Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shouting from water skis

Sometimes being a woman in a male dominated field feels a bit like trying to teach from water-skis.
No water-skis are not the best platform to teach from.
No people don’t hear you as well over the roar of engines and water.
Yes, you will probably fail more often
You lose people’s attention more when people are focused on where you are rather than what you are saying.
It’s exhausting, and even the easiest lesson is hard to do from a difficult place to stand.
But if that is the ONLY space you have to teach from, and people will watch, because of the spectacle then what are you going to do?
Quit and lose your voice and audience?
Fight for a better space and risk people refusing to tow you?
Or carry on and hope like hell eventually someone sees how stupid this is and gives you a more appropriate space to teach from in the future.
All of the above options are entirely legitimate, and I wouldn’t judge anyone who took any of those options. I also don’t blame people who don’t even go into those spaces because they aren’t well enough, fit enough, have enough time, or can deal with the stress of such an unpleasant work environment.
Refusing to work on skis isn’t unreasonable.
Refusing to provide a better space for women to work and have a platform IS.
The fact that some of our most interesting scientists in New Zealand (I can name Siouxsie Wiles, Christine Winterbourn, Heather Hendrickson, Margaret Brimble, and Judy O'Brien off the top of my head) are not seen regularly in our media is a damn waste, and frankly it’s a bit of a surprise that even Souxsie with her bright pink hair and award for science communication is mostly under the mainstream radar.
Dr Dickinson is getting there, and she is getting there on the shittiest water skis possible. BUT SHE IS GETTING THERE.
While we watch the rubbish she has to deal with, hoops she has to jump through, and unreasonableness of her environment, let’s take the focus off the stunts she has to pull, and on why that’s the ONLY SPACE SHE HAS FOUND AN AUDIANCE.
Because I’m pretty damn sure that if anyone had any kind of choice, they wouldn’t work with people who undermine them, degrade them, and bring their personal life into a professional discussion. But we do.
Because that is the only space we have.
Let’s stop pointing at the women who are the spectacle and start looking at why that’s the only space women have voices.
This post is cross-posted to The Hand Mirror

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why I think you are Creepy.

I started to write a piece on what sends out warning signs for “rapey” behaviour, and before I got too far I decided I wanted current examples from twitter discussions. Scrolling through the conversations happening under the terms rape and consent on twitter I came to a startling realisation.I had never considered why someone would argue in support of someone’s rape behaviour, and I suddenly realised that my firm belief that most people are decent humans and wouldn’t deliberately hurt someone goes completely against what I see every day – assholes gagging to argue with me about what they are “allowed” (see legal definition of rape) to do to someone else’s body.

People on what I would call “My side” of the argument (pro-consent, anti-rape-culture) were making impassioned pleas for people to stop and listen to the idea that they should wait for full consent.
-To try to understand that simply not fighting back isn’t consent

-To stop minimising how fucking traumatic date rape is just because the victim knows the rapist.

In one particularly revolting discussion they failed to make a man understand that a wife has the right to refuse sex, and ignoring that refusal IS rape.

In most of these arguments a man (I try REALLY hard not to make this a gender issue because rape affects both men and women, but I’m sorry to say the majority of rapists are cis men.) is working his little heart out to validate his point. Getting really worked up, really distressed and at times incredibly ANGRY trying to make the point that is not REALLY rape because

And I suddenly thought... why the hell they are fighting SO HARD for their rights to someone else’s body.

I could only come up with 3 possible answers

1)    They are so sheltered they genuinely have no idea of how horrific these discussions are for many people, and they are so privileged they genuinely believe it, and so arrogant they won’t consider that they might be wrong.

2)    They have acted in a manner that would fit under the heading of rape, but isn’t straightforward violent, stereotypical rape, and they only just realised that, and they are fighting for their reputation, even if it’s just to feel ok about themselves.

3)    They genuinely believe they have the right over other people’s bodies at certain times, or with certain people, or under certain circumstances.

Group one and three are easily solved with a better understanding of rape culture from the get-go, better education of men and women about consent, and a society that supports people’s right to choose. I’m going to leave them to one side except to say that if you fit in those categories sit down, shut up, and listen. JUST LISTEN. Maybe you will learn something.
I don’t think group 3 are particularly common, until you start to raise the issue of inebriation. And then the line gets really freaking blurry, and there are a scary number of “good people” who will fight a person’s right to bodily autonomy because they WANT them and the target isn’t in their right mind anymore.

And then it struck me like I had run into a wall.
All these people fighting alongside me are fighting for the right to never be touched again if that is their choice. This choice hurts no one, and changes no one else’s life. But it means the WORLD to us.
Those fighting against us are fighting for their right to someone else’s body, on their terms when they want it.  Just because they WANT IT. They don’t NEED it. It doesn’t change their world or make them a different person. They just WANT it.
You SERIOUSLY think that your right to someone else’s body is more important than anything else.
You will fight tooth and nail for that right.
What do you get if you lose that right? Nothing. You get to go home and have sex with yourself.
What do I lose if you rape me? A sense of bodily autonomy, safety, strength, health. I lose a lot for your “right” to touch me.
So you people arguing the ins and outs of ‘date rape’ or ‘is it really rape if you have had sex before’ or ‘is it rape if she is my wife’. Either you are so fucking selfish that your right to pleasure using another body is more important than my bodily autonomy…

Or you aren’t actually arguing about sex at all. The ingrained sense of entitlement to someone else’s body is so strong that you are scared that you won’t just walk away and leave the drunk girl passed out on the couch. You are frightened that your communication is so crap that you won’t see the signs that they don’t want you to keep touching them but they are too scared to speak.
And you don’t want to be charged as a criminal.
That’s why you seem creepy.

Either you are arguing THAT passionately for your right to MY body...  Or you have already decided that you want it, don’t have enough control to wait until I’m sober/conscious/in a better frame of mind, will take it, and are arguing that you shouldn’t be charged.

Creepy. Super super creepy.

Have some self-control. Yeah, maybe you will have less sex with other people, but who the hell told you that was a right, rather than something you earn IF someone cares enough about you, or finds you appealing enough to suit their tastes.
I can tell you right now that if someone left a note in my purse at a party saying “wow, you were toasted, and I really like you, call me when you are sober and we can hook up” I would probably call that person.

Consent, it’s sexy.

Silence, because not everyone feels able to speak up...

Today is the National day of silence.
This is a piece written by an ally for allys, it is very 101 level, please keep this in mind.

I often worry about feminism on NZ twitter being an echo chamber, but I haven’t seen much this week about today’s call to action, which made me think that if I’m in an echo chamber, surely this message should be coming through?
Perhaps enough people aren’t sharing the issues that rainbow youth are struggling with…
It seems counter intuitive that a day of silence should empower voices, but the aim is not simply to not speak up. It is to share the cause, using a multitude of ways.

Selfies for silence is one of those non-verbal ways; take a look at the great messages coming through.

Often those who are in a position where they feel unsafe don’t or can’t speak up to enable their cause. The people who are on the frontlines of Rainbow youth are immobilised in a variety of ways.
Of the students who had been bullied in NZ, FIVE TIMES AS MANY (33%) had been bullied because they were gay or because of perceived sexuality compared to their heterosexual peers (6%).
The Youth 12 report on transgender students shows that nearly 20% had attempted suicide in the previous year and nearly 50% had been physically abused.  I sure as hell wouldn’t feel strong enough to speak up on the little stuff in those circumstances let alone advocate vocally for the rights of my peers.

Often those who are in support are afraid to speak up because they don’t want to become targets for bullies themselves. I’ve been in that trap myself, even as an adult. There are days when I don’t have the mental capacity or I’m too afraid of repercussions to speak up on my beliefs outside of my twitter bubble.
The Day of silence is a timely reminder that there are more ways to show our friends, family and community that we are allies, and for those who don’t feel able to speak up, to be able to do it in a variety of ways.
Being the person shouting at the front line isn’t for everyone, and shouldn’t have to be.

Ways I can lift the silence.

Wear a set of 100% OK coloured bracelets. Give them away to the people in your life who also want to be allies.

Display a 100% OK sticker, rainbow sticker or other symbol prominently at your café / shop / church / marae / place of work, you might be surprised at how many people come out as an ally, or part of the rainbow community.

 Don’t let slurs or derogatory jokes slide at work or school.
“Can you use a different term to mean bad please” is all you need to say.
Or “I don’t understand the joke”. And then walk away.
You don’t owe an explanation, the expectation of not demeaning other people is entirely reasonable.

 Read, research and learn and keep lines of communication open. If you feel “attacked” for your lack of understanding, take a breath, learn some more and apologise if you realise you were wrong.

 The NZ day of Silence has made it to the mainstream media but only in small pieces, and much like all activism, it needs amplifying and sharing in order to help the message get out to a wider audience. Below are two links you could share on Facebook.

TV 3 news - Day of Silence sweeps schools

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I am a feminist, I am not feminism.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the fact that they don’t want to identify as a feminist because they like wearing makeup. They care about their appearance, they enjoy playing with face paint (as I like to call it), and they are sick of the shit they have been getting for it. (Before this starts a minor riot of sub-tweets, my friend lives in the USA, she is not part of the NZ feminist circles.) The conversation made me angry.
Mostly angry at people who would push a woman away from supporting their beliefs because of how she presents herself. But also angry at her, for thinking a small group of women, who identify as feminists, ARE feminism.  And it made me think about how those of us who identify as a sub group, niche, clique, activist circle, coven, or whatever you want to call it protect our domain.
And I want to shout FUCK THAT.
For me feminism is simple.

Equality. Equality between all people across the gender spectrum. And yes, my personal way of going about it tends to be reminding women what they have the right to, and reminding men to have respect.
Some feminists protect women.
Some feminists argue with men.
Some feminists fight the system while some work within the system, undermining policy that protects imbalance.
Some feminists show their colours on the outside.
Some feminists have to conform so that they can get into spaces that are not “safe spaces."
Some feminists use pseudonyms, some don’t.
No one person pops out a fully formed feminist. It's a learning experience, growing and changing and developing as you do. I suspect as I become more disabled with age that my feminism will evolve with it.
There is a massive range of feminists, and combined, they make up the thriving vital varied growing mass that is feminism. None of them has the crown of Feminist Super Queen. There is no supreme feminist of which we can all aspire to. There are only ideals, and millions of different people who seek to fulfil them in a myriad of ways.
Over and over again I see feminists dismissing each other because they don’t have the same brand of feminism. Not educated enough, too rough, too brown, too white, too trans, too pretty, too privileged, too inexperienced. I’m pretty sure I’m too fucking bossy.
There is a huge spectrum out there, and there are feminists that I don’t like the behaviour of, or the personality of, or the ignorance of, or I don’t like their choices. Me not liking them has zero impact on whether they are a feminist. The only thing me liking them changes is whether we are friends.
Interestingly enough the only people who loudly proclaim to be feminists that I genuinely want to strip of their badges and send them back to feminism school are the TERFS, and they aren’t advocating for equality. They loudly denounce trans women as less than cis, and yet they never seem to think they are less feminist for it.
Chances are if you are questioning whether you are a feminist, you probably are. And if you don’t like someone else’s brand of feminism, then don’t hang out with them. Keep looking; keep being honest about what you think. Keep reading, keep learning, and eventually you find your tribe.

There are very few things that make me think someone cannot be a feminist. And they all come back to undermining the equality of people.

Quite frankly, if you are telling someone they can’t be in your cool feminist clubhouse, that’s pretty damn unequal isn’t it…
Image thanks to the talented Skottie Young - BUY A PRINT!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#YesAllWomen are being asked "What can I do?"

I’ve had several discussions with men I know and love, and trust over the last few days under the #YesAllWomen. Many have expressed horror, some disgust, and a few were surprised at the alarming number of awful stories highlighting what it is to be a woman in public.
I’ve also watched men I don’t know struggle with the concept online in public spaces, often with less class or integrity than the men who took the time to speak with me.

 Firstly, I want to address the fact that the issues raised by #YesAllWomen are struggles recognised by anyone seen as “weaker” in gender. Trans, femme, and those in the rainbow spectrum also struggle with harassment and a sense of feeling out of control of their own bodies when others take over their space with verbal or physical abuse. I’m sorry that the “Women” tag has led to exclusion.

 Many of the lovely men I’ve seen on social networks feel helpless and guilty and have asked, “what can I do?”
Thanks for asking, but the heat of the moment, when people are exposing their frightening moments, scary stories, and deepest vulnerabilities isn’t the time to wave furiously and shout “This has never affected me but what about meeeeee”. You wouldn’t do it in an in-person discussion, don’t do it on twitter.
It’s the time to read. Listen, wait. Talk in person to people you trust about it, and learn.

In the meantime, here is a “what can I do” List.

 Learn: Don’t expect the people who have been hurt the most to teach you. Violence and crime and gender inequality and sexism and feminism and transphobia are well documented and researched and written about. Go find other sources.
Asking the person still hurting, can hurt them all over again.

 Listen: If people who have experienced something scary and shared on the #YesAllWomen tag offer to talk, please listen. JUST listen. They don’t need your ideas or opinions or judgements. Even if you think they are nice.
“Thank you for telling me, I appreciate it” is all the feedback needed.

Don't feel guilty. Please don’t waste time or energy with guilt if you have never hurt, attacked, or made someone feel unsafe. I really don’t care if you are sorry that someone else did bad things. It doesn’t change the bad things, and it smells like I have to look after YOU reassure YOU that YOU are ok. Sorry, but no.

 Listen to yourself. Are you feeling sick, angry, scared, and resentful? There are probably reasons. The issues we are discussing are HUGE and they SHOULD be uncomfortable. But you are safe; no harm will come to you. Sit with those feelings and examine them. Because the stories coming through in this hashtag have hurt people a lot more.

 Don’t make excuses. There aren’t any. We are all learning, we are all being raised in an intolerably imbalanced world. There are no excuses, only acknowledgement and the promise to improve things.

 Be the killjoy: Be the guy who when someone makes a rape/domestic violence/misogynistic joke says “I don’t get it, can you explain what’s funny?” The more voices we have saying “no” to the small stuff, the less normalising the big stuff there is.

 Be the listener: be the person, who when a friend discloses abuse, violence, or harassment, listens. Let them talk, let them decide what they want, and support them in that decision. The justice system seems straightforward until you have been through it. Reporting or not reporting are both options you need to respect.

 Be a leader: be the person others can look up to for decent behaviour. Ask before you touch someone; be respectful when you talk about women. Call out bad behaviour and chose to leave social groups of people who can’t treat women well.

 Teach our kids: Talk about boundaries. Teach young people that they have the right to say no to a hug or tickling from you. Respect them when they do say no, even if they are playing.
They need to know that their “No” has power, so that when someone doesn’t listen it sets of SERIOUS alarm bells.

 Be a safe partner: Don’t assume women are up for sex. Require discussion, require communication, and require conversation. If it is too hard, because you are both too drunk, wait.

 Question the status Quo: Learn about some of the obvious imbalances: women are told not to run at night, not to drink, judged by their clothes, but men aren’t. These are issues in the media every day. Raise it, complain about it, and talk about it in wider circles than just your feminist friends. Wear your love of equality on your sleeve.

 The examples that I’ve given here are REALLY 101 stuff, but keep reading, keep learning, keep listening.

And don’t expect praise for being one of the feminists. We don’t get any, in fact we get threats.

Wednesday 28/5 Addition: Please go and read this piece by Emma Hart. It fits nicely in with what I am saying above, and she writes FAR more eloquently than I can.
Please add any other "must read" articles in the comments below.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

To the Jerk at the track, from the Fatty.

There was a charming piece on my Facebook last night, shared by some athlete’s page, and linked to me because a friend “liked it”.it came from a site page here

When I read it my heart sank, because not only was it the usual bullshit fat tropes, but it expected me to treat the writer like a hero for realising fat people are, well… people.

This isn’t a news flash to some of us, and I was inspired to respond. I hope you enjoy it.


To the D-bag sitting on the side-line judging others….
There's something you should know: I know I rock, and you have NO IDEA.
Every shallow thought you have about someone else’s body, every insight you think you know about me based solely on my size, every hateful thought that flickers through your synapses when you see someone bigger than you… you are contributing to a stigma that stops people like me living better.

To go for a run people overcome a lot of things; apathy, discomfort, judgement, lack of time, fatigue. I had to start overcoming things before I even go for a run.
To go for a run I have to find a shop that sells size 18 or over running tops and shorts… comfortable ones that look nice and feel good and wash well. Ones designed to wick perspiration away from my body, because as you so kindly pointed out as you stared at me, I sweat when I do exercise (JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE). They don't often make them in my size, and when I go into those shops looking, people stare at me, because why does a fatty need exercise clothes?

Why do we need exercise clothes? Because we are out there, just like everyone else.
We are on your softball teams, in your gym, doing martial arts, in your dance classes. We are everywhere.
And if you came to the pool with me I would wipe my butt with you, because my buoyancy is epic (thanks to my fat!), my technique is amazing, and in spite of all your assumptions based on how I look, my cardiac fitness is pretty damn good.
My body is just bigger than yours. That weight isn’t "begging to be shaken off", it's part of my goddam body - stop wishing it away. What part of your life would change if there was less of me in the world? I can tell you no part of my life would change, because I’ve experienced life both slim and fat, and other than how the world treats me, my life is no different.

And since you so oddly speculated on my lack of headphones… When I exercise without music, I day dream. Your weird fantasy that I’m driven by self-hatred is SICK and you should look into professional help.
Without music, my mind wanders. I think about my amazing partner, I worry about work, I fantasise about what life will be like when I complete post-grad. I day dream about my last scuba dive, and think about when my next will be and where I will go.
My life is full and awesome, just like my body, and I don’t waste a second hating either.
It just makes me sad that without knowing anything about me you can project all that rubbish.

I know I’ve got this.
But thanks for making me realise that the world thinks LETTING ME EXERSIZE WITHOUT PEOPLE HATING ME is a prize winning moment.

Yours sincerely,

The fatty.