Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Impact of Background

There is apparently a popular Irish joke of this guy coming to a roadblock during The Troubles. The militants at the roadblock as him his religion and he says "atheist." The militants talk amongst themselves, then ask him "Protestant atheist or Catholic atheist?" It may be a sad joke but it sums up how important one's background is. A Protestant atheist (an atheist of a Protestant background) would have different values, at least when it comes to disbelieving, than a Catholic atheist. And a Hindu atheist would be radically different! Where you come from, no matter how far away you are from it, affects how you approach things now.

The impact of background affects more than just religion, it works with fluid gender and sexual orientation. I strongly identify as genderqueer and my background of woman/lesbian affects my approach today, so I'm most accurately a female-to-queer. Had I come from the background of a man, I'd approach things differently. Coming from an intersexed or gender-free background would have been...optimal. Anyway, I'm usually most comfortable with feminine pronouns, the women's washroom, etc. because I'm used to it. Sometimes I'm frustrated that there are too few non-binary options; it's frustrating enough being perceived as a woman in the first place since this isn't exactly an egalitarian culture! A lot of transsexuals who "successfully pass" experience culture shock as they have to change how they approach things.

I'm usually comfortable functioning as a lesbian since that's my background and it's a lot easier to give the short answer "I'm a dyke" to n00bs than the long explanation "I'm genderqueer and I'm primarily attracted to fellow genderqueers...oh, you haven't heard the term before...etc." And then they get confused when I ogle Chris Colfer...I mean...what?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All -isms are Bullying

In the second edition of her book, CUNT, Inga Muscio admits “I am most often aware that I am a woman when I feel threatened...” In the same vein, Simone de Beauvoir quipped that one is not born but, rather, becomes a woman. What unites roughly half the population is not genitals, chromosomes nor hormones and what turns a child into a woman is not menstruation, penetration nor childbirth. No, it's the shared experience of playing second banana, as it were.

Whether you're overlooked because you're a woman or you're picked because you're a pretty woman, the problem remains the same. And this problem has been rampant the world over for millennia; it unites generations of women more strongly than any reproductive function. In this harsh world of competitive and weak human beings, man* needs to make somebody #2 in order to keep himself #1. Who better than not-man? And there are many women who push someone else, a masculine woman or a feminine man or someone else entirely (or even a prettier, more feminine woman!), into #3. This is what puts the “sexism” into “heterosexism”: insecure people pushing down queer people just to ensure that they're the ones rising up. It's bullying, all the -isms are just bullying on a larger scale!

There are women who claim to never have experienced sexism. They're either extremely privileged and cloistered or blind to, well, everything. It begins when parents proclaim upon birth “that's not a penis, bring out the dolls and pink frilly dresses!” for one and “that's a penis, give him a toolbox and blue overalls!” It is a privilege, usually tied to class, to have been brought up and then to continue in adulthood otherwise: not as a #1, a #2 or as any rank at all.

* I don't mean all or even most men, nor even just men in general. Clearly, Phyllis Schlafly has done more to perpetuate heterosexism than RuPaul.

Women Leaders of the World

Countries that have had women prime ministers: Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Norway, Poland, Netherlands Antilles, Pakistan, France, Bangladesh, Turkey, Burundi, Rwanda, South Korea.

Countries that have had women presidents: Argentina, Bolivia, Iceland, the Philippines, Ireland, Haiti, Guyana, Latvia, Panama, Finland, Chile, Liberia.

What's keeping us behind?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


If you're female and can read this, thank feminism.
If you're nonwhite and can read this, thank civil rights activism.
If you're below the upper-middle class and can read this, thank socialism.

Literacy is extremely powerful and privileged. Tyrannical ruling classes know well to either limit the literacy of their peons or provide brainless propaganda to them. Out of the oppressed classes, the educated effectively rebel (as opposed to those with nothing left to lose, who lash out and make everyone look bad).

If you can read this, thank the minute probability that you were born into the right time period, location and culture. It is class privilege that allows you to read this now.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Second Sex Part 1

I tried to read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir a few years ago but couldn't make it past the first 20-some pages. Crazy stuff was going down with my dad at the time and everything that I was reading seemed to refute his arguments (why didn't I just send him a copy? Because I didn't want to participate in the destructive conversation he attempted to initiate). Now that I'm in a much better place, I'm picking up The Second Sex again and can fully concentrate on it.

In the book, British poet and novelist Steve Smith is quoted as saying of de Beauvoir “She has written an enormous book about women and it was soon clear that she does not like them, nor does she like being a woman.” Granted, I haven't made it far enough in the book to have an opinion on that but it strikes me as odd that this is considered critique. In A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the authors clearly don't like most women. Had I been a straight nursing major rather than a queer art major, I would have loathed women too! Some women aren't aware of their option to live autonomously or they're afraid to take that risk. If anything, de Beauvoir's alleged opinion on women would have supported her cause: why would you want to help people who you think are doing just fine? And sometimes, more often than not if you don't have a good network or haven, it really sucks being a woman.

De Beauvoir states “In truth, to go for a walk with one's eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different.” And when the second class uses these signifiers to entice the first class, you get heterosexism. When a member of the first class chooses a member of the second class to be his, he transfers some benefits of his class unto her. And there is intense competition within the second class (see next paragraph). Walking in certain areas will reveal a third class of individuals who combine and/or reject those binary signifiers and are just fine with autonomy.

From there is the idea that most minorities (and majorities...) refer to their class as “we” but that women don't consider themselves as such. Women say “women” rather than “we” except for a few strident feminist situations. I believe that the root of our lack of solidarity is this competition. I've been there, I feared what would happen should my future husband get stolen from me; it's very scary to think that you could lose both a loved one and your elevator out of spinsterhood if a woman better than you comes along. And second-classhood is so ingrained that many women, as stated above, aren't aware of or fear the autonomy of spinsterhood (or a marriage that involves autonomy).

In some circles, women are uncomfortable with my use of “we” in reference to womanhood*. Because I've rejected heterosexism, I'm the Other's Other. It's fully understandable why queer people – including straight couples with “reversed sex roles” - are considered a third gender. If both ends of the gender binary comprise the two classes, then those who don't fit on the binary form a third class. Socially, we queer people don't fit in to their game. We can't relate to the woman who drops out of school to marry young, before she's old enough to lose her man to someone younger, and has kids to entrap him. We can't relate to the woman who picks Danielle Steele over Stephen Hawking because she fears intimidating her man, whose credit card she uses to buy the book in the first place.

What's really sad is how little has changed since 1952 when this was originally published. More posts to come as I progress through the book!

* - my gender is fluid, there are times that I identify as a woman and times that I don't. I am usually perceived as a woman by men and as something else by women, who often end up surprised how much I can relate to them as far as womanhood goes.