There’s Already a Chip in the Anti-Rape Nail Polish

nail-polish

When my eyes settled on an article by Hello Giggles that touted an amazing new invention—a nail polish that detects date rape drug—the sense of déjà vu was strong enough to make me nauseous. Once again, we see a tool that the very act of writing critically about gets one hailed as a certain kind of activist.

The unreasonable kind of activist.

The type Christina Hoff Sommers calls a “gender feminist”.

And yet, like some kind of feminist moth drawn to the gaslight of patriarchy I just can’t help myself.

In case you haven’t heard, an undergraduate team of biochemists, Ankesh Madan, Stephan Gray, Tasso Von Windheim, and Tyler Confrey-Maloney have created Undercover Colors. Their product is a prototype—a nail color designed to change color when it comes into contact with the date rape drugs Rohypnol and GHB.

And let me just say that it really is nice to see young men using their skills to help fight against sexual violence. In no way do I believe the young men have any thing but the very best of intentions. They genuinely seem like great dudes.

On their Facebook page they write:

“In effect, we want to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators,” they continued, “[to become] the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.”

Actually, they aren’t the only fashion company with that goal. It’s been attempted by many. Some I love like A Beautiful Life’s spicy perfume concoction titled “No” where for every bottle sold ABL donates $10 to RAINN. Others, I find less enchanting, like the horrific anti-rape underwear of last year. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the technology.

As Jessica Valenti notes in The Guardian anti-rape devices are actually developed pretty regularly. She likens them to modern-day versions on the chastity belt. Writes Valenti, “prevention tips or products that focus on what women do or wear aren’t just ineffective, they leave room for victim-blaming when those steps aren’t taken”. Despite numerous iterations of anti-rape devices sexual violence persists, and the conversations on how to prevent sexual violence move in an unending loop. Some argue, quite rightly and often very convincingly, that anything done to stop any sexual violence is a good thing. Indeed Undercover Colors Facebook page is filled with people crowing this mantra.

However, my colleague Elizabeth Plank at Mic sums up the dilemma many have with an anti-rape tool perfectly on The Today Show, “I think it reflects the cultural reality where we actually put the blame on women–often when they are the victims of rape. We put the onus on them, to prevent rape, when we very well know that this is not an effective way of actually reducing sexual assault.”

And yet by all means laud young men for taking a stand against sexual violence. By all means should they proceed with the development of this nail polish.

It’s just that this is not the solution to the epidemic of sexual assaults on campus. At best it is a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. There are many reasons why. Imagine the logistics if you do dip your finger into a drink and find it drugged. As a friend on Facebook pointed out this raises more issues than it seems to solve: What can you do next? Do you know who drugged you? Is it safe to confront them? Can you call the cops and tell them? Does the nail polish keep you safe when you go to the parking lot to your car, or out on the street to hail a cab?

Nail polish doesn’t address the fact that the alcoholic drink the young woman is holding is actually the most common date rape drug. Alcohol facilitated sexual assault, according to RAINN, remains the most common drug used to compromise an individual’s ability to resist sexual assault, and undermine the victim’s credibility.

I also can’t help but notice that the “any little bit helps” argument is not evenly applied. When I organized Slut Walk, one of the common questions journalists, citizens, and trolls alike ask me is what exactly is this going to do for sexual violence? A tough question. It’s not likely I could correlate a Slut Walk event with a dramatic decrease in sexual violence in the city, but it does send the message that there’s a community of people who do not condone sexual violence. That there’s a mass of individuals who know that it’s “my body, my choice”. It’s one small way to begin to dismantle a system that considers rape inevitable. Possibly you can look at the nail polish the same way, although it does little to shift the power imbalance and entitlement that would lead someone to slip you a drug anyway.

And you can spare me the arguments about locking up your bicycle, your house, your car. Pass right on by with the analogy of walking around with money and iPods and jewelry hanging out of your pockets. Why? Because as a woman, my body is the risk factor. My body, my gender, makes me the target of sexual violence and it’s not a possession like a car or an iPhone. I am not able to tuck my woman-ness away in order to assure my safety. Women of color, who are disproportionate affected by sexual violence, can not tuck their ethnicity away. Transgender people, especially those who do not pass as cisgender, can not hide their identities in order to avoid being assaulted.

The assumptions made in an argument that compares bodies to lockable houses reveal what we demand of the marginalized—and it’s an argument that has typically controlled the way that women have access to public spaces. In order to not be victimized, women must behave appropriately. Don’t go out alone, let someone know where you are; don’t drink too much; don’t wear revealing clothing; carry pepper spray and your keys in between your fingers (keeping in mind defending yourself may land you in jail especially if you are a woman of color or trans woman); don’t lead him on, but don’t reject him too harshly and for god’s sake don’t go walking alone after dark. Ladies, live your life by a rape schedule and don’t think too hard about the fact that it’s only meant to protect you against strangers. The safety tips given to women reinforce a reality of sexual violence that goes well beyond rape. It’s about the control of women and their bodies, and the price for non-compliance is sexual assault.

As I often do when I hear about measures to prevent sexual assault, I reflect on my own rape and the way that I thought I was doing the right thing being out with someone who I trusted, and sleeping at his house because I had drank too much and had lost my keys. This leads me to wonder: what shade of polish defends against a friend who decides he is entitled to you body?

 

*edited to include contributions which occurred on a Facebook thread.

 

UPDATE: Via Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel:

If you thought it smelled a bit like acetone and bullshit, you were right. That innovative nail polish that promised to detect date rape drugs has been the subject of both praise and scrutiny over the last week, but this tidbit should change the tenor of the conversation a bit: an exasperated-sounding pharmaceutical expert claims that it won’t actually work.”

That’s right.

Ryan goes on to explain:

Animal New York’s “Backdoor Pharmacist” called the nail polish — and other such date rape drug detecting products like coasters, napkins, and straws — items that ‘exist in a fantasy world of stranger danger pill-packing predators and irresponsible victims.’ Way harsh, Tai.”

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Bravery and Grace: Remembering the Inspirational Words of Maya Angelou

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Elliot Rodger and The High Price of Misogyny

Elliot Rodger in his last You Tube Video

Elliot Rodger in his last You Tube Video

This is a dark night of the heart for me. Friday night, Elliot Rodger killed at least 6 people (it’s recently been reported that there were three more) and injured 13 others. According to the Associated Press:

Elliot Rodger’s parents raced to his Santa Barbara-area community after his mother saw his online threats, but they heard the news of a shooting on the radio as they were driving on the freeway.

They later learned their son had killed six people, wounded 13 and then — authorities say — took his own life.

Naturally, this has sparked an international debate about mental illness (and people wrongfully conflating the Asperger syndrome with mental illness), gun control–and–buried underneath all that, his heinous hatred of women. For two days now, I have watched the push back on any woman daring to raise the point that Rodger quite clearly had a problem with women. These women aren’t extrapolating, the misogyny is plain as day. Take this excerpt from his speech, transcribed by David Futrelle:

And girls, all I’ve ever wanted was to love you, and to be loved by you. I’ve wanted a girlfriend, I’ve wanted sex, I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration, but you think I’m unworthy of it.

That’s a crime that can never be forgiven.

If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you. (laughs)

You denied me a happy life, and in turn, I will deny all of you life. (laughs) It’s only fair.

Of course, we must talk about the access to high-powered rifles and the fascination America has with guns and violence. Of course we must bring up gun-loving Switzerland and their low levels of violence. Naturally, this seems as good a time as any to remark on this “madman” and the lack of mental health services in the country. All these things are true, and even if we don’t know the extent to which mental illness played in these deaths, I’d still like to see better services and less barriers for people who are vulnerable due to mental health issues. These are all good, concrete issues that we can point to–tangible topics that we can blame for Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage.

And yet, while we talk about these things, it buries the things we don’t like to talk about: the roles that entitlement and misogyny play in senseless acts of violence. Michael Kimmel has spoken on the refocusing of this issue before in “America’s Angry White Men”

Yet deny it we do, often by assuming that these outbursts are motivated by anything at all — mental illness, access to guns, video games, whatever — other than gender. We’d notice, of course, if it were poor black girls pulling the triggers in school shootings, or women who walked into their workplaces with semi-automatic guns firing, or all Asians or Jews or Latinos who were shooting up our movie theaters and political rallies. But white men? Must be some other factor.

 

elliot-rodgerPicture: From Elliot Rodger

Even through my own fear and anger about this senseless violence, I can hear the terror, pain, and loneliness that prompted this young man into action. It’s not so very long ago I suffered from loneliness–from a fear that boys would never, ever like me. The school tauntings I received have far outlived the bumps and bruises inflicted on a girl who was poor, who was quiet, who had trouble speaking with people. I don’t have to reach that far back into memory to recall many young men and women telling me I was fat, ugly, worthless. These taunts continue almost daily from random commenters on the Internet, but they’ll never match the sting from my adolescence. My response to this was to turn the violence inward, and if you look at my wrists there are still the faint scars from self-mutilation. There are other marks, but they are not as easy to see and the slice of a razor.

So it’s not surprising to me that these dark feelings, this rage born of isolation and suffering, led Rodger to the dark, dank corners of the Internet–places where the stench of misogyny is so settled into the carpet that people no longer notice the smell. In fact, I imagine it’s probably like Pickton on his pig farm.

Joanna Schroder wrote at The Good men Project, “Many are wondering why this shooter would (allegedly) choose to do this. Well, we don’t have to wonder. He told us. He told us he’s mad that he was rejected by women for so many years. He told us that he is angry that certain men get the women he thinks he’s entitled to”.

Many are wondering why this shooter would (allegedly) choose to do this. Well, we don’t have to wonder. He told us. He told us he’s mad that he was rejected by women for so many years. He told us that he is angry that certain men get the women he thinks he’s entitled to. – See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/dont-want-write-santa-barbara-shooter/?utm_content=buffer39227&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buff#sthash.b6u2SXXN.dpuf
Many are wondering why this shooter would (allegedly) choose to do this. Well, we don’t have to wonder. He told us. He told us he’s mad that he was rejected by women for so many years. He told us that he is angry that certain men get the women he thinks he’s entitled to. – See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/dont-want-write-santa-barbara-shooter/?utm_content=buffer39227&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buff#sthash.b6u2SXXN.dpuf
Many are wondering why this shooter would (allegedly) choose to do this. Well, we don’t have to wonder. He told us. He told us he’s mad that he was rejected by women for so many years. He told us that he is angry that certain men get the women he thinks he’s entitled to. – See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/dont-want-write-santa-barbara-shooter/?utm_content=buffer39227&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buff#sthash.b6u2SXXN.dpuf

Further, Anne Theriault at the Bell Jar explains Rodger’s online activities:

He was an active member of the “PUAhate,” an online forum (which has been down since the shootings) dedicated to “revealing the scams, deception and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to mislead men and profit from them.” And just to clarify, they’re not revealing these scams because of how vile and misogynistic they are, but rather because these men have tried these techniques and still failed to trick women into sleeping with them. These are men who both feel entitled to have sex with women and also blame all women everywhere for not fucking them. See, they want to have sex with a woman because that’s what they deserve just for being dudes, but they also hate women for withholding what they view as rightfully theirs. And I mean, boy do they ever hate women. The PUAhate forum has, according to an article on The Hairpin, threads with titles like “Are ugly women completely useless to society?” and “Have any hot women ever committed suicide?”

Chauncey DeVega discusses the crisis of white masculinity and the connection to these typically young, white, middle-class men to mass shootings.  There is, says Devega, a common theme in the was rage and white entitlement come together.

Honestly, I don’t write this with glee but with a sense of foreboding. I write with despair in my heart that men and women had to die because of the unchecked misanthropy Rodgers felt. His rage built slowly, kindled by misogyny and fed a steady diet of policed masculinity as tinder. Looking through his manifesto he came to loath men as much as women. While he aspires in his manifesto to create a perfect world by making sure that “all women must be quarantined like the plague they are” (p. 136) he writes in other places of destroying those men who he deems subordinate to these ball-busting she-demons.

There will doubtless be more crimes like this–it reminds me of my conversation with Detective Stephen Camp of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee. In a discussion of free speech in society, he described Section 319 of the Criminal Code. Camp says this definition of hate propaganda means there has to be intent to “move people into action whether that is through discriminatory practice such as not allowing a particular group to have access to housing or education or actions such as criminal behaviour”. I have not spoken to Camp about Rodger’s actions, and do not know if he would consider the video or manifesto Rodger created as hate speech. Rather, this quote came to memory on reflection of the vile venomous phrasing by some men in the so-called “Men’s Rights” movement. What we’ve witnessed here is the high price of misogyny that society pays. The question that now remains–will we keep our heads buried in the sand or are we finally ready to take action?

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Wearing the Veil

Photo: Esmar Abdul Hamid

Photo: Esmar Abdul Hamid

From Heina Dadabhoy

How do you feel about wearing veils/ hijabs?

Note: As “hijab” refers to not only the headscarf but also the modest attitude, low voice, and loose clothing recommended for Muslim women, I will use the terms “headscarf” and “face veil” to ensure clarity.

I feel that wearing the headscarf, like any other clothing choice for women derived from and practiced within the wider culture of sexism and patriarchy, is a choice often rife with complexity. It’s easy to single out a practice like covering one’s hair and/or face since it’s so, frankly, foreign to non-Muslims, and it can be directly and openly traced back to a religion with less than the best reputation. At the same time, just because something can be clearly traced to patriarchal norms doesn’t mean that it’s more sexist in theory than other practices. There’s no holy book telling women to, say, remove the hair that grows in their armpits, and yet the practice is nigh universal among American women, especially those who go sleeveless. There may not be a holy scripture declaring that female armpit hair is disgusting, but there might as well be. If we were to eradicate practices as inherently sexist or promoting of sexism due to their sexist origins, we would have to give up things as trite-seeming as body hair removal and as obviously significant as marriage.

Sexist origins aside, while some women might be forced or pressured into covering up, some will tell you that they do so happily and by choice. Just as marriage has gone from being about woman as property to be exchanged in most of the Western world, covering up can be about something more than or other than its patriarchal origins for Muslim women. When I was a Muslim, I felt proud of my identity as a practicing, covering Muslim woman and was happy to shun Western beauty standards in favor of what I saw as a more authentic existence. I even wanted to cover my face but my father forbade me from doing so, citing the issues I might face living in Western society. I only stopped covering because I left Islam, not because I was unhappy to cover.

As a side-note, though I’ve embraced my queer femme style with abandon, I still wrestle with the body hair issue. I don’t feel at all proud to remove my body hair so as not to disgust people. It’s less of a choice to me than wearing a headscarf ever was.

Do you think women should be forced to show their faces during citizenship ceremonies or when testifying in court?

Ensuring identity is an important issue in situations like citizenship ceremonies. That can be easily done by having a female employee of the state look at the veiled woman in question’s face and checking to make sure that the face matches the identification provided.

As the incredible research and work of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus demonstrates, eyewitness testimony is often useless at best and actively harmful in the cause of justice at worst. As most legal systems rely on it and it doesn’t look like it’s about to go away anytime soon, however, it’s a tough issue. An all-female court situation would not only be difficult to create, it could also be seen as discriminatory. There’s no easy answer here.

Where you live what is the context surrounding the veil? Is it appropriate or encouraged to wear it?

Generally, I’d say that the attitude depends on the family in question as well as the mosque. Certain mosques tend to attract a more conservative crowd, one where a woman with an uncovered face would feel out of place, let alone an uncovered head. Others have mosque committees headed up by women who don’t cover their heads. Because American Muslims are such an oppressed minority, I’d say the overall attitude is of solidarity rather than criticism. Specifically, more conservative Muslim women don’t usually tell less-covered women that they’re bad or immodest and less-covered women don’t usually mock the more conservative ones.

In terms of numbers, I’d say that a non-overwhelming majority of Muslim women choose to forgo the headscarf but won’t wear certain types of revealing garments — at least not where their families can see them. Many women do cover their heads. A smaller subset of those women also choose to cover their bodies in loose, flowing outer robes called jilbab or abaya. An even smaller subset of those women add the face covering to the ensemble. It’s not terribly uncommon or shocking for women to move between those groups. Though I am rare in that I am an out apostate of Islam, I’m far from the only woman to go from covering my head and body to uncovering.

Have you lived in places where that was different?

I lived in London as a child and the pressure there to wear the headscarf was highly palpable. It was simply expected that women wear it, to the point where little girls start covering at fairly young ages, i.e. long before the required age of puberty. I remember being shocked to hear that even the not-so-religious women who date before marriage and so on tend to wear it. In the US, the headscarf tends to indicate a certain level of religiosity that it doesn’t seem to in my experience of the UK.

Many countries and courts have taken action over the past decade to regulate, restrict or ban the use of Muslim veils and headscarves in public. How do you feel about that?

I wrote on it a while back: http://skepchick.org/2012/07/veilbans/

tl; dr I think that, if integration and understanding is our goal, they’re highly counterproductive and infringe on people’s right to wear what they will.

Anything you would like to tell me I haven’t asked? 

I read this recently and think that it explains why American Muslims of the sort that I was are quite different from other Muslims very well: http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/deconstructing-the-hijabi-bride-even-islam-in-america-is-hegemonic/

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Sexism on the Radical Left

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When you are an opinionated women who is involved in political activism you come up across a lot of sexism where you hope to find solidarity.  Even among the radical left the perception that women are not political remains. That is probably one of the more benign forms of misogyny that you are likely to encounter. In addiction to the exclusion of interests they care about, women on the radical left experience ongoing sexual violence perpetrated on their bodies in a way that makes focus on an issue like income inequality seem impossibly far off.

Additionally, many of the arguments about the lack of interest women have to politics mirrors the relationship many women of color felt to the early days of feminism. It’s not that liberation did not interest them it is that there was no move to include the issues that affected those who lived the life of a working-class woman.

As Angela Davis recounts in Women, Culture & Politics when trying to find African women to participate in achieving the right to vote Susan B. Anthony found that these working class women of color had concerns that were more immediate.  Davis recounts that Anthony was told, “we want bread, not the ballot”.  Davis writes “that the conceptualization of strategies for struggle was based on the peculiar conditions of White women of the privileged classes rendered those strategies discordant with the working-class women’s perceptions of empowerment.” Simply put, it is hard to be worried about the mainstream when you find yourself thrust to the margins of society.

Elle McKenna, a young woman living in California, grew up an upper middle class, cisgendered lady with little exposure to politics outside the Republican and Democratic binary, and while she acted in defiance of gender roles and faced criticism for it, she wasn’t exposed to the radical left until she moved to Oakland. Says McKenna, “I was pretty disinterested in the whole Occupy movement, until the Oakland Police Department almost killed a demonstrator downtown. Since then, I’ve been pretty heavily involved in activism in the Bay Area, and have felt pretty strongly supported to expand my anti-oppressive politics. My activism has centered mostly around doing support work, which has also meant I work most closely with people who are generally not male-identified.”

Some of the other problems that McKenna has witnessed includes non-male members being spoken over or having their opinions invalidated. The radical-left is a big tent with far more diverse beliefs than the term reveals.

McKenna says, “I’ve witnessed a LOT of problematic behaviour, from the use of misogynist language to shut down women who disagree, to inclusivity of abusive people in so-called “safe spaces,” because people are unwilling to take a stand that might cause “infighting” within “the movement.” In radical spaces, you run into this cognitive dissonance where you have a “fuck the police,” “no snitching” mentality, but if you say someone has sexually assaulted you, people automatically want to know why you haven’t pressed charges.”

Robin Jacks, an activist from the mid-nineties has been with Occupy Boston since its inception. She began her activism in the Deep South around feminist, queer, and peace issues. When I asked her in an email if she feels like sexism exists in on the left she says, “Yes. I feel like it’s especially bad on the radical left, much more so than in so-called “Democrat” organizing”. As for the problematic behavior she has witnessed, she remarks that there is nearly too much to impart to me. However her involvement in Occupy stands out as the most recent example. Says Jacks, “There was constant sexual harassment in the camp and nothing was done to stop it. It was last on the list of priorities, way below things like repairing tents and making signs. As a result, the female population at Occupy Boston dwindled rapidly. One guy sort of indirectly threatened to rape me and the general response was like, “oh, well.”

In both Occupy Boston and Occupy Oakland there was a chilling effect for the women who were trying to participate in activism on the radical left. Says McKenna, as a whole the movement didn’t seem to understand the issues that women were facing within institutions like the police and the court system. Notes McKenna,

“A lot of people don’t stop to think that the victim-blaming tone police and courts take towards rape survivors is a huge contributing factor to why many women share that anti-police mentality. Statistics on incarceration rates within the United States show us that women are significantly less likely to be imprisoned than men are, but when you take a step back and examine the process of reporting rape, the social stigma that comes along with it, the trauma of having to relive it in news stories and court testimony, and the fact that only about 3% of rapists will ever see the inside of a jail you start to understand that distrust of the criminal justice system by women is not just a statement of solidarity with men who are being incarcerated at an alarming rate. It’s also an expression of personal distrust based on how horrifically the legal system and all its actors let women down on a daily basis.

Still, somehow, even in communities that distrust police and the court system, you hear this “innocent until proven guilty,” “it’s his word against her word” rhetoric that perpetuates rape culture. We don’t stop to think about how traumatic it is to come out publicly about having been sexually assaulted. It’s really hard, as empowered, “strong” women, to come out and say “someone deprived me of my agency, of my bodily autonomy. Someone coerced me into something I didn’t want to do. Someone violated me and my non-consent.” Women don’t stand to gain anything, really, from coming out about surviving sexual assault. It’s generally something we do completely out of desperation, because we’re struggling to push back against having to see our abuser welcomed into these spaces after he’s violated us and everything we stand for. We’re trying to move on with our lives, continue our activism, and not have to deal with the triggers of seeing the person who has so violently violated everything we believe in. Unfortunately, even in radical/progressive spaces, it isn’t perceived that way, so we just get accused of character assassination and/or being ‘divisive’.”

However the problem of sexual violence within the community doesn’t have a one-size-fits all solution. Says Jacks, “I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s really important to make sure that women who are assaulted and abused know all the facts and are supported in the choices they make. I know some women who’ve chosen to report their rapists and abusers to the police and consequently have been condemned by the community far more than their abusers have. This sort of attitude is why some radical women choose to go through the system, in my opinion: they don’t have any support from their own community. I am heavily critical of the activist solution of excommunicating abusers and rapists from radical communities. Like yeah, great, they aren’t going to assault or abuse your friends anymore, but they’ll surely do it to someone else. That’s a completely irresponsible pseudo-solution.“

Neither McKenna or Jacks have seen a move to address the issues that went on within their movements. Says Jacks, “Our women’s caucus attempted to address the issue over and over again, but few of the men really paid attention…most of the ones who did pay attention and wanted to do something were men of color who were dealing with racist issues within the camp.”

McKenna used her connections within her community to find help dealing with the issues of sexism and harassment “I’m extremely fortunate, because I have access to a strong, supportive feminist community here in Oakland, and the larger Bay Area. When I was in a situation where an abusive person was refusing to leave my home without my calling the police to have him removed, I was able to call friends instead who talked him into leaving. When I’m in an environment where I may come across someone who has been abusive to me in the past, I have friends and allies I can rely on to help me feel safe. We’ve essentially built a “Feminist Vigilante Gang” here for the purposes of removing abusive people from our spaces, because so many of us were frustrated by our own experiences with sexism, sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse. The idea is to be able to remove these people from our spaces, nonviolently if possible, without invoking the (completely inadequate) State-sponsored solutions to these issues.”

However in the Occupy Oakland movement as a whole, McKenna tells me there was nothing done to address these problems.  Says McKenna, “the idea of Feminist Vigilante Gangs is to build a supportive group of peers, so none of us has to confront our abuser alone, and ideally so none of us has to confront our own abuser at all. It’s feminist solidarity in its purest form, and despite what the name might suggest to some people, it’s really just about finding a workable solution to these problems that doesn’t reinforce the prison industrial complex, or the involvement of law enforcement in our personal lives.”

Photo: WikiMedia

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There’s No Point Bothering With Some People

Like these people…

GROSS

So I’m not anymore, and that’s why. I don’t appreciate my school work being turned into a channel for gross immaturity.

There’s no such thing as honest engagement here.

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Laverne Cox Visits #YEG

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Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black graced Edmonton with her magnificent presence on her tour speaking about the intersections of identity. She began by claiming her identity, said Cox “I stand before you an African American transgender woman from a working class background..an artist” Cox reminded everyone that, “I’m not just one thing and neither are you”.

Ms. Cox spoke eloquently about the issues that transgender people face, and especially trans women of colour. “I believe that misgendering a trans person is an act of violence”, says Cox. There are higher levels of violence, incarceration, bullying, and suicide attempts among trans people than there are among the general population. The levels of unemployment are 4x the national average. For many trans people, said Cox, the current situation is a state of emergency.

Borrowing from Sojouner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, Cox focused on the way her identity was multifaceted and inseparable. While, because she is transgender, she experiences misogyny while also facing scorn for her gender presentation, “before I knew anything about myself I knew I was black” she says.

She told the audience about her childhood with a working-class mother and an identical twin brother. About growing up being bullied and having to run home while being chased. She told a heartbreaking story of a therapist who did not explore Cox’s gender expression with her, but rather shamed her for it. When she was old enough, Cox moved to New York where she lives today. “I made it to New York” Cox declared happily. Once there, she finally met transgender people who would come to change her perspective about her perceptions of her own body.

Her school years had taught her shame around her gender presentation and given her the perception that transgender people were degenerate and outcasts. Actually getting to know transgender people melted those perceptions. Said Cox, “I believe that if we get to know people who are different our perceptions change”. She reminisced about one woman she met, Tina Sparkles, who transitioned into an elegant woman before Cox’s eyes. This gave her the reassurance and strength to she could start her own hormone replacement therapy.

A lot of Cox’s talk centred on speaking to others across difference with love and empathy. She reflected on the way that gender roles oppress everyone–noting that she had dated white straight-presenting men who were very affected by social expectations around their gender. While Cox also spoke of being bullied she noted that she has been criticized for speaking about this because most of her negative experiences with transphobia came from other black people. Of course, says Cox, she doesn’t believe that black communities are more transphobic, homophobic, or misogynistic than the rest of society; rather, there is a complex history of the emasculation of black men in America. Cox says here is a lot of collective trauma in America because of slavery. She stressed that there’s a need to create healing spaces for these feelings.

After speaking, Cox also gave advice during a question and answer period. One person stood up and said they were genderqueer and looking to come out to their parents. Cox mentioned her own coming out story, which happened eight months into transitioning. She called her mother from New York. Things didn’t always go smoothly for Cox and her mother, but they had a lot of difficult conversations keeping love and empathy in the centre. She also cautioned young trans and queer youth to make sure they were safe to come out. There are a lot of homeless youth who were disowned after coming out to their parents.

Lastly, Cox wants it known that loving transgender people is a radical act a necessary one. For herself one of the biggest struggles during transition was learning to live herself while changing. Added Cox, “we all have to learn how to do that”.

Laverne Cox also spoke about Cece McDonald, a young transgender woman jailed for defending herself and the documentary they are making. She reminded people to donate, if they are able to at Free CeCe

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Athena and Dani Girls talking Girls

Hannah Horvath girls grinding on a tombstone Episode 4
Danielle:
DAVID DIED. Finally even Adam was annoyed by her self centred behaviour—worrying about how she is going to publish her ebook. I love the shot at Gawker. Adam calls them a bunch of “judgemental creeps celibate against their will” and that they make a living appealing to out baser natures of kicking people while they are down. Jezebel, e-friends. I feel like Girls is at its best when it poked fun at the things that we do as twenty-somethings. It stings! And I love it. When Adam said “If you died the world would blur” that was kind of romantic.
Adam seemed like a much better person seen through the lens of his sister. Bringing his cousin Margaret to his dance with her…and then it turned out she made the story up… I feel like I process death similar to Hannah. It takes me a while and I feel numb at first and then it all crashes down later. There was a lot of death in this episode. Death and grieving and also fresh starts. Jessa’s friend being alive when she thought she was dead. She was so cold and judgemental about her friend needing to make that choice to get away from her. That’s why I think she’s a really toxic friend. When Caroline was laying in the graveyard talking about medication ad how it made you feel less I think that was one of my favourite parts.Hannah says that’s really not good for a writer and Caroline says that it is really good for a person. I remember being afraid of the way medication would affect me when I was a teenager wanting to become a writer.
Athena:
Keeping with the ongoing theme of abruptness, in the series and in life, I think David dying was fitting. Weird. I can`t say I cared too much about his death. But I love that this became a way for Adam, and everyone else really, to stop and examine what kind of person Hannah is. That line was actually beautiful Adam moment, and this series doesn`t have many of those. Very poetic. It went a long way to humanizing him for me. But once again, I refuse to just forget that he assaulted his girlfriend. God its so eerie how normalized that is within the show, and how unfortunately realistic that is too. Yes! I had a good laugh at the internet jokes. But seriously also that`s my life a little bit. Something I love about Girls, and also The Good Wife, is the way the shows engage with the internet in real and relevant ways. I just read a hilarious recap of The Following on Vulture, where they pointed out the total unbelievable lack of internet awareness. I still am not on the Caroline train, but I loved the little graveyard jaunt. Somersaults down a hill next to headstones? Yes please! And Laird! Quirky Laird. I do like him. He`s endearingly weird and gross. Yes this episode allowed us not only to take a good look at Hannah, but at Jessa and Marnie too. Jessa`s deeply shallow facade was particularly rough and ugly in this episode. Marnie also threw a totally unnecessary tantrum too. Quite frankly, she`s a brat. I`m hoping that she won`t be welcome back at Grumpy`s after that, and be forced to examine her choices, but it was pretty obvious that Ray would take her back. I missed Shosh`s general sunniness, but this episode was too dark for her. If we saw the worst behaviour from these struggling characters in an episode about death, perhaps they are at the precipice of change. Of course Hannah wants to know about her book, Marnie`s upset about that hilarious video, and Jessa wants validation from the people she cares about (something we all crave in varying degrees), but maybe they`re finally going to get sick of themselves. Oops, kind of harsh.
Episode 5
Danielle:
Ok Hannah is being the worst in this episode
“I’ve watches enough Dr. Phil’s and Interventions to know you can work anything out if you talk about it”
“When the great seesaw of life throws your cunt in a sandbox”
Athena:
Yeah Hannah was totally awful in this episode. But so was everyone else. Like David’s wife with the obesity comments? How unbelievably insensitive! I cringed so hard. But then again she is at her husband’s funeral. I can’t believe Hannah asked for the names of editors. I loved when David’s wife told her to get the fuck out. I would have done the same. That would have been a great time to show some tact, and manners. But honestly I didn’t like the wife either.
I love that this episode was an immediate continuation of the last, instead of the usual abrupt change. To me this signified, like I thought last week, that the characters are on the precipice of some change. In continuing with last week’s themes, everyone really indulged in their own awful tendencies. Shosh called Jessa out on her bullshit again, re-emphasizing that she doesn’t want to stagnate in her life the way the other girls have. Jessa’s been through university, you think she’d be a little more willing to take a step back from her own issues and give Shosh some space.
Marnie was terrible in this episode! I’m pretty sure she went to Ray’s because she wanted someone to reaffirm the things she likes about herself. I think she was expecting him to say something like “No, you’re great!” instead of the honesty she claimed she wanted. And then fucking him!?!?! That’s Shosh’s ex!!!! And then talking down to him afterward!?!?! At first I thought it would be a new and interesting friend dynamic. Now I am positive it’s just going to be toxic. There’s no way that’s not coming back to bite her in the ass somehow. Have you noticed how whenever Marnie has sex with someone, there’s some kind of consequence? Whether it’s immediate and just affects her, or takes longer to root and impacts others. I can’t think of a single sexual encounter she’s had that didn’t turn out poorly later.
Speaking of Charlie’s sexual disasters, have you seen the Vulture article on Charlie’s tumblr yet?
Danielle:
The obesity comments were a little cringe worthy but like you said I’m sure she was kind of in a weird mindset. The funeral was such a great place to start you’re right it was continuing on a theme–death is a big change and it tends to bring out a lot of sides of people that are less than pleasant (especially at funerals). I knew as soon as Marnie was at Ray’s door that there was totally going to be sexy times. You’re right though she does have a lot of messed up sexual encounters partly because she only cares about herself–she’s like Hannah neither of them can see past the end of their own noses.
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But Prove to Me that Patriarchy Exists

MarblesThis post has been updated

I know when some people think of the way feminists use patriachy they imagine we believe that in man caves around the country men meet to cross swords (and by swords I mean penises) and then sit down and talk about how to make women miserable. But, as the poet Eliot once said “that is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all”

It’s quite weird to me to see comments like “Patriarchy doesn’t exist” or the attempt to rename feminist’s application of patriarchy as “patriarchal theory”. There are both sociobiological and social constructionist explanations of patriarchy.

Sociobiological explanations use human biology and genetics to explain male control, while social constructionist explanations say that individuals, male and female, actively construct gender roles.

According to social constructionist theories, gender roles are created by individuals within a society who choose to imbue a particular structure with meaning.

(from Boundless Textbooks) The Origins of Patriachy

It seems wholly doubtful to deny that individual acts of sexual discrimination exist, and I think most people would agree. Really then to say that patriarchy exists is only to claim that these acts of discrimination are not simply random acts of individual prejudice or individual bad behaviour, but a more generalized social prejudice that favors males as a demographic and/or masculinity as an ideology.

To show that Patriarchy exists, then, only requires that political economists–among other social scientists–demonstrate that a baseline of statistically significant violence and discrimination against women exists. A vast conspiracy among men, the oppressors in man caves, is not required.

Additionally, those who claim that patriarchy does not exist are not only in denial of the evidence at hand, their claim relies on and imagines a vast anti-male conspiracy among women and men, the courts, police and government at all levels in Canada (and many other places in the world) fabricating the vast evidence available that violence toward women is more than random. Or to put it another way:

Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.

If you’ve ever argued that patriarchy doesn’t exist because men and women perform the roles that they are most suited to, you are using the same argument laid out by Steven Goldberg titled The Inevitability of Patriarchy.

Sociologist Sylvia Walby in her book Theorizing Patriarchy  has composed six overlapping structures that define patriarchy and that take different forms in different cultures and different times. There are many examples of each so I have only selected a few. As it is if you read every link provided in this piece you are likely to be busy for sometime.

1. The state: women are unlikely to have formal power and representation

2. The household: women are more likely to do the housework and raise the children.

3. Sexual division of labour

Female MRA Karen Straughan has pointed out the gendered division of labour in a piece for The Good Men Project back in 2012. Though the two have long parted ways, her article remains and I’ve always found it interesting. She speaks here of some of the difficulty in writing in what is affectionately known as “The Manosphere”:

I have had to sit and grind my teeth when men in the movement complain that “That bitch got MY house. It was MY property because I paid for it while SHE stayed home,” and resist the urge to remind them that unpaid domestic labor has value too, and that women’s denial of that value in the early days of feminism is part of why men and women are in this mess today. That if she was the kind of wife and mother I’d been when I stayed at home, and he’d had to pay her a fair-market wage for her child-care, housekeeping and maybe even home/yard maintenance duties, her income might have been almost as high as his own during the marriage.

I’m not sure if women are the ones devaluing housework, but either way: Women’s work is traditionally undervalued. Although it is worth noting there are more men turning to the Pink Collar Sector.

4. Violence: women are more prone to being abused

5. Paid work: women are likely to be paid less

The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics describes the gap between wages, something that economists have been tracking since 1890. Worth noting that although a pay gap exists between men and women in general, it is dramatically more pronounced among women of color especially migrant workers.

6. Sexuality: Women’s sexuality is more likely to be treated negatively

Again we tun to Karen Straughan (citation on #3), who when talking about her sexuality correlates possession of masculine traits  prevents her from being labeled with slut:

“I’m not a traditionalist woman. I’m bisexual. I’m kind of a dirty old man when it comes to my attitudes about sex, and I’m masculine enough in some ways to pull it off without ever having been burdened with the label of slut.”

The word slut is an excellent jumping of point to the ways in which women’s sexuality is treated negatively. It is a word that has been used to justify rape against women (she was loose, she was asking for it, black women are viewed as unrapeable). We have slut-shaming, and policing of women’s sexuality.

Here’s a great piece from African Feminists about sexual pleasure as feminist choice.

7. Culture: women are more misrepresented in media and popular culture

The finding that international relations articles written by women receive fewer citations than those written by men. Women are sexually objectified to very detrimental effects on self-image and the perception of women as less than autonomous, fully realized humans.

What about the Menz? There is no question that masculinity is policed. Returning to hook‘s explanation of patriarchy she describes this application of gender roles through how her and her brother were raised:

We lived in farm country, isolated from other people. Our sense of gender roles was learned from our parents, from the ways we saw them behave. My brother and I remember our confusion about gender. In reality I was stronger and more violent than my brother, which we learned quickly was bad. And he was a gentle, peaceful boy, which we learned was really bad.

Although we were often confused, we knew one fact for certain: we could not be and act the way we wanted to, doing what we felt like. It was clear to us that our behavior had to follow a predetermined, gendered script. We both learned the word “patriarchy” in our adult life, when we learned that the script that had determined what we should be, the identities we should make, was based on patriarchal values and beliefs about gender.

Men are not allowed to play with dolls as boys, they are not allowed to wear pink .Men can be mocked for being the primary caregiver at home. The men use words like “faggot”, “mangina”, “pussy-whipped” to insult one another do so because this language positions the target of their insults as a less than masculine person. This reinforces the sociopolitical expectation that men be domineering or else they are not “real men”. Writes hooks: “Despite the contemporary visionary feminist thinking that makes clear that a patriarchal thinker need not be a male, most folks continue to see men as the problem of patriarchy. This is simply not the case. Women can be as wedded to patriarchal thinking and action as men.” Patriarchy doesn’t refer to men, it refers to a system and that is why women also buttress patriarchal expectations by demanding men be dominant, primary care-givers, or the ever moving target of a Real Man.

It is worth noting that many people prefer to use kyriachy to describe interlocking systems of oppression because patriarchy alone does not cover the entire scope of oppression. Patriarchy sometimes misses queer, class, and racial oppressions. Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination moves us closer to an inclusive definition of understanding oppression,

Afrocentric feminist thought offers two significant contributions toward furthering our understanding of the important connections among knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. First, Black feminist thought fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift in how we think about oppression. By embracing a paradigm of race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression, Black feminist thought reconceptualizes the social relations of domination and resistance. Second, Black feminist thought addresses ongoing epistemological debates in feminist theory and in the sociology of knowledge concerning ways of assessing “truth.” Offering subordinate groups new knowledge about their own experiences can be empowering. But revealing new ways of knowing that allow subordinate groups to define their own reality has far greater implications.

Emphasis mine. My only issue with this quotation is that Collins does not mention queer oppression which is especially important given the astronomical rates of violence that trans women, especially trans women of color, face.The ways in which gender is policed affects those who are non-binary the most.

Personally I prefer to work through intersectionality as a bisexual woman from an impoverished background, I feel that the white feminist movement does not pay enough attention to voices outside of cisgendered middle-class mainstream.

 

Photo: InspiredImages 

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Athena and Dani: GIRLS Chat

WARNING: Probably all spoliers for Girls Season three Episode three “She said Ok”

Athena:

Okay first thoughts. I think it’s interesting that this season is continually addressing mental illness, whether it is Jessa’s addiction or Adam’s sister’s issues (which seem to me like some type of personality disorder). People complained about Hannah’s OCD in the last season being abrupt (which I didn’t think was an issue at all, because mental illness can just get severe out of the blue), this season is kind of addressing that by normalizing it. It’s everywhere, and unavoidable.

On that note, it’s also interesting how Adam’s tolerance of his sister’s issues were so low. Understandable, but also makes me question the stability of his relationship with Hannah. Though a lot of things make me question that.

Danielle:

I agree they are working a lot with mental illness. I don’t know how to feel about Adam he seems like those guys you start dating that all of a sudden never want to go anywhere. He HATES her friends (but in the last episode she said liking friends wasn’t what friendship was about).

A:

I’m never fully on the Adam train. He’s an excellent character because he is so unusual and intense. But he’s not particularly good to women, and I can’t forget the way he violated his girlfriend last season. That was really upsetting.

D:

I think with his sister he’s probably built up barriers after being taken advantage of as an addict though. I can understand being cautious.

A:

I agree, Adam’s behaviour toward his sister makes perfect sense. Nonetheless, it makes me wonder how he is going to respond to the next time Hannah has a serious struggle. And there will be a next time. There always is when it comes to mental health.

D:

Agree

My favorite line in this episode was when Shoshanna said “It’s really amazing that you all have accomplished so little since college

A:

That line by Hannah about friendship in the last episode was one of my favourites in the series. About not liking your friends. I get that, even though sometimes I wish I didn’t

Shosh is always perfect. She’s kind of on the fringe of the group because she is the youngest, but this also gives her the advantage of being able to observe them in a more critical, honest way. The three older girls are definitely drifting, and if Shosh didn’t call them on it I don’t know if they would have acknowledged it. Even then they were quick to brush it off. But it is also true that it takes time to find your way. It’s not just a matter of the economy stunting options. Growing up doesn’t just happen all at once. It’s a process.

D:

We all have friends we just don’t like very much

What did you think of David? He seems supportive I was surprised to see him playing a larger role in this series I wonder what that is going to mean?

A:

I’m not sure how I feel about David yet. He’s kind of aggressive and stand-offish, but he masks it under eccentricity. I keep expecting the other shoe to drop with him, like something is going to go wrong with Hannah’s book.

D:

Maybe! In television and movies when an editor shows up it’s like when the main character coughs in the first act–foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen.

A:

Oh he’s totally a cough! Nothing has happened yet to make him likable (or as likable as anyone can be in this show) or suggest that he is a stable figure. Especially with his interaction with Ray, he seems kind of explosive to me.

AND JUST FOR CONTEXT RAY AND DAVID GOT IN A FIGHT WHEN DAVID ASKED THE DJ TO SWITCH SONGS TO “I’M SEXY AND I KNOW IT”. RAY WAS VERY OFFENDED.

D:

Caroline though. What a mess. I was distracted by the bush and then she broke the glass and was bleeding everywhere. It was all very confusing!

A:

Caroline really hit the nail on the head for me. That scene was upsetting because it reminded me quite a bit about the self-destructive tendencies that come along with mental illness. Also I hate to say it but from the first scene I did not like Caroline.

It was confusing. A lot of things that happen in Girls are so abrupt. But that adds a layer of realism to it.

D:

By confusing for me I mean the scene makes sense, but I think I fell for the bushy misdirection. Maybe discombobulating would be a better word there.

A:

That whole scene made me cringe. Ray is not in a good place yet. Better, but he doesn’t really have it together.

Discombobulated. Excellent word for it. The bush was so startling it actually distracted from some of the violence of the scene. What does that say about the way we consume female nudity on TV?

D:

Oh that’s a good point. It was nudity in a dysfunctional scene not nudity for the purposes of arousal. I like that Lena Dunham is doubling down on the non-sexual nudity in the show after she came under so much criticism for it.

A:
You know I’ve found very little of the nudity in the series to be sexual. Which is one of it’s biggest strengths. Did you see Soraya Chemaly’s Salon article on the power of non-sexualized female nudity? Dunham’s really harnessing that.

D:

Yes and the push back Dunham receives is so telling.

A:

I loved Ray and Shoshanna’s conversation outside. It may be wrong, but I’m still rooting for the two of them.

(Throwback to the first time)

D:

I don’t know she deserves someone less spazzy.

A:

I agree, she’s deserves better. I’m just hoping that Ray gets his shit together and becomes that better.

D:

Oh! Can we talk about Adam giving a tooth for a present? Teeth are not presents.

A:

I get how and why that was super weird, but as an alternative weirdo I kind of loved it. I don’t know how exactly I would feel about that if it happened to me in real life though.

D:

I’d prefer a card I think A handmade card? I mean we don’t even know if it is his tooth or his sister’s tooth.

You know what it reminded me of? Saint Catherine of Siena once received a vision that Jesus gave her a wedding finger made of his foreskin.

A:

Foreskin is a little too much for me.

D:

St Bridget claimed that she had orgasms when bits of foreskin were dropped on her tongue by an angel.

But I digress.

You mentioned to me before how you were not going to feel guilty about watching Girls anymore. Tell me about that.

A:

Well I was thinking about all the totally valid criticism I see about girls, such as the class privilege and the absence of people of colour. I recognize and agree that there are ways the show falls short and can improve. But a lot of people completely dismiss the series of the basis of these things, or that the characters are challenging to like. This ignores the value of the series. Just because it is flawed does not mean that it doesn’t matter. The series portrays women as human beings who make mistakes, antiheroes who don’t always do the right things or care about how they look. Considering the serious lack of depth we get with female characters on film and television, this is deeply transgressive and kind of revolutionary. Also people are too easily overlooking the body politics of the series. Dunham is fighting sizeism and the conventional Hollywood ideals. She’s fighting them with people who are still pretty, but not the glossy, botox-ed, heavily photo shopped Hollywood standard. These things matter too. When it comes to pop culture, if we totally dismissed things because some aspects were problematic then we wouldn’t be consuming any culture at all. Small victories matter. Doesn’t mean we should just blindly ignore the problems, criticism is necessary. But it’s also important to value the things that work.

I love Girls. It’s entertaining, it’s refreshing, and it’s thoughtful. I’m done defending and justifying how I feel about it to people that aren’t willing to listen.

Athena Genevieve (@AthenaGenevieve) Rapper, Poet, Intersectional Feminist.Athena

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