Let’s just start…

Is June too late for a new year’s resolution?

I am tired. Tired of not writing, tired of being blocked. Tired of flagellating myself and living up to an imaginary standard. Tired of imposing writing rules on myself about length, genre and content of my writing. So, fuck it. You know what’s worse than writing something bad?

Not writing anything at all.

Wanna write about asexuality for the Shameless blog?

hey y’all – Shameless Mag in Toronto and I would like to create a piece about the validity of asexuality as an orientation. We think it’s important that youth learn that there are other, non-sexual ways to be fulfilled and form relationships. As a non-asexual person, I am hesitant to create this article by myself. Is there an awesome person out there who identifies as asexual who’d like this opportunity to set forth their point of view either by co-authoring the article or being interviewed? Ta! Contact me via commenting here or emailing pinklab@hotmail.com

Queer Feminism’s Closeted Sexism?

It’s my 30th birthday today! To celebrate the occasion I have decided to reproduce on my most controversial, and heartfelt, pieces from the year. My question to you, is: Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the everyday realities of lived queer lives?

I had never thought much about asexuality until a couple of years ago when, for the first time in my adult life, I lost my sex drive. I mean, I didn’t actually lose it. It wasn’t hiding under the bed or anything, gathering dust with old shoes and mouldy peanuts. It just went on a holiday, to give me the time and space to sort some stuff out. Thank you, sex drive. That was very considerate of you.

Up until that point I had what I considered a very active libido. You know that old myth that men think about sex every seven seconds? Well, as a teenager I thought about sex so much that I didn’t doubt this myth was true. I just assumed it must extend to women, because I thought about sex all the time. This pretty rampant sex drive has followed me throughout most of my adult life, until, as I said, 2 years ago when I became depressed.

Queer femininities at The Berlin Femme Show 2012
Queer femininities at The Berlin Femme Show 2012

As well as being horny, I am a pretty radical person. I am what Caitlin Moran calls a ‘stringent feminist.’ The kind of woman who will make any dinner party awkward by calling out the conservative dude in the tie on his ha-ha, light-hearted jokes about women or race or the working classes. Oh, so funny! I am the stuff nightmare dinner parties are made of.

I am also queer, femme, into BDSM, curious about dating cis men, and all sorts of other interesting things. I consider myself sex positive and pretty non-judgmental when it comes to other people’s sexual adventures. I do my best to live by my feminist code of ethics. My feminism means that I believe we are all a little transphobic, sexist, homophobic, classist and racist because we live in a patriarchal society that is founded on these hierarchies.

We give men the upper hand by putting down women; we use racist theories to justify white supremacy, classism to explain a world-order in which most people starve while a few thrive, etc etc etc. My feminism means that I recognise I have all of these prejudices inside me and that I think it is my job to diminish them. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly beating myself up about what a horrible person I am, it’s more that I recognise my own flawed position. This is a pretty difficult attitude to take. Seeing some people behave in the most horrible ways and understanding the fucked-up logic behind their actions is exhausting. Dismissal is easy. Empathy is complicated.

Alexander Alvina Chamberland ©Simson Petrol
Alexander Alvina Chamberland ©Simson Petrol

Queer feminism has allowed me to embrace my kinky side and learn much about non-cis gender identities and LGBT history. But I also find massive flaws in the dynamics of the queer communities I know. There are three assumptions commonly made in queer circles, each of which creates a false hierarchy between an ideal of queer and the reality of many lived queer lives. These three assumptions are: hypersexualisation, the idea that everyone wants to have sex all of the time (and if you don’t you’re repressed); that polyamory is a natural desire and wanting to form monogamous relationships means you have jealousy issues; that masculinity is the hottest thing ever and being feminine, especially as a woman, means you are brainwashed. So, as someone who currently doesn’t want to have sex; prefers monogamous relationships and – shock horror – loves wearing dresses, I’m not being a very good queer at all, am I?

I didn’t come to this realisation out of virtue – I had never thought much about asexuality or people who choose not to or don’t want to have sex before – I came to it following a profound personal crisis. Having always had a pretty raging sex drive, the queer assumption that we all want to have sex all the time made sense to me. But losing my sex drive cut me out of the queer community. It meant that I saw no more reason to socialise in it.  How’s that saying go? Oh yeah: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Sex positive feminism has done a lot of good. In a world which tells anyone assigned female at birth that all we want to do is find a heterosexual male partner and have babies, sex positivity has allowed us to carve the space in which to express our own sexual desires.

The celebration of polyamory, too, isn’t in itself a bad thing. The problem comes when polyamory is glorified as the ‘natural’ state of relationships, and if you’re monogamous you have jealousy issues and have been brainwashed. Erm, hasn’t gender theory taught us feminists anything? Since when did we start embracing words like ‘natural’ to describe our identities? Surely we have learnt to be hesitant about the monolithic meanings of such a word. As deconstructionists don’t we find claims that things are this way for everyone a little bit sketchy? No? Oh, OK. Moving on.

© Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/
© Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

Now comes the moment for the trump card in this loving critique of queer feminism. Now it’s time to get the big skeleton out of the queer community’s closet. And that skeleton is -, sexism! What? Sexism? I hear you cry? How can queer feminism possibly be sexist? I mean, we queers have deconstructed the male/female binary and concluded that gender behaviours don’t go hand in hand with vague ideas about biology and evolution. How dare you accuse us of such a thing?

‘I can’t be sexist because I’m queer’.  We hear this quite often. Don’t we?

Well, my friends, sad as it may be, it’s time to face up to the facts. Walk into a queer space and what do you see? A uniform of plain black hoodies, asymmetrical hair and caps. There’s not a dress to be seen. Not a hint of colour, lipstick, of long hair.

Despite all our lip service to multifarious gender identities, there is only one gender that we really celebrate in this queer community, and that is masculinity.

The boyish woman, the gender queer and the trans man are the epitomes of hotness in queer scenes. If you’re a feminine woman, cis or trans, then you are just not cool. Transmasculinities are at the top of the queer pile, pushing transfemininities down to the bottom.

Personally, I think this prejudice is unintentional. Talk to any good-meaning queer and they’ll be shocked when you mention things like sexism and femmephobia. But despite individual professions of innocence, we are all guilty. Any time I ignore a feminine woman in a queer bar because I assume she is straight, I am being just as sexist as the people who exclude me.

As Flavia Dzodan suggests in her recent article on sex positivism and race, the assumption that our desires are innate and not learnt, is worth questioning. How asocial and apolitical can our desires be? If no one professes to fancy femininity doesn’t that reflect our internalised misogyny? If we truly were free lovers, if we did express our natural desire and identities, then surely there would be a proliferation of varying desires and genders in our queer spaces. There wouldn’t be a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and strictly boi-on-boi action.

It’s true that not wanting to have sex or a lover has led me to feel alienated from the queer scene. Combine this feeling with my realisation that I prefer to date monogamously and have a very strong femme identity and I no longer feel included or appreciated in the community I have made my worldwide home for the past 6 years. And I am not the only one who feels this way. As responses to my first article on hypersexualisation prove, many people feel alienated from the queer community because their sexual desires don’t fit the queer bill. I’m not poly enough, not kinky enough, not thin enough, and not boyish enough. Not queer enough. As a friend said upon reading zines about being queer, it seems that we think of queer as something up here – she raised her palm above her head – and of ourselves as being down here – she pushed her palm towards the floor.

Berlin Drag Queen Kay P.Rinha at The Femme Show
Berlin Drag Queen Kay P.Rinha at The Femme Show © Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

This notion of queer as an unattainable ideal is really messed up. What happened to queer as an umbrella term? What happened to the ever-expanding joyful list of people we love: LGBTTSIQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual / Two-Spirited Intersex Queer Questioning Asexual)? Unlike slightly mad UK feminist Julie Bindel, I love the idyllic aspirations of queer. The way it wants to join all us freaks together. So it made me really sad, upon moving to Berlin, to realise just how much queer doesn’t want me.

What I want to see from queer communities worldwide, what I think would be truly queer, is a celebration of difference that leads to diversity in our relationships, our beds and on our dance floors. Maybe it is human nature to form group norms (safety in numbers) but I am a political optimist. I think we can do better. Let’s start to really celebrate differences, the freaks and the outcasts. It takes a lot of courage, but I think we can do it. Surely individuality is what is queer.

update on me

So, last night I found out that I am going to be working away from this weekend until mid-August. Although I will take my computer with me, this is a kinda ridiculously full time job and I think it unlikely I will have time to post more awesome things on my blog like I promised. Oh time flies. So this is me signing out until mid-August barring the possibility of spontaneous flashes of genius. You never know.

Lots of love to you all and enjoy your Summer!

“I want to disappear”

Part 2 on women in the workplace. From fat to periods to dressing for work; the effects of misogyny on women’s bodies and self-esteem. 

Hello! So, I know some of you are dying to hear all the juicy gossip from the sexism workshop I ran at Ladyfest Leipzig. No fear, I plan to fill you in very soon! But as I am also running the same workshop at the Antifee festival in Göttingen this weekend, I thought I would give you guys a summary of what I learnt next week. Do come say hi to me in Göttingen if you are around! And, for those of you who live in Berlin, there is a Femmepowerment workshop next Monday as part of TCSD. It’s gonna be run by some femme activist colleagues of mine and I think it is going to be great. I’ll see you there!

Lastly, feel free to get in touch with me and let me know if you agree or disagree with my theories, and why. I want to make this blog as interactive as possible, so feed me back! Phew! On with the ideas:

In part one on women and careers I wrote how we undermine our achievements in order to appear more socially acceptable. In a society in which we are still the second sex, women are taught to be modest and are habitually self-deprecating in contrast to a lot of men’s seemingly innate self-confidence. Men are nurtured from birth; women are not.

Maybe this refusal to encourage a woman to develop her abilities comes from a kinda ‘what’s the point’ attitude. I mean, women are still very much valued by our relationship to men. Our lives are only given meaning by our relationship status. You can see this attitude in the spinster shaming of successful single women. Wow, she wrote a book on feminism, became the CEO of her company, worked for the UN, but does she have a man? Lesbians, too, are not exempt from the pressure to mate. We experience a kind of second-best relationship pressure. It would be better if we were with a guy, but, failing that, anyone will do so long as we are in some kind of relationship! Cue false pity and ‘worrying’ about the woman who is happily single.

So, maybe in a world that only values women in relationship to our, er, relationships, we don’t bother to nurture the talents of our daughters. If all we are grooming are girls for is wife- and motherhood, there’s not really much point paying for violin lessons or a maths tutor, is there? I mean, you can’t be a touring musician or an astronaut and have a family, can you? It’s one or the other, and the family always wins.

“Wow, she became the CEO of her company and worked for the UN but does she have a man?”

I recently listened to a guest on BBC’s Woman’s Hour who explained that, of course women find it impossible to balance a career and children. The system was never set up for female workers in the first place! Whether or not this is completely true (I remember learning about whole families that worked in factories during the industrial revolution, and this probably still happens in the sweatshops of today), it makes a lot of sense to me. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about a system in which the most important years of your career fall at the exact same time most women have babies. Maternity leave is still only a temporary hiatus from the world of work (one year in the UK) and it’s not surprising that many women choose to leave their careers in order to care for their children for longer. It’s not only that childcare is extremely expensive, it’s also that of course you want to see your children grow up! Why do we have a working life that peaks in a person’s thirties? Why do we have a working day that ends 2 hours after school? Nothing about these structures is inevitable. They are all manmade.

Manmade. Ha! It’s almost as if the dudes are trying to keep us out the boardroom!

Butch sexpot Rachel Maddow has to femme it up for work

In addition to being excluded by the very structure of working life, it is pretty clear that women in the office stand out in other ways. Not only are we expected to be falsely modest, but we are meant to try and ‘blend in’ at the same time. How, exactly, we are meant to blend into an environment that is inherently foreign to us, I don’t know, but I am maybe I am getting too feminist theory on you guys here.

According to my imperfect knowledge of European history, the industrialisation of the working world created a system that depersonalised the individual. It was no more about individual skills, only the presence of a physical body. Any body would do. The invention of the conveyor belt and its innovative use in the manufacturing of Henry Ford’s cars is now symbolic of the extent to which capitalism just doesn’t care about the individuality of its workers. You only have to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s account of the Mexican workers in the US meat industry to understand that, to the big capitalist machine, individuals are completely dispensable.

“Women are are expected to be better than men and to look better while doing it.”

So it should come as no surprise that all workers in the office are expected to wear a uniform. For men, it’s kind of easy. Trouser suits and ties are made in all sizes and look kind of comfy. Women, however, are not only supposed to conform to a certain look, they are meant to do it with style. That’s part of the problem of being a woman. We are not expected to be as good as men, we are expected to be better, and to look better while doing it. Phew! And then of course we’ll be called vapid sexpots for it and not taken seriously. Oh, man, sometimes it sucks being a girl.

Women are caught in a double bind when it comes to appearances. We are fetishized as sex objects and expected to dress the part. Yet, we are routinely overlooked for promotions. It’s as if, in the context of work, we are not even seen. And this is after we’ve been made to stand out in the first place! And of course, this isn’t really about what we look like at all. Butches, who pretty much look like the guys (apart from being much hotter!), don’t exactly melt into the background either. They, too, are ridiculed for being women and then for being masculine on top of that. I mean, we really can’t win, can we?

Fun aside: I remember reading an article about butch dress sense in the workplace in British lesbo magazine Diva. I kept this issue under my bed as porn (shh! Don’t tell anyone!). Years later, I went on a date with one of the featured butches but it didn’t work out. And, no I didn’t tell her! Turns out pin-ups don’t necessarily make great dates after all.

But look how sexy!

I really believe that, faced with women in the workplace, the working world of men doesn’t know what to do with us at all. It sees us as a problem to be solved. ‘She’s dressed inappropriately, she must be mad.’ ‘Dammit, her ideas are better than mine, let’s laugh at her legs.’ It’s almost as if, threatened with our increased economic power and intelligence, they are desperate to keep us out. Ever heard of the glass ceiling?

“as a tall woman I often hunch my shoulders and slide down in chairs in order to not seem as big”

Industrialisation’s desire to make us disappear into the crowd affects all of us, men and women both. It comes from the depersonalisation of work by the mentalities of mass-production. However, women have it worse.

Women are asked to disappear in so many contexts. We are meant to dumb down, so we don’t threaten the dudes with our obvious intelligence. We are meant to fit into a dress code and simultaneously asked to stand out from it, and ridiculed for both these attempts. And we are meant to avoid, at all costs, the terror of being fat.

Women are always seen in terms of our physicality. To me, this seems like an excuse to not take us seriously on any level. Just think about the extent to which our bodies are abhorred. Fat, which is necessary for our health and an inherent part of the female body, is seen only in terms of how it can be made to just go away. Periods are, still, taboo. I remember how annoyed I was even as a child by TV adverts for menstrual products. In contrast to the loudness of the other ads that literally shouted their products at you (did you know that TV stations actually turn UP the volume for the ads? Listen next time.), these ads would suddenly be wordless and play soft musak while amorphous flowery (read feminine – argh!) shapes float on the screen and the word ‘period’ or ‘blood’ is never even mentioned. I remember being confused watching one particular advert because I had no idea what it was about until the box of sanitary towels came up on the screen at the end. Even these days, the ‘blood’ is still blue. I mean, what is that about? It’s blood. It’s natural! Get over it!

Fun aside number 2: recently, even after sterilising my Mooncup by boiling it after my period, the person I was staying with insisted on then sterilising the pan I had used again. Hello? I just sterilised it, you idiot! Yup, periods – and by extension all women – are dirty.

(See below for a hilarious spoof of tampon ads, albeit by Kotex, who are far from innocent in this respect.)

So women are physical, in touch with nature, dirty; men are intellectual, civilised and clean.

This abhorrence of female bodies extends to all the ways we are present in society. It’s no wonder that, being told we are unwanted in every way possible, women try to make ourselves as physically insignificant as possible. I have often been told that my wacky dress sense makes me easy to spot in a crowd, and I like that. However, as a tall woman I notice I often hunch my shoulders, sit in the corner and slide down in chairs in order to not seem as tall.  When I see myself in photos, larger than my friends, I often cringe at my own bigness. The happy expression of my personality in loud clothes is counteracted by my own desire to make myself smaller. This longing to be smaller reminds me of what Princess Di said about her anorexia and bulimia; that she “just wanted to disappear.”

Although the desire to escape a world which is so misogynist is not the only interpretation of anorexia and bulimia, for me, that quotation has always made a lot of sense. It relates to the fact when the US clothing market introduced size 0 for women, it caused an uproar among feminists. Now that less-than-zero sizes are available, it seems an unconscious expression of the social wish for all women to just disappear. Get off our street. Get back in the kitchen. Get out of here! To me, this size system expresses a similar logic to that of the Burqa. It wants to efface us.

(And, btw, before y’all start to say how it is Muslim women’s choice to wear headscarves, I totally agree, and they shouldn’t be outlawed. But you have to admit, the original patriarchal logic behind covering-up women’s bodies is pretty darn misogynist.)

So, it turns out the big ole’ patriarchy has a finger in every pie. It’s in our offices, in our pants and in our heads. Good thing we’re so clever and get to deconstruct it.

Lastly, I am interested in writing about eating disorders as an (albeit ineffective) expression of female rebellion. What do you guys think? Do you know any feminist takes on anorexia, bulimia and over-eating?

Oh, yeah, and here is a Marxist anthem for y’all. It comes from all that writing about industrialisation:

Coming soon: fascinating subjects such as, how Disney stops me from getting laid, what the terms ‘women’ and ‘men’ mean in my writing and workshop-inspired femmepowerment.