TW: Mentions of sexual assault, rape.
I was a few days behind on the news this Monday due to a blissfully computer-free weekend. (The sun! It was magical!) While catching up, I came across this piece by Erika Anderson for the New York Times, which addresses the author's experience of sexual assault in Crown Heights. Anderson details how a hooded man approached her from behind and grabbed her between the legs before disappearing back into the crowd. Anderson reported the assault and, surprisingly, had a drama-free interaction with an NYPD officer regarding the incident. (He did ask her what she was wearing at the time of the attack, but my standards for the NYPD are so dirt low that I'll chalk that question up to the system rather than this particular officer's sexism).
Anderson's article is laced with the sort of wide-eyed fear that I've often heard from friends first moving to New York. Especially for women, the city can be overwhelming. The absence of simple camaraderie with fellow pedestrians, daily newspaper headlines blaring crime statistics, and intangible evidence that law enforcement will actually keep you safe can make for quite a sense of isolation. And damn, sometimes folks are right. Your fear is validated. Scary things happen here.
But I struggled while reading Anderson's piece, for a couple of reasons. First, let's look at the way she discusses her sexual assault.
In case you haven't heard, once in a while fancy magazines use Photoshop to change the appearance of celebrities and models in their pages. It only happens every so often, like once every few decades, but when it does, the media loves to talk about it. Especially women's media. Especially Jezebel.
I'm really tired of the incessant conversation around Photoshop. First of all, we keep writing like we just discovered the damn thing. Those articles usually fall into one of a few tropes: "OMG Julie Whatsherface Airbrushed on Cover of Vogue!"; "Suspicious Shrinking: Look What Elle Did to SuchandSuch's Waist!"; "Airbrush Accident: You Won't Believe What Happened To This Model's Face!"
Then there's the pushback. Amidst brawling for the best before-and-after Photoshop gif, a 'brave' magazine or company will step up and refuse to airbrush. Sometimes it's a one-time thing, or a publicity campaign, and usually those entities are trying to get us women to buy more of something. And those efforts are celebrated.
I call bullshit on this whole practice. Haven't we reached the point where the vast majority of media consumers understand that some amount of altering goes into pictures of models and celebrities? Obviously consumption of those unrealistic and incredibly white portraits of beauty is unhealthy for our whole society. But the answer isn't to keep beating Photoshop over the head. The answer is to fundamentally change the expectations of how women who are models and celebrities are supposed to look.
Just because things happen to women - even important women - every day, doesn't mean all those things are necessarily feminist or generally good for women. Word? Like, I personally don't consider the following events, all featured in some 'feminist/woman moments of 2013' listicle, particularly feminist.
1) Jennifer Lawrence tripping on a stair.
Traveling sucks. Or at least, the airport part (usually) sucks. I can handle the constant low-level anxiety, stripping for security, and a gripping fear of flying which causes me to come to terms with my own mortality on every take-off and turbulent bump. What really gets annoying about traveling is constant sexual harassment from TSA agents.
I feel for TSA agents, honestly, because I know I would be TERRIBLE at that job. Their capacity to maintain even a facade of sanity is impressive, let alone the rare one who's kind and, somehow, cheery. Literally every single person they talk to every day does not want to see them. What a life. But hey, they're committed to our safety! No hazardous materials plz! Thx TSA!
In sincerity though, I try not to be an asshat to TSA agents or really anyone working in an airport or airplane. It can be a hard fucking job. I sat next to an off-duty flight attendant on my way home from Chicago yesterday who told me he'd been based out of the Chicago airport for 8 years and has never been outside of the airport into actual Chicago. Think about how much time you've spent in an airport hating the fact that you're in an airport. Now multiply that by eight years. (He didn't seem too upset about it though. He lives in Portland, ME, so I understand.)
Anyway, back to my point. TSA agents are rightfully cranky sometimes but they do important work and we should respect them. Which, as someone who goes out of my way to always be at least cordial if not downright friendly to service workers, puts me in a complicated position when I get harassed every time I walk through security.*
Lately I've needed a little writing inspiration. Here it is.
Here is a wonderful thing. Everyone should watch it.
Another week(ish), so many ridiculous things to talk about in the news. Let's dive right in, eh?
Not Your Bubbe's Dating Game: The Atlantic reports on the sinister rabbinical rationalization for your grandma's pushiness towards other singles at Friday night services ("But Barbara's son David is such a nice boy!"). Did you know that young impressionable Jews who go on Birthright are 45% more likely to marry another Jew?? Or that all Jewish couples are traditional and hetero?? Oh wait, that's only in the fictitious world this article constructs, not the real world. But anyway, the take-away here is rabbis think Jews should marry Jews. Given that marrying another Jew is literally a pillar of the Jewish religion, this article can officially be deemed about as ground-breaking as a republishing of the Old Testament.
Rape Protection Shorts Raise $40K and Counting: When it comes to the fight against sexual assault, surely it's important to educate men and potential aggressors about their responsibility to, well, not rape people. But until that starts working, how about these indestructible shorts! Honestly, what I find most offensive/saddening about this whole project is the part where they say: "Since a female’s waist measurement is generally less than that of her pelvic area, the waist strap can be locked at a comfortable position and still prevent unwanted removal of the garment." Um, okay, so this is rape protection for skinny people? I think my waist was significantly smaller than my hips like once ever. And I had the stomach flu.
Genderqueer Activist Set On Fire on Oakland Bus: Ok, I seriously can't even begin to process this story but it's too horrible not to spread. Yesterday, SFist reported a mysterious fire-setting incident on an Oakland bus. It seemed like a random attack or maybe even an accident. But today we learn that some asshole intentionally targeted qenderqueer activist and 18-year-old Sasha Fleischman by setting them* on fire while they were asleep on AC Transit. Sasha suffered second- and third-degree burns and will likely be hospitalized for weeks. Tragic and terrifying. Luckily folks showed support by donating $21,000 to their family to offset the hospital bills.
*I apologize on behalf of the dumbass reporters at the various linked publications for their persistent mis-gendering of Sasha. Fuckers.
Brittney Griner is Your New Crush/Best Friend: Okay I swear to god I do not read Elle magazine. But when they do a several-page profile of an out lesbian 6'8'' basketball player with hands bigger than LeBron James' and an affinity for bowties...well, c'mon now. Griner clearly gives zero fucks, hates vegetables, and will not let the WNBA teach her how to put on makeup (because fuck that shit). Hmm...now that I'm re-reading, the last page of this article is full of presumptive faux-femme Elle bullshit so don't read it. If you need to wash away Abraham's relegation of the word 'genderqueer' to 'left-coast academic types' then just look at some pix of Griner and you'll be a-ok.
15% of People Think Bisexuality is Fake: In more news that is not news, a study presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting demonstrated that 15% of respondents disagreed that bisexuality was a "real sexual orientation." As a self-identified queer/pansexual person who sometimes claims 'bisexual' when dealing with particularly binary-oriented folks, I buy it. The number of folks from across the LGBTQQAI spectrum that I've had to "prove" my sexuality to is bad enough, let alone all the straight people. Anyway, this shit is fucked because bisexual teens have the highest risk of suicide and depression of any sexual orientation. Ughhh.
Okay, because this week's round-up a particularly high bad-to-good-news ratio, let's look at more pictures of Brittney Griner being a badass while also listening to this new poem out of Angel Haze's #30GOLD project! Because good things exist!
Okay, here's the thing. Here's the thing about Ray Kelly's speech at Brown.
I don't want to call out specific people here. I acknowledge that conversation around this issue has been tense, loaded, and heated. I also acknowledge that a variety of voices have allied themselves in the fight against Kelly's speech, for which I am grateful.
But I must also acknowledge the voices who wish to drown out the voices of oppressed communities. I need to process all the folks on my Facebook feed talking about how Brown students should not have shouted down and cancelled Kelly's inevitably offensive, appalling lecture in List Auditorium today.
I cannot see one more status pleading that we ask him hard questions; that we engage in discussion with one of the most lauded racists of our time; that we be more "open-minded" in pursuit of a campus community that embodies Brown's values (whatever those are). It makes me want to BREAK THINGS. Here is why.
Certain populations in this country are told that what they say deserves to be heard. Certain demographics are lauded for having strong opinions, for pushing the envelope, for speaking loudly and standing up for what they believe in.
Do you know who these people are? Guess. GUESS. (Hint: Not women. Not POC. Not LGBTQA. Also, they look like a lot of the folks perpetuating anti-protest rhetoric on my newsfeed.)
Now, please understand that I certainly recognize that my white privilege, my Ivy League education, and my strong personality empower me to speak and be heard in many situations. I am entitled to a platform in many communities, increasingly even on this blog and especially as I try to raise awareness of my writing and work. I believe that I deserve to be listened to, and that makes me entitled. I constantly examine this position, hoping to continually use this entitlement in solidarity with folks less privileged than myself. (And if you have constructive things to say about how this essay is not pursuant to that goal, please engage with me!)
And I was also taught my whole life that what I have to say is less important than what white men have to say. I was taught this by the media, by gender expectations, by visions of leadership that did not represent me or my female peers. I was taught: glass ceiling. I was taught: stay quiet. I was taught: make me a sandwich.
From what I have gathered and learned from my incredible friends and peers organizing an enormous effort to shut down Kelly's lecture, my experience is not unique. Many of us in marginalized or oppressed communities feel that our voices are not valued. Some have, in recent years, been taught this in not-so-subtle fashion by the New York Police Department. Violence and oppression from the police is status quo in New York City today. I have felt this impact to an extent myself, having been exposed to sexism and verbal harassment from the very people allegedly keeping me safe. This state of fear is a direct result of Ray Kelly's "proactive policing," including stop-and-frisk.
It has taken me years to develop a sense of my voice, and to find comfort in speaking my mind. I find empowerment in feminist, activist, and anti-racist communities who echo and amplify messages that guide my decision-making every day. I work and aspire to one day claim those descriptors myself.
But despite the growth and proactivity of progressive communities, we are not living in an equal society. We are not living in a world where anti-racism is "the visible opinion," as some horrible person wrote on Brown University Compliments. We live in a world where oppressed communities ARE OPPRESSED. THAT MEANS THEY ARE NOT LISTENED TO. And an auditorium at Brown University, though we so desperately wish to believe ourselves special and unique, is not absent the context of our not-at-all-colorblind society.
I am not at all surprised that many folks opposed to Kelly's policies didn't even entertain asking him questions. Why? Because I was never taught that if I simply ask a well-thought-out question, someone in a position of power will listen to me. Because collective action, chanting, and protest is many communities' only hope of being heard in a society that is simply unwilling to acknowledge their voices.
I don't understand the logic that if those opposed to Kelly would just ask him questions, somehow some greater truth would be told. That is simply a privileged understanding of how politics and debate operates in our country. The only truth is the truth of human experience. And human experience in New York City, under the military control of the NYPD, is in desperate need of a new "visible opinion." Human experience has showed us that stop-and-frisk is destroying communities and lives. Asking communities affected by or opposed to that policy to stay silent IS OPPRESSION.
I so wish we lived in a society where I could expect that, given a platform and time for Q&A, Ray Kelly could engage in conversation with students positioned against his racist policies. Unfortunately, as a New Yorker who is far too aware of the direct consequences of white male privilege, I strongly disagree that such a space could have ever been created today.
In sum, thanks to my Brown friends for fucking shit up.
Sometimes when I write long posts for this blog or talk to friends about whatever sexist, racist, oppressive, normative, annoying, frustrating, or dickish thing we just read on the internet, I feel like this guy.
All the speaking out and pushing back can feel like I'm just yelling at the clouds. Sometimes it's discouraging; other times it's just fucking funny, like this guy. (It gets me every time. I can't with The Simpsons.)
So since I haven't come up with anything significant to say so far this week, and rather am full of a multitude of tumbling thoughts that will likely have little-to-no impact on the clouds, here's a link round-up. Maybe if you read these links, and you also get angry - and maybe even some other people do, too - and we all yell at the clouds together, our combined yells could move the clouds. Just a little. And then a little more sun could shine through.
Evictions Up 26% in SF: Did you know that a landlord can evict you because they want to move into your apartment? Take that, innocent tenant! This happened to 185 households this year in San Francisco. In related news, a prominent eviction case in Noe Valley was settled this week - and by 'settled,' i mean 'those nice folks were thrown the fuck out to make way for luxury condos.'
13-year-old Innocent Boy Shot and Killed by Police: Yesterday at 3 p.m., Andy Lopez was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police officers. Andy was carrying a fake rifle, which police believed to be real. There are no words and no excuses for this despicable crime and terrible loss.
'Busted at Barneys for Being Black': I had to go ahead and borrow the NY Daily News headline on this one. Trayon Christian was arrested outside of Barneys after purchasing a $349 Ferragamo belt with his own damn money that he worked damn hard for. Apparently, he was too black for cops or Barneys employees to believe he could afford the belt, and they suspected he'd stolen someone's debit card. Ey! Fuck you! Trayon is suing Barneys and the NYPD.
Everything Angel Haze Touches is Gold: Let's be happy about something for a minute! Angel Haze is fucking killin it everywhere and especially with her freestyles. Try to keep up. New album 'Dirty Gold' dropping soon.
The Fake Male Feminist Chicanery: Minh Nguyen takes on "male feminism" in this cool post over on Kiese Laymon's Cold Drank. Money quote: "We don't have to be grateful for the crumbs of lazy and fraudulent feminism men give us." Yup! Also: if you haven't read How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, DO IT NOW IMMEDIATELY PLZ.
#MensRightsMovies: Yeah, this was the funniest thing I saw all week. "You've Got Male Privilege." "Girl, Interrupted By a Man Who Knows Better." "I'll Tell You What Women Want." This is why I'm on Twitter. Also, what the fuck is men's rights? (Don't worry, I KNOW WHAT IT IS.) Like, seriously, GTFO. No one likes you!!!
Happy Thursday, internet.