March 5, 2017

Another kind of gender confusion

It's an exciting and frightening time to be a woman these days. It feels like we're heading into both the dark ages and a brand new feminist movement simultaneously.  Only a few weeks after the astonishing turnout of the Women's March on Washington that was matched around the world, we're also dealing with things like the chiropractor in Kansas who's invented a vaginal glue to seal the labia during menstruation to prevent women from being "distracted".  If he were creative enough, he could maybe also market it as a rape prevention device.  Though it might be most effective as an easy means of denying sex to men as stupid as he is.  "Not tonight, dear, my labia are stuck tight."

Even worse, the Oklahoma state legislature is considering a bill that would require women to obtain written permission from the man who impregnated them in order to have an abortion.  The bill's author, state Rep. Justin Humphrey, said he just wants to add the father into the abortion process.

“My bill would stop an abortion if a father does not agree to the abortion,” Humphrey told the committee, which eventually voted 5-2 in favor of the legislation.

... “The thing that I wanted to spark in a debate is that fathers have a role. Exactly where that role is, I'm not sure,” [Humphrey] said. “We are starting the right debate by saying, do fathers have a place? Where should that be?”

He then took it even further by dehumanizing women entirely--

“I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all these types of decisions.” He continued, “I understand that [women] feel like that is their body. I feel like it is a separate—what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant.”

This is patriarchy in the extreme and I don't know any woman who would accept it.  I'm sure there are some out there, out in the Bible Belt, but those women do the rest of us no favors. Because women these days are standing up and asserting themselves in a way beyond even the feminist movement of the 1970s.  They have similar expectations of equal rights and an end to objectification, but they now have the platform of the internet and social media to spread the word and build momentum.  From the on-point news coverage of the feminist blogosphere, highlighted by Teen Vogue, to the letter written by the woman raped by Brock Turner, they're making their voices heard loud and clear, and some men are actually beginning to listen.

And, as always, artistic voices are also taking on these topics, which is necessary because art can make us think about things in a deeper way than hard fact can.  One in particular is relevant to the topic at hand-- Third Man Books recently posted a video, directed by designer and musician Poni Silver, of this piece from poet Kendra DeColo's new book, My Dinner With Ron Jeremy.



I look at that video and I see the gloriousness of the current generation of young women who are learning that they can exist separate from men's perceptions of them.  And yet my internal emotional response to it is very conflicted. Apparently a lot of other people had strongly unconflicted responses, to the point that Third Man closed down the comments section on their YouTube page because of the virulent misogyny of some of the replies.  When people feel that sort of hatred, the sort that's been directed towards women for centuries and that's boiled over at every moment in history that we've tried to stand up for ourselves, from the Suffragettes to the Feminist Movement to the Women's March, to women who deal with abuse and inferior treatment on a daily basis, you have to wonder what's behind it. Usually intense hatred is fueled by fear, isn't it? But when what you're attacking is not actually a threat, not really, where does the fear come from?  On his WTF podcast, Marc Maron recently talked to Raoul Peck, director of I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin's theory that so many of the things people are afraid of in the world, the things they project so much hatred towards, are constructed in their own minds.  This is a premise of Buddhism, as well, that most of our suffering comes from stories that we tell ourselves, based on amplified insecurities and things we ignorantly choose to believe.  I can't speak for what sort of insecurities might be behind other people's negative responses to the video for Kendra DeColo's poem, but I know exactly what's behind my own.

I've written before about traits I don't like about myself, about the envy and anger I give in to all too easily.  In this case, insecurity is the fault rearing its ugly head along with those other two.  It peeks out when I'm out by myself and see couples all around me.  It's so very rare to see other people by themselves like I am.  It makes me wonder, why am I always alone? Yeah, I'm an introvert, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be in a relationship if I could be.  On the rare occasions when I am with friends, any time I see other women around me getting attention from men, I wonder again-- What's wrong with me that I don't attract that?  Is it this or that flaw in my face or body? Is it that I'm opinionated? Am I not feminine enough? Is my independence intimidating to men? Is it some unconscious "stay away" vibe that I send out unawares? What's wrong with me?

Watching the video for Kendra's poem gives me that same feeling. Seeing that series of beautiful young women expressing discomfiture at unwanted male attention makes me sad, because it makes me think of how little I've experienced any of the situations described.  I didn't get hit on when I was 15. I don't get hit on now.  Unless I've been totally oblivious to it, I think I could count on one hand the number of times I've been hit on in my entire life.  I didn't date in high school because no one asked me out.  I lost my virginity at 19 to a guy I met at a party, but he left two weeks later to backpack across Europe and then go off to college.  And that was it until near the end of my 20s, when I moved in with one of the few men who ever has hit on me.  Unfortunately, the 6 years we were together was 5 years and 11 months longer than we should have been. It came to an end when he slept with another woman because he wanted kids and I didn't, and then I found out he'd been sleeping with other women all along. After several more years alone, I had an 18 month fling with a much younger guy I met through a chat room, until he asked if we could go back to a platonic relationship because I made him feel oversexed.  Of the two men I've had relationships with, I was not enough for one and was too much for the other.  And no one's shown an interest in me since then.  What's wrong with me?

So I look at other women and see the attention they get, I see them all around me with boyfriends and husbands, and that question comes up over and over-- What's wrong with me?  A long time ago, the feeling that they had something I don't made me begin to view other women as competition, as an impediment to me having any chance with a worthwhile man.  They're cockblockers, both figuratively and literally.  It's so hard not to feel envious of the young women in that video who seem to have had so much experience of things I've barely had a taste of.  Watching it, listening to Kendra's words, that small, ugly, shadowy part of myself snidely thinks "Aw, you poor thing, you got hit on, how horrible".  And then I'm angry at the world and ashamed of myself at the same time.  And it's damned hard not to let self-pity project outward into hatred.  It's James Baldwin's construction theory at work.

Yet I'm not so caught up in my neurotic insecurities that I'm blind to the importance of Kendra's statement. I realize that it's about more than just attention from men, it's about the attitudes behind the attention and how women have to strengthen themselves to deal with those attitudes.  Whether a woman is hit on too much or not enough, she needs to know that she is not shaped by how men perceive her, that she has value as an individual, and that her body and emotions and needs are her own, not to be dictated by those close to her or society at large.  In those rare instances when I have been treated to an unwanted proposition, I've wondered just how those men saw me, and how surprised, and potentially turned off, they might be if they did get to know me.  As Kendra's poem suggests, would they be shocked at how my blood might ravage their veins?  What men have to understand is that they need to see us as we are before they can know whether they want to tap that thing.

And I wonder about my frustration over lack of attention from men that I would like to be with--  The frustration is born of a natural desire for companionship and intimacy, but when it reaches the point that I'm angry at other women and questioning what's wrong with myself, isn't it perpetuating the falsehood that our value is dependent on men's assessment of us?  My insecurities seem to have been shaped by the very cultural attitudes the current women's movement is trying to break down.  And this is why I realize the value of Kendra's poem at the same time that it can leave me wallowing in self-pity.

I was a child during the Women's Movement of the 70s.  I saw Ms. magazine on the newsstands, I heard Gloria Steinem's name, but I was too young to read any of her writing. So it wasn't until last year, when I read her book My Life On The Road that she was able to have an impact on me.  It took this long for that icon of the previous movement to wake me up to the realization that there cannot be civil rights for all without rights for women.  It will probably always be difficult for me to relate to other women without feeling twinges of that ugly competitiveness and jealousy, but I'm learning that I need to at least stand up with them.  At some point, we all need to do this-- We have to face our individual neuroses and look beyond them to see the bigger picture, to see how our fears and insecurities play out in the world around us. 

Is it too much to hope that all the recent idiocy is the last gasps of a graspingly desperate patriarchy?

"Utah GOP chair's letter to editor published TODAY (not in the year 1624)".
From the Twitter of TawdryLorde

Maybe one way to change it would be to give a copy of My Dinner With Ron Jeremy and a subscription to Teen Vogue to every woman under 40.  And maybe every man , too.



2 comments:

sean said...

Great post. There's a lot to ponder here. I'm still ruminating on some of it, so I don't have anything noteworthy to write in this box at the moment. Re: the nod to Buddhism: I do find that striving for the Middle Way is helpful in dispelling my own snarled narratives that forever seem to be weaving themselves into knots around my best intentions. It's a lifelong practice...

KaliDurga said...

Thank you. And, yes, it is a lifelong practice, but there are so many tools in Buddhism. And looking beyond our constructed stories to try to see the reality of a situation is one of the most important.