Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
A really interesting post from rtmiss on issues of consent, centred on the social background we both share.
No means no is a concept that should be very simple. Except that it isn’t. Human beings make an awful lot of decisions based on individual perceptions, and we all perceive other people’s reactions differently.
Note that this is a very personal post based on lived experience, and please treat it accordingly.
I’m a big proponent of enthusiastic consent, but also I’m very aware that we simply don’t live in that world yet, where everything is black and white, and lack of a ‘yes’ always actually means no. People simply do use non-verbal signals to indicate consent all the time, and I think – no, I’m sure – that a person can consent enthusiastically to something without using any words. It’s fraught, yes, and open to misinterpretation, but it happens.
People also actually say ‘yes’, and indeed ‘no’, when that’s not really what they want.
Being increasingly open about my sub-ness means that I’ve had some… interesting discussions about consent. I’ve been told that women (subs always being female and all BDSM-identified females being subs) cannot consent to things I’ve actively asked for. The follow-up “oh, but not you” doesn’t actually make that view any less demeaning. And within BDSM, ideally everything that happens would be pre-negotiated and agreed, but that doesn’t always happen either. For me, a lot of the communication that goes on is post facto. (That sounds a bit wanky. I’m just trying to avoid using the term “debriefing”, because it makes me giggle. I’m twelve, we’ve established this.)
What particularly concerns me, I guess, are the stereotypes and social assumptions we have that get in the way of us reading each other properly. I think the worst is “men always want sex, women never do.” If you believe all men are Animalistic Penis Brains, how would you be able to read a man involved in a sexual situation he wasn’t all that keen on but, as rtmiss says, reluctant to be ‘rude’ and make a big deal out of refusing? Or that a woman is genuinely uncomfortable and not just playing “hard to get”
It’s also a pretty sexist stereotype that says that women don’t really want particular kinds of sexual interaction (let’s be honest, kink), so any woman involved in that kind of thing is being emotionally or intellectually coerced. And another that can’t recognise a woman being overly sexually-aggressive.
And then there are all the times that this discussion becomes solely “men as instigators, women as consentors”. As if, again, women are the ones who make the decisions, but their role is to allow things or not allow them, rather than instigate or pursue them.
There are a whole bunch of tiny gradated lines between “you can’t touch me”, and “I will have sex with you in this particular fashion in these exact circumstances”. If I’ll snog a bunch of people at a party, that doesn’t make me a slut who’s up for anything.
There are no real conclusions here, of course, just an acknowledgement that in the real world, consent can be really complicated.
If you can read the following paragraph, and not be angry, you’re not a feminist.
Women still don’t earn as much income as men in comparable occupations and there is still a tendency to think that women belong in the kitchen, but the feminists that have fought for equality over the years have had a huge effect on gender roles in our society.
Oh, fuck off, AskMen. I’ve spoken to you before. You don’t get to invoke feminism. Ever. Because those gender roles you talk about up there? You actively participate in maintaining them. In fact, you exist to maintain them.
You don’t think we should be angry? Fuck you, and the shiny little horse you rode in on. Let me introduce you to the words Tone Argument. And while I’m at it, Intent. And also, can I introduce you to my foot? It would like to meet your balls. Your patronising arguments on “how to deal with” us can bite me. Back off with your arms raised all you like, but I am still going to call you a group of misogynist shits.
No, I don’t agree with Solanas and Dworkin and Jeffries. At all. When it comes to the matters of sex, I couldn’t be more opposed to what they have to say. That’s pretty much why we call them radical and militant. You know what those words mean, right? It means they’re extreme, different from the norm, revolutionary. But, you know, way to handpick the women who have views about hating men to undermine all feminism. Despite your back-handed “some feminists are great!”, thanks for painting the whole movement as misandrist. For the record, I’ve been doing feministy things for years now, and I’ve yet to meet a woman who actually hates men. I like people to be polite in conversation, and here on this website. That doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally furious with the world. You can tell. It’s when I write in all caps.
But you bet your ass I am angry. Not about sex, as a general rule, but I’m angry about being called a slut because I like sex. I’m angry about old white men wanting to control my reproductive health. I’m angry that I can’t walk down the street without wondering whether my cleavage means I am “asking for it”. I’m angry about political representation and wage gaps and child care and meaningful work and the way women of colour are massively over-represented in US jails. I’m angry that I have to fight so fucking hard to be taken seriously by people like you. Because what’s frustrating is that I could not give less of a shit about what the editors and writers and advertisers of AskMen think. But if you’re going to perpetuate this kind of bullshit to your readers, then I do care.
So, AskMen, take your misogynist, woman-hating crap, and shove it somewhere painful. Women have every right to be angry. Your tone arguments are meaningless, please stop using them. Or just fuck off, that’d work too. No, the vast majority of us do not want to wipe out men. Some of us love them. But yes, sometimes we want men to shut up and listen. Because that’s how you learn and empathise and be a good ally. Which is not to say men can’t be feminists, or part of the conversation about equality. In fact, we can’t do it without you. It’s just that maybe, every once in a while, and especially if you’re going to talk about women’s issues, you could AskWomen.
Oh noes! You guys! In the US there are reporters getting all sexy up in their Twitter profile pictures, and it’s causing a stir.
News organizations will have to decide whether having star reporters making silly faces on camera, posing artistically, or wearing skin-bearing [sic] dresses is congruent with their brand image.
More often, women have to fight to be taken seriously,” he said. “I think it’s unfair that women are judged on this. But my concern is, are they doing anything to undermine their credibility?
Not only are those two paragraphs in the same story, they are said by the SAME PERSON. A dude, of course. You have to wonder how these women don’t get the Exact Right Image when a so-called expert is body-snarking one second and then decrying the culture around that the next.
Here is one of the profiles in question. Does she look a little bit goofy? Yes. Does she look like she has maybe been on a campaign media bus for several hours, filing from her seat, drinking bad coffee and eating snacks that bear no resemblance to actual food? Yes. Does it matter at all what she looks like, providing she’s not actually naked or drunk or posing with Rick Santorum?
In fact, does women’s credibility rely on how they dress/pluck their eyebrows/”bear” their skin? Posing artistically? OH THE HUMANITY! We know, that, yes actually, of course it does. Never mind dressing professionally or appropriately, women need to be – especially if they are on TV – the perfect blend of attractive/sexy/bangable/fashionable and also buttoned-up/chaste/demure. But attractive is paramount, because we know no one wants to listen to a woman talk, unless she’s fuckable. I mean, it’s not like she could possibly know what she’s talking about.
Seriously, there are, like, really important issues to be discussed in this campaign. Who the hell cares what a reporter’s Twitter picture is?
(Huh. I guess it wasn’t that quick. Never is with me, really.)
My own personal brand of feminism is born of a very great desire to be left alone to do my thing, to be allowed the same rights and responsibilities every adult deserves. It extends to giving those same rights and responsibilities to everyone else, and then staying out of their damn lives.
You don’t want me to marry another woman? Don’t come to my wedding. You don’t want me to have the right to birth control? How about you get your hands off my uterus? You don’t think I should spend all my hard-earned money on cupcakes and cigarettes and wine and shoes? Fuck off, it’s my bank balance, and I don’t answer to you.
I suppose what I am saying is that my feminism is guided by my own personal ethics. Those of compassion and friendship and honesty. I’ve let myself down a bit on some of those fronts lately, but that’s a different post for a very different website.
So let’s talk about that last one. Specifically, about honesty, and this post.
The thing with writing is that it lets you be much, much more honest than you might otherwise be. Putting it on paper (or screen) disconnects the thoughts from you that speaking them doesn’t. Or, I should say, does for me. I do my best thinking on paper (and in the shower). Sometimes, like now, I have no direction, no point, just aimless wandering through the channels in my head, trying to eek out some wisdom. I’m not as fluent when I speak, because I am self-editing. (Which will come as a shock to anyone who has ever spoken to me.) Sometimes, I’m just writing to make my brain move around, to work out how I feel about an issue. Sometimes, something annoys me so much that I just sit down and let the words come, and think about them later.
And come they did, when I wrote that post. Basically, I sat down at the keyboard, and that post came out, pretty much fully formed. I moved a sentence here or there, gave it a little more structure, fixed the spelling mistakes. But how that post went up is basically how it came out of my head, in less than 10 minutes. And then I sat and looked at it. For the better part of an hour. Because I was pretty sure I shouldn’t post it.
I was right, it turns out, but I’m also quite stupid. I shouldn’t have posted it. But my general rule with that stuff is that if I am scared to, I probably should. Because:
It’s worth it if others find it helpful or meaningful. Yes, there is an element of exhaustion, of self-sacrifice, in this kind of writing, because without the most stringent honesty it is absolutely meaningless.
If living as a feminist is the challenge, then I have failed in these past two weeks. Because I have nearly deleted that post dozens of times. And then realised that it has been seen by a couple of thousand people already, so there’s no point. When you live behind a carefully crafted artifice, it’s probably a good idea not to reveal your darkest thoughts in one fell swoop. In a forum that almost everyone you know will see. It’s probably not great to write about feigning confidence, and then attempt to do exactly that, while feeling that everyone sees through you.
I have, at times in these past two weeks, been angry – at the people who sent me hatemail, telling me that if I didn’t want to be fat, I should put down the chocolate, and do some exercise, you stupid cow. I was also amused by them, because, well, thanks for illustrating my point. Angry at myself for not realising how much posting it would hurt. Surprised at just how much traffic it got, (and continues to get) and from what corners. Surprised at how many people it touched or helped. I’ve wondered if I have actually undermined not just my own defences, but the movement itself – if by admitting my weakness, I’ve inadvertently made the point that all fat people, all women maybe, are weak.
Because, herein lies the problem. These confessional posts, wherein we reveal ourselves, seem so hard to write. And we’re lauded for being so strong, so brave. It doesn’t feel brave. It feels like an open wound. And the comments and tweets are a kind of salve, but sometimes, that gets too much. And the hatemail, and comments telling me my GP is unqualified to assess my health – salt.
Ultimately, I know that that post helped people, and I am glad of that. I’m happy that it struck a nerve, that people liked it. I’ll admit to the vanity of watching the tweets and the hits mount up. As people in my “real life” facebook feed linked to it. I expect, eventually, the aforementioned confidence will come back, and I won’t feel like I’m living in a world where everyone knows all the bad things about me, and they know them because I was stupid enough to tell them. I just wished we lived in a world where I didn’t have to bare my soul to make a point. Where I was afforded compassion, and basic dignity, because I deserve it as a person, not because I begged for it. That talking about my experience as a woman was just a matter of fact, and not one of confession.
20/20 is screening a story about fat activism in New Zealand tonight. You can read about the story on Friend of Marilyn – Fat Activism in New Zealand on 20/20.
20/20 is on TV2, at 9.30pm tonight.
Like Annanonymous, the latest breast vs bottle dust-up has touched a raw nerve for me, no doubt due to my own experiences with breast feeding. But also because I find the number of shoulds and shouldn’ts that are dished out endlessly to parents deeply wearying. All too often the edicts seem to be handed out with little thought as to how parents might achieve them, or what constraints there might be, or what other issues a parent may be facing.
I’ve found some of the language used disturbing. This sentence from Dita di Boni’s column in the Herald is a case in point.
[La Leche League / midwives / etc] can suggest, coerce and press the issue, but it is a mother’s choice in the end whether or not to take the advice proffered.
Well, that’s… revealing. “Coerce.” That has been exactly the problem for many mothers who have tried breastfeeding, but experienced tremendous difficulties, for whatever reason. There is an enormous amount of pressure on women to breastfeed their babies. And it is facile to say that women can just choose whether or not to take the advice. When that pressure to breastfeed is applied by an expert, it is very hard to resist it. All the more so in those early weeks and months with a new baby, especially a first baby. So many new parents know so very little about how to care for babies, so they are very dependent on midwives and health nurses and and La Leche League experts. To suggest that a new mother who is struggling with pain, and cracked nipples, and ever-feeding infants, has the emotional resources to withstand the pressure applied by those she is depending on is bizarre.
di Boni goes on to say that, “It is up to women to have confidence in their choices.”
And there it is again. Holding individual women responsible for the failings of a society that promotes breastfeeding, but doesn’t provide the resources to enable women to access help with it, and then berating them for lacking confidence if they try to withstand the pressure put on them by those who are experts. Experts in breastfeeding, that is, but not necessarily at all knowledgeable about the particular contexts within which individual women are living and rearing children.
On the other hand, I am baffled by the idea that being pro-breastfeeding is equivalent to being anti-fathers and fathers being involved in their children’s lives, and that bottle feeding is great because then men can be involved in caring for their children. That’s the view espoused by fathers’ rights activist Darrell Carlin.
But there are myriad ways for parents of any gender to care for their children: talking, playing, reading books, cuddling, settling to sleep, dressing, changing nappies, taking to doctors’ appointments, toting them around the house in a sling while you get the housework done, going for walks, singing. And that’s all just in the first few weeks, and just the things that you can do with the baby (c/f say, earning an income to support the baby, or doing housework while the baby is asleep). There is precisely one task that the great majority of fathers can’t do: breastfeeding. And really, if they really, really, really do want to do it, then they could always try a Lact-Aid.
The remainder of Carlin’s column is taken up with wailing about how the nasty feminists have taken over the world and men are oppressed. And put upon. And really, women should be fighting for men’s rights because after all, men gave women the vote. Also, the nasty feminists again. Whatever.
And the last thing that has surprised me: La Leche League’s complete inability to use social media. LLL has tried to say that all it did was ask the Health Council to remove a few seconds from an anti-smoking/pro-smokefree public service ad showing Piri Weepu feeding his baby. In doing this, the only thing they were trying to achieve was to ensure that one public service message – smoke-free – wasnt’ contradicting another – pro-breastfeeding.
But actually, that’s not all they did. As it turns out, what they also did was alert their membership to the issue.
The irony is the damage to the league was done by its own hand. When the Health Sponsorship Council asked their opinion on the Weepu advertisement, La Leche supporters responded intemperately by launching a mass email campaign. The language in the emails was, by the admission of one supporter, “passionate”.
“Passionate” was one word that was used to describe the e-mails. I also heard, “virulently intemperate”. I haven’t seen any of the e-mails, but I’m guessing that they were not polite. And that’s what created the story. Not the request made by LLL, but the allegedly vicious language used in the e-mails sent by supporters. I’m guessing that if LLL had simply given some advice on the ad, without initiating the e-mail campaign, then the story would never have hit the headlines in the first place.
Because there’s no such thing as a stigma against fat people, some days, it slips my mind that I am overweight. You see, I don’t ever get random abuse shouted at me on the street. The fact that I can only shop in about 5% of the clothes shops in my city in no way makes me feel like I’ve been corralled off into some paddock where the un-sexy fatties go to pig out and wear unflattering clothes. Buying clothes on the internet, and the extra cost involved, and hit-and-miss nature of it, passes me by. Going on that traditionally “girly” expedition, Shopping, with friends of “normal” sizes, in NO WAY feels like torture. I don’t ever end up buying, like, a $100 scarf, just to feel like “one of the girls”. And I certainly don’t own masses of shoes and scarfs and jewellery, because they’re the Fat Girl’s Consolation.
I don’t get well-meaning comments from my relatives, EVER. My mother doesn’t ever say “have you lost weight?” in a hopeful, but forlorn voice. Nor does she use the fact that I haven’t eaten for 4 days because I’m heartbroken as a positive, because I might drop a kilo or two.
No one ever comments on the size of my ass or tits or stomach. No stranger has ever yelled “hey fat bitch” at me, or mooed. I’ve never scanned the room to see if I am the fattest person in it, and hated myself for being slightly gleeful if I am not.
I don’t live in fear of being filmed as the “headless fat person illustrating a story of OH MY GOD THE OBESITIY EPIDEMIC!!1!!” I don’t ever feel like I have to apologise for taking up so much space.
I never worry that my size might make flying difficult, that things other people do without thinking, like canoeing, or cycling, or simply sitting in a chair might be hard for me. For the record, bar stools don’t ever fill me with dread.
It has never crossed my mind that my size is stopping me from finding True Wuv. I don’t worry that no one will ever find me attractive again, because I’m fat, and I don’t look like Charlize Theron. Never. That’s not a thought that keeps me awake at night AT ALL.
I don’t get told that I might not suffer from depression if I “exercised a little bit”, as if the person involved knows anything about how much I exercise. No one has ever told me they’re “just worried about [my] health”, without ever actually bringing up my health, just my size. And I’ve certainly never felt like I could tell those people to MIND THEIR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS, because of course my fatness is public property and a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation, and why on earth should I be offended about people bringing it up.
I never feel judged eating in public. No one ever looks askance at me if I happen to be eating a burger. That didn’t just happen in fact, like, yesterday. I’ve never not ordered what I actually wanted so as not to be judged by my fellow diners. I’ve never felt the need to lie about my eating habits, even when, in reality, they are perfectly healthy. No one has ever asked me if I “really need that“.
I’ve never felt the need to cover up my arms, or my thighs, as if my body is offensive to others, and it’s up to me to police that.
I don’t dress to emphasize my cleavage, because my big tits are the one socially acceptable thing on my body. I’ve never suffered the gauntlet of shopping for lingerie or swimwear for the “larger woman”, and the inherent humiliation. I’ve never worn clothes that are uncomfortable, or too hot, or too tight, or just Not Quite Right, because it was for a performance or uniform of some kind.
I never, ever, have to point out the simple fact that weight and/or size don’t correlate to health. I never feel compelled to point out my perfect blood pressure and low cholesterol. No one ever brings up the history of heart disease and diabetes in my family.
I’ve never felt ashamed of my body, wanted to hide in a corner and curl up to make myself as small as possible, because of something someone unthinkingly said. Or didn’t. I’ve never wanted to hide, just because I’m short and fat and round, and don’t fit how people should look. I’ve never, ever, not once, forced myself to be gregarious and happy and the life of the party, while secretly wanting to escape to the corner with a bag of chips because sometimes, it’s just All Too Much. I don’t feign confidence and sexiness that I often don’t feel because, hey, fuck you society and your strict interpretation of what is attractive. I don’t EVER, EVER feel like my size suggests I should act, or be, a certain way. And I certainly don’t feel like saying Fuck You to society in that way is exhausting and neverending and pointless.
So, thanks, Stuff. Because just in case none of us knew we are fat, it is fucking brilliant to know that you are on the case. I’ll rest MUCH FUCKING EASIER tonight.