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Friday, 18 April 2014

About Body Acceptance

By: Malanka Sveta

Last year my (then) three year old looked up at me one night and, appropos of nothing, said, "I love my boobs...I think they're pretty". I want her to say the same thing when she's thirteen. When she's thirty. When she has thirty great great grandchildren.  And at all points in between. (I also want the same for all of you, men included.) I think this is why I find her fart humour so engaging and powerful. Fart humour, like loving her boobs, is a form of body acceptance. And I know a lot of my friends have really been enjoying that part of her childhood. (In case anyone was curious, she is fascinated by bums this month.)

I read Beauty by Sherri S. Tepper in 1995, and became acquainted with this new body acceptance that seemed revolutionary  to me then, but now seems common sense. (It may be worth mentioning that Beauty is half fairy, half mortal.)

" 'In many imaginary lands, as here, they shit and piss,' she advised me.  'As on earth, though rather less copiously.  But not in Ylles nor, I believe, in Baskarone.  Never mind, dearest.  When you eat fairy fruits, you will not be bothered by such grossness any longer.'

I had not precisely been bothered up until this time, though afterward I seemed to give a great deal of unaccustomed attention to the matter. No doubt this was one of the differences Roland sensed in Mama. The implications were shattering. How refreshing to have all the joys of love (I write in a literary or conventional sense, rather than from experience) sand consequent familiarity with those anatomical proximities which humans find both so unfortunate and so teasingly attractive. I came to the conclusion that there would be no perversions in Ylles."

(Ylles being the name of a portion of Faery.)

" 'Mother doesn't like me,' I said, needing her to say it wasn't true.

'That's not entirely true,' she said.  'Humans make myths about mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. I have counted on them myself, butsometimes the two generations are simply not sympathetic. Especially when they resemble, let us say, the other side of the family.'

It was true.  Except around the eyes, I most resembled father. I resembled him in other ways. Fleshiness. Corporeality. The thousand stinks and farts that flesh is heir to."

(The fairies are extremely attracted to Beauty, and it is her mortality that both fascinates and repells them at different times of her life.)

"I had been wrong about there being no perversions in Faery. Their perversion was to lust after human bodies, with all their stinks and scattish contiguities."

How is this body acceptance? Well, bodies are disgusting. Really. We've all seen what comes out of them.  It's not pleasant. But it doesn't matter, because all bodies do this. Fulfilling the needs of our bodies is a natural and normal thing, and we should embrace it, all of it, because without the ability to accept these thousand stinks and farts we lack the ability to embrace all of the truly wonderful things our bodies are, all of the glorious needs they have, and every fabulous desire of our flesh. The freedom to love our bodies begins with accepting our bodies as they are. Our bodies are beauty, our needs are beauty, even some (possibly most) of our perversions are beauty, and to deny this beauty is to harm ourselves and others. To starve this beauty, to overexcercise this beauty, to fetishize a body ideal, male or female, that doesn't exist is to reject beauty in the name of beauty. (I'm almost certain that was a sentence.) What's the worst that could happen if we all decided, today, right now, that we accept and embrace our beauty, that we love our bodies? I'm actually asking. What's the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen if we lived for ourselves instead of a painful ideal that almost no one can ever achieve?

I love my boobs.  I think they're pretty.  And I think yours are pretty, too.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

MRAs don't care about men.

The following is cross-posted from the Damsel in de Tech blog. Click here to see the original.

I was going to just press "Publish" and let that title stand alone. After all, there's really not much else to be said about it. If the Men's Rights Activists were really, sincerely invested in caring for men and improving their lives, they would do something proactive like, say, holding fundraising drives to establish intimate partner violence shelters for men, and/or promoting and advocating expansion of services for male survivors of sexual violence, and/or working with organizations like OCAP to address male homelessness.

You don't have to operate under a feminist banner to effect positive change in your community and to make things happen. But, golly, you do have to actually put in a lot of hours, and your own blood, sweat, tears, and money to really move mountains.

Arguing on the internet can be productive and useful, considering that you are most likely interacting with other humans on the other end, but that's not the end of it. Not by a long shot.

You want people to take you seriously, MRAs? How about you show us that you actually give a crap about helping your fellow dudes by actually doing something to help them.

Are there any MRA campaigns you're aware of that are doing tangible, productive things for your community? Please let me know so I can put my support behind them.

(Spoiler alert: if your evidence of their activity is one of their poster campaigns, I will laugh you off of the internet. Trolling IRL is not activism)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Genital mutilation isn't funny

The following is cross-posted from the Damsel in de Tech blog. Click here to see the original.

Every once in a while there's a news story about someone (in all the cases I recall seeing to this point, a cis man) having their penis severed. It doesn't seem to matter what the context is or who did it or why. Universally it seems that as soon as the story hits the air, there are jokes and puns made about it. Many of us remember Sharon Osbourne's callous remarks on The View in 2011.

I don't find these situations humorous. At all. They are cases of amputation, mutilation and grievous bodily harm. This is physical abuse, and a heinous form of torture that I do not abide.

To some degree I get why people find it funny. On family shows, like America's Funniest Home Videos, half the clips seem to be of guy after guy somehow injuring his groin - whether it be from an errant football, a miscalculated skateboarding trick, or an overly enthusiastic dog. When you see these scenes played ad nauseum against a laugh-track, it's hard not to find yourself conditioned to accept that as harmless entertainment.

I also see a lot of people making the assumption that the victim had perpetrated rape and this is likely their just-desserts. In this most recent story, there is no real information on who the attacker is or their relation to the victim. All assumptions are based on "Man's penis attacked, therefore man must have done something to deserve it." I don't think I need to state all the ways that's fucked up. Having a penis does not make one a rapist, and having one's penis mutilated does not make one a rapist.

Let's say that there is a statistically large portion of these men who are guilty of having committed rape. I still do not support genital mutilation, in the same way I do not approve of rape or torture as a punishment. Not only from a pacifist point of view, but also because I feel encouraging this kind of revengeful violence does more harm to those "righteous" folks who carry it out and open the door to these kinds of acts being committed under an increasingly broad set of conditions, just as corrective rape is presently used.

Yes, yes, I know. I'm a real buzzkill. Gosh, if you can't joke about rape in front of me, and now I'm harshing on puns about genital mutilation, what is there left to joke about?

How about knock, knock jokes?

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Orange who?
I honestly don't give a crap what you have left to joke about, rape and genital mutilation aren't funny.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Another International Misogyny Day

By: Malanka Sveta

So yesterday was International Women's Day. Or, as I am now calling, International Be A Misogynist Asshat Day. Literally every man I was in contact with yesterday pulled some misogynist asshattery. Every single one.

Actual quotes include: "Happy IWD! I support you!", from my roommate to his male friends. And, later, "It's just a joke, get over it!". When you are using "woman" as an insult in and of itself, that is misogyny. Your joke was that being a woman is an insult. I don't need to just get over it, you need to not be an asshole. You have 364 days, I have one. Is it so much more than I deserve that you must ruin it every year?

And from the dude who asked my opinion of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, "Perhaps watch it again, through to that salient point.". Perhaps if you ask for my opinion you should not tell me I'm feminist wrong and dismiss what I have said in its entirety. The Dove campaign, and Unilever, are terrible. They are cashing in, or trying to cash in, on the insecurities that media has thrust upon women in the first place, and their other products and advertising are deeply racist and misogynist. I'm not going to fall over myself to congratulate them for wrapping up misogyny in a prettier package. As for any actual issue they address, they've been addressed. Jean Kilbourne. You should probably Google her if you in fact want to be an ally and understand the impact of media on self esteem.

These are not the only examples, they are simply the ones that were the worst and most insulting because they were unexpected.

So I'm going to, as I do every March 9, start rebuilding my faith in men. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

10 Reasons I need International Women's Day

By:  Malanka Sveta

This is by no means a complete list. It isn't meant to be. Please add your reasons to it.

10) Because too many people think that feminism is redundant, despite the wage gap, the attacks on women's legal rights even in Canada, the abysmally low prosecution rate for rape, and the fact that 1 in 3 women still experience gendered violence from a romantic partner.

9) Because too many people don't even know what the word "feminism" actually means.

8) Because of "#solidarityisforwhitewomen".  My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

7) Because of transmisogyny.  See above.

6) Because men lose self esteem when a door is held open for them.

5) Because women are half the world, but only 17% of crowd scenes in movies.

4) Because only 20% of paid work shown in G-rated movies is performed by women.

3) Because media keeps telling me that I am not thin or pretty enough.

2) Because media keeps telling me that I am too smart to get a man, and that my only aspiration should be to get a man.

1) Because it amuses me when people whine about the lack of an International Men's Day, even though it's on November 19. Every year.

Friday, 28 February 2014

On "Why do Men Catcall?" Spoiler alert, it's bullshit!

By:  Malanka Sveta

No. to the whole article.

"Have you ever walked down the street, minding your own business, and suddenly heard a loud wolf whistle or cheers directed at you - or worse?"
Yes.  It's called being in public while in possession of a vagina without a present owner.

"Some women are flattered by it while others are annoyed. The main question, though, is why men even do it at all?"
Because a subspecies of "men" can not live with the knowledge that women are in public while in possession of a vagina without a present owner.  Can you fact check?  Not all men do this.  Most men do not do this.  Why are you so down on men?

"While there’s no simple answer to this habit, one of the prevailing theories is that when men are with other men their bravado shoots up higher than it does when they are alone. Have you ever noticed that when you’re with your girlfriends you sometimes get a spurt of self-confidence?"
Self-confidence is not what causes the disrespect and dehumanisation/objectification of one half of the population of the fucking planet.  Try again.

"Maybe you talk to a guy to whom you wouldn’t normally talk, or you feel like you can make choices that you might not when on your own. It’s kind of the same thing."
Have you ever met a woman?  I'm not being sarcastic, I'm actually asking.

"There’s a saying about being ‘ten feet tall and bulletproof’ and for some men, when they are with ‘the guys’ their confidence is escalated and they don’t feel as timid about approaching women because they have more back-up. The cat calls, in this instance, are less about the women and more about the men."
Catcalls are always about men, and male dominance.

"You might be surprised that a lot of men who make the cat calls actually have healthy relationships at home and aren’t necessarily looking for a date or to get laid. What they might be looking for, however, is simple validation. The attention, however brief, that the woman gives them is enough to continue to boost their confidence."
I would be very surprised to find out that any man who routinely disrespects women has ever had a "healthy relationship" with one.

"So what if you give them a steely glare instead of a smile in return? Well, sometimes negative attention is better than no attention at all. The reaction, whether it’s good or bad, is enough to satisfy the men."
Is there a point here?  Is the point that this sub species of men don't care how women feel?  Like, at all?  Because that's all I see.  You, and any man who thinks like this, has no concern for how any woman ever feels at all.

"While they might feel demeaning and you have every right to complain if they go beyond that or you feel like you’re being harassed, you can usually guarantee that they’re going to stop at that. Sometimes, the men just like to show off to one another. If you do feel as though the comments are uncalled for, however, or you feel threatened in any way then it definitely might be time to put in a complaint."
How about this sub species of men start treating women as people?  Can we try that for a while?  I'd also like to point out that nearly every woman has been actually physically threatened by a man who catcalls.  All catcalls are uncalled for.

"The next time you’re with your girlfriends, though, you might want to try to return the favour. You might just see how embarrassed the men can get in return!"
How do I put this delicately? CATCALLS ARE NOT A FUCKING FAVOUR!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Not *All* Feminists Are Like *That*

By: Liberate Zealot

I've recently seen some posts on tumblr by feminists going on about how not all feminists are lesbians, or butch, or man haters.  And I get they're trying to dismantle the stereotypes around being a feminist, because I used to do this too.  However, intentions are not magic, and the results are straight feminists trying to validate themselves and feminism in the eyes of the kyriarchy (primarily straight men) by throwing lesbians and gender non-conformists under the bus.

And that's what the people who make the lesbian, hairy, man-hating feminist comments want.

  • They want feminists to be on the defensive. 
  • They want to divide us, and have the ones with more privilege (straight, gender-conforming) refusing to support our lesbian sisters. 
  • They want us to suggest there's such a thing as a good or bad feminist.
  • They want us to say, "no I'm not like *those* types of feminists, you should like *me* and side with *me*" because that means we're also saying "you have feminists permission to hate and mock and oppress *those women*."
Feminism is about liberating women, it is about ending oppression for women, it is about creating equality.  But the majority of feminists have various privileges which make us ignorant about, or down right prejudice against, other women who do not share our privileges.  This is the reality of the kyriarchal world we live in.  Which means being a feminist entails constantly policing your actions, thoughts, and mind to do our best to ensure our attempts at feminism don't involve harming our less privileged sisters.  It means admitting we can be wrong, and admitting and apologizing for those wrongs when they actually happen, and educating and changing ourselves so we do not commit those wrongs again. 

I used to respond to anti-feminist jokes and comments by expressing something about the idea that *I* wasn't *that type* of feminist, that most feminists weren't like *that*. 
I was wrong to do so.  
I hurt other women, the people I supposedly fought for and with. 
The feminists who make those kind of comments now are wrong and harmful. 
If you're one of them then do what a feminist is supposed to do.  Change yourself. Stand with *all* women against oppression. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

When 15-Year-Old Girls Highlight Issues with Traditional Canon and Academia

By: Liberate Zealot

In class my students had to perform a summary and theme analysis of Chang'e and the Archer, a Chinese myth that is also known as the Moon Lady. It's the story of an immortal couple punished and sent to earth through the husband's attempts to save the people of earth.  His wife is upset and he goes in search of a way to become immortal again.  Versions of the myth disagree on wether it was a pill, potion, or magical apricot, but he gains one of these from the Queen Mother of the West. and it should be strong enough for both of them to return to heaven as immortals.  However, the archer doesn't tell his wife of this, instead he hides the pill/potion/apricot away because it must wait to mature, or be taken on a cloudless night.  He leaves and Chang'e finds the pill/potion/apricot and eats it.  However, she overdoses, or the night is cloudy, and instead of going to heaven she flies up to the moon instead.

Traditionally this story is meant to warm about the dangers of curiosity, taking things that don't belong to you, or warn women to be obedient.  However tradition is often most influenced by men.  My students, who generally don't have much experience in traditional critiques or theme analysis, and a girls raised in an increasingly feminist society, interpreted the myth quite differently.

Instead of being a lesson for Chang'e the morals were directed at her husband or men in general:
"Women will always find what you try to hide."
"Be honest with your partners."
"Don't hide things from you wife."

When it was a moral directed towards Chang'e it was about "don't allow yourself to be punished for someone else's actions."

And I know in so many classes or places my students would have been called wrong.  The morals they found were so far off from the "traditional" that many wouldn't pause to consider their validity.  Despite their answers being text based and ones they could argue and support such interpretations go against centuries of (male) thought that they must be wrong.

This ties into issues with academia, tradition, and interpretation in general. For so long the literary canon has been decided by the people with power in academia.  The proper interpretations of this canon were decided by these same people.  Centuries of traditional and academic correctness have been built by the values and ideas of these people.  And the vast majority of the time these people are men, mainly white men, who come from the upper and middle classes.
I'm a feminist, and I like to think I challenge such hegemonic and kyriarchal structures, but the truth is I was brought up in accordance to this structure.  I was brought up to accept the literary ideas of this culture, and I was brought up to articulate ideas in line with the culture.  And I was good at this.

But these black teenaged girls, from a poor city, who most would consider under-served by the educational system came up with interpretations that were more complex than the moral messages of tradition.  And in hindsight, I think their interpretations are also more correct.  Because why should a wife be punished for something her husband did that she had absolutely nothing to do with?  And what decent parter gains access to a powerful and potentially dangerous substance and doesn't warn their spouse?

Sure, "don't eat things when you don't know what they are" is an important lesson to teach.  But do we have to use grown women to teach lessons that most children learn by the time they're three? 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Where are the Young People?

By: Liberate Zealot

It's been several months since I've been able to write for Feminist Armchair Regime.  During this time I've been taking classes and teaching, first at a summer school, and now at an all girls public high school.  I've been so busy that actually seeing my live in partner is a struggle never mind writing for this blog.

But during this time I've seen and heard such amazing things from these teenagers.  Thoughts and beliefs and concerns that society seems so bent on refusing to acknowledge teenagers can have, especially the teenagers I work with. The vast majority of my students are black and living in or near poverty.  Some of them are teen moms, or homeless, or practicing Muslims who wear hijab.

Society has so many ideas about what teenagers like my students are like. Stereotypes about black people, and teen girls, and Muslim women, and poor children, and teen moms.  That they're unengaged and don't care about politics or feminism or LGBTQ rights.  I've heard so many people in power decrying the youth and their values.  And I constantly wonder what world these people are living in.

Because I live in a world where every feminist org or protest or rally I've been involved in has had at least half of the people participating be under the age of 30, and depending on the time there are a significant number of teenagers involved.

Some of my students regularly discuss if characters in the stories we read are feminist, none of my 150 students have ever questioned the importance of feminism.  Most find Malala Yousafzai inspirational and want to learn more about her.  Many are doing extra work to research women in literature.  They love Rosa Parks and are disappointed that more black women aren't commemorated in the Civil Rights movement.

And it isn't only the girls who are interested in these discussions.  Several black young men in my summer school class discussed the relationships between power and masculinity, wealth, and mental illness.  One knew the term and concept of Patriarchy as it's used in academia and social justice and was enthused to learn of Kyriarchy and the articulation of power structures that he was struggling to name.

And this high school I work at, full of African American teenagers, is one of the most LGBTQ friendly places I've been outside of official LGBTQ spaces.  Students who present in gender queer or butch ways are accepted.  The girls speak as positively about the lesbian relationships as they do about straight ones.  There is an active GSA.

And numerous students are interested in local and national politics, specially the government shutdown.  The day that happened several students came in to homeroom early to ask about the repercussions of the shutdown, and were horrified at museums being closed.  Some of my 13 and 14 year old students discussed the possibility of defaulting on our loans triggering another Great Depression.  And every single student is concerned about what this means of WIC and Head Start.

And one reason so many of these students are engaged, and so knowledgeable is because these concerns touch their lives so intimately. The pay gap is a much more pressing concern for black teenage girls than 20 and 30 something college educated white women.  It's the same for limitations to sex education, birth control, and abortion.  WIC and Head Start are what provided for many of my students when they were younger, some need it now for their children, otherwise they'd have to drop out of school and work full-time.

Police abuse and institutionalize racism in the legal system is something these children grow up knowing, elementary students can discuss Trayvon Martin, and not one of my freshman was unaware of lynchings or segregation or have hope for Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mocking Bird. My sophomores understand the struggle of Malala for an education much more so than the white kids in the suburbs that I've worked with, they understand it more personally than I do myself.

They also understand the concerns of health care and mental illness more personally than I do. They know what lack of health care feels like, they know the value of having it.  They know the importance of getting diagnosed and treated for mental health issues.  They know because they see their family members, or themselves, lacking that care, being under diagnosed.  They see that mental illness in poor black people is as likely to lead to prison as a psychiatrist.

They're much more knowledgeable and engaged than I was at their age. They care so much.  But their knowledge and experience and concerns are ignored by the very people in power who claim to lament their absence.
"Where are the young people?" they ask, "why don't young people care?" while they broadcast another interview with Taylor Swift or Justin Beiber or other wealthy, white, young people for whom feminism or politics can be concepts where engagement is unnecessary.

These people in power, very often white and middle class themselves rarely engage with the teen activists of TAP who are taking a stand in New York against Stop and Frisk. Or De'Jaun Correia a teenager who speaks internationally against the death penalty, and whose uncle is on death row, and remains unacknowledged outside of The ROOT.  A quick google for "black teen activists" contains more first page hits about the Trayvon Martin activists not speaking out against the beating of a white student than about current teenage African American activists.

So we have to look at the reality.  The young people are there, already as activists, or with all the passion ready to be engaged.  The issue isn't with them.  It's with us, the people in power who don't want to reach out.  Who don't want to work with poor black or immigrant teenagers.  Whose feminism or political activism doesn't actually care about the concerns of the passionate and informed youths in the US.  We'd rather maintain our privilege and decry the lack of youth engagement than admit it's not young people who are the problem, it's us.