Saturday, July 29, 2006

Non-Motherhood and Feminism. Party on.

Let me first express my deepest love for all of you. Now let me express my deepest hate for my modem, which might be the oldest modem in current use in all of Los Angeles. It has caused me to lose not one, not two, but THREE posts in process here at blogger. I am very dumb, see, and it takes me that long to go, oh wait, let’s type this shit up offline and THEN transfer it to the blog.

Oh, I am slick.

So let’s get right into it. No disclaimers here, because here at Mean Feminism, we don’t need no stinkin’ disclaimers:

I don’t want to talk about motherhood and feminism anymore.

That’s it for me. I’m done. I’m off. I have set sail into the non-mother sunset, and I have not child-proofed a damn thing on this boat.

There are two general ways you can look at this, if you want. You can go, being anti-mother is being anti-feminist, because all mothers are women. Or you can go, being anti-mother is a little fucked up, Edith, but it’s not anti-feminist because all women aren’t mothers. So, like, as Mr. Hassanali, my ninth grade geometry teacher would say, QED. Or except, not so much, since all I’ve proven is that I have two distinct sides of my brain arguing with themselves again. Oy.

In any event, I am not anti-mother. But what I AM “anti,” if you will, is the idea that feminism should be all about mothers all the time because other than getting our periods, the only other universal thing that nearly all women in all cultures do is have children. And we need to use motherhood as an issue to platform on, because we can reach more women with that appeal.

I get that. I do. But first, I’m tired of this “feminism is universal” thing because it seems to me, that, well, it isn’t. No matter how hard we try to position feminism as helping out all women all over, it isn’t. This is something that has to be done, to make feminism global, not something that can be discussed (and somehow, that makes it so, since we talked about it). And second, we can’t go around trying to break bread with all the family rights’ activists over motherhood because, let’s face it, a lot of them couldn’t give less of a damn about feminism. Motherhood issues are feminist issues are motherhood issues but they’re not ALL THE SAME THING. We all know that, we all believe that, so let’s stop pretending that we don’t.

If I’m losing you, let me bring you back home with some personal interjection and rumination. Do any of you remember when you first became feminists? If you’re like me, you don’t, because “feminist” was probably one of your first words and you may or may not have dressed up like Gloria Steinem for your fourth grade “Career Day” where you said you wanted to grow up to be an activist and a writer. (And you may or may not have been encouraged to dress up like her when you lamented to your mother that there were no cool Jewish girls with glasses to dress up as and your mom said but a-ha, indeed, there are. Another example of the greatness of mothers.)

But let’s say you do remember. When you first became a feminist, maybe someone made some comment about all feminists being lesbians. And maybe you shot something like this back: “No! Not all feminists are lesbians! They’re totally two different things! God! That is such a myth!” And then a few years later, when you were drunkenly coming out as a lesbian during your first semester at Grinnell College to a girl you had such a bad crush on you basically couldn’t think anymore, a girl that later became your best friend, Platonic life partner, and blogging buddy, it occurred to you in your drunken stupor that perhaps that kind of a reply made it seem like straight feminists wanted nothing to do with lesbian feminists, indeed, RESENTED lesbian feminists for going and GAYING UP feminism, resulting in said stereotype.

Kind of like those feminists that don’t do their makeup or their hair right or even AT ALL!!! They really fuck shit up for pretty feminists, or feminists that CARE about their physical appearance and don’t going around looking like such a, such a, such a DYKE.

Anyhoo. Back to motherhood. (Yes, I totally remembered that’s what I was purporting to be talking about. Totally.) If being stereotyped as gay and ugly wasn’t bad enough, feminists are stereotyped also as being anti-family, for some reason. Maybe it’s all the lobbying for childcare services, maternity leave, family planning, domestic violence shelters, etc. You know, all those “anti-family” things like that. So one of those things you do when you’re a feminist newbie is that you make a plea for “choice” and talk about how pro-family feminism is, and how it’s every woman’s choice to be a mother or not.

All well and good. Here’s where it gets tricky: because we are so fearful of that stereotype, because we are so adamantly clinging to “choice,” feminists are often very involved in motherhood issues and not involved at all, or even downright opposed to, issues facing childless women.

It’s gotten to the point, finally, where feminists feel comfortable supporting one woman’s right to abort and another woman’s right to give birth without blinking. We are all very comfortable debating fertility issues and abortion issues and breeding issues of all stripes. But single women, and women without children … well, what’s the issue, you might be thinking? Why bother with them? Isn’t it easier for them, anyway, not to have children?

It’s not easier. It’s different. It’s not easier to be a lesbian in a feminist community than a straight woman in a feminist community, either, gang. I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, and I’m sick of it. It must be easier to be a Black woman in a feminist community too, right? Because everyone wants to be friends with you and no one wants to exclude you!
When you have children, when you are straight, when you are pretty, you are definitely NOT immune to a ton of issues. You do, however, pretty much always have society’s thumb up in your direction. I want to talk about, for ten minutes or so, the people who don’t have society’s support, or even most feminists’. I want to talk about Ms. Stereotypical for just ten minutes, and how we can start bringing her back into the fray.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Shark In My Brain

Well, I hate to make a sad update after gushing over awesome comic books, but Edith and I have been feeling kinda down lately about the state of the world. Recently in Salt Lake City a 5 year old girl who lived a few doors down from one of my friends was taken out of her own backyard and killed by her 20 year old next door neighbor. My friend and I went for a walk the night before they found her and looked at the shrine people have made for her in front of her house. Candles fill the walkway, stuffed animals and pink ribbons have been hung from the trees. I spend a lot of time in her neighborhood walking around and riding bikes and I won't stop because of this, but it's one more thing to add to the haunted corner of my mind where I keep all the cruelties toward women and girls that have struck close to home and that make me feel like I am never truly safe no matter where I am.

I went to school in a tiny, tiny town with a little over 9,000 people and even there a girl I knew was raped and brutally beaten by a gang of men when she was walking home one night. I walked by the place where it happened every day. I watched how hard it was for her to move afterwards in a huge cast and brace. Another girl I know passed out at a party only to wake up with her entire body completely covered in magic marker epithets of "slut," "whore," "cunt." None of her friends at the party did anything to help her. I think about one of the strongest, smartest, most capable women I know standing at the front of the room during a Take Back the Night rally quietly crying as she read us a poem about sexual assault. I think about the long list in my head that never stops growing.

And worse than the stories I've heard first hand are the whispers, the rumors, the gossip where all the details are shadowy. I find myself paying close attention to the people around me at every party, watching the other women to make sure they are ok, watching the men to make sure they keep their distance. I find myself doing everything I can to calm down when I am walking around alone and it is dark. If I sit on the steps of this church for a little while, maybe I won't get raped. If I dress a certain way, maybe I won't get raped. Yet, I realize that it is much easier, much more comfortable to imagine deranged villains who lurk behind dark corners and down alley ways. It is better to let my heart race and my muscles get all tense when I am walking to my car at night, than to let anxiety overtake me every time I go on a date, every time I am alone with a man I'm supposed to trust, every time I'm supposedly among "friends." But I know it can happen anywhere and that each person I meet has the potential to be tremendously cruel.

The heart of my fear rests with the knowledge of that universal potential and every time I hear a new story to add to my list I remember how much men hate women. It's not just a matter of misunderstanding us, ignoring us, mistreating us accidentally. There is a shining, bubbling kernel of real hatred for women underneath all the seemingly benign, everyday sexism that it's so easy to shrug off or explain away. We live in a system where women are not considered human and treated as such. I wonder about the men I am friends with. I wonder if they have a haunted corner in their minds as well. I wonder if there is a place where despite what they think on an intellectual level, despite whatever they say and do, there is a mounting pile of evidence telling them that women are worthless, disgusting, alien. How does a 20 year old boy kill a 5 year old girl? How does a "nice guy" rape someone he's supposed to love? How do we allow ourselves to give into the impulse to do cruelty on another? How do we resist?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Wimmen's Comix

Since I was a teenager I've been a big dorky comic book fan. It started the way it usually does I suppose, with superhero comics. I loved to see the women in them taking names and kicking ass. My favorite was Rogue, the southern firecracker from X-Men (whose character the movies completely destroyed, for those of you not familiar with the comic).

She had the ability to steal anyone else's superpower from them just by touching them, with the unfortunate side effect that she could also never touch anyone with love or affection. But really what better feminist role model for a young girl than a woman that all the men could go crazy lusting after, but if they touched her they would FUCKING DIE? Sure, there's Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Gloria Steinem, but wouldn't you rather be Rogue on those nights when you're walking somewhere spooked out of your mind trying not to think about the girl that got raped a couple blocks away? Don't you too want to chill out in a skintight jumpsuit on a day-to-day basis without fear? Wouldn't it be fun to zap a guy all to hell when he tries to grope you on the bus?

As I've gotten older my love for comics has only grown, but I've slowly, steadily moved away from the tits and ass of superhero comics and into graphic novels, trying to get my hands on as much alternative, underground stuff as I can. The beautiful thing about comic books is that since they're for weirdos, nerds, and acne-riddled teenagers practically by their very definition, there's no need to puff your stories up into grand pretentiousness, be overly politically correct, or get worried about some insane backlash for saying something controversial. Because who cares? It's just a comic book. And in the meantime, that freedom opens the door for a lot of meaningful ideas and honesty to come through that we usually don't see on magazine stands and book shelves.

Naturally, it was a little difficult for me to find comics produced by women, especially in a store where a girl entering was akin to a giant red flashing alarm being set off. "Girl alert! Girl alert! Everybody be COOL Goddamnit!" Still, over the years I've managed to track down a whole slew of excellent women artists, many of whom are unabashedly feminist. For today's blog entry I thought I'd take a few moments and give you some recommendations because some of the best feminist literature I've ever read has been in comic book format. And since they're comic books, they don't get nearly the same level of press and buzz as regular feminist books.

First off, I want to suggest you pick up Trina Robbins' book, From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Women Comics from Teens to Zines if you're interested in reading the whole history of women in the comics industry.

Trina Robbins is the foremost expert on women within the comics and cartooning fields and this book is the most comprehensive history and guide to all the major women artists and writers out there. She was also highly involved in the original collaboration between feminism and comics during the Second Wave movement, editing the anthology called Wimmen's Comix that a huge number of women comic artists got their start with and in recently editing another all women anthology called Action Girl comics. Here's an adorable picture of the original Wimmen's Comix crew:

I would also like to recommend that you all go out right now and pick up a copy of Persepolis 1, Persepolis 2, or Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, an artist who grew up in Iran, but who was eventually sent to France to attend school and escape the mounting unrest there.

Embroideries is an especially good feminist read because it's about a group of women in her family having a conversation about gender roles, sexuality, and their lives. The beauty of Satrapi's work is that she uses a very simple drawing and writing style to expose sexism, racism, and imperialism in a way that shows why those things are harmful, while also demonstrating how they function as normal in daily life. It's a powerful mixture that's taught me a lot not just about her country and feminism, but also about the best way to get an important, delicate subject like the one she deals with across.

A collection of Roberta Gregory's edgy feminist comic books was recently released in a trade paperback titled Life's a Bitch.

Gregory is an artist who has also been around since the Wimmen's Comix days and she was most active with her art and feminism in the 70's, although she's still kicking around producing new stuff. Her main character is named Bitchy Bitch and she's meant to be a super concentrated manifestation of all the negative emotions that being a woman in a patriarchal society can produce. She can be hilarious, she can be annoying, and best of all, she can be very challenging. Bitchy Bitch is certainly a mean feminist if there ever was one. As a disclaimer, Bitchy Bitch is also a racist character. Gregory wrote her this way on purpose to expose some of the built in racist ideas that we all have, even feminists and to address how women can be turned against each other through that force. It's good to be aware that it's in there before you read it though.

And of course, it wouldn't be right not to mention the mean feminist queen and Edith's favorite, Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist by Diane DiMassa.

As the title suggests, DiMassa's work is certainly controversial and if castrating violence offends you in some way, you'd better steer clear of this one. We, however, just so happen to love it to death. If you've had a bad day, there's nothing like reading some Hothead Paisan to make you feel like you're not alone and somewhere out there, there is a lesbian avenger with a baseball bat just waiting to fuck shit up on your behalf.

Jessica Abel is a fantastic, younger artist who's major works are Art Babe, a soap opera for the arty hip set or La Perdida, her brand new book that was just released about the period of time she spent living in Mexico and the interesting characters she encountered there.

Abel's work isn't as explicitly feminist as the other women I've mentioned so far, but she is one in real life and I think that sensibility comes through.

A Child's Life by Phoebe Gloeckner is also definitely worth checking out, although it is also the most disturbing comic book I've ever read without a doubt.

I'm a little hesitant to recommend her to be honest, but I feel like it's important that I do. I'm not sure if Gloeckner thinks of herself as a feminist or not, but her subject matter is something I think all women are effected by and wrestle with. Her work is a mostly autobiographical account of the sexual abuse she dealt with growing up and how that effected her in devastating ways. She isn't shy about exploring the full psychological complexity of that experience even when it blurs our ideas of what a victim is and how they should feel about what they've been through.

It's so difficult for me to choose a favorite, but if I'm honest, Lynda Barry is mine.

She's written a whole heaping slew of books, some are semi-autobiographical and some center on a a particular group of characters, but almost all of them are about being a kid. She draws in a style that is very similar to how kids draw, but when Barry is talking about kids she certainly doesn't mean the Disney kind. The kids in Barry's books are just as mean, deranged, misguided, imaginative, weird, and hopeful as real kids are.

There's Alison Bechdel who wrote the marvelous series Dykes to Watch Out For about life among a group of lesbians.

She approaches her characters with a great sense of humor and a lot of honesty and warmth. Bechdel is one of those authors who clearly loves every one of her characters and would miss them if they ever went away.

Phew! Well, that's all for right now. There are lots more women to check out, but these are just some highlights. For anyone who wants to know how they can get involved in promoting comics by and for women and female comic readership, I recommend you check out the Friends of Lulu, devoted just to that very purpose. Happy reading, drawing, and ranting!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Some Thoughts on Beastiality and Relevance

So. BB's been talking about beastiality, with mixed responses, and I thought that I was going to weigh in with something insightful eventually, but I guess I don't have anything terribly insightful to say.

Of course, that has never stopped me in the past. And yes, I have something really mean to say. In fact, if you want to keep liking me, I suggest you stop reading this post right now.

I'll give you some space to think about it.

I don't care about animal rights.

There, I said it. Yes, I feel better getting that off my chest. Please don't misunderstand -- I think cruelty to animals is bad. But my care for animal rights falls, in the list of the top 100 of things I care about, somewhere around 99.

So it really bugs me when Biting Beaver makes an excellent, insightful post about beastiality being used primarily as a pornographic or sadistic weapon to hurt women and everyone spends time either talking about how such a practice is cruel to the ANIMAL or whether or not such-and-such radical feminist gave a shit about how animals were treated when the bigger issue, of course, is how human women are treated.

It also makes me sad to hear people dismiss my personal favorite of Andrea Dworkin's work, the great Woman Hating. Maybe I'm just biased, as it was the first work of hers that I read and I have a soft spot for "first works" of authors, but I really dug her arguments in favor of androgyny in the idea of the "ideal" androgynous society. I get much amusement at how such arguments and language has been co-opted by people who tend to call radical feminism "essentialist" and gender "performative" as though gender performativity was somehow related to anything other than very essentialist ideas about gender.

I mean, I do not buy whatsoever any reasoning that positions women "closer" to nature as men or any Paganistic-styled concepts about women being of the earth and the water and the sky. That said, I do not see human women as being separate from animals and I do not think we should ignore our responsibility to try not to fuck up the planet for the rest of the species out there as much as we already have. But, seriously, don't try telling me that women somehow have a keener sense of this responsibility, a "maternal instinct" if you will, about helping the Earth. Somehow, I think this is almost as presumptuous as a childfree woman telling a mother how to raise her child, or a man coming into a woman's group with brand-new ideas for the group's focus. I think Mother Earth really wants us to leave her the fuck alone, is what I think. But since we do have to clean up our messes, at least we can do so in a guilty and apologetic, "Sorry, dudette," way, instead of a santimonious, "I sing with Gaia!" kind of way.

But back to beastiality, and cruelty to animals in the larger sense. You know what? Honestly, isn't domestication sort of cruel? A whole ton of animals who aren't able to take care of themselves and have to rely on humans -- a WHOLE OTHER SPECIES -- to take care of them? I'm not talking about our efforts to bring up the panda population or some other species that we whoops, our bad, brought to near extinction. I'm talking about house pets. Nevermind what we're doing to farm animals for half a second -- what have we done to dogs and cats and horses*?

You see this problem of "animal cruelty"? And you see this problem of the response, "but they like it"? Fellow anti-pornsters, have we not heard this argument in other contexts?

I think my biggest beef (pun unintended) with animal cruelty issues is basically this: if this is your number one issue in life, then you are either really isolated or really lucky. It reminds me of yeshiva kids arguing about the specifics of whether or not this thing is truly kosher or not. However relevant that might be, it's probably not as relevant as at least 98 other topics for a Jew with his/her nose out of the Talmud.

Everything pretty much always comes back to the Jews for me. I should probably insert an "oy" here. Remind me to talk about why I think Godwin's so-called law is anti-Semitic.

*Yes, I realize that these animals are also sometimes "farm" animals. I mean to make a differentiation between animals used for labor and animals as pets. Sometimes "farm" animals are pets, and sometimes they're labor. You know what I mean. The point is, we do mention from time to time the idea as animal-as-labor as "cruel" but rarely do we mention this about pets. This makes me think that the idea of "cruelty" can be almost as subjective in respect to animals as it is to humans, in our minds.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

In Which I Rant About Periods, Inga Muscio, and Shulamith Firestone for What Won't Be the Last Time

No, I have not fallen off the face of the planet. I have been out of town and working and slowly preparing for my great big move from LA to San Francisco. This "preparation" includes such things as learning to appreciate such verbal modifiers as "hella" and pretending to hate Starbucks and love public transportation. I also have considered rethinking my wardrobe -- more hoodies and tennis shoes, less flip-flops and sunglasses. Yes, it's a process. I'm working on it.

Anyway, so unlike some of you, I have a period. It's a period that comes monthly, like periods often do, and lasts six to eight days on average. It is not a period that comes once every three months for two days. It is not a period that is heavy one month and "spotty" for three months after. My period is so goddamned regular, I figure if I ever miss one, I'm either pregnant or dying. Considering my sexual habits, I would probably be dying. So in that way, my period is a very real reminder that I am healthy enough not to be dying. Therefore, despite having a very regular, heavy period, I don't mind it so much.

That makes sense in my head, so since I'm brilliant, it should make sense in yours.

I know a lot of women hate women who compulsively say negative things about their (or others') periods. These "period police" (I know, I'm sad to be using such lazy phrasing too) spend a lot of energy talking about how woman-empowering and groovy periods are. I think that's a great thing, and honestly, women really SHOULD be taught to think of their periods as something other than automatically awful. But you know what I hate? I hate people who tell women how to feel about their periods, period (nyuk). (Of course, by "people" I mean women, because it goes without question that men should not be commenting on periods, ever.) I don't want to dwell on this really, but if some woman hates her period, instead of condescendingly telling her to "change" her mind, why not consider giving her some medical information that might be useful for her? Like, fuck heat pads. Fuck even birth control pills. Why not give information about endometrium ablations? Huh? Can anyone explain to me why puberty/sex education often includes mention that, oh yeah, birth control pills can totally help you with heavy/painful periods, but no one bothers mentioning the best methods ever? God forbid we fuck with a woman's fertility. Pain, whatever! You might not be able to give birth! THE HORROR!

I know that when I see those birth control commercials for the pill that gives you only four periods (that's its selling point, I believe), I get uncomfortable because, first off, if you're taking a pill in order NOT to get pregnant, wouldn't it be smart to keep your period so you, like, know you're not pregnant? That said, that's where people also add, "Yeah, and it's so NOT NATURAL for a woman to stop her periods!" To which I say, who says? Why not use the medical establishment for what few perks it actually has?

Let's dwell on this some more, actually. I remember when I read Cunt by Inga Muscio, I was conflicted about her arguments against birth control and medical abortions -- basically, she believes that women should not put their own natural selves in the hands of (generally) male doctors and should learn to control their bodies themselves. But does anyone, I wonder, tell MEN that THEY should learn to control their bodies themselves, naturally, and ignore doctors? And exactly why is the medical establishment so de facto bad? Whatever happened to the arguments that Shulamith Firestone puts forth in The Dialectic of Sex, that women basically need to use technology to medicalize their reproduction so that they can disassociate from giving birth as much as men can? Why, in this day and age, should women feel like they have to become their own medical expert when we are privileged not to have to shoulder that burden anymore, and can spend our time doing something else, like learning about things OUTSIDE of our bodies?

I'm not saying, lest you think I am, that we should be ignorant of our own bodies. I'm just saying that it's not a crime if we are not total experts on them to the point where we are able to induce our own abortions. It shouldn't be, like, wow, that poor ignorant fool, she has to go to a DOCTOR for HER abortion. Wow, she goes the unnatural route of getting an ABLATION instead of using meditation to make her pain go away. Let's not get comfortable with that line of thought, okay?