Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Moving!

After years (going on ten now) as a blogger user, I'm switching over to wordpress. Still in the process, but you'll find my new posts here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Breast of Intentions

This is a pretty awesome series of posts over at Adventures of a Young Feminist. The posts, crafted after a senior thesis project done by Laura, are detailed around the implications of breasts in American society (and occasionally elsewhere). They touch on everything from the male gaze to breast health to breasts as sexual vs. functional. Some really good stuff.

I'm inspired by them to write again on a personal level. I've got to say that my breasts have been a major part of my experience in womanhood. I know that this is not uncommon, but I think the narratives here are important, because so much of it is dependent on so many other things.

When I was ten, my dad was revisiting his second marriage. She was never good to us, and her re-emergence in his life was painful at best. She wasn't back for long, but she was there long enough to shout menacingly from the kitchen as I played with my brother in the living room, "You really need to be wearing a bra, you know."

Fast forward six hours and I'm hiding in the corner of my own bedroom while my mom and dad argue about whether it was appropriate for her to mention it to me. The ultimate decision was no, but regardless, it was only an argument because my parents were both hesitant to recognize the fact that I was moving from girlhood to womanhood, and all that that implied. My mother, who to this day cannot say vagina in a normal tone of voice, was little help with the body confidence issues that spring up as you go from flat-chested to a C-cup in the course of a year. Granted, I had no idea what cup size I was for a long time, because the only bras I would wear were athletic. I was intent on minimizing those monstrosities on my chest, and so while the girls around me started flaunting their pert little babes, I spent middle school all squashed up and hiding under t-shirts. When I started bleeding in 8th grade, I was terrified at the pain I felt in them, certain that something was wrong with me but with nobody to ask. Thankfully the internet rolled into our living room midway through that year and I was at least able to alleviate some of the anxiety.

My sophomore year of high school I finally went with a friend and had a real bra fitting. By that point some of my peers had caught up with me, and I was a little more comfortable with the idea that they existed to begin with. I was also venturing outside of my family and into the treacherous grounds of being a small-town feminist (as mentioned in my previous post), and dealing with the body image issues and the eating disorder. All this was going on at once, but I bought a real bra, with light padding and underwire. I also bought my first formal gown and proved to myself once and for all that I could be beautiful. I have not failed to believe in at least the potential since, which has been nice for me and has certainly helped me manage the food issues better. I have certainly not starved myself to the point of delirium since then.

Of course, it was right about then that I started getting the attention. I had my first boyfriend by the middle of my sophomore year (that would last until March of my senior year and end disastrously, but that's for another day). Throughout that relationship I fended off attention from boys and men alike. My parents were so terrified that I would get pregnant that they drove me back into depression with their hatred of my adult body. Every outfit was scrutinized, and though I was generally pretty put-together and cleavage-free, my jeans were always too tight or I wasn't wearing baggy enough shirts. I took to wearing a jacket all the time. The first time anyone other than myself touched my breasts, I was 15, and he took a good forty-five minutes to work up the nerve to slide his hand from my waist to my chest. It was another year before I would lose my virginity, and at the time I felt like I was behind schedule, though afterward, of course, it was made quite clear that I had crossed a line I shouldn't have. And again, it was brought back to the way I wore my shirts.

I currently sport a D-cup and have become painfully accustomed to addressing (or ignoring, depending on the situation) the amount of uninvited attention they get. I still have a tendency to hide in t-shirts unless I'm feeling particularly plucky. I have had men ask for a great many things having to do with my breasts, most of them beyond the limits of appropriateness. I have had to repeatedly remind even my boyfriends that my breasts were mine, and therefore invitation-only. A few have respected that; a few haven't (and were pretty promptly kicked to the curb).

When I have children, I anticipate an entirely new dynamic around them. First, I am afraid of them growing, simply because they are more than I'd like to have to deal with already, and because I'm not looking forward to having extra male attention hovering around my aching chest. Second, as an avid believer in breastfeeding, I foresee dealing with American society as it currently is (since nobody vocal is doing a whole lot these days to change it). The sexualization of the breast means that using them functionally is offensive, and having dealt with the sexualization aspect, I worry about having another body crisis when they are being judged in a completely different way. I am, however, not terribly concerned about the long-term changes, which I have a pretty realistic idea of thanks to my mom (who had some radical ideas about childbirth and early childhood, despite her other forms of closetedness), so I guess there is that safe point.

This has been a major part of why I identify as queer, as well. Note that I distinguish this from straight/lesbian/bisexual, but that's really a topic for another day. In practice I am primarily heterosexual, though I have had one female partner. For me, the implications of my body for her were completely different than the implications have been for men. That different dynamic is really one of the primary reasons I don't simply identify as straight. That, and the fact that if a woman who matched me well walked into my life I wouldn't hesitate to be with her.

Now I know that my body is attractive. First because I myself happen to like it, and also because I have been told it. I have gotten positive and negative attention because of it. It's funny, because my body does not fit the typical mold for beauty. I generally chalk it up to a combination of my face and my shape, which is larger than perhaps ideal but proportional. I no longer have body image issues (most days) although I do still sometimes struggle with remembering that I do, in fact, have to eat to survive. My partner's younger cousin has a crush on me (he ranks me as a 7.5 on the Megan Fox scale, I'm told, whatever that means). I'm okay with most of it. But sometimes, it still becomes threatening. I am aware of the power and the vulnerability my body gives me.

The ends of my posts always trail off into the present. This has, as I'm sure you can gather, been a long trek. It took time and energy and hurt to get me to where I am.

For a Friend

"Afghan girls gesture while taking religious lessons at a Koranic school in a mosque in the old city of Herat on August 17, 2009. Afghanistan's showcase presidential election is facing a crisis of credibility with just days to go, as analysts warn that voters fearing threats to their safety could simply decide to stay away. Concerns about low turnout, vote buying, ballot stuffing, over-registration and backroom deals have added to threats of Taliban violence to potentially undermine the legitimacy of the election, set for August 20. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI

Caption via Reading Rainbow - Afghanistan - Jezebel

[Herat, Afghanistan; August 17. Image via Getty]

(Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chalk it Up to the Small-Town Life

This post is a little disjointed, I'm going to warn you in advance.

Growing up where I did, feminism was a pretty silent subject. In reality, racism is still pretty rampant out here, and we're about twelve steps behind the metropolitan level of social equity (which should say something). My mom was a little bit of a free thinker, but it was made pretty obvious that this was not a way I could "be" outside of home.

I remember the first time I saw 10 Things I Hate About You, and how amazed I was that Kat could be that way around other people, and be so collected even when other people thought she was ridiculous. I wanted that power. Even through the trope that she just needed to be loved (it's a Taming of the Shrew remake, after all), I came away from that movie feeling stronger.

I haven't watched the new ABC Family show simply because so much of the movie for me was the cast in the roles they fit so well, but I found this little bit:

I was shocked (ok, maybe not shocked, but it really stuck out to me) while watching this weeks episode. For an assignment that involved writing a paper on a moment that changed your life, Kat wrote about the day that she first started reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and became a feminist. I think that's a great paper topic. But her teacher told her it was unoriginal and that people in the space station could see she was a feminist so Kat should write about something else. Wow. Yes, people can see that she's a feminist, but being a feminist is a large part of her life, so it would make sense that she wrote about becoming a feminist as a moment that changed her life. To call that unoriginal is insulting, especially considering that a lot of the other people in the class did not write about such insightful things and are not feminists. Kat rewrote the paper about the first day that her dad bought her tampons. Her teacher was pleased and said it was good as long as it didn't end with "and then I became a feminist."

Via: Adventures of a Young Feminist: Silencing in Schools from 10 Things

I relate to that very much. In middle school I started coming into myself, and I began to develop the attitude I take so much pride in now. I'm not callous, I care about people and how they feel, but I do not care what they think of me. I will stick up for someone and I will stick up for myself. It took me a painfully long time to be able to do that.

I hit high school in 2001. We all know what happened that September. It ended up being the single defining moment of my high school social interactions. In my conservative, white, predominantly Christian, working class community, I was the only person I knew with liberal leanings. In the weeks after 9/11, I collected images from newspapers and websites of the mourning gatherings across the globe, and hung them in my locker. I still have a scrapbook of those images; those indicators of humanity. The recognition that everybody was feeling pain for us, for our indoctrination into the world of Big Terrorism.

People made nasty comments about those images, like I was unAmerican for it. When I was a sophomore, I realized I had a remarkable proficiency in languages, and I expressed an interest in diplomatic affairs. Again, this was a small school--about 500 people K-12 at the time--so there was no debate team, or Model UN group, or any of that. I was the only person I knew, apart from my civics teacher, who read the newspapers every day (unless it was the sports page). I read Mother Jones. I read the Economist. I read the New York Times instead of the local papers.

Every year, we were supposed to write essays for the American Legion's contest. I always wrote something thoughtful, generally indicating that the Founders did not create this country so we could follow our leaders without question. Without fail, my English teacher would give it back to me, ask me to revise it to be more appropriate for the contest. I would change a little, submit it, and for four years, I won that contest. I was given the American Legion scholarship when I graduated.

Yet I was the girl who was seen by my peers as unAmerican. I didn't like Bush. I drew a definite distinction between my friends and family who were serving--over 30 of them and counting, now--and the Military Industry.

I was political, I was feminist, and I did not fit in.

I went to college, and that changed. I finally had peers who I could talk to about things, and even if they didn't agree, there was discussion. It was liberating.

Now I'm back here, about to go work back in that school system, and I am nervous.

Project Implicit

Project Implicit | Select a Test

I really recommend doing a few of these.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Taking up Space

While I was watching the town hall coverage this morning (which I won't start on until I'm calmer about it), I saw two commercials I knew I needed to write about.

The first was for MultiGrain Cheerios, which I rather enjoy, but the commercial and ad campaign includes this slogan:

It's a prime segue into one of my biggest feminist thought bugs: taking up space. It's pretty common fodder in the thought process of a feminist-thinking person that women are discouraged from taking up space. It's in the weight loss thing, but also in so many other ways. As a woman, I am conscious of my tendency to step to the side of the sidewalk when someone is passing, for example. Women will frequently step aside for me, as well, but men do not. Men tend to assume their space is theirs while they occupy it, whereas women assume their space is common to everyone and are more likely to give it up. I am constantly aware of the amount of space I take up, and not just as myself but in comparison to others. Leg crossing is an example of the impulse to shrink ourselves into as much space as possible (despite the fact that it's no more comfortable for a woman to do so than that man sitting with his legs splayed).

As a project for a sociology class once, I was asked to break several folkways. Most people did silly things; we all had to choose three, and admittedly one of mine was to walk backwards. The second, I made eye contact in elevators. The primary one, however, was to refuse to step aside on the sidewalk. I did not take up more than the right side of the path; I did not walk arm-in-arm or anything that would otherwise make my passage awkward for others. I simply refused to step off the path to let others pass me.

At best, I got dirty looks. I was called a bitch, I was shoulder-bumped. It was unpleasant at best, and not only that, but it made me immensely uncomfortable to try it. To simply walk on the path, when others were approaching, made me uncomfortable.

To me, that says something.
As does an add that encourages women to eat a food that creates "less you."

For So Many Reasons

My heart is breaking today.

I cried watching the town hall coverage on CNN. I can only think of the Jefferson quote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." I can't believe the levels of insensitivity and selfishness and outright callousness people are displaying on this issue. And then I realize that I can believe it, and that hurts more--when did I stop expecting people to care about one another?

A one-time friend is also having a difficult time (she's been diagnosed with the same disorder that killed her brother two years ago), and although it's a manageable thing, I know she is terrified and hurting. Yet with the circumstances between us being the way they are, there is nothing I can do. I called her and offered help if she needed it but was, as expected, brushed off with a "thanks but I'm ok." I am sad about the schism between us, and about what is happening to her. I don't know how to tell her how sorry I am. I don't think she'd be able to forgive me, even if I did.

I am also trying very hard to formulate ideas for my graduate application essays, and am stuck between getting all feminist and going into information access and literacy education as a means of empowerment, and just being all trope-y and saying the "right" things. If I do the former it's bound to be a less coherent essay, for sure, because I'm going to be stretching into new ideas, but it will also be much more potent. The latter will be smoother but less impressive in content. I know that both matter.

Also I was up until 5 again talking to the fellow about everything under the sun (and moon), and I'm tired, and just PMS-y enough to realize it. Bugger all.