sexism

LOL’ing at cissexist loopholes

Sometimes I amuse myself with pedantry rather than being annoyed at cissexism.

In this case, I finally actually sat down and read through my collective bargaining agreement at work. It is pretty dry, standard stuff for the most part. But there is some unnecessary gendered language I could potentially exploit some day re: pregnancy and parental leave.

Weirdly it’s not the pregnancy part, which is actually gender neutral:

Upon at least two (2) weeks written notice… a pregnant employee who has completed thirteen (13) weeks employment will be granted pregnancy leave without pay in accordance with the Ontario Employment Standards Act.

For some reason, though, they throw in an unnecessary “female” into the parental leave part:

The Parental Leave for a female employee who has taken Pregnancy Leave must commence immediately following the expiration of her Pregnancy Leave. For all other employees, Parental Leave must begin no more than thirty-five (35) weeks after:
i) the birth of the child, or,
ii) the child comes into the care and custody of the parent.

Apparently non-female employees taking pregnancy leave have more flexibility around when they take their parental leave. Rank discrimination against women, I tell you!

March 2016 Carnival of Aces Roundup

Here is the roundup of posts for this month’s Carnival of Aces, on the topic of gender norms and asexuality! I loved being the host this month, and I have enjoyed reading all of your submissions so much; there has been much squeeing with joy, so thank you all who contributed! Without further ado, here are this month’s submissions, in the order I received them:

Passive vs. Active Femininity: Does Asexuality Affect It? | the notes which do not fit
Sara examines the ways in which her femininity is often the result of passive conformity to female norms rather than an active gender expression, and considers whether her approach to femme-ness is related to her asexuality.

(a)Gender and (a)Sexuality: Chickens and Eggs | darkmetineknight
Maris considers the ways in which kyr dysphoria contributes to kyr sex-repulsion, and vice versa, and the way these things feed back into kyr agender and asexual identity, concluding that they are so deeply related they can’t possibly be pulled apart.

Female Stereotypes and Asexuality | aroacelennie
Lennie writes about how, despite their agender identity, other people often try to frame the aro and ace aspects of their identity through common female archetypes.

When Dudes Talk Gender & Asexuality | The Ace Theist
Coyote unpacks some of the oversimplifications and other problems with the ways some asexual guys talk about the tensions between their gender and their asexuality.

Gender and Asexuality | quizzicalsloth
Amber explores potential explanations for asexual people’s tendency to not feel a strong connection to binary genders, from a personal perspective, and considers how gender plays a role in their experiences of platonic and aesthetic attractions, and relationships.

Do gender roles serve any purpose for asexuals? | It’s An Ace Thing
Dee questions the purposes gender norms serve, and concludes that many gender norms simply don’t serve asexual people.

Genderqueer and demisexual: two sides of the same coin for me | Valprehension
I wrote about the ways in which my genderqueerness and my demisexuality are inextricably tangled up with each other, and fundamental to my overall identity and sense of self.

Sexism at work | A3
The author of A3 relates their experiences of sexism (and heterosexism) in the workplace, as an agender aro ace who is not out about those aspects of their identity, and who is perceived as a woman.

Gender, Or Why I’m Glad I’m Aro/Ace | Grey Is My Favourite Colour
Mara explains why they’re glad to be aro/ace, because of the potential complications of parsing gendered attractions (and sexual/romantic orientations) as a non-binary person.

The Healer Role | Prismatic Entanglements
Elizabeth considers her tendency to take on healer roles in video games, and considers how this role relates to her identity as a cisgender woman, and the ways in which this tendency is reflected (and not) in her asexual activism.

By nature of being asexual, I’m defying gender norms | From Fandom to Family
luvtheheaven unpacks some of the interactions between gender norms, (especially heteronormativity) and asexuality, and how those norms can make it difficult to come to an asexual identity, and even more difficult to get others to understand it.

Gender Norms and Asexuality | Aro Ace Gin
Gin considers the ways in which her asexuality has impacted her relationship to her gender as a cis woman.

Asexual E-Dating Diaries #1 | la pamplemouse
The author of la pamplemouse talks about her early attempts at online dating as an asexual cis woman.

Non-Binary Gender Norms and (A)Sexuality: Yeah, No | Queer As Cat
Vesper talks about why they just don’t see any connection between gender norms and sexuality for them, given that there are no gender norms that apply to their gender (maverique) in the first place, and much more!

On Gender and Asexuality | conasultingamadman
Bonnie explains how embracing her asexuality helped her understand her relationship to both femininity and androgyny, describes her journey toward a panromantic identity, and considers her feelings around others’ perceptions of her as a cis het white girl.

My Gender Aesthetics are All Kinds of Ace | The City of Cuova
S. Knaus unpacks the ways in which their asexuality has freed them up to explore their personal gender aesthetics without regard for whether they are attractive to others, and many other things.

Asexuality and Gender Presentation | [A] Life of Experiences
Jeremy writes about his experience in trying to subtly play with his gender presentation, how his asexual identity helped him find the confidence to do so, and both his struggles and enjoyment in pushing back against being seen as just another straight dude.

Obscure lines: agender and asexual comes together | golden weasel
golden weasel writes about the ways in which their agender-ness and asexuality are inter-related.

What Are You? A Question of Mixed Race, Gender, And Asexuality | Halfthoughts
The author of Halfthoughts explores the relationships and parallels among their Hapa/mixed race, asexual, and non-binary identities.

Gender in Space | Becoming a Person
elainexe explores her general lack of any strong gender identity, and her attempts to understand what gender is, linking some of her observations back to her asexuality.

No | Aros and Aces
Roses considers a wade range of influences – from Purity Culture to Megan Trainor – on their developing identity, and the ways in which coing to an aro ace agender identity has freed them from a lot of the baggage they were handed growing up.

“Consent is sexy” is an insidious message

Look, I get the point of saying “consent is sexy”. I get that it became a thing in direct response to naysayers of the importance of consent who insist that asking before touching someone (especially sexually) is somehow inherently unsexy or a turn-off. I also get that we are living in a culture that seriously does sexualize and eroticize female non-consent and just violence against women generally, and that it is important to try to fight back against those forces as they continue to form so many people’s sexualities, sometimes in very dangerous ways.

“Consent is sexy” is and always has been at *best* a band-aid solution to some specific aspects of rape culture. And it has always been clear to me that we shouldn’t need to sell consent in this way, or call it anything other than right, or the only non-evil way to interact with other people. The fact that anyone thinks that the message is necessary tells us how much work still needs to be done, if nothing else.

But. It needs to stop now. We need to stop actively promoting the idea that consent is sexy. Because there are ways in which it is actively harmful and helps rapists.

I don’t think it’ll be surprising or revelatory to anyone if I point out that many people (read: most women) feel an awful lot of pressure to be “sexy” in accordance with what their culture tells them is sexy, regardless of whether they enjoy those things, or particularly want to have sex. Heck, women are told they need to be conventionally attractive in order to be perceived as professional (or, y’know, even just worthy of being treated with the most basic respect), as if those things have anything to do with one another.

Women are taught to model the behaviours that the culture they grow up in declares to be sexy. Naturally, as the idea that consent (and especially enthusiastic consent) is sexy gains more traction, this means that women are feeling and will feel more pressure to model the appearance of said enthusiastic consent regardless of their actual desires.

By framing consent as “sexy”, we are making it harder for people, and women especially, to feel like they have the freedom to decide whether to consent or not. Not because it’s bad to find consent sexy – I do still agree that finding consent sexy should be and will be a sign of the death of rape culture if that ever comes – but because we are still living in a misogynist world, and because we are still living in a rape culture, and this particular attempt at combating that culture is far too easily turned against itself.

Consent is necessary and important, regardless of whether it is sexy. It is mandatory even if it is inconvenient, even if it is a turn-off. And deciding not to consent to anything, at any time, is not unsexy, either.

First Dates, Hetero Dating, and Double Standards

I had a really depressing revelation about the hetero dating world today. I was thinking about the ridiculous double standard many straight men hold wherein they will happily have sex with someone they just met, but will harshly judge the women who have that sex with them, or who do the same with other men.

This attitude always particularly astonishes and confuses me because engaging in slut-shaming is precisely counter-productive to these men’s desires to have sex with women. And so I tossed a question about it into a dating-oriented facebook community I’m a member of. Among the many thoughtful and thought-provoking responses I got, one in particular is sticking with me.

A common theme in shaming women for having first-date sex is the idea that it displays poor judgment on their part, thus revealing to be lacking in long-term potential. Which, initially this seems an absurd judgment to make against someone without also making the same claim about men – it’s an obvious double standard.

Until you remember that women are, of course, at far greater risk of sexual violence, and that going back to a mostly strange man’s house is more likely to end badly for her than it would be for a man going to a strange woman’s house. For that matter, it is statistically more dangerous for a woman to invite a man back to her place, too.

To be clear, I don’t think that deciding to have sex with someone, on a first date or at any other time, tells you much about that person’s judgment – and I definitely don’t think it’s okay to chalk up women’s victimization at the hands of misogynists to their poor judgment. But it is interesting(?) to consider these men’s perspectives on the situation.

From the perspective of the kind of man who holds the kinds of attitudes that lead him to devalue women who actively seek out sex, there a number of additional things that might cause him to look down on a woman who slept with him on a first date, specifically. If we’re being totally honest, this dude is probably employing deliberate manipulation tactics to “seduce” his partners: he may lie to them about his long-term intentions/what he is looking for or wants from the relationship; he may pretend to be more compatible with her than he really is; he may pay compliments we doesn’t really mean.

Moreover, the kind of man who behaves this way usually has a peer group that shares his attitudes and behaviours toward women – which means that he believes this behaviour is even more common than it actually is. He may believe that it is just how all men are, making it *always* a bad idea for a woman to have sex with man pretty much, um, ever.

And then I realized that at some point, many misogynist men, when they do manage to get sex on the first date, might genuinely be left with the feeling that they can’t believe they got away with it. As in, they can’t believe she fell for it.

And that somehow, in their minds, that entire interaction reflects more poorly on her than it does on them.

Which, that is such an awful thing to realize about the way other people probably see the world. And it makes me feel exhausted and wonder how things will ever get better. I don’t know how to combat the self-fulfilling prophecy of actively and deliberately trying to get the better of a woman’s best intentions and judgment, and then blaming them when you succeed. I don’t know how to make this stop, except that I guess as the proportion of non-assholes to assholes among straight men increases, more straight women will become accustomed to being treated well and with respect, and it will be easier to spot the assholes as they stand out more?

Because holy fuck I hope so.

The relative nature of gender presentation

The concepts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are generally talked about as fairly well-defined categories. Now, this is not to say that these categories are at all concrete, and the definitions certainly can vary between cultures, but I do think it’s fair to say that most people can tell you whether x quality is more masculine or more feminine in their particular cultural milieu.

And I do say “more masculine” and “more feminine” there deliberately, because of course, things usually aren’t simply one or the other, and most people acknowledge that there’s some sort of spectrum here, and some qualities that are more definitive of either masculinity or femininity than others. (So, for instance, ‘having a beard’ may be considered more distinctly masculine than, perhaps, ‘being tall.’ Though both are qualities that are more often associated with masculinity, there’s often more leeway for a feminine person to be tall without it being perceived as detracting from their femininity, than there is for them to have a beard and maintain others’ perceptions of them as feminine.)

Ultimately, what we’re dealing with is some sort of murky idea of the ideal embodiments of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity,’ wherein different personal qualities carry different weight as indicators of one or the other category. Makes basic sense, right?

But here’s where this starts to fall apart for me. Consider, for instance, this fairly androgynous person.

Photo by Alexandre Cicconi. Click through for the full set.

If I tell you that the person in the picture is a man, you’d probably think that they’re a fairly feminine guy. Very pretty face, eyebrows that appear to carefully manicured, and all that. But then, if I told you that the person was a woman, most people would have the exact opposite reaction, and declare them a very masculine woman.

So, is it as simple as simply adding up a person’s qualities and getting to their position on the surface of masculine-feminine sphere, then? The way that the descriptor used for the same person can change so violently by altering one piece of information (their sex) certainly tells us just how important we (society, anyway) consider sex to be as a factor in masculinity or femininity. The single variable of sex carries enough weight, in this case, to swing the pendulum from feminine-leaning to hyper-masculine.

But it actually tells us something more than that, as well. Because it’s not that we switch from seeing the person as feminine to seeing them as masculine. We switch from seeing them as feminine for a man to seeing them as masculine for a woman. We’re operating with different base-lines, which are determined by our belief about the person’s gender. In fact, the arithmetic of masculinity and femininity seems to be predicated on knowing (or guessing) a person’s gender. (Remember how I started out by describing them as androgynous? In this context, then, androgynous doesn’t mean “a mixture of masculinity and femininity” so much as it means “of indeterminate sex”, since we no longer necessarily consider them androgynous when we assign a sex.)

I would go even further, and argue that we use the metric of sex as a starting point from which to set a target for this person’s gender presentation. For every aspect of a male-identified person that is not distinctly male (i.e. a femininely pretty face), they become considered more feminine (though in this case, I would hesitate to go so far as to say that it makes them unmasculine – the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, either). And when we change, and evaluate the person as a female, we similarly notice all the qualities that don’t ‘match’ with the femininity that we as a society insist on associating with femaleness, and that are instead distinctly masculine (and in this case, I do actually think that the word ‘unfeminine’ actually might be applied by a great number of people. Considering that I’m being told that unmasculine is not a real word, while unfeminine is, I suspect that the societal recognition of one concept, but not the other, is meaningful. There is, perhaps, the implicit message here that while it is possible for men to be feminine – i.e. a lesser form of man? – but that women, no matter how unfeminine they may be, can never truly be attributed with the glory that is masculinity. But I digress :P)

It cannot be denied that we, as a society, evaluate people in vastly different ways depending entirely on our perceptions of their gender. A man and a woman expressing themselves in exactly the same way are perceived in completely different lights. And, while this example tells us nothing about how this affects the way people are treated, or the level of respect that they are granted, it is certainly something to be cognizant of in our interactions with others.

Navigating the Gender Binary: Women-only Spaces

So, this thing happened. It was a tiny little thing, really, and most people wouldn’t have really given it a second thought, but it actually threw me for a bit of a loop. Here’s the thing:

Yesterday, I got a facebook invite to a clothing swap event. I was super excited! I’ve been wanting to cycle out a lot of my old wardrobe and get new stuff in, but haven’t had an affordable way to do it. This seemed like a good opportunity for me to at least make a start on doing that. And really, the only minor speed-bump for me is that a big part of my desire to switch out a good portion of my wardrobe is that I want to have more of a masculine/feminine/neutral gendered mix to the clothes available to me in the day-to-day – I’ve been borrowing my husband’s clothes sometimes, but that makes me feel silly in a weird way, and I want my own – whereas the swap was pretty clearly targeted at women and intended for women’s clothes

Anyway, I figured I could probably at least swap out some of the dresses I don’t want anymore, and get some button-down shirts or something in return. It’d be a start right? And I didn’t think too deeply about it being a woman-focused event, since I’d be bringing “women’s” clothes to the thing, so whatever.

And then, a few hours after I “joined” the event, the organizer posted:

In case you didn’t already know, this is a female only event. Thanks!

Oh. Well then. So I find myself in a bit of a dilemma?

Maybe. Maybe not. I am frequently, in my day-to-day life, required to implicitly or explicitly indicate my gender, and when it comes down to brass tacks, I go for the female marker. When using public washrooms, I use the women’s room 100% of the time. It’s safer, and since I do get read as female the vast majority of the time (no matter how hard I try sometimes) it’s just simpler. I’m unlikely to be challenged on it, so it’s what I do.

A few months back, I even attended a women’s only spa. I did think it through before making the call, but in the end I felt that I was obeying the spirit if not the letter of the rule. (And if I chose to interpret women in this context as “people with vaginas” – as I suspect they really meant; I imagine that some trans feminine people would be excluded, for instance – I was obeying the letter of the law as well.) I’ll break this one down.

The spa consists of a variety of baths at various temperatures, as well as a sauna. And it’s clothing optional. So, as is often the short-hand way of eliminating/minimizing sexual harassment and helping people feel comfortable, it was women only. And yeah, I get the intent behind this kind of rule; in similar environments that are co-ed, it can be difficult to prevent harassment from occurring. And even if a cis man is trying to be respectful, his body might betray him and make people uncomfortable. I don’t know if there’s a good solution to this, either. In order to eliminate the desire for women’s only spaces in this context, huge portions of our culture would have to be dismantled and reformed. We would need to stop sending the message that the naked female body is inherently sexual, and empower everyone (and especially straight cis men) to be able to still treat women context-appropriately regardless of their level of dress. And we would need to live in a society where an erect penis wasn’t automatically interpreted as a threat. Because it shouldn’t be, but I also understand why it is so often seen that way.

Anyway, I figured I would be as non-threatening to the environment as any other visibly queer (and I’m not even certain that I do read as queer to straight people, most of the time) vagina-having person. And I really needed the opportunity to relax and socialize, so I went. And I didn’t even feel horrible about it.

So why, then, am I having second thoughts about this clothing swap deal? Well, to be frank, the motivation behind the exclusionary policy here isn’t as compelling as it is in the case of the clothing-optional spa. There’s a bunch of things going on here, really, but before I dive into it, I want to be clear on a couple of things.

First, I don’t ascribe any ill-intentions to the organizer whose post threw me for such a loop. I’m certain it wasn’t even directed at me, in fact; she couldn’t possibly know my gender identity, after all, and after the post appeared, I checked the RSVP and invite lists and found that there were a handful of masculine-presenting people with clearly masculine names appearing there. So I suspect the notification was intended for them.

But still, I thought, why was it so important to make sure those men didn’t show up? Is she just concerned that they’ll be disappointed at the lack of other masculine folk with which to swap? Are we assuming these people are hoping to trade “men’s” clothes? Would it make a difference if we knew that they were looking to trade out feminine clothing to refresh their wardrobes? Or is the attendance of cross-dressers being deliberately discouraged (because it makes people uncomfortable)?

These are not the men who RSVP’d. But maybe they would like to go one of these events. Is there any reason not to let them?

I feel like the reasoning here is that the people who are interested in clothing swaps are generally pretty heavily female, and that therefore it makes sense to make them women-only, um, because… well, I mentioned above that people hoping to swap masculine clothing would be disappointed, so we can go with that. I do think the opening assumption there is acceptable – I suspect that women are more inclined to be interested int his kind of event than men are, on average, for all kinds of reasons that aren’t important in this discussion.

But I don’t see this as an important enough gender-related tendency for it to be explicitly reified and policed in the way the event is organized (strictly speaking, we should strive to never police gendered tendencies, though I acknowledge that the exclusionary policies of the spa to just this*). Why not decide that men/masculine clothing is welcome, but warn prospective masculine attendees that the pickings might be slim for them? It’s clear in the language of the event that it is primarily targeted toward women, but I see no point in being explicitly exclusionary. It’s entirely uncalled for, and it was certainly uncalled for to switch from the implicit exclusion of men (in the targeting of the event) to the explicit exclusion in the little public service announcement I posted above.

So, in the end, I don’t think I feel uncomfortable attending because I necessarily feel excluded (I certainly don’t feel intentionally excluded.) But I do feel uncomfortable attending an event that is explicitly excluding people without any non-discriminatory motivation for doing so. To make this distinction very clear: the swap would still function if men were welcome, whereas the spa might not; it certainly wouldn’t function in quite the same way (as much as I and many others might like it to).

But I also really need new clothes :\

——
*The primary reason I feel comfortable differentiating between the gender policing of the swap, and that at the spa (beyond the distinction made above) is that while both are reacting to gendered tendencies that are at least partially rooted in the patriarchy (in the case of the spa, it’s the inability of (straight) men to see women’s bodies in a non-sexual way; in the case of the swap, it’s the idea that men don’t really want to swap clothing), the spa policy is designed to reduce the negative impact of the gendered tendency by eliminating opportunities for men to harass women in the spa, while the swap policy is designed to perpetuate the lack of men participating in clothing swaps, which is pointless at best, and damaging to those men who are interested at worst.

More on gendered insults

After I wrote my take-down of the word “bitch”, I started wondering about other explicitly gendered insults. More to the point, are there any primarily masculine-gendered insults that function in any way resembling the true horror of “bitch”?

And I started thinking about the word “prick”. This is an insult that is pretty exclusively applied to men. And I wondered: does the application of this insult mirror the use of “bitch” as a way of tearing down women.

To reiterate: the thing about calling a woman a bitch (in the sense of “overly-aggressive”) is that you’re actually accusing her of some sort of magical form of over-aggression that apparently only women are capable of (as indicated by the fact that overly-aggressive men do not get called “bitches”). And this is a patently false, and extremely sexist/gender-policing way of looking at overly aggressive women. It’s disingenuous, and unfair.

So, is the use of the word “prick” similarly unfair? Does it reify some culturally assumed male-only character flaw that is actually just a more general, genderless flaw that we already have a gender-neutral word for? What does prick mean, anyway? And when do we choose to use it rather than some other, less gendered insult?

My instinct is actually that there may be some room in discourse for explicitly gendered insults against males (hear me out, people!) – something related to taking male privilege for granted or abusing the power that it gives men, for instance. This is a thing that men sometimes do that women definitely never do, because they don’t have that privilege. An example might be a dude pointing out that women shouldn’t complain about being objectified, ’cause he’d totally love to be objectified, donchaknow! (If you’re a dude who seriously thinks this, um, here)

But, then, unacknowledged privilege is not solely a male failing – and I don’t think that a failure to check one’s male privilege is substantially different from the failure to check white privilege, or ability privilege, or size privilege, or whatever else. And anyway, we do already have insults for people who fail radically in these ways; they’re sexist, or racist, or otherwise bigoted. So then, there’s a good chance that “prick” is problematic in ways that are similar to (some of) the ways the “bitch” is terrible. Let’s judge it on its own merits, then.

I think that perhaps the most literal interpretation is that calling a man a “prick” reduces him to nothing but a penis. So I guess it means that he’s thinking/acting in accordance with his penis alone? This is a really common way in which men are demonized – it relates to slavering beast theory, in which rape is just a force of nature that overtakes some men sometimes. It ignores men’s actual autonomy, their ability to think critically and to understand their actions. And it’s pretty not ok.

Like with bitch, when we call someone a prick, the actions that we mean to criticize may legitimately deserve calling out, but if we take this meaning of prick, it’s definitely not an appropriate method of making the call-out. It’s actively destructive to the conversation, because it basically says that the dude isn’t worth listening to anyway – and it also has the even worse implication that he’s ultimately not even responsible for his actions in the first place. He couldn’t help it!

Once again, there is absolutely nothing good about any of this. It’s unfair to men, while at the same time excusing them of responsibility for the shitty things they do. That’s an impressive superpower, but definitely not one I want to support.

So yeah, just call dudes that are behaving badly assholes – it’s a body part everyone has, and it’s not one that ever gets accused on controlling people’s actions.

Say it with me: why use a sexist term when “asshole” will do?