Growing up as a black gay boy in Youngstown, Ohio, my mother always said “Son, you must operate in this world intentionally, you must treat others with respect, and you must keep your hands to yourself.”
As a child, all I wanted to do was play with my Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and Easy-Bake Oven. Yes, my Easy-Bake Oven. Like many children, I sometimes ignored my mother, so statements like this went into one ear and out of the other. But now as I reflect on my childhood and place those moments into my daily existence, I realize that “keep your hands to yourself” taught me to respect myself, taught me to respect women, and taught me that we all have the right to our own body.
My fellow gay men, I want the best for all of us. We are not automatically granted access to a woman’s body. This letter is even for me as a reminder of my male privilege regardless of my sexual orientation. This is why I humbly ask for you to examine how we operate in this world and how we utilize the space of others.
We cannot touch a woman without her permission. We are not the exception and her permission to us is not implied. We, too, can promote rape culture. We do not get a “pass” to touch her hair or her body or her clothes. We do not have an automatic right to critique her weight or texture of hair. We are still men and women will always deserve our respect. Despite the cultural context, women still speak for themselves. We must learn this and we must understand this. Women have autonomy over their own body. For those of us who consider ourselves feminists, we cannot constantly promote feminism and women’s ownership, then be bent out of shape when she decides that she does not want to be subjected to touching, feeling, or unwanted contact.
Fellow gay men, we cannot invade a woman’s personal space because there isn’t any sexual attraction. Regardless of us not wanting to be sexually intimate with women, we, too, must seek permission and be given explicit consent to anything on their body. We must realize that no still means no. It always will.
Women make a multitude of decisions that impact the course of their lives. Some of these decisions are specific to marriage or partnership, career, education, and children. It seems, however, that out of all of the decisions that a woman makes in her lifetime, there is no choice that comes to define her as more “naturally” feminine than her decision to become a mother. The concept of motherhood is so tightly associated with female identity that we’re unable to conceive of a woman who has children and regrets doing so – or who chooses not to have children at all.
There is something about “choosing” not to become a mother that is tied to this ideology of motherhood as a feminine imperative. It’s as if choosing not to have children is choosing not to be feminine, and a woman choosing not to be feminine is a tough pill for people to swallow. Not surprisingly, a Canadian study has found that approximately half of women in their forties who made the decision to remain childfree declined to share with people that their decision was…a decision. The study found that this was because of the social pressure they believed they would receive if they disclosed that they were childfree by choice. It seems that even those of us who choose to remain childfree often keep this decision to ourselves, because we understand that there is an unwritten social contract that comes along with being a woman – not keeping our end of the bargain is something that people judge us for, so why share it?
Recently, a study conducted by sociologist Julia McQuillan found that distress over not having children is something that women only experience if motherhood is meaningful or important to them. Voluntarily childfree women feel little distress over their decision, regardless of what their family or friends think about their choice. This may seem like an obvious argument – of course women who want to conceive and are unable to do so will experience distress. But if a woman does not get a promotion at work or doesn’t get into the college of her choice, she doesn’t typically receive the same kind of judgment from society and doesn’t typically feel the same type of distress that comes along with not being able to experience motherhood. This is because those achievements and failures are not explicitly tied to gender, and by extension, femininity the way that motherhood is.
**TRIGGER WARNING: Rape/sexual violence, physical violence**
We should recognize that, at least to some extent, the over-reportage of transit oriented violence plays on the fears of those who are not transit dependent– a commuter class that might have various options for getting from place to place, not a gendered working class that must inhabit and pass through urban interstices daily. That being said, we should continue to invite a multitude of voices in our critical dialogues and look at platforms like HarassMap (for example) as blueprints for how transit riders might participate in the mapping of public violence rather than simply running scared that they may be attacked at any given moment.
Public transit is not just backdrop to these events- it is often rehabbed as a viable ‘green’ option for the new urban cool or it is tragically pathologized. There is a logic at work, which influences how different bodies are understood in relation to these particular types of spaces. It is precisely because certain types of bodies are seen as disposable in the first place that these violent acts continue to occur. Therefore any critical reflection must employ an intersectional approach that takes up the politics of mobility, in relation to race, class and gender and space.
I am bringing back an old tradition of doing class notes on some of these ideas.
Joan Morgan, hip-hop feminism pioneer, has been moving her work into conversations around pleasure and sexual politics. Jeff Chang, hip-hopper-about-town and the head of Stanford’s Institue for Diversity in the Arts, asked Joan if she’d like the be the artist in residence for WinterQuarter. Joan agreed and then developed a class called “The Pleasure Principle: A Post-Hip Hop Search for a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure.”
South African runner Caster Semenya will carry South Africa’s flag at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.
“It’s such a privilege for me to do such a big thing like that,” Semenya said in a recorded statement, according to The Guardian. “To carry the flag for the team, it’s such a big thing.”
In 2010 Semenya became a household name not because of her athletic abilities but because the 21-year old faced a year of dehumanizing public speculation about her sex.
“I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,” Semenya said in late March 2010 when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) declared her to be “female-enough” to compete as a woman.
This week Urban Outfitters added yet another epic fail to the clothing company’s laundry list of misdeeds.
UO has been selling a greeting card that reads: “Jack and Jill, Went up the Hill, So Jack could see Jill’s fanny, But Jack got a shock, And an eyeful of cock, Because Jill was a closet tranny.”
Angry Redditors called UO’s nursery rhyme “blatantly transphobic” with its use of the much-debated “t-word”and its objectification of trans bodies. But that’s not the only reason why UO’s “charming” card is such a slap in the face.
For years UO has been gobbling up gender-bending style and regurgitating queer fashion for the masses.
In 2009 the New York Times identified androgyny as the “it” fashion trend of the coming decade. Psychologist Dr. Diane Ehrensaft told the Times a new peer culture made gender-bending “not only acceptable, but cool.”
The cool-factor of androgyny has been amplified in recent years by icons like Lady Gaga, who performed in drag at last year’s VMA’s and played up media rumors that she is intersex in her “Telephone” music video (the pop star has since revealed that she’s not). Androgynous models like Andrej Pejic have been walking the runway for Marc Jacobs, and the andro-hot heroine of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has inspired a clothing line at H&M.
UO stores are cropping up in suburban malls everywhere, selling hip, gender-neutral accessories like beanies, tees, hoodies, plastic-framed glasses, and skinny jeans. Last year the comapny, which includes Anthropologie and Free People, opened 57 new stores, competing with preppy retailers like American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Gap.
UO stands out with is self-proclaimed “funky” (queer?) threads. I’m not suggesting that all “funky” and “androgynous” fashion is queer fashion, nor am I suggesting that all queer folks wear the same things. But come on now, where do you think UO got the idea for this photo in their winter catalogue?
In a culture that punishes princess boys and fears Chaz Bono, why is androgyny considered fashionable, even sexy? And how did gender-neutral/gender-bending clothing go mainstream? It’s no secret that what scares, sells. So when the queers go bump in the night, the scaredy cats behind UO swipe our clothes and duck under the covers.
UO has no problem taking without giving back. The company has been outed a number of times in the past few months, first for ripping of independent jewelry designers, then for selling culturally-appropriative “Navajo” clothing and accessories. But sometimes, UO co-founder and CEO Richard Hayne is in the spirit of giving, so hedonates to anti-gay politicians like Rick “gay sex equals man-on-dog humping’” Santorum.
Hayne might think the gays are scary, but his customers are probably less likely to be spooked. Now more Americans support gay marriage than ever before, and among the young, “funky” folks who buy their leggings and Bill Cosby sweaters at UO, I’d guess that the percentage is probably higher.
Since the gays aren’t so scary anymore, UO has resorted to a “tranny” jokes to get that extra “edge.” And it’s just not funny.
While the the young and hip prowl the streets in their androgynous attire, it might look like the “end of gender” is near. But as Coco Chanel reminds us, fashion fades. UO’s darling greeting card brings us back to harsh reality: When it comes to understanding and respecting the spectrum of identities beneath the clothes, we have a long, long way to go.
- Bitch Magazine
This is a really smart post.
I hate UO’s politics/actions and as much as it pains me to not shop there or at anthro - fuck them.