Category Archives: Feminism

“You’re ugly.”

NOTE: I started writing this a couple of months ago but never got around to finishing it and posting it. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post on ageism, so I’m sharing it now.

I was involved in a Twitter conversation a while back in which a misogynist attempted to debate an online friend of mine, got his arse handed to him, and then — when I tweeted my friend a reaction GIF — responded by informing me, “You’re ugly” and then blocking me before I had time to reply.

I find it interesting that the average misogynist’s first line of defense, whenever he feels threatened by a woman, is to attack her looks, as if his opinion of her physical appearance ever has had or ever will have any effect on her life.

Why bother?

Because nothing makes an insecure man feel better than attacking a woman — particularly a woman he views as being strong, confident or intelligent. Because women are conditioned from birth to believe our value depends on our attractiveness to the cishet-white-male gaze, a cheap shot at a woman’s looks is often the easiest way to rattle her confidence and call her value into question.

This weak attempt at psychological warfare works only if we let it.

I don’t consider myself ugly, but I’m fully aware some people do. That’s fine, and I want my nieces to know that’s fine. Everybody has different aesthetic preferences, and that’s OK. But I also want the girls to know this:

Being told I’m ugly has never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do.

I'm not everybody's cup of tea. That fact has never kept me from enjoying a glorious afternoon in the Mojave.
I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. Neither is the Mojave Desert. If she doesn’t mind, why should I? Being appreciated is nice, but our existence doesn’t depend on it.

It didn’t cost me any scholarships. It didn’t hurt my grades. It didn’t adversely affect my career. It didn’t discourage Ron from marrying me. It didn’t keep me from crossing two marathon finish lines, adopting a houseful of pets, or publishing a novel.

I’ve done exactly as I pleased for most of my life, and I’ve done it with an oversized Celtic snout and a mop of messy curls that don’t quite meet some people’s standards for feminine beauty.

I want my nieces to know that, because they are going to encounter hateful people who don’t like the way they look, and they need to know those people’s opinions don’t matter. They need to know they can go after their dreams, and no amount of lip service from ignorant misogynists can stop them.

They need to know. And I’d be a lousy aunt if I didn’t teach them.

Emily

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Look as good you will not

“When [59] years old you reach, look as good you will not.”
— Yoda

In case you’ve been under a rock: Fanboy trollgeek jackasses have been inundating Carrie Fisher with unsolicited critiques of her appearance ever since The Force Awakens was released.

Apparently they’re mad because the last time they saw her in a Star Wars flick, she was kicking ass in a metal bikini, and it made them feel funny inside, like when they climbed the rope in gym class. Three decades later, she looks like a grownup, and the fanboys are apoplectic, because this means either A.) they have to quit lusting after Bikini Slave Girl Leia, or B.) they have to admit they’ve spent years cherishing vivid fantasies about a woman who’s old enough to be their mother.

Rather than spend a little more time listening to Fountains of Wayne songs and embracing their inner Benjamin Braddock, they’ve taken to Twitter to vent their discomfort on Fisher herself.

She responded pretty much as you’d expect:

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all three of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”
— Tweet from Carrie Fisher

The Force is strong with this one.

Not surprisingly, I’ve heard exactly zero complaints about Harrison Ford’s appearance. By any objective measure, he looks neither better nor worse than his costar — yet while people are attacking Fisher for aging, the general consensus among Ford’s fans is still something along the lines of “Don’t come a-knockin’ if the Falcon’s a-rockin’.”

Why? Because men are allowed to age, but women are expected to conform to the demands of the (cis, white, hetero) male gaze indefinitely. Age a few years beyond the narrow and wholly unimaginative standards of that gaze, and you’re liable to disappear entirely.

People aren’t mad Carrie Fisher aged. They’re mad she refused to disappear so they could cling to their Return of the Jedi-inspired fantasies forever. They’re mad she had the nerve to show up, 32 years later, and force them to acknowledge they’ll never get to touch the girl in the gold bikini.

Face it, young Padawan: If all you saw in her was uncomfortable lingerie and a bondage kink, you were never going to be good enough for the fictional Leia — and you damn sure aren’t worthy of the accomplished, intelligent woman who portrays her.

“Aging gracefully” does not mean “trying like hell to look 25 forever.” God bless Carrie Fisher for using her considerable reach to advocate for all of us who understand that. Blowing up the Death Star was pretty cool, but starting an international conversation about women’s right to age on our own terms? That’s the sort of rebellion that can overthrow an Empire.

Emily

You had ONE JOB, Women’s Running.

What's wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with this picture?

Dear Women’s Running:

On your website, you claim your mission is

to create a high-quality magazine for smart, successful women who use running to balance and enrich their lives.

As a smart, successful woman who uses running to balance and enrich her life, I would seem to be your target audience. Yet when I went to the bookstore yesterday, of the three running magazines available, yours was the only one I elected not to buy.

Let’s talk about how this month’s cover convinced me that your magazine, despite its appealing name, was not for me at all.

WEIGHT-LOSS SPECIAL ISSUE

YOUR FITTEST YEAR EVER!
* Run Off Pounds
* The Best Workouts to Slim Down
* Nutrition Tips From “The Biggest Loser” Trainer

“Run Off Pounds”? Is a magazine called Women’s Running really treating its eponymous sport as nothing more than the means to an end? As a runner, I don’t need the best workout to slim down. I need the best workout to strengthen my core, increase my endurance and reduce my risk of injuries. Slimming down is usually a natural side effect of such workouts, but it is not the reason I train. And to hell with “The Biggest Loser” — I want to know what Joan Benoit and Deena Kastor eat.

A magazine targeting female athletes really ought to know better than to approach its readers with the same tired old “you’re-too-fat” trope Woman’s Day and Family Circle have been pitching to bored housewives for the last 80 years.

Next on your cover, I found this gem:

#NERDALERT: BEST NEW RUNNING WATCHES, FITNESS TRACKERS, HEADPHONES AND MORE

What’s the message here? Female athletes who use electronic training tools designed to help them train better are nerds? If so, then why is Teri Hatcher — whom you dub a “hot momma” — wearing what appears to be an enormous running watch in your badly Photoshopped cover image?

Below that, we have:

PULLUP CHALLENGE — Totally Possible!
THE LEGAL PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DRUG
HOT TIPS — Make Winter Running (Kinda) Fun

OMG, you guys. Did you know it’s totally possible for women to do pullups? Apparently we can do it if we take enough PEDs. And I’m so glad there’s a way to make a completely voluntary activity I do for my own enjoyment “kinda fun.”

Just to be sure women don’t miss the message that looks are everything, Women’s Running drives the point home with this little coup de grace:

CLAWS OUT! Race-Day Nail Art

Race.
Day.
Nail.
Art.

Is this a tribute to the late Florence Griffith-Joyner? If not, it’s quite possibly the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever seen — and I taught sophomores for five years. I have run two marathons, six half-marathons, and too many shorter races to count, and I can assure you that I have never once given even one-tenth of one percent of a damn about how my nails looked on race day.

Based on your mission statement, I can draw only one of two conclusions: Either you’ve failed miserably, or you’ve got some spectacularly incompetent people making decisions about how to market your content to your target audience, because this smart, successful woman finds your January/February cover to be one of the most unconscionably patronizing messes of misogynistic bullshit she’s ever seen.

Emily

What a drunk-dialer revealed

A few years ago, I got an unexpected phone call from a stranger who used such a familiar tone and had such a common name that it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t any of a dozen casual acquaintances who might have my number.

The conversation went like this:

ME: Hello?
DRUNK DIALER: Happy Memorial Day!
ME: Um … happy Memorial Day?
DD: Huh-huh. Do you know who this is?
ME: No, can’t say as I do.
DD: Huh-huh. This is John. Huh-huh.
ME: John who?
DD: Huh-huh. You don’t know who this is?
ME: No, I really don’t. John who?
DD: Huh-huh. You mean, you talk to ALL these guys, that you’d know all these guys named John?
ME: I know a lot of people named John, but I’m pretty sure you’re not one of them. I think you have the wrong number.
DD: Oh, you know me.
ME: Really. Well, if I know you, then how did we meet?
DD: It was the other night. I think it was at a bar.
ME: I haven’t set foot in a bar in six years. You have the wrong number.

I hang up. Not five minutes later, Drunk Dialer calls back.

DD: So you really don’t know me?
ME: No, and I don’t want to.
DD: I know you know me. We were drinking, and —
ME: No. We were not drinking, because I don’t drink. I’m sorry, but you have the wrong number.
DD: Huh-huh. Are you bisexual?
ME: No. I am happily married, my husband is bigger than you, and if you call this number again, he’s going to kick your ass. *Click*

At the time, the conversation struck me as being a harmless annoyance. But in thinking about it now — in the context of national discussions about serial rapists, street harassers and mass shooters — I find it unsettling, because it’s full of red flags that reveal the same kind of self-entitled, women-owe-me-attention mindset that motivates the Elliot Rodgers of the world.

Let’s look at those red flags:

1. “You mean, you talk to ALL these guys?” How sexist do you have to be to expect me to justify my relationships to you, random caller?

2. “Oh, you know me.” If you’re so certain I know you but am pretending I don’t, that should be a pretty good clue that I don’t want to talk to you — so back off.

3. The second call. If a woman hangs up after repeatedly explaining you have the wrong number, there is absolutely no legitimate reason to call again.

4. “Are you bisexual?” Based on this question, I’m guessing a woman told him she was a lesbian so he’d go away, and when that didn’t work, she gave him a fake number. “I’m a lesbian” means “Leave me alone,” not “Keep trying.”

5. Stopping only after I mentioned my husband. Drunk Dialer didn’t respect a woman in a bar who did not want to talk to him. He didn’t respect a woman on the telephone who did not want to talk to him. The only thing he respected was the threat of a physical confrontation with another man.

Women should not have to justify our friendships, argue, lie about our sexual orientation, give out fake telephone numbers, or issue threats to deflect unwanted attention. We shouldn’t even have to say “No, thank you.”

If I’m busy or you seem weird, I’m probably not going to acknowledge you at all. And that’s OK. You are not entitled to a woman’s attention simply because you want it. Please keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

Emily

The politics of beauty

Recently on Facebook, an old friend reflected on the fact that people frequently tell her she has arms like a man’s. She’s a competitive bodybuilder and has worked hard for those arms, so she takes the observation as a compliment. But she’s not stupid. She knows it frequently isn’t intended as a compliment, and she mentioned that in her post.

Her theory is that people are jealous. I suspect that’s part of it, but I think it goes much deeper. I see two primary things going on here:

1. People don’t know how to respond to beauty that doesn’t fit Madison Avenue’s rubric. I’ve riffed on this before, but it bears repeating: When someone strays too far from society’s artificial (bigoted) standards of beauty, we don’t know what to do with her, so we either attack her or ignore her. That’s because …

2. Madison Avenue’s rubric is based on every hangup you can think of. It’s sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist and ableist.

I suspect most of the comments about my friend’s physique are — like most attempts at body-shaming — motivated by pure misogyny. A man in her sport will reap nothing but compliments, but female fitness competitors frequently are derided because they refuse to accept the notion that women should be small, soft and weak.

If you’ve got the gumption to spend umpteen hours a day in a weight room and then walk out onto a stage for the express purpose of having other people critique your appearance in microscopic detail, you are clearly not the kind of girl who can be controlled through conventional means, and you are most definitely not following society’s unwritten rules, which state that as a woman, you have exactly two options: Be invisible or be a target.

Think about it.

An overweight woman who keeps her mouth shut and hides her body under baggy clothing generally will be ignored. An overweight woman who wears stylish or revealing clothes will be fat-shamed for daring to be confident. And an overweight woman who goes to the gym, works her arse off and becomes a highly competitive athlete will have her femininity called into question at every turn.

Meanwhile, the same rules apply to underweight women. I was a skinny kid, which meant I could either hide my body under oversized clothes or be ridiculed for my flat chest and “flamingo legs.” But of course, once I grew up and found myself hauling around a set of triple-Ds on an otherwise average frame, I discovered that my choices remained the same: I could dress for invisibility, or I could wear something flattering and be slut-shamed.

The insults change, but the demand remains the same: Disappear or pay the consequences.

It’s not about our bodies. It’s about other people feeling they have the right to police our bodies. It’s about other people projecting their hangups onto us. It’s about other people trying to control us. It’s about silencing us and rendering us invisible.

It’s crap.

And it’s about damn time it stopped.

Emily

What would Jesus do?

This is an open letter to self-proclaimed Christian men who think oral contraceptives are somehow immoral.

Gentlemen:

Imagine you have a medical condition that causes you to bleed heavily while experiencing a physical sensation similar to being kicked in the lower abdomen five or six times a day, for two or three consecutive days (or more), with these flare-ups occurring every two to four weeks, depending on the severity of your condition.

Accompanying this sensation may be nausea, gastrointestinal distress, migraine headaches, depression and some degree of anemia.

In between these flare-ups, your condition causes pain in one testicle, lasting for several days and ranging in severity and character from a dull, annoying ache to a stabbing pain that takes your breath away.

That’s half of the bad news.

The good news: A drug exists that will alleviate your symptoms almost immediately and eliminate them entirely within a few months, with minimal side effects that generally dissipate within a few weeks of beginning treatment.

The other half of the bad news: Despite its therapeutic value, your employer believes this drug is immoral, so the company health insurance doesn’t cover it. If you can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket, you’ll just have to suffer. Sucks to be you.

Sound reasonable? Is it fair for your boss to use his personal beliefs as an excuse to block your access to medicine you need in order to live without frequent bouts of excruciating pain?

If your answer is “no,” then you need to stop supporting policies that seek to restrict women’s access to oral contraceptives.

Yes, some of the women taking the Pill are doing so to prevent pregnancy. But the majority (58 percent) take it at least partly for medical reasons, many of which are very, very similar to the scenario I outlined above — and 14 percent (including yours truly) take it solely for medical reasons.

Substitute the word “ovary” for “testicle” in that hypothetical situation above, and you have the biblical woman with the issue of blood.

When that woman reached out for help, Christ healed her.

Today, when she reaches out for help, the so-called “Christian” response is something like, “Suck it up, Princess; we’re not paying for your slut pills.”

If that’s your response, you probably need to spend some time studying the difference between Christians and Pharisees, because you’ve clearly mislabeled yourself.

Emily

Debunking the Beauty Myth

I’m sure by now you’re aware of the latest and most egregious attack on teenage girls’ already fragile self-esteem, but just in case you’re not, click here to find out why you’ll be boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch and its affiliates from now until the Cubs win the Series.

As much as I’d love to believe that the inevitable demise of Mike Jeffries’ career will solve the problem, the sad fact is that it probably won’t; all this hypocritical P.R.-nightmare-in-flip-flops has done for us is put a comically clueless face on a much larger issue.

Jeffries’ tone-deaf misogyny harmonizes perfectly with the other sour notes I’ve heard lately: Disney’s gratuitous attempt to sexualize Merida from Brave; InTouch’s apparent ignorance of biology; the frequent attacks on Hillary Clinton’s appearance; and the ridicule a young friend of mine endures on a daily basis because she is albino and thus has a porcelain complexion, green eyes, and gorgeous golden-red dreadlocks to go with her African-American features.

Jeffries may have articulated it the most brazenly, but his message is no different than the others’: If you are female, your value depends entirely on the extent to which your physical appearance adheres to a narrow set of standards engineered by ad executives for the specific purpose of making the largest possible number of women feel insecure enough about their appearance to want to spend money to change it.

This kind of manipulative marketing is detrimental to women because it seeks to profit at the expense of our self-worth. It’s detrimental to all of us — men and women alike — because it seeks to remove variables such as individual taste and force us to evaluate beauty exclusively on Madison Avenue’s flawed, self-serving rubric.

I remember a comment someone once made about my favorite singer: “Judy Collins isn’t pretty, but she’s striking.”

I disagree with the first half of that assessment, but I think it illustrates the difficulty we have in wrapping our heads around the sort of beauty that doesn’t fit the rubric. If a woman is not conventionally pretty, we don’t know what to do with her. We can’t resist looking at her, but why?

You probably don’t fit the rubric, either. And you’re in awesome company, because you know who else doesn’t fit the rubric? Adele. Queen Latifah. Emmylou Harris. Bonnie Raitt. Jamie Lee Curtis. Helen Mirren. Tina Turner. My albino friend with the stunning African-American features and Irish coloring. Me. Not one of us fits the rubric. We’re all either too old, too heavy, too unconventional, or too all of the above to meet the standards A&F is promoting.

To hell with the rubric. I’d sooner die than swap my tangled curls, gray streak, hips, boobs, laugh lines, bifocals, or self-respect for some manipulative retailer’s approval.

To quote Bette Midler (who doesn’t fit the rubric, either): “Cherish forever what makes you unique, ’cause you’re really a yawn if it goes.”

Emily