Sunday, April 27, 2008

You may notice that one of the links on my blogroll is dead. Please check out this piece on feministing for a little background on brownfemipower's departure from the blogosphere (I believe she recently changed her handle to la chola, but she is more widely known as brownfemipower).

Feministe lead me to her "finals words." In this piece she explicitly rejects the label "feminist" and explains why. BFP writes,
“Feminists,” on the other hand, are not movement building, they are actively destroying women and blaming those women for the destruction. They are saying the point of feminism is “equality with men” without even thinking to acknowledge that “equality with women” is just as admirable of a goal and maybe even possibly the first step to achieving the goal of equality with men. They are saying, Just do it, just do it, JUST FUCKING DO IT.

The third-wave feminist critique of the second-wave rest largely on the idea the second-wavers privileged the experience of white upper class women over the experiences of lesbian women, women of color, and poorer women. BFP's piece requires white third-wavers to examine their glass house (and it's painful to see what that glass reflects back).

Please check out what she has written.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Let me preface this by saying, I am in no way trying to talk about the experience of all women. Many women experience completely different and, some might argue, more hurtful/dangerous forms of street harassment then I do. Street harassment often involves a head-on collision of class, race, able-ness, gender expression, and sexual orientation, not only for the person being harassed, but also for the person harassing.

This morning as I was walking to work, some guy in a truck did a cat-call whistle. As I stood there waiting to cross the intersection, flicking the guy off while he turned the corner, I realized that to everyone in the cars all around me, who hadn't heard the whistle must think I was completely insane. And maybe some people who heard the whistle thought I was crazy too.

Street harassment really bothers me. I like to think the best of people, so I believe that the people (men?) who harass others (women?) on the street don't understand what they are doing.

When people harass me on the street, the first thing I feel is scared. I have no way of distinguishing between the random dude that is going to tell me I have nice legs and then walk away and the random dude who is going to tell me I have nice legs and then follow me for several blocks with follow-up comments (or the random dude who is going to tell me I have nice legs and then try to touch me).

The second thing I feel is angry. Being out in public should not be the equivalent of posting a picture of yourself on a hot or not website. Most times when I am out in public by myself, I am trying to get from point A to point B and it pisses me off that in between those points, people think I am inviting a referendum on my body, my clothes, my walk.

I hear many men say that they are just trying to compliment someone and how is someone supposed to know what's a compliment and what isn't. Here's the thing: if you're not in a situation where you can walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and then say whatever it is you want to say, then you're probably not about to deliver a compliment (and if you wouldn't say it if the person wasn't alone, you're also probably not about to deliver a compliment).

What is being deliver is a message of intimidation. Whenever someone shouts at me from a car or mutters something as I pass by, they are saying "get off the streets" to me. They are saying, "I am a person and you are something I like to look at." That attitude scares me and it makes it much more difficult for me to ride the trolley, take a walk, or really do anything by myself.

Oh and Guy, fuck you. You might enjoy looking at women, but it's articles like this that legitimize treating women like objects for men to enjoy rather than like real people. Via feministing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Obsession is for objects

“He suffers and he’s needy, and I relate to him personally,” Mr. Apatow said in a telephone interview. Particularly in dealing with the opposite sex, Mr. Apatow said, “we both have that same feeling that we’re obsessed with women and they don’t actually like us that much.”

This quote from the New York Time's article on Jason Segel, the writer-leading man of the new movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" has a lot packed into it. I really liked Knocked Up and was a big defender of it when many of the commenters on Feministing criticized it by agreeing with Katherine Heigls' remarks that it was sexist.

I defended Knocked Up by comparing it to "In Her Shoes" and "Just Like Heaven," movies that involved high-powered women finding the man of their dreams only after realizing that they need to give up their fast-paced, demanding jobs and take it easy. In Knocked Up, on the other hand, the male lead was the one who had to change "for love." More controversially (I guess) I also thought that Leslie Mann's character in Knocked Up was a sympathetic because, in the narrative of the movie, she is justifiably (I think) angry at her life. (Everyone else seemed to think she was meant to be a shrew.)

This quote makes me think I was wrong to defend it though. "Obsessed with women" is an attitude that sounds suspiciously similar to "thinks all women are the same." Or to put it another way, it doesn't matter if Apatow is shoving all women in the dirt or putting them all on a pedestal, either attitude treats women as something other than three-dimensional people with real flaws and actual character traits.

It got me thinking back to that Feministing discussion about Heigl's character in Knocked Up, specifically about how Heigl might have been the "together one," but she also never got to be funny and about the whole abortion thing and how glossed over it was. I still liked Knocked Up, but ya gotta admit that when a character decides to have a baby with a one night stand and you come away from that (non-)scene about that decision without knowing anything more about the character or her motivations, then that character really is little more than a plot device for someone else's journey.

Apatow did better than that with Freaks and Geeks and I'm pretty sure he can do better than that on the big screen too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Here's looking at you

Last week I finished reading Courtney Martin's book "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body." Martin uses the dichotomy of the "perfect girl" (the perfectionist) and the "starving daughter" (our most basic human desires) to examine women's relationship to their body. (As she said at a talk at the University of VA last week, once you start talking about women and their bodies, you end up talking about everything.)

A lot of things in the book really stuck with me, but one thing in particular was a concept about attractiveness and desire that Martin articulates: being noticed versus being seen.

Martin writes,

We walk around wondering what we look like through most of adolescence and, with less urgency, for the rest of our lives. Our inability to really see ourselves imbues the judgment of strangers with tremendous and undue value...A man I have never met can instantly put a little swing in my step...a bar full of half-drunk strangers has the power to make me hang my head.

We are dependent on the kindness of strangers because of the onslaught of skinny-and-fit female or tall-and-toned male images that we suffer daily. We become unsure of our own sight so early on, convinced that the only accurate view of ourselves is outside of ourselves. We search for signs that we resemble the mold---an invite to homecoming from a football player, a wink in the elevator from a cute coworker, admission into an exclusive downtown club. We feel, in these brief, usually fruitless encounters, like we are being seen when really we are just being noticed. The difference is significant.

Being noticed is ordinary, fleeting, and impersonal. Being seen is extraordinary, lasting and intimate. Being notice is common and only skin-deep. Being seen is rare and profound. It is what happens when you stay up all night talking in a stranger's car because the conversation is so good you forgot to reach for the door handle...Being seen is when your boyfriend knows that the horseshoe scar on your knee was from when you fell in the gravel of the playground in fourth grade playing flag football, and he adores it Being seen is a hand on the small of your back as you walk through a doorway, a glass of water when you are coughing in the middle of the night, his making a parting reference to something you said so long ago you barely remember it. Being seen is when your girlfriend asks, 'Why do you seems sad?" before you have realized that you are, indeed sad. Being seen is rarely about physical beauty. Being seen is never about being buff or thin.
- pp 149-150

This passage really spoke to me because I realize that a lot of my anxiety over my body come from a place inside of me that is desperate to be noticed and terrified about what it says about me when I am not noticed. I have never been the kind of woman that gets noticed. In some contexts this is a total blessing. On the rare occasions when someone harasses me on the street, I feel horrible about it and I'm not sure being hit on in a bar would be much different. On the other hand, I am acutely and occasionally painfully aware of the attention some of my girlfriends get. I think I have been wondering all my life to some extent what is wrong with me---why don't I get noticed?

That's not the real question though and in fact, it's not a question it all; it's a gratitude. I am so thankful that I have been seen by friends, family, and some of my romantic partners and that I have seen people. I think I've always thought of my failure to be noticed as some kind of indication of my chances of being seen, but the truth is, I can put that fear to rest. The results are in: I have been seen and loved and I have seen and loved. No amount of noticing is going to change that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's not a paycheck from a fancy corporation. It's not a nice apartment, trendy clothes, a new car. It's not a nonprofit job that guarantees a spot in heaven. It's not even thinness.

None of these things make us feel perfect or even good enough. None of these things fills up the emptiness inside, the one that Anna Quindlen warned us about: "If you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be." When you turn twenty-five and you look up from the toilet bowl or the keyboard or the steering wheel and you realize that there is nothing where there should be at the center of your life, at the center of you body, at the center of your soul, what do you do? When you realize that the hunger you feel is for something much larger, much more substantial than a paycheck or a flat stomach or a cute boyfriend, where do you look for spiritual sustenance?

- Courtney E. Martin, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters