Category Archives: I am a Feminist!

Sell-by Date: Fertility and F**kability

Contains strong language

A woman’s perceived value is tied up in her fertility and her physical appearance. The biological clock has supposedly ruled women’s lives for generations. In many industries, a woman’s sex appeal can equate to her recognition and success. So how does the notion of a “sell-by date” affect real women’s lives?

For generations, women have had their lives directed towards bearing and bringing up children. The average woman has lived her entire life with the overpowering idea that one day, her eggs will suddenly run out and she’ll be immediately infertile. A higher power will flick the off switch; there will be no prior warning.

Thankfully, the dominating premise of the biological clock is a myth. Fertility doesn’t switch off overnight. Of course it does decline, but does so at a different age, and a different rate for different women. Surprise surprise: not all women’s bodies are the same!

Still, a woman’s fertility is often conflated with her value: a woman’s usefulness to a company, a group, and society at large will often be calculated by her age, her marital status, and whether she has or plans to have children. While different organisations make different decisions, and cultural norms differ with cultural identity, some things are universal: a young, newly married woman who hopes to have kids soon is highly unlikely to get the job.

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Barbara Corcoran, 2014 | image: parade

Sexism is hugely hypocritical. We have a long history of punishing women for their youth and fertility, yet simultaneously praising young, fertile women for their sex appeal.

Many women use their sex appeal to their advantage in the workplace because it’s the best or only path available to them. In some industries, sex appeal can equate to recognition, promotion, and success. Barbara Corcoran, real estate guru and investor on ABC’s SharkTank said she used to “yank up her skirt” to get ahead in the business world.

When I was building my business, [when] I would walk into a room of 600 men in dark suits and I dress like a guy in a nice pant suit, no one would say ‘hi’ to me, no one would entertain me. The minute I started wearing bright suits and I would have a nice length skirt on, I would just roll up the middle and walk into that room, everyone paid attention to me.

Corcoran’s behaviour constitutes ‘internalised sexism’, because she’s enacting sexist actions and attitudes toward herself by asking to be judged on her appearance before her ability (hooks, 10). To both herself and those around her, she’s reaffirming the sexist notion:

A woman’s sex appeal decides her value.

This evaluation comes from anyone who decides to pass judgment – colleagues, friends, family, strangers, fans – thus many women have become experts at tolerating and deflecting sexist sentiments. It would be nice to imagine that certain arenas are free of this sentiment, but women in all arenas face a high probability that someone will judge her value entirely on her physical appearance.

Women in the most powerful positions are still subjected to comments on their desirability. In 2011, Sylvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister called Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, “unfuckable.” As if that changed her value in the world of European politics.

Imagining we had a shortage of misogynistic fascists in contemporary politics before November 2016, now President ‘Cheeto Jesus’ vomited sexist comments all over the US election campaign season and hasn’t let up. He famously criticized Alicia Machado, the 1996 winner of Miss Universe beauty pageant, for gaining weight after winning, calling her “Miss Eating Machine” among other things. He terrorized her for years because he deemed her eating habits antithetical to her sexual appeal. ‘The Donald’ couldn’t abide that, because her physical appearance was the only part of her he valued.

This is a particularly prevalent issue in the celebrity sphere, an arena that sets a strong example for the rest of the world. Women are criticized for any change to their appearance that the media warrant ‘undesirable’, women are judged on their desirability throughout their careers and especially at their most vulnerable.

When Human Rights Lawyer, Amal Clooney delivered a call to action urging the UN to investigate allegations of genocide in Iraq by the Islamic State, some people failed to hear what she had to say. The fact that she was several months pregnant when she spoke at the United Nations HQ in New York City on March 9th did not affect her ability to do her job. Yet myriad media outlets reported on how her baby bump looked, “in a dark gray pencil skirt and matching cropped blazer”, rather than on what she said (People, tweeted by TIME). Some even substituted her job title for “the wife of actor George Clooney” as if her marriage is her best and only qualification. I doubt her Hollywood actor husband has to deal with this s**t.

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TIME’s sexist tweet caused widespread outrage | image: Mashable

Hollywood actresses, however, do have to. Women in Hollywood are subjected to an astronomical level of criticism about their appearance, the media postulating about their weight, relationship status, fertility, sexuality, age, and sex appeal, drumming up rumours in public reports. Perhaps the most sexist problem actresses face is the decline or dramatic change in their career when they reach a certain age. This is not something that male actors face.

In Amy Schumer’s sketch, ‘Last F**kable Day’, the comedian stumbles across Patricia Arquette (48), Tina Fey (46), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (56) having a bucolic picnic in the woods. The three talented actresses are celebrating the eldest among them, Louis-Dreyfus’ Last Fuckable Day, because: “in every actress’s life the media decides when you finally reach the point when you’re not believably fuckable anymore” and she has apparently reached that point.

Instead of bitterness, though, Louis-Dreyfus expresses gratitude that she was able to maintain ‘fuckable’ status throughout her forties and well into her fifties, and relief that she is no longer required to ‘maintain’ her figure. She chugs a pint of melted ice cream in celebration.

It seems that one can always rely on comedy to cut through the crap and provide a new perspective on the kinds of issues we just can’t seem to resolve. Watch the sketch here:

Contains strong language

To the public consciousness, a man’s fertility is far less age dependent. Therefore his sex appeal is not tied to his fertility and thus has nothing to do with his age. As Patricia Arquette points out among rounds of laughter, “Men don’t have that day.” 


Read on

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. (2000). Print.

The Foul Reign of the Biological Clock, Guardian

Should women use their sex appeal to get ahead at work?, hello giggles

Jeremy Paxman stuns Silvio Berlusconi with Angela Merkel insult allegation, Guardian

From ‘Cheeto Jesus’ to ‘F–kface Von Clownstick,’ the best and most creative nicknames for Donald Trump, NY Daily News

Shamed and Angry: Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe Mocked by Donald Trump, NYTimesA lawyer named Amal Clooney gave a powerful speech at the U.N. Some only saw her baby bump., Washington PostFemale Film Directors Share Stories of Hollywood Sexism in Anonymous Blog, Yahoo

S**t People Say to Women Directors, Tumblr

‘Pitch Perfect 2’ Makes 2015 a Historic Year for Women in Hollywood, Yahoo

Words and Women: bell hooks



If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.



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bell hooks, 1988 | image from autostraddle

bell hooks (b. 1952) is an American feminist activist, writer and educator. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she’s best known by her pen name which she borrowed from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. hooks’ writing primarily focuses on the intersections of race, class, and gender, in history, art, education, social activism and much more.

This quotation is taken from chapter 1 of her concise, straightforward feminist handbook Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000), which she says she wrote because she “kept waiting for it to appear, and it did not.” Other influential works (there are 30 in total!) include:

Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (1981), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984), All About Love: New Visions (2000), and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004).

 


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Stop Telling Women To Smile: Visual Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

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I Am Not Here For You © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

 

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My Masculinity Is Not A Threat To Yours © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

 

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Tatyana Fazlalizadeh | image from New York Times

Visual artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh spoke recently with Jessica Valenti about public art, the pressure to produce political pieces and how artists will survive. Listen to their interview on the latest episode of Guardian podcast, What Would A Feminist Do?

You can see more of Fazlalizadeh’s work on her website and more about Stop Telling Women To Smile on the project website.

Words and Women: Barbra Streisand

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Barbra Streisand in 1966 | image from elle


Why is it that men are permitted to be obsessed about their work, but women are only permitted to be obsessed about men?



Barbra Streisand (b. 1942) is American singer, songwriter, actor, and filmmaker. In a career spanning six decades, Streisand is among the ten best-selling female artists of all time in the US music industry. She starred in nineteen films between 1968 and 2012, and was nominated for BAFTAs and Golden Globes galore.

In 1983, Streisand became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major studio film. The film, Yentl won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, while Streisand received the Golden Globe for Best Director, the first and only woman to win that award to date.

 


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

LGBTQ+ in China: a quick introduction

In China, the LGBTQ+ community face severe discrimination. Many LGBTQ+ people’s families and communities refuse to accept their sexuality or gender identity, and therefore find themselves in compromising situations like ‘fake’ marriages to fulfil their filial duty. Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until 2001, and some private Chinese clinics still offer ‘electroshock’ gay conversion therapy.

Thankfully, there are many people speaking and acting out against such discrimination. In Beijing, the LGBTQ+ community are a strong driving force behind the feminist movement. We’re incredibly privileged to know women like Iron, who runs Beijing’s LGBT Centre, and Li Maizi who spoke in London last week. There are feminists across the country speaking out about everything from Trump to censorship, and campaigning non-stop when the two coincide.

Kick-start your understanding of China’s LGBTQ+ community with this informative video from Out China:

 

So, here’s to our LGBTQ+ friends in China and worldwide. May this be the beginning of a long alliance.

Words and Women: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | image from guardian

In the face of the proposition that feminism has become too mainstream, that feminist activism has become an empty marketing tool, Adichie responds:

This idea of feminism as a party to which only a select few people get to come: this is why so many women, particularly women of colour, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, don’t we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed. I think academic feminism is interesting in that it can give a language to things, but I’m not terribly interested in debating terms. I want people’s marriages to change for the better. I want women to walk into job interviews and be treated the same way as somebody who has a penis.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and feminist activist, who lives in the US with her husband and young daughter. Her most recent publication, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, is based on a letter she wrote to her friend, who asked Adichie for tips on how to raise her child as a feminist.

The book, which was published on 7th March 2017, focuses on teaching feminism to those we love through one’s own actions and relationships, taking Adichie’s suggestions far beyond the realms of parenthood. Dear Ijeawele is accessible to anyone anywhere, making it a truly intersectional manifesto for feminists the world over.

Quotation from Adichie’s recent interview with the guardian.


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Embracing Labels: Small Steps Toward a Big Goal

Guest Post | Alexandra Sieh 

Looking up from my book, I scanned the crowded subway car, eager for some good people-watching. But as a new group of folks clambered on, I cringed at some of the actions and attitudes I saw.

Boyfriends pushing (excuse me, “guiding”) their girlfriend onto the train, or speaking to them as if they were children. Women dressed in wildly uncomfortable clothes that align with current fashion trends. Men speaking over the women in their group, or taking no notice of them at all.

From my point of view, these sort of cultural interactions encourage frail, helpless women and domineering men. But as I watch, I try to look past the (irritating) face value of the situation, and understand what societal norm encouraged it. Other times, I mutter angrily under my breath about bullshit men and their bullshit behavior and all these bullshit societal expectations women felt they needed to live up to.

But whether it manifests as deep consideration or silent fuming, it’s always a very quiet sort of rumination on rights and equality, or lack thereof.

I’m sure some reading this would argue my response isn’t much of a response at all. That observation or contemplation aren’t enough – they won’t create change.

Perhaps not.

But despite always having strong views and clear opinions, I’ve often avoided direct action. Rarely would I self-identify as a liberal or feminist or activist (though I am all those things). Ultimately, I was simply avoided labels.

Why? I found them intimidating.

These labels seemed too rigid, too narrow, and far too easy to use as a crutch in writing your own self-definition.

Beyonce's 2014 MTV Video Music Awards
Beyonce’s performance at 2014 MTV Video Music Awards | image from: Independent

I saw many paint broad strokes based on a label, and often their interpretation of that label was inaccurate from the start. Kellyanne Conway anyone? Often, it seemed:

If you’re a *insert label here*, you’re x, y, z.

If you agree with that person or their label, “x, y, z” can be encouraging, positive associations. If you don’t agree, “x, y, z” become negative, and often inaccurate, slurs.

What was my incentive to don these labels, just to have someone assume they knew me based solely on those words?

Well, now I’m not so easily intimidated.

Whether it’s age or perspective or an expat-driven need to further self-identify, I find I’m more comfortable slipping into those labels. Thanks largely to my time living abroad, I no longer feel timidity over being the real me.

Increasingly, I feel a need to go beyond identifying as what I am, by using my own personality and actions to reinforce a positive, more realistic, definition of that label. If I can present myself as a strong, capable, kind, loving, forceful woman and identify as a liberal, a feminist, etc., then perhaps people will start to correlate the two.

Within my life in China, that correlation is often on as small a level as my classroom interactions each day.

I challenge what my students think a woman should wear by donning the mismatched, often baggy or faded, clothing that I love to wear. I pair a feminine skirt with a man’s oversized flannel, because that’s my style. That way, my students see a woman they describe as beautiful deciding herself how she’ll dress and act.

Chinese kids in a training school | image from GRCS
Chinese kids attending a training school | image from GRCS

I purposefully twist my hair into a frazzled, messy pile atop my head to show individuality and even a touch of eccentricity. “That looks crazy, teacher!” “Well it’s good to be a little crazy.”

Despite my being in a loving relationship, I argue every day that women don’t need a man to achieve all their dreams. Nor does finding a partner – man or woman – mean they cede their dreams.

With my brilliant little girls, I celebrate their intelligence. I tell them to dream big. Through some personal (and probably knee-jerk) response to this country’s blatant patriarchy, I go out of my way to push these girls to be forces of nature, strong enough to challenge any societal norms they’re up against.

With my clever little boys, I try to teach them equality by quieting their disrespect, and praising their teamwork.

I do my part, and spend that subway-ride home dreaming about how I hope my students will grow up to be.

So, while I may not be setting the world ablaze with radical thought or loud protest, I thrive through more close-to-home feminism. I may not be powering grassroots movements, but I’m making sure everyone around me supports equality. I may not be rallying, but I’m empowering the women in my life, looking up to them and giving them my support.

I also hope I’m teaching the men in my life how great a world it would be if they did the same. By being powerful, independent, intelligent and strong-willed, I hope to help men see the beauty of that kind of woman. I want to help them shed any fear they have of what a world equality would look like – help them see it’s not about their subordination to women, but their standing alongside women.

Wearing the labels I’m now comfortable owning, I take small steps and celebrate them. Whether it changes the world, I know it changes the world of those around me. And for now, that role is one I am more than happy to play.



Alexandra Sieh is a freelance writer currently working as a marketing director and English teacher in Beijing, China. Read more from Alexandra at Wild-Eyed and Wandering.


Featured image from: Global Girl Media Network