Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘gender’

Summer Nights are for Women; Steel is for Men

Those of you who know me in real life know how much I love deodorant.  Okay, okay, I don’t have some weird obsession with anti-perspirants; I’m just fascinated by the names.  First of all, they’re completely ridiculous.  What do “summer nights” and “playa” smell like exactly?  Second, the names are incredibly gendered, or at least the packaging would suggest as much.  Take a stroll through CVS’s deo aisle and you’ll see a selection of small pastel containers bearing names like “warm rain,” “summer stroll,” and “allure.”  Across the aisle will be larger, squarer containers in black, forest green, and fiery red: “swagger,” “phoenix,” “steel,” “pulse,” and “manliest man who ever manned.”  (I may have made that last one up, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it fits right in.)  Apparently “convict,” “recovery,” and “instinct” are other branded scents.

On a recent shopping excursion, I discovered that “romance” smells disgusting to me and “escape” is great.  Hold on while I go ponder my life…

 

This week I discovered a new favorite soap: “falling rain.”  Let’s be clear now–this does not evoke the rain rushing through the cracks in your driveway.  It’s not the muddied water pooling in the sandbox and obscuring the toy truck than Janine left behind at recess.  It’s falling.  Interestingly enough, this soap smells suspiciously like peppermint.  Who has peppermint rain?  Please come forward.

So what’s the deal with deodorant marketing?  In case you hadn’t noticed, deodorants (and soaps, shampoos, and other toiletries) marketed toward women cost more.  Not only that, they come in smaller packages, so they’re ultimately much more expensive.  This problem is exacerbated by the number of individual products that are marketed to women, where combo products (all-in-one shampoo/conditioner/body wash) are advertised for men.  Women are paid less (hello, people, the pay gap is still alive and well!) and conditioned to pay more for our products.

So what is it we’re paying for?  What makes the difference?  Turquoise packaging and cosmetics industry employees who sit in far away offices devising names like falling rain.

“I totally support femmes–they’re so hot”: Terrible Opening Line

Dear universe and would-be allies:


Source: the lovely femmesandfamily, whose blog I recommend you check out.

Femmephobia, a topic that is more often than not on my mind in some form, was brought up anew in a conversation with a friend a couple nights ago.  We talked about wanting to wear overtly feminine clothes some of the time and more masculine ones at other times. Should be easy, right?  But it’s not.

Getting Dressed: A How-To Guide for Femmes and Anyone Who Dips into Femininity Occasionally

  1. Find fly outfit (trying on five is normal–we can’t always get it right the first time)
  2. Put it on
  3. Contemplate accessories (flower? pocket watch? jewelry? picket sign? rock?)**
  4. Worry about people hassling you and/or making asshole comments about your appearance
  5. Tell yourself that you’re over-thinking things and that no one is going to give you a hard time about how you look
  6. Go out into the world, looking fly and feeling good
  7. Someone will invariably make an asshole comment about how you’re presenting yourself

I (and so many other friends I’ve spoken with) have noticed a trend in sectors of the queer community: the idealizing of the thin, white, androgynous hipster look.  If this is your look and you wanna rock it, that’s great for you.  But when the attention paid to people who embody this look far eclipses the focus on all other gender presentations, there’s a big problem.

What’s going on here?

  • Patriarchal society prizes men and masculinity.  Looking through all sorts of intersecting oppressions, the ideal person (according to US society) is a white, cisgender, able, upwardly-mobile, masculine man.
  • In this patriarchal society, women are required to be feminine and then punished for doing so.  Femininity is seen as compulsory (you must look/behave “like a lady”) and also weak and deserving of ridicule (“girly” stuff is routinely dismissed as useless, superfluous, a joke).
  • We internalize misogyny; everyone is taught that femininity is not strong or powerful.
  • Results: men are socialized to be masculine and hate on femininity (“Why do women spend so much time on their hair/makeup?  What a waste of time!” and “A feminine man–shock, horror!  I must distance myself from him!”).  Women who don’t wanna fit into the socialized femininity are told that they can have an out by also hating on it (“I don’t get along with women–they’re so vain and catty.  All my friends are guys.”).  Everyone gets cool points for hating on femininity.  Wow, how fucked up is that?

What about queer communities?

  • Stereotypes: queer women are masculine, queer men are feminine.  That totally describes everyone, right??  Ha no.
  • Result: anyone who doesn’t fit this description is usually unseen/ignored.  People who do fit it are stereotyped as the big dyke or the gay bff.

The Really Nasty Part that Started this Whole Post:

Rejecting femininity is seen as a cool and radical thing to do.  Femme-ness is consequently labeled conformist and unimportant.  According to this logic, femmes are eye candy, but we don’t really have anything interesting to say.  In case there was any doubt about this, let me clarify: just because I wear makeup and heels does not mean I’m brainless, unaware of my actions, and unwittingly conforming to patriarchal expectations.  I have not failed to deconstruct my internalized whatever-the-fuck.  I am not waiting for you, oh great masculine-of-center queer person to save me by showing me the error of my ways.

If you describe yourself as a radical queer activist, but all you have to say about femmes is that we look hot, while simultaneously ignoring our contributions to discussions in favor of listening to masculine-of-center folks (who may well be saying the same damn things we said ten minutes ago), do not be surprised by the wall of skepticism that I will build between us.

If femmes/sometimes-feminine folks are talking about how it’s an achievement to wear what we want without worrying about it, do not look at us with blank stares, as though we’ve said the most obvious thing in the world.  Do not roll your eyes when we affirm for one another that it is in fact okay to say “fuck you” to people’s expectations and present our genders differently every day.  If you do, chances are you’re one of the people who makes us uncomfortable and fuels our preemptive worries to begin with.  Do not be step #7 when we get dressed.

**Note on the accessories list: “Why did you include a rock?”  I know people who carry rocks in their purses.  This is not an issue of advocating violence; it is an issue of protecting oneself when you know that you’re at risk of being attacked as you walk down the street.

National Lesbian Handbook Updated

Attention, everyone!  Florida’s Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has released an amendment to the ubiquitous National Lesbian Handbook concerning the dress code for queer women.  What’s that you say–you’ve never heard of the rules for lesbian appearance?  How did you skip that class?  I’m talking about the core of ‘merican culture here!

Lt. Gov. Carroll is facing scrutiny after a former staff member announced that she’d walked in on Carroll and Beatriz Ramos (an aide) in a “compromising position” in Carroll’s office.  According to Carroll, “Black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”

Lesbian women, take note: you are absolutely not allowed to look like the above photo.  Just so you know.

Several big issues:

1. What does “relationships like that” mean anyway?  Is she talking about extramarital affairs or same-sex ones?  Bueller?

2. Carroll has interpreted this as an attack on her entire family, stating, “My husband doesn’t want to hear that.  He knows the type of woman I am…my kids know the type of woman I am.”  Her phrasing creates a gulf between two distinct types of women, clearly ostracizing the ones who might engage in any same-sex romance or sex.

3. In refuting these rumors, Carroll insinuated something–but what?–about her staff member’s relationship status: “[she is] the one that’s been single for a long time.”  Did Carroll really just throw the queer spotlight on her colleague just because that woman isn’t married?  Like…for real?

4. Beyond gender policing, what are the real implications of Carroll’s remarks about black women and lesbianism?

  • Images of LGBTQ+ history and culture have often misrepresented these communities as primarily (or even exclusively) white.  Here again, Carroll implies that black women must be straight.  [Edited]
  • Queer women are routinely stereotyped as androgynous or masculine in our gender presentations.  No femininity here, right??  Furthermore, we can occupy only three jobs: security guard, police officer, and gym teacher.  Duh.  Everyone knows that.
  • At the intersection of these assumptions, black femme lesbians (and other queer women) are not only rendered invisible, Lt. Gov. Carroll says they simply don’t exist.
  • By holding herself up as the standard of acceptable (heterosexual) womanhood, Carroll is using femininity as a tool to alienate masculine-of-center women while simultaneously erasing feminine queer women.  Seriously?  I just can’t…

In response to Carroll’s bullshit homophobic and femmephobic comments, HuffPo gathered photos of queer women, all tweeted with the hashtag #ThisIsWhatALesbianLooksLike.  I think this was an awesome response and some lovely ladies sent in fierce and touching captions with their photos.  Check out the full article and slide show here.  Shout out to my fabulous femme friend Jessica, who’s classing it up as #76.

I would also like to call y’all’s attention to this article because it has the best title.  Like ever.  Not to mention, some excellent FB comment screenshots.

The moral of the story: check yourself before you spew ignorant fuckery like this, especially if you happen to be laughing through your remarks like they’re no big deal (see video accompanying HuffPo article).  Now hold on a sec while I sit back, relax, and wait for Lt. Gov. Carroll to put her foot further into her mouth as she tries to make her way out of this mess.

All quotes are from HuffPo.

Edit: Nadine Smith, founder and executive director of Equality Florida, has also written a terrific response.  Check it out.

Everyone Take 2 Big Steps Back

TW: harassment, general obnoxiousness

When the bank associate asked how my day was going, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  In my head I snapped, “It’s 95 degrees out and I fucking hate people.  How do you think those combine?”  Out loud I stuck with “I’ve been better” and muttered something about being busy running errands.  As I sat in the Bank of America office, I wondered to myself about the best ways to tell someone to GTFO.  When I got home, I was still stewing about it, so I made this handy graph:

How to find the illusive fuchsia dot?  What is the maximal combination of polite-ish-ness and firmness that gets the point — “you need to back off” — across, without making a huge scene?  And before you even find that perfect phrase, how do you decide when to call things out?  Do you have the energy?  Feel safe enough?  How do you gauge what “counts” as a big enough deal that you’d say something to interrupt it?

Today I went to the dentist.  You know the drill — if your teeth are fine, you spend most of your appointment with the hygienist anyway and then see your dentist after your teeth are already clean and polished.  I still go to a children’s dental practice and, being a children’s practice, they kick you out after you graduate from college or reach the 20-something age range.  I went to this appointment knowing that it would be my last there.

After having my teeth cleaned — that joyous process that includes gum-poking metal instrument thingies — my dentist came in.  The first words out of his mouth were “Looks like you’re gonna hafta find yourself an adult dentist” while simultaneously pinching my nose.

Me in my head: You say as you pinch my nose…excuse you?  When I come here you can touch my mouth and nothing else.  When was the last time you pinched the nose of an adult man?

Me: …  *blank stare*

I contemplated saying something, but decided not to.  I didn’t want to be rude and just wanted to leave ASAP.  (Of all the ridiculous societally-conditioned responses, I was worried about being rude to the 67-year-old man who had just pinched my face.)  He called me honey as I scooted out of the office and told me to come back to visit and say hi.

Me in my head: Fuck off.

Now I’m sitting at home pissed off about this encounter, while I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought.  Had I considered for a moment about how much this would bother me after the fact, I would’ve said something.  Instead, I went to the bank, where the oh-so-friendly bank associate and manager tried to start a long conversation with me about my acting career goals, when all I wanted to do was get home.

The big question that I really want to poll: how do you handle microagressions?

  • The dentist who inappropriately pinches your face
  • The guy on the el who interrupts you 3 times to start conversations about nothing, even though you’re absorbed in a book and also have earbuds in, meaning it’s very unlikely that you want to talk to anyone
  • The much older man who approaches you on the train platform, while you’re engrossed in a book and deliberately not looking at anyone, to ask you all about what you’re reading and do you like it and why are you standing so close to my face?!
  • The long line of eyes that turn away from their tasks and stare unabashedly at you as you walk into/out of a building, evaluating everything on/about your body

These events aren’t calamities.  They don’t signal the end of the world; but they do remind us — women in particular — that we live in a society that doesn’t consider our bodies and time our own.  (Note: there are many types of bodies and gender presentations that society considers public property.  This is not exclusively a “women’s issue.”)

There are some actions that are immediately identifiable as harassment.  Someone yelling or honking at you from a car, calling out to you on the street, following you, yelling a slur, etc.  What about more subtle instances that make us uncomfortable?  How do you respond to long, invasive stares?  People chatting you up and “being really nice” when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk to them?  Strangers who assume that they deserve your attention and that you should entertain them with conversation (or more).  All the things that we’re told repeatedly “aren’t a big deal” (code for “Why are you so offended when someone invades your space and won’t leave?”)  Any advice about reasonably low-key ways to tell someone to back the fuck up?

Letters to Public Interactions/Institutions

Dear CTA conductor,

You, the one who looked directly at me as I boarded the train, and told me to smile: I will smile when I damn well please and not on command.

Fuck you,

Tamar

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Lincoln Park drug stores,

Stay classy.  Chicago never ceases to come up with brilliant ideas, including this:

Yep, that’s right–the local CVS has a booze section.  Make that an extensive booze section.  New England and its liquor stores can suck it.

Mostly wine and spirits.  The bottles of hard liquor had locks/alarms on them because, ya know, CVS goods usually aren’t worth more than $10.  Classy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear guys in the truck,

How exactly did you imagine this scene would go down?  I’m honestly curious.

On Friday evening, I was driving to meet a friend.  Having jumped Spider-woman-style directly from the shower out of the window and into the car (as ya do), I realized this would be a putting-mascara-on-in-the-car trip.  (For the record: yes, this is unsafe behavior and I indulge highly infrequently.)  Un/fortunately, there are a couple of intersections within two blocks of my house at which the lights take forever to change.  One of them will actually stay red for up to three and a half minutes (apparently the average wait time at a red is one minute…nobody informed my neighborhood).

While waiting at a long stop light and applying makeup, I heard a light but persistent car horn.  “What is that?” I wondered, “The light is clearly still red.”  The horn kept going.  Turned out it was coming from the enormous truck next to me.  I looked over to find two men–clearly just off work–leaning (head, shoulders, and arms) outta the front passenger window of their company truck, waving madly at me and grinning.  Ummmm…really?

You think ima respond well to that?  I already had a mascara wand next to my eye and was watching both the traffic light and my own rear-view mirror.  You think that was a good time to demand my attention?  Please.

The start of another classy night in Chi-town.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Sprinkles,

Thank you for your genius.  Talk to y’all later–I’m moving to DC stat.

Love T

P.S. Alternately, maybe I’ll just bake rainbow cupcakes with le brother, because that doesn’t involve leaving my kitchen.

What is “female”? Womanhood, Racism, and the Olympic Games

The sports world has been abuzz recently over the case of Caster Semenya, a South African runner and 2012 Olympic hopeful.  Dubbed by some “the fastest woman in the world,” she’s now under investigation for not actually being a woman.  (Everyone’s bullshit detectors should’ve just perked up.)  These two articles break down the case against her.  Essentially, other runners and Olympic officials have accused her of having androgen levels in the “male range” (whatever that means–nobody seems eager to give a precise definition), which according to their logic, give her an unfair advantage over other female competitors.

Some clarifications and a couple huge issues:

1. Androgens are not just “male sex hormones.”  They’re found in all bodies, regardless of assigned sex.  Androgen levels are generally lower in FAAB bodies than MAAB* ones, but there’s variation from person to person.  Besides, Olympians are exceptional athletes, so what makes anyone think that the standards used for us mere mortals would apply?

2. Sex =/= gender.  We divide sports by sex, not gender, so everybody who’s saying that Semenya’s gender is being scientifically investigated needs to step off.  She says she’s a woman, so we’re going with that.

3. From my friend Leila, the BAMF ultimate frisbee player:

“Hormone levels are more indicative of one’s sex than one’s gender identity…A more feminine-presenting woman could have higher testosterone levels than a more masculine-presenting woman, yet is more likely to be left alone in the sports world since she might not fall prey to the traditional argument that sports turn women into butch lesbians.”

Yep, pretty much.  I don’t see the Olympic officials calling for mass testing of all athletes’ hormones in this particular way.  The International Olympic Committee’s new ruling speaks of “the investigated athlete” and describes the formal procedure of “Request[ing] a Female Hyperandrogenism Investiagtion.”  It seems as though other athletes and IOC medical officials can request the investigation of a specific athlete; otherwise no additional testing will take place.  This means only a few athletes will be singled out in this way.  Alienation, much?

4. Let us not ignore the fact that Semenya is a black South African and that North American/European standards of beauty (which have been pushed all over the world) are Eurocentric.  (That is not my controversial opinion; that is a fact.)   When standards of womanhood and femininity are defined by white women, according to phenotypically white features, women of color are the ones scrutinized for not being “womanly” enough.

5. More from the IOC: “women ruled ineligible to compete may opt to medically lower their androgen levels.”  Great.

Semenya may have high levels of androgens, but for the IOC to single her out for testing, state that she must medically interfere with her hormones if she doesn’t pass said testing, and (at the last minute–the Olympics start at the end of this month) threaten not to let her compete is more than unfair.

* FAAB: female assigned at birth; MAAB: male assigned at birth.  Not taking into account trans* people who may have taken hormones. The inclusion and categorization of trans* athletes is a whole other conversation that needs to be had.

Video

“Somebody’s gotta be the best. So why not me?”

Aaaaaand this is wonderful.  Perfect timing.  (Though I gotta admit it’s ever so slightly jarring to hear a 55 y/o woman’s voice coming outta a 9 y/o girl’s mouth.)

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