Thursday, July 29, 2010

Changing the Face of Feminism

I have spent the majority of my college years in fairly feminist-friendly environments. I've surrounded myself with optimistic, activist-oriented, awesome friends, and I've had pretty open-minded and liberal coworkers/bosses. Words like "slut" and expressions like "that's so gay" hardly ever enter the vernacular, and no one blinks an eye if I don't shave my legs for days, weeks, months on end (though, I should add, showering is a different story.) While at Kenyon we may complain about the attitude of the student body toward feminism, I've gotta say that all in all, things have only improved since my first year. I'd even go so far as to say (dare I?) that Kenyon is becoming an increasingly feminist campus in a lot of ways, mostly because of the perseverance and dedication of the student body to change the way things work in the 'Bier.

So imagine my surprise (saturated with sarcasm) when I attempt to re-enter the "real world" and am bombarded with the consumer-ready image of the angry feminist. Let's take a look at some of the gems I've been privy to during this summer break:

1) Women's Studies: The Horrors of Feminism Exposed
For those of you who haven't seen this preview until now, I am sorry. I just had to share this because it has it all: lesbianism, man-hating, yoga poses in the forest, faux-philosophical conversation about the sexes, and axe murder. If there is a cliché I left out, it is probably because I couldn't keep track of them all past the first 20 seconds of the trailer. To be honest, I cannot remember a time in which I sat in Crozier in a position other than the lotus pose, and I must not like anyone other than women if I spend that much time in the Women's Center. Go figure.

2) MTV's Disaster Date: Pop Culture Portrays the Feminist

For starters, let's not talk about the fact that I actually suffered through an episode of Disaster Date. To my credit, I was home sick and craving mindless television, but nonetheless I must admit that I was intrigued. The premise of Disaster Date, and pretty much any other hidden-camera reality show, is that someone has secretly put their friend in a potentially humiliating and uncomfortable situation. Contestants are set up on blind dates with actors who exhibit every characteristic and behavior that completely irks them. Take for example Antoine, the man who cannot stand "girls who don't shave their legs," "girls who boss him around," and, most of all, "feminists." That's my kind of man right there.

Long story short (you can check out the episode for yourself if you're so inclined:, the actor goes to extremes to be exactly the type of "womyn" that Antoine cannot stand. She yells at a man who refers to the waitress by pet names, she displays her hairy legs during the meal thereby causing Antoine to gag, and she shows off her new ink: "WOMYN" in large block letters. Thank goodness this is only a prank, and Antoine walks away about $50 richer for suffering through his not-even-an-hour alone with the feminist wacko.

3) The Good Ol' General Public
While this is something I'd better get used to dealing with on a pretty regular basis, I still experience a lot of frustration in terms of my day to day dealings with people. Whether it's the oh-so-witty responses when I reveal that I am a Women's and Gender Studies Major (i.e.: "What are you gonna do with that? Be a lesbian?" Ha! What an EXCELLENT retort!) or the benevolent sexism of people asking me to take care of others or fetch them coffee because I am the only woman in the room, I have had to devote a great deal of effort to internalizing my feelings. Don't get me wrong, I speak up with I need to, but there are times when I have learned that things are best left unsaid.

The worst part of this, though, is that people make jokes about rape or domestic abuse or something else terrible, and they'll do it simply to get a rise out of me. The words "Don't mess with her, she's a feminist" get tossed around from time to time, and people make a big deal out of my beliefs even when I don't say anything about them. I feel like I'm on constant surveillance, that how I react and behave is continuously being monitored. If I slip up, it's a big deal, and if I don't react at all, it's an even bigger deal.

This is nothing earth-shattering or shocking in the least, but it's the sad truth that some people just expect feminists to adhere to the stereotype. It's sad to me that even in 2010, people think that simply the fact that they might "like cars and beer" (thank you, Lady Gaga quotation from long ago) or might shave their legs instantly means that they have been disqualified from participating in feminism. When will there be a day when feminism really is perceived as being for everybody? What will it take for society to depict feminists of all genders, ethnicites, sexes, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and ages? Why is our go-to image still a loud, angry college or middle-aged white woman with hairy legs?

We've tried the "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" campaign. We've been open about our views with people who know us for more than just our political agendas. We've hosted and planned events and programs targeted at wider populations with the hope that someday, we might capture the attention of someone who would have never attended something branded with the label of "feminism." But how can we start to change the image that has been ascribed to us? It's easy to cling to the label "feminist" because if offers a sense of solidarity and strength, but how can we step away from it for long enough to reclaim it and change its meaning? What is the most effective way to show people that we are more than what the word deems us to be?

The rest of the world is not necessarily like our cozy little haven of Crozier or Kenyon. While not always hostile or intentionally negative toward the cause, people beyond the movement do not necessarily want to hear what it's all about. Keeping that in mind, I think that the reclamation should begin in a place of comfort and solidarity, and that we should work together to create a new vision for today's modern feminist.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Today in What On Earth?: Jury Decides Consent is Not Required for Girls Gone Wild

Pretty much the only thing I can do in response to reading this is spew expletives.
They said she gave implicit consent by being at the bar, and by participating in the filming - though she never signed a consent form, and she can be heard on camera saying "no, no" when asked to show her breasts.


So let this be a lesson to us all. "Consent" is a flexible thing - at least in the eyes of the St. Louis courts. No means yes, and assault means it's okay to roll the cameras. If there were ever a time to get righteously angry, it's now.

In what world does this make any sense? What can we do about this? We can have conversations about victim-blaming, and sexual assault, and what it means to give consent, and what it means to live in a rape culture. But that really doesn't seem like enough--not to me, not in this case. What do we do with our righteous anger?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Romantic Gestures," Stalking and Dating Violence

A piece in Jezebel today raises a crucial point: Relentless Stalking is Not Romantic. Author Anna North outlines a critical reading of a Nerve interview in which Juliet Linderman tells the story of how her parents met: her mother, Paula, spurned the increasingly desperate advances of her father, Bob, who continued to pursue her under the guise of friendship until, eventually, she just gave in.

What turned out to be love for Bob and Paula could just as easily be stalking for another couple, and it's disturbing how often stories of romance — especially in the movies, but in this case also in real life — involve inexorable pursuit against the woman's wishes. Bob's concluding words are particularly telling: Partly this is because "we met, we both really liked each other, we got married" doesn't make a very good story, but partly it's because love's supposed to mean more if dudes have to forcibly wrest it from women. Like him right away? You're easy. Have the gall to actually pursue him yourself? You're desperate. Is it any wonder that men stalk women, or fail to take no for an answer, when we're constantly told that love is a decision a dude makes and a woman eventually, reluctantly agrees to?
And is it any wonder that, steeped in these particular cultural narratives, women being stalked can fail to recognize that it's wrong? The story we're told is that women don't know what they really want, that "no, I'm not interested in you" means "but keep trying, even when I'm ignoring your calls and refusing to speak to you except to plead with you to go the hell away."

I had a friend in high school who was the target of several men engaged in this kind of behavior, and there were days when she would come to school and say, "Joe came to my house at three in the morning yesterday and when I wouldn't come outside, he just sat there in his car," or "I had a horrible nightmare about Billy and woke up screaming." I felt so angry and powerless--I can only imagine how she felt. I had suggested restraining orders, but there wasn't concrete proof of danger to her, and we didn't actually know what was required. There was nowhere for her to go to make this stop.

In other words, this kind of narrative--stalking as love--sets women up to be victims of dating violence, to experience very real distress even if their bodies are never physically threatened. It degrades women's sense of self-worth when our right to live the way we want to live is devalued compared to your right to harass us.

Bottom line: it shouldn't be normal for our wants and needs to be ignored.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quick Hit: Take a Break for Activist Stretching

Let's face it: we're all aspiring activists. I don't know when it hit you, but I had my first "aha!" moment (of which I'd have many, many more) when I staged a "boycott" against McDonald's at 5 years old. Whether or not my reasons for doing so were noble (and believe me, they weren't), I stuck to the ban and made sure to give friends & family a piece of my mind about the corporation.

While the issues have changed from fast food to feminism, this activist streak has only become more prominent in my life and is reflected in the things I care about. Like many of you, I have devoted a pretty huge piece of myself to these values- I'm sure you know how this goes. You attend numerous meetings about organizations and projects tailored to your specific "special interests." You read books and blogs and magazines and newspapers and anything you can get your hands on, just to stay up-to-date or to have new fodder for discussion and debate. You're the one who can't have a conversation about art or music or movies or sports without bringing up issues such as the oppressive nature of masculinity or the objectification of women's bodies. You eat, breathe, sleep, live your passions to the point where you can't see how anyone else could possibly not value them as much. I get it because I've been there. Heck, I get it because I am there. And being "there" is sometimes tiring.

I'm always inspired to keep on keepin' on by the amazing activists I come across, one of whom is the amazing, gorgeous hellraiser Bevin Branlandingham. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Branlandingham, check out her website, Bevin is an activist for women of all sexual orientations and of all body types, and her performances are moving and mind-blowing. One little snippet I came across through her blog is this demo of what she calls "activist stretching." While it's a little cheesy, I have to say that I found it incredibly refreshing. All of the moves remind you of exactly what you're trying to do all of the crazy activist things you do, and sometimes all you need is a little reminder.

So take a deep breath and remind yourself that we're all in this together! We're working toward the same goals, and there's something really refreshing and invigorating about that thought. I'm thinking we should start every Crozier meeting off with this stretch next year. Yeah? Yeah.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Article on Don't Ask, Don't policy

You may have been keeping up with news on the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military. Fellow Kenyon student, Linda Mullin, has written a really great, heart-felt article about what she thinks for the facebook group for, a political website with which I'm affiliated. I thought some of you might be interested in reading the article and discussing it since you all have such great debate skills! It also would help me out a lot to get more people joining. Thanks everyone!