Because Misogyny

Because Misogyny

By

Kirsten Clodfelter

 

Because misogyny: Elliot Rodger.

Because misogyny: Every man who Elliot Rodger calls to mind. Every man who has let the whistled catcall of hot momma morph in his mouth to stuck-up bitch when that tried-and-true method of objectifying a complete stranger fails to get him laid. Every man who has complained of being friend-zoned as if the act of being decent – as if the act of simply treating a woman like a human being – is all it might take.

Because misogyny: Equality as radical. Empowerment as weapon. Feminist as feminazi. At some point, doesn’t a lifetime of incidents of domestic violence, of rape, of murder, of torture, of withholding count as its own Holocaust? The terror George W. was hunting to finally justify that war?

Because misogyny: Filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are lionized as their own type of victims. Misunderstood. Brilliance over ethics. Over empathy. Art as disassociation. As inculpable.  Steubenville mourns ruined football careers. Playboy lauds Neko Case only as a woman in music.

Because misogyny: A talented, well-meaning poet attempts to process trauma through art and gifts a new voice to the wrong protagonist of this story.

Because misogyny: A friend posts an article on Isla Vista, and someone comments, “Come on, ladies, take one for the team,” as if women weren’t just murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. Have ever been murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. As if a person’s right to humor obviously trumps a person’s right to safety. To comfort. But actually, not really person. Woman.

Because misogyny: A comedian co-opts #YesAllWomen at our expense without bothering to be subversive or challenging or even funny, and when these jokes fall flat, are returned in echo, these men recoil at the thought of reflection and rush to fill the silence with their own extraordinary reasoning, take solace in the certainty that they are the exception, never the rule.

Because misogyny: An older male colleague whose name I don’t know finds me in an adjunct office one afternoon, my belly ripe and low-hanging and nearly ready for the picking as I organize papers before class. He takes a long look at my ring finger – bare – before he asks, Is the father in the picture? I am too stunned to smile, to extend my hand for a strong shaking, to chirp through my teeth that, where I come from, we usually just start with hello. Instead I nod and choke the yes from my throat to his brightening. That’s good. His approval offered as a talisman, the balloon of relief inflated almost to bursting, as if the whole of my daughter’s personhood, her very legitimacy, is tied to this. As if there is nothing worse he could imagine for my child than the thought of me raising her on my own.

Because misogyny: My kind-hearted, pro-equality father comes to visit and still occasionally says things like, Sometimes you just have to shut up and let a woman pick the curtains, like there is one secret, and this is it. Nevermind that in our cramped apartment, curtains are a luxury. Nevermind that a blanket – gifted to me a decade ago for my high school graduation – hangs covering our daughter’s bedroom window. Nevermind that it’s my partner, the dad, who most often sits with our toddler to fix her hair, who possesses the fashion expertise for best pairing her cute, coordinated outfits, who successfully executes DIY home-décor projects he scores from Pinterest while my own crafting attempts usually disintegrate rapidly into unrecognizable piles of hot glue and yarn.

Because misogyny: That my partner does these things for our daughter, that he makes pancakes good enough to put your favorite hole-in-the-wall diner breakfast to shame, that he doesn’t hesitate to run the vacuum, that he asks my opinion and considers my feelings in front of others – sometimes earns him less-than-favorable labels. Whipped. Weak. Pussy. Because that’s the greatest insult we can think of: To tell a man he’s acting like the lesser sex – like a fucking woman.

Because misogyny: We are asked often if we’re going to try for a boy. Not if we’d like to have more kids, but specifically this, because no matter how hilarious or adorable or delightful our daughter is, no matter how much love we lavish or how big our hearts swell or how soft our voices go when we talk about her, that pronoun must in some way indicate that she might still not be enough for us.

Because misogyny: Men who meet the minimum expectation of how to treat other human beings feel charged to speak up for themselves when these daily injustices finally grow into too heavy a burden for us to carry quietly, as if it’s they who are oppressed, rushing to remind us it’s #NotAllMen, because it’s easier when there’s distance, easier to step back or away than to lean in, easier to act as aggressor than ally.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But he was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But she was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: Before there was a sweet baby or a partner who lifts me up with his kindness, a man who was once my husband felt entitled to hide our car keys or laptop from me during arguments. To throw dishes or destroy my things as if this was a fair compromise for keeping his hands off of me. As if there was still so much for which I should have been grateful. And it was this entitlement that finally called our friends forward to share – with concern, hesitation – that from the mouth of the man who had vowed his love, and always, I was a worthless waste of space, dumb, a child. This entitlement is pervasive, endemic, impossible to escape. It is here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. So many heres that there isn’t enough time or space to name even the smallest fraction. So many heres that my own barely make a dent. Are hardly worth blinking an eye over.

Because misogyny: A mutual friend once visited in the middle of the day and told me to pack a bag and come with her, worried that I was no longer safe living with the husband. Of escalation. Days later, she explained that his mother – a woman I both trusted and adored – had heard the charge of verbally and emotionally abusive in my kitchen and waited until I’d left the room to whisper her own solution: I needed to grow up, to stop acting like such a baby. C’mon, ladies. Take one for the team.

But I won’t.

***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. She has contributed writing to The Iowa ReviewBrevityNarrative MagazineGreen Mountains ReviewstorySouth, and The Good Men Project, among others. Her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published last year by RopeWalk Press and is now available for Kindle. Clodfelter writes and lives in Southern Indiana with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com@MommaofMimo

Women Are “Just More Emotional”

Paula Modersohn-Becker “Die Klagender Frauen” (1902) Public Domain

 

 

Women Are “Just More Emotional”

By Sarah Marcus

 

“Hey, the 1950s called, they want their stereotype back,” I said during a somewhat intense debate last night. I was asking a new friend, let’s call him Adam, what he thought of Garance Franke-Ruta’s recent article in The Atlantic called “Why Isn’t Better Education Giving Women More Power?

If I’m being honest, I probably already knew his response; I just really wanted it to be different, because… I like him. The article is basically about how even though women are generally more successful in school, the same behaviors and tools that helped them to succeed in the academic arena don’t necessarily translate into the workforce. The article gives statistics on the disparity between genders and points out that studies show women in the workplace are criticized more, make less money, and are generally judged more negatively. But the most important piece of this essay, and the part that I am most interested in, deals with the root of the problem:

The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.

Bingo. This makes total sense to me. I am a woman. I have all too well mastered the art of rebuffing. It’s March: Women’s History Month. There are signs in stores that are supposed to be “celebrating” women. They read: 60% of our employees are women! But, it’s a party trick. “Hey, look over here!” Because when you look at upper management, it’s only 4% female. Now, Adam’s initial response to this article was to also look at the numbers. He’s very logical. He’s very smart. I like him. He would like to see the holistic ratio of employees in business. He’s had a 50/50 ratio of male to female bosses. Then, he gives me a word problem: If there are 100 employees in the office and 10 are women, and there are 10 spots to move up from that 100, then 1/9 women should be promoted and 9/90 men should be, too. His point being that no one thinks about the actual numbers, they only look straight to the top and see that there are 9 male bosses and 1 female boss. I acknowledge that he is speaking from a place of privilege, and in my mind, this isn’t the problem either.

The problem is much deeper; it’s much bigger. The problem is that there are only 10 women who are employees going after that promotion in the first place. The problem is that we (women) have been taught all of our lives to accept our position, to be submissive, and to self-objectify. These behaviors and states of being are so deeply ingrained that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m participating in this dynamic. From a very early age, we lose belief in our own political and social efficacy. We learn to see ourselves and value ourselves how the media and the collective consciousness see us.

Still, the real problem is even more insidious and subtly woven into our social makeup. The REAL problem is that we still exist in a time and place that perpetuates an accepted culture of violence against women. At some point in our debate, Adam says that men and women ARE different, right? He brings up the obvious difference: our physical traits. This is the in. Yes, I think, herein lies the issue at the core of our patriarchal power dynamic. Our physical traits have been held against us and kept us repressed since the beginning of time. This is usually where I lose my male readers. They hear sexual assault/domestic violence and distance themselves, because they would never do that, so this part doesn’t apply to them. This is where we’re all wrong. Let me give you a scenario that most of the women in my life can relate to:

I am joking around with my boyfriend. Maybe there’s a mutual nudge or a thrown pillow (all in good fun—remember, we are being hilarious and having a great time). Then, he holds me down by the wrists (not maliciously, still joking around, maybe even in an effort to transition into something more intimate). But, I have a moment of panic. Being held down, in that split second, I am utterly terrified when I realize that I am completely helpless, physically. He is still laughing, and when I suddenly say, “let go,” and he (of course) does, he is caught completely off guard by my reaction. He asks, “What’s wrong?” and says, “I was just joking around.” AND he was just joking around… and he didn’t do anything wrong, but what I realize in that moment is that he will (hopefully) never feel that specific kind of complete helplessness. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what that violation feels like. He doesn’t understand that even the threat, the possibility of violation, is intimidating. He doesn’t know how to empathize. We MUST have these conversations. If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t express the legitimate danger, then people (and men, specifically) simply don’t think about what’s actually at stake here. What feels like small, insignificant attitudes and actions are actually monumental in this way.

Circling back to my debate with Adam, he says, “Women take things more personally than men do.” I have a heart palpitation, and I want to call him out on it, but I make a joke instead. He says, “Women are more sensitive by nature.” I use that 1950s line, and then I urge him to read the fabulous piece on emotional gaslighting by Yashar Ali, “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy’.

This article essentially explains that “it’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.” Ali also argues that he doesn’t “think this idea that women are ‘crazy,’ is based in some sort of massive conspiracy,” but rather that this idea is instead “connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as ‘crazy.’”

He goes on to talk about how men are conditioned to feel uncomfortable with emotional expression, because they are discouraged from emotional expression from an early age. Ali’s conclusion is in the form of a question. He asks: “Isn’t the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate?” I think, yes.

Adam reads the article, but I am still met with more defensiveness, and I realize as we go back and forth that we are essentially having two completely different conversations. Adam initially interprets the article as an accusation. When he reads Ali’s plea to stop telling women that they are “crazy” or “too sensitive,” Adam thinks back to that one time with that one woman who said/did that super crazy thing and he “rightly” told her she was acting crazy. He feels like the message is: “Don’t do that. You’re wrong.” I see this interpretation/reaction all the time. My students, my friends, my family, most people do this. I realize then that Ali’s audience is “the choir.” He is essentially speaking to women who can already relate or men who already know not to do this, and this problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

As a teacher, a daughter, a friend, and a potential partner, the question for me has now become this: How can we enter into this conversation from a place of empathy? I have this hope that my attitude will inspire empathy in those who have a difficult time relating (coming from a place of privilege, or lack of exposure/experience) to the women who are being gaslighted. How do I talk to Adam?

Firstly, we need to recognize that men and women are taught to act and react differently. It is so important to take these kinds of articles and suggestions seriously, because I believe that this basic common respect, and our ability to value each other as equals, is the only way we will eradicate our culture of violence against women. This is how we stop victim blaming. This is how we end rape culture. This is how we become better humans, partners, family members, etc. We have to teach men not to violate women. We have to unlearn what we already know so well. This, as Adam points out to me, is essentially the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. He asks, “What can I do that would be acceptable in the context of this article?” This is exactly what we all should be asking ourselves.

I think about Adam: He is a good human with a good heart… did I mention that I actually like him? So, what do I need to change about the way I am approaching this conversion? It dawns on me that we are all universally connected. We all have mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and friends. We all only have control over one thing in this world: our behavior. I try to shift our conversation towards this focus: “Don’t you want your partner/mother/sister/friend to feel valued? Shouldn’t we all (men and women) strive to put ourselves above emotional manipulation?” And the answer is obviously, yes. But Ali is also pointing out that we even enter this conversation on unequal footing.

The incredible documentary film, MissRepresentation, points out:

“Little boys and little girls, when they’re 7 years old, in equal number want to be president of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same question when they’re 15, and you see this massive gap emerging.”

Undeniably, there is a hierarchical structure of power in our society, and women are not at the top.

Our conversation shifts back to us as individuals, and Adam starts to talk about what he can do about the “problem.” So, in the context of raising a family, and in the workplace, and in relationships, he says that he’s been taught, harshly, to take responsibility for his actions, period. That he should own up to his mistakes and not make excuses. He’s been taught (like so many of us) that everyone is the same, and that it’s important to surround yourself with people that make you better regardless of their sex, race, or sexual orientation. He then asks, if he is operating under that fundamental mentality, in the way that he should, then what should he do differently within the context of his everyday life? This is an awesome question; one that I think about constantly.

My response is something that I have to work on every single day of my life.  It’s what I am working on in this moment: even when I believe that someone is being too sensitive or emotional, I try to listen with an open heart. Instead of poking holes in a belief or argument, I try to look for ways to be helpful and to empower people who feel as though they have lost efficacy. And then, Adam says something really powerful. He says that “in reality, if someone is being too sensitive, I listen to them, and I ‘empathize’ as you’d say. The only time that I say [the] things [in the article] is when I am at the end of my rope in a relationship and acting out. It’s my actions that cause it; I realize that. The good thing to do would be to cut it off or to not say those things at all.” While what Adam is saying seems so very simple, it is in practice, truly profound. It’s hard to act well, especially when our social instincts feel like they’re being threatened, and when we’re taught that vulnerability is “bad,” it’s no wonder we get so uncomfortable when people express themselves so directly.

All roads lead back to compassion. How do we teach and inspire compassion? I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be angry. I am furious. Everyone should be furious about violence against women. This is an issue that impacts all of us. Most of the men I know seem to be unaware, even, that 1 in 4 women in their lives have been sexually assaulted or an attempted assault has been made on them. Or maybe they (we) hear these numbers but can’t connect them to ourselves?

I imagine that our lack of information is primarily due to the fact that assault is difficult to talk about and difficult to hear about. We don’t really have safe spaces (especially in the public opinion arena) to talk about such things. We tend to retruamatize survivors. I want to know how we can express our anger in a way that doesn’t shut people down.

It is a travesty that there’s so much negativity connected with the Women’s Rights Movement. People are terrified to be a part of the feminist community, to call themselves FEMINISTS. I’m scared, too. I know, it’s hard to believe with my incessant facebook posting and boycotting and protesting that I feel scared, but I am human. I care about being judged just like everyone else. I wonder, because of the negative connotations surrounding the “F” word, whether I will “scare” off a potential partner or friends. I’m afraid it will scare Adam. What will my future employers think? These thoughts are persistent, though I have learned to move past that fear and do what I think is right regardless of how I feel.

Still, it’s important to continue thinking about and asking how feminism and the feminist community can become more inclusive. If a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” then we should certainly all call ourselves feminists. If not, I think we have a whole lot of explaining to do to our wives, daughters, sisters, and friends.

A version of this article originally appeared in So to Speak. It has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

***

Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). She is also a Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. You can read some more things about her at sarahannmarcus.com.

 

 

 

Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?

Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?

by Zerlina Maxwell

It’s been two weeks since the unnecessary and untimely killing of Renisha McBrideOn November 2, the unarmed 19-year-old who was in search for help after a car accident in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heightswas shot in the face by Theodore Wafer, whose porch she had walked onto. The parallels between Trayvon Martin’s tragic killing and McBride’s are resonating in a national psyche rife with story after story of Black men and women gunned down as if their Black bodies have little or no value. And while we don’t know what will happen to Wafer as a result of the killing (George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin, was acquitted) we know this pattern of violence must end.

Reports that have surfaced since the tragic killing note McBride was intoxicated at the time of the incident, implying that somehow she was responsible for her own death. McBride crashed into a parked car and walked a short distance to knock on Wafer’s door for help. Instead of, say,inviting her in to call 9-1-1 to report the car accident, he shot her in the face. Originally, Wafer claimed the shotgun fired accidentally, and he wasn’t arrested immediately after the shooting based on this version of events—reminiscent of the Zimmerman case.

Now that more evidence has surfaced, Wafer is claiming that he shot McBride in self-defense, even though the door to his home was locked and reports show that she was shot through this locked screen door and from a far enough distance that she didn’t pose an immediate threat. On Friday, Wafer was finally charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and instructed to turn himself into the authorities. Wafer was arraigned, with his bail set at $250,000.

Beyond these facts, it appears McBride was killed in a manner more appropriate for a rabid animal trespassing on someone’s property than a human being with a full cadre of rights. Her life, like so many others in the Black community, was ended prematurely, for inexplicable reasons that defy logic about self-defense, guns, racial discrimination, and the criminalization of Black bodies.

This narrative is all too familiar. Zimmerman made similar claims after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2011. Zimmerman claimed Martin posed a threat to his community, in part because Martin was wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman claimed that Martin—who was “armed” with Skittles and an iced tea—was a threat because he didn’t respond to being followed by a strange man, with the “yes, sir” head down humility expected by Black people being interrogated by those who believe they are somewhere they are not permitted to be. Martin’s death and the failure to immediately arrest Zimmerman caused the nation to take notice and Million Hoodie marches were organized across the country, garnering national attention. (Even Beyonce and Jay Z attended one in New York City after the verdict.)

So where is the Million Hoodie march for Renisha McBride?

While there are certainly activists organizing vigils across the country for McBride, they are noticeably smaller at this early stage in the case than the ones organized for Martin. Like Martin, McBride was gunned down inexplicably, and then labeled a threat by the shooter to justify the killing.

There is no question that Black men are under attack by a racist criminal justice system and a society that forever suspects them to be criminals. But when a young Black woman suffers the same fate as Trayvon Martin, the outrage appears to be concentrated among Black women, instead of a universal outrage with mass protests. That has got to change. Black women consistently show up for Black men, and yet the opposite is not true when Black women are the victims of injustice.

That Black bodies cannot simply exist and move about unmolested, without the threat of violence for little to no reason, links us back to the Jim Crow South, when Black bodies were labeled threatening and lynched in front of white communities. As Professor Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, “African-Americans are both the primary victims of violent crime in this country and the primary victims of the fear of that crime.” Both Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin died as an apparent reaction to this discriminatory—and common—mindset.

There must be justice for Renisha McBride, for her family, and for her community. Black America is in a constant spin cycle of pain. The reasons given to justify the deaths of Black children are steeped in America’s checkered racial history and white supremacy.

The callousness with which Martin and McBride were killed should compel a national dialogue on race, inequality, profiling, and gun safety, but as long as white Americans refuse to acknowledge that Black people are not inherently a threat, and are capable of innocence deserving justice, the pain will continue. For a nation that claims to have a foundation of freedom and liberty, these killings are evidence of a nation lost and in denial, unable to find its way until all Americans can walk up to a home seeking help after an accident, and not receive a fatal shot to the face.

This article originally appeared in RH Reality Check and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

An Open Letter to Charlotte Raven about My Footwear and My Feminism

I contain multitudes.

I contain multitudes.

An Open Letter to Charlotte Raven about My Footwear and My Feminism

By Kirsten Clodfelter

Dear Charlotte,

I appreciate that you have words of wisdom to share with the next generation of “hip” young feminists as we get dressed each morning, but the truth is, I don’t want you in my closet any more than I want Republican legislators in my vagina.

Admittedly, I am not exactly the poster girl for “girly.” Aside from the two days a week that I’m on campus to teach, I write from home, where I hang out with an awesome but not quite fashion-adept toddler. (Yes, you read that right. I have a Master’s degree and did not seek full-time employment in order to stay at home with my kid—BY CHOICE!) Most of the time, I live in yoga pants, rarely brush my hair, and sometimes go three entire days without showering—like, in a row. But I do own a pair or four of high heels, and occasionally I even wear them.

As someone who didn’t win the genetic lottery as far as grace and poise are concerned, it is true, as you argue, that I sometimes look silly when I put on said high heels. But no part of that silliness is due to the fact that while wearing them I also identify as a feminist.

I imagine many other women might agree, like, I don’t know, Hillary Clinton. Or Betty Friedan. Or Eve Ensler. Or Anita Hill. If Wendy Davis had rocked pink peep-toed Christian Louboutinis instead of her iconic pink sneaks during that heroic filibuster, she would be no less of a champion for women’s reproductive freedom. And though it might only be the very highest stripper heels causing the self-harm you mention, it seems that the bigger concern is the idea that women wear heels because female sexiness is interpreted—by men and women alike—predominately through an oppressive male gaze.

And I get that. I do. But I also wonder if in many ways that male gaze isn’t already broken by the act of acknowledging it, by a feminist—or anyone—stopping to practice genuine self-awareness when considering what’s attractive or interesting or fulfilling outside of the boundaries established by those patriarchal norms.

In this space, we might find that kick ass, grrl power Doc Martens are sexy or awesome or strong, but so too are pleather high heels. Or crocs. Or whatever. (For the record, Dr. Marten was a nazi before he staked his claim in the footwear market, so I’m just going to stick to my Rocketdogs.)

If you can’t believe this inclusive view of feminism is possible, then I’m curious to know what other behaviors I engage in that would draw criticism or ridicule. The Belle Jar has already come up with a pretty decent list, but I’m still looking for a handbook or something to clarify the following: Is it anti-feminist to tweeze my eyebrows? Wear my hair in a high, tight ponytail? Don pantyhose and pointy-toed flats? Gorge on holiday cookies? Birth a child? Go to the dentist? These intentional actions could be considered forms of self-harm too—they’re at times uncomfortable, restrictive, or bad for our bodies, and some are done solely for aesthetic value. But do you know what seems much sillier than a feminist wearing heels? One who says that other women are less feminist because of how they dress.

I agree, whole-heartedly, that in the context of feminist discourse, asking if a feminist can wear high heels is a tired, trivial question. But rather than dismiss it in the moment with a witty one-liner or, better yet, just ignore it completely in favor of talking about something more meaningful, you dedicated an entire column to parsing what a feminist looks like—to you. Fortunately, many of us already know that feminists can look like a lot of different things.

But what about the people who don’t? By anointing yourself Dress Code Monitor of the entire movement, you give permission to non-feminists to continue to objectify women and to make value judgments based on a person’s attire. These ideas perpetuate the terrible myth that a woman can’t be intelligent or taken seriously (by either gender) if men find her attractive, that the way a woman dresses or behaves makes her responsible for her sexual assault, that we need not look farther than a woman’s ankles to determine her worth. This is irresponsible and dangerous, and it definitely isn’t feminism.

As far as respecting the human body is concerned, there is a pretty significant leap between, say, wearing heels and female genital mutilation (SFW, no photos)—a type of self-harm on which our attention and concern might be better spent. And as someone who was previously married to a verbally and emotionally abusive spouse, let me be very clear in assuring you that there is absolutely no—as in fucking zero—similarity between putting on high heels and regularly being devalued, manipulated, or intimidated by someone who claims to love you.

The most troubling part of your piece, though, comes in the moment that you narrow your definition so that “[f]eminism emphatically isn’t about making women feel comfortable about bad or harmful decisions or choices.” But what you’ve missed is that feminism is emphatically about no longer universally dictating what constitutes a “bad” or “harmful” decision for another woman.

In her book, Gender Communication Theories and Analyses, Charlotte Krolokke elaborates:

Third-wave feminism manifests itself in “grrl” rhetoric, which seeks to overcome the theoretical question of equity or difference and the political question of evolution or revolution, while it challenges the notion of “universal womanhood” and embraces ambiguity, diversity, and multiplicity in its transversal theory and politics.

This is the reason that it isn’t acceptable to revoke Alisa Valdes’ feminist card because it took her awhile to recognize her abusive relationship, why it isn’t acceptable to slut-shame Miley Cyrus or Danica Patrick because of what they are or aren’t wearing, why it isn’t acceptable to make a blanket statement positing that wearing heels is a stupid decision, to offer a battle rally that “fear of seeming judgmental” shouldn’t stand in the way of others being, well, super judgmental about a person’s wardrobe.

Here’s the cool and actually not at all annoying thing about feminism that your piece left out: Women get to practice it wearing whatever the fuck we want. I can identify as a feminist while wearing a flannel button-down or stilettos. I can call myself a feminist with glittered curls or a purple mohawk, while listening to Tori Amos or Taylor Swift or Ke$ha. I can be a feminist with a baby on my hip or while getting cozy in the kitchen baking cupcakes for my feminist boyfriend, and I can do it without narrow, divisive views like yours boxing me in with the static vision of what a “real” feminist looks like.

Love ya like a sister, maybe,

Kirsten

***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. Her writing has been previously published in The Iowa ReviewBrevity, and Narrative Magazine, among others. A Glimmer Train Honorable Mention and winner of the Dan Rudy Prize, her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published this October by RopeWalk Press. Clodfelter teaches in Southern Indiana, where she lives with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com@MommaofMimo

Danica Patrick Can Do Whatever She Wants With Her Body

Danica-r

Danica Patrick Can Do Whatever She Wants With Her Body

by Kirsten Clodfelter

 

Even if, like me, watching auto racing isn’t one of your top five (or top one hundred) favorite ways to spend a weekend, you’re probably at least aware of Danica Patrick, who in the last ten years has grown to be ubiquitous within the industry. A quick highlight of her many accomplishments: In 2009, she placed third at the Indy 500, and she won the IndyCar Series’ Japan 300 in 2008. In this year’s Daytona 500, she was the fastest pole qualifier (the first female racer ever to earn this spot) and in this same race became the first female to lead a lap in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (she lead five). This contributed to her finishing the Daytona 500 in the top twenty percent, in eighth place. There’s plenty of debate among racing enthusiasts about whether or not these feats legitimize her as a talented driver (for the record, I’m saying they definitely do), but either way she’s the most successful woman in the history of American auto racing, and that’s a pretty big deal.

Danica Patrick is also a spokesperson for GoDaddy.com. Recently, Laura Helmuth at Slate’s Double X wrote an article expressing her outrage over Patrick’s participation in her most recent Go Daddy Super Bowl ad. Unlike previous ads in which Patrick has appeared in a towel or glittery lingerie, Patrick narrates this ad entirely covered (dressed in leggings and a leather jacket). Meanwhile, model Bar Refaeli and actor Jesse Heiman—representing beauty and brains, respectively—make out, an analogy for how perfect things can be when the sexy side and the smart side of the tech industry combine under the Go Daddy umbrella.

“Offensive commercials are everywhere,” says Helmuth, “and there’s only so much outrage to go around. But people are right to be pissed at Danica Patrick. She squandered the good will of a multitude of fans who wanted to see a woman win at what used to be a man’s game.” Helmuth builds her argument around the idea that Patrick is doing a disservice to women’s lib by agreeing to sometimes get sexy on TV, even going so far as to call her a “harmless, hair-flipping mascot.” But here’s the thing: Danica Patrick can do whatever she wants with her body—it’s her choice—that’s the beauty of feminism. There’s space for Patrick to be both a talented driver behind the wheel and a sexy, flirtatious woman behind the camera.

Helmuth calls the most recent Super Bowl ad “sexist and stupid,” and she’s correct—it is both of those things. Those adjectives can be applied to many of Go Daddy’s commercials. But I don’t see anyone arguing that Bar Refaeli needs to hang up her modeling career in favor of focusing on her current business venture in order to encourage young women to apply their intelligence and savvy toward becoming international business moguls. Helmuth, in her article’s subtitle, argues that Patrick is setting back the women’s moment, but if that’s the case, then Helmuth is most certainly guilty of doing the same, particularly when she instructs Patrick in the article’s headline to just “shut up and drive.”

I’ve seen plenty of photo spreads of tennis phenom Maria Sharapova in a bikini, and I don’t find her to be any less of an athlete for it. The talented Venus Williams stunned crowds at a 2010 French Open game when she showed up wearing a fun and unique cancan-dancer-inspired outfit that looked like something she could have picked up at Victoria’s Secret. She went on to win the match and several subsequent rounds before her elimination on day eight, but I don’t see her being called a “harmless, hair-flipping mascot.” Soccer star David Beckham and tennis ace Rafael Nadal left very, very little to the imagination with their Armani underwear campaigns, but no one claimed this made them irrelevant to their sports.

There’s another important aspect to Patrick’s actions that Helmuth completely overlooks in her article. Sports reporter Jenna Fryer comments on this aptly: “Nobody gets a job driving race cars at the top level without sponsorship, and those who successfully find a corporate partner will always get the rides. Every single week, in a series somewhere, there’s a driver on the track only after finding enough sponsorship to buy the seat for that particular race.” She also adds, quite pointedly, that “[i]t’s doubtful anyone has ever paid attention to what five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has worn to a press conference, but one publication noted that Patrick wore ‘orange hooker heels’ to last Thursday’s announcement.”

And so what if she did? Patrick faces sexism from the racing industry, from sports anchors, from celebrities, from talk show hosts, and likely from other racers. I cannot imagine telling a woman who complained about sexist behavior in her office to just buy a more conservative blouse, put her head down, and focus on her expense reports. In the face of this kind of misogyny, we don’t instruct women to shut up, to cover up, to stop being themselves, or to do anything that might make it easier for her naysayers to forget she’s a woman. In fact, outside of the most dangerous or life-threatening situations, we almost always encourage the opposite. Rather than adding another tired, critical voice about Patrick’s wardrobe choices, we should champion for Patrick to navigate both of these selves fluidly and with our full support.

We are all accountable to each other, and in the spirit of that sentiment, it’s my hope that anyone in the limelight uses that platform to do good things, to be a positive role model, to advance causes that help others, and to teach young men and women to respect themselves and each other. What I see reflected in Patrick’s actions is someone who feels capable and self-assured enough to put her best foot forward in the worlds of both racing and modeling, who doesn’t feel she has to sacrifice one interest for the other, and who is comfortable in her own skin, whether that skin is under the full coverage of a firesuit or simply a bath towel. Slut-shaming Danica Patrick for not donning only turtleneck sweaters off the track isn’t setting a great example for the next generation of potential female racers either.

In 2008, Patrick appeared in a GoDaddy commercial featuring a girl who aspires to be a professional racer. It’s my sincere hope that Patrick will take on an even bigger role in advocating for women to make their way in what has long been a “man’s industry,” but whether she does or doesn’t, she can wear pretty much whatever she wants.

Yes, many of those Go Daddy ads are cheesy and sexist. Yes, I love that Sarah Fisher runs her own racing team and that Lyn St. James founded a program to train girls to race, and yes, I hope Patrick takes a few pages from their books and does more to reach out to young women, encouraging them to forge a path into the parts of our culture that are still traditionally dominated by males. But I also think it’s time to take a step back and reflect on the purpose of international protests like slut walk, about the current push to educate both men and women that the number of layers of clothing a woman is wearing does not correspond to how deserving she is of sexual assault. We need to do better to teach our daughters and sons—the next generation of feminists—that someone’s intelligence, skill, or success does not have to be mutually exclusive from the way they choose to celebrate their body.

 ***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University (’10). Her work has been previously published in The Iowa Review, Brevity, Word Riot, Narrative Magazine (as the runner-up in their 2011 30 Below contest), Rock & Sling, and Hunger Mountain, among others. She is a regular blog contributor at Fogged Clarity, and she writes and teaches in Southern Indiana. You can read some facts about her at KirstenClodfelter.com.

 

Image Credit: Danica Patrick on Pole Day at Indy, 2007. Photo by Tim Wohlford. Creative Commons 2.5

Okay but Seriously, Stop Blaming the Victim

Okay but Seriously, Stop Blaming the Victim

by

Kirsten Clodfelter

As a feminist, I admire Hanna Rosin. I enjoy the important work she’s done in co-founding DoubleX, and I regularly teach excerpts of her essay, “The End of Men,” to my undergraduate composition students. As a new, breastfeeding mom, I’m appreciative of her refreshing, my-body-my-choice approach to the Breast is Best agenda. This made Rosin’s response to The Feminist and the Cowboy author Alisa Valdes’ recent blog post (since deleted but cached here), in which Valdes revealed the terrifying abuse she suffered at the hands of the book’s “hero,” all the more surprising and disappointing.

Valdes’ memoir details her dissatisfaction with feminism and its “dreary shroud of lies,” all while lauding a man who forces her into submission, helping her to see the way things are, according to Valdes, biologically supposed to be. As Rosin points out in her initial review of the book, some of the scenes with the controlling cowboy are definitely “creepy”; the red flags have been raised.

But after Valdes comes clean about the cowboy’s aggressive, intimidating behavior, the headline of Rosin’s next Valdes piece is disaffected and bored: “The Cowboy Abused the Feminist. What a Surprise.” In this article, Rosin writes, “Many of us skeptical, desiccated feminist types suspected that submission would mostly just lead to being submissive and that the long-term result would be something less than happiness.” This criticism of the submission Valdes touts isn’t wrong. However true it may be, though, it’s not an adequate reason for glossing over the issue of domestic violence.

In her book, Valdes rejects second-wave feminism and instead aligns herself with the theory of “difference feminism,” celebrating her newfound femininity under the guidance of her macho boyfriend. Any person, a so-called “reformed” feminist or otherwise, who has been victimized, manipulated, or brainwashed by an abuser (and in Valdes’ case, it seems, over a long enough period of time for that behavior to become normalized) does not deserve a cavalier, yawning, here’s-my-shocked-face brush off from anyone, but especially not from someone who is herself a feminist.

Rosin appropriately takes Valdes to task forpublicizing a book that is encouraging women to submit themselves to a romantic formula whose end sum is ‘painful, controlling, emotionally abusive, crazymaking,’” and this is truly an important part of the conversation that we should all continue to address. Had Rosin taken the time to speak with Valdes, though (and I can’t say for sure if she attempted to reach out to her), she would have learned that, according to her conversation with Max Read at Gawker, Valdes now readily acknowledges that she’s written “a handbook for women on how to fall in love with a manipulative, controlling, abusive narcissist.”

Rosin closes her article discussing the possibility of Valdes writing a follow-up, which she may use as a platform for processing some of the cowboy’s reprehensible actions. Rosin is quick to silence that voice, “But as the cowboy would say, Alisa: Stop. It’s over.” I agree wholeheartedly with Rosin that Valdes is doing a grave, dangerous disservice by continuing to promote this sham of a love story in any way, but I think what we’re seeing in Valdes’ string of recent, controversial blog posts following the memoir’s release is an attempt to reconcile the abuse she’s suffered. How, then, is it helpful or kind or ethical to tell Valdes to put a lid on it?

If we attached that “What a Surprise” headline to the provocatively-dressed eleven year old in Texas who was gang-raped in November of 2010 or to the blackout-drunk high school student in Steubenville who last year was sexually assaulted and peed on as she was carried unconscious from party to party by members of the football team, there would be, and rightfully so, a loud and raging outcry.

So why the cold shoulder to Valdes? Is it that she marketed herself as a disgruntled product of the worst parts of feminism and used her memoir to push an anti-feminist agenda? In his article for The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky writes that even after revealing the abuse, “In comments on her [blog] post, Valdes insists that she still rejects the feminist ideology that prevented her from trusting men. She insists she still stands by her claim that ‘feminism stole my womanhood.’” Are Rosin, and other writers and article commenters discussing this issue, feeling some flicker of validation in light of this development? If Valdes claims that feminism directed her to believe that men were un-trustworthy, and then it turned out that she couldn’t trust that powerful, manly, dominant cowboy after all, is this supercilious attitude a consequence of haughtily thinking that, well, those feminists were right?

But as feminists, as people who champion for women—for their equality, for their freedom, for acknowledgement of their value—do we really want to shame someone who rejected that ideology (and, arguably, just a small but vocal minority within the feminist umbrella) with a big dose of, hey, that’ll teach her? The feminist community should be a safe space for the many women who don’t have one, not an exclusive, snobby club only for people who subscribe to a very particular and rigid set of ideals about the movement. My experience with feminism and, in speaking with my friends and colleagues, many other men and women’s experience as well, is thankfully nothing like what Valdes has described. Regardless, to turn up our noses at her now only helps prove her point.

Some of the worst comments I’ve seen from readers of Rosin’s article and others around the Internet suggest that Valdes is making up the whole thing as some type of twisted publicity stunt (because certainly I can think of nothing that might sell a love story more than traumatizing abuse). Others, rather missing the point, demand that in light of submitting to her abuser, Valdes’ “feminist card” be revoked. The most offensive demand that Valdes “shut the fuck up” and call her an idiot, an attention-seeker, and “an embarrassment to humanity,” and then there’s just the ridiculously obnoxious, such as, “Giddy-up, bee atch.” Are we not better than this? When we find out a woman has suffered through a violent relationship, do we really believe that the appropriate response is to tell her we guess that means she really isn’t a feminist? Or worse, that she brought it on herself? That she deserved it?

In September, Mary Elizabeth Williams smartly shut down the idea that Rihanna should be castigated for her reconciliation with abuser Chris Brown; yet when Valdes writes a book in which she professes her love for a man who she later begins to realize is abusive, or even after that, when she reflects on her complicated feelings for her former abuser and denies some of the worst conclusions being drawn about him (a pretty common consequence of a long-term, abusive relationship), the common response seems to be annoyance that anyone, least of all Valdes, is surprised by this information.

Valdes is being shamed when what she needs is a supportive community that won’t stand for domestic violence to rally around her. Where is the calling out of the publishing community—her publisher, agent, and editor who read early drafts of this book, who surely must have seen the obvious, early warning signs of manipulative, controlling, and dangerous behavior that many reviewers have already mentioned—and still elected to market the book to women as a beautiful romance with a fairy-tale finish? (To be fair, Max Read at Gawker has at least mentioned this issue of mutual accountability.)

Tracy Clark-Flory recounts some of Valdes’ abuse in her article at Salon, detailing in Valdes’ words from her initial blog post that the “cowboy became emotionally and physically abusive, and during one fight ‘simply dragged me down the hall to the bedroom, bent me over, and took me, telling me as he did so that I must never forget who was in charge.’”

Yet both Berlatsky and Rosin, in their respective articles, describe this particular incident from Valdes’ now shattered love story as “something close to rape.” As Valdes has told it, however, dragging a woman down the hall during a fight and then physically entering her body while you remind her who’s in charge is rape. Are people choosing not to call it that because then they’d have to show more outrage?

Regardless of whether or not we agree with every decision Valdes has made up to this point or with the way she’s choosing to communicate parts of her story currently, she is brave for speaking out about her experience. The message of Valdes’ book is, frankly, reprehensible, but voicing the truth about Steve Lane’s twisted behavior—possibly at risk to her own physical safety—so that others who might still read her book have a more accurate understanding of what was really going on is commendable.

One thing that I imagine would be the helpful for Valdes at this point, as with any abuse victim, is a little empathy. What is certainly not helpful are other men and women, other feminists, rolling their eyes in light of this news. If this is the so-called “feminism” that Valdes felt she had to run away from, honestly, can we really blame her?

 ***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her work has been previously published in The Iowa Review, Brevity, Word Riot, Narrative Magazine (as the runner-up in their 2011 30-Below contest), Rock & Sling, and Hunger Mountain, among others. She is a regular blog contributor at Fogged Clarity, and she writes and teaches in Southern Indiana. You can read some facts about her at KirstenClodfelter.com.

Femme Savage

Femme Savage by Billee Sharp

I am at my absolute worst when I’m ill, even a minor cold will deconstruct the reasonable persona I possess in the full flush of health. My husband knows this well, he tries not to take it personally when I weep uncontrollably because the honey and lemon drink he has brought to my sick bed is either NOT HOT ENOUGH or TOO SWEET or  sob, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME WITH THESE CHUNKS OF GINGER??  He quickly deposits my supplies: that imperfectly concocted beverage, the nose-blowing toilet roll etc and escapes my under-the-weather-breakdown. Usually I’m a stalwart and I’ll keep pretty upbeat even if things are really grim: I can be cheerful even when I’ve spent the piano lesson money on Frontline and the dog still has fleas, or I get a final warning from management for talking too much, but even a slight snivel and I’m wrecked. I know this irrefutable truth about myself and so I do try and isolate my loved ones from the onslaught of my immune deficient humors: I take to bed and let them fend for themselves. This can be a good time for a teenager,  last weekend the sophomore in the house ate Chinese take-away three times in two days and managed to silently turn his bedroom into a garment-strewn flophouse for three other teen boys (boys also have fashion attacks and try on all of each others clothes) without so much as a single bollocking from nasty bedridden mom.

So I stay in bed, drinking cold honey and lemon, blowing my nose and reading. I read a lot and sleep in between, when I’m not doing one or the other I’m weeping and berating anybody who comes close. The reading really helps, it distracts me from my neurosis that I am probably dying (the recent news story about the deaths from mouse-transmitted hantavirus didn’t help, the first symptoms being akin to low-grade flu) In seventy-two odd hours, propped up on every pillow in the house I read: (predictably) Northanger Abbey, (proudly) six chapters of The Secret Life of Trees, (guiltily) the long-unfinished tomes A Year in Provence, Bel Canto and a Nero Wolf mystery. Also many articles by Cat Marnell, Caitlin Moran and weirdly all five hundred and eight pages of Shirley Conran’s “Savages”.

I missed Conran’s furious output of fiction in the eighties, I was too busy trying to read Derrida and Lacan for christsakes. My friend Adam told me that Lace was the Conran of choice but demurred from lending it to me. No matter, “Savages” kept me busy and amused for at least five hours.  Basically the story is about a group of pampered executive wives who witness their husbands’ execution by dastardly insurgents at a luxurious resort on a remote Polynesian island. The wives secretly hate their bossy husbands anyway and openly despise each other, they are all miserable spoiled cows even though they don’t have to work or worry about money. After their husbands’ demise they are left with the captain of the day-tripping boat they’ve spent a boring afternoon with, they have no supplies to speak of  and have to survive in a terrain inhabited by cannibals. I don’t think that Conran is a great writer, but she certainly did her homework on how to eat weird shit in the jungle and make huts out of leaves and other bits of nature. Less than half way through I started laughing phlegmatically and underlying lines like , How fast could insects travel up your vagina? And making perhaps delirious notes, “Carey is still wearing a pale-blue bra!”

Why was I doing this? Perhaps to assuage my guilt about reading a trash  novel instead of  being diligent and dipping into Henry Miller’s glistening text “On Writing” where he goes on about writer’s block and all the French philosophy he read in the original. My  notes, naughtily made in ink, were to convince myself that I could make some smart contemporary remarks about feminism by gorging myself on her lengthy adventure story: after all, Conran was sort of writing feminist tracts she just wasn’t  using long words, except “inexorably” which is longish and she uses it  a lot.  The feminism of “Savages” is about how the patriarchy makes women merciless rotten bitches to each other and this is illustrated by how relentlessly they harsh on the pretty one, the lazy one, the downtrodden one and the athletic capable one. This is no rosy tale of  sisterhood, the ladies  do survive and develop a modicum more empathy and self-esteem but they definitely do not become significantly nicer. I started to do some meandering internet research on Conran but I could not find synopses of her other blockbuster publications (Lace I & II, Superwoman, the Superwoman Yearbook, Futurewoman etc) but I did find a clinically brief Wikipedia entry and discovered she has a website and she twitters! The website was not enticing, she uses “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom” as her by-line which was a turnoff for me even though she meant no insult to psilocybin. Basically her twenty-first century output is like reading a temperance granny’s diary compared to Cat Marnell or Caitlin Moran.

I just recently started reading Cat Marnell and now I think I’m done. The beautiful and  verbose Marnell, who writes mostly about her drug intake came to my attention because of an article Sarah Hepola wrote in the NYT mag, ostensibly about confessional tendencies in journo-land, blah blah, but really its an excuse for her to harp on about how she too has always wanted to be confessional about her own boozing-writing experiences. I missed chortling at Marnell’s output as Beauty Editor for xojane because I waste my online time elsewhere but now I’m up to speed ( no pun!) and I see her stuff  is a great read. Perhaps she is a better writer than hard drugette, she obviously has  so many brain cells left one has to wonders if her dealers sell her real angel dust or if its just reconstituted  Johnsons Baby Powder. She asserts her right (and all womens rights!) to do hard drugs and never rinse out  hair conditioner but it’s a bummer for me that she doesn’t elucidate what its actually like to be on angel dust or snort-cocktails of xanax and whatever. I would like to know because I’m sure as hell not going to do it myself.   She now makes a living working for the uber-cool Vice writing exclusively about  “pills and narcissism” instead of getting sent to rehab by xojane but unless she starts getting more descriptive re. the exotic highs  I’m out.

Moran is hilariously palatable, like Tina Fey but English, and I like that she is so brazen about wanking and thinks feminism should be funny. I’ve ordered her bound to be brilliant “How to be a Woman” and I’m glad that she is unabashed about how the incoming troves of  royalties are paying to make her house nicer. I tried to read some of her columns for The Times but it’s a pay site and there is no way I’m paying Murdoch for so much as a paragraph. I loved Moran’s piece about hanging out with Gaga, and now I get why dress-up girl is the pin-up for pubescent feministas. Moran is super clever too but hello no sympathy from me for having been home-schooled by “insane hippie parents” in a council house in Wolverhampton, no wonder she is so jolly, I save my tears for Jeanette Winterson’s miserable homelife growing up with uptight Baptists or whatever they were.

Feminism has struggled so hard for a workable public image, Moran, Marnell and Fey are its just desserts, and Gaga should probably be in that list too. These women  are smart, funny and honest about  the female condition without any lip-service to the evil empire of patriarchy.

Mrs. Fifty Shades of Grey, on the other hand, is the empire’s creature, she doesn’t do a lot of publicity because she was in TV for years and finds it all boring (at least that’s what her husb wrote in the Gruniad while hyping his own recently published novel.) Mrs Fifty is the antithesis of these formidable aforementioned  femmes, her writing is awful and her sex message is droopy. The good news is that erotica has surged in hipness and sales since she wrote her S & M saga and I’m a wannabe Buddhist so I’m trying to be  happy that she too probably has a new kitchen with  a bondage Jacuzzi next to her top-o-the-line dishwasher. It’s the least she deserves considering she did confess that her book didn’t spice up her own sex life.

Women are mostly savvy as well as savage and contrary to Shirley’s advice will probably get more satisfaction out of stuffing a mushroom than imagining that their spouses are cruel and handsome like Christian Grey.

Image: Wild Woman of the Woods” Wayne Alfred, ( alder, horse hair)

Billee Sharp’s book “Lemons & Lavender: the eco guide to better homekeeping” Viva Editions, 2012 is available at bookstores and on amazon.com.