Film and feminist thought for the day. This video has given me something to chew over. I found it via the resources page of new blog Queer Feminism. I am currently reading my way through their reading list. Highly recommended.
Film and feminist thought for the day. This video has given me something to chew over. I found it via the resources page of new blog Queer Feminism. I am currently reading my way through their reading list. Highly recommended.
Sometimes I get so angry at the sexism I see in the world that it makes me just want to scream. This is the feeling I got when I read the sexist comments on Berlin queer mag Siegessäule‘s review of The Berlin Femme Show. The night was such a success with over 600 guests and 25 amazing performers. It really made me hope, just a little bit, that things might be looking up for femmes here in Berlin. The review was very appreciative and I was so proud of the amazing range of feminist statements our performers made: from body image, to trans identities, queer homogeneity to sex work. But no, apparently when you get a bunch of mostly feminine women performing burlesque, all we are doing is taking our tits out and being pornographic. Of course.
I mean, there is nothing political about a woman desperately breaking her diet by eating her cosmetics and then celebrating her fatness by dancing to Fat Bottomed Girls. There is nothing political about seeing fat burlesque at all, in a world which tells us we only have sexual power as women when we starve ourselves into thinness. There is nothing political about taking the stereotype of the housewife and using it to bake dreams of a different queer world and to celebrate all the feminists who have gone before us. There is nothing political about showing the thoughts of a sex worker as she strips and comes for a client, or standing up on stage as a transsexual woman and talking about the exclusion of transfemininities in the queer community. There is nothing political about standing on stage in front of a community who has done everything in its power to ignore you, discount you and keep you out and demand to be seen as sexual and queer.
Of course, all we girls are doing is taking our tits out and disappointing our queer feminist sisters, who obviously know a lot more about what it means to be queer and feminist than we do. Boo hoo fucking hoo.
So, I encourage all of you to read my zine which is now fully translated and consists of 80 pages of art about why, exactly, these kinds of attitudes are bullshit.
The rise of domesticity in feminist culture: are crotcheting and cunt cupcakes really that innocent?
Earlier this week, The Quietus published an article that criticised the rise of so-called “cupcake feminism”. It suggested that all these cute young women with their scarlet lipstick and intricate cupcakes had become the acceptable face of feminism, an image which leaves the feminist stereotype of the “angry, hairy dyke” well out of the picture. The writer, Meryl Trussler, argues that this acceptable image of contemporary feminism unintentionally affirms the facile dismissal of feminists who are not young, white and traditionally feminine.
To some extent I agree with this article. At a lesbian cake picnic in Hyde Park, London, a good friend of mine criticised cupcake chic. They said that they now felt obliged to cook delicious cakes for social occasions at the same time as being a mother and somehow having a life. Domestic work, they said, was not glamorous. Having seen first hand the unimaginable amount of work my friend has to do as a single parent to two children, I agree that, no matter how much Nancy Sinatra you play and fake pearls you wear, cleaning the toilet or hoovering the apartment is never going to be that sexy, or fun. Perhaps the fact that I am now expected to bring delicious creations to potlucks after working all day, writing, and my many other commitments, is limiting rather than ironic. Is the rise of crotcheting and cunt cupcakes really that innocent? Or does it play into the hands of sexist stereotypes?
“When I stand there, in a fluffy cardigan, holding a cupcake in one hand and feminist tract in the other, I am exploding stereotypes of femininity”
There is something to be said for, “no I can’t smash the patriarchy with feminist cupcakes right now, I need to go to work so I can feed my children and send them to school.” Even if, like me, you don’t have kids, it’s OK to not have time to bake. I mean, us ladies often have better things to do with our time, like working towards our respective careers or going to demonstrations. Maybe my Mum got it right after all. She always hated cooking and the obligation she felt to feed the whole family. Coming back from a long day’s work, she would often feed us frozen food or reheat leftovers. And do I blame her? No. To expect her to work 9-5, while bringing up two children, and running a household, was a bit much. I mean, without frozen food, would she really have had the time to pursue her own high-flying career? In fact, pre-packaged food became popular in the 1950s. It was marketed as the housewife’s time saver (has anyone seen Betty’s cooking in Mad Men?), so this nostalgic obsession with home cooking is actually an imaginative recreation.
“no matter how much Nancy Sinatra you play, cleaning the toilet is never going to be that fun”
I imagine that, as readers of this blog, you probably know what social phenomenon I am talking about here. You are probably young-ish, feminist and familiar with queer and alternative cultures. However, if you’re not, welcome! I hope you enjoy your stay here. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, let me give you a few examples. It has now become commonplace for feminist and queer events to use cakes as a kind of sales technique and extra cutesy factor. Tabling at Zinefest Berlin, I cunningly used sugary vulvas (otherwise known as vagina cupcakes) to draw the attention of passerby to the zine I was promoting. I wasn’t the only person there who was using icing to lure people into purchasing art. Visiting London in December, I went to the Ducky Christmas Fair. Ducky is a weekly queer night in South London and the craft fair had a whole atrium devoted to homemade niceties. The fair was a veritable mecca for crafty feminists who like to embroider ice-cream brooches and craft swallow necklaces in-between demonstrations. This bonanza made clear to me the extent to which the cute has become a part of queer and feminist culture.
Make no mistake, this is exactly my cup of tea. I love dressing up, being pretty and presenting a stereotype of femininity while sweetly shoving my cunt cupcakes in people’s faces and mouthing off about sexism. Actually, this is my point, which I think Trussler kinda missed. When I stand there in a pink fluffy jumper and lipstick, holding a cupcake in one hand and feminist tract in the other, I am exploding stereotypes of femininity. My softly spoken feminist arguments give the lie to my apparent reproduction of 1950s femininity. It proves the whole show to be exactly that, a masquerade.
Although Trussler does acknowledge the fuck-you drag queening of this moment, her overall argument dismisses it as somehow ‘not enough.’ Not obvious enough, not feminist enough. She says that, by avoiding the feminist stereotype of the big hairy dyke, this image is kind of a cop out. That it’s an easier alternative to really getting stuck into the stereotypes perpetuated by the mainstream media. It is here that I find a big feminist black hole in Trussler’s argument. Never mind that she appropriates high femme, a queer trope, to describe a group of (presumably straight?) feminists who are rejecting the image of the big, hairy dyke. (Hello? As a butch loving femme I LOVE big hairy dykes!) Trussler also seems to forget just how much guts it takes to walk down the streets as a feminine woman. As I said in my interview with Transgender Radio, presenting in a feminine way makes you a target for sexual harassment and assault. Femininity is read by many fucked-up folks as an invitation to sexual advances and hate. Haven’t you heard of the Slutwalks Trussler? Isn’t this exactly their message?
To stand up and demand to be counted while wearing a gingham dress and cardy is a pretty darn brave thing to do. It shows that, femininity, too, can be strong and loud and brave. Darn it, femininity is powerful! In a world in which so much hate is directed towards this gender, and sexism against women is justified through the idea of femininity as weak, passive and artificial, to rant in the form of a crotchet patch is pretty radical. We have to be careful not to reject older art forms, such as sewing, knitting, and, yes, baking (an art form too!), just because they are traditionally female. The art world has always devalued personal, ‘domestic’ crafts (female) in favour of large, ‘universal’ abstract art (male). This is one thing I love about British artist Tracey Emin. Her massive quilts, which catalogue the sexist slurs she has had directed at her, as well as her thoughts, love affairs and travels, challenge the idea that domestic art forms are irrelevant. She shows that her personal experiences apply to every woman and that crafts can carry political messages. Heck, you could even say that the idea “the personal is political” is a foundation of contemporary queer culture! In the arts, Confessional poetsfrom the 50s & 60s like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are now celebrated as mistresses of their art form.
I am not sure I agree with this search for an “acceptable face of feminism”. Feminism can’t be reduced to a catchphrase. It is too multifaceted, too large, for it to be represented by one image, one social group. Even the most awesome feminist is not going to understand or be able to represent the experiences of everyone. As a white, young feminist without children, there is a tonne I don’t know about the feminist needs of women of colour, older women and parents. I don’t think this means I am a bad feminist, but rather that it is my social responsibility to acknowledge my blind spots. What does this mean? It means that each individual feminist needs to do what they can, what is right for them, to create change. And this politics needs to be enacted with awareness of one’s own short sightedness; that is, with humility and compassion. Besides, as a movement that challenges the social structure of, like, the whole world, feminism will always be distinctly unpalatable to the status quo.
I find Tressler’s piece useful as it addresses concerns that have been boinging around the back of my mind for some while now, and I think it’s a good conversation to have. But some things in her article just set my teeth on edge. What do you guys think? As feminist, queers or women, do you feel the pressure to be domesticated? Do you think this cutesy craftsy feminism is too young and too white? And what do you think people would say if you turned up to a potluck, shock horror, with a shop-bought dessert?!
Oh yeah, and here’s your feminist cute of the day. Well, not really feminist, more just cute:
I’m back in town and overwhelmed to see how well party preparation has been going along without me! We now have OVER 15 amazing femme performers joining us to celebrate femmes in Berlin on Thursday 15th March. This is a fundraiser for my zine project about sexism within the queer community. Check out the deets below folks! And catch the updates via Facebook. Thanks so much to Trent for designing and Robekkah for contributing the artwork for the beautiful poster:
**ENGLISH VERSION BELOW**
Fem(me)inista productions präsentieren zusammen mit der Berlin Femme Mafia: The Berlin Femme Show 2012
Es dauerte zwar etwas, aber jetzt können wir zu unser großen Freude die zweite Berlin Femme Show präsentieren!
Wir laden dich_euch herzlich ins Lido ein, auf einen fabulösen Abend voll der Crème de la Crème der queeren femme Kreativtalente. Der Abend fängt entspannt und elegant an mit einem spoken word salon und deliziösen femme Catering von Ohlàlà Tartes-shop, dicht gefolgt von atemberaubendem und sexy Cabaret! Danach werden DJ_anes euch bis in die Nacht am tanzen halten.
Dieses Event ist auch eine Soli und launch Party für Dressed Like That zine: femme_inine Stimmen über Sexismus in der queeren Szene.
performers: Alexander Alvina Chamberland, Annie Good, Margaret Steenblock, Lady Gaby, Marsmaedchen, Mimi Monstroe, Rosebutt, Sarah Martinus, Hedi Mohr, Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, Goldie Dartmouth, Laura Lipstick, Mademoiselle Kla, Yvette Bathory, Kay P. Rinha, Glittertrash, Lyndsey Cockwell, Femme Fraktionen und mehr!
Wo? Lido, Cuvrystraße 7, Ubahn: Schlesisches Tor
Spoken Word Show: 7pm
Cabaret Show: 10pm
Eintritt: 4€ bis 8€ nach eigenem ermessen, bitte gibt was ihr könnt!
Fem(me)inista productions, in association with the Berlin Femme Mafia present: The Berlin Femme Show 2012
At long last, it is our great pleasure to present the second Berlin Femme Show!
You are invited to Lido for a fabulous evening showcasing the very best of queer femme creative talent! The evening begins in a relaxed and elegant way with a spoken word salon complete with delicious femme catering by Ohlàlà Tartes-shop, followed by a breathtaking & sexy cabaret! After the cabaret will be DJs and dancing late into the night.
This event is also a fundraiser & launch party for Dressed Like That zine: feminine voices on sexism in the queer community.
Performances by: Alexander Alvina Chamberland, Annie Good, Margaret Steenblock, Lady Gaby, Marsmaedchen, Mimi Monstroe, Rosebutt, Hedi Mohr, Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, Sarah Martinus, Goldie Dartmouth, Ms Laura Lipstick, Mademoiselle Kla, Yvette Bathory, Kay P. Rinha, Glittertrash, Lyndsey Cockwell, Femme Fraktionen and more!
Where: Lido, Cuvrystraße 7, Ubahn: Schlesisches Tor
Spoken word show: 7pm
Cabaret Show: 10pm
DJs & Dancing: 00.30
Cost: Sliding scale €4-€8 (Please give what you can!)
Tomorrow I am going away to meditate in the woods for a while and won’t be posting here until the third week of February. But no fear, here is plenty of reading to mull over in the meantime. You can also check out my links sidebar (on the right) and find other awesome feminist and queer blogs. I’m just sayin’…
“A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a young woman, a college student, who claimed that her professor had assigned her entire class a special little assignment, for extra credits, for students who could track down my legal name and bring it to class. This young woman had tried and tried, she said, to find it online, but couldn’t, and she really wanted those extra marks. Would I be so kind as to just tell her?”
Ivan Coyote, “They is me”
Reading this opening of Ivan Coyote’s latest story, I was pretty – well, not shocked, I guess, because I wasn’t surprised. But I was upset. Sometimes I forget what it must be like living on the borders of gender, carving your own path. As I said in my previous post, reminders like these make me want to be a better trans ally. To do my little bit. And then I got to thinking about the whole grammar thing of using “they” as a singular third-person pronoun, and I got a little bit obsessed. It turns out, there is a lot of historical precedent to using gender neutral pronouns in English and a tonne of research on the subject.
Although Ivan Coyote’s wife (jealous much? hell yes!), Zena Sharman, has already compiled an amazing ‘they’ as singular pronoun reading list, I wanted to share my own (far inferior) findings on the subject. So, here you go:
A Lipstick Terrorist’s Guide to Beating the ‘they’ Doubters:
1. First of all, If you are looking for a 2-minute ‘I told-you-so’ to show the ‘they’ doubters before you move onto reading about another subject, this is the place for you. As it is made by a dictionary, any grammar snobs will be super impressed by its air of authority. I can’t embed it here because WordPress is being stupid.
2. Historical usage. Did you know that Chaucer used they as a singular pronoun in the 16th century? Did you know that Shakespeare did it too? Hell, even Jane Austen and the King James Bible did it! Who was it that said God’s word was law? I have happily plagiarised most of this information from the following website. Please go check it out for extra geek points.
3. There’s also of course the ‘accepted usage’ argument. The Oxford Dictionary itself argues that the singular they is now common in English and “widely accepted both in speech and writing”. There, go stick that up your pipe and smoke it (oh idioms, how I love you).
4. And then there’s the fact that you’re being a big transphobic plonker if you don’t use the pronouns your friends and peers ask you to. For anyone who feels that they (yes, that’s the singular they in action folks! See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?) could learn more about trans etiquette and manners, go here. I know I certainly could. And this is another really helpful resource for people who are new to having trans folks in their life.
Lastly, for a little fun, here’s a little song the Canadian singer Rae Spoon wrote that we can all sing together:
While searching for an appropriate title for this post, I spent some time looking in my thesaurus. I like thesauri. They truly are books of wonders. These are some of the meanings I found. I think they all apply to this essay:
1. entertainment, diversion, distraction
2. match, contest or play-off
1. brave, gutsy
For some time now, I have been pondering whether or not to post here about sexism in the queer community. I have spent a lot of time on this blog writing about my frustrations with the queer communities of Europe and North America and the gaping holes I see in simplistic political theories. I am always trying to follow my nose. To trust my bitch’s instinct to sniff out sexism wherever I find it, and report on it with a resounding, wolf-like howl. Yet, I don’t want my energies to be destructive. I don’t want to provide harsh critiques of queer communities because, after all, we are just a conglomerate of individuals trying to find our way in the dark. We hold each other’s hands as we wander, lost, through the dark alleyways of gender and sexuality. Sometimes we follow fun, sexy detours. Sometimes we stumble, like Alice, into new and wonderful lands. Sometimes we end up where we started, no matter how far we have walked, or feel we have travelled.
I have, so far, restrained from writing about this topic here for three reasons. Firstly, I feel that I have started the ball rolling on the subject, at least in Berlin, by creating my zine on sexism against queer femininities. My second reason is that my thoughts on the subject are not 100% formed and I am afraid I will make a huge fucking mistake. Lastly, I am worried that I will come across as a transphobic asshole and may even be one, too. Transphobic, you ask? Why, in particular? Because if I talk about the sexist dynamics of my queer community in Berlin I will have to say this: there is a hierarchy in the queer community, with some kinds of transmasculinity at the top of the pile of all things queer and unholy, which leaves transfemininities at the bottom. The dynamics of the scenes I move in say, both explicitly and implicitly, that transmasculine folks are more queer than transfeminine folks.
Cue: one big fucking political(ly incorrect) mess.
How can I distinguish my experiences of sexism as a queer cis femme from my own cissexism? Is there a point at which discussion of this traditionally sexist dynamic (masculinity is good, femininity is bad), which definitely exists in our community, by the way, will tip into transphobia? Anyway, isn’t my fierce energy better spent elsewhere? Shouldn’t we all just shut the hell up, stop fighting and just get on with it?
The wonderful butch transmasculine activist and writer S. Bear Bergman has this to say about infighting in the queer community:
“I think that all of these concerns and fears and angers and loves and all are completely valid and utterly understandable. And I think that if we don’t quit spending so much energy on fighting amongst ourselves, we are going to look up one day soon and find the Department of Homeland Security on our collective doorstep, confiscating our banners and banning us from travel or work for being security risks by virtue of being too confusing, one and all. Then we’ll realise what a privilege it was to engage in border wars, when we had the leisure time for that. Before we ended up spending every scrap of energy on survival. That’s what I think.”
– from Butch is a Noun
Yeah, Bear, you are so right. It isn’t productive to say, well my oppression is worse than your oppression because of this and this and that.
There is also my raging anger, however. There is also the feeling that, yeah, I have privileges because I am white and cis and pass as straight to a lot of onlookers (which can sometimes be a real bummer – for instance, when I want to get laid, or to be recognised by a fellow queer I spot while out and about), but I also experience sexism on a daily basis: in the world at large, in all my relationships and in my community. There’s no such thing as a queer bubble, right? And do I have the right to speak about my experiences of sexism? Of course I do!
And then, this complicated feeling leads me onto what I call the ‘Colonial Chicken and Egg’ argument of social justice theory. It’s the kind of argument you hear when governments justify their sexist development policies for undeveloped countries. The argument goes something like this: “Well, of course women’s rights are important and we will get onto them as soon as we can, but can’t you see that what this [insert group of people here] really needs right now is [insert human right here, such as access to medical care and food]?” It’s pretty colonial because it assumes that [insert all-knowing patriarchal authority here] knows what is best for said underprivileged group. The struggle against sexism just ain’t as important as the struggle for medical care. But, to extend the analogy to breaking point, when sexism leads to women being systematically raped and murdered, where can the boundary between women’s rights and access to medical care be drawn?
And, aren’t I being racist right now by using a Third-World analogy to illuminate Western social dynamics?
How can I complain that transmasculine folks are benefitting from some kind of privilege in the queer community when transmen are only just starting to get access to the medical care they may (or may not) want and which they undeniably have a right to? Whose fundamental human right is more important? My right to not experience prejudice as a feminine woman, or a transman’s right to claim and inhabit his gender? The answer is, of course, no one’s. We both have these rights and these rights are equally important. But tell that to a community of 1000 screaming individuals, each with their own needs and own experiences of oppression owing to dis/ability, race, religion, class, gender (and more). Tell them that each of their needs are equally important and what happens? None of them can be met. Political theory collapses. Go directly to Jail, do not pass Go, do not collect your activist points. This kind of shit requires one to spend several reincarnations studying the philosophy of ethics. And even then we’ll make mistakes. Because, after all, we’re only human.
We prioritise needs in our activism in order to get stuff done. You have to make a choice, right? Right?
My experience of being a political activist is a balancing act. Sometimes I have to hold my body on the fine edge of a knife and make this painful, dangerous terrain my home.
Reading the writing of artists like Ivan E. Coyote and S. Bear Bergman reminds me not only what I desperately, hopelessly love about transmasculine folks, but also encourages me to be the best ally, the best person I possibly can. But, sometimes, I get lost. Sometimes I am not sure where I am going, and I can’t see whether the path I am following will lead to a dead end or take me forward. I get distracted and I have blindspots, like anyone else. Sometimes, all I need is a little help. A friend to gently take my hand and help me find the way.
After all, I am only human.
Hey there! I know, I know, it’s been ages since I last posted for, like, realz. But don’t worry, I have some amazing pieces coming up for you at the beginning of this week. In the meaning, let’s celebrate Sunday with a video made by Alexander Alvina Chamberland and friends, who is one of the contributors to my zine.
All I can say is y’know, all the time you spend looking in the mirror, I spend planning the revolution. Ba ha ha haa!