Attention, world: Saturday was a “Do not mess with me today, I will cut you [viciously with my eyes and words]” day. I mean, that’s my normal state, but this weekend the danger level was raised to code orange. You have been warned.
Part 1: Looking for Trouble
Saturday was filled with all manner of fuckery, including the fact that my spellcheck (as I learned) did not recognize “fuckery” as a word. Now it does. Phew. I woke up early and decided to read a book that has been on my list for a while, but I’ve never touched: Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. I’d read excerpts, seen quotes bandied about on blogs, but hadn’t read the whole thing. Now, I’d heard that the book contained problematic claims and a lot of trans*phobia, but I firmly believe in reading things first-hand before being able to properly refute them. Opening the book, I saw that chapter four was titled “From Womyn to Bois.”
Me in my head: “This is bound to be a disaster. Might as well jump in!”
TW: trans*phobia, femmephobia, and assorted patriarchal bullshit
Levy’s thesis is that lesbian women–no discussion of gradations of queer here–who either:
- are somewhat gender-fluid
- are immature
- have/desire sex frequently (holy shit so much slut-shaming)
- objectify other queer women (especially feminine-of-center ones)
- want to be men (whatever that means)
identify as bois and see this as a way to eternally extend their teenage-dom. Some trans* men also fall into this category, she says. FYI: trans* men are not “real boys” unless Levy perceives them to be cis while walking through a park.
Okay, good to know. WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE ON? This chapter is littered with trans*phobic slurs; she asserts that t****y is the word of choice used by members of the trans* community to describe themselves. Never mind the fact that she’s interviewing FAAB bois and trans* men, not trans* women (who are actually the ones historically targeted by that slur).
Phase A: Who on earth published this?
Reading this chapter, I became predictably enraged. Levy glosses all bois as ignorant jerks who refuse to take responsibility for their lives, puts gender binary in scare quotes (cuz, ya know, that’s not a real institution to interrogate or anything), and basically every point she tries to make becomes a shit show. Obviously, I want Levy to take responsibility for her words and the harm that they’ve done. She’s perpetuating dangerous ideas and people cite her works as expert opinions. But I also couldn’t help thinking “Who published this shit?”
Me in my head: “She actually sent this manuscript to a publisher and nobody said ‘Hey, how bout you don’t spew trans*phobia everywhere?’…no ‘This all seems really biased. Are you sure you understand the complexity of these communities and are researching several perspectives?’…no ‘Did you listen to more than one token POC voice?’…no ‘This is a perfect example of terrible ethnography and journalism'”???
plot twist predictable fail move, Levy characterizes black queer women in general as butch, by virtue of providing no other examples. Seriously? That again?
My Phase A reaction was characterized by anger at how simplistically Levy glossed communities that I care deeply about and am connected to. I desperately want bois and trans* guys not to be seen this way. Are there immature bois and trans* folks who perpetuate patriarchal norms? Sure. Are there immatures jerks across all segments of the population who do this? Absolutely.
Phase B: Oh no, there are queer people who believe this shit!
Midway through the chapter, incredible sadness and anger at the interviewees overtook my anger at Levy. Levy repeatedly quotes various bois speaking derisively about femmes, feminine-of-center women, butches–the list goes on. Femmes are labeled “air”: substance-less, clingy, needy, subservient, there to please and then be discarded by bois. Hey there, repackaged patriarchy!
Levy certainly shouldn’t have glossed all masculine-of-center FAAB communities as monolithic, based on these few examples. It’s like she explicitly sought out the douchiest bois and then asked them to regale her specifically with tales of their douchebaggery. However, her interviewees do exist and their femmephobia is real. Despite my earlier urge to protect these segments of the queer community, I was left wondering “At what point can I no longer fight for them? At what point is their behavior inexcusable?”**
Part 2: Books Lead to Great Experiences
Later in the day, I tore myself away from the joys of Female Chauvinist Pigs and went to the library. I was greeted by a large sign informing me that Naomi Wolf will be there in a couple weeks to speak about her new book Vagina. Vagina is the latest iteration of “woman = vagina,” centering whiteness, and cultural appropriation. So y’all can guess how I feel about that.
Browsing in search of a book, I saw an older man walking between two shelves, staring at me. Only vaguely paying attention, I glanced up, smiled weakly and said hi.
Strange man: “Aw I love that smile darlin’. Hey gorgeous! Smile for me like that more often!”
Me: (staring after him) “No.”
Me in my head: “No! I smile for myself. I DO NOT SMILE ON COMMAND.”
It was then that I realized that I’d seen this very same guy around town before, and he’d greeted me exactly the same way then. Terrific.
Leaving the obnoxiously typical man, I headed up to the young adult section to find a book that had been recommended to me by a friend. Apparently, since it’s a graphic novel, it’s classified as young adult. Hmmm. All the YA books in my local library are kept in a particular room that’s meant for teens and has a special lounge space for them. Pretty sure people who aren’t age 13-18 aren’t supposed to hang out there, but we can…ya know…check out books.
I’m not sure what the deal is with the librarian who works in the YA section. Every time I’ve seen her, she’s been grumpy/antisocial. Maybe she had a whole lot on her mind or maybe she’s not great interpersonally–I have no idea. Regardless, the moment I walked in, she looked me slowly up and down, scrutinized my hemline, grimaced, and said a brief hi.
Me in my head: “What did I do? I’M WEARING A FUCKING SWEATER DRESS, how risqué could I be?”
Super confused. Whatever, I looked fuckin’ fabulous. They didn’t even have the book that I wanted, so I peaced out. On the way home with my brother, I recounted these events. He was incredibly upset on behalf, especially about “smile for me” guy.
My bro: “I don’t always punch old men in the face, but when I do, it’s because they’re assholes to my sister. Stay angry, my friends.”
My bro wins. We had a long conversation about the smile comment and about dealing with street harassment. This is the zillionth example that confirms my belief that it’s so important to speak out about these issues (if and when we are able), especially to people who don’t see or experience them, especially when those people are like my brother: straight, white, cisgender teenage guys. Gotta train ’em to see the shit that won’t be hurled directly at them, yet happens all around them.
Part 3: I Have No Time for Assholes
The day significantly improved in the evening, when I went to visit a good friend. Having spent the L ride downtown scribbling furiously in my copy of Female Chauvinist Pigs (huge capitalized “NO”s and “STFU”s abounded), I was looking forward to chilling out in a thoroughly non-patriarchal atmosphere (as much as that is possible). As I crossed a large intersection to meet her, a car sped by, honking profusely. I turned to see strange guy #2–barely older than me and in a beat-up truck–staring out of the window, leering at me.
Without pausing, I flipped him off and kept walking. He looked shocked shocked and horrified at my reaction. I wish I had a picture of his face. Too fucking funny.
Success. Then I waltzed off into the night with my friend and headed to her apartment for yummy food and wine.
** The answer, of course, is that this shit is never okay. I love bois (and others) who are not femmephobic jerks. Then again, I think all kinds of non-jerk people are great, ‘nough said.