This review has been up for a few days. I’ve been sick the past while and dragged my coughing, spluttering self to the desk in order to link it for y’all. Enjoy!
In the past week, as I have wrapped up my nine-to-five job in Communications, I have had a lot of discussions about my next adventure. Namely, my embarcation on a PhD in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York University here in Toronto.
Now, as a feminist and queer woman who blogs about the troubles with the world and has generally engaged in queer activism, I am used to people saying stupid shit to me. However, I have been floored by the level of disrespect and pure ignorance I have met with this past week as I discuss this transition with former colleagues, neighbours and general acquaintances.
Firstly, no one seems to know what a PhD is. “How long will that take, a year?” has been quite a common reaction. Most people have been insistent that having a PhD is just the same as having a Master’s degree (actually, no. It’s really, really not.), “and we all know Masters are worthless these days.” No one seems to understand this is vocational training, similar to training to be a lawyer or doctor, and certainly of a similar length to the latter.
People also seem to have selective amnesia about my decision. After a company-wide email congratulating me on my acceptance into a PhD program, plus several discussions in the kitchen, people at work still wanted to know more about my Masters program. In a culture that devalues being a student, women and especially – duh – feminism, I interpreted this as a semi-conscious attempt to undermine me and my achievements.
People also found the name of my program confusing. In fact, as soon as I started the phrase “Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies” I could see their eyes begin to glaze over. The word that seemed to stick out from that title was, obviously, “feminist” and, instead of respectfully asking me what I was going to work on, most people took this word as an opportunity to rant about feminism. Whether they were telling me feminism is unnecessary, asking me if I believed in gender equality (what do you think?), or saying something surprisingly sensible about our obsession with masculinity as a culture, nobody actually wanted to engage with me about the topic. People were using my statement as an opportunity to sound off about whatever random opinion they had about feminism. Nobody was listening to me or wanted to hear what I had to say.
This is a pretty disrespectful attitude. Although I do imagine that many professionals are subjected to people’s rambling associations when discussing their vocation with people outside the field, I do think that the fact I mentioned the words “feminism” and “studying” spoke to a double-whammy of disrespect that we have as a culture, both for women and women’s rights (e.g. feminism), and for students. Please, do take my vocation as an excuse to tell me why you think what I’m doing is worthless. Please do. I can’t wait to hear all about it.
All this has left me wondering how to react. Although pursuing a PhD is very different to an undergraduate degree, I am loathe to try and distance myself from undergraduates in order to get more respect. Students should be respected no matter their level of study, and I don’t want to get into an ‘I’m-not-one-of-them’ structure of proving my worth.
Right now, I don’t know how I am going to deal with the bullshit people will say to me over the next six years. Maybe I need to come up with a few stock witty repartees, or work on developing a thick skin. How about you, dear readers? How would you prove the worth of your life choices in one simple sentence, or would you not bother and leave these idiots to fester in their own stupidity?
I have long written about the hierarchies of relationship status within Western society and how fucked up they are. When single, I fought against the idea that I needed a partner (preferably a man, if not then a woman would do) to ‘complete’ me. As a fiercely intelligent, grumpy and ambitious woman I didn’t think I needed anyone by my side to prove to others how awesome I am. At the same time that I actually did want to be in a relationship, I also didn’t think I needed a partner to validate my awesomeness. I knew I was enough by myself, and I wanted to be in a relationship for other reasons.
Now that I am in a relationship, I am still frustrated by this dynamic. I benefit A LOT from having a partner. I now have someone to bring to the work dinner, someone to go on vacation with and someone to ward off unwanted male attention. I have someone to talk about when new acquaintance is trying to get to know me better by asking the socially prescribed questions, and I no longer have to deal with awkward silences or pitying expressions when I say I am single. Even better, my partner goes by male pronouns, hiding my queerness and making me sound like I fit right in with straight society. (And, yes, in case you didn’t realize, most of this preceding paragraph should be read in a sarcastic tone.
So, given the above, it really pisses me off that I am treated differently now I have a partner. Even by my feminist friends. People have stopped inviting me out as much, assuming I want to spend every second of my spare time staring into my beau’s eyes. They’ve even stopped inviting me out directly, and starting asking my partner to do things, assuming that I will just accompany him like a passive dog at his heels. And this behaviour, from self-professed queer feminists, I find unacceptable.
I have tried to avoid making these assumptions in my own life. I try not to ask one half of a couple, assuming the other half will trot along beside them, but ask each person separately as if they are, shock horror, individual people with distinct social lives. Given that, I know I’m not perfect and, despite my righteous indignation, I know I’ve committed the old ask-one-expect-two invitation style.
However, enough is enough and I think we should all, as self-respecting feminist men, women and queers, get over our linguistic laziness and send an invitation to each person we want to come to our events. After all, isn’t this just an extension of the formal Mr. & Mrs. L. Brightwell. Who needs a name, right, when you’ve got a husband?
How call-out culture verges on the abusive and how the language we use around conflict enables us to push out members of our activist communities at will.
When I moved to Toronto two years ago, I immediately fell into a friendship group of femmes and other queers, largely thanks to the welcoming persona of one of the group. I was invited to parties and had femme friends I felt comfortable around for this first time in my life. I had a pretty good social life, pretty fast.
And then, about three months later, it all fell apart. I started dating someone who would later become my partner. This person had gone on a date with one of my new friends two days prior to meeting me. Later my friend asked me to stop seeing them, and I refused.
A week later, I found myself blocked on Facebook by another friend who would turn her back to me whenever I walked into the room. I was pushed out of my new friendship group with no explanation. As these individuals attended a lot of the queer parties of this particular scene, I no longer felt welcome or comfortable at these events. Having gained and lost close friends in the space of a few months after moving to a new country and city, I felt alienated, lonely and angry.
This this wasn’t the first time I had been pushed out of a queer community. When I was organizing a zine in Berlin, a bunch of co-organizers met behind my back and wrote a letter stating they no longer wanted to participate in the project. They, too, refused to speak about the issue (I am still unclear what it was) and cut me off from all communication with that group.
I have been accused of being anti-Semitic by non-Jewish queers and told my white, middle-class, British mannerisms were oppressing a white, middle-class Canadian. I have been implicitly excluded from community because of my feminine and middle-class dress sense, my preference for monogamous relationships, and my fatness.
Of course, it is possible that I am an anti-Semitic, classist, racist, sexist, unattractive person who is unable to see beyond her own oppression and accept her natural polyamorous and genderqueer nature. And a bad friend. Even though I am undoubtedly invested in not being all of these things, I am also pretty sure I am not all of them. I mean, I at least have good dress sense.
Now, two years after the time when I lost all my new friends and was bullied out of the Toronto queer dance scene, I am wondering why we, in the queer community, do this to each other.
I know I am not the only one who has been pushed out of the queer scene. I am not the only one who doesn’t go to events because they don’t want to bump into a particular person, and who therefore stays at home feeling lonely. I am not the only one who has been told my politics are wrong, who has been scapegoated, cold shouldered, and looked down on in order to make someone else feel better. I am sick of this. I know we can do better.
My ten years of living in various queer communities has taught me that this kind of behaviour is pandemic. Recently, there has been much discussion about call-out culture and its effectiveness.
My take on call-out culture is that it’s very effective if what we want to achieve is the exclusion of anyone who behaves in a problematic manner or pisses us off. However, it is not very effective if we want to create a community that nurtures and educates each other. I, personally, would prefer a community that is able to deal with confrontation. That, like a good friend, tells you when you’re being a douchebag but still loves you anyway.
Call-out culture is a particularly self-serving way of dealing with confrontation. It enables the person doing the calling out to name someone else oppressive, and to do so in very black and white language. It allows what Asam Ahmad of the It Gets Fatter! project has called “a particularly armchair and academic brand of activism.” Calling-out doesn’t require any action on the part of the person doing the calling-out. It enables a person to name another person racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., and to put the onus of that label wholly on the other person. The accused then becomes outcast from the activist community, and no attempt at restoration is made.
The problem with this kind of public outcry is that it is taken up by the community as a whole who seem to enjoy participating in public humiliation more than engaging in an educative dialogue. Everyone enjoys having someone to point at and say how much better a person they are than the other.
To have a whole community turn against you is a horrifying feeling. To feel first that, as a queer, you finally have a place and then to lose that place is sickening. Of course, the question of the largeness of the crime is a pertinent one here. There are some actions that are worse than others. But, in general, a lot of this alienation happens for reasons that speak more to the toxic nature of the way we reinforce our collective political identities than to the personality or politics of the individual who is being called-out. Frankly, a lot of this alienation happens owing to a simple interpersonal disagreement, as in my case, rather than a concrete case of wrongdoing.
Another reason call-out culture seems more about affirming how cool we are in contrast to a demonized other is that we all have, to some extent, done something discriminatory. What white person has not had a racist thought or committed an unthinking racist action? What person, straight or queer, has not done something homophobic? Who hasn’t made an ableist comment?
We know patriarchal and capitalist values influence our value systems. In fact, I have found that it is often through a thorough examination of our own prejudices that we come to see how they work and to do our own bit to fight against oppression. So, to write another person off as a bad queer or activist and to participate in a public shaming that has hugely negative social and psychological consequences for that person does nothing to tackle the problem. It also creates a culture in which a person and community can use public shaming to bolster their own self-image.
I understand the sentiment that we just do not have the energy to educate every other person who offends us. But I do think we should treat members of our communities differently to a member of the public who has not been exposed to lefty political thought. We should take the time to have difficult conversations in our communities, rather than pushing out those who hurt us.
This is by no means an exhaustive article. Many have started writing/thinking about and practising calling-in – a one-on-one intervention with the person who did the thing – instead of calling-out. You can read more about that here. I don’t have a solution for this problem. What I would like for now is for us to recognize that we all, as human beings, make mistakes.
Why being a grown-up is hard, being an older queer is harder, and my feelings on discovering my brother is pregnant
Happy Family Day Canadians in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan! Happy Viola Desmond day in Nova Scotia and also Louis Riel day in Manitoba! Phew. Why can’t all of Canada agree on the same bloody holiday? That’s what this girl from a island that fits into your country, like, 40 times over (I calculated it) wants to know. What better way to celebrate the (I feel, rather patriarchal sounding holiday) by oversharing my conflicted feelings about aging, babies, careers and being a queer lady who is not pregnant, nor has easy access to sperm.
My little brother, who used to be small enough for me to pick up in my arms before he grew into an oversized human, is going to be a Dad. He FaceTimes me on the way to a dinner party with the ‘Amy is pregnant and we’re engaged!’ bombshell. Cue slightly maniacal laughter from both of us about the prospect of him being a Dad, my predictable outburst “I’m going to be the coolest feminist auntie ever” and my also predictable sinking feeling that he will now definitely be my parents’ favourite child.
I immediately call my partner and discuss where we can get some gay sperm to knock me up. I can get very competitive.
I spent the whole of yesterday in a weird daze, having given myself some kind of half concussion by dropping a glass pot lid on my nose, and having found out that I am going to be an auntie. Within a couple of hours of my brother’s we’re-having-a-baby-and-we’re-getting-married,-surprise! bombshell, I found out a dear friend of mine is engaged. This follows on the heels of finding out my best friend is pregnant a couple of weeks ago and a literal baby explosion among my straight friends in the UK.
It seems like all of my friends are having babies and getting married.
I, on the other hand, had spent a good part of last week trying to convince my partner that we should move to the prairies for my PhD program and had finally resorted to the manipulative outburst “I’ll marry you if you do.” Well done, Laura, you win romantic proposal of the year award. No thoroughly planned replica of our original date for me, oh no, just a desperate attempt to have my cake and eat it too.
Apparently, now we’re pre-engaged, or whatever that is. I prefer betrothed, as it sounds more Jane Austen-y and less nineties romcom or whatever.
So, all this is to say, that I’m feeling a lot of pressure when it comes to the aging, queerness and career front. Having vacillated a lot on the babies question in my twenties, not least because it’s not so straightforward when you’re unlikely to be partnered with a cisgender dude, I am coming to the conclusion that I probably do want the babies. Problem is, I also want the career, am starting a PhD this year, have no money and, according to received opinion, my eggs will start drying up in a couple of years if they haven’t already started to do so.
Argh! I know, #middleclassproblems, right? I am also aware that getting to do a PhD is a huge privilege, I know that my parents will always bail me out financially if necessary and I can probably get the sperm from somewhere. As I get older, I realize more and more that a) time passes and b) there is no perfect time to do anything anyway.
Plus, I’m a feminist and sceptical of the ‘have babies now now now woman it is your job and your time is running out!’ patriarchal narrative, because, you know, the patriarchy has an agenda.
I’ve also been following queer femme Michelle Tea’s blog on getting pregnant and found it upsetting to read about her fertility problems as a 40-something-year-old. Luckily, those fertility problems were not insurmountable as she now has a cute gayby called Atticus.
So, I think I’m probably going to try to do babies and PhD at the same time. This will be a couple of years after getting my dog next year, because, I’m not completely crazy or anything!
Anyway, that’s my opinion on gaybys. Happy Family Day everyone! (Barf.)
OK, so maybe the title’s a cheap gimmick. But I got you to look, didn’t I? This one’s about the pressure to be in a relationship and how it affects our self-esteem and happiness.
As a teenager and woman in her early 20s I felt like I had a lot to prove. Specifically, a lot to prove sexually. Upon meeting new people, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t in a relationship. My short and, most often, disastrous mini dating spurts made me question if there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I get a girl? (I was more gay back then. And no, homophobes, if you have mysteriously managed to stumble upon this post, it wasn’t ‘a phase.’)
I found that every time I found someone I did like I ‘fucked it up’ by being overly keen. I was desperate to be with them no matter how much I actually liked this person or how awesome they were or were not. I had such low self-confidence, and I wanted to prove that I was loveable (to myself and, I imagined, to the people around me), so would take any offer I could get. This trend started with a disgusting first kiss and continued throughout my twenties with a series of failed mini-relationships with, for the most part, people I wasn’t really that into in the first place.
Nowadays, I find that my self-esteem has improved a lot but I still often feel unloved. I question whether my friends really like me and I find it hard to accept the love that is freely given to me. I also don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this. I have seen many of my loved ones stick with violent relationships, or relationships with people they are just not that into.
We feel a more valued member of society when we are in a relationship, no matter our relative level of happiness or how dys/functional the relationship is. We feel more presentable to the world, more socially acceptable. I wonder what it is about our society that makes people desperate to be in a relationship, any relationship, at whatever cost?Maybe it’s because the forces that be would prefer us to be preoccupied with the heteronormative structure of exclusive pairing, children and paying the mortgage, than single and dangerously free to think outside and, perhaps, smash the system.
Despite all its lip service to individual freedom, society wants us to be in a relationship, no matter how bad that relationship is and no matter how unhappy we are. I am more approved of when I’m in a relationship. I’m seen as more successful and I am taken more seriously. Perhaps this is one reason why groups of friends often get married orpregnant around the same time. It’s a culmination of the pressure to do what is socially acceptable plus female competition – to prove you are just as, or more, successful than your friends.
I am certain that this social pressure falls more heavily on women. We are judged so much more harshly than men. It is far more important to keep us in our subservient place by making us neurotic about the importance of being in a relationship and if, when and how we have children.
When I started dating my partner, I was both touched and slightly irritated by just how happy everyone was about it. Everyone wanted to tell me just how happy there were; even my best friend’s mother declared “I’m so happy she’s found someone.” I appreciate the well-meaning behind such declarations, but I also want to shout, “I was quite happy being single, you know!” I did my best to rail against the feeling that the most important thing in my life was getting a man, and the Disney narrative of being saved by your lover.
Being in a relationship is great, in so many ways, but it also hasn’t saved me. My problems haven’t gone away, I just have more consistent support to deal with them. I’m happier, but I’ve also had to compromise in some areas, for example with the use of my time. A bit like having a baby, relationships aren’t to be entered into lightly. They’re a huge waste of your time if they’re not right.
My partner is great, but there is a lot more to both of us than our relationship.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I’m sick of being valued in comparison to others. I’m sick of female competition to get the guy, marry the guy, be impregnated by the guy. And this competition definitely carries over to affect queer folks, as the sex-obsessed queer ‘community’ proves.
I would love to know whether you have felt this pressure to date, or to stay in a relationship because, gasp, what if you are truly unloveable and can’t get someone else? Have you felt this pressure as a guy, and why do think it’s so hard to think outside the relationship box?
I am more than my relationship. I am more than a single, dating or married person. And I know you are too.
You know what I fucking hate? Moral judgements around food.
The office I work in has recently relocated, which means I have been forced out of my antisocial hidey hole into an open plan nightmare. Not only does this mean no more cute videos of bulldogs on skateboards, it’s also forced me into contact with a couple of colleagues who are obsessed with counting calories.
“This is so naughty,” “How many calories are in that?” “I shouldn’t. Oh, go on then.” This is what I hear around me every lunchtime and afternoon. This kind of food talk between women is so common it feels trite to claim it’s noteworthy. But we should pay attention to this language; we should notice it.
I’m so mad at this situation that I’m finding it really hard to come up with coherent thoughts about it. Hearing this kind of language at works reinforces a lot of negative beliefs I have about my body, but have also been trying to de(con)struct for some years. I think I look quite good, with my round tummy and pencil skirt, munching on a chocolate, but then I hear a colleague joking about how she’s going to be “naughty” and have a cookie, and I think – “wait, am I supposed to be feeling bad about this? Am I supposed to be hating myself? Oh God I am, aren’t I!” and descend into a bout of self-hating that, as we well know, contributes to an obsessive relationship with food and, paradoxically, comfort eating.
It’s not like these thoughts aren’t already there. I’m not blaming individuals at work for my insecurities, but I am certainly blaming an anti-feminist work culture that fails to support its colleagues by excluding this kind of moral language from the office. I guess this is what is meant by triggering. Although I am leery of the culture of excessive trigger warnings I see around me in lefty, queer, feminist online spaces, I can appreciate their use in this situation. I just want to yell SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU ARE MAKING ME FEEL BAD ABOUT MYSELF AND NOW I CAN’T CONCENTRATE ON THIS DAMN PROOFREADING! Hearing them talk about their own insecurities remind me of, and contributes to, my own.
I have enough internalized fatphobia as it is, I don’t need people at work making me feel even worse. When are we going to learn that internalized misogyny is just as harmful and pervasive as the racism and homophobia that we already (mostly) know is not OK in our workplaces?
I know I could take the feminist high ground here and empathize for these people who have such a complicated relationship with food. But, you know what? So do I! And I don’t need to be exposed to anyone else’s.
So, the next time you joke about being bad because you’re going to have one of the chocolates in the kitchen, spare a thought to the rest of us who don’t need to be reminded of our own body hatred and difficulties with food.
And now it’s time to turn to you, dear readers. I would appreciate your advice. Do you have any strategies for dealing with this language at work? I really don’t think pointing it out to them would be productive, or supported, as it is the management team who talks like this. Any advice would be great.
Lastly, here are a couple of resources that I’ve found helpful: