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.


“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.

“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.”


“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.

I feel dumber for having read this piece on Salon

…about “Matilda the Musical”:


“With a spoonful of sugar comes a transphobic message about the dangers of straying from traditional gender roles, a conservative parable about the “right” and the “wrong” kinds of women.”

:raises hand:

Couldn’t it just as easily be “an anti-woman or anti-feminist message about the dangers of straying from traditional gender roles, a conservative parable about the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ kinds of women?”

Or could Dahl, a non-traditional sort himself, have been using satire to encourage children to think more deeply about  what it means to be a girl or a boy? About adult villainy and hypocrisy? About how we ought to treat each other?

Or — and by far the most likely — could Dahl have simply written a children’s book, to appeal to children (who, after all, have a cruder sense of humor than adults? Sort of a starter set of humor, yes? Who’s got kids?)

“Dahl paints Miss Trunchbull as male inside and out. Her physique is ‘gigantic’ and ‘formidable,’ with ‘big shoulders,’ ‘thick arms’ and ‘powerful legs.’ She has a ‘deep and dangerous voice.’ Avoiding feminine dress, she wears breeches rather than a skirt, flats rather than heels, and in Warchus’ play, a coach’s whistle around her neck.”

OK, but does Miss Trunchbull have to be trans? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Miss Trunchbull, you do you!) but…might she just be a butch, or simply a woman who doesn’t fit the traditional trappings of femininity? My middle-school swim coach comes to mind here, but she never transitioned. We’re Facebook friends now and she seems quite happy being female.

“When they stray too far from the feminine path, they need to be put in their place.”

Hoo, that sounds familiar! Just ask my girlfriend, who is not actually even that butch! She’s more “butch-adjacent,” but she sure understands how this one goes! (Also, she is a Theatre Person and hates that Miss Trunchbull is played by a man in this production. She says it’s similar to casting a white actor in a specifically black role).

“One group of people will not miss Dahl’s underlying message, however. Little girls who love sports and not dresses, who are tall or muscular, who are boyish or even perhaps identify as boys, who long someday to possess authority. All of these children will see themselves in the Trunchbull, and they will watch closely as these aspects with which they identify are shamed.”

I guess that makes sense, but let’s be clear: Not all little girls who love sports and not dresses (or who love both!); who are tall or muscular, or who long someday to possess authority, “identify as boys.”

Also, I hate the word “boyish” to describe a little girl or her interests/behavior. Boys don’t own climbing trees or riding bikes or science/tech or being the boss someday. If a girl does these things, or grows up to do them, they’re girl/woman things.

You know?

privilege-checking: the silencer on the shut-down gun

Oh, the Internet cray these days. I can’t keep up. We got blogs censored over here; death threats over there, general freakout braiding it all together like a horrible Victorian mourning brooch made of human hair.  And Feministing has outdone itself. Just as fat is the most concentrated form of energy in the body, so Feministing (although they sometimes do some excellent reporting) is often the most concentrated form of clueless pomo derp on the Internet.

Today, they’ve interviewed a trans guy performing in a play loosely based on the Tyler Clementi tragedy. It sounds good, and were I visiting Chicago, I’d go see it. BUT. Please shudder at the following excerpt:

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

JJ: I think it’s a constant challenge – whatever identities we align ourselves with – to face our own privilege, and kindly, constructively call each other out when we don’t.

My aghast-ness springs from the following:

1. A constant challenge for who? Navel-gazing academics and performance artists?  Who the fuck sits around talking about which “identities they align” themselves with? Early-20somethings, mental patients (cray!) and the unemployed, that’s who. I wish I had the time, money, leisure, and/or large academic grant sufficient to allow me to sit around and ruminate re: the “identities I align” with. Mostly, though, I go to work, which robs me of 8-10 daily hours of precious identity-aligning time.

2. “Face our own privilege.” I am all for examining what makes some lives easier/less-fraught than others but “privilege-checking” has become a quick, effective way of stopping productive disagreement; the silencer on the shut-down gun. We feel embarrassed and guilty when someone accuses us of being unaware of our privilege; as though we have hurt someone — it’s reminiscent of childhood, when our mothers scolded us for not appreciating how lucky we were compared to less-lucky kids. Women respond to this kind of chastisement because we don’t want to be jerks; we don’t want to hurt anyone. Because hey, we could be wrong, after all. We better apologize.

Privilege-checking, though, can become a useless and destructive exercise. From a recent piece at Left Foot Forward:

“At the heart of “privilege-checking” however is a kind of narcissism and desire to exercise guilt, which arouses a great many problems of itself. First of all “privilege-checking” assumes that we can only understand things we have direct experience of, as Tom Midlane recently put it. This just needlessly problematises solidarity and divides those who are fighting the good fight against societal injustice into blocks of oppressed and non-oppressed. The protest space is necessarily subjective, sure, but it is also a space for fighting the greater good in union.

Looking deep into one’s soul and seeking self-privilege is peculiarly individualistic and contrary to the spirit of protest.

Secondly, I suspect it only serves to underline a guilt which, stripped down, is ultimately hubristic. I’m reminded of how Pascal Bruckner defined guilt in his book on the subject, as a substitute for power for the middle class European individual in a post-empire age, or a way to appear to reverse the co-ordinates of power relations in society, when in fact the presence of guilt firmly keeps those relations in place.

In this sense guilt only divides people from the guilty (non-oppressed) to the non-guilty (oppressed).”

3. “Kindly, constructively call each other out.” Is it possible to laugh oneself into a hernia? How many actual times has your average liberal been successful in “kindly, constructively” calling another liberal out? How many actual times has it not devolved into a welter of unhappiness and misunderstanding; a comment thread swirling into the dark? Has anyone ever said “Thank you for calling me out on my privilege” without clenched teeth and/or a vicious little masochistic thrill of self-abnegation? Do privilege-checkers and callers-out have any idea how ridiculous the rest of the world finds this exercise? How much a form of non-action? How effective a distraction from the fact that about 400 people have REAL privilege and control most of the wealth in this country?

Also, figuring out one’s own precisely-calibrated levels of privilege is a Byzantine task, i.e., what if you’re perceived as “white,” but your parents are immigrants for whom English is a second language? What if you come from an upper-middle-class background and hold an advanced degree but earn less than $30,000 a year? What if you were once quite beautiful but, now that you’ve hit your mid-forties, no one really looks at you anymore? What if you make a ton of money but you live in a red state and can’t pass as a non-dyke? Do people need a briefing re: the intricacies of your personal privilege before they decide how seriously to take you? Like I said, NOT ENOUGH TIME. GET ME A FULLY-FUNDED FEDERAL GRANT.

4. The greatest challenge facing feminism today.” Speaking of the rest of the world, I’m thinking the greatest challenge lies there. I would like to make a list of challenges that in my opinion (and yours?) present a greater challenge to feminism — which is a political, not an individual, movement concerned with the well-being and fate of women as a class. Such as:

  • female genital mutilation affecting millions of  girls/women around the globe
  • the sex-selective abortion of girl children
  • the murder of girl children
  • the forced marriage (selling) of girl children to older men
  • sex trafficking/slavery
  • honor killings
  • rape as a weapon in relationships
  • rape as a weapon of war
  • women forced into survival sex (rape) as a direct consequence of war
  • the possibility of rape wherever and whenever
  • increasingly brutal, sadistic rape p0rn available for free online
  • the murder of women by boyfriends or husbands (“domestic violence”)
  • inaccessibility of education for females
  • dearth of female political power
  • the victimization of elderly women
  • curtailed or nonexistent reproductive rights
  • compulsory pregnancy
  • preventable, yet unprevented, death in childbirth
  • economic inequality: women do most of the work but own much less of the wealth
  • poverty has a woman’s face, and a girl’s, and mostly they are faces of color
  • prostitution, prostitution, prostitution

What else?


Black Friday is gross and demeaning and bad for the world. I should have stayed home and Bought Nothing, but I needed a laptop and I couldn’t sleep anyway, having inhaled roughly 4,000 gravy-and-pie-related calories. So I got up just before midnight and sallied forth to Best Buy to see what might be seen. It was raining, but I figured, Hey, an adventure.

The parking lot looked like Calcutta. I got that lonely-in-a-crowd feeling, so I started talking to the woman next to me. I had an in because she was waring a University of Alberta sweatshirt.

“Canadians don’t really do this, eh?” I asked. She allowed that no, they did not, but — like most Albertans in public — she was less than effervescently friendly. Plus, she and I were looking for the same laptop, so our line-friendship was doomed.

The doors opened, whereupon the throng fell upon 50-inch plasma TVs with glad cries. I ran to the laptop aisle, grabbed a $379 miracle of Chinese construction, and got in the checkout line. The customers behind me were a group of bros* waxing poetic about their new electronic toys and their post-doorbusting plans:

Bro #1: “Bro, we’re going to IHOP, right?”

Bro #2: “Fuck yeah.”

Bro # 3: “I’ma get waffles, yo. Pancakes are fuckin’ GAY.”

Ordinarily, I’d have turned around and given a stern “watch your mouth” speech — they were teenage boys, and I can handle those — but, right at that moment, there was an unexpected occurrence.

I started my period. With cramps.

Here’s where I got a taste of Black Friday shame: I couldn’t step out of line and head for the ladies room, because I’d have lost my spot. The line was three city blocks long. So I decided to be stoic and stalwart; to stare stone-faced into the middle distance like Maxine Hong Kingston’s woman warrior, Fa Mu Lan (who was also known for letting her moon blood flow).

Except I bet Fa Mu Lan was wearing underpants.**

Anyway, I left Best Buy just in time to save my socks, and returned home like a warrior: rain-soaked, covered in blood, and victorious. Now I have the laptop I’m typing this on, some pie, and a heating pad. Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to all!


*A group of fish is a “school” and a group of crows is a “murder,” but we lack a name for groups of roaming frat boys. I suggest a “ram” (a “douche” being both misogynistic and politically problematic). A ram of bros.

**I just don’t feel like you need them with yoga bottoms, you know?

“School is a totl waist of time.”

Well, there you have it. A scathing-er indictment of U.S. education than its 18-year-old author knows. That little nugget was turned in to me today as part of a seven-word memoir assignment, as was “Who needs school, dude, we have computers” and “Blah blah blah blah blah fuck you.”

Have you ever thought that maybe we’re extending childhood too long in North America? On any other continent, in any other era, 17- and 18-year olds are married, have their own children, and work at least 8 hours a day. At the very least, they’ve got their own fruit stand. They’re adults. None of this my-mom-is-filling-out-my-community-college-application bullshit.

So I teach according to the Fruit Stand Principle. “You don’t need me to explain this assignment half a dozen times,” I’ll say to a kid who hasn’t listened all period. “In 9 months you’ll be one of us, wondering, ‘Who the hell is FICA and how did he get half my paycheck?'”

We’re one of the only nations that offers — that pushes — free public education through age 18. But there should be better options for kids who hate reading and writing; who’d be happier learning a trade or driving a truck or farming. If we had enough viable blue-collar jobs, we could lower the dropout age to, say, 13. That way, kids who watch the classroom clock and make paper-clip weapons wouldn’t take their boredom out on classmates who do want to be there; who will succeed academically given enough resources and time. It’d also be easier on crumbling school buildings, not to mention crumbling teachers.

I wish there were more viable blue-collar jobs.

I wish my students didn’t tell me they “hate” reading. I wish I could find THE book for each one of them that would make them lifelong readers.

I wish they understood that the limits of their knowledge are the limits of their lives.

I don’t “believe in” your eyebrows; yet you still have to pluck them

I never want to give numbskulls any attention — unless they’re in my classroom and I have federal and state funds to address said numb-skullery — but the “tags” feature on WordPress makes it impossible. Having a “feminist” tag does me almost more harm than good. People’s Exhibit A: This morning I ran headlong into the disingenuous ravings of a doodbro who “believes” that he shouldn’t have to “tax support” anything he doesn’t “believe in.” Like, say, abortion.

The scary thing is, doodbro has company. Individual Americans are increasingly missing the reality  that, as George Costanza would say, “We’re living in a SOCIETY here.” Not only do they feel entitled to their own opinions, they feel entitled to their own FACTS. Don’t “believe in” libraries; roads; hospitals? Hey, you’re an individual with individual choices to choose! Take a stand!

Here’s a partial list of things I don’t “believe in,” yet still pay for:

1. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Kid comes to school with mumps; measles; smallpox; yellow fever; some other near-eradicated 19th century disease and starts a mini-epidemic? Medical bills for me! And not just MY bills — I also get to help take care of everyone who relies on state health insurance.

2. “Crisis pregnancy centers.” (That’s a post of its own).

3. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

4. People having 5 or 6 or 7 children they can’t support.

5. Tax breaks for heterosexual married couples, when homosexual couples can’t have them.

6. School vouchers.

7. Copies of Michael Savage’s book in the public library.

8. That crazy bastard who sets up a big, ugly anti-choice display (with full-color posters) on the University lawn yells at female college students all day, twice a year. Maybe I don’t want to support the university with my tax dollars, since they’re the ones letting him do it.

9. Medicare for old people who vote against marriage equality.

10. Trash collection. They’re really loud, and they wake me up every Monday at 6 a.m. Maybe I don’t “believe in” collection; I want to take my trash to the dump myself, and everyone else can just deal.

11. The Congressional gym. Obviously, no one is using it.