Tagged: self-acceptance

Laverne Cox Empowers Everyone

If you couldn’t tell from her Dame of the Day blurb, Laverne Cox is a boss. From her stellar performance on Orange is the New Black to her activism and advocacy for the trans community, Cox consistently pushes herself to do more. She even embraces opportunities that require her to take risks and be vulnerable. Last month, she took the plunge with 15 other celebrities and posed nude for Allure. (Spoiler alert: she looked fantastic.) Although she was nervous, Cox explained, “I honestly just want to make myself happy most, and if other people like it, then that’s great. If they don’t, then I’m still happy.”

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Image courtesy of GLAAD

Yet while actresses Katheryn Winnick and Sandrine Holt received praise for their spreads, Laverne Cox’s photographs raised some eyebrows. What’s even more infuriating is that the commentary in question came from a self-proclaimed radical feminist. In a recent blog post, author Meghan Murphy insists that Cox’s  use of hormones and plastic surgery nullifies her message of self-acceptance. Instead, she proclaims, Cox buys into the idea of the “‘perfect’ body, as defined by a patriarchal/porn culture.” According to Murphy’s view, trans women fall outside of feminism’s purview because they modify their bodies and offer them up “to the male gaze for consumption.”

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Needless to say, I find this opinion to be completely ridiculous. The very title of the post, “Laverne Cox’s Objectified Body Empowers No One,” misses the point entirely. In a society where murder rates for trans women of color grossly outnumber any other group, Cox’s decision to pose nude is incredibly revolutionary. Defying the din of voices telling trans women of color that they are not light enough, not feminine enough, and not worthy of love, Cox’s portrait contradicts all these assertions and loudly proclaims: “I am beautiful and I am enough.” If Murphy doesn’t feel empowered by that statement, then perhaps she’s lucky enough to not need it for survival.

Murphy’s views are not uncommon in the radical feminist community. Debates over whether trans women “get” to be considered women have persisted for years. Just a month ago, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival announced it would rather shut down than include trans women in its lineup. Yet the argument that trans women are men infiltrating “women’s space” is utterly bogus and hypocritical. Women policing the bodies of other women not only wastes time and increases factionalism, but it also perpetuates the very same bullshit feminists purport to dismantle. Why should some women (particularly white women) get to dictate a narrow definition of womanhood for others? Whether it’s applying eye shadow or getting plastic surgery, what Cox chooses to do to her body is her choice. It’s not being disingenuous; she’s living her truth and expressing who she is. At the end of the day, Cox just wants to make herself happy, and that, perhaps, is the most radical form of self-acceptance.

 

What Should We Call Me Part II: Bad Feminists and Messiness

cover_bad_feministSometimes, the planets align and serendipitous encounters pop up and change the whole game. After I wrote last week’s post, I popped by Spoonbill and Sugartown and, lo and behold, they finally had Bad Feminist in stock. I’ve been searching for a copy for weeks and, within minutes of reading the introduction, I’d already underlined, notated, and starred the whole thing. While I still haven’t come across an all-encompassing term to describe myself, I feel as though author Roxane Gay provides the best explanation to date about why that is.

Gay addresses the issue of feminists vs. Feminism. Much like the lady vs. bitch argument, Gay points out that we want our ideologies to be perfectly clear cut. We oscillate between building pedestals and thrusting favored favored feminists upon them and cursing Feminism’s name when it fails to make good on all its promises.

But, as Gay notes, movements are created by people, and people are inherently flawed. We are, as Gay puts it, “messy”: as hard as we try to adhere to every tenant, we slip, we contradict, we fail. By holding feminism to perfectionist standards, we are doomed to be disappointed.

To encompass this chasm between the ideal and the practical, Gay coins the term “bad feminist.” The label fits her, she explains, because “I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example…I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.” I felt like this statement so delightfully encapsulates Lady Collective that I underlined, highlighted, and bracketed it. YES.

Gay admits that, for quite some time, she rejected the label of feminist as a kind of insult, as a loaded term meaning “You are an angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.” And yet, she comes to feel that this ridiculously restrictive stereotype is perpetuated by the people who fear feminism the most, who feel as those they have the most to “lose” if women gain. It is this single-minded image that blocks many women from embracing the movement or even openly supporting it. The hashtag phenomenon #idontneedfeminism is a great example; so many of the rationalizations support the advances of feminism, yet shun the term itself.

Gay argues that, in reality, feminism is large enough to include these women, too. She insists:

“Feminism is a choice, and if a woman does not want to be a feminist, that is her right, but it is still my responsibility to fight for her rights. I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves…We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us.”

By the time I reach the end of the introduction, I’m inspired. I miss my stop on the train and walk to a bar where I can sit and read it again. Gay so wonderfully captures the messiness of feminism and humanity in general, our desire for greatness and our ability to push for more, and the difficulty we have acknowledging our shortcomings. We’re a fractured, disjointed bunch of humans trying to make some sense out of the chaos we called life.

The concept of “minimizing the fractures” in particular appeals to my archivist sensibilities. Recently in the field, there has been a movement to fill in the gaps of history. Traditionally, archives held government records that documented civilization on a broad, bureaucratic level. However, whole swaths of the population were not included if the government did not deem them important. As of late, more attention is paid to the gaps in documentation, what they mean and, moving forward, filling in those gaps. If we’re thinking of history as a broken mirror, this new approach tries to fill in as many pieces as we can.

Why are these pieces important? Without them, we don’t exist. Think of how you would prove your identity if you’re a U.S. citizen and your Social Security card and birth certificate were incinerated. In many countries where the government wants to destroy a group of people, they destroy the records so that there is no proof of their claims. Without documentation, how do you prove you exist? Likewise, if the conversation about feminism is limited to a handful of voices, what kind of a picture are we really painting? I want to push beyond my limits, our limits and a group, and beyond our immediate circle to get as many people talking as possible.

Let’s give a damn to try.

—D-Duff

What Should We Call Me? The Politics of “Lady”

When I decide on a project, I go all in; for the past few weeks, Lady Collective has devoured most of my free time. I solicited help via Facebook to find interview volunteers and received several responses from people I’ve never met. Fantastic! I am eager to expand the project outside our immediate circle and tap into some new perspectives.

One response in particular sparked a series of thoughts. When I sent the questions to a friend of a friend, she responded:

Here’s my one question: I hate the word lady. It could not describe me less. I am definitely a woman, but lady is not my word- I have had this viewpoint since I was a teenager, I see it as a word for a certain type of woman, not me. Should I still do this?

As I read her email, I nodded and thought, “Wow, that’s a great point.” The short note caused me to stop and reflect.

Back when I was a student, I worked at a summer program for high school students getting ready for college. Before the sessions started, we participated in several days of training to help us deal with a diverse body of students. One exercise in particular drew our attention to the importance of language. Our group was presented with two large sheets of paper; at the top of one was the word “lady”, atop the other, the word “woman.” We were asked to fill the page with words we associated with each term. While “woman” solicited contributions like “strong,” “intelligent,” and “powerful,” “lady” evoked more passive terminology: “prim,” “proper,” “polite.” A woman may speak her mind, but a lady knows when it’s her place to contribute. A woman may play sports or paint her apartment, but a lady would never be caught with a hair out of place. Historically, parents told their girls to “be a lady”: always cross your legs at the ankle (because, of course, you’re wearing a skirt). By the time we finished, we’d filled the sheet with a host of passive, feminine terms. I remember bristling at the term “lady” and being asked to explain why.

Personally, I’m more of a “bitch” woman myself. (My apologies to my grandparents, who are probably reading this post.) People who know me are aware that outside of a professional context, I curse, probably too much for my own good, and definitely more so when I get excited. While I certainly understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and try to read my audience accordingly, I feel as though I identify with “bitch” more because it is on the opposite end of “lady.” For so long, the expectation was that women would be ladies; any deviation from the definition was condemned by society. I am quite stubborn at times, and I don’t always buy into ideas immediately, so I like the rebellious mythology surrounding “bitch.” In my mind, a bitch is a badass, a woman who shares her opinion freely and doesn’t care what others think. While a meek lady may blend in with the wallpaper, a bitch makes her presence known.

But  I need to check myself.  I may talk a big game, but I do worry about what other people think and what impact my opinion may have on them. I’m not as fearless as I purport to be; take me a few hundred feet in the air onto a theatre’s grid and I will quake with irrational fear. But do these sensitivities make me any less strong? Do I judge myself for having fears and dislikes like any other human? And I admit, that kind of thinking can be dangerous when it extends beyond my own personal narrative. Just because I don’t identify with “lady” doesn’t mean other women can’t.

Is it bad to be both? Is there a right or wrong term? To be honest, I don’t think there’s a single label that fully encapsulates the experience of all women everywhere. Whether you identify with “lady,” “bitch,” or something in between, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re living your truth. (Thank you, Janet Mock.)  A continuum from “lady” to “bitch” is so limiting; why should I have to choose between politesse and aggression, between weakness and strength? One shouldn’t have to be diametrically opposed to the other. It’s amazing how language can be so descriptive in so many instances, but can fail in so many ways when attempting to articulate a complex human experience.

Ultimately, Lady Collective is about choosing what stays and what goes: contributing our own definitions of ourselves. It’s small details like an emailed comment that start that broader conversation.

–D-Duff