Sexy, Flirty, Evil?

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Cheris Kramarae, and Paula Treichler

[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

Pat Robertson

Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Agrippina, Lilith, the list goes on and on. This list is the list of women in history that have been vilified for their use of sexuality and in some cases even demonized. This negative social construct towards women in power and embrace their sexuality has been a trend that has been documented since issues between men and women first began in the history of literature. The poem “Christabel” written by Samuel Coleridge exemplifies this concept with the distinct contrast of the virginal Christabel and the seductress Geraldine. What about power and sexuality portrayed by a woman makes it so inherently evil?

Feminism at its core “advocates equal rights for all women (indeed, all peoples) in all areas of life: socially, politically, professionally, personally, economically, aesthetically, and psychologically.” (Bressler 144). Feminism is also concerned with removing patriarchal or male influence from various works. Since a man can never understand a woman or a woman’s struggle, how can be properly right about women or women’s issues? It is this concern with l’ecriture feminine, or “creation of a female language” (Bressler 160) that states that this is where the negative female archetypes stem from. It is the patriarchy that is responsible for the vilification of females and female sexuality.

Christabel” is a poem written by Samuel Coleridge about a young girl named Christabel who comes across a woman in the woods and invites the woman in thinking that the woman is merely injured and lost. This woman is Geraldine. Geraldine is at first seen as weak and helpless but proves to be a dynamic force of sexuality and evil. Geraldine is most likely a lamia or succubus. A succubus is a “lascivious she-demon… She copulated with men in their dreams, and sucked out the essence of their souls(semen). Nocturnal emissions were always attributed to the attentions of she-demons who ‘cause men to dream of erotic encounters with women, so the succubae can receive their emissions and make therefrom a new spirit’” (Walters 960 ). While Christabel throughout the poem is called “sweet”, “lovely lady” and even in one line the writer evokes to “shield sweet Christabel!” (Coleridge 88). Geraldine’s intentions are seen quite early on her evil nature is described line after line “And Christabel saw the lady’ eye, and nothing else saw she thereby…” (Coleridge 86) and that when Geraldine’s entered the house, the dog barked, the fence shook and candles went out, all signs of evil entering a home. Evil also must be invited; this rule applies not just to vampires but to lamia and succubae as well.

This was the first clue to most readers of the work that Geraldine was not who she seemed. And whilst in the midst her of pure seduction and subsequent destruction over the house Geraldine even finds time to seduce Christabel “’In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell, which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel! Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow, this mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow…” (Coleridge 89). The other key clue was when the bard told the king of his dream involving the serpent and the dove, two classic symbols of the dichotomy between good and evil “’And in my dream methought I went to search out what might there be found; and what the sweet bird’s trouble meant…when lo! I saw a bright green snake coiled around its wings and neck. Green as herbs on which it crouched…” (Coleridge 96). Green is a colour naturally used to depict vile and wicked things. Witches often have green skin, green snakes are often thought to be the most poisonous. While doves, pure and white are seen as innocent and peaceful. Contrastingly doves are seen as naïve and snakes as knowledgeable in forbidden ways. Similarly snakes are associated with male sexual energy and male sexuality. Often times females in a position of power are depicted as very masculine or having masculine traits. Doves are seen as mostly innocent no sexual connotation to them. That is another trait of woman is that innocent that is meant to remain intact for the rest of their lives.

Now, why does Geraldine, a strong and powerful force on her own need to be evil? Why does her use of sexuality to gain power seen as so negative? The negative female archetypes have existed since writing began: the femme fatale, the seductress, the witch, the cause of man’s downfall. But it was not always this way. In Ancient Roman and Greek mythology, priestesses are seen as strong and independent forces, goddesses are often just as strong or even in some cases stronger than their male counterparts. This strong feminine character is embraced and even worshiped in some cults and cultures. So this is not an entirely Western concept, it would appear to be more of a social construct. Certain groups and societies demonize female power and sexuality.

Geraldine’s evil nature cannot simply be a plot device; it cannot simply be that she was meant to foil the virginal Christabel. It is then possible that her evil was driven as a product of male writers who don’t know anything more than just that pluralistic view of the female. Society has shown us that apparently the only sides to women are the pure-hearted virgin or the crazed evil sex fiend. History has given us examples of both, the pure women that are strong and able to stand on their own like Eleanor Roosevelt or Queen Victoria. There are others that embraced their sexuality and used it to full advantage and are often demonized for it, such as Lilith and Agrippina. This is why it is possible that the polarization of the feminine is there. History has given us examples on to what can be seen as either extreme.

This story reminded me in more way than one the story of Adam’s first wife Lilith. The Kabala teaches of a first wife of Adam and her legend seems to shed light to the root of the demonization of female power and sexuality Adam’s first wife was a relic of an early rabbinical attempt to assimilate the Sumero-Babylonian Goddes Belil-ili, or Belili, to Jewish mythology. To the Canaanites, Lilith was Baalat, the ‘Divine Lady.’ Hebraic tradition said Adam married Lilith because he grew tired of coupling with beasts, a common custom of Middle-Eastern herdsmen…Adam tried to force Lilith to lie beneath him in the ‘missionary position’ favored by male-dominant societies…Lilith sneered at Adam’s sexual crudity, cursed him, and flew away to make her home by the Red Sea” (Walters 541-2 ) Even in different cultures Lilith is not seen as a negative force but a woman who simple was strong and worthy of worship.

It was not until the writers of the Bible came about that the story was turned into one of degradation and disobedience. She simply wanted to be sexually equal to her husband and then was banished for demanding equality. She then found equality in the one place a woman could and that was at the time in the occult. Lilith found power with demons and went on to spread her legacy elsewhere.

Now the modern woman does not have to be concerned with having to sell her soul to demons because her mate wants to be on top but the idea hasn’t faded from modern vernacular. Women who are strong are vilified; they are put down and degraded. They are more likely to remain single or retreat to the comfort of other women in relationships to seek equality and understanding in a society that preaches equality but shudders away at a display of strength.

This dichotomy hasn’t vanished, and the worst part is that it may never vanish. We are not entirely sure why is happens. Why some cultures praise women and others stand to keep them down. We are not sure why some feminine traits are glorified and others feared. The cult of the sacred feminine isn’t dead, it has merely been repressed. Feminism’s main goal is to achieve equality for women in all respects and regards and the concern for the modern feminist is to now work at re-achieving that sexual liberation and equality we were able to gain in the 1960s.

It would be letting male writers get off to easily to simply chalk this all up to social construct. Perhaps it comes down to men’s own inability to understand the complexities of the feminine thus promoting the concept of the women’s writing. Perhaps only a woman can write about women’s issues and about women in general. Men cannot possible understand how we so delicately on the razor’s edge the average woman can balance sensuality, power and intelligence. What it comes down to is that no one can fully understand a woman’s whiles and it isn’t our place to assume that such delicate balancing acts are meant to be delegated to the realm of evil. Nor does that mean women are supposed to be innocent little virginal beings that feel nothing stronger than immense joy and utter despondency due to the absence of a male partner or male figure. When we find the answer it well may change how writers address women in works or just well leave writing about women to women authors. The key is that the lesson we learn from the dichotomy of the ‘wicked’ Geraldine and the innocent Christabel in Coleridge’s poem “Christabel” shows that male writers throughout history have had difficulty playing the fine line between strong women and evil succubus-like individuals. This balance can only be achieved through time and knowledge on both sides, men learning that feminine charm doesn’t have to be evil and women learning that men’s ignorance towards understanding our complex nature is not as easy to explain as we think.


Works Cited

Appelbaum, Stanley. English Romantic Poetry: an Anthology. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1996. Print.

Bressler, Charles E. . Literary Criticism. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Walker, Barbara G. The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco, 1986. Print.

 

Blame the Woman, Save the Man

“...her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.” ― Simone de Beauvoir.png

It’s been a feminism heavy month, hasn’t it? I promise not every closing of the year will be so somber but it feels appropriate considering the current era we are in. Today we discuss victim blaming, playing devil’s advocate and why imaging women complexly will save the world.

The last few posts have been talking about my adventures in online dating and in my essentially gripes about not having anyone I can talk to about the matter. But there’s a common theme in every feminism post I’ve done (even the earlier ones). There has always been someone saying that the situation is “my fault” or to be less hyperbolic “I made it easy for myself to be in that situation.”

My question almost always is: how.

By existing?

That’s troublesome, isn’t it?

I recently found myself once more in a situation that was less than ideal. I was walking to my bus stop for work. It’s early in the morning on the fringes of the hood here in San Antonio and a man in a van( yes, literally a man in a van) slows down and rolls his window down. That’s already 5 bad signs to a crime TV fan like me. He asks me a question and the first time I didn’t register his question. My music was exceptionally good that day. He had asked me “Do you need a lift?” I promptly said “no” and continued to walk on. I did have a bus to catch, after all. He wasn’t the first person who has asked me if I needed a ride at an ungodly hour mere blocks from my apartment. So, being the bright Southern girl that I am: I asked my friends about the matter. My gut was that it was a very light for of catcalling. Immediately, my more conservative friends chimed in (most of them male) about the matter.

He was just being nice.

Were you rude to him?

He was just trying to help you.

What were you wearing?

How short was your skirt?

Chivalry is dead.

And the counterarguments for a moment made me pause: was I wrong? Was a vicious misandrist harpie? After discussing the matter with fellow feminists it quickly became an issues of “You do not get in a car with strangers.”

I suddenly felt a little more human. I was gracious in my refusal but I’ve watched enough Law and Order:SVU to know that most women that get in the car with a man they don’t know (even with the best of intentions) usually ends up with the woman in a duffel bag dumped off into a riverbed.

It made me recall another incident where a cabbie outside of my apartment slowed down to ask me if I needed a ride and a friend on Facebook asked (likely in jest, but still) “How short was your skirt?”

My dear reader, I was in skinny jeans and a t-shirt. I was covered up and more importantly, even if I wasn’t: am I suddenly more of a target because of what I’m wearing?

When I was catcalled at a public park, immediately the discussion became about what I was wearing and why I was taking the bus anyways. Why is any of that relevant to me being harassed? Does wearing a low cut top or a short skirt or just existing as a female in public somehow mean it’s okay to be harassed?

Victim blaming is real and is a rather sinister aspect of most cultures. Women who report sexual assault or harassment are often times put against a metaphorical firing squad of questions just to “prove” there as a crime.

Were you drunk?

Had you been drinking?

Did you maybe say “yes” earlier in the night?

What were you wearing?

Well, he is a good-looking man. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say yes?

And to mention a point that I will later destroy if you wait a moment or two, there are women who have falsely claimed assault. I won’t say this number is substantial at all but it’s been enough to discredit the majority of women who have filed assault reports only to be sent through bureaucratic hell and having to recount their trauma over and over again until someone believes them. And those little things are ingrained in women from an early age. I know I was always encouraged to dress modestly not just for my family’s Catholic virtues but so that I wouldn’t be so easily sexualized as a teen. But even those efforts didn’t always work. I remember one instance when I was a teenager at Whole Foods Market of all places. I had on a t-shirt that had the Tootsie Pop owl on it (my love of owls even extended to my teen years) and the slogan on the shirt was “How many licks does it take?” (It was the early 2000s. Questionable fashion everywhere). Sure it was a little suggestive but I never saw it that way (I was a potato back then). An older man approached me and said very clearly: “I wonder how many licks it takes to get to your center.”

I don’t remember if I ever told my aunts about it. I didn’t wear the shirt again or if I did it was just with very close friends.

Was it a suggestive top? Sure. Was I too young for such a suggestive top? Probably. Does that mean that I should have had the unwanted advances of an older man? I sure hope not.

Victim blaming takes away the agency of women. It makes them no longer stewards of their own decision making and creates a false slippery slope that makes having a mature conversation about consent, feminism and equality difficult. If I am blamed for getting catcalled based on what top I am wearing it’s difficult to have the real conversation of: why did this grown man feel it necessary to shout lewd remarks at me from his car?

Which brings me back to one of the most unfortunate parts of this whole uncomfortable discussion. What’s even more insidious to me is the devil’s advocate argument. The one of “he was just trying to be nice”. I’ll humor that for now. Even if the man is just being nice, even if he does have the best intentions: unfortunately, there are plenty of men who ruined that kindness for everyone. There’s a reason in most state that hitchhiking is illegal. And are there instances where I am hypersensitive? Of course. I’m a human being and I sometimes get offended when I probably shouldn’t but even that is my prerogative.  

And even doing an entire month of feminism has put a wedge between me and some of my friends and those in my spaces. I’ve been told to be careful what I write lest I offend someone. I’ve been encouraged to be less “misandrist” and I’ve been told that I’m being a social justice warrior. I don’t think in any place I’ve been a misandrist. I rather like men but I don’t enjoy harassment and the fact that even talking about these subjects that it could be even considered man-hating.

I’m sure for more of you then I’d like to admit that this has been a difficult topic to cover. I want to encourage respectful conversation in the comments and I want to also encourage you, my readership, to know that I am here for you not as a woman or feminist but as a human person trying their best to survive in a world that is at times less than kind. Know that you have my support, my empathy and my time if you so need it.

I promise we will cover more lighthearted topics as we wrap this year up.

Thanks for listening.

Double Standard, Double Shamed

-Out of the ashI rise with my red hair And I eat men like air.-Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus.png

The last post in this series was about consent, sexual harassment and online dating. Today we’re going to talk about double standards, shaming and how it’s almost impossible for a woman to “win” if love is truly a battlefield.

There’s a funny thing that happens to women. There’s really only 2 ways women are perceived when it comes to sex and sexuality: the virgin and the harlot. And both as far as the average Tinder man is concerned have their pros and cons. The virgin is inexperienced and naive. The harlot is experienced, too experienced. And while some men claim they want the virgin, they shun their lack experience. Others say they want a woman who knows what she wants, while then shaming that she knows herself, her body and her sexuality.

Here’s where I wanted to come back to that argument of “Oh, well you’re on Tinder. What do you expect?”

I expect to not be harassed?

That was the same logic many used against cosplayers back in the day before the “brave” voices like Yaya Han had to mention that cosplay is not consent. For many cosplayers, it was just an understood that well, if you’re in costume, you’re inviting harassment. It took years for many to rewrite these tapes and come to understand that no, a woman or man for that matter can and should demand basic human decency.

I’m even more struck by the whore/virgin double-standard that several men (not all men, I hate that I have to say that but I don’t want a comment section full of “nice guys”) have when it comes to the women they court.

Have you ever slept with someone?

How many men have you slept with?

Are you a virgin?

I want a girl with experience.

Last time I checked, I was not an item whose worth fluctuates by usage. And most importantly: how am I supposed to have experience while maintaining virtue? It’s frustrating that so many men are willing to discard a girl based on a “wrong” answer to any of those questions. And not to say some women aren’t just as critical as men are (again, hate that I have to pull this devil’s advocate nonsense: we’re gonna talk about this soon).

And how confusing is it to be a woman who knows herself and what she wants and is still shamed? I’m not on Tinder looking for the one but if I agree to something that’s casual I’m “easy” but if I demand at least pasta from my date before God know’s what then I am “demanding”. There’s just no way to win. I’m either an easy loose woman running around the internet like a mythical Net Lilith or I’m a chaste virginal Geneviere up in a tower of unreasonable expectations. This dichotomy has existed since man has been writing women. Think of most female characters in media (mostly in classical examples but modern media is just now catching up with some more complex storytelling). The myth of Lilith is all about the first wife of Adam who refused to submit to a life of missionary with the lights off and she literally became a demon because that. Men are told that as far as girls go, there are only two options. What that leaves out is literally everyone else. Think of all the sexually-actualized women who are called out of their name for knowing what they want. Think of all the girls who are choosing to save themselves who are ignored because no one wants to “risk” them catching feelings for them. You know how emotional those ladies get. But this exists in nearly everything a woman does. Too big? Oh well, you know how hard it is a big girl to get a date. Too thin? Nope, can’t have that, gotta have a girl with meat on her bones. Does she work? Oh, she’s gonna choose her career like those Tumblr Feminists. Is she not working? She’s a gold-digger and nothing more! Did she finish school? Well, you know what they say about girls who read too much. 

And none of these are decided by the woman herself. They are burdens placed upon her and it’s just unfair.

I’ve had an on and off relationship with dating apps since my most recent relationship ended and it’s frustrating that any time I have a negative experience and I reach out to friends and followers about it, I am met with the argument above and that’s simply not the case. Why can’t I demand more from others and from myself? Why can’t I be a woman online? Why can’t I hope to find love, a casual hook up or at least a free meal from a dating app?

I also can’t stand the invasive questions that men feel the need to ask. I’m not a prized milking cow or even a middle of the ground show pig. And these aren’t the cute normal questions like:

What’s your favorite color?

What are you reading right now?

Hogwarts House?

It’s more like things I don’t feel comfortable telling you, dear readership. And the amount of unsolicited photos of male parts I’ve received. Heavens. For me, it’s all an issue of being part of a bigger problem. It isn’t a huge issue to get one dick pic, it’s annoying but not enough to ruin my day. The issue is that for that man, this was the best way to get my attention. It isn’t so much about getting asked how many men I’ve been with in a medical way, it’s that my worth to this individual is tied to my virtue or lack thereof. The fact that some men feel the need to talk to a woman like this is vile and the fact that I get blamed for it because I could just “stop using Tinder” is fundamentally the biggest case for feminism in the modern era.

This post was short and I apologize for that. But next time, we discuss victim blaming.

The Martyrdom of Olivia Benson

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Why do I still watch Law and Order: SVU?

Why do I continue to subject myself to a show that’s been around longer than my little cousin?
And through it all, I only have one question: what the hell happened to Olivia Benson?

Now, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s recap. Law and Order: SVU is a crime drama serial that is centered around the Special Victims Unit (a unit in the police force that helps handle sex crimes and crimes involving women and children) and their mostly revolving door of detectives who help bring these heinous criminals to justice. Introduced in Season 3, Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay) when first introduced was the plucky counterpart to Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni). While Benson provided the loving “female touch” that the SVU lacked being a group of mostly old white men and then one Ice-T, she was never a central character. The show still focused on Stabler and his family drama, Munch being old and Tutuola being…Ice-T. When Benson did start to come into her own she was brutalized and victimized because hey, how else do you write a female character in a crime drama? Sexualized violence forever, am I right?

After Stabler’s character departed the series, Benson really took over and in time Hargitay expanded her role from just an on-screen presence to a behind the scenes force. She is now one of the producers and writers for the show and boy, has she taken the character of Olivia Benson to a new place. And by new place I mean all the same sexualized violence, misogyny and poor storytelling the show has had since its inception but now with added family melodrama and the occasional nod to her actually moving up in the ranks of the police force. In newer seasons, Olivia has taken on a son, Noah, and she sure does have feels about it. Motherhood is wonderful but Benson’s brand of motherhood cycles rapidly between obsessive and overly protective of her new acquired bundle of joy to dismissive of her adopted child because of her demanding role as the now leader of the Special Victims Unit. And while some of the push and pull she feels as a working mother are real, there are better depictions of that in the same show: Rollins struggles with leaving her daughter at home with one of the most patient babysitters in all of New York.

By now, you may be asking: Amanda: if you are so unhappy with the show, why do you still watch it?

Well, put a pin in that.

Let’s go back to Rollins. I don’t like her character just because we share a first name; I like her because she is given a more complex story-line. Rollins deals with gambling addiction, a premature and troubled pregnancy all while raising a child on her own with little to no complaining. Sure, she has that oh so lovable cinnamon roll that is Carisi to help her with her daughter sometimes but she does everything Benson does with grace. Rollins is empathetic, level-headed, pragmatic but still kind, generous and great at her job.

I take personal umbrage with this turn for Benson’s behavior because of how important Law and Order: SVU is to so many women. Like I’ve said, only in a highly fictionalized New York do crimes get convicted like this. Only in a fictionalized New York is every sex crime at least acknowledged. This series for so many is one of the first empowered women they see on TV. It’s a modern day morality tale. Crimes are punished, the bad guys are bad guys and the good guys always win.

But in all of this I’m still left with questions.Why did they have to sacrifice Benson for the sake of plot? None of the other female characters had to be taken down a peg. Why Olivia? Why did she become our St. Maria Goretti? 

Now to pick up that pin I said for you to hold onto about why I watch this show.

My grandma loved Law and Order: SVU. Hell, on many stations, it’s one of the only shows still on. The show kept my grandma company while dementia kept confined to her bed. The show even contributed to some of the anxiety she had as the illness of dementia took more of her rationality and her mind. We had cameras rigged up in the house not just to watch her while we worked but also so she could see inside. She didn’t want burglars. She felt safer knowing she could see the front door and living room from her bed if she needed to. And when I’d come home from my dead-end mall job or the days I’d come down from my post-graduate ivory tower of a bedroom on my days off from work, I’d sit down and watch an episode or two with my grandma. I could for a moment or two put down my writer’s rage and just enjoy a moment with someone who I knew I wouldn’t spend much more time with. She didn’t care about how poorly the story was. She just wanted to see Stabler and Benson get the bad guy and they usually did. It was one of the few things we could bond on as she declined. I even began to echo some of her paranoia after watching the show for too long. Seriously, ask any of my friends about how squirrely I get after an all-day Criminal Minds marathon.

My gripe with Benson is personal and also from a creative standpoint. I gave up on female characters from an early age because so many were utter failures of storytelling. Law and Order: SVU shows that the writers can write genuine tension for a female character that isn’t a melodramatic custody battle or a John Wu-style parable about the “Good Guy with a Gun” myth. The show has always had issues telling some stories: the episode that was meant to comment on the Paula Deen post-attack racism controversy ended up with such a hyperbolic retelling of the original story that the moral grey area that makes the story so compelling was completely lost. The show still perpetuates concepts and ideas that are troubling while still being one of the best shows on TV for some hot, fast lady justice.

Female characters deserve more. A woman can balance a job, a child and her love life. A woman can have a high-stress job and still be a great parent or even just an okay one. A woman can love without being boring. A woman can be sexually self-actualized and not be a harlot. A woman can have the same stakes as a man and it not devolve into lady issues.  A woman can be just like any other character. Olivia Benson can be more and should be more.

Don’t we deserve that after all these years?

A Casual Date With Consent

Feminism's agenda is basic- It asks that women not be forced to choose between public justice and private happiness. Susan Faludi.png

After a few years of being in long-term relationships and relatively uneventful ones at that, I have found myself a single gal in the big city. So like most Southern girls who are suddenly without a male caller in their lives, I went to Tinder. Now, full disclosure before the string of “Well, there’s your problem.” comments arise. I know full well Tinder is a hookup app. I know what it’s there for. I know what caliber of person Tinder usually attracts. And if you look down on me for going on Tinder, then I accept your righteous indignation. But what I will not and do not understand about Tinder is how men feel they can talk to women and that it is essentially a performance space to watch the slow death of consent.

Now, as a lady, the inherent dangers of being biologically female are not lost on me. I’ve been catcalled, harassed in real life and online and have faced several situations where just  because of my gender, I was put in a compromising situation. Online dating brings all of these to the forefront. It was highlighted for me when I actually considered meeting one of these men for a day in Market Square (the “date” was cancelled). I was thinking about Uber, taxis and driving myself or even public transportation as ways to get there. I wasn’t thinking about what to wear or how to style my hair (I was going for the side part with a heavy front bang, as always.). 

Never did it cross my mind that every other date I had ever been on I had no issue letting my suitor pick me up. But I didn’t want this unknown man knowing where I live. I also didn’t want to be put in a position that could literally be life or death for me if this date went south. How horrifying is that? No other time in my life was I ever this worried about my safety meeting someone new. I met Carlos online years ago and we met for the first time in public around 5 years ago. He’s one of my best friends now so clearly I’m not Static Shock 1990s PSA worried about “meeting strangers from the Internet”.  And in all honesty, it was Taylor, my dear friend who commented on how damn horrifying it was that I said I was more concerned about getting a ride than the consideration of meeting a man from Tinder.

But I want to talk about consent and here’s where I get personal. I’m a cosplayer so I’ve had men sneak hands up my skirt. I’d had people ask me for all manner of lewd act online. I’ve gotten pictures that were not wanted or warranted. I’ve had men try and bully me into acts I won’t perform and I’ve been shamed for not be willing to perform. I am one of many females that have faced a similar struggle quietly and with dignity.  Consent is a tricky issue in the West when it shouldn’t be. If I say “no” that means “no”. There’s not a hidden meaning. There’s not a situation that me saying “no” 4 times really equals one “yes”. There’s not anything more than “no” to a “no”. But time and time again on Tinder, I am bullied or pressured by men to do or say something I don’t want to.

Baby, c’mon.

Baby, you’ll like it.

I’m different.

C’mon, just send me one picture.

I’ll make it worth your while.

Let me see you.

In between each of those messages is usually a terse “no” or silence. And all the while, if I express my concerns, pain or grievances to friends some of them just say “Well, you’re on Tinder. What do you expect?” as if that somehow makes it alright. As if that somehow invalidates the ordeal. As if somehow that makes it okay. And what’s even more terrifying is that because it’s done online, I get all the pain and misery of having my wishes ignored with none of the actual threat of being in danger. What if this was real? What if this was a real situation?

C’mon. Let’s go.

I want more.

Let me see more.

You don’t really mean “no”, do you?

I thought you liked me, baby.

That level of bullying and pressure often times quickly escalates and for so many ends in tragedy when it happens in real life and in real life situations. And the pain of it being a “safe” place to watch the slow and miserable death of consent and the continued rise of the objectified female sex creature is that there isn’t enough to actually say or claim this is an issue. Like with cat-calling or other forms of sexual harassment women face all over the world, it’s difficult if not impossible to “police” male gaze. Online harassment is still an issue of legitimacy for many and I won’t go into the terrible things that have been said to me in forums, comment sections and other online places and spaces. 

The whore or virgin dichotomy is a painful one for women and when coupled with an already toxic male gaze culture, there is almost no safe place to go when trying to find a suitor but avoid sexual harassment. And true, while there are “better” dating apps and better places to find a mate: a woman’s safety or feelings shouldn’t be compromised because of where she chooses to find a partner. My safety in a situation should not be considered within a standard deviation of “safe” because I chose Tinder over Hinge. It also speaks to the issue of the “conditional yes”. That because I’ll go on Tinder and flirt that I should accept all that comes with it. Even if that all means harassment and degradation.

I apologize if this topic was difficult for some of you and I respect that this is an issue close to many hearts. I invite respectful conversation in the comments below.

Next time, we talk about shaming, double standards and how to be a better human being/online date.

About The Journey

You still are blind, if you see a winding road,'Cause there's always a straight way to the point you see..png

I was late to watch Moana. That tardiness was intentional. I balked a little at its overwhelming praise and in pure cynical, hipster fashion I had to wait a full year before I sat down and watched it in full despite the few times I tried to watch it via clips and less than great downloads. I can’t say that the film Moana means to me what Up or even Princess and the Frog does but I can see why, how and where it’s important in the discourse. But I wanted to talk about the heroine’s journey, finding yourself and your culture and knowing the difference between your voice and the voice of your people.

Moana is a story about the titular Moana on an adventure where she discovers that she is from a long line of sea-faring people and through her bravery and cultural identity, she fixes the problem, becomes princess and all the things are good again. What is the most touching part about Moana is that it is a journey with her and through her culture to find herself. Moana is her people but in that she is also something so much more.

The idea that especially female characters have to go on some epic road trip isn’t a new one. Most female characters in great works tend to sit and stay in various castle or castle-like arrangements but anime and comics and some young adult novels are great in giving us tales of women who have to go on an adventure and hopefully find something more than just a man at the end. Rukia in Bleach searches for strength and her overbearing brother’s approval. Ino in Naruto uses her time during missions to find and learn new things and hunt for a replacement for Sasuke.  If you want an entire playlist of “girls on an adventure” stories look at the library of Hayao Miyazaki: most of his stories center around young girls that have to go out on an adventure to do something or learn something or to just save your pig-parents because capitalism. And if you must give  Disney more credit then they probably deserve, Merida in Brave has to go on a quest to find a solution to the whole…mom and bear thing before Moana aired. Lilo has to go on a self-discovery mission with her new alien friend in Lilo and Stitch and this was also way before Moana hit theaters.  And while the quest isn’t always literal: the need to put a heroine in the place of the hero on a journey is now a pivotal part of telling a female’s story. Though I will personally advocate as an out of shape person more metaphorical journeys.

Dear readership, you’ve been there with me as I’ve struggled with being more than my skin tone and that struggle has continued on for most of my life. I’m the dictionary definition of cultural abandonment. I’ve always prided my voice over the voices behind me. Look at my current situation with my family. Like the anime boy I am, I broke from tradition and forged my own path: for better or worse. I chose to listen to my own voice and ignore the voices that shouted so loudly behind me. My voice became the last one I heard and valued. But it’s lonely being on the top.

I work through being culturally abandoned through other cultures. I just said at dinner “I’ve given up so much for Japan.” . I work through my angst of not being “black enough” by turning my back on being black, being American or even being traditionally Southern or female for that matter. I embraced Japan, France, Austria, Germany…I embraced all of these cultures and countries as I did my best to come to terms with how wronged and left behind I felt by my own. I was never black enough to be black but could never and never wanted to be white. I just wanted to be me and in books I can be anyone or anything.

Amber and I are road-warriors and considering that we are both black women, it’s no surprise that many of our ventures have us facing the history and legacy behind us. We retrace the stories of rebellion, history and the complicated stories of complicated men and women. We venture out with our mythical steed (usually my Prius) and we go out to find our voices. She really only takes me along because I speak a few different languages and that there is still awe in my eyes when we find something genuinely interesting. She takes me because she knows she can probably still shock me and make me feel something. We go because I’m hoping for an experience that will shake me from my usual cynicism and will either make me feel immense shame or pride of the mix of both that comes with being a dually-conscious black person.

In my haste and desire to find my voice, I silenced out all the other voices that were kind. There are survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in me. There are Airmen in me. There are veterans, scientists, government officials, activists and writers in me. There is greatness in me and their voices are just as loud as mine. Those voices also do a wonderful job of drowning out the not to positive voices that still echo in my heart.

And while I’m not an airman or a survivor or even a full-time activist: I am me. I’m not in competition with their greatness and their weight isn’t a burden: it should be a comfort; albeit a bit of an overwhelming one. Their desire and the path they paved to let me be a cosplayer, writer, panelist and all should be enough. It is enough.

So, of course, it makes a lot of sense that I found the story of a young Polynesian girl discovering her voice and path through the stories lost to time immensely powerful. I had already bonded somewhat withe the stories of Mother Tahiti and of Polynesia during my time in Hawaii. And I’m not going to say the film’s perfect. I’m contractually obligated to mention the film’s not perfect. I was annoyed by Maui’s portrayal and most of the humor came from a literal dumb chicken. Being meta actually weakened the film a lot. Admitting that Moana in so many ways is just like the princesses that came before her actually weakens how special and unique her story is. But framing Moana as a light-reboot of  Pocahontas actually helps remind the view how different the movie is from all those that came before it. Moana achieves her goal through persistence and listening to the voices in her heart that can help her while shrugging off the ones that cannot.

That’s a lesson even a cynic can get behind.

A Witch By Any Other Name

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist.png

Today is Friday the 13th and let’s say I’m feeling a little witchy. And “witch” is a title that I’ve actually been called a lot. After sprinkling coffee on my doorstep while wearing a blanket as a shroud my neighbors called me a “bruja”. And it’s been a running joke amongst friends that I am clearly made of magic. I’m a Cancer. We’re pretty magical and intuitive creatures. And if that makes it seem like I can read minds or whatever then sure, lemme just hop on my broomstick. But it seldom stopped at “witch”. I’ve been called a succubus, lamia, and several iterations of the “witch” motif. And please know this is seldom said in jest. Most of my friends know what the words mean historically and culturally and the few times it was slinged my way from people I don’t call my friends it was very much in the Biblical sense. If the term witch was thrown around they meant the broom-riding evil anger hag. This isn’t meant to diminish any of my friends or readers that are pagan or practitioners of Wicca, this is just a fun little Friday the 13th story.


Since Friday the 13th was a day for women to celebrate before the old fuddy duddies of the Catholic Church said “Hey, women, stop frolicking naked in the woods and having fun!” I wanted to take a moment to tell a recent little story of me being called a witch.

Now, I’ve been called a witch a few times, as I’ve said, and one of the most dramatic was in high school. I briefly was at an very conservative high school while my papers transferred for my final high school of choice and it was the most aggressively Christian school I had ever been to. I was about 16 and I was, as you probably assumed, super into anime. One of the popular girls was rudely dropping in on some of my then very important fanfiction writing and saw that she had the same name as the character I was writing. She called me a “witch” accused me of “witchcraft” and I had to talk with the principal over the matter. Really, what an uncultured girl. If she had any idea what I was writing, she would have known good things were coming to her. I was a Mary Sue back then. Nothing bad ever happened to my characters back then.

 



But this story’s recent. It’s actually only a month or so old. And it starts with a birthday, a last day of work and a quick trip to Walgreens.  

My agency is small. Just me, the creative director, our graphic designer, our accountant and for a brief time an account executive. So yeah, when I say small, I mean small. It was our account executive’s last day so the office was  a little morose and the occasion did cloud a more pressing issue: it was also our accountant’s birthday. She’s a lovely older woman but in the rush to close out things with our account executive, we didn’t forget her birthday as much as we just didn’t have anything prepared.  

“Amanda, run to Walgreens and get a little something from all of us.” my creative director said and sent me with a modest budget to the store. I walked down the block and picked up a few things. While out and about I picked up a couple of small cakes from a local bakery and spirited away back to work where I scurried to the side office where the rest of the team and I assembled the gift while our accountant settled into her morning routine. Everyone seemed to agree on the gifts and me going slightly over-budget for the sake of cake was accepted. It was a passable present done in a hurry so we hoped for the best but assumed that things would go over just fine. It’s an office present, you can’t expect too much, right?

We presented the gift to her and on baited breath, we waited.

“Oh, this card is adorable!” it was a card with puppies on it. It was common knowledge that she liked dogs so that wasn’t surprising of a hit.

Next up was a coffee mug. “I’ve always wanted an office mug! I love this design! And this is my favorite color, too!” that was got a few murmurs from my coworkers. Our accountant had never mentioned a favorite color not a desire to have a mug just for the office. She always brought one of her to-go cups from home in. The mug was also filled with those puffy dinner mints that literally everyone loves. That was more common knowledge and how do you not like puffy dinner mints? Heathens don’t like puffy dinner mints. She commented on the cake briefly but again, who scoffs at a cake? Madmen scoff at cake.

“These praline candies are delicious! My husband and I were just talking about these! These are my favorite!” That was what brought everything to a halt. I picked those up at the checkout line and were a total fluke of a purchase. I lucked out.

“Yep, Amanda’s a witch.” our account executive said and our creative director followed it up with a sagely nod. And upon each retelling of the tale, it only emphasized that I had some sort of magic ability to give gifts.


I don’t see a huge problem with being called a “witch”. In ye olden times, women who were just different, independent, or way too smart for their own good were labelled as witches. Witches for so many cultures were spiritual leaders and women of great power. It was the patriarchy and the church that turned the witch from a helpful woman to a demon harpy lady. So if I, a young black woman in the death care industry who loves cryptozoology, obscure texts, anime, comic books and goes through about a book a week and speaks multiple languages while also being a proficient baker, cook and science lover and great gift giver happens to be labelled as a witch then lemme just throw a few things into the cauldron.

Reach for the Troposphere

 

-Ambition is but avarice on stilts, and masked.-Walter Savage Landor.png

It all started with a Disney movie and a now infamous toast. During dinner with a friend at Red Lobster after a year particularly filled with death my friend and I were greeted by a far too eager waiter. He asked us what we were celebrating as I was already elbow-deep into a glass of Moscato and we simply raised our glasses as I proclaimed: “We’re the ones that lived.”. In that simple statement, we had achieved something other than just horrifying a Red Lobster waiter that so many in our lives didn’t: we survived. We had made it to another day and instead of buckling under the pressure and weight of grief and sadness, we stood there triumphant ready to gorge on cheddar bay biscuits and overpriced bottles of cheap white wine. So with that being said: let’s talk about feminism, ambition and what it means to succeed.

I grew up as a Disney kid and ergo had for the most part Disney morals. I looked up to Ariel, Jasmine and Esmeralda (for better or worse).  And to say that those films weren’t formative to me is a bit of an oversight. I absolutely remember them being important to me but not in a way that later on anime or comic books would be. But there’s a certain type of personality that Disney princesses/leading ladies have. They’re all ambitious, outgoing and want more than whatever it is that is their current world or life. Jasmine didn’t want to be a princess. Ariel wanted to have legs for some reason despite living in a bomb as hell undersea kingdom. And Pocahontas wanted someone who wasn’t so “serious”.

But what’s wrong with serious? The film Pocahontas features an entire song where the titular princess complains about how much she wants adventure and something new and rails against the absolute horrors of routine, stability and security. In any other world, this is a Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre-level of First World Problems. What’s wrong with sturdy walls and sturdy houses? What’s wrong with staying close to home? What’s wrong with tradition? And what’s worse is that Pocahontas’ friend who rather likes her more serious suitor is somehow vilified and considered to be less than worthy of happiness because she is content with sturdy handsome walls and a sturdy handsome husband.

What’s important to remember about this was that it was Disney’s attempts to re-write some of the wrongs of past princesses. Many early Disney princesses like Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora got a lot of hate for being good for goodness sake and endlessly praised and rewarded for doing very little. The 90s era Disney princesses had to be go-getters. Mulan had to save all of China. Ariel had to rebel against her father. Jasmine had to flee to escape the horrors of being a princess. And to be fair, that’s great. That’s very motivating to some girls who want to save all of China and find out what’s around the river-bend. But what about the rest of us?

As a child who was raised by parents who worked hard but never achieved home ownership and struggled with issues of moving around, instability and insecurities about money; I rather like sturdy steady walls. I like routine. I like working. I look forward to one day settling down and being a pretty sturdy partner to an equally sturdy partner. I don’t see a woman who is married, chooses to be a stay-at-home mom or one that strives to find a relationship as any lesser of a woman for wanting those things. I am from the camp of feminism that states as long as it is her choice, it’s okay. If a woman wants to be married, then let her. She should never feel obligated to marry. That’s what feminism is. And to say that I am any less of a woman, a person or a feminist because I wouldn’t mind being married, I wouldn’t mind a home and I’m willing to accept stability and that I am somehow less ambitious for appreciating the little things is insulting and toxic.

Pocahontas, you get to run around and parkour off of waterfalls because of the men and women who strive to build sturdy houses and walls. Mulan, you can go off and save China because of the sacrifices made by your father and the rest of your family to ensure you had all the tools needed for you to succeed. Ariel is only allowed to sign evil contracts to gain legs for some reason because of the walls and empire built for her. Ambition like that is a luxury and one that many women still simply don’t have as an option for them. And even I am speaking from a place of privilege in that regard. Because of my father’s desire to build a stable home no matter how many apartments we lived in and my mom’s desire to keep a nuclear family, I am allowed to sit here and discuss with you all, my readers, the shades of ambition, success and what it means to be a good, well, anything.

There’s something to be said about accepting success in any form. As a writer, I have many other writer friends. Many of us are published in varying fashions but I never see myself as any lesser than them just because my writing doesn’t always include a by-line or because sometimes I’m more known for my poetry and blog posts than I am for novels, short stories or serious journalistic efforts. That suddenly doesn’t mean I didn’t work just as hard or that I am any less worthy of praise than they are for self-publishing or publishing under a book deal or even for blogging.

And even how we measure success is something highly subjective. I’ve gone on record a number of times saying that paneling is the most rewarding thing I have ever done and that’s true. That doesn’t overshadow my work and writing achievements; it’s just something I’m proud of. And to say that “oh, well it’s just an anime convention” as a means to diminish the power of being accepted as a panelist to a con is frankly rather childish. It’s something I enjoy and am proud of: isn’t that a measure enough of success? And that can also extend to finishing an anime, a book series, a video game, a costume or just a particularly difficult passage in a novel or story you’re working on. In addition, for those of us struggling with mental illness like depression and anxiety; measuring worth and success is a tricky metric. Sometimes, the best thing achieved in a day is getting out of bed: and there’s even bonus points for showering and getting dressed.

Be proud of attainable goals both big and small and never let a single person take that from you.

Follow your dreams and reach for the stars; and hey, if you don’t reach a star: that’s okay. Most stars are hollow bloated dying shells of their former selves anyways.

 

And Maybe Perchance to be Exotic

beauty-is-a-short-lived-tyranny-socrates

You should smile more.
You’d be prettier if you smiled.

Have you thought about losing weight?
You should wear make-up more often!

You aren’t married yet? You should get on that!

My hair is kept short. I’m plump, to say. I’m short, quite petite at maybe 5’2’’ on a good day. I’m a nerd, an otaku. I love uniforms. I sew, I cosplay. I write, oh stars, I write. And I list these things for one simple reason: for all of my quirks and interests, there are aspects of me and so many others that are acceptable to some and deplorable to others.

There’s a certain beauty to being raised Southern. Things that are simply aspects of life for many Southern women that were once points of ire from our Yankee friends are now oh so en vogue. The fact that I sew, I clean, I can bake: thanks to Pinterest are now seasonably fashionable. Cooking, sewing, baking were for many Southern women just tools for survival. We had to learn to do those things, even now in the age of take out and misandry we maintain the old traditions that many saw as little more than patriarchal suffering as an art. I never saw cooking, baking or any household art as punishment: the beauty of feminism is that as long as I want to do it, it’s more than allowed and I love a world where I can bake a cake from scratch and still maintain my degree.

The dark skin that I have such a complex relationship with happens to be either fetishized or just seen as a marked departure from the common hegemony of classical depiction. When I traveled overseas, I remember being the center of catcalling and comments because of my looks. Not just that I was an American but an African-American with a “full” frame. I didn’t mind them: even in the US I’m seen as “exotic”: I scarcely like admitting how many times I’ve heard “I’ve never dated a black girl before.” as if somehow outside of more melanin that I was somehow different from another girl.

I started cutting my hair short when I was 12. In a Mulan-esque rebellion against a father who kept my hair long, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter. At its shortest, I could have passed for male but I keep it now just past my ears and I start to get anxious when my hair begins to touch my neck. In the past, short hair was needed: it kept lice away and that’s what wigs are for if you wish to continue to luxuriate in the lushes of long hair. I resist make up for the most part and you can read more about that here but I tend not to wear a lot of make up. In any other era, such a move would be the hallmark of feminine modesty and chastity.

Being petite for many cultures has been the standard of feminine beauty. Being heavy was once a sign of wealth. One could afford enough food to put on weight. Beauty standards for years emphasized and put praise to women who were full in figure. We did not start to savor a thin waist until fairly recently in the history of humanity.

I could list sources forever but I rather tell you a personal story about a chance meeting a very beautiful lady. I was in the Vienna Museum of Natural History. Among the dodos, Tasmanian tigers and the jaw of a very impressive prehistoric creature there was a cloak and dagger-like room. In it was a tiny figurine. She is old but doesn’t look a day over 1000 and she is lovely: the Venus of Willendorf. She’s a small, plump figure dating back centuries. She’s said to be a fertility goddess to a long-gone culture and I got to see her and in her I got to see a body that, well, looked more like mine. Her size was meant to show abundance. She was meant to be carried around and despite her small stature, she’s a real looker if you ever happen to be in Vienna, Austria. But if you were to see a woman now that looked like her, that looked like me, how many people would turn their noses up to her looks?

So let’s tie all of this together, but to do that, I’ll have to tell you all another story. When I was in high school and in all of my Japanese culture-loving wisdom, a few friends of mine and I decided to fill out omiai. These marriage applications were very common in Japan and forced people to, with the help of a matchmaker, list out all of their possible traits and flaws. I “updated” mine again in college and here are selections from my personal application.

Petite, very intelligent. University educated. Comes from a good family. Speaks multiple languages. Has debt, but good debt. At risk for some health issues but overall sturdy American girl.

In the right eyes, my somewhat stoic nature when presented with something interesting in a book or in an audio format. The fact that I can sew. The fact that I can cook. To the right person, are marked signs of favor or tacky throwbacks to a bygone era. Even by old Southern standards: I’d be quite the novelty. A small woman who is a domestic goddess but also of immense intellect that could be the pride of any household of the treasured pearl to any husband’s crown.

Now, by now, you may be asking:

Now, that was lovely, Amanda. What in the hell do you mean to gain by saying all of this?

What I hope to gain in this exploration of the fragile standards of beauty is simply this: understanding.

Think of how many times just in American history that standards of beauty changed from loving pale skin to adoring a beach tan. From staunch and strict segregation to the romantization of interracial relationships. And think of how culture’s influences changed how we see ambitious women as either harlots or literally demonic in the case of the story of Lilith (which if you’ve never read, seriously do that. I’ll wait.) The woman who would be pharaoh was so hated in her death that her successor defaced her monuments to deny her an afterlife. And literature and other pop culture revels in the mythical fall from grace for female characters. Think of the women whose ambition simultaneously is attractive and lethal. And even me as a woman who has been called “passionate” and “knowledgeable” by some can also be “intimidating” and “loud” to others that rather judge me on the first glance.

Women, men, people: we’re all lovely in our own special ways and we’re all still human in the most mortal ways. Our traits, habits, likes and dislikes can in one culture be understood and respected and in another exotic and wild.

So own your looks and know that despite your culture and the ire of others: you’re spectacular in your own special way. Standards of beauty change but individualism still matters most of all.

Notes for further consideration on the topic: