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What a weekend.
The Austin Feminist Poetry Festival took place this weekend. After having a day to decompress, I am filled with so much gratitude.
I cannot express enough thanks to Katherine Oldmixon and the Huston-Tillotson University Department of English. Their generous donation of space (with such great acoustics, no less) was crucial to making this event happen.
Thanks to Susan Post of BookWoman for giving her weekend to selling books and helping support poets both local and distant. And much thanks to Debra Winegarten for helping to run the book table on Friday night. And thanks to everyone who bought books and helped support local artists and bookstores.
I had other help with logistics as well. Poet Barbara Gregg provided marvelous assistance with my Potluck Poetics workshop. Jon spent his day off making programs when our original volunteer fell through, as well as running errands and assisting with the BookWoman setup. Lisa Marie Estus sat down with me months ago and gave valuable advice that gave me the confidence to see this event through.
Thank you to all of our donors: Mom, Dad, Jennifer Karydas, Barbara Gregg, Paula Starche, and all those anonymous folks who left cash donations. Your support will help us move forward with a 501(c)3 application.
Thanks to ire’ne lara silva, Liza Wolff-Francis, Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen, and Beth Kropf for their engaging workshops. My only regret is that, because I was so busy with my hosting duties, I couldn’t attend every single minute. Thanks also to ire’ne and Liza for their amazing performances, in conjunction with Kelsey Erin Shipman and Faylita Hicks. Thank you for your hard work, your energy, your confidence. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable. Thank you for being willing to ask questions about yourselves and your feminism, and be willing to do so publicly. Thank you for opening space for discussion.
Thank you to the parents, grandparents, and teachers who brought their teenage poets to this event. Next year, I plan to expand the program to include workshops aimed at younger feminists.
And most of all, thank you to everyone who came out for the workshops, who read at the open mics, and contributed to the discussion. Thank you for sharing your poems and your selves. I am grateful to everyone who came out and shared this experience, and can’t wait for next year.
There has been quite a bit of discussion, at least on my part of the internet, on why hitting on people is not necessarily welcome. This is an issue that seems to cause a lot of misunderstanding, so I’m glad that it’s getting some attention and cross talk. I’m sharing some excerpts of my favorites that have come across my radar this week.
Okay. Before I say what I’m going to say, here are some things I’m NOT saying:
Finding a random woman attractive makes you a Bad Person.
Wanting to tell her she’s attractive makes you a Bad Person.
Every time you compliment a random woman on her appearance, it makes her uncomfortable/scared.
Every time you compliment a random woman on her appearance, that is harassment.
Here’s what I AM going to say:
If you find yourself really invested in the idea of complimenting random women on the street, you should do some serious soul-searching and figure out why that idea appeals to you so much.
It may very well be possible to compliment a woman you don’t know on her appearance in an appropriate way.
But, if you choose to compliment a random woman on her appearance, you run a high risk of making her uncomfortable/scared, even if she doesn’t show any outward signs of it. Are you willing to take that chance?
If you choose to compliment a random woman on her appearance, you may be harassing her.
Meanwhile, Chuck Wendig’s advice for hitting on the ladies?
SPOILER WARNING: DON’T.
Gents, don’t hit on women.
I know, now you’re saying, “BUT THAT’S HOW I GET MY PENIS TOUCHED,” and maybe you think that’s true. I realize there’s a certain mode of dating advice that suggests men must show confidence and be clear and forthright with their attraction. But “confidence” is a whole lot different than “aggression,” and hitting on someone is a whole lot more like the latter than the former. Note that verb: hitting — itself the language of violence, like you’re walking up and just bashing her about the head and neck with your sexual desire, like you’re clubbing a seal.
Talk to them. Connect with them on a human level. They’re not a socket for your plug. You’re a person. They’re a person. Go form an emotional-social tether before you go clumsily trying to bed them. I’m not saying every encounter has to end in marriage. Hey, you wanna just hook-up and find other people who just wanna hook-up, well, dang, I hope you two crazy kids find a way to slap your parts together, whatever those parts might be. Just the same, the way we find those people is by connecting. And being human. And recognizing that they’re human too. And not just treating them like prey animals who owe you a pound of flesh for your hunting efforts.
The overall reaction from men is a whiny, “But I’m being nice!” No, sir, you are not. You’re buying a coffee to try to get in her pants. The whole “What a nice guy I am!” aspect makes it easier for you to approach an intimidating situation, but let’s not romanticize this moment. You’re not paying a compliment to that old, unattractive woman, or sharing your love of Terry Pratchett books with that dude over there. You’re trying to buy five minutes of a cute woman’s time via a combination of guilt and gift-giving. Jeez, what a prince you are!
The odds are good that she’s not going to respond well. And if you keep bugging women just because they happen to be within eyesight, then you send the none-too-subtle message that “A woman showing up in public means that she’s fair game.” Which means she’s not a person, but an antelope in a game preserve.
And even if you’re really nice about it, recognize that hundreds of men have done this before, and this may not go over well. If she rejects you coldly, she is not a bitch. That’s on you, chum. You took a shot, knowing full well you might irritate her, and lo you got exactly what you deserved. Don’t tell yourself the story that “I was just trying to buy her a present!” because you were not. You were bothering a woman in a clear attempt to get something from her.
And not only does it make people uncomfortable, it can cost your business customers. A few months ago, I was filling up a low-pressure tire with air. A guy from the tire shop across the street was buying a soda inside, came out and offered unsolicited help (I do, in fact, know how to track tire pressure and fill a tire, thank you), and then proceeded to flirt so aggressively, including trying to get my number, that he put me off from ever patronizing the store where he works. When I purchased some new tires a few weeks later, I definitely did not go to the place nearby, because why would I want to spend my money at a business that had an employee that was going to make me uncomfortable?
On Tuesdays, poet Kelli Russell Agodon does a post called “Confession Tuesday.” Confessions are about writing, family, travel…just about anything. This past Tuesday’s post, the Respect Our Girls Edition, resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to post it here today.
Growing up, I encountered a lot of mixed messages. Heck, these mixed messages still come across my consciousness. They’re just easier to filter out now. But for adolescent girls, they’re especially confusing. And it doesn’t seem like it’s getting easier. So here is Kelli’s insightful take on the subject:
I confess I’m not thinking about writing or creativity today, but the mixed messages we send our girls.
Here’s something I don’t write about much because I like to keep my family life separate from from writing life, but I’m the mother of an incredible daughter who constantly amazes me in all she does.
Recently, she’s been having a lot of questions about being a girl, a middle-school girl, which honestly, maybe be one of the hardest times in a girl’s life because they’re at that “mid” point–not women, but not children either.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about the mixed messages our societies gives girls–of all ages, we so want them to grow up into smart, kind, strong women, but right now, as kids, we’re kind of messing with their heads.
We tell them to love themselves for who they are, while grown women complain about their thighs, wrinkles, tummy fat, or gray hairs. Some women go out and get plastic surgery, botox. Some women diet constantly, skip dessert.
Then Dove comes out with a huge campaign about loving ourselves and our natural beauty, while selling us anti-aging cream on the side.
We tell our girls “don’t dress sexy,” then sell them padded bras and padded bikinis.
We say “it’s important to be smart,” then make a snide comment about another woman while browsing a tabloid magazine in the checkout line.
We tell them “be empowered and be yourself,” but if “yourself” includes something that doesn’t fit our definition of beauty, sometimes we freak out a bit.
We tell the girls not to “dress provocatively,” instead of telling boys not to rape.
We tell them not to be bossy, then tell them to stick up for themselves & be assertive (though we rarely tell the boys not to be bossy).
We say “it doesn’t matter what other people think,” then live a lifestyle above our means to fit in or impress people ourselves.
We make dress codes for the girls so they don’t “distract” the boys, instead of teaching boys that you respect a girl whether she’s in a scoop neck t-shirt & short skirt or a button-up polo shirt & long pants.
And we don’t do all of this all the time, but we do it enough that I can see in the faces of these girls, the what-the-heck-is-going-on? look, the who-are-we-supposed-to-be?
And I know, this middle-place is hard for girls, their bodies feel as if they are part of some sort of hormonal experiment, but their bodies are theirs, their styles are theirs, and really, our girls are trying to figure out who they are.
Just as each of us at times in life, re-evaluate our life and values.
So in this time of change and crazy hormones, ease up on the girls, especially the ones in the middle, they are just muddling through this time as did we. And help them support other girls who are also just doing the best they can and making the best choices they know how to at this very moment.
Love them for their baggy t-shirts or skinny jeans. Their long crazy-colored hair or their short, this-will-do cropped style. Their raccoon-eye make-up or their struggle with forehead acne. Love them for their good and bad choices, their mistakes and what they learn from them.
Thank them when do something kind, no matter how small. Girlworld folds in on itself and it can be hard to realize life is going on throughout the world and not just on your corner of the universe.
Let them know that no, they aren’t crazy, our culture is giving them mixed messages constantly.
Remind them how much they are loved and valued for who they are not how they look. And that we as grown women will continue to try to make the world a better place for them by what we do and say. In certain ways, these girls are a compact mirror of our who we are and the struggles we still have as women, so we need to love them and love ourselves, while constantly trying to make things better for generations of both girls and boys to come.
On Feburary 21, 2012, members of the punk band Pussy Riot, staged a protest against Vladimir Putin in a Russian Orthodox church. Two members, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were sentenced to two years in jail. Yekaterina Samutsevich was imprisoned, but was released in October after hiring a new attorney. The remaining two members at the protest remain at large.
One year after the protest, Samutsevich says she has no regrets:
I don’t regret the performance. I only regret that they put us in prison. But it’s the government, which brought criminal charges, that’s guilty in this [. . . ] Many people are now critical of the government and state authorities [because of Pussy Riot]. They see the injustice. The situation has changed.
Pussy Riot, an art collective consisting of anonymous members (with 10-20 members at any given time), has not staged any major protests since last year, though Samutsevich has focused her work on the collective rather than on her other career as a computer programmer.
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are 24 and 23, respectively. They’re giving up two years of their lives as punishment for trying to incite political change in Russia. Reading news reports reminding me that a year has passed already reminds me to take stock of my values and beliefs. What would I be willing to go to jail for? What would be worth giving up my freedom? Perhaps this is purely a hypothetical question. But it’s one that I think we need to ask ourselves every now and then. Do we believe in our politics enough to risk imprisonment (or worse)? And if we don’t, then what do we do?
BookWoman is the cornerstone of my literary career so far. I worked there in 2009 and 2010, and through the store I met Debra Winegarten and thus became a member of the Austin Writergrrls. Helping with the store’s open mic, I met lots of local poets, and gradually found a place in the local poetry community. While working on Sundays, I met Abe Louise Young, who became my mentor. I learned about Gemini Ink and Poetry at Round Top. I bought writing manuals and honed my craft. BookWoman is part and parcel of the writer I am today.
To that end, I’ve decided to turn my pre-sale period into a chance to give back to the store that has given so much to me. My book is available for pre-order until the 27th, and for every copy I sell in pre-order, I’ll give $1 to the store. (This applies if you’ve bought a book before I made this announcement. Congratulations! You’ve pre-emptively donated $1 to BookWoman!
You’re not only supporting poetry; you’re now supporting a bookstore as well. There are only 11 feminist bookstores left in North America. So pre-order now and support BookWoman, small businesses, and feminsm!
Warning: The post I am linking to is full of profanity. While it’s text only, it might not be safe for work.
Via Kimberly Chapman (who pretty much links to all the best feminist stuff on Google Plus):
Yeti-Detective has an open letter to men in the friendzone. (If you don’t know what the friendzone is, check out Wikipedia.) It’s humorous, but it’s also completely true. And, if after reading this, people still don’t get it, I don’t know what hope there is for anyone.
(Also, did I mention vulgarity ahead?)
Before I launch into this I need to say that if you’re a high school kid, and you’re getting “friend zoned,” I do not blame you for being an idiot. You’re going through a lot of bullshit right now, and your body is more like season 4 of Breaking Bad where for a grown man it’s more like season 1 or 2. But read this article and become wiser than your fellow dweebs. Stop fearing girls as capricious and devastating forces of nature and start seeing them as people who are EXACTLY LIKE YOU except with different pants-parts and, in many cases, different shirt-parts.
If you’re a grown man (read: 19 or older, and I’m cutting the 18 year olds a fucking break here) and you get “friendzoned,” then the following words are for you, Friendzone.
Stop it. How is this even happening? What are the events that are occurring? This is what I imagine:
You become attracted to a woman.
You are friendly to that woman in the hopes she will show you her vagina.
She mistakes your friendliness for friendliness and befriends you, neglecting to show you her vagina.
You act like a butthurt little asswipe, forever placing yourself firmly outside of the circle on the Venn diagram of dudes she will ever show her vagina to.
You complain about it on the internet, and 1000 other maladjusted bro-dudes go, “I know that feel,” and you are validated in your misogyny.
Here’s the hard truth, Friendzone. You’re not a nice guy. You are a gutless, pathetic, sad, horny little worm who’s too afraid of rejection to just tell a woman how you really feel. Your anger when she doesn’t psychically glean your unspoken desires and automatically reciprocate them is actually just you externalizing the disgust you feel for your own cowardice. You think pretending to be friends with a woman will get her to have sex with you because women are sex-objects to you. You can’t imagine a non-sexual friendship with a woman being rewarding in any way because you don’t think of them as whole, real people. It doesn’t occur to her to date you either because your pandering comes of as unchallenging and uninteresting or because your creepiness is obvious and unnerving.
How can you stop being such a douche bag? Well, I suggest forming a friendship with a woman. You’re going to need to find one who can put up with a lot of bullshit, because that’s all you’ve really got to offer at this early stage. A good indicator is if she’s been married a long time or has raised children. Invest time and energy in this relationship WITHOUT thinking about your constant loneliness-boner. Once you have internalized the knowledge that your new friend has thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, AND breasts, take a look around you. Look at the world. Look at all of the people with breasts. Those people are just like her, just like your friend. They, too, have thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Even the ones you want to fuck. Isn’t the world magical?
Go read the whole thing. Even if you’re already a feminist. And pass it on. This guy gets it, and he can make other people understand, too.
Thank you, Yeti-Detective, for being a great person.
I had a couple of vague ideas for what I was going to write about for Feminist Friday this week. And then when I logged into WordPress, the first thing I saw was this post from wildfeministappears. And before I was halfway through, I knew I’d be sharing it this week.
This post was particularly welcome on a day when I spent too much time arguing with someone on the internet about feminism. It made me angry. But that anger didn’t lead to anything productive. This post felt timely, because it was an important reminder that anger can be a tool, but it needs to be honed and controlled (not stifled and ignored, but controlled), and be put to good use.
I could easily copy and paste the entire thing here, but I think it’s better if you go read the entire post. But I will leave you with the crux of the piece:
This last bit is for everyone.
Look at yourself in the mirror and explain to yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Ask yourself these questions.
Is it my choice, or is it a decision based on pressure from another source?
Is my choice going to hurt others, and if it is, am I ready to commit to causing harm to others for my own self-gratification?
Is my choice going to help others, and if it is, am I ready to commit to being there for others and accept their choices regardless of how I feel about them?
Am I willing to defend my choice?
Do I have good reasoning for my choice?
Am I ashamed of my choice at all?
Am I unabashedly joyful about my choice?
Does my choice obstruct another person’s freedom?
Answer to yourself every fucking day.
1. Women are waiting for Prince Charming to marry them and put a bun in it.
There’s a persistently irritating idea that careers, travel and an interest in the wider world are just the things a woman does to fill her time while waiting for her real life to happen – being proposed to in a restaurant, marrying in front of 200 of her nearest and dearest and giving (natural) birth to a baby called Ingenue.
Good thing I got married young instead of wasting my life on a silly career! Ha! ….But…wait…I still have a career…..In fact, I love the work I do, so…Good thing I live in an era where I can pursue a career I love. And hey, good thing I live in an era where getting married didn’t close job opportunities off to me. Women still face a lot of obstacles, but I’m still glad I live now and not fifty years ago.
2. Women choosing things – anything – is a feminist act and can’t be criticised.
Yes, choice is very important. It is, in fact, vital when it comes to things like child-rearing, abortion, sex, work, life, the universe and everything in between. But ‘choice’ and the ability to exercise it in and of itself is not a feminist act; rather, it’s the result of demanding women be entitled to autonomy the same way men are. More importantly, defending women’s right to choose whatever they like doesn’t mean other women have a duty to agree with those choices or even respect them.
One thing I will always be thankful for is the fact that I have critical thinking skills. I’m sure the Republican Party would prefer I didn’t, but as yet, they have yet to sufficiently lobotomize the population. Collusion is tricky business, and what is and is not feminist is not always clear cut, as much as I’d like it to be. But the fact is that making choices is a thing all adults do. Women making choices is not feminist. Women making choices is just something people do.
3. Women are all jealous of each other.
[T]he idea that women engage solely with the world from an established position of envy and competition isn’t just ludicrous, it’s damaging. It assumes that our judgment is illegitimate from the get-go, because its only goal is to tear down another woman and thus take her spot at the table where the best crumbs fall. And while this kind of thing doeshappen, it’s part of a whole ‘nother problem with the limited paths to power that are available to women in our society. Reinforcing it with a casual, ‘what can you do?’ shrug of the shoulders undermines the efforts of women to break out of that mould. Sometimes – often, in fact – women are legitimately critical of other women because we are able to intellectually disagree with something a woman has said or done. It doesn’t make us jealous, or bitchy, or juvenile – it makes us fully formed human beings with the ability to make critical assessments of the world around us. You know. Kind of like men.
Again: critical thinking is good! And critical thinking =/= jealousy. It’s pretty tough to be a human and not get jealous sometimes. I get jealous of people who don’t have student loan debt. Or who can drop a couple hundred dollars on new electronics without thinking about it. Or who got their first books published at a younger age than mine. But these jealousies don’t make up my life. I don’t try to tear down already-published writers. I don’t hate my friends who have paid off their debt (or are lucky enough to have not had any in the first place). And maybe I live in a special bubble, but the women I know don’t exhibit these nasty behaviors, either.
4. Women lose their shit over cleaning products, yoghurt and K-Mart.
I swear to dog, if I have to see another advertisement of a woman wearing pearls smiling while cleaning her toilet, or talking about how fat free lemon cheesecake yoghurt is kind of the same thing as not hating yourself, or gesticulating wildly about how the new Schticky appliance has made mopping really, really fun then I am going to bulldoze my way down to the Mart-of-K to round up all the Stepford Wives that apparently live there and deactivate the bullshit chip that lives in their brains. Except that there won’t be any, because no one likes cleaning, yoghurt is dumb and even though K-Mart is a good low-cost option, no one ever rode a bike through its aisles as if this were what life had been building up to.
I mean, I think Greek yogurt is amazing, but I don’t equate it with my self-image. I don’t do a dance of joy when I approach the dairy case at HEB. And I’m never going to like cleaning. Heck, I don’t even like shopping, K-Mart or otherwise. I suppose I could be defective, but….I’m pretty sure I’m okay, actually.
5. Women aren’t visual.
An article was published recently to coincide with the release of a new book exploring the most popular forms of internet pornography. In it, the authors blithely reiterated (‘scientifically’, of course) the oft repeated myth that women are more invested in storylines rather than visuals; they’d much rather read a romantic novel with established characters than spend a quick two minutes cruising You Porn.
Funny, because other casually offered stereotypes pillory women as being obsessed with shoes, constantly comparing their bodies to other women’s and looking at engagement rings from Tiffany – all fairly visual activities.
So the idea that women don’t get into sexual voyeurism ‘because they’re just not visual’ is pretty lazy. Could it be that, rather than being unable to get a blazing hot lady boner over some filthy-as-f–k home videos, they just find it harder to get off on the predictable denouement that shows the only woman in the room being penetrated?
And not only that, but, having been an editor of romance novels that ran the entire heat spectrum, I will say that women have very diverse tastes.
So if anyone out there believes these myths…take it from a bunch of women: they’re not really true.
If you’ve partaken in a discussion on the internet, you’ve seen at least one of these. In fact, you’ve probably seen them all at some point or another. These are comments that trolls use to invade discussions and try to get the thread off-topic. I’ve seen it in feminist spaces, in Health at Every Size Spaces, in anti-racist spaces — pretty much anywhere in which people are attempting to discuss issues we find with society, and how to handle them. They’re aggravating. They’re silencing. They’re not useful.
Just remember: don’t feed the trolls. They’ll build new bridges elsewhere.
Both of these articles are slightly old, but are new to me. Jon passed them along to me knowing I’d want to use them for this portion of my blog, so here you go!
First up, “6 Insane Stereotypes that movies can’t seem to get over.” This article is a great dissection of a whole host of problems in the film industry that intersect with feminism: racism (“Everyone in Africa is Uncivilized or a Warlord,” “White People are Better at Being Asian Than Real Asians,” “In Fantasy Movies, Everyone Has to Be White”), sexism (“Women Can Only Talk About Men”), homophobia (“Non-Heterosexual Characters Either Die or Are Murderers”), and ableism (“Anything (Including Death) is Better Than Being Disabled”). Each heading also offers a dissection of why this problem exists. Definitely a worthwhile read. Also, you’ve now fallen down the Cracked.com rabbit hole. Have fun.
Next up is an article that was linked in the Cracked.com piece, entitled “Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test.” The title is, sadly, pretty self-explanatory. When Jennifer Kesler was in film school, she was taught not to pass the Bechdel test, and this is still a problem today (and unfortunately, I can’t say I’m surprised).
Kesler describes her experience as such:
I had to understand that the audience only wanted white, straight, male leads. I was assured that as long as I made the white, straight men in my scripts prominent, I could still offer groundbreaking characters of other descriptions (fascinating, significant women, men of color, etc.) – as long as they didn’t distract the audience from the white men they really paid their money to see.
My scripts had multiple women with names. Talking to each other. About something other than men. That, they explained nervously, was not okay. I asked why. Well, it would be more accurate to say I politely demanded a thorough, logical explanation that made sense for a change (I’d found the “audience won’t watch women!” argument pretty questionable, with its ever-shifting reasons and parameters).
At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”
According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story. Only if they heard the name of a man in the story would they tune back in. By having women talk to each other about something other than men, I was “losing the audience.”
Kesler ended up leaving film, deciding to “fight the system from without,” and I don’t blame her. As admirable as it can be to fight something from within, sometimes, there’s no point in staying in an institution, industry, or situation that’s dragging you down and making you miserable.
Kesler believes the men of her generation are better than Hollywood thinks they are. I have to agree. Although I see sexism on a daily basis, I also have a community in which men aren’t the juvenile, sexist zombies Hollywood claims are their target audience. The film industry can do better, and the sooner they realize that, the better.