Thursday, May 31, 2007

Some thoughts about women-only spaces and what they mean to feminism.

I’m sort of thinking aloud here, so bear with me if I ramble and feel free to interrupt me and ask for clarification.
I’ve been reading a lot about women-only spaces lately. (I refuse to use the term “womyns” or any other similar linguistic conceits because, call me crazy, but I kind of like being able to communicate with the entire population, not just that percentage of it who are liberal arts grads. Also, I already suffered through Lacan at university, and once was enough.)

This seems to have become a nexus of conflict among feminist, this concept of women-only space, in part because of the issue of whether or not mtf transwomen count as sufficiently womanly to be allowed entry into such spaces. I have mixed feelings about that issue which can’t really be explained in yes/no terms. I also have mixed feeling about the idea of women-only space in general. So, at the risk of saying something offensive and having everyone think I’m a giant asshole, I’m going to try to write my way out of my confusion.

On a gut level I’ve never understood the need for women-only spaces. I think that part of the reason is that, through no choice of my own, I spent the majority of my adolescence in one.
I went to an all-girls boarding school. We were of course allowed out occasionally to go shopping or to visit our families, but for the majority of the time we were confined to the school grounds. My alma mater sits within the grounds of a former abbey. The actual place is gorgeous – old buildings, carefully manicured grounds, green and full of flowers in the spring and summer and picturesquely snowy in the winter.

I fucking hated that place. As pretty as it was on a superficial level, from a social perspective it was Lord of the Flies with snow and tennis courts. This is no surprise, really – it was after all full of teenagers, who tend to be rather unpleasant creatures regardless of their gender. It also featured a staff nurse with alarmingly Nurse Ratchett-like tendencies (I remain to this day convinced that she hurt the kids on purpose as often as she could – Pink Floyd anyone?), bizarre and inexplicable rules, an overly regimented schedule that would surely have been excellent preparation for anyone considering a career in the armed forces, and copious quantities of brainwashing in the art of being a proper young lady with all the obnoxiously classist implications one might expect. Oh, and windows that didn’t close properly combined with non-functioning central heating – in the winter, in Scotland. Apparently pneumonia is supposed to build character. I’m not kidding – I once spent an entire term being forced to play sports outside in the snow while I had bronchitis. See what I mean about Nurse Ratchett?

I’m fairly certain that my distinct lack of rose colored glasses when contemplating the idea of women-only space can be attributed to my attendance at that school. It was there that I learned that the concept of sisterhood as a thing that one can rely on is nonsense – women are people, and people are selfish, arrogant and cruel. Some people are wonderful creatures, of course, but the majority? Selfish, arrogant and cruel. Even if they have vaginas.

There were less than 10 men ever allowed within the grounds of that school, except on the couple of days per term that parents showed up to drop off or pick up their kids. There were 3 male teachers, 3 gardeners, a groundskeeper cum janitor, and a doctor who showed up for an hour or two about once a month. That was it, and two of the gardeners were teenage boys, not men. As far as men who could have represented a threat to the safety of the female students – please! Two of the teachers were married to other teachers and watched like hawks by their wives, and the other one was almost fired when he started a (completely consensual and non-sexual) relationship with one of the students – and before anyone starts freaking out, note that he was 22 and she was 17. Those men were no threat to us. The gardeners were scared to death of the students, unsurprisingly given the massive difference in class – if any of them had so much as winked at one of us he would have been out on his ass with no references immediately. The doctor was forbidden to see any of the students without a female nurse present. The janitor we had more contact with, since he was always puttering about fixing things – those were some old buildings and there was a lot of maintenance to be done. He was a lovely old man – I remember going back to visit a couple of years after graduating and running into him walking his dogs, two giant Irish Setters. He gave me a hug and asked me how things were going in London – it’s a small school, news travels fast about what alumni are up to, plus one of my friends who was still there liked to play with the dogs.

So, from the point of view of those who think that women-only spaces are valuable and necessary I experienced exactly what they want for girls. I spent my teens in an environment where I could have wandered around in my underwear in the middle of the night without any fear of male violence whatsoever, although the janitor would have scolded me and made me go fetch a scarf lest I catch a cold if he had caught me.

And yet…that place caused me more psychological trauma than any other situation I have ever experienced. Like I said, my strongest association with the place is Lord of the Flies. It was horrible. Hazing was standard, bullying was commonplace and the staff made no attempt to keep it in check, it was so looks-obsessed that I knew multiple people with eating disorders by the time I was 12, the academic competition was insane BUT everyone was required to pretend they weren’t actually trying lest they face the mockery of their classmates for being a geek. Yet, those who were naturally academic to the point of not needing to study who nonetheless made great grades (like me) were still harassed because our not having to study just wasn’t fair! The class dynamics were insane – I once witnessed a girl being bullied and told that she was a “plebian” who was destined to be a complete social reject because she was using the wrong brand of hairbrush. Hers was insufficiently expensive. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Anyone without a pedigree was guaranteed to be treated with contempt. The few students who were not white were treated like shit. Imagine the situation when they put one student who was from Nigeria in a dorm with another student who was white South African…yeah, that was fun. And not a single other student defended the Nigerian girl, because nobody’s mother knew her mother and besides her parents were vulgar new money so who cared how she felt? I’m not even going to repeat some of the comments made to my friend Yvette, who was Taiwanese.

Then there were the female teachers who actively abused the students. One of my first experiences of sexual harassment was at that school – my housemistress used to pat me on the ass and give me this horrible, creepily salacious wink. She was in her fifties and I was 12. She also once walked in on one of my friends when she was in the shower, pulled the shower curtain open and stood there talking to her. She refused to allow my friend to put on a towel even when she started crying. When my friend got back to the dorm she sat down on my bed shaking so badly I thought she was having some sort of seizure. As soon as I hugged her she started sobbing. The last time I heard anything about that girl she was in her twenties and still having flashbacks. And that teacher was far from the only staff member who pulled shit like that.

That place taught me that women are every bit as capable of being crappy excuses for human beings as men. There was no male influence making those girls or the female staff act the way they did – that stuff came from their own hearts.

For a significant percentage of the students, that women-only space was an extremely hostile environment. Those girls didn’t come together and celebrate their innate womanly empathy, they ripped each other to pieces like a pack of wild dogs, and some of the staff circled the fight and picked off the weak members of the group any chance they got. The only way to survive was to form your own pack and protect each other.

So, when I hear people glorifying woman-only space as somehow safe, my immediate reaction is – what the Hell have you been smoking? How little knowledge of human nature do you need to have to think that, when put in a group, women will automatically be kind to each other? Women are people, and people kind of suck. Also, have you never studied group psychology?

I did feel safe from male violence there, though. Which was good, since I had quite enough to worry about with the teacher who kept grabbing my ass.

The thing is, even before I got there I rarely felt at risk from male violence. I spent most of my childhood in Libya and Saudi Arabia. There were multiple occasions on which I was targeted as a result of my race – kids threw rocks, yelled taunts, beat me with sticks, one once hit me hard enough to knock me right off my bike – but most of it really was about race and not gender, at least in Libya. Saudi Arabia – now that was where gender started to enter the equation. But the interesting thing was…race was still part of the issue.

I can clearly remember the first time I heard the phrase “All Western women are whores”. I was about 11 or 12. It was sneered at me by a man in his twenties who was backing me against a wall and trying to grab my boobs, and it was in response to my “I’m just a kid, please leave me alone”. Lovely, eh? That was definitely male on female bullshit, but there’s no doubt that race was a part of it too.

Similar things happened intermittently throughout the time I was in Saudi. Creepy behavior from guards at the airport or random men in stores, muttered obscenities (I’m pretty sure that the fact that I completely forgot how to speak Arabic while I was there was in part the result of my subconscious wish to not be able to understand what those men were saying to me) – yep, happened all the time.

And yet…I never actually felt like I was in danger other than that one time. Pissed off, sure, but endangered? Nope.

I used to go out and run around in the middle of the night with my friend who lived a few doors down. We would sneak out the window and shimmy over the walls after our parents went to bed. There was a sports complex being built across the street and we would go and play football there, or just hang out on the bleachers and talk. The desert is lovely at night, we enjoyed being outdoors. When she left to go back to America I used to go outside by myself. 15 year old Cassandra used to go sit on the swings in the playground alone and count stars at 3 in the morning, climb the monkey bars, walk along the walls.

I felt completely safe doing that, even with the harassment (important point to note, that one - feeling aggravated, annoyed, pissed off etc is no the same as feeling physically threatened). Why? Well, for a start there’s almost no street crime in Saudi outside of the major cities. Everyone knew that. Parents let their kids play outside all day with no supervision. Your chance of getting attacked by a stranger if you didn’t live in Jeddah or Riyadh? Close to zero. And, with all the things I resented about being there, that part I loved. In fact, I never even questioned my ability to move around safely – I took it as a given.

And then there’s the other side of the race issue. As a rich foreign kid with white skin I was pretty much immune to any kind of retribution for my behavior. No Saudi girl would have been allowed to wander around like that, but me?

Twice I was picked up by the police on my late-night rambles. The first time I was 10 and my friend was with me. The cops asked us where we lived and we pointed across the street, and they gave us a lecture and told us to go home. The subject of violence was never even raised – they were more worried about us hurting ourselves by falling off the bleachers or misusing the sports equipment. There was sexism there, sure – what do girls know about sports? – but in terms of the threat of male violence? There was none at all. The second time I was 14. The cops found me lying on top of a platform in the playground, listening to music. That time I was about 10 blocks or so from home. They scolded me and insisted on driving me home, and waited outside for a few minutes to make sure that I really stayed inside. One of them saw me peeking out the window and wagged his finger at me. Again, my fear of male violence during this encounter? Zero.

Now, can anyone tell me what the elephant in the room is, here? Race. Class, too. What do you think would happen if a Saudi policeman in any way harmed a young ex-pat kid? Very Bad Things. It would be an international incident. Not only would my parents be furious, so would the British Embassy. No cop in his right mind would do something so likely to fuck up his career.

This is why I have so many problems accepting the idea of sex as the only or primary axis of oppression, by the way. I was the classic colonial kid. Of course I was disciplined by my parents and the teachers at my special ex-pats-only schools, but as far as the locals were concerned? I was untouchable and I knew it, and so did all the other ex-pat kids. Most of those kids grew up to be horrible little brats precisely because of that – we could be rude to adults and get away with it as long as those adults were locals. That’s not a good lesson for a kid to learn. By the time I was about 4 or 5 I knew that I could get away with just about anything as long as my parents didn’t catch me. That sense of untouchability, which is strikingly common amongst ex-pat kids, is all about race and class. Even though I was female, my race and my class insulated me and I was always very much aware of that fact.

And yet…that wouldn’t have made much difference if we had been in another country, one that wasn’t as “safe”, one with more street crime. The kids I knew who grew up in Malaysia or Lebanon or Pakistan or Thailand or Haiti were obnoxious little brats who ordered adults around, but they would never have run around alone in the middle of the night, because even with the insulation of their race and their class it would still have been too dangerous.

What am I getting at with all of this? I guess I’m trying to figure out why, even though I was raised as a girl, I still grew up without the sense of fear of male violence that seems to be standard in most other women. The assumption that most people would probably make is that it’s because of my all-girls school, but I’m not sure about that. I think I was pretty much fearless long before I got there. There were very few other girls there who felt comfortable wandering around alone at night the way I did (and still do). I don’t think it’s purely being a privileged colonial kid, either, although I’m sure that’s part of it – like I said, I have friends who grew up as colonial kids in other parts of the world who never had that innate sense of safety.

Part of it is probably personality, but I don’t think that’s the whole story either. Personality isn’t entirely innate, after all.

You know what I think a big part of it is? Having parents who raised me to think I had the right to go anywhere I wanted and expect to be treated fairly (and yes, I’m aware that the fact that they were able to teach me that without lying through their teeth is the result of white privilege). They taught me that the fact that I was female did not mean that I should expect to be harassed in any way, and that if I did encounter harassment I was in no way required or expected to tolerate it. They also taught me that I had the right to fight back if anyone threatened me – the first time I was bullied in kindergarden my Dad taught me how to adopt a fighting stance and throw a punch. I tried it out the very next day – I decked the evil little brat who had been bullying me. That boy never gave me shit again. That was a VERY important lesson, and one that most girls are never taught.

Did I mention that I love my Dad?

Being taught that I had a right to defend myself helped give me a sense of boundaries, no doubt about that, but I still think that the fact that I grew up in places with almost no street crime is key to the way I turned out.. My parents never taught me to fear strangers or to be constantly looking over my shoulder because it wasn’t necessary. That’s a gift that not many kids get, and one for which I am profoundly grateful. Then again, without the lessons I got about defending myself would it have made any difference?

So, how does all this tie in the concept of women-only spaces? I’ve lived in one, and it didn’t help me at all. What creates a feeling of safety is living in an environment that’s, you know, SAFE. There’s a lot more to that than just eliminating men from the picture. I felt safe as a child and a teenager in two of the most male-dominated places in the world, and that carried over into the way that I relate to the world as an adult. I felt profoundly unsafe in my women-only environment – I was sexually harassed by the person most directly responsible for my wellbeing for fuck’s sake! I’m pretty sure that the fact that I constantly threatened to tell my parents was the only reason she never took things any further.

This is part of what bugs me about the idea of women-only space. It’s based on the idea that men are often violent – which is true, that I acknowledge, although I have issues with the assumption that ALL men are not to be trusted – but it’s also based on the idea that women are not violent, or inclined to abuse power, and that’s just not true. I know that first hand.

The more I think about it the more I think that a more effective strategy in terms of giving women the feeling of security that some seek in women-only spaces is the thing my parents gave me – the idea that they have the right to expect decent treatment, and the idea that if they are treated badly they have the right to fight back. The external stuff we can’t control, but the lessons we teach our daughters? That we can control.

The problem with women-only spaces is that they’re temporary. Unless we all plan to live on communes, we have to deal with men all the time – at work, in public spaces, in most cases in our own homes. Wouldn’t if be more effective to teach women how to create safe spaces for themselves even when men are around? Wouldn’t that be a far more radical notion – not that male violence is so inevitable that retreat is the only solution, but that male violence is simply unacceptable and should be treated as such? Wouldn’t we serve our daughters and younger sisters better by teaching them to expect better treatment and how to fight for it? Do we really need women-only spaces for that, or would it be far, far more effective to seek the changes we want in the everyday world? Isn’t the very idea of women-only spaces admitting defeat in a certain sense?

I don’t like the idea of accepting defeat. The idea that women don’t feel safe in their everyday environments pisses me off, and I don’t think it’s acceptable. I don’t want to retreat, I want to fight, and I want to give younger women the tools they need to fight, too. Most importantly, I want to give them the message that they are ALLOWED to fight back. I just don’t think that retreating to women-only enclaves sends that message at all.

Readers – I’m curious. How many of you had parents who sent the message that you were entitled to expect not to be harassed and that you had the right to fight back if your boundaries were overstepped? I really wonder how many girls ever got that message, and if it’s in any way tied in to which women become feminists and which women don’t. The first few years of life are key from a developmental point of view – what effects does it have on a girl to be told that she had the right to have boundaries and defend them even when it pisses other people off, as opposed to being taught that her entire purpose in life is to please others?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Totally shallow, superfical post that has nothing to do with politics.

OK, so I know we have a few gym rats, jocks etc who stop by here occasionally. Does anyone know a really good exercise for the triceps? I'm having a hard time finding one that works. It needs to be something that can be done at home, without a weight bench, because I hate gyms and I, um, don't own a bench. I do own barbells, though, and I'm already using them for my biceps. I just can't seem to find a good exercise that focuses specifically on the triceps. Anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Feminism and power
Or, damn has the fallout from the release of Full Frontal Feminism been ugly!

I took another sanity break from blogging and it looks like all kinds of crap went down relating to the release of Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. I’m not going to talk about any concerns about the book’s content, because I haven’t read it and therefore have nothing relevant to add to the debate. However…

This debate seems to have stirred up another round of the ongoing conflict between WOC bloggers and the online feminist establishment. I’ve always stayed out of those debates, and avoided blogging about race in general, because I’m a fairly privileged white woman so what the hell do I know? Then I read Black Amazon’s reaction to the whole thing, and I started to have second thoughts about that policy.

Part of what BA said was that silence implies agreement and she’s right. If most white feminist bloggers sit back and say “oh, I don’t think I should get involved”, and therefore don’t comment on the whole mess, then the working assumption is going to be that they think what’s happening is OK.

What’s happening is not OK. It never was OK. Versions of this same situation keep playing out over and over again over a variety of issues and the script never seems to change.

Enough is enough. If WOC are consistently saying that they feel marginalized, excluded, talked down to, then you know what? Those are complaints that need to be acknowledged and dealt with. Dismissing those complaints as WOC just being “too sensitive” or, ffs, “jealous”, does nothing to resolve the basic conflict.

First of all…take a look at the words that are used every time this happens. Semantics are important – the words people use tell you a lot about what their underlying attitudes are.

The words that are consistently used to dismiss the complaints WOC keep making about white feminists…well, those words paint a pretty clear picture, and it’s not pretty.
“Oversensitive”, “Jealous”, “Too aggressive”, “Unreasonable”. If these words sound awfully familiar, it’s because they are. These are the words that men have been using to dismiss women’s opinions since the feminist movement began. Why, exactly, does anyone think it’s a good idea to use those same words to dismiss the (very valid) issues raised by WOC? Does the fact that several prominent feminists keep using these words not strike anyone as a cause for concern?

What all these words have in common is that they are both patronizing and infantilizing. These words frame the debate as one between a reasonable person and a person who is not being reasonable. The assumption behind these words is that the person using them is the standard, the default, and that the person being criticized is somehow lesser than. The implication is that the person complaining really has no valid reason to complain. These words are the verbal equivalent of patting a child on the head and telling her to take a time out.

When these words are consistently used towards WOC one has to wonder about the mindset of the people using them. Why are these people dismissing the complaints made by WOC without even really taking the time to consider them? Because that’s exactly what seems to be happening over and over again.

“We all know that I’m right, so why should I listen to you?”

That’s what all those words say to me. The question is, why do the people using those words assume that they’re right and anyone disagreeing with them is wrong? Do the words “white privilege” sound familiar? And just how many WOC have to say that they have some issues with the way white feminists behave before those same white feminists actually listen?

This is what I have a hard time understanding. Most feminists can spot a case of male privilege in action at 50 paces. How is it that the very same people can be so unconscious of their own privilege as white women? How can they fail to see that they’re doing the exact same thing that we all call men to task for doing so often?

“Why should I care what you have to say when I already have all the answers?”

That’s what I hear when I hear those words, and it bugs the crap out of me.

And then there’s another thing. When many prominent white feminists have been called out on their reflexive use of their own privilege, the way they have reacted is by attempting to position themselves as people with neither the intention nor the power to do harm to other women. That’s bullshit. Women do harm to other women all the damn time.

This is a major structural weakness in the current feminist movement, this denial of power, this idea that women simply aren’t capable of doing harm. We’re all sisters, right? Until one sister steps out of line and everyone else smacks her back down again. Some sisters are more equal than others, it seems.

The fact is that in our current society here in the USA all women are not equal. Not even close. Under the law they may technically be equal, but in reality? There are layers upon layers of status and privilege based on race and class, as well as a host of other factors. In fact, here’s the really taboo subject that mainstream feminism doesn’t want to touch…the way things are structured right now, there are many situations in which white women, particularly middle and upper class white women, have a whole hell of a lot more power than many MOC, especially if those men are poor.

Ignoring these layers does nothing to help the cause. In fact, it does all kinds of things to HURT the cause, as can be seen right now.

If women like BFP and BitchLab stop blogging because they feel like they keep getting smacked down and dismissed every time they disagree with the dominant discourse, how does that strengthen the movement? If the sisterhood chooses to stick its collective fingers in its ears and yell “I can’t hear you!”, how does that make feminism as a whole stronger? And if feminism isn’t a vehicle to address to problems of ALL women, not just the problems of interest to a narrow group of women who share a more or less common social background, then what the hell is the point of the whole enterprise?

WOC have been complaining that they feel marginalized and ignored within the movement for decades. This is not a new thing. Those women are not trying to marginalize the issues feminism has traditionally focused on, they’re trying to open up the debate and put more issues on the table. Why is that so damn threatening to some people? Why can’t everyone see that broadening the scope of what the movement focuses on would actually be a good thing?

When I studied feminism at university more than 10 years ago I honestly thought that by this point this issue would be resolved. I thought that at some point the feminist establishment would have to stop being so damn stubborn and actually LISTEN to what WOC have been saying since the very beginning. Why is that not happening? The internet should make it easier. The technological medium allows people all over the world to interact in real time. It should be a medium tailor made for collaboration. Why then is the door to the feminist club still so firmly shut, and why is it that every time a WOC feminist tries to pry it open she gets it slammed in her face?

This shit needs to change, and it needs to change now.

Black Amazon’s original post is here:
So apparently there was some more drama over the past few weeks while I was MIA. I must have some sort of spidey sense for this shit, given that I keep going missing at exactly the right moment. Anyway, continuing the goth meme (partly for ironic purposes since it’s been bright and sunny lately)…

I was tidying up and I found this card game that I bought a while back as a novelty gift, but somehow it got lost in a pile of CDs and such and I had to buy a different gift. Perhaps I should tidy my apartment more often? Anyway, the game is called “Gother Than Thou”. The boy and I tried to play it, but it’s not very exciting. We were considering adding some sort of drinking component to make things more interesting. There was one amusing part though.

This is one of those games where sometimes you pick a card and have to ask a question, or the other person has to perform a challenge. Most of it’s pointless, but there was one card that we both thought was pretty funny because neither of us could do it. Not even former teenage goth me. It’s totally my era and everything, but…I failed.
The card contains the following text/challenge.

Sing This Corrosion To Me.

Should be simple, right? Is there a better known song in all of gothdom other than Bela Lugosi’s Dead?

Except…one immediately starts singing the chorus. And how does the chorus go?

Hey now, hey now now, sing this corrosion to me.

Repeat ad infinitum. Hey, nobody (at least nobody who wasn’t a pretentious twit) ever claimed that Andrew Eldrich was a lyrical genius. Or that his lyrics made any sense at all, really (seriously, listen to Vision Thing and tell me it’s not complete nonsense).

So, my challenge to all my former goth readers is this…Sing This Corrosion to me. Or, well, type it. Without listening to the song, give me the lyrics to an actual verse.

Bet you can’t do it without cheating.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More summer music stuff
Ah, dilemmas…So, apparently Slayer are on tour this summer. I used to rather like Slayer, back in the day. The new album’s not bad. I’d kind of like to go.
Small problem, though…they’re touring with Marilyn Manson. Who is not only a person with no apparent musical talent of any kind (seriously, he’s like Baby’s First Book Of Shock Goth Cliches with some craptastic guitars and a synthesizer mixed in), he is also quite possibly the ugliest person in the history of rock music. Perhaps I could wear dark glasses and earplugs for that part of the show. Or I could just go get drunk.
Why must bands I like always tour with bands I can’t stand? Who programs this shit, anyway? I mean seriously…in what way are Slayer and Marilyn Manson a good fit, musically speaking? Not to mention the crowds…I have visions of pretentious little baby Goths getting ripped to shreds in the moshpit. Hmm, maybe this will be entertaining after all.
Which brings us to the other problem…in my experience the Slayer audience seems to be mostly comprised of huge dudes in the 6ft 2 and 200 pound plus range. I am 5ft2. I’m gonna get killed if I go in the pit, and hanging out on the edges is so boring. What is a girl to do? And will there be any other women there at all?
Stay tuned, folks. And until then, a quiz…what is the most unintentionally hilarious death metal band name and/or album title ever? A friend and I are sort of trying to outdo each other by coming up with the dumbest of the dumb. So far my vote is for Obituary’s “Slowly We Rot”, but I’m open to suggestions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Of femmey boys and other lovely things…

The comments in my last post, and in some of those that linked to it, ended up mentioning femmey men. Now, as should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever seen this blog before, I rather like femmey men. I’m not crazy about full drag, at least in the sense that I don’t usually find it sexy, although I often find it aesthetically pleasing in a non-sexual way. Femmey in a more general sense though…yes indeed, that is something I like. Pretty faces, smooth skin, eyeliner and lipstick, hair colors not found in nature, hairstyles not traditionally considered masculine…all these things on men I find appealing. The real sweet spot for me seems to be men who are androgynous – neither classically masculine nor classically feminine. Contrasts, if you will, are my thing.
I have also spent most of my life post-puberty involved in subcultures within which femmey or androgynous men are very much admired, and are accepted by everyone. From my early teenage gothdom, and the various points at which I’ve revisited it, to the group of Visual Kei-loving guys I hung out with in college, to my fondness for seventies glam rock, to the skirt-wearing hippie guys I know here in the Bay Area, I’ve been around men who don’t fit the traditional masculine mold for a long time. As a result of that I’ve seen close-up the way society treats femmey men, and it’s not pretty.
Jesse, who I hung out with in high school, used to get guys trying to (or threatening to) beat him up on almost a daily basis, just because he was a pretty boy with long hair who wore eyeliner. Danny, another friend from high school, was gay baited constantly, and he didn’t even dress femmey, he was just a gentle guy who wasn’t very “masculine”. Hiro, who I knew when I was in college, was forced to take up aikido as a teenager because he was coming home with blackened eyes and bruises so often that his mother was scared for his safety. He wasn’t wearing drag, either, he was just an androgynous boy who wore showy black clothes and eyeliner. Alec, who was first a friend, then a boyfriend, and then finally a friend again, got gay-baited all the way through high school not because he was actually sleeping with men, but because people assumed he was. And then there’s the ex-boyfriend who was gang raped in Edinburgh because he was deemed too femmey – he was wearing tight jeans, a brightly colored silk shirt, and eyeliner.
Interesting thing…a big part of the supposed “justification” for the harassment all these men went through was that their femminess was deemed to be a sign that they were gay. In reality, only one of these five men had any sexual interest in other men (Alec), and even he wasn’t sure about that himself at the time.
Where does that idea come from, that femmey=gay? I know plenty of gay men who don’t fit that stereotype at all. In fact, the vast majority of the femmey men I’ve known have been straight.
I think the “I want to kick your ass because you’re gay” thing is a smokescreen, really. I think what the harassment of these men is really about is enforcing societal norms of what a man is “supposed” to be in a much broader way. I do think that sometimes it’s about sex – I suspect that a lot of the “I’ll kick his ass!” impulses are a result of other men feeling some kind of attraction to these men and not knowing what to do with that feeling. It’s far, far easier to say “he’s gay, and that's just wrong!” and then hit someone than to deal with the idea that maybe you, yourself, average dude, might not be quite as straight as you thought you were. Sometimes I think it’s about the idea that there are rules that everyone has to follow and those who flout them should be punished, because God damn it if I have to follow the rules then why should other people get away with breaking them? I think sometimes it’s about fear, and sometimes it’s about demonstrating what little power one has by picking on those who rank even lower in the pecking order than one's discontented self. It’s a complicated thing.
I’ve tried to raise the subject of these femmey men, what their experiences are, how society treats them, the ways in which that might be a problem, in many contexts, amongst both feminists and MRAs, and in both cases the response has been a resounding “so what?”. That bothers me. It especially bothers me coming from MRAs, who after all are supposed to be the advocates for men. What about these men? Why do they not count? Why is their pain irrelevant? Should MRAs actually be calling themselves MMRAs (Manly Men’s Rights Advocates)?
I suspect that my inability to swallow some radfem arguments about Class Man has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve spent so much time around femmey guys. The typical feminist arguments about Class Man do not fit this group at all. This is one of those cases where the party line simply does not match my actual life experience. What am I supposed to do, ignore the evidence of my own eyes? Pretend to believe in the existence of Class Man as some kind of monolithic group when all of my actual experiences are telling me that there is no such thing as Class Man, that men come in all kinds of varieties, and that not all of them are the enemies of womankind?
I mean seriously…I’m supposed to see these guys as the enemy? Wry, sarcastic Jesse who was always ready with a joke and a late night phone conversation to talk me down off the ledge when I was an angsty teenager? Gentle, goofy Danny, who was always there for me when I needed him, who felt more like family than my real family a lot of the time? Sweet, empathic, protective Hiro, who two weeks after meeting me saw me walk into a club and knew instantly that something bad had happened to me, who pulled me into a corner and cuddled me and stroked my hair until I finally broke down and told him about the creepy landlord who kept groping me…and who helped me find a new place and made sure that he was there when I told the landlord and when I actually moved out so that nothing else would happen to me? Alec, who kept me sane while my mother was dying of cancer? My poor darling ex, who instead of reacting to what happened to him with anger or bitterness turned into one of the kindest people I’ve ever met? This is the face of the enemy? Are you fucking kidding me?
And Anne Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and the lovely StormCloud are my sisters, whom I should trust. Are you smoking crack?
It seems to me that, when one is young, those femmey boys are often the best allies a budding young feminist can have. There’s strength in numbers, after all, and when one is taking one’s first steps in bucking the system it helps a lot to be around others who aren’t too thrilled with the way things are currently arranged either. I’ve known many such men over the years, and a lot of them have been far better allies to me than most women I’ve known. Each and every one of those men holds a special place in my heart, and anyone who doesn't understand why is unlikely to be a person I want to know.
So, allow me to raise my glass to all the femmey guys out there. I know how much shit you all deal with on a daily basis, and I admire the courage it takes to be yourself when everyone around you wants you to be something else. Any time you need an ally, I’ve got your back. After all, there have been so many times when you’ve had mine.

PS This is an excellent excuse to post a couple of pics of my favorite femmey boy, yes? I’ve always loved these pictures…partly it’s the smug grin in the first one, and the ridiculous cuteness of the kids (the nephews of the main guy – apparently good looks run in the family), and partly it’s just the sheer subversive humor of the whole concept. Well, that and the fact that I’d like to borrow the boots. The second? He looks so adorable I want to give him a cuddle.The third one…OK, let’s be honest, it’s the thighs. And the contrast between the girly outfit and the very boy-like body language. Good thing he’s wearing those boxers!
(Actually, not necessarily a good thing. Damn boxers, why must they provide so much coverage?)
Also note that this ties in with one of my other fundamental beliefs…ultimately all clothing is costume. It exists to be played with.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Women and clothes – damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Take a look at these two posts if you haven’t already.,,2061608,00.html

The first is by Twisty of IBTP (thanks to Kim for the link) and the second is from Manal Omar, a Muslim American woman living in England. What is interesting to me is that both of these women had the experience of being publicly chastised for their choice of swimwear and yet everything else, from what they were wearing to the people doing the criticizing, was different.
Twisty was publicly chastised for going to the pool without wearing a top. The logical absurdity of this should be obvious, since she has no breasts. Why should her now completely flat chest require covering up? Apparently simply because she is a woman. I’ve seen the same logic applied to girls too young to have breasts on many occasions. Apparently one must acknowledge the theoretical possibility of breasts, even if the actual body parts in question are not in evidence.
Omar was publicly chastised for wearing swimwear compatible with Muslim teachings. In her case her breasts (or area where breasts could theoretically be) were covered. In fact, apparently her body was too well covered.
In Twisty’s case the people critiquing her choice of swimwear were all women. In Omar’s case there was one really obnoxious man complaining, and then another man who silently backed him up. In both cases what the people doing the complaining were doing was attempting to enforce their own subjective ideas of what women are “supposed” to wear in a swimming pool. In Omar’s case you can take the sexism present in both examples and add a big, heaping dose of racism and religious bigotry. In Twisty’s case add a big heaping dose of American society’s fear of illness and death and the resulting belief that sick people should hide themselves from public view in order that they not upset people by reminding them that sickness and death eventually come to us all. The results in both cases were the same. Both women modified their behavior – Twisty is attempting to find swimwear that will fit the “code” without making her miserable, and Omar hasn’t been back to the pool since. Neither woman should have had to modify their behavior at all.
I think that’s the logical feminist response to both situations, by the way, not to mention the compassionate human response. Why should a woman who has had a double mastectomy be forced to wear a top that she does not need in order to assuage other people’s discomfort with the reality that breast cancer exists and that it sometimes results in women having their breasts removed? Why should Omar not be able to get some exercise while following the dictates of her own conscience?
Because they’re women, and in the minds of many people women’s bodies – how they clothe them, how they maintain them, how they adorn them – are EVERYONE’S business.
Except they aren’t, really. Every human being’s body belongs to that person first and foremost. Even if that person has a vagina.
This is where I lose patience with the idea that there is a proper feminist way to dress, and an improper way. This idea is based on the concept that there is a specific way that the patriarchy wants us to look, and that going along with that is giving in, making a compromise, passively supporting the status quo.
The problem with that is that there is no one way that the patriarchy wants us to look, as the above examples illustrate. The patriarchy I grew up in wants women covered up all the time. The one I am currently living in wants women in sparkly thongs…except the part of it which is conservative, which wants them in “modest” clothing. And the other part which wants them in crunchy hemp clothing here in the Bay Area, or the one in Manhattan that wants them in business suits, or…
Are you getting the point? There is no way in which one can dress to defy the patriarchy, because the patriarchy takes many forms, and each subgroup has its own ideas about how women “should” look. The one thing that never changes is that each and every manifestation of patriarchy ultimately believes that men should be the ones pulling the strings.
So then, what is a feminist to do? Drive herself nuts trying to figure out how best to defy the cultural mandates of the particular subgroup she finds herself a part of?
That doesn’t sound like a great plan to me. Not only because I don’t think it will work, but because I don’t think it’s addressing the real problem. The real problem is the idea that men have the right to decide how women “should” look in the first place. This isn’t all about heels and miniskirts, people – where I grew up the outfit that got women approving pats from The Pat involved an all-encompassing black silk robe and covering one’s hair and face completely. The problem isn’t the clothes, the problem is that idea that it’s up to men to decide which clothes are “appropriate”.
I say fuck that idea. The logical feminist response to all this crap is to say “each woman should be free to wear whatever the hell she wants”. In other words, since nothing that any of us choose to wear is going to do a damn thing to change the system, the best feminist response is for each women to wear whatever makes her happiest. If it’s a sparkly bikini, fine. If it’s bottoms with no top because one no longer has any breasts to require supporting, fine. If it’s a 5 piece “burkini”, fine. As long as it’s what provides maximum happiness and minimum inconvenience to the woman involved, it sounds like a valid feminist choice to me.
So, it appears that I have been neglecting my pretty-boy-supplier duties. I’m terribly sorry about that, got distracted by all the nastiness that’s been flying around recently. I think we’re all agreed that everyone could use some happy, positive stuff, yes? So, have some pretty boys (and women).

I posted a pictorial tribute to this one as part of Desire Week, but how about some videos? Meet Miyavi. I’m convinced that no one can watch this guy and not end up in a better mood. He’s just too damn cute, and he really does have an infectious smile. Plus I love the tattoos, and the idea that there’s probably a Prince Albert tucked away there out of sight (he keeps coyly hinting but will never quite confirm it). The fact that he can’t seem to sit still for 30 seconds is a little exhausting to watch sometimes, but charming nonetheless.

First up…Ashita, Genki ni Naare (“I Hope Tomorrow Will Be Sunny” – witness Cassandra’s crappy attempts at translation!). And yes, he’s wearing a skirt in most of this video. He does that a lot.

And now one of the funniest music videos I’ve ever seen. It’s kind of like “School Of Rock”, and it’s divided up into sections with Miyavi teaching various people (an elderly man, a couple of schoolboys, a geisha, and there’s more!) how to rock. And there’s the dude in the gorilla suit. And the go-go dancers, one of whom kind of looks like RuPaul. And look, another skirt!
The man’s completely nuts.

Rock No Gyakushu – Superstar no Joken

Cuteness commencing…I love this video. I like the acoustic version of the song better, but the video is just too loveable to be true.
So basically this song is about the girl he was in love with in high school getting married to another man. Since this is a 24-25 year old guy we’re expecting bitterness, anger and spite, right? Except this is Miyavi, so the song’s full of happy memories, good wishes for her future, and no blame towards her at all. In fact, he keeps thanking her for being such a great friend. Then there’s the “I love you” bit in English…
Did I mention that he’s adorable?

Kekkonshiki No Uta

Now some guitar stuff…really, that’s what I enjoy most about this guy, just watching him play the guitar. Preferably an acoustic. Try to keep your eyes on the hands!

Are You Ready To Rock (Yes, I know the title’s dorky, but listen to the guitar!)

Selfish Love (Shallow note – damn, I love the pulled back ponytail thing he has going on in this video. Also – look at the hands! I’ve played the guitar, and there are only a handful of people in the world who can play like that). This was the only acoustic video I could find on YouTube, sadly, since he’s a far better acoustic than an electric guitar player…he’s a better acoustic guitar player than just about everyone, actually.

Now this video…the song is kind of ho-hum. He was about 19 or so at the time (notice the lack of tattoos on chest and collarbones). But the video…I love this video. Witness Miyavi attempt to pole-dance in a shiny red suit! And try to snog both the stripper and the male backup dancer! And then he’s chewing on the stem of a rose…
We love him, yes we do!

Shindemo Boogie Woogie

More adorable videos from really early in his solo career

Girls Be Ambitious. First solo single. How can you not love a guy who titles his first single “Girls Be Ambitious”? Especially since he said that it was a present to all his female fans.
Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else with gunmetal grey hair. It’s pretty cool.

Pop Is Dead
Hilarious video, much cuteness, but God damn he needs to eat! And I LIKE skinny guys!

Senor Senora Senorita. Mr Cassandra loves this song because of the Spanish guitar. Try not to laugh at the comedy mustache and the bad dancing. I must admit I kind of dig him with the fangs…

Random guitar playing clip

Posing on stage…love the outfit here, mostly because you can see the tattoos.

And now for something completely inexplicable. He’s singing “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”. In Japanese. Why is he singing that? I have no idea. He’s a very strange man. It’s pretty cute, though!

And for pure amusement value…rehearsing with his backup dancers. Yes, he had backup dancers, though that seems to have stopped (I hope). This thing is just too funny. The dance the guys in the background are doing is silly enough, but then there’s Miyavi himself…watch the straight guy try to dance!

Aho Matsuri clip

And just in case anyone’s curious…his old band, back when he was called Miyabi (“elegant”). Back then he REALLY looked like he wanted to be Toshiya when he grew up. He even admitted it, which was cute…it’s always funny watching a celebrity fanboy like a kid. Anway, I didn’t like this band AT ALL, but meh, he was cute even then. He’s easy to spot since he’s A. freakishly tall and B. really skinny. And he has cool silvery and black stripey hair.

Due Le Quartz – Rodeo

And just for Scarlet PervyGirl…A whole fanvid of nothing but fanservice clips. You thought all those slash writers were just making that “they’re all in a band” stuff up, huh? I didn’t make this, obviously, but it’s pretty funny. There are about a dozen different bands in here.



Thursday, May 03, 2007

Per special request by BelleDame, although I’m sure that Zan and SallySunshine will appreciate this too…Monica Belluci. Indeed, she is the most beautiful woman in the world, at least in my opinion.

And then a woman I can’t believe I neglected to include in Desire Week. Shiina Ringo. The one and only female Japanese pop idol who doesn’t make me want to commit homicide with a chainsaw (or suicide in an attempt to protect both my ears and my dignity). Her music is so weird that it makes Bjork sound like Britney Spears, but god damn is the woman beautiful! She also gets major props for being a woman in a deeply patriarchal society who has always done exactly what she wants and happily stuck her middle finger up at anyone who objects. Strong, confident, brazenly sexual, quirky as hell…what’s not to love?

You know what, Belle’s right. I am really (really, really, really) tired of talking about this inter-feminist stuff. No, I’m not backing off because the evil Storm Cloud will track me down and tell everyone my shoe size or something, I’m just sick of the whole thing. I will still write about anything in particular that I think needs discussing, but in general? I’m feeling the need for some positivity here.
And on that note…food blogging! I may not have mentioned this before, but I’m a serious foodie (I used to get paid to write restaurant reviews, and I’m the person everyone asks if they need to find a really great place for a hot date, anniversary dinner, impressing out of town visitors, etc – seriously, if you need recommendations in San Francisco, I’m your girl). I also love to cook. Mr Cassandra would be happy to cook every day if I asked him to, but he rarely does because, quite frankly, he’s a mediocre cook and I’m a very good one. Which is why he gets to clean the bathroom and the floors and take out the trash…
So, tonight’s special at Chez Cassandra was Jamaican jerk chicken stew. If anyone wants the recipe feel free to ask!