases (that you can purchase online).

I first thought this was supposed to be a “terf” but it’s just a knight praying for our misery.
…and in other artwork! Like I said, the DGs seem to have a fascination with weapons and physical violence. 
“Payback” for recognizing biological sex. At least they aren’t wishing physical harm on us this time?

Pronoun rings!

“Harass and destroy any organization if they aren’t 100% perfect!”

Merit badges, sort of like unlocking achievements in a game. It’s a cute idea, but a lot of these were kinda…
…yeah.

Overall, I found the exhibit violent and bizarre. It was interesting viewing the art right after coming out of the panel where everyone acted like they were valiant protectors whose art was simply “misunderstood” as violence. I do not have a better opinion of DGs than when I first saw the online controversy, and I thought it was completely inappropriate and irresponsible of the SFPL to host them. Threatening violence against women, or wishing death upon “cis” people is not okay, and it never will be okay. It is one thing to defend yourself, and another thing to preemptively physically assault your “scary” opponents if they aren’t doing the same thing to you.

You are wrong, Yolkai. Violence is NOT “self defense.” It’s just violence.

-M.

Silence of the Lambs: Power and Vulnerability

Silence of the Lambs: Power and Vulnerability

I was recently speaking with some other radical feminist friends when Silence of the Lambs came up in conversation. The discussion reminded me of a blog post I had read some time ago in which the author criticized the film as being transmisogynistic. The author argued that the film’s transmisogyny was rooted in portraying Buffalo Bill as an autogynephile, i.e. a man sexually aroused at the thought of being a woman. Portraying Bill as an autogynephile rather than as a transwoman was argued to perpetuate biases against transwomen as wrong, monstrous, and so forth. The author referred to Bill as “she” throughout the article, even posting a picture of how they have the same tattoo that Bill had in the film. However, this interpretation misses the point of the film entirely. While Bill desires a sex change, the film is ultimately not the story of a crazed transwoman. Rather, the film’s horror comes from how men terrorize women for our biology and from the everyday power dynamics between men and women.

Harris, the author of Silence of the Lambs, was careful and insistent that Bill was not transgender. He did not argue that trans people “did not exist”, but rather, that Bill was not one of them. Bill is based off of a real figure, Ed Gein, who made a skin suit (among other things) and had an incestuous relationship with his mother. It’s believed that Gein’s skin suit was an attempt to recreate his dead mother. Gein loved his mother and empathized with her, but he was also abused by her. In turn, he watched her be abused by his father, creating an unhealthy attachment in which he both empathized and identified with yet feared and hated her. In parallel, Bill is described as both hating and loving his mother. Motherhood is one of the motifs of the film. The moth motif, featured prominently on the cover, is tied to motherhood. Bill raises moths from eggs and nurtures them. The entomologist studying one of the moths remarks “somebody loved him”, describing how the moth was nurtured and cared for by Bill, who attempted to fill the role of mother.

The author of the blog post focuses on the famous “mirror scene” in which Bill tucks his penis, looks at himself in the mirror and asks “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me” as an example of the transmisogyny of the film and discourse around it. The author is insistent that this scene is used to discount Bill as an autogynephile rather than trans, but when Bill is read in context, this is precisely an example of autogynephilia. Bill is based on someone who had a sexual relationship with his mother and loved his mother, and Bill wants to become his mother. He doesn’t want to become a woman, but he wants to become his mother. He is turned on by seeing himself this way because his sexuality is based around his mother.
If one is to examine Silence of the Lambs through a critical lens, it should be viewed as a study of the imbalance of power between men and women, and the story is about Clarice Starling above anything else. Her superiors at the FBI leer at her, the prison warden leers at her, and the first time she enters the cell block, one of the prisoners ejaculates onto her. Even in that same scene, in her first meeting with Hannibal, he alludes to her sexual history. Hannibal spends the film trying to get into Clarice’s head through a mixture of making her vulnerable, offering himself as a helper, and sexually unnerving her. He “defends” her by causing the prisoner who assaulted her to commit suicide, and he brings out her childhood vulnerability and trauma by having her discuss her father’s murder and her witnessing the lambs being killed and hearing them scream. He also acts sexually towards her, but in a more subtle, non-violent way, such as drawing pictures of her and telling her things like “people will say we’re in love.”

Clarice is not the only target of Hannibal’s terrorism against women. He intimidates and manipulates the senator (whose daughter has been kidnapped by Bill) by using her role as a mother against her. When he is tied up in his “protective gear” (his notorious face mask) he asks the senator if she breastfed her daughter. When she responds affirmatively, he pounces, using the bond between mother and child as an opportunity to terrorize her: “Amputate a man’s leg and he can still feel it tickling. Tell me, mum, when your little girl is on the slab, where will it tickle you?” All the women in the film experience violence or intimidation from men, but let us return our focus to Clarice.

Silence of the Lambs has masterful cinematography; the shots are carefully framed in order to induce certain emotions. The most unnerving scene in the film is one in which Clarice is in a room full of male police officers who are surrounding her and staring at her. It is filmed in a way that makes you, the viewer, feel their stares and her vulnerability. It is that vulnerability that all women feel due to how men can overpower them. In a movie about a serial killer who skins women and another who eats people, the most unnerving scene is one featuring a group of average men.

The film is a study of the immense power difference between men and women, and it is shown through sexual power dynamics, physical power dynamics, and the combination of the two. Clarice Starling is a hero who is vulnerable, complex, and realistic. To even interpret the film as a story about Bill rather than Clarice is a disservice which fails to grasp the film’s intentions.

Why we need a new feminist wave, focusing wholly on elevating women, as recent events showed just how powerless we really still are

Why we need a new feminist wave, focusing wholly on elevating women, as recent events showed just how powerless we really still are

This has been on my mind a lot yesterday. I suddenly realized the utter humiliation that recent events have made of feminists.

We know now, especially undeniably since #\MeToo, that abuse of women is everywhere. Literally everywhere. Hollywood is soaked in abuse, the sports world is the same, any industries, organizations and institutions are as well. This is patriarchy. Both in the USA, as well as in my country or the UK (with the recent revelations regarding the banquet) or all those other countries everywhere: if men are in charge, and men are the dominant group of people, women will be abused. It’s a pleasant exception when there’s actual respect, but far from the norm. It’s not just the super-rich hedonists or some other faceless, far-away boogeyman, it’s men, everywhere, always. And we can complain, but our hands are tied, as we rely on patriarchy to police itself. It takes more than 150 women to get 1 man convicted, and still many men bemoan the poor guy’s fate. Patriarchy has shown time and time again, for millennia, that it won’t help us. It’ll let our abusers and rapists walk free, save for some very rare circumstances, and leave us as vulnerable victims to be finished off, unless other women help us. It won’t protect us and it won’t give us justice. Our abuser can stalk us, or move on to his next prey, and it’s always women who pay the price. Why would it self-police? Patriarchy itself is the perpetrator, a system that is abusive in its very nature!

Just look at all the men who’ll defend porn and prostitution until they’re blue in the face. They feel very muchentitled to abuse us.

Women want them prosecuted, want men to fix their own messes. Morally I agree, but in reality, it’s like asking criminals to self-police, small children to finally behave when their parents aren’t looking, corrupt bankers to hold eachother accountable. Nothing will happen. While it’s men’s problem, they’re in the privileged position to deny it, which is why we should focus our efforts entirely on elevating women so that they can MAKE it men’s problem. Just like a burglar needs an external force to own up to his crime, so do we need to somehow create leverage so that men finally get something to fear from us. We need to get angry, and use that anger to set up our own institutions and resources, wholly owned and created by women. The legal system won’t do it, so we have to find a way to do it otherwise. We need to bundle our powers.

Recent events show, humiliatingly, how powerless we really are

Depressing message, right? But I think it’s true and it showed the failure of the 3d wave.

We can only fix this through another feminist wave, revolutionary and radical in its approach towards patriarchy. Awareness doesn’t do it, writing heartfelt stories about the effects of rape won’t do it, campaigning for consent won’t do it. Aziz Ansari, who pretty much sexually assaulted a woman (in my country, several of the things he did were against the law already, which people are happy to forget) and who poses himself as somewhat of a ”feminist” comedian, went way over the line, as did Louis CK, another wolf in sheep’s clothing. This man Ansari, who, as I discovered, has written a book about romance and of whom we can assume that he knows what consent is, ignored all that because beneath the veneer of male faux feminism (maux feminism?) he’s still just another dude, backed by patriarchy, unhindered in his misogyny. This ”woke” guy had so little actual empathy for a woman, such a limited feeling for her humanity, that he committed a sex crime like it’s nothing, and most of us agree that it’s nothing… masking our shame and pain that this is in fact normal male behavior. I’m sad to say it, but this shows how powerless we are, how little all those campaigns for consent have been. Men may nod and cheer you on, and then they’ll stick their finger in the vagina of an unconsenting woman.

”Soft change” through spreading awareness has done very little. Begging for empathy and understanding brought us nowhere. Involving men in the conversation has been a mockery.

Really, the supposedly best guys that we had, are assaulters and misogynists as well. We’re on our own as women, and it’s time to realize that and bring back the focus on us as a sex class and leave all males out of it. As a class, they’ve shown us what they’re worth, and how we literally cannot know who is to be trusted. Despite all the virtue signaling, we still can only judge men on an individual basis, not based on what they say, but what they do in private. We need to create resources on our own as women, we have to leave men out of it entirely.

We need real changes. ”Consent is sexy” doesn’t cut it, self-empowerment doesn’t do it, asking our oppressors to please oppress us less doesn’t do it, and even those who seemed decent and who were capable of parroting some slogans utterly fail to see us as humans. Despite the efforts, despite the heartfelt articles, despite the campaigning, men don’t care. Individuals will, but certainly not as a class. This is a really painful lesson imo, it makes women’s efforts look so silly, so quaint, even while I disagree with a lot of the 3d wave… it’s just painful. Our words our powerless when directed at men as a class and hard change is the only way forward. By asking patriarchal systems to prosecute men for us, is like kicking a wall and only hurting our foot, we will need to bring a sledgehammer. No more wishy-washy genderqueer drivel, we need RADICAL CHANGE.

Recent events really illustrated how powerless we are. How little influence we really have. The contempt that men have for us. I just really want that anger and pain to result in change, in our own resources, in focusing on each other and creating leverage, creating power for ourselves. Forget men, they’re scum. We will have to do it.

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 2

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 2

 

Continued from Part 1

  • Having important life goals and ensuring those around you support them: Part of empowerment is deciding how you want to live your life, what you want to achieve, and then going after those ambitions rather than doing what others want or what you think you should be doing according to cultural norms.  Having healthy relationships means that your partner, family members, and friends support your goals and the things in life that are important to you. It may be helpful to write down your goals and why they are important to you to remind yourself to stay strong if you ever feel discouraged. While a goal of creating world peace is admirable, you are more likely to achieve your goals when they are SMART: specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

 

  • Cultivating and maintaining supportive female friendships, trusting and supporting other women: Women are socialized to distrust, antagonize, compete with, and dislike other women – to align themselves with men and give their time and energy to them. This can make cultivating and maintaining supportive relationships with other women, or even politically organizing with them, difficult or challenging, but ultimately one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. If you’re looking to make female friends you can post an ad on craigslist or Meetup, you could join a club, craft, sport, or volunteer group, or try to make friends through your school, job, or faith community. For many women it takes a lot of work to overcome the internalized misogyny that is preventing them from having fulfilling friendships or working together with other women. If this is something you struggle with, try to keep the following tips in mind: Support is a two-way street – try being the friend you’d like to have.  Avoid things like talking about other women behind their back and name calling (even if it seems endearing) like bitch or slut. Engage more in celebrating other women’s successes, being emotionally supportive, and giving other women the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judgement.

Politically speaking try to avoid horizontal hostility and identity politics – you don’t have to agree 100% with someone to show solidarity and build coalitions for common causes. Learn about the cultures of women who are different from you by reading books and watching documentaries, but don’t assume this makes you an expert. If you’re offering political support to women of a different race, class, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. than yourself, make sure you do so respectfully – ask how you can be involved if at all, don’t presume to speak for the group or assume authority, don’t interrupt or talk over others, insert your own opinions, start arguments, or derail conversations, and avoid power struggles and cliques – in short, let the group decide what their objectives are and what your role will be in them and respect their rules, conditions for participation, and code of conduct. If you have concerns about the group bring them up privately to leadership and respect their response – if asked to leave the group do so with maturity and equanimity. Avoid airing dirty laundry about other women or groups – public critiques should be respectful, grounded in feminist analysis, and aimed at principles, not personal attacks.

  • Being able to control your reproduction: Physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, and financial autonomy are all essential for personal empowerment. Pregnancy, labor, and birth can be taxing or stressful for women in all these areas, therefore, you should have the right to decide if and when to have children and how many. In the US there are many options for controlling your reproduction including hormonal contraception, e.g. the pill, ring, implant, shot, or some intrauterine devices (IUDs), non-hormonal contraception, also called barrier methods, e.g. condom, sponge, diaphragm, or cervical cap, fertility awareness method, also called natural family planning or rhythm method (there are free apps you can use to track your menstrual cycle), and abstinence. In the US, if you’re interested in hormonal contraception, many are free or low-cost if you have Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA also mandates that your annual gynecological exam that is required for a birth control prescription to also be fully covered by your insurance provider. If you do not have insurance many community health programs offer low- or no-cost exams and other preventative care appointments.

At your annual exam your doctor will take a swab of your cervix to check for abnormal cells, a procedure called a pap smear, test you for certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (but not necessarily all of them so if you suspect you may have been exposed make sure to ask your doctor to test you), often will do palpation exam of your breasts, and sometimes will check your iron levels or other lab work.  The exam shouldn’t be any more painful than a little discomfort so if your doctor is causing you pain you have the right to ask them to stop the exam. Your doctor should also be explaining everything they’re going to do before they do it and answer any questions you have.

The office will call you in a few days to tell you the results of your pap smear. If they detected abnormal cells it is most likely because you have been exposed to a strain of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and they will ask you to come in for a biopsy of your cervix. If the biopsy results are positive for certain strains of malignant HPV they will go over your treatment options. If you’re sexually active it is important to get your annual pap smear because if left untreated some types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer, but it’s important to note that most women who have their abnormal cells treated do not go on to develop cancer and are able to maintain healthy cervical tissue.

Although not viable as a long-term contraception method, if you have a lapse in your birth control that results in unprotected sex you can get “the morning-after pill,” or emergency contraception (EC), over the counter and take it within 72 hours to prevent pregnancy. EC usually costs between $35-60, with the generic version being less expensive than the brand name version, Plan B. If your local pharmacy only has Plan B, there is a $10 coupon you can get on their website, which also has information about how it works, side effects, and an FAQ. If you have health insurance, you may be able to use it to purchase EC so ask a pharmacist for help if this is an option for you. You can also order a generic version of EC to have on hand in case you need it.

If you find yourself with an unwanted pregnancy you can obtain either a surgical or medication abortion to terminate the pregnancy. If you are in a country in which abortion access is restricted or illegal you can contact Women on Web or Women on Waves for help. In the US although Planned Parenthood is the most well known abortion provider, there are various local providers as well. Every state has its own laws pertaining to abortion services so make sure you call your local clinic and make an appointment as soon as possible – they usually won’t be able to see you for a few days, so you have time to think about it and change your mind if you want, but the longer you wait the fewer options you have.

NOTE: It is imperative that you call an actual abortion clinic and not a “crisis pregnancy center.” These are intended to confuse you and they are frauds. When you show up for your appointment, instead of counseling you they will try intimidate you, sometimes traumatically, into deciding not to have an abortion. They will tell you misinformation about abortion causing breast cancer, suicidality, or infertility [it doesn’t]. They will tell you that they will help you and provide you with financial and material resources for you and your baby [they won’t]. At an actual clinic they will give you accurate information and resources for adoption or prenatal care if you do end up choosing not to terminate the pregnancy and they will provide you with respectful, supportive care without trying to coerce, shame, or scare you.

Being able to control your reproduction also means being able to make choices about your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum if you find yourself with a wanted pregnancy. If this is the case, firstly congratulations! And secondly you should know that you also have a number of rights as a pregnant, birthing, and postpartum patient, including the right to privacy, to choose your midwife or physician, choose your birth setting, information about benefits and risks of procedures, drugs, tests, or treatments, to accept or refuse any of these and to have your choices honored, to change your mind or withdraw your consent at any time, receive care that is appropriate for your cultural or religious background, communication in your preferred language, have family members or support persons of your choice present, freedom of movement during labor, and uninterrupted contact with your baby.

For many women childbirth can be a fulfilling and empowering experience, but for many women, it can leave them feeling traumatized if they experienced induction, poor pain relief, feelings of loss of control, high levels of medical intervention, not being listened to, lack of information or explanation, lack of privacy and dignity, poor postnatal care, or previous trauma, among other factors. For this reason many women opt to hire a birth doula to assist with various aspects of emotional support, physical support, education, and advocacy during childbirth. Doulas can help you make a birth plan with all of your preferences that will be given to the medical staff assisting with your labor and delivery. Whether you decide to hire a doula or not, make sure you take childbirth classes if it’s your first pregnancy to prepare you for all of the different things that can come up during labor. Many women suffer injuries from childbirth that go overlooked or undertreated by their doctors. If you have lingering postpartum pain or other health issues and your doctor doesn’t take them seriously make sure you find a healthcare professional who does.

  • Learning self-sufficiency skills: Learning to be self-sufficient can be one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. The more skills you learn and master the more time, energy, and money you can save – plus you get the satisfaction of a job well done that can be a major confidence-booster. At the very least if you do choose to hire someone, your increased knowledge of the skill or trade will help you know whether they’re doing good work at a fair price or whether they’re trying to rip you off. Some areas of self-sufficiency skills include: automotive, bicycle, and other vehicle repair/maintenance, home repair/maintenance and remodelling, farming/gardening, trapping/hunting/animal raising, butchering, fishing, weaponsmithing/repair, food preservation, radio operation, knot-tying, pest-control, sewing/weaving/knitting, cooking/baking, woodworking/carpentry, plumbing, computer programming, accounting/bookkeeping/tax preparation, survival skills, first aid, foraging, electronics repair, and welding. A lot of community colleges will offer these kinds of classes at a low cost so introductory-level mastery is can be easily accessible. You may also be able to find local craft or trade groups that offer classes or lessons, or you may be able to volunteer somewhere in exchange for learning the skill. And if nothing else there are always YouTube videos, library books, and the trial-by-error learning process.

 

  • Being physically fit and strong: Being physically fit and strong not only helps you escape and survive potentially dangerous situations, but also builds up your confidence and self-esteem, which plummet for most girls when they hit puberty. The keys to maintaining good physical fitness are to make it a part of your everyday life, make a commitment to prioritizing it, and make it something you enjoy doing. This could be a group sport or activity or something you do on your own. There are many women’s sports, cardio, weightlifting, and strength training classes or groups that you can find for free or low cost through your local YMCA or parks and recreation department. There also lots of books, apps, websites, and videos you can utilize for individual training. You don’t need an expensive personal trainer or elaborate equipment to get started – you just need the motivation.

Part of physical fitness is also ensuring that you maintain a healthy weight, diet, and relationship with food. If you have an eating disorder or are underweight it is imperative that you seek treatment because if left untreated could become a life-threatening condition. The good news is that most women who seek treatment for their eating disorders recover and go on to maintain healthy a weight and relationship with food. As with other mental health issues, there is no one-size-fits-all path to recovery – make sure you try various treatment options until you find one that works for you. If you need to lose weight, whatever diet, meaning nutritional program, you decide on make sure you research it thoroughly so that you’re not setting yourself up for failure. Don’t engage in temporary, or “crash,” diets just to lose weight because that usually means you will gain back the weight after you stop dieting, commonly referred to as “yo-yo dieting.” Your diet should be something that you can easily fit into your lifestyle over the long term and shouldn’t require drastic changes or cumbersome restriction. Don’t get obsessed with a number on a scale – let your body find the weight that feels naturally comfortable and that will also keep you healthy.

Try to learn as much as you can about nutrition, your body’s needs, and how to heal your relationship with food, which may require professional assistance from a psychologist, therapist, or dietitian. Many dieticians will offer free consultations and many insurance plans will cover follow-up visits with a small co-pay, so if you’re overwhelmed with where to start or what nutritional program is right for you, it may be a good idea to make an appointment to talk about your options.  Many communities will offer free weight-loss classes or support groups as well. Once you develop a nutritional and fitness plan, there are many free apps and websites you can use to help you stay on track and reach your goals.

  • Rejecting feminine grooming rituals and beauty practices: As documented by feminist theorist Sheila Jeffreys, socially prescribed feminine grooming rituals and beauty practices – that are so pervasive as to be rendered “natural” – have numerous harmful side effects for women both physical and psychological. Thus rejecting these social mandates is critical for personal empowerment. Feminine clothing such as dresses, bras, spanx, and high heels are often restrictive and uncomfortable – they can prevent you from running or fighting, and can cause damage to your spine or feet. Likewise, shaving or waxing your underarms, legs, and pubic hair, cosmetic surgery, eyebrow threading, waxing or plucking, hairdressing and coloring, manicures and pedicures, anti-aging treatments, and makeup can be expensive, painful, uncomfortable, and time-consuming. All of these beauty practices are psychologically restrictive as they send the message to your subconscious [read: socialization] that your primary function is to be looked at, to be a passive decoration, rather than to be one who acts upon the world: to be an object rather than a subject. Imagine all the things you could accomplish if you used the time and money it takes to conform to societal standards of femininity to instead do something that really fulfills you as a multifaceted human being!

Think about it: there’s a reason that only one half of the population is asked to electively self-harm in such a way, is told that their natural bodies aren’t good enough, while the other half is allowed to be comfortable and free from elaborate and expensive grooming rituals. Spoiler alert: it isn’t because it’s beneficial to women – it’s for the benefit of men and men only. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself, you cannot choose to participate in femininity “for yourself” because it never was and never will be for you. It may make you feel good about yourself temporarily but only because it feels good to be validated by society and by patriarchy. However, that is only a superficial feeling – true self-esteem and confidence come from loving – and wearing – your natural face, your unsupported breasts, your lumpy belly, your unshaven legs, underarms, and pubic hair, your wrinkles, your gray hair, your natural nails, and from wearing comfortable, practical clothing.  

  • Taking off your hijab when it’s against the law:  My Stealthy Freedom is an online social movement that allows women to protest compulsory hijab laws in countries like Iran by sharing photos of themselves with uncovered hair. These brave women are not only empowering themselves but also working toward the liberation of all their fellow countrywomen.

Although this guide has covered a lot, don’t think that you need to try to tackle everything in it all at once. To start, pick something that seems the most interesting to you or that you could benefit the most from. As you find yourself mastering these everyday acts of empowerment, make sure you share these skills with other women through education and support.  And no matter what, remember to stay strong on your feminist journey!

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 1

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 1

Disclaimer: this is mostly focused on resources available in the US, as that is what I’m familiar with – please help broaden the scope of this guide by adding resources available to women in other parts of the world.

       Empowerment, that most noblest of goals professed by almost all contemporary feminist movements near and wide, but what exactly is it? How do you know if you are empowered, making empowering choices, or empowering others? The term has become so ubiquitous as to nearly lose any meaning whatsoever. Here are provided some answers and tips for getting the most out of your individual acts of feminist rebellion.

       There are two necessary components of effective empowerment, and a third component required for an act of empowerment to be specifically feminist. First, empowerment is a result or an effect, usually of organized political resistance. Second, empowerment provides meaningful and tangible benefits to a disempowered person or group. Finally,  it must be organized by and contribute to the rights, autonomy, and liberation of women. The following is a perfect example of this definition of empowerment:  

       In October 2015, 6,000 women who work as tea pickers for Kanan Devan Hills tea plantations in Kerala blocked the main road to the company’s headquarters. The company is part-owned but controlled by Tata, an Indian multinational and owner of Tetley Tea. Women organized the blockage themselves. They had no experience in union agitation, but defying all odds, they struggled against both the company and the union that was believed to represent them. Pempilai Orumai (Women’s Unity) stayed put for nine days. After endless negotiations overseen by the state, they won the 20 percent bonus they were demanding.

       The women of Pempilai Orumai won the 20% bonus their demanded due to their organized and prolonged resistance. Comparing this to our definition of empowerment, we find that it fits all of the 3 components of feminist empowerment. They achieved a result/effect that they demanded, the result provided them a meaningful benefit (the 20% bonus), and it was an act that benefitted women specifically. We can use this same framework to analyze other individual and organized actions, such as SlutWalk, and determine whether they are truly empowering.  

       SlutWalk organizers and participants demand an end to rape culture by marching in lingerie in order to call attention to the pervasive victim-blaming surrounding rape cases in the press, law enforcement, and social media. While an admirable, and certainly meaningful goal, “the end to rape culture” isn’t a tangible goal  – how do we know when rape culture has ended? One might argue that the end will come when women are no longer sexually objectified in popular culture, but then that would directly contradict the method of resistance employed by SlutWalk participants. Thus, if the goal is immeasurable then there is essentially no result or effect to be attained other than the ever-indefinite “awareness.” Finally, although SlutWalk was organized by women, it has been criticized as erasing or trivializing the destructive relationship between women of color and sexual stereotypes, arguing that the effort to reclaim the word “slut” is an option only available to white, middle-class women. Others have criticized it further, saying that the goal of reclaiming the word “slut” itself is a misguided attempt to promote women’s sexual liberation, as it is so entrenched in patriarchal norms of women’s sexuality that it serves to reinforce rape culture rather than dismantle it. Thus when compared to the definition of feminist empowerment detailed earlier, it’s arguable that actions like SlutWalk, although organized with admirable goals, are neither feminist nor empowering.

       Similarly, individual actions can be evaluated within this framework in order to determine whether they are empowering. Contemporary mainstream feminism in the West boasts that anything a woman chooses to do can be empowering and/or feminist, whether that is simply wearing makeup and high heels or performing in pornography or other “sex work” – as long as it’s your choice as a woman and “feels” empowering, then it is beyond critique. To state it simply, this guide does not subscribe to that definition of empowerment. This guide maintains that feminist empowerment is more than a feeling resulting from individual choices [which are always mitigated by various societal constraints] – that being said, however, there are a number of everyday acts that can contribute to your and other women’s empowerment, many of which rely on overcoming your feminine socialization and societal pressures toward compulsory femininity, which are inherently oppressive to women across racial, economic, religious, and geographic divides. So for those times when you’re not engaged in some sort of organized resistance, you can try these individual acts of feminist empowerment:

  • Learning and practicing self-defense strategies and techniques: Self-defense training has been shown to decrease unwanted sexual contact from men. It is important to find a comprehensive self-defense training program that is feminist-oriented. This means that in addition to physical self-defense techniques, the by-women-for-women program will also teach verbal skills, awareness training, risk assessment, boundary-setting, bystander intervention, confidence-building, and de-escalation techniques, such as the Warrior Sisters program, which can be found in the US, UK, and Canada. There are also videos with many practical tips that can be easily implemented in your everyday routines. Some women engage in weapons and firearms training.  If this is something you decide is appropriate for yourself make sure that your training regimen is in addition to a comprehensive self-defense program and not in place of it – having a wide variety of tools, techniques, and skills at your disposal is the best self-defense strategy.
  • Being financially independent: Being financially independent means not having to rely on men for economic support, and ideally being able to support yourself if and when you need to with dignified, and meaningful work. This can include having your own bank account, your own source of income or potential for one, having as much education and skills training as possible to secure and maintain a well paying job, craft, or trade, a prenuptial agreement or other legal arrangements when necessary, equitable division of financial obligations with male partners, salary and other negotiation skills, consumer research and purchasing skills, having, understanding, and appropriately utilizing adequate types of insurance, protection from identity theft, and financial literacy.

If you’re a low-wage earner or non-wage earner you can still pursue a lot of these skills for little to no cost – many communities, schools, and libraries will offer financial literacy and other classes – how to budget, repair your credit, do your taxes, invest or save, etc. – and you can always get books for free from the library. Although not explicitly feminist, Suze Orman has written financial advice books for women that are straightforward and easy to implement.  Many communities will offer free job training, resume writing, and interview preparation services as well. If you’re self-employed or make freelance income you may be able to find mentoring services by women, for women. There are also many free budgeting and investing apps.

  • Being politically informed and engaged, knowing your rights: Participating in your system of governance is essential for personal empowerment. Stay informed about proposed laws and how they will affect you and contact your elected officials with any questions or comments. It may not always feel like it but advocating for your needs to your elected officials does make a difference – for every instance that you advocate for yourself you are also advocating on behalf of many other women like you. Attending and speaking at governance meetings or personally meeting with your elected officials is the most effective way to advocate for yourself – handwritten postcards or letters are the next most effective method, and then phone calls and emails. Look up and save the numbers for your city council members, mayor, governor, state representatives, senators, congressional representatives, or members of parliament and take a few minutes to call on your lunch break. If you’re in the US you can call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to your senators or representative. If you’re interested in running for office there are organizations like Emily’s List in the US that will help mentor you and provide resources, even at local levels.

Knowing your rights is also essential for personal empowerment – if you don’t know your rights how can you know if they’re being violated? The US Department of Labor Women’s Bureau offers a free download of all its resources, including equal pay, pregnancy and breastfeeding, sexual harassment, and resources for women of color, women with disabilities, and older women. In the US your employer is required to post your rights and applicable contact information for organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) in a visible place and cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint. In the US you also have rights in the medical field, depending on the state, such as the right to have a female staff member present in doctors’ visits with male doctors, the right to informed consent and refusal for any medical procedure or medication, and the right to privacy and confidentiality. Title IX of the US Education Amendments guarantees equal treatment for female students, including in athletic, housing, and academic settings. 

  • Consciousness raising and feminist education: Consciousness raising is the process by which women, usually together collectively, identify and work to overcome the limitations of their feminine socialization – a topic that will be covered in more depth later. It also involves analyzing what are usually considered to be “individual problems” within a feminist framework in order to properly situate them within the systems of power that produce them (hence the meaning of “the personal is political”), e.g. domestic violence, sexual assault, discrimination, etc. Consciousness raising is an integral part of feminist empowerment as it builds the foundation for the possibility of political resistance. Consciousness raising also involves more than just learning how to identify systemic causes for women’s oppression and requires appropriately placing feelings of anger or guilt toward those systems rather than toward oneself, i.e. externalizing rather than internalizing. It’s about being able to say there is something wrong with the systems that create these conditions for women, rather than saying there is something wrong with yourself for not being able [or willing] to conform to them.

Learning about women’s history and the history of feminist resistance is also integral for personal empowerment. Women have been largely cut off from knowing about other women’s accomplishments and achievements in mainstream channels of education, especially those of women of color. Part of how feminine socialization works is that constantly seeing images of men’s accomplishments forms a subconscious impression in your mind that only men are capable of such achievements. This aspect of the socialization process is called internalization and it operates on a completely subconscious level, meaning we are often consciously unaware of the biases it produces. Educating yourself about women’s achievements and the history of feminism can not only help you become more consciously aware of those biases but also help you overcome them and form positive subconscious impressions that women, and thus you too, are capable of doing great things.

Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution is an online exhibit showcasing the history of the feminist movement in the US from 1940-present, including sections on politics and social movements, body and health, and workplace and family. Click!’s resource library and GoodRead’s women’s history shelf compliation offer hundreds of book recommendations to get you started. You should be able to find many of these books at your local library, but if they don’t have what you’re looking for don’t assume you are out of luck and must purchase it. Many libraries offer interlibrary loans as well as the ability to suggest a book for them to purchase, which provides a valuable service as the book will then be available for others to read as well. Writing reviews and recommendations for women’s history and feminist books on your library account page or the library’s website also helps provide exposure for other readers.

  • Learning about and appreciating your body: Women are socialized almost from day one to dislike, criticize, and even distrust their bodies. More than just the constant bombardment of unattainable beauty standards, various social institutions have both routinely pathologized and ignored women’s bodies, biological functions, needs, and complaints. Thus learning about how your body works is integral to personal empowerment. The classic women-authored book Our Bodies, Ourselves has been adapted into 30 languages, features culturally specific information for various communities, and is an excellent resource for any woman looking to learn more about her body. One simple thing you can do toward this goal of empowerment is that every time you find yourself criticizing your body for whatever reason, find something to appreciate about your body, even if it’s something small, even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable at first. Consider boycotting cable tv and women’s magazines as the images and advertizing foster negative body images. Try to only consume media that presents positive representations of women and be picky about what you allow into your mind in order to cultivate a feminist consciousness. In a feminist sense, try to emulate the Buddhist saying that you should guard your mind as you would an open wound in a rough crowd.

Some bigger steps you can take toward this goal include finding doctors who support you and take your needs seriously. If a doctor dismisses or trivializes any of your complaints, get a second opinion or switch doctors. With recent evidence showing patients of female doctors have better outcomes than those of male doctors, you might even consider seeing only female doctors when possible. Make sure that your doctor gives you all the information you need to make informed decisions for any medication or procedure. Make sure you ask questions such as: what is this medication/procedure, how does it work, what are the potential side effects, and are there any other treatment options? If the doctor acts like you’re inconveniencing them or is trying to rush you into making a decision, do not feel bad about demanding their time and attention or asking for another doctor. Unless it’s a life or death situation, even in things like childbirth there is rarely a problem so urgent that you can’t take a couple minutes to think about it. If you have trouble speaking up for yourself consider bringing along a friend or family member who can help encourage and support you.

  • Learning and practicing self-acceptance and self-love: This act of empowerment can be one of the most difficult for many women to practice or master. Women are constantly bombarded with images saying they’re not good enough in virtually all areas of life whether implicitly or explicitly, and these negative feelings can be further compounded if you have survived some kind of trauma. Thus self-acceptance and self-love are some of the most important gifts you can give to yourself as a woman, even if it seems impossible to achieve. The first step is to become conscious of that voice in your head that speaks negatively to you about yourself. Realize that this voice is not you – this voice is like a program you downloaded a long time ago that is always running in the background and is now out of date. Once you become aware of the voice you can work on overwriting that “program” with a newer, more loving one. This is something that can take years to achieve so be patient with yourself – it won’t be quick and easy, but it will be rewarding.

To overwrite your old programming try this technique: Every time you catch that voice in your head saying something negative to you about yourself don’t feel bad about it, don’t get mad or feel guilty about it (but don’t make yourself wrong if you do feel that way though). Instead, pretend that voice is like a small child who is scared or lonely and treat it with care and love and forgiveness. It may help to visualize yourself holding the personification of the voice or negative thought and comforting it, or just speak reassuringly and compassionately to it. You may have developed this voice at one time in your life as a coping mechanism to help you through a tough situation and it never got the memo that you’ve moved on. If so, thank it for trying to help, but explain that now you need it to help in a different way – you need it to say positive, encouraging things to you instead, like: and offer an example. For example if you find yourself thinking “I’m worthless” you could say to yourself in response “I am worthy of love and respect.” Eventually the new, positive thoughts will literally build up the neural networks in your brain so that you think them more often and the negative thought neural networks will die off from not being used. Note: It’s important that your positive thoughts are stated in the present tense (I am) rather than future tense (I will) and also that they focus on what you want to feel rather than what you don’t want feel.

An important part of self-acceptance is that it is unconditional. If you say “I will feel good about myself when…” then you will never feel good about yourself – your mind will never let you feel good about yourself because you have programmed it to believe that your reward is perpetually in the future, always off somewhere in the distant land of perfection [which is always unattainable]. Make a commitment to yourself that you will love and forgive yourself no matter what. Realize that you are good enough as you are right now and that you do not have to meet any conditions to deserve to feel good about yourself. You are worth the time and energy to care for yourself.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues consider seeing a feminist therapist or psychiatrist or attending a women’s support group, especially if you have survived sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse, or other kinds of trauma. When looking for a therapist it is important to find a good fit for your needs so make sure to ask potential therapists what their therapeutic orientation is and whether they utilize feminist principles. Recovery from the damage of living in patriarchal society can be like a full-time job and part of that job is trying different tools, techniques, strategies, and services until you find something that works for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution so don’t feel bad if you find yourself needing to switch therapists, or if you need to try a different approach altogether.

  • Asserting your boundaries and not apologizing for doing so: Women are socialized to be accommodating to others at the expense of their own needs and comfort. Thus defining and asserting your boundaries unapologetically is essential for personal empowerment. It will probably be uncomfortable the first few times and you may even get some backlash from men (or even other women), but in the end it can be really liberating. It can also be challenging due to the sheer amount of everyday sexism you may encounter. You do not owe anyone, even your partner, your time, energy, or space – these are precious, finite resources, so treat them with care. Defining and asserting your boundaries is about learning to prioritize your needs because no one else is going to do that for you. This can include how you choose to raise your children, equitable sharing of household responsibilities with male partners, taking up space/being physically comfortable, being loud or angry when appropriate, avoiding toxic friendships, relationships, or workplaces, not letting others interrupt or talk over you, workplace culture, schedule, and responsibilities, and sexual choices.

Sexual boundaries can often be really challenging for women to define and assert. The prevailing cultural message is that all women enjoy being sexually available to any man for any sex act at any time, which can be quite a shock to some men to learn that that isn’t the case. First you have to know what you like and what you don’t like and to be able to discern this requires some level of feminist consciousness (e.g. do you think you like something because mainstream culture tells you that you should or do you genuinely like it?). Once you figure this out make sure you communicate with your partner about it. If they try to pressure you into doing things you don’t like or don’t want to do that is called coercion and it’s not OK. You should be able to expect that your partner will respect your sexual boundaries without complaint, persuasion, or argument. You do not owe anyone, even your partner, an explanation for why you do or do not want to do something. “No” is a complete sentence. Having and asserting sexual boundaries includes not faking orgasms, which takes up your energy in order to stroke a man’s ego for something you didn’t even enjoy.

If you suspect you may be involved in an unhealthy friendship, relationship, or workplace environment, you may need to consider leaving or ending the relationship. When you decide that it is time to leave the toxic relationship or environment, start documenting everything just in case you need it for legal reasons.  If the relationship is abusive you may need to make a safety plan and contact a local domestic violence hotline for support before you leave.

To be continued

Why we need to stop calling homophobes ‘secretly gay’

Why we need to stop calling homophobes ‘secretly gay’

       In October 2017, Donald Trump joked that Mike Pence wanted to hang all gay people. The reactions were typical yet disappointing. Rather than mass outrage at casual jokes about genocide, people on the internet were quick to turn to the tired, overused joke that Mike Pence only feels this way because he himself is secretly gay and represses these feelings or only acts on them in secret.

       This is a common trope with respect to homophobia. Homophobes are assumed to be repressing internalized homophobia and squashing down their own secret gay feelings. Sometimes this is meant as a joke, and other times this is intended as a serious sociological statement. They are often said by those who believe themselves to be allies to gay people. However, these jokes or statements are ultimately homophobic.

       Mocking a disliked figure for their supposed gay identity turns being gay into the butt of the joke and something worth being ashamed of. On the most basic level, it is a homophobic joke for assuming homosexuality is something worthy of shame and mockery. Further, the belief that homophobes are secretly gay turns the attention away from how homophobia is systemic, detracting attention from how heterosexuals oppress homosexuals. Joking that Mike Pence is secretly gay turns the villain of the story into another gay person. Suddenly, it is not a heterosexual as the oppressor. It becomes easier for heterosexuals to stomach a situation if they are not painted as the oppressor and if those that they hold implicit biases against are painted in a negative light. Even allies hold implicit biases and will be more comfortable with associating gay with villain than straight with villain. It is difficult to stand seeing oneself reflected in the oppressor.

       Believing that Mike Pence wants to kill gay people because he is secretly gay turns the acts of oppression he has committed into “gay on gay” crime. Suddenly this becomes an issue that gay people must deal with among themselves rather than an issue that requires collective action from heterosexuals. It becomes an issue among a minority group, i.e. a “small issue” rather than a large-scale issue of a dominant group enacting violence against a minority group. Making the villain into another gay person implies that heterosexuals are not responsible for the oppression. It distracts from discussion of how heterosexuals systemically oppress gay people.

       These sorts of jokes are often made by allies who mean well and don’t have ill intent- so how can they be homophobic? One does not need to have explicitly homophobic motivations in order for their actions to be prejudiced. Downplaying the systemic issue that needs addressing, e.g. Mike Pence’s alleged desire to hang gay people, and painting gay people as the source of their own oppression, is a homophobic act.

You’re Assigned Gender Norms, Not “a Gender”

You’re Assigned Gender Norms, Not “a Gender”

       I was watching a talk Robert Jensen did about his book, The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, and he said something particularly poignant about his own socialization as a boy: “I grew up in a way that was traditionally not masculine and I often felt out of sync with the gender norms assigned to me as a boy.” Note that Jensen didn’t say that he felt out of sync with the gender that was assigned to him, but rather with the gender norms. This is an important distinction that has far-reaching implications for the future of feminist activism.

       Feminists have been fighting against assigned gender norms since their inception, with the understanding that gender norms are assigned to individuals based on their belonging within a sex class from the moment they are born, i.e. masculine gender norms are assigned to males and feminine gender norms are assigned to females.  This assignment is carried out implicitly and explicitly throughout all facets of culture via socialization, a process individuals have little to no conscious control of.

      Only recently have “gender norms” become colloquially synonymous with “gender” and “gender” colloquially synonymous with “sex.” Transactivists claim that gender, rather than being imposed upon individuals from extrinsic systems, is an innate feeling or inner sense of being male or female. In this way masculinity inherently equals maleness while femininity inherently equals femaleness, and if one is uncomfortable with what is expected of them due to their assigned gender norms then it really means that they are the opposite sex “on the inside.”

       Radical feminists, on the other hand, take this conceptualization to task, arguing that one’s preferences for activities, their demeanor, their emotional predisposition, etc., i.e. one’s personality, have nothing to do with maleness or femaleness, whether one is really a man or a woman. That, as belonging to a sexually dimorphic species, man and woman are biologically determined categories that are fixed throughout time and place, but that, as belonging to an inherently social species as well, masculinity and femininity are socially constructed and vary widely throughout time and place. That not being a masculine-enough man doesn’t make you a woman, and that not being a feminine-enough woman doesn’t make you a man. It just means that you as an individual deviate from the standard norms society imposes upon you and that’s ok!

       Radical feminists celebrate the flaunting of gender norms in both men and women. We would love to see more “feminine” men and more “masculine” women, as having a healthy balance of character traits, preferences, and skills leads to a meaningful and fulfilling life no matter what sex you are, with the caveat being of course as long no one is harmed in doing so. For this reason many of us call ourselves “gender abolitionists,” meaning we would like to see an end to assigned gender norms across the board and just let people be themselves without fixating upon endless labels, identities, and other constraints. In essence the goal of gender abolition is liberation from an oppressive system, freedom for anyone and everyone to express their personality in authentic ways without worrying about whether it means they are really a man or woman.

       Sadly, transactivists aspire to maintain the oppressive system known as gender. Without gender norms they would have no foundational claim to innate maleness or femaleness. Their entire system of identity-worship would fall apart if people could just be themselves without needing to chain their personality to a label, even if there are 7 billion variations of them. Rejecting or failing to embody your assigned gender norms does not make you different or unique, it does not confer special status, it doesn’t mean you have to change your name, start taking hormones, or have surgeries to try to appear as the opposite sex – it just means that you are capable of embracing the full range of the human experience – something that can never be contained within the perpetual search for one’s “identity.”

Misogyny in breast cancer awareness campaigns

Misogyny in breast cancer awareness campaigns

       Breast cancer awareness campaigns often rely on a culture of misogyny and objectification in order to get their funding. They use slogans such as “save the tatas”, “I  boobies”, or “save second base” to grab attention and get male sponsorship. I will see men walking hand in hand with their girlfriends on the street wearing t-shirts bearing slogans like “I  boobies”, and presumably the guise of raising cancer awareness gives him the free-pass to wear a shirt that normally would not be received well by his partner due to its crudeness.

       The slogan is “save the tatas” when it should be “save the women.” The campaigns focus on breasts as objects of value that need saving, that cancer is bad because it destroys these pleasure-giving objects, when really the focus should be on how women themselves are worth saving. Women are people with value; women should not be valued as “the things that carry breasts.”

       The focus on “save the tatas” instead of “save the women” is also disrespectful towards those women who have experienced breast cancer. Women who have life-saving mastectomies do not need to be told that they have lost what gives them value in the eyes of men. When a woman’s life was saved because she removed her breasts, she does not need to be told that she has lost the thing men felt that she was worth saving for.

       This is textbook objectification, in which breasts are a stand-in for women’s lives and are prioritized before them. This is reminiscent of other campaigns such as “slutwalks”, which purport to be about putting and end to rape culture, but truly are about objectifying women further. Campaigns which should be about the rights and welfare of women are twisted into campaigns focused on pleasing the male gaze. Isn’t saving women’s lives enough of a cause to get behind? Do we really need to reduce the message to a tacky, sexist one in order to get public support?  

Cis Privilege is a Lie: How the language of transactivism tries to manipulate women

Cis Privilege is a Lie: How the language of transactivism tries to manipulate women

I was at the laundromat today and The Doctors was on television with their guest, “lifestyle blogger,” Katherine Schwarzenegger. She was asked if she likes Justin Bieber and she promptly and buoyantly replied, “I’m a woman so of course I do!” Being unable to contain my disgust at not only this pronouncement but also at the fact that “lifestyle blogger” is even a thing, I cursed aloud, which thankfully no one at the laundromat seemed to mind. But more importantly, it also made me think about how the preface, “I’m a woman so…” should never be used on a statement so vapid and banal as liking Justin Bieber, and rather, should be reserved for only those things that women truly share the experience of. And then I thought, this is why people believe that “cis privilege” exists – because being a woman has been reduced to liking Justin Bieber, chocolate, reality tv, makeup, and fashion – in essence, a lifestyle.

As feminists we take the responsibility of choosing our words wisely very seriously. How we talk about things matters because it directly impacts how we think about things and thus how we act on them. And language is a touchy subject especially within contemporary feminism. When you discredit the material reality of being a woman in favor of viewing it as an “identity,” it’s easy to see how the concept of “cis privilege” could make sense to a lot of people. When they hear how transwomen are murdered at a high rate, they say “when a trans person is attacked in the street just for being trans, cis privilege seems very, very real.” At face value this makes sense, however, it’s logically nonsensical.

Colloquially it is often said that “cis” people experience privilege over trans people. But rather than meaning a desirable or favorable individual experience, such as finding a romantic or sexual partner or being able to freely enter the women’s restroom, privilege refers to a set of conditions or benefits conferred to individuals by virtue of being born to a particular social class, which goes mostly unnoticed by the recipients, thus rendering it invisible as a lived experience.

The fact that resumes with male or “white-sounding” names have higher response rates for job interviews than ones with female or “black-sounding” names is illustrative of the concepts of male privilege and white privilege. For the most part the men and whites getting responses from their resumes will believe that they have earned it because they are the best qualified applicants, and most likely it will never cross their minds that they are the beneficiaries of an intangible system that confers higher status upon them.

Being a woman is not a lifestyle. It’s not an identity that can be commodified and consumed or bought and sold. Privilege and oppression do not refer to desirable and undesirable individual experiences and “cis privilege” is a lie. Yes it is true that trans people face threats, harm, and discrimination but that has nothing to do with “cis privilege” and everything to do with homophobia.

Radical feminists want to see trans people protected under the law while still recognizing that the reality of being a woman has vast material and social consequences that are not to be trivialized, undermined, ignored, or cast aside in order to prioritize the demands of transwomen. And if “cis privilege” really existed, one would think that the concerns of women would be taken seriously, however, more often than not the opposite is true. So the next time you hear something about “cis privilege” don’t just take it at face value – there is more to the story, and that story usually involves using language to manipulate women into going against their own interests. In other words, don’t believe the hype – transactivism is misogyny.

Lesbophobia in Evolutionary Psychology

Lesbophobia in Evolutionary Psychology

       Evolutionary psychology explores an interesting question- how did we evolve the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms which govern our lives, from developing religion to forming languages to developing the family structure? But while the question of “how did we evolve this way” is appealing, one must be careful not to engage in the naturalistic fallacy when answering it. The naturalistic fallacy states that what is is what ought to be. When seeking to address how we evolved a certain way, it is tempting to slip into explaining what one finds in the natural world, e.g. a cultural practice, as existing because it is in some way beneficial and must have evolved to serve a purpose. In reality, natural selection allows for spandrels, bi-products of the evolutionary process; many things exist in nature which are not selected for.

       We are particularly susceptible to faulty claims about what ought to be in when addressing the dynamics between men and women in contemporary society. The role of patriarchy and the pressures it places on us are often ignored. The particular dynamics that exist between men and women are taken at face value as something that evolved because they were the most adaptive. Take for example how women in most cultures around the world report that they prefer their mates to have money more than they prefer their mate to be attractive. Men, however, prefer the attractive mate. This leads to assumptions about how evolutionary pressures due to the cost of reproduction lead women to desire security for themselves and their offspring, whereas men desire signs of health and fertility in a mate. This ignores the culturally-bound pressures in which women are more likely to be constrained in their access to resources.

       If women wanted to maximize resources for themselves and for their offspring, their best strategy would be to have multiple mates and have the father of their child be unknown, so that each of the men are investing as if the child is his. Indeed, children who are born into cultures which practice partible paternity (where it is believed that multiple men can be the father of a child) have multiple men investing in them and are more likely to live past childhood than children with only a single father.

       Polygynous societies are worse for offspring’s wellness than traditional societies; there is a higher rate of childhood death among polygynous societies. However, while partible paternity is the most adaptive mating strategy in terms of securing resources and investing in offspring, it is the least common compared to a parental dyad or polygyny. The norm is a system in which women’s mating strategies are controlled by men, and this is rarely questioned as the best way for which a woman could secure a future for her offspring. The assumption is made that the current structure developed because of the pressures of natural selection rather than any pressures of human culture such as patriarchy.

       The assumptions made about the evolution of female sexuality have negative consequences for women. One research article released in May of 2017 suggested that female same-sex attraction evolved because men find it sexually arousing. The lead researcher told Pink News “My argument in the paper is this: A considerable proportion of men desire same-sex attractions in women, and this is one possible reason why many women have such attractions.”

       Almost twice as many women report same sex attraction as men (cultural pressures that may make men more reticent to report same-sex attraction are ignored), so the assumption is that same-sex attraction in women must have been selected for in some way. The researchers propose that a man serves to gain by his partner having occasional same-sex attraction because it would reduce the risk of cuckholdry and may allow him access to additional mates. It potentially reduces the risk of cuckholdry because a man can be assured if his partner is sleeping with another woman, that she will not get pregnant and have a child that is not his own. Therefore, it does not carry the same stress as if she were cheating with other men. His partner’s attraction may also allow him to gain access to other women because she may bring home other mates, or he can be assured that they will be satisfied with one another and not stray if he acquires more mates in a polygynous arrangement. This alone is quite the assumption that relies on “gay genes” that are selected for, but the methodology itself does not lend support for such an assumption.

       As can be surmised by the heteronormative language used thus far, the study surveyed heterosexuals, regardless of their partnered status. Participants were asked a series of questions about how they would feel if their partner was interested in the same sex or found to be cheating with the same sex. Over 34% of the sample was single, thus they were answering about how they would feel in a hypothetical relationship. People are generally poor at emotional forecasting, but ask a single man what he would do if he caught his girlfriend cheating on him with another woman, and I’ll place a bet that his response will be influenced by his amount of pornography consumed due to the vast number of pornographic scenarios which start with precisely that premise. While women did not desire their partner to be attracted to the same sex, about 15% of men desired such a thing in a long-term relationship and 30% desired it if the hypothetical was a short-term relationship. The participants were not asked if they were imagining this attraction would lead into the possibility of a three-way. It was concluded that women’s experience of same-sex attraction may be selected for because men find it to be sexually arousing.

       It’s striking that the researchers make note of culture in order to say that their data is limited to the culture in which it was tested (Cyprus) and might be influenced by how the sample is largely Christian, yet they don’t acknowledge the role of culture in other ways. For instance, the use of pornography could influence men’s forecast of how they believe they would feel in the particular scenario or would influence their desire for a three-way. However, the lead researcher told Pink News “I can’t really see how cultural factors would make some men be turned on when their partners tell them I want to have sex with another woman.”

       The study fails in multiple respects, from the assumptions it makes to the design itself. Western men are also attracted to breasts, but no one is supposing that the mammary glands evolved in order to attract mates rather than to feed young. Many men report that choking during sex is a turn-on, but we would not report that violence evolved for the sake of procreation. There’s a failure to examine evolutionary history itself, the behaviors of other animals, failure to account for cultural effects, and a failure to study the direct experiences of the individual. The men surveyed were asked their feelings about a hypothetical same-sex attraction, but the reality is that men react poorly when their female partner comes out to them as attracted to other women. In studies of how men have reacted in real scenarios, it has not been received well, leading to feelings of sadness, pain, and anger rather than being turned on.

       Lesbians struggle enough as it is to be taken seriously. Lesbian existence is met with violence since men are threatened by women who do not need men. The sort of story presented by this research gives “evidence” to comfort men that lesbians do, after all, exist for and were created by them. It’s lesbophobia and a porn-soaked narrative disguised as science.