Feminsim

The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) and Their Interpretation of “Feminism”

Or: Repeating History: “Feminist” PhDs & Activists Silence Women They Are “Saving”

princess bride-word

Me, to them, in regards to the words “feminism” and “pornography”

I am troubled to feel the urge to address the recent actions of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) when their mission and work is urgently needed in Indiana. The state’s statistics indicate that the rape of high school girls is second highest in the nation and that only 18% reported their rape (WFYI), Indiana has inadequate laws and policies to support survivors (RTV6), in 2015 at least 70,000 rape kits weren’t tested (IndyStar), across our country there are 321,500 people raped or sexually assaulted every year (RAINN), and since the #MeToo viral campaign last week it is likely folks are more aware than ever of how many people they know have experienced rape, assault, and/or harassment (The Root).

Regardless of their good work, we must discuss the organization’s frankly disturbing take on what it means “to use a feminist lens”.

For those unaware, ICESA is hosting a 2-day free training this week titled “The Harms of Pornography: A Feminist Framework”. Hosted in downtown Indianapolis, ICESA says “Join us to learn about the harms of pornography through a feminist lens this coming October!” and the link describes the sessions and speakers, including “a panel discussion featuring feminist scholars and experts” consisting of Dr. Rebecca S Whisnant (University of Dayton, professor – Philosophy), Dr. Robert Jensen (University of Texas, professor –  Journalism)*, and Lisa Thompson (National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Vice President – Education and Outreach; this panelist operates from a Christian morality framework as does the organization so it is an…interesting addition).

*Edit 10/23/17: A bit of research on Robert Jensen reveals he engages in transphobic actions and listed alongside other academic TERFs. His inclusion to this event is even more insulting now.

Local feminist activists are angry about this event. As posted on Facebook, a protest against the training is taking place on Tuesday from 12-2pm at 450 Ohio Street outside the event. In the evening, a panel discussion featuring actual sex workers representing We Are Dancers USA (instead of people who just research sex workers) will speak on “Rights Not Rescue – Resisting A Single Narrative” at Butler University from 5:30pm-7:30pm, sponsored by Global & Historical Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. These events are being organized by Cassandra Avenatti on behalf of Queering Indy and Dr. Beloso (Butler University – Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies)

What happened next is what led me to write this blog post, because I am sure some of my fellow higher education professionals plan to attend this training and they deserve a fuller picture of this social issue.

Dr. Mahri Irvine (Anthropology background + Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies Collaborative –  American University) is the Director of Campus Initiatives at ICESA and has done a lot of research within the IU system (my alma mater). She also wrote the most condescending letter titled “ICESA Statement in Response to Harms of Pornography Protest October 2017” that immediately made me wonder if she/ICESA knew what feminist theory was (as the event says it is from a feminist lens) and question how someone teaching in a critical studies department could write something so insulting. Everyone makes mistakes when they are doing justice work, and I just hope Dr. Irvine and ICESA recognize their mistakes here.

So what did ICESA do so wrong? Let’s start with the event itself:

  • Pornography is a nuanced topic that ICESA decided to steamroll with a machine built out of Indiana puritanical morality.
  • “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” as Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride) would tell them. Pornography is a V A S T industry. There is a lot wrong with it(!), but also there is a lot wrong with every industry (tell me why I work in a field that is predominantly women but men hold the majority of leadership positions and myself and women I know experience sexism at work?). Also, did y’all know that there are multiple branches of pornography, including feminist pornography (porn done by women creative teams for women viewers)?
  • What feminist lens are is ICESA using? One from 1953? Your program is designed in such a way that I do not see any resemblance to contemporary feminist theory and activism.
  • The National Center on Sexual Exploitation was invited to speak on the panel. This is the same organization founded by Christian leaders and originally named “Morality in Media”. The literal top victories on their website include: “Stopping a bill in New Hampshire that would have fully decriminalized prostitution” (which only HARMS sex workers, please do the research), “Ending the sale of pornography at U.S. Army and Air Force exchanges” (“please put your life on the line, but making sure you don’t have porn is so important we need to spend resources on this lobbying”), “Marsh supermarkets removal of Cosmopolitan from checkout lanes in its more than 80 stores” (EYEROLL), “Resolutions declaring pornography a public health crisis passed in four states” (again, what a waste of resources). While I see they are doing some good (on sex trafficking and child sexual abuse), this puritanical organization gets a seat at the table and actual sex workers do not?!
  • Speaking of…the disability rights movement created “nothing about us without us” and it aptly fits many underrepresented and marginalized communities. ICESA thinks PhDs know more about sex work than actual sex workers. Folks, if you want to ally right – you need to let folks personally experiencing the issue lead the conversation. Currently, you’re garbed in a dingy white cape of savior mentality and it is not a good look.

‘But, Niki’, you may say, ‘ pornography IS bad’! Again, the conversation is nuanced.

  • The porn industry is so complex and there are many negative societal effects. But it is clear that not ALL porn is bad and honestly? ICESA is using a heteronormative lens by neglecting the differences with [queer-produced] LGBTQ+ porn + neglecting to discuss porn not featuring a cis woman and cis man and engaging in sexism by not realizing/ignoring that not all porn is made by and for cis men.
  • Read this to start off with (sorry, readers with PhDs, you’ll have to get a gist of how some porn can be feminist with an online article like us peasants) an article by Everyday Feminism titled “What does Feminist Porn Look Like”.
  • Umm, queer woman-centered porn produced by queer femmes exists! Literally, I found this in my first Google search and its listed in the article above.
    • Check out Crash Pad Series. Description: CrashPadSeries is based on the 2005 feminist porn award-winning ‘best dyke sex film’ The Crash Pad about a clandestine San Francisco apartment where lucky queers share its key to rendezvous for wild sex. Adult filmmaker Shine Louise Houston brings to the web her unique cinematic direction, hailed for its honest depiction of female and queer sexuality. It can be hard to describe this site, since what you’ll see here may vary. Our queer porn casts ‘real life’ couples who identify as dykes and lesbians, femme, masculine of center (boi, stud, tomboy, AG, and butch) and can be cis or trans women, trans men, people of color, people of size, older queers, and people with disabilities (including neurodivergent). Performers choose what they want to do on camera, so it’s common to see things like safer sex, role-play with onscreen check-ins and communication, strap-ons, kink and BDSM, orgasms and aftercare”
  • Did you know the Feminist Porn Awards exists? The co-creator Chanelle Gallant wrote a HuffPo piece this year that explains the history of the awards, the criteria of what is “feminist” porn, and what they got wrong by missing the chance to include fair labor issues for women in the field.
  • Read a pro/con of why porn is/is not feminist by Ms. Magazine to gain different perspectives.
  • Sex work (a term that covers the broad expanse of work involving sex and sexual activities) in general is actually seen (I have met folks and I have read articles) as empowering for some people or at the very least just another job like any other. Due to systemic racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and classism, certain populations of people have difficulty obtaining a job and/or a job that pays a living wage. Sex work is sometimes a work that is chosen. Unless your critique of porn is also addressing these ‘isms and capitalism, then it feels more like moral policing than a desire to help make this world better.

Now we must review the “ICESA Statement in Response to Harms of Pornography Protest October 2017” to better understand their mentality.

Here’s where, to me, it jumps out as condescending, demeaning, and just rather ignorant.

  • Paragraph 1, line 1: “It has recently come to our attention that a group of pro-pornography/pro-prostitution activists..” – huh what now? If you are using a feminist lens – especially a CRITICAL feminist lens, drop this ‘prostitution’ business. It’s called ‘sex work’. The year is 2017. It was this word that leapt out at me and, to me personally, discredited the organization and people associated with it. If you propose that this two-day training is using a feminist lens but you can’t keep up with feminist terminology that respects the people personally experiencing the issue? Then I don’t think you are the right folks to lead this conversation. At all.
  • I know Indiana gets the trends later than the coasts, but “sex work” has been used by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) for years and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all use “sex work” as well.
  • As Australian sex worker and Political Science PhD student Elena Jeffreys says “”The term ‘sex work’ has been and is an important tool for sex worker movement solidarity building. When used as an umbrella term, ‘sex work’ is useful to ensure inclusivity in organising, policy and service delivery endeavours. The way in which the sex worker movement has adopted – and continues to fight for appropriate terminology educates the world that sex work is work. The term also unites all sex workers, by definition, under a common banner. The term ‘sex work’, and the history of the term, has a huge impact on the way the sex worker movement fights today.” (see more of her research here; definitely read “Sex Worker Politics and the Term “Sex Work” because all of us who are not sex workers need to understand that sex workers have been writing and advocating about/for themselves for decades+!)
  • Paragraph 2: “…pornography industry is inherently exploitative…” Please go read all the resources above and also talk to women and genderqueer/trans/non-binary people who work in the industry.
  • Paragraph 2: “…We recognize that some individual people, including women, financially benefit from this industry and therefore, they may believe that they have been empowered by it. However, the financial empowerment of a few individuals is not enough of a reason for us to support an industry that intentionally promotes violence and misogyny” This is so incredibly condescending and ICESA is truly out of their element here (see: all my previous points). Also, please realize that this exact same thing about EVERY FIELD that exists because our culture is inherently violent and misogynist.
  • Paragraph 3: “We are also excited that some students will be attending this event, because this training will give them a chance to learn from a variety of experts who have spent extensive amounts of time studying the negative social and health impacts of pornography.” The mistake is you are bringing folks with all the same mindset to teach students. There is not diversity of thought, just your ‘all porn bad’ agenda.
  • Paragraph 4: “In addition to academic research on this topic, we have heard from colleagues as well as friends that porn has an extremely detrimental impact on intimate relationships.” I cannot take researchers seriously when they tell me their friends agree with them (how does one cite this in APA?). It sounds necessary to expand one’s circle of friends to encourage critical thought on complex matters. I am happy to make new friends, and love coffee meet-ups.
  • Paragraph 4: “For example, many women and teen girls feel obligated to act out scenes from porn in order to please their male partners, or they feel pressured to watch porn with their male partners as a “normal” part of their relationships. Clearly, these are situations of sexual coercion and violence, because no one should be forced to engage in sexual activities when they have not given genuine consent.” First, please cite this. I am unsure how many women feel obligated to act our scenes from porn. Also, unless their partner is actually coercing them to do sex acts from porn, this is not an example of sexual coercion or violence. There is a difference between someone feeling obligated (internal push) to act out something on tv, compared to someone asking/demanding/begging (external push) to do so. This viewpoint is quite inaccurate, will confuse folks who are still trying to understand concepts around coercion, and are not fitting for ICESA.
  • Paragraph 4: “…pornography has become such a normalized part of life that many women and teen girls feel pressured to engage with porn or behaviors that have been promoted in porn (like anal sex)…” Okay, so this is what we call kink shaming. And trust me, people would know about anal sex even if porn didn’t exist. I have a wide online network of women from many diverse backgrounds and one started a facebook post on the topic of anal sex – surprise! Many women actually wanted to/or did and enjoyed anal sex with their male partners.
  • Paragraph 4: “The ICESA team is extremely proud that our agency has decided to address such a “controversial” topic, because it would have been much easier for us, as an agency, to stay quiet about this issue and avoid any potential conflicts with people who disagree with us.” If ICESA were to host an event on this topic and invite guests from multiple backgrounds (academics and sex workers) with multiple perspectives, then that would be something to be proud of. Instead, ICESA is actually avoiding conflicts with people who disagree with them by not inviting them to have a voice at the table.
  • Paragraph 6: “If a protest will be held, hopefully it will not distract our attendees from the educational goals of our event.” *cringes* Actually, wouldn’t it be better to engage with the protestors and, ya know, actually have a dialogue? Wouldn’t that be a great educational goal?
  • Paragraph 7: “We welcome pro-porn industry activists at our training” No you don’t. Otherwise your language and descriptors for these activists would be much more respectful.
  • Paragraph 7: “Hopefully some of them will decide to attend so that we are all operating from the same evidence-based research when we engage in conversations with one another.” But literally someone working at a Christian-centered organization (NCSE) without an academic research background is at this panel but actual sex workers are not! And you are only sourcing from one area of academic opinion and not others. So how evidence-based is this? And more so, this sentence is just so arrogant. ICESA presumes they are operating from the best form and hope to have their critics tag along and learn, rather than them learning from their critics in mutual cooperation and community work.
  • Paragraph 7: “…so that we can ensure a safe learning environment.” But safe for who? The ideas that will be thrown around at the training may actually harm sex workers.

The bottom line is: Just because a person has a PhD doesn’t mean they are not ignorant. One can research all they like on a topic, but if they do not have the personal experience (and also do not have personal relationships with those who have those lived experiences since every experience with a social issue is different), then they will never be a true authority. And that is okay. None of us can be true authorities on every single aspect of life. That is why it is imperative to work in solidarity with individuals who personally experience the social issue and allow them to lead the conversation.

I will say, I do appreciate when the open letter says “ICESA is committed to preventing sexual violence and making Indiana a safer place, which means that we have decided to facilitate difficult conversations about the role that porn plays in sexual violence” in the fourth paragraph – we need to have these conversations. I, and many others, just extensively disagree with your framework.

In summary, this event is not feminist and its framing of pornography is incomplete. I hope folks go to protest and I hope folks at the event have dialogue with the protestors. I hope ICESA will think deeply and critically on their framework and their words in the statement, and I hope they apologize to sex workers for how this has been handled. But most importantly, I hope ICESA understands where they went wrong, learn from this, incorporate what they learned into their practice, and keep continuing to do important work in Indiana. We need it.

And one more thing – if you really care about sex workers and want them to not be exploited, support advocacy work for fair labor conditions. Check out this rad guide: “No justice, no piece! A working girl’s guide to labor organizing in the sex industry

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A Day Without A Woman…in Student Affairs

Today is “A Day Without a Woman“, which is a national social-political campaign created by the same individuals/group that organized the Women’s March on Washington. This strike is in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike that is taking place in 30 countries. It is also International Women’s Day, which is “is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Today women are called on to strike from work if they can, as well as wear red in solidarity and don’t shop, unless it is at women-owned and minority businesses. Some folks have already complained about the “privilege” of taking off work but they have not read past a headline; the organizers are very clear that not all women can take off work and that’s why there are multiple opportunities to participate. Read this article to better understand: When Did Solidarity Among Working Women Become a ‘Privilege’?by  Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza.

Moving on…to Student Affairs.

Can you imagine if women in student affairs had all done a collective strike? There’d be barely any employees except the folks making six-figures.

laughing or cyring

To share: Personally, I am working today. I manage alternative breaks at my institution and 8 trips depart on Sunday – I don’t have an option because this is one of my busiest weeks of the year. But I cannot help but think of the gender inequality within the Student Affairs profession.

In 2013 I wrote the post “I’m shivering – Either winter is coming or there’s a ‘chilly climate’ in Student Affairs” Not much, unfortunately, has changed. We still are trapped by institutional sexism.At my institution and all others, I see it is a majority of men in upper-level positions while the coordinator level is mostly women.

There is a lack of research that analyzes the lack of female representation in SSAO positions, according to Yakaboski & Donahoo (2011), but here is a starting list of possible explanations (note: if there is more recent research, please share it with me!).

  • Institutional Sexism: According to Acker (1990) organizational hierarchies are male dominated and the institutional structure demands conformity to male norms. Simply put, men are more likely to be seen as best representative of university leadership and women are not seen ‘as a good fit’ for leadership because they do not fit into those male norms; if anything women must assimilate in order to get promoted (Dale, 2007) – or get put into a ‘binder full of women’.
  • Retention: Dissatisfaction due to sex discrimination and racial discrimination causes women to want to leave their positions (Blackhurst, 2000)
  • Female Socialization: girls are taught to be nice and take care of another person’s needs over their own and not ask for things for themselves. This results in women not asking (or even realizing they can ask) for raises and promotion (Babcock & Laschever, 2007).
  • Not on the ‘Right’ Track: Women, through their own volition or due to the institution, tend to work in roles that do not lead to SSAO positions. For example, studies show that Black women are concentrated in student affairs roles that are directly responsible for promoting diversity initiatives (Howard-Hamilton & Williams, 1996; Konrad & Pfeffer, 1991;Moses, 1997, cited in Belk 2006)
  • Fewer Mentors: With few women SSAO, there are fewer women to mentor other women, creating a full-circle affect (Sagaria, & Rychener, 2002, as cited in Stimpson, 2009)

 

One thing to point out – all the research I used is on the gender binary of women and men – and that’s all I could find when reading on gender in student affairs. We who identify as women or men need to acknowledge that in talks of sexism, often our genderqueer, non-binary, trans colleagues are left out of the conversation.

It strikes me as peculiar that a profession that embraces (to some degree) social justice can still allow sexism to play out. Granted, it is difficult to move out of institutionalized oppression. Men don’t want to give up power – either consciously or unconscionably. As sociology research demonstrates, people prefer mentoring people that look like them and have shared experiences. So of course men in power are more likely to resonate with other men and thus (consciously or unconsciously) mentor them and show them preference.

Well. That’s some bullshit.

Men – do better. I need our male university presidents, male senior student affairs officers, male dean of students, male directors, male associate directors, and male assistant directors to do better. I need our male coordinators and graduate students to recognize sexism in the workplace and call it out + redirect attention to their female colleagues who are also doing excellent work.

For example:

  • Don’t just recognize your male employees for good work but not women (if you are a male recognized publicly for something your female colleagues are also doing, speak out and redirect attention to them)
  • When women speak in a meeting, listen. There’s a documented tendency that women’s ideas don’t get heard until a man says them – don’t do that.
  • When hiring for mid-level and upper-level positions, actively seek out women (especially women of color, disabled women, queer women, trans women, and women from other marginalized backgrounds). Spend some time/money on digital flyers, get some inforgraphics, encourage women in your organization to apply, share out in different networks.

And everybody always better look out for their trans colleagues – call out transphobia and exclusionary practices, recognize their work, and actively recruit folks for mid-level positions and beyond.

And women…we all know institutionalized sexism lives within us and that we, too, have been socialized to believe inequitable things about our own gender. Actively push against this socialization. Bring other women up with you in the organization – we have to look out for one another.

Whether you are taking today off or not, everyone needs to get to work (or continue working) on women’s equality.

Share your thoughts in the comment section or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

resist to exist

Watch out Ladies: Your Slutty Feet are Asking for It

There’s nothing more ironic than a grown ass man at Starbucks arguing that he can harass you however he pleases, as he sits with a Bible in front of him.

Author reached out to God for comment; God replied with this gif

Author reached out to God for comment; God’s reply in gif format.

The day started out simply enough.

I settled in at my new favorite Starbucks, curled on a comfy chaise lounge chair, laptop in my – well, in my lap. As usual, I was adorned with my standard long dress, sweater, and thick shawl. It’s a beautiful 50 degrees here and I was sockless in my dress shoes. Naturally, I slid them off. I put in my earbuds, began listening to Spotify’s collection of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr speeches (since I was working on volunteer assignments for the day of service I was planning), and let my feet dangle off the chair.

It was awesome. Dr. King’s words were inspiring and made me thoughtful about progress, or lack thereof (52 years later we are still speaking out against police brutality -wtf).

In the middle of listening to Dr. King’s “The American Dream” speech a man in his 50’s moved by me. I gave him a slight smile because he wore a dapper old man outfit that was adorable and I was in a great mood.  I looked back at my laptop.

He said something but I didn’t quite hear. There was a twinge of dread because there’s usually only one reason why a strange middle-aged man is trying to talk to me in public. Still, I’m an optimist and incredibly curious. I took out my earbuds. “Excuse me?”

“You have beautiful feet.” He smiled at me.

My stomach twisted. I felt incredibly creeped out and entered a state of shock. I said a soft thanks and immediately turned back to my laptop. Ironically, the speech was at the point Dr. King was talking about how we need to love our enemies…

LOTR - frodo gross face

Frodo reenacts my facial expression

If you are not a woman-identified individual that has experienced street harassment (essentially sexual harassment in a public space) then my issue with his statement might seem like an overreaction. He was just giving me a compliment, right?

No.

Here is the issue: I am just chillin’ here, lounging on this comfy chair at Starbucks, getting my work done (and facebooking, of course), oblivious to the world. But the moment this jerk comments on my body part, I am yanked from enjoying this peaceful moment and reminded that because I am a woman, my body is open to commentary. That while I get lost in my own mind, I have to remember that I am being scrutinized. That my worth is parallel to how attractive I am. That beauty is decided by strange men and not by me. That I’m expected to say thank you for the honor of their acknowledgement.

The comment strips away my security. I feel vulnerable. Exposed. Nothing more than meat at the market, ready for inspection.

When strange men ‘compliment’ me like this, I’m not a human. I’m a walking sex toy.

You have beautiful feet.” Feet are personal kinks for some people and highly sexualized. This isn’t to say it’s bad to have a foot fetish, but my interpretation of this man’s statement is he’s definitely sexualizing me. Gross. My body does not exist for your commentary, dude.

Not to mention – my feet with peeling red toenail polish ain’t even a thing to be found attractive.

Yes, my feet needed your male acknowledgement, creep.

Yes, my feet needed your male acknowledgement, creep.

My mind was flooded with thoughts. I’m offended, disgusted, wondering if it’s that big of a deal, feeling vulnerable, feeling sexualized, frustrated, indignant this fool thought he could talk to me this way, angry at myself for going into shock and uttering “thank you”, and angry at him.

Overall, I just felt incredibly uncomfortable.

Things that no one wants to hear.

Things that no one wants to hear.

Ten minutes later I realize the man is still at Starbucks, around the corner from me.

Fuck.

The discomfort I’m feeling increases, as does my adrenaline. I do not want to stay here. I’m sitting in a private corner right by the bathroom – what if he comes by again? I don’t want him to approach me again.

I decide I’ll leave. Panera is nearby and a who doesn’t love broccoli cheddar soup?

And yet…there’s a kernel of dissonance growing within me. I consider myself a feminist and an activist. How can I let this dude get away with his comment? Clearly he meant it as a compliment. He probably doesn’t even realize he makes women uncomfortable talking like that. Men are socialized to speak to women like this and that women love random compliments.

If he speaks like that to me, he probably does so to a lot of woman. Maybe if I said something then I could help him see a new perspective and fewer women in the future would have to deal with harassment.

buffy - willow - feminist literature

Thanks to feminism, I know that street harassment is just one part of systemic oppression against women.

On the flipside, speaking to him could be dangerous. Women who have spoken out against harassment before have been dealt severe repercussions, including physical violence.

Not that I thought he would react violently. We were in public and I am aware I had able-bodied privilege. Plus, he was dressed all dapper and stuff; looked like a nice older man. Father-like. He wouldn’t react too bad – if anything he would probably just try to diminish his action and make me feel crazy, at worst.

If only I knew.

I scrounged up the courage. At this point my hands are shaking from adrenaline after sitting down for 25 minutes. I hate confrontations and this is my first time actually confronting street harassment.

Ugh. Such a long walk.

Ugh. Such a long walk.

“Excuse me, sir.”

He takes off his headphones and looks up at me with a hint of surprise. I think how fitting it is that he interrupted me earlier while I was using my earbuds, and now he is the one to be interrupted.

I took a deep breath. “Hi. I just wanted to come over and tell you that your comment earlier made me feel uncomfortable.”

His face contorts in shock and annoyance as he sits back in his chair and throws his arms up in the air. “Oh NO,” he cries out in exasperation. “Please don’t do this to me!” he pleaded.

here comes the patriarchy

No conversation is complete without the Patriarchy! Everyone’s favorite party favor!

He says it in such a way that I can’t help but feel he’s been confronted about sexual harassment before. His defensiveness is incredible. Immediately my insides writhe with rage that this asshole is acting like HE is a helpless victim. Drama king, much?!?!

I use the force (I’m a Jedi, obviously) and center myself. As a social justice educator I know that harsh words rarely accomplish anything when trying to teach someone that they are contributing to systemic oppression.

My voice is firm, measured, and low. The perfect tone for talking to misogynists. “Sir, I’m sure you meant it as a compliment, but it made me feel uncomfortable—”

His expression darkened. “You know what makes me feel uncomfortable?! Racism makes me feel uncomfortable!”

I recoil in anger and shock. Please, old man. Are we doing this right now?

seriously dont - VP

“I’m sure it does.” After all, I am aware that it’s not easy being a black man in America, especially when one has to use a wheelchair. Ableism and racism sucks. I ‘get’ that as much as an able-bodied white woman can (which means I know that I’ll never truly ‘get it’ and I’m trying to always learn more about privilege and oppression). But old man, please. That ain’t here nor there.

“And sexism makes ME uncomfortable,” I add.

If only tying him up was an option. Maybe he would have listened better.

If only tying him up was an option. Maybe he would have listened better.

“Well, a lot of things makes me uncomfortable!” he speaks in a shout-whisper. Apparently the 2015 location of the Oppression Olympics has begun.

Our voices are hushed but increasingly rising. No one looks up from their laptops. Damn Starbucks culture.

The creep begins rambling. Something about how there’s too much negativity in the world and he just wants positivity and I shouldn’t be bringing negativity into his life.

DESTROY

I cut him off. “Negativity into YOUR life? Look, I’m sure you meant it as a compliment but I needed to tell you it made me uncomfortable. And I’m trying to tell you this and you are not listening to me.”

“Well I won’t talk to you again! And if you don’t like it, why are you talking to me!?” he bristles. Clearly I’m the one harassing him.

male tears

“I am talking to you”, I snap, venom seeping into my voice, “because I know most men don’t realize those comments are not compliments and make women feel uncomfortable. I was HOPING you would learn so other women don’t have to feel uncomfortable!”

How I feel at this point in the conversation.

How I feel at this point in the conversation.

“Well, you shouldn’t have had your feet out there!” he countered angrily.

Well.you.shouldn’t.have.had.your.feet.out.there. Wellyoushouldn’thavehadyourfeetoutthere.

…is this motherfucker kidding right now?

Did he really just slut shame…my feet?!?!?!?!?!

dont worry

Do we live in Victorian England? I’m already wearing a long dress and long sleeves, with only bare feet. ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT I NEED TO NOT BE PUTTING MY SLUTTY FEET OUT THERE?

Right, how dare I tempt the perverts of America who like to troll on any hint of womanly flesh.

*eyeroll so hard motherfuckas wanna fine me*

*eyeroll so hard motherfuckas wanna fine me*

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I hiss back.

“Oh, well now you have to swear at me!” he gasps, all offended and clutching his invisible pearls.

Yep, keep them male tears comin’, bro. Because using the ‘f’ word is totally worse than your sexual harassment. CREEP. “If that’s how you’re going to react…I didn’t do nothing illegal! If I did something illegal, call the cops on me.”

Trembling with rage, I glance down and see a Bible on the table in front of him. I chuckle softly at the sight and my eyes slide up to meet his.  I speak softly and let the disdain in my voice wash against his ears. “You’re reading the BIBLE and you are speaking to me like this?”

I spin away, because I have nothing left to say to the creep.

beyonce walk awayImmediately I go to the Starbucks counter because if some creep thinks he can sexually harass women because their ‘slutty feet’ aren’t covered with socks then the staff need to know. Not to mention, I need to know if this man is a regular because if so, my new favorite Starbucks is going to be abandoned in lieu of the nearby Panera.

The middle-aged man who regularly is working when I come in, spots me. I get his attention and he motions me to the other side of the counter, away from customers. Perhaps he saw the expression on my face, perhaps he saw the confrontation. Either way it was clear he wanted me away from others.

“What happened, miss?” he asks quietly.

I open my mouth to speak…and instead a sob squeezed its way out of my throat. The encounter had me rattled and my adrenaline had to be released somehow, since I wasn’t running away nor was I slapping the creep like he deserved.

No Cry

What I tell myself

spn - loki not crying raining on face

What I tell others.

For the record, I HATE crying. I’m down for other people crying and I don’t see weakness in them, but my own personal psychology views that when I cry I am demonstrating weakness – and I cannot allow such a thing. I have had to demonstrate strength for much of my life, even when I didn’t quite have it, because I had to deal with a lot of bullshit. Crying, to me personally, makes my enemies think they’ve won.

The Starbucks employee was kind and encouraged me to speak.

“It’s stupid,” I sputtered. Because in that moment I felt like a stupid little girl, weeping in a public space (but thankfully folks love their laptops), and talking to a man so I assumed he probably wouldn’t get it. My voice catches. “He went by and told me I had commented on my feet, so I went and told him that was not okay and he made me uncomfortable and he FREAKED out on me.”

Starbucks Employee looked at me with pity. “Aw, he just compliments all the ladies. He’s harmless.”

sexist and absurd

I stiffen. Of course. “Maybe he’s harmless, but sexual harassment is not okay.” Even after I said this, I realized I was wrong. Because what that man is doing IS harmful. Sexual harassment is harmful. A woman not able to feel safe from harassment in a public space? Pretty fucking harmful.

He was nice, this Starbucks employee, but he just didn’t get it. Not that I can expect him to ‘get it’ too much – we live in a world where it is socially acceptable to “give women compliments”.

I sat down back in my corner spot. Took a few minutes to calm down and then I left – soothing my nerves by calling my partner and then nomming on some broccoli cheddar soup.

Overall? I’m glad I said something. I would have regretted not saying something. But…I’m not sure if the heightened aggravated harassment was worth it.

smash the patriarchy

Sigh. Living in a patriarchal and discriminatory society sucks.

>>Before I sign off, a recommendation to men who like to talk to women they don’t know:

Control yourself. Remember that it’s rude to comment on a woman’s body w/o having that kind of relationship with her. You’re wasting our time and depleting our emotional energy. There’s a whole bunch more I could teach you, but just use Google (start here) because enough of my time has been wasted today.

street harassment- jessica williams!

Jessica Williams is amazing.

 

Why is Masculinity so Fragile?

And how I Learned this through Online Dating…

Masculinity in America is synonymous with biceps, (heterosexual) sex, violence, and confidence. Superheroes in comic books have so many muscles their muscles have muscles, James Bond is sexing new women on the daily, and macho men like Stabler on SVU punch their way through episodes. Our pop culture is saturated with these images and it’s sensible to consider that a lifetime of these lessons from a young age affects the way we perceive how men should be – and it impacts men on who they choose to be. Quite frankly, whether they realize it or not.

macho men

Yet this idea of masculinity is false. Men are human and this idealized trope is not natural for many men to live up to. It’s unfair they must feel the pressure to even attempt it – because so often if men are not living up their prescribed gender roles they can face ridicule from men and women alike who have bought into these patriarchal falsehoods about how a ‘real man’ lives.

Ultimately, this version of masculinity is dangerous – especially to women. When you push back at this patriarchal concept of manhood it cracks like a raw egg, with anger and violence spilling out.

This has become evident to me through stories of women dealing with street harassment (when men issue ‘compliments’ to women in public) and online dating. Odin forbid a woman actually reject a man’s advances!

I dabble in the online dating world – it’s not easy being a woman interested in men working in student affairs and I’m not the sort to go bar hopping and pass out my number. Well, there was this attractive doctor fellow who began messaging me and wanted to meet up. Usually I prefer not to give out my number right away but sometimes texting with someone you’re interested in is easier than logging online to send messages.

Aye, was that a mistake.
It started off normal. I discovered he was a doctor at a local hospital ER and liked hiking. Then 24 hours later the convo changed. He asked me to meet up, I said okay, and then I gave him the general idea of what side of town I lived in so we could pick a good location. His response:

shane okc1

Like, are you serious?! Did this dude really think that after 1 day of texting I was just going to invite him into my home?!  Yeah, okay Mr. Craigslist Killer. And then he took my statement in stride by suggesting further activities.

buffy are you okay

Being the educator that I am, I felt the need to explain to him why you just don’t suggest to a woman that you visit her home on the first date and that a coffee shop is more appropriate. Obviously this dude was off my dating list but I couldn’t help but think he needed to understand so at least he’s not a creep with the next woman he tries to date. He clearly had never watched the C.K. Louis skit where the comedian explained how, in the world of (hetero) dating, men only have to worry about getting their feelings hurt but women have to worry about getting killed (statistically speaking, this is true).

EndUpDead

He didn’t get that aspect, so I further elaborated that if he wanted to come over and ‘snuggle’ then that to me says he wants sex – which is cool for him (no slut shaming, no matter the gender) but not what I’m interested in.

He got offended.

shane4

Oooooooh right, you are a good looking doctor! Aye! Your bedroom must be awash in panties! How silly of me!  I am fortunate for your interest because all women would have sex with you! You are such a catch!

spn - dr sexy

So then I started work and was in 3 hours of meetings. At lunchtime I see this:

shane okc2

Like, calm down yo. I’m not spending my day on my fainting couch waiting for you to message me. And…his seemingly ‘compromise’ was interesting. To do coffee or a walk first? As in…you are still expecting ‘snuggling’ afterwards?

nicki aw hell no

Time to end this convo with the self-presumed McDreamy. I decided to be polite – because quite honestly there’s a further danger for women when they rudely turn down a man. This person has access to your phone number and your photos/info from the online dating profile. We, as women, have to be extra careful.

shane okc3

If you can’t tell, the gif I sent back to McJerkface to end the convo was this one:

50 cent

But I mean….

really snl

And wow…

anchorman - escalated

Not to mention…what kind of ‘doctor’ misspells “dumbass” into “dubmass”?!

hermione idiot

So there you have it, my people. Masculinity is so fragile for so many men, that this is what women have to deal with. Whether you tell a guy cat calling you on the street that he can’t have your number so he violently shouts bitch, or whether you politely say no to a man via online dating so he flips out, the unhealthy masculinity that society has created is so fragile it turns dangerous when denied.

Related links in case this topic interests you or you think I am just some crazy random man-hating feminist:

Have you or someone you know ever experienced something similar? Comment here or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

 

**Straight male= for the purposes of this blog post, men who are dating women. It is possible the man mentioned in this post and men who make similar allegations are somewhere along the sexuality spectrum, further than just a 0/1 on the Kinsey Scale.