femmanism

My name is Emma. This is my feminism.

I have to act just as strong as I can

I just finished working 8 hours, I’m tired, but cheerful because I had a good day.  Mostly, I’m just excited to get home and have dinner.  I get on the subway with my friend, we both put our feet up, because, amazingly, there’s actually space this evening.  My friend says she wants to vegan-ize macaroons, and then is trying to describe them to me because I’ve never had them.

Enter three teenagers – two boys and a girl.  They spread out as well, with one of the boys sitting behind my friend and across from me, and the other boy across from him, holding his phone awkwardly, trying to look like he’s not filming.  The boy behind my friend says, “Hey, wanna have some fun?”

I give him an unimpressed, ‘really?’ look, and we continue talking.  Turns out, it’s pretty hard to continue a conversation when someone is determined to harass you.  I literally couldn’t hear my friend over his sexual solicitations, and I could tell that she was becoming more and more uncomfortable (as was I).

“Come on, I have protection,” Clearly, ignoring him wasn’t working.  So I decided to play him at his own game.  If he thinks sexually harassing women is just super fun, then fuck this, I’m guna show him how it feels.

“Alright, drop your pants.”

“…what?”

“Drop your pants, lets go.  Don’t be a tease, I know you have protection, let’s do it.”

“Where?  There’s people…”

“So what, there’s a floor.  What, are you afraid you can’t perform?” (I know I shouldn’t really have said that one.  I’m usually against shaming men for having small dicks, or not being able to perform, etc.  I know those insults rely on the patriarchal idea that power comes from male-ness, but I was desperate.  I needed to do what would work.)

It went on like this for… a few seconds? minutes? I’m not sure.  I do know that eventually he turned around, put his hood up, and avoided eye contact with me.  I couldn’t help but throw in an, “Oh I’m sorry, does that make you uncomfortable?!” to which he did not respond.  I had won, and I was glad, but I was also shaking.  And by this point, I was also pissed.

My friend moved over to sit near me and farther from him, and we planned to wait together until they had all left before splitting up to go home.  When they got off at the same stop as us, I was almost* tempted to go up and grab his ass, start talking shit right in his face, or follow him home.  Fuck this, I’m tired of being scared.  You think this is fun?  You think this is a game?  Let me show you exactly how it feels.  Except that I never could, it would never be the same.  He’s a teenager, and I’m a 20-something.  I’m educated and smart and I consider myself to be empowered, but none of that matters because he is male and I am female and that’s what it comes down to.  He is male, so he has the power.  He is male, so he can walk up to any woman on the subway and make her uncomfortable, and even scared.  And we just have to accept it.

And I don’t even know what my point is, because I don’t accept that, but it doesn’t make me any less likely to experience it.  Sometimes I forget how important feminism is to me.  I haven’t written anything for a long time, I think because feminism has become so much a part of me, that I don’t remember to appreciate it anymore.  Then something like this happens, and the only thing that gave me the strength to respond was knowing that there is a whole community of feminists out there who support me.  That’s a pretty powerful feeling, even if I couldn’t really feel as powerful as I pretended.

The best part is that once I left my friend and got on the connecting subway, there was a middle aged man staring at me suggestively.  When I looked away, he started laughing and said “It’s okay, don’t be scared of me.”

So what’s the solution? I don’t know.  But having it be acknowledged helps.  Knowing that it’s not just me helps.  I don’t have anything brilliant or profound to say about it.  Let’s just keep trying, cuz next time it won’t just be me he harasses.

*Almost, because I know that 1) that would be getting dangerous.  I don’t know these people or what they might do.  And 2) that would be assault, and would be illegal (as it should be).  I know that even though he very intentionally sexually harassed me, it’s still not okay to sexually assault someone, and I would never actually be tempted because no one deserves to experience that, not even him.

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The Hobbit – 2012

A couple days ago, I went to see the Hobbit.  I am not a Lord Of The Rings nerd at all – I haven’t read any of the books, and I’ve only seen 1 and a half of the movies (they’re really long!) – so I had no idea what the Hobbit was going to be about.  I realized early on that it was about a group of people (and when I say people, I really mean white men, which, I’m learning, can be assumed when you’re talking about almost any character in LOTR) fighting to reclaim their stolen native land from the dragon that stole it.

Now doesn’t that sound perfectly reasonable?  Aren’t you pissed off for them as you watch this monster steal their land?  Don’t you hurt for them when Bilbo says he’s fighting for them because they don’t have a home?  Doesn’t it make sense that this event that happened years ago would still be affecting this group?  That they would see themselves differently and have different challenges than groups whose homelands were never stolen?  I don’t think any viewer would argue that they no longer have any rights to their land, that they should just get over it and follow the dragon’s rules now.  They are the heroes of the story, we are supposed to be rooting for them, the happy ending would be them killing the dragon.

But it’s easy to root for them.  The dragon that stole their land is literally a monster, and we are not profiting from his theft.  I know how hard it can be to admit injustice when you are benefiting from it.  I’ve written about my struggles with Native issues before, and I don’t think it’s productive to pretend not to understand people’s racism.  When you have a stake in something it’s impossible to see it objectively.  So I like to use more objective examples to figure out how I really feel about something rather than how I am socialized to feel.  Use the Hobbit for this.  The dwarves’ fight is really not so different from what the First Nations peoples in Canada are going through now (except they don’t even want to kill the dragon, just get a meeting with him!).

I have found it difficult to really empathize with First Nations peoples because of the guilt that I thought I would have to accept if I accepted the injustice of what has happened to them.  It was always framed as something “we” as white Canadians did.  But I didn’t do anything!  I really think that type of white guilt is counterproductive.  I can’t change what happened, but I can change what I do now.  If I hold on to my racism and defensiveness then maybe I should be feeling guilty.  Learn from the Hobbit.  You can either be the dragon (or a descendent of the dragon) and sleep peacefully in stolen gold, or you can be Bilbo, humbly offering your support and allyship to the dwarves.

Now is a perfect time to learn about and get involved in Native issues with everything that’s been going on with Theresa Spence and Idle No More.  And again, I will recommend Jane Elliott because she is amazing, and it’s pretty hard to be racist after watching one of her videos.

(Also, I just have to comment on the fact that in the entire movie I believe there is one single female character, and although she’s powerful and kind of bad ass, she is primarily known for her beauty.  And it seems like everyone in Middle Earth is white.  I know the books were written a long time ago, but c’mon.)

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America The Beautiful – 2007

America The Beautiful is another documentary that I really wish everyone would watch.  I’ve seen it twice, cried both times, and have dramatically changed my consumption of ‘beauty’ products since watching it (and going vegan… but I’ll save that for another post).  Like Miss Representation though, it was so good that I was too intimidated to post on it.  So if you’re interested in this type of thing, please watch the documentary, because this post will not do it justice.

The basic idea is that the filmmaker is just a regular guy who wanted to figure out why we have these unrealistic ideas of what women ‘should’ look like.  The film looks at modelling, makeup, fashion magazines, eating disorders and plastic surgery, and really should scare the shit out of any sane person who’s watching.  It kind of allows the viewers to distance themselves from what’s going on, making it easier to see our culture more objectively – almost as if it was someone else’s.

He starts out talking to magazine editors, and you realize that these are the people who have the power to change this system in a big way, and that they are not planning on changing any time soon.  Throughout the film, people in the industry continually defend themselves and the industry, blaming other sources for the problem, or saying that everyone else is doing it (Seriously?  Are you a child?  Do I really have to ask if you would follow all the other magazine editors off a cliff?).  One woman made the point that she’s not running a non-profit organization – she needs to be successful or she won’t have a job.  Cut to a classroom discussion about beauty magazines, and a girl sharing that her best friend died when she was 10 years old and 47 pounds.  She used to look at magazines and set goals for her weight… until it killed her.  But yes, you need to make sure you keep your fucking job.  That is definitely what’s important here.

Listening to all these ‘industry people’ also makes me realize how intentional the manipulation is.  They’re not just responding to your need for silky hair, they’re creating that ‘need’ in the first place.  They’re manipulating you into being interested in Paris Hilton so that they can make money.  They’re making sure that images are so perfect that you will buy anything to try to be that perfect.  Doesn’t that piss you off?  Because it really should.

And then, if you’re thinking that media doesn’t have that big of an effect on our perceptions of ‘beauty’ and of how we feel about ourselves, a study was done in Fiji in the mid 90’s that might change your mind.  When the study began, Fiji was not affected by Western media – they didn’t have TV.  At that point, Fijians tended to prefer bigger bodies, and vomiting to lose weight was completely unheard of.  Three years after TV was introduced, 11% of Fijian girls had vomited to lose weight – a similar percentage to the United States.  Three years!  But it’s always someone else’s fault, or someone else’s responsibility to worry about.

The other terrifying thing addressed in the film is plastic surgery.  According to this documentary, any medical doctor can call themselves a plastic surgeon.  For example, a woman in the film got plastic surgery (a face lift, I believe), only to find out later that her surgeon had done a one day seminar and practiced on a tomato.  When she woke up from surgery, she said she was in so much pain that she wanted to kill herself.  The surgery had caused a condition called RSD which causes pain so extreme that people usually have the affected limb amputated.  Alternatively, we are also shown video of doctors trying to wake up a woman after plastic surgery.

We Westerners like to act like we are so smart and rational, and are not affected by our culture.  I hear it all the time from classmates trying to be respectful, saying things like, “Well, it’s not really ethical, but unfortunately, in their culture, they don’t see women as equal, so, even though it’s hurting the woman, it’s their culture, so they don’t really care.  They’re affected by their culture, so they’re going to keep hurting women even though it’s obviously not okay.”  It makes my head want to explode a little.  I know it’s hard to see your own culture, but come on.  When we talk about plastic surgery, we forget that it’s a big fucking deal.  We talk about it like it’s nothing.  “Lol, those boobs are fake!”  Why is that a thing?  Does that sound okay to you?  Does it sound like our culture values women?  Because every pair of fake boobs that you have lol’d at could have potentially killed the woman attached to them.  Or caused serious damage.  Women are regularly risking their lives to try to live up to these ridiculous pressures that they cannot escape.

Seriously?  Is this the world we want?  We’re okay with having designed and implemented this system which makes a few people rich, and other people depressed, anxious, sick, or dead?  Because we all seem to have accepted it.  We all just watch commercials for skin cream or hair colour or makeup (specifically the CoverGirl commercial where Taylor Swift tells us to “lose the mask, see yourself, be yourself” by covering your face with their product.  What the fuck Taylor?) and don’t even react.

Since watching America the Beautiful I have stopped wearing makeup.  Every now and then I wonder if that was really necessary.  Maybe it would be okay to just put on some eyeliner, or just make my skin look a little more perfect.  But writing this post and thinking about all these issues again has reminded me that in a lot of ways, this is a life or death issue.  (And I didn’t even get in to the toxins that have been found in ‘beauty products.’)

There is so much more I could say about this documentary, but you really should just watch it yourself.  The last thing I will say though, is something that the filmmaker said to all his male friends while learning all these terrible things about ‘beauty.’  He said, “call every woman you know, and tell her that she is beautiful right now, exactly as she is.”  What could be more important than that?

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Yes, I Am A Slut – Clementine Cannibal

Someone on my Facebook posted an amazing video called ‘Yes, I Am a Slut.’  I then followed the link to the author’s blog, and am a little obsessed with it / her right now.  I highly recommend taking a look at it, and I posted the link on the left.  But I am too in love with this video not to post it here for everyone to see.

This is obviously not mainstream, popular media, but one thing that I am loving about the internet, especially social media sites is that everyone has the opportunity to create their own media.  This is hugely important in resisting what mainstream media tells us.  It gives us back a little power.  It reminds me of something one of the women in Miss Representation said about letting her daughter make her own movies, and how it taught her that TV and movies are all just stories being told to her by someone, and she can just as easily tell them stories right back.  This is just as important for adults in our media-saturated world.  It is sometimes easy to forget that our thoughts and voices are just as legitimate as any film makers’ and that we have the right, and even the responsibility, to use them.

I have nothing to add to this video at all.  It is absolutely perfect.  All I have to say is, yes, I am a slut too.

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