Earlier this month, I attended my first-ever American Atheists Convention in Memphis, TN. It was quite a fruitful weekend through and through. I got to meet, get to know, and/or reconnect with dozens of people. Of the latter group, I had two interactions that reminded me of just how important it is to boost confidence in women,
I hardly mean this in some cliche, simplistic, capitalist-feminist ladder-kicking lean-in sort of way. It’s a lot more meta and much more data-based than that. My strategy was to remind women that men in similar or even lesser-accomplished positions than theirs are, on average, much more assured about it than they are.
I’ve never had an understanding of my own gender identity within the binary standards of male vs. female. As a child, I said that I was a girl because that’s what they told me to be. Since I had heard that girls grew up to be women, that was what I thought I was going to be. I’d grow breasts and start understanding how to dress myself and get a husband and have sex and have kids. Bam, woman.
Yet, in my self-reflective writings, I talked about how I went from kid to pre-teen to teen to young adult to adult, not girl to woman. Not even in my journal entries about getting my period did I talk about becoming a woman. I talked about giving up on childish things, about puberty, about my sexuality, but never about girlhood or womanhood.
First in a series on my non-binary gender identity.
Late last year, rather abruptly, I came out as non-binary. It was National Coming Out Day and I decided I was going to tell everyone, just like that. I IMed my partner and told him first; he was as unwaveringly and lovingly supportive and understanding as he always is. Ten minutes later, I’d posted it to my Facebook wall. Thankfully, due to the self-selection and curation I’ve cultivated online for years now, I was met with congratulations and love and support. Outside of carefully-created spaces (or at least ones where I can block people), however, I’ve mostly kept my mouth shut about it. I don’t have enough fight in me to deal with yet another Othering aspect to my person.
It wasn’t something that I’d consciously thought a lot about or planned to do. It was more a slow and lurching realization, backburnered to everything else I’ve always thought and talked and written about. In a lot of ways, it resembled the way that I “became” an atheist: I didn’t talk or think too much directly about it, not even with those close to me, and didn’t want it to be true, but stopped fighting it and eventually submitted to the truth.
While the act of coming out was a surrender to what I’d known was true on some level for a while, a building up to a realization of something about me, there were markers along the way.
If linguistic patterns are any indicator, if you want something to be incredibly popular and eventually spread to every subset in society, gear it towards young women. Despite the fact that young women are trend-setters, however, almost anything that is associated with them is generally considered not as good as the young (or older) male equivalent.
Note: For the purposes of this post, heterosexuality is the premise. Things on dating sites are different (i.e. often better) for women seeking women. Men seeking men are often subjected to the same things that women seeking men are subjected to, but I cannot speak for their experiences.
I am an accomplished OkCupid counter-troll and I’m not private about it. As a result, every time some internet personality creates a dummy profile and writes up their experiences with it, well-meaning friends often think of me and link me. Last week, it was that Cracked article (written by a woman but geared towards a male audience). Yesterday, it was the Reddit post (which isn’t even original). There’s some defunct Tumblr I found after a quick Google search. Hell, some of my male friends have proposed creating dummy female profiles in order to see what it’s like for a woman on a dating site.
My reaction? Chagrin. It makes me wonder why more men don’t trust women’s experiences instead of setting up fake profiles. Have they never heard a female friend talk about her experiences? Do they not have female friends to ask about the matter? Or do they just not want to believe what we women say about our lives? To go back to my male friends, you’d think that years’ worth of talk from me about my OkCupid experiences would be enough for them to know that they could, you know, just ask me about it, or even just believe me when I talk about it.
I’ve helped male friends and strangers with their profile and messaging mojo. I’ve walked nervous men through initial messages, replies, and follow-ups messages after first dates. I’ve had male friends and acquaintances cry on my shoulder about being lonely, miserable, and rejected both online and afk. Not once did it occur to me to doubt them when they told me about their experiences. Sure, I sometimes wonder about all those unanswered messages I’ve sent to men who claim on their very profiles to be frustrated with the lack of women who initiate, but I don’t doubt the overall fact that many men don’t get replies or message on OkCupid. Enough men I know have told me about it for me to not immediately jump to doubting them.
There is certainly a more charitable view of the phenomenon of such fake profiles, one that speaks to men’s attempts, however flawed, at understanding women’s experiences. We live in a society where men are automatically considered more credible than women even when the latter are speaking of their own experiences. I’d only see the creation of fake female profiles by men as productive if the men were to learn a greater lesson about women’s credibility, one that enables the male experimenter to no longer need to pull such stunts in order to believe women. It seems like an ass-backwards way to approach the problem to me, but if it’s effective, I don’t know if I could complain overmuch.
Such a lesson would be contingent on all men conducting the experiment, though, rather than a few men doing it and sharing their results to the warm reception of other men. As it stands, we live in a world where women talk about their experiences, men doubt them, and then a few of those men pretend to be women and report their results to great fanfare. A random man pretending to be a woman on a dating site is somehow considered more credible and coverage-worthy than the majority of women who are using dating sites in earnest and speaking of their experiences. That women are inundated with crude, rude, ridiculous, and otherwise unsavory messages online is not some incredible revelation discovered by a man pretending to be a woman; it reflects the lived experiences of many women. We’d do well to trust the word of women more, even if it is curiosity and a wish to understand rather than a mistrust of women that drives some men to attempt to replicate women’s experiences.
All of that was nothing that I didn’t already know. Scrutinizing the results with the theme of the week in mind, however, I noticed something that I hadn’t before. Whenever I mentioned the steps I was taking towards weight loss, the most common response accused me of being “lazy” for low-carbing and told me to exercise rather than “take shortcuts.”
Obviously, low-carbing and exercising aren’t mutually exclusive. For the record, I do both, thank you very much, and low-carbing has hardly been a “lazy shortcut” for me. That aside, what struck me is that if you strip away the naked scorn from what those types say, they echo what I, as a fat cis woman, have heard from many thin and/or formerly fat cis men (and at least a few of the fat ones). It starts with a “just,” continues into a “tip” that requires very little in the way of lifestyle modification, and ends with the assurance that the speaker lost [insert a number that sounds ridiculously high to me] pounds thanks to that small change.
In many cases, these men meant to be empathetic and helpful, not to leave me feeling frustrated and misunderstood. It is for those men that I write this, although I suspect that the more antagonistic types as well as formerly fat people of all genders might also benefit.
Plainly stated, weight loss is generally hard for women than it is for men. Gender affects weight loss both from a biological and societal perspective. Neither category of hindrance is wholly or at all avoidable for many women.
In terms of biology, anyone whose body’s hormonal balance is skewed towards the ratio of testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and androgen usually found in cis women is generally going to have a harder time losing weight. Testosterone encourages muscle development; having more muscle means that your body is going to have a higher resting metabolic rate (RMR). Cis women and trans women on hormones tend to have less testosterone, meaning that their body fat percentage will usually be higher than that of cis men and trans men on hormones. Compounding the RMR issue is sexual dimorphism; as most cis men are simply taller and bigger overall than most cis women, they require more maintenance calories.
When a man tells me that I could just “burn it off” instead of dieting, that all I need to do is cut out [insert a single caloric food item here] to lose weight, and/or that “moderation” on their terms is preferable to my perceived “extreme,” he unwittingly erases my reality as well as the reality of countless other women. The difficult truth is that as a fat cis woman, I must change my diet in order to lose weight, period. Exercise alone might make me feel good and get me fitter and healthier, but without dietary changes to accompany it (in my case, reduced calorie and carb intake), it yields little to no weight loss. Based on the outcomes of several studies, this is true for more people than just me.
As is the case in most matters, projection does nothing to help and can even hurt, but a little empathy goes a long way. I really am happy for you if you’re a man for whom losing weight was as easy as not-pie. Just because skipping dessert was enough to lead you into skinny territory doesn’t mean that the same is true for everyone. Ignoring the factors that make it harder for so many of us is not only insensitive, it contributes to the culture of shame and stigma against fat that has been linked to weight gain.
This guest post comes by way of “Nate,” an all-around thoughtful person with a unique perspective on male-female dating: he went from not having to reject women much to a situation where it was a more common occurrence for him. Here, he shares what he has learned.
I’m a male atheist who’s active in the movement, and a regular reader of Heina’s posts. I am also in an open/polyamorous marriage. I’d happily identify myself, but due mainly to prickly in-laws, I don’t generally talk about the poly aspects of my life in public.
After reading Heina’s recent post, “I’ll Stop Citing a Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering,” I’d like to offer some additional perspective to men who are frustrated when they are silently rejected. Turning down an interested suitor directly can be awkward for anyone, male or female. However, we men generally have to do it much less frequently. When I was a teenager, I used to say the same thing guys say in that post: A girl I like should just tell me if she’s not interested. It’s inconsiderate to give people the brush off.
Having transitioned to poly, I now wind up meeting and spending time with a much higher volume of people. Women in the poly community are often more forward than single young women, and, sometimes, our interest levels simply do not match. When I’m the one who is not interested, it becomes really clear how difficult the “reject me to my face” standard is to live up to.
The problem is that if you take the time to say “I’m not interested in you,” it invites the other person to argue about why they deserve your attention. But since the point of rejecting somebody is to excuse yourself from giving that attention in the first place, being drawn into a discussion about it achieves the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do. Yes, it’s more convenient from the dumpee’s perspective to understand why they were dumped, but an explanation is still an imposition on the dumper’s time and energy. It is nice if they can offer that feedback, but it isn’t their responsibility.
With the shoe on the other foot, it is much easier for me to understand why sometimes, women just don’t respond to my messages. Even after becoming poly, I’ve occasionally been on the receiving end of a slow disappearing act from someone I liked. That still sucks, and it’s always disappointing. Now, though, I understand a lot better that I am not entitled to an explanation when somebody does not want to talk to me.
That probably is where a gender imbalance can occur, because while it is uncomfortable to reject somebody no matter who you are, in most cases, men are much more likely to expect entitlements than women are. Also, of course, I rarely feel physically endangered when I am the dumper.
Men, if you get rejected, you are totally entitled to do all the standard stuff. Complain about it in manly ways at your friends. Eat a big old pile of smoked barbecue. Lock yourself in your room and play Team Fortress for 48 hours straight. But I’m begging you: keep your dignity and don’t assume that you are entitled to an explanation of your shortcomings.
[Update: After Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky covered my piece and tweeted her coverage tagging in STFU Parents, Blair Koenig aka STFU Parents clarified what was meant (and not meant) by the tweet. We conversed via Twitter (see the conversation). Basically, Koenig says that she considers herself pro-LGBT and pro-trans* and intended the RT to reflect on social media trends, not to imply that the trans* opinions contained in the compilation were absurd. In other words, she did not tweet with malicious intent although she found some elements of the compilation “amusing.”
While the intentions were not malicious, I do not personally believe that intention is what matters here. Therefore, on my end, the conversation has not changed my initial assessment that the posting of the compilation is problematic. Whatever the personal intentions of its founder, STFU Parents is a blog dedicated to mocking people’s social media entries. In light of that, an account called the exact same thing re-tweeting a compilation of people’s social media entries feels dismissive regardless of personal intention. This is especially true when the compilation lumps together trans* people’s pain with Monty Python jokes. YMMV, naturally.]
All the plebes are talking about it while all the cool kids are talking about not knowing, caring, or talking about it. I’m talking, of course, about the bonny new baby born to the British royal family.
Popularly gossipped-about news items are often used as opportunities for people to converse about topics that are of interest of them. While this can be considered in poor taste in the case of tragic events, this one certainly was no such downer of a story.
I noticed that many news outlets used the word “gender” in place of the word “sex” to describe the baby being assigned male at birth. Now, I am far more a descriptivist than a prescriptivist. I understand that people use the word “gender” in the place of the word “sex” for various reasons ranging from squeamishness (ew, teh sex) to ambiguity (i.e. the fact that “sex” can refer to genitals). The latter, however, reveals exactly the point: what we know is that the doctors in question examined the baby’s genitalia and determined that they think that the little one is a boy.
This is not a judgmental or political statement, it states the facts — unless you consider CNN to be a bastion of gender radicalism:
Using the information gathered from these tests, your doctor may suggest an appropriate gender for the baby. The suggestion will be based on the genetic sex, anatomy, and future reproductive and sexual potential. Usually, a family can make a decision within a few days after the birth. Parents should be aware that as the child grows up, he or she may make a different decision about gender identification.
CNN might have been talking specifically about babies whose genitalia don’t readily conform to what is considered definitely male or female by social and/or medical standards. Ultimately, however, this is what is done to all babies, just with less examination and consideration in the case of babies whose genitals aren’t considered “ambiguous” (and those babies aren’t exactly uncommon).
In this case, descriptivism and practicality are somewhat at odds. It’s useful to be able to talk about the concepts encapsulated within each of the terms “sex” and “gender” when those words are distinct rather than interchangeable.
Based on that reasoning, I tweeted…
YOU DO NOT KNOW THAT BABY'S GENDER. YOU KNOW WHAT SEX IT HAS BEEN ASSIGNED BY DOCTORS. THAT IS ALL YOU KNOW.
…to the great amusement, apparently, of someone whose followers await his RTs of silly post-modern liberals in the hopes of pouncing on us. According to a friend who mods r/LGBT, someone parodied the tweet in such a way that the offender was banned from that particular subreddit. In responding to my tweet, people took the most issue with my use of all-caps (fair), my alleged attribution of malice to the doctors in question (citation needed), and my daring dictionary-thumping attitude towards the words “sex” and “gender.”
The assholes of the Internet didn’t stop their fun with a dictionary-thumping, capslock-using cis girl, though, and that’s where it gets really ugly.
Collection of Royal Baby tweets by people who are angry about Prince George being assigned a gender: http://t.co/iEQIJKlKPt
All of the people in that tweet compilation aren’t necessarily parents. More importantly, some of them are trans* and spoke up and out about their pain and struggles. This, apparently, renders them just plain hilarious in the eyes of STFU Parents and its readers. The last time I checked STFU Parents, it was filled with people complaining about TMI status updates from parents regarding the bowel movements produced by their precious bundle of joy, not a bastion of transphobia. Another formerly adored humor page bites the dust.
Though it might annoy some, it’s not reprehensible to take a popular gossip item and use it to talk about serious issues that affect you and/or other human beings (though it might be to use all-caps). Using people’s disclosures of the pain of their lived experiences to mock and deride them, on the other hand?
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I am a feminist. Among the many other labels that I occasionally affix upon my person is “slut” (only in contexts where the word is recognized for its reclaimed value). I believe in full reproductive rights and agency, comprehensive sex ed, the valuing of sex for pleasure, the destigmatization and full legalization of all forms of sex work, and the end of STI-shaming.
So you’d think that I’d be against the notion of sex-negativity in feminism. Sex-positivity a good thing for people like me, right?
Sex-positivity might mean something different in an academic and/or political sense, but I will address the ways in which self-identified sex-positive people manifest that particular ideology. In other words, I’m exclusively dealing with sex-positivity as it exists, not as we hope it exists. I intend to reflect lived realities, not to straw-man sex-positivity. The attitude that we cannot ever judge anyone for consensual sex acts (or even judge the acts themselves outside of the individuals participating in them) has become the de facto one among the sex-positive types I’ve met, read, and otherwise encountered.
I find the notion that all sex is awesome as long as there was consent to be more than a little troubling.
On the surface, it does seem awesome. We live in a society that pathologizes mere sexual attraction when it falls outside a very narrow set of norms (let alone acting on those attractions) as well as de-prioritizes consent. Not being judgmental about anything and emphasizing consent appears to be a great counter to all that — and it can be. The problem is that we should be able to express criticism of consensual acts, especially when considering their greater context. At the very least, we should feel okay with expressing our discomfort about them. Sex-positivity can be used as a bludgeon by which to silence criticism of anything sex-related.
When I’ve expressed my discomfort regarding dominant poly men who date lots of submissive women who aren’t allowed to date anyone else (with the men often excusing their sexist behavior towards other women via their kink), I’ve been accused of being sex-negative. When I’ve brought up how sexist it is that porn, i.e. the way that most people learn about sex, primarily features fairly cis male-centric sexual acts, I’ve been told that those women consented, therefore I was being condescending towards them. When I’ve brought up the effect that depicting only a single body type as attractive might have on people’s expressed preferences, I’ve been told that I was shaming people for their sexual preferences and that I should just accept them.
Initially, all that wasn’t enough for me to abandon sex-positivity. Believe me, I wanted to stick to the sex-positive label. At first, I wanted to believe that consent was really all that mattered. Then, I wanted to believe that there was room in sex-positivity for thoughtful criticisms of consensual acts. Wanting for something to be the way you’d prefer it to be rarely transforms it, however. I felt that, especially as a woman of color, I needed to stop identifying as sex-positive.
Indeed, what ended up getting to me was an issue that almost drove me from feminism: the big r-word. Nowhere have I witnessed more open “benevolent” racism, exoticization/fetishization, and cultural appropriation than among members of the sex-positive community. While this probably has something to do with the crossover occurs with sex-positivity, New Age, kink, and so on, sex-positivity is used as an all-too-effective silencing mechanism for criticisms related to race. How dare I be upset by someone’s assumption that the Kama Sutra represents all of Indian culture? How dare I feel uncomfortable around people who mocked the renaming of the “Asian Room” at the local sex-positive space to “The Red Room?” How dare I take issue with a perfect stranger telling me that their primary source of attraction to me is my “cinnamon skin,” a phrase this perfect stranger incessantly repeated throughout the night as if it were the only means by which to identify me? Those are people’s kinks. Who was I to judge?
It’s as if “sex-positivity” has come to mean “you must instantly and without criticism accept others’ sexual preferences and choices.” When exactly did sex become the one topic that’s above reproach among feminists?
The answer, I’d wager, lies in the origins and use of the term “sex-positive.” To characterize those who aren’t sex-positive as anti-sex is similar to characterizing those who are not “pro-life” as “anti-life:” it’s a way to shut them down. Sex-positive feminism, or “pro-sex” feminism, arose in response to anti-porn feminism, not any alleged strain of “sex-negative” feminism. The way I see it, “sex-negative” is a deliberately provocative counter to the “rah rah, judge no one for nothing ever as long as they said yes before they got naked and got off” sex-positivity that is way, way more common than most feminists want to think about or admit exists.
For excellent yet brief coverage of the history of different kinds of feminism, check out Bitch’s feature.
I once wrote about what I call fauxminism, poking fun at “empowered” women who do little to nothing for (or even who actually hinder) other women’s choices and freedom.
That’s one thing. This is another thing, entirely.
Recently, I had the distinct displeasure of overhearing two men laugh it up over domestic abuse. As it really wasn’t my conversation and I was in far from the right situation to say anything, I was mostly silent as I listened. I learned that, to them, years of abuse at the hands of his wife rendered a man laughable, not pitiable.
The battle cry of the Men’s Rights Activist or any other breed of anti-feminist is the oft-mocked “but what about teh menz?” That particular question is posed whenever anyone dares to say anything uncritical about feminism. The frustration that many feminists feel regarding that particular derailment is, more often than not, misunderstood as a dismissal and/or trivialization of primarily male-related concerns. This leads to the belief that feminists are female supremacists (feminazis or even femi-stasi, sometimes) who want to oppress men or at least ignore men’s concerns. Taken further, the claim becomes that said problems are somehow caused by feminism.
Where do oppressive gender norms for men originate?
There is no question that oppressive gender norms for women existed prior to feminism. Indeed, feminism arose in response to said norms, so to argue otherwise would be more than somewhat disingenuous. In this case, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: gender norms for men existed prior to feminism. Additionally, so did the effects that gender norms for women had, and continue to have, on men.
Now, let us consider the matter of female-on-male domestic violence. The men I heard making a mockery of a fellow man’s abuse at the hands of his wife were not feminists. I do not say this in judgment of them or their beliefs, I say this with the knowledge that they mock and oppose feminism and say misogynistic things with alarming frequency and audacity.
This is why the allegation that feminism is to blame for female-on-male abuse, or at least its trivialization, is not only untrue but also utterly infuriating. Sexists enforce the gender binary for women — and for men. In their minds, women are weak and inferior to men, therefore abuse by a woman upon a man can’t be serious. That is why they can howl with laughter so shamelessly without a second thought as to the harm being done to a fellow human being.
Similarly, when it comes to women, the “you go girl” attitude towards female abuse of men isn’t exactly a gender-radical, feminist one. In fact, it fits quite neatly into traditional narratives with regards to inter-gender relations. To wit: “He must be cheating on her!”, “she can’t really hurt him,” and so on, ad nauseum.
Although I know I will be accused of doing so within the next 72 hours (if not sooner) because I am not afraid to say that I am a feminist, endorsing female-driven abuse of men isn’t what feminism looks like. Two man espousing an utterly cavalier attitude towards domestic abuse isn’t what feminism looks like. My hands shaking in anger at two men’s cavalier attitude towards domestic violence so hard that I can barely type this?
That’s what feminism fucking looks like.
EDIT (5/5/13): See comment from hierophant as to why I’ve removed a link.