Tag Archives: Feminism

Reversing the polarity

As you might expect, I was thrilled with incoming Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall’s decision to cast Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth incarnation of the time-traveling alien who has been saving the universe since 1963.

For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who: The premise of the show is that the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, travels through time and space in a ship disguised as a 1960s police box, protecting the universe from various threats. When a Time Lord sustains a fatal injury, instead of dying, he or she regenerates into a new body.

Up to this point, much of the Doctor’s heroism has hinged on a combination of intelligence, audacity, and male privilege.

For 54 years, we’ve watched the Doctor infiltrate secure installations with little more than an imperious look and a mouthful of scientific-sounding nonsense designed to baffle people into deference. If the writers are honest, the Thirteenth Doctor will be in for a rude awakening the first time she tries that.

Consider: Twice on Facebook, I have put up Doctor Who-themed posts that included the phrase “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow,” which most Whovians will recognize as the Third Doctor’s catchphrase. Both times, men who ought to know better than to challenge me on anything — least of all a subject as dear to me as Doctor Who — have hastened to explain that actually, neutrons don’t have polarity.

No sh*t, guys. THAT’S THE JOKE. Seven years before Harrison Ford made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, Jon Pertwee reversed the polarity of the neutron flow. Same humor; different fandom.

Pertwee’s Doctor could stand in a roomful of physicists, muttering about the polarity of particles with no charge, and nobody would question him. If a woman tried that, she’d be shouted down by the #WellActually brigade faster than you can say “Vortex manipulator.”

I hope the writers have the courage to address that head-on. The best sci-fi comes with a healthy dose of social criticism, and sexist microaggressions are ripe for it. Done right, this could yield some scathing humor while prompting much-needed conversations about the myriad ways women are marginalized on a daily basis.

Among the issues I’ve seen/heard raised in conversations this week:

* Pockets. Where is the Doctor supposed to keep her TARDIS key, sonic screwdriver, and Jelly Babies if all her clothes have inadequate pockets?

* Mansplaining. This is basically the Doctor’s superpower. Not only is she unlikely to get away with it in her new form, but she’ll probably be on the receiving end of it. How will she react upon discovering this regeneration has just reversed the polarity of the bullsh*t flow?

* Street harassment. We know how the Master would handle this, but how will the Doctor deal with being ogled, catcalled, or ordered to smile by some jackass she’s trying to rescue?

* Uptalking. The Doctor has spent decades speaking to strangers in an authoritative tone. If she sounds too confident now, they’ll ignore her or antagonize her. Will she have to frame all her orders as half-apologetic suggestions so she doesn’t threaten some pudding-brain’s fragile masculinity?

What other microaggressions might Thirteen encounter in her new body, and how would you like to see them addressed? Share your ideas in the comments!

Emily

P.S.: Comments are moderated, so if you say something misogynistic …

Dress like a woman

I’m sure by now we’re all familiar with the Axios story making the rounds in which an unnamed person who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was quoted as saying the erstwhile politician expects women working in the White House to “dress like women.”

As a journalist, I have some questions about the story itself (starting with the fact it’s poorly sourced and largely speculative, as Snopes was quick to point out), but I like the conversations it has inspired online about what it means to “dress like a woman.” I jumped in on the Twitter hashtag #DressLikeAWoman the other day, and several of my tweets were well-received, particularly by younger friends who undoubtedly benefit from seeing women in traditionally male-dominated professions or participating in traditionally male-dominated activities.

With that in mind, and thinking about how important it is for my nieces and other little girls in my life to grow up with such images in front of them, I decided I’d expand that collection of tweets into a blog post sharing what it means to “dress like a woman” in my world:

How a beekeeper dresses like a woman while rescuing a swarm.
Dressed like a woman while rescuing a swarm.
Here is how a distance runner dresses like a woman at the start of a marathon on a cold day.
Dressed like a woman at the start of my first marathon.
Dressing like a woman after an ice storm downed several limbs in my backyard in Tulsa.
Dressed like a woman the weekend after an ice storm.
How a martial artist dresses like a woman.
Dressed like a woman after a belt test. (Photo courtesy of Professor Carter Hargrave.)
Dressed like a woman while painting a mural in Tucumcari.
Dressed like a woman while painting a mural on Route 66 in Tucumcari.
Dressed like a woman while repainting the sign at the Vega Motel on Route 66 in Texas.
Dressed like a woman while priming the sign at the Vega Motel on Route 66 in Texas.
Dressed like a woman after a day spent doing preservation work on Route 66 in Amarillo.
Dressed like a woman after a day spent doing preservation work on Route 66 in Amarillo.
Dressed like a woman while restoring a sign on Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.
Dressed like a woman while helping restore a sign on Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.
Dressed like a woman who might spend a little too much time watching British sci-fi.
Dressed like a woman who spends too much time watching British sci-fi.
Dressed like a woman who came home from her newspaper-editing gig to turn the compost on her lunch hour.
Dressed like a woman who has compost to turn when she gets off work.
Dressed like a woman in the middle of a drywall project.
Dressed like a woman repairing drywall.
Dressed like a woman fangirling at the ballpark.
Dressed like a woman fangirling at the ballpark.

You get the idea. I could do this all day, but that’s probably enough to give you the upshot. Do what makes you happy. Help somebody if you can. And dress as you see fit for the occasion, whether that involves a ballcap, a bee suit, a pair of running shoes, a velvet skirt, or a pair of paint-spattered jeans with the knees blown out.

Do what you love. Be who you are. And never let somebody else’s limited notions about how women should look interfere with that.

Emily

 

Folk Thursday: Helen Reddy

I had this in mind for this week if Hillary won.

I almost canceled it.

Then I remembered the second verse:

You can bend but never break me
‘Cos it only serve to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
But I’ll come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cos you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

Bring it, Trump.

Emily

Par for the course

When I was 12, I was told I couldn’t run track because I was a girl, and we had only a boys’ team.

When I was a teenager …

A classmate attempted to stick his tongue in my mouth without permission on the way home from a school dance.

I got called into the principal’s office for circulating an underground newspaper protesting our school’s sexist homecoming practices.

I had to bite my tongue while a couple of jerks stood at the walk-up window at the restaurant where I worked and loudly discussed my backside the entire time I was making their dinner.

In my 20s …

I was told by someone prepping me for future job interviews that the plain, modestly cut top I was wearing was “too sexual” and might disqualify me in the eyes of a prudish hiring manager.

I walked into a big-box hardware store and watched incredulously as three different employees ignored me while going out of their way to wait on men who’d come in after I did.

I slept with a tonfa under my pillow after a creepy trucker spent an entire day staring at my bustline and making sexual innuendoes while I was volunteering at a fundraiser.

I sat through a job interview where a manager told me if I got the job, I would be supervising a difficult employee who was “like a wild filly that can’t be broke” and “seems to have a problem with men.” I would learn later that Wild Filly’s “problem with men” hinged on her distaste for creepy middle-aged men who enjoyed sexually harassing women half their age.

When I was in my 30s…

I was accused of having an affair with my boss because I got along with him and earned stellar evaluations.

I was passed over for a management position because “you certainly have the resume, but I’m not sure you have the personality for it.” (I’d been a manager at another organization a few years earlier and was universally praised for my performance.) The person who was hired lacked both the experience and the temperament to do the job effectively and drove off several talented employees.

At 41 …

I watched my country pass over a woman who absolutely had the resume for the presidency, because our society is so profoundly misogynistic, it would rather hire someone who appears to lack both the experience and the temperament to do a job effectively than see a bright, outspoken woman in a position of power.

Deep down, in my heart of hearts, I knew this would happen. Forty-one years of living in this country have taught me to expect the worst where its treatment of women is concerned. But the Cubs won the Series this year. Miracles happen. So I dared to hope a little bit.

I expected to be disappointed last night. I just didn’t expect something this predictable to hurt this much.

Emily

The danger in grabbing women

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one completely incapable of mustering anything even vaguely resembling shock at Donald Trump’s boasts about kissing women and grabbing their crotches without permission. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades, you know this sort of behavior is entirely consistent with his public persona.

What bothers me is the number of men rushing to his defense, as if the behavior he described were somehow defensible.

Men who can’t or won’t distinguish between dirty jokes and sexual assault are unlikely to be swayed by any arguments involving compassion for women, basic human decency, or a recognition of women as human beings. If they were capable of understanding any of that, they wouldn’t have to be told not to touch strangers’ labia without permission.

I’d like to offer up another angle for those who can’t be bothered to care about sexual-assault victims’ feelings.

According to stats presented by worldwidedojo.com and attributed to a study by Simmons Market Research, 9.4 million American adults reported having participated in martial arts in the past year — 48 percent of them women.

If those numbers are accurate (and I’m not saying they are; I have unanswered questions about the study’s date and methodology, but these were the best numbers I could put my hands on at the moment), that means more than 4.5 million women in this country have at least some idea of what to do if a man approaches us in a sexually aggressive manner.

Not all of us were trained in defensive arts, and not all of us will remember our training well enough or have practiced it sufficiently to be effective against an attacker. But some of us will, and there’s no way to tell by looking which crotch is safe for you to grab and which will get you injured or killed.

I used to train with a black belt who was maybe five feet tall and built like a fireplug. I’ve never seen anybody who could take down an attacker faster than she could.

I knew another girl who looked like a supermodel. She showed up for her first combat karate class with about 15 years of ballet training behind her. Ballerinas, as it turns out, make excellent karatekas. Her first week in class, sensei taught us a move to keep strange men from putting their arms around us in bars. She came back the second week beaming with glee as she recounted how she’d removed a creep from his barstool for getting too fresh. I suspect if Donald Trump had met Ballerina before he met Billy Bush, his campaign would be in much better shape today.

I’m a fairly nondescript, middle-aged woman. I doubt the average man would find me terribly intimidating at first glance. But if you put your hand somewhere I don’t want it, I’ll put you on the ground and convince you to stay there politely until the cops show up.

We are out here. We are legion. And you have absolutely no way of knowing who we are until you tangle with one of us.

For the safety of everyone concerned: Don’t. Unlike Donald Trump, you don’t have the benefit of Secret Service protection.

Emily

My fellow white people …

Let me preface this riff by saying I am not a giant Beyoncé fan. I don’t dislike Beyoncé; I just don’t know a lot about her music, mainly because I grew up listening to whatever records I could pilfer from my baby-boomer parents or pick up for a quarter at thrift stores, and I haven’t done a great job of expanding my musical interests since then.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have to know every word of every song Beyoncé ever recorded to respect her work or appreciate her talent. And you don’t, either.

You don’t have to like her music. It’s OK if her style isn’t really your bag. But there’s a big difference between not enjoying a particular type of music and attacking an artist’s morals or integrity.

If you just aren’t into Bey’s style, you’re probably not going to call for a boycott of her music or claim she’s “divisive” or “antifeminist” or “immoral” or whatever other dogwhistle you’ve decided sounds better than saying, “Her performance at the Super Bowl scared the crap out of me because my personal comfort depends on maintaining a status quo built on white supremacy.”

Let’s unpack some of those dogwhistles I’ve been hearing all week.

Dogwhistle 1: “‘Formation’ is divisive.”

No, it really isn’t. If Bey released a song called “White People Suck and I Hope They All Die of Amoebic Dysentery,” that would be divisive. I listened to “Formation” and watched the video, and speaking as a former English teacher who has spent a LOT of time looking for hidden meaning in words and images, what I see is a woman celebrating some aspects of black culture that racists frequently attack (e.g., her daughter’s natural hair) while calling out the deadly consequences of institutional racism (e.g., the government’s lethally incompetent handling of Hurricane Katrina; the disproportionately high rate at which black suspects are shot by police). I don’t hear her saying, “Black people are better than white people.” I hear her saying, “I’m proud of my culture, and I’m tired of watching people who look like me die at the hands of racists.”

Why would anybody have a problem with that? And don’t give me some disingenuous line about how white people aren’t allowed to celebrate our culture, because you and I both know that’s crap. White people blow smoke up each other’s arses 24/7. We just get away with it because we’ve set ourselves up as the default mode, so we don’t have to specify that we’re praising white culture every time we do it.

Excuse 2: “Those skimpy costumes Bey and her dancers wore at the Super Bowl offended my Christian sensibilities.”

I will believe this if and ONLY if you can show me a single instance in which you have protested the Rockettes’ skimpy costumes, which have been a punchline for at least 75 years.

Dancers wear costumes that show off their legs. This is not new. If Bey offends you, but the Rockettes don’t, I have a hard time believing your moral outrage is as color-blind as you claim.

Excuse 3: “If Bey were a real feminist, she wouldn’t dress like that.”

And if you were a real feminist, you would respect other women’s agency instead of trying to police how they present themselves. Potato, potahto. If you need a litmus test, try this one: Ms. magazine devoted its cover to Beyoncé’s “fierce feminism” a few years ago. When was the last time you made the cover of Ms.?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Emily

“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