Thursday, May 29, 2014

Your Feminism Is Not My Feminism, But Your Feminism Is Okay

There is a neat saying that originated in the kink community – “Your Kink is Not my Kink”, sometimes expanded out to “Your Kink Is Not My Kink, But Your Kink Is OK”. This saying can be shortened to YKINMK for relative convenience, and is basically a credo calling for understanding within the community, even if people like things you don't like.

Unsurprisingly, YKINMK has also been embraced by the fandom community
Some people are into ponies, some people are into balloons, and other people are into good old fashioned leather. YKINMK reminds us that just because you don’t understand the appeal of pony boots, or sitting on balloons, or the smell of leather it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the people who do. It’s not a perfect motto – there are a few non-consensual kinks around that are not actually okay, but on the whole it’s a really good reminder that people within a community are often very different, and that this is a positive aspect of community, not a negative. It's a reminder that since other people's personal preferences actually don't do you any harm, so why not leave them be?
After reading one too many articles on supposed feminism lately, I’m getting the urge to start a similar motto for feminism at large – Your Feminism Is Not My Feminism, But Your Feminism Is Okay.

Before I start, let's be clear about what I'm NOT going to be criticising. There is absolutely a place for constructive (or even nonconstructive) criticism within feminism - I'd like to make it clear I'm not in any way intending to side with those who say we should all play nice, all the time, and consider the possible hurt feelings of a select few above all else. There are far too many whiny screeds appearing recently about how everyone is so mean these days, as if all criticism of feminism and feminists is inherently undeserved, and this idea is just so completely false. Some criticism is not only deserved, but absolutely necessary. I think that criticising racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and all the other shitty stuff that goes down within feminism sometimes is not only important, but vital. I've been taken down a peg a couple of times, and for sure, it can hurt. But it also needs to happen.

Women should not be immune to criticism from other women purely by virtue of being women, and I’ve seen women say and do some awful things that fully deserved criticism. I don’t believe that criticism of women is inherently anti-feminist, because sometimes women do really shitty things and it would be wrong not to oppose them – this is the criticism I think is crucial to feminism as a whole.

For example, when groups like Name The Problem ask their followers to trash the reputation of another women’s photography business because they don't agree with her gender identity, THAT is actively harmful and should be criticised. That is women doing a shitty, shitty thing, and criticising their shitty behaviour is not anti-feminist, it's not "damaging the movement", it's the right thing to do.

Another example of behavior that rightfully deserves to be criticised is white feminists deliberately and continually ignoring or erasing women of colour, along with their concerns and perspectives; like when well-known black activist Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) started an incredible discussion using the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen and numerous outlets reporting on it didn’t credit her as the origin of the discussion. Or  how about when the discussion itself was derailed into a discussion of how much the subject hurt the feelings of various white feminists. Criticising this shitty behaviour is not anti-feminist, it’s calling it what it is – women behaving in a shitty way.

I think it’s crucial for feminism as a whole that harmful, cruel, bullying and hateful actions are called out, and those participating are at the very least encouraged to be kinder in the future. The sort of actions that directly harm and distress other women should not be a part of feminism, and criticising that is A-OK in my books. Allowing women to keep doing and saying these shitty things to each other in the name of solidarity is nonsense, and I think this sort of behaviour is unacceptable regardless of your gender. Without criticism, unfortunately, people tend to just keep on doing shitty things though, because they’re often easier than sitting down and having a good hard look at themselves.

HOWEVER. In a somewhat frustrating contradiction, I’m also just so, SO tired of seeing vicious, pointed arguments where women tear each other apart because one has made personal choices the other doesn’t agree with, or simply does things in a different way. This is the kind I wish I could eradicate with just the strength of my hate for it, the apparently endless list of incredibly arbitrary, harmless things that women are and are not allowed to do in order to be allowed in the Feminist clubhouse.

I’m talking about the apparently endless lists of “Can X be feminist?” that seem to roll around once every couple of months, and that consistently make me want to claw my eyes out. I’m talking about women who write articles like, “I Look Down On Young Women with Husbands”  and Why Are My Feminist Friends Still Taking Their Husband’s Surnames” and Pinterest is Killing Feminism as a way of trying to show other women how much better they Do Feminism. I'm constantly astonished by the ludicrous tripe that gets trotted out in the name of feminist border patrolling.

On a more serious, but just as frustrating level, I’m also talking about women who insist that other women who participate in the sex industry willingly just don’t know they’re being oppressed, like Melissa Farley, who has been attempting to convince everyone of this apparent fact for years. I’m talking about women who insist that their view on abortion, be it pro or con, is the One True Way and try and do their damnedest to ensure everyone else only has the option that they think is right. (Although, to be fair, it’s often the anti-abortion campaigners who are much more interested in pressing their conclusions on a complex moral issue onto everyone else, to my knowledge) I'm talking about the women who declare that Christians can't be feminist, or Muslims, or anyone who believes anything different to them.

In short, I’m talking about all the women I see trying to squeeze every other women everywhere into (or out of) their own narrow little box, and much it fucking drives me up the wall, and how much it needs to stop right now.

It's really not impossible, or even that difficult to respect the choices other people make that you wouldn't make for yourself. I do it every day. I know quite a few parents, and some of them are even stay at home Mums. Would I make this choice for myself? Jesus fuck, no, a million times no! But they're no less welcome in my world because of it. I don't value their support less because they have hatchlings and I don't. They just made a different choice.
Are we really being so totally overrun with people desperately clamouring to join the feminist cause that we need to create these incredibly intricate rules about who does and doesn’t qualify? Do we have so many women banging on the doors of feminism, demanding to be let in, that we can afford to dismiss someone over the fact they changed their surname when they got married?

Flavia Dzodan famously said, "my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit" – and there are few things I agree with so wholeheartedly. Intersectionality means including other races, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations and gender identities; but it also means including people you just plain might not like, because you have different priorities. Maybe you think something that's important to them is stupid. Maybe you don't understand how they can love, or like, or do the things they do. But here’s a big newsflash for you, buddy – get the fuck over it. Get married, don't get married, take another name, take no name at all, use Pinterest, cut off your internet - do what's right for you, and for goodness sake, stop writing about it like you're the first feminist. Seriously, we're good for coverage of whether underarm hair is or is not feminist - not only has it been debated until we're all blue in the face, it's also become apparent that it DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER. Your underarm hair is not my underarm hair, but your underarm hair is okay. 

Like I said right up the top, critique  and discussion in feminism is good, and important and necessary. I'm not even saying there isn't a place for discussing things like the gender disparity on Pinterest- but how about we actually discuss it rather than tossing off these self congratulatory, holier than thou bits of mean spirited, snooty clickbait? How about we just put a flat out ban on the tired, tattered remnants of topics that have been worn out years ago? Do we really, seriously need any more articles about pubic hair choices?

How about instead of spending so much energy trying to kick people out of the feminist boat, we work on moving it forwards? We've got to figure out a way to be in this together, or we’re going nowhere.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Elliot's Entitlement

In case you missed the news this morning/afternoon there's been ANOTHER mass shooting in the United Stated. As an aside, I find it astonishing that this KEEPS HAPPENING and yet there's apparently still no moves for tighter gun control, but that's a whole other subject, and a whole other post.

While no-one can say for sure why the shooter did what he did, and armchair psychology is a fuzzy practice at best, he did leave a rather hefty chunk of evidence behind to give people an idea of his interests, if not his exact motivations. A six minute video the (alleged) shooter made is currently circulating YouTube, and features a number of misogynistic, narcissistic sentiments I find alarmingly familiar. All the stuff about the "day of retribution" is, to be fair, pretty extreme, but I've heard a lot of other things he said from so, SO many other people.

For example, after insisting that being a virgin when he was 22 was "unfair", he goes on to say, "You girls aren't attracted to me. I don't know why you're not attracted to me, but I will punish you for it." In his manifesto he asks, "Why do things have to be this way? I ask all of you. All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behaviour towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy."

The (alleged) shooter is obviously absolutely alone in terms of responsibility for his horrific actions - but he is far from alone in his philosophy of entitlement to women's bodies. It's easy to dismiss this as a "fringe" opinion, but a very quick Google search of "Why don't women like me" brought up this absolute gem of a comment on a Huffintgon Post article about being dateless - "I'm about ready to resort to verbal and physical abuse towards women as that it seems is what they like. The women I know always go after the same type of guy and expect different results." Charming. A Facebook page has even been set up (ALREADY) claiming the (alleged) shooter is an American Hero.

There are certain corners of the internet where you're more likely to see it though.  If you're lucky enough to have never heard similar sentiments expressed in person, feel free to swing past The Spearhead, Return of Kings, Heartiste, or any of a million other blogs devoted to the "saving" masculinity from the evils of feminism. I've done a fair bit of reading of all these sites and more, mostly out of an attempt to understand a viewpoint so completely removed from my own. To be honest though, I can usually only tolerate it for an hour or so at a time before I just want to burn everything, so unless you're particularly good at sociological detachment, it's not a practice I would recommend.

To summarise for those of you not interested in reading up on it, Pick Up Artists believe there is a tried and true method/s, or "game" that will get any man laid, and that women are easily be manipulated if you know how. Men's Rights Activists are...well, the title is pretty self explanatory really. They operate from the basic assumption that feminism and the modern world in general is oppressing men, and they need to stand up for their rights. While these two groups have slightly different cultures, they intersect quite a lot, and the subject of women turning down men and how horrifically unfair this is comes up time and time again across forums related to both topics. Discussions of how to deal with the apparently dire consequences of not getting laid, or getting dumped for "no reason at all" comprises about 80 per cent of the discussion in these corners of the internet.

Some media outlets have already pointed the finger of blame for this shooting squarely at Pick Up Artists, their highly objectifying methods to get laid, and the generally sexist culture they perpetuate. In response to allegations, there has understandably been a rush of discussion on related boards and sites today, with Pick Up Artists and Men's Rights Activists attempting to defend themselves. Because my curiosity is often stronger than my interest in keeping my blood pressure low, I went off and did some reading to see what these groups were saying to distance themselves from an incident that seems, on first glance, to be pretty squarely centred in their culture. The (alleged) shooter was a member of several forums associated with the Pick Up Artist movement, and the sentiments he expressed in his video and manifesto seem to be pretty consistent with the Pick Up Artist sentiment.

In an attempt to defend themselves, and distance themselves from the (alleged) shooter, users at the RooshV Forums are currently full of people pointing out how extreme, how entitled, and how downright awful the (alleged) shooter and his close cohorts were. There are some pretty distressing screencaps being put up from other forums that are currently on lockdown, calling the (alleged) shooter a hero, among other stomach turning comments. Other users point out that one of the basic tenets of being a Pick Up Artist is that you aren't entitled to anything you didn't earn - being a "whiny bitch who complains about what he hasn't got" is one of the cardinal sins of Pick Up Artistry, and from evidence left behind it's clear the (alleged) shooter did a great deal of complaining. Therefore the (alleged) shooter's claims that hot women should have just fallen into this lap because he deserved it is actually the antithesis of Pick Up Artist philosophy. The users on this forum claim that his actions don't reflect their philosophy, that he doesn't represent them because he was operating off an entirely different basic assumption.

But even in the middle of a thread discussing how the (alleged) shooter should have just gotten over the fact he wasn't getting laid, there are little gems of entitlement to be found - one user writes "I think sometimes with game, or anything with life, is that we forget that not everybody will be able to get their just due....if you are one of the unlucky just have to roll with the punches". At the same time as he's advising that men who don't get what they want chill out and not hold grudges, he is still operating from the basic idea that everyone has their "just due." That all men, everywhere, DESERVE, are entitled to, SHOULD have all the sex they want, with the women they want. This idea leads to so much violence, so much coercion, so much straight up rape that it makes my skin crawl, even when they try and put it in such a "nice" way. In the middle of trying to defend themselves, these men are still expressing the exact same basic idea that the (alleged) shooter expressed in his video and manifesto.

To be fair, this forum is far from the worst of this type of thing out there. As much as their habit of calling women "targets" (among other things) makes my skin crawl, I could easily point to more examples of horrifying extremists in this corner, like one blogger who says his mother deserves to die for refusing to have sex with him, and many people in the Pick Up Artist and Men's Rights community are doing just that right now. By pointing to the extremes, the outlying anomalies, they can convince themselves that they're not THAT bad. Sure, they still operate from the basic idea that all men have a "just due", and that being denied sex is the one of the worst things that could ever happen to a man. But they're not THAT guy, so it's okay.

To be really honest though, the extreme outliers aren't the guys that really scare me, deep down. It's the rest of them - the quiet ones who think of themselves as "normal", who think they're "nice" because they're not like THAT guy, but who still think they are owed everything they desire from women. Who think, quietly, but with certainty, that it's not fair when a woman turns them down, that women who aren't attracted to them are bitches, that they have the right to do whatever it takes to get what they want.The ones who are sitting in these threads today tut-tutting about how this one guy took it too far, and is making them all look bad now. I hate to tell you guys, but I've read through your postings, and you're not helping yourselves nearly as much as you think you are.

I'm not going to try and draw a straight line from this idea of a man's "just due" and the horrific killings that happened today. But it can't be entirely disentangled from it either. In my experience, straight men and women are generally socialised to react to lack of a partner, or lack of sex, in completely different ways. I'd be interested to hear if other people have had different experiences, but in my experience, straight men are socialised to blame women for their disappointment, and straight women are socialised to blame themselves.

When women get dumped, or are single for a long time, there will almost certainly be a bit of "boys suck, throw rocks at them" muttering. But it's hardly ever as loud, as unashamedly public, and as vehemently sincere as when certain types of men find themselves in the same situation. They throw the entire blame for their lack of satisfaction at the feet of the women who rejected them, and often at the feet of all women everywhere. The women I've been around always seem to feel a little silly about sweeping "men suck" generalisations, and are much more sincere when blaming themselves. They're not good enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough. They're too crazy, or emotional, or they did something wrong. Women are socialised to feel that if they're not with the partner of their choice, it's their own fault. But I've seen so many men insist with a perfectly straight face that they did nothing wrong, that there's no rational reason that women shouldn't be all over them - that it's all women's fault for denying them their "just due." A lot of people have tried to argue that "rape culture", the idea that men are entitled to women's bodies is an overhyped myth created by feminism - but I can't help but conclude that a viewpoint so prevalent must come from somewhere.

The fact is, no-one owes you sex, or love, or companionship. Most people WANT it - some much more desperately than others. But wanting something, and having a right to it are two different things. Despite what some posters in the MRA forums would like to tell you, you won't actually die if you don't get off. It's not a requirement for life - for some people it's a requirement for happiness, and we all WANT happiness, but that doesn't mean a partner/s of your choice is your "just due". There are lots of things I want - to be perfectly frank, I really want to have an MFM threesome some day. But to lay the blame for me being 33 years old and still not having been in a bed with two men at once at the feet of all men would be completely ludicrous. I want it, I desire it, but I'm not entitled to it. I'm baffled as to why some men can't understand that this works the other way around as well. You might want women, or a particular woman. You might desire them - but you're not, and you are NEVER entitled to it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Return To Sender

Warning: This post contains discussions of suicide and suicidal ideation

After my last piece for someone who was never going to read it, I kind of hoped I wouldn't need to do another so soon. But here we are. People come, people go, and sometimes they leave without hope of return. At least this time there's a lot less left unsaid - I learned that much from James's sudden departure. Chloe was gone in a matter of moments, but she'd been close to departure for long enough that I made sure she knew how much I cared about her, how funny and clever and delightful I thought she was. It's a small comfort, but you take what you can get when a friend takes their life.

Chloe had been in my life for a while now - a year or two, maybe? It's hard to say, because she drifted in and out of my social circle at will. Aoife described her as feline, and that's the most concise way I can think of to sum her up - feline, but in a very wild way. Chloe was never a house cat. She'd come close if she felt like it, and sometimes we'd SMS each other across the world for hours (mostly when I was supposed to be working). But she always gave me the sensation of circling cautiously, even at her most affectionate, and if she didn't feel like company she was gone. While I got a lot of radio silence at times, she also had a habit of popping up at the most unexpected points, mostly when I needed her sharp, wild wit the most. One of the few things that seemed to truly give her joy was giving to other people, be it time or affection or encouragement. She was so deeply, painfully loyal to people she considered friends - I have no doubt she would have flattened anyone for me, anytime, had I asked. If I thought it would have helped, I would have absolutely done the same for her.

But it wouldn't have helped. Just as with all the times she needed to retreat, there was nothing to be done to stop her final retreat. When a friend kills themselves, it's impossible not to blame yourself at least a little bit, no matter how much you know about all the overwhelming factors that lead to it. But as with everything else, once Chloe set her mind to leaving there was no stopping her. She poured the same determination that had kept her alive thus far into ending her life, and as soon as I saw her arranging who all her possessions were going to, I knew it was only a matter of time. If you knew her, knew what she'd been through, knew what a ferocious little dynamo she had burning inside her, you'd know it would hopeless to try and stand in her way. Even on the slim chance someone could have done something, I'm not sure they should have.

I know, rationally, that you'll never read this Chloe, but I feel the need to get it all out anyway, the few last things I didn't get a chance to say. In your goodbye video, you pleaded for forgiveness, and I need to tell you first and foremost that to me, there's nothing to forgive. I was never angry at you for wanting to leave, not in any way. I empathise too much to be angry. I know the crushing weight of complete emotional exhaustion, of total hopelessness. I understand utter despair, the feeling that another day or even another hour is an unbearable eternity. I decided I could keep going, and you decided you couldn't - that's no reason to be angry at you.

You told me you were considering suicide last time you were really close, and we talked it over. Obviously, I was glad you didn't go through with it then, but you didn't loop me in on the conversation this time. I wonder if you thought I was angry that you were thinking about it again, or that I was going to try and stop you, or something. Maybe you just didn't want to talk about it this time with me. I guess I'll never know. But just for the record, I wouldn't have been angry, just as I wasn't last time. I could accept the idea of losing you, so long as I didn't turn around one day and find you vanished without my noticing, which is why I made you promise to say goodbye. Nothing else - I didn't ask you to not do it, or to tell me beforehand. I just wanted to know when you were leaving. And sure enough, in the middle of all your other, more pressing goodbyes, you remembered me. Goodbye is all I asked from you, and despite everything that must have been going through your mind, you made good on that promise, because that's just the kind of person you were.

Even if I was closer physically, more able to help support you, I could never have truly lifted your burden. So how could I possibly ask you to carry it longer than you were willing to, just for me? If I couldn't take your pain away, how could I ask you to bear it just so I could keep you in my life for a while longer? I couldn't, and I would never. I just hope so much you finally found what you were looking for - as I said in the goodbye SMS I spent 20 minutes figuring out how to send through streaming tears, even though I knew you were almost certainly already gone.

You were so funny, and sweet, and kind, and fascinating. I wanted to know so much more about you, but you were so skittsh I was always scared of pushing you away. I felt like I had to choose between pressing to see more of what was inside you, and having you in my life - and while I HATE not knowing things, having you around was absolutely worth it.

You were SO insistent that I play Gone Home, and I was so glad once I did that I'd listened to you, even after spending an hour bawling at the end of the game. That little tiny taste of mourning an experience you'll never get to have made me feel like I understood you just a little bit more, gave me a glimpse of the sadness you carried with you. Anyone else would have just shared their experiences, talked it over, but you weren't the sharing kind. The way you insisted I play it, so urgently, so persistently, made me feel like it was an attempt on your part to share - awkward and deflected, but sharing nonetheless. I remember taking the sadness that game evoked in me, and extrapolating it to fit what I knew of your experiences, and I wept for you. I wept for all the good things you so deserved, that you so desperately wanted, that the passage of time meant you would never have. I never told you about that part though, only the things about the game that had spoken to my experience. I knew you'd be angry and uncomfortable that I shed tears for you, that you were important enough to me that imagining your grief made me weep. But I did, and you were. You still are.

So ner. 

It's all the things you'll never have that have been making me cry the most for the last couple of days. More specifically, and perhaps more selfishly, the things we'll never have. I've got no money, and there's no way I was getting to the US to see you any time soon. You talked about coming here to see me, but I got the impression you didn't really have the money for that either. Realistically, we would probably never have met in person, even if you hadn't died. But I keep going over the dreams we had - the violent, glorious technicolor dreams! The plans we made, the stories we told each other. Stories about dancing in your room to N*SYNC, and which of your stuffed toys you'd be willing to share with me. The dreams of a punk femme girl gang, "misandry" tattooed on our knuckles, and starting bar fights with sexist assholes before riding off into the night on our pink bikes. We both knew that even if we did end up in the same town somehow we'd probably never REALLY go that far - but god, it felt so good to contemplate burning the world down with you. You taught me that I shouldn't be afraid of this fire, this rage that burns inside me and always has.You showed me it could be useful, that it could be fuel to propel me forward instead of burning me alive. If I take away nothing else from our friendship, I hope I remember that much.

I don't know if you had any idea how much joy you gave me, just by being around and being you. Probably not - it was pretty hard to get any kind of positive input through past all the sadness and fear. And hey, I get that, I really do. But let me tell you now, when you're hopefully far away form all that sadness - you were such a good friend to me, so much better than I deserve. Your fierce, wild loyalty meant so much to me, and I knew that no matter I what I could always talk to you, about anything. There are so few people I can honestly say that of, and you were one of them. But now you're gone, and I need to stop going over the things I wish I'd said. Instead, I want to remember all the things I did say, and all the things you said in return; the friendship we shared, and the dreams we had.I want to imagine you chuckling at the absurdity of me getting teary every time I hear Bye.Bye,Bye and doing wheelies across the sky on a pink motorbike cooler than anything that could exist in real life. I want to imagine you sleeping peacefully, quietly, with a small smile on your face.

Thank you, Chloe, for everything said and not said. Because I know you'd be annoyed I put in a sappy song up there to open with, here's one I plan on dancing to with my eyes closed, so I can pretend you're dancing with me.