Alright, I’m ceding defeat on getting a full blown post up for tonight. I’m too tired and it’s too late for me to finish any of my drafts in progress. But! I can share some writing by s.e. smith, who’s an amazing gender equality, genderqueer, disability, and economic justice activist and whose writing I highly recommend. I’ve been thinking about writing sometime soon about why I identify as “feminist-with-qualifications.” s.e.’s article on why ou* is not a feminist is good prelude to that future post, whenever it goes up (*ou = s.e.’s chosen gender pronoun). An excerpt:
The early roots of feminism are tangled in a lot of dubious origins. Some of the heroes of the movement were, sadly, the same people advancing arguments like that white women should have the right to vote to ensure that white folks could outvote Blacks in elections, and that birth control would prevent “the unfit3” from reproducing.
Classism, racism, and ableism were deeply intertwined in early feminism, even though people of all classes, races and abilities participated in emancipation marches and fought for civil rights.
This isn’t just history — these are issues that continue to the present day, an ugly fact that many feminists don’t like to be confronted with. It comes up with racist signs at Slutwalk, with casual ableism in feminist spaces, with classist comments about who should be allowed to “breed.” The concept ofintersectionality, of considering other lived experiences, is present in some forms of feminism, but it’s not universal, and sweeping these issues under the carpet both doesn’t make them go away, and, yes, alienates people who feel excluded by spaces where it’s made clear that they’re not welcome.
Feminism is a heavily sex and gender-focused movement. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sex and gender-based oppression are things that happen and need to be addressed. Unfortunately, my view of the world doesn’t split identities that way; I can’t just look at women, for example. I see the whole body, the whole picture, and that means that sex and gender aren’t one size fits all. That if you focus solely on these issues, you leave out other people, other bodies.
These things are about more than gender. When you focus on reproductive rights solely from the perspective of cis white women, for example, you miss the larger picture of reproductive justice, and the issues that impact people with disabilities, people of color, nonwhite people, low-income populations…and inevitably, you leave people out and make them feel excluded.
Day 6 of NaBloPoMo: Bringing the Sunday news roundup back! I haven’t done one of these in a long time, but I’m hoping to get back into the habit.
Here’s some of the interesting reading I’ve come across this week:
the righter you get it: Great post that addresses, among other things, the push to get things perfectly right in fundamentalist Christianity and the damage it does even after people have left fundamentalism. I also really identify with her frustration with other Christians who minimize the negative experiences of ex-fundamentalists by saying that we just weren’t taught the right kind of Christianity.
My then-husband had studied to be a minister so our home was bulging with Bible translations, commentaries, books on theology, and hermeneutic helps. My children remember me studying the Bible surrounded by more than a dozen open volumes. They also recall that I always first submitted my understanding to God in prayer. I genuinely wanted to know what God thought on any matter. If you could show me that God desired me to do, think or act a certain way I’d have crawled over broken glass to do it. On the other hand, if I couldn’t see a thing in Scripture, I wasn’t one to rush off following what Christian leaders or friends were doing even if they could make a strong case for it. When my best friend and her family became Amish and she and her girls all started wearing cape dresses and head coverings, I agonised over the Bible to see if I could agree with their new practice. I ended by saying that it would break my heart that my worship might not be pleasing to Christ because I was inappropriately attired, but that I just couldn’t see either uniformity of dress or the necessity of head coverings for contemporary women in Scripture. Had I been able to, I’d have frocked up in a flash.
A coach of the Poland team said: “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression.” This might be an example of officials assuming that (1) men are the main audience for boxing and that (2) men will watch women’s boxing more if they differentiate/sexualize women.
It might also, however, be an example of an attempt to retrench difference between men and women exactly when those differences start to dissolve. Discomfort with the lack of actual differences between men and women sometimes leads individuals to encourage or enforce artificial ones. I would say that this is one of the main functions of clothes today. Yeah, I said it. I think exaggerating what are actually rather weak and strongly overlapping differences between men and women is one of the primary functions of clothes.
Fathers, Sons, and Guns: A really interesting interview of Michael Messner, a sociologist who has studied and written extensively about masculinity, on the relationship between masculinity and guns.
[The interviewer, Jackson Katz]: There is very little thoughtful discussion of one crucial aspect of the role that guns play in our lives: the relationship between guns and manhood. It’s a stunning omission when you consider that men own the vast majority of guns, comprise the vast majority of hunters, and commit the overwhelming majority of gun violence….Alas, many people assume “gender” means women. The subject of women and guns does merit further inquiry and discussion. But men are every bit as gendered as women. It is long past time that the gun debate was infused with a sophisticated understanding of how gun use and abuse – from hunting to homicide – is tied inextricably to cultural constructs of masculinity across a range of class, racial and ethnic categories. Part of this understanding has to do with the emotional connection so many men feel to guns – and to the men they bond with around them….
Messner: It is fascinating to me how, in this day and age, national politicians still apparently have to establish their affinity with hunting. Obviously, this is motivated in part by a desire not to alienate a huge lobby and voting bloc–the NRA. But it’s also connected to a very American ideal of frontier masculinity, as though every national politician has to prove some affinity with the image of Teddy Roosevelt as frontiersman and big-game hunter. The male politician who fails to establish this image risks being seen as weak and feminized. What you don’t see as much these days is politicians posing with animals they have killed (well, maybe Sarah Palin does so, but conservative women politicians–think Margaret Thatcher’s muscular militarism–risk not being taken seriously unless they wield an even thicker stick of masculinity).
Getting some nuance up in your reproductive rights: This is a few months old, but it’s a great post on why reproductive rights are not just about abortion, and how they also matter to people who are not women. Truly comprehensive reproductive rights movements have to address the various ways in which reproductive rights are undermined.
Reproductive rights has tremendous intersections with race, class, sexuality, and disability. These are not ‘side issues’ that people should pay lip service to when they have a chance, or address at some point. They are key, critical issues that must be addressed in any and all discussions about reproductive rights. Whether or not you are allowed to have children can be determined by race, class, sexuality, and disability status. Minority communities have a fundamentally different relationship with the reproductive rights movement than the majority community. Our relationships include not just the fight for bodily autonomy in an oppressive world, but the fight for basic humanity within social justice movements, the need to constantly assert our own personhood in a movement that often rejects us or silences us….
Among many others, Cara Kulwicki has covered, extensively, the use of sterilisation to control poor communities, which often have considerable overlap with people of colour, nonwhite people, and people with disabilities. Drug addicts and alcoholics, many of whom are poor, are paid to be sterilised in the United States. In Chile, HIV-positive women were sterilised without consent. Many reproductive health access programs in the United States aimed at poor people contain incentives for sterilisation, and stop providing coverage like pap smears after participants are sterilised. Poverty very much determines access to reproductive health services, and the level of care received.
Aleksa Lundberg, Transgender Actress, Mourns Forced Sterilization (some problematic reporting, trigger warning): A concrete and heartbreaking example of how reproductive rights are more than just abortion rights. In Sweden and many other countries, trans people are required to be sterilized, with no allowance for them to freeze sperm or eggs, before they are permitted to legal transition to their actual gender. This forces trans people to choose between having children or being fully recognized as their actual gender.
“Compulsory sterilization” has been quietly practiced for decades in countries typically cast as progressive on LGBT rights: France, the Netherlands, Australia, and a number of U.S. states still require it. Italy and Germany have just recently overturned similar legislation.
Although Swedish leaders have been talking for months about repealing the sterilization law that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called a “dark chapter in Swedish history,” it remains on the books. The conservative Christian Democrats have doggedly opposed the repeal, arguing that sex reassignment surgery is a threat to traditional social roles. Transgender advocates like Lundburg say they are fed up with being the last of the LGBTs to win their rights….
The infertility requirement has meant that some patients chose to wait to have corrective surgery so they can have a family. “I know at least one man in Sweden who lives fully as a man but has kept his womb because he wanted children and it’s very problematic for him to still legally be defined as a woman,” says Ulrika Westerlund, president of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL).
Doesn’t mean that science has all the answers for everything. In fact, we were talking about survivors a while ago, uh, most studies on survivors show that the atheists die first, because if you can’t – if you don’t believe in something supernatural, how can you imagine that you yourself have supernatural abilities enough to survive?
What kind of ridiculous magical thinking is this? Why is it on television? Absurd. (ht agaytheist)
LDS (Mormon) owned Brigham Young University just dismissed Brandon Davies, a key player on their #3 ranked men’s basketball team, for violating the school’s honor code. Davies was apparently dismissed because he and his girlfriend had premarital sex. Amazingly, a number of otherwise liberal bloggers and mainstream media figures who are applauding BYU for “sticking to their principles” in this case (including Jon Stewart, for heaven’s sake). Many are also castigating Davies for breaking a “contract” and “letting his teammates down.” Um, no. Fail.
BYU’s right to define its own rules doesn’t make those rules or how they’re applied inherently right, or exempt them from criticism and scrutiny. There are undoubtedly quite a lot of sexually active, unmarried students at BYU. The honor code holds up standards the school must know a large proportion of the student body won’t be able to meet, and the vast majority of people will get away with breaking. According to one BYU alum, the rules are unevenly applied; Davies may be subject to a double standard because he’s part of a nationally prominent team.
As for claims that BYU showed “integrity” and “courage” by giving up potential wins for its principles – I’m sorry, but that’s utter bullshit. It doesn’t take “courage” to turn a 19 year old into a national spectacle. It would take more courage for such a conservative institution to acknowledge that not everything is black and white, and to take a nuanced, non-judgmental approach to the situation. Or to acknowledge that maybe there’s more than one way to deal with offenses, and the harshest way is often more self-righteousness and legalism than it is thoughtful adherence to “principles.”
In order to maintain their “integrity” as a religious institution, BYU showed appalling disregard for the welfare of two young people and their families. But even if Davies were a grown man, “rules is rules” would be a shitty excuse for throwing context, nuance, or basic human decency and compassion out the window. Is the purpose of a religious code of conduct to weed out anyone who doesn’t behave perfectly? An excuse to expose anyone who makes a mistake to national scrutiny and humiliation? Or to help people make better choices and live well? Insisting on rules for their own sake lacks compassion – it makes being human itself into a sin and a failing. Is this what passes for pastoral care at BYU?
Davies now feels he owes his teammates an apology for having consensual sex, which is just sad and awful. Funny how some churches claim to believe sexuality is an incredibly private thing but still put it on such public display. Apparently that’s only bad if someone chooses to express themselves sexually in a not entirely private context; exposing someone’s body or sex life to public scrutiny without their consent is just fine. One wonders if the famous BYU alums who are defending the school would be willing to have their sexual histories laid out for public consumption and examined to see if they held up the honor code as students. Somehow I think not.
The bottom line is what Brandon Davies and his girlfriend have or haven’t done sexually, assuming consent, is NO ONE’S BUSINESS BUT THEIR OWN. It’s no business of the coach, the team, or the university. It’s damn sure not the country’s business. This is an inexcusable violation of the privacy and dignity of Davies, his girlfriend, and their families. They are owed an apology. Davies didn’t let his teammates, his fans, BYU, or anyone else down. The adults and the institution who are supposed to be looking out for him let him down. The awful irony is that Davies is implicitly praised for apologizing for consensual sex in the same culture where Ben Roethlisberger and myriad other athletes with a history of rape or sexual assault are under little or no pressure to apologize for their behavior (thanks to @FearlessFemme for pointing this out).
Davies is a young black man at a predominantly white institution; he belongs to a predominantly white religion (in the U.S.) with a long, documented history of institutionalized racism and white privilege. The holding up of a young black Mormon as a national example of sexual transgression has to be understood in that context, and in the broader hypersexualization of black men and other men of color in U.S. culture. Rumors that Davies’ girlfriend is white have also fueled comments, which one doesn’t have to look hard to find, speculating about her judgment, self-esteem, and even body image and weight because of her decision to date and have sex with a black man. Such comments indicate the persistence of old, ugly attitudes about racial “miscegenation” in the U.S.. It’s worth noting here that the 100+ years ban on black men in the Mormon priesthood, lifted only in 1978, is thought to have been a response to an interracial marriage between a white woman and the son of a black elder in the early years of the LDS church.
There’s also a concerning pattern here of male athletes of color coming under university scrutiny over the honor code – now at least three in the past year. Harvey Unga, a Tongan football player, and Keilani Moeaki, a women’s basketball player, voluntarily withdrew from BYU in 2010 for honor code violations presumably sexual in nature, as Moeaki gave birth to their son three months later. Michael Loyd, another black basketball player, left BYU for reasons reported by the school and its supporters to be related to discipline problems and possible honor code violations. It’s unclear at this point whether Davies will remain at BYU – whether he will be expelled, as is reported to be a possible penalty for an honor code violation of this “seriousness,” or transfer elsewhere. If he is expelled, it will raise further questions about the disposability of young black men in higher education and athletics.
I find it telling that very little concern has been expressed for Davies’ girlfriend. She’s entirely out of the picture as a stock figure and sexual objected implicitly blamed for luring Davies into making a “mistake.” We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this young woman has had her sex life turned into fodder for national debate overnight. If, like Davies, she’s also a member of the LDS church, the scrutiny may be even more damaging; in cultures like conservative Mormonism, a man might be forgiven the “indiscretion” of premarital sex or even an affair because that’s just “how men are.” Women in such cultures, by contrast, are simultaneously constructed as asexual and as natural objects of male desire, especially if they are white (women of color are often depicted as naturally hypersexual and inclined to promiscuity).
In addition to being extremely misogynist and racist, this view of gender and sexuality is also extremely heteronormative. It’s as obvious that even a “good” young man would want to have sex with a young woman as it is that any “good” young woman wouldn’t want to have sex unless she were deceived or susceptible in some way. If she wanted to have sex, she must have been bad in some way. Obviously these ideas aren’t limited to religion, and they’re some of the ideas that constitute and perpetuate rape culture. Still, they’re more explicit in patriarchal religions like Mormonism, and even codified into official teaching.
There are rumors that Davies was found out because his girlfriend is pregnant; who knows if that’s true. This certainly seems to have been a factor in Unga and Moeaki’s departures from BYU, however, and it points to incredible hypocrisy on the part of a supposedly pro-life institution. Given the school’s past behavior, unmarried student athletes who find themselves pregnant must face external pressure to terminate in order to avoid losing their scholarships. If abortion is really and truly murder – the LAST thing a pro-life religious institution should do is punish someone for getting pregnant and and not terminating. People who make the tough decision to continue an unplanned pregnancy in a context where they will be vilified and potentially lose their reputations and jobs for being sexually active should be applauded by pro-life institutions as courageous and honorable by their own internal standards, not punished and shunned.
Davies and his girlfriend shouldn’t be ashamed of having consensual premarital sex. But BYU should be ashamed of violating their privacy, making their sex lives into a spectacle, and failing to show compassion. And BYU’s defenders need to learn that “rules is rules” isn’t actually a “principled” stance at all.
Stacey Blahnik Lee*, a trans woman of color, was murdered in her home in Philly two days ago. The Philly Daily News published an article (which has now been taken down from the paper’s website) on Stacey’s death that was deeply disrespectful of her as a human being and perpetuated a number of transphobic and transmisogynistic stereotypes (see the Trans Griot, The Prophet Lilith, and Deeply Problematic for more on this). I sent the email below to Stephanie Farrs, the author of the article. It appears from the contact that Erin has made with Stephanie that she’s somewhat open to addressing the issues with the article, so the more people speak up about the problems with it, the better.
I’m writing about your article on the murder of Stacey Blahnik, which was problematic in a number of ways. It was both disrespectful and out of keeping with AP Stylebook standards to put her name in quotes and repeatedly referring to her by a name that was not hers. The repeated references to her appearance, the sexualization of her death (“naked or half-dressed in provocative clothing”) and implied speculation about her sex life (“they would often see strange, white men in nice cars coming and going from the house during the day”) were irrelevant, degrading, dehumanizing, and victim blaming. Stacey didn’t “pass for a woman,” she was a woman. She wasn’t a “transsexual;” she was a transgender woman. Writing about her as you did stripped her of her identity and treated a human being as an exotic sex object.
I understand that you are planning to write a follow up to this article. I hope your follow up will correct and apologize for the errors in this article. I hope you’ll also take some time to highlight Stacey’s work with trans and LGB people of color, and to write about who she was to her family, loved ones, and friends. I hope you’ll also use this time to raise awareness about the epidemic rates of anti-trans violence and murder, particularly among trans women of color like Stacey, and to educate your readers about the pervasive discrimination and lack of access to health care that trans people face on a daily basis.
[update] The author sent back a very defensive reply refusing to retract or apologize for any of the content of the article because everything she reported was fact and reported no differently than any other murder, claiming that a GLAAD representative had no problem with the gist of the article, and claiming that she was being insulted and accused of not caring about murder victims (I gather that parts of the email I got were copied and pasted to or from emails she sent to others who wrote in to complain). I sent the following reply back to her:
It’s disappointing that you’ve chosen to make criticism of your article about your intentions and your character rather than what you actually wrote and its implications. If you had written an article with obsolete or improper terminology regarding someone’s race or ethnicity, and full of racial and ethnic stereotypes and harmful tropes, the fact that you were well-intentioned and/or care about people of color would be irrelevant given the problems with what you’d actually said. The same goes for gender.
Secondly, GLAAD is not a transgender organization. They don’t speak for transgender people, and don’t have the best record on transgender issues.
I didn’t know Stacey, and I can’t speak for her. But I do know that there was and is relevant information about Stacey’s life and work easily available through a simple Google search – that she was a beloved activist and mother figure at a local trans and LGB organization for people of color. I’m puzzled as to how this factual information didn’t make it into your piece, while neighborhood gossip about Stacey did.
Your words did sexualize Stacey’s death. A huge portion of the article was about her appearance and sexual desirability to men – including that a woman in her neighborhood was envious of her appearance – which is entirely irrelevant to a report on someone’s murder. You described her as possibly wearing “provocative clothing” when she was murdered – a phrase I highly doubt you would have used to describe a murdered man’s attire, and a phrase that makes little sense given that Stacey was found in her bedroom. It’s hardly newsworthy information that people are sometimes not completely dressed in the privacy of their own homes, not least their bedrooms. A secondhand rumor that she was found half naked is not a “fact” that readers need to know about a murder investigation. Nor is neighborhood gossip about how many strange men showed up at her house when she was alive a relevant “fact.” Your discussion of Stacey’s (alleged) attire when she was found dead, of her attractiveness, and of speculations about her social life are every bit as inappropriate as they would be in an article about, for example, the rape or sexual assault of a woman. Including these elements in your article perpetuated victim-blaming stereotypes.
You quoted someone saying she “passed as a woman,” which was inappropriate, degendering, and dehumanizing. She didn’t pass. She was a woman. Her assigned birth name had nothing to do with her murder and was not information anyone needed to know. The title of your article – which perhaps was not your choice – was not only incorrect in the terminology it used, but incredibly dehumanizing and degrading.
All of these aspects of your article did violence to Stacey’s memory. You may have intended to do her justice, but what you wrote did not accomplish that. And if you’re not willing to examine how what you wrote was dehumanizing and objectifying and perpetuated dangerous anti-trans stereotypes, then yes, it’s better that you don’t write about transgender people.
*Corrected from Stacey Blahnik.