Jazz Jennings, teen boy, shows women how to “woman”

RoleModel

This is a joint post with the brilliant Hypotaxis.

Hey, gals, guess what? This fourteen-year-old boy is a role model for YOU. Yep, you, full-grown-ass women. Meet Jazz Jennings, YOUR ROLE MODEL.

This weekend, we sat a spell to watch an OWN documentary all about our role model. We wanted to know more about this person that we (dykes aged thirty-eight and forty) should look to and strive to emulate.

What we learned is that Jazz Jennings is a kid who likes pink, dresses, makeup and flipping his shiny hair. Jazz is also a kid who refers to himself in third person. “I like being Jazz,” he says, as he reclines in a pink bed awash with plush animals.

Most of what Jazz says sounds forced, coached, even as he spouts off the ubiquitous tropes surrounding transgenderism: “I’m a girl trapped in a boy’s body” and “I have a girl brain.”

Jazz, again, is fourteen. His parents began transing him when he was in preschool, after discovering that he preferred the company of girls and enjoyed wearing his sister’s swimsuit. Jazz himself never speaks of an inner torment, a period of struggle – his transition has been relatively easy, thanks to parents who immediately recognized his effervescence, his fondness for crimson hues as evidence of ladybrain.

What we swiftly deduced: Jazz’s parents, a relatively conservative duo, could not bear the thought of a homosexual son (much less the screamingly flamboyant, Fire-Island-style homosexual Jazz was on the road to becoming), and preferred instead a more “normal” straight daughter.

“Jazz has a girl brain,” the child’s father insists (he also frequently kisses his girlbrained child on the lips – make of that what you will).

“Jazz plays like a girl,” the child’s soccer coach affirms. “She runs daintily.” (No, really. One of the interviewed subjects in the film actually fucking said this.)

And then there’s the nauseatingly emphatic refrain that the kid is a “perfectly normal girl – no different than any other girl.” EXCEPT, of course, for small differences like how Jazz has to go to an endocrinologist to have his measured to determine if he’s yet reached puberty. (We mean, that’s a rite of passage for all girls. We’ll never forget the day out parents took us to the doctor to have our testicles measured.)

At the above doctor’s appointment, it is determined that Jazz has begun puberty. The child is then asked if he would like to start taking puberty blockers. “You don’t want to grow facial hair, do you?” His mother (who also refers to herself as a “transgender mom”) coyly queries her son.

“No,” Jazz says. “I don’t want that.” And so, a child is encouraged to make a permanently life-altering, fertility-destroying, medically unnecessary decision.

Despite the incessant claims that Jazz is “no different from any other girl,” Jazz is acutely aware of his specialness. In fact, his specialness seems to dominate life in this family, practically eclipsing the existence of his three other siblings. Jazz is constantly consulted regarding what he thinks; what he wants – because Jazz’ every word comes from the Burning Gender Bush.

But, the thing is, Jazz isn’t special. Jazz is a kid whose parents, like so many others, believe the lie that conflates biological reality with outward presentation; the lie that posits an individual’s preferences and tastes are intrinsically representative of the preferences and tastes of an entire category of people: female. They also believe the lie that females’ brains are structurally different from male brains – the lie from whence legally-codified misogyny has sprung since the beginning of time.

And this is where we get down to brass tacks. Jazz Jennings, himself, doesn’t really matter. Jazz is just another kid whose parents hock his “specialness” for reality-TV money and some skin care product commercials (he does have great skin, probably from the hormone blockers). What matters is what we can learn from this kid who’s been shoved into public view – and it’s not a lesson about bravery, or being “the real me” – rather, it’s a lesson in how hopelessly steeped in misogyny our culture still is.

As we watched the trainwreck of Jazz, we speculated about what might be a truly progressive way to work with and nurture a kid like him. Let him wear dresses and makeup, we decided. Let him grow his hair long, and hang out with girls and have crushes on boys. Be a good, vigilant parent and make sure no one is bullying your son for wearing his dresses and makeup and long hair to school.

And while you’re doing that, afford that kid a modicum of reality – let him be okay as a male, let him be okay with his body and his biology. Help him be part of a world where a boy can wear dresses if he wants, where a boy can drench his bedroom in pink if he likes, and still be what he is – a boy. A perfectly healthy, loveable little boy who likes things that our fucked up, narrow-minded, patriarchal society has deemed “abnormal” for him to like. And, when he grows from a boy into a man, let him fall in love with normal gay men who might love him back – not people who will simply fetishize him.

The progressive response to a kid like Jazz is NOT to conclude he has a “girl brain” but to accept that as individual human beings our inclinations do in fact vary, and that those variances have precious little to do with our biology. That approach might create a real cultural shift. That approach might take a sledgehammer to regressive notions of gender. Because if a male – a perfectly normal male – can pursue interests that have previously been deemed exclusively “female,” then we really have scrambled gender, really turned it on its head.

People like Jazz’s parents, people who believe in and perpetuate the tenets of transgenderism are the same people who – albeit inadvertently – cause problems for women like us. In a gendered sense, we don’t “do woman” very well. When we’re in rural areas, buying gas, we get stares because we’re not women “doing woman” the way we ought to. The butch-er one of us would probably make folks in some areas more comfortable if she’d just transition. A little facial hair might ward off some looks.

Because that’s gender – it’s not a spectrum, it’s a dichotomy.

Gender isn’t designed to be a playground of special identities – it’s a system that categorizes males and a female based on social/cultural conventions; then subjugates women while exalting men. The system that facilitates rape and honor killings is the same system that says a little boy can’t enjoy wearing a colorful swimsuit without requiring extreme medical intervention. This system says it’s better to medicate and mutilate your male child than have him be a homosexual boy who likes stereotypically “feminine” behaviors and interests. That’s how Iran does it, right? Better he be a girl than challenge repressive gender norms in a way that could, potentially, upend patriarchy. Better he appear on TV and condescend to girls (and full-grown-ass women) how to “be themselves.”

Masculinity and femininity are both bullshit notions. What is deemed masculine, what is deemed feminine – these are nothing but human behaviors. Males can be highly emotional but we’ve filed “emotional” underneath “feminine” so as to trivialize it. Males can like sparkly pink skirts and lipstick, but because we’ve relegated this aesthetic to the realm of the feminine, it is deemed “silly” and “prissy.” We equate femininity, and its coded behaviors and preferences, with weakness and frivolity – and yet, women (and only women) are supposed to be subsumed by these matters. When they show themselves subsumed (because how else to garner male approval in the hierarchical structure of gender?) we delude ourselves into believing that this is a natural state: Women are silly, trivial, frivolous, petty.

Conversely, females can be physically strong (watch any female Olympic lifter, martial artist, or gymnast) but we’ve relegated physical prowess and powerful musculature to the realm of the masculine. Females can be interested in auto mechanics. Females can be highly logical, a quality gender ascribes to the realm of the masculine. Females can also be serious and stoic. And none of these characteristics have jack shit to do with our DNA; our physical, biological reality.

What we do, as a society, when females and males blur these lines, employ behaviors, or follow interests that do not “fit” with the category their biological sex has socially placed them in, is we label them “anomalies” or “transgender.” We claim we can “fix” the male child who wants to grow out his hair and wear his sister’s sundress. We claim the butch dyke who likes tinkering with cars probably has a male brain. We work really hard, and the medical community is fully on board, to preserve gender norms. And transgenderism is a way of preserving gender norms and calling the oppressive mandate “subversive.”

Do we believe that some folks feel better, more comfortable, more “at home” in their bodies by presenting as women when they were born male? Yes, of course. And we support individuals’ decisions to present in a way that feels most “right” to them – but we do not, and will not, buy into a belief in “girl brains.” The very idea of “girl brains” is nothing more than a form of eugenics that’s been used against women (and racial/ethnic minorities) for many centuries in order to deprive us of bodily autonomy, education, votes, and anything else a human needs and wants to enjoy full humanity.

Nor do we believe that it is moral, ethical, or in the best interests of a child to medically alter his or her perfectly healthy body in order to make our sexist, misogynist society feel more comfortable with who that child is. Nor do we believe that swallowing large amounts of synthetic hormones MAKES one female or male, and we think selling that lie to a child is most pernicious because it denies a developing human being the opportunity to weigh her/his options as an adult with adult reasoning/critical thinking skills. It denies a developing human being the opportunity to know reality – i.e. biology.

And, at the end of the day, it hurts girls – you know, actual female children. In the documentary about Jazz, the child’s father laments that his daughter (son) cannot play on the girls’ soccer team at school. The child’s father CRIES (seriously) when discussing the grave injustice of a male-bodied person not being able to play on a girls’ sports team. (Especially when he runs so daintily!)

We encounter real problems when we sacrifice basic biological knowledge at the altar of special identities/feelings/and gender – e.g., biologically, boys and girls develop differently. Like, our bodies are actually different. And, particularly in adolescence, boys have a distinct physical advantage over girls. And athletics have, historically, been a great way for girls to gain access to college scholarships, as well as to develop healthy relationships with their bodies. Now, of course, in order to placate the feelings (delusions) of boy children, girls will be made to compete with male-bodied persons in the field of athletics, placing them at a disadvantage.

But this is what gender always does; this is what gender is meant to do – put females at a disadvantage in all things. Our needs, our feelings as females do not really matter. What matters is that we do what girl-brained people are supposed to do, shut up and suck it up, and accept the version of reality that’s being sold to us – even when it doesn’t make any fucking sense.

In the documentary about Jazz, no hard questions were asked of the child’s parents. Like, “what does it mean to have a girl brain?” Or, “Do you have any qualms about delaying your child’s normal growth when we don’t understand what the long-term ramifications of that decision might be?” Instead, the entire scenario was presented as “adorable” and “inspiring.” It’s adorable to delude your male child into believing he’s female. It’s adorable to pump a healthy, pre-pubescent body full of chemicals. It’s adorable to interpret meaningless penchants as biological imperatives. It’s inspiring when a child’s every whim is indulged. It’s inspiring when children emulate the repressive gender stereotypes laid out for them by the society in which they live.

But no one challenges the transgender line of thinking, because transgenderism is comfortable; transgenderism challenges nothing about the dominant gender paradigm, or the hierarchical structure that positions women on the bottom of everything. And those of us who dare ask meaningful questions about where all of this leads are slurred, villified, de-platformed.

The adults encouraging Jazz’ transition, though, are all presented as white gender knights. In one scene toward the end of the documentary, Jazz’ mother brings him to speak on a university panel. The only minor in attendance, Jazz is surrounded by grown-ass trans people who, frankly, look and sound pretty miserable. They all tell Jazz how lucky he is, and how happy he’ll be that he began transitioning early. This is the only time Jazz drops his confident, shiny-haired posing and looks like what he actually is – a scared little boy. He cowers toward his mother, and doesn’t have much to say except, “I want boobs.”

At the end of the panel, one of the transwomen wraps Jazz in a long hug and says, “I’ll trade you my boobs for your hair.”

How is this anything but skin-crawlingly weird?

So we hope, for Jazz’s sake, that the kid turns out all right, that the world is kind to him, and that he doesn’t grow to resent the bullshit line he’s been sold about “girl brains” and “boy brains,” that he doesn’t have to shoulder the profound burden of regret created by what his parents, the medical community, and the adults around him did to his perfectly normal body when he was still a child.

Sadly, however, we’re positioned as a society to only see more stories like Jazz’s – where parents apply gender dogma to their children’s behavior, and allow their firm (albeit erroneous) convictions about what “girls do” and what “boys do” to justify wreaking havoc on their children’s minds and bodies.

As for females, the consequences of continuing to perpetuate the lie of ladybrain will be increasingly devastating – as we make room for males who believe our lives are nothing more than a hunch; a feeling in a man’s head; we can say goodbye to women’s colleges, women’s sports, women’s clinics. As an understanding of reality becomes synonymous with bigotry, we will part with all language and art that allowed us to address, deconstruct, express and celebrate our lived female experience. Our feminist folk heroes will be grown men, our role models adolescent boys.

On Planet Fitness and the question of judgment

My parents worked hard to instill good judgment in me, because kids are born with no judgment at all: I will put this dead bug in my mouth! I refuse to wear a jacket in winter! Watch me climb up on the roof and jump off into a pile of sofa pillows I have arranged on the lawn for this purpose!

Judgment – a complex function of the brain’s frontal lobe that includes risk assessment, long-range planning, the determination of similarities and differences between things and events, and an understanding of future consequences resulting from present actions – doesn’t fully develop in humans until our mid-20s. Remember the crazy noises AOL made when you tried to get online in 1997? How you couldn’t be on the phone AND the Internet at the same time? That’s what we’re like! Attempting to connect. Page loading. Page failed to load.

Good judgment is a sign of intelligence, character and maturity. That’s why I’m baffled by Planet Fitness’ “No Judgment” policy, which is all over the news this week: A female member got booted from the gym after taking issue with a full-grown male body in the women’s locker room.

As a veteran of 25 years in various and sundry gyms, I think the “No Judgment” policy sprung from a good intention: Eyes on your own workout; don’t comment on other people’s bodies. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how free some people, usually men, are with their opinions of strangers’ physiques and techniques. Men like to step in and correct your form, or tell you that what you’re doing will make you “bulky.” I’m all for a policy addressing this. Buzz off, dude. Go do some squats at the curl rack.

But what Planet Fitness seems to mean by “No Judgment” is: “Don’t judge the unclothed male body next to you in the women’s locker room as ‘male.’ If he says he’s a woman, accept it and keep your mouth shut.”

I assume the reverse would be true – an unclothed, female-bodied person identifying as male – a trans man – could change in the men’s locker room at Planet Fitness. If that happens, how do you think the men in there will react? Do you think they’ll just go along with it? If one of them complains, do you think he’ll be called a piece-of-shit bigot? And if he IS called a bigot, do you think he’ll internalize it or feel guilty for even one second?

The right-wing news is all over the Planet Fitness story, gleefully lumping all lesbians and gays in with those who believe that male-bodied individuals should have access to female spaces whenever their feelings demand it. This story is being used as evidence of what non-heterosexual people want; what we do and what we believe. This troubles me: I don’t wish to be lumped in. I’m not on board with this, because I have a well-developed sense of judgment informing my opinion: It’s not OK for male genitalia to be bopping around in women and girls’ private space. Public-accomodations laws must be followed, but this isn’t the right way.

I’m not afraid of penii. Seen plenty. No pearls to clutch here. I’m not concerned about being raped in the locker room, either. I can squat 1.5x my bodyweight and I’ve got nice sharp teeth, so if you touch me I’ll make you sorry.

Thanks to a combination of vigilance, circumstances, and sheer luck, I’ve never experienced sexual violence. I’m not elderly; I’m not frail; I’m not a young girl; I’m not a survivor of rape or abuse. Not every woman can say all this, though, and I can’t speak for them.

Neither can Planet Fitness. Or anyone else.

The world isn’t a safe, comfy Gender Studies class where we get to sit around and discuss our preferred pronouns at leisure. Most women who live in the real world aren’t inclined to obsessively parse the question, “What is a woman, really, you know?” It’s straightforward: They don’t want penises in the locker room. They shouldn’t have to defend their reasons why. A woman who does see a penis in the locker room ought to be allowed to freak out and ask questions later without being pilloried as a bigoted asshole.

I’m keeping my judgment, and women, I support yours. Our judgment – built and honed by all our lived and learned experience – is our most valuable asset. Whether that judgement tells us to stand our ground or run away, it’s more vital to our well-being than our heaviest squat or our longest set of pull-ups.

 

P.S.: Planet Fitness is a terrible gym. There’s a reason it’s $10 a month. Go to Gold’s, seriously.

P.P.S. Feminist at Sea has written a great piece on this. Read it here.

 

Everydaymisogyny.com

phonaesthetica:

“The assertion that dykes – females who form romantic attachments to other females — actually exist, that female reality exists and not as some hypothetical notion, not as some accumulation of “feminine” ephemera, not some hunch – all of these assertions have been rendered hate speech. We now live in a society where it is hateful for women at a “women’s college” (quotes now warranted) to put on a play about vaginas. Think about that for a minute. And think about who benefits from that form of censorship. (Hint: not women.)”

Originally posted on Hypotaxis:

I got really pissed off last week – so pissed off I couldn’t write about it – when I read about how Mt. Holyoke, a formerly female-only college, cancelled their production of The Vagina Monologues for fear it would alienate women-indentifying males who have penises. It’s not that The Vagina Monologues is all that amazing – I mean, in 2015 it’s a bit outmoded for a whole host of reasons, the least of which being “doesn’t talk enough about dicks” – but it’s the principle of the thing, it’s the terrifying realization that women cannot talk about their truths if their truths inconvenience/upset/upend males’ delusions about their lady-ness.

In a world that reviles women, art – writing, painting, sculpture, all that shit – has been one of the few conduits available to female persons in which they may – subversively and not so subversively — express their realities. Interestingly enough…

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“Herself” – Does anyone really listen to what a naked woman says?

Herself, a new “feminist” photo project currently making the rounds online, features lots of naked women. Created by a TV actress, Herself purports to “highlight’s women’s sexuality on their own terms” and “help demystify the female form, to assist in the erasure of coveting it, and to help celebrate the ever changing face of it.”

Sounds legit! I don’t know what “the erasure of coveting it” means (“you guys, let’s stop being jealous of each other’s boobs”)? but I’m all for demystifying the female form. If we can do that, why, perhaps we can successfully address female genital mutilation, breast cancer, bad hetero sex, child marriage, maternal death, the practice of raping virgins to cure AIDS, and starvation dieting!

More background from the creator of Herself, who (offensively, to me) identifies as “a lesbian who has a male partner”:

My vagina has been an unending and constant source of turmoil for me – not that vaginas are intrinsically female, it’s just happened to be a big part of womanhood for me personally – UTI’s, PH imbalances, sexual dysfunction, pain, discomfort. Sexual education is no way near comprehensive enough as all of these things I’ve had to learn myself, treat myself and diagnose myself. I’m still struggling to gain control over my body, over my vagina.

Not that vaginas are intrinsically…okay, whatever; let’s just evaluate the project on its merits.

We consider a woman’s sexuality so linked to her physicality that for a woman to appear naked publicly is automatically an act of sex and not for herself.

Now we’re getting there, wherever the fuck “there” is. Why is appearing naked on the Internet something a woman does, or should do, “for herself”? What does she get, “for herself,” out of being viewed, naked, by strangers? What does she get that she can’t get by writing a song; throwing a pot; playing a sport? What is this special thing, and why does a woman need it so much, “for herself”?

Also: When was the last time you saw a man naked on the Internet “for himself”? Men love to get things for themselves, so you can bet that if the thing was something worth getting, there’d be naked men all over the Internet, cradling their ballsacks in their hands and calling it “agency.”

Men don’t appear naked online for reasons of personal empowerment. They don’t have to, they don’t want to, and they won’t because they know: Any empowerment you get from being looked at naked is false empowerment.

And men should know! That’s the false empowerment they hand out all the time!

Annnd more from the creator of Herself:

There’s also a very specific construct of woman we are all used to seeing, and while those women are no less women, I was so desperate to see different faces, different bodies.

But…but these photos look like anything you’d see in Playboy – coy three-quarter views; a woman holding her breasts aloft; lots of lifted arms, parted lips and non-threatening gazing into the middle distance. Oh, wait – I see two African-American women. One has a snake curling around her neck. Yowza! A snake! So transgressive!

More observations: All the shots here are portrait-style. None of the women is doing anything that a subject would do – no running, swimming, lifting or jumping. Just posing. Like an object does.

There are interviews to accompany the photos, but they don’t go very deep (“What is feminism?” “Feminism is a woman’s right to choose.”)

I’d have followed that question up with “Choose what, exactly? In which sociopolitical power structures do these choices present themselves? Do these power structures offer authentic choices, or just the least worst of a lot of bad options? Are these choices available to all women? Finally, do you have access to any websites or newspapers in which you might read about the actual state of women’s lives and rights in most of the world?”

I don’t see any truly obese or disabled women (although there is one woman with one breast two cup sizes larger than the other).

I don’t see visible muscle. Where are my bodybuilders?

I don’t see any short haircuts.

I don’t see any scars, burns, or prostheses.

I don’t see any old-fashioned pubic hair; the kind that makes your Area 51 look like an upside-down troll doll.

Most importantly, I don’t see any women over 35, the threshold of sexual invisibility. No gray hair here; no wrinkles. It has not yet occurred to the 24-year-old creator of this piece what aging-related invisibility feels like; what it does. The moments when you are made to understand that you don’t matter anymore because you’re a middle-aged woman? If your “empowerment” comes, historically, from being looked at naked – well, you will die a thousand times before they finally plant you.

The creator’s inspiration for the project?

It was really born out of hearing the incredible stories of the women around me, both socially and online. With #yesallwomen and #freethenipple I was opened up to a whole world of women struggling for equality, demanding to be heard and finding empowerment through honesty and solidarity.

How does posing naked on the Internet aid our struggle for equality? Is it going to affect the pay gap? Or domestic violence trends? Or does it just make us have powerful feelz, like when we listen to Sleater-Kinney whilst ironing?

And, as for “demanding to be heard” – does anyone really listen to what a naked woman says? Especially when you can see a naked woman online for free any time of day or night?

The creator of this piece thinks she’s reclaiming “ownership” of women’s bodies by showing them naked on the Internet. She thinks she’s being transgressive; she thinks she’s subverting a larger cultural narrative.

But that’s bullshit, because what does “ownership” mean? It means “something salable.” It’s the language of commodification. And again, no one talks about a man’s “ownership” of, or “agency” over his body, because that would be ridiculous, because those things are givens when you are male in this world.

Herself, while well-intended, is the same-as-it-ever-was narrative; the same male-gaze. But it’s a lot sadder than that. Herself is the male gaze filtered through a female lens. These women (like most women in the world) see themselves through men’s eyes. They close mirrored doors around themselves to see a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. We do this because we cannot help ourselves; because the messaging is so strong and so consistent and so deeply intentional that we cannot tell ourselves the truth: The call is coming from inside the house.

Language and the lie of “erasure”

Originally posted on Hypotaxis:

I was thinking the other day about a class I taught some years ago, in which, as part of the curriculum, I was to cover Aristotle’s Nichomean Ethics. Part of Aristotle’s aim, in this text, is to provide a formula for how to “live the best life” (a rather arrogant endeavor, if you ask me), and so I started teaching the text by asking my students, freshmen, Millenials, what it meant to “live a good life”: What does a good life look like? What does a good life entail? How can we define this?

My students were, as so many of their generation, reticent to answer any of these questions, for to do so would be to take a position and possibly “invalidate” the perspective of another classmate. Each pupil had been raised in a culture of such impossible relativism that each believed to take a stance, to offer forth…

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“Bad, gauche and unpalatable:” Thoughts on that one VICE piece

Another joint post with the inimitable Hypotaxis:


So. I couldn’t let this one go. VICE, a men’s magazine (technically not, but totally yes), gave Paris Lees a forum this week to carry on about how Feminism is THE WORST EVER because it doesn’t organize itself around Paris Lees’ right to post racy pictures on Instagram or have lots of “animalistic sex” (I’m only quoting what he repeatedly stresses; he needs us to know this about him, you guys, because it’s EMPOWERING.)

I’m not certain what prompted this article. He mentions something about Julie Bindel and something about a law that attempts to protect women from being sexually exploited, but beyond those references I’m unclear about why Mr. Lees feels that the evil feminists are gunning to take away his ability to pose naked on Tumblr or whatever he does when he’s not writing misogynist drivel for VICE.

Frankly, this bullshit wouldn’t even be worth my time if it weren’t for the fact that what Mr. Lees is peddling makes it abundantly clear that he, like virtually all other males who identify as women, is  clueless about women’s actual, lived realities, and about feminism itself.

Many have written recently about the redefining/hijacking of the word “feminism” – the way the culture has watered it down and shifted its meaning away from women’s liberation to “EVERYONE IS EQUAL” (that’s something else; the Declaration of Independence, I think?) And in this climate where no one seems to really know what feminism actually means/stands for, where everyone and their brother claims to be feminists (shit, if it means whatever you want it to mean, sign me up!) it’s really no wonder that this writer claims feminists’ naming and rejection of sexualized violence and exploitation – in our language, our media, on our streets, in our homes – is a “new” branch of the philosophy, or is, as the writer calls it (employing a truly 1950’s male word), “prudishness.”

So without further ado, here are some of the more egregious moments from the writer’s insipid, woman-hating article along with my thoughts:

“I’m sick of being told that being sexual is bad. That being sexualized is bad, gauche and unpalatable.”

Who is telling males that being sexual is bad? Uh, no one. I don’t live in England like Mr. Lees, but as far as I can see, men’s sexuality/sexual needs are glorified, romanticized and prioritized in every corner of the globe. Whether that glorification, romanticization and prioritization is openly misogynist (Tucker Max), disguised by a nice-guy mask (Hugo Schwyzer) or religious in nature (the quiver-full Duggar family). Disabled men should be able to buy sex with impunity because NEEDS. John Grisham says middle-aged men shouldn’t serve time for looking at child pornography online because NEEDS. Male sexual needs are REO Speedwagon lyrics on never-ending loop: They just can’t fight this feeling anymore!

Also: “gauche” and “unpalatable”? Somebody sure likes his thesaurus!

Prostitution, a destructive and dangerous crime that writers like Mr. Lees and, sadly, many young women have come to support, is allowed to continue because men’s sexual needs are considered SO IMPORTANT that if some girls and women have to be emotionally and mentally shattered, or murdered (a woman in prostitution is 40 times more likely to die than a woman who is not) to cater to those needs, then so be it.

Women, in fact, do have complicated relationships with their own sexuality because the culture conditions them to feel alienated from their own bodies, but to also always be sexually available (or at least appealing) to men. A woman is supposed to feel sexy, but not sexual. Women are often shamed (by males) about their own sexual appetites, but I certainly have never seen this coming from feminists. On the contrary, discovering feminist theory was for me, and for many other women, the antidote to some of the truly fucked up messages society sends girls and young women; the only useful weapon against the internalized misogyny I’d been carrying around that made me ashamed of my own sexuality.

What the writer of this article is concerned about as it relates to women’s sexuality is not that feminism might “hamper” female sexuality, but that feminism might (and in fact, does) challenge and attempt to hold accountable those views and actions that allow men to humiliate, abuse and debase women for their own sexual pleasure.

“I know plenty of guys who lovingly refer to their lovers as beautiful. And smart. And sexy. And every other complex thing that made them fall in love with them. Of course, some men do describe women in rude, reductive ways. But that doesn’t mean that every time a man describes a woman as sexy that it’s a bad thing, or, indeed, that men never appreciate women for their beauty.”

Here, the writer is referring to another article where a female writer examined the language men use to talk about women, and how that language can often be problematic. (Language does in fact matter – not to the Queer/Trans/PoMo thinkers who are concerned only with their precious and special identities, but to reality and civilization itself. It’s not an accident that totalitarian regimes go after language and distort meaning of words before they dismantle and steal everything else).

But don’t worry, bro! Men will never stop calling women sexy – no one will take that away from you. Frankly, in the grand scheme of things, feminists – you know, the ones concerned with women’s liberation – have bigger issues to contend with than whether or not men overuse the word “sexy” to describe girls and women. Take a deep breath.

“I’ve been told that I’m hot when I’m bare-faced. I expect most women have. I’ve also been told that I’m beautiful (all the time—seriously, guys, it’s getting boring) when I’m wearing a smokey eye. These things are not black and white.”

Yes? Your point? Or is this just a nice opportunity to tell the readers that guys call you beautiful ALL THE TIME. Bully for you! Who fucking cares? I myself get these compliments occasionally (less so since I cut my hair and had the audacity to hit 35) but they don’t define me. Nor do I see any feminists racing to ensure that we are never again called beautiful or sexy or hot or whatever Mr. Lees is so worked up about here. No one is arguing that it doesn’t feel nice to receive a compliment about one’s appearance. But feminists do believe it is damaging for women to be perceived only as an aesthetically appealing “thing,” to be objectified (or rendered invisible if not “worthy” of objectification).

“Of course, there are  ​real issues with underage girls posting sexual photos online which are then picked up by pedophile sites, but telling girls that it makes them look “cheap” isn’t the answer. And why does posing in your bra suggest that the only value you offer is your body? I’ve got photos of my graduation on Facebook but I don’t remember anyone telling me: ‘Your brain isn’t the only value you offer, Paris.'”

Here the writer really illustrates how profoundly without a clue he is about what it means to be female. When you are female, your outward appearance defines you completely. When you are female, your physical presentation will determine whether or not you’ll be taken seriously in the workplace, whether or not you’ll be valued by society, what kind of responses you’ll get on OKCupid, and whether or not a man will rape you. Frankly, we don’t care what women want to post online, but most women understand that every choice they make in terms of how they present themselves will, in a culture of misogyny, deeply impact how they will be treated. A woman posing in a bra does not, to me, suggest that the woman’s only value is her body. Sometimes, though, seeing these images makes me sad because they underscore the fact that that woman, a whole, complete, human being, only sees herself as a body or, more likely, that someone else (a male) only values her for that reason. That’s the nature of objectification. That’s why it’s deeply tragic. That’s why feminists call it out.

“When women start returning library books wearing fetish gear, maybe then we should worry that it’s gone too far. For now, though, context is key.

I pose in my bra on Instagram sometimes.  ​I have great tits. No one forces me to do it and no one is forced to look if they don’t want to. I suppose the people who are against this sort of thing would tell me that I only think I’m making a decision for myself, when really I’m just going along with what patriarchy wants me to do. Silly me!”

  • You’re an autogynephile. This logic is not novel. “No one forces anyone to do porn.” Define “force”? Do you mean force like “I will kill you if you don’t make this pornographic film”? Well, considering the Queer/Trans lot loves their exceptions-to-the-rules, in fact, some women and girls are “forced” in the physical, coercive sense to appear in pornography or be raped for money. But more often, the force is woven into the cultural cloth – the kind of social, economic, logistic and political force where one’s options are so limited by being female, that sex work (in any incarnation) becomes one’s only realistic option. The kind of sex worker who takes a year off from Harvard to be a high-priced escort and get a book deal is not representative of prostitution or the ugly machinery behind it.
  • There’s also the kind of cultural force whereby patriarchal messaging indoctrinates girls and women into the belief that if they are not being sexualized, they are not being valued (or even validated). This is the kind of force that makes young women (especially) feel they “owe” males an opportunity to ogle them online, or “owe” sex to their boyfriends. One tactic some men use when they don’t get the kind of sex they want from a partner is to become sad and concerned about her “prudery” or “repression.” They want to help her work that out! Even if it means insisting and insisting until she acquiesces! And then, if that doesn’t work, they can get very, very angry. Women who are dependent on men economically or socially often find it’s in their best interests to submit to whatever it is he wants, no matter how painful or degrading.
  • Furthermore, “the people who are against this sort of thing” (I’m guessing he’s looking at feminists here) don’t give fuck-all what you do.
  • You, Mr. Lees, are not only colluding with patriarchy, you ARE the living embodiment OF patriarchy. If you didn’t have a super-special identity, you’d be just another gross, boring Internet misogynist.

“If you’re an adult and willing there’s nothing wrong with being sexual. Or with seeing other people as sexual. So long as that’s not the only thing you are expected or expect other people to be.”

and

“Sometimes people post sexy pictures just because they like it”

The problem is, Mr. Lees, for females (those of us who didn’t purchase our way into womanhood), we are often only seen as sexual. The problem is, that for a good many girls and women, we ARE expected to be that all the time – whether or not we feel like being sexual. Whether or not we are underage. Whether or not we are too incapacitated to consent. Whether or not we are willing. The problem is also, that by virtue of being always seen as sexual, we are discarded and invisible the moment we start aging and no longer satisfy men’s (often pornish) sexual appetites or fit with their sexual fantasies. THAT is a female reality whether or not it inconveniences you.

Here’s something that might make things clearer to you and those who share your mindset. You know what I really fucking liked, a lot? Being anorexic. There’s no high like the high I got when I hadn’t eaten for five days; when everyone I met had something complimentary to say about my thinness and perfect self-control. For the first time in my life I felt SEEN. I felt so empowered! But I knew deep down that it wasn’t good or healthy and that if I didn’t let them put the IV in I would die. You like being objectified the same way I liked weighing 82 pounds. That doesn’t mean objectification doesn’t harm females. Your logic is as fucked as it is male.

“I want no part in any feminism that takes “We know what’s best for you” as its starting point.”

This is not analysis. This is a thinly-veiled expression of contempt.

First off, Feminists would never claim they know what is best for you — you’re male; feminism is a political and social movement about females. Secondly, “knowing what’s best” for anyone is no more a central tenet of feminist philosophy than “EVERYONE’S EQUAL.” Feminist theory posits that there are ways the culture could be reconstructed (in the case of radical feminism, ways the culture should and must be deconstructed) that would enable women to be seen as full human beings, that would free women from the horrors of rape, that would allow women to live lives unencumbered by the heavy load of abuse and stereotyping and debasement that is our lot from the moment our female bodies are brought into this world. You are a male who has built an identity around getting cat-called, posting sexy Instagram pics, and being called “hot” by other males. Fine. Great. Wonderful. But you know what? Most females cannot afford to, and do not wish to be, defined by these things.

“If you don’t want to be seen as a sex object and desire sex that is bland and emasculated, fine.”

Emasculated? Like, without a man involved? Like…lesbian sex? More contempt here; not veiled at all and directed specifically at women who only want to have sex with other women. Those bland, cock-less dykes; there’s just no hope for them! Where have we heard that before? Also, a “sex object” desires nothing. A “sex object” doesn’t reach out with trembling, passionate hands to her or his lover because an “object” is just that; an object. An object doesn’t feel. An object is acted upon.

In the litany of reprehensible bullshit Mr. Lees spits out in this piece, one stands out as particularly vile:

“Much evil has been done in the name of protecting women’s innocence. The obsession to protect white women’s purity was one of the key factors in America’s shameful history of  lynching black men.”

Mr. Lees’ baseless fear that someone will not let him upload a lingerie picture to Instagram does not belong in the same paragraph as the horrific historical reality of lynchings in America. The notion of protecting white women’s purity was often used as a bogus justification for racially motivated murders, this is true. But it is revolting that this writer even attempted to set up a parallel between his need to be hyper-sexualized and the systematic murder of African Americans. It is NOT the same. Not even close. Not even once. The light leaving from “bogus justification for racially motivated murders” will not reach Mr. Lees’ “great tits” for a hundred trillion light-years. This shameful, disgusting rhetorical sleight-of-hand should have no place in any serious activism or discussion.

And, finally: Though evils have been done (by men) in women’s name, feminism is not one of those evils. Feminism is not about “protecting women’s innocence.” It’s about arming women to protect themselves from being demoralized, gaslighted and victimized by pornsick males like the writer of this article.

nowhere

Nine years ago, the editor of the newspaper I wrote for sent me to Africa to do a story on the Somali Bantu emigrants flooding into our state from a refugee camp in Kenya. Many local residents were freaking out about this in a particularly zenophobic and tiny-minded way (“What if they catch people’s cats in traps and eat them?!”) so it was a hot topic and we had to jump fast.

“Hey, sign this,” my editor said, flipping a triplicate form onto my desk. “We upped your life insurance. Just a formality!”

I signed, then toddled off to get shots for various 19th-century diseases, all of which hurt like a bitch. The doctor gave me a package of syringes along with my anti-malaria pills.

“You don’t want to get an injection in an African hospital,” he said, “but if it’s unavoidable, make sure the nurse uses YOUR syringe. And don’t open your mouth in the shower.”

Before the trip I researched the camp, which housed 130,000 (mostly Muslim) refugees who’d fled war, genocide and famine in Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Congo. The refugees lived crammed into small tents next to outdoor pit latrines. Each morning the women lined up to collect strict rations of water, corn mash and salt. Rape was as common as the dust storms. People waited years for good news: It’s time to fly to America or Canada and start new lives free from machete-wielding militias.

The camp’s name, in Swahili, means “nowhere.”

My first night in Africa, I stayed in the U.N. compound and as the sun rose saw my first dik-dik, a little antelope named for the alarm calls of the females. After breakfast, where I did not try any of the goat stew, we caravaned into camp under armed guard in the back of a rattly van. Also along for the ride were various NGO people and Peace Corps kids, every one of whom was redolent with tea tree oil (keeps bugs away) and patchouli (just because).

“Cover your hair,” said a girl with blonde Wellesley dreads and gold-tanned skin, tossing me a bandanna as I stared at a band of Masai warriors walking through the desert, armed to the teeth. “It’ll make your interviews easier.”

Along the bumpy road, my photographer and I hissed our way through an argument about female genital mutilation – he said it was a cultural practice and none of our business and that I shouldn’t go into camp with an “agenda”; I said it was a barbaric, life-ruining human rights violation and a person didn’t need an “agenda” to want it stopped. I asked if he’d feel the same if FGM involved little boys having their penises split open in such a way that thousands of them died and, for those who lived, urination and sex would be a lifelong agony. He said he would.

I questioned his veracity. In fact, I think I may have called him a liar. No, I’m sure I did. We didn’t speak much for the rest of the two-week trip. Later that day, he got outrageously sick (having opened his big mouth in the shower).

Dozens of children waited by the gate as we pulled into camp, some just barely able to walk. They wore cast-off American T-shirts so long they fit like nightgowns – giveaways from bars and shows, with a smattering of Britney Spears and N’Sync. They kicked a soccer ball made of twine and rubber bands behind the caravan until we parked.

I stepped out of the van and the dust attacked. It was in my eyes, my ears, between my teeth. It collected under my bandanna and melded with my sunscreen to form a chalky dirt paste. My cold bottle of water quickly turned the temperature of blood. I had never been so hot in February; hadn’t realized in my rush to prepare that February was African high summer. The kids surrounded me, peeking into the pockets of my cargo pants. My guide/fixer/Maay Maay translator, Abdu, scattered them with a swoosh of his handmade switch.

We walked a mile into camp, passing blocks of tents and latrines and the occasional goat, until we reached a long, low building.

“Cultural orientation class,” Abdu said in his formal, British-y way. Inside, a group of women and teenage girls were prepping for life in America. They practiced turning a mock light switch on and off; pushed buttons on a mock dishwasher; passed around a santitary napkin.

I thought about all the things these women could never prepare for; things that were really going to matter when they hit stateside. Like me: I’d mined the State Department website for everything I could learn about Kenya, but nothing readied me for the women’s gazes; the torch of their curiosity burning through the bandanna on the back of my head.. No story I read prepared me for what the women themselves told me through Abdu:

They came to the village with machetes.

They burned everything.

We ran but they were in a truck.

They took my daughter.

I do not know where my parents are or if they are still alive.

My husband is in another camp.

I do not know how many years ago it was.

“Americans are very conscious of time,” Abdu translated for the teacher, who stood in front of a giant map of the U.S. “They wear watches and keep clocks in their houses. Americans do not like it when people are late. You must check the time often in America.”

After class, I asked Abdu to see if anyone would give me an interview. He scouted the crowd, then returned with a woman about my age. She wore a red-and-gold head covering and held a happy squawking toddler.

“What do you most look forward to about America?” I asked, pen poised. My interviews were going to make up more than half the story, which I was already writing in my head: Refugees fleeing terrible lives make the journey to new, better ones!

“Safety and security,” she said, kissing her baby’s head. “Where were you born?”

OK, cool; I could be the interviewee for awhile. I walked over to the U.S. map and pointed to the dark line separating Arizona and Mexico. “Right here,” I said, “but now I live here.” I pointed to the middle of South Carolina.

She was confused. “Why did you leave your homeland?”

Homeland. This was several years after 9-11, so I only thought of that word in the context of Homeland Security. For an American, the word is foreign, only slightly less retro and weird than “Fatherland” or “Motherland.” I was a 31-year-old American woman who’d spent the last 10 years moving from city to city with no real roots or even loyalty. “I took a job,” I said. “I work for a newspaper.”

“But what do you make?” she asked.

“I make…” Now I was confused. What the hell did I make, really? I wrote a popular women’s column; some feature stories and film reviews. Once every two weeks I did the cops-and-courts beat and drove to a City Council meeting or a house fire. I couldn’t hem a dress, hang a straight curtain rod; or change my own oil. I bought my meals ready-made at the organic market.

“I make words,” I said.

She changed the subject. “Where is your husband?”

“I don’t have one,” I replied, but didn’t explain further. I had come out at 28 and was still struggling with the differences between the life I’d dreamed of as a kid (traditional family; acceptance in the wider world) versus the life I actually had (solo homeowner; non-monogamist; childless).

There was, as far as I knew, no word for “female homosexual” in Maay Maay. There’s a word for “male homosexual,” but it’s a pejorative; plus, homosexuality was – and still is – punishable by death in this part of the world. Best to let it lie. “I have a house and three cats.”

“Cats?” she repeated in Maay Maay, looking to Ashur for confirmation. 

Small cats,” I clarified, miming little paws and ears. “Not like lions.”

“What do the small cats do?” she asked. “Do they give milk or meat?”

“No no no,” I said. “The small cats are for companionship. So I don’t have to eat or sleep alone.” (At that time in my life I wasn’t doing a whole lot of sleeping alone, but again, I wasn’t about to get into it). I thought of the cats; their slim, tough little bodies figure-eighting around my legs when I got home at night. It pissed me off when people called them “child substitutes.” They were cuddly and comforting to hold, but I knew they weren’t the same. I loved having a bit of unpredictable wildness in my house. I loved being stalked from atop the refrigerator.

She leaned back and looked at me like, Let me get this straight. “The small cats do not give milk, neither do they give meat or labor. They eat from your plate and sleep in your bed. They are your only companions at home. When you are not at home, you make words.”

Looking at my life through a reductionist lens bummed me out a little. She was right, but also not, and I suspected this went both ways.

“Well…yeah,” I said. “But I have friends, and, uh…I read a lot. I go out to hear music…I spend my time…”

My time. I would never be able to explain to her how I spent my time; could hardly explain it to myself. I couldn’t explain “friends,” couldn’t tell her how women sluiced in and out of one another’s lives like water. No combination of words could articulate my fear that I was moving at a stately pace toward something irrevocable.

Eyes limpid with sympathy, she handed me the baby. We played with him and forgot all about the time.