Category Archives: Priviledge
Of all the outside events in my childhood—things that weren’t just about me and the insular people in my little preteen world—nothing has failed to fade into obscurity except for the 2000 Elections.
I couldn’t pin down exactly why that is, or sum it up in one coherent sentence. But it was the first time that my little world tilted off its axle, the first time that I figured that there was a world outside of my own personal hell (thanks middle school, for all the angst!), and that it wasn’t any better than anything that came before.
Even at 12, I was precocious and had to have an opinion about everything. I had a good social studies teacher for seventh grade that year. Most of the time, whichever teacher got stuck teaching the poorly taught mish-mash of geographic, civics, and history just read from the text, while scrubbing the world of any of its bullshit and unsavory characteristics. But I remember that teacher. Not her name, of course, but I remember that she had short hair, was quite fat, and inordinately found of Pepsi. She had posters of the Pepsi logo on her wall and drank an entire Big Glup of the sugary crap at least twice a day.
But what I remember most about her is that she was the first teacher that encouraged us to pay attention to politics. Not in the way that we used to, the way that only required rote memorization and only accomplished filled out worksheets, but in the way where we were supposed to think for ourselves.
So I thought for myself for what was probably one of the first times on something bigger than me and bigger than my family. I contemplated Bush, I contemplated Gore. And at 12, totally untutored in the ways of politics and how to fact-check talking heads on the television, I had the overwhelming impression that one of the candidates was incredibly full of shit. Oh, and it wasn’t Gore.
That sort of clarity about politics never really faded as I grew older. What did fade was the black and white mentality. Now, I can’t separate candidates or positions into right and wrong. It typically comes down to something like wrong, horribly wrong, and so absolutely fucking wrong that I can’t believe anyone buys this bullshit. I wish I could say that the world was painted in shades of gray. But it’s not. As time marches on, and the pressures of adulthood creep into my daily routines, the world is just shades of black, speckled with some drab grays—never lightening to anything approaching white.
Today, I was struck by this overwhelming nostalgia for the ’90s. Until November of 2000, I was blissfully unaware of the bullshit of the outside world. The Oklahoma City bombings and O.J.’s farce of a trial (I was 7 when those happened) were blips on the radar. The world was rosy, the future was promising, and one day soon a girl (maybe me?) could be president. My parents got a messy divorce circa ’96, but I figured that was just an indication of my family’s private malfunctions, and nothing to do with the state of the outside world.
2000 changed that. For the first time, I got the sense that the world was full of very corrupt, very stupid people. I watched an election stolen, and I thought, “what the fuck?” They taught me that we lived in a Democracy, that America was the best country in the world. And some douche that knew nothing about shit, who just lost the popular vote, was fraudulently declared the leader of my country over some dude who was pretty awkward, and kind of dorky, but at least knew what’s what, or so I assumed.
I was privileged. Even as my parents fought and my mother bought our clothes at Goodwill, I was insulated from the fuck-ups of the world. There were no bloody Civil Wars, nobody in our family starved or went without birthdays and winter extravaganzas of presents.
The 2000 Elections ushered in a new era of thinking big. For the first time, I saw something that happened that was wrong, and attributed it to large forces that people refused to control. The bullies that tormented me suddenly weren’t so bad after all. I found myself hating their parents, hating the administrators that sat by and watched the brutal abuse visited upon the bookish “weird” girl and did nothing. For the first time, I looked at power and saw cruelty when they alone had the power to make kindness stick.
Now, I know that it was the beginning of a decade of realization: that the strong are offered such opportunity to be callously indifferent, ignorant, and weak while the weak are expected and obligated to be strong, brave, and good when given no incentive or opportunity to do so. This is now what I refer to when I talk about privilege. With power comes the sheltering embrace of ignorance, the ability to push responsibility down the pile until it rains like a foul deluge on those without anyone below them to abuse.
I sit here now, in a crap heap of shattered privileges. The willowy thinness of youth has left, replaced with hormonal imbalances, back problems, and horrid allergies. My refuge of feigned heterosexuality is destroyed beneath the weight of a denial I could not face—without any indication that I ought to do so, that there was any other way that this endless farce of normalcy. My religious heritage has become less of an interesting set of rituals and more of a set of squishy places for the heavy bludgeon of enforced public Christianity to really bruise. My wages don’t meet inflation, don’t meet the cost of living. I face an endless road of insurmountable debt, with the hopeless idea that I could beat the odds and pay it off. What bullshit is that? Pay it off? People who went to college in the ’80s—when it was expensive but not absurdly so—had to pay into their 40s. And this is with a good economy for most of the way, steady jobs, and wages that kept up with the cost of living until recently. What hope have I, with higher debt, lower wages, and an economy in shambles?
Nostalgia is for the privileged, for those who can look back with fondness to their youth. My youth, frankly, was miserable. There are years—somewhere between 8 (the year my parents split) and 14—that I was so unhappy that I only recall bits and pieces. But those fragile memories contain the promise that as long as I could live through the relentless hell of school, there would be a shiny adult life full of hope, if I worked for it, waiting for me.
At 22, I look back with nostalgia because I had hope. Now, I guess I still do. It’s its a flimsy facsimile of hope, because the consequences of facing the hopeless future before me is too psychologically great. There’s bitter refuge in ignorance. My number will eventually come up. Those in worst straights know it better than me—that the future isn’t all that awesome. Maybe they recall with fondness the ’90s, when parents let their children out to play all day and the world was full of the promise of high-tech jobs and high-tech lives. When the counterculture was about raging against the machine and a well-earned anger at authority and less about the crushing demands of relentless consumerism, creating debt to ease the pain of meaningless lives, meaningless values. When people mourned in the streets for their lost heroes—for their Princess Dianas and Kurt Colbanes—instead of overlooking the deadly attempted assassinations of political officials and bombings of medical clinics.
What happened since then? My favorite bands and artists could go up in flames tomorrow and I would not shed a tear. My house could be foreclosed upon, and I would not even blink in surprise. They could ban abortion and I’d shrug my shoulders, knowing it was inevitable.
If this is growing up, fuck it all. Adult responsibilities now only mean adult debts, adult lies you tell yourself to get out of bed in the morning. I’m not depressed. I’m angry. I’m filled with contempt at all the people in authority that had the power to stop this downward spiral, and instead said, “fuck it, I’d rather buy a Hummer.”
Nostalgia is for those with a past to look back on fondly. I could have it worse, but I could have had it a lot better. No matter how many people are worse off mean that those entrusted with the task of being strong for me—a child—should be forgiven for failing in so many different ways.
But what scares the ever-loving crap out me is the concept that in the future, as I see it going, we’re going to have extra awesome new ways of failing those we’re tasked with protecting. The meek shall inherit an Earth devoid of fertile soil, lush forests, equality of opportunity, and Democracy. They will instead inherit insurmountable debt, countries on the brink of dissolution or war, oceans depleted of fish and skies filled with the smog of yesterday.
One day I’ll look back at my nostalgia today with nostalgia, because the way we’re going, it’s going to only get worse. If The Smith’s “How Soon is Now?”—which exclaims, “I’ve already waited too long, and all my hope is gone”—defines our generation, what of the generations of the future? How much worse must it get before we wake up and say to power, fuck you and your tax cuts, your business incentives and your bonus packages. I want a future for me and mine, so sell your fucking yacht, because no greedy ignorant sack of shit like you has the right to plunder the world of its riches, its happiness, its hope, and its future.
So the other night, I figure it’s about time I watch a movie. While running errands, I pick up a copy of The Town from my nearest Blockbuster. I heard it got good reviews, and it was written by Ben Affleck, who generally writes pretty good movies.
And it was a decent movie. Not something that you want to rant and rave how amazing it was, but it was alright, and mildly entertaining. I saw the ending coming up a mile away though, particularly since they really didn’t bother to develop the characters of anyone but the protagonist, his roommate/partner-in-crime, and his girlfriend. Spoilers: Protagonist gets away, roommate (who is not as attractive) dies, girlfriend waves teary good-bye to troubled dude who lied to her, but has a heart of gold. Yeah, real original, I know.
I say the movie is good, though, because it got me thinking. I like thinking. But first, The Town is a movie about some guys who work for a mysterious “Florist” who gives them tips on which armored trucks and banks can be robbed successfully. They’re all very thorough at their job—by scrubbing fingerprints, not leaving the banks with the tracers and dye packs, and never taking hostages or killing anyone they manage to stay under the radar.
Of course, they have to fuck up for the movie to have any sort of plot. Long story short, they take a hostage at a large bank heist, who one of the guys (Ben Affleck, naturally) finds a pretense to “date” in order to see if she remembers anything about her kidnappers, who were wearing a mask at the time of the heist. She doesn’t remember much (what she does becomes a plot point that disappointingly goes nowhere), and her and her kidnapper start a loving relationship based on mutual respect and honesty. I’m totally kidding about the respect and honesty, by the way.
Shit continues to hit the fan because the protagonist’s roommate, who is also the husband/boyfriend/brother (I wasn’t clear on the details) of the girl the protagonist is sort of kind of fucking on the side (who might have a daughter by him, and doesn’t know he’s seeing the hostage that doesn’t know he’s her kidnapper, oy!) is basically a loose cannon, and does dumb shit like shoot people at robberies, take hostages, and kill people for funsies.
Basically, they fuck up a huge heist, and everyone dies but the protagonist and his girlfriend. The fate of his fuckbuddy/baby mama is unknown, but we’re supposed to think she’s a dumb whore or whatever because she sold them out to the police. Of course, the police were threatening to take her kid away from her if she didn’t cooperate, she just found out that her “boyfriend” has been seeing someone else, and oh, she lives with a couple of violent, unhinged bank robbers. But she’s a bitch that ruined their brotherhood. Whatever, right?
Anywho, the plot is fairly dumb. But it’s well-acted, even if the characters are basically impossible to relate to. Basically everyone is either (a) dumb, (b) an asshole, or (c) a dumb asshole. That’s the problem with 99% of movies though, so I’m going to give The Town an 8 out of 10, because it kept my interest without wanting to make me roll my eyes in exasperation until the very end, and only then did I roll them. I didn’t even roll them hard either (high praise!).
But what really struck me is how much time and money people waste protecting the money of rich fucks who own banks. Seriously, who cares if dudes rob a bank? Yeah, I’m a dirty pinko commie, what the fuck do I know, but let’s face it: American banks don’t give a shit about anyone but their CEOs and shareholders. So a bunch of schmucks from the Boston projects make off with $3 million, who gives a shit? So a CEO might get a $5 million bonus that year instead of $6 million. Yeah, boo hoo, right?
I get why dudes want to rob a bank. It’s money: you have it, or you die. It takes money to live, money to live well, and money to do anything worth doing. You live in some shit-heap, you have a crappy education, and no daddy to get you a job at his fancy firm (for reals, the protagonist’s dad was totes in jail and shit for—get this—robbing banks), so you steal to get by. I gather that most petty criminals who steal shit might stop stealing shit if, I don’t know, they could make an honest living and afford what needs buying, you know? Of course, it’s the petty criminals who steal things like cigarettes, money for their addictions, and food that get to jail, while rich dudes get to live the high live, snorting stolen blow off the backs of underage trafficked girls in a house paid for by what amounts to slave labor and employment law violations.
Unsurprisingly, what happens in the end of The Town is pretty mundane: poor dudes all die trying to take shortcuts to the high life (protip: which is basically impossible to obtain, by the way, since the game is rigged by the ones who are winning it).
So, now I’m thinking, “what kind of asshole shoots a dude for robbing a bank?” Seriously, why the fuck would anyone use deadly force to defend the property of rich douches that have enough stolen cash to play high-speed bumper cars Lambos for funsies?
Which is hilarious, in a LOLSOB kind of why when you think about how much time and money poor slobs (dude, it’s not like policemen get paid all that much to take bullets for the property rights of rich dudes) spend defending the grotesque wealth of the haves from the have-nots. Because I guarantee that those haves consume the lion’s share of public funding of law enforcement, all the while moaning from their gilded toilet seats about how those horrible brown people are taking our jobs and how taxes are evil and they shouldn’t have to pay a penny per every eleventy million dollars they earn/steal to do shit like keep people from dying from preventable diseases or starvation.
So, now back to the The Town. I figure I was supposed to get the message that robbing banks is not good for your life expectancy, but all I got from it was fuck rich people and the deluded assholes who would die and kill for them and their grotesque entitlement to the world’s wealth.
As I’ve grown older and wiser, and sharpened my intellectual criticism and skepticism, I’ve drifted ever closer to full-blown Atheism. I now identify myself as one, with the caveat that if really pressed, I’m much more Agnostic (as in, I believe the existence of God is extremely unlikely, but not entirely impossible). The bottom line is, though, that I’m a Godless Liberal, and semi-proud of it.
I say semi-proud, because there’s a disturbing tendency in Skeptic circles to completely ignore the truth of social awareness movements that draw attention to racism, sexism, and other forms of interlocking institutional privilege. I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.
There’s also a disturbing tendency to be ridiculously enamored of evolutionary psychology and pop science. While Skeptics will quickly jump to dismiss psuedo-intellectual claims that shots cause Autism or that the Bible is the final arbiter of morality, many seem to pick and chose pop science when it suits their purposes.
By “when it suits them”, I mean when it ‘proves’ that they are the superior individuals they think they are, when it confirms that their bad behavior is not their fault, or when it gives them an excuse to avoid skeptically analyzing the station they current enjoy in life.
I could say that I’m surprised that an intellectual movement openly devoted to questioning everything doesn’t feel obligated to own up to the fact that a great many of them refuse to question ongoing prevalent social problems. But I’d be lying, given that I know for a fact that the Skepticism movement, like any other intellectual movement besides the obvious ones (such as feminism, civil rights, gay advocacy, for starters), is led and mostly populated by a slew of economically advantaged white men. And where there is a group of white men pontificating about how their intellectual premises are better than their opponents, there is going to be a veritable truckload of unexamined social premises and advantages. History has taught us that this is inevitable.
What results is that while Skeptics rush in to debunk pop science that demonizes modern science, cosmology, or physics, they aren’t nearly as willing to do so for pop science that ‘proves’ that men are naturally something more than women, or whites are naturally something more than blacks. In fact, quite a few of them will actually go out of their way to parrot studies with even more shoddy methodology than the studies that supposedly show that Western medicine is bad or may cause horrible side effects.
For all the faults of the homeopathic and other cottage industries, at least they can claim that they manage to have better designed methodology than studies, funded by respected universities and conducted by tenured professors, such as the ones that ‘prove’ that women naturally like red more than men because something to do with hunting and cavemen.
So, what does this have to do with Atheism? Actually, an awful lot. A major tactic of Creationists and their ilk, when it comes to defending their faith in a Judeo-Christian God, it that “God is in the Gaps“.
This tactic references the idea that there are certain things in the universe that are currently unexplainable. This could be due to the simple limitation of modern science, or the fact that perhaps human minds will never be complex enough to comprehend the universe in its entirety. Creationists take the stance that some things are unexplainable — probability, the dual properties of light, the mystery of the composition of quarks — are because God is “in” them. They are unexplainable because God is somehow manipulating those factors in a supernatural way that can never be explained by science.
As the Scientific Revolution gained headway, people couldn’t claim that God moved the planets on their inexplicable orbits and kept them in place. Now we had gravity and physics to do that. With each cosmological advance, there is less and less uncertainty and less and less gaps for ‘God’ to wriggle his way into.
The point is that the history of astronomy reveals that cosmological arguments that claim God in is the gaps are always defeated. It’s simply insanity, and pure irrationality, to claim that it’s likely that this time, surely, God is in the quark. Well, he wasn’t in the origin of the Earth, he wasn’t in the origin of the Sun, he wasn’t in the movement of the planets, he wasn’t in the development of life, he wasn’t in the development of geological phenomena, and he wasn’t in the composition of stars. The odds are clearly stacked against God being “in” anything, cosmologically speaking. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to marry cosmology and religion in yet another ill-fated theory that will eventually, no doubt, be proven wrong.
I bring up the idea that “God is in the Gaps” to demonstrate a similar phenomenon. I call it, “Sexism is (Naturally) in the Gaps“.
When women wanted to be considered something other than property, it was decreed that it was the natural way of things to say that women ‘belonged’ to their husbands or fathers, because there was just some natural feature of gender that made the total disenfranchisement of an entire gender necessary. When women fought for the vote, it was lamented that their silly lady brains couldn’t take the strain of political decision-making, and that it was simply the natural way of things to prevent them from voting. When women fought for opportunities to work outside the home, a collective worry rose up to contemplate the inevitable ‘alienation’ of women from their true nature if they moved out of the domestic sphere and into a more economic one. When women ran for high elected offices, many worried that women were naturally unsuited to lead, and that their emotions and passivity would make them inevitably poor leaders. Now, when women demand equal pay for equal work or adequate representation in formerly male-dominated industries and positions, the pay gap and lack of powerful businesswomen is chalked up to our unfortunate inability to think logically, be aggressive enough for a raise, manage employees effectively, and naturally leave the workplace by 40 to soothe the ticking of our biological clocks.
All these explanations propose that the reason women were/are property, can’t vote, shouldn’t work outside the home, can’t be political leaders, and can’t make the same as men and advance as far as them is because we are naturally mentally inferior.
Sexism is in the Gaps theorizes, just as it has for hundreds — if not thousands — of years, that the reason women are collectively oppressed is because it’s just the natural order of things, and everything is really equal, even if separate, because there’s just no helping the natural mental abilities and aptitudes of the sexes.
This isn’t new, and it never was. Every time I see some ridiculously shoddy and poorly designed experiment get circulated as new! shocking! News! that once and for all proves that men and women are just mentally different, because of natural causes (or genetic, take your pick), I roll my eyes hard enough to sprain something. If anyone had half a brain when it came to this nonsense, they could easily see that these ‘studies’ just repeat the same tripe when it comes to differences in achievement between the genders. The message is always the same: the status-quo is good. Men are naturally superior to women in all the ways that society just happens to value. This is surely an extraordinary coincidence in the favor of men. But the implication is clear: feminism is stupid and misguided and possibly dangerous because it seeks to force us all into its wrongful idea of equality. We’re all already equal, and if we are magnanimous enough to admit that women often get the short end of the stick in most exchanges, it’s only because they’re just naturally deficient.
Just as the idea that God is the Gaps has been knocked down time and time again, so has the idea that Sexism is (Naturally) in the Gaps. To honestly point to any current achievement gap between the sexes and blame the ‘natural’ deficiencies of the female brain is completely irrational. And while Skeptics will loudly debunk those who wish to claim that some new poorly comprehended cosmological theory ‘proves’ the existence of God, they hardly ever do the same for poorly designed ‘studies’ (or single anecdotes of one bitchy or stupid woman, or just plain bullshit repeated through the generations) that ‘prove’ that men achieve more than women because they are better.
It all boils down in the end to this: there is always some natural biological or psychological explanation for why men achieve more than women, and it has everything to do with a woman’s natural inferiority and the superiority and honestly earned privileges of men. Bottom line is that bitches ain’t shit.
What’s amazing about this is that pointing out the similar fallacies between Sexism in the Gaps and God is in the Gaps ought to be enough for any logical person to admit that their faith in the natural psychological/biological reasons for wrongful achievement gaps is probably bullshit.
But there’s also another cool way to do the same thing: point out transsexuals.
When it comes to really teasing out the differences between the sexes, transsexuals are the penultimate subjects for research. Nobody else gets to live as both sexes, and nobody is probably more aware of how gender is perceived than those who find it enormously psychologically damaging and depressing that they cannot be perceived as the gender they know themselves to be.
Not only do transsexuals have the opportunity to adopt both gender identities (even if one fits poorly) and be perceived as one and then the other, those that undergo hormone therapy irreversibly alter the chemicals pumping through their bodies. Surely, if there was some biological or psychological explanation for the separation of the sexes, transsexuals who transition to female would notice that their ability to do math declines when female hormones flood their system. Surely, those that transition to male would realize that they are suddenly more apt to be aggressive in social situations and more self-advocating.
They actually didn’t observe anything of the sort. Apparently, transsexuals largely observe that mental and psychological aptitudes and attitudes remain the same. The only trait that often differed between individuals with male or female hormonal levels was the ability to suppress certain displays of emotion. Those transitioning to female reported that they could more easily express their emotions, while those transitioning to male repeatedly attest that they have a much easier time swallowing their urge to cry, even though neither reported any difference in the intensity of the emotions they felt before and after hormone therapy.
So other than the obvious physical changes and reproductive roles, it appears that sex hormones have not a lot to do with the basic psychological functioning of the adult brain. In other words, the biggest determinate of gender — hormones — has almost nothing to do with the ability of the brains of men and women. Hormones can’t explain why women are paid 70 cents to a man’s dollar for equal work. Hormones can’t tell you why men are more likely to sexually abuse women, children, and other men. Hormones can’t tell you why men are reportedly ‘naturally’ better at mathematics. Studies of transsexuals establish that mentally — besides aptitudes/deficiencies in expressing (not feeling) emotion — gender-specific hormonal levels really don’t do shit.
Those still searching for a ‘natural’, or biological/psychological explanation for the achievement gap between men and women will now inevitably turn to genetics, prenatal development, and/or early childhood development. Once a child is out of the womb, his or her physical sex is largely determined by secondary sex characteristics governed by a potent mix of hormones. Which is why hormone therapy can so reliably suppress or create those characteristics for transsexuals. Thus, genetics only determines the gender differences between individuals of identical genetic code (excluding the singular different X/Y chromosome, if they are genetically ‘normal’) for a very brief period of time.
Not only that, the different content between a second X chromosome or a second Y chromosome is remarkably small, all things considered. Although I’m not a geneticist, I’d also gather than the vast majority of that different information is devoted to the formation of hormonal levels that determine the genetic sex of the child in utero and later, the secondary sex characteristics.
This leaves us with an infinitesimally small ‘gap’ to attribute to natural sex differences. The likelihood of mental sex differences being found in this gap is equally small, considering that we’ve failed — time and time again — to demonstrate any other ‘natural’ biological source of psychological-based gender inequality. Additionally, the chances that these differences, if they exist, can reliably explain why men own 99% of the land on this planet, earn more than women doing the same exact work, and display toxic masculine behaviors that destroy their lives and others is even tinier. I’d say the chance that the differences between the genders in something like mathematical ability ever being reliably shown to be based in psychological differences caused by biology is about as goddamn likely as the change that the universe will spontaneously collapse, or that there really is a pink teacup orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
It’s truly pathetic that a group of people who call themselves “Skeptics” — hell, anyone that considers themselves intelligent — can attribute gaps in achievement to the unbelievably tiny chance that there is a biological explanation for such vast disadvantages rather than a phenomenon that pervasive, consistent, and well-documented.
That phenomenon is sexism, not biology or potential ability. Nothing more, and nothing less.
And anyone who chalks up such pervasive systems of oppression to anything other than those systems of oppression is practically denying that 1 + 1 = 2. They are worthy of the same scorn as a fool that passes himself off as an astrophysicist when he can’t even reliably add single-digit numbers.
Most of my family, until very recently, didn’t know that I am a lesbian. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything, but that I really resent that I have to inform them in the first place, like they have some sort of right to know. As far as I am concerned, they don’t. I don’t bother to hide it, and it would have been really obvious if I ever decided to bring another woman to a family event or into the house. It just isn’t something that I feel that I should disclose to people, as I highly resent that heterosexuality isn’t something that you have to confess, but homosexuality is.
I don’t define myself by the gender of the people I associate myself with romantically, and I hardly see why anyone else should. I am, however, aware that when people become aware that I am a lesbian, that often becomes the only defining feature of my existence. Much like any marginalized identity is considered more noteworthy than who a person is as an individual, homosexuality is considered more important for generalizing about the traits of any person than something like their hobbies or personal aspirations. Think about how we refer to people that we don’t know by name. There’s “that tall chick” if we’re talking about a tall white woman. Or “that black guy” if we’re talking about a black male. In the first case, the person is defined first by their gender — the most important personal identifier in a culture that considers gender the most important aspect of individual identity — and then by a physical trait. She is not defined by her race, unless she is in a group where her race is noteworthy. On the other hand, the second person is defined by his blackness, because we define the default human being as white in most circumstances. Thus, it is noteworthy that he deviates from that norm, and we identify him with that deviation.
The point here is that gender, as it identifies people, is a dichotomy. People are either male or female to the general population. Everyone has a gender (or is assumed to have one, regardless of their self-identification), and that is used to define everyone. Most other traits do not work that way. While maleness is often regarded as a norm, in which femaleness is the defiance — as can be seen in the tendency to define all of humankind with the word “man” or general pronoun “he” — this is much more readily apparent in general conversation when it comes to other social identities. Race, religion, nationality, weight, and sexual preference are all traits in which a dichotomy may or may not be used, but there is at least one value that is defined as the norm and thus, not noteworthy, while all other values are considered deviances.
Here’s some examples of how this plays out in the real world:
- That (average-weight) guy vs. that fat guy
- That (straight) man vs. that gay guy
- That (white) woman vs. that black woman
- That (American) person vs. that Polish person
- That (Christian) kid vs. that Jewish kid
What happens is that values like average-weight (which may or may not be average, depending on what is arbitrarily defined as acceptably average), heterosexual, white, Christian, and American are invisible. They are not noteworthy, because we simply assume that everyone is heterosexual, white, average-weight, Christian, and American until that person is proven otherwise by their appearance.
However, not all values are apparent via appearance. Things like nationality, religion, and sexual orientation have to be disclosed or forcibly discovered (or “outed”) by others in order for those deviant values to be used as identifiers — with or without the consent of the people identified, correctly or incorrectly, by them. Such is the case with homosexuality. There really is no reliable way to determine sexual preference by observation. Sure, some people fit the stereotypes of homosexuality. But for every homosexual that is “caught” because they fit the expectations people have of them, there are hundreds more that engage in everyday interactions without anyone having the slightest notion otherwise.
I am one such person. I’ve been told that I don’t come off “as a lesbian”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I more or less adhere to patriarchal beauty standards by the chance of genetics and personal aesthetic choices that tend to be perceived as more feminine than masculine. I adhere enough to those norms that even if I defy them in small ways by my mannerisms or wardrobe, the average person would not have any reason to suspect that I have little to no romantic inclinations towards men.
Thus, I feel constantly pressured by a very real social expectation that I either deviate from the norm in easily identifiable ways so that everyone can pigeon-hole me, or disclose my sexual preferences to anyone that I have more than a passing social interaction with. This expectation, plain and simple, pisses me off. I expect that many, if not most, homosexuals feel similarly.
I feel as if I must behave or dress in such a way that people may easily label me as “deviant” and then freely discriminate against me or make bigoted assumptions without fearing that their judgment is erroneous. I also feel that if I don’t chose to do the former, I must verbally inform them of my deviance from their expected norms, so that they are not “fooled” by my “deception”. In this way, my social behaviors are either classified as visibly wrong and abnormal or invisible and deceitful.
This plays out in regular social interactions. My family used to often inquire as to the state of my love life, asking if I had meet “a nice boy” recently. This they did with the assumption that I was both heterosexual and actively looking for a romantic partner. Since I am not the former, and sometimes not the latter either, the question simply didn’t apply to me. Thus, I was either forced to lie, obfuscate, or confess. This expectation left me with such anxiety that I often dreaded family events.
That example is pretty tame considering the usual consequences. If I do dress and act like a stereotypical “dyke”, I am harshly alienated in public in ways that are inhumane, degrading, and currently acceptable by both social and legal norms. I may be called a “faggot”, I may be excluded from job opportunities. I may be taken less seriously, or feared. That is the consequence of defying norms. On the other hand, if I dress as I choose to and act as I currently do, I “pass” as straight. I don’t do this by design or any explicit desire to closet myself, I do it because I like skirts, flowery tops, and cute shoes. I do it because I am not very assertive in pubic, and I paint my nails when I feel like it. That is just who I am, and who I am, apparently, is mostly read as “straight”. But this, inevitably, is eventually seen as a deception, sometimes by even my homosexual peers. I am accused of confusing or playing with heterosexuals, who are discomforted by the realization that they made the mistake of treating me like an actual human being until they knew I was a deviant freak. I am accused of hiding my “identity” — as if coming off as a lesbian in pubic was more central to who I am than my personal fashion inclinations. I am exposed to danger by men threatened by the fact that they have no access to me sexually, or thought they had access until I informed them otherwise. I am also exposed to danger by employers, acquaintances, and academic peers who feel like I have fooled them into complacency for my inherently disgusting nature, and thus, compromised their own comfort, safety, and moral values.
Out of frustration for the state of these injustices, I find myself torn between refusing to disclose any of my romantic life out of jealous spite, or visibly identifying myself as gay in such an obvious and blatant fashion that people assume I am “shoving it” in their faces. I find myself wanting to piss people off. I want them to feel deceived, I want them to be uncomfortable. This is because I am always deceived and uncomfortable, and there is nothing that I can do about it. I am always deceived when I assume that people are expected to treat me as an equal human being, and then fail to. I am deceived that we are a nation, founded on equality, when my day-to-day existence undermines that lie so utterly. I am put in situations where I am forced to out myself or lie. I am forced to distrust people who may disclose my preferences to a bigot with the power to deny me what is I am due. I never get to feel like I can trust or feel comfortable with the vast majority of people out of no personal choice of my own. That is the reality of being homosexual in a world in which that is considered deviant.
It’s pretty poor compensation that I can make people momentarily discomforted and unsettled in very small inconsequential ways of their own design, while I have to put up with enough Catch-22s to make me paranoid, anxious, and withdrawn out of fear of very real, very dire, and sometimes very dangerous social consequences. That is the nature of oppression: heterosexuals can choose whether or not homosexuality threatens them. They can give up the internalization that deviances to a standard they have placed themselves as the center of threaten their very existance of as individual. I can’t. I can’t wake up one day and say that heterosexuality as an institution and identity doesn’t threaten me. Because it does. Heterosexuality is defined as the negation, oppression, and alienation of homosexuals. That is what it is, and how it is defined, by institutions of power that I do not have any direct access to. I cannot redefine heterosexuality as a social superstructure or pick and choose what parts of it I want to adopt in my life. I am explicitly, irrevocably, and undeniably, excluded from heterosexuality and all the privileges it grants, and there is nothing whatsoever I can do to change that without putting herculean effort — effort not asked of heterosexuals — to cause massive institutional change.
That’s another power of priviledge: the opportunity to ignore the status quo. The heterosexual may chose to ally themselves with homosexuals and open themselves to a small portion of our vulnerabilities. Or they may quietly defy norms in small ways that do not directly threaten the institutions, but at least do not directly threaten homosexuals themselves either. Examples of these kinds of heterosexuals are those who are willing to picket for gay rights alongside gays, or those that simply live their lives enjoying the priviledges of heterosexuality — such as marriage — without enjoying the priviledges that directly deny homosexuals similar rights — such as refusing to vote for state propositions that ban gay marriage.
I don’t have that kind of luxury, not really. Sure, I can just go about business as normal, but that business includes enough unsavory reactions to who I am that I either have to be vigilant enough to preempt, or strong enough to ignore if I can. That kind of mental discipline takes effort and not a small amount of paranoia and alienation. This strength and vigilance is not required of heterosexuals, unless they too are the members of other alienated identities, but I assume that the vigilance required is different.
That vigilance and strength is symbolized and made palpable by the social phenomenon of “coming out” and then living “outed”. Choosing to come out, or being outed, takes so much strength and mental energy that is never asked of heterosexuals. It’s a vertible gauntlet of self-doubt, anxiety, and stress that is like nothing else. I’ve heard that it’s easier to come out than it is to live closeted. I say that’s bullshit. It’s not really easy to disclose a “secret” that has been constructed as something worthy of disclosure in the first place by its position as a defiance to the norm. It’s simply more of a relief to know that you don’t have to hide anymore, that you don’t have to fear the reactions of people close to you. Going “out” is not a one-time thing. Not even the most “flamboyant” of “queens” gets out opt out of outing themselves again and again. This is because homosexuality is treated like it’s something shameful that must be hidden. Much like nobody wants to assume that a stranger is a murderer without explicit evidence, so too to even the most liberal of individuals refuse to assume that someone isn’t heterosexual unless they have stated otherwise. Yes, people actually do behave as if being gay is a dirty little secret that it would be wrong to accuse someone of. Innocent until proven guilty; straight until proven gay. Being accused wrongly of a crime is precisely how people react when they are accused of being gay. How many times do people loudly deny that they’re a “faggot” or a “sissy”? How many times have those labels been thrown around as if they were indications of dire personal faults? How many people go to great lengths to prove to everyone that they are not sissies or faggots? Most people! Most people, if they were accused of being gay, would deny it quickly and unequivocally. They may or may not tack on a “not that there’s anything wrong with that” as a half-hearted objection. If there wasn’t anything wrong with that, they wouldn’t be so devastated with the assumption of homosexuality that they had to immediately correct that assumption. If they really thought there was nothing wrong with it, they would have neither confirmed or denied it in the first place!
Homosexual individuals don’t come out once and then live their lives knowing that everyone knows and that they don’t have to hide. I have to continually out myself to everyone that ever gets close enough to me. Because everyone will assume that I am heterosexual until it is explicitly shown or said otherwise. And you I bet that they will never just come out and ask me. It seems funny to say this, but I actually prefer it when people ask me my orientation before they assume I’m anything at all and ask if I have a boyfriend. They want to know for their benefit, after all. I don’t lose or gain anything by them knowing. Their ignorance is of far more consequence to their assumptions regarding who I am than my ideas of myself. It comforts them to know, not me. I honestly could care less. I only want them to know because hiding is a pain in the ass and their frequent assumptions regarding my nonexistent heterosexuality are annoying and alienating. But it doesn’t end there. I have to juggle a mental list of who knows and who doesn’t for the rest of my life. Plus, I have to worry about if the people who know are going to tell other people or reveal it to people who I don’t want to know.
I was faced with this recently when a close family member who does know told family members that didn’t know without my permission. She claimed that she was “not ashamed” of my sexuality, so when they asked about whether or not I had a boyfriend, she informed them of my orientation. Then, I was faced with the prospect of seeing them for the first time, knowing that they knew, in front of other family members that didn’t know. That encounter will go down in history as one of the most awkward and anxious family events of my life. I hated it, and resented that I had to worry about who knew what and who was going to disclose what, and say what, and think what, and judge what. I’m surprised I didn’t have a panic attack right then and there. It was horrible. That situation was only surpassed by the endless anxiety of Christmas, in which I wondered the entire time if my father — who snooped through my private things without my consent and found out himself — had told the rest of his family. Then I had to wonder if they were being particularly unpleasant shits because they knew I was a big fat dyke and didn’t like it or just because they were extra special assholes for no reason at all. And the entire time, I was wondering if I should ask if they knew, because if they didn’t, then they would. But they seemed content to not ask me about it, if they knew, which was infuriating.
Thanks for keeping things about me from me, dude. That’s really mature and fair of you. I really highly doubt that your qualms about it being awkward for you are worse than how awkward it is for me. You know, the person who is actually concretely affected by this shit, day in and day out. But I forgot! The unearned comfort of heterosexuals is oh-so-much-more important than the very minimum of human decency and respect owed to homosexuals. My bad.
The point is that I really didn’t give a flying fuck whether or not that family member was “ashamed” or not of my sexuality. Her opinion, frankly, in that situation didn’t matter. It’s my secret to tell or to hide, not hers, and being in that situation out of no decisions of my own made me equal parts depressed, anxious, and really pissed off. I can never be completely out. That’s not the nature of homosexuality. I always have to decide who I’m going to “act gay” around and who I can’t. I’m not going to correct someone that interviews me for a job that I’m not straight. I’m not going to tell my gossipy older relatives who I know are both conservative and bigots. I simply don’t want to put up with their shit. I’m not going to scream it from the rooftops. I’m not going to walk into a restaurant holding the hand of a woman I desire and pull out a soapbox and say, “YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! I AM GAY, SO YOU CAN STOP WONDERING AND RUBBERNECKING AND GET BACK TO YOUR DINNER!”
I didn’t come out. I came out, then came out some more, and remained closeted, and told white lies, and denied, and came out, and came out, and ignored questions, and came out, and denied some more, and simply let people have their assumptions. I have to chose who to trust and who not to. I chose wrong. Hell, I came out to the internet and my friends before I came out to my parents. Then my father snooped and told me he knew. Then he may or may have not told other people without my consent, which made the holidays hell. Then I told my mother. Then she told more people without my consent. Then I decided to keep my brother in the dark because he’s an immature fuck, and would probably say something really stupid at a bad time. Then I decided that my work doesn’t need to know either as long as I’m not dating anyone that I want to take to social functions. Then I start to trust and admire professors and realize from their off-hand comment about “that lifestyle” that I can’t trust them and have to be careful what I say around them if I want a recommendation letter. Then I have to lie awake at night and wonder if a recommendation letter for graduate school is more important than some basic fucking dignity, and if I’m betraying myself and gays everywhere by being a coward.
And around and around it goes. I tell the wrong people, I get the brunt of the consequences. So far, every single person I’ve told except my friends has done something I didn’t want them to with that knowledge and put me between a rock and a hard place. Does that make me want to trust people? Fuck no. I’m not a trusting person. I don’t like strangers, I don’t like casual social events. I don’t tell people about my personal life. I zealously guard my personal space and my time. Then, I get told that I’m paranoid. Yeah, okay. I get stabbed in the back by most of the people I trust, and I’m paranoid? I have to worry who knows and won’t tell me they know, I have to worry who suspects and won’t ask, I have to worry who is clueless and will react badly, and I have to worry who knows and has done something stupid with the information.
Ugh, this shit is so fucking frustrating! It’s horrible because straight people have no clue. They have no clue the endless anxiety they cause whether or not I trust them. My nightmare doesn’t end when I let them in. It isn’t any better if I don’t. I know now why my peers invent slurs for heterosexuals. Breeders. Deep down, I want them to feel the sting of social rejection. When I’m petty and upset and anxious — which is about half of the time — I want them all to know how much their ignorance sucks. I want them to suffer. I hate their privilege, and I covet it at the same time. I wish for the days back when I was kid and the extent of my sexuality was that I had private parts that were fun to play with and horrify the adults. It seems horrible to say, but I know why people — after a revolution — go through the homes of their former oppressors and rape and pillage and assault and burn. Not that I’m saying that I would do that (because I wouldn’t), but I wouldn’t judge those who did it harshly, pretend that they are monsters. Because I know, intimately, the seductive catharsis that would be making them suffer just one fraction of what they have gained off our oppression.
And I end the first part of this series with that thought. I hope to have captured the rage, the anxiety, and the horrible gut-churning fear of what it means to me to be homosexual in American society. I want to expand this series, next time, with the concrete social mechanisms that I think are responsible for the alienation I feel. Then, I’ll finish up with a third post about my personal experience coming out, and what it meant to me.
As anyone with an internet connection will know, the last week has been a series of failures when it comes to male celebrities breaking the law and treating women and girls like shit. Everything I could say about Polanski, however, has already been said.
With Polanski, however, it seems like few people outside of Hollywood are engaging in overt rape-apologetics. The people I happen to run into on a daily basis are mostly in agreement that Polanski is a filthy fucking rapist and that the portion of Hollywood signing that “Free Polanski” petition have all lost their fucking minds.
So, I at least have some faith in humanity.
Although it is very shaken when it comes to Letterman. I was always of the opinion that he was a swarmy asshole. Most men in power tend to be, and there were no indications that he was an exception to the rule.
Thus, the news story about how he slept with many female staffers in his long tenure as a talk-show host didn’t surprise me at all. Hey, another famous male abusing his power to harass, rape, or exploit women. In other obvious news, the sky is blue. I bet you would have never guessed that! What really bugged me about the story, however, wasn’t really that Letterman was an unadulterated douchebag of the highest order. It’s the public reaction to his revelation that got my panties in a twist, so to speak.
Unlike Polanski, most people seem to have filed Letterman’s shenanigans either under the “ha ha, that’s funny” category, or moved right into “bitches blackmail men because they didn’t get what they wanted out of seducing them, the whores”.
And the second assumption bugs the ever-living shit out of me. It’s like the entire world has no idea of what power imbalances are created when your boss is a very famous man hell-bent on seducing you, or the fact that sexual harassment in the work place is illegal.
Because that’s what Letterman did: he sexually harassed, coerced, and exploited the women and men under him. He turned the staff of his entire show from the meritocracy it was supposed to be into a harem of peons he assumed were only there to assuage his massive self of self-entitlement and/or his prick. He deprived women of the positions they’ve earned because they wouldn’t sleep with him or he wouldn’t want to sleep with them. He deprived men of the same, because sleeping with him was not an option, and that seemed to be the most sure-fire way of climbing the ranks quickly.
In short, Letterman poisoned the well. He forever twisted the fair and equal power structure that he was legally and duty-bound to uphold into whatever suited his overwhelming sense of narcissism.
And when he revealed what he did to the public, they laughed.
They laughed like it was not a big deal. Like he wasn’t responsible or that an offense against morality hadn’t been committed. They laughed like every powerful man is entitled to behave as such because such men have “earned” the right to viciously undermine fairness and exploit everyone around them, especially if the exploited are women.
Honestly, that scares the crap out of me. What Letterman did isn’t rare or uncommon. It’s very prevalent. People in power use that power, and the threat inherent when they have that power and other people don’t, to do all sorts of unconscionable shit. It’s an endless cycle of cronyism and exploitation/corruption that irrevocably taints most power structures.
Yes, most. Corruption underlies most hierarchical structures in most societies. Letterman’s actions are just more evidence of the same. They’re not a laughing matter.
For shit’s sake, when are people going to stop laughing at corruption and demand some goddamn accountability? Whether it’s Polanski or Letterman or George W. Bush, it should be really fucking obvious by now that most people in power behave as if that power gave them carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want.
Furthermore, this shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When Letterman uses how well women please his cock to determine his advancement policies, people who deserve it don’t advance. When Polanski uses the promises of fame to rape girls, girls don’t have a safe way to get fame or trust those that could help them achieve it. When George W. Bush uses how much contractors are chummy with his interests to determine who does what in Iraq, billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars just disappear and resurface in generous Halliburton compensation packages or are spent on mercenaries that slaughter civilians.
When corruption earns laughter rather than moral culpability, corruption flourishes. It undermines every concept of fairness and justice we think we have. It poisons the well and engages in behavior like rape, sexual exploitation, or outright murder.
So when you think of Letterman, don’t laugh. What corruption does isn’t funny. And it’s about time that we stopped laughing at men who abused power, and started demanding some fucking accountability.
Before I go off, let’s set the record straight: being queer very often makes almost everything harder in your life (except, of course, for sleeping with women, but that’s obvious). Sometimes, however, you get some benefits out of it.
One of those benefits is how queerness intersects with feminism. Unlike other intersections, lesbianism has had it’s say in the feminist movement back even in the 2nd wave. Most intersections didn’t get any recognition until the 3rd. That doesn’t make up for the dominant preoccupation with heterocentrism in today’s mainstream feminist circles, but at least it means that I can find some feminist theory on being queer without digging too deep.
The best perk of being queer and being a feminist is the knowledge that I might never have to fight tooth-and-nail with male privilege in my romantic life. Sure, it affects it in secondary and very irritating ways, but it’s typically the case that any woman I choose to get involved with has internalized patriarchal values in a way that can be overcome without daily struggles over what they still find central to their gender identity.
Specifically, I am talking about the most important part of being male: a complete aversion to all things associated with femininity. Women never really seem to have as much success with internalizing the thought, “I’m not like those girls, so I don’t care what happens to them or think it’s just the Natural Order of Things™” that men do. Thanks to gender roles, men have to embrace feminism by rejecting what the patriarchy says makes them a man. Women just have to embrace feminism by stop being shits to other women and themselves. Plus, you can always say to a woman, “hey those Bad Girls you dislike? Well, according to statistics, bad thing X that happens to Bad Girls also happens to everyone else, and those Bad Girls are just normal women, just like you.” From there, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get someone to emotionally grasp that sexism is wrong, because it happens to people like them, and could very possibly happen to them.
Men, on the other hand, get the benefit of complete ignorance. Which is why men entering feminist spaces often ask women there to “calm down and be rational.” It’s really easy to be completely unemotionally invested in things that happen to people that are the complete opposite of you, by definition, and that will never happen to you in the way that they happen to them. Yes, men can be raped, men can be sexually harassed, and men can be economically disadvantaged by being a single parent. But they will never suffer the same reaction from the culture that women do, and they have a pitifully lower chance of going through any of that than the women who languish in a cultural epidemic of misogyny. Of course, it also helps that unemotional involvement is supposed to be the mainstay of masculine identity and the paragon of all things rational, so men’s biased flippancy gets a cultural stamp of legitimacy whereas women’s earned outrage is dismissed as shrill, irrational, and unpalatable.
And then there is the whole personal life aspect. Let me tell you, facing a life time of endlessly worshiping the ground my Nigel walks on because he does an equal share or somewhat equal share of the duties of maintaining a family sounds extremely unpleasant. Here, let me praise you for doing the amount of work that if anyone with a vagina did (i.e. less than half) they’d be labeled a bad wife/mother. Also, navigating the choppy waters of trying to object to the overwhelming emphasis on the idea that sex=dick (dick gets hard, dick goes in something, dick cums, sex ends) while having dick in my sex life sounds bothersome.
Most importantly, though, my queerness makes the most common objections to my observations of sexism in our culture fall apart.
Let’s run down the usual scenario: Jenn sees a movie. Jenn sees a metric ton of sexism and misogyny. Jenn objects. Resident chauvinist rejoins something to the extent that men like titties, and ain’t nothing wrong with that/ain’t no changin’ that, or women are actually really like that, or it’s just the biological destiny of humankind (they’ll say mankind though) that women will turn into stupid weak servile children around men because [insert bullshit essentialist evolutionary biology/psychology here].
Here comes the fun part. I get to reply, “hey asshole, I’m queer”. That means a lot of things in different contexts. It means that there’s a ton of women out there who don’t do stupid things for dick, because they don’t like dick. It means that I like titties too, so I’m not just objecting to sexism because I don’t understand what it’s like to be attracted to women’s bodies. It means that there’s people out there that don’t do things for a sugar daddy or some sweet pussy because they like people of their own gender.
And for my trump card, being queer means that men don’t have a single fucking excuse for excusing misogyny and objectification of women. Because I can seemingly still recognize that Meghan Foxx is quite far from unattractive without thinking that the pile of shit that was Transformers 2 was totally not sexist. I can be titillated by some pornography (I admit it!) without thinking that the marketing of a very narrow and restrictive version of female sexuality for consumption is wrong. I can sometimes feel like I need to have sex with someone with a vagina right now or I’ll be very irritated and uncomfortable without excusing raping someone that teased me or was “asking for it” or buying someone at an economic disadvantage to me so I can use and discard their sexuality.
So now what’s their excuse?
Plainly, they don’t have one. A sex drive that focuses on the attractiveness of women and having sex with women is not a good reason to ignore misogyny, like misogyny, think misogyny can’t be helped, or “helplessly” be a misogynist.
Considering all the shit I have to take daily without complaint because of being queer, I very much enjoy ripping a misogynist’s “but I can’t help it” argument to shreds with a simple revelation of my sexuality. At the very least, I might get to confirm that he’s a total homophobe—on top of being sexist—so I can end a conversation with the intellectual equivalent of a dining table and find less futile ways to spend my time.
Laura Woodhouse over at the f-word just wrote an insightful piece about “Women, confidence and fear of male judgment“. In it, she explains how she, and many women, get performance anxiety around men and do less well than they would otherwise in any activity. This anxiety stems from the fear that the men will judge them as inferior and chalk it up to the fact that lady bits makes someone stupid, slow, weak, clumsy, and confused compared to all men’s superhumanly perfect masculine prowess.
Underneath the piece, commenters chime in that women just need to “get over it” and “grow a thicker skin”. It’s all in our silly lady brains. Men are not condescending judgmental assholes. Well, maybe some are. But you just need to put on some big girl panties and get the fuck over it! I mean, it’s not like men run the world and, more likely than not, determine important things like your pay scale or anything on their subjective and bigoted opinions, right?
This is what I call another feature of feminism-lite (i.e. not feminism at all): doing the work like a feminist would and identifying a social problem, and then blaming it on individual women anyway. Of course, they don’t call it blaming. It’s “empowerment”. What-thefuck-ever. Empowerment is the new victim blaming. Were you raped, passed over for a raise for someone with a penis, domestically abused, or shamed for being a big prude/whore (doesn’t matter, your sexuality is icky no matter what)? Well, it’s not because we live in a patriarchy. It’s sure as fuck not because some waste of skin thought that today was a good day to be a misogynist asshole. It’s because you didn’t tap into the faux feminist hive-mind sufficiently and receive your daily dose of EMPOWERMENT™. Misogyny is all your fault. In our post-post-post feminism world, you now have God-like powers, and everything that every shit stain decides to do could have been prevented if you were awesome enough.
Women: shut the fuck up about federal rights and equality. Take matters into your own hands. Ingest toxic waste to receive your super post-feminist powers that will prevent all of the rules of the patriarchy from ever negatively impacting your life! You must be thicker skinned, more compassionate, more skillful, smarter, better educated, more driven, hotter, better in bed, tidier, more fashion foward, and richer than any man will ever have to be for not even half of the handouts he gets with penis priviledge. And this is EMPOWERMENT™. Don’t you feel so special?
Fuck that faux feminist noise. Here’s an idea: MEN OF THE WORLD. Yeah, you with the penis. Stop being gigantic assholes to women. You’re not automatically better than us at everything or anything. This fact should not make you play dirtier, act like a condescending douche, or disinvite women to your all-male happy hours. And when you are better than a woman at something, THIS IS NOT BECAUSE SHE HAS A VAGINA. It’s because we are all individual people with our innate and learned aptitudes and interests. Yours are not better than anyone else’s by the virtue of your genitalia. In fact, your penis has nothing to do with rock climbing, drinking, driving, playing pool, or writing a kick ass dissertation. This should be obvious. Nobody climbs rocks, writes a paper, or drives with their dick.
If a member of the human race with a vagina brings up a topic that you don’t know much about, do not attempt to “school” her with your awesomely manly intelligence. Do not interrupt her. If you cannot bluff your way into superiority—which you shouldn’t be doing in the first place—do not insult her interests and skills because you cannot match them. Welcome to the human race: you will suck at many things in comparison to people who don’t suck. Your dick will not fall off if one of those people is a woman.
Dear brother: I know more than you about philosophy and politics, anything academic that isn’t math-based, and most things mechanical. This is because I am older than you and better educated. Instead of saying “not that shit again” when I bring up something that you can’t pretend that you’re better than me at, you could try shutting your fucking mouth, opening your mind, and learning. Yes, learning. You can do it from people with vaginas who know more than you on a given topic.
Dear male friends: Not everything is a goddamn competition. I do not need to be told that I “throw like a girl” or “park a car like a man”. Nobody throws a ball or parks a car with their dick or vagina, idiot. When I bring up what I’m doing in my classes, don’t tell me that Philosophy, all Philosophy, is full of shit and not as important as your Physics or Engineering major. You don’t know shit about philosophy. Your penis does not impart knowledge upon you in topics that you have no exposure to. If you continue to be a condescending douche and put down my opinions and interests, I will discontinue our friendship. Not because I’m a bitch, but because I don’t like to spend my time with people stupid enough to think that all human activities are accomplished by our genitals.
Dear ex-boyfriends: Thank you very much for convincing me of the fact that relationships with stupid gender power plays are not worth my time. I have found infinitely more satisfaction with other women, and hanging out with people who don’t wax poetry about Their Nigels. You never needed to teach me how to drive a car. I had been doing fine for years without your Y-chromosome mad skillz. When you carried groceries down the parking garage stairs, it wasn’t because I was a weak silly lady who would reward you with sweet pussy afterwards. It was because my goddamn back hurt from my shitty desk chair and you offered. I thought you offered because you were a kind person, not because you had a dick. Also, if there is anything in the world that I do better than you, it’s not because I’m trying to show you up and insult you. If there’s anything I don’t match you at, it’s not because I have a vagina. And if there’s anything I do that you have no interest in, it’s not because I’m stupid and have silly lady hobbies.
Dear faux-feminists: STFU. Kthx.
Dear men: I am better than some of you at things. I am worse than some of you at things. Deal with it, because I’m tired of dealing with your bullshit masculine posturing. I have a life to enjoy that doesn’t revolve around the fulfillment of your masculinity at the expense of my self-esteem and opportunities. When you act like an asshole at all hours of the day, it directly affects my performance. This is not because you have a penis and I have a vagina, it’s because you’re an distracting asshole. Get the fuck over yourself and your cock.
After last post’s take-down of “I Love Sucking Dick” feminism, I turn now to one feminist community that occasionally has Crowning Moments of Awesome, but is mostly full of fail: Feministing.
This, I think, stems from the site’s reputation as “feminism-lite”. I really can’t remember the last time that I’ve seen theory or anything approaching cerebral posted there. Understandably, the feministing commenters and contributors are confused. They ask such pressing feminist questions as, “can I read US News?” or, “how do I find environmentally-friendly mascara?” It’s feminism without substance or anything revolutionary. Postpostfeminism. We’ve apparently defeated racism, rape, the vast majority of humanity that suffers in poverty, homophobia, hate crimes, and all kinds of violence against women. Now we can talk about Obama and makeup.
So, how is Feministing full of shit? Ideally, I’d like to do a meta-analysis. But, hey, it’s a lot harder to do that blog-format, especially when I’m not getting paid or getting a grade for it. So I treat you to specific examples of the usual tripe that is posted there, with my witty take-downs.
First case: Jon and Kate, Plus Millions of Female Tabloid Readers. This post is about the divorce of former white-picket-fence heterosexual baby machines and reinforcers of patriarchal norms, Kate and John Gosslin. It’s also about women who read about the divorce, and how they are Bad Stupid Women. In short, this is a post about how certain kinds of feminists are totally better people and women in general than other stupid women. We’re good women, you’re not. How do we know this? Why, we read a post at Forbes—that bastion of feminist theory and unbiased reporting—that claims that women are responsible for this divorce because of our silly womanly rubbernecking and gossip, and vast consumption of tabloids.
So, the poster argues, stop buying tabloids! You’re to blame. Blah blah blah. You’re not really interested in her point, because it’s something you could easily read on an MRA site about how we’re all superficial bitches with crazy-making vaginas. It is funny to note that instead of going, “there’s a major news source blaming family troubles on women… doesn’t that sound familiar?” we’re going to say OH GOLLY GEE they totally have a point. We are, in fact silly bitches responsible for everything in the world, especially the content of tabloids. But not me, you understand, because I am a Good Woman, and you are not.
This vision of a Good Woman, in fact, doesn’t buy tabloids at airport kiosks (that’s the words she uses, “airport kiosks”). She instead buys Forbes, so she can be a good upper-class white woman and know everything there is to now about
sociopaths pretending money makes their dick bigger finances and economics. She does this in an airport, because she’s so rich and shit and therefore flies often enough that her choice of airplane reading is, in fact, very dire indeed. Also, we all know that only women gossip about celebrities, and that if you ask any man out there they will have no idea who Kate Gosslin is, let alone have an opinion of her. We also know that women, in fact, are the editors and contributers and owners of every single tabloid, and that via vagina-hive-mind, we secretly collude at night about how purple is the new pink is the new black and what direction we will take the media—which we own and operate by ourselves—tomorrow.
Also, my reading of this article is totally accurate and shit, because down the thread you will notice that the commenters are trying to establish who is a Better Woman by comparing their choice of tabloids and television shows. Oh, the post patriarchy. How trivial are your concerns! Now that we have
not dismantled the real hierarchies in which women are shamed, killed, and abused, we can invent new hierarchies to shame women!
Second Case: Why is it called “Feminism” if it’s supposed to fight all forms of inequality? The author wants to know how to make men think that the idea that women are equal to them isn’t bat-shit crazy. My advice would probably be unwanted: if a man thinks that he is a superior form of humanity, and therefore, that your feminism must be about him, for him, and by him before he gives a shit, he is a sad sack of dumbass and not worthy of the calories expended to acknowledge his existence. Also, it’s called “feminism” because we’re not fighting for men’s rights. Men’s rights, apparently, include not paying child support and forcing women to have abortions, so you can kindly shut the fuck up about men’s rights. I answered your questions, Men Who Don’t Get That Feminism Isn’t About Them, now go do your own research and learn to fail quietly, alone, where I don’t have to hear you.
Third Case; Post-feminism femme fatales. The author establishes that these aforementioned stunning examples of anti-feminism, class priviledge, and heteronormativity—as she imagines them—are “enchantress of the highest order, in all political, social, environmental and economic arenas” and “anticipating the ultimate passage of an Equal Rights Amendment, but in the meantime, busy chipping away at professional restrictions in our own spirited way”. This spirited way includes not burning the bra they paid at least $100 dollars for, which they will take off for men depending on their mood.
This case is about an obvious a case of I Suck Dick and It’s Fucking Awesome Feminism that one could hope to have. It’s so dumb, I thought it was satire. Oh, and if you think that agitating, angrily, because you have zero civil rights at a federal level makes someone a Bad Woman, have a big piece of shut the fuck up.
I’d post more cases, but all this is starting to make me slightly nauseous. Granted, the Feministing mainpage, devoted mostly to news (sans the comments, which are mostly full of fail), is more sanitary than the Community posts, which are typically full of “how do I make men like my feminism?” and “I like sucking dick” type posts. IMPORTANT UPDATE: Feminism is apparently all about men, and their dicks. Really. I learned it on the internet.
Why am I picking on Feministing? First, they’re a big popular site, my pissing and moaning isn’t going to hurt their hits in the least. Also, it’s because I’m working up my courage to eventually address the blog that led to the last post by taking down a trend I’ve witnessed on feminist blogs for a long time. This trend is alienating as shit to my queer not upper-middle-class ass, making online feminism more an exercise of searching for a non-dumbass in the rough than a happy fun time with friendsies.
First, I am using my priviledges as blogmistress to refer to you as Anti-Radical Feminists. I think this a far more honest descriptor than “pro-sex”. Why? Well, the whole thing about sex is that I’ve yet to meet a feminist who was actually anti-sex. Dworkin came close, but only if you take the misogynist proposition that the only sex that is sex is good old penis in vagina wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.
And that’s where I want to start off: your misogynist propositions that the only real sex is putting penises in vaginas or mouths or anuses and that we need to exhaust more effort to endlessly detail all the fun fantastic ways our fun feminist orgies can partake in heterosexual intercourse.
Because here’s the kicker: I’m not heterosexual. I position myself as “queer”, in that I have been attracted to men, but I find that it’s far more likely that I have relationships with other women who are typically more attractive and awesome in that way. What has been endlessly talked to death in feminist circles is all these marvelous things that we need to do to teach men about where our clitorises are, and how if we compose painful mental gymnastics we can even conceive of how M/f BDSM and ejaculating on someone’s face ceases to be a private neutral act and is actually an awesome fulfillment of feminist metatheory.
That’s all fine and dandy. I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible. What I see, time and time again, is that my experience is constantly erased. I have to twist myself in knots to find a feminist active in the blogosphere who is happily feminist and queer, and who hasn’t shacked up with a man and is presently enjoying straight priviledge. Yep, you can enjoy straight priviledge if you are queer and you live your life with a man. No shit.
But the thing is, I don’t. And there is this disgusting foul part of me that whispers when my ego is beaten and bruised that it would all be alright if I could just find some man, any man, and settle down with heterosexual privilege and pretend that I never did nasty horrible things like fall madly in love with my best female friend or find the back of the girl who sat in front of me in Astronomy lecture endlessly more fascinating than the modest amount of dick I’ve come across.
This horrible part of me rears its head often. I live closeted to all but my close friends and my father. So pretending to be straight means I’m very often suppressing the majority of my identity—namely, the majority that finds women really fascinating. Stumbling across yet another “pro-sex” defense of porking, blow jobs, anal sex, BDSM, and penis in vagina goodness exacerbates this to the nth-degree. It’s very easy to stumble across feminist defenses of privileged expressions of sexuality. Those feminists avow how happy they are with penis, how marvelous penis is if you’ve cured yourself of the Dworkin-induced paranoia of men, and how talking about heterosexual sex is a big no-no because it’s akin to homophobia and racism and you’re not really a feminist at all you fucking dyke, are you?
So this endless parade of “heterosexuality is so much fun” really isn’t much fun. Especially when I feel so goddamn alienated because of it. What really chaps my hide and blows all sorts of brain lobes is the assertion that I’m a massive misogynist bigot, like homophobes, if I question putting penis in vagina in the usual matter, or with a kink or two.
Assholes. Fucking shitbag assholes! The entire reason I tire of this endless fuckbag wankery over how blow jobs are so empowering is because it’s disgustingly homophobic and the biggest exercise of heterosexual priviledge in an ideology that thinks itself so much better than that. Shit. As a Big Bad Radical Feminist, I’m lumped in with 2nd wave relics who were, reportedly, big horrible homophobes who hated all transsexuals and maybe tossed around racial epithets in between dismantling all that is good in the universe.
Which is absolutely hilarious, thanks. 3rd wave feminism, if it’s really the driving force behind all this endless pontification about how dick is awesome, seems to me to be way more self-aggrandizing and privileged than any of the crouchity old radical hags that authored the texts that pepper my shelves.
I’m not talking about 3rd wave academic feminism, which is really all kinds of awesome and a godsend. I’m talking about blogosphere “hey, my boyfriend came on my face and I’m empowered!” feminism. It just seems to boil down to a bunch of women in their twenties and thirties who’ve settled down with a man (or have before or will), who like penis, and who really really want to talk about how Radical feminists are outdated harpies and they’ve seen the light! Evidently, the light is phallus-shaped and full of delicious bullshit, but I’m sure that you got that point by now.
So, to return to the title of this post:
Dear Anti-Radical Feminists,
You like penis. I get it. I got it on your last post about blow jobs in between how Dworkin is a total knob and you really heart Angelina Jolie and/or porn. I’m really quite happy that this endlessly self-reflecting homophobic world has provided you with endless avenues to explore your glorious and endangered heterosexuality. Please write another post on the clitoris and how to grind properly against a male pubic bone in the customary penis-in-vagina intercourse. I seem to have misplaced the two billion issues of Cosmo that do the same thing.
See, when you philosophize about how radical feminists (who apparently start and end with Dworkin, and perhaps Twisty) really hate sex, you totally erase the sex they were actually having and enjoying, which happens to be sex that I also enjoy. Thanks ever so much for ignoring my existence and the idea that sex doesn’t have to contain the almighty phallus. May I kiss your enlightened post-homophobic ass now?
See, I was laboring under the proposition that feminists were all about presenting new and ignored experiences. Dear Jesus and/or Buddha, how ignorant was I! Radical Feminism is apparently totally outdated because it’s just so damn easy to conceive of heterosexual intercourse without coercive, violent, domination/submissive narratives. Which is why nobody ever, in this enlightened age, uses their dick as an insult or weapon.
Ha! No. Thanks for playing. Seriously, where the fuck are these blow-job loving feminists finding men? I’m more likely to be whistled at on the street like a piece of meat or told that my breasts are violating dress code and distracting customers than coming across a penis-toting heterosexual specimen that doesn’t conceive of me as the very essence of filthy sexuality that needs to be contained, consumed, or denied. I engage in stupid pointless exercises daily to conceal the shape of my breasts and present myself as professional, all so the shitbag unenlightened masses don’t see my hips and boobs and equate me with a thing that exists for sex and because of sex. I do this and more, and then agonize over not doing it correctly (you never can, by the way) so I can have half the chance my male peers have just by virtue of having dicks.
If you think that you’re above that, you’re either (a) fooling yourself or (b) okay with this state of affairs because it caters to your priviledge. You can write all the goddamn articles you please about how having men whistling at you on the street is awesome and fun. Since I’m queer and have no desire to start anything with a man (thanks previous boyfriend: Mr. Fuckbag Non-Consensual Shit Is Awesome So Pretend To Be Asleep!) having men find me attractive in a predatory objectifying manner is totally not my cup of tea. Maybe it’s because I know that they think of me as tits, ass, three holes, and two hands rather than a human being. Maybe it’s because I’d like to walk around campus digesting the content of my last Ethics lecture without being reminded that my body exists for their viewing pleasure. Maybe it’s because I like to have sex with women more than men.
No, it’s not that at all. It’s actually the fact that I’m a prudish dyke of a Radical Feminist, who isn’t even properly queer (define your sexuality for me, you freak!) and has been either brainwashed by Andrea Dworkin or false consciousness theory beamed in from the USSR.
So, why am I so angry? It’s because I’ll find some feminist blog that seems legit and awesome, only for it to degenerate into a clusterfuck of Radical Feminists Are Horrible, or I Suck Dick and Enjoy It and Oh It’s Now a Feminist Act. I found one the other day that had an infuriatingly long comment thread of endlessly navel-gazing heterosexually privileged fuckbags that I want to take down sometime. But not now. Now, I’m too fucking angry. Maybe I’ll do it later.
In the course of the gay rights movement, it seems that sexual orientation has been constructed as something unchanging. Gay people are assumed to have been born gay, and their sexual choices are thus “natural” and above political analysis.
I think that this has done far more harm than good, for the following reasons.
1. It excludes from the gay rights movement those who are not cisgendered. Transpersons and intersexed persons do not have a definitive place of the gender binary to call their own. Thus, they cannot call themselves either straight or gay. Orientation is an identity that depends on both one’s gender and the gender of those to which one is attracted. For those who have no place in the restrictive gender paradigm (or those whose partners do not have a place), an unchanging model of identity cannot conceive of their experiences and oppressions. What happens is that these people—who are more vulnerable to violence than cisgendered homosexuals—are often totally ignored in the scope of gay rights and gay theory.
2. It excludes those who are not homosexual but not straight. Bisexuals, pansexuals, polysexuals, and asexuals all have identities and experiences much different from homosexuals and heterosexuals. Yet, because orientation is determined mostly by one’s attraction to the opposite or same sex, rather than other variables1 these people occupy a tentative place in gay theorizing and are often thrown in as an afterthought or excluded altogether. An example would be a gay bar whose patrons are not friendly to the expression of heterosexual relationships therein. How do they create a place for the bisexual woman with a male partner? Is this possible? Such instances, in which cisgendered and/or cisgender-attracted (i.e. attracted to one specific gender) homosexuals oppress or exclude others, cannot be captured with the assumption that orientation is binary and unchanging.
3. It excludes those whose gender or orientation has changed. Many closeted homosexuals have had relationships with members of the opposite sex. While some later find that these relationships are not satisfying, some find that although they were satisfying at the time, their identity has changed. For example, a gay man might marry a woman in order to hide his sexual preferences and enjoy the many privileges legal marriage grants. However, he never feels fulfilled. But it is also the case that a man can marry a woman and be fully fulfilled in that marriage, only to later turn around afterwards (through divorce, death, or separation) and find that the company of other men is just as satisfying, even though it was not before. I wouldn’t doubt that such circumstances are far more commonplace than presently reported. Other groups that fall under the same oppression are those such as political lesbians—women whose political convictions imply that being a “woman-identified women” is more revolutionary than remaining straight—and any transitioning or happily ambiguous non-cisgendered person. Obviously, if one is not female or male, one cannot have a sexual orientation. The current definition of orientation relies on the sex of the orientated. If that sex is fluid, ambiguous, undefined, or transitioning, the orientation is similarly undefined, ignored, oppressed, invisible, and/or transitioning.
4. It gives authority to dichotomous and oversimplified thinking. The reasons for maintaining that orientation is innate are very political pervasive. First, it serves as an easy way to stop debate. The gay rights chant, “we’re here; we’re queer; get used to it!” references the idea that orientation cannot be altered; only suppressed. But this obviously excludes vast numbers of non-heterosexuals who are equally, or even more, oppressed than homosexuals. It might be tempting thus to grant legitimacy to those whose orientation has changed, but deny that anyone can consciously change their orientation. But this solution is inadequate. Is the political lesbian who chooses to seek romantic relationships with other women not oppressed? It would be absurd to deny that. Why this concrete theory of orientation arose has little to do with referencing the experiences of oppressed non-heterosexuals, and more to do with making the face of the gay rights movement easily defensible and more palatable to those who are responsible for oppression. What has happened is that the gay right movement has let the prejudices and the biases of the homophobic public dictate the method of gay theorizing. This obviously has resulted in the exclusion of wide swaths of the non-heterosexual experience, and jeopardized the long-term success of the entire movement.
What I mean by this is that the public conception of “natural” is very much tied up with the conception of “good”. What is good is natural, and what is natural is good. Such reasoning is not only dangerous, but highly absurd. First, determining what is “natural” is always done by the dominant class. There is no objective way to point out the natural order of humanity without creating an infinite regress of anthropologic theory. Is Babylonian civilization “natural”, or do we have to regress back to an earlier non-human ancestor to answer that question? Such inquires are absurd and have no cognitive value. The result is that the dominant class—the class with the most access to the prestige required for recognized theorizing—stops the regress at the point which best buttresses claims about the legitimacy of the forms of oppression that they benefit from. The result is such navel-gazing “science” as the following examination of why women like pink:
Ling speculates that the color preference and women’s ability to better discriminate red from green could have evolved due to sex-specific divisions of labor: while men hunted, women gathered, and they had to be able to spot ripe berries and fruits. Another theory suggests that women, as caregivers who need to be particularly sensitive to, say, a child flushed with fever, have developed sensitivity to reddish changes in skin color, a skill that enhances their abilities as the “empathizer.”
Thus, when a gay person asserts their right to exist with claims about the naturalness of homosexuality, they are framing the debate in the only way the class of oppressors permits them to. This references the old homophobic claim that “homosexuality is unnatural“. Rather than the gay rights advocate exclaiming, “No, it’s just as natural as heterosexuality,” they should have replied, “Questions about nature are irrelevant.” After all, the purpose of sex is not solely reproductive. Unless the heterosexual debater is willing to cede that his purely carnal, not reproductive, enjoyment of women—clad in artificial titillating textiles or slathered in toxic paints—is just as unnatural and should thus be subject to the same vicious repression.
5. It conceals the real source of oppression. For some of the reasons I’ve briefly explored above, insisting that homosexuality is as “natural” as heterosexuality is simply easier to support without rigorous debate. But why support anything without rigorous debate? When confronted with the pseudo-intellectual who is unwilling to entertain arguments that unseat his deep prejudges, the better idea, clearly, is to reject those prejudges rather than continue to play the game by his rules. Playing the game in this fashion has legitimized the “divide and conquer” tactic of the oppressors. In much the same way that anti-feminists mischaracterize feminists to pit working mothers against homemakers, or anti-porn feminists against sex workers, homophobes would like nothing more than to let non-heterosexuals endlessly fight amongst themselves rather than ever have to see their privilege dismantled. It should be obvious, for any marginalized population, that letting the oppressors set the frame of the debate will result in intellectual stagnation and political fragmentation on the lines of false dichotomies.
The issue here is not whether or not homosexuality is natural. In fact, who cares? Who cares why Sally prefers women to men? Who cares why Sally can maintain this preference and still have a happy relationship with a man? Does any of this change the fact that non-heterosexuals are viciously oppressed? No! For gay rights to even have a chance to succeed, the debate must be framed in a way legitimized by the experiences of all oppressed non-heterosexuals. It should not be comfortable and soothing to the innate prejudices of homophobes. Indeed, isn’t that contrary to the point of the movement?
When mental health professionals try to “cure” adults and youth of “gender disorders” and homosexuality, is the problem that they cannot cure them? Obviously not. The source of oppression is that anyone can conceive of why such things are deviances that ought to be “cured” in the first place. This point is not altered if the gay movement recognizes that orientation can change, and has changed, for many people. They have ceded no intellectual ground. Rather, they have wrested the reigns of the debate back from the oppressors and refused to recognize their logical fallacies.
The question was never whether or not transsexuality, homosexuality, bisexual, heterosexuality, or anything else was “natural”. It has always been whether or not the oppression of anyone who is not heterosexual and cis-gendered is valid. This is concealed with debates over if therapy to cure homosexuals can work, or if such a thing as a gay gene exists. Honestly, anyone who is a true ally of the gay rights movement shouldn’t give a damn whether or not homosexuality is learned, innate, or filters into our brains with a diet of tainted fruit.
All such debates rest on the assumption that heterosexuality is normal and that non-heterosexuality is the other. Rejecting that hierarchy of oppression cannot be accomplished by excluding non-cisgendered non-heteroexuals from the debate or by infinitely regressing explorations of anthropological “natural” human behavior.
In fact, it never will.
1I fully intend to, at a later date, attempt to construct a more useful method for the delineation of gender identity and orientation with more variables than the current political model.