Saturday, March 10, 2012

Good Girls and Sluts

One of the best things to come out of the whole Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke debacle was that slut-shaming was made a front and center issue in America. Unfortunately, there are some people who still just do not seem to get it.

Case in point, a Facebook friend of mine who was a high school classmate. I use her as an example not because I think she needs to singled out or because her views are unique in any way, but only because she's an active blogger and Facebook poster. In other words, I have a better idea of how she thinks because she puts it out there. (I would also note that she is a perfectly nice, mostly unoffensive person.)

A few days ago she shared an eloquent, clever post from a female physician who was fed up with how women and women's health issues are treated in politics and the media these days. My friend thought it was "the best thing [she'd] read on Facebook in quite a while." The only problem? Her history makes it abundantly clear that she just cannot see beyond the surface on these issues.

My friend has blogged (direct quotes) that "my sex is within marriage and therefore moral," that "[i]t will be more than challenging for [husband] and me to instill in our children the concept of right and wrong we were raised on if the unmarried teacher is living with her boyfriend," and that she has experienced the "dark side of life" because people close to her have "gotten pregnant while still single."

It's not hard to tell which side she comes down on regarding women and sex, is it?

She and I have also gotten into Facebook discussions on women's issues, and she pointed me towards a book called "Every Man's Battle" that she says helped her understand where men are coming from. If you're not familiar with the basic premise of this book, let me enlighten you. Essentially the author argues that men are biologically designed to be thinking about sex all the time. The subtitle of the book is "Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time." Christianity has really locked onto this notion and uses it to tell women that, because men are so powerless to control their biological urges, women need to help them out by not dressing provocatively and by being modest and ladylike in their interactions with men.

I know that my friend truly believes this. Only this week she posted a meme that says "Dress How You Want Other Women to Dress Around Your Husband."

First of all, I don't for a second believe that this is true. Of all the men who play significant roles in my life, none of them have ever struck me as being obsessed with sex and preoccupied with it all of the time. This goes for my father, my brother-in-law, and my four male coworkers that I interact with on a daily basis. Never once have any of them ever made me feel the least bit uncomfortable. Sure, it might be true for some men; I'm sure that it is. But that doesn't mean it's true of EVERY man. I don't even think it's true of my friend's husband, who I also went to high school with. He is a great guy that I like very much who has always been respectful to and appropriate with women, at least from what I've seen.

Second, I'm pretty convinced that the author of this "Every Man's Battle" book decided that, instead of admitting that HE PERSONALLY has a problem with sexual temptation, he decided to excuse it by arguing that he's a MAN and it's only NATURAL for men to act this way. It's a neat and handy way to shift the responsibility of dealing with this issue from the one man with the problem to EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD.

Like I said, I'm not pointing out any of this to make fun of my friend, not at all. But I do think she's an example of how a person can hold these destructive beliefs about women's sexuality without ever realizing it. She applauds the post that stands up for women in the media and in politics, but she continues to promote her views that, in order to be "moral," women should dress a certain way or act a certain way.

I don't think it's hard to pinpoint why women, who think of themselves as supporters of women would hold these kind of views: it's because they see themselves on the "good girl" side of the good girl/slut dichotomy. They don't have to worry about it because they're moral and upright, and if all women would just act like them, this problem would go away.

But it doesn't work that way. Soraya Chemaly's "A Slut Manifesto" appeared in this week's Huffington Post, and one thing she said really struck a cord with me.

If you're a "good" woman, don't kid yourself. It means you've spent your life and will continue to spend your life calibrating your appearance, speech and behaviour so that you are not a slut. By not acknowledging how the word is used you are embracing its power over you and other girls and women. And you will pass that corrupt and misguided abuse of power on to your daughters and mine. That's because you know, deep down, that at any point that word can be used against you. Every woman is a slut waiting to happen.

THAT is why I wish more women understood. Just because you are a "good girl" does not mean you are immune to the damaging effects of slut-shaming because it hurts all of our future selves. As long as women continue to accept slut-shaming, there is always a risk that it will be used against you. Just look at Sandra Fluke. What did she do other than testify that her friend needed birth control for non-contraceptive health issues? Nothing. Yet she got called a slut and a prostitute. If we don't accept that kind of judgment for Fluke, we shouldn't accept it for any women, regardless of how much sex they're having. The entire concept needs to go away in order to destroy the power that comes with it.

Smarty Pants

Do you ever feel like you just can't win? I do. A lot.

I have spent the majority of my (relatively) short life feeling like I was never good enough, at anything. I had cripplingly low self-confidence, and I obsessively fixated on my failures and shortcomings without ever giving any value to my successes. It used to drive my friends and family crazy. They'd tell me over and over again that I should be proud of what I had accomplished, that I was smart and successful, etc, etc.

The only thing that helped me break out of that cycle was becoming a practicing lawyer, specifically a litigator. For one, when you're a litigator, you makes mistakes on a daily basis. It's just the nature of the beast. My boss told me that he was once told, "If you're not committing malpractice at least every day you're not busy enough." Being in this business helped me get over my fear of making a mistake very quickly, and it made me realize that making a mistake is not the end of the world. But the other thing being a litigator taught me is that there are a lot of dumb lawyers out there doing really dumb stuff. Turns out I am pretty smart after all, smarter than a lot of people, in fact.

But beware, because the instant you start to gain some self-confidence and start to feel like you might be superior to someone else in one very specific aspect of life, be prepared to be shot down and told that you're mean or snobby. I had a friend once tell me that it wasn't any fun playing pub quiz with me because I was smart. I had another friend basically write off all my success by pointing to my privileged upbringing. I've had aunts and uncles tell my mom that they don't want to hear about my successes anymore because it makes my cousins feel bad. And I've had Facebook friends tell me I'm "mean" if I dare express my delight that I intimidated a loser guy at a bar when when I told him I was an attorney.

The message is clear ladies: you're supposed to feel great about yourself and have all this girl-power confidence, but make sure you don't ever express it to anyone, because you might make someone else feel bad.

You know what? Fuck that. I never actively set out to make someone feel bad, and it's not my job to make anyone else feel better about themselves. And I am done pretending that I am not smarter than some people, that I don't have better critical thinking skills and logical reasoning. I do. Aren't I allowed to feel good about something in my life? Or are you only allowed to be proud of yourself if a man has decided you're worth puttin' a ring on?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dastardly Doodle

My friend Kim sent me some magnetic poetry a while back, and last night I finally got around to putting it up on my fridge. To make room, I had to rearrange some other magnets I had up. Some of my "magnets" are actually stickers or bumper stickers that I've just stuck magnetic tape to the back of. As I moved one of my stickers lower on the fridge, I thought for a second, "I wonder if Scarlet can reach this now," but I dismissed it. She usually doesn't bother things too much.

This is what I found when I came home for lunch today. Never underestimate the mischief of a doodle.