I’m setting my bar lower… and that’s okay

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There is this saying I once overheard – no recollection of where, or when, or from whom – that has somehow haunted me more, and more deeply, than any profound segment of prose or stanza of poetry or line of literature that I’ve come across in my many years as a student and a reader: “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” Simple, succinct, unpoetic, and yet a low and searing blow that still makes my soul ache tenfold each time I reflect on how unfulfilled I feel in my life (which is essentially every few minutes, every day.)

Beyoncé, a damn idol, talent, luminary, ostensibly inhuman queen, manages to do all that she does in the same timespan that I manage to do essentially nothing. She probably gets in a killer workout, low-cal healthy smoothie, makeup, hair, interviews, rehearsals, fittings, flights to wherever the hell, performances, second workout, meetings, appointments, and even some mothering/wifing and more in the time it takes me to roll out of bed, haphazardly turn myself into a somewhat presentable-looking human, walk to work (late), and sit at a desk for 8 hours browsing “ways to grow your butt if you’re a white girl” and window shopping on Amazon while writing the odd 300-word newspiece here and there. Hell, even on my days out of the office, doing a load of laundry and tidying the house are real achievements for me. Leaving the house? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And when my daily tidal wave of self-loathing and confusion about WHY THE HELL I AM THE UNPRODUCTIVE HUMAN I AM comes, it’s not just Beyoncé I have to compare myself to, but the millions of celebs and pseudocelebs who tout their glorious lives on social (and in traditional) media, pretending to be normal people.

The thing about it is, just like the models in the magazines we grew up with before the advent of the internet, these people we worship aren’t normal people. Anyone who has the time and resources to devote their entire life to appearances and exceptional – read: unrealistic – accomplishments (platinum albums and the like), whether it be a full-blown celebrity or an “influencer” who was able to quit her job when she hit 80,000 Instagram followers, does not have the same obligations and goals that a “normal” person does or should have. Beyoncé manages to be Beyoncé because she has a team of hundreds behind her every move. Jen Selter’s butt looks like Jen Selter’s butt because she has an entire day to devote to working out her butt. A fitness model has the body of a fitness model – and the beautiful tan and hair and makeup to boot – because that is their fucking job. (I’m sorry to make things so physically focused here, but it’s in my nature as a woman and as someone in ED recovery, because these are the standards I hold myself to the most and feel the guiltiest about not achieving.)

I have felt ashamed of myself and my lack of tangible accomplishment nearly every day of my life in recent memory. My parents taught me that there was no other option than an 85%+ average and a university scholarship and a decent paying high-status job, and so, in my little three-car garage inground pool faction of Canadian white suburbia, that was the life I held myself to, thinking it was the norm (still working on that last bit though…). As is potentially expected given my circumstances, I became somewhat of a perfectionist, which I believe many women can relate to – and though I easily measured up in some ways, I fell short in others.

It is only now, approaching 27, that I’ve realized this is called “the natural damn balance of things” and not “I am a fucking failure.” People have strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, admirable qualities and shortcomings, good luck and bad luck, regardless of whether it seems that way or not. I am learning to trust that the universe, and so people and their lives, have to balance out somewhere.

My prior mode of thinking was obviously the springboard for my more than decade-long issues with eating, as diet and exercise are two things very easily quantified and controlled; even more easily sorted into “success” and “failure” with only myself to congratulate or blame. And though I’m still struggling against the quicksand that is this mindset, I find as of late that I’m more forgiving with myself. Though only a microscopic shift, it’s made all the difference, and I wish that I could impart the same tiny revelatory kernel to others.

I’ve stopped setting myself up for failure by making and reiterating mental lists of things I insist on getting done each day for that day to be a “good” one. Sure, I’ll set my alarm for 6:45 each morning in the hopes that I’ll be inspired to go for a run, but I no longer beat myself up and write the day off as failed from the start if I’m too exhausted to get up and exert myself that early. If I manage to do it once a week, I appreciate myself for that. The same has gone for eating, which is something that seems to have just happened on its own and is so goddamn scary that I’m hesitant to even talk about it… but for the past few weeks, I haven’t really given a shit if I go over 1,000 calories a day, or eat “bad” foods. In the past, these would be classified as “binge” or “no care” days, few and far between, to be separated with “repent” days of guilty abstinence from food and overdoing it on workouts or then continuing to eat, but purging up to ten times a day. Eating healthy is good for health’s sake, but sometimes restrictions and rules aren’t good for an already weakened mental state. Especially for someone who too often falls down the slippery slope from “healthy, positive, yay!” to “restriction, binge/purge, depressed!” If I’m functioning with what I’m doing, I’m going to just keep it up and be fine where I’m at until I feel okay enough to make a change and have it be a positive thing for the right reasons (i.e., not trying to drop 10 pounds in a week because I feel like I can’t live in my body today).

And as far as accomplishments go, I’ve stopped holding myself to everything I think I should be doing, or the things the person I theoretically want to be would do. Yes, there are normal, non-celebrity people who go to the gym for 5am, run errands, go to work and kick ass, meet some friends for dinner and drinks, go home and work on creative projects, and carry on relationships and maintain entire lives on top of that. Statistically, I have no idea how much of the population these types of go-getters make up. And though it’s definitely important to have goals and to aspire to things, after knowing myself for almost three decades, I’ve come to realize I’m just not that kind of person, and wanting to be/hating myself when I can’t be doesn’t get me any closer to it. I won’t accept a day of laying around in bed (come on self, you’re better than that), but I’m more realistic when trying to carve out my day or my week or my life. If I don’t feel up to that social event this evening and my absence isn’t harming anyone, I make the decision to stay home and refuse to guilt myself for what I’m missing out on. If I planned to get to a coffee shop and write for a few hours on the one day I have to myself each week, but didn’t get around to it between working out and errands, I pat myself on the back for getting something done. These things may sound sad and babying of me, but self-care and self-love is so, so fucking important and it’s something most of us have neglected for most of our lives. On the contrary, I know for myself personally, self-hatred and self-punishment have been my norms. I may want to live life at the highest level and the fastest speed, but maybe I’m just not a damn Beyoncé; we can’t all be, right? Or maybe just not right now. I’ll continue to shine in the ways I’ve overlooked my whole life, and will maybe learn some new ones along the way.


I never want to hear how a rapist’s life is ruined by a sexual assault trial EVER AGAIN

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It’s sad that it takes yet another rape case treated with malapropos for me to find the inspiration to post, but alas, anger fuels my being in so many ways (those ways of mine that aren’t fueled by laziness). (Sidenote: is “fueled by laziness” an oxymoron?)

News media’s general modus operandi for the treatment and portrayal of criminals is to present them in the guise of the “big, bad, scary” trope to pique the very divided attention of – and instill fear in – its viewers. The average consumer has wet dreams over a crime narrative (real or fictitious) where the perpetrator is not only caught and rightfully punished in the end, but more importantly, neatly fits their perception of “bad guy”. I could elucidate decades of theory about the cultural “other”, one of the many concepts upon which scapegoats, stereotypes, and colonialism/racism/all kinds of isms are predicated. Comic-book villains come to mind. As do newscasts boasting the sketchiest, blurriest mugshot of a non-white suspect, preferably in an orange jumpsuit and visibly coming off a high. Unless you’re Brock Turner, the Stanford student [/white, well-to-do athlete] who received an inarguably lenient sentence for rape the week before last.

Turner’s well-circulated mugshot may as well be a press photo, depicting him smiling and in a suit. And reading about his trial made me quite literally scream out loud to my empty apartment’s lofty ceilings, asking “When are we going to stop talking about the effects a rape conviction will have on a fucking rapist’s life?!Turner’s dad’s thoroughly inappropriate plea to the judge focused on how the “events” and subsequent verdict have left the teen’s life “deeply altered forever” – “shattered,” even – and how him having to register as a sex offender will “forever alter where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations.” His father goes on to wax Romantically about how the poor boy has lost his appetite and, most notoriously, states that the sentence is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” (Yeah, I’m just not going to even touch that. At all.) Wow. Maybe he shouldn’t have, I don’t know, sexually assaulted someone? I’m so terribly sorry that his own actions are having such a negative effect on his life. But in all earnestness, as with any crime, they 100% should. I hope his life, his reputation, and his future are forever tarnished and yes, potentially ruined by this. That’s simply the price one pays for committing an atrocity (though based on his father’s letter, you’d think Turner’s crime was just excessive drinking and the regrettable decisions that ensue… which in this case, happen to be sexual assault.) If this was any other criminal act, no one would be mentioning how depressed the trial has made the perpetrator, or what his damn swimming stats were. His dad’s terribly misguided plea would have been somehow easier to digest if it was some sort of audacious diatribe, rather than the dominant ethos of the most largely influential cultural group (middle-aged white men), calmly and simply put as if fact. This is in the same rape culture vein that fed the discourse and coverage surrounding the infamous Steubenville rape cases – which in reporting, CNN stated how “incredibly difficult” it was to watch “these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their lives fell apart”. A vein I wish would just open its wound-like mouth and spurt all over, screaming for a brief minute or two until its source is drained.

Adding to the disgust level here is that Turner isn’t “consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression” because of the heinous, pervasive crime he inflicted upon another, but because he was caught. Because of the repercussions. And his accolades, or number of friends, or lack of criminal history shouldn’t trivialize what he’s done. Considering the reaction of the male figure who raised him, I’m frankly not surprised by Turner’s behaviour both in committing the crime and in its aftermath.

Sarah Lunnie wrote a beautiful piece for Slate that discusses how those close to a criminal may not be able to reconcile the person they know first-hand with a person who would commit a crime. She uses the example of impulsively pushing a stranger onto the subway tracks, where the individual who does the pushing neither loses their identity nor stays the same person. “[They] will always be the person who did that—but that doesn’t mean [they’ll] stop being the person [they were] before. To shove the stranger is to become both.”

Outside of those we are personally acquainted with, we do hold a similar notion, but reversed in a way, for people affiliated with crimes generally. We want criminals to neatly fit into the conceptual box we’ve built for “bad guy.” We want rapists to be balaclava-clad strangers lurking in the dark, with a history of crime and a dingy apartment in a rough neighbourhood. The archetype just fits. An Aryan-looking, well-respected athlete enrolled at an expensive Ivy League university does not. This same line of thinking is what leads cross-examiners to push how slutty, how promiscuously dressed, how outgoing and sexual and heedless a sex assault victim is. Because those things can’t possibly fit into our idea of a rape victim.

The problem? Your archetype, if we mean a textbook example of something, is wrong. A rapist is often a “normal” guy. A guy you, as an outsider, can’t pick out of a lineup and say, “Hey, that looks like a criminal.” Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.  People don’t want to imagine that someone who is seemingly average and even well-respected in society can also be a rapist. That their friend, their brother, their coworker could be a rapist. It’s so much easier to pin it on some scary OTHER and then either deny or justify it when some “normal” guy who is good at sports and goes to a reputable school rapes somebody (or dismiss it as 20 minutes of action that deserves a slap on the wrist). Sexism, sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny/patriarchy as a whole are so inextricably ingrained and normalized in our society that yes, of course it’s that normal guy who works a floor below you or sits in class next to you or who you had a beer with last Friday. Not all men, but of course it could be you.

* I suggest any readers of this post also read the victim’s moving statement that she read to Turner in court. *


It’s not (just) about Ghomeshi

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I’ve been in a “car wreck full of mangled bodies I can’t look away from” relationship with social media for the majority of today after the acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi – former host of CBC Radio’s Q – of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

I’m quite surprised and hopeful that so many people (that I’ve seen in my SECONDS of Facebook browsing) have reacted negatively, in varying degrees, to the news. It seems though, that in response TO this response, those who are satisfied with the trial’s results and think Ghomeshi innocent are fighting even harder in all their rape apologist glory.

Now, to be fair, I do fully acknowledge and respect the legal methodology necessitated by the “innocent until proven guilty” ethos of our justice system, and that because there unfortunately just isn’t the hard evidence in sex assault cases that there is in other cases, more scrupulous questioning of complainants may be considered warranted.

And, to be fair, my issue with today’s verdict doesn’t have all that much to do with Jian Ghomeshi: sex offender in particular. It’s more with the broader issue of how sexual assault complainants and sexual assault as a topic is treated, and what this case represents in that capacity. And yeah, I’m a little pissed off at some of the judge’s comments, like: “We must fight against the stereotype that all sexual assault complaints are truthful” and telling the victims they were “playing chicken with the justice system.”

The stereotype that all sexual assault complaints are truthful? Is that a joke? It must be, since THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE IS TRUE. Statistically, and anecdotally, hardly anyone reports sexual assault – less than 4% in Canada, of those who even speak up about having been assaulted. I’m not even going to get into the breakdown of what percentage of cases end up in a conviction, because that in itself is why victims don’t report. Along with a slew of other reasons, like, you know, cases that end up the way Ghomeshi’s has. Victims know that socially, and judicially, we are facing a system already posited to disbelieve and/or blame us. Ask the 14 women assaulted by Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw who kept their rapes secret for years for fear that they wouldn’t be believed, or the 11-year-old girl gang raped by 18 men, whose story, when the New York Times told it, was preoccupied with the shattered lives of the men accused and how the girl “dressed older than her age”.

Ghomeshi’s case perpetuated some other rape culture myths, like that there is a certain way a victim does or should act. A large part of what discredited the witnesses here was the fact that the judge found their post-assault behaviour – continued amicable contact with Ghomeshi, further dates with Ghomeshi, sending bikini-clad pictures to Ghomeshi, etc. – incongruent with someone who has been assaulted. “Odd,” he said. People have a multitude of ways of dealing with trauma, and no one person’s way is right or wrong or the same as another’s. Just because you would kick and scream, storm out the door, and call the police does not mean that someone else would, or is even capable to. Some try to pretend it never happened, ignore it, and maintain a relationship with their attacker for fear of repercussions, future attack, or of being viewed as a frigid bitch or a weak bitch or worse: a victim of sexual assault. When women are socialized in so many situations – meetings, classes, arguments, conversations – to back down, to be quiet, to be fragile and small, to appease everyone and not start confrontation like a hysterical bitch, what do you expect? That suddenly, when faced with sexual assault, which has become sadly normalized and expected, they’re going to awkwardly confront the guy? Or tell somebody? There are also the issues of intense shame coupled with physical and emotional trauma that underscore why a lot of us keep quiet, and that separates this crime from all others. Sexual assault is the only crime where victim-blaming and shame very much come in to play. These women remaining in contact with Ghomeshi, even if at times flirty, does not prove they’re lying. And their inability to tell stories with consistent details and meticulous chronology, especially traumatic situations and especially while facing their assaulter and especially when they’ve had to relive their trauma a zillion times at this point and especially when it happened years ago, doesn’t either.

In the end, this case is saying “it’s okay for men to do with women’s bodies as they please” and “women lie about sexual assault,”as if these erroneous notions weren’t so devastatingly ingrained in our dominant culture already. And it’s not just concerning choking and hitting, and not just Ghomeshi. This one specific case speaks to a broader culture of male entitlement and the treatment of women in every public space all of the time, from a random guy I walk past on the street yelling what he wants to do to me to a guy legitimately doing it to me as I say “no” and struggle to push him off, and everything in between. This case is one part of an in between that sadly sets precedent for, and suggests our society’s and legal system’s reactions towards, the rest.

This is also a matter of a situation where the trial wasn’t meant to prove whether or not the assaults happened, but whether or not there is enough evidence to convict Ghomeshi. And if that is what our population is happy to consider justice, the “not guilty” flag held high and the day called, then I’m at a loss.

 


Friendzone vs. fuckzone, and why I really wish guys would stop fuckzoning me

wpid-friend-zone-32.jpgI’m sure everyone between the ages of 16 and 106 is familiar with the term “friendzone”, which has become so hackneyed that it’s virtually outdated as far as colloquial millennial-ims go.

The concept of “friendzone” in the way men employ it in earnest (but really, who the hell even does that in 2016) makes me simultaneously giggle and scream, because guess what, guys? As frustrated as you are of being constantly “friendzoned”, I’m infinitely more tired of being fuckzoned. (I still maintain faith in the fact that I invented this term, because I’ve only ever heard it after I came up with it. This is OBVIOUSLY and inarguably the case, so sh sh shhhhh.)

Yes, fuckzoned. When someone takes what should be the default relationship between themselves and another person with whom they are just becoming acquainted – a casual, respectable friendship – and expects a more sexual relationship. Immediately or eventually. And then gets angry and most often abandons said interaction after an indefinite time period during which they’ve finally realized that the “fucking” part just isn’t going to happen. Unsurprisingly, this dynamic seems to happen one way between genders in the vast majority of cases.

I have a sizeable number of guy friends I’ve lost because I turned down their [most often subtle or half-joking, testing-the-water type of, yet still relentless] advances over time. Not even blatantly or rudely, either, because in that case, I may understand a rift. I just plain platonic-ed the hell out of every near-flirty conversation and tried to act more bro-like to preserve their delicate little ego, but still make it clear that I just wanted to stay friends. (Note: How sad is it that a legitimate defense against unwanted advances from someone I care about, and way of keeping a friendship I value, is acting more like a guy to make myself less sexualized/attractive. Sigh.) I’ve had male “best friends” completely stop talking to me with no explanation sheerly BECAUSE I got a boyfriend. Thanks for respecting our friendship, fellow human! What a waste of my damn time.

And yet, I’m sure they think all those months of friendship were a waste of their time because they didn’t achieve their ultimate goal. (Of fucking me.) I understand that if you are a straight male, your hopes for the relationship you’ll have with an attractive female you recently met may end up being different than your hopes for the relationship you’ll have with an attractive male you recently met, and you can’t help that. Feelings are feelings. But there is such a thing as, you know, respecting a woman’s desires (or lack thereof) as you would any person’s, and just accepting the fact that you guys will only ever be friends, especially if it’s after you’ve both invested a significant chunk of time BEING friends already. Because as I stated, CASUAL FRIENDSHIP IS THE DEFAULT FOR ANY NEW INTERACTION, whether or not you are attracted to the individual and regardless of their gender. Your hopes for the situation are just that: hopes, not givens. Unless, of course, you’ve pre-agreed that this is just a “fucking” situation, in which case, knock yourselves out, Tinder lovers.

I guess this is especially frustrating on a personal level because if I, in the past, made a new male friend that I thought I’d like to sleep with or date or whatever-the-hell is more than friendship, I didn’t treat him any differently if he made it clear that wasn’t what he was interested in. Or if he had a girlfriend. I mean, if you’ve spent the time becoming someone’s friend and making memories with them, and like them enough to have sex with or date them, why are you now going to ditch them? Because you can’t stick your dick in them? Is that all they’re worth to you? Wet hole or bust? Or is it because you’re a baby who just can’t deal with not getting what you want? I’ve preserved simple friendships with hot males for years. Even males I actually really liked. And I didn’t push or pressure them into awkward interactions, or make them feel like shit for not wanting to sleep with me, or reduce their entire being to a penis, or stop talking to them because I couldn’t handle “just friends” like a mature sentient adult.

This all stems from a culture of male entitlement, and of “no can be turned into yes with enough persistence”, and of reducing women’s worth as humans to just sexual. Even if a part of me is sadly flattered that you think I’m pretty or want to sleep with me (OMG ULTIMATE GOALS OF PERSONHOOD AND MY PRIMARY REASON FOR LIVING), if it’s not the relationship I want with you, then why am I not permitted to have any relationship at all after all these months or years of what I thought was good friendship? Why is it called me “friendzoning” you? Are our only options strangers or sexual partners because I’m a woman? Do you get “friendzoned” by your male friends, is that possible? I don’t get it. If someone could answer the above questions and explain the population of males who’ve ever uttered the word “friendzone” seriously, I would greatly appreciate it.


How to go out when you feel like ugly crap 101

My early university social life was characterized – really, terrorized – by this toxic habit of skipping out on things I wanted to participate in because of how I looked (A la Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, which in one of its commercials mentions some super high statistic of girls who opt out of activities they’re interested in because they feel like shit about their appearance, which I’m frankly too lazy to look up and include but I assure you it was high.) I actually hesitate to refer to it as a habit, but more like a spectre, as it was a mode of thinking and being that completely haunted and controlled my life.

It started out as just plain “finding clothing to fit this atrocious body is too hard/time-consuming/emotionally draining and I just can’t deal right now”, but quickly turned into some weird sort of self-punishment for being fat. Even if I wasn’t in a hysterical, teary panic, and was actually able to actually compose myself enough to assemble some sort of presentable exterior, I just forbade myself from going out. I didn’t deserve to be seen or have fun given the way I looked, in my mind. And the longer I was MIA, the harder it became to make an appearance somewhere, which I guess was the point: “I’ll show my face when I lose some weight.” Unfortunately, though this mantra was designed to serve as some sort of motivation to in fact lose weight, that of course never happened, as I quite predictably ended up spending my nights alone working out like a fiend and alternately eating mass amounts of shitty food and throwing it up. Repeat nine times in the span of a few hours and you’ve got a recipe for feeling like absolute shit, physically and mentally.

As a self-declared feminist, I’m putting it lightly when I say I’m conflicted in instances like these that concern body image and how I “should” look as a female. I’m quite a bad feminist, to employ Roxane Gay’s term, because I vocally battle against the physical and behavioural ideals society holds women to, and yet battle with myself every second of every day for not adhering to them. I still want to adhere to them, in the end, and I guess that’s the reason I’m so against them in the first place… the fact that I’ve been socialized to want myself to be something unattainable and realistically, unimportant to my existence as a person. And yet for most of my life, it’s been THE most important thing to me. Being intelligent, well-read, well-informed, and well-spoken have been givens that I’ve never credited myself for because they weren’t what mattered about me and they came naturally. How I looked was that all-important part of myself that was so changeable and yet so impossibly so; somehow what was the only determination of my worth as a person. And yet I fought, and still fight, against this concept because I know men are taught their ideas and what they have to say and otherwise offer as people are what’s valuable about them, not just their weight/face/hair/sex appeal/whatever.

I can blame my parents for constantly telling me how “pretty” I was, and how great it was that I was, or for teaching me girls are quiet and polite and don’t act out and aren’t loud. But it’s not all their fault. And I can blame the gendered toy industry for making goal-oriented action games for boys while producing Dream Phone, Barbies with untenable body types and 10,000 items of clothing, and play makeup for girls. But again, it’s not all their fault. I can blame media – along with all of the males in my life – for constantly assessing me and every female in the world solely on their looks and rating as a sexual object. But it’s not all their fault either. Instead of complaining how I was a victim of all of these things, which I’m not going to deny that I am, I just focused on the one thing I could change: lame but true, myself and my paradigm.

Maybe unhealthy, but I permitted myself only seconds of mirror time before leaving the house. Maybe embarrassingly stupid, but I created a list in my head of “fallback outfits” that I knew I looked okay in and felt somewhat comfortable in, so I couldn’t spend hours picking myself apart and feeling like I wanted to don a snowsuit. I guess the most realistic change of all was just distracting myself from the looming cloud of body-focused thoughts that normally completely imposed on my consciousness. Instead of indulging in them, which I apparently loved to do (and which I really think the media, etc. wants me to do), I mustered my most strong-willed effort to think of literally anything else and just make myself get the fuck out of the house before I gave myself any other option. Feel like my face looks like garbage? Who cares. Feel like I’m 300 pounds? Too bad. I didn’t know any other thought process and yet here I was, whisking myself out of my own mind and into the real world. It sounds like I’m naturally inclined to be a narcissist obsessed with my own appearance, and I know a lot of people will read this and think it’s goddamn dumb, but this is the sad reality for a lot of women, and it’s a horrible mental prison of a place to be. It’s too easy to box yourself in a whiny, tragic mess of thoughts about how unfair everything is and how ugly you are and how you’ll never be hot or worth anything and how frustrating it is that you are made to feel this way. But it’s also pretty easy, in time, to give yourself a moment to acknowledge these thoughts and just move on with your evening. Screw your body ideals or whatever and just make yourself get out and live your life. Keep in mind the rest of us are out and about and probably feeling just as self-loathing and uncomfortable as you. But a good time, though seemingly just an unreachable mirage on the horizon of someone else’s life, can still happen and is arguably the best remedy to trump those negative feelings.


Why subtly sexist media is the most problematic

the-gift_new.jpgI know I wrote a post about blatantly (and excessively) sexist social media accounts pretty recently, but I’m back to bitch about more sexism and gender issues that men don’t want to hear about. Ones that, in my mind, can be a lot more dangerous.

Generally, I find that sexism comes one of two ways in movies, TV shows, books, and other media:

  1. Overtly, often comically so, to a point that it serves as a) satire of sexism itself or b) character development for the stereotypical “douchebag” role
  2. In a much deeper, more subtle way that viewers rarely even pick up on, rendering it not a behavioural habit of certain characters, but something more normalized and ingrained (and therefore accepted/acceptable) in the everyday life of average people

Wolf of Wall Street, for example – one of my most-hated movies of all time – somewhat teeters on the edge of this division, but the majority of viewers can hopefully watch the movie and easily pick out its moments of obvious sexism (which may or may not revolve around doing lines of coke off of girls’ asses). This approach presents the opportunity to analyze and rebuke these rather superficial moments contingent on one’s personal values. A lot of the sexism in the movie is part and parcel of DiCaprio’s character and associated lifestyle, and though it’s disgusting and honestly hard to watch as a female, it exists to shape the character (and the time, and the lifestyle) and begs not only to be noticed, but viewed with a critical eye.

Gone Girl, another movie I loathe, is closer to the latter, as its story basically just implies “women are hysterical psychos who lie about rape”. Viewers may be surprised to learn that 68% of sexual assaults aren’t even reported, 98% of attackers will never be persecuted, and 293,066 women are assaulted each year in the U.S. alone. False allegations are understandably impossible to quantify, but are purported to fall between 2 and 10%. In any case, the norm is that an accuser is telling the truth. This movie focuses on the exception. As if it isn’t hard enough for victims and their cases to be taken seriously.

Then there are movies like The Gift.

I watched the movie  – starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed the film) – upon the recommendation of a few coworkers and friends, and I really took little issue with it until its finale. I mean, sure, it portrays the female lead as an over-emotional, over-thinking, formerly drug-addicted (is this why she previously had a miscarriage? Of course the suggested link had to somehow subtly blame her) woman. Fortunately, this is somewhat counteracted by her husband’s increasingly asshole-ish behaviour, and the revelation that her seeming paranoia was justified by a very real threat that very much existed entire time.

By the end, it’s evident that Hall’s character Robyn, though one of the three protagonists, essentially serves as only an object with which the two males taunt and exact revenge on one another based on their troubled history (which she has absolutely nothing to do with). Bateman, playing her husband Simon, repeatedly suggests Gordo (Edgerton)’s attraction to Robyn and his desire to take Simon’s place, at times even rubbing his marriage in the other man’s face. His bullying behaviour towards Gordo, which we learn is an echo of a past dynamic, leads to the man’s final retribution – the never-completely-confirmed rape and impregnation of Robyn, which is suggested just as she gives birth to what Simon thought was his child. The moment is complete with a self-made video of Gordo approaching and undressing the unconscious woman after a fall shown earlier in the narrative and never explained until this point (hint: he drugged her in her own home).

Though I can understand the motivation of this *exciting and unpredicted* plot twist, it really harkens back to some articles I read in university about rape and war. Historically, invading forces pillage communities and rape all of the women they can find. Not because the women have anything whatsoever to do with ANYTHING going on politically, but because they’re just pawns in a man’s war, physically overtaken (and as a result, sometimes impregnated) to prove a point to the opposition. To have the penetration of borders and political ideals felt on a new, personal level. Used simply as grounds for violence between males, this casts women as non-persons, as objects, not in the “sexual objectification” way that we’ve come to be familiar with in media, but on a far deeper, more troubling level. This is exactly what The Gift enacts. And what’s most frustrating is that 99% of people will watch the movie and say, “Whoa, what a twist!”, deeming it a good story. Then there’s me, immediately bothered by it.

I suppose the fact that the first movie review I found after Googling “feminist criticism of The Gift” was met with comments like: “There’s no excuse for ever bringing up sexism in a movie review. Feminism has been dead for at least a generation. Why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie?” only slightly attests to what I’m saying. (Imagine if a man disliked and felt personally disturbed by a movie, by the way? The stance would be inarguable, except maybe by other men.) I guess I’ll just remember to casually forget my brain next time I encounter my 10x a day fix of problematic propaganda from the patriarchy (too severe, yes but I really can’t help myself from employing such laughable alliteration when it presents itself). Here’s to hoping I’m not the only one approaching the media around me with at least an iota of critical analysis, whether or not it impedes the enjoyment of said media.

 

 

 


Social media dudes that need to die

Social media has facilitated the purveyance of a lot of really dangerous, anti-feminist sentiments – as in real life, too many to count, really. Wading through it all as it’s thrown in my face on a daily basis, there’s one particular phenomenon that’s really been irking me to a greater extent than usual lately.

Instagram is my most-used social medium of choice, and probably the most popular in contemporary young culture, and so I naturally focus on that with my woes. Naked cam girls and big booty bitches with 259,000 followers? I at least somewhat get that; I’m not going to pass judgement on what women want to post of their bodies or on the men that want to consume that, for whichever reasons that they choose to.  The whole platform is so toxic for so many reasons pertaining to that whole issue, but whatever. Let’s ignore the vanilla objectification and over-sexualization issues for a moment.

If anyone has yet to hear of The Slut Whisperer, a.k.a. “@KirillWasHere,” they’re in for a treat. Peddler of the ever-popular with frat boys “Party with sluts” and “Thank you for being a slut” merchandise, this guy started on Twitter, having now amassed 139.5k followers there and leeched into other social media, naturally (589k on Instagram, yuck).  A quick scan of his account today alone reveals such gems as:

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There isn’t even any explanation or analysis necessary here, as the garbage he spews is so blatantly misogynistic and disgusting in the simplest, most basic way.  Now I know that I can’t fight every instance of a man having opinions like these, and likewise can’t stop them from sharing them on social media. What bothers me most is the level of reverence guys like this achieve by males and females alike. They’re worshipped solely for their “funny” sexist remarks, the degrading nude photos they post of women, their status as men because of how they portray their interactions with women, etc. Similar accounts I can think of are @lastnightsparty, who posts under the guise of a bystander simply documenting “slutty” girls at club events, and Dan Bilzerian, a seeming idol of manhood with photos like the ones below and inexplicable wealth and fame. And with one million supporters of this trash? What year are we in, here?:

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The core issue here is the shift from women having ownership of their bodies – their own fans for posting their own photos, however nude and “slutty” they may be – to men imposing ownership and being celebrated for their blatant degradation of women. Bilzerian posting countless photos of seemingly anonymized nude women (and himself among them, often groping them) and receiving upwards of 300,000 likes is an homage to the glamorization of his lifestyle; namely, his possession of so many women and his control over these nameless, sexualized bodies. His wealth is indicated by his yachts and trips, yes, but also by his multitude of women as silent sexual possessions that he can grab and sleep with whenever and however he so chooses. The ultimate male’s dream, it seems, and these girls are valued explicitly and exclusively for their scantily clad bodies (and, implicitly, their orifices), while Bilzerman is valued for his personhood and also for what he represents as man. And yes, I acknowledge that these women are choosing to participate in this whole thing. But doesn’t that make it all the more sad? It’s like the friend who goes along with sexist jokes because “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and if you’re “one of the guys”, it makes you less likely to be a target. Women who are support sexism against women in any way are another topic to be taken up another day, but I think we can all see why they do it.

It’s such a simple concept so deeply ingrained in our culture, but personified in specific individuals celebrated solely for their mastery and exploitation of said concept. I just see accounts like these and feel the overwhelmingly, frustratingly inescapable fact that women are generally rendered meaningless as people outside of their physicality on a purely sexual level. (Please note: this is me completely ignoring the whole issue of sexual assault and generally piggish behaviour because… too many topics to talk about in one go). All of advertising and consumer/capitalist culture is predicated on women filling this void created by our media and society-fostered self-loathing and insecurity with material goods; a self-loathing that has nothing to do with ourselves as people, but is based purely on what we look like. I don’t deny that I too am guilty of “retail therapy” and shopping sprees for clothes and cosmetics to better myself in the only way that I’ve been taught is important: physically. It’s not even a conscious thought pattern or act, which makes it all the more detrimental. Men are generally respected for their ideas, their successes, and clearly, their control and possession of (hot) women. And the celebration of individuals like the aforementioned and the perpetuation of what they put out on their social media accounts unfortunately reinforces that females can at best aspire to be those hot objects on some successful man’s arm, and not achieve success in their own right; unless, of course, it is some small peripheral success based on 1) being sexy and 2) being associated with some man. It also, obviously, reinforces the whole “sexism is cool” trend. I’m trying to fight these ideologies by expressing my dismay for accounts like these. And I hope that my dismay can point out the underlying problematic societal norms that accounts like these represent to those that may be ignorant of the bigger picture. Even if taken at face value, no person should be stoked on these accounts or these dudes, end of story.


U.S. initiative aims to show male bystanders how they can stop rape

Men Can Stop RapeI recently got the chance to chat with a representative of Mencanstoprape.org, a fantastic group that advocates proactively against sexual violence with an accessible approach that targets young men. The organization proposes a completely fresh (and true) perspective on sexual assault, placing the burden of responsibility and prevention on the accused instead of, as is often part and parcel of systematic victim-blaming, on the accuser. In a society where police have said that dressing like a “slut” leads to rape and public awareness campaigns blame victims, Men Can Stop Rape fosters positive masculinity and an awareness of sexual violence to prevent, counteract, and help stop instances of sex crimes and the mentality behind them.

Washington-based co-founders Patrick Lemmon and Jonathan Stillerman started MCSR after realizing how ill-prepared they were to support female friends who approached them with personal experiences of sexual assault.

“They wanted to help other men learn how they could better support survivors and also play a positive role in preventing sexual violence,” says MSCR representative Pat McGann.

The organization hosts educational speaking events at schools and colleges across the U.S., also providing leadership training with the hope to perpetuate confident, mindful men who can be strong in ways not related to sexual dominance or violence. Public awareness campaigns are also a huge cornerstone of MCSR’s work.  Their focus is to “redefine masculinity and male strength” in a non-violent way, using an approach that feels friendly and [dare I say] “cool,” as if simply the advice of a friend rather than a social justice campaign.

“From bus shelters in D.C. to billboards and movie theatres across California to U.S. military instillations across the world, MCSR’s public education campaigns have reached hundreds of thousands of men with their visuals and messages,” McGann says.

The mission hasn’t exactly been easy, though. McGann says that the biggest roadblock MCSR has experienced is the fact that many men are hesitant to denounce sexism when they witness it or intervene in situations where sexual assault could be an outcome. They may be scared of how other men will perceive them, or worry that it’s not their place. He says that some of the group’s campaigns, such as “Where Do You Stand?” try to offer the support men need to speak up in these scenarios.

Another opposing force to the organization’s ideology is the ubiquitous sexist and patriarchal institutions that are so ingrained in modern society that they are almost inherent.

“Media perpetuates problematic concepts like victim-blaming and the idolization of male violence,” McGann says. “Media are enmeshed in the dominant stories that define conventional responses to sexual assault and that define what has traditionally been valued about masculinity.”

He says that this will only stop when society as a whole adopts a broader cultural understanding of rape prevention that includes men, and not just women.

“Historically, it has been women’s responsibility to prevent rape by taking precautionary measures. This lets men off the hook.”

Organizations like MCSR are fighting to change these embedded behaviour patterns and values for a better future for both genders. And, considering how far they’ve managed to spread their message, it’s working – though it will be a long time before even this single facet of the battle against sexism and rape culture is anywhere close to won. I can only hope that initiatives like this can make their way into Canada and into our collective consciousness.

“Together, we can change the culture of rape,” McGann says.