Sex and the Ivy

Woo-hoo, it’s my sexist German debut!

Filed under: Abstinence, Feminism, Press — Elle February 9, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

Der Spiegel hat einen Artikel über mich veröffentlicht! Aber nicht so schnell …

Der Spiegel, one of the largest European newsmagazines, published an article about the American abstinence movement and feminist reaction to it. I’m pretty excited that I scored a mention/photo in a German publication, because all things German have become awesome since I’ve begun learning the language.

Unfortunately, my German abilities remain pretty rudimentary, so I’ve had a hard time translating … but they’re not so rudimentary that I didn’t realize that the piece is actually somewhat reactionary. Yeah, what a disappointment.

I was reading along happily until I got to the paragraph about me, which includes a reference to my “ultrakurzen Minirock” that excites the boys on campus. That means “ultra-short miniskirt”. Wait … why are they talking about my clothing choices? And where are these ultra-short miniskirts, because Cambridge, Massachusetts is sure as hell not the ideal place to wear them. (I may have been deluded about this my freshman year, but I — and my hemlines — have long since grown up.)

This is kind of like that time when The New York Times wrote a piece that featured me alongside the then-president of Harvard’s abstinence club. While the writer refrained from physically describing the other girl, the main subject of the article, this was what he wrote about me:

Chen was a small Asian woman in a miniskirt and stilettos…

This is after I already corrected the fact-checker prior to publication, telling him specifically that I was not actually wearing a miniskirt and stilettos. But whatever,I have sex so naturally, I also walk around naked in impractical footwear! Let’s just gloss over the fact that I was actually wearing a dress and shoes with a wide heel. The truth would detract from reinforcing the image of the sexually available woman. And while we’re at it, why not exoticize me a bit? I’m small! I’m compact! I fit in your handbag! It doesn’t matter what the other girl looks like; let’s check out the chick who’ll let dudes bang her.

Anyway, it gets better:

[Chen] ate every crumb of everything, including a ginger cake with cream-cheese frosting and raspberry compote. Fredell, when the dessert menu came, paused at the prospect of a “chocolate explosion,” said, “I may as well — I mean, carpe diem, right?” And then reconsidered — she really wasn’t that hungry.

I’m amazed at what passes for news. The fact that this food-sex analogy is so contrived is a testament to how stupid the virgin-whore dichotomy really is.

But I guess the German liberal media is just like the American liberal media: not incredibly progressive after all. While articles like the ones above approach sex more positively than Fox News, they still can’t help but think of female sexuality as a binary, something that can be neatly categorized in boxes labeled “virgin” and “whore”. I may have sex and openly write and talk about it, but that doesn’t make me representative of all sexually active women any more than it makes me conform to some tired vixen trope. And while I do hope that these types of stereotypical depictions decrease, I’m not terribly optimistic. After all, this is the explanation I received from the writer when I complained to The New York Times:

Lena is right that i described her outfit to draw a distinction from [the other girl], and it is also true that her outfit was distinct from [the other girl's]. Whether her dress was short or not is subject to interpretation, she is right, but I think almost everyone would agree that indeed it was very short and that her high heels were very high.

Which is why I’m not even going to both fact-checking Der Spiegel.

Dartmouth Student Jeremy Pham Will “Plant A Dagger In Your Ass”, Thinks Wellesley Women Are “A Bunch Of Whores”

Filed under: Facebook Follies, Feminism — Elle November 28, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

[Check out the full discussion on The Chicktionary]

Usually, misogynistic viewpoints upset me. And then there are times when a presumably intelligent person makes such a sexist ass out of themselves that it’s almost hard to feel outrage over their ignorant assumptions. This is one of those times.

Jeremy Pham, a Dartmouth student on an exchange program at Wellesley, spent last weekend calling Wellesley students “a bunch of whores”, threatening to sue an online impersonator, and advising people not to “fuck with [him]” lest he “plant a dagger in your ass”. What’s with the hostility? Pham was peeved that someone was “writing false posts under [his] name”. He was referring to this post made on the website Wellesley FML:

Though Jeremy Pham’s name is absent from the post; though Wellesley has several students who do not identify as women; and though anyone, Wellesley student or not, can post to Wellesley FML, Pham clearly believed that the above poster was attempting to impersonate him. And if there was potentially one Wellesley student mocking his lack of sexual prowess, then surely the entire campus must be conspiring to cockblock him. The natural response? Sending a misogynistic, epithet-laced email over Wellesley’s online “community” forum, a discussion list read by not only the entire student body, but also by faculty and staff:

I don’t speak much, since I’m pretty reserved by nature and I’m never really around either (I’m always doing projects at the other school in Cambridge). But since Wellesley girls apparently insist on writing false posts under my name, as well as treating my friends that visit here like crap just because they’re not 5′9 and don’t possess the male-dominated social space of the MIT fratboy that’s fucking the shit out of you nightly, I present to you…what normal, rational people think of you girls:

1) You are all a bunch of whores. No, seriously. The stereotype that Wellesley girls obsess over men is so true that it’s not even funny. Go to a normal school like Dartmouth (where one of your girls won’t leave after 4 terms because she wants to milk the place for all it’s worth) and you’ll see that nobody there obsesses to the degree that the people in the 5th percentile here do. Consequently, you all make poor decisions. Which is why people on the Internet laugh at you. Which is why people on the Internet will laugh at you even more when I make a reddit post detailing my experiences here.

2) You are all undeserving of the education and opportunities you have received. The sense of entitlement here is actually kind of incredible. Just to make sure it just wasn’t me, my friend visiting right now notices it too. And he’s much more outgoing, friendly, and chill than I am. But he’s not 5′9, so sorry girls. But there are some insecure dudes littering the streets of Commonwealth for your amusement.

3) You are all too easy. Some of us refuse to participate in the orgy of sexual tension here because we want to be respected for who we are, not what we are. Of course, for others, it’s as easy as dropping the MIT/Harvard moniker. I mean, what idiot thinks a meaningful relationship can develop out of a superficial encounter at a party? Seriously, WTF. At my school, there aren’t that many relationships. But at least we’re honest about the fact that most of us are just merely infatuated with the other party, and not actually “in love.”

Do not make up shit under false pretenses. Do not treat my friends like shit. Do it one more time, and I will sue you. It’s so funny that there’s this Wellesley Community discussion group thing going on, but if you girls can’t do something as trivial as leave me alone to do my own thing, you guys have no shot at forming a cohesive community. No fucking chance.

And I’ll just sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude.

Jeremy, who does not at all harbor a Napolean complex, has demonstrated — with his sweeping generalizations — the intellectual laziness which probably got him rejected from MIT and Harvard in the first place. (That he was accepted to Dartmouth and to the Wellesley exchange program is nothing short of a minor miracle.) And I know I’m not the only one who’d like to ask Jeremy how a girl can simultaneously be a whore and picky about height.

When his email prompted a flurry of responses, Jeremy seemed to quickly realize the error of his ways:

Let me first begin by apologizing for my tone and perhaps the language that I used to address some of my own feelings as being one of the few, if not only, males on campus. It isn’t easy for me to be accepted in the Wellesley community. Wellesley has been be a wonderful learning experience and many people here have been welcoming to me. At the same time, hearing “What are you doing here?” when walking through the halls and being judged solely based on my looks can be hard for me. I hope you can understand that.

I fully respect women; strong, intelligent, and engaged women. I’m just concerned that people think of me as a male danger, and I understand that oftentimes comments get misconstrued as they oftentimes do on FirstClass. So why did I write my post? This all began when someone posted a recent comment referring explicitly to me on WellesleyFML. The fact that someone posted a negative comment using my identity without my permission naturally angered me as it would most people. I quickly wrote what I did with this emotion and some of the other incidents in mind.

From most of my experiences here, women time and time again at Wellesley have proven their intelligence. This occurred to me once again tonight when a group approached me and my friend while we were eating dinner. While we sat, a group of about 30 students approached us. Most wanted to talk to me and truly cared about my experience here. Others approached me with just anger and one even threw a glass of water at my face. I apologize for those who are angry and I would like for us to move forward from this point.

A college community is the perfect place to learn from one another. I have learned that many people do care about community and how I as “a man” can fit into it. This was my original hope when I wrote my first post. I do care about this community and do want to learn different points of views about a multitude of topics. But to do this, we need to respect each other. I hope that we can equally show each other some kindness and respect.

I can only be a productive and positive member of this community if we work together. But it can be hard when I feel ostracized here. However, many here have respected me and I have equally respected those around me. Just like you, I want to continue building community. So how will we move forward?

Uh, say what? As the recipient of some pretty disrespectful attention due to my blog (Sex and the Ivy), I can sympathize with Jeremy’s feelings of alienation. However, I’ve dealt with far worse situations than he has, and I’ve yet to send out mass emails with blanket assumptions about the recipients’ character, sexual habits, and taste in men.

Indeed, those unconvinced of Jeremy’s sincerity had good reason to doubt. While he e-bemoaned his ostracization from the Wellesley community, some students noticed that his Facebook status had been updated with the following:

alright so because someone wrote some false post about me on the intarw3b at wellesley, i wrote this post calling them all entitled whores and whatnot; clearly as a troll (and to some extent, you have to admit that that is true) on the open forum @ wellesley and there was a SHITSTORM of responses. while the whole community is out protesting and acting all butthurt, i’m just sitting around lol’ing. you fuck with me, and i’ll plant a dagger in your ass. simple as that.


Screenshot from Wellesley blogger WhatEstrogen.

While Jeremy was hammering in the final nail to the coffin containing his online reputation, Wellesley students — water-throwing girl aside — demonstrated that they, unlike him, were capable of differentiating between the views of a misogynist and the views of all other men. Commenters on Wellesley FML assured male visitors that guys will continue to be welcome on campus as long as they do not threaten to insert sharp objects into girls’ bodily orifices. A male commenter even chimed in on WellesleyBlue, an online community for alums, to say that he had crashed in his girlfriend’s dorm for five months and only ever encountered “friendly and welcoming” behavior at Wellesley, despite his illegal presence (which was never reported).

And then — a plot twist! More from the verbose Jeremy Pham:

I’m really sorry for ever coming here. And calling all of you whores. Clearly, some of you are still very upset about my Community post, but I have learned a lot about the difficulties that a woman faces every single day in America. It brings a tear to my eye (metaphorically) to know that some of you are very passionate about women’s rights, but I feel that your energies are misdirected. Sure you will deal with me and eradicate me from this campus in style, but your problems will still be there. Your inability to get to the root of the issues that plague our world will still be there. While other guys give me fist pumps and brag about their conquests at this school, I must endure the brunt of your criticisms so that you may all be united under the banner of activism.

And it worked perfectly.

There are real instances of women here actually being alienated from the rest of the Wellesley community. There are real cases of rape and belligerent boyfriends. My hope was that you would all unite to chastise such an extremely contemptible figure so that these issues cannot be ignored. Because honestly, what’s the difference between saying thoughts behind your backs, and posting them live? There is no intrinsic difference. And yet, the perception differs, and so I wanted to explore that today. My hope was that some of these alienated women on campus can venture out of their rooms and be embraced by a community that’s trying to flame me relentlessly. If I had written something benign, only a few people would have acknowledged it, and that would have been that. Nothing like controversy to stir up the day.

While I was writing the apparently insufficient apology last night, the police officer came into my room to make sure that everything was okay. I chuckled and told him that everything was okay. He wanted to offer me protection from the perhaps inevitable fallout from my polemic. Later, he read my letter and told me that it was cool, and it was the best I could have done…

Also, controversies like this happen all the time. Given the knowledge that the ACLU has my back and that I’m protected by the First Amendment, and the fact that friends who were journalists at other schools attempted similar stunts (with surprising degrees of success that resulted from open dialogue), I figured that this could turn out to be pretty sweet. And just so you know, nothing will happen to me. So for those of you seeking administrative intervention, you are only wasting your time. And for those of you seeking media attention, by all means. But understand that it’ll also mean that I get my facetime, and you just can’t spin a 2300 gang up on a lone campus figure in any positive way, especially given that I was trolling (even then, you wouldn’t need that requirement). Also just so you know, assault or throwing water at someone’s face is not protected by the First Amendment (or any). Of course, the event was trivial enough as it was, but if things escalate…

And do any of you honestly believe that I hold these misogynistic views? Please. Get real here. I hold a degree from the best trolling school of all time. I was pissed that you guys used my identity though. And to be honest, this whole debacle IS kind of hilarious. Let’s be honest here. It’s pretty damn hilarious.

Do you also feel like you just watched a particularly bad M. Night Shyamalan film?  Jeremy’s convoluted explanation is about as believable as the premise for “The Village”. Even if one accepts his excuse that he was just trying to rile everyone up so that they could unite to battle “real cases of rape and belligerent boyfriends”, that still leaves open the question of whether his actions were at all effective. Because if all it takes for progressive action to succeed is a fake bad guy, then marriage equality would’ve been achieved approximately 241 gay-bashings ago.

And in case those uppity Wellesley girls think they’re in the right, Jeremy would like you to know that he has the ACLU, a campus police officer, the Wellesley administration, and the First Amendment on his side. (Okay, maybe not the Wellesley administration.) So you see, he doesn’t need all you whorish, choosy women with your MIT frat boys and 5′ 9″ boyfriends!

But just in case the ACLU won’t sit with him at lunch, Jeremy wanted everyone to know in yet another email that he is, in fact, very sorry for the “general feeling of timidity” he’s provoked:

The mistake I made was that I clumped everyone together and called everyone a whore. For that, I am sorry. I said that all of you didn’t deserve to be here, but I was wrong for saying that. To reiterate, I believe the women here are very intelligent, and have worked hard to go here. There’s definitely an issue of the women here feeling victimized, and I’m sorry for bringing that general feeling of timidity into the community. Additionally, my Facebook status was extremely inappropriate, and I have since removed it. I apologize for that as well.

Thank you.

This surely must be the end, right? Someone must’ve schooled him on male privilege? Not so much. As reported by WhatEstrogen, Pham posted the following to his Facebook status less than a day later:

“Jeremy Pham thanks his friends and appreciates the outpouring of support from all people all across the nation. I have never been prouder to be a Dartmouth student. Thanks ACLU. Jeremy Pham also wonders just how the orgy of cattiness will proceed. Jeremy Pham also thanks Kerry and her friends for the death threats.”


Image from SarahPort.

Jeremy, here’s a piece of advice: hire a therapist to deal with your issues over your stunted growth and get a PR team to manage the inevitable professional fallout from this debacle. Damage control is obviously not your forté.

A special thank you to the reader who directed me toward the above gold mine of fail.

Christina Hoff Sommers & “The Failures of Modern Feminism”

Filed under: Feminism, Harvard — Elle November 20, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

As The Crimson reported today, “conservative feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers gave a talk on the failures of modern feminism last night. I found the discussion extremely disappointing, in part because it became abundantly clear early on that Sommers has a very limited understanding of feminist history and theory. I meant to live-blog the event, but didn’t. Now, as I go through my notes, the sheer number of inaccuracies and misconceptions astound me.

Some of Sommers’ points (everything in quotations are direct quotes transcribed during the talk):

  • “I can’t take [Judith Butler] seriously … the obscurity with what she writes … gender as performance and so forth. I wish gender studies were carried out by psychologists, not English professors. She just doesn’t seem to engage with that literature.” Butler, like Sommers, is a philosophy professor. Butler may not be a psychologist by training, but she does in fact discuss Freudian thought and psychoanalysis in her work. I was floored by Sommers’ ignorance. There’s no shame in just admitting that you aren’t familiar with a particular theorist.
  • Feminism is “victimology” and “male-bashing”. Like most of her other statements, there is nothing to back up this claim. She’s arguing against a strawman here. If you characterize feminism as victimology and male-bashing, then naturally, one would be against it. But you have to first prove that it is, in fact, a man-hating, self-victimizing movement.
  • “Fierce” women have written feminist theory. Men have always written history, so radical feminists think that now it is not women’s turn to write history but “their turn” (referring to the radical feminists). I don’t know if “fierce” was supposed to be a funny Tyra reference or if she literally meant fierce. She might as well have said feminazi, because that’s what it comes off as.
  • “I’ve never seen a women’s studies textbook treat conventional motherhood in a positive way.” To which I responded, I took an entire class on motherhood (”Myths of Motherhood” in the Studies of Women, Gender, & Sexuality department). Two other audience members mentioned the unit they were doing on pregnancy and childbirth as part of the methods course in WGS. These classes tend to treat motherhood and mothers in a VERY positive way, while recognizing that parenting is unfortunately not valued in our society in the same way as professional labor. I wonder when was the last time Sommers sat in on a WGS class.
  • Men and conservative feminists are not welcome in women’s studies classes. Hardly true, as one male-identified audience member pointed out. And if men weren’t welcome, I wouldn’t have brought my male thesis adviser nor would I encourage Patrick to take the WGS Graduate Proseminar.
  • “You hear so much in feminism that’s about achieving this parity, this statistical equality.” Pick up any classic feminist text and you will see that feminism does not come down to numbers, so I don’t even know what she’s referring to here.
  • “I can’t find anyone who will take seriously the view that biology plays a serious role. Most agree it’s a social construction, and if you disagree, they call you essentialist.” Perhaps that’s because there is disagreement even within evolutionary biology and psychology about the validity of the studies being conducted. It’s not like science is infallible; these are inherently imprecise sciences, a fact admitted by scientists themselves. Do I even need to go into the folly of accepting one, single discipline as complete truth?
  • “The women’s movement has been carried away a very strange agenda.” She also talks about a “feminist establishment”. A common theme in the discussion was that radical feminists have somehow hijacked the movement, but who is behind this “strange agenda” and what is the “establishment” she speaks of? NOW? The Feminist Majority? Because even I, as a feminist, cannot offer a universally agreed upon definition of feminism or its goals.
  • Sommers said she is supportive of feminists “when they turn [their efforts] against true patriarchal societies in developing world, not toward us [the U.S.].” This statement smacks of cultural superiority, as if the West is light years ahead of the Orient, into which we must channel our efforts into saving. Ethnocentrism bothers me a lot, even more so than homophobia and sexism. Has she read Said? Spivak? Probably not, given her implicit assumption that women abroad will be better off if their societies are simply Westernized.

One audience member, a Ph.D student who teaches and takes women’s studies courses, pointed out that it seems like Sommers is still stuck in 1994 when her book, Who Stole Feminism?, first came out. Her conception of feminism does not take into account third wave feminism’s emphasis on intersectionality and on the acceptance of motherhood as a valid lifestyle choice. When Sommers claims that feminists emphasize the “drudgery” of domestic work, it became clear to me that in her mind, feminism hasn’t moved beyond  Betty Friedan. Third-wavers have long since pointed out that the choice to stay at home is itself a privileged one which only middle class women get to make. Poor or single mothers don’t get the same luxury, a problem that some third-wave feminists seek to address. If anything, feminists are the biggest supporter of making it possible for women to be mothers without sacrificing social status.

Sommers made a particularly questionable series of claims about how capitalist structures have made women better off: “I think that the free market has served women well. It’s no coincidence that feminism developed in England and America at the same time as the rise of capitalism. I think the more prosperous/free we are, the more men and women will be different. This is all part of the story of freedom. Capitalism has freed women. This is the golden age of female entrepreneurship in the U.S.”

I was genuinely curious as to how it’s possible to reconcile feminism and capitalism, so when Sommers said women — if given the choice — would rather “opt in” and be stay-at-home mothers or work part-time, I told her that women within a capitalist society are in the unfortunate position of not having their domestic labor compensated. I told her that there’s a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes and asked her how she expects for those women to exercise the same economic power as their male counterparts. I also said that no one has a true choice in a society in which working is a prerequisite for social and political engagement. According to Sommers, men report that they’d rather be breadwinners, but would they necessarily need or want to work full-time if it weren’t for the fact that money wields influence? I mentioned that this line of thought has a long history within feminism and was an extremely contentious point of debate between the radical and Marxist feminists (I personally subscribe to both schools of thought). My point devolved the second she asked me if I thought Marxist Feminism made sense and I answered in the affirmative. Given that Marxism, feminism, and Marxist Feminism all sound extremely radical and scary, I can understand if audience members weren’t familiar with the ideas I espoused — but Sommers is a philosophy professor and sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. Shouldn’t she have some basic understanding of the economic structures under which we all live?

When my thesis adviser brought up the fact that women in Nordic countries score higher than American women on a range of quality of life measures (presumably because their countries — which are still capitalist economies –  all have social policies that extend beyond food stamps), Sommers replied that because those countries probably have social services and high taxes, “There’s less opportunity for individual self assertion, so it’s an open question who’s better off. In the end, it’s probably a mix.”

Which is just false. It’s patently false, according to the Human Development Report from the United Nations, which is not exactly a secret study. Overall, everyone is better off (in terms of education, health, basic needs being met) but there’s also the highest gender equality and there’s more equality between the classes, which I think is a crucial and oft-forgotten component of feminism.

In conclusion, it’s possible to have reasonable discussions with people who disagree with your beliefs. But they have to be willing to educate themselves about what it is they’re arguing about. Sommers has an outdated view of feminism and a pitiful understanding of capitalism. That’s no starting point for a conversation.

Jessica Valenti, Weddings, & Social Expectations

Filed under: Feminism — Elle October 23, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

[Cross-posted from my daily blog The Chicktionary]

Feministing editor Jessica Valenti has just publicly responded to critics of her wedding. In today’s post, she gives her take on media coverage of her nuptials and the appallingly cruel backlash and accusations of hypocrisy.

Though I admit that I was surprised to learn she decided to get married, I can’t fault her for wanting to take part in an institution and ritual so ingrained in our society. The festivities she describes sound exactly like what I hope the weddings of my friends will be like. I, on the other hand, don’t know if I’ll ever get married. I’ve written before about the problems with the institution but I still struggle with the idea of never partaking in a social ritual that most other people will get to experience. Though I could just choose to opt in (just this once!), I try to keep in mind the following:

1. The only reason I care about having a wedding is because I’ve been socialized to believe that this is a crucial life event. I wouldn’t want it if everyone else didn’t also have a “special day” for the sole purpose of a personal celebration.
2. Many people never get to have weddings, and I’m not just talking about same-sex couples. Think of those beyond the Western world who will never experience our conception of a “wedding”: women who have been raped or have dared to have premarital sex, couples from different religions/races/etc., or my own parents who were simply too poor.
3. I want the wedding aspect a lot more than I want the piece of paper. Beyond legal benefits, it is irrelevant whether or not I’m someone’s “wife”. The label has zero impact on how people about their partners. And if it does take state recognition to fully love someone, then that’s one screwed up relationship.

    And yet, how I still yearn to don a floor-length gown as the belle of the ball. The desire to partake in some traditions is sometimes too deeply ingrained to be erased by a feminist awakening (and I’ve had about a dozen at this point). I can’t emphasize how much I don’t want to give in to my inner bride, but that’s easy to say when I’m 22 and co-habitating while my friends are off being young and single. (Right now, they think I’m the boring and domestic one.) I have no delusions about how tough it’ll be in a few years when they get into serious relationships, become engaged, and throw huge bashes while I play the supportive bridesmaid who will literally never be a bride. It won’t be easy, and quite frankly, I don’t know if I’ll be able to withstand the temptation or if I’ll just say, “To hell with it!”

    Would doing the latter make me less of a feminist? I don’t think so, nor do I think Valenti is a hypocrite for getting married. She, of all people, is enlightened enough to realize the baggage that comes with the club she’s joining, and it’s unreasonable for anyone to expect her to resist the overwhelming urge to simply live like other people for once. Personally speaking, it’s not easy to live in a patriarchal, capitalist society which is fundamentally opposed to my beliefs about equality (gender, economic, and otherwise). Abiding strictly by my values would mean completely opting out of the world in which my friends and family live — and sure, some people do that but end up having zero impact on the mainstream, which is where equality really matters. Jessica Valenti and Andrew Golis negotiated that conflict by making their wedding “representative of the institution [they’d] like it to be”. In other words, they’re trying to change it. That’s precisely why I can get behind the idea of a feminist getting married or of a gay couple getting married. Weddings can be transgressive affairs, and mine will be if I ever have one.

    Still, that’s a big if. I can be happy for those who make that decision and extraordinarily happy for gay friends who now have the option, but when I ask myself why I’d want a marriage, it ultimately comes down to wanting other people to celebrate my relationship and recognize its significance. And let’s face it, I could throw a big fat feminist non-wedding sans ceremony and marriage license, but how many people are really going to take that as seriously as “the real thing” or actually purchase plane tickets for the affair? So while I don’t need others to validate my relationship, sometimes I do just want to be treated like everyone else, which I know I won’t be if unless I get married “for real”.

    It’s disheartening, then, that the marriage equality movement ignores people like me, who run the risk of losing domestic partnership benefits altogether if same-sex marriage is legalized en masse. The line of reasoning is that if everyone could get married, then there’s no point in having special rights for those “living in sin”. But there will always be some people who opt out even of a courthouse wedding, not because they have commitment issues or because they like living on the margins of society, but because they don’t think getting married changes anything, because they recognize that the only reason anyone wants to marry is because it’s one of the most basic expectations of American society, along with work and kids. Even without all its anti-feminist trappings, marriage would still be problematic, as is anything that becomes so much of a given that it’s just taken for granted that everyone should have one.

    Can the personal ever not be political? I actually don’t think so. I applaud Valenti for an incredibly thoughtful treatment of a traditionally consumerist, gendered institution, but even if her wedding wasn’t consumerist or gendered, it was still a transgressive induction into an institution, one that people take for granted as desirable. So what does Valenti’s case demonstrate? That she, too, wants to be part of that institution. But a feminist who has a wedding isn’t any more of a hypocrite than a Marxist who buys groceries. You can be incredibly progressive and still not be willing to grow your own food or give up mainstream acceptance (or live in a cave — pretty much the only way to truly realize most ideals). While I’m sure that her marriage will set an example for other couples, perhaps forgoing a wedding altogether in the name of a cause is the type of sacrifice you couldn’t really ask of anyone, not even a completely self-aware feminist. That says much more about how effectively this cultural tradition has been spoon-fed to the masses than it does about Valenti.

    Catcalls and Final Straws

    Filed under: Feminism, Women — Elle September 1, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

    When I first put fingers to keyboard yesterday, I wrote knowing that my experience wasn’t a unique one. But it was only after reading comments and receiving feedback that I realized just how prevalent it was. I’m not sure whether the responses have been more uplifting or disheartening. On one hand, a lot of girls – too many of my close friends to count – share my fears and concerns. On the other, there’s a certain solidarity in knowing that you have support in confronting these obstacles. I’m speaking for a lot more frustrated women than I thought.

    I want to clarify a few things. It’s pretty obvious that I hold some feminist beliefs. At the same time, I wouldn’t identify myself as a feminist, because there are many aspects of my life that don’t align with feminism at all. That being said, I think people need to understand that what I’m discussing here isn’t about feminism and isn’t even about equality. Rights, fair wages, and non-discriminatory policies are all good and fine – but sometimes I worry that in pursuit of these very worthy causes, society is forgetting about the most basic courtesies, the everyday actions that are the best indication of how women are really viewed in the world.

    I think JB’s comment is the most telling. From a non-female perspective, it seems that women have all the same rights and opportunities as men. With affirmative action and diversity programs, some might even argue that women have certain advantages. But it’s only when you look beneath the surface and walk in our shoes that you realize how difficult it can sometimes be to live as a woman.

    Although I’m not exactly known for being complacent, I’m hardly violent or belligerent either. Until yesterday, the single physical altercation I have ever been involved in occurred on a playground. My reaction on the bus was pretty uncharacteristic. It is far more likely that I would have simply not said anything at all and moved away had the crowd permitted. But I think the reason why I chose to lash out instead was because I had finally had it. The anger I’ve accumulated over the course of many years reached a boiling point when that man violated me. He wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, but at that moment, he was the one thing I could fight back against. That’s why I yelled at him, that’s why I kicked him, and that’s why I wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for the bystander who calmed me down. Considering my stature and physique, I was hardly in any position to do real damage, but if I could’ve done real harm, I would’ve. I wanted to draw blood yesterday. I wanted him on the floor. I wanted my heel on his neck. I wanted him to feel the way he and other men have made me over and over.

    You hear stories on the news all the time about women who kill their boyfriends and husbands because they’ve been physically or emotionally abusive. I’ve always written these women off as mentally unhinged, but on some level, I think I can understand. I don’t want to kill anyone but like them, I’m sick of being a victim. I try not to feel like one, I try not to live like one, yet time and time again, someone does something to remind me that I am one.

    When I was 12, I sat down on the floor of my local library beside Rolling Stone archives and thumbed through an issue about the Backstreet Boys. Shortly after, a man took a seat next to me and opened a magazine in a manner that allowed the back of his hand to touch the side of my breast. I shifted. He opened his magazine wider. I shifted again. He did right along with me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to. I wasn’t sure if I was just paranoid. I didn’t want to make a scene for no reason. But I left that situation feeling at fault for letting myself be victimized.

    I’m 19 now, fully grown, a Harvard student, and headed toward a promising future. I lead meetings, I head organizations, I take on enormous responsibilities. But every so often, I feel like that 12-year-old again. You might say that the guy on the bus and the man from the library are predators, exceptions in the grand scheme of things. But what about men who catcall at underage girls? What about the frat boy culture that permeates male-dominated workplaces? What about guys writing off their female coworkers as “bitchy” when they try to lead like them? Every one of these situations leave me feeling just as helpless and without recourse as I did all those years ago on the library floor.

    The man on the bus may have crossed the line in a way that most people wouldn’t dare, but everyday many men toe that same line. I’m not saying that every guy does, but enough guys engage in that behavior to make a significant portion of women uncomfortable. I’m tired of being dehumanized and objectified by lewd glances and come-ons. I’m tired of feeling intimidated and scared when walking alone on the street. The reason the man on the bus thought he could touch me was because men escape unpunished for degrading women all the time. What happened yesterday was not his fault alone. His crime falls on the shoulders of an indifferent society.

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