Resurfacing

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It turns out the world is flat and I sailed right off the edge of it.  OK, not really, but it sure felt like it.  I apologize for the long hiatus, but now I’m back in action!

It’s been an interesting journey over the last nine months.  I went to Germany for the first time (which was amazing!), I went through a rough break-up (which was not amazing) and I unexpectedly changed jobs within the organization I work for.  And in the midst of all this, my therapist moved across the country. Life has been a steep learning curve for me lately.

I’m having a tough time finding that sweet spot between taking time for oneself and not becoming completely isolated.  Coming out of this particular relationship has felt like stepping out of a time capsule.  A lot of the people I used to consider friends are gone, either lost in the break-up or hit the road sometime before.  It was one of those relationships where you end up on island, completely separate from the life you had before, and at no point did I think it was healthy.  I also thought it would get better, but, well that’s another story.

So I find myself desperately trying to rekindle old friendships or trying to figure out how to meet new people.  I don’t like to drink very often, so going out to bars seems counterproductive.  I do like geeky gaming events, but hell if meeting other geeks (especially as a woman) isn’t intimidating.  I guess I’ll figure it out. Frankly, right now I’d just be happy to have enough energy to want to go out and do something besides sleep and go to work and do it all again.

Life is so damn messy. No wonder fiction is so appealing– where else does everything get wrapped up so neatly? Of course, neat or not, we have to find closure for ourselves, or else you just end up carrying it all with you and the past bleeds into your future.  An ideal future is empty and meaningless–waiting to be filled.

Ah, well, the more philosophical I get, the more tired I know I am.  Nothing profound this time around, but I’ll bring something more interesting for the next post.

Rest well, beauties.

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Songs that Suck: “Steal My Girl”

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This is part one of what will be a multi-part series.  One Direction is on the chopping block today!

Being the “old at heart” curmudgeon I am, I still listen to the radio.  No, I don’t mean the “I ❤ Radio” application you can download, I mean I literal tune-in to a station during my morning and evening commute to/from work 5 days a week.  I know it’s a matter of time before it’s all app-based or satellite radio, but for now I still enjoy the weird feeling of community interaction I get from listening to the radio (even though there are very few disc jockeys I don’t loathe; sorry guys, literally NONE of you are half as funny as you think you are).  Plus, aside from recommendations from friends or Spotify, listening to the radio is how I find new music.

It’s also an exercise in masochism, though, since most new music on the radio is outright terrible, painfully formulaic, or is still pushing sexist/racist/homophobic stereotypes.  For someone who thinks lyrics should be thoughtful and well-written, rather than catchy and in no way grammatical correct, pop music has little to offer.

But, for all my complaining, I still listen.  Because once in a while you hear a great song, and it makes all the ear-bleeding worth it.

Of course, this entry is about a song that really sucks: “Steal my Girl” by One Direction.

In and of itself, I find One Direction to be rather mundane.  All their songs sound the same to me, and not a one contains any sort of powerful or poignant message.  That is, they are the spirit animal of Pop Music: Formulaic, mediocre, and very catchy.   Generally, if a song of theirs comes on the radio, I do not have a strong reaction to it either way (“Ugh, this is awful, change the station!” or “Oh, I love this song, turn it up!”).  It’s just… “meh” until something more interesting comes on.  That is, until I heard “Steal my Girl.”

This song is pretty much the pinnacle of sexist drivel.  The music itself is catchy (and that’s part of the problem) but the lyrics will make you cringe.  The chorus goes:

Everybody wanna steal my girl
Everybody wanna take her heart away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one ’cause she belongs to me

You can look up the rest of the lyrics, but this is the meat of the song.  Dude has a girlfriend.  Girlfriend is presumably attractive.  Everybody else wants her.  Wow, insightful stuff.

The lyrics are obviously sexist because they completely objectify women– according to the singer, his girl isn’t his partner in life, she’s his possession.  She belongs to him.  She doesn’t have a will of her own, that is, there’s no worry of the girl choosing to leave the guy, the only danger is that she might be “stolen” from him. Gross.

Listen, this concept as been around for a long time when it comes to love, and I think it’s got to stop.  It’s an extremely damaging concept to ALL genders: we are human beings, we are not objects.  We do not “belong” to each other, we choose to be WITH each other.  Why is this idea of being possessed by another human being romanticized? It’s not romantic,  it’s abusive.  Trust me, I’ve been an abusive situation or two in my time.

It’s one thing to say your heart belongs to someone, that’s another way of saying you love someone, but the idea that the entire person is stripped of their autonomy in a relationship and literally belongs to the other person is disturbing, not cute.  It smacks a lot of “traditional marriages” where women were considered the property of either their fathers or their husbands.  Nowadays, the attitude expresses itself in different ways– like your partner insisting you’re not allowed to have friends of the opposite sex (if you’re heterosexual).  That’s some manipulative bullshit!

Folks, it’s 2014.  Women, you are not the property of men and likewise, Men, you are not the property of women!  We’re all human  beings and we all belong to ourselves.  Besides, I think the idea of my partner choosing to be with me, every single day, is much more romantic than that of my partner “belonging” to me, as though she were a prisoner (prisoner of love!).  Really, now.

Anyhow, back to One Direction.  Notice how this girl doesn’t even have a name?  She doesn’t have an identity to speak of except for her relationship to her boyfriend.  She’s his girl, his queen, his dream– basically, her existence is defined as being his girl.  When the boyfriend isn’t there, she just sits down in a chair, plugs herself into int he nearest outlet and recharges her “sexy meter” for when he returns.

Just kidding.  Except, that’s kind of the message.  It’s along the same lines as saying “think of your mother/sister/daughter/aunt/other female loved one” when trying to get someone to stop being a sexist douche.  Women are frequently defined by their relationship to the men around them, and it’s really gotten old.  We’re whole people, dudes, even without you around to validate our existence, call us sluts, solicit us for sex, etc.  We have dreams and desires that have nothing to do with servicing your penis.

Let’s look at one of the verses in this song:

Kisses like cream,
Her walk is so mean
And every jaw drop
When she’s in those jeans,
Alright (alright)

This is the most information we get about the girl in the song.  Again, she has no name, no job, no personality… but we know that she’s attractive and sexually appealing to the boyfriend.  She has nice lips, she looks hot in a pair of tight jeans– I mean, what else could you possibly need to know about this girl? Who cares if she’s intelligent, if she’s contributing to society, if she has aspirations– she’s hot! And really, if you’re a woman, what else matters?

God that message is so stale.  I’ve heard it literally every day of my life for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes it’s subtle, like when I hear a song on the radio singing about a nameless sexy girl who belongs to a dude, and sometimes it’s blatant, like when someone yells “Nice tits!” or “DYKE!” on the street.  The message is all the same: You are your genitalia.  You exist only to gratify (men) sexually, or you’re worthless.  In advertising, in academia, in music and art, in business, we are constantly reminded that men (and therefore the world) views us as sexual objects and little else.

Is this song an egregious assault on women’s rights? Absolutely not.  It’s just sexist; lazy and casual sexism at that.  But I guess that’s why it struck me as so potentially damaging– because it IS casual.  Because I’m sure One Direction does not think there’s anything sexist about this song.  Because the young girls listening to it will like the catchy tune and not think critically about the lyrics that accompany it.  It’s easy to let casual sexism slide, because it is casual and seems nonthreatening on a large scale, but that’s why sexist attitudes are so pervasive.  Because we do let this stuff slide, we say “it’s not that bad” without considering that 100 “not that bad”s a day equals “Actually, that’s pretty bad.”

All in all, I give “Steal My Girl” a D-.  The lyrics are terrible and sexist, the song is uninspired, but the tune is pretty catchy.

Sexism in Translation

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As a gamer who also happens to be a woman, I pay attention to other women gamers.  Even if you’re not a self-identified “gamer,” you probably heard at least a little bit about kerfuffles like “GamerGate” and the sustained harassment critics like Anita Sarkeesian have received in response to the grave sin of talking about games while possessing a vagina.

Sexism is nothing new in gaming, but I guess I thought with Millennials growing up that it would start to wane at least a little.  Half of the world’s population is women and nearly half of the gaming market is also women.  But you wouldn’t know it by signing on to XBOX Live or even just by looking at the kinds of games that are produced.  Anita does an amazing job talking about the tropes that plague women in her video series, which has garnered her endless rape and death threats, so I’m not going to cover that again.

What I want to talk about is the kind of harassment women are subjected to when they choose to play multi-player games online, like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.  “Not in the Kitchen Anymore” is a website that documents the harassment Jenny receives for daring to play on XBOX Live while also being a woman.  It’s a small sampling of the kind of crap women get for merely existing in what are considered male-dominated spaces, but it’s shocking nonetheless.  Comments such as these are commonplace:

Shut up, slut.

How sweaty is your vagina?

Yeah, you fuckin’ bitch ass cunt. Suck a dick. Suck a dick bitch.

Can I have sex with you? ‘Cause you got a hot voice.

Show me your butthole, bitch

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “It’s just trash talk!”  Yeah, except it’s not.  Listen, I get that trash talking is a thing, particularly in games where you’re blowing each other to bits for funsies.  I don’t play Call of Duty, but I do love me some Unreal Tournament and the built-in trash-talk in that game is half the fun. I’m not trying to censor “trash talk.”  I am, however, making a distinction between what is simple “trash talk” and what is gender-based harassment.

Comments insulting your mother, insulting your general playing ability or intelligence, etc. are trash talk.  Comments that are made in direct response to the fact that you are a woman are not trash talk.  Propositioning a woman, asking her to show you her tits, calling her a “cum dumpster,” threatening to rape her, etc. are NOT trash talk.  That’s gender-based harassment.  It’s not intended to be banter between competitors, it’s meant to threaten and degrade someone deemed “other” (in this case, women) and has the ultimate goal of ejecting the person from the space, rather than enhancing the gaming experience.  They are not the same.

After pouring over the archives on Jenny’s site, I couldn’t help noticing certain themes.  Or namely, one theme: “All you’re good for is sex.”  This is what we tell women and girls every day of their lives.  From beauty pageants to advertising, catcalling to rape threats, we constantly remind women that they are no more or less than their capacity to sexual gratify men.  It’s a pervasive and damaging message.  And online harassment is no different.  No matter what the insult, ultimately the underlying message is the same: “You exist to serve me sexually.”

As such, here is a list of comments frequently made to women in multi-player games and their translations.

Sexism in Translation 

Comment: “You’re fat”
Translation: “I only find skinny women attractive, so I’m asserting that you must be fat and therefore worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “I bet you’re a lesbian”
Translation: “A lesbian cannot offer anything sexually to a man, so I’m calling you a lesbian as a way of telling you that you’re worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “You’re a dirty cunt”
Translation: “I’m reducing you to your genitalia and if you’re a dirty vagina, that’s not sexually appealing to me as a man and therefore you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “Suck my dick!”
Translation: “Prove your worth by sexually gratifying me.”

Comment: “Whore”
Translation: “I bet you’ve had sex with more than one person, and that is a privilege that belongs to men.  Women exist only to gratify me sexually, and since you’ve been ‘used’ more than I consider acceptable, you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “Dumb bitch”
Translation: “I don’t like women talking in what I consider to be a male-only space, so I’m going to insult your intelligence and use the least creative gender-focused insult I can think of, namely ‘bitch’, in hopes of shutting you up.” 

Comment: “Faggot”
Translation: “I’m an ignorant bigot who thinks all gay men are effeminate and I equate femininity with weakness.”  and/or “I’m a man who’s uncomfortable with my sexuality and I deflect this discomfort by insulting the sexuality of those around me.”

Comment: “Are you hot?”
Translation: “As a woman, you only have value to me if you’re sexually desirable to men.”

Comment: Referring to women as “Females”
Translation: “I think women are literally a different species from men so I refer to them as ‘females’ rather than women.”

Comment: “Get back in the kitchen”/”Make me a sammich”
Translation: “I haven’t updated my sexist rhetoric since the 1950s.”

Comment: “I’m going to rape you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ using sexualized violence.” 

Comment: “I’m going to kill you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ by ending your life.” 

Comment: “All you’re good for is your vagina.”
Translation: “All you’re good for is your vagina.” 

That last one really lays it all out for you, clear as day.  And I wish I were making them up as an example, but I’m not.  That is verbatim something that was said to Jenny while playing XBOX Live.

As you can tell, all these comments are about sex and/or female anatomy, with the exception of the straight up death threats.  Even so, there’s a gendered component because of the assumption that, as a man, you are physically stronger than any woman.  Don’t tell me this is trash talk, because it’s not.  It’s harassment targeted against women specifically and, again, the goal is not to simply banter with your competitors and/or teammates, it’s to make the environment hostile to women in hopes of driving them out of the space.

And of course, it’s all a trap.  While most of the comments focus on telling the woman she is not what a man wants (i.e. “you’re fat,” “you’re butch,” “you’re a lesbian,” “you’re not a virgin,” etc.) even in the cases where the woman IS desirable (“You sound hot,” “show me your tits,” “I want to stick it in your butt”) this does NOT elevate the woman above the role of “sex object.”  In other words, there’s no winning.  Either you’re worthless because you are not a viable sex object, or you ARE a viable sex object, but that’s literally all you are.  You can’t be smart, you can’t be skilled, and you certainly can’t be a good gamer.  You can be a vagina that a man wants to fuck, or you can be one he wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Uh, yeah, I see how feminism is done and… all… Ugh.  Sexism is, unfortunately, alive and well.  And though in the grand scheme of things men harassing women in online games isn’t the most pressing human rights issue we need to tackle, it is unfortunately a symptom of a very sexist society that is why we need to talk about it.

That’s the thing about micro-aggressions: Individually, they seem somewhat harmless, but all together they add up to environment that is not only hostile towards women, but outright damaging to them.  This environment leads to self-objectification, eating disorders, rampant violence against women, rape as an ever present threat, and an average of three women PER DAY dying at the hands of someone they love and trust… So, yeah, in that light, I’d say this stuff matters.

So what’s a girl to do? Or a guy, for that matter, who knows this is bad behavior and should not be tolerated? Speak up! They will try to shut you up, but speak up anyway.  Talk about the harassment, expose it to light, make it clear that it will not be tolerated and it will not work.  I truly believe that the troglodytes who harass women and othered peoples like this are in the minority, but all you need for the trolls to triumph is for everyone who disagrees with them to remain silent.  Don’t get them the satisfaction.

Buying and Selling Women is SOOOO Hilarious!

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Except it’s not.

Yesterday, Naya Rivera posted this picture of her Halloween costume to her Facebook:

Get it? She’s a Mail Order Bride! Hardy har! This right here is a very special combination of offensive and COMPLETE lack of imagination.  I can think of a few lazier costumes, but at least they’re clever (like wearing a sign that says, “Error 404: Costume Not Found”).  This is just, “Oh yeah, I have a wedding dress! If I tape a piece of mail to the front, suddenly it’s a costume!”

Listen, Naya, I know you play a lesbian on TV and apparently you think that gives you immunity to act like an ass, but it really doesn’t.  You don’t get some kind of social justice credit for playing a gay character that you can then cash in later to act like an ignorant douchecanoe and wear a costume like this, which is not only lazy and uncreative, but completely trivializes the very real experiences of many young women around the globe.

Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? Don’t mail-order brides consent?” Sure, the same way a starving person “consents” to work for 3 cents a day to feed their family.  Mail-order brides are often forced into the “choice” by their family situation, poverty, or both, and once they’re in their new country, they are completely at the mercy of the man who purchased them.  Even if a woman’s dream was to become a mail order bride, the practice still commodifies women, and if we want equality for all genders, we HAVE TO STOP COMMODIFYING WOMEN.

The mail-order bride industry remains one of the most sexist and degrading businesses operating legally today. It is an industry designed solely to market and sell human beings, favoring the interests of its paying clients while degrading and exploiting women. Whether or not a woman gives her alleged
consent does not excuse the fact that she is being bought and sold as a commodity. Once married and in their new country of residence, mail-order brides face isolation and powerlessness and often experience domestic violence and sexual abuse. Some, like Anastasia King, have been murdered. A Russian in search of the American dream, Anastasia used an online mail-order bride service to meet and marry Indle King, an American businessman. She was unaware that King’s former wife, also a mail-order bride, had divorced him citing domestic abuse a few years earlier. Soon into his second marriage, King began physically abusing Anastasia. When she tried to end the marriage King hired a convicted sex offender to murder his mail-order bride from Russia. At the time of the murder, King was putting in his “order” for “bride number three.”

Read more about the plight of mail-order brides here.

Halloween is not an excuse to act out your Privilege

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Ah, Halloween.  Once thought of as the time when the boundary between the living and the dead was most permeable, in 2014 it’s closer to a chocolate-coated, scantily-clad day of consumer worship.  Really, the only things that distinguishes it from Black Friday are the sugar overload and the painfully executed costumes.

I enjoyed Halloween as much as any other white, American kid back in the day.  The other neighborhood children and I would dress up and trick-or-treat at each other’s houses, being rewarded with candy for the hard work our parents put into our costumes.  Those were the days– getting high on sugar while being blissfully unaware of how offensive my “gypsy” costume might be, completely ignorant of concepts like racial appropriation or sexualization.

As an adult whose only chocolate fix is coming from the remains of the candy bowl once the trick-or-treaters have come and gone (or, more often, failed to have come in the first place), I am not so blissfully ignorant.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy dressing up (I do some killer zombie make-up, complete with oozing wounds), but I wouldn’t be caught dead in a “gypsy” costume these days.  After all, now I do know what cultural appropriation is and I’m crystal clear that costumes like these:

ay ay ay…

"Reservation Royalty" aka ROYALLY RACIST

Blue China Doll costume…right…
are simply NOT okay.

Now, I know what you’re thinking– “Political correctness is ruining everything!” Complaining about having to be “politically correct” seems to be in vogue right now.  After all, why should you have to be thoughtful about your language? It’s other people’s fault for being offended!

Well… yes and no.  Yes, we are all responsible for our own emotions and this includes being offended, but abdicating responsibility for your own words and actions only works if we assume that our words and actions exist in a vacuum.  News Flash: They don’t.

What those of us with privilege so easily forget is that the language we consider “normal,” is biased.  To quote Jarune Uwujaren, “The English language normalizes and validates heterosexuality, whiteness, maleness, and ability so ubiquitously that people forget that it reifies these things.”  In other words, when you live in a culture that constantly reaffirms YOUR personal experience (of being white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, male, etc.) that we don’t see how it simultaneously devalues anything other than this standard.

This is occurring every day of the year, but Halloween provides a special opportunity for those who are privileged to exercise their privilege by insensitively turning other cultures into a joke and/or costume.  And when you complain about political correctness because someone informed you that wearing blackface hasn’t been OK since… uh… EVER, what you’re really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to examine my own privilege and admit my actions may be offensive, so I’m going to shame you for feeling offended instead.”

CLASSY.  I mean, sincerely, everytime I get called “oversensitive,” I know I’m dealing with someone who is “undersensitive,” perhaps even de-sensitized by a combination of culture and privilege.  Because, let’s be clear, to be able to walk down the street without getting cat-called or profiled by police, is a privilege in modern day America.

That said, tasteless Halloween costumes are nothing new, but this year is offering some particularly abhorrent costumes choices.  First, the “sexy ebola nurse:”

View image on Twitter

Yes, this is a thing.  Nevermind that nearly 5,000 people have died from ebola this year (the vast majority of whom are West Africans) or the fact that globally we’re still dealing with the outbreak, let’s have a laugh and sexualize a haz-mat suit while we’re at it! I just… really?  I mean, I get how ridiculous the hysteria in the United States has been, and I understand the inclination to mock said hysteria… but let’s not forget that thousands of people have died this year from this horrific disease (I mean, do you know what ebola does? You literally start bleeding out of your eyes and ears) and probably more will die before the year is out.  If you just HAVE to have an infectious-disease themed costume, how about pick one that isn’t an imminent danger to much of the world’s population? Also, that we’ve managed to sexualize an infectious disease kind of makes my soul bleed.

As bad as the “sexy ebola nurse” costume is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what it’s clearly the worse idea for a costume since the dawn of time: Ray Rice and his battered wife.

Ray Rice Blackface Halloween Costumes Are The Worst Idea

This is just one of many horrible iterations of this costume, but I think it’s the most hard hitting.  For starters, these idiots are wearing blackface.  I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014, but BLACKFACE IS NEVER OK. DO NOT WEAR BLACKFACE. Sinceriously.  Just DO NOT DO IT.  Blackface was racist in 1830 and it’s still racist in 2014.

Secondly, the fact that this is even a costume completely trivializes domestic violence.  You want to know why murder jokes are sometimes funny, but rape jokes rarely are? Because we take murder seriously, but we mock, shame and degrade rape victims.  Domestic violence is in the same boat– it’s an extremely pervasive problem and one that is not taken seriously at all.  Domestic violence affects people of all genders, but it disproportionately affects women and even more so women of color.

Don’t believe me? How about the fact that a battered black woman is A HALLOWEEN COSTUME this year? If that doesn’t send up a red flag, I don’t know what will.

Listen, I could sit here all day quoting statistics about domestic violence, violence against women, violence against women of color, prevalence of violence committed by professional athletes, etc., but I’m not going to.  You know why?  Because anyone with a sense of decency should be able to see why these costumes are unacceptable without any convincing.

And if you’re one of those folks who’s thinking to themselves that I’m just trying to ruin your fun and I can’t “take a joke,” let me ask you this: Why do others have to be mocked, belittled and degraded for you to have fun? 

Believe Me

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As a person who is sex-positive and believes the commodity model of sex has got to go, I couldn’t be happier to hear about California’s adoption of the “Yes Means Yes” legislation. For the first time, we’re seeing a performance model of sex held up as the standard.

If you haven’t read the fabulous 2008 compilation, “Yes Means Yes” or you’re not an economics major, you might be wonder what I’m talking about with these commodity and performance models. These are terms borrowed from economics that are often used to discuss society’s relationship with sexuality. (The commodity model of sexuality is a problem I’ve seen deeply affect the United States in particular, since we have the Puritan value system to thank for our historically fucked-up relationship with sexuality and we’re a painfully capitalist country, but I’m certain this is a global problem.)

You can read in depth about these models here, but the short version is that a commodity model views sex as a commodity (a product to be “bought and sold,” both literally and metaphorically) while the performance model views sex as a performance with consenting, enthusiastic participants. In a commodity model, women are the keepers of the commodity and it is up to men to “get” it from them, often by any means necessary. We can see this model displayed in our rhetoric surrounding sex:

  • He got some
  • He scored
  • She gave it up

Even virginity is seen as a commodity which can only be kept safe (until marriage, generally) or simply “lost.” I don’t know about you, but I remember exactly where I put my virginity. (Not all men and women are so lucky, but that’s another post…)  I should also note that I personally consider “loss of virginity” to the be first time you willingly gave your body to someone. Society seriously disagrees with me here– it insists that virginity has to do with hymens (which don’t actually break most of the time) and nothing to do with consent (really?), which can only be the case if sex is a commodity, rather than a performance.

If you’re a survivor of sexual violence like me, then you may know all too well that even seemingly mundane questions like, “When did you lose your virginity?” become panicky situations while you try and discern what’s actually being asked. If you want to know the first time I was penetrated, it’s when I was 5 years old. If you want to know the first time I gave my body to someone in shared intimacy, I was 17. (Not to mention that this idea that penetration = sex is highly problematic and erases the experiences of queer people, among others.  Personally, my definition of sex is thus: If you can catch a venereal disease from it, it’s sex.)

Understanding the commodity model also gives us some insight into the nature of rape culture, which is a global epidemic. When we see women as the “keepers” of sex and men as the “takers,” it’s easy to see how we end up with this fucked-up perception that it’s OK to coerce a woman into sex, or it’s OK to ignore her when she says “no” or “stop” or otherwise makes it clear she is not interested in having sex with you. Men are taught that sex needs to be taken, that women will not “give it up” willingly, and that because women have a responsibility to pretend to be innocent, sex-hating prudes, it doesn’t really count when she tells you she doesn’t want it.

All in all, this is a sad state of affairs. If only we viewed sex as a performance model… That is, if only we could accept that women do like sex and can absolutely be active, enthusiastic participants in sex. This model emphasizes sex as an activity rather than a commodity and requires active consent. And boy, is consent ever important! Only a fool will tell you that consent “ruins the romance,” but that is a sadly common reaction to the concept.

Enter the “Yes Means Yes” legislation. Though rape and sexual assault on college campus is nothing new, lately it’s been garnering a lot of media attention. As a sex-positive and anti-rape activist, this is heartening news. I attribute it to the brave survivors across the country who are sick and tired of being silenced, belittled and disbelieved and are making their voices heard. Emma Sulkowicz’s “Carry That Weight” project is but one great example of the kind of activism that is popping up on campuses nationwide. The state of California has responded with their own activism: A new law that requires affirmative consent of all involved parties before engaging in sex. The law supports the performance model of sex and places the responsibility of obtaining consent on all participating parties. Where “she didn’t say ‘No'” or “I didn’t realize he wasn’t into it” used to be enough to get someone off the hook for raping another person, under the new law these pleas of ignorance will no longer get you a free pass on assaulting someone.

I think that’s a damn good thing, but every legislation has it’s critics. I’m going to address the two most common criticisms I hear regarding this legislation:

  • This is policing the sexual lives of young people (i.e. the government has gone too far)!
  • It’ll take all the fun/romance out of sex!

First off, this is not about sex. This is about rape. And conflating the two is yet another problematic symptom of rape culture. Conflating the two allows utterly insane assertions like, “She just regretted sleeping around and now she’s out for revenge.” This idea is only the slightest bit logical if sex and rape are the same. But they aren’t. One is an activity involving two (or more) willing participants, the other is a disgusting act of violence often likened to torture of one’s body and soul.

Still not sure? Here’s my favorite quote about rape versus sex:
“Rape is about violence, not sex. If a person hits you with a spade you wouldn’t call it gardening.”

I wish I knew who to attribute the original quote to, because it is spot on. Sex is merely the vehicle for violence when a rape is taking place. It would be like pointing to a person who is running for their life from an assailant and calling it “exercising.”  You might be incidentally burning calories from the experience, but that doesn’t make it fun, consensual or exercise.

So, since we’ve established rape is not sex, only people who confuse the two are in danger of having their willful violence against another person policed. I’m OK with that. If you still think it’s overreach, then surely you believe any law that prohibits violently assaulting another person is governmental overreach? Right? I mean, you wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite.

The second point is this idea that obtaining clear or verbal consent is somehow unromantic or “ruins the moment.” I mean, seriously? That’s like saying mutual respect takes the romance out of sex. Only a rapist would think something so disturbing.

Let me tell you a secret, friends: Consent is sexy.  

It is unfortunately a safe assumption to assume that if you’re with a woman, she’s probably been sexually harassed or assaulted in her lifetime. She’s probably had very few sexual encounters that were centered around or even simply concerned with her pleasure. Keep that in mind, and maybe the idea that consent is sexy isn’t so shocking anymore.

Listen, I’m not always a “smooth operator” and there have been times where I asked for consent and it was a little bit awkward. But let’s be clear: It was awkward because I felt awkward and didn’t really know how to ask. Asking doesn’t have to be awkward. Have you ever had sex with someone and asked them during if they liked what you were doing? Was it awkward? It was probably sexy in the moment. Well asking for consent can be exactly as simple. Often times you won’t have to ask because the consent IS explicit in other ways, if you’re paying attention.

And that’s really the key– paying attention to your partner. The simple act of listening to your partner’s words and body language will make the entire sexual experience infinitely better for both (all) parties. Depending on the study you read, we’re said to use non-verbal language to communicate anywhere from 65% to 93% of the time in the world at large. Even on the low end, that’s a hefty majority of the time. So when we’re engaged in sexual activity, that goes up to approximately 99.99%. Bodies will tell you almost anything you need to know during sex, IF YOU PAY ATTENTION. I cannot stress this enough, you really do have to choose to pay attention to your partner. And I promise it’s not even hard once you’ve made that choice. Is she moaning loudly, yelling your name, arching her back and rocking her hips into you? KEEP GOING! Is she laying their quietly, motionless and appear to be staring into blank space? STOP IMMEDIATELY, there is a problem.  (This catatonic-like state may indicate a flashback in a person who has experienced sexual trauma; at best, it means whatever you’re doing isn’t working for him/her).  The language is similar for men– if he’s not particularly responsive, that’s definitely cause for concern and a good time to bring verbal communication back into the picture.

Do NOT rely a person’s sexual organs alone for this non-verbal communication. Women will get wet when aroused just like men get hard– but these particularly body functions happen automatically. Sexual organs, wonderful though they are, are pretty dumb. They respond to external stimuli without concern for context. So while this signal of arousal is a good thing in consensual situation, remember to take context into account. That is, if she’s struggling to get away from you or he’s telling you no, don’t ignore that because the person appears to be aroused. Brains are a critical element of good sex. So make sure your partner is with you mentally, not just physically.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s an example: Once I was dating this gal who I really had the hots for. We’d gone on a couple of dates, and I even spent the night at her house once  where there was no funny business involved–true story, we really just slept… or at least pretended to sleep. (PRO TIP: Spending the night with a girl without fucking her, particularly if you haven’t rung that bell yet, is a great way to show you you respect her body and boundaries enough to wait. Not that you have to wait, if you’re both into it, but it also adds to the excitement when you finally do decide to take it to that level.)

Anyhow, after another fabulous date, she invited me to spend the night again and this time things did get all hot and heavy. It started out slowly, innocently, even, with us laying in the dark, tracing each other’s hands with our fingertips. The desire was thick and palpable in the air around us. It pretty quickly turned into passionate kissing and the discarding of clothes. And then, as she wrapped herself around me, between labored breaths, she simply asked me, “Is this OK?”

Even though the answer was pretty obvious from my body language and my response to her touch, her decision to take that second and a half to confirm with me that we were on the same page was literally the sexiest thing she could’ve done. My response? I don’t remember if it was “Oh God, Yes!” or “FUCK YES!” but you get the idea.

And, in case you’ve never had the pleasure, being able to say “YES” to your partner is both empowering and incredibly sexy. It’s arguably my favorite word to use during sex. As a survivor of sexual assault, it’s taken me a long time to find my way to a healthy relationship with sex, but every time I say “Yes” where once my “No” was so thoroughly dismissed, I feel sexier and more in control of my body. Every time I say “Yes,” I take a little piece of myself back. Every time I say, “Yes,” I am reminded that I am with a partner who respects me and cares about my pleasure, and this helps keep me in the moment (something crucial for any assault survivor).

Don’t you want to give your partner that opportunity? Don’t you want your partner to talk about how sexy it was that you asked? Don’t you want your partner to be reminded that you care about their pleasure? Don’t you want your partner to feel empowered and as an equal participant in this performance? So tell me, again, how is it “unromantic” or “unsexy” to ask? Because I just don’t see it. It sounds like a crappy excuse for focusing on your pleasure and yours alone– and that quality will always make you a terrible lover.

All that said, what really gets to me is this particular response to the “Yes Means Yes” legislation, and I’ve seen it in far too many comment sections: “How do we know [survivors] are telling the truth? This will just be used by vindictive women to put innocent men in jail!”

OK, first off, if the accused is innocent, s/he has nothing to fear from this law. If the person in question enjoys getting off on someone’s lack of consent, then they do have to worry.

But this idea that women who’ve been raped are merely “crying rape” in an effort to “ruin [a man’s] life” is pretty insane. Does rape sometimes get falsely reported? Yes, but no more often than any other crime. If you’re afraid of being falsely accused of rape and you’ve not committed rape, then you might as well worry about being falsely accused of armed robbery and identity theft too, because that’s the kind of frequency we’re talking about.

Also, let’s keep in mind that many “false reports” include REAL reports that were dropped due to police bullying or the victim not being “credible” enough because they’re  a sex worker, for example, and everyone knows you can’t rape a sex worker! (Please note the tidal wave of sarcasm.) Here’s but one heart-breaking story of a woman who was brutally raped, but is considered a “false rape allegation.”

Secondly, more often than not, reporting rape ruins your life. I wish I were kidding. I am not in the least be surprised that most survivors don’t report their rapes. After all, in the current climate, the deck is stacked against you. Policemen won’t believe you, your friends and family will blame you, and if you’re one of the rare cases that ever sees a day in court, your very character will be put on trial while that of your assailant will be deemed “irrelevant” and s/he will probably go free. Why would someone go through all that for “revenge”? The answer is that they wouldn’t.

But, this attitude of distrusting women, of assuming they are not credible witnesses to their own experiences, is one of the biggest driving factors underlying rape culture. For centuries women have been painted as “irrational” and “hysterical” as a means of diminishing their power in an already male-dominated society. Not believing women when they say they have been raped is but one more method in the long-standing tradition of calling women liars.

When you bring up false rape allegations or question the validity of accounts told by survivors, you are furthering sexism and rape culture. You are putting your stamp of approval on society’s sick habit of raping women (and men and children) and then calling them liars, or worse yet, “sluts” who were “asking for it.” No one welcomes violence against their person, yet every time you stand against a survivor and say, “Yeah, but were you really raped?” you are condoning rape. You are condoning the system that forces women to live in fear every day of their lives. You are condoning the practice of making rape victims responsible for curbing their own freedom to accommodate potential rapists. You are doing a disservice to us all.

So, yeah, I’m excited about the new legislation. After all, this law makes it clear: Your consent matters. Your voice matters. Your experiences matter.

Maybe that’s the message that makes some people so uncomfortable– if you tell rape survivors (the majority of whom happen to be women) that their voices and their bodily autonomy matters, they might start believing it, and you might not be able to get away with rape in the future.

So, dear reader, want to do something to support sexual assault survivors of all genders, ages and nationalities? Because there is one, very simple thing you can do, starting right now, that will make all the difference in the world: Believe them.

When someone tells you their story, believe them. Better yet, be vocal, and tell them you believe them. Because I know first hand that the greatest fear any sexual assault survivor has (besides being assaulted again) is the fear of not being believed. It’s an extremely effective silencing technique, but you can counteract it. Believe survivors, and be vocal about your trust in them. Even if it means nothing to anyone else, it will mean everything to that survivor.

I’m a “Small Fat” and Why that Matters

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I’m fat.  I’ve been fat all my life.  I say this not as a degrading remark, but as a descriptive statement.  Being fat is a trait no different than having brown eyes or being tall.  Or, more accurately, it shouldn’t be any different.

If you’re moving through the world in a body right now and you’re a woman and/or you’re not naturally lithe, you are all too aware of how having fat on your body earmarks you for bullying.  You’ve probably been given “friendly” dieting advice from complete strangers, been criticized for eating in public or for wearing unflattering clothing, been told no one will ever love you…

It’s a cruel, cruel, thin-centric world out there.  Make no mistake, thin people get shamed and criticized and feel insecure about their bodies too, but if you’re thin you’re still considered a person.  If you’re fat, you’re sub-human, animalistic, unworthy, unlovable.  (You’re also average, but I guess that’s besides the point.)

Fighting fat stigma is one of the many causes close to my heart.  I personally practice Health and Every Size (HAES), which is the radical idea that you can start practicing healthy behaviors no matter what size and shape your body is (as opposed to the idea that if you’re fat you need to exercise, for penance usually, but you’re also not supposed to be seen exercising in public unless you enjoy being oinked at or having eggs thrown at you).
Having been in the “fat-o-sphere” for a while (a corner of the internet where fat people can discuss fat problems without being trolled), I’ve come to realize that I am in fact a “small fat,” and yes, it does matter.So, where is the line between fat and thin anyway?  Hard to say, it really depends on what store you’re shopping in and who you’re asking.  The fashion industry insists “fat” starts at size 6.  Your average department store usually carries “straight sizes” up to a size 12 or 14, and considers anything larger than that to be plus size.  Likewise, plus size clothing stores usually start at size 14 and go up to at least size 28.  So, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to consider American dress size 14 and up to be “plus” sized.

Depending on the brand of clothing, I wear anywhere from a dress size 16 up to a 22.  Yes, brands vary THAT much.  And, for what it’s worth, it’s rarely my jiggily stomach that prevents me from fitting into clothes, it’s my very broad back and shoulders, which I’ve learned while trying to buy women’s clothes is apparently very “unladylike.”  How dare my body not be shaped like the designer’s image of what a body ought to be shaped like! It’s a little maddening, actually, and one of an array of reasons why I often shop in the Men’s departments (you need to only know your measurements instead of dealing with inconsistent vanity sizes and bizarrely tailored garments).  All that said, I’m still considered to be on the “small” side of “plus” size.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  How could that possibly matter?? Well, to be honest, I don’t know why body size is even remotely related to self-worth in society’s eyes, but since it does, it does matter.  And it matters not because I consider myself separate from folks larger than me, but because while I’m still stigmatized for my body size, I am treated with the slightest bit more dignity than my larger-than-me friends.

It means that, once in a while, I can get away with shopping at a “straight size” store instead of only being able to shop at plus-sized shops.  It means that sometimes I’m assumed to a be “good fattie”– someone who sincerely repents for the size of their body and is doing everything they can to lose weight.  It means that well-meaning friends say very offensive things like, “Well at least you’re not THAT fat” while passing judgement on folks fatter than I.

It must seem strange that there’s a delineation between “BBW” (a term adopted by many fatties meaning “big, beautiful woman”) and “SSBBW” (a “super-sized” BBW) and you would be correct.  It is strange.  But it’s no stranger than determining a person’s worth, intelligence, work ethic, beauty, health and self-discipline based on an arbitrary sizing system.  And yes, I included “health” in that list because you CANNOT tell a damn thing about a person’s health by looking at them.

One thing fat people are common accused of, particularly if we are not openly remorseful about our body size, is “promoting obesity.”  How dare you not hate yourself 24 hours a day! (Personally, I try to limit my self-hatred to 12 hours a day.) Let’s be clear (and I’m going to take a page from Ragen’s book here): Health and size are NOT the same thing and neither one is a barometer of a person’s worth.  The choice to prioritize health is just that– a choice.  And if you’re thin, we accept this is a choice.  You want to eat McDonald’s all day everyday?  That’s fine as long as you’re thing.  But I promise you, there’s nothing healthy about that, no matter how skinny you are.

These messages, that health and size are the same, does a disservice to people of all sizes.  For the fat, it leads to deplorable healthcare where we’re prescribed weight loss for literally every ailment, even and especially ones that would have other treatment options if only we were thin.  (Yes, doctors can be sizeist bigots, despite the Hippocratic oath.  For example, in 2003, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed more than 600 primary care doctors and found that more than half viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive and noncompliant.  No, not even your healthcare is safe from bias.) For the thin, they are given the false impression that as long as they stay thin, they are healthy, no matter what their behaviors are.

But studies show that when it comes to health, behaviors are far better predictors than body size.  (This study shows how, when healthy behaviors are practiced, there’s very little difference in metabolic health between people of ALL sizes.)  A mere 30 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to be the best thing you can do for you health, again, regardless of your body size.

Still don’t believe that fat people are stigmatized?  Read “This is Thin Privilege” for about 5 minutes and you’ll be convinced.

I could go on, and on, and ON with stories of fat discrimination, debunking “everybody knows” myths like that BMI is an accurate measure of health or that obesity all by itself is disease, but I’d like to turn my attention to some positive truths.

TRUE: Body size is not a measure of worth, loveability, intelligence, health, beauty, or self-discipline.

TRUE: Body sizes and shapes naturally vary in humans just as much as our skin tones, eye color, height, or any other genetic factor.

TRUE: Body size is not something entirely within our control.  This is something body size has in common with health– both are complex and multi-faceted and, at best, only partially within our control.  Chain smokers have lived to be 101, and 25-year-old triathletes have dropped dead sudden of heart attacks.  There’s so much we can’t control, and the truth is we as a species do NOT know how to make fat people thin.  There is literally not a single study that follows dieters for at least 5 years where said dieters have been able to keep off the weight.  Ironically, if you’re trying to gain weight, dieting is your best bet.  Dieting has been proven to lead to long term weight gain, usually more than you lost in the initial phases of the diet(s). Even people who’ve had their stomaches stapled ultimately gain the weight back.  We don’t know how to make fat people into thin people, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

TRUE: You don’t owe anyone anything.  Concern trolls will insist you owe it to them, to yourself, to your friends and family, to do everything you can to lose weight and be healthier.  Besides falsely conflating health and weight, this is just bullocks.  You don’t owe anyone anything.  Health is personal choice, and body size isn’t a choice at all.  We can manipulate a few pounds here and there within the confines of a balanced diet, but our bodies pretty much know what weight they prefer.

TRUE: There’s no shame in embracing your body exactly how it is right now.  Society will try and shame you, every damn day, but this too, is bullocks.  Our bodies do so many amazing things for us, often without even needing to ask it to do them.  It keeps our hearts beating, our lungs breathing, our eyes blinking, and all that without any deliberate thought on our part.  I’m fortunate that my body can also do things like climb stairs, jump across puddles, lift boxes, and dance to that sick beat.

TRUE: YOU can help end fat stigma.  It might not seem like much, but when your friends make a joke at a fat person’s expense, speak up.  When someone posts something ignorant on their Facebook page, speak up.  When you hear people putting themselves down, calling themselves fat, going on and on about how they need to diet– speak up!  It’s not always easy, but this simple act of speaking up and out against fat stigma is how we, one by one, put an end to this ridiculous prejudice.

TRUE: You have a community.  Whether you’re fat yourself or simple a fat ally, you have a community.  Blogs like Ragen’s Dances With Fat or Jeanette’s The Fat Chick constantly have great ideas for activism and ways to connect with this larger community of body-positive people.

There are many things we still don’t understand about these amazing bodies we walk the Earth in, but we do know for certain that shame is detrimental to both physical and mental health, and frankly, I’ve never heard of someone successfully shaming themselves healthy.  The best thing you can do for your body is give it some well-deserved love.  Your body works for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week– consider telling it “Thank You” once in a while.  It might feel weird at first, but you’ll be amazed how quickly that awkwardness turns into pride and motivation to embrace the body you have.

So thanks, bodies, for all that you do.