MASKulinity: An Uncomfortable Act, Even for a Tomboy

victor-victoria-julie-andrews_lI’ve been un-ladylike most of my life. My mother grew up with five older brothers and as a single mother her tomboyish upbringing rubbed off on me. Some of my first baby pictures are in overalls and I never took issue with dirt or bugs, but at the same time for special occasions my mother would spend hours trying to get my stick-straight hair to curl and do her utmost to keep bows in it, even when under layers of church-dress-ruffles my knees were skinned. As I grew older I became more accustomed to performing femininity as was expected of my assigned gender.

Junior high school definitely stands out as a period of intense change, and desperately trying to figure out what I was or wasn’t comfortable with as far as my appearance was concerned. It didn’t help that in our “health class” the school nurse had me read aloud to the group of girls the dictionary definitions of woman vs. lady, so that we would behave like ladies now that we had hit puberty. Sixth grade revolved around grunge: Nirvana, Soundgarden, oversized flannel shirts, baggy jeans and Airwalks because I was in love with skateboarders, and my best girl friend…. Seventh grade was punctuated by really short shorts and trashy blue eye shadow and pink lipstick. By eighth grade though my best friend’s influence was strong, and I was wearing spaghetti strap tank tops with bell bottom jeans and barrel curl bangs (my best friend at the time was Mexican).

As my bangs grew out and my wannabe-skater-girl style became more comfortable I grew into my role as the brainy tomboy once again. It’s a role I’ve been comfortable with ever since. Even now, as a full-fledged adult it truly depends on the day whether I wear jeans and a T-shirt or a pencil skirt and heels. To be quite honest I’m more comfortable in jeans because it feels less like a performance and more like …existing. Too bad the androgynous look doesn’t work on everyone! So I guess I’m not the best at performing femininity either, but I have a hell of a lot more practice at it. Presenting as male or solely masculine–not just as a tomboy–not so much.

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Last week some brave male friends of mine joined me at a drag show and gender swap. They looked beautiful in their skirts, leggings, shimmery eye shadow and bold lipstick. I felt so grungy in my masculine garb. Even though the clothes I was wearing I am intimately familiar with (they are my partner’s so I have seen and felt and washed and folded them numerous times) I was flat-out uncomfortable in them. Since I needed men’s clothes that could hide my curves they were baggy on me, and felt colorless. Stripping myself of my daily routine of earrings and mascara I felt exposed and vulnerable, which only added to the poor façade I was putting up.

While the boys were seeking help in applying their makeup, figuring out how to line their eyes and which blush to wear, I was… bored. Men’s clothing, men’s fashion and style are no fun. They don’t get to play with color, they have little to no accessories and their face is what they get. And if men want to dress up they have to spend a lot of money (think three-piece suit) to look formal/fashionable. While I hate that women are expected to hide their faces with make up, I also hate that men don’t have the opportunity to play with color and shape and lighting.

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You may be wondering what my venture into “cross-dressing” has to do with activism but the personal is political, so even my friend and I choosing to rebel against socially constructed gender roles through our physical presentation is a political act. Most of the evening I was checking in with my friends to see if my machismo was holding up, if I was “passing.” The boys didn’t seem so concerned but for good measure I regularly reminded them that “ladies” keep their knees together and take up less space.

The whole experience was exhausting. I felt like my presentation was fairly convincing, that unless someone looked very closely they would not know I am a woman/usually present as female. Because of this I felt a huge burden to continuously “prove” my masculinity, walking with an uncomfortably exaggerated gait, standing with my shoulders back and chest out, sitting with my legs spread and staring menacingly with my lips and jaws tightened in a half-scowl. Whether or not I was actually passing… I don’t know.

I felt like I couldn’t smile, because my face, when content-looking, would reveal my usual identity. Later in the night as politics and alcohol flowed together to liven up our trio I know that I was smiling, but I never saw my own face do so while in my façade, so I don’t know if my smile did, in fact, erase all the masculinity I was trying to layer onto my decades-deep layers of femininity. I was reminded that night though that masculinity can be an uncomfortable mask for people who identify as men as well.

Whenever I would complain about my discomfort within my get-up my friend would commiserate and regale me with coming-of-age tales of small town Texas, and my heart would ache for all the boys in the world who don’t really want to be girls, but really would love to be able to wear a skirt, or lipstick every once in a while, just because they felt like it. There’s nothing wrong, at all, with men in skirts. So this is my call to action, dear readers: WEAR WHAT YOU WANT! And send me pictures of you flaunting non-traditional clothes for the gender you usually present as. I love you for who you are.

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Stop Street Harassment

Since Feminist Activism aims to be the intersection of feminism and strategic nonviolent action, it makes sense that the idea of intersectionality is deeply rooted in everything I do. Nothing exists in a vacuum, so taking one’s gender, race, age, ability, religion, location etc. into account when trying to understand a given situation is a must. This understanding of intersectionality is crucial to a feminist lens and it is with this lens that I will soon be writing in another venue. I have recently had the honor to  be chosen to blog with Stop Street Harassment for the next few months!

tlynnOnce a month from now through April I and other activist writers will contribute to the discussion of street harassment in our corners of the world and ways we can work together to stop it. I will still be writing here at Feminist Activism too, have no fear! But I will also be linking to my articles on the SSH blog. If you would like to share your ideas of how to stop street harassment or tell your own stories feel free to do so in the comments, or by emailing FeministSNVA@gmail.com. You can also tweet @StopStHarassmnt and @FeministSNVA to add to the conversation. Thank you all for your continued love and support!


You Might Be a Rapist

I know the title is startling, unless you read it in your best Jeff Foxworthy voice, but I gotta get your attention somehow. *Trigger Warning: please contact RAINN for help* And if it made you think twice about that one encounter you had in college with someone who was way drunk, or that time you pressured someone into doing something they weren’t comfortable with, you might be a rapist.

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Since the New Year is quickly approaching and making resolutions is a thing people do I thought I’d make a list for you of things that may make you a sexual predator, so you can be sure to not do them in your lifetime. Heregoes, you might be a rapist:

  • If you think you have a “right” to have sex with anyone, including your spouse
  • If you think what I’m wearing means I want to have sex with you
  • If you think you’re owed sex for buying coffee or a drink or dinner
    bad date
  • If you stare, grunt, yell, honk or touch yourself when looking at someone you find attractive
  • If you masturbate to Toddlers and Tiaras *pedophile rapist*
  • If you think “nice tits” is an appropriate compliment for anyone other than your partner (who does not object to it)
  • If you think it is complimentary to harass strangers in public
  • If you feel compelled to only compliment strangers of the gender(s) to which you are attracted
  • If you date people with whose race/ethnicity you don’t identify because you think they’re “easier”  *racist rapist*
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  • If you use the word easy to describe people
  • If you prefer porn where someone is “asleep” or looks like they are actively being violently and non-consensually assaulted
  • If you think an underage girl is a predator preying on older men, is equally responsible for her assault or has any age other than her biological age *pedophile rapist*
  • If you think someone has to have sex with you to prove they love you
  • If you use diminutive pet words when talking to people in the service industry
  • If you refuse to use condoms/birth control… Assange *cough*
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  • If you think prisons are funny
  • If you think high school football and/or football players are more important than women’s bodily integrity
  • If you LOVE American Apparel ads
  • If you believe that “real rape” is when a black man jumps out of the bushes with a gun and rapes a white woman *racist rapist*
  • If you think rape survivors whom you don’t find attractive (ie. larger, older or disabled) should be grateful
  • If you don’t take survivors’ stories seriously
  • If you think that successful, attractive men couldn’t rape anyone
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  • If you support celebrities, politicians and international icons who are running from the law because of sexual assault charges
  • If you threaten people with rape when you don’t like what they say
  • If you think male-identified people can’t be/aren’t raped and assaulted
  • If you inversely judge men and women by the number of sex partners they’ve had
  • If you think that testing rape kits for DNA evidence is wasteful or should not be a priority for the justice system
  • If you think our legal system brings justice for survivors of assault
  • If in college you chanted about raping someone’s underage sister
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  • If you don’t recognize that someone drunk, sleeping or terrified cannot consent to sex
  • If you think “I know you want it” is a pick-up line
  • If you don’t take no for an answer
  • If you pester someone until their no is a “fine!”
  • If you think silence = consent
  • If you joke about rape
  • If you think rape is a women’s issue

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Ok, certainly many of these things do not actually make you a rapist, but they do absolutely make you an active, encouraging participant in rape culture, so stop it! Nothing but equality and enthusiastic consent will do!

Happy Holidays loves and remember: everyone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, (dis)ability, class and age all factor in to how rape culture works for or against them, so check your privilege.

 


An Open Letter to White People

Dear White People,

I seriously debated the title of this post, with White Privilege & Cultural Appropriation 101 and How to Not Suck as an Ally both strong contenders. If you can’t tell just how white I am from my avatar I am of the most sunburnable variety. And that whiteness (and of course being cis-gendered), at least in my culture in the United States, brings with it enormous amounts of unearned privilege. If you, dear reader, are wondering what race/ethnicity has to do with feminism and Feminist Activism I strongly encourage you to read this article, and check your privilege at the door.

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A prime example of a cheap, racist, sexist “costume” for Dia de los Muertos

I don’t want anyone to take away from this the us v. them dichotomy that this discussion may be reminiscent of. We are all human, we are all important, we are all deserving of love and respect. I just want to let other white people know that we, white people, are not the “default.” And that we have a responsibility as human beings to be just as aware of other cultures as other non-white Americans are of ours. Check out these links for a refresher on Arab/Middle Eastern, Asian, Black, Latina, Native American and Mixed-race women’s activism in the US. And check out the Other Women’s Blogs listed on the right side of the page for current voices from around the blogosphere.

El Día de L@s Muert@s is what inspired this post, and as Nuestra Hermana points out, it is no substitute for Halloween. Fall is full of celebrations and festivals from all cultures so I encourage discussions of appropriation versus appreciation of Diwali, Hanukkah, and Día de L@s Muert@s in the comments.

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The Queen of Salsa!

This year the discussions I had with many of my colleagues, as well as the numerous articles I read about racist, sexist and culturally appropriated costumes for Halloween have really stuck with me. It was a hard but humbling reality when I came to accept that it’s ok if I don’t get to dress up as Celia Cruz for Halloween, because it’s not my culture, it’s not my race and as much as I adore her, my culture has already done so much damage to Afrolatin@ culture that even with the purest of intentions I could never do justice to her because of my race and my culture. There are few downsides to being white so not being able to respectfully emulate someone of another race is something all white people should just accept.

I have made it an official rule: If you are white you do not get to dress up on Halloween (or any other day) as someone who is not white. And just as well, you’d probably end up being offensive anyway. No blackface. No hottentot Venus. Also, no feather headdresses, no geisha or dragon lady costumes, no gypsy fortune tellers, no harem beauties, no “illegal aliens” and don’t associate anything Native American with alcohol. Just don’t. Be respectful, be scary, be creative, just don’t be racist.

Racist and tasteless

Racist and tasteless

It has taken many years for me to understand my connection to the Latin@ culture. I poured myself into learning Spanish, have lived in Central America, enjoy cumbia and reggaeton, and would gladly eat Mexican food for every meal, and yet I have the privilege of turning off however Chican@ I may feel at any moment, because I am not actually Chicana. It is not my heritage, they are not my ancestors, no es mi lengua propia y no importa como elegantemente puedo communicarme en español, eso no es mío. I am and always will be white, so the stigma Latin@ children face at school for bringing rice and beans and tortillas would never be my reality. The hardship that Latina women face in the US when it comes to safe neighborhoods, fair employment, adequate child care, incarceration rates, health risks and immigration policies will never affect me in the same way.

Again, it has taken me years to learn that the connection I feel to mis herman@s is because of class, not race/ethnicity. I grew up in a trailer park and my best friend was half Mexican, half white. Because we lived in the same park we were subjected to the same disdain by the wealthier kids, but I always felt so at home with her Mexican familia that when I took a Chican@ literature class in college, studied the Nahuatl language and spent time with members of MEChA it seemed redundant for me that my classmates and professors gave me the title of “honorary Chicana.”

stigma 2But now I recognize just what an honor that was. I never have been and never will be Chicana, but because I respect and embrace all that Chican@ culture has done for and given to the United States, mis herman@s respect me, and my admiration for their culture, in return. It takes a lot of sincere interest in learning another culture to have members of that culture bestow such a title on you, and it’s something that no one should ever take for granted. I still consider myself very lucky to be able to  understand-both on an academic and a human level-Spanish conversations and Latin@ cultural events when my Latin@ friends choose to include me.

Here are a few tips I’ve been able to put together for those of you who are thinking of participating in another culture’s events or just generally don’t want to be racist:

  • Excepting an allergy, eat what is offered to you at a cultural event. Food, its preparation, and its enjoyment together are sacred in so many cultures that when white people make a face at menudo, crinkle their nose at kimchi or proclaim that curry “stinks” it kills me. That’s a whole lot of love you’re dismissing and if you aren’t participating in a cultural event to feel the love of the people you don’t belong there.
  • It is your job to educate yourself about other cultures. If you are planning to emulate someone from another culture, for whatever reason, it is entirely your responsibility as to whether your emulation comes across as offensive or genuine to someone from that culture.

    Someone else's culture should not be your costume

    Someone else’s culture should not be your costume

  • It is your responsibility to make an effort to understand the spiritual, historical and cultural significance of any holiday/celebration/festival you do not understand. If you have read everything you can get your hands on and still don’t feel like you understand it, only then would I advise asking someone from that culture to explain it to you. It is in no way their job to educate us.
  • While it is not anyone’s job to educate anyone else, if someone does choose to talk to you about their own experience or how to be more helpful in the fight for equality LISTEN!
  • Your/my/our white culture has chewed up and spit out and mangled beyond recognition so many cultures from the time Columbus invaded the Americas that we collectively as the “majority” must step back and allow the non-dominant cultures to have their own safe spaces where we may be onlookers/participants by invitation only.
    not funny
  • The other side of the coin is that you should make every effort to participate in cultural events you are invited to. If your friend or colleague invites you to join in a Lunar New Year’s celebration, attend a non-Christian wedding or break the fast after Ramadan, they want to share a part of themselves with you. Don’t forego your neighbor’s quinceañera just because you can’t dance!
  • stigmaLearn about your privilege. Make an effort to understand racism and its deep, deep roots here in the US. Think about how different your life would be if one of every three people who look like you is incarcerated. Think about how you would feel if a make-up line based their “urban  look” on one of the largest femicides in history, and that that history was of your people. Think about how hopeless you might feel if rates of domestic violence in your community were four times higher than amongst every other race. Think about how excluded from society you might feel if only 3.8% of people in the media looked like you. Just think about it.
  • Make your movement inclusive. Make it a safe space for all people. Actively seek out diversity in all its forms and never accept tokenism or expect anyone to speak for all people with whom they may share one piece of their identity. And let every individual define themselves in their own terms.
  • Get involved in (all) struggles for equality. DO NOT TRY TO LEAD movements with which you do not personally identify. But do get involved, educate yourself, follow the causes, sign the petitions, read the blogs and for god’s sake if someone wants your help then help them how they ask for it.
  • Lastly, DO NOT GIVE UP! Mistakes will be made. Learn from them. The struggle for equality is all of ours, no matter what our identity, and we are all in this together. No one is equal until everyone is equal.

Thank you for reading, my fellow whities. Now spread the word.

Love,

Feminist Activist

P.S. To my readers who identify as people of color, if I have said anything that is offensive or untrue I beg that you call me out on it so I, and the white people to whom this letter is addressed, can learn from the mistake. Thanks in advance!

 


Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Except Human Rights

You’re probably all really tired of hearing about Texas and our legislator’s stupidity so this will be my last post lamenting it for a while.

I know not everyone has a Twitter account but if you do, dear readers, I hope you saw Feminist Activism’s tweets this month on #OrangeDay, violence against women and slut-shaming. I must confess that I have been more active (but still not very) on Twitter this month because I have just been too tired to write a proper blog. There’s still so much that happened at the Capitol this summer that I want to share with you all, stories and pictures and testimonies, but I definitely burnt myself out on it. I’m also afraid I may be burning you out on Reproductive Justice since there are obviously so many other things to talk about too, like terrible Halloween costume ideas! I can’t promise you that this post will be the last one on RJ for a while, but I can promise you that no matter what I’m writing here, in my personal life I am always fighting The Patriarchy in every way I can. And just to appease you here are a few of my favorite signs from the Rally at the Capitol on July 2nd.

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One of many signs I made for the rally

One of many signs I made for the rally

As long-time readers know I am an abortion provider and work for a non-profit fighting domestic violence IRL. With the laws that went into effect this summer my reality in the doctor’s office has already changed profoundly. With women seeking the medical or pill-based abortion now force to use the outdated and less-effective FDA-approved method for taking Mifeprex and Misoprostol the cost and time commitment have increased exponentially. And until these laws reach the Supreme Court the fate of millions of Texas women who are seeking abortion will be up in the air. I am thrilled we will still be able to provide the same excellent standard of surgical care we have been since 1976,  and I hope will all my heart that our legacy of trusting women is allowed to continue. I know this isn’t the kind of in-depth feminist analysis you’ve come to expect from me and I apologize for that, but even superheroines need a break sometimes.

At this time I’d like to open the floor for topics you, dear readers, would like to see me delve into. Let me know what moves you in the comments!

 


Terrific Tenacity in Texas

Wednesday September 25th, 2013 was the evening the Lilith Fund celebrated its 10th Annual Reproductive Equity Awards, honoring those who fought for Reproductive Justice in the recent past. This year’s winners were all familiar faces: representatives Jessica Ferrar, Dawnna Dukes and Mary Gonzalez, and activists Brittany Yelverton, Jessica Luther and Andrea Grimes. Each of these women was an integral part of the fight against abortion restrictions here in Texas this summer, and their speeches reminded everyone present how special it was to have thousands of concerned citizens band together at the Capitol. Although I am not a native Texan I could not be more proud of the women of Texas had I been born here. 

Heroes in the fight for Reproductive Justice

Heroes in the fight for Reproductive Justice

Tuesday June 25th I arrived at the Capitol, eager to hear new feminist icon Wendy Davis filibuster her way into history. At 4PM the line to get into the gallery already wound around the rotunda and down the stairs, and it would only get longer from there. 

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20130625_210517I joined my friends and colleagues in the auditorium serving as the overflow room and hunkered down for the evening. Politics is a lot more fun when you get to cheer and shout and commiserate with those around you. Who needs a gallery!? Davis had to delay vote on the bill until after midnight, when it would expire. There are many excellent accounts of what transpired during Davis’ filibuster, but my most vivid memory is the people’s filibuster, the last 15 minutes of the night when the Republicans decided to call the vote.

Something stinks. And it's sure not Wendy Davis.

Something stinks. And it’s sure not Wendy Davis.

The line to the gallery swam from the third floor around the rotunda, down the staircase and around and down to the first floor. When the hour was approaching my fellow activists in Get Equal Texas and I went up to the third floor to check the scene out. The left side of the hallway was open, so we walked directly up to the doors of gallery, where we were met by State Troopers who told us no one was going in and no one was coming out.

Get Equal Texas

#StandwithTXWomen

#StandwithTXWomen

We stood there, waiting, as a crowd gathered behind us, a sea of humanity, waiting, holding our collective breath. Before too long the entire hallway was jammed full of people in orange, going crazy with the pent-up feeling that “WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!” I was standing at the threshold of the door, holding onto a brass railing for the few steps that lead into the gallery itself, with the crowd nudging me forward. The drone of people talking in the hallway sounded like a beehive, and when a State Trooper grabbed me by the arm to force me away from the stairs all I could hear was Tiffani by my side shouting “SIT!” as she linked arms with me. So we sat, arms linked, and others from Get Equal Texas sat too, then more and more people near the doors sat, until it was clear to the Troopers that we weren’t going anywhere. #StandWithWendy became #SitWithWendy and people throughout the Capitol were staging a spontaneous sit-in. Then the texts came in from friends in the gallery telling us to make noise….

And make noise we did.

Lead by Brittany Yelverton, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’ Community Organizer, the hundreds of us crammed into that hallway chanted, clapped, stomped, booed, and screamed our bloody hearts out. We had sounded the alarm for every person in that giant building who cared about human rights, and for fifteen full minutes we gave everything we had, thousands of us, crying out for justice. And it worked!

Unruly Mob

The clock struck midnight and we kept screaming, just to make sure we weren’t imagining things. Of course the politicians played their dirty tricks and changed the time stamp on the official documents to show that a vote in favor of the bill had taken place before midnight even amongst the chaos, but too many intelligent citizen journalists around the country had already taken screen shots showing that the vote did not take place before the deadline.

Total hours at the Capitol: 9

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We were satisfied with ourselves but as you know it wasn’t enough to stop the bill for good, so in the words of the late, great Governor Ann Richards “I’m hardly satisfied. I’m outraged most of the time.”

Join us next time for continued coverage of Texas women’s tenacity. There’s a lot more to come, I promise you.


Honoring Women’s Equality Day

We interrupt the regularly scheduled coverage of the miscarriage of justice in Texas to wish you a Happy Women’s Equality Day!

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While we are obviously still not fully equal any chance to reflect on the work of those women and men who fought for women’s right to vote, and earned it 93 years ago, is a good thing. The right to vote, like many other rights in the United States, is often one that is unfortunately taken for granted.

I challenge each of you to make your voice heard. Make sure you are registered to vote. Encourage everyone you know to register. Educate yourself on the issues and candidates. And then forget party lines and vote with your conscience.

A travesty took place here in Texas this summer, but I will remember in November. I hope you will remember what your politicians have (and haven’t) done for you as well.

The White House blogged this reminder today:

Over half a century passed between the petition and women actually receiving the vote.  And goodness knows there were numerous setbacks along the way. Many who started the journey handed the baton to others to finish it, but the effort continued, and was ultimately successful.

I share this to remind you—and myself—that in the era of tweets and texting, the fierce urgency of now must also be tempered with patience, grit, determination, persistence, resilience and courage. So change often takes time.

6 Suffragist Picketing(4)

In keeping with that thought I also want to encourage you to go beyond the voting booth to make your voice heard. Sign a petition. Start a petition! Join your local chapter of whatever causes move you. Write letter to the editor. Blog. Speak to loved ones and strangers about those issues. PROTEST.

You are far more powerful than you will ever know. Use your power for good.


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