Tag Archives: feminism

In Light Of Recent Events

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…by which I mean the US presidential elections and Trump winning, but also Brexit, Tories, and the looming possibility of a National Front president in France…

I wrote a facebook post. It’s aimed towards progressives, the left-wing, you know, “our people”. It’s about how we talk to the ones we think of as Them, as opposed to Us, and how we are harming our own cause.

“So I’ve been thinking, and I’d be grateful if you heard me out.

The Trump presidency has come as a shock to me, but then I was also shocked when the Tories were reelected, and Brexit shocked me, too, so maybe I was asking for it by not changing my expectations of the world. I don’t think I’m alone in surrounding myself – online and offline – with mostly progressive people and causes, because I want my online experience to be fulfilling and not a cause for anger and anxiety. This is good for my mental health, but it feeds into the illusion that most people are progressive, well-educated, well-informed, and inherently good.

And yes, this is an illusion. I’m not going to go into whether people are inherently good or bad – I don’t have time for philosophy right now (some other time, I promise). But in case you, too, have been labouring under the delusion that most people want equal rights for all races, religions, sexual orientations etc., it’s time we faced the truth: we’re a minority. Most people are misinformed, terrified of progress, and easily manipulated by mass media and whichever politician shouts the loudest.

Which means that it is up to us – the progressive minority – to solve this problem. And we’re not going to manage it the way we have been – by shouting at them, accusing them of racism, sexism, homophobia, unfriending them on facebook and trying to silence them the way they’ve tried to silence us. Those tactics won’t change how those people vote.

So here’s what we have to do, and I know you’re all going to hate this as much as I do, but it’s really the only way we can make any sort of change to how *society* thinks on an *individual* level:

We have to engage.

We have to start a discussion, and that means listening instead of just talking at people. We have to let go of the need to be right, to prove them wrong, we need to let go of this Us vs. Them dichotomy – because that’s what the politicians want – and convince Them that they are Us, because they are. We are all citizens, we will all be affected by whoever is in power.

We need to figure out WHY people voted Trump. For real, this time, not by dismissing it as pure stupidity. We need to find out what people are afraid of, and help them understand our point of view without trying to impose it on them. We need to convince them that they might benefit from understanding our point of view, and for that we need to befriend them.

And for that, we need to stop getting angry at other voters.

I know. This is the bit you hate the most, it’s the bit I hate the most, too. It’s not fair. We have the RIGHT to be angry – I’ve shared so many feminist posts about how telling women to “calm down” about equal rights is the equivalent of telling them to “shut up”, and that’s true – and the same goes for any kind of minority, because we are the underdogs and we’ve had to fight for our rights and we still have to, but HEAR ME OUT OK?

I didn’t say you had to stop getting angry. I said you have to stop getting angry at *voters*. Because if you get angry at a voter, they will get defensive, feel legitimized in their beliefs, and withdraw from the conversation. And they will vote Trump. Or the biggest fearmonger. That’s not what we want.

Don’t get me wrong here: getting angry at politicians is still ok. It’s even recommended, because no matter what their beliefs are, what they want is your vote. So save your anger for protests and rallies, and also for companies. Consume differently and let companies know why, because that’s how progress happens on the scale of big businesses and politics. Our anger has power there.

But individuals are different. Don’t get angry with voters. Don’t vilify them. Remember that they’re human, and humans are complex. Engage them in a discussion. Several discussions. Listen, find out what their fears are, what motivates them, do your research so you can present your own point of view, be intellectually honest and be compassionate, because that shit’s contagious.

Now this is the part where I admit that I don’t even think I’m capable of taking my own advice. You all know I have a history of anxiety and depression, and I know that a lot of you have similar mental health issues, or worse. I’m not saying you should all go out and “convert” a bunch of right-wing strangers no matter the cost.

But see that racist uncle you wish you could unfriend, or that guy in class whose sexist jokes make you uncomfortable – talk to them. Engage, listen, empathize, explain, and if you still don’t agree, tell them it’s fine, that your relationship is more important. Maybe try again next time, maybe not. It might not be necessary. The discussion you just had might be the start of a slow chain reaction whereby that person starts seeing progressive arguments in a different light. You can at least be the start of something, even if you don’t see the end result.

Of course, it won’t always be that easy. There are trolls and flamers and people just looking for a fight in all walks of life (including on our side, by the way, and you should call them out because they’re not helping). You might get insulted, unfriended, banned, blocked, threatened, and yeah, all this can be enraging and terrifying, and in that case you need to take care of yourself and unfriend, block, call authorities etc., whatever you need to do.

You might also end up responding to their provocation and getting angry and defensive yourself, and that’s understandable, even if it’s not ideal. If you think it’s worth it, you can go back later, apologize for getting defensive, explain why, and maybe they’ll understand this time.

But don’t you be the one to start a fight. Start a discussion. Check your anger. Listen. Read between the lines. Let’s open peoples’ minds. Even if you don’t change them, you’ll also be opening yours.

Sorry for the long post. Thanks for hearing me out.”

To make-up or not to make-up

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I’ve been spending a week with my mother and sisters, and the stay has mostly been peaceful and wholesome and I feel a lot more relaxed and stable now. On Wednesday I had one of my best friends over from another town, and we talked non-stop, and it was a lot of fun.

Until we got on the subject of hair and make-up, as women often do, and she started giving me unsollicited advice. If I cut my hair into a fringe then it would cover up my (admittedly high) forehead and frame my face better, and all I’d have to do to counter the cow’s lick which has prevented me from having a fringe since childhood would be to get up a bit earlier every morning and blow dry it into place. While I’m at it, I could put on just a bit of mascara, and maybe a bit of eyeliner, because my eyes are hidden behind my glasses all the time and it’s such a shame because they’re pretty and blue, and I should flaunt them a bit more. Of course, she wasn’t asking me to do the whole thing with foundation and all, and it’s only a fringe, how long can it take? And my mother and sister agreed that it would look good on me.

The thing is, I know that a fringe and a bit of make-up would look good on me. This is not a revelation to me. I know how to put on make-up because I learned, like everyone else, when I was a teenager, and like most teenaged girls, I did go through a phase where I put make-up on almost every day, if only to see how much of it I could get away with in school. It didn’t take me long to realise that putting make-up on every day – or doing my hair, for that matter – were not priorities for me. I still get dolled up for parties and interviews and such, but when I get up on a normal morning with nothing special going on, I just wash my face and brush my hair and that’s it.

There’s a reason I don’t do the make-up and hair thing, and that is because I don’t want to. But that didn’t seem to suffice as a reason. She didn’t get why I wouldn’t want to get up forty-five minutes earlier every morning to make myself look more attractive. She didn’t understand how my physical appearance wasn’t a priority for me, or how I could be perfectly comfortable knowing that I’m not particularly good-looking most days. “Who should I be trying to impress?” I asked, and she replied “Nobody, just yourself.” But if it’s for me and me alone, then I’m the one who gets to decide if it’s worth it, right? The irony didn’t seem to penetrate, however, and she spent the next twenty minutes – she’s as stubborn as I am – trying to persuade me to do as she said. In the end I flat-out said “I refuse!” and she pulled her tongue out at me before finally moving on to something else. (The reason we both get on has a lot to do with a common mental age.)

The whole incident bothered me, though. This friend knows that I’m bi, and has never put into question how I can feel attracted to both men and women. She knows I’m non-monogamous (or have been, it depends, we go through phases) and although I know she has no idea what compersion feels like, she’s never tried to persuade me that it was an invalid lifestyle. But my choice to not give up 45mins of my time every day to make myself look better baffled her so completely that she’ll probably bring it up again next time I see her.

My middle sister came round yesterday and agreed that while the suggested modifications would suit me, nobody was forcing me to put make-up on. Both my sisters – including the one who is fourteen – put make-up on every day. The teenager spends hours getting her face and hair just right. Of course we complain about the time it takes, but I would never begrudge them the pleasure of getting artistic with their own skin and hair, in the same way that should anyone ever question my inalienable right to hog the bathroom for three hours before a party, I’d direct them to the nearest cliff. Because nobody ever questions a woman’s right to make-up, although of course people love to judge the way and amount that’s put on.

It has taken the “no make-up selfie” meme to make me realise how many of my friends are actually incapable of going out without make-up. It took many of them courage to take that selfie, and they felt nervous and yet proud while doing it, and for them, it was a sort of personal achievement. I’m not invalidating that feeling, I have my own share of self-esteem issues and whatever steps you take to overcome yours are valid as long as they work.

But the only difference between my no make-up selfie and my other profile pics is this one was a selfie. It took ages to get right because I’m terrible at selfies, when I try to take them most of my head gets cropped out. I took one first thing in the morning, in my pyjamas, to fit in with the “real you” thing (it doesn’t get more real than pre-breakfast me squinting into the camera like a bear just out of hibernation), and nobody was all that bothered. Because really, it doesn’t matter. I’ve pulled without make-up – several times – I’ve gotten laid without the aid of a fringe, I’ve made friends and passed job interviews and proven my worth at work countless times without taking special care with my appearance. It helps that I used to work in childcare, of course, but my point is that I know I don’t need to put make-up on every day to be able to do all the things I like doing. And I don’t want to, either.

So here’s my message to all well-meaning friends: you are allowed to wear make-up yourself, as much and as often as you want. You are allowed to ask your make-up-less friend if you can doll them up one day for fun. You are allowed to offer advice, even. But for godssakes, don’t spend twenty minutes insisting to your friend that they need make-up and a bloody fringe, because that, dear reader, is not good for their self-esteem, and low self-esteem is a really shitty reason to put make-up on every day.

A Question About Gender, Or The Lack Thereof.

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Not that I’m particularly feminine, but I’ve considered myself cisgender ever since I’ve known what it meant, and never really questioned it until now. I was born female, I liked being a little girl and I mostly like being a woman, although from previous posts you probably know that I very much dislike how we are often treated. I’m lucky enough to have been brought up in a family that discouraged sexism, in countries in which the equal rights movement was and still is very present, and feminism is pretty much second nature to me. I’m proud to be a woman because I think there are too many women who are ashamed because they are women, and being a woman is such a huge part of who I am that I have no idea who I’d be if I wasn’t a woman.

However, after reading Glosswatch’s recent article, a question occurred to me that I’d never thought of before:

What if, without changing my sex or anything physical, I could completely get rid of my gender?

Because gender is a social construct, isn’t it? It may be based on physical anatomy and natural instincts, but like many things we’ve brought with us from nature, I think it’s run its course as far as usefulness is concerned. Like when I get panic attacks because my brain has sent me an adrenaline rush based on the fight-or-flight instinct caused by ongoing stress, I definitely think that gender roles are outdated and that the best thing to do would be to work around those instincts until we inevitably evolve away from them.

But gender itself? Not the roles we box each other into, but the identity of “woman” and “man”? Any strictly cis or trans person will tell you that these are an essential part of who they are. So rather than talking about the usefulness of gender as a social construct, I’d like to think of it as something you can identify yourself as, or not.

But if I don’t want to identify as a woman any more, nor as a man, nor as queer…

What if, without changing my sex or anything physical, I could completely get rid of my gender?

I realise that although it would be theoretically ideal, while I can imagine what equal rights might feel like, I can’t actually imagine the world without gender roles. I can’t imagine what it would be like if all of society automatically perceived me as genderless. I can barely imagine what genderless means.

I’m already aware of my own susceptibility to prejudice and presupposition. When I come into conflict with someone, and I’m thinking about what the real problem is, I like to imagine the whole scene again with the genders reversed. Not only does it make me aware of my own subconscious assumptions; it also, in the long term, gives me a heightened awareness of how people of different genders tend to act and what they can get away with that the other gender can’t. Bearing in mind that I’ve never actually met a queer person, at least not that I know of, so my experience is limited to the binary genders.

What if I never had to do that exercise because the end result would be exactly the same?

I just realised that whenever I thought of people being genderqueer, my vision of what it must be like was still binary, despite everything I’ve read and watched and tried to learn. I could only imagine being able to identify as both male and female at the same time, or by turn. Which is like associating asexuals with bisexuals and pansexuals, and then realising that they’re sort of opposites. Because I have no experience of what a genderless person is like, no knowledge of what it’s like to be them.

What if, without changing my sex or anything physical, I could completely get rid of my gender?

Would I?