You Say ‘Feminist’ Like it’s a Bad Thing

It’s something that everyone who’s even passingly interested in not treating women like crap has heard once or twice. “What are you, some kind of feminist?” “Ugh, stop being so feminist about this.” “Oh great, here come the feminists, time to stop having fun.” Because wanting equal rights for women is such an obnoxious and horrible thing, I guess!

There’s a definite stigma against feminists in our current society, which likes to portray us as ball-busting man-haters and/or hairy lesbians. (I mean, personally I am a hairy lesbian, but that has very little to do with my feminism.) Because the only reason you could want positive change for women is because you hate men? After all, it’s not like feminism is about equality or anything, because then it would be called equalism! And it would talk about men’s issues all the time, as is proper. Feminism must be about female superiority or something.

(Obviously this article isn’t trying to change anyone’s mind about feminism, because let’s face it: if your mind is already made up about how awful feminists are, reading feminist articles is probably not going to help. Actually, if you’ve already made up your mind about how awful feminists are, why are you reading feminist articles in the first place?)

There also seems to be this conception of feminism being unnecessary in modern society. Oh sure, historical feminists were important and all, getting women the vote and getting us out of the home and into the office. But things are equal now, so what on earth do you have to whine about? I had a roommate in college who told me, with a sneer, of an acquaintance: “And she’s a feminist.” I looked at her sort of blankly. “So what?” “You know it’s because of feminists we have to write he or she?”

God, what horror. (Did I mention this roommate was majoring in biochemistry and had no interest in marriage or children? But feminism wouldn’t have anything to do with that!)

Feminists these days complain about such stupid things, like shows about colorful ponies! Aren’t there bigger things to worry about, like actual sexism? Because what we’re exposed to as children can’t possibly have an affect on our perceptions of masculinity versus femininity, or what it’s acceptable to do and be as a woman. And obviously caring about some minor things means you have absolutely no care left to spare on major things. (Because choosing to write an article about a specific facet of society while not simultaneously writing about every other facet of society means you clearly don’t care about the big picture.)

In my ideal world, everyone would be a feminist, because I think it’s pretty cool that women someday achieve equal standing with men; that one day women won’t be forced into rigid boxes of societal acceptability, and that likewise, men aren’t forced into other boxes (while avoiding the feminine boxes as their life depended on it– because sometimes it does). But I guess that just makes me a lesbian.

I’m Not Your Brony, Bro

Happy New Year’s Eve! Today I want to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The newest addition to the classic My Little Pony franchise was created by Hasbro in 2010, produced and directed by animator Lauren Faust, who has worked on a number of other successful children’s shows, including The Powerpuff Girls (another great show for girls, I must say). Faust claims that in producing the new pony series, she wanted to create something that was closer to how she had played with her own ponies as a girl, and hopefully something that would be relatable to a lot of little girls, and enjoyable for their parents to watch also. She also wanted to prove that “cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness.” [1]

In that, most will agree that she succeeded. The ‘mane’ cast of the show consists of six ponies, each with her own individual personality, strengths and weaknesses, who, despite the occasional argument, still manage to be best friends. The cast plays on archetypes, but without— for the most part— letting them fall into stereotypes. Twilight Sparkle, the bookish one, is highly intelligent and slightly socially awkward, but (at least after learning an important lesson about friendship) also enjoys spending time with her friends and actually experiencing the things she reads about. Fluttershy is quiet, timid, and gets along better with animals than other ponies, but she isn’t weak or helpless, and can be incredibly assertive when it comes to standing up for those she cares about. Rarity is a fashionista and a bit of a drama queen, but completely avoids the stereotype of ‘snotty mean girl’— she’s generous to a fault and always thinking about the needs of others.

Perhaps most importantly, even as each character learns lessons about what it means to be a true friend, none of the characters are ever shamed for being who they are. Twilight is never looked down on or scoffed at for being a ‘nerd,’ Fluttershy isn’t told that she must “come out of her shell” to be a worthwhile person pony, and Rarity’s fashion design is looked at as a legitimate career and an art form, not as a shallow or pointless pursuit.

However, because of the depth and relatability of the characters, and the fact that it was designed to be enjoyable for parents as well as children, Friendship is Magic has gained a popularity far outside its target demographic, specifically among older teens and young adults on various internet forums. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing; in fact, for a children’s show (especially one aimed at girls, “girl cartoons” being a notoriously shallow genre) to have such appeal to an older audience speaks volumes about its quality and content. However, there’s a particular segment of the show’s following that I find to be intensely problematic.

They call themselves “bronies:” 18-35(ish)-year-old male fans of the show who congregate on self-created fansites
such as Equestria Daily and Ponychan. They (generally speaking), tend to be very vocal about being male fans of the show, seeing it as a sort of badge of honor. The word brony itself was originally created to separate the “cool and unique” male fans of the show from the target female fans. The word was later taken to be a sort of blanket term for all of the older, online fans. Brony became gender-neutral, because maleness is, as usual, taken as the societal default.

The thing about bronies is, they seem to think they’re the most important— or sometimes perhaps the only— viewers of the show. “My Little Pony isn’t for girls!” they shout. “It’s cool!”

… Do I even have to explain what’s wrong with that statement? My Little Pony is, in fact, for girls, that being the demographic the show and merchandise is marketed toward, but, more importantly, the fact that something being “cool” must mean it’s “not for girls” says a lot about how our society perceives femininity.

Bronies also tend to complain that the show doesn’t cater more to them. “There should be more male characters!” for example. Nevermind the fact that there is not only a male main character: Spike, the baby dragon, but also a decent number of male background characters of varying importance. Cartoon shows targeted primarily toward boys may have a token female character or two, but rarely very many important background women.

The toy line is also a problem for them. “Why do the ponies have such stupid hair?” they demand. “It isn’t show-accurate!” Never mind the fact that little girls (again: target marketing group) would probably much rather have fun, brushable, styleable hair than stiff, show-accurate molds.

Even the news media has noticed the phenomenon, writing articles about how extraordinary it is for grown men to like a little girls’ show, rather than the fact that the show itself is a standout of the genre and the excellent message that it sends to the actual little girls who watch it.

Overall, the main problem with the brony phenomenon is not that they are men who are fans of a show designed for young girls— there’s nothing inherently ‘creepy’ about it when the show was intended to be enjoyed by parents as well, which includes male parents. The problem lies in male fans demanding kudos for being male fans— by “pushing the envelope” by liking something perceived as girly or “sissy”— in what should be primarily a space for girls, about girls, and by girls. It lies in the fact that they clamor to be acknowledged above the target audience of the show, and complain bitterly when they aren’t catered to. It’s in the fact that they frequently completely overlook female fans of the show— both the young girls it’s aimed at and the older women who also populate their online communities. It’s in the rampant misogyny of the fandom: calling Rarity useless (or a bitch) simply for occupying the fashionista role, even when she completely defies the shallow girl stereotype, while simultaneously lauding Rainbow Dash (probably the character that sticks closest to common media tropes) for being tomboyish and tough, and therefore awesome; or wanting to protect and “take care of” poor, submissive little Fluttershy, while ignoring the fact that she isn’t actually submissive, nor does she need a man (or anyone) to take care of her.

I fully admit that there are male fans who don’t fall into this category in the slightest, and I appreciate that, but when so many of those who identify as “bronies” exhibit this entitled and misogynistic behavior, it’s a small wonder the word makes me twitch a bit each time I see it.

1. A Rebuttal, Oct. 4, 2010.

Feminism is Not About Men

Just a short post today!

Anyone who thinks that feminism is anti-male or ignores the the fact that men also have problems has an incomplete and incorrect view of feminism, based off of outdated stereotypes.

For example: yes, it’s true that men are often denied custody of their children in official custody hearings. Yes, it’s true that (at the moment) only men can be drafted, and that men are much more frequently put at the front lines. Yes, it’s true that men are told not to be emotional, to be strong and tough, and face a lot of pressure because of these things.

But the thing is, it isn’t women who do this. It isn’t some evil anti-male scheme by those devious feminists to keep men down. It’s men who do this. It’s men who make the laws regarding military drafts. It’s men who enforce the stereotype of logical, emotionless masculinity. It’s men who overwhelmingly run the justice system that says that women are just inherently better caregivers (because that sort of thing is women’s work). It’s the patriarchy, and it hurts everyone. So you could actually say that feminism is, in fact, pro-male, in that it aims to dismantle the patriarchy and these sorts of double standards.

But guess what? If “helping men break free of double standards” and “erasing problems that men face in society” isn’t part of feminism’s stated aims, that’s because feminism is not about men. Not about tearing them down, nor about lifting them up. So don’t rail against feminism for “not focusing on the men,” because that is not feminism’s job. Almost everything else in this society is about men, how men feel, what men need, etc. Feminism is about women.

Pro-life, or just pro-fetus?

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while; I’ve been alternately busy and sleeping. I’ve also been a little nervous about writing this post. But it’s definitely something that needs to be addressed, over and over and over again.

I was raised in the Catholic Church. I went to Mass (almost) every Sunday and I went to religion classes every week, and though I was never very enthusiastic about it, I believed in God, and I thought Jesus seemed to be a pretty cool dude. And whenever my mother prayed to Saint Anthony, she always found whatever she was looking for. It seemed like a pretty okay system. So I grew up, celebrated my first communion, and was eventually confirmed in the Church.

I have a very distinct memory of one particular day in CCD, sometime around seventh grade. Someone came by our classroom carrying a small wooden cross, painted pink. We all signed our names on it, and afterward, we headed out to the hill beside the church to put them in the ground. Between all the classes, there were about 20 or so crosses, all pastel pink or blue, and signed with the names of the students. We were putting them up for all the fetuses that had been aborted.

At the time, I could only think how sad it was that so many children would never have the chance to grow up. Now that I’ve grown up and educated myself on feminist issues, I can only think of how angry I am with myself to have participated in such a thing, and to have been encouraged to participate in it by adults I was supposed to trust.

The last Mass I ever attended concluded with the priest informing us of a nearby anti-abortion rally that he hoped we could all attend. It was at that moment I decided that, while I still believed in God, I could no longer believe in the Catholic Church.

Those who would criminalize abortion frequently describe their position as “pro-life,” because terminating an unwanted pregnancy is as good as murder. But these same people who claim to support life also support gunning down abortion doctors and bombing abortion clinics. South Dakota would even go so far as to make such a thing legal. That’s right— they want to make murder legal. And they call themselves pro-life.

Not only that, but abortion is also apparently worse than letting the person carrying the fetus dieeven if that would also kill the fetus. Rather than save the life of a living, breathing, grown up human being at the expense of some non-sentient cells, it’s better to let them both die. In fact, if you sacrifice your own life for that of your fetus, the Church may even canonize you for it. Yay life!

For anyone who’s reading this article and thinking “But I’m not like that! I don’t support abortion, but I would never kill anyone over it!” Guess what. By opposing safe, legal abortions, you are aligning yourself with these people. When you vote to criminalize abortion, you are voting in support of these practices. Sorry to say: you’re encouraging the murder of abortion providers and the willful negligence of doctors.

As if all that weren’t enough to make “pro-life” the worst misnomer in the world, choosing that title for their side implies that the other side, those who champion legal abortions, is “anti-life.” They use rhetoric that suggests that pro-choicers are in fact against pregnancy itself. This is not only untrue, but patently ridiculous. More than anything, people who are pro-choice want the best for the next generation: they want every child to be wanted. Forcing a woman to carry a child to term against her will may save a life (provided the pregnancy is a healthy one with no complications), but it only raises the number of unwanted children in the world. There are more than enough already.

Many pro-choicers, including myself, are of the opinion that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Rare not because women are shamed into carrying an unwanted pregnancy, but because everyone has the resources to reduce the risk of pregnancy in the first place.

Many of the same people who would outlaw abortion are also proponents of “abstinence-only sex education.” Rather than being taught about various methods of birth control and their effectiveness, children should be taught only to abstain. However, it’s been proven time and time again that this doesn’t actually reduce the number of teenagers having sex: it only ensures that those who do have no idea how to protect themselves from STDs, pregnancy, or abuse. Teaching children and teens how to practice safe sex most likely won’t encourage them to go out and have sex with the next person they see, but it will reduce the rate of unwanted and accidental pregnancies, as well as the rate of STD transmission.

Finally, there’s the fact that making abortion illegal will not make abortion go away. Abortion has been around almost as long as pregnancy itself: the difference now is that it carries much less risk. If abortion were to be criminalized, those who wish badly enough to end their pregnancy will still do it: in back-alley clinics with questionable methods. Before abortion was legalized in the 1970s, up to 50% of maternal deaths were credited to illegal abortions.

It’s fine to say “I wouldn’t have an abortion myself.” That is your own choice. But the minute you take steps, cast your vote, campaign to make abortion illegal, you are condoning practices that will kill countless women and see more and more children neglected. You are robbing others of their own choice; a choice which is not and should not be anyone else’s business. So mind your own uterus.

Homophobia’s a Bitch

I’m sure a good number of you have seen Rick Perry’s recent campaign video, “Strong” (if you haven’t, the link is here— go ahead and downvote it and/or flag it for hateful language). There’s certainly something wrong with this country when a person can run for president on a platform of “Christians are more oppressed than gays.”

Being a queer American and a Christian— and realizing I’m considerably more oppressed for the former than the latter— I went to Governor Perry’s facebook page to let him know what I thought of his recent video. While I was there, I checked out what some of the other commenters were saying. Several of them, like me, expressed distaste at his campaign choices, or posted pictures of gay men kissing, or pointed out that his jacket is oddly reminiscent of the one worn by the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. A few were expressing their support for Perry and reminding him not to let the godless heathens and queers get him down. But in one of the comments, I noticed something odd.

“Why don’t you come to [city redacted] so we can teach you the manners that your whore of a mother obviously didn’t bother to.”

Wait a second. What? What does Perry’s mother— especially her promiscuity, or lack thereof— have to do with his campaign video? She didn’t make it. And even if she had, it wouldn’t make her a whore, or appropriate to call her one. I replied to the commenter, politely, that calling out homophobia with misogyny is no more acceptable than homophobia itself.

Her response to me was that my comment was “well put”… as she continued to completely disregard my point and place all the blame for Perry’s disgraceful campaign squarely on his mother’s shoulders for not aborting him when she (didn’t) have the chance. As if she should have known what he would be doing sixtyish years down the line and aborted a presumably wanted child for that reason? (And if we are blaming his parents for his upbringing or his existence in the first place, why does his father get no mention? He ought to be equally as responsible in that process as the mother, oughtn’t he?)

The (lack of) logic displayed here is disgusting, but unfortunately, not uncommon. How many times have people been called “r*tarded” for engaging in homophobia, or “f*ggots” for being racist? How many times has the c-word been used against female politicians for espousing unpopular opinions?

Slurs are slurs are slurs, even when slung about for the “noble” cause of calling out bigots for their bigotry. It isn’t okay. It doesn’t make you look good. In fact, it makes you look about as bigoted and narrow-minded as the people you’re attempting to call out.

It’s always good to call people out on their hateful rhetoric, but please. Take a minute to think about the language you’re using before you do.

Nice Guys Finish Last

I don’t have a lot of experience with dating and relationships, I’ll admit that right off the bat. I’ve been asked out by guys a total of two times in my life— or at least, after grade school, when it actually counted. In both cases we had been friends first, though in neither case was I actually interested in a romantic relationship. One of the guys was a pretty nice guy. The other one was pretty much a Nice Guy. And here I’ll explain the difference.

Most people have probably heard the saying “Nice guys finish last.” It’s something that Nice Guys take to heart. It’s practically their motto, right behind “Women only want jerks!” You see, the reason they can’t get dates, they tell themselves, couldn’t possibly be any personal failing of their own. It’s women’s problem that they can’t see what a fine specimen of man they are.

(Here’s a hint for anyone who read that last paragraph and was nodding along: if everyone you meet seems to have the same problem with you, maybe it isn’t them that has the problem.)

Nice Guys often befriend women, going by the adage that a good relationship comes out of a good friendship. Of course, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with forming a relationship out of an established friendship, but entering into a friendship with a romantic relationship as your primary goal seems a bit dishonest.

These Nice Guys will always be their for their special friend, to comfort her when her heart is broken by “jerks,” to listen when she’s having a problem, to offer hugs when she’s in need. And in return, they feel as if they’re owed something. Be it sex, be it a date, whatever: they’re entitled to it for being “such a good friend.”

This is patently bullshit. Being a good friend entitles you to good friendship in return, and nothing more. In fact, there is nothing that entitles anyone to a woman’s (or man’s, for that matter) affections. Romantic feelings aren’t exactly something that can be demanded: they have to develop naturally. As much it may suck to feel those kinds of affections for someone who doesn’t return them, that’s just a part of life.

In my case, the Nice Guy was a fellow student in one of my classes. I was a freshman, and he was a sophomore. We struck up a friendship while chatting after class one day, and since it was latish evening, we decided to head to dinner together. For the next few weeks we would eat together after class, or sometimes on the weekends, often chatting for hours about our common interests. Sometimes I would invite him up to my dorm room, but we never did anything but talk.

From early on I was anxious that he was perhaps expecting something more out of this relationship than I was, but since he hadn’t brought it up, I didn’t either. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that he asked me out.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I insisted, in the time-honored tradition of “letting a guy down easy” (because if a woman were to simply say “No, I’m not interested in you that way,” she’s a bitch). “I’m just not really interested in dating at all.” All true, but actually not really any of his business.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” he said, which isn’t unreasonable: it’s natural to feel a little bummed when you’re rejected. “I thought we had a lot in common.” I shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just not interested.”

“You know,” he replied, “You’ve pretty much succeeded in destroying any attraction I had for you.”

That, my friends, is the hallmark of a Nice Guy. Now that I had spurned his advances, I was no longer of any use to him. After that moment, we were no longer friends, because what is the use in talking to me if it isn’t going to lead to anything more? (Well that and I’d kicked him to the curb once he’d truly shown his colors.) I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed that I never saw him again.

As for the second time, with the guy who was actually nice? We were friends for a long while beforehand. We hung out together, alone and in groups. We played games and watched movies together, we spent time in each other’s dorms. When he asked me out, I told him the same thing as before, “Sorry, but I really have no interest in dating.” The difference this time was, while he was disappointed, he respected my agency in my decision. He didn’t push. He didn’t tell me I was suddenly completely unattractive. While we don’t talk nearly as much as we used to now that we’re out of school, we are still friends.

And that’s the difference between being a Nice Guy, and being a nice guy.

I Just Want to Get to Class

Yesterday I read the post I Just Want to Go for a Walk by avflox on BlogHer, a nice piece explaining a woman’s perspective on being approached by unknown men in a public space, and how some behaviors, no matter how well-intentioned, can come across as annoying at best, creepy and threatening at worst. It finishes off with some advice for men who consider themselves “the good ones,” how to approach a woman without presenting as threatening and entitled. Pretty good stuff, as far as I’m concerned.

And then there were the comments. Several from defensive men, insisting that this sort of profiling is “unfair,” and that though some men may be jerks, it’s unfair to stereotype an entire gender based on the actions of a few. A position I agree with! But rather irrelevant, considering that that isn’t actually what the article was about. It isn’t that women must assume that every man, if given the chance, will assault her. The thing is, any given (singular) man could, and for many women, it is all about calculating risk and keeping herself safe. Because society teaches women that they must be vigilant about preventing rape (instead of teaching men never to rape).

A few years ago, I was studying abroad in France. I had a lateish class, and since it was November and up north, it was more or less pitch black as I headed out of my dorm and towards the campus. As I was walking, a man approached me and asked me what time it was. Since I’m notoriously bad at reading analog watches, I floundered a bit and finally just showed him my wrist. “You don’t speak French?” he asked in English. “No, I do,” I replied in French. “I just can’t tell time.”

But he wanted to practice English with me, so we fell in step. I was kind of annoyed, because really, I had to get to class, but it was a pretty short walk to campus, so I didn’t make a big deal of it. Since it was 2008, and the election results had just been announced, he asked me how I felt about Obama, and stuff like that. We made mild conversation for a minute or so, talking about our respective countries.

And then he said “I want to see you again. Can I come to your bedroom?”

Suddenly everything was on edge. Even though I knew it was probably a quirk of language that the request had come out so creepy, no amount of translation error made the question acceptable. “No,” I said. “No, how about somewhere else, maybe.” I didn’t really want to see him again at all, but I’ve been conditioned to not be so rude as to say so. He persisted. I told him I was usually in the lobby of the dorms, and that we could meet there (open, lots of people, authorities and a phone nearby). He asked for my phone number. I actually started to give it to him— not because I wanted to, but because he’d asked, and I felt obligated. But then I regained a little bit of sense, and told him I didn’t have a pen, or a notebook, and anyway I really had to get to class, maybe we’d see each other later. Then I ran up the stairs.

For about a week I was terrified to go sit in the lobby (the only place in the dorms that had wifi access), for fear that he would be there, and see me, and want to talk. I didn’t ever end up seeing him again, but the possibility always lingered in the back of my mind. It made me nervous and hyperaware. It made me uncomfortable. I don’t think this man had any intention to assault me: no, I do believe that he merely thought I was interesting and wanted to talk to me again. Maybe we could have become good friends. I don’t know. But the moment he failed to respect my right to privacy, that was the end.

So I would implore men who want to talk to women: be respectful. Keep her perspective in mind. You know in your heart that you mean her no harm, but she has no way of knowing that. Go ahead and say hi, but give her space. If she wants to talk to you, let her make that decision on her own. As beautiful as you may think she is, and as much as you may want to get to know her, she doesn’t owe you a moment of her time, and above all it’s important that you respect that.

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