Category Archives: Gender

Yes, I just watched all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-TV-Series

I finally got around to watching every single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and these are my feelz.

1) Why did I ever think this show was going to be scary? Except for Hush. Hush was terrifying.

2) SMG is a goddess.

3) Spike me!

4) Idk that Joss Whedon deserves any feminist/progressive merit badges for this one…

I decided to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer because I liked Firefly (yes I’m one of THOSE people) and because the blogosphere can’t seem to shut up about Joss Whedon and whether or not he’s a feminist and because it’s consistently referred to as one of the most influential sci-fi/fantasy shows of recent times.  Watching it made me feel simultaneously excited and disappointed. I LOVED how much ass Buffy was kicking, and SUPER LOVED Willow in all her ways and shapes and forms, but there were also moments where I felt like annoying sitcom gender tropes were being trotted out for an easy laugh, not to mention several not-so-insignificant race fails that made me want to bang my head against the wall (head banging was in in the 90s, right?). Even harder for me to watch, even as I was shipping, was the Buffy-Spike relationship- it sort of felt like “but he had no soul” was the new “but he wasn’t himself bc drugs/alcohol/rage” re: rape attempts. This plus the enormous rape fail that was Dollhouse (look, I enjoyed it but we all have to admit that it was total shit on rape) does not make me feel like throwing Joss Whedon a big ol’ feminist parade.

Does Buffy deserve the hype? I think so- although as the boyf pointed out to me it has definitely profited from the Netflix-fueled nostalgia bump. It’s campy and it knows it (much like Sleepy Hollow these days), but also manages to grapple with issues like grief, death, immortality, and loneliness, and to do it over time. I appreciated that the problems that the characters were facing didn’t magically resolve themselves in each episode and that there were actually long-term consequences for their actions. I think the concept of Buffy as an uber-progressive show doesn’t weather well, especially given its conspicuous lack of diversity and tendency to make people of color into mystical tribal beings.

Exhibit A: The First Slayer

first slayer

Not pictured: Mystical Inca Mummy Princess, Mystical Warrior Companion, and Mystical Angry Native American.

That being said, Buffy showcased a diverse (but not racially) range of female characters who had their own lives and livelihoods, who loved or didn’t love, who were strong, who were insecure, who were snarky, who were naive, who wore high heels, who wore ratty jeans, and sometimes all of those things at once. It’s kind of sad that this is a huge achievement, but it is still hard to find TV shows or movies or even books where there are a lot of women characters who are distinguishable from one another. And really, those shows didn’t exist until fairly recently (ALL HAIL QUEEN SHONDA). If you poke around in the 90s and early 2000s you can find some really well-developed teen female characters on TV- Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life come to mind, but those girls still sort of orbit around the men in their lives. Buffy pulled men into her orbit. She filled her inner circle with men AND women, and those men and women had relationships with her and with each other that weren’t all about sex. And in a society that still doubts that men and women can be friends, that’s pretty radical.

Grade: B+ for Buffy + Spike, no matter what SMG says.

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Racism, Sexism, and Prepositions, or The Chaos Arrows Theory of Oppression

When we talk about racism or sexism, we often use the construction “x is racist against y” or “y is sexist towards x” (genetic pun mostly intentional). We add a preposition to the verb phrase “is racist” or “is sexist” in order to clarify who or what is being discriminated against. By doing this, we give “is racist” or “is sexist” a directional component. Racism and sexism are going from one place to another; they originate in one location and travel to a different one.

We typically assume that racism and sexism travel certain paths, that is, from whites to minorities or from men to women, hence, the existence of phrases like “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism.” Racism and sexism become weapons launched from one camp into the massed forces of another. Direction begins to imply intent.

It doesn’t really work that way.

In real life, racism and sexism look less like x—–>y and more like this stock photo that popped up when I google image searched “chaos arrows,” except that this stock photo isn’t the frat boy at the CEOS and Office Hoes party who will someday write your 78%-of-what-your-male-coworker-makes paycheck WOMP WOMP WOMP.

Issues with the directional model of racism and sexism:

1) In this model, every time you use the words racist and/or sexist, you’re implying that an attack has occurred.

2) Instances of racism and sexism therefore look like attacks.

3) As such, instances of racism and sexism are intentional and obvious.

4) Racism and sexism, as attacks, must be directed from one group towards another group. You can’t attack yourself.

It may seem obvious that the statements listed above are, among other things, dead wrong, but unfortunately, this black-and-white (harrdeeharrharr) conception of what racism and sexism are seems to be popular, if not predominant, among the denizens of this earth, particularly those denizens who coined the terms “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism.”

Racism and sexism are not bullets, they’re an enveloping fog of tear gas that you can’t dodge, that you can’t outrun, that clouds everyone’s eyes and judgment, and yeah, that affects some people more severely than others, but regardless is screwing with everybody. Only, it’s been around for so long that some people don’t even know it’s there anymore, and some people think that since it’s always been there, it should stay there, and some people are rolling around on the ground choking, but half of the other people can’t see them, and the other half of the other people think they’re faking, and basically racism and sexism suck, so yeah.

The Tear Gas/Stock Photo Chaos Arrows Theory of Race/Gender Oppression:

1) Racism and sexism are friggin EVERYWHERE. Sometimes the arrows go x–>y, sometimes y–>x, sometimes you throw them straight up in the air and they come back down and splatter all over you and your friends and goshdarnit, you just ruined Becky’s favorite shirt, douchebag.

2) That’s right, folks, you can be racist/sexist against your own race or gender. Men are sexist against men alllll the time (some of these behaviors overlap with homophobia) and women are sexist against women alllll the time. Asians can be racist against Asians, blacks against blacks, and so on and so forth.

3) You can also send racist/sexist tear gas farts towards your friends, family, romantic partners, and/or favorite articulate black politician. JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE SOMEONE DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE OF FARTING ON THEM.

4) Sometimes when you’re standing in a huge fog of racist tear gas you do something to fan more racist tear gas into someone’s eyes, and maybe you didn’t mean to do it, but you still did it and now some guy is choking on his own mucus, thanks. Translation: you can be racist or sexist without intending to do so, but the fact that you didn’t mean to doesn’t make it ok. 90% of the time (in my experience) racist people are not sitting around thinking “I’m going to say something racist” when they’re saying something racist.

5) Sometimes the chaos arrows are INVISIBLE  because there is SO MUCH TEAR GAS (I am mixing metaphors, deal with it). Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

6) Because racist/sexist tear gas is a gas, it’s kind of hard to contain/kind of impossible to get rid of on your own, but you can wear a gas mask, and you can get your friends to wear a gas mask, and maybe if enough people start wearing gas masks enough people will be able to see and breathe that they’ll be able to build some sort of huge anti-racist/sexist tear gas vacuum and suck it all out of the sky or something. So like, talk about shit. And call people on their tear gas farts, because maybe they don’t know they’re doing it and you can give them some Privilege-Pepto or maybe they do know they’re doing it, in which case you can ostracize them because no one wants to be friends with someone who farts on other people on purpose. That’s just not cool, man.

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The Only Thing Worse Than a Disney Princess is a Disney Prince

But seriously, y’all.

The traditional Disney Prince has about as much sparkle and panache as something completely lacking in sparkle and panache. He has  a creative name like “The Prince” “Prince Charming” “Prince Phillip” “Prince Eric” or “Prince Adam” (that’s the actual name of the Beast, apparently), and no personality. Ok, well, the Beast has a personality, but the only thing anyone else does is be obsessively fixated on some girl he met once in the woods.

Has anyone ever thought that maybe the reason that little boys (generally) don’t like playing princess games is because there’s nothing for them to DO? What prince is actually interesting enough that a little boy would want to dress up like him? What prince actually does anything that a little boy (or anyone for that matter) would want to do? Hey, Mom, today I’m going to roleplay as Prince Charming. I will stand stiffly in a corner and watch my minion put shoes on women. Then I will be Prince Eric and float on some driftwood. Then I will be an abusive alcoholic, sorry, I mean, I will be the Beast.

I mean, yeah, there’s a couple of cool fights, but mostly being a Prince is about being in the right place at the right time with a willing pair of lips. It’s about falling in “love”for no reason. It’s about being a plot point, a blank slate, a projection screen. These men don’t have journeys or emotional arcs (or emotions), they just have thrones, pretty faces, and nothing else to do with their time. Their only reason for existence is to save the girl, so what are they supposed to do when the girl no longer needs saving? Talk to her? (Seriously, does anyone else find it disturbing that when Eric falls in love with Ariel, she is MUTE?)

Stupid message #1: Little girls, these shallow men with no personalities deserve to be loved for no other reason than that they are there.

Stupid message #2: Little boys, the way you get to be loved is to be a shallow man with no personality who does the “right” things. 

Why, hello there, Nice Guy Syndrome!

Stupid message #3: The way for little boys to find meaning in their lives is to save a woman. Woman=answer to your life problems.

Stupid message #4: Men don’t need to be saved. 

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The thoughts that go through my head when you tell me that I should “be careful” around a guy.

1) Trapper-keeper SHUT

2) What does that even mean?

3) I’m assuming that you mean that he’s too sexually aggressive.

4) I’m assuming that this means that you’ve seen him be too sexually aggressive.

5) Did you do anything when you saw him be too sexually aggressive?

6) What happened to that girl?

7) How many times have you seen him be too sexually aggressive?

8) What happened to those girls?

9) Do you tell all the girls this, or just your friends?

10) Do you watch him at parties to make sure that he’s not too sexually aggressive?

11) Why is it my responsibility to be careful around him instead of his responsibility to not be sexually aggressive?

12) Would you help me if he was being too aggressive, or would you assume that since you warned me, our encounter must be consensual?

13) Have you ever said anything to him?

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“Don’t Make this Personal” or, Things People Say to Preemptively Shut You Up

Dear world,

My concerns about race, gender, and class inequality are personal insofar as they affect me, but are not “about me.” They are not an ego trip. They are not an excuse to whine and complain and make myself out to be a victim. They are not “about me.”

Note: I’m using the example of rape jokes because I think it’s the easiest to sympathize with and requires less of me revealing personal info/situations, but I’ve been told not to make things personal/be so sensitive about pretty much every issue under the sun. 

Me calling you out on your rape joke is personal insofar as whenever I walk alone in the dark or in an unfamiliar place I have a constant internal monologue going in which I identify potential rapists, feel bad about identifying them as potential rapists, wonder why I’m identifying them as potential rapists, and then see a white van and freak the fuck out. So yeah, rape affects my daily life (in a way that is thankfully insignificant in comparison with the experiences of others, but still sucks), so yeah, I guess rape is personal.

But I’m not calling you out on your rape joke because you hurt my feelings, I’m calling you out on your rape joke because I don’t want you repeating it to a rape survivor. I don’t want it scrolling on the newsfeed of the mother or father or brother or sister of a rape survivor. I don’t want you telling that joke to someone you don’t know is a rapist, because I don’t want you laughing with a rapist about a crime that destroys lives, because I don’t want you reinforcing the idea that rape is hilarious, that it’s not a big deal, that it’s not something that happens to “people like us.” Your test didn’t rape you. That c*nt in your knee-slapper of a story didn’t ask for it. Rape isn’t an oopsies. Raping mentally handicapped individuals isn’t funny. Raping old women isn’t funny. Raping men isn’t funny.

Me calling me out on your rape joke is not about me. It’s not about you, even. It’s about living in a world in which at least half the population lives in fear of a crime that, once perpetrated, they will be blamed for, shamed for, or simply ignored. And don’t even bother with that free speech shit. You use your free speech to tell your rape joke. I use mine to tell you that you’re being an ass. And if you want an example of a joke about rape that isn’t terrible in all ways, shapes, and forms, check out my second paragraph. 

That’s problem number one.

Problem number two:

So what if it is personal? What is it about my feelings that invalidates my opinion on the appropriateness of your rape joke? Let’s be real, here, the subtext is that I’m being too emotional, illogical, and/or “crazy,” and therefore am wrong. My feelings are wrong because they are not your feelings and the existence of my feelings makes you feel squicky inside because you like to think of yourself as a good person and you don’t like to think that you could say things that would offend others and my feelings are evidence that that particular conception of yourself is just not true. So you say “Don’t make this personal,” because that way the fact that you just upset me is my fault. And if I keep talking, if I get angry, I’m just proving your point. Once you’ve cast aspersions on my motivations, there’s no way for me to respond that disproves your claim, other than shutting up. And if I shut up, you win.

If we were to do a little role reversal, this is roughly the equivalent of me calling you a shitfaced douchebag, you telling me that I hurt your feelings, and me accusing you of infringing upon my God-given right to call you a shitfaced douchebag by having your feelings hurt. Your feelings are wrong. You shouldn’t be offended by me insulting you. You should suck it up and deal with it. Stop talking. Oh, you’re still talking? U MAD? U MAD?

“But “shitfaced douchebag” is an insult! I was just joking!” you say. Ok cool, so let’s say that your dad has testicular cancer and I’m making jokes about how he’s going to lose his dick, and there’s actually a possibility that he might and, more than that, testicular cancer runs in your family and someday you might get it too and you actively worry about this possibility every day. Maybe my intention isn’t to offend you or make you feel bad, but if you ask me to stop making dick jokes, it’s a dick move on my part to keep going. It’s an even bigger dick move to tell you to shut up and stop taking things personally. It’s the biggest of all dick moves to accuse you of being petty and/or hysterical for continuing to speak.

“Stop talking,” you say. “Don’t make this personal.”

Subtext: The things you are saying are making me feel uncomfortable.

Funny, isn’t that what I just said to you?

Best,

That Girl

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A Brief Meditation on Gender and Language

The Chinese character for good is 好 (hao). As you probably all know, Chinese characters started out as simple pictograms that later graduated to ideograms and so on and so forth. The two pictograms that are incorporated in the ideogram for “good” are 女 (nü) and 子 (zi), meaning woman and son, respectively. So whoever came up with the character for good way back in the day thought to himself, “What is goodness?” and the answer that he came up with was that goodness is a woman and a son.

In a way, this is sweet–the importance of family is inscribed in the word for good–but it’s also loaded. If goodness is a woman and a son, what does that mean for gay people or daughters or people who don’t want families?

Gender is also inscribed in Romance languages, Arabic, Korean, and other languages that have gendered nouns, verbs, or required modes of addressing people of different statuses/family relations. Other than the heshehimher pronoun problem, English is actually one of the least gendered languages on the planet, which makes it particularly suited to dismantling and discussing issues of gender and sexuality in inclusive ways.

But what to do when every word you say enforces a gender binary? What do you do when your language doesn’t have a non-derogatory word for gay? How do you identify as something that there is no word for?

I don’t have answers…this is after all, a brief meditation on gender and language. But as our conceptions of gender and sexuality continue to change and evolve, these are questions we will have to answer.

Your assignment for the week: Come up with a good unisex pronoun. My idea? Ta, which in spoken Chinese is the same for men and women. It’s only when it’s written that it becomes gendered–他 for men, 她  for women.

 

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Intersectionality and Fear

I was at the gas station yesterday getting, guesswhatnokidding, gasoline. When I got out of my car, I noticed a group of middle-aged white men sitting on the back of a pick-up truck and cussing. Like realllly cussing. And the whole time I was getting gas, I was scared that they would look over at me and see an uppity, elitist, non-white bitch who needed to be taken down a peg.

I went to Starbucks afterwards and spent the entire time evaluating whether or not the weird customer wearing the hunting vest and carrying a vaguely threatening metal cane was a potential mass shooter. I actually considered bolting for the door when he went to the bathroom, only staying because, as I told myself repeatedly, the likelihood that he would be able to hide a gun inside of his cane was infinitesimal. I also convinced myself several times that the other male customers in Kroger were following me through the parking lot. It was like, noon.

Two observations on this incident:

1) Fear of rape runs deep. To be a woman in this country, and really, most everywhere, is to be constantly on guard.

2) I am uppity and elitist and probably need to be (gently) taken down a peg. I would not have been as scared of a group of unruly white male i-bankers cussing, as they are wont to do, and if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have continued to be scared, because if I had run into a group of unruly white male i-bankers cussing, I probably would have been in a nicer area of town. I also would not have assumed that said unruly white male i-bankers were racist. Stupid, maybe, but not racist. Unruly white male i-bankers are innocent until proven guilty. Unruly white male construction workers are guilty until proven innocent. I clearly have some class-traitor issues to work out because my grandpa was a white male construction worker who was probably unruly at least once.

Let’s take a quick look at how aspects of my identity impacted my fear:

I am a half-Asian, liberal, elite (by means of education) woman.

1) half-Asian- fear of racial violence, typically instigated by white males, sometimes instigated by black males (L.A. riots)

2) liberal- fear of politically motivated violence by conservatives. Loosely translates to fear of Southerners.

3) elite- fear of the working class and working poor, accompanied by a propensity to judge others by their clothing, whether or not they live in cities, and their level of “civilization.” Also accompanied by the assumption that others are jealous of you.

4) woman- fear of rape

So, in the above situation, fear of rape, which is pretty broad, was filtered down to fear of racially and politically motivated rape by Southern, working class men who are resentful of my “status.” And, in fact, according to my fear rubric, this situation is actually my worst rape-related fear because it puts ALLL the fears together.

Don’t you love intersectionality?

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