Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rage Against Letters to the Editor: Or, I am Worth More Than a Gold Necklace

The following scary bit of victim-blaming was somehow allowed in to the Letters to the Editor page of the Washington Post today. It was written in response to Jessica Valenti's excellent look at SlutWalks. (For more SlutWalk info, check out this awesome post by Holly Pervocracy).

"I couldn't disagree more with the unrealistic premise and immature slogans the new feminists espoused in Jessica Valenti's Outlook commentary. A simple analogy sums it all up: American capitalism relies heavily on advertising. An advertised product sells. Advertising works!
"Advertising your body works as well. Walking the streets in a high-crime area while wearing a gold necklace is stupid. Let's likewise be smart about the way we dress." - Ingrid Wrauseman, victim-blamer

Besides the extremely obvious "you absolutely deserve to be raped if I don't think you were acting acceptably" not-so-sutble subtext which is the basic underlying principle of all Victim Blamers, what I find scariest is what the whole "advertising" thing really means. "Advertising" your body like a gold necklace and then being raped has to mean that rape was the desired result - like someone buying the product that's being shilled. Not only are women asking for it, they want it! In this case, the product being advertised is women's bodies, and the "sell" is...rape. Wait, what?

This is the transactional model of sexuality at its stark conclusion. Under this model, sex is a thing that men take from women, whether they pay in the form of dinner and drinks or with emotional attachment (apparently, women never have sex because they like it). If women advertise their sexuality or attractiveness or even femininity, then sex will be forcibly taken from them just like that gold necklace. In this scenario -- under the transactional model of sexuality -- not only is the horrific experience of rape equated to a mugging, it is also cast as a what-did-you-expect microcosm of capitalism.  Advertise the product, dear, and someone will buy it whether you're selling or not.

This woman apparently believes that her fellow women are just things. We are objects that had better be careful of how we dress and act around men, because if we "advertise" by being attractive or dressing in an unacceptable way then we will be bought or stolen. And men, here, are just muggers who can't control their apparently animal urges long enough to imagine that women are people. But hey, if the author can't conceive of that, how on earth could men?

I have to believe that men are worth more than that. I believe that men can and should respect women as human beings no matter what they're wearing. I have to hope that men see female sexuality and bodily autonomy as more than a "gold necklace" that's theirs for the taking. I believe that the majority of men are not rapists.

And finally, though it's been said before and better: I am worth more than a gold necklace. I deserve the right to walk whatever streets I choose in whatever clothes I'm wearing. I am no billboard, no coupon, and no advertisement. I am not for sale.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Anti-Life: This is What an Angry Feminist Looks Like.

I don't remember the specific moment of epiphany when I realized this, but it becomes more and more clear the more I educate myself on legislation that relates to reproductive/sexual health and federal funding for women and children's programs.

It dawns on you slowly at first, but then becomes crystal clear and even painfully obvious. The epiphany? Right-wingers are against life. The moment you get out of the womb, they absolutely do not give a shit about you.* Okay, maybe they care if you're white, rich, male, and abled, but god forbid if you're female, disabled, poor, or any shade besides lily-white. They are as thoroughly against living as you can be. This is shockingly evident in HR-1, the Republican proposal to (de-) fund the federal government.

If Republicans were for life, and for the lives of women and children in particular, would they vote for HR-1, which slashes $747 million dollars from WIC, the Special Supplemental Program Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children? This program provides food and counseling for low-income mothers and families. It saves the lives of infants whose parents literally cannot afford to feed them.

Yup. It keeps babies healthy, happy, and alive. 

Aren't anti-choicers really into that stuff? Isn't the lives-of-babies thing like their whole bag? Funny...I don't hear the Family Research Council, or the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, or any other conservative group talking about the fate of the millions of women and babies who receive assistance from this program. Hm- this seems a lot more like hating on poor people and single mothers. How strange.

If Republicans cared about children the second after they exited the womb, would they cut $1 billion dollars from Head Start and $39 million from childcare programs? These programs provide a safe place for parents to put their children while they work. Without programs like these, children will get left alone or with incompetent caregivers, which negatively impacts their safety. Imperiling children...doesn't sound very pro-life to me. It fact, it sounds like another stab at poor people and single moms (the ones who are most likely to need childcare so that they can go to work to, you know, support their children).

When Republicans start caring about life in all its forms, I will respect their position on forcing women to carry pregnancies to term (well, I won't, because it's awful, but at least it will make logical sense).

When Republicans start fighting for nutrition for babies, for responsible care for children, for prenatal care for all women regardless of documented status, for the abolition of the death penalty, for the end to wars (what else is more anti-life than war?), for sound environmental and wildlife policy (do non-human lives matter?), and for the lives of the poor and the disenfranchised, maybe then they can call themselves "pro-life." When women's and children's lives are respected as much as rich male ones, then they can call themselves "pro-life."

Start caring about the quality of my life, guys, and the lives of my future children. Then call yourselves "pro-life."

*I am specifically talking about the folks in Congress who consistently work in this direction, as well as the people at various conservative organizations who directly lobby for these causes and call themselves "pro-life." I realize that not every single lay Republican holds these views, but find me a dozen of these law- and policy-makers who are against these specific positions and have said so publicly, and I'll give you five dollars.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pink and Blue: From the Mouths of Babes

So I take care of kids for a living. (This statement is somewhat facetious, as I am lucky enough to have parents that pay for a bunch of my stuff). So not really a living per say, but you could say it is my main trade. Childcare is one of my most accomplished and marketable skills. I have a ton of experience doing it, and have worked as a full-time nanny for the last two summers.

And it makes me twitch when I see the extent to which children are gendered. From their earliest moments, before they are more than wrinkle-faced blobs, kids are subject to adult assumptions of how they should behave based on the gender they are assigned at birth. And these tiny people have ears, and they begin to internalize what you say to them before they can speak themselves. Children are sponges, and this comparison extends far beyond the fact that both things are clingy and often slightly damp. At a very early age, you will find them trying to figure out how gender works in our culture.

One of my frequent charges, who for the purposes of the internet we will call L, is male (as far as I know), five years old, and possesses the largest, roundest, and bluest eyes you've ever seen before. He asked me something very interesting when I was watching him recently. He had been remarking, with a sage and furrowed brow, on the oddness of the fact that I was wearing boxers which were slightly visible above my sweatpants (it was 8 AM, so sue me) and the fact that I had short hair, yet I was referred to as female.

He asked me, "Do you think you're a boy or a girl?"

Now consider the wisdom in that statement, delivered to me from about three feet off the ground and from behind a large gap where two front teeth are missing. Behind that adorable face, the wheels are turning like crazy as he tries to figure out all this gender stuff. He doesn't even know the word "gender"! But- he used the word think. Did I think I was a boy or a girl? How did I feel about the matter? Never mind everybody else, what did I think, personally?

L. wanted to know how I felt about my gender, and that is more courtesy than most adults will give you. I speak broadly and I certainly do not speak for everyone, but I believe the average gender-variant/transgender/genderqueer individual would kill for that kind of consideration from the world at large. I consider myself to be somewhat genderqueer, though generally comfortable with female-oriented labels, and nobody would ever think to ask me this. I was stunned, and in the best possible way.

I managed to steer the question away from myself (as prescient as he is, the concept of genderqueerness is still a little heavy for a first-grader) and instead took the time to talk to him about how we are all allowed to like whatever we like, and how there is no "girl stuff" or "boy stuff" or even really sharp divisions between "girls" and "boys," but instead there is just "stuff," and "people." He took it all in better than any adult to whom I've ever had to explain the gender spectrum.

What I'm saying- "my point, if I had one," as my father would say- is that despite all the binary messages that children get from the world at large, they are sponges. They will listen if you speak! And if you tell them not to worry about boy/girl and pink/blue, then, when they grow up, we might find ourselves with a generation that is easy in their minds, in their bodies, and in their genders- whatever those genders may be.