on Emily Yoffe and the way things ought to be

Women and girls get lied to from all sides. I prefer truth.

So here are two true things: If you’re around men, and you’re drunk enough that you can’t think straight, the likelihood that a rapist will target you is higher than if you were sober. And you will be less able to defend yourself.

Unfair, I know. It ought to be enough to tell men not to rape; end of story; period.

It’s not enough.

Men rape.

As much as I hated the headline (“College Women, Stop Getting Drunk”), I read Yoffe’s entire piece on Slate. Did her critics do the same before they decided she was a mockworthy scold/rape apologist? Because her observations — that women who are drunk are often targeted by rapists, and that drunk women are less able to defend themselves — are common-sense, albeit not the way things should be.

My whole deal is this: I don’t stake my personal safety on the way things should be; nor will I encourage other women — much less teenage girls — to do so, because that would be disingenuous hypocrisy of the worst kind. As much as we thrill to rape-prevention tips for perpetrators — “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks” — the culture changes slowly and painfully and I don’t intend to be a test case. I’m not increasing my risk of victimization to prove an ideological point. Kind of like I don’t tend to hold hands with my girlfriend as we skip past some rural redneck convention in Killdyke, AZ. It’s so wack and unfair that the onus is on my girlfriend and I to be cautious! We should be able to hold hands wherever we want, without fear of a Killdykian attacking us with a baseball bat!

“Only men can stop rape.” True.

And men rape.

Here’s another true thing I learned from spending time with 18- and 19-year-old women: They’re still developing that mental algorithm which, in women with more life experience, works automatically and quickly when we’re around men. When we walk down a dark street alone, our brains conduct an unconscious series of equations; an internal call-and-response:

I see a strange man coming towards me.

Is he alone, or are there other men nearby?

Is he walking purposefully? or erratically?

Is he carrying anything? Walking a dog?

Do I feel uncomfortable in any way?

Could I get out of this situation quickly if I had to? How would I go about doing that?

Life experience teaches us not to wait when we get that creepy, prickly danger-feeling. We don’t need to spend precious seconds analyzing it, questioning ourselves, or justifying our decision to exit stage left.

Our brains run the algorithm at parties and on dates, too. We’re less likely to stick around because we’re afraid of hurting his feelings or looking foolish. It’s a key part of getting home safe. It’s not theory. Not politics. Life is not a Gender Studies class. You want to talk “lived experience,” I got some lived experience right here for you and so do all my friends.

I care about girls and women. So I won’t tell them that their choices, in a dangerous world, are meaningless. That’s infantilizing.

Our choices matter. Our survival skills matter.

Rape is never our fault — whether the rapist is a stranger, a “friend,” or a partner. We can’t guarantee that we won’t experience sexual violence at the hands of a man, but we can stack the deck in our favor. You can choose not to stack yours in a show of insistence that women ought to be able to get drunk in the company of men without increased risk of rape. You do you.

I choose to stack mine. That’s not blaming victims. That’s me trying not to become one.

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?

In the room the women come and go

Are they gone?

Good.

You have to understand. No way in hell would I send my writing to Feministing. No interest. I write a small niche blog that sees the same visitors every week: Cherry Hill, NJ; Chatham, ON; Helsinki, Finland. One reader checks in every morning at 6:15 and I wish I knew who she (I assume she) is, so I could say thanks and tell her to subscribe to updates by clicking on the “sign me up” thingy. I feel guilty when a couple of weeks go by without anything new — aaahhhh, she keeps checking! I need to get on it!

I’m not an arguer, though I admire the mad rhetorical skillz of many women on my blogroll. I’m uninterested in persuading anyone to adopt my point of view. (Everybody, h/t Nikka Costa, got their something). Most of my readers are part of a particular feminist crowd; others are into CrossFit/powerlifting or secondary-school pedagogy. Or maybe hairless cats.

But I do read Feministing occasionally, and last week they ran a piece that bothered me intellectually and viscerally. I wrote down my reaction (quickly, and without wearing any pants) and went to bed. I woke up to 3,000 hits because a friend had forwarded the piece to Feministing. Such is the nature of the Internet, yes?

I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote, but the piece was not addressed to or intended for the Feministing author. She’s a woman writing about what’s important to her. Fine. I took issue with what she wrote, though, and my critique was intended for a specific, seasoned feminist audience.

I am a Christian with a Jewish soul: I don’t proselytize.

The negative Feministing response didn’t shock me (nor did the number of lovely, supportive emails and new readers). What was interesting was the tone of many comments I got — as though the writers were about to detonate with self-righteous outrage. My own tone wasn’t gentle, of course, but the weight and force of all the YOU FUCKING MONSTER!s was a battle axe in response to a fencing foil. It was personal (“you’re just too fucking old to understand, but…”) smug and pseudo-academic (“You may not realize the problematic bigotry and horizontal violence of your response; you need to unpack your privilege” and condescending (“Your blog post gave us all a good laugh.”) I published the ones I thought moved the conversation forward; spammed some unread because the first line was abusive or profane. These writers were going to fucking bring me into line and, failing that, were going to try to hurt me as much as possible. I was wrong, so I deserved to be punished.

Internet incivility and aggressiveness is a thing, no matter what you’re into — I mean, Elizabethan historians and chemical engineers must get up each others’ asses online all the time — but I hadn’t experienced it firsthand until last week. I’ve got friends with unpopular opinions who receive actual death threats, and it’s eye-opening to experience the tiniest, slightest inkling-hint of how that feels.

I don’t mind people thinking my opinion is derp — go nuts! I work with teenagers, so I maintain equilibrium in the face of whiny fists-in-air — but I do mind that expressing it on my own blog got me swarmed with abusive thought-policing.

I’m allowed to have an unpopular opinion. I’m allowed to think, judge, question, complain, dissent, and write a pantsless manifesto without getting a visit from the Shame Stasi and being told I brought it on myself and deserve it. Is that a familiar trope? Have we heard it somewhere before?

I am a small fish. The “bring you into line” phenomenon is writ much larger online this week. It’s a first-world problem, yes, but I find it scary. I find it problematic.

Take This Waltz

I knew this movie was going to fillet me and it did. First, it’s set in Toronto’s Little Portugal/Annex neighbo(u)rhoods where I lived/worked/shopped/wandered aimlessly between 2006-2009; and also it’s about what happens to a young woman who doesn’t know how to take responsibility for her own happiness. No spoilers — go see it if you can — but at the end, you realize: The problem was her. IT WAS HER THE WHOLE TIME.

 I wish I’d understood this in my 20s and the first half of my 30s: No matter how big and true a love is, it cannot serve as a whole life. You can’t spend all day at a job you hate and then come home expecting your partner to make up for it between 5 p.m. and bedtime via the healing light of her embrace. You can’t neglect personal interests and passions and still greet the day with joy; you can’t hand responsibility for your own happiness over to another person and say, “Here, take care of this,” no matter how happy she makes you. No one gets away with failure to develop and invest in a whole life, no matter how much you love/are loved, because it will catch up with you and you will experience the panicked emptiness that comes from phoning yourself in to the world.

Not one of us gets a pass.

I think this is scary for  women, conditioned as we are to think of a partner (and children) as the destination; to look to family for ultimate fulfillment. To be other-centered; to be part of something bigger than ourselves even if (especially if) it requires big sacrifices. This narrative is encouraged from Day 1 and continually reinforced in ways both subtle and obvious, from Disney to the ersatz “opt-out revolution.” Because  it’s scary to admit that nothing can serve as a whole life except a whole life, because what if we can’t manage it? What if we fuck it up? Sometimes we try to get around it by making ourselves into amazing partners; devoted mothers; attentive adult children — we hope these roles mean a whole life.  We want to have paid our rent for living; to have been authentic citizens of humanity — and we try to do it through relationships.  Men don’t (though they prefer women do) which is partly why men own most of the wealth but aren’t as emotionally fraught. They know that a whole life is an inside job, but we, in tipping-point terms, are just beginning to understand.

Women’s Studies: I do not think it means what you think it means.

My friends, Women’s Studies has morphed into “Gender Studies.” Women come in second (“Gender and Women’s Studies,”) or even third (“Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.”) Lots of trans scholarship, too.

One program is called “Women Studies” and this is why:

Women Studies is the history and future of our department. Analyses of sexism and of women’s places in the world are critical to our work. We retain the non-possessive “women” instead of the more common “Women’s Studies” to indicate that our work as a department is not owned by or solely relevant to women.

First part’s great; the second’s baffling: Why is the work not owned by women?  Would that be bad? Shouldn’t it be solely relevant to us, at least most of the time? Should I just slit my wrists with my labrys charm?

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on men, trans, or queer studies if that’s what you want, but I want Women’s Studies. I want to study the lives and experiences of lesbian feminists; even separatists. I want a program where it’s OK to be that, and I’m not finding it. I’m even afraid to include a link to this blog in an application — it’s much more likely to hurt than help me — and that says a lot.

Also. I found out today that I’d be the oldest Gender and Women’s Studies Ph.D. candidate at my local university, should I decide to apply. I’d spend the next 6 years “investigating gender in society and culture in historical and contemporary contexts from nuanced multi-cultural and multi-racial perspectives” as well as “utilizing and interrogating existing methodologies” with a bunch of people born in 1990 who’ve never paid their own rent. No thanks.

I know I can read and learn on my own; a Ph.D. is expensive and unnecessary and no one can find a university-level teaching job anyway. But tonight, I’m sad and discouraged.

Do you think Robin Morgan ever speaks at high schools?

“Pussy bite”? Someone found me by Googling “pussy bite”?* What the hell is wrong with people?

In other news, I got irritated today when a dude in fourth period snickered upon hearing that the book we’re reading in class is often taught in Women’s Studies. I asked him, politely, what exactly the fuck was so funny.

“Women’s studies?” he giggled. “Is that a real thing? Is there, like, Men’s Studies, too?”

“No,” I said, going on to explain that, because men are the default humans — like Times New Roman is the default font  — almost everything in this world is made and done with men in mind. Every day is Men’s Studies Day! Girls and women are auxiliary humans, like Century Gothic or Wingdings. Therefore, girls’ and women’s experiences of said world are radically different from his. Ergo, Women’s Studies is a valid and challenging discipline, albeit not as sparklyhip as video game design or rap producing.

*Also, “verginer.”

just a tweak

I’m trying to be less naive. Naivete is expensive.

I tend to believe what people tell me, and people are often full of shit. They don’t mean to be. They don’t want to be. And yet. When I think of the time I’ve wasted believing and acting on other people’s made-up stories, I feel sick.

Here’s a story I believed, because I loved the person who told it:

I’m a woman inside;  I always have been. When I was a kid, I loved pink and baking cupcakes. Trans women are actually more female than non-trans women, because we’ve gone through so much in order to be called women. We’ve examined femininity in ways that non-trans women never do. Transwomen are women. Transwomen are women. Transwomen are women. I’m not like other transwomen, though — those crazy high heels! Those squeaky voices! I compete in a women’s boxing league and do my own drywall, so you can tell I’m secure in my womanhood. I’m the most successful transwoman you’ll ever meet; I work in a male-dominated field for a shit ton of money and no one knows I’m trans unless I tell them. Hey, how come you don’t know how to fix the broken showerhead? Why do you leave those kinds of things to me?  I’m experiencing you as really heteronormative, and that makes me uncomfortable. You’re kind of needy, too. Why do you always want to spend time with my friends instead of making your own? I live my life at a Very. Fast. Pace. Why do you always want to talk about everything? It’s exhausting. And it’s weird how you’re more of a second waver at your age; most of those women are old and kind of racist. They’re the only ones who still call themselves “lesbians.” I prefer the word ‘queer,’ because it allows for the fact that some women have penises and some men have vaginas. I don’t need $20,000 sex-reassignment surgery to be a woman; I can totally be a woman with a penis! I’m a woman already! But I’m going to have the surgery so I can feel comfortable in the women’s locker room. It’s basically cosmetic surgery. Just a tweak. It won’t affect anything but my choice of bathing suit. Why are you crying?

Andrea Dworkin would have turned 65 today

Think of all the true and fearless things she wrote  in the midst of obscurity and poverty. Think of how she got nothing but abuse and contempt from misogynists and liberals alike, but never diluted her words in order to widen her audience.

That’s one reason her books are so hard to find: They contain too much truth about being a woman in this world.

The other reason: They contain too much hope about being a woman in this world. They describe other ways our lives could be. That’s threatening to men who want to keep our lives as they are.

If you haven’t seen her online library, here’s a link:

http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/OnlineLibrary.html