Seasonal Exhaustion

The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.

But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”

It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.

Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.

I think the weight of everything that has happened this year has just hit me all at once. The deaths of black women, the burning of black churches, the police brutality, the trans lives that have been lost, rape culture, the everyday harassment that comes along with being femme on the internet or on a street or wherever. Shit, some asshole even killed a lion.

I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.

It wears. It takes a toll.

I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.

We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.

That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.

 

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Harassment: A Rant

If I haven’t made this clear before, harassment is a thing that I care pretty deeply about. I care about it because myself and other femme folks that I care deeply about face harassment on a daily basis simply for the act of being outside. Or being on the internet. Basically, we are punished on the regular for daring to enter areas where other people might have contact with us.

It’s not going to stop any time soon. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about it.

So here’s some stuff to think about when harassment comes up in conversation.

1. Don’t belittle our concerns.

I legit do not give a flying horses enchanted hooves if you have had your ass pinched by someone before and you thought it was sexy. Good for you! I’m glad the threat level of someone grabbing your ass is so minimal that you can think something like that is some kind of adorable, sexy joke. Odds are, if someone is complaining about harassment, it’s not a joke to them. It’s certainly not a joke to me. And your insistence that it’s somehow funny will result in the sound of me charging up my eye lasers.

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No one will be spared.

2. Don’t act like it’s a compliment.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this before it finally sinks into the heads of the general population.

HARASSMENT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.

Not now. Not ever. Having someone harass you when all you want to do is talk to your friends on Twitter or walk to the shops or get on a bus is not fun. It’s not something that people list as a turn on on OkCupid or FetLife. I cannot say that I have ever heard of an instance where a stranger telling a woman she’s got tits he’d like to use as basketballs resulted in a full and frank discussion of their likes and dislikes followed by an hour long hump at the local Motel 6.

3. Don’t tell us we’re being “too sensitive.”

Not for nothing, but I’m a pretty hard ass bitch, all things considered. Yes, I love puppies and bunnies and I cry at touching films, but you would be hard pressed to find a social situation that I would balk from on a given day.

That said, there have been days where I did not leave the house because I couldn’t put up with the harassment I was experiencing. I would sit in the house and wait for Frankie to get home so that I could go out with someone that presented masculine and be left alone because I was already “spoken for.”

Being exhausted and freaked out at the constant litany of harassment that one faces on a daily/weekly/whateverly basis is not a sign of sensitivity. It’s a sign of being human. If you got a sunburn every time you walked out the door, I bet you would spend more time with the shades drawn, wouldn’t you?

4. Shut the fuck up and listen when people talk.

Seriously. Just shut your mouth and listen. When people who experience systemic issues like sexism or racism or whatever the topic of the moment is, you can learn a lot by just keeping your mouth shut and listening to what they have to say. The world isn’t the neat little thing that you think it is. Your point of view is just one of TRILLIONS. Try opening your ears and you will be surprised at how enriching the things you find out will be to your life.

Huh. That’s the nicest thing that I’ve said this entire post. That was fun, wasn’t it? Honestly, though, I’m done being nice about this ever to anyone. I used to do this thing where I would try to explain why it was that this was an issue and how and all the sociological things and let people into my head to see my fear but honestly, it’s too much work. Fuck it. If you can’t take a slight re-direction in the form of me telling you not to be a shitheel when people are expressing fear and concern, you can kindly fuck off directly into the largest body of water you can find. Because fuck you.


And if you doubt for even a second that this stuff happens all the time. You can read other things that I’ve written about it. Here. And here. And also here, here and here. And that’s just the shit that warranted a blog entry.


Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20th is a day set aside to remember those who have been lost to in acts of violence against transgender people.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started on November 28th, 1998, when Rita Hester was murdered. Her murder, which has yet to be solved, galvanized the community to start a web project titled “Remembering Our Dead,” which then spun out to become the Day of Remembrance that we observe today.

The transgender community is effected by anti-LGBT violence disproportionately when compared to the rest of the LGBT community. A report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that 72% of victims of anti-LGBT homicide were trans women, while 67% of anti-LGBT homicide victims were trans women of color. So far this year we have lost 30 members of the trans community to unspeakable acts of violence. Please take a moment to learn their names, if you do not already know them. Hold them in your heart today.

Trans people are also more likely to be subjected to police violence than other members of the community at large. According to the survey conducted by NCAVP, transgender people of color are 6 times more likely to experience physical violence at the hands of police when compared to white cisgendered people. The trans community generally are 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting to the police when compared with cisgendered people.

Added to that sobering number, the trans community also faces staggering numbers regarding suicide rates. According to the Williams Insitute, 46% of trans men reported having attempted suicide. The numbers for trans women are not much better at 42%. The rate of suicide attempts among the LGB community is half that. And the rate among the overall population outside of the LGBT community is a mere 4.6%. Those numbers are deeply skewed and also deeply frightening.

Not only do trans people face violence when it comes to heterosexuals who may be transphobic, the fact of the matter is that trans people are frequently overlooked and underrepresented within the LGB community as well. One of the latest and possibly best examples I can give you of this is the recent Stonewall film debacle. But Stonewall isn’t the only example of this issue. Trans erasure and trans silencing and even transphobia are rampant within the LGB community.

The trans community faces a disproportionate level of violence and hardship within the LGBT community, and they get so little support

For my part, I am at a loss when it comes to days like today. I cannot imagine what it must be like for people to walk through their lives so maligned by the people around them. Grappling with a trans identity in a society that is so hetero- and cis-normative must be difficult enough, without that added fear.

I think the worst thing has to be the sense of betrayal when faced with transphobia and transmisogyny in the LGB community. I get that no community is perfect, but the fact that I’ve had to shut down repugnant phobic remarks within my community has shocked me. The fact that there is so little recognition or acceptance of trans issues is so disheartening.

To my trans friends and anyone reading this who I may not know: I see you. I will do my best to be an ally to you in every way that I can. And if you are struggling, know that you are valued. That you are seen and cared for by the people around you. Please reach out if you are suffering. Please stay.

To my fellow cis people: Do your best today and every day to be open to what trans people are saying to you. Learn to be called out with dignity. Learn to open yourself to experiences that differ from your own. If you have anything to spare, please consider donating time or money to trans organizations and communities in your area.

Fat Shaming: Could we just not?

When I was in high school, I remember lying on the couch on my side. I was lighter than I am now, but not skinny by any stretch of the imagination. My mother came over to me, put her hand on my stomach, and grimly intoned three words that would stick in my brain for years to come.

“You look pregnant.”

That comment, along with a litany of others, rings in my head at my most vulnerable moments. When I’m standing in a store dressing room. When I’m deciding what to wear for the day. When I catch a glimpse of myself naked in a mirror. I am always hearing the voice of my mother in that moment. But I’m also hearing other people. I’m hearing my friends as well as strangers and the comments they make about women they see on the street.

“What business does she have wearing that?”

“Look at those thighs! They’re huge!”

“Why is she eating that? Isn’t she fat enough?”

“What a fat slob.”

Those voices and comments have stuck in my head to the point where they even make my efforts to lose weight difficult. When I go to the gym, for example, I feel the weight of the eyes of everyone around me. I have failed to go to the gym so many times for that reason. And I have one one occasion actually left the gym in the middle of workouts, near crying, because of the imagined gaze of fellow gym-goers.

The judgment that we aim at fat bodies is something we do so easily. It’s effortless. And it doesn’t get noticed by most people. It certainly doesn’t get called out most of the time. And while we are criticizing fat people as a society, we are making judgments about them, their lifestyles, and their bodies that we have no right whatsoever to make. Whether someone is fat because they eat a lot or fat because they have a medical condition, the bottom line is that it’s none of our business one way or the other. And judging them for their bodies is discriminatory and shitty.

The fact of the matter is that you can be an active person without being razor thin. You can also be thin and grossly unhealthy. Fatness and fitness are not mutually exclusive things. Just like thinness and health are not always concurrent bodily states.

I have been making an active effort in my life to criticize the people around me less. And not just when it comes to their size. The fact of the matter is that criticism and negativity have been truly damaging to me with regard to my body as well as to my sense of self in more ways than one. I encourage all of you to do the same. Fat shaming and other forms of unasked-for criticism don’t help anyone, but they do cause wholly unnecessary pain.


Featured image found here.

The Status Quo is Unacceptable

I am the daughter of a police officer. I grew up surrounded by cops. To this day, I have never had an interaction with a cop that wasn’t totally pleasant and comfortable for me. I’m also white, female, and cisgendered. So there’s not a lot for cops to go on when approaching me with regard to prejudice. I am very privileged in my interactions with law enforcement.

As I have gotten older, my world view with regard to law enforcement has changed drastically. I have seen things from the perspective of other people whose interactions with the police are not all sunshine and rainbows, as mine have been. I follow the news. I see the brutality that is out there. My growing pains in this area have been extreme, to say the least.

This morning I woke up to find a friend had posted a link to a viral video of a group of police officers violently assaulting pedestrians for jaywalking. Early on Friday morning, Jeremy Kingg, Lou Glen, Matt Wallace, and Rolando Ramiro were walking home. They crossed a street at a crosswalk where the symbol indicated “do not walk.” In short order, several police officers confronted them and asked for IDs. The incident then escalated, with the police shoving and slamming Wallace and Kingg against the wall and then to the ground, handcuffing them, and hauling them to a police car. When the men asked what crime they had committed, the officers said that they had “crossed against the light.”

The behavior of the cops in this case is completely inexcusable. And this isn’t the first time that Austin has had a problem with cops over-zealously policing jaywalking. The case last year involved a female jogger and famously resulted in a statement by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo where he stated that:

At the end of the day, that officer has to stop them somehow. He didn’t tackle her to the ground, you know, it’s kind of interesting what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas. Thank you Lord that there’s a controversy in Austin, Texas that we actually had the audacity to touch somebody by the arm and tell them ‘Oh my goodness, Austin Police, we’re trying to get your attention.’ Whew! In other cities, cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.

I barely even know what to say in response to that. Terrorizing people isn’t OK. Police officers are supposed to serve and protect. And the fact that these officers didn’t sexually assault that woman or tackle her to the ground isn’t something they get cookies for. You don’t get a party thrown for NOT being a rapist or a bully. That shit should be the norm. That’s the BASE LINE for human fucking decency. Along with not brutalizing people for no fucking reason.

The shocking thing to me is how inured to all of this we have become as a society.

At the bottom of the article I linked above regarding the brutality Friday morning, there is a line break, beneath which is the following small paragraph:

Ramiro did an excellent job recording the insanity. Note how he recorded holding the phone horizontally. Note the difference from the usual vertical videos. Make it instinct to record horizontally. Not enough people do.

The fact that we have gotten to the point where we have a stock pile of video taken of police behaving badly is terrible to begin with. And while I’m glad that people are learning from the techniques used in earlier videos so that we can better document brutality when we see it, the fact that this problem is so deeply embedded and ongoing that we need lasting, effective techniques? That is, to me, a sign that we are seriously fucked.

Cis is not a slur.

Hello, my lovelies, come sit at my feet and let me impart unto you some wisdom.

Cis is not a slur. I say this as a cis person. And a gay person. And a woman. It’s not.

A slur is defined as the following:

slur

See right there where it says that it is likely to insult them or damage their reputation? That’s what a slur is. Now, being insulted is a pretty broad thing. I can be insulted by the way that someone looks at me. But the key to any good insult, when it is a verbal insult, which is when words like cis get used, is in what, exactly, you are being insulted for.

When someone spits the word cis at you in a conversation, what they are likely expressing is their ire at your privilege. And, while that might sting, it doesn’t do much more than sting. Cis, after all, is a term meant to define a group of people who conform with the norm regarding gender expression and physical appearance.

cis

But cis is not a slur in the same way that cracker is not a slur. Having it flung at you can get you upset. But, at it’s root, it’s just a mean word. It is devoid of any threat to your person or reputation. It is neutered.

Now the second part of the definition of slur as a noun is where the real action is. A slur is something that can damage a person’s reputation. In order to demonstrate how this can be done, I’m going to use the gay community as an example. In order to avoid shitty language, I’m going to make up a slur for gay people that doesn’t exist for the purposes of this example. Our new made up slur is “floof.”

When someone uses a word like floof as a slur against a gay person, the moment in which that word is used becomes pregnant with all kinds of possibilities and meanings for the person being targeted:

  1. They may be beaten up or sexually assaulted.
  2. They may be outed to someone who can make their lives difficult, as being gay is not a protected status under hate crime legislation everywhere (yet). They can be evicted from their homes or lose their jobs.
  3. In addition to imminent threats that are brought to bear upon the person having this word flung at them, the word carries with it centuries of oppression enacted upon they gay community. Demeaning words such as floof do not exist in a vacuum. They have been used intentionally for a long time and they carry a history of oppression.

When you hurl a slur at someone, you are effecting their reputation. When that slur is a word directed at someone’s sexuality, that can do serious damage to them internally, over time, as well as externally and immediately.

The fact of the matter is that you cannot make a slur out of a word that expresses a group’s privilege. Slurs are designed to punch down. When they are used by a member of a privileged group against a member of a less privileged group, they do serious damage. When they are directed from one member of an oppressed group to another, they are being owned by that group. Which is why I can call myself a dyke or why white people can’t use the “n” word. And when they are used by a member of an oppressed group against a privileged group, they are virtually devoid of any impact.

Something to think about when you hear the word cis being used in a derogatory fashion is where that comes from. It comes, more often than not, from a place of anger and pain. That anger is the anger of a community of people who are constantly overlooked and undervalued by people who pass unharassed through society. Who don’t have to deal with uncomfortable questions being asked by strangers about their genitals in public places. Who can go into bathrooms without being asked if they’re lost. Who don’t face very specific forms of gendered violence in their everyday lives.

So while it may suck to have someone fling a mean word at you from time to time, cis isn’t a slur. And honestly? Cis people should consider themselves lucky that it isn’t. Because having to endure the types of hadrship that non-cisgendered people have endured in order to make the words used against them a slur? That doesn’t sound like fun to me.

TL;DR Being cisgendered is a privilege. Acting like you are being persecuted by being identified as what you are is ridiculous.


Featured image taken from Shutterstock.

Body Ownership: On shame, humiliation, growth, and acceptance.

I started going to the gym again this week. It’s been a while. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror at work yesterday and did not like what I saw.

As much as I talk about how I want to lose weight to be healthy, I don’t know how true that really is. I am already healthy. I carry a little more weight around, but every time I go to the doctor, it’s all good news.

The fact is that I want to be thinner. I’m tired of my thighs rubbing together until they burn. I’m tired of the way I hate having my belly touched. I’m tired of my arms being thick and dangling. I’m really tired of not being able to wear button down shirts that fit me nicely around the middle because of my belly.

I want to wear clothes that make me feel good and sexy without feeling like a sausage in a casing.

And I want to be able to say that to people. But I feel like, in saying that, they will see me as saying that bigness is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s just not something that I am happy with. I love all my gorgeous, fabulous, loud and large friends. They’re great. And I’m glad that they are happy living in their bodies and admire the work that they have done to get there despite the bill of goods they are sold all the time.

Losing weight is a weird topic nowadays. I feel like I can’t be as excited or expressive about it as I want to be because I will be seen as fat shaming myself. I take great care when talking about this stuff to not say how badly I want to be thinner, because I’m aware that it’s a touchy topic for a lot of people.

If I’m being really honest with myself, what I want is to be thinner. To be able to see my back  muscles in a mirror. I am all about back muscles and I really want to see mine in ripples move across my back when I lift a heavy thing in the gym. I want to have legs and arms that are defined and strong, where you can see the muscles move as I run or climb a rope. I want to see my abs for the first time ever. I know they’re under there. I can feel them when I flex my stomach as I lift heavy things. But I want to see them.

I want to be more confident in my body. And the more time I spend at the gym, the more I feel myself become aware of what I can do. The less afraid I am of headstands and running with my dog and hiking and riding a bike. Because without physical activity, I withdraw from my body. I try not to notice it. It becomes an elephant in the room that I do not talk about and do not want anyone to acknowledge.

When I think about myself I don’t see myself the way that I look in the mirror. I see myself as powerful. And I want to look powerful. I want my muscles to show.

When I walk into the gym as I am now, I feel this powerful sense of humiliation. I feel like the unfit among the glorious. Even though not everyone around me is necessarily thin. I know that the people around me are somehow better than me. And I feel them looking at and judging me. It makes me flustered. Makes me wish I hadn’t come.

The hard part for me isn’t just getting the nerve up to go to the gym. The hard part is staying. The hard part is not fleeing the field in tears because I know that I don’t fit in with these other people who are so much more deserving and hard working than I am.

Afterwards, when I am at home and showering and enjoying the blooming ache of muscles, I feel awake and alert as my body chemically responds to my workout. Those moments are amazing. And the moments when, at the gym, I stop thinking about anyone but myself, about anything but the task at hand. About anything but my goals. Those moments are amazing too.

I live in those moments. I nurture them afterward. I dwell on them as I fantasize about what my body will look like down the line. And I try to feel pride in each little victory on the way.

I have to remind myself: This is something I can do. I am capable. I am enough. And let everything else fall away.

On being afraid all the time.

I used the Companion app to walk myself home last week with a virtual companion.

I resented every moment of it’s presence in my pocket. Even though it was helping me. I resented it’s existence. Even though it made me feel safer.

I resented it because I needed to be made to feel safe rather than feeling safe naturally.

I left my brother at Broad Street and told my phone where I was going. I told it to tell my girlfriend if anything happened to me.

On the way home, in the space between street lights, I turned to see if anyone followed me.

Shadows lurking at a corner up ahead, a group of four, sent me walking across the street to avoid an unwanted situation. When I passed them a block later, they proved to be three teenage girls.

From a distance, every shadow is menacing.

I remember being younger, in high school, a friend asked me to walk her to her door from the car that was dropping us off, down her dark street in Port Richmond.

I don’t know what she thought I would be able to do if we were threatened, but I agreed, and walked her to her house in my combat boots and pleather jacket, trying with all my might to ooze the type of confidence I had seen men saunter with.

On my way back from her door, I passed an alleyway.

Shadows separated from the shadows of the alley wall, growing larger as they drew closer.

“Here, kitty kitty,” one of the shadows whispered. Menacing.

Heart in my throat, I bolted down the street to the safety of the car and jumped in. I imagine I looked like an action movie stunt person. I told the person in the car to drive.

A short distance down the block, the alleyway gave birth to lurking shadows. I sat in the car, shaking.

We anchor ourselves, we of the femme persuasion, to safety zones. Our apartments, the brilliance of night-erasing street lamps, the arms and company of friends. We anchor ourselves there and stretch to the ends of tethers, hoping that we will not be cut loose.

We need apps to walk us home. Because walking home is not safe.

We send texts to let family members know we are alive. Because they worry otherwise.

The world outside of our safety zones is not a safe one. We careen from one into the other, traversing the intervening space as quickly as possible. We plan the shortest routes.

When people tell me that gender equality is over. When they say we don’t need feminism. I ask them to explain to me why, if that is true, I am so terrified to be on the streets alone at night.

Art Lesson: The Male Gaze

I’m gonna use my degrees in this blog! Are you excited? I’m excited. Ok. Here we go.

One of the things that I learned about in my art history classes was the male gaze. The term was coined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey and has been talked about by all sorts of smart people. Susanna Danuta Walters defines the male gaze as having three distinct “looks.”

First is the gaze within the representation itself: men gaze at women, who become objects of the gaze; second, the spectator, in turn, is made to identify with this male gaze and to objectify the woman on the screen; and third, the camera’s original “gaze” comes into play in the very act of filming; the camera here can be understood as an extension of the male eye.

The gaze within the painting is always interesting to me. I didn’t really start thinking about it until I took a class on Impressionism and noticed the way that the figures in the paintings looked at each other. And how those looks effected the way that I read the painting and what was happening in it. The play of glances in a piece of art can turn women into objects or empowered beings. They can change men from slaves into free soldiers and mercenaries. They can turn a relationship from sweet to sour, based simply on where the people in a picture are placing their eyes.

The act of gazing at a painting is another means by which we can experience the male gaze. There are a lot of paintings and pieces of art that make me feel as though I am being voyeuristic merely by looking at them. The most famous of which, to me, is Marcel Duchamp’s assemblage Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas). In this particular work, the absence of the face and the inability of the figure to look back at the viewer is particularly unsettling. Added to the fact that one must peer through too small holes in the wooden door preceding the work, the whole piece takes on a voyeuristic feeling which is incredibly difficult to reconcile for most viewers.

ED-2

When Walters points out that the camera itself is an extension of the male gaze, she is referring to the idea that the creation of the image itself is an inherently voyeuristic act. Art and voyeurism are bedfellows a lot of the time. It’s the nature of art and the artist to be looked at, after all, and the nature of the public to look. The voyeurism inherent in art is highlighted when it comes to photography, which allows the artist to capture something in a moment without the necessity of hours of work or even, and this is especially true nowadays, the consent of the subject that they are capturing. But photographs are not the only medium that can create the feeling of voyeurism. Sometimes that feeling is the intention of the artist. Sometimes it is something that is read into the experience based on what the viewer carries with them. And voyeurism does not necessarily have to imply the male gaze in any way.

The thing about the male gaze is that, once you are aware of it, you can’t ever unsee it. It’s kind of like feminism. Once you start to see the world through a certain lens, you can’t just flip a switch and turn that lens off.

So now that you’ve had a mini art lesson, here’s an object lesson in the extremity to which the male gaze is recognizable.

When I sat down the other week at Talking Headz and waited to get my side buzz refreshed, I did what I usually do, consummate art nerd that I am. I opened the issue of American Art Collector that was sitting on the table in the waiting area. I paged through it, then stopped when I was confronted with these two images, facing each other.

20150919_112817 - 1

Without even looking at the pictures of the artists, I knew that the image on the right was done by a male artist. Everything about her pose says “I am being looked at. I am here to be looked at.” She locks eyes with the viewer, her arms held over her head to expose her chest. Even her vagina is bare. She holds nothing back.

In his bio, J. Richard Anderson states that he wants to portray the modern woman of the 21st century. He says “She is empowered and takes control of her future and her destiny. She is, without question, amazing.” But that is not what he has given us in this image. Tamara, as this painting is titled, has no future. She has no destiny. She does not have anything in this image to put her into a societal context. She stands in front of a white background, totally divorced from the real world. She is ideal in that she is uncomplicated and exists only to be consumed by the viewer. Anderson’s version of “empowerment” is entirely a sexual one. He wants his women just empowered enough to bare their pussies for a nude photo shoot, but he is unable to conceive of a woman’s power beyond the moment in which it is given over in an act of sexual surrender.

Morning Light by artist Connie Renner also portrays a semi-nude woman, but the differences could not be more explicit. Rendered in a style reminiscent of Mary Cassatt, she sits up in bed, sunlight streaming across the wall behind her. Like Tamara, her arms are also behind her head, but it appears as though she is in the act of putting up her hair. Or perhaps stretching. Flowers adorn the background. The fabric draped around her waist warms her skin lends a sense of wanton immodesty to the scene that feels somewhat cheeky. She is not looking at us, but we do not feel like a voyeur. We are in her space, but it feels as though we have her permission. We are her intimates. Her trusted friends. Perhaps her lovers.

The strange thing is that the direct eye contact of Tamara tends to put me in mind of Manet’s Olympia and other women like Renee Cox that I tend think of as empowered and in control of their bodies. But eye contact does not always mean agency, and this woman does not seem to have any in this image. In a similar contradiction, I tend to associate anonymity with powerlessness in images of woman. But, although Renner’s woman is anonymous, she feels powerful even without a name. She is not looking at us, but the sense of voyeurism is mitigated by the soft Cassatt-like style that draws us in rather than holding us at arms length.

I have had several furious conversations about these works over the last several weeks with artist friends and feminists. And all of them have immediately commented on how gross and exploitative the work on the right seems, when compared to the work on the left. Part of me wonders if the pairing of these two was not a joke on the part of whoever laid out the edition. Because the pairing seems too strange and sarcastic and perfect not to be.

This is not to say that the male gaze cannot create things that are of great value and artistic integrity. It is merely to say that the male gaze is pretty easily recognized. And that this particular guy’s view of women is troubling, strange, stilted, and pornographic in a way that, I imagine, would make it hard to sell paintings. It is worth noting that, 5 years after this magazine was published, I can find Renner’s web site but it looks as though Anderson is not even online any longer. Which I guess is what you can expect when you create paintings of what are, essentially, overblown Playboy centerfolds.


The cropped image in my header is from Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 painting, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Mist).

What I learned from going viral on Twitter

Content Advisory: Suicide, graphic images, harassment.

I don’t really tweet all that much. I’ve had my Twitter account for years, but it hasn’t been something I’ve been really interested in until very recently. And even recently, it’s not a huge priority to me. I tweet sporadically, contributing to hashtags or commiserating with friends on occasion. I don’t even have 300 followers as of this posting.

Ten days ago I posted the following to Twitter in an effort to support the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag. I posted other things to, but, as you can see, this one got just a little more attention.

Pretty much immediately after posting it, I was inundated with tweets from trolls and internet abusers. And I wasn’t the only person to receive abuse over this. The originator of the hashtag, Amelia Bonow, was forced to go into hiding after the hashtag went viral. Which I guess just goes to show that the “pro life” set really is more “pro-birth” than pro actual human life.

At any rate, the first abuse that I saw was an image of a man holding severed heads sent to me by Twitter user @TwerkingSpider [GRAPHIC original tweet behind hyperlink]. I immediately reported and blocked him. I have since been told by Twitter that his message was “not in violation of the Twitter Rules.” Which I just… don’t get. Their rules specifically say you cannot threaten people, and I’m not sure how sending someone a picture of decapitated heads does not constitute a “threat.” But maybe I’m just being over-sensitive, right? There’s such a thing as a friendly beheading, right? Right?

Of course, it didn’t end there. There were other tweets telling me I was basically an ugly dude and that I should kill myself. Which, coming from supposedly “pro-life” people was just… confusing and enraging.

There were loads more. Luckily, I went on vacation and missed a lot of it. I also had cool people around me who told me about how to block the majority of the yuckiness.

I learned a lot in the few days that my tweet exploded. I learned that people on the internet do not know how to use basic logic when it conflicts with their opinions. I learned that the ease of tweeting lends itself to all manner of repulsive insults and hurtful words being slung about. And I learned that answering those people with ridiculous questions and comments like “ARE YOU A RIDDLE?” and “LEARN LOGIC.” brought me no small measure of joy.

There were two big things that the people arguing with me seem to have trouble dealing with.

  1. Bodily autonomy: fetuses are not more valuable than adults.
    • I know it’s hard to grasp, but a fetus does not have a right to live at the expense of the body of another person any more than a fully grown human does. If I have cancer and the only thing that can save me is your bone marrow, you cannot be compelled to give it to me. No matter how sick I am.
      I think the fact that fetuses cannot speak for themselves is the thing that gets a lot of people with this one. And I get it, you want to speak for the silent masses of developing blastocysts or whatever. That’s fine. But the fact of the matter is, even if they could talk, they would not have any more of a right to life than I would, dying of cancer because you didn’t want to give me your bone marrow.
  2. Abortion has always existed. And will always exist. Because sex is fun.
    • Sex is super fun. It’s true. People have been banging for the fun of it for ages and ages. Hell, the Romans drove silphium to extinction with their need for birth control to manage family size. This isn’t new information. It’s not a shockingly revolutionary societal development like lolcats or something. Society didn’t wake up one day and become this loose moral ground where people can bang whoever they want. People have always banged whoever they want. Acting like it’s a surprise just makes you sound like a totally disconnected idealist who doesn’t get how the world works. Or, you know, genitals.
      Since sex for funsies has always existed, so has birth control, and so has abortion. The difference between abortion now and abortion at the beginning of human civilization is that, not unlike childbirth, women have a better chance of surviving it now.

For the most part, I don’t have many friends who will argue with the rightness of a woman’s right to choose for herself whether to continue with a pregnancy. But I’d like to take a moment for the one friend who I had before the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag went up that did, apparently, stand in the opposing camp.

She’s religious, of course. And she has an issue with abortion. The strange thing for me is that, years ago, before she got married, she and I had a conversation about abortion, the end result of which was her stating that she was, in fact, “pro-choice.” Because even if she wouldn’t get one herself, she wasn’t the sort of person to stand in front of the rights of other women to a safe and healthy medical procedure that was perfectly legal.

Now, though, things have changed. I don’t know if she was merely paying lip service to me before, or if being married to someone who works for the Archdiocese changed her viewpoints. I can’t say either way. Needless to say, we got into a long conversation about my tweet and her views on abortion. I’m going to take the main thrust of our discussion and spin it out here for you.

In my original tweet, I re-posted an image talking about bodily autonomy, which is my chief reasoning behind my stance as pro-choice, as well as one of my core principles generally. The reason I say that I “had” this friend before we had this debate is that, during it, she called the autonomy argument “silly.” I have a couple of problems with that. The first of which being that the right of everyone on this planet to control what happens to their body is at the core of my system of beliefs about the world. The second of which is that, legally, our bodily autonomy is very important. It’s one of the things that makes rape illegal. Or assault. Consent and all of it’s trappings are important and valuable components of our legal system.

All in all, the conversation did not go well. But it made me think. And it made me realize that, if you do not value the autonomy of others and their ability to make the medical choices that are right for them and follow through with them safely, I can’t really be friends with you. That’s a line in the sand that I am more than willing to draw. And one that will happily stand by.

So #ShoutYourAbortion, my loves. Shout because it is nothing you should be ashamed of. Shout because you made the right decision. Shout because one day, the act of you shouting will not be something to be frightened of.