Archive | June, 2011

Clinging to “Gender”

24 Jun

Above the desk that my computer sits on (as I type this) there is a piece of cardboard that says “GENDER” on it, propped up atop a little painting. The little cutout was placed up there over two years ago after I snipped it off of a shoe box that was to be recycled.

Looking up at it, I’ve been trying to remember why I put it there, why I kept it at all. To the left of the “GENDER” thing is the binder divider label from my Women’s Studies 101 course I took my first term of college. Recently, I also hung my 2011 graduation tassel on one of the tacks that holds up the painting.

The theme obviously has something to do with my academic life over the last four years. It’s true that I studied “gender”. But why did I place “GENDER” up there and proceed to surround it by things I consider accomplishments, or things to recall fondly?

The person I was when I put that piece of cardboard up there was not the same person – politically – I am today. The Gender Studies I received was through an entirely non-radical framework, hence my former self thinking that “gender” was something to be proud of. When I finally became a radical feminist through and through (not just anti-porn and anti-prostitution), gender revealed itself for what it was. Not something to happily ponder about, “subvert” with pointless post-modern ‘individuality’. . . gender was nothing but a collection of harmful stereotypes. It needed to be abolished, not rallied around.

Yet rally was what I did. I wrote papers using the terms “gender identity” and “cis” without a hint of sarcasm. And despite my belief in gender, I propounded page after page, in one case, about how one could never define a “category of women”.

Women, that category I was studying. Women’s Studies has been replaced with Gender Studies and the growing Queer Studies (and to a lesser extent there’s men’s/masculinity studies as well). I’m almost certain I was the only one in my graduating class who knew there ever was such a thing as Feminist Studies in academia.

‘Gender’ as a course of study is less threatening to the male order because of its inclusion of men and because it is depoliticized from feminism. In an essay in “Radically Speaking”, Victoria Robinson and Diane Richardson point out that the inclusivity of Gender Studies also makes men teaching in this area seem more justified (after all, ‘men’ are a gender too!).

‘Woman’ and ‘feminist’ cannot be rallying points when ‘gender’ takes center stage. One cannot be openly proud to have studied women and feminism, but one can say ‘Gender Studies’ and be seen as somewhat legitimate. Studying gender doesn’t reveal the nitty gritty of female oppression or the histories of resistance to patriarchy by women.

I couldn’t have snipped ‘women’ or ‘female’ off of the shoe box, although only because they were “men’s”. Gender Studies (along with its kinky cousin Queer Studies) encourages women to do away with organizing politically around ‘woman’. In far too many of my courses, ‘woman’ was just a category that couldn’t really be defined. Devoting oneself to the study of women’s oppression was not enough whereas Gender was.

When people used to ask what my major was, I tended to say “Gender Studies” far more often than “Women’s Studies”, undoubtedly because I didn’t want to seem ‘provocative’. While someone might find it peculiar that one would want to study gender, at least I wasn’t involving myself overtly with women or feminism. ‘Gender’ isn’t as threatening as ‘feminist’.

I think I’m going to strike a line through “GENDER”.

Awareness… Yeah, That’s the Ticket!

22 Jun

There is a new “cancer awareness” campaign targeting women’s pubic hair. Cancer of the pubes? Nope. Your cervix! You know, cuz lady bits are all just one big amalgamation to be pornified.

This is not, of course, the first time women’s body parts have been turned into objects under the guise of ‘awareness’. There has been the ubiquitous pink merchandise that declares “I ❤ boobies”, for example. (Fun side story. . . before I knew these bracelets and so forth were for “breast cancer awareness” I legitimately thought it was some overtly misogynistic crap designed to sexually harass women. Why? Because I only saw men with the bracelets and stickers, and particularly dudebro-y men at that.)

There’s campaigns to “save the boobies” and “save the ta-tas”, emphasizing the preservation of fatty masses over the life of an actual female human being.

There are “dance for the cure” parties for women. And the dancing? Around a pole, natch.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation had an ad showing a woman with a shirt that reads, “Punch it, strangle it, kick it, spit on it, choke it, and pummel it until its good and dead.” Hahaha! You thought we were talking about murdering a woman! Funny jokes!

There was Boobie-thon, which urges women to send in photos of their breasts, covered or uncovered.

I think you get the idea. This newest sexy-cancer campaign is supposedly mirrored after Movember in which males grow out mustaches or other facial hair to bring awareness to general “men’s health issues”, including male-specific cancers. Creating a similarly awkward portmanteau of ‘vagina’ and ‘July’, this newest cervical cancer awareness-raiser is called Julyna. (I’m strangely reminded of that episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry can’t remember the name of a woman and only knows that it rhymes with a female body part.)

And so, Julyna kicks off with not only a hilarious name, but an inaccurate one. Vaginas and cervixes: not the same thing, actually! The campaign further removes itself from the actual subject with its promotion of sculpting pubic hair, something the founders chose to create ‘media buzz’. It seems if you’re not showing pictures of breasts or shaving your pubes, no one much cares about ‘awareness’.

The parallels with Movember pretty much end with its involvement of hair in some way. Other than that, it is actually a reversal. Men keep their facial hair, women remove their pubes. As the last linked article says, the website for Julyna “has sample design ideas and suggestions on how to execute shapes with the least amount of discomfort.” There will be discomfort (ingrown hairs, itchies, etc) but just not as much as there could be. Got it.

Not only is the campaign Not Helpful in the way that it promotes sexualization of female bodies for some bullshit ‘awareness’, but the awareness it is raising is over something rather dubious. Cervical cancer is believed to be caused by HPV, a virus which is transmitted to the cervix almost solely through penis-in-vagina contact. While I don’t expect a soon-to-be-popular movement to include a critique of PIV, that should be a part of any campaign that is truly trying to reduce the cases of cervical cancer.

As with any mainstream awareness movement dealing with cervical cancer, Julyna hypes the importance of very frequent Pap tests. As I have written about before, cervical cancer screening (particularly in the U.S.) is used far too often, is unreliable, and is part of a broader system of medical surveillance of female bodies as a means of control. The constant urging of women to ‘test early and test often’ serves to make women afraid of their own bodies and shame women as irrational and immature for deciding against the test. With the sexy-cancer angle, the concurrent pressure to get Pap tests is similarly unacceptable and harmful to women.

Now, in an attempt to balance the scales, I have a proposal. I ask everyone to join me in supporting my new personal cancer awareness-raising cause: testicular cancer. To increase knowledge about it, I ask that all men bleach their assholes. It’ll be a great attention-getter!

(Thanks to Jilla for bringing this campaign to my attention.)


Links: June 14, 2011

14 Jun

Gender Trender: “Boys Just Wanna Have Fun. As Fake Lesbians.” . . . on the two recent cases of “lesbian bloggers” who turn out to be heterosexual men.

Woman on a Journey: “Larry Flynt has no right to be left alone”

Undercover Punk: “Trans arguments debunked: being biologically female and ‘the myth of shared girldhood'”

Cherryblossomlife: “A use for the word Empowerment”

New York Times: “When It Comes to Scandal, Girls Won’t Be Boys” . . . a theory about why women don’t get into political sex scandals. Lots of interesting statistics regarding female and male office holders in the U.S.

Twanzphobic Since Forever: “Twanz-wot?” . . . a handy dandy guide for deciphering trans/queer political speak.


10 Jun


New Post Up at RadFem Hub: “Liberal Dicks”

9 Jun

Just published a piece on the political scandal caused by Rep. Anthony Weiner’s piece. Enjoy!

Born & Raised

4 Jun

[Trigger warning for prostitution and sexual violence.]

“Since patriarchy began, prostitution is the only work for which men pay women enough to support themselves.” – Marilyn French, “The War Against Women”

The above quote sums up, essentially, what exactly men value in women. Prostitution is the ‘job’ that nearly any person who was born female can do. The prerequisites for such ‘work’ are that, as a female, you will likely have a history of abuse and/or have few or no other options to earn money.

When men do allow girls and women to make some amount of money through prostitution, it is still always conditional. The john could outrightly rape you with no intention of paying you. Your pimp could take all of your money in exchange for his ‘protection.’ You could become ill. Not every girl or woman who is prostituted actually does make enough money to support herself (or her family/children), of course, though it is often still the best option for income out of a number of other terrible options.

Prostitution remains one way of making money that females are uniquely conditioned for their entire lives. Being told — subtly or overtly — your entire life that you are inferior, that you are made to service and care for men, that your needs always come second, the presumption of heterosexuality. . . even if raised as part of a higher economic class, girls are taught that they do not exist for their own purposes. Add the common psychological effects of sexual assault (believing that your sexuality is all you have to offer, etc.) and the stage is entirely set.

Growing up female under patriarchy, though, is all one needs to fall into prostitution either willingly or not.