And this is what I got for leaving the house today…

My mother has a brain lesion and arthritic knees. And diabetes. Every so often we have to make a trek to deal with the powers that be regarding how her healthcare is getting covered. Never a fun way to spend an afternoon.

When we sat down to wait, there was young mother with a little girl already seated in front of us. The girl must have been about 3 and was coloring. She engaged me in a brief game of peek-a-boo from behind her chair, then went back to her coloring while I pulled out my phone to deal with email things. As this was going on, I caught my mother watching this jittery man move about the waiting room. He was very fidgety, and would sit in a chair, then get up and move to another chair a minute or so later. Eventually he wound up seated next to the little girl and her mother.

The little girl continued her coloring. The man started to ask the mother if she was single, asked them their names, if the child was her niece or her daughter. The mother responded first with an eyeroll, then the exasperated, “Ugh!” followed by another eyeroll. The man then asked if the little girl had a daddy at home, and the girl clutched at her crayons with fear in her eyes. Just the tone in his voice when he asked that made my skin crawl. As her mother scooped her up onto her lap, a little voice in my head said, “Oh hell no!”

“What are you doing?” I said loudly. “They don’t want to talk to you! Mind your business!”

He turned to me and said, “Who are you?”

“I am me,” I said. “And my business is mine, and you better mind yours.”

I know I didn’t really make any sense, but I was too angry to care. Seeing that little girl get scared pissed me off to no end. My mother tugged on my sleeve and loudly whispered, “Enough!”

The security guard came over and began talking to the man, and my mother was called for her meeting. When we left the building, the security guard came over to me, and pointed a cop out to me because they were having the man removed (not arrested? I don’t know), and they asked us a few questions. While in the meeting, we had apparently missed an even bigger show where the man took a toy away from a little boy and started to try to take pictures of everyone in the office.

I’m left in this sort of moral quandary. I don’t know if I did the right thing, if I embarrassed the mother, if I made the little girl even more nervous, if my yelling at that guy just made him upset to where he took that toy. It all just makes me want to crawl into a box of really fancy chocolates and never leave.

 

 

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#SharedGirlhood: What the fuck just happened? #FeminismIs4AllWomen

So this is another one of those Twitter moments where 140 characters just won’t cut it…

The other day, I stumbled upon the Twitter hashtag, “SharedGirlhood.” I don’t know who started it or why, and I really don’t care. I found it interesting and chose to participate because I do think there is some definite value in women discussing some of the dark weirdness of growing up female. There are certain things, like when you’re told to stop being a tomboy or that your interests aren’t “lady-like” or that it’s your fault guys are staring at you (and then some), that tend to unite women across the worthless barriers of class, gender and sexual orientation. And to that extent, the hashtag has had some success.

However, when I looked at it just now, all I could think was, “What the fuck is going on here? Why did this evolve into a knock-down, drag out fight between feminists and trans-women? I wonder if I can make the fighting stop…”

First off, I’m a white, straight, cis-gendered, blue collar feminist. I believe that if you can’t make a forum open to everyone, then don’t make it at all–especially on a social media site that anyone with an Internet connection can use. I was pretty disgusted by the blatant prejudice against trans-women I was seeing. Frankly, this should be a chance to open the channels of communication among all women, and I do include trans-women as my fellow women–just as I count lesbians, bisexuals, and non-white women as my fellow women even if I don’t have sexual orientation or race in common with them.

We, as women, face so many of the same obstacles–especially in regard to personal safety and professional progress. Just because I don’t share the physiological starting point as tran-swomen doesn’t mean I will deny them their rights. Especially their right to self-expression.

On the other end of the debate is the accusation that somehow the hashtag was made for the exclusive use of affluent white women. Again, I found myself wonder, “What the fuck…???” I’m willing to concede that feminism’s own history of exclusion is indeed working against sometimes. In fact, I’ll go so far to admit that as a blue collar women without an Ivy League pedigree, I do sometimes feel shut out of the Ivory Tower, and do sometimes find myself thinking that some of these jerks need to learn how to pick their battles. So yeah, I can see where a lot of women who aren’t white, aren’t straight, and were born with different equipment about the pelvic region don’t feel as welcome as they should.

So, the exclusionist bullshit ends here. I have no interest in being told I’m not a feminist because I include trans-women in my feminism, or being associated with anyone who is interested in making feminism so exclusionary and prejudicial. Likewise, I have no interest in being told that the concept of a shared girlhood is invalid. Granted, differences in geography, religion, and so forth are going to make for some obvious differences. But the reason I posted a link to my own story, “Mob attacks on women don’t just happen in Egypt,” is because that really does happen to women all over the world. Being sexually assaulted and then being blamed for our own assaults does unite women the world over. In fact, it even happens to straight men, and I also welcome them in my feminism.

Perhaps I’m guilty of oversimplifying or being naïve, but so be it. I once saw an interview with Paul McCartney where talked about how proud he was of the Beatles’ legacy being about peace and love. I want a feminism I can be proud of, and to me, that means being open and tolerant to women of all backgrounds.

Categories: Lady Issues, LGBT Rights, Politics & Society | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Safety of Writing About Women

     For the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a certain kind of story that seems to bubble up at least once a month: a woman says something in public (whether vocally or in print), and gets attacked by roving gangs of cybermobs.  There seems to be no shortage of stories of women who write about stuff…things…anything…to eventually be plagued by threats of rape and/or death, bomb threats, having their personal business hacked, their personal addresses published. If they have children, they may be targeted as well. Of course, she doesn’t have to just write things on the Internet. She just may speak in public, voicing her thoughts and opinions. It’s like there’s some list being kept somewhere by a clandestine organization, and they’re just checking off women who are small-scale public figures, one-by-one: Lindy West. Zerlina Maxwell. Laurie Penny. Caroline Criado-Perez. Anita Sarkeesian. Mary Beard. Linda Grant. Kathy Sierra. Rebecca Watson. Jenna Myers Karvunidis. Heidi Yewman. Adria Richards. Rebecca Meredith.
     Most, if not all, of the women I just mentioned do work under the heading of “feminist writer/activist/blogger, etc,” which seems to bring out a very particular kind of troll. There’s respectfully disagreeing with someone’s thoughts on life, and then there’s wishing them dead. And then there’s wishing them raped. But the real purpose of it all, as Kelly Diels lays out:
 “…[are] attacks are explicitly designed not only to silence you, but also to embarrass you, scare you, harass you, get government agencies to investigate you, vandalize your property, make you move, get you fired, ruin your life.”
     As I said, most of the previously mentioned women do their work under the heading of “feminism.” This made me curious as to whether this applied to only women who write about feminism, so I sought out some men who also consider themselves feminist, or are at least comfortable enough in their masculinity to take the women’s side from time to time. So I sent out some questions…
  • As a man who writes about feminism or competently writes about women like they’re your fellow humans, have you ever been physically threatened?
  • Have the threats ever reached a point where you believed that your own personal safety, and/or that of your family, was in jeopardy?
  • Have you ever had to deal with any serious breaches of personal security (personal info hacked and posted, etc)?
  • Have you ever shied away from saying anything out of fear of what the response might be?
     I contacted freelance writer Noah Berlatsky on the strength of his Slate piece, “All the Selfish Reasons to Be a Male Feminist.” Based on my questions, he seemed to immediately know where I was going, and said that although he’s never been outright threatened, he does get some hate mail from people who don’t like his reviews. The worse of it culminated in regard to a negative review he gave an Art Spiegelman book, which Berlatsky described as, “…vague wishes that my family would be harmed.” But he closed by noting that
“I think guys can be bullied and face threats online. It does seem like women are especially targeted for this kind of thing…”
     In chatting with feminist blogger Charles Clymer, he said,
“Do I get hate mail? Yes. Have I gotten at least one random phone call from a ranting MRA? Yes. Do I feel harassed? Yes. But I have never had to deal with a fraction of the abuse and vitriol women in this field endure for their advocacy. I’m in awe of their resilience.”
     Blogger and active-duty Army officer Kevin Hanrahan shared similar experiences in receiving nasty comments and Twitter threats, and solved the problem by just blocking people he described as “nasty, slanderous, or outright ignorant.”
     Ultimately, all three men said that the threats or hate mail never reached a point where they genuinely believed their lives were in danger, or those of their immediate family. No breaches of personal security or hacking, no indication that they felt they had to shy away from expressing certain ideas out of fear of greater retaliation.
While I had hoped to hear from a few more guys, I think this is enough to satiate my curiosity on the question of whether or the topic or messenger were bringing in the threats. Based on Berlastsky’s and Clymer’s statements, I’ve come to the conclusion that the gender of the messenger is usually a bigger deal than the message. However, it’s worth noting that in Hanrahan’s case, it was his series supporting women in combat that brought out the haters.
In a 2011 piece in the Guardian, Catholic blogger and vicar’s wife Caroline Farrow, who is described as having little in common with feminists like Laurie Penny, decried her situation as,
“… for some men this seems to make you a legitimate sexual target. I get at least five sexually threatening emails a day.”
     I also find it kind of weird just how mundane the writings and activities of some of these women are to inspire the threats. Anita Sarkeesian made some YouTube videos about video games and Caroline Criado-Perez successfully campaigned to keep women on British money, resulting in Jane Austen’s face being plastered on the back of the Bank of England’s ten pound note. Rebecca Meredith participated in a debate, as part of her debate team, at her university. And yet, the threats themselves are hardly mundane. While I can easily say that Sarkeesian’s and Criado-Perez’s work was definitely feminist-inspired, how then, to explain Farrow’s situation? And are there more like her out there?
     And my answer is: I really don’t know. I wish I did.
     I decided to track down some conservative women bloggers and writers, and I never got an answer from any of them. So I made a couple of posts that look like cattle calls, and still, nothing. A friend of mine suggested that conservative women might think I’m baiting them somehow, or trying to set them up for an ambush, and after thinking it over, I think he may have a good point. To start with, partisan politics have reached such an insane level of, well, insanity, I can see where it’s reasonable to distrust outsiders. If I was asked the same of a conservative blogger, regardless of gender, I’m not entirely sure what my response would be.
     But I also kept thinking something else: Is is something I’ve said?
     On the blog, I’ve expressed my permissive views on gay rights and abortion, and I agreed with Dan Savage that the Bible is loaded with bullshit (especially in regard to slavery, women, and gays), and wondered aloud where Donald Rumsfeld keeps his fucking brains. I’ve also been told I have a mouth like a sailor, to which I can honestly say, there were a lot of ex-sailors in culinary school, and they may have schooled me in the delicate art of letting the expletives fly. I’ve also been told I have a wicked arrogant streak and an attitude problem. And those are things that have been said by people who love me. So, was it something I’ve said? Or how I said it? It probably didn’t help my case. But I think I may have been overly optimistic. For each group, I sent out a dozen or so emails and messages, and while I only heard back from three guys, I found them all very interesting, and am now proud to count them among my Internet buds. I expected a similar thing from the women.
     With all that in mind, I still feel unsettled by the lack of response, and here’s why: I can’t escape the feeling that there’s probably some very similar threats being directed at conservative women. As much as I don’t agree with them, that doesn’t mean that I want to see them silenced by rape threats, death threats, and just being hounded into oblivion by Internet trolls. Freedom of speech still applies to speech we don’t agree with, and it does not apply to threats to one’s personal safety. The fact that we may have crossed a threshold where women, of all political stripes, are more afraid of speaking honestly than the trolls are of threatening women.
     So, who are the trolls? There’s no good way to answer that. I mean, I’m sure there’s ways for them to be found, but then I worry that they might follow me home. Only puppies get to do that.
     Naturally, I couldn’t help wondering who these guys are that do this trolling, and what their motivation is. Then it hit me: they hate women. Strangely, some of the threats almost seem culled from David Wong’s article on Cracked: “5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.” Enough threats are centered around attacking a woman’s appearance that it does indeed seem as though the trolls feel cheated out their hot chick, or they can’t understand why their decorative piece of potential trophy wife is talking–using big words, even. Perhaps some of these trolls are angry because sometimes women are, amazingly enough, smart and pretty, have a healthy sense of self, and say things they don’t agree with, and so they suffer some kind of boner confusion resulting in…what? blue balls? headaches? nose-bleeds?

     But it’s points #2 and #1 where I think Wong really nails what’s going on in their minds: they believe they’ve been cheated out of “true” manhood, and they feel powerless. The point of feeling cheated on “true” manhood is especially interesting:

“A once-great world of heroes and strength and warriors and cigars and crude jokes has been replaced by this world of grumpy female supervisors looming over our cubicle to hand us a memo about sending off-color jokes via email. Yes, that entire narrative is a grossly skewed and self-serving version of how society actually evolved. It doesn’t matter.”

     Here’s why I find that so interesting: what I think Wong is getting at is that some contemporary men seem to mourning their loss of dominion over women. That men are supposed to be the heroes of all stories all the time, and women, at best, are sidekicks. The trolls see themselves as Batman in a world where Batgirl is in charge. But this begged another question: Why would the trolls see the world this way?
Perhaps their motivation for hating women are more individual than Wong describes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not buying into some kind of fantasy of times past, where women were compliant and content to care for the house while their husbands were the breadwinners and little kings in their little castles. The pre-Women’s Movement reality for my own grandmothers were quite different. Neither of my grandmothers had an education past grammar school, and both were single mothers, one through divorce, the other through being widowed very young. While they worked whatever jobs they could find, it was still very much a Mad Men world where, as John Oliver described it, a woman’s Christmas bonus could easily come in the form of a slap on the ass. (It’s insane how much my mother loved that joke.)
There’s a rather famous quote from Gloria Steinem, that since that time, we’re raising our daughters more like our sons, but we’re not raising our sons more like our daughters. I don’t know that raising our sons more like our daughters is really the answer as much as we have just got to stop lying to our sons about what to expect from women. We have to stop raising them with these insane expectations of sexually compliant women who are more than happy to make their sandwiches and clean their bongs while the guys play video games, and look totally fabulous while doing it, because those women don’t exist.
The other point in Wong’s article that I think relates is “We Feel Powerless.” As a woman, I find his argument difficult to digest–if only because the rights of women don’t have the constitutional protections in the way most people think–and yet I think there’s something to it. Wong explains it like this:
“So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world’s nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power.”
     So men who aren’t CEOs or Congressmen feel powerless–I get that but, and I know this isn’t Wong’s intent, it does sound like the sort of excuse misogynist would use to harass, abuse, and stalk women.
In a recent post, Rebecca Watson talks about dealing with law enforcement to help with online threats. She eventually hires a private detective who finds that one stalker who has been giving her an especially hard time has had a prior arrest for domestic violence. Perhaps if we were to look deeper into the personal histories of the trolls and stalkers who have plagued the women I’ve mentioned, we might see similar patterns of behavior, but really, I have no way of knowing.. I am sort of amazed at how often I see screen-pulls, and these guys are often posting under their own names, and use their own pictures of themselves. Like I said, the trolls are less afraid of being exposed than women are for speaking their minds.
I mentioned that men are still raised with unreasonable expectations of women, and I do think that by the same turn, men are still raised with unreasonable expectations of grandeur. They still grow up expecting to always be the heroes of every story that they’re in, and the reality is that most of us will never achieve that. The best most of us can hope for is to just be interesting. And respectful.
Categories: Guy Stuff, Lady Issues, Politics & Society | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Conservative Women Redux

I’ve come realize that I made a huge mistake in not making my previous post specific enough.

I’m currently working on a post about the death threats and rape threats that are constantly being made against female writers online. Much of what I have read on the topic has focused on leftward leaning women, and so I’m curious as to whether or not similar threats are being made against conservative women. And so, I would love to be able to chat with some conservative women who write or blog.

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Conservative Women

I’m currently looking for conservative women to interview for a post I’m currently working on. Please contact me via Twitter: @TracyQLoxley

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