Girl, You’ll Be A Woman…Soon

The question of whether you can call a grown woman girl and even whether it’s okay for a grown woman to refer to herself as girl, is perennial among feminists.  It’s one of many colloquial references to women that seem innocuous at first glance, but connect deeply to the way that women are viewed by ourselves and by others.

Just last summer, when I was eagerly awaiting the premier of Supergirl on CBS and one of the discussions that I had about the show, one that came up again and again, involved a scene in the trailer in which Cat Grant (played by Calista Flockhart) is questioned as to why she named the newly minted hero “Supergirl” rather than “Superwoman”.  In case you didn’t see it, check out the First Look trailer.  The moment happens around 3:06.

Cat Grant, as we can see, embraces the term girl.  In many ways I love embracing the positivity of being a girl.  So often being a girl is denigrated through insults like “throwing like a girl” or “running like a girl”.  So yes, embracing “girl” is fantastic.

But…  At some point a girl is an adult human woman.  At some point “girl” turns into a way to infantilize a woman.  Everyday Feminism has a pretty good list of reasons why using the word “girl” for a woman is indeed infantilizing.

And once you start listening, it’s kind of all over the place.  As I was thinking about this issue – just over a day or so – I ran across these two examples:

“This girl that I’m seeing.” s.6 ep.22 The Good Wife

“I married a Juniata girl.” A minister at a meeting that I attended.

In both instances the women in question are indeed women.  There’s no particular reason other than the convenient excuse of colloquialism for why these two women should be referred to as girls.  This is simply what we do.

So when Hillary Clinton’s campaign uses the term “girl” to describe her, I’m not shocked.  Indeed I expect the particular wording in the email is due in large part to the person who purportedly sent the email.

ourgirlhillary

Probably you’ve heard James Carville talk.  He’s from Louisiana and he’s never made any effort to drop his accent.  In fact it’s part of his whole schtick.  Likely he’s quite familiar with Hillary, given that he was a lead strategist in her husband’s presidential campaign.  Possibly he says “our girl” often and in regular conversation.  I presume this is why the staffer who actually wrote the email titled it thus.  Honestly, there is no part of this that I don’t understand.  Still…  Couldn’t it just say “Hillary needs you right now”?

She isn’t “Our girl”.  She is a woman who is a serious contender for the position of President of the United States.  She is a grown woman.   You don’t have to support her candidacy.  It would be nice, however, if we could at least address her as an adult human being.  This is not too much to ask, certainly not of her own campaign.  The email itself doesn’t hinge on the “our girl” of it all.  It’s not necessary.

You’re trying to make us feel like we’re part of the team.  I get it.  Anyone who got and didn’t immediately delete this email gets that.  Anyone that deleted would have gotten it if they read it.  The intent is abundantly clear.  All I’m saying is that there are ways to do it that don’t call a 68 year old woman “girl”.

As a Hillary supporter, I’d like to see her campaign do better than this.  One of the improvements in her campaign this time around as opposed to 2008 – for me, and many women – has been that Hillary Clinton isn’t shying away from being a woman running for President.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to hear “woman card” as long as she’s running, but I can deal with it as long as Hillary Clinton and her campaign continue to understand that – whether we like it or not (ps. We don’t) – there are differences in how Clinton is judged because of her gender.

So, given that, let’s use our words wisely and recognize that Hillary Clinton is not a girl and that’s okay.

 

 

 

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Not All Jokes, *That* Joke

Apparently Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes the other night.  To be honest, I can’t really understand why.  He hasn’t crossed my entertainment radar recently so I kind of forgot he existed.  As much as I was once entertained by him, there was a turning point that caused me to move on.  It’s fine, Ricky Gervais is not required to be entertaining to specific people.  He’s got an audience, good for him.

In any case, as a part of his Golden Globes jokes, he said something about Caitlyn Jenner, which is as follows:

“I’ve changed, not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously.”… “What a year she’s had. She became a role model for trans people everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything.”

There was then backlash about Gevais having used the name Bruce Jenner rather than Caitlyn Jenner.  Many commented that the joke was transphobic to which he later responded…

Nope.  That’s not what it is.  In fact I would imagine that very few, if indeed any, people are suggesting that any joke about Caitlyn Jenner is “automatically transphobic.”  My favorite defense when a comedian disagrees with offense taken at their joke is “oh, so any time I say anything about X it’s automatically <insert oppressive system here>.?”  No.  That is not the case, the offense does not extend beyond the statement in question.

In fact, I would even argue that when he says “she didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything” is pretty funny.  The joke is not that women are bad drivers.  The joke points to a stereotype about women in juxtaposition with Caitlyn Jenner’s involvement in a deadly car crash.  Caitlyn Jenner, in addition to being a transwoman, is also incredibly rich and privileged and has possibly – like so many famous people before her – escaped justice because of her wealth and fame.  He could totally have complimented her bravery and moved on to the driving thing without preceding it with the bad part which is…

…comparing whatever changes have happened in Ricky Gervais’ life with the alteration of the public presentation of Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity.  That is transphobic.  When a transgender person comes out and makes the decision to transition (or not), what they are doing is not comparable to basically anything except that.  And of course Ricky Gervais was only saying he had changed as a set up to poke fun at Caitlyn Jenner.  He said “…as I say I’m going to be nice tonight, I’ve changed…” followed by a joke about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.  That was a joke at the expense of a person’s gender identity.  So, yes, that was transphobic.

Here’s the thing, though, Ricky Gervais is the sort of person who really loves it when you’re mad at him.  There’s nothing that makes him happier.  He’s not listening to any of your reasonable remarks about how “hate-motivated violence against transgender people rose 13% last year.”  He doesn’t care that a survey in 2014 showed that 57% of respondents whose families had cut ties with them had tried to end their lives.  Does he know or care than one in ten transgender people has been evicted from their home because of their gender identity?   I don’t know.  Maybe he does care.  I doubt he’s made of stone, although his personal cause seems to be animal rights.  And that’s fine.  There are lots of problems in the world and we don’t all have to focus on the same ones.

In the meantime, maybe consider that as we progress as a society it may become appropriate to alter the way we speak and there’s nothing terrifying or freedom trampling about it.  Likewise, using language or making jokes that perpetuate a sense that it’s okay to have your fun at the expense of a particular group’s identity is decidedly uncool.  Also, maybe pissing people off for fun doesn’t make you cool or above other people’s petty concerns, maybe it just makes you a douchebag.

A Heartfelt Thank You

This week I was incredibly proud to be involved in an amazing event created and organized by the student organization of which I am currently President, Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE) of Penn State Altoona.  The event was called Speak Their Truth, and it was an incredible success thanks to the hard work of our membership and thanks to the students who had the courage and generosity to share their experiences with us.

Speak Their Truth is an event that came from an idea that one of our members had to share the experiences of sexual violence in our campus community, but to have those experiences read by people of a different gender than the people who experienced that trauma in order to try to break through the gendered perceptions of sexual violence.  In our anonymous submission process, we explained that mission but also allowed the people submitting experiences to specify the gender of the person reading their story.

I want to applaud the students who were brave enough to share their stories, some of whom had never shared their experiences before.  In this first year, all the experiences shared with us were from women.  I would also like to applaud our readers who, apart from me, were all young men.

In addition to sharing these lived experiences, thank you to the young men who read a series of catcalls.  Also many thanks to a student who shared a beautiful, original poem about her experience.

If I were better an sharing genuine emotion I would probably write at further length about how it feels to have experienced this as a survivor of sexual assault.  Catharsis doesn’t even begin to cover it.  I look forward to creating a plan to share the framework of this event with other campus feminist groups.

And again, thank you.  To all the people that I will not name because I will inevitably forget someone, you know who you are.  Thank you.

We’re Not That Stupid, Erick

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, listening blissfully to Slate’s Political Gabfest and their thoughts on the recent Republican Primary debate I came across a story about Donald Trump.  This is not abnormal lately.  Donald Trump is everywhere.  Whether he’s retweeting men who think “bimbo” is a clever burn, complaining that Megyn Kelly was mean to him because she was on her period, or yet still because one of his functionaries retweeted someone who suggested gutting Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump has been all over my social media and I don’t really love it.

This morning however, the AP article that I came across via Huffington Post was titled “Trump Disinvited From Conservative Forum Over Megyn Kelly Comments“.  “Awesome!” I thought to myself.  It’s so great that someone in the conservative movement has found their line in terms of commentary about women.  Oh but wait, then I read it.  Here’s the innocuous, even pleasant quote that lures you in…

“I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal.”

Here’s the thing, the person that said that is Erick Erickson of RedState.  Just to give you an example of some of the things that Erick Erickson has said about women in the past:

Ladies earning money?  That's unpossible!
Ladies earning money?  That’s unpossible!

So when Erick Erickson disinvintes Donald Trump from his forum for implying that Megyn Kelly was on her period, you’ll excuse me for calling complete and total bullshit.

Erick Erickson needed a really convenient reason to exclude Trump because – and as much as I hate to agree with Donald Trump on this – the Fox News crowd clearly doesn’t want Donald Trump to be a part of the GOP candidate pool.  I believe that people can change, even if only incrementally, but Erick Erickson hasn’t suddenly seen the light.  This is some combination of liking Megyn Kelly and disliking Donald Trump.  This has nothing to do with getting the vapors over Donald Trump suggesting Megyn Kelly was at the mercy of her hormones during the debate, though frankly it’s just like Erick Erickson to think women are so stupid that we wouldn’t notice.

So by all means, Erick, exclude Donald Trump, but have the fortitude to lose your flimsy excuses.  No intelligent human being thinks you actually care in any way about Trump’s rampant misogyny.

Chobani Yogurt Pushes One Million Moms’ Buttons…and I Love It

Today I read this little piece on Jezebel about how One Million Moms is super mad over a yogurt commercial.  They’re mad about this commercial.

Can you feel the hell fires coming to claim you?

Well, One Million Moms wanted people to write to Chobani yogurt and express their thoughts about this commercial.  I checked out their prepared email submission because I too wanted to tell Chobani how I feel, but I needed to make some changes.  Here is my email (the italicized words are added by me):


As a parent and a member of OneMillionMoms.com, I am highly offended pleased by your company’s disrespect of millions of for all American families by supporting the homosexual agenda instead of remaining neutral in the cultural war. It is a poor great business decision to offend so many of your core customers with your most recent commercial featuring two lesbians naked in bed together.

This ad shows a loving couple and what could possibly be wrong with that? would be inappropriate for television even if it were a heterosexual couple naked in bed together. To make matters worse, this advertisement has aired during family programs such as “Full House” on Nickelodeon and “The Willis Family” on TLC.

Airing this commercial during family-friendly shows, especially on a children’s network, is greatpushes the envelope and crosses a line that Chobani should have never crossed.

If conservative families cannot find corporate neutralitysupport for their bigotry with Chobani, they will vote with their pocketbook and support companies that are neutralbigoted. Selling quality products has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation, and so there should be nothing wrong with occasionally show a same sex couple instead of an opposite sex couple. In attempting to be politically correct inclusive of all families, you are offending a huge majorityopening the minds of your customers. I implore you to consider how your commercial deceives viewers by normalizing sin and then calling it naturalkeep up the good work.

There are plenty of Greek yogurts on the market that do not support liberal causes and which moms can buy for their families. Chobani will not have my family’s business unless this commercial is pulled off the air immediately from now on.

I look forward to hearing from you.


One Million Moms…there aren’t one million of you.  In fact, on Facebook you don’t even have 100,000 likes.  If that’s how few Likes you have I can only imagine how few actual members you have given that “Like”ing something costs a personally almost no effort at all.  Thank goodness for free speech so you can concern troll us all day long.  The great thing about free speech is that free speech isn’t consequence-free speech, which means that I get to have my say to and so do the many many people who see your group for exactly what it is – way less than one million bigots.

You Can Call BS on Masculinity and Still Be A Man

I have a friend, and he’s a feminist.  Yeah, he’s a him and he’s a feminist.

The other day, he texted me to tell me that a young woman friend of his said that she thought it was weird that he “disowned the male gender” by being critical of men and masculinity.  After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said to my husband, “hey babe, you’re not a dude anymore.  Apparently being a man who thinks critically about men and masculinity means that you’re ‘disowning’ your gender.”  My husband said, “Wow, I guess I’m not a dude.”  My seven year old – let me say that again – my seven year old said I guess that means I’m not a guy either.  And then he said “People call me a girl all the time, I can deal with it.”  He has long, gorgeous red hair and is frequently mistaken for a girl.  It doesn’t get him down because he doesn’t think that being a girl is something that you should be ashamed of.  This was a weird moment when I suddenly thought of a whole list of guys that may want to be warned that they’ve been disowning the male gender for so long.  Did they know!?  Are they even men anymore!?  I’m being facetious, but only a little.

If you’re new to feminism, maybe it’s difficult to understand why men would be critical of masculinity as a social construct and of men who constantly perform traditional masculine behavior like their penis will fall off without it, but it’s really not that complex.  Patriarchy hurts guys too.  Demanding masculine behavior from men and belittling them when they don’t deliver on something that doesn’t feel comfortable to them is a pretty big part of how patriarchy hurts men.  Patriarchy necessarily separates people into a socially constructed binary where one half of that binary is just plain better than the other half and there are few things more threatening to that structure than when a part of the upper binary crust is like “thanks, but no thanks.”  This is, of course, not to mention all the racial, ethnic, sexuality, and economic differences that separate and order us.  It’s a lot to take in, I know.

My friend is a really nice guy, and he’s relatively new to feminism (mostly because he’s pretty young).  He talks about feminism a lot because he’s passionate and because – as a gay man who isn’t traditionally masculine – I think he relates a great deal to the struggles that women face.  If he’s critical of masculinity it’s probably, in large part, because he’s grown up in a world that questions the validity of who he is as a person.  Men who don’t embrace all aspects of traditional masculinity, or at least not enough aspects, are frequently treated with suspicion and hostility for not behaving according to standards.

These things are ingrained.  They’re such an intense part of who we are as people, and not a fun part.  Gay men, bisexual men, and even straight men who fail to exhibit traditional masculinity get a lot of shit.  Is it better now?  Yes.  There is a lot more latitude for men, and that’s great.  If feminism is going to win for us though, men have to be able to be critical of maleness and masculinity without being accused of “disowning” their gender. Everyone has to be able to look at the societal norms that we take for granted and say “hey, maybe that’s a bunch of bullshit.”  Being a man doesn’t have to be a zero sum game of exhibiting the most masculinity.  It should be whatever it is to you.  That’s what feminism should be about, and it should be for everyone.