Bombshell Convert

I am a feminist. That means that I believe that a system exists in which men and women are judged and oppressed based 

on their gender or sexual orientation. Furthermore, being a feminist means actively doing something about it, be it protesting, educating the public, writing letters to my representatives, staying informed, and donating time, energy, and funds that go towards exposing and breaking down this system. I love this part of my identity: shedding the blinders of ignorance has not made me angry or depressed by reality, but only fires me up when I see injustice after injustice and all the opportunities that can be taken to end this oppression. Do I believe it can end? You betchya. Do I see the light at the end of the tunnel? Not today, but I believe that someday the gender binary will break down, gay weddings won’t be an affair “separate but equal” to straight weddings, and women and men will not be judged by their sexual prowess or lack thereof.

Alright, now that I have defined a huge part of my identity, I have a confession to make. I bought a bra a few weeks ago from Victoria Secret. That’s not the secret–I think that Victoria Secret is a great tool for empowerment, with a grain of salt. I did not walk into VS, ask a woman to size me, and then buy a bra that fits me that I like and feel confident in. My friend and I went to the semi-annual sale for one reason: to buy myself a Bombshell bra.

The Bombshell adds TWO WHOLE CUPS SIZES to your natural measurements.  Not only that, but you can buy this bra in the classic colors, making them simple and unadorned for work. They also come in outrageous designs : mine happens to be red with gold glitz all over it. Oh-ho, and I don’t hide this bra out of shame and embarrassment. In fact, I’m sure to pair it with low-cut shirts that are a little thin so that I can see the glimmer of the gold thread in certain lights. (Read: any light). I’m not ashamed of my Bombshell, but I’m also aware that I should be.

When I put this bra on, I feel, if only for a few seconds, in proportion. Desirable. Pretty. Like a smoking hot babe that any individual should hesitate to speak to because my beauty makes them nervous. I get over that feeling quickly, though, and move on with my day, but when I catch my reflection in a window or find a second to breath in the elevator that thought flashes through my head and I have a new source of confidence in my next step.

Now, I think to myself Girl, how much more shallow can you get?

This is part of the problem that weighs women against men: products that inspire you to take confidence and pride in physical assets that won’t bring you any savory benefit. I am not aspiring to be a historian because I believe I’m a solid 7. But if I think so highly of myself, why should I wear a bra that maybe helps me up the rankings? When I work so hard to talk to my younger girl cousins about how brave, smart, or wise the Disney Princesses were instead of how pretty and dainty, am I contradicting that lesson by wearing this piece of clothing that, literally, restricts my movement but also plays into a patriarchal society that demands its women to be bountiful in all the right places? What’s the point in declaring my feminism, now? It’s like taking two cup sizes up, and one cup size from my real source of confidence: my competence and intelligence.

For now, I’ve convinced myself that, because I am not in the dark about gender and sexual oppression in this country and because I believe that we all partake in perpetuating this system simply by existing in it, wearing this bra and continuing  my plans to live a feminist life do not contradict. Really, it doesn’t matter if I wear an enhancing bra right now while I read my favorite feminist blogs (feministing.com and jezebel.com). And it really shouldn’t matter that I feel good about how I look in a wireless, padded, or heavily lined bra while I take signatures for a petition or register people to vote. Because for now, I think there are bigger fish to fry than my choice to look feminine and wear the Bombshell.

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A Night at the Opera

Thanks for the parking lot pizzas

A few nights ago, I woke up at 3.30 in the morning to chants of “USA! USA! USA!,” a fight about a spilled drink, and the sound of voices that all together hummed like a swarm of tracker jackers. Wednesday night was College Night at the ever-so-famous Opera club; this being the week before the universities start up again, the club was packed with 18+ -year-olds. On the one hand, these nights are the hellacious reason why I never get a full night’s sleep Wednesday through Saturday. The fights, the shouts, the traffic, and the police lights all add up at about 3.00 in the morning and do not release me to sleep until 4.30, when the garbage truck makes its daily rumble through the ally.

On the other hand, club culture fascinates me. I am not really one to go clubbing unless it’s with my friends—I’m known for my wild and choreographed fits of fist bumps combined with bunny hops. But the clubs here in Atlanta are serious business and not the place to run your shopping cart moves or “Working on the farm” dance routine. No, the women get dressed up in outfits that must be stitched into their legs to keep them from riding up and the men never really seemed interested in dancing, only watching. The drinks are beyond expensive, the cover charge only applies to the modestly dressed women and every single man, and the music at one club competes with the music from another as if their respective DJ are kickboxing each other in the very street that divides them.

After a quick search on my library’s website, I realized that clubbing is far more complex than going out and dancing your woes away. Gender, race, sexuality, and class constructs are being built, challenged, then re-built, even as the clubbers wait in line. Men and women are expected to act a certain way, agreeing to a kind of unspoken exchange: that if a woman prepares herself in such a way that pleases the men, she gets the opportunity to have her night paid for. The men, in turn, vie for the distinction of being the least creepy guy there (an academic term, I’m sure) and entertain the women with dancing, anecdotes, treats, etc.

Several of the articles go on to discuss female subjugation and the degradation to women in this exchange; but if anything, it might be an uneven deal in favor of women. Since the early 1900s, women went to dance clubs dressed in the best their pitiful wages could afford them and sought out men to buy them food, drinks, and tickets with their still-pitiful-but-at-least-twice-as-much-wages, so that they could all participate in a popular culture.* They drew inspiration for their outfits, hairstyles and make-up, dance moves, and attitudes from a variety of sources, including the high-Victorian ladies, brothel houses, or across class lines. Over 100 years later, this is still a tradition perpetuated by this club culture. “Ladies Free of Charge,” “Ladies Nights,” and an atmosphere that encourages women to hook up with men were as typical of clubs in 1903 as in 2012, even though women now are making significantly more money (let’s compare the $.16 made in CA in 1916 to the $8.00 in 2008… you can’t even buy a caramel at the Walgreen’s with $.16). This implies that they are more capable than ever of buying their own drinks, covering their own admissions; they no longer need to rely on their partners to finance a night of booty shaking and regrettable facebook pictures.

Drop it, drop it low, ladies

I know this is probably a fantastically over-optimistic way of looking at a culture that puts the female body on display, reduced to a piece of curvacious meat; that encourages sexual abuse and rape (BFD, right Todd Akin?!); promotes hetero-norm social laws, slut shaming, and a generally distorted and big-bosomed image of what femininity ought to look and act like. I am still amazed that these age-old traditions persist. While we seek to close the pay-gap between men and women in the work force, social behavior still seems to be leaps and bounds behind rhetoric when it comes to gender equity. “Anything you can do, I can pay for, too” appears as an unlikely slogan for the next pussy riot.

Why I’m Not a Feminist

You’ve seen me around. You know that I get into that whole gender, race, and class deal. So it might surprise you to find that I do not consider myself a feminist. Why, you ask? Well here are a couple of examples of issues I have with the feminist movement.

Here the speaker makes the claim that feminism is just about equal rights for women. This is just not true.  Feminism has been more than that for a long, long time.

It has been my experience that the majority of contemporary feminists have a particular conception the nature and role of government (for example  demanding that maternity leave be codified into law or that pornography be banned), the way society is (“rape culture”), and the way people should interact with one another. I do not agree with many of those principles, so I cannot consider myself to be a feminist. That is pretty simple.

The second group of “gripes” I have with feminism can be anchored to this video:

The speaker here looks at this issue from a female perspective and fails to consider the male. This is a huge problem within the feminist movement. Take the trope in the video. In our society, men are seen as unable to control their sexuality. Because of this, we do not teach men how to control their sexual responses.

This leads to a world in which men may feel out of control of their own sexuality. Imagine being obviously, visibly responsive to a person who is psychologically unappealing, yet you have no control this response. Thus, the evil demon seductress might hit on men’s fears that they cannot control their physical reactions to something that is bad for them.

Considering the above interpretation of the “evil demon seductress” trope makes the discussion a little more dynamic, and we begin to understand things a little better. We get closer to the truth.

There is little attempt to understand the ways in which men are oppressed by gender in the feminist movement, and that deeply disturbs me. While I agree that men benefit from sexism more than women do, I do not think we should ignore the ways in which sexism affects men. Everyone should be able to live free of gender oppression, not just women.

I am not saying, nor will you ever hear me say that feminism is wrong, outdated, or unneeded. All genders owe a great debt of gratitude to feminists for putting down the groundwork for us. They questioned the social construction of gender, pushed for other genders to have voice, and got legal rights for their descendants. But it’s time for feminists to look beyond the tree, begin to see the forest and realize that our gendered society goes beyond the feminist construct of the world. We will never reach gender equality — even for women — if we keep making these mistakes.

Don’t Buy Me a Drink: Girls and the Guys Who Buy Them Stuff

I'm good. Thanks though, T Pain!

We all know I’m kind of a feminist, even though I’m as reluctant to admit that as I am to admit that I kind of love ABC’s latest well-produced skim-latte froth of rhinestone twangin’ television, GCB. So it’s hardly a surprise that Kat and I have had an ongoing discussion about a classic topic of feminist whinging for about a month now: the eternal conundrum of men buying you stuff.

The discussion pivots on two particular conversations. The first occurred when I mentioned that I’d met a guy I was, in the parlance of our times, hollerin’ at. “Make sure you get him to buy you dinner first!” Kat warned. The second occurred when I mentioned I was looking forward to getting drunk that night, because it was a day ending in y. “What you need to do is get guys to buy you drinks,” Kat said. I know Kat means well, and she was only trying to help me have fun and drink cheap. But in the pursuit of making girls and guys treat each other with a little less awfulness, I’m curious about the effect of these default assumptions.

Our first conversation negotiated the assumption that a guy should buy a girl dinner before trying to get her out of her sparkly tissue of a dress. Kat probably meant that a girl should get to know a guy better — by eating a meal with him, perhaps — before taking him home with her.  The idea that a dude should plonk down some cash before leaning in and puckering up is hardly uncommon. It’s present in the second situation that triggered our debate: implying that I should use a man’s generosity to chase a buzz when I can very well buy my own drinks reinforces the assumption that guys should buy pretty girls things, basically for no reason.

By implying a guy should buy you dinner before going in for a kiss frames a really backward kind of transaction in regards to women and their ability to want sex and choose it rationally. You are never obligated to sleep with anyone in any situation you don’t clearly, distinctly want. And okay, maybe a guy is trying to get you to like him by being nice and buying you a drink. But by subscribing to the idea that he is obligated to buy you something before you can be expected to kiss him back is kind of like him thinking he shouldn’t have to marry you unless you have a dowry of silver spoons and blanket chests to bring with you into the marriage.

That's nice of you, but I can buy my own drinks.

The problem here is not magnanimous guys who buy a round for the table, or non-sexual or non-romantic relationships. Buying drinks for each other is awesome! But a woman should be able to want sex, say it, and get it without the man buying her anything — or her friends telling her she’s easy because she didn’t get a $12 salad in addition to the main course (if you know what I mean). If you are interested in the guy, you shouldn’t manipulate him into buying you things just because it’s in your arsenal of feminine whiles. If you aren’t interested in a guy and you let him buy you a drink, you are reinforcing the idea that women are conniving, unkind, and only want sex if it’s about something else.

The assumption goes that girls can only want sex if it will make a guy date them, or if it will make a guy tell them they are pretty, or if it will make a guy buy them shit. One of the most important tasks of feminism is to challenge the idea that sex for women is always about something other than sex. It’s a pervasive assumption — one that is, stated frankly, demeaning and backward and wrong. A man does not need to buy you a drink before you can want him. In addition to making sex a capitalist transaction, it also robs a woman of her ability to want sex without everyone thinking she really wants love/validation/a free salad.

Women Talking to Women, and Why It’s Important

Commenting on my post on Zooey Deschanel’s totally irritating perfection and the problematics of resenting her for it, one reader wrote:

“This conversation and almost every conversation on here makes me confused about feminism. From what I’m hearing, I’m pretty sure I hate modern-day feminists, especially if they question my polka dots. Will someone please write what modern-day feminism means to them?”

I’ve been putting off responding to that comment, partly because I chafed at the phrase “hate modern-day feminists,” but mostly because I’ve been having trouble coming up with a way to define my very complicated, nuanced, and sometimes fraught relationship with “feminism,” its definition(s), and its role in my life. Five or six years ago, I don’t think I would have called myself a feminist, partly because I thought that would impress boys (believe me, you do not want to be dating the kinds of boys who’d be impressed by that statement) and partly because feminism seemed like a lot of hollering about injustices that I didn’t see, or really feel part of.

College, my early twenties, and generally living life in the wider world changed me drastically, and among other things, brought me around to perhaps a more modern, less bra-burning brand of feminism, with which I now feel aligned. But how to define that? There are so many things I could say about what feminism means to me. In part, it’s about something I might, if pressed and at some kind of camp, call “sisterhood” – that is, the value of supporting, and of deeply loving, other women and celebrating rather than cutting them down. It is the rejection of the notion that women need to hurt or step on other women to get ahead in a “man’s world,” and the assertion that instead of trying to beat each other at a game someone else invented for us, we need to work together to forge a world in which there aren’t just one or two slots into which all of us are meant to fit.

It’s also about allowing for, and indeed embracing, all types of womanhood, from, yes, a love of polka dots to a penchant for short hair and cargo shorts. It’s about not letting ourselves be told that either of those modes are wrong, or don’t represent womanhood in the appropriate or most flattering way. It’s about our right to be represented in debates about our bodies and our health care, and (at least for me) about our right to make safe choices about our bodies without undue and ridiculous measures being put in place to hinder those choices.

As I was struggling to articulate all this (I still am struggling, and I know my meagre definitions don’t even scratch the surface of what feminism can do and mean for women), I came across the video above. It’s a little longer than your average YouTube clip, but seriously, watch it, especially if you’re trying to formulate a definition for modern feminism.

Because, at its core, it’s about women talking to women. And as the video, and the Bechdel Test on which it’s based, point out, that’s simply not happening enough. Not in our pop culture (though TV blows film out of the water when it comes to passing the test), not in our politics, and maybe not even in our daily lives. Although the Bechdel Test is not necessarily the only, or even the best way to gauge the overall feminist slant or success of a piece of art or culture, for me, it’s a really good place to start. Women sharing with women about issues in their lives other than men is perhaps the most important, the most basic and grassroots, and the most alive way of sharing “feminism,” whatever that means for you or your best friend or your mom or grandma or professor or sister or hairdresser or accountant or any of the other women you interact with.

So I guess what I’m trying to say to that commenter, who wanted to know why we hated her polka dots (we don’t — they’re adorable) and what we thought a feminist looked like is simply this: Ask. Talk to the women you love about what they’re about and what they’re trying to accomplish in the world, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of what feminism means today.

Love Her or Hate Her, Let’s Let Zooey Be Zooey

My enormous deer eyes command you to think I'm the cutest.

Want to really get the War of the Sexes going? Sure, you could bring up the Big Issues — a woman’s right to have access to birth control, the dangers and idiocy of slut-shaming, everything that Rick Santorum has ever thought about anything, etc.

Or you could just mention Manic Pixie Dream Girl and #1 on your friends’ and lovers’ “can-bang” list (I promise you, this is true), Zooey Deschanel.

Zooey has become a deeply polarizing figure on the battlefield we call gender. Men seem universally to love her, while women have decidedly mixed feelings. Sure, she’s cuter than a tiny pig in tiny boots or a corgi in a sweater or a sloth doing literally anything or (well, you get the idea). But it’s that kind of cute that makes you sort of want to push her off a building, just to see if her teensy polkadot dress and massive doll hair catch her like a parachute, amirite?

Just take her character in her new TV show, “New Girl.” Jess, who is basically just Zooey playing herself, is a grade school teacher who wears adorable oversize glasses, sweet little dresses, sings to herself constantly, loves to be nice to strangers, and bakes cupcakes in almost every episode. And her three male roommates? Are they pining slavishly over her, competing to be her ironic sweater vest-wearing, facial hair-having, fixed gear bike-riding boyfriend? Nope. They think she’s weird and awkward and they are embarrassed by her.

In the sage words of my significant other, “That would literally never happen.”

The problem many ladies (myself occasionally included) have with Zooey is that she perpetuates an impossible ideal of womanhood, all while getting to portray herself as “edgy” and “quirky” and “outside the norm.” By that, she must just mean outside the norm of the 21st century, because these days, most women simply don’t have time to bake and craft that much. But in her own awkward-girl way, Zooey perpetuates a male fantasy — simultaneously infantilized and sexual, embodying the virgin-whore dichotomy, domestic and mysterious, cute as a button and utterly unattainable — that no one can possibly live up to. And more to the point, that no one should want or need to. We can’t all be expected to bike through the over-saturated scenes of our lives in sundresses emblazoned with hearts, and still accomplish anything. Zooey makes us feel like we should be a certain way, which is anathema to so many of us who were raised with strong, do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to female role models and senses of ourselves. At the same time, she makes us want to be that way. It’s exhausting.

But as much as Zooey Deschanel, and everything she seems to embody about fetishized cuteness, irks me, I have to say something really important. It’s not okay to hate her for being who, it seems, she really is.

To put it another way: There’s this amazing “30 Rock” episode called “TGS Hates Women.” In an effort to make the writing staff of TGS a little more balanced, Liz Lemon brings in a female comic to write. Unfortunately, as Liz soon finds, she is not the edgy, girl power type. Instead, she has long, straight blonde hair styled in porny pigtails and acts, dresses, and talks like a naughty infant. Liz ham-fistedly tries to get the new girl to be her “real self,” only to unwittingly reveal her identity to her psycho-stalker ex. Liz looks stupid, and everyone learns an important lesson: Feminism, and liberation, and all the things our foremothers and we ourselves have fought for, means being allowed to be whoever the hell you are.

Even if who you are is a sex-crazed infant who calls everyone “Daddy.” Even if who you are is a retro bombshell who just wants to make cupcakes for boys and has farm animals on her checks .

On a recent episode of “New Girl,” called “Jess and Julia,” the writers and Deschanel herself tackle all the Zooey haters in a surprisingly winning, funny way. The haters are collectively portrayed by the amazingly amazing Lizzy Caplan (Janice Ian from “Mean Girls,” among other memorable roles), a hot-shot lady lawyer named Julia who thinks Jess’ whole schtick is exhausting. Jess, however, doesn’t know she’s doing a “schtick,” and lets Julia know, in a fairly awesome monologue, how much bullshit it is to judge another woman about the way she presents herself.

And it is bullshit. Zooey Deschanel, like the rest of us comparably lucky American women, was born into a half-century that would have allowed her to be just about anything — from a hot-shot lady lawyer to a Supreme Court justice to a stay-at-home mom and food blogger, and anything in between. She has chosen a certain vibe, aesthetic, worldview, and set of interests. She has decided to be Zooey Deschanel, and we should be nothing but psyched for her. This doesn’t mean we have to be her, or make the choices she’s made, or embody the kind of womanhood she embodies. But it does mean we should let her be, and be proud of her success, and maybe occasionally sing show tunes while riding a bike in a sundress. You know, if we feel like it.