Surviving Heteronormativity 

17 Aug

As a queer feminist cis woman in a relationship with a straight man, I find myself struggling every day against heteronormative patriarchy. It is a toxic cloud that I am holding at bay purely by the strength of my wit and my will. Some days are harder than others. Some oppressive interactions are more subtle while some are more overt. It leaves me feeling like I am teetering upon a tightrope, wondering what will be the element that will cause me to lose my balance, and with it, the independent identity I have worked so hard to cultivate. But through it all, I am learning some important lessons about how to resist and challenge the slow erosion of my independence and suppression of my spirit that is characteristic of what happens to women in heteronormative sexist relationships, and it is these that I wish to share with you today.

Lesson 1. You are in control of yourself.

One of the founding principles of heteronormative capitalist patriarchy is its ability to make women believe that they have no other option than to remain in relationships that leave them feeling unsatisfied at best, and victimised at worst. Once linked to men’s traditional role as financial provider, women are taught that to catch and to keep a man, and eventually, to bear his children, is the epitome of womanhood and the highest expression of femininity. The result of this schooling, even in an era where many women are now the breadwinners of the family, is that we stay with men who are not right for us and put up with behaviour that is selfish, disrespectful and often abusive. The fact that so many men act in these ways, that it is tolerated, normalised, and even becomes an object for comedy, is a sure sign of the sickness that pathologises our society. 

So what can be done to challenge this? We need to learn that at any point, no matter how embedded we are in a bad relationship or an unfair partnership, how long we have been with them, how many kids we have together or what other people will think, we possess within us the ability to resist, say no and to walk away from situations that oppress us. Although it may be difficult to see an alternative or a way out, this is something we can strive for and work towards. We can speak to our partner about our needs and get out if our requests go unheard. We can ask for help in this process if we need it. We do not deserve to be treated badly and we were not meant to suffer in silence, unloved and unappreciated. We must remember that we have choices and that even though we cannot control the actions of others, we can control how we respond to them. And if that response is to remove yourself from a situation, then so be it.

Lesson 2. Retain your independent thought. 

Another holdover from centuries of unbridled capitalist patriarchy is the notion that after marriage, or in the contemporary era, coupledom, man and woman are united and they become one entity. However, what we often fail to discuss is that in a union of people who, in the eyes of society, are not equals to begin with, the thoughts, opinions and beliefs of the person who is higher on the social ladder will undoubtedly win out over those of the person who is lower. We see this manifest in many ways, such as how men often get the final word in decision making (“Let me just check with my husband/I want to do X or Y but my guy doesn’t approve”) or disciplining (“Ask your father/Wait till your father gets home”). It is also apparent in how many women act as mouthpieces for their husband or boyfriend’s opinions. 

Often the process of mind control takes place through a gradual chipping away at a woman’s independent thought. We enter relationships as individuals with our own ideas and opinions, but over time we may allow those opinions to be set aside in favour of those of the man we love, because we wish to please him. This in itself may be seen as honourable, but only in the context discussed above where your main aim is to keep your man, no matter how pushy or selfish or ungrateful he may be. In reality, it is dangerous and leads to an unhealthy self-denial, the practice of self-silencing and the disappearance of our individuality. Do not let this happen to you. 

Lesson 3. Make space for yourself.

Something that can really help us retain our independent thought, listen to our intuition, articulate and act upon what we need is maintaining our personal space. This is space in both the physical and mental sense. Find some time each day to be alone with yourself, even if it is just a few minutes in the bathroom or a short trip to the store, and be intentional with this time. Bring a small notebook and write down your thoughts, or clear your mind of everyone and everything and just focus on your breath. Repeat a positive affirmation to yourself and remember that in this moment, you are enough. 

Humans are social creatures. Loneliness is one of our greatest fears. But if you learn to be as committed to yourself as you are to your partner, then you will find it enjoyable to spend time working on yourself, developing your interests, pursuing your passions, and doing the things that make you happy.  You can share these things with others if it is appropriate, and you should make and maintain friendships outside of your relationship, both to quell co-dependency and to experience the fulfilment that comes from being yourself and doing the things you want to do, whether or not your partner does them with you. This is key to lasting intimacy and also to maintaining monogamy, if that is the intention for your relationship. The sex and relationship expert Esther Perel has said: “We need multiple connections, multiple attachments. If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.”

Make space for yourself to think your own thoughts and to see the world from your own point of view. This doesn’t mean shutting down debate or never compromising in a fair way, but really listening to your own feelings, making up your mind for yourself and not putting up with having those thoughts and feelings dismissed or ignored. But in order to make that happen, you have to set the example by not dismissing or ignoring them yourself. You have nothing to fear from being alone. You are complete unto yourself. You were fine before they came into your life, and if one day you break up, you will be fine after they are gone. Anyone who truly loves you will learn to see and respect that, and if they do not, then you’re better off without them. 

Revolutionary News Roundup

19 May

A collection of news items that have made us angry, made us sad, astounded us, and/or ignited our revolutionary fire lately [trigger warnings for sexual assault, murder and violence against women, reproductive and police injustice].

  1. Purvi Patel, who says she miscarried, gets 20 years in prison for feticide [Filed under: reproductive injustice, misogyny, patriarchy, intersectionality]
  2. Mary Jane Veloso Spared in 11th Hour in Indonesia [Filed under: poverty, imperialism, Third World women]
  3. Mumia Abu-Jamal medical emergency [Filed under: political imprisonment, silencing, state violence]
  4. 72 killed in Philippines slipper factory fire [Filed under: poverty, Third World Women, inhumane working conditions, unabated capitalism]
  5. Biker gangs have major shootout, murdering 9 – National Guard not called in, no one is killed by the police or called a thug by the media [Filed under: white privilege, violence in America, gangsters, thugs]
  6. Baltimore State’s Attorney charges 6 police officers in murder of Freddie Gray; lawyers file motions to dismiss all charges [Filed under: systemic racism, police unaccountability]
  7. 20 year old gay feminist activist murdered after resistance to on-campus sexism and misogyny led to suspension of rugby team [Filed under: rape culture, misogyny, youth culture, MRAs, LGBT issues, violence in America, violence against women]
  8. Transgender woman London Chanel murdered in Philadelphia and Remembering Us When We’re Gone, Ignoring Us While We’re Here: Trans Women Deserve More (late but highly relevant post) [Filed under: trans women of colour, violence against women, transmisogyny, LGBT issues]
  9. Nicki Minaj and Beyonce release new video for ‘Feelin Myself’  [Filed under: carefree Black girls, flawless, problematic faves]
  10. Global inequality is so bad it’s almost impossible to visualise it [Filed under: poverty, wealth, 1%, globalization, unabated capitalism]
  11. ‘sHell no!’ Seattle kayaktivist fleet protests Arctic drilling [Filed under: activism, protest, ecofeminism, wealth, 1%, globalization, unabated capitalism, resistance]

Intersectionality is Not a Trend

1 Apr

One might hope that the widespread introduction of a concept that is meant to put your experiences and those of others like you at the centre of conversations about social justice and equality might have the positive side effect of actually including you in the conversation. But unfortunately, that has not been the case with intersectionality. 

Over and over again, I have been in nearly all-white spaces where the term I have come to rely upon to help me articulate the experiences of women marginalised by mainstream white feminism has been utilised liberally by said white feminists. They then go on to further marginalise and other those who critique them with such commentary as, “We have received the criticism that our spaces are too white and middle-class. We don’t know what to do about that. So if you want it to change, you do something about it.”

It seems that it is simply too difficult for most white feminists to organise an event with any true awareness of intersectionality. A space where they and their perspectives are sometimes, not even for the whole time, not placed at the forefront and where other women, whose lives and experiences do not resemble theirs, are explicitly invited to sit at the table. To give a keynote speech. To lead a workshop. To sit on a panel as more than a token person of colour. ‘Positive discrimination’ is fine for the organisers if it benefits them personally in terms of hiring or promotion. But when it comes to intentionally changing the demographic of their cis white straight middle-class and able-bodied feminist space, they think it is just one step too far. 

But although it is clear that all these privileges tend to blind our fairweather feminist friends to a homogeneity that is a source of frustration, at best, and pain and trauma, at worst, to intersectional and postcolonial feminists with an analysis rooted in social justice and liberation movements, the salt in the wound is when they co-opt our language (but not our ideas, as they don’t understand those) and use it shamelessly, with no intentions of applying it or putting it into practice. When they pepper their conversation with “intersectionality this” and “gender, race and class that” and continue to centre issues that are important to them, such as how they are represented in the business media, or the continuity of the (white) gender pay gap, while completely ignoring the rallying cries from the lips of true intersectional feminists speaking out about disproportionate numbers of Black and Latina women in low-paid jobs, the thousands of Black women who go missing every year and the ceaseless violence against trans women of colour. When their examples of sexism faced by women in business include the recommendation to “not have curly hair” and they remain silent on the experiences of girls whose Afro-textured hair gets them suspended or expelled from school. When they are invited to speak on intersectionality and they do not pass on the invitation to someone whose life is lived at the intersections, whose expertise and theoretical knowledge is informed by a practice she cannot escape.

Intersectionality is not a trend. Neither is it a tool that can be equally wielded by all. Reading a few articles or listening to a couple of talks doesn’t mean you “get it.” In fact, the more you get it, the more you realise you have left to learn. This is because it is actually more like a frame, a window into a world of experiences different from your own. In order to see through it, you have to step off of the beaten path and peer closely through panes of glass your privilege cannot help but cloud. If you can acknowledge this, then respect those of us who live on the other side of the window, and stop taking up so much room announcing “I get it! I see what you see!” Instead, step back, give us some air, and make space for us to speak. 

Spock as Interplanetary Mixed-Race Muse

27 Feb Featured Image -- 2217

Sista Resista:

RIP Leonard Nimoy. Thanks for inspiring us even us mixed kids to live long and prosper.

Originally posted on thenerdsofcolor:

It seems that Spock and his mixed-species brethren and sistren haven’t served as multiracial muses only to me and fellow NOCClaire.  Even during the last year of its original television run, just a year after the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case legalized all interracial marriage across the United States, Vulcan/human hybrid Spock spoke so much to a biracial black/white teenager in Los Angeles that she wrote to him, via a teen magazine, for advice, so moving that actor Leonard Nimoy wrote her back with a message of self-acceptance.

With Star Trek Week on The Nerds of Color coming to an end after an amazing week of posts both celebratory, critical, and somewhere in between, I wanted to introduce you to two artists of multiracial heritage who use Spock as a way to explore mixed-race identity in their work.

View original 339 more words

Commentary on the Oscars: Diversity in Film 2014

23 Feb

Guest Post by Jonathan Scott Chee

Looking through the nominations for this year’s Oscars, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hollywood had outsourced the entire American film industry to some parallel universe, populated almost entirely by white men.

The Oscars have long been a biting reminder of just how ubiquitously white the film industry truly is, but is the Academy itself purposefully excluding non-white artists, or are they simply taking their pick from an already white-dominated industry?

Analysis of the top grossing films of 2014 paints a troubling picture of exclusion and underrepresentation. People of colour and women make up a woefully small percentage of the principal cast, and behind the cameras white men also make up the vast majority of directors and screenwriters.

As alarming as the statistics in the infographic may be, they fail to tackle an important, yet subtle, element of the structural inequality within the film industry: the kind of roles minority actors and women get. While people of colour may only make up 16% of the total cast of 2014’s biggest blockbusters, they end up playing similar characters time and again: the sassy black sidekick, the tough-yet-warm-hearted convict, the swag drug dealer, the goofy immigrant with a hilariously poor grasp of the English language, the math nerd virgin – these are the roles our minority ethnic actors are relegated to, rarely getting to tackle a role with real depth and therefore rarely getting the opportunity to showcase their talents.

For women, too, the story is much the same – a blockbuster film led by a female protagonist is still very much an anomaly in movie theatres. Worryingly, the industry seems to be becoming even more exclusionary over time, with fewer women than ever involved both in front of, and behind, the camera.

For women of colour, the outlook gets even bleaker as they made up just 3% of all the speaking roles in 2014’s biggest blockbusters. Once again, this statistic doesn’t quite paint the full picture, as that 3% is overwhelmingly made up of black, or mixed race black/white women. If you are an East Asian woman, roles outside of the sultry, accented “dragon lady” or “comedy immigrant” are practically non-existent. South Asian actresses hunting for work in Hollywood may as well be hunting unicorns.

The effects of Hollywood white-washing go far beyond out of work actors, however. As people of colour, our children grow up in an environment where they see no reflection of themselves in mainstream culture. Personally, I don’t want my children to grow up in a society where the only representation of themselves they see on screen are as nerds, sultry objects of white male fetishism or kung-fu geniuses, because as much as art may attempt to represent reality, conversely, it’s clear that it works to shape perceptions of it as well.