Heidi Glum (out of drag known as Miles Deniro) is a DC drag performer who was brutally attacked in a local pizza shop by what was reported as two black women (in reality, one was black and one was Latino). They beat him mercilessly while bystanders cheered and taped it and no one stepped in to help. (Warning. That video is really disturbing). Glum originally claimed that he was unable to fight back because against women because he he is a man*. I thought that was pretty noble. Calls went out on the internet to help with Heidi’s medical bills, but then the internet found this.
Just got Jumped by two girls at manny and olgas. Let them WHALE on me because I don’t hit nappy headed niggers
Team Nobody, right?
As of right now, Glum has refused to apologize, stating that in a fight against women…he only has words.
As I follow a good deal of drag queens, both Logo Approved and otherwise (Laganga Estranga is the best queen you don’t know about yet), I’ve seen a lot of chatter about this over the past few days. People said that Glum was attacked and can’t be held responsible for things said in anger. Other people said that calling someone the n-word erases any sympathy they had for Glum, there is nothing you can do to someone that makes that level of racism okay.
Originally, I quietly told a friend what happened after she sent Glum money, as she doesn’t stand for racist shit. I said that I had stayed out of it on various social media outlets, and I thought it would be best if I didn’t signal boost the story and let it work itself out.
However, the arguments have been going on for days, and it’s the same tired nonsense; X trumps Y.
Look, people, that is not how this works and here is why.
The thing you have to understand about both racism and homophobia is that they are about history and not just individual acts. They are about how oppressed people navigate their safety in this world. What you have right here are two oppressed groups who confronted, at the same time, what is historically perceived as a huge threat to their safety. Unfortunately, it worked out with everyone using an –ism to fight what they perceived as a threat, and that’s where this goes sideways. There’s no winner here. And to argue about whether it’s better to be slurred or to get beaten up is a fool’s argument that isn’t getting us anywhere.
Something that many people from the privileged class don’t understand is that when minorities enter an unfamiliar space, usually we scan it for allies. It’s not that we’re automatically suspicious or that we think that, say, all white people are just waiting to re-instate lynchings. However, attacks that are racially or sexually motivated aren’t precisely rare. I know Americans like to think that slavery happened millions of years ago and racism is over now. The Civil Rights Act only happened in 1964; that would be my mother’s generation. And I hate to tell you this, but just because that happened, that doesn’t make everyone magically okay with black people. Stonewall happened in 1969, DOMA and Prop 8 have only begun to be dissected *this week* while the VRA was also struck a tremendous blow. Minorities still have a long, hard road ahead of them, and the world is generally still very hostile to them.
So Glum, more than likely, was highly aware that he was in an unfriendly space in DC—a place that is not fantastic for any minority—in the middle of the night, and he was about to be gay bashed. Glum was clearly afraid. One of the girls has his wrist, and he’s backing away. As she continues to menace him (and it’s worth noting that the girl who attacked him is noticeably bigger than him), he pushes her away, gets backed into a wall, she pushes him again and he spits on her. Then she attacks him and her friend jumps in to help.
Right, so what we have here is a gay man who is being gay bashed, in an environment where everyone clearly wants that to happen to him. He can’t hit a woman; even if he did, it’s likely other people would have them jumped in and started a riot. He’s trapped. The other gay ally disappears from view during the video, and he is essentially alone. If the rest of the place (or even a few other people) turn on him…let’s just say that none of us have ever really forgotten what happened to Matthew Shepard. You can’t simply remove that history when you start hassling gay people. People there were clearly bashing him because he was gay and he was in drag. They say so openly in the video, if you can hear it over the moron shouting World Star**.
So Glum took a tactic that many of us have taken; start some shit. Escalation as a tactic does occasionally work,while it can and did backfire heavily. Some people back down if you get crazy enough. These are ways you learn to defend yourself when you’re disenfranchised and survival is about more than making sure the rent is paid on time. In fact, he escalates it again at the end, by telling her that by making him bleed, she had exposed herself to AIDS (true or not is moot, he used the fear that all gay men are somehow contaminated to keep her away from him; he used her clear homophobia as an escape tactic). So while she may think that she’s simply yelling at a single uppity queen in a pizza shop, she isn’t. She’s operating inside of a system of power where gay men in predominantly hetero spaces are always in danger. And when gay bashing happens, people die. Glum, as a gay man, knows and lives this.
However, it’s worth noting that Glum is still a white man. Even though he may not have spit on that woman because she was black (which is a useless argument to have anyway, because nobody will ever know why he did that but Glum), to say that he simply spit because she was bothering him is to ignore hundreds of years of history. Yes, she started it, and Glum may not walk around spitting on black women just because, but we can’t just ignore the fact that racism exists, and what he did happens in a context.
Because to this girl, while she clearly has the Allies in the Room advantage, a white man just spit on her. I’ve heard often that “gay is the new black,” and I have to say that’s really ridiculous because black is the new black. And the old black. To say that is to assume that racism is over, and we all know that it simply is not. While that may be an uncomplicated thing for Glum, it is certainly not uncomplicated for her. Spitting on black people is heavily tied into slavery, racism, and the civil rights movement. So while it may not have meant anything for Glum, it most certainly meant something for her. Also, even thought I wouldn’t assume that Heidi Glum was going to wait in the parking lot with his friends to rape me, if she did think that…that’s an incident that is just as much of a real and constant threat as gay bashing. Gay notwithstanding***, white men and black women have a long complicated history that involves the systematic physical and sexual degradation of black women (including spitting on them). She, as a black woman, knows and lives this.
Glum may not have any interest in systematically degrading a black woman, but the fact is that you also can’t just divorce that from history any more than you can divorce Glum’s situation.
Now, for his use of the n-word…again, no one knows what Glum intended. No one knows what kind of mental state he was in (my guess was a very bad one), and his defense of that tweet said that as a man, the only thing he has against women are words. However, Glum doesn’t live in a vacuum. He knows there is no such thing as “only words” when you’re dealing with slurs; that’s what started the whole terrible ordeal. However, to use that word against her is to say that her race is somehow relevant to her level of asshole-ism. Whether he intended that or not is moot; that is what happens when one uses slurs. She didn’t attack him because she was black; she attacked him because he was gay. It’s a subtle semantic shift, but it’s an important one, and Glum’s inability to realize how what he said functions is problematic and can’t be ignored, even if it didn’t involve a trip to the hospital. Though this is not to say that he somehow deserved being beaten for spitting, or she somehow deserves being spat on for using homophobic slurs. Only that when you try and rank things like that, we all end up in a race to the bottom.
We’re left at an intersection where racism and homophobia meet, and one is not better than the other. While the acts differed in physical severity, they are seated in the same place—a fear of history repeating itself and a desperate need to keep oneself safe.
Frankly, this situation is too complicated for me to wrap this up nicely. I don’t have any answers. The only thing I can do is point out the context so that we can start having more productive conversations. What do you win if you somehow conclude that homophobia is worse than racism or vice versa? The patriarchy toaster still doesn’t exist. For the life of me, I can’t even understand why anyone wants to continue to play in these Olympics, but perhaps if we reframe the conversation to one where we talk about how the systemic treatment of minorities makes it possible for two historically oppressed groups to take up the mantle of racism and homophobia as self-defense, we could finally get somewhere.
**For those of you who are new here, most drag performers identify as men. While there are trans* performers, most drag queens identify as men and very strongly make the case that they don’t want to be women; they want to entertain.
**That itself is problematic, as World Star is “home to everything entertainment and hip hop,” according to their own website description. They mostly post videos of people behaving poorly or strangely, but he’s basically saying that somehow a gay bashing either has something to do with hip-hop culture, or it’s somehow entertaining to those interested in hip-hop culture. This is problematic in itself, but I don’t have all day, so I wanted to note it, and leave it for someone better suited than I am (where’s Jay Smooth when you need him?).
I was sent this article by my dear friend Callie, at which point I promptly lost my marbles. I only very rarely get angry, and it’s usually about things that are beyond human comprehension, like Steubenville and Dehli. I was almost incoherent three paragraphs in, and it only got worse. I fully admit that I referred to the author as an arrogant tampon and then went home and decided to write about it, as well. Lucky for everyone I slept on it…but this might be a bumpy ride.
Let’s talk about damning other women’s reproductive decisions.
You know you want kids, but you’re still not sure you’re ready. Mother of three, Janine Kovac, asks: What are you waiting for?
Janine might ask that, but don’t answer her. You’ll soon see why.
This is an open letter to an old friend of mine. I’ll call her “Doris.” If you’re a mom, you know Doris. She’s in her mid-30s and thinks of herself as a career woman. She knows the clock is ticking. She says she’s not panicking yet, but we know better—she’s freaking out. She doesn’t want to be rushed into having kids (which is why she’s still doesn’t have any) and she’s worried that she doesn’t feel ready. Or worse—what if she finally feels ready at age 46 and it’s too late? What if it’s already too late?
Hi, everyone. I’m Doris. (Hi, Doris!). Well, I’m A Doris. I’m not necessarily the Doris that good ol’ Janine is talking about here, if that Doris even exists. I find it hard to believe that a woman who would trust Janine with her fears about having children and her career would be unaware of the fact that Janine is a “writer” and therefore not following her work. Therefore, there is either no Doris, or poor Janine is about to get cold-clocked.
Nevertheless, the author makes it clear that Doris is a class of woman. And it’s a very specific class of woman, one that I happen to belong to. So I hope she won’t mind if I just go ahead and get this off my chest.
Sometimes Doris reminds me of my kindergartner—“What if I get sick tomorrow and can’t go to school and I never learn to read?” Sometimes Doris reminds me of my toddler twins—wanting whatever toy the other twin has.
It’s good to know that being a career woman who has concerns about her ability to raise children gives you the emotional process of a toddler. Though if I am hysterical, illogical, irrationally greedy, and incapable of conceptualizing a world beyond myself, why would you want me to have children?
My husband had to talk me into having children. (In fact, he’s still trying to talk me into having more children). And now, here I am, six years later with three of them. And if I’d had just a littlemore faith, I would have started having kids from the moment I met my husband and I would have never stopped to worry about being “ready.”
I am so jealous right now that Janine has a husband who knows what she wants better than she does. I sometimes stay awake and night and stare and say, “Are you there god? It’s me, Jolie. I know I haven’t been very good, but if you could please send me a man who likes to ‘talk me into’ things against my stated wishes, I’d be really appreciative. ”
It’s just so frustrating when you say something and the person you are talking to takes you on your word as a conscious adult.
Oh, Doris, Doris, Doris.
Yes, my queen?
This is what I want to say to your face when we get together for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and you wonder—again—if you’re ready to have kids. I haven’t said anything because 1) I don’t want to hurt your feelings, and 2) you’re always looking at your iPhone.
Oh man, poor Janine. Having to provide non-judgmental and understanding emotional support to a friend who is clearly going through a very rough time, given that she seeks out a friend to discuss her innermost fears with, is a real bummer. And given Janine’s warm and broad-minded understanding of all other humans, I have no idea why anyone would check text messages rather than listen to her talk.
First of all, Doris, I should have said this a long time ago, but please stop comparing your dog to my children. I get it—puppies are cute and babies are cute and both need to be housebroken. And your dog seems pretty smart, but will never learn how to brush her own teeth or call the vet when she has funny stomach pains. My kids, on the other hand, are going to grow up and vote.
This is a really great bit of feminism that totally needs to be said. In fact, while I know people find that comparison cute, it truly devalues the work that goes into raising children. We already think that raising children is fluffy women’s work, given that’s is free labor, but it is not. My cats are not going to go out into the world and interact emotionally with other humans, and teaching children to do that is not easy.
It’s too bad that Janine ruins this salient point by acting like a dickbag.
That’s probably the biggest difference. That and the poop. Out of all three children only one child has tried to eat his poop and that was an isolated incident, unless you count the time he found little goat droppings at the petting zoo.
So the emotional process of women who have concerns about pregnancy looks like that of toddlers, but I’m not the one talking in public about who in my house eats poop.
There’s something else I want to get off my chest, too, Doris.
Is it a baby?
I know you’re a smart cookie with advanced degrees. You think of yourself as a mature woman and a kind woman and a compassionate woman. And you are! But you are also slightly short-sighted. You are dismissive of the younger mom and can’t imagine that she could have wisdom beyond her years and beyond your—excuse me for saying this—limited world experience.
Damn right! It is impossible to know what another human being has experienced, and therefore, we should probably not sit somewhere and judge the choices they are dealing with. After all, everyone has a limited world experience. It’s limited to our own experiences, no matter what they may be, and that’s why we shouldn’t be so fast to assume things about other people.
And unless you actually get pregnant and give birth yourself, your world experience is totally limited. After 46, you may as well have just lived in a cave without the internet because there’s utterly no way to have the experience of raising a child after that age. Just call me Doris Dilettante.
And you’re a little dismissive of your own mother. I know she can’t text and she still calls the DVD player “the VCR.”
I’m dismissive of my own mother because she’s a sick woman who uses feigned helplessness as a way to hurt me—not everyone’s mother is healthy. Though I guess I should be okay with that, because at least my mom managed to have a baby without hemming and hawing about it.
And I only lived in poverty for most of my life with a woman who had no idea how to care for another human being, and my mother was in her 30s with a decent-ish job. Thank god my mom didn’t wait until she was ready! When she made Janine’s choices, everything came up roses!
I can just see you pregnant. You’ll be one of those people who reads What to Expect When You’re Expecting and you’ll watch the movie The Business of Being Born. After the baby comes you’ll read about the Ferber methods of sleep training and contrast them with the Harvey Karp methods. You’ll read Dr. Sears because you’ve read that attachment parenting is the best and you’d like to get your kids into a fancy school. I know. That’s why I bought an Ergo.
Thank god we all raise our children the same way, too. I know that I will have Janine’s thought process while I’m pregnant, and hopefully I’ll also get to write mean-spirited, misogynist essays on the internet about other women, too.
By the way, one of my girlfriends described attachment parenting as the worst mistake she ever made raising her child, but I guess if she goes to a fancy college…
It’s the first step toward giving your children the social/emotional intelligence that’ll get them into Princeton.
The second step is the money tree, which we all have. That’s why it makes no sense that some people wait to have children.
You’ll panic because you will never feel “ready”—whether it’s feeling ready for your daughter to go off to Princeton or ready for you to go off the pill.
The thing I really love about this article, if you’ll excuse me, is that Janine is displaying the emotional awareness of a gnat. Of course everyone’s children go to Princeton when your husband convinces you to have a baby that you’re not entirely ready for. And having a baby is no more difficult than going off the pill! I don’t know what I would do if having a biological child (instead of contributing to the life of a child in any of the other, yet clearly not nearly as good, ways) actually involved another human being, who is also having an emotional process centered around becoming a parent. I just want to go off the pill and get my magic baby.
In a way, telling yourself that you’re not ready to become a parent is like saying, “I’m not ready to broaden my horizons.” Or, “I’m not ready to be humbled on a daily basis.” Or, “I’m not ready to feel my heart swell up with admiration and pride.”
Oh Janine, how can I put this.
Allow me to confess what’s really going on with this Doris, as it looks like Janine, worldly as she is, seems to have gotten my experiences wrong. I am 32 year old, highly-educated, and career-driven. I never thought I would have this process, but I have recently started to think about whether I would like to have a biological child, as the window for having an easier time with that will be closing shortly.
I would like to give my child things I didn’t have, like a room, or a warm house, or a parent who is capable of meeting their emotional needs. This has also forced me to think about my own childhood, and to confront the fact that everything I knew about parenting, I learned from these two fuckups. My mother thought she was infertile and got pregnant accidentally. As far as I can tell, because she has never actually told me the truth about anything, she was 30 and my father was 22. They decided to go ahead and broaden their horizons; my father was gone in six months, and I was left in abject poverty with a woman who had severe emotional problems that she would never seek treatment for.
Janine advises that I just have a child when I have utterly no reference point for how to be a parent that doesn’t include abandonment.
As you can see, things worked out well for me. My reaction to this was, “Get me the fuck out of here,” which lead to me being admitted early to a fancy school. So I guess that’s an option if you can’t afford an Ergo.
I am angry about my childhood, and I have reservations about my ability to parent because of it—which often leaves me without words for my own parents. While I don’t regret the business of being born, I spent the first 18 years of my life cold and terrified because my parents took their cues from the Janines of the world. I am working on forgiving them both (also a personal process, though I bet Janine would like me to speed it up a bit), and I’ve been forced me to recognize how my own emotional process was and wasn’t working . Rather than being some monstrous caricature of their combined worst features, I’m actually infinitely reasonable…aside from the money, I’m already a hundred miles ahead of where my parents were. Maybe I could raise a really epic kid. Or
The two thoughts co-exist, by the way. It know it might shock Janine, but I am capable of entertaining more than a single thought at any given time. Maybe I am really grabbing for toys other people have, maybe I am being hysterical about the severity of the after-effects from my childhood, but I get to be the one who tells my story. Not some woman who never met me, who decided to overwrite my experiences with misogyny.
Janine is already asleep by now, but there are other concerns that I have that I know are widespread. As there’s no mention of Doris being married or in a relationship, I’m going to assume that she isn’t. Being married to man isn’t my default, nor is it the default, so even if ”Doris” is in a stable marriage…not all us Dorises are actually the same.
Though, the more I think about it, the only way this essay works is if Janine is mad at Jennifer Aniston specifically.
I have concerns about my emotional process and grief. How many miscarriages could I have and still be basically “okay?” Zero? Two? Five? This is unlikely for some people, but for those who have not had adequate medical care for most of their lives, this is very serious. I have only had all of my medical needs met for the last two years (i.e., not until age 30). Previous to that, I only received medical treatment when something progressed to the emergency stage. This included ob-gyn care, and it may have some impact on my ability to have a natural child. Would I be precluded from using a donor for this? Would I need IVF for this? How would I feel if I was unable to have a child?
Well, I suppose I wouldn’t feel humbled. That’s reserved for women with children.
Money is always an issue, as well. I don’t actually think I would need an entire college fund before I got knocked up, but I know what it’s like to be raised with not enough food, no heat in the winter, and a single pair of shoes you’ve worn a hole into, but you’re too terrified to tell your mother because you are super fast on the uptake. Janine’s advice is that I stop whining and possibly inflict that on a child. I just take the big leap and hope that the company layoffs are over? Hope that the next policy change to work-life balance isn’t to make the flexible working hours more strict? In reality, I realize that I am an educated, adult woman with a good career who lives in the best place in the country for me to work, and I have insurance and access to the finest doctors my policy says that I am worth. When I think of myself pregnant, however, I have the same emotional process of a 15-year-old who works at Starbucks on the weekends. Oh jesus. And, by the way, that’s illogical, but it’s also my experience, which I would like to discuss for myself. Janine.
Of course, I guess we could just live on my husband’s six figure salary…except I don’t have a husband, nor would I want to choose one based on his salary potential, so for me to step off that cliff means going it alone. That means thinking about how I will work and run the house and still somehow be present enough to contribute to shaping my child as a person. The Dorises out there who married teachers have concerns about their ability to leave their careers or what would happen should their partner have a heart attack.
Did I say I wasn’t ready to feel my heart swell with admiration and pride? I meant I wasn’t ready for my child to know what “homeless” means.
Given that I don’t have a husband to “lovingly” pressure me into doing what he knew was best for me all along, despite my protests, can I just join the Peace Corp to broaden my horizons instead? Do I get extra points if my husband doesn’t even bother pressuring me and he just sabotages my birth control instead?
I know it seems like a big step. I know it looks like motherhood is giving up yourself. It’s not. It’s just shedding the parts of you that you don’t really need anymore.
Can someone check my date? I think my ass is expired.
This is something else that I have had to confront. I am incredibly selfish. It is a product of my upbringing, but I have accepted it. I will donate the shirt off my back to a clothing drive, but I do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and no one will tell me otherwise. I once joked to a friend of mine that I would put my skates in a trophy case in my child’s room. The plaque would read “Look what you did to Mommy.”
Maybe Doris doesn’t really want kids. Maybe Doris really does want to sleep until 2 p.m., fuck anyone she wants at whatever time of the day she feels like it in any room in or out of the house, work on her career, write a novel, wear shoes she can’t barely walk in, and hire a pool boy who has no idea how to clean a pool—and the problem that is weighing on her is that everyone is telling her that she ought to want children instead. Or maybe Doris thinks that if she’s ready at 46, there is a whole world of children in shelters who might like to go live with someone nice. If she spent the next ten years really going overtime in her career, she could become a parent that way.
It is a very serious concern that motherhood might not trigger the Shirt Off My Back side of my emotions. The thing about emotions (especially ones borne from the trauma of having been parented by people who were not ready) is that you can’t always control them. What happens if having a child rubs up against my I Do What I Want! switch? I was raised by that, and it’s damaging and emotionally traumatic and is that the coin flip I want to take?
So I guess Janine is right that I don’t need a behavior that would be maladaptive to motherhood, but in my current life…I Do What I Want! works out incredibly well. It’s gotten me far in my career and my education because I am dedicated and driven. I think it’s a bit presumptive to think that I don’t “need” any of that, or to assume that getting pregnant would magically do the work that my therapist is pulling teeth to do (that didn’t work for my mother).
There’s no guidebook that can prepare you for that; you learn through the experience of it. Motherhood is like boot camp for the soul.
But since you insist on being “ready” first, here are some things you can do.
…what’s really funny is that my biggest fear about having children is that I will become the kind of person who talks about which of her kids eats shit at the dinner table (or worse, posts pictures of it to Facebook. Thanks, STFU parents). I’m aware that would never happen to me (I have a sense of self, and won’t need a child to give me one), and I’m aware that all of my friends with children are tough, smart, loving women who kick ass all day, raise the shit out of some babies, and maintain their own personhood. I still find it very scary.
Maybe Doris doesn’t have kids because she’s also terrified of turning into Janine. Maybe this part can be my nasty open letter to any woman who had a child?
If you stopped to pay attention, you might notice how your job is really something more like marketing than paralegal work or maybe you’ll notice that you’d really enjoy event planning and after noticing, you might go to more events and spend fewer nights home watching back-to-back episodes of Friends.
I knew it was Jennifer Aniston.
Be attentive to your own life.
Have a word with yourself.
As I’m sure we’ve noticed by now, I have sincere difficulty not getting angry when I watch women tapdance to tear one another down as fast as possible. You don’t get fucking Patriarchy Points, Janine. There’s no toaster.
Here’s what I see in Janine’s article. I see a woman who is having the same doubts about her choices that I am. I see someone who flippantly mentioned that college is expensive, but that means she has thought about finance. I see someone who had children, by her own admission, only after being talked into it by her husband. Maybe Janine has started to read blogs by women who deliberately chose to not have children, and their lives look different. I see a woman who is so unsure of her choices that she goes into total emotional overload at the thought of other women not making her same choices and being, basically, fine. It is absolutely the only excuse for her to attempt to shame and bully an entire class of women who are having difficult and unique emotional processes. It’s either that or she’s really just a giant dick, and I refuse to believe that.
Despite her protests, motherhood was a complicated choice for Janine. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t have been a pill to stop taking for her magic, sex-free, biological babies. No one would have needed to talk her into anything. That’s because sexism makes motherhood the default setting for womanhood, which then simultaneously privileges motherhood (women who don’t have children have something wrong with them—they aren’t maternal and and relegated to spinster status. Broken half-women) and devalues it (women with children have only done what you’re supposed to do anyway, and because motherhood is just how things go, it’s not labor and can’t be considered capital). Janine is stuck in the whirlpool that is at the place where those two settings meet, and what came out was a desperate grab for Patriarchy Points so she could leave the exit and safely land on the slightly more privileged side of the track (which is kind of like saying “Well, she only stabbed me. She didn’t punch me in the teeth or anything.”) Or at least the side of the track that her choices lead her to.
So Janine has some “power” in her position because she looks like a pretty well-behaved lady and, while Janine isn’t immune to patriarchy, there are a lot of advantages to playing nice-nice. Her choices allow her access to the crumbs from the larger meal of socialized sexism. She’s a ~nice, married mother of three, and her children are her whole life.~ Think about the difference between what would happen if she were raped and if I were raped? I’m just some godless, over-educated slut (possibly even a lesbian!) No one would hold a vigil for my ~kind and gentle soul~ were I to get dismembered in an alley, because I haven’t played nicely.
Given that most people subscribe to the model of obtaining power via subjugating someone else, people disapproving of slutty, career-driven Doris is a way for Janine to obtain reassurance and emotional supply, as well as maintain her stance as a good girl. There’s a special kind of hatred reserved for women who aren’t “good” mothers, after all, and Janine knows that if she lands in that camp, she will be swiftly taken apart. The only thing waiting for Doris in Janine’s world are miscarriages and marrying someone who already had kids, but the things waiting for mothers in general are actually not that great either.
It’s forbidden for women to talk about the darker parts of motherhood, the times when you’re so tired that you fantasize about getting in the car with your purse and not coming back. Or the times when you’re shouting at your husband because the baby has been crying and noisy for days and neither of you are emotionally okay, nor do you have the space to care for one another. Or the times when you look at your friends who are having complicated emotional processes regarding their reproductive choices and you decide that they are uncultured, slutty morons instead of admitting that you, too, might like to return to a time when you could do whatever the fuck you wanted.
If Janine were to actually discuss the complicated feelings that go along with being fully responsible for a small human, that would rock. Unfortunately, she decided that my story (and the stories of all the other Dorises) were so boring that she could tell them in a mere second. We’re “freaking out.”
It’s my small act of activism to tell some of my story, and to talk about the emotions that I really am having regarding having children, including the ones that further remove me from the “privilege” (scare quotes intentional) of motherhood. Yet, there was a lot in Janine’s article that was interesting for me. It illustrated how women are silenced for not falling nicely into line; Janine volunteered for the position of policing and judging other women.
It was so truly vile that I had an emotional reaction to it, but I also had a theoretical one. When we talk about the concept that women are unable to be sexist against other women, an article like this is exactly what we’re talking about. This is a woman who wrote unfettered misogyny, and it is prejudice. Not sexism. This is because Janine doesn’t actually have any power in this situation. She either needs to play nicely, and never speak about her doubts about becoming a mother, or those crumbs (having her rape aggressively prosecuted) from the larger meal (not really having to worry about rape) are taken away. Sexism silenced Janine. If it didn’t, she would talk about her own complicated process more openly, instead of lying and saying that it’s totally worth all the trouble and the hassle. I’d have much preferred to see Janine talk honestly about her own experiences, but her point wasn’t to actually make me take the plunge and have a child. Janine’s intention was to do sexism’s work by silencing and minimizing the stories of other women, women who have not behaved nearly as well as she has.
If that was not her intention, then she’s got to be painfully emotionally dead. There’s no one on earth who would have looked at that article and thought, “You know, that sounds encouraging to women thinking about being mothers.” Janine opted to also take the route of never being direct with her “friend” about her emotions and instead turned pregnancy into a game of Patriarchy Points. She shouted it into the internet, where she could easily disengage from the thoughts and feelings of the real live women who she was so proudly disparaging. Her Facebook had a now deleted post snickering over the fact that non-moms were up in arms, which conveniently ignored (and then did not signal boost) the mothers who also had reactions to Janine’s ideas and who wanted to tell their stories. Instead they are relegated to being non-mothers…which still allows Janine the space to think of herself as the Blessed Virgin, patron of mothers everywhere.
This is where patriarchy gets us. Women damn near clawing one another’s eyes out for what? Enough approval that you’d end up on the news if you disappeared? That’s the side of the playing field Janine (herself a very educated woman) decided to play on, and her choice to do that is simultaneously boring and fascinating.
And it leaves me to my biggest fear about having a biological child…what if, given the way we treat women, I have a daughter?
I am going to try my hardest to not speak for Rihanna. My goal here is to dissect the widespread discomfort with how she’s disturbing the intimate partner violence narrative (I prefer the term IPV over DV, because it is a broader term meant to encompass more experiences), and not psychoanalyze Rihanna specifically. I say emotional process only because I can’t come up with another word to describe what is happening. I mean that she is publicly operating outside of both the practical concerns and the “acceptable” emotional concerns commonly talked about in IPV rhetoric.
I’ve avoided writing about Rihanna since 2009. Friends asked me why I’ve avoided writing about her, as it seems like the kind of complicated, high-profile situation that I would follow obsessively. Truth be told, I have followed it obsessively, just not written about it. It’s taken me that long to figure out what I want to say.
Here is the narrative, in vaguely chronological order. For more detail, I suggest the Rihanna tag on Oh No They Didn’t.
While dating in 2009, Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna while he was driving a car and she was a passenger; he also threatened to kill her, and eventually left her on the side of the road and walked off (only calling Rihanna’s assistant later to ask whether she had provided the police with his name). I become very conscious of them pretty much immediately; my last partner was abusive and to see IPV given the same amount of coverage we generally reserve for war was something new. The photo of her face was released, though we can only guess whether the intention was to damn Brown or salivate over her suffering. Rihanna gave an interview to Diane Sawyer about the incident, and it was my perception that she was well received by anyone who had any sense at all (I know that reference is not fair, and those tweets are the product of a cultural message that tells young girls that the attention of a man is worth any price, no matter how steep). I occasionally followed her and thought about charting the tarting up of Rihanna along with the current [at the time] gossip about her to see whether there was a trend, but then I decided to go outside.
During all this, Chris Brown acts a fool across every channel possible. He gave no indication that he comprehended the gravity of what he did, and gave a disastrous, bow-tied interview to Larry King (where he explained what caused the violence was “I mean, that’s relationships. I wouldn’t say it’s OK. I think, just in relationships in general, there’s a chance where you lose your temper or like arguments get heated or whatever the case may be”). He went jet skiing like he didn’t just try to murder his girlfriend in the street three weeks previous. He complains bitterly about being persecuted to this day, and when asked about the incident on Good Morning America, he threw a chair through a window, shouted down a producer, ripped off his shirt, and ran out into the streets of New York. He tweeted that he is “done apologizing,” and in a stunning display before the 2011 AMAs he tweets and deletes, “I know a lot of you wack ass (OLD) celebrities probably wanna f— my ex, but talking sh-t on me wont get you far! and to be REALLY HONEST, ya’ll wonder why ni— spazzes all the time?” (for the criminally unhip, the last part means “If you really want her…well, don’t you ever wonder why I act the way I do?”). He begins dating another girl publicly.
And then with Chris Brown still refusing to acknowledge the severity of what he did, he and Rihanna released a remix of her song “Cake” that is raunchy enough to raise my eyebrows (a difficult task). Also featured in the song is a suspected racist dig directed at Brown’s public girlfriend, followed up by a photo that confirmed that story to everyone who is possession of a head. Rihanna admitted that she still loved Brown to Oprah. Brown and Rihanna start making coy tweets to one another, going so far as to post separate photos of one another in the same bed on New Year’s Day. There is a song on her seventh album called “Nobody’s Business” which is a duet with Brown, where she sings “Every touch becomes infectious/Let’s make out in this Lexus” which is absolutely ghoulish given the circumstances of her assault. They position themselves as the Bonnie and Clyde of Instagram, and when a journalist from Complex magazine asked Rihanna why she made a song if her relationship was really nobody’s business, she abruptly walked out of the interview.
All of this, given to us via social media and gossip reporting, is a narrative just like any other, and we have certain expectations of it. Unlike other narratives, however, it plays out in real time. The real time aspect of this contributes to the shifting interpretations somewhat, but I think stopping there is lazy. More on that in a moment.
Concurrent to this narrative is the narrative of public opinion. You may go to any gossip blog and you will find comments that fall in these camps (and I am sure there are others I have missed). Through my various trawling of the internet, I’ve discovered that reactions to this narrative can be thrown into four categories:
- Team Breezy and the Misogyny Crew. I lumped these together because both of them are steeped in patriarchy. These people generally think, and have always thought, that what happened is no big deal. They think that Chris Brown has fully indicated, rather than just said, that his behavior has changed in any way (it has not, just follow his Twitter) or that Rihanna was somehow at fault for what happened because she touched his phone or takes photos with no pants on or what have you. This narrative is a common one, and it has remained stationary, and it’s boring and should probably stop.
- Chris Brown is a Douchebag. This group tends to vocalize that hitting your girlfriend is wrong, Chris Brown has in no way indicated that he’s done any of the work on himself that was needed, and would he please just go away. This narrative has also remained stationary.
- Whatever. Whatever people are vaguely interested, or understand that IPV is wrong, but if Rihanna wants to date him, who cares. This narrative has also remained stationary.
- The Court of Shifting Opinion. This, however, is the reaction that interested me the most. I’ve seen this one come about in two ways. First were people who, immediately upon her reconciliation with Brown, announced that she was stupid and they were done with her. Later were people who were immediately concerned, but after she began to aggressively promote his presence in her life via social media, were turned off by what they common referred to as “attention-seeking behavior” (alternately, they dismissed the whole thing as publicity, which might be true, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still watching a plot play out in front of us or that we’re not having a reaction to the incidents as they occur, even if they are fictionalized) and have generally decided that she’s either stupid or they are done with her. This reaction is dynamic, and it is the one that most interests me.
I started to wonder what about this situation actually turned the opinion of a large subset of her supporters against her. It was my first guess that it was contingent on her refusal to be a Good Victim. You know, the one who leaves the first time and never goes back and denounces the abuser immediately and goes right to therapy and everything is nice and neat and tied up and nonthreatening. When someone refuses to be a Good Victim, we get angry because it just doesn’t make sense; that’s not what’s supposed to happen (even though research shows that most women are not Good Victims, so it’s actually that narrative that doesn’t make sense). After thinking on it for a while more, I began to wonder if Rihanna’s refusal to act the way we think that an IPV survivor should act does more than reinforce cultural IPV narratives that most of us already know. If she hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary compared with the average IPV survivor, why are we suddenly so disturbed to see her return to her abuser? I think that the situation and the amount of attention that garners are worth examining critically, and that we should truly take this opportunity to think about about why Rihanna’s inability to be a Good Victim is so fascinating to everyone watching (the album containing Nobody’s Business was her 7th album in 7 years, and her first number 1 album).
So I’ll start the thinking. (I do have a plea. My bookmark of this blog disappeared into the ether of my smartphone. If anyone reading this knows of it, please send it to me so that I can link to it)
I read a blog a few weeks that talked about shifting our perception of how women leave IPV situations. It said that it normally takes smokers 5 tries to fully quit smoking and not go back, and that doctors who help people quit smoking understand this, and they accept it as a natural part of the quitting process. They also think that, hey, if someone goes cold turkey the first time and never touches another smoke, good for them! It then invited us to try and conceptualize the IPV process in the same way. We, in general, see a woman who goes back to an abusive partner as dumb, weak, or foolish. We wonder why she doesn’t have the sense to know that he’s just going to abuse her again. We get fed up with her, and a lot of times people will walk away after a woman returns because they don’t want to “enable” her (I do not think that word means what you think it means…).
The blog goes on to say, however, that it takes a woman an average of 7 times to fully leave her abusive partner, and we all know there are a million reasons why a woman wouldn’t leave immediately. As we know, 75% of IPV homicides occur when the victim is trying to leave the abuser, and that alone is a terrifying little factoid to have in your head while you’re in the situation. There are concerns about practicality, money issues, children issues, divorce issues, where to live, how to get to work the next morning. This blog invites us to stop seeing women who return to abusive partners as having “failed” at leaving; they have just completed one step of their process. Six more to go. When you think of it like that, it becomes easier to conceptualize (and therefore assist effectively with) the process of a woman leaving her abuser, and it also removes the shame associated with returning to an IPV situation…therefore empowering the woman with the knowledge that she didn’t fail, she’s just on step two.
However, I want to take that one step further. There’s the narrative that a lot of us use to keep us safe. I’d leave immediately. Or even—there’s nothing wrong with someone who can’t get away, but I’d leave immediately and never go back. You will see this in a lot of places, women swearing up and down that they don’t judge…but they would never allow themselves to be treated in such a way, that they would be good mothers and take their children out of an abusive household, they would starve and live in shelters and suffer, but they would leave. Even most feminist discourse holds up the narrative of the practical concern; women who don’t leave or who return to abusers have their reasons. After all, not everyone has a money tree, children need a place to sleep, and not every woman is in your same fiscal/emotional situation. It’s the Understandable Victim that we look for if we can’t find the Good Victim, because we can look at the Understandable Victim and cluck and say, “Hey now, that situation was very complicated, and mine is totally different.”
Given that a lot of feminist discourse conceptualizes the difficulty in leaving an IPV situation in practical terms that usefully highlight the intersection of feminism and classism, what if the thing that makes us uneasy about Rihanna and Chris Brown is the fact that she also resists that narrative—the narrative of the Understandable Victim. Instead, Rihanna is playing out a new emotional narrative that makes those of us watching it both fearful and uncomfortable, and this might be a contributing factor to the public sway towards category 4.
I think that very few people reading this could, if their partner were to walk into the room right now and punch them in the back of the head, leave quickly, easily, and with few practical repercussions. If you share a household with someone, have children, do not have family/friends nearby (abuse victims are notoriously systematically cut off from sources of support), and/or do not have unlimited money, look around and carefully take stock of how long it would take you to leave without any practical repercussions. That’s probably at least a few weeks of hiding money, making arrangements for places to stay, and ways to get to work. Most people can conceptualize the terror of suddenly being homeless or even of hoping that the abuser will come through on their promises so that they won’t need to deal with the pain of what’s happened coupled with the fact that their entire life, from their relationship to their living situation, is about to change.
Rihanna, however, has no such problems. She has no children and enough money to walk out of her house right now because she’s bored with it. She has access to protective services that none of us will ever dream of, and could easily hire 24-hour security to assure her safety. She would have access to the best therapists and treatment that money could buy. Jay-Z is credited with discovering her, and gossip sites reported that he was notoriously protective of her. Whether that is true is anyone’s guess, but I’m just saying that I would be way more afraid of Jay-Z than Suge Knight. Suge would maybe at least wind up in front of a judge. Jay-Z is friends with Obama…he isn’t going to jail for shit.
And she, too, went back. I don’t know whether Rihanna returned to Chris Brown to fulfill some emotional need or maybe she forgave him and doesn’t have any negative emotions about what happened. What I do know is that Rihanna unsettles a bootstraps myth that a lot of people like to hang onto in order to deal with the fact that, at any time, our lovely partner could stop yelling at the TV and start punching us. I’d leave.
In fact, she even unsettles the narrative of the “gray area,” which many people also use to comfort themselves when having to confront horror. There is no “gray area” regarding what transpired in that car in 2009. There is a photograph of a woman who was beaten until she was unrecognizable, a gruesome police report, and a man who fully admits that he did that to her (though he did once claim that he thought the photos has been manipulated to make it look worse). I wonder if the discomfort with Rihanna and her aggressive behavior surrounding her current relationship with Chris Brown isn’t in some way tied to the fact that her situation is expanding our understanding of IPV and how it affects people. Maybe it’s comforting to dismiss her outright as “stupid” rather than to think that no one is immune to patriarchy. Rihanna is publicly demonstrating that even cut-and-dried IPV situations rarely fit the narratives of the Good and Understandable Victims.
I have to admit that I have thought, “If this woman didn’t leave—this woman who has access to the best living arrangements, the safest living conditions, the best therapists on earth at her disposal, and a rather impressive support system—what the fuck hope do the rest of us have?” Every last tweet reminds us that, if we’re ever so unfortunate as to need to leave, we will have contend with the devastating practical concerns and with an emotional process that is incomprehensible, overwhelming, and impossible to prepare for. This is the plain reality of what women face every day in their relationships with men—we know the statistics about how likely it is that someone will abuse us, and we know that person will more than likely be someone who we love and trust. The frightening reality is that, despite the rhetoric that women should protect ourselves, we have absolutely no way of preparing for that situation—unless one were to suggest that we view all male relationships with suspicion and always have money hidden, but then we’d be hysterical. We are watching something play out in a very public way that re-focuses the discourse about IPV in real time. When you think about the level of beliefs that are being called into question here, is there any wonder why people are suddenly very uncomfortable watching it?
Rihanna, in fact, doesn’t even have the safety secrecy. If you had a public IPV situation…let’s say you were badly abused, left openly, and told your friends and family the terrible details of what happened. Let’s also say that you have money and no practical concerns, and also that your family and friends have been vocal about their love for you. And now let’s say that you then return to your abuser. Would you immediately tell your friends and family? How would the thought of telling them that you were working things out with a person who nearly killed you make you feel? Would you wonder what would happen if you were abused again? Would your friends and family think you were stupid and leave you? I wonder if you wouldn’t keep your return a secret, or close yourself off from your family so as not to have to feel any shame…just in case. Maybe the desire to avoid that shame would even keep you away from your abuser.
Rihanna no longer has that emotional process for us to grab onto, either, to make ourselves feel better about the reality of IPV. Her relationship is public (though she calls it a friendship), and if Brown were to hurt her again in any noticeable way, that would also be public. While it’s true that this might give her some power in the relationship—perhaps a second incident coupled with his unrepentant behavior and his race* would be enough to destroy his career, but I doubt it—it’s equally true that patriarchy affects women disproportionately. To many people (three of the four categories above) she would be a laughingstock, completely humiliated, and publicly disgraced as an idiot. In fact, it’s infinitely more likely that her career would be over should Brown hit her again. Given how aggressively she presents the relationship—in the middle of writing this, she released the cover art for her single “Stay,” which is a blurry photo of her nuzzling Brown’s neck—to a public that mostly disagrees with it, it’s not a huge critical leap to think that the crowd might enjoy an opportunity to see her swiftly punished for the transgression.
Here is a person who not only has no practical concerns regarding walking away from an abusive relationship, but someone who openly returned to an IPV situation when it’s clear that were it to happen again, she would lose everything. What Rihanna is giving us is a singular look at the complex emotional process of an IPV survivor, which is a story that we don’t often see standing alone. Now instead of deciding whether she’s smart or dumb or attention seeking, we need to decide how we’re going to confront the reality and complexity of IPV, including possibly admitting that there’s no amount of money, forethought, public outcry, or support that can fully prevent anyone from making choices that they never saw themselves making, and that’s a very scary thought to have, indeed.
*While doing some quick googling to provide a few links for this footnote, it turned into basically another blog. Rather than delete or cut it, I am leaving it intact. Here it is.
I also recognize that Chris Brown’s position as the poster boy for IPV is strongly tied to the fact that he is a black man and not a white man. I’m not saying that Chris Brown is merely an angelic victim of circumstance. In fact, some of this is before my time, and I would appreciate input from those who were slightly more present in the 80s about the cultural reaction to some of this. I was 6, and I’m viewing everything from the vantage point of many years later. I’m just saying that I find it culturally interesting that, for example, Miranda Lambert (rightfully) slammed Brown at the Grammy awards, and then a few weeks ago said that she felt the exact same way. This is all well and good, until you recall that both Miranda and her husband (as helpfully pointed out by ONTD) maintain a relationship with Glen Campbell. Campbell famously knocked out Tanya Tucker’s front teeth when she was 20, but I guess it is “cool to act like that didn’t happen.”
Also of interest, at the time of this writing, Chris Brown’s Wikipedia has a six paragraph retelling of his situation with Rihanna. Glen Campbell’s Wikipedia article has a brief mention that he was in a relationship with Tanya Tucker when she was 21 and he was 45. There are 3 sentences in Sean Penn’s Wikipedia vaguely mentioning that he beat Madonna with a baseball bat, and then tied her to a chair and terrorized her for 9 hours. Charlie Sheen’s wiki entry has a single paragraph about his divorce from Brooke Mueller, but no identifying details of the “felony menacing” he was charged with. There is a vague mention of Denise Richards and “threats of violence”
In reality, by the way, Charlie Sheen “accidentally” shot his fiancé, Kelly Preston, in 1990. In 1994, Charlie Sheen was sued by a student who said that he punched her in the head after she turned him down for sex. In 1996, Sheen beat up his girlfriend, Brittany Ashland. In 2006, Denise Richards filed for divorce amid allegations that Sheen threw furniture at her and threatened to kill her. In 2009, the “felony menacing” was actually Sheen strangling and then holding a knife to the throat of Brooke Mueller. In 2010, Sheen threatened to kill and attempted to strangle Capri Anderson, who locked herself in a bathroom and hid from Sheen until the police arrived (Wikipedia said that he “trashed a hotel room,” no mention of the naked, screaming woman locked in a closet).
I’m just saying that these things are interesting to think about, that’s all.
I’m not saying that you aren’t just as outraged and disgusted at Charlie Sheen as you are about Chris Brown. I certainly am. I also know that, while both these men still have public careers and fans, there are also vocal sections of the population who refuse to normalize their behavior and speak out vehemently against both in conversation and online, many people who do so totally equally for both parties.
I’m just saying that isn’t it interesting that at least one person was pressed enough to write an entire high school English paper about Chris Brown’s violent behavior (down to his lawyer telling him, “I don’t dance. You don’t talk,” at his most recent court date), but not a single person (not even me) was that pressed over Glen Campbell, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, Michael Fassbender…
So after my post about gatekeeping, I started discussing the classist implications of nose-thumbing at people who do not fit your geeky defininitions.
After meandering around for a bit, I’ve decided to compile this handy list of things I have seen happen that need to stop happening. These are all solid, real world examples that I am talking about, and there is very little theory or discussions of class cultural issues (which are vast and fascinating).
This post is U.S. centric. I apologize, but if you have universal healthcare, I hate you and I am jealous and you can just deal. So there.
If you would like to add anything to this list, feel free.
1. Don’t call an ambulance or emergency 911 unless directed to do so. Contrary to popular belief, and ambulance ride is not just a little courtesy extended by the hospital. Ambulance rides run anywhere from $400 to $1000 plus mileage and materials used. That can be devastating for a family that does not have insurance or one that lives paycheck to paycheck.
How not to be classist: Ask the person (if they are capable of speech) what they want to do, or offer your services free of charge, even to strangers. Factor class into your risk-reduction. A person who had her arm torn off in a thresher cannot drive herself to the hospital safely, and it’s possible that she could hurt or kill others if allowed to drive–this is a bigger devastation than a thousand dollar medical bil, so drive them to the hospital yourself or call an ambulance. A person who broke her ankle at a skating rink can answer your questions about the best way she wants to proceed and you should not call 911 and just assume she has insurance.
2. Don’t act like cars and gasoline grow on trees. Even if you think you’re “on the way,” chances are that the driver won’t drive directly past your house on the way home and will be using their time and money to pick you up and drop you off. This is especially the case if you’ve invited someone out but then expect them to drive a long distance or play designated driver. Gasoline is often one of the easier ways that people can budget, because it’s very simple to make it stretch; you just don’t go anywhere except work. It’s also one of the more expensive necessities if you don’t live near public transportation.
How not to be classist: Offer money to the the person who is driving, even if it’s only 5 dollars. If you don’t have a car and regularly ride with someone else, offer to split the insurance costs with them, if you can. Do not assume they are in a better situation than you are because they own a car. Do not assume that the person in the car is made of money–if you ask them to drive you somewhere (even in an emergency), it’s possible they won’t have enough gas to get to work at the end of the week. It’s better to have someone turn down your 5 dollars than to have them thinking that you’re an entitled jackass.
3. Don’t decide what is a luxury for other people. I see this a lot on tumblrs that are really angry at the Occupy movement. “How poor can you be if you have X?” Substitute a latte, a cell phone, clothes, free time, a tent, a car, a salad, or anything else you want for X. It’s the assumption that if you have the money for a latte (did you ever notice that it’s always a latte, and it’s a never a good old, American cup o’ joe!), then you don’t need help or you are not drowning that is classist, and it plays into the notion of the Deserving Poor.
How not to be classist: Mind. Your. Own. Business. I have no idea where people got the idea that only the rich deserve coffee, but there you have it. Being poor, protesting, or having a low paying job does not mean that you must live life austerly and you must put every last dime into a savings account until you reach the magical class status where everyone looks at you and says, “Yes, you have sufficient money to have a cappucino.” Poor people are not, in fact, cloister nuns and they do not deserve to do nothing but work until they die. I would eat ramen every night of the week and drive absolutely nowhere if it meant that I could enjoy my first hour of work with a cup of coffee and raw sugar, and there is nothing about my class status or my job that makes me more or less deserving of having it. And you are invited to run your finances absolutely any way that you might see fit (privately or publicly).
In fact, if anyone who said this opened their spending up to scrutiny, they would probably die of embarrassment. Did you really need all those dresses? Why did you buy the luxury car, when you could have bought a compact car and put money into a savings account? You’re not really making enough money for that salon trip, are you? Why are you doing this wasteful nonsense instead of bettering your situation? Did you buy name brand food? The idea that the poor don’t deserve a new pair of jeans really doesn’t have much to do with the poor, it’s about telling everyone else how fantastic of a person you think you are for doing everything correctly.
If anyone would like to refute this, you are more than welcome to submit to me your monthly reciepts for publication and perusal (with all identifying information removed, of course), along with a general description of your lifestyle and where you would like to see yourself in 5 years.
Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
4. Do not assume that someone has a “good” job. At a party I was at recently, someone asked me what my mother did for a living, and I said that she was an administrative assistant. They then asked me whether she was the head of all the secretaries or something, and we got to have a very awkward moment where I explained that she was not (therefore revealing my class status and upbringing, which is one of the things that I don’t like to discuss until I’m sure the person I’m talking to isn’t going to say something stupid and hurtful. Too late, in this case!). Or rather, I got to have that very awkward moment caused by someone else.
How not to be classist: Don’t assume that people have money or come from money. Don’t assume that no one you know was raised by a janitor or a waitress or a cashier or a grandparent on disability. Also, do not act like poverty is some kind of novelty living situation (oh wow, you lived in a trailer/section 8 housing/a studio apartment? What was THAT like?). Try to think about whether what you are saying denegrates their life or their job. Be aware that other people may not have had your life and that your expectations are hurtful.
5. If you run a business or are a large company, try to figure out how the “bottom line” affects the lives of your employees. This recently happened when my job moved offices from a less-expensive (cost-of-living-wise), convenient area to a remote, incredibly expensive area in order to cut down on costs (we post about 200 million dollars of revenue per quarter; you do the math). A number of employees were left with a job that they could not afford to have on the salary they were making (and these were people with master’s degrees, welcome to the new job market). They could not afford the gas to get to the new office, and could not afford to move closer due to the housing price spike. This left us with a really angry office culture, and changed a job that they all loved to one that they couldn’t afford to have.
How not to be classist: Think about the people who depend on you as seriously as you think about your own pockets. Everyone deserves to make money, and I’m not going to begrudge a business that makes ethical decisions in order to keep the doors open and keep people employed. If you can’t afford an NYC storefront and you need to move the store to Missoula, that’s terrible but unavoidable (in terms of risk reduction, again, closing all together or outsourcing makes zero jobs. Moving to a cheaper area messes up your employees right now, but maintains some jobs). If you are making your employees miserable in order to cut your own costs for a bigger profit, you don’t deserve good employees. The fact of the matter is that people often say, “Well, just get another job at night, work two jobs, full time! Lazy!” without realizing that killing yourself to survive so that other people might profit from your misery is a really awful thing that we don’t want to encourage. Work ethic is one thing, but by claiming that there is no problem because people can sleep in boxes and work 100 hour weeks, you’re basically saying to everyone around you, “I’m a huge fool who can’t think through the logical conclusions of what I’m saying.”
6. Do not change plans at the last minute or pressure someone to do something that they can’t afford. If your original plan for the evening was going to the movies and getting some pizza (total cost, 20 dollars) and you decide that you want to have a sit down dinner and four hours of arcade time at Dave and Busters, and then tell everyone this information without getting any input…you’re doing something incredibly classist.
How not to be classist: The awesome thing about poor people is that we know what everything costs, so you could ask people for suggestions about what other plans are feasible. When changing plans, try to change them into the same price range. When you don’t, you are either forcing someone to spend beyond their means in order to save you embarassment, or you are forcing them to announce their class status to you, which they might not want to do.
7. Do not annoy people about their diets/Do not say that lentils are cheap/Do not push people into veganism/vegetarianism/organic eating. If you’re railing on someone for not eating the way you have access to, you’re being classist by assuming access and ability.
How not to be classist: I realize that a lot of veganism is activism, and I respect that. I personally think that any moral, thinking human being ought to be vegan. I just am not one. I have a variety of reasons for not going vegan, price being one of the ones near the end of the list. However, what I find more disturbing than anything is how many people will just demand that I explain to them why I am not vegan, which is actually intensely private information. Instead of being prepared to convert, try “Have you ever thought about going vegetarian?” If they say no and don’t continue the conversation, then go about your day. Let it drop. Don’t make people feel bad for not having the space to lead your lifestyle, and if someone is interested, they will come to you later. While it might seem like I have an issue with veganism from this, I don’t, and I fully support people who make a difficult change for the greater good. I have an issue with classist foodies, of which there are many.
Please stop telling people how cheap a pound of beans are. Do you want to eat a bowl of plain beans for dinner every night for a week? Me, either. I know this might be difficult to believe, but building up a stocked kitchen takes money. So does having a kitchen–many apartments do not have stoves; they only have hot plates and microwaves. Many people also do not have cars, which puts them in the position needing to spend an inordinate amount of time walking back and forth to the grocery store buying small amounts that could be easily carried. It’s also a privilege to try food that you may or may not like. You see, when poor people experiment with their diets in ways they aren’t sure they will like, they don’t just go to the magic dinner tree for another dinner if it doesn’t work. They go hungry or they go without something else, like shampoo, in order to replace the food (to this day I am highly resistant to trying to new foods, even though it’s no longer an emergency when I decide that apricot chipotle tastes like throw-up).
Stop, sit down, and read up on the class and race in relation to access to food. The way to deal with this is to realize that not everyone has the access that you have, and that while you might think “Everyone has a grocery store in their city,” what you mean to say is, “Everywhere I have had the privilege of living has had an easily-accessed grocery store.” Anyone in the United States who had access to school and is above the age of 8 has heard at least once that vegetables are good and junk food is bad; instead of assuming that ignorance and laziness are the problems you need to rail against, try fighting for access.
8. Don’t ask for free labor unless you are very close with the person you are asking. This is the one that makes me personally crazy. I am an editor. I have been handed many resumes and cover letters and short stories from people who I don’t know very well, and the classism puts me in the most awkward position ever. When I have refused, even when I explained that I could not afford to turn down a paying job to find the time to edit their screenplay, the person making the demand was always affronted and made me deal with it. I then have two choices–lose sleep or lose money. You’ll notice the person who can’t afford to work for free is the one who loses out there, and that’s classism (so is the assumption that I can fit in your screenplay between my ceramics class and my marathon bonbon eating session).
How not to be classist: People who have jobs that transfer outside of their industry (e.g., editors, mechanics, plumbers, teachers, computer experts) deserve to be paid for their time (everyone deserves to be paid for their expertise, but I don’t have a huge need to call up my scientist friends and ask them to come manipulate things on the molecular level for me. Though now I want to). Don’t ask Little Timmy’s teacher to come to your house at night to tutor Little Timmy for no money. Assume that all people are using their time to make money for basic survival and act accordingly. You have a few solid options for fixing classism here. You can just offer to hire the person if you think that their services are so good or you trust them so much that you wouldn’t want anyone else to do the work. If you have money issues and can’t afford to hire the person, offer a trade, even if the trade is “I will cook you dinner as soon as I get a job.” You could also ask them for advice in the course of a conversation (What’s the best way to find a good mechanic? Do you know any teachers who also tutor at night? Your website is lovely, who made it?). That way they can volunteer their services, ask for pay, or refer you to a friend without having to deal with your classist assumptions.
9. Don’t make your ignorance someone else’s problem. The problem with classism is that instances of it make the victim of your ignorance responsible for the rest of the conversation. Assuming things about class puts the person you are assuming things about in the position of having to correct you, and therefoure out their class status, or having to pay money or make arrangements in order to avoid embarassing themselves and you.
How not to be classist: When you fuck this up (and you will fuck this up. I fuck this up all the time) apologize.
So I was on my friend Ana’s facebook and I came across this article.
Which is infuriating, I guess. I mean, first of all, gatekeeping is boring. Guessing at the motivation of instagram users is even more boring. The meme she uses to illustrate is also incredibly sexist. Authenticity, you’ll notice, is often a question for women. No one has ever asked my dates whether they were perhaps faking their interests in games and books to get in my pants, yet the concept of a girl being “fake” is the subject of a popular and instantly recognizable meme (and in order to understand the meme, one must understand the stereotype. If this were not a widespread idea, the meme would fall flat. Like, is this funny to someone other than 6 people?).
Anyway, my friend was also kind of infuriated by the idea of girls “faking it” and I thought that this was another opportune moment for me to talk about authenticity.
First and foremost, “faking it” is a charge that is usually leveled at a woman. From sex to interests, a woman “faking it” represents reprehensible behavior. Faking an orgasm is the source of so much male anxiety that dozens of articles have been written about how to “tell” if she’s faking orgasms…but very few about how to be a partner that women aren’t afraid to speak with about their sexual needs.
This isn’t the first article written about women faking interests for men, either. Months ago, as referenced on my blog, there was a big tadoo about Vince Mancini’s article called Hot Women Pandering To Nerds where he accused everyone from Rosario Dawson to Olivia Munn to Adrienne Curry of “faking” their geekery in order to attract men.
This speaks to a certain hysteria on the part of heterosexual men about whether their partners are what they think they are. And hey, it might be true that your girlfriend really hates Ninja Warrior, but she wanted to date you so bad she’d have told you she ate babies if she thought it would get her a coffee date. I have to say that I have had female friends come to me and ask me about video games in order to have a conversation with an adorable boy that they liked.
The problem, however, is not their authenticity. Rather, that’s not the root of the issue. The problem is sexism; isn’t it always? And by playing into the concept of authenticity the author is accepting sexism and then disseminating it–and she’s disseminating it from a culture that is already pretty girl-unfriendly.
The issue here is twofold.
1) Women are told that their greatest accomplishment is gaining the favor of a man
2) Men are told that their interests are somehow “better” than women’s interests.
So the Forbes article is not only playing into that, but is very clearly playing into the socialized competition between women. I, frankly, have no need to dig up dirt on the author to assert that she’s not a real geek, either. I don’t care if she’s “real.” Her reality doesn’t pay my bills (and I’d advise her in the interest of feminism and geekery to stop giving a shit whether girls posting pictures of their yarn collections on instagram are “real” or not).
So there are a lot of problems at work here, and I’m not really interested in whether some women and girls on instagram post too many picture of original nintendo cartidges. I’m more interested as why some women do fake their interests for male attention. Then we can get right to the crux of everyone’s problems.
First, the accusation that women do things for male attention is heterosexist. I hate to inform everyone that not all women are exactly interested in men or their attention and will, in fact, do things to gain the attention of the adorable butch dyke who works in the coffee shop.
I am going to recognize the inherant heterosexism and then side-step the analysis of seeking approval in gay relationships, because I feel like someone (anyone) is probably more qualified to speak on that than I am. I am talking about women’s relationships to men under the patriarchy umbrella and the societal messages that we give to women about male acceptance (which, sadly, even queer folks aren’t immune to).
Given that, I wanted to mention that this obsession with women’s authenticity is incredibly sexist. I can’t seem to recall anyone going “Vin Diesel? That guy’s not a real geek. He’s just trying to appear less threatening to attract women!” Only women are scrutinized in such a way and only women’s bodies and minds are open to that much public criticism. We could only be having this discussion about women.
As I said (let’s do this in an orderly fashion), women are told that their greatest accomplishment is gaining male favors and male attention. Any attention, even if it’s negative. How often do we hear of people defending or minimizing street harassment as “being paid a compliment,” like I should be thankful that someone, anyone, whistled at me and demanded that I take my tits out. Now, while I take a look around and use my head to notice that a lot of women’s culture is devoted to making them into what women’s culture says is attractive to men. Women are taught, everywhere, to seek this approval (Open any magazine and find a hundred articles about how to get sexy for him, about how exercise will give you a body that is attractive to members of the opposite sex, cover your hair, wear a short skirt, stick out your tits, tousle, wear lip gloss, let’s just keep listing all the things girls have to do to themselves) and I’m going to be (not nearly) the first one to say that when you get a hit of this attention you have been told for years that you need like fucking air…it feels good.
Well, it feels good until you smarten up and realize that frenetic desperation you’re feeling is the feeling of being constantly consumed, but what’s a little emotional death between friends?
When I was 14, I didn’t have anything like facebook or instagram, and thank god for that. I would have shot myself in the foot with it within seconds. Instead, I dressed semi-provacatively, and mistook any male attention for positive attention and thought I was successful at being a woman. I thought this because everwhere I turned from the age of 5 onward showed me that the “success” of a woman’s life was dependent on marriage. Or being a princess who was eligible to be married. Therefore, if I was attracting this attention, sooner or later one of them would bestow upon me my greatest accomplishment…having a boyfriend that all the other girls wanted!
Yeah, see how that worked out?
So I’m not saying that there are not girls who fake their interests to get male attention. We fake EVERYTHING to look attractive. I’m wearing mascara right now, these are not my eyelashes. This is not my hair color. I’m not even this height. I don’t know why we suddenly get very concerend about people faking interests. Why is that more of a worry than my eyelashes anyway?
Anyway, women get rewarded for this behavior but then repremanded for doing it too well. It’s the equivalent of training a dog to take a cookie and then slapping him when he takes it. So when you swear up and down the line that you’re the one with the real interests and these other girls are just attention-seeking whores…you’re the one doing the slapping. I have no idea how positiong yourself as the slapper, as it were, is solving the underlying problem that we socialize our girls to seek out male attention by any means necessary, including by “faking” a personality (we also are socialized to give up our sexual satisfaction and career aspirations in order to properly fill our role as a mirror that reflects men as twice their actual size).
So why the epidemic (apparently) of girls faking “geeky” interests for male attention? Possibly, and this might be a long shot, this happens because we privilege “male” interests over female interests.
Observe. What would most people call a girl who likes beer, football, and video games while still maintaining the appropriate level of feminine presentation? I usually hear that girl described at the very least as down or chill. At the most…marry her twice.
Now then, what would most people call a boy who likes shopping, spa-days, and cooking?
If you guessed “gay,” you win a prize (all expenses paid trip to a patriarchy-free island for at least an hour). Another acceptable answer would be “pussy whipped.”
So we have a culture that privileges male identity, and rewards women for seeking out male attention, and measures her success by what kind of boyfriend she’s likely to have, and then when they play the game that was laid out for them too well, we call them attention-whores and give page space in Forbes magazine to talk about how terrible the girls are.
Yeah, those girls are totally the root of the problem. Good, hard-hitting cultural journalism there.
Give me a break.
Oh you people and your ridiculous ideas.
[Trigger warning: mentions of rape and violence, but not graphic descriptions]
[Content warning: I am not sex positive. I am also not sex negative. I do have a horse in this race. I tend to come at things from an angle I like to call sex critical. I will not say ALL SEX IS TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME AND POSITIVE or ALL PORN IS TOTALLY FUCKING DEMEANING AND OPPRESSIVE]
Short version, Katie Roipe says that women are reading books about submission (like Fifty Shades of Grey) because we need a break from all that upward mobility we’ve got now. You know, the free birth control falling from the sky and the lack of the glass ceiling. The burden of all that stuff we have.
Now then, Fifty Shades was a Twilight fanfic that blew up to huge proportions. I won’t discuss the writing in either of them because it’s been done. I also won’t discuss in depth why the relationship is abusive because we all know that, too.
Let’s discuss why women are currently so heavily invested in the erotics of brutality.
I am saying currently and not suddenly because we’re not suddenly interested in anything. I hate Twilight in the way that I hate all things that teach women to accept their victimization as romantic. However, Meyer didn’t precisely invent the concept of dating your abuser like they are the greatest love of all. I read V.C. Andrews as a child. In fact, I went back and reread V.C. Andrews in preparation for this. My favorite V.C. Andrews was actually My Sweet Audrina, and while I prefer not to spoil the book, apparently the cure for PTSD is to rape her again so that she realizes she likes sex and marries you.
Twilight is a Little Golden Book compared to that.
Fifty Shades is slightly different, more sexual, more human (full disclosure, I have only made it through the second book, which was difficult at best. James’s writing is difficult at best, and eye-rollingly horrible at worst, but goddamn it, I’m a fighter), but still eroticized brutality.
There is so much at play in the critique of these two books, that I need to comment on them twice.
Fifty Shades is currently being referred to as Mommy Porn, but this is also not new. You might also remember the Twilight Moms, who were the adult fans of the eternally 17-years-old Edward Cullen (they would show up to movie screenings with signs that said “You can break my headboard, bite my pillows, and bruise my body ANY day,” therefore sexualizing and giving a name to a scene that doesn’t actually happen in the book, which is righteous fucking, apparently). I’m not going to sit here and psycholanalyze these fans personally, but both of these books are, at the end of the day, about a life less ordinary. The extraordinary is the basis for most fantasy books; that’s the porn. The idea that you no longer have to take the kids to school or go to work or do anything even a little bit normal is 10x the porn as the actual sex in either book.* Most pornography is meant to display some kind of fantasy, some sex you could be having right now. It’s generally meant to fulfill a need, but is culturally shamed. It’s a need you can’t admit to having.
To refer to these things as “Mommy Porn,” is more than a little disparaging. First, it enacts a separation of mothers from the rest of us—this isn’t just porn, it’s porn for “moms”—which says that how mothers want to get fucked is somehow inherently different from the rest of us. Regular porn just won’t do? Then it denigrates by playing on the cultural ideal that your mother cannot possibly be cool, culturally adept, and sexual. Mom porn. Mom jeans. Mommy blogging. If you want to call something “shitty,” just stick “mom” in front of it. These are terms used to disparage parenthood as tragically unhip and boring. Furthermore, if you have read either Twilight or Fifty Shades, you are aware of the fact that both books are rather tragically chaste (Fifty Shades caveat—so far). So what we’re really saying here is “Sex so bad that only your mother, who is totally soulless and sexless, could get off to it.” You know, except she can’t.
Harry Potter is also porn by the definition that Twilight is porn, by the way. While I can’t find anything about the gender demographic across Harry Potter fans, apparently the key demographic for Rowling was age 18–34:
The eighteen-to-thirty-four age group is arguably one of the most discontent. Many of my friends and I have been in “real jobs” now for ten years, give or take, yet most of us still can’t quite believe it. Years after graduating from college, we’re still coming to terms with the fact that we sometimes wake up when it’s still dark out, pay our rent on time and in full, eat breakfast, take our Vitamin D, and make real efforts toward regular exercise. The mere fact that we’re actual real-life adults still eludes us a lot of the time, and can actually seem pretty funny. We started reading the “Harry Potter” series when we still had the pleasure of being somewhat carefree and ignorant; we weren’t yet the disillusioned, jaded youngish adults that we are now (although this is fun, in its own way). And so the “Harry Potter” movies are the ultimate form of escapism…I don’t mean to say that “adult life” doesn’t have its upside—but it’s nice to have “Harry Potter” to fall back on. (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/11/adult-education-at-hogwarts.html#ixzz169IQ2dKw)
TL;DR J.K. Rowling can clearly write, but her books are still fantasy fulfillment. I mean, really—I’d rather be a fucking wizard, too. We’d all rather be wizards.
We’d all like to have an eternally beautiful 17-year-old body with the wisdom and maturity of an adult.
We’d all like to have more money than King Solomon and a sex drive that is never interrupted by reality.
It’s all porn**.
Furthermore—and while I can’t find gender demographics, I have been to the movies in the last ten years—why are Twilight and Fifty Shades “Mom porn” and Harry Potter is “charming?” I know nobody like to go for the obvious on the internet, but I’m going for the obvious. Twilight and Fifty Shades are apparently being read, overwhelmingly, by older women (except that isn’t true. However, it’s being presented as a “women” thing). Harry Potter is much more mixed demographic.
What’s an easier way to disparage a woman than to tell her that she’s sexless? Mom-like? Basically only by calling her a slut, and the term “mommy porn” shames women not only for wanting an outlet for sexual and romantic expression, but also for it being so tame that only your mom could like it. Now you want the wrong kind of sex. You want MOM sex.
Take Me, You Brute
Second soap box full disclaimer—I am not talking about BDSM. I am talking about brutality and violence, which is something very different and much less fun or consensual. If women are “suddenly” into BDSM, call me a trendsetter!
Why is literature that depicts violent romantic relationships suddenly the new hotness? Katie Roiphe is wrong for many reasons that are not because she’s Katie Roiphe, though being Katie Roiphe is a black mark in her “Cons” column. These books are not, as I said, suddenly the new anything. They just have one thing in common: a representation of a violent male being written about like he’s the second coming.
While pages and pages of this have already been written, let’s just put this here so that we have something to look at.
-Prevents Bella from seeing her friends
-Drags Bella around by the wrist
-Repeatedly threatens her life
-Shames her for wanting to kiss him, saying that if he lost control, it would be her fault
-Shames her for wanting to have sex with him, even after they are married
-Shames her for HAVING sex with him, after they are married
-Follows her relentlessly, everywhere he can physically go
Cannot read Bella’s mind, so he reads the minds of everyone around her in order to find out what she’s talking about
-Uses his power and influence to put himself in Anastasia’s way
-Keeps a dossier on her, including her social security number and everything she does
-Forces her onto birth control
-Forces her into changing her hair
-Refers to her repeatedly as a possession
-Her foray into punishment is not safe or sane and is only marginally consensual***
Implicit in each book is the fact that neither woman could ever, should she so chose, get away. Edward Cullen is a vampire. He spends 3 months in Bella’s room without her knowledge or consent, staring at her while she sleeps. It’s made explicit over and over again that he can outrun her, outfight her, and outsmart her.
Similarly, Anastasia could never get away from Grey. He apparently makes $100,000 an hour with his businesses and has kept a file on every woman he has ever had sex with. He knew who Anastasia was before she introduced herself, and has her address, her family’s address, her social security number, and bought the company that she works for without her telling him that she was even working.
We just have to assume that Edward and Grey would be gentlemanly enough not to take the abandonment to it’s natural and realistic end, which would be to kill her so no one else can have her. That’s reality. In 45 percent of Chicago homicides in which a man killed a woman, an immediate precipitating factor of the fatal incident was the woman leaving or trying to end the relationship. For clinic/hospital women who were abused on followup, 69 percent of those who had left or tried to leave an abuser in the previous year, but whose abuse continued despite their attempted departure, experienced severe incidents compared to 44 percent of women who had not left or tried to leave.
Maybe we read these things because they are reality. Men are socialized to be violent against us women from birth, and women are socialized to take it (see: If he hits you, that means he likes you).
As I said, I read V.C. Andrews as a child, but I also read other things like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights, which are all about How To Love The Asshole You’ve Got. Jane, Elizabeth, and Catherine are all Bellas and Anastasias—women with spirit who have romanticized and fallen in love with men who are absolutely brutal. From Mr. Rochester’s Forgotten Wife to Heathcliff’s Generational Manipulation A Go Go to Mr. Darcy the Neckbeard, our romanticized men are brutal creatures who hurt and lie to their partners just enough to still be romantic, but they never get to the point of, say, shooting her and then turning the gun on himself. They stop just before the natural conclusion, or the women never try to leave, so there’s no occassion for having to write out the natural end of this kind of behavior.
A lot was made about Stephenie Meyer looking an awful lot like Bella Swan (http://4.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ku7uy2kIlm1qatyobo1_400.jpg) and something similar is being said about E.L. James (there is no kicky internet meme yet, but it’s been brought up that Anastasia is pale skinned with dark hair and a wide smile…Here is a picture of E.L. James http://c4241337.r37.cf2.rackcdn.com/04-29-56_elj_420.jpg). These books are clearly some level of fulfillment for the authors, and are clearly filling some niche in the women who are just gobbling them up so voraciously that they can’t make the movie fast enough. So why are we reading this? What fantasy does this fulfill in women?
The natural answer is that having lots of sex and money is really pretty convenient, but lots of people have lots of sex and money and still read these. We can write a book where people have lots of sex and money and a husband who is pretty nice, does his share of the boring tasks of every day life, and trusts his wife to do as she likes because she’s a thinking person, but we don’t write that book. We write this book, and we’ve been writing this book for hundreds of years.
Perhaps the reason that we flock to the Brute is because 9 times out of 10, we’ve got the Brute at home. And how could we not? Look at our cultural ideals, where men are given male heroes to emulate who are violent or hypermasculine, aggressive go-getters who don’t take no for an answer. The masculinity scripts that men are given are usually violent in some way (the tough guy, the emotionless rock, the ladies’s man) and when men reject these scripts in childhood, they are often bullied, and usually for being “gay.” While we all know how horrific childhood can be for everyone, and while I am not male, I can imagine that daily beatings for not conforming to the cult of masculinity pretty much suck, and even if you’re not hypermasculine, my guess would be that you can fake it. In that way, even when following the script is just an act, my second guess would be that some of it becomes natural. I mean, you can’t sit in dirt for 25 years and expect to come out clean, can you?
This is not to say that your husband is some kind of brutal testosterone junkie who is just waiting to fucking kill you. It’s only saying that the Brute is familiar territory in both lives and literature. Maybe this isn’t about the male characters, maybe Edward and Grey are just the background, and infinity money and constantly hard dick would just be nice.
Maybe the fantasy is in being Bella (or Anastasia, or Jane, or Elizabeth, or Catherine), in so much as none of them are particularly bothered by things like misogyny and abusive behavior. Maybe, instead of it being about our secret desire to submit all our power, it’s about ignorance being bliss. Or maybe it’s a fantasy of not having to be scared by the Brute, of living somewhere where misogyny can’t touch you, and the natural end of abusive behavior is Happily Ever After and not what really happens.
Though I suppose it’s just easier to mark it as women actually wanting absurdly bad sex.
*If you can jerk off to a sex scene in Fifty Shades of Grey, seeing as they are written like Jim Morrison’s pussy took a bunch of acid and saw orchids and tin foil, I’ll give you a dollar.
**This is not to say that your life sucks and your husband is ugly and you resent your children. This is to say that your life is pretty good, but these impossible things, fantasies, if you will, are also pretty good. I wouldn’t kick a partner out of bed for Edward Cullen or Christian Grey, but infinity money might be pretty useful.
***Spoiler: When he finall does convince her to try something kinkier, Grey belts Anastasia. He apparently hits her as hard as he can six times, which she finds so painful that she forgets her safeword and basically loses her shit while he continues. She is traumatized enough to walk out directly afterward. First of all, this is not how you introduce someone who’s never masturbated previous to six weeks ago to sex, let alone kinky sex. Secondly, I know very few people who like to take pain out of context or who enjoy scenes with new partners that were not negotiated. Lastly, the whole scene read incredibly rape-y and I was really put off by it.
Preface: I am the world’s biggest Bioshock fangirl. I have no idea whether I will buy Infinite or not, given everything, but my hero worship ends right here.
Dear Ken Levine,
We’re breaking up. I’m sorry.
This begs some explanation.
As I’m sure you know, because you’ve responded to it, there is a lot of criticism going around about the main female character in Bioshock Infinite. Her name is Elizabeth, or as we like to call her around the way, Boobs Nelson.
As you know, Ken Levine, some weirdos on the internet don’t understand you the way I do. They seem to think that Elizabeth’s chest is absurd, they think she’s sexualized, and they think that she doesn’t really speak much in the trailer—she just stands around and has boobs, occasionally squeaking out lines.
I didn’t say anything at first because I didn’t particularly mind her. Yes, she does have an absurd chest and a waist so small that she resembles an insect more than a girl. There are mannequins like her in Macy’s. They put necklaces around the waist. I find them scary and deformed, and I’m not sold on having a waist smaller than my neck, but I was willing with Elizabeth. There’s a new Bioshock! I’ve had it reserved since I went to pick up my copy of Cataclysm (December 2010), if that gives you any indication of my borderline obsession with your games.
But Ken, your reaction, I’m sorry. You’re just not the sort of person I can continue to admire. I can be forgiving, Ken Levine. I don’t mind giant boobs. I mind female characters being so sexualized that the things they do border on absurd (I’m looking at you Lara Croft). Elizabeth might have giant boobs and a corset that might only cover her nipples and a waist the size of her neck for a good, storybased reason. I mean, Catherine, while having the distinction of being the single most misogynistic game I’ve ever played (and still I love that game), also has Catherine looking that way for a reason.
It was just those things you said, Ken Levine, they hurt. I can’t be with someone doesn’t have any self awareness at all. Coupled with the way that you showed that you have no awareness of other people…I’m sorry, Ken Levine. We’re breaking up.
“In terms of her body type, I think certainly people on the Internet have spent way more time thinking about Elizabeth’s chest than I have. It’s something I’ve barely thought about.”
Well, that’s true. While your default slider for a female character might be set all the way to ten, you’re right. You have absolutely no need to think about women’s bodies. After all, we can look at her and think about that for you. We have to all the time, because almost every image that we are shown is an idealized version of ourselves, but so twisted as to be physically impossible. I am happy, Ken Levine, that you don’t need to think about women’s bodies and the way they are represented. I would love that option.
“We sort of evolved her over time, and that’s the challenge when you show stuff early on – you’re still in the creative process and you’re still evolving the creative process. I’m sure Elizabeth may evolve a little bit more over time because until it’s out, I haven’t made the definitive statement on it… so I certainly don’t spend as much time thinking about this issue as the Internet does, and I’m not sure what that says about the Internet but, you know.”
I was so hopeful here. You didn’t totally dismiss her character model as set, and I understand that the game won’t be out until later this year. There’s still time!
I’m sorry, however, that you don’t like the people on the internet. We are clearly just a load of big perverts who have nothing else to do all day than to look at representations of women and complain about them. We’re not nearly as busy as you are, you forceful and dynamic man, and if we were that busy, we wouldn’t have the time to give a second thought to avatars that are meant to represent our gender and race. Surely if you had a little less to do, you would also be aware of the fact that there are other people in the world. I can tell you what it says about the internet, though. I’ll give it to you quickly, so you won’t have to devote any time to thinking about the class of people you are representing.
There are girls on the internet. And we are so over this shit.
“It’s disappointing when [Elizabeth's chest] becomes a focus for conversation because that was never my intent and it’s sort of a disincentive – I’d much rather talk about what she’s going through as a person, but whatever, they have the right to shout out whatever they want.”
Ken. May I call you Kenny? It doesn’t matter, I’d rather call you Kenny, so I’m just going to go ahead and do that.
I have no idea why her chest would be a focus point for conversation.
I would love to talk about what she’s going through as a person. If only any of that had been released. In the gameplay trailer, Elizabeth speaks directly to the narrator for the first thirty seconds, going so far as to take his hand and wrap it around her throat (the first image in this post is from that trailer). After that, it’s FPS footage of the player; a single time he calls for her help and she yells, “On it!” from off screen, but never appears. Ever. For the rest of the trailer.
So while I wait a year for you, Ken Levine (and trust me, I love your games so much, I’d wait forever), I don’t know what else I’m supposed to talk about, since her boobs are given more screen time than her voice.
“To me, the most important thing with Elizabeth was just honestly her eyes because, you know, they’re somewhat exaggerated and the reason for that is because there’s so much expression you can do there, with her eyes, and you see her often at a great distance.”
Your heart is in the right place, Kenny, but this just isn’t working out for me anymore. I do believe that she has some deep and intense back-story. I do! I have played your games over and over and over again.
I suggest, humbly, that if you wanted to focus on her eyes, that you simply swap places. Greatly exaggerate her eyes and somewhat exaggerate her boobs.
Though what do I know. I’ve only been a woman for my entire life and therefore I have no idea how people react to women’s bodies. The internet perverts who spend a lot of time complaining about her breasts are just wrong. We have been looking in the wrong place.
Ladies, her eyes are up there!
“I’ve spent way more time thinking about her eyes than her chest because eyes show a ton of expression, and you see her at a great distance. AI characters get very, very small, very, very quickly so you need to be able to recognize her silhouette, the shape of her body. Her colour scheme’s actually very simple, you know, the sort of two tone colour look – that’s all to do with this sort of exaggeration.”
Oh, I see! Elizabeth is usually far away, so you have to recognize her silhouette. The more she looks like an actual hourglass, the easier it would be for the player to pick her up.
I mean, he’s right. This is basic game design. Characters should be able to be identified in multiple ways by the player; silhouette, movement loop, color codes, tags, and voice.
And there is practically no way to make a female character identifiable at a distance other than to exaggerate her chest size and pull in her waist so tight that there is no room for organs…
Those are your Big Sisters from Bioshock 2.
Oh, and Brigid Tenenbaum. Another of your distinct female characters, easy to pick up behind the screen in Bioshock 2 because of her distinctive sloping walk.
While I’m here, actually, Ken Levine. Let’s talk about one of the other reasons I’m breaking up with you, while I have these ladies with distinctive silhouettes around.
When I first played Bioshock, Ken, I fell in love. I watched my friends play in the background at my apartment and I looked and looked and there was not a single woman who was ornamental. Which is not to say that none of them were pretty, because they were beautiful, but that they weren’t ornamental. There was nothing about their character models that was ornamental. When people asked me for recommendations for games for women, I suggested Bioshock. This is a big secret; to appeal to girl gamers, you did not need to have a pony or a sim where the player can try on new hair styles and heels. I did not need Rosie The Riveter Fights The Patriarchy (PS3).
I only needed women who had a function and who were distinctive. Even if they were not the player character, it was amazing and life changing to look at a video game and see me. My definition of “me” in video games is fairly large—Me: noun. Any woman in a game who does not tantalize the assumed male player character, who has some function of import, and a realistic-ish body. If they tantalize, I can get over it if they also do the other two. I’m not non-sexual, after all. It’s just that I do other things, too.
I know you’ve been taken to task by feminism, Ken Levine, but I found your games to be woman positive in at least a few ways. I didn’t want to throw your baby out with the bathwater, though your Plasmid videos and underwater objectivism reeked of privilige. Yes, Brigid Tenenbaum is a horrible mother, as it were…but it wasn’t because she was a woman. Big Sisters will make you wish you had harvested every last one of those little brats in the first game…but they had lithe, feminine bodies, without being over-exaggerated fanboy service. Little Sisters do need to be protected by Big Daddies…but they are children, and Big Sisters can quite easily take out a Big Daddy.
I mean, just look at the female characters you have given me over the years, Ken Levine.
A Little Sister
Sofia Lamb, antagonist of Bioshock 2.
Various Female Splicers (Bad Guys, for the uninitiated)
In thinking back, the only scantily dressed female I can recall is Jasmine Jolene, and only in her poster. She made her living as a dancer, so I don’t find that to be totally unnecessary, and she also serves a huge plot point.
Of course, none of these are a distinctive, driving force, female character with a distinctive silhouette, who plays next to the PC for all or part of the game…
Oh that’s right. Eleanor Lamb. A character with big, expressive eyes, who has been through an ordeal, and plays next to the character for part of the game. As I recall, she also needed to be distinct from the other big sisters, so I bet that was achieved via exaggerating her secondary sex characteristics.
Ken, Ken Levine, this is why I have to break up with you. This is why I can no longer shrug helplessly while you say some weird Objectivist shit all over the internet.
Now you are lying to us. You are well and thoroughly capable of producing a game with female bodies that don’t exist to be eye candy. You have been producing them for your entire career.
I don’t care that you made Elizabeth. I don’t even particularly dislike Elizabeth or her body, once I get past the fact that this change in your style makes me sad. I care that you are now lying about your motivations in order to avoid being called to the carpet for making a sexist choice. I would have at least gone to couples counseling if you had come out and said, “I’m tired of the gangly women and I wanted to make something else. I wanted to create a girl completely and totally physically unlike any of the women I have created before, and darn it, I did.”
Instead, Ken Levine…I used to think you were a genius and now you are giving interviews that leave me embarrassed for you. You, you see, very obviously think that this is just an overreaction. We don’t understand you. You didn’t mean it like that, and anyway, don’t you ladies have something else to talk about? I’m not even going to entertain this!
Furthermore, you have attempted to demonstrate that you think that I’m stupid, that the women who noticed this ridiculousness are stupid, because only someone who was utterly and painfully stupid would think that you have made a career out of creating women with distinctive, yet realistic, bodies, and just didn’t give a damn about this last one. Didn’t even give her chest a second thought. I don’t know why anyone is even discussing this, because it’s clearly totally in line with my previous offerings.
So I’m sorry, Ken. My love affair with you is over. I will wait for you to come around, and I hope you do…but I don’t think you will. I think that if you will conveniently forget your entire body of work in order to avoid a question that makes you uncomfortable (a question about making your fans uncomfortable, no less), you will forget me just as easily. I will be fine, though. I still have my copies of Bioshock and Thief to keep me warm at night. I will make my SHODAN cross stitch. Don’t worry about me. I will survive.
But if it helps, it’s not me. It’s you.
Durex. This is enough. I’m done.
I looked into Durex after reading a tweet from their South African twitter that was horribly violent towards women.
I won’t even analyze that, because I don’t have to analyze that for anyone who has a head. Rape is not okay ever, not even if she won’t stop talking.
After reading about how quickly Durex threw their South African PR company under the bus for the tweet (named and shamed and all), I was curious about how Durex usually operates, since they sold this as a grievous error made by an outside party. What I discovered is that this is actually par for the course for Durex.
First of all, I’m going to say that for a while, I really enjoyed Durex advertisements because they were explicit. Trojan ads tend to lean more towards the absurd—remember the Trojan Games campaign?—while Durex ads tend to be directly sexual. I also want everyone to recall the absolute hullaballoo over the Trojan “Evolve” ads featuring the males as pigs until they get a condom, at which point they turn into handsome, well dressed men (the condom is the glass slipper of our generation). If you google “sexist Trojan ad” there are pages dedicated to this campaign and how horribly sexist (they mean prejudiced) it is against men.
Both companies are decidedly heterosexist to a huge extent. Durex USA’s twitter (more on Durex tweets in a moment!) features a sex positive Position of the Week feature that is very clearly directed, always, at heterosexual couples. The directions come in two parts; one for the man and one for the woman. There is also a picture used to go along with the directions.
Okay, I can see some positivity in this. Durex doesn’t gloss over what condoms are meant for. There’s no shame here, and the directions are straight forward for 140 characters. You will be using this condom for fucking. You will not be staring into one another’s eyes in a restaurant, you will not be walking along a beach, and you will not be in the Olympic Games. You’re going to be fucking. People fuck. Get over it.
Everything else…downhill. It’s like they made every possible decision to make these as homophobic as possible. While it might be impractical for twitter to write out a description of Actor 1 that is inclusive every time (the egalitarian, yet penetrating partner!), every last one of these is for heterosexual partners. There is no sex act that doesn’t feature penetration. Even though these could be adjusted for lesbian couples, or gay couples, or couples who don’t have penetrative sex for whatever reason, Durex goes the extra mile to make sure that you know a MAN and a WOMAN are having sex—they put boobs on their stick figures. I’ll repeat that, because it could stand to be repeated. Boobs on their stick figures. They don’t have hands or feet, but they have boobs. It’s honestly a little bit obscene.
Durex USA’s twitter then features this little gem.
Just so you know, while there was no date attached to the twitter screen capture from DurexSA (other than 7 hours ago), the article came out on November 26, 2011. The original capture of the issue came from Feminist SA on November 24, 2011. The capture above is from November 5, 2011, so this is not ten years between fuckups. In fact, this one predates the SA tweet that Durex disavowed post-haste.
This tweet is rape-y. If someone doesn’t want to have sex, then the answer is to respect the fact that they don’t want to have sex. There are plenty of reasons people don’t want to have sex; they are all valid. From the medical to the psychological to the practical to no reason at all that you can discern…forcing yourself to “have sex anyway” is pretty much the antithesis of a safe sexual environment and an enjoyable experience.
Furthermore, even without the rape culture context, who wants to have sex with a partner who is merely tolerating you? Or a partner who is in pain in that bad way? Or one who is actively upset about something else? Giving up because you don’t feel like arguing is not consent and it feels like shit. Any sexual relationship is about mutual satisfaction and partnership, though these things look different depending on the situation. “Just get it over with,” isn’t mutual satisfaction and partnership. It’s forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
If we’re referencing the loss of libido that has happened to just about everyone, then this is horrible advice based on shaming the partner who just doesn’t feel up to it. In the context of a relationship, it’s true that sometimes our sex lives go south. You get sick, you get stressed, you get tired, and suddenly the libido is gone. When one partner suddenly loses interest, ignoring the change and resigning yourself to your fate is pretty much what not to do. If you don’t want to have sex, and you’re unhappy about that, you speak with your partner. You decide whether you want to fix the issue. You discuss the possible causes. You decide whether you want to speak with your doctor. You create an environment that is healthy and happy for your body, no matter what that may be. You should not just lie there, frustrated and angry, resenting the person having sex with you.
Also, forgive me, because I don’t mean to medicalize a lack of sex drive, or to say every time you don’t feel like having sex, you should sit down with your partner, listen to some whale song on the stereo, have some herbal tea, and have a good processing session. I realized as I was writing that I was treating this like a problem to be solved, and this is because the language of the tweet is medical (Sex will cure that); it frames your desire not to have sex at a particular time or with a particular person as a sickness that can then be cured. Maybe you just don’t feel like fucking. That’s a fine idea. Don’t have sex. These are your parts, you have the agency.
The same way there is no shame in wanting to have lots of sex with lots of people, there’s no shame in not wanting to have sex, either. There’s nothing positive about having sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you. There’s nothing positive about wanting your partner to give up, give in, and give exasperated consent so you’re technically not raping them.
This is 101 stuff.
And it gets worse.
Durex also likes to make jokes about penis size. They seem to enjoy sticking endowments on stick figures, because, along with the boobs, they also have a figure with a third leg, winkwink. There’s also an ad featuring a set of footprints that are heading away from the camera, and and a line is drawn in the sand between the feet. It’s about a giant penis. I get it.
Then we get to this, from about 3 years ago.
Which I guess is what happens when you use your penis to shut her up as suggested?
And then we get to the ads that are the antithesis of safe sex. I actually don’t understand how a condom company let these things fly. Isn’t the usual point of a condom to prevent STDs and pregnancy?
I am reduced to gesturing wildly at the screen, people. No. No condoms are so tough that you can do this to them, even if you can fit it over your entire head. Do not do this with your condoms. A condom is made of latex or rubber, not reinforced steel. Do not stick sewing needles in your condoms. Do not put anything sharp near your condoms. Always check your condoms for tears, rips, or holes before use. Please have safe sex. Actual safe sex.
And now…for the crown jewel of Durex.
A snappy analysis is located at The Gloss, but I really want to fine tooth comb this one.
Leave her pleasantly puzzled.
Just out of curiosity, would any of you be pleasantly puzzled by the notion that your partner may not have followed your requests to keep you both safe? I am pleasantly puzzled by things such as the New York Times crossword. I am less pleasantly puzzled by “Did I actually consent to this?” I would file that under “possibly life-altering tragedy.”
For those of you in the audience who see this as a coy joke, it’s also a double standard joke. There is a grand cultural myth about women who lie about their birth control to trap a man. If you are male and your female sexual partner lied about using birth control and became pregnant, how pleasantly puzzled would you feel? What if your partner lied about their STD status or presented you with phony results? Feeling a little bemused? I didn’t think so.
Birth control sabotage is deadly serious and actually quite common.Nearly 20 percent of women at family clinics across northern California reported that their partner tried to coerce them into having a child, sometimes using methods such as poking holes in condoms or flushing birth control pills down the toilet. Birth control sabotage is also a common form of domestic abuse, and while the studies of this are newer, the numbers are alarming. I’ve provided two short overviews, but Google is full of information here.
If you don’t use a condom when your partner requested that you do so, that is a rape. If a woman consents to safe sex with you and you deliberately ignore her request, you don’t have consent. Consenting to having sex with a condom is an entirely different act from having sex without a condom. “I don’t want to have unprotected sex,” is “No.” Consenting to one thing does not give a human being blanket consent to your entire body.
For those of you who think that this is no big deal, because it’s a condom ad so the missing partner in the picture clearly wore the condom, this ad also plays heavily on female sexual embarrassment. It says that it is better for a woman to wonder what is going on with her own body than for her to speak up. It denies female sexual agency, makes her body something that is acted upon until sex is over, and only then may she think about whether her consent was taken seriously. I don’t know about everyone else, but if I had some doubts about whether my partner was possibly exposing me to serious health risks, I’d sit up and make sure. This plays on the message that a woman’s job is to be a peacemaker. Don’t rock the boat. Nice girls don’t. Or if Nice Girls Do for the sake of a condom ad, they certainly don’t talk about it. Better to bite your nails the next morning rather than to risk upsetting your partner.
The same advertisement, with the same message (this doesn’t feel like you’re fucking a medical supply store!) could easily have been conveyed without any of this. Even just giving a female agency in the ad would have made a huge difference. While this is by no means perfect, a woman looking at or asking about the condom and being “pleasantly puzzled” by the fact that she can see it but not feel it actually conveys the message, “Durex feels the best.” This ad says, “Her consent is a joke, do whatever you want, she won’t be able to tell, and she’s been so steeped in gendered bullshit about nice girls that she won’t even ask!”
Since this is now long enough, and I could do this all day, I’ll just leave this.
Note 1: While I use the terms “fucking” and “having sex” and all other manner of euphemisms, I am talking about any sexual activity and not just PiV sex. I apologize if I missed some references or used non-inclusive language.
Note 2: I was originally least offended by the image of the woman’s lips with the bandages. After all, I know plenty of people who like to have sex that requires minor medical attention afterwards. Rug burns, rope burns, and scratches are not all that uncommon, and I am sure that someone, somewhere on FetLife, has enjoyed a consensual, dick-induced Glasgow Smile (everything about it). However, given the rest of their advertising, an emotionless woman with a slack and injured mouth just doesn’t scream Pro-Kink and Sexual Freedom to me.
I keep meaning to blog, but every time I sit down, something more fucked up and horrible happens, leaving me in a state of shock and sadness so great that I just wander away. Instead of saying something, I tweet incomprehensible ramblings from my friends. Sometimes I retweet feminist things, but mostly I am tired.
These are all highly triggering.
A So. Cal derby girl was shot by her husband before he turned the gun on himself.
A Florida derby girl was beaten by her partner so badly he did $500,000 dollars of damage to her, and she is still recovering.
A Canadian derby girl is missing, and has been for weeks
There’s Penn State. That doesn’t need a link.
There’s ESPN covering up molestation.
Oh, and police pepper sprayed…all of Seattle.
A white man puts himself in the place a of “poor black kid” and by doing so illustrates the gross misunderstanding people have of poverty and race and debt.
Paypal refers to charity for poor children as “not a worthy cause,” though in the wake of a PR nightmare and what was probably the worst day on earth for whatever poor intern is stuck with the Paypal facebook, Paypal fixed the issue.
I think about Occupy a lot. I think about class. Narratives. What we’ve done.
Here goes nothing. I’m going to share my story first and preface it by saying that I am incredibly fortunate, and it’s sad that my situation falls under the heading of Incrediby Fortunate.
People say that Occupy is lead by spoiled kids with too much time and too many lattes, but I know this is a lie. Occupy is desperation at its absolute purest; it’s a generation realizing that terrible mistakes were made with us and we now have to adjust to living with these mistakes while simultaneously being judged for them.
My mother groomed me for college since I was five. I was given the speech, of course. If I go to college, I will somehow escape my mother’s fate by virtue of being educated. My mother didn’t want me to flip burgers, or strip, or take an administrative position with no mobility. My mother wanted what most parents want—for her kid to do better than she did. When I asked my high school career counselor how people pay for college, she said that loans are available for college, and the education will enable me to get a job that pays me enough to pay off the loans plus some interest to ensure that another person can have a loan. I was 16 and I wasn’t fiscally worldly. I trusted adults. I went to college.
I left school with a mountain of debt. I believed that if I was educated and tenacious and honorable, there would be a job for me (this is a continuation of “if you get good grades, you can go to college,” which is also a lie). I do have degrees people decry as useless, but I find it funny when people look down on the humanities. I am an editor now. Many people couldn’t conjugate a verb if it wore revealing lingerie and came with a map. The fellow from Forbes magazine could have used an editor with a background in class and race issues. That nonsense with Paypal would have never happened if they hired anyone who was adept at social issues and communication at the same time. I am useful.
Anyway, I won’t go into how much student debt I had upon graduation, but the payments are often more than I actually take home (I pay almost 1/3 of my paycheck in taxes, and could not afford both loan payments and retirement savings). This debt was acrued on top of various scholarships, a grant, and payments made while in school. It was a staggering number that I was told would be paid off with the money I’d make for being educated a cut above the rest. Indeed, as scary as this is, in school I was among the best and the brightest. I’m supposed to be some kind of creepy genius, and I might be one. I haven’t thought about it much and I won’t go into my qualifications, but suffice to say they are numerous. Unfortunately, there is nothing called summa cum debt forgiveness.
Upon graduation from college, when I realized the gravity of my student debt and employment prospects, I reconciled myself to the fact that I would not do better than my mother. I only tread water when the loans are paid. I accepted long ago that I would never be able to afford a house or could never have a wedding if I wanted one. I have a skilled job that makes use of my talents and education and I live paycheck to paycheck. I do not have much credit card debt, because I used my credit cards for emergencies only (I am incredibly lucky, because credit card companies prey on college students, hoping they rack up a $10,000 balance before they even have a job. I escaped this through sheer dumb luck). I have a small, shared apartment that is cheap for the area. I have a little car that I use to get to my job. I live slightly worse than I did when I was actually in college.
I have the education needed for my position; I would be unable to have this job without going to college. Most of my paycheck is used to pay the loans I ran up to get the job. Isn’t that a trick? Isn’t that amazing? I have a friend who wanted to be a teacher, and chose the profession thinking that teachers are always needed and she would have a job. She needed her certification and her M.Ed. to become a teacher in her state. The salary for a teacher in her state is not enough money for her to pay off the loan she needed to become a teacher. If she could even find a job, which is an entirely different problem.
How does that sound reasonable and logical to anyone? How? Explain it to me.
This doesn’t even make sense when you’re stoned, let alone when you’re a thinking human being.
I wanted to pay my student debt. I wanted to pay the universities I went to for the education I recieved. I had some truly amazing teachers and professors, and I wanted to pay for their time. I wanted to pay for the time of everyone who made the universities run for me, from the registrars to the professors to the custodians. I do not want to have to pay 50 times the cost of my education for the rest of my life, when I could have paid off what I owe with reasonable interest already. When people graduate with $30,000 in college loans, and pay $400 a month faithfully for 20 years (when $400 monthly would pay that debt in 7 years) and still have $20,000 left to pay, they are no longer paying for college. They are paying Sallie Mae for having been born poor. I don’t want something for nothing and neither does Occupy. I only want to stop being punished.
The root of the Occupy movement is desperation; a generation realized that it is the proletariat in the worst way. We paid to get a job, and can never do anything else except pay that money back. We are not even producing things we can’t afford, we paid for the privilege of coming to work (for people who then spit on us and call us whiners looking for a handout).
So please, let’s not start with the latte talk, vicious classists. I can see the sadness and fear driving Occupy. This is not hard.
It’s not just this lie that my generation has to contend with. There is a whole social order of necessity that we can not buy into because we went to school instead, and we are punished for this, though mentally instead of fiscally.
As I said, I can not have that student debt and buy a house or have a wedding. I also cannot afford children, but I am lucky to have access to health care so that I will not accidentally have a child and we all starve to death. In truth, I would like a house, and I am undecided on marriage and children. I think I could make a decision like that if I knew I could handle the fiscal issues that go along with children. I don’t know that, so I opt to keep the damage contained. I made a mistake by believing that boot straps and hard work were all it would take to give me a modest life.
I am often asked why I am not married and why I do not have children. Almost everyone asks me this, especially people I haven’t seen in many years (thanks, facebook!). This is socially acceptable—to ask a woman what exactly she’s up to with her own vagina, since she’s clearly not using it in a way that is expected. No one asks me why I didn’t make other choices, like why I am not an astronaut or a NASCAR fan. They ask me about what’s been taking up residence inside my body, and how socially sanctioned is that residence.
They are not asking for a concrete answer. When people say, “Oh, you didn’t have a family? Why not?” they are asking, “Why did you not uphold your part of the social order? How did you screw that up? What deviant lifestyle are you living?” Yet if I had a child, I would need assistance to feed them and would be socially derided for not knowing how to keep my legs closed. Truthfully, I am living the life of the educated poor, with the added derision heaped upon women who side-stepped the burden of having a family, either by choice or by necessity.
What the current system does is destroy the entire social order, not just the class order. The protests against the 99% seem to come from people who want to cling to the concept of hard work as a bottom line. They probably want to believe, like my mother did, that their children will be able to do better than they can.
Yet the reality is that if you go to college and work hard and apply yourself, you can have three jobs and no health insurance? Eighty-hour work weeks? The inability to have children? Small, cold apartments? If you do not go to college, you may have the exact same thing, only with extra derision for not having the grit and determination to…buy into a broken and unsustainable system, I guess.
Unless you have privilege or incredible luck, the top of the game now is the total inability to thrive. Basic survival is incredible good fortune. That is horrible.
And there is no way out. We have created an entire generation of people who ruined their lives by believing in bootstraps. Yet the next generation just can’t skip college, because the job market demands university for everyone.
Occupy isn’t spoiled. They are trapped and they are scared, and so are the rest of us.
And the very least you could do is stop lying.