I am a Feminist, Part II

Why am I a Feminist?

I am black. I grew up with two tenets: don’t let anyone treat you differently or as less than because you are not white, and do not act white.

The first one: okay, I get it – every race is beautiful, don’t judge someone based on their skin colour, we’re more similar than we are different, nobody is better than the other, racism isn’t cool, etc. I agree, except it seemed when it came to me being a girl, the same rules didn’t apply. Not so much as a kid, but as I moved into puberty, the rules changed. It did matter how light my skin was, how straight my hair was. I didn’t have the same privileges and freedoms my brothers did. I was getting mixed messages; one moment it’s “You can be anything you want to be” and the next it was “You can’t be outside at night”. Sex ed, despite being liberal, still talked about “male urges” while ignoring female urges; not only did it fail to talk about female masturbation, it kept positing sex as being the same as intercourse/procreation – which is not only heterosexist, but positions women who actively want to engage in sexual activity (outside of procreative purposes) as being deviant. While racism still exists, it seems as though people in general recognize and understand it and know it’s wrong; With sexism, people will still cite biological and traditional justification of it.

I grew up knowing black people who believed that being black meant not getting an education, having kids young, and talking like they just got off a plane from Jamaica or Atlanta. They believed this. They believed that black people who went to school, got good grades, and spoke Canadian english were trying to be white. They believed this.  YOU’RE BLACK! How can you believe this nonsense? But as I got older I realized that a lot of women believe in similarly limiting attitudes: believing that their worth as a person diminishes if they engage in sex too often, or dress in a way that suggests they like sex – or even if they just like sex! Or changing their choice of post-secondary study because “what if I get married and want kids? I couldn’t possibly be a doctor.” One time at work I was replacing the jug for the water cooler and a female coworker noticed and said, “Oh! What are you doing? You can’t do that! You’re a woman!” – which puzzled me because I clearly just did, which I pointed out, and she just kept chiding me, saying “but you’re a woman! You shouldn’t be doing that”. YOU’RE A WOMAN, TOO! You honestly believe this s#*% about what you can and cannot do?

Another reason why being black influences me so much is because of my ancestry. I mean, if my ancestors could endure the tolls of slavery, I think I can replace a water jug.

Black women have added a lot to feminist thought and it inspires me. I love this piece by Sojourner Truth. Her speech helps to understand the social constructs of gender and just how malleable these understandings are. Women are strong, a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and we should draw on that strength more often. There is nothing weak about being a woman. If a man needs me to lean on him to make him feel like a man, than he ain’t my man. The black women before me didn’t fight just for me to be complacent and accept the status quo.  I’d rather live alone than serve a man and his ego; black women spent too many years being forced to do so. I love and respect myself, and my ancestors, too much to do that. And I wish more women loved and respected themselves more to want that for themselves.

In Part III, I will continue writing from a personal standpoint in describing another reason why I am a Feminist: my little brother.

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I am a Feminist, Part I

I was looking at my tag cloud and realized that the word feminism, or feminist, doesn’t appear. Not once.

Interesting.

I am a feminist. Actually, let me correct that. I am a Feminist.

What is a Feminist? I go by this definition:

  • Someone who believes that men and women should be considered and treated as equals (politically, socially and economically),
  • Someone who believes that, presently, women are not politically, socially or economically equal to men, and
  • Someone who makes an effort towards the advancement of women in order to achieve political, social, and economical equality.

I didn’t come up with this definition; I came across it while in university, and to me it explains it well and is easy to remember. I’m well aware of what others perceive feminism and feminists to be. They are entitled to their opinions, but to me, this is essentially – by definition – what feminism is.

I think most women are feminists. I think most women do believe that women should be equal to men and that they see inequality in their own lives. Given the stigma that the word “feminist” has, the fact that a lot of women don’t adopt it to describe themselves isn’t surprising. It’s disappointing, but not surprising. If I was highly concerned with wanting to get married and have babies with men, I probably wouldn’t want to call myself a feminist either – I’m not going to lie.

I say this because a lot of men are put off by it. I don’t think they are put off by the definition of the word feminist as I laid out above; a lot of men do believe in equality of the sexes (how far they are willing to bend in order to achieve this is another question). I think they are put off with the common perceptions that exist about feminism as a movement. And there are many.

My variation, and attempt without a mouse...

Feminists hate men.This one always perplexes me. I don’t know how one can equate me wanting to achieve equality between men and women with man-hating. Really? If I’m critiquing or suggesting an alternative way of thinking about masculinity, that’s not me hating men. Just like when I critique aspects of femininity, that’s not me hating women. I’m questioning how we can re-imagine our behaviour in a way that fosters equality rather than inhibiting it. Having said that, if you insist on holding on to an ideal of manhood that promotes the denigration of women, then yeah, I probably won’t like you. That doesn’t mean I hate men. I just don’t like you – and the attitudes you hold not only about women, but men, too – because your view of what a man is is likely just as limiting.

Feminists hate sex. There are variations on this – such as pro-sex feminists versus anti-sex feminists. Who is anti-sex? Anti-sex? Really? Usually feminists in this camp are those against public consumption of sex, or the proliferation of sexual objectification usually experienced by women, such as – and most notably – pornography.

I’ll just say this first: just because someone is against porn, it doesn’t mean they are against sex. Pornography is not sex.

Some feminists (MacKinnon comes to mind) have been brave enough to publish theories of sex, systems of power and patriarchal norms. Feminists – like anyone – fall along a spectrum or continuum of feminist thought. Do I agree with what all feminists believe? No, but at least they are adding to the conversation that needs to be had – and one of those conversations is regarding how central sexuality is to our understanding of equality.

I love sex (as many of my previous posts indicate). But I absolutely hate things that I feel are the sexual objectification of women (strip clubs, music videos, most men’s mags, etc). Am I pro-sex? Or anti-sex?

I knew a feminist who became a stripper so that she can put herself through university. Would she be considered pro-sex? Or anti-sex?

Feminists want women to have power over men. Wrong. If you come across suggestions of this, then it is not feminist thought. Along this same line of thought is that women should have everything; women want to be treated as equals but still want doors held open for them, for men to pay the bills, etc. Again, this isn’t feminist. This is a case of  a woman who wants her cake and to eat it too. I personally think that for women to gain equality the practice of chivalry has to end (I open doors for everyone, not just those with vaginas). Since a lot women like chivalry, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Feminists are angry, ugly women. There is some truth to that, haha. There are ugly feminists out there, but they’re not feminists because they are ugly. They are ugly because they are ugly.

Are feminists angry? Of course. Sexism makes me angry, and it should. Just like racism makes me angry – and it should. What the f*&#% is there to smile about?

Feminists are white middle class women. Last time I checked I wasn’t.  Sure, I can call myself a Humanist or Egalitarian – both great terms, but I personally prefer Feminist. Yes, I believe in equality for all, but by far the “ism” that has had the most overarching impact in my life has been sexism. So there my passions lay, in helping others understand it and hopefully do little things in their lives to improve the standard of women’s lives (in turn improving the lives of men). And when I say “women” and “men” I do mean all of them, not just the white middle class ones.

Feminism is about women’s issues. This one is tough because it’s true, and yet it isn’t.

It’s hard to talk about women’s lives without talking about men – how they impact women’s lives and vice versa. Even women who live women-centred lives are impacted by men in some way. I personally believe that to change women’s lives for the better is to change men’s lives for the better as well. It’s not about building women up so that they can tear men down, and it’s not about ignoring men’s issues (which is a post I hope to complete in the near future). Issues of abuse, violence, racism, classism, homophobia, parenting – these are all subjects that impact men as well. Women’s issues are everyone’s issues. Regardless of your political leanings, feminism has helped to allow the discussion of these issues to take place, thereby providing avenues of change for men as well.


In Part II, I will look at my reasons for being a Feminist from a more personal standpoint… assuming I’m up for it.


Do Men Keep Lists?

I was blog surfing and came across this post, essentially about composing a list of qualities you’d want in a potential mate. The author was a women. A poster, presumably male, wondered why women even have these “lists”.

Do men not have standards? Is it really as simple, for men, as “she doesn’t smell, she looks good, and she knows how to cook”? I have a hard time believing that.

I composed a related post a little while back. My list isn’t a long one, but it definitely illustrates that I have more standards. Would I like a guy who doesn’t smell, looks good and knows how to cook? Sure. But to spend quality time with someone, potentially for the rest of my life, it’s going to take more than that.

I wonder if that’s why so many people have affairs. I mean, if they had really taken the time to set some more personal standards, maybe they wouldn’t be as interested to look elsewhere. I hope that doesn’t make it seem as though I think the people they cheat on are losers; They are probably great people, just not right for the person who cheated.

What’s your list? Do you even have one?


I Ran Into Him…

…during my lunch break today. The guy I dated the longest (6 dates total). He spotted me walking back to my office and cycled over to me.

What an awkward conversation. Why did he stop to say hi?

Why did he drop by my office a couple of weeks after he dumped me to return my book, hand me one he recommended, and then proceed to ignore my 2 Facebook messages?

Why did he say he wanted to be friends after he dumped me – even invited me to a party – and then drop off the face of the earth?

Why did he have sex with me, only to dump me days later and apologize because he normally isn’t into “casual sex”?

Why is he talking to me?!

He went away after a few one-word cold responses on my part. I wish he had left sooner.

Sometimes nice guys aren’t so nice.


I Don’t Wear Swimsuits

The photomodel has given her rights on her own...

Image via Wikipedia

Is this odd?

I was recently having lunch with some women, and the subject of swimming came up. To my surprise, they were all quite enthusiastic about the activity. They loved the exercise (okay). They loved the peace and calm the water brings to them (sure).

They liked their swimsuits. Wha?

One wore bikinis regularly to her local public swimming pool to hang out with friends.

Minutes into the conversation, they realized that I was quiet. They turned me. I said that I don’t like swimsuits, so I don’t have much of an affinity to the art of swimming. “Not even a 1-piece?”, they asked. My response? “Hell no”.

When my roommate first moved in, she had a friend over. I was cooking in the kitchen, and they joined me in there for some conversation. My roommate started talking about her time in Brazil, and how she had to buy a skimpy string bikini while she was there because the locals were laughing at the regular bikini she wore on the beach.

She went into her room and handed us the two bikinis she was referring two. They really didn’t look much different to me. Then her and her friend started laughing because it wasn’t like she was pathetic enough to wear one of those 1-pieces. I gave a chuckle, turned my back, and concentrated on stirring my overdone pasta.

You couldn’t pay me enough to wear a bikini. And I’d only wear a 1-piece if I was assured that there weren’t going to be a lot of people around – preferably people I don’t know. I might as well be walking around in my underwear, and the only person I’d want to see me in my underwear is the person I’m intimate with – not the world.

If you are a woman, do you like wearing swimsuits?


Anew

A new month, November, is about to arrive. Outside, leaves continue to change and fall.

I’m feeling the need for renewal. Hence the new background theme for my blog. It’s gritty yet soft. I like it.

Since I stopped playing soccer a couple months ago, I’ve gained a few pounds. I intend to get to work on shedding those.

Turning a new leaf.


It was semi-fun while it lasted

I’m not going to be having casual sex anymore.

Casual sex could be so much more if people allowed it to be. A disillusioned 18 year old self hadn’t envisioned the amount of deceit, sexism and general negative association that entangled the otherworld of casual sex. I had thought that casual sex was sex minus love, which I was totally cool with. Not that I felt I wasn’t deserving of love, I just didn’t need it for the time being. I was too horny and too curious to wait for love. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Keep my legs closed until someone loved me? Screw that bullshit.

Unfortunately for me, a lot of the men I hooked up with, or people that I knew, thought casual sex was:

What one does when they wanted to cheat on their wife

The same as not paying a prostitute for her services

Where one turns to when their girlfriend isn’t in town

Something one can’t tell their friends about

No holds barred when it comes to “dirty talk”

When men don’t have to think about pleasing her

Silly me. Apparently the equation is: casual sex = sex – love – trust – honesty – respect. Math never was my forte.

I didn’t (and still don’t) understand why it must be so. Why can’t it just be something two consenting adults do when they are attracted to each other, but not in love with each other? I also don’t understand where people got the idea that women place meaning on sex, when men, by far, do this more often. Sex should just be sex, but to men, it’s way more than that. It’s either something you do with a good girl/virgin (eliciting a certain code of conduct) or something you do with a bad girl/whore (eliciting a certain code of conduct).

I haven’t been in love before, but I can say with near certainty that regardless of whether I’m in love with someone or not, when I’m having sex with another person, my goal is always to do what I can (and am comfortable with) to please that person. They are a human being no more or less worthy of, in the very least, respect.

Having said that, I have had some good times. I’ve had some really great sex with some really amazing men so I don’t want to paint all men with the same brush. I just wish more of them existed.

Alex, from Europe. I met him and discovered that he was in town for only a few month. I’d show him different places of the city, then he’d show me to his bed. The person in the apartment next to Alex hated us. I knew this because I’d hear the person crank up the volume of their stereo to drown out my screaming. But it wasn’t just the sex that was great. It was refreshing to finally meet a guy who had a healthy attitude about sex. He didn’t believe in the word “slut”. He liked to cuddle afterwards (I didn’t but I indulged him on occasion). When I told him I didn’t want to have anal sex, he didn’t take that as a cue to try harder to convince me otherwise.

He told me that he found people here, in Canada and the US, to be sexually repressed. I agreed with him. Maybe the problem isn’t me after all. I’m not crazy for having these ideals… I just need to move to Europe.

If casual sex worked, I’d keep doing it. The idea of having sex with someone I hardly know is a tremendous turn on. And there’s none of the game playing that comes with dating. I say, if you want to do someone, do him/her. If you’re not ready to do someone, then by all means wait. It should be that simple. No need for the naming calling and value judgements.

I don’t want to be sitting in a rocking chair, at 80 years old, and think to myself “Why didn’t I screw more people?”.

Casual sex can be fun, and honestly, if I had a daughter I would her that. But I’d also tell her that like everything in life, there is always a catch.

Anyway, I’m not having casual sex anymore. I can be a stubborn person, and 10 years later I’m seeing how stubborn I have been. I didn’t want to give in, to give up, to relinguish control of this otherworld to men. It was like walking outside at night to me: a part of me was doing it exactly because I wasn’t supposed to. And that’s no reason to be having sex. Well… it is, but what am I proving? And who am I proving it to? Myself?

And besides: men don’t care. I hated typing that, but it’s true. Men don’t care because they benefit from the status quo. They continue to use sexist language and do sexist things because it helps preserve their need for virgin vaginas. And I alone can’t fight that. I especially can’t fight it when so many women believe these sexist attitudes themselves.

I used to work for the Gift Registry department at The Bay (and if you’re familiar with my previous posts, you can definitely see the sad comedy in that). Anyway, a male coworker made a comment about not wanting to date “a used bicycle”, to which a female coworker starting laugh hysterically. I turned my back, pretending to rearrange some stemware as I blinked back tears. Me, and women like me, had just been likened to used goods. I’m not a thing. I’m a person. And why is it okay to categorize women as new or used goods? And how did she think this was funny? She obviously believed that men had more rights to expressing their sexuality than women did as well.

This reminds of the commodity versus performance model of sex. Thomas Macaulay Millar distinguishes between the two in Yes means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape:

The commodity model assumes that when a woman has sex, she loses something of value. If she engages in too much sex, she will be left with nothing of worth. It further assumes that sex earlier in her history is more valuable than sex later.

Millar talks about the need for a performance model of sex, using music as a metaphor.

She gets better by learning, by playing a lot, by playing with different people who are better than she is. She reaches the height of her powers in the prime of her life, as an experienced musician, confident in her style and conversant in her material. Her experience and proven talent are precisely why she is valued.

[…]

A performance model is one that normalizes the intimate and interactive nature of sex. The commodity model easily divides sex into good and bad, based on the relative gains from the transaction, mapping closely to conservative Christian sexual mores. Under a performance model, the sexual interaction should be creative, positive, and respectful even in the most casual of circumstances, and without regard to what each partner seeks from it.

The performance model undermines the social construct of the slut… There is no such thing as a music slut, and the concept makes sense only if it blatantly borrows the idea of slut from sex – an idea available to us because we are so used to talking and thinking about sex in a commodity model.

Since society – or at least the one I dream of – isn’t here yet, I’m going to do things differently. Why bang my head against a wall for 10 years? It was worth a shot, it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, now move on.

In a previous post, I imagined what it’d be like to have sex within the context of a “real” relationship, and I couldn’t. I imagined myself unable to have sex because of my fear of men and their attitudes about sex. And I don’t know how I’d react when I make love for the first time. Will I be over-the-moon delighted to have such a fulfilling experience? Or will I be angry and resentful that men have been holding back all these years because only women in relationships are worth pleasing?

So, instead of supposing and imagining and wondering and theorizing what it’d be like, I’ve decided to leave casual sex behind and focus my efforts on being in a relationship for the first time. I’m going to date. As much as it pains me, and as difficult as I know it will be, I will try harder at finding someone I am compatible with. And then once I find that someone, I will make a concerted effort to let my wall down. I will try to fall in love. I will try to experience what it is like to make love.

Me. Love. Men. Have I ever placed those words in the same sentence before, without including the word sex?

I can try.

Not now, but I’ll let you know when I have.