Tag Archives: feminism

On misogyny in the gay community

[Content note: mention of anti-blackness slur, misogyny and homophobia]

Sometimes I get asked to go on BBC World Have Your Say, an awesome international service radio program that seeks to cover news and opinions around the world. Right before the World Cup I got asked to speak on the ridiculous World Cup song (and video) by J-Lo, Pitbull and Claudia Leitte.

Predictably, the video was full of damaging images of Brazilian women which I have no doubt encouraged foreign men to harass Brazilian women during the event. Brazil has been capitalizing on the bodies of Brazilian women for decades, particularly marketing the image of the ‘mulata’ as sexual, welcoming and easy. This stereotype is damaging in many ways that I won’t go into right now.

During the BBC segment that discussed the video, I was clear about my position: the cheap, lazy representation of Brazilian culture was extremely damaging, especially for women, who are routinely street harassed by both local and foreign men. After a lot of searching for a person who enjoyed the song to stimulate both sides of the debate, the producers of the show were able to find one guy.

After presenting my case, based on real life experiences of harassment (and again, I repeat: both from local and foreign men) and self-censorship because of my nationality’s sexualized stereotype, the guy broke in and said I was exaggerating. The exchange that followed went something like this:

Me: “As a man, you can`t speak on my experiences.”

Dude: “Bitch, I’m gay.”

Yep, this guy was so entitled that he thought it would be a good idea to call me a bitch on international radio. He had to assert his maleness with his oppression, because his sexual orientation somehow means that he can’t silence women (spoiler: he can, because he has male privilege).

This is why, when Rose McGowan said that “gay men are more misogynistic than straight men,” I didn’t bat an eyelash to defend gay men. It was wrong to quantify misogyny in such terms – I can’t do that, to go as far as to say that one is worse than the other. But this is something I have come into direct contact with.

Even if I could say which group is worse, that’s not the point (and it will never be the point). Misogyny in the gay community exists and it has to be addressed. The worst way to go about it is to say: “Wah! But straight guys are even worse!” That’s just shifting blame and denying that, even though you are oppressed in one instance, you were still raised in a patriarchal society that teaches hatred of women and femininity.

This is not, in any way, to deny that gay men suffer homophobia, prejudice and oppression daily. Part of this is perpetuated by straight women, as well – and that’s something we need to work on. We are all complicit to micro and macro aggression in everyday life but dismissing a genuine piece of criticism as ‘homophobia’ (thanks Stonewall) is not helpful to the deconstruction of these prejudices.

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The Dismissal of Womanly Pain and Pressure to be the Strong Woman

When I was thirteen, my fellow classmates made fun of my moustache and bushy eyebrows. The feminist woman I have become would like to say I ignored them and wore my facial hair with pride, but that is not what happened. I started waxing off the hairs on my upper lip and shaping my eyebrows – two things I continue to do today.

There is absolutely nothing remarkable about that. Women all over the world wax, shave, bleach and laser body hair to look smoother and more feminine. As a feminist, I have nothing against women who choose to remove body hair – after all, I do it myself – but it’s important for me to think about why I submit to the pain of waxing every month.

As I grew up from my moustached thirteen-year-old self, I started waxing other places too: my legs, my bikini line and even my toes. And it hurts. Oh, how it hurts. Why do I have to do this every month?

When I recently complained about this, someone told me: “Just don’t do it anymore, then.” That sounds pretty simple right? Just don’t obey the patriarchy. Just go to the beach with a hairy bikini line. Just look unprofessional with your bushy eyebrows. Just wear shorts and let your hairy legs show. Just make your body into a political statement.

The simplicity of that statement made me wonder about female pain and how it is often dismissed as unimportant. Both sides of this situation would bring me pain. If I own up to my body hair, I will be judged by a sexist, misogynist society. If I continue to remove it, I will have to deal with the pain of waxing and shaving and the medical issues that come with it.

This dismissal happens when going through pain to achieve smooth legs is considered normal and even required.

It happens when women are told street harassment is something they have to accept, even though women who are victims of it say they feel uncomfortable, objectified and afraid.

It happens when nine women accuse a man of abusing them, but we are still told to ‘hear both sides’.

It happens when nine out of ten women feel pain when their uterus is contracting to get rid of its lining but talking about periods and period pain is considered gross or ‘making a fuss’.

It happens when women are told they should’ve thought about the consequences of their actions when seeking abortion, even though all kinds of birth control can fail.

It happens when women are paid less but people argue that the wage gap is actually a myth.

It happens all the goddamn time.

While men are taught not to show their pain, women are routinely told their pain is not important. Women’s pain is normal because women are more emotional and hormonal, so why pay any attention to it? Often, women hide their pain away so as to not be annoying or be perceived as weak or too feminine.

We are asked to be the Strong Woman, which is an image I truly resent. No one ever says “He is a strong man” because men are presumed to be strong because of their masculinity – or the societal enforcement of said masculinity. This necessity to be a Strong Woman reinforces the idea that not being feminine and being more like men is better.

And let’s not forget that being the Strong Woman can be dangerous, speaking your mind, as a woman, can be life-threatening – on the internet or otherwise (Mary Spears was definitely strong when she told a man “no” and was killed for it). I see women who are perceived as Strong Women being harassed on the internet every day. Not to mention that a Strong Woman is often mistaken for a Bitch.

Women cannot win either way.

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil

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This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted

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On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

Beyond Sex and Sunshine

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It’s not news that Brazilian women are used to sell plane tickets, hotel stays, tours, and whatever else there is to do in Brazil. In the last year covering Brazil, I’ve come to realize that the mainstream press is reluctant to cover anything other than Brazilian women’s sexuality – which enforces stereotypes and dehumanizes women in a way that puts them in danger.

So far I have reported on the fact that here in Brazil there are more rapes than murders, that 80% of Brazilian women have been sexually harassed in the street, how one woman dies every hour and a half in this country, how the former Human Rights Committee president was sexist and how sexual exploitation of minors is considered normal in Brazil.

While Brazilian women are depicted as hypersexual, they live in an extremely sexist and conservative society. It’s not really surprising since most women around the world live in that kind of environment, but I believe this fallacy is especially harmful in Brazil. While we, women, are viewed as sexual objects, beckoning Brazilian and foreign men alike to a ‘sexual paradise, we are also human and we support the country in so many more important ways.

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For example, did you know 25% of Brazilian households are financially supported by women? Yet, men receive, on average, salaries that are 42% higher than women’s? Did you even imagine that native indian women and black women have the hardest time getting health care in Brazil? Or that in eleven years, rape rates have risen by 88% in Rio de Janeiro – a supposedly sexually free city?

These statistics are terrifying to me. I know women here in Brazil from all walks of life, and they are so much more than sexual objects. I want to tell their stories and explore how their particular lives are affected by their nationality and its stereotypes.

This is why I have launched the project Beyond Sex and Sunshine at Beacon Reader. Although I have pitched similar projects / reports to mainstream publications they have been widely rejected – there is really no interest in selling such a humanizing project, I guess.

The cool thing about Beacon Reader is that you can back my work financially, so you will be helping me directly in making this project happen. I know a lot of people don’t have money to contribute, but I also believe writers should be paid for their work.

Here are the subjects I am planning to cover:

  • The life and stories of Brazilian women in the favelas
  • Afro Brazilian culture
  • Racism and gender
  • Transgender women and their struggles
  • Queer women and their struggles
  • Brazilian carnival, sexual harassment and the non-sexual aspects of carnival
  • Brazilian women and football
  • Native indian women’s lives in a colonized Brazil
  • Rape, rape culture and the failings of the Brazilian system
  • Women, politics and religion
  • Sex workers
  • Sexual exploitation of girls and its normalization
  • Women entrepreneurs

As I move forward with the project I am sure new subjects will come up. I also ask that if there is anything you think I should be covering you please get in touch with me through email at nicolefroio@gmail.com. I am so, so excited about it and I really hope I get the funding I need to get this project off the ground. It would be really amazing if you could fund me but I know that’s not always possible. For those who cannot fund me I will sporadically release shorter, edited versions of my work.

Things to note:
1) Any NGOs/communities I mention in my reporting will receive a donation from the funding raised on Beacon;
2) I will try my best to let these stories speak for themselves, distancing myself from privilege and biases. I want to be responsible.

If you can’t fund me, I only ask that you spread the project’s link around. Tweet and share, please please please. Thank you!

 

Feminist Times should not cover trans-exclusive events

A few weeks ago I saw a report on Feminist Times about the Rad Fems UK event FemiFest. After thinking “Wow, this is just a copy-paste job”, I noticed a few people (not many) had complained about the report being published in a website that trans* inclusive.

feminist times

As you can see, it says Feminist Times is a trans-inclusive website. However, that didn’t stop them from republishing a press release of an event that purposefully and self-righteously excludes trans women. They did say that if you disagree with something published you can bite back – this is what I’m doing now. But I don’t think covering FemiFest is in any way about opinions. It’s about a hateful group harming a minority that already suffers. This is, unfortunately, irresponsible journalism.

Feminist Times defended the reporting of the event by saying that since FemiFest is a feminist event ‘of course they would report on it’. Perhaps, if Feminist Times was not a website aimed at trans* inclusive feminism this would be true – but as one Twitter user pointed out, would they report on an event that advocates pro-life abortion policies with anything but disdain and criticism?

A little bit of research has revealed that FemiFest is definitely not trans-inclusive and in my opinion this is a conflicting information to be distributed by a trans-inclusive website. Opinions are one thing to respect, but purposeful exclusion of trans women is straight up hate and oppression. And I found this out with a quick search on Google.

The FemiFest website reads (emphasis mine):

“(…) organisers will not tolerate oppressive language or behaviour towards any group facing discrimination and oppression. FemiFest is opposed to ideologies of oppression.

“It is a central part of our radical feminist analysis that gender is a tool of women’s oppression, not women’s liberation. FemiFest organisers share the view that gender is a human created power hierarchy based on reproductive sex. This gendered power arrangement relegates women to a social status that is secondary to men. None of the organisers consider ourselves to have an innate gender – neither masculine, feminine, trans, cis, gender queer, or any other gender. We are gender abolitionists who have been raised and socialized as girls and women *because of our female bodies* in the context of a male supremacist (sic) social system.

“Women who consider that gender is a benign spectrum of self expression (sic) will find other conferences and festivals where they can organise with like minded (sic) people. FemiFest is designed by and for women interested in feminist theory with a structural analysis of power and those who want to genuinely engage with women’s liberationist ideas.”

In the least, being against ‘ideologies of oppression’ is conflicting with telling trans women to ‘find other conferences where they can organise with like-minded people’. From what I understand, Rad Fems is a group of trans exclusive radical feminists (TERFs). While the UK is already heavily transphobic the creation of such events and such a radical group is hardly helpful to trans people in the UK. Trans woman and trans rights activist Sophia Banks explains:

“[FemiFest is] run by a TERF and full of some vile transphobes. Not good. Very disappointed how supposed trans positive feminists will promote hate like this. The UK is horribly transphobic. Trans people can go to jail for having sex with someone and not disclosing they are trans.”

When I mention the defence Feminist Times used, Sophia says it’s BS.

She said: “They know exactly what they are supporting. (Julie) Bindel is involved after all. Fact is transphobia when framed as gender critical is seen as acceptable by many feminists.

(I have been unable to verify if Bindel is or is not behind Rad Fems UK or FemiFest)

It seems one of the main problems with cis feminism is that pro-trans cis women never stand up against transphobic attitude within the community. It might be that TERFs are a small group of hateful feminists, but that doesn’t mean that their activism or opinions on gender are not harmful. So why don’t cis women stand up for their trans sisters?

Sophia thinks there are several reasons for this.

She said: “One, I figure most don’t care to be honest, cissexism is everywhere. They don’t want to get involved. Also, many I have talked to privately want to but afraid of messing up and getting attacked by trans women. And sadly some are bigots who don’t see trans women as ‘real’ women and don’t want us in ‘their’ spaces. It’s a combination of hate, ignorance, fear and indifference.

I admit that I am very afraid of putting my foot in my mouth when speaking out against hate and prejudice against trans women. It is difficult to see through my cis privilege what is and isn’t offensive and what kind of vocabulary is appropriate to use.

While I haven’t written much about the subject, I feel that as a feminist journalist and blogger it’s not really constructive to not try and speak about this kind of hate.

Sophia explained: “Cis folks can and should call out hate. They can do that without putting their foot in their mouth. And I am chill, I get people fuck up. I have made mistakes and have been called on it, I listened and learned. Fear of fucking up is good but also not. It’s hard as what works with other communities does not work for trans women b/c we are so small in numbers. We can’t do this without help from allies and that puts us in an awkward position.”

With that being said, I do not want to make this post about me, or cis allies. It is about TERF hate and a personal and ethical obligation to speak out about transphobia.

“So many are unemployed, many forced into sex work then dragged through a transphobic prison system. Violence, murders, etc… We have serious problems and cis white feminism looks away. I say cis white as I find a lot of support from WOC,” Sophia says. “Stop supporting cis women who call us men and want advocate to dent trans women access to rape and homeless shelters, for a start. To dent trans women access to these spaces is to invite violence on trans women. How is that feminism on their part? They see us as a men and that puts trans women in danger.”

So maybe Feminist Times thought they were simply reporting on a feminist event… but truth is that this event is extremely harmful to a minority that already suffers more than any cis woman. Putting trans women in danger is not cool and reporting on an event that promotes hate is awful.

The Brazilian media, Representation and ‘bullying’ of foreigners

Last week, the Brazilian Human Rights Commission approved a request by Congressman Marcos Rogério to remove a Guaraná commercial featuring Neymar that allegedly ‘promotes bullying against foreigners in Brazil’. Watch the video above.

In the commercial, foreigners ask Neymar how to order Guaraná, a Brazilian soda made from an Amazonian fruit. Neymar then writes the translation on a piece of paper. But he doesn’t write what they asked him – he writes common Brazilian sayings that make zero sense in the context of ordering a drink. And so the ‘gringos’ go off to Rio and embarrass themselves by saying things like “I am a dog sucking on a mango, please” (which is a phrase that means ‘ugly’).

Maybe it is a little bit offensive, but if someone is travelling to a place where they don’t know the language they should expect some confusion and ridicule. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being lost in translation – no one expects someone to speak all the languages. And if you are hung up on going places where the language is unknown to you… well, just stay at home.

In any case, the complaint was not made by any gringo (that I know of) but by Brazilian congressmen who are responsible for human rights in this country (it’s important to note that the former president of this human rights commission was largely homophobic, racist and sexist). From this I can only assume they a) have nothing better to do and b) have no idea what human rights actually are.

It’s very difficult to agree that this little prank qualifies as bullying and that this commercial somehow, as the request document put it, ‘violates the values of human dignity’ when so much of the media representation in Brazil is incredibly harmful to its own population.

For example, black women are notably either portrayed in soap operas as maids or sexual objects. The first ‘gay kiss’ on national television was aired a few months ago but comedy shows still largely rely on homophobia to make jokes. Women in general are told they are token prizes in commercials, or are regularly asked by yogurt adverts whether they are thin enough for summer.

If the issue really is ‘human dignity’ and not ‘don’t bully the gringos, they’re bringing us cash’, then why is the image of the Brazilian woman, for example, so warped? A study published by Avon in 2013 shows how women in particular have their ‘human dignity’ violated by the Brazilian media: half of Brazilian men think women are responsible for the house and 89% of them find it inadmissible when women do not keep the house clean. Around 50% of Brazilian men also think women don’t feel the need for sex and 69% of them will not allow their wives to go out without them.

Judging by the commission’s complaint against the Guaraná commercial, we can assume that these congressmen know the importance of media representation. And yet, the Brazilian media is sexist, misogynist, transphobic, racist and does not correctly portray our people – in fact they are regularly oppressed by it.

Slavery is constantly erased, and made into a joke – despite the ugly fact that Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, after bringing 3 million Africans to the country. Women are belittled and represented as sex objects. The history of native people is also constantly made fun of and the genocide of native peoples is erased by the mainstream colonialist rhetoric.

And this pathetic complaint, that uses ‘human dignity’ as an argument, is coming from a human rights commission that spent the larger part of 2013 trying to pass a bill of law called ‘Gay Cure’ that would allow doctors to treat homosexuality as a psychological disease.

When the population’s ‘human dignity’ is violated every day by harmful stereotypes and oppressive representation, it is really hard to care about Neymar laughing at a few tourists who are fortunate enough to be able to travel to Brazil to (presumably) watch the World Cup.

Consent 101

[TW: sexual assault, coercion and psychological abuse]

This post was inspired by accounts of sexual assault and abuse by ex-partners of famous YouTubers. Once the first complaint came out, many other girls reported similarly traumatizing experiences with these men. The most shocking accounts (to me) were that of the abuse of Tom Milson towards a 15 year old girl when he was 22 (a horrifying personal account of these events can be found here) and the rampant sexual and emotional manipulation of Alex Day which has been reported by five women so far (one / two / three / four / five). Although Alex Day has admitted to how much of an abusive, manipulative, objectifying person he is, he has not admitted to any sexual abuse/manipulation that led to sexual assault and actions that led to traumatic sexual experiences for his partners.

Although Tom Milsom’s relationship with a minor who is not old enough to consent is shocking, I feel that Day’s actions are equally, if not more, worrying, considering the amount of women who have written accounts of his behaviour and the type of concealed abuse and sexual coercion that is widely accepted in society. This behaviour is a common one, where men feel entitled to sex with a woman and assume sexual interest because of the woman’s previous interactions, behaviour and other factors. It could be true that in Alex’s mind he simply assumed, because he is a famous YouTube star who is often fawned over, every girl ever would want to sleep with him.

The line ‘Can we skip the bit where you say no before anything happens?’ was reportedly regularly used by him. He has written a response denying allegations however it is my opinion that he does not understand what consent is, how sexual politics should work in a landscape where both sexes are equal, and that his fame, gender and (supposed) good looks do not entitle him to anything.

This is what led me to write a handy guide to sexual consent and inter-partner communication. Feel free to comment and suggest additions to the post. I sincerely hope this post reaches the YouTube community, most importantly young women who are only just entering into their sexual lives. I was once a young(er) woman who let myself be led on, feel guilty for not engaging in sexual activity and give in when I wasn’t ready or up to it.

I also hope Alex Day reads this and further questions his own behaviour so that this does not happen with any other girl that happens to be around him.

What sexual consent is

– The enthusiastic, preferably verbal, manifestation of “Yes, I accept this sexual act”. However, consent can also be given by body language – if the person is kissing enthusiastically one could assume they want sexual contact. However, to avoid misunderstandings it is always recommended that you (a) Ask if they are OK to continue (b) Pay close attention to their body language and do not ignore the signs they are giving you because you really want to get laid and they are not explicitly saying no.

– A retractable factor of a sexual relationship. Once given, it can be taken away whenever the person feels uncomfortable with the act they are performing. A “NO” in the middle of an act that was previously consensual should result in the end of the sexual act. If the other party does not stop, this is sexual assault.

What sexual consent is not:

– The absence of a “no”. Consent is only clearly given when both parties enthusiastically want to have sex. If your partner is visibly giving in to you because they feel guilty or pressured this is sexual assault and you are, in the least, a huge jerk. At the most, you’re an abuser.

– A person who is drunk saying yes. If a person is very inebriated they are not able to consent.

– A relationship between a person under the age of consent with an older person  who is above the age of consent. People under the age of consent (children) are not able to give consent because they are susceptible to manipulation and grooming.

– A person who is passed out/asleep/incoherently inebriated cannot give consent. If a person is touched sexually while unconscious they are being sexually assaulted. Even if someone is on the couch, passed out, with their legs splayed open this is not an invitation. The only invitation that allows furthering sexual relations is an explicit one from a conscious person who is able to give consent.

– The assumption that a person wants sexual contact despite repeated rejections because of previous interactions between the two parties. Previous actions done by survivors that are typically used to victim blame: (a) flirting, (b) the fact you are in a relationship, (c) ‘provocative’ clothes, (d) making out a few minutes ago (a YES is always retractable) (e) gossip that calls your partner a ‘whore/slut/hoe’ or any bullsh*t names of the sort. What matters is the person’s wants at that moment and time, nothing that happened previously counts as a reason to force sexual intercourse.

Do not

– Insist on a sexual act after you are rejected. More often than not they are not playing hard to get. Respect their abilities as a human being to make mature, thought out decisions that do not benefit your wants for sexual contact. The world doesn’t revolve around you and not everyone wants to sleep with you.

– Assume anyone owes you sex because you paid for dinner, bought them a drink, gave them flowers, made a huge romantic gesture, etc, etc.

– Think you are entitled to sex in ANY WAY. Nobody owes you anything regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation and previous behaviours.

– Push your partner toward your crotch. Ask them. And respect them if the answer is no.

Do

– Ask if your partner is OK to proceed.

– Be aware of and try to read body language.  Many times people feel uncomfortable and guilty about stopping sexual contact because of previous ‘promises’, acts, behaviour and the belief that one party (mostly heterosexual women in relation to men, due to the patriarchal, sexist society we live in) owe their partner sex.

– Talk to your partner even if it is a one night stand. Always ask if a particular sexual act is acceptable. Do not, under any circumstance, spring a sexual act on them – communication is key. Communication is the only way to make sure both parties are protected from sexual abuse/coercion/manipulation.

Statistics & facts

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network):

Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. (…) According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey –there is an average of 237,868 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year.

On the reality of who rapists actually are (not a man in a dark alley way):

Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.1
73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.1
38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.1
28% are an intimate.1
7% are a relative (source)

On harassment:

“31% of female employees report being harassed at work.

70-90% of harassers repeat their conduct.

About 15,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each year.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years. (source)”

On sexual coercion:

Verbal Sexual Coercion: often words are used by someone using sexual coercion in an attempt to achieve sexual relations out of someone who has previously said no to sexual advances. The words that are used may be flattering, outright begging, calling names, arguing, lying or deliberately misleading. Examples of verbal sexual coercion may include the following: (a) “You know you want it.” (b) “I’m so hot for you.” (c) “Don’t make me stop now.” (d) “Don’t be a prude.”

Emotional Sexual Coercion: In this type of sexual coercion, a person takes advantage of trust, intimacy, or emotional instability to garner sexual favors. Emotional sexual coercion may include the following: (a) Exploitation of emotions of the other person, (a) Using emotional pressure, (c) Threatening that if sexual encounters do not occur, the friendship will be lost. (d) Using guilt for not being involved in a sexual activity, (e) Wearing one down through constant, emotional-laden phrases, (f) Saying things like, “If I don’t get sex from you, I’ll find it elsewhere.”, (g) Saying things like, “If you LOVE me, you’ll have sex with me.”, (h) Saying things like, “You’re not a virgin – why not have sex with me?” (I recommend you read this page thoroughly as it is an excellent definition of sexual coercion)

I hope this post has clears up any doubts about consent. In our present society sexism, rape culture, male entitlement and misogyny often interfere in sexual relationships that should be built on a landscape where both genders are 100% equal.

As to men who act like Alex Day has reportedly acted, I hope this post has educated you. I like to believe that all humans are capable of changing and acting in good faith. However if you have acted this way in the past do not expect forgiveness or sympathy from anyone. Even if you were previously uneducated about the above mandatory consent etiquette, you were still a jerk in the past and probably traumatized someone who trusted you with sexual intimacy.

And to all victims/survivors who have reported this kind of abuse, stay brave and thank you.

UPDATE(14/03/2014):

my response to an ‘admission’ of guilt from Alex Day
ways Alex Day ignored ‘NO’

If you have been sexually assaulted please contact RAINN for help and guidance.

Woman lectures ladies on being alone on Valentine’s day, world laughs at her face

(or that’s what I want to happen)

Susan Patton wrote a hilarious article on the Wall Street Journal, it’s a groundbreaking  piece of satire entitled A Little Valentine’s Day Straight Talk. Or at least that’s what I thought until I realized the dubbed ‘Princeton Mom’ was seriously telling me to stop watching Downton Abbey and smarten up (by getting a husband).

Continue reading here.

Shut up about Beyoncé already

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Is Beyoncé a feminist? Here’s the short answer: yes. The long answer will be a blog I am writing out of wariness because I am honestly sick of the whole discussion. Let’s be clear about this: women do not need a feminist badge that is approved by every feminist on the internet. It’s gotten to a point that Beyoncé is simply being attacked by people who have not even studied her work – which is fine, but also misleading.

Beyoncé, the studio album, is a concept masterpiece that focuses on black womanhood, sexual pleasure between two consenting, married adults, love for Beyoncé’s daughter and grief for Aaliyah. In my humble opinion it is impossible to judge her ‘feminist credentials’ (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) without really getting to grips with the message she is trying to get across.

Sexual liberation

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Beyoncé’s album is full of explicit, sexual content that quite clearly expresses a full, satisfied sexual relationship with her husband. Yet Beyoncé gets criticized for wearing skimpy dresses, dancing suggestively and showing her sexual side.

In the song Partition, for example, Beyoncé reveals “He like to call me Peaches when we get this nasty” and “He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse / He Monica Lewinski’d all on my gown”, suggesting Beyoncé and her husband engage in sexual role-play (Monica Lewinski, Peaches).

Beyoncé said, about this song, to People magazine: “I was so embarrassed after I recorded the song because I’m just talking shit, I’m like, ‘I can’t play this for my husband.’ I still haven’t played it for my mom. She’s going to be very mad at me.”

Perhaps Jay Z and Bey should be ashamed of playing the widely criticized verse of Drunk in Love, “I’m Ike Turner, turn up, baby, no, I don’t play / Now eat the cake, Anna Mae said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!” since all thinkpieces written about it say it glamorizes domestic violence (in this case Tina Turner’s abuse by her ex-husband Ike Turner).

But it’s really important to bring context into this discussion. As I previously mentioned, the whole album has BDSM theme, heavily influence by role play. And what Jay Z and Beyoncé say before the Anna Mae bomb is very relevant:

Beyoncé: “We be all night, and everything all right / No complaints from my body, so fluorescent under these lights”

Jay Z: “Hold up, stumble all in the house, time to back up all that mouth / That you had all in the car, talking ’bout you the baddest bitch thus far / Talking ’bout you be repping that Third, I wanna see all that shit that I heard.

All accounts indicate that this is a consensual BDSM relationship. It’s curious to compare this to the 50 Shades of Grey, a widely accepted book that speaks of a non-consensual, abusive BDSM relationship (oh and let’s not forget the series of books that brought this about that also depicts an abusive relationship, Twilight), yet was read by thousands of women and accepted like it was nothing. Yet, when Beyoncé sings about a strongly consensual relationship, she is torn to pieces and the context is completely ignored – has it ever occurred to anyone that this could open the door for an honest discussion of BDSM, perhaps including the line between abuse and sexual play?

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Personally, I can say that Beyoncé has time and again liberated me sexually. Her work continuously tells me that it’s okay to love sex, to feel sexy and be sexual.

She said, about her body and showing it off: “I was very aware of the fact that I was showing my body. I was 195 pounds when I gave birth. I lost 65 pounds. I worked crazily to get my body back. I wanted to show my body.”

There’s no problem in showing off your body, as long as you don’t shame anyone in the process. Men and women with all kinds of bodies should show off their bodies, actually. But Beyoncé can’t really win: when she shows her body she is bragging, right? Or is she showing personal satisfaction with the work she put into her body?

And on her sexual freedom: “I don’t at all have any shame about being sexual and I’m not embarrassed about it and I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me because I do believe that sexuality is a power that we all have.”

How is this not a positive feminist opinion to have and declare to women all over the world?

Feminism is a personal choice

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Feminism has a perfection problem. We need certain perfections that fit in the right places to have feminist credentials, otherwise our opinions and actions are just completely invalid. This belief is a problem.

Feminism is about freedom and personal choice, not impossible standards. Impossible standards are routinely enforced by the patriarchy and enforcing it in feminism is a kind of oppression in itself. So is Beyoncé a feminist? Yes she is, because she self-identifies as a feminist and she is free to do so even if she is married, has a kid, has an amazing sex life and talks about BDSM. (Let me just point out here that one of the bigger problems I have with Beyoncé’s work is her collaborations with Terry Richardson. Again, she’s not perfect.)

And can I just say, on the subject of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s collaboration at the Grammy’s that a woman was passionately singing about her sex life with her husband and she was criticized? Women cannot win: if a woman dances with a random guy, she is a whore – and even if she dances with her husband she is a whore. Can someone please explain?

I cannot stress enough that all of us are imperfect and that the perfect feminist does not exist and will never exist. Beyoncé is not it, and she will never be.

So if you disapprove of Drunk in Love’s Jay Z lines, that’s fine. But that does not negate anyone’s ‘feminist credentials’.

“She’s only doing it for the money!”

This is one of the most tired and simplistic arguments that are often thrown at artists (mainly female pop stars) and it honestly irritates me. Let’s break this down once and for all.

Everyone needs to work to live: artists, singers, journalists, lawyers, businessmen. Everyone. Does that devalue the work you do in any way? Does earning money mean you’re a bad person because you don’t work for free, in a state of complete selflessness?

It’s not immoral to do things for money, that’s the world we live in. And it does not (and will never) devalue any of the messages Beyoncé is trying to get through to women all over the world. And maybe just her fans will listen, but you know what? That’s pretty awesome because she has awesome things to say – and as a writer I understand she should be paid for her work.

Chimamanda Adichie

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One of the most valuable things I took from Beyoncé’s new album was the book Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie. It is, at present, my favourite book and Chimamanda has a place in my heart as one of my favourite writers now (right up there with JK Rowling, and you know that’s a big deal). I am extremely grateful to Beyoncé for bringing this woman into my life.

Chimamanda’s stories are truly revelatory. They are mostly about Nigeria and the culture clashes between Africa and the Western world. I had become bored with young adult fiction and was looking for something new that didn’t sound like the same old story: Chimamanda saved me. She is truly brilliant. And for this, I declare that Beyoncé is a feminist and no matter how many think pieces you write you cannot take away her agency and self-identity.

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The flat stomach and other expectations that bring us down

[TRIGGER WARNING: eating disorders and vaginal cosmetic surgery]

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I’ve been working out a lot lately and I’m proud of it. Unfortunately I still have a belly with which I have a strained hate-love relationship. Sometimes I love it because it’s kind of curvy and nice and makes me look real. Other times I really hate it and wish it would go away so that I can look like Britney Spears. I am not overweight (and there is nothing wrong with being overweight as long as you are healthy about it!) but somehow I am still subject of fat shaming. Some people often point out my belly (how is that even allowed?) and make me feel insecure about it.

Which leads me to ask – does any woman have privilege when it comes to their bodies?

When women have muffin tops they are told they are fat. When men have a little belly they are given a pass – women cannot have any fat on their bellies! Ever! They have to be flat and perfect.  (Although someone pointed out to me that – at least in Rio de Janeiro – if you are a gay man beauty standards dictate flat bellies too).

Another problem is when women get told off for being too thin. Some people’s dispositions are like that and as long as there is no eating disorder involved it’s completely fine.

So, no, women don’t get a break either way.

So I want to claim my muffin top and love it (and if you’re a thin, healthy woman, claim your flat belly and love it!). I run, walk and do yoga so I am healthy and in no way sedentary. But the belly is still there and it irritates me at times but maybe it shouldn’t. I can’t be perfect and if I am honest with myself I don’t want to be.

Beyoncé’s video Pretty Hurts says it all (though some might argue that Bey is beautiful but let’s be real, she probably waxes her legs, works out like crazy, and I don’t know what else – and that’s painful) and when explaining the video she revealed that she herself is obsessed with having a flat stomach. And this is Beyoncé, someone who is in tip top shape right after having a kid. I especially like the line “Shine a light on whatever is worse” – which I think is something mostly done by women. Fat shaming is mostly done by women, women make each other feel bad. And it has to stop.

What other myths that are photoshopped into women’s bodies in magazine covers can we renounce and reclaim with our imperfections?

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WHO HAS HAIR LIKE THIS???

1. Crazy, impossible shiny straight hair

My hair is super curly, rebellious and frizzy. It took me so long to love it though. I even tried to straighten it permanently with hair relaxers. Sometimes I straighten it but just to mix it up. Also if you look at any advert for hair products you will see incredibly shiny hair, it’s so shiny I wonder how hair product companies are even allowed to use that much photoshop to publicize their products.

Me? I’m just whining though. I can only speak for myself here but I have noticed that black women also suffer because of this ridiculous beauty standard because their natural hair is considered unruly. Just last year a 12 year old black girl was almost expelled from her school for daring to own up to her gorgeous African American hair (Oh, also the school claimed this wasn’t racism so um, okay). Not cool. In the book Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie (BUY IT NOW / SPOILER ALERT), the main character, Ifemelu, is terrified of going to a job interview without relaxing her hair for fear of seeming unprofessional. She then straightens it but later owns up to it, freeing herself.

Once I was asked, after hopelessly trying to get rid of frizz, why people even cared about frizz. That’s a good point. Stop caring! Claim it. (if you have straight hair own it too though!)

Image2. High heels

Emma Thompson went on the Golden Globes stage barefoot, holding a Martini and her high Louboutins in her hand. She said: “This red? It’s my blood. When receiving the envelope so she could read the winner she just threw her shoes behind her – and I cheered.

Emma, it is all of our bloods.

Those looked painful. I have tiny feet so high heels are an impossibility for me. I usually stick to kitten heels or plain flats. I’m owning up to my height, I don’t care if I am made fun of. When women do manage to wear high heels I am pretty impressed. Hey, it’s a feat!

Impressive, but doesn’t work for me personally. So I’m not going to sacrifice a night of good dancing trying.

3. Breasts and genitals

You GUYS! Come on. In 2013 there was a sharp rise in women seeking to make their hoo-has look like the ones they see in porn through cosmetic surgery. This is why girls need a talking to about sex and they need it desperately more than boys do: vaginas are not supposed to be the same. Different looking labias are fine! And so are big nipples, small, nipples, big boobs, small boobs, different sized boobs (everyone has them. My left is smaller than my right.)

Can I just say how painful I imagine vaginal cosmetic surgery is? It’s one of the most sensitive bits of the body.

If you are insecure about your vagina you should check out Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina project. McCartney took five years to make 400 molds of vaginas from all over the world and put them together to form a nine-meter long wall. If your reaction to this is “ew!” SHAME ON YOU.

The great thing about it is the diversity of vaginas. None of them are the same and there is no such thing as a perfect vagina.

McCartney said, about the project: “I realized that many women also suffer anxiety about their genitals and I was in a unique position to do something about that… If this sculpture helps just one woman decide not to proceed with unnecessary plastic surgery on their genitals then it will have succeeded.”

4. Thin upper arms

I’ve noticed my upper arms have become so thick. How does fat even go that way? How am I supposed to lose fat that’s on my arms? I don’t want to have toned, body builder arms! So how else?

But look at Mindy Kalling and Melissa McCarthy (Ey up, Sookie!). They have thick arms too and they’re gorgeous.

5. Thigh gap

ImageGet up from where you’re sitting right now and put your feet right next to each other. They have to touch. Are your thighs touching as well? Yes? Good.

If you are unfamiliar with thigh gap it basically means that you have to be thin enough so that your thighs don’t touch. This is dangerous because, like upper arms, thighs are so hard to keep thin. Thigh gaps have been famous for their appearances in #thinspo hashtags (short for thin inspiration) – the hashtag inspires and motivates people to lose weight and more often than not the people who use it bond over throwing up and starving themselves.

I think not having a thigh gap is pretty beautiful. I embraced my chubby thighs a long time ago. (But if you DO have a natural thigh gap and aren’t starving yourself to get one, yay! good for you :D)

6. Beauty standards = perfection myth

Actually, I don’t need to pick and choose what I will adhere to. It would be awesome if these standards didn’t exist, period.

“You will never get a man if you don’t lose weight/wear makeup/dress up/have a porn vagina” – this is complete bull crap. I know many, many women, on Twitter and real life, who haven’t lost weight, wore makeup, dressed up or changed their vaginas and they have meaningful relationships with men.

So maybe, to some people, beauty standards aren’t important. If only that was the majority of people.

The problem also stems from a necessity of perfection. If you’re not perfect you’re not good enough. But what if you’re happy with a body that doesn’t fit the standard? What if you own up to frizzy hair and say you’re proud?

Isn’t that the bravest attitude of all?

Edit: edited to add that thin women also get criticised when they are too thin as that also seems to imply an unhealthy lifestyle.