A few weeks ago, I was walking down the main drag in Biloxi with another young woman - let's call her Jane. After about the tenth asshole hollering at us through his car window, I grumbled something about how irritated I was with men. Astonishingly, Jane responded not in a spirit of solidarity, but with the following comment: "Oh, I like men, it's girls I don't like. There were only like, ten girls in my program at school, and I didn't even have to see half of them most of the time. It was great." Taken aback, I could only stutter, "Uh, I like girls..." before lapsing into stunned silence.
This is by no means the first time I've heard a comment like this, though. In fact, I'm ashamed to say I used to be one of the "I like boys better than girls" crowd too. Asked for my reasons, I would have supplied that girls were catty and backstabbing - never mind the fact that there is nothing quite so catty as talking shit about your entire gender. I stopped saying that a while ago, when I realized how hideously misogynist it was, and since then I've been trying to puzzle out why it seems to be such a commonly expressed attitude.
My first theory was that it was an attempt to gain some scraps of male privilege. By claiming that they're "one of the guys," women hope to achieve some of the benefits that "the guys" get for being, well, guys. I still think that might be partly true, but it doesn't explain why Jane would express such distaste for women to another woman, who wasn't really in a place to allow her entrance into the boys' club.
So here's my revised theory. In our culture, we are constantly accosted with negative images and opinions of women. So, as women, how do we deal with the conflict between the constant cultural onslaught telling us that women are shallow, incompetent, bitchy, fickle, stupid, slutty, and so on with the knowledge that we, ourselves, are none of those things?
1. We consciously remind ourselves that these messages are bogus, and resist them as best we can. 2. We internalize these messages, and accept that we must be those things. 3. We internalize these messages, but knowing that they are not true of us, we determine that we must be an exception; that is, they are true only of other women.
I think we all do a little of each. Certainly, I'm always striving for number 1, but it's not always possisble. In any case, I think strategy number 3 lies behind a fair amount of female distaste for other women. And being an exception doesn't necessarily mean that other people will recognize your exceptionality, so it's important to let people know when possible that you are different. This can be accomplished by hyping up the fact that you are "not like other girls" or by, as Jane did, cutting other women down.
Haven't written in a while - I'm down in Biloxi, Mississippi doing volunteer work. It's awesome, but at the end of the day I'm way too tired to do anything more than shower, eat, and lay around. But tonight got me worked up enough to write.
One of the less nice things about Biloxi is the catcalling and general male harrassment. A walk to Wal-Mart -- three or four blocks -- means getting honked at about ten times, getting hollered at about five more, and usually at least one guy pulls over and tries to give you a ride.
Most of the women I talk to about it shrug it off, but it really gets to me. When two other girls and I were on the beach a couple weekends ago, an older guy kept hollering over at us "Y'all old enough to drink? Y'all thirsty??" and generally being lecherous. When he yelled to another woman, "Hey sweetie, you want me to put some more suntan lotion on you? I can rub it on reeeeeeal good" I'd had enough. I told my friends that if he made one more remark like that I would go over and tell him off. They told me that I should just ignore him, that attention was what he wanted. I disagreed. Sure, he wanted our attention, but it goes beyond that - he wanted us to feel ashamed, and he wanted to remind us of our position as sex objects, to put us in our place. I thought that confronting him would show him he didn't have that power.
I still believe that, but in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't confront him. Tonight, as I walked through the parking lot at Wal-Mart (I know, I know, but it's the only place to buy stuff within walking distance) a man in a parked pick-up truck started hollering shit at me - "Hey, beautiful, where you going?" A failure to respond on my part led to a "Stuck-up bitch," at which point I gave him the finger. So he started his truck and started following me around the (huge, unlit) parking lot, yelling shit at me the whole time. Running through my head is the man who ran over a woman who didn't respond to his catcalls.
I'm fine, and luckily the man didn't follow me inside, nor was he waiting for me when I came out. But it reminded me of something I had briefly forgotten: catcalling isn't the only way men put you in your place. Running you over in a pick-up truck works just as well.
I saw Grindhouse a little while ago, and it's taken me some time to get my thoughts together enough to write about it. What finally got me thinking clearly about it, though, were two discussions with male friends.
The second half of Grindhouse, Death Proof, is an action/slasher movie with the heroes a group of female friends. And a good half of the movie was women just spending time together, talking, gossiping, laughing. The film was very much female-centered; we were not, as in most slasher movies, meant to empathize or identify with the male killer.
I can't even express how strongly that affected me.
There's this set of criteria I use to evaluate movies, called the Mo Movie Measure, after the character in Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For that it came from (by way of Ampersand). The criteria are as follows:
1) There is more than one named female character, and 2) they talk to each other at some point in the movie... 3) ...about something other than a man.
It's shocking how few movies meet these criteria. A lot of movies will meet the first one, or even the first two, but it's rare that they meet all three. Neither of the two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, for instance, met even the first one (if I recall correctly). The Lord of the Rings movies met the first one, but not the second. (Sidenote: did you know The Hobbit doesn't have a single female character?) After Hours, a Scorcese movie I watched with a friend Saturday night, met the first two, but not the third.
But Death Proof met all three. Easily. Which surprised and delighted me. (The first half of Grindhouse, Planet Terror, met all three as well, but just barely.)
Anyway, I say it's shocking how few movies meet these criteria. But not everyone thinks so. I was discussing this with a male friend of mine on Saturday, and he expressed disbelief that I would use these criteria to evaluate a movie. "That's like saying every movie should have ponies in it," he said.
I didn't even know where to start with that one. Eventually I got myself together enough to say, "Okay, replace 'female' with 'male' and 'man' with 'woman', and think of a single movie that DOESN'T fit the criteria." Once I put it that way, he understood that well-developed female characters are not analogous to ponies.
So a picture of the traditional version, where the man is standing and radiating power while the woman is on her knees clinging to his leg can be offputting because at first glance my mind wants to identify with the female position. But the male character is the stronger in such a picture. He's the one we're meant to empathize with while the girl is the throwaway. So there's a little bit of distancing that has to happen. I have to ignore the gender difference to identify with the stronger character. Something is lost, and I see the art through a filter. I've seen tons of poses like this, with the woman wrapped around the man's leg, and they've never struck me as a good pose.
But looking at this cover the power hit me right away. There was no distance, there was no filter between me as a viewer and the stronger character. I got the full effect of the picture.
Its hard to describe, but when I saw it my heart felt a little lighter in my chest, my cheeks felt warmer and the corners of my mouth turned up in a smile. I think I may have stood a little taller in the store.
This is exactly how I feel when watching a movie where woman are central and centered, like Death Proof. No, it wasn't perfect, particularly from a feminist standpoint. And I wouldn't really call Quentin Tarantino a feminist, either. But that feeling is so rare that I value it highly when it arises.
I mentioned another conversation I had with a male friend, this one about both Death Proof and that cover. He expressed distaste for both, saying they were cheesy because they drew too much attention to "female empowerment", and thus undermined the cause of female equality by making it seem like something unusual.
I was really pissed off. Of course they seem unusual. They're unusual because of male dominance. And they won't be normal until we end male dominance, part of which means creating stronger images of women in the media.
It just sounded to me like the typical male "concerns" about feminism, how we're "hurting our cause" by rocking the boat too much. How we should be nice, and subtle, and just wait around for men to decide to give us what we want. No system of oppression was ever overthrown that way; their advice isn't to help us, it's to make themselves more comfortable.
Truth be told, though, a lot of my anger came from the fact that he will never understand the feeling I get when I see Pietro clutching Crystal's leg, or a trio of women kicking the shit out of a misogynist murderer. And instead of trying to understand the joy I get from these things, he was just cutting them down.
I feel sick and scared, and I don't know who to talk to.
Jill at Feministe wrote an excellent post about the whole Duke rape accuser outing. But since she wrote it, she's had to add the following disclaimer:
In light of comments on the AutoAdmit/XOXO message board in response to this post (”I want to brutally rape that Jill slut,” “I’m 98% sure that she should be raped (even if only in Internet Land),” “So seriously, I think we should start another war with this cunt. She clearly deserves anything XOXO might inflict on her”), I’m going to be moderating it very heavily.
What the fuck kind of world do I live in where men want to rape women for expressing their opinions? (This also very much supports my fear for the accuser - if these men are so angry they want to rape a woman for writing a blog post expressing some support for the accuser, how do they feel about the accuser herself?)
I'm scared that men I know think and post this kind of shit. I'm scared to talk to them about this in case I find out something about them I'd rather not know. I don't know how Jill handles it, I don't know how she can go on, when I'm cowering in fear writing a journal that nobody reads instead of going out and speaking my mind.
The charges have been dropped in the Duke rape case, and I am incredibly sad and frightened for the accuser. Her name and face have now been made public; some places on the internet have even published her home address. I don't think she's safe. Some of the reactions towards her I have seen have been so incredibly hateful and vile - even from so-called newspapers like the New York Post, which featured her picture on the front page with the headline THE DUKE LIAR. If this kind of vitriol is mainstream, imagine some of the reactions going on in the minds of the slightly unhinged. I'm scared she'll be attacked or worse. But even if she isn't, her life is pretty much fucked forever.
It's extremely sad, of course, for the young men who were (it appears) falsely accused. But they'll be okay. They're rich, white, at a top school, and have the sympathy of the nation.
The accuser - I don't want to use her name, even though it is now public - is poor, black, and traumatized. Even if she wasn't raped - which still isn't clear (just because she wasn't raped by the men charged doesn't mean she wasn't raped) - something happened at that party. She left her fake nails, cellphone and purse behind. She didn't take her money. She called 911. And the members of law enforcement who talked to her agree that at the very least, she thinks she was raped. Oh, and let's not forget that she filed rape charges before, so was very likely a victim of sexual assault before this case even happened.
Chances are she won't be okay, and I'm terrified for her now that her personal information has been made public.
I'm terrified to talk to anyone about this. Because the reactions I hear are so angry towards the accuser, so hateful. They make me frightened to be a woman, and frightened that if I was raped nobody would believe me.
The double standard about women and sex has always infuriated me, but it's never affected me quite so much until I started sleeping around (which is, honestly, an overstatement - but people seem to think five partners in the past year is a scandalous amount). All of a sudden people are letting me know in various ways that my behavior is unacceptable. A coworker - someone I considered a friend - called me a slut. But most people have just been expressing their disapproval couched in concern.
A friend of mine let me know the other day that she doesn't think I'm a slut, but that she worries about me, that she thinks I'm giving things away that I shouldn't (which is an example of the utterly sexist idea of women as givers and men as takers when it comes to sex), but it's my life and she can't judge. She only worries because she cares. Okay, how often do you think men get that speech? Pretty much never, right?
I don't have sex because I'm emotionally damaged, or have low self-esteem, or any other motive people seem to attribute to women who are sexually active. I have sex because I like it.
I honestly think people are worried, they're not just being disingenuous. But it sucks that our culture frames female sexuality in such a way that promiscuous women are seen as somehow screwed up or deviant.