20-Something Swag

(forever young, sometimes broke, and always snarky)

Month: August, 2014

Skinny Bitches & Fat Cows: Let’s Just Stop Already

Confession: every once in a while I go on a pop music binge and catch up on all that’s so hot right now. Because sometimes my best friends get tired of “No Diggity” on heavy rotation with Ingrid Michaelson and The Spice Girls. Whatever. So, this morning I finally listened to “How We Do,” by Katy Perry, Taylor Swifts’s “Shake It Off,” and “All About that Bass,” Meghan Trainor’s new hit. All of these songs have been propped for their upbeat “don’t hate” lyrics, and all three have also been criticized by multiple sources for using women of color to represent a booty bouncing, super sexualized category of womanhood. But wait, I’ve got even more to say to Meghan Trainor:

                                      A Joke, Yes. Helpful, No.

A Joke, Yes. Helpful, No.

Don’t call me a Skinny Bitch. I don’t call you a Fat Cow. Can we just stop with the barnyard name-calling? We’re better than that.

It’s a good thing I don’t evaluate my body on how much a man wants to grab it at night. Otherwise, you’d make me feel like shit.

I am a size 2. And I like my ass, which a friend once described as “small, but shapely.”

Just because I’m thin, doesn’t mean I’ve had work done. This ain’t the body of a silicone Barbie Doll. I’m a real woman.

If I wanna call myself a bitch, I will, because sometimes I am.

Dude, bass is hot– the upright, guitar, drum, voice, whatever. Are you metaphorically equating the bass range with body size? Because I’m not sure how that works.

Have you ever considered the fact that I’m financially independent and I have had periods of time when my financial priorities can’t always include more food than I need to live on?

I currently have a physically active job, and I try to go to the weight room a couple times a week. Cuz, health. But also, I’m tired of having to justify healthy habits. I’m not gonna justify my caffeine or cupcake intakes either.

Appreciating plumper bodies does not mean we have to degrade thinner bodies and vice versa.

That thin girl you just bashed might have a body dysmorphic disorder, or that’s just what her body looks like and you just mocked her. So, great, now we can all be self-discructive.

Every inch of me IS perfect. I might have fewer inches than you, and I’m actually not perfect, but every single inch of me is good enough. 

Thin women are held to the same unrealistic body image standards as fuller figured women. We’re still painfully insecure until we have been able to do some serious inner work to love ourselves, and even then, self-value is an ongoing process.

Being thin is not a privilege. Sure, I rarely get fat jokes leveled at me, but I am often on the receiving end of skinny jokes and have been told to “hush, tiny one,” while communicating my insecurities in conversations about body image. And you know what, that is very hurtful. On top of that garbage, I am regularly harassed by strangers: from drive-by cat calls and immature insults to people following me down the street demanding that I stop what I’m doing and do what they want me to do. To people saying, “What, am I too ugly for you?” when I say I don’t want to stop for them. Plump women are also the recipients of daily harassment and their bodies are criticized and scrutinized too. Let’s all agree that none of that is okay together. 

I am sorry for all the hurtful ways that plumper, even obese, people are treated. I hate that women especially, and men too, are held to body image standards that would require unhealthy behaviors to attain. I am sorry for the shame and the self-hatred with which this smothers people. And I’m sorry if I ever seem to judge people based on their size, body type, or weight.

This is a systemic problem in addition to being deeply personal, a shifting cultural expectation that serves to make women hate and envy each other, to center our self-worth on how much men desire us sexually (how hetero-centric is that?), and to keep us dissatisfied and feeling like we do not have physical worth, without which we are less confident of our contributions in physical occupations. This is every body’s problem and we all have to work together, rather than divide ourselves, to fix it.

And dear Meghan Trainor, this size 2 booty does in fact love shaking it to your new song.

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Stop Joking about Domestic Violence

First of all, if you’re reading this and you are a daily survivor of domestic violence, please find an advocate. If you can, please borrow a phone, get to a pay phone, or have a friend call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224, or reach out to someone who can be mindful of your safety.

It’s been blasted all over popular news and cultural criticism sites for nearly a week: MMA fighter Jon Koppenhaver brutally attacked his ex-girlfriend Christy Mack and another person who was in her apartment, and Koppenhaver wonders why he’s the villain, stating “I only wish that man hadn’t been there and that Christy and i would be happily engaged,” since he was reportedly bearing an engagement ring to propose. Online journalism sites are all abuzz with this story and the added detail of Dog, the reality TV bounty hunter, committing to catching Koppenhaver. Comment threads on Gawker, for example, expose a sickening trivialization of this incident. When Gawker, a media company I follow daily, announced Dog’s threat of pursuit, the comment thread became a long line of jokes and snark about Dog and the woman standing with him in the featured image. One person even wrote simply, “Needed a laugh. Thank you.”

Another reader snidely commented on an earlier article on Gawker about Koppenhaver and Mack, “Surely there’s some famous saying about dating a braindead psychopath cage fighter that we can use here. I think the saying goes, “don’t do that.” And another: “I mean, you fall in love with a porn star, and she behaves like a sex addict. You fall in love with a MMA fighter, and he behaves like a psychopath. Who knew?” Someone felt it relevant to bring up the fact that Mack, who was no longer dating Koppenhaver, was possibly seeing someone else, and accused her of “cheating,” as if that makes abuse okay. And further still, when one reader posted a thoughtful comment suggesting that Koppenhaver is expressing actions congruent with hegemonic “brutish” masculinity or past abuse, they were attacked with replies like, “Are you done manstruating yet, bruh?” and, “Whatever. Dude, you make Chaz Bono look like. I dunno. A guy.” And on Global News’s blog, reporting Koppenhaver’s arrest warrant, one reader commented, “Hopefully he will get raped over and over in jail. LOL GOOF,” while others gave the MMA fighter tips on reducing his sentence time or blamed steroid use.

Think those are the attitudes held only by Internet trolls? Think again. Other mild-mannered real life people respond similarly.

“[This Company] takes domestic violence very seriously. If we hear about any abuse reports, you’re out. So don’t beat your wife. Don’t beat your girlfriend, or your boyfriend, or your husband. Just don’t do it.”

Those words were spoken during security officer training with a national security company. And as I listened to the instructor, his statement did make me feel secure. Of course, a security company has to protect their relationship with the Department of Public Safety, but I like that this company says up front that if you are abusive, you can’t work for us, no matter what. I was discouraged, however, when I heard a couple of the men in the room snicker when the instructor said not to abuse one’s male partner.

We need to talk about this. Because nothing about this is okay.

I think we all know that domestic violence is bad. I think we all know that violence against women is still astronomically more common than violence against men, making it an institution in addition to a personal threat. And with staggering statistics, we have come to expect abuse to happen and have resources available to its survivors. But we can’t ever accept it. We can’t categorize Christy Mack’s abuse as entertainment news, or think that abuse of a male partner is somehow a less severe issue. Here are some statistics I found from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew.

Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

With statistics like these, we have come to expect domestic violence to happen. Because it does. A lot. But with attitudes like those expressed by the men who scoff at male abuse and assholes like Koppenhaver who justify their violence by saying they wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for someone infringing on their relational bliss, we are seem to have, at some social level, accepted it. And that’s got to stop. Right now.

I know that eradicating the world of these abuse-perpretuating ideals and behaviors is not simple, and I admit that I am neither a psychologist nor a social worker. I studied gender theory in the context of literature and popular media, so I can’t offer the types of solutions I wish I could. But, the fact that I am a person who has gender, like everyone else, and who is a vigilant consumer and critic of contemporary culture, I can say this.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A SIGN THAT MANY THINGS HAVE BROKEN. IT IS NOT A LAUGHING MATTER.

“Real Men” Discourse Needs a Swift Exit

I know that means we’ll also have to give up hashtags like #realmentakeoutthegarbage or ideas about “real men” being good financial providers and protectors. And even Justin Timberlake holding a sign that reads, “Real Men don’t buy girls.” But that doesn’t mean men have to stop doing or supporting these things. It does mean we need desperately to reassess the origins of our expectations. When I have had male housemates, I have really appreciated when they take the trash out. But I also have taken my fair share of trips out to the apartment complex’s dumpster, because it just needs to get done. It’s a human need and there is no reason why my roommate was more able to take out the trash than I was. And if I were ever in need of my partner to provide for me financially, then that would be an important factor in our relationship for as long as that was a need–whether temporary or permanent–but not because I am a woman and he is a man. Sometimes in relationships that’s what commitment looks like.

The more I research partner abuse, the more I learn that the same mindset that makes men laugh at the thought of men being the recipients of abuse feeds a cultural environment that does lead to the abuse of more women than men, in addition to increasing the abuse of men. I made a new friend the other day, a PhD. candidate studying developmental psychology in male youth. She suggests that the constant messages boys hear to “toughen up,” be “real men,” “never let anyone push them around” are forms of abuse in their own right, which can lead men to abuse those they perceive to threaten their masculinity and, essentially, their personal validity. It’s all connected, a tragic network of violence and shame. Likewise, Firestone writes in an article for Psychology Today:

Expectations that men should be strong, masculine, and more powerful than women can be very destructive to a man at risk for becoming violent. The shame triggered by the idea that they are appearing weak or unmanly can trigger some men to become enraged or to act on violent impulses. (2012)

There’s a trend trying to undo violence against women by countering with taglines like “Real Men don’t hit women,” or “Real Men respect women,” “Real Men don’t buy girls,” etc. And I think, okay, that’s encouraging men not to do bad things. But it’s still based on a fear that they won’t be complete Men if they don’t follow whatever the current Real Man requirements are. And what if that changes? What if we focus Real Manliness on something else? We can’t depend on that to make things better. People need to feel secure in their identity apart from vacillating gender ideals, and apart from their partner’s ability to live up to those ideals.

Let’s Call a Spade a Spade

Domestic violence is the ultimate betrayal of trust. When a person abuses his or her partner, they are hurting a person whom (I assume) they have committed to care for. Abuse isn’t funny, not even when famous people do it. Not even EVEN when those famous people are a porn actor and an MMA fighter pursued by a television bounty hunter with a mullet. Not even when a grown woman hits a man twice her size. Not even when it’s “just” the undermining of a person’s sense of self-worth. Abuse isn’t a springboard issue for us to blame things like steroids usage or the pornography industry either.

Media journalists such as Gawker and Global News are not responsible for the attitudes of their readers. Their readers are responsible for their own attitudes. And that’s us, right? We have a lot of work to do. So, I challenge myself and all of you, be aware and observant. Push hard against the detrimental ideals with which we live, but be gentle and respectful of people who might come to you for advocacy. And let’s be honest. I don’t know how to “save” someone from violence, but I can listen to them and seek help without trivializing their situation or their choices. Because whoever is involved, abuse is still the infliction of harm on one human being by another human being.

How 50 Shades of Grey Screws Real Conversations about Sexual Politics

This blog post is about exactly what you think it’s about. If you don’t want to read my take on 50 Shades of Grey and relationships and sexuality, you should navigate away. If you want me to give you steamy excerpts from the book, you can navigate away again, because I don’t think male-controled relationships are desirable, or even healthy expressions of kink. So, please, if you choose to leave, grab a cookie on your way out, and don’t say I didn’t warn you if you stay.

I have a confession: I have never read E.L. James’s popular 2011 erotica novel. But this is what I’ve heard and seen, and I could be wrong on the details, but bear with me. This will at least be entertaining. The plot is centered on a young woman named Anastasia Steele, who goes to interview a wealthy magnate named Christian Grey for a story. Now, Anastasia is a mousy naive journalism student, I gather, as writers are. Apparently. And, can you believe that a wealthy, enigmatic man whose veneer no one else has been able to penetrate just can’t get enough of Anastasia. Then, like his fanfic inspiration, Edward of Twilight, Christian warns Anastasia that he’s attracted to her, but she doesn’t want to get mixed up with his peculiar sexual preferences and his lack of desire for an emotionally involved relationship. When Anastasia says to “enlighten” her anyway, thus begins her sexual education and introduction to kinky sex and Christian’s inner battle, since he doesn’t want commitment, yet he doesn’t want anyone else to have Anastasia and beats other people up who are interested in her.

Wow. Let’s unpack just that super speedy rundown. If that is true of the novel 50 Shades of Grey, I have serious issues with it. Here’s my list of reasons why.

1) The extreme contrast between Anastasia’s naiveté and Christian’s supposed sexual prowess portrays a man as responsible for and more knowledgable about sex and his female partner’s sexuality than she is.

This is problematic for many reasons. Okay, so some women know less about sexuality than some men, but the same is true if you reverse the gendered pronouns. Some people don’t know a lot about sexuality or sex, and some people know a lot. Regardless of gender. And yes, I admit, those folks in the latter group can be intimidating and enigmatic, but that doesn’t mean they should get to take charge in all the decision making. Which brings us to the reason I really truly despise this portrayal of gender difference. I think a difference in knowledge and experience can be a non-issue for a relationship, but if one person is more “in the know,” it’s still not okay for that person to call the shots or to feel responsible for their partner’s sexuality. That can lead to the less experienced person feeling intimidated and silenced and not willing to try new things, and it could lead the more experienced partner to manipulate their partner into doing things they aren’t comfortable with.

When a woman says “go ahead” when a man vaguely warns her he’s unconventional, it appears to give him a free pass, rather than clearly communicating specific preferences and activities and letting a woman veto or green-light things before she’s blindfolded and whipped. And I think that warnings like those of Christian Grey and Edward Vampire are cop-outs. They violate the other persons’ boundaries and ability to say yes as well as no, and these cop-outs get people in the habit of not making their own decisions or trusting their own instincts. Not okay. MAKING YOUR OWN DECISIONS IS GOOD. BEING IN CONTROL OF YOUR OWN BODY IS A RIGHT AND PRIVILEGE. Sure, Anastasia might like the way Christian makes her body feel, but she can get laid after the appropriate lines of communication have been laid.

2) The novel features characters expressing BDSM and kink in the context of a relationship that already has some serious control and knowledge/power issues, which is not a healthy origin for experimenting with extreme power dynamics.

I’m not gonna knock unconventional expressions of sexuality in general, like BDSM, fetishes, or kinks. I am totally calling out–right here, right now–James’s blatant misunderstanding of what makes healthy relationships (or even casual encounters) work, and what can actually be abuse. Christian Grey is possessive. That’s gross, people. Oh, yeah, I’ve heard some women say they just want someone to want them that much, you know. Like, all the time, and without letting anyone else spend time with them or be interested in them. LISTEN SISTER, YOU DON’T WANT THAT. That kind of person doesn’t want you. They want to be in control. They want power. They may even want whatever you can contribute to helping them gain power and control in other areas of their life. Or, you could be their compensation for feeling like they have no other power. YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT, SERIOUSLY. If you feel like you don’t deserve someone who wants you to be a whole, independent human, please reach out to someone who can help you.

When you start with a relationship that has a controlling partner and a passive partner or unresolved aggressions, BDSM should wait until another time. Kink can be a good way to work out tensions and issues that do not originate in anger or general possessiveness towards or of one’s partner. It can be a healthy way to experiment with boundaries and power dynamics. But, E.L. James has done humanity a great disservice by trying to convince us that controlling is a desirable quality, and that dominance/submission sex within an already unbalanced relationship is unequivocally okay. Maybe it is, right? Maybe in some possible universe this controlling guy, who has not yet proven himself to be otherwise not domineering, will not use sex as an outlet for his own unresolved power and control issues. Maybe he won’t continue to be possessive and emotionally abusive. That possible universe might also have pancakes that never get soggy, but I find both of those propositions implausible.

3) The portrayal of Christian Grey perpetuates the cultural expectations that men have insatiable appetites for rough sex and find emotional attachment, commitment, and intimacy confounding.

This is a lie. A stereotype that has, over the course of history, evolved into an ugly monster. And I don’t think the kinky sex part is the ugly part. Men are not animals. Search and destroy or consume might be the goal of many because we’re taught that men must be Men, capital M in bold. And that to be a Man, one must be able to do the following: 1) provide for and control his environment, 2) be physically intimidating or strong, 3) be emotionally unreachable and tough (real men don’t cry), 4) fear or be bad at commitment, and 5) be awesome at sex with women (or a woman, for the traditionalists amongst us). But the fact that real human men and their cultural archetypes often struggle with their emotions is a sign that men actually have emotions and feelings and they have not been adequately equipped or allowed to process and express them in a healthy manner.

If the Casanova you’re dating lets his feelings show, that doesn’t mean you’ve fixed him. Sorry. It’s not you, it’s him, actually. They’re his feelings and always have been. And, get ready, a newly discovered emotional center can open a whole can of worms that romanticized ideals can’t deal with. Rather than repeatedly romanticizing conflicted male characters who don’t know how to have emotions, let’s try taking steps towards broadening our understanding of manhood and masculinities. And intimacy and commitment for that matter. If commitment means one person is solely responsible for the material upkeep of a relationship and the other person is solely responsible for the emotional upkeep, count me out. I’m not committing to that.

 I have a slew of ideological reasons not to be over the moon for this book or its sequel, but at the end of the day, I especially don’t want to further the existence of  poorly written detrimental representations of sex and relationships. The fact that “50 Shades” was published despite its flawed prose is a sad sign to me, and a very curious one. Is it true, as mentioned above, that women are simply looking for that all-consuming relationship in which they are hungered for, or is our society ready to start talking about sexual politics around the water cooler? If this is how that conversation is going to pick up tread, I fear for us. But I’m hopeful for the open door.