Category Archives: Society

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.

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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.

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.

But for a Boy to Look Like a Girl is Degrading

When I was young, I asked my mother a question. “If a tomboy is a girl who acts like a boy, what’s the word for a boy who acts like a girl?” She thought about it for a moment, and then replied, “A fairy. But that’s not a good thing to be. You shouldn’t call someone that.”

“But why?” I wanted to know. “Why is it a bad thing?”

So, in all my childlike wisdom, I decided that, since my brother’s name is Thomas, the male equivalent of a tomboy would naturally be a melissagirl. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

So why, then, is tomboy a natural, accepted, even encouraged thing for a girl to be, and melissagirl isn’t even in our lexicon? Feminism has come far enough that it’s fine and wonderful for women to dress in men’s clothes, to wear pants and play sports, to shun makeup and fancy dresses. Which is a good thing! A girl should be able to express herself any way she chooses. But it’s still not acceptable for a man to dress in women’s clothes, or wear makeup, or play with dolls and stuffed toys. His sexuality is questioned, and he gets called derogatory names, merely for expressing himself the way he chooses. Why? Because in our society, it’s okay to want to be a man. It’s not okay to want to be a woman.

The same thing is true even for women. It’s not okay to take interest in stereotypically feminine things, because femininity is inherently inferior to masculinity.

In most shows aimed at tween or teenage girls, the main character is at least a little bit of a tomboy. Usually down-to-earth, doesn’t obsess over makeup and clothes, maybe she’s into sports. If anything, she’s a little bit boy-crazy. On the other side, her “rival” is the stereotypical girl, vapid and shallow, always out to make herself look good and the main character look pathetic. She’ll sometimes have sidekicks, brainless airheads who only know how to be pretty. The message is clear: girls, you don’t want to be like this.

I’m glad that in this day and age, it’s acceptable for girls to like sports, and mud, and frogs, and typically “boyish” things. A girl should be allowed to like whatever she wants. But why then are more traditionally feminine interests portrayed so negatively? If a girl likes to wear dresses and look pretty, to wear makeup and accessorize, she’s categorized as either a brainless girl who will coast through life on her looks, or an evil, conniving villain who wants to tear everyone else down. Why can’t a girl just be a girl, in any way she happens to enjoy?

I Heard She’s Had Like, Three Abortions

Who hasn’t heard that rumor, or something like it, during their tenure at high school? Usually leveled against one of the ‘popular’ girls, the cheerleaders, the ones that are rumored to be sleeping with the entire football team, and probably many other boys besides. Right? Teenage girls can be cruel.

In high school— and who am I kidding, far beyond high school— basically everything is a competition. Not only in the academic sense, competing with your peers for honors and elusive college spots, but everything else besides. Popularity and coolness, making and keeping friends, getting a boyfriend, extracurricular activities, etc. And girls are taught, over and over again, that they can’t possibly hope to compete with the boys, so their only option is to turn on each other. Tear other girls down in order to elevate your own status. It’s hardly an isolated phenomenon. If you’d asked high school me, an unmotivated girl with a small, but close circle of friends, who had no interest in being popular OR getting a boyfriend, I still would have told you that the ‘popular’ clique were bitches, they were probably sleeping with all these different guys, a couple of them had probably had abortions. Quelle horreur.

What was my motivation to say things like that? It didn’t really affect me in any way. It wasn’t even really true. Plenty of those self-same girls had been perfectly nice to me in isolated incidences. They’d really saved my butt once or twice. But if teen movies taught me anything, it was that popular girls were bitches and sluts, and I, however consciously or subconsciously, latched onto that even as I scoffed that real high schools are nothing like the ones in the movies. And on the flip side, the girls who do have status will often use that influence to tear down other girls; the poor ones, the desperate ones, those who aren’t doing well in school, or who have never had a boyfriend— or the ones who they suspect might be horning in on “their” man. It’s a vicious circle, and nobody wins.

The fact of the matter is, even if what I believed about those girls were true— that they slept around, or even had abortions— it was no one’s business but their own. A woman’s worth is not determined by the number of people she’s had sex with, or at what age, whether she’s taking birth control, or not, or what she chooses to do in her free time. Every woman has worth, whether she’s a teen mom or a Rhodes scholar working on a double PhD. Popular culture likes to insist that there’s an upper limit on the number of men a woman can sleep with before she becomes a worthless, valueless whore, and of course, even a single abortion means you’re an irresponsible skank that’s going to hell for murdering your baby. (My opinion: if you’re responsible enough to realize that a child isn’t in your plan right now (or ever), and to reduce the number of unwanted children on this planet, more power to you!)

Society teaches women that we need to tear each other down to elevate ourselves, but nothing could be further from the truth. YOU determine your own self-worth, and by elevating others, you elevate yourself as well.