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Category Archives: Activism

Black hair? White hair? Femininity? Strength? Confusion.

I love this story: www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2013/10/15/endia_beal_can_i_touch_it_explores_gender_race_and_generational_gaps_in.html

But I especially love how the pictures look in a series of smaller headshots, at http://cargocollective.com/endiabeal/Can-I-touch-it.

They look proud, powerful, and a little strange; it’s like they’re the board of directors of a major corporation in the early 19th century or something. I read these women as having indeterminate gender: because they are older, because they are staring the camera straight on with confidence, because they’re wearing power suits, but most of all because the hair is not white female hair of any kind, not even white female powerful women hair.

Pretty interesting, and pretty awful, that my unconscious read of black women’s hairstyles is apparently “not female” or “not feminine” when it’s on white women’s heads. Also interesting, maybe less awful (maybe not), that I read it as powerful.

My reaction to the large pictures in the Slate article was “okay that is gorgeous” and thoughts about mechanics of hairstyles and maybe more white women should do these and then concerns about appropriation and then it gets complex and I am very privileged here.

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Quick Link

I found this recently, and I feel I must share. I sometimes have that fury.

Trigger warning for domestic abuse.

Dear Fanny: Burning The Myths: Letter to an Angry Young Woman

Wombly Speaking

In the past few weeks, I have had some changes in my relationship with my uterus. It’s a very strange thing.

Adorable pink alien monster

Cute, but do you want this growing inside you?

First off, it turns out I have a relationship with my uterus. I hadn’t really thought about it, most of my life; it was just this part of me that I had to make sure didn’t get pregnant. Or, as I was wont to think of it, infested with an alien parasite. It was also the thing that, once a month or so, hurt like a motherfucker shortly before producing a lot of blood.

Yeah, I have had serious cramps for just about 25 years now. Once a month, it’s the Day of Pain. Some hormonal treatments helped lessen it, but with other side effects. I tried to do the Seasonale thing with four periods a year, but the dose on those is too small for a fat lady and I had breakthrough bleeding the whole damn time — along with randomly scattered Days of Pain.

Now I’m on medication for other problems that leave me spotting every day. This is just not okay. At the same time, I know that I do not want to host an alien parasite, not ever, no matter what people say about the maternal instinct, or how much I love and adore other peoples’ babies.

So, a few weeks ago, I got a referral to a great gynecologist and went in for a consult about two magic procedures: ablation and sterilization.

The sterilization I had my eye on, Essure, can’t be done at the same time as an ablation, so I’m going to have a two-for-one ablation and tubal ligation. At least, that’s the plan. It sounds like a great plan!

Before I can be ablated, though, I have to have some testing. I needed a pelvic exam, a vaginal ultrasound, and an endometrial biopsy. If, for some reason, I had a problem and didn’t qualify for an ablation, the next option would be a hysterectomy. (I figured, hysterectomy, sounds good, get rid of the thing that hurts and bleeds and just be done with it all! Oh wait, abdominal surgery. Yuuuuuck.)

For some women, these tests are trivial and easy experiences. I had a more difficult time, though.

All this, and some other stuff, have come together to make me much more aware of this little organ inside me, and the trouble it’s caused. I’ve got more of a relationship to it, and I’m not sure I like it. I’ve got a lot of anxiety, pain, and fear.

So today I’m starting a series of posts called Wombly Speaking. I’m going to talk about some of these procedures and my experiences with them.

Policing Appearances

About a month ago, Pat Robertson said a terrible thing, and the internet was like “Whoa, Look What That Jerk Said!”

What he said is basically that it’s women’s fault when their husbands drink or cheat, because the women have gotten ugly and sloppy in their dress.

The Internet is totally right to call this guy out for saying such a terrible thing.

But you know what?

In a lot of places, I see comments about how ugly Robertson is. Check out how ugly he is, who is he to talk? For instance, here, at about 2 minutes in.

Sure, it’s an easy shot. We love hypocrisy, right? But the problem is not that an ugly dude is telling women to be pretty for their husbands (lest their husbands become alcoholics or divorce them). It wouldn’t be okay if a handsome dude was telling women to be pretty for their husbands. The problem is not who’s saying it, the problem is what’s being said.

The thing that is the problem is called “appearance policing” and it is about socially requiring people to look a certain way in order to qualify for certain social benefits, such as basic respect from a spouse. Or an employer, or a shopkeeper, or whoever. Leggings aren’t pants is the same thing (even if I passionately hate the use of leggings as pants).

When we go off and say “Yeah, what a terrible thing to say and what an ugly dude who said it!” we are doing the SAME THING AS ROBERTSON. We are saying that the problem is with what he looks like, not with what he said. We are playing into his hands, agreeing with his basic assertion that a person’s appearance determines what value they should have.

And really, what he looks like is perfectly fine old white guy. There’s nothing wrong with his appearance — not that it matters, it really doesn’t. But it just makes it worse, because the problem isn’t even that he’s some essence of ugly, it’s just that he’s old.

It’s not okay to police the appearance of old guys, calling them ugly for being old, even if they’re assholes. Even if they’re Pat Robertson, professional asshole.

Call him a sexist asshole. Call him wrong. Say how angry you are that this old fucker is going on as if he knows something about you and your marriage and how it’s all your fault that your husband is an abusive alcoholic. That’s all totally legit.

Just leave his looks out of it.

On Therapy (1)

Paraphrased questions from some comments on this Captain Awkward post about green flags for a good therapist:

“Why do advice columnists (like Captain Awkward) keep recommending therapy? Isn’t there anything I can do for myself?

To find a therapist and keep going to one I think I’d have to be really desperate.

In my country/community, therapy is difficult to access! Maybe there’s only one therapist and he’s Freudian or there’s huge stigma or my insurance doesn’t cover it.

Isn’t there anything I can do on my own?”


There are things you can do on your own, and it can be difficult to audition therapists. I totally get all that. I finally got my therapeutic relationship many years after I would have used it because of those difficulties in finding a good therapist, and, I did a heck of a lot on my own.

Also I wonder what kind of therapist would have been good for me when I was younger; I don’t think I would have clicked with my current wonderful pro, because I came to her after I had a few major epiphanies.

You can do an awful lot on your own. But it can be easier and a whole lot more efficient when your work is guided by someone who knows what they’re doing. Also, and this is a big one for me, having to go to an appointment and talk to someone held me accountable for doing the work I needed to do. Sometimes, my therapist has been a reality check, helping me keep grounded and not get caught up in what I hope from a situation.

A therapeutic relationship is also a tool for growing and improving in deliberate ways, and not just fixing broken things, although it is an expensive hobby.

At times I have found it quite liberating to be paying this person, because when I felt BIG FEELINGS but also felt like I didn’t matter, well damnit, I was this PERSON’S JOB. For an hour a week, this person was professionally obligated to give a damn. That let me be safe to be as petty as I needed to be in that moment.

Paying a professional also means I don’t have to tend to their feelings. Their feelings and reactions are their business and I don’t have to worry about them. If they need help dealing with them, they go get their own therapists! So I don’t have to do the emotional work of managing the relationship. I do some work to maintain a connection, because that’s part of how therapy works, but it’s all for my benefit.

Finally, a quick demonstration of the differences you might see between how different people handle a trying emotional moment, to show how a therapeutic relationship can be awesome.


I am crying hysterically. Everything feels terrible, like the world is imploding. I cannot coherently explain why I feel this way; it’s sheer emotional pain. I can’t breathe, my head is filling with goo, I’m bringing on a migraine.

Here are some scenarios, drawn from life, about what can happen next.

Me alone:

Several hours pass. Eventually, I slow down the hysteria, but I feel scrubbed raw and miserable. Anything can set me off. I go to bed. It happens again tomorrow, and the day after. On the third day, it happens half an hour before I need to leave for a doctor’s appointment. I’m sick of it all, this has been happening on and off for years. With the grand realization of “well I’m not going to be any less miserable at the doctor’s than I am here”, I say FUCK IT and go.

I am depressed and miserable but less hysterical. The process of “well I’ll be just as miserable there as here, so FUCK IT” is a critical healing step out of deep depression, but as a coping mechanism keeps me operating at a level of miserable and FUCK IT.

Me with friend:

Friend brings me tissues for my tears and the goo filling my head. My friend who cares for me is feeling very distressed themselves; they have no idea how this started, and they feel helpless. I’m not able to communicate so my friend has to do whatever they feel is right in this situation. Hug? Tea? There-there? My closest and most empathetic friends feel less at a loss, but also feel more of their own suffering.

I can’t help but notice their distress as well, and because of the way I am, it tends to shut off the hysterical crying. But the emotions behind it are still there, undealt with. My friend is uncomfortable and really wants to help but has no tools for this. We try to talk about it sometimes but it’s hard because I don’t have good words for it and if we get anywhere near the core of my problems, I start getting hysterical again. I feel guilty about laying this burden on my friend and try to keep the worst of it away from them. They feel helpless and frustrated and sad, but they cannot fix me.

I go home and feel more alone.

In the very best of empathetic moments, my best friend made space for me to cry whenever I needed to, and just held me. It was hard for her. During that part of our relationship, she took on almost a maternal role of taking care of me. It was a weird and strange dynamic that most friendships, I think, could not bear.

The best a friend can do is hug you and make reassuring noises, I think, but I found that most friends are really bad at doing so.

Me with therapist:

As I cry, my therapist is paying attention to nothing but me. She has seen it before and is not shocked or distressed, but she is compassionate. She does not come over to me or touch me but she does make sure I have tissues and water.

She has been taking notes and working with me so she has some ideas about my suffering. She has knowledge and experience with people with my particular issues. She says something that validates my current emotional state as real and important. I feel that moment of Somebody Gets It! and react with convulsive nodding and more tears, because it hurts so much and here I am safe to let it out. My therapist says more things that validate and support me, helping me feel connected.

I stop crying in ten or fifteen minutes. I’m drained and tired but in a good way. My therapist watches me to see how I am and where I am going, and asks how I’m feeling now. We talk a little bit about what just happened and where it might have come from.

I leave my appointment a little shaky but hopeful.


These examples are all about hysterical crying but I think the same goes for figuring out emotional stuff, too. You can do a lot on your own, you can learn a lot on your own, but you only have as many resources and as much knowledge as you have. When you are suffering or in need, you’re already straining your resources, and you have less kindness to give yourself.

Your friends have less experience about helping people, you have mutual two-way relationships with them that you must tend and not strain, and in the end they care about you a lot and have something of themselves invested in you. They can’t see you clearly, and they may have something of their own ego invested in your own behavior. The changes you need to make to be healthy may not be changes that they want you to make, or they’d be changes that threaten them. Or the work to make the changes may be just more than they can handle.

Your therapist has no friendship on the line. Hopefully their ego is not bound up in keeping you from changing. They have resources and knowledge and the skill to get more when you’re not in their office (a good therapist will go research things you bring up that they are unfamiliar with. They will also consult with other therapists for ideas about ways to help you).

Your therapist is getting their emotional needs met elsewhere, so your relationship with them can be All About You.


So yeah, you can do a lot on your own and with friends. A lot of people do. But a lot of people also endure unnecessary suffering.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to find a good therapist who fits you well, and a lot of people don’t know about how therapy works. Many people have bad experiences and talk about them LOUDLY.

Got to accept people where they are. Not everyone will benefit from therapy, not least because you won’t change until you’re ready to change. Pushing people into it is expensive and frustrating all around.

It’s helped me, though, once I finally started.

Racebaiting

I wasn’t fast enough to skip a political commercial today and it caught my attention. It starts, China 2030. It’s a professor lecturing a classroom about how empires have fallen. Here you go: Have Some Yellow Scare

The ad has really nice product values, you know? On a meta level, it’s almost kind of awesome; you can see, in a culture that politicizes education and paints its enemies as weak and frail*, it might claim that an opposing power that had once been Scary had Fallen and was now weak and owned. It could be a scene in a future-disaster movie, right up until the guy looks at the camera and laughs. But this ad is not trying to work on a meta level.

It’s just trying to work on a clear straight up racist level. If you do these policies that the group disapproves of, characterized by buzzwords that have no correlation to actual policy but are used to mischaracterize certain kinds of economic policies, then you are SELLING YOUR COUNTRY TO THE CHINESE, who will LAUGH ABOUT IT after they OWN YOU.

I don’t know how many of my readers** remember the 80s. I was a kid. But I remember the JAPAN WILL BUY US AND RUN OUR ECONOMY INTO THE GROUND OMG DOOOOOOOOOOOOM activity. How’s that working now? Yeah, not really. Because it was fearmongering. And it was racist.

So is this. Shame on the assholes who made this ad, and shame on the people who believe it.

It all makes me want to punch people but I’m too sick, and also too pacifistic, so I just rant on the internet and viciously spin wool into yarn.

Fuck the racist motherfuckers who try to leverage cultural racism for political gain. Fuck the racist motherfuckers who make it possible.


* I don’t actually know if China does this. I understand it does a lot of China Is Awesome, but that seems pretty typical for superpowers. They might do Enemies At The Gate like we do, or they might do Enemies Are Pitiful And Weak, like the soviets did.

** I don’t know that I have readers! If I do, hi! Unless you are a racist asshole, in which case, stop being racist, you asshole!

Problematicity

Moved here from Captain Awkward. Somewhere down in the comments I got all confused because a little spat about problematicness arose, about single women possibly being jealous and/or bitter. It took me a while to catch up with what was actually going on. The we is all about the commentariat over there.


I think…. okay, I think that generally when we’re gonna talk about problematic things, we’ve got to talk about them in generalities and not specifics, unless the specifics we are faced with are clearly problematic. And when the specifics we are faced with are problematic, if we’re going to call them out, we need to call them out in detail, preferably with compassion although I personally would accept clever snark. (note:  it should be clever!)

I say this because problematic is a thing that is all about The Context and the Culture and all that stuff that has clever jargon I can’t remember because it’s been too long since someone summarized judith butler at me. So if we’re going to be all about how single women being jealous and bitter is problematic, we’re talking about cultures and tropes and shit like that.

At Captain Awkward, we are talking about specific people in specific situations, and so I think it is unhelpful to get into abstract concepts or jump on specific language and just stop there. It’s not about Being Right, here, it’s about Being Helpful. I think.

But if someone’s Being Problematic Right Here, then it would be okay to talk about that specific incident, including how it fits within the Greater World of Problematic Shit, but always being anchored in what’s happening here.

At least in spaces like the Captain’s blog, whose owner can obviously disagree with me.


As for the bitterness and jealousy question, I think that yes, in fact, it is a loaded concept when speaking of single women, who are socially valued according to the men in their lives, and who are expected to feel those things when they are unmarried at an advanced age. Where advanced is, depending on who’s talking, anywhere from 21 to 35 or so. Pretty much everyone seems to understand that women who are still single at 35 are suspect.*

In that CA post, the letter writer didn’t use the words bitter or jealous, so that language came from the Captain. However, upon investigation, I think it is appropriate to use those words to describe the behavior of the LW’s friend. Especially since JenniferP is saying “It is okay to feel bitter or jealous, and it happens, but it is not cool to get that emotional yuk all over your friends.” We don’t know how the friend would describe her feelings, but we do know how someone describes her actions.

White Rabbit reasonably posted that hey, you can be single and grumpy about it and not be jealous and bitter. She also pointed out that she doesn’t act like the LW’s friend, so… it’s kind of a point of info, and not any big thing.

Since everyone who’s saying anything specific about jealousy, bitterness, or singleness is saying generally reasonable things, I think that the source of the grumpy is all about the idea of “problematic” and what does it mean.

Thus, my analysis above. **

I conclude that Sarah is the one who went most astray in that commenting section. The big problem with her posts is the lack of stuff. I mean, yeah, there might be something problematic with an advice writer reaching for jealous and bitter as words to describe an unhappily single woman. That might be interesting! But she didn’t really talk about that, I’m just guessing that it’s what she meant. I’m still not sure why she thought JenniferP was trying to insult her commentariat.

*I got married for the first time at 36. I’m in generality-space in that paragraph.

** Everything since the previous asterisk is in specificity-space. See the difference?


White Rabbit wants to talk about problematicness! So I invite everyone over here to talk about it. Go nuts.

On the Topic of Bras

Captain Awkward has a post from a young lady whose mother is awful to her about her weight. She mentions being busty, and Sweet Machine offers advice that includes advice to go get fitted and get a new bra and it will make everything better.

This is the off-topic comment I didn’t post:

Fellow Chest Of Doom here. I kind of hate it when everyone is like “Go get fitted! Go to Intimacy, they’re awesome!” Bras should fit against your chest wall in the middle, you know, and if they don’t you’ve got the wrong bra.

I went and got fitted. I went to Intimacy. They only have underwire! They didn’t have many things in my size. The things they had hurt. Even more annoying, the bra they put me in and swore up and down was the right size? It was too small for my big boob, and I overfilleth the cup. The line that seemed most likely to be most comfortable did not go up to my size.

They said, look, it takes a while to get used to an underwire. Take this bra that we swear up and down is your size, NO REALLY, and wear it for a couple of weeks. You’ll love it.

I wore it home. I tried to wear it. It hurt! It kept hurting! It didn’t sit flat against my chest wall, because my boobs just don’t work like that! Apparently, some boobs are like that and no bra will fit against the chest wall in front. So the wire pokes out in front, and digs more in the bottom. This was the bra that was the best fit? Seriously? $70 to walk around in pain and aggravation until, I dunno, I get underboob callouses?

OTOH, they did confirm that my band size was correct. And for all that they swore the number of the bra was meaningless, the cup size was useful information. (OMG I am a lot bigger than I thought) and gave me something to try from other shops.

I stopped at a bra store and tried all their big bras. All of them ugly, and none of them fit. I got on the internet that made the previous Single Bra That Fit Me (that didn’t go up to my new size) and found a new Single Bra That Fits Me. It even only mostly fits me. I overfilleth. And it’s *padded*. Like I need extra there? And do you have any idea how few size H bras don’t have underwires? I live in terror of the day they cancel or change this line of bras.

EVEN WORSE, once I had a properly fitted bra, half my shirts stopped fitting. Because now I was properly supported, you see! Not only do buttoned shirts gap, but t-shirts rose like an inch in the front. There goes all those cute fitted shirts. I feel unstable on stairs because I can’t see my feet!

Right. Rant over, because this is not all about me. Mostly I wanted to put it here so that others can know that actually, a newly fitted bra might not change your life. It’s still helpful, generally speaking, but it might not be a game-changer.

What is a game-changer, in my world, is learning to love the shape you are and learning to dress for your shape and your style. I used to wear dark crew-neck t-shirts and jeans. I went through a skirt phase, and now I wear them sometimes. Now I wear v-neck or scoop-neck shirts in bright colors, with jeans or a skirt, and with shawls. I can move comfortably, I read socially as idiosyncratically feminine, and I feel generally pretty. A few years back I gave up on feeling body-shame and spend most of my summer in tank tops with my bra showing (except at work).

Dressing oneself is incredibly hard for a lot of people, especially those who do not conform to Standards. Even the outliers have standards, because manufacturers have to make enough units to make a profit. Racks my size are uncommon, but they still have a market; racks my shape? Apparently, there’s no market for that.

I do not believe that it is impossible to construct a bra that supports my breasts, fits flush against my chest, and does not create spillage. However, at this time, it is practicably impossible for me to find it.