Some time ago I wrote here about weightlifting helping alleviate my focus on the scale and size. Welp. I feel like I have to be honest with you: I don’t always feel that way. Lately I have felt like a tangle of emotions regarding weight, size and the gym. Guilt becomes my overriding feeling. And that is the worst.
Six or so weeks ago I decided I wanted to see my muscles more. I wanted to stop buying pants every six months, too, so I figured stabilizing my size by shedding some body fat is the way to go. I would LOVE to see my muscles more. It’s not that I feel like I should take up less space (usually) or that I’m not entitled to just be me (ok, sometimes that is an issue. We’ll get there). But I work so hard on these muscles I would very much like them to pop a bit more.
Since it’s summer and I’m not on contract I have more gym time. I’m a regular gym goer–I try to lift three days and do some conditioning like the rowing machine 2-3 other days. I love the gym once I’m there, but getting there isn’t always easy. And 5-6 days is serious.
I’m also not rushing so much and thus–theoretically–have good control over what I’m eating. And eating is the issue. At my request, my trainer gave me a calorie and macro target. And, consequent to my tenacious behavior in all things (not always a positive), I’m a religious food tracker. I’m generally on target, tho not always.
He also told me to cut out sunny summer cocktails, cold beers, and the like. I confess, that kind of instruction is hard for me to swallow (ha). I don’t like being told what to do, and I don’t like feeling like I’m setting myself up to fail (cough). And so, we get to guilt.
Did I not make it to the gym? Guilt.
Did I eat more than I should have? Far too many carbs? Guilt.
Did I have a margarita? Guilt.
These feelings alternate with “I’m an adult human. If I want a Saturday margarita, I’m having one” feelings. The “I am not here to deprive myself” feelings. I don’t know about you, but this whole situation becomes for me a vicious circle. And I start having bad feelings about my body, it’s various squishes. I forget about my strength. Then–ready?–I FEEL GUILTY ABOUT FEELING GUILTY BECAUSE I’M A MODERN FEMINIST, DAMMIT, AND KNOW THESE FEELINGS ARE BULLSHIT.
My head spins. Rationally, I know all of this is not worth the emotion they cost, but I’m not great at not-feeling what I’m feeling. Right now, writing at a friend’s house, having completed one project’s page proofs and now drafting this, I’m feeling like a lunch with beer sounds awesome. But later–having missed my Monday lift and had god knows what–I’ll feel less awesome about it.
And I know that this feeling cycle is likely rooted in self-perceptions that I’m not worth flexibility and treats, that I fear not being in control, that I’m somehow letting myself down by not sticking to the program. I tend to set up rigid parameters (“ok, one little splurge a week!”) that set me up for frustration because I’m not about to turn down the occasional request from a friend to go out.
The solution isn’t “well, get a salad for lunch!,” I’d argue, because it’s not getting at the underlying issues which I guess are that I have complex feelings about my worthiness, that when I’m not adhering to my regiment (whatever it is) I feel like a failure. And I know that these feelings aren’t true–I know I am awesome, at least in my head, but my head and my gut don’t always align.
Do you have complex body feelings? How do you (or have you) deal(t) with them?
In 1852, escaped slave and extraordinary orator Frederick Douglass gave his speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” in Rochester, NY, in those days a hotbed of radical activism. In his speech, Douglass reminded his audience of the achievements of 1776, praising the men who achieved liberty from England and parsing, to some extent, their philosophy for doing so. Then he launched into the meat of his argument: that liberty did not extend to the enslaved, that they could not partake in the joy of the holiday for it did not apply to them. At one point, he calls out his audience for their bullshit in a way reminiscent of some current argumentative frameworks, to wit:
“But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man?”
And then he gets really rolling:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
Knowing that this will make his audience–an audience far more receptive to his message than most would be in the 1850s–deeply uncomfortable, he lays his case at their feet. We have been too quiet, he says. We have made patient arguments to no avail, he says. Our nation is one of brutality, and your rhetoric as white people about liberty while others remain in bondage is at best vapid.
Why am I bringing this up today?
I have heard a number of people saying they won’t celebrate the 4th of July this year given our lamentable political mess and its implications for the very fabric of our society. I hear them, but I want to give them a little encouragement:
We have been through far worse as a nation–we have encouraged and enacted far worse–and over time, we moved past the worst of ourselves to become, in slow degrees, better.
Even Douglass, with his justifiable rage, noted, “I do not despair of this country…No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable…No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.”
Let us embrace the spirit of Frederick Douglass this 4th of July.
Let us take his advice and never let this administration normalize. We must put our feet where our mouths are, by marching along with speaking, by calling out this threat to our nation beyond our retweets and facebook shares. Douglass wrote, “We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed.” Let us not forget that we are part of a global world which has in many corners begun to turn away from neo-fascists like 45. Let us also not forget that we have done far worse to ourselves as a nation, and that we can–as we have before–become far better.
We’re back with round 2 of Ten Things Feminism Isn’t, numbers 6-10. Here we address issues beyond the stereotypes of feminism included in numbers 1-5, getting into more complex issues. If you missed round one, you can find it here.
6. Supportive of women candidates just because they’re women.
This is a tough issue. Feminism believes all women have a right to equity, bodily autonomy, and so forth, including women who speak against it (point 4 on the original list), but that does not mean we support women who run for office and the like just because they’re women. It doesn’t mean we publicly support all women just because they’re women. Women who campaign on principles aligning with racism, sexism and homophobia have a right to what feminism represents, but will (generally) not be supported by feminists. See, for example, the recent Georgia run-off race. Had I been a resident in that part of Georgia, I’d vote Jon Ossoff in a heartbeat over Karen Handel, as he is far more representative of my beliefs in a safe equitable world for all people than Handel, whose platform was homophobic and the like. Assuming women feminists vote for other women just because they’re women is biologically essentialist and insulting.
7. Globally focused on primarily American values.
I’ve talked about this before on Tenacious Feminist—what we call colonial feminism. Feminisms are varied, and particularly varied by geography and culture. Feminism here in the states has an ethos and goals particular to our location. Several other feminisms share elements of it. But we as American feminists should never assume our goals are the be-all-end-all of all feminisms, and let feminists in other places determine their feminism. This approach is particularly problematic when American feminists assume, for example, that women in predominantly-Muslim countries feel religiously oppressed, and then give advice accordingly. That’s not feminism—that’s colonialism.
8. Unwelcoming to nonbinary and trans folk.
This can’t be further from the truth, though I suspect theory and practice are two different things. It’s not an experience I can personally speak to or presume to speak to, but feminism as a movement has a vanguard that tends to be much better at merging practice and theory, and others who tend to be, um, slower. For example, well known global feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author, made the following comment: “When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is that trans women are trans women. … If you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
Adichie justly faced a tremendous response, as her comments implied trans women aren’t women; her comments also suggested that growing up desiring to change genders still placed those boys in a privileged category, which denies all the pain and challenge those boys faced as gender dysmorphic. In any case, her clarification of her remarks insisted this was an argument about language; trans women and allies felt otherwise. Adichie might be a very well-known and articulate feminist, but she’s not at the vanguard on gender issues at all. As Teen Vogue author Morgan Jenkins in a stellar response piece noted, “Despite her international literary acclaim, her knowledge, just like everyone else’s, has its limits; she may be an incredibly accomplished woman whose work speaks for itself, but she is human and will fail, just like the rest of us.”
I’ve heard this one a lot, particularly from younger women who—mercifully—have grown up without overt harassment. But the problems feminism addresses—patriarchy, inequity, pay disparity, health care disparities, rape culture, and so on—are all systemic. One can indeed get through life without experiencing catcalling, though I’ve yet to meet that woman; but one who grows up in America is in the American system, and patriarchy is pervasive in our economics and culture. When I start drawing this stuff out with young women, they often begin to see their own experiences differently. In some cases, they experienced catcalling as complimentary; over time they come to see it as part of a structure that gives men power over public spaces. We all need feminism.
10. Full of cat ladies.
Actually, that’s probably true, though we love dog people, too.
Morning, all. There’s an awful lot going down this week and it’s only Tuesday morning. I’m going to give you all a quick roundup of current political fires and their implications. Pardon the swears.
Today’s the runoff election in Georgia between Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R). Now we’re all for supporting other women, but we’re not about supporting women who would oppress other women. Handel is a nightmare for civil rights, who sees her Christianity as a reason to oppress gay people (see video here where she condescendingly avoids a question about Georgia protections for LGBTQ people, and here’s a Slate piece on her opposition to gay adoptions). Ossoff, on the other hand, has spoken about his support for LGBTQ issues. It’s a major stakes election with serious implications for the national arena. Godspeed, Jon Ossoff.
The supreme court decided yesterday to take up a case regarding gerrymandering, the heinous practice of reorganizing voting districts to benefit one particular political party. Gerrymandering has been used to dilute, for example, the voting strength of certain areas. A neighborhood whose demographics and voting history might suggest leaning Dem can be split, its parts then added to larger areas that lean Republican, drowning the Dem voice. Gerrymandering, regardless of who it benefits, is just wrong and linked to oppression of women and minoritized voters. To quote the Washington Post, “The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a redistricting plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections.” Here’s hoping.
Islamaphobia in Virginia
A young woman in Virginia, Nabra Hassanen, was kidnapped and murdered on her way to her mosque after getting some middle-of-the-night snacks with a group of friends. Virginia is currently not going to prosecute the case as a hate crime but as an incident of road rage. The murderer came upon Hassanen and a bunch of her friends in the street, got into an argument with them. As the kids dispersed, he caught Hassanen and beat her with a bat. Her body was found in a pond.
Let’s not kid ourselves: even if Hassanen’s murderer did not intend his “road rage” to be a hate crime, his victim was a Muslim woman. She wore a headscarf, so both her gender and relgious identities were visibly performed. The crime belies the US’s (and the west’s more generally) growing problem with Islamaphobia and its ongoing problems with violent misogyny. Few consider yet where the two intersect.
And in the UK
Similarly, a British man drove his car into a group of Muslims, killing one and injuring several, in the UK. The UK, for all of its many problems, is at least wise enough to consider this attack a form of terrorism, unlike the US where ‘terrorism’ is a term that only applies to people of color.
Last week’s shooting at a baseball practice in Virginia by a man who had volunteered for Bernie Sanders has led in totally expected directions. The right claims the left supports such action (they seem to forget they’ve labeled the left as gun-taking, so, uh) and leaves out altogether that this jackass had a record of…wait for it…violent misogyny! We know that domestic violence often portends still further violence, but the way the right has dropped that bit of information suggests that they don’t consider domestic violence a problem or a harbinger of anything.
But of course, these are the same people who encourage curtailing the Violence Against Women Act (45 has big plans to gut related budgets and his minion, Sessions, is no fan of it). I think you could make a pretty good case that America’s lack of f**ks given about women has dramatically increased at the federal level since January, not that it was ever spectacular to begin with. This country pretty much accepts violence against women as a given. Such violence can be both blatant, as in the case of husbands hitting wives, and subtle, as in the fallout from medicine-related decisions.
The Senate “Health Care” Act
Which gets us to point 6, the nefarious plotting of the “health care” act by the Senate. In case you haven’t followed that story, there are 13 people planning a replacement act for the ACA behind closed doors in the Senate with the intention of ramming the bill through with only a few moments of debate or time for senators to read it. The plotters are all white. They’re all men. They’re all conservative.
Such actions, besides being in violation of basic precepts of American democratic functioning, yet again speak to the ways in which the system gives no f**ks about women and people of color, nevermind when these pieces intersect. This is a bill that’s going to be awful for most Americans. Its construction and framing suggest a particular “f**k you” for anyone outside white maleness. And white maleness is a political identity–it’s only normative because we have accepted it as so. When we fight against “normativity,” resistance follows from more than just the white men themselves.
Call It What It Is.
To that end, the WaPo had a pictorial essay last week that got on my nerves. “New poll of rural Americans shows deep cultural divide with urban residents” offered more fodder for the “it was economic anxiety” explanation of the last election while leaving largely unexplored the implications within the piece about race. More rural people see limited opportunities, it essentially says at one point; more rural people blame immigrants, it says at another. Most rural people are white, it goes on. Further, it claims, “the largest fissures between Americans living in large cities and those in less-dense areas are rooted in misgivings about the country’s changing demographics and resentment about perceived biases in federal assistance.”
Connect the dots, people. What the WaPo outlines is indeed economic anxiety, but we can’t untether that anxiety from racial animosity. People often deeply internalize such sentiment regardless of no validation via experience or evidence. This sh*t is getting so old. (full disclaimer: I grew up in a rural area, albeit in a wealthy, northern state.)
And that’s your political roundup, folks. While a lot of progressive change is happening, the regression is fierce. We’re going to have to resist over the very long haul and do what we can to be educators for change. I find this a challenge, myself, but it’s the responsibility of all of us who believe in equity, freedom from violence, and civil rights to keep going.
They’ve arrived, badgers! While you can enter our May giveaway to win a Tenacious Feminist sticker, you can also pick them up here for $2. We’ll send 25% of all sales to Planned Parenthood so that we can put our money where our keyboard is. The price also includes first-class shipping.
Stickers are 3.5″ x 4″ and made of water-resistant vinyl so they should be good on your car, kayak, or computer. Take the tenacious honey badger with you wherever you go.
In the last several years we’ve talked about a “War on Women,” and were told—repeatedly, endlessly, largely by men but also some women—that such a thing did not exist. And then we saw Hillary Clinton’s campaign (for all its foibles) eviscerated by the press, who refused to condemn the lies of the now-president while running huge headlines about Clinton’s email. And lo, we were then told not to worry so much, because you know, 45 wasn’t really a Republican. He totally believed at one point in abortion rights. Don’t mind his near-fundamentalist vice president. There is no war on women. Then yesterday, he appointed Charmaine Yoest to run the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.
This is some peak wiliness in the War on Women, which clearly still exists.
Yoest doesn’t believe in scientific research. She does believe, however, for reasons unexplained, that IUDs cause deaths. She refers to pro-choice people as the “Abortion Lobby.” She suggests the relationship between birth control availability and abortion is a false one, promoted as a media narrative but a “red herring” the “abortion lobby” uses somehow for nefarious reasons. Oh, and she says abortion causes breast cancer, but has no evidence.
Let’s parse out how all of this stuff works.
First, 45 can claim he is not anti-woman or participating in any kind of war on women because he named a woman to the post. They’ll chuckle at us for even asking. It’s a political tool but a point that many no doubt actually believe: that simply having women present is synonymous with working on behalf of women. While the two can indeed correlate, they do not always, and the correlation is more often than not a political ploy. You see, when we resist—when we call out the appointment of someone like Yoest—politicians can then tut-tut at us for failing to support our fellow women in office. Wily.
The role of the Health and Human Services Department is like an enormous version of the health department where you live, with far more clout. Its job is to maintain and promote the health of its citizens—all of its citizens. It’s also responsible for some service provision, as per the title. The National Institute for Health, a major player in science research, is part of the HHS.
When someone like Yoest—who questions scientific findings based on no rebutting science but on, evidently, her desires—runs the NIH, we have a problem, generally speaking.
Furthermore, her job is to assist all citizens.
Reproductive health care and easy access to contraception is a major part of women’s lives so that they might control their own fertility. Only by controlling one’s own fertility does a woman truly control her life’s potential paths. Charmaine Yoest does not believe in ready access to contraception, and her statements about the IUD suggest a deliberate scare tactic to keep women from long-form contraception. Yoest, it seems, is pro-pregnancy, but not pro-women.
When the government puts women like Yoest in charge of the HHS, it’s a form of gaslighting the rest of us, women who call out the government for its patriarchal chauvinism. Such a move implies (wait for it—it’s coming. No doubt it’s in article comments already) that when we critique her appointment, we are fighting against ourselves. The War on Women hits a new low with such moves, as we fear for both our bodily autonomy and control while also running the risk of descending into infighting over Yoest’s appointment. We will not be cowed.
Last summer, on the heels of an academic sabbatical, I wrestled with a book prospectus. I wondered if writing that book was right for me, or if I might scratch my itch to write some feminist cultural and political criticism with my time. I ended up writing a pair of essays. One was on sexual harassment in colleges and universities, which Women in Higher Education recently published. The other was about the cultural contours of the 2016 election, which I turned into a workshop at the university where I work. Lately I’ve been thinking about these pieces and decided a blog would be a good place to post these musings and share with others.
The 24th of April as day 1 is partly just when I decided to take the blogging plunge, but it also allows my first essay to reflect the premier of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve spent some time lately going through the comments on Hulu’s posts about the show. I’ve already got lots to say.
Come along with me on this journey! We’ll talk culture, politics, and money, and we’ll join the chorus of people reclaiming the word “feminist” from the mire through which it’s been dragged.