“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.

“What ya got here is a tarp”: On manstruation

This is a joint effort with the brilliant Hypotaxis (trigger warning: super-long post).

***

We love watching “Hoarders.” One thing we especially enjoy about the show is the occasional character break of the therapists, wherein they drop their clinical reserve and TOTALLY PASS JUDGEMENT on the hoarder, e.g., This house is hoarded and disgusting or Look, it doesn’t matter if this magazine “smells” or not: A mouse has pooped on it!

During a recent “Hoarders” binge, we viewed an episode where the hoarder had allowed termites to devour her home to such an extent that one entire wall of her kitchen was gone and in its place, a flimsy blue tarp.

Even the psychologist was shocked by the neglect, and in his shock, lapsed into inadvertent profundity:

This used to be a . . . where there used to be a wall, he stammered. Where there was a wall, now what ya got here is…a tarp.

We laughed, both at his abject horror and at the implicit metaphor in the observation: “You once had a wall, now what you’ve got is a tarp.”

But to the hoarder, it was perfectly acceptable to have a tarp as a wall. Hell, to the hoarder, the tarp was a wall. Both of us gender-critical feminists, we lapsed into po-mo speak: “Not all walls are stationary, some walls flap in the wind.” “Just because this wall is a piece of plastic purchased in the sporting goods section at Walmart, not intended at all for use as a wall, doesn’t mean it’s not a wall, damnit!” And, naturally, “This tarp has always felt like a wall.”

Really, if you apply queer speak/po-mo rhetoric to any other area of actual life outside of “special identities,” it becomes hilarious. However, it is not at all hilarious when applied to women. On the contrary, it’s deeply damaging.

One thing we talk a lot about is how lucky we were to have come of age prior to the rise of queer/trans rhetoric that asserts predilections, preferences, presentation – and not biology – dictate whether one is actually male or female; to have come-of-age prior to the ubiquity of anti-intellectualism and junk biology. As young dykes with a fondness for fishing, dirt bikes and our dads’ flannel shirts, we would have no doubt been convinced by the culture that we were, in fact, male.

Instead, we learned to accept ourselves as we are; we learned to be unashamed of our female biology, and to know that our unique interests and “fashion sense” (if one could ever call it that) had precious little to do with our female anatomy – in a woman-hating culture, we were lucky enough to learn and internalize the notion that we could be both human AND female. Thanks to our moms and dads for not caring one whit about our “gender presentation.”

So we were very sad to see an article on EverydayFeminism.com in which a “trans guy” (female) wrote extensively about her disdain for her own biology – particularly as it related to her menstrual cycle.

***

Before we get into the particulars of the article, let us say that we find it tragically ironic that a website touting the name “Everyday Feminism” would publish a piece that so screams of internalized misogyny, that espouses the sort of antiquated (we thought) disgust surrounding the female body that second-wave feminism (derided by the much cooler, hipper, queer set) worked hard to help women overcome.

In any case, in a world where a tarp can, in fact, be a wall, Everyday Feminism gave space to this young woman so that she could work out her very female dysphoria by applying queer double-speak to call menstruation – of all things! – a male experience.

It is not our intention to mock the writer of this piece, because we feel a great deal of empathy toward her. We do not know what it must be like to be a gender non-conforming dyke at a time when so many are convinced that gender is inextricably linked to biology. Our intention is, rather, to highlight the rhetoric – not unique to this writer – and engage that rhetoric as a way of illustrating just how harmful it is, particularly to lesbians and young women.

The article is titled “My Period and Me: A Trans-Guy’s Guide to Menstruation.” (She will use the word “guy” over and over, connoting as it does EXTRA manliness.)

The writer starts off by explaining she hasn’t had a period in a while, but has suddenly started menstruating, and adds: “This might be a good time to mention that I’m a dude – one with a uterus. A very, very excitable uterus.”

She’s not only a “guy,” but she’s also a “dude” and she has an “excitable uterus” – the latter term sounds like something ripped from the pages of Freud’s earlier writings. “Excitable uterus” is, in fact, an iteration of terminology used for centuries to explain women’s ailments, women’s disenchantment, and to justify women’s subjugation – those pesky “excitable uteri” prevent us from making rational decisions, caring for ourselves, voting in an informed way, etc. An especially “excitable uteri” could get a woman locked up in an asylum for the rest of her life; could lead to a doctor surgically removing her clitoris. You’ve got to calm that uteri down before it wanders off, you know?

After introducing us to her dude-uterus, the writer goes on to say that there are dude-like elements of her body that she’s satisfied by: “I actually did okay when the Great Body Part Mechanic in the Sky was handing out body parts. I have broad shoulders; fat settles on my belly instead of my thighs; and I have narrow hips.”

We’re guessing this physical build reaffirms for our writer that she is, in fact, male. As we read her description, we read it in relation to our own bodies. Hypotaxis has broad shoulders, plenty of belly fat, and hips so narrow that she can scarcely keep a pair of pants up without assistance from a belt. While she has never been a fan of how fat accrues across her midsection, she’s never interpreted her build as being “male” or as having any bearing whatsoever on her biology. She’s female whether or not she has the broad hips of her female cousins or the belly fat of her father. This is simply a fact. Phonaesthetica, on the other hand, is built like a spider monkey or one of those hyper-alert miniature greyhounds, with ropy, muscled arms and legs and not much of a bustline to speak of. She’s female, too.

But this writer’s article is not really about her build. It’s about her menstrual cycle. And she discusses this normal, healthy occurrence with all the revulsion one might reserve for waking up with a tarantula in their mouth.

“Every once in a while, I have a full-blown period attack,” she writes.

This is not the only time she pathologizes this perfectly natural female function. Throughout the article she refers to her period as an attack and a “medical condition.” Again, we can’t help but notice that there is something decidedly Victorian about this approach to menstruation – only furthering our belief that the queer/trans ideology is not progressive, but rather quite regressive. A hundred years ago, when women didn’t necessarily know what their periods meant – e.g., a sloughing off of the lining of the uterus because no pregnancy has occurred during this particular cycle – they often did consider it a medical condition, and an upsetting one. It was only after a wave or two of feminism, that women understood what was happening and went about their menstrual days without requiring a fainting couch.

“It’s not easy. Everyone in the world thinks periods are the ultimate expression of femininity. Sometimes it makes me feel very, very feminine.”

This was curious to us. Here we were, thinking pink parasols and floral perfume were the “ultimate expression of femininity.”

Femininity is an affectation. Female is a biological reality. Our periods are not an “expression” any more than cancer, a bulging lumbar disc, or seasonal flu is an “expression.” And if menstruation is supposed to make us “feel very, very feminine” it has failed on all counts. Phona wears high heels every once in a while, which can make her feel “very, very feminine” in a performative sort of way, but she never feels “very, very feminine” due to bleeding from her vagina. She needs a cute tiered skirt from Prana for that.

Because, see, our bodies are not a feeling. Our bodies’ natural functions are not “expressions.”

And yet, in a weirdly self-aware moment, the writer acknowledges this: “The truth is: there’s no reason [my period] makes me ‘feminine’” – and she’s right. It absolutely doesn’t make her “feminine” because “feminine” is a conceit, an invention, a bit of theater. Enjoying a walk through the woods doesn’t mean we’re Walt fucking Whitman, but enjoying our walk while walking upright in the woods means we’re human. Having a period doesn’t make you feminine, but it does mean you’re female. See how easy that was?

One of the reasons we feel for this writer is that she’s clearly working something out, having a moment of catharsis on Everyday Feminism, as evidenced by moments like this:

“Because gynecomastia doesn’t make men women, my period doesn’t make me one either.”

Oh, the logic fail (unsurprising – queer/trans rhetoric is full of them): Because biologically-abnormal breast development in men doesn’t make them female, my biologically-normal female menstrual bleeding doesn’t make me female either.

Can we, for a moment, defer to de Beauvoir: “One is not born a woman.” What Beauvoir meant was NOT that “female is a feeling,” but that the whole concept of “woman” is built on a male foundation comprised of oppressive notions about how female persons should present and conduct themselves, as well as what kind of status and treatment they should expect from society. If we are to subscribe to Beauvoir (and we do) then no, your period doesn’t make you a woman (if you don’t want to live as a woman, don’t! you be you!) but it certainly makes you female.

And female reality is uncomfortable, because to be treated as a woman is uncomfortable. The author, continuing her catharsis, writes at length about how “a lot of trans guys are …ashamed” of their periods.

Well, sure! A lot of females have grown up internalizing that female is shameful, that bleeding is an embarrassing thing to do. Bleeding, in nature, is a sign that a creature is weakened or wounded, vulnerable. If something is bleeding on the plains or in the ocean, it’s much easier for a predator to come along and eat it.

“This shouldn’t be a shameful thing. We should be able to talk about what our bodies are doing and help each other out with tips and support.”

We thought this was something women had been doing since time immemorial? In women-only space? Or at least in the letters section of Seventeen magazine?

But the sad crux of the article lies here:

“I’m trying to start a conversation about why menstruation isn’t an inherently female thing – if trans men experience it, it can’t be truly female, can it? – and how talking about our bodies is sometimes the best way to fight dysphoria and learn new things about how to improve our lives.”

Wait. What?

Read that again: If trans men experience it, it can’t be truly female, can it?

We posit that the first thing you have to do to improve your life is to accept reality – what your life actually is is, in the Bill Clinton way. In order to improve your life, you have to SEE it first. You can’t improve something in the dark, or when your eyes are willfully closed against the clear, cold light of day. You can’t write a symphony with ear plugs in. It may be painful and difficult to admit that “if biological males don’t experience menstruation, then menstruation must be female,” but if you’re going to fight dysphoria; if you’re going to improve your life, this is something you must face.

Dysphoria doesn’t fight dysphoria. Like doesn’t cure like unless you’re doing homeopathy. Holding your breath doesn’t fight unconsciousness. You cannot destroy the village in order to save it.

“Periods happen to lots and lots of people. Many of them are women and girls, but those of us who are something else should have a context for our experience and a way of talking about it without being misgendered.”

Sigh. Tell that to the girls in Africa and India who can’t go to school when they’re menstruating because they don’t have hygiene products. We don’t see any boys in these locations being denied an education because they’re menstruating. We’re thinking probably all the people in Africa and India whom periods “happen to” are female, since no one there has enough time to gender navel-gaze.

“I like not to wear pads or tampons or any sort of quote-unquote ‘feminine product.’”

Us, too! Because little wads of cotton in our vaginas or stuck into our underwear are uncomfortable! This doesn’t make us male – although it IS sort of fun to hold a tampon up in front of one’s face and tell it, in a deep bass voice, “I don’t like the gendered message you’re sending, tampon!” (Also, what else could you use for menstrual hygiene? What would be manlier? A Super Bowl program? Some shards of brick from a construction site?

“This is not possible for everyone.”

Exactly. That’s why African and Indian girls miss so much school.

“But when it is possible, it makes me feel more like myself experiencing a medical condition and less like I’m a lady flower experiencing lady uterus ladyship.”

The mocking self-hatred here makes us want to cry. The misogyny does not surprise us.

“(I) treat it with a sense of humor…I call it a “man period’…I make it silly so it’s less likely to upset me. If I make light of it, it has less power over me. Silly things don’t cause deep emotions.”

Being female! Such a silly thing! And yet, she’s not taking this lightly at all.

“Remember, anatomy is not a binary…I’m not going to get ejected from the realm of masculinity because the gonads I have produce blood.”

Yes, you are going to get ejected from the realm of masculinity, but it’ll be by men. Men have a funny way of not backing down from the visible, tangible truth when it has a vagina. See also: Teena Brandon. Men aren’t interested in semantics or in the tortured mental gymnastics of the queergendered. You have a vagina? Rest assured, they’re going to treat you like you have a vagina. That’s why female reality is uncomfortable.

“I just developed a little differently from some guys.”

Woman is a man without a dick. How novel! Wait…no…

“We all have the same basic stuff. My junk just got a little confused.”

Female anatomy is confused, male junk.

“We have the idea that there are male genitals and female and nothing in between, and that they are polar opposites.”

No, we don’t. Stop it with the intersex argument. It’s old and tired and everyone’s got the Discovery Channel, so we’re well aware that a certain percentage of infants are born with ambiguous genitalia.

“Human sexuality is a glorious mess”

Hells yeah!

“and it makes me feel better to know that I’m not at the wrong end of the binary.”

The wrong end? What? Like a woman?

“Talk to other trans guys about it.”

Why are they always “guys”? Is male adolescent arrested development the goal here?

“A lot of trans guys have periods for whatever reason.”

THIS IS THE BEST. For whatever reason! Such a biological mystery! It’s the year 1436 and someone sneezed on me and now I have the Plague for whatever reason…I don’t get how it happened…can you put on this bird mask and wave a crucifix above me; I don’t know. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west for whatever reason. When you drop things, they fall to the ground, for whatever reason. There’s just so much we don’t understand yet!

“I have some male friends who still get their periods.”

No. You don’t. You just…really, really don’t. Unless you’re hanging out with seahorses.

“I find it’s easier to put things in perspective when I feel like I’m not the only one experiencing something.”

Look! Over here! Billions of other women are experiencing menstruation right along with you! Which was, of course, part of the impetus behind feminism – to help women realize they are part of a class (not living some rogue reality in a vacuum) and organize together for their best interests. Go ahead, change your name and wear what you want and live as a man – you do you! – but live happily in the knowledge that you are NOT alone, as a female, in this world.

“Talking about your reproductive organs as a masculine identified person is a political act. If there’s less shame, there’s less pain.”

And yet, this person is deeply, powerfully ashamed.

“Lastly, and most simply, I try to let go of my expectations…I may have to remind myself over and over again that having a period doesn’t make me female, the same way having nipples doesn’t make me a mother, but someday I’ll overcome my conditioned ideas of sex and gender and be able to fully accept that men can have periods.”

The more you have to tell yourself something, the likelier it is that what you’re telling yourself is a lie, and the likelier it is that you know it. Also, “expectations?” Like the ones that can be found in any middle-school biology textbook?

Conditioned ideas of gender are what feminism seeks to dismantle. Conditioned ideas of gender torment this young woman to such an extent that her normal menstrual cycle causes extreme cognitive dissonance and mental anguish.

“The amount of pain I hear from trans men related to their periods is substantial. But by talking about it and degendering it, we can lessen the pain. Menstruating doesn’t have to be a girl thing.”

It’s very sad when women feel pain related to their inescapable female biological reality. The way to deal with that pain is not, however, to pretend that one is other than what one is. A tarp is not a wall, no matter how much you’d like it to be.

Demonizing Second Wavers

phonaesthetica:

Succinct, incisive and sorely needed.

Originally posted on Ama Nanta - Mother Earth:

The demonization of Second Wave feminists is a popular past time of any number of people. Right wingers love doing this. Left wingers love doing this. Third wave feminists love doing this, although a small few soften their bitter criticisms by saying it was a politics informed by ignorance and “we all know better now”. Second wave feminists are the kick toy, the scape goat, the Bad Feminist who wants to ruin your sex life and castrate all men, the feminist who ruined sex relationships for everyone forever, solely responsible for transphobia, racism, hatred of sex workers, and any other evil you can think of to pin on them.

That this makes absolutely no sense and is completely untrue in every way, shape and form makes no difference to the young people who constantly promote these ideas. That young women owe nearly every freedom they have to second wave feminist…

View original 854 more words

Brokeback radfem: sometimes the metaphors write themselves

Did you know that a teenager can break her back, but not know it until after her 40th birthday when a neurosurgeon spots the break on an MRI? It’s true!

This means I traversed high school, college, and grad school; was married and divorced; came out; worked 23 consecutive jobs in a half-dozen careers; lived in 19 different apartments and houses; emigrated to Canada and back; and spent five years on a six-day-a-week Crossfit schedule – all with a fractured spine. Which is horrifying, but also…kinda metal, if I do say so myself.

My surgeon is going to take the vertebra in question and bone-graft it into a spinal tea cozy to protect the new manufactured vertebra, then attach the whole shebang together with screws that look oddly like what you get at Ikea. He said the break happened when I was between 10 and 16. A childhood spinal fracture is a bit like tree rings – you can pinpoint its age by the bone growth around it – and most people never feel the injury if the vertebrae settles far enough away from the nerves.

You can walk around with a broken back for a long time.

I didn’t start limping until about six months ago, but I always had a sense of some essential wrongness about my back. A crunched-up feeling; an urgent desire to pull the tiny bones apart and let air into the spaces. One doctor said it was a bulging disc; another said it was a too-pronounced S-curve, and both these things were true, but didn’t explain the abject dread I felt when pondering my own spine. A dissolving sort of feeling, as if one day I’d wake up in a pile of tiny ivory shards dust-layered upon one another. My back and I, our very own anthropological site.

It’s an easy feminist metaphor: All women know something devastating happens to us between the ages of 10 and 16, if not before. The culture tells us it’s because of this or that – sexual abuse; not enough access to sports facilities; bullying; dating violence, cyberstalking, too many magazines with skinny cover models – and as correct as all this is, it doesn’t go deep or far enough.

Patriarchal culture (and liberal feminism) obsessed with individual stories and solutions, never says “broken.”

Patriarchal culture (and liberal feminism) calls it all a misunderstanding that can be ironed out if men and women just listen to one another, the way my middle school headmaster was sure the bullying would stop if the bully and I just “talked.” As through the power structure was equal; as though the kid wouldn’t punish me tenfold the minute headmaster’s back was turned.

Patriarchal culture (and liberal feminism) never admits that men as a class do not see women as a class as fully human.

Patriarchal culture (and liberal feminism) maintains that the theft of our labor, resources and bodies is a thing that…just sort of happens. The thief usually goes unnamed, or defended, because “not all…”

Radical feminism says: This situation is intentional: Men as a class benefit from our oppression in ways they really like.

Therefore, unless women find the right language in the right books (or on the right screens or in the right company) we don’t have the words to unlock and translate the WHY of what’s systemically as well as individually happening to us, as a class, in the world. That’s why there’s such an effort to obfuscate and control our language as well as our spaces.

We know something is wrong but we don’t know (or want to know) that it’s an honest-to-God break, so we limp along to chiropractor after chiropractor. We buy special pillows to align ourselves. We curl up into quiet balls, or we keep empowerfully deadlifting and squatting and taking fistfuls of painkillers to get by.

You can walk around with a broken back for a long time.

We live like this, and then we die without the language we need to say what’s true; to use a clean scalpel to rebuild ourselves and each other. We die quietly, like my grandmother Tess, who knew what a husband’s fist felt like, or angrily like my great-grandmother Toula, who was never allowed to learn to read.

We can only fix the break if we have the words to describe it. Only then can we walk without a limp.

OutLIARS (or menmenmenmenmen)

*This piece was a joint effort with the ever-genius Hypotaxis.

Unsurprisingly, Dana McCallum, a man who identifies as a woman, was given a little slap on the wrist after pleading guilty to spousal abuse and rape. Most males, like McCallum, do not receive sentences that are in any way proportionate to the trauma inflicted upon their victims.

Also unsurprisingly, LGBT media outlets have been clumsily and desperately trying to lionize poor Dana McCallum as a troubled soul with a drinking problem, instead of naming him, accurately, for the abusive man he is despite his lady presentation. “But she Tweeted in support of rape victims” one LGBT publication lamented. So? So that means what? He’s not a rapist? He’s not an abuser? Because he thumbed out 140 characters in support of abused women? The logic of the modern-day LGBT “movement” seldom approaches anything resembling a sane and rational thought.

Frankly, I am now firmly of the conviction that not only is the current LGBT movement anti-woman, but actively hostile toward women, particularly lesbians. As a dyke, as a feminist, I see nothing in the LGBT “world” that in any way benefits me (rather, I see much that is blatantly harmful to my existence).

What I see is a batshit insane assemblage of males wringing their hands and whining when women don’t speak and act in a way that conforms to their delusions.

But I digress. Back to McCallum. An incident like this, where a public figure like McCallum assaults his wife, illustrates precisely why words must mean things; why language – despite all queerifying to the contrary – matters, and why the linguistic tools we have been given as human beings have real-world implications for women.

Because McCallum identifies as a woman, his male aggression is being contextualized as a women’s issue and has fostered some discussion of woman-on-woman violence in liberal publications. In a world where male aggression and violence is epidemic, where women, the whole globe over, are killed (by males) every fucking day (even as I write this blog post), and in a world where women are not allowed to name this problem, a discussion of woman-on-woman violence is patently absurd.

Sure, we can talk about violence on an individual level – some women are violent and some men are not violent – but that defeats the whole fucking purpose of addressing a problem that impacts a CLASS OF PEOPLE. The queer/trans/LBGTWHATEVERTHEFUCK loves their precious individuality, loves taking into account the myriad anomalies of each and every person and using those as evidence to contradict every socio-political (and biological) FACT in existence, but this kind of discourse is not productive. This kind of discourse does not lead to any sort of meaningful or beneficial change. This kind of discourse is the intellectual equivalent of running your brain through a goddamn wood chipper.

The Daily Beast, yesterday, published a marvelously stupid article in which the author (a woman) argues that McCallum’s abusiveness provides us with an opportunity to discuss “woman-on-woman violence.”

Let’s have a look-see, shall we?

“What is surprising is that the alleged rapist is a well-regarded feminist and LGBT advocate, Dana McCallum, a transgender woman who was named by Business Insider as the fifth-most important LGBT person in the tech world.” 

This is not “surprising.” It is not surprising that a male has risen high in the tech world ranks, given that the tech world (like virtually every professional corner of the economy) is dominated by males. And no, it is not surprising that the alleged rapist is a male. Males rape. They do that a lot.

“Unfortunately, the relative silence around McCallum’s trial, let alone the issue of woman-on-woman rape and sexual assault, is deafening and disturbing. In researching for this article, I posted queries in multiple forums for female journalists for resources or recommended experts for female-on-female rape. I received only one response. I’ve seen only a handful of articles reporting on the McCallum case and they are generally absent of any criticism.”

There’s so much in this little passage that makes me want to beat my head against a wall. 1) As a class, women do not rape. Period. End of story. If someone doesn’t want to have sex with us, we feel sad and go home and write about it in our journals. 2) Dana McCallum is male. 3) “I posted queries in multiple forums . . . I received only one response” – yeah, you know why, genius? BECAUSE WOMEN DON’T RAPE EACH OTHER. Are there outliers? Sure. There are outliers for all sorts of things – some guy in Morocco can run a 3:43 mile; and it snowed eight inches in Tucson, AZ on Christmas Day, 1987 – but outliers do not negate reality. Outliers shouldn’t distract from the central mass of data, and in statistics, they don’t. In trans and misogynist politics, however, outliers become the North Star pointing us straight into disingenuous territory.

One popular trans/queer trope goes: “What about intersex? Huh? Huh? Huh?” – Yeah, a very small number of people born with ambiguous genitalia. That does not mean that female is a feeling in a man’s head, or that female is something you can buy – but the trans/queer circular logic jump has been made: Transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women.

Consequently, because a man who “feels like a woman” rapes his wife, women have to be scrutinized and discussed as though they, too, are attackers. This insulting nonsense serves to arm MRAs and misogynists who say, “But women rape, toooo!” – thereby distracting from the central mass of data, which has always been mathematically clear: Rapists are men, not women.

THIS is the fuckery we are being sold by the trans/queer movement, ladies. THIS is why words actually do matter. If he is a woman (and he’s not) and he is a rapist (and he is) then in keeping with the gender-sick zeitgeist, you, my sisters, are now potential rapists because HE (pronouns, pronouns) raped his wife. Transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women. Got that?

We are now going down this road. If we weren’t allowed to name the problem of male violence before, it’s going to be ever more difficult now that males can decide they feel like, and therefore are, females – while continuing definitively male behavior such as rape. I can assure you in the coming years we will see a proliferation of discussions around “woman on woman” rape and violence, not because females are running around raping and beating one another, but because males with super-special identities are doing it.

And it won’t matter, sisters, that we are not perpetrators. There will be no distinction made between our behavior and that of the men who buy accessories to parody us through their misogynist lens and call it “reality.” Does that sound harsh? Does that sound histrionic? Read the fucking Daily Beast article. Do a Google news search for this case. It’s already happening.

Oh, and this will also, no doubt, be positioned as a lesbian issue. Males who feel like ladies will be totally off the hook for their brutality, because women will have to accept the blame. Lesbians will have to shoulder the stigma of being “rampant abusers.”

“The fact that there is pushback against discussing female-perpetuated assault, especially by women whom we hold up as progressive role models, is disturbing.” 

I KNOW, right?! It sucks that we never had an open, honest, culture-wide conversation about how Oprah beat on Steadman. Or about how Ellen is a serial rapist. Or about how Eleanor fucking Roosevelt was routinely clocking her admirers. Oh, that’s right, those things NEVER HAPPENED. Next.

“This type of argument is based on fear—fear that when we admit that famous or powerful women can be aggressors, it will disempower other women, namely female victims of male domestic violence.” 

Yeah, you know what? Blaming women for male aggression does disempower women. Blaming lesbians for rape committed by males does erase the victims of male violence, and it does allow the real perpetrators to hide.

This is the current state of LGBT affairs: Dana McCallum – male, rapist, abuser – is a “well-regarded feminist and LGBT advocate” who gets to keep his high-status job, while women who dare to state that penis is male and that men rape are “bigots,” “transphobes” and “TERFS.”

Sisters, is this what’s to become of everything we’ve built? Is this the sad, twisted final chapter of the book of us, written out by Sappho and Jane Addams and Gertrude Stein and all those badass ladies in the WACS and on The Ladder? Did the Daughters of Bilitis envision being classed one day with rapists? Is this the harvest of our lobbying, our marches, our art and music; our coming-outs with trembling hands?

Think hard.

Is this the ending you want?

Why I don’t own a gun

If you visit me in Arizona, I’ll collect you at the airport and tell you: Remember, you’re never more than a few dozen feet from a gun. People here keep guns in their homes, their cars, strapped to the insides of their boots. If we stop at the grocery store for popcorn, strawberries and beer (that’s what we’d have for dinner at my house) at least one man will be casually wearing a handgun on his belt. Twenty others will be carrying concealed weapons. You do not want to get into it with a stranger in this part of the country. He wants to cut in the checkout line? Let him.

Yesterday at work, a couple of ladies were happily discussing their personal arsenals.

“I have four guns right now,” one said. “The biggest one is Czechoslovakian, and I keep it right on my nightstand.”

I allowed as to how sleeping with a gun that close might creep me out a little.

“Well, it’s not gonna get up and shoot someone all its own SELF,” she told me. “I’d be scareder of sleeping with a clown doll on the nightstand.”

Can’t argue with that! It’s not gonna get up and shoot someone all its own self! But what if:

(a) I accidentally exercise my Second Amendment rights and blow my own foot off? (I’m a woman whose pens inksplode all over her fingers at the slightest provocation; who’s afraid to own a gas mower because of what happened that time with the rocks and the anthill). What if one of the cats knocks it off the nightstand? I don’t even have any decent drinking glasses left; that’s how much those goddamned cats knock shit off my nightstand) OR

(b) I, sleepy and afraid, uphold the Founding Fathers’ inimitable American vision by shooting one of my idiot friends who decides to make me a surprise visit (when I brought this up, the the work ladies said, in unison, “They should call first!”) OR

© Some unarmed nutjob breaks into the house, sees the gun, and is inspired to take his ordinary burglary up a level?

Talking to the work ladies about their guns, I picked up on a lot of fear – specifically, fear of rape.

I’m not afraid of rape. I’ve cut down on my risk by not dating men – it’s usually a guy you know – and I’m over 40 and I stay alert and sober in bad neighborhoods and I walk like a woman who benches her own bodyweight (because I can) and all of this stacks the deck in my favor. Not, of course, that hundred-year-old ladies haven’t been raped in their own beds, but I choose to look at the larger statistical picture. And I decline to live in fear.

The only rapist I’m afraid of is one with a gun. If he’s got a gun, it would behoove me to have one as well. I could decide to become one of millions of Arizonans who feel the need to have the means of lethal force on their person at all times, even at goddamn Panera Bread or Lucky Strike Lanes. But there’s an emotional and mental cost related to owning a gun, and to being surrounded by firearms in casual, everyday contexts. This is a dangerous world, you’re saying with your very own personal gun. I need this weapon to protect myself and my family so we will be safe. 

It’s a simple individualistic response to a complex, growing, shared social problem. You hear the same argument for breast implants: I’m doing it for me! It’s empowering! 

This is when you know people have given up on looking for root causes. This is when you can be sure no analyses are forthcoming re: the whys and wherefores.

If you look at NRA and other gun-marketing materials directed at women, you’ll see a lot of pink; a lot of fashion-oriented concealed-carry items; a lot of fear-based Mama-bear stuff. What you won’t see is anything remotely honest about who women are protecting themselves from (again, your rapist and/or murderer is usually a man with whom you share a home) or about the ingrained sex-class system that allows and encourages men to make women afraid because men stand to gain a lot from women’s fear. They stand to gain lots of money (guns are spendy!) and power (the NRA is, well…the NRA).

Men who do not cherish women’s interests stand to gain when women think the solution to male violence is to be found within the violent male power structure.

You can’t paint that shit pink and expect me to buy it.